Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; No. 2, statements on whistleblowing in the financial sector, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; No. 3, statements on the interception of the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and conclude not later than 8.55 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; and No. 35, Private Members’ motion No. 17 re lifelong learning and upskilling, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 but not earlier than 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. There will be a sos between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I understand Senator Callely will make a statement to the House this morning on the controversy surrounding his expenses. Members sought such a statement yesterday and expressed serious concerns regarding the media reports on his expenses. As I will not be provided with an opportunity to respond to his statement later, I note it should be thorough and comprehensive and address all the issues of concern. The Cathaoirleach will agree that Members cannot afford a continuation of this controversy and that trust and faith in politics must be restored. I also expect that details of the written statement the Taoiseach has requested of Senator Callely will be made available to this House. People seek leadership at this difficult time of political and economic uncertainty. They seek a jobs plan and a proper banking plan. They demand proper child care services and support for elderly people in the community. These issues and topics which affect people’s lives so seriously are those which Members should address seriously in this House and on which they should seek action. I will reserve further comment on Senator Callely’s statement until later but I wanted to make clear these points because I understand Members will not be in a position to respond immediately in this Chamber.
On a different issue, I seek a debate in this House on the highly disturbing reports that appeared today regarding Israel, Irish passport holders and the apparent illegal use of their passports. I am sure the Minister for Foreign Affairs will address this matter tonight, which is a very important issue for this House to debate. Second, Members must discuss the cuts in higher education and the information that came to light today on courses and jobs in the higher education sector. I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on that topic. While there is much discussion on the smart economy, education cuts at higher level will make it highly difficult to make economic progress.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I acknowledge that the Taoiseach listened to Members on this side of the House yesterday. I was somewhat disappointed that there was not more of a response from Members on the other side. No one needed to be disloyal but at least it was good that one voice came from the other side of the House. However, Members on this side dealt with this matter as an issue for the Seanad, which is how it should be dealt with. Members should take a view on the issue of politics, the House and its importance. This can be done without engaging in personal vendettas or without personalising issues. However, in outlining the circumstances of this entire fiasco to either the Cathaoirleach or the House, if Senator Callely chooses to so do, Members should be clear about what they expect. I am clear about where this must go. It should deal with all the unanswered questions and concerns. It should explain any mistakes or incorrect claims and should calculate precisely and put on the record the quantum of overpayments. Moreover, it should recognise the damage to politics and the House.
Senator Joe O’Toole: In addition, there should be details on the redress proposed by the Senator. I do not want anyone to ask subsequently what did Members expect because I have just outlined what I expect, namely, five issues and five matters to be dealt with. Moreover, this should be placed on the record of the House in a clean, simple and straightforward fashion. This is how Members will move on and as I also have expressed this view to Senator Callely, there should be no doubt as to where I stand on this matter. I look forward to what he has to say and there will be time enough to come to conclusions thereafter. However, it is fair to record the exact reference frame within which Members will judge the impact of his statement and his communication with the Cathaoirleach or both, which I presume will be brought to the attention of the House or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, as appropriate.
While the House is navel-gazing on its own issues, the world outside goes on. The most sickening thing to happen over the weekend was that, at a time when Members have been bailing out banks, looking after the finances of the country and the economy, taking all the difficult measures and agree that ordinary people are experiencing difficulties with regard to loan repayments, jobs, unemployment and so on, the Government began to target lone parents.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I do not want any Member from the other side of the House to recount tales of the famous lone parent who has four houses in America and so on. People on the ground are struggling and I will ask a question of Members on the other side of the House. At their parliamentary party meetings, someone should ask——
Senator Joe O’Toole: —— who is advising the Government to rip off lone parents? Who does the sums and picks the easy targets? Who is so ridiculous and stupid as to put this forward as a policy position that is sustainable, measured, capable of being implemented and acceptable to the people? It is an absolute disaster.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Like the other speakers, I welcome the announcement that Senator Callely will make a statement following the Order of Business. As the other speakers have noted, Members require a full and comprehensive statement to resolve this matter. It has been a most unwelcome distraction in a week of serious political events both here and elsewhere and has served to bring all Members into disrepute. This matter must be resolved and the Cathaoirleach deserves an explanation as much as do other Members.
On the aid flotilla, as Senator Fitzgerald stated, Members must have a full debate on the issue tonight. In addition, Members must hear from the Minister on the issue regarding forged Irish passports. I commend the bravery of the Irish crew on board the MV Rachel Corrie and, as I believe will all Members, condemn the accusations made against them this morning by the Israeli spokesperson, Mark Regev.
On a completely different issue, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to debate a highly important issue that has been overlooked in all the other dramatic events that have happened this week, namely, the issue of climate change and, in particular, the need for climate change legislation. As Members will be aware, in October 2007 I introduced the Climate Protection Bill which has been languishing on the Order Paper since. This week in Bonn, a new round of United Nations climate change talks began, which are aimed at securing international agreement on emissions reduction targets. Although the Government has promised that it will introduce legislation to set domestic binding targets nationally in June, Members still have not had sight of it. Consequently, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we hold a short debate today on the need for legislation, the Climate Protection Bill on the Order Paper and to hear what the Government has to say about its promised Bill that is long overdue. It is beyond time for Ireland to sign up to binding targets. This has been done in Britain and elsewhere and it must be done here this week as a matter of urgency, given the continuation of the United Nations climate change talks.
