Wednesday, 1 February 2006
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 21, motion 25. No. 1 is a sessional order as agreed yesterday by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and will be taken without debate; No. 2, statements on a strategy for men's health (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 4 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not exceeding ten minutes; No. 3, statements on road safety, to be taken from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not exceeding 15 minutes and of Senators not exceeding ten minutes. We hope to resume this debate later, as I am aware that many Senators will wish to contribute. It is a matter of ensuring the Minister's availability; and No. 21, motion 25, will be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.
I welcome No. 1 on the Order Paper, the motion which extends the time for contributions to the Order of Business to 40 minutes. I thank all colleagues on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for agreeing to that motion. It is worthwhile and long overdue.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that following the conclusion of the Order of Business statements on road tolling be taken for a period of one hour. This, in effect, would put off No. 2, statements on a strategy for men's health (resumed), to another day.
The Leader of the House will tell me in reply that there is no guarantee that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, would come to the House at such short notice. I do not want him in the House today, given the fiasco he has created for the commuters of Dublin over the past 48 hours and over the weekend. Just when we thought that the hard-pressed motorist would be liberated from the appalling toll plaza on the M50, we get another consultant's report and we cannot expect any action from the Government for at least two years. This is scandalous.
That road is clogged up on a daily basis. It does untold damage to families, motorists and business and it will get worse over the next 18 months as the port tunnel comes on stream. Senators on all sides need to debate this matter today because the Taoiseach has dumped on his Minister with responsibility in this area. It is clear from the spinning of the story last Saturday that there will be barrier-free tolling at various points on the M50, that people in my constituency who are currently not charged for using the road will subsidise the buy-out of NTR. We need to debate this matter today.
I will give another reason we need to debate it. I heard Senator Cox on the national broadcaster earlier this week make a compelling case for the need for a debate on tolling to the effect that within a matter of 12 months people coming from the west of Ireland will have to pay three tolls to get to Dublin city. There is much interest in this story. It is the issue of the day, one we should debate, and I ask the Leader to accede to my request.
In passing, I congratulate the people of Cork. I see that a former Member of this House, one of the great pillars of Irish democracy, former Senator John A. Murphy, has received the distinctive honour of becoming Cork person of the year. I congratulate him and the people of Cork.
All of us on the Independent benches would wish to be associated with those words of congratulations to former Senator Murphy.
I welcome the extension of the Order of Business and thank the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for moving on the issue. By way of explanation, it has been extended to 40 minutes from the time the Leader sits down following the announcement of the Order of Business, in other words it is effectively the guts of 45 minutes. It is a good development.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes's position on tolling. It is not so much the cost of getting from Galway to Dublin as the cost of getting from Dublin to Galway that would bother me. After all the debate on the M50, the idea that we will finish up by giving National Toll Roads €0.5 billion and making sure that everybody who uses the road from now on must pay something is a step backwards and is unacceptable. I would certainly look forward to such a debate.
Previously I raised with the Leader the question of a debate on national partnership talks. My colleague, Senator Ross, raised the matter here last week and I contacted the Leader on a number of occasions in the meantime. As talks are about to begin, it would seem helpful to debate the issues, which normally are the reports of the three bodies, the National Economic and Social Forum, the National Economic and Social Council and the National Centre for Partnership, on which they are based. This would be more than helpful because it would require people to offer their views on how the wealth of the State should be redistributed. I would look forward to hearing my colleague, Senator Ross, explain how he feels that the profits and the wealth created by the State should be redistributed. It would force us to do that and it would be very helpful to hear the different views on it. A division was called on this issue in the Lower House earlier after Deputies sought a debate.
It was recommended that partnership debates should be part of the future functions of the House in the report on Seanad reform and such a debate would be a good opportunity to give the recommendation a dry run, see how it works and, perhaps, come back to the issue during the talks.
We have a capacity for coherence on this side of the House that seems to be increasingly lacking on the other side.
Major shareholders in NTR have been identified in tribunals as being very close to Fianna Fáil and one cannot avoid the conclusion that part of this cosy deal is to do with Fianna Fáil looking after its own.
