Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Control of Exports Bill 2007 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements regarding the reports of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on violent incidents arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland, to be taken at 12.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with spokespersons having 12 minutes, other Senators having eight minutes and on which Senators may share time; No. 3, statements on forestry, to commence at 2.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes, other Senators having eight minutes, on which Senators may share time, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the end for concluding comments; and No. 16, motion 34 re economic outlook, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3. The business of the House is to be interrupted between 2.15 p.m. and 2.45 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to discuss the pharmacy dispute. A deadline of 1 March has been set for changes to the contracts. When I asked for this debate last week, I noted Senator Feeney felt we should keep it in the health committee. I note from reports in today’s newspapers, however, that there seems to be much disquiet in Fianna Fáil about this issue.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I suggest the Minister for Health and Children attends the House. Many Senators, such as Senator Ross, have asked for this. There should be a debate to hear why the Minister is sticking to the deadline of 1 March and why preconditions are being imposed on the pharmacists. I will move an amendment to the Order of Business to ensure this happens.
Many Members will have seen a recent television report on a unique course in Trinity College Dublin. We often speak about what is wrong with institutions, political and social life and the special needs of people with a disability. It was encouraging to see 19 students graduate from Trinity College Dublin with a certificate in contemporary living. It was the first class to graduate in a pioneering university course for people with intellectual disabilities. I offer congratulations to all the graduates, their families and their lecturers and pay tribute to Trinity College for leading the way with such an innovative course. It is marvellous to see young people who in the past would not even have got to primary or secondary school graduating from a special course in Trinity College that was set up and designed specifically for them. This is a welcome step given the serious difficulties still faced by many youngsters in obtaining resources, a problem which we have highlighted recently in the Dáil and the Seanad. It is a real good news story which is worthy of congratulations from this House.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Tomorrow’s debate on education for persons with special educational needs should raise a number of interesting issues. In the lead-up to this, however, we should recognise the story in last night’s news of an empty school facility for autistic children and an autistic child who cannot get in. The school in question has stated that the facility cannot open owing to a lack of therapists but the Minister argued that the school should enrol the child for educational purposes only. We must add to this to the fact the Ó Cuanacháin family is facing bankruptcy because of having to go through an appeal in the courts. I was happy to praise the Minister for Education and Science yesterday for what she has done. However, there is a simple answer to this. The reason the Ó Cuanacháins are facing bankruptcy and the reason there are empty classrooms in Castleknock is very simple. It is that the Minister has not yet commenced certain provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.
Every speaker tomorrow should ask the Minister to explain herself. They should simply ask one question. Why has she not commenced the relevant sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, which has been approved by both Houses and signed into law by the Government and which would solve all these problems? If this was done there no longer would be an argument. These sections would decide the matter of therapists and education and the question of the appeals structure. Parents would have the right to appeal at every level. The Act provides for appeals, assessment, resources and implementation. It is all in it. This Act was welcomed on all sides in both Houses. I ask that we do not let tomorrow’s debate fall into simple political division. Senators on both sides should ask the Minister why she has not done what we asked her to do and commenced the Act. It has not been done. I ask that the debate be focused on that point. No one needs to justify anything beyond that. The debate should be allowed to continue for as long as necessary because there are many speakers in every group who wish to speak on this issue.
On a lighter note, people will be aware there has been a tourist debacle in Cork with the exposure of the story about the Blarney Stone. It would appear that people in Cork have been carrying out unscrupulous fraud.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Vulnerable tourists, naive native holidaymakers and innocent Kerry people have been defrauded. I ask that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism come to the House and tell Senators the truth about the Blarney Stone.
Senator Alex White: Before Christmas emergency legislation was introduced in this House by the Minister for Health and Children to deal with the Attorney General’s concerns about the constitutional status of various bodies. I am not sure whether assurances were given, but I and many of my colleagues had an understanding that this type of approach to legislation would not be repeated except in extremis. There is a report in today’s newspapers, however, of an intention on the part of the Government to introduce a Bill in the House next week to do the same thing for bodies set up under local government legislation. Interestingly, it seems we find out what happens in these Houses in The Irish Times and on RTE rather than in the House. The newspapers report that not only is it intended to introduce this legislation but that it is expected to pass all Stages in the Dáil and Seanad by the end of next week.
Journalists do not always get things right, but I ask the Leader to confirm to the House whether it is intended to introduce this legislation next week. If this is the case will he explain why there was no mention of such emergency legislation when a question was raised yesterday about next week’s business, as often occurs? I ask this question tentatively and without any intention to criticise the Leader or anyone else. I expect he was not aware of the legislation. If this is the case, what is the state of affairs in these Houses when the newspapers know before the Members what legislation is to be introduced and passed on all Stages? Where does that leave any debate about the relevance of these Houses? I would like a direct answer to this question from the Leader.
