Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Order of Business is No. 1, European Stability Mechanism Bill 2012 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., No. 2, statements on Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, report of the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 4.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 4.20 p.m., No. 3, European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2012 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4.30 p.m.; and No. 21, motion No. 10, Private Members’ business, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: Yesterday Mr. Michael Cush, SC, commented on behalf of the Government that it had agreed there should be no ratification of the European Stability Mechanism Bill in the Houses until a judgment was made in Pringle v. Government of Ireland and Others. The House will take Committee and Remaining Stages today. Will the Leader ascertain when we will finalise the Bill or deal with motion for earlier signature? On foot of Mr. Michael Cush’s comments yesterday, I assume we will not be able to finalise it. It would be greatly appreciated if the Leader would check what is the position. While the Fianna Fáil Party supports the Bill, I would like to find out how the Houses are to proceed.
Will the Leader request that Ministers provide copies of their speeches when they come before the House? Yesterday, two Ministers failed to provide copies of their contributions. As always, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, was good but he was more than halfway through his speech before copies were circulated. I understand the Tánaiste also arrived without copies of his contribution. It is crucial that Senators are able to read Ministers’ speeches. While I am not claiming Ministers are being discourteous, it shows courtesy to the House to provide Senators with a written document. Ministers and their officials should be better prepared and copies of speeches should be circulated to all Senators in attendance.
Yesterday was remarkable in that a press conference was held to announce another press conference. This is a first for the Government, although it has many firsts in other areas. On legislation as important as the personal insolvency Bill, the only information we could elicit from the Tánaiste was that it was a “mammoth” Bill and the Taoiseach said nothing more than that the text was 200 pages long.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: The Senator should note I used the word “apparently”. The Tánaiste and Taoiseach did not say anything about the personal insolvency Bill. On Friday, a troika of Ministers will appear at a second press conference at which they will detail to the world and its mother the contents of the Bill. Yesterday’s press conference was a stunt and a waste of the Taoiseach’s and Tánaiste’s time. More important, when this crucial Bill is published, I ask the Leader to arrange, through his good offices, a briefing for all Senators similar to that which was provided prior to the referendum. I suggest it be held in the audiovisual room. Having not seen the Bill, I hope it will do what the Government promised it will do. Senator will need time to study the text, and in that regard, I reiterate the commitment I gave yesterday. This is urgent legislation and if that means we must facilitate sitting beyond 19 July to pass it, my party will do so. I am a little concerned at remarks indicating that the Bill will not be dealt with until October. We cannot wait that long. I ask the Leader to be constructive in this regard by ascertaining whether the Library and Research Service will arrange a briefing at an appropriate time in order that Senators can find out what is in the Bill.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the imminent publication of the personal insolvency Bill on which it would be a good idea to receive a briefing. If a briefing is provided for Senators, I ask that we are circulated a copy of the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the personal insolvency legislation. The report made a number of recommendations and includes a full transcript of our hearings with stakeholders and interested parties. It would inform our debate on the Bill.
I welcome the extension of the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to cover children detained in St. Patrick’s Institution. Senator van Turnhout raised this matter yesterday. This is a welcome and long overdue development for which the Irish Penal Reform Trust and international children’s rights bodies have called for some years. I also welcome the Government’s announcement, which was also long overdue, that it will end the imprisonment of children in St. Patrick’s Institution.
I ask the Leader to arrange a specific debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the regulation of advertising. I have raised previously the difficulty with making complaints about advertising on Facebook and other social media, in particular, concerning various nightclubs in Dublin which have placed grossly offensive and sexist advertisements. While Facebook has removed these advertisements on most occasions that it has been requested to do so, those seeking to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland, ASAI, were informed that social media are outside the remit of the ASAI. I have asked that the Minister come before the House to address this issue and I have also communicated with him directly on the issue.
