Seanad Éireann - Volume 177 - 22 June, 2004

Order of Business.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, a referral motion whereby the subject matter of motion No. 20 on today’s Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for discussion — the proposal is for a directive to create a specific procedure for admitting third country nationals for the purposes of carrying out scientific research — which will be taken without debate; and No. 2, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Bill 2003 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 7 p.m.

  Mr. B. Hayes: I am delighted we still have a Government after all the shenanigans of recent days and the various Scud missiles directed at the [166]Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil parties. It is good the Government is still in place.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has had his say on the matter.

  Mr. B. Hayes: The Leader is well aware that last week the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, Ms Emily O’Reilly, reported on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act since new charges were levied by the Government last year. The use of the Act by ordinary people who want ordinary information from the Government about the various decision making processes at the heart of Government has reduced by approximately 75%. This scandalous reduction is a direct result of the new charges the Government imposed on the use of the Act by ordinary citizens. Will the Leader agree to an amendment to the Order of Business to enable debate immediately on the conclusion of the Order of Business of No. 21, motion No. 2, in the name of the Fine Gael Party, which proposes to annul the charges introduced last year by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government?

The Government made a commitment when the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2003 was before the House that the Act would be reviewed independently by the Ombudsman and the Government would take due cognisance of the findings of the Ombudsman’s report. It is clear that the amendment of the Act has been a disaster and ordinary people cannot obtain information. The House would do the country and the freedom of information process a great service by debating this matter this afternoon. I formally propose the amendment to the Order of Business.

I congratulate the Government, the Taoiseach, Civil Service staff and the Irish Presidency on concluding the discussions on a new constitution for Europe.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  Mr. B. Hayes: It was a very good weekend for this country and the newly enlarged Europe because we now have a constitution which ordinary citizens will be able to support in the years ahead. I congratulate the Government on its endeavours in Brussels at the weekend.

If it is the case that an Irish person could possibly become President of the European Commission, we should all support the person in question.

  Senators: Hear, hear.

  Mr. B. Hayes: It would be a great achievement for Ireland if an Irish person were to become President of the European Commission. It would also be in complete contrast to the previous occasion when Mr. Sutherland’s name was mentioned and the Government parties failed to support him. We should get behind Irish people who [167]could be appointed to such a position because it would bring considerable prestige to the country.

  Mr. O’Toole: I take this opportunity to place on record my appreciation of the work of two members of the outgoing Government, if I may call it that. We may still have a Government but we do not know who is in charge of it. If we knew who was speaking on behalf of whom, the position could be explained to us. It is very difficult for the ordinary citizen to know who is speaking on behalf of Government.

I am always deeply suspicious of speeches to election workers.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should speak on the Order of Business.

  Mr. O’Toole: It sounds like a Minister bored his wife into submission by forcing her to listen to a speech and then swore he had delivered it somewhere to an election worker. It would be useful if the Government created a sense of stability and reality so that we know where we are.

However, I appreciate the extraordinary work done by the Irish Presidency, led by the Taoiseach, over the past number of months and, particularly, in the past week. It is a remarkable tribute to and reflection of the work done by the Taoiseach, his civil servants and other staff. It also reflects well on the country. Nobody should begrudge this praise. The Taoiseach should seriously consider the position of President of the European Commission. I absolutely agree with Senator Brian Hayes that the appointment of an Irish person to that role would be good for all us in boosting morale and our standing in Europe. It could be an important step in providing people with a greater understanding of what is done by the Commission and it could demonstrate to the new member states that they do not need to have large economies to have influence within the EU. The appointment of an Irish person, in this case the Taoiseach, would be good in that context.

The House should acknowledge the work done in the absence of the Taoiseach by the Minister for Finance in negotiations with the social partners over the past number of weeks. Whatever about moving to the right or the left, the Minister has demonstrated his capacity to deal with trade unions, voluntary bodies and the other social partners to put together a deal that will provide stability, certainty and ensure economic progress and development over the next number of years. I thank the Minister for doing so. It also gives the lie to comments of Members who say he cannot deal with trade unions. As a former president of ICTU, I assure them I have never had a difficulty dealing with him.

  Mr. Ryan: That is the problem.

