Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 17, motion 35, an all-party motion re the undocumented Irish in the United States, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 1, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2008 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 17, motion 35, and on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators eight minutes and in respect of which Members may, with the agreement of the House, share time; No. 2, Passports Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 17, Private Members’ motion 36 re planning guidelines on sustainable residential development, to be taken at 5.30 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Last week, the House agreed that an all-party motion on the undocumented Irish in the United States should be tabled. I am glad such a motion is included on today’s Order Paper. In light of recent events and comments made by the Taoiseach, however, it is not satisfactory that this all-party motion will be taken without debate. The situation has changed in respect of this matter and an explanation should be provided in the House in respect of what the Taoiseach meant when he commented on this matter in the United States. The Taoiseach referred to “people who do not really know what they are talking about” when referring to those who represent the undocumented Irish. He also stated — this was a strange remark — that they are “talking from a position of sitting in the bar and talking nonsense”. I thought the Taoiseach had respect for those who are trying to run the campaign aimed at having the situation changed.
Last week, Senator McFadden spoke movingly about individual cases of hardship. It appears the Taoiseach misrepresented the position of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. The chairman of that organisation, Mr. Niall O’Dowd, pointed out that it had never sought an open-ended amnesty for the undocumented Irish and stated that it is seeking a solution and a discussion with the Government of the United States. The Taoiseach seems to have changed his position and has almost given up hope. That is a very depressing message for the families of the undocumented Irish, who are concerned about the difficult circumstances in which their loved ones find themselves. I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business so that we might debate this matter today. The holding of such a debate seemed to be the wish of those on all sides last week.
I wish to comment on a topic that gained a great deal of attention in the House very recently when two young Polish men were violently assaulted and killed. I was involved in a discussion on radio at the weekend in respect of Irish identity and the great opportunity presented by St. Patrick’s Day in that regard. There is no doubt that St. Patrick’s Day does present such an opportunity but it also seems to be the occasion for the perpetration of anti-social behaviour on our streets. Such behaviour was on display in Finglas at the weekend. There appears to be a continuum of violent behaviour and that is a serious matter. In my constituency on Thursday afternoon last four men drove up to a small local shopping centre and caused terror by firing four shots while robbing €100,000 from those refilling an ATM machine. One man was murdered in Newcastle and another in Clondalkin.
We need to see some leadership on this issue. The House has addressed this on a number of occasions. There is a real problem with leadership and co-ordination in this area. It is not just about a security response, although that is certainly one aspect of it. We must deal also with some of the other issues that arise, such as parental responsibility or where the money is going in local authorities to handle the difficulties being faced by communities. There must be a combined response.
I ask the Leader to come back to the House after the Easter recess with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Ministers for Education and Science, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to have a discussion that will begin to address some of the issues about which Senators on all sides of the House are concerned. We are facing a change in values and a breakdown in communities. These are not just empty words. There is a real challenge in terms of what we should do, what resources are to be put in place and who will lead. This is a good place to begin that debate after Easter.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I thank my colleagues for inviting me to be the first to speak. With regard to Senator Fitzgerald’s remarks about what happened at the weekend, we are all deeply concerned about the terrible incidents we have seen and the clear abuse of alcohol that has been going on. It requires us to question our relationship with alcohol and it also requires a good deal of political leadership. In that context I wish to raise an issue I think should be considered by the Minister for Health and Children. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House for a debate if possible.
We are still seeing, in 2008, children wearing sports jerseys that show the logos of alcohol companies. I am holding up to the House a jersey of a well known English football club, Liverpool FC, which I bought this morning. It is a replica shirt for nine to ten year olds, bearing the logo of a drinks company on the front. I will not——
Senator Ivana Bacik: I understand there is some levity about this, but it is a serious matter. It was raised by a constituent of mine who became deeply concerned about the issue while trying to buy a replica kit for his young son, as he found that his son would be walking around bearing the logo of a drinks company. This should be raised with the Minister for Health and Children. My constituent attempted to do so and was informed by the Minister that there was no legislative remedy available to the Department of Health and Children to deal with it. However, in Britain, football shirts in children’s sizes are no longer permitted to display the logos of alcohol companies from 1 January. The Minister should consider this issue and I ask for a debate on this.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Certain other issues were raised in the newspapers today and yesterday. One is the lack of funding for third level institutions. The heads of the two big universities in Dublin, University College Dublin and Trinity College, have raised major concerns about the lack of funding with the Minister for Education and Science. We must consider this for the third level sector.
