Thursday, 30 June 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Ivana Bacik: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the appointment of members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to commence at noon and conclude at 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 2.50 p.m.; and No. 3, motion for earlier signature of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011, to be taken without debate on receipt of a message from Dáil Éireann on the agreement or otherwise of the amendments made to the Bill last evening.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: This side of the House will support the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011. It emanates from the previous Government. We will table amendments on Committee Stage which is to be taken next week. It is important legislation which is to be welcomed. It might not go far enough as regards the time lines but this can be dealt with next week by way of amendment.
Senator Healy Eames and others raised the issue of the culture of bonus payments. It has been publicised that more than 80% of the staff of the NTMA were paid bonuses in 2010, with the average payment being more than €7,000. Some of the amounts are startling. While nine of the most senior executives in the NTMA waived their bonus payments and this is to be welcomed, these nine payments came in total to €905,000. I ask the Government to examine the bonus payments structure. I understand contractual issues are involved. Rather than dealing with the payment of bonuses on an ad hoc basis, the Government should set in train agreements with the agencies that bonuses should not be accepted. This would avoid weekly revelations about bonus payments.
As regards the pension schemes of the NTMA and the National Asset Management Agency, NTMA staff are not deemed to be public servants but are contract staff. They have defined contribution pension schemes, the amount on retirement being based on investment returns. Last year the NTMA proceeded to set up a hybrid scheme. It was moving its staff to a defined benefit scheme akin to public sector and some private sector pension schemes. Most companies cannot afford to pay for such schemes. I raised this matter last year with the former head of the NTMA but we did not get very far. This is a matter the Minister for Finance should raise with the NTMA. Has it continued to move ahead, against advice, to establish what is effectively a Rolls-Royce pension scheme for non-public service workers at a major cost to the State? This has also happened in the universities to which I referred last week. Sometimes pension benefits are seen as not being a real cost because they are a cost down the line, in the future. This is adding to the State’s liabilities and I urge the Deputy Leader to speak to the Minister for Finance to ascertain what arrangements are in place for pensions in the NTMA and in NAMA. Most of the staff are paid very well for a job they do very well and the NTMA has a very good track record when compared with any international fund managers. However, their pension benefits need to be examined and the Minister for Finance needs to grapple with this issue. I ask the Deputy Leader to raise it with him as a matter of urgency.
Senator Deirdre Clune: I am pleased the Fianna Fáil Party is in agreement with the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. There are a lot of very important provisions in it and some of them have an overhang from the last Government. It is important they are enacted. I am sure we will discuss that later.
I would like the Deputy Leader to consider the census data which will be released today. It is estimated that the population will increase to 4.5 million, which is significant. It will have far reaching implications for future planning in the country. I congratulate the CSO on processing the data in such a short time. I know there is more to come in the next 12 months. It will make for very interesting reading, not just for Dáil constituencies which are not relevant to this House but to the other House, but also to settlements and how we move forward. An important document will be produced today which will have far-reaching implications for future investment in infrastructure and how the country moves forward. The figures will feed into the Electoral (Amendment) Bill which the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government published today.
Senator Mary Ann O’Brien: I would like to ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, why the State does not have the national budget for paediatric home nursing care when it makes sense to care for children with life-limiting conditions at home and to save millions of euro for the taxpayer by keeping such children out of hospital. Why are parents forced to ring Joe Duffy, as they did yesterday, and appear on “Prime Time”, as they did some weeks ago, to share their stories about how they are on the brink of not coping with their sick children and their siblings and are in desperate need of help?
Investment in home nursing care saves money. The children, parents and siblings do better and the taxpayer does better. The Minister says he believes in community care, so why does he not have a budget for paediatric home nursing care? I also ask him to clarify that the new service level agreement he announced on “Prime Time” on 31 May between the HSE and the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation did not contain any new funding for the foundation and was not new at all but was a document pending signature for months. Was it a PR stunt?
When will the Minister review the investment required by the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation in line with the recommendations of the Trinity report, There’s No Place Like Home, published in February 2010 to increase State funding from €545,000 currently to €1.3 million to make it more sustainable and less reliant on mobile phone recycling and public donations to continue to exist? I remind the Minister that if Jack and Jill was to look after children up to the age of six years old, it could save the State a further €42 million per annum by keeping them out of hospital. The State will continue to benefit by saving €40 million every year by keeping the children currently supported by Jack and Jill warm and cosy at home rather than in hospital care, which is nine times more expensive. We are not just talking about one charity, Jack and Jill. We need a national budget for paediatric nursing care. The average annual cost of hospital care is €147,000, which is nine times more expensive than the €16,000 cost of home care provision for a Jack and Jill baby.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I support the comments of Senator O’Brien on the bonus culture. The bonuses paid in 2010 were presumably decided in 2009, a year in which GNP declined by 9%. I wonder what planet the people who decided to give bonuses were on when the rest of us were experiencing such a huge decline in income.
