Thursday, 21 February 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on education for persons with special educational needs, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded. Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes, other Senators may speak for eight minutes and Senators may share time, with the agreement of the House. The Minister is to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments.
I am pleased the Minister is coming before the House for this debate on education for persons with special educational needs because everyone here is aware of the importance of applied behaviour analysis, ABA, in the education of children with autism. Government representatives have appeared in local media outlets throughout the country claiming to fully support parents and I want to see that support in this House this morning. I want the Minister to pay attention to this issue because we will put a motion before this House seeking the aforementioned support for parents.
I am concerned by a number of issues relating to education in this country. The Minister for Education and Science said in the Dáil chamber yesterday that there will be large cutbacks in devolved grants and in summer work schemes. We must have another debate with the Minister to discuss the significant cutbacks that are occurring at the Department of Education and Science and find out whether they are due to reduced funding.
The report of Dr. Jim Port, published yesterday, indicates that the decision to upgrade Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, to university status is an entirely political one. I request that the Leader of the House ask the Minister to make a quick decision on this matter to allow us discover what is going on.
Last week I asked that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, be brought before this House to discuss the special areas of conservation he intends to introduce under a European directive. I feel it is urgent that he discuss this matter with us to ensure the social and economic needs of areas throughout the country are not superseded by the requirement to fulfil a European directive.
I wish to ask the Leader whether we can have a discussion in the coming weeks on Ireland's heritage, particularly the vital role played by the Irish Georgian Society. It is appropriate that this issue be raised today because this is the 50th anniversary of the Irish Georgian Society set up by Desmond and Mariga Guinness. This is especially relevant to Senators in this beautiful part of Leinster House. Desmond Guinness was incited to start the Georgian Society by the vandalism perpetrated next door to here when two magnificent 18th century houses in Kildare Place were destroyed on the instructions of the Government to the great disadvantage of the Irish people and to the disservice of culture. It was done as a specific, deliberate, wilful and gleeful act of vandalism as was clearly indicated by the fact that the Minister for Defence at the time, the late Kevin Boland, stated he was glad to see them go as they stood for everything he hated. This is astonishing, crude and ignorant in its way.
Prior to this we had the destruction of Coole Park. What an extraordinary reward for Lady Gregory. The Gore Booths were hounded out of Lissadell and their few pathetic acres of land taken from them and administered in an appalling way. I heard on radio a local representative, I believe from Sinn Féin, state they deserved this because they had walked over the Irish people when their mouths were stained green from the grass they had been eating. This was a deliberate and calculated lie. These people bankrupted themselves at the time of the famine feeding the people.
We need to understand the complexity of our history and pay tribute to people such as Desmond and Mariga Guinness and review what is happening now. Thanks to the Georgian Society, its members derided as though they were only belted earls, Castletown and Roundwood in County Laois were saved. Vernon Mount near Cork is in imminent peril.
I call for a debate on East Timor and this is an appropriate time to do so because the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is there at present. The country recently had a traumatic episode when the Prime Minister, José Ramos-Horta, was shot and severely injured. I am pleased to state that today, for the first time, he has regained consciousness. Tom Hyland is also there in a semi-official capacity. He has represented his country with great dignity and pleaded the cause there.
We should have an opportunity to congratulate the Government on its vision in establishing the conflict resolution unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Its first mission will be in East Timor and I welcome the appointment of Nuala O'Loan as she is a most wonderful woman who can only do good.
This is an extraordinary day as far as I am concerned because for the first time — and it is traumatic — I find myself in agreement with Michael O'Leary. I never thought the day would come. On RTE radio this morning he was absolutely right in what he said about the air traffic controllers dispute. The person representing the trade union movement did a disservice in refusing to answer the questions which were asked and in seeking 15% for air traffic controllers to be on standby before overtime money is received. RTE did a damn good job in putting him in a corner and extracting the answer. It is a day of woe for me when I find intellectual rigour compels me to agree with Michael O'Leary.
