Seanad Éireann - Volume 182 - 15 February, 2006

Order of Business.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on planning and related issues (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 5 p.m.; and No. 22, motion 25, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. As regards No. 1, Senators will have ten minutes each and may share time. Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, Members who contributed previously to the debate may contribute again, that is up to a Senator’s party whip. The Minister shall be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the [1270]conclusion of the statements. If it seems that Senators who wish to contribute to the debate will not be able to because of time constraints, the Minister will not reply because the debate will be resumed. We will monitor the situation as the debate progresses. It seems from the interest in this matter that we may need to resume the debate another day, in which case the Minister will not reply today.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Leader referring to No. 1?

  Ms O’Rourke: Yes. If it is to continue another day, the Minister will not be called upon to reply today.

  An Cathaoirleach: As I read it, No. 1 is to conclude not later than 5 p.m.

  Ms O’Rourke: Yes, but it may not conclude. It will resume unless it is concluded today.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Order of Business would need to be amended accordingly then, would it not?

  Ms O’Rourke: Yes. I am only making the point because there is great interest in the matter and many Senators wish to contribute.

  An Cathaoirleach: My problem would be that if the Order of Business was agreed to, we would have to stick to it.

  Ms O’Rourke: I see your point. It was only when I read it following my party’s meeting, where many Senators expressed a wish to contribute, I realised that sentiment might exist across the Chamber.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Last night’s “Prime Time” programme on the Stardust disaster cast serious doubt on the findings of the tribunal of investigation by Mr. Justice Keane 23 years ago. Would the Leader agree that a way forward must be found, in terms of ensuring that new evidence is brought to bear in this appalling case but also to reopen the matter to bring closure for the families of the victims concerned? Last night’s “Prime Time” programme has shown public broadcasting in a very positive light and I congratulate the programme.

The way in which the State has treated these families over the past 25 years has been appalling. They have had to persuade the State, kicking and screaming, as a means of bringing closure to this issue. We must find a way forward at this stage, whether by way of a parliamentary investigation, a commission of inquiry or the work of a senior counsel to look at the new evidence. However, closure must be found.

I would ask the Leader of the House to consult with the Government to find out what its current position is on this matter and to consult with [1271]other group leaders on this issue. This is not just an issue for the Government, given that the tribunal was established on an all-party basis some 25 years ago. In fairness to those involved, I would ask the Government to make a statement at the earliest possible time on this issue.

It shows the worst possible taste and it is the most insensitive decision possible for a planning authority to grant a public licence to a premises on that site some 25 years later. I cannot understand that decision which permits a pub to be re-established at that location.

  Mr. Norris: Has one ever known a licence to be refused?

  Mr. B. Hayes: Most people in the country were horrified when that decision was taken. I would ask that that decision be examined.

  Mr. O’Toole: I must support the points made by Senator Brian Hayes. The Stardust fire has caught the public imagination again after 25 years. I am not sure whether an inquiry will bring closure but it is a positive idea which I support. It has been put to the Taoiseach several times that he should meet formally with the survivors and their families. He should make it clear that he will do so. The connection between people suffering such a trauma and political leaders is important and should not be difficult to achieve.

I understood the fire services and the number of fire officers and all operators in that area had increased exponentially in the 25 years since the Stardust inquiry. I now hear there has been no improvement in the services. It would be helpful if the Leader invited the appropriate Minister to outline to the House what has been changed. This is not a political football. Both sides of the House are equally concerned about the issue. Let us hear what has been done in the meantime so that we can answer people who tell us there has been no improvement.

I have also been told that we are no better prepared for dealing with a similar significant emergency. I find that hard to believe but would like the facts to be put before the House. Those are the issues that people have raised with me over recent days.

Why was such an insensitive decision made in regard to the licensed premises on the site? Wherever a major tragedy rocks a community the sequel is a need for sensitivity towards, and understanding of, the people who are suffering. As Senator Brian Hayes said this was in the worst possible taste. It is appalling and whoever is in a position to object should do so, even at this late stage.

I support the idea of using the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916 to discuss important issues but wonder what the Government plans as a commemoration on the day. The Army is entitled to be involved in the commemoration. [1272]Whatever we do after 90 years, however, should reflect what has happened in Ireland during that time, and the Ireland of today. It should not be confined to a military demonstration or march. That is precisely what would detract from a good idea because the event has a wider significance. The commemoration should be open and reflect modern Ireland.

