Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Inland Fisheries Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn at 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Fines Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourn not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, and No. 38, Private Members’ motion No. 14 regarding the smarter travel initiative, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. There shall be a sos between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Senator Liam Twomey: The news that a eurozone country has seen its rating, regarding the repayment of loans, reduced to junk bond status is incredibly serious for eurozone economies. Following from what Senator Donohoe said yesterday, I call for an urgent debate on the euro. We must look at the future of the currency and the impact it will have on the economy, events outside our control and our ability to recover. Last night we had a debate on banking during which I tried to point out to the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, that we needed jobs and growth and possibly even inflation in order to come out of the financial doldrums. Although the euro has saved us to some extent, in other ways it is holding us back. We, therefore, urgently need a serious debate on our role within the euro system and where we fit within it.
A report published yesterday indicates that 80% of abused children are abused by family members and people with whom they have close contact. There has been much debate in the House about clerical sexual abuse, but the vast majority of childhood abuse cases happen within the home, with the perpetrator being a person close to the child. This has been lost in recent arguments. There are big issues with regard to the protection of children. I have seen instances where children were not believed, where when such an allegation is made, the family may split and there is often a reluctance to report the abuse. The House needs to have a debate on the issue and how we deal with child abuse in our communities in order that the headlines in recent months will not distract from the fact that the vast majority of the child abuse cases occur within the home.
Senator Joe O’Toole: This is Workers’ Memorial Day. During the past week we read that dozens of workers had been blown to smithereens in an explosion when an oil rig platform went on fire. That was a big incident which hit international headlines, but all of us, on both sides of the House, know of other incidents, perhaps involving a farm worker, a farmer, the child of a farmer who drowned in a slurry tank or a person injured in an industrial accident who lost a limb or suffered in one way or another. Such things happen constantly. For instance, a piece of a crane may fall on a worker on a building site. Today people worldwide are being asked to reflect briefly at some stage, preferably at noon when there will be one minute’s silence, on those whom they know and remember who have suffered in industrial accidents. I say this to make us conscious and aware of the issue.
I listened today to a Member of the House who, not happy enough with the mess that has been created in the profession of politics in the past three or four days during the undirected, misguided and unintelligent debate on pensions——
Senator Joe O’Toole: ——said we should look at retired politicians working in other parts of the public sector, perhaps in order to cut back their pensions also. It is only a matter of time before we look at retired teachers, gardaí or Army officers doing some extra work here and there. It is time leadership was shown on the issue. I am with the Taoiseach on this one: it is for people themselves to make their own personal decisions. Apart from this, I would like people to reflect on what we have done in politics. I would like the House to discuss the mess we have created of the profession of politics in recent times. I shall give some examples. The only group among the total of 500,000 public servants who were deprived of their long service increment were Members of both Houses, yet we ask people to enter politics. Let us take as an example a person aged 30 years on the brink of a very successful career — a high-flier. Let us say a person has been in the Oireachtas for 20 years but loses his or her seat at 50 years of age, having put family security at risk and a career on hold. He or she will be without a pension or payment for 15 years. Who will enter politics if we make such a change?
Senator Joe O’Toole: I want people to consider that the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act was not brought forward by accident or through backroom chat by a number of people here and there. It was brought forward in the hungry 1930s and 1940s when it was considered important to draw people in who could make a contribution to public life and that they should have some element of comfort and safety. We cannot determine how people will vote in the next election, but we can determine the conditions of salary and payments that will allow the profession of politics to be attractive. The way we are going no one will enter public life. This will never be an issue for me because I will never be a Minister. However, I speak as someone who has a passion for the job which we are sending down the sink. We are running in front of a populist press, afraid to take on issues and argue the point. Of course, we should correct what needs to be corrected; some corrections were made in recent days, with which I do not disagree, but that is not the point. We must look at the whole picture. I, therefore, ask the Cathaoirleach to look very seriously at the amendment I propose to the Order of Business that we adjourn in order to discuss the profession of politics and how we can recruit, retain and maintain people within it.
Senator Alex White: Yesterday there was a report on third level education which gave information that might have been obtained under freedom of information legislation. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as possible on the important question of funding third level education. Apparently, the Higher Education Authority is of the view that there will be a requirement for more than €4 billion — a familiar figure has been given to the banks and other places in recent times. However, this €4 billion is to meet a most important requirement in order that we can invest in our third level education system and, ultimately, the future of the country.