I wish to pick up on a related matter mentioned by Senator Fitzgerald about the ongoing debate and concerns among Fianna Fáil and other Government party Senators and Deputies in respect of various issues of public controversy. I respectfully say to the House that it is wrong that public debate is shifting, as appears to be the case, from these Houses to the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party.
Senator Alex White: This is relevant. The Senators opposite can have all the din and shouting they want, but I will finish my point. I have been told by my colleagues opposite on more than one occasion, for example, in the matter of the child care subvention scheme, not to waste my breath in the House as the issue would be solved by the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party.
Senator Alex White: That is exactly the reaction I expected. This is the position we have come to in these Houses. The Government abrogates the role and functions of these Houses and transfers them behind closed doors to smoke-filled rooms where people clap each other on the back because they, and not the Members of these Houses, have the power.
Senator Ciaran Cannon: I ask the Leader once again, if I can beg his patience, to liaise with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, for two reasons. First, I wish to congratulate her on her recent success in carrying out in-depth negotiations with the European Commissioner in the matter of speedy transfer of rural environment protection scheme payments to those farmers on REPS 2 and 3. Those negotiations have been concluded and I understand the payments are being processed as we speak. Approximately 6,000 farmers will receive their payments by post soon.
I also ask that the Leader ask the Minister to carry on in this vein and secure a similar commitment for those farmers in the REP 4 scheme. There has been a suggestion that their payments may be lumped in with the end of year single farm support payment. The farmers in REPS 4 will face a cash flow crisis if they receive all their off-farm income in one single payment at the end of the year. I ask the Leader to ensure the negotiations continueto allow two separate payments to occur during the calendar year.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I second the proposal of Senator Frances Fitzgerald. This so-called independent body which is to be appointed to deal with the issue of pharmacists’ fees is not really independent, as we know, and the end result is predetermined. We also know there was no consultation with the pharmacists on the terms of reference. In fact, it was a unilateral action which was in essence a breach of contract. I strongly support everything Senator Fitzgerald has said.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I think it is. I share the disappointment of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, Dr. Allen Mee, everyone in the national parks and wildlife service, and everybody associated with Irish tourism. These birds were absent for more than 100 years. The Minister came to Killarney to release these chicks into the wild last year.
Senator Paul Coghlan: The sea eagle is a most majestic bird in flight. I would love Members to come down to Dundag Bay with me, go across Muckross Lake to Brickeen Bridge, out into Lough Leane and over to the shores of Glena under the eagles’ nest——
Senator Paul Coghlan: That is in a neighbouring county. Indiscriminate poisoning is no longer acceptable. I accept that this was possibly an inadvertent occurrence but an educational process is required here.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Yesterday, many Senators spoke about the role of the Seanad, the portrayal by the media of it as irrelevant and the slant put on it over the weekend. I also raised the leadership role this Chamber can play in respect of why we should vote “Yes” in the referendum on the EU reform treaty. Over the weekend, two major organisations overwhelmingly came out in support of a “Yes” vote, based on business and farming perspectives. We have a golden opportunity to set out our platform and relay to the public why it should vote “Yes” in this referendum.
I hope the media will take note that we are doing very well in this Chamber and are raising issues. We want to be noted in that fashion rather than in the negative way that has been depicted over the past few weeks, including last weekend. I was offended at being classed as a non-person in this Chamber and I would like the media to take note of that. We want to play a leadership role and I would like the media to take note, be present and to listen to our debates. Many fine debates take place across the floor on many issues, yet while they are not reported the negative approach taken by the media, of the kind we saw over the weekend, prevails. I was offended by it.
Senator Feargal Quinn: Just after the August bank holiday weekend last summer, an announcement was made about decisions made by Aer Lingus in respect of Shannon Airport. The people of Shannon and the west received a considerable amount of sympathy from all of us around the country because of the problems they would face. What happened last weekend? The airport closed for a small number of hours because of the actions of a small group of people. Perhaps they did so to hold passengers to ransom to achieve their own objectives. There are other ways of achieving those objectives through normal procedures. Those procedures have not been adopted.
We must remind those people in business and elsewhere, particularly if they are paid by the State, that we in a competitive marketplace. Shannon is in competition with Frankfurt, London, Paris and everywhere else. It is a bad idea for us to close the airport on a regular or even irregular basis for selfish intentions. There are procedures to be used and they should be. Let us make sure that we do not go back to the position we were in during the 1980s — the days of strikes where there were no procedures before social partnership.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: The reason I said this is because I might not have needed to raise it on the Adjournment if we received reports from North-South Ministerial Council meetings. I ask the Leader to find out whether Ministers can come in here after meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council to explain what has gone on and the progress that has been made. A considerable amount of activity is going on, many problems are being solved and many issues are being progressed but there are a number of issues which are either not on the table or are not being presented as much as they could be.
