Seanad Éireann - Volume 168 - 06 December, 2001

Order of Business.

  Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business today is No. 1, referral motion regarding third country nationals to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, to be taken without debate; No. 2, the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Bill, 2000 – Committee and Remaining Stages; Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, motions on the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001, to be taken together for the purpose of debate; and No. 6, Asset Covered Securities Bill, 2001 – Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Senators may share time. Business will be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2.15 p.m.

  Mr. Manning: The Leader did not indicate whether Nos. 3, 4 and 5 will be taken with or without debate and, if with debate, the time allocations. I suspect five minutes would be sufficient for most Members.

  I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 17 be taken before No. 1. If Members on the other side think I am being difficult on this, I am not. I am simply asking that the Bill be published. We are not asking the Leader for time or for him to vote for it. We will make [1226] our own time available. He has the numbers to vote it down if he wishes. We are asking for the simple right of Opposition Members to print a Bill. I do not know why the Leader has turned down our request on three occasions. Apparently the Minister has not seen the Bill. In any event it is not his concern what is placed before the House, that is a matter for the House. With reluctance and increasing irritation, I propose this change to the Order of Business.

  Dr. Henry: I second the proposed amendment. The Minister's office contacted me this morning requesting that I forward the Bill. I faxed it to his office because nobody in the office nor in his Department has seen it.

  A woman who abducted a baby from a hospital in Cork was last week sentenced to five years in prison. It was suggested by the judge that she should serve her sentence in the Central Mental Hospital. This is one of the reasons I am anxious to promote the Mental Health Bill. The Minister promised that, as soon as the Bill was enacted, he would bring forward legislation to deal with the mentally ill before the courts and in custody. However, there has been no progress on that matter in the past five months. Judges have been reduced to suggesting that ill patients should serve prison sentences in the Central Mental Hospital. I do not believe the Government is showing any sense of urgency in respect of mental health legislation and, for this reason, I ask that the Bill be introduced.

  Mr. Costello: I support the calls made by Senator Manning and Senator Henry in respect of this Bill. I cannot understand why the Government is afraid to print it. We are making a simple request which would not require any great level of activity. A decision is all that is needed. I hope the Leader will be able to provide a positive response to our request, otherwise we will be forced to put the matter to a vote.

  I wish to again request that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government come before the House. I do not know if this can be arranged before Christmas, but requests have been made on a weekly basis to have him appear before us to discuss waste management. The situation seems to be deteriorating at present because every few days a new illegal dump containing hazardous and other waste is discovered. A number of these dumps have been found in Wicklow and the latest was uncovered in Dublin. It is inconceivable that this type of practice could have been happening for so many years without the owners of the land knowing about it and without prosecutions taking place. When a prosecution does take place, the Environmental Protection Agency usually brings its case to the District Court which is only empowered to impose a maximum fine of £1,500. There is, there[1227] fore, no real penalty or deterrent. It is time the Minister for the Environment and Local Government intervened and came before the House to inform us about the action he proposes to take.

  Mr. Kett: In light of the findings in the coroner's report on the tragic death of a young handicapped child earlier this year, will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to debate the issue of risk assessment as it relates to the purchase of equipment, aids and appliances? There is a notion abroad that health boards carry out assessments in conjunction with suppliers, who have a vested interest. This is despite the fact that there are many highly trained and motivated people working for agencies that deal with the area of risk assessment. Action must be taken because it should not be the case that those who supply the equipment also have the opportunity to assess its effectiveness. This matter must be debated with the Minister.

  Mr. Norris: I support Senator Manning's request, which is fast becoming a demand, that the Mental Health Bill should be taken. It seems extraordinary that, as Senator Henry stated, the Department had no knowledge of this matter. This indicates that there has been a failure of communication. This House is part of the Parliament and Members of it are attempting to have a Bill printed. Surely the Department has some view on the matter and if there is some reason for the delay, it ought to be apprised of that fact. One can only suspect that sleight of hand was practised here and that in order to comply with European regulations, the Government passed legislation but put in place a time delay in order that it could have the Bill in print but do nothing about it. That is regrettable.

  I support Senator Costello's request for a debate on illegal dumps. It is important that such a debate is held because these dumps are being found throughout the country. A number of them are located close to water and sewerage facilities and represent a clear danger to people's health. There seems to be a general slovenly practice and unless people are prosecuted this behaviour will continue, to the detriment of the nation's health.

  Will the Leader make time available before Christmas for a debate on fishing? I make this request because the once rich waters around this island are being fished out, quotas are being imposed and Irish fishermen are being placed at a disadvantage. We must take action about the super trawlers being built in this country which are not permitted to fish in European Union waters and which are raiding the resources of people living in western Africa.

