Thursday, 4 October 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, the Coroners Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. A Seanad party spokesperson may speak for 15 minutes while other Senators may speak for eight minutes. Members may share time by agreement.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We discussed in the House last week the need for an all-party motion on Burma. I would like to hear what progress the Leader has made. All of us will have seen the television images of the death of the Japanese photographer and the ongoing struggle of the Burmese people. An all-party motion from this House would be important.
Does the Leader agree with comments made by the former Leader of this House, Senator Cassidy’s constituency colleague, Deputy O’Rourke, when she said yesterday that she was quite astonished and astounded at the removal of the Minister and the Department of Health and Children from the day-to-day running of the health services, and that it was quite a morass? This comment echoes what was said on this side of the House yesterday about political accountability with regard to the health cutbacks. Yesterday I spoke about our public services and the need to manage them efficiently.
Today I want to talk about education. Many of my colleagues asked that the Minister for Education and Science attend the House and discuss a variety of issues. In particular I want to focus on the provision of schools at local level, particularly in the fast and growing communities around the country. The focus has been on primary schools but I see an ongoing problem in the provision of secondary schools, where there are bulges in primary school populations and the secondary schools are not in place. This issue needs attention. What initiative does the Minister plan to bring together the Department of Education and Science, the local authorities, the Office of Public Works, and the providers, particularly in light of the bishops’ comments about their future role to the effect that they intend to play a lesser role? I would like the Minister to attend the House and outline the action she is taking to put that sort of planning in place. At a public meeting the other day, a woman asked me if there was any point in carrying out a census, and being aware of the figures, if no action is taken on planning. Many of the Members on this side of the House would welcome an opportunity to debate the issues with the Minister for Education and Science. I ask the Leader to invite her to the House to discuss this and the many issues my colleagues raised in recent days.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I re-echo the point made by Senator Fitzgerald. I confirm that the Leader’s office is co-operating with the various groups to agree a motion. I hope the Leader will confirm that a motion acceptable to all is close to being agreed.
Dúirt an Seanadóir Fitzgerald gur cóir don Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta theacht isteach chugainn le gnéithe áirithe oideachais a phlé. Tá rud amháin eile gur cóir di a phlé linn chomh maith, an t-achrann atá ar siúl faoi láthair idir Ghaelscoileanna agus an Aire féin maidir le múineadh na Gaeilge sna scoileanna sin. An modh atá in úsáid faoi láthair ná tumoideachas, an immersion method of teaching. Is modh múinte é atá in úsáid ar fud an domhain — there is nothing different about it. Even groups like Linguaphone for example, uses this method to put forward its point of view. It is a perfectlly sustainable and correct method. Ar an dtaobh eile den scéal, tá an tAire ag rá gur cóir go mbeadh Béarla ar am-chlár na scoileanna chomh maith. Her worry is that if it is just complete immersion in Gaeluinn without any formal teaching of English, that does not reflect the timetable. Tá mise ar thaobh na nGaelscoileanna san argóint seo, cé go dtuigim go bhfuil argóint láidir ag an Aire. Ba bhreá liom go bpléifeadh síé anseo linn. It should not be something on which we take sides. I would like to hear the views offered from both sides. The Minister is in a perfectly understandable position. I do not fully agree with her on it, but I accept the strength of her arguments. We could have a situation where a child might be immersed in Gaeluinn for two or three years and the idea in the Gaelscoil method is that they would then pick up on the English from there on in. That is very understandable, but you could have a situation where a child could have left before being exposed to the teaching of english. I see that from the point of view of the Department and the Minister.
Ba chóir go mbeidh díospóireacht againn ar an ábhar seo agus tuiscint againn ar cad tá ar siúl. Ní hé go bhfuil aon duine mícheart ach caithfimid teacht ar an seift is fearr do dhaltaí na scoileanna sin.