Perhaps the Leader might ask whether there is much of a move in respect of having all-Ireland health promotion campaigns. This Friday is Lollipop Day, which aims to raise awareness of oesophageal cancer. I declare my interest in this subject because my father died of oesophageal cancer. It is now seen as a disease affecting young people, particularly young women. Therefore, if individual groups are producing awareness campaigns, we should support them by running such campaigns at not merely a Government level but an all-island level. Will there be any progress in respect of not just oesophageal cancer awareness but all forms of health awareness?
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I support the request from other Senators for a debate here on the Lisbon treaty. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which some Senators are members, is in the final stages of producing a report on the views of the different social partners on the treaty. That report is due to be published next week. I suggest to the Leader that one of the ways in which we might have an informed and quality debate on the Lisbon treaty is by consideration of the report and by inviting some of the people who have contributed to the development of it to the House. Undoubtedly, the views of organisations like the IFA and ISME will play a considerable role in influencing how the people of Ireland vote on the treaty. We have a report that captures some of the issues they believe are important. It behoves this Chamber to debate this report and give our input into it.
Another matter that will be very important to the future of our country and which we continually touch upon is the question of how we develop and stimulate economic growth. Frequently, when we discuss this issue, we talk about the mantra of research and development and innovation. Yesterday, we saw the publication by the Minister for Education and Science of the strategic innovation fund to stimulate that kind of work in our third-level institutions. It was remarkable that the publication of the detail of the plan came after the publication of a letter from all of the universities to the Minister expressing their frustration with the way the report and plan were progressing. I call on the Leader to organise a debate on how we are carrying out this research in Ireland to ensure that money is well spent and that it does not replicate private money already spent in these areas.
I repeat a request I made last week for a debate in this House on how we deal with homelessness in this city and people with chronic alcohol and drug issues. There is no more distressing sight than walking across our city and seeing people who are inebriated or have drug problems who have prams with young children in them. What hope do those children have and how can our society help and intervene, given that, unfortunately, their parents might not be able to do this? Last week, I raised the issue of a centre that was designed to deal with these issues but which will be vacant this summer because the HSE cannot provide the funding to deal with it. We are letting ourselves and the city down by not dealing with that.
I take this opportunity to wish our troops every success in their mission in Chad. It is a dangerous mission but is under the control of the EU and supported by a UN resolution. There are 400,000 refugees in camps in eastern Chad, most of whom have fled from Darfur. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our courageous troops who are travelling there this evening. I wish them a safe journey and a safe return after fulfilling their mission. They will be leading a major deployment of Irish troops in that region.
A debate on the EU reform treaty would be very worthwhile at this very early stage. People talk about neutrality but that was clearly identified in the referendum in October 2002 when we inserted into the Constitution a clause which states that Ireland could not join a common European defence arrangement unless a specific and separate referendum was held. Unfortunately, a number of the anti-reform treaty personnel are bringing out these old arguments to try to defeat this treaty. This House would serve a great purpose by having a detailed debate about the proposal put forward by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, which will outline our views after receiving a large number of submissions. That could be the basis for a debate in the House next week if possible.
Senator Phil Prendergast: Will the Leader arrange for the Minister to come into the House to discuss the availability of adolescent psychiatric beds? I understand only 12 beds are available in St. John of God services, with 38 people on the waiting list, but the nature of the illness does not allow for a timeframe in which they might require hospitalisation. There are no psychiatric beds for adolescents in the south east and very few beds elsewhere throughout the country.
Senator John Ellis: I congratulate the Garda on its action at the weekend in introducing checks for drugs at some of its checkpoints for alcohol. That is a welcome move and something on which this House should compliment the Garda. I have raised that question here on a number of occasions and I am delighted the Garda has now taken action on it. The Garda should also consider the possibility of introducing more sniffer dogs at entrances to nightclubs and other venues to try to deal with the drugs problem. We know the problem exists and sniffer dogs are probably the most effective weapon available to the Garda. Random police patrols in Scotland use sniffer dogs to try to identify people who are either carrying drugs or have been in contact with drugs.
