Thursday, 10 November 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4. No. 1 is a procedural motion to allow for the taking of the Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005 on Tuesday, 15 November 2005 and will be taken without debate. No. 2 is a motion on the Shot at Dawn Campaign and will be taken without debate. No. 3, statements on the Ferns Report, will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed 15 minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements. We have set aside more time to discuss the Ferns Report next week depending on what happens today. No. 4, Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m until 2 p.m.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House and party leaders for putting No. 2 on the agenda so swiftly and agreeing this matter unanimously before Armistice Day, ensuring that a strong signal is sent from this House to the British Government.
Yesterday, the British Government outlined its proposals to deal with a sensitive matter that has been part and parcel of the ongoing peace discussions for four years, namely, the "on the runs", those who were convicted or not convicted of terrorist offences in both jurisdictions in the past 35 years who are no longer in Northern Ireland or here. This is a sensitive issue that has been flagged since the Weston Park talks and which had to be addressed.
When we deal with it, however, we should be well aware of the considerable pain it will cause for the victims of terrorist violence on all sides of the equation in Northern Ireland and here. Both Houses should send a strong signal to the paramilitaries that they have a responsibility to let back into Northern Ireland those many hundreds of people they banished over the past 35 years who are afraid to return. Could the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come into the House to make a statement on this matter?
The British Government has proposed a tribunal that would, in each case of a person on the run who returns to Northern Ireland, find him or her guilty or not guilty and then free the person on licence, whereas our Government has proposed an eligibility board to determine if an individual will be pardoned. The two Governments have different approaches and I would like to hear why the Government has chosen this route as opposed to the informal criminal route which would at least attach guilt where no conviction had initially occurred. The House should look at this matter in the next two weeks.
Sir Reg Empey made clear yesterday the views of the loyalist and Unionist community in the North on politicians elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly or to Westminster from Northern Ireland having speaking rights in this Parliament. We should discuss this idea in the cold light of day. I am completely opposed to it. However, I wish to distinguish between my views on this issue and opposition to Sinn Féin. I welcome Sinn Féin's involvement in national politics but there are serious issues that need to be addressed. I ask the Leader to allow Members go on the record on that, not in a polemical fashion but in a way that outlines how politics works. Members are representative of the people who elect them to Parliament, and they are responsible for their area. I would like a debate on the problems this would create in the community in Northern Ireland, without people rushing in to take up a pro or anti-Sinn Féin position. It is a question of parliamentary representation and the way it should work.
I want to raise also an issue that has given me cause for concern. In the past week the OECD report was published, and we made reference to it here in the House, which states that Irish housing stock is probably 15% over-valued. If we take that as a starting point and recognise that a European directive comes into play in January which will cover issues such as insulation requirement in houses and the fact that in the greater Dublin area we have built approximately 225,000 cavity block houses in the past eight or nine years, none of which complies with the directive that will be issued from Europe in January. Apparently, builders are looking forward to a period of grace in which they will not have to comply with that directive until, say, the end of 2007 if they have already applied for planning permission. This measure will consign thousands of young couples to buying houses which will not be unsaleable but will be the last to be sold. To put it simply, it means that from January of next year every house that comes on the market will have to get a rating for insulation, and I assure the House that is the way the market will work. I would like to have a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as to how we can approach that issue.
I would also like to know the reason Dublin is the only area in the country where cavity block housing continues to be built. I thought it ended in the rest of the country 30 years ago. In simple terms, it is almost impossible to insulate a cavity block house except with a very expensive wall cladding, which destroys everything within the house. This is a serious issue which will affect the next generation. It is a problem we are facing now but which we have been aware of for the past eight years. I want to know the reason for that.
A number of advertisements are being run in this morning's newspapers by the Department of Agriculture and Food. They call on those who are involved in any way with the poultry trade to register and advise them of their obligations under the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 and registration of poultry flocks audit 2005. They also advise those who are involved in rearing turkeys for local consumption, especially coming up to the Christmas season. I accept fully the need to have a register of these people in the face of the serious threat of avian influenza but I am concerned about two issues. The first is that we may have over-regulation when this issue passes. Second, I do not want a repeat of what we saw recently where the Revenue Commissioners examined cases involving people who had invested in insurance policies. In many cases the maturity of the policies did not match the penalties they received because some of the money invested in those policies was found not to be subject to the routine tax regulations. The Revenue Commissioners looked into those insurance policies and then penalised people. I would be very concerned that the Revenue Commissioners would use this register to delve into cases where people have small land holdings and very small poultry enterprises for local consumption and go after them, so to speak, in the same manner in which they went after people with insurance policies.
