Wednesday, 27 November 2002
Order of Business.
The Order of Business today is No. 1, report of the Committee of Selection to be introduced from the floor by the Leas-Cathaoirleach; No 2, motion re the release of documentation from the sub-committee on the Abbbeylara incident to the tribunal of inquiry, to be taken without debate; No. 3, National Tourism Development Authority Bill, 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Members may share time; and No. 4, statements on the report of the task force on policy regarding immigration with the contributions of spokesperson not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Members may share time. Private Members' Business will be No. 10, motion No. 17, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Will the Leader of the House consider a minor amendment to the Order of Business which would allow a short debate to take place on No. 2? I understand fully that it is a procedural motion to allow all relevant documentation to be sent from the sub-committee to the tribunal of inquiry to investigate matters surrounding the Abbeylara incident, but two members of my party – there may well be others – are interested in contributing on the matter. I am not suggesting that a long debate should take place. While I am aware this issue was not debated in the Dáil, we order our own business. I would be interested to hear from the Leader the reason we are not being given a chance to have a short debate on the matter in which, no doubt, there is a degree of interest among Members on all sides of the House.
In relation to a substantive matter, will the Leader find out from the Government, particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the reasoning behind its decision to close the youth offenders centre at Shanganagh in south County Dublin? This is a retrograde step. The lack of available spaces for young offenders is a scandal. The Minister proposes to close a further 20 places at the disposal of the juvenile justice service for young people out of control. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to reconsider this proposal. It is wrong in the extreme that he should be deciding to asset strip various parts of the prison system in order to make up for shortfalls in funding in his Department. I ask the Leader to express this view to the Minister, given the fact that crime figures announced yesterday show a substantial rise in the level of serious and juvenile crime. We need adequate, well resourced places in our prison system for young offenders. Taking away a further 20 such places at this stage is a retrograde step.
Before I call the next speaker, on a point of information, the tribunal has sought the records and documents relevant to the investigation by the joint committee into the Abbeylara incident. Standing Order 91 provides that such records or documents can only be released with the express leave of the Seanad.
I support Senator Hayes in his concern about the closing of the centre in Shanganagh. I listened with interest to the interview with the Minister, Deputy McDowell, this morning. He introduced an element that was a little troubling when he pointed to some posters put up by Amnesty International in which there was a general context of racism and a question asked about members of the previous Administration. It may have been an unfortunate poster, but that is not a reason to exclude Amnesty International. It places us in an invidious position compared to other countries which have allowed in Amnesty International. I understand the rationale is that there is already an inquiry taking place, but I do not see the reason it should be excluded, particularly in view of its record.
The Government is selling off State assets to cover its debts. There is no doubt about this, but it is false economy. It appears as if the centre in Shanganagh has been deliberately starved of placements with the result that there are now only 21 young people there which gives an apparent reason for closing it down. There are many more applicants who would be suitable. It is a great pity in a situation where treatment is available.
In the last Parliament there was legislation which got a certain way in the Dáil concerning the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. While it fell with the calling of the general election, I believe it will be introduced again. Will the Leader indicate when this will happen, if it will be introduced in this House and if the Government contemplates any changes to it? As usual, it was heavily based on the UK model. We have learned a little since. Perhaps it would be a good time for the House to use its expertise to include better material and a fresher way of looking at things than the tired old UK model.
Will the Leader indicate if time will soon be made available to take No. 19 which deals with the military operations envisaged against Iraq, our part in them with the refuelling of aeroplanes at Shannon Airport and, in particular, the arrest by Irish security personnel of Irish citizens merely taking photographs of aeroplanes and personnel? This is quite extraordinary, if we are a neutral country. In the light of the fact that none of these arrangements passed through either House of the Oireachtas we really should debate the matter.
I have no problem with the Order of Business. I am somewhat reluctant to support Senator Hayes in regard to No. 2. I read the High Court judgment on the Abbeylara inquiry and it did not make great reading for Members of the Oireachtas. There was a succession of mistakes made and we would need to be well advised before we return to the area again. First, we must get the constitutional and legal matters sorted out.
Will the Leader provide time for a debate on a disturbing story on the front page of this morning's edition of the Irish Examiner? It relates to a claim by the respected campaigner for the homeless, Fr. Peter McVerry, that homeless persons are routinely assaulted in four Garda stations in Dublin. This is disturbing regardless of the view taken on its veracity. It is a classic example of the type of situation that should be dealt with by an independent Garda authority, which we do not have. It is unfair to the Garda that there is no process to deal with such complaints. It is also unfair to society. There is a certain irony in the situation developing in Northern Ireland where convicted terrorists may well end up supervising the police while ordinary law-abiding citizens down here have a sense that the Garda is not accountable to them at all. It is a matter of urgency that we debate the case mentioned and the wider issue of the proper accountability of the Garda.