On No. 3 on the Order Paper, the request to the President to sign the Bill we discussed yesterday early, unfortunately, de jure, nothing happened yesterday. The Government got everything it wanted. De facto, we had a very useful engagement with the Minister performing a vital role in our national recovery and whose enthusiasm we were all impressed by. Parliamentary scrutiny and the role of Uachtarán na hÉireann should not be reduced to an administrative afterthought. I ask the Deputy Leader to communicate to the Government what I understand is her view as well, namely, our wish to play a full role in the national recovery and request that legislation be prepared in a timely way to allow for full consideration and scrutiny by Seanad Éireann and Uachtarán na hÉireann.
Senator John Whelan: I will not try the patience of the Deputy Leader and call for the Minister of Health to come into the House. There is a long list of questions before him and it will take him a couple of days to get through them all. It reminds me of a comment made by a previous Minister of Health and former Taoiseach that there are more landmines in the Department of Health than in Angola. It still seems the case, even though I know the Minister is doing his best to clean up the mess he inherited from his predecessor. In sporting parlance, he received somewhat of a hospital pass, if I may say so. There is a tendency and temptation which is hard to resist to turn medical issues and important matters of health care and hospitals into political footballs. Earlier in the week there was an attempt from the Opposition benches to blame Michael D. Higgins for the problems in Roscommon hospital. It was a remarkable feat, which turned a political football into a hot air balloon. It defied logic and political gravity, if I may say so.
I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality and for Defence to answer to the House on whether he is aware of the duty of care and responsibility he has under health and safety regulations and labour law to the 1,500 prison officers, soldiers, gardaí and prisoners in Portlaoise which contains two high security prisons. There is an absurd proposal from the HSE to close the accident and emergency department in Portlaoise hospital which is the 11th busiest acute general hospital in the country. Notwithstanding the needs of the community, the two high security prisons are across the road, as everyone will know, on the Dublin Road.
Senator John Whelan: It is an urgent matter. It is important that the Minister for Justice and Equality does not expose the Government to any costly court cases for litigation owing to any removal of the accident and emergency facilities in Portlaoise. Rioting and trouble in the volatile environment of a prison and incidents of self-harm which happen daily in the prison do not occur from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Senator Mark Daly: I move an amendment to the Order of Business: “That No. 12 be taken before No. 1. on the Order of Business.” It is a procedural issue on the publication of the NAMA Transparency Bill 2011.
Will the Deputy Leader bring the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the House to deal with the fact that the church is still not aiding the child sex abuse audit? It is an appalling situation. CORI and some religious dioceses are refusing to co-operate with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in completing the audit required of the church authorities. They are hiding behind, of all things, data protection. The Data Protection Commissioner told them last November that there were no data production issues, yet the audit has not been completed. I understand only three dioceses and three bishops have assisted the board in trying to complete the audit. It is difficult to understand how an organisation supposedly — I would nearly use “allegedly”— dedicated to helping the vulnerable and telling all of us who follow the creed that we must take responsibility for our actions is hiding behind a false veil of data protection in order not to complete an audit of the abuse that took place under its watch. Truth be told, people in high positions within the Catholic Church are afraid that when the audits are completed, they will be exposed as not having acted when they should have. Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to attend the House to clarify that CORI can hand over this information and that there will be no legal implications for it? I look forward to the Minister taking the Adjournment issue raised by Senator Clune because the NAMA legislation is about the transparency and openness required by the agency concerning the sale of its assets and the establishment of a website to do so.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: I want to move away from economic matters for a while. It is of deep concern to me that a large percentage of Sinn Féin supporters in Northern Ireland, and perhaps even the majority, do not now want a united Ireland. The recent Northern Ireland life survey, which has been published annually since 1998, found that 52% of Catholics in the North would prefer to remain in the United Kingdom. In 2006, only 22% expressed such a preference. In addition, 73% overall believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK, with only 16% preferring a united Ireland. The latter is the most significant figure as it takes all the people of Northern Ireland into account. Nevertheless, the high level of support among Sinn Féin supporters for remaining in the UK is significant. This is disturbing for those of us who aspire to a united Ireland, including Fine Gael, the united Ireland party,——
Senator Jim D’Arcy: ——and who stand by Article 3.1 of the Constitution, as amended, which states that “It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people . . . of Ireland”.
