Thursday, 2 June 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion re Waste Management (Electronic Equipment) Regulations 2005, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re proposed EU directive to promote mediation in civil and commercial matters which contains important provisions on enforceability of evidence in civil proceedings, consideration of which has been completed by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 3, motion re proposed EU regulation on a European small claims procedure to be made available in all member states as an option for those seeking court decisions in respect of small claims capable of being specified as a specific amount, consideration of which has been completed by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 4, Disability Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 until 5 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed 20 minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. Members may share time. There will be no sos today, though Members can take a break if they wish.
Ms O’Rourke: When we discussed the electronic disposal regulations in the House previously, I said the Seanad Members of the relevant committee could revert to us with a report when the motion came before us. I have spoken to one of the Members and discovered that the person who made the most complaints about the regulations did not attend the committee meeting, which is his own business. I cast no fault on him as Members often have many competing commitments, but refer to the matter by way of explanation. As he did not attend the meeting on which he was to make a report to the House, I do not intend to proceed as initially intended with a debate. While I do not intend to name them, two Seanad Members who sit on the committee in question did not attend the relevant meetings. They cannot provide evidence from the committee as they were not in attendance. Both Members are vociferous speakers and I would have liked them to be able to make a report to the House. They are not here, however.
Following its consideration of the regulations, the committee approved and signed them, which is in keeping with the purpose of joint committees. The regulations will be made under sections 7 and 62 of the Waste Management Act 1996 to amend that Act to provide enabling legislation to transpose into Irish law and implement two EU directives on waste electrical and electronic equipment. The directive must be transposed in advance of its commencement on 13 August 2005.
It is right at this time to acknowledge that the Houses of the Oireachtas owe Mr. Justice Frederick Morris a great debt of gratitude for the publication yesterday of the Morris tribunal report and for the previous report he sent to us. Others could learn from the efficient way in which he has dealt with the matters he was asked to investigate by the Oireachtas. Today, it is fair to say, is an especially black day for the Garda Síochána on foot of the dramatic findings of the Morris tribunal. We would be fooling ourselves if we failed to recognise that more is needed to establish greater accountability and the confidence of the public in the force than simply the enactment of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 with all of its reforms, new structures and independent ombudsman inspectorate provisions. When we debate the reports, which I presume will take place before the summer recess, we should address the need for international scrutiny of the force. I tabled an amendment to the Minister at the time regarding the need to follow international best practice when it comes to looking into matters of this kind. Members of the Garda Síochána would learn greatly and would benefit from having international experts within the force to help them in the important work they will do in the years to come. It would also engender greater confidence among members of the public in their important work.
Mr. B. Hayes: However, we must root out the systemic problems that exist within the Garda Síochána, notwithstanding the tribute I and other colleagues would make to the vast majority of members of the force. We must do that for the sake of the Garda force itself and for the public. That is why I seek a debate before the summer recess on the Morris tribunal reports. I ask the Leader to arrange that.
Mr. Ross: I endorse what Senator Brian Hayes said. It would be appropriate for us to debate the Morris tribunal reports in a calm and not hysterical manner. Senator Brian Hayes used the word “systemic”. As it is convenient, we have for a long time been happy to dismiss the difficulties, brutalities and wrongdoing of some members of the Garda Síochána as bad apples in a good force. The questions that must now be asked are, how many bad apples are there to be rooted out, how systemic this is, whether there really is a kind of disease within the Garda Síochána that must be rooted out and if it is ingrained or only a case of some bad apples. It is convenient for us to say that kind of thing happens in Donegal——
Mr. Ross: ——that there is a kind of independent republic in Donegal where this happens, but I doubt if that is the case. I, for one, am beginning to be convinced that there is a larger problem which should be investigated. That larger problem is, as Senator Brian Hayes correctly stated, undermining the great majority of gardaí who do a superb job. In passing, we should not forget that we are very quick to criticise the wrongdoing of forces in other jurisdictions. We ought to first look at ourselves.
We recently had a superb debate on Europe which is now, I suppose, to some extent already overtaken by events. The fact that we did have a very good debate might be an indication that we should do so again. It is a cliché to say that Europe is in a crisis but it is an opportunity for Seanad Éireann to take a lead, especially given that Ireland was an author of the constitution which is causing so much controversy and difficulty throughout Europe. The date of the referendum is not fixed. Perhaps it would be useful if in the next few months, including after the summer recess, we were to take the bull by the horns on this issue.
