Wednesday, 7 June 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Dardis: The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 24, motion 22. No. 1, the Health (Repayment Scheme) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, is to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 5 p.m., to resume at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Senators may share time, and the Minister will be called to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. No. 24, motion 22, will be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.
Mr. Bradford: Last week, following the public outrage and political confusion as a result of the Mr. A. case, this House played a proper and leading role in trying to respond to the situation in a positive fashion. The House sat until late on Friday evening to pass, with some reluctance, the emergency legislation which the Government introduced.
We are advised, arising from last week’s political crisis, that the Taoiseach will outline a series of measures to the other House. In view of the role played by this House it would be appropriate that the House be briefed on the Government’s proposals at the earliest possible opportunity. Certainly there is a need to have a full discussion on whatever measures are proposed. We have heard that the Taoiseach will announce an inquiry by an official of the Department of Finance into the role played, or not played as the case may be, by the Attorney General’s office. Fine Gael demands that any inquiry into the performance of the Attorney General’s office be transparent, public, independent and forensic.
Some Members will recall that in 1994, arising from the Brendan Smyth case, there was a requirement to have a full investigation into the performance of the Attorney General’s office on that occasion. Fine Gael will insist that the same type of thorough investigation take place on this occasion. We recall also that recommendations were put in place in the spring of 1995 and if those recommendations had been fully acted on, perhaps we would not have the problems we now have.
I acknowledge that the Taoiseach is indicating that problems need to be addressed and changes need to be made. That admission by the Taoiseach that things have not happened as they should have happened is welcome. Once again it appears that while the Taoiseach and the Government admit problems exist, political responsibility is not being taken by anybody. That is disappointing. Political responsibility needs to be taken for what happened last week.
Arising from the ongoing public fear, outrage and political difficulties caused by the Mr. A. case, we are still unclear as to where exactly we stand. We are advised that there are 17 persons in prison arising from convictions under the 1935 Act but we have no idea as to the status of these convictions or what appeals may be under way that could be successful. Those grave issues which concern not just the House but deeply concerned the country and, particularly parents, last week are still with us and need to be fully debated in the House at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Norris: Following from what Senator Bradford said, I agree we should continue to examine this very important area of public life. Although it was an important debate in its way, this House was prevented last week from fulfilling its constitutional role as the amending Chamber by virtue of the fact that the Dáil was allowed to evaporate and there was no possibility whatever of amendments being taken. That clearly undercuts the role of this House. We were also faced with what amounted to a guillotine. That is very regrettable. I call on the Acting Leader to ensure, through his good offices, this never happens again in this Chamber.
I ask that we secure copies of the Marty report and have it circulated it to all Members and have an early debate on this matter. The subject of CIA rendition flights has been ventilated in the House already. The report was published in Paris this morning. What people like myself have been saying for the past couple of years has been absolutely vindicated. Ireland has been, to use a phrase sometimes employed on this side of the House, named and shamed. It has clearly been stated that we have been implicated. I was able to do that by an analysis of the flight paths of the aeroplanes and use the information supplied by courageous people such as Tim
Hourigan and Ed Hogan in Shannon. It was perfectly clear that whatever else, on a number of occasions, aircraft were used illegally to kidnap and transport people illegally to places of torture and then we facilitated them knowingly on the return journey by refuelling them. It is a cause of shame and the response of the Department of Foreign Affairs is inadequate, pusillanimous and contemptible. It says there is nothing new in it. If that is the case why did they not face up to this? I call upon the House to reinstate the commission which collapsed due to lobbying from Clare County Council. It is time this Parliament took responsibility and exhibited its authority by refusing to be dominated by people who, though elected in a local area, are not elected to this national Parliament. This network of torture facilitation throughout Europe has been described as a spider’s web.
I request a discussion on the development of the new children’s hospital. As a resident of Dublin’s northside I am, in one sense, pleased that this facility should be hosted by the Mater Hospital, it is a fine hospital with new development proposals in process. However, it has been suggested in the media that the location of the new children’s hospital was chosen because it is located in the Taoiseach’s constituency. Such matters must be addressed to set the minds of the general public at ease. Strong cases are also being made for other hospitals, such as St. James’s so we need the full facts. Professor Drumm, the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, has indicated that criteria such as public accessibility, speed of construction and so on were taken into account. If this is the case we need to clearly place this matter on the record so we know the best services are being provided on behalf of the children of this country.