I ask that this matter be brought urgently by the Leader to the attention of the appropriate body, such as the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, for immediate consideration. This cannot be swept under the carpet.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Today is a significant day because it would appear that we have found the answer to an age-old scriptural riddle concerning whether the sons will actually be made to pay for the sins of their fathers. It would appear that Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has given us the answer to that question: they will, indeed. Leaving aside the jocose aspect of this, the point needs to be reiterated that there are lessons here for all of us to learn. This has been another unhelpful blow to the reputation of politics and politicians in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical and frustrated public. Let us hope that we will have no more stories like this one in future.
It never ceases to amaze me how people in the media can miss the really obvious point. I know that Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell will be as concerned as I am to hear that the journalism MA students in DCU — and I am a graduate of that course in DCU — are to be——
Senator Rónán Mullen: I look forward to the good Senator leading by example in that regard. There are many fine journalists. Listening to the debate on “Morning Ireland” earlier today about the Government’s plans to reduce the number of TDs, we heard how it started off with a promise by the Fine Gael party to reduce the number of TDs by 20. As we all know, that was diluted in the programme for Government. This morning, journalists were simply accepting that in light of the demographic changes one could not now reduce the number of TDs by 20 because one would fall foul of the constitutional requirement that there must be one TD for every 30,000 of the population. The obvious point, however, is that it can be changed by referendum. Is that not what the proposed abolition, rather than reform, of the Seanad is all about? Why was it beyond the capacity of journalists to ask the obvious question, which is “If you are going to have a referendum to abolish the Seanad, why not ensure in that referendum that one may reduce the number of TDs by 20”? Instead of falling for the standard political slide-back, our journalists should wake up to the hard questions they ought to ask.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I will conclude, mindful of Senator O’Donnell’s advice. Like Senator Daly, I, too, would be concerned if I thought that particular bishops were still failing to comply with their own audit. Having read the story in today’s newspaper — on which, I presume, Senator Daly is also relying — I got no actual information to help me form a judgment. I simply saw a phrase like “It is believed that this still remains the case”, but that does not make for good journalism either. To be able to speak about issues properly in this House we need the facts. We need the media to help us sometimes by providing clear facts, by asking the hard questions — whether of taoisigh, Ministers, backbenchers or bishops — and giving us the information with which we as public representatives can make certain judgments and call for certain changes.
Senator Michael Mullins: I support Senator Darragh O’Brien’s comments on bonus payments. We had a positive day yesterday on many fronts. The performance by the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, gave us all confidence that we are on our way towards addressing many significant issues as to how we do business in the Oireachtas and make significant savings. As the Senator who raised the abuse of the telephone system here on Tuesday morning, I am particularly pleased that the Deputy who was the beneficiary of those 3,500 calls saw sense yesterday and decided to refund the cost of them to the Oireachtas. I hope the matter does not end there, though. I urge the Leader to ensure that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges investigates this matter fully. We all want to see a system put in place whereby similar abuse cannot occur in future. The Oireachtas phone system should be configured in such a way that premium-line calls cannot be made from phones within Leinster House.
In recent weeks, we all received copies of the report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters. We got three large volumes of documentation, each of which costs €50 to purchase. That amounts to €150 per Member of the Oireachtas or a total of almost €34,000. There must be a better way of doing this. Significant cost savings could have been made by issuing the report electronically or making it available for access in the Oireachtas Library. I am not sure that every Member needed to have a copy or that everybody will read it. There are significant savings to be made everywhere we look within the Oireachtas system. I urge the Leader to take that point on board in future.
Senator Kathryn Reilly: I welcome Senator Jim D’Arcy’s comments on Fine Gael, the united Ireland party. Sinn Féin is currently hosting a number of regional conferences around the country on the issue of a united Ireland. I am sure his constituency colleague, Deputy Adams, or Councillor Sharkey, will extend an invitation for him to attend one of those conferences.
Senator Kathryn Reilly: I am sure we can arrange something. Earlier this week, I spoke about semi-State bodies like EirGrid paying bonuses last year. According to the company’s 2010 annual report, the chief executive, Mr. Dermot Byrne, was paid a bonus of €23,000. I welcome the fact that this year the company will not pay any bonuses. I wish to highlight, however, that a bonus was paid to the CEO the year that EirGrid had to sensationally withdraw the planning application for the North-South interconnector. While the CEO was given a handsome reward, this blunder by EirGrid, concerning the height of electricity pylons, left local communities across Cavan, Monaghan and Meath facing a huge legal bill.
There is one rule for some and another for others. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House to discuss the ratification of the Aarhus Convention and how the costs involved for these communities will be reimbursed. Unless the convention is ratified and groups such as the County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee and North East Pylon Pressure have their legitimate costs reimbursed, the people will be denied the opportunity to meaningfully participate in oral hearings to highlight their environmental concerns.
