Wednesday, 5 April 2006
Order of Business.
It is because of his industry.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 24, motion 23. No. 1, statements on the European Council, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed six minutes. The Minister will be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 2, statements on diabetes, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed six minutes. The Minister will be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 24, motion 23, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The murder of Mr. Denis Donaldson in Donegal last evening highlights the fact there are still political fanatics who pose as republicans. There are three points I would like to make on that appalling killing. First, I was quite surprised by the Government's initial reaction to the killing because it seemed to take at face value the statement issued by the IRA. We know the form of the IRA and that it has in the past issued statements that have been proven to be untrue. In many respects, the bigger the crime, the bigger the lie on the part of that organisation. I advise the Government to be a little more circumspect about this case before it replies in respect thereof. The killing has all the hallmarks of a similar murder in the late 1990s, that of Mr. Eamon Collins. Mr. Collins had been in Sinn Féin and became an informer.
Second, this is a particularly dangerous time. The criminal edifice of Sinn Féin-IRA, particularly along the Border, is now being dismantled piece by piece because of excellent work by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland. We should not underestimate the tensions that exist within the republican movement as a result of the fact that dodgy diesel, cheap cigarettes and a substantial portfolio of property in Manchester and elsewhere are now being rightly removed from that criminal organisation. I ask people to be mindful of this fact.
Third, the gruesome killing of Mr. Donaldson is a chilling reminder that there are people within our society and the republican movement who still believe the way forward is through intimidation and the use and threat of violence. We have a responsibility to hold our nerve at this time. The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister also have a responsibility to continue their work in Armagh tomorrow when they will attempt to breathe some life into this process. The Government should not take at face value an IRA statement. We know its form; in the past it has lied to us about a range of incidents. In the full light of day we should be much more circumspect now.
I wish to be associated with the words of congratulations to Senator Leyden. I also note that our esteemed colleague, Senator Ross, also featured in the frame. The rest of us can only hope to do better and try a little harder next year to emulate what they have done. We will do our best.
In recognising the points made by Senator Brian Hayes regarding the Government's views on the death in Donegal, I remind the House of a point I made recently that cancer screening could prevent more deaths than occur as a result of gunfire or road accidents. I ask the Leader for a sensible, rational, ordinary person's debate on the extraordinary 31 items which will attract penalty points in the future. They have received wide acclaim in the media and from politicians. I would like to have them explained. Somebody who drives the wrong way down a dual carriageway does not need two points, but rather committal to a mental hospital or a prison. The same is true of somebody driving the wrong way around a roundabout.
Widening the scope of penalty points avoids the issue. The real issue is revealed by the figure published yesterday. One third of all road fatalities are caused by drink. If we want to do something serious, it is not about the accumulation of points for silly misdemeanours. What needs to be done, as called for by groups such as Alcohol Action Ireland and others, is random breath testing. If such testing were put into operation we would at one blow solve one third of the fatalities as a result of road traffic accidents.
While it is not politically correct to say so, I believe introducing 31 new offences brings politics into disrepute. I defy anyone to understand all the offences. Some issues are inexplicable. References are made to road markings which do not exist on many roads here. This is a simple media outing. I wish Gay Byrne well with his 31 items. No more than with the rest of what he needs to do, there is a simple thing we could do. We could introduce random breath testing, which would eliminate one third of the fatalities. It would make sense and have an immediate impact. Let us see the political will to do so and disregard the nonsense. People accumulating points for silly misdemeanours will do nothing to save lives on the road.
I wish to be associated with the compliments to my two colleagues on the recognition for themselves and for this House.
While it seems it will not happen, I would like to have a debate in advance of legislation on the proposed sale of a majority stake in Aer Lingus.
Contrary to what people might imagine, I do not carry any ideological baggage about State ownership per se, nor about the opposite. We must learn from our experience and should do what we believe will work. Manifestly, the privatisation of Telecom Éireann did not work in terms of providing us with the scale of investment and dynamism that we wanted. Eircom is now being lauded by various international agencies as being a wonderfully managed company because of how it can outsmart the regulator on every occasion. That is not a great advertisement for whatever was supposed to be the advantage of its privatisation.
I am still not persuaded as to why Aer Lingus should be privatised. I have the feeling that the rancid meat in the middle has infected the whole sandwich and we are talking about ideology taking over. I would like the Minister to come to the House to explain to me the business case for the privatisation of Aer Lingus because I have not heard it made yet. Perhaps there is a good case, but I have not yet been persuaded.
