Thursday, 20 May 2004
Business of Seanad.
The Order of Business is No. 1, the Adoptive Leave Bill 2004, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes.
Yes indeed. In politics, that is the maxim. It is time we had a debate on the ever-worsening crisis in the Middle East. Yesterday and last week we saw a new low in terms of attacks by the Israeli Army on an innocent civilian population in Gaza. Can we remind the Israeli Government that well over 70% of the Israeli people want the occupied territories handed back to the Palestinian people and the Israeli troops removed from the Gaza Strip? There is overwhelming support for that not only in Israel but throughout the world. Is it significant that for the first time in many years the Americans yesterday failed to back the Israelis in a UN resolution at the Security Council? It is important that the Minister for Foreign Affairs should attend the House, perhaps in the next week or so——
The Minister is President of the EU Council of Ministers. He has expertise and knowledge and has worked with other countries in trying to find a solution in the Middle East. We need statements on this issue. Europe needs to have its voice heard in this regard and I urge that statements be made on the matter as soon as possible.
On the Order of Business yesterday I noted how important it is for Senators to deal with the process of impeachment and for us to have clarification on the Government's thinking on the issue. I noted that the Government must also recognise that Members of this House must have an input. I express my appreciation to the Leader for setting up a meeting with the Attorney General to clarify some of these issues. While that is very useful and may move the issue forward, this House is required under the Constitution, the same one which gives us the power of impeachment, to order its own business. There is no precedent in this area. It is inappropriate and quite unacceptable for the Government, which under the Constitution has no part in the impeachment process, to establish the procedures by which we would conduct our business in this House. The Government might well have views on that, but it is reasonable that those views should come through the Government parties in the House.
We need a discussion, which will not deal with the individual case, on how the matter is to be handled. Before we begin, we must know how we will proceed. I have looked closely at how such a matter was dealt with in the Indian Parliament more than ten years ago. I will not go into the details, but it became an extraordinary mess.
Yesterday I suggested a discussion with the Attorney General in order to clarify matters. Subsequently I want this House to ask how it should deal with the issue and advance matters. It may be that the matter must then be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It might be reasonable to suggest that, but it would be unreasonable to ask CPP members to deal with the matter in a vacuum. The views of all Members of this House on this matter are important. We should listen and understand. In a situation such as the one under consideration, what would be the burden of proof? Must it be beyond reasonable doubt, or what? We do not know. There are many issues to be discussed so that people can subsequently say they dealt with the matter as honestly and openly as possible, and then came to certain conclusions. People might criticise our conclusions but at least we could then show that we did our business honourably, dutifully, responsibly and in terms of procedure, correctly. At that stage someone might want to test the procedure or process in the High Court or the Supreme Court. If so, so be it, but we will know that we are safe in entering such a situation. If we proceed otherwise, the process might then be challenged in 20 different venues and we would be left in this House waiting for the outcome.
We must deal with this matter on an all-party basis, with every Member having an equal voice. I would be horrified to think the Government would attempt to advance this matter by itself. That would be wrong and unacceptable and would put many of us offside on the issue, whatever the critical issue might be.
I refer first to the decision yesterday by EU Commissioner David Byrne to in effect allow the sale of genetically modified foods in Europe, specifically a form of genetically modified sweetcorn. Two issues arise in this area, the first being the decision itself and the second the manner in which it was taken.
To put it very mildly, it is unfortunate that the decision was taken by the Commission in the absence of a qualified majority at the Council of Ministers. Such decisions should ideally be taken by Parliament or by the direct representatives of the national governments. For the decision in question to be taken by the Commissioner or by the Commission generally, particularly in the circumstances which obtained, was to say the least unfortunate.
I am among those with a totally open mind regarding genetically modified foods. If it can be shown that the science involved is safe, I have no difficulty with the sale of such foods being allowed. We need a much better public debate than we have had so far, and this House might facilitate such a debate.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes regarding the appalling actions of the Israeli defence forces yesterday in Gaza. These were brutal acts of terrorism in the literal sense. What they did yesterday was clearly intended to, and had the effect of, inflicting terror on a large portion of the civilian population of that part of Gaza.
