Wednesday, 29 June 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, a motion referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which has completed its discussions on it. The motion concerns efficiencies in the exchange of information concerning terrorist offences between the member states, Europol and Eurojust. It is proposed to take this motion without debate; No. 2, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and Senators may share time. The Minister shall be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, Interpretation Bill 2000 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m.; No. 4, Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of Private Members' business until 10 p.m.; and No. 23, motion No. 13 regarding the consumer strategy group, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 2.15 p.m. until 3.15 p.m.
May I use this opportunity to congratulate all of those involved in brokering a deal in Derry over the past 24 hours between the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys and the Bogside residents? The deal was largely brokered by the Derry Chamber of Commerce and is a model to which all of the contentious parades in Northern Ireland should accede. We owe our congratulations to the chamber of commerce and the people of Derry who, over many years, have tried to resolve their difficulties by sitting down, meeting people and working out some kind of compromise. Derry is a kind of model city inNorthern Ireland where power-sharing has worked for many years, thanks to the influence of the SDLP and others. The kind of deal that was done there in the past 24 hours is helpful.
I welcome what the Taoiseach said in the other House yesterday about the potential of a new IRA statement. It is clear that Senators will not have an opportunity to discuss such a statement in detail if it is issued while the House is in recess. Can the Deputy Leader indicate whether time will be set aside for a debate on Northern Ireland issues when the House meets again in September? It is important that the House should consider all these matters in greater detail. The people of this country are interested in more than statements or mere words — they want concrete action. They would like the entire apparatus of the paramilitary organisations to be wound down. They do not want such organisations to continue to exist as commemorative organisations. The IRA and other organisations have nothing to commemorate, other than horror and destruction on this island. It is important that the House should debate the matter in the autumn.
I welcome Senator Bradford's comments yesterday about the problems which have emerged in Zimbabwe in recent years. I think it is an issue we need to address. The strong-arm tactics of President Mugabe, such as the outrageous attacks on the legitimate opposition in Zimbabwe, were highlighted recently by a British MP, Kate Hoey, who visited the country. RTE also did some great work by taking some television footage from Zimbabwe. The South African authorities, including that country's President, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, need to explain why they have refused to condemn the actions of the Zimbabwean dictator in recent months.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's comments about Derry. When I was in Belfast yesterday afternoon, however, the divisions in that city were clear. When one drives through Belfast at this time of the year, one sees a great deal of regalia in one part of it, followed by a vacuum in the next district, followed by the regalia once more. One can hear drums, etc. As a society, we should strive for a time when the shamrock, the lambeg, the harp and the sash can coexist happily. It seems that we are a long way from that, however. The example shown in Derry represents the way forward and deserves to be welcomed as such.
Perhaps I am moving from the sublime to the ridiculous by mentioning that I have written this morning to the Superintendent of the Houses of the Oireachtas about the condition of the ducks which are living beside the coffee dock in the Leinster House 2000 part of this complex. I understand that three of the ducks have died in recent weeks. It reflects badly on the Oireachtas if its Members do not take responsibility for a matter of this nature. Who is in charge of the issue? Some members of staff have been very helpful and have done their best to deal with the problem in some way. We will be the subject of global headlines if we allow more harmless and innocent ducks to die on our property by failing to look after them. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach can use his good office to examine this matter. Somebody should take charge of the problem by dealing with it properly. The ISPCA has been informed of the issue, but it does not seem to have taken any action. I think we should take action.
I spoke in the House approximately two weeks ago about the difference between farm gate prices and the prices being paid by consumers in retail outlets. The growth of farmers' markets has offered consumers a useful alternative and given them useful information. I listened to a farmer from Wexford earlier today. He said he can get four times as much revenue by selling at farmers' markets. That is a clear indication of where the money is going, even if one has to take into consideration the cost of slaughter, time and transport, etc. It should be emphasised, in the context of the debate we had last week about the Common Agricultural Policy, that new approaches need to be taken and encouraged. We need to say to the EU that farmers' markets should be encouraged, rather than closed down. Given that lamb prices, for example, are collapsing, we need to promote initiatives of this nature. Ordinary consumers do not know when meat prices collapse. They might read about such collapses in the newspapers, but they do not benefit when they go to butchers' shops, etc., to buy meat. Those involved in both ends of the process — farmers and consumers — lose out. I would like a discussion on the matter.
