Order of Business.

Thursday, 25 June 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 156 No. 5

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Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 2. Item 1, Second Stage, to be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes; Senators may share time. Item 2, Second Stage with the contribution of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Item 2 is not to be taken before 2 p.m.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning Zoom on Maurice Manning The Order of Business is agreed. What business does the Leader propose to ask the House to transact between now and the end of this session? The flow of advance information from his office has been very helpful in recent times and I thank him for that. Yesterday the photograph on the front of The Star was raised and the House expressed in general the public revulsion about that picture. It has had a big reaction outside. Over recent weeks all parties have had reason to feel aggrieved about the way, each in different ways, they have been handled by sections of the media. It is natural that this should be so as there should always be tension between [322] politicians and the media. However, at an early stage in the next session we should try to have a debate on the nature of the media in Ireland, the need for a press council and so forth, but it should be a two sided debate. There are important issues about which we need to hear from the media's perspective. It might be possible for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to look at a way this debate could break ground where we could invite representatives of the media into the House to put their point of view so that it does not just become a media bashing exercise, which would be of no help to anybody and would end up with both sides feeling aggrieved. In a constructive way we are moving into a new era in public life and it might be a helpful and useful exercise for the House to do something along those lines. I will talk to the Leader and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges about it later.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole Will the Leader indicate when the House will go into recess? I know he may not have full information and that there are problems related to building; certain commitments have been given to make space available for the people who must start building the new Seanad offices. However, at the same time we need to make our own plans.

I wish to raise an issue related to Senator Manning's comments. Speaking as an Independent — and this is not to be seen as a criticism — the parties are almost feeding the frenzy in the media currently. What may have been an appropriate way of accounting in 1990 may be seen as totally unacceptable in 1997. It has reached the stage where nobody knows what is right or wrong and all new information is seen as wrong, whether it is or not. People are past the stage of passing a judgment; they simply accept that an individual got money from somewhere and it appears to be wrong. I raise this issue because we have a duty to assess this issue. I am not directing it at parties given that I also receive contributions about which I must make declarations under the 1913 party political fund.

I wish to make two appeals. The parties should own up and say how they did their business because this will come out anyway. I prefer to see the parties controlling it and saying “this is what we did and if somebody says it is wrong, we will correct it” so that they at least manage the way the news is released. That is an important point. I am not trying to open a debate on that now, but it could be dealt with in the debate requested by Senator Manning.

The Taoiseach may be on the point of making a most serious error in that he intends to set up an ethics committee comprised of people from outside the Houses. If anyone is to set the standards for politicians it should be politicians themselves. I know that would be initially assaulted by the media but it is up to us to be seen to make it work and to create trust and confidence. I plead with the Leader to appeal to the Taoiseach not to go down the route they have gone down in [323] Westminster. We must set our own house in order, take the rap, implement the rules we draw up and ensure they work. I ask the Taoiseach to have that sense of trust and confidence in politicians from all parties and in both Houses.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly I have allowed the Senator a great deal of latitude.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole I recognise that.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello You never give me that much latitude. I thank the Leader for agreeing to have a debate next week on the Murphy report on swimming abuses before the end of the session.

I support the call by Senators Manning and O'Toole for a debate on the media, which we probably cannot have before the autumn. Members of this House regularly complain about a broad range of issues concerning the media — yesterday there were complaints about a photograph in extremely bad taste and at other times complaints are made about the media's feeding frenzy on political issues. It is time we discussed the issue of whether we should have a body such as a press council or whether we should, as I believe, extend the remit of the office of the Ombudsman to include monitoring the activities of the media.

I condemn the huge bomb blast in Armagh last night and those who are still recalcitrant and determined to wreck the peace settlement in Northern Ireland. I wish well all the political parties which have striven so hard over the past 30 years to obtain an agreement and I hope today's Assembly elections will have a satisfactory outcome.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis Zoom on John Dardis The most important issue is the last one raised by Senator Costello. We had hoped we had come to the end of having to condemn bombings and atrocities on the island. Unfortunately, there was another malicious attempt yesterday to derail the peace process and the British-Irish Agreement. I support the call made by the Northern Ireland newspapers this morning for people to ignore the attempt to provoke them to vote in a particular direction. It is to be hoped that, as was stated yesterday, those candidates in favour of the Agreement will get the endorsement from the electorate which they deserve.

Senator Manning and others referred to the photograph in The Star yesterday of a body floating in the Liffey. Yesterday I asked The Star if any expert advice had been sought before that photograph was published, to which I have not received an answer. Another body was taken from the Liffey this morning in my home town of Newbridge. That must be seen in the context of the comment on the front page of The Star which stated “But perhaps some good, however minimal, may come as a result of this new tragedy”. It appears there was another tragedy at 8.30 a.m. [324] today in my home town. I ask the The Star to consider if it had any influence on that matter.