The Cathaoirleach knows that I have raised this time and again. It is something that always bothers me and it started again yesterday. My two colleagues from Donegal raised Donegal issues. However, the problem is that we need to discuss the entire west of Ireland, from Malin to Schull. What always happens here is that people are focused on their own constituencies, and we lose the big picture. It is hard to believe but for years it was difficult to get co-ordinated support for the western rail corridor. People conveniently forget this but it is the truth. People did not see the value of the rail corridor because they were not looking at the whole issue. As an Independent who will never stand for the Dáil, with no vested interests, I have a serious concern that the voice of the west will be lost when constituency reviews take TDs from the west and move them to the east, chasing the population. Logically, that is what will happen.
The only way to deal with this is to look at it from a different point of view. I will be shot on sight by the media for saying this but even if it means increasing the number of TDs, we must ensure the voice of the regions of the west is fully articulated and heard. I wish to have a debate on this issue in the House, without any vested interests. This process is happening already. There was a time when there were six TDs in Cavan-Monaghan. There are six in Kerry at the moment, but it will be reduced to five. This is happening all along the west coast. From a disinterested point of view — it makes no difference to me personally or to anyone in this House from any party — I think this is wrong and we need to consider and focus on this issue.
Senator Alex White: Yesterday we agreed to the Order of Business as set out by the Leader who agreed to a further debate on the issue of health. I do not know whether he said this directly to the House but it was stated that a debate would take place on Shannon before long. Members will be grateful for this. However, there is a serious question mark over the coherence and credibility of the Government on a range of issues, including these two.
As the Leader prefers the Order of Business to be conducted on the basis of questions to him, I will repeat the question asked by Senator Frances Fitzgerald in case the Leader lets it go. Does he agree with the position articulated by the person who sat in his chair last year who said she was astounded at the removal of the Minister for Health and Children from the everyday running of the health services? Does he agree with her view that the presentation of the Government on these issues is all a morass? Those are the words of the former Leader. Deputy Mary O’Rourke made those comments. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, who is a member of the Government and subject to collective Cabinet responsibility, said that he cannot make head nor tail of the Health Service Executive and finds it impossible to deal with.
Senator Alex White: What is happening in the Government? Where has democracy in this State got to when Government Ministers can face in two, three or four different directions at the same time? How are we, as Senators, to take seriously any Minister or member of the Government who comes to this House to articulate the position of the Government on such an important issue when they spend their time disagreeing with each other publicly and undermining the position of people such as Professor Drumm who, for all the faults of the HSE, is clearly doing his best? How is he supposed to feel when a member of the Government, subject to collective Cabinet responsibility, says that he cannot make head nor tail of the organisation and that he finds it impossible to deal with? Credibility and coherence are demanded by the people, and by those in any democracy, of their Government. In this country, the day seems to be long gone when people resigned over issues they supposedly felt strongly about.
On the issue of Shannon, we now have the extraordinary situation that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, has been reported to be guilty of abusing individual citizens of this country who have the temerity to raise with him——
Senator Alex White: ——the question of his position. These people have just given a clear account of what happened. The behaviour of the Minister — again, a Minister subject to collective Cabinet responsibility — is nothing short of a disgrace and he should make a public apology.
Senator Alex White: It was a performance worthy of the Rose of Tralee, rather than what we would expect of a Minister. After all that posturing, what happened at the end of the day? Absolutely nothing.
An Cathaoirleach: I would appreciate it if people would ask questions. The problem is that a large number of Senators wish to speak. We have a time limit, and when we reach the end, people who have a valuable question to put to the Leader will not be able to. Therefore, I ask people to put questions. There are other forums for speeches.
Senator Dan Boyle:
The Leader will respond to the questions that have been raised by the leaders of the other groups. I wish to raise an issue that follows on from yesterday’s Order of Business. A number of Members asked that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come to the house to speak about employment in Donegal. In light of the indefinite postponement of the opening of the Amgen facility in
Carrigtwohill, County Cork, we should take the opportunity to discuss the wider issue for a number of reasons. First, this announcement is obviously disappointing and the Minister will have an opportunity to talk about the confidence of IDA Ireland that a replacement industry can be found.