The Dublin Port tunnel will be up and running, and certain decisions will have to be made, by the time the House meets again in the autumn. It seems to me that we are on the point of making some daft decisions. We were led to believe that traffic going to the port tunnel from the M50 would travel along an approved route. It is all very fine that heavy goods vehicles are not allowed to travel along certain roads, but other roads are becoming rat-runs. It seems that someone has declared "open sesame" in respect of the Oscar Traynor Road in Santry, for example. The transport authorities should make a clear decision to approve an appropriate central route from the M50 to the port tunnel.
We need to prohibit all heavy goods vehicles from passing through our major cities and ensure that deliveries are made by small and appropriate vehicles. It is probably time for us to pursue such a policy, which has been adopted in many civilised cities throughout Europe. I would like to inform the House of my experience while driving on the motorway between Newbridge and Naas on Tuesday morning. I was travelling behind a truck at 110 km/h in the outside lane of the motorway, which has a speed limit of 120 km/h. Such full-scale heavy goods vehicles are allegedly required to have a governor that prevents them from travelling at above 55 mph. I remind the House that although just 3% of all vehicles in this country are heavy goods vehicles, they are involved in 10% of fatal accidents. That statistic speaks eloquently for itself. We need to assess the manner in which the industry views itself. Certain lorry drivers insist on driving through Drogheda rather than paying the toll on the M1. They are involved in a commercial operation — they cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over good sense and proper traffic management.
In the last 24 hours, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the other House have debated this country's allocation of overseas development aid, which has become a live topic since the mention of the Taoiseach was given a raucous reception at a U2 concert last weekend. The Government intends to announce its new overseas development aid promise when both Houses have adjourned for the summer. I appeal to the media not to be fooled for a second time and to take the promise that is made by the Government with an appropriate dose of scepticism. The Government's failure to keep its promise in this regard is perhaps its most embarrassing betrayal. The public is increasingly aware of and annoyed about it. I hope the House can debate the Government's new target early in the autumn session, so that Members can begin to assess whether the Government is in earnest about the target.
I understand that the Government intends to publish a new Bill to outline the rights of immigrant workers. I have not seen in media reports on this matter any indication that the Government will ensure that the inspectors who will have to enforce the new legislation will be given the power to investigate, to gather information and to publish reports. The High Court decision that they could not do so left the inspectors in an impossible position. The proposed legislation will not make any difference to the homeless Polish people living in Cork who have been victimised by the Irish welfare system. They are not given any social assistance for two years after their arrival in this country. As a consequence, some of them are living on our streets. We should be ashamed and embarrassed.
It often seems that the small stories emerging from Northern Ireland are not important, but I think they are a real barometer of changing attitudes there. Such stories often highlight the essence of future conflict resolution. Like other speakers, I refer to the deal brokered regarding the Orange Order march in Derry next month. This could be a catalyst for breaking down barriers of misunderstanding and suspicion. Here we are getting behind the scare headlines and getting down to the community, which is where the foundations will be built and maintained for the peace process in the future. It is important that this opportunity is not lost. There is a chance here for community representatives of both traditions, including the police, media and all those involved in forming opinions, to use this opportunity to create a partnership to ensure we can look to it as a model for future development in other parts of the North in the coming months.
In the past, the marching season has very often had an influential impact of a disruptive nature on the peace process. We could have the opposite happening here, so we should not underestimate the significance of this deal. I hope we will all put a shoulder to the wheel and bring on board all people of goodwill to ensure we get the maximum benefit from the deal.