I listened with growing incredulity to the apologists for the Israel Defence Forces and the Israeli Government yesterday as they attempted to defend what was done by saying that basically they needed to root out militants in that part of Gaza before withdrawing. I recall, as I am sure others in the House do, the remarks of Martin McGuinness a few months ago at the Saville inquiry when he said that whatever they intended on Bloody Sunday in 1972, the British Army provided the provos with their best possible recruitment tool and that for weeks afterwards, young men in Derry were queuing to join the Provisional IRA. I am sure something similar will happen in the next few weeks in the back streets of Gaza as young men seek to join those militant organisations looking to inflict violence on the people of Israel. How people in Israel, in the defence forces or in government, can possibly think this adds to the security of the people of Israel beggars belief.
The House should acknowledge the work done by Commissioner Byrne and wish him well in his retirement from the EU Commission. When he was nominated to the office, there was much criticism about it in that it would be a lame duck job and that it was not a position of stature within the Commission, but he has proved otherwise in the way he managed the BSE crisis, foot and mouth disease and so on. He has been a good representative for Ireland on the Commission and should be congratulated on the work he has done.
Another good thing which should be noted by the House is the decision by Intel yesterday to invest €1.6 billion in its plant in Leixlip and to bring employment in that plant to approximately 5,000 people. The real significance of it is that it puts the lie to say that a high labour cost economy cannot be a successful one. If we are competitive and if labour is productive, as it clearly is in Leixlip, then we can attract this major inward investment. The management and the staff at Intel are to be congratulated along with the Tánaiste and the IDA in securing what is a huge international coup for this country.
My final point concerns Iraq and the slaughter of people yesterday in Rafah in Gaza. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been consistent in his denunciation of these events and, as Senator Brian Hayes said, it is notable that the UN Security Council, by a margin of 14 with one abstention, condemned the incident. Perhaps there is a growing awareness within the United States of its responsibilities in this area. It is not on to hear a spokesman for the Israeli Army this morning trying to defend the indefensible. It is also not on to hear the attempt to defend the slaughter of people at a wedding in Iraq. I join with those Senators calling for an early debate on the Middle East.
Last month the Minister for Agriculture and Food was in the House to debate legislation to disband An Bord Glas. During that debate I asked him if he would take action in regard to the improper labelling of imported beef and salmon as Irish on the Irish market. I instanced for him an example of where food was being certified through one agent as Irish for Irish restaurants and hotels. This agent imports non-EU beef and salmon which are being promoted as Irish. Yesterday, a representative of the Food Safety Authority clearly indicated to a committee of the House that this was going on wholesale. I do not know why Bord Bia promotes Irish beef and salmon throughout Europe as quality products while at the same time, we are labelling imported beef and salmon as Irish. There is something wrong with that. The Minister subsequently wrote to me to say what I had said was incorrect but now another agency has verified it. It is important the Leader asks the Minister to come into the House to clearly indicate what is going on in the food industry.
Will the Leader request the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to indicate the progress he has made in regard to access to third level institutions for the disadvantaged? This time last year he indicated it was a priority. Today a report in The Irish Times indicates the educational apartheid in terms of access to certain institutions, namely, the universities in Dublin. It is important the Minister clearly outlines the new model of league table he has in mind.
I support the call by Senator Brian Hayes for a debate on what is happening to the Palestinian people. The war crimes being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people will shock the world and will be seen for what they are. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been particularly forthright in support of the rights of the Palestinian people. It is important for this nation, and for all nations, to impress on Israel that of all the nations on earth, it should be wary about engaging in activities which could be perceived as being genocidal.
I am delighted America has taken one small step in not now supporting Israel but we must be much stronger. There seems to be an interaction between all these excesses in different parts of the world. A debate on human rights would be particularly important.
If the report on the attack on the wedding in Iraq is correct, we have again reached a new low. What surprises us most, if it is true, is why America has been so slow to admit it because given its technology and reporting, it seems to be in a position at times to confirm issues within minutes. However, it has not done so on this occasion. If the report is correct it means that over 40 people were executed by American forces. While seeking a debate on human rights might seem like an old long playing record, we must continue to do so. We must not allow our helplessness to paralyse us when it comes to activities. We must keeping saying this over and over again.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that instead of No. 1, as scheduled, we have a debate on the Middle East because the situation is so urgent. We have seen the bombing of a wedding party. There is no question of doubt about it. We have seen the pictures. Small children were blown to smithereens and the Americans described them as "terrorists". Now children are terrorists. President Bush is clearly in flagrant violation of international law and of sections of his own domestic law but nothing is being done about it. A special prosecutor was instituted to find out whether Monica Lewinsky gave President Clinton a blow job and here we have a criminal involved in war crimes.
There are some things we can do. I support that remarkable Christian gentlemen, Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe, who said on radio this morning that it was inappropriate and badly timed to have President Bush here. We should withdraw the invitation. I do not believe that man should be welcomed to this country. If he does come, I will protest against the visit.