We are all literate and we can read the tribunal reports. We can draw conclusions quite clearly but we will, hopefully, discuss that issue later.
I support my colleagues in their call for a debate on partnership and a number of issues that people do not want to talk about badly need to be discussed. For example, there has been a great deal of talk about the fact that unemployment levels have remained low and have not changed. However, 20,000 more people are unemployed now than four years ago but because unemployment is measured in percentage terms——
More people are at work but it is extraordinary that in a country in which the numbers in employment are increasing, the numbers unemployed are also increasing. In addition, the number of people leaving the workforce is increasing and it is substantially higher than four years ago.
The second issue is that approximately two thirds of workers in non-unionised workforces would join a union if their management would not penalise them for doing so. That is the product of research conducted by people in UCD and I have no reason to doubt it. It is extraordinary that one pillar of the partnership process, namely, employers, is trying to prevent its employees from being part of another pillar. That is the perception and I seek a debate in which those who claim to understand employers better than I do state clearly that they would support the idea that nobody should be penalised in employment or in promotion because of their membership of a trade union. That would be a good idea and I look forward to hearing all my colleagues' state their support.
In addition, I seek a debate on the attitude of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to partnership. The Department refused to disclose reports about conditions in centres for asylum seekers claiming they were commercially sensitive. It took a decision by the Information Commissioner to release that information. The reports were politically, not commercially, sensitive because they showed that many of the centres were being run very badly. I refer to the Thornton Hall issue. Residents in the area cannot obtain a single straight answer from the Department, which apparently will use its powers to ignore planning laws, zoning and local communities. I do not know how we can have a serious partnership.
I do not wish to be picky but how can the House pass a motion calling for a continuation of the practice of the Leader replying to the Order of Business not later than 40 minutes after it commences when we never had the practice in the first place? The practice was 30 minutes. I hate being picky but the House was involved in a Supreme Court case because some of us did not read a motion particularly well and the Supreme Court had to make a decision on it. One of the reasons was the motion was badly worded. It is our responsibility if motions are badly worded.
I do not think the world will fall down if we do so.
In conclusion, I note a couple of motions under Government business. No. 11 relates to the obligation of carriers to communicate passenger data. The Labour Party will be most unhappy if that motion is passed without debate.
I am referring to No. 11 and the obligation on carriers to communicate passenger data, which is a very important issue. It is worthy of a proper debate and I hope the Leader will not attempt to pass it without one. In fairness to her, she usually does not do so. However, I want to put on record that the Labour Party would be opposed to this happening.
I would like to raise the question of the Ombudsman for Children report which was published last week, in particular, the question of reporting to the Health Service Executive. I was pleased with the proposal of a dedicated phone line. Now that the HSE is such a huge organisation, with the hospitals' office in Naas and primary care headquarters in Limerick, it is important that there is a dedicated phone line. It is worrying that people do not have the same access to services that they had in the past, particularly in regard to children's issues. There should be a dedicated phone line. If there was a debate on the matter, perhaps we would finalise these proposals, and other proposals in this very good report.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's request for a debate on the topical issue of tolling. Much of the focus on it has shifted and it is gradually becoming a national issue in regard to roads that will be open in the future. It is time to have a debate on the matter.
Having had the pleasure of listening to the debate in the other House, it appears there is much obfuscation and a lack of clarity in regard to tolling and whether there will be automatic tolling areas. The House should acknowledge Senator Ross's crusade on this issue over a considerable period, which has shifted the debate.
There is much concern about the financial aspect of tolls which exists at present and the financial implications for the future. It would be interesting to bring more clarity to the debate. The debate in the other House did not enlighten me totally on what is likely to happen in the next few years.
I welcome the press release by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, regarding the national Water Services Investment Programme 2005-07. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to debate how the programme can be delivered on time. Many obstacles may have to be clarified by way of local authorities and the Department working together. At this stage, it is essential that the Minister would debate the issue.
I am pleased to learn that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, made proposals which are warmly welcomed by Professor Fottrell to double the number of medical places in universities throughout the country, which is very important. I hope these persons who were pinched, as in the cases brought before the House by Senator Henry and I, will now be treated with some leniency.
