Order of Business.

Thursday, 16 February 2006

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 182 No. 80

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Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on security of energy supply and the scope for developing renewable energy sources, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m., with the contributions of spokesperson not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. The Minister will be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of statements; and No. 2, the University College Galway (Amendment) [1354]Bill 2005 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.30 p.m. This is a Seanad Bill, which was amended by the Dáil.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  A year ago yesterday the Supreme Court clarified the issue of nursing home charges, when it concluded that medical card holders were being charged illegally in public nursing homes. In May 2005, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children announced in the House that legislation would be introduced to effect payments to approximately 20,000 elderly people who were still alive. When will this legislation be introduced?

The Minister also announced on that occasion that a private firm would be engaged to make the payments and it was stated last week that this could cost between €30 million and €50 million. This would be a terrible waste of funding. The Health Service Executive employs more than 150,000 people. The staff of public nursing homes are going through their records to verify the details of people who are eligible for this payment. It would be shocking if a private company was paid between €30 million and €50 million to make these payments. A total of 20,000 elderly people will receive the payment but they have also received an ex gratia payment of €2,000 from the HSE at a cost of €22 million. There is no necessity to involve a private company in these payments. Last December almost €1 billion was paid to 116,000 farmers by the Department of Agriculture and Food under the single payment scheme. There is a tendency to look to external consultants but such usage of taxpayers’ money is totally unnecessary in these circumstances. This legislation has been promised for some time but, after a year, not a euro has been paid to the 20,000 people involved or the beneficiaries of their estates. When will this matter be resolved?

Senator Minihan spoke recently about the Tánaiste’s achievements in the Department of Health and Children. I ask the Senator to consider the situation in accident and emergency departments on Tuesday, St. Valentine’s Day. In Cork University Hospital, for example, 37 people were waiting on trolleys and there were 75 in a similar position in Tallaght Hospital. Senator Minihan noted the view expressed by one person that the accident and emergency facility in Tallaght should be named the “Mary Harney suite”.

It is time for action. There is no necessity to spend the type of money envisaged to engage a private company to manage the repayment process. The resources are within the HSE to do so and all the research is being done internally. All it needs is a number of staff to collate the information within the service. God help us if such a group of persons cannot be found within a staff of some 150,000.

[1355]Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I draw the Leader’s attention to an issue I regret is once again missing from the Order of Business, namely, the proposed terms of reference for the Committee of Selection of the Seanad to inquire into the passage of CIA aeroplanes through Shannon Airport. I raised this issue at the end of November 2005 and on 6 December the Leader gave what seemed to be a clear commitment that the committee would be established. She had received advice from the Clerk and we were to have meetings to consider its terms of reference. We have had some such meetings but others have recently been cancelled at short notice.

I addressed my growing concerns in this regard to a number of Government sources yesterday and I now understand this committee is dead in the water. This is regrettable and I ask the Leader to explain, if it is true, why this is the case. Where did the pressure come from to prevent the establishment of such an inquiry? I hear the Government had some part in the decision, as well as local councillors from the Shannon area. It seems extraordinary that the Seanad should be run by local authorities rather than deciding its own business.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  That is democracy.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is not democracy. It may be other Members’ understanding of democracy but it is not mine and I doubt it is that of the public.

Today we have another report from the United Nations committee which recommends that the Guantanamo Bay detention centre should be closed immediately. It will be dreadful if we allow ourselves to be compromised in this regard. It seems we have once more given into pressure. The Leader has been forthright on the issue of the Iraq war and gave a clear commitment in regard to this inquiry. We are entitled to know why it has been shut down, especially in view of the performance of this grey little Government that seems so intimidated by the United States authorities and even by councillors from the Shannon area.

The Government is clearly making a mistake in taking this action. The cat is already out of the bag given the establishment of a committee of the Council of Europe to consider the matter and the initiation of several court cases in Europe. This secret will out and the Government’s action seems very much like evidence of a guilty conscience. It is worried about something. Why should it be concerned about such an inquiry? The terms of reference were simply to establish facts.

