Thursday, 13 October 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Minihan: The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on domestic violence, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed seven minuteiis — Senators may share time and the Minister will be called on to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 2, statements on the European Union, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons or group leaders not to exceed six minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed five minutes. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. As a matter of information, the Taoiseach will be in the House at 2 p.m. for the statements on the European Union.
Mr. B. Hayes: Will the Acting Leader discuss with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the possibility of him making a statement in the House next week on the extent of damages which can be awarded to individual citizens who have been wrongly convicted? I refer to the issue which arises in respect of Mr. Frank Shortt following yesterday’s High Court ruling. It is fair to say there is considerable public disquiet regarding the level of the damages awarded to Mr. Shortt following his and his family’s appalling treatment by this State for a considerable period. It is also fair to say the award was paltry and I am in no way commenting on the judge in the case or on the court.
I wish to refer to the legislation which underpins the possibility of awards in such cases. It is a serious matter that someone who has been wrongly convicted, treated in such an appalling way by this State and who spent nearly three years in jail on a concocted charge would, at the end of the day, be awarded such a paltry figure of €1.9 million. Will the Acting Leader raise the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and ask him if he could come before the House to set out the extent of reform he might propose following this case to ensure people in this category — this man is not alone — can ultimately obtain justice from this State? That is what these people seek. Will the Acting Leader have that discussion with the Minister and perhaps report back to the House next week?
Two years ago, both Houses passed a unanimous motion allowing the Defence Forces to go to Liberia in west Africa — a much troubled part of the world. To date, over 1,300 Irish troops have served in Liberia. There are 430 troops there at present. I take this opportunity, as I am sure all Members will, to congratulate our troops on their excellent work in Liberia during the past two years. Their work and that of other peacekeepers has ensured that a peaceful election process, with an 80% turnout, could take place there this week. Too often we commit troops to locations around the world as part of our UN obligations but forget the huge commitment being made by them and their families at home and to building peace and democracy throughout the world. I salute their efforts today, given that the House debated the matter two years ago and that it was a joint resolution of both Houses which permitted them to go in the first instance. It is a job well done and we must ensure those brave men and women in our Defence Forces hear the message from this House.
Mr. O’Toole: I want the Acting Leader to raise the possibility again of having a discussion on the food industry with a particular emphasis on the manner in which it is being treated at a European level. I may take the opportunity to raise this issue, possibly this afternoon. In recent times, I have examined the impact of regulation on the meat industry. I believe we have now reached the point where Ireland is the only country in Europe to find itself under the cosh from extraordinary decisions made at a European level to restrict the development of the food industry. In particular, more than ten years ago the House passed the Abattoirs Act which effectively made it impossible for ordinary butchers to kill livestock raised on their own land and grass. They were obliged to send the livestock elsewhere. While that caused its own difficulties, recently, the problem has become more severe. This is the point on which I seek a discussion.
I have spoken to representatives from the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, many of whose members supply local hotels with meat, steaks, etc., which is an example of local businesses developing properly. They have now been informed that for as long as they sell to ordinary customers walking in from the street, they are in the retail sector and consequently must meet a high level of regulation. However, if the butchers start supplying their local hotel, which they have done for centuries or generations, they have entered the wholesale market where a new set of regulations exists to prevent them from developing their business and boosting the local economy. This is an example of what should be discussed.
I could make similar points about vegetables and other sectors which have been affected such as fish, albeit in a different respect to the issues discussed in the House earlier in the week. I seek a discussion on how European regulation has had a negative impact on the development of the Irish food industry.
Mr. McCarthy: I support Senator Brian Hayes’s remarks in respect of yesterday’s paltry damages award to Mr. Frank Shortt and his family. Members should not forget the misery to which these people were subjected by members of the Garda Síochána, who had nothing but career advancement in mind when they intentionally harangued, hounded, abused and ultimately framed family members for offences of which they were never guilty. We must consider the damages awarded in the context of their suffering. It is important that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will come before the House to debate this issue because by any stretch of the imagination, the sum of €1.9 million does not in any way compensate the family for the misery and torture to which they were subjected by corrupt and evil members of the Garda Síochána during the 1980s and 1990s.
