Thursday, 29 November 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Standing Order 94A, without debate, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on Chad, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be given five minutes to respond at the end of the debate.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Senators may have heard a report on “Morning Ireland” this morning on the difficulties experienced by those in new primary schools in regard to the start-up grant, which currently stands at €6,300. For example, in Adamstown in Lucan, which is a strategic development zone, a primary school was put in place as an emergency measure in July. I spoke to teachers in three of the schools in Adamstown and with those in the gaelscoil in the area and learned that they are experiencing great difficulty in setting up what is needed in the schools. The grant is inadequate in terms of the resources required for the curriculum. While the Minister for Education and Science was in the House recently, perhaps she might be invited back to address this matter. This grant has not been reviewed for some time. An emergency exists with the shortage of primary schools places. Another primary school will be needed in Lucan next September. In west Dublin and in north Dublin there is a crisis in terms of primary school places, but this is added to immeasurably by the difficulties posed by the level of this grant. It means that teachers have to do a great deal of photocopying and have to use the local library and go to Lidl to purchase musical instruments at a cost price. The insufficient funding places significant pressures on teachers who should be getting on with the core business of teaching. It also means it is very difficult for them to employ secretaries. Decisions need to be made to increase the grant. The Minister for Education and Science was in the House recently but I would be grateful if the Leader would take up this issue with her again. Reviewing the grant will ease the burden on many teachers in start-up primary schools around the country.
Senator Twomey, who cannot be here this morning, asked me to ask the Leader if he had heard from the Garda Commissioner on whether there will be prosecutions on foot of the Leas Cross nursing home inquiry.
I launched a report yesterday on violence against women entitled, “Women Overcoming Violent Experiences”. It was produced by a voluntary women’s group that provides superb support to women who suffer from domestic violence. Another report was published yesterday on the huge cost to the health service arising from domestic violence against women. We could discuss this in the House. The Government has invested more resources than ever in this area, but perhaps the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will consider funding local women’s groups that provide a very personal service to women who find it difficult to leave violent circumstances and who must sometimes remain in them. Support for the relevant local organisations, in addition to the national ones, would be very welcome and helpful to those concerned and would prove very productive.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Senator Fitzgerald’s point on grants is certainly worth considering. We should remind ourselves that last week we raised with the Minister for Education and Science the fact that we expect management grants for primary schools to be doubled, as was indicated or promised at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. We expect this to be announced next week.
We have recently raised the question of ethos. My colleague Senator Norris has referred regularly to the ethos of the Catholic and Protestant churches in educational institutions and mentioned the ethos associated with sacking and employing staff and enrolling students. I have raised the matter myself. The Irish Times suggests this morning that we might consider protecting the Protestant ethos on the Trinity panel. This deserves some discussion because I did not recognise that my colleagues representing Trinity College represented a particular ethos. I am sure they will be as quick as I am in saying this. I am sorry Senator Norris is not present because I am sure he would agree with me. The word “ethos” is confused with culture and other matters and while there are real phenomena that need to be protected in society, “ethos” is not the word that describes them.
A related matter was raised in the House on a number of occasions, namely, the support CURA receives from the Government, in addition to the question of the Positive Options campaign. I am delighted the organisation has decided, in agreement with the Catholic bishops, to ensure all those who approach it will be made aware of and receive the Positive Options leaflet. It is good that the service is the same in all circumstances. This is how CURA has dealt with the question of ethos. A good news story arising from this development is that there are now fewer teenage pregnancies than there were heretofore and the number of women going abroad for abortions has decreased. I refer to The Netherlands in addition to the United Kingdom because somebody suggested women may be going to the former for abortions instead of the latter. There are therefore some positive developments in this area. It is good that Positive Options is not being excluded in any of the discussions.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: We all welcome the announcement today that the Government is to launch a €15 million campaign to alert the country to the dangers of climate change and suggest what can be done about it. The campaign is based on a five-year strategy and will make the public aware of how it can meet the goals agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. According to this agreement, we must reduce our emissions level to 13% above the level that existed in 1990. At present, the level is 25% above it and the latest statistics indicate a disimprovement. I was therefore glad to hear of the Government’s campaign.