A Senator:  Nonsense.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is not nonsense. Let us have a debate on this matter. Senator Dooley is nodding in agreement. Perhaps more Members from the Government parties will also agree. I thank [1356]Senator Dooley for his implied suggestion and formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us discuss the establishment of this inquiry and its proposed terms of reference, which have already been agreed. We received legal advice on the matter and know how to proceed and Members have been selected for participation. Let us have a debate on this today.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  That is not a motion. Senator Norris has made a speech.

Ms Tuffy: Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  In regard to the issue raised by Senator Finucane, there are not many Ministers whose Bills have been deemed unconstitutional. I understand the only Minister in this Government for whom this is the case is the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. In introducing the legislation to retrospectively legalise illegal nursing home charges, she attempted to deprive elderly people of their rightful compensation.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  That is incorrect. The reverse is the case.

Ms Tuffy: Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  This wrong came on top of a wrong that had gone on for many years. The continuing delays over this issue further compound the wrong done by the Government in regard to the rights of elderly people.

An article in today’s edition of The Irish Times discusses the existence of an interdepartmental report which apparently proposes that elderly people should be obliged to sell or remortgage their homes to help fund their long-term care. The issue of care for the elderly is something Members increasingly encounter in their clinics. A recent poll published by the same newspaper indicates most people do not agree with the approach outlined in the report to which I referred.

Elderly people have paid their taxes and contributed to society. Many of them paid the very high taxes in place in the 1980s. We must be more proactive in providing care options for elderly people, including public nursing homes and sheltered homes, as opposed to obliging them to sell their homes to pay for exorbitant private profit-making care. We must entirely reform the current approach to long-term care.

There have been reports recently on the alleged discovery of cocaine in the vicinity of Leinster House. This is a serious matter that should be investigated. It should not, however, draw the focus from the need to do more about the issue of drugs within communities. Cocaine is an increasing element of the drugs culture. One of the main reasons for Mr. Fergus McCabe’s recent resignation from the national drugs strategy team is the move away from the focus on community involvement in drugs strategy. We must regain that focus which has been successful in the past. It was established in 1996 by my party [1357]leader, Deputy Rabbitte, when he was the relevant Minister of State. I do not understand why the Government is moving away from that approach.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  It is a gross untruth to suggest that the Tánaiste, any member of the Government or any Member on either side of this House does not want to do the very best for the elderly and to ensure their needs are met. It is worth recording that the genesis of the Bill regarding nursing home charges came after successive Administrations ignored the explicit advice they received on this matter. It was the Tánaiste who finally acted on it and she did so in good faith by bringing forward legislation which, as is her right, the President referred to the courts. Such a referral has taken place in almost every year I can recall. The legislation is sometimes upheld and on other occasions is rejected, as in this case.

I understand the new legislation is expected to come before the Oireachtas before the summer and we will deal with it then. Some of the comments made today must be rebutted and debated. As the Cathaoirleach is about to tell me, however, the Order of Business is not the time to deal with those matters in detail. I stress, however, that some of the remarks made are untrue.

Mr. Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  I formally second the proposal by Senator Norris that we set time aside to debate the position regarding the proposed Committee of Selection to discuss the Shannon situation. This issue was discussed on several occasions in this House before Christmas and it was indicated to us that the appropriate way forward would be to set up such a committee. A number of Senators appointed on an all-party basis have made great progress and were on the point of bringing forward a balanced and fair motion for debate and consideration.

As the Cathaoirleach will be aware, the purpose of this proposed committee was to inquire into the goings-on, for use of a better term, at Shannon Airport and those issues into which the Government is obliged to inquire in order that it can report to the Council of Europe. The war in Iraq and issues surrounding it have been debated here on numerous occasions. There is a central issue from which we cannot move away, namely, that the truth must emerge. The issue of concern to the proposed Seanad committee is to establish exactly what is or is not happening. The best way forward for this House to establish the facts is to set up the proposed committee.

Consideration of this issue was fair and balanced and we are all pleased with the proposed terms of reference. It would be regrettable if we were to renege on a commitment the Leader of the House, I and other Members gave to this House to put in place such a committee. We should reflect on and debate it. It is in every[1358]body’s interest that we set up such a committee. I second the motion that we debate the matter.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  We should commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children on her speedy action in regard to the refund of payments taken by her and the Government. This matter was ignored by former Ministers, Deputies Howlin, Noonan and others, throughout the years.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Senator should not forget the former Minister, Deputy Martin, if he wants to be consistent.

