Thursday, 17 November 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Ferns Report, resumed, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed 15 minutes each.
All Members of the House will welcome the fact that the organisers of a rally that was due to be held in Athlone on Sunday, on foot of the Nally case which was dealt with in the courts last week, have decided not to stage it.
We all have a responsibility to reduce the tensions between the settled and Traveller communities. We should recognise that the State, since its foundation, has been a cold house for the Traveller community. Those of us in positions of responsibility need to ensure that the Traveller community is welcomed and recognised in this country. Adequate accommodation should be given to Travellers to ensure they can have a decent quality of life for themselves and their children. We should also examine the issue of property rights and the question of how people can defend their own homes. That is not just an issue in isolated parts of rural Ireland; it is also an issue in Dublin.
The phenomenon of cars being stolen to order has developed recently. As Senators are aware, forms of security like immobilisers mean that the only way to steal a car today is to rob its keys. People are now breaking into houses in Dublin and other cities to steal car keys. We must examine whether the correct balance has been struck between giving home owners the right to defend their property and ensuring intruders can be brought before the courts.
The election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia — the first female president of an African country — is a positive development. Liberia has been frequently debated in this House because of the involvement of Irish troops in that country over the past two years. We must welcome the fact that Liberia now has a democratically elected government and president and the central role played by Irish troops in ensuring that the country had free and fair elections last Sunday. We should honour the excellent work done by Irish troops in Liberia and recognise that it now has the beginnings of a democratic establishment after the appalling tyranny and dictatorship that prevailed there for many years.
Senator Brian Hayes made a valid point about how people can be locked in their own communities in cities and the country. People in Dublin's inner city districts lock and bar their doors at 7 p.m. and are afraid to venture out after this hour. This issue faces quiet people and elderly people around the country and should be debated.
I ask the Acting Leader to respond to me on the question of Ireland's progress towards implementing the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I recently raised the fact that the EU insulation directive, which requires every new house and every house offered for sale to have a certificate of insulation, comes into operation on 4 January 2006. I understand the Government has given an period of grace to construction initiatives for the following two years, which is appalling. This development puts Ireland outside the demands of the EU and worsens its position regarding the Kyoto Protocol. A more adverse development is the fact that houses are being built, particularly in Dublin, with 9 inch hollow concrete blocks. It is not possible to use this block to raise a house to the insulation standard found in other houses. We must discover why the practice of using this block has not ceased. The involvement of the HomeBond scheme in this issue raises questions of self-regulation.
The Government and the ESB have taken the retrograde step of informing the wind farmers' association that its members cannot apply for connection to the national grid for the next two years. Wind farms are being built around the country, the Government is attempting to persuade people to save energy and we are not harnessing natural energy. Why did the Government and the ESB decide to take this step? Vested interests in the concrete industry and the energy sector are at work here. How can we address this issue? The single housing issue could be resolved. If every new house was required to have a 1 kw wind energy generator and solar panels for water heating, in addition to proper insulation, we would save approximately 30% of our requirements under the Kyoto Protocol. I would welcome a debate on this issue.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator O'Toole. It is approximately six months or possibly a year since the Taoiseach rediscovered socialism and approximately two months since he rediscovered republicanism. He rediscovered the Irish language yesterday. As a token of this reconversion, will the Government agree to adequately fund TG4 and help a very successful television channel which runs on a shoestring budget instead of uttering rhetorical flourishes? It is ironic that the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was prepared to give substantially more funding to Sianel 4, the Welsh language television channel, than Irish Governments have been willing to give the equivalent service as Gaeilge.
If white phosphorous had been used by the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, in Caracas; the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, in Havana; the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, in Grozny, Chechnya; the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus or by the Iranian Government, the EU would be in emergency session today demanding a range of measures. The UN Security Council would also be in emergency session demanding penalties, sanctions and an immediate investigation. If our ostensibly non-aligned and neutral State now declines to state that the use of chemical weapons is repulsive, it has abandoned its aim of doing anything serious about such matters.
