Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: Before I announce the Order of Business, I wish to inform the House that statements on the situation in Gaza will be taken tomorrow with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, who will update the House on the current serious position.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion on a proposed European directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009 — Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Several national and international events have taken place over recent days which need to be debated in this House and should be reflected in our work and on the Order of Business. We have seen the shocking and worrying pictures of the Israeli military boarding a flotilla of ships delivering aid to the people of Gaza and Irish citizens in international waters effectively being kidnapped, as described by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I welcome the Leader’s statement that the Minister will be in the House tomorrow to debate this important topic.
We were also told an additional €2 billion has been offered to Anglo Irish Bank. I hear on the doorsteps every day about special needs provision being cut back and food budgets in residential care institutions being cut by €50 a week in many instances, and we had statements from the Minister for Social Protection about welfare reform. We need a proper and comprehensive debate about welfare to work and building the appropriate supports around education and training and child care opportunities. Will the Leader arrange debates on these topical and important issues this week if we are to ensure the House is relevant?
In that context, one issue is distracting from the important attention these issues deserve and causing significant public concern and that is the expenses of one Member of the House, Senator Callely. That has led to reasonable questions being raised and I would like that Member to be afforded the opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding these reports. Will the Leader make time available for a statement by Senator Callely on these matters? It is related to our work and such a statement should be addressed to the House. Will the Leader respond to that request and make time available in order that we can send a clear message from this House on these matters?
Senator Joe O’Toole: I thank the Leader for responding to the request for a debate on the situation in Gaza and it is appropriate that it take place tomorrow in order that the Minister can contribute on this two days in a row.
I concur with everything Senator Fitzgerald said. It is regrettable that Senators were in the public eye all over the weekend for all the wrong reasons again. The Cathaoirleach and I are well aware of our code of conduct. Under Article 15 of the Constitution, of which every Member has a copy, we are required, among other things, to ensure we maintain the integrity of the office and of the Seanad and to foster and sustain public confidence in the Seanad. I want to be absolutely fair, to respect all of the House’s procedures and the law and to acknowledge the fundamental importance of the assumption of innocence in our democracy.
I am not rushing to any conclusions about anything but it is, nevertheless, crucial to the image of our Parliament and, in particular, to this House, that we deal with and dispose of any breaches or apparent breaches of our code of conduct. I do not want to rush to judgment. I cannot answer a question as to the personal circumstances of any Senator and I cannot answer the question as to where a Senator lives. All I know about where a person lives is I have recourse to the Electoral Act which provides that where a person is registered to vote is where a person is normally resident. That is required by law. I cannot go and have no intention of going beyond that.
Apart from that, I seek guidance from the Cathaoirleach in this regard. I believe there is a responsibility on us as a House to respond in an appropriate fashion either by requesting the Senator to make a personal statement, as Senator Fitzgerald has requested, or by conducting an investigation through the Committee on Procedures and Privileges or the Committee on Members’ Interests of Seanad Éireann or by triggering a complaint under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995. I do not know the appropriate way and I would respect the Cathaoirleach’s advice on this but I am certain the House, the Member himself and the ever dwindling reputation of politics would benefit from a clearing of the air rather than allowing this to drag on interminably in the media. It may well be that if we walk away from dealing with this, we will go down the road of the Westminster Parliament where if we are not seen to deal with issues that concern and worry the public, an external, independent, ethical body will be established to tell us how to run our business, which was never the intention of our Constitution. We are required to do this and we have a responsibility and a duty to do so.
I am not rushing to judgment as I do not know the facts of the case. It is all over the media, however, and it is creating a certain view in the eyes of the public. It is reflecting on all politicians and, in fairness to the Member, rather than let it drag on, it should be brought to his attention that we are concerned about this and that we want it dealt with. I am not prepared to let it sit without some action being taken. I have refused any request I have received to participate in media discussions and interviews in this regard in the last two days. This is the place in which to deal with such issues. This is an important matter, on which I ask for the Cathaoirleach’s advice and support.
An Cathaoirleach: I remind Members that the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, as amended by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, provides a legislative framework for dealing with any contraventions of the legislation by a Senator or any complaint made about a specific act of a Senator. Therefore, the Seanad has no function in the matter at this time.
Senator Alex White: Would the Cathaoirleach please clarify for the record whether the Committee on Members’ Interests has any role in this matter? As my colleagues have said, it is a matter of serious urgent concern.
