Wednesday, 17 December 2003
Order of Business.
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, a motion referred to the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which has completed its deliberations, concerning the fees to be payable in respect of salmon, eel and oyster commercial fishing licences and salmon, eel and shellfish dealers' licences issued or renewed for the period commencing on or after 1 January 2004; Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, referral motions whereby the subject matter of motions Nos. 18 to 22, inclusive, are being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for consideration. These motions concern the introduction of biometric identifiers into the uniform format for visas and residence permits for third country nationals. The introduction of such data will enhance the security features on visas and residence permits and will establish a reliable link between holder, passport and visa; No. 7, Companies (Auditing and Accounting) Bill 2003 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m; No. 8, motion on the appointment of the Ombudsman for Children to be taken from 3.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. with contributions from each group not to exceed ten minutes; No. 9, Broadcasting (Funding) Bill – Report and Final Stages to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m; and No. 26, motion 26, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: My colleague, the spokesperson on marine and communications matters, will address our reservations on No. 1, a motion in her name back from committee and my party's reservations in that regard. We are opposed to substantial increases in drift and draft net licences in the marine sector and are seeking a debate on the matter. Our spokesperson will deal with that issue at the appropriate time.
On behalf of Fine Gael, I welcome the statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on the Nally report which has recently come to the attention of Government, a copy of which has been circulated to the Leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. It is important this House informs the Government of our belief that it would be useful if, at this stage, the Government and the Taoiseach were to meet and discuss with the families of those killed at Omagh the contents of that report, even in a truncated manner. I appreciate there are security implications involved but the families need to know the context of the report. I urge the Government, and specifically the Taoiseach, to meet the families at the earliest possible time.
It is important the Nally group continues its work in respect of one named individual whose allegations were central to its report. I understand the individual has not, as yet, spoken to the Nally group. I encourage the Government to ensure the Nally group is not stood down so this individual is afforded the opportunity to make a full statement to it if he so wishes in the near future. I ask the Government to consider that proposal.
There are two specific areas in which the Government could assist the victims of Omagh. It could, with the British Government, provide financial and moral support to the civil cases now being taken by the families against named individuals on this island. It should also, because of the particular atrocity which occurred that day, incur the costs involved in that regard. All right minded people in this and the other House should be absolutely clear on the need for Sinn Féin to get off the fence on this issue, to stop its crocodile tears and to state unequivocally that it is the responsibility and duty of every citizen in this State and in Northern Ireland to co-operate with the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland in providing information which can lead to the arrest and trying of those involved in this dastardly crime. It is an act of grotesque hypocrisy for Sinn Féin to speak of the pain of Omagh and the difficulties experienced by its victims when it will not call on its supporters and friends to provide information to the police authorities in that regard. I call on the Government to join with my party and others in stating that unequivocally.
While I am aware of what is in that motion, I am not aware of the content of the following three motions. The language used by the Leader in describing them is the language one would use when one is not inclined to give much information. Is the Leader saying there will be DNA testing of immigrants to ensure that persons seeking the visa are in possession of the relevant passport? What is being sought here? Despite the Leader's fluent and flowery explanation, I do not have a clue what she was talking about.
There are many unclear issues concerning the Nally report. It is difficult to discuss the report without having seen it and I recognise and accept there are security implications. However, significant core information must be made available to those most affected. This could best be done if those involved in the report were asked to summarise the core information that led them to their conclusions in a manner that is not security sensitive. This would at least allow people to understand the processes by which Government and the Nally group came to the conclusions. While this will not satisfy all the people, it is necessary that we at least have an understanding of the logic that led them to their conclusions. This idea could be brought to the Government and presented as a route out of its difficulties. There are no sectional political differences on this.
As regards a court case, it should be remembered that a previous Government gave support to a Dundalk based group which took a case against Sellafield. Therefore, there is a precedent for supporting cases taken outside the State, although it was citizens of this State who took the case. I do not believe there are significant differences in this case. While I agree with the Government that a limit must be put on it, a gesture could be made in this direction.
Mr. Ryan: While I agree with the thrust of what previous speakers have said about the Nally report, I am always sceptical of concerns about national security emanating from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. During the drafting of the Freedom of Information Act, the Labour Party was told that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform believed that all information in its possession would have to be kept secret to protect national security. It is not so long since the Department would not allow the photograph of its Secretary General to be published as it was deemed a threat to national security. While I fully accept there are issues of national security at play here, the final judgment on what constitutes a threat to national security should not be within the brief of the Department that looks after national security. Under this, self-interest and national interest can easily become confused.
I do not understand why we have not worked harder to ease the anger felt by the families of those who died in Omagh that they are not being well served by the Government and political system in this State. A long and frank private meeting between the representatives of the families and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Taoiseach would help the famil ies enormously, even if the Minister is convinced he has no new information to share.