Am I the only person who finds the idea of the Minister for Defence grinning down the barrel of a gun on the pages of two newspapers repulsive and annoying?
A report entitled Rural Ireland 2025, which is the latest in a very long line of reports on rural Ireland produced over the last number of years, was launched yesterday. Could the Acting Leader arrange a series of debates on this issue? While much has been done for rural Ireland, this report highlights the fact that the north west and the west will suffer most and a greater regional imbalance will be created over the next 20 years. The Taoiseach should come to the House to discuss in a meaningful fashion what could be done to rejuvenate the west and address the regional imbalance.
Is there an appetite to create viable alternatives to Dublin? One million people will attempt to live in the Dublin area over the next 15 years but the towns and hubs in Sligo and Donegal identified in the national spatial strategy could play their part if they received the necessary resources. It is time that Ministers, led by the Taoiseach, came to this House to debate the issue.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments about wind energy. The Government made a commitment to meet over 13% of our energy needs by wind power, which is classified as "green energy", by 2010. There has been much discussion about wind energy but enthusiastic promoters of it who are prepared to enter the business at considerable expense face prohibitive charges when trying to gain access to the national grid. I outlined my concerns in this regard to the energy regulator yesterday. We need a serious debate on this subject because there is a considerable amount of confused thinking about what is feasible, even within Government circles and relevant bodies. We should offer much more encouragement to those who wish to enter the wind energy business rather than impede them.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes's point regarding the widespread sense of relief at the cancellation of the demonstration scheduled to take place in Athlone on Sunday. However, he should speak to his colleague, Senator Jim Higgins, who supported the holding of that demonstration in an interview broadcast on national radio yesterday.
There has been a serious breakdown of law and order in Kilrush. The misconduct over the past six months in one part of Kilrush culminated in the firing of shots last night into the private dwelling of a local councillor whose daughter was treated for serious injuries in Ennis General Hospital last August. This is a serious problem in Kilrush. Will the Acting Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to outline how the serious situation in areas of Kilrush can be dealt with effectively?
On numerous occasions over the past 12 months many Members from this side of the House have called for a debate on the Border, midlands and western region and the worsening imbalance in investment. The report published this week, Rural Ireland 2025 — Foresight Perspectives, endorses everything that has been said on this issue. Last week the Government compounded this imbalance with the publication of Transport 21, which indicated the imbalance of infrastructure investment in favour of the east and south. The rural Ireland report cries out for the west to be saved. We have said it time and again and the Government has not listened.
Everybody should read the editorial in today's edition of The Irish Times which outlines Government inaction on western development and the absence of genuine policies to save the west. If we are to have only 10,000 full-time commercial farmers by 2025, we must highlight the failure of a Government with plenty of money that does nothing but pay lip-service in the intervening period. The Dublin agencies and groups that pontificate on how the west should be developed must be made to realise that the west is dying, that the problem is spreading to Munster and Ulster and that——
We have listened for so long to spokespersons for the American Administration preaching sermons about other countries using chemical weapons. The acquiescence by many nations worries me and can have only one result. It will come back and haunt us in the future. One cannot build a stable democracy in Iraq against a background of torture, which we have recently learned about, and the use of chemical weapons.
The United States invaded Iraq with some backup, particularly from Britain, against the wishes of the United Nations. In my first comment in this House on the invasion I said it was immoral, unjustified and would lead nowhere, and my comment stands.
Will the Acting Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to a debate on the consolidation of farm holdings through reinvestment and tax relief? Ireland has the highest level of farm fragmentation in Europe and this must be tackled. Approximately one quarter of farms are in a single parcel of land. It goes back to the divide and conquer policy of our landlord days. The time has come to consolidate farm holdings. Young people will no longer drive long distances to look after stock at different locations. Consolidation would improve infrastructure by reducing the number of farm vehicles on roads. We must have a debate on this issue and relief must be given in the forthcoming budget. Last year relief was discussed but little resulted. Only six farmers availed of last year's scheme so it needs to be amended and broadened.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's comments on the protection of property. It is not just a rural subject but extends to urban areas. Local government has a role to play in lighting and security; insurance and alarm systems also have a role. This is a global debate so I ask the Acting Leader to place it on the agenda quickly.
