Order of Business.

Tuesday, 28 April 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 155 No. 6

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Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 2 with item 2 to be taken between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The contributions of spokespersons on both items are not to exceed 15 minutes while those for all other Senators are not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning Zoom on Maurice Manning The Order of Business is agreed. Will the Leader ensure all Members will have access to copies of the consultants' report upon which the Government's final decision on Luas is to be based today? It is essential that at least Senators from Dublin have an opportunity to debate Luas within the next week, but it will be difficult to hold such a debate if we do not have access to the report. In the first week of the accession of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, it is appropriate that it be made available to us.

I refer to item 11 on the Order Paper, the Shannon River Council Bill. We meet three days [286] per week and there are windows of opportunity when that Bill could be taken — for example, last Thursday and Friday. There should be no difficulty with this Bill as it was originally promoted by Senators on the other side of the House and has the full support of all Members. A short debate on Second Stage would allow us to get to Committee Stage and I see no reason why the Leader should not accede to this request in the interest of all Members.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole I support the point made by Senator Manning. I asked the Leader last month to at least establish what the Government's position is on the Bill. It is an opportunity for the Minister for the Marine to take the Bill as it has the support of all sides and it should be moved forward.

Ten years ago this week I was privileged to be part of a Seanad delegation which visited Guatemala where we met representatives of trade unions, Churches, civil liberties' groups and the Government in Guatemala city. Conditions have improved in the meantime, but there was the horrific murder of Bishop José Juan Gerardi in the city recently. Will the Leader raise this issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs as the European Union should take an interest in it? What is going on in that country is disgraceful. It is small and beautiful, with lovely people who were oppressed for many years. The Government should convey its abhorrence because this act was state directed, if not implemented. There is not doubt it was a state execution of an individual who fought for human rights. It is also a low point for civil rights in Central America.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello The Order of Business is agreed, but I wish to move item 14 on the Order Paper.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly All the Senator can do at this stage is move an amendment to the Order of Business that this item be included in the business of the House. Are you moving an amendment that item 14 be taken before item 1?

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello Yes. I move amendment No. 1:

That item 14 be taken before item 1.

I concur with Senator Manning's view that all Members be given a copy of the consultants' report and that an early debate be held on it. Time is running out for this project. It seems to me that the delay is being caused purely on the south side as there is great willingness on the north side for the project to proceed. There was no dispute good, bad or indifferent there as the route has been well identified.

In regard to item 9, I want to reiterate my call for a debate on industrial relations. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there has been an escalation in industrial relations problems in recent months, currently evidenced by the constant presence of representatives of the Garda outside the gates of the Oireachtas and who have threatened [287] to escalate their dispute. We should have a full scale debate on the protection of workers' rights and we should include in that the whole area of trade union recognition and the threats currently being posed to Partnership 2000.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan Will the Leader consider asking the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science to come into this House to discuss the proposals being made in regard to the increased cost of public school transport, particularly in light of the report published by the school transport committee in January? The Minister does not seem to be adhering to the contents of the report. It is only proper that the House would discuss an issue which costs £42 million per annum and any changes which are due to occur in this regard.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on Luas, an issue I have raised myself on a number of occasions. The Leader has agreed this is an issue which should be considered and I would like him to give us some idea as to when a debate might take place. A motion has been tabled on the Order Paper in regard to the Atkins report and it is very important that we discuss it. Newspaper reports have already been published which have come down on each side of the debate. This is a complex issue which must be debated in the light of the Atkins report in order that we can arrive at a proper decision in regard to the transport system for the capital city.

Would it be possible to debate the issue of asylum seekers in the House again? I am sure Members will be concerned at the reports published in all newspapers concerning Garda advice to asylum seekers not to go out into the city at night. Mr. Mohammed Haji of the Association of Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Ireland, is quoted in today's Irish Times as saying: “We lost our freedom in our countries and now we are going to lose it here in Ireland”. I note that £20,000 has been made available by the Government to monitor the situation. I hope someone in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is monitoring newspaper headlines in the tabloid press with a view to identifying any infringements under the Incitement to Hatred Act.

