Wednesday, 1 March 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, statements on the national drugs strategy, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes; the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 26, motion 24, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: I am sure the Leader will agree we all have the responsibility to condemn outright the riots on the streets of Dublin last Saturday. We all have the responsibility to support the Garda in its difficult task of ensuring public safety on our streets.
That is the easy bit. It is harder to understand why so many people in this country still believe the demonstrators from Northern Ireland have no right to march on our streets. We should look at a worthwhile proposal which I ask the Leader to consider with her Government colleagues. There is a need for a public inquiry into the events which took place last Saturday, not merely in terms of whether the Garda had the manpower required or whether the intelligence was of a particular variety. We need to consider why so many people believe those demonstrators had no right to march last Saturday and why a new, virulent neo-nationalism has taken hold in this country, particularly among young people, which believes that — in the words of DP Moran in the 1880s — Ireland is just for the Irish. We need to inquire into this matter because in post-Agreement Ireland, parity of esteem must exist not just in Northern Ireland but on the streets of Dublin too. I am concerned that the image portrayed on Dublin streets last Saturday is one which will help to harden hearts and minds in Northern Ireland.
There was a lack of political leadership on this issue last week from all political parties. When politicians were asked whether they believed this march should take place, most of them said “no comment”. If we are really honest we should inquire into the circumstances behind this and ask why this new, virulent neo-nationalism has taken hold among some sections of our society. I ask for a public inquiry.
Can the Leader say when we are likely to have a debate on the very fine report which Judge Harding Clark issued yesterday concerning the practices of Dr. Neary, a consultant in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda? For 24 years, women were violated as a result of this gynaecologist’s practices. The House must examine the judge’s report and its recommendations. It is important to ask whether we have other such examples. The Coombe Women’s Hospital has on its website all information and details on procedures of pregnancy and birth. Is that the case in every other maternity hospital?
It is necessary to debate this issue and for the State to respond to the plight of these women. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children will meet the Patient Focus group today, which I welcome. However, there was a slowness on the part of the State to recognise the scale of this problem. In 1998 it was brought to the attention of the Department of Health and Children and the North Eastern Health Board. It took years before the full gravity of the situation in Drogheda was realised. We must learn lessons from this and I ask for a debate to take place in the near future.
Mr. O’Toole: I also would like a debate on last Saturday’s disturbances. I hesitate to ask for it because it would simply consist of asking how many gardaí were there, what was the intelligence beforehand, and whether the Minister should take responsibility. The issue is simple. It is absolutely frightening that a large number of people in this country believe that the march should not have been allowed to take place and fail to grasp the importance of free speech and protest in a democracy. That is more valuable to us, as democrats, than anything else. We must also reflect on our failure as educators to inculcate tolerance in a generation of people. We, as politicians, must also focus on our failure to deliver the acceptance of difference as a national norm of democracy. I would like to discuss these issues in the House.
We should forget about the events and focus on the mindset that gave us last Saturday. Why is it there and whose failure is it? We must all take responsibility. During last week, I stated to people that the marchers were likely to be applauded as they walked down O’Connell Street, and that people would take no notice as they went about their shopping. I was completely taken aback and it shows how out of touch I must be with views held by people. I would like to discuss this issue because we have clearly disgraced ourselves again. We must examine it.
I will make a plea which people have heard me make before. I ask the Leader, on behalf of this House, to write to media outlets, particularly RTE, and ask them not to besmirch the definition of “republicans” by using the word to describing these intolerant thugs. Whatever else they are, they do not subscribe to the view that Catholics, Protestants and dissenters should share the same space. Perhaps we ask that they be described as “neo-nationalists”. That is what they are. There is not an ounce of republicanism left in these people and it matters little that they describe themselves as such. They are not republicans and it cannot be accepted that they should describe themselves as such. They must be ostracised from that tent immediately.
Mr. Ryan: It is imperative that we have a serious and long debate on the report on the activities of Dr. Neary. The report and what happened raise profound issues about the way we do business in Ireland. We have a deferential view of authority which means that nobody must question. The report makes clear that people noticed but they did not feel they had the right, authority or support to challenge it. A midwife began the process of questioning.
This issue involves such peculiarities as a formal complaint to the Medical Council being lost. I thought such complaints were dealt with in a proper, orderly fashion because of their importance. I would like to have a serious debate on the broad issues involved.