The point was made to me this morning that when John Gilligan comes out of prison, he will be able to open a pharmacy. Nobody will be in a position to stop him because there are no regulations relating to the sorts of people who are fit to run pharmacies. We have no way of stopping unfit pharmacists from continuing to operate, as no suitable regulations are in place. No new legislation in this regard has been passed since 1875, even though further legislation has been promised for many years.
We always seem to wait until a tragedy takes place before we discover that we need to update our legislation. We are now talking about changing the legislation relating to the medical profession as a matter of urgency, on foot of the tragic events in Drogheda. Will we wait until a tragedy takes place in the pharmaceutical sector before we amend the legislation that regulates it? Can the Leader ask the Tánaiste to state when legislation to regulate pharmacies and pharmacists will be introduced? Such legislation, which has been promised since early last year and has been needed for the past 30 years, is hopelessly and sadly overdue.
We should not allow people who have been convicted of drug offences to sell legal drugs legitimately after they leave prison. I am aware of the case of a person who was struck off the register of pharmacists in Britain but then started to do some locum work as a pharmacist in my home city of Cork. He was entitled to work as a pharmacist in Ireland even though he had been disbarred from working as a pharmacist in Britain. This is not a trivial matter.
Given that pharmacists deal with extremely dangerous materials and help to protect us against misuse, abuse and mistakes, the least we can do is to put in place a modern regulatory environment in which they can operate. The Government and the Department of Health and Children should do some proactive work in this regard by introducing the appropriate legislation instead of waiting to react to crises.
In light of the terrible atrocity that happened in County Donegal yesterday, it would be right for the House to send its best wishes to the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister in the hope that they will be successful in their efforts this week to move the peace process forward. It is logical that we should do so, given that they are trying to restore full and meaningful democratic structures to the North of Ireland and to respond to the wishes of the people who indicated in the referendums on the Good Friday Agreement that they share that goal. I accept the statement of the republican movement that it was not involved in this murder.
I believe that the Government reacted in a balanced and responsible manner. We must bear in mind that there is a very dangerous vacuum at present. I ask republicans and Unionists to act in a responsible manner. We must remind ourselves that the republicans represented by Sinn Féin are the major Nationalist party in the North of Ireland. I appeal to Dr. Paisley and the DUP to give positive leadership to the people who put him in a position of authority. It is not helpful to sit on the fence.
Dr. Paisley's negative approach to every effort that is being made is not helpful. There needs to be a response from Unionists as well as republicans. There is no war. There has been full decommissioning, except by loyalist paramilitaries. We should not try to score any political points. We must move the situation forward in a united manner.
The tragic death of Veronica Guerin ten years ago galvanised the nation. Mrs. Nora Owen, who was Minister for Justice at the time, introduced the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and established the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is doing excellent work at present. One of the people who was involved in the murder of Veronica Guerin is due to be released this week. It was planned that the person in question would appear on this Friday's "The Late Late Show". I must compliment the senior executives in RTE who have made the correct decision that this person would not appear on "The Late Late Show" this weekend. It would have sent out very wrong signals to the outside community. That person was to be accommodated in a first-class quality hotel in Dublin on the first night of his release prior to this programme.
I want to ask the Leader if she could find some time to discuss the school transport issue in view of the tragedy in Clara, and indeed, last year's tragedy in County Meath. As far back as 1999 when I chaired the Joint Committee on Education, many members recommended change in the school transport scheme as regards seat belts and on the issue of three persons occupying two seats, the policy that was in place at the time. The Government reviewed the position in 2002 and also came up with recommendations. It would now be timely to have a debate on those proposed changes. Hopefully, they will soon be put in place.
There appear to be two different regimes of school transport, the Department of Education and Science on the one hand and private contractors on the other. It is time to bring all schemes up to the same standard for the transportation of students to school.
I ask the Leader to consider having a debate on the Forfás report published today on Ireland's oil dependency, which is quite frightening. It points out that in 2004 we used 9 million tonnes of oil, double what was consumed in 1990. Ireland is the third largest user of oil per capita of the older EU states. This is worthy of debate and is a worthwhile subject for this House.
