Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Order of Business.
The Order of Business today is No. 1, Water Services Bill 2003 — Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m. This will not be concluded because more than 200 amendments have been tabled; No. 2, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Bill 2003 — Second Stage will be taken from 2.30 p.m. until 5 p.m. and Members will have 15 minutes to contribute; No. 3, Housing (Stage Payments) Bill 2004, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m.
I beg the Chair's indulgence to mention that today is a special day in Dublin, in Ireland and in the world. It is the 100th anniversary of the famous fictional walk which Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus took through the city of Dublin, which has become immortalised throughout the world. We are very honoured that in our Chamber we have a Member who, internationally and nationally, is associated with that famous author, James Joyce, and that famous work, Ulysses, and has done much to promote it. I acclaim Senator David Norris.
I agree with the Leader of the House that this is a great day for Joyceans throughout the world, and particularly that we are honoured to have in our midst Senator Norris who has done so much to resurrect the memory of Joyce in his home city. We should not forget the great cultural and tourism impact that is brought to this city and country by this great writer and by the book that is immortalised the world over. It is great to see Senator Norris on this particular day.
Has the Government any plans to recall the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation so that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats can work out their difficulties as soon as possible?
No. 3 is the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill 2004. This is a Private Members' Bill brought before the House by our party colleague Senator Coghlan and he is to be complimented on that. Is it the Government's intention to allow this Bill pass Second Stage to Committee Stage in the House? Is it its intention not to oppose it on Second Stage as it deals in a direct way with a particular problem in the housing area? I ask the Government to allow the Bill pass Second Stage tonight. All Members of the House should be encouraged to bring forward Bills of this nature. It helps Government and Opposition alike. The notion that the Government is the font of wisdom when it comes to the preparation of legislation should be challenged. I encourage the Government to support the legislation tonight and let it go through to Committee Stage. Will the Leader indicate if that is the Government's intention?
I wish to be associated with the recognition and affirmation of the extraordinary work on James Joyce that Senator Norris has done over the years. He is the leading authority in the world. I am not allowed to say anymore as he is our spokesperson on Joycean affairs.
The Mahon tribunal issued a report yesterday. I ask Members to take an interest in it. We need to look at a very simple issue. Under the terms of reference the tribunal is required to investigate every single allegation. That will take 14 years. The proposal is that where matters are referred to the tribunal, it would initially investigate them and if it came to a conclusion that they did not require further investigation or a public hearing, it could dispose of them and move on. That would halve or quarter the workload. It is a sensible, practical proposal that will save the State money. There is no gain in terms of what is currently happening. The tribunal will continue for 11 years only because it is required under the terms of reference to have a public hearing and a full investigation of every single allegation. It should be trusted to look at each allegation, to make initial inquiries and to conclude whether it should dispose of it or to have a public inquiry. This should be done quickly as it is one of the issues about which people feel very strongly.
Yesterday I again raised the process under Article 35 of the Constitution. In the case of a person subject to an impeachment process, is that person required to be responsible for his or her own legal costs? Cathaoirleach, I am not crossing the line here. We should take a deep interest in issues regarding the Constitution. I will keep raising these unanswerable questions every week in this House. We are making a mess of it and we have not thought our way through it. We were rushed into two pieces of legislation two weeks ago. I supported them like everyone else in this House and anything I say is no criticism of anyone in the House. However, we are down a blind alley on this one.
I congratulate Senator Norris for his association with what is a unique event in this country and I wish to be associated with the remarks of the Leader and of the other speakers.
The point regarding the cost of tribunals is fair. These Houses set up the tribunals but no one thought at that time the amount of money and the length of time it would take the tribunals to sift through their very complex and detailed work. There is an understandable frustration among the public regarding the cost of tribunals. Considering the Houses of the Oireachtas set up the tribunals, would it be possible to set up a corruption investigation agency or some like body to do much of the work on which tribunals are expending so much money and time? Are our priorities right in this regard? We must be cognisant of the time constraint and the vast amount of taxpayers' money being spent on tribunals. I would welcome a debate on this issue to see if we could find an alternative method of dealing with these very serious issues.
