Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 5, motion re section 12 of Employment Equality Act 1998, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 6, Broadcasting Bill 2008 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 5, to adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m., and, if not previously concluded, to resume at the conclusion of No. 7; and No. 7, Private Members’ business, statements on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes. Senators may share time, by agreement of the House.
Senator Liam Twomey: We have all done many examinations in our time, but I am sure we will agree that the leaving certificate remains the hardest examination of all. We should send the best wishes of the House to those young people who are sitting examinations today.
I ask the Leader to change the wording of Fianna Fáil’s Private Members’ business so that Senators can vote on a motion relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This House needs to show the people of this country and the rest of Europe that it fully supports fundamental rights for all EU citizens. Perhaps the Leader will take on board my suggestion that he should provide an opportunity for all of us to vote on this issue, which affects people in Ireland and throughout the EU.
Can the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to make a statement on an important issue that has been brought to my attention? The issue in question relates to the ongoing debate on the health service. I was contacted this morning by a doctor who told me he knows of a laboratory that deliberately decided not to analyse 12 blood samples for medical conditions which are mainly associated with elderly people. The laboratory did not have the resources to conduct the tests in question. The general practitioner told me he is unable to instigate treatment, or make an accurate diagnosis, in respect of the 12 patients. The laboratory has told him that if he wishes to repeat the blood tests, it cannot guarantee that the tests he has requested will be carried out. If the patients in question are dragged back into the surgery to give blood once more, their general practitioner will not be able to assure them that he has accurate information on them. A doctor has contacted me about this ongoing issue. Laboratories throughout the country do not seem to be able to test all the blood samples that are submitted to them by general practitioners.
I would like the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Harney, to explain what is going on. It is impossible for general practitioners to provide a service to sick patients if the laboratories are unable to guarantee that they will analyse the blood samples the GPs submit. This issue needs to be debated further if we are to find out what is going on in our health services.
Senator Joe O’Toole: As we send our good wishes to those who are sitting the leaving certificate, it is interesting to take the matter a little further by considering how many of the 60,000 students in question are likely to aspire to having a career in political life, involving public representation. One of the great problems we face when considering the future of this or any other society is the lack of interest in public representation. It is an issue which this House and the Minister for Education and Science should examine.
The Cathaoirleach will recall that I raised a query last week in regard to item 5 on the Order Paper which deals with the Order under the Employment Equality Act. I wish today to make the point that the House needs to address this issue which relates to legislation that allows Church bodies to discriminate, albeit in a way with which very few people would disagree. In this case, the Church of Ireland College of Education seeks to ensure a quota of people from its own cultural background are available to them in their college over a period of years. I do not believe any right-thinking person would object to this.
This legislation, however, can be abused and misused against perhaps people who are gay or have other interests. It also raises the issue of how an Islamic or other person of non-Christian faith can become a teacher in Ireland. These are serious issues. I have a difficulty not with the intent of the Order but with what its tells us in terms of our view of ourselves as a society. Senator Norris and I have raised the issue under various headings, including under the equal status Bill, during the past 15 to 20 years. There exists in this regard a problem for society and we should be prepared to grasp it, deal with the issues and protect people and our cultural values.
One of the great aspects of the Lisbon treaty is that it gives a pride of place to national cultural values in order to develop it and move it forward. We must take a more multifaceted approach to cultural issues. I ask not that we debate the issue today but that we debate it in the context of the employment equality legislation, equal status legislation and related matters at an appropriate time.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I am glad the Irish Farmers’ Association has come round to supporting the Lisbon treaty. I am aware, having spoken to many farmers in my area, of the concerns in regard to the impact of the WTO talks. I am hopeful the IFA recommendation will allow its members to support the treaty.
A level of disquiet exists in regard to the treaty. Many people intend to vote “No” just to give the Government a bloody nose for its mismanagement of the economy. There is no reason to hit the Government at this stage. There will be many other occasions when this can be done. It is vital for the country that we ratify the Lisbon treaty. People should be under no illusion in regard to the real threat which exists to our economy. According to the ESRI report published today consumer confidence is at its lowest in 12 years. Oil, fuel and food prices are increasing.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Export orders are down for the third consecutive month. One can detect these concerns on the street. I have spoken to many builders in the past few weeks who are concerned about what is happening. FÁS predicts a downturn of approximately 55,000 jobs in the construction sector. This will hurt people and families. It will also hurt those currently sitting the leaving certificate examination who hoped to get involved in the construction industry. These people are worried about whether there will be jobs in this area for them.
