Seanad Éireann - Volume 172 - 09 April, 2003

Order of Business.

  

Ms O'Rourke: I wish to include in the Order of Business No. 27 on the Order Paper, to be taken without debate. This matter was raised previously by Senator Leyden and he has secured the signatures of the leaders of the various parties.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that being included as No. 1 on the Order of Business?

  Ms O'Rourke: We will call it No. a1 as there is another No. 1.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

[862]  Mr. O'Toole: On a point of order, have we taken a motion before the Order of Business? Is that what we just did?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: No, we are on the Order of Business.

  Mr. O'Toole: What did we do with No. 27?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It will be the first item on the Order of Business.

  Mr. O'Toole: My apologies. I thought it was being taken without debate.

  Ms O'Rourke: It is my fault. I should have put it in better order. The Order of Business is No. a1, motion re the Middle East, to be taken without debate; No. 1, motion for earlier signature of the Local Government (No. 2) Bill 2003, to be taken without debate; No. 2, Official Languages (Equality) Bill 2002 – Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 until 1.30 p.m.; No. 3, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Bill 2002 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m.; No. 4, Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Bill 2003 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3, and to conclude not later than 6 p.m.; and No. 5, Private Members' motion, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Business will be interrupted from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, as early as possible in order that he can outline the Government's rationale for continuing to fail to support the case of Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin which will shortly come before the courts? As she is aware, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges recently requested the Minister to indemnify the legal costs of both Members. We discovered recently that he had failed to do so and to support the Members financially in their case, as has the Government. This is a very serious matter which should be taken out of the private setting of meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. A full public debate with the Minister should be held immediately.

  We need to know exactly the rationale of the Government. The Minister could find himself in a similar position to my colleague and Deputy Howlin in his clinic next week in respect of information given to him in the public interest and which should be used as such. We know there are many views on this subject in the House. Senator Jim Walsh expressed a contrary view to mine last week. We should debate the matter in the House because it is important that we know exactly what the Government is arguing in respect of its failure to fund the case. Both Members acted properly and in the public interest. They did not abuse privilege in the House. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to support the case because it could [863]affect us all. I ask that the debate be organised by the Leader at the most opportune time.

  We will have an unprecedented set of circumstances in the 22nd Seanad tonight when the first Private Members' Bill will be debated, the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2003 in the name of Senator Higgins. While other Bills have been published, they have not been debated. Will the Government side support the Bill? I expect that it will on the basis that legislation introduced by this side of the House should be given a free run in respect of Committee and Report Stages. If there are matters of principle of debate concerning the Government and Opposition, it is very important that they are sorted out on these Stages. I ask the Government side to set a good precedent tonight, support the Bill and allow it progress to Committee Stage when it can be amended according to its wishes.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is pre-empting the debate.

  Mr. B. Hayes: I am asking for the view of the Leader of the House because it would be a good precedent to allow the Bill to progress to Committee Stage.

  Mr. O'Toole: I urge the Leader to consider the Senator's point. As I have said to every Government for the past 16 years, it is important to realise that not all wisdom is on the Government side of the House at any one time. The Opposition can also raise issues which should be argued on their merits. What is happening is that civil servants are saying, “How dare anybody other than those on the Government side bring forward a Bill?” This is schoolyard behaviour. If a Bill is good, it should be supported; if not, it should be buried and if it requires changes, they should be made. There are many Members on the Government side who support that point of view. It would bring greater independence of office to the Seanad, including those on the Government side.

  There used to be a proud tradition in politics whereby a Member on the Government side could bring a Bill to the House independently. There is nothing wrong with this. Any Member of the House can do so and the Government can deal with such a Bill in the same way as it deals with other legislation. It is wrong to adopt the blanket position that every Bill that comes from the Opposition side should be opposed, unless it represents a huge embarrassment to the Government. The Government should use it as a way to put pressure on Departments by asking if legislation introduced is good, why has it not been introduced. If it is bad, it could be opposed.

