Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 25, motion 23. No. 1, Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill 2005 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 12.30 p.m.; No. 2, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 or at 12.30 p.m. if No. 1 has not concluded earlier, and to conclude not later than 1 p.m.; No. 3, Road Safety Authority Bill 2004 changed from Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 — Second Stage, to be taken from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, and the Minister will be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 25, motion 23, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
I heard on the radio this morning that Senators and Deputies will be attending in the Dáil Chamber today. Of course, anyone can do so, but in the meantime, we will go through with the legislation. All Senators are contributing to the Road Safety Authority Bill in the afternoon, but earlier in the day, the justice spokespersons for each party will be speaking on the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill and the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill.
Mr. B. Hayes: It is generally accepted that one of the great successes since the foundation of this State has been the significant contribution made by a civilian unarmed and professional police force, which has remained loyal to the State and whose members have put their lives on the line for this State and have made great sacrifices for peace and order over the past 85 years. It is now a matter of serious public concern that it appears a collision course has been set between the Garda Síochána and the Government on the issue of the reserve force.
I ask at this stage that some common sense be brought to the situation, that people move back from the brink, that space be provided and that conciliation be considered. I call specifically on the GRA to sit down with the Minister now to work out its difficulties on the issue, whether it is an issue of resourcing or operation for the new reserve force. If that happens, the Minister should make an announcement stating that he will postpone by perhaps one or two months the establishment of the reserve force to provide people with that space and the time to sort out the matter.
It is not in the interest of the country for such a collision to occur. It is certainly not in the interest of the Garda Síochána that it should be advised to take part in politics. Of course, while each individual garda votes in the general election and is entitled to put questions to people on doorsteps, their representative organisation is not entitled to involve itself in a political campaign. It is utterly wrong and is against the spirit of the Garda Síochána and its contribution to the State. It is against the law, which is something it needs to understand, given that all parties in this and in the other House, bar one, the paramilitary party, Sinn Féin, were in favour of the establishment of the reserve force.
Mr. O’Toole: I agree with the points made by Senator Brian Hayes. The matter is heading over the brink at this stage, which is generally recognised by people. Politicians and public representatives have handled themselves very well on the matter to date. They have made clear their concerns. My father was a founder member of the old Garda representative body and, while Senator Hayes will be too young to remember, gardaí did not even have votes at that stage. I recall the first time my father voted, about which he was very excited. The State has a long understanding of the relationship between the Garda force, the Legislature and public representation.
Both sides must recognise certain realities. The Garda reserve force is a legislative reality. It exists and it will have to remain. On the other hand, the Garda Representative Association’s valid concerns about its professionalism and the professionalism of the force are equally valid, which must also be recognised. As I have said previously, I am a consistent admirer of the Commissioner, who is an extraordinarily talented man. He is doing a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances. I know from listening to him on the radio this morning that what he said came from the heart. I also believe that the Minister has shown time and again, even when he has taken a hard public line, that he is prepared to do business if people wish to do business with him.
I disagree with Senator Brian Hayes that this can be settled by both parties sitting down together. It needs to be resolved through a process of mediation. There are sensible people on all sides of this debate. The Garda Representative Association has valid concerns, the Legislature has made certain decisions, the Commissioner has a high level of responsibility and the Minister has a duty to implement the wishes of Parliament. While there are different points of view on the matter, they are not mutually exclusive. The parties can be brought together through common sense and a process of moving forward. Everybody will have to move slightly from their stated positions.
I am delighted that Senator Brian Hayes has raised this matter in a way which does not make it a political football. This issue is something about which we are all concerned. It must be dealt with and everybody must take a step back. I propose that the issue is moved into a mediation or arbitration process, with all parties prepared to look positively at the outcome.
Mr. Ryan: There are few things more threatening to the perception of a valid democracy than the suggestion that the security forces enter into partisan politics. If, for instance, the armed forces were to take a similar stance, we would be rightly alarmed. However, I do not dispute the right of individual members of such forces to make political representations.
