Tuesday, 15 April 2003
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, report of the Joint Committee on Standing Orders; No. 2, Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2002 – 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, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, on which Senators may share time and the Minister shall be called on to reply not earlier than 15 minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, statements on Government policy and provision of services for the elderly, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, or at 5.30 p.m. if No. 2 has not concluded earlier, and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, on which Senators may share time and the Minister shall be called on to reply not earlier than ten minutes before the conclusion of the statements.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 3 be deleted and replaced by statements on the upsurge in crime.
It would be wrong of the House to go into the Easter recess without an early statement from the Government and Senators on the issue. We are aware that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was in the House some weeks ago, but now is the time for action and to see the colour of the Government's money in respect of whatever proposals it wishes to bring forward.
As the Minister told the House two weeks ago, there has been a 22% increase in headline offences. Every day someone is kicked to death on our streets as a result of alcohol-induced violence and we now know that the Government's promise of 2,000 additional gardaí is nothing but a pipe dream. We would be in dereliction of our duty were we not to debate this important matter before the House rises tomorrow.
Fine Gael has today published a ten-point action plan to deal with this issue. We have ideas which we want to debate on the floor of the House and we encourage others to bring their own ideas forward. It would not be right to go into recess without any debate on the specific actions that must be taken to stop this spiralling rise in crime in our society. This House needs to take a firm and definite stand on that matter. I encourage the Leader to accept our amendment in the spirit in which it is put.
I asked last week for a short debate on Northern Ireland policy. We are aware of ongoing efforts on the part of our democratically elected Government and the British Government in attempting to bring the parties forward in their deliberations. Tomorrow is still a good time to hold such a debate. I find it disappointing that our democratically elected Government continues to haggle over words with an illegal organisation that has been responsible for murder and mayhem on this island for the past 40 years. Let this matter be brought to an end, let our people be freed of the tyranny of the IRA and their murder gangs and let there be support for our Government as it takes a firm stance against the IRA and every other illegal outfit in this country. It is time the IRA was confined to history.
I have raised before the question of a debate, inquiry or discussion on the auctioneering process in recent times. That matter has also been raised by my colleague, Senator Ross, on a number of occasions.
I raise the matter again because a new war has broken out over the past three weeks. Stockbrokers and those involved in the equity market are telling us house prices will soon go through the floor and auctioneers and agents are telling us prices will continue to increase. In the middle of this are young people who are struggling to get together enough money for a deposit on a house. They are being confused and misled and are being given wrong information. There are many casualties in this war among fund managers, equity managers, stockbrokers and auctioneers.
Last week, Senator Tuffy sought further explanation of the Taoiseach's proposal for a constitutional amendment regarding the price of land and its ownership. That is a reasonable request. If what I understand the Taoiseach to mean is correct, then I fully support what he had to say. Most of the development lands in profitable areas are owned by five or six people. If they do not own them, they have options on them. People are being used as playthings. The market is being corrupted and perverted by certain amounts of land being released for development and housing on that land being released on to the market. That are ways of dealing with this matter. The new national agreement, Sustaining Progress, contains a proposal in this regard the matter which could, perhaps, be discussed when we come to that debate. We need to take another look at this issue.
We also need full information on the regulation of auctioneering. I have asked for such a debate many times during the past three years. Every time I raised this issue people on the Government side agreed with me we should have such a debate – people who know they have been stung one way or another. I have heard all sorts of stories in this regard. While the vast majority of people involved in auctioneering are doing their job in the best way possible, there are others who are not.
My next point may relate to that raised by Senator Brian Hayes on the issue of law and order. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently told this House he would bring forward a new licensing Bill within 15 to 21 days. That time has now elapsed. Many people wish to know what will be contained in that Bill, when it will be introduced and what is its intention. The Minister referred to the issuing of licences for small café type premises. The matter needs to be spelt out. We should have a discussion on this matter before the Bill is introduced. We are constantly losing out on such a discussion.