  Ms O’Meara: I understand the Taoiseach is preparing to meet the families of the Stardust victims. I hope that is the case and that it will happen soon. The Taoiseach is to meet them not simply on his own behalf but as leader of the country, and therefore on behalf of all of us, which is appropriate.

It is also necessary to find some mechanism to bring closure to the families of the victims. I recall hearing about the Stardust fire when I was in university and being shocked. The recent television programme about it was stark and upsetting. We must take into account that families continue to live with the impact of the event. I propose that the Leader suggest to the Taoiseach a review of all the Garda files in the case by senior counsel or a judge. This would be short of a tribunal but could include consultation with experts. It is disturbing to hear, as “Prime Time” revealed, that some experts dispute the original findings. It is important to do this.

It occurred to me when watching the programme that the awful event yielded some positive outcomes as halls around the country closed. There was an overnight awareness of the importance of knowing the location of fire exits, of safety and of the role of the fire officer. While it is disturbing to find the number of fire safety officers in Dublin is the same now as in 1981, there is a raised consciousness of the issue of safety, particularly in public places and where young people gather. The recent programmes are very fine examples of public service broadcasting at its best. If one needed an example of a good reason to invest in public service broadcasting, that was it, without doubt.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Hear, hear.

  Ms O’Meara: I congratulate RTE in that regard.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the report in the media today on early school leaving and the finding that poorly qualified students are either unemployed or underemployed. In the context of the current economic situation it is shocking to find that the high early school leaving rate is the same as it was 20 years ago. It is clear this problem is not being tackled and it behoves us to examine how this can be done. The Government has not invested in pre-school education which is the one measure that would have an impact and make a difference. Pre-school education investment in disadvantaged areas has been shown to make a difference in that regard. [1273]This issue is related to the Private Members’ motion which will be debated today. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the report as soon as possible.

  An Cathaoirleach: There is a long-standing precedent in this House that latitude be allowed to the group leaders. I remind Senators that while the time for the Order of Business has been extended by ten minutes, the purpose was to accommodate everyone who wishes to speak and not to over-elaborate on the reasons for raising a matter on the Order of Business. I ask Senators to be brief.

  Ms Ormonde: I also wish to reiterate the points made by the leaders of the Opposition parties that the Stardust inquiry be revisited. The programme was very disturbing viewing. I watched the documentary on Sunday and Monday night. I recall the event because our party was in the middle of an Ard-Fheis which was cancelled when the horrific news broke. I welcome the Taoiseach’s comments that he is sensitive to this issue and intends to meet the victims and the families concerned. I know the Leader will convey the views of this House regarding that awful tragedy.

With reference to the ESRI report, it is quite disturbing that a percentage of young students have not completed the leaving certificate programme and are not finding employment. I question the role of FÁS and its ability to link up with the Department and with local schools to find out how best to help students who are not progressing to third level education so that they can be given an opportunity of attending proper courses to help them get into the world of work. This issue is the concern of both the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and it calls for a debate in the House.

  Mr. Finucane: In November 2001, the cost of the Dublin Port tunnel was estimated at €448 million and it is now projected that it will cost €1.3 billion. It is very worrying that information from video cameras printed in a tabloid newspaper today shows that hundreds of gallons of water is going into that tunnel. It has been stated that the thickness of the tunnel wall is only one tenth of what it should be. Dublin City Council officials issued a reassurance last December that the leaks had been rectified. This news today is very worrying. In order to allay concerns and to give us the true, unvarnished situation regarding the port tunnel, I ask that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, come to the House to inform us of the position, to allay the concerns that exist and to give an indication of when the tunnel will be opening.

  Mr. Mooney: I endorse all that has been said about the Stardust tragedy and, in particular, I [1274]echo the remarks of Senator O’Meara about the two RTE programmes. At a time when public service broadcasting is coming under yet another round of criticism this was a perfect example of why we should continue to support such broadcasting.

