Thursday, 30 January 2003
Order of Business.
I welcome the fact that the two people from Limerick were returned safely. When I heard that news I felt that sanity was at last beginning to prevail but this was tarnished again by the murder of another person in the Limerick area. In recent times Chief Superintendent Kelly gave an excellent interview in which he outlined the difficulties which the Garda are experiencing in the Limerick area with regard to about eight or nine families. He also spoke about the difficulties regarding the deployment of Garda resources in the area. These resources have been diminished due to many members of the force having to attend various cases in the Dublin area.
I refer the Leader to a statement made by one of the Garda representative organisations that there was a lack of resources in the Limerick area. With all due respect to the offer of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, to mediate with the families, I believe much more than that is necessary. Owing to the urgency of the situation I ask the Leader if it is possible for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House, not to make statements but to answer questions with regard to the situation in the Limerick area. If there is a critical problem with resources, will he deploy the necessary extra resources in order to effectively deal with this situation which is damaging the image of Limerick, creating mayhem and causing murders in the area? I ask that the Minister come to the House early next week. Acres of media space are being devoted to this issue and it is imperative that it be discussed in this House.
I support that request. I raised this issue before Christmas after the murder of Brian Fitzgerald. This problem is spreading and it is writ large in Limerick at the moment. There is a crime problem that needs to be addressed. Our discussion should focus on Limerick if necessary but it is a wider issue. We need to know that the Garda have a handle on it in the future.
We have discussed and passed legislation in this House last year on the question of competition. That legislation is fine but it is not working. I believe the reason is lack of resources in the Competition Authority. There are only three detective gardaí assigned to the work of the Competition Authority. The authority should have the same resources as CAB. Cartels are driving up prices, fuelling inflation and hurting the country at all levels. Part of the farmers' problem is the food chain and there has not been proper investigation of where the cartels are increasing prices. There are cartels feeding into agriculture and there are cartels coming out the other end and the farming community is in the middle. We are not considering a broad enough picture.
I ask that the appropriate Minister – I believe it to be the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, who has expressed firm views on this matter – explain to us why we should not put more resources into the operation of the Competition Authority. That body certainly needs additional investigative strength because this is now a criminal issue and the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt. It is a criminal activity to which criminal penalties attach. With inflation rising in any event and with the impact this will have on people's lives and on the economy, I ask that we have a debate on the issue.
There is a need for a serious reflection on crime in our society. The two manifestations of crime of which most people are aware are, first, the appalling incidence of armed crime and related murders and, second, the endemic public order problems we seem to have, at least on weekend nights, in most major cities and towns. There is a need for a fundamental debate. I welcome the attempt by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to initiate a debate about alcohol in respect of this area. He is to be commended for initiating such a worthwhile debate.
Senator Ross made a request yesterday for a debate on the partnership agreement. In characteristic fashion, he blamed all the problems Ireland is experiencing on the public sector unions. The part of the public sector – the third level education sector – in which I work not only embraced technological change but demanded it. Members of the NUJ were still insisting on using typewriters, when my colleagues and members of my union were demanding access to modern information technology and when everybody else had consigned typewriters to history. The idea that a member of the private sector NUJ would give lectures to the public sector in Ireland about change and modernisation is flying in the face of reality. The Internet was invented in the public sector, it was developed in the public sector and it became a tool of the public sector when the troglodytes of the NUJ still thought that typewriters were the way to type up copy.
I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senators Finucane and Ryan on crime. We have an opportunity to bring the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform before the House, not just for the purpose of his making a statement on the matter but to allow Members the opportunity to engage in a constructive debate.
We should not take our eye off the ball in looking at crime on an all-island basis. Legislation will be coming before this House regarding the PSNI and the Garda Síochána and we should look at crime on an all-island basis in good time prior to the introduction of legislative changes. It is opportune and imperative that the Minister come before the House for a debate on the matter.
I have to dissociate myself from any attacks on the National Union of Journalists, of which I am, after all, a member. It is unfortunate that these attacks were made when the person specified was not present.
I fully support benchmarking and, at least privately, so does every Member of the House. As public representatives, we work very hard. We were seriously underpaid for many years. I am glad that this report, which covers everybody, has gone through. I know that payments will be staged so that they will not cause financial embarrassment for Government in what are difficult times. That is appropriate.
Yes, I have two. First, I would like her to arrange a debate today on Iraq. I wish again to formally propose that we take the item – it was No. 13, motion 23, on yesterday's Order Paper – on the question of the Shannon stopover. I do this because there is an added urgency to dealing with the matter.
