Wednesday, 2 April 2003
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2003 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, to conclude not later than 1 p.m.; No. 2, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Bill 2002 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m.; No. 3, statements on the humanitarian consequences of the war in Iraq, to be taken from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes; and No. 12, motion No. 27, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
I am aware that a great number of Senators may wish to contribute to the statements and perhaps the Whips could have a quick meeting after the Order of Business to see how to divide up the time. We had sought with the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who has agreed to come in, to take statements at 3.30 p.m., which would give us two and a half hours. While there are some amendments to the Central Bank Bill to be discussed, they might not take two hours. We are still pursuing that, but I will speak to the Whips after the Order of Business.
We agree to the Order of Business. I thank the Leader for organising the debate on Iraq this afternoon from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and for arranging to have the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, in the House for that debate. Yesterday she took up a suggestion, first made by Senator O'Toole, that the House should look at possibly sending a delegation to Iraq to report on the situation in a free and open way. She said she would take it up with the relevant Minister and the Government. Is there any news on that front?
I wish to make a suggestion to the Leader in an effort to be helpful. She is aware that very important discussions will take place next week, on 10 April, between the heads of both Governments, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, in respect of Northern Ireland. I also understand that the blueprint on which both Governments have been working is likely to be published next week. Does the Leader believe it would be useful to have a debate next week in the House following the publication of the blueprint, which will clearly be in the public domain and on which people will be commenting? While I do not want in any way to provide a difficulty for the Government, the House should look at the blueprint once it is published and give a view on the matter. I put that suggestion to her in a bipartisan way.
The Leader might find out from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment why a Bill, which arises from an EU directive, supposed to be transposed into Irish law by this year to allow specific rights to part-time workers, has yet to be published and put through both Houses of the Oireachtas. In January the Government said this Bill was a priority. The Bill simply puts into place a range of European directive rights for our workers, giving them permanent rights of employment where they are on fixed-term contracts. It would also be a significant help to those people from outside this country who are working here, some of whom are being treated abominably. We saw the case in the newspapers earlier this week of the Ukrainian people who have been treated very shabbily indeed. We need this legislation in place. The Leader might find out when it is likely to be published and put through both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I thank the Leader for arranging this debate on Iraq which is important, particularly in the light of the news overnight of further very significant civilian casualties, including children. I am very grateful that we are having this debate also because of the comments of British soldiers that the American pilots who shot them up were "cowboys out on a jolly".
In that context, I want to ask the Minister a specific question. I recognise that my language is not always diplomatic and I am expressing this very carefully. I ask the Leader if she would request the Minister for Foreign Affairs to call in the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and the United States to express our concern at the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium shells, the results of which I have seen in the hospitals in Baghdad.
This is a specific request to the Leader that she should ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to take this action and I have couched it in very mild and moderate terms, especially in the light of the fact that the film taken by the cameraman is apparently so unspeakable that it cannot be shown on television.
A Chathaoirligh, while I do not want to incur your wrath, I sympathise entirely with Senator Norris's feelings. However, we can talk about it this afternoon. While I did suggest 15 minutes for spokespersons, I am not sure whether spokespersons should have any more time than others in this debate.
Ten minutes all around is better. Many have strong feelings on the issue. I have moved beyond beating Members on the other side of the House over the head about it because it is far too serious an issue to be discussed in that manner.
A report in The Irish Times yesterday contained comments from Ms Justice Laffoy that there had been "no real engagement by the Department of Education and Science with the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse." I find this entirely astonishing. The Minister for Education and Science should be accountable to one or other House of the Oireachtas. How can it be that Ms Justice Laffoy is forced to say this in public? I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come here some time this week or next week to explain the reason the Department has had "no real engagement" with a commission of inquiry. We are all concerned about how long inquiries seem to take but the Department is central to an inquiry which is in many ways probing into matters infinitely more sensitive than the issues getting so much publicity in Dublin Castle. If it is hindering the work of the inquiry through incompetence or worse, the Houses of the Oireachtas, through which the inquiry was set up, are entitled to know the reason. I request that the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to issue a statement or come into the House to explain.