I thank the Leader for providing us with a note on what I understand to be legislation which will be introduced in the Houses next week. It is a note for the Government meeting this week. I repeat what was stated by many colleagues in December with regard to the health legislation. It is not satisfactory in any parliament for legislation to be published and go through all Stages in both Houses in one week. We are not afforded sufficient opportunity and time and I do not mean late night sittings. I mean the time between the publication of a Bill and its final promulgation. A parliament debating its relevance should not be asked to consider legislation sight unseen within a week. It still has not been published and all we have is a summary. When will it be published?
As I have done previously and as others have done also, I call for a comprehensive debate on child care. We had a debate on the subvention scheme prior to Christmas. I want to discuss the wider question of child care. What is this country's child care policy? It comprises two or three elements, the subvention scheme, the early child care supplement of €1,100 and an excessive concentration on buildings and places rather than monitoring quality.
Child care is about children and ought to be child centred. We are way behind other countries in terms of our commitment, funding and attention to a real and comprehensive child care policy and system. Even the Government of Scotland has made major advances in recent months and years in putting in place a comprehensive system. What type of child care policy should we have? Who should pay for it? Should it be available universally? Should it be subsidised and if so, who should receive a subsidy? How should this be done?
We need a proper debate in this House and not simply have the Minister come in, important though this is, and give us lists of figures and places. Let us have a debate about what vision we have for child care. We have had at least ten years of prosperity. Working patterns of families have changed completely and they have to muddle through when it comes to child care provision. Let us have a visionary debate and not an element of self-congratulation by way of a ministerial speech. This House should ask what type of system we think we want and how we want to fund it. This would allow us to do what we should be doing as parliamentarians and offer people a vision of what the future could be like.
The statements on a national waste strategy are proceeding through the House and we will return to them next week. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be in the House to take this debate. The opportunity of the Minister's presence should be used to make a definitive statement on waste management policy.
Last evening, an application was made to An Bord Pleanála through the strategic infrastructure plan by Indaver to place a second incinerator in Ringaskiddy, County Cork. In doing so, the company has shown the utmost contempt for the local community. Many statements were made since the formation of this Government and within the programme for Government itself. We have ongoing processes for reviews of waste management practices and these will report later this year. Pending legislation will introduce an incineration levy which will make incineration less economically viable.
For companies to use existing legislation in such an underhand way undermines the efforts to put in place a sensible and sane waste management policy. I look forward to this opportunity and to the encouragement of the Leader of the House for the making of such a definitive policy statement when we resume this debate next Wednesday.
I agree with the comments made by Senator Boyle on a need for further debate on a waste management strategy. The problem is that we have never had a national waste management strategy. Perhaps we have booklets, documents and departmental guidelines. However, individual local authorities have their own plans and strategies and these can contradict with those of other local authorities. The local authority previously represented by Senators Boyle and Buttimer, Cork City Council, virtually refused to co-operate with my local authority, Cork County Council, with regard to a waste management strategy for the entire county of Cork. If we cannot get it right for one county, our aspirations for a national waste management strategy will end up in the refuse bin, if one excuses the pun. I look forward to the debate. We have had debates ad nauseam, sadly with no progress or action.
I request a debate as soon as possible on the world trade talks and their possible negative impact on Irish agriculture, in particular the future of the Irish beef industry. For many months, this House was unanimous in its views on the importation of Brazilian beef. The progress on this issue led us to believe the Irish beef industry would be in a position to thrive. However, facts and figures emerging from Brussels indicate the proposals by Commissioner Mandelson, which he is trying to sneak through, will result in the end virtually of the Irish beef industry and will put 60,000 beef farmers out of business.
This would be a calamity for the Irish economy and for Irish agriculture. It appears Commissioner Mandelson is on a solo run. We must intervene and use this House and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have an urgent debate and take charge of the position from an Irish perspective. We cannot allow one Commissioner on a solo run to ruin the Irish beef industry. It is on the verge of happening within weeks unless the Government and the Oireachtas take action. Is it possible for the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue for next week? It was discussed briefly at the Joint Committee on European Affairs this week and this morning at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is imperative the debate takes place in the immediate future. The Oireachtas and the Government must send a strong signal to Commissioner Peter Mandelson, "Hands off the Irish beef industry; you will not be allowed dismantle it".