I welcome SIPTU’s statement today that we need to speed up investment in the national development plan. SIPTU has called for more investment in the Dublin outer orbital route, in school classrooms and in new social housing units. The Government, Senator White, can do more. We must protect the economy and invest more in the construction industry.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I wish to raise the issue of the fatalities which occurred on our roads during the bank holiday weekend. I begin by expressing my sympathy to the families of those who died on our roads.
It was disturbing to hear the chairman of the Road Safety Authority calling for two Departments to agree on the roll-out of speed cameras. According to the chairman, Gay Byrne, a stand-off between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance has led to an unacceptable delay in the promised roll-out of speed cameras. While I note both Departments have indicated no difficulty exists, I would like clarification in this regard. Perhaps the Leader will seek clarification in regard to this long promised element of the road safety strategy. It is a matter of concern that seven people died on our roads during the bank holiday weekend. There was a sense that significant progress was being made in terms of reducing the number of fatalities on bank holiday weekends. I believe that between the May bank holiday weekend and the Easter weekend only one fatality occurred. This was one fatality too many but seven over a period of one weekend is far too many. As legislators and policy makers we must ensure we are doing everything we can to make our roads as safe as possible.
Will the Leader invite the Minister of Transport to the House to provide an update on how the implementation of the new arrangements for provisional licences is coming into effect and to address the concerns raised about testing procedures? Driving tests must be a great deal more comprehensive. It was mentioned to me that night-driving is not examined. When we test people we must ensure they have the skills necessary to drive safely on our roads and not put their lives or the lives of others in danger.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: Like Senator de Búrca, I call for an urgent debate on the tragedies which took place on our roads at the weekend. In making my contribution, I wish to extend my sympathies to those families who were grieving during what was a holiday period for many of us. This subject is so important that the Fine Gael group wishes to table an amendment to the Order of Business to discuss the magnitude of what happened at the weekend, which deserves clear and forensic debate. Many things take place on our roads and drivers and pedestrians do many things for which Government and politicians cannot take responsibility. However, Government should take responsibility for its priorities, plans and strategies, implement them and be held accountable for them.
At the beginning of this Seanad session, we had a debate on the road safety strategy and the Road Safety Authority and clear priorities were outlined. Sadly, mounting evidence exists that a number of these priorities are not being delivered. It is incumbent on us to review where we stand, to examine what is working and not working and hold to account the Road Safety Authority, the Department of Transport and the Government.
Two important points must be stressed. That the chairman of the Road Safety Authority again pointed out the continued non-implementation of the speed camera strategy is of major concern. We know the role speed cameras can play in tackling these issues and to have the chairman again stating the strategy is not being implemented must be discussed in the House. We must hear an answer from the people responsible for this, namely, the Government.
The second point is that a lack of alignment and agreement between Departments could be getting in the way of implementing a road safety strategy which everybody wants to see implemented. This merits urgent debate and an urgent response from the Government.
Senator Mark Daly: I rise to condemn the senior management of the Irish Coast Guard service for its actions in refusing a request by the Spanish Ambassador to visit the marine rescue co-ordination centre in Valentia. The Ambassador wished to thank the men of Valentia station for their work in co-ordinating the rescue of Spanish trawlers in distress.
A decision on the future of Valentia coast guard station is imminent and if it is closed, Spanish lives will be lost because Malin and Valentia are the only two coast guard stations in Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales which can communicate with Spanish trawlers in distress. Will the Leader find out why the senior management of the Coast Guard service dishonoured us all by its actions and its insult to the Spanish Ambassador?
