Tuesday, 27 April 2004
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, a referral motion to be taken without debate whereby the subject matter of No. 19 on today's Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for discussion — this concerns the exercise by the State of the options under the fourth protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam in respect of a proposal for a Council decision establishing the European Refugee Fund for the period 2005 to 2010; and No. 2, statements on agriculture, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contribution of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. I am not pushing the option to share time as we would prefer if Members used their full time. The Minister shall be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements.
I welcome the Cathaoirleach's ruling. I had only attempted to raise the point that Members, understanding their obligations under the Constitution, would never seek to overstep the mark in respect of difficult issues that may arise in the future. It is important that due process would be at the centre of our dealings with this case. That was all I wanted the Cathaoirleach to say and I appreciate that he did so.
Will the Leader provide time for the Minister for Education and Science to come before the House to explain the outrageous involvement by the Department of Education and Science, at his behest, in the publication of information to selected parties? Since the foundation of the State, the independence of our Civil Service has been a cornerstone of our democracy. Now we have a case of a Minister directing his Department to produce selective information for the consumption of one particular party, namely his own. This is an outrageous abuse of power. I ask the Leader, a distinguished former Minister for Education who would never do such a thing——
——to ensure the Minister comes before the House so that we have an explanation of this case. The Taoiseach looked into his conscience over the weekend and it won out. We had one position on Friday in terms of what the Taoiseach said and another position by Sunday afternoon. This is totally wrong and it undermines the independence of our excellent Civil Service. A statement from the Minister should be forthcoming at this time.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regularly chastises the other House, not so much this House, in respect of the progress of legislation. When is it intended that Committee Stage of the Garda Síochána Bill will be taken? This is important legislation, not least because of the Garda ombudsman and other matters. We need to work on the Bill on Committee Stage in order that the entire matter is resolved before the summer recess. When will Committee Stage of this important Bill be taken in the House, in the light of the comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the speedy and efficient use of time to deal with legislation?
I fully respect the Cathaoirleach's ruling that we must be careful in how we deal with the case raised earlier. It would be utterly inappropriate for us to come to conclusions or to offer views on individuals in the context of something we may have to deal with in the future.
Without any reference to the details of the case, there are broad general principles about which we need to know something. This is no reflection on anything we may have to deal with in the future on the rights and wrongs of a particular case. I am not talking about that but I want answers. I want to know how it happened that incorrect warrants were used. I want to know the DPP's thinking on the issue. As elected public representatives, without making any reference whatever to the individual or the individual case, which we may have to do in the future——
I am aware of that and both the Cathaoirleach and I are also aware that in the course of the past 18 months the DPP took the unusual step of explaining his position in one case. I think this is another such situation. The House needs information. It could at some stage in the future be called upon to act on the constitutional position and I want to know from whence the information will come to enable the House to make a judgment at that time. That is all I ask. There are issues of which we are not aware and it is nothing to do with any side of the House or anybody else. I just wonder how we can be informed while, at the same time, I fully respect the judgment of the Cathaoirleach. He is correct; it would be very wrong of us to act and focus on the case.
However, I need to know how we came to this position. There is an issue regarding trust and confidence in the general operation of the Judiciary. That trust and confidence needs to be restored and I wonder how that can be achieved. I will go no further on the matter but I ask the Cathaoirleach to mention it again in the House tomorrow and to state if there is some method by which the House can be better informed in a way that will not potentially conflict with our constitutional duties and responsibilities.
In terms of cynicism, hypocrisy and the destruction of confidence in the system, I have never met so many angry partners in education as I have over the past five days since this issue arose. No more than in the previous case, I do not know the ins and outs of the case but, from the point of view of pupils, teachers, principal teachers, boards of management, parents and any of those involved in the running of schools, the idea that resources in the Department of Education and Science are apparently being used — this may be incorrect — in support of a particular party, even if it is a Government party, is completely wrong and I am confident Members on the other side will agree with me. The Taoiseach seems to agree with that point of view.
