Order of Business.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 184 No. 14

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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 and 30, motion 26. No. 1 is a sessional order as agreed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and will be taken without debate; No. 2 is a referral motion whereby the subject matter of motion 21 on today’s Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for consideration. Under the Disability Act 2005, the six Departments named in the motion are required to produce sectoral plans relating to delivery of services to people with disabilities. The motion seeks the approval of these plans put forward by the Departments concerned and it will be taken without debate. When the motion returns from the committee, it would be a good idea for us to debate the six Departments’ sectoral plans. No. 3, statements on the 2005 Annual Report of the Office of Tobacco Control, will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and will con[1230]clude not later than 5 p.m., spokespersons have ten minutes and other speakers have six minutes, and the Minister will be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 30, motion 26, will be taken from 5 p.m until 7 p.m.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  At the start of each session I ask on behalf of my colleagues, and the Leader of the House normally gives a full reply, for an outline of the legislation that will come before the House between now and Christmas. It would be useful to do that in the next week, with the Leader detailing the Bills that will be debated following the publication of the legislative programme by the Government Chief Whip yesterday.

Once again the spectre of politics and money is brought into sharp focus following the controversy surrounding the Taoiseach in the past week. It is fair to point out that there is genuine embarrassment on all sides about having to raise these matters but once they are in the public domain, the Opposition must ask questions and we will see the culmination of that in the other House later today.

I would, however, like to make a number of points about the controversy. The Irish people are sick and tired of hearing of these stories whereby senior politicians have taken money for whatever use they so choose. People will ask the probing questions over the next few days about whether the Taoiseach has any tax liability and there are questions that must be answered about ethics legislation and codes. The fundamental question people are asking is whether it is right that a senior politician should take such a significant sum of money for his own use.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  There are procedures for these proceedings.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  As leader of the largest Opposition group, I am making the point on the Order of Business that this must be clarified in the near future so the matter is resolved once and for all, not only for the Taoiseach himself but for the Office of the Taoiseach, which has been so consistently important in the State.

When will the Government allow time to debate the reports of the Morris and Barr tribunals? Senator Bannon asked about this on the last day of the previous session and it is necessary that we debate both reports. The tribunals were established by the Oireachtas and the reports should be discussed in the House as soon as possible.

On behalf of all Senators, I wish a speedy recovery to a Garda sergeant who was shot today on the Monasterboice Road while doing his job and risking his life and that of his colleagues by confronting particular criminals. It underlines the threat posed to the Garda Síochána by the gun culture that grips this country. We should all send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

[1231]Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I echo the words about the Garda sergeant who was injured this morning. We have been quick enough to criticise gardaí at times but we should also take the opportunity to recognise someone who takes risks for us, for democracy and for the law. It is vital that we support and acknowledge the great bravery of people in those situations.

The issue being discussed in the media and elsewhere today is one where we are inclined to rush to judgment while we all seek further information. We have tried to deal with this situation over the past ten years on a legislative basis. There is legislation in place to deal with tax law and ethics which is difficult legislation with which to deal. Those of us who have dealt with ethics in committees of this House know this is the case.

I will suspend judgment until such time as I get a clear indication on the question of Revenue law and ethics legislation. I would like to hear from the Revenue Commissioners and the ethics commission. Once these matters have been clarified we will know where we stand. If the bar of what is politically correct needs to be raised, as regards the conduct of taoisigh or Ministers, we will have to address that matter also. There has been much discussion but the fundamental facts boil down to whether the law of the land has been broken. If so, that brings us to a clear conclusion. If it has not been broken — I do not know whether it has or not — then we must park the issue. That is the way to proceed.

I agree with Senator Brian Hayes that there are issues hanging there about which I would like to hear more before we all rush to judgment. I would like to have full knowledge before drawing a conclusion and then we can decide how much further we need to go.

On a similar matter, as it concerns large amounts of money, we should congratulate the new Tánaiste and wish him the best in his new role. On the question of money, the House should indicate how pleased it is that the Government no longer needs an extra €3 billion in annual tax revenues.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  That is not what we said. The first thing the Senator needs is a hearing aid.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I am full of ideas as to how we might spend that €3 billion.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Keep them quiet.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I have no doubt I am not the only one. There are people on both sides of the House who would like to say “Here’s how we’ll spend it”. During the Estimates season various Departments argue for extra pennies, cents and shillings here, there and everywhere. Now that we have found this goldmine of €3 billion, I would like to have an input into how it should be spent.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  The golden goose.