Senator Paudie Coffey: As we are an island nation I call for a debate on the role of our commercial ports and the way they can contribute to both our regional and national economies. They are access and egress points for major imports and exports and it is important we would have a debate on their role and resources to determine how they will contribute to the economy in the future. There are initiatives such as the Gateway innovation fund and we need to know how the ports will be resourced through those initiatives. We also need to know how they will fit in to the national spatial strategy, the way the Government proposes to roll out the resourcing and the implementation of our ports and how that will fit in to our national development plan. I call for a debate on that because this is an important issue for the entire country. Belview Port in the south east is a major international port but it must be continuously resourced. We must exploit the full potential of our ports to ensure the economy remains strong in the future.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I join with other Senators in highlighting the importance of this House facilitating a comprehensive debate on the Lisbon treaty. Like other Senators, I am a member of the European Affairs committee which is in the process of finalising the stages of a first report examining all aspects of the treaty and reflecting the views of the groups that have come before the committee. If we are considering inviting some of these groups to address the Seanad directly I ask that we would consider inviting some of the people on the “No” side to address us——
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Some Members mentioned inaccuracies. The best way to deal with inaccuracies being put around about the treaty is to confront them in a debate and correct them. I suggest that if we have a debate on the treaty we invite in both sides of the debate, hear all sides of the argument and have a balanced debate.
Senator Shane Ross: I endorse what Senator de Búrca said. It is important and relevant to the point I want to make. I heard what Senator Ormonde had to say about the media covering the Seanad. We should not get too prickly about a few pieces written by journalists who do not have much to do late at night.
Senator Shane Ross: I was the butt of one of those pieces and I sent the journalist a short e-mail yesterday saying I did not know he was writing for The Sunday Business Post. The way to deal with this is not to respond in a sensitive way if we are confident about what we are doing. The point that should be made, and this is where I part from Senator Ormonde, is that perhaps some of those criticisms are right. It does not seem to have occurred to anybody in this House that perhaps some of the people who say we are a group of old dinosaurs and fossils are right because we are not relevant enough. I do not understand why we should not take that on board. Senator Fitzgerald pointed to that earlier with her amendment calling for a discussion on the pharmacists. A crisis which is brewing will erupt in less than two weeks’ time——
Senator Shane Ross: ——and for some reason we, the Members of the second House of the Oireachtas, cannot even discuss it. That is crazy and if someone from the press tells us we are irrelevant and that we cannot even discuss the pharmacy sector, he is right. The Government should not be too critical of the media criticising it if it does not respond to that and allow us debate relevant issues. That is what is important.
Senator Shane Ross: There is one procedure in this House which does work in terms of bringing in Ministers, namely, the Adjournment but that takes place at the end of the day when nobody notices anything happening. The only time pharmacists have been debated in this House is when the Minister, Deputy Harney, came here to reply to my Adjournment matter. She gave me a ticking off for raising the pharmacy sector in this House but she came here and discussed it. We have that sort of debate late at night when nobody is listening and the members of the press are not here.
Senator Shane Ross: It is no coincidence that some of those very relevant issues, including autism, which we will debate tomorrow — I thank the Leader for allowing time for a debate on autism, which is a major improvement — the pharmacies and adoption of foreign children, which I raised last night, end with the Health Service Executive. It would be relevant if we debated not only the Lisbon treaty, which is a good point, but also the HSE, which appears to be a blockage in the progress of so many people’s lives and on so many issues. If we are bringing people into the House to debate the Lisbon treaty, why do we not invite the representatives of the HSE and put them under scrutiny because it is relevant and it would make us more relevant?
Senator Ivor Callely: Homelessness in the city has been mentioned in the House, an issue about which we are all concerned. Great work is being done with vulnerable people with addiction problems, particularly alcohol and drugs, and so-called wet houses have been opened to try to accommodate them but these are complex issues. I pay tribute to the people involved in the services, particularly the out-reach workers on the street who not just offer these people a bed but appropriate support services. Excellent work is being done in this area and it is important that the House would record what is being done in this city.
I recently received a letter from the city manager confirming to me that he is satisfied he has a bed for every person who is homeless in the city but they are not being utilised. I concur with the view that we should have a debate on the issue and the appropriate players, the HSE and Dublin City Council, should be invited here to consider how we can ensure better co-ordination and collation of the services available which are not being utilised.
I listened with interest to the points made by Senator Ross and others. Senator Ross might recall that I raised the issue of the HSE some months ago when I said I had certain concerns but I was advised that it was a matter for the joint committee. I still have concerns about the HSE. I support the view expressed by Senator Fitzgerald that we should afford the Minister, Deputy Harney, the opportunity to come before the Seanad on the pharmacy issue if that is the appropriate course of action. I have been advised in the past that it is not and that it is a matter for the joint committee but if it is possible to have the Minister attend the House I suggest we do that.