Will the Acting Leader get some information and take some action on genetically modified food? On 7 September, EU Commissioners approved Monsanto's GT73 oilseed rape for use as animal feed despite opposition from 13 member states. While six member states voted for it, because of qualified majority voting and the abstention of countries such as Ireland, it went through undemocratically at the whim of the Commissioners.
This decision has serious consequences for Ireland because we are in a good situation. We are geographically isolated and are not affected by pollen spread by wind. We have the lowest exposure to GM food and that is a good marketing strategy. This modified seed can cross-pollinate with members of the brassica family such as cabbage, kale and turnips.
Will the Acting Leader clarify the situation and ask the Government to look at the implementation of the so-called safeguard clause, Directive 2001/18/EC, recommended by the Oireachtas Joint Committees on European Affairs and Environment and Local Government? This would protect an important national asset from a potential threat from generically modified organisms.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, which is close to the Acting Leader's heart, namely, that No. 18, motion 22, be taken before No. 1. The time limit on the Order of Business should be extended to a maximum of 45 minutes to facilitate the proper ventilation of topical matters of current public interest by Members. The motion is in the names of the Independent Senators.
I support the calls for a debate on western development. Taking Senator MacSharry's comments we could have a good debate on what is needed and what is happening with the spatial strategy and transport policy.
There is an investigation into the lack of response to an ambulance call in the south west. However, this problem exists in many parts of the country. The ambulance service in the Castlebar centre or Galway city is on call to serve north Galway. However, the service in Galway city has indicated it is so busy it cannot serve north Galway. I would like this issue debated.
I have collected 4,000 signatures in a petition calling for an ambulance base in Tuam, which I have given to the Tánaiste. It is important to have an ambulance base prior to discussing the provision of a proper ambulance service. Will the Acting Leader bring the matter to the notice of the Tánaiste? If we have a debate on health, we should discuss the ambulance service, which is the first point of contact with the health service for many people in rural areas. Many people in the west are not served well by the ambulance service.
I welcome the establishment of the new force to tackle organised gangland crime, particularly in the Dublin area. I asked yesterday if Operation Anvil had lagged. If I recall correctly, the Leader said she had asked that question but I do not believe she got an answer to it. Garda confidence in what is being done is vital. I assume the Minister responsible has consulted with the force. I hope this is adequate because something went wrong in terms of Operation Anvil. Is a complement of 50 gardaí sufficient for this new unit? If it is not adequate, we will go nowhere in addressing this problem. We cannot combat these thugs and the increasing level of crime if we do not have an adequate and properly resourced force. Is the force adequate? I hope it is. I hope it is not a case of too little, too late.
I support other Senators who called for a debate on the west, particularly in light of the report launched yesterday, Rural Ireland 2025. I agree with Senator Kitt, that the west is alive and well. We acknowledge the great progress and work of this and the previous Government. It is time for a serious debate on agriculture in the west.
I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on creating places in midwifery and paediatric nursing. Leaving certificate students will have direct entry into both of those specialties. Those places will come on stream in September 2006. We have debated this matter in this House and those places will address the serious shortage in those specialties. I congratulate the Tánaiste on creating them.
At a meeting of the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny this morning we reflected on a proposal from the EU Commission, agreed by the Council of Ministers, to set aside a fund to develop intercultural relations. This fund is modest in scale and it is intended that it will be provided from 2008 onwards. The idea is to allow countries to invest money in intercultural dialogue and development.