I wish to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to recent remarks by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at an RTE symposium on public service broadcasting. I have to confess that the remarks were received with some concern because, after all, the Minister is responsible for maintaining law and order in the State. I have enormous respect and admiration for Deputy McDowell but his comments last week, which were widely reported, must be seen in the context of the forthcoming broadcasting Bill, the heads of which are currently under discussion. The Bill should be published before the Easter recess and, therefore, I ask the Leader to ensure it will come before this House to allow for a measured debate not only on the legislation but also on public service broadcasting generally.

I am also seeking a debate on the outcome of the elections in Palestine, including the occupied territories. The debate should include the impact of Hamas on wider regional issues, namely, the relationship between the European Union and Palestine and Israel, as well as the relationship between Ireland and Palestine as a result of the elections. This House has a long tradition of holding good debates on Middle East matters, so I ask the Leader to arrange for such a debate in the next few weeks.

  Mr. Norris: I support my colleagues who have called for a further discussion on the tragic Stardust situation and I also support their compliments to RTE. I did not see the entire programme but I saw some of it. From what I saw, it seemed to me that they were talking not so much about new evidence but a new interpretation of evidence and the unearthing of the fact that certain evidence was missing at the time, which is very puzzling. That evidence included a list of items that were contained in a store room where the fire may have started, and the fact that electrical short-circuits were reported from that location.

That information was not referred to at the original tribunal, although it seems to have been crucial. We have further work to do in that regard. We owe it to the bereaved families and to the memory of those who were killed, to do so. It does not surprise me, however, that Mr. Butterly got his licence. I have never known a licence to be refused. We could re-examine how the licensing laws operate with regard to these facilities.

There has been a Cabinet reshuffle and we have a new Minister of State, Deputy Browne, in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

[1275]  Mr. Mooney: There has been no Cabinet reshuffle.

  Mr. Norris: Will the Leader arrange to have the new Minister of State attend the House to explain the policy on the fisheries Bill, particularly in light of a letter in The Irish Times of 9 February?

  An Cathaoirleach: Senators will be discussing that Bill in due course.

  Mr. Norris: I want the new Minister of State to attend the House as soon as possible and I wish to give the reason. The previous Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, contradicted things I said and gave assurances they were not so, yet these very things are included in a letter by Dr. T.K. Whitaker to The Irish Times. If my opinion is not respected, at least his will be. The letter stated that the Department’s quota system enabled it to limit the annual catch of wild salmon in line with scientific advice on conservation requirements, a responsibility it has failed to discharge. Dr. Whitaker said that if this is not done it will lead to the extinction of our salmon stocks.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Senator can reserve his comments until the legislation is debated here.

  Mr. Norris: I am just giving reasons I think it is important for the new Minister of State to attend the House.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is unnecessary to do so now.

  Mr. Norris: His predecessor made a statement that is not sustainable in light of the argument made by Dr. Whitaker.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is a matter for the forthcoming debate.

  Mr. Norris: I agree with my colleague, Senator O’Toole, about the importance of having a debate on the anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I also ask for such a debate so that we can discover the Government’s plans for its commemoration. I have been contacted by a constituent who asked about the proposed budget to cover this military display and other celebrations of 1916. Can the Leader discover that information for me?

  Mr. J. Walsh: I welcome the newfound interest of many Members in the commemoration of 1916, which I am sure will be a tremendous success.

  Mr. Cummins: The Senator was there when it was announced.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Now we know the real truth.

  Mr. J. Walsh: I concur with the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, in acknowledging the public service broadcasting value of [1276]the Stardust programmes, which highlighted again the appalling tragedy involving so many young people in the prime of their lives. I join with those who have called for further inquiry into this matter, through the appropriate channels.

Within the last few days, a report on Judiciary expenses appeared in one of the national newspapers, specifically the amount spent on the paraphernalia which goes with the judicial system, namely, wigs and gowns. I raised this matter in the past. It is an anachronism in a modern republic that gowns and medieval wigs are worn during the administration of justice.

  Mr. Browne: Does that also apply to the Dáil?

  Mr. J. Walsh: We should debate this matter.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is a matter for the Judiciary.

  Mr. J. Walsh: I am asking for a broad-ranging debate on the criminal justice system.

  Mr. U. Burke: I join Senators O’Meara and Ormonde in requesting an early debate on the annual ESRI survey on school leavers. It is a frightening indictment of Government inactivity in this area that 68% of the students who leave school without a qualification are without a job one year later, at a time when we have a booming economy. For students who leave with a junior certificate, the jobless figure after one year is reduced to 28% or 30%, and when they leave with a leaving certificate, the figure falls to 15%.