  I could write the Minister's speech tonight. He will give many reasons the Bill is a good idea but say it is not drafted correctly and that he will come back again having examined it. This happens every time. It is a set script which will be taken from the top shelf and trotted out. Senators [864]on the Government side will be forced to support it, although most will not believe it, including the Leader, perhaps, who might think it is a good idea to support some aspects of the Bill. This issue is worth raising.

  We hear conflicting reports about an issue that has been bubbling for the past year. The Minister for Transport is quick enough to tell the world his views on issues. I want to know where we stand on the Dublin Port tunnel, a matter raised by way of a Progressive Democrats motion at some stage. I am not raising it for any mischievous reason but it seems utterly daft that we are building the most important conduit for transport to the Dublin docks, although certain vehicles will be too high to use it. The higher vehicles, which are more environmentally friendly and efficient and will lead to fewer vehicles on the roads, although I dislike them and would like to have them banned, will not be able to go through the tunnel. This is utterly mad. I would like the Leader to invite somebody responsible for this decision to the House. If it is the Minister for Transport, let him come here and be clear on whether he defends or opposes it. He was quick enough to take on Dublin City Council when he did not like its signposts when he arrived home from abroad. He seems to be saying certain things and letting Dublin City Council take the flak. What is his current position? The necessary changes to the tunnel would increase costs by 16% but we should have the figures in front of us in order that we can discuss the matter and know what we are talking about. The Government is dithering and everybody is confused. This is unacceptable.

  Mr. Ryan: In no way do I wish to question the decision of the Leas-Chathaoirleach on the Adjournment Matters but both Houses have something to sort out. If Ministers are not responsible for matters, they should be decent enough to stay away from official openings for which they eschew all responsibility. It the Minister for Transport is to open every single road in the country, he cannot tell the Houses of the Oireachtas that he has no responsibility for the roads programme. Let the Houses of the Oireachtas and, I presume, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges establish that Ministers who claim credit for matters should accept responsibility for them or else be precluded from doing so. That is a simple enough view and part of politics.

  Will the Leader consider having a debate on transparency and consumer rights? Aer Lingus and British Airways co-run a flight on the Dublin-London route. A colleague of mine was exploring this and discovered that the 6.40 a.m. flight this morning cost 25% more if one purchased one's ticket from Aer Lingus rather than British Airways. It is the same flight in the same aeroplane with the same crew, to the same destination, with the same return journey. That is not competition. It is a case of Aer Lingus abusing the patriotism [865]of Irish people. It is an absolute disgrace. The idea that one would log on to an Aer Lingus website and end up paying 25% more than one would have if one had booked the same flight with British Airways is an outrage. This should be dealt with.

  Every night on television after 9 p.m. we see images of the most appalling brutality and violence. Apparently, it is acceptable to show this as long as it is fiction. Listening to Robert Fisk yesterday I was struck immediately by the fact that we kept seeing a sanitised version of war. This House should debate broadcasting standards. I fully support all that has been said about RTÉ's coverage. Why is it that we never see the brutality of war in news coverage in a way that is apparently acceptable in fictionalised accounts? Is it to protect us or to ensure we do not realise what is really happening, de facto, in our name? That is all I will say on the matter.

  I seek a debate on industrial relations as a matter of urgency. There is a new style of macho management developing which is evident in Peerless Rugs in Athy and The Irish Glass Bottle Company Limited. In my constituency ADM Limited has locked out 140 people without bothering to negotiate with them. It presented a fait accompli on a take it or leave it basis, and when workers would not take it, they were immediately locked out. In a country which sells partnership as its greatest institutional achievement the fact that this type of cowboy industrial relations is still ongoing says very little about the depth of IBEC's commitment to partnership. It is an issue we need to discuss.

  Dr. M. Hayes: I am sorry to go back over something mentioned yesterday. It was my fault as I had failed to catch the Leas-Chathaoirleach's eye in time.