Senator Hayes raised the issue of crime. It is right that the related issue of alcohol should be raised by one such as me, who is fond of a few jars. I do not believe the laws in regard to under age drinking are sufficiently rigorously enforced. Any parent of teenage children knows that this is the case. Unless parents lock up their children, they know they are not safe in this regard. A cultural shift is necessary in order to create an impetus for the enforcement of the law in this respect.
The last time I raised this issue an angry senior member of the Garda contacted me and said I was criticising the force. I was to the degree that the gardaí involved were not doing their job, but the issue is greater than that. Violent crime in society cannot be separated from the 50% increase in the per capita consumption of alcohol over the past five years.
I refer the Leader to the disturbing situation which has arisen in Palestine in the Middle East. A UN official was killed by the Israeli defence forces last week in controversial circumstances. Saddam Hussein has not got that far yet. He has never killed a UN official. There is a case for a significant debate on the Middle East. It is a festering sore, which is an offence to civilisation, whichever position one takes, and most of us are revolted by the brutality on both sides. However, we should not walk away.
Three issues that were raised first in the House and perhaps in the Lower House were run as major news items by the media a week or six months later. Senator Higgins raised the question of the refusal of permission to Amnesty International to conduct an inquiry in our prisons. This was reported on in today's newspapers as having been raised in both Houses a week ago, yet the media did not notice. One of my colleagues raised the issue of the delays in driver testing and a full response was provided by then Minister of State, Mr. Bobby Molloy. Three months later the media made a major fuss, having discovered the information that had been made available to this House. Last week we discussed the question of the capping of the supplementary rent allowance during Labour Party Private Members' time and four days later the media discovered the story. We should to say to our friends in the media that they should pay a little attention because real business is done in both Houses of the Oireachtas. Journalists do not have to create artificial stories because real stories are raised if they paid attention, which they can only do if they are present in the Press Gallery.
There was torrential rain in Cork earlier. I would like the Leader to raise with the Minister for Transport the conditions which Iarnród Éireann imposes on its customers. I saw people queuing in torrential rain to buy parking tickets at machines which are located in the open despite the availability of plenty of shelter at the station in question. It is the most idiotic parking facility that has ever been conceived, even by the most obdurate bureaucracy
I look forward to a similar 15 minute contribution. I refer to the issue of flooding and the relief made available to be administered by the Red Cross in counties Meath and Dublin. There has been serious flooding in Cork. The relief needs to be extended equally throughout the country. There has been severe flooding in Togher and Blackpool and companies have been put out of business. We must be fair and equitable across the board in regard to flood relief. The time has come for us to seriously examine the implementation of proper, corrective measures to address flooding in order that we do not have to provide relief all the time. I call on the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, to attend the House to issue a clear and definitive statement that humanitarian relief will be extended and debate the measures he is putting in place.
I would welcome a debate on the Middle East. I have an interest in the Middle East, having served on a number of occasions in Palestine as a peacekeeper. It is an issue of huge international importance.
Will the Leader make time available and ensure the attendance of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a debate on the Garda annual report which highlights our alarming crime statistics? The Minister said he was concerned about the 83% increase in the incidence of assault and the 81% increase in sexual crimes. If Members of the Oireachtas allow this report to pass without debate it will be an indictment of us and indicate an acceptance or tolerance of this level of crime. That is not our intention and I hope the Leader will ask the Minister to discuss this as well as the closure of Shanganagh Castle and the other matters mentioned by my colleagues. An urgent debate is required on this issue.
I also wish to raise the situation of survivors of child abuse and the Government's decision to renege on its commitment to make an interim payment of €10,000. That commitment was made last February but it has come to the notice of organisations representing the victims of abuse that it will not now be paid and that a further report is awaited. It is unacceptable to treat such a sensitive matter in so cavalier a fashion.
Unlike Senator Ryan, I am grateful to Iarnród Éireann for bringing me to the Seanad in good time but I agree with his comments on the lack of enforcement of the law on under age drinking.
I wish to raise an equality matter. Perhaps on an appropriate occasion the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will come to the House to discuss the enforcement of the Equal Status Act. I am glad a prestigious golf club such as Portmarnock Golf Club will stage the Irish Open but I am distressed that it is one of two clubs which do not obey the equality law. If there is a prosecution and fine, the Bord Fáilte grant might be withheld. I am surprised that members of this club are happy to be seen as a bastion of social reaction. The law is not just for the little people but also for the big shots.
As a patron of the Irish Penal Reform Trust I was concerned about the refusal to allow Amnesty International into the prisons, particularly when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated in an interview that it was because there were other people with clipboards going around the prisons. They could have been told to take their time. In view of that and the recent protests by prisoners in Mountjoy Prison against changes in visiting rights, could we hold a debate on the Prison Service and its value? We could discuss the recidivism rate which is, apparently, the highest in Europe. There is also a high number of mentally ill people in the prisons.