Mr. Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  He knew about it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Leyden to continue without interruption.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  It would be worthwhile to request the Tánaiste to come into the House for a debate on the current position. Such a debate should take place in-house within the Health Service Executive because the practice of the yearly assessment of medical cards is unnecessary. Every year people’s eligibility for these cards is reassessed. Why could the staff engaged in that work not be reassigned to implement the Government’s decision to refund nursing home residents? It is not rocket science. There is a question of confidentiality involved. This work should not be given to a private sector company, rather it should and could be done in-house. It would be worthwhile to introduce a bonus scheme in this respect.

Furthermore, will the Leader arrange for an early debate on the announcement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, in regard to SSIAs? His announcement of the introduction of a pension scheme to provide for those who pay the lowest level of income tax is worthwhile. We should promote that scheme. Hundreds of thousands of young people have no private pension scheme. The introduction of this scheme presents a great opportunity. Furthermore, for those who would wish to retain their SSIAs, a roll-over facility should be provided to enable them to reinvest——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator can discuss that in the debate he has requested.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  In advance of such a debate I want to whet the Cathoirleach’s appetite in regard to the potential of this scheme.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That is not necessary.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  There is a possibility for an infrastructural investment scheme.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Senator should not inflate the Cathaoirleach’s appetite as it could have unfortunate results.

[1359](Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I call Senator Quinn.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Senator Leyden is working up his own appetite.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Our time is being wasted.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  I am delighted to get that off my chest.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I add my voice to that of Senators Norris and Bradford. It is seldom we arrange to set up a selection committee in this House. It would be disappointing if that proposal simply disappeared and failed to appear on the Order Paper. The proposal is that the selection committee should appear on the Order Paper. It has not done so, therefore I support the amendment proposed by Senators Norris and Bradford.

Will the Leader consider asking the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come into this House to debate a prison-related issue? It is approximately six months since he was in the House dealing with the Prisons Bill. On that occasion he spent considerable time here and explained how he was proceeding. The main objective of that legislation was to outsource the transporting of prisoners. That is a valid and sensible idea.

However, some figures published in Britain yesterday — a similar position is confirmed by the figures in Ireland — suggest that two out of every three young prisoners reoffend and find themselves back in prison and one out of every two adult male prisoners in Britain also reoffend and end up back in prison. The figures in Ireland are somewhat similar.

With the exception of the two open prisons, prisoners are inactive for 16 to 17 hours per day. This leads to the development of the position I outlined in Britain characterised by the figures published yesterday. The Minister should come into the House and inform us about what he is doing in this regard and what progress is being made. He was very good when he was here six months ago. I would like to know what is happening in our prisons because this issue challenges us. If two out of every three pupils in a school failed to learn how to read and write and if one out of every two patients in a hospital died, there would be an outcry, but that is what is happening in our prisons. We need a debate on this matter.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  I would welcome a debate on nursing home charges for one reason, namely, to clarify the position and to rebut some of the wild allegations made by the Opposition this morning and in recent days. Compensation should be paid to people who are entitled to it. There is no question about that, as the Government has acknowledged.

[1360]However, the State should equally defend cases seeking additional damages. Fine Gael is supporting a compensation culture. To lead its attack in this regard, it is putting forward a person who has a vested interest in this area, namely, a solicitor and Fine Gael councillor who placed advertisements in newspapers within 24 hours seeking cases and who has filed 70 cases in the High Court seeking up to €6 billion. I make no apology for defending the Tánaiste——

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Senator should read the article in today’s edition of the Irish Examiner.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  ——the Government and taxpayers. If Fine Gael wants to peddle a “compo” culture, let it do so, but it is peddling somebody with a vested interest.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  That is rubbish.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  I make no apology for saying that.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Senator should read one of today’s newspapers.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Will the Leader speak with the Minister for Transport, as a matter of urgency, regarding his proposal to contract out the appointment of a group of testers to expedite the backlog of driving test applications? I recently met a delegation of people from the west who are involved in testing. They have grave concerns about the Minister contracting out such appointments to people who have no previous experience of testing.

