Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Maurice Cummins: It is proposed to take No. 1, Health (Provision of General Practitioner Services) Bill 2011 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 1.35 p.m.; No. 2, Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 — Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 4.50 p.m.; and No. 17, motion No. 7, Private Members’ business, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I absolutely condemn the brutal murder of a 16 year old girl last night in Tallaght. This type of crime is all too prevalent in our society. Another young lady was seriously injured. I wish the Garda success in its investigations — it will have the full support of this House and no doubt of the whole Oireachtas. It was a brutal crime and should be roundly condemned. I pass on our deepest sympathies to the family that has lost someone whose young life has been cut short.
Yesterday we had a one-hour debate on the new fiscal compact. While the business of the House was agreed yesterday and we have tried as much as possible to assist Government in having proper debates, everyone will agree an hour was wholly insufficient — I believe even the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, agreed. She had no opportunity to respond to questions. We need to consider the length of time a Minister is allowed to contribute — that is no reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, who was anxious to respond. I know another Minister was waiting to come into the House but I say this given that for the first three weeks after we came back in January we had only two sitting days. The House should set aside a full day to debate the fiscal compact in order to go through each section of the agreement.
The Minister of State and some Senators on the Government side have accused us of scaremongering — I restate that my party is a pro-Europe party and has always been. Even prior to the publication of the Government’s Bill, the compact should be discussed at length. I do not mind whether the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, is in the House for that debate, but we, as Senators, under the Lisbon treaty have the right and duty to scrutinise EU legislation. I have raised this matter repeatedly, as have Members on the other side of the House. In 12 months this House has not scrutinised one piece of European legislation. I would also say that we did not do so prior to that. It is a stain on both Governments since the passing of the Lisbon treaty. That should be core and central to what we are about here.
Yesterday the Minister of State indicated she would be more than happy to come back to the House to answer the questions we are asking and I am very pleased to hear that. When will that happen? I again ask the Leader to set aside at least a day to go through the new fiscal compact, the new EU treaty, prior to the Bill being published in order that we can discuss the implications, both positive and negative and see all sides of the argument. When will this Chamber start scrutinising EU legislation and directives? We have the time to do it and I think the Leader will agree we have the expertise on all sides of the House to do it. We should be doing a service for the people. We should examine this proposed legislation in draft form and tease out what is good and bad about it and have a proper debate about it.
I will finish on this point and thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence because this is important. Every poll in Europe during the past two years has shown that the public is disconnected from Europe. We have a role as legislators to ensure that Europe is central to what we do. I put it to the Leader that the most central part of this is to examine what laws Europe seeks to impose on this country.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I join Senator O’Brien and the whole House in condemning the murder in Tallaght of the young girl which has shocked all of us. It was a particularly horrific crime and we send our sympathies to her family.
It is a good idea to continue to have debates on the fiscal compact and to set aside more time for this in the coming weeks. Given what is taking place as we speak in Greece and the negotiations at EU level on the Greek bailout, which is bringing the euro currency to the brink once again, it is clear that this situation is changing all the time. When we debate the fiscal compact, as we did yesterday, we should do so in light of the changing context. I like Senator O’Brien’s idea of a full day of debate but it might be more helpful to spread it over several weeks as conditions change. This would assist us more in how we interpret the provisions of the fiscal compact. The provisions, as they stand and as I have read them, are rather technical. It is a matter of context as well.
I refer to the letter the Leader received from the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, commending the Seanad on its debate on job creation and the ideas we all put forward. I was pleased the Minister took the ideas on board. It would be helpful to have further debates on this matter.
One thing that struck me this week was the vast capital that London is making from the anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth. Colleagues will be aware that yesterday marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Many events are under way not only in London but throughout England to commemorate Dickens and to celebrate his life and achievements. We have a rich cultural and literary heritage in Ireland. Senator Norris has done a great deal in his work on James Joyce to encourage people to come here to celebrate the legacy of James Joyce. Last year, Trinity College held a symposium on Samuel Beckett. We must be more willing and proactive about exploiting centenaries or anniversaries of the births and deaths of our great writers and we should celebrate them in a way similar to that currently taking place in London, which is bringing a great deal of tourism and trade there. We can learn from this and it is another idea that we might bring to the Minister.