If the Minister comes to the House, I wish to ask him about the manner in which job announcements are made. Historically, all Governments have made announcements regarding the creation of jobs three or four years into the future once a company is up and running. This originated at a time of high unemployment to create expectations and hope. This is no longer necessary and it is unfair on local communities. Job announcements should be limited to jobs that are already in place and are paid from day one. Everyone in the political process should examine ways in which these announcements can be better made in the future.
Senator David Norris: I say this as somebody who does not particularly admire Ryanair, but Mr. Ryan was a very remarkable businessman. In addition, he rescued one of the most magnificent 18th century houses in this country and did it with attention to detail, loving care, and professionalism. He started on the road as an entrepreneur in very difficult times — in the 1970s — and built up an international business, and then ploughed money back into the cultural life of this country. I was a guest in his home a number of times. I certainly mourn his passing and I am sure other people do too.
It is my intention to be as helpful as possible to you, a Chathaoirligh, and to the Government. Senator John Hanafin yesterday raised the question of reform of the Seanad and the university seats, and the distinguished Leader also referred to the university Senators. In addition, on the first day of the newly convened Seanad, there was a bit of a spat and it was once more suggested that the university Senators were dragging their heels and obstructing reform in this area. For that reason, and in the most positive and constructive way possible, I move an amendment to the Order of Business. I propose that we take No. 7, motion 15 in the name of most of the university Senators: “That Seanad Éireann urges the Government to implement the recommendations of the 2004 ‘Report on Seanad Reform’ by the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform”, immediately after the Order of Business as the first item, that we pass it, and that we immediately start to implement the very clear proposals, which were endorsed by the Government and which include radical changes in the university system.
Senator Terry Leyden: With regard to what Senator Alex White stated, issues will be debated. The Fianna Fáil Party will always debate issues freely and openly and will not be suppressed by former members of The Workers Party, Sinn Féin, Labour, Democratic Left or anybody else. The Labour Party is still smarting from the Mullingar accord or disaccord.
Will the Leader invite to the House the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, to discuss the new European reform treaty? As the Government spokesperson in the Seanad on European affairs and integration policy, I wish to see the Seanad more involved in discussing the important issue of Ireland’s future in Europe.
The European Council meeting of 21 and 22 June decided to convene an intergovernmental conference to finalise the details of the reform treaty. It is important that the Seanad plays a role in this. This Seanad is made up of enlightened people with broad views. This issue will face the Irish people as a referendum is likely to take place in 2008. The concept of a constitution was dropped because it was not acceptable to most member states. It would have caused problems in this country because we have a constitution and the name “reform treaty” is appropriate.
The Minister of State with responsibility for this matter has tremendous involvement in Europe and his involvement in the Nice treaty was successful. Deputy Dick Roche will be welcome to the House and I ask the Leader for the opportunity to discuss this issue. Perhaps the Seanad can take a lead role in pushing through the referendum in 2008.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Along with other colleagues, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House to discuss an announcement she made in August. Many Senators know she plans that parents will receive reports on their children’s progress in school at the ages of seven and 11. As the new spokesperson for education and science, I welcome this move. However, I would like her to tease it out. Has she fully considered the implications in terms of resources? I fear it will open a can of worms. It is a can of worms which needs to be opened but I am not happy with the amount of resources in place, especially with regard to children with learning difficulties. I have first-hand experience in this area. At this time of major prosperity, a pupil in a primary school of 200 children who requires psychological assessment qualifies for one to two assessments. This means a parent must spend €400 to have the child privately assessed. Many colleagues and friends who are parents have experienced this. Providing parents with reports on their children will further exacerbate this need.
I join my colleague, Senator Frances Fitzgerald, in asking that the Minister come to the House to address the matter of school provision and forward planning at primary and second level and advance the Adamstown model.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to discuss the census of 2006? Will the Minister conduct an early review of the electoral area boundaries? The last review was ten years ago. I would like the results of such a review to be in place in time for the local elections of 2009. We experienced major demographic shifts since the last review. This should be up to date to address the population needs as they exist.