Senator Ivana Bacik: Last night’s “Prime Time Investigates” programme investigated the so-called war on drugs and examined alternatives to the prohibitionist approach to drug misuse. The Leader previously facilitated a debate on this and I was one of the Senators who participated in formulating the motion. However, the debate lapsed into platitudes on what to do about drugs and we did not sufficiently address the question of alternatives to the current criminal justice or prohibitionist approach to drugs in our society. Last night’s programme clearly and coherently showed the case for a harm reduction model, as used in Amsterdam, Switzerland and other countries. Such alternatives should be examined rather than focusing on criminal justice and law and order. Too many platitudes and insufficient practicalities have characterised the debate on drugs to date. It is timely to have another debate not only in light of the “Prime Time Investigates” programme but also in light of the publication of a book next week by a colleague in Trinity College, Paul O’Mahony, entitled The Irish war on drugs: the seductive folly of prohibition. He was quoted on the programme last night describing criticisms of the current approach to drug law in Ireland. It is timely, therefore, to have a debate on how best to progress harm reduction models to ensure addicts are treated as patients rather than as criminals.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I would like to raise two issues. I previously asked for a debate on dangerous dogs, dogs under threat and the upcoming animal welfare Bill. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intends to introduce regulations to microchip dogs. Will the Leader ask him to come to the House before he finalises them because I would like to know how he proposes to deal with non-pedigree dogs, which should be neutered or which raise safety and licensing concerns? When the Minister introduces the microchip regulations, how will he deal with the dogs that cause problems in our communities?
The National Council on Special Education has been up and running for a short time. Would it be appropriate for the head of the council or the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to discuss the implementation of yet another external body and to examine the effectiveness of strategies in place for the special education cohort?
Senator Eugene Regan: I very much welcome the position taken by the ICMSA and the IFA on the Lisbon treaty. The Taoiseach’s timing is not the best and it is unfortunate that this situation was not defused a long time ago, but it is better late than never.
Senator Eugene Regan:
As the campaign on the Lisbon treaty draws to a close, it would be useful to examine all the arguments made by the “No” campaign, which were completely undermined as information emerged about the treaty. There will be no change to Irish
neutrality, the 12.5% corporation tax rate, abortion laws, gay marriage, stem cell research, the veto on the WTO agreement and the primacy of EU law or citizenship, an issue raised recently by Anthony Coughlan who overlooked the provisions in the treaty in this regard. It has been also asserted that there would be a requirement for a referendum in future when changes are made to treaties. Again, that has been proven not to be the case.
Senator Eugene Regan: Does the Leader concur with that summary of the current position? Not only do we have these bizarre arguments, we now have an array of people and organisations opposed to the treaty.
Senator Eugene Regan: They range from Sinn Féin to the British Tories and from Jean-Marie Le Pen to the French Communists. There is also Youth Defence and Cóir. I referred to the CIA and Opus Dei on a previous occasion and I am quite happy to say that those organisations are not involved in the “No” campaign.
Senator John Hanafin: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to again come to the House? In particular, I am thinking in terms of the superlevies. We are reviewing these at a time when there is a food shortage and when Europe has never filled its quota for milk. If ever there was proof positive that Europe recognises the nation state, it is this case because it certainly recognises the nation state when it comes to superlevies and tax.
I often wonder at the perceived threat of Europe becoming a super-state. It certainly does not apply when it comes to tax and individual states paying their levies. This is happening at a time when there is a food shortage and when we are trying to increase production. It should be looked at in the European context because this is where Europe claims a competence in agriculture to see if we could have a European view so that farmers are not penalised for producing food that is badly needed.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I second the amendment moved by Senator Donohoe. I ask the Leader to seek an urgent debate today on the issue of road safety. Clearly, lessons have not been learned. It is four years since we were promised the roll-out of speed cameras. The strategy of road safety has not worked, the chairman of the Road Safety Authority is frustrated and angry and we have a silly dispute between two Departments. This weekend nine people were killed and their families are bereaved and in mourning today as a result of a lack of joined-up thinking.
This debate is urgently required because resources were available to roll out these speed cameras but we have failed to do so. How many more lives will it take and how many more accidents must occur before the road safety and traffic legislation can be co-ordinated?
I ask that the Minister for Education and Science, who I am sure is well into his brief by now, come to the House to discuss a number of education issues. Today is very important for the thousands of students doing examinations. For many of us, it is the elitist legacy of pressure and tension. Is the leaving certificate of 2008 the best method of examining our students?
I ask the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House to discuss the programme of works for the school year beginning in September 2008. This morning on local radio in Cork he said he was examining the issue and was not making a decision until October, which is far too late. We need an urgent debate on education.
Senator David Norris: I join the acting leader of Fine Gael in calling for a debate on the health service. Last week messages of sympathy were sent to Senator Ted Kennedy but this morning we heard of another Ted Kennedy, a patient in the Mater Hospital suffering from some variation of motor neurone disease. He has been treated and has been fit to go home for the last two months but is unable to do so because of cutbacks in the health service which mean that he cannot be provided with the necessary assistance to adjust a breathing apparatus in the morning and evening. That is an extraordinary comment on the human aspect of this issue and also on the waste of resources as it costs much more to keep him in hospital for this amount of time, I would have thought.
