Thursday, 6 April 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3. No. 1, the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m.; No. 2, statements on youth affairs, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contribution of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed six minutes. The Minister will be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 3, the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at
3 p.m., and to conclude not later than 4 p.m. There are no amendments to that Bill so if it is possible we will take all Stages.
Mr. B. Hayes: We agree with today’s Order of Business. Will the Leader find out from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources why the Government has decided not to designate the Ryder Cup as an event for free-to-air viewing? The Minister stated three months ago that he would designate it but yesterday he announced that was not possible. I have yet to hear an explanation from him as to why it is not possible.
This is a major international sporting event in this country. It is the second biggest worldwide sporting event in terms of audience numbers. It will showcase this country as no other event can do. Irish golf fans will be very disappointed that the only way they can see this event next September is by buying into the Sky package. Fewer than 20% of Irish homes have Sky so about 80% of people will not be able to see the Ryder Cup. It is utterly wrong that people will not have free viewing access to this major international sporting event, which has brought such pride to this country. One of the great success stories of Irish sport in recent years has been the achievements of golfers such as Paul McGinley, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.
Golf is one of the only sports in this country which has no partitionist view. The Golfing Union of Ireland is a 32-county body. Golf is a sport that brings people together around the country yet the Government has chosen not to designate the Ryder Cup as a free-to-air event. It is the wrong decision and I want to find out why it has been made.
There will understandably be concern about the suspected case of bird flu in Fife in Scotland that we heard about yesterday and about which we will hear more today. There is a responsibility on all politicians and community leaders to show concern about this and to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, but also not to overreact because of our significant poultry industry. We do not want people to stop eating chicken. It is important that the risks to human health are put in perspective. The Government should commence a national campaign today to ensure people are aware of this so we do not see a massive downturn in our poultry industry.
Mr. O’Toole: The initial reaction from a group of people I was with when I heard the news about the Ryder Cup not being transmitted free-to-air was that this would be a great boon for the vintners industry and the publicans of Ireland. In terms of the discussions we have had here on the control of drink and alcohol consumption, this is a boost to alcohol consumption. It is an offshoot of this matter and however it is dealt with we should be aware of this issue even if it costs us money to do it.
I wish to raise an issue which was in the news some weeks ago and which I have researched somewhat in the meantime, namely, the lack of screening for newborn babies for hearing disabilities. Currently we carry out what is called a distraction test to assess children’s hearing when they are about one year old. A nurse clicks his or her fingers and observes if a child reacts. All this identifies is children who are profoundly deaf.
There is a simple and cheap test that involves putting a probe in a day-old baby’s ear for a couple of seconds. This immediately picks up any difficulties which can be followed by a simple treatment of brain stimulation which ensures, for instance, that a child beginning school has almost full language capacity. This is a significant improvement and I ask that we would consider this option. This could avoid a significant amount of hardship on families. It is one of the few measures in the health area which is very inexpensive and it could be provided to every maternity hospital in the country for approximately €3 million or €4 million a year, which is peanuts in terms of the cost of the health budget. The returns would give new life to families and children to protect their children. It is not just a matter of the problem being identified but the treatment being provided to ensure that a child develops properly. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children should come to the House to deal with this issue.
Mr. Ryan: Is trua é go raibh rudaí ráite ag deireadh na díospóireachta aréir faoi Chomhaontas Mhuileann gCearr, agus má tá daoine chomh dáiríre sin faoin nGaolninn, b’fhéidir go bhfoghlaimeoidís í. Bhí an seans céanna acu is a bhí agamsa an Ghaolninn a fhoghlaim, agus níl aon rud eile ag dul leis. Má tá siad dáiríre faoin nGaolninn, is é an chéad rud le déanamh náí a fhoghlaim i gceart.