Will the Leader please draw the attention of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to the fact that the chief dental adviser to the Minister, who retired two years ago, has not been replaced? I gather that somebody is on secondment to the Department of Health and Children, but this means, in effect, that dentistry is moving down the line and is not being given the attention it deserves. It amounts almost to a downgrading by stealth of the importance of dentistry to health.
Like everyone else in this House, I deplore the squalid murder of Mr. Denis Donaldson that took place in Donegal, compounding the tragedy for those close to him. I welcome the unequivocal condemnation by the Sinn Féin leadership, which I believe to be sincere. I hope those agencies that used Mr. Donaldson to make various manoeuvres, feel suitably proud of themselves today, but I suspect they are indifferent. As Senator Ó Murchú has said, it underlines the importance of persevering in trying to establish the primacy of politics. Unfortunately, there are still people who believe not merely that they have the right to take the law into their own hands, but that they are the law. Such people need to become more and more of a minority.
On a lighter note, I welcome the rude health of the public finances, as shown in yesterday's Exchequer return and the fact that this time a larger party has been converted to the merits of Government taxation policy.
I was happy to attend the opening of new offices for the gay and lesbian equality network, GLEN, on Monday, and was happy to see the Taoiseach there. I welcomed his positive comments, indicating support for legislation to provide for civil partnerships in the future. My only reservation is that it rings somewhat hollow in that we have had positive indications previously from the Government to the effect that it wished to bring forward such legislation. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform set up a working group to examine the issues involved. I understood the group was to report in March but the Taoiseach said on Monday that it will not report until September. That means we will not have legislation before us until the autumn at the earliest. Will the Leader establish if the Government is serious about what it is saying? Will we see legislation before the House and passed before the next general election or will we just continue to hear nice comments and general support but nothing to back it up? If it is to be the latter is not good enough as far as I and the gay and lesbian community are concerned.
I seek a debate following on from what Senator O'Toole said about the effects of drink on driving. I understand that in Switzerland if one is caught drunk while driving, one loses one's licence for life. It does not mean that people do not drink or drive there, it just means they do not do the two together. Drunk driving causes a third of all accidents while drunkenness causes most of the accidents in the home, etc. It is time we had a straight debate on driving under the influence of alcohol. We in this House should do what we can on the issue. We should acknowledge the fact that it is not possible for one to drink and drive properly.
I endorse what Senator Ryan said. It is not the first time I have asked for a debate on Aer Lingus. The Minister was very happy to appear on "Prime Time" last night in order to answer no questions whatsoever. It would be helpful if he were to come into the House to debate this very serious issue. It is one of the most important issues of the day.
It may surprise the House but I share Senator Ryan's belief that the Government has not yet made the business case for the privatisation of Aer Lingus. While there is a case and I tend to believe in it, we are now in an extraordinary muddle where people do not know where they stand. Last night, when asked, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, indicated he did not know when privatisation will happen nor how many shares the Government would hold. Such an approach is in danger of back-firing quite badly.
Privatisation is being postponed again. I do not know who is behind it and who is in control but this is an issue which should be debated here in the House, not only outside it. I gather the latest development is that the Minister has told the unions and particularly the management to sort out issues which should have been addressed months ago.
What is happening behind closed doors is very important in this case. Our role is to express our views and make the Minister accountable to the House for what is going on. At present there is no accountability in this very important area.
This is going to be a very difficult State asset to sell if the Government continues making a complete mess of it. It is only seeking a mere €400 million.
Legislation might come to the House before the debate on pharmacies and pharmacists sought by Senator Ryan. Last Thursday at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, the Tánaiste stated that legislation was imminent and would be presented to the House before the summer. Senator Ryan is correct in that for the first time legislation on the industry will cover fitness to practise.
I am aware a loophole exists. One does not need to be a qualified pharmacist to open a pharmacy but the law states that one must employ a qualified person to manage and run the unit. It must be borne in mind that not all pharmacists can afford to open a pharmacy. We must ensure the baby is not thrown out with the bath water and qualified people are left unemployed.
I am glad the two Governments are not allowing themselves to be deflected by the brutal and appalling murder of Mr. Donaldson by whoever was responsible. In common with every other Member, I wish the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister well in their work tomorrow in helping to put the Assembly and Executive back on the road before long.
