Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Order of Business
It is a pleasure to be back. I look forward to playing a full part in the Seanad in the coming years.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2007 â all Stages to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude by 6 p.m. with contributions of spokespersons to be eight minutes and those of all other Senators to be four minutes; No. 2, Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007 â Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons to be eight minutes, those of all other Senators four minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 7.22 p.m.; No. 3, Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Bill 2007 â all Stages to be taken at 7.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 9.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons to be eight minutes and those of all other Senators to be four minutes. All divisions taken in the House this week shall be taken manually rather than electronically.
As I understand it, the Cathaoirleach will not be in the House tomorrow and as it will be the final day of the current Seanad I wish to pay tribute to his stewardship during his 30 years as a Member of the Seanad. He has given tremendous service to his country.
Like the Cathaoirleach, I am bowing out on this occasion. I wish him well in his retirement. I know he will remain as active as always in other circles well known to everybody. The Cathaoirleach has been a great ambassador for this country and west Limerick and deserved his place in the sun as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad during the past five years. I believe everyone in this House, regardless of political affiliation, regards him as having been extremely fair in his position. As a west Limerick man, I respect and appreciate his fair-mindedness.
I take this opportunity, before coming to a brief matter on the Order of Business, to pay tribute to those Senators who were successful in their election to the other House. I wish my colleagues on both sides who are contesting the current Seanad campaign every success. I hope many of them will rejoin the Seanad and form the seed corn for this House during the next five years.
I wish now to deal with a pertinent issue. The issue of drugs has been raised in this House on many occasions. Many Members spoke during such debates of the drug-like vice gripping Ireland particularly in terms of cocaine, a drug which many people consider to be a respectable one. Many segments of our community have been gripped by this drug. Everybody's mind is now focused on the problem given developments off our coast during the past few days. A tonne of cocaine was washed up off the coast of Cork following an unsuccessful landing. Ireland is widely perceived as a gateway for drugs to the UK and the continent. Those interested in experiencing the significant scale of what is actually happening in this country in terms of cocaine and other drugs, need only note the size of that shipment which would have resulted in a great deal of hardship for many users. I wish the Minister dealing with the area of drugs the best of luck because drugs are becoming part of our culture and they are endemic in every community. It will be a significant challenge to root out this prevailing epidemic.
FÃ¡iltim go mÃ³r roimh na daoine nua atÃ¡ tagtha isteach sa Seanad inniu. TÃ¡ mÃ© ag tosnÃº leis na entrances and exits, etc. I welcome the new people â fÃ¡iltÃm go mÃ³r roimh an fhear nua Ã³ Chorca Dhuibhne atÃ¡ istigh anseo den chÃ©ad uair. In addressing a word of welcome to Senator Dorgan from west Kerry, I say to my friends on this side of the House that the word on Senator Dorgan is that he comes from sound Blueshirt stock on his side of the peninsula. I will allow him to answer that for himself. I ndÃ¡irÃre, I welcome the new Members and second the Cathaoirleach's words of congratulation. As an Independent Member, I see no difficulty in Senators going for election to the DÃ¡il and vice versa. I do not understand people who try to juggle these matters and say it should not happen. As an Independent Member, I have a very strong view on this in other contexts.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his commitment to this House over his period as a Senator and as Cathaoirleach. During his time in the Chair he has extended his friendship to Members on all sides and made no distinction at any time between Government Members and other Members. I acknowledge and appreciate that. The Cathaoirleach has also shown flexibility, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I hope the former Members who have left and gone to the DÃ¡il will recognise that the Order of Business over which he presided in this House is far better and more acceptable and more topical than the Order of Business in the DÃ¡il. The Cathaoirleach is to be congratulated on that. The Cathaoirleach has also extended to Members on this side of the House, as well as to Members on his own side of the House, the hand of friendship and fairness. Go raibh mÃle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. TÃ¡ an-jab dÃ©anta agat. TÃ¡imÃd thar a bheith sÃ¡sta leat. Go n-Ã©irÃ go maith leat amach anseo.