With the debate on the issue of Travellers in this House and at a broader level across society, we could usefully reflect on the purpose of this fund. We should look for solutions rather than problems, and answers rather than questions. Given that this fund will be provided by Europe, we should try to use some of that money to engage in dialogue with those people who live on the margins of our society and do not feel part of the community. In each case, blame does not lie on any particular side; everybody has work to do. I hope we will be able to utilise that programme to make progress in uniting rather than dividing people.
I support what Senator O'Toole said about energy use and energy need. I hope the Minister for Finance in the budget in three weeks' time will set aside funding for grant aid towards the insulation of the older housing stock. While different grants for housing were available during the years, grants for insulating houses would be worthwhile from an economic and energy conservation points of view.
I join with others in welcoming the cancellation of the rally in favour of Mr. Nally. In doing so, the House must be mindful of some of the underlying difficulties which gave rise to the circumstances of that case. We should have a debate on this issue. A contributory factor to not tackling this issue is the hypocrisy of political correctness, and I would like the debate to be on that subject. Political correctness is gone mad. We need to arrest some of the move in that direction such that we will have political leadership and straight-talking from people on issues which give rise to certain problems within communities.
I concur with those who have condemned the use of chemical weapons in Iraq. A debate on Iraq is overdue. It is unconscionable that this would have arisen following the pretext for the invasion of Iraq which was to do with chemical weapons. The consequences of it and the example it gives are far reaching. I would like us to have a debate on Iraq as soon as possible.
I support the call for a debate on the west. I ask that the south east be included in that debate because we rank below the west in many economic development league tables.
I support Senator Norris's proposal to debate No. 22. It is important to ventilate topical matters and I ask that the timeframe for doing so be extended to 45 minutes. The case for doing so has been proven today. Many topical issues are restricted from being debated. That is probably one of the reasons Members on this side of House have not debated issues affecting the west-——
I second the amendment.
The Irish language is thriving in Northern Ireland. There is a new-found hunger among young and not so young people to learn the language. There is a new-found vigour for the language and it is working. In Northern Ireland, learning Irish is not compulsory.
I join in supporting Senators Ó Murchú and Jim Walsh in their concern about further revelations connected with the conduct of the war on terrorism and Iraq. While all of us support, as does the UN since its resolution of June 2004, the establishment of democracy in Iraq and the withdrawal of the multinational force, the continued revelations of abuses of power, breaches of international law and evasion of obligations that belong in any civilised society are hampering that process and making it more difficult. They are also a source of embarrassment to the friends of the United States throughout the Western world. This is a message that this House needs to convey. Very few of us here are in any real sense anti-American. We support the best values of United States democracy. This situation cannot continue.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on giving Senator Mansergh the latitude to make that contribution. That is the reason I want to second Senator Norris's amendment to extend the Order of Business so that we can hear such articulate expressions on matters of public interest.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of the proposed rally to be held in Athlone in regard to the Nally case. Senator Daly also welcomed the postponement of the rally. He referred to the different view held by Senator Higgins who spoke from Strasbourg on the matter. That is what happens in parties, as we know all too well.
Senator Bradford and Senator Jim Walsh also welcomed the postponement of the proposed rally, as do we all. Some valid points were made in contributions about the approach we should take on this matter.
Senator Brian Hayes also raised the issue of property rights and people's right to defend their own homes. In light of recent events we could make a serious contribution to the national debate. I will raise the matter with the Leader and seek to have such a debate.
Senator Brian Hayes also referred to Africa's move towards democracy, particularly in Liberia. He paid tribute to the Irish troops there. I am sure all Members of the House would join with him in congratulating the Defence Forces on the role they have played, which is a credit to this country and to the individuals concerned. It is a mark of the major contribution this country makes on the international stage. Given our size and population, we make the highest per capita contribution to UN peacekeeping missions, which is something of which we should all be proud.
Senator O'Toole stated that the difficulties of rural Ireland are not just confined to those areas, they also affect urban communities. We all agree with that. This point was supported by Senator Ormonde. I hope we will have a debate where we can discuss those issues in more detail.