I support Senator Ryan's comments about trade unions. It is a pity it was left to a British member of parliament to take up the case of the woman in Dunnes Stores who was got rid off because she, as a shop steward, wore her badge. That was not right. In light of Dunnes Stores' disgraceful history regarding its women workers who stood out against apartheid, it should have been a little more sensitive.
I ask that we have a debate on the Government's plans, whatever they are, to commemorate 1916. It is important we do so because the Government launched this notion at its party's Ard-Fheis. It is a matter of national importance. This needs to be discussed particularly in light of the comments of the President a few days ago. I found her comments very regrettable. She made references to the Kildare Street Club and to a small elite governing the country. She described them as narrow and sectarian. This was not helpful.
I am disappointed that Senator Norris would bring the President's name into this House. It is the precedent in this House that Members are not allowed to criticise the President of Ireland. I hope the comments you made will be withdrawn.
I ask the Leader of the House to call on the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come into the House soon to make a statement on the proposal by Statoil, a Norwegian state company, to withdraw from this State all its companies and to sell out. It is very important that there is competition within that industry, bearing in mind that in Ballymahon the price of diesel is 97.9 cent per litre and the price of petrol is 99.9 cent per litre.
The price of petrol per litre throughout the country varies from €1.07 to €1.09 to €1.17. If Statoil withdraws, there will be less competition in terms of the companies operating in this industry. It is vital that the Minister intervenes to ascertain exactly what is happening. I call on the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House to arrange a debate to discuss the energy industry, including competition within it. The revoking of the groceries order may be responsible for Statoil's decision.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's proposal. An industrialist in Galway over the coming years will face not three but four proposed tollings on a journey from Galway city to Dublin Port. A toll is proposed for the Galway outer ring road and one is proposed for Cappataggle, Ballinasloe, County Galway. There is a toll on the Enfield-Kinnegad road and on the M50. Currently a return journey from Galway to Dublin would involve an added cost to an industrialist of about €50, with increases pending. There is a decided disadvantage for an industrialist to locate in the west.
Another Minister is promoting what he calls "regional balance" with regard to industrial development. How can a unified Government penalise an industrialist to that extent in moving goods from Galway to Dublin Port while the notion of regional balance is being promoted? It is important we have a debate with the Minister as a matter of urgency to learn if he is serious about this or simply putting out a spin for future elections.
May I ask the Leader if we can have another debate on planning, an issue the House has not discussed for some time? I acknowledge that improvements have been made in this regard. The Minister has issued a number of new sets of guidelines, for example. We need to debate people's right to object to various plans, which is something we have not yet dealt with adequately. New guidelines are needed because it is not reasonable that people who are not directly affected by plans have the right to lodge objections. In some cases, those making objections do not live in the area which is to be affected or even in this country. Such objections can prevent certain forms of development, such as one-off houses and commercial developments which create employment. For example, people who do not live in County Roscommon are blocking a proposed development in a forest park in that county. The future of the development in question, which would create significant employment and would represent a good amenity for the entire region, was debated in this House last week. Objections against one-off housing are being lodged all over the western seaboard, particularly in counties Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. We need to re-examine the roles of An Taisce, Dúchas and other bodies.
We should question whether objections are being made on foot of environmental concerns, or are emanating from an inner core of anti-globalisation interests within the organisations I have mentioned.
As someone from County Sligo, which is in the west of Ireland, I would welcome a debate on the issue of tolling. Senator Ulick Burke will acknowledge that I am a strong advocate of balanced regional development. It is great that a proposal to build a motorway all the way to Galway is being considered. No such proposals have been made in respect of Sligo. I look forward to the quality of the road as far as Kinnegad being extended as far as Sligo, regardless of whether it is tolled. We would welcome a debate on the matter.
I can say honestly that one cannot have it both ways. We must finance roads in a proper manner. We should examine them with maturity, rather than playing political football. The Government is performing out of its league. It is performing above its performance.
The implementation of the nitrates directive is something of a national disaster. It seems that farmers are being expected to retain every scrap of paper about feed and fertiliser. They have not been told exactly what is required of them. The implementation of the directive should be postponed until a comprehensive information campaign has been put in place. Farmers have been very badly let down. The directive could render the rural environment protection scheme, in which 50,000 farmers are participating, null and void. Some 350,000 people work outside the farm gate in the agriculture industry, which is worth €7 billion to the economy each year.
