Seanad debates

Friday, 19 December 2003

An Cathaoirleach: I wish to extend season's greetings to all Members and staff, particularly the ushers and reporting staff. I thank members of the press who report on the proceedings of the House, particularly Mr. Jimmy Walsh. I thank An Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke, for his wonderful help, the Leader of the House, the Deputy Leader, the Government Whip, the leaders and whips of the other groups and all Senators for their assistance and co-operation. I particularly wish to thank the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, the Clerk Assistant, Ms Jody Blake, and all the staff in the Seanad office for their assistance and courtesy in their dealings with me. I wish Ms Blake, who was hospitalised recently, a speedy recovery. I hope everyone will have a relaxing and peaceful Christmas.

Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, a motion, to be taken without debate, concerning the nomination of Members of Seanad Éireann to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission as provided for under the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 2003, which makes provision for three Senators to be members of the commission; No. 2, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board 2003 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 12 p.m; and No. 3, European Arrest Warrant Bill 2003 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2 p.m.

Mr. B. Hayes: I thank the Leader and Deputy Leader on behalf of the Fine Gael Party for their involvement in the subject matter of No. 1 in the past month. I thank them for their efforts in ensuring the best traditions of the House were upheld in terms of agreement, consensus and the recognition of all the party groups. Fine Gael Members appreciate their involvement as it was a difficult matter to reach agreement on.

With the agreement of this side of the House, we will be proposing during the first Private Members' time in the new year an all-party motion on the recognition of the Irish language within the European Union. It will be a motion to which all groups can lend their support and which will give weight to the Government's work, during the EU Presidency term, to upgrade the status of the Irish language within the EU.

I wish you, a Chathaoirligh, every happiness this Christmas. I wish the Clerk of the Seanad and her staff a happy Christmas. I wish the Clerk Assistant, Ms Jody Blake, a swift recovery from her recent illness. I also wish the Leader, leaders of the other groups and all Members a happy Christmas. When we return in late January—

Ms O'Rourke: Not so late.

Mr. B. Hayes: —I hope all Members will be fighting fit and looking forward to a healthy session in the new parliamentary year.

Mr. O'Toole: On the Order of Business, I am aware that it is a matter that has been taken without debate, but I am honoured to have been nominated to represent the House. I am giving a commitment to do my best, as will the other colleagues, to ensure the House and the interests of all Members in both Houses are represented well. It is an important step forward in giving recognition to the trade of public representation. We have pulled together to have a single voice to look after our best interests, which I undertake to do. While the Leader should feel free to do so, it will not be necessary for her to address me as commissioner from now on.

Ms O'Rourke: The first thing he can do is take us to lunch.

Mr. B. Hayes: I have thought of other words.

Mr. O'Toole: It is a long time since I have used these words so I will say them very slowly – I am in full agreement with the ASTI on the position it is now taking. It is absolutely unnecessary for the Minister for Education and Science to send a team of inspectors to see if teachers are at their posts next week. It is bad publicity for everybody as the school management is supposed to return the information on who is at school. If teachers do not turn up they pay the price. It is simply a cheap, populist act which is utterly unnecessary and achieves nothing. In terms of trying to pull matters into shape this is not a very good idea.

Last week I raised with the Leader the issue of the Government's progress on the implementation of the motion passed by the House on the last Wednesday in May regarding auctioneering and the sale of houses, and the undertaking that was given then. There should be a discussion on the outcome of that in Government time. We had a very good debate in the House on that matter, which was not party political as views and concerns were shared on both sides of the House. We need to progress this as there has been much development on this matter since then, for instance, the connection between auctioneers and those who provide mortgages, and many other matters. Even though this is the last sitting day, perhaps I might receive a communication in writing on this matter from whoever is dealing with it on the Government side of the House.

I join with the Chathaoirleach in offering the thanks of our group to the staff of the House, the ushers and all involved in the efficient running of the House who make our work a little easier, something we probably do not appreciate enough. I am aware that last year, when I was delivering a similar speech, I made an error in forgetting to convey my thanks to the Leader of the House, so I do that first on this occasion. I thank the Leader and the Deputy Leader for the work they have done. I especially thank the Government Whip who in many ways deals with all the difficult issues and has always been open, available, accessible and reasonable to deal with.

Mr. U. Burke: What about our group?

Mr. O'Toole: I also thank the Chathaoirleach and the various people who take the Chair at times throughout the year, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach. There are times when it is difficult and I thank the Chathaoirleach for his good humour and for his firmness when necessary. There is no harm in some firmness at times and putting down the boot, which he does with some style.