Although I am a friend of Israel and insist on remaining one, what is happening there is a disaster. War crimes are also being played out. I know Rafah quite well. It is a squalid place. A peaceful, unarmed demonstration was taking place. I heard the reports this morning that the people were deliberately walking slowly so that they would not attract fire, yet missiles, bombs and heavy machine guns were fired. I heard with horror two spokespeople — the military spokesman had, once again, an American accent — refer to it as "weeding the garden". Imagine the insensitivity of the language; killing children is "weeding the garden".
As Senator Ó Murchú said, we must stop impotently bleating in the House. There is one thing that we can do. There is a human rights protocol attached to the external association agreement of the European Union. Since we hold the Presidency of the EU, why do we not operate that and remove the special status awarded to Israel? What else is happening? If we do not recognise these actions as violations of human rights, we may as well pack up and go home.
I support what Senator Dardis said and draw attention to the latest development from the Intel Corporation. Last week, when the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, was here, I had related how, the previous weekend, the Fab 24 microchip had been produced in Leixlip. It is the most advanced microchip in the world. I am proud to say that the Intel operation became the jewel in the crown of the IDA when it was under the stewardship of my husband, Pádraic White.
Intel has invested €6 billion in the Irish economy since it came here in 1989. I would like the Tánaiste to attend the House to discuss the issue of competitiveness in the Irish economy. The managing director and staff of Intel, working together——
In the Dáil yesterday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, spoke during Question Time of the plight of the three Irishmen in Colombia, who have been found not guilty of the main charge of training those involved in FARC. I would like to let everyone in the House know that the men have been found not guilty of the main charge.
Last weekend in Carlow there was a gangland shooting. I had warned about such worrying developments in the House. It is time that we had a debate in the House on the availability of firearms and the failure by the Government to address the growing drug problem in the country and the need to provide extra resources to address this issue. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on it and request that the relevant Ministers attend the House. Unfortunately, drugs are no longer a problem simply for city areas, since they are now rampant everywhere. Towns such as Carlow are suffering from the success of drug operations in Dublin, since the criminals have now moved operations to surrounding areas.
Perhaps, after the local elections on 11 June, the Leader might organise a debate in the House on the election process. The idea of postering is becoming farcical. We have all learnt when canvassing that the register of electors is totally out of date in many areas. There must be a better system. I am not sure what it is, but I would recommend the use of the PPS number, which is unique to each individual. Making people attend Garda stations——
I join with other Members in condemning the activities of the Israeli Government in Rafah yesterday regarding the slaughter of ten innocents and injury of 40 others. Actions speak louder than words, and we should make a request of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, who is now President of the EU Foreign Ministers and has been exemplary in his work on Palestine and recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. I suggest that we withdraw the special status that Israel holds in the eyes of the European Union. A boycott of Israeli products should be undertaken. It is the only action that will have an effect on current events there. The boycott involving Dunnes Stores workers helped to bring down the South African regime. It is time that other workers decided to boycott all Israeli goods until Israel recognises the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
I join with Senator Brian Hayes and all the other Senators who called for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, on the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, if the Leader might arrange it. Perhaps she might inform the House of the Government's intended scaleback of the decentralisation programme regarding timeframe, locations and numbers.
I fully agree with the remarks of Senator O'Toole regarding the matter discussed yesterday. Fair procedures would dictate a free vote. That is how the Leader and the Members would intend us to proceed. Like Senator O'Toole and others, I am grateful to the Leader for the efforts that she made yesterday and the meetings that have taken place behind the scenes. Perhaps she might say how she sees the House proceeding at this point, particularly regarding primary evidence.
Last Monday was the 30th anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Four or five weeks ago this House welcomed the report of the joint committee on that atrocity. It would be appropriate, particularly today, when the findings of the inquest are likely to be announced, that we call on the Leader to arrange, within the next few weeks, a debate on the report issued by the joint committee.
I second Senator Norris's proposal that the Order of Business be amended so that we might have a debate on the Middle East. I endorse his sentiments that we should give President Bush a fairly hot reception when he visits Ireland. If we hold such a debate we will have an opportunity to redefine our very complicated relationship with the United States. Senators Dardis and White touched on the obviously positive element of United States investment, such as through Intel, which has been going on here for many years and has been of great benefit to the economy. However, that should in no way mean that we develop a political relationship with the United States whereby we have to kow-tow to its foreign policy. It is timely, now that Intel is putting so much more money in here and that President Bush is visiting in a month, to hold a debate on that relationship with the United States and have the courage to tell President Bush what we think of his foreign policy in the Middle East.