I asked yesterday for a debate on Aer Lingus and specifically on the business case that has been made. I still have not heard the business case. The Taoiseach announced in the Dáil yesterday the best advice. The Leader knows more about these things than I do. Has she met an international consultancy yet which ever recommended anything other than an IPO for a State commercial agency? Has a consultancy ever recommended that a body should remain in public ownership? The bottom line is that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. In the case of the London underground, for instance, it was concluded that a private body would be 40% more efficient than public ownership. I do not know where they got the figure from. My own view is the reason there is always enthusiasm for privatising State commercial agencies is because the first decision taken after privatisation is that the salaries of the senior executives are doubled, trebled or quadrupled and therefore there is a significant incentive for senior executives always to want their agency privatised.
I wish to hear the business case for privatisation, based on the national strategic needs and Aer Lingus’s capital needs. The case has not been heard and it is extraordinary that we are walking down this road without a proper coherent and defensible business case.
On an unrelated matter, five years ago a report on palliative care was delivered to Government and accepted. The full implementation of the proposals would cost approximately €150 million a year. There is currently a deficit of approximately €100 million. It is a mystery to me why something which is so humanly necessary and also so politically valuable to Government, has been left undone. There is hardly anything in the health area which impacts on more families than the care of the dying. However, a report which was supposed to be fully implemented by now is singularly unimplemented for the sake of €100 million. One of the reasons is that money is being given to the HSE and to the sub-groups to do this but they are not allowed to recruit extra staff because of an embargo on staffing. This is not joined-up thinking. If funding is to be provided for a project, the staff must be employed to provide the service. This makes no sense and it demonstrates that the problems with the health service are not just to do with money, even though that is important, but are to do with the absolute ineptitude of the present Government in particular to deliver. Why would the Government not provide a good palliative care service? The money and resources and the plan are in place; it is simply awaiting implementation. The absence of a proper palliative care service would be a very valuable issue to debate. It is acknowledged by everyone as being a necessary and vital service.
The nation’s heart was broken by the letters in the newspapers from a man describing the conditions under which his wife died. It should not have happened. This is now a rich country. The money is there but there is something wrong in the lack of a political will to deliver. It is time to dispose of whatever issue was in the way. This service could be fully implemented within 12 months if the will was there. The House should ask the Tánaiste to explain the reason it is not being implemented.
Mr. Scanlon: Last week, a Polish national died suddenly in County Sligo. He was 39 years old and died of a heart attack. He had only been in the country since February and had just started work. The person who employed him runs a small business. He contacted the man’s family in Poland, his wife and two children, a ten year old boy and a seven year old girl. They wished to have the remains repatriated. The cost of repatriation is approximately €10,000, a substantial amount of money in this country and it could be two years’ salary in Poland.
I was asked to help in this case and I contacted the Polish Embassy. I was disappointed by the attitude of personnel at the Polish Embassy to this case and this is the norm. It is only through the good work of the community care people of the HSE in Sligo, some Polish friends and the local community who collected the money that the remains were returned to the family. Poland is a very Catholic and caring country but I wish to record my disappointment at the attitude taken by certain staff in that embassy. It was even suggested that the man could be buried in County Sligo which I regard as disgraceful.
Mr. Finucane: I rise to support Senator Brian Hayes with regard to disappointment over the decision not to designate the Ryder Cup competition as free-to-air. The Minister fuelled a certain level of expectation that this would happen when he announced he was to have broad-ranging consultations and raise the matter at European level. The Minister has put forward as the reason that the Attorney General is not satisfied that it satisfies the criteria for designation. Could the Attorney General not have given the benefit of his advice at the start and so avoid the expectation growing that it would happen?
I note a worrying trend. The Heineken Cup has captured the imagination of the Irish people with the successes of the Munster and Leinster teams in recent times and rugby is on the crest of a wave as a result. The next Heineken Cup series beginning in November will be on pay-per-view television. This is very disappointing. We would appear to have got it wrong in 2003 in our designation of these sporting events. I am disappointed with the approach adopted by the Minister which fuelled such expectations.
