Seanad Éireann - Volume 165 - 27 February, 2001

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business for today is No. 1, Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (Resumed), with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and [634] those of all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes.

Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed to. On the Order of Business three weeks ago I asked the Leader to comment on the view in the House that the local government Bill was in a state of crisis. The view was also held that the Bill would not be taken this session because of the unwillingness of Independents to go ahead with the proposal to abolish the dual mandate, a stance with which I agree. There have been more stories to this effect recently. Will the Leader confirm that the local government Bill, which contains a number of necessary reforms on which all sides of the House agree, will be taken this session as he has consistently promised since the middle of the last session?

On a personal level, I compliment the Leader on his successful fund raising in County Westmeath and for his generosity in sharing the credit with his constituency colleague, Deputy McGrath. This has impressed all Senators.

Mr. Cassidy: It is called doing it with a smile.

Mr. Norris: Senator Manning will accept that the Independents in this House are not opposing the removal of the dual mandate. I cannot speak for my Independent colleagues but I have no difficulty with the separation of powers and the removal of the dual mandate.

I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that instead of No. 1 the House discusses the urgent matter of foot and mouth disease and the delays and inadequacies in the response to this situation. My brother telephoned me on Friday morning and said that lorries coming through Dublin Port were passing the Gaerwyn abattoir where a case of foot and mouth had been detected and that no precautionary measures were being taken at the North Wall. There were no mats or sprays in use at the port. This is extraordinary. The House should debate this matter immediately as it could turn into an economic disaster.

Mr. Costello: I second Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business but I too have gloomy news about foot and mouth. I have just come from a meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. Delegates at the meeting spoke of the fact that no precautions were being taken at various entry locations in the Republic yesterday morning. No verbal warnings were given on aeroplanes, no notices were handed out nor were any mats or disinfectant sprays in use when they arrived at the airport. This matter was raised briefly in the House last week and we urged maximum co-operation from citizens. Surely there must also be maximum co-operation from all responsible authorities. There is no overall approach to this problem.

[635] An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is going into detail which would be more appropriate should Senator Norris's amendment be accepted.

Mr. Costello: I second that amendment and I hope we can debate this issue immediately.

I also wish to raise the drop-out rate from third level education. Last week we raised the issues of under age drinking and the lack of access to education for students from disadvantaged areas. Only 3% of students in certain postal areas of my constituency, which is also the Taoiseach's constituency, go to third level. The recent report shows a large drop-out at third level. We need to find out the reasons for that. Is it because of a lack of necessary career guidance or funding? This is a serious matter. I ask the Leader to facilitate an early debate on this issue. The Minister should be invited to the House so that we can look at the gamut of third level education and find out why, at this time of the Celtic tiger when there is emphasis on quality education, we are doing so badly.

Ms Ormonde: I support the call for a debate on the drop-out levels highlighted in the report by the Higher Education Authority. We discussed aspects of this issue two or three weeks ago. There are major reasons this is happening. We would welcome a debate in this House. This survey was done in 1992. We must take into account public expenditure on third level education since that time in terms of academic infrastructure, capital and student facilities. We should do a survey now and make comparisons because that survey may not be as accurate today.

Mr. Quinn: I support Senator Norris's call for a change to the Order of Business. We should have a short debate this important matter. It seems that more attention is being given to the rugby match on Saturday and to Cheltenham than to the horrors which could afflict our agricultural business.

I am concerned about the publicity given in Forbes to the tax evasion schemes for American citizens which have been mounted by Irish-based companies. We cracked down on non-resident Irish-based companies because we were afraid of the damage they would do to the image of Ireland. It is dangerous to see the words “scam” and “Ireland” in Forbes, which is read around the world. I ask the Leader to tell the Minister that we need more than a laid back response to this issue.

I am sure we all welcome the news that the proceedings of the Northern Ireland Assembly can now be viewed live on the worldwide web. This is a useful step in increasing public awareness of the parliamentary process. I hope this development brings home to us how much we need to do if we want to ensure that the same recognition is given to the importance of the Internet and of the information society.