It was reported that emissions in the United States decreased by 1.5% last year. Next week the US Senate will debate a Bill on climate change and it hopes to put in law the requirement to reduce emissions by 60% over the next 40 years. This is good news in respect of one of the world’s greatest polluters in terms of emissions.  Many countries seem to be making real changes to lower emissions. Will the Leader press upon the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the need to proceed with the Climate Protection Bill, which was debated in this House almost two months ago?
I was glad to see that Cathal Guiomard of the Commission for Aviation Regulation intends to name and shame airlines that fail to provide compensation to passengers who experience delays or suffer from the loss of or damage to their baggage. The number of passenger complaints has trebled in the past two years and one in four complaints to the European Consumer Centre relates to the airline industry. Some chief executives of the industry have very thick skins when complaints are made. It is fair to recognise the tremendous benefits new airline entrants have brought to the Irish market, not only in terms of tourism but also in terms of the ability of emigrants to return home to visit their loved ones at a frequency that was never envisaged years ago. Passenger rights legislation was introduced in 2005 but it is clear that airlines do not seem to be making it easy for passengers to enjoy these rights and receive compensation where required. Will the Minister for Transport monitor this and introduce further legislation to deal with the airlines if necessary?
Senator Jim Walsh: I support the call for a debate on public service reform made by Senator Alex White on the Order of Business yesterday. He referred to a recent and excellent speech made by the Minister for Finance at the Indecon conference. Another very good speech was made by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy McGuinness. I recommend that Members read the two speeches, both of which concern improving efficiencies and productivity in the public service. Everybody recognises this is a priority. A debate on this would be good because it will open our minds to a new approach to ensuring current systemic inefficiencies, which are costing taxpayers enormous sums of money, are dealt with. There are excellent people in the public service but, equally, there are others who are hiding behind them, many of whom are protected by trade unions such as IMPACT, which regards itself as a preserver of inefficiencies.
Senator Jim Walsh: I heard Senator O’Toole’s remarks on ethos. Most parents whose children are going to or have completed school will recognise the excellence of many teachers but also the fact that many were not cut out for the profession. We need a means by which efficiencies can be injected into the system.
Senator Jim Walsh: All senior positions should be opened up to the private sector as well as the public sector. There should be no discrimination in respect of access to good, well-paid jobs in the public sector. Thus, we would have the public services to which we all aspire and which taxpayers deserve in view on the large quantum of money they are investing.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: It would be in order and timely if the Leader again conveyed our very best wishes to Cardinal Seán Brady, who is making his return from Rome today. He is to arrive in Dublin and will later be escorted by the PSNI from the Border. It is an historic day for Ireland and the Cardinal personally. It merits repeating that he is an exceptional pastor and a great scholar, and he is absolutely and very visibly a man of God. We are tremendously proud of him in County Cavan and Senators Wilson and Brady will testify to this. We have discussed it previously. I ask the Leader again to wish Cardinal Brady well on our behalf.
I congratulate Senator Hannigan on his prescience in raising the matter I intended to raise, although some of the points made merit repeating. The latest European Commission figures suggest that Ireland looks set to overshoot its Kyoto Agreement commitment by almost 100% and that CO2 emissions will be close to twice the amount they should be at the requisite time. A UN report calls for cuts in CO2 emissions to limit global warming to below 2° Celsius and for more funds to help developing countries adopt to climate change. This is also the view of the stop climate change lobby group and many other interested parties.
We propose to spend considerable sums of money purchasing carbon credits. However, I would welcome two initiatives from this Government. Senator Hannigan mentioned funding to increase awareness among the people, which is important. I would also welcome building regulations.
This Government has essentially failed to make any real inroads into dealing with carbon emissions and the threat of climate change. Radical steps are necessary and we should be much more proactive. The recent reports are disturbing. Will the Leader raise this with the relevant Minister?
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Last week the Minister for Health and Children came to the House and took questions following statements. We also had a debate on education last Thursday. Will the Cathaoirleach and the Leader raise the point at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which I believe is the appropriate forum, that the Seanad would possibly work more efficiently if we had regular meetings with Ministers and if we had the ability to table questions to them?