  11 o’clock

If we are serious about seeking to ensure a decline in the number of road deaths, it is important we bring under the umbrella of the existing framework provisions regarding the training of driving testers. An additional eight personnel have been secured from the Department of Agriculture and Food. There is a strong feeling among people within this system that the way forward is to continue that process, as opposed to prolonging the delay through the advertising of posts and issuing of contracts to people whom we do not know have the necessary qualifications and who will be gone when the backlog of applications has been cleared. This is a serious matter. If we are serious about road safety and reducing the carnage on our roads, we should not tamper with the existing position but increase the number of personnel from internal sources.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I know Senator Norris’s question is directed at the Leader and I am sure she will reply. I am spokesperson on foreign affairs and have a particular interest in this area. Ongoing investigations into rendition are being led by Senator Dick Marty who is a colleague of Senators Bradford, Ormonde and mine on the Council of Europe. The European Parliament has [1361]also embarked on an investigation. The Government is co-operating with both investigations.

When this issue first arose, the Government, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, asked the American Administration about the possible illegal transportation of persons through Shannon Airport. The answer that was specific to Ireland initially——

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It was a lot of lies.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——from Condoleezza Rice was that nothing illegal was going on.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  She knew that was not true and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, knew that was not true. It is a cover-up.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  In the context of the relations between Ireland and America, where the head or representative of a friendly nation makes such a definitive statement, which was subsequently made to the Heads of European Governments, then it would be not only churlish but extremely dangerous to the relationship between this country and America to turn around and indicate that somehow they were telling lies. In order to put in context what Senator Norris——

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  She admitted that they were using white noise, hooding and sleep deprivation.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Order please.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  If Senator Norris wishes to have a side-swipe at the good relations——

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Irish Government obtained a judgment on torture charges from the European Court.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——between Ireland and America, if he wishes to deprive the people of the Shannon area of jobs,——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot have statements on the Order of Business. An amendment is proposed to the Order of Business and we will have to deal with that first. We cannot have a debate on the matter now.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——if he is prepared to put away the jobs and the interests of those in the Shannon area by having a go at the Government and by his constant anti-American stream——

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  So it is a question of jobs versus torture. Now it is out in the open. That is very useful.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  If he wants to do that, I will not stand over it.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  So it is a question of murky morality. Morality for sale Mr. Mooney.

[1362]Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I ask for the protection of the Chair.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Would Senator Mooney please resume his seat? He received plenty of protection.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I have been interrupted continuously by Senator Norris——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Mooney is making a statement on the Order of Business which is not allowed.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  ——and I did not interrupt him.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Would Senator Mooney please resume his seat?

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I would be happy to resume my seat if the Cathaoirleach will just take on board the fact that we listened to a Second Stage speech from Senator Norris, who took a swipe at the Government.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Excuse me, I resent that.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I want to put in context——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Mooney, please resume your seat.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Senator Norris spoke first in order to have the time to make an important point.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I am aware of that but at least I should be allowed the right to reply.

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

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Senator Mooney got his latitude.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Fair is fair. On a point of order——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  What is the point of order?

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I appreciate the Cathaoirleach’s difficult job and also the point he made yesterday.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  With all respect to the Clerk, I would like to direct my remarks to you, a Chathaoirligh.

A Senator:  That is unfair.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Mooney’s comment is reflecting on the Clerk and it is wrong.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Nothing should be inferred from it; I was directing my remarks at you in the Chair.

[1363]All I am doing is repeating the point the Cathaoirleach made yesterday, regarding the latitude given to the leaders.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  In fairness, the Cathaoirleach was giving latitude to the leaders. I appreciate and fully accept that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  All I was attempting to do was to obtain an opportunity to outline my own point of view. That was all, nothing more.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Senator Mooney got that.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  The simple point is that if this is being discussed at the United Nations, at the Council of Europe and everywhere else, why can it not be discussed here as well?

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Hear, hear.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Let both sides have their say. Given that there is such heat on the issue, it should be allowed to go forward for discussion.

Following the points raised here this morning about the nursing home issue, we need a debate on it. I do not know where we are going on this matter. On numerous occasions I have asked that this not be turned into a political football. Every party has been involved in this at some stage, including Independents. We all have dirt on our hands on this one.