Another aspect of the advertisements that surprises me is that people are advised to get the application form for registration either from the Department website or the local agricultural office. Not everybody is competent in terms of e-mail and using the Internet and not everybody has access to it. I repeat the point I made in the House recently on publicjobs.ie. The most recent Garda recruitment campaign was only accessible to potential applicants through publicjobs.ie. That was a significant recruitment drive in that for the first time it included non-nationals but I thought it was a little restrictive. The least that should have been done was to allow the dual method of hard copy and on-line application. The availability of on-line application is to be welcomed but we must be cognisant of the fact that not everybody has access to it.
Is the statement made yesterday by Deputy Liz O'Donnell in the Lower House official Government policy? I am a little fed up with dual Government and Opposition roles from some members of the Government in the Lower House in particular.
It would be appropriate for us to have a full debate on the situation in Northern Ireland. There has been a reluctance, because of events, to discuss the matter here but we have a good record in the House and in this period of relative calm we probably should discuss it and the reasons for that are twofold. The first is the matter raised by Senator Brian Hayes and the other is the one raised by Senator O'Toole. We all regard it as distasteful to see people on the run being given a concession whereby they can return but we must accept that this was part of the Agreement. There are many parts of the Agreement that each group of people found distasteful but to which they nevertheless signed up. I am prepared to accept it on that basis but Senator Hayes made a good point about people who were forced out of the country by the actions of paramilitaries, and that aspect should be examined carefully. If those people wish to come back to their communities they should be able to do so. There is another dimension to it and that is with regard to people who were killed and whose bodies were never found. The paramilitaries on both sides have a serious obligation to do whatever they can to ensure that the loved ones of those who were summarily executed can be recovered.
With regard to the matter raised by Senator O'Toole about members of the Northern Assembly speaking in this House, these issues have been discussed by the committee on Seanad reform and also by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and the views are in the public domain. I share the Senator's views on the issue but the Seanad is a possible vehicle whereby there can be an audience for those people, and that is different from being represented here because the question of representation without taxation remains a valid one.
The other matter I want to raise is the World Trade Organisation talks and the curious position taken up by Commissioner Mandelson, who appears to have sold the pass before we even got into the talks. Farmers accepted a very painful CAP reform package on the basis that it would position the Union for the talks and now they appear to have been sold down the river to some extent. That issue must be discussed on the floor of the House.
I had not intended to speak about the matter of the churches but I will now that it has been raised. My party, the Progressive Democrats, has always adopted the position that on matters of this nature we can express our personal views. We are not bound by a party Whip.
My view is that all the churches should be the same as the farming organisations, the trade unions and any other body in this country. They should have access to these Houses to put their views. We accept or reject their views and we move on. That is what is being done by the various committees of these Houses. I accept the right of the churches to make their representations here provided they do it openly. There must be accountability in any organisation, be it a church or otherwise, and collective responsibility applies with regard to the matters that caused so much pain for so many people in dioceses throughout the country.
The House will debate the Ferns Report later today and Members will have an opportunity to raise these issues but I listened to Archbishop Martin yesterday morning and he gave a very responsible type of interview. The church is trying to respond to the crisis in which it finds itself and in that regard it is not right to kick its members while they are down. They should be given a reasonable chance. They are trying to respond to what happened in the past. There are many responsible members of the church.
In 2000, BreastCheck was rolled out for the east coast. There is now an excessive waiting list nationally for mammograms. Cancer is a major cause of fear for people.
I ask that the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, consider rolling this out earlier than 2007. The funding is there on a national basis, we have a buoyant economy and we must deal with this issue as soon as possible.
Senator Glynn has mentioned that men are often forgotten in this regard. Something should be done on a national basis about prostate cancer, which has become an increasing area of concern. A very simple test will resolve that situation. The Minister could examine this area and show some enlightenment.
I join with Senator Brian Hayes in welcoming the agreement by all Members on the motion to be taken without debate regarding the Shot at Dawn Campaign. It is a worthy motion and the alacrity with which it was agreed by all sides is to be commended. I thank Senator Brian Hayes for his gracious reference to my question on that matter before the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. He too has a question and I hope we will reflect the pain of the families of those who were shot at dawn. It is significant that this motion is before the House in a week when, for the first time, the Irish tricolour flew alongside the union jack in Derry in a shared ceremony of remembrance. It included relatives of the youngest soldier to be killed in action, Private John Condon, from Waterford. It was a very emotional experience for them.
