Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re change of titles of certain committees, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and conclude not later than 5 p.m., on which the first two speakers from each other group may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon for concluding comments not later than 4.50 p.m.; and No. 35, Private Members’ motion No. 15 regarding the economy, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. It is also proposed that Committee Stage of No. 3 will be taken at the conclusion of No. 35, with progress being reviewed at midnight, if not previously concluded. The business of the House will be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Today is an historic day as the civil partnership Bill will be introduced to this House, having been passed in the Dáil. It is, as we know, on the cusp of becoming law. The full and positive impact of this long overdue legislation was summed up for me by a young man I met in the House after the Bill was passed in the Dáil, a young man in his early 20s who, unprompted, said to me: “This Bill will change my life.” That sums up the personal impact this type of legislation will have on those it affects most profoundly.
In Fine Gael we have had our own democratic debate on this legislation and we will be supporting it in the House today. There are obviously widely held views on it. It is a mark of a civilised society how widely views are held. Our debate today will be a testament to and a reflection of that.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Many Members will have seen the headlines in the Irish Examiner, The Irish Times and the Irish Independent today about the lives of those with an intellectual disability whose respite care will be cut.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: It is extraordinary. We live in very difficult economic times, but we must have a serious debate on this issue in this House. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister with responsibility for disability strategy should come into House today to respond to what has been outlined by those individuals who will gather at the gates today, who are experiencing first hand cuts to their care, cuts to their respite care. People who are at the edge of their coping, who are full-time carers, will now be pushed even further——
As far as I and Fine Gael are concerned, the 2004 disability strategy is in tatters. Two vital pieces of legislation, the Disability Act and the Education for People with Special Educational Needs Act have been shelved or have been cut so far back as to render them ineffective. There is an enormous human cost to these cutbacks. Today we will see the faces of those people, who are primarily affected by these cutbacks, at the gates of Leinster House. On the day after we heard of the new approach to NAMA, the new information about it and the disparity in the figures of the profit it was meant to make going from €4 billion to €1 billion to maybe a loss, which seems to be the more likely situation; that we hear of the billions of euro that we have put and continue to put into banks, which are not accountable, with many of the same people still in place; and that we heard the CEO of NAMA say the banks have not told the full story and the facts they have given to NAMA are under question once again; it is appropriate that today we have a debate in this House on the cutbacks in the disability sector.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I strongly support the points made by Senator Fitzgerald. I have lost count of the number of times that I have raised these issues, including the EPSEN Act and that fact that its implementation has not so much been put back but that it has not commenced. We welcomed this legislation on all sides of this House when it was brought forward. We were assured it would change the position of people with disabilities but the Government has simply shelved it. It is absolutely appalling.
A fair point has been made by the Government side at times, that cuts have to be made and every time a cut is proposed, that people on this side of the House will object to it. There may be some element of truth in that but we could also be given choices. The people — the Government will not like to hear this either — would be well ready to pay a couple of extra pence in taxation to ensure respite care and other such issues were maintained. Perhaps, Deputy Boyle, let us put that to the people. That is the thing to do. The Government funked this issue in the last budget and the budget before that. I am not talking about massive tax increases but we have said consistently here that public services need to be maintained and the only way that can be done is through revenue. That is an issue we have to examine.
There is an another issue, which is a good example of the same principle. The first item on the agenda of today’s business is a motion to change of names of committees, which it is proposed will be passed without our taking any notice of it. I would like to get an impact statement on that. I would like people to be aware of what it means. What does it mean when we go to all this trouble to change the names of a Department? Are people aware that at a time when we are examining reform of the public sector that this proposed change will have an immediate impact? If the name of a Department is changed, it becomes a new Department and, as far as I know, the clock begins again, for instance, on the term of the Secretary General, which position is supposed to be a seven-year term. This proposed change also has contractual and cost implications. I would like a serious debate on why this is necessary and the impact in terms of costs and human relations in the Department in terms of contractual impact etc. This is a serious issue and this kind of motion slips through after every Government reshuffle etc. I ask that we discuss it.
It was with some reluctance, as the Leader will know, that I agreed on my own behalf to the time allocation of 15 minutes for spokespersons. I am not comfortable with it. I have never seen it happen here before. I indicated to the Leader that I have agreed to it but I do not think there is complete agreement with it on these benches. We have also decided on these benches, after deep discussion on it, that we will have a freedom of conscience vote and Members will have a free vote on these benches——
Senator Joe O’Toole: ——on the issue of the civil partnership legislation over the next two days. Members should not be surprised if the Whip seems a bit soft on this side of the House in the next two days.