On a related issue, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform came to west Cork recently to open a state-of-the-art Garda station in Bantry, a welcome infrastructural improvement for any town. However, to reach Bantry he was obliged to pass through Dunmanway, where the current Garda station is situated in private rented accommodation. It is not wheelchair-accessible, there is no cell in the privately-rented house and is not a conducive working environment for Garda members. This has been the situation in Dunmanway for the last four years.
It is difficult to expect Garda members to work to their full capacity if the station in which they are supposed to work is a private rented house. It flies in the face of proper policing and it is dangerous for a town of that size to lack a decent station in which gardaí can do their job. I ask the Acting Leader to arrange, as soon as possible, a debate in respect of the entire policing issue and the proper provision of physical infrastructure for the members of the Garda Síochána.
Mr. McCarthy: In conclusion, Fr. Alec Reid has come in for much criticism for remarks he made at a public meeting yesterday evening. I heard some of the transcript of the meeting on the “Morning Ireland” radio programme.
Mr. McCarthy: He has come in for much criticism from some quarters in the North, but his efforts in respect of the peace process must be appreciated. The depth of the reconciliation required in the North has never been more evident than when one considers the current controversy regarding that issue.
Mr. Leyden: I ask the Acting Leader, Senator Minihan, to convey to the Leader, Senator O’Rourke, a request to invite the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, to report to the House on the lack of support and interest in Government policy pertaining to the Irish Pensions Board. I refer in particular to the lack of interest in this respect among the self-employed. I also wish to include the lack of a pension scheme for the 850 local councillors, who are being neglected in this regard as a subject for debate. I will not be intimidated by well-paid journalists with good pensions from coming out publicly in support of pensions for councillors. Neither the Irish Independent nor the paper barons will prevent me from so doing.
I believe that a scheme could be administered under the Local Government Act 1998. All council staff have a pension scheme and I do not understand why councillors who work full-time, sometimes up to 45 hours per week, should not have the opportunity to avail of a scheme to assist them in their future lives. I would support that and I ask that the Minister be invited before the House to outline the Government’s policy in this regard. I believe the Cathaoirleach will support this proposal in his heart although he is constrained by his office from doing so publicly.
Mr. Coghlan: On that last point, practically all Members would support any move and nothing discriminatory should be permitted. As the Senator has remarked, people employed by local authorities rightfully earn pensions and councillors should not be treated differently for their long service.
Yesterday, I raised a question on staged payments to which the Leader inadvertently failed to respond. The point I wish to address is that the Government’s legislative programme makes no mention of it. However, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, stated in this House that he believed it was an anti-consumer measure. The Acting Leader, Senator Minihan, will remember this comment as he and I discussed the matter together at the time. Members were aware of the negative consequences for consumers, particularly the adverse impact on first-time buyers. The Minister of State promised the Government’s own legislation within six months. This was in May 2004. I can find nothing on the matter in the Government’s legislative programme and I would like to hear the Acting Leader’s comments on it.
To return to the pensions issue, in general I agree with the points made by Senator Leyden apart from the question of the councillor’s pensions. There is an enormous shortfall to be made up in this country and this is a serious issue that must be addressed. Perhaps the House could have a debate on the resources needed to address it.
Mr. Morrissey: Two nights ago, this House had a debate on the Clare Street initiative by the Department of Transport. This was welcome because it at least gave Members some indication as to the Department’s intentions in respect of transport and gridlock issues. This morning, I travelled to Pearse station from Castleknock on the 8.20 a.m. suburban train. I can safely state that nowhere else in the western world would such a level of service be provided. People were crushed into the train in an appalling experience which must have bordered on the dangerous. It raises questions of health and safety. Passengers disembarking at Tara Street station must descend by using the emergency exit as the station’s escalator has been out of action since 6 June. They then encounter people coming in at the same time to access the station.