I support Senator Ryan's statement on work permits. I welcome the fact that legislation has been announced by the Minister because it is timely to introduce changes in this regard. What has happened in Eyre Square in Galway is regrettable, the impact of which has been felt mainly by 30 Polish workers who were not aware that the project was closing down. What will happen to these workers?
The aspect of overruns has been raised on many occasions in this House. I am concerned about the overrun relating to the main drainage scheme in Limerick city. When it was projected in 2001, it was supposed to cost €127 million, but it will now cost €262 million, which is double the original cost predicted. I put it to the professionals in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the contractor was fired from that project on the basis that it appeared he was too slow in carrying out the work. As a result, this contractor's business has been seriously damaged. He had to sell 50% of his company and could not tender for many projects. The worrying aspect is that an arbitrator has decided that the contractor was wrongfully dismissed from the project. The impact of this could mean a payment of almost €50 million to the contractor, together with an overrun which already exists.
The sum of €50 million would represent approximately 80% of the entire city council's budget. Who will pick up the tab for this? Potentially the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have to do so because the city council will not. Before the city council made the decision, what professional advice did it get in regard to the decision, because it now appears that the contractor has been vindicated by the arbitrator's decision? There are many questions to be answered in this regard because this is taxpayers' money which will be spent. It is regrettable that these cost overruns appear to be accepted. Many questions must be asked about this project.
As it is such a happy occasion, we should wish him the best.
The chief executive of Ireland West Tourism, Mr. John Concannon, said that selling tourism in the west is now like standing on a burning platform and only fire brigade action can save it. We are in dire need of swift action in order to save livelihoods throughout the whole rural region of the west of Ireland. The livelihoods of families involved in tourism are being eroded on a daily basis. Significant changes are taking place in the way people visit the west. While we welcome the publication today of the report which states that holidays in the west are 20% cheaper than in Dublin, swift action is needed in this regard. While I am not the best person to seek extra sitting days in the Seanad, I suggest to the Acting Leader that he might consider coming back for one day in September and inviting all the relevant Ministers who are preparing the Estimates to listen to the points we want to make in regard to spending for the next year, so that voices of Members of this House may be heard.
I would like to refer to No. 1, a motion on the Treaty of Amsterdam and the exchange of information. The Acting Leader said he wants to take the matter without debate. It was tabled, but each day a list of items are tabled on the back of the Order Paper. Most of these items go through on the nod. I would like to enter a caveat here and I would like the Acting Leader to refer the matter to the appropriate Minister. I am concerned about any exchange of information deriving from the use of torture. This matter has been actively discussed in Britain and some authorities appear to have very little difficulty with the referral of prisoners to third countries so that they can be tortured. It amounts to outsourcing torture. I would be very concerned about allowing such a situation to go through on the nod, therefore, I ask the Acting Leader to raise my concerns with the appropriate Minister.
I support Senator Brian Hayes in seeking a debate or holding a protest against what has been happening in Zimbabwe over many years. Over the years, I have raised the matter on the Adjournment. Independent Senators have a motion down on Zimbabwe. There is an atrocious situation where a dictator, after a completely fraudulent election, is now terrorising his own people. He is creating mass famine. "Operation clear out the rubbish" is how he describes his own citizens. This man is a beast who needs to be confronted. I hope the South African authorities will do something about the issue. I find it very difficult to be optimistic about a man like Thabo Mbeki, who said he thinks AIDS can be cured by eating spinach. His views on Zimbabwe are just as out of touch with reality.
I would like to raise the issue of risk equalisation. It was felt there should be some discussion on this matter. It appears from what has been said that the deferral of risk equalisation is part of the preparation for the possible privatisation of the VHI. We are entitled to a say in this matter because it will be a disaster, just as the privatisation of Telecom Éireann has been a disaster.
In the past couple of weeks the directors of Eircom, including Tony O'Reilly, took enormous sums of money for running the worst telecom service in Europe. There is no investment in it. I am waiting for six months to get my telephone fixed. I am just one of many people in this situation. There is growing dissatisfaction with the service and it is appalling that fat cats can bleed a company, put no investment into it and give a lousy service, which is one of the worst in Europe. The same applies to Bord Gáis. No one will take any responsibility. They out-source services.