I note that a penal reform seminar is being held today on life after prison. It will discuss the issues of spent convictions and the difficulties prisoners experience in reintegrating into society. I ask all Members who are able to so do to attend that seminar after the Order of Business.
Senator Dan Boyle: I also welcome the statement to be made after the Order of Business today. It is necessary and should be as comprehensive, as other speakers have indicated. It must clear up a great deal of uncertainty that has emerged through the reportage and must try to lay to rest a wider perception of the issues in hand and how they might affect every Member of this House, as well as all those who are involved in public life. Consequently, I hope the statement, when made, will cover all such eventualities.
As for the debate this evening, I agree with previous speakers on the need to address the illegal, unwarranted and totally over-the-top reaction of the Israeli Government regarding the Gaza flotilla and the other issues in respect of the use of Irish passports. It also should address several other issues that have questioned the commitment of the Israeli Government — I stress the Israeli Government rather than the Israeli people — to the concepts of international law.
With regard to the proposed amendment to the Order of Business, I will try to set Senator Bacik’s mind at rest by stating I attended a meeting earlier this morning and that the heads of the Bill have been prepared. A series of meetings will be held this evening and the heads of the Bill will be published by the end of this week. I also am impatient for this legislation to be published, having published a Dáil Bill on the subject several years ago. I argue that possibly I am at the head of the queue in this regard and think——
Senator Dan Boyle: I never need to forget that because the Senator is always here to remind me. In any case, I am confident that the end of this session will see published material as to how a completed Bill will look and the next session will see the final passage of the agreed legislation.
Senator Liam Twomey: In the health supplement with The Irish Times yesterday there was an article on the need for this country to set up its own umbilical cord blood bank. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue because umbilical cord blood can be used to cure many childhood leukaemias, but there are also major prospects of developing the IT sector in that regard because this is high end stuff. We can use umbilical cord blood in stem cell research and to cure other illnesses, not just leukaemias. We should have an urgent debate on the issue.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: The Taxi Regulator’s report was published this week. It was an interesting report which would be a useful subject for debate if the Leader could arrange to have the Minister for Transport come to the House. I raise a particular aspect which concerns hackney drivers in rural Ireland. As Members will be aware, hackney drivers operate under a different code of practice from taxi drivers and, as of yesterday, licences are no longer being issued because of the moratorium in place. While one can transfer a taxi licence, there is no provision under the code for the transfer of a hackney licence. That is serious because most hackney businesses in rural Ireland are family businesses in which the owner of the firm is aging and wishes to transfer his licence to either his wife or a member of his family. However, there is no provision to enable him to do this. I cannot understand why that should be the case because no new extra licences would be created. This is very worrying and I ask for a debate on the matter.
I commend the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the entire Government on the stance they have taken on the recent outrage. They have shown calm leadership and are resolute. They are clear on what they are doing and I am certain they have the support of the entire country.
Senator David Norris: It is important that Senator Callely come into the House to make a statement. This goes to the heart of the question of integrity in politics and the position, as reported in the newspapers, casts a slur on all of us, which is regrettable. I welcome the highly unusual interest of the media which I hope will be sustained.
Senator David Norris: ——on the situation in Gaza — a Member of the House, Senator Daly, was actually there — or on whistleblowing, in respect of which I had an important case which only received attention in the Irish media when it was reported in Süddeutsche Zeitung. Let us have more attention, not just for the bad stories but the positive work the Seanad does.
Senator David Norris: I welcome the fact that the Government has withdrawn the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. It was a disgrace. Two hundred amendments were tabled to it in the Dáil and it was also attacked in this House. It contained serious human rights violations and probably was unconstitutional. In an act of extraordinary political effrontry, the Government sought to continue in office, by name, someone who had been discredited in the appeals tribunal. I am very glad the Bill has been withdrawn and would like the Leader to tell us when the matter will be brought before the House in a proper and decent form.
Will the Leader tell us when the Government will become the last in Europe to ratify the Aarhus Convention? I am very concerned at the statements of Sr. Majella McCarron who said yesterday that the right of Irish citizens to a fair trial and due process was being prejudiced, particularly in the Corrib gas field dispute in the absence of ratification of the convention.