Mr. Morrissey: I ask the Acting Leader to try to arrange a meeting with the Minister for Transport with regard to the status of the five year strategic plan submitted by Irish Rail 12 months ago. After 12 months, why is there no indication of when our railways will receive proper investment? When will we seriously address the issue of gridlock? The situation is appalling. I, a Member of this side of the House, am no longer prepared to stand for what is happening.
Mr. Norris: We are due another debate on Northern Ireland in light of the defence of Fr. Alec Reid by Senator McCarthy. I respect Fr. Reid, as he has done honourable, good and historic work. However, it was not acceptable for him to say what he did, which I heard clearly. He said the Unionist community behaves like Nazis. This is not correct and many members of that community will be offended because their relatives died fighting fascism in Europe while the IRA collaborated as much as it could with the Nazis. One recalls the tale of Mr. Seán Russell, the IRA’s chief of staff, returning to Ireland in a German submarine.
It would be dangerous to travel down these roads and we must bear in mind the notion of parity of esteem. People should be very ashamed of some acts, such as the Shankill butchers. However, a good point made was that the Protestant community has never supported these butchers. They never get anywhere politically and are wiped out electorally whereas Sinn Féin, the political representative of the provisional IRA, is now the principal Nationalist party in the North. We should put these elements in context. While I honour Fr. Reid’s work, his comments were regrettable. I, like everyone else, have put my foot in it several times.
Will the Acting Leader determine the exact status of the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004, which I understand has not been enacted? Would it be possible to amend the Bill to include chiropractors in its provisions, as they meet the five criteria listed? The public is unprotected as people who are not qualified despite universal qualifications existing throughout Europe can establish themselves as chiropractors and do serious damage.
Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on the people involved in the Shot at Dawn Campaign? A total of 26 young Irish soldiers who volunteered during the First World War were shot at dawn for rebellion or insubordination simply for not wearing filthy, wet hats in the trenches while they were suffering from shell shock. New Zealand has publicly exonerated its six soldiers treated in this way and awarded the medals their sacrifices deserve. Is the Government pressing this matter?
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Ireland has a heightened awareness of the needs and rights of disabled people and great credit is due to those who organised the Special Olympics, of which we all felt particularly proud to be a part. A reported incident involving the removal of nine blind people from a Ryanair flight is an important issue. We do not know all the details but it was insensitive of a pilot to ask how many blind people were on board the airplane and then ask for nine of them to be removed. They were brought humiliated into the lounge. As our legacy from the Special Olympics, we should ensure this matter is investigated to establish the facts.
We held a debate on Northern Ireland recently, in which generous recognition was given to every person who played a role in bringing about a successful conclusion to the peace process. The House owes it to the process to ensure nothing will diminish the contribution made by Fr. Alec Reid.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I will finish. It is particularly rich for a leading member of the DUP not to accept the apology given by Fr. Reid and say that provocation was not, in itself, satisfactory. We should recall what the DUP’s leader has done through the years and the bigotry he has promoted. Fr. Reid was Christian in his comments and apologised immediately.
Mr. B. Hayes: There was a time when the DUP was a friend of the Government and one could not say anything against the party. I was attacked two years ago for making a comment. The Government’s changing view is astonishing.
Mr. J. Phelan: I did not get very far when the Leader was here and I will, therefore, ask the Acting Leader to arrange a discussion on national educational psychological services and their uneven distribution throughout the country. Coverage is 18% in County Kilkenny while other parts of the country, such as County Kerry, have 100% coverage. It would be appropriate for the Minister for Education and Science to explain this discrepancy to the House.
We have not held a debate on education since returning from the summer recess. Perhaps the Minister for Education and Science could address the House concerning her announcements during the summer with regard to schools being built through public private partnerships, PPPs. I have no ideological problems with the decision but it would be fitting for the Minister to explain her reasoning. It has recently been shown that schools built through PPPs cost more money.
