Wednesday, 20 October 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Norris: I would like to be associated with the Cathaoirleach’s remarks and wish our distinguished visitors every success in their job in the North. I wish to make some points on the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan. To date, luckily, nobody has sunk to the level of beheading or murdering a female kidnap victim. In my view, the fact of her Irish citizenship should not be pushed but rather concealed. There is something rather silly about Irish politicians posturing as if they were in a position to negotiate anything. This country allowed itself to be included, willy-nilly, in the so-called partnership or coalition of the willing. Shannon Airport was used to transport 350,000 troops——
Mr. Norris: These troops are being pushed through our airspace. As was stated the other day, at least we were given €25 million for it. Is there a price on the suffering of the people of Iraq? I ask the Leader to bring an answer to this House about this traffic and, in particular, the fact that an aircraft with clear markings which was used to transport kidnap victims by the United States to countries where they could be tortured, has been seen landing in Shannon. It is quite within the remit of this country to ask the Garda to board that aircraft and ensure that international conventions and the law of this country are not being violated. I want to know why this is not happening. In light of this, I would not be pushing Margaret Hassan’s Irish citizenship.
As someone who has sponsored amendments protecting the human and civil rights of Travellers, I wish to state on the record of the House that I strongly support the Garda Síochána in its action in Dunsink. It is important that Travellers have not only the rights of all citizens of Ireland and that these be guarded carefully but also have the responsibilities and must live to the standards of other citizens. It is quite unacceptable to have arrows, bolts, slings, petrol bombs and all the rest of it. Gardaí were quite right to go in there and find contraband goods. The law is the law for everybody.
I note there is a motion on the Order Paper about road safety and the Road Traffic Act. The House debated this subject and several Members, including myself, made the point that traffic limitations and speed limits will not be respected in the bizarre, crazy situation which pertains at present where a motorway has speed limits going from 70 mph to 60 mph to 50 mph to 40 mph to 30 mph, within a short distance. It is exactly the same road. When one reaches the 30 mph stretch, there is a garda with a gun which is like shooting fish in a barrel. That kind of nonsense, which the Minister undertook to examine, will bring the law into disrepute. It is absurd. I and others try to observe the speed limit but on one occasion I was passed out by a lorry doing 70 mph on one side, a private car doing about the same speed on the inside and somebody flashing their lights and blowing their horn at me.
An Cathaoirleach: While we all hope for the release of Margaret Hassan and can make appeals for her release, I ask Members not to engage in a debate on the situation in Iraq on the Order of Business. We cannot have such a debate on the Order of Business.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I wish to make reference to the same issue if I may and I will be as brief as possible. I heard the interview Ms Hassan gave at the time of the invasion. She comes across as a courageous and concerned person. There is little point in us trying to rationalise how anybody expects any cause to be advanced by interfering with people of that calibre. I still believe the invasion of Iraq was a monumental disaster. At the time it happened I made the same point. I still think it was illegal and immoral.
Mr. Coghlan: I agree with your welcome, a Chathaoirligh, for our distinguished visitors. It is good to see Mr. Murphy looking so well following his recent slight indisposition. He spoke positively and well in Chepstow and we wish them well.
Mr. Coghlan: I appreciate that and your remarks too. I refer the Leader to the significant profits we read about this morning that the insurance companies have made in the past year and ask what plans the Government has in that regard. It is good news for consumers and policyholders provided there are proportionate reductions. What plans, if any, does the Government have to ensure those reductions are passed on? We went to great trouble in this and the other House to ensure the passage of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act and the Civil Liability and Courts Act. These reductions happened without the further good effects which will follow the passage of those measures. What sanction, if any, will the Government impose if they are not passed on? If we are to have confidence in insurance companies, it is important they are seen to be fair and proportionate in their dealings with consumers and policyholders.
Dr. M. Hayes: I disagree with Senator Ryan on the question of non-lethal weapons or less lethal weapons. There is no such thing as a non-lethal weapon. The fist is a lethal weapon. It is important that policemen do not have to use lead bullets all the time. A policeman in a difficult situation must have an alternative that can be used. I applaud the fact that police forces all over the world are looking for less hurtful and less damaging means of stopping people who attack them and we should encourage that development.
I ask the Leader to find out from the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, who was asleep at the post, why Dublin forgot to apply for the position of the honour of city of literature? This is not only a matter of pride in our writers; it is of significant economic importance. It seems that this slipped by in the dark.
I support Senator Brian Hayes in calling for a debate on the crisis in hospitals. My own hunch is that there are enough beds but it is important to get other suitable provision for people who do not need to be in acute beds.