At the last count, 15 Bills passed in this House are before the other House. We seem to be able to do our business efficiently. I ask the Leader to ask her counterpart in the other House – the Taoiseach, I suppose – the reason it cannot do its business equally efficiently. It is ridiculous. One of those Bills—
Certainly, except that one of these matters was guillotined here and is still not finished. It was attempted to rush some of the other legislation through, although this was fought off by the Leader. These are still on the Dáil Order Paper, although we were expected to rush them through – before Christmas, in the case of the Immigration Bill 2002. Another Bill, utterly relevant to the current climate, was passed by this House in 2000 – the Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill which was supposed to be our contribution to the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A major war is now ongoing because of an attempt to get around this. The least we can do to show that we are serious about the issues raised by the war is to pass this Bill which has been on the Dáil Order Paper for the best part of three years. It is time something was done about it.
I, too, express my appreciation to the Leader for facilitating the updating of the debate on Iraq. Every one of us is traumatised by the pictures we are seeing on television and in the newspapers.
I also ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, to the House once again to update us on the amendments to the draft constitution at the Convention on the Future of Europe. It is very important that we consider issues of judicial and police co-operation. I understand plans for the EU Presidency are intensifying. Perhaps the Minister of State will also provide us with an update on this. The public is trying to keep abreast of all the current changes and reforms in the institutions and there is no better place than our Chamber to try to do this. That was one of the aims of the reform of the Seanad, which I supported.
I also call for a debate on the latest statistics released by the Central Statistics Office which show, alarmingly, that a number of counties in the midlands and west have been bypassed by the Celtic tiger. Average disposable income in my county and a number of midlands counties is €4,000 per annum less than the national average. It is important that we have a debate on those figures which are quite disturbing. The national media made very little mention of them – I just happened to hear them from a friend of mine who works in the CSO.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's request for a debate on Northern Ireland which would be timely, although whether it will still be timely next week is another matter. The blueprint mentioned by the Senator will be published next Thursday and the Leader might guarantee us a debate, perhaps the following Tuesday. It is not a question of avoiding a Friday sitting but of allowing time to see the reactions of the various parties, particularly those in Northern Ireland, in order that the House can have a broader view. It might be interesting to reflect on and respond to the reactions of others.
Senator Ryan mentioned the comments of Ms Justice Laffoy about the Department of Education and Science. I, too, was shocked that the Department was not co-operating with the Laffoy commission to the extent the judge expected. I read in today's newspapers that the Cabinet finds itself unable to support the case of Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin on the grounds that it would undermine the tribunal it had set up. I am not sure that it would be undermining the tribunal to help it clarify its legal powers and ambit. This is of importance because it is a conflict of interest between two institutions and should be dealt with. If there is no public money to do this, we, as Members of the Oireachtas, should in some way ensure these two Members are not left on their own to deal with it.
When the Taoiseach came home from the recent EU summit, he was asked whether he supported the idea of setting up a European Union army to rival that of the USA. He said very clearly that he did not think it was a good idea to spend a great deal of money on arms. Will the Leader convey a message to the Taoiseach that we all support that view and that he should do everything he can to deter those leaders of other European countries who want to set up such an army?
Perhaps the Leader will send a message from the House to all those incredibly courageous reporters, cameramen and other journalists from the Irish media who are giving us such excellent reporting from Iraq. We are extraordinarily fortunate in being able to get such balanced reporting. Friends of mine visiting from America cannot believe the difference between the reporting in the Irish media and that in the American media. It is no wonder the war has 89% support, particularly when one bears in mind what is being broadcast on television – the medium from which most people there obtain their news.
