Tuesday, 9 December 2003
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive. No. 1 is a motion that was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which has completed its deliberations thereon. It concerns the application of certain provisions of the 2000 Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and its 2001 protocol to include Iceland and Norway. It is proposed to take this item without debate. No. 2 is a motion that was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has completed its deliberations on it. The motion concerns the application of the principle of mutual recognition to financial penalties imposed by member states. It is proposed to take this item without debate. No. 3 is a motion that was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has completed its deliberations on it. It concerns the confiscation of crime related proceeds, instrumentalities and property imposed by member states. It is proposed to take this matter without debate, notwithstanding the word "instrumentalities". No. 4 is the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill 2003 – all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. No. 5 is the Independent Monitoring Commission Bill 2003 – all Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8 p.m. with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. There will be a sos from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
On the Order of Business proposed by the Deputy Leader of the House, we are in agreement that all Stages of Nos. 4 and 5 will be taken today. However, this should not be considered a precedent. We appreciate that these are important pieces of legislation that need to go through the House by the conclusion of business. However, the Fine Gael Party will move some amendments to both Bills and we will ask the Minister to look sympathetically at them.
Will the Deputy Leader find out from the Government when it proposes to make a clear statement on its plans for decentralisation? We had the razzmatazz of the budget last week and the bleatings of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, as well as the outrageous suggestion that there is some kind of Dublin mindset in place. A clear statement is needed on when decentralisation will take place, who will be involved and what it will cost. It is clear from developments over the weekend that there is much muddled thinking by the Government on the matter. It would be useful if the House could obtain a full statement from the Government.
The Deputy Leader might also ask the Government to make a statement concerning last night's "Prime Time" programme which made it clear that a small but unknown number of people in this country are trading across the Internet in some of the most depraved pictures of children. This is a very serious matter. There was a call this morning for a full inquiry throughout the country. Will the Deputy Leader speak to the relevant Minister and ask that a statement be made as soon as possible? It is important that all measures necessary to protect children are put in place and where it is clear that people in this country are abusing children and trading in their images in the most deprived form of Internet use, that must be stopped. An early statement by the Government would be useful.
I support what Senator Brian Hayes said and I compliment RTE on the responsible manner in which it addressed the issue. I found the programme ending so distasteful that I was unable to watch and turned away. Many parents in Ireland would be greatly reassured if the evidence uncovered by that excellent investigative documentary was given to the Garda for investigation. All Members of the House will probably agree with that because it is the way forward not in terms of sensationalism, but of using the information gathered.
We have had a number of discussions in the House recently on European affairs and we have had visits by Members of the European Parliament. It would be worthwhile to have discussed and explained in the House a very crucial point now being addressed in Europe by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen. The Government has found the precise balance between our responsibilities to other members of the European Union and the guarantees of our own sovereignty in deciding not to rule out supporting a fellow member state of the EU, but to make the decision in the Houses at our discretion afterwards and not as part of any requirement or condition. This is an important issue and the Government is to be complimented on finding the perfect balance in this matter. It is also one which meets the views of all sides, including those of Fine Gael, which went further in its recent Private Members' debate.
Towards the end of a session it is appropriate to mention the importance of drawing good people into politics. We have discussed this matter many times. Maurice Manning, Fintan Coogan, Mick Lanigan, Liam Cosgrave, Tom Fitzgerald, Máirín Quill, Dick Spring, Austin Currie, Nora Owen and many others have given their lives to politics. We must commend Nora Owen, for example, who served in the Oireachtas from 1981 until 2002, whatever our view of her politics. It is disgraceful that not one of the people I have named would be entitled to draw a pension if the Government's budget proposals were currently in effect. We will not attract people into politics if we do this. If it is wrong for the people I mentioned, it will be wrong for future Members. This matter should be discussed in this House. Whatever our criticism of the Minister for Finance he has always supported attracting the best people into politics. This is a real problem which is being spun by the Department of Finance. I ask for a discussion on that aspect of the budget. It is in the interest of politics and in all our interests that Oireachtas pension arrangements are family friendly and appropriate.