The House has a duty to restore public confidence in the system. It would be appropriate for the Minister to come to the House to explain why this has happened and what are the true facts so that neither his character nor that of anyone involved can be taken away. The House should hear the full story from the Minister's point of view and Members can then offer their views. This is simply breeding cynicism in the world of education and none of us could say otherwise. I know members of the Government party share my view in that regard.
The annual report of Waterways Ireland has been laid before the House. It would be appropriate for the House to discuss the annual report of this all-Ireland body. With particular reference to the Cathaoirleach's part of the world, when will it be possible to take boats through the beautiful midland counties of Longford and other places and do a full circuit from one end of the Shannon to the other through Dublin? I ask that this matter be discussed as soon as possible.
I wish to mention the case of the three men in Colombia who were found not guilty of the major charge against them. The case against them appears to have been fundamentally flawed. For that reason and for the sake of their families the verdict is to be welcomed. I support calls for the men to be returned even if that means they would have to serve their sentences here. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department to consider this option. I have the same view on prisoners abroad in a similar plight and it is a general principle that should be applied. If this case is debated in the House, questions should be asked about why people travel on false passports, particularly at a time when the issue of Irish citizenship is being examined.
I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister for Education and Science about the plight of Mr. Tom Sweeney who is on the 13th day of his hunger strike outside Leinster House. I spoke today to him and his representatives. He has grievances about his experience with the redress board. The group SOCA is talking to him. In a letter the Minister for Education and Science stated he did not have time at present to meet them.
I urge the Leader to ask the Minister to meet this man to discuss his grievances and see what can be done.
I ask the Leader to contact the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to discuss an issue raised by the Mandate trade union, namely, trading on Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. By opening on these days, the large stores and multiples are acting in an anti-family manner. They should refrain from opening on at least a few days of the year, specifically Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day and Easter Sunday.
There are 365 days in a year. I oppose the growing tendency of the large multiples to open on Sundays, a day on which only small stores used to open. It is an anti-family approach because it is the only day of the week when families can be together.
It has bolted as far as Sunday is concerned, but not as far as Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day and Easter Sunday are concerned. I ask the Leader to consider this matter and to request the Government to introduce legislation on it. Senators could also introduce a Private Members' Bill to address it.
We should, in as far as possible, try to pull back from shopping on Sunday, which appears to be the new religion. It is unacceptable that the large do it yourself stores and supermarkets have started to open on St. Patrick's Day, Christmas Day and Easter Sunday as it shows little regard for family life.
Many of those who watched the "Prime Time" programme last night, during which the Tánaiste was quoted liberally, will have found it disturbing. Much of the recent success of our economy has been made due to the large number of people working here on work permits. It was interesting that RTE researchers were able to identify many abuses of the permits' system in a short period.
Migrant workers depend on being well looked after when they come here but they are trapped by their potential employers who retain their work permits for 12 months. In light of these circumstances, I call on the Tánaiste to come before the House to discuss the matter and reassure Senators that those who come here, in many cases to take jobs Irish workers refuse to do, are looked after properly. Our reputation depends on such workers being treated with respect.
I support the comments of Senators Leyden and Finucane. At the end of the week we will welcome ten new member states into the European Union. I hope we will have celebrations and demonstrations of welcome for this event, rather than protests. As Fianna Fáil finance spokesman, I am concerned that we must spend considerable sums of money on security. I hope there is no Irish person who does not welcome ten new member states.
Given that we are welcoming a further ten member states and approximately 80 million more people into the European Union, it is clear that the EU is not fortress Europe and I hope we will not create a fortress Ireland in its place. I ask that the House call on professional agitators to give it a rest for one day and join in the celebration of what may be one of the most historic events of our lifetime.
This week the British Government announced its intention to introduce identity cards and published draft legislation to that effect. While it could be argued that the issue is none of our business, our experience has been that when the British take a step of this nature, as they did with regard to the Schengen Agreement, it has implications for us. The published Bill proposes a fine of £2,500 for those who do not complete the necessary forms, which will have implications for this country. In the even that the British proceed with this proposal, we must ensure we have some say on the matter and at least voice our opinion on it. Identity cards may be a positive development, but we should ensure the British do not proceed with them without taking into account our views.
