Wednesday, 23 February 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, a motion, to be taken without debate, concerning the draft Údarás na Gaeltachta Elections (Amendment) Regulations 2005, which propose to amend the existing code for Údarás elections to take account of changes to the local election code, subsequent to the last Údarás elections in 1999 — some of the changes include the repeal of provisions relating to deposits, changes to the nomination procedure, updating forms of acceptable elector identification, permitting of voter companions in the case of voters who cannot read or write sufficiently well and a reduction in the canvassing perimeter from 100 m to 50 m, with the elections to be held on 2 April 2005; No. 2, statements on the progress of the national spatial strategy, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.15 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, Senators may share time and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of statements; No. 3, statements on the Supreme Court decision as regards nursing home charges, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the end of statements; and No. 22, motion 14, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.15 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
We saw the result of the first test of the EU Constitution in Spain last weekend. When will the Government set a date for the holding of a referendum to ratify the EU Constitution in Ireland? It would be useful if a date were set for the referendum early so that there is a long lead-up campaign. If there is not a long period for the dissemination of information so that voters know the issues and political parties take responsibility for explaining them on the doorsteps, the vote could go the way of the first Nice referendum. The Government would be wise to set a date early for this campaign. We could work towards it if we knew such a campaign was to take place over the next year to 15 months. That would greatly help those of us who want Ireland to vote "Yes" in the forthcoming EU constitutional debate.
The Leader took the initiative some years ago to invite individual MEPs to the House at various times to take questions and generally participate in debate in the Seanad. As the Leader is aware, under Standing Orders, the House may invite the entire Irish delegation of MEPs to attend. It would be useful if, some time between now and the summer recess, we invite all the Irish MEPs to the House to debate the European Constitution——
As regards how matters are progressing in Northern Ireland, I have raised twice on recent occasions the importance of deepening cross-community involvement below political level. It is worth noting that last night the friendly football match between Linfield and Derry City passed off without any problems on the pitch. The only problems were outside. The officials of both clubs were delighted with the way it passed off on the pitch and with the importance of the event. It is an example of the type of issue that can be developed. An all-Ireland soccer league, which would be attractive if enough money was put into it, is the type of engagement we need to see taking place while there is a political lacuna of the type that exists at present.
Perhaps I am the only one who gets irritated when the term "republicanism" is sullied by being confused with murderers and raving nationalists of one type or another. It is time we reclaimed republicanism.
No republican could ever go out and shoot someone on the basis of belief. The term grew from a consideration, an agreement and a policy that Catholic, Protestant and dissenter would live together. Nowadays, that can be extended into a wider community. We should base republicanism on that view. We need to recognise that republicanism was not on one religious side or the other but it crossed from Catholicism to Presbyterianism and in between during that time. If we develop that on a first principle basis in terms of how to bring forward deeper community involvement, we might find a sense of direction which is missing from the Northern peace process at present. That is not to say that there is no need or opportunity for political involvement — of course there is — but we need to have it in the full depth of the community from here on.
Ar dtús báire, caithfidh mé ceist a chur don gCeannaire faoin dtairiscint faoi toghchán d'Údarás na Gaeltachta. Ar pléadh an tairiscint seo áit ar bith nó an bhfuilimid chun glacadh leis gan díospóireacht? Has it been discussed anywhere? If it has not been discussed at the appropriate committee, it is very bad parliamentary practice to have a motion on a democratic election before the Oireachtas without the details being discussed. We know by now that parliamentary draftsmen make mistakes. We end up being the victims of those mistakes as Parliament is blamed. If it has not been discussed and if the Leader cannot assure me that it has been discussed in some forum, I would not be agreeable to it being passed without debate.
Senator O'Toole is absolutely right. There is only one political movement in this State that should not be allowed to claim the title "republican".
People have the right to use the police service to have their brother's murderers arrested, prosecuted and hopefully convicted. No political cause is so sacred that people like that can be protected. Anybody who protects someone like that is not a republican. That needs to said categorically here.
I understand that we are in favour of the EU ending its embargo on the sale of arms to China. I do not know whether this has been debated somewhere, but I understood that EU policy was now more accountable to the Oireachtas. This is a fundamental decision — selling arms to a brutal regime which has perpetrated something close to genocide in Tibet. The idea that we would sell arms to them has great moral implications. We should have an opportunity to debate this before an EU decision is taken. It is perhaps the first time in my political career that I have agreed with George W. Bush about something.