On a separate but related matter, the programme for Government commits to the establishment of an independent international expert commission to review, within six months, the case for and cost of placing underground all or part of the Meath-Tyrone line. It is now two months to the deadline, but the Minister has not yet announced anything about the review. EirGrid has finished the first round of the non-statutory public consultation process in preparation for submitting a formal new application to An Bord Pleanála. If the expert commission is to inform the process, it needs to be set up with terms of reference as soon as possible. I, therefore, ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the House before the recess, if possible, to discuss this important issue.
Every day on the Order of Business since this Seanad first met there has been commentary on political reform, whether it be on the abolition of this House or a reduction in the number of Deputies. The programme for Government commits to the establishment of a constitutional convention in this regard. I, therefore, ask the Deputy Leader to advise us on the current position on its establishment. Having a debate on political reform is extremely important. It is not the preserve of this House exclusively, rather all citizens need to be included. We are in a time of great change. A new frugality will have to prevail and there must be political reform, whether it be in this House, the Dáil or at local government level. That debate needs to start now for there to be true political reform by the end of this Oireachtas term.
I would like to comment on media reports yesterday that it would take 18 months to set up an inspectorate to carry out whistleblowing inspections, as it were, in institutions which look after people with intellectual disabilities. I was delighted when the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, announced recently that she would recommend to the Government that it provide €6 million to carry out such inspections. I am concerned, however, that it will take 18 months to put this into action.
Senator Martin Conway: I cannot understand why it will take 18 months to do so. Is it that the funding will not be provided in 2011 and that we will have to wait until 2012 for it? Perhaps the Deputy Leader might ascertain from the Minister of State the exact timeframe and why there will be such a delay in proceeding with the inspectorate.
I agree with what Senator Darragh O’Brien and other speakers said about the bonus culture, about which Members have spoken this week. Bonuses should be a thing of the past. I hope, however, that we are moving from a positon where we are broke to one where we can grow the economy again.
Senator Terry Leyden: Senator John Whelan seems to be a convert on the road to Kildare Street in regard to the future of this House. He seems to have found his voice at long last, on which I congratulate him. Let us be clear that he will not deal with me in the way he dealt with the Deputy in County Laois.
On the issue of responsibility, this is a coalition Government of the Labour Party and Fine Gael and it has an agreed programme. The president of the Labour Party will be a candidate in the presidential election. Therefore, he has a role to play in considering the future of Roscommon County Hospital which we defended in hard times. The Minister for Health, a former president of the IMO, negotiated the most wretched contract for doctors — the golden card — which broke the Department of Health. He knew what his status was and he told the people of Roscommon and Portlaoise what he would do. I hope Senator John Whelan got a roasting last night in Portlaoise, if he had the courage to attend the public meeting there. I hope the Deputies——
Senator Terry Leyden: I do. I ask her to contact the leader of her party to take action about the attacks on the flotilla sailing to Gaza to support the people of Palestine. I accompanied the Tánaiste previously and, in fact, led a delegation to Palestine in 2006. He knows the situation first hand, that Gaza is an open prison of 1.5 million people. There are brave and courageous people from this country who are prepared to go on board the ship to break the blockade on Gaza. I would like to support the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and know the Tánaiste’s heart is in the right place in that regard. We need to show solidarity to the brave people who are putting their lives at risk on behalf of the oppressed people of Gaza and the West Bank.
I inform the House that the Registration of Wills Bill 2011 will be taken during Private Members’ time at 5 p.m. next Wednesday, 6 July. I seek the support of all Members for this progressive legislation which was approved by the previous Seanad. I invite all my colleagues to a media briefing on it at 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 July, in the audio-visual room. Second Stage will be taken on Wednesday. I would like hear their views, particularly those of all the new Senators, prior to Committee and Report Stages.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: The rioting and flames in Greece broadcast on our television screens are a salutary warning to us of what we just averted by having a general election at the time we did. Are the Greek people being unreasonable in rioting? The answer is no. They are rioting because they were left in the dark as a result of bad government. The only policy now has to be truth and honesty. What we are finding daily in government are facts and figures we never knew previously.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: In the light of this and to be helpful to Members on all sides of the House, I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Finance, who I do not believe has been here since the start of this Seanad term, to talk to us about the implications of the instability in the European Union for Ireland. While things are changing on a daily basis, I would like to see a roadmap, if possible. I would also like the Minister to talk to us about the bonus culture. We read in the newspapers today that 84% of NAMA and NTMA staff received bonuses in the past year. That is a great number of people. Do we know how many are currently receiving bonuses from the State? It should be the policy not to pay bonuses until further notice. I would be grateful to the Deputy Leader, therefore, if she would invite the Minister for Finance to the House. We know he is doing an incredible job for the country, but it would be great to have him here to debate these matters.