I again want to raise with the Leader the need for an ongoing debate on the war in Iraq and the situation in the Middle East generally. I note the statements about Syria made by US figures only yesterday and how it is evident that a bigger project than the action on Iraq is under way as far as the United States is concerned. It is important that Ireland is to the forefront in making clear that any move on Syria or any other country is unacceptable and that we need to restore the primacy of the United Nations, both for aid and rebuilding Iraq and world affairs.
I note that EUROSTAT recently published research findings that the risk of poverty for single older people in Ireland was twice as high than in the rest of Europe – 62% compared to 27%. I note that Age Action Ireland, of which I am a member, has called on the Government to face up the facts uncovered by EUROSTAT. Ireland spends only 25% of its social service budget on pensions, compared to nearly 50% in other European countries. We should have a debate on this matter.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to the House as a matter of urgency to discuss waste management, the single biggest challenge facing Irish society today. As Members will be aware, in recent days reports have shown that there are serious infrastructural deficiencies in handling increased quantities of waste. At the same it appears that we are closing landfill sites throughout the country and that the lead-in time for planning permissions for either recycling facilities or incinerators is running at three to five years, which is clearly prohibitive. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to debate this most important issue immediately?
I second Senator Brian Hayes's amendment to the Order of Business and his references to the spiralling rise in crime associated with alcohol. With increased regularity, unfortunately, there are appalling incidents taking place in many cities and some provincial towns leading to lives being endangered and, sadly, in some instances, lost. Everything Senator Brian Hayes has said is accurate and perceptive. It would not be right that we adjourn for Easter without discussing these matters.
Last week I pointed out that there was a threat that public health doctors would go on strike. We also had the problem of the SARS epidemic getting nearer this country every day. The Leader stated at the time that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, was very good at sorting out such problems when I pointed out that public health doctors were in dispute with the Department and various other agencies for nine years. The strike is now taking place and the Minister says he cannot become involved. Will the Leader ask him to come here to explain the reason he cannot become involved in this very serious issue?
One could not meet a less belligerent group than public health doctors. Nine years is a long time to wait for a resolution of a problem which they thought had been solved at the time. I would be glad if the Leader would ask the Minister to come and suggest a way forward. There are problems which could become very serious if there were many SARS cases here. It is because public health doctors are so good that we know so little about them. We do not want to have epidemics starting in this country and getting out of control.
I support my colleagues who raised the issue of crime, on which it is important that we have a further debate following the recent upsurge in crime figures. On local and national radio stations, it is the topic of discussion morning, noon and night. People are genuinely concerned about crime and the problem needs to be tackled once and for all. I support the Leader in this respect.
The war in Iraq is being blamed for the huge increase in the price of fuel. Since Christmas, the price of diesel oil and petrol has risen by 30%. It is important that we have a debate on this issue because it is driving inflation out of control. The Irish Road Haulage Association and many others in the haulage business are concerned about the possible consequences. As we speak, businesses are closing down. They have already had to deal with huge increases in insurance, tax and so on. It is important that we have a debate on this issue as soon as possible. People are concerned that their livelihoods could be devastated. It is not fair for us to stand idly by and let this happen.
I endorse what Senator O'Toole said about the need for a debate on auctioneers, the construction industry and others involved in determining house prices. The cost of houses is causing huge problems and, if prices fall, these will be even greater. I am glad Senator O'Toole has been reading my articles in the Sunday Independent and I hope he also reads those on social partnership shortly because, if he does so, he might have more sense to talk on that issue.
It is important that the activities of those in a profession such as auctioneering which is not regulated should be monitored by the Oireachtas. As Senator O'Toole stated, No. 6 of the non-governmental motions on the Order Paper calls for an investigation by the Oireachtas into the auctioneering profession. When the property market is – as is the case at present – in a state of unreasonable euphoria, it should be realised that auctioneers are fuelling this furnace and that this will cause a great deal of difficulty for people in years to come. The problem is that to qualify as an auctioneer, all one needs is €10,000 and the ability to bang a gavel; one does not need any professional qualification. It is an industry that is basically unregulated, does what it likes and misleads the public about prices. As a result, it has, along with the banks and others, put house prices at a level that is probably unsustainable and that makes them unaffordable for young people.