I am not sure whether the publication of this report — I do not know if the information was obtained or leaked — is intended to soften up public opinion in regard to the reintroduction of university fees. However, it should form one important element of the discussion we should have in the House. The reintroduction of fees would be a mistake. This side of the House is always being accused of being negative, including during yesterday’s debate on banking. However, one thing we have managed to do in the past 15 years, as a country and society, is maintain a progressive level of funding and a progressive approach to third level education, for which people are not charged. We regard it as a public, not a private good to be parcelled up and sold to the highest bidder. People are educated based on their ability, rather than on the wealth of their parents.
I am often struck by those who say it is mainly wealthy people or those who have money who are able to avail of free fees. However, whenever the issue of equality in the taxation system is raised, perhaps by taxing more than we do those with greater wealth, the very same individuals recoil from such a suggestion. That is the real contradiction. If we want to have equality, the single, best and most progressive instrument we can use, in terms of income and generally, is the taxation system. We should maintain our free third and second level education systems at the points of delivery to young people. If we cannot educate and give them an opportunity for the future, we will not achieve anything in this country.
Senator Dan Boyle: I agree with Senator Twomey that we should have a debate on the euro, although it is not so such a matter of whether we should be in the eurozone. At the time of our entry I argued on behalf of my party that there would be times when, as a nation, we would need an opportunity to be able to change interest rates and control inflation in a certain way and increase money supply. However, for the most part, being within the eurozone has been to our benefit in the current crisis. What euro members need to discuss is the control of interest rate at a figure of approximately 2%. Senator Twomey is right about our needing inflation to a certain degree to work our way out of the crisis. A figure of 4% might be more realistic. As a euro member country, we need to contribute to that debate. As a House of the Oireachtas, it is important that we consider in the current context how that debate might be held at European level. It is important to remember that the Greek junk bonds, as defined by Standard and Poor’s, are at the rate of 15.8%, whereas Ireland’s are at 5%. That is still below the peak we reached with our own bonds in 2009.
In recognition of the fact that the Natural History Museum reopens today, I ask for a debate on museums in Ireland and their use by the general public. They should be acknowledged and properly resourced by the political system.
We must have a debate on politicisation in the Garda. Yesterday’s speech from an outgoing member of the Garda Representative Association executive was serious in that it discussed Government corruption. Whether it exists or not, for it to be said in a public context by a representative body of our gardaí means the claim must be explained, backed up and put through the judicial process. If somebody uses the issue in a political context, it has serious consequences for how the police are perceived in this country. Every member of this House should react to such statements. We should have a debate in the Seanad to ensure discussion does not occur in the wrong context in the rest of the country.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I support the point made by Senator Boyle. I welcome opposition to the Government and especially to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, but the Garda Síochána is charged with implementing the law and should not under any circumstances step into the arena which creates law, which is politics.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: Some of the points in the speech would be investigated by the Garda and for those lines to be blurred is a profound mistake. I say this on behalf of the individual gardaí who had to rush to a gangland murder on Friday night and who stand outside head shops all over Dublin city. Such rank and file members are the people who will suffer from such statements and a line was crossed yesterday that should not have been. The issue merits debate in the House and a response from Members.
I want to pick up on a theme from yesterday and note the comments of Senator Twomey. It is imperative we have a discussion on that issue. Ratings agencies yesterday made statements on the creditworthiness of Portugal and there were further statements relating to Greece. These are the same ratings agencies that have played such a dangerous role with regard to our banks and they are now making statements on countries.
In 2007 and 2008 there was a degree to which political systems sleepwalked into a banking crisis. We are now on the verge of sleepwalking into a crisis involving the solvency of nation states. The very least this House can do is begin to discuss this. We are on the precipice of what could be a profound crisis for European nation states and across the world. The seriousness of the matter cannot be understated.
Senator John Ellis: I agree with Senator O’Toole’s remarks and was going to raise the subject. We are turning politics into a profession seen as being in the worst category. We are viewed as people sponging off the State without giving a return. We are trying to attract people to politics but if they are told that coming in at 30 they will not get a pension until they are 65, nobody will participate. We will end up with only teachers being elected, although I do not say this with any disrespect because they have as much a right as anybody else to be elected to these Houses, or people who are exceptionally wealthy and can afford to be elected to the Oireachtas. Ordinary people setting out in life will not be able to be elected. A young doctor, solicitor, accountant or other professional or anybody under 50 will not even think of becoming a politician. We will end up with a House filled with geriatrics or billionaires.