  Mr. O’Toole: We have had our differences but it is a measure of the man that one can have an [168]argument with him and then move on to do business. That is the nature of good politics. It is about everybody sharing their views and finding a way forward; it is not about everybody agreeing. The Minister for Finance deserves credit. Senator Ross praised him highly and will agree his delivery of a new national agreement was the pinnacle of his achievements.

  Ms O’Rourke: Yes, he will.

  Mr. O’Toole: The freedom of information issue is an example of déjà vu. The comments by Senator Brian Hayes reflect comments made by others previously. We knew this would happen. The points he made are absolutely correct. The Government should admit it got it wrong and review the amending legislation to return the pendulum to its previous position.

  Mr. Ryan: I happily second the proposal by Senator Brian Hayes regarding the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003. However, it is a mistake to state the legislation is not working as the Government intended. It filleted the Act and inhibited people applying to bodies outside Government control by imposing a charge of €150 per application to the Information Commissioner. Ireland is the only country in the commissioner’s study that charges a fee of that scale while it is only one of two countries that even charges a fee. Our fee of €150 is ten times greater than the other charge while appeals to information commissioners in the other countries examined in the study are free. The Government made a decision to inhibit people making appeals which decision relates to freedom of information, not administrative inconvenience or cost. When the programme for Government was being negotiated in 1992, the one sticking point was Fianna Fáil’s refusal to agree to a freedom of information Bill and we know why.

  Dr. Mansergh: That is not true.

  Mr. Ryan: It is true.

I am surprised at myself, as I regard myself as something of a Euro-critic, but this enthusiasm for an Irish person to be President of the European Commission irrespective of his political views astonishes me. I have no desire to have someone made President of the Commission who is an advocate of brutal competition for everybody else but who has managed to avoid the unpleasantness of competition for himself in every job to which he has been appointed. I would like the Taoiseach to be President of the Commission. I know what the Taoiseach stands for and I know he understands what competition does to ordinary people. To suggest that someone who has wreaked depredation on the developing world with his enthusiasm for free trade and the World Trade Organisation would be appropriate to preside over the one island of civilisation in an increasingly brutal world, namely the European [169]Union, seems to be carrying national enthusiasm too far. I would not be particularly keen on that individual.

Driving here today I heard the radio news and yet again was embarrassed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A Pakistani doctor who has lived here for ten years described how his elderly parents were refused a visitors’ visa to come here for the birth of their grandchild because the Department suspected they would sneak in, stay here and steal some national resource. I do not know the mind of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but it embarrasses us every time something like this occurs. I wish we could have a transparent, accessible visa policy, where people did not have to make telephone calls at the convenience of a couple of officials in a Department which seems to believe that the best way to deal with all foreigners is to ignore them for as long as possible.

  Mr. Minihan: I too wish to be associated with the remarks of previous speakers in congratulating the Taoiseach and the Government on its Presidency of the EU. This was highlighted over the weekend, when again great credit was brought to this small nation on the European stage. The Taoiseach deserves warm congratulations from everybody. It is good that we can fulfil the message and mission statement of Europe and that a country of our size can play such a role in bringing the whole Union forward. On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I sincerely congratulate the Taoiseach on an excellent weekend’s work not only for himself and the Government but for the country as a whole.

  Mr. Coghlan: I second Senator Brian Hayes’s motion.

  Mr. Norris: The Senator must agree with him.

  Mr. Coghlan: I do.

  Mr. Norris: Good.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Coghlan without interruption.

  Mr. Coghlan: That is friendly fire once it does not knock me.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is time-consuming and there are time constraints.

  Mr. Coghlan: I appreciate that. I wish to be associated with the warm tributes to the Taoiseach and his back-up team on their achievement with an agreed wording for the European Constitution. The national interest should be prioritised and both Houses should get behind him for the Presidency of the Commission. It would bring great credit to the country to have an Irish person as President. We are all aware of the skills and talents of the Taoiseach and though sometimes we might regret them in a political [170]sense, he would do a great job. All the European leaders accept that and we know it at home. It would be great if both Houses got behind him and I am sure our Leader here and our party leader could put in a good word for him with the EPP to overcome any obstacles there.

  Ms O’Rourke: That is the Senator’s lot.

  Mr. Coghlan: Exactly. That could be done.

  Mr. B. Hayes: No obstacle there.

  Mr. Coghlan: There is no obstacle there.