Yesterday I sought a debate on education focusing on our vision for the education system. The Leader said he would seek to arrange such a debate in the next term, but I had hoped we would be able to have it before the summer recess in view of the planning being undertaken for the new education year.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I extend good wishes to the Deputy Leader on her first day in this new job. I had not realised it was her first day, as it seemed she had been here forever. I am sure the Deputy Leader will be able to perform all her functions.
I received a letter the other day, which other Members may have received, from a person whose sister has been missing for 11 years. The letter sets out how his life changed when she disappeared. His agenda is to ensure every available resource is used to find a child from here or any other EU state as soon as possible should he or she go missing in this country. For this reason, I plead with the Deputy Leader to demand that the 116000 EU hotline for missing children be introduced in Ireland. The person from whom I received the letter has asked that this be done without further delay. The 116000 number has been reserved by the European Commission since 2007 for the entire European Union. While the Commission called on member states to have it operational in every country, the majority of countries have not done so, including Ireland. I ask the Deputy Leader to draw the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, whose heart, I am sure, is in the right place, to ensure it is introduced in Ireland. I am sure it would not be expensive to do this. I do not understand the reason the number is not operational in this country.
Will the Deputy Leader provide time for a debate in the House on a particular aspect of banking? Yesterday, the Federal Reserve in the United States voted to reduce bank charges on the use of debt and credit cards. Yesterday also, the Office of Fair Trade in the United Kingdom proposed a ban on unfair debt or credit card charges. I was provided with an example of those charges, which stunned me. Ryanair is estimated to have received €252 million last year from card charges. These are figures which affect us. Two years ago, the European Court found that it was illegal for MasterCard and Visa to levy charges for cross-border transactions in Europe and urged each country to examine its own situation. I acknowledge it will be difficult for us nowadays to request that our banks reduce their charges but that is what we must do. Every trader who uses the credit card facility must pass on that charge to their customers, even those who pay with cash. We enacted legislation which provides that one must be charged the same for an item regardless of whether one pays by credit card or cash. Our citizens are paying higher prices for items for reasons that could be addressed. I urge the Deputy Leader to provide time reasonably soon for a debate on credit card charges and the banking system as a whole.
Senator Tom Sheahan: I profess I am not environmentalist. The issue of bonuses and waste, even within the Oireachtas, was touched on earlier. When this Seanad first convened, the issue was raised of inviting members of society into this House. Will the Deputy Leader say whether it would be possible to invite the chief executive officer of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to this House? More than 30 years ago, 65,000 tonnes of non-contaminated waste was dumped in a landfill which was later covered and is now a greenfield site. The EPA, with the local authority, has spent vast sums digging trial holes and so on in this greenfield site in an effort to discover what is buried there. It has been stated in several reports that there is no contamination or toxic waste at this greenfield site, yet the EPA has ordered the company to remove 5,000 tonnes of waste at a cost of €2.5 million. While I do not agree with what went on, this was the practice throughout the country 30 years ago. If the EPA is determined to enforce this order, the company will go out of business with the loss of 400 jobs. It will cost the company €2.5 million to excavate 5,000 tonnes of waste. As I stated earlier, I am not an environmentalist but digging up ground to remove waste causes pollution and destroys our road network.
Would it be possible to invite bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, which to my mind are not responsible to any Minister, before the House in order that we could question them? I do not know if people are aware of the term “BAP”, best affordable practice. I believe best affordable practice should be put in place. I call on the Deputy Leader to——
Senator Tom Sheahan: The issue of inviting influential people into this House was discussed. I am asking if it is possible to bring the chief executive officer of the Environmental Protection Agency before the Seanad.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support Senator Quinn’s call for the institution of the hotline number, which might help to resolve some of our missing persons cases. While we have many high profile cases in respect of which we have publicity campaigns from time to time, unfortunately they tend to end in a cul-de-sac each time. There is nothing as heartbreaking as seeing flyers on walls and telephones in a bus or railway station, some with photographs of the missing persons, seeking information in respect of a son, daughter or other loved one who has gone missing. Some cases appear to be linked. At least two or three cases in the midlands area appeared to have a criminal aspect to them. I do not think an issue arises in terms of resources. We must prioritise these types of issues. It must be heartbreaking for the families involved not to have closure. Many of us have received letters from the families of missing persons and one wishes one could do more for them. While I do not believe our raising this matter today will make any huge difference, I wonder if an appropriate agency could set about prioritising this issue by way of an ongoing publicity campaign. I believe the hotline would assist in this regard.
