Tuesday, 11 March 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Defamation Bill 2006 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of tributes to a former Member; No. 3, Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Bill 2008 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 2, Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 but not earlier than 7.30 p.m.
It is proposed, at the conclusion of the Order of Business, to take tributes from party leaders and constituency colleagues on the death of a former Member of this House, Kit Ahern, to conclude no later than 4 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: When the three reports on the situation at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise and the management of the crisis there were issued last week, I asked the Leader for a debate as soon as possible. Will he confirm whether that debate will take place this week? It is critical that we have an opportunity to discuss the details in the Fitzgerald report, which I hope everyone will read, and the questions that arise in regard to ministerial responsibility. Members on all sides of the House have spoken of their concern about how the Health Service Executive is doing its work. This report offers no reassurance in this regard. If it offers us a bird’s eye view into how the HSE is being managed, the need for reform is clear. We must have a debate as soon as possible.
Will the Leader agree to a debate on the economy in light of recent headlines and the Taoiseach’s comments on economic developments yesterday, notwithstanding his placing of the blame on the United States economy? It is interesting how, when everything is going well, we are told that Fianna Fáil created the boom but, when it is not going so well, we are told that the economy is determined by factors outside the Government’s control.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Given that the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, is awarding himself a substantial salary increase, thus bringing his salary to more than twice that of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, the least we should expect is that he come to this House for a debate. The Central Bank issued a warning yesterday that our competitiveness has slipped again, by some 5%. Competitiveness has decreased by 17% under successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments and by at least 5% under the watch of the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance.
There are actions the Government can take to address this. Members of this House have a range of experiences and should be allowed to participate in a debate on how best to manage the changes in the economy. Nobody wants to see record numbers of people signing on the dole. The number in receipt of social welfare has risen to the highest level in eight and half years. I would like the Minister, Deputy Cowen, to come to the House to discuss the economy so we can consider all the factors of concern to the public. Many people are worried about house prices, for example.
Will the Leader consult the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the Garda retirement age of 60, and then update the House on the matter? A number of studies, including one compiled by Dr. Maurice Hayes, have concluded that there is a brain drain at top levels of Garda management. The House could examine this issue in the context of the serious levels of crime in this country. Senator Mary White has pointed out that the police retirement age in other countries is between 63 and 65. The report that has been made available to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be examined and a decision should be made on this issue. It is ironic that some gardaí, who want to extend their period of service in the force, have asked the Equality Authority to assess whether an Act that was introduced by this Government applies to them. Perhaps the Leader will raise this matter with the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan.
Senator David Norris: I wish to raise an issue on which the Chair allowed Senator Harris to make a lengthy intervention a week or so ago. It is a matter of great importance to standards of honesty, decency and justice in this country. It is fundamental to the well-being of a number of people in Ireland and abroad. I hope the Chair will allow me a gracious degree of latitude. I refer to the film, “Fairytale of Kathmandu”, which purports to document the exploitation of young men in Nepal by the Donegal poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh. Having seen this work, I have grave concerns about the motives and methods employed. It is proposed to transmit the film on RTE tonight. As public money has been spent on the film, we are entitled to know the truth wherever it leads. Therefore, I call for its exhibition to be postponed until a full investigation by those qualified in the analysis of film has established the truth or falsehood of the techniques used in its production and the conclusions reached in it. The correct forum for such an investigation is the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
An attempt has been made to create such a firestorm of hostile publicity that justice may never retrospectively be done. This film was selectively leaked to quarters where, it was calculated, it would do most damage and most dangerously inflame opinion. The subject of the film has been tried, sentenced and crucified already. What of the youths involved? Despite pious protests, they have been most callously exposed in a dangerously homophobic society and then left to sink or swim on their own. I am aware of the existence of a smear campaign against anyone who dares to raise his or her voice to ask these questions. I am aware also of the possible damage that may be caused to my standing in the community I love. I have chosen to make this intervention in what I consider to be the most appropriate place — the free Parliament of the Irish people — because I love justice and truth even more than I fear any misunderstanding of my motives in so doing.