Senator Katherine Zappone: I offer my sympathy to the family in Brookfield, west Tallaght, an area I know well. I also echo and affirm what Senator Bacik has said in respect of the fiscal compact treaty and the suggestion of Senator O’Brien is perfectly sensible. Obviously, this is one of the prime issues that we should be discussing here.
Last night, RTE screened an investigative report, “Prime Time: Profiting from Prostitution” which delved into the highly-organised world of prostitution and trafficking. This documentary was nothing short of shocking. The report exposed the chilling reality of hundreds of women, the majority of whom are immigrant women, who are brought into Ireland and then moved from town to town on a regular basis. Female enslavement in this country is alive and well and it is generating vast profits for those in control. The documentary dispelled the myth that these women work independently. In fact, they are threatened, coerced and enslaved by pimps. The report also showed that criminalising the women involved is ineffective and does nothing to dismantle the sophisticated infrastructure of the pimps who remain untouched.
There is a clear gender dimension to this problem. As a woman I am revolted that Irish men, not all Irish men, but, given the report’s findings, a large number of Irish men, are participating and enabling the enslavement of women in every town in Ireland. What has happened in the education of men that they think they can buy the bodies of women to have their needs met? This is not the case for all men but for many men according to this report. What has happened to our men that they believe this is acceptable? The ordinary viewer of the programme last night was left with profound questions such as how an investigative team could reveal such activity over a six-month period when, presumably, the same activity is known to the Garda but it is not being prosecuted. Why are we watching this on television like a movie when it is a harrowing reality in our towns and cities? Clearly, our current laws are not working. There is an inescapable interweaving of trafficking with prostitution and this exploitation must be addressed. We need legislation that can interrupt this activity, which is an absolute infringement of human rights.
In response to the debate on the Independent group of Senators’ motion on trafficking and prostitution, in which we all took part in October 2011, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, promised a public consultation process within six months. I have had communications with the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and I understand that a consultation paper is due to be released by the Minister shortly. The consultation should begin now. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister when this might happen. The documentary mirrors the findings of research. I remind Members that the Independent group is sponsoring a briefing today between 3.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. by the Turn Off The Red Light campaign.
If the Cathaoirleach will indulge me, I have one more question. I call on the Leader to provide an update on the Seanad Standing Committee on Procedure and Privileges. When will the speakers proposed by the Independent group be invited to the House? I understand these suggestions have been brought to the committee.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I did not see the television programme that Senator Zappone referred to but the way she spoke about it reminds us of the onus of responsibility. The debate back in October was a vivid exploration of the problems. The reference to the murder in Tallaght last night also serves to remind us of the onus of responsibility and the need to continue to invest not only in the protection against crime but also to invest in the community, whether for prostitution or other events.
There was a very useful debate in the House yesterday. However, I was frustrated at the constraint of the Minister who wished to reply and who wanted another hour and could have given us another hour easily. We must find some way to overcome that. It was a good and healthy debate and it could have gone on longer. I had 15 seconds to ask a question and it was the same for others. It is an event and a reminder of how much we can achieve in the House if we put our minds to how we will achieve it.
I draw the Government’s attention to a phrase I had never heard before, namely, “crowd funding”. It comes from the United States. Will the Government establish a website to allow people to pledge money to start-up companies? This has been done in the United States. It is very interesting and the venture takes in $2 billion per year in investments. It is somewhat like “Dragon’s Den” and allows people to invest in start-up companies. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer is considering something similar with a corresponding website in Britain. I suggest there should be a Government website to encourage people and perhaps to allow them to use their pension ahead of time to invest in start-up companies. We continually refer to small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, being the future for job creation and enterprise in Ireland. However, they cannot get money from the banks. We know that people are willing to invest if only they knew about it. The American concept of a crowd funding website is such that, if something similar were done here, we could attract investment not only from people living in Ireland but from the diaspora. The diaspora could invest in Ireland in small companies they were unaware of and they could indicate the type of investment they wish to make and the type of venture capital they believe could benefit Ireland. Certainly, it could benefit companies that must start out with all the red tape and the issuing of shares that is necessary otherwise. This is something the Government should consider and I urge the Leader to remind the Minister to Google “crowd funding in the United States” to establish if there is something we could do with a similar website here.