In light of recent events, I do not think that any eminent trade unionist should talk too much about guilt by association.
This morning's newspaper contains the astonishing news that the finance company which was at the centre of last week's controversy is entirely unregulated. It is not subject to regulation by IFSRA, even though the committee chaired by the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recommended that such bodies should be regulated. I would like a Minister to come before the House and explain why the Government decided not to implement a recommendation of a committee chaired by the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He is so eloquent in telling us — correctly in my view — what is wrong with these organisations. As I said in regard to another matter previously, there should be no area of financial activity in this country which is not subject to IFSRA. That is the only way to ensure justice for people and that large scale money laundering cannot take place.
I echo the calls by Senator Hayes for a debate on the referendum on the proposed EU constitution. We have learned from past mistakes that we can sometimes be complacent in the lead-up to such referenda. There is an onus on us all to ensure that the message is communicated properly to the Irish people and the House can play a positive role in doing that by facilitating such a debate. I do not think it can be early enough to start on this particular route.
I fully endorse previous comments made by speakers on republicanism. President Bush may be happy that Senator Ryan agrees with him, but I am getting worried that I am now agreeing with the Senator.
The points have been made and they are valid. There is an onus on us all to reflect on these issues and to ensure that we keep the peace process moving. The kernel of all these recent difficulties is that people are speaking the same language, but have a different meaning as to what is and what is not criminality. This has come very much to the fore. Statements in the other House yesterday represent an effort to clarify that issue. However, we must maintain the momentum in this regard.
We welcome the McCartney sisters who are meeting the different Government parties today in Leinster House. They have been extremely brave in the circumstances. As a result of the reign of terror and fear of the IRA in Belfast, not one of the 50 people in the public house on the night of Robert McCartney's murder has yet come forward. I will believe what Deputy Ó Caoláin said in the House yesterday when I see the murderers of this person tracked down. Until then, I do not sincerely believe what he and others like him are saying.
I agree with the concept of republicanism as defined by Senator O'Toole and Senator Ryan. I compliment the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, on the way he handled the concept of republicanism on "Questions and Answers" last Monday. He gave an outline of how we perceive republicanism, which is not the type that is being sullied at present. I am delighted to support the comments made.
I raised the issue of a referendum on the European Constitution some time ago. While it is time to motivate people to discuss the proposed constitution, perhaps we should wait until after the by-elections to avoid confusing the issue. We should get one thing out of the way before we finalise and fix a date on another. Senator Brian Hayes was correct to say it is timely to use the Chamber to launch the debate and reach out to the public. It is a golden opportunity.
Will the Leader consider No. 22, motion 7, which proposes to extend the Order of Business? It is rather bad for the House that Members undermine without wishing to the authority of the Cathaoirleach because there are matters we want to raise. The Order of Business is the best attended part of the day and it is the aspect of our business to which the media pay most attention. It is very often the time at which the most interesting debate takes place. It would serve the House well to discuss whether we can change the terms under which the Cathaoirleach presides over the Order of Business to facilitate a better, more efficient debate. More time should be provided to allow every Member who wishes to speak an opportunity to do so.
I share Senator Ryan's disquiet on the moves which are afoot to lift the EU embargo on the sale of arms to China. I am very sorry the Taoiseach appears to be going along with the plan. We have complained a great deal about bullying and murder by the IRA. I remember Brendan Behan saying that people complained about the small bombs of the IRA but not about nuclear bombs. We should do both and bear in mind that arms sold to China may be used against the people of Tibet who have been the subject of a continuous cultural genocide. The Chinese are driving a railway into the country and intend to flood the place. It is a disaster and instead of sending China arms, we should raise human rights issues.
I join with my colleagues in saying that the McCartney sisters are women of the most extraordinary courage and dignity. Given that they were all Sinn Féin voters, their response cannot be impeached. It was chilling to hear them say they had known things before to which they turned a blind eye because such activities were part of the culture. They mentioned a rape, the use of a hot iron on a woman's breast and the fact that the thugs in the pub in question said, "Do you know who we are? We are the IRA". This is not acceptable. We owe the McCartneys a great debt for having the courage to expose this behaviour within their own tradition. As I said yesterday, this kind of thing also occurs in the Unionist community. In the absence of support for policing on both sides, it may, regrettably, continue.
The provision of 45 minutes for the Order of Business is quite sufficient and we should not erode substantive debate simply because the media happens to be present in greater force during it.
I call on the Fine Gael Party to re-examine its amendment to tonight's Private Members' motion.