Senator Lisa McDonald: I call for a debate on the important issue of a university for the south-east region. Waterford Institute of Technology is ready to become a university. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science to the Seanad to debate this matter? Approximately 40% of the workforce of my home county of Wexford is dependent on the construction industry. It is unhealthy for any area to be overly dependent on one industry. A university in the south-east would help attract new and diverse employment and would also act as a spur to raise all boats.
Yesterday, I was appointed spokesperson for justice, equality and law reform with particular emphasis on and primary responsibility for equality and law reform. In this regard, I join calls made over the past two weeks by Senators Fitzgerald and Bacik for a debate on equality to discuss issues such as the participation of women in the workforce at boardroom level and in politics. As politicians, we must take the lead in this matter. The last time I checked, we were ranked 78th in the world behind countries such as Sudan and Israel. Collectively, we should be ashamed and should address this issue. The Seanad is a perfect forum for this debate.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I am glad to see the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will undertake a review of investment in broadband. As spokesperson on community and rural affairs, I am pleased to see any measure to improve life for rural dwellers. Despite promises to the contrary, as a country we still lag behind when it comes to broadband access in rural areas. Broadband has long ceased to be a luxury item. It is now an essential part of daily life. Will the Leader request the Minister to come to the Seanad to outline his policy for improving broadband access in rural areas?
A related issue was raised by Senator David Norris who called for a debate on Seanad reform. My party supports this and would welcome such a debate. We disagree with certain aspects of his proposal but we would welcome the chance to debate it. I would like to see noise limitations introduced. It gets loud when sitting between Senators Alex White and David Norris and I would not mind if we introduced legislation to limit it.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Bhí suim agam sa mhéid a bhí le rá ag an tSeanadóir O’Toole faoi díospóireacht i dtaobh na ngaelscoileanna, go mórmhór stádas an Bhéarla iontu. Bhí mé ag éisteacht le hurlabhraíó na gaelscoileanna ar an raidió agus chuaigh sí i bhfeidhm go mór orm. Thug sí le tuiscint nach raibh taighde ar bith déanta go proifisiúnta ar an gceist seo maidir le Béarla sna gaelscoileanna. Bheadh sé cabhrach dá mbeadh an tAire in ann teacht isteach leis an gceist seo a phlé.
This morning we held an all-party meeting with Mr. Leonard Orban, the European Commissioner for multilingualism. I found it an exceptionally good meeting. He gave us an undertaking that he would ensure the equality of the Irish language as a working language in Europe would be entertained. We had the opportunity to point out to him some positive promotion of Irish, including the new legislation on Irish, the official working status of Irish in Europe, Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4. One of the main items we were able to bring to his notice was that of the gaelscoileanna. There is no doubt that development which has come without any great official prompting was one of the reasons we all had new confidence in this regard.
I find the present debate a little disturbing because the people who headed up the gaelscoileanna were the pioneers at the time. It would be much better if the debate and the consultation took place in a more private setting rather than in public. We owe that to the gaelscoileanna. I listened to one of their spokespersons who made the point that as far as she knew, there was no professional or basic research done on the issue of an immersion system for Irish and bringing English into that situation. It would be most helpful if the Minister for Education and Science could come to the House and discuss that issue with Members because she is one of the great pioneers of the promotion of Irish. We all know of her great love for Irish and how supportive she is. I would prefer if the debate were taken from the airwaves and into this House where we would have the opportunity to discuss it.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I wish to raise the issue of Amgen and join Senator Boyle in asking that the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue of job creation. It is especially disappointing in the Cork region to hear of the loss of the proposed jobs in Amgen. In particular, the Minister should explain how much the Government, his officials and IDA Ireland knew prior to the general election about the decision of Amgen to postpone indefinitely locating its jobs in Cork. The project had been announced with much fanfare.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to discuss her proposals for teachers in difficulty? It is disingenuous that we are drip fed the Minister’s new proposal by the Government. It behoves us all to enhance and support teachers who face difficulties in classrooms and education. It is wrong to label them as problem teachers. We must support and nurture our teachers who are one of the primary movers in educating our young people. If they are having difficulties, an enhanced support structure for them should be in place and not the school principal wielding the axe and being the judge and jury.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: On a point of clarification, a call was made yesterday for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to discuss the job situation in the north west, which seemed to broaden out to asking the Minister to discuss IDA Ireland. I had made a separate call that we examine the north-western Border region, the new dispensation that exists and the opportunity to develop regional balance. I do not know which Minister is appropriate for that debate but there is a need to broaden it out.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Every time I saw the advertisement, I never saw reference to Donegal in it. I believe there is a new dispensation in the north-west Border counties that needs to be maximised. It has new potential and it involves the jurisdiction in the Six Counties. Therefore, we must find some mechanism to develop discussion, debate and interaction to maximise that potential.