What happened last Saturday was an appalling disgrace. I will not apologise on my own behalf or on behalf of the Irish people for it, other than to state I am sorry we have such people among us. They are not the Irish people. I am no longer prepared to tolerate the kind of nonsense written by a journalist in The Irish Times today. That journalist wrote that for people on the left wing like me to call this a manifestation of drunken bowseyism and not to make excuses for the protesters on the grounds of their alienation from Irish society is to betray the left. I am not betraying the left. I would betray left wing values if I defended a collection of drunken bowsies who poured out of the O’Connell Street pubs and latched onto an issue which was encouraged by their own sectarianism. Their bigotry would just as easily have been directed against immigrants, gays, lesbians or any of a number of categories as the people who wanted to march on Saturday.
I wish to point out a fundamental of republicanism. What happened last week is not alone in what we should not allow to be attached to the word “republican”. Anybody who shot or killed an Irish Protestant who did not agree with him or her is not fit to be called a republican. This did not begin last Saturday, although it was an ugly, unpleasant manifestation. The concept of shooting or killing somebody because he or she would not let one get what one wanted is anathema to any form of Irish republicanism. The central issue is the appalling behaviour of what I would describe as drunken bowsies, but I would not give them a political title. They were drunk, they were bowsies, they found an issue and they started a row.
I believed there was a possibility that some people would try to disrupt that march and I am astonished that nobody in our security services had a back-up plan to deal with it. I am still horrified at the sight of inadequately prepared members of the Garda Síochána in the front line without proper equipment and support being assaulted and it taking so long to provide the response to which they were entitled. One issue in this debate is the sort of society that produces that sort of drunken behaviour. Another issue is how we failed to anticipate what might happen and to have the backup to do something about it. I would like us to debate the issues.
Mr. Minihan: I join with previous speakers in condemning what occurred on O’Connell Street last Saturday and support the position and courage displayed by members of the Garda Síochána in the situation in which they found themselves. Senator Brian Hayes said there should be a public inquiry. I do not agree. He may mean we need a public debate. I am not sure a public inquiry would get the results we need. I concur with him that, regardless of the outcome, the views held in this country must be debated in public and at length. I hope this House will show leadership on that issue.
Thuggery was displayed and Senator Ryan referred correctly to drunken bowsies. Hopefully those people will be identified and brought before the courts. Even more worrying are the string-pullers who orchestrated and gathered those drunken bowsies. On RTE Radio 1 recently an e-mail was read from a school teacher who said students under the age of 18 were canvassed outside as they left school early last week to come to O’Connell Street on Saturday where a fight was guaranteed. We must get to the mobile phone, string-pulling brigade behind these drunken bowsies who will join a riot regardless of the issue. I hope that a Garda investigation will uncover some of these people.
I support the Garda’s soft-handed approach to the parade. The Minister has made it clear that we could have had a ring of steel around O’Connell Street blocking it off and closing businesses. If that had been done we would complain about the extra costs incurred to marshal a peaceful parade. An operational decision was made by the Garda. It did not work out and matters got out of hand. However, we should not dump on the Garda Síochána over the decision that was made. It needs to be supported.
The key message that must emerge from this is that we must learn, as a society, that understated resentments are still being tolerated and public debate is needed to uncover that. Equally, we must support the organs that police the State and show total commitment to the Garda Síochána for the level of commitment it displayed last Saturday.
Mr. Bannon: I, too, join with others in condemning the thuggery that took place on O’Connell Street last weekend. There is a lesson to be learned, namely, that the Garda needs adequate resources to deal with incidents such as this. The force is inadequately resourced at the moment. That is evident from talking to gardaí not alone in the capital but also in rural parts of Ireland. Right across the country elderly people are living alone or in isolated areas and they cannot sleep at night because they are afraid of intruders. This is something about which complaints are made to us, as politicians, on a regular basis. Criminals are running amok in our country. A major problem in the midlands, and indeed in the rest of Ireland, too, is that there is a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has no regard for rural communities. As the Leader knows, the Minister has been invited to the midlands several times to address this whole issue. In the Longford-Westmeath division alone there has been a 5% reduction in gardaí since this Administration took office more than nine years ago. Despite the increases in the local population and in the crime rates——
Mr. J. Walsh: I want to congratulate the gardaí on the restraint they showed. We can be proud as a State that they showed such restraint in what was an extremely dangerous situation for them. Unfortunately, the opportunity to embrace the moment for all peoples on this island to be able to protest peacefully was lost. The propaganda advantage was given to those who probably have equally extreme views, on the other side of the political divide. There are lessons to be learned and I hope the House will have the opportunity, with the Minister attending here, to debate the issue with him.