[1232]Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Yes. There are aspects of education and health which are badly in need of it and that is only the start.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  We in the Labour Party would also like to convey our good wishes to the garda who was injured while bravely upholding both the principle of a society governed by law and the right of ordinary people to live in it without fear. I wish him a speedy recovery. It should be remembered that for all the occasional and perhaps more than occasional critiques, we have a police force which has managed to operate largely unarmed in difficult circumstances. At the level of individual contact with citizens the force is entirely unarmed, which is close to being unique in the world. There is therefore a particularly poignancy when a garda is injured. We need to be heard on this point.

I ask the Leader to arrange for a serious and significant debate on the future of the health services. This should occur sometime early in the session and not be confined to a short debate during Private Members’ time. We had a succession of little Fianna Fáil explosions over the summer about the health sector. Former distinguished Members of this House threatened mayhem if certain hospitals were not preserved, and aspiring Members of the other House made similar noises. Plans have been put on and off but it would be nice to hear from the Minister for Health and Children now that she is unburdened with the troubles of being Tánaiste and, presumably, better able to talk to us.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  She saw it coming up.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Perhaps she could explain precisely what is the Government’s plan. So far we have seen doctor-only medical cards which our foolish citizenry do not see the merits of, in spite of continual attempts by the Minister for Health and Children to demonstrate that they are a great idea. Either our citizens can see that they are of no benefit or they cannot. I would like to know about the much touted HSE plan for dealing with the accident and emergency crisis, which as far as I can see amounted to persuading as many old people as possible to get themselves vaccinated. We would all agree with that but not with the implication that the cause of the crisis is the under-vaccination of our elderly population. Everybody, apart from the Minister and the HSE, accepts the fundamental problem is that we do not have enough acute beds in our hospitals.

The third issue is the spiralling cost of health insurance for the proportion of the population that can afford it, a potentially declining proportion. May we have a serious debate so we can hear from some of the more vocal Members opposite what they understand to be the position, in the presence of the Minister for Health and Children so she can clarify whether their under[1233]standing is the same as her own because it is the biggest issue facing the country?

When we adjourned in the summer the entire Western world, the European Union and the United States in particular, abandoned any sense of morality in international affairs. The compliance of the European Union and the United States with the Israeli assault on Lebanon in a deliberate campaign was guaranteed to ensure there was no immediate ceasefire. That particular position, which was the EU position, was allowed to go through a conference in Rome in which the EU fudged to avoid a confrontation with the United States and in which the fundamental question of the need for an immediate ceasefire was deliberately fudged to allow Israel to continue its actions. According to the United Nations there are one million cluster bomblets in southern Lebanon waiting to be handled by vulnerable civilians who are trying to get back to the homes that were so brutally destroyed. Given that there is a fundamental issue involved, I call for a debate in the near future on the situation in the Middle East to see whether we can assert some moral influence to restore the position of the European Union.

I would not mind having a debate on the European Union’s response to the applications for membership by Romania and Bulgaria, which have been approved in principle. One of those two countries has been told off about the fact that there are a large number of unsolved contract killings which, if it is a criterion for membership, puts our membership in some jeopardy. Another one has been told off because of the lack of clarity about the relationship between politics and business. Does that mean that particular country will have to ensure senior ministers cannot take loans from their friends whom they then appoint to state companies? There is an interesting ethical issue here and, perhaps, we need to be careful to ensure the same principles we demand of new members are applied to existing members.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Seven months ago we had an excellent debate in the House on the Shot at Dawn Campaign. I congratulate those involved in that campaign, particularly my colleague Senator Mooney and several other Senators from all sides of the House who took an interest in it, on the positive result that has been achieved. I believe that pressure from this country played a substantial and positive role in that decision.

There are three matters I would like debated in the session. The first is energy policy, though obviously that should take place on foot of the Green Paper on energy. There are substantial concerns about security of supply, cost and so on, though we all welcome the reduction in the price of oil. We should also have a substantial debate on the Middle East, as mentioned by Senator Ryan, and a substantial debate on Northern Ireland in view of the decisions that have to be taken by 24 November.

