Wednesday, 27 May 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, resumed; No. 2, Statements on the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; and No. 34, motion 30 re the Monageer report. It is proposed that No. 1, the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, resume at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Statements on the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, commence at the conclusion of No. 1 but not earlier than 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes, and Senators may share time by agreement of the House. The Minister shall be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from leaders and spokespersons. No. 34, motion 30 re the Monageer report shall be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and shall conclude not later than 7 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Three of the 18 congregations are now responding to the Government and there is a Government response urging the congregations to act on ethical grounds and make an appropriate response at this point. I commend The Irish Times today for giving people a forum in which to air their views and thoughts at the disgust people feel about what has been unveiled by the Ryan commission.
I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the recommendations yesterday. That is important, but it is an implementation plan that is necessary. Many of these recommendations have been made previously. Frankly, the idea of a Minister of State reporting to Government at the end of July on what steps it should take to implement the recommendations is not adequate. It lacks a sense of urgency. It is too late to be coming in when the House is in recess at the end of July with an action plan. This report demands an immediate response, not just from a Minister of State but from the Taoiseach.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: We need him to take charge of the issue of child protection because as the report from the HSE yesterday makes absolutely clear, child protection services at present — I do not speak of the past — are dysfunctional and in disarray, and action is needed immediately.
I want to ask the Leader three questions. Is he satisfied that both Houses will be in recess when the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children and youth affairs is to report at the end of July? It is certainly not good enough.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Is the Department of Finance in a position to make resources available to deal with the enormous child protection issues? There are thousands of cases of children who are not being assessed at present who are reported as being at risk. What is the Government’s response to the HSE report published yesterday? These are three serious questions. The issue of child protection is a national crisis which must be led, not by a junior Minister but by the Taoiseach.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I ask the Leader to bring that view to Government from this side of the House and to ask for an immediate action plan. I hope we will begin to hear this afternoon from the Minister some preliminary steps on that action plan. We need an action plan that deals with the short-term, medium-term and long-term issues as well as the vast array of issues that arises about institutional violence that emerge in the Ryan report.
Senator Joe O’Toole: On the issue we will discuss further today, whatever about the length of time from now until the end of July, about which I will listen to what the Government has to say, and which sounds long and may not be too long, the one point on which I and everybody in House completely agree with Senator Fitzgerald is that this is a time for political action. If there is to be a report, whenever it is, it should be a report to the Houses. Nobody here can justify a situation where we are not involved in and responding to this issue. I appeal to the Leader. No matter whether the report comes in July, August or whenever — it should be early rather than later although I am prepared to listen to the Government’s reasoning on why it should take two months — and whatever the reason, any politician who feels he or she should be on holidays while this business is being dealt with reflects poorly on all of us. This is part of what we spoke about. Whatever the other House decides, this is another example of where the Seanad can be seen to do business, engage with topical issues and show a public political response. I ask for a commitment from the Leader that when there is a report from the Minister of State this House will debate it. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, I suppose, is a step between a junior Minister and a full Minister. Whatever the situation, I want the report discussed here.
I also ask that amidst those proposals would be a Government decision to have a day of remembrance, probably annually, for the victims of this. Time will show this is a fulcrum in our development as a State and we should not allow ourselves or succeeding generations ever to forget it.
I ask that a Government warning hang on the Christian Brothers’ commitment, as they called it yesterday afternoon. There is nothing new about this. We were through all of this previously. In this House I had a major row with the Christian Brothers some years ago where that order undertook to do a particular report after a number of months when the media died down, and when it did the order did not deal with the issues. That is water under the bridge. I want to give the Leader one salient fact and I ask that this be kept in mind by everybody who speaks on this issue. In 1991 the Christian Brothers in Canada had assets to the value of €100 million. The order squirrelled it away into trusts. We, as politicians, know that to dissolve a trust needs an act of parliament.
Senator Joe O’Toole: When it came for the order to pay up in 1996 that €100 million had been reduced to €4 million. That is what we are facing. The order has already set up a trust. I do not have confidence in what Brother Edmund Garvey stated in the past couple of days. First, the Government should ensure the order pays up, as the order is leading us to believe without saying so. Second, if there are moneys to be made available, they should not be made available by a charitable route or conduit from the Christian Brothers to deal with the same people who were their victims decades ago. It should be dealt with independently and away from the representatives of the perpetrators. I look forward to a more detailed discussion this afternoon on other issues which have been raised during the week.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: Not to divert from the important issue on which the other Senators spoke, I ask again for a debate on the current review of the Common Fisheries Policy and reiterate my demand for an exclusive 100 mile limit, which I think the Minister is considering. If we do not conserve our stocks the fishing industry and the fish to be eaten in the next decade will deplete.