I have never been totally clear about Senator Norris's provenance but I take it from his protestations that he is also from our great city.
The Dublin mindset is generally represented by people who come from other parts of the country and take our jobs.
People from every county participate in it. To say that it represents a Dublin mindset is simply not fair.
I have raised the issue of our Kyoto Protocol responsibilities on previous occasions. It is unclear whether the Russian Federation intends to ratify the protocol. Indications are that it does not. However, it is clear that the Government is not serious about the Irish obligations under the protocol. The Minister for Finance announced in his 2003 budget that a carbon energy tax would be introduced the following year. Remarkably, he made no mention of it in last week's Budget Statement. We must look again at our responsibilities under the protocol. They are serious responsibilities which could, if they are not met, bring serious fines to bear on Ireland and these could have consequences in themselves. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate in the new year on that issue.
Will the Deputy Leader intervene with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism on an issue which we have discussed a number of times in recent weeks and which I know is close to the Deputy Leader's heart? There have been developments in the last week which make the issue even more urgent. The chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland has indicated that we may have to play soccer internationals abroad, interesting developments have been initiated in the Gaelic Athletic Association in Wicklow relating to Croke Park and a meeting will take place tomorrow between the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Minister. All of these developments come together nicely and bring to bear on us the urgency for the Government to give a clear line on an issue which is of great concern.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has been telling us for some months that a decision is imminent. The developments to which I have alluded bring an urgency to the issue. We need a statement from the Minister and he should take the opportunity to make one in this House in the near future. We have discussed this issue on several occasions in recent weeks and the time is now opportune to bring the matter further.
I warmly welcome the decision of the Government to decentralise Departments. It is important that it be known that there are other counties besides Dublin. Some Opposition politicians, including a former Leader, are not making much sense on this issue. There are daily complaints about the gridlock in this city but when something is done about it, the Government is accused of being wrong.
Yes, of course. I always have a question. I am tired listening to the politics of the pavement. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on mobile phone licensing. It has been brought to my attention that a mobile phone was bought from a certain company and the customer was informed when buying it that it could be upgraded after one year. However, a year and eight months after it was purchased, the customer was informed that the rule had been changed to two years. That is sharp practice by any standards and the phone company in question is O2.
I strongly support the comments of Senator Brian Hayes regarding the downloading of child images from the Internet. There can be no hiding place for people who are engaged in such activities. I advise anybody with the slightest suspicion about persons who may be indulging in this type of heinous practice not to be behind the door in picking up the telephone and informing those responsible for enforcement. We must ensure those people are put in prison where they belong and that they are left there.
I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House following the allocation in the budget and the Estimates of capital funding for the building and repair of both primary and secondary schools. The Minister should come to the House as soon as possible to allay the fears and the disappointment of many boards of management, parents, teachers and students and to indicate once and for all, as a matter of urgency, which schools will be allocated funding in the coming year. The mystery has been going on for too long and the lobbying of Members continues with regard to the promises made. It is essential that the Minister comes to the House and clearly indicates what schools will be grant aided for urgent and necessary repairs. I suggest that he make the information available on the Department's website.
I join with my colleagues in welcoming the programme researched and broadcast by RTE last night. Its revelations were shocking to most Members of this House and indeed to any right-minded person. I ask the Deputy Leader to consider a debate on the subject. There are implications for Departments other than the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in particular for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Garda Síochána is doing an excellent job in trying to track down people in what is a very difficult environment. The service provision companies that operate and host these Internet sites should be examined. They are providing a service to these people and continue to abuse their dominant position. I would welcome a debate involving the participation of both Departments.
I ask for a debate on decentralisation. It is important to move away from some of the rhetoric heard in the past week and start to listen to the views of people on the other side who have condemned the Government proposals. A debate would allow the House to hear the views of the Opposition parties at both national and local level.
