Seanad Éireann - Volume 176 - 01 April, 2004

Order of Business (Resumed).

  Mr. Bannon: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to the House for a debate on the directive and guidelines issued to Údarás na Gaeltachta on the sale of properties by its elected board. It is important that we are given an update on the conditions for tendering and the criteria used in the evaluation of tenders. We need to examine whether tenders have been properly advertised to the public and whether valuations were sought on those properties. These are issues of great concern to the public in light of the sale to the third highest bidder of some properties in the west. It is important that we have a serious debate and bring about transparency in this area.

It is also important that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, explains to the House how prepared we are for a terrorist attack, a major emergency or catastrophe. There is much public concern that we are ill-prepared for such an attack. It is the Government’s duty and responsibility to show what measures are in place in the event of a catastrophe.

  Dr. Mansergh: I would like to say in defence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — I know this from my Qi Xiao days — that the proposal for a referendum covers concerns that have existed for a number of years and was not provoked by a meeting of the masters of hospitals. However, I support the view that the issue should be thoroughly discussed in this House and in the country before the referendum is held. I support what Senators said and second the compliments paid to the committee looking into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. There should be a debate on the report in this House.

  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Dr. Mansergh: On a point made yesterday, and without pre-empting the events of the day, I express my gratitude for the work of the Labour Relations Commission, which indicates the importance of the industrial dispute machinery. It has been strengthened in recent years by being embedded in social partnership.

[103]  Mr. Browne: Last weekend we were treated to the Progressive Democrats annual conference, which I did not see.

  An Cathaoirleach: Political conferences cannot be discussed on the Order of Business.

  Mr. Browne: Apparently there was an announcement about selling off land around psychiatric hospitals. Perhaps the Leader will arrange for a debate on the matter. Almost every county has a psychiatric hospital. While there is some merit in the proposal, there is grave difficulty with it. If it is a Government proposal, there should be a debate on it because it will affect almost every county. Many psychiatric hospitals are fantastic historical buildings and I do not believe they would facilitate development. St. Dymphna’s Hospital, Carlow, is a magnificent building and I would not like to see the land around it being developed. I am aware that other counties might lend themselves to the proposal. The Leader might organise a debate on the issue if it is Government policy.

A success of the last Government was the levy on plastic bags and another issue which could be looked at is that of chewing gum. Technology now exists to make chewing gum less sticky. There is a huge amount of chewing gum on footpaths. The Presentation College in Carlow did a young scientist experiment recently. The students studied one square metre of footpath and the amount of chewing gum found was amazing. Many pavements in towns throughout the country are now in the form of a slab on sand which is no longer concreted in and modern machinery cannot be used on them because it would pull up the pavement. During our Presidency of the EU, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should use his role, following his predecessor’s example, and put pressure on chewing gum companies to make it less sticky. This would save local authorities thousands of pounds each year which could be put to good use by helping to clean up towns even further.

  Mr. Kenneally: It is timely to have an update on the broadband issue. I ask for a debate on the matter because the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources last week launched its report on broadband. One section of the report deals with future proofing of broadband. It states that when infrastructural projects are going ahead the ducting and casing should be put in. It has come to my notice that in the current construction of an enormous ring road in Waterford ducting for broadband is not being put down. This means that in a year or two the road will be dug up to put down ducting and casing. I am not referring to just that road, but to other projects throughout the country. This work should be carried out when roads are being constructed. The Department has not yet [104]provided funding in this instance. The Minister should come to this House to debate the matter.

  Mr. Coghlan: There is great concern in Kenmare that it may lose or have its ambulance service amalgamated with another area. The area is remote in that it covers stretches from near Coolea on the Cork border, to Ardgroom in the Beara peninsula and as far as Castlecove on the Iveragh peninsula.

  An Cathaoirleach: That matter would be suitable for an Adjournment debate.

  Mr. Coghlan: A Chathaoirligh, you can read my mind, because I have already asked for an Adjournment debate on the matter. The area is mountainous, remote and the roads are poor. We all know the importance of getting to a patient within the first hour. I would like the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to debate the issue.

Recently there were banner newspaper headlines in Kerry about a case involving an alleged theft of €80 worth of clothing which will cost taxpayers €10,000. This is ridiculous and a more efficient way must be found to deal with such issues. This was the subject of much comment, including an editorial in The Kerryman. The Leader said she will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to this House on more general items.

(Interruptions).

  Mr. Bannon: Is it a Kerryman’s joke?

  Mr. Coghlan: Not at all. Will the Leader provide an opportunity to debate the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

  Mr. Leyden: Will the Leader arrange for further ongoing debate on consumer prices? I commend the Director of Consumer Affairs, Carmel Foley, and her staff for highlighting the cost of drink during the recent rugby international at Lansdowne Road. I commend her on her name and shame campaign.