On the debate which the Leader has arranged for tomorrow evening, I welcome the fact that we are to have a debate on the situation in Gaza. All reasonable persons would agree that what occurred yesterday morning was most shocking and a despicable act, an attack on a humanitarian mission in international waters. I believe it was an illegal act, carried out with excessive and grossly disproportionate force. I cannot understand how Israel which seeks the support and respect of the international community can stand over the statement made yesterday by an Israeli army spokesperson to the effect that, “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” Anybody who believes that has virtually placed himself or herself beyond the potential for having a reasonable discussion on what should pass for acceptable action at international level. It is vitally important that there be an independent inquiry into what occurred. I do not accept what I heard an American spokesperson say today, that it was within the bounds of the Israeli Government to conduct such an inquiry. That clearly cannot be the case in order for the international community to have any confidence that an independent inquiry which is urgently required will take place, not least given the presence of Irish citizens, the safety of some of whom we are still not certain about. I urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs to continue his vigorous response to what occurred yesterday. He should press for an independent inquiry to be held immediately at international level.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I very much welcome and endorse Senator Alex White’s comments. What happened yesterday in international waters near Gaza was absolutely despicable. I knew people on some of the boats, including Senator Daly who is in the House today. He was on one of the boats going to Cyprus.
I call for debates on two other issues, one of which was raised with me in the last few days, that is, rents, both commercial and domestic. A number of people have contacted me — I am sure they have also been in touch with other Members of the Oireachtas — about the very high rents still being demanded for many high street premises and housing units across the country, as a result of the enormous amounts spent and, in some cases, gambled by landlords towards the end of the housing boom. There is an overhang, as a result of which perfectly viable businesses are going to the wall because they cannot afford to pay the rents sought or the rates charged on their premises. We need to look at methods to alleviate the situation for small businesses in terms of the rents being levied by landlords.
I refer to comments made by previous speakers about expenses. A full debate at the appropriate committee is important, but the position of the Green Party has always been that we should move towards having a system of fully vouched expenses which would obviate the need for any such discussion.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I share Senators’ outrage about the storming of an aid boat on its way to Gaza yesterday. I ask the Leader where is the United Nations in all of this. What sanctions are being used to penalise such action? I would like to hear the Minister for Foreign Affairs speak about the issue.
I have two other requests to make of the Leader, both to do with the Minister for Education and Skills. I ask the Leader to arrange a full debate on the need for a new, reformed second level education system, a system that would serve all our children. A report on early school leaving, for which I was a rapporteur, was published last week and I thank the Leader for placing it on the Order Paper. It has found that one in six of our children are leaving school early, before the leaving certificate. A report published yesterday by the National Educational Welfare Board compiled by Mr. David Millar of the Educational Research Centre shows that in disadvantaged schools one quarter of the children are absent for more than 20 days a year. There are 16,000 expulsions every year, with one tenth taking place in disadvantaged schools. Children cannot learn when they are not in school and when they are, they are not learning either. The system which is exam-driven and aimed at obtaining the maximum number of points does not suit them. I would like a full debate to be arranged on the issue.
I have a second question which I would like the Leader to put to the Minister for Education and Skills. Will the new Minister, the Tánaiste, protect education at the Cabinet table? Today I have heard an account of a school in Galway city — this is being replicated across the country — in which foreign national children have lost their English language teachers because of new rules. These kids will not get the test scores required to enable them to move to mainstream education. They will fail again at second level. We are just replicating the problem. Is the Minister aware of this? It was she who brought forward the new rules. Yesterday a young man came to my office crying because his only hope was the back to education allowance. His maintenance grant has been cut and he is unemployed. What will the Minister do? Will she protect education?
Senator Ann Ormonde: I welcome the fact there will be a debate tomorrow night on the assault by the Israeli military on an aid convoy on its way to Gaza. There is no doubt about it — it was an act of war. It will be interesting, therefore, to have that debate tomorrow.
Will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, to come to the House before we break up for the summer to outline the up-to-date position on the moneys allocated to developing countries and how such moneys are spent or misspent? I refer to countries in which human rights are not respected, there is no freedom of speech and torture is widely used. Should we pump money into countries in which human rights are not respected? A debate on the issue is necessary. I refer, in particular, to reports I have read on the position in Uganda in which torture is widely used and there seems to be no relationship between governance and the agencies working with Irish Aid. It is very important that we debate the issue.
Senator David Norris: I join my colleagues in welcoming the fact there will be a debate tomorrow on the situation in Gaza. The flotilla of peace attacked by the Israeli defence forces was approaching the coastline of Gaza but was in international waters, which makes this an unprovoked act of piracy on the part of the Israeli authorities. This is now Israel’s equivalent of Bloody Sunday and will turn world opinion massively against it. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will turn governments against it. The Israelis have already started a smear campaign by calling the convoy of ships a “flotilla of hate” and attempting to associate it with Hamas, al-Qaeda and terrorism. We need to be careful about the language used. It also is important to point out that a significant demonstration took place yesterday at the Cenotaph in London at which a group of Hasidic Jews dressed in traditional costumes held up banners that said things like “Judaism rejects the Zionist state and condemns its criminal siege and occupation”. There are voices within international Jewry and within Israel that protest against such violations of human rights and this must be put on the record to stem any attempt to use this event for anti-Semitic purposes.