Mr. Ryan: Through what forum will the Attorney General be invited to explain what happened in his office in the period leading to the events that transfixed the nation last week and the week before last? Those with political accountability will have to submit themselves to questioning in these Houses. There seems to be a blanket of silence descending around the Office of the Attorney General which has insisted he will neither comment nor resign. The office merely states it will not happen again, it was a communications problem.
This was not a communications problem, it was a fundamental policy failure. We are entitled to know what happened in the Attorney General’s office on this issue, otherwise the parents of this country may feel they cannot trust that office to take every action necessary to defend children.
Yesterday it was announced that the north-eastern area of the Health Service Executive was implementing cutbacks of €10 million. This news comes a week after the State announced it has a budget surplus of €1.8 billion. I estimate that €10 million is roughly equivalent to 4,000 to 5,000 people not having access to hospital services over the next 12 months. This is a profound and fundamental issue.
There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests we are not spending enough on our health service. The ideological incantation is that we cannot just throw money at the issue. We all know this is true, it is not just throwing money at the issue. However, this does not mean that money is not part of the problem. We need a serious debate in this House on the funding of the health service. It is time we stopped repeating the same arguments. We know there is waste, we know there is inefficiency, we know all these things, notwithstanding the 100 plus people being paid €100,000. If they were doing their jobs I would not begrudge them €150,000. The problem lies in the number of people in the HSE being paid €100,000 and doing a job equivalent to €25,000.
I fully agree with Senator Norris. We have endeavoured to drag this House into confronting one small but shameful episode in this country’s history, from which the entire establishment averted its eyes and which it pretended was not happening. We are now in effect condemned by the body responsible for ensuring human rights in Europe are defended, a body set up after the Second World War to ensure that the sort of atrocities which happened would never happen again in Europe. We decided that in this case, apparently, we were not going to ask the questions, were not going to look in certain places and were going to pretend for as long as possible that nothing happened. It is a shameful position for a country which makes human rights one of the platforms of its foreign policy that our response on the first occasion when confronted by a scandalous abuse of human rights, by the most powerful country in the world, was to pretend it did not happen. When some of us, including some on the Government side of the House, tried to get an agreement to investigate the matter as well as we could, we were told it would not be appropriate. I choose to believe the Members opposite have better reasons than the fact that Clare County Council was upset. I hope there was a better reason, but I have not heard it yet.
Ms White: I support what Senator Norris has said about the treatment of this House last Friday. This side of the House was valiantly led by Senator Walsh, and Senator Cox pleaded that her amendment be listened to. How correct she proved to be at the weekend. When I was entering the House, I saw Members of the Dáil leaving because the Dáil had been adjourned, so I realised before we sat here last Friday that we were just a rubber stamp for legislation. I would like the Leader to request the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach to ensure such disrespect will never be shown to this House again.
Mr. Coghlan: I support what Senator White said, along with the comments of Senators Bradford and Norris. It was most unfortunate, and contrary to the tradition and the recent history of this House, that there was a guillotine. Section 5 was the meat of that flawed Bill. It is regrettable that Members were offering and were not listened to in this House last Friday. I am sure the Leader will comment on the matter.
I congratulate the State’s legal team on arguing successfully, as the Supreme Court decided, that Mr. A be returned to prison. However, the initial failure in the State’s argument, which led to this crisis, needs to be urgently, forensically and transparently investigated, as Senator Bradford said. While I welcome the Taoiseach’s admission of failure, if that is what it is, and the fact that he will make an announcement to the other House, we need to hear something about the matter in this Chamber, and this House should debate it too.
Can the Acting Leader tell us how many other cases in the judicial system based on the 1935 Act will be affected? A series of questions arises, of which that is only one. This Government has had nine years to deal with the matter and as Senator Bradford said, we thought that following the Brendan Smyth case, failsafe systems were put in place, which patently failed in the current instance. If, as has been suggested, matters are to be referred to an all-party joint committee, we need a timeframe for that, because we know what can happen when matters go to all-party committees. I call on the Acting Leader, whose comments will be greatly respected, to outline what he knows of the Government’s position and to arrange a debate on the matter in this House.
Mr. Minihan: Senator Ryan raised the issue that the country is confronted by a scandalous abuse of human rights. I want to raise another scandalous abuse of human rights. I have always argued that the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was intentional, calculated and cold-blooded.
Mr. Minihan: Last night’s programme on RTE confirmed this. Mr. Gerry Adams said the killing was wrong and the operation was sanctioned by an authorised person at a lower level, yet he refuses to name that authorised person. This morning on Radio Kerry, Deputy Ferris said he would not describe the killers of Jerry McCabe as criminals. He went on to say that he could not encourage anyone with information on the killing to contact the Garda. I ask all Members to join with me in expressing revulsion at the attitudes adopted by Mr. Adams and Deputy Ferris. People must take responsibility on this issue. Those who form and influence public opinion must apply the necessary pressure on Sinn Féin to name the authorised person in question and to encourage people who have information on the killing to contact the Garda.