Irish motorists will need to be familiar with the 31 penalty point offences announced last week. It is disappointing to note that road safety statistics show that 20% of penalty points have been allocated to foreign drivers and will not apply to them because they live outside the jurisdiction. One quarter of all road crashes involve uninsured vehicles. Since 2002, penalty points issued for uninsured vehicles included those 2,000 issued to foreigners. Only 120 Irish motorists have been uninsured. The importance of insurance is well known. The Revenue Commissioners have stated they have no knowledge of the number of foreign cars in the country. If we are trying to put this jigsaw on road safety together, it is about time we grappled with the statistics of up to 600 foreign drivers being issued with penalty points for careless driving.
We are trying to confront the road safety issue. We had better pull this piece of the jigsaw together if we want to be effective. Otherwise, we will experience a constant spiral in the number of road deaths. It is about time we grappled with this issue. Foreign drivers are an expanding cohort of the population. They come from a different driving system with different signage and they would normally drive on the other side of the road. It is time we examined this situation in a more serious way.
Mr. Leyden: Following the Easter recess, will the Leader put down a motion in regard to a recent publication by Forfás on competitiveness, particularly with regard to energy, which is the most serious future challenge? The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources should be invited to the House to explain the present position with regard to the Corrib Shell gas field. Some 60% of our gas energy needs are contained in the Corrib field but it is not being exploited. The people of Roscommon town had to live for years with acrylic nitrate going through the town to the Asahi plant in Ballina, at high risk, because they supported the retention of jobs there. Acrylic nitrate is more dangerous than any natural gas.
I appeal to Statoil, which is selling its plants in Ireland, to continue to honour the Statoil premium club promotion, which ended at the end of January. Millions of points are held but nobody can avail of them. I have contacted Statoil and take this opportunity to state that if the company does not honour the points, I will take the matter to the Competition Authority. The company should honour the premium club promotion.
Dr. Henry: Earlier this week the Union of Students in Ireland and some other student bodies held an information event in Buswells Hotel for Members of the Oireachtas, which I am sure many Members attended. The students told us that the Minister for Education and Science has brought forward her proposals regarding funding for students in third level education. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House soon after the Easter recess so that Members can contribute on her suggestions before they go to Government? It is an important issue. In many countries third level students graduate with enormous debts and I would not like to think that is the direction we would take. I would be grateful if the Leader could organise a debate.
Mr. Glynn: I am in total agreement with Senator Finucane on road safety. I have raised this matter previously, as have other Members. There is an obligation on the vendor of a vehicle, whether a garage, car sales outlet or private individual, to ensure that the purchaser of the vehicle has insurance. Vehicles should not be released until that happens but it is not happening, which is why problems arise.
A spate of purse-taking from shoppers in Dunnes Stores and other outlets took place in Mullingar last Saturday. A neighbour of mine reported the matter to gardaí and was informed it was the fourth complaint they had received and that a group of non-national women was believed to be responsible.
I have stated in the House previously and reiterate that I am not anti-immigrant — I was an immigrant myself. However, gangs are coming to this country from eastern Europe for nothing but the purpose of perpetrating crime. These acts were carried out under the pretence of picking up something that had dropped on the ground, with three or four women involved in all cases. I ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, or whoever is responsible, to ensure that these people, when apprehended, are shown the gate. We welcome non-nationals and those who come to work. I was welcomed across the water but I went to work, not to thieve purses or anything of the kind.
Mr. Bannon: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House to debate the blatant misuse of employment law by some companies in the State, particularly in the construction industry. There have been numerous recent complaints that Irish workers in the construction industry were let go from their jobs and non-Irish workers taken on at much lower rates of pay. This should not happen but it is happening throughout the country.
This type of behaviour is morally wrong and illegal. It is time for the Government to take action. I have had complaints from Irish workers who were told their services were no longer needed but when they checked they found that other workers had been taken on within their companies when they were let go.
We need a debate on this subject, which is of great concern to native Irish workers and is causing much resentment in some parts of the country. This abuse has been ignored by the Government and should be addressed as soon as possible. I do not agree with the undercutting of Irish workers. We do not want resentment to grow. The Leader might arrange for a debate on the issue for as soon as possible after the Easter recess.