The need for a debate has become more pressing, however, as a result of a billboard campaign being run by Youth Defence, an organisation to which I am loath to give publicity. I, and I am sure other Senators, have received numerous complaints about the campaign from individuals who believe the advertisements in question are offensive, misleading and amount to false advertising. The advertisements concern abortion and feature a caption which reads “Abortion tears her life apart”. They depict a foetus at more than 18 weeks, although 89% of abortions take place before 13 weeks. The advertisements are grossly offensive and Senator Mullen——
Senator Ivana Bacik: If the Senator would allow me to finish, I agree with Senator Mullen’s comment yesterday that abortion is a difficult and sensitive issue. It is not an appropriate subject for billboard campaigns. When complaints are made about the campaign to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland, complainants are informed that the issue is outside its remit because the organisation behind the advertisements is non-commercial.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Similarly, the National Consumer Agency and ComReg have indicated the matter is outside their remit. I ask for a debate on the role of the ASAI, the route for making complaints about advertising of this nature and advertising on social media. We must consider extending the remit of the ASAI to provide an accessible forum to which citizens may make complaints about advertisements of the nature I have described.
Senator Katherine Zappone: I draw Senators’ attention to the lengthy Private Members’ motion on the national cultural institutions to be moved this evening by a group of Independent Senators and to which the Government has drafted a lengthy amendment. While I have no doubt the debate will be robust, Independent Senators are still seeking cross-party support for the motion.
This week, the capital will celebrate the annual Dublin LGBTQ Pride Festival, a celebration of pride in one’s human identity that will culminate in a parade through the city. This time, the parade will make its way past the gates of Leinster House, having always passed City Hall on previous occasions. Passing Leinster House is a big deal for members of the community and all Senators are welcome to join us. Last year, the parade was attended by more than 25,000 people and watched by more than 100,000 people, making it second only in size to the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
I have a couple of questions to the Leader in this regard. Transgender people and their families will take part in this week’s celebrations, yet their identities are still not legally recognised by the State. Dr. Lydia Foy started her legal case to have her gender recognised 15 years ago and is still waiting for recognition. Ten years ago, the European Court of Human Rights made clear in a case against Britain that transgender people have a legal right to be recognised and it is nearly five years since the High Court held that Lydia Foy’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. The Government announced some months ago that it will pay compensation to Dr. Foy. This will be the first compensation claim to be made under the European Convention of Human Rights Act passed in 2003. Will the Leader investigate whether progress has been made in advancing this claim?
The gender recognition advisory group, which was established more than one year ago to advise the Government on legislating for gender recognition, produced recommendations almost a year ago. We are still waiting for the heads of a Bill to be produced on foot of these recommendations, which include a particularly contestable recommendation that refers to the forcing of married transgender people to divorce before they can have their legal gender recognised. I met two such couples recently who want to stay together as families. Why should a loving couple be forced to divorce? Does a State, which was constitutionally opposed to divorce until 1996, want to legislate for forced divorce for a minority group which experiences ongoing discrimination in many other ways? I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Social Protection come before the House for a debate on the progress of gender recognition legislation.
Senator Pat O’Neill: I have a question which crosses two Departments. On the revaluation of rates, the introduction of a property tax next year will ensure local authorities have a larger rate base and allow them to share the rates burden among everybody. I ask that the revaluation of business premises commence immediately. While several local authorities in the Dublin area have completed revaluation exercises, they are needed nationwide because the valuation of properties is wrong in some cases. This must be fast-tracked and I believe it may be the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan.
My next request may fall within the remit of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. It is that legislation be introduced to the Oireachtas to give county managers and elected representatives of local authorities greater discretion in respect of rates. In a case in which a business venture goes out of business and a rates bill for the premises is owed to the local authority, were someone else to take over the premises, the bill would remain to be paid, which is unfair. These are unprecedented times in which so many people are unemployed and any assistance that could be provided towards job creation should be considered. If the renting of a property would help to create one job, that should be done. This is an immediate measure that must be put in place through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. County managers and elected representatives should be given powers to change the law on rates because it is not right that they remain to be paid on a premises even where a venture has gone out of business.