I would also welcome a debate on this issue. Senator Ross and others have raised this matter with the Leader on a number of occasions in recent months and we have had to listen to offensive remarks about a profession, the majority of the members of which act exceptionally well and do a fine job on behalf of many people. It is unfair to allow this slating of auctioneers on an ongoing basis. We should have a full and frank debate so that the suggestions we are hearing can be refuted with examples of the numerous cases of high quality work done by auctioneers. There is no concrete evidence for some of the charges that are being made. Much of it comes down to the fact that people cannot afford houses in particular areas and must move to others. That is not the fault of auctioneers. I would welcome a debate on this matter and I look forward to participating in it.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's request for a debate today on the escalating crime figures in our cities. A conference of Garda sergeants and inspectors is taking place in Galway at present. Yesterday they expressed their anger about the failure of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to provide the 2,000 additional gardaí that were promised before the election.
Given that a young man is fighting for his life as a result of a violent attack on the streets of Dublin on Saturday night, have we ever needed extra gardaí on the streets more than at present? The escalating crime figures are appalling and the Minister should come before the House today to listen to a debate on this problem, which must be tackled. The Government has failed to tackle it and the Minister has failed to implement any measure to deal with the appalling crime figures. I support the request of Senator Brian Hayes to have a debate on this matter instead of on No 3.
I wish to raise the issue of SARS. I endorse the remarks of Senator Henry that vigilance is important. I have had some correspondence from the Representative Office of Taipei in Ireland concerning Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organisation, even if only with observer status. It is important that any country with a busy transport hub should be included in the WHO and I hope that will be considered by the Department.
Members will have noticed during the week some figures that suggest the most dangerous road north of the Border is that which runs from the Border to Belfast. The most dangerous road south of the Border is in County Louth. Some weeks ago, Senator Brian Hayes made a proposal that the Minister should consider the unification of the penalty points systems, North and South. I ask the Leader to draw the Minister's attention to this. Having one penalty points system represents another area of co-operation that would bring benefit and save lives. The Minister would find ready acceptance of such a proposal north of the Border.
I support the amendment proposed by my colleague Senator Brian Hayes to defer discussion on No. 3 and to introduce an emergency debate on crime. Anybody listening to Joe Duffy's "Liveline" programme, now taken over by Derek Davis, could not fail to be horrified by the graphic evidence from ordinary people about the manner in which they have been attacked – during the day or at night – on the streets and the appalling deaths and injuries that result.
We need to address this matter from several viewpoints. It is a fallacy to say there are 12,000 gardaí on duty. Some 4,000 of those are working in-house on desk duties. Another 2,000 are involved in ferrying prisoners to and from court or are on court duty themselves. In addition, a huge number of gardaí are on sick leave at any one time. When other security duties are taken into consideration – for example, driving Ministers – the actual number of people on duty is 393, or 19 per county, which is appalling.
We need a debate on the fact that, at present, there are 360,000 drivers who have had provisional licences for more than three years and who are being ripped off by insurance companies. The Government is genuinely trying to tackle this problem by introducing outside testers. However, that will not resolve matters. It will take a long time to eat into that number and the backlog will continue. We should seriously consider the possibility of an amnesty for anybody on a provisional licence whose record is accident-free. We did it before and it worked. The backlog will never be reduced in the manner in which it is being tackled at present.