Senator Donohoe mentioned the ratings agencies such Standard & Poor’s which are manipulating world finance currently. Some of these big groups are taking enormous profits at the expense of the ordinary citizens around the world and a debate on the issue would be welcome.
I would appreciate it if the Leader took up with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment or the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the issue of prices being paid to primary producers for products which end up on supermarket shelves across Europe at 30% more than primary producers receive in the UK. There is something wrong and there should be an investigation into the matter. The sooner that is done, the better because the issue has been raised in the House on a number of occasions. It has come to a head in recent weeks as we can see the prices being paid to primary producers here vis-à-vis what is paid in the UK.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I usually object when we seek a division on the Order of Business to delay matters to have an urgent debate but I second Senator O’Toole’s call today. This topic has caught the imagination of the House and it was interesting to hear both Senators Ellis and Donohoe speak on it. If we are to attract the best people to politics, we must ensure it is regarded highly. The matter is not just relevant to politics but to the public service. The debate should not just be about politics and the Legislature but the entire public service. We want to attract the best people to the public service and we should act as if we were the owners of that public service who have been entrusted with a responsibility to attract the best people, as Senator Ellis noted. I think of Senator Donohoe as an example. He is a young man in business with management experience who gave it up to make a life in politics. We must attract many more people who would be willing to give up their jobs for politics.
This debate should take in the separation of those who make legislation and those who put it into force. I was disgusted at the speech from that GRA representative. Such action is unacceptable and I cannot believe it would be supported by the majority of the members of the Garda Representative Association. There must a separation of these issues. To use words accusing the Government of national sabotage, corruption and other actions is unacceptable and we cannot have somebody who is supposed to enforce the law using such terms.
Before we have such a debate, I ask everybody to consider reading two articles written by Mr. Eddie Molloy for The Irish Times on 8 April and 9 April. These essays were very critical of the way we run the country and how the Legislature has organised the Civil Service. The second article outlines seven steps we can take. A Secretary General was quoted in the article as saying not one day of training in management had been given to him. He may have been a specialist in a subject but he never received training in management before he became Secretary General of a Department on which we rely. We should ensure we study those articles before we have a debate but I urge us to have the discussion today.
Senator Ivor Callely: I welcome the new supports for survivors of thalidomide that will meet the needs of the Irish survivors into the future through increased financial assistance and additional supports. I congratulate those who have been supportive of the two groups which made submissions. There is an issue arising from what we have agreed to put in place, although I welcome the initiative. I know there are different views between the two groups about the measures.
I have mentioned time and again the failure of the HSE and this view has been endorsed by these groups and recognised by the measures put in place by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. One of the measures is the designation of a senior manager in the HSE to act as a liaison officer for service needs of the survivors. That sends a clear message that the HSE has failed these survivors in putting the required service needs in place for them, as the people were unable to contact the necessary people to get services. It is great that the 32 people will now have a liaison officer available to them. The length and breadth of the country, good representative bodies that have been seeking liaison officers have been unable to obtain any because the HSE has failed them. It is time for a debate on the success or otherwise of the HSE and the need for regional structures to be put in place so those who need to tap into the services and public representatives will not get lost in the mass of HSE managers.
The escalating number of suicides is a concern. We have the fourth highest rate in the EU. In light of the current financial difficulties, the actions of bank officials of certain institutions and the associated pressures, I welcome the National Office for Suicide Prevention’s annual forum, which is under way in Dublin.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I wish to raise an issue that has disturbed me. On Monday, I visited a nursery garden centre in my constituency where I witnessed at first hand the utter devastation caused by the bad frost early this year. The cost to the nursery’s owner in terms of plants is more than €600,000. All the garden centre’s plants were dead. The gentleman employs 18 people, but he will not be considered for compensation because he did not attend the meeting the potato growers had the benefit of attending. For the life of me, I cannot understand why there is a difference between a nursery owner supplying hedges all over Ireland and potato growers. He is getting up to five calls per day from customers asking him to take back dying plants. It is demoralising.