I support Senator O’Toole on the question of the operation of the equality legislation. This is something that must be examined. A motion has been tabled in the name of the Independent Senators to examine the entire area.
On 22 May I referred to a situation where hedgerows were being sprayed inappropriately. The Leader indicated he would obtain some information for me, which I have not yet received. However, I have received a detailed confirmation and analysis of what happened, which I will make available to the Leader so that he can progress the matter further.
I ask the Leader to confirm that an invitation is to be sent to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I raised this in the proper and appropriate way by writing to Senator O’Toole, our representative on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. He raised it and there was no opposition. In fact, there was general agreement from the leaders that this was appropriate. The Department of Foreign Affairs has no objection and it is now appropriate for me to raise this matter and ask the Leader to confirm that an invitation has been or will be issued.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator Daly raised a very important matter, to which I also wish to refer. It was an horrendous act and a frightful insult to the accredited ambassador of a friendly government to refuse him the right to visit Valentia coastguard station to thank the men for the valiant efforts over so many years. This is a tremendous facility which is very well located and staffed by wonderfully qualified people who do great work. It is a place of outstanding merit and the ambassador wanted to visit it, not just to thank the staff for all they have done, but to mark the historic links between Valentia and Spain, Dingle and La Coruña, mainly through fishing and other activities about which we know from our history. I wish to protest in the strongest terms and ask the Leader to raise the issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Whoever authorised that decision should be ashamed of himself or herself in this democratic State.
There has been much mention recently of the fact that the Office of Public Works will dispose of dozens of properties in Dublin. The OPW is responsible for over 2,100 buildings. Perhaps much of the disposal arises from the decentralisation programme but the OPW is paying €82 million annually in rent in Dublin and approximately €9.5 million outside the capital. I would like to know — I have asked this several times before — how many buildings are owned and how many are leased by the OPW. We had the famous Parlon inventory during the last Dáil but I do not think anybody ever saw it. There was a lot of talk about it, particularly from the then Minister of State. Now we hear that the OPW is currently identifying all State properties but surely to God it must have this information already. To give the OPW credit, it has been a good manager of State properties in the past. I call for a special debate on the strategy regarding State properties, with the participation of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Martin Mansergh. I ask the Leader to arrange a special debate on the matter. This is how, with proper management, we can save the taxpayers’ millions.
Senator Shane Ross: I wish to respond to what Senator Regan said. I admire the passion and dedication with which the Senator has pursued the promotion of the Lisbon treaty. However, one cannot always pick those with whom one rows in this type of a boat.
Senator Shane Ross: ——Deputy Beverley Flynn and others with whom he might not necessarily choose to pursue this particular adventure. Senator Regan has a genuine passion and I believe we should respect him for it. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil seem to be united behind this treaty, as well as employers and employees. There are disparate groups forming behind an issue and we should respect these beliefs because there is obviously some conviction in this type of politics which does not exist in other types.
There is one matter, however, on which I would like to take issue with Senator Regan. He is absolutely correct when he said the Lisbon treaty does not make any difference to the veto on corporation tax. That is correct per se. However, I am sure the House does not need reminding that a report on tax harmonisation was held back by the EU Commission because it did not want to frighten the Irish electorate. What kind of manipulation is going on? The veto, of course, will remain but not in perpetuity. The French, the Germans, the Italians and now the British are, as we speak, plotting to remove that veto and change the corporation tax base.
Senator John Paul Phelan: I welcome the decision of the IFA to support the Lisbon treaty. It is unfortunate the Taoiseach did not give reassurances sooner to the farming organisations but it is better late than never.
I join other speakers in wishing the best of luck to those undergoing their State examinations in the leaving and junior certificates. They are important examinations in anyone’s life. I extend my best wishes to their families who are going through this torture. It is not that long ago since I remember going through that torture myself.
Senator John Paul Phelan: What is the status of the debate on housing I have called for over the past several weeks, particularly in light of the decline in funding from the Department for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for local authorities for social and affordable housing? What is the status of a debate requested by several speakers on the role of public private partnerships in the provision of different services? As a matter of urgency, I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the leaked report from FÁS which suggested that up to 65,000 jobs in the construction sector would be lost in the next year or so. If this comes to pass — given that FÁS is an independent agency — and if those figures are proven to be correct, it will have devastating consequences for many parts of the country, particularly rural areas which the Leader and I represent. This House would do well to have a debate on the possibilities of upskilling. Today sees the commencement of the State examinations of the leaving certificate and the junior certificate. In the past few years, many people left education early to take up jobs in construction. If this downturn results in a dramatic cut in the number of people employed in construction, there will be devastating consequences for parts of the country.