[636] Mr. O'Donovan: I join my colleagues in calling for a debate on foot and mouth disease, which is spreading with phenomenal ease throughout Britain. The major concern is that it is in Anglesey which is a few miles off our coastline. The farming community has suffered considerably and this matter needs to be highlighted. Although I am a sporting fanatic, I would have no difficulty if Cheltenham or the rugby game is cancelled. We must do whatever we can swiftly and efficiently to isolate this small country which depends on agriculture.

Mr. O'Dowd: The foot and mouth issue is on the agenda for discussion tomorrow. I ask the Leader to ensure that the Minister is here for such a discussion. Nothing less than that will suffice as this is an important issue.

I also call for a debate on the needs of the elderly, particularly during the cold weather. I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister the fact that there is a higher death rate among senior citizens in Ireland during winter than anywhere else in Europe. The reason is that houses are too cold. We need a properly funded central heating system for elderly and sick citizens.

Mr. R. Kiely: I also wish to express my concern about the grievous outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Everything possible should be done to ensure that it does not spread to this country. While I would not like to see sports fixtures abandoned, they should be cancelled if necessary.

I take grave exception to the comments of an English parliamentarian that the precautions taken at Cork Airport to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease were insufficient.

Mr. Costello: It was a Welsh Assemblyman.

Mr. R. Kiely: Such precautions should be in place. Passengers flying into Dublin Airport are always told to visit the offices of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if they have been in contact with cattle, but people flying into British airports are not advised to do so. We are more alert here in taking the necessary precautions.

Mr. Norris: It is in our interest to know the deficiencies in our system, which are perfectly obvious, particularly when the Minister yesterday outlined the steps he was planning to take.

An Cathaoirleach: Silence please, Senator Norris.

Mr. R. Kiely: It is another case of the English putting down the Irish. That is what it is.

An Cathaoirleach: Order, please. I remind Senator Kiely that we are not having the debate now.

[637] Mr. R. Kiely: I agree. Last week, the comments of a judge were raised on the Order of Business. He was reported as saying that he would not blame a man for hitting a woman, or something like that. The judge was wrong because no one should hit another person, man or woman. I was appalled when looking at the television programme “Questions and Answers” last night during which a member of the panel, who is a member of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, referred to rugby followers as animals. As everyone knows, I am not a follower of rugby but it is a disgrace to refer to fellow humans as animals, especially when referring to an Irishman.

An Cathaoirleach: I cannot allow a precedent to be created in this Chamber whereby we will discuss the contents of “Questions and Answers” on the Order of Business.

Mrs. Ridge: It is boring, apart from anything else.

Mr. R. Kiely: It was disgraceful to refer to followers of any sport in Ireland as animals. Mr. John Bowman should ensure a retraction before the next programme.

Mr. Norris: That will be the day. The pure spirits.

Mr. Dardis: Senator Norris is offside.

Dr. Henry: I support the calls for a debate on foot and mouth disease which is very serious. We thought things could not get worse in the beef industry, yet they have. I also support the calls for a debate on the drop-out rate among third level students. All is not wrong in third level education, however. Will the Leader convey our congratulations to the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Treacy, on the success of the first Science Foundation Ireland competition? Some 14 major awards were made and I must say, modestly, that eight of them went to Trinity College, six of which were described as world class projects. Four went to UCC and two others went elsewhere. It is wonderful to see the Government providing large sums of money for basic research. We should express our congratulations to the Minister of State who has put so much time and effort into this matter.

Mr. Lanigan: I join with other Senators in seeking a debate on the drop-out rates in third level institutions. We should broaden that debate, however, because there is no point in discussing a document which refers to 1992. If there is a drop-out rate we have to examine where these people go to. Thousands of entrepreneurs have driven the Celtic tiger but they never went to college, let alone dropped out. Nobody should panic over drop-out rates from third level institutions. [638] Let us discover why they dropped out, where they went and whether they are running successful companies. That is more important than taking a set of figures and saying that everything is wrong in Ireland, as has happened before.