  Mr. R. Kiely: The supplement with today's Irish Independent states that RTE has won a vic[1228] tory by clinching a deal to transmit its channels on the Sky satellite network without paying for the privilege. I do not know why that is a victory. I wish to protest about the scant coverage of sporting events on RTE at present. A major racing event is taking place at Punchestown on Sunday next but RTE will not be televising it. Many old people who cannot attend racecourses are anxious to watch horseracing on television. Will it be the case that other sporting events, such as soccer, Gaelic football and hurling matches, will not be televised later in the year?

  An Cathaoirleach: This matter is not relevant to the Order of Business. The Senator should find a different way to raise it.

  Mr. Coghlan: Members will be aware that there are currently 60,000 people on local authority housing waiting lists. The budget has done nothing for these low income families and individuals.

  An Cathaoirleach: We debated the budget last evening. We are not going to resume that debate this morning.

  Mr. Coghlan: I fully appreciate that. I have a question for the Leader.

  An Cathaoirleach: It must relate to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Coghlan: In light of the derisory increases announced for these people, I wish to call for a debate on the national housing crisis.

  Mr. D. Kiely: I will not refer to the budget.

  An Cathaoirleach: No, the Senator should not do so.

  Mr. D. Kiely: Will the Leader arrange, before Christmas, a debate on the future of tourism in Ireland in light of the atrocities of 11 September and other difficulties that have arisen? In my opinion the time is apt for a general debate on tourism. In that context, the position of Farranfore Airport in County Kerry should be considered. I compliment Aer Arann for taking up the slack at the airport. I compliment the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, on coming to the aid of the Rose of Tralee festival yesterday. I have lobbied for such action to be taken for a long period because the festival has a contribution to make to the tourism industry.

  Mr. Manning: Does the Minister intend to make Senator Kiely a judge at the festival?

  Mr. Quinn: I support the calls made by Senators Manning, Henry and Costello in respect of the Mental Health Bill. I am not suspicious by [1229] nature and, therefore, I assumed the fact the Bill had not appeared was as a result of lethargy. I have discovered, however, that by passing the original Mental Health Bill the State is no longer in trouble with the Court of Human Rights. All it had to do was pass the Bill; it did not have to enact it. The Bill referred to on the Order Paper is necessary because it suggests the action that should be taken. It came about as a result of pressure at home rather than on foot of pressure from the Court of Human Rights. I support the request to publish the Bill immediately.

  When I read the OECD report on education standards across the globe, I criticised Ireland because I do not believe it is acceptable that we should seem complacent. However, within 24 hours somebody had put a spin on the issue and said we were doing very well because we are in sixteenth, ninth and fifth places in particular areas. If we sent a team to the Olympic Games and stated that we did well because our athletes finished sixteenth, ninth or fifth, people would not be pleased. If the success of the economy is to continue it must be because we are aiming for the top; we must be in the medals. In my opinion there is an air of complacency in terms of how high we aim. If that is true, we will not succeed.

  I support Senator Costello's request for a debate on dumping. I was surprised to discover the other day that the Department of the Environment and Local Government has called on the Criminal Assets Bureau to become involved in this matter. That should not happen until later. We are seeking immediate action by the Garda.

  An Cathaoirleach: These points can be made in the debate which has been sought. We should not pre-empt that debate on the Order of Business.

  Mr. Quinn: This debate should be taken now rather than next year because immediate action is required.

  Mr. Bonner: I congratulate RTE on media reports this morning about a fantastic commercial deal it seems to have struck with Sky.

  Mr. Norris: Shame. Down with Murdoch.

  Mr. Bonner: I ask that the Minister come into the House because, from the point of view of the public, I am concerned about whether this means that RTE will no longer be involved in providing digital services to Digico as was purported to be the case for over two years. It is a very serious matter that total monopoly control on digital service here could now be through Sky.

  I also support yesterday's call by my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, for a debate on the difficulties our fishing industry is about to encounter as a result of the cutbacks being sought by Commissioner Fischler. A debate would be well [1230] worthwhile and would enable us to support the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, who next Monday week will no doubt be making a great effort on our behalf in relation to those huge cutbacks. Conservation is necessary. Ordinary fishing trawlers are in difficulty. However, I am slightly confused on the point expressed by Senator Norris. Some are super-trawlers.

  An Cathaoirleach: These are points which can be dealt with in detail in the debate that is sought.

  Mr. Bonner: This is a very important matter. Senator Norris muddied the waters by some of his comments.

  Ms Keogh: When will the Disabilities (Education and Training) Bill be introduced? It was promised many months ago that it would be not just published but taken before Christmas. It is disappointing it has not yet been introduced. It shows the Government's lack of compassion for the most vulnerable in our society, and this is carried through in its reluctance to take Senator Henry's Mental Health (Amendment) Bill. The case she made this morning points to the vulnerability of the people in our society who need and deserve to be attended to. I ask the Leader to allow the Bill at least to be published.

  Mr. Walsh: I support Senator Coghlan's call for a debate on housing. We should specifically discuss the €989 million allocated for housing, which is just €11 million short of €1 billion, which would make a significant difference given that it is four and a half times the sum allocated in 1997.