As you will remember, a Chathaoirligh, in the last Seanad, Senator Henry introduced a Private Members' Bill on assisted human reproduction. At that time it was agreed that the Government would introduce a Bill in this area. We are now hearing reports of babies being cloned in Italy so it is time for us to regulate such matters because such work could be undertaken here. We need to address the matter immediately.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Community, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to attend the House for a debate on the Downings Harbour development project? Urgent confirmation of the project is required. A community led development group in Downings was given a commitment of €631,000 by the former Minister, Deputy McDaid, on behalf of the previous Government.
The Leader should seek clarification, and perhaps even correction, from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Attorney General on the insurance issue that is currently being debated on the "Today with Pat Kenny" show on RTÉ Radio One. We now find that an anti-terrorism clause has been included in domestic insurance policies. It would appear that members of certain religious and political groups are not covered in the event of damage to their person or property because insurance companies put such damage down to anti-terrorism measures. The Leader should clarify whether there is a choice of having an opt-out clause for policy holders.
I support Senator Minihan's call for the relevant Minister to attend the House to discuss flood alleviation measures. In November 2000, severe flooding occurred in Lucan and in response the local county council carried out substantial flood alleviation work. Further work is to be undertaken in January 2003. This year the Lucan area seems largely to have escaped the deluge.
Senators will be aware of a meeting commencing in Brussels today that will probably be the most important ever to have taken place concerning our fishing industry since we joined the EEC in 1973. We had a wide ranging discussion on the fishing industry last week while debating the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. It would be appropriate, therefore, for the House to convey its good wishes to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in his deliberations. He faces a tough job in conducting those negotiations so I am sure we all wish him well in trying to secure as good a deal as he can for our fishing industry.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to return to the House to discuss a number of important issues included in his brief? In particular, I would like him to address something to which he referred on radio this morning. He said he was not taking seriously incidents of violent street crime against young people. He also said it was not worth putting resources into it. This is absolutely unacceptable. I had a young person in the car with me this morning and when he heard this, he said it was a joke. He could not believe the Minister would treat street crime in such an offhand manner.
The Shanganagh issue is related. Why are there not more people in the centre in Shanganagh? Is it because there are no prosecutions against them? The Minister should also address the situation in Mountjoy Prison about which we heard a lot during the week. He should further address the Lindsay tribunal report and the possibility of taking criminal proceedings against the pharmaceutical companies, as recommended here by the Minister for Health and Children. However, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is saying it would be a monumental waste of resources to take action.
On a lighter note, I have great respect for the Minister but he said this morning he hoped to be canonised after his term in government. He has a lot of work to do before being canonised.
Does the Leader believe it is appropriate for the Secretary General of the Department of Transport to investigate her own Minister? Would it not be more appropriate for the Comptroller and Auditor General or the Committee of Public Accounts to investigate the matter? This issue is obviously unhelpful to the Minister and Aer Rianta, who have much important work to do instead of being distracted and having their time wasted. The matter needs to be cleared up as soon as possible.
I support Senator Hayes on the need for a short debate on the Abbeylara tribunal. Why has it taken so long for the issue to be dealt with? It is two and a half years since John Carthy was shot and there is much public disquiet. I would appreciate a short debate on the issue.
Following the publication of the White Paper on rural development, the national rural development forum was set up. Three times in the last three years a date has been set for it to meet, but each time it has been postponed. It was given the responsibility for monitoring and ensuring funds from the National Development Plan 2002-06 went to rural communities. There is public disquiet among several organisations. I represent an organisation—
Due to the significant increase in the crime figures, I ask the Leader to question the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about additional resources for the Garda, as 2,000 extra gardaí per year were promised before the general election. There is no provision for the recruitment of extra gardaí in the Estimates. We can all be critical of the Garda, but there was a report yesterday stating there was no wrongdoing in the compilation of crime figures in Waterford Garda station, a matter about which there was a lot of controversy earlier in the year.
Senator Mansergh would be better off taking the matter of Portmarnock up with the Taoiseach as he is an honorary member.
Will the Leader raise the redevelopment work at Punchestown racecourse with the Minister for Finance who should conduct some form of value for money audit into the £25 million spent there by different Government agencies on redeveloping its facilities? It seems much of the money drawn down by Government agencies was not spent on what it was supposed to be spent. This should be examined.
Senator Hayes asked for a short debate on the Abbeylara inquiry, a question which the Cathaoirleach answered. Senators Hayes, Higgins and others were involved in the inquiry but, as the Chair explained, it is a procedural matter.
Senator Hayes also raised the question of Shanganagh prison and asked if I would convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the concerns of the House about Shanganagh. I will do that. This matter was also raised by Senator Norris and others.
