Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 16 December, 1998

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2, 3 and 16, motion 34. All Stages of item 1 will be taken today, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes; Senators may share time. Item 2, Motion for Earlier Signature, is to be taken without debate at the conclusion of item 1. Committee and Remaining Stages of item 3 will be taken at 4 p.m. Item 16, motion 34, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Item 3 will resume thereafter, if not previously concluded.

Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. The Leader indicated to me, perhaps he could confirm to the House, that he hopes to arrange a short debate on Northern Ireland tomorrow. We would be very pleased if he could do that.

I gather he also has plans, arising from the discussion in the House yesterday, to have a short debate on the centenary of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. While it is not an association with which I have intimate knowledge, it does a great deal of good work and I would be very happy to have that debate. My dear mother, who has been a member for even longer than Senator Cassidy, would doubtless approve.

I wish to draw the Leader's attention to item 4 on the Order Paper, which is not being taken today but which is a motion to approve draft regulations. In the past, this House had a committee which examined regulations in some detail. This is an area which should be addressed in the context of Seanad reform. A great number of regulations come into effect without being examined in any way by either House of the Oireachtas. I suggest to the Leader that this is a matter at which Committee on Procedure and Privileges could very profitably look, to see if we could reconstitute a committee which would examine draft regulations before they are put into effect.

[1170] Mr. Norris: I wish to refer to the fact, which I gather was not referred to yesterday, that the Palestinian Assembly has passed a very important vote removing from the constitution of the PLO the threat to the State of Israel. That is an act of remarkable generosity and political skill on the part of Mr. Arafat and it should be noted.

This House has debated East Timor many times. I ask the Leader to ensure that the last debate held here, which was very important, including the resolution which was passed, be made directly available to the Minister, Deputy Andrews, who I understand will be visiting Indonesia, and perhaps East Timor, and may have the opportunity to visit Xanana Gusmao. This is a most important development. I am not trying to open a debate, but I would like the Leader to pass on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, the strong support of this House. I understand from my sources that a very significant opportunity will open up during his visit for Ireland to play a pivotal role in the negotiations between Xanana Gusmao and the Indonesian authorities. Perhaps I could speak to the Leader privately about the matter.

Mr. Costello: We have no problem with the Order of Business. Will the Leader clarify the position in regard to item 4, which has suddenly appeared on the Order Paper and was not included in the original schedule distributed to Members? If it is proposed to take it tomorrow it should be taken with rather than without debate, as appears to have been customary.

With regard to item 16, motion 20, today's newspapers have stories about unpaid tax by restauranteurs, publicans and hoteliers. A former Taoiseach has had his £2 million tax bill reduced to zero. In the eyes of the public we are fast becoming a banana republic in relation to these matters.

Mr. Norris: Zero tolerance.

Mr. Costello: Is this what zero tolerance means? Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance if it would not be appropriate to refer the matter regarding the former Taoiseach to the Criminal Assets Bureau? Here is a man with an extraordinary lifestyle in terms of a mansion, an island, a yacht and racehorses, which is not substantiated by funding from his salary as a Member of the Oireachtas. There may well be a role for the Criminal Assets Bureau here.

An Cathaoirleach: The House has debated all these matters at great length and they have been referred to other fora. I would prefer if the Senator did not continue along those lines.

Mr. Costello: Will the Leader not bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Finance, both of whom have a responsibility in this area?

[1171] Mr. Glynn: Yesterday I raised the matter of attempted abductions of children around the country. It happened in my town of Mullingar. I am deeply concerned about the matter. I have spoken to the Minister since I raised it in the House and he informs me it was raised yesterday in the other House. The House should show its concern at this very serious development. It must be the nightmare of every parent. As a parent of a young daughter I am deeply concerned, as I am sure is everybody else. The House should invite the Minister to make a statement and perhaps hold a short debate. It would heighten public awareness of this matter.