I support the call for a debate into the report by Judge Maureen Harding Clark into the episodes that occurred at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. The victims experienced harrowing treatment. This must be seen as a public service failure. In that regard, it is essential that the appropriate checks and balances are in place throughout all areas of public services to ensure that situations such as this, whether due to malfunction or whatever, can be detected and rectified. I hope the necessary management evaluation systems will be put in place. This matter is of recent origin. Many of the other matters we deal with in this House are, perhaps, more historic in nature.
One issue which struck me was the extensive number of missing files, which put the victims involved at a very serious disadvantage. I welcome the statement from the Minister for Health and Children intimating that the Government will, hopefully, take steps to address that issue. In other situations, again, where investigations were carried out, the number of files missing on a selective basis is astonishing and highly worrying.
Mr. J. Walsh: It would be timely to do so as the debate on the Bill is coming to a fairly critical stage. As many Senators have said on a number of occasions, many Irish people are seriously disadvantaged by the current US immigration policy. If an all-party motion were to come before the House the Leader could bring it to the attention of people in the appropriate place in the US in order for us to lend our voice in support of the momentum that is behind that Bill.
Dr. Henry: The report launched yesterday on the inquiry by Judge Harding Clark was not into the medical practices of one man, it was an inquiry into medical practice in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, over a 25-year period. We should have a debate on this as soon as possible because, unfortunately, the ethos of the hospital contributed significantly to what happened there. We need to look at what happened in the past but we also need to address the fact that there are public hospitals in this country where the hospital’s ethos comes before the ethos of the woman and her consultant, even though that practice may be perfectly legal in this State and the woman may be in a hospital which was not of her choosing. I urge the Leader to arrange to have this debate as soon as possible because this issue is extremely serious for Irish women today, not just the practice of one man over 25 years in one hospital.
Mr. Leyden: It would be appropriate for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House. I understand he is due to make a statement in regard to the riots in Dublin last Saturday. I commend the restraint shown by the leaders of the main political parties in their approach to this issue and in their approach to the Minister who has a very difficult task.
Mr. Leyden: They showed great restraint in the face of thuggishness and vicious attack. When one sees a wheelbarrow being thrown at a member of the Garda Síochána — we should bear in mind the Reclaim the Streets——
Mr. Leyden: I appreciate that. In the Reclaim the Streets debate in 2002, the gardaí were severely criticised for taking strong and rightful action against thugs at that time. The same applied in 2004. I have looked at the records over that period and it is clear that the Garda did not get much praise——
Ms O’Meara: I would very much welcome a debate on the events of last Saturday. We have all been shocked by the revelation of a strain of sectarianism, hooliganism and racism that was evident in last Saturday’s events. As other speakers have said, we need to deal with what has been revealed in the events that took place on O’Connell Street last weekend.
Ms O’Meara: ——and that they would be exposed for whatever reason, be it irresponsible management on the day, the allocation of insufficient resources or because a particular decision was made on how to manage the event.
It would be acceptable to use a cordon if it was required to protect our democracy and to make a very strong statement that we will protect the right of everyone, regardless of their views, to peacefully walk the route from O’Connell Street to the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is the core issue.
I would also welcome an early debate on the report of Judge Maureen Harding Clark into medical practices at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. As Senator Henry noted, the report examined what took place at this hospital over a period of years and the hospital’s ethos rather than the activities of just one consultant. We are all thoroughly shocked at what took place. I thank Judge Harding Clark for her thorough, clear and high quality work on our behalf. Certain questions must be asked about how women are treated in maternity hospitals in this country.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: We all agree that what took place last Saturday, which has been condemned by all right thinking people, was outrageous. The question has been asked as to whether the group from Northern Ireland should have been allowed to parade in O’Connell Street. The decision to allow the group to march down O’Connell Street was correct, particularly since it came down here to highlight and remember the victims of the war in the North. For this reason, the group should have been shown respect.
However, there is a danger that we can overstate the case and in doing so, implicate this country. I listened to the views of visitors to Dublin who took part in a vox pop and not one of them blamed the Irish people for the trouble that occurred. None of them said that they would not return to Ireland and they all agreed that the trouble was the work of a minority. It was not right for some people to look for scapegoats in the first 24 hours after the riots. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was the first to be scapegoated, followed by the Garda Síochána and republicans. This scapegoating serves no purpose.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: The Garda Síochána has emerged from this affair in a way that will do much good in the long term. This is not solely due to the restraint demonstrated by the force but also to the compassion it showed those caught up in the riots. The gardaí put the safety of these people before their own.