Those are frightening statistics. Some 18% of second-level students drop out. Approximately 1,000 students per annum fail the transition between primary and second level. As the Leader is aware, the root of that lies with the failure to appoint educational welfare officers. We were supposed to have a minimum of 330 such officers throughout the country but currently have only some 69 or 70. Each of those officers must deal with in the region of 185 cases. It is time for the Minister for Education and Science and the Government to respond to the situation so that drop-outs and the disadvantaged are dealt with in a meaningful way and can look forward to some future.

  Ms Feeney: I concur with and support other Senators’ comments about the heartbreaking but excellent RTE coverage over recent days of the 25th anniversary of the Stardust tragedy. I agree with Senator O’Toole that there were many different aspects to the coverage. The one which got to me most, and broke my heart, involved the parents in four or five families, the bodies of whose loved ones could not be identified and remain unidentified. One poor couple spoke of having to visit four or five different graves [1277]because they do not know where their son or daughter is buried.

We are talking of children aged 16, 17 or 18. One does not have to be a parent to feel these parents’ anguish, loss and terrible heartbreak. Will the Leader write to the relevant Minister, perhaps the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and ask him to consider the request by those four or five families to have the bodies exhumed? There was no DNA testing 25 years ago. However, now that we are living in an age when DNA testing is common practice, those four or five families could be given final closure by having headstones for the graves. They have no headstones, only numbers. It would be important to have the headstones.

  Mr. B. Hayes: Hear, hear.

  Mr. McCarthy: I join other colleagues in commending RTE for its excellent policy in public broadcasting in recent times, not least the culmination of its programming on the Stardust tragedy in last night’s “Prime Time” special. On the political response to the issues raised by the documentary, we should examine, 25 years on from the event, the ways in which the parliamentary process can ease the pain of the families involved. What can be done should be done.

3 o’clock

Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on policing? It is an issue of ongoing importance. A number of matters are of significant concern for many people around the country, particularly regarding Garda stations in rural areas and the intention of the Minister to start selling some of them to raise revenue for the Department. This is worrying in an urban area and does not augur well for policing in rural areas.

  Mr. Glynn: I welcome the return of Deputy Browne as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Will the Leader arrange for him to come into the House to outline his proposals on what he will do to prevent the denuding of our canals and small rivers of fish? Two people netting on both sides could clean out everything, even the fingerlings, but nothing goes back. Traditional fishermen who used to fish in those areas no longer do so.

With regard to car insurance, there is strong evidence to suggest that many cars on our roads come from backyard operators and a number of car auctions are not insured. Garages insure each of their cars. A debate in the House a year or two ago concentrated on a very serious accident involving a car bought in one of the above locations. Lives were lost. We must all insure our cars. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to outline to the House his proposals on what will be done to stamp out this practice?

[1278]  Mr. Feighan: I recently called for a debate on the emergence of crack cocaine across the north inner city. We must highlight its dangers and the involvement of west African gangs in this horrible trade. I congratulate the Garda on the arrest of three men and the seizure of cocaine to the value of €3.5 million, but not enough is being done. We in this country must wake up to the dangers of what crack cocaine could do if it takes root.

We need a Minister for drug enforcement, not a Minister with à la carte responsibility, to ensure we have resources and funding, that these dangerous criminals will be tackled and that drugs, especially crack cocaine, will be off our streets immediately. We are on the brink of a major epidemic and we would want to wake up sooner rather than later.

  Mr. Quinn: I was very close to the Stardust disaster inasmuch as I knew many of those who died or were injured and have suffered ever since. They were employees. These families have lived with this matter for 25 years. Senator Feeney has spoken about the horror some of them went through. We, the State, must do something. I do not know what and I am unsure whether this House is the place to do it.

The situation has changed in 25 years. Reference was made yesterday to the fact that forensic techniques have developed, such as Senator Feeney’s comments on DNA. Therefore, we can determine more about the cause of this disaster and the action taken at the time. Whether it is an opening of the investigation or something to attempt to bring closure to help those families, it is a part of what we are trying to achieve. However, our major task is to ensure that nothing similar ever happens again. Those of us who knew and know those people and their families know their hearts are not only looking to the past but also to the future. They want to ensure nothing like this happens again. I am not sure we have taken sufficient steps so I support those who call for action.