Senator Paul Bradford: I join my colleagues who have expressed satisfaction at the decision of the Irish Farmers’ Association and the ICMSA regarding the forthcoming vote on the Lisbon treaty. Rural Ireland has benefited to an unprecedented degree from our involvement in the European Community and the European Union. It would be tragic if there was not full support from farming communities for the Lisbon treaty. I hope now after all the arguments and doubts expressed in recent weeks that farmers and farming families will come on board and support the Lisbon treaty because the interest of Irish agriculture is best served, and really only served, by full engagement with the European Union.
I also support what was said by Senator Hannigan with regard to the construction industry. I ask the Leader to address the schools building programme. Many colleagues, including myself, have extended good wishes to the students commencing the leaving certificate examination today. It must be acknowledged that many thousands of those students have spent the past five or six years or perhaps even the past 12 or 13 years in sub-standard accommodation. There is a massive schools building project list in the Department. The new Minister, notwithstanding the fact he is still reading himself into his brief, has major decisions to make with regard to school buildings in the next few weeks and months. If there is one area of construction we cannot afford to have delayed, it is in the area of education. I ask that the Minister for Education and Science be invited to the House before the summer recess to outline the level of funding available, his commitments in this regard and the promises that will be fulfilled. It is only 18 months since major commitments were made by the previous Minister and, perhaps because of the change in financial circumstances, those commitments have not been fulfilled.  We need clarification from the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, and we need a debate on the schools building programme. We need the State to recognise that from the point of view of education, buildings cannot wait. We cannot defer the future of our children’s education. We must continue to invest in the schools building programme. I ask that in the near future the Minister would address the House on this vital issue.
Senator Pearse Doherty: I ask that the Leader organise for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House. I agree with previous speakers on this issue. There is a crisis in education and people need to realise this. It is not just in the area of school buildings but also in class sizes and in the broken promises made by the Government prior to the election. Our children are being left to suffer. Recent statistics from the Department of Education and Science were given in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleagues showing that one in every three schools in this State has applied to the schools building programme but there has not been any announcement of schools being built since the start of this year. Many students who are sitting the leaving certificate examination today have been in temporary accommodation since they entered education at the age or four or five. This is not acceptable. Promises regarding class sizes, capitation grants and private ones made by Ministers and Deputies — the nods and winks in their constituencies that new schools would be built after the general election — were reneged on by this Government and this Taoiseach.
The most significant promise waiting to be broken is that made by Deputy Brian Cowen, to the IFA at the weekend that he will veto any outcome of the WTO talks if the Lisbon treaty referendum is passed. Will the Leader seek clarification on this matter because that veto will not exist for the Government or the Taoiseach?
Senator Pearse Doherty: Gabh mo leithscéal. Will the Leader seek clarification that the commitment given by the Taoiseach is one he can fulfil? The veto will not exist if the Lisbon treaty is ratified, and the Taoiseach knows that. That is why this hand-wringing exercise has been going on for months. We had a debate on the World Trade Organisation and supposedly tried to clarify this issue, but when the Minister attended this House he did not mention the word “veto”. The Minister failed to answer specific questions that were put to him about where in the legal text of the treaty we would have the option to use the veto in a post-Lisbon scenario. I wrote a detailed letter and the Minister of State was accepting——
An Cathaoirleach: I want to be fair to everyone. I have allowed people on both sides to contribute and I possibly have given too much latitude to them. Members should address questions to the Leader to see if he can reply to them.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Will the Leader clarify this situation? He should ask the Minister of State, who took questions in the House, to respond to my written question as to where in the text of the Lisbon treaty it states that the veto on international trade can be used after the treaty is passed.
