Seanad Éireann - Volume 176 - 01 April, 2004

Order of Business.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the high level of alcohol consumption by young people, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 12.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons at 15 minutes and other Senators ten minutes, and Members may share time. The Minister will be called upon to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 2, Private Security Services Bill 2001 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 or at 12.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2 p.m.

  Mr. B. Hayes: We agree with today’s Order of Business. Is the Leader aware of a report from the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, which made two clear recommendations in 2001 concerning the timing of a referendum? [98]The first recommendation was that every Deputy and Senator should be entitled to speak without a guillotine on any constitutional change that comes from Government to the Houses. The second recommendation was that a minimum of 30 days, but preferably 90 days, should occur after the passage of the Bill so the people can debate the matter in a national campaign.

Neither of these conditions will be met if the Government continues to pursue its plans for a constitutional referendum limiting the rights of citizenship on 11 June. What is the latest Government position on this matter? Will legislation come before the House on this issue shortly? Does the Leader agree the case has not been made for constitutional change in respect of limiting citizenship rights of non-nationals or anybody else?

The notion that a constitutional provision as immense as this could arise from such flimsy evidence as that obtained at a meeting between a Minister 18 months ago and four masters of the Dublin maternity hospitals, or from unsubstantiated figures concerning the number of non-national births in those hospitals, is not the way to do business. Does the Leader agree the way to approach this matter is through the establishment of an independent commission which would examine the issue of citizenship on an all-party basis and produce proposals in Green and White Papers which could be debated nationally in a calm and reasoned fashion as opposed to the type of rushed approach being put in place by the Government? This House has a role to play as a House with a long tradition of standing up for the rights of all citizens and all people who come to this country. Will the Leader make a statement on the Government’s intentions on this matter?

I congratulate the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on yesterday’s report on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Senator Jim Walsh was a member of the committee. The report is an example of how the committee structure in this House can deal with complex matters and complete its job in a tight timeframe. The committee deserves credit and praise.

  Mr. Norris: I support Senator Hayes on both matters. On the matter of the constitutional amendment, the Government side of the House has indicated strongly that it does not think the referendum should be held on the same day as the European and local elections, which is right.

Members of a group of people in the House yesterday handed me a document which indicated that the most courageous and most difficult decision they ever took was to come to this country. They did not come in any mean-spirited way nor did they intend to use the fact of birth in order to gain citizenship. We need to examine this issue.

I also agree with the Senator on the matter of the report on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. It is an appalling vista. However, unlike that old [99]nincompoop, Lord Denning, I believe appalling vistas must be faced. They must be examined and brushing issues under the bed is of no use and only makes the matter worse.

An Taisce has been repeatedly attacked in this House and I have been a lone voice in its support. It has been accused by various Ministers and people on the Government side of the House of doing nothing about Powerscourt among other issues. That accusation was answered by the former president of An Taisce, Michael Smith. He indicated that An Taisce had been under attack over this matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, asked why it did not appeal. The answer is perfectly clear; An Taisce in Wicklow was taken over in a kind of coup by various business interests, many of them with connections to Fianna Fáil, including a gentleman who was convicted subsequently of illegal dumping.

  An Cathaoirleach: We cannot have a debate on An Taisce during the Order of Business.

  Mr. Norris: That is something we need to take into account. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, attacked An Taisce because it did not give membership to five applicants in the west who all had links with one-off holiday home developments. I should correct what I said earlier. It was one of those individuals who had a conviction for illegal dumping. It is absolutely absurd to attack a group which subsequently successfully opposed the development in Powerscourt because it had become dormant due to the take-over by people who support Fianna Fáil. I say this because An Taisce was recently named and attacked.

I call for a debate on hospitals on foot of a letter I received from a gentleman whose aged aunt was kept in an accident and emergency unit for several days in a situation where there were drunks and drug addicts. Although we previously debated the issue, Members on all sides would welcome a further debate. I am not attacking the Government on this but we all feel this is an unsatisfactory situation. I respect the Minister for Health and Children but we have to address this matter.