I call on those involved in the air traffic controllers strike to call it off immediately. I agree with Senator Norris on this. "Morning Ireland" and RTE deserve great credit for having both parties involved discuss the issue on this morning's show.
Considering the long-term implications I hope the Leader will have a debate in due course on ensuring essential services are maintained at all times. We have the Army and Air Corps. The Air Corps should be trained to take over air traffic control during a time of crisis like this. We are an island nation and we depend on air and sea transport to maintain ourselves.
We, as a nation, should have essential services controlled and maintained. People should be on stand-by, trained to take over air traffic control at a time when a strike is called like this one.
The strike is outrageous. It is national sabotage. It is about time we took action in this regard. I hope the Labour Party Members use their influence with the people who fund them to ask them to call the strike off.
I support the calls made for a debate on data retention policies. The recent incident in which the Irish Blood Transfusion Service lost a large amount of information, which will cause much distress to many, indicates a new political issue is emerging regarding how we look after our citizens' information.
In a matter of weeks, the Government will introduce, through EU directive, a regulation that will require the retention of all e-mails sent over the previous three years. This is alongside the most stringent policies regarding mobile telephone calls, telecommunications and so on.
While there is a need for such information to help with security issues and criminal behaviour, there is a clear balance between broader issues of how we look after the privacy of our citizens and the State's ability to do that well.
I also call for a debate on arts policy and how we fund our national and local artistic organisations. On yesterday's Order of Business Senator Ó Murchú made this point regarding another request I had with the Cathaoirleach. I respect the Cathaoirleach's decision to rule it out of order. Nonetheless, many artistic organisations are experiencing changes in the funding they are receiving to provide entertainment and art to their communities. They provide great comfort and joy to many. We are entitled to discuss the changes that are taking place and give our view as a House of the Oireachtas into what can be done better.
I draw the Leader's attention to a Horse Racing Ireland press release from yesterday concerning enhanced links between the Irish racing industry and the industry in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It will be sending several Irish stallions to stand at stud in Slovakia. It is a welcome development and there has been a long tradition of national hunt racing in that part of the world.
Less satisfactory is the news that FÁS is attempting to recruit apprentice jockeys into Ireland from those eastern European countries. This has been a matter of concern for some time. Jockeyship has been always an important element of the Irish racing industry. Our jockeys have earned fame all over the world, from the days of Pat Taaffe and Willy Robinson to today's Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh. We already have been recruiting apprentices from within the EU and it now seems we are going outside the EU. This has serious implications for Irish racing because Irish jockeyship is of a particular nature and is an essential important element in our racing game.
I ask FÁS to examine why we are not getting sufficient apprentices. There was a time when every major stable in the country was turning away would-be apprentices. Now we seem to be recruiting outside of the EU. I am concerned about this and ask the Leader to refer it to either the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
I attended a function this morning announcing eating disorder awareness week. It drew attention to the fact that eating disorders can be fatal if left unattended. Later on, I discovered a friend's sister, a woman of about 60 years of age, had died from anorexia nervosa yesterday. I had not realised the seriousness of this disease. I was not aware of our almost lack of attention to it. The country has three public hospital beds for people who suffer eating disorders. It is a serious situation that has been left unattended. We must draw the Minister's attention to this serious area. It jolted me that the sister of someone I knew very well had died overnight in hospital but not in one of those beds allocated for eating disorders.
I seldom criticise the Taoiseach in the House. Yesterday, however, I was jolted by the words he used to describe opponents of the EU treaty. I understand we will have a debate on the EU reform treaty soon. As with Senators Bradford, Ormonde and others, I have spoken on it at the Joint Committee on European Affairs. I have asked for both sides of the debate to be moderate in the terms and expressions used. If we are going to have a logical debate on the issue, we must be careful.