  Mr. Browne: I support Members who asked for a debate on fire safety. I suggest we invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to ask how many prosecutions for breaches of fire safety have occurred since the Stardust tragedy. I refer in particular to nightclubs, pubs and hotels in regard to which I suspect there have been very few. Will the Leader ask the Minister to indicate how many inspections of these premises have taken place while fully occupied? I have never seen a fire officer in the middle of 2,000 people in a nightclub to see how they would react in the case of a fire. From being involved in a fire in a school, I am aware basic mistakes can be made in this situation. We all think we would react correctly but this may not be the case.

A fire occurred in Enniscorthy recently and when the fire services went to the scene they dis[1279]covered the water pressure at the fire hydrants was not sufficient to treat the fire. We should have a debate on fire safety to discover if we have learned anything from the Stardust tragedy and if premises frequented by thousands of people are being monitored. I hope we never have a repeat of such a tragedy.

  Mr. Ross: I was taken by what Senator Jim Walsh stated about the Judiciary, particularly the wearing of wigs. It is an important matter that we consider whether we, particularly the Leader, would welcome Members wearing wigs in this House.

  Mr. Dardis: Senator Ross could do with one.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on which Senator Ross has a representative.

  Mr. Ross: I speak from a position of great strength, as does Senator Norris.

  Mr. Norris: I speak from a position of greater strength as I am sitting in the Fianna Fáil seats.

  Mr. Ross: With the help of the Leader, the Cathaoirleach could make a ruling on whether wigs conform to correct protocol.

  An Cathaoirleach: I ask Senator Ross to ask a question relevant to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Ross: That was a serious question.

  An Cathaoirleach: It was not relevant to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Mooney: Senator Ross would not have raised that question five years ago.

  Mr. Ross: I may not raise it in the next Seanad.

  An Cathaoirleach: We are wasting time and other Senators are offering.

  Mr. Ross: Senator Jim Walsh raised the matter of the Judiciary on which Senators Norris and O’Toole and I tabled a motion some time ago. I refer to political appointments to the Judiciary and seek a debate on ending political appointments thereto.

  Mr. Lydon: Certainly not.

  Mr. Ross: For so long, one party has put its own people in power and then another party has appointed its people to the Supreme Court.

  Mr. Wilson: That is not correct.

  Ms Feeney: Five High Court judges were appointed and they had nothing to do with our party.

[1280]  Mr. Ross: Occasionally a dummy is appointed to fool people. I wish to finish without interruption. In the Bar Library people predict the outcome of Supreme Court decisions on the basis of party affiliation.

  Ms Feeney: Fine Gael will tell the Senator that is not right.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ross is aware the Judiciary is independent.

  Mr. Ross: The Judiciary is not independent.

  Mr. Norris: It is supposed to be.

  Mr. Ross: It is not independently appointed.

  An Cathaoirleach: It is independent, whatever way it is appointed.

  Mr. Ross: That is exactly the subject on which I request a debate.

  Mr. Bannon: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to debate the bureaucracy that is putting farmers, particularly young farmers, out of business. Red tape is forcing farmers to comply with silly regulations, and the entire payment can be denied because of a simple error. That is totally wrong.

The Minister must also address the issue of Brazilian and Argentinian beef imported to the EU, when serious outbreaks of foot and mouth disease have occurred in those countries. When there was a threat of foot and mouth disease in this State three or four years ago, the entire State was closed down. We cannot allow the continued importation of beef from Argentina and Brazil when there is evidence of outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in those countries. We have an extremely restrictive system in Ireland and I do not see why those countries should be allowed to export to the EU while getting away with having an extremely lax control system. In countries such as Brazil and Argentina tagging systems or traceability schemes are not in place.

I read in a magazine last year that those countries abandoned the idea of tagging until animals are four years of age. There should not be one rule for Irish farmers and another for South American farmers.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is Senator Bannon calling for a debate?

  Mr. Bannon: It is important that the Minister addresses this situation at EU level.

