Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: I welcome the worldwide web. The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1 is statements on the upcoming World Trade Organisation negotiations concerning agriculture, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1 p.m. The contribution of each spokesperson will be 15 minutes and the contributions of other Members will be ten minutes each. Members may share their time if they wish. The Minister will be called upon not later than five minutes before the conclusion of statements; and No. 2, a motion that Seanad Éireann notes the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance, to be taken at 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Spokespersons will have ten minutes each and other Members will have seven minutes each. The Minister will be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the motion. There will be an extended sos from 1.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. due to the Budget Statement in the Lower House.
Mr. B. Hayes: What Bills does the Leader intend to put before the House next week, which is our last week in this session, and what Bills does she intend to have passed by this House by the Christmas recess?
On Tuesday, the British Government published a detailed guideline through the Northern Ireland Office concerning the proposed restorative justice schemes to be introduced in Northern Ireland. There are already 17 schemes but a number of new schemes are proposed.
Most people accept that the notion of restorative justice is a useful way of connecting more disadvantaged communities with the police but I question the way in which it is being introduced in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is the last place in the world one would want to introduce community restorative justice schemes given the scale of paramilitarism on both sides over the past 40 years.
What is our Government’s position on this issue? While it is a strand one issue and an internal Northern Ireland matter, the Government should make it known that paramilitaries and former paramilitaries cannot be allowed to mete out justice in their own communities, particularly when one of the guidelines states there is to be no connection between the PSNI and the new schemes. It sets a dangerous precedent.
The SDLP is of the view that this is another concession given by the British Government to Sinn Féin. Our Government must make its views on this matter known as there are concerns. It is ultimately the view of all Members of this House that those who are not currently signed up to the new policing dispensation must do so and support the PSNI in order that there will be no future need for community restorative justice schemes.
Mr. O’Toole: The House might note a happy photograph in today’s main newspapers. It is of two happy Members of the Oireachtas, one of whom, a Member of this House, Senator John Hanafin, was being presented with his masters degree in the company of his sister, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin. We should extend our congratulations to the Member of the House.
Mr. O’Toole: On a more negative note regarding the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, there is a woman from the Morning Star Mother and Baby Home who has been outside the gates for the past number of weeks. Others have raised this issue. I do not wish to elaborate because it is not appropriate to discuss it on the Order of Business. However, that woman has suffered. I am one of those who have written to the Minister. There seems to be some difficulty in dealing with the issue. A woman has suffered, yet it cannot be dealt with because of the legislation or regulations. We should ask the Minister why she cannot amend the legislation or regulations to allow the case to be dealt with. Coming up to Christmas, it is something we might think about doing. I am not fingering the Minister on this because I recognise that there are legal and regulatory difficulties, but there are none that we could not address.
I would not want to set myself up as any kind of moral arbiter or to dance on somebody else’s grave, but the situation of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely, has gone beyond a joke. I will not speak about him but will the Government explain what exactly is going on here? We need to know if there are issues which are of concern to us. Will this continue much longer? Are there other things happening? Matters have been reported——
Mr. O’Toole: The Minister of State is entitled to have the truth disclosed and we are entitled to know the truth. I will not go any further than that. We cannot merely ignore the fact that everybody else is talking about it. We need to get clarification on the matter.
Mr. Ryan: I have never seen a Government plan begin to fall apart so quickly as Transport 21. This morning, as I was boarding the train in Cork, I was presented with a copy of Irish Rail’s new timetable for the next 12 months from Cork, which shows no changes from the previous 12 months in spite of the much trumpeted new fast trains every hour. In fact, a few of them are slightly slower. It has only taken a month for Transport 21 to begin to fall apart. I congratulate the Government; it must be a first.
In the other House yesterday the Taoiseach stated he would not allow this State to be used to facilitate torture. While there is an all-party group examining this, there are issues that need to be addressed. Does slapping somebody with the aim of causing pain and triggering fear constitute torture? Does leaving somebody standing for 40 hours bolted to the floor constitute torture? Does leaving somebody to stand naked in a cell in nearly 50° Celsius constitute torture? Does water-boarding constitute torture? When we took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights we said those matters were torture. The European Court of Human Rights found differently. The matters to which I refer come from an ABC News report of 18 November on two CIA operatives describing what the CIA currently does. I want the Government to make clear whether it believes the matters I described constitute torture because to most of us they do.