I too join with previous speakers in calling for an urgent debate regarding the Middle East, and particularly the activities over the last few days in Israel and Palestine. Enough has been said about that, but I urge the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as possible.
Like other speakers I welcome the news regarding Intel. Having lived in Leixlip from 1980 to 1992, I saw how it developed. I am somewhat surprised this morning to be corrected, since I had always thought that I, in my capacity as chairman of the combined residents' association, had brought Intel to Leixlip when we met the company in the early days. I am glad to have been re-educated on that matter.
I wish to ask the Leader if she could organise a debate on child care, particularly on the delivery of affordable child care, given we are trying to encourage as many parents as possible to return to the workforce. In many cases it is impossible for them in the absence of local, affordable child care.
With the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach, I wish to again raise a matter I raised on the Order of Business about two weeks ago which, on the advice of the Leader, I tabled as a matter on the Adjournment. It was to ask the Minister of State in the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, for a date on which he will remove the razor wire around Farmleigh. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, replied to my Adjournment matter. His said "the wire is being taken down as we speak". The wire was still in place yesterday. I have it in writing from the Minister that the wire was being taken down two weeks ago, as he spoke.
I support those Senators who have called for a debate on human rights and the Middle East. It is a strange policy for people to be put out of their homes, leaving an abiding memory in the minds of their children, and as they leave to see their houses bulldozed behind them. If one was to try to create trouble for the future, that is one sure way of doing it. One hears of helicopter gunships shooting into houses because it is believed tunnels are underneath. What is the point of shooting into a house if there are tunnels underneath? It just does not make sense, as regards people who have suffered so much in the past. The United States and Israel have the right to defend themselves, but the manner in which they are doing so has turned right-minded people against what they are doing. As regards visit of the President of the United States, we should remember that he is more than just a war leader.
We should welcome the president, but make our views known because we as politicians should know the pendulum swings. To make a decision when the pendulum is at one extreme may turn out not to have been the correct thing to do shortly thereafter.
I join with Senators who have expressed their concerns about what has happened and continues to happen in the Middle East. I support my Independent colleagues who have called for an amendment to the Order of Business so that we may have a discussion on that issue.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Transport to come into the House in the near future to discuss motoring? I have raised the plight of motorists on a number of occasions. The motorist is being hounded from every corner.
Serious questions have arisen over the past couple of years as regards the national car test and the degree of fairness with which it is carried out across the country. We should have a discussion on that. There are issues in the capital, not specifically in the centre but in outlying areas, as regards clamping. In effect clamping is being used as a revenue generating mechanism by the people who operate the system.
The fear exists that the people who operate the national car test are doing the same thing. I am not saying whether that is correct, but we should certainly have a debate on it. Clearly, the motorist is being neglected in the midst of all this. We need a discussion to bring the issues affecting these people to the top of the agenda as soon as possible.
We know what electronic voting machines have cost taxpayers. Could we ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come in and explain how much it will cost to store these machines throughout the length and breadth of the country? In Waterford I am informed it is costing in excess of €50,000 per annum to store 174 machines——
This is the cost to the taxpayer. A serious amount of money is involved. Who is storing these machines? Who is responsible and how much will it cost the taxpayer? I would like to pose these questions to the Minister if he shows his face in the House.
Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, raised the matter of the Middle East, the Iraq and Israel-Palestine situations, in the light of the frightful atrocities which have been carried out there. I have received word that there will be a full debate in this House next Wednesday on the Middle East. People have every right to put forward a motion, if they wish to do so. It would not be possible for me to send back the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who is coming for Second Stage of the Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 and to fetch another Minister to debate the Middle East, just like that. I have limited powers.
We will have the debate next Wednesday. Regarding the comments of Senator O'Toole, the representatives of the parties are meeting the Attorney General today at 4.30 p.m. Some of our questions, clearly, will be addressed, but we have a responsibility as a House which orders its own business. Therefore after the meeting we should regroup and decide on our next step. Senator O'Toole checked on the Indian precedent of ten years ago and it turned out to be a most extraordinary business, leading to mayhem all around.
Senator McDowell raised the matter of GM foods. Responsibility is divided between the Departments of Agriculture and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We will seek to have the relevant Minister come and address the issue. We could link with that Senator Ulick Burke's point about foods presented as being made in Ireland when they are not as acknowledged by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland during a committee debate.