I appreciate the comments of Senator O'Toole and others on republicanism. Without denying the republican roots of every party represented in the House, I draw attention to the fact that the party I am proud to represent has as its subtitle "the republican party".
That implies ideals to be lived up to. I do not exclude other parties, even those of which we are severely critical, from using the word "republican" in the hope that a greater depth of understanding of the values involved will develop. Those values were summed up in the very first declaration of the Society of the United Irishmen who pledged to work for deeper constitutional knowledge, the abolition of bigotry in religion and politics and equality of representation. It is not a bad programme for republicanism even today.
Under the divorce legislation enacted in 1997, couples must live apart for four of the five preceding years before they may apply to divorce. On 1 March, an EU directive will come into force in Ireland which will allow a spouse who has been living in another jurisdiction for one year to apply for a divorce which, if granted, must be recognised in the State. More worryingly, foreign courts will for the first time be permitted to grant child custody orders to persons who have been living in another jurisdiction for one year even if the children in question have been habitually resident in Ireland. The children may be those of married or unmarried parents. The directive represents a worrying step for many people and involves very broad provisions, especially relating to children.
My concern is that the issue has not been properly debated. I have not been involved in any debate on the matter, nor had I heard it mentioned before yesterday when it was brought to my attention. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend the House to outline the impact of the directive. While the directive will, as Irish law, seriously change our divorce legislation, I am most concerned about the children who may become the subject of custody orders granted to parents living in other jurisdictions. I would like a debate as a matter of urgency.
I call to the attention of the Seanad the handwritten note of surrender of Padraig Pearse from Easter 1916 which is on display in the James Adam showrooms on St. Stephen's Green. The sale of the note will take place in May and the guide price is approximately €40,000 to €60,000. The note is a document of priceless historical value written at the time of the birth of the State. In the strongest possible terms, I implore the Government to ensure the note is purchased by the State as it belongs to the people of the State.
A year ago, I requested on the Order of Business the purchase by the State of Lissadell House, which was an opportunity I thought in my innocence it could not miss. I recommend colleagues to visit the Adam showrooms today to look at the letter. It will be a deeply emotional experience. I would like to see the State buy the letter and display it in our wonderful museums rather than allow it to be locked away in a private home. Pearse's pain and torture are evident in the handwritten note.
I raise the plight of 40 Polish workers employed at the Dublin Port tunnel whose contracts of employment are being examined by Government labour inspectors. It appears the Polish workers earn approximately half of what their Irish counterparts receive, notwithstanding the standard wage agreed by all companies involved in the construction industry. The failure to provide the Polish workers with holiday pay or overtime would constitute a gross exploitation of any category of employee, especially given our need for non-national workers to drive the economy. The Leader recently launched at Trinity College, Dublin, a book on the plight of female migrant workers. It again highlights the abuses which take place. It is unacceptable, and I call for a Minister to come into this House and make a statement in terms of how the Government is dealing with the matter.
I also subscribe to calls for a debate on the EU constitution. The constitutional treaty should be in the public domain and debated and ample information should be available to enable people make a decision. We should learn from the mistakes that were made with the first referendum on the Nice treaty. I hope that will not happen again and the Government will announce the date for the referendum so that the parties and groups involved can be up and running and the public can benefit.
When will the Veterinary Practice Bill come back before this House? It came before the House in December and there was a very good debate on Second Stage. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, wanted to make a number of observations in the Bill, however, it is now almost the end of February and people are becoming anxious. I would appreciate it if the Leader could ascertain when it will return to this House.
Will the Leader consider arranging a debate to discuss the issue of food safety arising from the statement by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland with regard to the recall of sudan red 1? Some 350 associated products which were on sale are now being recalled. Sudan red 1 goes into Crosse & Blackwell's Worcester sauce, manufactured by Premier Foods in the UK. Worcester sauce is used in a recovery drink called a bloody Mary.
This carcinogenic dye is used in food products. Arising from this serious situation, the Leader should arrange a full debate and bring the Minister responsible into this House to discuss the issue of food safety. There is a problem with regard to traceability and the manufacture of own brand products by supermarkets. We do not know from where they come and it is about time we had full traceability to ensure the safety of the Irish consumer.
At their last parliamentary party meeting, the Progressive Democrats unanimously agreed to scrap the regional waste management plan and bring forward a national plan for a super incinerator. It proposes to locate this super incinerator in the midlands. The time has come to have a debate on waste management because there are differences in Government on the issue. Both the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, gave the parliamentary party a commitment that they would bring up the matter at the next Cabinet meeting. The issue has appeared in the national media and the party is proposing one super incinerator for the country to be situated in the midlands.