It appears that the GRA missed this topic when it was proceeding, extremely slowly, through both Houses of the Oireachtas, failed to make representations, let the issue slide and is now in a phase of extraordinary overreaction. It is overreacting to something which the overwhelming majority of the population believes is a good idea. It is not just in confrontation with the Government or even with one party within that Government, but with the Oireachtas and the will of the people. It would be a different matter if a proposal related to the Garda Síochána had been passed by the Oireachtas but was disapproved of by the public.
The public are bewildered as to why gardaí have such an objection to the reserve force and are coming to very unflattering conclusions about the motives of those gardaí. If the public were to come to similar conclusions about the actions of a teachers’ union, that union would have good reason to be concerned about the public perception of its members.
The GRA should reflect very carefully. If it has legitimate concerns about the safety or vulnerability of its members, they can be addressed. I do not believe any Government wants to put members of the Garda Síochána into a position where they are at risk. However, that is entirely different to saying that the members of the GRA can ignore the wish of the people.
I ask the Leader for a debate on industrial safety in the near future. There was a 50% increase in the number of fatal industrial accidents last year. A disproportionate number of non-nationals were victims of those fatal accidents, particularly in the building industry. That fact lends support to the assertions of the trade union movement that less than noble practices are prevalent in some sections of the building industry with regard to working conditions. The Health and Safety Authority has said that one of the major pressure areas this year will be the public sector, that is, public administration and the local authorities. The HSA has said that up to one quarter of local authorities are blissfully unaware of their obligations under health and safety legislation.
A classic element of this country’s problems, whether it be in work, road safety or planning, is that we do not enforce the laws we pass. In the area of safety, we must ensure the public sector is a model of best practice, rather than lagging behind other sectors and that those involved in the building industry are particularly careful. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the report of the Health and Safety Authority because it is an important topic.
Mr. Dardis: Sometimes I wonder how much we appreciate the fact that we live in an open, free and democratic State. We often take it for granted. At the basis of such a State is a reliance upon the security forces, both the Garda Síochána and the armed forces, to uphold the democracy we enjoy. To do that, they must be removed from the political arena. That is not to say they should not have or voice opinions on how the forces are operated but that is very different from them entering the political arena.
We had one particularly unfortunate situation in the early years of the State, well documented by Senator Maurice Manning and others, when there was a real danger that the police force would be misused for political purposes. Fortunately, we came through that difficulty and now have an excellent and professional service. It is entirely wrong for the armed forces or the Garda Síochána to intervene in politics. Members have their vote and should use it. It is right that they have a vote but to organise political campaigns is not appropriate and must be rejected.
I do not see that there is much room for manoeuvre with regard to the reserve force. The Oireachtas has spoken on the matter and its will is clear. Certainly discussions can take place on the modalities of how the force will be set up, but its actual establishment should and will happen. I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House, as he is always willing to do, to speak to us on the matter. However, on the suggestion that the parties should sit down together, they could do so to discuss how the system will work but not whether the reserve force will be established.
Mr. Finucane: In the 28 years that GRA conferences have taken place, this is the first time the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was not invited to address the gathering. In that context, the low morale within the Garda Síochána regarding the reserve force is apparent. When the Garda Síochána Bill was going through this House — and the Minister consistently reminded us that it had the support of all parties in the Oireachtas, except Sinn Féin — why were Members not lobbied by the GRA or the AGSI? All the lobbying took place after the legislation was passed. Why? It is my understanding that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated to the Garda organisations that the reserve force would be included in the legislation but would not be implemented on his watch. That is why the organisations are annoyed.
I support Senator Dardis’s call for the Minister to come to the House. I ask whether the Minister indicated to the Garda organisations that he would not implement the reserve force during his watch. That is my one, straight question and I can understand the frustration and annoyance of the organisations at the sequence of events if that is the case.
