Order of Business.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 183 No. 50

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Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 24, motion 22. No. 1, a motion referred to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service which has completed its deliberations concerning the extension of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 (Prescribed Bodies) Regulations 2006 to additional bodies which now brings to more than 500 the number of bodies covered by the Freedom of Information Act, to be taken without debate; No. 2, Employment Permits Bill 2005 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., spokespersons have 12 minutes and other Senators eight minutes, the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, statements on school transport, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m., spokespersons have ten minutes and other Senators six minutes, the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 4, Road Safety Authority Bill 2004 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m. until 5 p.m. and to resume at 7.15 p.m., to conclude not later than 8 p.m.; and No. 24, motion 22, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

[1474]Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Will the Leader agree that both Houses have an immediate obligation to respond to yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on statutory rape? Will she find out, for the information of the House, what is the Government’s intention on proposed legislation to respond to the unanimous view of the court concerning this issue? Once again, in my mind, the Oireachtas has been caught napping on an issue which was flagged as far back as the 1990s when it came from a specific recommendation of the Law Reform Commission.

An horrific situation has developed. This ruling has implications for persons convicted of statutory rape or who have yet to stand trial for that offence. More important, it has significant implications for persons who are now on the register of sex offenders and could be removed as a result of the ruling. It is urgent.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a statement in this House and tell us what is the Government’s intention on legislation? Will the Leader and the Minister respond to the fact that this not only involves young women in an abusive or predatory relationship with older men? It also involves young men who could be abused by older women. I had a brief opportunity to examine the 1935 legislation. It only refers to young girls under the age of 15. It is utterly wrong in this day and age, when young men can be abused, that they should be excluded from the law. This brings into focus the issue of the age of consent. We must debate this and introduce legislation to address these loopholes. The Government, which has known about this since 1990, has the ultimate responsibility to respond urgently.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  On a related matter on the question of abuse of children, the House is aware of the extraordinary statement made by the representative of the Christian Brothers to the redress board during the week, to the effect that victims of clerical sexual child abuse put forward their complaints in the hope of getting money. This House debated those issues on a number of occasions and showed extraordinary sensitivity and understanding of the troubles and traumas of these victims. We should make it clear that we vehemently reject this statement.

I should also bring to the attention of the House that the same person who made the allegation to the redress board during the week is a trustee of Marino Institute of Education and dealt with the complaints there. On “Prime Time” he stated to me that he had never received a complaint, although I was holding copies of 15 complaints he had received during the previous year. He refused to acknowledge them. We know how he deals with complaints. He states victims of child sexual abuse are only in it for the money, and he ignores people doing a day’s work in Marino Institute of Education and throws their complaints in the bin.

[1475]The connection between what is happening in Marino and the issues investigated at the redress board is sinister. I would like the Minister for Education and Science to indicate to us whether she is aware of any connection between them. Is it appropriate that somebody who made that comment about victims of trauma should be in a position of trusteeship for the Marino Institute of Education? It is quite appalling.

Senator Coghlan and I have an item on the Order Paper regarding the rights of muintir na Gaeltachta to decide on the names of their own places of residence, as applies to every other part of the country.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I saw that.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  We have a piece of legislation which would give back to muintir na Gaeltachta an cearta sibhialta sin atá ag aon duine eile timpeall na tíre. That is the right to decide and determine the name of their own place and have a referendum on it.

In the past week, Kerry County Council has taken a decision, by 21 votes to four, to allow a plebiscite of the entire Dingle area in the autumn. Senator Coghlan and I feel it would be more appropriate to move the motion after that. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs could then come before the House to tell us his reasons if he refuses to accept the views of the people.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hear, hear.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  He has said he will do that.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  This is a case of democracy turned on its head by this Minister.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  It has nothing to do with cónaitheoirí na Gaeltachta. That is a decision which is not taken by the people in any area, despite a suggestion made here last week that muintir na Gaeltachta could decide to be in or out of the Gaeltacht. That is decided politically, and it is a matter for Government.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Dúirt mé go raibh sé de shaor-rogha ag pobal an Daingin aon ainm a theastaíonn uathu a bheith ar a mbaile. Níl sé réasúnta nó intuigthe, áfach, go bhfanfadh pobal taobh istigh den Ghaeltacht agus iad ag teastáil ag an am céanna go n-ainmneofaí an baile as Béarla. I cannot see the logic. If the people of Dingle want to leave the Gaeltacht, so be it. It is their absolute right as free citizens.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  It is not their right. It is a decision of Government to take them out of it.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  No.