On a more positive note, through the Leader I want to pass on our congratulations to the marine scientists of this country on finding a wonderful coral reef on the Porcupine bank. This is most unusual in the northern hemisphere. This indicates that our marine scientists are second to none in the world if given the opportunity. They have an exploration vessel which is more or less doing a hydrographic survey and mapping the seabed throughout our coastline, which probably should have been done years ago. They should be congratulated on this wonderful success story. Will the Leader ask the responsible Minister and the EU to ensure the part of the Porcupine bank in question, a true ecological gem, is conserved sooner rather than later? Since this would show that marine issues are important to the House, will the Leader acknowledge my request? Will he also ensure a debate on fishing before the House rises in a few weeks, particularly given the review of the Common Fisheries Policy? It is a critical issue, but a debate next October would be too late.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I will reserve my comments on the child abuse issue until later, but how can the public have confidence in the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, concerning the latter’s new role in the proposed implementation of the Ryan report’s recommendations when he chose not to resource the out-of-service social worker hours following the Monageer report?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: He is already in difficulty with the adoption issue. According to a newly released HSE report, more than 8,000 reported child protection cases were not investigated in 2007.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: It is still going on and we are still neglecting our children because we do not have enough social workers. Last year in the House, I outlined the degree to which the HSE’s service in Galway was being threatened. It has the lowest number of social workers per case.
On the doorsteps, the worry on everyone’s lips is jobs. A medium-sized employer in the media business told me the current climate and the banking situation are providing an ideal opportunity for business to exit the country. This is a serious matter. In Germany, the employer was offered grants to attract his business. He has already moved half of it. He was also offered a state guarantee as a reliable employer to ensure that, when he goes to the bank, he can get the necessary credit. Why can the Government not consider ways other than making the bank the king? Why can we not consider offering State guarantees to reliable employers, thereby rewarding the creators of jobs and wealth?
Senator Shane Ross: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, if he is the appropriate Minister, to attend the House to assert the right of journalists to protect their sources? Most Senators are aware of the ongoing case in Northern Ireland concerning the journalist Suzanne Breen of The Sunday Tribune. She is apparently being forced to hand over her computer records and other records, which will obviously prejudice her right to seek more information and may put her life in danger. Given that she works for a newspaper based in the Republic, it would be important that all Members of the Oireachtas stand behind journalists doing work of this sort instead of behind those who would curtail such journalism. We have all been asked to sign a petition. As only some Senators have signed, I ask the others to do so.
We should bear in mind that Suzanne Breen is under immense pressure to give away her sources, which would kill journalism of that sort in this country. We should also bear in mind that some of this generation’s great stories have been revealed by journalists. If a story like the one on the Christian Brothers that is currently disturbing us was curtailed by the State by using weapons of this sort, we would be appalled. It is important we defend the right. I understand the difficulties that Governments and authorities have with journalists speaking to subversive elements. However, it is essential journalists do so if those stories are to come out into the open. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to reassure the House that the types of activity occurring in Northern Ireland in stopping Suzanne Breen will not spread to this part of the island?
Senator Eugene Regan: I will mention a subject covered in this morning’s The Irish Times, that is, a report on the 2009 summer scientific meeting of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. It points out that alcohol has been blamed for 6,500 deaths in Ireland in the past five years and more than 3 million hospitalisations. We all know that Ireland has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption. Therefore, the percentage of deaths caused by alcohol is much higher. The paper delivered at the seminar pointed out that the cost of hospital bed days attributable to alcohol was horrendous.
We can do something about this. The Intoxicating Liquor Act, which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform rushed through this House last summer, dealt with certain restrictions on the supply side of alcohol, but we must consider the demand side. There is no question that advertising plays a critical role in contributing to the problem, particularly in the case of young people. Studies have shown that the professional advertising of alcohol has a strong appeal for young people who see it as stylish, humorous and promoting a desirable lifestyle, with the suggestion being that alcohol helps to improve confidence and social skills. We should consider a total ban on alcohol advertising. That is the one instrument left to us in attempting to deal with this problem in a serious way. Voluntary codes have not worked.