There are things Members must do. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs discussed the Goldstone report and recommended that it be referred to the International Criminal Court and Members should see this through. As for the EuroMed agreement, there have been items on the Order Paper for a couple of years in which a number of Members, myself included, called for the monitoring of the human rights protocols that are attached to it. They do not even bother. They have turned their faces away and will not see what is happening, which makes a farce of human rights.
Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs asked in recent weeks that Ireland should consider its position on welcoming Israel into the OECD. While Ireland alone could have vetoed that, we did nothing. Perhaps now there will be some action. As someone who admires Barack Obama, I believe it is time for him to step up to the plate and make America’s position perfectly clear, if they believe in human rights.
Senator David Norris: Human rights exist not only in troubled parts of the world but here in Ireland as well. I listened on the radio to a distressed young woman who had taken rented accommodation and who has a tiny infant child. Her husband took three days’ work and for that they have lost their house because they lost their rent supplement. They were out on the road and their parents took them in. The place is surrounded by ghost houses that could be taken over.
Senator Camillus Glynn: I compliment RTE on the “Prime Time Investigates” programme broadcast last night which brought into clear focus the serious dangers with which our children are confronted, especially children who use the Internet. Regrettably, many towns nationwide were cited as places in which people preyed on young innocent children. It is clear that urgent action must be taken to eliminate this practice. I compliment RTE, the Irish Foster Care Association and all the child agencies that are doing such a good job.
Recently, a move was made to ban head shops. While on my way to Dublin today, I was informed that at least three people had been admitted to Mullingar hospital in a serious condition, having ingested substances purchased in such shops. It is important that the components of those substances should be established and, if they are legal, action should be taken to ban them. Finally, such shops should be closed once and for all and those involved put out of business because people are in jail for doing far less.
Senator Eugene Regan: Members raise many issues to good effect in this House in respect of the standards that are applied in FÁS, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, Anglo Irish Bank and so on, and in respect of the practices of Deputies Bertie Ahern, O’Dea and Fahey, especially the latter’s sham lost at sea scheme. Members have highlighted issues, emphasised standards and made a contribution in that regard. Therefore, when an issue arises about a Member of this House such as the expenses issue that was highlighted in the Sunday Independent concerning Senator Callely, it brings the entire House into disrepute. It is a question of allowing Senator Callely to explain himself. It is important, therefore, that the Leader would deal with this matter expeditiously. If there has been malpractice by a Member of the House in this regard, it must be dealt with and have consequences.
It is a question of leadership because there is a tendency on the part of Brian Cowen and the entire party the Senator represents to give unqualified support to their friends in the party, without any critical analysis of what is right and wrong.
Senator Eugene Regan: I hope in this case we will have a proper analysis and exposé of what happened. There should be an inquiry to ascertain whether any other Member of the House has acted in that way since this Seanad commenced in 2007.
I add my voice to those who have raised the issue of piracy by the Israeli forces in international waters in respect of the flotilla of aid headed for Gaza. We had the atrocities of the invasion of Gaza last year. We have an illegal blockade of Gaza, contrary to United Nations resolutions, and now we have this act of piracy. The United Nations has condemned the actions.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I have had reason to criticise Israel for its brutality. On several occasions we have been able to point to specific incidents when it targeted civilians and massacred women and children, about which we were told there would be an inquiry and that action would be taken, but that was the end of the matter. The state of Israel used Irish passports in its murderous deeds, against which many Members of this House stood up and spoke out. Again, we expected action to be taken but we got none. The massacre this week of the humanitarian aid workers is a terrorist act. If any other country committed the same act, it would be immediately dubbed a terrorist rogue state. It is vital at this stage, in addition to calling for justice in this case, that we also call for humanitarian concern and justice for the thousands suffering in the Gaza Strip. Those who seek to help them are murdered. As an independent state we must take a stand on the issue. It is also important that America turn its rhetoric into action because no other country can influence Israel. The arrogance shown by Israeli spokespersons is unbelievable. To compare in some way an iron bar to a weapon of mass destruction defies all credibility. At this stage, independent inquiries would lead nowhere because they would be forgotten until such time as Israel recognises the international conventions it has breached time and again. If the international powers and community do not do this, they may never again talk about human rights and the rights of independent countries because it will be shown clearly that there is a club operating in that regard.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I add my voice to those who have welcomed the fact that there will be a debate on the Israeli bombardment of the aid ship. It is timely that we will have a debate tomorrow night because we have all——
An Cathaoirleach: I have asked Members to leave their mobile phones outside the Chamber or turn them off. It is not fair on the persons trying to record the proceedings of the House if a Member comes in with a mobile phone turned on. It must stop. If it continues, I will simply adjourn until the Members concerned remove their mobile phones from the Chamber.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the fact that we will have that debate tomorrow night. It is important that we debate what happened on the aid ship. It is another appalling outrage on the part of the Israeli forces. Many of us who were highly critical of their actions in the bombardment of Gaza and the invasion of Lebanon are shocked to see that this is happening yet again. As Senator Ó Murchú said, Israel is acting with great arrogance and, apparently, with impunity. It is welcome, however, to hear the Minister for Foreign Affairs employing strong rhetoric in his criticism of the Israeli actions but more than rhetoric is needed. We, not only in Ireland but also in the West, need to be seen to be taking action against Israel to ensure the Israeli forces can no longer act with this sort of arrogance and impunity and in breach of international laws, as they have often done. We need to question Israel’s place in the OECD. If Israel is to take this sort of action in breach of international law, invading ships owned by other countries, with other countries’ nationals on board, in international waters and killing people on board those ships, we must look again at Israel’s status as a member of organisations such as the OECD and as a favoured trading nation with the EU. We must be seen to take action and we also need——
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: In welcoming the fact that National Irish Bank is talking about expanding business into An Post, I raise concerns that we in the Border counties have about security at and safety in post offices. I attended a meeting last night at which more people were standing outside in the rain than were inside, and there were many people inside. The meeting was held to support a local postmistress who has lost her franchise with An Post because of an armed robbery that took place there more than a year ago. In the context of more business being done through the post office network, which I welcome because it is important that post offices are as useful to the community as possible, I ask for a debate on security at post offices and along the Border. Many Border villages used to be manned by the Garda. There has been a policy recently of stationing gardaí in central locations from which they operate to the point that even the Garda station in Carrigans was robbed. It did not have closed circuit television. Although no one lost his job on that account, the postmistress is to lose her job for an armed robbery in the post office across the road.