On a separate issue, when will the cost implications of the break-up of Aer Rianta be known? We know it must be financially viable or the Minister for Finance will exercise his veto and it will not happen. I wonder what Mr. O’Hanlon and the board think of that decision. When does the Leader believe operational control by any of the new boards will commence?

I was pleasantly surprised to see Committee Stage of the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill 2004 on today’s Order Paper. I thought the vote on the last occasion indicated that it would not appear as such, but I welcome it. If the Leader wishes to comment on it, I would appreciate it.

  Mr. Leyden: Will the Leader arrange a debate next week, if possible, to discuss the effects of the smoking ban on the 6,000 pubs outside Dublin, as mentioned by the vintners’ association? According to today’s Irish Examiner, pubs sold 7 million fewer pints last month. It would be worthwhile having a debate on how effective or damaging the smoking ban has been on the industry. I know the arguments in regard to passive smoking but I have great sympathy for people who are being forced to stand on streets in wet weather to smoke.

  Ms O’Rourke: We have not had wet weather.

  Mr. Leyden: Any measure is worth reviewing. If it is worthwhile keeping the ban in place, that is fine but let us prove it. A compromise of a smoking lounge could have been adopted. It would have been a boost to the building trade as every premises would have had to have been converted. Employees would not have to go into that room but the people who enjoy a cigarette could do so. In a civilised country, I do not believe it is civilised to kick people out into the rain.

As far as Fianna Fáil is concerned, Members will be glad to know that it got 54% of the vote last Saturday in the Roscommon electorate area. Roscommon led in 1918——

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

  Mr. Leyden: ——and we were back in Government a few years later. Let us not get too excited about the results.

[171]  An Cathaoirleach: On the point Senator Coghlan made about the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill 2004 being included on the Order Paper, that is an error. It was defeated.

  Mr. B. Hayes: That is a pity. What is on the Order Paper is on the Order Paper.

  Mr. Coghlan: Somebody was getting it right.

  An Cathaoirleach: It will be corrected tonight.

  Mr. Norris: I add my congratulations to those of other Members to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and to the civil servants and diplomats who played a significant role as did the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, a former Member of this House. It is remarkable that the Irish Presidency got such a compliment from Mr. Chirac that it was the best Presidency he could remember. That type of statement is unusual at that level. It would be good if the Taoiseach took up the job. I am not being ironic but it would be a sacrifice for him because I believe he genuinely loves the job he is doing in this country, that he is at home among his own people and that he would find it a strain. It would, however, be to the general advantage of Ireland. Senator Ryan said somebody suggested Mr. Sutherland. I think Mr. Sutherland suggested himself.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is unfair to refer to persons who are not Members of the House.

  Mr. Norris: On this occasion, I will not withdraw the comment because that would bring more attention to it. However, if the Cathaoirleach would like me to, I will do so.

  An Cathaoirleach: I am not asking the Senator to withdraw the comment; I am just making an observation.

  Mr. Norris: Thank you, a Chathaoirligh.

  Mr. Leyden: He could have hit the nail on the head.

  Mr. Norris: What is the state of progress of the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004 which is with the Dáil? There is some concern about it because it gives such carte blanche to the Minister. I ask this in light of the deteriorating situation in regard to conservation. I understand Dublin, the capital city, does not have a senior conservation officer. There is this terrible business in Sleigh Head where an enormous neolithic monument was arbitrarily destroyed over night. I raised the matter of Sweny’s chemist shop which people visited in their droves over the Bloomsday period and which is around the corner from the House. Yet again, it is being left open to the winds and is being burned. This is north side planning permission — owners leave buildings to become derelict and they encourage fires. This has happened with the same owner in the [172]Academy Cinema which used to be the ancient concert rooms. When will we have some clear action?

We should have a debate on the extraordinary growth in bureaucracy. A recent “Liveline” radio programme by Joe Duffy disclosed that people were being asked for their PPS numbers in order to buy prize bonds. Recently, when I wanted to renew my parking disc, I had to send in my driving licence and insurance, but they also wanted a copy of an electricity or gas bill. I sent them a telephone bill but that was not good enough, so they told me they would like to see my bank account. I do not see why anyone should have to surrender details of his or her bank account.

I recently got a new Vodafone line from the same company to which I had already paid bills, yet it wanted to see a telephone bill. A representative rang me seeking this information and I said: “You know where I am living. You have telephoned me, so just look in the telephone book — that is the address.” I do not understand why people are entitled to ask for personal details such as bank statements. It is all wrong.