While it has been denied, it is clear that systematic creative editing has taken place. For example, the most disturbing image in the film is a sequence showing Mr. Ó Searcaigh lovingly straightening the tie of what appears to be a 14 or 15 year old schoolboy with a satchel on his back. While Narang is indeed boyish looking, he is a 20 year old physics student in a third level college. His words need to be heard. He was over the age of 18 when the film was made. In an interview voluntarily given, he alleges he was told he had been abandoned by Cathal Ó Searcaigh. He was naturally angry. He claims to have been pressurised into giving the answers the film-makers wanted. He has since said: “They make me say things, they twist their questions and make me say Cathal was not a good man”. Is Narang’s voice to be smothered? The owner of the copyright has never been contacted for permission to use extracts from Mr. Ó Searcaigh’s poetry in the film. He has now refused permission for the broadcast of material to which he owns the copyright.
Senator David Norris: Gloriously, the artists of Ireland have supported Cathal Ó Searcaigh as they previously did in the case of Oscar Wilde. This is because they have a unique insight into the processes of works of creation and destruction. I wish to make it clear that I support the brave letter sent by the artists to The Irish Times. When I saw the film, my stomach sank and I thought of the words of the great British poet, William Blake:
Senator David Norris: The illegality is possibly a matter for this House. Communications is an appropriate matter for the committee established by both Houses of the Oireachtas to examine such matters.
Senator Alex White: I, and I believe others, share the concerns expressed about how Cathal Ó Searcaigh has been treated by some sections of the media in recent weeks. I agree with remarks made in this House last week that an extraordinary suggestion appeared to have been made that his poetry should be taken off the leaving certificate syllabus. I disagree with that. It is not appropriate for this House to become embroiled in a consideration on whether RTE should broadcast a programme.
Senator Alex White: It is not appropriate that a committee of the Oireachtas should take on itself the role of deciding whether a programme should be broadcast. If there are concerns about illegality——
Senator Alex White: I am sorry but I did not interrupt anybody. I have great sympathy with the position Senator Norris has taken in regard to this case but it is not appropriate that this House or a committee of the Oireachtas should determine what RTE broadcasts. That would be a step too far.
We have had debates on integration and the Minister of State came to the House for an interesting preliminary debate on integration. However, it is time we moved away from speeches, from essentially theorising about what integration is and from discussing the experiences of other countries and so on, and considered practical measures which could be taken by the Government to ensure a higher degree of integration in respect of students and young people, particularly in our education system.
A timely statement was made by the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland. It pointed out that at the very heart of any integration policy must be language support in schools. It correctly criticised the Department for failing to properly resource the teaching of English to young students in schools to help counter racism which, of course, is a much more complex question. However, nothing is more important than language and the teaching of language.
Senator Alex White: Notwithstanding that they get two hours of English lessons per week, they must spend the rest of the day struggling to understand what teachers are saying in science class and elsewhere. This statement came from teachers involved in schools and who know what they are talking about.
It is entirely inadequate that the teachers who provide these lessons get only one day’s training. We do not have adequate provision of English language teaching in our schools. Far more work needs to be done in that regard and we need more resources. Let us have another debate on integration but not at a theoretical level discussing the experiences of other countries, interesting and all as that is. It should focus on how we can practically support the teaching of English to newcomer students in our schools.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Binge drinking has been defined as five drinks in one sitting for a man and four drinks for a woman. The latest EU survey states that 34% of Irish people are usually binge drinkers and that Ireland is followed by England as having the highest level of binge drinking in Europe. The number of off-licenses in Ireland has increased from 600 to 1,800 in seven years. The EU barometer survey conducted in 2007 found that Irish households spend three times more on alcohol than those in other European countries. The National Youth Council of Ireland has said the problem with alcohol is not just a youth issue and that adults are four times more likely to commit public order offences while under the influence of alcohol. I could continue to list statistics for the rest of the hour.
As soon as the group set up by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examine the issue of alcohol has reported at the end of this month, we should ask the Minister to come to the House to debate alcohol abuse.
On 8 and 9 May there will be an investment conference in the North that will attract many businesses. As Deputy spokesperson on Northern Ireland, and as one who lives in Donegal, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to discuss how we can maximise the potential from any such conference in respect of regional development and cross-Border co-operation on job creation.