[1476]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Order, please. The Senator should allow Senator Ryan to speak.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  The Senator must be feeling——

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  As Gaeilge, más é do thoil é, a Sheanadóir.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I have no idea why Senator Norris feels it necessary to abuse the fact that I can speak Irish.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I enjoy listening to the language. I like the blas.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Ryan, without interruption.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I speak the two languages with reasonable comportment. If people wish to leave the Gaeltacht, nobody will stop them.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  It does not arise. The people of Dingle have never indicated they want to leave the Gaeltacht. They have never given such a view. It is a matter for the relevant Minister.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator Ryan should be allowed to speak without interruption. Senator O’Toole has made his contribution.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Until recently, when the people of the Gaeltacht received funding, the people of Dingle made it quite clear what they thought of the Irish language. It was only when muintir na Gaeltachta managed to have spending power that pobail an Daingean discovered that the Irish language had some positives. I will repeat this.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We will not have a debate on the Gaeltacht.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Is that the position of the Labour Party? The people of Dingle would be very pleased to hear this.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I ask Senator Ryan to continue on the Order of Business. We will not have a debate on the Gaeltacht.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I ask for a debate on the priorities of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. On the one hand, it was warned by a Law Reform Commission report in 1990 about problems with the legislation which was struck down by the Supreme Court yesterday. It is that long ago, but the Department never got around to acting on the matter. At the same time, the Department is fighting a diligent rearguard action to protect itself and its agencies from the Freedom of Information Act. In spite of the request of the Information Commissioner, it has resolutely refused to bring the Garda Síochána under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. I hope that Mr. Justice Morris’s further reports will be [1477]published shortly, and we will realise the degree to which public scrutiny of the Garda and how it operates is increasingly necessary as a result of what Mr. Justice Morris has brought to our attention.

At the same time, the Department is resolutely refusing to have any part in the refugee process being brought under the Freedom of Information Act. I hope all of us behaved with considerable restraint and responsibility last week in the face of what occurred in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. To encourage those actions would have been profoundly wrong. The issue has been dealt with well. There is a fundamental question remaining in that we do not know how many of these refugee agencies work.

In particular, there are many stories about extraordinarily uneven decision making by appeals commissioners, with some people refusing everybody, and allegedly boasting about it. Other people are more reasonable. We will not be told of this. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which forgot about a Law Reform Commission report for 16 years, is resolutely working to persuade the Government not to extend the Freedom of Information Act to it. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should come in here to explain the peculiar priorities of his Department and there should be an attempt to get it in line with what the public generally feels.

It is at least a month since I raised the fact that the Taoiseach’s Department website has not noted that James Connolly founded the Labour Party in the man’s biography. In a week when the Taoiseach is busy correcting records, perhaps he will get around to correcting his own website also.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  On several occasions in the House, Members have placed on the record our abhorrence of the terrible abuses which were perpetrated against innocent young people in institutions in this country. At the same time we endeavoured to be fair to everybody in order to ensure that natural justice would apply to all people. The record will not show that the representative of the Christian Brothers stated that those who were abused were bringing claims just for monetary gain.

My understanding is that the statements were questioning the credibility of some of the claims, a different issue altogether. In the spirit of the previous debates here, it would be exceptionally surprising for us to suggest that the Christian Brothers, going into a forum provided by the State, would not endeavour to protect themselves, those who are deceased and other innocent people within the order. At they same time they would apologise profusely for the terrible happenings in those institutions. This was done.

Yesterday, one of those responsible for the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane was released after serving three years of a 22 year prison sentence. The significance of this case is that this [1478]man was a paid informer of the British security forces. Britain used the conviction and the trial to delay any question of an inquiry. During the intervening period, legislation was introduced in the House of Commons to ensure there would be neither a public nor independent inquiry.