Senator Alex White: I too am delighted that we have reached this day when we will debate and I hope pass the civil partnership legislation in the next two days. My party has long supported this legislation and this change to our law. It will be a progressive change. It is enlightened legislation. My party as a whole will support the Bill with a heart and a half. We will try to amend it in some respects but we believe it is an excellent initiative. We congratulate all concerned in preparing it and bringing it before this House today. I look forward to the debate.
The Leader might be able to clarify another development in regard to legislation referred to in the newspapers today, which I have not heard previously mentioned in these Houses that, apparently, the Government intends to introduce legislation to alter the legal environment for the placing for adoption of the children of married parents. We know the children of married parents can only be adopted in very restricted circumstances because of our laws and the interpretation of them. It is one of the issues that is at the heart of children’s rights, the proposal for a referendum to amend the Constitution, the so-called children’s rights referendum. One of the things that will have to be done to facilitate the introduction of the legislation, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, referred in the newspapers today, and which I would welcome, would be that the children’s rights referendum would have to be brought forward, put to the people and passed. That is important. Can we take this indication by the Minister of State in this morning’s newspapers of an intention to bring forward this legislation, as an indication that the Government now clearly intends to hold a children’s rights referendum this autumn since the holding of such a referendum would be a necessary precursor to the introduction of legislation of this kind?
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I want to raise the issue that the ESB is to buy the Northern Ireland Electricity networks business. This will represent a move from having two grids to eventually having one grid and one-island energy. In the week when the North-South Ministerial Council met and its members spoke about economies of scale, co-operation and infrastructural integration, it is appropriate that today we should welcome the fact that matters have moved on.
We have not had a great deal of input into what is raised at North-South Ministerial Council level nor have we had an adequate opportunity to respond to issues raised at North-South Ministerial Council meetings. Given that the council is very much concerned with bread and butter issues in regard to the development of the island of Ireland and given that there will be another North-South Ministerial Council meeting in the autumn, would it be possible to have a session in the next term at which we could put forward our ideas on the issues remaining to be raised, for example, the all-Ireland mobile phone packages? We could contribute to the agenda of the council in terms of many issues raised in the House and get a response from it following its meeting in that respect. The circulation of a press release is not adequate. In the North the Assembly debates these things before and after they are issued and it is a sign of our interest or disinterest in an all-island economy if we do not have it on our agenda as something to which we would aspire and want to see realised.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Yesterday I called a vote on the Order of Business asking the Minister of State with responsibility for disability to come to the House which was voted down, yet many of those on the Government side of the House chose to speak on this emotive issue against the cuts for people with disabilities. They had their own reasons for not being able to support the Minister of State coming before the House which is why I support Senator Fitzgerald today. I ask those on the Government side to come out to the gates of Leinster House at 1 p.m. today and meet the people who are suffering.
Why do we choose to let people with disabilities, who are the weakest, the voiceless and the most vulnerable in society, pay the highest price? Why can we not let Anglo Irish Bank swing instead of people with disabilities? I still do not understand why we put Anglo Irish Bank, a bank which no one can justify, before everyone else. I am equally astounded with the reports on the front page of the Irish Independent today which notes that the expert group on home mortgage debt said we should let home owners give back their homes and go on the social housing list.
Senator MacSharry and others in this House have been putting forward proposals for many months to help people to hold on to their homes. It is very uncomfortable for all of us. Did I hear one reasonable suggestion in the report such as allowing people to have an extra ten years’ term to pay off their mortgages? No, I did not. I want to know what the Minister for Finance will do to save people’s homes and businesses and face down the banks. We see that NAMA sold him a pup. There are 75% non-performing loans. It is a joke. The banks are liars, they have proven it and have fooled the Government. I want answers for the people.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I welcome the publication yesterday of the expert report. I differ from my colleague on the Opposition side of the House. As Members will know, the prevention of family home repossession group which I established with others had a number of recommendations. I am pleased to say some of them are included in the report released yesterday. It is important to say it is an interim report and the final report is due in September. Our core objectives remain the same in terms of looking for legislative reform of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act to give cognisance and protection to people with family homes.
There are many good things in the report. I hope the work of the Hugh Cooney group will continue to bring forward more meaningful proposals. I and other Members would like it to go a little further but it is not fair of the Irish Independent to ignore recommendations on so many issues when the House pioneered the recommendations in this regard. I see it has sensationalised media reports today. It is worth noting the Irish Examiner states “Resolution offers hope for struggling mortgage holders”, The Irish Times states “Government moves to aid homeowners in mortgage arrears”, yet the Irish Independent, the newspaper whose owner pontificates on so-called viewspapers rather than news and the provision of the facts to the public, is scaremongering people with headlines like “hand back homes”.
If one reads the report one will find it is a very real option for people which needs to be included as some people wish to do that. Other protections are included, which I welcome. I want to ensure they are implemented quickly and built upon. The report released yesterday is very positive. This House and other Senators can take credit for much of what is in it. We should ensure the measures are implemented quickly and are built upon with the final report to be issued later.