As we move on to the business of the day, I wish to state, now that we are in the middle of this embarrassing, unrepresentative, undemocratic, anachronistic, elitist Seanad election process that we do not want any more committees, any more reports, any more discussions. Let us grasp the nettle and put into play change. I would like the new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who has strong views on this matter, to be invited to the Seanad to give an outline of how he intends to implement the recommendations of the Seanad Reform report to give every citizen a say in the election of the second House of Parliament. Is nÃ¡ireach an rud Ã© go bhfuil prÃ³isÃ©as den sÃ³rt sin againn faoi lÃ¡thair. Everywhere I go I hear nothing but complaints about the current process. It is an embarrassment and it is time to change it.
Four or five months ago there was a media brouhaha on the subject of drugs coming in through the private airport in Lucan. I pointed out to the House at that time that it was a bit of a joke, given that one can bring a boat into any port in Ireland without any type of strict procedure coming into play. Let me give a simple example that the Members can take away from here. I heard the suggestion on the radio programme "Morning Ireland" that we need a fleet of boats and an extra platoon of soldiers. We do not need that. In France there are people sitting at radar stations around the country. These radar stations can cover 100 miles of coast and every boat coming into that area can be seen. The ships are radioed and requested to report what they are carrying, where they are going and from where they came. It is done in the language of the ship. If a satisfactory answer is not forthcoming, the matter is dealt with. We do not need a huge customs force or a huge fleet of boats. We do not need to change the law. We need to be sensible. Mizen Head, where last night's incident happened, is the most south westerly point of Ireland. It is a dangerous place to go in a boat at any time, not to mind in the middle of the night in winds of force 6 or force 7. With a couple of radar stations, one at Mizen Head, one at Rosslare or Tuskar Rock, and one in between, the whole south coast could be covered. A person sitting in an office in Dublin looking at a screen could ring the local coastguard and request that a particular boat be contacted and if there is no response a cutter can be sent out to it. It would be easy and would not require a change in the law. I do not want to see a raft of legislation to deal with this. It can be done.
I have put two sensible proposals to the House. The first is that the Seanad be reformed. The second is that the import of drugs into this country be stopped immediately.
AontaÃm le gach rud a dÃºradh faoin Chathaoirleach. BhÃ sÃ© uasal agus fÃ©arÃ¡ilte i gcÃ³naÃ, agus chuir sÃ© bÃ©im ar dhÃnit an TÃ ar shlÃ a bhÃ ciÃºin ach a d'oibir go maith.
I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach, who was extraordinarily fair and to whom I have said more than once that he was more than extraordinarily patient on occasions, definitely with me. I wish him well in the future. I regret that one more conduit for tickets will be closed off to us all.
We were consoled in bad times that we at least had that conduit. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his service over the past five years.
It is almost 30 years exactly since I contested an election for the Seanad. As Members will know there is no cure for politics, so I will contest the next election.
What is more profoundly worrying than the revelation of the scale of the importation of drugs into the country is the reason that such a demand would exist among our population. It is a challenging question as to what will persuade a significant chunk of society to use cocaine. At a risk of starting a major row, I believe cannabis is a separate issueââ
ââbecause the evidence is arguable. The evidence from cocaine use is that it is inherently destructive and profoundly addictive. The idea that sane, intelligent and, by and large, educated young people would put their futures at risk in this way raises all sorts of profound questions about values and what point they see in life. Senator O'Toole's suggestions make perfect sense. Technology could solve this problem.
Before I sit down for what may be my second last day in the House â I have enough reason to be aware of the vagaries of the electorate â I mention once again the plight of the Palestinian people, an issue I have raised repeatedly, and the extraordinary decision the world has taken to subvert democracy in the Palestinian territories by recognising an autocratically appointed government instead of a democratically elected one. It is not a question of what I think about that government, but the principle that the rest of the world has now said that an appointed government is better than an elected one is a profoundly wrong decision in principle and also in politics. It will be proven to be wrong in the long term, whatever about the short-term expediency.
