Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance Bill 2007 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 2, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2007 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m.; No. 4, Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8 p.m.; No. 5, Carbon Fund Bill 2006 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 8 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8.30 p.m. — if that seems to swift, it is that there are no amendments; No. 6, Roads Bill 2007 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 8.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 9.30 p.m.; and No. 28, motion 39, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
The schedule has been revised and the business contracted timewise from the original version. As well as this, the gentleman in charge of the affordable homes project wrote to me about comments made by some Senators on the issue during a mini debate here. He asked me to convey his reply to each of the Senators. I have copied his reply and it is available on the table in the ante room for Senators.
Mr. B. Hayes: Since last week’s rather embarrassing U-turn on economic policy by Fianna Fáil, it is clear the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, has been sent to Coventry. However, I did not think that included non-attendance in the Seanad. Last night’s Second Stage debate of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill was like a scene from Mary Poppins, with approximately five different Ministers popping in and out during the course of the debate, while the Minister was nowhere to be found to hear the views of the six Members who spoke on this important Bill. The Minister is rarely in the House because we have little legislation from his Department here.
Unless there is a guarantee from the Leader and the Government side of the House that the Minister will be in the House to take Committee Stage of the Bill today, we will not participate in the debate and I will oppose the Order of Business. It is not good enough that a Minister who sponsors a Bill is not in the House for debate on it. Three excellent contributions were made by Fianna Fáil Senators last night, two by Fine Gael and one by a member of the Labour Party, yet the Minister was not——
Mr. B. Hayes: The point is the Minister was not in the House. We are not going to participate in a sham debate today if he is not in the House to participate in it. I put the Leader on notice of that. I know it is not her problem. In fairness, she orders the business and expects Ministers to be present. The Minister should have been in the House yesterday. I expect that in response to my question, he will be here today. If not, we will oppose the Order of Business.
Ms O’Rourke: The reason the Minister was unable to attend is personal. If he is available today, he will be in the House. I am not sure if what constrained him yesterday will allow him be in the Chamber today.
Mr. B. Hayes: I propose that if the Leader is not clear on whether the Minister will be in the House, No. 2 should not be ordered. I want clarity on this because we will not participate otherwise. My colleague, Senator Terry, has tabled 12 amendments to the Bill and will not cite those amendments to a Minister who does not have a clue about the contents of the legislation and who is not even in the Department. That is not acceptable in the House.
Mr. O’Toole: The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business received a disturbing report this morning about the Border, midlands and western, BMW, region. I called recently for debates on regional areas such as Kerry. The BMW includes the Leader’s area. The report reaches disturbing conclusions, the most annoying of which is that every operational programme under the national development plan for that area has been underspent. The Department of Finance says this is because the National Roads Authority decided to prioritise the eastern region to deal with bottlenecks there and told the BMW region to go and whistle.
It is a disgrace that money is available but withdrawn because the regional authorities cannot get enough consultants or whoever they need to build the infrastructure. Someone should explain to us why this extraordinary situation has arisen in areas such as Mayo, north Galway and other places, including the Leader’s area. There are other problems in the area such as brain drain. Is this happening throughout the country? Are there also projects in the Cork and Kerry region the funds for which are not being drawn down?  What happens to the money at the end of the year? It is wrong that the money is not maintained in the region. We need to do something about it. The road plans in the west are moving on but they are three or four years behind. Why is this money not available? Why are more people not making noise about it? I would like to have a discussion on this issue. It is appalling that we are not dealing with it.
A report was issued recently to the effect that there are almost 300 cases pending against the Department of Education and Science on issues to do with education and educational rights and so on. There is something out of kilter when the Department and the Minister challenge every one of these. What is happening? I am sure some of those cases should be challenged but not every one of them. It puts people under serious pressure. I heard recently of a case in which the parents of an autistic child went to the High Court 29 times until they got approval for the support they wanted for the child to get primary level education. As soon as the child finished primary school they had to start the process again and are still going through it for post-primary education. That is cruel pressure.