Yesterday the Taoiseach used words such as "loo-las of every kind and shape" who advocate "loonie-left policies". Those I hear who are concerned about the EU reform treaty are moderate, rational and deep-thinking people. When I read the Taoiseach also said some fundamentalist groups following the same nonsense they followed since 1972, I know he is not giving the opportunity to have a logical and comprehensive debate.
The Taoiseach also said that they will "succeed in doing what St. Patrick did not do by bringing the water all over Ireland, and every other nonsense". These are the very words someone in his position should avoid. If we are going to have a debate on the treaty it needs to be logical. People on both sides of the debate are concerned about making the right decision.
A European in a senior position who I know has told me he had suffered for 40 years by having a "Big Brother" in Moscow looking after his country until they got their freedom. He told me he does not want a "Big Brother" in Brussels. He is using an expression I have heard used by enthusiastic Europeans who want to see the European ideal succeed. They want to have a logical debate on the treaty. Let us have this debate and avoid using terms which may close it down.
It is with great reluctance that I rise to put on the record of the House my concern about today's report in The Irish Times that it is proposed to remove the poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh from the Leaving Certificate syllabus. I say "rise with reluctance" because it is almost impossible to say anything about this terrible matter without being misunderstood. For the record, I do not approve of the alleged actions of Cathal Ó Searcaigh, if he abused his position in a Third World country to secure sex with under age boys. That, however, has not been brought before a court nor proven. He has been tried, hanged, drawn and quartered without any proper trial or due process If he is found guilty, I am not defending him. However, I want it on the record that it is not a good thing in any society to talk about removing books from a syllabus. It is especially not a good thing in this House, where many more eloquent voices than mine have been raised to protest censorship, to propose to remove the work of one of Ireland's greatest homoerotic poets. The young people I teach and meet are well able to discuss the morality of these issues. It is patronising not to allow them to engage in the debate. Poetry does not come pre-moralised. Poets have had all sorts of lives. Poetry must engage us, force us to deal with ethical issues, to liberate our minds. It would be the best thing in the world if the boys and girls of Ireland were to engage with the politics and sexuality of Cathal Ó Searcaigh's poetry and with the moral issues raised by it. That would educate our people. I am glad to see many young people among our visitors today. I trust that every last one of them would be able to handle this issue.
I was struck by the silence of The Irish Times on this issue. Everyone is petrified of the Ó Searcaigh case. There is total silence — not a word of protest — from the great liberal organ The Irish Times this morning. I deplore any abuse by Cathal Ó Searcaigh of his position in the Third World, but I also deplore any measure that would remove a poet from the syllabus in Ireland. We should now be a grown-up society which is prepared to engage with moral and ethical issues and with the problem posed by a good poet who may not be such a good man in human terms. These are the moral issues which help our children to grow up.
Like Senator Norris, I was delighted to see the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, unveil the conflict resolution unit whose first mission will be in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is one of our Irish Aid programme countries, which means it is one of the nine or so countries which receives special assistance. At present Irish aid represents 0.53% of GNP, and the Government has made a commitment to increase this to 0.7% of GNP within four years. That further increase gives us more possibilities. It allows us to not only increase the amount of aid to our programme countries but also to increase the number of programme countries. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister about this.
I believe east Africa is well covered under the aid programme, as there are programme countries all down the east African coast. I would like us to increase the number of programme countries on the west coast of Africa to include countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and perhaps Niger. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to consider putting those countries on our programme list as the amount of aid increases.