Dr. Mansergh: We all want to see a resolution of this problem. It is not the Garda Síochána that is in conflict with the Oireachtas but the Garda associations. As far as the principle is concerned, which is accepted and working very well in many other countries, it is our duty to uphold the institutions of the State and not to call that into question. I am rather surprised at Senator Finucane’s suggestion that, in some way or another, legislation passed in this House should be deemed to be suspended for a certain period, where ——
Dr. Mansergh: On another but related topic, I am delighted Kathleen O’Toole, who was a member of the Patten commission, a distinguished member of which we have in this House, is to be appointed to the Garda inspectorate. I also welcome the comments made yesterday by a South African police chief, Robert MacBride, who may be a descendant of Major John MacBride, that republicans must get involved in policing.
Mr. Coghlan: The fairness, impartiality and neutrality of the Garda Síochána is an integral part of the bedrock of our democracy. I strongly support what Senators Brian Hayes, O’Toole, Ryan, Dardis and Finucane stated. For the sake of our democracy, we cannot have the Garda force embroiled in controversy or getting involved in a semblance of politics. That would be wrong. Senator O’Toole touched on the fact that at this stage resolution of this issue will only come about through mediation. Several wise heads are available to the force and the Minister. The parties involved may not be able to meet face to face but the matter must be resolved. Perhaps Senator O’Toole or other members of the House might offer their services.
Mr. Coghlan: I appreciate that. Senator Dardis indicated that the Minister would come before the House and an invitation should be extended to him to do so. Holding a debate might assist the mediation or resolution process.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Recently, we had a well-informed debate on the Middle East and we had unanimity on some matters. In my contribution I made the point that I always felt the Government had acted in a positive, courageous and, at times, independent manner to try to find solutions to the ongoing difficulties which exist in the Middle East. New reports emanating from independent sources suggest increasing levels of poverty in the Palestinian occupied territories. If one wants to put it this way, the suspension of EU aid may be succeeding as the EU wants it to succeed. However, if that is the case it is extremely serious——
Labhrás Ó Murchú: ——because to bring a people to their knees is not the way to find a solution. It is evident that vital services in health and education are suffering. Does anybody genuinely believe we should use the health of women and children and make people subject because they are hungry?
We debated this issue before. The point being missed is that the Hamas movement was elected to government. Of course there must be negotiation and debate. However, it is the lawfully elected Palestenian Government. If we do not recognise that and if Palestinian society, which seems to be on the verge of collapse from what I have recently read, does so, who will negotiate and bring about a solution? This problem will continue, not for years but for decades and centuries. I appeal to the Government to continue, even in a more pro-active way, to ensure EU aid is re-instated. Otherwise, in the very near future we will see on our television screens children on the verge of death and absolute, uncontrolled violence. Above all else, we must consider the difficulty and danger that such violence will extend further throughout the world.
Mr. U. Burke: For several hours yesterday we debated the crisis in accident and emergency departments. Many Senators outlined the difficulties with and at accident and emergency departments throughout the country. Many of these relate to the abuse and assaults that nursing staff and professional people must endure in such situations. That pales into insignificance when compared with the numbers of assaults against psychiatric nurses. Attacks on psychiatric nurses have increased by an alarming 47% and more than 1,250 were attacked throughout the country last year alone. When we consider this in the context of fewer patients within the psychiatric services, it is an alarming situation.
The report of the 2003 task force made recommendations, none of which have been implemented by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children. I call on the Minister to immediately respond positively to the fears and abuse which psychiatric nurses have had to endure. These assaults have accounted for limb fractures and burns. Assaults of every imaginable kind have occurred, with whatever weapons were available, such as crutches or chairs. It is important that the Minister takes immediate action, before we have another crisis. There is no compensation for the people assaulted in this way by patients. It is not good enough that a professional body, such as the PNA, is allowed to continue in this way.
Dr. M. Hayes: I support Senator Ó Murchú’s remarks on Palestine. It seems to be a strange procedure to encourage people to take part in parliamentary elections and then state that support is offered only as long as they elect the people we like.
