Thursday, 13 March 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion to amend the orders of reference of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children; No. 2, Finance Bill 2008 — Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 3 early signature motion on the Finance Bill 2008. It is proposed that No. 1 be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2 to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 3 to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We had discussions on the violence on our streets here in recent weeks, particularly the horrific case in Drimnagh where two young Polish men lost their lives. The situation has reached a new low today when we hear of gangs grooming children as young as ten years of age to hide weapons and carry drugs. It reinforces the need for a debate here and for serious co-ordinated Government action to tackle this problem.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform need to work together on this issue. I am concerned there is not a sufficient level of co-operation among the Departments to deal with it and that there is not a format in place to ensure we get the best out of the services, by the providers of those services working together, to reclaim communities and public spaces.
On the continuum of crime, a man interviewed on “Prime Time”, to be broadcast this evening, describes himself as an ordinary criminal, whatever that means. I saw a garda being interviewed who said there is no such thing. This man has had to make a settlement with the CAB and has had a chequered criminal history.
We need to examine what role we in the Seanad can play. We need a Cabinet subcommittee on this issue. We have one on social inclusion but we need one on enhancing communities and for it to involve co-operation among the Departments, given that the Departments of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Education and Science, Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform are involved. There is a perception that nobody is co-ordinating the services and showing leadership for communities. This problem is being experienced in all communities and not only in those in one postal code.
We need leadership on this issue at a national level and at a local level. Only last night I attended a meeting at which people said they could not use their local park. Other communities throughout the country have had similar experiences. The latest revelation is that a garda superintendent said a boy — a 15 year old — was told his head would be blown off if he did not do what he was told. It is disturbing that under the leadership of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, only 24 out of 170 people involved in gangland killings have been brought to justice.  This is a serious matter. We ought to find a mechanism to address it in this House by the input of a number of Ministers in a cross-departmental response. This is important.
The suggestion by the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt, during an interview on radio this morning that penalty points should be doubled for this bank holiday weekend is bizarre. It may well be a good suggestion but the key issue that should be addressed is one concerning the Government appointed advisory group in regard the drink-driving blood alcohol level. It seems there is disagreement in Fianna Fáil about this but the advisory group has recommended to the Road Safety Authority and to the Government that action should be taken. Perhaps the Leader might inform the House as to the current position on this issue.
Senator Joe O’Toole: In recent months, 13 Members have, on different occasions, raised issues to do with the schools building programme and related matters. I note that Senator Doherty will raise this matter on the Adjournment today. Some of those who have spoken on this issue were Government Members, including Senators Cannon and Ó Domhnaill. Members on this side of the House have described similar problems in schools throughout the State. The responses we receive to these queries are exactly the same in all cases, being merely a restatement of what the school authorities already know. The entire process is a model of procrastination. It seems a structure has been established to prevent us obtaining information on where schools stand on the priority list. That is not good enough.
This issue should be dealt with by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General. I call for a value for money audit not of the money being spent but of the process that schools must go through in dealing with the Department when they seek an extension, additional classroom or new school. What is going on would not be tolerated in any other structure in the public or private sector. My office has kept a record of our dealings with the Department on these matters. On several occasions, we rang the school buildings section of the Department only to be told we must address our inquiry to the Minister’s office. When we do so, however, we are told we should be speaking to the buildings section. When we tell the official in the Minister’s office that the buildings office has directed us there, our call is redirected to the person in the buildings section to whom we spoke ten minutes earlier. This is the repeated pattern of our attempts to obtain information.
School authorities are informed of their entitlements and put on a list, but the list changes without any information being conveyed to the schools in question. Attempts to obtain information represent an appalling waste of time and effort. Ordinary people in communities are being given the run-around by the Department, as are Members on all sides of the House. The priority list must provide a clear indication of where schools stand and allow them to see when their position changes. Moreover, reasons must be given when one school is gazumped by another.
I do not want the Minister to come to the House only to deliver a long, confusing speech that leaves us less informed than we were before. This issue must be dealt with at a higher level. I do not issue an idle threat in signalling my intention to follow through on this. I will write to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts if I do not receive a response on this. There must be a quality audit of procedures in the buildings section of the Department of Education and Science. The current situation is simply not good enough.