Senator Pat O’Neill: At least, the Government is transparent about coming out to meet the people. Members on this side remember the famous incident in which two Ministers stated no IMF or ECB representatives were coming into the country.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Members have learned today how the Government has breached the official pay level it set last year for the starting salary of the chief executive of VHI and has done so dramatically. They also have learned that very few civil servants have forgone increments and they spoke yesterday about what the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, had had to say on the subject of increments. At the same time, I found in my post box today a piece in the Northside People about my local special school, St. Ciaran’s, Ballygall, which must cater for some pupils who require nappy changing, PEG feeding and the administration of medication. The principal of the school, Ms Valerie Monaghan, is reported as stating the school is down two SNAs, from 13 to 11, and believes it is being reviewed and assessed as a mainstream school in respect of its SNA allocation, even though each child has additional needs. These two items are in stark contrast to each other. I refer to the lack of awareness of the need for frugal treatment of the public finances in the setting of pay levels and in the treatment of pay scales, while at the same time, the most vulnerable suffer.
Senator Ivana Bacik quoted my remarks about abortion being a difficult and sensitive issue in support of her call for a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I, of course, agree there should be such a debate. I always have had grave reservations about images of aborted babies being used as part of abortion-related campaigns because they have a desensitising effect. However, there are controlled circumstances in which RTE and others should not be afraid to advise people that they intend to show them such images as part of public education programmes. One should not censor the reality of abortion. However, as far as the posters to which Senator Ivana Bacik refers are concerned, I can see nothing wrong with them and would be very worried about a censorious attitude being taken to public advertising that gets to a core reality. I remind the Senator that stating “Abortion tears her life apart” may not necessarily simply be referring to the child who, of course, dies. However, there has been a deafening silence among abortion proponents in recent years about the growing knowledge of the possibility of adverse mental health effects of abortion on women.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I will conclude on this point. I am a little concerned that members of the Labour Party believe they have their tails up in respect of the legalisation on abortion in Ireland. Some of them regard the expert group as the ready-up they need to foist it on more unwilling colleagues in government. However, on this issue I can state——
Senator Rónán Mullen: Any attempt to legalise abortion in this country will cause massive controversy because this is the signal human rights issue of our time. Ireland has been a beacon for other countries in the manner in which its medical care for women has been top-notch, while also protecting the life of the unborn. It is more of these posters that will be needed, not fewer, if that is what it will take to get across the reality to some elements in government that abortion takes an innocent human life——
Senator Rónán Mullen: Yes, billboards. Particularly when a Government is taking a censorious approach and perhaps doing things behind the scenes to advance a certain political agenda, one cannot deprive citizens of their right to communicate core ideals.
Senator Martin Conway: I also welcome the imminent publication of the personal insolvency Bill. While all Members are frustrated by the length of time it has taken to introduce it, it is preferable that the Government has spent the time to get it right. Moreover, if it is necessary for the Seanad to sit from Monday to Friday for some time to bring the legislation through the House, all Members would be prepared to so do. Just before I came into the Chamber, I received a telephone call from a person who was about to be put out of the family home, who the bank literally had by the throat and who, most likely, would not have a home in a couple of months’ time. Consequently, this legislation is critical and I applaud the Government for spending the time to get it right. All Members want to see it done properly and wish to spend the appropriate time in debating it.
I also agree that comprehensive briefings on this matter are relevant and necessary. I support proposals that a copy of the set of recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, on which it spent a great deal of time deliberating to propose recommendations in respect of the personal insolvency Bill——
Senator Martin Conway: I agree that there is a need to examine the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, ASAI, because the use of social media is now a predominant means of advertising. I suggest a charter of people’s rights in respect of social media is required. Approximately 900 million people use Facebook, more than 1 million of whom live in Ireland. This constitutes an enormous number of people who are using what essentially is an unrelated medium. There is some appalling advertising through Facebook and while the company, in fairness to it, probably reacts to some of the unsavoury elements of the advertising, society and the Government have a responsibility to try to regulate it because there is nothing as bad as a lack of regulation, as has been evident in the past. Consequently, I support the call for a debate on extending the remit of the ASAI.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It must be the thundery and heavy weather, as everyone is being long-winded today. I hope Members will stick to the time limit. I call Senator David Cullinane who I am sure will be brief and to the point, as usual.