From the day I entered this House as an Independent, the levels of support and generosity given to me by the Clerk and the Clerk Assistant, and the level of skills they display in dealing with the most complex series of amendments to difficult Bills late at night in order to have them printed and ready for the following morning, is beyond compare in the public service.

Ms O'Rourke: That is true.

Mr. O'Toole: I extend to them our appreciation of their work, even though we often argue with the Clerk and the Clerk Assistant and long may that continue because as decent public servants they must be on the side of the Cathaoirleach and the establishment at all times. They certainly do their work properly.

Mr. McDowell: In respect of the appointment of the Seanad representatives on the commission, I join with Senator Hayes in welcoming the appointment. I wish Senator O'Toole well in his multifarious task of representing not just this House, but also the mixed gathering of Independents, or at least those who use that label for themselves in the other House. He should have a very entertaining time.

Maidir leis an méad atá ráite ag an Seandadóir Hayes i dtaobh na Gaeilge, nílim lán-chinnte go n-aontaím leis. Dar ndóigh, is teanga aitheanta í an Gaeilge taobh istigh den Aontas Eorpach agus is teanga oifigiúil í sa tír seo. Táimid an-bhródúil as an teanga. Ar an dtaobh eile, caithfimid bheith réasúnta agus loighiciúil ó thaobh ghníomhaíocht an Aontais de, agus má tá sé ar intinn ag an Seanadóir Hayes agus lucht Fhine Gael rún a chur os comhair an Tí, ba cheart dóibh é sin a dhéanamh. Tá súil agam go labhróidh sé linn i bPáirtí an Lucht Oibre roimh ré.

I join with others in wishing Members of the House and their relatives and friends all the best over the holiday season. I associate myself with the thanks to the Chathaoirleach and his staff and to the Clerk of the House in respect of all the work they have done over the last year.

We should recall that the Presidency of the European Union will be commencing on 1 January. This is the last time we will meet before that start date. It is a good reflection on the maturity of our relationship with the rest of the Union that we are no longer in awe of this sort of challenge.

Ms O'Rourke: That is true.

Mr. McDowell: We now assume that our Government and our officials will be up to the job. It is worth reflecting on the fact that other countries in the not so distant past, much bigger than Ireland, have not been quite so equal to the task as we expect our Ministers to be. Much though we might, on occasion, criticise the Taoiseach, it is safe to say that he is no Silvio Berlusconi. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Ms O'Rourke: Thank goodness for that.

An Cathaoirleach: Order please.

Mr. McDowell: I hope that Ministers and officials on whose shoulders this job will fall from 1 January will be successful, not just for Ireland but for the entire Union.

Mr. Dardis: Ar dtús báire ba mhaith liom focal a rá mar gheall ar an Ghaeilge. It is important that we have an agreed position on this matter as there is general unanimity in the House that we should deal with it, hopefully after Christmas.

A serious issue was raised last night on "Primetime", only part of which I saw, namely, that our accident and emergency services in the Dublin hospitals and throughout the country are being grossly overstretched late at night as a result of the abuse of alcohol. There is a great deal of violence, and some of the images we saw last night were horrific. I am aware that we have debated alcohol abuse in the past, but it is something the Leader might consider returning to in the new year, as it appears that a large proportion of the increased amount of money available to younger people is being spent on alcohol. Obviously there are serious issues arising from that.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach for their work during the year and the way they have conducted proceedings and defended the House. I thank the Leader and all the leaders of the groups, but I particularly thank the staff in the Clerk's office and wish Jody Blake well. We do not readily appreciate on all sides of the House the amount of work they must do on Bills and the scrutiny of amendments, which frequently means working late into the night under severe pressure to get amendments prepared and to have them in order for the following day. This work must be recognised.

I join in the thanks to the ushers and all the other staff of the Houses as well and the press, particularly Jimmy Walsh, and I wish the three incoming members of the commission well in their duties. Perhaps rather than them taking us to lunch we should take them to lunch and ingratiate ourselves.

Mr. B. Hayes: There is a deafening silence in response to that.

Ms O'Rourke: A deafening silence is absolutely right.

Mr. Finucane: Over the last few days we have witnessed a case where a bouncer received a sentence of four years in respect of a very severe incident that took place in a nightclub in Dublin. In the past few years we have seen the phenomenon of the growth in the number of bouncers, not only in nightclubs in larger cities, but in rural towns around the country. Many of these people are experienced in martial arts.