Senator Martin Conway: I express my shock and disturbance at the facts revealed last night in the “Prime Time” programme. The underworld is a dark and seedy place. A 16 year old girl in this city lost her life last night as a result of thuggery. Like others, I wish to express my sympathy to the family. Will the Leader facilitate a visit to the House by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, at some stage in the near future to have a further discussion on prostitution in this country? What legislation is pending? What public consultation process will the Minister engage in? How will the process be conducted? How widespread and comprehensive will it be? Ultimately, what sanctions does the Minister propose in terms of criminalising the males who use prostitutes? It is a hideous business. I understand that from 2,000 to 3,000 women in this country are being exploited on a daily basis through prostitution. This is a most regrettable part of our culture and the issue must be tackled by Government. I am aware the Government has committed to dealing with the matter soon within a short period and I request the Leader to push the issue up the agenda of this House. We led the way already with a debate proposed through Private Members’ time by the Independent group. Let us keep the pressure on.
Senator Thomas Byrne: I discussed the issue of the fiscal compact with my leader since the debate and I propose, on his behalf, that group leaders in the House meet shortly to decide on the format for a debate. I propose we have a Committee Stage style debate on the fiscal compact, perhaps with time limits imposed, but these should be longer than one minute. While we do not need unlimited debate, we need to go through the compact line by line in a positive and constructive way. That will certainly be the Fianna Fáil approach. Such a debate would do the Seanad and the public a good service. Last week, Senator Leyden spoke about the Vincent Browne programme and the public service it did by teasing out the issues. We could do that in the Seanad, but substantial time must be given to do it and for Members to speak. I respect, of course, that we cannot have filibustering on it and Fianna Fáil Members will not engage in that.
I also call for a debate on the health services. Before the election and to date, Fine Gael Deputies in County Meath claimed they were in discussion with investors on the issue of the proposed regional hospital for the north east. In response to Deputy Billy Kelleher and Sinn Féin to a parliamentary question, the Minister, Deputy Reilly, stated he has had no such contacts with investors. I believe the HSE holds the same position. I seek a debate on health care because it is the wrong way to run the country and its services if the provision of capital funding for the health services is being dictated by local Fine Gael Deputies on an ad hoc basis. Funding should be made available under the Minister’s leadership. I want the Leader to tell me whether Fine Gael Deputies have the authority from the Minister for Health and from the HSE to meet investors to talk about hospitals, without funding or authorisation from the Minister or the HSE. Can they continue to do that or are they just bluffing the people of County Meath? Perhaps there are no such investors talking to them and the Minister and the HSE are right that there are no plans to build the hospital, which is in clear breach of their commitments before the election. Perhaps the Deputies are caught in a trap because before the elections they talked about the investors they met — phantom investors — and they must continue with the myth. It is not appropriate for Deputies to be meeting these people without authorisation from the Government. We need to clear the air and I call for the Minister for Health to do that.
Senator Cáit Keane: Like other Senators and Senator Zappone, I condemn the violent crime that took place in Tallaght in my area of Dublin South-West. I offer my sympathy to the family of the 16 year old girl. I also commend Senator Zappone on raising the issue of prostitution. Most of us watched the programme on that on television last night and were shocked by it. I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it is one I had also planned to raise.
The issue I wish to raise today concerns the Freedom of Information Act and how it does not apply to NAMA. Will the Leader ask the Minister responsible — I presume it is the Minister for Finance — to come in and make a statement on why this is the case? Approximately three months ago, the Information Commissioner, Emily O’Reilly, made a ruling when an online journalist took a case that NAMA should and could come under the ruling on freedom of information. This morning we read in the press how NAMA has spent €27 million on legal fees, of which it said it had recouped €10 million. Still, it is a considerable spend on legal fees. Nobody, not even journalists who submit freedom of information requests, seems to be able to discover the value of properties in general. For that reason, NAMA should be open to freedom of information requests. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss NAMA and freedom of information? I hope we will have that discussion in the near future.