Some seven or eight years ago, when the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, was being reformed, I met various farming groups, including a group of farmers from County Wexford who were considering the possibility of building wind turbines as a type of add-on value to their farming activities. They had already selected suitable locations for the construction of these turbines. I was amazed to discover this morning that a group of ten of those farmers are, almost a decade later and with the full approval of their local community, still seeking approval to build a medium-scale wind site. This makes no sense. Moreover, it is not good enough that they are being offered only 5 cent per unit of electricity generated. I call for a debate on this issue to discover the reasons for the delay in this case.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: In the coming St. Patrick’s Day and Easter period, Dublin Airport can expect its highest level of traffic so far this year. More than 300,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport in this period. This is good news for the airport and a welcome boost to its profits. However, I was concerned to learn earlier this week that the Commission for Aviation Regulation has sanctioned a 50% increase in the usage cost of check-in desks at the airport. Ryanair has already said this will lead to additional charges for passengers. We are told in this morning’s newspapers that the chief executive officer of Aer Lingus, Mr. Dermot Mannion, intends to fight the increased charge which, he contends, means that Aer Lingus effectively will be paying twice for the same service.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to contact the Commissioner for Aviation Regulation, Mr. Cathal Guiomard, to explain his actions? Why has a 50% increase in the cost of the usage of check-in desks been sanctioned? We read every day in the newspapers of the expectation that tax revenues will fall. It is vital, therefore, that we protect and enhance our tourist industry. Price increases such as this could price Ireland out of the market.
Before Christmas, I called for a review of quarrying legislation. I note this week that Meath County Council has successfully served an injunction on a quarry at Bellewstown which is purported to be operating illegally. Illegal quarrying operations are going on throughout the State. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House for a debate with a view to reviewing the legislation on quarrying?
Senator Dan Boyle: This is brain injury awareness week. Yesterday, Oireachtas Members had the advantage of a briefing from Brí, the Acquired Brain Injury Advocacy Association, which highlighted that this condition, whether brought on by trauma or following a stroke, is very much the poor relation in terms of both the health service and additional supports. It would be useful to have a debate on the preponderance of acquired brain injury and how those affected are treated.
I support Senator O’Toole’s call for a debate on the schools building programme, particularly in regard to its cost effectiveness. The lack of information affects everybody in public life and in the communities in question. Decisions are made on a piecemeal basis. Announcements, if they are made, refer only to the next step in the programme, which is often a nine-step programme, and never provide a full timetable for the completion of any school programme. Temporary measures are in place in too many schools throughout the State. Prefabricated classrooms are no longer purchased but are leased at a cost of €25,000 per year. I am aware of two schools in Cork that have been obliged to avail of these leasing arrangements for ten years, involving a cost to the State of more than €500,000 which could have been used to build a new school in the interim. It is in our interests to ensure there is a more open process and that the cost implications of the current system are more rigorously applied. If the Minister is prepared to accede to our request for a debate, it would be a valuable use of our time.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a debate on the means by which the Oireachtas can take action to enhance community life. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has not come to the House since the Seanad convened last summer. The Government has lost its authority on the matter of quality of life for citizens. Murder is commonplace and has begun to be accepted as simply a part of everyday life. The Government came into power almost 11 years ago promising zero tolerance but that principle has been abandoned. In particular, there has been no enhancement of the role of the Garda.
Who is in charge of transport policy in this State? The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt, has proposed a doubling of penalty points on bank holiday weekends. This proposal has been transferred to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, who is in Australia, for consideration. That is no way to govern. Bank holiday weekends are characterised by road accidents and fatalities. Unfortunately, we can be sure we will read in the newspapers next week of deaths on the roads this weekend. I remind the Leader of the three principles of engineering, education and enforcement. The Government has not taken sufficient action on the latter.
I agree with the remarks of Senators O’Toole and Boyle on the schools building programme. There is no transparency in the delivery of this programme. This is frustrating for us as public representatives but one can only imagine the frustration of a school principal in dealing with the Department of Education and Science.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a full debate on the breakdown of law and order and how alcohol abuse is damaging the fabric of society. I ask the Leader to consider a different format for this debate given that this is a cross-departmental issue. I propose a whole-day debate, bringing in the Ministers for Education and Science, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Social and Family Affairs.
We should all consult with residents associations in our local communities and any other organisation that may be able to help us devise a way of working together on this issue. There must be a bottom up approach; we cannot do it from the top down simply by talking about it in this Chamber. We must work together to improve the quality of life for citizens. The way of life we took for granted as we grew up seems to have faded from the horizon. I would welcome a debate on that whole issue. I ask the Leader to provide for as lengthy a debate as is needed. If it takes two days, that will be fine. Representatives of all the relevant Departments should be invited to the House to discuss this matter at length.