I salute the brave people trying to relieve the intolerable suffering of the people of Gaza. Everyone, including all the major powers, accepts this is the position. One wonders how we can be held to ransom in this case when it does not appear to apply with intervention in other countries. The Government and we in the Seanad could call on an ongoing basis for the setting up of an independent Palestinian state. There is no reason progress cannot be made in this regard. I was impressed with President Obama when, in front of the cameras some months ago, he made the same case. We all know what the obstacles are: votes, money and power within the United States by one faction over another. I do not believe a country like Ireland should allow those issues to deter us putting our position forward.
I call the Deputy Leader, whom I commend on her first day in that position, who I know will do a good job and whose views on human rights are strong, to provide time to debate this issue. The sheer humanity of this issue is crying out for resolution. Perhaps our small voice might get the momentum going.
Senator Susan O’Keeffe: As a journalist of some years' standing, perhaps I, too, need to go back and learn how to write. I understood the word “bonus” to mean something one is given for doing a good job. It seems that many people having been taking bonuses and doing a very bad job.
Senator Susan O’Keeffe: I echo the calls on bonuses and the bonus culture, which do not belong in this time. If we are to pay bonuses in future they must be for a job well done, which is my understanding of the reason for a bonus.
In the House on Tuesday I referred to temperatures rising on matters to do with health. It seems that temperatures are rising again and it is not good for the health of the people in this House nor for the people outside the House. Health issues seem to be on our agenda every day in here and outside. We would do well to honour the integrity of the Office of the President and those who are brave enough to put their names forward as candidates, and should not impugn them regarding health or any other matters.
Senator Susan O’Keeffe: I again ask the Deputy Leader to urge the Minister for Health to come to the House as a matter of urgency. It is clear that people are gathering in Portlaoise, Roscommon and across the country, concerned about hospitals. It is of concern to all of us because we do not need that kind of stress in the system and we do not need people gathering. Senator Whelan attended the meeting last night and appeared on the 9 o’clock news outside the meeting where his concern was evident. While we know about the shortage of funds, we know that people want information. They want to know what is happening to their hospital and other hospitals. If the Minister could do us a service and do a service to the people of Portlaoise, Roscommon and other parts of the country by coming to tell us——
Senator Susan O’Keeffe: I have already asked for the reconfiguration of hospitals in general. If a service is being closed, a hospital is being reconfigured. It is the same call in a different way. We need to see the Minister for Health and I appreciate he is very pressed.
Senator Jim Walsh: I second Senator Daly’s amendment to the Order of Business on the introduction of the NAMA transparency legislation. I support the call by Senators Quinn and Ó Murchú on the introduction of the 116000 hotline number. We have been dilatory in introducing that. The European Commission provided for the introduction of that number for all European states in 2007. A great number of children, who have gone missing, many of them from State care, have then been subject to human trafficking for prostitution or pornography. It is a devastating life-changing experience for those children. We need to do everything possible to avert that happening. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should come to the House to debate the issue.
I also support the call by Senators Leyden and Ó Murchú with regard to the protection of the flotilla going to Gaza. It was appalling that last year one of the Turkish boats was boarded by Israeli commandos and nine people were killed. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems intractable, greater emphasis from across the globe must be brought to bear to bring about a reasonable settlement there. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is appalling and people lack the basics. Food, water and medicine are in very short supply, and its depths of poverty are unacceptable in the modern world. We must respect the proposition that Israel’s security must be protected in any negotiated settlement. However, that does not mean Israel should have a veto on ensuring the same rights and protection are afforded to the Palestinians who are living in their homeland where they have lived for millennia. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade should come to the House at an early stage to debate the issue. Ireland and the European Union should pursue a clear and distinctive policy to advance a permanent settlement in that region.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that he intends to introduce legally binding rules governing the interaction of retailers and suppliers. We are all aware of the allegations in the past of bullying, coercion and how a number of suppliers have been totally beholden to some of the larger multiples in particular. I hope it will finally end the practice of so-called hello money and possibly under the counter payments and so on.
Allied to that I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on retail planning guidelines to protect the streets of our towns. He made some interesting comments when he talked about the intention to amalgamate Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council, referring to some of the disastrous planning decisions that have decimated the streets of that city with regard to shopping. I hope it will lead to more effective decisions in the future. The management in many local authorities have much to answer for over the difficulties so many of our towns are suffering in that regard. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite either or both of those Ministers to come to the House to debate those issues, which are of such concern to the future of our towns.