Dr. Henry: Senator Minihan’s words must be supported by all Members. I support all those who have called for a debate on rendition flights through Shannon Airport. The Marty report presents a serious issue for the State.
I have two issues on which I ask the Acting Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to address in the House. The first concerns the abuse of alcohol by young people. Every year the director of the sexual assault unit at the Rotunda Hospital claims that in 60% of the cases of rape or sexual assault presented at the hospital the individuals concerned are drunk. I want the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to explain why the Government has abandoned its policy regarding drink and young people. The advertising code is to be brought forward by the drinks industry on a voluntary basis and not in the manner recommended by the expert report the Department produced.
Second, in Tuesday’s edition of The Irish Times a letter by ten orthopaedic surgeons at Tallaght Hospital was published. They claimed that, between the ten of them, they only have access to 20 beds for elective surgery. Over the past several years I have been repeatedly contacted by surgeons and anaesthetists about the cancelling of elective operations because there were not enough beds for patients. This is a terrible waste of time and money. The National Treatment Purchase Fund brings the same patients to private hospitals for operations while publicly paid surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses stand beside empty operating theatres because there are no public beds for these patients. It is a shocking waste of money.
It is mad that the National Treatment Purchase Fund does not allow public hospitals to tender for more than 10% of its work. We cannot find out what fees are being charged by these private hospitals for the various operations because the fund claims it is commercially sensitive information. Yet we are all paying for this. It is crazy that medical professionals — surgeons, anaesthetist and nurses — are willing to work but cannot because there are no beds. The same patients are being taken to private hospitals where there are beds for which the taxpayer pays.
The payments being made by the National Treatment Purchase Fund to the private hospitals for various operations must be explored. We must ensure these operations are done at public hospitals, which we are funding and the facilities of which are sitting idle.
Mr. Glynn: I call for a debate on rheumatology services. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which I am a member, recently received a deputation which outlined the shortcomings in the area of rheumatology. It is clear that the appropriately trained personnel and resources are available and the waiting time for treatment for those suffering from rheumatism and related conditions is totally unacceptable. I would ask that we debate this matter as soon as possible. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, is generous with her time in coming into the House and I am sure that debate will take place within a reasonable period.
I commend the Garda on its success in apprehending the gang of seven eastern Europeans. I know I might offend some people by saying they were not Irish because we have many such gangs of our own. This gang abducted two persons in Mullingar and was successful in extorting a sum of €5,000 for their release. The Garda apprehended that gang. This begs the following questions. Were they legal or illegal immigrants? If they were illegal immigrants, what is the process involved?
I commend the Garda’s equal success in Cork in apprehending the gang indulging in a credit card scam. Clearly, all involved were also non-nationals. As I stated already, we have plenty of such gangs of our own. What sort of screening is done?
Mr. Glynn: Yes. Such a debate is needed urgently. As I stated in this House previously, it is clear that there are organised criminal gangs coming into this country for the purposes I outlined. I want to know what sort of monitoring is done on the people coming in here. If they are coming to do what some of them are obviously doing, then it is best that they stay away.
Mr. U. Burke: The report on a study carried out by three medical practitioners in the west at centres caring for the elderly, both private and public, clearly shows an abuse in the use of anti-psychotic drugs in the treatment of the patients who have some symptoms of dementia. It is appalling that there is inappropriate use of these drugs in controlling the patients. When the authorities of those institutions were asked, they stated they were using them to control restlessness, tendencies to wander and shouting and disruption of that kind of a minor nature. It is important we immediately take action to ensure constant monitoring for such abuse in both private and public facilities which care for the elderly. If these are the methods being used, it is not good enough to call this caring for the elderly.
The report showed that of the 80 patients surveyed on the prescription of regular anti-psychotic medication, 51% were receiving inappropriate drugs. That is an alarming statistic. I ask the Acting Leader to immediately contact the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to ensure that proper guidelines are put in place on the use of such drugs for the elderly. I am told that some of those drugs cause a risk of stroke. If those institutions are using drugs that will cause further illnesses, it is an alarming issue which must be investigated as a matter of urgency so that the elderly will be cared for properly in institutions, both private and public.