I wish to mention briefly the case of Pamela Izevbekhai, a young woman from Nigeria who is living in Sligo and who is concerned about being deported back to Nigeria, where her two daughters face genital mutilation. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should explain why we are seeing vulnerable women being deported in such circumstances.
Senator Alex White: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a change in the Order of Business to allow a discussion of the undocumented Irish in the United States. The manner in which the Taoiseach has abandoned his previous position on supporting the calls made on behalf of these people is surprising and extraordinary. If only for that reason, we should have a debate. There now appears to be a clear change in policy at the head of Government in respect of this serious issue. I know such a discussion was ordered for last Thursday, but there has been some reticence on the part of the Government side to have a debate on this issue last Thursday and again today.
Senator Alex White: Clearly, we need a debate on this. Members on the Government side have raised this repeatedly. Now that they have a timely opportunity, let them support the call for a debate. I second Senator Fitzgerald’s proposal for an amendment to the Order of Business.
There have been calls in the House for a debate on the economy. One of the aspects of the changes in recent weeks and months in our economic fortunes is price inflation. This has been ignored and has not been commented on to any great extent but an extraordinary article in The Sunday Tribune points out, as if that could be deemed necessary, that price inflation in Ireland was 4.8% last month. We import one third of all our goods from outside the eurozone area — half of our food and drink comes from outside the eurozone area.
We all know the euro has strengthened by around 12.5% in recent weeks. A basic understanding of economics should inform one that when a currency is strengthening the cost of imports should fall, not rise. Why are prices for basic household foodstuffs and other items increasing at such an alarming rate? I read the words of a commentator this morning who noted that when times are good we forget how badly banks are run and how greedy they are. It seems other people are coining it with regard to price increases. How can supermarkets, shops and so on pass on such increases when the currency is in a strong position?
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come before the House soon for a serious debate on price inflation and an explanation of it from the sectors involved. I have heard Members complain that we have too much regulation but this appears to be an area in which we should examine regulation. We should query why people are being asked to pay higher prices in circumstances in which imports should be getting cheaper.
There should be a detailed debate on the private rented housing sector on foot of the “Prime Time” programme last night. The State is the largest tenant in the country and spends more on rents through the rent allowance and rental subsidy schemes than any other group of tenants. We must ask why such money is being paid out for substandard accommodation and why it is being paid to the private rented sector in this way.
The next issue I wish to raise relates to recording events as they occur in Tibet, possibly through an all-party motion. The Chinese Government is engaging in oppression and is blaming these events on the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama. Some 18 months ago Senator Norris and I attended the world parliamentarian congress on Tibet and met the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile. The Seanad should speak widely on an issue of concern of this nature as it would reflect the disquiet in Ireland that exists regarding events in Tibet.
Senator Dan Boyle: The final issue I wish to bring to the Leader’s attention relates to a decision to be made on 31 May by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on a restructuring of the community development support programme. Pending this decision, the Seanad should have an opportunity to ask why it is being made, the effect it will have and how resources are likely to be allocated after 31 May.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I also support Senator Fitzgerald’s call on undocumented Irish in the United States. There is agreement on both sides of the House on a motion but we urgently need a debate to fully clarify the Government’s position. A major divergence has emerged in recent days on the approach to be taken and, while there has been agreement in the past, I wonder where we stand now. We need to debate this matter in order that we can, hopefully, get back on the same track.
I want to mention briefly auctioneers and solicitors. Regarding solicitors, No. 3 relates to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and I have asked the Leader about this before. I do not recall when he said this Bill would be before us but it has been said recently that the Bill was withdrawn to allow for restructuring. The Leader may correct me if I am wrong. Is the Government proposing amendments to the Bill as we believed it stood? It provided for the legal services ombudsman. Will the Leader say how the Bill will be restructured and when we are likely to see it?