I support Senator O'Toole's comments on the murder of the bishop in Guatemala which was clearly a punishment for the publication of the report on human rights. There is a human rights desk in the Department of Foreign Affairs and I support Senator O'Toole's suggestion that the Minister should make his feelings and those of the Irish people clearly known to the Guatemalan Government.

Mr. Farrell: Information on Willie Farrell Zoom on Willie Farrell Will the Leader arrange a debate on the media, particularly in view of the fact that some of them are now rattling the bones of the very brave in the grave towards commercial [288] ends? It is scandalous that the dead journalist's next of kin have no redress to stop the publication of the book. It is time some law was introduced to prohibit such action which is grossly unfair to the family of the bravest and best journalist this country has ever known.

Mrs. Ridge: Information on Therese Ridge Zoom on Therese Ridge Tomorrow, the Garda will have been picketing outside the Dáil for one week. The protest is an unprecedented and regrettable step and I wish to put on record my amazement that the Minister can continue to dither on this issue and fail to reach agreement with the Garda on it. It is not acceptable that this dispute be allowed to continue. Will the Leader advise the Minister of the huge support among the public for the gardaí in this dispute and report to the House on the situation?

In relation to the Child Pornography Bill, 1998, will the Leader also ask the Minister to consider the introduction of an obscene publications Bill? I have personal experience of shops in this city where it is possible to buy Hustler magazine at the same counter as a bar of chocolate. This magazine would not be passed by our censor but we have no mechanism for the seizure of such gross periodicals. I am convinced that an obscene publications Act could control the growing trade which is robbing children of their innocence. We may need to tolerate a top shelf society but it should not be possible to buy such publications openly in shops selling stationery and sweets.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Senator, you may not debate this matter now. You have made a very good case for the introduction of such legislation.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan Zoom on Mick Lanigan As chairman of the Subcommittee on Overseas Development Co-operation, I recently attended a seminar in Europe on poverty. Will the Leader allow the House to address this matter in the near future? There are people in Ireland who live below the poverty line. Some would not accept that we have poverty in Ireland. We have relative poverty which must be addressed urgently. Poverty is expanding throughout Europe. More that three million people are homeless in Europe and 40 million are living on the poverty line or below. It would be appropriate to have an early debate on this matter and, as we approach the year 2000, to plan to eliminate relative and absolute poverty from our country. This problem should be addressed now when the economy is booming. .

Will the Leader allow time for an early debate on the report of the National Minimum Wage Commission? The question of a minimum wage is of grave concern to thousands of people. The Small Firms Association has suggested that the implementation of a minimum wage of £4.40, as suggested in that report, would cause a loss of more than 150,000 jobs. A minumum wage of £4.40 would be the second highest minimum wage in the world. The next highest minimum wage in OECD countries would be £3.70. If even 50,000 [289] jobs are lost as a result of this measure, it will be a matter of great concern. There is a need for a minimum wage but it must be tied to the tax situation and implemented without loss of jobs and to the best advantage of the poorer sections of society.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I second the motion proposed by Senator Costello.

I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the television service. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, has appointed a regulator for television channels. It is widely accepted that the reception of the two RTÉ channels, RTÉ 1 and Network 2, has been of very poor quality for a number of weeks. I hope the Leader will ask the Minister to explain to the House why the signal from RTÉ is of such poor quality, particularly in County Mayo. It is unacceptable that our national television channel should be broadcast on such a poor signal and that the Minister should abdicate her responsibility in this matter by the appointment of a regulator. She has passed the buck in relation to this issue by appointing a regulator.

Mr. Cregan: I am chairman of a voluntary hospital in the Cork region which is very involved in the training of student nurses. Students are under the impression they have been given no recognition in terms of their general allowance. Over the years their allowances have decreased. Many years ago we created a situation which ensured benefits were decreased in comparison with previous levels. In the meantime, benefits have become extremely low and there should be a debate in the House on general allowances for student nurses as we may not be getting the best out of them. Will the Leader bring the Minister for Health and Children or one of the Junior Ministers in the Department before the House to explain what is being done on this issue?