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: A point made last week, and one which I have made since I became a Member of this House, is that an eight minute contribution on statements is not enough time to ask the relevant questions no matter how good one is. It would be good from the Minister’s point of view as well in that he or she would know the questions which would be asked. The Minister for Health and Children was exceptional in her ability to deal with every issue. If we had a regular opportunity to ask questions, which had been submitted to Ministers, it would enable us to keep up-to-date with issues.
I would like some guidance on whether we need to invite the Minister for Education and Science or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to discuss a recent report which suggests there is serious gender inequality in terms of female entrepreneurs. I do not believe the females of Ireland are any less entrepreneurial than their male counterparts but a recent report would lead me to call for a debate. I do not know whether entrepreneurship begins in school with the choices people are offered or whether it is an equality issue. I will leave it to the Leader’s discretion to decide which is the more appropriate Minister.
Senator Feargal Quinn: During the debate on Seanad reform last night the point Senator Keaveney made was discussed, that is, the opportunity for Members of the Seanad to ask Ministers questions. That would be a very useful way to go. I would like to invite two Ministers to the House to do what the Minister for Health and Children did last week.
Earlier Senator Fitzgerald referred to Lucan and Senator O’Toole talked about the Protestant ethos being maintained. Let us make sure we also maintain the Catholic ethos. The reason I mention it is that I heard the interview on radio earlier this morning with Educate Together in Adamstown and with the Gaelscoileanna. There is a need to ask the Minister for Education and Science to look again at the setting up of new schools. Catholic schools have been established for generations. That worked very well. We ended up with a marvellous education system.
There are now schools of varying ethos, one of which is Educate Together. There are people who want a different type of education to a religious one and clearly they need set up money to establish themselves. As the head teacher explained, the same amount of money, €6,374, is given to a school whether it is a 12-teacher or a two-teacher one. There is clearly a need to look again at that.
The House the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government attended the House last night but I would like the Leader to invite him to return to return as there is a need for him to answer questions on his views on planning matters. Last year Senator Mary White and I mentioned the number of petrol stations which are disappearing because land is being used for other purposes. Golf courses, which give us green spaces around our cities, seem to be disappearing. In north Dublin, I can think of Clontarf. I gather Dún Laoghaire golf club recently disappeared. There is also talk about Foxrock golf club and Douglas golf club in Cork. These green spaces were great to look at but we are losing them. While the land may be put to worthwhile use, we need to have a discussion on the issue and it would be useful if it could take place in this House. The Minister could also answer the question the Irish Rural Dwellers Association asked about appointments to An Bord Pleanála.
Senator Mark Daly: I support Senator Quinn’s call for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to discuss An Bord Pleanála and An Taisce, which is a blight for many people down the country in that it seems to have the ability to become a serial objector — in fact, it objects to pretty much everything in my part of the world.
I would also like the Minister to answer questions on the housing aid for the elderly scheme which used to be administered by the HSE but which will now come under his Department. Other grant schemes will also be administered and expanded by his Department. I calculate that approximately 140 people in the HSE administered the housing aid for the elderly scheme. This job is now being transferred to the Minister’s Department and the local authorities but the staff have not been forthcoming. As a result of embargoes, no staff will be supplied to administer the scheme and the other expanded schemes.
I want to ensure that in 18 months’ time we do not receive calls from local authority members telling us applications are not being processed. In some counties, the processing of applications is very slow. Perhaps we might discuss that matter when the Minister comes to the House.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I raise a matter discussed many times in the House, namely, the state of the fire service. I refer to the ongoing investigation into the Bray fire tragedy. There is much concern that the scope of the investigation is not wide enough and that only the fire and the building are being investigated. It is important the systems, procedures and protocols surrounding that tragedy and all fire tragedies are investigated. I call on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to debate the fire service and report on systems, procedures and protocols. This issue needs to be addressed.
Senator Camillus Glynn: I call for a debate on car insurance. There is much evidence to suggest there are many uninsured cars on our roads and that the status of some of those insured is questionable. I know and am pleased to be able to say that all cars that leave garages are insured because I have checked it. I am not so sure, however, that this is true in certain cases following purchase at car auctions. It is a serious matter. It is bad enough if people who get behind the wheel are bad drivers. A person can be a good driver without or without insurance but if he or she has no insurance, it is a serious matter.