I was in a Government office on the other side of Dublin recently and I noted they had access to the television broadcasts in this House. That is very worthwhile but when I asked questions I discovered it costs little to have that access. Such broadcasts should therefore be made accessible to the entire nation. If this House and its legislation is to be opened to the public, we should make every effort to encourage people to have this facility. It would act as an incentive for Members to participate fully, as we already do, and both Houses and the committees would benefit from it. Much work is carried out in this House for which the Members get little recognition in the press.
I support Senator Tuffy's request for a speedy return of the Colombia Three, notwithstanding the fact that it has been presented as if they had got lost on the bus. There were certainly in Colombia for some reason. However, the reality is that their lives could be in danger.
I also share Senator Leyden's view that trading hours should be regulated. When I worked in the retail trade I was asked to open on a Sunday as there was a Sky promotion with Eircom at the time. I said I would not open for the sun, moon or the stars. We should have standards and maintain them, especially with larger stores.
I hope the discussion on the Bill on citizenship will take place in an open and generous fashion, so we can keep our céad míle fáilte. We should not lose sight of the fact that this Bill is trying to wipe out abuse of the system and nothing else. Ireland is an open, friendly and appreciative nation to the people who are here working and creating wealth.
I support my colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, and Senator O'Toole on their request that the Minister for Education and Science come into the House and explain his actions over the past couple of days. The Leader of the House is aware, from her own experience in the run-up to the last general election, of the importance and the effect of ministerial letters. However, when it consists of a ministerial information pack, everyone can understand how beneficial that will be to spin doctors on the ground working for selected candidates. What was behind his actions? Why did he think it was necessary to spend so much time on this? He said he did not have the time to debate educational matters in other areas during the Easter recess.
We all welcome the improvements in infrastructure, particularly in roads throughout the country. However, it has gone too far when one of the most important world heritage centres is being decimated by road development. This is the case with Ardsallagh, Tara and the Boyne Valley. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Minister for Transport should come before the House and indicate that this must stop. Nobody wants these prehistoric sites destroyed in the name of progress on road transport. The Ardsallagh site has been identified as one of international importance. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the NRA can relocate certain sections of motorways in the country. Those who want to preserve heritage are not anti-progress regarding transport. However, they are saying that these activities must be stopped, that their heritage must be preserved and that it cannot be lost in this way.
I also welcome the not guilty verdicts pertaining to the so-called Colombia Three, who were acquitted of the major charge of training FARC guerrillas. I pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials for their work and to Senator White for her special interest and the many trips she made to Colombia.
Like my colleague, Senator Finucane, I draw attention to the findings of the RTE "Prime Time" programme shown last night. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to address a number of issues that arose in that programme and which highlighted the plight of many immigrants working in Ireland, some of whom are exploited by their employers and others of whom are exploited by unscrupulous individuals. We need to address the anomalies that arose in the programme. Comment was made on one official who may not have been working within the boundaries to which we would expect such officials to adhere.
If immigrants, who contribute hugely to our economy, are being abused — we certainly heard of abuses last night — we need to address the problem. I would like the two Ministers to outline the steps they will take to ensure there is no abuse of these vulnerable people, who are far from their homes and who are trying to make Ireland their home.
I welcome the call for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to discuss the issuing of information from his Department because, when he does so, he will expose the bogus nature of some of the assertions that are flying around, particularly those made by Fine Gael.
First, the information in question was already available. Second, I understand the Fine Gael spokesperson on education in the other House sought full access to all the files on disadvantage in the Department of Education and Science last month and had all the relevant documents made available to her. The issue about which allegations are being made is being portrayed as unprecedented in the history of the State.
I have heard complaints from some retired teachers in my constituency that they have not received their pensions or that their pensions are very delayed as a result of the activities in question. I challenge Senator Fitzgerald and the Minister to clarify in the House whether this is the case. If so, it is a disgrace that pensioners, including retired teachers, are being sacrificed to the gain of Fianna Fáil local election candidates.