  An Cathaoirleach: I think the Senator has made his point adequately.

  Dr. Mansergh: I join with other Members in congratulating the ongoing Government on its success in getting agreement on the EU constitutional treaty. It is a credit not alone to the Taoiseach, his Ministers and civil servants, but also to the pro-European policy of this country over the past 40 years under successive Governments.

While it is hard to read the runes on this matter, I would like to see a well qualified Irish person occupying the position of President of the EU Commission, if that is possible.

I congratulate the Government on opening another chapter in the agreements with the social partners. I see that Senator Ross is looking gravely at me but these national agreements are an important element of confidence in the country. All sides agree that one will not get very far in business without confidence. It is a great achievement not alone for the Government but also for all the social partners.

I wish to make two other brief points.

  An Cathaoirleach: There are time constraints.

  Dr. Mansergh: The charges for freedom of information requests are quite right. It is much too early to draw conclusions that the legislation is not working. If people want freedom of information, the charges are very small for most people to pay.

  Mr. Norris: If they want freedom of information, they can pay for it.

  Dr. Mansergh: It is rather too early to have a debate on smoking and health, but if we are to have one we should take into account studies [173]going back to the 1940s which show that smoking shortens people’s lives by ten years.

3 o’clock

  Mr. McHugh: Now that the abolition of the dual mandate is done and dusted, it is incumbent on Senators to work ever more closely with local authority representatives. We have young, and not so young, vibrant, energetic councillors around the country, including Roscommon. For two years we debated the planning process which will not change. Local authority representatives, including county councillors, are faced with increasingly challenging situations in the planning process. We must start in this House by dismantling An Bord Pleanála because it is an unaccountable, opaque structure. People sitting on the board of An Bord Pleanála are out of touch with rural areas, including the west. They are not in tune with small-scale commercial planning or one-off housing. We should dismantle the board and start again rather than carrying out reviews or debating the issue. It will be our biggest challenge. It is incumbent on the House to address this issue because county councillors are Senators’ electorate and it is our responsibility to stand by them and speak on their behalf.

  Dr. Mansergh: Is that Fine Gael policy?

  Mr. McHugh: I would like to ask——

  An Cathaoirleach: These interruptions are time consuming. I call Senator Hanafin.

  Mr. Hanafin: Will the Leader arrange for a debate on certain aspects of the legislation governing political donations? I refer specifically to the full page advertisements which appeared in national newspapers, including the Irish Independent, which were political in nature and referred to the issue of a new terminal at Dublin Airport. The legislation is clear and ignorance of the law is no excuse. The person who placed that advertisement was trying to bully the Government, which was wrong. In the context of an election, this was a very political act.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Freedom of speech, how are you.

  Dr. Henry: Like Senator Ryan I have been dismayed at the manner in which the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform frequently handles visa applications. In that context, I am particularly glad to note that No. 1 on the Order Paper, in which specific procedures for admitting third country nationals for the purposes of scientific research have at last been put in place. In the past decade I have been frequently inveigled by the universities and other research bodies which were unable to bring to Ireland people from third countries who were vital to the research work being carried out here. I hope a stop has been put to that difficulty.

[174]Together with other Senators, I congratulate the Taoiseach and all those who were involved with bringing forward the draft European constitution. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to do an even greater favour to us when he meets with President Bush at the weekend by telling him how frequently the issue of Guantanamo Bay is raised in this House?

  Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

  Dr. Henry: Will she ask him to convey to President Bush our deep concerns in respect of the irregularities there? Furthermore, I have still not found out whether prisoners en route to Guantanamo Bay are travelling through Shannon Airport because no manifest details are ever given in respect of the aeroplanes that land there. I would be grateful if the Leader drew this to the attention of the Taoiseach.

  Mr. Bohan: I support Senator Leyden’s request for a review of the smoking ban. I am not against the ban, neither are the people I represent, but the manner in which it is being implemented is causing much grief to the licensed trade.

We might also review the penalty points system, whereby it seems half the country, including me, when I was caught travelling at 54 mph in a 50 mph zone, is getting penalty points for exceeding the speed limit by 3 mph or 4 mph. It is ridiculous. The clamping of cars in Dublin city is also getting out of hand. Clampers are travelling the city, searching the back streets for cars.

