Tuesday, 20 February 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business today is Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 23, motion No. 36. No. 1 is a sessional order as agreed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I apologise. I am reading the wrong one.
Ms O’Rourke: No. I am afraid the luncheon is getting to me. No. 1 is a motion which was referred to the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government for consideration and the committee has completed its deliberations. The proposed new regulations will amend the exempted development provisions of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 to encourage the uptake of cleaner and cheaper energy from small-scale renewable sources in the home. These proposed changes to the planning and development regulations will facilitate a significant increase in the contribution of renewable energy technologies to meeting Ireland’s energy needs and its renewable electricity generating capacity. This item will be taken without debate.
No. 2 is a motion which was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for consideration and the committee has completed its deliberations. The purpose of the proposal is to strengthen the capacity of the Union and the member states to combat transnational organised crime. This item will be taken without debate.
No. 3 is the Defamation Bill 2006 — Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 5.30 p.m. No. 4 is the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2007 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. until 7.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: It is probably fair to say that in recent years there has been an overdependence in the economy on the building of houses and property. It is important, therefore, that politicians exercise caution in what they say about that property market. We now have a situation where the two Government parties are making different statements about stamp duty reform. This is not just about an election, auction politics and the like. This is about people’s lives because substantial sums of money and people mortgaged to the hilt are now the reality for many young couples in this city and throughout the country. Will the Taoiseach agree with me that it would be more useful at this stage——
Mr. B. Hayes: Will she agree with me that the current speculation regarding stamp duty reform is dangerous and worrying because the reality is that the only person who effectively created a slump in the housing market was the Tánaiste when he spoke out about this issue last September and to which he further added over the weekend?
Mr. B. Hayes: We know the Government is in disagreement over Cork Airport. I suspect more will be said on that today. As the date of the general election draws near, the disagreement between the two Government parties on this and other issues has now become a gulf.
Dr. Henry: Once again, prison doctors have spoken out about the dreadful conditions in which they must treat people in prisons, especially those with serious mental health problems. There is a lack of facilities for treating these people in prisons and there are no secure units outside of the prisons, apart from the Central Mental Hospital. It is difficult and dangerous to prescribe legal drugs to mentally ill people if they are taking illegal drugs at the same time. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, when appointed four years ago, announced that our prisons would become drug-free. What progress has been made on this? From what the prison doctors have said and from what I have witnessed, there appears to be none.
The Minister for Education and Science is introducing aptitude tests for some university courses. These are to be taken along with CAO points. Why and how have these courses been chosen? Who will design the aptitude tests? Today, there were reports of problems with teaching in the classroom encountered by primary school teachers. I have not heard that aptitude tests are being introduced for them. No aptitude tests will be introduced in areas where complaints are made about people being unsuitable for particular professions, yet tests are being introduced for areas where there have been no complaints.
Mr. McCarthy: The Government has instructed the board of Cork Airport to pay €100 million towards the costs of the construction of the new terminal there. Four years ago, the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, gave an unambiguous commitment to the both Houses of the Oireachtas and the people of the greater Cork region that once Aer Rianta was broken up and the airports were given autonomy, the new entities would start debt-free. What has happened in the past several days is economically devastating for those who use Cork Airport. It is not pleasant to be given this type of instruction from the Government. What has become of the Minister’s clear commitment? Does a political guarantee to an organisation or group of people mean anything?
Mr. McCarthy: The airports were told that in supporting the initiative to break up Aer Rianta, they would not have to bear the costs. The situation is now the opposite. Since the Cabinet reshuffle, the current Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, has been silent on the matter and then, out of the blue, this demand is made by the Taoiseach.
Regarding the stamp duty issue as raised at the Progressive Democrats’ annual conference, I urge the Government to re-introduce the first-time buyer’s grant to assist young people in entering the housing market.
Mr. Minihan: I refer to the danger of a major slump in the Cork area as a result of today’s announcement regarding Cork Airport. I endorse Senator McCarthy’s comments in this regard. It is unacceptable in the context of the commitment made by the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, that Cork Airport would be debt-free. That commitment was clearly made. In response to an Adjournment debate 12 months ago, the current Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, told me that Cork Airport would have to carry some of the debt and that it was subject to rules and regulations vis-à-vis the Companies Act and so on.