I associate myself with Senator Mansergh’s remarks about the appointment to the Garda inspectorate. I can think of nobody better. Kathleen O’Toole was a member of the Patten commission and made an enormous contribution to that report, not only to its substance but, because of her reputation as a police officer, to the international validation of the results.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to attend the House for a debate on Northern Ireland? This arises from a remark I saw attributed to him yesterday, in which he stated the Patten report had not been implemented in Northern Ireland——
Dr. M. Hayes: ——because a particular party had not taken part in it. It seems to state that participation in Government is not contingent on support for the police. It flies in the face of everything we stated here this morning about the Garda Síochána.
Mr. Cummins: I raised the issue of Garda vehicles not being subject to NCT tests in the House on numerous occasions. That situation continues. Regarding Garda resources, questions arise on the use of anti-stab vests and proper radio systems. The Garda Síochána is not properly resourced, despite being told on numerous occasions it is receiving more funding than ever. Those are just three areas in which the force is not properly resourced.
On the question of the Garda reserve, there is no doubt the Minister informed the associations, the AGSI and the GRA, that the relevant legislation was only enabling legislation and that the reserve would not be introduced on his watch, as stated by Senator Finucane. The Minister also referred to it in the course of the debate in this House. He therefore misled the Garda representative bodies.
Mr. Cummins: That is the reason they are so frustrated. I do not agree with the Garda being involved in the political arena under any circumstances, but I can understand its frustration when it is told one thing by a Minister but that Minister goes behind its back and says something different.
Mr. Glynn: I support the remarks by Senator Brian Hayes and others. I have great regard for the Garda Síochána and it is a tremendous body. The utterances made, which smack of politics, are unfortunate and ill-advised. It behoves all of us in this House and the Dáil that regardless of whether we agree with legislation, it becomes law when on the Statute Book. We are duty bound to support it. Therefore I consider some of the utterances made, whatever the feelings which may have motivated them, to be unfortunate and ill-advised.
Will the Leader indicate when it is proposed to bring the Medical Practitioners Bill before the House? One item exercised the minds of the Members of this House and was raised by all sides, including Senators Finucane and Cummins, along with myself and others. This related to alternative medicine, as opposed to established medicine, as practised in the famous Killaloe clinic. I stated at the time there was a legislative void and the Leader agreed. It is time for the void to be addressed.
I have not raised my next issue in the House before because I might be seen to be drawing water to my own well. Senator Ulick Burke is correct. Attacks on psychiatric nurses have been taking place for a number of years. As a practising psychiatric nurse, I have received a number of injuries. It should be remembered that a number of people avail of psychiatric services not because they want psychiatric treatment but because they wish to avoid punishment by the courts. Some of those are people who will attack and injure psychiatric nurses, both male and female. The point was well made by Senator Ulick Burke.
Mr. Coonan: The Garda Representative Association is not the only body which has concerns about the legislation to set up a reserve force. The association is not concerned about the legislation but rather the manner in which the reserve force is being put forward. It has legitimate concerns. I do not know the reason we are running scared because these people are speaking of their concerns.
It is not so long ago since gardaí had to resort to the blue flu to get points of view across. Even then their demands were not granted. They still have to use defective patrol cars and live in rat-infested stations throughout the country. Rural stations are being closed down and the gardaí are still operating with their hands behind their back. There is still no proper PULSE computer system, which they have sought. Gardaí now want their force brought to a level where they could deliver an efficient and effective service. The 2,000 extra gardaí promised have not been delivered.
Mr. Coonan: I appreciate that, but I want to make the point that all ranks represented by Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors also has difficulty with the legislation. The political appointees are the only people who do not have a problem with this legislation. I admire the groups for speaking out.
Mr. Coonan: These people are not threatening to form a political party but they want their voices heard. They have not been heard up to now despite all their efforts to speak out. We must take on board their legitimate concerns, and they must be aired in this House and the other House. The Minister must listen to the Garda Síochána.
Mr. Coonan: I would much prefer them to be protecting law and order in this country than for there to be some special force. We had the B Specials before in the North of Ireland, we do not want a Garda special force here again.