Yes. More important, I am calling on the Government to defer the implementation of the directive and to put in place a proper public information campaign. Nothing more should be done until farmers know what is expected of them and understand how their livelihoods can continue to be viable.
I ask the Leader to set aside time to discuss Professor Fottrell's report, which is hugely important not only as it relates to medical education but also as it will potentially affect the delivery of health services in this country. It strikes me that if not enough work is being generated to necessitate Seanad sittings on Tuesdays, the House could usefully consider reports of this nature, including the reports of the Ombudsman and the Mental Health Commission. It does not look well that the House is meeting for just two days a week, having recently returned from a long recess.
On the question of tolls, I wonder whether the transport aspect is adequately considered. There is a complaint that tolls would not offset the money saved by shorter journeys, savings on fuel and so on but it is too easy to get the thing out of kilter.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the comments by the Ombudsman for Children, reported on Monday last, which raised a number of important issues in regard to children in Ireland and, in particular, shortcomings in services for children ranging across a number of areas. It is important to listen to what the ombudsman is saying and have a debate on the matter.
The Irish Cancer Society has undertaken to raise the issue of the failure of the Government to extend screening for cervical cancer which is available only in the mid-west region. This is an important issue because, as is the case with breast cancer screening, women's lives are at risk. I ask the Leader, as she has done on the breast cancer issue, to take up this issue and let us debate it in the House and ensure the matter is kept on the agenda. I see no reason this screening programme cannot be extended. It does not involve an exorbitant cost, it is not as difficult to achieve as breast screening and is operated through GPs. The bottom line is it makes a difference; it saves lives. I ask the Leader to put the issue on the agenda as a matter of urgency.
I support the call for a debate on 1916 which should coincide with the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising. I suggest consideration be given to inviting somebody, perhaps of the stature of the President, to address the Seanad. We thought about doing this before on other issues. We should spend a day——
I ask that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges examine the issue. We should have a proper commemoration. The Taoiseach has indicated that from the 90th anniversary onwards a list of commemorations will be put in place leading up to the centenary. We could play our part in supporting that commemoration which, following the Taoiseach's announcement, most people welcome.
I agree with the call for a discussion on toll plazas. The Minister should be here and should be commended for making what was a difficult decision which has taken some time. The debate should deal with the whole issue of the National Roads Authority. There are issues around not only tolling on short-term routes and bypasses on long stretches but also on the question of public private partnerships. These need to be debated in a non-partisan way. The terms of the contract with NTR, which were negotiated by a Labour Minister in 1986 on behalf of the then coalition Government, should also be part of the debate.
I am also sure there will be a debate. I support the call by Senator Ryan regarding the EU Council directive on the obligation of carriers to communicate passenger data. I presume the Senator had in mind the necessity to get that information so that the leader of his party can properly institute controls on immigration.
I support the call by Senator Brian Hayes for a debate on the issue of tolls in light of the Minister's actions during the past couple of days. In view of the many calls for such a debate it would be extremely useful to hold it and I hope we could all learn from it. The Minister does not appear to have learned any lessons from the disaster of the West Link toll bridge. He is going to compound the difficulties and the problems by removing the toll plaza but introducing tolls elsewhere on the M50. We know how that has created gridlock on the M50. There is a need to look at tolls throughout the country.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. In addition to that matter, we also need to examine public private partnerships, how well they are working and if they provide value for money to taxpayers, which I believe they do not. It would be a most worthwhile debate.
No. 1 on the Order of Business is perfectly worded. Effectively, we are making what has been perhaps de facto, de jure.
I would welcome a debate on the nitrates directive which is a matter of concern to farmers. I am confident that when the derogations are negotiated, and bearing in mind the deferral of the phosphorus aspect of the directive, that in the course of social partnership, a satisfactory resolution will be arrived at.