[1234]Speaking for myself and, I believe, colleagues on this side of the House I have total confidence in the Taoiseach. The House does not await clarification of a particular detail. I remind the House——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We are not debating——

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  I wish to make one point. A political leader, not from this side of the House, got into difficulties through no fault of his own and got substantial help. The people of this country have a certain amount of humanity and understanding which they are displaying on this occasion.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  First, what a lovely piece of Rigoletto the Leader elicited last night on the basis of a sigh.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Has the Senator a question on the Order of Business?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Was that a compliment?

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I am pleased to report that the beautiful and historic Dinis Cottage situated beside the old weir bridge and the meeting of the waters——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  What relevance has this to the Order of Business?

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I called for its renovation many times here.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I am aware of that, but is it relevant?

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  The cottage has been fully restored and I want to acknowledge that and compliment everybody. Not alone have the original features been conserved and restored——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That is not on today’s Order of Business.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I am coming to a question which I know the Cathaoirleach wishes me to ask the Leader. Not only has the concept of sustainable development been built into the project with the inclusion of solar panels on the roof of an adjacent outhouse and the use of an integrated constructed wetland to treat effluent from the cottage——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  What is the Senator’s question?

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Now that such an excellent job has been done on the cottage, will the Leader ensure that the two responsible Ministers will devote some of the €3 billion referred to by Senator O’Toole to the urgent refurbishment and opening to the public of the important and his[1235]toric Killarney House? That should start with the development of the gardens and demesne landscape immediately adjacent to the house, which could become the St. Stephen’s Green of Killarney.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator’s point is adequately made.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  This is a serious matter. The house is in our most important national park.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  I compliment Senator O’Toole on his balanced comments on the controversy which has dominated the media for some time. At times like this, balance can be often in short supply. I was particularly surprised and disappointed that one of the central issues of the debate was downplayed or sidelined, namely, the leaking of confidential information from the tribunal. This raises serious questions here as we have a role with regard to the tribunal. I wonder how the honourable judge who presides over it feels with regard to the fact that the tribunal cannot live up to the commitment it gave to people who provided confidential information. Who had access to that information and what security applies to ensure people’s rights are protected? The danger is that there could be a fallout from this case which could impact on the credibility of the tribunal.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot discuss that now.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  We are now reaching a stage where we may need a tribunal to investigate the tribunal.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I would usually call on an Independent speaker at this stage, but I call Senator Finucane as he is Leader of the Opposition today.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  On the issue of a leak, the Tánaiste selectively leaked information when it suited him and Senator Ó Murchú knows to what I refer.

On the accession of the new countries to the EU, whose immigrant population have contributed to the success of our economy, only three countries co-operated fully in their accession, namely Sweden, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Previous speakers have referred to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania from 1 January 2007 and I would like the appropriate Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to discuss their accession. We should not wait for the United Kingdom to make its decision as to whether to accept these people into its country before we decide what to do. It is time for us to decide. We should take stock and analyse what has happened to date as we are approaching a situation where I at least would support a work permit concept with regard to these new countries.

[1236]Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  I too support the proposition for a debate on the report of the Morris tribunal and that into the events in Abbeylara. The House should have a debate in the context that has been referred to of a member of the Garda being shot today in the pursuance of his duty. We should approach these matters with due deference to the service the Garda has given us over the years, mindful of the need to act on the recommendations of bodies like the Morris tribunal. It will be well worthwhile to do so.

I ask for a debate on another matter which also touches on the Garda and on the question of social housing. A recent report pointed out that no garda, teacher, nurse, social worker or anybody else in this income bracket could afford to buy a house in the cities of Ireland.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It is Government policy.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  It is important to note that the very people we need to run the cities are not able to live in them.

My final point links with one raised by Senator Moynihan. A report from the NESC on immigration is on our desks today. I ask for a full and reflective debate at some time early in the year on the impact of immigration on our society.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Senator Moynihan is in the United States.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I call Senator Henry.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  Earlier this summer the report of the Inspector of Mental Health Services was published. I would be grateful if the Leader could arrange time for a debate on this and on the recently published report for 2005 on the Prison Service. I ask that the reports of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and of the visiting committees for the various prisons, be included in the debate. The prisons have been the subject of a considerable amount of comment during the summer. It would be useful if the House addressed the facts of what is happening within these institutions.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  I apologise to Senator Finucane for referring to him by the wrong name.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Every one understands it was an error.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  I was so blinded by his brilliance that he reminded me of the star of the all-Ireland final.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I share Senator Ryan’s view that there should be a debate on the health services which we would all agree is a very emotive issue in certain parts of the country, not least in the north east. I am also equally hopeful that the House will condemn unreservedly the elements there on that day who descended into mob rule [1237]at what was an outwardly democratic expression of decent, honest people in Monaghan whom I strongly support in their efforts to retain their local services. I hope the House will condemn the abuse that was heaped on the local Deputy who is the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil. I do not believe this was acceptable and it was more a reflection on the individual in question than it was on the Ceann Comhairle. What message did this send out to the dozens of schoolchildren who were present and to all the good, decent people who had turned out to protest in an orderly manner? Democracy is a very fragile flower but when it descends into mob law I hope the House will unreservedly condemn the vile abuse that was heaped on a Member of Parliament going about his democratic duties.