I share with others the great concern regarding the accuracy of the information provided by some of the banks to NAMA. It is a disgrace. We should have a debate on it in the House. I am glad to hear the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, this morning moved to tell the public that if inaccuracies have been knowingly provided by banks in terms of misleading information, then criminal prosecutions will be faced. I hope that will be the case.
Senator Rónán Mullen: We are honoured to have them in our presence and I hope we will have ladies and gentlemen from east Galway in the Visitors Gallery very soon. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that we take, before No. 1 on the Order of Business, No. 35, motion 16, in my name and those of Senators Quinn and Ross, which states:
I heard with interest what Senator Fitzgerald had to say when she quoted a person who said the Bill would change a young man’s life. I hope it does change a person’s life for the better and I am sure it will, in some respects, change people’s lives for the better. However, other people’s lives may be changed for the worse. Senator Fitzgerald said her party had a democratic debate on the Bill. If so, she cannot have any objection to a free vote. It is not to the credit of the Dáil that this Bill passed without a vote and the many concerns which I know were——
Senator Rónán Mullen: ——held about different parts of the Bill which were not reflected in amendments. Therefore, given the profound cultural and social significance of the Bill, the changes it will introduce and there are acute issues, in particular around people’s freedom of conscience——
Senator Rónán Mullen: My point does not concern the Bill, rather that it is a Bill which merits a free vote. It is important that the Seanad sends out a message that there has been such a stifling consensus today——
Senator Rónán Mullen: In each party there are people with concerns and their voices have not been heard. On that basis I ask for support from both sides of the House for my amendment to the Order of Business that we would debate the need for a free vote.
Senator Alex White: On a point of order, is that amendment in order? Is it not a matter which is exclusively in the remit of political parties? It is not a matter for the Seanad. As far as the Seanad is concerned, every vote is a free vote and every Member exercises a free vote. The issue of party discipline and decisions is peculiarly and exclusively a matter for parties and not the Seanad.
Senator Terry Leyden: I welcome the report on mortgage arrears from the personal debt expert group which has made very useful recommendations. They are more than just recommendations because the Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, is part of the group and will ensure they are enforced. The 12-month period is quite short to sort things out before the banks move to repossess a house. At least two years would be adequate and I ask the Leader to a request the Financial Regulator to adjust his recommendations. I also commend the work of Senator MacSharry and his expert group and Senator Mary White, who issued a very useful document to party members and others on the current difficulties.
I commend the Government on its decisive action in this regard. In regard to NAMA, realism is coming into the situation. It has a very difficult task. It was misled by the banks, about that there is no question. It was possibly misled on purpose in order that some of the executives could be accommodated in advance of the reality becoming known. It is quite a cynical exercise that some of those who were involved——
Senator Paul Coghlan: Yesterday’s announcement on NAMA is disappointing and disturbing. It clearly shows that the business plan produced last year was a complete fantasy. We now know that 25% rather than 40% of the transferred loans are producing income. The banks supplied inaccurate information. Some of the people responsible for this remain at the top in the boards and senior management of the major banks which the taxpayer is recapitalising through the Minister for Finance. The Minister was wise to appoint public interest directors but neither he nor his Department is doing enough to clear out the banks. We cannot have confidence in these institutions until this process has been completed properly. These are the very people who are managing impaired portfolios for NAMA on an agency basis.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I ask the Leader about the conflicts of interest that might arise and what the Minister and his Department are doing about them. We are now being told there will be 2,000 job losses among the staff of the banks. I do not think a single person working in a bank branch should lose his or her job unless those at the top who are responsible for the appalling mess are rooted out.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: As the people gather outside the Houses of the Oireachtas, I concur with Senator Fitzgerald regarding a debate on the withdrawal of disability services. I learned a thing or two about the story behind the scenario she described. One would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the television reports on the difficulties people will face if respite care is withdrawn from them. However, the Brothers of Charity organisation employs six chief executive officers and I understand each of them receives a salary in excess of the Taoiseach’s. This country has limited resources which should be invested in people who need care. The last thing this Government needs is to waste public money on these six positions. Before we get high and mighty in regard to where the Government should or should not withdraw services, we need to learn the facts. It would be remiss of the Minister for Health and Children to continue spending limited funds on comfortable salaries rather than front line services.
I can tell from Senator Fitzgerald’s reaction that she did not know about this matter. This is why we need an honest debate on the withdrawal of services. The people who will be protesting outside Leinster House tomorrow have our support because nothing can be harder than facing the withdrawal of respite care. I ask that the Minister be invited to the House to explain the costs of administration to the people. The organisation is dealing with the issue by withdrawing front line services rather than rethinking its structures. All of us would prefer to see the money invested in front line services.