  Senator Daly raised the matter of the public health response to SARS, a hugely important and relevant issue, and the Leader undertook to refer it to the Minister for Health and Children. I ask her to extend the reference to include the preparations that need to be made to ensure those coming to the Special Olympics at the end of June can be properly accommodated. This might include liaising with the countries from which they come. It will certainly require a huge mobilisation of public health expertise at points of entry when large numbers come in at the same time.

  Mr. Norris: I strongly support those of my colleagues who advocate backing Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin. What they are fighting for is an important political point in terms of the freedom of Members on all sides of the House. I am sure everyone here supports what they are doing.

  An important point was made by Senator Brian Hayes about the need to give, in a spirit of magnanimity from the Government, a reasonable degree of support to legislation that originates from this side of the House or individual [866]Members on the Government side. If there are good ideas, let us have them in the interests of the country. It is fine if the Government wants to take the legislation over at a later stage or put its stamp on it. Who cares? Ideas should not be stifled simply because they do not come from within the Government or, as Senator O'Toole said, the Civil Service.

  I again call for a debate on Iraq. I am not proposing an amendment to the Order of Business nor will I be calling for a vote because I know the Government side would have to troop through the division lobbies like sheep. Am I allowed to say that?

  A Senator: That is not allowed.

  Mr. Norris: I am not allowed. May I have a list of animal imagery which is permissible?

  Mr. Finucane: There is one exception.

  Mr. Norris: There was one but there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one that—

  Mr. Finucane: Senator Leyden broke from the slips too quickly.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Norris should continue on today's Order of Business.

  Mr. Norris: While the vote was taking place – I wonder if this escaped the attention of my friends; I would like to think they are all still my friends – General Michael Jackson was giving evidence in Derry. He is the man who was in command of the entire British army. He was giving evidence to the effect that what the British army did in Derry was perfectly reasonable, that it was perfectly well justified. I am not at all surprised that he takes the same view about what is going on in Iraq. I doubt if that recommends itself to my good independent-minded colleagues in Fianna Fáil.

  We should also support what Senator Ryan said, especially in the light of the call by the International Federation of Journalists for a full independent inquiry into the apparently deliberate assassination of European journalists and those from Al-Jazeera, which was targeted not just in this war but also in the previous one. It has been said that we should look at the success of Afghanistan. Let us listen to what happened; today or yesterday, 11 civilians were killed in a bombing by the Americans because the only bit—

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is the Senator seeking a debate?

  Mr. Norris: —where the regime is in control is the ten mile area around Kabul.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

[867]  Mr. Norris: The question which may have been forgotten in my lengthy diatribe—

  Mr. Minihan: That is the best word the Senator has used all day.

  Mr. Norris: I ask her to, please, arrange the debate on Iraq for today.

  Mr. MacSharry: Will the Leader invite the Tánaiste to the House in the light of yesterday's announcement by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FÁS in regard to the arrangement of work permit procedures and the occupational sectors ineligible for work permits? We need to have the Tánaiste here to debate the issue. While I appreciate what she is trying to do, many sectors are included which will make it prohibitive for those in the hotel and catering trade and other sectors to do business. Some of the employer organisations which have been in contact with me are very concerned. I ask the Leader to endeavour to have the Tánaiste here as a matter of urgency.

  Mr. Finucane: The national disease surveillance board has published its report, some details of which are rather frightening. Some 73% of the heterosexual population infected with HIV come from sub-Saharan Africa. In that context, should we not be screening immigrants from those locations? It is important to do this in order to determine if medication is subsequently required. It is a frightening statistic. It is incumbent on the Department of Health and Children to follow it up.

  I support Senator Maurice Hayes in regard to SARS. I call on the Government to resolve the outstanding issue with public health doctors. SARS is a matter which is causing much concern worldwide. We have to have procedures in place in order to ensure it does not gain a foothold here.

