Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Local Government (Road Functions) Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 2, statements on cancer services and the implementation of the HSE national cancer control programme. It is proposed that No. 2 shall be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business. The first two hours of this will be with the Minister present and will be on the rota system. The final hour of the Minister’s presence will be allotted to questions and each group will be allocated five minutes and the Minister will be allocated five minutes to respond. During the first two hours, spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes. Senators may share time. No. 1 is to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Where is the legislation for the Seanad and what has happened to the Government’s legislative programme? This week, for example, there is only one Bill before the House. What has happened to the range of legislation that was due to come before the Seanad? Why is there such a hold-up?
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: This is a serious question. Is the Government so distracted that it is just not getting to the real business of the Dáil and Seanad, which is passing legislation? The Leader might consider this and ensure that more legislation comes before the House.
One of the Ministers has been quite distracted this week by a fleeting report on an RTE programme about a Minister taking cocaine. There was no internal RTE inquiry when Professor Crown was dropped from “The Late Late Show”. One would think a Minister’s career had been destroyed and that there was a family begging on the streets.
I wish to raise the issue of the children’s rights referendum. Senator Ross spoke here last week about the need to prepare for the European treaty and to have adequate discussion. There was a proposal that the children’s rights referendum be held on the same day. I would like to find out if this is the case. Today marks the anniversary of the launch of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ombudsman for Children is doing a lot of work in this area. Last weekend the General Assembly of the European Youth Parliament was held here in Leinster House. We need adequate preparation and debate if we are to ensure that a provision on children’s rights is to be put in the Constitution. There are many fundamental issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps the Leader could let us know whether there will be an opportunity to debate this in the near future.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I raised last week the importance of having a debate on the report of the review body on higher remuneration. I raised that in the context of where stands accountability and responsibility. We could widen that debate. We need to know where we as a political society are heading. It seems that every time we decide to take away decisions from politicians, a short time later somebody wants to give them back to them. We did not like the way politicians were dealing with planning matters and we set up An Bord Pleanála, and we will be happy with it until we disagree with its opinions. We did the same with the roads authority. We did the same with the HSE, which we set up with a great brouhaha, which we will discuss later, but as soon as it gets something wrong, we will want to know where lies the political accountability and responsibility. We should have a clear understanding of the difference between responsibility and accountability, where the line lies and how we should explain it to people.
I ask for a debate on the review body. I have listened carefully to the Taoiseach getting it wrong every time he stands up. I support the decision of the review body in the case of the Taoiseach’s salary. I think I am the only person in either House who does, or certainly who has said so. I do not have any difficulty with it, but I have a real difficulty with the way he is handling it.
This is the reason I want to debate the matter. People stand for many things, and speak about making comparisons with other European countries. I have done all that on behalf of this House and the other House for more than 20 years. Just in case people get what they wish for, let us start across the water by comparing this House with Westminster’s upper house, the members of which do not get paid. If one compares one with the other, that is where one should start. The issue is not that simple.
From a constitutional perspective, the only place to consider the Taoiseach’s position is in the context of the separation of the Legislature and the Executive. We have guarded that every step of the way since the foundation of the State and everybody agrees with it. The point is that since the foundation of the State in 1922, the head of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice, has been paid exactly the same as the Taoiseach. It is worthwhile for people to note that before we get into the debate because if one cannot find an external comparator and we do not agree with any of the private sector comparators, that is the one to which we should refer. While one might not have read it in any newspaper, the salary increase the Chief Justice got, to which he was entitled and earned, was exactly the same as that which the Taoiseach got. The Chief Justice is paid, to the penny, the same as the Taoiseach.
I want a debate here because I want to hear the different points of view. I am not here to defend the Taoiseach, but I am defending the system under which we took responsibility for this out of the hands of politicians and set up a review body, the members of which do a thankless job and in the main do not even draw a salary for it.
Although my time has expired, I want to make another brief point. It bodes ill — I will probably go to see a doctor later today — to find myself of one mind with Mr. Myers of the Irish Independent. However, I have been sick over the weekend since I read the story from Saudi Arabia, which has been confirmed on all sides, about a woman and her partner who were raped, and because they were together and unrelated, the woman has now not only to suffer the trauma of being raped but has been sentenced to 200 lashes by the official courts of Saudi Arabia. I say this because I am not surprised, and never have been due to my involvement with Amnesty International, by what goes on in Saudi Arabia, but it sickens me to my teeth that the western world treats these as if they were civilised and decent——
Senator Joe O’Toole: ——and that they have been fed, welcomed, cheered and applauded in Westminster, in Dublin and in western Europe. We should take a stand against the horrific goings on in Saudi Arabia, beginning with this one.