It is an award-winning nursery and I fail to understand why the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, will not consider the owner in the same light as the potato growers and allow him to be compensated. The scheme closed in February, but this devastation was not apparent until the end of March. Will the Leader use his good office to speak with the Minister about a compensation package for nursery owners, as I understand it to be a nationwide problem? The man in question was out on Christmas Eve wrapping his plants in fleece, which was blown off by the wind. I have never seen anything like it. I ask the Leader to intervene and to let me know how he gets on.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I join with Senators O’Toole, Ellis and Quinn in calling for an important debate on participation in politics. We held a good debate last night on women’s participation in politics and I hope to contribute to it when it resumes. There is a discussion on Article 41 and the belief that it needs to be updated in a future referendum, but it is important we keep the debate in context. I would not agree with the notion that people should be getting pensions while still working. It is not appropriate.
We need a proper debate on how to get full participation from a broad spectrum of society. If we consider those who participate in politics, there is an extraordinary number of publicans, teachers and lawyers in the Houses and on local authorities. To have a properly representative democracy, we need to encourage people from all trades, both genders and the entire spectrum of society, including newcomers to the country, to participate in politics. We need a properly open, democratic system. The debate must be ongoing.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: What politicians actually do is a mystery to many people, so there must also be an educational process. I hope the debate will be soon. I will not oppose the Order of Business, but I welcome Senator O’Toole’s raising of the issue.
Senator Paudie Coffey: Several times, I have listened to Senator Buttimer’s calls for a debate in the House on the future of politics. The point he was trying to make was that politics should not be the preserve of the rich.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I heard him make that statement a number of times. I agree with Senator Ó Brolcháin, that there should be no barriers to anyone, including young people, entering the political arena. It should be accessible to people from every background because we need to hear the diverse views of all sectors of society.
I would worry if politics became unattractive. Politicians’ reputations have damaged the body politic in recent years. A small minority contributed to the problem. However, I have always admired every politician or candidate who has put his or her name on a public ballot paper and stood before the people. I say this every opportunity I get at a public forum. We need a debate on the future of politics so that it will remain attractive to young people who might wish to enter it. The realisation is beginning to hit home.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate on youth unemployment? Thousands of young people are leaving our shores on an almost daily basis. Many more are sitting at home scratching their heads and wondering what to do. I appreciate that many training courses and agencies are trying to assist such people, but we should consider new and alternative ways of returning young people to the workplace, for example, broadening internship programmes and community employment schemes to increase the flexibility afforded by agencies such as FÁS. We should examine the role of FÁS and how it will assist young people. There is much confusion about to which Department FÁS will be attached. I spoke with FÁS officials who do not know who their direct line Minister will be. This matter must be clarified as soon as possible, as people do not know whether FÁS will be in the Department of Education and Science or Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We must remove the confusion, send a clear message to the country and start using inventive and alternative ways to return young people to employment. Will the Leader consider this matter for a debate?
Senator Marc MacSharry: Last weekend, the Irish League of Credit Unions, ILCU, had its annual conference, at which it moved a motion that it intends to discuss with the Government an issue that I have often raised in the House, namely, to limit the interest rate chargeable by licensed moneylenders. As Members will be aware, there are licensed moneylenders who are charging 187% APR in this jurisdiction or as high as 2,500% in other jurisdictions. A rate of 30% would be more than adequate and we should begin to consider the matter.
I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague, Senator O’Toole, in his call for a debate on politics. A friend recently told me that, given the era in which we are and the media’s seemingly frenzied rush to attack all things connected with the body politic, it reminds one of post-revolution France where everyone with clean clothes was lined up for the guillotine. It is a dangerous time where, above all else, real leadership is required.
In this context, I agree with Senator Quinn and others, in that I hope the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have sent for the Garda Commissioner this morning. What we heard yesterday was reprehensible. Such words from gardaí were disgraceful. There is no question but that we are in difficult times in terms of industrial relations and pay levels. As Senator O’Toole highlighted, even Members of this House have been unjustly treated in terms of the abolition of increments, something that no other section of the public service has endured. We are all conscious of these difficult times.
Notwithstanding that, James Connolly would not be proud of the theme of the current work to rule. This morning when representations I made during the past three months were responded to, I was told that they could not be dealt with because of the work to rule. However, the people in question will take their salaries in the meantime. That is wrong. A pay agreement has been proposed and I ask the trade union movement to hurry up and make a decision so we can move forward. Partnership is the only way to move forward. At least there is a bit of honour in walking up and down outside on strike, but taking the money without dealing with the legitimate concerns and representations of the public on critical issues such as health and social welfare is equally as reprehensible as the words of the gardaí yesterday. I hope the appropriate action will be taken and the appropriate leadership given.