  Mr. Leyden: In case Senator Norris has any illusions about it, it is unlikely I will ever be entrapped in his web again.

  Mr. Norris: The Senator will if he barks at me—

  Mr. B. Hayes: Lucky you.

  Mr. Minihan: Will somebody explain that to me?

  Mr. Norris: —black widow.

  Mr. Minihan: Will the Senator expand on that?

  Mr. Leyden: In the course of our debate about a certain word used by Senator Norris yesterday I was led in the wrong direction. I have rectified the situation.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Those curs.

[868]  Mr. Leyden: I make quite clear that the vote was in total error.

  Mr. Finucane: Senator Leyden went too quickly from the slips.

  Mr. Norris: He ended up in a stew anyway.

  Mr. Minihan: Lamb stew.

  Mr. Leyden: When Senator Norris is voting in the next election perhaps he will have to consider this situation also.

  Mr. Norris: If the Senator had spoken to me—

  (Interruptions).

  Mr. Leyden: He is definitely—

  Ms O'Rourke: He is definitely one of the first campaigning Senators I have met.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Leyden, without interruption.

  Mr. Leyden: Confidences do not rest easily with Senator Norris. I will say no more than that. I would still welcome his support in due course.

  Mr. Finucane: Senator Leyden will have to sponsor him.

  Mr. Leyden: I thank the Leader of the House, Senator O'Rourke, the Fianna Fáil Whip, Senator Moylan, and all the leaders of the parties and groups in the House, Senators Brian Hayes, O'Toole, Ryan, Norris and Maurice Hayes, for their support for my motion yesterday. Seven Palestinians were killed last night in the Gaza Strip during an Israeli attack. A war to oppress the Palestinian people is going on at present—

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Motion No. 27 is to be taken without debate.

  Mr. Leyden: I am not debating that motion. I am debating the situation that occurred last night, which is being hidden by the fog of the war in Iraq. I suggest to the Leader that we send a delegation from the House to Palestine to meet the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and to view, at first hand, the oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli Government.

  Mr. Norris: A very good idea.

  Mr. Leyden: What is occurring in Palestine at present is outrageous and nobody seems to be interested in the events there. I accept that the quartet of the Russians, the EU, the British and Americans have produced the road map proposal, which I welcome, and that a Prime Minister has been appointed in Palestine. It would be appropriate, however, for the House to send an [869]official group to meet the Palestinians and see, at first hand, the atrocities that are being carried out by the Israelis in the occupied areas of Palestine.

  Mr. Coghlan: Will the Leader confirm if it is still the Government's intention to take No. 9, the Companies (Auditing and Accounting) Bill 2003, next week?

  I support Senator Brian Hayes in respect of the two important matters he raised. The first of these is the case of our colleague, Senator Higgins, and Deputy Howlin. Members on both sides of the House have already agreed that there is an important principle at stake. Perhaps it is time, as Senators Hayes has proposed, that we debated the issue with the Minister for Finance.

  I also support Senator Brian Hayes's comments on the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2003, which will be debated tonight and which, I hope, the Government will accept. There are two things which the Bill proposes to do and which I could not but see the Government welcoming.

  Labhrás Ó Murchú: In referring to the case of Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin, Senator Brain Hayes has raised an appropriate and important issue that is relevant to every Oireachtas Member. It impacts on the effectiveness and functioning of parliament. There is a need for a debate, certainly on the financial aspects of the case but also on the broader issues. People are anxious to know what are our views. We have debated this matter at meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and it is evident that we understand the position of Senator Higgins and the esteemed Deputy.

  What is important here is the citizen. Up to now, citizens felt comfortable at all times in approaching Members of the Oireachtas and providing information. Oireachtas Members, providing a service to the State, would then be in a position to decide how best to impart that information to the relevant Department. It would have been easy for Senator Higgins to have spoken openly in the Lower House on the relevant issues, but he would have been criticised for doing so at the time. He decided that it was in the best interests of everyone concerned that the information be relayed in a certain manner. The value of a debate now would be that we would be able to help the public understand the fundamental importance of this issue. Many of the newspaper editorials on the issue have taken the side of Senator Higgins and the esteemed Deputy and a debate on it would be helpful to all our positions in the future.