Mr. Ryan: In the past five years, the Opposition and the Leader have managed to work effectively through the business of the House by agreement. If a Minister cannot be present and we accept the bona fides of his or her reason for that, it is easy to ask the leaders of the Opposition groups to agree to reschedule a Bill, especially if no qualified Minister of State is available.
Mr. Ryan: The legislation being discussed yesterday has nothing much to do with increasing social welfare payments but incorporates the most extraordinary proposal I have seen in many years. This will institutionalise social segregation by saying that rent supplement cannot be paid for housing in development areas.
An Cathaoirleach: I would like to have some order on the Order of Business. Senators are entitled to make their contributions if they are in order. The Chair will decide whether they are in order. I would like fewer interruptions while Senators make contributions so that we will have an orderly Order of Business.
Mr. Ryan: I apologise but sometimes they upset me. I call for a debate on the creeping privatisation of public services, for example, psychological services for schools in Dublin. I discovered yesterday that some schools are given money and told to buy the service and their allocation of psychological support is withdrawn. That is privatisation. What is happening on the grounds of public hospitals is also privatisation, no matter what the Government calls it. Now there is a threat to hand over the Cork Maternity Hospital to the private sector as if it belonged to the Health Service Executive and not to the people.
An Cathaoirleach: I have suspended the Order of Business already. The Senators should not ask me to suspend it again or I will ask the Leader to reply and dispense with the Order of Business altogether.
An Cathaoirleach: I am getting no co-operation, high, dry or holy, in trying to get the Order of Business through and I would like co-operation. We have always had an orderly Order of Business. If there is no co-operation I will ask the Leader to reply and we will move on to the business of the day.
Mr. Ryan: I apologise if I have behaved in a disorderly fashion in the least way. I did not intend to do so. There is a serious issue about the housing market, the fact that it is not matching people’s aspirations and that although it is failing, it appears as if the whole market is in trouble. Those issues deserve to be debated and I ask the Leader to organise the debate.
Ms Cox: I beg the Cathaoirleach’s indulgence as I raise an issue again on the Order of Business. I will try to do so in an orderly and calm manner. Yesterday evening, 112 people in Galway city and county were sick as a result of the water infection in the city. That affects 112 families and the number is rising. This is a national emergency because it means that if one puts an apple into a child’s lunch box or makes a salad, these foods must be washed in boiled water. If one puts one’s children in the bath one must tell them not to mess around, not to drink the water or get it into their mouths.
There are large employers in Galway city which make a significant contribution to the economy. Every employer is obliged under health and safety legislation to provide safe drinking water to his or her employees. Employers in Galway must now buy tonnes of bottled water to provide to their employees.
There are cancellations in the tourism industry because tourists believe it is not safe to go to Galway. We need a national plan and a national commitment to make funding available for the region. We need to concentrate for 24 hours per day, seven days per week, on finding a solution and we need to know what is to happen. We cannot afford to wait for the drip feed of information from Galway City Council and the Health Service Executive.
I am not proposing an amendment to the Order of Business but pleading with the Leader to make some provision for a five-minute debate today with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There are a number of Members from Galway present and they will note this is a matter of national importance and an emergency. I thank the Chairman for his indulgence.
Mr. Coghlan: As a member of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, I associate myself strongly with and support the remarks of Senator O’Toole. Deputy McHugh’s excellent report was adopted unanimously this morning, as was another excellent report by Senator Leyden. On the BMW issue, the circumstances are frightful and we all suspected there were problems.
I recently spoke in the House about the peripherality of Kerry and the changes that were made to certain roads programmes without consulting anyone on the ground in the county. In this regard, it now appears that the stretch of land from Donegal to Kerry, right down through the midlands, is probably affected. This was proven this morning and the reports were agreed unanimously by the members of the committee, the majority of whom were obviously from the Government side. The discrimination is frightful and shocking and needs to be addressed urgently. I hope the issue is highlighted and brought before the Government for immediate redress.
What are the plans of the Government regarding the potential unconstitutionality of the Electoral Act, which discriminates against candidates affiliated to parties as opposed to Independent candidates?