Last week was a momentous one in the Iraqi struggle. The murderous Saddam was arrested and, according to the President of the United States, is destined for execution. This is an interesting way of holding a proper trial. A Chinese emperor once referred to how civilised the judicial system in his country was when he said that they first hold a trial and then hold the execution. We appear to be returning to this; I suppose the imperial pretence is to be expected.
Mr. Ryan: I know of many members of Fianna Fáil who were against the war. The Leader was against the war and Senator Ó Murchú was definitely against it. Others, to whom I am doing an injustice by not mentioning, may also have been against it. However, I did not know the Taoiseach was against the war. Maybe the Leader will persuade him to tell us where on the record we can find his new gem of a statement that he opposed it. It goes without saying that none of us is in favour of war, but I want to know where the Taoiseach said he was against this war.
Mr. Ryan: As one who has been on what would be classified as the liberal side during a succession of referenda, I question the idea of a 14 year old girl who is 23 weeks pregnant being taken to Britain under the auspices of a health board to terminate her pregnancy. It is an issue that needs to be thrashed out thoroughly. I recognise the privacy issues involved but ethical issues such as this should not be decided upon by people who are, as far as I can see, accountable to nobody. If one uses privacy, one eliminates, for good reason, some forms of accountability. However, this is not an area regarding which an issue of privacy should mean that public policy is left to one side. It is a very serious and profoundly challenging ethical issue and it should not be left to middle-ranking public servants in a health board to decide how to deal with it as the matter is far too complicated.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform raised interesting questions about the funding of Sinn Féin. I wish he would take up the party's invitation to inspect its books. While doing so, he might figure out how it could afford to employ six people full time in north Kerry for two years before the last general election as it targeted Dick Spring. None of the other political parties can afford such resources and personnel. Maybe Sinn Féin will explain where the money to employ so many people comes from because it does not show up in its books.
Dr. Mansergh: We raised a number of issues in debates in this House and had several transport debates. I acknowledge, along with our spokesman Senator Dooley, the great improvements in the rail timetable that was just published. The Limerick-Ennis line is reopening and when the Cahir viaduct is restored there will be a proper service on the Limerick-Waterford line for the first time in decades. Credit for this should be communicated by us to the Minister for Transport.
Mr. Mooney: I do not wish to delay anybody's lunch. My intention is to convey to the Leader what I am sure is the overwhelming view of this House and the general public on the news of the capture of one of the greatest dictators since Hitler. Irrespective of the issues involved in the war in Iraq and earlier remarks on the Order of Business, I believe it has been a momentous week in terms of the capture of a man who, over 35 years, executed many people in Iraq.
Mr. Mooney: In the context of the capture of Saddam Hussein and the impact of the occu pation of Iraq, I refer again to my request some weeks ago for a debate on the role of the United Nations in Iraq and at a wider level and Ireland's role in peacekeeping. As the issue has come to centre stage again it is perhaps more relevant than ever. I ask the Leader to consider arranging a debate, on resumption of business after the recess, on the UN role in the Middle East, including Iraq, and Ireland's role in peacekeeping.
Mr. Norris: I ask the Leader for a debate on the allocation of exploration licences to Shell Oil to exploit the Corrib oil fields, particularly when it appears that the taxpayer will get next to nothing for this as it has been given away. Shell is now attempting to overturn a decision of An Bord Pleanála. In the same newspaper that reported this, there are details of Shell's activities in Nigeria, where we are told it is responsible for an environmental cataclysm. Shell has been involved in a propaganda offensive, pretending it is putting in infrastructure there to help local people. These are all lies. I want to know why the resources of the Irish people have been made over to a company that has consistently behaved in a criminal fashion in Africa.
I welcome the end of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. I was a strong critic of the war, as were many other Members. However, it is indicative of President Bush's mindset that he wants Saddam Hussein executed. I imagine he wants him executed before he can tell what he knows about American involvement in the war, including Bush, his father and Mr. Rumsfeld.
Mr. Hanafin: I share Senator Ryan's concern about the possibility of a 14 year old being sent to the UK by a health board executive to have an abortion. There are two silent screams in this country, one of which is from childless couples who would gladly adopt a child of this nature. An innocent baby will be lost at 23 weeks of age. This is poignant given that it is Christmas week.
Ms O'Meara: I ask the Leader to organise a debate in the new year on the issue of domestic violence. At this time of the year, we know from the media that domestic violence is a major source of upset and disturbance in many households. It is not an issue for those families alone, but for us all. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this important issue early in the new year when the House sits again.