I support my colleagues in their request for a debate on the issue of child pornography on the Internet. It is a natural human instinct to protect children but there has been a significant change. Children used as child soldiers are being killed on a wide scale throughout the world and children are also being exploited for the purposes of pornography. There has been a sexualisation of children by the pop and fashion industries and there is much confusion in this area. Before we try to organise a witch hunt against people, we should examine the causes of such activity which seems to be very widespread. People who are otherwise very respectable seem to be caught up in an Internet generation. I do not know what is going on and the House should examine the matter not by calling for the brutalisation of these people, but by trying to understand a phenomenon that is taking place all over the world.
I also seek a debate on the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes company, which was the subject of an interesting television programme recently. It was the source of much of the corruption that has been going on in this country. A well known commentator dismissed it all on RTE's "The Sunday Show" programme saying, "Ah well, sure it's all over now and they got the hospitals, didn't they?" Some 90% of the money raised by the sweepstakes went into the pockets of profiteers who did not pay tax on it, while the hospitals got 10% and had to pay tax. It is disgraceful that the women who were exploited in the sweepstakes head office were turfed out onto the side of the road without a pension. If we do not remember these matters and examine them, we will never reach the conclusion of this type of corruption in public life.
We should recognise the wonderful work that is being done in South Africa by an Irish businessman, Mr. Niall Mellon. He has put €1 million from his own pocket into building houses in townships. He had a luxurious house there and was confronted by the spectacle of poverty and squalor so he did something about it. Many decent Irish workmen assisted him in the project. We are often critical of the building trade but I salute them for going out there to work for nothing, sweating in the hot sun to build houses for poor people. It was heartening to hear what the people who received those houses had to say. When the project was first launched there were begrudgers here who asked why Mr. Mellon did not do it for his own people because charity begins at home. However, what he did was wonderful for the image of Ireland abroad. The Department of Foreign Affairs should provide some degree of funding to assist such projects.
I agree with Senator Norris in that regard. Will the Deputy Leader, in conjunction with the Leader, arrange a debate on decentralisation? I would be interested to hear the views of the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, whose members appear to think there is nothing outside Dublin.
I would welcome a debate on decentralisation, which has given a bad deal to the constituency of Longford-Roscommon that returned three Government Deputies in the last general election. We got the scrapings of the pot in Longford-Roscommon – fewer than 300 jobs.
Yes, I have. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should attend the House for a debate on the report on better local government. I want to find out whether a better service has been delivered to communities and the public. In my opinion, layers of bureaucracy have been developed since the report's publication. It is important that we have a debate on that issue.
On another issue, I would like the Minister for Health and Children to make a statement on the bonuses chiefs of health boards are giving themselves. I heard amounts of up to €1,300 have been given to some chiefs recently at a time when hospital beds and wards are being closed, when the Government has failed to roll out many services in the area of health, and when carer's allowance is being cut back—
I congratulate the reporters involved in producing last night's programme, which I watched from start to finish and found revolting. One aspect that struck me was the sentencing. One individual who had downloaded thousands of images got a prison sentence of two and a half years. That should be quadrupled because there is no deterrent for these people. What is going on is savage and, as the programme reported, it is widespread here and throughout Europe. That is an aspect on we should have a debate.
It is either one or the other. That is what I have asked. Either he did or did not know jobs were coming to Birr and Offaly. Either way, how could he tell me on Tuesday night that he did know? There is something seriously wrong about that.
I hope I am not having a strange effect on the House. Perhaps the absence of the Leader has caused this mayhem. I thank the leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, for agreeing to take all stages of the two Bills before the House today. It is necessary to dispose of legislation before Christmas and I thank the Senator for facilitating this.
Senators Brian Hayes, McDowell, Glynn, Dooley, Norris, Leyden, Bannon and Wilson raised decentralisation and several of them, including Senator Leyden, called for a debate on the issue. There will be an opportunity to debate this and other issues when the Finance Bill comes before the House.