Senator Eugene Regan: The second part of a documentary on Frank Shortt on RTE last night showed how the Morris tribunal exposed perjury by two detectives in this case. Will the Leader refer the matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform? Perjury is a criminal offence but when are people prosecuted for it? Truth in the Dáil is essential to democracy, and in the courts and tribunals to the administration of justice. One often hears of cases being referred from the civil court to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Numerous affidavits are sworn on oath yet there was only one example of proceedings concerning perjury in 2004 and again in 2005, four in 2006 and two in 2007. There was one successful prosecution for perjury in 2004 and one in 2007. Those figures indicate that even if someone lies through his or her teeth there is no fear of prosecution. This is an important issue. It appears that this crime is not viewed seriously and the Minister should reflect on and review it. I ask the Leader to organise a debate here and for the Minister to address the issue specifically.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Tá sé soiléir le blianta anuas go bhfuil stádas faoi leith bainte amach ag an Gaeilge agus tá an grá agus an dea-thoil di le tabhairt faoi deara go forleathan ar fud na tíre. Chomh maith le sin, tá stádas oifigúil bainte amach ag an Gaeilge san Eoraip, tá reachtaíocht nua i bhfeidm anseo le cinntiú go mbeidh cothromaíocht ag an Ghaeilge agus tá na Gaelscoileanna, Raidió na Gaeltachta, TG4 agus colún an-bhreá san The Irish Times i nGaeilge againn. Tá sé an-soileír sa Teach seo go bhfuil grá ann don Gaeilge agus labhrann roinnt mhaith de Sheanadóirí agus Teachtaí Gaeilge freisin.
Bíonn na meáin cumarsáide ag cáineadh ó am go ham nach bhfuil níos mó Gaeilge le cloisint sna Títhe. Chuala mé cúis do sin le déanaí. Má labhrann Teachta nó Seanadóir i nGaeilge i dtaobh ábhar an-bhunúsach, is cinnte nach mbeidh aon phoiblíocht le fáil dó sin. Ba bhreá liomsa cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, an Teachta Éamon Ó Cuív, teacht isteach agus labhairt faoi chonas is féidir linn an timpeallacht agus an stádas seo a cheartú agus rud éigin a dhéanamh chun stádas a bhaint amach sna meáin cumarsáide don Ghaeilge. Táimid an-sásta leis an dul chun cinn atá déanta.
Goodwill for the language is visible everywhere. The groups I have mentioned do great work and I speak Irish to at least 25 or 30 Senators here every day, likewise to Deputies. It is a great pity that if one speaks on a serious issue in Irish the media is almost certain to ignore one. That is a pity. We have done much good work with the new legislation and the status of Irish in Europe. Good work is being done in the schools, but the breakthrough must now be achieved in the recognition of Irish when people use it in the Houses of the Oireachtas. This would ensure an opportunity for publicity when statements are made through Irish, whether in the Seanad or the Dáil.
Senator Alan Kelly: I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that we need the Minister for Finance to come to the House. I hope he will be in the House to debate the Finance Bill tomorrow and the day after. Obviously that is a Bill that contains much detail and Senators will be going through it. However, we need the Minister to address the House separately because of the changing economy. It has turned around quite dramatically, something not seen in a western European country for quite a time.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment should be asked also to come to the Seanad. There is one area on which we need a mature debate to try and turn the economy around, namely, technology. I shall not again go through the three components needed to promote this area: education, broadband infrastructure and investment techniques. However, I shall make a few comments that might be helpful. We do not have sufficient incubation services for small to medium-sized enterprises as regards technology. We do not have the proper Government investment schemes in place and I was disappointed by this year’s budget in terms of tax incentives, etc. for the promotion of technology. Banks do not give the funding to these technology companies that they did previously.
I have come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny and I believe we need to work more proactively through the EU. The joint technology initiative for embedded computer systems is a very important area because the volume of embedded computer systems which will be in existence by 2010 will be equivalent to three times the population of the world, and Ireland needs to have its share of that. There is a joint technology investment technique within the EU for this area, yet Ireland contributes only €1 million towards it. That simply is not good enough. We need to do more in the area.
I genuinely welcome yesterday’s comments by the Taoiseach on the alcohol debate, in particular his response that people who enjoy mature consumption of alcohol can contribute to the debate. He was not against social drinking or anyone enjoying themselves, he said that if one is into that agenda, one is going nowhere. I suggest the Leader of the House is going nowhere on this issue.
Senator Eoghan Harris: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to look at the issue of the retirement age for gardaí. I call for a general debate on age in Irish society, not just simply in terms of restrictive employment practices, etc. but in terms of its wider parameters.
Last night in Cork I attended the three-hour testimonial to Dan Donovan, one of the stalwarts of Cork theatre in Irish and English. I was struck by the fact that during a three-hour show everyone on stage was over 75. They each had to work up six or seven plays and memorise them all, and none of them fluffed his or her lines or showed any signs of physical wear and tear. All their brains were working well. It was striking that the audience was full of young people who appreciated the show because it crossed the generations. That used to happen in every Irish village long ago. Michael Collins strikingly sought out older men and women to speak to and indeed — it is not a late conversion on my part — all the people I admired in RTE were then in their seventies when I arrived there.