Mr. Browne: The standardisation of the school year has been welcomed on many fronts, but there is a shortfall in terms of the Christmas holiday, particularly for primary schools as they are being forced to work until the Tuesday before Christmas. This issue should be examined. There are many teachers in this House, including the Leader of the House. It is unfair to children that they must go to school up to the Christmas period and do not get the full benefit of the holiday. The matter should be examined by the Minister for Education and Science. Valid points have been raised on this issue.
In light of the comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform last week on a political party, which many of us suspect are correct, if he has evidence he should attend this House, outline the case and have a full audit of the political party in question. It is amazing that the political party concerned can have full-time offices in counties where they have no political representatives.
Mr. Dooley: I join my colleagues in the request for a debate on transport in the new year, particularly to discuss some of the new commuter and transport initiatives, which in some cases were started by the Leader when she had responsibility for transport. I join with Senator Mansergh in welcoming some of the new developments, for example, a very good commuter service between Ennis and Limerick was recently announced as a result of Senator O'Rourke's initiative and it would be a good opportunity to discuss it.
Mr. Ross: A serious point has been raised by a large number of Senators, namely, the new situation in Iraq after the capture of Saddam Hussein. Everybody welcomes that capture and there is no doubt that a tyrant whom everybody condemns is now in prison. We should have a debate on this because we have a proud record on Iraq in this House. The Leader of the House has, very rightly, allowed free debate on this because it is an important issue, but there is another issue on which we have a proud record in this House and Senator Ryan rightly alluded to it, namely, capital punishment. I find it disgusting that the Americans should take the first opportunity of parading their approval of capital punishment around the world and that President Bush should come out and say that this man should be executed. I want the Minister for Foreign Affairs to attend this House, because there is always a deafening silence in this House when Americans execute people in their own country. The Government is too cowardly to take up the issue and make a protest. Given that we claim to have an influence in the United Nations and on America, and that we rightly allowed US aeroplanes to land at Shannon, we should in the loudest possible terms protest to the President of the United States of America for now appearing to be the arbiter of judgment and deciding that people, leaders and tyrants around the world should be executed.
Mr. P. Burke: I ask the Leader to arrange as soon as possible in the new session a debate on funding for the BMW region. This issue has been raised by Senator Higgins on numerous occasions. Two reports have been published, one of which is the INDECON report. Also, the Estimates demonstrate that funding for the BMW region is lagging far behind what was initially proposed.
Mr. Quinn: I ask the Leader to consider having a debate in the new session on the recent report of the Information Society Commission on the future of broadband in Ireland. I have raised this topic on many occasions in the past, as we should make progress in this area which will give us an opportunity in the information age. The Information Society Commission was established under the auspices of the Department of the Taoiseach. This report draws attention to the fact that we may have missed the boat because we have decided to leave this in the hands of the marketplace. It needs the involvement of Government.
Mr. Feighan: The deputy executive director of the German Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce made a statement today regarding past experiences of decentralised jobs in Germany, in which he stated he could not imagine that the costs will be covered by the sale of a few Government owned offices in Dublin. While I welcome decentralisation, two and a half years ago I made inquiries about decentralisation under the Freedom of Information Act and discovered it cost three times more to decentralise an office to another town in Ireland than to leave it in the capital. When free sites were made available for decentralisation, these were not acknowledged. The gravy train is about to roll. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come here and outline from where the funding for decentralisation will come and, more important, what criteria will be used to ensure that spending will be kept in check.
Dr. Henry: I share the concerns of Senators Ryan and Hanafin about the 14 year old who was taken to England to have an abortion. However, I have repeatedly raised the matter of the lack of supervision of children in the care of the State. It is dreadful that this child became pregnant as a 13 year old apparently while in our care. How did this happen? Has anyone been charged? This is a really serious issue and I do not believe this is an isolated case. The children in our care are inad equately supervised and we need an urgent explanation as to what happened in this case.
Mr. Kitt: I join Senators in calling for a debate on transport. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, met representatives of West on Track and the Western Inter-County Railway Committee, of which Fr. MacGréil is secretary, to discuss the western rail corridor. I hope he will consider in particular the section from Galway to Tuam and Claremorris. The Leader was involved in establishing a study on that section. The stretch of road between Tuam and Galway has a worse bottleneck than any in Dublin, as confirmed by figures from the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. I hope we will receive word on this shortly.
I agree with Senator Ross's comments on Iraq and President Bush's call for the capital punishment of Saddam Hussein. I am amazed that President Bush who is very much pro-life – for which I applaud him – would decide on the death penalty for Saddam Hussein without any international scrutiny. I totally disagree with the comments of the US President.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I welcome the publication of the schools capital programme for the coming year by the Minister for Education and Science. Despite the considerable vocal criticism of him, this is a very impressive programme. In recent years there has been a serious attempt to look at initiatives and pilot projects which give greater value for money. The recently piloted devolved grants scheme has now been further expanded, which I very much welcome. All those who want to see greater development of the capital programme will regard the devolved scheme as an initiative that will in time prove to be great value for money. I welcome the decisions of the Minister.