  Mr. U. Burke: The Senator did not get very far.

  Mr. Leyden: I got as far as the second largest party in Ireland——

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Leyden should stick to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Leyden: The second largest party in Ireland has not yet——

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Leyden: Unfortunately, they are not relevant. They wish they were more relevant at [105]the moment. They have been very good on their own rip-off campaign.

(Interruptions).

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Leyden without interruption.

  Mr. Leyden: It is fine for Carmel Foley to go on “Morning Ireland” to explain the good work of her organisation, but she is a toothless tiger as she can do nothing about the issue. What is the point in exposing this rip-off and naming and shaming people when she cannot impose a maximum price order on a pint? Prices ranged from €4.95 to €3.25.

  Ms O’Meara: The Senator should take up the matter with the Government.

(Interruptions).

  Mr. Leyden: The question is whether we should introduce a maximum price order and what action should be taken in regard to soaring prices. The exploitation of customers which took place during the rugby international is quite evident. I ask the Leader to provide an opportunity for the Government to ensure the matter gets a further airing in this House. This House has provided more opportunities for debates on consumer affairs issues than the Lower House. I commend the Leader of the House for providing time for these debates. However, I would like to see more action in regard to Ms Foley. I commend her for taking on my good example.

  Mr. Bannon: Does the Senator propose to be the future Minister for prices?

  Mr. U. Burke: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to the House in view of the fact that during the week Teagasc, at its seminar in the midlands on rural development and rural decline, indicated the serious situation in regard to agriculture and the declining income from agriculture. In the 1990s, 14% of the population was solely dependent on an income from agriculture. This has fallen to just 5% since 2002. The Minister is responsible for rural development but he has done nothing other than administer slush funds in his own constituency. He has failed to indicate any policy to stem the flow out of agriculture. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to outline his policy on support for rural populations and agriculture before it is too late. In County Galway, the pilot study area, there was a serious decline in population and we must tackle this.

  Mr. J. Walsh: I agree with the call for a debate on rural development. Major rationalisation is going on in the agriculture sector and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has established good programmes, such as [106]CLÁR and RAPID, and he is engaged with those programmes to address the problems we now see. He has visited the south east and many organisations there welcome his input in the area.

11 o’clock

Will the Leader arrange a debate on the NRA roads programme under the national development plan? The south east and parts of the midlands are now the most disadvantaged areas in the State and the roads into those regions are poor. There must be an injection of funding because when the second river crossing in Waterford is completed there will be a major bottleneck on the N25 at New Ross and currently there are delays of up to 45 minutes. There is a need for funding in those areas. The south east was not named by the Minister as a priority area and it is up to those of us from there to make the argument and ensure we are not left further behind.

I support Senators Mansergh and O’Meara in their call for a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. The sub-committee gave comprehensive consideration to the issue and its report should be debated. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings were the most serious atrocity in the history of the State and it is interesting the report should issue the day prior to an announcement by the British Government of public inquiries into at least three of the four cases in Northern Ireland — the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. We should support the calls the committee has made so the families of the many victims of the worst atrocity on this island during the conflict can find some closure.

  Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support the call for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to come before the House. Every time he has been here, he has been anxious to engage in debate on rural issues and that is why many of those issues are now centre stage. Many aspects must be discussed, particularly the interaction of the agencies on the ground. People who want to have their livelihoods in rural areas must have the opportunity to stay there. CLÁR has proved itself worthwhile because it reaches areas where there are difficulties. I am sure the Minister would like to bring us up to date on progress in those areas and a debate would also give us the opportunity to make an input.

I also ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come into the House as we approach the end of the two month period for submissions on the new guidelines on rural housing. An excellent debate has taken place with many submissions. There is an opportunity for us, without having to make direct submissions, which would not be correct, to respond to the guidelines and reflect on what we heard about [107]them. It was a courageous step by the Minister to bring those guidelines forward. There is a partnership involved because even when the guidelines are implemented we must interact with local authorities and planners. It would be worth our while to discuss the structures involved.

There has not been any blanket criticism of An Taisce. People are entitled to comment on specific issues and if other people feel they are above criticism, particularly when they have statutory standing, they are acting in an undemocratic manner.