This opens the wider debate on Northern Ireland, which I support. It opens an important dimension in the improving relations between Britain and Ireland, the two communities in Northern Ireland and the two communities north and south of the Border. It is a significant event which is to be welcomed and encouraged. I ask the Leader that this House consider having one minute's silence each year on Armistice Day in the context of the warmer and closer relations and the breaking down of prejudices between the communities and to recognise the high casualty rate and the pain suffered during the First World War.
Perhaps this is not the correct time but I intend to write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to consider if this is the proper procedure, and I will be guided by it.
Once again the world has woken up to another atrocity in Amman. As foreign affairs spokesperson I ask the Leader, and I believe that I speak for the House, to convey the sympathy of the Irish people to King Abdullah and the people of Jordan on another atrocity in what was traditionally a safe haven despite its close proximity to Iraq. There had never before been this type of atrocity in Jordan and this House should condemn it.
I support Senator Mooney. We should have a debate on the Middle East. Up to 70 people may have been tragically killed in Amman. I have stayed in that hotel, as have many Irish delegations. Another 35 people were killed today in Baghdad. It is clear that Bush and Blair are on the slide. They are responsible for this. They walked us into it but we must prepare for a situation when a more intelligent government may take office in both jurisdictions. I am glad Blair was defeated in the House of Commons yesterday. I am glad the American Republican Party has started to lose governorship races but we must prepare for a new regime and try to give it some advice.
I could not speak more directly on the Order of Business. This is the tenth anniversary of the murder by the Nigerian authorities of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists who were protesting against the environmental devastation of the region by Shell Oil. I was a member of the foreign affairs committee when Des O'Malley was Chairman, and he was a good Chairman. When we planned to visit Nigeria the Nigerian authorities told us to apply through Shell for a visa. In the case of the Corrib gas pipeline and the Shell to Sea people we have again been lickspittling. We must examine operations such as Shell, which has devastated the environment. While it has a cosmetic campaign of environmentally friendly advertisements and invests in organisations such as National Geographic, it is a dangerous company.
I agree with Senator O'Toole about building industry standards, which this House should examine. To balance that, I am proud of the 700 Irish building workers and Niall Mellon who went to South Africa at their own expense to build houses in the townships for the South African deprived.
This morning the people of Galway woke up to another unofficial strike by workers in Bus Éireann. While this Government is investing unprecedented amounts of money in a ten-year transport plan, much of it in public transport, we should discuss bus deregulation. My party has always said that reform must come with investment. Bus capacity problems can be solved by subcontracting to the private sector, which receives no subsidy for its operations or bus purchase.
I agree with Senator O'Toole's comments on building regulations. Homeowners have been refused the €3,000 first-time buyer's grant because of the materials used in some Dublin apartments. I want to see what redress those people have through HomeBond. We must address the issue of quality in the building industry.
It is time we heard the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on his communications strategy and the roll-out of broadband of which there has been much talk. We should not forget that some people are awaiting a basic telephone service so they can conduct normal business and contact the emergency services.
I support Senator Dardis in his call for a debate on Northern Ireland. That is the most appropriate way to discuss the issue of people on the run and of speaking rights in the Dáil. Much of the Good Friday Agreement has yet to be implemented including the interparliamentary co-operation it envisaged. While I have no difficulty with No. 2 on the Order of Business, why are we petitioning the British Government with regard to British army soldiers rather than Irish-born soldiers, which would be more appropriate? British soldiers are a matter for the British Government.
It is a good precedent. A report came before this House and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other atrocities where there was a high suspicion of collusion by British security forces. Will the leaders examine that and bring a joint motion before this House calling on the House of Commons to pass a resolution seeking a public inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings because of the failure of the British Government to co-operate with Mr. Justice Barron's inquiry? This is overdue and I would welcome the leaders taking the initiative. It would have the support of all Members of this House.
I observed last week that there has been no satisfactory resolution to the election in Ethiopia, where there are many Irish observers. Some of them contacted me to impart the perception in that country that there is not much international interest in what is happening there. Many members of the opposition have been imprisoned without trial and lives have been lost as the armed forces use their weapons against unarmed citizens on the streets. Given that Ethiopia is one of our priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa, will the Leader agree to a debate on this as soon as possible? This House could be influential in ensuring Ethiopians are aware that other states have a strong interest in the situation there and are concerned about what is happening. We should urge the Ethiopian Government and opposition to try to resolve this dreadful situation peacefully.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the issue raised yesterday by Senator MacSharry in regard to recruitment agencies? The Employment Agency Act 1971 is under review by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, under the direction of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen. It is important to clarify that recruitment agencies in the main do not discriminate against any workers and are condemnatory of exploitative practices.
I am happy to declare any interest I have in this area. I am not trying to do anything inappropriate.
