Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Second Interim Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into certain planning matters and payments, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. We expect that it will come to a conclusion no later than 5 p.m. Senators may share time.
I thank the Leader. She will be aware of the two primary legislative measures relating to the confiscation of assets gained through criminal activity. I refer to the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 and the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996. Last week in the High Court a successful challenge was mounted by an individual currently serving a 28 year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Will the Government be appealing this decision to the Supreme Court in order that a definite position in respect of this legislation is established? It is vitally important for communities fighting the scourge of drugs that this legislation be upheld in the courts. Criminals have taken huge sums of money from and destroyed the lives of young people in some of the most deprived communities in this and other cities. We must ensure the assets gained through such activity are returned to the communities concerned. Will the Leader find out from her Government colleagues whether the State will test this judgment in the Supreme Court?
Last week six matters were raised on the Adjournment, three on Wednesday and three on Thursday. On both evenings one Minister of State came to the House to respond to all three items. It is a matter of disrespect to the House that the Minister to whom an Adjournment matter is addressed, or a Minister of State from his or her Department, is not present when the matter is discussed. Will the Leader raise this question? It is not acceptable for a Minister to read three prepared scripts to the Members who have brought matters to the attention of the House. We must set a precedent at the start of this new Seanad that when a matter is raised on the Adjournment, the relevant Minister or Minister of State comes to the House to hear the debate.
Will the Leader ascertain from the Government when the new civil registration Bill will be presented to the House? Like other Members, I receive the newsletter of the Genealogical Society of Ireland. The headline on the editorial in this month's edition is "Where is the new Civil Registration Bill". The editorial continues, "On the tenth anniversary of the birth of the Roscommon experiment there is still no registration". I understand this matter comes under the auspices of the Department of Health and Children and concerns the question of the registration of births, marriages and deaths. There is concern that unless the Bill is produced matters will be left in a quagmire, and that if it is produced in the shape anticipated, much less information will be accessible to the public. I would welcome information on the matter.
Could we have a debate on the media which is necessary because we see many calls in the newspapers for reform of the libel laws, all in the interest of newspaper magnates? Today a woman married to a former Cabinet Minister, Mrs. McDaid, was savaged by two women journalists on foot of an article which appeared in a disgusting Irish tabloid owned by English interests. The two women journalists who attacked Mrs. McDaid admitted subsequently that they had not even read the book in question. This is quite extraordinary. If we are to do anything with the libel laws, we must establish a strong press council. I look forward to the debate, to which I would like to contribute. I have no fear of newspapers, their editors or their sometimes lamentable correspondents, especially as I am a member of the National Union of Journalists. I respect many of my colleagues, but there are those whom I do not respect at all. There are newspapers I do not respect either.
I always think it is very rude to ask a question and then leave the House, but I have to attend the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I apologise and do not intend any discourtesy to the House.
I thank Senator Norris for reminding me about the meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I had forgotten the time had moved on and I may not be here to hear the Leader's entirely reasonable replies to my questions.
I would like the Leader to tell us why we have no motion on the Flood tribunal and why we have one on the Lindsay tribunal, a sycophantic motion which, among other things, sings the Government's praises. I find the contradiction between the two attitudes quite extraordinary.
I appreciate that this is an interim report and that if Fianna Fáil had responded to the Flood tribunal's request it would have been published before the election, not afterwards. The six month delay in appointing two judges was extraordinarily convenient to the Government parties before the general election. I also believe that the motion on the Lindsay tribunal is an appallingly poorly worded one.
Anyone who has been listening to any of a dozen different radio programmes over the past few weeks would wonder what is going on in the construction industry, both on the part of some estate agents and on the part of builders. Do consumers in that area have any rights at all? What hold does the industry have over the Government that things that could not be done in any other area continue to be done in the area of building? Purchasers of houses are treated disgracefully by the vast majority of builders. The catalogue of horror stories of abuse of customers is quite extraordinary and I ask for an immediate debate in this House on the building industry, the sale of property—
—and the apparent ignoring of the most basic of purchasers' rights, which now seems to be endemic in the industry.