As for Mr. Forbes, he is the most right-wing person in the whole world. Having read the editorials written by him in Forbes magazine, I would discount anything in it apart from statistics that are produced by people outside that organisation. That man is a menace to the world, not alone to Irish people.

An Cathaoirleach: He certainly has nothing to do with the Order of Business.

Mr. Lanigan: I suggest that we bring Mr. Forbes in. He might be a member of the trilateral commission as well, although I am not too sure about that.

There is a grave danger concerning agriculture. The suggestion was made that no warning was given on Aer Lingus flights into Cork yesterday. I am seeking a debate on this matter. Why were these people not requested to walk through a disinfectant dip before they left Great Britain? The danger is that foot and mouth disease could spread to Ireland from Great Britain. Let us ask the British before they travel to the Continent or to Ireland to walk over a disinfected mat and we will also take further precautions.

Following the heated election to appoint a new OCI president, Mr. Hickey retained his position. It is time we had a debate on sport in terms of where resources are going and how they are managed. There was a great deal of controversy about the OCI. The International Olympic Committee has lost all credibility worldwide. It is a money-making organisation which is not good for sport. The issue should be examined.

We should offer our sympathies to anybody associated with Andy Mulligan who played a major role on the international rugby team in the 1960s. He was one of the gentlemen of Irish sport and when he finished his playing career he worked for the EU and the UN on our behalf. Sir Donald Bradman, a sportsman of world renown, also died last week. He did not need grants to become the greatest all-round cricketer of all time.

Mr. Burke: I support the call for a debate on the foot and mouth disease. I agree with Senator O'Dowd that, whether the debate takes place today or tomorrow, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should be present. That is the least we deserve because it is a serious issue for the entire agricultural industry.

I also support the call for a debate on the drop-out rates from third level colleges. That should be coupled with a debate on higher education grants. This area needs to be debated because recently students took to the streets and they did not do so because this is a minor issue. They are deeply [639] concerned about grant payments and we fully support their call. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate at an early date.

Mr. Callanan: A debate on the foot and mouth outbreak and the BSE crisis is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. It is a little strange that there have been requests to hold this debate today. We all know the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is in Brussels in negotiations on the beef industry. Will we bring him back for this debate later or will we leave him there to try to resolve matters on behalf of Irish farming? It is more sensible to await his return. I urge the Leader to wait until tomorrow afternoon for the debate.

It is irresponsible for anybody to bring a truck into Dublin Port and then depart without asking where is the facility to disinfect trucks. I equally deplore the comments made about people travelling through Cork Airport yesterday. British parliamentarians should know enough at this juncture to address such a situation as it arises and we expect they would have done so before they left Britain.

Mr. Costello: We are trying to protect our own industry.

Mr. R. Kiely: Sucking up to those in Killarney.

Mr. Callanan: There was a facility at Cork Airport if they asked for it but whether they wished to do so is another question. To be fair to the people administering Cork Airport the facility was available—

An Cathaoirleach: Senator, we are not debating the matter now.

Mr. Callanan: A Chathaoirligh, I have the utmost respect for you but on many occasions topics in the newspapers are raised and Senator Rory Kiely's reference to the discussion on “Questions and Answers” is only an extension of that.

An Cathaoirleach: The Chair tries to discourage such interventions.

Mrs. Ridge: You are right to try to do so. I will be as brief as possible. I raise once again after a year and a half—

Mr. R. Kiely: The Senator did not say “discourage it” about the judge's comments. She should be consistent.

Mrs. Ridge: Will someone protect me against the savage attack by that man?

Mr. R. Kiely: The Senator should be consistent.