Senator David Norris: I agree with my colleagues who spoke about the matter of the Garda convention. I have always believed in freedom of speech and still do. It may well be legitimate for individual citizens to hold and, in some cases, express extreme views such as those that have been aired. However, we are not discussing an ordinary citizen. The person in question is a representative of those who are the guardians of the peace and the defenders of the State. At his organisation’s conference a high level official attempted, in effect, to impeach a legitimately elected Government, used words such as “sabotage”, “treason” and “corruption” and tried, in particular, to finger one political party, namely, Fianna Fáil. I do not hold a brief for Fianna Fáil or any other party because I am an Independent. However, if we want effective and decent government, we must draw the line somewhere. What I outlined was a highly dangerous course to take. A number of highly decent gardaí, whom I hold in high respect, would have been taken aback by what was said. I invite the membership of the Garda Síochána, regardless of whether they are represented by the association in question, to stand back and resist an invitation to become involved with this extremely dangerous soundbite culture. One of the words used was “corruption”. I accept that there is corruption in international financial circles. I am under a fatwa by the media in respect of this matter because nothing I have ever said about economics, either in this House or elsewhere, has ever been reported. I am glad, therefore, that six months after I began to pose questions about Standard & Poor’s and other rating agencies, the remaining Members of the House have joined in. Perhaps the media will listen on this occasion.
Senator David Norris: Such fortitude is what is needed in order to take on the system, of which Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings and Moodys are part. These companies are completely corrupt, particularly as they were involved in rating the toxic bundles that precipitated the entire financial crisis. Goldman Sachs corruptly profited as a result of Greece being sent down the slide. No one is taking action in this matter.
Senator David Norris: I again call for Standard & Poor’s and the other companies to which I refer to be wiped off the international map and for a truly independent ratings agency to be established under the auspices for the United Nations.
Senator Jim Walsh: Last night’s edition of “Prime Time” contained a report on the murder of Eamonn Dunne in Cabra last week. The programme which was excellent clearly illustrated that the gentleman in question was heavily involved in a number of murders that had taken place there and in surrounding areas and caused one to question why he was not already in prison. It emerged on the programme that criminal gang members were abusing the system of judicial review and using it as a form of delaying tactic. In addition, there are issues with regard to bail. It is time the House engaged in a debate on whether the common law system is failing the State.
The programme to which I refer also highlighted the contribution the Garda Síochána made to the protection of society. It is the only force that stands between us and anarchy. The programme clearly illustrated the importance of the Garda Síochána to society. In such circumstances, I join speakers who have stated the speech the president of the GRA was reportedly going to deliver yesterday was reprehensible. It was a corruption of the pledge of impartiality, which each garda is obliged to take. The Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána must be beyond partisan politics. Extreme views such as those expressed raise questions about the capacity and ability of the individual involved to carry out his duty to society in an impartial and fair manner. I carried out some research earlier this morning and have discovered that the pay scale for gardaí commences at almost €30,000 and rises, after ten or 11 years, to €50,000. The pay scale for police officers in Britain commences at £22,000 or approximately €25,000 and rises to £35,000, or €40,000, after ten years. Gardaí, like all of us in the public service, are exceptionally well paid in comparison to their counterparts elsewhere. I compliment Senator Donohoe on the manner in which he addressed this issue. What he said was in stark contrast with the comments made by Fine Gael’s spokesman on justice in the Dáil yesterday, which were completely irresponsible.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I renew my call for a debate on the future of politics, a matter I have raised on numerous occasions. Yesterday’s events illustrate that there is a disconnect between the body politic and the real world. It behoves us, as Members of this House, to represent the people and give them a voice. We are on the verge of making politics the profession of a chosen few, be they business people, farmers, teachers or public sector workers. That must never be allowed to happen. We are returning to the days of the part-time politician.
I seek a debate on the role of representative organisations, particularly in the light of the remarks made by the president of the GRA at that organisation’s annual conference yesterday and the speech he proposed to make. It is important that members of the Garda Síochána stand aside from politics. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is a major level of anger among those in the public sector about the disproportionate way in which they have been affected by the decisions taken. It is wrong and disingenuous for Members of this House to create a further barrier in that regard. Senator MacSharry invoked the name of James Connolly. What would James Connolly say to the Government which has brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy and overseen a massive rise in unemployment and inequality?