  3 o’clock

I support Senator Maurice Hayes’s request for a debate on the issue of immigration and the NESC report provides an ideal opportunity for such a debate. I thank my distinguished friend and colleague, Senator Mansergh, for his very gracious remarks about the Shot at Dawn Campaign and my friend and colleague, Senator Maurice Hayes. I would like to think that all of us, as Members of this House and as members of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, acted as a catalyst. I believe the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body kick-started the eventual resolution of this problem. I wish to acknowledge the unsung heroes, the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs who prepared the forensic report which was then taken up by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. I thank all for them for what I hope will be the resolution of a grievous injustice which goes back over decades.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  In its programme for Government set out in 2002, this Government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats gave an undertaking that no child under the age of nine would be in a class of more than 20 pupils by the end of this Government’s lifetime. There are only eight or nine months left in the lifetime of the Government, and it is unfortunate that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, has dismissed and disowned the undertaking as an aspirational statement.

It is very worrying for many parents who have never before seen such numbers at the intake to primary level. Some 33% of these pupils are now in classes of 25 pupils and upwards. Some are in classes of up to 40 pupils. It is no wonder that the public is in despair with regard to promises and undertakings given by Government.

Oddly, of the 15,000 students at primary level in the Minister’s own constituency, nearly 12,000 are in class sizes of 25 or more. During the summer we noticed the Minister dancing around with pupils on the joyous occasions when exam results came out. It is time that she took in hand this very serious problem. Everybody in the House is [1238]conscious that if we fail students at a very early age, we fail them for life.

There has been no commitment whatever. We have spoken about surplus resources which exist, and some people do not want those. We then get a clear indication that this Government is not serious about solving this particular problem.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Does the Senator have a question?

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Some 33% of the student intake this year is to class sizes of over 25. It is a scandal and something must be done. I ask the Leader to arrange an early debate so the Minister might come before the Seanad and reassess her stance on the issue.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  Some weeks ago a very important meeting was held in Dublin under the auspices of the Health Service Executive, where community and voluntary organisations, the Garda Síochána and others were brought together to construct a response to the alarming increase in the number of young people now being drawn into the drugs scene. It would be important to discuss the initiative being taken by the HSE, which suggested the initiation of a national forum involving many organisations that deal with young people in this area.

It would be important if we could get some indication from the relevant Ministers as to how the Government proposes to respond to the alarming increases in the availability of drugs in every area. This will bring about consequences, especially for young people. We should examine how we can respond to the issue in the various constituencies.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I endorse some of the words of Senators O’Toole, Ó Murchú and others on the restraint being shown on all sides of this House with regard to the political events of the past few days. It is extremely easy to sit in judgment on other people’s integrity and exploit misfortunes for political advantage. I applaud that nobody in this House has done that. It is easy to convert the difficulties of others into a type of political blood sport in a premature fashion. That the Seanad has today resisted that temptation is to the credit of Members.

I wish to mention a matter that in normal circumstances would have been more prominent today, the flotation of Aer Lingus. Perhaps the Leader of the House could ask the Minister for Transport to come before the House to explain what has happened. We are very much in danger of swallowing the spinning which has been going on. I have already seen today the Minister pronouncing the flotation a great success. It is successful in that the airline is being sold off for half nothing. If that is a success, that is fine.

I must admit I already dealt in the shares. I believe I am obliged to do so when I speak on it. [1239] The people who really did well out of this are not the taxpayers but the extremely large institutions which beat down the Government to selling it for virtually nothing. In normal circumstances, it would have gone for far more money.