Mr. Daly: I wish to express satisfaction and some relief that one of the greatest dictators in modern history has been captured. It is a cause of satisfaction to all of us that the man who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people has finally been caught. He caused chaos and disruption in Iraq for many years. I also wish to express satisfaction that Colonel James Hickey, the son of an emigrant from County Clare, played a central role in the events of last weekend.
The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, discussed the motion on fisheries which will be taken after the Order of Business. The Senators who are members of the joint committee from which the motion has returned have been named in the House. I understand the Senators in question attended the meeting of the committee which took place yesterday. I do not know how we can accommodate a debate on the matter. I said earlier that the Minister cannot come to the House because he is in Brussels for three days to discuss fisheries matters. The Opposition can decide to pursue the matter.
Senator Brian Hayes also referred to the Nally report. He asked the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to meet the families of the victims of the Omagh bombing. He called for the Nally committee to be kept in place in case a particular person who has not given evidence decides to repent. It will be open to the person in question to give evidence if the Nally inquiry is not stood down. The Senator also called on Sinn Féin to get off the fence on this issue and to co-operate with the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland rather than continuing solely to give sympathy to the families of those who died at Omagh and elsewhere.
Senator O'Toole also discussed fisheries issues. He asked me to spell out the importance of Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, on the Order of Business. I questioned the relevance of the motions because I do not like to propose motions which I do not understand. This is an old habit so I found out that the motions relate to integrating biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints and thumbprints, into a uniform format. I have been told that is what "biometric" means. The Senator also called for a summary of the Nally report. He agreed with Senator Brian Hayes that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should discuss the issue with the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing.
Senator Ryan also discussed the Nally report. While he accepts that there are national security concerns, he has reservations about the fact that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform seems to feel that every issue is a matter of national security. The Senator expressed his surprise at the Taoiseach's comments on Iraq over the weekend. He mentioned the case of a 14 year old girl who is alleged to have had an abortion in England at a very advanced stage of her pregnancy. She had been pregnant for 23 weeks, which is almost six months. The House will discuss for an hour this afternoon a motion on the appointment of the Ombudsman for Children, who will play a big role in respect of matters such as the well-being of children. I suggest to Senator Henry also that she can discuss such issues this afternoon.
Senator Ryan also discussed the funding of Sinn Féin. I have heard that Sinn Féin has offices in parts of the country where it does not have any Members of the Oireachtas, or even of local authorities. I know it is targeting every local authority area in next year's local elections. Sinn Féin is committed to its cause and determined to get its candidates elected. The issue of funding is a serious one, particularly if other parties cannot match Sinn Féin's funds or are not allowed to do so. Sinn Féin should give a full explanation of these matters. It is true, however, that funding can be flaithiúlach among members of other parties. Senator Ryan claimed that Sinn Féin targeted the County Kerry seat of the former Tánaiste, Dick Spring.
Senator O'Meara asked for a debate on the issue of domestic violence. She contacted me about a week ago to discuss the matter. An excellent report on domestic violence has been produced by Women's Aid. I hope a debate can be arranged for the first sitting week of the new year. The Senator also said that while others may approve of the new rail timetable, the Ballybrophy line is being ignored.
I thank Senator Dooley, who gave me credit for the initiative which led to the improvement of the rail line between Ennis and Limerick and other commuter lines. It is in the nature of things that one moves on. One rarely gets praise for what one has done, when another Minister is getting the praise.
Senator Ross was correct to mention that the circumstances in Iraq have changed. We all welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein, who was a dictator, has been captured. However, I do not welcome the fact that the President of the United States said on television that he wants Saddam Hussein to be executed.
I was not aware of the comments about the cost of decentralisation made by a representative of the German Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce, to which Senator Feighan referred. I do not know about the remarks in question, but I am sure that decentralisation will lead to a significant economic out-turn in the regions. It will be of enormous benefit.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Henry spoke about the supervision of children in the care of the State. I suggest to the Senator, who has made her case strongly in recent weeks, that she should raise the matter this afternoon when the Minister of State with responsibility for children comes to the House to discuss the motion on the appointment of the Ombudsman for Children.
Senator Fitzgerald welcomed the new method of capital funding, particularly the delegated finance to different schools, which is a very good idea. Senator Daly from Cooraclare should be allowed to have a little crow. I think Cooraclare is in Clare, but if the Cathaoirleach says it is in Limerick, that is where it is.