I am particularly uneasy that not only is there virtually an all-party consensus on Europe in this House and in the other House, if we omit one or two smaller parties, but there is also a kind of establishment consensus on Europe throughout Europe where the trade unions, industry, all the large conservative political parties, the churches and everybody, including the civil service and the media, favour this European constitution, whereas the evidence so far is that with all the great conservative establishments being in favour of it, the people are not.
Mr. Ross: Perhaps we could initiate a serious debate which allows for dissent as well. The Houses, political parties and the establishment are in danger of becoming irrelevant on this issue while the people take the matter into their own hands.
Mr. Ryan: I am not sure who should have been here and was not here but if it was a member of my party I regret it very much. I believe it is an issue that has considerable ramifications both for the manufacturing industry and the retail trade.
Mr. Ryan: In the light of what the Leader just said, this House should remove it from the Order Paper before the summer recess if those responsible cannot get their act together. I understand some people are saying that the Seanad is the cause of this being delayed.
Mr. Ryan: I understand this is being said. I do not think that is right and I do not think we should tolerate it. If people are saying that, the solution to it is to remove the Bill from the Order of Business and tell those involved to come back when they are ready. I inform the Leader that if it has not been dealt with by the end of June, I will move an amendment to permanently delete the Bill from the Order of Business.
On the European Union, perhaps all the Europhiles, including myself, should calm down a little. There is nothing wrong with democracy. This is what we claimed the European Union was — a space of freedom and democracy. If democracy means that the people are always supposed to do what their leaders tell them then we might as well abolish democracy.
Mr. Ryan: Let us deal with the fact that democracy has not worked the way our betters thought it should and move on from there. Some 82% of working class French people voted “No” according to one study that was done. There is an issue there, not just about giving people lectures about how they should understand what is good for them but about listening to people’s genuine fears and moving on from there. It would be useful to have a repetition of the recent debate we had on the implications of those votes some time in the autumn, even if we have to meet on a Friday so as to ensure the return of the MEPs involved. This would provide the debate with a broader view of the European responses to it, a number of which are quite illiberal.
We should hold a good and serious debate on the Morris tribunal reports. Over the years I have raised issues about the Garda and unlike a
famous occasion when I mentioned that my children had to buy their own toilet paper in school and the then Minister for Education took it extremely seriously——
Mr. Ryan: ——every issue I have raised about the Garda has never been responded to by any Minister for Justice from any party. They were all genuine issues. For example, I remember an individual who signed confessions for offences that were committed on days when he was in prison. I also recall a senior officer saying that the vast majority of child abuse was carried out by homosexuals and was part of an attempt to undermine the family. I quoted that frequently in this House but no Minister for Justice ever spoke to me about it.
Like the nursing homes issue, this should not come as a complete surprise to us and we should now deal with it. The solution is a Garda ombudsman with the same powers and independence as the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Ryan: The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has been the most effective way of liberating the PSNI from malicious complaints from some quarters. I seek an urgent and vigorous debate on the Morris tribunal reports and on a proper, independent and powerful Garda ombudsman.
On a serious note, it goes without saying that the House will have to consider the report of the Morris tribunal, be it before or after the recess. The report raises very serious issues. However, I must reiterate my comment of some days ago that many gardaí put their lives at risk on a daily basis, as we saw in Lusk. They do so on behalf of the citizens of the State and comprise the majority of gardaí. In saying that, I am not detracting from what happened in Donegal.
There are wider issues to be considered regarding the governance and monitoring of the Garda force. One must ask the question: Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? However, we must have a sense of proportion. It is essential within a democracy for the citizens to have confidence in their police force. The vast majority of Irish citizens have confidence in the police force. There are issues of governance and other issues to be dealt with and I am sure this can be done in a wide-ranging debate when we consider the report of the Morris tribunal.
We had a very wide-ranging debate with the MEPs on the European constitutional treaty, as the Cathaoirleach is aware. It was a very good debate and there were dissenting voices. In such matters, we should hear both sides of the story. We are hearing both sides but it is an unfortunate fact that the referenda that have taken place did not just concern the European constitution but also domestic issues, including confidence in government. This points to a deficiency in the approach of those who tried to explain the constitution to the electorate. The people have made their views known and we will have to reflect on their verdict. We should debate at an early stage the future of the European constitution and the questions of when and whether the Irish referendum should take place.