In regard to auctioneers, on whom we have had a debate, the national property services regulatory authority has the support of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, the IPAV and the IAVI. All sides of the House welcomed it but it is on a voluntary basis pending a national property services regulatory authority Bill to give it statutory legal effect. Given that there has been no announcement from Government on the Bill will the Leader say when it will be published? I understand only half the auctioneers have signed up. Naturally the Consumers’ Association of Ireland is rightly critical of the situation, as I am sure is the case with Senators on all sides. I ask the Leader to enlighten the House as to when the Bill will be published.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: As a former musician, a former music teacher and former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs I commend all those involved in festival activities around the country at the weekend. The level of participation by communities in terms of floats and bands is highly commended. Too often we spend our time looking at the negative side. There was a huge level of participation by communities. I draw the Leader’s attention to the fact that we must continue to support the festivals and the development of the arts to ensure there are bands to play at such festivals into the future. We must support the many people who work to ensure we continue to have such big occasions. The level of tidiness which was evident immediately after the parades I witnessed was phenomenal. It is clear the festival committees were all-embracing, looking at all sides of the activity, from the beginning to the end.
Today should not go by without mentioning the young aspiring pianist on O’Connell Street who lost a finger, following an attack for no apparent reason. I lend my voice to the disgust at that incident. Perhaps there is a need for more discussion on this type of terrorism on our streets which incorporates all levels of terrorism on the island. It is terror on the street if one cannot walk down the main street of the capital city without fear of being attacked.
On a separate issue, I wish to convey to the Leader the appreciation of two related families in Donegal to the Coast Guard station emergency services and the co-ordination unit. A terrible tragedy took place at the weekend where two friends of mine, Danny and Francis McDaid, were drowned. I ask the Leader to get an update from the Minister for Transport and the Marine, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on the facility at Malin Head. The Coast Guard station played a major part in ensuring the bodies of these two men were found. It was of considerable comfort to the families to be able to have funerals. It has been a very tough weekend for many people in my area.
In regard to the alcohol issue, I ask the Leader to consider asking the Minister for Health and Children and the Cabinet to bring alcohol under the remit of one Department dealing with drugs. Currently it is under the remit of the Department of Health and Children and not under the remit of the Department that deals with other drugs.  The drug of choice is not under the same remit as the drug of use.
I call for a debate on the value of human life. This relates to what I said at the outset about human life becoming much cheaper given the way in which people are being attached at present. A debate on the value of human life, which is usually geared towards the pro-life issue, is needed in the current context.
I ask the Minister to be involved in a debate about autistic services. For children diagnosed on the autistic spectrum and where there are insufficient places, this is a major issue that needs to be debated further in this House.
Senator Terry Leyden: I support the call for a debate on the Competition Authority report published recently. I refer particularly to the cost of petrol and diesel. The cost has increased to €1.25 for a litre of diesel and €1.19 for a litre of petrol. The report compares the average around Europe, which is not unlike the Irish figure. In Slovenia it is €1.022 for a litre of unleaded petrol and €1 for diesel. There is a disparity in prices, although I appreciate tax is a factor. The price in Ireland is lower than in Northern Ireland at the moment. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the Competition Authority report and the cost of fuel vis-à-vis the fact that the dollar is so weak in comparison with the euro. We are being exploited and the cost is far too high in respect of the exchange rate, as is the price of $108 per barrel of oil.
Last week I referred to a debate in the Council of Europe and I would be delighted if the Leader could provide an opportunity to discuss the report issued, which will be coming before the Council of Europe on a date between 14 and 18 April. Three Members of the House will be present to argue the case against this report by a member of the Austrian parliament, who promotes the idea of abortion being widespread throughout Europe. An article in The Irish Times today by Genevieve Carbery with comments by Ruth Cullen does not reflect the fact that I attended the meeting in January in Strasbourg and in Paris last Tuesday and fully set out our position vis-à-vis the Constitution which has a full prohibition on abortion. It will continue to have that and I will be in touch with The Irish Times because this article is misleading and damaging as we come into the Lisbon treaty campaign.
