Tuesday, 8 April 2003
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, on which Senators may share time, the Minister to be called upon to reply 15 minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage, at 5.15 p.m. approximately; and No. 2, Official Languages (Equality) Bill 2002 – Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 at 5.30 p.m. until 8 p.m. unless the debate on No. 1 concludes earlier.
I do not oppose the Order of Business. I would like to raise two issues with the Leader of the House. This week is vitally important to the future of this country because of the talks that will take place in Hillsborough Castle in the coming days involving the Northern parties, the two Governments and President Bush. On behalf of Fine Gael, I send our best wishes to all involved. The talks are important. I welcome the fact that the US President has come to Ireland to help the Northern parties get over the final hurdle to ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We must make a distinction between what is taking place in Iraq and what is taking place in the Northern peace process. I certainly welcome the US President's intervention at this time. If others choose not to do so, that is a matter for them.
Last week I asked for a debate next week on the Northern talks. The Government will publish its blueprint on the way forward later this week. It would be useful, as Senator Maurice Hayes asked, if a debate took place next Tuesday or Wednesday as it would allow us to reflect on developments. I wish all the participants the best in this regard. The people, in a unique act of self-determination, accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. There is now a universal demand for the agreement to be fully implemented. We must use our efforts and all our persuasive tactics to ensure it is now implemented.
No. 5 on the Order Paper recommends Ms Emily O'Reilly for appointment by the President to be the Information Commissioner. Will the Leader provide time for a debate on this matter? I do not support the idea that it should be nodded through the House without debate. While my party will not oppose the nomination in any way, we should have a short debate on the matter tomorrow or Thursday. It would be wrong to put it through the House without debate.
Although one would only wish well any talks which take place to advance the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, it is hard not to be cynical when one thinks of the little chappies in the West Wing wondering how they might find a nice media shot and context in which to have their President photographed this week. That the invader and warmonger should be suddenly transmuted into some sort of peacemaker is difficult to understand.
Nonetheless, I wish the Taoiseach well in his talks with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. Everybody here wants them to do well but it is cynical and I cannot see it as anything else much and all as I hope it has a positive outcome.
We passed legislation in recent years on the issue of national monuments and important buildings. There was a lot of discussion and full agreement on the need to list houses. I have become aware in the last month that one of the oldest houses in County Kerry, the presbytery in Dingle, built by Count James Louis Rice in order to bring Marie Antoinette to safety in the late 18th century, has been put up for sale by Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is the only building of its type which has its internal parts intact from the day it was built. It would be appalling if this were lost, to be replaced in the centre of Dingle with a couple of apartment blocks. It is an issue of which people of all political colours and none would be supportive. It is a house of extraordinary antiquity and is fundamental to the involvement of the Irish Brigade with the Austrian Army and others and also ties in with the French Revolution and the history of that time.
I ask that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism be asked to intervene to ensure this sale does not take place. Until recently the house was owned by the clergy. The last seller of the House to Údarás na Gaeltachta, Canónach Ó Fíannachta, noticed that it was to be razed to the ground and replaced by apartments. It is utterly unacceptable that this would happen. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach would intervene.
I too welcome the talks in Northern Ireland between the British Prime Minister, the American President and the Taoiseach about the peace process in the North. It is important to remember that this is happening in the context of the war in Iraq. The Taoiseach must make clear Ireland's disapproval of the war and dissociate us from any question of approval of the illegal actions of the UK and the American Government in respect of this war.
Will the Leader request the Taoiseach to come before the House to explain his intentions to refer the issue of the price of building land to the Joint Committee on the Constitution? I am a member of that committee and we were already discussing the whole issue of property rights and the Constitution. The issue has been discussed many times by the Joint Committee on the Constitution.
The Government should know at this stage the story about property rights and the Constitution. It has already had a Bill referred to the Supreme Court in relation to the legislation dealing with affordable housing. It is time the Government stopped announcing, referring and discussing this issue and carried out some action in relation to the housing problem.
I endorse the remarks of Senator Brian Hayes regarding the peace process. It is important to disentangle the peace process from the war in Iraq. The focus of this House during the coming days should be on events in Northern Ireland, to wish the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and all the parties to the talks well, to look forward to the joint declaration which will issue before the weekend and to hope that all the parties will sign on for a conclusion to the process in the sense that it will finally bring permanent and lasting peace. If not, the verdict of history will be particularly severe upon them.
In the context of those remarks it would be appropriate for us to review this matter if time can be made available next week. It would not be helpful to have a debate before the conclusion of the talks but afterwards we should review what has happened.