The House will be aware that Commissioner Dimas has decreed that body embalming fluids be banned, which will make the viewing of bodies a thing of the past. I ask whether he is trying to sound a death knell for a treasured Irish custom which has been so much a part of our culture for so long. There is ample evidence from psychologists to back up the view that it plays an important part in bringing closure to the bereavement process. I ask the Leader to invite a Minister to the House to discuss this matter. This measure is a grave error which the House should resist.
Like Senators Ó Murchú, Mansergh and Coghlan, I too wish the Taoiseach and Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, well.
I accept the statement of the IRA leadership in this case. It would be entirely irrational for it to have been involved and this is obviously a view shared by Mr. Donaldson. Along with the process it is the big loser. Their difficulty is that it is not this House they have to convince but the DUP. I take some hope from a statement by Sir Reg Empey this morning stating that Northern Ireland politicians would have to find a means of getting over these things so they were not destabilised when such events occur. It gives me some hope that we could look for the primacy of politics as our colleagues have advocated.
I ask the Leader for an update on the report on Seanad reform. A couple of years ago the Leader was personally associated with reports that the Seanad was to be reformed. It was stated at the time that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, was to oversee this reform and the Taoiseach was to be involved in some way. This was to be done in the lifetime of this Seanad but the report has been left on the shelf for more than a year since it was published.
Seanad reform should be implemented before the next election in approximately a year. Proposals were made to broaden the franchise from that of graduates and that there should be an element of direct elections to the Seanad. This is a democratic forum and if we have made recommendations then they should be implemented. We should not be sitting here in a few years' time — I hope I will not be——
I join with the sentiments expressed by my distinguished colleagues on both sides of the House regarding the evil killing of Mr. Donaldson. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Maurice Hayes that the primacy of politics needs to be reinforced, notwithstanding that this House can have very little influence over outside events. I extend my deepest sympathy to the family because yet again this is another family grieving as a result of the shadow of the gunman whom I thought was long gone from our island.
A report appeared in the national newspapers in the past few days regarding disturbing allegations made about immigration centres. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform seems to have a heavy agenda in other areas of policy but I ask the Leader to consider asking the Minister or somebody from the Department to come to the House to answer those allegations which are being investigated by the Irish Refugee Council.
I would be a hypocrite if I did not highlight these issues in light of the fact that I and several colleagues from all sides of the House have attempted to alleviate the difficulties affecting Irish nationals in the United States, who are also immigrants. We must look into the motes in our own eyes. If the allegations published in the newspapers stand up, they are indefensible. It is unacceptable that those who have fled their countries for the best of reasons — to find a better life — should be treated with contempt, that their dignity has been compromised and that they are not given basic rights. I hope there will be an opportunity to invite the Minister to the House to explain the full facts in regard to what is happening in these immigration centres.
I support Senator Kitt's call for a review of the school transport system. Fewer than 12 months ago, the House asked for a review so that the tragedy in Meath would not be repeated. A terrible tragedy took place in Clara, County Offaly, yesterday. Our sympathy goes out to the family, the students and the community at large in Offaly.
A hidden factor that contributed to this tragic loss was the fact that all of the children on the bus had been refused school transport by the Department of Education and Science. This is where the real tragedy lies. For almost 15 years we have ignored calls for a review of the catchment areas. Today I received from a parent in County Galway a copy of a letter from Bus Éireann which states: "In keeping with Department of Education and Science directives for school transport, whereby each pupil must have a single seat, I regret to inform you that we are enable to give your child transport after Easter". This is one of 30 letters to one national school in Galway. It is envisaged that a further 20 pupils will lose school transport from September.
Will the Minister continue with the absolute lack of proper regulation in the area of school transport? Children are being put in danger as a result of the total mess caused by the involvement of the Department of Education and Science, on the one hand, and the Department of Transport on the other, as well as independent carriers, with nobody having control other than through the Department of Education and Science scheme. The matter needs urgent attention.
Without the support of the House and the Fianna Fáil parliamentary group, it would not have happened.
Will the Leader consider scheduling the Committee and Final Stages of the Bill for after the Easter recess? The General Register Office has transferred from the Department of Health and Children to the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has kindly agreed to take the Bill through both Houses and it will become law.
I would like to clear the decks because I have another Bill in the offing, the defamation of the dead Bill 2006, which I intend to bring forward as a Private Members' Bill. I discussed the matter at my parliamentary party meeting this morning and got general agreement to bring it forward for further discussion before bringing it to the House.
