Seanad Éireann - Volume 160 - 04 November, 1999

Order of Business.

[1190] Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is No. 1, motion re vacancy on Committee of Selection, which shall be taken without debate; No. 2, Cement (Repeal of Enactment Bills) Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 3, Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Bill, 1999 changed from Major Events Television Coverage Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages.

Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreeable. Will the Leader give us a realistic list of legislation which he intends to bring before the House between now and the Christmas recess? Given that the planning Bill is likely to take quite a long time on Committee Stage, which Bills – I do not want him to read out the list he got from the Chief Whip which is, as we all know, a wish list – might realistically come before us? Will he ensure that we do not have a situation, as happens at the end of every session, where four or five Bills are brought before us and the Departments involved want all Stages of the Bills taken in one day? I know that the Leader, conscious as he always is of the dignity and standing of this House, will not stand for such pressures being applied to him by the Government Chief Whip and will fight for the good name of this House in that regard.

Dr. Henry: The Order of Business is agreeable. I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on immigration policy. I do not mean by that a debate on the position of refugees or those seeking asylum but on immigration policy, our policy regarding workers who may be needed in this country as well as those from abroad who are already here.

Today Irish non-consultant hospital doctors have gone to Strasbourg with others from across Europe to demonstrate about the length of their working week. Ireland is one of two countries which have tried to prolong the debate on this matter and we have just come through a very serious nurses' strike. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to come before the House to address this issue? I raised this matter on the Adjournment two weeks ago during the nurses' strike and received a totally unsatisfactory reply. Given that the situation has become so serious that these doctors feel obliged to bang on the gates at Strasbourg, I ask the Leader to encourage the Minister for Health and Children to address this matter.

Mr. Costello: I agree with Senator Henry's comments about junior doctors. It is outrageous that the Minister for Health and Children was a signatory to an agreement which states that the 48 hour week will not apply to junior doctors for a further 13 years. These doctors are incensed and have engaged in industrial action to try to [1191] reduce that timespan. I would like the Minister to address that matter.

My second point relates to immigration policy, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Will the Leader inquire of the Minister how he intends to proceed in this area? The Minister indicated that he is about to embark on a deportation policy where people whose applications have not been successful will be deported. I understand that people will be given their marching orders, so to speak, in batches. It is important that the Minister comes before the House to address this issue because there is a huge number of people awaiting the dreaded news from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that they must leave the country. We should have a debate on the nature of this policy.

My final point involves No. 18, motion 17, on the Order Paper which was tabled by the Labour Party. While I am reluctant to seek an amendment to the Order of Business, I ask the Leader to assist us by providing either Private Members' time or Government time to debate the motion in question which requests that the remit of the Moriarty tribunal be extended to include an examination into the affairs of Cement Roadstone Holdings as they relate to the Ansbacher accounts. The motion was tabled on the grounds that over 50 per cent of directors of CRH held Ansbacher accounts and that the chairman of the company was operating an unlicensed bank. The motion also involves the Glen Ding Wood issue and I refer to it here because it arose during yesterday's debate on the Cement (Repeal of Enactments) Bill with the Tánaiste who indicated that consultation was taking place between the party leaders and that she believed it was the appropriate way to proceed. It would be useful if the House had an opportunity to debate this issue and show its support for Judge Moriarty's taking on board the investigation of this important area.

Mr. J. Doyle: Yesterday, when replying to the Order of Business, the Leader referred to an experience he had with taxis in London. I am pleased to inform him and other Members that Dublin Corporation will introduce a taxi sharing scheme for the months of December and January on a pilot basis. Under the scheme, three or more persons will be able to share a taxi and Dublin Corporation will employ marshals to control queues of passengers at taxi ranks. The Garda Síochána will also monitor the situation. For the information of the House, the two taxi ranks selected for this pilot scheme are those at Foster Place, opposite the Bank of Ireland, and Middle Abbey Street.

Mr. Walsh: I wish to refer to the recent study carried out by the Department of the Environment and Local Government which involved either an efficiency or deficiency audit, I am not sure which, of local government. The study [1192] revealed that the monitoring of housing stock and sanitary services, particularly water supplies, are not up to the standard required. In my opinion we should try perhaps to pre-empt the publication of the forthcoming comprehensive Bill on local government reform by arranging a debate in the House to allow Members with vast experience of local government to put forward their views in a last attempt to improve and enhance the contents of the Bill. If we wait until the Bill is published, the debate will be somewhat reactionary. I suggest that the Leader, in consultation with the leaders of the other groups, provide time during the next two weeks for an open debate on this issue.