Has the Acting Leader been informed that an emergency Bill has been put forward today in the Lower House relating to the role of registrars of deaths, births and marriages? Will the Bill be taken in this House this week or next week, or will we sit on Saturday or next Monday to deal with the matter?
Will the Acting Leader invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come to this House when we return in the autumn to debate the MRSA crisis? This is a war against what is a serious problem for hospitals. People need to be acutely aware of the dangers to vulnerable patients. I propose bringing back matrons to run hospitals because when they did so hospitals were clean and conscientiously run. There was no MRSA or winter vomiting bug. Visiting rules should be reviewed and everyone who enters a ward should wash their hands and wear protective footwear to minimise the danger of cross-contamination. Visiting should be by invitation only where patients are vulnerable. I commend the Minister again on waging this war against MRSA and I wish her victory.
Can the Deputy Leader say if the Leader was able to persuade the Minister for Agriculture and Food to attend for an hour on Friday for a discussion on the beet industry and on wider agricultural issues? The Leader also stated yesterday that she would ask the Minister for Health and Children to come before the House to discuss risk equalisation. Can the Deputy Leader inform the House if she was successful in that?
An economic development report by the chambers of commerce in the South East was launched by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, in Kilkenny last Friday. The report provides a projection for the region in 15 years time, in 2020. It makes six key recommendations. The Minister was particularly unequivocal on the need for a university for the south east region, and I fully agree with him. Unemployment figures for the south east are worse than for virtually any other part of the country and some of the worst blackspots are in the region, particularly in County Wexford. The figures for third level participation are also the worst in Ireland. The case for a university is very strong and I urge the Government to promote a debate that would ensure a university for the south east becomes a priority in the near future.
We may need the Cathaoirleach's guidance on whether it is the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission which deals with ducks. We do not want any dead ducks around the Houses of the Oireachtas.
We may need to appoint an officer to look after animal life around the precinct.
I endorse what Senators Hayes and Ó Murchú said about the agreement reached in Derry though we cannot disguise the fact that in other parts of the North where the balance of forces is different there are still serious problems, as we saw in the Ardoyne. Every community has events to commemorate, whether it be Bloody Sunday or the hunger strikes. It is easy to be rigorously moralistic but if we want peace we must leave some space for people to move on.
He and Prime Minister Blair consider themselves to be two great Christian leaders. Christians in Iraq have had to flee from Basra in the south, which is controlled by British troops, and from Baghdad where the Chaldean Christians have virtually all had to seek refuge in, of all places, Syria. It is too late to ask for a debate on Iraq between now and the end of the week but I ask the Deputy Leader if our concern for the appalling plight of all civilians in Iraq could be conveyed to the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and the United States of America because I have heard very little expression of concern for them from Prime Minister Blair or President Bush.
I support the call by Senator Ryan to address the problems on the Naas dual carriageway. I have on several occasions tried without success to pick up the number on a truck as it was passing me. It is very serious. The upgrading of the dual carriageway presents a golden opportunity to debate the issue in the autumn when the speed limits will be reviewed. People take their lives in their hands on that section of the road.
We need a fresh look at the structures in place to promote our tourism industry. The regional boards we have at present have outlived their usefulness. Last week's ITIC survey showed worrying trends in tourism. There has been a decline in the number of bednights, tourists are spending less time in Ireland and there are fewer UK visitors. Tour operators, agencies involved in tourism and community leaders have been making negative comments about the regional structures in place. People in the midlands seldom have their tourism products promoted by the east coast and midlands board. It is important that the structures are reviewed urgently. Perhaps the boards should be abolished and replaced by new structures giving regional authorities some power to promote tourism.