Mr. Bradford: I welcome the opportunity to have an in-depth discussion following the events of last Saturday. Approximately eight years ago, the people on both sides of the Border gave their support to the Good Friday Agreement. The concept of tolerance and acceptance of alternative points of view is at the core of the Agreement. Sadly, the test of tolerance failed on the streets of our capital city last Saturday. We must reflect deeply on the matter. I agree with Senator O’Toole that we must also reflect deeply on the intolerance and sectarianism which, unfortunately, are at the core of the beliefs of too many people on this island.
We must also reflect on the language of politics. We speak of reclaiming the streets but we must reclaim the language of politics. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats are all republican parties. A group such as Republican Sinn Féin is certainly not a republican party. It is a neo-nationalist Nazi party.
Mr. Bradford: I hope the points will be made. If there is to be tolerance, acceptance and understanding on the island, we must challenge the extremists. Senator Ryan referred to drunken bowsies, which was part of the problem. However, we must consider who conducted the mayhem and vandalism, because they were not drunken bowsies. They were professional agitators.
Mr. Bradford: I look forward to an early debate because there are serious issues which need to be addressed. We have taken for granted and ignored these issues because we have been in a comfort zone for too long.
Dr. M. Hayes: I did not think I would ever find myself being an apologist for the Orange Order. However, it is unfair to tar all its members with the one brush. It is an organisation which includes many different members, some of whom are trying to open up and some of whom are trying to strengthen that aspect of their culture which is conservative rather than aggressive. We should recognise that aspect.
I support and commend gardaí on what they did both in regard to pre-planning and in the execution of their duties on Saturday. There should be two debates, one on how gardaí deal with street demonstrations and the possibility of trouble and the other, which is a deeper question, on how society deals with multiculturalism and tolerance. Perhaps we could link the issue with other matters, including celebrating 1916 and asking ourselves how the aspirations and values of the proclamation can be expressed in a modern, multicultural Ireland. These are two separate issues. I agree with Senator Minihan that it would be better to deal with the issue in that way than by a public inquiry.
I support Senator Henry and others in asking for a broader debate on the report into what happened at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. We must debate the choices people have and the ethos with which they will be treated in public hospitals.
Mr. Higgins: I join with the other speakers in supporting the call for a long debate on what happened on Saturday. I commend Senator Maurice Hayes, in particular. When people were going in different directions because of the short timespan, he wrote an excellent article on his analysis of what happened and where we should be going. He will make a valuable input to the debate in this House.
On the issue of decentralisation, figures published at the weekend show conclusively that this proposal is dead and buried. It was supposed to happen in 2007. It was a fait accompli that 10,000 civil servants would be transferred to the regions. It is obvious that the uptake is so negligible that we can either erect the tombstone or try to revitalise and regenerate the programme. I want to see the programme go ahead but it is obvious this will not happen. It was a botched, “back of the brown envelope” job which was not properly conceived. There was no dialogue on the issue and we need to have a debate on it.
Mr. Higgins: Two weeks ago in the other House, the Fine Gael leader, Deputy Kenny, raised with the Taoiseach the possibility of an agreement between all parties to my relinquishing my Seanad seat in order to give it to a representative of the Irish emigrant community. These are a forgotten people, the Irish diaspora, to whom we pay an amount of lip service.
Mr. Higgins: The Taoiseach’s reply was civilised and generous. Last week, the same issue was raised by the Fine Gael leader in this House, Deputy Brian Hayes. In contrast, the reaction from the Leader of the House was far from generous. She was very ungracious and feline in what she said. She spoke about me getting a wadge of money and not being here. First, I am here when I can be. When I am here, I have something to say, which is worth listening to. Second, in regard to getting a wadge of money, this is the wadge of money I want to give up. Third, her comments were a little churlish coming from someone who has approximately four incomes between pensions, etc.
Mr. Higgins: I am never afraid to put my head above the parapet when I speak in this House and, unlike certain people, to take stands on contentious issues such as rendition. Some Members have been a disgrace in this regard. They are cowardly.
Mr. Kenneally: I concur with other speakers who called for a debate on what happened on the streets of our capital city last Saturday. I agree there is a certain cohort among our community which was opposed to this parade because of those who would march in it. For once, however, I find myself in agreement with Senator Ryan that it did not matter to most of the rioters who was marching; the parade was merely an excuse for sheer thuggery by an out-of-control mob.