  Mr. Norris: Unbalanced blanket criticism came from the Senator’s side of the House.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes raised the report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, which advised that if there was to be a referendum, all Deputies and Senators should have the opportunity to speak if they so wished and that there should be 30 days’ prior notice, and asked about the position of the referendum. No Government decision on the date for a referendum has been made. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform favours holding it on the same day as the European and local elections but many of us, including myself, think this would be a bad idea. It would not be the correct way to go about it. That is, however, a personal opinion and not that of Fianna Fáil, which is yet to take a position. Senator Brian Hayes stated there should be a Green Paper and a White Paper and said this House has a role to play. I fully agree that the Seanad has a role to play in such an important issue.

Senator Norris also mentioned the referendum and then raised the issue of An Taisce, saying there had been a coup in the body. Coups are regular events in political and social groups and there is nothing remarkable about them. Anyone has the right to assume a position and make a criticism.

  Mr. Norris: Anyone has the right to defend a body as well.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Senator also raised the situation in accident and emergency departments and the cases of elderly people who had to wait a long time to be admitted, coupling that with the closure of some of the facilities in Peamount Hospital. As soon as the Minister for Health and Children has time, we will request that he attends a general debate in the House.

Senator Norris has also been asking for some time for a debate on Tibet and the motion on the Order Paper is in his name. I will be happy to arrange such a debate as soon as possible.

Senator O’Meara warned against using the Constitution for political purposes in any [108]referendum and congratulated the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. On behalf of all Members, I congratulate the one member of the sub-committee from this House, Senator Jim Walsh. I know from speaking to the Whip and to the Senator that the sub-committee did a huge amount of work over very long hours. The committee must have had a heavy workload. It involved listening to people telling their stories and working through the ramifications of all that. I am not making a party political point in saying we were well served in the Seanad by the Member who served on the committee.

Senator O’Meara also raised the terrible and graphic events of what happened in Iraq. It reminded me in a macro way of the Lord of the Flies in the way that the people relished what they were doing. It was terrible. One wonders if invasion is ever worth it when that is the outcome. Senator Minihan also raised the matter of the horrific images from Iraq of the four civilians in particular and what was done to them.

Senator Bannon wants the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, to come into the House to talk about the property sale of Údarás na Gaeltachta. He also wants the Minister for Defence to come to the House to talk about our level of preparedness in the event of a terrorist attack.

Senator Mansergh called for a debate on the report of the Sub-Committee of the on the Barron Report. He also called for a debate on the proposed referendum, a matter on which we need debate.

It was good to hear on the news this morning that the Labour Relations Commission is active and involved in the social partnership, as everybody wants it to be. I hope there will be a successful outcome to the An Post dispute.

Senator Browne called for a report on the matter of the land surrounding psychiatric hospitals. He also raised the question of whether the banning of plastic bags could lead to an initiative to make chewing gum less sticky, something we would all like as the problem is quite bad.

  Mr. Norris: Will it also keep its flavour on the bed post over night?

  An Cathaoirleach: Order, we cannot have interruptions.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Norris is the only Member present from his group but he is making up for all his colleagues.

  Mr. Norris: I do my best.

  Ms O’Rourke: I am sure.

Senator Kenneally called for a debate on broadband projects. He also raised the matter of [109]the ring road around Waterford not having ducting for cabling. The Senator is aware that legislation in which cover for such provision was included was passed prior to the end of the term of the previous Government. There must be some non-communication among officials of the county council, the NRA and the Department. I agree with the Senator that such work should have been done.

Senator Coghlan’s points were very much on a Kerry theme. He spoke about Kenmare and concern there regarding the ambulance service. As the Cathaoirleach said, that matter would be ideally suitable for raising on the Adjournment. He also raised how the theft of clothes, which were worth €4,000 or perhaps it was €400, led to a bill in civil legal aid for €10,000. The system is in place and this can be followed up.

Senator Leyden called for a debate on consumer affairs and he rightly said that his campaign led to a later campaign by a particular political party.

  Mr. Leyden: That is true.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Guy Fawkes is at it again.

  Ms O’Rourke: He talked about the prices charged in pubs. As Senator Mansergh said — I do not know if I am allowed to comment on interjections — one should drink around.

  Mr. B. Hayes: That is what friends are for.

  Ms O’Rourke: It is difficult to drink around. If one goes into a pub to have one drink, I imagine one is inclined to stay in the same pub, although I do not drink pints.

Senator Ulick Burke wants the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, to come to the House to debate the decline in rural areas. Senator Jim Walsh called for a debate on rural development and the roads programme of the NRA in the south east and the midlands. He also sought a debate on the report which the committee of which he is a member has issued.

Senator Ó Murchú supported a call for the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, to come to the House. The Senator contacted me on this and advised me that he understood the Minister was keen to come to the House. I hope we will be able to follow through on that next week. The Senator also wants the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to come to the House to discuss the guidelines on rural housing.

Order of Business agreed to.