Senator Ivor Callely: Equally, we should afford the Leader appropriate time to contact to the Minister, Deputy Harney, to see if she is available to appear in the Seanad. There is no point in her appearing here alone. The pharmacy matter has been delegated to the HSE.
Senator Ivor Callely: The HSE has been in consultation with the Department of Finance regarding the budget. The other important player is the IPU. If we are to have a full, open and fair debate on the pharmacy issue, we should have a round table meeting with the Minister for Health and Children, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Finance, the HSE and the IPU.
I ask the Leader to obtain clarification on the contract that applies to the GMS and community drug schemes. Is the HSE proposing that new contracts will apply from 1 March? What mechanism is proposed to apply the planned reduction in wholesale margins to community pharmacists? What is proposed does not add up and will not work.
Senator Pearse Doherty: I support the amendment to the Order of Business. This Chamber must debate the matter today. I listened to Senator Kelly’s comments on time and space. This issue has been brewing since September and is not a new issue. When I sought a debate on this last September I was told to raise it when the Minister was debating another issue. I did so but we continually called for debates. This is the second proposed amendment to the Order of Business to propose that the Minister comes to the House to answer these questions. Senators are aware of the implication if this is concluded — rural pharmacies will close down.
Senator Pearse Doherty: There is no point in Senators running around in 11 days telling people they support rural pharmacies if they will not allow the Minister to be held accountable in the Seanad. I appeal to Government Members to support the amendment to the Order of Business.
I commend the Leader on agreeing to a debate on Malin Head and Valentia within the foreseeable future, hopefully within the next two weeks. Many Senators have called for this and I am pleased to see it will be facilitated.
Many remarks were made in the Chamber yesterday about the wider public perception of the Senate. We must bear some of the blame in this respect. We must examine how we do business. Last week I sought a discussion on collusion and asked that, instead of statements on collusion that have already taken place in the Dáil and with which many parties were dissatisfied, we would have an all-party motion. The Leader informed me that this would be raised with party leaders on Tuesday. Today, the discussion on collusion will take the form of statements. If we are serious about being more than a talking shop, notwithstanding the fact that some Members are pleased at that, let us agree an all-party motion on collusion. The issue affects 50 people, killed in this State as a direct consequence of collusion between British paramilitaries and British state forces.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: I join with Senator Fitzgerald in congratulating Trinity College on the excellent work done in awarding certificates to those with intellectual disability. Perhaps we should call on all third level institutions to follow suit. Institutes of technology could do work with people who are vulnerable and who may enjoy this after second level education finishes.
Last week I raised the impasse between the HSE and the IPU. There are no unhappy campers in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. To the contrary, last night I saw they were all happy campers. We had an open and frank discussion on the impasse, which is where Fianna Fáil and Government Senators would debate such pressing matters. We are working to find a solution. If that does not happen in Fine Gael or the Labour Party, that is not our fault. The Opposition should not come in here shouting and being as envious as they are about what goes on at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings.
I support the call made by Senator Prendergast for a debate on adolescent psychiatry, taking in all aspects of eating disorders. This group does not have a strong lobby and is made up of vulnerable people. Sometimes they deal with issues of life and death, issues I would like to discuss. I have no objection to discussing what is taking place. I have no idea why Senator Ross suggests we will not be allowed a debate. I agree that autism, adoption and child and adolescent psychiatry are equally important as this issues. Let us invite the Minister so that we can deal with them.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I second Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment. With regard to the debate on the Seanad, I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on how Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. At a time when alcohol use has become more prevalent and the perception of the Irish abroad is of an alcohol consuming society, given that the Government has extended St. Patrick’s Day to a festival it is important that we debate how we celebrate our national day. It is important to send the signal to Irish people at home and across the world that we are proud of our heritage, which is not just about the consumption of alcohol.
I agree with Senator Ross on the relevance of this Chamber. It ill behoves Members that we see reports in the newspaper that Fianna Fáil Members are asking to meet the Minister. This is the House of the Oireachtas and there should be accountability here.
Senator John Carty: I ask the Leader to raise with the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Agriculture, Forestry and Food the price of veterinary medicines manufactured in Ireland. They cost four times more than in other EU member states and the world market. An investigation should take place and we should debate this to see if there is price fixing.
Two weeks ago I called on the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Food to the Seanad to discuss REPS. In light of her recent success in Brussels in getting REPS 2 and 3 payments restored to what they were, this is an ideal opportunity to invite her to the House.
Senator David Norris: I ask the Leader to consider giving an hour, for example, next week to No. 35, a motion in the name of the Independent Senators with regard to banning landmines and cluster munitions. It is appropriate in light of the forthcoming conference. I proposed a slightly expanded version of this in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and it was passed unanimously. Everyone, therefore, ought to be able to agree to it. It would take only an hour and it is something practical we could do.