I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Government and the European Union to reflect again on this unequivocal commitment to an autocratically appointed government which will leave the Palestinian people without proper leadership and without a government they can trust.
I join others in congratulating those who have been nominated to serve in the Seanad and those who have been elected to DÃ¡il Ãireann. I wish everybody well who is contesting the forthcoming Seanad election. I am not contesting the election but I can sympathise with the predicament of members of that electorate who would like to give their No. 1 vote to several candidates. Unfortunately, we do not have the option of doing what one person did, which is to write four number ones and state "as promised". I wish everybody well and I hope as many Members as possible will be back in the House for another term.
My main reason for speaking, however, is to join in paying tribute to you, a Chathaoirligh. I thank you for the work you have done both as Cathaoirleach and, prior to that, as a Senator. It is a remarkable achievement in public service to have been a Member of the House for as long as you have been. You have always been fair and even-handed in your decisions and always good humoured. It has been a pleasure for Members to serve under you as Cathaoirleach. You deserve congratulations for that.
In addition, Members who have travelled abroad with the Cathaoirleach know how well he has represented this country. I accompanied the Cathoirleach on a trip to the United States and we were proud to be there and of how the Cathaoirleach represented us. He deserves great credit.
I agree with what was said with regard to drugs. Senator O'Toole is correct that the Naval Service could identify the location of vessels at any time. It is a simple matter, and cutting off the supply is the way to deal with this problem. I also agree with the views expressed about Seanad reform. The template is available in the report that was prepared and there is consensus as to the way forward. I believe there is also a commitment in the programme for Government to progress this matter. It should be done.
I wish to be associated with the generous and well-deserved tributes to you, a Chathaoirligh, for your courtesy and kindness. One of the Members mentioned patience but I do not believe I ever tried your patience. I believe we got on well. With regard to the conduit for tickets, I never failed to resist any crumbs from the rich man's table.
No. As a fellow Munster man, the Cathaoirleach can talk to me any time on that subject. I welcome the new Senators and wish those who were elected to the Lower House well. I also extend good wishes to my colleagues who are contesting the Seanad election.
Now that the Leader has again traded places with his predecessor, I wish him well in filling those shoes. I hope they are not precarious high heels. The Leader indicated in his remarks that he has found his natural home and wished himself many happy years here. Hopefully, the electorate will be kind.
With regard to the serious matter raised by Senator Finucane, we have again discovered how porous our coastline is and how difficult it is to police. Ireland is, no doubt, a gateway for drugs for the North, Britain and Europe. The appropriate authorities must learn from this and do more than just sit up and take notice. A most worthy proposal has been made by Senator O'Toole. We urgently need the system being operated in France. The House should commend it to the appropriate authorities and, hopefully, proper action will be taken.
TrÃ©aslaÃm leat, a Chathaoirligh, as ucht cÃºig bliana a chaitheamh sa Chathaoir. NÃl aon amhras faoi ach gur thug tÃº stÃ¡das faoi leith don Seanad. BhÃ tÃº cothram agus macÃ¡nta linn i gconaÃ. TÃ¡ sÃºil agam go n-Ã©ireoidh go geal leat amach anseo.
This House has been proactive on many serious issues over the years and one of them, which has been the subject of several debates, is the drugs problem. In that regard, we are currently experiencing a war of great intensity, a war of good versus evil. The drug barons are condemning young people to a life of misery. Worse, they are condemning them to death in the most tragic circumstances. It is not just the young victims who suffer. We must also consider the violence and the many killings that have occurred in this country in recent years. Drugs were at the root of the violence in many of these cases.