Regarding the point raised by Senator Burke, is it now the case that since the appointment of the telecommunications regulators, the Minister no longer has responsibility to the House for the licensing of groups such as South Coast Television, about which there has much argument for many years? How can the regulator explain to the House exactly what is happening? Will the Minister provide an explanation on behalf of the regulator? The issue is very confusing and should be clarified.

Mr. Chambers: Information on Frank Chambers Zoom on Frank Chambers In light of recent discussion in the Dáil on the licensed trade and the request from vintners for extended opening hours, it is important that the Minister comes before the House to outline the Government's intentions on this issue. On the radio this morning the Assistant Commissioner of the Garda indicated that responsibility lay with legislators in the application of the law and that it was not the responsibility of the Garda. The common view of the public, notwithstanding the necessity for caution in [290] dealing with the problems of drink, is that legislation should be introduced which meets the needs of people and the protection of the young. The House should play its part in making a contribution to the debate before decisions are made.

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle Zoom on Joseph Doyle Will the Leader provide time for discussion of the Bacon report?

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I will convey Senators Manning's, Costello's and Norris's calls for a copy of the consultant's report on Luas to the Minister immediately following the Order of Business. I will facilitate a debate in the House on the matter as soon as possible. As soon as Senator Manning made his request I asked the Government Chief Whip to contact the Minister's office and am awaiting a reply. The Leaders of the groups will meet at 3.30 p.m. and I hope at that stage to know when this issue will be discussed in the House.

I will contact the Minister's office today regarding Senators Manning's and O'Toole's request regarding the Shannon River Council Bill and will inform the House about developments in the morning. I will convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs the request of Senators Norris and O'Toole to bring him into the House to discuss the murder of the bishop in Guatemala and the serious concerns over human rights in that region.

I agree with Senator Costello's amendment to the Order of Business. Regarding Senator Ridge's and Costello's call for a debate on industrial relations, I have agreed to take this at the earliest possible opportunity after consultation with the Minister. It is a matter of getting a date which suits the Minister and the Order of Business of the House. Senator Coogan asked that the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science be asked to clarify his position regarding school transport and I will endeavour to have this done. I agree to Senator Norris's call for a debate on asylum seekers.

Senator Lanigan asked for a debate on poverty and on the national minimum wage. I will afford time to have this request facilitated. Senator Farrell asked for a debate on the media and in particular the forthcoming publication of a certain book. I will make time available at the earliest opportunity for a debate on the media.

Senator Ridge voiced serious concerns regarding the forthcoming child pornography Bill, an issue she has raised on many occasions on the Order of Business. She has serious concerns about certain publications being available to young children in many stores. I agree with her and I will do anything I can to facilitate her request.

Senator Burke and Senator Cregan called on the Minister for Public Enterprise to come into the House to debate television in general and the poor reception in many parts of the country, and in particular, from Senator Burke's point of view, the reception of RTÉ 1 and Network 2 in County Mayo. I will relay the message to the Minister. [291] As the Minister is in the House this evening, perhaps we can see when this can be taken.

Senator Cregan called on the Minister for Health and Children to make provision for a general allowance for student nurses. I will pass that on to the Minister.

Senator Joe Doyle asked that copies of the Bacon report be brought before us and that the matter be discussed in the House. I certainly can agree to this request.

Senator Chambers called for a debate on the licensing hours. As the Senator will be aware, this afternoon we are discussing the licensing hours, the selling of alcoholic drink to young boys and girls and the fatalities on the road stemming from these abuses. I welcome the contributions of Senators on the matter. If more time is needed, I will facilitate the House in this regard. The number of fatalities on the roads over the past month has been alarming to say the least. While I am listening to those in favour of longer drinking hours, I know there is a massive silent majority which has not been heard. Today I am affording Senators the opportunity to express their views in this House on behalf of some of these people too.

Amendment agreed to.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

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