It is right that the Lisbon reform treaty is being raised in this House every day. We are entering into a broader debate on how this reform will take place. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House to discuss matters like foreign investment policy and neutrality. The Schengen Agreement on common travel facilities, which was raised by Senator Quinn during yesterday’s debate on the Passports Bill 2007, also needs to be examined. We were told yesterday that the agreement does not arise under the Passports Bill. Is it within the remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform? It needs to be discussed in the context of a debate on the security of international borders and the need to stop human trafficking. Does our Schengen policy need to be reviewed and tightened? I would love a discussion on this matter. Perhaps the Leader will consider organising a debate. Perhaps we can raise it with the Minister for Foreign Affairs when we are discussing the Lisbon treaty.
Senator Phil Prendergast: I would like the Leader to arrange a debate on the availability of adolescent psychiatric beds. I am concerned about the escalation in the suicide rate, particularly among young men. The lack of availability of such beds in all parts of the country is contributing to that unfortunate increase in no small way. Suicide is often an under-reported phenomenon in this country. The waiting list for adolescent psychiatric care in Dublin is quite long because just 12 beds are available. It is timely that we should have a debate on this matter.
Senator Eoghan Harris: Given the amount of criticism public bodies get in this country, I am sure the Leader, on behalf of the House, will be keen to record his appreciation of the manner in which the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment discharged its public duty yesterday. Despite having to operate in the middle of a media firestorm, it held its nerve and advised the Minister to retain the poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh on the leaving certificate syllabus. The council’s consideration of all the issues involved, which lasted less than two hours, took place in a calm atmosphere. We should not under-estimate the amount of courage it took to reach this decision, which marks another important step in the maturing of our society, in such a calm manner. It may seem like a small decision, but it was actually quite a big one. I spoke to a person who was at the meeting, who told me that their heart was lifted by the calm and steady way in which the matter was considered. I am particularly glad to pay tribute to the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, which is often criticised, on its willingness to ensure that the teachers and pupils of Ireland can be trusted to debate and discuss all the issues involved.
Senator Eoghan Harris: There are very few moments of this nature in Irish history. It is very easy to join a consensus, add to the media firestorm and support those who wish to stone Cathal Ó Searcaigh. The founder of Christianity would not have been found in such a mob. Media mobs are easy to assemble. They have been assembled for all sorts of people in Irish society, from the Taoiseach down. It is difficult to keep one’s head and separate out the issues in the middle of a media firestorm. I reckon the little decision taken yesterday was as important, in its own way, as the meeting of Lemass and O’Neill, at one level.
I strongly support the appeal made by Archbishop Dermot Clifford to the GAA, as this country’s principal amateur sporting organisation, to consider the possibility of removing drinks advertising from their sporting events. The archbishop has raised an important matter in the context of a body that has a positive effect on the lives of many young men and women in this country. In light of the damage caused by alcohol, the advertising of alcohol products should be banned outright. Each of the three voiceovers I have done in my lifetime has caused difficulties. I have turned down a number of opportunities to make a substantial amount of money by lending my voice and my name to the promotion of drink to young people. I will not ever do it.
Senator David Norris: The archbishop also made a good point when he argued that the scheduling of young people’s matches is sometimes regrettable. Young people are dropped off at the church gates and carted off to play games, missing mass in the process, and brought back when such activities are over. As an old fogey, I think one develops one’s habits at a young age. Going to church is habit-forming. I am glad that I formed such a habit early in my life. While I do not claim to be a good person, I think going to church is a good habit of mine.
The status of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal has been raised again today. I look forward to the debate in this House on the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008. The front page of today’s The Irish Times reports that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has directly criticised the comfortable words of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the other House, when he appeared to suggest that the office supports the Irish system. We need to examine carefully the legislation I have mentioned. It is not, given that the UNHCR has made 76 recommendations on it, the perfect instrument the Minister suggests.
I join colleagues in condemning the drastic and tragic use by appalling criminals of armed ten year olds as pawns in the vicious game they are playing. A 13 year old boy was involved in a serious shooting incident in Limerick. Given that the House is currently considering the Passports Bill 2007, perhaps it would be appropriate to provide for the putting of a mark in the passports of those who involve children in the use of arms. I am sure that proposal needs to be examined in the context of civil rights, etc. The use of a passport mark would draw the attention of officials in other countries to the presence of these dangerous people.