Senator Alex White: It did not appear to take the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, too long to learn one tactic from his Fianna Fáil colleagues in his attempt to deflect responsibility on the waste issue onto Fine Gael and Labour.
Senator Alex White: If I could prefix my remarks by saying the notion that one can blame the Opposition for the failure, or absence, of policy in Government is extraordinary. The Minister appears to have learned quickly to pick up that tactic from his colleagues.
Senator Alex White: I am putting this in the context of calling for a debate because it is a matter we must revisit in this House. It is extraordinary that there is a decision of An Bord Pleanála on a major infrastructural project and there is a policy in place for a number of years, but the Minister states he disagrees with it. How can we have government when, for example, on an issue like Shannon there are Ministers joining a queue to sign petitions? How can we have a policy on health when there are Ministers stating the HSE is dysfunctional? How can we have a serious waste policy when the Minister responsible for waste said he disagrees with a decision on a fundamentally important and significant infrastructural project? This is a serious matter and it is not good enough to blame Labour and Fine Gael. I ask that the Minister come into the House.
Senator Alex White: The Minister, having made a promise that an incinerator would never be built when he was in Government, has now said he will launch a review of waste policy which will take nine months. He said he is confident that at the end of that period it will be shown that the incinerator is redundant, unviable or both. What will he say if the review proves otherwise?
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Following on from the issue raised by Senator White I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come into the House to address the decision by An Bord Pleanála yesterday to grant planning permission for a 600,000 tonne mass burn incinerator for Poolbeg in Dublin, despite the recommendation of its inspector for a 500,000 tonne incinerator. The decision is difficult to understand. As the Cathaoirleach is aware, this Minister is five months in office but in that five months period he had his Department carry out an analysis of the projected incinerator capacity planned for the country and it was clear from that analysis that there was a serious over-provision of capacity and that at most what this country needed was the facility to cater for 400,000 tonnes of waste.
This is a cutting edge area in which many new technologies are being produced, researched and piloted as we speak. The decision by An Bord Pleanála is in conflict with the new approach the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is taking based on the analysis that has been carried out. I ask that the Minister would appear before the House to outline the composition of the waste review group he is establishing——
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: ——the terms of reference he will give to that group and when it will report. I am confident the group will state clearly that the capacity for incineration planned for will mean we will become a net importer of waste from other countries. There is no way this small country——
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: We had very little support from either Fine Gael or the Labour Party, both of whom support incineration. They are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand they are trying to——
Senator Paschal Donohoe: Last night the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance made a wide-ranging speech about the future of our economic policy. The breadth of the speech was far more wide-ranging and comprehensive than those I have heard in the Oireachtas in the past few months. Instead of commenting on that, however, I call for a debate on tow points made by the Tánaiste.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: If I can make my points I will explain the reason a debate on these matters is vital. The Tánaiste commented that there would be a slow down in public spending in line with growth of the economy and he ominously referred to a further expansion of the private sector into the delivery of services currently delivered by the public sector. The last time we heard language like that was in respect of the health service when ideas such as the co-location of hospitals were introduced, which had various consequences and difficulties that were not thought about. The Tánaiste said he would wait on a report from the OECD on the future of public services here before he considers introducing those changes. When that report becomes available, I ask the Leader that it be properly debated in this House.
Similar reports, such as the Hanly report, led to significant changes in the delivery of public policy with which we are only beginning to cope. Will the debate focus on two points, namely, how to ensure that equality of opportunity for everyone, regardless of how much money he or she has, is not jeopardised by changes and that we are not swapping public for private monopolies, which is being done too often?
Senator Ann Ormonde: I would like a debate on the issue of An Bord Pleanála, but from a different perspective. We should examine the broader concept of why the body was set up and how things stand. Leaving the Poolbeg decision out of the discussion, in many instances I was unable to understand why the board made a different decision than was recommended by an inspector. What is the role of the membership?