Mr. Connor: The area aid section of the Department of Agriculture and Food has final vetting with regard to income support payments to farmers. This year tens of thousands of such payments have been withheld because of errors made in the section. Under a charter of rights granted to farmers, the Minister is bound to ensure that all such income support payments are paid by a certain date in each year and that, as far as possible, attempts are made to achieve that. However, that is not happening this year and we are now approaching the festival of Christmas when greater amounts of money are needed by everybody.

I call on the Leader to raise this issue with the Minister. Given the limited time remaining to the end of the session, it would be impracticable for the Minister to explain matters to the House or for us to make our views known to him. I ask the Leader to appeal to him to ensure that, as far as possible, all payments should be made before that section closes for Christmas.

Mr. Ryan: I move amendment No. 1:

That item 16, motion 30, be taken at the commencement of business.

Probably half of the young people of the State have participated in fasts of one kind or another for one of the two big organisations that provide aid for the developing world. It is nothing short of a scandal that the State has decided that these people need no more money next year, which will be the most affluent in the State's history.

We were misled in the House by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs——

Ms Keogh: We were not.

Mr. Ryan: ——in a most untypical and regrettable fashion, the House was led astray and given an incorrect impression. I do not believe it was an accident.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on the concept of welfare in this country? We have three forms of welfare — social welfare, corporate welfare and agricultural welfare. Each involves the transfer of large resources to sustain people's incomes unrelated to any productive effort on [1172] their part. Given that approximately half the budget of the Department of Agriculture and Food constitutes welfare, it should be transferred to the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs.

Mr. Mooney: I support the matter raised this morning and yesterday by Senator Glynn. A debate would be appropriate, especially when the Minister gave a comprehensive statement to the other House yesterday. This issue can be linked to another area covering the abuse of children. Many video games will be bought by parents this Christmas. I would be grateful if the Leader would lend his support in conveying my concern to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that there is an urgent need for an amendment of the Video Recordings Act. Video games are an exempted category.

I raised this matter this time last year because it was appropriate to do so. The Department said then that, although it had sympathy with the proposed amendment to the Act, it was unable to deal with the matter because of the backlog of legislation. However, sympathy is now running short. Although 97 per cent of video games are inoffensive, there is a hard core of 3 per cent. The industry regulates itself, which is no longer tenable, and legislation is now required.

I have two small children and you, Sir, would not believe the graphic violence in some of these video games, specifically “Mortal Combat”. I mention it in the House because I hope parents will take note in the absence of an amendment to the Act. I also hope the Leader will convey this concern to the Minister. Perhaps, in view of Senator Glynn's request, there could be debate on all these attacks on our children.

Mr. Caffrey: Most tourism projects that would normally be expected to have funding through the operational programme for tourism are now on hold due to the lack of funding for the programme. Some regional boards have advised me they have been told not to submit new applications to the Department because they will not even be considered. Many worthwhile projects are on hold pending the new programme. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to advise when funding will become available for the many worthwhile projects in the pipeline?

Mr. Farrell: I support Senator Glynn's call for a debate on child abductions. This is very serious.

It is scandalous and outrageous that a Member should use the sanctity and security of the House to make a scandalous character assassination on a man who has done more for this country, culturally, educationally, financially and commercially, than any other man. Despite the number of tribunals that has been established in response to the Senator and his cohorts, none of them has been man enough to give evidence outside this [1173] House. Nothing wrong has been proved against that man.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Farrell——

Mr. Farrell: I am entitled to reply.

An Cathaoirleach: You are not entitled to reply. The only person who is entitled to reply on the Order of Business is the Leader of the House.

Mr. Farrell: That man has done the country proud. I am ashamed that Senator Costello, as a Sligoman, has lowered himself to such a degree. If he has proof he should say it outside this House. He insinuated that the appeals commissioner acted illegally or irresponsibly. He did not. He acted correctly and the publishers can now go to the High Court if they wish.

Mr. Costello: I did not say that.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Farrell, these political matters are not appropriate to the Order of Business and the Chair would much prefer if reference to such matters were avoided. The Chair tries to extend as much latitude as possible so that Senators can raise matters of concern on the Order of Business. The politicisation of the Order of Business is something that the Chair will not allow.