I agree with the remarks of Senator Quinn and express my regret at the comments attributed to the Taoiseach this morning in the national newspapers. He is reported to have said that those opposing the Lisbon treaty were on the "loonie left", and made other comments to which Senator Quinn referred. I say this with reluctance because if it were not for the Taoiseach I would not currently be a Member of the Seanad. I know the Taoiseach is passionately committed to seeing the Lisbon treaty supported by the Irish people in the referendum that is due to take place in a couple of months, but it is important, as I have said before, that the climate in which the debate is conducted is one of tolerance and respect. The essence of democracy is the recognition that others hold different political views which should be respected and listened to even if not agreed with. I hope that is the way in which the debate on the Lisbon treaty will be carried out, not just in this House but nationally. I do not think that name-calling or derision of the Opposition members and their motives is a good way in which to conduct the debate.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House to discuss Ireland's position on Kosovo's declaration of independence, because this issue is causing much tension within the EU. The Irish Government has expressed its support for Kosovo's independence. However, it is a complex issue because other newly formed states will also wish to declare independence in the future and there is a question of whether the EU will recognise these. For this reason, I ask the Minister to come to the House to explain the reasoning behind the Irish Government's support for Kosovo's independence. I also ask that the Irish Government contribute to the debate within the EU by proposing something like the Copenhagen criteria. These criteria, which apply to any aspiring member of the EU, are clear conditions that countries must meet before being allowed to join the EU. Similarly, the EU could draw up a set of criteria for recognition of the independence and sovereignty of newly formed states. This will allow us to move away from what appears to be an arbitrary situation in which the EU may recognise the independence of certain newly formed states but not of others. I ask that the Minister come before the House to discuss this issue.
I thank the Leader for his kind offer of a debate on the proposed closure of the vital coastguard stations at Valentia and Malin. Could he clarify whether he intends to have this debate next week or the following week? The issue has become more urgent since we recently spoke about it, as a Deputy in the other House has obtained, under the Freedom of Information Act, a report which recommends the closure of the stations, despite the fact that the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, signed off two years ago on a Deloitte & Touche report which recommended that the stations be upgraded in view of their strategic importance and sterling service to the State. The document recommending their closure relies on false assumptions and inaccurate data on electricity and telecommunications which, as I said here the other day, have been blown out of the water by the former chairman of the ESB. I thank the Leader for his kind offer but it is important that we arrange the debate soon.
About a year ago Senator Mary White raised the issue of the demise of various petrol filling stations around the city. Since then we have also seen the demise of many important landmark hotels in the capital city. I have concerns that the planning process is now developer-led. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government recently published planning guidelines, which include welcome aspects such as the requirement to include transport, schools and community facilities in the consideration of planning applications. However, I am strongly at variance with the continuing mantra from the Department of the need for high-density development. The current proposals are for 50 dwellings per ha., which equates to 20 residential units per acre. There may be some argument in support of this for cities such as Dublin. However, in provincial Ireland this will give rise to serious problems down the line. Rather than increasing densities, we should be reducing them. I recently spoke to planners in my own county who favour a density of eight to ten dwellings per acre, which was the case 20 or 30 years ago. Unless we move back to this plan-led approach, we will create a severe social cost for future generations, which I do not support.
I support the call by Senator Déirdre de Búrca for a debate on Kosovo. Her argument for this was well articulated. The question of whether to support the independence of Kosovo is not cut and dried, and it warrants a debate in order that all sides of the argument are fully presented and considered.
I wish to comment on two of the issues raised by colleagues this morning. Senator Quinn's comments about the Taoiseach's language in the context of the Lisbon treaty were welcome. A few months ago, the Taoiseach spoke about how he was worried about "lulus" jumping out at him from behind bushes. I now know that was is talking about "loo-las".
The Cathaoirleach knows my views on that. The Taoiseach may bring about a situation where people will be cheesed off with the attitude of proponents of the Lisbon treaty and vote accordingly. It is in the interests of those who propose a "Yes" vote to this treaty to ensure they get their language right, propose, as Senator Quinn has suggested, a rational debate based on the issues and not engage in name calling in respect of those who disagree with them.
I also welcome what Senator Harris said about the Cathal Ó Searcaigh affair. I have refrained from commenting on this. I am very disturbed by the alleged events but would tend to be of the view that we should not talk about or criticise people's behaviour in this House unless we can establish that they have broken the law in some way.