The issue I wish to raise is in response to Senator Bacik, whom I thank for her kind words. She is right that in times of economic difficulty in particular, the celebration of the imagination is something that helps to lift all of us. It also has an economic benefit. Senator Bacik was very generous in her comments on my work on Joyce, but the generation before me and people such as Anthony Cronin and the late John Ryan have never received sufficient recognition for what they did. They were artists, whereas I was an impresario and performer to a certain extent. I saw the value in financial terms of the great writers. It was thanks to James Joyce, for example, that the work in North Great Georges Street was successful, because I was able to use Joyce’s reputation to raise £2 million to save a building threatened with demolition. A major international Joyce symposium will take place in Ireland and I am delighted to say that UCD has now taken its rightful position on Joyce — it did not always welcome him — and now has a leading department where there will be exciting developments, but it is not up to me to reveal those developments. There has also been a supplement in The Irish Times on Joyce. Will the Leader contact the relevant Minister and ask what progress the copyright committee has made? The copyright issue is a concern for many writers, progress seems slow and it is urgent the matter is addressed.
We have not maximised the work of another writer, Bram Stoker, although he was not of the same intellectual calibre as Joyce. I take an interest in him because he was my great grandfather’s cousin and his family are often in touch from various places. This year is the 100th anniversary of his death. Romania has successfully exploited this in an extraordinary way, but this country has made no money whatever out of it. We do not even have a statue commemorating him. We should do something in that regard. I am not saying that his work is Finnegan’s Wake, but it is very unusual for a writer to create a global myth. Dracula is a global myth.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Yesterday, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, presented the CIE Tours International Awards of Excellence and I compliment and congratulate all of the winners. However, it is remarkable that 12 of the winners were from one county, Kerry——
Senator Paul Coghlan: Dinis Cottage did not win an award, although we have had it restored and we are now working on Killarney House. The Minister laid great stress on how powerful the word of mouth is in advertising and that is what lies behind how some of the winners won their awards. I want to congratulate some of the winners, leading hotels in Ireland which all happen to be in Killarney, namely, Killarney Park Hotel, Killarney Plaza Hotel, Killeen House Hotel, the Brehon Hotel, Killarney Avenue Hotel, Killarney Towers Hotel and the International Hotel Killarney. Five of the top 12 awards were among these hotels.
Senator Paul Coghlan: It is very important that with regard to national tourism we get the packaging and marketing right. These winners are to the forefront in that mission and they were suitably complimented and congratulated yesterday by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who spoke well and must be admired for what he said.
I agree with Senator O’Brien’s proposal and I am sure the Leader will find a way to work it out, perhaps without a Minister. I also compliment and commend Senator Zappone on her remarks. I did not see the programme last night.
Senator Kathryn Reilly: I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family of the young girl in Tallaght. The issue I wish to raise is addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality, but concerns his other responsibility, defence. Will the Leader arrange to bring the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to address the deplorable situation where the Department of Defence seeks to rent a premises in Cavan to accommodate Reserve Defence Force training while simultaneously closing down and selling the state of the art Army barracks in Cavan. I refer to a tender issued in the local paper this morning. The people of Cavan have been told, just as people in other counties have been told, that barrack closures are being made in order to make savings. I see no economic gain in closing a barracks like that in Cavan when the Department then wants to rent a premises to train the Reserve Defence Force.
Why sell a state-of-the-art facility to rent another space? It is absolute and complete madness. I would be interested to hear the comments of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of the comprehensive spending review if we take into account the paying of rents and associated costs when renting a property while the Department already owns a state-of-the-art facility. It seems we will spend the same amount annually in renting a new premises to train the Reserve Defence Force as we would have in running the barracks. That does not make sense to me and does not provide any savings.
The displacement of soldiers and their families from the sale of the barracks is grossly unfair. For the people of Cavan and other areas to see such tenders in newspapers, showing how the Department of Defence is openly seeking to rent premises when suitable facilities already exist, is a sign of complete madness. It will not wash with the people and I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Defence before the House as a matter of urgency to clarify the position.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I would like to be associated with the words of Senator Zappone in her call to the Minister for Justice and Equality for real action against prostitution and the enslavement of young women. I am also concerned about the unhealthy attitudes and culture of youths and men in this country, particularly towards sex and females. In this House we have a role to change attitudes and we can lead the way through public advocacy and legislation.
