Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, that is prior to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, to enable the joint committee to consider the report, to be taken without debate; No. 2, statements on public private partnerships, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 3, Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004 — Committee Stage to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., it was to commence at 2.30 p.m. but I was approached by Members who have to vote for a chair and a vice-chair of a committee; No. 4, motion re changes to the terms of reference of the Mahon tribunal, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7.45 p.m., with the contributions of each group not to exceed five minutes; and No. 22, motion No. 16, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos between 1.30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
I thank the Leader for agreeing to change the starting time for No. 3. The change was required because our spokesperson could not be in two places at the one time.
Some weeks ago the Leader organised a debate following the abduction of Margaret Hassan. We have learned only in the past 24 hours that it seems Margaret Hassan is dead. This is a shocking and bloody murder and I want to extend our sympathy to her family and her husband, in particular, following the news that has come from Iraq in the past day or so. This woman was against the war and sanctions. She stood shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi people for most of her adult life and has been destroyed in the most appalling way. In her memory and the memory of countless other people who have been kidnapped and murdered in this way, there is a responsibility on civilised society and governments throughout the world to bring some stability to Iraq to ensure elections can proceed and that some normality is brought to that war-torn land. Our sympathies are with her family today.
The Leader, as a former Minister for Public Enterprise, knows well that there seem to be sharp differences between both Government parties regarding the future of Aer Lingus. I am not sure what happened to the notion of collective Cabinet responsibility. It seems to have gone very much outside the door. Will the Leader organise a debate with the Minister for Transport on this issue? He indicated this morning that he has a short period in which to make up his mind about the future of Aer Lingus. The Government should publish the Goldman Sachs report as soon as possible and circulate the information in the public domain. I have no great hang-ups regarding public or private funding for the airline going forward. It is important that it remain competitive, profitable and focused on its customers. If this means a flotation in the marketplace or the investment of substantial private funding in the airline, so be it. It is important that the Government make a decision and not continue with its procrastination, which led to the resignation of Mr. Walsh and his colleagues over the past 48 hours.
While I agree with the words of Senator Brian Hayes on Margaret Hassan, I would prefer to wait until we are absolutely sure she is dead before I comment. It would be appropriate to speak at that time.
On reading this morning's newspapers, one would believe there were only three people working in Aer Lingus. People have forgotten that, over the past 12 or 13 years, Aer Lingus has reduced its workforce by thousands, increased its productivity, co-operated with Cahill plans, recovery plans, Willie Walsh's plans and those of everyone else. I would like a balanced debate on this issue without politicking. I would also like to see the publication of the Goldman Sachs plans so that I could say in the House that they have suggested selling off the airline or part of it. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies's statement of some years ago, "They would, wouldn't they?". That is what their business is about and that is how they would get their money.
Yesterday we all received a guide for board members of State bodies. It is worthwhile looking at page 17, which states that a board and a CEO of a board are required to have clear channels of communication with the stakeholders and to make sure these channels are working. In a previous esteemed job, our esteemed Leader, in the course of her daily ablutions one morning, heard of a major change in one of the State companies. We have seen three young men in a hurry doing a very good job but, without any discussion with the stakeholder, they put forward a proposal for an MBO and a new recovery plan. They have done a good job and should be praised for it, and I have supported them in what they have had to do and am sorry to see them go, but the reality is that when those young men in a hurry were made, the mould was not broken. There are many others who can do the job. The view in this morning's business pages that the company is dead because three people have left it is questionable. It is a pity they have done so, they have done a great job and I ask them to reconsider their positions. However, if they go, they go, and we should move on to the next step. I would like a representative of the Government to explain to the House what the Government is doing and how it will proceed.
I agree with Senator O'Toole on Margaret Hassan. I would rather wait until there is certainty about her death before saying anything.
We could have a debate on Aer Lingus. Something intriguing is happening in this country — the Taoiseach has discovered socialism and Senator O'Toole has obviously rediscovered socialism.
The only difference between the Taoiseach and me is that I discovered socialism when I was 20. It took him until his mid-50s to discover it. Perhaps he will show the zeal of a recent convert. We could have a debate before Christmas on the pre-budget submission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the response to which would be a good test of anybody's socialism. It should not be a question of the Government's feeling bad because others feel bad but of doing something about poverty, which is what socialism is about.
I compliment Senator Maurice Hayes on a fine piece he wrote in The Sunday Tribune last Sunday about the apparent act of vandalism about to be perpetrated by the National Roads Authority. A former member of this House and former professor of archaeology, George Eogan, also subscribes to that view. I am not sure I would want this House to discuss the routing of motorways in the normal course of events. However, our heritage is of fundamental importance and we cannot allow an agency of the State to use trite arguments that do not stand up to any serious scientific analysis to pursue this issue any further.