However, we must also look to the reasons for this event. It is a more violent manifestation of what is already happening in our society. Such violence and anti-social behaviour is happening to a lesser degree in every town and city and it is something we can no longer tolerate. It may be the case that there are insufficient deterrents. My learned friends who deal with such behaviour in the courts are not applying the rigours of the law. We must introduce more cases of mandatory sentencing so that effective deterrents are in place to finally bring an end to this type of thuggery and yobbishness.
Mr. Coonan: I support the call for a debate on the events of last Saturday and add my commendation on the restraint and courage shown by the Garda in the face of thugs. Some Members of both Houses have been critical of the training gardaí receive in the Garda College in Templemore. They may change their minds following Saturday’s events. Gardaí demonstrated in those circumstances the high level of effective training they received in Templemore.
Mr. Coonan: I add my voice to the call for a debate on the report by Judge Harding Clark which reveals a horrific practice that took place for several years. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to immediately establish a forum where patients with legitimate complaints can be heard. Consultants and psychiatrists who were struck off elsewhere have been appointed in this State. As a member of the Mid-Western Health Board, I was aware of complaints regarding the abuse of psychiatric patients by a consultant who had been struck off in another country. It was like banging one’s head against a stone wall to have those complaints listened to and investigated. This is unsatisfactory and it continues to happen.
Mr. Coonan: Yes. I also call on the Minister to put in place an effective procedure that allows people to make legitimate complaints without being made to feel they are the aggressors rather than the victims.
Ms Feeney: I support other Senators in calling for a debate on what happened on the streets of Dublin last Saturday. I congratulate the members of the Garda Síochána for their wonderful conduct under the circumstances. When one looks at the television coverage and sees the behaviour of the young gardaí, male and female, one must be so proud of how they kept the situation under control and brought matters to an end within a short time. I agree with Senator Bradford that whoever were the rioters, they acted under no republican banner. No political party would claim them as republicans; there were no republicans on O’Connell Street last Saturday.
I congratulate Judge Maureen Harding Clark on her report. I have only glanced through it but I sat on the Medical Council that heard the inquiry into Dr. Michael Neary. For three years I listened to the harrowing and heartbreaking stories of the women affected. I have another point to make in this regard.
Ms Feeney: The Leas-Chathaoirleach allowed other Members to speak at length and I wish to make this brief point. One must imagine a situation where a person who underwent a hip operation wakes up in hospital to find his or her leg has been amputated. Such a situation might arise once or twice. If it were to happen a third time, we can be sure every man, woman and child would shout “Stop”. The women patients at our Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda had nobody to shout “Stop” on their behalf. When this issue is debated, we must ask why the senior clinicians, those of the same seniority as Dr. Neary, did not shout “Stop”. Why did the anaesthetist and pathologist who were involved in each of these cases not put up their hands?
Mr. Quinn: I make no apologies for returning to the subject of Sellafield. The British Government this week announced its intention to privatise the nuclear plant at Sellafield. While we have been in discussions with the British authorities about closing it down, the reality is it may soon be outside the direct control of the British Government. This debate is urgently required and it should happen immediately.
Ms Ormonde: I support the call for a debate on the awful disturbances that took place on Saturday. I ask the Leader for a wide-ranging debate so that all Members can express their views. The youngsters of 16 and 17 years of age who took part in these disturbances are drop-outs from society. We must ask why such behaviour arises given the success of our economy. Why does our quality of life seem to be deteriorating in some respects? The debate must be wider than the events of Saturday because there are frightening implications for the future of society.
In regard to the medical activities of Dr. Neary in Drogheda, we must ask why such an authoritarian administration was in place for such a long time. I would like to dwell on that aspect when the debate takes place.
Mr. Coghlan: In the absence of water cannon and other armoury, the Garda did well on Saturday. We would not, however, wish such events to recur. I add my voice to the call for a debate when I will discuss the other points I wish to make on this issue.
It is some weeks since we spoke about the plight of the Great Southern Hotels but there is still an absence of clarity. The Leader was disposed towards a debate on this issue and I earnestly call again for it to take place. The hotels are a long time in State ownership and many jobs are at risk. The Minister must come to this House to debate the matter.
We are all concerned at the plight of those living in the beautiful Black Valley in Kerry. The Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources visited the area, gained an understanding of the issue and reached unanimity on the way forward. Last week, however, the Minister declined the paltry €10,000 for the feasibility study required to decide on the best system. This was a pilot case which would solve the matter for all the other communities throughout the State facing similar difficulties.