The National Disease Surveillance Centre figures for the spread of AIDS are frightening. In the 1980s, we spent millions of pounds on advertising campaigns to highlight the dangers of this disease and to prevent its spread. However, a lackadaisical attitude seems to have come to the fore in recent years. We now know that minority groups are no longer exclusively affected by this deadly disease. It is now almost more threatening to heterosexuals than to homosexuals and drug addicts. The issue needs a strong debate and a strong public platform. I call on the Leader to organise a debate in the House which, I hope, will lead to a reinvigoration of the public awareness campaigns of recent times.
I notice we will debate today the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Bill 2003. I presume that is, in part, designed to prevent what a recently elected Member of Dublin Corporation, Alderman Leopold Bloom, called, "our buccaneering Vanderdeckens in their phantom ship of finance". I thought that was a better selection from the speech than Leopold Bloom's reference to the incorrigibility of humankind. "Mankind is incorrigible.....Why, look at our public life!".
I appreciate that readings from Ulysses are not part of the Order of Business.
We hear much criticism in this House and outside it of our trade unions. I congratulate the ESB staff at Moneypoint on agreeing a pretty incredible deal involving a 20% to 30% cut in their take-home salaries. Given the stress we all put on competition, we need to bear in mind that competition and public service are not incompatible. I would like to see equal weight given to both values.
I agree with the last speaker with regard to the ESB. What the unions have done in Moneypoint is very welcome. Given the capital investment in Moneypoint which the ESB has promised, something must be done with regard to the environmental aspect of the station. For a long time in our area we have been putting up with the spewing out of sulphur dioxide. Nearly 50% of the entire national sulphur dioxide emissions are happening within the Shannon estuary region. For that reason, I welcome movement on this matter. I hope the ESB will progress to do something about the environmental standards there.
There is concern at the prospect of 11 more years of the Mahon tribunal. We are all aware that tribunal fatigue appears to have set it, which is understandable. The people will focus when a high point is reached by a tribunal. The terms of reference must be examined in the context of much trivial stuff which seems to emerge at the tribunal and long rambling pieces by lawyers which drag out the process. We must look at ways of reducing the time it takes tribunals to complete their business. The public would be extremely concerned if this process continued for another 11 years given the inherent costs involved and the many pressing priorities for finance throughout the country.
I thank my colleagues and, in particular, the Leader for their gracious words. It is true that commemorating 100 years of James Joyce has released a massive energy which is being positively harnessed for the benefit of the people of this country. I welcome that. I know some people are critical of what they believe is the tatty side of things. Plastic Buddhas and luminous crucifixes do not detract from Buddhism or Christianity or from the message of James Joyce.
It was splendid to hear two distinguished politicians, the Leader and Senator Mansergh, quote from Ulysses. It is sad that this is one of the few places in Ireland where that type of quotation can be made with impunity. I look forward to a day when Joyce's work is made more generally available. The quotations chosen were wonderful and apposite. I would like to put on the record of this House once again what I believe are Joyce's wisest words. Bloom, challenged on his Jewishness and, feeling like an alien, pointed out that Jesus Christ was a Jew: "Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life." When contentiously asked what was the opposite, he replied: "Love. I mean the opposite of hatred. I must go now." He does not stand his ground but it is a lovely moment to recall.
I am grateful for this tribute to Bloomsday and to all the wonderful young people involved in it, led by Joyce's grandniece Helen Monaghan. I have done virtually nothing this year. I have sat in the background and watched the new generation take over.
I wish also to support my Labour Party colleague's remarks about AIDS. It is important we take another look at this issue. The Senator is right to suggest the matter be debated in this House because it was the Seanad that launched the first major debate on AIDS. The Seanad has played a role in providing a sensitive, balanced and serious discussion on the matter.
I am sure most of my colleagues are aware that as a sports journalist I have long championed the cause of close relations between North and South on this island. Given the new era of peace and reconciliation, perhaps the Leader might consider, if not before the summer recess in the autumn session, holding a debate on the dispersal of millions of euro on sporting facilities. I am not suggesting there is no coherent policy in that regard. However, it is timely that this House debate issues such as where the money is being spent and the best and most efficient way of utilising it.