Senator Dardis referred to the effects of alcohol, an issue which was raised recently. Quite often conflict arises when a person may have taken some alcohol and a bouncer becomes involved in the situation, which may then become explosive and contentious. The person who has taken the alcohol is often the most vulnerable person in that case. Legislation was promised more than three years ago and I understand its drafting is at quite an advanced stage. Much legislation, particularly that relating to marine affairs, has gone through this House before the other House. This is a justice matter as is much of the legislation we are dealing with. The security industry wants the legislation and I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to prioritise this in order that the industry can be regularised.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: The proposal to have all-party support for official status for the Irish language in Europe has considerable merit. It would raise the national language above party politics and would bring credit to the Seanad. I hope a formula can be found to follow up on that suggestion.

Like all countries, Ireland has always demonstrated admiration and appreciation for our patriots. One of the foremost patriots in Ireland was Pádraig Pearse. Not only was he a patriot soldier, he was also a writer, a poet and an educator. In the minds of many, he is associated with the GPO and O'Connell Street. It was significant that a poll carried out by the Sunday Independent showed overwhelming support among those questioned for the suggestion that he be appropriately commemorated in the new layout of O'Connell Street. I ask the Leader to take this up with the appropriate Minister who might have discussions with the local authority with a view to responding to the wishes of the people.

Mr. Norris: I echo, without repeating, the compliments paid to you, a Chathaoirligh, and to the staff of the House. They were richly deserved and there is not a person in the House who would not agree with all of them. I also send my best wishes for recovery to Jody Blake of whose illness I have just heard.

Early in the next session, I would like to have one of our continuing series of debates on Iraq and the moral consequences of the war. It was very refreshing that yesterday an American court found that the US President did not have the right to go above the constitution and that the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay have a right to legal representation. This is an important endorsement of the kind of America whose values we all support. It is very important that this happen because President Bush is an ignorant bully and smaller tyrants like Mr. Sharon shelter in his malign shadow.

On No. 1, we are very lucky to have three such talented people to represent the Seanad and it is important that the Seanad be properly represented on the commission.

I refer to an item I raised yesterday concerning Sweny's chemist. I am very grateful to Mr. Jimmy Walsh for reporting it and to The Irish Times for having an extensive article thereon. It raises very serious issues. I ask the Leader to go back to the appropriate Minister as my suspicions appear to be well founded. I have raised this matter here twice before in the past 18 months and I predicted that there would be a fire. An elderly man was very seriously injured. The proprietor of the building ignored notices, letters and even court decisions. This cannot be tolerated. A citizen has been seriously injured as a result of this neglect. If I am correct, the same personnel were involved in the Academy cinema, formerly the Antient Concert Rooms. If developers get away with this, it will be a bad day. I ask the Leader to redouble her efforts in this regard to avoid a worse tragedy. Since there is now a mechanism to compulsorily acquire such a building, it should be done as rapidly as possible before there is a real tragedy and the building is completely lost.

Mr. Leyden: As we go into the Christmas season, in order to achieve the release of Aidan Leahy, who has been kidnapped in the Islamic Republic of Iran along with two German nationals, David Storm and Oliver Brug, we should contact the Iranian ambassador in Dublin. Mr. Leahy is from the midlands and lives in England. I thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, the former Minister, Mr. David Andrews, who is president of the Irish Red Cross, our ambassador in Tehran and members of the consular section of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who have all appealed to the kidnappers in the Islamic Republic of Iran to release these three young men whose families are deeply concerned about them. As everything that is said is transmitted around the world on the Internet, this House should appeal to those involved to release these men without harm.

Mr. U. Burke: I ask the Leader, as a former Minister for Education, to intervene as a matter of urgency with the Minister for Education and Science on his Scrooge-like directive to the inspectorate to go to every school in the country on 23 December to investigate—


Mr. U. Burke: The Minister has directed the inspectorate to go to the schools on the last school day before Christmas to find out whether the teachers are playing truant. This questions the integrity of every teacher and principal in the country. The Minister should turn his attention to far greater problems in education than this. It is an abuse of a professional body to ask it to investigate this matter. If that is its role, the Minister has lost the plot. As a former Minister for Education, the Leader should intervene as this is destroying the morale of every teacher. There is no recognition for the efforts of teachers.

Mr. Dooley: We have more teachers and more schools now.

Mr. Minihan: Where is Fine Gael's policy on benchmarking now?

Dr. M. Hayes: Following the remarks of Senator Ó Murchú and declaring an interest, I am relieved to find there is one item in the Sunday Independent from which at least one Member of the House takes pleasure.

In Northern Ireland, legislation is being introduced to provide protection for gay couples in enduring relationships. In the interests of converging the law on the island and meeting very real social and personal needs, perhaps the Leader could ask the Minister when such legislation will be introduced here.