It is vital, for the status of the present police force and democracy itself, that the Finucane family’s wish for an independent public inquiry be granted. There is no doubt at the moment that there was collusion with British forces in the killing of Pat Finucane. I am glad to see legislators in America and elsewhere coming out strongly in recent weeks demanding such an independent public inquiry.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  In 2003, Deputy Dermot Ahern, then the Minister responsible, designated sporting events which were free to air. In recent times there was a debate focused on that issue, with the Ryder Cup coming to this country. The competition will cost approximately €15 million but will do tremendous work for the general tourism industry in Ireland. The Minister had a consultation process, but in April last, it was announced that the Ryder Cup would not be designated.

We have recently had the Heineken Cup final in rugby. Remarks were made in the House yesterday on what occurred last weekend. I am disappointed having read in newspapers on Monday that last week was the last time the Heineken Cup final would be on free-to-air television. In future, Sky Sports will have exclusive rights. It appears that Rupert Murdoch has won this match as well.

In April 2006, the Minister stated that he had received representations about the Heineken Cup. In that context he did not agree it was important for society. Having attended the match at the weekend with a group from Newcastle West rugby club, and having shared a hotel with a large group from Donegal wearing the Munster colours, it struck me that it was not a Munster event but a national event.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  That is exactly what I was trying to say yesterday.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Everybody had a great time.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  As such I regret the fact that the competition will no longer be televised by RTE. I thank RTE for the commentaries it provided and the analysis that followed.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  The Senator is getting away with saying what we were not allowed to say yesterday.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I will clarify the position. Senator Finucane is making the case for free to air television.

[1479]Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  That is very reasonable.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Limerick abú.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  The Supreme Court ruling must send a shiver down the spine of every parent the length and breadth of this country. I strongly support what Senator Brian Hayes said, as must all right-thinking people. This House has taken the lead in the past in tackling urgent matters and no Member would object to sitting at any time, even on a Sunday and with the shortest possible notice, to address the issue in an appropriate way. Time is not on our side but I read in the newspapers that people on the sex offenders’ register would probably apply to have their names removed as a result of the judgment, which is a worrying prospect. It will give those twisted people who abuse young boys and girls a pretext under which to claim they did not knowingly break the law.

I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House for a debate on knife crime, which is creating a serious problem across the water and is common in this State. Knife crime is as prevalent as gun crime, which we have already debated, and hardly a week passes without a number of knife murders. It is time for appropriate action to be taken. I have previously called for equipment to be installed in night clubs and discotheques to detect offensive weapons on persons, which is not being done at the moment, and for random searches on suspects. The number of people who die from knife attacks is unacceptable.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I agree with Senator Ó Murchú on the need for an independent inquiry into the assassination of Pat Finucane. It is dreadful when such murders occur but even more dreadful when a government agency of some description is suspected of involvement. Contrary to Lord Denning’s view, appalling vistas must be confronted rather than avoided because if they are avoided they will continue to occur. I hate the idea of governments being involved in such crimes but, regrettably, it is the case all over the world. If it emerges that the British are implicated then so be it. There must be an independent inquiry.

The Supreme Court judgment, mentioned by Senator Brian Hayes, is very important but we should not just approach the issue as a reason for tightening up loopholes. We should look at the whole question of the age of consent and the nature of consent itself. There have been cases involving women teachers——

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We were just discussing that.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Such relationships are not always vicious. I know of a number of reported cases where a couple went on to marry and have families. Obviously when a teacher is involved there is a potential violation——

[1480]Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Of trust.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  As a teacher I assure Senators that as a principle I never had anything to do with any of my students in that regard. The Law Reform Commission has produced a sensitive set of proposals that treat the matter in a subtle way. There is no point in using the arm of the law to crush people in consensual relationships. If we are concerned, as Senator Glynn and I are, about the welfare of youths, let us do something about a matter which we can clearly control, namely, the appalling epidemic of bullying, in the form of homophobic abuse, which was exposed in a report published last week. The report also stated that whereas 90% of teachers were aware of it, 80% did nothing about it. One of the principal reasons for that is its occurrence in church schools. The report traced much of the homophobia back to church statements and that is why we are all afraid to address it. If we are serious about the welfare of young men and about preventing bullying and possible suicides we should tackle this behaviour.