I do not subscribe to the view that Aer Lingus has been such a great success. It is making money but the process by which it has made money has involved the effective disconnection of our national airline from most of the country outside Dublin. I intended flying up here this morning and it would have cost me €200 return with Aer Lingus's replacement, Aer Arann. Since Aer Lingus serves just six routes out of Cork in the winter, if I were to use the airline to fly anywhere other than the six routes, I would pay €200 to Aer Arann, plus whatever Aer Lingus would charge. I do not call that a national success, therefore, I do not have the same level of adulation for the three people who left.
They have made money but they have not made a national airline. I would like a debate on the question of a national strategy so there is national access to international air services, which we are liable to lose outside Dublin if the present policies continue.
Some weeks ago I spoke in this House about the political mugging I witnessed at an Oireachtas transport committee meeting. I suppose the chickens came home to roost less than 48 hours ago and Mr. Willie Walsh and his colleagues will no longer be part of the management team.
The management team will no longer be there to kick around. The position of the Progressive Democrats is that a decision must be made on the future of Aer Lingus. Some people, including the unions, believe that the job is over because Aer Lingus was saved from bankruptcy. The job is just beginning in terms of driving the airline forward in order to continue to compete. This House must ensure that Aer Lingus remains strong and competitive.
There was more discussion at the transport committee about the shamrock than about Aer Lingus customers and how the airline was selling itself. The Irish people are flying much more than they have ever done. As an island nation, Ireland has not lost out in the European and world context, and we must move on from this hang-up with a national airline.
I respect Senator Morrissey for his straight talking on this issue. I recently heard him speak on the issue. Sacrifices made by workers, as well as management, have been responsible for the success of Aer Lingus in recent times. In the past two years, the airline made a profit of almost €200 million. The resignation of the management team will cause much uncertainty in the marketplace, therefore, the last thing one needs is dither and fudge. One should take cognisance of any reports, which have been commissioned, including the Goldman Sachs report. I would like the Government to make a decision in the near future on the future of Aer Lingus.
I agree with Senator Ryan that it is very expensive to fly to Dublin from regional airports, whether with Aer Arann or Aer Lingus, and regardless of whether one travels from Shannon or Cork. This is in direct contradiction of the marketing policies advocated by Ryanair and Aer Lingus offering packages to all foreign destinations at very reduced rates while the Irish customer who wants to stay in this country and fly within it is ripped off. I would like the issue to be seriously examined.
In Inchydoney, the Taoiseach said he did not care any more for left or right. Not too long ago he described himself as a social democrat. In the past week he described himself as a socialist. In the animal kingdom he would be described as a chameleon. The Taoiseach is very skilful in adapting according to the marketplace.
I hate to make any response to Senator Finucane but obviously the Taoiseach is doing something right when he keeps getting re-elected.
I have no wish to become involved in the debate on Aer Lingus. I will leave that to my esteemed colleague, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson in that area, Senator Dooley, who, I am sure, will have something to say on it. As somebody who supports Aer Lingus, we should think about the staff at this time and the uncertainty surrounding their futures. I hope the issue will be resolved.
I also agree with the comments expressed regarding the unfortunate Ms Margaret Hassan. Like my colleagues, I too believe that, where there is even a modicum of hope that the video report is not totally accurate, we should reserve comment. I understand an expert analysis of that video is being done as we speak.
Will the Leader consider debating, in the context of tourism, an issue which was raised over the weekend by The Observer columnist, Henry McDonald, namely, funding for the Linenhall Library in Belfast? I was shocked to discover that one of the most important collections of memorabilia relating to the conflict in the North is being closed down in the Linenhall Library because of lack of funding and that, until such time as funding is received from Belfast City Council, it will remain closed. This is one of the most important collections of its type on the island and attracts large numbers of tourists into Belfast. I support the point Mr. McDonald made and ask the Leader to convey it to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Tourism Ireland, an all-island body in the business of attracting tourism, should immediately consider unlocking sufficient funds to ensure this important collection is reopened to the public.
I join my colleagues in expressing revulsion at the apparent murder of Ms Margaret Hassan and in extending my sympathy to her family. She is a very remarkable, good, courageous, decent woman and a friend of the Iraqi people. The House should also note that even some of the most extreme groups in Iraq which have been involved in beheadings appealed to the people holding Ms Hassan not to kill her. Let us not use this to engage in Islam-bashing, not that anybody in the House has done so. It is remarkable that, although the Al Jazeera television station had this footage for a week and people obviously knew about it, it was released when it was. It effectively blew off the front pages the other story of an unarmed wounded Iraqi man being blasted to death inside a mosque by an American soldier, in defiance of every code of decency. I hope that issue does not die.