Dr. M. Hayes: I support Senator White’s remarks about the treatment of the Seanad on Friday last. We all came to do our parliamentary duty to find that no word or comment of ours could possibly make the slightest difference to the legislation as it was passed. The Seanad has been taken for granted and we should not accept that. We were told at one stage there would not be a guillotine and the debate would not be curtailed. As a result, section 5, which was the nub of the matter and which will continue to cause confusion and perhaps challenge, was never discussed.
I also support Senator Norris’s call for the publication of the criteria relating to the decision to site the national children’s hospital at the Mater Hospital. I have no interest in any of these hospitals and I have no doubt from what I have read that the judgment was made on objective grounds.
Dr. M. Hayes: I have been involved previously in such matters and I know one gets very little thanks for it. The issues involved in making such decisions are most complex. It is important to show there was not political influence, as I believe was the case. This would be in the interests of the Health Service Executive and the hospital. A case has been made and criteria have been set down and it would clear up much confusion and help public confidence in the decision-making process if these were published.
Mr. Quinn: Those of us who saw the television programme last night on the death of Detective Garda McCabe were not surprised to hear the refusal to condemn such killing. What does astound me is that, according to Senator Minihan, an elected Member of the Oireachtas stated this morning on Kerry Radio that he would urge those who have knowledge of this matter not to go to the Garda. That is overstepping the mark.
Mr. Quinn: I wonder to what extent it is possible to have this matter forced out into the open. If the electorate was made aware of this proposal it would change many attitudes. Having watched that brave lady, the widow of Detective Garda McCabe on television last night, I am saddened to hear of this report from Kerry Radio this morning.
I ask the Acting Leader to draw the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the sad deaths last weeks due to the tragic drownings in County Cork. Although there is no connection with that incident, I understand that the Garda water unit, which is the recovery unit of the Garda, is seriously undermanned. I am not sure why this is the case. Perhaps the unit depends on voluntary effort. Following a recent incident, it was five days before the water unit could search for a body as it was engaged on a case in another part of the country. I ask the Acting Leader to draw the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to this matter to see if something can be done about it.
Mr. Dooley: I join with other Senators in calling for a debate on the report of the Council of Europe into the issue of rendition. I have only had a brief opportunity to go through the documentation that has been released today but I believe the report lacks credibility.
Mr. Dooley: No evidence is provided to back up the allegations. Emotive language is spattered throughout the report, such as phrases like “spider’s web” and “collusion”. This clearly shows the report lacks objectivity.
Mr. Dooley: It is evident that Senator Marty has come to this matter with a biased opinion and created a report around it. I strongly reject the use of the word “collusion” in reference to the Government.
We talk about indictments and the way in which Ireland has been besmirched by this issue. In the report I have received there are three lines which use the emotive language of collusion and makes reference to the preponderance of evidence gathered. It lists Shannon Airport as being among those airports used for rendition flights and goes on to state these airports are points at which aircraft land and refuel, mostly on the way home.
The major debate in both Houses has concerned the passage of prisoners through the airport. The report found no evidence that prisoners were being transported through the airport but we are now changing the dynamics of the debate.
Mr. Dooley: It is important that we have a debate on this issue so that we can tease out the details of this report and show it up for what it is, namely, a baseless and biased report that lacks any credibility because it contains no evidence to back up its claims.
Mr. Bannon: Senators on this side of the House can fully understand the frustration and anger voiced by a Government Senator this morning about the manner in which the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2006 went through the House last Friday. Nobody has assumed responsibility and there is no political accountability in respect of this crisis. It was decided that several amendments tabled by Senators from both sides of the House could not be taken.
I am disappointed with the actions of the Leader and I would voice my disappointment if she was here today. She promised us that a Bill would never be guillotined in this House in her term as Leader so she must answer for her actions in respect of this issue.
Mr. Bannon: I am also aware of the widening gap between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats on this issue. When one listens to radio stations around the country, it is clear that one party is speaking out of one side of its mouth, while the other party speaks out of the other side.
The Leader should invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House for a debate on the inadequacy of housing grants for elderly people, namely, the essential repairs and disabled persons grants. These grants have not kept pace with inflation. I know an elderly person who was quoted €48,000 for necessary repairs to his house but the maximum grant he can receive is between €18,000 and €20,000, depending on the local authority.
These elderly people are unable to afford this kind of money for repairs. At a time when, as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government recently noted, the country is awash with money, he should be ashamed of himself. I call on him to come to this House to debate the grants available to our elderly people because such a debate is urgently needed.
