Tuesday, 6 April 2004
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the European Council meeting in Brussels, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time; No. 2, Maritime Security Bill 2004 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude at 3.15 p.m.; and No. 3, statements on the draft guidelines on ruralhousing (resumed), to be taken at 3.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with contributions of all Members not to exceed 15 minutes and Senators may share time. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
As the Leader is aware, the report of the sub-committee on the Barron report made a clear recommendation that a joint resolution in respect of the findings of the committee would be put to both Houses of the Oireachtas. When is it the Government's intention to put that motion on the Order Paper so the matter can be debated?
In my constituency on Saturday, as Members know, a grandmother was savagely killed in cold blood in her own house. She was another victim of the increasing violence and proliferation of guns in our society. It is clear that gun culture has taken hold and that we have an ongoing problem of violent assault on our streets. What plan of campaign does the Government intend to put in place to counter the threat posed to innocent citizens who stand in the way of these vicious thugs? When Veronica Guerin was savagely murdered some years ago, the Government of the day put in place a plan to bring down the drug gangs and criminals who challenged the State. We now need a plan to deal with the aggressive violence we see on a daily basis.
It has come to our attention that the number of front-line gardaí to counter this threat has gone down in recent years because of the prevalence of specialist units within the Garda Síochána. When does the Government intend to honour the commitment it gave at the last general election to introduce 2,000 additional members to the force? It is also important that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform clarify the comments he made yesterday about a proposal to introduce an amnesty for illegal weapons. We need to consider this proposal seriously and tease out the details because the prevalence of guns in our society is causing havoc and chaos for families throughout the country. The Government needs to respond urgently to this crisis.
During the war on Iraq and the subsequent occupation the Leader has been diligent in ensuring that we debated the issue in the House at regular intervals. Will she arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House for another debate as soon as possible? We have spoken about the detained prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, but there are probably 15,000 people detained in Iraq. Their families do not know where they are being detained. This reminds them all too clearly of the conditions that prevailed under Saddam Hussein. The Leader may not have time to organise this debate before the end of the session but I ask her to make sure it takes place as soon as possible after we come back.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to attend the House to discuss waste management. Yesterday, the Minister launched a report on Ireland's waste management over the next five years and said we need more incinerators. We need to pose a number of questions to the Minister in this regard. For example, if incinerators are to be built, where will that leave all the waste that is being recycled? Given the lack of recycling infrastructure, waste that is currently scheduled for recycling may have to be burned to sustain incinerators.
Currently, recycled waste is being exported abroad but I would like to know what the Minister is doing to ensure that waste is not being incinerated in foreign countries. As far as I can see, he is more committed to incineration than recycling in this country.
A campaign is currently under way to promote the carrying of organ donor cards. Last week, many Members from both sides of the House attended a function run by the IrishKidney Association. A number of us signed organ donor cards at that event and I have had one since 1999. The Minister for Health and Children should do whatever he can through Government agencies to support this initiative which has the capacity to save lives. While Ireland has a good record of organ donations from deceased persons, commitments to donate through the donor card system are much rarer than in other countries. We should examine that area and encourage the Minister to support the donor card initiative.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of an amnesty for guns. It is clear that international experience has been positive in this respect because such amnesties have been successful. In his remarks that were quoted yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made it clear that anyone who had committed a firearms offence, and where forensic evidence showed that such a weapon had been used illegally, would be subject to prosecution when handing in the weapon. Many of us wanted to hear such an assurance. I take the Senator's point that there is a serious problem with regard to illegal firearms but I am confident the Minister will address it.
The ruthless killing of a 64 year old grandmother has shocked the nation. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform reiterated a commitment that was given in the programme for Government to go ahead with the appointment of 2,000 extra gardaí. I hope we will see a timeframe for the phased introduction of these extra gardaí because the Garda training depot at Templemore does not have the capacity to cope with such a dramatic expansion of places. I would like to think that the Minister's intent is serious and not necessarily linked to the forthcoming local elections in June. I look forward to the Minister outlining his programme for extra gardaí.
