Thursday, 1 December 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1, a motion regarding the commission of investigation into matters relating to and arising from the making of a confession by Dean Lyons, deceased, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude after 65 minutes, with the contributions of spokespersons and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the motion; and No. 2, statements on Transport 21, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 at approximately 12.20 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3 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 to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements.
I repeat my previous calls to the Leader and Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on Northern Ireland between now and the Christmas recess. An urgent debate is needed, particularly on the extremely contentious issue of individuals who are on-the-run, who are at large and have never faced charges for serious criminal offences they committed over the past 40 years.
The Government's approach to this matter is constitutionally questionable. The argument that presidential pardons should be granted to individuals who have never been convicted of a crime is dubious. Under Article 13.6 of the Constitution, presidential pardons aim to deal with miscarriages of justice. Can we say that miscarriages of justice have occurred in any of these cases, which mainly involve IRA terrorists?
This is an example of politicians meddling with the judicial process because the Government wishes to establish an eligibility body. This House should be aware of the recent comments made by the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Mr. Mark Durkan, MP. Mr. Durkan clearly demonstrated that these proposals would constitute an effective amnesty for IRA terrorists and members of the RUC and the British Army who committed crimes over the past 35 years. Government Senators must be aware of the very serious implications of these proposals. I ask the Leader to arrange this necessary debate over the next two weeks.
There is some good news with regard to decentralisation. There appears to be a major exodus from the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely. Everyone wants to leave his office and decentralise to other parts of the country.
Senator Brian Hayes raised an extremely important point, although I do not fully agree with him. I have grave reservations about the proposals to deal with individuals on-the-run who are wanted on criminal charges. I instinctively dislike the notion that individuals wanted on criminal charges might not be brought to justice in a democracy. How we deal with them afterwards is another issue but I find it impossible to cope with it in terms of how we structure our democracy and the need to have a judicial system in place.
I also recognise we have had to accept much in the cause of peace. Last weekend I met Michael Finucane whose father was assassinated by loyalists, perhaps in collusion with the authorities. I asked him how he felt about this. It was the most humbling experience to hear his reply. He said it was terrible but if that was the price we had to pay to get the prize of peace, he and his family were prepared to accept it. At that stage I felt whatever reservations I had should be buried immediately. We must take this step to move the process forward and I will support the proposal when it comes before the House.
However, it would make a bad situation worse if the issues raised by Senator Brian Hayes were not properly investigated and disposed of. If it turns out afterwards that we have done something which is unconstitutional, our last position will be worse than our first. I do not understand how we can do this constitutionally. The method being used in the UK might be more interesting and easier for parliamentarians to deal with. I do not understand the technicalities but we must move on this issue. However, I accept we must take seriously the points made by Fine Gael and by the Labour Party in the other House. This must be an all-party issue. These issues have never divided us on a party political basis and I do not believe the points raised by Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been raised on that basis but rather on the basis of a real concern about how we deal with this issue. I would like to be reassured, as I am sure we all would, that whatever way it is done is workable.
It is worth noting something which, in previous times, we might have discussed at great length and which, in some way, relates to the points made yesterday by Senator Ormonde and others on the need for a debate on the development of the economy, jobs, etc. Some 100,000 additional jobs have been created in the economy in the past year. That is hugely important and is worth protecting. It is something from which we all gain to some extent and is another reason we do not want to move into a period of industrial chaos which would put all that at risk.
On Senator O'Toole's last point, Members will be glad to know Bank of Ireland spent most of yesterday apologising for its chief economist's aberrations on "Questions and Answers" on Monday night. A representative telephoned my party colleague to apologise to him and made it quite clear its chief economist was acting in a personal capacity and was not speaking on behalf of the bank. That was because of the public outrage at the tone and content of his remarks.
There is something very sinister going on.
On the issue raised by Senator O'Toole, there is another issue, namely, the real fear among people on lower incomes that the high level of immigration, which is very welcome in principle, is resulting in some downward pressure on what are already low wages. Even though there are 100,000 extra people at work, we will find the Government's income tax revenue will not go up by too much and will not reflect that growth in employment. Although we have not studied it and we do not really know, there is a strong feeling that many of these jobs are being filled by people earning wages which are below what most Irish people would accept. I am not saying all these people are being paid below the minimum wage, although I think many of them are. We need to study this issue and to ensure that immigrants, who are welcome here, are not being used to force people to work for wages which are below those we would regard as acceptable.