In recent years we enacted legislation to ensure that buildings of historical significance in different parts of the country would be respected and not demolished. That legislation was introduced as a result of hundreds of buildings being demolished in different areas, including the P. J. McCall house in Wexford, the de Valera cottage in the Nire Valley and many more. I am astounded to hear that 16 Moore Street is to be demolished. This building was the last headquarters of the 1916 leaders, where they met to discuss surrender in order to ensure the citizens of Dublin would not suffer any further. It is interesting that one official does not regard it as being of historical significance. The National Graves Association says it is particularly significant in Ireland's history and in America it would be the equivalent of the Alamo. I ask the Leader to take up this matter urgently with the appropriate Minister in order to ensure that 16 Moore Street will not, under any circumstances, be interfered with.
I call on the Leader to request the Minister for Agriculture and Food to personally intervene in the current difficulties within his Department where clerical personnel yesterday received notice by e-mail that they had been taken off the payroll. If industrial relations within Departments have descended to that level, there will be serious consequences. Many farmers have great difficulty communicating their problems and this is stifling progress in respect of many applications and the movement of animals, including some with diseases. Certain individuals have been waiting two years for a response to their claims from the Department officials.
I read in today's edition of The Irish Times that one individual received approximately €1.6 million for the provision of bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless people in Dublin. That equates to approximately €160 per bed per night. The Minister with responsibility for housing should come before the House as a matter of urgency to discuss this matter. The fact that the agency provides such funding to one individual indicates that something is seriously wrong and that the response to the needs of the homeless is out of control.
I support the views of Senator Ó Murchú on 16 Moore Street. I call on the members of the relevant local authority to ensure that the bureaucratic approach of this public official will not be brought to bear and result in the demolition of this historic building, where the founding fathers of the State arranged the surrender in order to ensure that no further civilian lives would be lost.
I again ask the Leader to allow statements on the Irish language in view of the fact that a recent survey has shown there is a decline of use of the language even in Gaeltacht areas.
Yesterday, the Leader kindly indicated that she would allow a debate on the Law Reform Commission report on tribunals in the near future. This debate should include the views expressed in an article in the current issue of Public Affairs Ireland by Mr. Justice Smith on related matters. It is disturbing to learn from that article that Ireland is now ranked 23rd in the corruption index, behind Chile and Hong Kong. As this touches on the overall issue of tribunals and their outflow, it should form part of the debate.
I support the views of Senators Brian and Maurice Hayes on the need for a debate on Northern Ireland when the Hillsborough meeting has concluded. As Senator Maurice Hayes suggested, it would be more beneficial and all-embracing if this occurred on the following Tuesday.
Two weeks ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, was present when we dealt with the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill. I ask the Leader to advise when he will return so that we can thank him for agreeing not to substitute the word "contain" for the words "relate to" in section 6(5)(b) of the principal Act, as was proposed here. The One in Four group had serious concerns with this change.
One of the most contentious issues in the Bill was the possible suppression of information relating to people who had been sexually abused. The Minister has now conceded on this point. It shows what a mighty man he is, given that he was not too proud to take this course of action. It is worth noting how we in the Seanad were able to contribute to that during our debate two weeks ago.
I support the suggestion of Senator Maurice Hayes that some mechanism should be found to arrange whatever legal funding is required for Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin now that the Minister for Finance, supported by the Cabinet, has decided not to fund such costs. Any of us could face such a situation in the future. This decision is shocking, particularly when one bears in mind that they decided to give the information to the Minister privately and not raise it in the House. If they had raised it in the Dáil, they would have been covered by the privilege thereof. It is horrifying it has come to this and I hope some mechanism is found to ensure that they are legally protected in terms of whatever expenditure is involved. This is an important issue for both Houses. I hope to talk to my Fianna Fáil colleagues afterwards to find out how it feels to be infected by the genes of the Progressive Democrats.