Far be it from me, coming from the other House, to make a suggestion. In the Dáil, Ministers take questions on a rota basis and one knows when they will take questions again. Is there any mechanism in this House whereby Ministers would come to it regularly for a particular period? If there were, we would know when to debate the issue of underperforming teachers, gaelscoileanna and so on and we could gear our discussion towards the relevant Minister. At present, everybody is asking that every Minister come to the House. Unless there is a certain framework, it will be difficult for everybody to deal with issues. It will be difficult also for any Minister to deal with every issue on a specific day.
Senator Paul Bradford: I support the call from Senators Boyle and Buttimer that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come to the House at the earliest possible time to debate the Amgen company’s decision not to locate in east Cork. The Leader will be aware that one of his party colleagues, a Government backbencher, has already stated that his own Government misled the people of east Cork over the past two years and that Amgen had no intention of locating there. I cannot comment on whether that is correct but it is important to discuss job creation in east Cork.
The context of discussing job creation and job losses is different from that which pertained some months ago. In the run-up to the general election, a myth was created that the outgoing Government had sole ownership of some magic formula that would keep the economy growing strongly. The winds of economic change we have witnessed in recent months give lie to the view that the Government has ownership of some formula which will keep Ireland growing at 5%, 6% and 7% per year. The country faces major economic challenges and cutbacks in Departments are threatened. That is the new economic situation facing the Government and it needs further debate.
From the point of view of job creation in east Cork, the promised 1,000 jobs would have transformed east Cork and there would have been thousands of spin-off jobs. It is a huge blow to the region. We need to hear from the Minister what he knew in recent months and, more importantly, what he proposes to do to respond to this disappointing news.
Senator John Hanafin: Again I ask the Leader for a debate on reform of the Seanad. The reason for asking for the debate is the inadequate suggestions made prior to this. It is for this Seanad to come forward with suggestions and that is why I have asked for a debate. It is no harm to remind ourselves because it was suggested in certain parts that it was a less than democratic method of election. Some people carried their election very heavily on their shoulders. Let us not forget that some 1.2 million people voted for us to be here in this manner. The system has worked exceptionally well.
Senator John Hanafin: The reality is that the Seanad has worked exceptionally well. We have asked for a moderate proposal, an increase of ten Senators, when the Dáil has gone from 120 to 166 Members, which is a 33% increase. We have asked for only ten extra Senators in a system that has served the country well.
Senator Eugene Regan: A European Council meeting on 18 and 19 October will finally adopt the reform treaty which will be put to a referendum here. At the previous European summit which dealt with this, an issue arose in regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights in which the Taoiseach indicated that Ireland might exercise some opt out from that charter. That was subsequently clarified when there was a certain reaction.
One other issue concerning that discussion which will be finalised in a matter of weeks is the exercise of an opt out in the area of policing and judicial co-operation in criminal law matters, and the work of the European institutions and the European Union in that area. It is evident there is a split in Cabinet on this issue because the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, has stated publicly he is against the exercise of this opt out.
It appears this matter has not been discussed in the Dáil or in this House and has not been the subject of any discussion by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. I ask for a debate on this matter before a decision is taken. It falls to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to clarify the position now. I hope he will be in the House later this morning. It is appropriate to invite him to clarify the issue. We will all play a part in the reform treaty referendum campaign and we should know the basis on which these decisions are being made. The decision will be made on 18 and 19 October. The lower House had a debate on policing and judicial co-operation yesterday. We are well aware of the transnational character of crime and criminal organisations. The Government needs all the help it can get from Europe and we should play our full part in the efforts of Europe in this area.