On the question of the use of aeroplanes by the US Government, the Government stated they are civilian planes and therefore did not need permission to land here. Is it the Government’s position that if the private jet of a Columbian drug baron landed in Shannon we would say that it is only a civilian plane and we can do nothing about it? If the private plane of a Mafia boss, whom we suspected of being involved in international drug dealing, landed in Shannon would we say that it is only a private plane and we can do nothing about it? Does the Government accept that those planes are owned by the CIA? It would be helpful to answer that question “Yes” or “No”.
Everybody else in Europe, everybody else in every other parliament and most of the journalists of North America and Europe accept and know that those aeroplanes are not civilian aeroplanes but are owned by the CIA. It is time we were clear on this, for once and for all, because the US Secretary of State, as Members stated on the Order of Business yesterday, is involved in the most extraordinary stretching of language, and that is being diplomatic.
We need clarity on this. If countries allowed the trains that brought people to Auschwitz to go through their territory empty, they were facilitating Auschwitz. If we allow CIA aeroplanes to go through Shannon empty, we are facilitating the CIA in the practice of torture and there is no room for lack of clarity on this.
On the Northern Ireland matter raised by Senator Brian Hayes, there was a short article in the newspapers which got no attention this side of the Border but which marks significant progress in the peace process. It reported that the short-term tours of duty of the British army in Northern Ireland are ceasing, that they will only have units which are stationed there for two years. It is just a small, but quite important, element towards normalisation.
There are many matters relating to Northern Ireland that we need to debate. A little pragmatism is required when one is looking at restorative justice. We have been trying to help the transition from paramilitarism to a full civil society and full acceptance of policing. My understanding is that the proposal would involve an indirect contact with the police. There is a great deal of politics swirling around this but I would take the view that if the scheme is acceptable and could be stood over by the PSNI, then I am not sure we should be trying to second guess it in this House.
Mr. Finucane: On the transport theme, stations are losing out in the attempt to speed up the trains to Cork. Charleville Station is losing out on two trains, a late night train and an afternoon train. It is regrettable that a station which is used by many people in west Limerick, north Cork and north Kerry is losing transport. Therefore, when one speaks of this great transport announcement in recent times, it is a bit of a contradiction.
We have had discussions on many occasions in this House on the theme of justice. We have discussed Operation Anvil and the understandable amount of funding that is provided for resources in Dublin, particularly in combating drug related activities. As we approach Christmas time, when many are concerned about anti-social behaviour within their communities, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider providing sufficient financial resources at weekends, such as overtime payments, to enable the Garda authorities at local level to roster effectively for weekend activities. Many urban communities where there are discos experience a great influx of people at weekends and it is during that period that anti-social activity is likely, particularly after discos close. It is important throughout rural Ireland and in all the urban communities which have these disco activities that there be sufficient Garda resources available to deal with them.
Mr. Brennan: I, too, want to ask the Leader about the study on Shannon Airport mentioned yesterday morning. I also wish to raise the concerns of the people in the locality about the future of Shannon Airport and the effect open skies would have on the airport. There are many American multinational companies operating in the Shannon-Limerick region. We want to see the Shannon Airport study broadened to take into account a feasibility study that was requested on the future of the airport and how it can be assisted for the future under the new regulations.
Mr. Norris: I agree with my colleagues about the importance of examining clearly the question of CIA flights through Shannon Airport. I am grateful that we are in the process of setting up a committee to examine this. It seems clear that we have reached a tipping point, that the world community is now gravely concerned and the attitudes of governments are changing in this regard. Last night, President Bush appeared on television and clearly, openly and brazenly lied. He stated that the United States does not render to states that commit torture. Members know that torture has been performed on suspects who have been rendered to Egypt by the CIA. We know this as a result of a Swedish parliamentary report and there can be no question or doubt about it. Members also know that suspects have been taken to Uzbekistan. The British ambassador resigned his post because the Government of Uzbekistan was boiling people. This is absolutely medieval. It is unbelievable.