The House must be told how the figure of €100 million was achieved. Where did it come from and what formulae were used to devise it? The undue influence of the Dublin Airport Authority in deciding the future of Cork Airport is unacceptable. In recent weeks, it has run advertisements in the national newspapers offering for sale ten acres of the landbank around Cork Airport, valued at up to €30 million. Not only is Cork Airport being saddled with major debt, the authority is also stripping it of any assets it might have for future development. If this development is part of the policy of encouraging competition between the airports, it is unacceptable.
I ask the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on this matter. I expect she will suggest it should be raised on the Adjournment. I will propose it as a matter for debate on the Adjournment tomorrow but I would prefer, given the seriousness of the issue, that there be a full debate. I urge the Leader to do all she can to bring that about this week.
Mr. Finucane: I was present in the House when the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, announced that the break-up of Aer Rianta would represent a new dawn for Cork and Shannon airports, which would henceforth operate as separate entities. He assured Members, in justification for the dismantling of Aer Rianta, that both airports would become debt-free.
A Minister is usually quick to contribute to radio programmes when there is good news to impart. This morning, however, it was announced on “Morning Ireland” that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, was not available to comment. It is understandable why he would avoid such comment. The rationalisation programme at Shannon Airport has been discontinued because it was apparently unsuccessful after 18 months. So many years after the initial announcement, there is great uncertainty in regard to the situation at Shannon Airport. If the Minister cannot speak on “Morning Ireland”, perhaps he will come to the House and tell us what is happening with Shannon and Cork airports and whether the promises of the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, have been reneged upon.
Mr. Leyden: Nevertheless, I seek a full debate on this issue as opposed to an Adjournment debate. A former chairman of An Post, Senator Quinn, is a Member of this House, as is a former Minister with responsibility in this area. I am a former Minister of State at the Department of Post and Telegraphs. The presence of Members with such experience will facilitate a detailed debate on what is a serious issue for the network of sub-post offices. Significant numbers of them have closed in my area in recent years and more will follow.
Such closures undermine rural communities but they can be averted if we have the right policies in place. By transferring money by electronic means via the banks, the Department of Social and Family Affairs is taking a considerable amount of work from the local post offices. Such business ensured they heretofore remained viable.
Mr. Norris: How refreshing it is to hear honest criticism of Government policy from that side of the House. It is a democratic practice and I welcome it. An Adjournment debate on the issue is appropriate but such a debate usually deals with one specific issue and I agree with Senator Leyden that it should not preclude a wider debate. As someone who, like most Dublin people, is one hop out of the bog, this seems to be the death knell for many rural communities. The post office is part of the web of rural life and I would welcome a wider debate on this aspect of life in this country.
I salute Senator Minihan. It was courageous of him to criticise a Government of which his party is a member. I do not say that to rub salt into the wounds and encourage further aggravation but it is important to have honest dissent. It was not just the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, who gave an undertaking that Cork Airport would be debt-free. The Taoiseach did so himself, not on the record of either House but at a news conference. I do not wish to be parochial about Dublin Airport but the airport authority was given hotels which it could sell off. Cork Airport is a very fine airport and we need to create a level playing field so that it has a reasonable chance.
I laugh when I hear the sacred cow of competition being invoked. Let us not accept the notion of competition uncritically because it does a lot of damage. It was wrong to abolish the groceries order but everyone followed Eddie Hobbs like lemmings when he said the prices in the sample basket of goods would decline. In fact prices have risen.
I ask for a debate on business ethics in this country because it is scandalous that Dunnes Stores has moved against a small supplier. A very large company can secure special rights over another company, which it keeps in a dependent position because it has signed a contract as an exclusive supplier. Then it squeezes the supplier for every bit of profit it can get. Disgusting avarice was displayed by representatives of Dunnes Stores, which makes enormous profits, when they objected to an increase in profits of 1% and then ruthlessly closed down the supplier and threw a large number of people out of work. That is the unacceptable face of capitalism. Since we worship competition why do we not force companies such as Dunnes Stores to compete for suppliers, and prevent them from closing down decent companies and throwing people out of work?
Mr. Scanlon: I ask the Leader for a debate on An Bord Pleanála and its role in the planning process, particularly in one-off housing. There is something wrong when permission for a one-off house, granted by the local authority, is objected to by a person from Dublin city, 130 miles away, who spotted a hole being dug while out hillwalking. The objection was upheld by An Bord Pleanála. I appreciate it has a significant role in major developments and planning initiatives but a local authority will not grant permission for one-off housing unless it is viable and supplied with necessary services such as sanitation and safe access.