The Council of Europe has no jurisdiction as far as proposals agreed at that level. My colleagues, Senator Cecelia Keaveney and Senator Joe O’Reilly, will make this case in Strasbourg in April. This is a report by an individual member of parliament from Austria. I proposed that the report be rejected by the steering committee for equality between women and men. That was rejected by 21 to three, with one member abstaining. I voted against the report. This debate is being entered into by the Council of Europe, not the EU, and the former has no jurisdiction as far as Ireland is concerned. I wish to allay the fears in respect of the Lisbon treaty. Abortion will have no involvement and voting in favour of the treaty will not affect our constitutional position which has been laid down consistently by Governments of all hues. It is the agreed position of the Irish people, which we will uphold.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I second Senator Fitzgerald’s all-party motion to debate the undocumented Irish in America. I thought I was hearing things at the weekend. The purpose of raising this issue last week was that the goodwill espoused last week by colleagues going to America would be used to highlight the case of the undocumented. As the Taoiseach went through the beautiful imagery of exchanging the bowl of shamrock and pleasantries with President Bush, I heard him saying that people in bars were talking nonsense. He was flying in the face of what has been said by people such as Niall O’Dowd and people in America with whom the Leader is familiar. It sends a bad message to these 40,000 or 50,000 people with relatives and friends in Ireland who cannot come home to attend funerals, weddings, etc. As I stated last week, they cannot attend hospitals if they are dying. It is unreasonable to suggest that people could come home, get a visa and possibly be allowed back. The people in question have set up lives in and contributed significantly to the economy of America, but the Taoiseach stated that it was nonsense talk discussed in bars. I want my message to reach him loud and clear, that is, I abhor his comments, which were cruel.
Senator Nicky McFadden: The re-opening of the Mullingar-Athlone rail link is dear to the Cathaoirleach’s heart. I asked that the Minister for Transport attend a debate in the House on this matter and the re-opening of the Killucan railway station, which has a perfect park and ride facility and a twin-platform track. Will the Leader expedite my request?
Senator Larry Butler: As we all know, the construction industry, housing development in particular, is going through a rocky patch. Recently, management at the Sandyford industrial estate, which is a major hub and employment centre in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area, announced that no further development would occur in the foreseeable future owing to a lack of infrastructural development, including water and sewerage. Traffic is a significant issue in the area. Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government become involved in this respect? The more than 38,000 people who have been employed there will be greatly affected. The matter is delaying a hospital development and other considerable developments in the area.
Owing to a lack of infrastructure, only 46% of zoned land in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority’s area is eligible for development. I must lay the blame squarely on the current and previous managers because development levies were taken from developers. The Minister should become involved in this matter.
Senator Larry Butler: This is an important issue because jobs will be lost. The other side of the House has often complained about how the Government is not paying attention. If this problem is occurring in one local area, it is occurring elsewhere. For example, there are problems in counties Kildare and Meath. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, developments worth approximately €10 billion, which is an enormous amount, are being held up.
I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to examine the problems. Major multinational companies such as SoftCo, which employs significant numbers, will not put up with this type of problem for long. The matter is urgent and I would like an immediate response from the Leader and the Minister, if possible. It is important that the latter deal with this matter.
Areas of counties Kildare and Meath also are affected. I would like to know what managers are doing to take responsibility for ensuring that employment and the development of the counties, which is in question, are safeguarded Another major problem arises in this respect regarding the science and technology park in Cherrywood. This should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I welcome the comments of Senators Leyden and Keaveney in the context of the abortion issue and those of Senator Keaveney on the need for a debate about respect for life more generally. On a related issue, the House already has held an important debate on funding for CURA and the role of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency in the past. An interesting development has taken place of which Members should be aware and that may require them to have a debate at the earliest opportunity. I refer to the latest report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which is the body for doctors in both Ireland and Britain. It pertains to the difficult question of whether there is a link between induced abortion and an increased risk of mental illness in women. It is important that one neither understates nor overstates in respect of this highly sensitive issue. However, if one compares the college’s latest report, which was produced at the request of a House of Commons select committee, with its 1994 report, it is clear there has been a major shift and that a debate is beginning about this very difficult question. While the Royal College of Psychiatrists basically acknowledges there is evidence to show a link, it is not conclusive and the college has called for more research on whether induced abortion is associated with an increased risk of mental illness in women.
The issue for Members is that of informed consent because they must ask what the Crisis Pregnancy Agency will do to ensure that organisations which provide pregnancy counselling at present will draw to women’s attention the issue that now has been raised and which is on the agenda. I refer to a possible risk, which is much more than that according to some studies. At the very least,  as the Royal College of Psychiatrists has noted, informed consent must involve giving women adequate and appropriate information about the possible impacts. This is a major public health issue and touches on the need to affirm the dignity of all persons in our society.
I was mystified to hear the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors calling for the televising of criminal trials in the case of manslaughter, murder and kidnapping. I wondered what planet I or they were on. It may be there is a genuine belief that this might help matters. Alternatively, it may be that in the crassness of our public relations culture — I speak as a former public relations person — people believe that as long as one says something that garners publicity, it is worth saying.