The smoking ban has been very successful and anyone who visited pubs and restaurants over the past two weeks will have seen a noticeable difference. The ban has improved the whole situation. An Oireachtas Member from my area, Deputy John Cregan, said that these reforms amounted to the introduction of a police state, but I regard the smoking ban as an enlightened move. The co-operation of smokers is evident from the fact that people congregate outside pubs and restaurants to smoke. However, if anyone was listening to the radio this morning, they would have heard an eminent surgeon from St. James's Hospital say that in his clinic on Monday morning, of six people with broken jaw bones arising from weekend incidents, three were smokers who were assaulted outside pubs. It is an unfortunate trend for this type of assault to occur as a result ofsmokers abiding by the law and co-operating with the ban. I know some Government Senators are smiling but I regard this——
I am appalled that Senators would laugh at this issue, when it is raised in a serious manner. A letter from an eminentsurgeon at St. James's Hospital was published in The Irish Times today and he spoke about the issue on a radio programme yesterday. He stated that three of the six people who came in with broken jaws over the weekend were assaulted while smoking outside public houses. This should not happen to people who co-operate with and abide by the law by going outside premises to smoke.
The House has debated Northern Ireland issues on several occasions, particularly the peace process and the GoodFriday Agreement and its subsequent implementation. However, the British Government's stance on the Pat Finucane murder is not helpful. Our Government, Mr. Justice Cory and the American Administration, by inference, have all expressed dissatisfaction with the British Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry. If the British Government persists with this refusal, the danger is it will lend weight and credence to the belief that not only was there collusion among the security forces but that it goes to the heart of the British Government. That will further alienate the Nationalist population. The House should debate this as soon as possible because it is not acceptable that the British Government should use the prosecution of a case as the reason for a delay. It is not fair to the Finucane family, which has set its hopes on this inquiry so that justice will be seen to be done. This House should continue its balanced and helpful debate because it has contributed to the climate in which progress has been made.
During the past few years, we have spent a great deal of time debating insurance issues, particularly those relating to car insurance. I ask the Leader to draw to the attention of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment a directive issued by the European Commission last week on car insurance. It involves political correctness going mad. The Commission believes that, although women have fewer car accidents than men, it is politically unacceptable that they should pay lower insurance premia and insurance companies should not discriminate on the ground of gender. The directive will be transposed into Irish law unless we protect ourselves against it. A similar direction was given last year whereby, because women live longer than men, they should pay into their pensions at a different rate. This is political correctness going wrong. If women have fewer car accidents than men, they should pay lower insurance premia and we should not have a directive foisted on us by the European Commission that states otherwise.
Legislation is being introduced today in Britain to place controls on telephone lotteries. I received a telephone lottery letter yesterday. It provided a post office box number rather than an address as a contact. According to the letter, one makes a telephone call and is guaranteed to win one of many prizes. Such a call costs a considerable sum. Last year a similar scheme operated in Ireland and one individual made €1 million. The company was then wound up but this was fully legal. The law was not broken because the prizes were correct.
This is the second telephone lottery letter I have seen. It congratulates me and tells me it is my lucky day because I have won a prize. I must telephone a number and the call will not cost more than €10. Ireland has led the way in terms of protecting its citizens through legislation such as that which provided for the smoking ban and the introduction of the plastic bag levy. The British are leading the way on this issue and we should examine what they are doing. I do not want Ireland to become a nanny state and I do not want us to be protected from everything but it is likely, if we are not careful, that legislation will be introduced to protect us from eating chocolate because it is not good for us. However, something must be done about this and we should ensure that what is happening in Britain is examined.
Will the Leader allocate time after the Easter recess to consider penal reform in light of the announcement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, about providing 1,000 prison places in Dublin, 800 on Spike Island and 150 new places in Castlerea, County Roscommon? Currently, approximately 250 people are in prison for the non-payment of debts, which is not the place for this offence. Mr. Paul Joyce, from the Free Legal Aid Advice Centre, published a report in May of last year entitled An End based on Means, which suggested a way out of this. A Private Members' Bill in 1999 provided for an attachment on earnings as the way to meet the non-payment of debts. It would be worthwhile to discuss and engage with the Minister on his proposals for the restructuring of the prison system and penal reform. Many of those in prison should be working in the community and helping people and An End based on Means offers options in this regard. Will the Leader have a debate on this document with a view to a Private Members' Bill to assist the Government in its work?
A Chathaoirligh, a lady was shot accidentally in Boyle, hit by a ricochet bullet from a .22 rifle fired possibly one and a half miles. Many people out shooting are using guns without proper training and it should be borne in mind that this lady, who is in Sligo General Hospital, is seriously injured and has had to have a bullet extracted from the back of her head. Will the Leader raise with the Minister the issue of the control of guns?