On the Order of Business, I support the call for a debate on the transport system and reiterate my request for one, which I made last week. The system is in chaos, of which we have evidence this week. Not alone has Senator Ulick Burke received letters but most Senators and other Oireachtas Members have received similar letters from CIE on the transport issue.
On another issue, I call for a debate on the underfunding within the BMW region. I understand that only 57% of the funding allocated under the national development plan for the region for the period 2000 to 2006 has been spent. This is due to bureaucracy and red tape introduced by the Government. There is a major underspending of this funding in the BMW region. At the time of the mid-term review I called for a debate on this issue. Such funding was intended to promote growth and infrastructural development in the region in terms of roads, transport, tourism and rural development, but all those projects in the BMW region are lagging behind simliar projects in the rest of the country. I want equality introduced in the development throughout the country.
I support the call for a debate on the privatisation and sale of Aer Lingus. It is an urgent matter that needs to be debated as soon as possible. I urge the Leader to arrange such a debate.
On another matter, which relates to Senator Leyden's proposed Bill on the defamation of the dead, will the Leader advise us as to the stage of preparation of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to a panoply of legislation on the press council, privacy and reform of libel and defamation laws? We discussed these issues in this House in the past mainly due to the efforts of the Leader, but we are still awaiting the introduction of this important and significant legislation. It was to be published originally before Christmas and we were told more recently it would be published before Easter, which is fast approaching. Can the Leader indicate when that legislation will be introduced?
Will the Leader consider arranging a debate on issues related to health, particularly that of the provision of acute services? A useful exchange took place between Professor Drumm, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children last Thursday when a number of issues were thrashed out. The outstanding issue is that of bed capacity. I would like the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to facilitate a discussion on a number of issues, particularly those related to how hospitals are being managed. It is emerging that not all hospitals have problems in that small hospitals in particular work well. It is important that we would be able to tease out the issues emerging around the important matter of health policy.
I agree with what Senator O'Toole said about the new penalty point offences introduced. There are two major omissions in the 31 offences listed, one being the use of mobile phones. A Bill covering this issue passed Second Stage in the Dáil but I got the impression that the Minister responsible will drag his heels on progressing it. That Bill should be brought forward to Committee and Remaining Stages and brought to this House. The Leader might indicate if there is a timescale as to when the Bill will be enacted.
We hear about drink driving all the time and yet we have a massive drug problem. Some motorists drive vehicles having taken class A drugs as well as, in some cases, medication in the form of anti-depressants but nothing is being done to address that problem. It was discovered that a motorcyclist who killed a lady in a recent tragedy was more high on drugs than on alcohol. Motorists who drive having taken drugs are a major problem on our roads. It is time we tackled that problem in the same way as we tackled drink driving in the past.
I am concerned that the penalty points system is turning into a revenue generating exercise rather than a preventative and road safety exercise, which it was originally intended to be.
I agree with Senator Terry's point in welcoming the Taoiseach's opening of the new offices for the gay and lesbian equality network, GLEN, recently. I call for a debate on housing particularly for single people. The lack of such housing also affects gays and lesbians who are clearly being discriminated against. It is nearly impossible for single or separated people, or gays and lesbians, to get local authority housing. As houses are currently allocated, they tend to go to families or women with children. We must initiate a housing scheme in every county and local authority for single people, be they homosexual or heterosexual.
Gun crime, particularly drug-related gun crime, seems to be out of control in the country. Last week we discussed the shootings on the M50, and over the weekend another young man was shot in Clonmel. Nothing seems to get done on the issue. Security vans are rammed and vast amounts of money are taken, and it is estimated that less than 10% of the money taken in all these robberies over the past number of years has been recovered.
What is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform doing about this? It would be more appropriate to give extra resources to the Garda Síochána rather than issue press statements or sound bites on the issue. I ask the Minister to come into this House and explain why the Garda Síochána is not being properly resourced.
On another issue, Members have stated that they accept the statement that the IRA was not involved in the killing of Mr. Denis Donaldson. I remind Members that there were similar denials with regard to the murders of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Robert McCartney, and after the Northern Bank robbery. Truth is certainly not the IRA's greatest attribute.
I support Senators Kitt, Burke and Bannon in calling for a debate on school transport. I extend our sympathies to the White family and all concerned in a very tragic accident yesterday near Clara. We can speak of school transport and an inability to get it, but my information is that there is a secondary school in Clara but it is the choice of parents to hire a private bus to bring their children to Killina. We must have uniform standards for all school buses, irrespective of whether they are hired privately or run by the State. A mechanical failure was the cause of this incident, and these events can happen without notice, unfortunately.