Ms Leonard: I support the call by my colleague Senator Glynn for a short debate on the number of attempted abductions of children. Unless it affects your own area there is no public awareness.

In a similar vein, I compliment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the confirmation in this morning's newspapers that he will establish a register of child sex offenders for which I called yesterday.

Mr. Gallagher: I welcome the concern the Leader shared with me yesterday regarding the position of shop workers who were compelled to work on Sundays in the run up to Christmas. In response to item 10 on the Order Paper, can he make time available before the conclusion of this session to allow for Second Stage of the Protection of Shop Workers Bill to be taken? May I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Ryan to allow us debate overseas development aid here?

Mr. Burke: I support Senator Connor and call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to ensure that all area aid payments are made before Christmas and that farmers, or whoever is owed money, are paid.

Will the Leader arrange for a debate in the next session on waste disposal? This is the greatest task facing us at the moment.

Mr. O'Donovan: About two months ago I asked that the Gaming and Lotteries Act be [1174] reformed and perhaps new legislation enacted. To the best of my knowledge I did not receive a reply. Will the Leader refer this matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to see if this very outdated, rather archaic and backward legislation compared to European standards can be replaced with new legislation some time next year? We are losing lots of revenue in several areas under the existing legislation. As a practising lawyer I know this legislation is unworkable.

Will the Leader produce the programme of legislation that is coming before this House early in the new year so that spokespersons will know what legislation will be introduced in the next or subsequent session? If a programme were laid out it might not be possible to adhere strictly to it but we should be given advance notice of, perhaps, a month or six weeks. I urge him over the Christmas recess to look at the next and subsequent sessions in terms of what legislation the Government will introduce here.

Mr. Coghlan: Will the Leader make a statement on the Government's position about the Great Southern Hotel Group? There is a lot of concern among the staff — we know how excellent these hotels have performed over the years — about rumours that the Government intends to sell off the group. From a State's point of view, apart from their great success, there is a huge investment involved which needs to be safeguarded. At this time I am thinking of all the staff from the two hotels in Killarney, one at Parknasilla and throughout the country. I would welcome a statement on the matter.

Mrs. Ridge: I commend the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland for removing the offensive advertisement “Our jocks are our best asset” which was the RTÉ2's advertisement poster all over the country. I also found the Kleenex advertisement equally insulting to my colleagues because it said that their tissues were soft, thick and disposable just like men. I disagree with its sentiments. I object to the diminution of standards throughout the advertising industry, particularly with regard to sexual innuendo on posters. I do not want to be considered a prude but we have a problem that I have referred to before in this House as to what seems to be an uncontrolled increase in the pornographic industry. For that reason the Leader let me down on the last occasion when he did not support me on the Bill. However, he did assure me that these matters would be introduced by way of a Bill from the Minister. I do not want to return to Victorian days but we are all greatly concerned about the insidious lowering of standards.

Mrs. Jackman: I support Members who sought a debate on child abduction. I am concerned about this because, as a teacher, I would have been aware of children who were dropped at school before it was opened and who would wait [1175] at the school when the school was closed. We need to have co-ordinated school transport to ensure that children are not left loitering when it is very obvious that anyone who wishes to abduct would have a very easy way of detecting when young children, primary or secondary, are alone. Parents are not always able to reach their destinations on time due to traffic. This issue should be raised now. I would like to know what we can do to alert the public and young children. A debate on child abduction would be of benefit.

Mr. Callanan: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to introduce regulations urgently to meet the growing problem of food labelling? We are aware that beef, lamb, pigmeat, chicken and poultry, etc., are being imported. With the absence of clear labelling the consumer is not getting information on the country of origin of meat products and many people are extremely concerned about this. We have also introduced traceability, but I have some difficulty understanding how we can offer the Irish consumer a product that fits into that categorisation of traceability even though imports are coming from many countries, non-EU as well as EU. Will the Leader bring this issue to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and seek immediate action on it?