It seems ridiculous that a male or female garda who has been accumulating intelligence, wisdom, balance, judgement and gravitas over 40 years should then be dispensed with, and all that information, intelligence and simple cop-on going down the drain. It does not make any sense. Neither does it make sense in any other category of employment. I strongly support Senator Fitzgerald in that specific call and ask the Leader for a general debate, if possible.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Will the Leader arrange for an early debate on planning? There have been many calls for such debates heretofore but I call for a specific one on high-rise developments. I refer to cases in which they should not be permitted under any circumstances.
I recall that the chairman of An Bord Pleanála spoke on this issue in a general way some time ago and he was careful to give rather good advice to the effect that planning authorities should make specific provision for high-rise developments where they deem them to be appropriate, rather than leaving things blank. Obviously, this issue would arise only in large cities, perhaps on the quays and certainly in the centre. High rise developments certainly should not be permitted in the suburbs, where they would be totally out of character.
As we know, there are controversial plans for Dublin at present and it seems they are in contravention of the development plans laid down by councillors. I am sure Senator Boyle will be aware of such developments in Cork but I am not sure what has been provided for in that city. A recent decision was made in respect of which neither the residents nor the public representatives were notified by the city authorities. This is unfortunate and represents a total breakdown. The matter should have been dealt with properly but this has not occurred to date. I call for a debate on this subject.
Senator John Hanafin: Will the Leader invite to the House the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to debate the current economic climate? There is no doubt there is a perception that the US economy has gone into recession. I commend the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the other Ministers for their correct assessment that we should cut our cloth to measure and focus on employment. In light of our history and knowledge of what employment does, we should realise it is sometimes as expensive to keep people out of work as it is to keep them in work, bearing in mind the high levels of social, health and other problems that ensue in times of unemployment. The current trend of ensuring the continuation of a high level of employment is to be welcomed in changing times — I would not say “difficult times”.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Murchú mar gheall ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Seanad. Tá dian-imní ar dhaoine nach gheobhaidh siad an bolscaireacht sna meáin-cumarsáide atá tuillte acu má labhraíonn siad an Ghaeilge. D’iarr mé ar Cheannaire an tSeanaid díospóireacht a eagrú le linn seachtain na Gaeilge, nó coicís na Gaeilge mar atá againn anois. Tá a fhios agam nach mbeidh an díospóireacht sin againn an seachtain seo, ach tá deis ag an Cheannaire é sin a chuir i gceart an seachtain seo chugainn. Tá go leor ábhair le phlé. Ba mhaith liom labhairt ar chúrsaí Gaeltachta, go háirithe an staidéir teangeolaíochta atá déanta ar úsáid na Gaeilge sna Gaeltachtaí. Léiríonn an staidéir sin go soiléir nach mbeidh an Ghaeltacht ann i gceann 15 nó 20 bliain muna n-athraíonn polasaithe an Rialtais intinn agus meon na ndaoine.
Rinneadh plé ar filíocht Cathal Ó Searcaigh tamall ó shin. Ní fhaca mé an scannán mar gheall ar an bhfile go fóill, agus ní bheidh deis agam é a fheiceáil anocht os rud é go mbeidh mé ag déanamh rudaí eile. Chuir sé isteach orm nuair a thosaigh polaiteoirí agus páirtithe polaitiúla ag iarraidh go gcuirfimid in aghaidh filíocht Cathal Ó Searcaigh. Sílim gur rud amháin ar leith í an filíocht, agus an ealaíon i gcoitinne. Tá daoine ag rá gur chóir don comhairle chontae teach Cathal Ó Searcaigh a fháil ar ais. Caithfimid a admháil go bhfuil cearta ag Chomhairle Chontae Dhún na nGall ar litríocht uilig Cathal Ó Searcaigh. Tá an chomhairle ag tabhairt cáin saor in aisce i gcomaoin ar sin. Níl mé ag rá go bhfuil na rudaí atá ráite sna meáin-cumarsáide faoin chlár a chraolfaí anocht ceart nó bréagach. Caithfimid an cheist seo a scoiltiú. Má tá duine ábalta filíocht nó ealaíon a chruthú, ní cheart go gcuirfimid ár gcúl ar sin.