I support Senator O’Toole’s remarks about schools. It would be very good if we had a debate on this issue. Like Members on all sides of the House, I have received appeals from people who feel their schools are not being dealt with in an appropriate manner or with the proper degree of speed. A distraught woman in Dublin 24 e-mailed me yesterday to tell me that children in her local school are being taught in rat-infested prefabricated cabins. Teachers in the school have to negotiate their way through the playground in such circumstances. While I assured the woman in question that I would try to raise the matter in this House, I told her I was not sure what I could do. I pointed out that it was a matter for the local council and her local representatives in the Dáil. I said that Senators could play a role as part of a major debate on the matter.
Senator Terry Leyden: I agree with Senator Ormonde’s comments on the Lisbon treaty. I ask the Leader of the House to devote a certain amount of time for a discussion between now and the referendum date. I appreciate that the Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member, will undertake a tour of our major cities and towns to explain the reform treaty. The Forum on Europe is also involved in a similar process. The President of the Irish Farmers Association, Mr. Padraig Walshe, is attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today to update members on the activities of the EU External Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, during the negotiations on the world trade agreement. His main point is that the commissioner is selling the futures of the farmers of this country. I ask the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges to invite the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, and the Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson, to come to this House to explain their activities during the current round of talks. This House should go through each item in the Lisbon reform treaty, as Senator Ormonde has suggested.
We could have a debate on agriculture, and the human rights issues that are part of the treaty. We would be doing a great service because the Lisbon reform treaty is the most important issue to face this country in this century. The people of Ireland, on the edge of Europe, have the final say in a decision that affects 500 million people. I hope the Cathaoirleach, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the Leader will work during the Easter recess to formulate a rolling debate on every facet of the treaty, with Ministers and, if possible, Commissioners, coming here, not to influence the vote, but to explain each aspect of this complex treaty. We could play an important role in dealing with these issues. When we have this lovely Chamber at our disposal we should use it to the best of our ability.
Senator Nicky McFadden: We spoke at length yesterday about Ministers travelling abroad, especially to America. Will the Leader ask his ministerial colleagues and Senators who are travelling to highlight the issue of the undocumented Irish in America? The Taoiseach should highlight the seriousness of their situation when he addresses Congress.
In the Irish Echo in America, Mr. Niall O’Dowd for the Irish lobby for immigration reform, cited examples of people living in the shadows who are afraid even to go to hospital. One man, a labourer who was undocumented in America for nine years, died of pneumonia last week because he was unable to go to hospital. Young women are unable to renew their drivers’ licences and consequently cannot drive their children to school. These are our people and we should not forget about them. There are thousands of them in America. This affects all our communities because they are afraid to come home for funerals and to see their families. We should use the opportunity of the St. Patrick’s Day festival to highlight the undocumented people in America.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been in the House to debate the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill and is determined to produce legislation that reflects best international practice in the area. The Bill integrates our ad hoc refugee and immigration legislation, which is a worthwhile exercise. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, while praising aspects of the Bill, has suggested that there are areas in which it falls short of best practice. As monitors of legislation we should be aware of this. One of its main recommendations is that the legislation does not fully observe the non-refoulement principle, based on Article 33 of the 1951 refugee convention which states that a person should not be sent to a country where his or her life or freedom——
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: It also makes useful recommendations to the effect that there should be no deportations while judicial reviews are under way and about separated children. We want to make sure this legislation reflects best possible practice. Will the Leader raise these issues with the Minister so that when he is next before the House we can discuss them directly with him?
Senator Feargal Quinn: I was not allowed to discuss the Schengen travel area yesterday in the debate on the Passports Bill because that was not the correct forum, but we should debate it. We need to re-examine our relationship with the Schengen area, which comprises 24 countries, because we have attached ourselves to only one. While that may have been the correct thing to do in 1990, since then the British have imposed a photograph ID control between our two islands. People from the North of Ireland will require photograph identification before travelling to Britain. We attached to Britain because the land border between here and Northern Ireland will probably cease to exist. It is not acceptable for us not to reconsider a decision made in 1990 and have an opportunity to travel around the 24 countries in Europe because freedom to travel is one of the elements of the Treaty of Rome. This is separate from the debate on the Lisbon treaty.