Mr. Coghlan: As matters stand, any party in any constituency can send out only one litir um thoghchán no matter how many of its members are running for election. This will affect the Leader and everyone else attached to a party. A party member must send out a letter jointly with one’s colleague whereas an Independent candidate can sent out one letter devoted solely to himself. This seems to discriminate against party members and the Government should address it. If the Leader has a view on it, she might inform the House.
Mr. Leyden: Senator O’Toole mentioned the document launched this morning by Deputy McHugh at the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. It is worthy of debate in this House. I hope we will have an opportunity to debate my document on the effectiveness of Irish trade promotion abroad and the state agencies involved. I will be launching it at 12 noon in the audiovisual room and the Senators are all welcome to attend.
Will the Leader consider a debate on An Post, particularly on the fact that only 72% of deliveries are made the next day? Only Greece, Latvia and Cyprus have poorer records than Ireland. As a former Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, I am disappointed that instead of delivering 92% of mail the next day, An Post is delivering only 72%. This is not very satisfactory and therefore the management of An Post should be examined.
I am very concerned about the threat to 500 local post offices and genuinely believe we should retain and develop the ones we have. This is possible given the new technology that is available. I am very concerned about this issue because it has affected rural Ireland and will affect my own parish, which has its own post office.
Mr. Norris: I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for the five-minute sos because it allowed me to pick up the statement on affordable homes. I understand why the head of the Affordable Homes Partnership would object to the suggestion about brown envelopes. I do not know who made the suggestion but it certainly was not me. However, the head has missed the point because we were talking about the fact that many of the homes do not seem to be affordable and are for people who have very considerable incomes. A joint income of €75,000 is not inconsiderable and the homes were meant for nurses and others such employees on approximately €32,000. Homes are not being provided for individuals in this category. The homes are granted by lottery but the people who have entered are never told when it is held or the result unless they win a house. This does not suggest the existence of transparency and accountability.
On a related matter raised by Senator Ryan, there was a very good debate last night on the Social Welfare Bill during which I made the point that not only is it snobbish to exclude people on rent supplement from the nice little areas so they will not discommode those who can afford to buy homes therein, it is also a form of apartheid. It was I who used the word “apartheid”. Focus Ireland said of this matter that, for the first time, there is in primary legislation a legal mechanism that prohibits specific categories of people from living in certain areas. The Cathaoirleach knows as well as I do that this is apartheid.
Mr. Norris: We debated the matter last night but there was a related point I could not raise because it concerned the Department of Health and Children. Could we have a debate on health? Could the Leader raise with the Minister for Health and Children the fact that the Government now proposes to take most of the disability allowance from those with a mental disability who are staying in residential homes? This is just like what caused the scandal over nursing home charges.
At the weekend, the Government promised a great splurge of benefits and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs in his speech last night outlined all the Government is doing for the disabled, but it gives with one hand and takes away with the other. The disability allowance is now to be paid directly to the residential facility, thus by-passing the carers and leaving the recipients with only €35. This is a miserable pittance with which to pay for all one’s needs. Many carers and family members of the disabled are really concerned about this. Will the Leader obtain some information on this matter from the Department of Health and Children? I can make mine available to her. We are walking into another situation similar to that which caused the scandal over nursing home charges.
Mr. Kitt: Last week on the Order of Business I requested a debate on the quality of water in Galway city and county and I support Senator Cox in her call for such a debate. I understand that over 112 people have been made ill by the water and that the notice that one should boil it could be on display until next October unless the issue is resolved. I am very disappointed that very little has been done by Galway City Council or the Health Service Executive. However, I commend Galway County Council on the fact that it is to take water from outside Headford town to supply its population.
This morning’s newspapers stated the people benefiting from the Caherlistrane water scheme said they would be delighted to provide water to the town of Headford. It is a bit like the GAA offering Croke Park for soccer and rugby, even if only on a temporary basis. I hope we will have a similar resolution to the problem affecting Galway city. It is very serious and there seems to be no attempt to provide an alternative supply.