As we approach Easter Sunday many people will again start to read the Irish proclamation proclaimed on the steps of the GPO in 1916. For me, obviously, all the sentences in that proclamation are relevant today in a different way in a modern Ireland, but one of them that always jumps out for many people is the need to cherish all of the children equally. I say that in the context of the decision by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, to renege on the commitment she gave the children of this State to cut class sizes——
Senator Pearse Doherty: ——to renege on the commitment that Deputies and Senators gave in the lead-up to the general election to hundreds of concerned parents and teachers who attended the INTO meetings, and to renege on the commitment in the programme for Government to reduce class sizes by one unit every year until 2010.
I seek a amendment to the Order of Business so that we can have a debate on the issue of class sizes and ask the Minister why she is doing this, whether she will rescind her decision and if it is her intention not only to renege on this commitment, as the Government did in the previous programme for Government, but also not to reduce class sizes in 2009 and 2010 as promised by this Government to the people.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an tSeanadóir Ó Murchú maidir le úsáid na Gaeilge sa Teach. Ba chóir dúinn Gaeilge a úsáid i ndíospóireachtaí agus tá dualgas ar na meáin chumarsáide é a phiocadh suas agus a fhoilsiú. Aontaím go mór le sin. Molaim do mo chairde go léir anseo an Ghaeilge a úsáid go rialta, agus gach seachtain más féidir linn.
My colleague, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, proposed at the outset that we have a debate on the economy. I recommend to the Leader and the Members that in that debate we focus on what measures will be used as retrenchment for the way the economic boom has been wasted. In an effort to retrench the public finances, the focus is being put on reneging on the commitment to class size reduction, on placing an embargo on the creation of new home help positions and on the summer works scheme in schools. These are areas of real need. The emphasis should be on the plethora of Government advisers and on the wasteful expenditure on a number of projects.
I recommend to the Leader that an audit be done Department by Department to see where there is wasteful expenditure in terms of administration, wasteful advisers, silly decisions and projects such as PPARS which are more fitting to Alice in Wonderland. We should focus on these rather than on leaving our children in large classes and our elderly without home help. I recommend that the thrust and focus of the debate be on how retrenchment can take place without it being at the expense of the weak and vulnerable in society.
I second the call by Senator Keaveney for a debate on alcohol abuse. The issue is that because of low-cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets, drinking has retreated away from the public gaze into private houses and alleyways. People are not going out in public to drink socially anymore and therein lies the problem. This House needs to address how we stop people buying trolleys full of alcohol below cost price and taking them to unsupervised locations to drink. We need to address the matter in those terms.
Senator Ivor Callely: I listened with interest to the calls for a debate on the economy. I support my the congratulations of my good friend and colleague, Senator John Hanafin, to the Government on focusing on the creation of employment. In light of what has been said, particularly by Senator O’Reilly, where all seemed to be doom and gloom, we should have a fair and open debate on the success of the economy in recent years.
Senator Ivor Callely: We could talk ourselves down and into further recession, but we have had very good times in the past ten or 15 years. We have had a tremendous injection into our infrastructure and a total change with regard to the diversification of jobs available. If we are to re-examine the direction we should take, we should consider how to create more blue chip employment opportunities in the research and development area.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an tSeanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú. Ní minic é ag caint gan rud ciallmhar a bheith le rá aige. Tá an ceart ar fad aige maidir le húsáid na Gaeilge san Oireachtas. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil reachtaíocht mhaith anois againn, ach, mar is eol dúinn, ní leor reachtaíocht mar is ceist chultúir atá ann. Tá sé an-tábhachtach má tá Teachtaí agus Seanadóirí chun bheith ag labairt trí Ghaeilge go dtabharfaidh na meáin cumairsáide aitheantas cuí do sin. Tá sé tábhachtach freisin go bféachann muid chuige go bhfuil gach rud ina gceart. Thug mé faoi deara, mar shampla, agus mé ag breathnú ar na Buan Ordaithe go bhfuil gach rud i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla go dtí go dtagann muid chuig an clár. Tá an clár ann i mBéarla amháin.
Despite the best intentions, we have a bilingual Standing Orders, but when it comes to the index, it is only in English. That is just a small thing, but it illustrates how difficult it is for us to find concistency in matters of the use of the Irish language. It is important to re-emphasise what Senator Ó Murchú said, that we should have appropriate respect from the media towards contributions that are made trí Ghaeilge in the House. Perhaps in that way more people would be encouraged to use it.