  Mr. McHugh: I welcome the call for a debate on early school leavers. It is also important to point out that the statistics produced by the ESRI are not startling. We are well aware that people leave school early and it will always be an issue. [1281]In Donegal during the 1980s and 1990s young girls left school at the age of 16 because of the attraction of earning money at Fruit of the Loom in Buncrana. The fact that people will leave school early was acknowledged by the National Economic and Social Forum and cited in the document it produced this month. It is important to read that document.

People will leave school early to enter vulnerable job sectors, such as manufacturing, where they exist. The critical point to make is that it is necessary to improve the education and talents of those people while they are in the vulnerable job market. Today’s reality is that early school leavers, predominantly young males, leave school early to enter the vulnerable job market in the construction sector. What we should do——

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator seeking a debate?

  Mr. McHugh: I am. I appreciate the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach. We must upskill the young people who leave school and enter this vulnerable sector. In Donegal, FÁS came in to upskill people after Unifi and Fruit of Loom closed down. At that stage the horse had bolted and it was too late. Upskilling should be done when people are in the vulnerable job sector, such as when these young men are in the construction sector.

  Mr. Kitt: It is only fair to say that the late Jack Lynch was the first Taoiseach to my knowledge who appointed people other than his party political associates to the Judiciary. Every Taoiseach since then, as the Cathaoirleach knows, has also appointed——

  An Cathaoirleach: I do not think we should have a debate on the Judiciary.

  Mr. Kitt: ——people from all parties and from no party.

  An Cathaoirleach: We will not have a debate on the Judiciary. It is independent, as I already stated.

  Mr. Kitt: Senator Ross tried to rewrite history by stating that when a party gets into power it appoints its own people. It is wrong to state that and it is a great disservice to the people serving in the Judiciary. I want to clarify that point and make clear that it has been the practice since 1977 that taoisigh have appointed people from all parties and no parties.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, raised the issue of the Stardust, which is on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s hearts over the past number of days, particularly since the weekend. It was heartbreaking to view the programmes on RTE and consider the young boys and girls who went out with their hair slicked back and full of life and joy to have a good [1282]night, but who never returned. It is a story that has stayed in people’s minds because of the enormity and horror involved. Last night I watched the simple people talking about their children, the hurt still so evident in them.

Senator Hayes asked whether there is a way to re-open the case. The Taoiseach said if there is new evidence, he would be in favour of doing that. The Senator also asked for closure. I agree with Senator O’Toole in that it must be asked how could one ever find closure in one’s heart having lost one’s children in such an horrific way, but I take the Senator’s point.

I listened carefully to what the Taoiseach said yesterday on this issue because I knew it would come up today. He and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would be willing to meet people if the debate can be intensified and if new technology and new ways of looking at things are available. Surely after 25 years, matters have changed and there is some way to do that. However, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are open to meeting people concerned and to looking at the case again if there is new evidence. Senator Brian Hayes also said the planning authority had granted a licence for a pub on the same site. I could not believe people would be so crass as to seek such a licence.

Senator O’Toole was right to seek a debate on the fire service. I cannot believe that with the increase in the population, the size of the service has remained the same. We should have a debate on it and get the facts. The Senator asked if we could get detail on what the Government plans for the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Perhaps the Taoiseach might come to the House to speak about it. That would be useful and I will endeavour to arrange that.

Senator O’Meara called for a review of all the material on the Stardust fire. That is interesting because I listened to her party leader yesterday and this morning in the other House and that is what he put forward. It sounded sensible because it echoed something the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said, that is, rather than hold another tribunal, we should look at the material in another way. The Senator commended RTE for its programmes on the matter, something with which I concur. RTE performed a wonderful feat of public sector broadcasting.

Senator O’Meara also referred to the report on early school leavers, which I had marked out. We should have a debate on that issue. She also talked about the pivotal role of pre-school education and that it can have an ongoing, long-term effect on education for young people.

Senator Ormonde raised the issues of the Stardust fire and the ERSI report. She highlighted the role of FÁS interlinking with industry and keeping a tab on early school leavers and perhaps trying to forestall them from leaving. Even if, as Senator McHugh said, they are not going to jobs in manufacturing, there are many worthwhile [1283]courses on which they get a training allowance at the end of the week. I suppose many of them say they are not too interested in geometry, geography or whatever and that perhaps they will attend such courses to get the training allowance. There are many issues in what I am sure is a complex matter but we will seek to debate it.