Let us not believe this was a success. Certainly, Aer Lingus is partially sold, but anything can be sold without problem if buyers exist at the bottom level and that is what happened. The only people who were successful in this were intermediaries such as brokers, bankers and advisers who received at least €30 million. The Government received exactly €200 million, which is a pittance in terms of what it has at present. It makes one wonder whether any future privatisation should take place. The temptation is to sell and not give a damn about the price. That has resulted in what happened today.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  I call for a debate on the Middle East in light of leaked reports from the United States in which the intelligence community suggests the army in Iraq is not succeeding but is having the opposite effect. Those of us who take an interest in history state that one who does not watch history is condemned to repeat it.

Having started with extremely laudable aims to rid the world of terrorist states, we must now wonder what is the best way to deal with these issues in the future. I suggest it would be helpful for this House to have a debate without rancour or an examination of the issue. Undoubtedly, Afghanistan under the Taliban was a terrorist state. However, the terrorist element has not been completely eliminated. Questions must be asked as to why and what went wrong.

I commend the instigators and organisers of the Ryder Cup, who allowed the country to be portrayed in a positive light.

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

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Ryder Cup does not arise on the Order of Business.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  It is an international event.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  In that light, and concluding on this——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  This is a legislative assembly and we do not legislate for golf or any other sport.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  One issue was raised, which was that The Dubliner magazine should not have printed matters regarding Tiger Woods’s wife.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  It is not the image we want to portray and it is not the céad míle fáilte we want to extend to every guest of the country.

[1240]Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I support the call for an urgent debate on the report of the tribunal of inquiry on the shooting of John Carthy in Abbeylara, County Longford, in 2000. Many lessons will be learned from the findings in the report. A total of 169 people were interviewed during a period of 208 days. We waited long enough for the report to be published. It warrants urgent debate at the earliest opportunity. It has taken financial and emotional tolls on a large number of people. Does the Leader, who also comes from the constituency, agree that it warrants debate without delay?

We previously heard about the golden goose flying around.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Senator Bannon’s goose is cooked.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  It is a bit rich to speak of that for the people of the constituency of Longford-Westmeath who in 2002 were promised that €57 million was ringfenced for the completion of stage 2B of Longford Westmeath General Hospital. In May of this year, the amount was watered down to €14.5 million to fit out the shell. Many questions need to be answered. With so much money available why has the project not been completed for the people of Longford-Westmeath? We are sick to the teeth of the broken promises of the Government on that issue, which will not go away. It is important for the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to have an urgent debate on the issue.

Earlier our esteemed colleague, Senator Mansergh, spoke of his full confidence in the Taoiseach. He should have also included the Tánaiste, as he has become the new dummy around the Oireachtas.

Mr. Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  I congratulate the Garda for its excellent work at an international level recently which has led to the seizure of up to €50 million worth of heroin and a number of arrests. Increasingly we must look beyond our borders to address the drugs problem. I congratulate the drugs squad on its excellent work.

I express my concern and support Senator Ó Murchú on the tribunals. If any scandal has emerged in the past week it is that there are leaks from the tribunals.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Is there some doubt in the Senator’s mind?

Mr. Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  I support the call for an investigation into the matter, which is of concern to us all.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  I support the call for a debate on the report of the Morris tribunal, which is a very serious matter for all Oireachtas Members. Like others I commend individual members of the Garda, such as the garda involved in the incident [1241]today. While we obviously do that, we must also be cognisant that as Members of the Oireachtas we have responsibility for Garda reform.

Senator Henry called for a debate on the report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals. On a related issue, I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the lack of provision of mental health services for young people, including eating disorders. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on issues relating to children, particularly children’s rights and a recent OECD report showing that, as we know, child care costs here are among the highest in Europe and continue to rise. There is a serious issue regarding the regulation of child care, which I raised six weeks in a row, before we rose for the summer. There is still no sign of the review of the child care regulations by what is now the Office of the Minister for Children.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That Bill is coming.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  I am glad to hear that. When will the defamation and privacy Bills be taken? Will they be taken together, in succession or apart as they are both, obviously, connected?

Mr. Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  I support the calls for a debate on health in the House. There have been certain improvements based on announcements in recent days particularly the winter bed initiative. We all recognise that the elderly are most affected by some of the delays in the health service, particularly in the winter months. I would welcome the Minister for Health and Children coming to the House to explain in detail the work the HSE has done over the summer to introduce policies to alleviate the problem, which is welcome. The Minister should also address the issues regarding procedures and practices in the delivery of capital projects.