I have a document here regarding the restructuring of the Reserve Defence Force in the entire western region, on which a final decision has been taken in recent days. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Defence to come before the House to debate the issue of restructuring because it will have a detrimental effect on all counties in the western region, particularly my own County Longford, where the Reserve Defence Force will be reduced from its present level of over 300 to a mere 144. As this will have repercussions I would appreciate a debate on the matter.
I also ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come before the House for a debate on the delay in the allocation of disabled person's essential repair grants to the councils. Almost half the year has passed and councils are cash starved in this regard. As a result, county managers and directors of services for housing in several counties have notified public representatives and others that they are accepting no more applications.
I join Senators Brian Hayes and Dardis in welcoming the talks in Northern Ireland. I agree that the two issues involved, to which the Senators have referred, should be separated. It is the patriotic duty of the Taoiseach and all democratically elected politicians to embrace warmly every opportunity to advance the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and, I hope, look forward to the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland. I know everybody joins me in wishing for a very successful outcome to the talks.
As distinct from Senator Tuffy, I welcome the decision of the Taoiseach to make a commitment to hold a constitutional referendum, if necessary, on the price of building land. While I raised this issue about two or three years ago when I outlined another formula in detail, I believe a constitutional referendum will be necessary to advance this programme. In view of the grief and the necessity for more housing, a constitutional referendum—
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House to discuss the crisis of science in education? There are crises in many areas of education, with regard to buildings for example, but that pertaining to science is of the most immediate importance. The Minister has introduced a new curriculum at second level but the Irish Science Teachers Association has complained that teachers do not even have the facilities to implement it. They do not have the necessary equipment in laboratories, which is serious.
At third level the number of students taking science courses has decreased substantially. The heads of the IDA, IBEC and many of the institutes of education are crying out for science graduates. They admit that nobody in the Department of Education and Science is listening to their cries and pleas, despite the fact that the points levels have decreased by as much as 100 in the past year to attract young students into the areas of science and technology. We are told that we are fast losing the label we had as the hub of IT in Europe. A crisis is pending. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House as a matter of urgency to discuss this important matter.
I agree with my colleague because it is very important to welcome the American President to our shores. It reinforces the view that we are highly regarded, disproportionate to our size, in the American establishment, by both the Democratic and Republican parties. The President is here to support the Good Friday Agreement, to which we have all signed up wholeheartedly. In the light of the fact that the war in Iraq is nearing its end, we should now continue our efforts and use our influence to ensure peace is won and that there is humanitarian and reconstruction aid similar to that given to Europe at the end of the Second World War.
Senator Tuffy spoke about the price of housing. I suggest that we have a debate on the matter in the light of the fact that there are large land banks around Dublin city that have not been used. It is surely time to say, "Use them or lose them." If there is planning permission for these land banks, they should be either used or lost.
I have a little too much pride to welcome the foul presence of President Bush on this island and his impertinent intrusion. Of course it is correct to separate the two issues, but who mixed them up? It was President Bush. I welcome any advance that is made in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, I absolutely disdain this cynical manipulation of our political purposes.
People who want to welcome President Bush do not represent everybody in this country.
In The Irish Times today there are two letters, the first of which states:
Madam, – Now we all know the feeling of being used, of being degraded, of being paid off for a dirty little service. Ahern, Cowen, and the others who will traipse obediently to Hillsborough on our behalf are debasing the Irish peace process for the benefit of US war propaganda. They have turned Hibernia into the prostitute of the temple of Mars.
I will not read the second letter to which I refer but I suggest that Members read it. It is from a decent Irishman living in America who believes that what is happening is a disgrace.
Yes, I am proposing a change to the Order of Business and that, out of decency, we immediately discuss the following: "That Seanad Éireann condemns the use by the invading US and UK forces in Iraq of cluster bombs and depleted uranium shells."
I also wish to express thanks to the Taoiseach for making affordable housing a priority. I support the request regarding land banks. It is essential that local authorities release the land banks that are held throughout the country. We should offer our full support to the Minister in bringing forward proposals. I look forward to a debate on the matter in the near future.
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases.", or rather it should. Unfortunately, in one of the most picturesque and quintessential beauty spots in our land, in the immediate vicinity of the Meeting of the Waters and the Old Weir Bridge, Dinis Cottage, an historic building, is being allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. The cottage is in need of serious attention and urgent conservation works are required.
Dinis Cottage was a fishing and hunting lodge of the former Herbert Estate, before it became incorporated.
I know that the Leas-Chathaoirleach appreciates beauty. Members, particularly the Leader, might be interested to know that in the 1870s and 1880s the fashionable ladies of the time carved their initials on the windows with their diamonds.
The purpose of the information is to alert the House to what has been allowed to happen. I ask the Leader to intervene with the Minister responsible for Dúchas. Perhaps we could have a debate on this and other historic buildings that are not in the state of repair in which they should be.