Can we have a debate on the role of utilities in society? We have been flogging everything, such as Aer Lingus and Eircom. I noticed that one of my colleagues described the company buying Eircom as “Ballcock & Brown”. A right ballcock has been made of the entire matter and as a consumer I am not pleased. We are told the lines belong to consumers if there is something wrong with them but to the company when we have to pay the rent. Can the Leader ask the Government to treat this matter in exactly the same way as it dealt with ground rents? I have, as have other Senators, paid several times over for the cost of a line but we are still charged €30 or €40 per month for it. It is absolutely outrageous, and is an imperialist tactic. Now Monsieur Fanon and other investors will rule the roost and they have said they want to make money out of it. Lots of other people have done so, including the proprietor of the Irish Independent, whose front page expresses pleasure about the deal. What about the unfortunate telephone users?

Mr. O’Brien: Information on Francis O'Brien  Zoom on Francis O'Brien  Last week the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and the Government received the report on the death of Mr. Pat Joe Walsh. As of yesterday, the family had not received the report or any details pertaining to it. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste or the Government how soon the report will be made available to the family, or whether the Department of Health and Children or the Minister can communicate details of the report to the family to appraise it of the sequence of events that led to his death?

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I strongly agree with the views expressed by Senator O’Toole. Underlying the question of the renaming of Dingle is the basic democratic principle that the people of the town [1481]have the right to decide it for themselves, without it being imposed on them, as has been the case. Kerry County Council is to proceed with a plebiscite, which will be carried out in an orderly manner, and I hope the Minister will take heed, as the Leader has indicated he will. I look forward to hearing her further comments on the matter.

  11 o’clock

By their own sweat, the people of the town have built up the internationally known brand name of Dingle. I mean no disrespect to towns in other counties called “Daingean”, notably the one in County Offaly, and I support the use of the name in the right context, but this town is “Dingle”. That is how it is known and its fame is the result of a lot of effort in past years. The result of the plebiscite should be respected by all good democrats.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I could not help but reflect that I will make telephone calls asking people to watch “Oireachtas Report” tonight to see the spat between Senators Ryan and O’Toole on the Order of Business. All Senator Norris’s talk about ballcocks should also make for riveting television.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Senator should leave a little room for——

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I referred to Senator Norris because I was trailing his coat tails.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I ask the Senator to address his remarks to the Order of Business.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  On a serious issue, I found it somewhat coincidental that Senator Norris referred to Lord Denning’s “appalling vista” remark in the week in which Richard McIlKenny, one of the Birmingham Six, died. I am sure Senators will join me in expressing sympathy to Dick McIlkenny’s family. The “appalling vista” to which Lord Denning referred was the prospect of accepting the possibility that the West Midlands police force could have conspired to jail innocent people. As we are all aware, history proved otherwise. Before entering the House, I and others were involved in the search for justice for the Birmingham Six. When we consider how the world has moved on since, it seems a long time ago. The death of Mr. McIlkenny serves as a reminder to all those who took an interest in the Birmingham Six and other miscarriages of justice of that time, including that perpetrated against the Guildford Four. I ask that the Leader convey the sympathy of the House to Mr. McIlkenny’s family.

As the former president of the INTO is present, I will choose my words carefully. I have been contacted by a number of parents regarding the INTO campaign to reduce class sizes by exerting pressure on the Minister for Education and Science. While I and the parents who have contacted me support the purpose of the campaign, [1482]as a parent of a ten year old child who earlier this week arrived home with a letter asking parents to support the initiative, I share the disquiet expressed by other parents that youngsters are being manipulated politically. I do not want my ten year old son to do anything other than enjoy his childhood.

Although the case being made by INTO is a good one, the problem in my local school is not one of class size but of one teacher teaching two classes comprising 36 pupils in one classroom. Addressing this issue is a greater priority than reducing class sizes. The numbers of pupils in many rural schools causes overcrowding because the buildings do not have sufficient capacity to have different classes taught in separate rooms. Surely the stress on teachers and students of having two classes taught by one teacher is unacceptable. In the wider context of the current INTO campaign I hope the Leader will initiate a debate on class sizes and the management of schools in general.

Ms Tuffy: Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  On yesterday’s Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional legal provisions on statutory rape, I urge the Leader to exert pressure on her Government colleagues to ensure legislation is introduced as quickly as possible to close the loophole the ruling has created. Senator Ryan is correct that legislation should have been ready in anticipation of the judgment. I will co-operate with the Government to ensure such legislation is passed. As legislators, we have a duty to ensure speedy action is taken to address this matter as to do otherwise would fail children. Certain individuals will use the court’s decision as an excuse to take advantage of children and young people.