In light of the fact that former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba is standing trial on charges of malfeasance and stealing $488,000 in public funds, is at the centre of attempts by the Zambian Government to recover $58 million that he and 19 other people salted away in banks throughout the world and, when president of Zambia between 1991 and 2001, routinely turned up in Iveagh House to express his gratitude and accept a cheque for development in his country, would it be possible to ascertain how much of the money, if any, paid by Irish taxpayers went into his Zambian pocket?
I accept the Cathaoirleach’s ruling that my motion on the Feis Ceoil is out of order but it is astonishing the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has no responsibility for one of the oldest and most internationally distinguished cultural festivals in this country. Will the Leader raise this with the Minister and find out if it is possible to get funding? It would be a disgrace if this splendid festival disappeared.
I was surprised that there was a certain amount of jocularity when the death of the eagles in Kerry was raised. This is a significant matter. If it was caused by poison, as appears might be the case, this disgraces us in the international community. We are always bleating in the House about the environment, ecology, animal welfare and so forth but last week some Members were proposing congratulations for the coursing industry. Do we really care about the welfare of animals? It is not a joking matter. We have a responsibility to the other creatures on this planet.
Senator John Hanafin: I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Health and Children on the issue of stem cell research. I note that the first adult stem cell clinic in Europe has opened in Germany. To date the only significant progress in this area of research has come from adult stem cells. The debate on the need for embryonic stem cells is well past as adult stem cells have proven to have the pluripotent nature required. Previously, requests were made in the House that the Minister make Ireland a centre for biotechnology and adult stem cell research and development. They were not taken up at the time. I fear Ireland might begin to lag behind in this area and we now have a golden opportunity to pursue it.
Will the Leader raise with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the possibility of the prices being paid by supermarkets to the farming community being put under the remit of an ombudsman, as occurs in the UK? In Ireland at present the price paid to farmers producing potatoes is one fifth of the shelf price of potatoes. What added value is there in putting potatoes into a plastic bag and selling them? Someone is running the market and ensuring it is paying the retailer and not the producer. That is not right when so many farmers in the potato industry are going, and have gone, out of business.
Senator Nicky McFadden: Will the Leader invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House to discuss indigenous business? It was very sad last Friday to hear the announcement of the 500 redundancies in Arnotts, a company that has provided fantastic service in our capital city for many years. Some of the employees had worked for 30 years in Arnotts. This will change the face of shopping in Dublin. It will disturb Moore Street. Boyers will be closed too. In the past six months it has been announced that other landmarks in our capital city such as the Berkeley Court, the Burlington and Jurys Hotel are to go. Do we want our capital city to look the same as every other capital city, with the same high street shopping as other foreign capitals? This issue warrants debate. I accept we must be competitive and that the Arnotts trustees must make money but this issue is not just about money. It is also about the social side of our country.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support the views expressed by Senator Norris regarding the Feis Ceoil. He correctly pointed out that it is one of the oldest and perhaps most impressive cultural institutions on the island at present. The Arts Council appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in recent weeks and the council responded quite generously to the committee’s debate. There was a general consensus that the Arts Council needs to focus on community-based events that are largely reliant on volunteerism. Events such as the Dublin Feis Ceoil provide a platform for young artists. Indeed, many of the household names in the arts today will at some stage have had a connection with the Feis Ceoil. The Arts Council has received almost €80 million from the Government and it should get involved with this. It would be very sad to lose that event.
I also agree with the Senator’s views on the death of the two eagles. I was particularly disappointed when I saw the photograph in the newspaper today. I applaud Senator Coghlan for raising this issue. I recall there was quite a celebration when the chicks were put into the wild. As a nation, we have always had respect for our wildlife, which is a huge tourist attraction. I will be surprised if this bad news does not spread outside Ireland and is not picked up in other countries. It will not impact positively. If anyone deliberately did this, they are helping no one and are certainly not helping Ireland.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Members will share my disquiet that the issue of blood is once again controversially in the news with the report that a stolen laptop in New York contained the blood records of 171,000 Irish people. This raises the need for a debate about information technology, its potential and the risks attached to the information society in which we live. Obviously there is legislation in this area but we must discuss how to protect people’s data. There is also the issue of whether such data should be carried around in a laptop in the first place. When I read that such data are supposedly securely encrypted, I am even more concerned.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Frances Fitzgerald, Paul Coghlan, Ivor Callely, Pearse Doherty and Jerry Buttimer expressed concerns about matters pertaining to the Health Service Executive. Senators might be aware that I made a commitment to endeavour to have the Minister visit the House on Thursday, 28 February. The request has been made and we await confirmation of an opening in her diary to enable this to happen. On the two occasions before Christmas when we invited the Minister to the House, she made herself available at very short notice and gave the Members a comprehensive report on the up-to-date position of the HSE matters under discussion. I am confident that if her diary can facilitate it, the Minister will come to the House. All the matters raised this morning can be discussed with her. She was the first Minister in this Seanad to take a question and answer session with Members and they were very grateful to her for that.