On a separate matter, I support Senator O'Toole with regard to Rice House in Dingle and the danger of its being lost. The house in question has a long history and is important to Dingle. The Senator referred to the good canon and his efforts and it would be a frightful scata bullán if anything was allowed to go amiss there.
I join previous speakers in seeking a debate on the issue of housing, land costs and the charges imposed by financial institutions with regard to mortgages and the transfer thereof. We could have a worthy debate on that matter and I urge the Leader to arrange it as soon as possible.
I also join previous speakers in welcoming the President of the United States to Ireland and his intervention in the peace process. Members should be careful, when referring to the office of President, to make a distinction in terms of their personal feelings about the current incumbent or any of his predecessors.
It is relevant. Previous speakers have been allowed to stand up and condemn the President of the United States. I am equally entitled to say that we should be very careful in what we say about the incumbent, or about any President. We should refer to the office—
Since we are treated to what it says in the papers on a regular basis from Senator Norris, I also wish to give a brief resumé of what it says in the papers. We should acknowledge the accounts of the Iraqi people, who, in today's newspapers, have related accounts of the torture to which they have been subjected in recent years and how they welcome their freedom from that.
I have to pinch myself at times when I hear statements about affordable housing and land. Where has the Government been for the past six years? Speaking at the Irish Management Institute annual conference in Killarney, the Taoiseach suddenly decided to launch a new agenda and a new direction. There has probably been a conversion at this stage.
I wish to make one brief point. We all welcome what is happening in the North and hope that there will ultimately be good news in that regard. On television last night, there was a shot of the US President grabbing a child of less than two years of age in his arms. In comparison, it was rather nauseating to read reports in today's newspapers about what is taking place in Baghdad in regard to cluster bombs and what is happening to young children there. Unfortunately, much of what we see on television provides a sanitised version of events. I welcome the fact that Mr. Robert Fisk and others report objectively on what is happening in Iraq.
In recent days there was a deplorable arson attack on a house in Limerick which has left a mother and two young children in hospital. It has been suggested that there may be a link between a person of 15 years of age, who has been involved in many previous crimes and for whom a place cannot be found in an institution for juvenile offenders. That is a shocking indictment of the system. Last week, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform came before the House and—
—I wish to remind him to provide these physical resources because they have been referred to on many occasions, not only in this House but also in the Lower House. I wish that family a speedy recovery, but I fear they will bear the scars for many years. It is a deplorable and heinous crime.
I previously welcomed the inclusion in the spatial strategy of the Letterkenny-Derry area and the fact that it will be highlighted as a gateway access. There remains an opportunity in this regard under the strategic rail review. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, has said he is not handcuffed to that blueprint and is open to negotiation and suggestion.
It is in the national interest to provide railway access from Derry to Letterkenny and, in the long term, from Letterkenny to Sligo. If we did so, it would be a true cross-Border project. It would show our counterparts in the North that not only are we interested in peace and the ending of all paramilitary violence, but that we are also interested in the real beginning of peace, which is economic and social integration. I call for an urgent debate on this strategic document because a foreigner looking at that document, the existing railway track and the proposed railway lines would assume that there is nobody living in the north-west of Ireland. Donegal people are as entitled to railway tracks as anybody.
Most people in the United States rely on television coverage for their knowledge of current events. During our last debate on Iraq, I suggested that we phone friends in America to see what they thought of the progress of the war. I have done so, and they do not have access to the same sort of information as we are getting. Television channels in the US appear to have sanitised the news coming out of Iraq so that Americans have no knowledge of civilian casualties and very little knowledge of casualties among their own troops, especially not of those killed in what is described as friendly fire, in other words killed by their own comrades.
I second Senator Norris's proposal to debate the appalling carnage going on in Iraq due to the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium bombs. Americans do not see the television images we see of limbless children and sufferers of third degree burns, all of whom will die. We have no idea what the numbers of civilian casualties are in this war, but they are vast. Given the way the war is being prosecuted, and the lack of knowledge of the general citizenry of America, we have a duty to try to let people know what is going on.
The spread of the SARS virus is causing some concern and anxiety in the vicinity of international airports. I call upon the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children what precautions are being taken to deal with a possible outbreak. Could we get some indication as to how such a situation would be handled by the medical services and personnel at airports?
Yesterday, for the first time, the Garda Commissioner and the Assistant Garda Commissioner, in full uniform and alongside the Chief Constable of the PSNI, performed a function in Belfast. I cite this as an example of how far we have moved in the peace process. It is a reminder of how much has been achieved and how far we can go. I mention this to encourage the Taoiseach in the work to take place in the next few days. We have achieved much more than we ever believed we could achieve in such a short time.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of the talks in Northern Ireland and expressed the hope that they will achieve success. The statement intended to be released on Thursday of next week would represent the final implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which was supported in a democratic vote by people in both the North and the South. One way or another, it is hoped to have a debate on the issue in the House next week.