In the context of these times of armed robberies, it is important that people such as those who turned out to support their local service and the deliverer of that service are supported completely by An Post and the Garda to ensure safe delivery of that service. The point made last night by many who operate other post offices is that while one person may be in trouble today, it could be any of them tomorrow. Maximising security is important in the context of advocating that business people put more cash through the post offices.
What is the current position of the legislation to regulate sun beds that was promised by the Minister for Health and Children? I hope it will be forthcoming at an early date, perhaps even by the end of this term, because such legislation has been introduced in the North to regulate sun beds, especially for those under 18 for whom their use is exceptionally dangerous.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I underscore the concerns of my colleagues, especially Senator Fitzgerald, on the expenses issue. It is a pity this should develop in the week that the Houses of the Oireachtas published on-line the expenses of all Oireachtas Members in an effort to resolve this issue and provide transparency and security to members of the public regarding how we spend their money. In this regard, the points made and the tone struck on this side of the House have been very careful and respectful. The fact is that if the Houses of the Oireachtas do not pass judgment on this, the people will pass judgment on us all.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: While this is an issue on which there is a need to give the Senator in question time to respond, I emphasise it is one in which Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas from all parties will need to engage for all our sakes.
Banking is an issue that is frequently discussed in this House. The Government is committing an additional €2 billion to Anglo Irish Bank, bringing to €14 billion the amount committed to that organisation. This has occurred across the same number of days in which the Government’s efforts to cut social welfare have become clear. We have been continually told that this is being done to get credit flowing again, but the Central Bank reported yesterday that credit contracted again last month by 4% after a contraction of 4% the previous month. This needs to be discussed again in the House.
I concur with my colleagues on the actions of Israel. The idea that there is international law and a community willing to be governed by it has been subject to an awful assault in recent years. This provides an opportunity for Europe and the rest of the world to say the action which took place in international waters is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I join others in condemning the situation in Gaza; it is completely intolerable. As Senator Ó Murchú rightly said, if we were discussing any other country, for instance the situation in Iran springs to mind, even though there is much solidarity shown internationally in respect of the tragedy that has taken place there, the reaction would be much greater. I hope, therefore, the appropriate action will be taken in line with many of the suggestions made.
I join Senator Donohoe in asking for a debate on banking, an issue we must visit at least once a month. It is important that we provide for clarification to the public as to why additional moneys were made available to Anglo Irish Bank yesterday and also ensure credit will flow again. It is true that the contractions in the availability of credit are in line with the contractions in the demand for credit, both from SMEs and others, but this is not to say there is not substantial anecdotal evidence that credit is not flowing to the extent we would all like.
I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that from today the expenses of all Members are to be published on the Oireachtas website on a monthly basis. This should always have been the case. Any measures which, as Senator O’Toole said, can affect the dwindling reputation of politics as a profession have to be welcomed wholeheartedly. In that regard, Members on this side of the House are not immune from adhering to the the practice of aspiring to the highest levels of propriety in respect of their expenses and in carrying out of their duties on behalf of their public. In that context, we welcome the opportunity to have a debate on all issues relating to expenses. With reference to the issues mentioned in the media in recent days, if it is the case that Members wish to clarify their situation, this would be welcomed. All Members are entitled to due process, but we all have a responsibility — as demonstrated by the belated publishing of all expenses on a website — to ensure all aspects of our work here become more transparent and that we build confidence in what, after all, is, as we all know, a noble profession and one which demands and requires respect.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House as a matter of urgency because there is a significant deficit in the Government’s education policy. More children are leaving school unable to read and write properly. There is a question mark against grades at third level and the awarding of degrees. It is important, therefore, that we have a debate on education.