Before the recess, I raised the issue of Ennis General Hospital and at the time I got a less than conclusive answer. Since then effectively nothing has happened. The HSE has continued with various layers of bureaucracy to put paperwork before the lives of people, which is not acceptable and I am sure the Minister for Health and Children would agree. I want to ensure we have accountability between the Department of Health and Children and the Minister, and the HSE. I would welcome the opportunity for Members on all sides, in a rational way, to deal with the various projects in the constituencies that most affect the people we represent. It is no longer acceptable for the HSE to put forward ideas about value for money or cost benefit analyses in order to place paperwork before people’s lives or as a leg dragging exercise.

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  I wish to comment on the remarks made by Senators Brady and Ó Murchú with regard to the potential for undermining the tribunal’s work by the leaking of personal infor[1242]mation about the Taoiseach. It has not been shown that this information came from the tribunal or anyone connected with it. Senators should be careful before they express their views.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We are not discussing the tribunal.

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  I am merely responding to the issues raised by two previous speakers, which represent an attempt to muddy the waters. Senators should be careful about the words they choose on this issue.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  It is not the Senator’s job to respond.

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  It certainly would be a serious matter if that information was leaked from the tribunal but that has not been shown to be the case. The information could have come from a number of sources.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  I have two or three questions to ask, if I am permitted to do so.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I call on the Senator to ask his questions.

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Can the Leader arrange to have the Minister for Finance attend the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss the recent surge in the rate of inflation? Over the past few months, the rate has risen above 4%, which is well in excess of the rates in neighbouring EU member states and is higher than the projection made by the Government at the beginning of the year. I would like to hear the Minister’s explanation on the matter as soon as possible. This factor could seriously undermine the economy as we face the future.

Can the Leader ascertain from the Minister for Social and Family Affairs whether the delay which arose about six months ago in the processing of applications for the old age pension has been rectified? It was brought to my attention that several thousand people who had reached pension age were sent letters by the Department of Social and Family Affairs to inform them their pensions would not be processed for up to 16 weeks. While they may subsequently receive back payments on their pensions, they would have to live off their own funds in the meantime. This is a serious issue for people who, after working all their lives, reach the age of 66. It is not a significant problem for those who have built up reserves but for the majority who have not and who must rely on the State pension, it is a major hardship. I ask that the matter be addressed as soon as possible.

[1243]Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I am acquainted with a woman who has waited ten months for her pension.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I am stunned at the number of gangland crimes and drive-by shootings that are taking place and the fact that they are only reported in small print in our newspapers. It was reported that six shootings took place in one district of one city over the past weekend, an issue on which other Senators have called for a debate. Urgent action is needed on this worrying trend and questions must be answered by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I do not think we are being soft on crime and significant achievements have recently been made in this respect. However, are we doing enough? Is the Garda being underfunded? These questions can be answered by the Tánaiste. Let us put this serious development to the forefront of our attention.

Earlier today, I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs to discuss the issue of migration and the problems of migrants. I was struck by the fact that 9% of Irish residents are now migrants, a figure which will increase to 18% by 2030. That presents a challenge to us as a nation. To the best of my knowledge, there is not yet any central authority with responsibility for integrating migrants into society. We have asked for such an authority to be established and we should be told whether steps have been taken in this regard. A debate on the NESC’s report on migration policy would be worthwhile and should be held forthwith.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Has the Cathaoirleach received notice of a vow of silence taken by the Progressive Democrats?

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It is most unusual.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  It is only a temporary arrangement.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That does not arise on the Order of Business. I call on the Leader to reply.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Brian Hayes inquired about proposed legislation for this session. The legislative programme will include: the Local Government (Business Improvement Districts) Bill, Committee and Final Stages; the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill; the Prisons Bill; and the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, about which Senator O’Meara has been asking. We will also debate the Appropriation Bill and the Social Welfare Bill. There will be others but these have not yet been brought forward. Senator O’Meara asked about the defamation and privacy Bills, both of which will be published during this session.

Senator Hayes also raised the matter of the Morris and Barr tribunals and sent his best wishes [1244]to the garda shot in the course of duty. All Members would agree with this sentiment.

The Senator also referred to the spectre of money and genuine embarrassment. Senator Mansergh pointed out that leaders of other parties did not have to fulfil the course of payments. We could all talk about such matters but I welcome the restraint in the House.