Comments have been made about the “No” side in this campaign. I am proud of every single person, including Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil supporters, who will come out on 12 June and vote “No”. I have repeatedly put our position across in this House. We have not said that the veto on corporation tax will be taken away. What we have said, however, is that Fine Gael agreed to this. In the European Parliament, Fine Gael voted for tax harmonisation in the Bersani report. The Lisbon treaty provides the infrastructure to change corporation tax from a veto system to qualified majority voting.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleagues Senators Donohoe and Buttimer. Road safety is of such significance that it is a matter of national importance meriting an immediate response from this House, one, because of the gravity of the issue and, two, to establish further the relevance of this House. There has been an inexcusable delay in the delivery of speed cameras. The Leader should state in his reply what the Government proposes to do about it. From my own observations, there is too much enforcement of road safety regulations in built-up areas, including the 50 km/h speed limits as one enters towns, while there is not enough enforcement of regulations on national motorways and secondary roads in rural areas. The concentration of Garda presence at the entrance to urban areas needs to be addressed. Roads accident figures need to be analysed.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Does the Leader accept that many accidents occur late at night or early in the morning and involve speeding by young drivers and, in some instances, substance abuse by them as well? Will he put this to the Ministers concerned? That is the difficulty that needs to be examined together with the introduction of speed cameras. There also should be a reduced focus on built-up areas at the entrance to towns. A sensible approach is required to what is a grave national crisis. The Leader should concede the debate and should approach the Government in this regard.
I ask the Leader for a full response by way of debate and ministerial intervention to the anticipated loss of 65,000 jobs in the construction industry, which equates to one quarter of the workforce in the sector. Senator John Paul Phelan is correct that those affected must be upskilled immediately. They should not be left in unemployment and the largest possible number should be redeployed to a school building programme. The focus in education in recent years has been on building up the number of teaching staff in the learning support area while school buildings have been neglected. Those who are made redundant in the construction sector should be upskilled and redeployed to build proper school buildings throughout the country. They should not be left unemployed indefinitely at great cost to themselves and the State.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I join Senators Twomey, O’Toole and others in wishing success to young students commencing the leaving and junior certificate examinations. This is a trying time for them. Few adults would like to have to repeat the State examinations.
I will communicate to the Minister the concerns raised by Senators Twomey and Norris on health issues. I do not envisage having another debate on health as we have had four such debates with the Minister in attendance. Owing to the large number of Bills due before the House in the ten or 11 sitting days before the summer recess, legislation will be prioritised in the time remaining.
Senators O’Toole, Bradford and Doherty called for a debate on education issues, including schools building projects. I will arrange for such a debate at the earliest possible date. I look forward to having the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, a former Senator, in the House to update us on developments in his portfolio.
Senators Hannigan, Regan, Ross, Bradford, Doherty and John Paul Phelan expressed diverse views on the Lisbon treaty. I concur with most of Senator Regan’s assessment. Given his legal background, I hope his views are shared by the majority of voters on 12 June.
Senator Donie Cassidy: As a respected journalist, he has a large readership which includes many of those in employment who want to know what will happen in future. It should be noted, in case his comments are broadcast on “Oireachtas Report” tonight, that they are wrong. Having been a Member for almost as long as the Senator, I understand only the Irish Government can get rid of the veto. I do not want anyone to be misled in this regard. We all have friends who do not understand much of the treaty and take the word of public representatives on this matter on trust. We are telling them to come out and vote in the national interest and on behalf of future generations.
Ireland has played an honourable role in Europe for the past 35 years and our progress has been the envy of most of the world. Only one party has opposed the European Union throughout this period and people will make up their minds about what it is saying on this occasion. It is important because people want to do the right thing. It is never the wrong time to do the right thing, in the words of the late, great Paudge Brennan.
Senator Donie Cassidy: He was a Member of this House and had to go through hard times to be a Member. Most of us here have no idea what it is like to fight for our democracy, not alone to fight for our economy, which is what we are doing at present. We owe the survival of our economy for the next ten or 20 years to the next generation because the generations past have given us a lifestyle and an earning ability of which we never dreamed.
Senator Hannigan was the first of many Senators to raise concerns about the construction industry. I share the views of Senators on these concerns. FÁS has an onerous task in upskilling 60% of our people up to 2020. I acknowledge the expertise and high standing of Mr. Wills, chairperson of the group responsible for the report published yesterday. If FÁS or the Government thinks it can expect employers to put up 25% of the retraining programme, it is not going to happen. In Mullingar, 16 people wanted to retrain and put their names into the institute but when the institute contacted the employers to provide 25% — FÁS was providing 75% — not one of the employers could afford to provide it. I recall that billions are available to retrain and upskill our people. If that is the case, it must be, because times right across the world——
Senator Jerry Buttimer: On a point of order, for months the Leader has been telling those of us who raised the matter of the economy that we were wrong. We are now in a recession. The Leader should admit it at last and should not patronise us. The Government let down the people of Ireland and squandered a surplus.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I remind the Seanad that we discuss affairs of national and international importance. It is not a council chamber and people must remember that when they become Members of this good House.