I was also informed of an 80 year old man who sat on a chair in the corridor for five days. He had to shave and so on in full public view. An elderly couple, one of whom was on a drip, were also seated on plastic chairs. This increases my fears about the closure of the TB facility at Peamount Hospital. There is talk of transferring this service to accident and emergency units. That is a guaranteed recipe for spreading this disease, of which there are now drug-resistant strains. It is a highly dangerous proposal.

I am the only one here from my group so perhaps the Cathaoirleach will indulge me a little.

[100]  An Cathaoirleach: I am very generous to the Senator.

  Mr. Norris: I ask that early in the new session we would debate the motion in my name on Tibet because of the increasing closeness to Tibet and the unjustified and illegal change of policy. On 29 March, the Chinese authorities arrested three relatives of those killed in Tiananmen Square. We should take care, particularly as we hold the Presidency of the EU, to prevent France and Germany having the arms embargo lifted because it was related to human rights.

A most interesting statement from the Chinese representative at the United Nations human rights conference reads: “The realization of the right to national self-determination is the basis and pre-requisite for the enjoyment of other human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The statement was made by Qi Xiaoxia, alternate representative of the Chinese delegation. I apologise for my Chinese pronunciation. No doubt that mandarin of the Civil Service, Senator “Qi Xiao” Mansergh would be better able to pronounce it. She also stated:

The bullying of the weak by the strong and interference in the internal affairs of other countries is a gross violation of the right of other peoples to national self-determination.

Hear, hear. Let them leave Tibet. Finally——

  An Cathaoirleach: That is the third “finally”.

  Mr. Norris: ——the metro.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has elaborated sufficiently.

  Mr. Norris: I call for a debate on the metro in light of the leaked report from O’Reilly Consultants which comes out four square in favour of a metro. The debate on a metro began in this House.

  Ms O’Meara: I will not stretch the Cathaoirleach’s patience. I support the call by Senator Brian Hayes for a debate on the referendum. I also seek clarification from the Government, through the Leader, as to what its intention is in the matter. We should know from the history of the past 20 years that changing the Constitution requires the most careful consideration.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Hear, hear.

  Ms O’Meara: A great deal of thought should be put into it. We should also be aware that using the Constitution for political purposes is a recipe for disaster.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Hear, hear.

  Ms O’Meara: There can be no question of holding a referendum on 11 June and it is [101]absolutely essential that the Government states this as soon as possible.

I add my voice of thanks and congratulations to the sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for its sterling work on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings issue. I ask the Leader to suggest that the relevant Minister would address us about the merits of holding a public inquiry. If one is to be held, it needs to be effective. It is also important that it would have the support of the families of victims.

Anybody who saw the photographs or television coverage of yesterday’s events in Faluja in Iraq would be greatly concerned about the utter chaos that is evident there and the total breakdown of law and order.

  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Ms O’Meara: We have to be concerned about that. To some extent we feel helpless and hopeless in terms of dealing with this matter. However, as a sovereign State and member of the European Union, particularly in our Presidency role and against the background of the proposed visit by President Bush in the coming months, we must be cognisant of what is happening there.

My colleague, Senator Ryan, asked the Leader yesterday to ask the Department of Finance why it was necessary for 20 staff to be here for the Finance Bill. If she has a reply, I would like to hear it.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not an appropriate matter for the Order of Business.

  Mr. Norris: One does addition, one does subtraction and another does division.

  An Cathaoirleach: Order, please.

  Mr. Minihan: I join with previous speakers in congratulating the sub-committee on its report on the Barron inquiry. It proved that committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas could work effectively and produce a detailed report in a short timeframe.

I wish to briefly refer to the situation in Iraq and the horrific images we saw on television last evening. We have called for an ongoing debate on this situation. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate in the near future. When we are selective in the House about reporting on certain events in Iraq, it would be remiss of us not to highlight the barbaric images we saw last evening. We saw four civilians whose bodies were shot, burned, mutilated and hung from a bridge minus their arms and legs. The head of one body had been removed. That is not the behaviour of any civilised people. Even in war there is respect for the dead. It does not do any good to the human race when we see people behaving in such a manner. It would be remiss of the House not to refer to those events.

[102]  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Mr. Minihan: I hope the Leader will facilitate a debate on an ongoing basis.