Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Bill 2010 — Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 4.30 p.m.; and No. 2, statements on proposed emergency funding for Greece, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 but not earlier than 4.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from spokespersons or leaders.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: In recent weeks we have been asking for a debate on job creation. Because of a high profile discussion, Ryanair’s influence and the anger of the 800 staff now unemployed as a result of what happened in SR Technics, it is very clear the Tánaiste has been forced to revisit her original approach and decision which I would describe as “hands-off”. What concerns me is that we have heard about this case which has featured on the public airwaves but what about all the other redundancies announced and business failures? If there had been a more effective reaction by the agencies working under the Tánaiste’s authority, we could have saved jobs instead of what we saw happen in recent months. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue of job creation.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I had a discussion with Senator Quinn who is well experienced in the retail trade and we came to the conclusion that it might be useful if all newly elected Members had to wear security tabs in order that any time they went near the gate an alarm would alert the Opposition which could provide counselling etc.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Mr. O’Leary has managed successfully and with great aplomb to have both the Tánaiste and Deputy Enda Kenny jumping to his tune within 48 hours. It is a fair achievement. I am touched by his great concern for job creation in Ireland. I know all about it because in the past ten years I have spoken to people from Shannon, counties Kerry and Galway, Knock and Cork and heard how Mr. O’Leary played one body off against the other and continues to do so. The record should show that he was offered by Dublin Airport everything he received at Prestwick but that is not to say the Tánaiste handled the matter well. She walked straight into a trap. She should have been happy to meet Mr. O’Leary at Dublin Airport to secure the 500 jobs when he had them and give him whatever he was looking for. His idea seems to be that people can break contracts with Aer Lingus for the famous hangar No. 6. He can get everything he is looking for from the Dublin Airport Authority. That should be stated clearly, as should the fact that the Tánaiste just walked into Mr. O’Leary’s trap. Mr. O’Leary now has the entire political system jumping to his tune. I do not believe we will ever see the jobs in question, no matter what he is given. I guarantee that the first item that will come up today in the discussions with him will be the same item that has come up at every airport in Europe to which he has brought the same proposal in the past two years, namely, how much will he get from us — the taxpayer — in order to create the jobs in question?
Senator Alex White: I have no objection to the House discussing the emergency funding for Greece today but in the current circumstances I would much prefer to discuss the position in Ireland. Given all the calls made on the Order of Business by Members on both sides of the House for debates to be held on issues of importance, I am curious to know why the Leader responded so quickly to the brief reference made by Senators Donohoe and Hanafin last week to Greece and why the matter is suddenly on the Order Paper today when there are so many other issues to be discussed. Senator Fitzgerald has mentioned that the issue of job creation requires to be debated. I wonder if this is intended to afford the Government an opportunity which it will grasp quickly to tell us that Ireland is not Greece. Presumably, that is the reason the subject is on the Order Paper today. I am surprised by this.
On a more agreeable note for Members on the opposite side, I ask the Leader to arrange as soon as possible a debate on the report published within the past hour on the constitutional amendment on children. I have been privileged to be a member of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children for the past two and a half years, with Senators Fitzgerald, Corrigan and Feeney. The committee has produced three reports, the most important of which is being published today. It has the potential to alter radically the constitutional landscape of children’s rights in this country. We should debate the report in the House at the earliest opportunity. I ask the Leader to place it on the agenda as soon as possible in order that we can elucidate and elaborate on what has been achieved at this important committee. The debate would also demonstrate the relevance, tenacity and commitment of politicians in the Houses on issues of concern and relevance to all citizens. Will the Leader arrange such a debate as soon as possible?
Senator Marc MacSharry: I agree with Senator O’Toole on the issue of employment raised in recent days by Mr. Michael O’Leary and Ryanair. Ryanair is very professional and good at coming forward with ideas when it has not succeeded in getting its own way. It suggests it could have done something if it had been allowed to do something else. There is a touch of the George Lee about it. Not to be facetious, it is like saying, “I could have solved all the problems of the world if the Fine Gael Party had allowed me to do it.” I am sure that if employment can be created at Dublin Airport to replace that provided at SR Technics, it will be created. There is no better professional organisation in the world than the IDA, in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to achieve this and I am confident it will happen through ongoing negotiations. There are legal issues involved. If there is a contract in place in respect of hangar No. 6, it must stand. One cannot just say, “If you gave it to me, I could do this or that.” That is hypothetical hyperbole.
I ask the Leader to raise an issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The murder of an alleged member of Hamas has taken place in Dubai and it has been alleged that three of the suspects carry Irish passports. Their pictures appear in the media in the Middle East today. The Department of Foreign Affairs has, through the British media, denied the existence of the people concerned. The Irish passports are counterfeit, but that message is not getting through to the United Arab Emirates and Dubai. It is important we get it across because the incident is having a serious impact on our image there. Our ambassador in Abu Dhabi needs to make it clear that the passports are false and that the people concerned are in no way connected with Ireland or Irish people. The United Arab Emirates is an important trading partner for us. Some of the media reports, in Gulf News for example, draw connections with Oliver North who used an Irish passport in 1986. I would appreciate it if the Leader raised the matter with the Minister as a matter of urgency.
Senator Liam Twomey: It is amazing that under legislation put through the House by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, three radio stations across Ireland could end up being closed. The levy has already cost people their jobs and works against small local radio stations. The cost of running the BCI is equivalent to the turnover of three local radio stations. I am flabbergasted to think the Minister has no responsibility to the House for the levy.
Senator Liam Twomey: We should debate this issue. Given his rapid response to the crisis in Greece, I ask the Leader to also give a rapid response to the crisis faced by local radio stations as a result of a levy introduced by the Minister not so long ago. Like me, the Leader is aware of the benefits of local radio stations to local communities. We do not want to see two or three go out of business because of a levy which discriminates against smaller stations and which does not appear to have been fully thought through by the Minister. A statement requires to be made by the Minister in the House and an opportunity provided for us to discuss the matter.
An Cathaoirleach: We are on the Order of Business and taking questions to the Leader. Members must respect the fact that on the Order of Business there are questions to the Leader, to which he will reply in due course.
Senator Terry Leyden: I put a question to the Leader on the wider issue of the right of newspapers and their freedom to make statements in reference to a Member of this or the other House, when the judge, Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, said the unilateral decision of a journalist——
Senator Terry Leyden: Yes, we will leave the other matter aside for the moment. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Finance on the national solidarity bond which is provided for in the Finance Bill and will be approved by the House and the national reconstruction bond which I advocated. This is a very exciting proposal. I ask for a debate in the House on the matter shortly because I would like to see the bond launched in New York, Washington, London, Paris and throughout the world on St. Patrick’s Day.
Senator David Norris: Mr. Michael O’Leary is a very flamboyant, brilliant businessman. If he can create jobs in Ireland, everybody will welcome them. However, it seems more likely that he wants to play with Aer Lingus’s toys and apparently he is in a temper because he cannot do so. The hangar he wants, hangar No. 6, has been specially designed to take wide-bodied, transatlantic aircraft which Mr. O’Leary does not possess. It makes me wonder, if he is so anxious to create jobs here, why he did not submit a tender when this first emerged. Thank God for independent radio, both RTE and Newstalk, on which there was commentary. If we had only seen what was carried in the newspapers and listened to politicians’ reactions, we would have thought Mr. O’Leary was 100% right, but he obviously is not.
Senator David Norris: Yes, I believe it is necessary. I was thinking, my dear Senator friend and colleague, of Albert Reynolds’s little line that it was the little things that tripped one up. One could invert this and consider the whole question of proportionality and size, for example, the banks which are too big to fail and the little people who pay tax.
Senator David Norris: On a final point — one must be delicate about these matters — the Irish bishops are in Rome to be reprimanded about the way in which sexual abuse was covered up and so on. The issue goes entirely to the top. How can they take any other lead?
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Le blianta anuas, bhí seachtain na Gaeilge againn gach mí Márta. Caithfidh mé a rá gur éirigh go hiontach leí. Tá sé fásta go mór anois. Beidh coicís na Gaeilge againn i mbliana, ag tosnú an 5 Márta. Tá sé suimiúil gur daoine óga, sa chuid is mó, atá i mbun an chláir an-mhaith seo go háitiúil, go náisiúnta agus go hidirnáisiúnta. I hope that the Leader will ensure Seanad involvement in Irish language fortnight, previously known as Irish language week. I believe this would be welcomed by the mostly young people participating in and organising the events in this particularly comprehensive project at local, national and international level. It would do good to the heart of anyone with an interest in the Irish language to see the inspiring and imaginative programme of activities devised by these young people. I know that these young people will be watching the Houses of the Oireachtas closely to see how we respond to their work which will be evident not alone through the newspapers, on radio and on television but through organised activities. Last year, it was quite obvious the Irish language had been given a new profile. I know that every Member of this House is committed to the Irish language as evidenced in the debates on the legislation regarding the official status given to the Irish language in Europe and on so many other occasions. I believe Members would like to be part of this new progressive approach. I ask the Leader to consider this proposal. Irish language fortnight will commence on 5 March. This gives us an opportunity to provide leadership on this occasion.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I thank the Leader for arranging a debate tomorrow on Northern Ireland. For his information, the new Leader of the SDLP, Ms Margaret Ritchie, will be in the building at the time and I suggest he extend an invitation to her to attend for at least part of that debate.
I am still waiting for a debate I requested some time ago about funding provided to Irish people living outside the State. Perhaps the Leader will, when arranging with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources a debate on the issue of radio licences, extend such debate to the issue of RTE services in Northern Ireland. Post-2012 many Irish citizens living in the North will not be able to view RTE as it is moving from an analogue to a digital platform, which, as I understand it, differs from the Northern Ireland platform.. It is unclear how people in the North will receive RTE television. We need to ensure our citizens in Northern Ireland can continue to freely avail of programmes involving hurling, football and culture post-2012, which is only two years away. Perhaps the Leader will, when arranging a debate on the issue of communications, ensure this issue is also on that agenda.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: I rise to support my colleague, Senator Alex White, in seeking a debate on a report which is hot off the press given it was only launched during the past hour. As Senator White correctly stated, it is a consensus report. It is the first time ever we have had all-party consensus on such an important topic as children’s rights. The timing in this regard is correct in light of the Murphy, Ryan and Ferns reports and what has been going on in Rome in recent days.
It is rather sad that the bishops are coming home after only a day and half of deliberations to carry out their Ash Wednesday duties. Ash Wednesday is not such a big day anymore in the calendar of the Church. In light of the terrible and horrific abuse meted out to young children at the hands of clerics, the least the bishops could have done was to have spent longer than a day and half discussing what has happened.
The report proposes that the State can for the first time ever intervene where children have been let down by their parents and that children who are, or will be in the future, in long-term fostering can now be considered for adoption. Also, for the first time ever the wording, “That the State will cherish all children equally”, will be used. I always thought that “equally” was at the end of that sentence, but it never was. Now, for the first time, we will have the words stating that: “The State will cherish all children equally”. For the first time ever we are going to try to give a voice to children on children’s matters.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I hope the Tánaiste’s meeting with Ryanair will secure 300 aircraft maintenance jobs at Dublin Airport and, I hope also, without Michael O’Leary pulling the wool over her eyes. Will the Tánaiste also do something constructive about the serious concerns of Irish suppliers who are being asked for six figure sums to have their goods stocked on the shelves of multiples which are dominating the supermarket sector? What is she doing about fair play and honest competition in the grocery market? This shows the need more than ever for people to shop locally and support their local retail outlets. It is the Tánaiste’s job to ensure a level playing field in that market. As I understand it, competition law prohibits the demanding of sizeable figures so that suppliers’ goods can be stocked, advertised or displayed. What is the Competition Authority doing about it? I want to hear the Leader’s view on this matter. What is the Tánaiste doing about this? She should be on top of the situation, but clearly she is not. I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Frances Fitzgerald on a related matter.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I share Senator Hannigan’s concern about the two issues he has raised. I certainly support him on the second one concerning the Irish diaspora. Perhaps the Leader will have an opportunity to reply to Senator Hannigan. A decision has already been agreed between the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his opposite number in the UK that on the occasion of the digital transfer in 2012, not only will RTE television be available throughout those parts of Northern Ireland where it is currently available, but it will also be extended throughout the entire territory. This decision was taken recently and was widely reported at the time.
Senator Paschal Mooney: In the context of the digital turnover, RTE will be available for viewing all over Northern Ireland. This should be welcomed by all sides of the House because it is an issue that has been to the forefront of North-South relations. It is quite astonishing in this day and age — perhaps this is what Senator Hannigan was referring to — that there are large segments, especially in the greater Belfast area, where RTE television is not available. That leads to a great deal of misunderstanding and misconceptions about both sides of the island.
I strongly support Senator Hannigan’s second point. It is vital that this House should be informed regularly of the amount of taxpayers’ money provided each year for the Irish diaspora. It is for essential work in helping elderly Irish people who have given so much to this country and whose remittances in the past contributed significantly to this country’s wealth. Now, in the twilight of their lives, it is right and proper that every Irish Government, of whatever political complexion, should ensure they are acknowledged worldwide. Between €12 million and €15 million is provided each year to the Irish abroad, with the bulk of it — roughly two thirds — going to the UK, and the remainder going to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is important that this House should have a regular debate on the diaspora and particularly on the question of where such money is being spent. It is being spent wisely, well and independently of the Government. I welcome what Senator Hannigan has raised and hope that the Leader will respond favourably.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an Seanadóir Ó Murchú mar gheall ar seachtain na Gaeilge. Ba chóir dúinn cabhair a thabhairt don iarracht sin, agus páirt a ghlacadh ann. Aontaím go mór go bhfuil sé riachtanach go dtiocfadh ceannairí an tSeanaid le chéile agus rud éigin a eagrú ionas go mbeimid páirteach i seachtain na Gaeilge
Yesterday, I met a family of somebody who lost their job at SR Technics. It brought home to me the human reality of a 28 year old man with a mortgage. It is a great trauma for the family and for him personally. For that reason I have the simple view that the Tánaiste should have checked out the colour of Mr. Michael O’Leary’s money in the first instance. I accept he engages in these publicity stunts; I am well aware of all that. However, the colour of his money should have been checked and bureaucracy should have been cast aside to meet the man. It is what had to happen today. For the sake of those 1,100 workers I hope we can retrieve some of the jobs and I hope that is the outcome of today’s meeting. It is incumbent on all of us to work towards that. Having met that family yesterday and heard of the great impact on them, one could not but feel for them. Urgent action is required. I support the call for a debate, which I hope will simply be accepted unanimously.
Today the Royal College of Physicians has highlighted that C. diff and MRSA are not being properly monitored in nursing homes. We recently had a debate on nursing home inspection. More needs to be done on monitoring infections in them and training the staff to deal with them. There needs to be laboratory back-up to assess them.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I ask the Leader for a debate on public transport in rural areas. I have been made aware of the great difficulties getting around rural areas. It has been brought to my attention that there are many instances of bus companies in particular that would like to provide rural transport but have major difficulties with licensing. There is a centralised licensing authority. I am aware that there are difficulties in many parts of the country. In this time of difficult employment it is important that we allow as much employment as possible in all parts of the country. The Minister for Transport should be invited to the House to discuss the provision of better public transport in rural areas. There are many parts of the country where it is simply not possible to get adequate public transport, which we need to improve.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I congratulate the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children on its good work. It is incumbent on us to have a debate very soon on what the committee has proposed in the light of the Government’s earlier proposal. This highlights a very important issue. This report should not simply disappear into the Civil Service somewhere and reappear as a referendum proposal. The matter needs to be discussed in detail by all Members of the Oireachtas. While there is considerable good in what is proposed, I do not believe the committee has got there completely. For example, I would have concerns about the deletion of the reference to the family, in particular. There are other issues regarding acknowledging the role of biological parents that need to be reviewed. However, that is for another day when we have the substantive discussion.
I disagree with Senator Feeney in one respect. The Proclamation of 1916 referred to “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. Of course it is a reference to children regardless of their age; it is all the children of the nation. I do not regard myself as a child of the State as this committee seems to be proposing. It is important to focus on protecting all children within the State, which would extend our responsibilities in ways that would touch on issues relating to, for example, immigration and other vulnerable children in the State. There is a lot done, but more to do. The important thing now is to have an early and substantive debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas to build on the good work the committee has done.
Senator Ivor Callely: I support the call for a debate on Government policy and strategy on the aviation industry. I believe there may be some unfair practices in the industry, such as certain companies operating within tax free zones while others do not qualify and some aviation companies engaging employees in Ireland but placing them on a UK payroll. However, Ireland is held in high regard throughout the world in matters relating to aviation. We have a proven track record in leasing, engineering, maintenance and aviation college. North Dublin, where I have strong roots, is a natural hub which carries a particular incentive to attract aviation from throughout the world, which we enjoyed before and I believe we can enjoy again. When we look at competition throughout the world as we talk of the smart economy while being aware we have lost jobs even to Third World countries in this area, we have highly qualified people who meet the need. We need to review current Government policy and strategy and see where we are in relation to aviation. Is Shannon offering something more than north Dublin, for example? Can we do something that will be seen as Government policy and in the event, sell it to the world at large?
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I support the request by Senator Hannigan for a debate on emigration. I want to address in particular the attitude and views the Tánaiste has in this regard in light of comments she made on the BBC last night. Speaking about Irish people who are going abroad, she said in that debate, “There are people who have greater acumen academically, and there are people who have found work in other parts of the world, and that is not a bad thing”.
Since when has it been a good thing to be exporting our best and brightest who possess an education that we have paid for, and who want to work at home? She went on to say: “Some of them, fine, want to enjoy themselves. That is what young people are entitled to do.” I challenge the Tánaiste to go to any of these airports from which our young people are leaving and find those who are enjoying themselves, as they leave the country in which they were born and for whom emigration is an “entitlement”. She concluded by saying, “We have a lot of people, young people, who have decided they will go to other parts of the world to gain experience”.
These young people are not deciding. The decision has been made for them. At a time when I hear people talk about the role of the Tánaiste in relation to the discussion that is taking place today with Ryanair, these comments on emigration show me the attitude she and her Department have towards our young people. Emigration is not an entitlement, it is not enjoyment. It is about the fact that we have 20,000 young people under the age of 25 signing on for the dole in Dublin, and two thirds of young people are signing on in Limerick. The Tánaiste believes that emigration is a legitimate response for dealing with those people. It is a catastrophe, not a policy.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I support the call for a debate on an Oireachtas committee on how we protect children in the future. Noting many of the points raised, it is a very big issue because it concerns the role of the family. It also needs to take into account today’s society and how we should go about this. There are also questions in relation to adoption and fostering as well as many other areas. By all accounts the document on how we protect our children is very good. I have not read it yet since it just been published, but I believe it justifies an early debate on this question.
An issue close to my heart is the role of the VECs in education, and how local democracy can be strengthened. It worries me that we may be rationalising some of the VECs. I identified the concept that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is talking about. Having said that, a debate is called for before final decisions are made on the rationalisation of VECs. I should like to see their role enhanced if we are talking about local democracy, and seeking to decentralise so that education becomes part of the community and how best it might be served in this regard. This calls for a debate as well before any decisions are made by the Minister in relation to finalising plans on whether to rationalise or enhance the role of smaller VECs in another way to ensure education is not neglected.
Senator Ivana Bacik: On a personal note, I wish former Senator Deirdre de Búrca well. I am sorry she felt the need to resign rather than follow the example of colleagues such as Bronwen Maher and cross the House to join the Labour Party group.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Like Senators Alex White, Feeney and others, I call for a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. Having had only a brief opportunity to examine it, it is to be welcomed. It is well considered and thorough and the wording recommended seems to strike a fair balance. As Senator Feeney stated, it is welcome to see the report recommend a provision which would cherish the children of the State equally. That is very important, particularly given the finding that certain children are discriminated against. There are two categories of children. Currently, in our laws there is discrimination between marital children and non-marital children. This must be changed as a matter of urgency. It is also welcome to see that the best interests of the child would now be placed, constitutionally, as the paramount consideration in any dispute. As someone who practises and has dealt with some very difficult cases in the child care courts, I am delighted to see the proposed provisions would allow long-term foster parents to be in a position to adopt children. It would vindicate the rights of the children concerned to have their relationship with their foster parents recognised.
In that context, I call for a debate on education. It is welcome that the committee recommends retaining the current provision on education to the effect that the State shall not oblige parents, in violation of conscience and lawful preference, to send their children to schools established by the State or a particular type of school. We need a debate on parental choice in education as a matter of urgency, particularly in the light of the Minister’s decision yesterday to recognise seven new schools, including three VEC and two Catholic schools. From where is the Minister receiving the criteria to be used in granting recognition? There is a growing demand from parents for multi-denominational schools, particularly in Dublin 6 and Dublin 8, but also throughout the country. That is where the future lies.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I recognise that today the Minister for Education and Science has allocated €579 million for the school buildings programme. I welcome, in particular, the fact that in my own area three schools in Letterkenny will benefit. Sometimes we hammer someone for what is not taking place, but we must recognise the great support this €579 million will provide for the construction industry.
While I accept that we will hold a debate on Northern Ireland tomorrow, I call for a regular debate every quarter on the North. In this way we could clarify many issues, including, for example, the one raised by Senator Hannigan about what will happen when digital television services are introduced. My understanding is that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, has been working with his Northern counterpart to introduce a solution, whereby RTE will be carried on Northern platforms. I call for what is missing in my area to be dealt with on a reciprocal basis. The signal received in County Donegal is mainly received from Limavady. I spoke with someone recently who told me that the signal was so bad that the cows in “Emmerdale” were appearing on “Coronation Street”. There is an issue to be dealt with in this regard.
I commend Senator Quinn for his contribution last week to a North-South business platform on Dawson Street. We need more of this and more of what is being done on a cross-Border basis. It should not only be shared among ourselves but also by business people in order that everyone is united and driving forward. There are a lot of people and a lot of wheels but we do not have enough opportunities. The allocation of eight or ten minutes tomorrow will not be enough to scratch the surface. While I accept it is important that a debate will take place, we must have such a debate on a regular basis because there is a good deal happening. However, many other things must happen. We have the power to co-ordinate and convey some of this information.
Senator Eoghan Harris: In the great Tipperary amhrán mór, Slievenamon, there is the line “...mar sheolfaí aoireacht bó gan aoire”, which translates roughly as: “We were driven along the roads of Slievenamon like a herd without a herdsman”. I fear this is how the political process is being driven by sections of the media, particularly the broadcast shock-jock section. It is time we had a debate on broadcasting and politics. The political process in a recession is very vulnerable to being degraded by that form of fascism called poujadism, which involves instant populist demands for action. I saw a couple of examples in recent weeks. Consider the business of the head shops, for instance. There were calls on Joe Duffy’s “Liveline” to close them down. Head shops have caused the collapse of the heroin and cocaine trades in Dublin and of the lucrative Real IRA trade. This is why the Real IRA is shooting head shop owners. There are two sides to every question. Politics puts a brake on the kind of populism to which I refer and results in debate on the two sides. However, that debate did not take place regarding head shops or the George Lee debacle. The politicians were being told they should accept the Messiah who will shake them all up.
We are told that, because of a recession, we must listen to Michael O’Leary lecture the Tánaiste. I hold no brief for the Tánaiste — she is not very competent in her job — but she is the Tánaiste. No businessman or buccaneer should have the right to bully or browbeat anybody into a new favourable situation. Senators should have a bit of respect for themselves, given that they are not up for election as are Members of the Dáil, and start putting brakes on the kind of instant shock-jock, Rush Limbaugh populism that is disgracing and denigrating Irish politics.
Senator Feargal Quinn: The Legal Services Ombudsman Act 2009 was signed into law by President McAleese on 10 March 2009, almost 12 months ago. The position of legal services ombudsman has not yet been established. During the debate on the legislation, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, stated the Legal Services Ombudsman Bill 2008 strengthens the mechanisms for dealing with complaints against both solicitors and barristers and that the Bill will establish a legal services ombudsman who “will oversee the handling by the Law Society and the Bar Council of three classes of complaint against solicitors and barristers, namely inadequate services, excessive fees and misconduct”. I mention this because at least one citizen approached me who was delighted when the legislation was passed. The citizen appeared to have had a very sound grievance. Despite this, 11 months later and almost 12, nothing has happened. Can the Leader find out what is happening in this area? What is delaying the legislation which was passed in the House and signed by the President last March? It is quite urgent.
Since I became a Member many years ago, I discovered there seems to be a difference between the meaning of “urgency” in State organisations and its meaning outside of them. There seems to be a delay in completing work that may not seem important at the time but which is regarded as quite important to some citizens. In this case, what is to be done is of great import to quite a number of citizens.
Senator Dan Boyle: In making my remarks, I do not wish in any sense to respond to a political jibe. I am unfamiliar with the protocol in this instance because it is usually the case that a Senator is recognised only after shuffling off his or her mortal coil. However, I wanted to express my thanks to my colleague, former Senator de Búrca, for her active participation in the life of this House for the past two and a half years. While I do not agree with her manner of leaving or her motivation for doing so, it is important, both as a friend and as a colleague, that her contribution to this House be recognised because it was positive. I wish her well in her future endeavours. For my part, my movement to whatever seat or whatever side of the House will be painfully slow.
I support the call by Senator MacSharry to raise with the Minister for Foreign Affairs the incident whereby the security forces of another country have falsely used Irish passports and to afford the Minister an opportunity to make a statement before the House because of the devaluing of Irish passports when they are used in such activities. It is important this House takes an opportunity to listen to such a contribution and to respond appropriately.
Senator Nicky McFadden: While I share Senator Harris’s view on the media, today I regretfully must criticise the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, on yet another totally separate issue. I am not being either fanatical or controversial. I am merely representing two constituents who visited my office yesterday who both were made redundant on 18 November last and who have no sign or wind of ever receiving their redundancy payments. According to the Tánaiste’s website — it is her responsibility and the buck stops with her — redundancy payments will be paid within six to eight weeks. When I telephoned the Department I was told it will be the middle of July before these persons receive their redundancy payments. That is outrageous. This gentlemen has been to the bank and tried to freeze his mortgage, and he has been told he cannot. We have bailed out the banks with NAMA. On two accounts, I am livid. It is about morality and how we are representing people. Is this Government able to represent the people, care for them and look after them? I want the Leader to bring the Minister in here to answer both of these questions, especially the one on the website. I want a clear and definitive answer as to when these persons will be paid their redundancy. They cannot live. They do not have food for the table.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I join Senator Harris in asking for a debate on the media. The way in which the media have failed to portray political life in this country is appalling, in particular, for example, the vilification of Deputy Kenny.
I also join with Senator Donohoe in asking for a debate on emigration. Does the Leader agree with the Tánaiste that to emigrate is a source of fun and adventure? I hope he will disagree profoundly with her. Forced emigration is neither welcome nor an adventure nor fun for the many thousands of young people who have been forced to leave these shores. It is about time we had a real debate on this. Whatever about the Tánaiste, her remarkable performance over the past couple of days has shown that she is part of a Government that is aloof and detached from reality.
I preface my final question by saying that I fully accept the Cathaoirleach’s ruling on my Adjournment debate matter prior to the Order of Business and I do not take umbrage with him, lest he think I do. I ask the Leader where lies responsibility for the HSE, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, RTE, the NRA and many other semi-State organisations. In this House, we elected representatives have no recourse to these organisations, the Minister has no responsibility and the Government is not in this House called to account. Wherein lies responsibility for these organisations?
Senator Maurice Cummins: I join other Senators in calling for a debate on jobs and unemployment. There is a need for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House so we can ascertain what plan, if any, she has in place to tackle unemployment. She has presided over a situation where there are 437,000 people unemployed. According to FÁS, a further 87,000 people will become unemployed this year. She is clearly not up to the job and should go at this stage. There is also a need for a complete overhaul of the operations of FÁS and of the Department of Social and Family Affairs to retrain and re-skill the unemployed adequately and to provide stronger incentives to the unemployed to retrain and re-enter the jobs market. These are the subjects we should be discussing in this House, not Greece or other simple problems that exist. We must discuss our people, jobs, the fact that 437,000 are unemployed and how we can tackle and overcome that problem. We should discuss this subject day after day and not have to ask for debates on the issue week after week and receive no response from the other side. This House will become irrelevant if we do not discuss the problems of the day. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House to debate these issues with us in an effort to try to resolve them.
Senator Camillus Glynn: Ba mhaith liom aontú go hiomlán leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Murchú mar gheall ar coicís na Gaeilge. Beidh clár ar siúl ar fud na hÉireann agus ar fud an domhain. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé ar chumas an Tí aitheantas a thabhairt do theanga dhúchais na tíre i rith na coicíse. Mar sin, tá mé dóchasach go gcuirfí leathlá ar fáil le haghaidh ráitis ar coicís na Gaeilge.
On another matter, I warmly welcome the building programme outlined by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, especially as it applies to Rathwire school, St. Columba’s College in Killucan and Loreto College, Mullingar. It is great news in the current difficult times.
Senator Ciaran Cannon: While I support wholeheartedly the call from Senator Ó Brolcháin for a debate on the dearth of public transport for people living in rural Ireland, he should first direct his attention to the existing rural transport services being capably provided by the rural transport initiative. That scheme is constantly under threat. We are not even sure whether the schemes in place at present that serve rural areas, and predominantly elderly people living in those areas, are secure. The first area we should focus on is ensuring the retention of those services.
I wish to raise the capital sports grants allocation scheme which has been on pause for almost two years. A few weeks ago the House debated the new child care legislation on Second Stage and many Members quite correctly pointed to the benefit of early intervention in ensuring young people do not end up in a situation where they must be taken into care by the State. Part of the early intervention mentioned by a number of Senators was access for young people to proper sporting facilities in every community, both urban and rural. The sports grants scheme was doing incredibly valuable work in that regard but was simply suspended without any reason, other than what I consider to be the spurious suggestion that there was to be a re-evaluation of the scheme and its effectiveness. I do not believe that was the case.
The national lottery continues to make a profit of approximately €250 million per annum. Where is that money going now? Is it being stockpiled until the scheme is reinstated or is it being spent in other areas by the Exchequer? The national lottery scheme must continue to operate in an honest manner. The people who subscribe to the national lottery do so on the basis that their money is being spent on such facilities. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue and to try to establish, as quickly as possible, when the scheme is likely to be reinstated.
Senator Maria Corrigan: I support the calls of Senators Ormonde and Bacik, among others, for a debate on the substantive report from the Oireachtas joint committee on the proposed constitutional referendum on the rights of the child. The committee put an enormous amount of work over a long period into this document. It is quite complex and the committee was very conscious of the sensitivities it might generate. It was also very determined that we should avoid a situation whereby the referendum would become about the rights of the family versus the rights of the child. For this reason will the Leader schedule, as soon as possible, a debate which would allow all Members to contribute on this substantive issue? Senators should read the report in depth prior to making comments because we run the risk of a throwaway harmless comment being latched on to by members of the public who will give a skewed view of what is proposed in the referendum.
Senator Mullen commented earlier that it would be better to refer to children within the State rather than of the State. That was not possible for very clear reasons. He also spoke about the issues it raises in connection with the family. The committee made it clear in the report that in the vast majority of cases it believed the best interests of the child are served within the family. It behoves all Members to read the report with deep consideration prior to commenting on it. I hope the Leader will facilitate an early debate on it.
An Cathaoirleach: We have gone over time. I apologise to the other three Senators who indicated their wish to speak and are unable to contribute. I will call them first in the morning. I call on the Leader to reply.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, MacSharry, Norris, Coghlan, O’Reilly, Callely, Donohoe and Cummins called for a debate on job creation and the situation in SR Technics. Over the past ten or 11 years the Government created 700,000 jobs. That is a fact, and it should be acknowledged. There is a global downturn and Ireland is no different from any other country of similar size. It has been hit severely and that is the reason the number of unemployed has increased. With regard to the call for a further debate on job creation, I have no difficulty with arranging it but I earnestly ask Senators who have made these requests to be present for the debate and to make a contribution when the Tánaiste is in the House.
The big benefit with regard to the 300 jobs at Dublin Airport being discussed by the Tánaiste, departmental officials, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Michael O’Leary and the Ryanair team is that, as Senators correctly pointed out today, there is a highly qualified group of people available for those jobs. No training will be necessary. All the expertise and skills are available in abundance and have been for the past 15 years or so. I wish everybody concerned well and hope that common sense will prevail in order that these jobs can be recreated at Dublin Airport. If further staff are required, there is a qualified group of people available and ready to start work immediately.
Senators Alex White, Feeney, Mullen, Ormonde, Bacik and Corrigan called for an urgent debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. I have no difficulty with arranging such a debate and will inform the House tomorrow of a date. It is my wish that it will take place within the next two weeks.
Senators MacSharry and Boyle asked that the Minister for Foreign Affairs be invited to the House for a debate on the Middle East and counterfeit Irish passports. This is a serious challenge to the reputation of our country and its citizens. I will arrange to hold that debate at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Twomey, Norris, Hannigan, Mooney and Keaveney sought an urgent debate on local radio, the media in general and the changes that will take place in 2012 due to digital broadcasting. The cost of local radio, as was outlined to the House, is prohibitive to small local radio stations. I would like to think there will be an appeal mechanism whereby inability to pay will be considered, and if such a measure is not in place the Bill should revisit both Houses in order that an amendment can be made. The current success of communications is in local radio. It brings communities together and relays their achievements. In terms of volunteers and volunteerism we must support all local radio in this regard. I have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate on this issue.
Senators Ó Murchú, Reilly and Glynn called for the House to acknowledge and participate in the Irish language fortnight which starts on 5 March. I have no difficulty in having a debate on the Irish language prior to St. Patrick’s Day. It is very timely and I will facilitate it in two weeks’ time, which will be the first week of the events which are taking place. I congratulate all young people, as Senator Ó Murchú said, for their achievements, endeavour and total commitment to the Irish language.
Senator Coghlan again outlined to the House the issue of fair play in the grocery market. He participated in the review of the groceries order during the last Dáil term as a member of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This issue should be dealt with as a matter of urgency at its meeting today and I strongly suggest the Senator bring it to the attention of the Chairman to see what further progress we can make in this area. It is an extremely difficult area and one at which politicians will again have to have a serious look in terms of the issues outlined by Senator Coghlan.
Senator Hannigan welcomed the debate on Northern Ireland tomorrow, and I look forward to the full and total support of all parties in the House for the debate. It would be very timely if the new leader of the SDLP Ms Margaret Ritchie, MLA, was present for part of the debate. We would welcome her to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.
Senators Ó Brolcháin and Cannon called for a debate on rural transport. As they come from Galway it is timely that they support the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, who has been a champion of rural transport and independent rural bus operators, as was outlined to the House by Senator Ó Brolcháin. I have no difficulty having a debate on this matter. Senator Cannon might discuss the matter with the leader of Fine Gael, as it will have Private Members’ time next week. This is a very important topic to bring to the attention of the House. We could discuss it, tease it out and see what can be done, as a matter of urgency, for independent private bus operators who can extend the areas of the existing rural transport scheme.
Senators Ormonde and Bacik called for a debate on and the roll of VECs. I gave a commitment to the House on this matter to ask the Minister, Deputy O’Keeffe, to come before the House to debate the issue. I welcome the announcement by the Minister today of €579 million in funding for 52 school building projects, which will be moved to tender and construction and will create 23,500 school places in 20 new schools and 32 extended and refurbished schools. At primary level over 14,500 pupils will get primary school places as a result of this announcement. It is to be very much welcomed in extremely difficult financial times.
Senators Harris and Buttimer called for a debate on broadcasting, politics and the challenging issue of the media being in a sensational race to the bottom. Politicians are striving to keep the confidence of the people and to try to assist them in every way possible. However, the media, members of which are receiving large salaries for their endeavours, are doing the complete opposite. Public service broadcasting, in particular, has a major responsibility in playing its part in assisting the 437,000 people who are unemployed or those currently on the margins. What programming is uplifting in that area? The chairman of the RTE board and the director general of RTE have major responsibility for this area. It is about time we started telling the Irish people the positives and the negatives which are coming out day after day. The advice given by an experienced person such as Senator Harris to the House has to be taken with the utmost seriousness. I will allocate half a day at the earliest possible time for a debate on this to allow Senator Harris and all other Senators to lead the Upper House in order that we can have an upper media as we have an Upper House in Parliament.
Senator Boyle joined the Cathaoirleach in thanking former Senator Déirdre de Búrca for her contribution. I wish her all the luck in the world in whatever direction she takes. She has a lot of ability and I wish her well in her future role.
Senator McFadden referred to a constituent in Longford-Westmeath who was made redundant on 18 November and will not receive redundancy payments until the middle of the year. It is very difficult to know how anyone can survive for seven or eight months in such a situation. It is unfair. It is bad enough to lose one’s employment. This is an area in which we can all play a part in terms of parliamentary parties. We will bring the issue to the attention of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting next week to see what we can achieve. I will discuss it with the Minister concerned. It is unacceptable. It is a matter of urgency and we will treat it as such.
Senator Cannon inquired when sports capital grants will be re-introduced. They have been a huge success and have transformed our sporting facilities. Massive amounts of money have been given to projects across the country. I support him in this call. My guess is that it will be 2012 because the economic situation at the current time, as we all know, is difficult. There is a large amount of money waiting to be claimed by projects which have qualified. A number of projects have work in progress or the work has been completed.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carroll, James.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Harris, Eoghan.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Mooney, Paschal.||Ó Brolcháin, Niall.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
An Cathaoirleach: I wish to inform the House that arising from an inadvertent casting of a vote on the “Níl” side by Senator Harris, the result of the division as shown on the display board has been amended, with the agreement of the tellers for both sides. The amended result will appear in the Journal of Proceedings: Tá, 25; Níl, 29.
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