Mr. Coghlan: Senator Brian Hayes raised an important matter today, namely stamp duty reform, which is long overdue. The Exchequer does well from receipts from stamp duty but it needs to be reformed quickly. As Senator Brian Hayes said, the fact that the Government parties significantly diverge on the matter is dangerous for the stability of the market and has huge potential to inflict continuing damage.
Mr. Coghlan: I do. That is the purpose of my remarks. We are all concerned about first-time buyers who are crippled by huge mortgages. The Leader agreed with us twice but still voted down the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill in this House which would have done so much to alleviate the situation for first-time buyers.
Mr. Coghlan: Of course I want a debate but perhaps the Leader could tell me something because now there is a divergence between the Government parties. Maybe the Fianna Fáil element of the Government will come up with something. The Minister has written to me about stage payments but nothing has been delivered.
Mr. Quinn: Practically every commentator on the Irish success story has referred to the education system as its main basis. Investment in education in the past 30 or 40 years has been responsible to a large extent for our success. The news today of a report from the Department of Education and Science which suggests that a third of primary school teachers leave college without sufficient ability is frightening. We should draw attention to this, the country should be in uproar over such a possibility.
According to another report in today’s newspapers, driving instructors are unregulated and a scheme is to be introduced to ensure instructors who have permission to teach motorists to drive will be regulated in future. I hope this idea does not fall by the wayside, it is essential we put in place a scheme as soon as possible.
On Saturday a major rugby match is taking place in Croke Park. I call on all political parties to ask their members to recognise this is an occasion of pride in Ireland that should not be used for any other function. I was in the lower west stand in Lansdowne Road some years ago at a football match between Ireland and England. Some of the visiting supporters behaved in a most dangerous and opportunistic way. I was frightened, particularly as my teenage son was with me. We saw what happened last year at the Love Ulster march in Dublin, where some people took it as an opportunity just to cause trouble. I urge everyone in Ireland to say this is an occasion of which we should be proud and we should stand behind those setting the example.
Dr. Mansergh: I would not mind at all if a discussion of the matter helps to cool an overheated market but, equally, I would not like radical reductions to rekindle the market and we must bear in mind that we do not have property taxes. Stamp duty is an important source of revenue and we should not throw it away lightly. Much needs to be done in the country and it must be addressed prudently in the preparation of a budget. A general election is at best an opportunity to outline some general plans.
Mr. U. Burke: It would be unfortunate if the public were to assume the report by the inspectorate to the Department of Education and Science on the qualifications and abilities of first year teachers who have just left training college was as bad as was outlined. Students completing their courses in a college like Mary Immaculate College in Limerick are asked to teach in classes of 30 or more children. Some of those schools are in the more disadvantaged areas of the country and have serious discipline problems, etc. It would be very unfair to be critical of the calibre of teachers being trained at present, particularly given that students even at primary level have many difficulties and problems which can manifest themselves primarily at school.
The European Commission yesterday issued its Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion 2007. For the first time it indicates the poverty trap within which certain people live, particularly pensioners and the elderly. One in three people here is at risk of poverty and this is particularly true of those over 65. Some 20%, again mainly the elderly, are at risk because their incomes are so small relative to the incomes of others. We provide one of the lowest pensions in Europe. Those people who say that our pensioners are doing particularly well with €200 per week——
Mr. U. Burke: The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, will make a presentation in Europe next Thursday. When he returns he should come to the House to discuss the poverty trap in which many of our elderly find themselves because of the high cost of health care.
Mr. Kett: Last week Senator Daly sought an update on the progress of the Disability Act and the Leader gave a commitment in that regard. We should invite the appropriate Minister to the House to discuss all aspects of it nine months after its enactment. I would be particularly interested in hearing about the assessment of needs, which was one of the first aspects to fall into place. I understand the HSE is interviewing candidates with a view to establishing teams to deal with one to five-year-olds in the first instance. As can be the case with the HSE, I am afraid it might be reinventing the wheel. Many voluntary organisations have been doing this work for many years and have the expertise in place. The HSE may be interviewing inexperienced candidates who will need to be trained. I hope the HSE will interact with the voluntary organisations. I ask the Leader to find the answer to that question in the first instance and perhaps even invite the Minister to the House.
Mr. J. Phelan: I agree with Senator Quinn’s remarks on Saturday’s match. I also hope that political parties would not spoil the event by holding protests. No more than his family, my family has been very involved in the GAA for years. I was very much in favour of opening Croke Park to other sports. However, when the day came and Ireland played against France, I could understand the emotion attached. Considerable emotion will be attached to Saturday’s game. In many ways the stadium is a national monument. Saturday’s match will give the Irish nation an opportunity to show how far we have come and to be able to stand up and pay respects to the anthem of our neighbour. While we might not agree with its words, we will be able to show our maturity and can pay it the same respect we would pay any other national anthem because it is no more than that. If I can get a ticket perhaps you, a Chathaoirligh, would look after me. I look forward to the match on Saturday.