When will time be made available for a real debate on youth unemployment? Let us consider the number of people under the age of 25 years who have no jobs or a sense of hope and lack a sense of fulfilment. Senator Callely, with whom I seldom agree, is correct when he states there has been a serious increase in the number of people with mental health issues. However, there is nothing other than soundbites, promises of action and mealy-mouthed words forthcoming from the Government. It is time the House debated the future of politics and youth unemployment.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I endorse all the points made on the role of politics, an issue on which I have requested a debate on many occasions. Yesterday we engaged in a long debate on the role of women in politics. Having heard about what went on at the GRA conference and become familiar with the contents of the speech the president of that organisation proposed to deliver, I am obliged to ask whether anyone would want to enter the political arena. Politics is a noble profession and every Member of the Dáil and Seanad provides a public service for 12 hours or more each day, six days a week. We are not seeking kudos for this because it is what we came here to do. I want to serve the people and do not want to spend my time here debating financial matters. I could have enjoyed a very nice life outside the House, but I wanted to serve. I ask that the debate that has been requested also focus on what public service means. The reports in today’s newspapers all focus on money and pensions.
I have visited schools and spoken to young people and I am aware that they will not seek election to the Houses. They are annoyed with politicians, which is a pity. People might disagree with certain policies, but they should not engage in character assassination. That is what is happening in the political arena and those in the media are only delighted when some Member of Parliament makes a snide remark and they can then state this illustrates we are all corrupt. We only have ourselves to blame for what is happening because we are all focused on gaining votes in the next election. We must get real and do the job with which we are charged. We need to earn people’s respect. We must not cave in on each occasion on which an issue arises and must stop playing the man instead of the ball. I accept that it will not be possible to facilitate a debate on this issue today, but I will be one of the first Members to indicate a desire to contribute to such a debate. A long discussion on the profession of politics is required.
Senator Ivana Bacik: First, I thank the Leader and other colleagues in the House for such an excellent debate yesterday on women’s participation in politics. It was historic and was the first time this matter had ever been debated formally in either House of the Oireachtas since the foundation of the State and I am delighted it took place. I also am delighted there was so much interest that it will be continued, I hope on a not-too-distant date. There also was enormous interest from members of the public and members of interested groups, as was evident in the Visitors Gallery.
I also seek a debate on the future of the National Archives. I have called for a such a debate previously but I thought it was appropriate, given that others already have welcomed the reopening of the Natural History Museum or “the dead zoo”, as it is affectionately called. It is great to see the reopening of this tremendous resource for the people of Dublin. I am delighted it is reopening after a number of years of closure but in that context, a debate is required on the manner in which we preserve our national heritage and on our museums and archives more generally. I have spoken in this House previously, including yesterday, on the need to ensure the maintenance of the integrity of the National Archives in particular. In common with others who work in historical research and archival studies, I am very concerned about the proposal to merge the National Archives into the National Library. This proposal has met with immense opposition from expert archivists and historians and no evidence has been produced by the Government to provide a rationale for this proposal. I already have noted that a well-attended conference on this matter, entitled Archives in Crisis, was held in Trinity College on 10 April. The Minister should attend this House to hear Members set out the reason the proposed scheme regarding the National Archives is ill conceived and the reason it is so important to preserve the country’s national archives. This pertains to the manner in which we preserve our heritage and on a day when Members discuss preserving the exhibits in the dead zoo, and quite rightly, they also must think about preserving a different sort of exhibit, that is, our archives.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: There is an evident connection between the controversial statements made at the Garda Representative Association conference and the carefully cultivated negative image of politicians. While Ireland undoubtedly can boast of one of the finest police forces in the world, at the same time the statements made yesterday bordered on anarchy. They were absolutely irresponsible and did no favours to the rank and file members of the force who put their lives on the line daily to protect the citizens. People throughout the world have endeavoured to get rid of dictatorships and replace them with democracy. Democracy has served this country particularly well but one certainly could be forgiven for believing that a trend exists at present whereby it could be replaced by an ever-aggressive media, which is highly worrying. When I refer to a connection between the two issues, I do not believe the statements made at the aforementioned conference would have been made in a different climate.