We have played politics with the issue for long enough. The current system is not working, given the costs in terms of hospital care and the dreadful impact on young people. There are strong links with crime, public order offences in particular, and children losing their way in the education process.
Senator Eugene Regan: The Irish Medical Organisation and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland have made recommendations. France is also a good precedent, as its total ban on advertising has worked. Will the Leader arrange for a debate attended by the relevant Minister?
Senator David Norris: I will not say much regarding the House’s upcoming debate, but I propose an amendment to the Order of Business so we can take up the matter of the exemption granted to the churches, which is morally unsustainable given the various reports. I will say more on that later. I am saddened by CORI’s behaviour.
Senator David Norris: I have often received excellent briefings from it and it has taken precisely the type of social position I would like to be embodied in the House’s work. To find CORI callously stalling makes me wonder about the pleasure with which I will receive its briefings in future. All of the elements involved have made it a legal matter. This is what is costing money. I deprecate the self-congratulatory tone of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. It was inappropriate.
Regarding my amendment, it is a question of leadership, which I seek from the Leader. Significant elements in his party in the Upper and Lower Houses, including at ministerial level, agree with our position. The matter should be discussed. It is not for civil servants in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to block this House in the exercise of its democratic function. Regarding The Irish Times, I have never seen two pages of its letters page devoted to one subject and that is a significant indicator of the way in which this has become a major issue.
I wish to raise another issue which has been raised by Senator Mary White, that is, the question of the criminal record of some of these people. There was a letter yesterday from a woman who was taken to court at the age of two and, as she said, sentenced to 14 years in one of these institutions. What was that for? According to her, she has a criminal record. She objected strongly, as I do, to a letter which appeared previously from a person who said that all the young people who were put into these institutions were thugs. That is a disgusting remark to make about people who have suffered.
Regarding Northern Ireland, I signed the letter about journalistic sources. It is a very complex matter and it would be appropriate to have a debate on it because we can see from the newspapers today that we have what the former Dean of St. Patrick’s, Victor Griffin, described as enough religion to make us hate. There is an appalling photograph of a woman with her face beaten into a pulp, whose husband was killed and a pregnant neighbour was attacked. They were attacked with baseball bats by people who apparently think they are Protestant. She was called a “Taig”. It was a mixed marriage. She was Protestant and he was Roman Catholic, and what should it matter? How does that give licence to anybody to beat somebody else into a pulp?
Senator Mary M. White: I will leave my comments on the Ryan report until statements this afternoon. When the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, launches his report, we should all be advised of the date of the launch. Last week I said all Members of this House, on all sides, should work together across the political divide to make sure the 21 recommendations in this report are delivered.
Senator Mary M. White: If we wait until we come back at the end of September to pick this issue up again, we are half asleep. We will not keep momentum on this issue if we wait until September to talk about it. It is the most critical social issue facing the country at the moment. Our country is traumatised by this issue.
I was very pleased with the Taoiseach’s response last night after the Cabinet meeting, and I will talk about that later, but we should be at the launch of the Minister of State’s report. The people will prove their desire to get delivery of the 21 recommendations to look after children in the future. I will have a more detailed response later.
I draw attention to what Senator Regan said about the number of deaths due to alcohol. New research which was published yesterday by the Royal College of Physicians found that alcohol was responsible for 6,500 deaths from 2000 to 2004. It blamed alcohol for more than 3 million hospitalisations during the same period.
In my document on suicide in the new Ireland, I have three recommendations which deliberately refer to alcohol. I have called for the total abolition of sports sponsorship by companies that make alcohol.
Senator Mary M. White: I call for the abolition of all sports sponsorship to protect human life because alcohol is major contributor to deaths by suicide. In two weeks’ time, the Oireachtas sub-committee on suicide will launch its report on suicide.
Senator Paudie Coffey: Regarding the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, this has been a shameful chapter in Irish history. I agree all religious orders and the State acted in a shameful way and failed to protect our innocent children. It is better to approach this in a cross-party political way to try to achieve the recommendations in the report. That is how it should be addressed.