As far as where we are now is concerned, I am appalled at some of the stuff I am hearing here this morning. I do not understand what Senator Finucane stated. First, there are many more than 20,000 people concerned; it is more like 70,000. Second, perhaps Senator Finucane can explain the idea and we should discuss it. If the policy is that we pay exemplary and other damages and that we ask civil servants to pay out this money without it being challenged, the idea is an absolute abuse——

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I never said any such thing.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I am sorry.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I stated it is possible for the Health Service Executive to do it in-house.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Order.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I do not like to be misinterpreted.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  That is why we should have a debate.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I did not make that point at all.

[1364]Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I cannot understand how the Health Service Executive can itself handle the paying out of exemplary and other damages. First, it just cannot be done. Second,——

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I never said that at all.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  In terms of taxpayers’ money, I would be absolutely opposed to the idea of us paying exemplary and other damages at this stage. It is the duty of the Government to look after taxpayers’ money. We should pay and look after the people who are entitled to be looked after. It is appalling that they have not got their money yet. In terms of how it is done, however, we should not be handing out exemplary and other damages, and it is not a job for civil servants.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I never made that point. I never mentioned exemplary and other damages.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  One of the issues that we have discussed most often here in this House is health. There are times I feel that perhaps we should also endeavour to strike a balance. In recent times I have been dealing with several families who have had to avail of hospital services and invariably they have been high in their praise of the service which they have received. We need to say that, if for no other reason than out of appreciation for the practitioners who are working in the health area.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, demonstrated extraordinary courage and commitment in taking on the health portfolio. We should be seen to be helping her. No doubt there are certain functions that need to be improved and that will always be true in any expanding service in the country. We are not being fair if we expect miracles to be achieved by Deputy Harney in a short period of time. What we really need here is a partnership between all the practitioners, be they the consultants, doctors, nurses or whoever. It is important that we in this House show a united front because at the end of the day the most important person is the patient in the hospital.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  The Leader is well disposed towards having a debate on the proposed sale of the Great Southern Hotels group. In view of the misconceptions and the spin evident, particularly on accumulated losses, when quite clearly at least €24 million of it is investment in Killarney and Galway, I am naturally particularly concerned about those flagships — Parknasilla which is a real jewel in the crown and Eyre Square. The debate, if and when the Leader can arrange it, will be timely.

Second, I am glad to see published this morning the long-promised Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill. It is great that it is coming to this House. It will be interesting to see [1365]the definitions in the seventh column, or how it is covered, as to what——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That will all be debated when it comes to this House.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Of course. I look forward to the Leader telling us when it will come before us.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  I support the remarks made here by Senator Minihan and others on the role played by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. As Government spokesperson on health and children, I think she has shown clearly that what had been happening was incorrect. She put up her hand and said it is wrong. She brought in legislation and it fell.

Ms Tuffy: Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Now she is trying to legalise it.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  It was not the first legislation to fall; it will not be the last.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot debate the matter.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  If I may, a Chathaoirligh, there is a category of people who could not get a bed in public nursing home, whether geriatric, psychiatric or whatever, and who had to pay in a private nursing home. While such people have a case, I decry the ambulance chasing of some politicians and some solicitors.

I welcome the decision to have gardaí travel with young people who are under age to discos. They will be in a position to detect any disorderly behaviour as a result of under age drinking. I hope they will relate information back to the parents and, if necessary, source the supply of alcohol. I am sure there will be many such cases.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  Senator Ó Murchú referred to the great courage of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children in taking on the health portfolio a year and a half ago. The general consensus among citizens of the State is that she has let us down in improving the health services and in the issue of the repayment of the nursing home charges.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  It is Senator Bannon’s judgment.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Senator Bannon looks into his heart.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Bannon, do you seek a debate?

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I will deal with that now. Throughout the country the Health Service Executive has failed to appoint chief medical officers.