The extent of the recent haul off the coast of Ireland tells us quite clearly that we are dealing with something on an international scale seldom experienced previously. We should compliment the Garda SÃochÃ¡na which has had success, limited though it may be. Apart from legislation and implementing the law the only way we can succeed on this issue is for the entire community to take ownership of the problem and co-operate fully both officially and in a private capacity to ensure it comes to an end.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his career. He will be missed. Apart from anything else, God alone knows what we will be landed with in his place. Speaking of which, I welcome back Senator Cassidy whose return shows the Government has been influenced by the Green Party and is intent on a campaign of recycling.
This place is getting more like a nature reserve every day. I think of the great medieval poet who wrote, "Sumer is icumen in. Lhude sing cuccu!" or The Irish Times column which always had letters such as, "I heard a cuckoo today. Is this a record? J. Laytham, Brigadier". There are plenty in the House today. We could rechristen the Senate the cuckoo's nest because of all the people parachuted in for two days to receive parking privileges. This shows how seriously the Government takes this House and how seriously it will take Senator O'Toole's suggestion for Seanad reform.
With regard to today's business, will the Government consider withdrawing the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill? Apart from anything else, it does not contain a definition of ethics. Does this mean the Government is a stranger to ethics and cannot define it because it does not know what it means? This is likely in light of the legislation on stamp duty. The Minister for Finance gave an undertaking that no change in stamp duty would occur. People acted on this promise and commitment, they bought houses and were landed with it.
The Cathaoirleach is correct. However, I ask for the removal of the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill. Consider what was cobbled together with the gene pool and people of like mind. There is a whiff off them that would blind almighty God and they do not have any problems about ethics. This Bill should be withdrawn until the Government understands what is meant by "ethics".
I propose a change to the Order of Business so the House can take No. 42, which states:
That Seanad Ãireann, in the light of further disclosures about 'CIA Rendition Flights' to torture destinations and the involvement in these practises as victims of women and children, condemns such activities in the most unequivocal manner; and calls for the establishment of an International War Crimes tribunal to determine the guilt or innocence of the most senior US and British personnel.
Women and children are now rendered to Somalia to be tortured and we are clearly implicated in this. I refer to the recent air display by some of these bombers in Galway and the statement of Major Samantha Weeks, one of the commanding officers. She stated Ireland has taken a stand with the United States for freedom, they want to spread goodwill with Ireland and other European allies, Ireland supports the United States in the war on terror and the Irish people are on the same page when it comes to freedom, human rights and democracy. We are not and the message should go out from this House that we do not support torture, mass civilian bombings or the use of chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Nor do we wish to subvert conventions like President Bush or Mr. Blair. Thank God Mr. Blair is gone.
I wish to take the opportunity to thank the Cathaoirleach for the courtesy and kindness he showed in the House during the past five years. He was always fair and effective in the way he handled the business of the Seanad. I wish him well and happiness and health in the years ahead.
I wish to speak on the point raised by many speakers with regard to the major seizure of drugs off the coast. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, well in his new endeavours. This is a bigger issue in the context of which we must discuss values in society, and this involves many Departments. I ask the new Minister of State in his brief to examine how best to co-ordinate the workings of the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to monitor the situation and police the coast where drug barons manage to get drugs through from others countries. I ask the Seanad to call on the new Minister of State to examine the matter with a view to co-ordinating our forces to that work.
I wish you well, a Chathaoirligh, in your retirement. You had the absolute respect of every Member during the past five years and did a tremendous job. As Leas-Chathaoirleach, it was a privilege to work with you during that time.
I welcome Senator Cassidy and the new Members to the House and congratulate those who were elected to the DÃ¡il.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the role of the community welfare officer. I understand there is to be a change whereby the community welfare officer may be taken into the Department of Social and Family Affairs. That would be a retrograde step as the officer plays a very important role in the community. If taken into the Department of Social and Family Affairs, he or she would become a civil servant, in which case he or she would not be able to act in the same way as heretofore. In the event that it is not possible to have a debate on this issue, will the Leader raise it with either the Minister for Social and Family Affairs or the Minister for Health and Children? This is an important issue which needs to be debated and on which clarification needs to be provided. The role of the community welfare officer should remain as at present.