I support the call for a debate, at any time the Leader finds suitable, on the problems on our streets. The young man who was so viciously attacked last Saturday night on Grafton Street is a neighbour of mine. In Sligo, there was also a spate of violence over the weekend with cars burned out. Apparently thugs set fire to a car, which must have belonged to one of their own group. The car rolled across the road and set fire to two more, one of which belonged to my brother-in-law. A suggestion was made at the Garda conference that the Minister was contemplating tagging offenders and it is not before time that this was done. A tough stand must be taken to put a stop to what is going on because people are very concerned.
I support what Senator Henry has said about the SARS epidemic and the fact that public health doctors are in dispute. The Minister for Finance has made it quite clear to the Minister for Health and Children that if he wants funding, it will have to come out of his own budget because the Department of Finance will not provide an extra allocation. If the dispute drags on, it will put the Special Olympics, which are only about six weeks away, in jeopardy. Clonmel is due to host a large delegation from Hong Kong. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the travel plans of that and other Asian delegations. Public health doctors should be in place to ensure this event is a success. I, therefore, implore those responsible to take prompt action. If the dispute drags on, it will place in jeopardy all the hard work done by host committees in every community which have been planning to welcome the visiting delegations with great hospitality. The Special Olympics represent a huge event for Ireland on the international stage. I am, therefore, seeking a quick settlement of this dispute.
I also wish to support the call for a debate on crime. Last weekend the Progressive Democrats held a successful conference in Galway but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was more concerned about the sexual implications of the Carlsberg advertisement than what occurred in Dublin when a young man from Sligo, Mr. Barry Duggan, was almost kicked to death in the street. How often have we raised in the House such matters which are an ongoing feature of society? As I said during statements on crime last week, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is remembered for Operation Hyphen last year concerning illegal immigrants. At the time, however, I described it as Operation Hype. The Minister promised to introduce over 30 pieces of legislation, yet not one has been enacted. It is time for action. It is grand for him to get his annual conference over with and have the troops re-energised but the country is calling out for leadership on his part which he should deliver.
I join others in asking the Leader for a debate on crime. Hooliganism in the streets is not just caused by drink but also by drugs. It is a phenomenon that needs to be examined and dealt with. It is entirely inappropriate that people do not feel safe at night. It should be made clear that no-go areas will not be tolerated.
It has been suggested that an all-Ireland penalty points system should be introduced. I heartily agree that it would be appropriate. I ask the Leader to write to those responsible in order that such a system could be introduced in due course.
I support Senator Higgins's call for an amnesty for those holding provisional driving licences. I know quite a number who have been driving on such licences for the past ten years. The waiting list for driving tests is so long that people are put off from applying. It is time to legalise the situation by granting an amnesty for those driving on provisional licences for over three years.
I join my colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, in asking the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend the House to discuss the recently published crime figures, as well as the appalling events that occurred last weekend. Senator Finucane spoke about Mr. Barry Duggan, the unfortunate gentleman from Sligo who was brutally attacked on the streets of Dublin at the weekend. Such attacks occur far too regularly in many provincial towns also. Senator Finucane is right to say we have heard enough hyperbole from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform – it is now time for action.
I also wish to refer to a point which arose this afternoon at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. A motion was passed at the conference asking the Government to cease the implementation of the penalty points system until the complete computer system has been put in place. Will the Leader to ask the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Transport to comment on that development?
I support what Senator MacSharry said regarding the issue of waste management. This is an important matter on which a debate is required. I urge the Leader to ensure that when the Minister comes before the House to deal with this issue, he debates the issue and does not lecture us about his views on it.
I am forced to rise to request a debate on crime. A number of recent sad and high-profile crimes seem to have catapulted the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform to the fore as the Minister to be bashed at present. I am not here to defend him; he is more than capable of doing so himself. This debate is going completely off the rails. Crime is at a serious level and the statistics are there to prove it. A debate that would have a dimension of comparative analysis with the 1980s, when law and order simply broke down, might put it into a proper perspective. There was no law and order here during the 1980s.