The EU plans to send more than 4,000 troops to Chad under the command of the Irish officer, Pat Nash, to protect refugees. However, there have been delays due to a lack of helicopters, aircraft, field hospitals, etc. I congratulate the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence on their efforts in facilitating our commitment to send troops, but I call on the EU defence Ministers to press the matter to ensure support for the decision.
Senator Maurice Cummins: While we want the Good Friday Agreement to work and we welcome that the Northern Ireland Assembly is working, I raised the question last week of the brutal murder of Paul Quinn and how the intimidated community will not give information to the PSNI or the Garda. The weekend’s newspapers reported that Robert McCartney’s sister, while doing her duty as a nurse in the Markets area, was intimidated by provo activists. Most of that family has emigrated because of intimidation.
I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to meet the Quinn family and use his good offices to insist such intimidation ceases in Northern Ireland and on this side of the Border. There is no point in Sinn Féin politicians calling on people to co-operate with the PSNI when local activists frighten the life out of people. The intimidation must cease and the Minister must send Sinn Féin and the provo activists the message that such intimidation cannot take place in any society.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support Senator O’Toole’s comments on the Saudi Arabian episode. I have always held the opinion that if one adopts an à la carte approach to human rights and democracy, one diminishes one’s principles and vision for humanity. The deafening silence in this instance is symptomatic of the golden circle of nations, those which support the major powers and are beyond criticism. It has often been seen during the past four years and I have raised it in the House.
While Ireland has adopted a courageous and independent stance, it is important we speak out on an issue such as that relating to Saudi Arabia. An unfortunate woman who was raped and would expect justice from the state will have a further injustice perpetrated against her by receiving an inhumane scourging. This House and Ireland must be always prepared to be independent-minded no matter what is in question, be it oil, economic advantage or a military alliance. The only hope we have if we wish to continue as an honest broker as we did in the past is to be independent and courageous on such issues.
Senator Ivana Bacik: On this auspicious day for children’s rights Senator Fitzgerald referred to the issue. On a related matter I ask that the Minister for Health and Children attend the House for a debate on the fact that the Government does not have child benefit as a universal benefit. The habitual residence condition deprives up to 3,000 of the most disadvantaged children in the State, and these are largely the children of asylum seekers or persons to whom leave to remain in the State has been refused. This has a detrimental effect on their schooling, nutrition and general upbringing.
While the numbers are small, a campaign has been in place for the past year, which I had the honour of launching, run by the Free Legal Advice Centres and supported by the Children’s Rights Alliance, Barnardos, the Vincentian Refugee Centre and others. All argue the Government should restore child benefit as a universal benefit, given that Ireland has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have an obligation to ensure social welfare policies are applied in the best interests of the child and without regard to the status of the parents. This is a small matter but has a big impact on a relatively small number of children to whom we are clearly neglecting in our duties.
Senator Maria Corrigan: I ask the Leader as a matter of urgency to have the relevant Minister to the House to debate the issue of how ambitious we are for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. An outstanding Law Reform Commission report highlights the fact that basic human rights for those with intellectual disabilities have not been addressed as a result of deficits in our exiting legislation. If we cannot ensure that someone has their basic human rights recognised and addressed, then they are by no means equal citizens.
Last week on the Adjournment I was pleased to have clarified and confirmed that people with an intellectual disability in residential settings will have moneys deducted from them refunded. I am concerned the HSE did not have this information but gave contrary information in its briefing to Oireachtas Members. I am also concerned about current deductions. Guidelines are in place which I want examined and to know how they are monitored. Most importantly, have those individuals with an intellectual disability given their consent for these moneys to be deducted from their allowances every week?
Senator Maria Corrigan: As we fund residential services and invest much in them, we must ask if it is achieving increased better literacy and independent-living for people with an intellectual disability. I would appreciate if the Leader invites the relevant Minister to the House to address this matter.
Senator Nicky McFadden: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to urgently postpone the date of commencement of proposed legislation on pharmacies? It should not be implemented because of the serious situation that will ensue if it is commenced. Under the proposed legislation pharmacists will occur a loss on every GMS dispensed item. From speaking to pharmacists in my area, I was informed that between 30 to 40 employees in one pharmacy will be put on protective notice. This is most unfair and the Minister must engage in discussion with the pharmacists. The Minister has not met the pharmacists or Mr. Shipsey since 8 November.  That will not solve anything. The Minister needs to engage with the pharmacists.