It may not be part of our job in Europe to propose a fixed Easter but I recently became aware that in 1975 Pope Paul VI argued for this. The churches in Europe would accept that we celebrate Easter on the second Sunday of April because in 30 AD the first Easter took place on 9 April. I am now an expert in this matter. We have, however, always linked it to the Passover, which is linked to the phases of the moon. All the European countries connected to the Western Church would accept that Easter should take place on the second Sunday in April if we agreed to it. This would have many benefits, including for tourism, energy and education. I do not know how we would go about doing this but it has a European element and our Minister of State with responsibility for Europe should consider the opportunity of raising it at European level where it would be seriously considered. This year Easter falls on 23 March and in three years’ time it will fall on 24 April. That is a 35 day gap. Having it on a fixed date would have all sorts of benefits.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Yesterday I spoke to a member of the Garda Síochána who was disillusioned and discouraged. He was a very idealistic gentleman as most members of the force are. They see their role as serving the community and ensuring security for all of us but there is a feeling among them that because of a few bad apples — which are found in every walk of society — the whole force has been tarred with the same brush. They see themselves as being denigrated and ridiculed at times. We have one of the finest police forces in the world whose members stand between us and chaos and anarchy. We expect them to take on the gangs who are trying to terrorise the whole country. These men and women regularly put their lives on the line, sometimes with terrible consequences for themselves and their families. It is important for us to speak up for the force from time to time.
I got the feeling speaking to this young man yesterday that they need a voice because confidence within the force is not as strong as it should be. We should not take them for granted. I have heard of people who want to opt out of the force when they are young. If that happens we will be giving in to the criminals and not ensuring we will have a contented society in the future. We should avail of every opportunity to stand up for one of the finest police forces in the world.
Senator Alan Kelly: I ask for the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs to come to the House. The House had an excellent debate last night on the Labour Party Bill on agency workers. A number of speakers from across the House were in favour of the spirit of the Bill. It was a pity they could not walk through the lobbies in support of it. The debate raised many issues to do with labour affairs which the House needs to debate further. It is not just to do with agency workers and the vulnerable people in society. There is a discourse on the treatment of workers which is worrying. I note that four newspapers, all with similar titles and one of which is based in my county, dismissed their staff. They gave the staff 24 hours’ notice and then they locked the doors and closed the premises. The staff are still waiting to receive their pay and their redundancy money. This is no way to treat workers. Despite what we say about them, journalists in general are not highly paid. The majority do not earn large amounts of money and the ones in the case I highlighted were treated in a disgraceful manner.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. No. 19, motion 35 on the Order Paper is a Labour Party motion on the undocumented Irish in the United States. I propose that this be discussed after the Order of Business and without debate if possible. I respect the views of Senator McFadden which I support wholeheartedly. I spoke to a number of people in America in the past 24 hours and they were delighted when I told them I was proposing this motion. Members on the other side of the House have supported a motion on this matter in the past and this motion is the same as that passed in the other House. I told the people I was speaking to last night that the House has a very honourable Leader and that I was sure he and his party and the Government would fully support this motion.I hope the Leader will accept this motion in the spirit in which it is given and in the run-up to St. Patrick’s day so that the undocumented Irish in America would be given the full support of this House and that this motion would be passed without debate.
Senator Ivor Callely: I join my colleague, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, in his expressions of praise, respect and admiration for the tremendous police force we have in this country. I support wholeheartedly what he said. We are fortunate to have such a committed police force, especially as it is headed and led by Commissioner Fachtna Murphy. The majority of the people would support Senator Ó Murchú’s comments on the Garda Síochána.
I wish to raise the issue of the important humanitarian mission in Chad. The House discussed the matter in November 2007. I am aware there have been some renewed rebel attacks and political problems affecting the internal situation. I ask that the House be advised of the delays in the humanitarian mission, the impact of such delay on Irish troops and the revised time schedule for the commencement of the humanitarian mission.
I wish to raise another issue of public interest. I refer to a recent television documentary on RTE. My good friend and colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, has done some excellent work with regard to the registration of wills. The documentary focused attention on the area of litigation and inheritance laws. It raised a number of serious issues and grave concerns relating to inheritance, wills, probate, the role of the Attorney General, the role of the legal profession——
Senator Ivor Callely: ——the role of executors and of witnesses. I draw to the attention of the House and put on the record the public interest in the area of family disputes over estates and beneficiaries. Could the Leader arrange for the relevant Minister to brief the House on matters relating to such litigation and inheritance laws?
Senator Maurice Cummins: Will the Leader inquire from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when legislation will be introduced on the regulation of the legal profession in light of the many, recent and well-publicised activities of some solicitors? There should be an independent regulatory authority to deal with the legal profession rather than an ombudsman as the Minister suggests. The system of self-regulation should be a thing of the past. Will the Leader inquire why there has been a delay in introducing this legislation and when we are likely to see it before the House?