While I accept a debate is needed on the issue of consent, I oppose lowering the age of consent because the possibility that young people will be pressurised by their peers raises questions about whether consent is genuine. I accept, however, that there may be different levels of culpability and the age of an offender may need to be taken into account. Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that a debate on this matter in the Oireachtas does not delay the introduction of legislation to deal with the consequences of yesterday’s judgment. To allow such a delay would let down children as they may become the victims of adults who will take advantage of and exploit them.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I support the comments of Senators Ó Murchú and Norris on the Finucane case, in particular, the need for an independent inquiry. It is disappointing, albeit not surprising, that the British Government failed to meet the commitments it made at Weston Park on accepting the recommendations of its appointee, Judge Cory. It is appropriate that the House speak with one voice on this issue and I suggest that the leaders of all parties agree a motion on [1483]the issue, particularly in light of the recent decision of the US House of Representatives to endorse a resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the case. It would be an anomalous situation if the House did not fully endorse that decision.

Aontaím go hiomlán leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ryan faoin Daingean. It is incongruous that towns in the Gaeltacht might prefer to use their English names. If they are given this choice, it calls into question their continued designation as Gaeltacht areas.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Hear, hear.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  Senator Ryan’s comments on this matter are correct.

Mr. Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  The Comptroller and Auditor General yesterday issued a disturbing report on serious abuse of the rent supplement scheme, which will have cost almost €2 billion in slightly more than five years. Politicians will have seen many instances of the scheme being abused. In one case an asylum seeker who was working illegally claimed around €85,000 in more than four years but faces a decrease in rent supplement of just €15 per week. This contrasts with the treatment of the naive individuals caught with offshore accounts who were hounded and faced the prospect of prison because of the penalties imposed on them.

It is more lucrative for a landlord to rent a property to a single person receiving rent supplement than to a professional couple. The Government has failed to tackle the rental market with the result that large amounts of money are being lost. This episode also shows that the successors of the health boards are incapable of properly administering our finances. Responsibility for the administration of the rent supplement scheme must transfer to local authorities. It is about time this serious abuse of public funds was highlighted because we are sick and tired of it. With average rents in Dublin now €276 per week, the waste of money in the rent supplement scheme must cease. I propose that the House debate this serious issue.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  I support the call for a properly constituted and empowered inquiry into the death of Mr. Pat Finucane. His wife and other members of his family who have conducted themselves with great dignity over the years deserve no less.

Mr. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  I wish to broaden the discussion on concerns raised by Senators about the welfare of Irish children. As of next week, thousands of children from Belarus will come here to stay with Irish families. I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Foreign Affairs or at least [1484]one of those Ministers to discuss the uncaring attitude adopted by the Government towards issuing visas to the citizens of Belarus. Many families who contacted me recently are devastated because children who have been their guests for a number of years have been denied visas. The children or their families must travel to Moscow at considerable expense to secure visas, which they are often denied. If we care about our children, we should also show a caring attitude to other children. Many Irish parents are devastated because children from Belarus who have made friends with their own children are being denied access to Ireland this summer. It is time to take action to ensure this is not allowed to continue. I call for a debate on the matter about which the Minister for Foreign Affairs is both aware and concerned.

Last week I called for a debate on a agriculture. This debate should focus on the nitrates directive and the cost it is imposing on farmers. Across the country, various local authorities have introduced stealth taxes in the form of development charges. These charges are severe in certain counties, medium in some and non-existent in others. There should be an equilibrium in this regard. We need to update the rate of grant payments to farmers for works they must carry out under the nitrates directive. The current costings relate to 2004 but we are all aware that they have risen steeply, so a discussion is required on that matter. The Minister should implement proper costings for grants available to farmers, otherwise there is no point in her saying that she is doing a great job in getting an extra 10% for farmers in Europe.

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  I support the call by Senators Ó Murchú and Jim Walsh for an independent inquiry into the brutal murder of Pat Finucane. I know that an inquiry of this type may expose the duplicity of the British Government in its dealings with Irish people, but then what is new?