I hope we can have a debate on water quality. This problem has gone on for far too long and it is my understanding it could continue until October. We must find a solution urgently. If it means more funding for the BMW area, I will support what Senator O’Toole proposed.
Mr. Bradford: Emergency legislation concerning risk equalisation in the health insurance market was passed in the House recently. At the time, we were advised the Minister for Health and Children was introducing the legislation to plug a potential loophole in the health insurance market. However, we are not surprised to hear from Commissioner McCreevy that the European Commission remains concerned, not about risk equalisation, but about competition in the Irish health insurance market and the fact the dominant player — the VHI — is being protected at a cost to other smaller firms. This is the kernel of the issue.
Do we want competition and to encourage new entrants into the market? The Government has a lot to answer for, because the recent rushed emergency legislation hinders rather than helps competition. In the time remaining, we should reflect on the matter of health insurance and how this House can ensure we protect the consumer and provide choice in the market.
Dr. Mansergh: I also wish to express solidarity with Senators Cox and Kitt on the water supply in Galway. This is becoming a wider problem. Obviously there is an acute problem with water quality in Galway but the issue of security of supply also arises in other parts of the country. It ought not to be a problem in a country with as much water, rain and lakes as we have, but, nonetheless, it will need much higher political attention in the future.
Dr. Mansergh: The Ennis bypass is a fantastic improvement. We read only yesterday about the opposition to the western rail corridor on the basis that it would make a loss but, nonetheless, the Government is committed to going ahead with that project. That is positive discrimination in favour of the west.
Dr. Henry: I share the concerns of all those who spoke about water pollution. Senator Mansergh said we should not have this problem because of the large supply of water in the country. To a significant degree, the cause of the problem in the west is due to flood waters which, unfortunately, have got into the drinking water supply.
Earlier this month, Senators will have read in newspapers of a tragic case where two young women, both mothers of two, had a fight in a shop in Laytown which ended with one of them dead and the other subsequently convicted of manslaughter. During the course of the trial, the former national school principal of the girl who had been killed pointed out that she had been disruptive at school and that he had repeatedly tried to get psychological assessments for her but they were delayed for years. The situation was so serious he wrote to the school board stating she was a danger to the safety of other pupils in the school.
Senator Ryan raised the issue of psychological assessments. As far as I can ascertain, the National Educational Psychological Assessment Service has collapsed in a considerable number of schools and withdrawn in some cases. Any attempts to get information from the Department of Education and Science are non-satisfactory. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to debate this extremely serious issue. If children do not get the support they need at an early age, who knows what effect it may have on their later lives?
Mr. Dooley: I join other Senators in calling for a debate on the affordable housing scheme. While an issue exists in terms of the supply of affordable housing, issues also arise in regard to the objective criteria used. In particular, I am concerned that people whose incomes are below a certain threshold are being excluded. These are the kinds of people we would want to get affordable homes. I am aware of individuals and couples whose incomes are in the region of €30,000 per annum but because the criteria requires a multiplier of four and a half times their salaries, they do not qualify. A salary of €30,000 would mean a total of only €135,000. Unfortunately, there are not enough houses in this price range in the affordable schemes.
In effect, people require an income of between €40,000 and €50,000 to be in a position to get one of these homes. We need to examine this matter seriously because it is the people who are making an effort and living on a relatively low wage, between €20,000 and €30,000, whom we should be trying to assist. We can then consider those in the higher income brackets of up to €60,000, which in this day and age is not an excessive amount of money for a joint application. As well as addressing the issue of supply, we must examine the criteria being used to ensure that whatever way we distribute these houses, it is to the benefit of those most in need.
Senator O’Toole referred to the Border, midlands and western region. He made the point that it has not been highlighted. My colleague, Senator Paddy Burke, has raised this matter on a monthly, if not weekly, basis since this House was constituted. We already know the figures. In the mid-term review of 2003, there was an underspend of €400 million.
Mr. McHugh: We are now coming to the end of the cycle and that figure has doubled. Anybody working in the Civil Service or in policy who thinks constant reinvestment in the east will provide a solution to the mass urbanisation and traffic congestion is wrong. The solution lies in investing in infrastructure in the west. If we can provide critical access to the west, the north west and the south west in terms of roads, infrastructure, ports and airports, we will offer a solution to people in the east.