Senator O’Toole stated that he is full of imagination after the summer recess. We are delighted to know this and I am sure life on the waterways must have helped in that regard. I agree with the Senator that we should not rush to judgment and he is watching to see if any tax or ethics laws have been broken. The Taoiseach stated that no such laws have been broken.

I fully agree with Senator O’Toole congratulating the new Tánaiste. It is no wonder that many Senators, including my colleague, Senator Dardis——-

A Senator:  He was silent.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  ——who was the chairman of the party and could not speak on the matter, supported the current leader. This was because Deputy McDowell showed respect for this House, attended the House, debated in it and answered questions. He was the Minister most cognisant of the respect due to this House. Senator O’Toole also stated that he had great ideas for spending €3 billion. We all have.

Senator Ryan expressed solidarity with the garda who suffered injuries. He also sought a full debate on health, including hospitals, GP-only cards and accident and emergency units. We will endeavour to do so. The Senator also asked if the US has abandoned any sense of reality in international affairs.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Has everybody?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  According to Senator Ryan, the EU has fudged the issue. We will endeavour to have a debate on the Middle East, where we can consider the Lebanon and the cluster bombs left there.

Senator Mansergh praised the excellent debate on the Shot at Dawn Campaign and praised Senator Mooney. He sought debates on energy policy, the Middle East and Northern Ireland. On the radio today I heard Peter Hain’s fulsome tribute to the Taoiseach’s handling of Northern affairs.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Is he retiring?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am delighted that, as Senator Coghlan stated, Dinis Cottage will be cosy and safe for the winter. Senator Coghlan is requesting that money be spent on Killarney House.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  It has been locked up for a number of years.

[1245]Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Ó Murchú referred to the leaking of confidential information. I do not think it originated from the Opposition parties or the tribunal. We must look nearer home on this matter. Senator Finucane raised the matter of Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU on 1 January 2007, and the possibility of work permits for those entering from those countries. That issue will evolve as time goes on.

Senator Maurice Hayes sought debates on the Morris tribunal, the Carthy report, social housing and immigration. Senator Henry raised the report of the Inspector of Mental Health Services, the report on the Prison Service and the reports of the visiting committees. I hope to arrange a debate on them soon. Senator Mooney expressed his solidarity with the people of Monaghan and their march but wished that there had been proper conduct and that the Ceann Comhairle had not been insulted.

Senator Ulick Burke said that no child under nine years of age should be in a class of over 25 but that 33% of children are. However, there are now 4,000 extra primary teachers in the schools and these are mainly dealing with children who have difficulties. The average primary class size has been reduced from 27 to 24. A total of 50,000 pupils in disadvantaged schools are in classes of 15 to 20 pupils. The Department of Finance has said more teachers will be provided.

Senator Daly referred to the drugs scene and the important meeting that was held by the HSE. The huge seizure made today by the Garda was significant in that regard. Senator Ross praised the restraint of the House and spoke about the flotation of Aer Lingus. He asked that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, be invited to the Seanad. Senator Hanafin sought a debate on the Middle East. He referred to the Ryder Cup and condemned the actions of The Dubliner magazine.

Before the summer break I gave Senator Bannon a commitment that we would debate the report of the Barr tribunal in the Seanad. I hope the House will be able to debate it in full next week. The Senator also raised the issue of Mullingar General Hospital. The fitting-out money has been made available and work is proceeding on that. There will be other announcements. Senator Brady expressed his worry about the leak from the tribunal and spoke about the drugs haul today, offering congratulations to the Garda.

Senator O’Meara referred to the Morris tribunal and sought a debate on mental health services for young people. She also asked about the privacy Bill, which I mentioned earlier. Senator Dooley praised the winter bed initiative by the HSE and spoke about the roll out of capital projects and the interaction, or lack of it, between the HSE and the Department of Health and Children on that issue. I accept the Senator’s point. Senator John Paul Phelan said we are raising the leaks from the tribunal to muddy the waters. That is not the case. It is most important [1246]that they be discussed. The Senator wants the Minister for Finance to be invited to the House to debate the surge in inflation. Inflation will reduce now; in fact, diesel was obtainable today in County Westmeath for less than €1 per litre.

Senator Quinn raised gangland crime and asked that the Tánaiste be invited to the House to debate it. He also referred to a point he raised previously, the central authority for dealing with migrants.

Order of Business agreed to.


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