I endorse what was said by Senators Glynn and Ó Murchú about 16 Moore Street. It would be a travesty if that building were demolished. It should be preserved because it is obviously of historic importance. While it might seem early, we should be planning now for the centenary commemoration of 1916. I hope we will not have such an anaemic event as that which took place in 1991 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary.
I previously asked the Leader for a debate on insurance. On that occasion a number of Members broadened it beyond what I sought, which was a debate on liability insurance. I ask the Leader to have a debate at an early stage confined to this issue. Many companies are operating without insurance and this makes matters difficult for employers and employees. The compensation culture that exists in this country needs to be tackled.
I welcome the recently published report by the Law Reform Commission which takes to task the cost of the tribunals. There was a suggestion, which echoed a comment I made when previously asking for an insurance debate, that we could move to an inquisitorial arrangement rather than using the advocacy model. The report questions the correctness and necessity of legal representation for people brought before tribunals. I ask the Leader to examine the report and consider whether it might form the basis for a good debate. In the context of the report, a suggestion was made yesterday that one of the tribunals could last for another 20 years. Regardless of the importance of the tribunal's work, that would be an appalling imposition on taxpayers and the prospect should be examined carefully.
A number of Senators have called for the case that will be taken by Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin to be funded. Co-operation with tribunals is an issue to which we must give serious consideration and, therefore, we should not call for financial support for this case without looking at it thoroughly. I was surprised by the line the Committee on Procedure and Privileges took on that matter. The principle involved is important, but the issue of Members of the Oireachtas co-operating with tribunals is an entirely different matter.
I support Senator Ó Murchú and others regarding 16 Moore Street. A more general principle is involved, namely, a requirement that some kind of certification be provided by an appropriate body regarding those buildings which are historic and those which are not. These matters should not be left to the casual decision of an official who may or may not be historically aware.
In response to Senator Bannon, we are correct to keep regional disparities under close review. The information to which he referred was published ten days ago in one of the CSO's bulletins, so freedom of information issues do not arise in that case. Counties one might not expect – such as south Tipperary and Wexford – also fall into the same categories as the parts of the country to which he refers. People need to realise that the traditional disparities have shifted somewhat.
The World Angling Championships will take place this June in Downings, County Donegal, a place that holds fond memories for Senator MacSharry, about which Members can ask him later. Some of the 15 countries participating include Spain, France, Germany and Italy. The community-led event, which came to my attention only recently, has been aided by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Will the Leader inform the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism about the competition and ask some of his officials to contact the group in Downings? This is a good example of a community-led tourism project which could form a prototype that we should encourage and promote as we look for more sustainable tourism products.
Senator Brian Hayes asked about the proposed delegation to Iraq. I made a cursory inquiry yesterday and was told unofficially that as Iraq is a war zone, the Department of Foreign Affairs advises people not to travel there. However, I will make a more official inquiry today.
Senators Brian and Maurice Hayes also raised the issue of the Northern Ireland talks blueprint, which is due to be published on 10 April, and requested a debate on the matter. On the basis of what the Senators said, it would be useful to have such a debate on Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week, which is the last week before the Easter recess. Senators would, at that stage, be informed by comment on the document which will be made over the preceding weekend. It is important we keep up to date with what is happening.
Senator Brian Hayes also asked when legislation governing specific rights for part-time workers will be brought before the House, following the adoption of the EU directive, and I will make inquiries about it. Senator Norris asked that the Minister for Foreign Affairs be requested to call the UK and US ambassadors before him. I will communicate that to the Minister.
Senators Ryan and Maurice Hayes referred to Ms Justice Laffoy's statement that there had been no real engagement between the Department of Education and Science and the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse. If this is correct – one must accept that it is – it justifies a strong query as to why this was the case. Often a case of non-communication can turn out to signify something else when it is investigated. I will follow up on the matter.