Mr. McHugh: When the people of the east are considering what way to vote, perhaps they should look to the development of the west as a solution. If we invest in the west, it will make their lives easier and they will not have as much traffic congestion. The IDA may be able to invest in places like Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry if proper access and infrastructure is provided.
Mr. Quinn: Not everything can be solved by legislation. The work of the task force on active citizenship deserves a great deal of attention but one aspect that can be examined, not by legislation, is the figures that were published last week showing that a large number of children go to bed hungry. Those children are not from families that are less well off. Many of them are from families who are well off and whose parents are cash rich but time poor. They do so because they do not have a family meal at home. That is a worthy issue on which to concentrate our efforts. It does not arise from legislation but from a drive by the community. The issue of families having meals at home has been highlighted in the United States and a campaign has begun on that because they realise that those families who eat together at least once a week have fewer drug, alcohol or smoking addictions in later life and achieve better examination results. It is something we as a nation should concentrate on not by way of legislation but perhaps by way of the task force on active citizenship.
Yesterday we discussed the drama and the horror of what happened on the roads in fog and the behaviour of drivers. We can do something about the number of road deaths if we can change our behaviour. I have mentioned in the House previously that there were 10,000 road deaths per year in France until they elected a President who appointed Mr. Sarkozy who took hold of that challenge and reduced the number of deaths from 10,000 to 5,000 per year by enforcement of the law and by taking a number of sensible, intelligent measures on the roads. I believe we can do those in this country.
One of the measures that convinced me of the effectiveness of it is the lines of approximately 15 metres in length on the side of the motorways indicating that one must keep that distance between one’s car and the car in front. If somebody breaks the speed limit and overtakes on those lines, they are breaking the law. Enforcement of the law managed to achieve the success in reducing the number of road deaths and we can do that in Ireland if we give the issue a sufficiently high priority.
Mr. J. Walsh: Will the Leader schedule the debate I called for some time ago arising from the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on the issue of collusion. Previously, the Leader stated that until the MacEntee commission of investigation reported, it might be inopportune to proceed with that debate. That report is now with the Government and the Attorney General and I understand it may be released next week. In any event, Mr. MacEntee’s terms of reference did not include collusion. The recommendation on collusion was that there would be a public inquiry in Northern Ireland where the various people involved, including witnesses, could be called. It is a scandal that the British authorities participated in the murder of innocent civilians in this State and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Will the Leader schedule a debate on partnership? The reference earlier to the Cork Maternity Hospital clearly illustrates that the substantial increases people in the public service received, not least within the health services, have resulted in a kamikaze disregard for taxpayers and the users of the health services in pursuit of their own self interest. That is not acceptable.
Mr. U. Burke: I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Education and Science be facilitated to come to the House to clarify, for all the partners in education, the position regarding the fall-out from the recent decision in the Louise O’Keeffe law case. The Minister and the Department have washed their hands of responsibility in this case, and that is not good enough. The onus is on the Minister to come to the House and clarify the position for all the partners. A situation has arisen where many members of boards of management are querying why and for how long they can remain on those boards. That the letter was sent out by the Chief State Solicitor’s office, at the behest of the State Claims Agency, in advance of Louise O’Keeffe knowing about it is no excuse for abdicating responsibility to her. When we compare the obligations on her now with the obligations the then Minister, Deputy Woods, had in 2002 regarding the religious and what happened in that case, how can we reconcile the current Minister’s position?
On a separate issue, I support my fellow Senators from County Galway and others who spoke about the water crisis in that county. Regarding what Senator O’Toole raised, the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, had an underspend of €50 million in his section of responsibility. That money would have gone a long way towards the maintenance of the water courses in that area and alleviated the problems being experienced.
Mr. Scanlon: I support the call made by Senators on affordable housing. We should debate also the shared ownership scheme which has made a major difference to the lives of many young couples. I am aware there is not a strong take-up of the scheme because the income limits are outdated. The system should be examined to improve young people’s chances of acquiring a home.