I raised a matter here that was brought to my attention, not for the first time, by one of my constituents in County Westmeath. The matter pertains to organ donation. There is a great need for a debate on this matter. I will not go into the whys and wherefores of it because we will do that when the debate arises. This individual and others to whom I have spoken and who have contacted me on this matter are deeply concerned. I ask the Leader and our spokesperson on health, therefore, to exhort the Minister for Health and Children to have a debate on this very sensitive issue.
Senator Ivana Bacik: As the only Senator in the Chamber from the University of Dublin panel, it is certainly news to me that I represent people of any particular religious ethos. As somebody who was brought up a Catholic and is now firmly lapsed and an atheist, I am very proud to represent people of all religions and none. I hope all Senators here feel the same way. It is dangerous to start talking about anyone representing any particular religious ethos. On the debate on the reform of the Seanad last night, I strongly supported the calls to open up the university seats to graduates of all third level institutions as part of an overall package of comprehensive reform.
Senator O’Toole raised the issue of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and abortion. I renew my call to the Leader for a debate on this topic. While it is welcome news that the numbers of abortions have fallen, we must still be very concerned that women in terribly tragic situations like that in which Miss D found herself earlier this year must still travel abroad for services which should be available to them in Ireland.
I have also called for a debate on gender issues in our society. I note a report today in the Irish Independent about a study produced by Frances Ruane from the Economic and Social Research Institute and Julie Sutherland from Trinity College which showed that women are far less highly represented in the manufacturing sector and entrepreneurship and that far smaller numbers of women own firms and are successful in business. It would be useful to have a debate on why this is so and to look at women’s representation across all sectors of society, including the Seanad and Dáil where our numbers are still very low.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I echo the call of the Fine Gael Senator for a debate in this House on the future of fire services in this country. The appalling tragedy that occurred in my constituency in Bray that resulted in the deaths of two fireman obviously has focused national attention on fire services. I know the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Tony Killeen, is responsible for fire services. My colleagues and I are meeting with him next week. It would be very helpful for this House if he came here to hear the concerns of Members about fire services throughout the country and, in particular, to address the investigations being carried out into fire services in Bray and the organisation of fire services in County Wicklow.
Three investigations are being carried out by Wicklow County Council, the Health and Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána, respectively. There are concerns that because Wicklow County Council is the fire authority and is responsible for the organisation and delivery of fire services the terms of reference established for that investigation should be very carefully monitored. I know a number of local councillors have expressed concern that those terms of reference would be transparent and that they would have an opportunity to have an input into it. I would like the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House so that we can debate fire services in Bray and nationally.
Senator Eugene Regan: I have a question for the Leader of the House. We had a discussion on the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill which was restored to the Order Paper. The matter seemed to be urgent and there was some furore about it. What is the current status of the Bill and how is it planned to progress it?
In respect of the same subject, I draw the attention of the House to the significant new evidence which emerged at the Mahon tribunal over recent days. We have seen the evidence of Des Richardson and, in particular, Pádraic O’Connor, which is reported in all the media today and on news bulletins last night. In that regard, I am surprised RTE——
Senator Eugene Regan: I will be very brief and conclude. I draw attention to the relegation of the report by RTE in its main news bulletins, unlike other television stations. This follows on from a pattern by RTE in respect of certain dealings relating to fair broadcasting. It follows on, of course, from a soft interview with the Taoiseach last September which allowed him to get his story across about the €300,000——
An Cathaoirleach: We are dealing with the Order of Business. That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business and I would appreciate it if the Senator did not continue with this line of discussion.
Senator Eugene Regan: The Leader previously indicated that I did not compliment the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, on any occasion I have spoken in this House. On this occasion, I compliment him on his imagination in thinking up the stories of the dig-out loans. I thank him for his audacity in going to the nation and reporting on that.
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business. If we are going to start doing this in the House, we will lower the debate and I do not want this to happen. I want to be fair to every Member.
Senator Eugene Regan: On a point of order, I accept the Chair’s ruling. At the beginning of the current session of this House, many people pointed out that this House needs to be relevant. If we close our eyes to what is going around us, that is bad for politics and this House.
An Cathaoirleach: That is not a point of order. Our hands are tied in respect of the rules regarding what is allowed here. If Members change the rules, certain things can be allowed, but at the moment we must work within the existing rules.