Senator David Cullinane: While it was a highly constructive debate, Members must revisit the issue again to have a debate on the planning system. Such a debate must consider the findings of the Mahon report and the need to implement its main findings.
Senator David Cullinane: I am not wandering anywhere. I am making a point about a court case that took place in Waterford a few weeks ago, where a former Fine Gael town councillor was found guilty of corruption in respect of a planning and rezoning issue in the county. It is important to have an independent, thorough investigation into what happened in County Waterford. It is also important that we move beyond those investigations, because the Mahon report looked at this and many other issues around the State. It made a number of clear recommendations, including the need for an independent planning regulator who will be free from political pressures. That needs to happen as soon as possible. I call for a full and proper debate on the planning system in this country, on political corruption, which is still evident, and the need for full investigations on issues in respect of Waterford and other counties. We also need to debate the need to implement the findings of the Mahon tribunal.
Senator Paul Bradford: I normally agree with much of what is said by the previous speaker, but on this occasion I think he doth protest too much on the question of Oireachtas salaries and expenses. To provide clarification and to put an end to the circus of some people attempting to be holier than holy, I repeat the request I made in the House some months ago that the Minister for Finance write to each Member asking if he or she wishes to receive his or her full salary. If Members do not wish to receive their full salary, the balance should simply remain with the Exchequer. This would put an end to the circus of people pretending they are living on “X” amount, even though they are in receipt of a much greater salary and using the balance for party purposes.
Senator Paul Bradford: Prior to the intervention of the previous speaker, I wanted to comment briefly on the debate begun by Senators Bacik and Mullen on the abortion issue. Perhaps I am moving in the wrong social circles, but I have not yet received any complaints on the advertising. I appreciate that abortion is a sensitive subject, but that does not mean we can ignore the reality of what the subject is all about. At some stage, we will have a substantive debate on the matter here, perhaps in the autumn, and we cave the broader arguments until then. Language is important and one of the tragic lessons of history which we learned in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe is that people have debased language and changed words to remove reality from the public. We do not debate the subject of abortion, but what is called the termination of pregnancy. That kind of debasing of the language does not help. Anything which forces us to recognise the reality of abortion and concentrate on the alternatives is helpful rather than a hindrance. It may be uncomfortable, but that does not mean it is wrong.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: In recent months we heard a story from China which concerned the forced abortion of a seventh month old baby. This was done to comply with the law of the state. The story outraged the world and the people who brought that story to the world was the family of the woman and child in question. We salute that family from a human rights point of view, but the story has taken an unusual turn in the past couple of days. The family has had to go into hiding because they have been branded as unpatriotic for having spoken to the media. I hope we do not find ourselves in a similar position. I believe the majority of people in this State oppose abortion and I would not like to think that for some whim, we intend censoring those anti-abortion activists.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: As I came out of Croke Park following the International Eucharistic Congress, I saw an army of young people handing out anti-abortion leaflets. My reaction was that it is the only way they are going to get their message across, because I do not find them succeeding in getting their message across in the media. I was also delighted that it was young people doing this work, and there were no tired and weary images which we sometimes see shown on television when an anti-abortion issue is raised. I hope this House, the status we enjoy and the power that goes with the Oireachtas, will not be marshalled to prevent the voice being heard of those who are anti-abortion.
Senator Terry Brennan: I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the recent announcement on the personal insolvency Bill. The Government has been true to its promises of action on mortgage debt. A series of other measures to assist those in mortgage difficulty has been also agreed. Fundamental to our strategy is a radical overhaul of Ireland’s regime of personal debt insolvency. The Government has met with the main banks to brief them and to discuss their approach to mortgage arrears, and this is to be welcomed. The Government is also fulfilling its commitments and responsibilities to develop new options for those people in debt distress. The banks must play their part to resolve this crisis, as they were mainly responsible for it.