I agree with Senator O’Toole’s comments on the abattoir sector. Senators are aware of small butchers throughout the country who have suffered greatly due to over-regulation. A butcher from Graignamanagh in County Kilkenny approached me recently. Like so many other small shopkeepers, he lives and works on his premises. He must now leave as he must construct a whole array of new facilities, leaving no room for him to live and work in the building. We have witnessed the ruin of a particular sector of Irish society over the past number of years and we need to discuss how over-regulation is the cause of the end of so many of those businesses.
Mr. Glynn: Will the Acting Leader arrange to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment into the House to hold a debate on a practice in certain public houses and catering outlets? Two people recently entered a public house and ordered two shorts and two mixers for a certain price at 9.05 p.m. However, 40 cent was added to each short and mixer by 10.50 p.m., meaning the same order within trading hours cost an additional €1.60. I have the receipts to prove it.
Mr. Glynn: It is past time to hold a debate on pensions with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. I am speaking particularly about women who worked at home and have no pension entitlements. I raised this matter previously with the then Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and am aware that the current Minister, Deputy Brennan, is examining the matter in depth. It relates to yesterday’s objectionable editorial in the Irish Independent, where the Government was told that it would give councillors pensions at its peril. Who do the authors of this editorial think they are? It is obvious they have no idea about what councillors do and are completely ignorant of the workload of councillors. If people want proof of what they know, they should read yesterday’s edition of the Irish Independent.
Mr. Coonan: I support the call made by Senators O’Toole and John Paul Phelan for a debate on quality food production, particularly in respect of the meat sector. We need a level playing pitch. Both Senators mentioned the food industry and butchers but we should bear primary producers, namely, farmers, in mind. Farmers are being strangled by bureaucracy and there is no point in us producing quality food at their expense. If this bureaucracy continues, there will be no farmers left in the country.
I ask the Acting Leader to call on the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the EU to put a full ban on imports of South American beef. This beef is not produced to Irish standards and comes from countries which are riddled with foot and mouth disease and which have working conditions akin to slavery. Cattle in these countries are identified and tagged only 45 days before slaughter. It is a scandal that such beef is coming freely into Ireland. The Acting Leader should call on the Minister to come before the House so we can have a debate on the issue and protect Irish farmers.
Mr. Scanlon: I concur with the comments of Senator O’Toole and others because I am a victim of these regulations. Unfortunately, we are approximately 20 years too late in coming to deal with this matter because many small abattoirs were put out of business because of overly stringent interpretation of European regulations. These concerns were forced to compete against meat plants which were heavily subsidised under EU grants and which were supposed to export meat but which began supplying the home market after they received their grants and built their plants. We should look more favourably on the small abattoir sector and help it survive. During the period to which I refer, the Small Abattoirs Association bought approximately 5,000 cattle and 25,000 lambs each week.
I compliment the Minister for Agriculture and Food on her actions regarding Brazilian beef. We have known that there were problems with such beef for many years. Beef imports from three Brazilian provinces have been banned. In addition, the Minister’s proposal to label meat products, particularly beef, lets people know exactly what they are buying and eating. I estimate that 90% of the meat in hotels and restaurants comes from Brazil or Argentina.
Mr. Browne: Members have seen horrific photographs of the effects of natural disasters throughout the world in recent weeks. It is incredible to think that, in 2005, dead people are being left in the streets and emergency services still cannot reach them. It is shocking to see a so-called developed country such as the US deal so badly with the aftermath of the hurricane in New Orleans. Unfortunately, this situation has been replicated in Pakistan. Could the Acting Leader invite the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, to come before the House to indicate what emergency plan is in place for Ireland in the event of a natural disaster? One would not have confidence in the emergency services based on recent global experience. The pictures we have seen are truly shocking. I know the Acting Leader, on foot of his former profession, has personal experience in this area. It would be opportune for us to ask whether an emergency plan is in place to cope with a natural disaster here. Who would have thought that the US would have been so badly equipped for such a disaster? Hopefully, we can learn from the unfortunate situation in Pakistan at present.