Senator Jim Walsh: Members will be aware that four or five weeks ago I circulated a copy of Mr. Justice Hardiman’s judgment in the case of Murphy v. the Mahon tribunal. I believe I said at the time that I would draft and bring forward a motion which I have now done. I have decided, however, not to table the motion in the House but to bring it to the attention of Members. I have spoken about it to certain Members and circulated it to all Members with a covering letter. There is an onus on us at this stage to take action. I had the motion prepared two weeks ago, but, as I was not due to be here last week, I decided to hold it over until now. I welcome the comments made by the leaders of the parties in the other House. I remind Members that on 18 September 1997 and 8 October 1997 we asked the tribunals to inquire urgently into matters regarding planning and payments to politicians. I have used copious extracts from Mr. Justice Hardiman’s judgment to support some aspects of the motion and set out that we should convey our concerns regarding costs to the two tribunals. In that regard, I quote from the judgment:
In response to other comments made, we take money from people who are working hard to earn a living and meet their obligations. We take money at the point at which they earn their income. There is a commensurate obligation on us to ensure that money is spent prudently and cost effectively. The time has come for the House, collectively, on a cross-party basis, to deal with the issue. I ask the leaders of the parties and groups to come together, either on this or an amended motion, or at the very least to have a debate next week——
Senator Paul Coghlan: I, too, welcome the fact that Senator Callely will make a statement and that, depending on the statement made, it may be referred, if necessary, to a committee of the House which would report as expeditiously as possible to us on the matter which I hope will be satisfactorily put to bed.
I am very concerned about anecdotal evidence that some officials of NAMA have been in touch with some officials in county councils on the proposed dezoning of lands where these lands have been transferred to NAMA as a result of impaired loans. That raises a question raised here previously about the powers of NAMA and how absolute they appear to be. It is not proper or correct that one agency of the State can try to dictate, lay down a policy or ask that others in positions of responsibility lay off, so to speak, as has been reported to me. That is not good enough. The matter might be subject to a future discussion if we can acquire more evidence which might be available.
In regard to the Moriarty tribunal, it may be appropriate, following the meeting which will take place later today between the leaders of the parties, to have a debate in the House because both Houses of the Oireachtas approved the terms of reference of the tribunal. In the light of the discussions, decisions or recommendations which may flow from the meeting to be held today, the Leader might keep the matter under review.
Senator John Hanafin: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on offshore drilling. We have a second instance of the impossible happening with the appearance of a very large oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. Any of us who has been to the area is aware of the beauty of that environment. It is sad fact that many thousands of barrels of oil are leaking into the gulf. We were told this could not happen and that there were fail-safe mechanisms in place, but these mechanisms have not worked. It happened previously in the case of the Chernobyl plant when we were also told such an accident could not happen. With that in mind, we must re-examine the question, particularly when this country is, in reality, the Saudi Arabia of green energy.
We have the wind energy and the rivers and know we have the tidal capacity and the waves. If properly harnessed, like Switzerland harnessed its rivers and exports energy, we could become a net exporter of energy supplies. We need to put in place the enabling legislation in order that the Spirit of Ireland group can proceed and we can say to the international markets that we are open for business.
I support two items raised by other Senators, one of which by Senator Twomey was on umbilical cord blood. There should be a system under which the umbilical cord can be stored for future use, as it contains the individual’s own stem cells. That is the best way of assisting an individual in the future should he or she need to use his or her stem cells.
As consistently and correctly raised by Senator Walsh, there is the scandal of cost in the courts. It has become a national scandal at a time when money is tight and could be used for better purposes. We are spending not millions but hundreds of millions. That must be brought to an end.
Senator Paul Bradford: My colleague, Senator Healy Eames, was rapporteur for the Joint Committee on Education and Science in the recent production of the substantial report on the problem of early school leaving. Will the Leader provide for a debate on this report in the House, if possible? It certainly needs to be ventilated. The report and the work done by Senator Healy Eames shows the value of the Oireachtas committees and it needs to be aired and debated.
The Leader might attempt to arrange to have the Minister for Social Protection, as he is now called, come to the House to discuss social welfare policy. It is two or three weeks since we debated the possibility of cuts to old age pensions. It appears a kite was flown by the Minister.  Now the agenda has moved on to lone parents. These are matters for budgetary and Government policy, but we could have a substantive debate on social welfare, which would be useful.
The annual bill for social welfare is considerable. The figure of 10% is often quoted as being the possible amount of fraud in the social welfare system. If this problem could be tackled and the money accessed, many genuine persons on social welfare could have their lot improved and we could help deal with the budgetary difficulties. In advance of the budget and final Government decisions being made, we could have a useful, and constructive debate on social welfare policy. There are a plethora of schemes. Those of us who involve ourselves in constituency work almost need a computer to follow them. There is major scope for rationalisation of the schemes and for administrative tidying up. We need to have a debate with the Minister. Everyone could gain from this. We could put to bed some of these scare stories about old age pensions and lone parent’s allowance being cut and we could also attempt to tackle what clearly is a serious fraud problem in the Department where taxpayers’ money is going amiss.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I very much welcome Senator Bradford’s suggestion on a debate on early school leavers and support his call. Senator Hanafin’s comment that Ireland is the Saudi Arabia of green energy is a good and important statement and I certainly welcome consistent debates on that topic because it is crucial to the future of this country. I get a little nervous, however, when specific groups are referred to in this context as having a facility to produce energy in the west of Ireland for export to the United Kingdom. That particular model is not one we should take lightly. We need to look at energy security for our own country before we start looking at generating energy in Ireland and exporting it. Anything else is a dangerous way to do our business.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I am referring to that point. It is vital we move to a much more transparent system of expenses. It is not only Senators or Deputies who need to have their expenses examined. The entire public service expenses regime throughout the country should be fully transparent, and that goes for broadcasters, public servants and others.