  Mr. O’Toole: That is what happens when one privatises a public service. The public sector had a more amenable face.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Bohan without interruption.

  Mr. Bohan: It is purely a way of collecting money and has nothing to do with the free flow of traffic.

The NCT organisation——

  Mr. O’Toole: Again, the Senator refers to a privatised service.

  Mr. Bohan: ——is creating havoc for people by asking them to return for their test two or three times for minor infringements.

  Mr. O’Toole: They are paid money for finding faults.

  Mr. Bohan: Over-regulation is driving citizens mad and it is time such regulations were reviewed. Will the Leader try to do something about the issue?

  Mr. Bannon: Will the Leader invite to the House the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, [175]Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to debate IDA Ireland’s most recent annual report which states the slow down of the past three years is now over and that new types of inward investment projects will come into the country? The midlands region was the victim of a let-down after the last general election when Cardinal Health, which was to deliver 1,300 pharmaceutical jobs to Longford, did not do so. It is important to have a debate on this report and on more balanced regional development, with particular emphasis on the midlands and how it lost out.

  An Cathaoirleach: There is only a minute remaining and two Senators have yet to contribute.

  Mr. Quinn: I wish to comment on Senator Leyden’s reference to the smoking ban and the problems he said it is creating for publicans. I gather the smoking ban has been of great benefit to the off-licence business. I say that with some experience. Many publicans are also in that business.

  Dr. Mansergh: Is the Senator declaring an interest?

  Mr. Coghlan: It goes without saying.

  Mr. Quinn: I ask the Leader to seriously consider the review of the Garda Síochána by the implementation steering group published in recent weeks. There has been some focus on this because of the attention given to the number of Garda stations that may be closed and the centralisation of the Garda Síochána. It would be useful to have an early debate on the review. The reason it comes to mind is that one of the difficulties for the Garda Síochána is that it is snowed under with requests from employers for references for prospective employees who have had a history of crime or, more seriously, abuse of children and other sexual misbehaviour. Today, a senior police officer in Britain was suspended because it appears the behaviour of the British police in regard to the murder of the two children in Soham was not effective. I would like to ensure we in Ireland are able to provide the service to our prospective employers. A suggestion was made some time ago, which I reported here, that it is not out of the question that employers should have to pay for this service. If the Garda is being snowed under, it may be necessary for employers to pay for this useful service but that should not, however, apply to schools, hospitals and State organisations. What happened in Britain was a disgrace.

  Mr. Ross: I wish to respond briefly to what Senators Mansergh and O’Toole said about the pay deal. I joint with them in congratulating the [176]Government, employers and trade unions on reaching agreement on a pay deal without consulting a single Member of this or the other House. It is quite an achievement and it should be acknowledged. If they want to bypass democracy, that is something about which we should be concerned and perhaps debate here. We should have a debate on pay deals here before they are agreed rather than after they are agreed. We should ask why concessions have been made on the tax band in the next budget already, a long time before that occurs, without consultation with this House and how on earth issues such as Aer Rianta got to the top of the agenda in a pay deal. Aer Rianta has absolutely nothing to do with a pay deal. This tells us who is writing the agenda for the other issues which concern this nation, rather than the pay deal. Under the guise of a pay deal other people, the oligarchs——

  Mr. O’Toole: In this civic society.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator O’Toole——

  Mr. O’Toole: The oligarchs were there until 1916.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ross is seeking a debate, in which all those points can be made.

  Mr. Ross: That is right. When I am not interrupted by former members of the oligarchy I will be able to make that request. I would like a serious debate on where democracy lies so we can ask why these people are writing legislation and budgets and why no Member is having an input into one of the most important agreements for the next few years, which are simple questions.

  Ms O’Rourke: The congratulations to the Taoiseach, the Civil Service and the Government are well merited and I undertake to convey the congratulatory wishes to the Office of the Taoiseach. Every party and many other Members reflected on it. It was a wonderful achievement. The hard work paid off. The nature and character of the Taoiseach had a huge effect on it. He was supremely suited for the difficult role of trying to bring the representatives of 25 countries with him, a task that would have tested anybody’s endurance, but the Taoiseach came through it with great dash. I will convey the views of the House to him.

Senators raised the apparent dispute between the two parties in Government. There is no such dispute here. The discussions on the airways are best described as childish capers, which are quite ridiculous and fooling nobody. Everybody is fed up with it. I would just say to them to get on with the job for which they were elected.