Mr. Norris: I hope to introduce a Bill in the new year.

Dr. M. Hayes: Tá áthas orm go mbeidh díospóireacht againn fán Ghaeilge ach sula dtoiseoimid ar seanmóirí a thabhairt faoin Eorap agus stádas na Gaeilge, ba cheart dúinn amharc orainn féin agus a bheith ag smaoineamh an féidir an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn sa Seanad. B'fhéidir gur cheart dúinn lá a leagan amach ó ham go chéile le gnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge.

Like other Senators, I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your courtesy and consideration. I also thank the staff of the House. As a semi-attached Independent Member on this side of the House, I thank all my colleagues on both sides of the House for the great kindness I have met here.

Dr. Henry: I support the comments of Senator Norris about the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It is a relief to see that someone is finally telling the Bush Administration that this is an appalling situation in which to have these prisoners.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the Crisis Pregnancy Agency report as soon as we come back. It does not seem to have been debated anywhere else. All sides of the House agree that we should address its recommendations. We would be very glad if that could happen.

While I will not ask the Leader to try to do anything about the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002, the Bill will have been on the Order Paper for more than one year by the time the House meets again. It is extremely important. I regret the treatment given to those who will be affected by it. The important aspect of the matter is that they have no votes. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has brought forward a substantial amount of legislation but nothing has happened in respect of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill for a long time. I regret this very much. I will not ask the Leader to do anything more about it because I know she has done her best to organise the Committee Stage debate.

Mr. Coghlan: I am glad that agreement has been finally reached on the Seanad representatives on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I congratulate our very able representatives and everybody else involved in bringing about the agreement.

Members will have noted that the Central Bank expressed great concern in its latest quarterly bulletin about the possibility of the upturn in the economy being affected by our loss of competitiveness. We were not aware of its view when we debated the matter in recent days. Perhaps the Leader will arrange a return to the issue early in the new year. It may be possible to convince the Tánaiste to come to the House when we deal with it.

I congratulate Senator Brian Hayes on his proposal for an all-party discussion on the first official language. I hope the matter can be dealt with in the first week of the new session, as he suggested. The House should be able to take a unanimous approach to the subject.

In wishing you, Sir, a very happy Christmas I would like to be associated with the fine, kind, generous and well deserved words of good wishes to everybody – our staff, the ushers and everybody in the House.

Mr. Cummins: It has been reported that the Government has spent €100 million on consultants in the last three years. We know it needs all the help it can get but we have an excellent Civil Service.

Mr. Finucane: Hear, hear.

Mr. Cummins: I question the need to spend such an amount on consultants.

Mr. Minihan: We need an Opposition.

Mr. Cummins: I ask the Taoiseach or the relevant Minister to furnish the House at the earliest possible opportunity with a report that gives details of how the money was spent. We seem to have government by report rather than action. Perhaps the report will be furnished to us as soon as possible.

Dr. Mansergh: I support Senator Ó Murchú's proposal that a statue of Pádraig Pearse be erected on O'Connell Street in Dublin. It is to the credit of the Sunday Independent that the report was published by it. I stress, however, that I do not agree with the suggestion made by a former colleague of mine some months ago that the statue of Fr. Mathew be removed from O'Connell Street. Such a move would represent a final and unconditional surrender.

I join Senator McDowell in wishing the Irish Presidency the very best. He might be interested to know that a report in the Financial Times yesterday stated the beginning of the Irish Presidency was being greeted in Brussels with a sigh of relief.

I am extremely honoured to have been nominated as a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I will do my very best to uphold the interests of this House which has an important place in our democracy and all of the staff of the Houses who have been entrusted to our care and to whom such fitting tributes have been paid.

Mr. Browne: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to come to the House to specify the documentation criteria or guidelines for those flying with different airlines? Some airlines demand a full driving licence or passport. I was made aware last night of the amazing case of a 78 year old woman who was going to her mother's funeral in Cardiff but was not allowed to board the aeroplane because she did not have her full driving licence with her. No consideration was given to the bus pass she showed, or the fact that brother was travelling with her. I reiterate that a 78 year old lady missed her mother's funeral because of the policy of Ryanair which would not allow her to board the aeroplane. It would be no harm for the Minister to come to the House to outline the position in respect of identification. I am aware that Aer Lingus does not insist on identification for short flights.

Ms Feeney: I join Senator Henry in asking the Leader to try to arrange a debate when we come back in the new year on the recently published report of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. I would welcome a debate on this excellent report which would be worthwhile.