There is a wide variety of sport and disciplines in this country. In that context, the question might be asked as to whether the two Governments, joined together by the peace initiative, might give serious consideration to nudging the Irish Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland into a closer relationship. I am not suggesting a takeover of either national team nor am I in the short term suggesting that there should be one national or all-island team, although those of us of a sporting bent would welcome people supporting the one green jersey. There may be a role for Government in this regard.
I raised this matter, as the Leader will be aware, at a meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body where, unfortunately, the answer was kicked to touch — if I may use that sporting metaphor — in that the Governments do not have a role in this area.
If Government money is provided by both jurisdictions on behalf of the taxpayers then surely it is incumbent on the two Governments to at least encourage the two remaining national associations involved in a sport which is universally accepted and widely followed, to develop some debate in that area.
I wish Senator Norris and Joyceans everywhere a very happy day. I was delighted when I woke this morning to see him looking so sprightly in a clip on EuroNews during which he said something to the effect that Dubliners were taking Ulysses on their holidays — more of that to them.
With regard to the fourth interim report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters, now that the tribunal has formally requested the Houses of the Oireachtas to amend its terms of reference so it might concentrate its efforts more fruitfully on specific areas, will the Leader state when she believes the necessary instrument will be brought into effect?
I appreciate the Leader's views on the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill and her kind offers of Government time on two previous occasions. What is happening this evening is not her fault. It is happening by agreement because there might not be enough time left in the session. As I see it, there is no division between any of us in this House. We are all agreed that this is a pro-consumer matter. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom in this or any other area, therefore, I join my colleague Senator Brian Hayes, my leader, in appealing to the Leader to agree to Second Stage this evening. It can then be amended on Committee Stage, if necessary. I hope there are no divisions between us.
It is a great tribute to one man that he is capable of doing that. I am sure many Members of this House will be among that flock, including me.
On a slightly more serious point, I suggest to the Government parties that there is a solution to the squabbling in which they are indulging in public. While there is a great temptation to blame each other after an electoral setback of the kind we have witnessed, I suggest that the House take the opportunity to debate what is happening in Government Buildings. Senator O'Toole will be missing from the discussions, unfortunately, which means there is less noise coming from Government Buildings but perhaps a little more content. I am serious in asking that backbenchers of both sides of this House who feel they are being ignored do not take it out on their partners in Government but look at the centre of power in this country. They are correct in believing they are being ignored. Their wishes are being ignored by the Cabinet because the next budget is being written today in Government Buildings. The people involved in the discussions, the so-called social partners, will have a great deal more input than the Members on the Government side who are complaining about each other.
It is time that those Members seized back some elements of power themselves, stopped turning on each other, turned to the Cabinet and requested that they want an influence on what it is doing and on the budget, rather than IBEC, ICTU, the Irish Farmers' Association and others, which have their role but should not be deciding Government policy on issues that have nothing to do with them.
As ever, Senator Ross speaks for himself when he describes the reading habits of Members of the Oireachtas. I, too, would like to be associated with the tributes to Senator Norris, who is noteworthy not only for his scholarship but for making Joyce and his works meaningful for the ordinary person on the street. He has done a wonderful job for us all. Only in Ireland would we be celebrating the centenary of what is, if not an imaginary event, at least an imagined event.
I support Senator Mooney's request for a debate on sport on an all-Ireland basis, particularly in the light of proposals made in the North for a national stadium, which looks suspiciously like our version of the Millennium Dome and would be the biggest white elephant of all. An attempt is being made to embarrass the two truly all-Ireland sporting organisations to facilitate others which are not.
Reverting to the Bloomsday theme, it is a great day to talk about Greeks bearing gifts. I say to Senator Brian Hayes that the chairman of the National Forum on Peace of Reconciliation pro tempore is getting offside as rapidly as possible and will not be seen or available for quite some time for the type of task he has in mind.