On Senator Tuffy's point on the protest outside the gates of Leinster House, the Leader is aware that we were waiting for a supplementary Bill on the redress board to come before the House. We were promised we would have it before Christmas. I know of one case where a lady is waiting for the institution she attended to be listed in the Bill. It has taken four or five months longer than planned. Perhaps the gentleman outside the gates of the House is connected with that as well.
When the Minister for Education and Science is in the House, he should outline what stage that Bill is at. It is important that those who were victims of child abuse in the institutions in which they stayed get the compensation they deserve. However, the institution must be listed before that can happen. There has been a delay of at least five months in regard to this Bill.
Over Easter, a group of Travellers or commercial traders arrived in Carlow town and caused chaos. We are now entering that season again. People were locked into pubs in Carlow, taxis were destroyed and Garda vehicles were set upon and destroyed. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should come into the House to outline what steps he can take because this is a disgrace. I understand the Criminal Assets Bureau has powers in this area. It is time to take these people on as they are giving everyone a bad name. If they want equality, we should give it to them.
I join with my colleagues who expressed their concerns about the Minister for Education and Science. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach, in light of the comments he made following the revelations about the Minister for Education and Science and his activities in distributing these packs, whether an investigation is taking place to establish whether any other Ministers are doing the same for Government candidates in the local elections? The Taoiseach was right when he pointed out that what the Minister did was wrong, and I pay tribute to him in that regard. I want to be certain an investigation is taking place to ensure other Ministers are not doing the same.
Will the Leader arrange a debate as soon as possible on the Ombudsman's report? I did not catch the full gist of an interview with the Ombudsman on one of the national radio channels earlier today but it seemed to indicate a huge increase in the number of complaints against local authorities, particularly their planning sections. We should have a debate on the Ombudsman's findings as soon as possible.
I join my colleagues in condemning the Minister for Education and Science for using Department staff to compile literature for Fianna Fáil election candidates. It is regrettable and I hope these actions cease. The Government has 81 press officers and it is incredible that on Friday, the Taoiseach felt he was misrepresented by the media and could only find out about the situation from the national media.
I wish to ask about the superstores. Over the past ten years Ireland has changed in terms of shopping patterns. The Government has done nothing to protect small businesses. Ten years ago there were 259 small businesses, comprising small shops and stores, in my county yet today there are only 59. If rates, insurance and other costs continue to rise, small businesses will not be able to compete. Will the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come into the House to outline the issues she intends to address to save small businesses? The high street in England is finished and if we do not protect small businesses with incentives and against costs, the main streets and the small businesses, the people we represent, will be finished.
Senator Brian Hayes welcomed the Cathaoirleach's remarks about recent events, as I am sure we all do, and the clarity with which he expressed them. The Senator also raised the matter of the Minister for Education and Science and spoke about the independence of civil servants and the Taoiseach's remarks. As I understand, when the Taoiseach found out the innocent nature of the material, he changed his mind. The material was not all delivered in huge glossy labelled packs.
They were simple facts which can be accessed on the website or from officials within the Department. I do not know the full facts but this is what I have gleaned. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has been very open in saying the matter has been referred to the Standards in Public Office Commission, which will deliver its verdict on the matter. He said he will abide by that verdict.
In reply to Senator O'Toole, anybody who wants the facts should have them. They should not be the preserve of a particular party. No one should have a difficulty with that position. He said there was great cynicism in education circles about the matter. However, when the full facts are known and when the Standards in Public Office Commission completes its report, it will be clear that it involved facts that are available to anyone who wishes to access them.
Most people spoke in a pejorative sense. I am not referring to Senator O'Toole but many Members spoke as if the Minister should be hung, drawn and quartered. My view is that when the facts are known it will be a different matter.
The Senator asked for a debate on Waterways Ireland, which I would like. I, the Senator and others spent a very pleasant day on the waterways of Ireland — people will say we are galloping around the country although I will not say rollicking — and it would be good to have a debate.
Senator Tuffy welcomed the verdict on the Colombia Three. During the debate on the Order of Business, most Members did not refer to Senator White, the one person from this House who went to Colombia, although Senator Kitt mentioned her. Fair dues to Senator White, she stuck to her guns — I apologise, that is the wrong word.