Senator David Norris: In light of the commitment the Leader gave yesterday, I ask him to take all-party motion No. 14, without debate if necessary. I recognise we have limited time but I would like the motion to be taken despite the fact that it was referred to dismissively by one of my colleagues.
With regard to the question of a free vote, I will abstain on this extraordinary proposal. As I noted to Senator O’Toole when it first arose, this is an internal matter for the political parties and it would be improper for an Independent Member to intervene.
I ask the Leader to convey to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, immediately upon the conclusion of the Order of Business, my request they would enable me to vote in favour of this Bill, which I would like to do. The amendments I have tabled were substantially authorised by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, who indicated in a document circulated to all Senators that the rights of children have been vitiated by their deliberate omission from this legislation. This was done without clear reason or regard for the rights of children and against the advice of the Government’s own Colley report that it would seriously damage the rights and interests of children in this country and may bring us into conflict with our own legislation, the European Convention on Human Rights and the international covenants under the United Nations to which this country is a signatory.
The Government has been given the justification and the reason to act not by me or any crank or person whose views could be regarded as partisan but by the person it appointed to superintend and vindicate the rights of children. It now has the opportunity to do what is necessary by supporting these rights. In light of the way the rights of children were violated over the past 100 years by church and State, it can do no less. Let us see anybody vote to continue the violation of children’s rights.
Senator Mary M. White: Ten weeks ago, the Minister for Health and Children met some of the 32 remaining survivors of thalidomide in this part of the island. The Irish Thalidomide Association waited a year for this meeting but survivors were seriously irritated by the deal on offer. A number of issues of significant concern were not addressed and the request to disclose documents from 1950 onwards was refused. A disclosure would allow the full story of this drug to be told for the first time. Certain legal issues were raised by the association and the Minister promised to respond within 24 hours. Ten weeks later, however, she has not yet replied. These people, about whom I have spoken on numerous occasions in this House, cannot afford to invest all their physical energy into their campaign for justice. They are exhausted and in pain from the overuse of their disabled limbs. They take pain killers morning, noon and night.
I urge the Leader to speak to the Minister about addressing this urgent issue for the sake of the survivors. I am putting my reputation on the line and I will continue to press their case until due compensation is paid to this group of people. The State failed them miserably. In his autobiography, Dr. O’Connell wrote that he was able to purchase the thalidomide drug without a prescription three years after it had been withdrawn. This scandal is being kept below the political radar.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I second Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business. Senator O’Malley may be correct in regard to salaries but that does not give the Government the right to cut respite care to those who need it most. Respite care is not a luxury; it is a necessity and it is a bad sign for our society if we make cuts to the most vulnerable and the voiceless. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, to debate this issue in the House today. There is a wonderful term in the Irish language for people with a disability — duine le Dia. As stated in the Proclamation, we must cherish all our children equally, but, unfortunately, the Government is not doing so. Instead, it is forcing parents to take to the streets of the capital city, not to protest but to stand up for their rights and protect their loved ones. I ask the Leader to implore the Minister of State to ensure services provided for those most in need are not cut.
I am disappointed the Leader has proposed that the motion on changes to the titles of Departments and committees be taken without debate. These changes will give rise to substantial costs to the State in terms of personnel and revenue. Why is it considered necessary to change the titles of Departments and Ministers? The reason it is unnecessary is that the message will remain the same because the Government does not have a jobs policy or vision and people do not have hope. The most appropriate course of action would be to change the personnel running the Government, as I hope the electorate will do in due course.
It is proposed to change the manner in which the civil partnership Bill is to be taken, as ordered in a notification circulated to Senators last week. May I assume from the Leader’s comments that the Minister will reply to the debate on Second Stage at 4.50 p.m., that the debate will conclude at 5 p.m. and that proceedings on Second Stage will not resume after Private Members’ time? If that is the case, why is the Leader going back on his word by imposing a guillotine motion? The civil partnership Bill is the most important legislation to be discussed in the House for many a day, yet the Leader is curtailing Members’ speaking rights. I ask him to provide for a resumption of the Second Stage debate after Private Members’ time. If necessary, the House should sit on Friday or an additional day next week. The Leader must not curtail debate on the most important social legislation before the House.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I support the motion tabled by Senator Mullen that Seanad Éireann affirms that each Senator should vote according to his or her conscience. I cannot believe anyone would object to the wording of the motion. It is a logical proposal and a shame the Senator had to table it.