Consequently, we must reflect for a moment on whether this atmosphere has been created and whether a section of the media definitely is undermining the democratic structures of this country by having as targets people who genuinely entered public life to give service with the best intentions in the world. If such a development exists, it must be considered and I certainly would welcome a debate in this House. However, this would not be a debate in which Members would defend themselves as Members of this House or on a personal basis. Instead, it specifically would consider Members’ role in this House while at the same time debating what should be the role of the media in a democracy.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I join Members in seeking a debate about politics and in particular, as I have stated consistently, on the role played by the media. There has been a huge chipping away at the terms and conditions of Deputies and Senators and at those of their colleagues on cash-strapped local authorities. After the introduction of the swiping system on 1 March, one would have imagined that journalists’ appetites regarding where Members are and what they are doing would have abated somewhat. However, a freedom of information request has been made, the response to which, incidentally, will cost the State money, as to how many people swiped and how often they swiped for a two-week period in March. Given the enormous economic difficulties faced by thousands of people, one would imagine that journalists’ time would be better spent in concentrating on the real issues.
On the other issue raised in this House on the reaction to comments made by the outgoing president of the Garda Representative Association, my view is simple. There are thousands of workers in this country, both public and private. We should recall the business agenda of some colleagues who propped up banks, such as our colleagues in IBEC, for example, whose six largest members were the banks that engaged in the criminal practices that have resulted in billions of taxpayers’ money being required to prop up that system. While these guys have got off the hook, teachers, gardaí, nurses and local authority workers now must pay the price. I never heard as much excitement on the part of the Government when its own Members were propping up banks to the tune of billions.
Senator John Hanafin: I join the calls for a debate on the role and participation of people in politics. I am particularly mindful of the manner in which the media represent what Members of these Houses do and how they sometimes misrepresent them. It is bad enough to have Opposition Members, who are part of our own political group, misrepresenting the Government.
Senator John Hanafin: It amuses me at times to hear people misrepresent the facts to the effect that Fianna Fáil props up the bankers, as though intelligent politicians, who have won three general elections on the trot and whose instincts enable them to see around corners politically, have decided that their best role to be re-elected for a fourth term definitely would be to support the bankers. That is nonsensical and ridiculous and is not even worthy of a knee-jerk reaction.
Worse, however, were the comments of the president of the Garda Representative Association. This obviously is a group that deserves its privileged position in society because its members uphold the law for everyone and are obliged to deal with the criminal groups. However, they have suggested to those criminal groups that the people who make the legislation of this country are corrupt and thereby have given a bad hostage to fortune. The comments made by the president of the Garda Representative Association were so inappropriate that I must ask whether the association’s members seriously consider what people want them to do. A recent poll that appeared in my local newspaper stated that 91% of people wanted the public service to accept the pay deal agreed to at Croke Park, while 9% did not. We in the public service are in a privileged position and must share the burden.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Twomey, O’Toole, Alex White, Norris and Walsh all expressed their views in respect of banking, the difficulties being experienced at present, on the ratings agencies, the deliberations regarding Greece and all the events related to the Greek economy. We must also acknowledge that the amount of funding sought by Bank of Ireland the other day was three times oversubscribed. Not alone was this a vote of confidence in Bank of Ireland but it constituted a vote of confidence in Ireland plc, which certainly should be noted. Senator Twomey was supported by Senator Boyle in calling for a debate on the euro and I have no difficulty in having such a debate take place.
While welcoming the reopening of the Natural History Museum, Senator Boyle called for a debate on museums in general while Senator Bacik called for a debate on the National Archives. My family and I have enormous experience in the running of a museum on a day-to-day basis and consequently can shed light on our experience, which was not very pleasant. I refer to the ability of the State agencies to operate without VAT or anything, while being completely funded by the State, whereas the private sector receives no funding, help or grant aid and is obliged to pay VAT. Consequently, I certainly would welcome a debate on this subject. Every museum in the world must have a must-see element to it. Otherwise, people will visit once and never return. I believe that Ireland, with a small population of 4.5 million people, should encourage indoor, all-weather tourist attractions that operate on a 365-day basis and are family friendly. My experience in this area has been a great deal of encouragement from all Government agencies, all political parties and Ministers of the time with very little action. I would be delighted to arrange for a debate on this matter to provide an opportunity for a sizeable number of organisations to exhibit the rich heritage we have in which a great number of tourists would be very interested.