I join others who have commended you, a Chathaoirligh, for the manner in which you have conducted the business of the House over the past five years. I congratulate those who have been elevated to membership of the DÃ¡il and welcome the new Members into the House.
On the drugs issue, I agree the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, needs all the support he can be given to combat what can only be described as a creeping cancer. It is obvious that those involved do not care about the forces of law and order. For those who would advocate the use of cannabis, from the best sources cannabis is a gateway drug deemed to cause mental illness. It is one of the first drugs used before moving on to hard drugs.
As I always do, Senator. I would certainly support a debate on this matter and on the matter raised by Senator Burke. I am concerned that the role of the community welfare officer would change. Such an officer plays a pivotal role in dealing with a very vulnerable section of society and I would not favour the proposed change.
We intend to remedy that in the next 24 hours. We cannot give any guarantees, but we will do our best in the next 24 hours. I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach's very even-handed management of this House. It is quite an achievement that he did not manage to expel Members of the House, many of whom would have liked to have been expelled on occasions for various good reasons. To be able to avoid doing so shows considerable skill as Cathaoirleach.
I welcome back the Leader of the House. As Senator Norris said, it is a great pleasure to see him back. He was a very fine Leader of the House and I regret the aberration of his absence. No doubt that will be remedied in the weeks and months to come. I wish him well and I wish him a long period in this House. I hope that during that period he will be able to lead the crusade for Senate reform which has been mentioned by Senators O'Toole and Norris, and others in this House today.
It is something of an embarrassment that certain things happen in this House when we try to pretend that they do not happen. I say in all seriousness to the Leader of the House that the commitment of Fianna FÃ¡il to this House is wafer thin. I do not join in a very political way in welcoming all those appointments that were made. Senator O'Toole touched upon this subject. Some of those appointments were made to people who have stood for Parliament and subjected themselves to the democratic process. That is another argument. However, some of those appointments were made for purely party political purposes. There is no commitment from those people to anything except the political party in office. They show no signs of abilities in the parliamentary scene, although they show signs of great ability in the political scene. It should be recognised that those peopleââ
I do not wish to be evicted â as his first duty the Leader would need to name me if am to be. If we are not to have a debate on Seanad reform at least until the next session, when I hope to be in your seat, a Chathaoirligh, for the first sittingââ
I also congratulate the people elected to the other House and welcome those who have been appointed to this House. I play on the Cathaoirleach's patience for one last time. I thank him for the way he has handled business, and for his courtesy and kindness to me on all occasions both inside and outside the House. He has set the tenor in which the House does its business and that has been entirely productive and helpful.
Given where I come from, the lifetime of this Seanad has seen remarkable developments in Northern Ireland, which we all welcome. I wish well those who are trying to make a go of their experiment there. I pay tribute to my fellow Members of the Seanad for the serious way in which they undertook discussion of Northern Ireland in recent years. Nobody was trying to make political points. While everybody was deeply aware of the sensitivities and the danger of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, they were nevertheless aware of the necessity to take account of and support progressive developments there. I thank my fellow Members, particularly the Cathaoirleach, and wish him well.
AontaÃm go hiomlÃ¡n leis an mÃ©id atÃ¡ rÃ¡ite ag chuile dhuine Ã³s rud Ã© go bhfuil tÃº ag Ã©irÃ as oifig. TÃ¡ an moladh tuillte agat. BhÃ tÃº i gcÃ³naÃ neodrach agus neamhspleÃ¡ch. Go n-Ã©irÃ an t-Ã¡dh leat.
I join previous speakers in paying tribute to the Cathaoirleach. He always ensured he upheld the dignity and decorum of this House. I did not know that during his term he did not have to eject any Member from the House.