We have always wanted to turn this House into one which discusses European matters. The latest proposal from the United Kingdom Government on the EU is essentially what the President of the Commission said, that is, a proposal to rob the poor to help the rich. That budgetary issues would be sorted out to the satisfaction of the rich countries by reducing the support given to the new member states is about as insidious a proposal as the European Union has made in terms of what it is supposed to be about. Coupled with the apparent fact that our membership of the EU is making the Government impotent on the Irish Ferries issue and the increasing activism of the Commission in dealing with Irish grant aid to foreign direct investment, there is a succession of issues arising which mean we should have a reasonably frank discussion on Ireland and the European Union and the future progress of the Union.
We discussed the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill yesterday. It is a mongrel of a Bill in the sense that it is connected to approximately four or five different issues. It was a most unsatisfactory debate because major amendments were introduced by the Department of Health and Children — for example, the basic idea of allowing nurses to prescribe medicine. The amendments were introduced without any documentary assistance for this House. The Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, who is a man of considerable charm and with whom I get on very well, read out a four or five page explanation for approximately eight amendments. That is not the way to do business.
When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, tabled major amendments to the Garda Síochána Bill, he produced a volume of documentation. I never thought I would stand up and sing the praises of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but in comparison with the Department of Health and Children's performance yesterday, it is a model of organisation, openness and accountability.
The Department of Health and Children should rewrite this Bill and reintroduce it with all the new amendments at which point we can have a proper Committee Stage debate. Yesterday was a farce in which Senator Browne and I endeavoured to deal with issues for which we were not properly prepared, although that was through no fault of the Minister of State because he was landed here.
I join with previous speakers in calling for a debate on Northern Ireland and, in particular, those on the run. I share the concerns of previous speakers in this regard. Whatever system we put in place in the Republic, it should be mutually transferable between both jurisdictions. I am fearful of having a different system here and in Northern Ireland. I am also conscious there could be legal difficulties from a constitutional perspective. However, clarity must be brought to bear on this issue and serious questions must be asked. What is proposed in the United Kingdom might not be what will emerge by the time it goes through the House of Lords. We need to debate this issue and set out our views clearly. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate before Christmas.
I wish to comment on the two recent drugs seizures. We are quick to condemn and criticise the Garda Síochána and minority elements within it for actions but we must compliment it on two major seizures which, in no small way, will play a major part in helping to eradicate the terrible drugs culture in this country.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's call for a debate on Northern Ireland and I agree with many of the points he, Senator O'Toole and Senator Minihan made. I referred briefly to this issue yesterday. There will be a difficulty if Britain opts for a licensing system and we opt for a pardoning procedure. This has been greatly expanded with the inclusion, as Senator Brian Hayes said, of the RUC and the British army. The Leader said yesterday the Government has taken the advice of the Attorney General. Of course, Governments should listen to the advice of the Attorney General but when the Leader was Minister, she, almost Albert Reynolds-like, did not always accept the advice offered to her. We may have to look further into this matter. In any event, as has been said, a debate is urgently required on the matter.
I appeal to the Leader to provide time for such a debate before the Christmas recess.
Despite the Leader's stated preference for a splurge, I wish to make a last appeal to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, before the budget next week. We need to do something. The Minister must make an announcement next week to incentivise the placing of SSIA moneys in pensions. There is a serious national shortfall in pensions and there is a crisis on our hands in regard to this important issue. The ball is at the Minister's feet and I urge him, as I am sure would the great majority, to put this right in his Budget Statement next week.
In regard to Senator Ryan's comments, it would be a very bad day for free speech and democracy in this country if people were prevented from expressing their views on issues because of the fear of being carpeted by their employers, or party leaders for that matter. We should bear this in mind. People are perfectly entitled to express their personal views about issues. Whether we like those views or not is another matter.