The future outlook for the economy depends to a large extent on education. I will give Senators homework to do during the summer because I doubt the House will have a debate on education before the summer ends. I have spoken to a number of people from other parts of the world who are astonished that Ireland’s second level schools take holidays for three months every summer. They do not consider this realistic. The Japanese, for example, inform me their schools take holidays for 16 days per annum. While I do not suggest Ireland reduce the number of days to 16, we cannot continue to take three months off in the summer. There must be a logical middle figure. I am sure teachers and pupils would not be pleased if the current arrangements were changed but parents would be delighted if the summer holidays were reduced. I gather the reason for taking three months off in the summer dates back to a time generations ago when teenage children were needed to work on farms. This no longer applies. Let us ensure we give thought to this issue during the summer and debate it following the recess. Such a debate must focus on how we can get the best from the education system for teenage children at second level.
Senator Mark Dearey: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to come before the House to update Senators on the position on the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill which remains a long way from completion. Although not by any means the complete item, the legislation addresses in a useful manner a number of issues relating to asylum applications and seeks to streamline the asylum appeals process to ensure asylum seekers will not be required to wait five, six or seven years for adjudication of their appeals. While the initial response to asylum applications is usually provided within a reasonable period, the appeals process lasts forever and a day. The various bases for appeal must be addressed in a single adjudication. This would bring an end to the current position where appellants must wait for many years to have their cases adjudicated.
This issue has acquired particular importance. My local radio station has been doing the community a service in recent days by bringing to public attention the plight of many asylum seekers who have been in this country for many years and built reasonably stable lives for themselves. The significant cost of the direct provision service is causing a great deal of anger and hostility among members of the general public. In straitened times, with money tight, people are, perhaps unwittingly, straying into using language and voicing opinions which have the potential to turn nasty and become racist in character. One hears expressions of concern and fear, but we need to nip the problem in the bud and bring to an end a worrying public dialogue. This could be achieved by placing on the Statute Book legislation to establish a proper appeals process for asylum seekers.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: The courageous and forthright contribution made by Senator O’Malley underscores the importance of her accepting the amendment tabled by Senator Fitzgerald which proposes that the House debate today cutbacks to disability services. If the cost of administration is a problem, the issue must be resolved as part of the debate. It does not provide adequate justification or an excuse for denying basic services to people with a disability. On the contrary, it challenges the Government to prune the tree and bring sense to public expenditure. We are not cherishing all the children of the nation equally. It is not right to remove front-line and respite care services from people with intellectual disabilities or that in many areas, including my constituency, there are explicit and implicit threats to day care services for geriatrics. The Fine Gael Party courageously produces an alternative budget every year. While it accepts the need to reduce public expenditure and the broad parameters for doing so, it does not accept that this reduction should be made at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. A full debate is required to identify areas in which we can reduce public expenditure and increase revenue to the State. Such a debate must establish priorities and draw a line in the sand by stating services for people with an intellectual disability, old people in day care centres and so forth are immovable and sacrosanct. They are part of our republican philosophy that we cherish all the children of the nation equally and of a social and Christian society. I ask the Leader to give a commitment that he will hold such a debate on the process and priorities of budgeting.
Senator John Hanafin: It is important to start celebrating economic events. We should recognise that the ESB has acquired Northern Ireland Electricity which will create synergies and opportunities, North and South. It is important to discuss these flagship enterprises, take an interest in them and seek to ensure they develop to their full potential, especially in the light of the opportunities available in the green energy sector. Ireland is the Saudi Arabia of the green energy sector because we can exploit wave, tidal and wind energy. We are ideally placed to take advantage of green energy with an interconnector that connects us to the rest of Europe.
There have been discussions of cutbacks in the area of disability. Unfortunately cutbacks are part of what we need to do. When cutting back we would always try to ensure no individuals are disadvantaged. We need to recognise we are in tough fiscal times. With that in mind, I ask the Leader for a schedule of the costs to the State of implementing the civil partnership Bill.
Senator Eoghan Harris: I wish to be associated with Senator Fitzgerald’s remarks on the civil partnership Bill. I will not go into the substance of it. This is one of these landmark discussions like the discussion about Articles 2 and 3, which arouse deep crises of conscience for people. Had everybody in our history behaved as per his or her conscience there would have been no peace process. Many people put their consciences in their pockets and acted in terms of representing republican democracy in dealing with the peace process. I appeal to Senators on both sides not to go into competitive posturing.
Senator Eoghan Harris: Our grandfathers and our fathers would have difficulty with civil partnership. I fully support it, but my father and grandfather would have problems with it. There are people on the other side who oppose it — perhaps doing so in good conscience — and those of us who support it also do so in good conscience. We need to understand that tolerance does not mean permitting things; it means permitting things of which we disapprove, as many of us had to do on Articles 2 and 3. Those who talk about sensitivity and conscience should remember that the founder of Christianity was absolutely broad and tolerant in his handling of sexual peccadilloes, mistakes and infringements, and was absolutely unflinching in his opposition to money lenders and bankers.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: On the note of bankers, last night on the Second Stage debate on the Central Bank Reform Bill 2010, the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, indicated he would be laying down the orders of reference for the new banking investigation before the summer recess. He indicated he would do so in this House. Given that the Dáil will no longer sit after this week, I ask the Leader if he is aware of the Minister’s intent in this regard. Can the Leader guarantee us that if these orders of reference are laid down next week, a debate will be allowed in the House on them as the other House will not be sitting?
A week ago I attended a large public meeting in my constituency on respite care services. In many years of attending such meetings, this was by some way the most upsetting and disturbing event I have ever attended. If the point Senator O’Malley made is true — I assume it is — it is well made. It again shows there are insiders and outsiders in our country. For too long when decisions are made, the people who suffer first and most are the outsiders. The investigation into the issue should take place first with the decision taking place afterwards and not the other way around.
I have no doubt that people opposing the civil partnership Bill do so in good conscience. I appeal to people to consider the language they use in the debate we are about to have. I look forward to hearing what Senator Mullen has to say later today. He has said we are closer to Zimbabwe than to Holland. We are not. There is a deep respect in our country for individual rights, for families and for family units. I emphasise a point and respectfully inform my Independent colleagues that it is not up to people who decide not to join a political party to tell those of us who do how to organise our business.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I agree wholeheartedly with the thoughtful contributions of Senators Harris and Donohoe. The civil partnership Bill will grant people basic rights. It is not about attacking institutions or taking from those who already have. It recognises that in the third millennium in present day society there are people who are being treated unfairly and unequally. The Bill will rectify that wrong. That is all it is, in deference to views on the other side of the argument.
The revised NAMA business plan, coming nine months after the first one was published, shows that in all likelihood it will not generate a €4.8 billion profit and in the worst case scenario will suffer €800 million of a loss. Something is inherently wrong here. I have asked on several occasions for the Leader to invite in the Taoiseach or the Minister for Finance, the most senior of whom who is available, to describe what they were engaging in nine months ago. Was it a complete fantasy? Unemployment is reaching all-time highs, and small and medium-sized enterprises are going to the wall. Banks are not lending and are throwing people out on the side of the street. We now have a return to landlordism that was much worse than was experienced under British rule because it is being done by Irish people to Irish families. No mercy is being shown to those people by the banking fraternity, yet nine months ago a NAMA business plan was devised on the back of an envelope. The revised plan shows the harsh reality of those figures. It is a very bad deal for the taxpayer with considerable pain and no gain. It is an absolute disgrace. I ask the Leader to organise for the Taoiseach or Minister for Finance to explain to the House the fantasy that was the first NAMA business plan.
Senator Shane Ross: I support it. I have no hesitation in saying I will be voting in favour of the civil partnership Bill and have no problems with it. However, like Senators Quinn and Mullen I cannot understand why there should be a whip on this Bill. Particularly in this House it is important that we show respect for people on the other side of the argument and recognise the very strong feelings in all parties. In addition we should recognise that it will not threaten the Government if the Bill is defeated. It is simply a matter of giving a free vote to people on issues of very strong importance to them. I do not restrict this to the civil partnership Bill. We should have far more free votes in this House. The reality is that even if we defeat a Bill it will merely have a delaying effect. However, it would give rise to a more genuine debate if people were allowed not only to vote as they wish, but also to speak as they wish. The result of people being forced into the lobbies to vote one way or the other on the issue means it is very difficult for them to speak one way and talk the other because they are hypocrites. I know perfectly well that today people will speak on one side — possibly not believing it — because they are under pressure to do that. To relieve that pressure all parties should allow their Members to speak their mind, vote accordingly and let democracy take its course. The Government is not threatened by this at all. It would be healthy and would show respect for this House, which is a less political House, if we allowed the proposal made by Senators Quinn and Mullen and me to go through.
Senator Paschal Mooney: Senators may be aware of newspaper reports today of the possible death by stoning of a lady called Mrs. Ashtiani in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs the deep horror of this House, which I am sure would be agreed on, at this proposed execution. The Minister, acting in the name of Ireland, should add his voice and Ireland’s voice to that of the international protests that have already started.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I wish to refer briefly to a report in today’s edition of the Irish Independent which states that having received 99 lashes for her alleged adultery she now faces the imminent prospect of execution and will be wrapped from head to toe in white shroud, buried up to her chest and stoned. The stones will be large enough to cause severe injury, but not so big that she will be killed outright. It can take up to 30 minutes before she is dead or unconscious. Not only that, but the hypocrisy of this regime means that it has a different judicial process for men and women and it is weighed against women. People sentenced to death by stoning are spared if they can drag themselves out of the earth, but while men are buried up to their waste, women are buried up to their chest.