Mr. Browne: I second Senator Burke’s amendment to the Order of Business. I ask that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform be asked to come to the House in the dying days of the Seanad to discuss the issue of the Director of Public Prosecutions who can be slow to progress cases. On Pat Kenny’s radio show many victims expressed their frustration. In some instances their cases were not heard. In one case a lady whose abuser confessed to the crime was not prosecuted because of the time delay involved. People have come to see me who have cases pending and it is next to impossible to find out when the case will be heard. The local gardaí will say they are waiting to hear from the DPP. The DPP will not return calls. It is not a proper system. I realise there must be some separation in that respect but there should be some accountability as well.
The e-mail facility in the House has a spam system, for good reason, but the Ray D’Arcy radio show did an item recently on VAT on condoms. An e-mail was sent to the spokespersons in the various political parties but it was blocked because the word “condom” appeared in the e-mail. Some lessons should be learned from that because in this case, that was a genuine e-mail. It was a serious topic but because the word “condom” appeared in the e-mail it was blocked by the spam system. The Leader might speak to the ICT unit to ensure that e-mails can come through the system.
Mr. Browne: Concerning the car crashes yesterday, I compliment the role of radio in alerting motorists to the problem, in particular local radio stations which played a key role in what was a tricky situation. I compliment also all the off-duty emergency personnel who came to work on their day off to help in the crisis.
Ms Feeney: I support Senator Quinn’s call concerning the issue raised in the research carried out by a doctor in Trinity College into children going to school hungry. The only way to approach the issue is to keep highlighting it. I was surprised on reading the research to learn that children presenting themselves at school without having had a breakfast experience slow physical, intellectual and psychological growth. As a result, they have very low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. When we talk discuss child protection it is always in the context of legalistic matters and never ordinary everyday issues. This has nothing to do with poverty but covers all sections of society, the rich, the poor and the middle classes.
Ms O’Rourke: I have received a note to the effect that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Seamus Brennan, will come to the House today to take Committee Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2007. All of us would want the relevant Minister to come to the House to take a Bill but there are moments when that cannot happen. Everybody is entitled to a little area of privacy in their lives. Private issues explain the Minister’s absence yesterday but I do not intend to put anything on the public record in that regard.
Ms O’Rourke: He will attend today, however. The Senator also mentioned the Taoiseach’s speech on Saturday. Sometimes, so as not to provoke controversy, we avoid gut politics in this House. However, we think he made a fine speech and are entitled to say so. He gave great credibility to the political system and it is outrageous that when we make definite promises, they are characterised as auction politics but when others do so, they are daring, innovative and wonderful.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator O’Toole called for a debate on the regions, on which I agree with him. He mentioned the Border, midlands and western region, and we are very pleased the road to Athlone will soon be completed. We are within budget and ahead of time.
Ms O’Rourke: Two studies, one by Senator Leyden and the other by Senator McHugh, will make interesting reading and I look forward to reading them. Senator O’Toole raised a point with which I have great sympathy, namely, the cases piling up against the Department of Education and Science. If what we read is correct, the Department seems determined to fight each one.  It has always been a tenet of Departments to fight such cases whenever and from wherever they arise, but many of the cases to which the Senator referred involve great heartbreak for parents and carers. A more prudent approach may be required whereby the Department sifts through them to identify the genuine cases. I take the Senator’s point, especially as it relates to cases involving autism.
Ms O’Rourke: The Senator talked about the creeping privatisation of public services and the collocation of public and private hospitals. He also called for a debate on the housing market and I agree that all aspects of that market are due for a debate in this House.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Cox said 112 people were ill in Galway overnight and called it a national emergency. It is difficult not to agree with her and we must find a solution. We will try to locate the Minister to provide an answer.
Senator Coghlan referred to the joint committee’s report on the BMW region. He also asked about the Electoral Act and the litir um thoghchán. I am of the belief that nobody reads the litir um thoghchán.