Mr. Glynn: I add my voice to those who called for a debate on the events of last Saturday. Those who perpetrated the violence were not republicans but thugs who are the dregs of society. It was a missed opportunity because no republican worthy of the title would miss a chance to build bridges over troubled waters. These people, however, were intent on burning bridges. The gardaí did a fantastic job and I agree with Senator Minihan who said if they had done otherwise, some would have said it was a waste of resources and they would have been accused of killing a midge with a sledge.
In regard to Judge Harding Clark’s report, as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I heard a report from Patient Focus some years ago. There is no doubt the revelations on that occasion would have been a worthy script for a horror film. It brings into focus some fundamental questions, including the question of audit of activities, which was referred to by others. Irrespective of his or her position or profession, nobody should be outside the realm of audit, as happened with regard to the individual concerned in this case.
If people had been doing their job, this would not have happened. In my capacity as chairman of the former Midland Health Board for two years, I was consulted by the chief executive officer under the 1970 Act on his decision to suspend three colleagues, which he was obliged to do. I willingly told him to do what was correct. There can be no hiding place for people who perform as this individual did.
Mr. U. Burke: I hope the Leader will convey to the Garda authorities the sentiments expressed in this House and indicate that we acknowledge their professionalism in the way they dealt with the severe provocation they faced last Saturday.
I very much welcome yesterday’s High Court decision in regard to a challenge brought by a UCD student to the back to education allowance. Many people were cruelly and callously denied that allowance by the previous Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan. I hope the Minister will not appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.
Mr. U. Burke: We had a debate on the issue some time ago. We fought for the very decision the High Court made yesterday. Will the Leader contact the Minister for Education and Science immediately on this issue and ask her not to appeal the decision? Those who wish to continue with their postgraduate studies should not have to go to the courts to establish their entitlements. We talk about poverty and anybody who heard the person who was successful yesterday on television and radio would clearly understand the position in which he and many others found themselves in the past year.
Mr. Mooney: I was reminded of a comment made by Miriam Lord in her excellent analysis of last weekend. Senator Minihan referred to string pullers with their mobile phones which indicates there was an orchestrated, focused attack rather than something involving a yobbish, random element. When they decided to relocate from O’Connell Street to Leinster House, the quote from one of these young thugs was “The Leinster House, where is that?” It shows it is not enough to say we need to educate people. Perhaps we are, to some degree, talking in a vacuum.
I echo what Senator O’Toole said and I support the call for a deeper debate on this issue, although not necessarily an inquiry. We should have more than just statements because democracy is a fragile flower and we were lulled into a false feeling of security in the post-Agreement era, about which Senator Brian Hayes spoke. Senator O’Toole speaks for me and I am sure for many other Irish people in that we did not think there would be any difficulty about people with a particular point of view marching down the main street of Dublin.
For some considerable time, a parallel universe has been in operation in this society where people do not recognise the legitimacy of the State and the right of the Garda Síochána to speak for us and who believe their army is the legitimate army of this country. I make no apologies for saying it is a wake up call for democracy and that what went on last Saturday may not be an isolated incident. In a sense, it did not surprise me because anybody who has gone to Lansdowne Road in the past few years will have seen people wearing the jersey of a particular football club. Given the number of sectarian comments spat out by these people at somebody who might have at some time played for the opposing club, one should not have been too surprised to see the same element on O’Connell Street last Saturday. It is all bound up in the attitude that perhaps we have been silent for too long in tolerating naked sectarianism in our society. Perhaps it is time we, as politicians, took a stand on this issue.
While I fully understand Senator Higgins’s noble aspirations in regard to Irish emigrants, I do not share his view because the diaspora is diverse and complex. Who would represent the diaspora if he stood down? Perhaps we should look into our own hearts and acknowledge that politicians in both Houses should address the long-standing neglect of the issues raised by the diaspora. We, in this elected Chamber, should address those issues rather than pay lip-service to appointing an individual who may or may not represent the diaspora.
Mr. J. Phelan: I agree with the point made by my colleague, Senator Ulick Burke, about the back to education allowance and yesterday’s High Court decision. The Minister for Education and Science should come into the House to debate where we go from here. I will not repeat all that was said.