Senator Norris also raised the question of allowing Amnesty International into prisons to make a report. This matter was also taken up by Senator Ryan. We have already raised this matter in the House and I have contacted the Minister. I wait to hear from him on the matter.
Senator Norris asked when the European Convention on Human Rights legislation would be introduced and if it could be initiated in this House. He also raised the issue of item No. 19 on the Order Paper which calls for an explanation of the situation in Shannon Airport whereby American flights are allowed to pass through and stop without the expressed wish of the Oireachtas. I will raise this matter with the Government.
Senator Ryan raised Father Peter McVerry's allegation of wrongdoing by gardaí in four Garda stations with regard to homeless people. I have no details on this matter but I will raise it with the relevant Minister. With regard to alcohol and crime, there is no doubt that alcohol plays a role in crime, particularly the consumption of alcohol by young people who are not capable of dealing with large quantities of drink. Senator Ryan also called for a debate on the Middle East and spoke about the flooding in Cork.
Senator Ryan raised an important point regarding the absence of journalists in the Press Gallery. Press people do not need to sit in the gallery because they can listen to the proceedings in the Seanad in their offices. The excellent Mr. Jimmy Walsh writes often on the proceedings in the Seanad and I would not like Senator Ryan's criticism to go unchallenged. Nevertheless, Senator Ryan has raised a serious point. We debated the issue of the new housing grant before it was mooted in the other House. The issue of Amnesty International visiting prisons is being raised this morning in the Dáil but it was raised here by Senator Jim Higgins and others ten days ago.
I rather doubt it.
Issues are raised in the press as though they are new although they certainly are not. The Seanad is listened to and reported by at least one member of the press corps.
Senator Ryan asked about flood relief. This matter was raised about six years ago by Senator Ulick Burke when money was granted for relief in south Galway.
Senator Burke also asked for a debate on the Garda annual report for 2001. Such a debate would be timely. We were all shocked by the percentage increases in the various crime areas. Senator Burke raised the issue of compensation to survivors of child abuse. I do not know where the figure of €10,000 originated.
We must seek clarification on that matter. I never heard that figure mentioned.
Senator Mansergh raised the matter of inequality in Portmarnock Golf Club and remarked that justice is not just for small people but for larger entities well. We should call such people bad shots rather than big shots. I cannot understand how a golf club would not admit women members. It beggars belief.
The men on my side of the House agree with me.
Senator Henry, who is a patron of the Penal Reform Trust, also raised the question of visits to prisons by Amnesty International. Senator Henry spoke about the quantification of the benefits of prison and called for a debate on the Prison Service. I will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House again for a debate on this issue. In that regard, we could address the issue of equality raised by the Senator.
Two weeks ago Senators O'Meara and Cox raised the matter of surrogacy and how people are going from Ireland to the UK to have surrogacy treatment. They also raised other issues, including cloning. I wrote to the relevant Minister about it and I am awaiting a reply. I saw an Italian man on television this morning talking about cloning and he looked quite dotty. I do not know if he knew what he was talking about.
Senator McHugh raised the issue of funding for the Downings Harbour development project very forcefully. I will certainly ask the relevant Minister about that. Senator Feeney raised the issue of the anti-terrorism clause, which I had known about. If one is a member of either a religious or political group, it appears one is penalised by insurance companies on the grounds that one might be subject to terrorism. We are subject to that all day long.
Senator Tuffy raised the matter of flood alleviation and said that the Lucan floods had disappeared but one can bet that they erupted somewhere else. It seems that if one stops the floods in one place they come up somewhere else.
We all agree with Senator Kenneally in sending good wishes to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern. He has a very arduous task in the coming days.
Senator Terry, who confesses to liking the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell – good for her—
We will have to bring him in for that alone. Senator Terry also raised the issue of Shanganagh and some remark she heard the Minister saying, which I did not hear, on the "Pat Kenny Show".
Senator Browne asked if it were proper that the Secretary General of the Department of Transport is investigating her own Minister. However, there are two investigations. One concerns Aer Rianta and the other is the Secretary General's. The Minister, Deputy Brennan, gave his statement to the House yesterday and nobody goes into the Dáil and makes statements that are not true. I mean that.
I strongly believe that. Again, was it not a very male issue in that it related to brandy and cigars? There was not white or red wine, just brandy and cigars. I am sure that the report on the matter will be quite explicit and straightforward, and we will all be satisfied with it.
Senator Bannon raised the issue of Abbeylara. Obviously he has an interest in that. Also, he asked why the rural development forum has not met despite two cancellations. Senator Cummins raised the issues of the crime figures, the need for more gardaí and the Waterford figures. It is time for Senator Terry's heart crush to come here so we can debate all the issues.