Senator Leyden referred to his and Senator McHugh’s report. He also asked about An Post and said that 72% of letters posted today will reach their destination the next day but the remainder not until the following day. He called for a debate on An Post and I agree, because it is approaching full liberalisation.
Senator Norris asked about affordable homes and the exclusion of people from certain areas, which he called apartheid. He also spoke of mental disability and I too have received a disturbing letter explaining that a person’s disability allowance is to be sent to the residential facility.
Senator Kitt raised the quality of water in Galway, as he did the other day. Senator Bradford brought up the EU’s concerns over the VHI and called for a debate. When the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, was in the House for the rushed debate on health insurance, she said there needed to be further legislation, and that seems to be confirmed by the latest developments.
Ms O’Rourke: From there it will proceed to Athlone so it is full steam ahead. Senator Mansergh also raised two aspects of privatisation with which he had a quibble. One was the sale of Irish Steel for one shilling——
Ms O’Rourke: ——one pound, by the then Minister, Deputy Bruton, to an Indian man who disappeared after three years. He also referred to the sale of the mobile telephone licences, about which more will be heard soon.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Henry suggested flood waters may affect the water supply. She also spoke about the lack of educational psychological services in schools. She said the school principal regarded the young woman who was recently murdered as a disruptive child who needed special help, which she did not receive. We will have to have a debate on that matter. I understand not enough educational psychologists come through the system annually.
I agree with Senator Dooley that we should have a debate on housing. The impulse behind the affordable housing scheme is commendable but it must be brought up to date in terms of money. That is what is wrong with it. Senator McHugh said that investing in infrastructure in the west will ease the difficulties of the east. We have his report for consultation. Senator Glynn supported Senator Norris with regard to the letter about disability payments to mental health patients.
Senator Quinn referred to the Trinity report. I found the report’s conclusions difficult to understand. The report dealt mainly with people from middle class homes and found that young people were being sent to school without having any breakfast. That is clearly an issue of parenting, not means. It is extremely odd that parents would not give food to their children. I cannot understand it. I wonder about the research. I would like to read the report and examine the basis for it. If the families are well off, there is no need for the State to intervene because they can afford to feed their children. The Senator, however, made the point that the family that eats together stays together. It would be better off for doing so. The Senator also mentioned the road network in France, where the lines at the sides of the road are clearly marked.
Senator Jim Walsh asked for a debate on the joint committee on justice report, which is currently with the Government. He also raised the kamikaze attitude, as he described it, of certain nursing staff towards the new maternity hospital in Cork and sought a debate on partnership in that context.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ulick Burke has proposed that the House suspend to allow the Minister for Education and Science to come to the Seanad to clarify the fall-out from the Louise O’Keeffe case and to discuss the boards of management, which are due to be renewed next month. His proposal was seconded by Senator Browne. Senator Ulick Burke also raised the water problem in Galway and asked that it be rectified.
Senator Scanlan sought a debate on affordable housing. We should have a debate on housing in general and affordable housing in particular. The income thresholds must be updated. Senator Browne expressed his concern that the victims of sexual abuse do not know when they will get their opportunity to tell what happened to them. He also praised the local radio stations’ response to the car crash yesterday. There were comments on that incident yesterday in the House. The Senator should probably get in touch with the IT department to discuss how the spam issue is being dealt with.
Senator Feeney also raised the issue of children going to school hungry. It is well known that one cannot perform if one does not eat, regardless of one’s age. I cannot understand middle class families allowing children to go to school hungry.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ulick Burke has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, “That time be made available today for statements to clarify, for all partners in education, the fall-out from the recent court decision in the Louise O’Keeffe case”. Is the amendment being pressed?
|Bradford, Paul.||Browne, Fergal.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Henry, Mary.||McHugh, Joe.|
|Norris, David.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Terry, Sheila.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brennan, Michael.|
|Cox, Margaret.||Dardis, John.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Kenneally, Brendan.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Lydon, Donal J.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Minihan, John.||Mooney, Paschal C.|
|Morrissey, Tom.||Moylan, Pat.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Last Updated: 07/09/2010 07:45:18||Page of 13|