Mr. Mooney: While I share much of what Senator Ó Murchú and Senator Maurice Hayes has said about the Middle East, I am sure all of us will be encouraged and heartened by the decision of the EU in recent days to not only ensure that humanitarian aid is not suspended, but also to find ways and means to engage in dialogue with the Hamas ministries to ensure that the points the Senators have been making will not happen. We are all encouraged by the swift decision of the Olmert Administration in Israel, following the formation of the Cabinet, when it moved to remove illegal Jewish settlers from Arab homes in the West Bank.
As someone who is an expert on the peace process in Northern Ireland, Senator Maurice Hayes will agree with me that the building blocks to peace are created by small steps such as these, rather than large leaps. In that respect, it is right and proper that this House continue to monitor what is happening because of Ireland’s distinguished role in this conflict and its own courageous disposition, as Senator Ó Murchú has outlined.
My main reason for speaking are reports over the past few days from America which indicate that Irish people have been involved in illegally trafficking Irish citizens across the Canadian border. Several arrests have been made by ICE, which is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. For those of us involved in the area of immigration reform, this is a bitter blow. It will create a great deal of devastation for the movement towards meaningful immigration reform in the United States.
There are right-wing elements and, sadly, many Irish-Americans involved who are totally hostile to the concept of immigration reform. There are strong racist undertones. I receive e-mails on a regular basis from one individual who is head of a county association in New York and what he conveys, and the racist subtexts in much of what is said, would make one’s blood curdle. The Leader may wish to comment on the matter.
I raise the matter in this House as we are on the cusp of summer, when many young Irish contemplate travelling to the United States. If these people are intending to travel and break the waiver programme, I strongly advise they stay within the law. If they do not have a proper visa they should not attempt to enter the United States illegally. This is not only for their own sakes but for the sake of the wider issue of immigration reform, which is close to being resolved.
Mr. Bannon: I ask the Leader to organise a debate on volunteerism to highlight how little the State is doing to support volunteers and voluntary organisations throughout the country. As we all know, these organisations are cash-starved. Most of the volunteers’ time in organisations is taken up with fund raising to pay the high cost of insurance, rented accommodation, etc.
Mr. Bannon: We can see how little the State is doing for carers. In many cases carers who look after elderly people under the carer’s scheme are means tested. We can see how little the State is doing for the elderly and how little support is given to voluntary organisations who are set up around the country to look after the elderly. The same goes for the youth of this country.
Mr. Bannon: The Taoiseach mentioned some time ago that he was setting up a committee to look into the issue of volunteerism. More money will be spent in organising this committee and preparing a report than will be given to the voluntary organisations over the next ten years.
Mr. Bannon: ——and its morale is at an all-time low because the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speaks from the two sides of his mouth on several issues. This is annoying and frustrating for gardaí.
Mr. Minihan: I refer to the statements by previous speakers about the latest approach by the GRA with regard to the introduction of a Garda reserve force. While I endorse the comments by Senators Brian Hayes, Ryan and Dardis, I take exception to the remarks of Senator Coonan. We must be very clear that the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are the two arms of State that underpin our democracy. With that come significant responsibilities so the Garda will always have to be resourced.
Mr. Minihan: It is not acceptable for a Member of this House to speak in such a tone about the institutions of the State and the important responsibilities their members have. The tone of the debate this morning, on all sides of the House, has been measured and that is the approach that should be adopted in resolving this issue.
Mr. Browne: I agree with the sentiments expressed on the Garda Representative Association. The reality faced by gardaí was brought home to me recently when, following a robbery from an art gallery in a neighbouring county, gardaí were sent out in a Ford Fiesta car with a one litre engine to chase criminals driving jeeps with three litre engines.
Mr. J. Walsh: Whether the Minister should engage with the associations on the timing of the implementation of the Garda reserve force is to some extent a peripheral question. Many Members have spoken about the precedent that would be set if the Garda became actively involved in politics, and about the effect it would have on our democracy. For any democracy to function effectively the security forces must at all times accept and carry out the will of the democratically elected Government and the Parliament. I ask the Leader to bring a composite motion before the House, incorporating the comments of Senator Brian Hayes, Senator O’Toole and Senator Ryan, to reflect that principle, because it is one on which there can be no compromise. Otherwise we in these Houses serve ourselves rather than the State.