Some of these aeroplanes pass through our airspace. Some of the people involved are not particularly pleasant and Abu Omar, for example, is a person about whom I have deep and grave doubts. Nevertheless, we still must respect international law. We know he was kidnapped in Italy, taken abroad and has now disappeared in Afghanistan. As that aeroplane was refuelled here on its return, we are already complicit in this cycle. This is an extremely dangerous matter. We have the case of Khaled el-Masri who was kidnapped——
Mr. Norris: If I may, I will finish this point, as some things must be stated and corrected. Khaled el-Masri’s experiences reflect our points exactly. He was kidnapped, his clothes were slashed from him and he was drugged by the insertion of a suppository. He was then shackled to an aeroplane and was taken to Afghanistan to be tortured.
One other point must be corrected. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is incorrect, in that Ireland is entitled to search aeroplanes under the Chicago Convention of 1944. As a final point, while I am flattered that Senator Ryan has repeated a number of my points, he was slightly incorrect in one or two respects. I am glad he used the Auschwitz analogy, which is appropriate.
Mr. Norris: He was incorrect with regard to one or two points. For example, regarding the business of torture, what the Americans are now proposing is infinitely worse than what was found at Castlereagh. The Senator is correct to state that the Government took the British Government to court and got a ruling that three practices, namely, the use of white noise, sleep deprivation and hooding, constituted torture.
Ms White: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue raised by Senator Norris this morning before this session ends on 16 December. The debate should not be about the war or its duration, but about the lies being told by Condoleezza Rice and the twisting as to what does or does not constitute torture. This is a serious matter. While Members cannot stop the war and cannot get the troops out, we can at least publically expose the torture that is taking place.
Mr. Coghlan: As far as Transport 21 is concerned, I am also puzzled about these trains. I have seen one of them, which might have been the one to which Senator Mansergh referred, when passing through Limerick Junction.
Mr. Minihan: I hope this will come to fruition and that Members will play an active role in dealing with this issue in a balanced manner. I believe this House has a valuable role to play in this respect.
Mr. Minihan: I am speaking on the Order of Business. Last night, as I tried to get some information pertaining to the budget from my party leader, I was told that I could take full credit for everything that was coming in respect of child care.
Mr. Bannon: On another issue, the programme for Government includes, among many other promises, an undertaking that there would be a nationwide audit of sporting and recreational facilities. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to the House to give Members an update on the audit.
Several organisations and school boards of management have contacted Members in respect of the lack of sporting facilities for young people. While the nationwide audit was promised, the Minister has not delivered on it. Perhaps he will come before the House to provide a progress report, or to indicate when its results will be brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: This morning, Senator O’Toole raised an important question for Members as legislators. While the item in question will not grab any headlines, I regard it as a fundamental issue for Members. I refer to the unfortunate woman who, in the festive season, sits outside Leinster House, day in and day out. She is cold, wet, embarrassed and feeling hurt.
I understand the House’s procedures, and it is easy for Members to pass in and out and, to a large degree, ignore her. However, surely Members should get down from their pedestals from time to time and stretch out their hands to an unfortunate individual like that, who feels she has no voice and who feels dispossessed.
She feels that she has been treated badly in the past and is being treated badly at present. Surely, it would be good for the nation’s morale to show how humane we can be, despite procedures and legislation. I commend Senator O’Toole on having put this matter on the record this morning. I hope that in the next few days, the woman will be taken in, given a cup of tea, treated with humanity and that Members will make an effort to ascertain whether she can be helped in some way. That is why all Members came into the House in the first instance.
Mr. Quinn: Yesterday, five bombs exploded in Spain. I am pleased to note that no one was injured and that warnings were given by the Basque separatists. However, it is a reminder to us of the 30 years of similar occurrences in this country. Given that Senators Mansergh and Brian Hayes spoke today about the opportunity offered by events in the North, I believe it is time we once again had a debate on Northern Ireland. I am not sure that in the past this House was the right place at the right time to have such a debate but I believe it is now. We should place that debate high on the agenda.
Yesterday, pathologists in a Cork hospital wrote to their patients to inform them that due to a dispute between the pathologists and the VHI, the VHI would no longer pay the pathologists. Patients have invested for many years in VHI and could be caught by surprise by this development. It might only apply to one hospital and only to the pathologists but the Minister for Health and Children should investigate this to put at rest the minds of those patients who might be concerned about the lack of service that will occur if this matter is not solved immediately.