The State's attitude to 1916 is quite clear; leaders of all the parties go to Arbour Hill each year to pay their respects to the founders of the State. One cannot possibly describe as sectarian a proclamation that talks about cherishing all the children of the nation equally——
I specifically refer to relations between majority and minority. A distinguished former Senator, W.B. Stanford, for 25 years represented the minority in the Seanad and expressed regret that greater numbers of the minority were not actually involved.
There is no regulation whatsoever in regard to planning. They can open adjacent to schools or in residential areas and local councils have no power whatsoever under planning regulations. I call on the Minister to issue guidelines and specific regulations in regard to these establishments as a matter of urgency.
I support the call by Senator Jim Walsh to invite the Minister for Transport to the House to discuss tolls. It would be appropriate that he would do so. He should be available; he is in the other House and I suspect he will be finished answering questions in about 20 minutes. I can think of no better or more important place for him to come than here.
Judging by his willingness to appear at extraordinarily short notice for the media on Friday night, no doubt he will consider this House of equal importance and come here to address us on this issue. No doubt, when he comes he will also welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has done a very dramatic U-turn on the issue of the West Link toll plaza.
Only a year ago the Taoiseach said the toll plaza would not be bought out, that the State could not afford it. It would be very useful to have a debate on that U-turn and why it happened. It would also be useful to look at the history of this contract. I will not give a history lesson but Fianna Fáil should stop rewriting history. It keeps saying it was a coalition Government that produced this contract but it was signed by two very well known people, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, who could not wait to sign it——
When the Minister, Deputy Cullen, comes here the House should note the absence of Mr. Flynn's membership of the Labour Party. It is important that we debate the complete lack of clarity about what is coming up and not just what has happened.
I welcome the fact that Senator Mansergh noticed that more than 100 farmers visited the House yesterday. They were angry and felt let down by this Government's attempt to put them out of business.
Is there a precedent for the resignation of a Minister who misled this House? The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government misled the House when he responded to my Adjournment motion on the nitrates directive on 14 December 2005. He said he had the full support of farming organisations for the signing and implementation of the action plan.
Before Christmas, I asked the Leader to find time for a debate on energy issues. At that time I was talking about power and electricity and the fact that there were major power cuts in the north of the United States of America and Italy. Since then, I have been particularly reminded of a term used by President George W. Bush in his address last night, namely, "addiction" and how Americans are addicted to oil.
We are also addicted to oil but it creates another problem, namely, the Russian attitude to its supply of oil to Europe that has developed over the past number of months. It has placed us in a very difficult position due to our addiction to oil and shortage of our own energy sources. We must do something about energy as a whole, not just electricity, and the fact that we have not taken the first step towards sustainable energy. We should debate this matter soon.
I join with my colleague, Senator MacSharry, in calling for a debate on planning. Will the Leader also arrange a debate on tourism development? I am chairperson of the Lough Key Forest Park development committee. I will point out the dubious objection of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which scuppered one of the major tourism investments in the west. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House to examine the Department's hamfisted effort and withdraw its objection to this fine proposal?
I agree with Senator MacSharry that the Government is playing out of its league. It reminds me of the time when the late Tommy Docherty took over a team and said he would take it out of the second division. True to his word, he did. The team was relegated to the third division.
I support the calls for a debate on the M50. My suggestion relates to Senator Ross's statement, that this has been presented as a fait accompli in media reports. I do not know whether it is but, from the points of view of the public and motorists, they will bear the brunt of more costs rather than less. How is this an improvement?
From reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General on projects after they happened, we often find that they have been a waste of money. An accountable evaluation should be presented before this type of proposal is decided upon. This should be presented to the Houses or to a committee rather than as a fait accompli about which we, as legislators, can do nothing.
I support calls for a debate on 1916 which should focus on the ideas such as those in the proclamation of 1916. Senator Mansergh referred to the call to cherish all the children of our nation equally. This debate should include the ideas of Labour Party founder, James Connolly, who had two children who were Members of the Seanad.
Last week Senator White called for a debate on the care of, and services for, the elderly. Since then, we have received a fine report from the National Economic and Social Forum. It would be appropriate to set aside time at the earliest possible opportunity to debate the issue of the elderly in Ireland. The figures presented in the NESF report indicate that Ireland is at the bottom of the league of expenditure on the elderly. We must redress the imbalance.