Mr. D. Cregan: Many issues have been raised on the Order of Business. It is very important that we have a discussion or a statement from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the protection of our children on our streets. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come here to make a statement on this issue to assure people? Perhaps the leaders on each side can tell if this problem is prevalent in all our towns, and not just the city of Dublin. The Garda Síochána has informed us about this problem. It is very important we have a statement at the very least within the next two days to assure people, particularly over the Christmas period. This is a very serious matter; it is one of the most serious issues ever raised here.

Mr. Finneran: I join in the call for either regulation or, if necessary, legislation on food labelling. It is totally inappropriate that inadequate food labelling is giving the wrong impression to customers and shopkeepers. The information available is that there is an attempt by unscrupulous people in the business to hoodwink the public into buying items such as pork and bacon under an Irish packaging label even though the produce is imported. Legislation should be introduced to ensure there is proper labelling of produce.

I am always amazed at the ability of the Labour Party to take the high moral ground. This week it finally buried James Larkin for good and the Democratic Left buried Ceaucesco.

[1176] An Cathaoirleach: This is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: In response to Senator Manning, I am pleased to confirm to the House that I propose to set time aside tomorrow for statements on Northern Ireland. I can also confirm that I have contacted the Minister for Public Enterprise and there will be statements in the House tomorrow from 12.30 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. on the need to have a centenary stamp to commemorate 100 years of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in Ireland. Already 40,000 tickets have been sold for the commemorative celebrations in Croke Park on the last Sunday in May. I thank Senators who have supported this. I look forward to worthwhile contributions from them tomorrow and a positive reaction from the Government to this matter. I thank Senator Farrell for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

In relation to item 4, it was my intention to bring this item forward for early signature on Friday morning. However, I will discuss this matter with the leaders of the groups following the Order of Business today to see how we can facilitate Senators' requests.

I will pass on Senator Norris's concerns regarding East Timor. Senators Glynn, Mooney, Farrell, Connor, Jackman and Cregan expressed concern about the abduction of children from the streets. Senator Glynn mentioned events that took place in Mullingar last week. I will give this matter serious consideration and will contact the Minister's office to see if we can have statements on the matter for two hours tomorrow evening.

On Senator Connor's concerns regarding the area aid grants, I will contact the Department of Agriculture and Food to see if something can be done to speed up the payments.

Senator Mooney asked for the Video Recording Act to be amended. This should have been done a long time ago. The violence to which young people and adults are exposed is very dangerous and I will pass on his concerns to the Minister.

Senator Ryan proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. This is not fair but he is free to do so if he wishes. He used the word “misleading”, but no one was misled in this House. Time was afforded at his request at the earliest possible opportunity. He is playing politics with this proposal. I respect the Senator but I do not think anyone was misled. Senator Ryan called for a debate on welfare. I will look at this matter early in the next session.

Senators Caffrey and Burke called on the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to speed up funding for tourism projects under the operational programme. The two Senators come from the same county as the chairman of that body, who is from Crossmolina, County Mayo, and I am sure they can use their influence on him. I will pass on their concerns to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to have this matter speeded up.

[1177] Senator Leonard called yesterday on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to set up a register of sex offenders. I am pleased the Minister has agreed to her request.

Senator Gallagher requested a debate on item 10. This item will be taken during the next session. Senator Burke called for an urgent debate on waste disposal. This is one of the greatest challenges facing local authorities. Those of us who are members of local authorities and who were members of the sustainable development committee during the last Government realise this. I will set time aside early in the next session for a debate on this issue.

Senator O'Donovan called for the immediate updating of the Gaming and Lotteries Act. I will pass on his views to the Minister. Senator Coghlan is concerned about the Great Southern Hotels. I agree with him and will pass on his views to the Minister.

Senator Ridge mentioned the RTÉ advertisement. It was confirmed last night that the advertisement has been withdrawn. I was disappointed at Senators' contributions during the debate on the National Disability Authority Bill last night. I received many calls on the Order of Business in recent months regarding the Bill. I look forward to the contributions of Senators on Report Stage.

Mr. Norris: Those of us who worked late last night got a very important amendment accepted.

Mr. Cassidy: I agree with Senators Callanan and Finneran who called for a debate on food labelling.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Brendan Ryan moved an amendment to the Order of Business.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.