PARC, Public Against Road Carnage, is an organisation that was set by Susan Gray, a young woman from Donegal who tragically lost her husband. The organisation has gathered 20,000 signatures on a petition seeking mandatory drink and drug testing where the Garda is called to the scene of an accident. When this matter was raised with the new Minister for Transport in the DÃ¡il last week, he stated, "I do not propose to alter the position". In other words, absolute discretion regarding such testing will be left to the Garda. However, in a letter to the organisation, the Taoiseach stated, "Taking account of the concerns raised by PARC and other groups, Fianna FÃ¡il recognise the need to introduce compulsory drink and drug testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury and, if re-elected, we will ensure that these changes are implemented without delay". We need that commitment honoured.
I am at a loss to know why, following the negotiations on the new EU treaty, the Taoiseach last week cast doubt on Ireland's commitment to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. A new treaty is needed and we should not be on Britain's coat tails regarding doubts about the charter. Ireland needs to sign up to the treaty.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kindness and generosity to me over the past five years. This House always delighted in not being a rubber-stamp for legislation from the Lower House. All Stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2007 are on the Order of Business and, while on occasion there has been an overriding urgency to deal with all Stages of a Bill in one sitting, that is not the case with this legislation. It is important legislation but the House is sitting for two days. I would like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business that only Second Stage of the Bill be taken this afternoon with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at another time.
I add my voice to those who have expressed thanks to the Cathaoirleach for his work over the past five years and for the 30 years service he has given to the House. The Seanad has been enhanced by the manner in which he has conducted affairs. I congratulate him on his impartiality and ability to listen carefully and his adherence to our objective of constructive debate during the passage of legislation.
Much more legislation was introduced in the House over the past five years than in the previous 50 years. I hope that trend will continue but it will not happen unless the public recognises its commitment to and ownership of the House. The public will not recognise the benefit of the Seanad until it has an opportunity to elect its Members. The comments by Senator O'Toole and others on this issue need to be given serious consideration and I hope when the new Seanad meets, one of the first items on the agenda will be an amendment to the manner in which Members of the House are selected and elected.
Senator Ã MurchÃº referred to the number of young people who have died. I assumed he was going to speak not only about the number of deaths of young people through drugs but also deaths on the road. Figures during the week indicated we have the highest percentage of young people in Europe who die on the roads. This was publicised at the launch of the European road safety charter, which was hosted in Dublin during last week by the director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland.
I believe action can be taken and I urge the new Minister responsible for it to take into account what Mr. Sarkozy, the current French president, did when elected to a similar position in France. He committed to the objective of reducing the number of road deaths by a half, which he achieved, and he has now moved on to higher things. Perhaps the new Minister with responsibility for road safety can set the same target as that of the European road safety charter, to halve the number of road deaths by 2010. I hope this will be achieved but it will not be possible unless the country and the Minister in particular gets behind it.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his work during his term, which has been a study of how a quiet way can be very effective. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise a matter, which occurred when the general election was ongoing, with our partners in Europe, particularly Estonia. I am raising it at the first opportunity.
A statue of a Russian soldier was removed from public view in Estonia without consultation or agreement with the minority Russian population in there. One does not need to be a student of history as it is well known that the Russian soldiers fought for their motherland rather than communism or Stalinism. If the powers wished to give a kick to the shins of Stalinism or the Soviet Union, that is one thing, but the action of removing the statue was gratuitous and unhelpful.
Brave soldiers lost their lives and we should remember that the Second World War was predominantly fought on the Eastern front, with deaths there on a factor of ten to one. I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to attend to the matter.
I join in the tributes to the Cathaoirleach, which are richly deserved. I also pay tribute to our own deputy leader and all other Members not seeking re-election to the Seanad.
Drug smugglers seem to have gateway status in west Cork and along our coast, and it was only a stroke of luck that the 1.5 tonnes of drugs were not successfully landed. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should take on board the suggestion by Senator O'Toole regarding radar. In addition, extra resources should be allocated to Customs and Excise and the Garda, as they are clearly required.
The Garda logo now seems to be freely available for clothing and merchandise. I ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a statement on the matter and to clarify it as a matter of urgency. Only last year we passed legislation in this House with severe penalties for people posing as gardaÃ. It is of paramount importance that the Minister clarifies the matter.