I support the call from Senators Norris and Jim Walsh for a debate on the 1916 Rising. In advance of the Taoiseach's announcement I had requested a motion on the Adjournment calling for a debate on how Ireland celebrates the 1916 Rising. We should attempt to do so in an inclusive and open fashion.
This is not a matter we can debate in one day in the Oireachtas. As a mature nation we have the ability to review what was correct or otherwise and what could have been done differently. We need a mature debate on where the nation is going, taking on board the ideas that are appropriate to the new millennium.
Senator Norris is right to welcome the announcement by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, of the increase in the number of places in medical schools. I suggest we debate non-Government motion No. 5, in my name and the names of other Independent Senators, which, in June 2005, urged that this should happen.
Could the Leader invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to the House to inform us of the seismic shifts she proposes in consultants' ability to work in private and public hospitals, which she announced last night? I have not found any members of Government parties who know anything of these changes. We are in the process of changing consultants' contracts and I find it impossible to encourage my former colleagues in that area to become meaningfully involved in a matter where there seems to be no joined-up thinking.
We are encouraging doctors to set up private hospitals by providing tax relief. We are building private hospitals in the carparks of public hospitals and at the same time we insist the consultants cannot co-exist between these hospitals. The private service has always had to piggy back on the public service because many of the private hospitals do not have the facilities to treat patients who become seriously ill. Must such patients be referred to other consultants? We must discuss this because it seems the Government parties have not discussed this.
Over the past few weeks many farmers have taken the opportunity, provided by the good weather and favourable soil conditions, to spread slurry. Next year, if farmers are presented with the same ideal weather conditions, they will face six months in prison if they spread slurry at the end of January. This is due to a new directive, which allows slurry to be spread only from February, not in January. We are faced with a serious situation as we seek to represent farmers' needs. Farmers have been the custodians of our landscape for generations and know what is best for the land. I accept a minority of rogue farmers exists but farmers know what is best practice and they should know when to spread fertiliser or slurry. Yesterday, the Taoiseach stated he was satisfied with the progress and the process of the directive. The farmers to whom I spoke are dissatisfied. The buck has been passed between the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food over a long period. It is an absolute disgrace for the farmers to hear from Senator Mansergh that the new solution for their needs is social partnership.
We should investigate the possibility of scrapping tolls and instead taxing the fuel used, which might make more sense. We must raise money for roads although motorists are already crippled by motor tax. I welcome No. 1 on the Order of Business and I suggest the amount of time for matters on the Adjournment be extended, especially in light of the short sittings we have had recently. Perhaps the Leader is already canvassing for the forthcoming general election.
That is fine. I have no problem with that. I suggest that when we sit for only two days in the week, we increase the time for matters on the Adjournment to allow Members to raise important issues. On a week in which we sit three days we can revert to three matters.
That will require a change in Standing Orders.
Had I not looked at Senator Phelan I would not have known that he indicated. Before I call on him, I wish to point out that after the Leader announces the Order of Business, everyone puts up their hands together and it is impossible for me to take a note of all those who indicate. I would like Senators to repeat their indication to ensure I am aware of it. Some Senators repeat it afterwards, and they will not be left out. I would like everyone to do so because I do not want to leave anyone out or be accused of leaving anyone out.
I did not say there was.
I agree with my colleagues who asked for a debate on the tolling issue and express my concern at the suggestion from the Minister for Transport that the hard toll which exists on the M50 at the West Link would be replaced by any other form of tolling such as the possibility of multiple tolling at different junctions and intersections on the M50. If that is the Government's policy on transportation and tolling it is no wonder there is such gridlock, backlog and congestion on the M50 and throughout the country on a daily basis.
I also concur with my colleagues in asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the nitrates directive. I asked for such a debate last week and it is timely that we have it. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has deferred implementation of aspects of the directive. If it were to be implemented in the manner in which the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government sought on 1 February, it would have had a very detrimental impact on commercial agriculture in this country. Senator McHugh is correct to state that farmers know what is best practice. They have been the custodians of the land for generations. They know when soil and ground conditions are correct to apply fertiliser, whether it is artificial or organic. Some weight should be given to the years of experience farmers have gathered before this directive is implemented.