Mr. Finucane: For the second day in a row, I rise to pay tribute to a member of the Judiciary. Today I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Morris on his report while I paid tribute yesterday to Mr. Justice Clarke for refusing an injunction to prevent the showing of Monday’s “Prime Time” programme. Mr. Morris deserves to be complimented. So also do a Member of this House, Senator Higgins, and a Member of the Dáil, Deputy Howlin.
Mr. Finucane: They began the exposé of Garda activities. They may have courted a certain amount of unpopularity as a result of their decision but they have been vindicated. The rooting out of Garda misconduct in Donegal will be healthier for the Garda in the long term.
The vast majority of gardaí one meets are embarrassed by and ashamed of what happened in Donegal. Surely the McBrearty family have been vindicated. They had been framed and the matter of their legal costs should be analysed and rectified. An injustice would be done to them if this did not happen.
I wish the Minister well in proceeding with the Garda inspectorate, which will have three members. Never was such a body more badly wanted. The idea of a Garda complaints board investigating complaints made by the public about gardaí always seemed defective to me. I look forward to the implementation of the legislation in this area because it will certainly help the Garda.
Mr. Leyden: On the Morris tribunal, there are approximately 12,000 members of the Garda Síochána, approximately 226 Members of the Oireachtas, approximately 3,000 priests and approximately 26 bishops. Those among us who are without sin may throw the first stone.
The matter raised by the Leader is serious but it would not be appropriate to name and shame, to use a favourite phrase. The matter is serious because a dereliction of responsibility is involved if people kick up a fuss and call for debates but are charged with attending committees when those debates are due to be held. Sometimes there are conflicts regarding scheduling. There is a lack — I will put it no stronger than that — if they do not report to this House, resulting in the cancellation of the debate. It is regrettable and the leaders of the relevant Members’ groups should talk to them about it.
We are all in the debt of Mr. Justice Frederick Morris because of the efficiency and clarity of his report, which begs many questions. Apparently people who lied to the tribunal will be allowed to remain in their posts, as is the case at present. The first Morris report made recommendations, which have been repeated in the second report, but none of them has been acted upon. We need to have them acted upon speedily. I support the call for a debate on this matter.
It seems the system failed to vindicate the rights of the McBrearty family, who were framed. They had to attend the tribunal and seek legal representation. At a late stage, they had great difficulty in obtaining financial support. There is an urgent need for a debate on this matter.
Mr. Norris: This is completely ridiculous. This is the most vital and interesting part of the day and instead of trying to control it and close it down, we should be expanding it and increasing our strength.
May I make two final points? One can forget about the referendum as far as I am concerned. To run a referendum in this country would be an absolute waste of money and a farce. Taxpayers do not want their money wasted. If we vote against the treaty, will it be decided to hold more referenda somewhere else? It is a complete and utter nonsense.
Will the Leader inform the Government that we should consider a request for asylum on the part of a very brave man, Mordechai Vanunu, a whistleblower in the nuclear industry in Israel? His human and civil rights have been trampled on. He has suggested he would be interested in asylum but the response of the Government is that he cannot have his request considered unless he makes his request on the island of Ireland. This is a nonsense because he is not allowed out of Israel. This is one of the principal reasons for asking that he be granted asylum.
Mr. Morrissey: On 1 June 2003, the Department of Transport indicated it would introduce new regulations regarding safety precautions for motor cyclists. Two years have passed since this indication. I understand a consultative group was established at the time. It made its report but it was never published and seems to have got lost in the sands. I raise this matter because motorcycles represent approximately 2% of all vehicles on our roads, yet they are involved in some 15% of fatalities. Unfortunately, the number of fatalities increases with the onset of summer. It would be opportune if we could have sight of that report and a debate on it. I ask the Leader to try and arrange such a debate.
Mr. J. Phelan: I join with colleagues who have commended Mr. Justice Morris on his report published yesterday. I would have expected nothing less from a good south Kilkenny man like myself. I join with other Members of the House in calling on the Leader to arrange a debate on this report and, inter alia, to reaffirm our support for the vast majority of members of the force on whom we depend to expose the misdeeds as discovered by the tribunal.
I also want to refer to some of the remarks made about the European constitution. It is important to point out that there was a referendum in Spain prior to those in France and Holland in which almost 70% of the Spanish electorate voted for the constitution. A number of other countries have passed the constitution, including Latvia which did so this morning.