I support Senator O’Donovan’s call for a debate on the new Common Fisheries Policy that will be implemented from 2012. The Leader well knows that fish stocks around the Irish coast have been decimated in recent years and fishing communities have seriously suffered. On the south coast alone, from Kilmore Quay to Castletownbere in west Cork, there are more than 3,200 jobs involved. More than 500 of those jobs are based in Waterford, in Dunmore East and Helvick Head in Dungarvan, where fishermen and their families have been struggling to keep their livelihoods. It is incumbent on all of us, because we are an island nation, to debate this issue in a timely manner to give full vent to the fishing industry, and politicians who represent them, to allow them to re-establish fishing as one of the main indigenous industries in this country and in Europe. I fully support Senator O’Donovan in that call.
Regarding the oceans, I note the EPA report on water quality around our coasts which states that in the Fingal area, four out of six beaches failed tests for bathing quality water, which is a shameful indictment of water treatment systems. One beach in Ardmore in County Waterford, which has always been a blue flag beach, has, unfortunately, also failed the bathing quality test. Ardmore is one of seven villages in County Waterford that have applied to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for a foreshore licence for a new sewage treatment plant. This has been an issue for seven years as it has been tied up in all kinds of bureaucracy.
Last week, in Cappoquin in County Waterford, the fire service and emergency services were called out because sewage was coming up through manholes on to public streets. This is the environment we are living in as a modern society because we have failed to invest and to remove the bureaucracy that allows essential infrastructure such as this to be developed. I ask the Leader to allow a debate on essential infrastructure in our local authorities and how we can support them. All the necessary plans are in place and all the applications have been made, but they are held up in the Department through bureaucracy and lack of funding. That is why the water quality in this country is as bad as it is.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I have some comments on the report of the Ryan report and the discussion that will take place today. It is very important this is debated — there is no doubt about that. I heard the comment about discussing institutional abuse and I reiterate a point I made earlier this week. It is very important we find mechanisms for people who suffered abuse under anybody’s hands, institutional or otherwise, to come forward. I accept the helplines are not supported enough to take all the calls they are receiving.
There are many people who never come forward and the paths their lives take are seriously challenged and changed by the abuse they suffered at a young age. Perhaps there should be a separate debate, but I do not like separating institutional abuse from other abuse. Abuse is abuse and we must find mechanisms to help people to come forward who feel they cannot do so, and provide them with the support, care and help they need to deal with the trauma of what has happened to them. I include in that all types of abuse.
I ask the Leader to again consider Seanad reform. We came in here a couple of years ago and the first issue raised was Seanad reform, which lasted, as usual, for the first week. We then talked about alcohol and a statement was made at that stage that — I am paraphrasing — if we did nothing else but take one or two issues and really drive them, we would have done something. Sporadically, one, two or three of us — a small group — constantly raise the issue of alcohol, yet no concerted effort is made to put together a case that we can drive over a particular line. I am not saying it is a simple issue. It is a complex issue, but I ask the Leader to keep it on the agenda and keep talking about it to try to find solutions, whatever they may be.
I ask how we can find a mechanism to discuss the Judiciary, judicial sentencing and reoffending. There is a separation between politics and the Judiciary and there is a separation of powers, but we must find a mechanisms to discuss the issue because no one should be above criticism or constructive debate.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I intended raising the issue raised by Senator Regan and others on alcohol. One of the points that emerges from the research is that the image of Ireland is tainted by the amount of alcohol consumed, and the question of how we can handle it. It will be difficult for us to deal with controls on advertising and sponsorship in Ireland alone if we do not manage to get some level of agreement on it in Europe. Steps are being taken in Europe in that regard. We did lead the way with tobacco and we can do the same with alcohol by influencing what is done in Europe as well.
I will not repeat the figures but what surprised me is how high we were in the statistics for alcohol consumption and the amount of hospital care that was required as a result of it. It emerged that alcohol caused 4.4% of deaths in this country while the rate in the United Kingdom was 3.1% and in Sweden it was 3.5%. That is only part of the results.
I have one other point to make on the image of Ireland. The child abuse publicity will damage our image abroad. The sentencing yesterday on corruption charges introduced me to another table I had not seen previously, namely, the corruption perception index, which shows that Ireland’s identity overseas has worsened considerably since the revelations of the planning tribunal. It is worthwhile recognising that we must take action even though sometimes those actions are not something we welcome doing.