I was annoyed by the comments of a Progressive Democrat from the west of Ireland who stated it should be located in an under-developed and deserted area of the midlands. This is an insult to the people of the midlands, who are represented by two Progressive Democrats members have been elected to the Oireachtas. I ask the party to withdraw those comments and apologise.
I refer to the matter raised by Senator Leyden. I support the call for a debate with regard to that harmful, disastrous colorant. My understanding is that it is used in over 400 products.
The production of own brands must cease or, failing that, they must be governed by legislation. Traceability is of paramount importance with regard to what each of us is eating. Own products mean bland packaging and the consumer knowing nothing. One manufacturer can produce many own brands for different stores and nobody knows where anything comes from. It is important that this practice cease.
I raised the issue of savings in the past couple of weeks and the Leader kindly responded. We have since read about the matter of SSIAs. The Minister for Finance made a statement a few days ago that he did not envisage any further scheme, but it is important that savings be further encouraged and that those funds be allowed into pension funds, PRSAs and whatever pension scheme a person has. That is also of paramount importance. Perhaps the Leader would use her good offices in that regard, or perhaps the Minister will be in the House shortly.
I support Senator White's call regarding historical documents which makes good sense. We should preserve historical State documents for public knowledge and scrutiny.
Yesterday the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, opened a new Michael Collins museum in Cork. This is long overdue and a welcome development. It is important we recognise famous historical figures who paid dearly with their lives at a very difficult time in the foundation of State. We cannot even begin to imagine the pressure they were under 70 and 80 years ago when founding the State.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport into the House? He is announcing allocations for this year's road building programme and it is important we have a debate on the matter next week. There is much division within the Government on the issue of a motorway for the south east and it will be interesting to see if it is included in the allocations.
We also need a discussion on tolling, which will be a massive issue in the by-elections. People in Meath and Kildare North are very concerned about the Government's policy of tolling everything. The motorist is extremely hard-pressed paying motor tax, vehicle registration tax and huge petrol prices, etc. This is an opportune time for a debate on road funding and why only half the income taken in motor tax is subsequently spent on local roads.
That is okay.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of what happened in Spain regarding the referendum there on the EU Constitution. The Spanish Government was clever to hold an immediate referendum because the new Prime Minister wished to cash in on his current popularity. His government had a good result.
I raised the matter of the European agenda in this House at a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. In the House I suggested that a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should be held to detail how we would deal with this agenda. The Cathaoirleach agreed to that. I agree it should happen after the by-elections. We could have a meeting in the next couple of weeks. It is a good idea to have all the MEPs together because we could have a debate with them. As well as being productive it would make headlines if we got all the Irish MEPs to attend the House. That is one of the ideas, therefore, and I have sought such ideas from Members so they can be discussed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Senator O'Toole mentioned how important it is to deepen cross-community relationships and he said how well the match between Linfield and Derry City had gone on the pitch, if not off the pitch. He also said that the word "republicanism" is being sullied and that all the democratic parties should reclaim it as their own motto. I fully agree with that because the way in which the word "republicanism" is being cited now is both a parody and a negation of its meaning.
Senator Ryan raised the issue of the Údarás na Gaeltachta elections but I have not been able to find any committee which has dealt with that matter. The regulations covering Údarás na Gaeltachta are being made to bring those elections in line with the last local and general elections. Nothing is being introduced with regard to the Údarás na Gaeltachta regulations that has not already been implemented for the last local and general elections. Nonetheless, I asked members of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government, including Senator McCarthy, but nobody seems to have dealt with the issue. The regulations may well have been discussed with regard to the local elections but not the Údarás na Gaeltachta elections, which was the question raised by Senator Ryan. Is that not correct?
We have been unable to find any coiste on which changes to the regulations governing Údarás na Gaeltachta elections were debated. I may be wrong but in that confined timeframe we have been unable to find where that occurred.
Senator Ryan also agreed with what we have all said about republicanism. He also expressed his agreement with the views of President Bush on the proposed EU decision to end its embargo on arms sales to China. I notice a growing affinity between Senator Ryan and others on these matters.
All right. Senator Ryan also raised the fact that the finance company which is at the centre of the current controversy is not regulated. It is, in fact, in an unregulated financial sector, which sounds extraordinary if it is the case. The Senator says it is and from what I have read I think it is.