I join Senator Fitzgerald, in particular, in asking for a debate on the future of politics. There is a chasm between those of us who are practising politicians and the public. We are held in such low esteem that it is not worth saying. The people are tired of the gravy train and the way in which we are perceived which is unfair in many ways. However, in many cases, we have brought this perception upon ourselves. I welcome the new regime being put in place today. It is the case that 99.9% of Members in this House are honourable, decent people. If there are people in politics to make money, they should resign and get out. We are here to serve the people, to advocate on behalf of the political party to which we belong and the common good.
I ask for a debate on the future funding of sport. I have asked for such a debate on numerous occasions. Many sports clubs and community organisations are suffering as a consequence of the freezing of the sports capital programme. I seek a debate on the issue which would also include a consideration of the swimming pools programme which seems to have got lost completely in the new Minister’s briefcase. I certainly hope it will be rescued and not drowned.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: I welcome the debate tomorrow on the terrible situation that pertains in Israel, Gaza and the wider area. Like other Senators, I voice my outrage at the storming of the aid ship by Israeli forces. Innocent lives were lost. They were people who were trying to obtain human rights for the suppressed people of Gaza. Will the Leader ensure the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, maintains the pressure on the Israeli Government, especially concerning those Irish people who are being detained? He should ensure they are being well treated and will be released as soon as possible. One of them is a young friend of mine who went to school with my children. He is a native of Donegal but attended school in Sligo. His family are very concerned for his well-being.
Last week, I asked for a debate on care of the elderly, and I know it is coming. I commend Deputy Michael Noonan on his wonderful interview on “The Frontline” last night. The man was so courageous and dignified in dealing with such a tragic situation. He humanised his story, which I am sure gave great relief and solace to so many people who find themselves trapped where Deputy Noonan and his family are. He did his lovely wife, Flor, a great service by highlighting the terrible plight in which he finds himself. I ask the Leader to ensure we keep focusing on care of the elderly and the treatment of Alzheimer’s in particular.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I add my voice to the measured expressions of concern about the expenses issue. In particular, I compliment Senator O’Toole on his informed assessment of the matter. There is a need for voices from this House to be heard. None of us likes doing that and it is always difficult when one knows and likes those involved. As we have seen so many times in society, however, problems can also arise through the failure of people to talk when they know a person’s good side. In that respect, I echo Senator Donohoe’s remarks that if we are silent, others will judge us. While we should not rush to commentary, neither should we hesitate to tell it as it is.
Undoubtedly, there has been such a culture in politics. When I was first elected, a person from rural Ireland who is based in Dublin, I was encouraged to claim expenses from my home place in Galway. I was told I would be the better for it financially. I have no doubt those who made the suggestions meant well and thought it was an acceptable thing to do within the system, but it is not. The public are judging that and, sadly, I hear people talking about the dwindling respect for politicians. While we ought to be careful not to fulfil the prophesy by emphasising that, we certainly need to put it in more positive terms. We need to increase people’s respect for politics. In that regard unfortunately, I say with a heavy heart that we need to debate the issue that has arisen. It needs to be commented upon comprehensively within these walls.
On the amazing and scary events concerning Gaza, most Members of the House subscribe to the idea that there must be a two-state solution to this problem. Those of us who wish to see Israel survive and thrive as a state surely must agree that Israel is doing itself no favours these days. I look forward to that debate tomorrow.
Senator John Hanafin: I share in all the comments that have been made concerning the horrendous attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters. Having heard the explanations and the well-packaged public relations from the Israeli side about what happened in Gaza, I am cognisant of what has happened to the flotilla. This time, I am not going to accept it. As a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, I would say my view has changed. This is proof positive that our worst fears about what might happen in Gaza and about the humanitarian situation there are coming to pass. It is as bad as the Palestinians are saying. I imagine there will be a fundamental shift among many people who strongly supported Israel heretofore. I expect they are wondering whether to cast doubt on all the statements they previously made.
Given the importance of how we are seen as a country to how we do our business, it is especially heartening that an editorial in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, which is a major American financial newspaper, speaks about the credibility of the measures taken by the Government, refers to Ireland as a model for other countries and suggests that the Government’s fiscal rectitude has been accepted by the people in proper measure as necessary. This is how others see us. More importantly, given that we receive 26% of all US foreign direct investment coming into Europe, this is how we are seen by The Wall Street Journal, which is read in American financial institutions. It is worth knowing that the newspaper in question sees Ireland as a model.
Senator Paul Coghlan: For the reasons that have been outlined, I agree with Senators who have argued that the Cathaoirleach should give Senator Callely an opportunity to make a personal statement at the earliest possible time. The wrong kind of spotlight is being put on the profession of politics and on this House. He must be given an opportunity to state where he ordinarily resides and to address the various matters that are now in the public domain.