Senator Camillus Glynn: I heard a disturbing programme on the radio on my way to the House. It pertained to a so-called service from a taxi person and what a young lady had to go through to receive that service. The driver demanded an exorbitant fee but the lady did not have enough money and when she went to her house to collect the additional money, the driver kicked the door and threatened her with a serious sexual act. Nobody inside or outside this House appreciates the taxi service more than I because I use it quite frequently. I am sure most Members of the House do.
It is imperative that the people delivering this service be above reproach and that their bona fides can be upheld under close scrutiny. I am sure the other Members are as concerned at this incident as I. Will the Leader convey our concerns and, if the Cathaoirleach can find time, arrange to have statements on this matter in the House? This incident is an exception, not the rule. The taxi service is excellent and it is time to put the cowboys or cowgirls out of business and where they belong — behind bars in this case.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Last week I welcomed the opening by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan of the new National Property Services Regulatory Authority’s offices in Navan. I was glad to see that the Minister recognised that some consumers recently have had negative experiences. I am concerned about people throughout Ireland, in Louth and Meath especially, who live on estates run by unregulated property management companies. According to the National Consumer Agency, NCA, website some residents paid €700 in 2003 and €1,200 two years later purely because property management companies are unregulated. This is not an isolated incident. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to outline his proposals on how he intends to legislate for the regulation of property management companies?
Yesterday the constituency of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government went up in smoke, today his pay rise is going up in smoke. Will he come to this House before his reputation goes up in smoke?
Senator Mark Daly: I support Senators O’Toole and Ó Murchú in respect of the case in Saudi Arabia. Evil prospers when good men stay silent. If we stay silent, evil will prosper in this case. How have those in America and Britain who uphold democracy, and rabbit on about human rights in other countries, managed to stay silent in this case?
Regardless of what they do, will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to take up the matter with the Saudi Arabian ambassador? We sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia prior to the election and we must have contacts there that would ensure this injustice does not occur.
Senator David Norris: I am sure the Members would like to recognise the presence of the former Independent Senator and professor emeritus, John A. Murphy, who graced these benches until recently. I support Senators O’Toole and Ó Murchú on the appalling situation in Iran. The woman was sentenced to a considerable number of lashes, which is a savage punishment, but this was doubled or trebled because she had the temerity to appeal. I raised these issues at the recent assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Nairobi and I am glad to say I was supported by Senator Leyden on the matter of a mentally handicapped 16 year old girl in Iran who was executed for the crime of being raped by her neighbours. Two young men in their late teens were involved in a relationship and were battered for many weeks and, after six months’ detention, were hanged from the back of a lorry. This is revolting behaviour and we should protest against it. I am glad Senator O’Toole mentioned front-liners and yesterday I launched the appeal for support for these brave people who, in such difficult circumstances, stand up on behalf of their communities.
I am glad Senator Fitzgerald raised the appropriate questions on children’s rights and the children’s referendum. I have a message from a victim of institutional sexual abuse that refers to the apology to such victims given by the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, some years ago on behalf of the State. I am told the Ryan commission is only taking evidence from a handful of victims and has only managed to investigate a fraction of the thousands of allegations of abuse. Many victims feel they have once more been failed by the State, especially as some children were put in care at tender ages and left with a criminal record. There is legislation before the House that will help expunge certain criminal records and surely these people should have their records expunged. Not only were these victims violated and abused, they were left with a criminal record. I ask that we examine this situation.
Road safety was discussed recently in this House and the issue has arisen several times since Parliament reconvened, yet today we discover that Cork County Council is to go to court to prevent the Health and Safety Authority inspecting roadworks. The Donegal county manager intervened in a similar fashion because he found that his workers were upset. This comes in the context of the case of Tommy Gallagher, raised by myself and others, who lost his daughter Aisling because of completely inappropriate road treatment. That young girl was driving carefully and met her end because of a lack of care shown. The matter in Trim also relates to road safety.
I am tired of raising these issues in debates as I am tired of raising consistency in speed limits and road humps. Last week I crossed a road hump at 20 km/h and damaged both shock absorbers, which will cost me €1,000. How can we expect people to show respect when such incidents occur and when county managers refuse to let the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, make inspections?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I wish to express my disappointment at the reaction of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to An Bord Pleanála’s decision regarding the Poolbeg incinerator. I heard him say incineration would not be the policy of this Government at the Magill summer school. The Minister was a deal maker at the Cabinet table, he knew this decision was imminent and the incineration plant is in his own constituency. He did not show leadership in changing Government policy.