I want to bring some good news to the Seanad this morning. Last night I learned from staff sitting in at Galway Airport that they had cleared a plane for take-off that would transfer organs. That plane could not be fuelled at Shannon and without the airport in Galway, those organs may have been lost. Ironically, it took an airport on the brink of liquidation and staff on a sit-in to operate to ensure that aeroplane took off. One never knows when one might be needed. We must ponder on the wonder and greatness of last night’s action.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I join my fellow Kerryman, Senator Coghlan, in acknowledging the achievement of the Kerry tourism industry and the great work done by the Senator himself for Muckross House and Killarney House.
I have an eleventh-hour appeal to the Leader. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is to address the conference of town councils in Cavan on Friday and I fear he will not bring good news. The Government’s position on the future of local government in this country has been very well leaked, like everything else in the Cabinet, it is sent out and people suck it and see. Those in the Cabinet might change their minds, as occurred with the septic tank issue. I appeal to the Leader to speak to the Minister before Friday as there was an article on the front page of the Mail on Sunday, obviously very well informed, which spells doom for town councils. It seems that over 100 years of history is to be wiped away by the Minister. Not only that but he appears to be stepping back from what was mooted as a compromise of urban-based sub-councils. He seems to be proposing to reduce the number of county councils and councillors. We will finish up with large towns run by remote control by an officer of the county council or through a system like the old town commissioners, which were dreaded long ago. Whenever a council was abolished a commissioner was sent in and the local people could have no redress as they had to deal with unelected people. It would be a big blow for democracy in this country. We have already seen that our own Chamber is under threat so where will it end? We will rue the day we dismantle our democratic institutions.
I ask the Leader to contact the Minister immediately and ask him to pull back. The Minister showed that he could listen to the voice of the people on the septic tank issue to a certain extent and it may not be too late to save democracy in this country.
Senator Tom Sheahan: Is it possible to bring the Minister for Health to the House to discuss the fair deal scheme because it is not working and is unworkable because of the value put on properties in 2008 and 2009? Those properties are now worth only 20% of that value. I heard of a case recently in which a person was asked to pay up to €850 per week to keep a loved one in a nursing home, as it was 5% of the value of the estate transferred to them in 2008. That estate is probably worth approximately €200,000 now. The process must be re-examined and redesigned for today’s property prices. I would like the Minister to debate the matter in the House or bring forward amending legislation.
I had a telephone call yesterday from a constituent asking how to pay the household charge. To that end I ask the Leader to make contact with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to ensure all local authorities would advertise where to pay the household charge.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I agree with Senator Zappone, and although I did not see the documentary I am very familiar with the issues. We must change the law in this country and make the lives of people who would purchase the bodies of others much more complicated. We must target and hassle them, and we need a law that can be enforced. We must also push back against spurious arguments that suggest that if we criminalise the purchasers of persons in prostitution, we somehow make the position of certain persons in prostitution more dangerous. I have heard the bogus argument that some will go indoors with prostitution, with others left vulnerable on the streets and exposed to risky and more dangerous customers. That is a bogus argument. A law that targets the users of persons in prostitution will diminish the appetites of those who would seek to avail of this. It will act as a deterrent and bring down the numbers of people using persons in prostitution. It will inhibit trafficking of persons to this country for the purposes of engaging in prostitution. We must heed Senator Zappone's remarks and move fast. We must encourage the Minister for Justice and Equality and his Department to bring forward legislation on the issue quickly.
Senator Colm Burke: I compliment Senator Coghlan for never missing an opportunity. It reminds me of when Cork became European capital of culture and it was decided by those in Kerry that they would celebrate 250 years of tourism in Kerry. They never miss an opportunity.
I agree with Senator O’Brien on the issue of European legislation and directives. I have already suggested that we set aside two days a month in which to deal with European affairs. A directive was put in place in Europe in February 2011 and I recently made contact with a Department on its transposition to Irish law, only to find that nobody in the Department knows of the directive. The Department in question does not know about a directive that has been in place for over 12 months, which highlights the disconnect between the public and Europe and even within Departments. There is an urgent need to have a set period in this House in which to deal with European issues and legislation. That could be brought to public attention at a very early date and I ask for this proposal to be taken on board. I know the Leader has written to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission with regard to staff allocation but there is an opportunity for us to air issues coming from Europe, including legislation, directives and regulation.