Mr. Kitt: The Opposition has been waving at trains rather than putting them on tracks. This has been the best year in County Galway for people who use the train to travel to Galway city. The new service that starts in Athlone at 7 a.m. serves Ballinasloe, Athenry, Attymon, Woodlawn and is in Galway city at 8 a.m. That is a great service and I hope the same commuter service will be provided in other towns.
A more serious matter is the roll out of breast cancer screening in the north west. Perhaps the Leader would put this issue on the agenda for an urgent debate in the new year. The people of the north west do not know where they stand in this process. On a political level they are being told it will be rolled out in 2007 but, at executive level, they are being told the roll out will start in 2007 and will take two years. That means it will be 2009 before the service is fully implemented. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that all the north west will be covered.
Over 50,000 women in the east were screened for breast cancer in the 2004 programme. Of that number, 1,687 had to return for assessment and, of those, 309 were diagnosed with breast cancer. With early intervention there is hope of a good outcome. However, the system is inequitable for the people of the north west, who have strong sentiments about this issue and want clarification. Will the Leader arrange an urgent debate in the new year on the breast screening programme?
Mr. McHugh: Tomorrow we will discuss oncology services. Oncology is a different issue. Breast screening is primary care while oncology is tertiary care. It is important that we have a specific debate on the roll out of cancer screening. My mother-in-law was able to use BreastCheck in Birr, County Offaly, whereas my mother in County Donegal had to seek care and private treatment herself. The reason she knew to do it is that she is a nurse but not every woman in the north west is aware of the problems caused by lumps in their breasts. The system is inequitable and wrong even though everybody pays their taxes. This is a serious matter.
Mr. J. Walsh: There has been quite a discussion about trains this morning. I wish to raise a variation, that is, runaway trains. Will the Leader arrange for a debate early in the next session so Members can get an update on the progress of the various tribunals? I am prompted to ask for this debate by the reports today and the interview conducted yesterday with Deputy Lowry. He was eminently reasonable in pointing out that after nine years he is entitled to finality. It is easier for a Member of this side of the House to say this. We established the tribunals and they have done some good and effective work. However, there have been many reports of investigations completed in the interim. At this stage there must be a focus on completing the work of the tribunals with a degree of urgency. There should be a debate so we can be given an update on the proceedings of each tribunal and, hopefully, inject a focus on terminating what appears to be an interminable process.
Mr. U. Burke: Will the Leader arrange a debate on decentralisation as a matter of urgency? The information we have been getting can no longer be trusted, especially given the occurrence yesterday and the interference by the Minister of State with responsibility for decentralisation, Deputy Parlon, in his efforts to beef up information that does not represent the truth. It is important that the Minister come to this House to outline the exact situation for the many people whose lives will change as a result of this programme. It is unfair to cause demoralisation for so many civil servants and for groups throughout the country who are hoping for decentralisation to their areas in the absence of other jobs being created there.
This is particularly the case in Ballinasloe. The NRA is supposed to be relocated there but not one member of staff in the NRA has indicated he or she wishes to go there. The relocation of FÁS to Birr is obviously in jeopardy as a result. Two years ago this Minister welcomed the concept of decentralisation and welcomed people to “Parlon country”. Where is Parlon country now? Is it the entire country or just Birr? If it is, the Minister of State is a failure.
Mr. Scanlon: I concur with Senator McHugh. BreastCheck is a serious issue in the north west and it was hotly debated last week on local radio and at a Border regional authority meeting. However, we are assured it will be rolled out. The Tánaiste has given us a guarantee that there will be a service in Sligo by 2007. Hopefully, it might happen before then. With regard to trains, thanks to our Leader——
Mr. Scanlon: ——but, thanks to the Leader of the House investing in the Sligo-Dublin line some years ago, the new trains are on the route and the train service will increase in number from three to five starting next week.
Mr. Feighan: Nobody in this House should claim credit for the provision of child care. The people who should claim credit are the hardworking parents who have had to endure the lack of child care provision for the past ten years——
Can the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform be invited to the House to discuss Operation Freeflow? We have seen in the newspapers the picture of a Minister of State superimposed on a photograph of what is clearly not the city of Dublin.