I would like the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Martin Cullen, to come into this House to examine the serious issue of domestic violence. In light of recent tragic events in Omagh and further to a number of calls I received in my Galway constituency I would like to highlight the need for funding to be provided for outreach workers to assist women and children made homeless by domestic violence. Condemnation has been voiced in this House regarding the lashes to which a woman in Saudi Arabia was sentenced. Unfortunately, women are being lashed in this country as well. Will the Leader urgently request the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to come to the House to discuss the budgeting for outreach workers?
Senator Paul Coghlan: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated in response to parliamentary questions in the Dáil last week that he has no proposals to implement the ninth report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to provide for a designated area scheme that would empower local authorities compulsorily to acquire land for development purposes. How does this fit with the proposed designated land (housing development) Bill which the Leader assured me some time ago it is intended to introduce early in 2008? There is an apparent contradiction. This Bill would provide for a so-called use-it-or-lose-it scheme. In view of the Minister’s response to questions in the Dáil last week, will the Leader confirm whether this is still Government policy or if the timeframe he outlined to me has been revised in the meantime?
Senator Eugene Regan: Last week, I asked about the timing of proposals to introduce legislation amending the existing laws on the functioning of tribunals of inquiry. I asked the Leader for an assurance that such proposals would not lead to the closing down of the Mahon tribunal while it is investigating the Taoiseach’s finances.
Senator Eugene Regan: It is a perfectly legitimate question to raise in this House. Fine Gael is certainly concerned about the costs of the various tribunals. However, it is the individuals under investigation who do not co-operate with the tribunals and who are less than forthcoming with information required for the completion of their investigations——
Senator Eugene Regan: I am a member of the legal profession. In regard to legal fees, Ministers for Finance of successive Fianna Fáil Governments fixed the legal fees and it is the Government that pays them.
I accepted last week that the Leader was perhaps unable to offer an unqualified assurance that the new proposals would not be used to close down the tribunals already sitting, especially the Mahon tribunal. In the Dáil last week, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made a somewhat qualified statement on the import of these proposals when he spoke of completion timescales. Meanwhile, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, is of the view that the Mahon tribunal is acting illegally and outside its terms of reference.
Senator Rónán Mullen: The Health Service Executive is seeking a 10% rise in the excise duty on alcohol. We know now Irish adults are the third-highest consumers of alcohol in the European Union and people such as Archbishop Seán Brady are calling for a break in the link between alcohol advertising and sporting events. Three years on from the report of the strategic task force on alcohol in 2004, which was discussed in this House, it is time for us to have another adventurous discussion about how to deal with the crisis that is alcohol abuse in our society.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I hope it will be a discussion that does not confine itself to platitudes about how terrible alcohol abuse is. It is time for us to recognise mixed messages, such as talking down alcohol abuse but simultaneously taking no serious and adventurous measures against it. Such measures could include forcing people who make much money from the sale of alcohol to fund some of the public health costs resulting from alcohol abuse. According from the strategic task force, it costs €2.65 billion to deal with problems arising from alcohol abuse.
We must consider the advertising of alcohol on television and radio and perhaps it is time to phase that out. We must stop sending mixed messages and that process should begin in this House which has a good record in free-flowing and provocative debate on action to tackle our serious social ails. Alcohol should be a top priority and a debate on the issue should take place soon.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I support the call by Senator Frances Fitzgerald and others regarding the rights of children and the proposed referendum. Substantial work has been done in this area, which I fully support. I chaired the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution, which made a unanimous decision on the matter. I ask the Leader for a debate and perhaps to convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Cabinet that the wording of such a referendum is critical.
Historically, we have had bad experiences when referenda were rushed on sensitive issues. We have one bite of the cherry and everybody in this House and the Dáil is aware of the importance of the issue. It is important there be all-party consensus on the approach. If the wording is wrong we will need another referendum to correct the first. I sound that note of caution today.
With regard to the tribunals, I do not question the propriety of Senator Regan on the points he raised. I have a deep-rooted feeling the type of approach successive Governments have had to the issue of tribunals has been inappropriate. The processes are cumbersome, pedantic and very costly. Another mechanism should be sought.