Mr. Quinn: Will the Leader draw the attention of the Minister for Health and Children to the yesterday's statement by Dr. Patrick Wall of the Food Safety Authority that it took four weeks to type trace the outbreak of e.coli 026 in County Donegal because samples had to be sent to Colindale in England? In the past I stated that if we were determined to establish the Food Safety Authority we should ensure that it had the necessary support facilities at its disposal. The local health board received high commendations from the Food Safety Authority for recognising and identifying the problem but it still took four weeks to trace this most virulent strain of e.coli. We do not have the requisite tracing facilities in Ireland and there is an urgent need to put them in place.

In response to Senator Doyle's statement about taxis – which came about following last night's useful debate on the matter – I am shaken at the thought that to solve this problem we are going to employ people to control the queues. One has heard of an Irish solution to an Irish problem and this appears to be a Dublin solution to a Dublin problem.

Mr. Farrell: We have discussed the problem on many occasions but I wish to again raise the issue of deaths on our roads. There is a need for a further debate on road safety. It seems that, at least on the N4 which I use regularly, drunk driving and speeding are almost things of the past. However, there remains a great deal of carnage on our roads. In addition, a large number of stabbings and murders have taken place outside discos late at night. There is a need to arrange a debate on the unnecessary bloodshed, sorrow and death which occurs outside discos and on our roads. People must be made aware of the dangers involved.

Mr. Ross: In response to Senator Doyle's comments, there will be an amount of street theatre at taxi ranks if this pilot scheme is launched. What will the marshals do? Will they marshal taxis? They cannot do that because there are none available. Will they marshal the crowds?

[1193] Mr. Cosgrave: They will offer live entertainment while you wait.

Mr. Ross: It will be pure farce. What is required is deregulation. The solution is quite simple. This is a ludicrous suggestion and it is insulting to commuters, taxi drivers and politicians. The pertinent questions we must ask are whether deregulation will take place and whether taxi drivers are being protected because of contributions given to political parties?

An Cathaoirleach: We cannot debate that matter now.

Mr. Dardis: The meter is running.

Mr. Ross: I am not engaging in a debate but the Cathaoirleach allowed Senator Doyle to outline this absolutely absurd suggestion. I suggest that the Senator return to Dublin Corporation and inform it that Members of the Seanad believe it is a total farce and will go down—

Mr. J. Doyle: People are always requesting the introduction of taxi sharing.

Mr. Ross: That is the second point I wish to make and I thank the Senator for interrupting me.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ross on the Order of Business.

Mr. Ross: I wish to raise a matter relevant to the Order of Business. I understand we will debate the NESC report on Tuesday next which is welcome. In my opinion, however, we should debate the specific issues of a new so-called partnership agreement and public service pay. I say that because an ICTU meeting is taking place today to debate that issue and it is obvious that congress is about to enter the negotiations. There is no difficulty with IBEC because, as always, it will capitulate and enter the negotiations.

It might be a good idea for the Seanad and the Dáil to have a real input into these negotiations. These negotiations totally by-pass the parliamentarians. Public service and private sector pay is being decided by completely undemocratic organisations who are not representative of the people of Ireland. As a result we get this extraordinary language called partnership. The question we should ask is whether we want another agreement.

Mr. Ryan: Speech.

Mr. Ross: One of the problems of the nurses' strike was that they were locked into an agreement which they did not want and which did not benefit them. There is a large number of people and groups whose so-called partnership agreement does not benefit them at all. It benefits greatly Senator O'Toole the ICTU Member of this House.

[1194] An Cathaoirleach: If the debate which Senator Ross is seeking takes place he will have nothing left to say.

Mr. Ross: I am trying to prompt Members who have not got as great an interest as I have to provoke serious thought and into having such a debate. We should have that debate on that specific issue because the Seanad has been by-passed.

Mr. Ryan: I will restrain myself on Senator Ross's aberrations. The truth is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill jobs in the public sector because the wage rates in many areas, particularly information technology, are way below what Senator Ross's much beloved market would pay in the private sector.

Mr. Ross: Rubbish.

Mr. Ryan: It is becoming difficult to recruit people in the information technology and the education sectors because—

Mr. Ross: It depends on what they deserve and on their merits. There is no problem about that. It is the blocking of the public service—

An Cathaoirleach: These are all points on a debate which has been sought.

Mr. Ryan: Many of us wonder if many people working in the general area of the media merit what they are paid.

As it is the beginnings of winter, I ask the Leader when the Government proposes to make its final decision about its response to the problems of homelessness. I have heard the Minister responsible speak on many occasion about this issue and something is imminent every time he speaks. However, the review document produced by the Government still says it will develop a comprehensive response to homelessness. Will we have to wait until someone dies on the streets of Dublin before we have a comprehensive response to homelessness? It would be shameful in our current state of affluence if that were to be the case.