Senator Eugene Regan: I welcome the fact that a statement will be made by Senator Callely, a Taoiseach’s nominee to this House, and the clarification that the statement will be made. However, the matter cannot end there. I want clarification from the Leader on that point. This is an issue of alleged fraud which was highlighted in the Sunday Independent article on this matter. We in this House will be judged not on this incident per se but on how we deal with it. It is critical there is full and detailed examination of the issue. A statement will be made. What is the procedure which follows? Will the matter be referred to the Committee on Members’ Interests of Seanad Éireann? Will there be the opportunity for a proper debate in this House in order that we can give our views and assessment as to whether the explanation, which presumably will be given shortly by Senator Callely, bears scrutiny? I raised this issue yesterday. The committee, if it is examining this issue, should examine any other similar cases which have occurred since this Seanad came into being in 2007 where someone has claimed a principal residence which does not stand up to scrutiny. I would appreciate it if the Leader could clarify these points.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I hope the Leader will take the opportunity to convey to all on the other side of the House that they do not hold a monopoly of concern about the image of this House and that silence does not in any sense mean acquiescence. We welcome the opportunity the House is providing for Senator Callely to make a statement. I have served in this House for a long time and, like all colleagues, I take my role seriously. I am also more than acutely aware of the public perception of this House and of anything that would in any way damage it in the current climate. There is a major political party which wants to abolish the House. It is not the first time that this proposal has been brought forward. It should make all members aware of their own position in that regard.
Will the Leader consider holding a debate on Northern Ireland? It is interesting that Northern Ireland has figured prominently in debates in the Seanad down through the years, especially during the period of violence and in the immediate aftermath of the peace process, but it seems to have slipped off the radar. This request has been prompted by a North-South civic forum that took place last week at Farmleigh House and which was widely reported in the media. It has been agreed that there should be a Minister for justice, the remaining building block in the St. Andrews Agreement has been put in place and the civic forum is operating. The other element of the architecture of North-South relations is the parliamentary dimension. This is in the St. Andrew’s Agreement and was in the Good Friday Agreement before it. We are now 12 years on from the latter and there has been no move to set up a bilateral arrangement between members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Members of these Houses, similar to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly on which I had the honour to serve for five or six years and which has been tremendously positive in terms of the relations between these two islands. Will the Leader investigate what is happening on the proposals to set up a North-South parliamentary tier which would go a long way to advancing closer relations between the North and South?
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Can I ask the Leader whether the Green Party is still in government? If it is, Senator Bacik’s amendment to the Order of Business would not be necessary. The Members opposite might get real.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I remind Senator Walsh that it was the Government, under his party’s stewardship, that set the fees for the tribunals and, in this case, the Government reduced the fees but decided not to apply them to the current tribunals. It is your Government that has done this.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Under existing legislation, the Government can reduce the fees payable, if it wishes to do so, as Senator Walsh knows well. It is a failure of the Government and the Members opposite.
An Cathaoirleach: I ask Senator Buttimer to, please, resume his seat. He should speak through the Chair. We are taking questions to the Leader and if he is not prepared to do this, I will call Senator Ó Murchú.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I ask that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, come to the House. For a number of weeks he has been creating tension and fear and causing pandemonium among the elderly and now lone parents. What is the Government’s policy on social welfare?
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Senator Walsh has undertaken very extensive and thorough research on the cost of tribunals and has done so in a non-partisan way. In addition, he has made the findings of that research available to us. He has endeavoured on several occasions to generate interest in the matter which has been touched on here, particularly on the Order of Business. We all understand there are constraints on Members of the Oireachtas in discussing an issue such as this because it was the Oireachtas which set up the tribunals. No party wants to put its head above the parapet on the issue, lest it will be offside. I do not think we are serving the interests of ordinary citizens in being cowed or overawed in this way. Particularly at a time when we are suffering economic deprivation, each and every legislator should endeavour to find ways and means of helping. It is particularly true that the legal profession has done exceptionally well out of the tribunals which have taken on a life of their own.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: We have stacked module after module and are all holding our breath awaiting their findings. It behoves each and every one of us, in a non-partisan way on behalf of citizens, to find out precisely what can be done regarding the excessive costs of the tribunals.