I remind the Leader and the House that on this issue, the Law Reform Commission suggested another way forward. It was on the proposal of the Law Reform Commission that the previous Government decided to act. I do not believe anything sinister is involved as any legislation which is introduced, probably next year, cannot be made retrospective. A new method of dealing with the area of tribunals should be found. I have a very pessimistic opinion on what has taken place in recent years.
There were two tribunals in my lifetime, dealing with the Whiddy and Stardust disasters, respectively. Such a substantial loss of life deserved wide-ranging public tribunals. Current tribunals are not achieving what they set out to achieve. A new way forward must be found.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I rise to support the views expressed by Senator O’Toole and echoed by others on the barbarous treatment of the young Saudi woman. We should be unequivocal in our condemnation of this at the highest levels and I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise this issue at the relevant forum and make a firm statement on it.
In the light of Government policy on carbon emissions and the attempt to limit the purchase of carbon credits, and our policy on quality of life issues, the need for economic progress and the amount of time people spend in traffic, would the Leader consider a debate on the lack of progress on the development of the rail network? I specifically request that the Leader finds out why urgent priority is not being given to the Navan-Dublin rail line and park and ride facilities at Navan, with the continuation of the link from Navan to Kingscourt?
Is the Leader of the House of the opinion that there is need for an inquiry into why the M3 is being constructed without a parallel railway? What vested interests prevented a parallel rail corridor from Cavan to Dublin? It is a shocking oversight.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I join Senator Norris in saying how nice it is to see Mr. John A. Murphy here, a distinguished former Member. It is perhaps inappropriate but it is a special occasion when a senior, respected figure who made an immense contribution as a Senator visits the House.
I congratulate the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard and all others associated with Friday and Saturday’s historic European Youth Parliament, over which President McAleese presided.  This event would not have been possible without the assistance and the co-operation of the staff of the Houses, who were instrumental in the holding of such an exciting event.
Senator Fitzgerald inquired about legislation on the Order of Business and there is legislation on today’s agenda. We do not know what legislation will come before the House on a day to day basis but I assure her and the House that there is a long list of legislation to be processed before Christmas. I do not want anyone to take early Christmas holidays——
I disagree, however, with her comparison of someone being removed from a television show with that of someone taking cocaine; there is a huge difference. I have said before and I will say it again, cocaine is the biggest challenge our society faces. I have heard unbelievable stories about——
Senator Donie Cassidy: ——what is happening in our country. It is serious matter that no one appears to fear the law any longer. Senator Regan is a distinguished Member and is making his mark, albeit not in a direction I wish to see, as he should put his talents to more positive uses. However, I wish to hear his views, as well as those of Senator O’Donovan and others in the legal profession, on how Members can lead the way in restoring fear of the law, which is no longer the case. This damning drug is the plague of every village, town and city in Ireland and all Members are united in calling on the legal profession for assistance. I will make the House available to debate this matter for whatever length of time is deemed to be necessary.
Senator O’Toole called for a debate on the report of the review body on higher remuneration, which will be timely. Senator O’Toole, who referred to accountability and responsibility, speaks with some authority on this subject because he has made an immense contribution to the great success of the first and second Celtic tigers.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Norris would be aware of this, given the strong shock absorbers on his car. Since 1987 this has been the instrument that has produced the economy we enjoy today. I refer to the social partners getting together. Senator O’Toole’s request must be taken very seriously. In particular, I refer to the attention given by the media to 5% of the allocations awarded and the 95% about which there is not a word. In respect of the broadcasting media, the Taoiseach only receives one third of the salary of one man in that sector, 45% of another gentleman’s salary and——
Senator Donie Cassidy: While I have no objection to fair debate and the truth of the news, this is not coming through. As someone who has been self-employed for most of my life, anyone who can tell me that a Taoiseach who has presided over the creation of 600,000 jobs in ten years is not entitled to a decent wage or pension when he finishes, is not in the real world and we are going nowhere.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I have seen many publications in the print media many times and if the truth of the news is not getting down to the people — all Members know what happened on general election day — the people will speak. They will not purchase such magazines or such untruthful issues that one hears of or sees from time to time.
Senators O’Toole, Ó Murchú, Daly, Norris, O’Reilly and Fitzgerald all raised the horrific incident from Saudi Arabia and the House stands united in its condemnation of what has happened. After the Order of Business has concluded I will ask my private secretary to contact the private secretary of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to convey the views expressed by Senators. If a debate is required, I will ascertain whether the Minister’s diary can facilitate Members in the near future.