Following the verdict in the Dublin Circuit Court yesterday, where a two year sentence, the last year of which was suspended, was handed down in respect of a man who was involved in what the judge described as a cottage-industry producing cocaine in Lucan, may we have a discussion as soon as possible with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is responsible for that area but also with the Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs issue, Deputy Noel Ahern, on where the problems rests?
Last week I was shocked and horrified to hear certain remarks made in the other House. Deputy Kenny raised the issue of drug abuse and the availability of drugs in towns and villages throughout the country. He made the point that pretty much every substance is available in most towns and the Taoiseach dismissed it. If the Taoiseach is that much out of touch with the reality on the ground in provincial Ireland he needs to be removed from his position. We need to have an urgent debate with his brother, the Minister of State who has responsibility in this area, on the scourge of drugs. Even in a city the size of Kilkenny there are approximately 80 heroin addicts. A few years ago we had none. The Taoiseach refuses to admit there is a problem, based on his remarks last week. I call for a debate on that issue as soon as possible.
Mr. J. Walsh: I endorse the call by Senator Quinn for a debate on the report on primary teaching. The INTO was very quick out of the traps. Anybody who has a cushy experience of involvement with primary education would say there are many fine teachers in the profession but there are also many who should not be involved in the teaching profession. All the report does is underline that. It is not good enough, particularly in the context of a referendum which gives paramount importance to the position of our children, that we should allow a situation, purely for industrial relations purposes, where inadequate teachers are allowed continue in the profession. Neither is it fair to themselves, because of the stress and strain it imposes on them, if they are not performing. In every school there is a small number who have chosen the wrong career path and there should be a mechanism for correcting that in the interests of the education of children.
Given the commencement of talks between the consultants and the HSE today, I am surprised this item has not been raised on the Order of Business. The health services have been blighted with vested interests over many decades. I hope the seriousness with which the Minister has laid out her stall on this matter will be followed through. I hope there will be no half-way houses or compromises. The bad practices that are in the consultants contract must be eradicated. The entire health service should be geared primarily and absolutely towards the health of the people and the patients who use that service. Obviously those who work in it have a responsibility in that regard. It is appalling to hear well paid consultants and equally well paid representatives of those consultants prevaricate over a long period. I know from their comments today that they intend to delay what would be the inevitable. I would like to think this House would speak with one voice in support of a Minister who, perhaps, has been the first to show courage in this regard. If she succeeds, and I certainly hope so, other Ministers will take on vested interests within the parameters of their own portfolios.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I am pretty sure the Queen of England will not be particularly interested or concerned about what I have to say about the singing of her national anthem at the match and I am sure she was not very concerned about what happened on Bloody Sunday either.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: One thing that has worried me about this debate is the manner in which celebrities have been rolled out to steam-roll the views of other people and the deeply-felt emotions which are held by so many people. One television poll showed that 70% opposed the singing of “God Save the Queen” in Croke Park. I am not making an argument for or against it, but I am worried that the debate is such that sections of the media and celebrities are being used in this way.
When people call for sensitivity, respect and tolerance, the first human reaction is to agree with it. We all agree with it. In recent times, language has taken on a different meaning entirely. Very often, Ireland has to show sensitivity with regard to “Amhrán na bhFiann” because it might give offence to people of another political view. “God Save the Queen” will give offence to people of a certain political view, particularly in light of the terrible events which happened in Croke Park and which were one of the first illegal acts of terrorism at that time. Would it not be wonderful if sensitivity and tolerance now extended to the point that when Great Britain comes here as a good visitor to us, it would recognise sensitivities and decide not to sing “God Save the Queen”?
Mr. B. Hayes: They came over in the 1970s when no one else would come. They came over in the 1970s at the height of the Provisional IRA’s bombing campaign when the Scottish and Welsh teams did not visit.
Mr. Dardis: I was privileged to be in Croke Park for the French game It was not a privilege to be there at the end but it was certainly a privilege to be there at the beginning. It is important to understand that protocol and courtesy dictate that whatever team of whatever nationality comes to play our national team, its anthem is sung, whether it be in Croke Park, Lansdowne Road or anywhere else.