The reason I was not present at the very beginning of business is that I was listening to "The Marian Finucane Show". This morning's show was one of the most unbalanced programmes I have heard in a long period and I was very surprised, particularly as Ms Finucane is such an excellent broadcaster. She had on her programme a not terribly articulate woman from the peace camp who was ambushed by a range of people, including a representative of the Independent Group – we know what that individual feels about American investment and how one should toady to the Yanks – and a shrill academic.
The second matter is that I want to support colleagues who have spoken about the necessity for a major debate on crime. The question of drunkenness, misbehaviour and violent death arising from alcohol abuse is one I have raised on many occasions in the House. There is a more serious situation at present and I regret very much that it affects a small area of the beautiful and vital city of Limerick. What we need to look for is decommissioning of these arms and an incisive investigation of the relationship between drugs and guns and also the crossover of republican paramilitaries into this area. I said a long time ago that I strongly believe we are in danger of allowing the creation of a Mafia by virtue of the fact that members of the republican movement have crossed over from politics into violent crime.
I support Senator Norris regarding a debate on Iraq. I genuinely feel that we need to discuss this matter at an early date because I also heard the programme to which he referred and I was absolutely shocked at how unbalanced it was. I was so angry I almost had to pull the car in off the road. I could not believe what I was listening to on the radio.
One of the reasons this is happening is because we are not providing leadership. There are many issues to be discussed which are coming forward on a daily basis. It is not a matter of being pro-America or anti-America, it is a matter of taking a moral stand as a country which has suffered so much itself in the past. I fully support what Senator Norris has said this morning.
I also support the call for an early debate on Iraq and, in particular, Ireland's position on the unfolding and frightening situation in the Middle East. I hope it does not come down to a question of whether we are pro or anti-American. It should not come down to that, it should come down to an issue of how Ireland, as a sovereign state, behaves in terms of its foreign policy and the view it takes on this particular issue.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport to clarify as soon as possible the position regarding the strategic rail review. At least one Cabinet Minister has been making statements in his own constituency with regard to the future of a railway line which has been a matter of major concern in this House. I ask the Leader to inform us when the report of the strategic rail review will be circulated and request a debate on it at an early stage.
Finally, I strongly support calls for a debate on the issue of crime and the question of the causes of the escalating level of serious crime.
I also support Senator Finucane and others in their comments on crime. While the release of the two abducted men is to be welcomed, the situation in Limerick is, unfortunately, continuing to spiral with a further abduction and murder taking place.
The Leader promised yesterday that she would enlighten us about what Bills will be dealt with in the House between now and Easter. Perhaps she will do so in order that we can prepare for them.
There is an extraordinary contradiction in the fact that the UN inspectors are searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the behest of the Americans. I have frequently raised the issue of the United Nations convention on biological weapons and toxins which was introduced in 1972 but had no verification programme. Ireland was one of the countries working on the programme when, 18 months ago, the United States scuppered it by deciding it would not co-operate with it or bring forward something better. I second Senator Norris's call that we debate motion No. 22 today. The hypocrisy of this situation is unbelievable.
The area allowance scheme was both useful and practical to encourage the long-term unemployed to set up their own businesses and get back into full-time employment. While I have praised the scheme, why has the Government changed one of the criteria from one year's unemployment to five years' unemployment? The scheme got the long-term unemployed out of a cycle of unemployment and also helps the marginalised and disadvantaged. It is an insult to the unemployed to require that they be out of work for five years before they can avail of the scheme.
I am a member of the county enterprise board and the partnership board. The scheme has helped establish most of the small businesses in this country and tackled hard core unemployment. I am asking that the Minister come before the House to explain the reason the requirement in the scheme has been changed from one year to five years.
I support the call by Senator Finucane for a debate on crime. No Member of the House or the Government can ignore the statement by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors that uniformed gardaí are no longer in a position to give the service the public needs and deserves. We cannot ignore such comments. They are crying out for help. People in cities and rural areas are living in fear in their homes.
The issue I wish to raise has been raised on many previous occasions, the concern about alcohol consumption, particularly among young people. Perhaps the Leader will also raise with the relevant Minister or the Director of Consumer Affairs the rip off prices being charged for drink. Last night a pint of Guinness cost €6.50 in an establishment not far from here. If that price was charged outside Dublin, there would be a revolution. Somebody is ripping off the system. This particularly applies to the price of non-alcoholic drink. A split, for example, costs €4. A drink the Cathaoirleach might like, a bacardi and coke, costs €10. That is a rip off.