Senators Alex White and de Búrca called for a debate on incineration. This is also timely and I have no difficulty in setting aside time for this purpose. Members have heard both views from the Senators, one from each side, and I will leave it for the debate to commence.
Senator O’Donoghue called for the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance to come before the House spoke on achieving best value. All Members can agree with this sentiment. As Members are aware, budget day will be next Wednesday week and I intend to ask them to agree to hold a special budget debate that evening, starting at 6 p.m. This will be a first for the House and will be for Members to express their views at the same time as Members in the Dáil. Hence the early steps in Seanad reform can commence in the House that evening.
Senator Ormonde called for a debate on An Bord Pleanála and the role of its members. This is a worthy request and I will leave aside time for it. I join in Senator Ormonde’s wish that the Irish troops be supported by the UN. I am endeavouring to have the Minister for Defence here next week to update us on the situation, allow Senators to express their views and congratulate the Defence Forces on the peacekeeping they have done all over the world in the past 50 years. We have contributed to peacekeeping above the numbers of our population.
Senator Cummins called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to meet the Quinn and McCartney families on their terrible tragedies. I will pass the Senator’s views on to the Minister and attempt to ensure everything is done to bring those responsible for the murders to justice. Everybody would like this to happen.
Senators Bacik and O’Donovan called for a debate on children’s rights. I have no difficulty putting time aside for this. Senator Corrigan called for a debate on people with intellectual disabilities. I can agree to put aside time for this, especially in light of the law reform report, which the Senator pointed out to the House.
Senator McFadden called for a debate on pharmacists. The Minister will be in the House in ten minutes and this is an opportunity for the Senator to acquire time from her spokesperson on health, Senator Fitzgerald, to bring that point to the Minister. Many of our constituents have contacted Senators McFadden and Glynn and me over the past 24 hours to ensure they will be able to make a living. The small, family pharmacy seems to be under siege and we could lose 500 to 600 of the 1,500 pharmacies in Ireland if they are not allowed to make a profit on their products. The Minister will be pleased to clarify this later.
Senator Norris raised road safety in his characteristic strong and forceful fashion, particularly in his views on county managers. We had an extended debate here on road safety last week and I congratulate all Senators who participated. However I wait for the Government to take the lead on black box technology. This must be implemented, and then we will know whether fault for an accident lies with the drivers, the county councils, the car manufacturers or somebody else. The black box will definitively identify the culprits within 20 minutes.
Senator Coghlan spoke about the ninth report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. I can pass his views to the Minister and update him later this week. As this is in the programme for Government, he can rest assured it will be done.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Regan and O’Donovan are the two legal Senators and I compliment them on their views from time to time. Under no circumstances will the Mahon tribunal be interfered with. No fair-minded public representative in the Dáil or Seanad could let this happen. It was never envisaged that this would be the case. However, as Senator O’Donovan said today, while nothing can be retrospective, something must be done. The Minister has given a clear assurance that under no circumstances can the Mahon tribunal be interfered with, especially when the Taoiseach is involved. That will strengthen the integrity of the tribunal, not threaten it.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on the abuse of alcohol, particularly in the context of the task force report of 2004. I can put aside time for this. As time is of the essence and we have to deal with so much legislation before Christmas, perhaps Senator Mullen could speak to the leader of the Independent group and ask for time to discuss it in Private Members’ time. We would welcome it if that were possible.
Senator O’Reilly called for a debate on quality of life and carbon credits. I can examine this the next time the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in the House, especially concerning the Senator’s request for the railway network from Dublin to Navan. This is a long-standing issue in my area. It is a good idea and I will put it to my constituency colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, and ask if it is a possibility. The people of Navan are well served by the Minister. When he was Minister for the Environment and Local Government he approved the dual carriageway from Dublin to Kells. The Senator is pushing an open door. It is a question of timing and waiting for the Celtic tiger part three to provide the finances for that good proposal to be considered.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I almost forgot Senator Glynn’s request. I do not know how this has passed me by. It came after the pharmacies issue. I apologise to the Senator. The taxis have given a wonderful service. I also heard that dreadful programme of which Senator Glynn spoke, that shocking horror story in which a customer in a taxi was threatened if she did not pay the rate demanded. I agree with Senator Glynn’s views and request and will have statements in the House on this, if necessary.
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