Senator Terry Leyden: I support Senator Zappone’s highlighting of the excellent programme last night from the team behind “Prime Time Investigates”. It was a tremendous piece of public service broadcasting and very detailed. I hope it shows RTE is recovering from the difficulties it had with a previous programme. It has shown great courage in this regard.
I hope the Garda Commissioner will examine this programme in detail, will carry out a detailed investigation and will bring prosecutions. I understand the section in the Garda Síochána which deals with trafficking is small but I know the Minister and his Department have placed a great emphasis on the area of trafficking. A representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was here last week to discuss this whole issue. It is a national, European and international issue and it must be tackled in that way.
I recommend that RTE show the programme again, although I watched it in full last night. The programme was very comprehensive, well documented and well researched over a long period. It showed women being moved between Athlone, Dublin, Cavan and elsewhere in the country. It was an extraordinary programme and was one of RTE’s best efforts so far and I commend it in that regard. I hope people have an opportunity to watch the programme today. I hope to attend the meeting organised by Senator Zappone this evening in the AV room.
I refer to the issue raised by Senators Bacik and Norris. Our writers are great for tourism but one who has been rather ignored is Oscar Wilde, one of the greatest writers in the English language who lived on Merrion Street. His grandfather is buried in Castlerea, County Roscommon, which is not known.
Senator Terry Leyden: We have a link to the Wilde family. I regard Oscar Wilde as one of the greatest writers in the English language. He had difficulties unfortunately but besides them, his writing will last forever. Senator Bacik made a very good point that other writers should be recognised, particularly Charles Dickens at this time.
Senator Catherine Noone: This morning I read about the report of the steering group on the national substance misuse strategy which revealed that in 2010, the average Irish adult consumed 11.9 litres of pure alcohol which one can translate into 482 pints of lager, 125 bottles of wine or 45 bottles of vodka. Bearing in mind that 19% of Irish adults are abstainers, the actual consumption is considerable. Worryingly, the report showed that Irish adults binge drink more than those in any other EU country and that one quarter of Irish adults binge drink every week.
Moving on to younger people, which is the real problem, Irish children are drinking from a younger age and are drinking more than ever before. I do not know what young people are expected to do when that is what adults do. The average age for a first drink for children born in 1980 was 15. That is now down to 14 for children born since the 1990s. The steering group identified cheap off-licences and the fact the availability of alcohol in off-licences has increased by 161% from 1998 to 2010 as reasons for this but these are not the only reasons. It is a cultural issue in this country.
We had a very useful debate recently on jobs, which Senator Mullins proposed. I propose a similar debate in regard to this issue. I know jobs is a serious issue but this is a really serious one for the health service and young people. Generations will be seriously affected by this issue.
The steering group made various recommendations, such as phasing out sponsorship of sports events by alcohol companies and a social responsibility levy on the drinking of alcohol. I suggest more education in schools. It has been shown that where young people learn in school about the damage smoking can cause——
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: There is a segment on Radio 1 every Friday called, Fiver Friday. Will the Leader ensure the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is invited to partake in the debate this Friday — Fiver Phil — because of the reduction in the registration charge for septic tanks to €5. I am sure he would make an excellent contribution to the segment on Joe Duffy’s show this Friday because he is giving away something for €5 which was previously €50.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: We learned the heads of the Gaeltacht Bill were approved by the Government yesterday, which I welcome. Will the Leader find out when the Bill will be published? Perhaps we should have a detailed discussion on the contents of the Bill now that the drafting process has begun. However, I raise the concerns of many people living in Gaeltacht areas about the proposals by the Government to stifle democracy by ending direct elections to the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is a direct affront to democracy. The Government will argue that by not holding those elections, it will save €500,000 but why not hold them on the same day as the local government elections or a referendum? I argue one could hold the elections for approximately €15,000 to €20,000. If the Government will not hold elections because they will cost money, then there would be no elections for councils and the Dáil, and we would end up with a dictatorship---
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: ——where people would be appointed to boards by Ministers and county councils, as in this instance. It is an affront to democracy and I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate specifically on the Gaeltacht Bill in the coming weeks, if that is possible.