Mr. J. Phelan: It is far from clear at this stage where the constitution lies. I do not believe we should throw our hands up in the air and just leave it where it is. A process of discussion is needed involving all 25 member states. It is not clear at this point, following the outcomes of the referendums in France, Spain and Holland what is the current status.
Mr. Mooney: I join with colleagues in asking the Leader to provide time to debate the Morris report. I know the McBrearty family. I know the father, Frank, through my showbusiness connections because the family ran a very successful cabaret venue. I have spoken to him and the family are very angry. I hope that in the context of this debate there is some move towards compensating the McBrearty family in line with what they are looking for. The evidence speaks for itself in that regard. There should be no delay in ensuring due compensation is paid. It is not that they need the money. They are very wealthy people but this is a matter of principle.
I share the view about the Garda. At a time when there are external threats, we should be seen to regroup in support of the Garda Síochána as a body corporate because we are continually under threat. It is not long since we had various external threats from subversives who were involved in bank robberies and murder. There is a continuing threat to the State’s existence. It may sound like hyperbole, but it is nonetheless a fact, and the Minister has said it.
In the context of the EU constitution it is imperative, despite Senator Norris’s cynicism, that we continue with this debate. As we have the distinguished chairman of the National Forum on Europe here, I would like to ask him to initiate proposals through the Leader——
Mr. Mooney: I ask for the Leader’s support on this matter. They should initiate proceedings with RTE, the national broadcaster, to broadcast the proceedings of the National Forum on Europe as a package. It has already been televised internally and therefore would not be costly. There would be no technical obstacles to overcome and I believe it would contribute to the debate. My final point is-——
Mr. Mooney: Why should Ireland as a sovereign State take its cue from the decision of another state? We are entitled in this State to have a debate and to come to our own conclusions about the EU treaty.
Ms O’Meara: I support the calls for a debate on the report of the Morris tribunal which is extremely important. It is significant that the chairman of the tribunal noted that the first report was not debated by the Houses of the Oireachtas, so it is important we hold such a debate. Our starting point must be the clear case for the establishment of an ombudsman with full powers, including the ability to hold the Garda Síochána accountable. I congratulate the chairman of the tribunal on his work.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Foreign Affairs to report to this House on the issue of the three year old Irish citizen, Tristan Dowse, who is currently in an orphanage in Jakarta, and has no independent legal representation. The Minister should specifically be asked why this boy has no independent legal representation, when clearly that is what is required to ensure his full rights, particularly as an Irish citizen, are upheld. I would like the Leader to respond to that issue.
Dr. M. Hayes: I support the idea of a debate on Europe in the more reflective surroundings of the Seanad after the summer recess. On the Morris report, apart from saying that I wish I held the patent rights on the ombudsman’s report I wrote a number of years ago, the Leader could orchestrate the debate so it takes place before the Bill completes its course in the other House. It is important that the Minister might want to strengthen the legislation and perhaps draw lessons from at least some of Mr. Justice Morris’s recommendations. It would be helpful to do it in that order, rather than later.
Mr. U. Burke: I will be brief. Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government advertised for the appointment of consultants to once more examine the reliability, efficiency and accuracy of voting machines. Everyone in the country is well aware of the inefficiency, unreliability and the lack of secrecy inherent in the machines, which are already costing a great deal of money to store. I cannot see why we are again appointing consultants and incurring further expenditure to prove once more, probably, that they are inefficient. Those machines will probably be replaced. Will the Leader request the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to decide once and for all that those machines will not be used at the next opportunity the electorate will have to vote? There is no need to appoint consultants to further waste scarce resources that could be used more valuably in other areas.
Mr. Quinn: We have all seen footage on television of people being released from jail after miscarriages of justice. Our hearts have gone out to them and we can imagine how each of us might maintain his or her sanity if we had to go through the same experience. It is understandable, therefore, how concerned we are over what happened in Donegal. However, as others Members have said, let us achieve a balance and ensure we do not undermine or demoralise a force that has served the country well for more than 80 years. There is an enormous amount of crime. We discussed this issue on the Order of Business the other day, when I relayed some of my experience. What stuns me is the amount of violence that exists. The Garda Síochána has served us well. Let us ensure we do not demoralise the force.
On the matter of seat belts, I have come across a report in the British Which? magazine which has discovered a large number of faulty child seats for babies in cars. I hope we have the ability in this country to protect ourselves against similar occurrences.