Maidir le ceist an alcólachais, tááthas orm go bhfuil an cheist seo ardaithe ag an Seanadóir Cecilia Keaveney agus daoine eile. The Taoiseach informed us there may be legislation to ban the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and garage forecourts. I welcome that. We need to have a debate on this and specifically on alcoholism. I was talking to a local politician in Galway recently who said that at a recent event he attended many people, in particular young people, were putting trolley loads of drink into themselves. This behaviour will store up huge problems for the future in terms of public health. Many people are invisibly developing a high dependency on alcohol.
While I welcome what the Taoiseach said about banning the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and garage forecourts, I have noticed in filling stations I have stopped at on my way from Galway to Dublin that there are literally shrines to alcohol behind the counters. This must stop. It is one thing to target the demand. Dr. Joe Barry said the Taoiseach stated in 2003 that the Government would legislate to control the marketing of alcohol, but nothing has happened yet. The devil is in the detail. We must tackle the more thorny question of demand. How will we educate the public about the dangers of alcoholism and of high dependency on alcohol in society? We will rue the day.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Ba mhaith liomsa, cosúil le mo chomhgleacaithe, go háirithe an Seanadóir Ó Murchú, tacaíocht a thabhairt don mhéid atá ráite acu maidir le cheist na Gaeilge anseo i dTithe an Oireachtais. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh muid mar Baill den Oireachtas in ann an Ghaeilge a labhairt agus í a chur chun tosach. Tá súil agam gur féidir moltaí den chineál sin a fhorbairt agus deis a chur ar fáil do ghach duine an Ghaeilge a labhairt agus a chur in aithne do ghach duine sna Tithe seo.
A total of 108 workers working for Contact 4 in three centres in Gweedore, Achill and Dingle have lost their jobs. These workers were treated rudely and abominably by the management of that company, particularly the managing director. That companies should treat workers in such a manner is a disgrace. These workers were left without their salaries, which were due to them, and any outstanding pay last Friday. However, I acknowledge the outstanding efforts of the chief executive officer of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Pádraig Ó hAoláin, to assist the workers in every way possible. I call on the Leader to ensure that in future such companies or individuals associated with companies like Contact 4 are not given assistance by this State in any form or manner in establishing business opportunities without first addressing the negative legacy left in the three centres to which I referred.
I have made many calls in this House regarding our athletes who will take part in the Olympic Games in Beijing this year and who will represent us at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and the great opportunities for this island afforded by the 2012 games. I am disappointed with the work done by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in this regard.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: It is vital that Ireland grasps the opportunity and that the Minister tackles the officials responsible for us to grasp the opportunity to bring teams to train here. This week, I was in touch with some of the Irish Olympic team athletes, who are currently training in Valencia in Spain. They contacted me because I gave them brochures. The Olympic team manager, Patsy McGonagle, travelled to Valencia with brochures to try to entice other nations to train in Ireland. The news coming back is that the British Olympic Association is offering £25,000 to any Olympic or Paralympic team which uses a British base as a training camp before the 2012 games. We must address this issue. I urge the Leader to ensure the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism comes to the House to discuss this very important issue.
I will return to an issue referred to by Senator Doherty in respect of the sentiments of the 1916 Proclamation and those hugely significant words which refer to cherishing all the children of the nation equally. I am heartened to see here today a very distinguished member of the Northern community who has played a significant role in bridging gaps to bring about the peace process. I welcome the Reverend to the House.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I apologise. When the proclamation was written, the reference to cherishing all of our children equally did not refer solely to those in socially disadvantaged areas. It gave equal strength and meaning to our Northern Protestant community and it is heartening that those words are still very much alive and that the peace process is bringing about the dividends and bringing the religions in the North of Ireland together. In recent months, we have seen the significant dividend of those words in cherishing all of our children equally. I commend all associated with that, including the distinguished gentleman to whom I referred.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Ar an ábhar úsáid na Gaeilge, bhí an t-ádh orm a bheith ag an gcluiche rugbaí an tSathairn seo chaite. Bhí díomá orm, ní amháin gur chailleamar an cluiche ach toisc chomh maith go rabhamar i lár seachtain na Gaeilge agus i bPáirc an Chrócaigh agus ní raibh focal Gaeilge ar an dticéad ná ar an gclár imeachtaí ach amháin fógra ó Foras na Gaeilge. Dá mbéadh cluiche céanna ar siúl sa Bhreatain Beag, táim lán-chinnte go mbeadh neart Breatanais le feiceáil agus le cloisteáil. Cosúil leis an Seanadóir Ó Murchú agus an Seanadóir Ó Dochartaigh, tá dualgas orainn an Ghaeilge a thabhairt amach ón rang scoile agus í a shníomh i saol an tír.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is a matter for the Order of Business. I respect your position, a Chathaoirligh. We are trying to promote and use the Irish language and it behoves all sporting organisations to use the Irish language.