I agree with Senator Norris that we need a debate on the media. I found last Friday night's "Late Late Show" unpleasant, in that somebody was given the opportunity to say things about a Member of the other House who happened to be her estranged husband. I have no idea what it had to do with public service. I have no idea what it had to do with anything other than prurience and I have no reason to believe that is what any of us really believes public service broadcasters should be doing. Where are we going to end up? If the estranged spouses of every Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas in that position are given such opportunities, RTÉ will be busy forever. If it extends beyond that and begins to explore the little peccadilloes of every Member of this House – I am sure the Leader is above reproach, but for the rest of us who are mere mortals, the idea of the media exploring—
There is a fundamental need to look at the values that motivate our media because what I saw on the "Late Late Show" on Friday night was unworthy of public service broadcasting. It was a gross intrusion into one person's privacy and opened up the possibility of a quite unpleasant kind of relationship between politics and the media.
I very much respect the ruling in respect of the Adjournment, but I hope the Minister will be in a position to come into the House because I would like to congratulate him on the stand of Ireland in the Security Council regarding the motion passed on 8 April. He deserves our best wishes. I appeal to the Iraqi Government to comply with the resolution because it is absolutely vital that it does.
Last week several Senators referred to the importance of having the Minister for Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources attend the House to debate fisheries. It is critical that he attend the House next week. Over the weekend fishermen's organisations and fish processors emphasised the situation that would prevail and which would be catastrophic for the industry if negotiations next month are not successfully concluded. They outlined the possibility that the Spanish may have the right to use the Irish box, an area extending 50 miles around the coastline, from 1 January 2003. It is important to the fishermen and for spawning and conservation that the box be preserved. If the Spanish gain access it will be the end of fishing as we know it in this country.
Two private schools in the Dublin area issued statements recently to the effect that, with the consent of the parents, they will engage in drug testing where there is a suspicion that students have been involved in drug taking. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to indicate if this practice is to be extended to all schools? This may well happen due to public pressure and, if so, the Minister should indicate if the Department has the personnel and resources in terms of counsellors and so on to adequately monitor such practices. Many second level schools do not have access to in-school counselling services and are obliged to share them.
If the practice of testing for drug taking was to be implemented throughout schools, either on a mandatory or random basis, it would have serious consequences for the second level system. In view of this it is important that the Minister should indicate, either in the House or elsewhere, his views and that of his Department on this issue. It is important that there should be no repetition of what recently happened in Bray.
The former Minister for Education and Science established the Lefoy Commission to examine the issue of abuse of children placed in residential care by the State. I understand that the progress of the commission is very slow, not because of Ms Justice Laffoy, but because it faces constant legal challenge. I have read reports that some of those waiting to be seen by the commission have taken their own lives, so this is a serious matter. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to attend the House to outline the progress made by the commission.
Since the relevant legislation on the BreastCheck programme was introduced by the then Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, I have been asking when a population register will be introduced. Most countries have such a register and if we had one we would have information on matters which have caused difficulties, such as the lack of knowledge on the number of medical card holders.
I spoke about this in the past when it was the responsibility of the current Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. I presume that it now comes under the remit of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen. A population register is necessary in order to know the details of the country's population. It led to the Department of Health and Children running into trouble when it emerged that there were far more people than expected aged 70 years and over and, therefore, eligible for a medical card.
I support the call of Senator Hayes in regard to the matter of drugs and drug barons. I imagine it would be the unanimous wish of this House that the State would appeal the High Court judgment in so far as the decision went against it. The Leader said we would have to await legislation, but, as I understand it, the Government made a definitive announcement in regard to the corruption assets bureau, as distinct from the Criminal Assets Bureau. Senator Hayes has referred to the two statutes the State has at its disposal. Correct me if I am wrong, but I understood that someone on behalf of the Government had indicated that the heads of a Bill had been agreed at Cabinet. Perhaps the Leader will comment further in her response.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to explain the reason supervisors in community colleges have not been paid for up to 11 weeks? The people concerned have done sterling work since the inception of this job and their patience is wearing thin. If they withdraw their services, colleges will be forced to close down. It is scandalous.
The Leader will recall that last week I asked her to invite the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come into the House to discuss the preparedness of the country for the Special Olympics next summer. I am conscious of the fact that he is coming tomorrow to talk about tourism.
Another matter was brought to my attention yesterday. The organisers of Community Games have expressed concern that they do not have a home from the end of this year as Mosney will be dedicated to the housing of asylum seekers. Over 500,000 young people between the ages of six and 16 years take part in the games every year which are an integral part of communities. There is, therefore, an urgent need to find a permanent home for the games.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Ryan, concerning the media invasion of the private lives of public figures. One day's cheap headline can have a long lasting effect on the family of the person concerned. We should not follow the example of the British tabloids.