I agree with the point made by Senator Leyden on the announced withdrawal of Statoil from the fuel market. It is a retrograde step. The company stated this morning that it is withdrawing because it is being undercut, particularly by competitors such as Tesco. However, Statoil is one of the main suppliers of fuel to Tesco in this country. How can it make such a statement and keep a straight face? It beggars belief.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission, I will deal with two matters before I reply to the Order of Business.
In reference to Senator Ryan's point about the wording of the motion in my name, we now have an amended motion which states:
That in each sitting until the adjournment of the Seanad for the Easter recess the Leader of the House be called to reply to the Order of Business no later than 40 minutes after the proposal of the Order of Business.
I thank Members for their support and the staff who redrafted the motion.
Although I see Senator Browne has vamoosed, the second matter is one I regard as very serious. Senator Browne said I was having two day weeks to suit myself, but I came to the House yesterday at 9 a.m. and was here all day. I met several people around the House yesterday and I will not go home until Friday. Therefore I ask Senator Browne — if he is prepared to return to the House — to offer the apology he ought to give. I take my duties as Leader of the House very seriously. Senator Browne suggested flippantly that I am here only two days a week, whereas I was here at 9 a.m yesterday and met several Senators. How dare he suggest that I treat the House in that fashion. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to see that an apology is proffered. That is the least that can be done, given the disgraceful sentiments expressed by Senator Browne. I stay four days a week in Dublin; I am very affronted by what the Senator said.
I should explain that I, together with the the Leader and other colleagues, attended a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with the Cathaoirleach yesterday afternoon. The fact is that a substantial group of Senators worked here all day yesterday. I appreciate the seriousness of the matter and I will take it up with Senator Browne.
I thank Senator Brian Hayes, but I will direct a letter to Senator Browne.
I will have great fun replying to all the voluble Members who raised so many items. Senator Brian Hayes asked that we have a debate on tolling immediately but the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, is taking questions in the Dáil. The Whip confirmed that the Minister is still answering questions there. No matter what powers I have, I cannot lift the Minister out of the Dáil and plonk him here in the way Senator Brian Hayes proposed.
Senator O'Toole asked about the partnership talks. I telephoned the Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach — we do not normally name such individuals — this morning about that matter. He thought it a good idea that the Seanad debate and come to a conclusion on a synthesis of the three reports. I hope to arrange that debate next week on the NESF and other reports next week.
I welcome back Senator Browne.
I came back to the House to hear the Leader's point. I understand she was annoyed by my earlier remark, for which I apologise. I did not mean it in that sense, but I was making a serious point that the time for Adjournment matters should be increased.
The matter is one for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, as it would require a change to Standing Orders. The proper way for the Member to raise the matter is for him to speak to his party representative on the committee. The Order of Business today has gone way over 40 minutes. I do not know how I will deal with this if it happens again. All matters raised should be relevant to the Order of Business.
Senator Ryan seconded the remarks of Senator Brian Hayes on tolls. As I said, the Minister for Transport is answering oral questions in the Dáil. Even if he was not doing so, I still could not just go and get the Minister to appear here.
Senator Ryan talked about unemployment levels. He also mentioned the penalties for union membership that one arm of the talks imposes on the other, although I am not sure I understood what he meant by that. However, the Senator also asked that we debate the report on asylum seekers and complained that he cannot get information on Thornton Hall. He also said that he wants a debate on the Council directive referred to in No. 11 on the Order Paper. I have taken a note of that.
Senator Kitt called for a debate on the Ombudsman for Children, which was echoed by Senator O'Meara.
Senator Finucane said tolling was a serious issue — it certainly is at the moment — and will remain so. We will endeavour to have the debate on tolling that he sought but we cannot have such a debate today because the Minister for Transport is otherwise engaged.
Senator Brennan asked that the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government issue an instruction to county councils that water and sewerage schemes costing less than €5 million should proceed quickly to tender once they get notification from the Department and that there should be no need for a further clarification from the Department. I think that will be welcomed.