People prided themselves on the application of the three Rs in education. A survey on education today in the Irish Independent highlights the plague of the three Ds, drink, drugs and Deputy Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Education and Science. We have invited the Minister to the Seanad to outline his policies to deal with the problems in education, many of which he has exacerbated by destroying the morale of teachers. The survey of attitudes among teachers shows that 30% of teachers want to change his or her occupation; 43% are stressed; 33% have taught pupils who were under the influence of alcohol; and 71% have taught pupils who were disruptive in class. Education is in crisis. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline his policies in this House? The Minister, by not attending all the conferences on this occasion, has lost an opportunity to outline his policy. Talk is of little value and at this stage action is required.
I support the statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the points made by Senators Brian Hayes and Dardis on the proposed gun amnesty. It is important that something is done quickly. I hope the Minister will review the issue of firearms. All legally held guns are supposed to be held in safes, but that is not happening. As Senator Leyden pointed out a .22 rifle is not safe, certainly at a distance of a mile. People who receive licences are not getting the correct training. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is proposing to examine the issue of firearms and should do so in general. Some guns are close to being antiques and should be taken out of use.
I join colleagues in requesting the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to explain how and when he intends to honour his commitment in the programme for Government to provide 2,000 extra gardaí. As stated at the AGSI conference yesterday, front-line policing is at its lowest level for 20 years. That is an indictment of the Government. Are the extra gardaí to go the same way as the designated traffic corps, which appears to have been abandoned? The programme for Government seems now to have been nothing less than a programme for promises.
To conclude, I bow to general opinion. After yesterday's events, I agree that women have better memories than gentlemen.
I join Senator Ulick Burke in calling for a debate on disciplinary problems in classrooms in primary and secondary schools. While the problems referred to in the ASTI survey have their origins outside the school gate, they are manifested in the classroom to the detriment of teachers and pupils and reflect the fact that a significant swathe of parents seem to have opted out of their responsibilities regarding the welfare and education of their children. We must ask whether we are witnessing an unsavoury and unsatisfactory consequence of success and affluence. If so, it is one we can well do without.
I remind the House that a guidance counsellor system is in place throughout the second level system. Counsellors provide counselling in areas other than careers. This may be an appropriate time to review their role and to evaluate their contribution in addressing this recent phenomenon. Most schools have highly motivated teachers who are very competent and effective. They are addressing disciplinary problems very well, notwithstanding a significant and growing minority of students who have serious problems.
I support Senator Quinn who raised a very serious issue. In the past six to nine months, in particular, I have encountered many parents who have expressed extreme concern about scams involving telephone, card and letter lotteries. Students and other young people are being induced to respond to letters by way of telephone calls and otherwise on the understanding that they have been awarded or have won a prize. Notwithstanding the fact that one or two operations appear to have been legitimate, a significant scam is under way. This is a serious development over which there appears to be no control. The consequences can be major for certain families, particularly those on low incomes. It is time to bring the appropriate Minister to the House to address this issue. Legislation should be considered to halt this problem which has domestic and international origins.
I support Senator Ó Murchú's request for a debate on Northern Ireland. In keeping with the tradition of the House, such a debate should be held in a balanced and fair manner. We cannot afford to become bogged down by selective inquiries. The nature of the tragic conflict in Northern Ireland, which resulted in more than 3,000 deaths, means blame can be apportioned across all sides and boundaries. Therefore, we cannot allow ourselves to be dominated by selective inquiries or selective amnesia. I ask the Leader to take on board the suggestion I made some months ago that we debate the concept of a truth and reconciliation commission. That concept was enunciated in more detail at the weekend by the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, who, during a very thoughtful speech, spoke of the merits of a system which would allow debate and where forgiveness, truth and reconciliation would be at the core of our thinking on the Northern Ireland issue. I understand the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is also contemplating this issue. While we will never come up with a perfect solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, the idea of some type of forum or agenda where people can recount the dreadful tales which affected their lives and communities could be helpful. Members of this House could usefully debate and try to progress that concept and it is something which merits consideration as soon as possible after Easter.
Senator Brian Hayes asked when the House will debate the Government resolution on the report by the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We have had contact with the Taoiseach's office and we are awaiting a response. I believe the resolution will be laid before both Houses following which we hope to have a debate on it but we are awaiting the date for that. I thought we would have it this week but we hope to have it soon after the Easter recess.