I also welcome Senator Twomey and others raising the need for an umbilical cord blood bank. I know Senator Quinn is also interested in the issue. This proposal made by Peadar Mac Gabhann as part of the campaign, Your Country Your Call, deserves careful scrutiny and widespread support. According to the leader of the international marrow donor programme, 70% of patients who need a transplant are unable to find a matching donor. The transplantation of cord blood is ethically not problematic. We hear much discussion about stem cells, but here is an area in which Ireland could take the initiative in a way that would unite the community. There is great hope that in the future embryo cell research can be achieved by more ethical means, which should be a source of hope for us all. There are 70,000 births in this country each year and this material is being thrown away. Cord blood is a source of stem cells that ethically could be used in transplants leading to better lives for many. I suggest we have a debate on the subject and ask for an appropriate initiative to be taken.
I mention the report today that two thirds of head shops have closed since the ban on legal highs was introduced, but this raises the question of what has happened to the other one third. We have also heard reports that, as predicted, new substances are appearing in order to get around the measures taken by the Government. We need to look at the possibility of taking sterner measures to rid our society of this plague completely. This would involve a change to our planning laws so as to require permission for a change of use from anyone who wishes to open such an establishment. We also need to look at how existing establishments can be closed down.
Senator Terry Leyden: I welcome the safe release of Irish citizens from Israel and commend the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, for their very steady handling of the issue. They have indicated to the Israeli Government where Ireland stands on it and on the deaths of the nine Turkish citizens. On the issue of passports, the Government has called in the people responsible for forging Irish passports. We should also bear in mind that the situation in Gaza stems from the Hamas regime breaking away from Fatah. Unfortunately, there is no unity among the Palestinians, which is adding to the problem. I appeal to the Hamas regime to recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist. It has denied this right and its policy is to destroy the state of Israel. This has given the Israelis an excuse to impose an embargo, lay siege to Gaza and carry out atrocities there. Some 1.5 million people are prisoners in Gaza.
I ask the Leader to express to the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, and members of the Garda Síochána our congratulations for their excellent work last week, in conjunction with the Spanish and Belgian police forces and others further afield. It was a very sophisticated and successful Interpol and European Union operation. We cannot prejudge but at least action is being taken against the criminals invovled on the costa. I compliment the journalist, Paul Williams, formerly of the Sunday World and now of the News of the World, on his thorough investigation of their activities. I compliment him on his courageous work, as well as all other members of the media who have highlighted the issue and assisted the Garda Síochána which we owe a great debt of gratitude for the courage and conviction of its members. Those who use heroin, cocaine and other substances are assisting the criminals in question to amass vast fortunes.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I ask for a debate on the live register figures released this morning. They show, sadly, that the overall number unemployed is up by 6,600. These are the real issues that matter to the people whom we are looking to serve. They also show that, despite the Government’s best efforts, the economy has now turned so many corners that, tragically, it is back to where it started from. We are facing rising unemployment and rising personal debt. In addition, as I mentioned yesterday on the Order of Business, banks are still not lending. On a number of occasions I have called for a debate on the report of the innovation task force, which report the Government is aiming to use in dealing with the issue of unemployment. It is reported today in the media that one of the hub centres, the national digital research centre, received capital funding of €25 million which the Department of Finance is now claiming did not go through the proper procedure. This highlights the need for a debate on the issue.
I agree with my colleagues that there is a need for the Minister for Social Protection to come to the House to explain his recent comments. I am not quite sure whom he is looking to protect in his new job but it certainly is not the old and anybody who is feeling vulnerable in our society. His recent comments have gone a long way towards inflaming their anxieties and as such his comments need to be clarified to the House as soon as possible.
Senator Mark Daly: I, too, welcome the release of Mr. Shane Dillon and others. Shane is due to meet the Minister for Foreign Affairs at 12.30 p.m. today to outline his experience of the attack on the flotilla in international waters. Lest we forget the pressures on Israel, five militants were killed yesterday, three of whom had fired rockets into Israel and two of whom had been in a fire fight with Israeli soldiers. They had been trying to kill Israeli citizens. Israel has a right to protect itself. No one, either inside or outside the Oireachtas, would deny Israel’s right to take appropriate measures against those who attack it. Obviously, however, the attacks in international waters are to be condemned. I welcome the debate to be held this evening, which the Minister will attend.
Senator Coghlan raised an important issue concerning the power of NAMA and its contacts with county councils to prevent dezoning of land. As the Senator is well aware, this has been a controversial issue in County Kerry, as it is elsewhere. NAMA has serious powers with regard to reviving and extending planning permission. Perhaps the Leader could arrange to have a debate on NAMA. Many developers who bought lands on the fringes of towns that are now being dezoned by one branch of government in the guise of councils under directives from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will end up being administered by NAMA. Therefore, they will end up on the doorstep of taxpayers and the Government. It is right and proper that NAMA would try to defend taxpayers’ interests by contacting county councils and preventing them from dezoning land. I do not have to tell the good Senator who is an auctioneer of many years standing that the difference between zoned and dezoned land is enormous. I join him in seeking a debate on the issue.
Senator Paddy Burke: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the ban on non-commercial domestic turf cutting which is an important issue for rural Ireland? If the Minister attended the House for such a debate, we could go a long way towards resolving the matter. We could make proposals to the Minister if he was in a position to listen to the experience of those affected by the ban.