While getting my hair cut today, I was informed by my hairdresser of the major difficulty in regard to adoption. She is trying to adopt and was told it would take her at least three years. There is a one year delay between applying and the first contact from the relevant authority. She informed me that there was also a huge variation throughout the country in regard to the time factor allowed.
I am not looking for a debate as such, but rather a statement to inform the House of the position regarding adoption. When one considers the huge number of orphanages in the world one realises there are thousands of children awaiting adoption. I do not understand why there should be a delay if demand in Ireland is as I understand it to be. It would be appropriate for the Minister responsible to make a statement on the matter.
There is much public disquiet regarding the amount of fluoride in our water supply. I tried to raise this issue last week. The Belgian health minister has banned all products containing fluoride and most European countries have banned this product. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to explain the Government's position on the adverse effects fluoride can have on the nation's health. It is an important issue in both rural and urban areas. It was raised on six occasions at clinics I held in my constituency last weekend.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter of a State appeal to the recent decision of the High Court in the case of a man convicted of drug trafficking. We were all shocked at the result of that appeal. I will endeavour to establish if an appeal is to be made. The Senator rightly pointed out that when people involved in trafficking drugs or young people see the goods being confiscated they know something real is happening.
Senator Hayes also said that one Minister dealt with three Adjournment Matters on consecutive days last week. I suggest that the matter could be raised in tomorrow's meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The same will often happen in the Dáil. I agree that a Minister of the relevant Department dealing with the Adjournment Matter is more meaningful.
Senator Norris asked about the civil registration Bill. I will endeavour to establish when that will be brought before the House. He asked for a debate on the media and the Press Council and that was echoed by Senator Ryan. Both said they were affronted by recent media appearances. Nobody was forced to make themselves available to the media. The person made her own choice to do so; whether we think it is wise or not is another matter. Senator Ryan would have a lot to say if someone was muzzled. Because it is an interim report we were advised to use that terminology.
Senator Ulick Burke raised the matter of the drugs policy that was announced by private schools. I understand it to be voluntary; it is certainly not mandatory. It is an issue that will be much debated. The Fianna Fáil Senators debated it at our meeting today. There is room for full discussion on this issue and I hope we can get clarification on it.
Senator Henry raised the slow progress of the Laffoy Commission. I do not know at what stage it is. It has being challenged on several occasions – people have the right to do that – and that must have led to its slow progress. I will inquire about it. Senator Henry also asked about the population register. I do not know where it differs from the census but it clearly includes ages, status, etc. I will determine what is happening with it.
Senator Coghlan also supported Senator Mansergh's call for a debate on the Estimates next week. Senator Mansergh is our finance spokesperson and he rightly raised the need for a debate. I will pass on his request and I hope the Minister for Finance will come to the House to talk to us about the Estimates.
Senator Finucane raised the issues concerning the fishing industry. It is hoped the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will come to the House next week to debate the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. I hope the debate can be extended to include statements and questions on the fishing industry.
My colleague, Senator Dardis, has informed me that the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner, Mr. Fischler, appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs yesterday and he was left in no doubt as to how the committee, which represents the people, felt about his far-reaching proposals. I am glad he was exposed to the criticism, rather than the Minister.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of Iraq, about which he feels passionately, and perhaps the Minister for Foreign Affairs can be persuaded to attend the House to discuss it.
Senator Feighan mentioned that supervisors in community colleges have not been paid and I am dismayed that is the case. It would be useful if the Senator tabled a motion on the Adjournment on this issue for the Cathaoirleach's consideration. It is a precise issue, to which there must be an answer because supervisors fit the bearna baoil and they are entitled to their pay.
I contacted the office of the Minister for Arts, Tourism and Sport last week regarding the Special Olympics, on which Senator Phelan sought clarification, and I will do likewise this week regarding a proper home for the Community Games.
Senator Browne referred to the adoption laws. It is good to know he is looking after himself by going to his hairdresser. I fully approve of people looking after themselves.
It would be useful if the Senator raised this issue on the Adjournment. I am aware of a couple who were informed it would take 12 months before they could take the first test regarding suitability to be adoptive parents.
Senator Bannon raised the issue of fluoridation. A significant report was published on this issue and one of the senior lecturers in UCG was the main author. We should have a debate on it and I will slot that in.
Legislation is beginning to pass through the system and it is hoped the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill and the European Communities Bill will be before the House next week, with others to follow.
Order of Business agreed to.