I second Senator Norris's amendment.
As this is the Cathaoirleach's last day in the Chair, I will say how much I have appreciated the fair way he has treated all of us. It has been a great privilege to be one of the Acting Chairpersons in this House. I do not think the House knows of all the traditions established by the Cathaoirleach here, and I sincerely hope the Clerk and Clerk Assistant will have them maintained. These are the traditions of the Cathaoirleach at the Christmas party. I will not be there this year to sing "Paddy McGinty's Goat" but I sincerely hope that Senator Finucane will be returnedââ
ââso his rendition of "Delilah" can be heard by more people because I assure the Cathaoirleach it is well worth hearing.
I look forward to attending many parties involving former Members in the company of the Cathaoirleach. After these events, he and I will look quite frisky, while others will seem exhausted or cross. We will then realise how wise we were to retire.
I wish to be associated with comments made in respect of the Cathaoirleach, the new Senators, former Members and those who have volunteered to retire. I hope some of us will still return to the House after the election.
I do not doubt that the next Seanad will be more representative and reflective of society, perhaps with more political parties represented here than is currently the case. I ask the Cathaoirleach, the Fianna FÃ¡il Party and, perhaps, its general secretaryââ
It is an issue that arises because the purpose of democracy is to allow participation. Members of the community to which I refer do not have a voice at present. These people comprise 10% of the population and many of them are members of the workforce and pay tax. This is an ideal opportunity to appoint someone to the Seanad who could articulate their views and concerns.
I join other Senators in wishing the Cathaoirleach well in his retirement. I do not doubt he is looking forward to the Munster hurling final. If Limerick can achieve a victory, it would be a great start to his retirement. I am not sure if those present from Waterford would agree with those sentiments. I wish the Cathaoirleach and other Members who are not contesting the election well.
The issue I wish to raise, to which previous speakers referred, came to my attention by virtue of the fact that I am a candidate in the Seanad election and that I have been travelling throughout the country. I refer to road safety. Last weekend was a bad time, with nine people killed on the roads. In previous months, it had seemed that the numbers of accidents and deaths on our roads had decreased significantly. However, it appears that there is a serious and outstanding problem.
Will the Leader encourage the Minister for Transport and the Marine to come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity following the election to discuss this matter? There is an ongoing and significant problem with the number of people who drive while under the influence of drugs. That issue has not been dealt with yet and I ask that the Minister for Transport and the Marine take action in respect of it at the earliest opportunity.
Before I call the Leader, I thank all those Senators who complimented me on the work I have done. I did not think that I had the patience required for the job. It is nice to know, however, that I possessed something of which I was unaware. I thank everyone who co-operated with me during my term of office, particularly the staff, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and all others.
I, too, wish the Cathaoirleach well. I thank him for all his kindness, help and courtesy over the years. We served in a number of SeanadaÃ together. I was present on the unfortunate evening on which he lost his seat and I and many others were delighted when he regained it eight or ten months later. I wish him, his wife and his family well. It is a joy to see that his family will continue to be involved in public life.
I also pay tribute to those who played major roles during the lifetime of this Seanad. We will probably say more about that matter tomorrow.
It would be remiss of us â I was surprised this matter was not mentioned â not to congratulate Deputy Bertie Ahern on becoming Taoiseach for the third time. His three in a row is a marvellous and historic achievement that no one else managed in the past 50 years.
I congratulate all the Deputies who became Ministers and Ministers of State and I wish the Government well. If the latter does as good a job as its predecessors in the past ten years, Ireland plcââ
ââhas much to look forward to. I would love to be able to facilitate Members in the many issues they raised. However, time will not allow me to do so. On the one hand, there is a very fortunate group of Senators with safe seats, while on the other, there is a group whose members will be obliged to work hard to gain re-election. I have a balancing act to carry out today and I am afraid that I must make legislation a priority in terms of our business. I hope those Members who are not standing for re-election will understand why that is the case.