There is a distinction, however, to be drawn between censorship, where we prevent books from being sold on the market, and legitimate prudential decisions that can be taken on behalf of the community by those who set the syllabus. It is not an issue of censorship if people make a judgment call or try to make a statement. I privately canvassed the views of my colleague, Senator Norris, about how we would feel if the films of Leni Riefenstahl, who made pro-Nazi films, were taught. Sometimes, there is a judgment to be made by those who set the syllabus and they may want to register their disquiet at certain behaviour. We should call that censorship per se because we are not talking about preventing people from having access to these books and films as a matter of free choice. We are talking in the educational system about forming the minds of the next generation and moral issues do arise there. There is such a thing as setting a good example to the rest of society and those who make these decisions should be allowed to act accordingly.
I rise again to ask the Leader if we could have an urgent debate on the future of the fishing industry vis-À-vis the restructuring plan announced by the Minister for Agriculture and Food yesterday. I accept that under the Cawley report, which was the plan for fishing going forward, the fishing industry has, by and large, agreed to the decommissioning of its vessels. However, in this instance, 75 trawlers will be removed from our fishing fleet, which will have a considerable impact on communities like Castletownbere, Union Hall, Rossaveal, Killybegs or Dingle. We should look beyond that and see what can be done by way of regeneration for the communities in those areas because the trawler owners would get reasonably substantial and proper compensation for taking their boats permanently out of the fishing fleet. We accept that fishing stocks are dwindling and that this is, in one sense, a double-edged sword. We need to do this even though it is sad when one sees the vessels.
My concern is that most of these vessels have five or six crew members. What will be the fate of these people? Some of them have families, mortgages and commitments and are active in the community and involved in football or other sports and social activities. If 500 or 600 jobs around the coastline are lost, we must see what can be done to ensure that there is a sustainable initiative or package into the future, which should be supported by Europe for coastal communities. In the short term, one can look at the salient features of this package but there are knock-on effects about which I am deeply concerned. The future of coastal communities, particularly the fishermen who have sailed the seas in these trawlers, should be looked at and I ask the Leader to arrange an urgent debate and invite the Minister to the House to see what can be done to have a soft landing, if I can use that term, for the people concerned.
Everything about which I will speak this morning is a crisis. I asked the Leader to intervene last week with regard to the pharmacy issue. We are within ten days of the deadline. Have we given up on talks? Has the Leader had any success in persuading the Minister for Health and Children to pull back from the 1 March deadline so that talks can be reopened with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union? I fully support the €100 million savings, as do the pharmacists who are more than willing to find ways to identify those savings without closing rural pharmacies. Again, we will hurt the sickest patients and I do not believe in putting pharmacists in rural areas out of business. Carraghroe is at risk, to name one.
I support the call for a debate on the funding of schools. The Minister will be in the House this morning but she will not be dealing with the funding of schools. The summer works scheme has been pulled, while the devolved scheme has been slashed. We know about water charges and the serious underfunding of primary schools. It shows that the Minister has done no forward planning and is desperate in respect of financing the new model of schools. I ask her not to let our schools fall apart.
I ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to examine what is nothing less than an environmental crisis in Galway in respect of water and sewerage. I was in Connemara last weekend attending clinics. Clifden Bay is contaminated. A total of 80% of the water tested by the Environmental Protection Agency is below acceptable safety levels. If anyone fell into Clifden Bay, he or she would be killed. That is how bad the situation is. A fatal accident could occur there.
Many activities in Clifden Bay, such as boating, sailing and fund-raising events, have been called off because of the state of the water. The same is true of Oughterard. One person told me that a report they read in the Connacht Tribune last month about the stage the sewerage scheme was at was the same as that read in the same newspaper in 1999. I ask Green Party Members to convey to the Minister the extent to which the environmental situation in certain counties, particularly Galway, has been left behind. I have a feeling that the water crisis that has gripped Galway is bubbling in many other counties. Let us address this issue. A boiled water notice is still in use in Clarebridge.
The remarks about the Taoiseach's language were very superficial. He is entitled to use language that is used every day by many people in this country. He was passionately putting across the point that it is important for the Irish people to vote for the Lisbon treaty — end of story. There is a unanimous decision by all the political parties in this House this morning that it is so.