Mr. Dardis: It is also important for people to understand why two anthems are sung. The national anthem, “Amhrán na bhFiann”, is played in any stadium in the Republic of Ireland because this is where the game is being played. “Ireland’s Call” is played because it represents a 32-county team. I hope the courtesy we have always extended will be extended again on Sunday. I recall very vividly that day in 1973 when England came over when others would not.
Ms White: I remind everyone in the House that 1 million people watched the match between France and Ireland. This was the highest recorded number of people watching a television programme and came about because the match was held in Croke Park. Senator Ó Murchú should be free to give his opinion, whether it is politically correct or not.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter of the property market and said that current speculation is dangerous, and very worrying. Ard-Fheiseanna or conventions come and go. We await what Fine Gael will unleash upon the unsuspecting public when it treads the boards.
Senator Henry spoke about the lack of treatment for people in prisons and the issue of trying to give out legal drugs when illegal drugs are prevalent in prisons. There is no doubt this poses its own conundrum. Senator Henry also asked about the aptitude tests which will be introduced for some university courses, who is setting these tests and for what courses. We have the Minister for Education and Science in our sights and will ask her to come to the House.
Senator McCarthy spoke about the €100 million cost to Cork Airport. I fully agree with him that a clear commitment was given in this House. There was no doubt that Cork Airport would be debt-free and start off life in a rosy hue, but this has not happened. I always felt that Bill was ill-conceived.
The Senator then referred to the issue of stamp duty and called for the re-introduction of the first-time buyer’s grant. I would not approve of that at all. Builders pocketed the first-time buyer’s grant.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Minihan supported Senator McCarthy. At the time I found myself a lone voice in that debate. I was dismayed with the way everybody fell, hook, line and sinker for what happened. He said the attitude of the Dublin Airport Authority was unacceptable in terms of how it was shredding assets. I said it only once, and I will never say it again to anyone, that they might like to raise the matter on the Adjournment. It is up to Members what they wish to put on the agenda. Senator Minihan called for a debate on the matter.
Senator Scanlon called for a debate about An Bord Pleanála and one-off housing. I would like a debate on county councils and why they do not give permission for one-off housing. People say a particular county is bad and then one hears the next is worse. I cannot understand what is going on. Problems arise if a young man or woman wishes to build a house on his or her own site, even when he or she is from the locality and works there and his or her proposals include using a Puraflo system. County councils seek every possible way to prevent people achieving their legitimate ambition to build a house for themselves.
Senator Quinn referred to investment in education. He is concerned about the report of the Department of Education and Science on primary teaching, some of which we saw this morning. He also called for the swift regularisation of driving instructors. He stated the process should not be allowed to drag on. The Senator also referred to next Saturday and I thank him for so doing. I agree it will be a matter of pride for us. We can set an example to the world. We could all indulge ourselves a little but I do not think it is the time for that.
Senator Mansergh was very soothing in stating we will debate all issues relating to finance in the context of the Finance Bill. Senator Ulick Burke referred to trainee teachers. He asked us not to be critical. Why can we not be critical? I do not understand that.
Ms O’Rourke: Let us see the report first. He also referred to social inclusion and older people, one third of whom are at risk of poverty, and that we have the lowest rate of pensions. If we all follow the Progressive Democrats’ clarion call, pensioners will be getting €300 before we know where we are.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Kett sought a debate on the progress made to date on disability issues. Senator John Paul Phelan stated there will be much emotion next Saturday and an opportunity to show how we have matured. I fully agree with him. He sought a discussion on drugs. Nobody is more in touch than the Taoiseach with what people feel.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Jim Walsh called for a debate on the report on primary teaching because teaching is so important. He also referred to the commencement of talks with consultants today and that bad practices must be eradicated.
Senator Ó Murchú, who is entitled to his opinion — the Cathaoirleach would stand over this principle — made the point that ordinary people’s beliefs were being overridden by those of celebrities and those expressed on television. It is a sensitive time and it is a time to stand up and show we are a sovereign nation, which we are happy to do. I hope everything works out.
Senator Dardis stated that protocol and courtesy dictate what is played. He referred to England’s visit in 1973 when no other country would come here. The UK had been subject to major bombing, yet the team played here. We are grateful for those memories. One cannot eradicate memories or history but we can put our stamp on history, as we hope to do on Saturday. Senator White referred to the television audience of 1 million people. We can win the day by winning the match.
|Last Updated: 07/09/2010 10:38:43||Page of 10|