Senator Hayes also asked for a debate on the nomination by the Government of Emily O'Reilly for the position of Ombudsman. I understand that is to be debated in the Dáil this week and in this House next week. Some 40 minutes is to be allocated to that debate in the Dáil, and I will propose that we do the same.
Senator O'Toole talked about how the visit of President Bush to Ireland was being manipulated, sentiments that, I am sure, would find an echo among many people. However, at the same time, the Senator was quite clear that the war in Iraq and the peace process are separate issues and should be treated as such.
Regarding the national monuments legislation, I never knew that the presbytery in Dingle was built as a refuge for Marie Antoinette. Senator O'Toole argues that Dúchas should intervene to purchase the building because it is in danger of being sold. I will certainly raise this matter as it seems most interesting.
Senator Tuffy argued that the Taoiseach should dissociate himself from the war taking place in Iraq. She also talked about the all-party committee on the Constitution and said it had material ready on the property issue.
Senator Dardis talked about disentangling the peace process from the war in Iraq in that they were two separate issues and said we should review the matter next week. I do not know to which document Senator Bannon was referring in regard to the Department of Defence.
The Minister for Defence is coming to the House shortly to deal with legislation and I am sure the Senator could grab his ear in one way or another. The Senator also talked about disability grants in County Longford.
Senator Fitzgerald raised the issue of the Northern talks and welcomed the commitment by the Taoiseach to a constitutional amendment on property. With Senator Ulick Burke, he also asked for a debate on education. When we come back after the recess, I will seek a debate on education with reference to the decline in the numbers of second and third level students taking science. We will regret this later if we do not encourage them in this regard.
Senator Hanafin welcomed George W. Bush and referred to humanitarian aid and the reconstruction work which must be done in Iraq. Senator Norris has the opposite opinion, to which he is entitled. Everybody else is entitled to give his or her opinion also. I am glad Senator Norris took back the remark he made. Therefore, I will not refer to it. The Senator proposed that No. 11, motion No. 28, be taken before No. 1. This was later seconded by Senator Henry.
Senator Brennan said he would welcome a debate on property and property rights. He also said local authorities should be told to release the land banks they hold. Senator Coghlan was very exercised about Dinis Cottage and talked about the ladies who scratched the window panes with their jewels. The women here would not do this because we do not have the jewellery with which to scratch the window panes.
Senator Minihan agreed that there should be a debate on property. I am reminded that the all-party committee on the Constitution will advertise shortly for public comment and submissions on the issue. I hope all those who are interested will express their views. The Senator also correctly said we should be careful to separate the person from the position held, in this case, the position of President of the United States.
Senator Finucane referred to the television shot, which I also saw, in which somebody put a child into President Bush's arms yesterday evening, on which we would all have had our thoughts. The Senator also referred to the arson attack on a house in Limerick which I thought was awful. The mother and children are in three separate hospitals. One can imagine the trauma they are suffering.
Senator McHugh spoke about the national spatial strategy. He also called for a debate on the strategic rail review and said the people of County Donegal were entitled to rail tracks just like the rest of the country, which I thought was a fair point.
Senator Henry said people in the United States did not have the same balanced knowledge of what is happening in Iraq from television and radio. She also seconded Senator Norris's amendment.
Senator Daly asked that the Minister for Health and Children outline the measures being taken to combat or forestall severe acute respiratory syndrome virus, with particular reference to our international airports.
I wish to inform Members that the House will sit next Tuesday and Wednesday, 15 and 16 April, but not Thursday, 17 April.
Yes. The Leader, who is a decent and humane person, referred to the photograph of President Bush and the child. I would like to refer to the other photograph in the Irish Independent today of a 12 year old Iraqi boy whose entire family was obliterated by a cluster bomb. He is now left scarred, burnt and with two stumps instead of arms. If we have any decency, we will discuss this today. We must discuss it unless we shame ourselves. I am, of course, forcing this issue to a vote and I will continue to speak after the vote if we do not get the debate I insist upon.
Amendment put: "That No. 11, motion No. 28, be taken before No. 1".
No, it is not. It is shameful that the House should continue its discussion in the absence of the debate I was seeking. We have seen the photographs of the child who was destroyed. We know about the weapons of real mass destruction. The use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium—
What about the ordinary people who were working in that house, the 14 civilians who were blown into rubbish by the bombs of the United States? What about the attack on the Al-Jazeera office this morning which killed a television cameraman making a report?