Members should be clear. This proposal would add to the sensationalism that already surrounds our criminal justice system. Moreover, it would militate against the rights of victims and would hinder fair trials. I welcome the comments made this morning by my colleague at the Bar, Seán Gillane. Members should not heed this call. While there may be possible benefits, they are greatly outweighed by the major disadvantages. A major problem exists regarding the manner in which our criminal justice system is turned into entertainment for many. Members should discuss serious issues such as our bail system and whether it is working, whether people are being unduly detained or deprived of bail, or the incarceration of young offenders. Members should be discussing such issues and not the televising of trials, which as a proposal has a bread and circuses feel to it.
Senator Eoghan Harris: I will try to take Senator Prendergast’s concise contribution as my role model. From time to time I am challenged about the Seanad’s purpose and it is very hard to defend its role when so many Members spend this valuable time rambling about their local constituency issues at great length without any order or apparent regard for the public’s lack of interest in such matters, which are matters for a local newspaper.
This morning Members are faced with major issues about which they can be very good when addressing such matters. I refer, for example, to ageism, as Senator Mary White did recently, or to mental health, which was discussed before Christmas. Such matters go deep into the public. However, as for this local constituency stuff, rambling around knocking on every door of every local issue will only degrade the Seanad in the public’s eyes. Members should have regard, with some self-respect, to the dignity and honour of the House when making such contributions.
We are lucky to have neighbours like the British rather than the Chinese. When I heard the dignified response of William Wallace to the attack made on his son, it reminded me that the English are decent people. He refused to view the incident as racist.
I call for a proper and lengthy debate on the criminal justice system so that the Seanad can contribute on a more fundamental level than fire brigade actions. The attack on the young fellow on O’Connell Street on St. Patrick’s night and the riots in Finglas reveal the two major problems we currently face. Fundamentally, we are all flailing around at present but the solution is simpler than people might think. Most of the violent trouble that takes place in Ireland is caused by young men. They commit two kinds of violence — the stupid and mindless rampaging that took place in Finglas, which can be addressed by better investment in community policing and social welfare, and psychotic and sociopathic actions such as by the group which tore off that young fellow’s finger. That is where the conservative side of me comes out. We need to identify persistent psychotic offenders, which can be done at an early age through psychological assessments and police work, and take them out of the community by the harsh political measures that once applied to political subversives. They should be sent to boot camps. However, every time I call for a military service corps run on military lines, I receive a sermon from the degraded side of feminism. There is a good side to feminism but another side believes young men should be knitting or making quilts.
Senator Eoghan Harris: Young men are a hierarchical group. They respond to strength and male role models whom they respect. The place they are likely to meet such role models is not in a quilt making session but in a new corps established by the best elements of the Army and run by rangers on detachment who could teach them it is possible to be men without being violent.
An Cathaoirleach: A number of Senators wish to speak but their time will run out at 3.25 p.m. Several Senators will be unable to contribute, for which they can blame nobody except their fellow Members of the House.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I support the proposal put by Senator Fitzgerald and seconded by Senator Alex White for a full debate on the undocumented Irish. These people are experiencing significant hardships and we have a humane duty to help them. They have difficulties in terms of returning home for family funerals and organising their lives in the US. It was wrong of the Taoiseach to disregard the decision of the Oireachtas to seek a bilateral agreement. It is clear that immigration legislation is on ice in America and will not be progressed prior to the presidential elections. We should have used our good offices and the goodwill that exists towards us in America to reach a bilateral agreement. The Taoiseach has failed by not pursuing that option and his remarks only compounded the problem.
I am anxious for the Leader to respond to the question of what we are going to do about the wasted economic boom in this country. Cutbacks in current expenditure clearly will be necessary. This House should hold a debate on the form these cutbacks will take. They should be directed at eliminating the plethora of departmental advisers because every Government has employed too many advisers and consultants. We have a native Civil Service of excellent calibre and with a high level of education, given that many of them had to obtain first class honours degrees to be appointed. It is a travesty, therefore, that we are hiring costly expertise rather than using civil servants as a resource. We are wasting public moneys on this while denying home help to old people and underfunding frontline health services. That is a critical debate. I appeal to the Leader to consider having a debate where we focus on that issue and no other, and where we examine the question of where we can affect change in these areas and where we can get rid of the real waste.