It frustrates me to see money being spent on things unnecessarily. Recently in Britain a significant amount of money was spent to discover that 94% of train passengers get annoyed when trains are not punctual. There was much criticism over spending such an amount of money to discover that. Yesterday, the consumer panel of the Financial Regulator published its report, which found that most customers have lost considerable sums of money. The report found that the Financial Regulator has been deficient to date. I wonder how much money was spent for us to discover that.
Senator Larry Butler: I remind Members that the Spirit of Ireland group will be in Leinster House today and Members of all parties are welcome to attend the meeting to hear about the innovative project the people concerned have put together to ensure our future energy independence. I expect we will have a worthwhile debate and question and answer session. I would like as many Members as possible to attend. This is probably the most important issue we will discuss since the development of information technology in this country. We need a new development and this is one of them. The Members of this House can make a great difference when we discuss the matter this afternoon in view of the great potential it has for this country. All are welcome, and I look forward to a good debate.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I again raise with the Leader the need for an urgent debate on the consumption of alcohol in this country. The research yesterday which blamed alcohol for 6,500 deaths over a five-year period illustrates the seriousness of the alcohol crisis. The Leader knows well that I have raised the point in this House previously. When are we going to learn that we have a national epidemic and crisis with alcoholism which we cannot handle? Senator Quinn is correct in saying the image of Ireland abroad as a beer-swilling nation is wrong and we should dissuade people of that notion. To do that we must have a holistic debate on the consumption of alcohol. Senator Regan is correct in saying the voluntary code has not worked. We must consider sports sponsorship, perhaps the advertising ban and, more importantly, we need to include alcohol as part of the national drugs strategy which is enforced.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on child care. The report yesterday from the Health Service Executive revealed a total of 23,268 reports of child abuse, neglect and welfare concerns. What is more startling is that approximately 8,000 cases, 35%, were not investigated. If we cherish children then this sends the wrong message. This is a message the HSE and all of us collectively must tackle. We must debate the issue in this House.
What is more worrying is that in the four local health offices in Cork, 26% of cases were only assessed, which means that in 74% of cases there was no initial assessment. What are we saying to our children and the people of Cork? Are we serious about protecting children or are we only paying lip service? If we are serious then we need to have a debate followed by political action and the employment of out-of-hours social workers. We must put the full apparatus of the State behind this operation. Otherwise, we are failing our children.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I compliment my colleagues on raising the issue of alcohol. I was present at the NUI Galway alumni event at which the Ard-Stiúrthóir of the GAA spoke and I raised the issue of alcohol advertising in connection with GAA events. Let us be clear, the reason alcoholic drinks companies advertise or connect themselves with sporting organisations and activities is to piggyback on the glamour associated with sport. No one is as sensible of the glamour associated with sport as young people. I am reminded of the courageous point of principle taken by people such as Dr. Mick Loftus, a former president of the GAA. I wish there were others like him who see clearly that alcohol is a serious problem in our society. I call for a specific Seanad debate on alcohol advertising. We could make a great contribution by having that debate soon.
Unlike my colleague, Senator O’Toole, I felt hope when I saw the Christian Brothers’ statement. Time will tell which of us is right. I read into it that there was a preparedness to be generous. Time will tell. I warned yesterday of my fears that a kind of anti-Catholic bigotry would re-emerge under another guise. I have concerns about people raising extraneous issues. For example, my colleague, Senator Norris, does not like section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. I do not see that as protecting the privileges of any church.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I see it as protecting the rights of different groups in society, in conscience, to an education that reflects their ethos. People who raise such issues at this time, which are extraneous to the needs and concerns of victims, in particular, run the risk of being accused of being cynical or manipulative at a time when we are all struggling to deal with a grim reality.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I second Senator Norris’s proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I agree with the sentiments of other speakers on the frightful child abuse matters we have had to deal with and have to deal with yet. I very much agree with the remarks of Senator O’Toole when he said that this House should not be in recess while we still have these matters to consider. The report of the Minister of State with special responsibility for children and young people, Deputy Barry Andrews, on the implementation of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is still to come.