  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Walsh: I strongly support the call by Senator Costello and others for a debate on waste management, particularly the recent illegal dumping in Wicklow and Dublin. It is a real threat to the environment at a time when we must comply with EU standards. There is obviously a cost tag attached and it is, therefore, imperative that there is good enforcement. A debate on the issue would be useful and very timely.

  Mr. Coogan: I support Senators Walsh and Coghlan in calling for a debate on waste management. It is some time since the Minister for the Environment and Local Government spoke here, and I would like to know what progress has been made in that area.

  I specifically request the Leader to ask for a debate on social welfare. Yesterday afternoon many speakers from the Government side spoke about the wonderful Utopia that has been created in Ireland. However, today there is a report which indicates that mothers with young children are starving because they are taking the food out of [1231] their own mouths to give to their children. What kind of Utopia is that? I ask that the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs come in here to explain how people like that could fall through the net. It is not good enough in these times.

  Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, Henry, Costello, Norris and Quinn called for No. 17 on the Order of Business to be taken before No. 1. Senator Henry has correctly pointed out to the House the up-to-date position in relation to the Minister's office. I endeavoured to have this dealt with by this morning. I hope to have it dealt with by late this evening and will inform the House first thing in the morning. I have no difficulty whatsoever in publishing this Bill if it is possible.

  Mr. Manning: Take it then. The Leader should take his courage in his hands and take it.

  Mr. Cassidy: Senators Costello, Norris, Quinn, Walsh and Coogan called for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House for a debate on waste management. Yesterday an additional €16 million was provided in grants to radically improve the country's recycling infrastructure. This brings the amount in 2002 to €30 million, which is seven times greater than the £4.3 million provided by the previous Government in 1997. That is the up-to-date position. I have no difficulty in allowing time for this debate.

  Senators Kett and Keogh called for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House following the coroner's report in relation to a particular unfortunate tragedy. Senator Keogh spoke on disability. I hope to have a two-hour debate on disability in Fianna Fáil Private Members' time next week which will include both the Senators' views. I will also endeavour to have the Disabilities (Education and Training) Bill introduced as soon as possible, but it will not be before the Christmas recess – I had hoped it would be introduced before the recess. However, it is very high on the Government's priority list and it is hoped to introduce it soon after the Christmas recess.

  Senators Norris and Bonner called for a debate [1232] on the fishing industry in light of the reported new quotas. I have given a commitment to Senator O'Donovan and I am endeavouring to have time allocated for statements on this next week.

  I will pass to the Minister Senator Rory Kiely's strong views on the RTE sports programme on Sunday afternoon.

  Senators Coghlan and Walsh called for a debate on housing. Senator Walsh gave an up-to-date reply, which was commendable, particularly in relation to the €989 million which is an enormous amount of money. A sum of €146 million was added yesterday to bring it up to that figure, which is four and a half times the allocation of the 1997 budget of €214 million.

  In reply to Senator Coogan, I have no difficulty in having a debate here on social welfare. There is a special information pack available in Senators' pigeonholes in relation to yesterday's allocations. I noted the number of Senators asking questions of me this morning on budgetary matters and the early closing of the Dáil Chamber yesterday. I welcome the budget, even though there were very few questions put to me on it.

  Mr. Manning: I thought the Minister for Finance was responsible for the budget, not the Leader of the House.

  Mr. Cassidy: Someone has to put it on record.

  Mr. Manning: On three occasions the Leader indicated that he will make contact with the Minister for Health and Children, but he has not done so. This morning the Minister's office—

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Manning has spoken once on the Order of Business.

  Mr. Manning: Will the Leader agree to take No. 17 today? What is he afraid of?

  Mr. Norris: Did he take part in the debate last night?

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Manning has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, “That No. 17 be taken before No. 1.”

  Amendment put.

    Coghlan, Paul.

    Connor, John.

    Coogan, Fintan.

    Costello, Joe.

    Doyle, Joe.

    Henry, Mary.

    Jackman, Mary.

    Keogh, Helen.

    McDonagh, Jarlath.

    Manning, Maurice.

    Norris, David.

    Quinn, Feargal.

    Ross, Shane.

    Ryan, Brendan.

[1233]

Níl

    Bohan, Eddie.

    Bonner, Enda.

    Callanan, Peter.

    Cassidy, Donie.

    Chambers, Frank.

    Cox, Margaret.

    Cregan, John.

    Dardis, John.

    Farrell, Willie.

    Fitzgerald, Liam.

    Fitzgerald, Tom.

    Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

    Gibbons, Jim.

[1234]     Glennon, Jim.

    Glynn, Camillus.

    Kett, Tony.

    Kiely, Daniel.

    Kiely, Rory.

    Lanigan, Mick.

    Leonard, Ann.

    Moylan, Pat.

    O'Brien, Francis.

    O'Donovan, Denis.

    Ó Fearghail, Seán.

    Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

    Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Coogan and Henry; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.

  Amendment declared lost.

  Order of Business agreed to.