In the context of the Lisbon treaty, I support the call by Senator Leyden for clarification of the both the nature of the debate at the Council of Europe and the role of the Council in contextualising the abortion debate. I hope the media picks up on the fact this is not an EU debate and is a minority debate within the Council of Europe, which is an important point. I support Senator Leyden in this regard. Given the importance of getting the Lisbon treaty through, we would want this emphasised day by day.
Senator John Carty: I support Senator Boyle’s call for a debate on the issues raised on last night’s “Prime Time” programme. It is a damning indictment of circumstances in this country that people must live in the conditions portrayed on the programme. I ask that the Leader would contact the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, to ask him to achieve co-ordination between the community welfare officers and the councils so that subvention payments would not be made to those who are not providing proper accommodation. In the programme shown last night, the contempt shown by the landlord or landlord’s agent when he was asked proper questions about asking tenants to live in such conditions, and his attitude, demonstrated that such people have no respect for humans.
Senator Shane Ross: Senator Harris put his finger on it to some extent when he said we waste valuable time making speeches in the House for very local and parochial reasons, particularly this week when this is the only House of the Oireachtas sitting and we could use our time particularly well. It seems to me that we have missed out on one issue which is rocking the world, and it is extraordinary it has not been mentioned here today. We are in the middle of the mother of all financial crises, the like of which has not been seen since 1929, yet Members want to talk about small local issues.
We have two sitting days, today and tomorrow, and we can sit on Friday, if necessary. Could we have the Minister for Finance to the House to explain the Government’s attitude to what is a major financial crisis and what it is doing about it? Ordinary people are walking the streets asking, “What does this mean to me?”
Across the road from Leinster House today, RTE union members are meeting to ask about their pensions. The Irish stock market is down 40%. People are worried that they will not get their pensions at all — they are wrong, but they are worried about it. I would like to know what the implications are for pensions and for the IFSC given what has happened to Bear Stearns, the fifth largest investment house in America. What does this mean for Ireland? It means a lot. What does it mean if US investment, like it or not, is withdrawn from this country because of what is happening back in the US? We are not discussing this. Given that the dollar is collapsing around the world as we speak, what does this mean for Irish exports?
It is irresponsible for us, today, to be talking about knocking on doors on local issues when the financial world is in a crisis which affects us on our doorstep. I beg the Leader to contact the Minister for Finance and ask him to come in here and give people the sort of assurance they need because they feel helpless in this situation.
Senator Mary M. White: I support the call for an urgent debate on the economy and how we fit in with what is happening around the rest of the world. As a business person myself I hear very little talk in Ireland about the strength of the euro. Senator Ross spoke about the multinationals but I refer to indigenous companies that still mainly depend on the UK market and how torturous it is dealing with sterling. I am amazed that the cost to companies does not figure on the radar at all.
Last November I called for a debate on the Government report on Irish prisoners abroad commissioned by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. Last Saturday in his St. Patrick’s Day message, Bishop Seamus Hegarty of Derry, chairman of the bishops’ commission on emigration said he was very disappointed that to date the Government has not implemented its own report carried out for the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, by Mr. Chris Flood.
There are at least 1,000 Irish people in prisons around the world, many of them in the most dire circumstances. One of Mr. Flood’s proposals was that a register of prisoners would be kept. He proposed that the Department of Foreign Affairs, which employs 1,500 people, would assign three or four members of staff to work on the issue of Irish prisoners abroad. This would involve drawing up a register of prisoners and to ensure that the prisoners would get at least one visit a year. A second issue relates to the torture on the families and the separation of families from loved ones who are in prison. We do not make a judgment on why people are in prison. This is a humanitarian issue.
On Saturday Bishop Hegarty pleaded with the Government to implement its report. Irish people are in prison in places like Uruguay and Panama where we dare not even talk about the terrible conditions they are in. I agree we should talk about macro issues, not the details of the local constituency. I request that we have a debate, the purpose of which would be that the Government would implement its own report, set up a division in the Department of Foreign Affairs consisting of three to four people to look after the 1,000 people who are in prison abroad and to help their families who suffer at home.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I share Senator Alex White’s concerns about the economy. It is vital that with the current global climate that we keep our competitiveness up and our costs down. I was very concerned to see Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for telecoms indicate today that the cost of broadband in Ireland is too high. Her commission’s annual report shows that the penetration levels of broadband in Ireland is just 16%, that is 3% below the average. We are better than countries like Bulgaria, Greece and Romania but we are way behind countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and Finland. Something needs to be done in this regard.