Senator O'Toole also raised the issue of the Kyoto Agreement. I support the call for a debate on this agreement and alternative energy in general. The Senator highlighted a number of related issues such as the wind farm industry. We could well examine the side issues associated with grants for wind farms and wave energy. A number of issues in the broader context of alternative energy should be debated in this House and I will seek to arrange such a debate.
Senator O'Toole, interestingly, referred to vested interests in connection with the concrete industry, which is something we could well debate in this House. Senator Ryan raised a number of matters. He was unable to refrain from making a comment on the Taoiseach's alleged new found interest in the Irish language. That comment was unbecoming of Senator Ryan, but only to be expected.
Senator Ryan raised the serious issue of the use of white phosphorous in the war in Iraq. This point was supported by a number of other speakers, including Senators Ó Murchú, Jim Walsh and Mansergh. Everybody knows the position I took on the Iraq war but I support the comments made on this issue. One of the main reasons for going to war was the potential use of chemical weapons and now we find that this substance is being used, which is highly inappropriate. Yesterday, the Leader of the House undertook to urge the Government to protest in the strongest fashion and I fully support that.
The views of the House today will be brought to her attention.
Senator Ryan also raised the issue of the Minister for Defence. I am glad Senator Ryan grew out of the habit of playing with guns at six years of age. Regarding the press photographs today, the Minister for Defence interacts with the Defence Forces and this will happen if a sharp photographer takes a photograph at a particular angle. I am sure the Minister was handling a weapon in a very safe and controlled environment. I congratulate the photographer. That is as much as we can say about it.
Senator MacSharry raised the issue of the Rural Ireland 2025 report. His call for a debate on the west was supported by a number of other speakers, including Senators Ulick Burke, Kitt and Feeney. We have a basis to seek a debate in the House on the report. I will raise the matter with the Leader and seek to arrange one.
Senator Daly raised the issue of law and order in Kilrush. That is an operational matter for the Garda. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not directly involved, it is a matter for the Garda and I am sure that would be the reply from the Minister to any query on the issue. There will be an opportunity to raise it in the proposed debate on law and order and people's rights.
Senator Ulick Burke also spoke about the west. Senator Ó Murchú referred to Iraq. Senator Bannon sought a debate on agriculture. It is some time since we had a debate on this matter in the House and I will seek to arrange one. Senator Bannon may also wish to use his party's Private Members' time for such a debate.
Senator Norris sought information on genetically modified foods. I would be happy to speak to him afterwards about that and I will endeavour to get the information he seeks. He also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business which was seconded by two Members. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is currently reviewing the area of time limits for the Order of Business. The matter will be further considered by the committee after the Christmas recess. In the light of this information I am not sure if Senator Norris will wish to proceed with his proposed amendment. If he is happy with what I have said he may wish to withdraw it.
Senator Kitt sought a debate on the ambulance service, particularly in the Tuam area. Given that we will have a debate on the west in general we could integrate this matter into such a debate.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of gangland crime, Garda confidence and the new force announced yesterday to deal with this matter. The deployment of gardaí is an operational matter for the Commissioner and the Garda authorities. I am sure discussions took place between the Minister and the Commissioner but it is an operational matter. I do not have any information that the Garda is unsatisfied in any way with——
That would be my understanding of the matter. It would be highly inappropriate for the Minister to become involved in decisions on the deployment of gardaí.
Senator Bradford made a point about funding that is available from the European Union. We should examine the area of intercultural relations, as has been highlighted by recent events.
Senator McHugh raised the issue of the Irish language. He seconded the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. He made the point that the Irish language was thriving in Northern Ireland where it is not compulsory. Senator Ross asked if there would be a debate on budget day. I understand there will be as has been the case for the past number of years.
I will not press the amendment today but I will next week. It is important this discussion is advanced. There is no reason it should be left until January. If I get an undertaking next week that it will be looked at as a matter of urgency, I will not be difficult and waste the House's time.