She is not back yet in any event. I would like clarity on what will happen to the prisoners because the final outcome is not clear.
The gentleman outside the gates of Leinster House, Tom Sweeney, is protesting about the redress board and he is on hunger strike. Senator Tuffy requested that the Minister speak to him to see if the matter can be addressed.
Senator Leyden referred to the large multiples. All these stores are open on Sunday regardless of whether we like it. However "special days" such as St. Patrick's Day, Christmas Day or other days is a separate matter. These days should be kept sacred, not in a religious sense but sacred in terms of non-opening.
Senator Finucane referred to the "Prime Time" programme, which I did not see. However, I have heard much comment about it. I am aware of a particular case in a particular town which involves some legal matters. As Senator Terry said, these people are doing difficult work our citizens do not wish to do. They are entitled to proper working conditions like everyone else. We should consider what happened in the UK when 19 Chinese cockle pickers died. Just because people come from another country does not mean they should be paid less. The labourer is worthy of his hire at whatever the rate of pay is for the work to be done.
Senator Mansergh welcomed the ten new accession countries. I agree that we should tell the professional agitators to get away because we do not want them. They are trying to turn what will be a day of great pride, enjoyment and welcome into a day of mayhem. Let us hope there will not be mayhem because it will be a day of great rejoicing for the whole of Europe.
Senator Quinn referred to the proposed identity card legislation in the UK and asked that our views be sought on the matter. The Senator also asked about an Oireachtas television channel to show Dáil and Seanad debates, about which I made inquiries before Christmas when it was last raised. There is interest in having such a channel although there are doubts about audience numbers and whether it would enthuse or excite people greatly. I do not know the answer but there would be a dedicated following for a proper Oireachtas channel and I will make further inquiries.
Senator Hanafin called for the speedy return of the Colombia Three and also referred to the issue of Sunday trading. I think Sunday shop opening is here to stay.
I myself shop on Sundays. It is an enjoyable way of meeting people and getting one's business done. I do not see any harm in it although I exempt special days.
Senator Hanafin also said that we should keep our céad míle fáilte when we are discussing the Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2004 on Friday. In case the House thinks I am imbued with a demanding disposition, the Bill will not be finished in the Dáil until Thursday which is why we must sit on Friday.
Senator Ulick Burke requested the Minister for Education and Science to come before the House and raised the issue of archaeological sites at Ardsallagh, Tara and the Boyne Valley. I am told that the old road near Tara was in a worse position in respect of its proximity to the historic site, although I do not know the details. A female archaeologist with the NRA spoke about the matter on "Morning Ireland" this morning.
Senator Kitt welcomed the verdict in the case of the Colombia Three and expressed his appreciation for the efforts of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and Senator White. Senator Terry raised the recent "Prime Time" programme about immigrants. I agree with her that it is a poignant issue because these people are far from home, are not able to access their rights and do not know what to do or if people will talk, listen or pay any attention to them. There is a real case for the proper regulation of immigrants who are working here.
Senator Fitzgerald requested the Minister for Education and Science to come before the House to explain the issues clearly and people will see there is nothing nefarious in what he is attempting to do through his proposals. He also referred to a politicised unit some time ago in, I believe, the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Senator Browne asked when the redress board Bill would come before the House and I will ascertain this information. The Senator also told us about the commercial Travellers who descended in numbers on Carlow and I am sure mayhem ensued although I do not know the details.
Senator John Paul Phelan asked whether other Ministers are doing the same as the Minister for Education and Science. Departments are great nowadays — when one calls them, the information one requires is sent out. One can also access websites for other information, therefore, I am not sure this is as devious as we are being led to believe. We will debate the first report of the Ombudsman, Ms O'Reilly, as we debated the creation of her office.
Senator Feighan spoke about the superstores versus the smaller shops, which is an old argument. The Senators asked who would protect the small stores but one cannot do that because it is a free market. In times past, I would have bemoaned the issue too but shoppers will go where the prices are lower, of that there is no doubt. The Senator also said that insurance premiums raise the cost of everything.