[1366]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Bannon, we cannot have a debate on the health services on the Order of Business.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  This is a situation which pertains to my county.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot have a debate on the health services on the Order of Business.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I am looking for a debate on the issue of improving the health services. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children has failed to do so. There is a situation in my county where——

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  Senator Bannon might bring some ideas with him to the debate.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  ——people with disability cannot claim their rights because there is no chief medical officer in the midlands as we speak. This is a matter highlighted, not alone by the members of the Opposition but by Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats councillors in the midlands.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Those are matters for the debate.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  Senator Bannon has lost his way again.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I would like the Leader to invite the Ministers for Arts, Sport and Tourism and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to the House for a debate on rural development and tourism. Policies need to be introduced to improve economic and social conditions in small villages and towns which lack tourism infrastructure.

The provision of funding and grant aid for off-farm enterprises has been neglected. I know several people who have put forward good projects for the development of rural tourism and off-farm enterprises.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Are these the people to whom the Senator has already referred?

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  No grant assistance is available despite promises by the Government to provide funding. There is nothing there for people who seek funding for off-farm enterprises.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator’s point has been adequately made.

Mr. Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Senator O’Toole raised the important question of rendition flights. I see no problem in holding such a discussion, and nobody else does but there is a difference between discussing it and establishing a select committee. Committees have been set up throughout Europe to deal with this matter. What other information could be gleaned by establishing a committee of [1367]this House? Establishing such a committee would insult a friendly nation at a time when we depend on our diplomats to work with the US Administration in respect of the undocumented Irish people in the United States.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is a criminal regime.

Mr. Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  It would send out the wrong signal. A committee would involve more than a discussion. Already committees throughout Europe are garnering that information. It would be a token gesture to establish a committee here that would be seen as an insult to a friendly nation with which we have had a long relationship, when we depend on that administration to assist us with the Kennedy-McCain Bill.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  We would be insulting torturers. Does the Senator not think they should be insulted and investigated?

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  The Senator should give Senator Dooley a chance to speak instead of trying to shout him down.

Mr. Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  A charge was made here about democracy and the role of local councillors from County Clare and the Shannon region. It would be wrong to suggest that elected representatives from any county would not have a right to make their point. That would be the opposite of democracy.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is the Senator’s electorate.

Mr. Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  That would be a totalitarian approach which I would not accept. As long as I am elected to this House I am prepared to listen to anybody from any quarter who has a role in electing me. It will be a sad day for democracy if somebody in this House suggests that his or her view is paramount.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  On several occasions Senators have mentioned mobile phone charges. I welcome the all-Ireland standard charges made by a mobile phone company. It is a step in the right direction. Not all companies, however, have introduced standard charges. One company has gone so far as to erect a sign in Dundalk bearing the message “welcome to Ireland”. A strong attitude change may be needed there.

I agree with those Senators who do not wish to form a select committee on the rendition flights. The United States is a friendly nation. Contrary to what an Opposition Senator has said, it is not a criminal regime. It may not be the regime he wants to see elected but it is not criminal.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is a regime that consistently breaks international laws, therefore it is criminal.

[1368]Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Finucane the acting leader of the Fine Gael group raised the issue of nursing home charges. We have made a telephone call to the Tánaiste’s office. The legislation is being drafted and will be published before the summer. That is the situation so there is no point saying it is not coming. It is.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It was announced for May 2005.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I wanted to say that because people will continue to say it is not coming but in fact it is.

The Senator also raised the larger issue that the computation of those owed money should be done in-house, in the Health Service Executive, so to speak. Senator O’Toole, however, correctly raised the issue of a strong move, involving I understand 90 cases submitted by one solicitor — I will not mention any political lineage — regarding exemplary charges. Civil servants could not decide on exemplary charges. I would be totally against such charges. People are due the money that is owed to them.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  On a point of order, I never suggested that. Somebody else introduced that point.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I said Senator O’Toole raised the point.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Leader misinterpreted me.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Finucane was not mentioned in that context. The Leader should continue without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I said Senator O’Toole raised the matter and I am responding in a joint manner to the points raised.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  If we were to allow Senators clarify every point made, we would be here until tomorrow.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Exactly. This point raises another grave issue which I do not impute to Senator Finucane. He mentioned nursing home charges. The other grave issue is “ambulance chasing” which is completely incorrect. The Tánaiste said that people owed money will receive their money but the Government refutes exemplary charges. To ask civil servants to engage in a forensic examination of that type——

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I never asked for such an examination.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am saying that is why they could not do it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Finucane is making a shambles out of the Order of Business.