I also seek a debate on funding local authorities, some of which are in dire straits. We can see the deterioration in the road network, particularly county roads. The funding of local democracy and local authorities needs to be debated in this House.
Senator Mary M. White: I have just received a copy of the latest bulletin of the National Suicide Research Foundation which informs us that from 2003 to 2008 some 63,000 people presented themselves at accident and emergency units having deliberately harmed themselves. Most of the self-harming incidents occurred on Sundays and Mondays. The bulletin suggests this is due to binge drinking, which affects cognitive behaviour and prevents people from thinking through their problems. My 2008 document entitled What we can do about suicide in the new Ireland, outlined three key areas for reducing self-harm and suicide. The one element that jumped out from all the international research was controlling alcohol consumption. Last week the World Health Organization produced its 2010 world strategy for alcohol consumption. The strategy included suggestions as to what countries and governments should do to reduce consumption and counter the detrimental effects of excessive indulgence in alcohol. I seek an immediate debate on the World Health Organization’s report on alcohol consumption, as well as what Ireland will do about it.
Sports events and music festivals should not be associated with alcohol promotion. I have raised this matter in the House on previous occasions. Last weekend I heard a spokeswoman for the drinks industry defending sports sponsorship by that sector. She had a rational argument, but she is not allowing for the fact that some people are not able to control the amount of alcohol they drink. The grape is a gift from God and I am not opposed to people taking a little alcohol, but it can become an addiction with serious consequences. I would like the Leader to arrange for such a debate in the House.
Senator Ciaran Cannon: I ask the Leader for a debate on food labelling. In recent months we have seen ample evidence of widespread abuse of the food labelling system by some multiples. Some of them deliberately set out to deceive shoppers into believing the farm produce they are purchasing is of Irish origin. We have seen liberal and deceitful use of the Irish tricolour in certain multiples. The vast majority of shoppers support the farming sector, first, because it is Irish and, second, because they believe it is of superior quality. This week the Lidl chain has sunk to a new low in this deceitful action by advertising the wonderfully named Inis Vale brand of lamb chops as being “Bord Bia quality assured” with an Irish flag. In the fridges beneath this label, however, they are selling Inis Vale lamb chops. According to the small print, they are produced in Northern Ireland using lamb from New Zealand. That is deliberately deceiving people into buying foreign produce, which I would argue is of inferior quality. We should apply major sanctions to deter multiples from carrying out such fraudulent action in future.
Senator Camillus Glynn: I support Senator Mullen’s remarks on head shops. Yesterday I raised the issue of three or four young people who had been admitted to Mullingar Regional Hospital over the weekend. I hope to be in a position to inform the House on the nature of the substance involved. Senator Mullen is correct in stating new products are coming on the market which are not covered by legislation. The Government will have to examine this problem, as will Members of the Oireachtas collectively.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on litter. On my way here some days ago I saw two bags of rubbish on the N4 at different locations. As if that was not bad enough, I saw more bags of rubbish on the side of the M4. Those responsible can only be termed as environmental assassins and should be in jail. There are certainly people in jail for less. The relevant local authorities, including Kildare and Meath county councils, should try to apprehend those responsible, bring them to court and put them behind bars where they belong. These people are dragging down the good name of this country. I ask that something be done about it.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I am happy that there will be a debate this evening on the recent incidents in international waters involving the over-reaction of the Israeli forces. I do not propose to pre-empt that debate or rehash what has already been said here. It is noteworthy, however, that one of the Irish people awaiting trial in Israel is Fiachra Ó Luain who was a candidate in last year’s European Parliament elections. He acquitted himself creditably while canvassing in the west constituency. With Senator Paschal Mooney, I met Mr. Ó Luain in a number of local radio stations across the area. He performed well and was committed to the democratic process. He is an idealist and his current predicament is worthy of recording in this House.
Infections are rampant in hospitals and infecting cancer patients. The report quoted Professor Hilary Humphreys as saying up to 10% of patients were getting such infections. I suggest single rooms should be made available in hospitals for cancer patients, especially those with blood cancers who have a particularly high risk of infection. While this issue might affect a minority of people, it is extraordinarily serious for the families concerned. I want the Leader to react to my comments and bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children immediately. If possible, it should be the subject of a debate in this House. At a minimum, the Minister should be asked to react to it at once.
Senator Feargal Quinn: The Leader is aware of my concern about the length of time it takes to get things done in this country. The debate in this House on the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill 2008 which provides for presumed consent was adjourned two years ago because the Minister said she wanted to consider the matter and consult certain interests before deciding whether presumed consent should be allowed. Almost two years have passed since. It seems we do not regard speed as important. People are dying because they are unable to get body organs that should be available.
Senators Mullen and Twomey have mentioned that we do not have an umbilical cord storage bank in Ireland. We should be storing umbilical cords rather than throwing away approximately 70,000 of them each year. An interesting article in yesterday’s health supplement with The Irish Times opened our minds to the opportunities in this area. Many cases of multiple sclerosis, lymphoma, leukaemia and other cancers could be solved in this way. It is totally ethical. There is no problem with stem cells in this area. When one mentions stem cells, one sometimes raises many concerns and worries. In this case, we can take steps to save lives. People are dying because we are not taking the initial steps. No huge costs are associated with this. Storage takes place in other countries. We can do it here. I urge the Leader to draw the Minister’s attention to what we can do immediately in this regard.
Senator Mark Dearey: Will the Leader contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs at his earliest convenience regarding a report on the BBC news website that the Turkish Government is considering sending a gunboat to accompany the Rachel Corrie as it moves towards the blockade off the coast of Gaza? As this report is on a website, I cannot confirm it to be absolutely the case. It deserves the immediate attention of the Department of Foreign Affairs. We need to contact the Turkish Embassy to ascertain the accuracy or otherwise of the report. If it is true, the Rachel Corrie will be used as an extremely vulnerable pawn in what could become a very dangerous conflict between two countries that have seriously damaged relations with each other since last Monday when nine Turks were killed on a passenger liner. There are five Filipino seamen, six Malaysians and five Irish citizens on the Rachel Corrie. In the interests of their safety, will the Leader contact the Minister as soon as he can to ask him to call the Turkish ambassador on this matter?
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I join Senator Bacik in calling for the Order of Business to be amended in order that we can debate the Climate Protection Bill which has been on the Order Paper for well over 18 months. We have not seen any action from the Government. Senator Boyle’s contribution was no more than words. We need a debate on the matter. I support the call for a change to the Order of Business.
I join Senator Donohoe in calling for a debate on unemployment. Today’s live register figures show that an extra 5,000 people were unemployed in May. If one drills down into those figures, one will see that 2,600 of those involved, or more than 50% of the increase, are under the age of 25 years. This is a real issue because it is having an impact on people’s self-confidence and self-worth. It relates to what Senator Mary White said. We should be concerned about this increase. I do not think we are providing enough retraining opportunities or places on post-leaving certificate courses. We are not doing enough to help mature students who joined courses on the understanding that they would get grants. That understanding is now being reneged on by the Government. I would like to see a debate on unemployment, especially youth unemployment, as soon as possible.
Senator John Paul Phelan: I join Senator Cannon in asking for a debate on matters relating to retailing and food labelling. I spoke a number of weeks ago about the appointment by the Government of a retail strategy co-ordinator. I understand the former European Commissioner, Mr. David Byrne, was approached to take up the position but he declined, having initially indicated that he would accept it. The Minister said he would look for another appointment to be made. Will the Leader clarify the position in that regard? Are we any nearer to appointing someone to that position?
Last Tuesday many Senators spoke about issues concerning the care of the elderly in nursing homes, in other institutions and in the home. Are we going to have the debates that were requested next week and the following week? I understand the schedule was changed this week for obvious reasons.
On the proposed carbon tax, the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment received a presentation from a group of solid fuel suppliers last week. They outlined their significant reservations about the introduction of a carbon tax on their products. Much of what they supply is brought into this jurisdiction by solid fuel merchants from Northern Ireland who are not subject to the carbon tax or some of the other regulations to which suppliers in the Twenty-six Counties are subject. Will the Leader arrange a discussion on the issue?
Senator Donie Cassidy: I wish to clarify that No. 1, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second Stage will adjourn not later than 2 p.m. I think I said it would conclude not later than 2 p.m. I hope I have clarified the matter.
I agree with Senators Boyle, Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Bacik, Norris, Coghlan, Regan, Mooney, Ó Murchú, Leyden, Daly, O’Reilly and Dearey who expressed serious concerns about levels of trust and faith in public life and public representatives. They have referred to everything we stand for and the people we represent. It is a great privilege to be a Member of Parliament. I join the Taoiseach in asking Senator Callely to make a statement in the House this morning after the Order of Business. I thank the Cathaoirleach for making this possible. Those of us who are privileged to be Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas wish to enjoy the faith and trust of the people we are honoured to represent.
Serious concerns were expressed and updates were sought about what is happening in Israel and Gaza following the interception of the flotilla of ships earlier this week. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, will come to the House at 7.15 p.m. and will be here until 8.55 p.m. This serious matter has been brought to the attention of the House. I will immediately pass on to the Minister our serious concerns about the matter brought to our attention by Senator Dearey. We want to support the Government in everything it is trying to do to help to end this serious debacle.
Senators Bacik, Norris and Hannigan asked for a debate on climate change. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate. The Deputy Leader of the House has mentioned that the heads of the climate change Bill are being prepared and that the Bill will be brought to the House in the next session. We all welcome the great progress being made. Senators Twomey, Mullen, Quinn and Mooney outlined to the House the need for an umbilical cord blood bank, an issue which we all must take seriously. Great progress can be made in this area. I have no difficulty with the Minister for Health and Children coming to the House to debate the matter. As she will attend the House in the coming weeks, Senators can bring this matter to her attention then. There will be unanimity in the House on the matter.