Mr. J. Walsh: I concur with the comments of Senator Bradford. To its credit, the House sensibly focused on the serious issue before it last week, rather than succumbing to the temptation to play politics, as happens elsewhere. However, it is important that this spirit is maintained and I support Senator Bradford’s call for a debate at the earliest opportunity. I have heard reports about measures which will be announced by the Taoiseach in the Dáil today. Such measures are commendable and we should have the opportunity to contribute to them because they are a step in benchmarking legislation in other countries to ensure that best practice applies in this country.
I am disappointed that calls made by me in the past have not resulted in a debate on ongoing tribunals of inquiry. Some form of accountability by way of progress reports on tribunals of inquiry is needed. The work carried out by the tribunals is laudable but has been achieved at very high cost. Since their establishment eight or nine years ago——
Mr. J. Walsh: Since their establishment, new legislation has been introduced which allows these issues to be addressed in a more expeditious and less costly way and still be as effective. This is an important development.
I am appalled to think that the tribunals will operate to a completely different standard to that of our courts. Hearsay evidence is not permitted in our courts. However, such evidence is not only accepted in tribunals of inquiry, it is encouraged. People who have done wrong should be held accountable but they should not be held up for public ridicule for such a prolonged period without an adjudication being made. Their good names should not be besmirched before the reports of the tribunals are published.
Justice delayed is justice denied. It has been eight years since some of the tribunals were established and the situation is wholly unacceptable. The time has come to have a rational debate on how best to bring the tribunals to a satisfactory conclusion without concealing anything they must investigate.
Mr. J. Phelan: I join with my colleague, Senator Bradford, in asking for a full, open, transparent and independent inquiry into the inaction of the Attorney General’s office last week and the preceding week. The Taoiseach will make an announcement, in anticipation of which Senator Jim Walsh expressed his views, but it is vital that such an inquiry would be independent. This side of the House hopes that will be the case.
I did not hear the interview given by Deputy Ferris referred to by Senators Minihan and Quinn in respect of the killing of Detective Garda McCabe. It is shocking and repugnant that a Member of the Lower House would make such a comment. His comments on local radio and how unacceptable and inappropriate they are should be brought home to everyone. This House should call on him and anyone with knowledge of what occurred this day ten years ago to make contact with the Garda Síochána as soon as possible.
Senator Norris raised the important issue of the national children’s hospital, as possible political interference has been mentioned in the media. Irrespective of whether there was any, we must be clear about the criteria on which the decision to locate the hospital at the Mater Hospital was based. The site at St. James’s Hospital is four or five times larger and better suited to future expansion and improvement than the site at the Mater Hospital. The primary reason the latter was chosen was because the project could be done more quickly. There is some merit in this criterion, but serious questions have been raised. We should debate the reason the site was chosen.
It would be remiss if no Senator from either side of the House took the opportunity to wish the best to those people who are sitting their leaving certificate and junior certificate examinations in 25° heat. I remember where I was this day nine years ago and am glad I do not have to face it again.
Ms Cox: I wish to address two points. Will the Acting Leader arrange for a debate on the situation in which we found ourselves last Friday? On the Order of Business, it was clarified by the Leader that no guillotine would be applied to the legislation. Everyone with whom I spoke also had this impression. The House faced a great emergency and the legislation was one of the most serious Bills to be passed since 2002. I was under the impression that a guillotine would not be applied and, unlike in the Dáil, Members would be able to examine all of the issues. However, this did not happen.
During the Order of Business, Senator O’Rourke clearly outlined the situation to the leader of the Opposition when she stated: “We should play it as it goes. We will see how the debate proceeds, who contributes and what time we have available.”
Ms Cox: If Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are to appear before the House and treat it like a rubber stamp, I want to speak on the importance of the Seanad. Previously, someone described the position of a Cathaoirleach as that of a eunuch. Many Senators have been elected. We traipsed around the country, sought mandates from the people, were each elected to do a job and are all paid salaries by taxpayers. Last Friday, our rights were taken away. The Minister came into the House determined not to accept any amendments.
Ms Cox: I was told by an official in the Department that the Minister was determined not to accept any amendments. That is not good enough, we cannot be treated in that manner. If the Seanad is not to be treated properly, it should be abolished. Our money and time should not be wasted.
When is it intended to bring the legislation we passed last week back to the House? We did not have time to debate section 5 properly. Constitutional lawyers are now raising concerns that the section may be unconstitutional.
Ms Cox: I am entitled to speak about forthcoming debates and legislation. It is not acceptable that these Houses passed legislation, under duress, that makes boys less equal than girls. We cannot allow this legislation to remain on the Statute Book. The Taoiseach may deal with the issue in the Dáil and pass it to an Oireachtas committee. I appeal for the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to set a time limit to address the legislation so that everyone in the State is equal in the eyes of the law and the Constitution.