I wish to ask the Leader specifically about Nos. 3 and 17 on the Order. There is so much to do. This House could be sitting throughout July and we could come back early in September. We should bear that in mind. We have so much work to do. Will the Leader inform the House as to when he envisages Committee Stage of No. 3, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 being reached, and when will the House deal with No. 17, the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009? I would like an answer to both questions. I support the calls of Senators O’Donovan and Coffey for a debate on fisheries policy. This is vital as there are many people around our vast coastline whose livelihoods depend on fishing, and we have neglected them. This would be a useful debate and I look forward to the Leader giving us time on the matter.
Senator John Hanafin: I would like to reiterate that I abhor all the findings in the Ryan report. I welcome the fact there appears to be some recognition among a large number of the religious institutions that they will actually try to do more. I hope the debate is conducted in a proper manner in this House. I trust we will not be hearing dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi, hearsay evidence presented. We have a report and it should be dealt with as the reported findings. I call for balanced and proper debate on an extremely frightening and upsetting report with which we must deal.
I wish to raise the issue of North Korea. For the first time this morning I heard that should the South Koreans search ships leaving the North Korean area, something they indicated they would do, North Korea was prepared to go to war. This is a very serious development and I ask the Leader for a debate.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I wish to comment on the findings of the Ryan commission. I could not help but be almost moved to tears by listening to the man in the audience in “Questions and Answers” on Monday night. It was difficult to listen to his personal account of the sheer horror of what happened and to his sheer frustration with the manner in which he was dealt with by the commission. As he put it so eloquently, but painfully, seven barristers literally ran questions left, right and centre of him, and then someone alleged he was only in it for the money.
These people need justice. They need some sort of movement from the religious orders. It is not all about the money. It is about a step that is much greater than that. It is about showing some level of sympathy with the victims of this horrible abuse. As I said in the House last week, this is probably the most shameful period of Irish history and it is certainly our holocaust. I welcome the comments from the Christian Brothers that they are willing to contribute more. I welcome the statement from the Taoiseach that he is seeking this type of commitment from the religious orders. We need to bear in mind that the debate needs to be balanced, but we need to be ultra-sensitive to the abuse the victims have suffered. We need to be very cognisant that their suffering should be lessened in the future.
I support Senator Coghlan on the fisheries industry. We have spoken at length in this House regarding the dangers of people leaving that industry. This industry is one of our greatest reserves, and our greatest opportunity to reboot the rural economy is to look at the manner in which the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority does its business. The homes of fishermen in west Cork were raided two weeks ago. They were treated like common criminals. These are the people who were responsible for finding the cocaine hauls off the west Cork coast last year. They unofficially police our coastline and we are treating them worse than we treat the scum who peddle those drugs around the coast.
I call on the Leader to call on the Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries to come before the House. We need to discuss the manner in which harsh sea fisheries legislation is enforced. I have called for it before and again I call for a system of administrative sanctions, as opposed to the criminal sanctions which currently exist. If fishermen are found to be in violation of what are minor sanctions at a European level, their catch and their boats are confiscated and they are brought before a Circuit Court judge, which is harsh to say the least. The Minister of State should come before the House and debate whether we could look at relaxing laws in this area, helping an economy that is dying on its knees and helping to reboot the coastal economies.
Senator Ivor Callely: I welcome the fact there will be a debate on the Ryan report. We should not lose sight of the fact that while we can all point fingers, we must accept it was the State which put these children into care. At the end of the day, maybe the finger should be pointed at ourselves. Whatever it may be, let us hope it is the catalyst for change and I look forward to that change taking place.
There is a very interesting debate on the global financial difficulties taking place in Dublin. The OSCEPA is holding its economic forum conference and it is being hosted by this House. It is a great event, so I congratulate one and all. Following some door-to-door canvassing, I am aware people are asking about State policy on Irish financial institutions. It is important the Leader gives clarity to this. Is it a case of nationalisation, or is it a case of assisting the banks to clear their toxic debts and to balance their books? Can the Leader tell us whether NAMA is a bailout for builders? I know the answer to that question and it is important the Leader gives a clear answer——
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Healy Eames, Mary White, Coffey, Keaveney, Mullen, Buttimer, Coghlan, Hanafin, McCarthy and Callely all expressed their views on the Ryan report. I welcome the Taoiseach’s comments and his invitation and request for the religious orders to meet with him on the serious situation in which they find themselves. A special Cabinet meeting took place last night, and I look forward to the contributions of all Senators today on the issue. I have the full support of this House regarding everything and anything to do with child protection. As Senator O’Donovan said, until we get a referendum, strengthening the law is of the utmost importance.