I support Senator Bannon’s call for a debate on volunteerism. It is essential that volunteerism, of which there is a good tradition in this country, is not neglected with the development of a more affluent society and the concomitant demands on people’s time. I disagree totally with Senator Bannon that State money is the answer. Volunteerism involves people in the community freely giving of their time in many areas of social activity to enhance the quality of life of others not as well off as they.
Mr. Feighan: Not entirely. I suggest we invite the Minister for Transport into the House to discuss the budget for roads. The NRA now has a policy of devoting 95% of its budget to national primary routes. National secondary routes and regional roads are also important and we need to review how that money is spent. It is not always difficult to link one national primary road with another — it often only involves ten or 12 miles. Many roads around the country are very dangerous and we must get better value for money for the sums of €500,000 or €1 million that are being spent on two or three miles of overlay. I ask the Leader for a debate on how best to approach the issues of national secondary and county roads because some are in a very dangerous state and people will die.
Mr. Daly: Approximately a week ago the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, made a very important statement about the development and promotion of alternative energy sources. It was a wide-ranging speech and it would be useful to discuss it with the Minister. Various sources of energy, such as wave power and wind energy, need to be examined.
Mr. J. Phelan: I will also speak on the issue raised by Senator Daly and join with him in calling on the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to attend the House for a debate. Media sources this morning reported that Bord Gáis is considering another price rise of between 30% and 50%. We are all familiar with the huge hikes in electricity bills in the past couple of years and it is an opportune moment to discuss the matter with the Minister with responsibility for those issues. As Senator Daly said, there are many sources of renewable energy that have not yet been adequately pursued. We need action to ensure costs do not spiral out of control.
Ms White: As the Equality Authority and the HSE have designated next week a week for discussion on new approaches to aging and ageism I call on the Leader to allow a debate on the issues. At the end of May I will produce a policy document in which I will put forward nine propositions and I am confident it will be as successful as my policy document last year on a new approach to child care.
Ms White: Last night the Taoiseach condemned the murder of Michael McIlveen, a 15 year old boy, in Ballymena on Saturday night as evil sectarianism and said it was a reminder of the shocking bigotry that exists in the North. We need an immediate discussion on the North as we approach the marching season. A relative of mine teaches in a school in Ballymena and told me that young people in Roman Catholic schools are terrified even to wear their school uniform. This is a crisis in our own country, about which we need a serious debate. I am waiting to hear Dr. Paisley condemn the murder.
Ms O’Rourke: When we informally discussed the matter yesterday I called on Dr. Paisley to do so. However, he had already condemned the murder in an unequivocal way. I did not hear him personally but was pleased to hear it read out by a newscaster.
Ms O’Rourke: There are some housekeeping matters to be dealt with before I proceed and what I say will answer a question raised by Senator Browne. Yesterday, it was said in the House that a Seanad scheduling conflict did not allow the Tánaiste to attend. There was no Seanad scheduling conflict. In fact, the arrangement was made with the Tánaiste’s office three or four weeks ago and then her office changed it. We did not know whether she was coming here but obviously she could not as she is in the United States. However, there was no conflict between my office and hers about scheduling. Sometimes a Minister’s office will inform us that the Minister will come to the House to make an opening statement while another Minister will attend the full debate but in this case we were not told who would attend the debate. Given that she was in Pennsylvania, she could not be in the Seanad. There was no Seanad scheduling conflict. My office does not engage in conflicts, except political ones, of course.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes made the point that our police force is unarmed. He spoke about democracy and the representative organisations and expressed his dismay at the tone and content of what was said by the GRA. The gardaí can vote and when politicians call to their front doors, they are entitled to raise points with them. Politicians are looking for their vote and gardaí are seeking to express their opinions. I have often had exchanges at the front doors of houses of both Army and Garda personnel. That is wholesome and proper. We should not get too puffed up about ourselves. We are in favour of the legislation that we have passed.