Mr. Browne: Will the Acting Leader make time available in the coming weeks for a debate on the enormous increase in type 2 diabetes, particularly in young people, and its link to obesity? This subject must be debated in the House.
Mr. Dooley: I support the calls for a detailed examination of the importation of food products, particularly beef products, from South America. We have taken a lax approach to this issue for far too long because of our stance on GATT negotiations and the effect they have on Irish trade. We have imported substandard products where the meat is not traceable and there is no knowledge about the kind of antibiotics that have been used on the animals. At the same time, we are penalising our farmers who are producing a very good product. I welcome what the Minister has done, on health and safety grounds, in respect of imports of Brazilian beef. I wish to put on the record my belief that there must be further negotiations between the Departments of Agriculture and Food and Enterprise, Trade and Employment so that we do not appear to be bending over backwards regarding the balance of trade with GATT. This issue needs to be addressed without delay.
Mr. Feighan: I join colleagues in condemning the attack on the proposal to award pensions to councillors. Everyone has a go at councillors but it has gone too far this time. Public sector pensions are very attractive and agents of the public sector who virtually act as a public relations department and liaise between constituents and Government and county councils should have their work recognised.
Surgeons who have treated young people and adults injured by fireworks stated in one of today’s newspapers that the public awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of fireworks has failed. Could the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come before the House and outline what he intends to do on this issue because there is a degree of hypocrisy surrounding it? Fireworks are illegal in the Republic of Ireland but we see extensive breaches of the law at Halloween. The law should be either amended or examined. Last year, I spoke with two tourists in Dublin who said the city looked like a scene from a film by Quentin Tarantino. I explained to them that fireworks were illegal, which they could not believe, so we must try to amend the law.
Mr. Hanafin: From May 2006 to April 2007, €15 billion will enter the economy as a result of the maturation of SSIAs. If one adds this figure to the €2 billion that would have been invested in SSIA products, one sees that it is approximately 12% of GDP entering the economy in very short period. Will the Acting Leader ask the Minister for Finance to come before the House to discuss what will be done to ensure that an orderly transfer of this money takes place so that the economy does not overheat and that people get value for money in products or services? At different times, the Central Bank would have increased interest rates to ensure that inflation would not have occurred. We must now plan for the period to which I refer and I ask that the Minister come before the House with proposals on how to deal with the entry of this money into the economy.
Mr. Minihan: Senator Brian Hayes and a number of other Members raised the issue of the recent court awards to Frank Shortt. We all acknowledge and recognise that awards are a matter for the courts. Senator Brian Hayes asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform be requested to come before the House to debate legislation on this issue. We will ask the Minister to do so but court awards are a matter for the courts rather than this House.
Senator Brian Hayes also raised the issue of the Defence Forces’ presence in Liberia and we all join him in complimenting them on the service they have given in that country. Many concerns were raised about sending troops to Liberia when a debate was held on this issue in this House two years ago. The Defence Forces proved they can carry out such an operation very successfully as a result of their professionalism and preparation for their presence in Liberia. We should all be very proud of the role played by our Defence Forces on the international stage and the great credit they bring to this country. I join with Senator Hayes in complimenting them and it was right and fitting that this was raised in the House this morning.
Senator O’Toole raised the issue of how the food industry is dealt with at European level and was joined in his request for a debate by Senators Dooley, John Phelan, Coonan and Scanlon. Such a debate would be welcome and I will ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, come to the House, not only to discuss the specific issue raised but also the wider area of regulation in the food industry.