On the question of penalty points, I agree with our leader’s view that it is a bizarre suggestion to have double penalty points on weekends. It is a ludicrous suggestion and with all due respect to the Leader of the House, it was as bizarre as his suggestion that we should drive on the other side of the road. If these are the types of proposals this Government is suggesting to deal with the carnage on the roads, it does not bode well for the future.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Yes. I am looking for a debate on the matter. The subject of crime has been referred to as well as the number of murders in this country. It is essential the proper resources are provided to the Garda Síochána to combat this crime. I have been informed by some gardaí that the resources are not available and that overtime has been reduced at weekends when dealing with Operation Anvil and other work.
Senator Jim Walsh: Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an méid atá ráite ag an tSeanadóir Nicky McFadden mar gheall ar na daoine ón tir seo atá i Nua Eabhrac, Boston agus cathracha eile sna Stáit Aontaithe agus nach bhfuil cead acu a bheith ann.
I support Senator McFadden’s views. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has taken a particular interest in this matter. I recently made representations to him about a citizen from my town, a young girl who is undocumented and who was incarcerated for four weeks in a women’s prison before being deported. This is unacceptable behaviour and the Minister has referred it to the American authorities. I agree with the sentiments and the content of the motion put forward by members of the Labour Party and I think the House should speak with one voice and support the Minister and the Taoiseach in their strenuous efforts. They have both raised the matter with President Bush on previous visits to the United States.
I also wish to raise another issue, albeit with some reluctance. Given the week that is in it and the affinity which many Members have with the goings-on in Cheltenham, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate at an early stage on the addiction of gambling and its consequences. In the ten years I have been in this House, we have had many debates on alcohol and drug addiction but we need to focus specifically on the effects of gambling. It is a widespread habit and there has been a significant increase in the number of betting shops in all towns. Betting is also available on-line and there are one-arm bandit machines and other machines in betting shops. One of the bookmakers recently reported profits of €63 million, an increase of 50%, which is phenomenal, even in a growing economy.
Underpinning some of those profits are harrowing personal accounts for individuals and their families. Apparently, it is one of the largest contributory factors in suicide in Ireland, therefore, it is an issue on which we should focus. There may well be an argument for planning advertising in regard to it. I ask the Leader whether he could, at an early opportunity, have a debate on this most important topic.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ar dtús báire I want to mention the issue regarding the state of school buildings raised again today by Senator O’Toole. I am glad that it has been selected as a matter for the Adjournment this week. It is appalling that parents, pupils and teachers have been left in a situation where they do not know when their schools will be refurbished or updated. There is a question now of political interference in the process. When this Minister took office, she overturned a practice already in place, where school building lists were produced. As Senator O’Toole mentioned two days ago, some schools have to repeatedly phone the Department of Education and Science to seek updates on what stage their projects are at only to get standard answers.
When the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, was in Ballinamore, County Leitrim recently, she attacked the parents’ committee for contacting the Department of Education and Science on a daily basis. It is appalling that any Minister might leave the parents in that situation, but to attack citizens for trying to do what is best for their children is terrible and is probably an example of the state of education in Ireland.
I support Senator Alan Kelly’s proposal for a discussion on the undocumented Irish. I proposed on Tuesday, and three times before that, a joint party motion on this issue. I understand that the Leas-Chathaoirleach has ruled the motion out of order, but there is nothing to prevent the Leader from taking the same text and passing a motion in the House without debate. I appeal to the Leader not to make this a party political issue, which it is not.
Senator Pearse Doherty: ——because I asked for this on Tuesday, and it was rejected. This should not become a party political issue. The Leader has indicated he wants to be in America when the Taoiseach addresses the Joint Houses of Congress. If he turns his back on the 40,000 undocumented Irish, he should not be there. Let us have the debate. Let him do what Members of the Oireachtas on all sides want, namely, to support the undocumented Irish.
Senator David Norris: I want to raise a point of order on this. Supposing Senator Kelly were to put this forward under Standing Order 29 as a matter of urgent national importance. It is in the hands of the Chair to rule, because it is the unanimous wish of the House that this should be taken.