Mr. Browne: Information on Feargal Browne  Zoom on Feargal Browne  I welcome yesterday’s Supreme Court decision and call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to bring forward legislation urgently to take account of the ruling. I am aware of one particular case where a young man met a girl who was drinking with her father in a pub. Relations took place between the young man and the girl, following which he was prosecuted for having sex with a minor. However, the father was never prosecuted for buying drink for his daughter whom he clearly knew was under age, and the pub owner was never prosecuted for having a minor on his premises. The young man was bribed and told that the charges would be dropped if money was paid. He refused to pay as a matter of principle, went to court and fought the case. For his troubles, he received a jail sentence and is now on the sex offenders register.

I welcome yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling because of that particular case. There are two sides to every story, as we all know. I call on the [1485]Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to debate this matter. The Minister should urgently introduce legislation to take account of that court ruling.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  I am glad that Senator Coonan raised the issue he did. It affords me the opportunity of saying that the costings announcement will be made in the next 24 or 48 hours. We should appreciate that fact and welcome it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator is very well informed.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Reliably informed.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  It is important that the proper response be made. The issue Senator Coonan raised about having standard development charges throughout the country is equally important. I totally agree with him that something should be done about that.

I compliment the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the changes she has introduced concerning the early retirement scheme. It is good news and we should avail of the opportunity to say so.

Mr. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  The Minister should be invited here so that we can all have a chat with her and tell her how good she is.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  All right.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Brian Hayes mentioned the Supreme Court ruling which astounded everybody who read it. He referred to young women in predatory relationships and that also relates to young boys. There was a case in the United Kingdom concerning a teacher who subsequently went to jail after appearing in court charged with having an improper relationship with one of her students. Later on, however, she married that young student. Yesterday’s ruling must be addressed urgently because what could and, I am sure, will happen is wide open now. I take the Senator’s point and I note the Minister said he was reviewing the ruling with urgency and would act accordingly. Everybody is interested in what has happened and is determined that there should be a new decision on the matter.

Senator O’Toole referred to the link between a Christian Brother at the redress board and his work with the Marino Institute. We all want to see young people who have been abused in reformatories and schools receiving redress. Nonetheless, I have always been worried that an entire order of nuns or brothers would be included, as if all of them had been acting in a nefarious fashion. It is wrong to do so because, while wrong things were done by some members of the clergy, we should not cloud every priest, brother or nun with the same bad aura, as if they had all been involved. We have dealt with the matter through redress boards and in other ways. In addition, the Taoiseach has issued an apology [1486]in this regard. It is a pity that so much good work by the religious is overlooked. Without their contribution, so many people would not have received an education and a good start in life, when free schooling was not available. The good work of the clergy can be brushed to one side, while the “baddies” are highlighted all the time. Redress must come about, however.

I heard what this particular Christian Brother said quite clearly. He did not say that everybody who went to the redress board did so for financial gain, but said there was an element who did. I do not know enough about the matter to know if that was so. For some time, I have felt a great sense of unease about cloaking everybody in the same bad aura.

Senator O’Toole also referred to the plebiscite in Dingle on which there were interesting developments at the weekend. The plebiscite will be held but on the “Politics Programme” the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, said he understood Senator O’Toole had tabled an amendment to a Bill. The Minister did not refer to Senator Coghlan’s Bill but said he wanted the amendment to be moved so that he could discuss it in this House. I suppose we must await the outcome of the plebiscite before we can move further on that matter but as soon as it emerges we should do so.

Senator Ryan asked about the priorities of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He also wants the Taoiseach to amend his website to state that James Connolly founded the Labour Party, which he did indeed. I will mention that to the Taoiseach.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  He is good at correcting the record at present, so he is in the humour for it.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Ó Murchú spoke about equity and fairness in dealing with the Christian Brothers. He also referred to the need for an independent public inquiry into the Pat Finucane case, particularly in view of the noted collusion of British forces therein.

Senator Finucane got a great run on Saturday afternoon, which was as good as any we have seen.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  A good man on the ball.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot talk about the ball now. We were talking about television.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  After the ball was over.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It is a Limerick thing.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  The ball that was on the television.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Finucane has done well and seems to have had a good time. He wants the Minister to attend the House. As the Cathaoirleach wisely said, his contribution was based on [1487]having a debate on what sporting events should be free to air.

Senator Glynn mentioned the Supreme Court ruling and asked if it meant that certain people would be removed from the sex offenders register. I did not read that in the Supreme Court ruling but it is a hidden danger and the Senator is right in that respect. He also sought a debate on knife crime. It was announced on the BBC this morning that there will be a five-week amnesty in England and Wales during which knives can be handed in without prosecution. If the Minister attends the House I do not know whether we can have an omnibus debate but we do want him to talk about the Supreme Court ruling, which is important.