Senator McCarthy raised the issue of the case involving Mr. Shortt and I have already referred to that matter. He also raised the issue of Garda Síochána facilities in Dunmanway, of which I am aware. As Senator McCarthy is aware, a meeting was held between the community of Dunmanway and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon. The community does not want the Garda station to leave the centre of the town and is trying to renovate the existing premises. However, a legal difficulty exists with regard to a wayleave at the back of the station. Senator McCarthy should put the specific matter down for debate on the Adjournment and a request will be made to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to discuss the broader issue of Garda facilities.
Senator McCarthy also raised the issue of Fr. Alec Reid’s comments, as did Senators O Murchú and Norris. We are all guilty of using inappropriate and emotive language in the heat of the moment and we must allow for human nature and emotion. Senator Ó Murchú and others stated that if one is big enough to apologise for remarks made in the heat of the moment, such apologies should be accepted and the comments should be viewed as unfortunate and unnecessary. Requests for debates on ongoing issues such as Northern Ireland will be made. However, I do not know if one will be forthcoming in the short term given that one was held so recently. I will bring it to the attention of the Leader.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of the lack of take-up of pensions and this has been flagged for some time. A discussion to highlight the need for people to take up pensions would be welcome and I will request that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, come to the House. Senator Coghlan raised the issue of stage payments. My recollection of events with regard to the comments made by the Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, is the same as that outlined by Senator Coghlan. I cannot answer the question with regard to the Government’s legislative programme as I do not know the answer but I will remind the Minister of State of the commitments made in the House and will seek to have that matter put back on the agenda.
Senator Morrissey requested a discussion with the Minister for Transport on the five year strategic plan for transport. A discussion on the Clare Street initiative was held in the House on Tuesday. A request can be made that the Minister come to the House again to discuss the progress made on the five year plan.
Senator Norris raised the issue of adding chiropractors to the designated groups of professionals included in the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill. I understand the Bill is on Report Stage in the Dáil and once it is passed it will be at the discretion of the Minister to add extra professions once they meet the necessary criteria. We have all been lobbied by a number of different groups that are not included in the Bill, and I have met the chiropractors group. I will bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children. We must examine whether the Bill will be delayed in order to add other groups or whether it will go through and other groups will be added by ministerial order. I do not know when it is listed to be completed in the Dáil.
Senator Ó Murchú requested that the Minister for Transport examine the issue with regard to the removal of blind people from an aircraft. That must be brought to the attention of the Minister and I will be happy to discuss the matter with Senator Ó Murchú to ensure his message is clearly communicated to the Minister. Senator John Paul Phelan requested a debate on the national education psychological services and the use of PPPs in building schools. A debate on education in this House is due and I will request that the Leader seeks such a debate.
Senator Glynn gave an example of price practice in certain public houses and catering outlets and requested a debate with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Director of Consumer Affairs has both the authority and the inspectors to investigate such issues and I hope this specific matter has been brought to her attention. The matter will be raised with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Senator Browne requested a general debate with the Minister for Defence to ensure the national disaster plan is up to date. I assure the Senator that such a plan does exist and it is run in conjunction with Government and local authorities. The request to the Minister for Defence for a debate will be made.
Senator Browne also raised the issue of type 2 diabetes. Last night Senator Henry spoke on that matter, which overlaps the areas of health, education and sports. It has been highlighted in the House on a number of recent occasions in discussions with the relevant Ministers.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of fireworks, which comes to the fore as we approach Hallowe’en. I presume the Senator has made his views known to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and has written to him in this regard. I am happy to highlight the Senator’s observations.
Senator Hanafin requested that the Minister for Finance come to the House to debate how we can plan for the influx of moneys from the SSIAs into the economy within in a short period of time. Such a debate would be welcome and useful, if for no other reason than to highlight the matter and encourage people to reflect on what will happen and how to deal with the money wisely. It would also be useful in ensuring that the economy manages the influx properly and efficiently. A request for a debate will be made and as we approach the Estimates process perhaps a debate with the Minister for Finance on a number of issues would be welcome.
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