Senator Michael Mullins: I support every word uttered by Senator Zappone on the RTE programme last night. I also join in the words of congratulations to RTE on a programme very well presented. It is highly embarrassing and disgraceful that so many men in this country support organised crime, put the lives of vulnerable women at risk and infringe their human rights.
The House needs to have a debate on criminality generally because there is much activity in this country which needs investigation. If the Leader arranges for the Minister to come to the House for such a debate, I would like to raise the criminality associated with the sale of scrap. I would like all cash dealings in scrap to cease. Anybody dealing in scrap should be registered and produce a PPS number. I was made aware of a situation recently where €5,000 worth of scrap was sold which had been robbed from a number of houses. Some €400,000 worth of damage was done to those premises and the people who did that walked away with €5,000 in cash. If we regulated the situation so cash dealings were illegal, it would reduce the number of burglaries, destruction, damage and accidents, because much local authority property, such as manhole covers, is being robbed and sold, and it would help the economy generally. We need a debate on criminality and to put an end to cash dealings in scrap. We must look at our laws to see how we can safeguard our economy and reduce the amount of criminality taking place.
Senator John Gilroy: I support Senator Darragh O’Brien’s suggestion that we set time aside to give a full airing to the very complex issues surrounding the fiscal compact. This House is the ideal setting to calmly and rationally discuss issues of public policy and complex issues, such as the fiscal compact. If this House did not exist, there would be no forum in which issues such as this could be fully aired. Critics of the House might say this could be done in the Dáil but much of what passes for debate there leaves a lot to be desired. It is not the most effective place for issues such as this to be teased out. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, was here yesterday to take the Education (Amendment) Bill. At the end of his speech, he was effusive in his praise of the contribution this House has made in teasing out these delicate issues. Senator Power made some excellent points in last night’s debate, which the Minister took on board. If this House did not exist, those points would have been lost in this legislation. It is therefore important to lay time aside to discuss the fiscal compact and other issues concerning medium and long-term public policy.
Senator Pat O’Neill: I listened with interest to the other side of the House, including Senator O’Sullivan’s speculation on local government and Senator Ó Domhnaill’s comments on septic tanks. It was speculation and misinformation again from the other side of the House.
Senator Pat O’Neill: Having listened to the speculation from the other side of the House, I think those people should start telling fortunes or give us tonight’s lotto numbers. The problem, however, is that they did not consider the future of the economy in the way they let it run down.
Senator Pat O’Neill: I am sorry. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Transport today that speed limits are going to be reviewed. In former lives, some of us were members of local authorities which had speed limit reviews. Such reviews had to go to public consultation, which took a long time.
Senator Pat O’Neill: I will have a question for the Leader in a second. When the motorway system came in, the speed limit on national primary roads was reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h. We have boreens which still have a speed limit of 80 km/h. In other words, the speed limits are ridiculous. The Leader should ask the Minister to fast-track this review of speed limits. Rather than having to review each road individually, local authorities or the NRA should come up with a formula to reduce the limit to 50 km/h or 60 km/h depending on gradients, frequency of bends and road widths. The Minister for Transport should fast-track this review and I hope the House can debate this matter soon.
Senator Mark Daly: I wish to ask the Leader again for a debate on the undocumented Irish in America. I know we spoke about this matter on the Order of Business on Thursday, but the issue has moved on since then. The key to granting 10,500 E3 visas for Irish citizens now lies with Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste will be in America this week. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, should be invited back to this House to discuss how he got on there and what meetings he had with Senator Brown and other members of Congress in order to secure E3 visas for Irish citizens. The Hispanic community in America has managed to obtain visas in a proposed Bill. As we all know, the argument was that it would be comprehensive emigration reform but that is not so, and it is happening piecemeal. When a US Bill was produced before Christmas it contained no provision for the Irish and we seem to have been caught wrong-footed.
I was in America with the former Congressman Bruce Morrison and Kieran Staunton of the Irish lobby for emigration reform. At my request, they have been invited to attend the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs later this month to update us on their progress. However, the Minister for Foreign Affairs should attend this House for such a debate. As he is aware of Senator Schumer’s Bill, he should report to us on what progress he has made. I hope, by St. Patrick’s Day, we will have an announcement that 10,500 visas will be made available for Irish people.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I will endeavour to reply to those who are still here. On numerous occasions I have commented on the fact that Members make points on the Order of Business and then vanish from the Chamber. It demonstrates a lack of courtesy to the House.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I will certainly reply to those who are here, but it is not acceptable and is not good for the House for Members to leave before the Order of Business finishes. We are talking about improving standards in the House but this does nothing to improve them.