I join colleagues in expressing disgust at what happened on the streets of Dublin last weekend. I was a bit taken aback by comments I heard from some Senators. I do not believe all the supporters of a particular soccer club are sectarian just because they wear its jersey. I am a supporter of the club in question and I have a jersey but I do not believe in throwing stones or protesting against people who want to march down O’Connell Street. I do not agree that the alleged bigotry of the Orange Order should be an excuse for the behaviour of these people last Saturday. They bring disgrace on us. They call themselves republicans and wear the tricolour over their shoulders but they do not know what it means. Surely the essence of republicanism is a tolerance of diversity which they clearly do not have. They should not be referred to as republicans. We should have a debate on this issue.
I agree with colleagues who called for a debate on the report of Judge Harding Clark and the activities which went on for many years in the hospital in Drogheda. We should hold it as soon as possible. There should be recompense for the women whose lives were ruined by the activities in the hospital.
Mr. J. Phelan: That is clear despite how much the Government might protest. The Minister for Finance or the Minister of State at that Department must come to the House to discuss the issue as soon as possible.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the provision of communications infrastructure? I refer in particular to the seemingly imminent sale of Eircom by Valencia to an Australian consortium which seems intent on further downgrading our communications network. It would be useful if the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources could come to the House. Last week representatives of the Australian consortium said they had called on the Minister as a matter of courtesy before going any further with this proposed venture. We should request the Minister to come to the House to hear his views on the future of our communications infrastructure.
Mr. Dooley: There has been considerable discussion here today on the Irish diaspora. We could do something positive and support Senator Jim Walsh’s call for a debate on the Kennedy-McCain Bill. It would be particularly opportune in light of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebrations when many Irish politicians will travel to the United States and have an opportunity to meet their counterparts.
Considerable debate on that Bill is taking place in the US. There are a number of counter proposals to the Bill and there is little doubt there will be a compromise on it. I am concerned about some of the compromises coming forward. It would be helpful if a resolution from this House were put forward to assist and support the efforts of the politicians who will travel to the United States to put forward that clear message from this House. I recognise that the Leader will have a difficult job in trying to arrange a debate on that Bill between now and the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I ask if that could be done with the agreement of Members on all sides of the House.
Mr. Cummins: I join in calling for a debate in the aftermath of last Saturday’s riot and request that it be extended to include tolerance towards minorities in our society. I compliment the gardaí on their bravery and restraint in defending people and property. It is not the first time they have had to do so against so-called republicans such as we had last week. It was a disgrace.
On my local radio station on Monday there was almost total condemnation of the riot. However, I was appalled that a text was received from a guy who said he was delighted to be there among the thugs throwing stones at gardaí. I hope that text will be forwarded to the Garda authorities for their investigation into the riot. I join Senator Minihan in hoping that all the CCTV footage that is available will be furnished to gardaí and that every one of the culprits will be apprehended and brought to justice.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes condemned the riots last Saturday and supported the gardaí. He spoke of the need for a public inquiry but I believe he meant to say the need for a wider debate on the matter.
Ms O’Rourke: Fair enough. The Minister has agreed to come to the House from 2.20 p.m. to 3.20 p.m. tomorrow. Before Members intervene I point out that he will come here to give an account of what happened in Dublin last Saturday. That will involve the factual matter of his reporting on what happened. He does not have to do that, but we telephoned him on Monday about this matter. He will report to this House on what happened.
As Members spoke, I was aware of the need for a second debate. We will proceed with a debate on the facts of what happened last Saturday between 2.20 p.m. and 3.20 p.m. tomorrow. That debate is not to take from the need for a wider debate which we hope can be presaged——
I agree that those who took part in the riots were not Nationalists or republicans; they were thugs. What happened last Saturday was simple thuggery of the worst kind. From the media coverage of the riots, I saw a relatively young person run away with a big bag of goods — a looter from a shop. What I saw reminded me of a bad manifestation of a Seán O’Casey play.
During all the years I have served in public life, the Neary report on what happened in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is about the worst subject on which we have ever had a debate. The exploitative and condescending way in which women and their wombs were dealt with was extraordinary. A woman looks on her womb as having the potential for fecundity. However, in these cases it was whipped away without a word, only to be mentioned months later almost as an aside. It was indicative of the culture that prevailed at the time between the consultant and the patient, to which Senator Henry referred in a broader context. Clearly, that attitude is not evident now.
I had considerable experience of that some years ago with my dear husband. That condescending attitude was indicative of how consultants treated patients at that time. The attitude was that patients did not need to know information so they were not given it. The attitude was patronising and to the effect that “You should stay back in your bed, Missus”.