Ms Terry: The national pay talks resume this afternoon in Government buildings. While broad agreement has been reached between the social partners on pay and employment standards, pensions are proving to be a stumbling block. I welcome the fact that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is at last paying attention to the issue of pensions in light of one of the biggest banks in the country stating that new entrants will only be on defined contribution pension schemes instead of defined benefit schemes, as enjoyed by current employees.
After many debates in the House and my pressing the Minister, I have finally secured information from the Department of Social and Family Affairs that there are 50,000 on deferred frozen benefits. Those are people who paid into pension schemes over the years and whose pensions have not been revalued.
I am not sure how the Acting Leader could deliver a message to the Taoiseach’s representative at the social partnership talks today to say that where an employer fails to give a guaranteed pension benefit, the employees should be allowed to opt out of the company pension scheme and receive the benefit and financial incentive instead. The time has come where we must admit that when pensions are not delivering, employers must pay up and instead give the remuneration to the employees.
It is a good thing that pensions are finally being recognised as a major problem. The pensions industry has ripped people off while the Government did nothing to prevent it taking money from people with no guaranteed return. This could be a good opportunity for people to get what they deserve. If the pensions industry and employers cannot deliver guaranteed pensions, they should give the employees remuneration instead.
Mr. Fitzgerald: Like Senator Minihan, I wish to refer to the horrific murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the implications of the murder and subsequent events for our democracy and for the entire island. I first wish to acknowledge the great work of the Taoiseach on his ongoing efforts to bring lasting peace to our island.
Mr. Fitzgerald: My republican credentials are deeply rooted in the mountains of counties Limerick and Tipperary. I visited the Diplock courts, including the trials in the Harry Kirkpatrick case, the last of the supergrass trials to collapse. I witnessed at first hand the alienation of the people of west Belfast on visits to Ballymurphy, Divis flats and the Whiterock Road and viewed the peaceline at Belfast Flax Trust. Notwithstanding these facts, I have witnessed a creeping and sinister movement in operation on this island since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Politicians are being continually blackmailed by the invocation of the Good Friday Agreement by democratically elected Members of Dáil Éireann and the Northern Assembly as a device to stay silent or else. We are being blackmailed by people whose long-term agenda——
Mr. Fitzgerald: ——and objectives are not, I regret to note, in the best interests of this democracy and the people of this island. These armalite democrats such as Deputy Ferris and Mr. Adams must be immediately and finally called to account because democracy and democrats demand no less.
Mr. Cummins: I share speakers’ views on section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, the most anomalous part of the legislation. Last week, the House was not afforded an opportunity to debate this section. I agree that many Senators on the Government side also offered to contribute to the debate but the House was prevented from holding such a debate by the use of a Government guillotine, a most unfortunate decision. What steps, if any, does the Government intend to take to test the constitutionality of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act? How does it intend to ensure that the errors which occurred in the Office of the Attorney General and, possibly, elsewhere will be addressed? Does it intend to establish an all-party committee to deal with the many aspects of law pertaining to the protection of children?
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support Senator Henry’s call for a debate on alcohol abuse, as I have supported her on this matter in the past. The issue of alcohol abuse periodically moves centre stage before disappearing from the radar screen. We have evidence to show that it lies at the root of most anti-social behaviour and crime, including murder, sexual assault and domestic violence. We all express shock and horror when we see the results of this problem, as it is appropriate to do, but we are not prepared to delve deeply into the issue to determine the direction in which society is moving.
A series of programmes entitled “Boozing Britain” is being shown on television. Perhaps Senators have seen it. It is unbelievable that the events portrayed on our screens should occur in a civilised society. These people fear neither God nor man. It is not something that is happening in the dark — the television cameras went into pubs and showed some of the most outrageous things one could possibly imagine. There are reasons we will not delve deeply into this matter.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I am seeking an early debate to provide an opportunity for expressing ourselves on the fundamental issues which underlie many of these problems. After all the debates we have had in recent times, I do not understand why we have not seen any follow-up action.
Mr. Browne: Many Senators have referred to last Friday’s sitting of the House. It is not ideal for the Houses of the Oireachtas to sit on the same day as a major court case. The courts and the Oireachtas are separate and we should not be seen to compete with each other. Thankfully, last Friday’s court case concerning Mr. A went the way everyone hoped it would. Had it gone wrong, I imagine it would have had implications. We should learn lessons from that and not necessarily sit on days of major court cases.