Senator Lisa McDonald: On a separate issue, I want to call for a debate on sexual offences against women. There has been an enormous number of murders involving women victims, violence against women in the home etc., and this area seems to be slipping on the political agenda. During the week we had a debate on human trafficking when the issue of prostitution arose and whether the users of such sexual services should be criminalised within this jurisdiction. I note with interest that the Governor of New York State, Eliot Spitzer, has resigned on that very issue — and that in the District of Columbia it is a felony to use prostitution services. This should be brought into that whole debate, and the Minister has said he would look at it in that context.
In Ireland we require structures with regard to domestic violence. The domestic violence unit is used in Ireland to trap pimps and prostitutes but it should be employed where it is needed. If we had structures in respect of domestic violence and proper agencies either at local authority level or within the HSE to deal with this, we could contain the problem, which is being exacerbated by increased alcohol consumption in the home, another issue that might be brought into the debate.
I have noted with dismay this morning the application by Cork Institute of Technology for university status, as is its right. However, there is a special need for a university in the south east. If all the other institutes of technology are going to demand university status that will not help the very special case being made by the south east. Copious calls to the Leader have been made for a debate in this regard during this and the previous session. I again ask for one to be held.
Senator Lisa McDonald: That is not relevant. Would the Senator mind sitting down like a good Corkman and be quiet for a while? All he seems to do is denigrate someone when he or she is making a point. I was merely trying to make my point.——
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Ormonde, Norris and Buttimer all expressed their shock and horror at the violence taking place on our streets. We fully support the sentiments that have been expressed here this morning, particularly as regards how crime must be tackled. As Senator Ó Murchú and others have said, we want to commend members of the Garda Síochána who are putting their lives at risk every day on the streets in the various areas they work in. I have no difficulty in inviting the Minister to the House for a debate on this issue.
Senators noted the Government Chief Whip’s call this morning on young people in particular, but on everyone who uses the roads, to take particular care on bank holiday weekends. The Garda Síochána will be very vigilant over the Easter holiday period, especially its dedicated traffic corps which this year will reach its full complement of 1,200 personnel. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the former Minister, Michael McDowell, in the previous Government certainly can claim much credit for increasing the complement of the corps from 575 four years ago to 1,200 today.
I join the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt, in calling for everyone to take good care on the roads over the two upcoming bank holiday weekends. We are told best practice regarding road safety is evident in New South Wales. If there is a good idea being implemented in that part of Australia, why not try it here on a pilot basis?
Senator Donie Cassidy: I commend the Minister of State on coming up with the idea of doubling the penalty points for road traffic offences over the bank holiday weekend. I call on the Road Safety Authority to consider taking it on board. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is to meet the police in New South Wales on his visit to Australia with a view to clarifying the nuts and bolts of the idea.
Senators O’Toole, Boyle, Buttimer, Norris and Doherty asked for the Minister for Education and Science to be invited to the House to debate the issue of returning to the priority list system in respect of the schools building programme. As has been pointed out by Senator Doherty, the current Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, put this system in place when he was Minister for Education and Science. The system worked very well. I understand there is great demand on the east coast in particular because the population is increasing rapidly in that region. I am sure the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, will come to the House to debate this. I welcome the allocations made earlier this year. I welcome the fact that 2,000 of the 4,000 teachers referred to in the programme for Government have been put in place.
Considerable investment is being made and we therefore should consider supporting in every way we can the boards of management, principals, Oireachtas Members and other public representatives with a view to feeding information to and making life easier for the community members who volunteer their time to support education in their parishes.
I agree with Senator O’Toole on wind turbines, especially those with the full approval of their communities. I will be in touch with the office of the Minister with a view to updating the Senator on the position on planning applications. There seems to be no good reason planning permission should not be granted for developing this very environmentally friendly means of energy generation. As an island country, Ireland has a great advantage in this area.
Senator Hannigan pointed out the various increases in charges sanctioned by the Commission for Aviation Regulation. I will pass on his strong views to the Minister for Transport. The Senator also sought to establish the up-to-date position on quarrying and quarrying legislation. Most reputable people who operate quarries have spent a great deal of money updating them according to the requirements of the Department. I certainly would not have any difficulty with allowing time for such a discussion.
Senators Ormonde and Leyden called for the House to prioritise the debate on the pending Lisbon treaty referendum. As I informed the House last week, the President of the European Parliament will be present in the House at 10.30 a.m. on 8 April, after the Easter recess. I intend to have a debate on the treaty that afternoon and evening in the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche.