Mr. Hanafin: I join the call for a debate on the privatisation of Aer Lingus, particularly in light of the fact that France, which is at the heart of the European social economic model, privatised Air France and retained a key share. When commentators look back at previous privatisations, they should be fair. On the occasion of the Eircom privatisation, investors did not make as much as they had done when Greencore and Irish Life were privatised, or from other equities in general given that private investors in this country have done well. However, the State did extraordinarily well in the case of Eircom. The Minister of the time, Mr. McCreevy, should be commended on putting €5 billion into the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which has doubled in value and is of benefit for all for the future.
I join the call for a debate on road safety and the need for insurance companies to take a lead. Given the vast profits they are making, they might develop a loss leader to ensure that road safety is paramount.
Mr. Quinn: A friend telephoned me last night in great excitement to tell me two swallows had just arrived in his garden for the beginning of the migratory season. It is a reminder that this is the time of bird migration. Therefore, when Senator Brian Hayes spoke of bird flu in Scotland, I was surprised to hear that the dead swan in Scotland was found one week ago, although this was just announced today. We should not be scaremongering about this issue but we should invite the Minister to the House to explain exactly what steps are being taken. A 3 km zone was placed around the town in Scotland this morning to make sure that all traffic in and out was searched. I am not sure that we have made such preparations. A debate would be useful.
With regard to Senator Hanafin’s comment that the National Pensions Reserve Fund has done well in recent times, I noticed in a newspaper today that this does not always happen with regard to pensions. It was announced yesterday that active pension fund managers have been outperformed by pigeons making random pecks on stock lists spread out in Trafalgar Square. I congratulate the National Pensions Reserve Fund. I recently asked the Leader whether we could find time to debate the issue of pensions. It is worthy of consideration in the near future.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Senator O’Toole raised an important issue in regard to hearing impairment, particularly among the young. Given his profession, the Senator will be well aware of the disadvantage at which the young are placed when they have hearing problems. We should acknowledge that hearing deficiency is widespread throughout the community. Often there is a veil of secrecy surrounding a hearing deficiency as if there were some type of stigma involved. We have major debates on various issues from time to time as to why that is the case.
Regarding Senator O’Toole’s point, if there is a procedure to diagnose whether a newborn child has a hearing deficiency, particularly in the early days after birth, and if remedial action can be taken, we cannot measure that benefit in cost terms. Senator O’Toole made the point that such a test is not costly. The incidence of hearing deficiency is a serious problem. Young people are entitled to equality of opportunity but they will not have that if they have a hearing impairment. It is no longer acceptable to use archaic methods to establish whether a young person has a hearing deficiency. I would like us to debate this issue. While this might seem to be a relatively mundane issue, many people would be delighted if we debated it. Such a debate might lift the veil of secrecy which surrounds this issue.
Mr. Cummins: I asked in recent weeks when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would introduce a new gaming and lotteries Bill which has been on the agenda for some time. When is it intended to bring that Bill before the House? I note from today’s newspapers that many of the large bookmakers chains intend to install slot and poker machines in their shops throughout the country, which they estimate would gross them in excess of €50 million in profits per year in the years ahead. It would be a retrograde step to install such machines in bookmakers shops and attempts to do so should be resisted by the Minister responsible.
I also raise the issue of private members’ card clubs that are springing up around the country and which have been expanded into casinos because of a loophole in the law. The Minister responsible stated that he intends to plug that loophole but again it is a case of our hearing words rather than seeing any action. When does he intend to introduce legislation to curb these clubs setting up casinos?
Mr. Mooney: Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come into the House after Easter to make a statement on the Government’s policy on the Middle East in light of the recent announcement by the Hamas Prime Minister that his country is running out of money and some 140,000 state employees, whom I understand constitute one third of the Palestinian workforce, will now lose their salaries. This situation is coupled with what seems to be a land-grab by Israel with the continued construction of the wall and the announcement by acting Prime Minister Olmert that he intends to unilaterally take decisions in respect of land on the West Bank by the autumn. The European Union is somewhat spineless in this regard.