  Dr. Henry: Senator Maurice Hayes is right to express concerns about the SARS epidemic and about the need for the Minister for Health and Children to liaise with the countries from which young athletes are coming for the Special Olympics in June. Senator Finucane made the important point that public health doctors are in dispute [870]with the Minister for Health and Children at present. It is their assistance that is needed. This dispute has been going on for nine years. Will the Minister for Health and Children come before the House and indicate the action he intends to take to address both issues?

  Mr. Daly: I raised the issue of the SARS virus yesterday. The Leader will be aware that Commissioner Byrne has already taken some initiatives on this in Europe. If we discuss the matter with the Minister for Health and Children, it might be useful if he could indicate how the EU initiative will affect us and what actions will be taken. This is a serious issue.

  Mr. Glynn: I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Finucane. The first responsibility of these Houses is to the people of this country. We are not attempting to isolate any group of people because they are entering the country, we are trying to protect them and Irish citizens. The time for indulging in this practice has gone.

  I also wish to raise another public health matter. We are all aware that young people can be seen walking around public houses with their thumbs over the mouths of their bottles. They do so to ensure that their drinks will not be spiked. There is an additional danger in this regard because anybody who knows anything about drink will be aware that rats have a habit of occupying rooms where alcohol, particularly beer, etc., is stored. There is a strong possibility that Weil's disease could be communicated in this way. I accept that the spiking of drinks is a matter for the Department of Health and Children—

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is the Senator looking for a debate on this matter?

  Mr. Glynn: Yes. This matter has legal implications, particularly for the people who perpetrate the spiking of drinks, but it also has health implications for the people unfortunate enough to contract this always deadly disease. I call for a debate on the matter as soon as possible.

  Ms O'Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes raised the case of Senator Higgins, an issue on which there is complete agreement among all parties, as we saw during the debate on the Order of Business. Senator Hayes has asked that the Minister for Finance come before the House to explain the failure to indemnify Senator Higgins. We will deal with the case of the Member of this House, which is not to downgrade Deputy Howlin. An explanation is needed because any Member of the House could be affected in this way at any time. Senator Hayes was correct in what he said. The Minister for Finance will come before the House tomorrow for the debate on the motion regarding the Ombudsman and we can ask whether he will return for a debate on the case of Senator Higgins.

  Senator Brian Hayes also asked whether the [871]Private Members' Bill on electricity regulation is being accepted by the Government. It is not being accepted.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Shame.

  Ms O'Rourke: We contacted the Minister's office this morning and that is the message we received. The position may change as the day goes on, I do not know. As of now, however, the Bill is not going to be accepted. I recall when the Bill was introduced by Senator Higgins in Private Members' time in the Lower House during the term of office of the previous Government.

  Mr. Finucane: On a point of order, there is a precedent for this because I recall moving a Bill in the Lower House that was accepted, in principle, by the Government. The Government then fine-tuned the Bill and implemented it as its own legislation—

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is pre-empting tonight's debate.

  Mr. Finucane: The Leader said that the Government's attitude could change during the day and I believe that this should happen.

  Ms O'Rourke: I take the Senator's point. Two or three Bills were accepted and fine-tuned during the term of office of the previous Government. They were fine-tuned on Committee Stage and finally emerged with, as Senator O'Toole put it, the stamp on them.

  Mr. Norris: Excuse me, my name is Norris.

  Ms O'Rourke: I am talking about Senator Finucane.

  Mr. Norris: Yes, but it was I who referred to stamping the Bill.

  Ms O'Rourke: Fair enough.

  A Senator: I always mix the two of them up.

  Mr. Norris: We look very alike.