I am seeking a debate on the Health Service Executive, which was established nearly 18 months ago. It is amazing to think that the chief executive of the HSE recently received a bonus of €34,000. There are over 100 managers earning salaries of over €100,000 each.
Mr. Browne: When the health boards were being abolished we were told we would have a much better system but I do not think we have. Today’s newspapers have reported 586 cases of MRSA in hospitals.
Mr. Browne: There is a delay of six months to three years for patients awaiting treatment at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire. It is time we had a debate on how effective the HSE is, as well as how we can improve it. Patients are certainly not getting the service they deserve.
Mr. Moylan: As Government Whip, I cannot accept much of what was said about the debate on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill last week. Any Member who wished to speak on the legislation on Second Stage was allowed to do so, after which we took Committee and Remaining Stages. The Leader twice extended the time for Committee and Remaining Stages and it should be appreciated that she did her utmost to facilitate everyone. I presided as Acting Chairman for part of the debate during which there was an amount of discussion. I compliment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on the detailed explanations they provided for every point that was raised on all Stages. I have yet to see legislation that was not revisited at some stage.
A Motion for Earlier Signature went to the President. I have no doubt that if the President thought the Bill was in any way unconstitutional, she would not have signed it. Members wanted to make points about particular sections but that happens with every Bill. We should not point the finger at the Leader and the Government who did their utmost to afford Members every opportunity to contribute.
I accept the point that perhaps the Dáil should not have adjourned until such time as this House had completed its deliberations on the Bill. As Government Whip, however, I am defending the conduct of last Friday’s debate.
Mr. Dardis: The Acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Bradford, together with Senators Norris, Ryan, White, Coghlan, Maurice Hayes, Bannon, Jim Walsh, John Paul Phelan, Cox, Browne and Moylan all referred to the handling of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, as well as the legislation itself. They also mentioned matters concerning the Office of the Attorney General and the conduct of the debate. I endorse what Senator Moylan said with regard to the conduct of the debate. On the question of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform treating the Seanad as a rubber stamp, the Minister, more than most members of the Government — in my recollection, more than any — has come to the Seanad and always engaged fully and comprehensively on every Bill he has introduced. He has dealt in great detail with the questions raised.
Some of the contributions I listened to on Committee Stage were Second Stage speeches. On Committee Stage, Members are meant to talk to and stick to the amendments, although it is a matter for the Chair to decide. Increasingly, it seems Committee Stage is used by Members who did not take the trouble to speak on Second Stage. I cannot recall some of those who had much to say in this regard contributing to the debate, although I may be wrong on that.
Given all the circumstances, the Leader gave as much time as possible. The Bill had to go for signature because it was urgent. With regard to its constitutionality, the Government does not take constitutional cases. It is for the President to decide whether she wishes to refer the Bill and it is for any aggrieved citizen who or group which thinks the Bill is unconstitutional to take a case. It is for the Government to defend such cases. In the event the Act is struck down, we must come back to the issue, as happened in the case at point, which is why the legislation was necessary.
I understand the Taoiseach will make a statement today in the other House with regard to the way forward on the matter in terms of the all-party committee which I expect will be established. That is the way to deal with the matter. It is important there be a consensus. I agree that there should be a timeframe. I also agree with Senator Bradford that these matters should be kept under review and that the House should debate them as and when required on the basis of that review.
Mr. Dardis: I cannot contemplate that this would be the case. If there were deficiencies, a procedure will be gone through to identify them. That procedure is a reasonable one which will establish what happened in the Attorney General’s office. To make a connection between the most recent case and the one of 1994 is wholly invidious. Procedures were put in place within the Attorney General’s office on the basis of the earlier case. Those systems have worked and have been updated. They are quite different in nature and scope, and deal with different issues, from those which arose in the most recent case. That is as it should be.
I take the point made by Senator White and others with regard to the role of the Seanad, an issue which has been debated comprehensively. An all-party group considered the role of the Seanad and produced a report, and the issue is being considered at present. Perhaps we can return to it at a later stage and debate it in some depth. I accept the proposition made by Senator Bradford that the matter should be kept under review. I will try to ensure that all Members are briefed fully on the Government proposals when they come forward in the other House, as I expect they will.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has at all times been available to this House. In trying, difficult and busy circumstances, he came to the House last Wednesday and dealt comprehensively with many of the issues before we received the Bill. That was helpful in the context of our discussion of the Bill.
On the matter of CIA rendition flights raised by Senators Norris, Ryan, Henry and Dooley, Senator Dooley made the important point that there is no evidence of prisoners being transferred. I accept the Senator’s point that if language is used such as “spider’s web” and “collusion”, it paints the matter in a particular way. I reject a point made by Senator Norris, who said it was clear the aircraft were used illegally to kidnap people. I do not know of any clarity with regard to that matter. In fact, I reject that proposition.