[640] Mrs. Ridge: Can we resume now? Will the Minister come in, after a year and a half, to discuss his proposals after the study and review of the pornography laws in view of the find last week with regard to paedophile pornography? Some people think it is funny but I think it is dreadful. I wish we could have a definitive result from the Minister's review and discover what he is going to do about the matter.

Mr. Coogan: I resent the use of the term “drop-out” to describe third level students. It is an unfair term because a substantial number of students are attracted to industry by high wages. However, we should have a system whereby they can drop back in. There should be a structure that allows a person taking a few years off to return, bringing back the experience they have received in industry. People who leave college due to family circumstances or high potential earnings do not drop out – they decide to make a career move.

Mr. Cassidy: Senator Manning inquired about the local government Bill. It is the intention of the Government that this Bill will have passed through both Houses by Easter. I read in the papers the articles referred to by the Senator. There may be difficulties, but the decisions will be made in the interests of the legislation. The Minister is determined. I look forward to the Bill coming before the House and giving it safe passage with the consent of Senators.

Senators Manning, Norris, Costello, Quinn, O'Donovan, O'Dowd, Rory Kiely, Henry, Lanigan and Burke called for a debate on foot and mouth disease. As Senators will know from the Order Paper, this debate will take place tomorrow at 2 p.m. and I will afford the opportunity to as many Senators as wish to contribute. It will resume after Private Members' time, at 8 p.m. tomorrow night. I will allow all the time that is necessary to let Senators express their concerns and make their statements to the House and to the Minister or Minister of State present. We have heard from Senator Callanan, chairman of the agriculture committee, who is au fait with the Minister's diary. If the Minister is available and is not in Brussels or attending to urgent matters pertaining to foot and mouth disease, he will certainly be here.

Senators Burke, Ormonde, Henry, Lanigan and Coogan called for a debate on education and the report on the Higher Education Authority. Senator Henry complimented the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, on his prestigious awards and I want to be associated with that. The Minister has excelled in his portfolio.

I agree that due to the buoyancy of the economy and good employment prospects students are leaving third level and going into industry. The back to school system has many opportunities for students to come back or to continue [641] their education at night. That matter can be discussed when we have the debate in the House.

Senator Quinn's views will certainly be passed on to the Minister for Finance. I welcome the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the web and Internet system. I congratulate everyone involved and look forward to viewing it on many occasions in the future.

Senator O'Dowd called for a debate on the needs of the elderly. I think this can be accommodated when the Social Welfare Bill comes before the House in the next few weeks. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator O'Dowd, but his constituency colleague, who is doing a wonderful job in his portfolio, can discuss with us the various merits of the legislation when it comes before the House.

Senator Lanigan and others requested a debate on sport. The Senator, who was an excellent athlete and achieved a great deal both at Croke Park and in the world of athletics, has a great knowledge of sport. I will communicate the views of Members to the Minister and I will make time available to discuss the Olympics, funding for the Sports Council and Sports Campus Ireland, which is a marvellous development. We should devote an entire day to debating Sports Campus Ireland because it is the alternative to drug and alcohol abuse. I have often stated that when a person has a fit body they have a fit brain. When one has a fit brain, one gains confidence and, as Senator Ridge knows, when one has confidence, one can move mountains.

Mrs. Ridge: I thank Senator Cassidy for that advice.

Mr. Cassidy: The Senator requested a debate on the pornography laws. I will make time available to debate this important matter at the earliest opportunity.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris moved an amendment to the Order of Business. Is the amendment being pressed?

Mr. Norris: On the basis of the undertaking given by the Leader, provided that he will be able to produce the Minister to explain the relaxed attitude taken—

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris—

Mr. Norris: —and if he can restrain Members on that side of the House from taking the kind of racist and Anglophobic approach they took earlier on the Order of Business, I will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Callanan: Senator Norris ought to know—

[642] An Cathaoirleach: It is not in order to discuss the matter further.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order of Business agreed to.