One third of Irish rural dwellers have no access to broadband services. Commissioner Reding made the point that perhaps public subsidy is needed in this area. That is something we should consider. On the same day, ComReg’s own report on the cost of the telecoms industry in Ireland shows that once again for the last quarter, Irish mobile telephone users are paying the highest revenue per user across Europe. We pay 60% higher than what the rest of Europe pays on average and we pay twice as much as the Germans. The Leader should ask the Minister to work with ComReg to come up with some sort of action programme so that we can retain our competitiveness in this time of global worry.
Senator Jim Walsh: I concur with what Senator Hannigan said and I support his call for a debate on the issue. Senator Fitzgerald proposed an amendment and was seconded by Senator Alex White. Perhaps I am wrong, but I thought that there is some prior consultation between the leaders before we sit and I would expect that those issues would emerge at that stage. I am surprised by the amendment because I supported Senator Kelly who said last week——
As his brother is involved, Senator Kelly will be aware that the group in question in the United States have done tremendous work on this issue, but they were overly optimistic in creating expectations that unfortunately were not fulfilled.
Senator Jim Walsh: We should speak on this issue with one voice. There is a generation of Irish people that were left with no option but to emigrate given the abominable Government we had in the 1980s under Garret FitzGerald and Dick Spring who buried the economy deep in the mire.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White, Coghlan, Keaveney and O’Reilly all expressed their shock and horror at the various incidents that took place over Saint Patrick’s weekend. I would say that 99% of the festivals organised and the committees who organised them were a credit to their communities, towns, cities and counties. I join in the congratulations offered by Senator Keaveney for the great work done in Ireland during the festivities. It reminds us of how proud we can be as a nation and how we should acknowledge the achievements of generations that have gone before us. Unfortunately, the minute negatives get mentioned in Parliament. As Senator Harris said, it is something we must address because we are in privileged positions over the next four and a half years——
Senator Donie Cassidy: We want to make our time meaningful so that we can make a change and create opportunities for future generations that were fortunately created for ourselves. Some of us had very little to do to enjoy the quality of life we have today. I wholeheartedly endorse the volunteerism outlined by Senator Keaveney. The musicians of Ireland have provided absolute joy and pleasure and have lifted the spirit of the people throughout the world for generations.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Deputy Buttimer knows what will happen to him if Dino finds out he is not behaving. During his visit to America, the Taoiseach stated: “The relationship between Ireland and the United States is as strong and as close as it is rooted and proud. It has often been described as unique”.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Taoiseach indicated that he and President Bush had recently had an opportunity to discuss the difficulty of the undocumented Irish. He stated they would assist those aged 17 to 35 years in a manner that would enable them to engage in a cultural exchange which could be renewed once. While all Senators want to alleviate the plight of the undocumented and do the right thing, we must realise that there are hundreds of different nationalities in the United States. Thankfully, Ireland is beginning to experience a similar development, which must be managed.
I have asked the Taoiseach to address the House to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. On that occasion, I will ask him to make a brief statement on the possible misquotations which have appeared in some newspapers.
Unfortunately, I cannot accept the amendment because it is of the utmost importance that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, would be present to make a contribution. However, if Senators are agreeable I will arrange to hold a three hour debate in the first sitting week after the Easter recess to allow them to express their views on the issue in a meaningful way. The party leaders did not give me notice, as is their prerogative, that an amendment would be tabled to the motion. I consult them fully each week to secure co-operation in the House and ensure proceedings are managed in the best possible manner under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach.
Senators Bacik and Keaveney expressed grave concerns about alcohol. Senator Bacik was also concerned that alcohol advertising features on the shirts of sports teams worn by young boys and girls. I am pleased to note this practice is no longer permitted by law in another country. Perhaps the Government will examine this development and follow suit. Various Senators, including Senators Harris and Keaveney, raised the St. Patrick’s weekend incidents involving a young pianist in Dublin and those unfortunate people in Finglas. Senator Fitzgerald also pointed out the activities and behaviour of young people over the weekend. It was no joy and no fun; it was a disgrace. We want to stamp it out.