I join with Senators Fitzgerald and Feeney in offering congratulations to the students in Trinity College on this exciting development where the abilities of these students are being recognised and acknowledged. I wish to be associated with the congratulations offered to them here today.
Senator O’Toole expressed his views on the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, coming to the House tomorrow. There is much interest from all sides of the House in this matter and I have no difficulty in this business being rolled over for next week, with the agreement of the House tomorrow morning.
Senator Alex White inquired about the new emergency Bill referred to in The Irish Times today. As the Government’s representative in the House, I take my instructions from the Government meeting on Tuesday morning or from the meeting of the Whips. The meeting of the Whips this week takes place this evening and we are awaiting a response on the matter into which Senator Alex White is inquiring. At present, I do not have an instruction. When I have one, I will come back to the House first thing in the morning. My office will contact the leaders of the various parties and groups in this House to update them on the position on that legislation as soon as I am informed.
Mention was made of the power of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. This has always been the case, it is not a new dimension. As has been stated, the strength of the good backbencher attending such party meetings is to bring the views of the grassroots, the rank and file and of the people we represent, not only in the city of Dublin but all over Ireland.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Cannon and Carty offered their congratulations to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, on REPS 2 and 3, and those 6,000 hard-pressed farmers concerned with payments. It is good news and I join them in offering congratulations. I have an update on this matter and I will inform the House tomorrow morning on the position on REPS 4. I take the position of Senators Cannon and Carty in trying to bring pressure on the EU and to support the Minister for two payments to be made to improve the cashflow of the hard-pressed farmers.
Senators Ormonde, Donohue, Leyden, de Búrca and Ross expressed their views and concerns on the Lisbon treaty. I wish to join with Senator Ormonde in welcoming the support of the IFA and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce for a “Yes” vote on the treaty.
I join with Senator Leyden, and the House, in wishing our troops well in their endeavour. As we will all be aware, the European Union is a force for peace. Ireland has a proud record of peacekeeping service around the world, having participated in 58 different missions. This is the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s first participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions and EU peacekeeping missions with the United Nations support have already taken place in Indonesia, in the western Balkans and in Palestine. We all can feel proud. Many of us live in constituencies where there is more than one arm of the Army. There are three in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath — in Athlone, Mullingar and Longford. Longford-Westmeath is also Senator McFadden’s constituency. We understand the important role of the Army. I support the great work it is doing and wish our Armed Forces well in their endeavour.
With regard to the arrangement of a date for the President of the European Commission to come to the House to discuss the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon treaty, I understand that it will be the first week we return after Easter, which I hope will be Tuesday, 8 April. That is the date which is convenient for his diary.
Senator Quinn comes to the House with a wonderful track record of achievement in Ireland and I must take his views seriously. He brought to the attention of the House the difficulties being experienced at Shannon Airport regarding flight activity. I was in London on Monday and three flights were cancelled in the afternoon because of the difficulties being experienced. There is considerable credibility at stake here in maintaining continuity and in everyone wanting their flights on time. I sympathise with those who have a grievance but given the position in which Shannon finds itself, it needs all the help and assistance it can get. Ultimately, everyone must get around the table and perhaps this should be the kernel to the success of Shannon for the future. I am fully confident that Shannon has a great future. It has made a marvellous contribution over the past 50 years or more since it was set up.
Senator Keaveney called for an update in the House on North-South ministerial meetings. This is a worthwhile proposal. Senator Keaveney and I are members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which meets tomorrow. I have already agreed with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that he come to the House on matters pertaining to foreign affairs and I hope I will be able to inform the House next week when he will be coming to the House to update us on North-South ministerial meetings and other matters relating to foreign affairs.
Senator Donohue called for a debate on economic growth. I have no difficulty in providing time for that. It is opportune because we can reflect on our success, particularly over the past ten years. We can look forward to the new Minister of State with responsibility for innovation policy, Deputy Michael Ahern, attending the House to participate in such a debate and outline the hopes of the new ministry, particularly with regard to the report published last week.
Senator Prendergast and Feeney called for a debate on the problem that now exists in the psychiatric hospitals, particularly in the case of beds for adolescent patients. I will pass the Senators’ views on to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. If the Minister is in the House in the next week or so, perhaps this can be brought to her attention by the Senators.