An Cathaoirleach: As we have exceeded the time limit the Chair regrets that it must disallow some contributions. The Chair reluctantly must call the Leader to reply, disappointing about seven Senators who were offering to contribute.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should resume his seat. A decision has been made by this House. The Chair has to implement that decision and I ask the Senator to respect it. I call on the Leader of the House.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, raised the matter of the report by Mr. Justice Frederick Morris and gave him due praise, with which we all concur. He said there should be international scrutiny of the Garda Síochána. However, he introduced balance by pointing out that 99% of the members of the force should hold their heads high, even though for gardaí in general this is a black day. Senator Ross echoed what Senator Brian Hayes said about what happened in Donegal and feared it would undermine gardaí.
Senator Ross said the debate on Europe which we had here has been overtaken by events, which is true. He proposed the Seanad should take a lead in debating this matter again. Senator Brian Hayes proposed earlier this week that we defer such a debate for two or three weeks until the Council meeting of Prime Ministers is held at which the outcome of the various votes that have been held and which fall to be held will be discussed.
Senator Ross said there is an all-party consensus or a type of establishment agreement on the EU. People have an inbuilt suspicion of establishments coming together and being in favour of something and they think something is wrong if all the establishments are in favour of it. Senator Ryan touched on this matter yesterday and pointed out that 82% of French working class people had voted against the proposed constitution.
Senator Ryan raised the Interpretation Bill. I have heard it said on several occasions in the Dáil — I know we are not meant to talk about the other House — that this Bill is with the Seanad but it is not. It was taken away to be amended and it was never brought back. I agree with the Senator’s proposal that if, by the end of June or beginning of July when we break up, it has not been resubmitted here, we should take it off the Order Paper.
Senator Ross spoke about the EU throwing money at democracy and referred to the 82% French “No” vote. He called for a debate on the Morris tribunal report. He proposed the provision of a Garda ombudsman similar to the
Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which appears to be a model of correct procedure.
Senator Dardis said that the Seanad must debate the report of the Morris tribunal. I was amazed to hear on the radio this morning that there would be a Dáil debate on it before the end of June. We will put in our spoke for that. Senator Dardis referred to the need for a debate on the EU and on the results of the votes in the French and Dutch referenda and on the Irish referenda. A date has not yet been set for an Irish referendum.
Senator Finucane congratulated Mr. Justice Morris, as we all would. He also referred to the upset the McBrearty family had suffered. He referred to the ombudsman inspectorate which will be provided for in the Garda Síochána Bill which is going through the other House.
A date has not been set for a referendum to be held here. I am sure that after due consideration a question on the proposed constitution will be put to the people but we do not know when a referendum will be held.
Senator Morrissey pointed out that motorcyclists account for 15% of road fatalities and he called for a debate on that matter, which I will seek. Senator John Paul Phelan commended Mr. Justice Morris, whom I also commend. He referred to the referendum in Spain. The minute Prime Minister Zapatero’s party was elected with a good majority he ran with the idea of holding a referendum quickly. That was a good political strategy. They were flush with victory and acclaim and they went for the vote. In this context, a difficulty is faced by regimes that have been in office for perhaps three or four years. The Spanish Prime Minister had success in the referendum and the referendum was passed in Latvia.
Senator O’Meara paid tribute to Mr. Justice Morris. She also raised the case of Tristan Dowse. I have asked if we could have a debate on the lack of independent legal representation for the child. The Senator echoed what Senator Ryan said about the Interpretation Bill.
Senator Maurice Hayes called for a reflective debate on Europe, which we need. The Senator called for a debate on the report on the Morris tribunal before the Garda Síochána Bill concludes in the other House because it would give us an opportunity to have our say regarding that Bill.
Senator Ulick Burke raised the question of consultants examining the reliability of electronic voting. A commission is examining that matter and an eminent member of the staff of the Seanad is a member of it. The commission has issued interim reports, I believe it has issued two but I am not sure, and I expect further reports will be issued as the examination continues. The Senator called for the Minister responsible to come to the House to debate the issue.
Senator Quinn raised the question of the release of prisoners. One can only imagine what the McBrearty family, including the children of the various families and the extended families, have suffered. It is a major miscarriage of justice but I am sure we would all agree that the gardaí should not be demoralised within the community. We rely on the Garda Síochána and this debate will give us a chance to echo the view that it is a fine force but those who erred must be brought to justice.
I pay tribute to Senator Jim Higgins, MEP, who at the time this story broke was a TD and also Deputy Brendan Howlin. They stuck their heads above the parapet when nobody wanted to listen to them. Well done to them.
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