Mr. Mooney: Ireland has a key role to play in this regard. It is important and opportune that this House should have an opportunity, first, to hear the Government’s policy on the unfolding events in the Middle East and, second, to allow Members on all sides of this House make their contribution.
I ask the Leader to schedule a debate after Easter on the issue of creche regulations. I anticipate that during the Easter recess the Minister of State with responsibility for children will publish a new set of regulations. I hope he does so because they are widely anticipated and needed. Rather than such regulations being simply noted on the Order Paper, I request the Leader to schedule a debate on them, as it is important we have such a debate.
We should also have a debate, as I requested yesterday, on issues around acute care services, namely, accident and emergency services and specifically on the policy on acute care. I ask that the Minister for Health and Children would come to the House and speak on those issues because my sense is that there is a good deal happening. We should have a role in debating those and other issues relating to them.
Mr. Feighan: I agree with Senator Glynn that there is a crime spree involving eastern European gangs. However, the Garda does not have the resources to deal with this problem. I know that from my experience of it having taken more than two weeks for a specialist from the Garda to take photographic stills from my computer.
We read in the newspapers in recent days of a young man having been shot dead in Clonmel, Denis Donaldson having been shot dead in Donegal and a young Lithuanian man having been killed after being dragged 100 yards under a van while trying to stop the siphoning of diesel from his truck. The Garda does not have the resources to deal with such so-called petty crime. Until the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform introduces the 2,000 extra gardaí promised, these petty crimes will go unnoticed.
We should invite the Minister to the House to debate the ever increasing level of crime, often violent crime, to which we have become immune. If three of four different types of shootings were happening ten years ago, we would have been in uproar but now we seem to pass them off willy-nilly. Something must be done about the ever increasing crime in our country and the only way to do that is to ensure that the 2,000 extra gardaí are recruited.
Ms O’Rourke: The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, raised the matter of why the Ryder Cup will not be free-to-air on RTE. He pointed out that 80% of people do not have Sky Sports. It will transpire that most people who want to see that event will go to the pub and arising from that there may well be accidents or incidents. The Senator asked me to inquire about what national criteria apply, in other words, whether RTE meets them. The decision on this matter is based on the advice of the Attorney General. On this occasion, that advice should be made public.
Ms O’Rourke: Often there is too much secrecy surrounding the advice of the Attorney General. He gives good advice and is employed to do so. Irrespective of what Government is in power, the Attorney General is always an eminent person. It would be helpful if such advice could be made public and I do not know why it should not be. I will endeavour to find out the position on this matter.
There was a great sense of disbelief and worry about the broadcasting of next year’s Heineken Cup and that has grabbed people’s attention. The rugby games last Saturday were wonderful; they were absolutely first class. People have suddenly begun to think they would like to see them again and they were great spectacles. We should get to the bottom of the advice in this regard rather than be expected to simply swallow it without knowing its basis. I am sure it is founded on good principles but we would like to know what they are.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter of concern about the suspected case of bird flu in Scotland. He also said we should be careful and proper in our preparations but should not overreact. When such an issue arises many people’s reaction is that they will not eat chicken. However, chickens are well roasted and anything harmful would be bet out of them by the time they come out of the oven or the pot. I am sure we could arrange for the Minister responsible to come to the House after Easter to discuss the matter.
Senator O’Toole raised the matter of a test that can be given to newborn babies which can immediately identify any potential negatives, particularly in their hearing ability. The heel test is given immediately to all newborn babies which picks up abnormalities of another kind. I have not heard of this new test, but if it is available and very reasonable, it should be carried out.
Ms O’Rourke: The Senator mentioned Aer Lingus. Some Ministers are forthcoming in appearing before this House but many are not. Apart from hitting them over the head, I cannot drag them here screaming.