I am not sure whether I should address this to the Cathaoirleach or to the Leader. I have had a communication from an Irish citizen who made a suggestion we might take up, namely, that because of the increasing cycle of horror and death both Houses of the Oireachtas should hold a minute's silence. We held a minute's silence last week, which was futile because the two wars are over and there is nothing we can do about them. If our Government could organise a minute's silence in every parliament throughout Europe simultaneously, perhaps people would stand back a little and ask themselves how we got into this.
I have asked many times for information on the Gulfstream jet at Shannon but have not received a reply. I hope the Leader can get one. How will we feel if it transpires that we must face the family of somebody who was flown through Irish airspace and the excuse is given that the aeroplane landed but nobody got on or off? That is peculiar in itself. I understand that aeroplane has landed approximately 16 times. It should not land again without an explanation to the people regarding its activities.
I ask for a debate on the extremely serious situation in Iraq. Such a debate is essential. Mr. Tom Clonan has said in The Irish Times that "as the cycle of violence continues, it is essential to know and to hope that Presidents Bush's Cabinet reshuffle will bring about wiser counsel as to the manner in which military power is used as an instrument of United States foreign policy". What has President Bush done, however? He has removed Mr. Colin Powell from office and installed Ms Condoleeza Rice as his successor. He has brought in Mr. John Bolton, who in the 1990s proposed the abolition of the United Nations. He is one of the architects of the war in Iraq and is more extreme even than Mr. Donald Rumsfeld.
I am giving the reasons that such a debate is essential. We must think of the civilian population in places such as Falluja. The so-called health Minister in the interim Iraqi administration claims that there is not a significant problem regarding civilian casualties, as does the United States army. Members and instruments of the press in Iraq are instructed, under threat of legal sanctions, to write about nothing but the victory in Falluja. What about Iraqi civilians? We in Ireland must stand up for them.
I again ask the Leader if there can be a debate on the western rail corridor. I am hopeful that when Mr. Pat McCann, chairman of the working group, reports next month, he will be able to recommend the re-opening of the line from Claremorris through Tuam and on to Galway. I am disappointed that Iarnród Éireann has not been positive about this issue. The company is talking in terms of improving the lines from Galway to Dublin and from Mayo to Dublin. We would all welcome such improvements but there is now the suggestion of an hourly service from Galway to Dublin. There are currently seven trains each way on this route and it is now time to consider the western rail corridor. I hope the success of the Limerick-Ennis line will set a precedent to allow Iarnród Éireann to make an early decision on the matter.
Yesterday, I met representatives of the NRA and other groups in County Galway. We were told it would take six years to bypass Claregalway, and the same length of time to build a new road from Tuam to Galway. We could have a new commuter rail link in six months if the go-ahead were given by the Government and CIE. I hope this action is taken and that the House will have the opportunity to debate the issue before the report is presented in December.
I support colleagues' comments regarding the apparent appalling and horrific murder of Ms Margaret Hassan. I sympathise with her sister, Ms Geraldine Riney, and her family in Kenmare, with all members of the Fitzsimons family, in Dublin and elsewhere, and with Ms Hassan's husband.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes and other colleagues that a clear-cut Government decision is urgently required with regard to Aer Lingus. Everyone would like to know the contents of the Goldman Sachs report and that information should be put in the public domain. I support the calls for a debate on this matter.
I join with other Senators in calling for a debate on Aer Lingus at the earliest possible opportunity. There is much misinformation abroad. As Senator O'Toole said, one would be forgiven for believing that the airline is in some level of turmoil in terms of its economic situation, if one takes notice of some of the headlines in today's newspapers. The company will this year turn in a profit in excess of €95 million. It is important to recognise, however, that there is a strategic role for Aer Lingus and that it is not merely a question of maximising profits. There are other interests which must be maintained, particularly with regard to tourism, economic development and regional development. The latter is a critical issue, especially in the mid-west and Shannon regions.
I appreciate that. I am delighted that the attempted corporate hijack by the management team has been averted and that the Government rejected the proposed buy-out. I too wish to be associated with the good wishes extended to the management team. Members of that team have done a good job and I hope they find satisfaction in their future careers. As Senator O'Toole observed, however, the success enjoyed by the management team at Aer Lingus was secured in conjunction with the unions, workers and the Government. It is not just three people who have created this situation.