I agree with Senator Harris's comments about Cathal Ó Searcaigh. It is not the first time in Ireland that a person was presumed guilty because their name was in the media. Where is our presumption of innocence? I am reminded of how, in the 1950s, John McGahern was fired from his job in Belgrove national school because of his personal life. This was a person who we subsequently feted for his tremendous literary work about Leitrim and rural life in Ireland. I heard about it on the radio but had not read the newspaper earlier this morning. Listening to the radio, a shiver went down my spine because I wondered whether we were going back to those dark and suppressing days of censorship. As Senator Harris stated so eloquently, young people need to be provoked, to have their thoughts stimulated and to make up their own minds. They are well able to do this.
The library in Newbridge, County Kildare, contained a reserve list of books which young people were not allowed to read. I always went after them when I was 14 or 15.
I rise to support my colleague on the other side of the House, Senator Coghlan, in respect of Valentia and the debate on the issue which I hope will be brought forward next week. The report to which he refers was incompetent at best and, at worst, contained lies. It was written by Department officials and supported by the Irish Coast Guard with information it supplied. That information was entirely inaccurate. The report refers to the electricity supply in Valentia as being inadequate because it experienced blackouts. What those involved did not realise is that the mother of the chairman of the ESB at the time lives in Valentia, and he was brought up in Valentia, and he was able to reply that the electricity supply in Valentia is as good as the supply in the rest of the country.
They referred to the Eircom connection being inadequate, which was refuted by Eircom, as my learned colleague on the opposite side of the House stated. They said the staff did not live within the county, which was untrue, and referred to the buildings being inadequate, which again was false.
Last year, Valentia Island was involved in almost half of all the emergency calls to the Irish Coast Guard, more than Malin and Dublin combined. When the United Kingdom and Spain closed down their coastguard stations they realised it was a mistake and reversed the decision. Valentia coastguard station is the only one in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France that can communicate with Spanish trawlers in any emergency call involving Spanish trawlers. When the RAF and the English coastguard lifeboats must winch stricken captains and seamen off their vessels, it is Valentia that is called in by the English and the French to co-ordinate such responses. Valentia staff learned Spanish of their own accord. When they asked the head of the Irish Coast Guard for Spanish tapes, they were refused.
The men in Valentia are doing an excellent job.
Senator Twomey expressed serious concern regarding the applied behavioural analysis issue. The Minister for Education and Science will be in the House at 11.30 this morning until 2 p.m. He called also for a full debate on education. We can discuss that at the leaders' meeting and perhaps next Tuesday could be considered.
Senator Norris referred to the 50th anniversary of the Irish Georgian Society. On behalf of the House, I offer our congratulations to the society for its commitment and a job well done in protecting our heritage. I agree with the Senator's sentiments, especially regarding Desmond Guinness and his family and all those whom the Senator correctly pointed out have done excellent work. The least we can do is acknowledge that work and show our appreciation for what they have done in poor times in the past 50 years. One only has to consider how the economy was performing and how expensive it is to restore Georgian buildings to their former splendour and glory.
Senator Hannigan and other Senators called for a debate on East Timor. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has agreed to come to the House for a wide-ranging debate on his foreign affairs portfolio. We wish him well on the remainder of his trip to East Timor.
On the issue raised by Senator Alex White, that Bill is being published tomorrow. It is a Seanad Bill, the Second Stage of which will be taken in the House next Thursday. It is being initiated in the Seanad. I thank Senator White for his understanding in that matter.
Senator White called also for a debate on the future of child care and the need for a new vision in terms of the substantial funding being spent on child care. There have been considerable improvements in the past four budgets in the funding for child care and a debate as soon as possible on the funding being spent on it would be worthwhile.
Senators Boyle and Bradford expressed views on the waste management policy and asked that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, would come to the House. I am pleased to be able to arrange for that to happen.
Senator Bradford expressed serious concern regarding the World Trade Organisation talks. I had the pleasure of attending the WTO talks two years ago and I agree with him on the threat to the Irish beef industry and the route Commissioner Mandelson appears to be taking. An urgent debate should take place in the House. I compliment the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, on her steadfast refusal even to contemplate some of the proposals which pose dangers to our beef industry. She has not taken "No" for an answer in the past two to three years.