  (Interruptions).

  Ms O'Rourke: Senator O'Toole said it was school yard stuff and that this Private Members' Bill should be supported. He went on to talk about the Dublin port tunnel. The reason higher trucks are reckoned to be more environmentally friendly is that because they carry more, there are fewer of them. He wanted an explanation. I have been informed that this matter has been raised at the Joint Committee on Transport. An investigation is taking place and those responsible will come back to the committee with their findings. It would, however, be useful for the Minister for [872]Transport to come to the House to discuss this and other matters.

  Mr. O'Toole: I want the formal official position on it.

  Ms O'Rourke: Senator Ryan referred to Senator O'Meara's matter on the Adjournment being disallowed because the Minister concerned was not responsible for auxiliary postmen.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That matter was not disallowed.

  Ms O'Rourke: Was it accepted?

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Yes. Senator Higgins's matter was disallowed.

  Ms O'Rourke: Senator Ryan asked why Ministers accepted invitations to open various facilities for which they subsequently said they were not responsible. I expect it is an honour given to the Minister in question by whatever corporate body. He also asked why Aer Lingus charged 25% more than British Airways for the same flight and at the same time. I do not know whether there is an issue behind that about which we do not know. I agree it is worth pursuing the matter.

  Senator Ryan also asked why we are not shown the full brutality of what is happening in Iraq. He also called for a debate on industrial relationships because of the development of what he perceives as a macho company director or company manager image. When we return after the recess, we hope to have a debate on the social partnership arrangement and this is an issue which would fit comfortably into that.

  Senator Maurice Hayes referred to the huge number of people who will attend the Special Olympics here in June. It is a public health issue in the context of the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus. It is worth exploring that matter with the Minister for Health and Children.

  Senator Norris supported Senator Brian Hayes in regard to Senator Higgins, as we all do. He also called for a debate on Iraq and I hope we will be able to have such a debate. He said we were like sheep, although yesterday he said we were of the canine variety. Those on this side of the House are very opinionated and are well able to stand up for themselves and to put forward their own points of view.

  Senator MacSharry referred to work permits. I was contacted this morning about this matter, as I am sure were many other Members. The hotel and hospitality side of industry is most affected. If people have permits, they will not be taken from them but there is an article in the newspaper today about a hotel which will not be able to continue to operate unless it gets new work permits. I will telephone the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment's office this morning in this regard.

  Senator Finucane said 73% of AIDS victims [873]come from sub-Saharan Africa and that there should be compulsory screening for AIDS. That issue has been raised on a few occasions but it is generally believed that such screening would be an invasion of the person. I would be of that view. It is a suggestion which has been turned down to date. He also spoke about public health doctors and the incipient strike.

  Senator Leyden explained himself yesterday. He is certainly the first campaigning Senator for the next election. He suggested that a delegation from the House go to Palestine. I do not know the mechanisms by which we would send a delegation from this House, as distinct from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, but I will find out.

  Senator Coghlan asked about the companies Bill which will be taken next Wednesday and for which Senator O'Toole laid the foundations. He also supported his own leader in regard to Senator Higgins.

  Senator Ó Murchú made a committed and passionate statement about the wider issue of using Senator Higgins's case in the context of its happening to somebody else. We should try to move it on from the specific, which we want to see addressed, to the generality. Any one of us might be caught through good behaviour. The Senator did not rant about the matter in this House or in the other House but made his case to the relevant Minister.

  Senator Henry referred to public health doctors. I did not realise this issue has been going on for nine years, which seems extraordinary. The Minister for Health and Children always seeks to bring about consensus on such issues and I am sure he is working on this one.

  Senator Daly referred to the EU initiative on which the Commissioner is working in regard to public health and the SARS virus. He asked for clarification in that regard. Senator Glynn supported Senator Finucane's call and went on to talk about the spiking of drinks and the public health disorders which may arise from that.

  Order of Business agreed to.