Ms O'Rourke: While we are talking about the next term, perhaps it is appropriate that I should mention that the House will sit again on Wednesday, 21 January 2004. This will be confirmed when the House adjourns. The Dáil will return on Tuesday, 20 January.

I thank the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, for his comments and proposal for a motion on the Irish language which can be agreed by all sides. As we come to a consensus on the matter, all that remains is to agree a suitable means of discussing it and a date for such a debate. I am keen for the motion to be taken immediately when we come back.

Senator O'Toole, who may now be termed a commissioner, sought a debate on auctioneering. He asked for a written communication on the status of the report. I have been told that guidelines and a report are being drawn up. I will endeavour to have the matter cleared up for the Senator and the House.

It was appropriate that Senator McDowell wished the Irish Presidency of the European Union great success ahead of the start of our six month term in that role. It is a huge endeavour, given that history will be made in May 2004 when the ten applicant countries will join the Union. The Senator also expressed his support for the Irish language.

Senator Dardis spoke about the effect of alcoholic drink on accident and emergency units throughout the country while Senator Finucane called for legislation to provide for the regulation of bouncers who work in nightclubs and pubs. I agree that this is very necessary.

I thank Senator Ó Murchú for consistently championing Irish language issues. The Senator also called for Pádraig Pearse to be properly commemorated in the new layout of O'Connell Street.

Senator Norris called for a debate on Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. In that regard, I was pleased to read about the recent judgment in the United States. The Senator also spoke about Sweny's Chemist which is well highlighted in today's edition of The Irish Times. I do not know where to go with that issue. I am sure it is one for Dublin Corporation. We will check with it.

Senator Leyden mentioned that three men were imprisoned in the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of whom, Mr. Aidan Leahy, is from the midlands. He asked for steps to be taken to facilitate their release. It is a very proper point to make.

Senator Ulick Burke was exercised by the actions of the Minister for Education and Science. If the standardised school year is not laid out in a smart manner in the beginning, it may begin to slip again.

Senator Maurice Hayes said the House could do much to support the Irish language by having an all-Irish day. It is a very good idea, although some of us would need to brush up. I can understand everything said to me in Irish but struggle to speak it in return despite the fact that I studied it in first year arts. All Members were informed about the very good classes taking place. Perhaps the all-Irish day, the need for which I accept, would provoke us to attend such classes.

The Senator also asked for a debate on the future shape of gay relationships. A report on the matter has been produced as a consequence of the work of Maureen Gaffney and the NESF. I understand Senator Norris proposes to bring forward a Private Members' Bill on the subject in the new year which will be interesting to see.

Regarding the points raised by Senator Henry, I hope we will have the debate on the Crisis Pregnancy Agency report in the first week of the new session. It is very worthwhile. Senator Feeney also asked that it be brought forward here.

Senator Coghlan mentioned competitiveness in view of the European Central Bank's statement while Senator Cummins was worried about the level of spending on consultants. Senator Mansergh said he would support the Pádraig Pearse proposal and the Irish Presidency. We should be very pleased that the officials are happy to see Ireland assume the Presidency but I would be wary of always being delighted with officials. In any case, I still think we are well able to run it.

Senator Browne raised the matter of Ryanair. He should not draw me on the gentleman concerned on the eve of Christmas. Marriage does not seem to have suited him at all.

An Cathaoirleach: The Leader should be careful.

Ms O'Rourke: I have mentioned no names. I will be extremely careful.

Mr. Coghlan: He must be Deputy Cassidy's supporter.

An Cathaoirleach: Order, please. He is not present in the House.

Ms O'Rourke: Everyone who spoke commended the Cathaoirleach, and I do the same. In the general run of things, we all have ups and downs in life and how we go about our business. Clearly, the Cathaoirleach has been the force directing and guiding us, by which we are very honoured.

I also thank the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Lane, and her staff in the office. They are of great worth and marvellously competent in the work that they do.

I thank Senator Moylan who keeps me straight as well as himself for keeping us all organised. I particularly thank the leaders of the groups, the Whips and the ushers. We had many important people coming to us. Of course, we are all important but the ushers put their best foot forward and their best uniforms on and made a great cut of showing the Seanad off to its best advantage when visitors came.

I thank Members of the Seanad of all parties and none, the agnostics as well as the believers, for the way in which they conducted their business and co-operated with me in running matters. I thank Mr. Eamonn McCormack. We have a very small office and I appreciate all of the work he put in.

My wish for everyone is that they have time for their immediate and extended families, being able to spend a while enjoying their company and sharing happiness with them.

Order of Business agreed to.