Senators Walsh, Coghlan, Hanafin, Buttimer and Ó Murchú raised the matter of the tribunals of inquiry. Senator Walsh has spent an enormous amount of time dealing with tribunal issues. The excessive high costs were never envisaged, nor was the 13-year timeframe. After 13 years, a sense of urgency does not come into the matter. I will have no difficulty in meeting the leaders to discuss the matter and find common ground on it.
Senators Coghlan and Daly raised issues concerning NAMA and banking. I gave a commitment yesterday on the Order of Business that we would debate banking issues, NAMA and the challenges facing the Minister for Finance once a month. We will have a lengthy all-day debate before the summer recess on these matters.
Senator Hanafin raised the matter of offshore oil drilling and the terrible situation in which the people of America find themselves with the major oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. It goes to show that when human error occurs, it can be very destructive. We wish everyone well in the clean-up operation and will have no difficulty in having the issue debated at the earliest possible time.
Senators Bradford, Coghlan and Buttimer called for a debate on all matters pertaining to social welfare. The next budget is not due until December. This year’s Social Welfare Bill will be before the House for its consideration in three weeks time.
Senator Mooney called for a debate on Northern Ireland and, as a Member living near the Border, made certain proposals in this regard. I have given a commitment that the Taoiseach will return to the House before the summer recess at which time we can review the progress made in Northern Ireland, particularly following the recent UK general election, the challenges we face and Senator Mooney’s proposals to assist North-South relations.
Senators Mullen and Glynn raised the matter of new substances being sold in head shops. If they are not covered in the legislation, they should be covered by ministerial order. When these new substances emerge, they should be banned in law by ministerial order within five minutes. All sides of the House are united concerning whatever we can do to eliminate the plague and the scourge of head shops.
Senator Leyden congratulated Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, and the Garda Síochána for the recent arrests, which extended to Europe, and success in tackling organised crime. I join the Senator in congratulating the Commissioner and his team.
Senators O’Donoghue and Hannigan called for a debate on employment. As all Members know, it is the Government’s number one priority. The unemployment rate is far too high and we want to do anything we possibly can to reduce it. Last Saturday at our major conference in Athlone, the Taoiseach made a major statement on the Government’s policy in this regard. As has been said, 20 years ago 900,000 people were employed; today, it is 1.87 million, an increase of 880,000 people from the last recession. The Government’s priority, and that of parliamentarians, has to be to see what we can do to assist those who are unemployed, particularly in the 18 to 25 year old age bracket. It would squeeze a tear from a stone to see well educated and good young men and women available for work but none available for them. The Government is endeavouring to do everything it possibly can. If any Member, no matter what side of the House he or she is on, has a good suggestion we want to hear it.
Senator Burke called for an urgent debate on restrictions on turf-cutting. It is a timely call and I will have no difficulty in debating the matter. As one who lives in an area that includes the Bog of Allen, I am always baffled going through the bog that on one side of the road a national agency can harvest 2,000 acres of turf, while on the other side local people cannot cut it for their private use. This is not common sense. It is unfair. I will allow whatever time is necessary to debate this issue before the summer recess.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senator Burke also called for a debate on local authority funding. This is an urgently needed debate because the challenges facing local authorities are changing. Rates for retailers are too high and they cannot afford to pay water charges. An urgent examination of the challenges facing local authority funding is required. I will have this debate take place before the summer recess.
Senator Mary White raised the report on self-harm. She is doing Trojan work in this area. She also called for a debate on control of alcohol consumption. In moderation, everything is acceptable. It is the abuse of alcohol on which we are all up in arms. I will have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate on the matter.
Senators Cannon and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on food labelling and outlined the use of the Irish flag on the Inis Vale brand which contains New Zealand lamb. The former Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business carried out an in-depth investigation into the groceries order. Deputy Edward O’Keeffe who has much expertise in this area pointed out the dangers in labelling on many occasions. The Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment must debate this as a matter of urgency. I will pass on a note to the committee’s Chairman after the Order of Business to ensure such a debate takes place in the coming weeks.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on litter. This is particularly timely considering all our Tidy Towns committees are endeavouring to show off our beautiful towns and villages to their very best. I support Senator Glynn’s request and will try to have it included before the summer recess.
Senator O’Reilly called for a debate on cancer treatment with the Minister for Health and Children. She will be in the House in the coming weeks and Senators can bring this matter to her attention then.
Senator Quinn introduced the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill two years ago. Recently he was given a five-month timeframe concerning his Bill on subcontractors. We welcome the great work he has done in that area. I will endeavour to find out the up-to-date position on the consultation period for the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill and return to the House in the next week on the matter.
Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on care of the elderly. I gave a commitment yesterday to arrange such a debate. He also called for a debate on the carbon tax and Irish suppliers being affected by products coming from the North of Ireland. I have no difficulty in having a debate on this matter also.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Prendergast, Phil.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carroll, James.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||Dearey, Mark.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Mooney, Paschal.|
|Ó Brolcháin, Niall.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Last Updated: 15/12/2010 10:57:17||Page of 12|