The criticism is often made of newspapers that they only carry bad news. Perhaps criticisms could be made of this House and politicians in general that we concentrate on bad news. A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit reported in today's newspapers states that we have the best quality of life of any country in the world. We should proclaim that and be happy about it. Of course we have problems and face challenges and we should have a determination to solve them, but we should not be shy about holding our heads up in pride on occasions when we hear such news. This survey is included in a well-respected journal that sells more in the United States than in Asia or Britain.
The survey takes into account measures such as political freedom, family and community life, gender equality——
Yes. Can we make sure that we do not concentrate all our efforts on what is wrong with the country? Of course we must do something about them, but can we be determined to proclaim such good news from the top?
The city of Melbourne in Australia was found for two years in a row to be the best city in the world in which to live. The people there proclaimed that from the rooftops. They pointed out what a good place it was in which to live and invest. We should do the same with this good news. We should not be at fault for always looking on the Jonah side.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to keep the strongest pressure on the relevant authorities in Iraq to come forward and officially declare or deny that the murdered person is the Irish-born Margaret Hassan? The current situation is most unacceptable for her poor family. Those of us who have been following her plight over the past month know there are no words for it. We were sickened when word came through yesterday that there was a 90% probability that she was the victim of the horrific murder. To quote a much used phrase, she was more of an Iraqi than any Iraqi person. She has been living there for 30 years, looking after the underprivileged and the down and out. As Irish people we owe it to one of our own to get clarification so that her family can grieve in the way they deserve.
Far too many people in this State are filthy in their habits with regard to disposing of their rubbish, etc. If one drives on any of our country or national roads, one sees the countryside littered with debris. It is important that the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to debate the widespread problem of illegal dumping in our countryside and the failure of the Government to clamp down on or stamp out this problem which affects our tourism industry and ourselves as a people and a nation. We have had review after review and report after report but no action has been taken to provide the necessary infrastructure for the disposal of waste in terms of landfills, etc.
I do not see much point in having debates on Aer Lingus unless the Taoiseach comes to the House. Senator O'Toole referred to the lack of a need for politicking. I sympathise with that but Aer Lingus is all about politics. That is the trouble with it. The person who is pulling the strings on Aer Lingus is not Mr. Walsh, the management or the Minister; it is the Taoiseach. We only had to listen to the Minister, Deputy Cullen, speak today on "Morning Ireland" and other programmes and hear how he managed to say absolutely nothing for about three quarters of an hour. We need a debate and we need the Taoiseach to come to the House because he is the man who has been saying he does not want an MBO or many other formulae. In the meantime, the Taoiseach and Ministers have been sitting on this issue for far too long. There is a sub-committee, which, for some reason, has not met. Unless Senator Morrissey and others put greater pressure on the Taoiseach no decision will be made on Aer Lingus until the next general election or the next crisis.
We have seen a remarkable divergence of opinion on this issue, not just between the coalition parties but within the Fianna Fáil Party. The Taoiseach is, clearly, pulling the strings. Perhaps he should be in the House when we debate this issue.
I raise the issue of the direct marketing of credit in the run-up to Christmas. Yesterday, I received a letter from a leading financial institution offering me a substantial personal loan. I know others have received similar letters from other institutions. The letter invites me to, "Say yes to the things you really want", and offered a personal loan of €25,000.
I too congratulate Senator Maurice Hayes on his article on the effect of the proposed motorway on Tara. I support Senator Ryan's call for a debate on the effect of the development of infrastructure on important sites. That debate could tie in with Senator Kitt's concerns about the efforts put into the development of motorways while very little is put into the development of the railway structure.
I thank the Leader for agreeing to alter the time of this afternoon's debate. I also ask that she organise a debate with the Minister for Education and Science to ask her why only €100 million of the €200 million allocated for the primary schools building programme has been spent so far, and the implications of that.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Ross. It is time we had a real debate about Aer Lingus. It is clear that Aer Lingus needs the option of further investment. If one compares the investment made by Aer Lingus in aircraft with that of Ryanair, it is clear Aer Lingus is very far behind. Aer Lingus is now profitable but that can be eroded very quickly by outside forces.
The Leader will recall that a number of suggestions were made in the aftermath of the Government reshuffle. The Leader agreed to invite all the Cabinet Ministers to the House to outline their priorities for their terms of office and to have a degree of dialogue with the Seanad. Has the Leader received any co-operation from any Minister in this regard? When might this process commence?
I join with Senator Ross in calling for the Taoiseach to attend the House for a debate on Aer Lingus. The management team in Aer Lingus has been successful but, let us be honest, the successful formula was created by Ryanair because competition is the spice of trade. It is a disgrace that the Government has not moved on the creation of a second terminal at Dublin Airport. Look at what is happening today. There are many routes out of Stansted and other airports, but Ryanair is only operating two routes directly from Dublin to Europe. Unless the Government and its sub-committee takes action we will be facing another downturn in tourism. Ryanair has provided a successful formula to rejuvenate the airline industry.