Senator Leyden called for the air traffic controllers to desist from taking strike action and said that as this was an essential service, the Army should be trained to undertake it. I understand certain personnel in the Army are trained in this area. It is an essential service, like the ESB, and is an area the Minister should examine. We should have a debate at the earliest possible time.
Senator Donohoe called for a debate on information on citizens. I understand an EU directive will be forthcoming on that area. We will try to provide time at the earliest possible opportunity but the Senator might discuss the issue with his leader with a view to using Private Members' time. It is an issue he could prioritise and assist the Leader on also, if that is possible, particularly in regard to security issues.
Senator Donohoe called also for a debate on arts policy and the changing trends in the public domain in terms of the difficulty of obtaining new funds and assisting voluntary organisation, especially those who have kept arts alive in our country over many generations. I will pass on the Senator's views and will consider if time can be set aside at some future date to review that area.
Senator O'Sullivan made very informed comments on the Irish racing industry——
——and brought examples to our attention. I will contact the office of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, regarding the Senator's views and will get back to him at the earliest possible time on the matters he raised.
Senators Quinn, de Búrca, Mullen and Mary White expressed views on the European referendum debate which will take place with the President of the Commission in early April. I look forward to the participation of many Senators in that regard. The proposal is that the Commission President will come to the House following the Order of Business. We will then have the Minister for an entire half day after that which means that everyone will have an opportunity to express their views.
Senator Quinn highlighted eating disorders and the serious problem we face in that regard. That can be brought home forcefully to the Minister on her next visit to the House. I agree with the sentiments the Senator expressed.
Senators Harris, Mullen and Mary White expressed strong views about Cathal Ó Searcaigh. We all must recognise this man's talent and ability as one of our foremost poets. The Senators correctly covered all the other aspects which are in the public domain but everyone is innocent until proven guilty and we should not move away from that under any circumstances.
Senators de Búrca and Walsh asked that when the Minister for Foreign Affairs comes to the House we would discuss the independence of the people of Kosovo. I have no difficulty with such a debate taking place.
Senators Coghlan, O'Donovan and Daly called for an urgent debate on the coastguard stations at Valentia Island and Malin Head. I have endeavoured to have this take place next Wednesday. I propose that it will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Senator Walsh expressed concerns about planning regulations, as a public representative with experience at local authority level and through his officership of the national organisation of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA. This concerns where we are going and how we wish Ireland to be for the next 50 years. Whatever is the density in Dublin, this is not to be the same in rural Ireland. As a member of Westmeath County Council, I found that the Dublin planning guidelines were taken as planning guidelines by the neighbouring county, such as Meath. Then the next county, Westmeath, would take it from the neighbouring county. The planning guidelines for a city such as the capital city, Dublin, could stretch 80 miles from O'Connell Street, which is not relevant to the quality of life in which we were reared.
I join Senator Walsh in his proposal and suggest an all day debate on planning, An Bord Pleanála and the requirements of future generations of our country.
Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on the fishing industry, particularly in respect of the announcement made yesterday. I will endeavour to facilitate the request, either before or after Easter. Senator Healy Eames referred to the pharmacy issue. She is not quite correct although she is correct to call on me to hear the up to date position. I am endeavouring to have this debate take place next week. It is a matter of finding time in the Minister's diary. Major negotiations and discussions are taking place in various committees.
Senator Healy Eames also raised environmental difficulties in Galway. Galway County Council did not spend its money in five years. Funding was made available by the Government in 2002 and it remained unspent in 2007. The council cannot blame the Government, the Minister or parliamentarians in the Dáil or Seanad. If the money was allocated it should have been spent. In Westmeath, when there was a difficulty in Lough Ennell, we awarded the contract within seven months and the work was completed within a year and a half. That is what happens in the real world. I know the area in Galway to which the Senator refers because I frequent it often. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister.