Thursday, 11 June 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages, and No. 2, statements on the recent elections. No. 1 will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and No. 2 at the conclusion of No. 1 but not before 1.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven; Senators may share time, with the Minister to be called no later than 3.20 p.m. for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons or leaders.
Senator Liam Twomey: I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 34, motion 31, is taken immediately after the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009. I object strongly to any time limit being placed on it. It is unnecessary in that if Members wish to speak, they should be allowed to do so without any time limit on the debate. By refusing to accept this motion, the Government parties are trying to avoid a vote on the issue. That shows a lack of confidence in their Government. A watered down debate, namely, statements on the recent elections, is not good enough.
There is ongoing concern about the Lisbon treaty. Currently, the Government is in negotiations with its EU partners to try to get an Irish protocol through in order to hold another Lisbon treaty referendum in the autumn. There is a possibility that the Irish protocol may not be accepted, especially by the UK Government, which is very weak. The opposition in the UK, the Conservative Party, is very eurosceptic. There is a need for us to stand up to the plate and get working on the Lisbon referendum.
The Government should put forward proposals where the Opposition parties lead off on this debate because they have the confidence of the people more than the Government does. There should also be a strong role for those who are neutral, neither for nor against the Lisbon treaty, to explain Europe in a very dispassionate way. Like everything, when one is for or against something, one can get very passionate about it and lose the message. There should be a three way debate on the Lisbon treaty between those who are for it, those who are against it and those who can explain Europe to the people.
In light of the march yesterday outside the House, we should accept the issues around the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse will not go away quickly. What struck me when the Ferns Report was published a couple of years ago was that a large number of people wanted the debate to go away. I noticed that again when this commission report was published. A significant proportion of the people do not want this debate to take place and want it to go away because it is not a stain on the Irish nation but on the Irish character that we allowed this to happen.
I read some of the headlines in the newspapers this morning in the Library. Paddy Doyle’s book, The God Squad, was published in 1989. We are now talking about the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 20 years later. We need a wide-ranging debate on this matter and to cleanse the Irish character of this stain.
I was very struck by comments made by Members on both sides of the House on the Order of Business the day this report was published. We need to have further debates because that is for what victims of abuse and the people are looking. I would like to think we could be non-political about this. This House said it would be non-political but I was absolutely disgusted by the comments of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea, in the Lower House. He quite clearly tried to make this a political issue and to up the ante with victims of abuse, which was disgusting and low. I hope we can all rise above that and give the commission and the victims the respect and dignity they deserve and not play politics with them.
Senator Joe O’Toole: On the Ryan report, I complimented the Leader previously on arranging the debate, as did Senator Fitzgerald. It was the first debate to take place in the Houses. It was immediate and was important for that reason. It was also important to survivors who mentioned it to me on many occasions. The Leader also made the point, which was raised by Senator Alex White yesterday, that it is an issue to which we need to come back. We should do that but in the meantime, it is absolutely crucial that we look beyond the Ryan report to see where we are going. A number of things need to be done.
This House is aware that within the next six weeks, the Government response from the Minister of State with responsibility for children to the Ryan report will be published, as will the Archdiocese of Dublin report into clerical child sexual abuse. This House will be in recess when the Government report is published but we should return to debate it. We should do the same when the Archdiocese of Dublin report is published.
The Dublin archdiocese is sitting on more assets than any other group in the country. I make that point because while the Residential Institutions Redress Board is doing its work, we are now aware that this went far beyond residential institutions. We need to ensure people who were abused in schools and other places and who may not have been resident in them also have access to redress.
In that regard, the churches and other groups have a role to play, and I am not just hammering the churches. We should set the agenda. Every victim and survivor is entitled to be respected and to have an opportunity for some redress.
Le dhá lá anuas, I raised na deacrachtaí ar leith a bhí ag Foinse. Inné phléamar an t-ábhar mar bhí cruinniú le bheith ann idir bainistíocht Foinse agus Foras na Gaeilge. Ní raibh aon dul chun cinn mar gheall ar an gcruinniú sin. I do not want anybody to have any doubts about this. The only Irish language newspaper is going out of business because the State will not make provision for it. I am appalled by the apparent attitude of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs who, as I said before, is quick to come into the House and argue minor points of Irish language policy.
This is a significant issue for the intellectual life of the country, in terms of current affairs information for people in the Gaeltacht and for the development of many aspects of Irish life, including Irish language schools etc. The Minister said Foras na Gaeilge, the channel through which Foinse gets its money, is a North-South body over which he has no control. That is a cowardly abrogation of responsibility.
I have said to the Leader before that North-South bodies do not report to the Dáil or the Seanad but that Ministers should tell us what is going on in them. This is an example of why I asked for that. The Minister is walking away from this. Foras na Gaeilge said it will extend the contract for the publication of Foinse but extending the contract is no good without the money to do so. This is crucially important.
I support the point made by Senator Twomey that we should discuss a motion this afternoon. Parties, Government and otherwise, should have a bit of fire in their bellies discussing this issue. Members on both sides should be prepared to vote on a motion. I second the amendment to the Order of Business. I apologise for going over my time.
Senator Alex White: In regard to the Ryan commission report, has a suggestion I made to the Leader yesterday been considered by him? Will he revert to me in respect of the redress board and aggravated damages which could be paid to persons who have appeared before it?
Senator Twomey touched on the aftermath of the Ryan report and the debate taking place. Since the publication of the report, many people have called for the immediate inclusion in the Constitution of a provision in respect of children’s rights. I very much support that call. I am a member of the all-party Oireachtas committee dealing with that question and I imagine that in the coming months, that call will be on the top of the agenda of that committee.
Let nobody believe, in this House or anywhere else, that all these issues belong in the past or can be dealt with purely in retrospect. If we are genuinely to change our Constitution and place the rights of children at the heart of it, we will come up against political forces and others in our society who hold fast to the notion that we cannot change, or alter in any way, the centrality of the family in the Constitution and that children’s rights should be mediated only through their membership of families. That is the constitutional order in this country. All the issues which relate to intervention, whether by social workers or the State, in families or in situations involving child welfare come up against that central constitutional fact in regard to the rights of the family and the centrality of the family in the Constitution.
I am not saying we cannot include a clause in the Constitution which would sit reasonably comfortably in it. However, let nobody believe this is an argument about the past. Questions about the rights of children arise in the context of the Ryan report on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and those questions will inevitably cause controversy and contention across communities and society. I invite people to begin looking at the responses they may have to the debate which must take place in the aftermath of the Ryan report.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on issues relating to Dublin and the wider Dublin area? I am prompted to ask for such a debate by the publication yesterday of an interesting report by the Futures Academy, setting out various options and scenarios in terms of the growth of Dublin city and the greater Dublin area. This is an issue that comes in and out of public debate, whether in regard to the Government’s so-called decentralisation proposal, the question of a directly elected major or the question of integrated public transport systems. What is our vision for the future of Dublin city and the greater Dublin area? We should debate these issues in this House. Perhaps the publication of this interesting report, as outlined in today’s newspapers, could act as a starting point for that debate.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Following on from the issues raised by Senator O’Toole, I call for an urgent debate on North-South bodies. I have raised this issue on several occasions. For example, Translink, the cross-Border body that operates the train service between Belfast and Dublin, is co-funded by the European Union. If one purchases a ticket in the North, one will pay £40, this price having recently increased from £36, but one must pay at least €55 — I understand this fare has increased recently — to purchase a ticket in Dublin. An effective exchange rate of 69 cent for £1 has been in operation for as long as I care to remember. I have not succeeded in getting Translink to answer my questions on this matter. I seek a mechanism to deal with a situation where commuters from the South are being exploited by a company which manages co-funded infrastructural services.
Other North-South bodies include the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and the Foyle Fisheries Commission. The latter can issue licences for aquaculture, but when it does so, there is a veto by the Crown Estate. The question of the territorial status of the seabed of the River Foyle has never been dealt with. How can these bodies do their jobs when there is a third party which can veto their decisions? This House offers a forum where we can put our point of view and seek to deal with these difficult issues.
I agree with Senator O’Toole’s comments regarding Foinse and Foras na Gaeilge. At the recent Council of Europe meeting, during a discussion on a report on endangered languages, we were told that Irish had moved from endangered to vulnerable. I extolled the virtues of the actions being taken in this State to support the language. It is disturbing to hear a North-South body charged with the development of the language saying it will not support an Irish language newspaper. These are the issues we must address. I recognise it is difficult to frame a debate on these matters but it must be done so we can tackle what are serious issues both for people living in Border areas and for the island as a whole.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I strongly support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Twomey. I agree with the points raised by Senators O’Toole and Keaveney. I have supported Senator O’Toole on this issue before in the House, on which occasion the Leader gave an indication he was willing to proceed along the lines proposed. There is a role for this House to fulfil in this regard. As the Senator said, there is no democratic scrutiny of what is happening in these North-South bodies and no report to this or the other House. I ask the Leader to revisit this issue.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, for his visit last week to Killarney House despite everything else that is going on. The Minister of State has responsibility at the Department of Finance for the Office of Public Works and also has responsibilities at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. He is not Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Killarney House, like Muckross House, is a very important part of our built heritage. Unfortunately, some years ago, there was a Government decision to remove these fine buildings from the aegis of the Office of the Public Works and place them under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The National Parks and Wildlife Service may know much about wildlife, or the wild side of life, but I am concerned about its level of knowledge of our built heritage. This matter is crying out for redress. I was pleased that the Office of Public Works was called in by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to examine what can be done to shore the situation. I am glad the Minister of State saw for himself the appalling deterioration of Killarney House. However, I am very worried about the ability to follow through on this. There is no concrete plan in place. I ask the Leader to do what he can to address this situation.
Senator Terry Leyden: Will the Leader arrange a pre-legislative debate on the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan? This body should be called the Private Asset Management Agency because none of the assets concerned is in the State. This House should have a role in this matter. It is one of the most important decisions ever made by the State and there are merits and demerits to the proposal. Why should 83 Fianna Fáil councillors lose their jobs because of a banking crisis? They are not responsible for the situation at Anglo Irish Bank.
Senator Terry Leyden: The Government would be well advised to consider this bank for insolvency and receivership. It is sucking a further €4 billion out of the economy. It is gardaí, teachers, nurses, doctors, prison officers, public and civil servants, as well as ourselves, who are paying for this. As I said, 83 young and active people have lost their jobs because of Mr. Seán FitzPatrick.
Senator Feargal Quinn: The decision yesterday by the Minister for Defence to give the order for food for the Army to two Ulster companies is interesting. One of them, which obtained the order for eggs for the Army for the coming year, is based in County Monaghan. The other, which obtained the order for fresh poultry, worth €350,000, is in County Down. This is a reminder that we are one country in this area and it is not a question of North versus South. It seems to me that the other Minister who asked us some time ago to do our patriotic duty by shopping south of the Border was acting in a partitionist manner. It is probably out of the hands of the Department of Defence to do anything other than award the contract to the company offering the best value. If the best value is north of the Border, it is up to businesses in the South to reduce their prices in order to be competitive. There has not been nearly enough recognition of the need to do so. I ask the Leader to draw the Minister’s attention to this issue so that action can be taken to address it.
Mr. Willie Walsh, the chief executive officer of British Airways, announced yesterday that he will not accept the bonus to which he is entitled because he wishes to set an example to his employees and to indicate his willingness to make the businesses successful. That is a standard of behaviour to which we in this State should look. Those who encourage others to accept pay cuts should do so themselves. We should have a guarantee that this will be done.
I heard with interest about a conference taking place next week in the United States. Some 100 Japanese citizens were due to attend that conference but were obliged to cancel because their country’s Government has put in place a seven-day quarantine in respect of anyone visiting the United States. I understand that later today the World Health Organisation may upgrade its alert in respect of swine flu — the H1N1 virus — to level 6. This should act as a reminder to us to keep our eyes on the ball with regard to a possible pandemic. The problem has not gone away and we must continue to monitor events.
Senator Mary M. White: I call on the Leader to demand that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, come before the House as a matter of urgency to inform Members what the HSE intends to do with regard to the number of people in this country who die as a result of suicide each year. Yesterday, the Sub-Committee on the High Level of Suicide in Ireland launched a report on evaluating what has happened in respect of the recommendations contained in a suicide prevention document published three years ago. I am Vice Chairman of the sub-committee, on which Senator Phil Prendergast also serves. It is a small sub-committee with a membership of just four.
The findings in the report of the sub-committee are frightening. Very few of the 33 recommendations contained in the document published three years ago have been implemented. What in God’s name is going on? Each year, more people in this country die as a result of suicide than are killed in road accidents. However, this matter has not registered on the political radar. At least six and a half times more money is invested in road safety initiatives than is invested in suicide prevention. A major reason for this is the stigma that still attaches in respect of mental illness, depression and those who may feel suicidal.
I could discuss this matter for an hour but I will cut to the chase. I demand that the Minister for Health and Children and not some Minister of State come before the House to discuss this matter. The 2007 joint programme for Government states that the rate of suicide will be reduced by 20% by 2012. What is the position in this regard and what are the costs involved? What are the Government’s plans and how will these be implemented?
Senator Mary M. White: ——and I want to ensure it is registered on the political radar. There have been many clusters of suicides in this country, particularly in the south east, but the HSE has not put a plan in place——
Senator Eugene Regan: A worrying report appears in The Irish Times today under the headline “EU members fear Lisbon guarantees may reopen whole debate”. I presume this refers to the concern of other EU governments that the possible inclusion in the Lisbon treaty of a protocol relating to the guarantees Ireland is seeking in respect of abortion, workers’ rights, neutrality etc. may cause political problems in their jurisdictions. What is of concern to us is that we still do not know the nature of the guarantees the Government is seeking from the EU. It has not been made clear whether the guarantees being sought will reflect the concerns that arose during the referendum campaign, in which we all participated.
It is worrying that the Government has failed to make the House aware of what is happening in respect of such a fundamental issue, namely, ratification of the Lisbon treaty. Is it wise that the Taoiseach appears to be going it alone again in respect of the treaty? Is there an intention to work with Opposition parties and take a bipartisan approach to ensuring that the “Yes” side will win the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty? I put it to the Leader that it is important to obtain clarity on the guarantees that are being sought, particularly in view of the fact that we do not want a row to take place here or in the Lower House after the event. It would be much better if we could agree on these issues before seeking assurances from Brussels.
Another report in one of this morning’s newspapers refers to the fact that new welfare checks being introduced on foot of a clampdown on social welfare fraud will, as a result of a reduction in costs, net the Exchequer €600 million. The report in question refers to the fact that social welfare inspectors have been taking part in a series of vehicle checks with the Garda in
Border areas in order to put a stop fraud etc., which may involve people living in Northern Ireland.
Senator Eugene Regan: Is there a need for an integrated computer database to facilitate this “catch me if you can” approach to policing and the investigation of fraud in order that we might tackle this issue more effectively?
Senator John Hanafin: I would welcome the holding of an ongoing debate on the Ryan report and I ask the Leader to make suitable provision in this regard. I welcome Pope Benedict’s call for justice for the victims at his recent meeting with Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin. I was impressed by the calls for dignity that were made at yesterday’s march. I was also impressed by the prayers and scripture readings of the victims. The latter prove that they were much closer to the church than those who perpetrated any vile acts against them.
Senator John Hanafin: The Seanad could do the country some service by hosting a debate of this nature. There appears to be a mystery with regard to the areas in respect of which certain parties would introduce cuts and what level of tax increases they would introduce.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I wish again to raise a particular issue and I have informed the Leader that I will continue to raise it until action is taken. I would appreciate it if the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, not one of his Ministers of State, would come before the House to discuss it. With respect to junior Ministers, it is about time their senior counterparts began coming before the House to take debates.
A survey carried out by the Irish Mortgage Corporation indicates that one in five holders of variable rate mortgages are saving in the region of €500 on their repayments. This is of little consolation to the one in three holders of fixed rate mortgages. Some of the latter are locked into agreements under which they are obliged to pay in excess of 5% in interest. The ECB’s rate has been dropping since September last and now stands at 1%. Many people who entered into fixed rate agreements did so on the basis of the good mortgage and financial advice available to them. The forecast at the time was that interest rates would rise. As a result, the people to whom I refer are locked into fixed rate mortgages and, as stated, are paying interest at 5%.
The penalties for extricating oneself from a fixed rate agreement are massive and do not make it worthwhile to do so. Compliant taxpayers, through the actions of the Government, have recapitalised and bailed out the banks. It would, therefore, be reasonable to expect a small element of quid pro quo from the banks, which should allow people to negotiate their way out of fixed rate mortgage agreements. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, must take the lead on this issue.
Senator Marc MacSharry: Yes, most certainly. I look forward to again outlining our proposals. I am sure we are at one on Senator McCarthy’s point regarding fixed rate mortgages and I understand the Minister intends to bring forward some proposals in that regard. I look forward to hearing the latter.
I join Senator Alex White in requesting a debate on the future of Dublin. As someone from the west, I acknowledge it is important for Dublin to be a vibrant, coherent and cohesive capital city. However, there is also a need for balanced regional development. In that context, I again request a debate on the national spatial strategy and the lack of progress relating thereto. When circumstances suit, announcements are made in line with the national spatial strategy, but when they do not suit, such announcements are not made. This matter must be addressed.
I refer to the progress in the context of the north west and equitably accessible services or the lack of progress of the national cancer control programme. One sees the disarray when the management of University College Hospital, Galway says it is in no position to act as a centre of excellence. Why would people of the north west, including Sligo, Letterkenny and elsewhere, want services to be directed from there when it is not in the best interest of patients of that area? General practitioners in that region and the medical body of the general hospitals stated ad nauseam that to co-operate with the proposals of the Professor, whose name cannot be mentioned, would not be in the best interests of the patients. We require an adjustment to what is a good policy. There is nothing more honourable than to adjust a good policy to make it better.
Senator David Norris: Has the Leader noticed a bit of a whiff or a pong around the place? I think there is a stink and it comes from the deal done in the aftermath of the abuse allegations. It is an extraordinary deal, prepared by a firm of solicitors acting on behalf of the religious, and it was not subjected to the advice of the Attorney General or the Department of Finance. It was signed off by Dr. Michael Woods, on behalf of the Government two days before the election. In light of the fact that 90% of the financial smack administered was diverted from the guilty to the taxpayers of Ireland, it seems as if Dr. Woods was deliberately or inadvertently acting on behalf of the church rather than the taxpayers. There is a track record of this. In 1987 the abortion referendum was delivered by Dr. Woods two days before the election.
There were suggestions on the radio that this deal was a secret handshake deal, and it was described by a senior politician in the other House as such. We all know what that means. There were references in this House to various eminent people being members of groups such as the Knights of Saint Columbanus and Opus Dei. They may well be members but the public is entitled to know. I am including on the Order Paper a motion that membership of groups such as these would be a matter that would be required to be disclosed to the Standards in Public Office Commission. People are entitled to know what pressures are brought to bear by these extra-parliamentary agencies on people who are supposed to be acting in the interests of the Irish people.
I deplore the fact that our business starts with a prayer. I find it offensive and I say that as a practising Christian who goes to church every Sunday. It is a rigamarole, it means nothing and we should be alert to the fact that there are atheists, agnostics, Jews and Muslims. It makes a mockery of the whole thing to invoke Jesus Christ as the source of our doings here. It is not that I have no faith but it is offensive politically.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: It is a pity this is happening in the present debate because there are many matters being brought into this debate that are not relevant. I would not like to think that we offend the majority of people in this country who have the Christian faith. I also respect the faith of other people.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: An rud a bhí i gceist agam a rá ná go bhfuil súil agam nach bhfuil deireadh le scéal Foinse. Tááthas orm gur tharla an cruinniú inné. B’fhéidir nach raibh aon dul chun cinn déanta, ach ní hionann é sin agus a rá go bhfuil an doras dúnta.
Cross-Border bodies are very significant and we are all aware of the symbolism attaching to them. We know how lucky we are that we have peace on this island. That cross-Border co-operation in a formal manner is good. Foras na Gaeilge was one that was selected and it plays an important role in creating goodwill with all the traditions on this island. It has always been accessible to all people. It is important to remember that in the current debate on Foinse. I hope it can get the funding and support it requests. It is a very professional publication and we would all be dissatisfied if it could not continue.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I compliment the victims who marched outside the gates of Leinster House. Their dignified protest was very moving and left many of us full of anger and sadness at what it has transpired happened to them.
I join Senator Mary White in praising the report of the Sub-Committee on the High Level of Suicide in Ireland. It is extraordinary. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the Chamber for an urgent debate on mental health, especially with regard to suicide. It is unacceptable that in Ireland suicide is four times more common in men than in women and, more importantly, men aged under 35 years of age account for 40% of all suicide deaths. That statistic should not be left on the page of a report; we must act upon it. A Vision for Change was promulgated as being the next big thing. What has happened to it? Are we taking men’s health and mental health seriously in this country? I do not think we are and it is time for an all-day debate on men’s health and mental health.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, to the House for a debate on the Lisbon treaty? It is important that the nation and Members prepare for the Lisbon referendum. The ratification of the Lisbon treaty will be the next big electoral test. More importantly, it will determine our future role in Europe. We cannot be the peripheral nation on the edge of Europe by having the treaty defeated. We must have a debate on it, on the guarantees, and on the changes being made to the treaty. That must take place now so that we can move this country to the heart of Europe.
Senator Ivor Callely: I support the call for a debate on Dublin. I congratulate the city manager and his team in Dublin City Council on the work done in the development of our capital over recent years. A number of serious issues and challenges face the city. Some work has been done on the 2030 vision project and we must give credit to those involved. One of the big issues facing the capital is the development of the port and whether the development should be in the area just outside the city in Bremore, which has much public support and which would protect the amenities in Dublin Bay. We will see the outcome of the process.
A new political office that is likely to hold serious influence and a large budget is that of the directly elected mayor of the city. We should have an open debate on this to ensure the public knows the consequences of the development of the office and its impact.
Will the Leader arrange a briefing on the co-ordination between the Garda Síochána and the Prison Service, especially on the serving of warrants? I raise this in light of the horrific case before Mr. Justice Birmingham yesterday, involving Michael Murphy also known as Michael Barrett, where there was a delay in processing a European warrant for a person with a litany of serious convictions for rape and manslaughter and who went on to carry out an horrific offence in a Dublin hotel. Will the Leader arrange for an appropriate briefing on the process involved in the serving of these warrants and why in this instance was there such a delay?
Senator Brendan Ryan: Immediately after the Order of Business we are to take Committee and Remaining Stages of the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill. Unfortunately, no time has been provided between Committee and Report Stages for this Bill. Many Senators know this is a very important space between Committee and Report Stages, which provides the opportunity for the Minister and officials to reflect on some of the amendments and arguments put before them.
We have some very important amendments and perhaps I am pre-empting the decision of the Minister and his officials. Perhaps he will accept all our amendments, although experience here would suggest otherwise. The response from the Leader might be that we cannot delay Report Stage until next week because the Bill is due in the Dáil at that time. I suspect the Bill is due in the Dáil next week because it can be taken at that time; if we required an additional hour next Tuesday, it would not be the end of the world in terms of timing. There is no urgency in that regard. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business today where we would only take Committee Stage and have Report Stage next week.
Senator Larry Butler: I wish to deal with a matter which we are all concerned about in this House, namely fixed rate mortgages. I draw the Leader’s attention to the importance of the Minister for Finance coming before the House on this matter, and I have a proposal on how the matter could be dealt with. In the long term, this will create a major problem for mortgage holders in the country, who are at an all-time low now. There is an opportunity for both the Minister and the banks to facilitate mortgage holders being fixed in at a moderate rate for five years.
This would support mortgage holders five years down the road and stop any further problems for them. I propose that the Minister look at having a small break facility in mortgages. The cost of such a break should be reduced and instead of any money changing hands, it should be added to people’s mortgages over the period. This would be a way in which we could reduce our commitment to borrowings on behalf of the lender. I suggest the Leader consider this matter. I am getting further details on it and it is important we act on it now.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I raise the request by the HSE for €15 million in cuts at the University College Hospital in Galway. Yesterday some other Senators raised the review and downgrading of services in the south but there appears to be a continuing trend around the country. How can the people who are sick and vulnerable have confidence in centres of excellence which are consistently downgraded?
It was quite extraordinary to see the manager, Ms Brigid Howley, stating this morning that she would not be able to run the centre of excellence in Galway as she has already made €9 million in cuts and is now expected to make a further cut of €15 million. That will lead to the loss of 126 jobs. We depend on services like this in the midlands as we have lost services in Mullingar. How can people have faith and be reassured when they are sick if there is a consistent downgrading of services?
I ask the Cathaoirleach to extend a vote of congratulations to Westmeath County Council today as the official opening is taking place of a brand new flagship county building. I compliment the council led by Fine Gael and Labour, the county manager and the executive for their foresight and wish them well. I hope it will be a centre for great work in future.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I support calls made by other colleagues for a debate on some issues arising from the Ryan report. I found it incredibly moving yesterday to stand outside Leinster House with the many survivors and victims of abuse present, and to hear the names of over 200 Catholic-run institutions being read out while people stood in silence. Many were very emotional as the names of the institution in which they had been held were read out. It was a particularly poignant solidarity march and it is important we acknowledge that.
It is interesting that the march occurred on the same day that we heard revelations on RTE about the obstructionism and dismissal of allegations of abuse by the church authorities at the time the negotiations were conducted in 2002. It would be irresponsible of us not to debate the bigger issues arising from the Ryan report. As my colleague Senator Norris stated, first among these must be the way in which the indemnity agreement was conducted in 2002, and particularly the role of Deputy Michael Woods in conducting it. Serious questions must be asked about that.
There are other questions. There was a great deal of abuse in institutions not covered by the agreement, such as the Magdalene institutions mentioned by others and national schools where children were not resident but where we know abuse was carried out. We must look at the extension of the redress scheme to those institutions and the lack of outside regulation of residential institutions in which children and adults with disabilities are still being held today. There was an excellent article by Ms Deirdre Carroll of Inclusion Ireland in yesterday’s The Irish Times which highlighted the absence of regulation as to the conditions in which children and adults with disabilities are held.
As Senator Alex White indicated, there are the important issues of governance of schools and general children’s rights, which arise from any consideration of the Ryan report. It is not accurate to say, as Catholic bishops appeared to last night, that these matters are just in the past. We must consider how our schools are currently being managed and whether we are respecting children’s rights fully in our education and welfare systems.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I join with my colleagues in support of a debate on the broader aspects of the Ryan report. The need for this is underscored in documents which appear in many of today’s newspapers regarding reports given by local health area managers to the HSE on the quality of child protection measures within their own areas. The quotes from some of these reports underscore the need for this debate.
Such quotes refer to dangerous waiting lists for children in need of care, serious breaches of regulation, staff being thin on the ground and a lack of family support services. For example, they refer to Cork and indicate that the list of cases which the managers have is sufficiently high as to make them unmanageable. This emphasises the point that, unfortunately, the dilemmas and difficulties — to use mild language — which existed in the past are still there.
What is the point in having a Minister of State with responsibility for children if on a day when the Lower House is debating the Ryan report, we find people within the HSE indicating they do not have the staff or ability to cope with children in difficulty today? Surely this merits an urgent debate.
I support calls from some of my colleagues for a debate on the Lisbon treaty and the guarantees which have been made in that regard. I spent time at the end of last year working with colleagues in the Oireachtas on a report on Ireland’s future in Europe. The main recommendation made with regard to the need for guarantees was a strengthening of the role of the Oireachtas in European affairs. Today we find a front page article in the The Irish Times stating the negotiations on guarantees may not be as smooth as first believed. Why is this happening? At 11.45 a.m. the Minister for Foreign Affairs will brief an Oireachtas committee on how the negotiations are going. The only conclusion I can draw from that is the last thing we want to happen is for the Oireachtas to find out before members of the public do. Otherwise, why would this appear in a newspaper article this morning?
I support Senator Ryan’s amendment to the Order of Business regarding the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill. He is correct that this debate could be phased over a week and allow us to do better work on this important legislation.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Twomey, O’Toole, Alex White, Regan, Hanafin, Norris, Buttimer, Bacik and Donohoe expressed their concerns regarding the Lisbon treaty referendum. There will of course be an all-party approach. I agree with Senator Regan on that. Everything that can be done must be done to make it a successful referendum. I know it will be done. We are all agreed Ireland’s future is in Europe, as Senator Donohoe stated. I commend the great work done by the Sub-committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union under his stewardship. Any time needed in the House will be granted. I will request the Minister for Foreign Affairs to attend the House in this session to allow for a lengthy debate on the Lisbon treaty. It would allow Members to express their views on how to assist the Government in the forthcoming referendum.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Members’ contributions were outstanding. I congratulated all those who made a contribution. I accept there is quite a number of other Senators who want to make a contribution on the serious findings of the report. As Senator O’Toole said, I have no difficulty in recalling the House, even during the holidays, to debate the serious matters that will be brought to our attention over the coming months.
I intend for the House to revisit the Ryan report before the end of this session to accommodate those Senators who did not have an opportunity to contribute in the last debate. I will return to Senator Alex White on his queries concerning the Residential Institutions Redress Board as I am still awaiting a response from the Minister’s office.
Senators O’Toole, Keaveney, Ó Murchú expressed disappointment at the lack of funding for the only remaining Irish-language newspaper published in the island of Ireland. The House has complimented TG4 to no end on the amount of good work it has done for the Irish language. Its achievements are mind-boggling. Media penetration breaks down at 70% for television, 20% for radio and, unfortunately, 10% for the printed media. TG4 has filled the void in the 70% media penetration for the Irish language. It has also done more than just cover the Irish language, being in my opinion, the best Irish television station available. We in rural Ireland can identify more with TG4’s programming and coverage of the various aspects of Irish life with which we were brought up. Cathal Goan, now the director general of RTE, can take a bow for his work in the creation and putting in place of TG4. I wish those deliberating on the funding for Foinse well in these difficult times. As it is a cross-Border publication and an integral part of our whole being, I hope the deliberations can be brought to a successful conclusion.
Senators O’Toole, Keaveney and Coghlan called for debates on North-South bodies and cross-Border funded projects. In their submissions on Seanad reform, all parties have called for this to be an important part of a monthly debate in the House. Such debates would allow us to assist our fellow parliamentarians in Stormont in their deliberations on cross-Border projects and activities and the achievements, North and South.
Senators Alex White, MacSharry and Callely called for a debate on a Dublin action plan for the next ten years and the 2030 vision for Dublin. Senator MacSharry pointed out that development in the regions should be part of this debate. I will discuss this with the leaders of the groups at our meeting next Tuesday, along with the Seanad being the conduit for the local authorities, Government agencies and Departments on this matter.
Senator Quinn highlighted the successful two companies which won the tenders for food contracts for the Department of Defence. It is good to see competition between North and South. It is the only way we will get to grips with competitiveness, as has been pointed out repeatedly in the House. I wish these companies well and it is an eye-opener for what we have to do in the South to stay competitive. Wages are a serious challenge and I have no doubt that wages played an important factor in the winning tenders.
Senator Quinn also pointed out the good example set by Willie Walsh, leading by example by not taking his bonus at British Airways. I know everyone will have to do this because the money will not be there for bonuses. The private sector is doing it and I know an bord snip nua will have to seriously deliberate on this for our consideration regarding the challenges in the other areas that have to be addressed.
Senator Quinn also highlighted the WHO has taken the swine flu alert to level 6. We will have an update on this, every week if necessary, from the Minister for Health and Children. I look forward to hearing the views of Senator Twomey and other Members with experience in medical care on how to bring the matter to the attention of the public.
Senators Mary White and Buttimer called for the Minister for Health and Children to debate the report on suicide published yesterday by the Oireachtas health sub-committee on suicide levels. Up to 500 lives are lost every year through suicide. The Seanad will do everything it can in tackling this challenge and I have no problem having a debate on the matter.
Senator Regan requested the Minister for Social and Family Affairs attend a debate on social welfare fraud. He outlined his experience in this matter and pointed out the many savings being made in tackling it.
Senators Hanafin and MacSharry again called for a two-day debate on costed proposals from all parties regarding their views on our direction as a Government, an economy and a nation for the next three years. I will discuss this proposal with the leaders of the groups at our meeting next Tuesday and I have no difficulty in supporting this call.
As for the matters outlined to the House this morning by Senators McCarthy and MacSharry, I will deal with them and will respond to them next Tuesday. Senators Buttimer, McCarthy and others outlined their serious concerns regarding fixed rated mortgages. I understand this affects approximately 20% of mortgage holders. There is a serious gap at present and I hope the Minister will address this matter when he comes before the House. Senator Butler also outlined a proposal and he should elaborate further on his suggestion as to how the issue can be addressed in the coming weeks.
Senator MacSharry again called for a debate on the HSE in the presence of the Minister regarding cancer services in the north west and on the adjustment to be made in services in that part of the country. I agreed to this and a debate took place, but I have no difficulty in such a debate taking place once again.
Senator Callely sought a briefing in respect of the Garda Síochána and the possession of European warrants, and referred to the bitter experience about which all Members read in the newspapers this morning. I certainly will contact the Garda Commissioner in this regard to ascertain what is the up-to-date position on the serving of such warrants.
Senator Ryan expressed his concern regarding taking all Stages of the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill today. If it is helpful to the Senator, Members can take a sos between Committee and Report Stages to allow him, as is usual, to table whatever amendments are necessary. I always have tried to facilitate every political party’s tabling of amendments during the passage of Bills. As this Bill was initiated in this House, I hope to get agreement with the spokespersons on this portfolio this morning and we can have a short sos between Stages. If Members request that I so do, I will propose an amendment to the Order of Business at a later stage to allow this to happen.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of HSE services in the context of the centre of excellence in Galway and the proposed shortfall in funding. Everyone simply must make the best of their budgets and work as hard as they can to give the best possible services. We can only wish them all well in this regard.
Senator McFadden requested that congratulations be extended to all past and present members of Westmeath County Council on the opening of the new council offices today. I am pleased to have been a member of the council before the Senator became a member. However, her father was a member and joined us on the Fianna Fáil-led council that initiated this wonderful project. Moreover, a Fianna Fáil-led Government supplied the funding and I am delighted it is happening today——
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Twomey moved an amendment to the Order of Business: “That No. 34, motion 31, be substituted for No. 2 and that no concluding time be fixed for the debate.” Is the amendment being pressed?
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Cannon, Ciaran.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Norris, David.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Twomey, Liam.||White, Alex.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ryan also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That Committee Stage only of the Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed?
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