Representations have been made to me by small businesses in the construction industry in regard to the terms of a new fixed contract that is currently being negotiated by officials in the Department of Finance and employers' groups. It could have serious detrimental effects, especially on small construction businesses which employ 30,000 people in the mid-west region. The effect could be delays in small public contracts, litigation and very serious problems for some smaller companies that will not be able to compete in this market in the future under the proposed new conditions.
We need clarification from the Department of Finance as to how this fixed lump sum contract arrangement will work. We may be able to get some indication as to whether it would be possible to amend it to ensure that small companies, which employ 30,000 people in my area of the mid-west, will not be put out of business.
For once the Leader will be pleased to know I am not seeking an urgent debate. That said, we should consider debating two reports. One report was issued during the week by the European Environment Agency which stated we had the second worst record for pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the European Community. That should be debated reasonably soon.
I read this morning of a report from the British Oceanographic Data Centre. The report states that the Gulf Stream, which has benefitted the islands of Great Britain and Ireland for millennia, is in danger of weakening. It also states that while Ireland and Great Britain are on the same latitude as Newfoundland, we have been aided by the Gulf Stream, but within 20 years we too could be in need of ice breakers. I do not know if today's weather is a sign of things to come.
It is interesting that these two reports have come out this week, one of them identifying Ireland and the other identifying the global climate change that is taking place. It is in our hands to do something about it and perhaps we should put it on our agenda for a debate in the near future.
As Senator Minihan said, in the past week, the Garda drug unit seized literally tonnes of cannabis worth many hundreds of millions of euro. As any law enforcement agency will confirm, drug seizures only represent a very small proportion of the drugs that come into a country. I call for a debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to discuss why the ten-year mandatory sentence for possession with intent to supply of over €10,000 worth of cannabis is not being enforced. It is on the Statute Book but to the best of my knowledge, very few, if any, drug dealers have fallen foul of this law. It is time we discussed it because the longer we wait the worse the problem will get.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on issues relating to the labour force, particularly migrant workers, because of the anecdotal evidence about their treatment and the wage rates paid to them. We need to know if there is evidence of exploitation or if migrant workers are being used to push down average wage rates in this country and to displace Irish workers. If that is the case, it is a very serious matter. This issue is regularly raised with me and I am concerned about it. We need to pay urgent attention to this matter because of the implications not only for migrant workers and Irish workers, but also for its potential to create a degree of social unrest. I ask the Leader to give this urgent attention.
We are coming up to the budget and many in this House, myself included, have worked to ensure that the issue of child care was brought to the top of the Government's agenda. We await with great anticipation announcements next week in regard to this issue. It is important that we debate the budget. However, considering the work we have already done, including the Leader, to put child care on the agenda, we should have a separate debate following the budget on where we are now and where we are going in the future as regards child care.
Yesterday, we learned through material accessed under freedom of information legislation about discussions taking place between the Department of Transport and National Toll Roads about trying to end the long suffering motorists have to endure every day on the M50.
This has been discussed here previously but I am concerned that, regardless of what the Minister is trying to do — I wish him the best of luck — to achieve barrier-free tolling, we are still going to have to wait three to five years to get it.
The outer ring road, the much talked about alternative to the M50, will not happen for many years either. I learned last week that the NRA is only undertaking a survey about the need for such a road. I would have thought the need was proven beyond doubt. My party and I have put forward a revenue neutral proposal that could bring the long suffering to an end immediately. The proposal is that tolling would only apply to vehicles travelling in one direction while those travelling on the other side of the road would not be charged.
I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House to debate a more even distribution of economic growth throughout the country. We want to see a greater spatial balance. We need investment programmes in health, education, road infrastructure and numerous other areas. Transport 21, which will be debated in the House this afternoon, gave nothing to the midlands. As the Leader well knows, the proposed re-activation of the rail route from Mullingar to Athlone was not included.
I also request a debate on Iraq. The city centre of Ramadi was taken over by 400 armed men who claim to be members of al-Qaeda, on the day after President Bush again told a military audience he is winning his war. On top of that we are made complicit in the crime of torture because a Gulfstream V jet, which is an international pariah, is still allowed to conduct its torture missions through our airports.