I wish to make a brief comment on penalty points. I have listened daily to people in this House calling on the relevant Minister to do something about road safety. The Minister for Transport, as part of the Government, introduced 31 new penalty point offences, but what has then happened? The media, and many public representatives, have condemned the Minister for this action taken in the interest of road safety. I am wondering where these people are coming from.
In welcoming last week's debate on agriculture, it is important we keep it to the front of our agenda. New Teagasc advice will be presented to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture and Food, and both Ministers should examine it comprehensively and adhere to the advice and guidance therein.
On another matter raised here today, yesterday was an unfortunate dawn, primarily because of the loss of the life of Mr. Denis Donaldson. It was also an unfortunate dawn with regard to the position in which people from Donegal found themselves. It is important to put into context that although Donegal is a Border county, not all of it is in the Border region. Not all of the county has suffered from the Troubles to the same extent as areas near the Border. Glenties won a Tidy Towns award and is strongly associated with tourism. It is a quiet and peaceful village with peaceful people.
Yesterday the people of Church Hill witnessed streams of cars coming from Letterkenny Garda station. One commentator pointed out to me that it was like "Hill Street Blues" at one stage. This precedent has been set in Donegal and the people there do not want it and will not stand for it.
I join with colleagues in expressing disgust at the murder of Mr. Donaldson in County Donegal. Senator Ó Murchú said that republicans had fully decommissioned but I do not see how this is so, in light of yesterday's shooting. Clearly, the guns used in that incident have not been decommissioned and nobody would doubt the involvement of people calling themselves, however loosely, "republicans".
Other Senators referred to the tragic accident yesterday in County Offaly. It is now time for action and for the installation, without further delay, of seatbelts on every schoolbus in the country, whether privately operated or publicly owned. I extend my sympathy to the family of the young man killed in the accident.
I agree with the points made by my colleague, Senator Cummins, on the subjects of crime and justice, with particular reference to the murder over the weekend in Clonmel, which was a disturbing development. Attacks on vehicles transporting cash have grown into a serious problem. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform commented flippantly last year on a particular attack in Dublin. The drivers of the van in question were subjected to a harrowing ordeal as the van was robbed. The Minister would be better employed ensuring the safety of people going about their work than engaging in his usual megaphone politics on such issues.
The leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, mentioned the sad death, as all are, of Denis Donaldson. He likened his killing to that of Eamon Collins in the late 1990s. He suggested the Government be more circumspect in its comments and pointed to tensions in the republican movement, arising from the uncovering of its criminality and its attempted dissipation. He said there were people who still believed that intimidation and threats worked. We do not yet know who committed the heinous murder of Mr. Donaldson so to ascribe it to any particular group or country would be wrong. One can only imagine what an awful death he suffered.
Senator O'Toole referred to the 31 offences attracting penalty points and argued they would not decrease road fatalities, because one third of them are caused by drink. We should adopt the Australian or Swiss model where a person found guilty of drinking and driving is banned from driving for life. We need to introduce drastic measures to convince people they cannot drink and drive.
Senator Ryan called for a debate on the privatisation of Aer Lingus and asked the Minister to come to this House to explain the reasons behind his decision. He also asked about pharmacies and Senator Feeney provided an answer, to the effect that, as the Tánaiste apparently said, a Bill would be published before the summer. There are two pharmacy Bills, and we had thought they would not be published until the autumn. As Senator Ryan said, the last legislation was enacted in 1870 so hopefully there will be progress on that before the summer break.
Senator Ó Murchú sent best wishes to the Taoiseach and said it was unhelpful for Dr. Paisley and the DUP to sit on the fence.
I agree with Senator Finucane who praised RTE for cancelling Patrick "Dutchy" Holland's appearance on "The Late Late Show". One can only imagine how the audience would have reacted to his appearance and the very idea was audacious, to say the least.
I agree with Senator Kitt's call for seatbelts on school transport. Senator Quinn raised the Forfás report regarding our overdependency on oil. We have all received a copy, and I agree that it would make a very useful debate, which we will have after Easter.