I thought we lived in a civilised society. This House has a proud record of protecting, enhancing and speaking out against human rights violations. I had the honour of chairing the Council of Europe committee on human rights. Many colleagues on both sides of the House have taken a strong on this over the years. In a civilised world, this type of barbaric practice should be outlawed, and the Islamic Republic of Iran should be told in no uncertain terms by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that we in Ireland find this totally unacceptable.
Senator Paddy Burke: I would like the Leader to arrange a debate on the funding of local authorities. I have asked for this debate on numerous occasions and it would be very fitting if we had an emergency debate on this area. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation said last week in this House that he was going to ease the pressure on businesses from local authorities. Local authorities are in a very poor financial state. They are only responsible for rates for water and for refuse and this is the only way they can raise revenue. Where is the Minister going with his statement?
I understand the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is taking over some of the loans of local authorities and has handed them to NAMA. Will the Leader clarify this? Local authorities have bought expensive properties that are now in serious difficulty, and it seems the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is taking over the properties and handing over the loans and the properties to NAMA. I would like the Leader or the Minister to clarify that.
Senator Ivana Bacik: We all support Senator Mooney’s call for a cross-party motion condemning that decision in Iran. It is an appalling indictment of the Iranian regime to hear that anyone would be liable to that sort of grotesque and barbaric punishment in 2010.
I join others in welcoming this historic day when we see civil partnership law coming before the House and likely to be voted in today or tomorrow. It will certainly make a welcome advance in the rights of gay couples. It does not go far enough for me, for the Labour Party or for Senator Norris, because it does not provide true equality as it does not provide for the recognition of gay marriage. It certainly is a welcome step, even though there is a major omission with the lack of recognition for the children of gay families. However, it marks an important advance in the rights of gay people and we welcome that.
I am surprised at the decision of Senator Ross to back the motion by Senator Mullen. It is an utterly inappropriate motion and is not a matter for the Cathaoirleach or the Seanad as to how people vote. As someone who has moved from the Independent bench to a party bench, I know a little bit about this. It is a matter for the individual and his or her party——
Senator Ivana Bacik: I second what Senator Alex White said about it. It is not a motion that should be put to this House. The opportunity is there for anybody to vote against the party Whip. They can take it up with their party or they can join Senator Ross and others on the Independent benches if they feel very strongly.
I would like to ask the Leader for a debate on credit unions. A Bill was passed last night on reform of the Central Bank, but the credit union movement made some important representations to us about that. We might have a very useful debate in the next term on the particular role of the credit unions in extending credit in a prudent way to those who have not been able to obtain it. The credit unions played a vital role in the past and will continue to do so.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Healy Eames, O’Malley, O’Reilly, Donohoe and McCarthy all support the call for proper funding to be put in place for services such as respite care. The Minister for Health and Children will be in the House before the summer recess to clarify the situation. Senator O’Malley outlined it to the House this morning. I thought it was five CEOs who were earning in excess of the Taoiseach’s salary, but five or six——
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I want to clarify the matter. There are six CEOs with the Brothers of Charity, not five, and none of them is on the salary of the Taoiseach. I checked that out and I can verify it for the Leader.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I am responding to what she said and the blacks will prove that quite correctly. I am too long here to not know exactly what words mean when I respond. I support calls from all sides of the House in respect of the difficulties being experienced. The Minister is only too pleased to come to the House to clarify the up-to-date position on the issue.
Senators Fitzgerald, MacSharry, Coghlan, Donohoe and Hanafin spoke about NAMA. The Minister for Finance was in the House last night and referred to this during the debate on the Bill to reform the Central Bank. That was a terrific debate and a learning exercise. We are grateful to the Minister for providing us with an update on what is going on. His interview on “Morning Ireland” today was very encouraging and very enlightening. I am strongly of the opinion that to get out of this downturn in the economy in Ireland, the Government and the public sector will not make it happen, but the private sector will make it happen when it has the tools of its wares, by which I mean funding from the banks. I am pleased with the Minister’s announcement this morning that he would bring forward an initiative next week on funding for SMEs by our two major banks, which the Government has called for in respect of the €6 billion investment that they have to make over two years.
The Minister assured the people this morning about the NAMA figures that were released nine months ago in comparison with those released yesterday. In the worst case scenario where there was an €800 million shortfall, he said he would levy the banks and it would not cost the taxpayer one cent. That was an assurance that every taxpayer wanted to hear. The confidence the people have in our Minister for Finance is our big hope for the future. I look forward to very many more visits of the Minister to the House to listen to the proposals and suggestions made by him and by my colleagues in the House. It was an enlightening time to be in the House last night during the debate on the Central Bank Reform Bill.