Senator John Hanafin: To illuminate a previous point made in connection with CURA, the Positive Options leaflet includes details about CURA but CURA does not hand out this leaflet. If a lady who wishes to have an abortion comes to CURA, it refers her to a doctor and not to an abortion referral agency. That is the current situation, as I confirmed this morning, and I do not see any change in that.
A call was made this morning for certain services to be introduced. The services that were called for were abortion services. If we wish to have a debate on this matter, I would be happy to debate it because there is no stomach for abortion in this country. There may be an unwanted pregnancy but there is no such thing as an unwanted child. There are a couple of silent screams in the world, one of them being that of couples who cannot have children and who would love to adopt the children of girls who may not wish to have their baby. The least these girls could do is to allow the child to live. That is the ethos that is being spoken about and which I believe will continue in this country.
Senator Nicky McFadden: Will the Leader to convey my gratitude to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, for the time she spent here last week? I concur with Senator Keaveney on the value of asking questions. I asked two questions of the Minister because my time was restricted to four minutes. One related to Killucan national school, which the Leader knows very well.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I support the Leader in that. The other school is Athlone Community College, also dear to the Leader’s heart, and part of the VEC. Plans have been drawn up but there is no start date. I asked the Minister about these matters and she agreed to reply but I have heard nothing yet.
I support Senator Fitzgerald regarding women overcoming violence. The Minister should attend a full debate here to see how we can support women who find themselves in this sensitive and sad position. These women are voiceless and, by the nature of the sensitive issue, they need people like us to represent them.
Senator Terry Leyden: I suggest inviting the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to the House before she makes appointments to the HSE board. There is major absenteeism of board members at the moment and quite a few turn up to very few meetings. All board members receive approximately €17,500 per year and the least they could do is attend board meetings, particularly when there is such a crisis in the health services. The chairpersons of the health forums, who are elected, receive no remuneration for their sterling work on behalf of the State and could serve on the board of the HSE.
The HSE has let down the Minister badly in the past week in respect of its conduct on the matter in Portlaoise. It seems to take no responsibility. The Cathaoirleach was a member of the Midland Health board and I was chairman of the Western Health Board. I attended all the meetings and presume the Cathaoirleach did too but I would be ashamed to miss so many meetings. A lottery takes place between board members to decide who should attend board meetings. It is like a meeting of godfathers to see who draws the short straw.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Regarding Senator Quinn’s call for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to revisit the Planning and Development Act 2000 in view of the length of time it takes to deal with planning application, whole sections of the legislation should be revisited. When the planning division grants planning permission an objection may be lodged and the matter must be decided by An Bord Pleanála. There is no joined up thinking regarding the role of An Bord Pleanála. By the time a decision is made on the application, six months have passed. That should not happen and the entire Act should be revisited. It should be divided into sections because it is too clumsy and covers too much as it stands.
Senator Ciaran Cannon: I support the call by Senator Daly to examine the administrative crisis that may occur with regard to the dispersal of funds from the housing aid for elderly programme. It is a worthwhile programme to aid vulnerable elderly people living in substandard accommodation. Its administration has been handed over to local authorities. Several senior members of the housing staff in Galway County Council are concerned that although they have been given the responsibility and the funds, they have not been given the staff to administer the programme. I call on the Minister to address the problem.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: It is seldom that good news stories are raised on the Order of Business. Senator O’Toole brought a significant good news story to our notice this morning, namely, the decrease in women travelling abroad for abortions. This is significant because people are contemplating the consequences of abortion for those unfortunate women. There is a sense of guilt and psychological problems. Those who use the women in the debate on abortion forget them very quickly afterwards. There are no surveys or follow up statistics available but this matter is coming to the fore. I do not believe there is need for a debate on abortion. We know what happened in the past and how divisive it was.
We should debate how to help people with unwanted pregnancies. This has not been put forward for discussion. We dealt with the two extremes but seldom thought of the people directly involved. I ask the Leader for a debate in that context and the Seanad could provide leadership. Abortion is not an answer to anyone’s problem. It demeans human life and it does not help if legislators do not consider the life of everyone, including the unborn.