  Senators: Hear, Hear.

[177]  Ms O’Rourke: I mean everybody, not just the Senator.

  Mr. Minihan: I think I was the one who said it was childish.

  Ms O’Rourke: It is childish capers.

  Mr. Coghlan: Do not leave them out.

  Ms O’Rourke: If it is being done as a smokescreen, it is not working. We should just get on with the business.

Senator Brian Hayes raised the 75% reduction in the number of requests under the freedom of information legislation, a matter raised by the Ombudsman. This matter was debated at length in the Seanad and many Members fought the good fight. As I remember it, the Minister for Finance made a commitment to review the matter and perhaps we could ask the Minister when he proposes to hold a review.

Senator Brian Hayes also raised the Presidency of the European Commission. We would wish it to be an Irishman, but we would like to choose the nominee. Senator O’Toole also referred to the extraordinary work done by the Taoiseach — I will not refer to everybody by name because, as I stated, I will convey the remarks of Senators to the Taoiseach. He also praised the Minister for Finance, for which he will be duly grateful. I think he deserves that praise and I am glad the Senator referred to him.

  Mr. O’Toole: He would be appointed the new leader of Fianna Fáil as well, would he not?

  A Senator: No comment.

  An Cathaoirleach: The leadership of Fianna Fáil is not a matter for the Order of Business.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes proposed, and Senator Ryan seconded the proposal, that we debate the change in the freedom of information regulations as the fee is inhibiting people from making requests under the FOI legislation. Senator Ryan questioned whether we were carrying our national enthusiasm for an Irish person too far in terms of whether we were prepared to propose somebody who was very much involved in the global debate and the marketing ploys behind it.

The Senator also raised a question on the policy regarding visas. The public has raised with Members examples of aberrations in the visa policy. I do not know if there is a policy as it seems to be hit and miss. I too have a case where a visa was not granted to a mother and father wishing to visit their daughter who is married with a family and settled in Athlone. They only want to visit her and her family and have no [178]desire to stay in Ireland. We could put forward this issue for debate.

Senator Minihan paid tribute to the Taoiseach on his role on the world stage. Senator Coghlan concurred with those remarks. Senator Coghlan questioned when the cost implications of the break up of Aer Rianta would be known. I understand the Bill will be published this afternoon but the transfer of resources and people will be dealt with next April. I do not know the cost implications but I will try to find out.

  Mr. Coghlan: When will operations commence?

  Ms O’Rourke: The Bill will come before the Seanad before the recess. I understand operational control will not transfer until April 2005. The Bill, as published, is what was in the Fianna Fáil election manifesto. This was to give the three airports operational control, although they are still linked to the parent board. The second stage would be another step forward.

Senator Coghlan must have experienced a thrill when he noticed the housing Bill he tabled had reached Committee Stage, without knowing how it happened. The Cathaoirleach said it was an error and it will be rectified.

Senator Leyden raised the issue of smokers standing outside to smoke. He was not taking the publicans’ point of view but that of the citizens who must stand outside. This is a health issue. If people’s health is better served by the ban on smoking, it is a good deed. However, one sees groups of people outdoors, which is acceptable at this time of year when the day is bright until 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. Will they don their hats and coats in winter? Perhaps they will stay at home, as Senator Quinn said, referring to the upsurge in sales at off-licence outlets. People are bringing their wine or whatever home to drink it there.

Senator Norris also congratulated the Taoiseach on achieving agreement on the EU constitutional treaty. President Chirac’s statement that this was the best Presidency he could remember was amazing given that the French think they are wonderful, the best in the world and can run everything. We will discuss the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004 on Thursday, 1 July. I hope Senator Norris will be here to contribute to that debate to talk about the sites being demolished.

Senator Mansergh congratulated the Government on its success with the social partners. He also said the freedom of information charges are quite light. I am not sure about that. I am concerned about people seeking personal information having to pay. I hope there has been no diminution in those applications.

  Dr. Mansergh: That is free.

[179]  Ms O’Rourke: It is free up to a point. Senator McHugh called for An Bord Pleanála to be dismantled. I imagine there is a particular point behind his case which was passionately argued and perhaps we could discuss this. An Bord Pleanála is an independent body but occasionally it issues odd decisions which have no bearing on the inspectors’ reports. That is where the difficulty arises. The board employs professionals who submit reports which it seems able to dismiss arbitrarily.