[1369]Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  What I said is being twisted. I am being misquoted and I am sick of it. I referred to a factual situation. Senator Minihan raised this matter.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  Senator Finucane was quick enough to blame me for defending the Tánaiste and the Government. He was quick to throw it in that way and misrepresent what I was defending.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I know Senator Minihan came in riding shotgun for the Tánaiste.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  Senator Finucane misrepresented what I intended. He introduced the issue.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  Senator Minihan is on a sinking ship.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  Senator Finucane could not take the point when he was at the receiving end.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I listened to Senator Minihan with great patience.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I appeal to Senators to respect the decorum of the Seanad. It is most important to respect ourselves and this House of Parliament. I invite the Leader to reply without interruptions.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Norris raised the matter of the establishment of a select committee. I wish to be perfectly accurate about this matter. It was raised here on the Order of Business before Christmas. I said it would be a good idea to look at the matter and asked the leaders of the groups to meet me in the ante-room which they did. Senators Bradford, Norris, Ryan — whom I could not contact this week, not that I looked to contact him but I was looking out for him — Minihan and myself met and consulted with one of the clerks to the Seanad. We read our comhrún to find out how to set about setting up a committee.

There would be no committee until it would appear on the yellow Order Paper and be voted in or out. In fact, there is no committee. There is a procedure for dealing with that eventuality, namely, a proposal to set up a committee is put on the Order Paper, which the House reviews and on which it decides in the affirmative or negative.

Those running around saying a committee has been set up should be aware there is no committee. There was an informal grouping of leaders of groups, which met several times. Christmas intervened after which we met again and worked with the Parliamentary Counsel to draw up careful and proper terms of reference. It would then follow that the proposal would appear on the yellow Order Paper and there would be a vote on same. I wish to be clear because there is already enough misapprehension about this matter. I have found in political life it is better to tell the truth and be straightforward. One is never caught out then [1370]because the truth is easily remembered. Those who cannot remember — well, anyway.

On Wednesday afternoon I spoke individually to Senators Norris, Bradford and Minihan instead of waiting for them to hear it from somebody else. We hold a parliamentary party meeting of Fianna Fáil Senators before the House sits. I am sure all the groups do the same. At that meeting, before lunch last Wednesday, it was brought to my attention that there was considerable disquiet among our group of Senators on this matter. True democracy allows for everybody to be entitled to their own thoughts, to their disquiet and to make a case.

In this instance I quickly ascertained there would be significant opposition to the matter appearing on the Order Paper and many would vote against it. I took a pragmatic rather than a principled decision because I can count numbers as well as anyone else and I knew well that it would be defeated. This was a pragmatic decision; I was not happy but I recognise the force of numbers and the numbers were clearly against it.

Those Senators who expressed that view to me did so in good faith and the meeting concluded in a most harmonious and amicable way because I did not delay in clearing the air about the matter. This is not to say that other Members cannot table a motion on the Order Paper, putting forward the terms as legally constructed and advised by the legal adviser.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Will the Leader allow a free vote?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Allow Senator O’Rourke to speak without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The matter can appear on the Order Paper and it would then be a matter for a vote. A European investigation is under way by both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. However, the investigation by the Council of Europe, chaired by Senator Dick Marty of Switzerland, seems to be the more pivotal one. I had hoped this House could contribute to that investigation and put forward Ireland’s point of view.

I also wish to scotch another perception. The Taoiseach did not intervene in this matter.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I did not say he did.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I know the Senator did not say that but I wish to put it on the record of the House. I telephoned the Taoiseach before Christmas and again last weekend and he returned my call. We have quite a good telephone relationship. I wish to state clearly that he did not put any pressure or onus upon me to desist from my point of view. It is important to set the record straight on that matter. I acted in a pragmatic way — I am nothing if not pragmatic.

I am aware of the long-held views of Senators Mooney and Dooley on the matter. Morality and [1371]jobs should not be linked. I understand the warm relationship between Ireland and the United States. I have my own views on the matter but that is another day’s work. I responded to the pressure of numbers. I spoke privately to each of the three Senators.