Sceilig Mhichíl is a world renowned heritage site off the Kerry coast. I welcome the 31 recommendations that have been made by an independent review body with regard to the sheerness and steepness of the Sceilig Mhichíl site. It requires a great degree of agility and skill to undertake the dangerous mountaineering activity involved in accessing the site. Although it is a wonderful place and is known throughout the world, it is not for the faint-hearted.
Senator Paul Coghlan: The site’s opening and closing times are far too restrictive and its season is too short. At a time when we are trying to boost the tourism industry throughout the country, we need this world heritage site to be opened from April to the end of October. That would have more in common with the proper fullness of the season.
I agree with those who have called for a debate on banking. We have received the report of the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Honohan. The Minister has probably received, or is about to receive, the report prepared by Mr. Regling and Mr. Watson.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I have a great deal of sympathy with our friend and colleague, Senator Coghlan, who was pilloried in certain sections of the media last weekend for raising the legitimate question of the dung catchers and suggesting that the relevant by-law should be extended to Dublin.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I assure the House that from a tourist point of view, there is nothing less edifying than seeing the results of the movements of jarveys around the premier tourism centre of St. Stephen’s Green.
I compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has been mentioned by Senators on both sides of the House, on the traditional steel he has shown. One would expect that from a Corkman anyway. He has left the Israeli Government, through its ambassador to this country, under no illusions about Ireland’s position on this issue. I applaud the Leader for having made time available for an urgent debate on the matter tomorrow evening. I will reserve my comments until then.
I would like to reflect on Senator O’Toole’s comments on the wider issue of the public impression and perception of the Seanad. Members will be aware that some weeks ago, I referred to the lack of co-operation by a semi-State body in attending an Oireachtas committee, which was a major issue at the time. At the time I said it was in the hands of both Houses to ensure compellability of witnesses.
As I am unsure of the exact procedures, will the Leader ask the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to examine the conclusions arrived at over many years of debate on Seanad reform and specifically to examine the role the House could usefully play in scrutinising European directives? I have argued on past occasions that the House could be used as a Second Stage debating chamber on EU directives with the relevant line Minister. After such a debate, with questioning from all sides of the House, the public would be better informed of what is happening in Europe and the directive could move to Committee Stage at the relevant committee.
Senator Paschal Mooney: People in rural areas are complaining they can no longer cut turf; others claim they may end up not being allowed to fish. There are genuine concerns in rural Ireland about European directives. It is important for this House at least to reflect accurately what is happening in Europe, particularly after the ratification of the Lisbon treaty which has given an enhanced role to national parliaments in EU affairs.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I welcome the proposal for a debate on Gaza tomorrow evening. The actions of the Israeli forces against an international humanitarian flotilla were disproportionate. In this case, the word “disproportionate” is not even strong enough.
Like others, I call for an international inquiry to be held into yesterday’s events so the truth will be known. It must be independent and international because I heard some American commentators suggest the inquiry should be conducted by Israel itself. Such a move would be unacceptable to any right-thinking nation. Israeli Governments have never put the actions of their security forces under critical focus in the past. It is now time they did.
Members on all sides of the House have asked for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. It is important now the EU gets involved in the distribution of aid to the area. The EU needs to be stronger in this area. I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to impress upon his EU colleagues the need for the EU to become more actively involved in the situation. I hope the Americans will show good faith and honesty in this regard and bring Israel to heel as well.
Citizens of Palestine have been denied the basics in life to live by the blockade imposed by the Israeli army. John Ging, an Irishman, former captain in the Irish Army and the head of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, in Gaza has described the situation there as subhuman. Up to 1.5 million people live in Gaza, a piece of land the size of County Louth, of whom 80% rely on John Ging and the UN for their very survival.
I, along with my Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy Chris Andrews, and Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, were due to be on board the Turkish ship that was attacked by the Israeli navy. We were prevented from leaving Cyprus on Friday and Saturday by the Cypriot authorities. They stated it was against Cyprus’s strategic interests in the region to assist us, and other parliamentarians from Sweden, Bulgaria, Russia, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, joining the flotilla that was going to bring much needed food and aid to Gaza.
Senator Mark Daly: I thank the Cathaoirleach. The Israelis put out the story that they had been attacked first. We are well aware in this country that 13 civilians were killed in the civil rights march and that the security services in Northern Ireland immediately put out the story that they had been fired on first and that those on the march had been carrying weapons. We all know the truth behind that falsehood. The Israeli Government also maintains it was within its rights to attack a flotilla in international waters. It has not signed up to the UN Convention on the High Seas; therefore, it is not breaking any laws because it does not recognise any law on the high seas.
Senator Mark Daly: There was an amazing lady on the ship we were due to get on, Heady Etti, who is 85 years of age. In 1939 at the age of 14 years she was sent from Germany by her parents to survive the Holocaust.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is way over time. He can make these points tomorrow night. My hands are tied as regards time. A number of Members will not get in because others have drifted over time. I appreciate the important point the Senator is making, but there will be an opportunity tomorrow night to make it.