Senator Dardis wished Commissioner David Byrne well as he has announced he is not going forward for another term. The Senator also acclaimed the Intel investment in Leixlip and raised the situation in Iraq and Gaza, which will be included in next Wednesday's debate. Senator Ulick Burke noted that Bord Glas is now defunct and what the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said. He also raised the matter of league tables in schools leading to access to third level. It is interesting what both the Farmer's Journal and The Irish Times have to say on that subject this morning. I am pleased to see that a great many students from what we regard as ordinary second level schools around the country, community, comprehensive and others, gain access to third level. I was amazed to see that students like to stay in their own locality. I always believed one would like to get away from home when one was 17 or 18. Apparently they are more modest nowadays in their ambitions, or more demure. I do not know which. The Senator wanted a debate on that matter.
Mother knows best. SenatorÓ Murchú referred to Iraq and Israel. I fully agree with what he said about the fact that we can feel helpless as a Chamber in a small country but that should not lead us to speech paralysis on the matter. We have the opportunity to talk and we should do so. Senator Norris praised Bishop Willie Walsh. However, he did say that if President Bush came he should get the respect due to him, while noting that he thought it an inappropriate time for a visit. Regarding Iraq and Israel, the words in The Guardian were chilling. It is just so awful. The Senator said we should operate the human rights protocol. Senator White mentioned her husband, and referred to the very advanced microchip developed by Intel some years ago and which led to further investment in Leixlip. She wants a debate on competitiveness. The Tánaiste was here about three or four months ago for a debate on competitiveness. The Senator also gave us her assessment of the three Irishmen who were tried in Colombia, and I thank her for that.
Senator Browne spoke about the gangland shooting in Carlow and the growing drug problem which is not exclusive to the cities. He also spoke about the electoral process. There is so much canvassing going on now that the public is confused with so many people knocking on doors. I hope the result will be a high turn out of voters.
Senator Leyden wants the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, as President of the EU Council of Foreign Minister, to withdraw the special status afforded to Israel by the EU, and calls for a boycott of Israeli goods. He referred to the boycott of South African goods by workers at Dunnes Stores during the days of apartheid which affected the food market there. Perhaps it is a point that could be considered.
Senator Coghlan asked me to inform the House of the Government's intended scaling back of the decentralisation programme regarding timeframe, locations and numbers. I have not heard of a scaling back of decentralisation. The provinces are delighted at the prospect and posters are going up to welcome people. He also echoed Senator O'Toole's point and is quite correct in that regard.
Senator Jim Walsh raised the findings of the report into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We are awaiting word from the Office of the Taoiseach that it can be proceeded with. It has been a couple of weeks since I asked about it and I will do so again, particularly as the 30th anniversary of the bombings has just passed.
Senator Ross talked about redefining our relationship with the United States. We have been saying the US is great, that it is investing in our economy and that it is wonderful, which it is. However, that should not cloud our views on other aspects of US policy, which is the point made by the Senator. One can say one thing about the investment and then go on to criticise other aspects of its policies. The idea that our mouths must remain closed about atrocities because of investment is incorrect. The Senator seconded the amendment proposed by Senator Norris for a change to the Order of Business.
Senator Minihan also wants a debate regarding the Middle East, which we will have. He always contributes in a very fine fashion to debates on this subject. He also recalled that it was the combined residents' associations in Leixlip that helped to bring all that money from Intel into the community.
Senator Terry raised the question of affordable child care. She also mentioned again the razor wire around Farmleigh. I cannot believe the House was told the wire was being taken down and that it is not yet done. I will make a telephone call about it to the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon.
Senator Hanafin supported calls for a debate on human rights in the Middle East and spoke about US involvement in Iraq. We will have a debate on the Middle East which I hope will take in all the issues we want to discuss.
Senator John Phelan wants the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss the plight of the motorist. He thinks car owners and drivers are getting a raw deal.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of storing the electronic voting machines in Waterford at a cost of €50,000 per annum and wonders how much the cumulative cost will be of storing them throughout the country. I have no doubt that figure will be produced soon.
As a general observation, there has been a very good series of articles in The Irish Times about the "new Irish" which has made excellent reading. It covered all the nationalities which have settled here and was aimed not just at students but at anyone seeking to understand the nationalities here and which are contributing to a different Ireland. Students have asked me to praise and acclaim the new Europe supplement to celebrate the accession of the new member states on 1 May and was renewed subsequently. It made very fine reading and was an act of real public service and I am glad to praise it.