As the Members probably know, the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, pertaining to the Lisbon treaty, will be before the House for consideration, possibly two weeks after we return from the Easter recess. In the month of April alone, therefore, we will be considering the Bill and hearing from the President of the European Parliament. If Senators have any good ideas in this regard, the Leader is always prepared to consider them and to make discussion possible in the House such that the public will be informed fully regarding the decision they must make.
Senator Prendergast called for a debate on psychiatric beds for adolescents. She made an urgent request in this regard on two or three occasions and I have no difficulty with having a debate on the matter.
Senators Harris and Norris referred to the courageous decision of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to retain the poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh on the leaving certificate syllabus, thus acknowledging the talent of this renowned poet. I support the views of the Senators in this regard.
Senator Norris referred to alcohol abuse and advertising. Everyone is in agreement with the sentiments of the Senator, particularly in respect of advertising billboards. We had the same challenge with smoking. I am not an expert in this area because, as everyone knows, I do not drink, but I believe there should be no bars in schools. One is in school to learn and use one’s brain.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators McFadden, Walsh and Kelly expressed strong views on the undocumented Irish. As I stated in the House yesterday, Deputy Bertie Ahern, during all his years as Taoiseach, has been to the forefront in highlighting the matter with US Presidents at every available opportunity. All Ministers for Foreign Affairs, including the current one, Deputy Dermot Ahern, certainly have been to the forefront in this regard also. I have every confidence that all our Ministers will be doing their best on this very important issue.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Leader is always very forthcoming when support is needed from the leaders of each party. This matter did not appear on the Order Paper for today. The Senators have not called for an all-party motion today.
Senator Donie Cassidy: If, after the Order of Business today, the leaders agree to an all-party motion, with which we on this side of the House will have no difficulty, I will allow it next Wednesday without fail.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Quinn called for a reconsideration of our relationship with the 24 countries which are party to the Schengen Agreement and made the point that identification is now necessary for those of us who wish to travel within the UK. I will arrange a debate on this matter at the earliest possible opportunity. He also proposed the movement of the feast of Easter to the second Sunday in April, as had His Holiness Pope Paul VI in 1975, and I will pass his views on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, with responsibility for European Affairs.
I fully agree with Senators Ó Murchú and Cummins in their calls for support for the Garda Síochána. We should do everything we can to ensure it has all the resources necessary to fight crime. There have been huge increases in the funding for personnel and the membership of the Garda Síochána is probably at its highest level in the history of the State. I will allow whatever time is needed for a debate on supporting the force and providing it with resources. Time will not be a problem for that to be discussed in the House so that we can see how we can give further support for the great work of the Garda Síochána.
Senator Kelly congratulated Members on statements made in the House last night regarding workers, their rights and their treatment. We all fully support workforces. In one case, however, the employer did not have a chance to give notice to its employees that their jobs were to go. The keys were asked for by another entity and it was taken out of the employer’s hands.
Senator Donie Cassidy: It is a very difficult industry. I do not want to say too much but I fully support holding a debate in the House on workers and the need for people who do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay to be treated respectfully and decently.
Senator Callely called for legislation on wills and inheritance. Senator Leyden has spent a lot of time on this matter and has given the benefit of his expertise in the area to the Oireachtas. The acceptance of his Bill was a watershed.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I have no difficulty with Senator Callely’s proposal. We, as public representatives, are trusted by our constituents and they come to us for advice in this area. Our first advice to them should always be to make a will because family disputes arise where there is no will. Those disputes can continue for a long time and the cost of reaching a final outcome can take up to 40% of the estate. I have no difficulty in passing the Senator’s views on to the Minister and holding a debate in the House to explore how we can improve the situation.
Senator Cummins asked about the Bill on regulation of the legal profession. I will make inquiries of the Department and come back to the Senator this afternoon with a reply. Senator Walsh called for an urgent debate on gambling. A television programme at 11. p.m. last night dealt with the difficulties involved in gambling. It seems over 10% of the population have a major problem with gambling. I do not mind a flutter on the Grand National, whether the Fairyhouse or Aintree version, or even at Cheltenham, where one or two of our colleagues had some fortune on the first day. We do not know what will happen today or tomorrow but there is a serious level of addiction involving many people and I have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: No. On a point of order, I welcome what the Leader said on an all-party motion on the undocumented. Today is a very good day to hold such a debate, perhaps at 3.30 p.m.
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Hanafin, John.|
|Harris, Eoghan.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|Kelly, Alan||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Norris, David.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Last Updated: 18/11/2010 19:46:15||Page of 12|