I notice two articles beside each other on the front page of The Irish Times today, one indicating that less than 10% of people have applied for decentralisation, and the other indicating that the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely, is on his sixth secretary in three years and is also seeking a new constituency secretary. Will the Government consider giving him responsibility for decentralisation?
I reassure Senator Norris that American troops will begin to be withdrawn next year when the congressional elections will take place and will be fully out of Iraq in three years' time when the presidential election is approaching. I can already see a move in beginning to admit the war of deceit has failed and has been a total disaster.
I also support Senator Norris's calls for an immediate debate on homelessness in this city and throughout the country. Every morning when walking on Molesworth Street, one can see people who have been lying on the street during the night. A lady protesting on a different issue is also sleeping on Kildare Street.
I left no stone unturned to put child care on the Fianna Fáil agenda. If the party does not have the political will to act in the way it should it is not my fault. I have done my best.
Not at the moment. I will wait until I have all of my research done and met all the people. One aspect I am examining is older people who are homeless and out in cold and wet weather. I compliment Senator Norris on raising this issue this morning.
I support the calls made by my colleague Senator Brian Hayes for a full debate on the issue of on-the-runs. It is an issue not only of an important political dimension, it is also one of those rare issues where morality and politics come together. We must give it serious attention and take time to debate the Government's proposals.
On any occasion when we debate the peace process we all ensure we see the bigger picture. We must recognise that at times people must compromise their views, bite their tongues and stay silent on issues on which they wish to speak. This is a fundamental issue on how action should be taken. From time to time political sources mention the success of the South African peace process and how we should try to do the same. Of course, in South Africa all of the issues were brought to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nothing was hidden under the cover of darkness. That is the route we should pursue if we want to bring finality to the problems of Northern Ireland.
The people who speak from the political wing for the people out of the country known as on-the-runs claim they did not commit crimes, and acted in the name of Ireland and Irish freedom. Heroes should not seek to return under cover of darkness and should not skulk home. I will not state they are proud of what they did, but if they feel what they did in the cause of Irish freedom as they would see it was so laudable they should not be afraid of coming forward. They should not seek a secret deal to return under cover of darkness.
I also join in the call for a debate on drugs. I congratulate the newly formed crime squad on the joint operations which have found more than €25 million worth of drugs in three shipments. It is only the tip of the iceberg and it is coming down the tracks extremely quickly. We must wake up. In the north of this city an extremely violent and well-organised non-national crime organisation brings in cocaine. We have seen nothing like what will happen if crack cocaine takes hold in this country. In the United States serious violence and deaths occurred in the early 1990s which only dissipated when drug users found a drug other than crack cocaine. I ask that the Minister come before this House to discuss this issue and I call for cross-party support for the Minister and the Garda in ensuring such a drug culture does not take hold.
I repeat a call for a debate next week on what is left of the sugar beet industry after last week's talks. I also agree with calls for a debate on Northern Ireland and the on-the-runs. I agree fully with Senator Bradford on the calls he made today and on other occasions on the need for a truth and reconciliation system such as that in South Africa. I find it amazing that people can be pardoned without making any admission of liability. That will not bring closure to the victims' families. It is time we had an admission of liability. I am also concerned that we are setting a bad precedent in glorifying acts of terrorism of the past.
We should learn from the drugs trade. After the shooting of Veronica Guerin a lull and decrease in violence occurred. Unfortunately, a new generation has come up along the ranks of the drugs industry and the number of shootings has increased dramatically, as has the level of violence. Unfortunately, they do not remember the bad days. We should have a full admission of liability and by all means then move on. We should not have secret deals.
I was greatly taken by the Leas-Chathaoirleach's sense of humour but we will come to that later.
Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, seeks a debate on Northern Ireland, individuals on-the-run and other sensitive issues. To him, the question of on-the-runs smacks of politicians meddling in legal matters. I answered Senator Coghlan's question on the Attorney General's advice but I understand the matter is being discussed by the two governments and the position is relatively fluid. I did not know that yesterday and it would be beneficial if we could have a debate to tease out such matters. This depends on the Taoiseach being available to attend the debate.