I support what Senator Henry said about Iraq. The American public is finally getting disillusioned with President Bush. Some 1,700 American soldiers have now been killed and 14,000 have been seriously injured. At least 100,000 Iraqi people have been killed. The Government should speak out.
I am sick and tired of the touchy-feely approach to the United States of America while people stand on their dignity to bring the peace process in the North to fruition. It is what may be described as a "no-brainer".
This Friday I am organising a conference on child care.
As Senator Finucane's comments show, cost overruns is a hot issue at the moment. My understanding is that local authorities act as agents of the State in arranging contracts. I personally know the man involved in the contract in Limerick. The job was slow because he had to wait for the geological survey reports, which he needed, as does every other contractor, to price it. The company has done a great deal of good work in the State but, because of the attitude of officials of Limerick Corporation, he was prepared to settle for €15 million. The corporation would not discuss the issue with him and the case has gone to arbitration, which could cost the State €50 million. It is deplorable that such a scenario should arise because an attitude was adopted and issues were not discussed. Many problems relating to cost overruns on projects occur because people will not listen.
While it is too late to ask for a debate on the failure of the Government to roll-out the BreastCheck screening programme, particularly in Munster and the west, women from all over Munster will present petitions to representatives of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children at 12 noon seeking an end to delays in the roll-out of this life saving programme.
Senators Brian Hayes, O'Toole, Ó Murchú and Mansergh raised the agreement in Derry on the Orange Order parade and I echo the sentiments expressed. It was a significant event and the chamber of commerce should be congratulated along with the Orange Order and the residents of the Bogside. It demonstrates what co-operation can do but, even in the most difficult times, Derry reached accommodation on most matters and there are probably lessons there.
I agree with Senator Ó Murchú's important comment about the power of community and its significance and I also echo Senator Mansergh's comment that everybody wants to commemorate their people and space is required for that. I accept that Northern Ireland issues should be debated at an early stage when we return because events will have moved on. Hopefully, progress will have been made and the statement we are hoping for will have been issued. Firm indications were given in the run up to the Northern Ireland elections that there was a desire for a statement to be made but it has taken quite a while and I hope it issues shortly.
Events in Zimbabwe were raised by Senators Brian Hayes and Norris. It is an appalling scenario, which is totally unacceptable. It is not right to call it simply a clear-out. There is also concern about the role of South Africa. I propose to indicate to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that a strong representation should be made on this matter, first, through the European Union and, second, on a bilateral basis. However, the situation is not acceptable.
Those of us who have been in the House for a while can recall a period when the ducks were escorted by the Garda across the road from Leinster Lawn to St. Stephen's Green. They are an integral part of the Oireachtas. Yesterday, we received an e-mail which stated we should not feed them bread because it is toxic.
This is a serious issue.
I strongly support Senator O'Toole's comments on the issue of farm gate prices. The corporate food industry has got the EU by the scruff of the neck to ensure people who produce wholesome, natural food on farms and try to sell it in their local communities should be prevented from doing so. That trend has been consistent over a number of years. As a member of the sub-committee on European scrutiny, I was pleased regulations were introduced recently regarding the sale of eggs to permit small producers to sell eggs in their local market. Up to now, unless they had access to a large packhouse, they could not do so and they were excluded from the local market. This issue should gain our attention.
I visited the west last weekend and I hope all the Members who seek a debate on the tourism industry in the west will do the same. However, the strawberries in the Spar supermarket in Moycullen, County Galway, were from Holland. It had no Irish strawberries, which is terrible.
The port tunnel and associated issues were raised by Senators O'Toole, Ormonde and Ryan. Heavy goods vehicles present a major issue, which was raised previously, and I accept the figures quoted by Senator Ryan. However, it is extraordinary, no matter how often one travels on the dual carriageway out of Dublin towards Cork and Limerick, the number of vehicles that have no number plates on the back or that have number plates on the back that are different from those on the front. One wonders how enforcement can be conducted in those circumstances, particularly given that these vehicles travel at high speeds.
The issue of overseas development aid was raised. The Minister dealt with this capably on "Morning Ireland" earlier.