Senator Feargal Quinn: Television is a powerful medium, never more so than last night for those of us who watched Deputy Michael Noonan speak about his dear wife. Everyone must have been in tears. It is a reminder to us of the need to look after the elderly, especially those who are unable to look after themselves.
I thank the Leader for drawing the attention of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the point I made some ten days ago about biomass and the price of miscanthus. The matter had been delayed since last January and some 300 or 400 farmers were left waiting. Last Tuesday the Minister responded to the Leader’s request and moved on it.
As the debate on the actions of Israel will take place tomorrow, I do not intend to speak on the matter now. I hope, however, that we will have a logical debate and also take into account the concerns of Israel, a country which has seen 10,000 bombs land on its territory from Gaza. It has requested that any ships heading towards Gaza be examined to ensure there are no bombs on board. I do not defend in any way the steps taken by Israel, but it is an understandable reaction for that country to state it will not allow ships into Gaza without first being examined by it. It has offered a method by which this can be done. Let us hold a debate tomorrow, but let us have balance.
Senator Terry Leyden: I wish to be associated with the comments made about the murder of nine Turkish citizens on their way to Gaza. When I met the Minister for Foreign Affairs at lunchtime, I made the point that there should be a European Union response, not only one involving Ireland. We are small in size relative to Israel. There is the question of calling a special meeting of the European Union foreign Ministers with Baroness Ashton to adopt a united approach to the handling of this issue. Let us remember that just over one year ago some 1,200 citizens were murdered in the Gaza region in the invasion by Israel. That has been forgotten and the Americans have stood by the Israelis all this time. The only action that can really work is a trade embargo. We know nine people were murdered and may hold an inquiry into this event, but Israel will never respond, unless the European Union questions, considers and reconsiders the special position on trade between Israel and the rest of Europe. That will take action. I do not agree with the removal of our ambassador or the Israeli ambassador being expelled because they are the links with our citizens now held in Israel.
Senator Nicky McFadden: It was with serious disgust that I heard yesterday on the news of the commitment to give €2 billion to Anglo Irish Bank of the €14.3 billion already committed. Everyone here has commended our wonderful former leader, Deputy Michael Noonan, as I do, but the bottom line and the point he made most ardently in the debate last night was that he was lucky in being the enviable position of being able to afford care for his wife, with thanks to the Alzheimer’s Society also. What do we do in this country? We mismanage our finances. We bail out the banks, including Anglo Irish Bank, and give the new professor who will take over from Professor Drumm €350,000 a year to manage the HSE, not to mention the amount of money put into the black hole of the HSE, the Department of Health and Children and such bodies. Where is the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, this week? She was meant to be in the House to debate health matters. What is the story about this? I refer to the eminent professor who has developed a wonderful vaccine for breast cancer. Some 400 lives could be saved every year, but where is the money to invest in the vaccinne? The money will probably be used to bail out Anglo Irish Bank again.
Senator Jim Walsh: I add my voice to those who have spoken about the attack on the flotilla. Like Senator Quinn, I believe there are two sides to the story. Most reasonable people would have accepted in 1948 that there was a necessity for the Jewish people to establish the state of Israel, given the events of the Second World War, probably one of the darkest chapters in the history of the world. The Six Day war in 1967 resulted in the Occupied Territories being taken from the Palestinians and planted with Jewish people. This country has seen the results and consequences of such a policy. Therefore, we can empathise with the Palestinian people in this regard. This process must be unwound. The credibility of the United States, with regard to its foreign policy, especially in important areas such as Iran, is being put to the test. The United States should play a positive role at the United Nations to ensure there is an independent international inquiry to fully support the obtaining of the truth.
Senator Mark Dearey: I welcome the fact that we are holding a debate tomorrow night on the piracy on the high seas which occurred yesterday. I refer to some time-sensitive items with regard to the Rachel Corrie which continues to make its way toward Gaza with several Irish citizens on board. It is critically important that the Israelis heed the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, and others in their call for extreme restraint with regard to that vessel and its Irish and Malaysian passengers. The Amnesty International report, launched last Thursday, described acting with impunity as being the norm for Israeli soldiers, police officers and members of other security forces. Now we know what that means. It is critical that this modus operandi is brought to an end now to ensure the safety of the Irish citizens who continue to make their way towards Gaza. I raise this matter because it is time-sensitive. The vessel is on the high seas and I hope tomorrow evening’s debate will not come too late to ensure their safety, although it may be. I am very concerned about them, as I know most of them personally.