We are in the middle of brain awareness week. Senators opposite like quoting phrases like “cherish everybody equally”. However, it is an indictment of Government Members that patients must wait up to two years for valuable rehabilitation treatment. We have one rehabilitation hospital with 110 beds. I am calling for a debate on our neurological services. We have had two reports in 2003 and 2005. We have a shortfall in the number of neurologists, neurosurgeons and beds. People are being refused to be sent for rehabilitation because it is seen as a pointless exercise because waiting lists are endless. If we cherish all our citizens equally we need an urgent debate and an improvement in the condition of neurological services for all our people.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I support Senator Doherty’s comments on class sizes and the Government’s reneging on commitments to reducing primary school class sizes over the terms of the past two Governments. It is time to have a debate on the issue. I would like to broaden it somewhat to cover other issues.
A number of calls have been made today for a debate on alcohol. It is time to have a debate on young people’s social personal and health habits, encompassing binge drinking of alcohol and the issue of suicide. Last week a report indicated that one-tenth of teenagers admit to self-harming, which is a very serious statistic. Two weeks ago I published a study which showed that 16% of 16 year olds admit to feeling disillusioned, with no life purpose and no goals. Some 40% indicated that young people are attracted to drugs and binge drinking because of peer pressure. According to them they do it “because my friends do”. It is time to have a serious debate on the broader issue of social personal and health habits, including considering an integrated set of solutions involving the Ministers for Health and Children, Education and Science, and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We also need to consider the crucial issue of parenting. Where are the parents of these young people aged 14, 15 and 16 when they are out at night? Under what remit is that problem considered?
I support Senator Alex White’s request for a debate on racism and the promotion of interculturalism in our classrooms. I was present at a school this morning and another yesterday. I see many newcomer students from other countries in our classrooms. I am amazed at their resilience and ability to cope. However, they are struggling with the language. The model of language support being used to immerse them into this setting is not working. Two hours of language support each week is inadequate. These children are sitting lost in science and history classes. The poor teachers are getting one day’s training to deal with the issue, which is totally inadequate. The Minister for Education and Science along with the Minister of State with responsibility for integration should consider a better model to integrate students into education and community.Is there any means whereby a number of Ministers can address a topic in this House? Many issues, such as alcohol and racism, are complex and do not fall within the portfolio of one Department. How can we get an integrated response from the Cabinet on such matters?
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Kelly, Hanafin, O’Reilly and Callely called for the three reports on the situation at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise to be debated. I will discuss this matter with the other party leaders after the Order of Business tomorrow morning to see what progress is being made. All of this week is devoted to legislation and, as Senators know, we will be sitting very late this evening and possibly quite late tomorrow night also. I will endeavour to facilitate the Senators’ request for a debate and we can discuss it after the Order of Business tomorrow.
There have been calls for an urgent debate on the economy and changing economic circumstances, particularly in the western world. I will agree to arrange such a debate in light of what is currently happening. Some 600,000 jobs were created over the last ten years but this growth could not be sustained. Nonetheless, the Seanad acknowledges the great work that took place in that decade. Many Senators have expressed opinions on this and will have a further opportunity do so in the coming days when the Finance Bill is before the House. As the House will be dealing with legislation this week and next, it does not appear that we will have time for a debate on the economy before the Easter recess. I strongly suggest therefore that Senators should make their comments on Second Stage of the Finance Bill, which is an ideal opportunity as the Minister will be present.
Senators Harris and Fitzgerald referred to the age limit of 60 for retirement from the Garda Síochána. The Government has recognised, and the Minister for Finance in particular has acknowledged, that all new public servants will have to work until they are 65. As Senators have pointed out, the most experienced, dedicated and committed members of the Garda Síochána should be allowed to continue working until they are 65, provided everything is equal medically. I fully agree with that. I will pass on the Senators’ views to the Minister after the Order of Business and I will have no difficulty in arranging for a debate on this matter. I does not make sense that some of the most experienced gardaí, who have been highly commended and have received awards, including special service medals, should have to retire so young. I support the Senators’ call on this matter.