A motion has been proposed by Senators Norris and Bradford. The pictures from Abu Ghraib shown on television last night and this morning were awful. There is a lot I could say and I will do so when the House has a debate on Iraq. It is not possible to have a debate on Iraq today. It is not possible to pluck a Minister from wherever he or she is and haul them in here. The Senators are entitled to table a motion and have a vote but I am equally entitled to explain to the House that I cannot fish out a Minister and bring him or her in here.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  We do not need a Minister for a discussion on the terms of reference.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Tuffy raised the matter of the Bill which is deemed unconstitutional. I remind the House that Ministers take legal advice before drafting a Bill. I agree with the Senator that elderly people should not be forced to sell their homes. Their circumstances may change and people may become well again and will need a roof over their heads. There is something very chilling in this proposal and I agree the House should debate the issue.

Senator Tuffy referred to cocaine being found in the vicinity of Leinster House. I did not know that and I am keen to find out more about it. The Senator may have more information. She also referred to the drugs strategy.

Senator Dardis refuted the allegations that the elderly would be deprived of their rights and he defended the Tánaiste. Senator Bradford seconded Senator Norris’s request for a debate on Iraq to be held today. A Minister is not available but the Senator can avail of a mechanism. I agree with him that the truth must come out. I reiterate that we were a very amicable group when we met.

Senator Leyden referred to successive Governments but he had a lot on his head——

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  He had a lot on his chest.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  He asked for a roll-over system to be introduced for the SSIAs. I will try to arrange a debate on the SSIAs.

Senator Quinn asked for a debate on the Prisons Bill. He noted that two out of three prisoners reoffend. He said that if this was the situation in education or health there would be a furore. I will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come back to the House.

Senator Minihan referred to the issue of nursing home charges, which gave rise to debate here. [1372]He said that a particular party was peddling exemplary damages.

Senator Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Transport to debate the proposals for driver testing. He suggests testers could be transferred from other Departments. Senator Mooney referred to Senator Dick Marty and to our relationship with the United States.

Senator O’Toole asked for a debate on the nursing home charges and the action for exemplary damages. He does not agree with the proposal that civil servants should deal with the issue of exemplary damages. Senator Ó Murchú stated he admired the Tánaiste’s courage in taking on the health portfolio and that the patient is the most important person in this debate.

Senator Coghlan asked for a debate on the Great Southern Hotels which I am trying to facilitate. I am pleased the major infrastructure Bill will appear on the Order Paper of this House. It will be a very interesting debate because there are strong arguments on both sides. It will be on the Order Paper in March.

Senator Glynn is the Government spokesperson on health. He lauded the work of the Tánaiste and raised the matter of gardaí travelling to discos. I did not know they are doing so but I suppose it is a good idea.

Senator Bannon is of the opinion that the Tánaiste has let us down. He raised the matter of tourism in rural areas. Senator Dooley spoke about rendition. I agree with his point that the county councillors have a right to come here because they are elected public representatives. People often bring in groups of graduates. I have seen Senator Ross on occasions accompanied by a group of graduates.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Senator does not see me. Senator Ross is meals on wheels, not me.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  My point is that Senator Norris is entitled to talk to his electorate.

Senator Hanafin welcomed the reduction in mobile phone charges but stated that one firm did not oblige. He reminded the House that the United States is a friendly nation.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Norris has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: “That statements on the proposal to establish a select committee on the use of Irish airports be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed?

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  In light of the Leader’s reply, I accept that the Taoiseach was very pleasant and sweet as a nut on the telephone. Let us remember, however, what his boss said about him one time.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Is the amendment being pressed?

[1373]Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  He said he was the most devious and cunning of the lot. If he wanted to do it, he would use that lot over there. He would not say it on the telephone.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We are not discussing the Taoiseach. Is the amendment being pressed?

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Absolutely.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Right.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hold on.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That is grand. The Senator is pressing the amendment.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I am sorry but you misinterpreted me, a Chathaoirligh.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Order, please. Is Senator Norris pressing the amendment?

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I am not pressing the amendment.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I am very glad.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I am taking up the Leader’s suggestion instead. I will put it on the Order Paper and will let the House vote on it next week.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  On a point of order, I propose that the question be now put.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order of Business agreed to.


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