Senator Minihan said the Seanad should facilitate a day-long debate on EU matters, including the EU constitution. Senator Brian Hayes said the Government should soon announce the date of the proposed referendum on the constitution to ensure there is a long lead-in to the debate. I do not know when it is proposed to hold the referendum.
I agree fully with the Senator. The EU constitution is important and will bring about great changes. We should take that into account.
Senator Minihan also said the ongoing debate on the North was bringing clarity to the issue of criminality. Senator Finucane said he would like to welcome the McCartney family to the House today, as we all would. The McCartney sisters are people of sterling character.
Senator Ormonde and other Members agreed with the idea of having a day-long debate on European affairs and other matters. However, she thought we should wait until after the by-elections, as I think also. I welcome the support for such a European debate.
Senator Norris wanted me to consider No. 22, motion 7 on the Order Paper which proposes to extend the Order of Business to 90 minutes. We will see about that. It is up to the Cathaoirleach.
It will go before the committee. Senator Norris agreed with the arms embargo issue. He also said that the McCartney family members have such dignity in stating their case. I think so, too. They never shout or scream, they just state their point of view and have stuck to it. We will all welcome them to Leinster House today.
There was an altercation between Senator Mansergh and the Opposition and I expect we will have more of that later. He stated that the Fianna Fáil logo includes the words "the republican party". Other parties can also trace their origins and ethos to the republican tradition, which is a European tradition as well as being an Irish one. It stems originally from the United Irishmen. Wolfe Tone always said that Catholic, Protestant and dissenter should be united in the one cause. The wider implications of the word "republicanism" are very interesting and bear no relationship to what is currently happening all over this country.
Senator Terry raised the question of divorce in the European Union. I read that report with great interest and it seems quite a startling change that divorce would be available to couples when one partner had been living in another EU member state for one year. When the former Minister, Mervyn Taylor, introduced the divorce legislation I agreed with it as a Member of the Dáil at that time. I always felt that the period of fours years before one could apply for a divorce, was a cooling-off time that provided a period for reflection and mediation. Such attempts at mediation may not work out but sometimes they do. They constitute a safeguard for children so that arrangements for their welfare can be made in good time. The new proposal is rather alarming in that one partner must be resident in another European country for a year, but in these circumstances making custody orders for the children involved will be a major step. It is time for us to debate the issue in order to clarify it. The arrangements for divorce in Ireland have served the country well since the legislation was passed in 1997.
I thank Senator White for raising the issue of Padraig Pearse's note which is displayed in the James Adam showrooms on St. Stephen's Green. She said it should be purchased by the State. I hope it will be. I will pass on the Senator's remarks to the relevant Minister. I do not think the note has any connection with the Lissadell estate, to which the Senator referred. That would have meant maintenance, custody, staffing and other matters that would not arise in this case.
However, the note is such an intrinsic part of our history that it should be purchased by the State. I will engage with the relevant Minister on that matter.
Senator McCarthy referred to the 40 Polish workers on the Dublin Port tunnel project who were being paid approximately half the wages of their Irish counterparts. The employer said it was all a mistake.
It was a mistake in the employer's favour. I met Polish workers at Leixlip railway station yesterday and two of them told me they were going to work on the Dublin Port tunnel. We should debate the issue of migrant workers, including their pay, rights and responsibilities.
The regulations are too hazy. Poland is a new accession state and we are all part of the EU, so this case involves abuse.
I was asked when the Veterinary Practice Bill would return to the House. The Minister has had meetings with interested groups about their concerns and she hopes to take Committee Stage either next week or the following week.
Senator Leyden sought a debate on food safety. It would be good to hold one. For a moment, I thought he was seeking a ban on the drink to which he referred.
I need a special clock to get up this early. A debate on food safety would be welcome. As Senator Coghlan said, over 400 items have been found to contain a harmful colorant. We could all be eating some of those items every day, not to mention drinking them.
Senator Bannon sought a debate on waste management. Given the hilarity that emerged I do not know whether or not he wants an incinerator in the midlands.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on a harmful colorant. He stated that traceability in regard to food is of great importance. He also raised the matter of the SSIAs. I think everybody will have a good splurge when they get their money. We will not run off to another savings account with it.
I fully agree. I am all for encouraging savings but one would be entitled to a wee bit of a splurge.
Senator Browne praised Senator White's endeavour and the setting up of the military museum in Cork which has a section devoted to Michael Collins.