If there is an urgent matter and a request is made for this House to be recalled, we will not have any difficulty in allowing for that. I assure Senators on this issue. The Senate is leading today, as this is the first House that is debating and discussing the report. I thank everyone who helped to make that possible. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, mentioned on “Questions and Answers” something that Senator O’Toole raised today, which is that we consider a national day of atonement. It can be discussed and brought to the Minister’s attention when he is here today. Senator O’Toole also mentioned the experience in Canada, where trusts were set up to protect assets. That is a very serious issue and something we will no doubt be discussing during the day, when the Minister is present. We can all agree that the removal of the criminal records of all of these young people must be brought to our attention, and it should happen as a matter of urgency. I look forward to the debate and there will be no difficulty in allowing time for future debate on these reports in the House.
Senators O’Donovan, Coffey, Keaveney and McCarthy all called for an urgent debate on the Common Fisheries Policy, and the enforcement of the rules, which must be fair for all. I have already given a commitment to Senator O’Donovan on this, and we will discuss it before the summer recess. On a point of information, I hope to bring to the House on the next sitting day after the elections the programme for three and four day sittings which will take place in the House from 9 June until the middle of July. There is a great amount of legislation coming before us for our consideration and approval.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Healy Eames called for a debate on jobs. Yesterday, the House had a discussion on the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. I was disappointed the full time allowed for the debate was not availed of. Be that as it may, I thank the leaders for their co-operation and assistance in that regard.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I have no difficulty in providing further time for a debate on jobs which is a priority issue for the future. However, given the amount of legislation coming to this House, I suggest any Member who wishes to bring this issue to the Minister’s attention should do so when he is in the House tomorrow morning for the Finance Bill 2009. That would be an ideal opportunity for colleagues to bring the matter to the Minister’s attention.
Senator Ross, with the support of other colleagues in the House, including Senator Norris, asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, be requested to come into the House to debate the issue of the independence of information and sources of journalism and, in particular, the case involving Suzanne Breen. I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate.
Senators Regan, Mary White, Keaveney, Quinn, Buttimer and Mullen expressed their shock and horror at the reports in today’s newspapers on alcohol abuse. I agree with the sentiments expressed, in particular in regard to the 6,500 deaths and the €3 million being spent in our hospitals in this regard. This is an enormous challenge to society, one we did not face years ago when people had no money. There is nothing wrong with alcohol, rather it is the abuse of alcohol that is at issue. Many Members of this House are lifelong members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. Everyone must be responsible. However, I inform the House that the sale of alcohol Bill which seeks to codify the law in regard to the sale and consumption of alcohol will be published late this year. It is opportune that we would have a lengthy debate in this House on alcohol and alcohol abuse before the final parts of that Bill are drafted. I will endeavour to provide time for a debate on this matter prior to the summer recess, if at all possible.
Senator Norris proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. I hope to be able to respond to this matter tomorrow morning. I tried to obtain a response on the matter for this morning but owing to a special Cabinet meeting last night that was not possible. I hope to have a response on the matter tomorrow morning.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report on water quality. I have no difficulty in passing on his concerns to the Minister, in particular the unacceptable problems in the Waterford region. The Senator is correct to bring these matters to the attention of the House. I will pass on his comments to the Minister following the Order of Business.
Senator Hanafin raised an issue of great concern to the world, namely, the intention of the South Koreans to search ships leaving North Korea and its preparedness to go to war should that happen. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator and will endeavour to arrange a debate on this urgent matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Callely welcomed the major economic conference taking place in Dublin which will provide Ireland with an opportunity to show Third World countries how it progressed and became a successful nation during the Celtic tiger years. That the conference is being held here acknowledges that Ireland is one of the leaders in the world in its field in terms of our economic recovery. It is hoped that in 12 to 18 months we will be able to look back on these difficult times and say we have done it again. I welcome the conference to Ireland.
Senator David Norris: In the spirit of co-operation and because of the Leader’s attempts to raise the matter with Cabinet, I wish to press the amendment in an effort to strengthen his hand with the civil servants in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
|Bradford, Paul.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Cannon, Ciaran.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Norris, David.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Brady, Martin.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callanan, Peter.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|Ellis, John.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Mullen, Rónán.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O'Donovan, Denis.||O'Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||White, Mary M.|
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