Unless I be thought to be discourteous in my manners, I welcome the Cathaoirleach back to the House; everybody else did so. We all missed him, but we also like the Leas-Cathaoirleach who performed his duties well in the Cathaoirleach's absence.
Senator Brian Hayes put forward an amendment to the Order of Business calling for a debate on crime to deal with the many points he raised. I point out, not in a sense of retribution but as a matter of fact, that exactly ten days ago we had a three hour debate on crime. We had a strong debate on the issue and the Minister was present for entire three hours. I am not in any way referring to who was present or who was not; I am merely saying there was that debate and the Minister was here for the three hours during which it took place.
I applaud the fact that Fine Gael published a ten-point action plan today. The leader of the party, Deputy Kenny, spoke on the issue on radio at lunchtime. It is an issue of the day, of that there is no doubt, but we had a strong debate here on the matter ten days ago. I fully appreciate the serious nature of this matter, but I cannot keep asking Ministers to come before the House to debate the same issue.
Senator Brian Hayes also suggested that we should debate the issue of Northern Ireland. However, as developments are at an extremely sensitive point – particularly today, tonight and into tomorrow – a debate on the matter might distort many of the sensitive issues being put forward. The Senator wanted to point out the tyranny of the IRA, etc., and he has every right to do so. In a debate on a sensitive subject such as Northern Ireland, however, it is vital and extremely important that we keep our cool for a day or two. There will hopefully be a proper resolution of the issue. It is moving forward in tiny incremental steps, but it is moving forward. Rather than distort the matter, we should leave it be. However, I recognise the Senator's right to raise the issue.
Senator O'Toole mentioned auctioneering and house prices. There is a commitment in Sustaining Progress to examine this issue, particularly in the context of property prices for first-time buyers. I am trying to make time available for a debate on this issue in the first week after the recess. Many other Senators referred to this matter.
Senator Tuffy referred to the aftermath of the Iraq conflict, particularly the predatory noises we hear from the US about Syria. She also asked about single older people. There is a debate on the elderly this evening and the Minister for State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Callely, who has responsibility for this area, will be present.
Senator MacSharry wanted the waste management issue to be addressed by the appropriate Minister. I want the Minister to attend a debate on this in our first week back after the recess.
Senator Henry referred to the strike by public health doctors which has started. That matter is being raised by way of special notice question in the Dáil today, so we will see what emerges from that.
Senator Ross sought a debate on housing and auctioneering, which I hope to arrange. Senator Dooley also sought such a debate and was to the forefront in calling for such a debate some weeks ago. I hope to arrange to hold the debate during the first week after the House returns.
Senator Terry supported calls for a debate on crime and inquired about the whereabouts of the 2,000 additional gardaí. Those gardaí were to be recruited in the lifetime of the Government and we hope it has many years to go yet.
Senator Kitt referred to the WHO and the view from Taiwan that Ireland would support its need to be admitted, with observer status, for debates there. Senator Quinn raised the issue of a linked road strategy between the North and the Republic in order that the dangerous stretch of road through Louth to the Border could be dealt with.
Senator Finucane mentioned SARS and the fact that visitors from Asia will be come to Ireland for the Special Olympics. This problem needs to be solved as soon as possible. He also called for a debate on crime. Senator Hanafin mentioned hooliganism on the streets and the need for an all-Ireland points system, which was raised in the past.
Senator Fitzgerald pointed out once again that the crime debate should take place in context and on a comparative basis, with figures and outcomes. I make no apology for the seriousness with which I view the issue. There is no doubt about this but I must balance it against the fact that we had the Minister here ten days ago. He attended the House for three hours and gave a very full account of himself, putting the figures on the table. Senator Quinn made the point when he spoke in that debate that in the end it comes down to personal responsibility. It is a matter of the person acting in harmony with society. That is a major point. However, I will bear the possibility of such a debate in mind. I hope we can have one as quickly as possible. I appreciate the right of Senator Brian Hayes or any other Senator to propose an amendment to the Order of Business.