Again I ask the Leader what is happening to the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill. I raised this issue yesterday morning. This Bill has been on the Order Paper for quite a while.

I will reiterate what my colleagues have said about taxis. It is interesting that Senator Doyle has been able to tell us more about problems of the taxi system than the entire Government benches. That fact underlines Senator Ross's point. Why is the Fianna Fáil Party afraid to deregulate taxis? Imagine if we had a shortage of food shops in Dublin and Fianna Fáil Members said they would allow a few more food shops to be opened. There is no logic to it. There is no sense to it. It is a political cop-out for a reason and we are entitled to know what that reason is. It is not being given to us. There is an agenda here.

[1195] An Cathaoirleach: I have allowed Senator Ryan a lot of latitude and I ask him to confine his comments to the Order of Business.

Mr. Ryan: Senator Ross would want to be careful when the word share comes in here. People could misunderstand his concern on this issue. The words “share” and “share” in the plural could be misunderstood. We could misunderstand his problems. I am sure Trinity graduates would not like to share taxis with the rest of us.

I am sorry Item No. 1 is being taken without debate because I would love the opportunity to sing the praises of Senator Farrell.

Mr. Finneran: We should not throw cold water on Senator Doyle's proposal. With regard to his suggestion of providing marshals and, as it is the season of goodwill, perhaps he would consider employing those with a busker mentality. Then, people in the queues could be entertained.

Mr. Lydon: What colour shirts will they be wearing?

Mr. Manning: Has the Government side a few volunteers?

Mr. Finneran: I support Senator Walsh in his call for a debate on local government. I want to also refer to the crisis in staffing local authorities, particularly the haemorrhage of staff leaving the technical side of local authorities for the private sector. We are now in the situation where many schemes cannot be put in place, such as housing and water schemes, and money is left unused. Last week I attended a meeting of the General Council of County Councils and this issue was a major complaint raised by members. They are national representatives of county councils. In a time when we have so much money available to county councils it is unfortunate that we do not have the necessary personnel to implement schemes. Therefore, I would like a debate on this matter.

Mr. Coogan: I support both Senators who called for a debate on the forthcoming local government Bill. I know the Bill will not come before us for some time but we have some idea of what it will contain. It is time we clarified what the Minister should be doing with regard to that Bill.

The previous speaker said that there is plenty of money in local government but I dispute his claim. One of the difficulties of local government is that while additional funding is being supplied there are additional demands being placed on local government which they are unable to meet because of the capping of revenue at 4 per cent. In a few years time local government will be unable to carry out simple works because of these additional demands. The debate on this subject should include these issues as well as the issues raised by previous speakers.

[1196] Mr. Chambers: I concur with Senator Walsh's call for a debate on local government and its functions in the current economic climate. I do not concur with the view that there is a haemorrhage of staff leaving local authorities. However, it is time to look at the job description of local authorities, their functions and the way they administer funds. It would be worthwhile for public representatives and local authority members to examine what staff are employed by local authorities and to check the value for money purpose for customers. Value for money is important for the function of government and for the future.

I also take this opportunity to support Senator O'Meara's call yesterday for a debate on the White Paper on Rural Development which was launched during the summer. This is an important paper. There was a reasonable review of it at the time. It is important for this House to examine the contents of the White Paper and discuss the important decisions that have been taken.

Mrs. Jackman: I support Senator Finneran and the other Senators who called for a debate on the reform of the local government Bill.

The dearth or haemorrhage of staff leaving local authorities is prevalent in the planning section. Last week four people left Limerick County Council and they cannot be replaced because private sector demands are so great now that it is not an exciting prospect to take up employment in local government. If we are to implement the Planning and Development Bill we would want to push hard for resources that will attract staff to carry out the initiatives purported in the Bill. I support Senator Finneran's call for a debate on the reform Bill as well.

Ms O'Meara: Later this morning disabled people, their families and helpers will march on Leinster House to draw attention once again to their need for additional support and funding. This is a pre-budget demonstration which seeks to bring to the attention of the Government the still long overdue needs of a group who are treated largely as second class citizens in our society. These people will not be accompanied by some family members who are unable to travel because they are prisoners in their own homes due to their inability to be supported by personal assistants, to get equipment and the kind of support that is necessary for them to participate as equal members of society. I looked at the Government's programme, An Action Plan for the Millennium. The section which deals with people with disabilities is vague and aspirational. Those who will demonstrate today are disappointed with the contents of the action plan. It is essential that the House should voice the concerns of people who find themselves unable to be heard in a time of plenty. We must ensure that their right to quality of life is upheld in this House.