Senator Larry Butler: I congratulate the Leader on how he summarised the health issue yesterday. Debates on health, to which I listened, have been valuable in both Houses over the past weeks. Senator O’Toole brought moderation to the debate when he mentioned how we could tackle problems in health. I am pleased to hear that the Leader will invite the Minister to the Seanad to discuss the review of the HSE.
The HSE is not working on behalf of the people who provide funding for the HSE. We should review it. As a former member of the health boards and the HSE I was not quick to jump to conclusions. I wanted to see a settling in period but it is not capable of delivering the services we require. We should bring moderation to the debate and find solutions. If we cannot do so the Seanad has failed. I look forward to contributing to the debate. A better service should be delivered. If the HSE was not capable of providing the service as a single unit it should be split into four units, one for each province. Health services could then deliver the eight centres of excellence required for cancer services.
Senator Paddy Burke: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on tourism. We should have one before the end of the year, before the season begins. Much can be done and not many tourists come here from America, perhaps because of the dollar exchange rate.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Walsh, Quinn and Ormonde expressed strong views on the funding of primary schools. It is a challenge of a positive nature, particularly in light of the increase in our population. It is a by-product of the Celtic tiger, parts 1 and 2. I will pass on the Senators’ views and I have no difficulty in making time available for a debate on the matter.
Senator Fitzgerald inquired about the follow-up to Leas Cross. I last commented on this matter on 22 November. The updated position is that the Garda authorities have confirmed to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that they followed up on the media reports and on a number of letters of concern received by them in respect of Leas Cross. The Garda has kept in close contact with the DPP’s office on this matter and on 14 June it was agreed with the DPP that they would await receipt of the O’Donovan report commissioned by the HSE, at which juncture the issue of a full criminal investigation will again be examined.
The Senator also inquired about the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform coming before the House to discuss domestic violence and the allocation of further funding. I have no difficulty setting aside time to debate this matter.
Senators O’Toole, Bacik, Hanafin, McFadden and Ó Murchú expressed their strong views on unwanted pregnancies, CURA, funding, leaflet distribution and all other aspects of this matter. I do not believe it will be possible to debate this issue in the House prior to Christmas because time is getting short. If, however, some of the political parties wish to table Private Members’ motions in order to assist the Senators, I have no difficulty in facilitating such a debate.
Senator McFadden inquired about the new school for Kilucan and the new facility for 1,000 students at Athlone community college. As a result of the time I spent serving as a Deputy in the Lower House, I am in a position to update the Senator on the situation.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Bishop of Meath kindly donated, on behalf of the diocesan trust, a state-of-the-art site at Killucan. This was badly needed because the population in the area has increased by 140%. We are awaiting the green light from the Department, which approved the building of a new school, to proceed with the next stage of this project.
Athlone has been waiting for a new community college for approximately 15 years. I played a pivotal role, along with the Minister for Education and Science, in ensuring the project would be announced during the final term of the previous Dáil. A new community college that will accommodate 1,000 students is to be built on the current site. I will ask the Minister how we might progress matters in respect of this new facility, which as already been sanctioned.
Senators Hanafin and O’Reilly inquired about climate change and the serious challenge the world faces in this regard. Senator Hannigan stated that the US is at long last taking up this challenge and is drawing up a master plan to reduce its emissions by 60%. Stronger and much larger nations have a massive responsibility in this area. The Indian ambassador came before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment when I was its Chairman and stated that his country, which is friendly to Ireland, would be able to assist us and perhaps save the Exchequer a large amount of money. I will endeavour to discover where stands his offer at this stage.
I agree with Senators that we face a serious challenge. The major powers have not been as vigilant, determined or committed as small nations such as Ireland. We will do everything in our power to ensure progress in this area. There has been a major change of attitude in respect of this matter. I am extremely proud of the people of Ireland with regard to the way they are facing up to the challenge and responding to the leadership offered by the relevant Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and his Department in this regard.
Senator Walsh requested that the Minister for Finance come before the House to discuss his speech at the Indecon conference and the comments made by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy McGuinness, regarding the contribution of the public service. I am sure that a debate on these matters would be welcome. A budget debate will take place in the House at 6 p.m. on Wednesday next. After the Order of Business, but before this morning’s CPP meeting, perhaps I could meet the other leaders to discuss the time that will be required for that debate. I have no difficulty in bringing the point raised by Senator Walsh into the debate if the leaders of the other groups are in agreement.