It is appropriate for us to discuss broadcasting and the press in an early debate in this House. I agree with Senator Costello that, irrespective of whether it is a press council or an ombudsman, there must be some system of regulation of these matters, even if it is voluntary self-regulation.

The point has been made that these issues have not been debated. However, they have been debated very fully; there were repeated debates on the matter here when Deputy Neville was a Senator, which I do not think received any coverage. This moralising is, therefore, rather hard to take. Deputy Neville wrote a very good article on the subject which appeared in my local press — I wonder if the national press gave any consideration to publishing it. It is untrue to say these issues have not been discussed. I find some of what I read in The Star this morning difficult to take in the context of what I know happened earlier today.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly I have no wish to be in conflict with any Senator on the Order of Business or to be repetitive. However, I must remind Senators that the only matter to be decided on the Order of Business is the business to be taken in the House on any particular sitting day. Any matter which does not impinge on that is not relevant to the Order of Business and any Senator raising such a matter is not really in order.

However, there is a tradition in the House that a certain amount of latitude is allowed to the Leaders in the House, which I wish to continue. There is also a tradition that Members are allowed to request debates on matters which they consider to be of importance. I do not wish to curtail that tradition but I ask Senators to be as relevant as possible in their contributions and to ensure their interventions are not very lengthy.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McGowan: Information on Paddy McGowan Zoom on Paddy McGowan I hope that message was not intended exclusively for me.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly It certainly was not, a large number of Senators are offering on the Order of Business.

Mr. McGowan: Information on Paddy McGowan Zoom on Paddy McGowan I will be as relevant as possible. The Leader indicated we will have debates on agriculture and the North next week. However, I wish to raise a matter which is urgent in view of the serious allegation which was made when the Council of the West met Oireachtas Members. The council stated there have been blockages of development funds for the west. Will the Leader make time available to discuss this serious matter?

A large number of conscientious and serious people are participating in a programme to develop the west. If those people believe that any Oireachtas Member is involved in blocking that [325] programme we are entitled to debate it. In May 1996 the then Taoiseach announced an allocation of £100 million for that development programme. It is time for the House to seek clarity on and debate that matter and give an assurance that no one is involved in any attempt to block that development. “Blockage” is an unfortunate term to use and I ask for an urgent debate on the matter.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I assure you I will be as short and sweet as ever and I will not be repetitive. I will studiously avoid conflict with your good self.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney Is the Senator going to welcome the jobs in Killarney?

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning Zoom on Maurice Manning He did it yesterday.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan Zoom on Mick Lanigan It is Pretty Polly II.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Senator Coghlan, without interruption.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Given the importance of tourism to the economy, will the Leader ascertain from the Government when it is intended to appoint a new chief executive to Bord Fáilte? When, if ever, is it intended to fill the other two vacant senior marketing positions? It is of great concern that no progress is apparently being made on these matters. Consequently, the industry is being left rudderless. The strategic direction of Irish tourism——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly We cannot debate the strategic direction of Irish tourism on the Order of Business. However, the Senator may seek a debate on the matter.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney He should have welcomed the jobs.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I wish to seek a debate on the matter because it is not receiving the attention it deserves from the Government. I plead with the Leader and the Government to put this right immediately.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn Will the Leader arrange, as a matter of urgency, a debate on road safety? I know we have had such a debate but on my way to the House from Mullingar this morning I had to stick my car to the road to avoid hitting a motor cyclist. There is a practice among motor cyclists to weave among traffic, which is very dangerous. It is outlawed in other countries. It should be outlawed here and it is time something was done about it.

It is time we debated car insurance, especially its application to young drivers. Insurance companies seek telephone number insurance premiums from young people, especially those under 25 years of age. Premiums can be higher than £2,000. It is unreal and discriminatory. Will the Leader invite the appropriate Minister to the House to debate the matter and have it rectified? [326] I have practical suggestions, but I will not preempt the debate.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan I did not hear the Leader's reply to our request yesterday for a debate on the hazard of nuclear waste. A debate is urgent in view of the report launched last night by Dr. Thompson. Every Member can have a copy within the next few weeks. The threats to Ireland and England and the fact that in England alone over 100 local authorities would join a nuclear free local authority association whereas none would have joined in 1985 indicates the seriousness of the matter.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill I support Senator Manning's request for a debate on the media and on standards in the media. Those of us who think democracy is important must be appalled to see how rumour can be elevated to the status of reality and how allegations can be given the same attention as facts. That has happened repeatedly in recent weeks. If it continues it will amount to a steady erosion of democracy. It is time we signalled our intention to debate this and related issues logically and calmly, especially with regard to public service broadcasting, with a view to insisting that those who expect standards of others maintain some standards in their work.