It was appalling for women to be treated in that way and quite the worst thing with which we have had to deal. I hope everybody continues to highlight it. It can be very easy for matters such as this — where women have been violated, as a Senator said — to be swept under the carpet. We will have a debate on the matter. We are trying to arrange a debate on the Neary report for next week.
Senator O’Toole rightly spoke about thuggery and the failure of tolerance. There was also a failure to accept difference among people. Those people were not republicans. We cannot say that enough. I do not care what they said they were but they were not republicans of any fashion or hue, not in the meaning of the word.
I agree with Senator Ryan’s comments on the activities of Dr. Neary. He called the people involved in last Saturday’s riot “drunken bowsies”, which is what they were, as they ran out of the pubs. Regardless of what the march was about, they were going to join the fray.
Senator Minihan supported the courage displayed by gardaí, with which I very much agree. He mentioned the CCTV coverage and I understand that footage has been made available to gardaí. Senator Bannon raised the issue of the thuggery in O’Connell Street but called also for a debate on law and order in rural Ireland.
Senator Jim Walsh expressed his support for gardaí. He said he regarded the Neary report as highlighting a failure in the public service. He also raised the case of the missing files. The Senator also called for an all-party motion on the Kennedy-McCain bill, about which we will speak after the Order of Business.
Senator O’Meara called for a debate on last Saturday’s activities and said people have a perfect right to be able to walk down O’Connell Street. She also raised the Neary report. I agree with her praise for Judge Harding Clark. I do not have the report as I do not believe copies of it were put in Members’ pigeon holes. However, from what we read, the judge appears to have produced a matter of fact, sensible report.
Senator Maurice Hayes made the point that there are many shades of orangeism. He also raised the matter of having two debates — one on last Saturday’s events, which is necessary as a matter of reportage and a deeper debate. The Senator supported Senator Henry’s call for a debate on the Neary report.
Senator Higgins praised the comments of Senator Maurice Hayes and spoke about decentralisation. I refute the notion that decentralisation is dead and buried. He said also that he would not relinquish his Seanad seat until he got somebody from the diaspora to take it.
I want to respond to what I regard as a very snide remark by Senator Higgins. He was not here when I stood up in this House and gave a very full report of the rendition issue. I spoke to each member of the committee privately. I said that it was not my wish that it was ending in this manner.
There is much idle comment as to the reason I was not here last Wednesday to vote. I am very clear on these issues. I always vote with my party. I was not here because last October I accepted a public engagement, and the Whip will bear me out. I was fully paired for that matter, despite idle chatter from another corner of the room.
With regard to pensions, I do not have a teacher’s pension. I gave it up voluntarily. I hope every other teacher would do the same. I have a public service pension which I earned. I want to make it clear that I never took money in my life for which I did not work.
Ms O’Rourke: That has always been my ethos and that is the way I will continue to carry out my public duties. I have only ever worked in the public service, first as a teacher, for which I was paid. I am sure the Senator does not object to that. I did not take a pension because I did not think it was right. When I went into public life it followed that I would then take a public service pension, which I do. The idea that I take a wadge of money for nothing is factually untrue. I regret that people take a wallop of money for which they do not work. It is incorrect and unethical. Be that as it may——
Ms O’Rourke: I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. That is exactly what I was doing. I hoped that with his vast European experience Senator Higgins would be able to take some level of argument. It appears he has not been able to do so.
Senator Kenneally said it did not matter who was marching as the rioters were ready to join in anything. Senator Coonan asked for a debate about the events on Saturday. He mentioned the fine training the gardaí receive in Templemore. I am sure that is so. Senator Feeney also called for a debate about what happened on the streets of Dublin. She referred to her experience on the Medical Council during the inquiry into Dr. Neary.
Senator Quinn wants a debate on Sellafield. Senator Ormonde said the disturbances on Saturday were indicative of the need for a wider debate. I think that encapsulates her words. Senator Coghlan wants a debate on the Great Southern Hotels which we will endeavour to have. He also wants a debate on the Black Valley in Kerry.
Senator Glynn wants a debate on the events of last Saturday. He said the republicans, instead of building bridges over troubled waters, are tearing them down. He also mentioned the lack of an activities audit in the context of the report on Dr. Neary.
I took up the case mentioned by Senator Ulick Burke. I read the item in the newspaper today and was also glad the student in question won. Was the Senator talking about the case involving the mature student?
Senator Mooney asked for a longer debate on the events of last Saturday saying they were a wake-up call for democracy. Senator John Paul Phelan expressed disgust at people saying that the Orange Order was discriminatory.
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