Senator Mansergh spoke on what I agree was the squalid murder in Donegal, welcoming Sinn Féin's disavowal of any involvement and stressing the importance of persevering with the primacy of politics. He also welcomed the good health of the public finances and the conversion of a party to our taxation policies.
I am pleased Senator Terry expressed her happiness at seeing the Taoiseach at the GLEN function. She wants me to ascertain whether civil partnerships legislation is to be introduced following the report to which she referred, publication of which appears to have moved to the autumn. She has published a very fine paper on the matter, and I will answer her question in due course.
Senator Lydon requested a debate on driving under the influence of drink. One may drink or drive but not do the two together.
On the question of the privatisation of Aer Lingus we have seen a volte-face from Senator Ross, from whose eyes the scales appear to have dropped. He is not present, but I would say the same thing if he were.
I accept the Chair's ruling.
Senator Feeney said that according to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, a pharmacy Bill would be introduced before the summer. The Taoiseach will be glad to hear that Senator Coghlan wished him well. The Senator also discussed an EU Commissioner who wished to forbid the use of embalming fluid. I have not read about that and am uninformed.
It will be very sad if that happens.
Senator Maurice Hayes wished the Taoiseach well and accepted the statement by the Sinn Féin leadership and also welcomed Reg Empey's comments. I am delighted to tell Senator Tuffy about Seanad reform, which I want as much as she. Like her, I feel that I may not be around to see it implemented, but I want it to happen. We had started what I considered a good series of meetings with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. I believe there had been two such meetings when a debate in the House cut across the next one to be scheduled. It is now a matter of arranging another, but we are moving forward, albeit very slowly. This Chamber would benefit greatly from full and proper reform.
Senator Mooney also mentioned the primacy of politics and expressed concern at disturbing allegations from the Irish Refugee Council regarding immigration centres. I have been worried about them for some time but could not find an echo, so I am glad to hear the Senator raise the issue.
Senator Ulick Burke suggested a review of school transport, something with which I agree. We will try to have one immediately. Regarding Killina, Senator Moylan was right to point out that parents want children to attend the school of their choice. Sometimes when I hear on RTE the pronunciations of places I know of I have to laugh. Parents wanted their children to attend Killina, despite there being good second level schools nearby. That is their choice.
Clearly school transport cannot be used if one wishes one's child to attend a school outside the relevant catchment area, but the Senator believes that such areas should be reviewed. They were drawn up in 1967, and no review has been carried out since. There is not a district in Ireland without some sort of dispute regarding catchment areas and where children should go. It was extremely sad that a young lad on his way to school was killed, with many others injured, and I support Senator Moylan's comments. We should have a good debate on school transport.
Senator Leyden thanked everyone for their good wishes. Committee and Remaining Stages of his Registration of Wills Bill 2005 are scheduled for the first week after we return from the Easter recess. The Senator is to introduce a new Bill to address defamation of the dead. This is the first time I have heard this announcement and I welcome it.
Senator Bannon called for a debate on school transport last week and today called for a debate on the underfunding of the BMW region. Senator O'Meara asked for a debate on Aer Lingus and inquired what has happened to the defamation legislation. The defamation Bill is expected to go to Cabinet next week, it is on the Government A list for publication. Perhaps Senator Leyden's Bill can be knitted in with it.
Senator O'Meara also called for a debate on health and hospital management.
Senator Browne asked about legislation on mobile phone use while driving. Fine Gael introduced a Bill dealing with that issue in the Dáil last week and it was accepted by the Government. Hopefully it will come through quickly.
Senator Browne also mentioned drug driving and the penalty points system. I also agree with him that we often meet elderly people who find it difficult to secure local authority housing. OPDs are a thing of the past. There was a time when every council scheme included a few OPDs but elderly people now find it difficult to get a house. From the council's point of view, a family with children gets first call.
Senator Cummins said that gun crime is out of control and called for a debate on the matter. Senator Moylan extended his sympathies to the White family and mentioned penalty points. He is right, we asked what the Government was doing about road safety and then we criticise it as soon as it acts. There must be severe penalties for those who drink and drive. There was a terrible accident in Athlone at the weekend as well.
Senator McHugh mentioned new information from Teagasc and said that we should keep our finger on the pulse of the agriculture debate. He also spoke about Glenties, a lovely place, where we all flock to the Patrick Magill summer school every year. Senator John Paul Phelan also mentioned Denis Donaldson, the tragedy in Offaly and crime in general, calling for a debate on the subject.