Senator Jimmy Harte: Senator Quinn mentioned the cost of credit cards. The Minister for Finance or his Minister of State might clarify the following point at some stage. Whenever someone transfers money to another jurisdiction, for example to Northern Ireland or Europe, through the IBAN or SWIFT system, every transaction is reported to the US Government. When I researched the matter, I was told that the US controlled the system and wanted full information. If I have a son or daughter in Germany or France and want to transfer money to his or her account through the IBAN or SWIFT system, that is reported to the US Government. People may be concerned about what happens to that information when it arrives in the USA. Are we happy that this should continue? If the US Government is getting information on who is transferring money through Europe it may be the first stage on a bigger global financial game it is playing. I ask for clarification from the Minister. Is he aware of this and is he happy that it should continue? Why has it been allowed to happen? It has obviously happened throughout Europe also. Many people have relatives abroad and have money transferred back and forward. This information is obviously freely available in the US and I ask the Deputy Leader to call on the Minister to clarify the matter if and when he comes to this Chamber.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I thank those Members who wished me good luck in my first day standing in for the Leader. I have big shoes to fill, given that Senator Cummins has being doing an excellent job as Leader.
I will respond to the speakers in turn. I welcome Senator Darragh O’Brien’s support for the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, on which we would all acknowledge much work was done under the previous Administration and which makes some very important amendments to current civil law matters. We will have plenty of time for Committee Stage and Report Stage debates on the Bill next week.
Senators Darragh O’Brien, Barrett, Mullins, Conway, Healy Eames, Sheahan and O’Keeffe raised the issue of the bonus culture, on which it would be very worthwhile for us to have a debate. The Government has already made clear that it expects leadership from the top and that no bonuses should be paid to semi-State chief executive officers for the time being. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, who was in the House yesterday and who was rightly praised by a number of speakers from across the floor, has set out his policy in regard to bonuses and stated he will initiate a review of the current system of performance related awards schemes for CEOs of commercial State companies. In the interim, he has requested boards not to pay bonuses.
We would all take Senator O’Keeffe’s point about the meaning of a bonus. Clearly, bonuses have been paid where they should not have been. It is welcome, as others have said, that some high level individuals have waived their bonuses, but something more formal needs to be done.
I should say also that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, wrote to the chair of each State company in May, stating he is firmly of the view that bonuses are inappropriate and that payments should cease immediately. Action is being taken on this matter. We all saw last week the action of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in setting out pay ceilings for CEOs of commercial semi-States and the wider public sector. The Government will ensure this bonus culture comes to an end. It would be useful for us to have a debate on this issue.
We have a very heavy schedule for the next few weeks, as Senator Cummins made clear, with much legislation coming to the House before 27 July, when we are due to finish the session. If it is not possible to schedule statements on some of the issues Members have raised before the end of July, we should come back to these issues when we sit again in September. Clearly, the bonus culture is one of those issues.
Senator Darragh O’Brien also raised issues about pension schemes in the public sector, in particular pension schemes for NTMA and NAMA employees. Again, these would be useful issues to debate with the Minister for Finance in the House.
Senator Clune raised the issue of the census and electoral reform, which was also raised by Senator Mullen. It would be useful to have the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House and I will ask the Leader to request an early debate.
Senator Mary Ann O’Brien raised the important issue of a budget for paediatric home care and sought to have the Minister for Health to the House. We all take her point on value for money and the great work the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation has been doing in terms of providing home care for children with serious conditions. We will be having all three of the health Ministers in the House before the end of July on legislation. The Leader has been trying to get the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to come to the House for a more general debate. We will have a debate on health issues next week, so these issues can be raised at that point, even if we do not have general statements.
Senator Barrett referred to the bonus culture and also raised the issue of the earlier signature motion which is due to be taken without debate today once we receive a message back from the Dáil. I share Senator Barrett’s view that this is not a good way to go about the business of legislation. I said this yesterday when it was also acknowledged a number of times by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan. We are endeavouring to ensure we do not have this type of rushed legislative process in future. Given what we have just been saying about the bonus culture, it is imperative that the Department of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is up and running as soon as possible. It was for that purpose the Bill was being progressed this week.
Senator Whelan raised concerns about the closure of Portlaoise accident and emergency unit. It is clear Senator Whelan was at the meeting last night, and, while I will not get into the debate between Senator Leyden and himself, Senator Whelan asked for the Minister for Defence to come to the House in regard to the possible consequences for staff of the Department of Justice and Equality in Portlaoise. We will have the Minister for Defence in the House next week for a debate on a defence Bill, so it might be appropriate to raise the matter then.
There has been a good deal in the press about the shortages of junior doctors. As we know, the Minister, Deputy Reilly, is trying to remedy that situation and to fast-track recruitment to fill the gap.
Senator Daly sought an amendment to the Order of Business in respect of No. 12, and I will accede to that amendment. As the Senator said, it is technical amendment to ensure the Bill can be published. There is no difficulty with that and I note the amendment was seconded.