Senator Norris raised the issue of medical education, but he was right to keep pushing the point. He is a fine speaker who topped the class in the little survey we had at our meeting yesterday.
Senator Norris also highlighted the trade union matter in Dunnes Stores. Like him, I was intrigued that a Conservative Party MP rather than someone here raised the matter concerning the employee who was sacked for wearing her union badge. Senator Norris also raised the issue of the 1916 celebrations.
Senator Terry Leyden asked that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come to the House to explain the Statoil situation.
Senator Ulick Burke was concerned that people who set up industry in Galway and other parts of the west of Ireland will be penalised by four tolls each time they travel. He also raised the need for regional balance in enterprise.
Senator MacSharry asked for a right to object to planning and demanded a debate on planning. I agree with him about the increasing difficulties experienced by young people — not only single men or women but also couples — in trying to get a house because all sorts of objections are raised. We could usefully have a debate on planning.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the nitrates directive. On the matter of REPS, those who are participating do not have to adjust their levels as of now, which will certainly relieve them. Senator Coghlan should find a message on his mobile telephone about that matter.
Senator Maurice Hayes asked about the Fottrell report and asked for a debate on tolls. If I may deal with the matter that so many Members have mentioned, I should make it clear that we cannot introduce legislation at the moment because we have already passed numerous Bills on which debate in the Dáil has not even started. We cannot introduce new Bills until the Dáil clears some of the Bills we have passed. The situation is quite amazing, but that is what has happened.
Senator O'Meara called for a debate on the report on children that was issued by the children's ombudsman, Ms Logan. I think that would be good. She also asked for a debate on cervical cancer.
Senator Jim Walsh asked for a debate on the 1916 commemorations. He also sought a debate on the toll plazas and on the terms of the NTR contract. Senator Sheila Terry seeks a debate on tolling and on PPPs.
Senator Mansergh asked for a debate on nitrates. However, I could not get over the howl that came from the Opposition benches — they are in howling form today — when Senator Mansergh suggested that farmers' issues be discussed as part of the social partnership talks. Such issues are always discussed and are one of the pillars of the social partnership. Senator Mansergh is quite correct, but I think the howling betrays the Opposition's underlying feeling towards the social partnership talks.
Senator Mansergh also spoke about Senator Stanford and how he wished more of his faith would participate in debates on matters such as the 1916 Rising or its ideals. Senator Cummins raised the issue of lap dancing and expressed fears about where such clubs are situated. We should say well done to Senator Ross who has been very stalwart about road tolling. He asked that the Minister come to the House and he congratulated the Taoiseach on his U-turn. A Labour Party Minister negotiated the terms of the tolls but a Fianna Fáil Minister signed off on it.
Senator Bannon raised the nitrates directive. Senator Quinn called for a debate on energy, as he did before Christmas. I also noticed the telling phrase used by President Bush when he referred to Americans as being "addicted to oil". Senator Feighan called for a debate on planning linked with tourism.
Senator Tuffy raised the issue of tolls and called for a debate on the 1916 Rising. She is right in that James Connolly was one of the heroes of 1916. His ideals are very redolent of what happened then and afterwards and they still remain vibrant in Irish society. Of course, we should talk about him when we debate 1916.
Senator Bradford raised the recent National Economic and Social Forum report on the elderly. We will seek to have debates on a plethora of reports next week. I will have great delight in noting who is and who is not present. Senators are so keen for work.
Senator Henry referred to No. 5, motion 21, on the Order Paper. She was also worried about the sudden change in how consultants would carry out their work which was announced this morning. We will seek to get the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come to the House, which I understand is what the Senator would like to see happen.
Senator McHugh raised the issue of the nitrates directive. He was astounded or affronted that it might be included in social partnership talks.
I have already given my answer.
Senator John Paul Phelan is not a small man; he is a fine, tall person. He agreed with the call for a debate on road tolling and on the nitrates directive. He referred to the hypocrisy of Statoil and to the Tesco matter.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 24 (James Bannon, Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Mary Henry, Michael McCarthy, Derek McDowell, Joe McHugh, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Sheila Terry, Joanna Tuffy)
Against the motion: 32 (Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Maurice Hayes, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Kate Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Cummins and O'Meara; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.