Mr. Dardis: I am sorry. It was also raised by Senator Norris. I would hate to leave out the Senator. This matter was dealt with by a group within the HSE which acted independently and reached a decision which, I agree with Senator Maurice Hayes, was objective. Obviously, some will not be pleased with the decision but it has been made. The most important aspect of this matter is that it needs to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. We need the new hospital as soon as possible, wherever it is located.
Senator Browne referred to the HSE. I agree that we should have a general debate on the HSE. However, with regard to the matter of the HSE north-eastern area, if a body overspent by €10 million, I do not understand how it can be represented as a cutback if the body had been asked not to use funding in a certain way. It seems that over the years the health boards which were the most prudent in managing their funds were most heavily penalised while those which acted irresponsibly and overspent got away with it. There is something to be considered in that respect. A matter arises with regard to funding in general, which can be dealt with.
I commend the makers of the television programme screened last night on the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the attempted murder of Garda Ben O’Sullivan because it shone a light where it needed to be shone, and did so in a professional, non-speculative way. It produced facts, unlike some of the comments we have heard today, which were in the realm of speculation. Senators Minihan, Henry, Quinn, John Paul Phelan, Fitzgerald and Cummins are correct on this matter. It is astonishing that the so-called authorised person cannot be identified and it was astonishing to hear Mr. Adams and Deputy Ferris speaking out of both sides of their mouths.
One of the most chilling moments in the programme was when Ann McCabe stood up bravely at the meeting in America, which was attended by the president of Sinn Féin-IRA, and asked him the question about the unauthorised person. She was virtually shouted down. That was a chilling moment in terms of people’s attitudes and their belief in the peace process. We must make sure democratic politics reclaims that space and that we, as was famously stated on one occasion, stand by the republic, and that we are republicans.
Senators Henry and Ó Murchú referred to the abuse of alcohol, a matter we have debated in the past and should debate in the future. Senator Henry made hard statements with regard to number of rape cases involving drink. In the context of last week’s debate, there is an odd disconnection. It seems to be in order to abuse alcohol while under age but when it comes to sexual activity between young people, the whole country becomes hysterical. I do not understand these two poles within our opinion on the matter. Surely both activities are wrong, and that is the end of it.
I am not sure of the answer to Senator Henry’s question on orthopaedic surgeons but it is a matter we can debate. Other Senators also commented on the health service, including Senator Browne, Senator Glynn, who referred to rheumatology, and Senator Ulick Burke, who referred to the issue of anti-psychotic drugs. The statistic Senator Burke quoted is frightening. It seems to be a matter of regulation within the institutions concerned, although there is an inspection service. The best way to deal with these matters is to include them all in one subject grouping in a debate on the health service. The Tánaiste has always been amenable to coming to the House to examine these matters in detail.
I agree with Senator Glynn’s comments with regard to the apprehending of those involved in kidnapping people and in credit card scams. However, there is no evidence of any more or less illegal activity in the migrant community in this country than there is in the native population. Both communities have equal numbers of people who are prepared to act illegally.
Senator Quinn spoke about the recent drownings. It was a tragic situation. The words uttered over the weekend about respect for water and water safety are most important. I will make inquiries about the Garda water unit; I am not sure what is the answer to the Senator’s question.
Senator Bannon spoke about the essential repairs and disabled people's grants schemes. The local authorities have a role in this area. A hugely increased amount of money was allocated to them recently. They should examine how they disburse those moneys and the speed with which it is done.
Mr. Dardis: Senator Jim Walsh referred to the tribunals. He is correct that they have been ongoing for a long time but they were established by a resolution of these Houses. He also made a reasonable point with regard to the rules of evidence, which appear to be different from those of the courts, whereby people’s good names can be brought down on the basis of hearsay evidence.
We join Senator John Paul Phelan in extending good wishes to students sitting the leaving certificate examination. Being young, he can remember doing his leaving certificate. Perhaps all of us can remember doing it, irrespective of age.
Senator Terry referred to the national pay talks. I agree that pensions are an important aspect of the talks and I am glad attention is being paid to the issue. I am not sure about permitting opt-outs. Experience shows that where they are allowed, people are not inclined to take up pensions. It is most important that they have pensions and, for that reason, the State has an obligation to try to ensure that they do. It is an issue that can be debated in the wider context of, hopefully, the successful outcome of the partnership talks which will no doubt be debated in the House.
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