Senators O’Toole, Buttimer, Hanafin, Harris, Donohoe and McCarthy all expressed concerns about No. 1 on the Order Paper, which is to be taken without debate. If colleagues wish to have a debate on it, I can certainly provide for one after the summer recess. Most of this has come about because of the reduction in the number of Ministers of State from 20 to 15. Certain portfolios had to be rejoined and put back together again, which has led to a massive net saving to the Exchequer.
Senator Alex White spoke about the legal environment surrounding married parents, adoption rights and the referendum on children’s rights. I will pass on the Senator’s strong views to the Minister. I have no difficulty inviting the Minister back to the House. He was in the House this week when we debated this issue and he updated it on his portfolio.
I join Senators Keaveney and Hanafin in congratulating the ESB on this historic occasion. I congratulate Padraig McManus, the chief executive officer, and all the ESB directors on their purchase of the Northern Ireland grid. It makes good commercial sense. The ESB is a flagship of success and the contribution it is making throughout the world is a shining example of what a good Irish company can achieve. I wholeheartedly congratulate it on its initiative in this area.
Senator Keaveney referred to North-South Ministerial Council meetings. I intend to invite the Taoiseach to the House to update us from time to time on the progress of these meetings. I will try to arrange for him to come to the House at the earliest possible time. It is a good idea that we review the situation, as Senator Keaveney said, and are able to make proposals. Senators living adjacent to the Six Counties could have an input into these meetings.
Senator MacSharry and Leyden referred to mortgages. I agree with Senator Leyden that a two-year timeframe is a must. One year is nowhere near what is required. In fact, a two or three-year timeframe is required. Until people go back to work and get a good track record, we should fully support them in dealing with the difficulties 90% of them are experiencing for the first time in their lives. I fully agree with what was said. I congratulate Senator MacSharry on his report. Senator Butler has also made a tremendous contribution in this area, as have many colleagues on the Opposition side of the House. Good proposals have been taken from Seanad Éireann and included in the report.
Senators Mullen, Norris, Quinn, Harris, Hanafin, McCarthy, Ross and Bacik all expressed their views regarding a free vote in the House. We can all read about 1936 when the House was full of Independent Members. The Taoiseach of the day had to dissolve the House because agreement could not be reached and legislation could not be processed. That is why the party system must be in place. The Government is elected by the people to govern and bring forward and amend legislation. That is what we are doing today. Everyone supports human rights and that is what we are doing today in a very meaningful way.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I have often said, using the words of Jim Reeves, that this world is not my home, I am just passing through. I understand the views of many Independent colleagues but they must understand, as Senator Bacik said, that the party system is what makes this House work.
Senator Norris referred to motion No. 14. I will leave time aside for this and will inform the House tomorrow when it will be taken. Senator Mary White expressed strong support for the 32 men and women of Thalidomide Ireland. The chairperson of the association is in the House. The Minister fully supports trying to get a resolution to this very difficult issue. A person’s life is affected and it must be the most difficult challenge one could face or hand of cards one could be dealt. We fully support the good work being done by Senator Mary White and the association. I will pass on the Senator’s strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senator Quinn called for a debate on education and the three months’ holiday. This is a common-sense proposal and another great initiative from Senator Quinn. It shows how a person with a track record of success in the business world can change things for the better. I read dispatches in the Sunday newspapers, which I hope are true, that someone like him might lead the capital city of our country. We would dearly love to see that happen and wish him luck in that regard.
Senator Mooney outlined an horrific matter. It is something one would expect to read about hundreds of years ago. I have no difficulty arranging for an all-party motion to be sent from this House. I thank him for bringing the matter to our attention.
Senator Burke referred to funding for local authorities. This is one of the important debates we will have after the summer recess. I acknowledge the €100 million local authorities have received in recent days from the second home levy which has been such an outstanding success in getting funds for local authorities.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on credit unions. We had a terrific debate last night on the Central Bank Reform Bill. The good work the credit unions are doing must be acknowledged. Currently, credit unions are supplying finance to the SMEs and the motor industry and are keeping this country going financially.
An Cathaoirleach: There are two amendments to the Order of Business and I will take them in the order in which they were proposed. Senator Fitzgerald proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That a debate on the disability strategy and the reduction in services provided be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed?
|Bacik, Ivana.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||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.||White, Alex.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Carroll, James.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|Dearey, Mark.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Harris, Eoghan.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Mooney, Paschal.||Ó Brolcháin, Niall.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Hanafin, John.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Ross, Shane.||Walsh, Jim.|
|Bacik, Ivana.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Brady, Martin.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Butler, Larry.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Carroll, James.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Daly, Mark.||Dearey, Mark.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Ellis, John.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Harris, Eoghan.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Mooney, Paschal.||Norris, David.|
|Ó Brolcháin, Niall.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|White, Alex.||White, Mary M.|
|Last Updated: 13/12/2010 13:01:13||Page of 16|