Senator Norris mentioned the Finucane inquiry and the report on school bullying, which was published last week. It was quite terrifying because such bullying was seen to be based on homophobic attacks. That matter should certainly be addressed through a debate on the report.

Senator O’Brien asked when the family of Patrick Joe Walsh would receive the report on his death. As I understand it, the Tánaiste is studying the report, which will then go to the family. Obviously, they want it urgently and I can understand that.

Senator Coghlan mentioned the plebiscite in Dingle, the result of which will go to the Minister and then the Senator’s Bill will come into play. We would be keen to have the Bill debated here. I suppose we will await the result of the plebiscite.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Will the Leader accept the Bill?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Mooney referred to the death of one of the Birmingham Six, Richard McIlkenny. He also raised the INTO campaign whereby children were sent home with a letter to their parents. I have vivid memories of a particular circular which every child in the land received to take home. I do not remember complaining about it. Given that I was the Minister involved, when my second child came home with the letter, I was not going to kick up about it. In a way, the child is just bringing the letter from teacher to Mammy or Daddy. It is a good way of getting the propaganda out. It is a good case and I would not get too worked up about it. Class sizes are important but sending a child with a letter to his or her parents is an age-old means of communication. The Senator called for a debate on class sizes.

Senator Tuffy asked for legislation to be introduced as quickly as possible to close the legal loophole arising from the court decision. She made the point that we risk putting children in danger and, therefore, letting them down.

Senator Jim Walsh supported Senator Ó
Murchú with regard to the Finucane case. Perhaps there is a case to be made for a motion to be [1488]signed by all Senators on the matter. The Senator also agreed with Senator Ryan on his interpretation of the Dingle issue and suggested that if the people of Dingle want to keep the English name of the town, it should not be a Gaeltacht area.

Senator Feighan referred to the local authorities. The Senator must often have made a case for rent subsidy for a needy person given that he deals with such cases all the time. However, the local housing officer in a local authority, be it a town or county council, must now sign that form before it goes to the health board office, which pays the subsidy. The housing officer must attest to the fact that the man, woman or couple are on a housing list and living at the stated address. There is involvement by the local authority.

Mr. Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  I suggested that it is far too expensive and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Senator referred to the Comptroller and Auditor General. I constantly seek rent subsidy for needy people, as does the Senator if he is doing his job — I am sure he will be very successful. We cannot on the one hand regret what has emerged in the figures and on the other not accept we are part of the issue through seeking to make representations.

Mr. Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  We are not getting value for money.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Leader, without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I realise the Senator focused on a particular case. However, I find asylum seekers are the ones plucked out and picked upon. I do not understand why.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Hear, hear.

Mr. Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  The Comptroller and Auditor General picked them out.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Leader, without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Maurice Hayes supported the call for a proper inquiry into the Finucane murder.

Senator Coonan referred to Belarus. While I have come across the problem to which he refers, the authorities in Belarus and adjoining countries are clamping down heavily as part of the rights they have acquired as emerging democracies. I know of the sad case of a couple who took a Belarussian child for three months every year but who can no longer have him visit because the authorities will not let him travel. They have become very punitive in that regard.

Mr. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  To correct that, the authorities will give them a letter of permission to travel but the Irish Embassy will not issue the visas.

[1489]Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We can hardly interfere. It is an internal matter.

Mr. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  It is Government policy.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Belarus issue is certainly coming up.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Leader, without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am trying. I should stop outlining my own experiences.

Senator Coonan also sought a debate on agriculture and asked the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, to come to the House. The Senator suggested that work carried out under the nitrates directive should be index linked, a point put to me at the weekend. The Senator is correct.

Mr. Coonan: Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  I thank the Leader.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Lydon supported other Senators with regard to the Michael Finucane case.

Senator Browne raised the other side of yesterday’s court judgment and welcomed the ruling. He referred to an interesting incident.

Senator Callanan rallied to the Minister’s cause — good for him. He suggested there should be a standard set of development charges. I agree, given that they vary widely throughout the country. The Senator congratulated the Minister for Agriculture and Food and hoped to usher her into the House soon. She is the Senator’s favourite, is she not?

Order of Business agreed to.


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