Senator Ellis congratulated the Garda Síochána on its checkpoints for drug and substance abuse. As I stated previously, it was the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business that made this recommendation on substance abuse and I want to be associated with the Senator’s congratulations in that regard.
I also want to be associated with Senator Ellis’s proposal that the Garda Síochána seriously consider making sniffer dogs available at late-night venues, as is successfully the case in Scotland. These should include not only entertainment venues but all late-night venues such as eating establishments where there is much activity into the early hours of the morning.
Senator Doherty pointed out the importance of Malin and Valentia coastguard stations. I made a commitment on that yesterday and I will endeavour to have the debate take place as a matter of urgency within the next two to three weeks. The Senator can rest assured that this is a priority item of business for the House between now and Easter.
Senator Doherty also expressed his concerns on the collusion issue. As Senators know, we have statements today on the report from the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on violent incidents arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland. Spokespersons will have 12 minutes’ speaking time and all other Senators will have eight minutes. If the issue needs to be rolled over, depending on the number of Senators offering, I have no difficulty with that. We can review progress with 20 minutes or half an hour to go in the debate.
Senator Buttimer called for debate on how we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This is a worthwhile proposal and perhaps we can discuss it during the tourism debate and make St. Patrick’s Day a central issue for tourism. Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and all Ministers home in on that time of year. With regard to promoting Ireland abroad, the festival comes at a good time of the year and we get enormous value for money from it. It opens the doors in all our embassies and consulates and everyone becomes involved in promoting Ireland at that time. The suggestion is a very worthwhile one and I will ensure the debate takes place at the earliest possible time.
Senator Norris called for one hour to be allowed next week to debate No. 16, motion 35 on the Order Paper. I have no difficulty with the allocation of that time and it will be on the Order of Business on one of the three days next week. He also raised the issue of the Zambian Government and donations from Ireland. He asked about the money trail, the intent behind the donations and how they were used. That is a difficult issue. I will pass the Senator’s views on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and see what response we get.
Senator Norris was just one of many Senators who asked about funding for the Feis Ceoil festival. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, who has significant experience and expertise in this area, correctly pointed out that the Arts Council has €80 million to disburse. I am sure the particular event should and will get the due recognition and funding it deserves, but if it does not, we want to know about it. The spirit and importance of festivals and events such as this are what contribute to lifting up the spirits of the people. It is good for everyone Irish to celebrate the traditions of previous generations. Ireland is one of the few countries in the world whose music is a trademark. Few countries can say that, but Ireland can.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The success of our artists worldwide has meant they have been incredible ambassadors in terms of opening doors for us. We should celebrate that and I wish everyone well with getting funding for the Feis Ceoil.
Senators Norris, Coghlan and Ó Murchú expressed shock and disappointment at the death of the two eagles in Killarney, which is our number one destination for tourists. I never miss an opportunity to visit Killarney and go on holiday there every year. I have always said that if I could have a second place to live, it would be in Killarney. I will pass on the Senators’ views to the Minister. I hope our worst fears are not realised.
Senator Hanafin called on the Government and the Minister to deal with the issue of stem cell research. I will inquire about this and come back to him on the issue. The Senator also made a serious statement regarding the great concerns of the farming community, market farmers in particular, about the low prices being received for their produce from supermarkets. The former Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business carried out an in-depth investigation, lasting almost two years, into the grocery order. The committee expressed definite all-party views on that order and came to the conclusion the order should have been retained. Our worst fears are now being realised.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The committee heard the views of many groups, in particular the north Dublin growers and the Meath growers who shared their experience. Now we see the huge decline in growers. A few hundred of the 700 or so who were in business have gone out of business since then. Senator Hanafin pointed out that the farmers only get 20% of the price for which their potatoes are selling in the supermarkets and stores. This is an issue that should be revisited by the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Senator McFadden expressed serious concerns about the announcement by Arnotts during the week. I understand 1,200 jobs will be provided in three years. A significant amount of money, €1 billion, is being spent on the project. I remind the Senator that 80% of businesses that were in O’Connell Street 30 years ago are no longer there as a result of the changing face of Ireland.
Senator Mullen expressed his concern about the stolen data of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and I will pass on his concerns to the Minister. I heard the programme on radio this morning. It is alarming that the data of 171,000 people might be in the hands of some thief. Perhaps we could bring the matter to the Minister’s attention when she is in the house next week to discuss the HSE and perhaps we will get an update on the position then.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Fitzgerald has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: “That statements on the implications of the deadline of 1 March 2008 in the pharmacy dispute be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed?
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||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.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
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