Senator Hanafin referred to the full-page advertisements in national newspapers about the new terminal at Dublin Airport. I agree with him. It was a disgrace when I was the butt of such advertising and it is equally so when the Taoiseach is the butt. How can this person do this to get his own way? We must ask about his party alignment——

  Mr. Bannon: We know that; it is the winning party. We need only look at the wedding photos.

  Mr. Ryan: The Leader need only look beside her. We know who was at his wedding.

  Ms O’Rourke: I have received information which renders me quite speechless — which is very difficult to achieve — about a particular matter concerning that gentleman.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Leader should be careful.

  Ms O’Rourke: I mention no names. The matter should be carefully examined because it involves substantial donations. Senator Henry referred to the policy on visa applications. I have submitted two cases on that matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. She also spoke about President Bush coming to Ireland this week. People have a legitimate right to express their displeasure or distaste if they so wish. Nobody denies we have an affinity with the United States but that is a different matter from having an affinity with the President. I put my money where my mouth is last week when I was invited to dinner at the American Embassy. I turned down the invitation on the basis that I cannot object here to events in Guantanamo Bay and then go to dinner in the home of the American ambassador. I know of another person who complained in another place about the same matters but accepted the dinner invitation.

[180]  Mr. Ryan: Well done.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Bohan supported Senator Leyden who, he must be aware, was not speaking from the point of view of the publican. Senator Bohan spoke from the publican’s point of view as he has every right to do. He also mentioned thepenalty points system, clamping and the NCT, as examples of over-regulation of citizens. He is right but people talk about the “nanny State”. I do not know where the term originated but one must be governed in some way.

  Dr. Mansergh: The Tories.

  Ms O’Rourke: There must be legislation. We cannot make up our own rules. Senator Bannon wants a debate on the annual report of the IDA. I had the same thought when I received it last week. It would be a useful document for debate. Senator Quinn spoke about the benefit of the smoking ban to off-licences, about which he knows. I hope it has proven satisfactory for him.

The Senator also sought a debate on the recent Garda Síochána report, which would be worthwhile. The chief constables in England have got into difficulties in respect of what happened at Soham because of a failure to share certain data between the two police authorities concerned. We should consider how we might learn from what happened in this case.

Senator Ross referred to the pay deal. In a letter to the Sub-committee on Seanad Reform, the Taoiseach suggested the Seanad would be a worthwhile forum in which to debate social partnership deals. I am aware that he is visiting Tokyo at present and that he is extremely busy. However, I wrote to him earlier today pointing out that he put forward this suggestion. However, such deals should be debated before, not after, they are agreed. The Government is part of the social partnership but such a far-reaching decision which affects everybody should be debated. The Senator also inquired as to why the issue of Aer Rianta was included in the deal and what it had to do with it.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Brian Hayes has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That No. 21, motion No. 2, be taken before No. 1.” Is the amendment being pressed?

  Mr. B. Hayes: Yes.

Amendment put.

[181]The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 28.

    Bannon, James.

    Burke, Ulick.

    Coghlan, Paul.

    Cummins, Maurice.

    Hayes, Brian.

    Henry, Mary.

    McHugh, Joe.

    Norris, David.

    O’Meara, Kathleen.

    O’Toole, Joe.

    Ross, Shane.

    Ryan, Brendan.

    Terry, Sheila.

Níl

    Bohan, Eddie.

    Brady, Cyprian.

    Brennan, Michael.

    Callanan, Peter.

    Daly, Brendan.

    Dooley, Timmy.

    Fitzgerald, Liam.

    Glynn, Camillus.

    Hanafin, John.

    Hayes, Maurice.

    Kenneally, Brendan.

    Kett, Tony.

    Kitt, Michael P.

    Leyden, Terry.

    Lydon, Donal J.

    Mansergh, Martin.

    Minihan, John.

    Morrissey, Tom.

    Moylan, Pat.

    O’Brien, Francis.

    Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

    O’Rourke, Mary.

    Phelan, Kieran.

    Quinn, Feargal.

    Scanlon, Eamon.

    Walsh, Jim.

    White, Mary M.

    Wilson, Diarmuid.

Tellers: Tá, Senators U. Burke and Coghlan; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.

[182]Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.