Wednesday, 23 November 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Railway Safety Bill 2001 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 12 p.m.; No. 2, Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12 p.m. and to conclude not later than 1 p.m.; No. 3, statements on housing, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, the Minister being called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 21, motion 25, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
The Acting Leader recently asked the Leader to consider a debate on Northern Ireland. Has he been successful in getting a date for such a debate? It is important that the House debates Northern Ireland before the Christmas recess, in light of the very dramatic and drastic plans for alleged reform of local government announced yesterday by the Secretary of State, Peter Hain.
This is a very serious issue. The Secretary of State wants to virtually abolish half of the local authorities in Northern Ireland and to create seven super authorities, three of which will be dominated by Nationalists and three by Unionists, with the one in the middle in Belfast being up for grabs.
This is a dangerous repartition of Northern Ireland whereby local government will now be streamlined between the two great alleged tribes. It is clear the Secretary of State wants to put pressure on the parties to take responsibility and he is using this as a means of ensuring they take control at some point in the next 12 months or so. The House should debate this issue because it has serious ramifications.
It is interesting that the only political party in favour of this sectarian carve-up is Sinn Féin, which speaks volumes. I ask the Acting Leader to organise a debate along those lines. Local government is one of the few aspects of government working in Northern Ireland. It provides an opportunity for Unionists, Nationalists, republicans and loyalists to come together and talk about local issues. While there is not much measure of responsibility in local government in Northern Ireland, it is working. We need to tread very carefully before this radical reform package is accepted by all sides.
On a final matter, when the Navan bus disaster happened we all asked for a debate on the report once it was published. I understand the report cannot be published because of possible criminal proceedings in the case. Will the Acting Leader ascertain whether the five families affected will at least be given an opportunity of reading the report before it is published and when the matter is likely to be debated in the House? The issue of the safety of the school bus fleet is of concern to all Members.
On a number of occasions recently we raised the question of crime and the involvement of the gardaí. The House should note the fact that over the past week the gardaí in Limerick, in particular, have been extraordinarily successful in making at least two, and possibly three, giant steps towards solving some of the difficulties there. It has been done by good policing and hard work. It proves the point that if enough gardaí are made available and put on the streets, an impact can be made on crime in the area.
It is a major step forward that gardaí have reached a stage where the convicted killer of Mr. Brian Fitzgerald is prepared to turn State's evidence and they are working with Interpol and other agencies seeking the extradition of Mr. James Martin Cahill as well as tightening up on some of the others. It shows what can be done. It is the case for greater policing on the ground. This has been done in Limerick through a considerable influx of gardaí, the regular use of the Garda helicopter and other moves. It shows it is the way we need to move forward.
A number of times recently I raised the importance of having a debate on alternative energy and yesterday Senator Coonan called for a debate on agriculture. The two matters could be debated together. We had better recognise that the outcome of the beet negotiations will only be a temporary bridge towards the end of the beet industry. Therefore, we should be looking at the alternatives for farmers and agriculture beyond that point. In particular, this ties in with the need to encourage through tax and other incentives farming communities, and farmers in the first place, to grow alternative crops like oilseed rape, to produce wood pellets for biomass energy and such like, and also to give encouragement to small rural communities to development wind energy farms that can create wealth. There is a significant amount that can be done in that area and we need to look creatively at it, giving the agricultural community hope for the future.
Apart from the scary fact that apparently the British Government is now reorganising Northern Ireland to suit Sinn Féin which, of itself, is fairly spooky, there is the extraordinary manner in which a prominent member of Sinn Féin's assembly party was suspended for recording dissent. If that were to apply here, the Leader of the House would have been sacked from Fianna Fáil a long time ago, as would a good number of the Members on the Government benches.
No, it is not just for Sinn Féin. It is about what defines democracy. What we in this House and in the other House are asking Sinn Féin to do is establish credentials that it accepts the rules of democracy. If there is zero room for dissent within a political party, then it does not qualify. No political party of which I know in this State has suspended somebody simply for saying he or she does not agree with his or her party. Not even Fianna Fáil, under Charles J. Haughey at its most draconian, did that. As far as I am concerned the capitulation of the British Government and the sinister Mafiosi sense of omerta of Sinn Féin raise fundamental questions.
I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to come in to the House to explain to us what is happening in the Department of Health and Children and in the health services. Last year it was announced that she is banning the publication of waiting lists until, presumably, they have rewritten them to suit their own convenience. There was the recent announcement that we do not need 3,000 extra acute beds and then there was the horrific story on the front page of last Monday's Irish Examiner which has been adequately aired.
There are now reports that the publishing of the report into the extraordinary tragedy in Monaghan hospital will be late. Additionally, it is reported that the terms of reference for that investigation have still not been finalised.