Senator Donie Cassidy: It is the Upper House and we did not get a reputation by a one-liner in a newspaper. We earned the reputation through the years. I am sounding a warning as someone who works very well with people who have given employment and works hard to keep people in employment. FÁS must consider giving 100% training grants in order that we can upskill our people. People are available to be retrained and employers will give them time to do so, but they will not pay 25% for the employee to do nothing. The employee will benefit from being upskilled and we must give 100% from the FÁS allocation. Speaking from memory, I believe the figure is in the region of €4 billion, a sizeable amount of money made available to train people up to 2020.
Senators also referred to the horrific accidents at the weekend, where nine people lost their lives. I join with the House in expressing our condolences to the unfortunate families of those who have lost their lives. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, of which Senators Coghlan and Leyden were also members, we did a hell of a good job with regard to insurance reform. We had the admiration of quite a number of Senators. The committee played a leading role in supporting the Minister and the Government in introducing penalty points. Penalty points have made people fear the law. There was a massive reduction in the number of road accidents in the first seven or eight months following their introduction. The committee also recommended the installation of speed cameras. We join with Gay Byrne and the Road Safety Authority in their call for their speedier installation.
The committee also had the courage to propose random breath-testing. The Government sub-committee recommended random breath-testing two weeks later and introduced it on 21 July 2006. At least 200 people are alive today who would not be if random breath-testing had not been introduced two years ago. There are thousands of people going about their daily chores who would have suffered serious injuries had it not been introduced.
Four years ago, there were 575 gardaí working in the dedicated traffic corps. By the end of this year, 1,200 gardaí will be working in the dedicated traffic corps, the full complement required by the Commissioner. We all know of the success of the few speed cameras in place. We all know the speed cameras in Lucan on the N4 and on the N3 coming in from Navan.
Members of the committee travelled to America on two occasions where we observed best practice. People there will say that a dedicated traffic corps is the way to make people fear the law. Manufacturers have a serious obligation because they make vehicles for the comfort and enjoyment of those of us who have the opportunity to drive our own cars. Only €15 need be spent on linking the ignition to seat belt use whereby a car would not start if the occupants did not push in their seat belts. I do not know why that has not been implemented. We saw that demonstrated in the University of Maryland which has the most up-to-date simulators in the world. If those on the committee wish to observe best practice, they should go to the University of Maryland. If time is available, I will arrange for the urgent matter of road safety to be debated and for the Minister to update us on the driving licence issue.
Senator John Hanafin called for a debate on super levies and issues pertaining to same. I will arrange for a debate to take place. Senator Norris called for an update on the invitation to the Dalai Lama. I will come back to the House on that issue tomorrow.
Senator Paul Coghlan asked about the Office of Public Works and progress on decentralisation. Planning permissions are coming through in most areas for the decentralised offices but it is a challenge. I also read the article he read on Sunday and the fact that €82 million is being spent on rents in Dublin and almost €9 million is being spent outside the Dublin area. That is a huge amount of money. I have no difficulty arranging a debate on an action plan from the Office of Public Works to meet the challenges over the next five to ten years.
Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on housing and I will arrange for one to take place. The Senator also asked about the economy and public private partnerships. I have already given a commitment to the House and the Senator on such a debate.
Senators Daly and Coghlan raised an issue in regard to the Spanish ambassador. I will investigate the incident as a matter of urgency after the Order of Business to see how I can use my influence. I will not comment further other than to say it was an exception to the rule and that it was certainly not in keeping with the great work done by generations of families around our coast. When the ambassador of a friendly nation wishes to express thanks on behalf of the people of his country, this is an exceptional response.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on drug abuse and on last nights the “Prime Time Investigates” programme. I have no difficulty arranging such a debate. Senator Cecilia Keaveney once again called for a debate on dangerous dogs. As she correctly pointed out, the animal welfare Bill will cover this issue, hopefully this year. She also called for a debate on the National Council for Special Education. I acknowledge the Senator’s great experience in this area. I have no difficulty arranging a debate on that issue.
|Bradford, Paul.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Daly, Mark.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Hanafin, John.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
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