Mr. Feighan: With Operation Freeflow one sees gardaí on every street and corner, which is welcome. However, there is no reserve police force or barracks full of extra gardaí so where are these gardaí coming from? Does relieving the traffic in Dublin mean that the heat will be taken off the drug and criminal gangs? These gardaí must have come from somewhere.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Hayes asked what Bills will be dealt with next week. The Bills before the House next week include the Competition (Amendment) Bill, the Development Bank Bill, the Social Welfare Bill, which has to come in to allow the payments announced in the budget, and the Appropriation Bill. There will also be Deputy Rabbitte’s coroners Bill, comprising two clauses, which was discussed here yesterday and debated last night in the Dáil.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes also referred to the proposed restorative justice measures, which are part of strand one of the Good Friday Agreement, and asked for the Government’s views. Senator Mansergh addressed the matter.
Senator O’Toole congratulated Senator Hanafin and I warmly concur with that. Any advancement on one’s scholastic achievement is always to be admired. It was well done by Senator Hanafin who got a round of applause in his absence.
Senator O’Toole also referred to the woman outside the gates of Leinster House. Many of us have spoken to her individually. She seeks an amendment to the institutions redress legislation to allow the institution in which she resided to be added to the list of institutions. I take up Senator Ó Murchú’s point——
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ryan also referred to the CIA and the possibility that the civilian planes are not civilian. A person from each of the groups in the House has come together but we have not yet established a committee. The Clerk Assistant of the Seanad kindly arranged legal advice this morning which told us we have the legal right to set up a committee of the Seanad. We will report on it next week. We are glad of their efforts on our behalf and we thank them.
Senator Mansergh said there are new trains coming to Cork. He has seen them in Tipperary and, as we said, they are being trotted out. He also said if the restorative justice terms are acceptable to the PSNI we should take them at that value. I was glad to hear that.
Senator Finucane spoke on justice and drugs and said that extra gardaí should be rostered effectively at weekends if necessary. Senator Brennan wants a debate on the commercial future of Shannon Airport and pointed out that this is a separate issue from the CIA.
Senator Norris said that world opinion has turned on the use of aeroplanes by the CIA. He pointed out that the Swedish Parliament and all of the European Parliaments are debating the matter. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is inviting the US ambassador to explain himself and his country, but according to today’s newspaper he must talk to Washington before he is allowed to come before the committee. Senator Norris also referred to the Chicago Convention which allows government representatives to enter an aeroplane.
Senator White told us she was brought up not to boast — good for her — and that the Taoiseach has told her that her dreams are coming true today. Senator Coghlan is exercised by the trains and asks where they are and why they are not in service. One cannot put trains into service like one gives a child a toy for Christmas, taking it out of the box and rolling it. It does not work like that.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Bannon wants a note of realism for the midlands. He wants an audit of sporting facilities and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come here to talk about it. He also spoke about Deputy Parlon. Nobody goes on a radio programme without organising people to telephone the programme.
Ms O’Rourke: He cannot stand up. Senator Ó Murchú contributed a note of humanity and said the woman outside the gates should be invited in here and her case discussed. We should do that. The term “the woman outside the gate” sounds biblical in these days.
Senator Quinn spoke about the ETA bombs in Spain and said the time is right for a debate on Northern Ireland. We made a request regarding such a debate and await a decision. The Senator also referred to the row between the Cork pathologists of a particular hospital and the VHI.
Senator McHugh has the gift for putting his finger on an important issue, in this case breast cancer. I have always admired his openness to talking about this issue and putting the facts in the public realm.
Ms O’Rourke: We will discuss the roll-out of services in tomorrow’s oncology debate. The Senator spoke on the 309 cancer sufferers who were caught in the early stages, showing up the numbers who are not diagnosed and who therefore miss the opportunity for early treatment. The Senator mentioned his family situation. I thank him, he is a voice of reason on that issue. I also remember the story of the woman travelling six or seven hours to get her treatment in Dublin.
Senator Jim Walsh wants a debate on the tribunals and their current status. Senator Ulick Burke wants a debate on decentralisation, mentioned the failure of the NRA to relocate to Ballinasloe and asked where is Parlon country now.
Senator Scanlon spoke on BreastCheck in the north west. As a self-effacing person I thank him for his compliment on the trains. Senator Feighan spoke on hard-pressed parents who should be praised for getting child care. Obviously there would be no children if there were no parents.
Senator Feighan also asked why the extra gardaí in Dublin involved in Operation Freeflow are not attending to the drugs problem. I would like to acclaim the successes and triumphs of the Garda in tacking drugs. Every weekend we hear about drug hauls and they deserve our thanks.
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