Now that the local and European elections are over and the dust is settling, there will be considerable discussions and post mortems about various aspects of the elections. It would do justice to the electorate to have a debate on the electoral registers. I spoke to many people in County Donegal who came out to vote and found their names had been struck off the register without knowing who had done this or why. It is a disaster and crazy for people who pay taxes to be unable to vote. Having thought long and hard and discussed the matter with many people, including this morning with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, I believe the vote should be linked to a person's PPS number, which would entitle everyone on reaching 18 to a vote even though there would be issues for those who leave or emigrate. We require a debate in this House to allow us to prevent people from becoming disenfranchised and permitting them one vote only. At present some people have two or three votes in different electoral wards in one county.
In the past few days there has been considerable squabbling between the Government parties, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. The only way to resolve this squabbling is for the Taoiseach to go to the country and let the people give their verdict.
Health professionals have expressed great concerns over the links to lung cancer etc. This is very disturbing news for residents in these areas. It is important for us to have a debate and I call on the Leader to invite both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Health and Children to the House to give us an update on the Government's plans to monitor radiation levels at the various locations. This problem needs national consideration as members of the public have serious concerns. It is quite alarming to hear that our radon levels are the highest in Europe.
I am not sure if the Leader knows of the whereabouts of the Minister for Education and Science. Time and again we have asked for him to come to the House and to tackle four or five of the major issues that he indicated were his priorities. Nothing has happened about funding for third level education or access for the disadvantaged. The appointment of the teachers he promised a month ago will now not necessarily take place because of difficulties he has discovered. He has also spoken about school league tables. There are four or five areas in which he has flown a kite that has subsequently disappeared. It is very important that the Minister come to the House to clarify the situation as we begin to prepare for a new academic year while many people are left high and dry in terms of knowing the Government's policies.
I rise to support Senator McHugh's point about problems with the register of electors. The matter was also raised by Members yesterday morning. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should come to the House to listen to the views of Senators.
People who go on holidays and cannot obtain a postal vote are not being treated fairly. It was reckoned that close to 500,000 people were out of the country on the day of the election. They may have booked their holidays well in advance of the fixing of the date. It is most unfair. People who are leaving to take holidays should be afforded the opportunity to use a postal vote.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for providing us with the opportunity to pay tribute to Senator Norris. I had the idea this morning at which point it was a question of telephoning the Senator's secretary to have him jump into a taxi to get here. There was no point in praising him if he was not here. He arrived on time. Senator Brian Hayes added his own tribute and that of his party to Senator Norris on this very special occasion.
He made a tongue in cheek remark on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.
Whatever happens, we are welded together and Senator Bannon should note that we shall not be going to the country.
At a parliamentary party meeting yesterday, many Fianna Fáil Members expressed an interest in placing Senator Coghlan's Bill on a statutory footing. Yesterday, the officials said that was a no-no. I will endeavour to see the Minister today, which will hopefully shed a kinder light on the matter. We are glad the Bill is being taken in the House. To take up Senator Brian Hayes's point, it is positive to introduce Private Members' Bills in the House.
Senator O'Toole raised the issue of the Mahon tribunal. We all received copies of the interim report this morning. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said in the Dáil that he would seek to work with party leaders to ascertain whether the terms of reference can be changed to facilitate a different way to proceed. That would be positive. Both Houses put forward the terms of reference and passed the necessary legislation. It is now up to us to alter them and to put in place a structure to allow the matters to be dealt with. Senator O'Toole referred to the process under Article 35 and in particular to the legal costs appertaining thereto. He intends to continue to raise the matter as is his right.
Senator McCarthy praised Senator Norris also and raised the issue of the costs of the Mahon tribunal. As the interim report has been laid before the Houses, we could debate it without going into costs as a precursor to changing the terms of reference of the tribunal which we would have to debate here anyway. The Senator raised the important issue of the spread of AIDS. When the debate began ten years ago, it was seen in the light of the homosexual issue or drug abuse. AIDS has now spread massively throughout the whole community. A debate in the House would be useful and I thank Senator McCarthy for raising it.