Senator O’Reilly offered his best wishes to Cardinal Brady and congratulated everyone associated with his accession to higher office, particularly the Holy Father, who is responsible for appointing Ireland’s third cardinal. I live three parishes away from Cardinal Brady who is a man of immense faith. We all wish him well and I look forward to working with him in the future. It was extremely uplifting to watch his investiture on television on Sunday morning last.
The power of religion is very important to every human being. Some people who reach low points in their lives return to their churches or their faiths. Religion could play a major role in combating the terrible plague of suicide. Many of the unfortunate people who are affected by suicide turn to religion. As the song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through”.
On Seanad reform, Senators stated that they would welcome the holding of an orderly question time in the House, even if it was only on one day per week. I do not know how possible it would be to facilitate this request. However, when the Minister for Health and Children recently came before the House, the question and answer session we held was very orderly. I am aware that her response to it was extremely positive. As Members, we are all aware that this is the direction the House needs to take. This matter will be on the agenda relating to Seanad reform and those who are appointed to the committee announced yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, will be able to progress it further.
Senator Donie Cassidy: One either has the gift for entrepreneurship when one is born or one does not. One must have drive, determination and ability. There is no point in appointing people on foot of their gender, they must have massive ability. One must be prepared to work 15 to 17 hours per day in order to succeed.
Senators Daly and Cannon requested a debate on housing aid for the elderly and asked that additional staff be appointed by local authorities in respect of this matter. I will pass on their views to the relevant Minister.
Senators Coffey and de Búrca referred to the fire services. The councils are at present involved in discussions on estimates with county managers. The fire services and the libraries were left on the back burner for many years. Those of us who were members of local authorities were obliged to preside over these services when resources were scarce. As with the Exchequer, there is major buoyancy in local authority finances. I ask Senators to return to their council groups to see if the fire services can be placed at the centre of their requests for funding. No Member of this House is more committed to the fire services than the Leader. I am the son of a fire station officer and, following my father’s retirement, my brother was fire station officer in Castlepollard for 37 years. I know what it is like to be called out to deal with problems when one does not have the wherewithal to do so. If a debate in this House is needed on fire services I have no difficulty in again setting aside time for it.
With regard to the two Wicklow firemen who unfortunately lost their lives I read in the newspapers that a quarter’s pay was not paid to them. This is an all-time low. A quarter’s pay is a three hour call out. It is regrettable that fire officers were paid for only the first half-hour or hour, died, and were not paid for the second two hours. Let us call a spade a spade. This Leader fully supports whatever this House can do for firemen. We will keep the matter on the agenda at every session of the 23rd Seanad to see what we can do to assist them and to ensure the people of Ireland have fire services and the wherewithal for fire men and fire women to fight the emergencies with which they must deal morning, noon and night.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on insurance. This is one of the great success stories of the previous Dáil and Seanad. Uninsured vehicles account for 10% of all those on our roads today and 10% of everyone’s premium, even that of a person with a no-claims bonus for 30 years, is for the uninsured. This is true for motor, commercial and all other types of insurance. Everyone knows this. Having conducted a large amount of research, I believe the only answer is to introduce a handset similar to that used by the police in New York. They place a handset the size of a mobile telephone to the tax disc on a car windscreen and within 30 seconds are told whether the person is insured and has taxed his or her car. The device can also tell whether an offence was committed within the past five years. The master computer into which everything feeds costs a large amount of money. It is used in New Zealand as well as New York. I would welcome a debate on this to see how we can progress it during the new Dáil and Seanad.
Senator Glynn also called for a debate on organ donations. I have no problem in setting aside time for such a debate. Senator Regan called for an update on the Tribunal of Inquiry Bill. I will make inquiries after the Order of Business and get back to the Senator on the matter.
Senator Leyden called for a debate on membership of the new board of the HSE to be held in the presence of the Minister for Health and Children. I have no problem setting aside time for this. Senator Butler called for a review of the HSE after three or four years of its establishment, a matter which I also have no problem setting aside time.
Senator Patrick Burke called for a debate on tourism. This has been agreed and I gave a commitment to the House that this would happen. If we can have it before the Christmas recess we will. If not, we will have it early in the new year.
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