I refer to the debate on health which will take place shortly, in particular, on the issue of the shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors. I am informed by the HSE that, owing to the onerous rosters that doctors must work, Ireland may be considered as an unattractive place in which to hire. It is critical that we deal with this issue because it is threatening the survival of small local hospitals. Doctors are being concentrated in larger regional centres. My hospital in Dundalk is under serious threat because of this. This is an issue with which the Minister for Health and Children must deal urgently.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Ó Brolcháin, Healy Eames, Ormonde, Norris, Regan, Ó Murchú, Bacik, Donohoe, MacSharry, Feeney, Hanafin, Mooney, Cummins, Daly, Quinn, Leyden, Walsh and Dearey expressed their shock, horror and disappointment regarding the humanitarian mission interrupted by the Israelis. Many calls have been made for the international criminal courts to be asked to investigate the matter. Reference was made to brutality, the misuse of Irish passports and the massacre of humanitarian workers. There were also calls for an international convention on the events that have occurred and, in particular, a call from one Senator for a trade embargo. I join with the Senator who expressed serious concerns about the safety of everybody from Ireland on the Rachel Corrie. We wish them well. The Minister will be in the House from 7.15 p.m. until 9 p.m. tomorrow to give us an update on the serious situation there. I assure the House that each day we will have an opportunity to be updated on this and I will consider how to structure a full debate, following the briefing debates until the debacle has ended. I have no difficulty with allocating time daily for this to take place.
Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Regan, Donohoe, MacSharry, Buttimer, Mullen, Coghlan and Mooney raised the codes of the Seanad. As the Cathaoirleach correctly pointed out, at present, the Seanad has no function in that regard. The code of ethics in the Seanad is under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I thank the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission for making available on-line information on the various expenses connected with membership of both Houses.
Senator Ó Brolcháin sought a debate on the rent costs, investments by landlords and everything relating to the challenges facing the retail sector. I have no difficulty with arranging for a debate on the matter.
Senators Healy Eames, Ormonde and Buttimer called for a debate on second level education, absenteeism and other aspects of education, including the €600 million invested by the Government this year in the capital building programme. As I said on a previous occasion, I will arrange for such a debate to take place. Senator Ormonde also asked that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, be invited to the House to discuss the amounts of aid being given by Ireland and the various countries receiving that aid. This is a worthwhile proposal and I support holding a debate on it.
Senators Glynn, Feeney and Quinn congratulated RTE on its “Prime Time” programme last night and called for a debate on everything relating to the protection of children and the agencies responsible for children. I have no difficulty with holding such a debate. I have already given the House a commitment to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to the House in the next few weeks for a further debate on this issue. Senator Glynn also spoke about the dangers of head shops for society and I support the call he made.
Senator Buttimer asked about the future funding of sport and referred in particular to the swimming pool grants and the capital funding programme. As everybody knows, resources are scarce and not available for that at present. The lottery funding has transformed sporting venues and every parish in the country has benefitted from it. I hope these funds will be made available again at the earliest opportunity, hopefully by the end of next year or early in 2012.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on the future of post offices, the extra business now being proposed for them and their security, particularly in Border areas. I agree with the Senator in this regard and with regard to the safe delivery of everything that is being transferred to and proposed for post offices. I will arrange for a debate on the matter. I understand the drafting of the sunbed legislation is at a very advanced stage. It will be before the House very soon.
Senators Donohoe, MacSharry, Coghlan and McFadden sought a debate on banking. As I told Members, there will be a debate on this matter once a month to hear updates and discuss the various reports that are now available for our consideration. That debate will definitely take place in June.
Senators Feeney and Quinn congratulated RTE for the “Frontline” programme last night and particularly Deputy Michael Noonan. Everybody’s heart went out to Deputy Noonan last night on a personal level, and to his wife Florence and the entire family. It showed the difficulty that many families experience. Unfortunately, the incidence of this disease is increasing. With people living longer, this disease appears to be affecting them in a major way. I wish the Deputy, his wife and his family well, as well as everybody who assists them. I have already put a debate on the elderly into the diary. In the morning the Minister will discuss the entire health portfolio, particularly everything relating to the HSE, and in the afternoon there will be a discussion on the elderly. The following week the Minister of State with responsibility for children will be in the House to discuss his portfolio. There will be no shortage of time to discuss and exchange views about the health portfolio with the Minister, in the presence of the officials.
Senator Hanafin welcomed the editorial opinion in The Wall Street Journal, one of the most respected, if not the most respected, newspapers in the world’s financial circles. It held our country up as a model in terms of the courage and foresight of the Government in the decisions it is making in the national interest. Many other countries are following our example and citing this country as a shining example in encouraging their people and political parties to do the same thing.
Senator Mooney spoke about EU scrutiny and Seanad reform. I have already discussed this and the Minister for Foreign Affairs wishes to play a full part in the Seanad conducting EU scrutiny. I am due to have a meeting with the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, to confirm how to set aside a timeframe for this, and I will discuss it with the leaders of the groups in the House at our meeting next Tuesday.
Senator Dearey sought a debate on health and raised the shortage of junior doctors. I support him in this regard and when the Minister is here in the next few weeks we can discuss it and find out what progress is being made. I understand an advertisement campaign is taking place at present to ensure there will be enough junior doctors available as we approach the winter months.
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