I agree totally with Senator Darragh O’Brien about having a debate on the fiscal compact. We will have a meeting of leaders tomorrow where we can organise the format for such a debate in detail. It will more than likely be without a Minister, but we can go through it ourselves.
I join Senator O’Brien and other Senators in expressing our deepest sympathy to the family of the young girl who was brutally murdered last evening. We all wish that the perpetrators will be brought to justice soon in that case.
Senator O’Brien also raised the question of debating EU legislation in this House. On a number of occasions I have outlined the situation. We have been told by officials that the committees are dealing with EU legislation, but I have written to the Oireachtas Commission seeking some staff to allow us to debate EU legislation and directives in detail here. I have not yet received a reply to that request. I agree with Senators who say we should discuss these matters, but we must have the resources to enable us to do so. If information is put before the House we can discuss it properly. I have not forgotten the matter and we are actually working on it.
As regards yesterday’s debate, I ordered the business of the House as agreed. We had two Ministers waiting last night under strict time schedules. Thankfully, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, was able to come in. I had no intention of guillotining a debate on the Education (Amendment) Bill on which we had a good discussion. The Minister returned after 6.45 p.m. to deal with the Bill. Unfortunately, however, there were very few Members present. Some Members who had sought discussions on Report Stage were not even here, which is another matter.
The Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, has agreed to attend the House again. She went over time by ten minutes but we could not delay the matter any further. Unfortunately, she was not able to reply to all the questions but she is willing to return to the House to answer those questions that were posed. We will endeavour to get her in next week if she is available to address them. Her office has been contacted already and we are awaiting a reply.
Senator Bacik dealt with the relevance of the House. I have circulated a reply from the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on the excellent jobs debate we had. The input from 30 Senators in that excellent debate will be forwarded to the advisory council on jobs. It shows how the Seanad can work properly when Members engage with the process.
Senator Zappone and other Senators mentioned the RTE documentary on prostitution. It was an excellent documentary and it was shocking to see what was going on in towns and cities throughout the country. It showed dreadful exploitation of women. We spoke about the consultation process and we had an excellent debate on it in October. I will endeavour to have the Minister here in early course to deal with it. If legislation is necessary to root out the pimps and criminals, the resources will have to be provided for the Garda Síochána to address this dreadful problem that is so prevalent throughout the country. I will speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality, who will be in attendance tomorrow. A number of Members requested that he attend to discuss the immigration programme. There will be an opportunity tomorrow to put questions to him on progress in dealing with prostitution.
Senator Colm Burke raised the question of EU legislation, which I have addressed. Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to the Gaeltacht Bill. I will try to find out the status of the Bill and how soon it will be available. We are open for business and will have a debate on it.
Senator Mullins referred to criminality and cash for scrap, which is similar to cash for gold. There is a need to curb the criminal activities involved in this. Perhaps the Minister can appear in the Chamber for an all-encompassing debate on law and order and crime, which can take in a number of the issues raised today.
Senator O’Neill referred to speed limits. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport plans a nationwide audit of speed limits to ensure that all speed restrictions are safe and sensible. The Department will shortly engage with the National Roads Authority and the local authorities to conduct a nationwide audit of speed limits. While the speed limit bands are set by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, specific limits apply to particular roads, which are determined by the National Roads Authority for national, primary and secondary roads and by local authorities for regional and local roads, in consultation with the Garda Síochána. The aim of the audit is to overhaul the inconsistencies, referred to by Senator O’Neill, within counties and regions and to put an end to confusion among drivers. The process is expected to take some time but the audit will be a crucial first step. We all welcome it.
Senator Noone referred to the matter raised by Senator Mooney yesterday, the steering group and the drinks culture in the country. The Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, discussed the matter in the Chamber but I am sure she will be willing to return to discuss the report of the steering group in early course.
Senator Daly referred to the undocumented Irish. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have been in ongoing negotiations with Irish politicians in the USA. Last week, the Senator mentioned that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had not been contacted about this issue.
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