Senator Mansergh referred to Ulysses and provided the House with a very apposite quotation from it for which I thank him. He raised the issue of the very fine agreement which has been reached between unions and management at Moneypoint. The Senator indicated that there is a balance to be struck in these matters and said equal weight should be given to the participants. Senator Finucane took up the Moneypoint issue, being from the constituency where it is located, and focused on its continuous environmental impact. When one stands on the hill at Clonmacnoise, which is near my home in the midlands, one can see the fumes from Moneypoint coming up the River Shannon. It is an amazing sight on a clear day. I was there about two weeks ago on a fine afternoon and I had forgotten how amazing it was until I saw it again. I am sure the agreement referred to takes into account the substantial cleaning-up issue.
Senator Finucane also noted how the Mahon tribunal is being dragged out. We were all very keen initially on the tribunal, but it is a different matter now. I accept that the projected timetable is Orwellian, being so frightening. Only a few of us will still be walking about when the tribunal concludes.
Senator Norris made an excellent point about the massive energy generated by the widespread interest in Joyce's work. This energy is reflected around the world, and in Irish tourism and its people, young and old, and of all sorts. The energy carries on. There are of course those who wish to criticise — let them do so.
Senator McCarthy called for a debate on AIDS. Senator Mooney made an excellent point. One thinks of cycling, GAA sports, rugby and so on, which are all-Ireland sports. The idea of having the two football associations working together — though not all wearing the green jersey, as Senator Mooney said — on events, management and sports facilities, is an excellent one. We could ask the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism for his thoughts on the matter. I am sure he is thinking about it and if he took the initiative it would be worthwhile.
Senator Coghlan asked when, following the fourth interim report by the Mahon tribunal, the terms of reference might be amended by the Houses of the Oireachtas. We await news on that from the Government, which must consult with the other party leaders. The Senator also asked about the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill. I will return to that matter when I have had a political discussion on it.
Senator Ross spoke warm words about his colleague Senator Norris. He said we had not all read Ulysses but he should speak for himself. Some of us have read it. His point related to those of us in this Chamber who have not read the book.
The idea that the partners are all there talking without the Government as a partner is wrong. As part of the proposed Seanad reform I have put it to the Taoiseach's Office that this Chamber would act as a monitor, affirmative or not, regarding the issue of the social partnership. This has been accepted. Indeed the Taoiseach suggested it in his submission to the Seanad, which was a very fine gesture. I will remind him of it.
Senator Maurice Hayes complimented Senator Norris, and regarding Senator Mooney's contribution he warned us to beware of the Greeks bearing gifts. I thank my colleague, but I did know half of the saying — I fear the Greeks though they come bearing gifts, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. We are getting very classy, very posh. I thank the Senator for making his points, though he declined Senator Brian Hayes's offer to reconvene the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation for a particular purpose.
Senator McHugh referred to discrepancies in the electoral register. While his colleague, Senator Browne, raised the issue yesterday, Senator McHugh is fully entitled to raise it himself. My view is that the worst discrepancy occurs when a person attempts to vote only to find his or her name is not on the register. Despite having lived at the same house for 20 years, a person might be told by a polling station clerk that he or she cannot vote as his or her name is not on the register. However, this is not the fault of the polling station clerk but of others, and computers also have faults. Busybodies are sometimes involved in the compilation of the electoral register. I recently came across a very intense busybody who was very busy taking names off registers. She said that people had gone away when they had not.
Senator Bannon put forward the idea we would have a general election. I do not agree. He also raised the issue of radon gas. We laughed at that because of the combination of squabbling and gas. The air is full of it.
Senator Ulick Burke raised some timely points regarding third level funding, the special needs teachers announced at the recent education conference, league tables and other matters. I will endeavour to bring the Minister for Education and Science to the House. We will specify the issues raised by the Senator as they will all come into play as the planning for September develops.
Senator Moylan raised an apt point regarding the electoral register. During the election campaign, it was found that many people were making pilgrimages to Lourdes and other places — I am glad they are getting very holy — and going on holidays. While there is a risk postal voting could be abused, perhaps it would be possible to develop a system whereby people could vote while holidaying abroad.
Before agreeing the Order of Business, it is appropriate that I, as Cathaoirleach, would be associated with the kind words to Senator Norris. They were well deserved and I am sure his major contribution created great interest in the works of Joyce.