Senator Ryan also referred to Bills which are being delayed in the Dáil and asked if I would speak to the Taoiseach in that context. I would be delighted to speak to the Taoiseach, but I rather expect to speak to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Hanafin, instead. The previous Seanad cannot be blamed for what happened in 2000 to the Bill to which the Senator refers and which is listed on page 360 of the Order Paper each day. We must discover why it has not been dealt with since 2000. I understand that Deputy Hanafin is concerned about delays in respect of some other Bills and is working to have them dealt with.
Senator Bannon asked about the Local Government (No. 2) Bill. The Bill was due to be published today but I do not know whether it has emerged. It refers to a bridge in Waterford which, because the Local Government Act 1946 is deficient in one respect, cannot proceed for some reason. I will report to the Senator or Senator Brian Hayes on the matter during the day.
Senator Henry called on the Taoiseach not to spend any more money on arms and supported the Irish media's reporting of the war in Iraq. This has been a recurring theme in the House when Members speak about the war. At least when one tunes in to RTE, one feels that one is getting the full story, warts and all, whereas other broadcasters produce sanitised versions, some of them outrageously so. The voices are reassuring to us because we feel we are learning about what is going on. I telephoned the man in charge of news and told him there was general support in the House for the way the Irish media are dealing with the matter.
Senators Ó Murchú and Glynn referred to the alarming proposed demolition of 16 Moore Street. I recall – Senator Dardis reaffirmed – that every local authority must have a list of historic buildings which it aims to keep in shape. We should contact Dublin City Council in this context. It would be dreadful if the building was allowed to be demolished and it would be against all our sensibilities.
Senator Glynn requested a debate on the Irish language. A Bill on the Irish language is due to come before the House either next week or immediately after Easter and it will offer an opportunity for a full debate. The Senator also asked again about knife attacks. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, will be in the Seanad tomorrow and the issue can be raised then. The Minister is keen to come to the House. It will be a full debate, for all of which he will be present. He will also deliver a major speech. The issues relating to crime which Senators have mentioned can be raised in the course of the debate.
I am sorry. He is the attorney who is earning €1 million a day. It is far from that for Senator Coghlan who sought a debate on the tribunals and how they are progressing, about which there is a growing clamour from commentators and writers. Mr. Justice Smith wrote strongly about the issue in the magazine, Public Affairs Ireland. However, the Dáil and Seanad established the tribunals and, having done so, we must keep faith with them. The costs are another matter. The Bill on auditing and accounting, about which the Senator has also regularly inquired, will be published in two weeks.
Senator White acclaimed the actions of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, with regard to the Freedom of Information Act and asked when he will return to the Seanad. He will return when the Bill is returned to the House before the recess.
Senator Finucane raised the case regarding Senator Higgins. There will be a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges tomorrow, at which Members will be given the legal advice. We will see where we will proceed from there. There is no doubt that every Member of the House is concerned about this because the same issue could affect all of us. We are in agreement, as is Senator Jim Walsh in the context of another issue, on the principle.
Senator Finucane also asked if we were happy with the Progressive Democrats. We are extremely comfortable.
Senator Jim Walsh spoke about the house in Moore Street. He mentioned the anaemic planning for the 75th anniversary and expressed the hope there would be more robust planning for 2016, which should start now. He also sought a debate on the cost of public liability insurance, as did Senator O'Brien yesterday. I will ask the Tánaiste to come to the House to give us a progress report on her plans in that regard. The Senator also expressed support for the principle being pursued by Senator Higgins.
Senator Mansergh inquired about the certification for buildings, for which each local authority area has responsibility but a reminder could be sent to Dublin City Council. The Senator also agreed with Senator Bannon.
Senator McHugh wants the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to support the Downings World Angling Championships, a community effort for the tourism industry.
I will alter my earlier suggestion. With regard to statements on the humanitarian effort in Iraq, there will be ten minutes each instead of 15 minutes for spokespersons with five minutes each for other speakers. Time can be shared.
Order of Business agreed to.