There has been much controversy about what the Minister said or did not say about “his watch”. It is easy to get copies of the Official Report and see exactly what Members have said. Senator O’Toole spoke about the GRA and its valid concerns. He suggested mediation. However, legislation does not lead to mediation; it is a matter of getting on with it.
Ms O’Rourke: I see. That is a fair point. The old adage of Horace, festina lente, would apply, as it does in many other matters. Senator Ryan also referred to the GRA and the confrontation with the Oireachtas. He sought a debate on the HSA. I was nonplussed to discover from the HSA that the number of deaths that occurred shows an increase of 50%, which is huge.
Senator Dardis spoke about the Garda and the Army and the excellent and professional service provided by both security bodies. Senator Finucane quoted what he claims the Minister said. The Senator can check what the Minister said in the Official Report. Senator Mansergh spoke about the GRA and the authority and discipline of the Garda. He also referred to Ms Kathleen O’Toole from Boston. I know her very well; she stayed with me last summer. I have known her for over 12 years.
Ms O’Rourke: Not at all. In fact, during the debate in the House on the Garda Síochána Bill I spoke about her. The local newspaper telephoned me last week to mention that it had noted that. She is an extremely warm, communicative woman with plenty of common sense. She is very ordinary. She has a daughter and is related to a well known man in the town of Athlone, Paddy McCaul. He is involved in soccer and is the vice-president of the League of Ireland. He also runs a hotel and a pub in Athlone.
Ms O’Rourke: Yes. That is the story. Ms O’Toole is a fine woman and the country is lucky to get her. Senator Mansergh mentioned Robert MacBride and his comments that republicans should be involved in the police force.
Senator Coghlan used the words “fairness”, “impartiality” and “neutrality”— excellent English — about the gardaí and said these are not in question. I agree. It is about their representative organisation. However, I must again stress that gardaí have a right to make their point, not in a confrontational way but individually to other people, if they wish to do so.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke about Palestine. This morning the EU announced that it would continue to provide humanitarian aid and that it had reached an agreement on an approach to deal with this matter. It intends to move forward on it. A major meeting is due to be held next Monday.
Ms O’Rourke: The police have not been paid either. Senator Ulick Burke spoke about abuse of and assaults on psychiatric nurses. He said the 2003 report of the task force has not been implemented. I do not know what the position is. The Senator asked that it be brought to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children.
Ms O’Rourke: If Members heard about it later they would accuse me of not telling. Senator Hayes also pointed out that it was enabling legislation. That is true but enabling legislation then has to be implemented. That is what it is about.
Senator Glynn said the GRA’s remarks were ill advised. He asked about the Medical Practitioners Bill. I do not know what the position is. It has not come to this House and is not in a list of forthcoming legislation but I will find out about it for the Senator. He agreed with Senator Burke’s point about the attacks on psychiatric nurses. In response to Senator Coonan, I have never heard of a garda being politically appointed to Templemore. The recruit goes to Templemore, does his or her training and emerges as a garda.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Mooney referred to the EU and Palestine. He also raised the racist comments that are being made in e-mails from associations in the United States and expressed his hope that immigration reform will soon be successfully concluded.
Senator Bannon suggested a debate on volunteerism, which would be most useful, but I do not know what Minister we should invite to attend. It would be a worthy debate. Senator Minihan took exception to Senator Coonan’s remark, as have I. Senator Browne spoke about the GRA and Palestine and I have replied to him about the Tánaiste’s office. Senator Jim Walsh said it was a peripheral issue as to what the Minister said about his watch because the force will carry out the will of the people. I expect that will happen. The more we shout and talk about it, the more we will show up what is, I believe, an artificial confrontation. I do not envisage it happening.
I am glad to know Senator Feighan was a member of An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil. The Senator referred to the National Roads Authority’s budget being given over almost entirely to national primary roads at the expense of regional and county roads.
Senator Daly called for a debate with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on alternative energy sources. Senator John Paul Phelan referred to reports of price increases from Bord Gáis. Both Senators are calling for an energy debate. Senator White called for a debate next week on her report on ageism and a debate on Northern Ireland issues.
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