Senator Brian Hayes also raised the murder of the woman in Tallaght. All of us were shocked by the random nature of that murder. All murders are wrong but the reason this woman was singled out is unexplained. It was a terrible thing to happen. The newspapers have been quite emotional about it, describing her as a living saint and so on. That is beside the point. I am sure she was a very fine parish worker but the way this murder happened was terrible and it shocked people when they heard about it. I agree with Senator Hayes, and I know the Minister would wish to come to the House because at the Garda conference yesterday he unfolded a comprehensive range of measures he intends to invoke including prison places and the guns amnesty, which the Senator mentioned. I understand from the newspapers, although I do not know because I have no word on it, that the Minister intends to go to Cabinet with his proposal. I stress I got that from newspapers and not from any direct knowledge. I accept there is a strong feeling abroad about murder, gangland killings, drugs and so on but I genuinely believe the Minister, Deputy Michael McDowell, will get on top of the difficulties we are all encountering.
Senator Henry called for a rolling debate on Iraq. I agree with that, though it will be difficult. It will be near the end of April when we return after the recess and I wish to publicly thank the various Departments and Ministers because we have never been left wanting for a Minister, even though it is extraordinarily difficult for them during the Presidency. It is particularly difficult to get anybody from the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is not their fault; they are just very busy. We will endeavour to have a debate on Iraq because it appears events there are spiralling out of control.
Senator Tuffy raised the issue of waste management and asked that the Minister come to the House to discuss the report he has just issued. I understand he or the Minister of State is due to come here this week, but we will endeavour to have a debate on waste management.
Senator Dardis raised the issue of organ donation. A campaign on this was launched last week and I meant to go but was unable. It is a very fine concept. He also spoke about a guns amnesty and said the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will address that issue.
Senator Finucane spoke about the need for additional gardaí and I hope we will hear of developments on this matter soon. I heard the consultant talking about smoking outside and it would be a terrible development if there was a fracas because people were outside smoking cigarettes.
Senator Ó Murchú called for a debate on Northern Ireland and specifically what Judge Cory said in his report about Pat Finucane. Such a debate would need to be taken by the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and would depend on their other engagements.
Senator Quinn spoke about car insurance. While I read about this matter, I did not fully understand it. He said that women currently get lower motor insurance rates and Europe wants to push these up to the same levels as those for men. I do not know whether we have fewer crashes or injuries than men, although most of the sad events of which we hear involve male drivers. We will ask the Tánaiste about the directive being prepared in Europe, as it falls within her remit. I cannot help smiling because women want equality, but not when it involves such changes.
The Senator also spoke about telephone lotteries. I have never received one of these letters but I understand that people are being told they will get unexplained wealth if they make a telephone call. While I presume they will not get any money, some people are gullible enough to believe they will. I remember chain letters that used to go around saying if someone receiving such a letter failed to send it to a further five people something dreadful, like the world ending, would happen. This seems to be a sophisticated version of that scam. Is someone making money out of this? Is it legitimate?
Senator Leyden spoke about penal reform. We should have a debate on this matter after Easter. Rather than taking up valuable prison space, we should identify some other way for those who are in prison for not paying debts to make amends. He spoke of the terrible accident that befell a lady in Boyle following a shot from a .22 rifle.
Senator Ulick Burke spoke about the three Rs. I have high regard for the Senator because he is a teacher but responsibility for children arriving to class drunk rests with the parents. Would a parent not be aware of a child going to school with drink taken? Where did the children get the drink or the money to buy it? It cannot be put down to anything in the education system and it certainly cannot be blamed on the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey. He will attend two of the three teacher conferences, those of the TUI and the INTO. He will not attend the ASTI conference because they could not work out a format. However, if it was possible in the case of the other two, it should have been possible to make arrangements for the ASTI conference. However, it was not the Minister's fault. He wanted to attend, but not in the traditional format. I have sympathy with him. As I said here previously, it is a real Via Dolorosa. The delegates metaphorically throw things at the Minister. It is not a fun visit.
It is verbal disruption. However, the survey showed that it is a serious matter. It is a reflection of society and is not the fault of the Minister for Education and Science.
Senator Moylan called for a complete review of the law on firearms. I accept that he has knowledge on that matter. Senator Cummins asked about the designated traffic corps and the additional 2,000 gardaí. I hope there will be news on the second matter. Apparently there were legal difficulties with the extension of powers to the proposed traffic corps.
Senator Fitzgerald said the role of guidance counsellors should be amplified and used to its full extent. He also supported the point raised by Senator Quinn. I wonder to whom the issue of a telephone lottery would be addressed? Perhaps we can discuss the matter later.
Senator Bradford sought a debate on Northern Ireland and referred to the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa. I recently heard the UK Prime Minister speak on this issue and perhaps we should also consider it. I am aware the previous Taoiseach also spoke on the issue. It is a fine concept but, at the end of the day, people want to see justice being done. We could then perhaps move into the area of truth and reconciliation.