I compliment the Garda Síochána on its work over the weekend. At every parade I attended, the Garda received many compliments. At the Mullingar parade, the person on the reviewing stand who received the best reception was the local Garda superintendent. He is very involved in a local sporting organisation, training 44 boys every Saturday and Sunday. That is the community Garda Síochána with which we all grew up and which we all know and love. We welcome its return.
Senators Boyle and Carty expressed their serious concerns about matters raised on last night’s documentary on RTE concerning rental accommodation. I compliment RTE on the documentary. Senator Carty asked me to pass on to the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, the serious concern of the House concerning local authorities working hand in hand with agencies in allocating money for such deplorable living conditions. They are not living conditions but survival conditions of the lowest form. It was appalling to watch what living conditions human beings must endure in 2008, especially in the highlighted case of the husband, wife and children. It is difficult to believe.
Senators Mullen, Leyden and Carty also raised the matter of a recent Council of Europe report and the abortion issue. I will pass on their views to the Minister. On our return on Tuesday, 8 April, the President of the European Parliament will attend the House at 10.30 a.m. I look forward to his visit which will provide us with an opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the forthcoming referendum.
I will pass on to the Minister the views of Senators Harris and Prendergast on water charges. I take Senator Harris’s point in trying to keep debates in the House at a national level. However, all politics is local.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator McFadden inquired about the Mullingar-Athlone rail link. I will come back to the Senator on that matter. She should know the county council did not make an application for the gateway innovation fund, which is a negative development. I am sure all invited to that important meeting will keep us briefed.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Butler called for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the challenges facing the construction industry. I can have this take place at the earliest possible date after the Easter recess.
Senator O’Reilly spoke about the cost of consultants and wastage. I will pass his views on to the Minister. However, his former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, started much of the recruiting of consultants in his time.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Ross, Harris and Alex White called for a debate on the financial markets challenge facing the world, especially the West. I appreciate the father of the House bringing this to the attention of Senators. This is a serious challenge which will last for some time. Many individuals in Ireland who have created much employment, and particularly those in the financial services and pension funds area, will feel the pinch from the events being discussed.
Senator Donie Cassidy: In my lifetime it is unprecedented anyway. I understand the Minister for Finance is out of the country but when possible I will ask him for an urgent debate and to update the House at the very earliest opportunity. If the Minister was in the country now I would endeavour for such a debate to take place tomorrow. It is of the utmost importance that we hear from the Minister himself on this issue and I know he will be only too willing to come to address the House on the matter.
Senator Mary White called for a debate on the Government’s report on Irish prisoners abroad, particularly the concerns in this area. My colleague, neighbour and friend, Mr. Chris Flood, was chosen by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to bring this report to the attention of the House. I have no difficulty in allowing time for this debate in the House and I thank Senator White for bringing it to our attention. The Senator quoted some strong views of Bishop Hegarty.
Senators Hannigan and Jim Walsh called for a debate to update the broadband position. Those Senators who are members of the committee responsible for enterprise, trade and small business have a serious duty to bring this before that committee, highlighting it and having it debated. They should bring ComReg before the committee urgently to discuss the matter.
As Senator Hannigan’s colleague, Deputy Penrose, is the chairman, perhaps the Senator could use his good influence to have the Deputy prioritise this very serious issue, which particularly affects the rural parts of our constituency of Meath West. People want an equal opportunity and it is not just the folk in the city who will have an opportunity for employment. Rural Ireland urgently needs quality broadband.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Kelly, Alan.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Mullen, Rónán.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||White, Alex.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Ellis, John.||Hanafin, John.|
|Harris, Eoghan.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
Senator Maurice Cummins: On a point of order, would it be possible for the House to revert to the practice of ordering the time for debates? What will be the position if the debates on the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill and the Passports Bill are not concluded by 5.30 p.m.? We should revert to the arrangements that obtained during the lifetime of the previous Seanad. It would be better for everyone involved if definite times for the conclusion of debates were provided. The previous arrangements to which I refer were put in place to facilitate Ministers and Members and we should revert to them.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I thank Senator Cummins for raising this matter. If we do not, as a result of the Order of Business taking so long, complete our deliberations on Nos. 1 and 2 before 5.30 p.m., we will resume those deliberations at 7.30 p.m., following Private Members’business, and continue with them until a conclusion is reached.
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