Mr. McCarthy: Mindful of the Cathaoirleach’s disposition, I will be brief. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on a report of the Committee of Public Accounts, a number of the recommendations of which are frightening. One does not need to be a financial wizard to figure out that some of what has gone on in the Department of Finance would make the hair on the back of one’s neck stand up. For example, it states the Department of Education and Science lacks sufficient information on the general condition of school buildings. That is an important issue countrywide. I would be surprised if this was the Department’s position. In conclusion, it states that the forecast cost of the extension of medical cards to people over 70 years of age was €9 million, whereas the actual cost is €55 million. Serious questions need to be asked about decision making in the Department of Finance.
Dr. Mansergh: An Irish passport was of great value in securing the release of Brian Keenan. Contrary to what has been stated, Ireland is a neutral country. It did not support the war in Iraq and I share the view that the war was ill-advised and the justification put forward was inadequate. However, we are in a new situation. A UN Security Council resolution in June called on all member states to facilitate the multi-national force which is there at the request of the Iraqi Government.
Mr. Quinn: A number of Senators have referred to the crisis in hospitals and the health service in general. It was probably the wrong date on which to do so but on 1 April last year, in an Adjournment debate, I stated that the Mater Hospital was working to its 510 bed capacity, some 80 to 120 of which were occupied by long-term patients who were suitable for discharge in that they did not require any further treatment but remained in the hospital because they had nowhere else to go. Moreover, I stated that the hospital was closing 115 beds.
I reiterate this point because, although we are patient and the former Minister for Health and Children told us last year that he was working to solve the problem and was coming up with answers, the crisis to which Senators Maurice and Brian Hayes referred today and which is in the headlines is one we must debate. The only way we will get action is if we ask the new Minister to come before the House. As a new Minister she has the opportunity to do something about the problems. She has plans but, before she finalises them, let us make sure we draw attention to the fact that something can be done in the short term. We cannot sit back, wait and be patient any longer.
Mr. Kitt: I join with calls to support the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in helping to secure the release of Margaret Hassan. I know from speaking to people who work for Care International that she is a courageous and compassionate person. We met the organisation last year during an Oireachtas visit to Iraq. I hope that our comments and the work of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will assist in her release.
Some people have suggested that troops should walk away from Iraq. However, there is a great deal of turmoil and crisis there and for the troops to walk away, as they did after the 1991 Gulf War, would be a serious betrayal of the Iraqi people.
Mr. McHugh: Many social economy projects are coming towards the end of their three-year lifespan and there is grave concern that they will come to an abrupt end and that FÁS is looking for an exit strategy. A total of 64 jobs are at stake in Inishowen in a social economy project involving Tullyarvan Mill, Greencastle Maritime Museum and Inishowen Community Radio, in regard to which a public meeting is being held on Friday night. The concept of the social economy came originally from Ireland with examples such as the co-operative and credit union movements. In Glencolmcille, County Donegal, Fr. McDyer founded the concept of social economy which constitutes social entrepreneurial activity. It is neither business nor community development but something in between.
I call on the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, to seriously consider initiating a pilot programme in Donegal in the wake of the recent job losses and doom and gloom associated with the county. He should seriously consider initiating a pilot social economy project and the creation of a social economy sector rather than the introduction of specific programmes.
Mr. U. Burke: In recent years the Department of Education and Science became involved in a pilot project in Donegal to combat bullying in schools at national and second levels. That project resulted in a 50% reduction in the incidence of this serious problem in schools, which has consequences later in life for those affected by it. However, the Department and the Minister have decided not to fund the extension of this programme. The Department is withdrawing funding from it despite it having gone to the expense of training an additional 30 teachers nationally to implement a new programme to combat bullying.
The Leader will be aware that bullying is one of the contributory factors to the awful problem of suicide, which is increasing. On the one hand, the Department of Health and Children provides many glossy brochures that are of no use in tackling this problem so I do not understand why, on the other hand, the Department of Education and Science has decided to withdraw funding from this important area in education. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to provide the necessary funding to extend this programme nationwide because tackling this problem is important in view of the increasing incidence of suicide, to which bullying is a contributory factor?
Mr. Bannon: I agree with my colleagues, Senators Brian Hayes, Finucane and others, who called for an urgent debate on our health services. The story of people struggling to gain access to health care is on everyone’s lips. I was delayed coming to the House this morning because six constituents contacted me regarding problems ranging from over crowding in nursing homes to their appointments being cancelled to hospital patients being treated on trolleys.
Mr. Bannon: In addition, I would like to include in such a debate the findings of the most recent report on the increase in the incidence of suicide, particularly among young men. We need to debate and address this problem urgently.
Mr. Feighan: Speakers have commented on a proposal to reduce the use of live ammunition and the use of less lethal weapons. I would be horrified if the Garda intended to have fewer armed gardaí. At times of struggle or strife they have stood up to aggression. I for one would be very much against a reduction in the 1,600 armed gardaí who have maintained the security of this State. This House must be forceful on this matter.
I call on the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come to the House to outline what is happening in our postal service. From my use of it and from the experience of my constituents, the service seems to have deteriorated in the past six months. We should have a debate on the efficiency of our postal service.