There is no muddled thinking on this matter by any member of the Government. Attending the opening of a section of motorway in County Kildare which cost €160 million, the Minister for Finance made the point that this is a small country. Irrespective of whether one has a Dublin mindset, this city is grinding to a halt. It will be beneficial to the country and the capital that 10,300 jobs have been allocated to various parts of the country. I particularly welcome the decision, for which I have argued for many years, to move the Defence Forces to their natural home, namely, the Curragh, and to locate the Department of Defence in Newbridge.
With regard to last night's "Prime Time" and the availability of certain images on the Internet, a matter raised by Senators O'Toole, Glynn, Dooley, Scanlon and Brian Hayes, while I did not see the programme, I agree this is a serious issue. I heard the comments of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on the issue this morning. It is reprehensible that these images should be downloaded but even worse that there should be a trade in them through the Internet. This demonstrates that the issue must be dealt with severely and that any deficiencies in legislation governing the Internet will need to be examined, which I am sure will occur.
Senator O'Toole raised the issues of the constitutional treaty and mutual defence. The Minister for Foreign Affairs gave a good exposition on this matter to the Committee on European Affairs last week and subsequently to a conference on the Presidency held in Dublin Castle. I fully agree with his position that there should be no question of obligation on these matters and that while it is acceptable for countries to seek mutual defence in the European Union, decisions on our participation should be voluntary. It would, however, be wrong if we did not come to the assistance of another member state if it was attacked or required assistance. This is a personal view, which does not necessarily reflect that of the Government.
On the contribution of people in politics and the pension age, I heard Senator O'Toole forcefully express his views on this matter during last week's debate on the budget and I note his comments. The matter could be debated and could come within the ambit of the Finance Bill.
I hope I did not misunderstand the comments on the Kyoto Protocol. There is no doubt that we have obligations under it. I noted the Senator's comments on the carbon tax. It is obvious that neither the Russian Federation nor the United States is prepared to take their responsibilities seriously. The Leader of the House indicated last week that this was something we could debate in the new year, which is something I support.
Regarding the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism attending the House to discuss improvements to the Lansdowne Road stadium, I understand the Irish Rugby Football Union is to make a proposal within the next few days or week, if it has not done so already, on an upgrade of the stadium which would cost in excess of €100 million. There are obviously planning issues in connection with that. I welcome the motion that is going before the GAA congress, though I do not want to interfere in the affairs of the association.
Senator Glynn mentioned mobile phones and the possibility of having a debate on that issue, which is something we should try to do. He also mentioned the matter of images on the Internet.
Senator Burke raised the matter of education. An extra €30 million was allocated in the budget for the purposes of capital funding. I heard the Minister for Education and Science explicitly state on a trip to County Kildare during the week that there should be no question of the politicisation of decisions, that the decisions should be made on their merits alone. He is determined to do that, and I commend him for it.
Senator Dooley raised the "Prime Time" programme and decentralisation, with which I have dealt. Senator Norris also spoke about it. I accept Senator Norris's remarks on the difficulties that some of these people have, but I still find it extremely difficult to understand how anybody could indulge in that sort of activity.
The programme on the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes was another very good example of good journalism by RTE. Obviously, what happened to the employees there at the time the business closed was not acceptable. I fully agree with what the Senator said about Niall Mellon. One of the things about it that struck me was that it was the sports reporter on "Morning Ireland"—
In answer to Senator Leyden, we should debate decentralisation. I was not sure what Senator Bannon was saying, not because he was not making sense, but because he was being interrupted so often. He has a point about better local government, which is something the House should examine. I noted what he said about the payments to health board executives.
Senator Scanlon also raised the "Prime Time" programme.
I do not have anything to say about the Adjournment debate which was raised by Senator Feighan as it is a matter for the Cathaoirleach, but it is a long-standing tradition of the House that people who are not here to defend themselves are not attacked in the way the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, was attacked.
On a point of order, I wish to correct the Senator on this issue. While it is inappropriate to discuss a Member of the House who is absent and who therefore cannot defend themselves, it is completely in order and within convention to criticise a Minister. Perhaps some people are taking exception to the words used, but it would be completely wrong if Members on either side of the House could not criticise a Minister. Senator Feighan did not break the rules.