Mr. McDonagh: Information on Jarlath McDonagh Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh Will the Leader arrange a debate in the next session on the Irish language, its use in the House and the enhancement of facilities for Senators who may wish to transact their work or part of their work in Irish? Ní raibh focal Gaeilge in aon díospóireacht ó tháinig an Seanad seo le chéile, beagnach bliain ó shin, agus mar sin tá súil agam go mbeadh díospóireacht anseo le gairid faoin nGaeilge.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan Zoom on Mick Lanigan Will the Leader arrange a debate as soon as possible on overseas development aid? At the meeting yesterday of the Subcomittee on Overseas Development Co-Operation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs concern was expressed about the problems in Sudan where 1,200,000 people are in danger of dying within the next few months if the international community does not react positively, not only to the position there but also in many other countries. The debate needs to consider how the international community is working to alleviate poverty. The EU has cut off £264 million worth of aid to the poorest countries in the world following a judgment by the European Court of Justice on a case taken by the British Government, which should be ashamed of its action.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald Will the Leader call on the Minister for Health and Children to urgently address the ridiculous stand off between the Eastern Health Board and the voluntary organisation involved in the establishment of a centre for homeless children? Both parties are refusing to talk because of a dispute about the running of the [327] centre. The Taoiseach officially opened it months ago, but it has not been in operation. At present, upwards of 60 or 70 children are roaming the streets of Dublin.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello inquired about the business to the end of the session. For next Tuesday I will propose statements on bovine levies, the Urban Renewal Bill, the Turf Development Bill and statements on Northern Ireland; for next Wednesday the Parental Leave Bill, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Bill — Committee and Remaining Stages; the Turf Development Bill — Committee and Remaining Stages; Fianna Fáil Private Members' Business and statements on the interim Murphy report to the Minister for Tourism Sport and Recreation, which was requested by all sides of the House yesterday. For next Thursday, the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill — Report and Final Stages; the Economic and Monetary Union Bill — Second Stage, the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill — Committee and Remaining Stages; and the Defence (Amendment) Bill — all Stages. For next Friday, the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Bill — Report and Remaining Stages; the Economic and Monetary Union Bill — Committee and Final Stages; the Firearms Bill — all Stages; and the Prisoner Release Bill — all Stages.

Senators Manning, O'Toole, Quill, Dardis and Costello expressed concern about the consequences of the article in The Star yesterday, which the newspaper tried to justify again on its front page today. It is a shameful exercise. I said all I had to say on it yesterday. I do not wish to add credence to any further action taken by The Star.

Mrs. Ridge: Information on Therese Ridge Zoom on Therese Ridge Including advertisements of telephone sex chat lines.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy It is harmful to say the least and I agree with the sentiments expressed here this morning.

I will, as a matter of urgency, arrange a debate on the media and the establishment of a press council. I agree with Senator Quill's comments on the media's expectations of standards from their public representative. We will ensure they too have standards and that they are accountable. We are entering an age where people are asked to deny or justify printed speculation. That is irresponsible and it is not something we have become accustomed to in Ireland. We will not lower our standards to those of another country across the water. We are proud of our values and we will not stand by as parliamentarians and let this happen. The media is unwilling to cover Seanad Éireann because its deliberations are unspectacular and do not give rise to speculation. There is an urgent need for a press council in Ireland and it is time it was established.

[328] Senator McGowan requested a debate on the blockage of funding for the west. I assure the Senator the blockage is not on the Government's side. I will inquire into the matter this morning and come back to the Senator this afternoon. Second Stage of the Urban Renewal Bill will be taken today. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, one of the best known Ministers from the west, will be in attendance. Perhaps Senator McGowan will inquire about the position of him. He will have first hand information.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning Zoom on Maurice Manning The Leader is very convincing.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Senator Glynn requested a debate on car insurance. I will arrange such a debate in the next session, especially as it relates to young people. We will not have time this session.

Senator Coogan called for a debate on the hazards of nuclear waste. I will arrange for a debate on this topic in the next session. Senator McDonagh requested a debate on the Irish language. Senators O'Toole, Ó Murchú and the Government Chief Whip, Senator Tom Fitzgerald, all express views in Irish. I would welcome greater use of the Irish language in the Chamber. As Senator McDonagh knows, we have the right to use the Irish language if we wish.

Senator Lanigan called for a debate on overseas development and I will leave time aside for this. Senator Liam Fitzgerald raised the issue of the homeless children roaming the streets of Dublin and the urgent action required by the Eastern Health Board to alleviate this situation by opening the residential care unit immediately. I will discuss this with the Senator after the Order of Business and contact the Minister's office.

Order of Business agreed to.


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