Ireland is one of the top nine countries in the provision of such aid. Economic growth domestically has provided for an enormous increase in the ODA spend. While it has not reached the target set, as we had all hoped, progress has been made.
We will be delighted to debate the issue in the autumn.
The employment permits Bill, which will provide rights to non-nationals who come to Ireland to work, will come before the House. The employee should be the permit holder rather than the employer and the Bill is heading in that direction to ensure the rights of employees are vindicated.
Senators Ryan and Finucane raised the issue of cost overruns but I am not aware of the details of the case in Limerick. Such overruns are unacceptable as a general principle and there should be scrutiny and regulation. Projects must be undertaken within budget. Yesterday the issue of the 20% contribution of local authorities to water and sewerage schemes was raised. If projects such as that raised by the Senators were attended to, the 20% contribution would be available to undertake schemes that are urgently required.
Senators Cox and Bannon raised the issue of tourism in the west. I have visited the west several times this year and I have stayed in a number of guest houses and hotels. I am aware how serious is the situation, given that tourist numbers have fallen dramatically. It was encouraging to hear tourists making positive comments on "Morning Ireland" earlier when they were interviewed about the matter. The strength of the US dollar is also a factor. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and I agree he should come to the House at the earliest opportunity to debate it.
Senator Norris referred to No. 1. It is not acceptable that anybody should be referred to another state if there is even the remotest possibility that he or she could be subject to torture. That should not happen.
Matters relating to this were discussed earlier at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights but I had to attend to ensure a quorum. Such issues should be debated at this forum and I hope those responsible will attend to debate them.
The Leader dealt in detail with the matter of risk equalisation yesterday. There is no proposal to privatise the VHI. There is a proposal to make it a commercial semi-State company which is a separate matter. It would also be to the benefit of patients and consumers if there is genuine competition in this market and more than one operator can operate profitably in it. The Tánaiste has spelt that out.
I would not have thought Senator Norris has any need for a telephone. He can broadcast quite capably without one. For that reason I am not surprised it has taken so long for his telephone to be repaired.
Senator Leyden overestimates the organisational powers of the Labour Party to suggest that it would orchestrate booing of the Taoiseach in Croke Park.
I do not know about the situation with regard to the emergency Bill in the Dáil on the registration of births, deaths and marriages but we will look into that.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children has actively tried to deal with the MRSA bug. Senator Leyden is correct, however, this involves a question of hygiene. I noted in Scotland there was a recommendation that telephones and door knobs be disinfected between patients because that is how infection spreads.
As drugs become more potent they have a capacity to pressurise the system and isolate the resistant bug which thrives in those circumstances. Previously, the other bugs thrived along with the resistant one and kept it at bay.
In regard to Senator John Paul Phelan's concern about the sugar industry and related CAP matters, the Minister for Agriculture and Food is away but we hope she may be able to devote an hour or so to these topics on Friday morning. I am not yet certain about that.
I am aware of the surprising fact that Wexford is one of the most depressed areas in the country in terms of wealth and employment. Few people realise that and I am glad these matters are being highlighted.
Senators Henry and White raised the matter of the appalling level of casualties in Iraq. It would be appropriate to convey our concerns and our views on the matter to the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and the United States.
Senator Bannon mentioned tourism in the midlands where the lakeland is a fine resource. I drove across the Slieve Blooms at the weekend on my way home from the west. There was nobody there although it is an outstandingly beautiful part of the country.
Resources are available that hopefully can be used to market the region. The Senator's point about the regional tourism organisations is correct and it should be examined.
Senators Scanlon and O'Meara raised the question of overruns in public contracts. Senator White also raised the matter of a child care conference on Friday at 10 a.m. in the Berkeley Court Hotel.
Senator O'Meara mentioned BreastCheck. I noted a suggestion last week that a blood test could be far more accurate in terms of diagnosis than the scan so perhaps that should be studied. That could be a cheaper and more efficient way of doing this test.