Senator Finance raised the issue of the Dublin Port tunnel and requested that the Minister come to the House. We could do with some elucidation on that point. The situation seems to be going from bad to worse.

Senator Mooney referred to the recent remarks by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the RTE lecture in UCD, which I found interesting. The Minister is charged with the debate on the media and legislation. The Senator also called for a debate on Palestine.

Senator Norris raised the issue of the Stardust fire and the interpretation of the evidence. What has changed is the interpretation of the evidence 25 years ago and now. That would feed into the review of papers which have been amassed since then.

The Senator also asked that the new Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries come to the House. I am sure he would like to do so and he will be welcome. Senator Norris also asked about the budget for the 1916 commemoration and from whence it will come. I understand it will come from the Department of the Taoiseach but I do not suppose it has been drawn up yet. We will, however, have a commemoration.

Senator Jim Walsh raised the issue of public service broadcasting. He also requested a report on the role of the Judiciary. I will not use the word he used.

  Mr. McCarthy: What was the word?

  Ms O’Rourke: I will not say it. The Senator only wants to get me going. I will not succumb.

  An Cathaoirleach: I did not hear it.

  Ms O’Rourke: Am I not very good? The cost of the gowns was mentioned. While it is acceptable to say “gown”, one may not use the other word.

Senator Ulick Burke raised the ESRI’s report on school leavers. Even in the most perfect of systems, there will always be students who drop out. There will always be those who hear the sound of distant drums and wish to escape the confines of a classroom. That is as old as time.

Senator Feeney referred to the Stardust tragedy and the particularly poignant case of the four or five families who do not know where their children are buried. It is hard to imagine living with that for 25 years. Senator McCarthy called for RTE to be congratulated and I do so, as it did a fine job. He also requested that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come before [1284]the House to debate policing, which would be a good idea.

Senator Glynn discussed the denuding of canals and small lakes of fish, with people fishing from both banks. The new Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, is returning to familiar territory in this respect. He has debated such issues in this House previously and I will ask him back. Senator Glynn also raised the issue of uninsured cars. On that subject, the cost of insurance has not fallen much this year. I do not know whether Members have noticed that although we were told it would fall dramatically, this has not happened.

Senator Feighan asked for a debate on drugs. I refute the notion that the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, is an à la carte Minister. Members are aware that he pays close attention to the drugs issue. However, I will ask him to come before the House.

  Mr. Feighan: I did not say that. I said there should be a Minister who was responsible for drug enforcement, not responsible for everything in an à la carte manner.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Senator used the phrase “à la carte”.

  Mr. Norris: The Minister cut back the budget and was then obliged to reinstate it after protests.

  An Cathaoirleach: The Leader should be allowed to reply without interruptions.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Senator did say “à la carte”.

  Mr. Norris: The Minister changes the prices on the menu, even if the menu itself does not change.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris should allow the Leader to reply without interruptions.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Quinn noted that he was close to many of the people involved in the Stardust tragedy. He correctly focused on how this should never happen again. Senator Browne raised the issue of fire inspections and asked for a debate on the fire service as a whole.

Senator Ross raised the question of what he described as Government appointments to the Judiciary. Regardless of how such appointments come about, I have never found or heard of a judge who did not act completely independently and completely within his or her own judicial rights. We must rely on the independence of the Judiciary. It is our bulwark and is where we go to seek redress. Civilised countries, including Ireland, have good judiciaries. I have never encountered anything untoward and while we may disagree and shout and roar about a particular decision, by and large, that is the system. A [1285]judge’s viewpoint of a particular case depends on the characteristics of that judge. However, in the operation of their duties, judges are independent.

  Mr. Ross: What about the wigs?

  An Cathaoirleach: The Leader, without interruption.

  Ms O’Rourke: I will not mention them.

Senator Bannon requested that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, come before the House. He raised the issue of Brazilian and Argentinian beef. Although cattle are subject to foot and mouth disease in those countries, beef is still imported. Senator McHugh called for a debate on early school leavers and discussed those who are vulnerable in the jobs market. Senator Kitt, who is no longer present, defended the judges’ independence.

Order of Business agreed to.