An Cathaoirleach: I ask Senators to consider Standing Order 108, which clearly spells out those to whom we may pay tribute and give expressions of sympathy. If a motion of sympathy is to be taken it should be moved by the Leader following which others could join in. I do not want to have to do this and I have no disrespect for any deceased person. However, there are rules and regulations with which I and all Members must comply. We will take on board what the Senator has said.
Senator Ivor Callely: I was prompted by Senator Norris’s expression of sympathy. I would like to be associated with what has been said and is now on the record. Tony Ryan was an entrepreneur of great vision who had a very beneficial impact on the economy in the past 25 years or so. He brought new frontiers to the aviation industry in Ireland. May he rest in peace.
I seek your guidance, a Cathaoirleach, as to what options are available to Members of this House to initiate and lead an all-Ireland debate on the economy. We are all aware of the current economic climate and the global situation. I listened with interest to some of the contributors on the opposite side of the House who made comments, worthy as they are, about issues needing attention such as Senator Hannigan’s mention of the importance of broadband and the concern of Senators Buttimer and Bradford about the postponement of the development of the Amgen plant in Carrigtwohill. However, other issues are coming down the stream such as the planned EU single corporate tax rate and the implications it may have for Ireland. Some interesting comments have been made such as those by the chairman of the Ulster Bank on merging the authorities on the island with responsibility for the development of industry and our economy. What options are available to us to invite people who have made comments, like Dr. Gillespie and others, along with the policy makers and the political leadership, to have an all-island debate on the future of the economy?
Senator Ivana Bacik: I apologise for speaking out of turn earlier. I second the motion proposed by Senator Norris to have a debate on Seanad reform. I thought Senator Hanafin might have got there before me when he spoke in favour of a debate on Seanad reform, but he seemed to refuse at the last hurdle and not second Senator Norris’s motion. We had much discussion on the matter on the first sitting day of this Seanad. The Leader among others was very vocal on the need for Seanad reform and it is important that we give it more than token attention and have a debate.
I also thank Senator McDonald for again calling for a debate on gender equality, an issue to which I intend to return. From looking around this House and the other House it is clear that women’s representation in Ireland is very poor. It is an important matter for a further debate.
An Cathaoirleach: Only one minute remains and four Senators are offering to speak. Senators will appreciate that people who have overrun their time have been unfair to others who want to make a valuable contribution
Senator Michael McCarthy: I also wish to raise the issue of the jobs at Amgen. It is no great surprise to people in the Cork region that Amgen has finally announced that the planned development of the Carrigtwohill plant will now not proceed. Several questions need to be asked on this announcement. Who knew what? When did they know it? What exactly did they know? Prior to the general election it was common knowledge in Cork that Amgen would pull the plug and that the announcement would be delayed until after the general election for very obvious reasons. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, said at the time that “any rumours were outrageous”. They are not so outrageous now and Cork East is without a 1,100-job facility despite the fanfare and aplomb that heralded its announcement several years ago. I would like the Leader to arrange to bring a Minister to the House to account for this announcement and to investigate the roles of the employment agencies of the State. What role does IDA Ireland play in Cork? As far as I am concerned it does not exist in west Cork and it is clearly not working in east Cork.