Senator Twomey called for a debate on a report on child abuse. I have noted that a debate on the report is to be continued. I will come back to the House on this matter in the morning, as this is due to take place in the next week or so. It is an alarming statistic that 80% of the child abuse is family related. I have no difficulty in arranging for this report to be brought before the House for a further debate on this issue. Senator O’Toole acknowledged that today is Workers’ Memorial Day and I join in supporting his remarks.
Senators O’Toole, Ellis, Quinn, Ó Brolcháin, Coffey, MacSharry, Buttimer, Ormonde and Hanafin called for a debate on people involved in politics, on the fact that those who serve in the Dáil and Seanad are now one of the few groups not included in the public service retirement provision and on the fact that all incremental benefits Members had were hard fought for down through the years. I have no difficulty in arranging for an all-day debate on this matter. Such a debate would be timely. I want time to consider this matter because my initial reaction is that while it is of an urgent nature and I fully agree with Senator O’Toole’s request and with the other colleagues who have called for it, such a debate should be held in public. I want to check the possibility of having such a debate televised live. Such a debate would present an opportunity for us to have a right of reply and to have the debate unedited. We want the people to see the good work that is taking place on their behalf in Seanad Éireann by Members of the Oireachtas, most of whom work long hours, some 80 to 100, every week. The truth of the news is not being imparted to the people and that poses a serious challenge to our democracy, as Senator Ó Murchú has correctly stated. I want time to think about this matter and I will come back to the House on it in the next few days.
Senator Alex White called for a debate on a report on third level education, which he previously requested. I have no difficulty in requesting the new Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to update us on the challenges facing education. As we all know 4% of the population pay 50% of taxes and 37% of those who work do not pay any tax. There is a serious challenge in this respect and I fully agree with the challenges facing education. I have no difficulty in arranging for a debate on this matter.
Senators Buttimer, Boyle, Donohoe, Quinn, MacSharry, Norris, Walsh, Callely, Ormonde, Ó Murchú, McCarthy and Hanafin expressed their serious concerns and views regarding the GRA annual conference, the statement which its president was to have read and the situation in which the organisation now finds itself. As was said, the Garda Síochána is made up of men and women who have served with distinction. We in both Houses of the Oireachtas have introduced in legislation since the foundation of the State to protect and assist in every way possible this great organisation. I hope that wisdom will prevail today and I wish the organisation well in its conference. I would like to review the situation tomorrow when we will see what will have taken place today. I have no difficulty in arranging for a debate on this matter at the appropriate time.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the HSE and welcomed the announcement yesterday of the putting place of a liaison officer for the 32 survivors of thalidomide. I gave the Senator a commitment on yesterday’s Order of Business that I will arrange for a debate on the HSE.
Senator Ellis outlined his experience of the existence of a 30% price differential between the price paid to primary producers for their products and the price at which those products are sold in retail stores. As I said on yesterday’s Order of Business, we should have an all-day debate on agriculture and food in general. This aspect could be included in such a debate.
Senator McFadden outlined a constituency matter concerning a serious challenge facing a nursery owner in our constituency. This matter could be discussed during Private Members’ time. However, I will find out the details of the matter from the Senator following the Order of Business and see what we both can do to make representations to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on behalf of our constituent.
Senators Coffey, Buttimer and Callely called for a debate on youth unemployment and the role of FÁS. I intend to arrange for a debate on this matter at which the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Education and Science, who are responsible, would be in attendance. This is an urgent matter. This issue is a serious challenge for us all and our young people must be given the wherewithal in terms of upskilling and training to see what can be done to provide for them. FÁS has a huge budget and we want to have an input into a debate, with the two new Ministers in attendance, to bring us up to date on the position and to enable us to give them the benefit of our experience in terms of how that budget should be spent to ensure people will be trained to take up employment when there is a growth in a few years’ time.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate again on matters pertaining to credit unions and he outlined his experiences and what was said at the annual conference of the Irish League of Credit Unions. I have no difficulty in arranging for such a debate.
Senator Jim Walsh called for a debate on the system of judicial review and the matter of the protection of society. As I said on yesterday’s Order of Business, we should have a lengthy debate on this issue.
Senator Ó Murchú called for a debate on the media, to which I acceded yesterday, on developments in the media and what should be the role of the media in a democracy. I intend to have a debate on this matter at the earliest time possible.
Senator Joe O’Toole: In light of the very positive response from the Leader I will not put this matter to a vote. I will raise it again next week, unless we come to some agreement in the meantime. I look forward to a debate on this matter and it should be very helpful.
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