I concur with Senator Brian Hayes and have no doubt that Margaret Hassan has been murdered. Her sisters were on television and said that if they knew Margaret was dead they would feel relieved. One can imagine the trauma of their daily lives, wondering what she was going through. It is quite horrific.
Senator Brian Hayes also raised the issue of Aer Lingus and spoke of the sharp difference in policy between the Government parties. He sought a debate on the matter. We should publish the Goldman Sachs report, seize the day and move on with it.
Senator O'Toole also sought a debate on Aer Lingus and I agree with him that there are not only three people concerned. A discussion with the stakeholders is needed. We have all been speaking in a roundabout way but nobody has referred to the board and its chairman who has the responsibility to approach the major stakeholder, namely, the Minister, and tell him what is happening at board level. There has been a remarkable lacuna on the part of the current acting chairman of the Aer Lingus board. The chairman, rather than the chief executive, has the responsibility to act as a conduit between the board and the Minister. The two previous chairmen were most punctilious in that regard.
Senator Ryan referred to Senator O'Toole as a former socialist but I would stand up for Senator O'Toole in this regard because he was always a socialist.
Senator Ryan complimented Senator Maurice Hayes on his article and spoke about the importance of heritage. He went on to talk about Aer Lingus and the disconnect from the rest of Ireland outside Dublin. Clearly, whatever the airline charges for a particular route is the only viable charge. The sum of €200 seems a lot if one is travelling from Cork.
Senator Finucane sought an end to dithering and fudging on Aer Lingus and wants the Government to make a decision. We would all welcome that approach.
Senator Mooney spoke about the staff at Aer Lingus. He also spoke about the article by Mr. Henry McDonald in The Observer, which stated that, since it is an all-Ireland body, Tourism Ireland should turn its mind to the question of funding for the Linenhall Library in Belfast. I will pass that matter on to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue.
Senator Norris spoke about Ms Margaret Hassan. The news of her alleged death took the emphasis away from the killing of the wounded soldier. The Senator believes the two Houses should have a minute's silence in opposition to violence. He also spoke about the Gulfstream jet. I have asked for a debate on Iraq every week and will try again this week. Having seen the exultation of the soldiers over how many they have killed and what they have done in Falluja, this is certainly not the bright dawn that was presaged for Iraq.
Senator Kitt brought us all down to earth in discussing the need to debate the western rail corridor before the report is published.
Senator Coghlan spoke of a clear-cut decision on Aer Lingus and Senator Dooley referred to the strategic importance of the airline. He again echoed the words of Senator O'Toole in saying it was not down to just three people. I am sure Aer Lingus has many talented people at managerial level.
While Senator Quinn wants us to be "clappy-happy" all the time, I am not so sure. A colleague of mine said here that someone stuck on the M50 for an hour and a quarter in the morning does not feel like talking about the best quality of life. I must read the article in The Economist. Since Melbourne was labelled as one of the best cities, it has adopted a "clappy-happy" policy. It would be hard to keep it up.
Senator Feeney felt it was important for the husband and family of Ms Margaret Hassan to get firm news of her.
Senator Bannon spoke about illegal dumping and said the hugging with the Progressive Democrats was over. It depends on whom one wants to hug.
Senator John Paul Phelan made a highly relevant point about direct marketing that claims people can get what they want by taking up a particular loan offer. People who cannot afford to pay back such offers will take them up and find themselves in deeper mire later.
Senator Henry spoke about Senator Maurice Hayes's article and called for a debate on infrastructure. Senator Browne wanted the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House for a debate on capital funding for education.
Senator Bradford said that I would ask the new Ministers to come to the House to lay out their stall. Only last week during Private Members' time we had a fine debate with the Minister for Finance who stayed for the entire debate and laid out his stall. We either agreed or disagreed with him.
I know what the Senator is getting at. I believe all the new Ministers have been to the House since their appointment. When I approached the Ministers they agreed to come if we proposed a topic on which they could speak. They have been remarkable in their attendance and very good at coming to the House.
They have enunciated their policies in the course of their business here. We are getting remarkable acquiescence from the Ministers' offices lately. I am very pleased they are coming here. I take the Senator's point about policy. We could argue it forever. We cannot get them to come twice, once to state policy and once to address the issue we proposed, as this would be difficult to manage.
Senator Feighan wants a second terminal and is an avowed supporter of Ryanair. Good for him; it takes all sorts.