Senator Rónán Mullen: The calls from the Independent benches and Senator Hanafin for Seanad reform and the call from my fellow east Galwegian Senator Healy Eames on electoral reform relate to the engagement of the public with the political process. While I know the House has debated electronic voting in the recent past, it would be timely for the Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to engage in debate with us in the House once more on the issue, particularly in the light of the latest developments in The Netherlands. In the past month an official report has criticised the transparency of electronic voting there and a Dutch judge has found that the use of electronic machines in the recent election in The Netherlands was unauthorised.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I was sickened to hear time and again from members of the Government in recent years that Ireland would be the laughing stock of Europe if we did not introduce electronic voting. Never was there a more pathetic excuse of an argument for introducing electronic voting. While it might not be the most popular thing to say in this House given that we have all been through the difficulty of long election counts, our system of electing people has a great benefit in helping people engage with the political process. Any debate in this House should focus more widely on the importance of improving the image of politics in the eyes of the public. Our voting system is a help and not a hindrance.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Reach Out: National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention was published in 2005 and its recommendations were endorsed by the Government. In the meantime the investment in suicide research and prevention has been an absolute disgrace. ASIST, which stands for applied suicide intervention skills training, is a two-day course to prepare individuals to provide emergency interventions to help people at risk of suicide. More than 40 of these programmes have been cancelled. While we have cutbacks in health, these types of cutbacks are totally unacceptable. I again call for a debate on suicide and the recommendations of Reach Out, which have not been implemented to date.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator O’Toole has struck a very important chord. There are myriad problems from Malin Head to Mizen Head. We need to focus on the bigger picture and engage in a wider debate, to which many Members have subscribed. Given the job losses, the lack of a rail corridor, the non-functioning of the HSE and without going into any of our pet problems in our local areas and counties, there are problems from Donegal to Kerry and inland as well. Ireland’s regional policy is a total scata bullán. I support the call for a wider debate encompassing everything.
An Cathaoirleach: I have exceeded the time limit but this is the first day it has been in use. I guarantee Members will lose out in future because I will call the Leader to reply within the time allocated.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family of Tony Ryan and I pass on our condolences. He was one of Ireland’s greatest men of all time. He transformed Ireland and gave us the opportunity to create the Celtic tiger. He achieved much in his lifetime and he has given generations an opportunity. He was an innovative person. Everybody who worked with Tony Ryan was motivated and uplifted and he was an inspiration to a country that experienced Third World conditions when he started out in 1975.
With regard to the comments by Members on the HSE, I will have to allocate further time to debate health issues. The Minister for Health and Children was in the House two days last week to bring us up to date on the situation at the time. The challenge she faces is formidable and she needs the backing and support of all colleagues. Up to €15 billion is allocated for health services annually and the way it is being spent is a serious concern to Members, some of whom have vast experience in the health services. Their views must be taken into account because they know what they are talking about. The issue is whether the State is getting value for money for its massive allocation to the HSE, whose running costs increased by 17% in the first eight months of the year. Mullingar Hospital is ranked No. 1 in the State for hygiene standards and No. 2 for value for money. Other hospitals that face difficulties should take a lead from the administrator and staff in Mullingar Hospital, where good people are doing a good job. I have no difficulty allocating time for a further debate on the HSE.
An all-party motion on Burma will be put on the Order Paper and I thank the leaders of the various groups for their co-operation and understanding. I congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his outstanding contribution at the United Nations last Tuesday in the name of the people of Ireland, of which I was proud. Many Senators will be proud of him because he did not put a tooth in his statement expressing the views and feelings of the people and Members of both Houses.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator O’Toole called for a debate on the constituencies review. This presents a serious challenge to us, as parliamentarians, in regard to where we are going. Practically half of our Dáil constituencies will lose one or two seats in every constituency review. I have discussed this with three experienced Members in both Houses and serious decisions must be made regarding what will happen along the western seaboard between Kerry and Donegal. I could not agree more with the sentiments of Senator O’Toole in this regard and a debate will be held on this issue in the next three to four weeks. The Boundary Commission is an independent body and it is currently sitting. However, no one knows better than I what can happen, as I lost half my county to another constituency, similar to what happened in Leitrim. Following past constituency reviews, at least one seat has been lost along the western corridor every time. This is leading to a shift of power with two thirds of the electorate residing on the eastern seaboard. The western seaboard will be denuded of its democratic right to have representatives in both Houses. Thankfully the Seanad is a more democratic House in that regard.