Senators Norris, Alex White and Doherty expressed various views regarding the Cathal Ó Searcaigh case and the forthcoming television programme. I will pass the Senators’ request to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Given the forceful contributions, and particularly that of Senator Norris, I will have this done immediately after the Order of Business.
Senator Alex White called for a debate on the integration of young students, including language supports in our schools. Current spending by the Department of Education and Science totals €8.5 billion, which is enormous. That is what will be invested in 2008 with the biggest item being the pay budget for approximately 90,000 people. Many of us did not realise that such a large number of people are employed in the education sector. Approximately 1,100 extra primary and post-primary teachers have been put in place this year alone, and the Minister has confirmed that a further 1,200 teaching places are planned for the 2008-09 academic year. In the primary sector alone there are now in the region of 6,000 more teachers on the Department’s payroll than in 2002.
Extra teachers were provided in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The primary programme for Government contains a commitment to provide a further 4,000 primary teachers by 2012. According to the Department, with the additional teachers in place, those provided for in this year’s budget and the 2,000 extra primary teachers to be provided during the next two years, we are ahead of target. A 21% increase in funding for primary teacher training colleges will expand significantly the number of places for postgraduate diplomas in primary teaching from next February. This will ensure an adequate supply of qualified primary teachers to meet Government and departmental requirements.
Senators Keaveney, O’Reilly, Mullen and Healy Eames called for a debate on alcohol and alcohol related problems. I, and everyone in the country, wholeheartedly welcomed the Taoiseach’s statement in this regard at the weekend. We look forward to the support of all parties in addressing the concerns expressed by him in respect of the difficulties being experienced and the free availability of alcohol at filling stations and supermarkets. As legislators processing the legislation in both Houses, we never intended this would be the case. I have agreed to allocate time for an all-day debate on the challenges facing us in respect of alcohol and the required social changes in this regard. Senators will have an opportunity to contribute to this debate following the Easter recess.
Senator Regan spoke about the legal profession. I recognise and acknowledge its contribution to society since the foundation of the State. I will pass on his views to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I have no difficulty in providing time for a debate on the issues outlined to the House by Senator Regan.
Senators Ó Murchú, Doherty, Mullen, Ó Domhnaill and Buttimer expressed various views in respect of this House debating the Irish language issue and in respect of coverage by the national media of matters uttered in Irish in this House. I welcome the TG4 representative present in the House earlier to cover part of the proceedings of the Order of Business and any arm of the media that comes here to cover the affairs of this House. I believe the Des Bishop programme will enhance the future of the Irish language. We all support the enhancement of Irish as our national language.
Senator Kelly called for a debate on enterprise, trade and employment and outlined the difficulties being experienced by small and medium-sized enterprises. I have given a commitment to invite the relevant Minister to the House for such a debate. While it is often felt that the midlands region does not get its fair share, the provision by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen, of €35 million for the new engineering block at the Athlone Institute of Technology to cater for 1,000 new engineering students is to be welcomed. The 53 acre site will be used by 6,500 graduates attending the institute.
Senators Doherty, O’Reilly, Ó Domhnaill and Healy-Eames called for a debate on matters pertaining to the 1916 Proclamation and Easter Sunday. I have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate. I am sure the points I made earlier in respect of education will lay to rest the fears of some Senators in terms of cherishing all the children of the nation.
Regardless of who is in Government or in what country, there exists always people who are underprivileged or who, for one reason or another, do not receive a fair share of a nation’s funding. No one could have foreseen 40 years ago the position in which we find ourselves today. I acknowledge, as I have many times before, the institutes of technology, free transport of students to second level and free education for second level students. Much has been done in this area in the past 40 to 45 years. I salute those in the teaching profession who, when funding was put in place, made it all possible.
Senator Ó Domhnaill expressed serious concerns about the Contact 4 employees who lost their jobs at the three centres in Údarás na Gaeltachta areas. It is not easy to attract new industry to these areas given their distance from main centres of transportation and so on. It is in this regard broadband will come into its own and play a part. We must ensure the Irish language is preserved in rural and Gaeltacht areas. Broadband is of the essence in these areas. We all know from experience that once in place, it is an enormous boost to these areas wherein there are no motorways or facilities. I will pass on the Senator’s views to the Minister.
Senator Ó Domhnaill also called for a debate with the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism on the possibility of training for participants in the Olympic Games. The matter is worthy of debate and I will endeavour to have the Minister attend this House in that regard. I will pass on to the Minister Senator Ó Domhnaill’s experiences as relayed in the House today.
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