Senator Ó Murchú said we needed to provide leadership. There is a serious danger that we are not providing it. Last night, with items such as Iraq, crime and other serious matters on the agenda, both large parties devoted the night to discussing rugby football in Connacht.
I am talking about providing leadership when so many matters of concern are threatening this nation. We have mentioned crime and Iraq. Senator Norris has tabled a motion, seconded by Senator Henry, that we debate Iraq today.
Another issue should be raised, not for debate today but which the Leader should bring to the relevant Minister's attention – the danger of bankrupting the country. We have been a nation for over 80 years. In that time we have seen some countries go bankrupt and others succeed. Recently we have taken a number of steps which have put us in serious danger of making this country the laughing stock of the world, one of which should be followed up by the Leader. As I listened to the radio and watched television over the last week, hardly half an hour passed without an advertisement being played for the Residential Institutions Redress Board. The advertisement asks if people have suffered abuse and, if so, says they may be entitled to compensation. It invites them to get in touch with the board.
When we established the Residential Institutions Redress Board and allocated funds to it, we did not reckon that the first tens of thousands of euro would be devoted to encouraging people to get involved in the compensation culture. We had this situation with Army deafness claims. It almost reached the point where, if one had ever served in the Army, one was considered a fool if one did not make a claim. Now we are saying if somebody was ever in a residential institution, he or she is a fool if he or she does not make a claim. The Residential Institutions Redress Board is a worthy—
Yes. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come before the House and explain if that was the purpose of the board. Was it to encourage compensation for almost everybody who had been a resident in an institution? This is only one example of the standards we are setting which may endanger the country's economy in the years ahead.
Senator Finucane raised the issue of crime in Limerick. I understand his deep concern as he knows the area well. He spoke about Chief Superintendent Kelly, who was also mentioned yesterday by Senator O'Toole, and the articulate way in which he expressed his views on what was happening. The Senator asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the Seanad for a question and answer session. The Minister responds well to such an arrangement and I will ask him to come to the House as quickly as possible. I share the concern of Members about crime. People have a sense of fear and a desire that we get to grips with the problem. Practically all the contributions referred to this.
Senator O'Toole raised the murder of Brian Fitzgerald before Christmas and spoke with great foresight of how the situation would develop. Today he said the competition legislation was not working because only three gardaí had been allocated for it. He asked that the Tánaiste come to the House to discuss it. I will make that request.
Senator Ryan also spoke about crime in society. He mentioned a colleague, Senator Ross, blaming all our ills on the public service and offered a rebuttal to that argument. Many of us would have similar feelings.
I would not dream of referring to a Member's absence. He or she is entitled to be present or absent. Senator McHugh also requested that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House to discuss, on an all-island basis, forthcoming legislation to deal with crime.
Senator Norris supports the benchmarking process, as many of us do. He proposed that we take No. 11, motion 22, on the Iraqi crisis, which proposal was seconded. He also called for a debate on crime.
Senator Ó Murchú strongly emphasised the need for a debate on the Iraqi situation, a sentiment he has expressed repeatedly in the House. We are requesting a debate on Iraq next week to which I hope we will get a response. Senator O'Meara also supports the call for a debate on Iraq and wants the strategic rail review to be debated when published. We will certainly take that matter up.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on crime and asked to be informed of Bills to be taken between now and Easter. I intend to call the Whips together on Tuesday, I hope, to prioritise the Bills printed on the Order Paper. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has confirmed that we will deal with the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 in the House next week.
Senator Henry talked about how the United States had welshed on the UN weapons verification programme. She also seconded Senator Norris's call for a debate this morning on the Iraqi issue.
Senator Feighan wants to know the reason the criterion for availing of the area allowance scheme has changed from one year's unemployment to five. He also spoke about the worth of such a scheme. This is a matter for the Tánaiste who was keen to come to the House before Christmas but we ran out of time.
Senator Coonan wants a debate on crime and also expressed concern about alcohol prices and the ripping off of consumers. He mentioned paying €6.50 for a pint, which is extraordinary. He should report the matter to the Director of Consumer Affairs.
Senator Quinn talked about the danger of the country going bankrupt for various reasons. He referred, in particular, to the advertisement being played on radio for the Residential Institutions Redress Board. If any of us had suffered in that regard, we might feel encouraged to come forward on hearing the advertisement. It is right that people should do so. I apologise to the Senator but that is my view. However, a debate on the matter with the Minister for Education and Science would be useful. The Minister has a very fine article in today's edition of the Irish Independent which lays out the facts very clearly and rebuts an earlier piece by the journalist, Bruce Arnold. It is an excellent article.