[1197] Mr. Lydon: As a member of the committee of one of the four Dublin councils which examined the taxi problem, I assure Senator Ryan that the Fianna Fáil members of Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown councils voted with our Fine Gael and Labour Party colleagues for an increase in the number of taxi licences.

I support the call made yesterday for the establishment of a press council. Senator Ó Murchú raised the matters related to the late Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. A shocking aspect of the reporting of the issue, which must be condemned, was the interchangeable use of the words “paedophile” and “homosexual”, as if to imply that whoever is homosexual is a paedophile. That is a shameful slur on those who are homosexual which must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Mr. Burke: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the sale of State assets? In the aftermath of the Telecom Éireann sale and looking forward to the sale of ICC Bank, such a debate would be appropriate.

Mr. Mooney: I endorse the comments made by Senator O'Meara about the demonstration which will take place today. As the parent of a child with a disability, I worry that in a time of economic success it is the strongest and most affluent who are heard by Government. I do not understand why such appalling problems exist for those with disabilities, their carers and parents. Successive administrations have paid lip service to this serious problem, a problem which could be solved easily, as Senator O'Meara and other Members will agree. Those of us who are more fortunate in our lives should reflect on what we will see outside the gates of Leinster House today and the Government, in its mid-term review, might be proactive rather than aspirational.

Mr. Cassidy: Senator Manning asked about legislation which will be taken before the end of the session. I gave a comprehensive list last week following consultation with the Ministers, Departments and the Whips' Office, although it was not the list which usually comes out to which he referred. We are aware of the pressures on Government at the end of every session, particularly this session, where it has been proposed that there will be a joint sitting of both Houses which will be addressed by the President on the last sitting day. We will sit for three days a week in November and four days a week in December. The joint sitting on 16 December will the final sitting day of the millennium and the Houses will then go into recess. I will consult with the party leaders to see how we can give as much time as Senators need to process legislation, make statements and debate motions.

Senator Henry called for a debate on immigration policy. I will arrange this and I will pass on her views to the Minister for Health and Children about the longer working hours for junior [1198] doctors. The Minister dealt with this issue in a previous debate in the House but I will ask him to return as soon as possible.

I thank Senator Joe Doyle for making such a positive contribution when he informed the House about the pilot taxi marshalling scheme. This is the correct way to deal with the situation – by using marshals who are on the spot immediately to identify where there is a queue and to bring taxis to it.

Mr. Ryan: There are no taxis.

Mr. Cassidy: That has nothing to do with courteousness.

Mr. Dardis: Senator Ross will explain that to his chauffeur.

Mr. Cassidy: I thank Senator Joe Doyle and I hope the trial ranks in Foster Place and Middle Abbey Street are a success.

Senator Ryan comes from the Fianna Fáil tradition but he has joined the Labour Party, although that is not to say that he will go somewhere else in the future. Since that party was last in power, the number of taxis in Dublin has doubled to 750. Members of this House should always be fair when commenting and the media should state the fact of the matter – the number of taxis is increasing. Senators are to be congratulated on the views expressed last night during Private Members' Business; it was a worthwhile debate.

Senators Walsh, Finneran, Coogan, Chambers and Jackman called for a debate on local government. It is expected that the local government Bill will be ready by the end of this session, although it depends on the progress made with the planning and development Bill.

Senator Ryan inquired yesterday about the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill. I have been informed by the Department that there are no plans to proceed with this at the moment. I will give an answer to a question asked yesterday by Senator Henry next week. Senator Jackman requested a debate on the attention deficit report. The Minister for Health and Children cannot attend such a debate in this session but he will make arrangements to be present early in the next session. I will try to expedite that for the Senator. Senator Farrell asked for a debate on speeding and road deaths. I will arrange such a debate.

Senator Ross suggested that we include the new social partnership agreement in our debate on the NESC report next week. I will consider this. The Senator also said that politicians do not have any part in this. However, his leader plays a major part.

Mr. Ross: I do not have a leader.

Mr. Cassidy: I do not wish to be political. What the Senator said was quite true.

[1199] Mr. Ross: Senator Manning was the last leader I had.

Mr. Lydon: Lost leader.

Mr. Manning: Senator Ross is an anarchist.

An Cathaoirleach: The Leader, without interruption, please.

Mr. Cassidy: Senator Ryan called for a debate on homelessness and I will facilitate that. I agree with all the sentiments he expressed.

Mr. Ryan: I do not want a debate – I want action.

Mr. Cassidy: Senators O'Meara and Mooney requested a debate on the conditions for people with disabilities. I agree that such a debate should take place and the Government is committed to doing whatever it can. It finds itself in the happy position where money is not a problem.

Order of Business agreed to.