I want to know what the Tánaiste is doing because on every issue involving any sense of public crisis there is temporising, delay, revision and review. It is time we debated this issue. I would like the Tánaiste to come to the House to explain what she thinks she has achieved because to date all most people can see is the health service going backwards.
I support Senator Brian Hayes in calling for a debate on Northern Ireland. There are a number of issues that we need to discuss, in particular the point he raised regarding these new super councils to be established in the North.
What surprised me about the proposal was that it seems to have come out of the blue. With most other proposals that impact on community life, there is generally a gestation period where people have an input and can make a contribution to the debate. What surprised me most of all is that most of the arguments being put forward in favour of the super councils are based on economics. It is stated, for instance, that the cost of governance and the cost of administration in the North of Ireland is one third higher than in the United Kingdom. However, there are much bigger issues because we all know that at the height of the Troubles it was the local councils that really provided the anchor because different parties there were prepared to sit down together and work for the betterment of the community. I would not like to see the partitionist mentality succeeding, if that is what is behind this. The debate, if possible, should take place before Christmas.
As we are well aware, the Rossport five were jailed for 94 days. It is interesting that now an expert consultant has raised serious concerns about the safety of the pipeline running close to houses. Another disturbing issue which has emerged is that in 2003 the senior executives of Shell who were concerned about the ongoing delay in the planning process had an emergency meeting with the Taoiseach and two Ministers in order to fast-track the project through the planning process. There was a meeting arranged a week later with the chairman of An Bord Pleanála and the company subsequently got planning permission.
I will outline the nature of my concern. An Bord Pleanála is an independent entity. My experience is that when one telephones on behalf of constituents inquiring about any part of a planning application, one will be told firmly about An Bord Pleanála's independence.
While it is important for the country that this project goes ahead, safety is equally paramount. The safety concerns which have been raised disturb me and appear to vindicate the stance taken by the Rossport five.
I wish to raise a couple of issues. First, there was a fairly robust debate in the other House yesterday on cancer care services in Cork and the provision of an oncology ward. It transpires this morning, from listening to the manager of Cork University Hospital on the radio, that it is already in hand. Approval has already been given for such an oncology unit and building will commence next year.
Previously I have sought debates on the issue of cancer care. There is a need for a dedicated oncology ward in Waterford as well. We should also debate the transport needs of patients going for radiotherapy treatment.
I ask that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources come to the House to discuss a matter, which is happening year in, year out and about which nothing is done. A few weeks ago I had a difference of opinion with the Commodore of the Naval Service at the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the way the Naval Service is policing fishing in Irish waters. The herring season has started again. I will give the House one example of what has happened and, as I stated, is replicated year in, year out. The dedicated landing port for herring is Ringaskiddy. I know of one boat that went to the Verolme Dockyard first to land four container loads of herring before sailing to Ringaskiddy to land its quota. That happened under the nose of the Naval Service. It is not the case that nobody knows this is going on, yet nothing is done about it. At the same time, I know of a poor man from my area who had four boxes of herring over the limit and was apprehended. There is not fair play in the system. It is time the matter was resolved. I would like the Minister of State with responsibility for marine affairs to come to the House to discuss the issue.
I am sure the House will agree — I speak not just as a member of the National Union of Journalists but as a human being — that it is remarkable a memorandum has now emerged clearly demonstrating that it took Tony Blair to persuade George Bush not to bomb the al-Jazeera studio in Qatar. The British are so worried about the memorandum that they have invoked section 5 of the Official Secrets Act to stop the matter being discussed.
In light of this, I ask the Acting Leader to convene a meeting of the Government side, including the PDs, to discuss the appalling amendment put down against my Private Members' motion on Iraq for this evening. This question is directly relevant to the Order of Business. I ask this because, as I understand it, this matter has not been discussed among the Government Members, who have not yet had access to the amendment. It is notable that the only name on the Order Paper is that of the Leader, Senator O'Rourke.
I ask my colleagues on the other side of the House not to sign this amendment because it refers, among other things, to the fact that the Government has permitted overflights for almost 50 years. That included the period of the Vietnam War, when the US authorities transported Agent Orange and phosphorous, which they are doing again in regard to Iraq. This is precisely why this disgraceful amendment should be removed.
This matter went to Cabinet before coming back to the House but not one Member has yet had the opportunity to discuss it. Why are there no names of Government Members on the motion apart from that of Senator O'Rourke?
Before the debate, I ask that democracy be instituted in this House. Instead of having this motion handed down from on high by people who are not elected to this House, with the names of Government Members to be added to it, this matter should be discussed by those Members. I ask them not to permit their names to be added to this motion, which would validate the use of Agent Orange and phosphorusbombs. It is a most craven and disgusting amendment.