I have enjoyed working relationships with the leaders of the various groups over the years. I thank the leaders for their understanding in respect of the Order Paper which we have scrutinised and on which we have obtained consensus because that is the order of the day. I welcome the support I have received here on my first day back as Leader.
Senators Michael Finucane, Joe O'Toole, Brendan Ryan, John Dardis, LabhrÃ¡s Ã MurchÃº, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, David Norris, Ann Ormonde, Camillus Glynn, Shane Ross, Maurice Hayes, Jim Higgins, Feargal Quinn, John Hanafin and John Paul Phelan expressed their kind regards to the Cathaoirleach. This is very appropriate on this historic day for him and his family.
Certain Senators expressed their horror at the news we all heard on the radio yesterday of the cocaine seizure off the Cork coast. The amount quoted was â¬50 million. This figure then increased to â¬70 million, â¬100 million and â¬110 million. We are now told the amount could be considerably in excess of this. Horrifying stories have emerged in respect of the activities in which some people have been participating off the coast of Cork. We all abhor what has happened, including what is certainly the largest drugs find ever in the history of the State. Members of this House involved in the medical profession have fired warning shots on the Order of Business today. We certainly support the Government, the Minister and everyone else, including the Garda SÃochÃ¡na and the Garda Commissioner, in their fight against the terrible plague of drug abuse in our country.
I certainly took the views of Senators Dardis, Norris and Ross into account in respect of inviting the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss the future role of the Seanad. Various reports have been produced. I agree that we should have no more reports and that we need action in this regard. The Seanad plays a very meaningful role. The message is going out loud and clear on "Oireachtas Report". Were it not for this programme, this House would be at a terrible disadvantage. The quality of debate and the standard of participation from Members on all sides of the House is second to none. Having been a Member of both Houses, I certainly speak with considerable experience.
During the period from 1997 to 2002, more than 30% of all legislation was initiated in this House. That was begun in the period from 1997 to 2002.
Those Members, especially those on the Independent benches, who have been in the House long enough â God knows that a good number of them have been in the House quite a long time â will remember when only two or three Bills would be initiated in this House in the 1980s and the early 1990s. All fair-minded comment would have to say that this House now plays a considerable and meaningful part in scrutinising legislation. We see it being introduced, including all the legislation from Europe. I was Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business and we scrutinised about 40% of all EU legislation and amending legislation introduced. The challenge faced 15 or 20 years ago by Members of Seanad Ãireann is quite different from that faced today by Members of the House.
I will certainly pass on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Ryan's serious concerns and genuinely strong views in respect of the matter he raised. Senators David Norris and Margaret Cox called for amendments to the Order of Business with which I certainly cannot agree because time does not allow us.
We can take that at the end. Senators Paddy Burke and Camillus Glynn, two long-standing Senators with much experience in this House, expressed strong views in respect of the community welfare officer. I fully agree with their comments and will contact the Minister for Social and Family Affairs immediately after the Order of Business to get this matter clarified at the earliest opportunity. I fully support their call for it to be debated in the Seanad.
I get no pleasure in speaking of the horrific carnage on our roads in the past week. Senators Jim Higgins, John Paul Phelan and Fergal Quinn raised this serious issue, of which we are all aware. I chaired the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business when it carried out a study into insurance reform. Senator Joe O'Toole, vice-chairman of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, played a large role in that study. In the past five years, we worked hard to make our roads safer and put back fear into the law. Since the introduction of random breath-testing on 21 July last year, a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, at least 100 lives have been saved on the roads. I support the views expressed by the Senators. Hoping we are all re-elected, I will support a debate on this issue early in the new Seanad.
Senator John Hanafin raised the matter of the removal of the Russian war memorial in Estonia. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and request an early response on the matter.
Many Members are concerned that I forgot Senator Paul Coghlan's name. The Order of Business would not be complete if he were not mentioned. I will contact the Department regarding his request and return to the Senator on the matter as soon as possible.