Mr. Brennan: I request the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in addressing the House this evening, to re-affirm and clarify the commitment given in a letter sent by the previous Minister, on behalf of the then Government, to Mrs. Anne McCabe that the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe would not qualify for early release. After watching recent television programmes and reading recent newspaper articles, it is vital that the Minister and the Government clarify this matter, given that this letter had the complete confidence of and represented the wishes of the people of Ireland.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, raised the matter of hospitals and the circumstances that obtain in accident and emergency departments. He asked that the Tánaiste come to the House to speak about the plan she is putting together, to which she referred last night in the Dáil. I have no doubt she will create a plan and come to the House to discuss it. As the Senator stated, a package of measures is needed urgently. I have no doubt about that. I am conscious that the Tánaiste sought the post she now holds; if she were not totally committed she would not seek to put herself in such a position. I have no doubt that she will get working on the problems raised.
Senator O’Toole contended that the House should be permitted to debate motions that return from committee. I always feel a sense of unease when declaring that an item should be taken without debate because I believe it is very peremptory and dictatorial. I said before that if any Member wishes to have a debate on a motion on the Order Paper that has come back from committee, he or she should call me about it, in which case I could arrange it. We may not be members of a particular committee but we might like to comment on particular motions.
Senator Ryan deplored the circumstances that obtain in Iraq and the idea of invading a country without a plan as to how to handle matters thereafter. His point was that there should be a reappraisal of policy in this regard. He also referred to the conference on less lethal weapons. The idea of a less lethal weapon is a contradiction in itself. If it is lethal, it is lethal and there is surely no lesser degree of lethality. The Senator also sought a final statement on the Chen case.
Senator Mooney contended we should not be focusing on the past. We know that the UN mandated the invasion of Iraq after the event and asked everybody to support the work of the occupying forces. However, it is important to note that it did not mandate it before it happened. It was a post factum mandate as the UN did not mandate the invasion, which it described as illegal. We were pilloried here for using the word “illegal” but I heard Kofi Annan describe it as such some months ago.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Finucane mentioned the horror stories in accident and emergency units. One would want a heart of stone not to be bowled over by what is happening therein. The Senator also called for action on the reports the former Minister, Deputy Martin, left on the desk. I am sure the Tánaiste does not need me to tell her that immediate short-term action is required in addition to action on reports, which I hope will rule out what is now happening.
Senator Cox called for a debate on child care. It is extremely urgent that we have such a debate. I know couples who are paying more than their mortgage on child care. It is a very painful set of circumstances.
The Senator supports the gardaí in their action at Dunsink. We all do so given what was found there, which included an amazing amount of different things. He also called for a debate on road safety and the silly changing of speed limits from 60 mph to 50 mph to 40 mph to 30 mph over a short distance. I share the Senator’s experience, namely, travelling at the correct speed and being flashed constantly to move over. One would like to unleash a sign telling the other driver one is travelling at the correct speed but he or she is not.
Senator Coghlan referred to the very significant profits of insurance companies and the sanctions that will be imposed if these are not passed on to consumers. We debated the PIAB Bill in this House and that body has been set up. A Member of this House was a valued member of the committee which presumably has powers of sanction.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Maurice Hayes applauded the fact that police forces in general do not have to use force in order to carry out their duty, but sometimes must be armed. He asked why we passed up the opportunity to have Dublin called the city of literature. Colm Tóibín did not win the Booker Prize, but it would have been nice if he did. However, that is another debate.
Senator Brian Hayes agreed that there should be a debate on accident and emergency services. Senator McCarthy asked for a debate on reports of the Committee of Public Accounts, particularly those relating to education and health. I am sure such debates will take place.
Senator Mansergh said that the UN issued a mandate post the invasion and asked us to support the troops. Senator Quinn referred to accident and emergency services and the lack of beds. He asked the Tánaiste to come to this House to discuss the matter. Senator Kitt said that we should support the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in their efforts to unlock the abduction of Margaret Hassan.
I am aware of the social economy project to which Senator McHugh referred. He said there should be not just one project but a whole programme in Donegal because of the recent deterioration in the jobs situation in the county. The situation in Inishowen would be a suitable subject to raise on the Adjournment.
Senator Ulick Burke asked whether the project on bullying in schools will be allowed to lapse despite all the work that has been done on it. I hope it will not as there are clear links between bullying and suicide. This should be dealt with on a nationwide basis rather than allowing a valuable project to go to ground.
Senator Bannon asked for an urgent debate on the health service. He said that while travelling to this House his constituents were calling him on the matter. He sought to include in the debate a report on suicide.
Senator Feighan said there should not be a decrease in the numbers of armed gardaí. He also asked for a debate on the postal service. Senator Brennan asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform uphold the written commitment given to Mrs. Anne McCabe following the death of her husband. I am sure he will, but we will put the question to him.
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