Yes, but he is often away. We will endeavour to arrange the debate. Senator O'Toole referred to the same issue and to his discussion with Michael Finucane, who stated that if the prize of peace came at this price, he was willing to pay the price. This was remarkably humble of him in the circumstances. Senator O'Toole also referred to issue of new jobs, the consequences and the need to discuss it.
Senator Ryan stated that I was not aware of Bank of Ireland's apology for the remarks made by its chief economist. I accept Senator Daly's point that people have the right to express views but they should not be headlined if they do so. The name of the person in question was under the article.
I could not believe someone could be so callous in his denunciation and not be aware of it. I imagine the bank received a wave of calls.
Senator Ryan referred to the need to debate Ireland's future within the EU. The Senator also referred to the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. This morning I met the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, and he is aware that Senator Ryan and others feel disquiet on the pace of the Bill and the lack of accompanying documentation that should accompany such comprehensive amendments. I stated we could not debate the Bill next week if the main speakers did not receive these documents. He agreed to communicate this to the Department of Health and Children. I pointed out that these necessary documents had been provided with Bills from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
I felt very strongly about this when the case was brought to my attention, having listened to the debate intermittently. The Minister of State is thorough and painstaking and does not want this Chamber to rush amendments. This House is a legislative chamber and I try not to have Committee and Report Stages together. However, when the Stages are taken separately there may only be 20 minutes' debate on the Bill. One must make a judgment on the depth of the Bill and how to divide the Stages but we will dedicate plenty time to it next week. The accompanying documents, backing up Government amendments, will be provided and we will not rush Report Stage.
In these situations panic grips Departments, as if the Bills had to be ready before Christmas to go into someone's Christmas stocking. This is not necessary and thorough scrutiny is more important.
I hope this will happen and I will follow up on the discussion with the Minister of State.
Senator Minihan requested a debate before Christmas on individuals on-the-run and suggested we pay tribute to the Garda Síochána from time to time, particularly in respect of massive drug seizures in recent days. My remarks on individuals on-the-run is also addressed to Senator Coghlan.
Senator Coghlan also referred to SSIAs and the pension scheme. I make no apology for saying I will go on a splurge.
We want more than a tour.
I accept Senator Daly's point on free speech and the Senator also referred to the construction industry, small public contracts, lump sum contracts and the need for measures to ensure these people do not go out of business.
Senator Quinn referred to the environmental record of this Government, the second worst in Europe. It seems we rush to bring in stringent directives when other countries, such as Spain and Greece, cock a hoop at this. In some instances Ireland is too particular and seeks to be the good boys in class. This is not entirely necessary. Senator Quinn also referred to the British Oceanographic Data Centre and the report it issued. This is very interesting for our future and a debate on this would be beneficial.
Senator Brady referred to drug hauls the Garda Síochána has made and questioned why the ten year mandatory sentence for being a purveyor of drugs is not being enforced. Senator O'Meara referred to migrant workers and suggested we have a special debate after the budget on its child care provisions.
Senator Morrissey stated the outer ring of the M50 is only being surveyed now. His party has a proposal that is revenue neutral and we would all be keen to have this implemented. His hand is on the lever of power so he can put forward the proposal.
I was too kind to say that.
Senator Norris called for a debate on homelessness. It is an important debate we will endeavour to hold it. I do not agree that child care is a middle-class issue. Children and parents need help irrespective of their level in society.
Senator Norris also referred to Iraq. There is a full debate in the European Parliament on the manoeuvres of the CIA, transporting prisoners in aeroplanes. If the European Parliament is taking it seriously, we should do likewise.
Senator White seeks a debate on the homelessness and she has a new policy. The Leas-Chathaoirleach's humour came into play, telling her she should not launch her policy in the Chamber. Senator Bradford called for a full debate on individuals on-the-run and the effect of people being glorified as heroes but returning in darkness to take their place in society.
Senator Feighan referred to crack cocaine and paid tribute to the Garda Síochána. While the force is not on top of the problem, it has a good policy on drugs. Senator Browne called for a debate next week on what is left of the sugar beet industry. The Minister for Agriculture and Food is attending the debate on the WTO next week and this will encompass the sugar debate. He also referred to violence and drugs.