The three Donegal Senators called for an urgent debate on the employment challenges facing the county yesterday in the House to which I responded, although I understand that is not what is being reported on the airwaves. When I replied, I included the request for a debate on the BMW region by Deputy Healy Eames and the challenges and workings of the IDA. Many Senators have expressed serious concerns about the challenges ahead. If we are all honest about it, the greatest challenge facing the Government and ourselves, as parliamentarians, is competitiveness. As a former chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, I visited many countries that had advantage on Ireland, but we have been the world leaders in turning around an economy. All political parties played their part and all of us can taken kudos from that but now we must ascertain where we will go for the next ten or 15 years. I intend to bring the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House for a half day debate so that he can listen to the views of Members who may be able to assist in framing policy for the next ten years.
Senator McDonald called for a debate on investment in the south-east. This would be a worthy debate and it could be taken when the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment comes to the House. I congratulate the Senator on her appointment by the Taoiseach as spokesperson on equality and law reform. Both she and Senator Bacik called for a debate on equality and gender balance and I will allocate time for that.
Senator Hannigan called on the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to update the House on broadband provision. As he stated, it is a necessary tool of work for everyone in Ireland plc. I have no difficulty allocating time for this but, perhaps, the Labour Party could use its private Members time next week to bring the debate forward. Senator White could discuss this with his party Whip and a two-hour debate could be held next week, which would be helpful to all Members.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Keaveney called for Ministers to be on a rota. Perhaps all good ideas such as this could be put to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges under the chairmanship of the Cathaoirleach. That committee considers deviation from Standing Orders and creating new opportunities, views and ideas. This idea is worthy of such consideration. We could take the proposal to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and see how it could be teased out by its members.
Senators Hanafin, Norris and Bacik have proposed an amendment on Seanad reform to the Order of Business. Senator Hanafin brought this to my attention on the Order of Business yesterday and his proposal regarding ten new positions in Seanad Éireann to accommodate the various strands and views is certainly worthy of consideration. Perhaps in the long term there will be a 32-county Ireland where we will need extra seats in both the Dáil and Seanad.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I would like to think that in looking forward to 2016, the 100th anniversary, we should plan for additional facilities with the OPW. This should not be just an aspiration. It could become a reality. I hope in the long term this will be one of our aims to be included in Seanad reform consideration.
I cannot agree to the amendment to the Order of Business. I know Senator Norris to be an Independent Member of respect and eminence, but the leader he has appointed, Senator O’Toole, has already agreed——
Senator Donie Cassidy: I should not mention a Member when he is not present. I have no difficulty allocating time to facilitate a lengthy debate, as long as Members require, on Seanad reform. The business for today has been agreed and arranged with the Minister. I do not wish to see any Senator being accused of being opportunistic. Business must be planned in a careful and meaningful way, which is what Senators expect me to do as Leader of this House.
If Senator Norris wishes to arrange a time with me after the Order of Business, I will have no difficulty in allocating a half day, a whole day or even two days to the matter if the Senator believes there is enough demand from Senators to contribute. We will watch contributions with bated breath from all those Senators when the time is allocated.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the economy with the Minister for Finance present. I intend to have a wide-ranging debate on this issue, which was called for last week. Senator Callely has now been appointed as spokesperson on the Government side for enterprise, trade and employment. I have no difficulty in requesting the Minister for Finance to come to the House to update us on the current state of the economy.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I have no difficulty in allocating time for the very worthwhile request made by Senators Leyden and Regan. We will try to organise that within the next three weeks because time is of the essence.
An Cathaoirleach: I remind Senators that mobile phones must be switched off in the Chamber. When a phone is put on a silent setting, it still interferes with sound recordings. I request that Members turn off phones or leave them in the office or with secretaries. They should not be brought into the Chamber.
Senator David Norris: I signalled this yesterday and we have plenty of time. Regarding watching with bated breath, which is a wonderful mixed metaphor, all the university Senators have contributed to every debate on this.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||Kelly, Alan.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Mullen, Rónán.||Norris, David.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Twomey, Liam.||White, Alex.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Cannon, Ciaran.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|de Búrca, Déirdre.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Kett, Tony.||Leyden, Terry.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
|Last Updated: 07/09/2010 06:43:09||Page of 9|