In the case of a person who is paid €8 per hour by an agency, €3.50 goes to the Government in tax, PRSI and VAT while €2 is generally the amount taken by the agency as its fee. It is appropriate that we should have a debate on this issue to consider the legislative elements that should be included to ensure this important industry will be free to defend itself. In the context of such a debate, I will fully declare my interest in this matter.
Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Heath and Children to address the anomaly in the home help sector whereby workers in Sligo and Leitrim are treated differently from those in Donegal in regard to contracts of employment and holiday pay? This should not arise given that there is one overall authority, the HSE. There is also an issue in terms of when workers in different counties get paid, whether on a fortnightly or monthly basis.
I am aware there are time constraints but I wish to put an important issue on the record. Yesterday, the New Zealand ambassador and a delegation from the New Zealand rugby team came to Donegal to commemorate the legendary Dave Gallagher, the captain of the original New Zealand rugby team in 1905. He was born in——
Senator Brian Hayes referred to No. 2 on today's Order Paper and also spoke of the pain for victims in the context of the situation of the "on the runs", an issue that has been much discussed since the Weston Park talks. He called for the House to send a clear signal to the paramilitaries in regard to the people who were banished from the North and are still afraid to return. He also called for a debate on the different approaches envisaged by the two Governments, a special tribunal versus an eligibility board.
Senator O'Toole referred to Sir Reg Empey's opposition to the possibility of Northern politicians gaining speaking rights in the Oireachtas, a view with which he agrees. He also commented on the OECD's evaluation that Irish housing stock is overvalued and referred to the cavity block system of building. That system is no longer permitted but apparently persists in some parts of Dublin.
The Senator called for a debate on this in the context of the EU directive that will come into effect in January 2006.
Senator McCarthy refers to the obligations on those in the poultry trade in regard to registration of stocks and expresses concern that the Revenue Commissioners might use this information to go after small enterprises. The Senator also raised the possible inaccessibility issues that arise in regard to the publicjobs.ie website. I received a letter from a would-be public service job applicant, a non-national, who experienced difficulties because he has no access to a computer. He hopes a local public school will assist him in this regard. Senator McCarthy also asked about Progressive Democrats policy, given the statements of one member of that party in the other House.
Senator Dardis called for a debate on Northern Ireland, particularly the situation of the "on the runs", and called on the paramilitaries to assist grieving families in locating the remains of loved ones. He suggested this House might be a suitable forum for some level of contribution from Northern politicians. He also called for a debate on the WTO talks. The Senator observed that Progressive Democrats Members have always been free to express their points of view. Finally, he demanded accountability from all churches.
Senator Finucane referred to Archbishop Martin's excellent interview of yesterday and observed that people should not be kicked when they are down. This holds true for the entire debate. He called for the BreastCheck programme to be rolled out on a nationwide basis before 2007 and that more be done to raise awareness of prostate cancer among men.
Senator Mooney referred to the ceremony in Derry, at which the Irish tricolour flew alongside the union jack, which was attended by relatives of the youngest soldier to be killed in the First World War. He asked that in future we have a minute's silence to mark Armistice Day. He also conveyed his sympathy to the people killed and injured in the bombings in Jordan, which was always regarded as a relatively safe environment.
Senator Norris called for a debate on the Middle East, particularly the situation in Baghdad. He raised the need for closer monitoring of companies such as Shell and observed that it is the tenth anniversary of the death of KenSaro-Wiwa. He also praised Niall Mellon and the other builders who have gone to South Africa to build houses for poor people there.
Senator Morrissey spoke of the unofficial Bus Éireann strike in Galway and the need for bus deregulation. Senator Coghlan referred to the need for the residents of the Black Valley to get adequate telecommunications facilities. The Black Valley is at the foot of Carrantuohill, the most beautiful place in Ireland in the Senator's estimation.
Senator Jim Walsh called for a debate on Northern Ireland. The Senator queried the term used in the motion, "which seeks a pardon for those British Army soldiers who were executed". When one joined the army at the time, one became a member of the British army and that is the term used.
They were of all nationalities. The Senator also suggested that we consider sending a joint motion to the House of Commons on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other issues. That is a fair point and I will discuss it with the Senator.
Senator Henry spoke about Ethiopia and the imprisonment of people without trial. She asked for a debate on the subject given that Ethiopia is one of the so-called model countries to which we contribute aid. I will try to arrange that, even if only for a short period. Senator Cox spoke about the forthcoming review of the 1972 recruitment agency legislation and the need to debate it. Senator McHugh raised the disparity in salaries for home helps in Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal and the different times when wages are paid. He also referred to Dave Gallagher who captained the original New Zealand rugby team in 1905.