Ms O’Rourke: I am sure the Senator would appear before the House all the time. We have consistently asked the Minister in question to discuss the Aer Lingus issue and road safety, and we will continue to do so.
Ms O’Rourke: Coming to the end of every week, my office contacts all the people who have been requested. Some are very generous and respond immediately and some are less so. Of course, these people have other engagements. We will again endeavour to hear the business case put forward, which is what the Senator is asking for.
Ms O’Rourke: It shows alarming gaps, particularly in the midlands and other areas, with regard to hospice care. It would be a worthwhile debate. The Senator also mentioned care of the dying, with money being provided by the embargo on staffing, and he asked if the Tánaiste would come before the House to debate the matter.
Senator Scanlon discussed the death of a Polish person in his community. I am also disappointed at the response of the Polish Embassy on the matter, but the HSE and community care services have been generous in helping to get the body of the man repatriated. Senator Dardis reminded me of a case where an Irish person in Copenhagen became ill 25 years ago. The Irish Embassy charged him for a phone call, never mind helping him get home. I suppose there is a protocol for such events. Generosity in such a case would be most welcome.
Senator Finucane mentioned the advice of the Attorney General with regard to the Ryder and Heineken cups. He referred to the lack of insurance for foreign drivers and was supported in this by Senator Glynn. He mentioned that the vendor of a car could ensure that the buyer had insurance, but the vendor may be so glad to get a sale that he or she would off-load it immediately. We must sort out the jigsaw of safety and attempt to make it coherent. There were more road deaths yesterday and already today.
Senator Leyden referred to the Forfás report. We have requested it as Senator Quinn raised last week the issue of the overdependency with regard to energy, which is highlighted in the report. Senator Leyden mentioned the Corrib field and appealed to Statoil for the premium points to be honoured. I note the Senator declared his own interest. We hope to have the Forfás report after Easter.
Senator Henry would like a debate on funding for students, with the relevant Minister here to discuss it. In addition to suggesting that the vendor of a car should ensure that the buyer has insurance, Senator Glynn raised the robberies in Mullingar which he stated were being perpetrated by a group of eastern European women. He argued that they should be shown the gate if they are found guilty. Many Irish people are doing similar things, although they may not have carried out those robberies. It is not helpful to point out a particular nationality or grouping which carry out certain actions. In so doing we get a type of vicarious pleasure, as we are not doing it. Other misdeeds are being done by Irish people.
Senator Bannon mentioned the rates of employment in the construction industry and that Irish workers are being undercut. Senator Hanafin raised the privatisation of Aer Lingus. It is amazing that France has privatised its airline because the country is so precious with regard to employment and bound by labour laws. It has usefully privatised Air France, one of the bigger airlines. The Senator is correct in stating that the State did very well out of the earlier privatisations. Senator Hanafin also requested a road safety debate, and argued that the insurers, out of their rich pickings, could take a loss leader and help in the matter.
Senator Quinn raised the matter of the possible bird flu case in Fife in Scotland and he argued that we should plan ahead, which we should. He noted that the National Pensions Reserve Fund had been doing well, but the managers have been outperformed by pigeons. I saw the Senator on the BBC approximately a week ago. He offered great morning television and he did well. He spoke of other matters rather than the pension fund.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ó Murchú raised hearing problems with young people. He is correct in stating that medical hearing problems are not discussed frequently, and there are few quality opportunities. He argued that the veil of secrecy should be lifted.
Senator Cummins discussed the new gaming and lotteries legislation and the loophole which exists with regard to card clubs. Bookies could put up slot machines in their premises, which is awful. Having made them illegal, I doubt if it would be allowed. I thought we would have word of when the Bill will be debated, but we have not.
Ms O’Rourke: The country is getting €150 million on humanitarian grounds, but this is merely a stop-gap. We will endeavour to have the debate. Senator O’Meara also asked for a debate on Palestine and for a debate on the new set of crèche regulations. I have been speaking to the relevant Minister of State and I told him we would like to discuss them in this House. He is one Minister of State that will not be allowed to get away.
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