Senator Daly also raised the issue of bringing in the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the concern about the failure of the Catholic Church to complete the audit on child sex abuse and child safety, and the concern about hiding behind data protection. I am not sure if the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is the appropriate Minister. If he is, it would be an important debate to have, and this issue was also referred to by Senator Mullen. We will try to arrange for that debate.
Senator Jim D’Arcy raised the issue of a united Ireland. I was concerned he might be conflating Sinn Féin voters with Catholics, which would not be fair to do. None the less, it is a matter that would be appropriate to raise before the Good Friday Agreement implementation committee. Senator Reilly also referred to this issue.
Senator Mullen referred to the issue of Deputy Healy-Rae and premium rate phone calls from the Oireachtas. While it is a matter for the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges, we in the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges are very aware that we need to ensure correct procedures are in place for any such issues that arise here. We certainly saw this in regard to the affair concerning former Senator Callely. The Seanad CPP will next week consider how best we ensure our procedures prevent this sort of thing happening in future because it clearly brings us all into disrepute.
Senator Ivana Bacik: It was not quite disowning, perhaps. Senator Mullen also raised the reduction in the number of TDs and asked about a referendum in that regard. It is a matter that will go before the constitutional convention that is to be established under the programme for Government. The constitutional convention will consider all aspects of electoral and political reform, which is an issue the Department of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, will take charge of once it is up and running, which is another reason to have it in place.
Senator Mullins raised the issue of the bonus culture and the Healy-Rae issue, with which I have dealt. He also asked for an examination of the cost of providing copies of the tribunal reports to all Senators. I agree with the Senator that we should consider this matter. I am not sure who took the decision to circulate hard copies to all Members, which was an unusual decision as we normally get them in electronic form. It is an issue we should take up, perhaps with the communications unit in the Houses.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of EirGrid and asked for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House. We may have those Ministers to the House on legislation, if not in the coming weeks, then perhaps in September. As I said, the schedule is heavy with legislation up to the end of July.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I thank Senator Quinn. I was aware of that. Senator Leyden and a number of Senators, including Senator Ó Murchú and Senator Walsh, raised the issue of Gaza. I have long been a supporter of the Palestinian people and have been quite outspoken on that issue. I agree the conditions for the people in Gaza under blockade are intolerable and that we should have a strong voice in support of those beleaguered people.
With regard to the flotilla, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is advising all Irish citizens against travel to the Gaza Strip. This is a general warning because of the danger. The Tánaiste has stated clearly in the Dáil that he has every respect and sympathy for the motives of the participants in the flotilla. While I am not sure if other Senators saw it, there was a report in today’s newspapers that the Irish ship due to sail in the flotilla may not, in fact, be able to do so because there is a concern there has been some deliberate sabotage. Clearly, that is a matter which has just arisen.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames asked for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to speak about the consequences for Ireland of the instability within the European Union, with reference to the riots in Greece and so forth. That would be a very useful debate for us to have to look at a roadmap for the future and it may be something we can arrange in this term. The Senator also asked for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House for a debate on education issues. I am also anxious to have such a debate and, if time permits in this term, we will try to arrange it.
Senator Feargal Quinn raised a very important issue, a hotline for missing children, on which he was supported by Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú and Jim Walsh. This is a matter on which many of us have been approached and clearly there would be all-party support. Senator Jim Walsh asked if the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs could come to the House for a debate. It might be useful for us to consider an all-party motion, as we have done on other issues such as this, which we could then provide for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Even if she does not come into the House between now and the end of July for statements, we have made clear our support on the issue of a hotline. Perhaps Senator Feargal Quinn and other Members might do what Senator John Crown did in producing a cross-party motion on the situation in Bahrain and produce a motion that would carry some weight.
Deputy Tom Sheahan referred to the bonus culture and asked for the chief executive officer of the Environmental Protection Agency to come before the Seanad. This issue will be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges next week as part of the debate on the Taoiseach nominees’ motion on Seanad reform in order to be able to invite individuals to the House. Everyone expressed support for this idea and we have to look at how best we can do this. We also have to look at the mechanism of the petitions committee and how we can make it work. These are matters that will be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges next Tuesday.
Senator Susan O’Keeffe asked for the Minister for Health to come to the House for a debate on health issues. We are trying to get him to come for general statements, but certainly we will have all three Ministers with responsibility for health matters in the House before the end of July to consider legislation.
Senator Paul Coghlan asked for the Ministers for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Environment, Community and Local Government to come before the House to discuss separate issues. These are debates we may be able to have this term, but, if not, they will be held early in the next term.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, “That No. 12 be taken before No. 1.” The Deputy Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
|Last Updated: 08/03/2013 20:23:47||Page of 11|