Ba mhaith liom chomhghairdeas a ghabháil ar an Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI, Judith Gillespie, on being awarded a silver fáinne for passing her Irish examinations. Fuair sí 96% sa scrúdú. In excess of 200 officers and staff from the PSNI have also expressed an interest in learning the Irish language. Deputy Chief Constable Gillespie took part in the Líofa programme, which is being sponsored by the Department of Culture. This is a major achievement and shows that the native language is growing in Northern Ireland. I congratulate her and her staff and associates.
Senator Feargal Quinn: My attention was drawn some years ago to the very large number of road deaths occurring in Ireland. I am delighted to say the number has decreased dramatically in the past ten years. My attention was also drawn recently to the European Commission website on road safety and its section on travelling abroad reminds people travelling to different parts of Europe to stay within the law. There are different laws aimed at road safety throughout Europe It is interesting to note our laws in that regard. We are not obliged to have a first aid kit, a florescent jacket, a warning triangle or a fire extinguisher in a car. Those are mandatory in a number of other European countries, while other countries are taking steps towards that goal. These are comparatively easy steps to take. It is dramatic when a person’s car breaks down, be it in the mud, the snow or at night time, and we hear of the horror of death caused by other cars that hit people when they are trying to repair a breakdown. We can do something about this. It has been proposed in the past, but the Minister has not moved on it yet. I believe it would be very simple to introduce such a measure.
Yesterday, there was an item on the radio about motorcycle helmets, which are classified in Ireland as luxury products and attract the highest rate of VAT, whereas in the United Kingdom, they are zero rated for VAT. As well as encouraging people to wear a helmet, it seems a simple step to take to focus attention on road safety and bring it to a higher level.
Senator Michael Comiskey: I support the call by my colleague, Senator Pat O’Neill, on the issue of rates. I raised this a number of months ago. We are contacted regularly by people who have businesses, especially those who own a small rural pub and may not open their premises except for a couple of hours at night to serve the one or two customers who call in to them. They must pay for the significant rates levied on businesses. It is appropriate we would have a debate and give the local authorities the flexibility to vary the rates for those who are not making the income they were making in the past.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I wish to comment on the personal insolvency announcement, but I cannot welcome the personal insolvency Bill because I do not know what is in the Bill and it would appear that the only people the Government have briefed on the contents of the Bill are the bankers.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: That is incredible. This legislation is being introduced to protect the Irish people who are under pressure from the banks, but the first people to be briefed on it are the bankers. It shows, in the truest sense possible, where the Government’s priorities lie. In my view, that is disgraceful.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: It is a question for the Leader. When will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, the Minister who disappeared for two months, come to the House to discuss the septic tank regulations under the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012? He reappeared yesterday at the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, looking well rested and tanned, where he announced that people could register their septic tanks over the next three months. He has refused to outline the criteria for upgrading a septic tank and has ruled out the option of providing grant aid. On the one hand he is telling people to register the septic tank but he is not telling them what they are registering for. It is a pig in a poke. I ask the Leader to consider having a general discussion on the guidelines for septic tanks pursuant to the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012. Following the debate on that Bill, we had public consultation. I am aware that many groups who made submissions under the public consultation process did not even receive an acknowledgment of their submissions. Will the Leader clarify whether he will invite the Minister to the House next week?
Senator Michael D’Arcy: I agree with the views on corruption of councillors expressed by my colleague from Waterford, Senator David Cullinane. I support that fully. As the matter is before the court today, one may not comment. I remind Senator Cullinane that in the same week the gentleman in question was found guilty, some Sinn Féin councillors were convicted of murder in Northern Ireland. I think Senator Cullinane should kick the memory buds into operation for even more heinous crimes——
Senator Michael D’Arcy: I wish to raise the subject of anaerobic digestion for consideration. Compared with other jurisdictions, in particular Germany and Austria, which produce 15% of their electricity requirement from anaerobic digestion, this State has no such plants. The energy produced is sold for a similar price to offshore wind energy. It is more expensive than normal and it is considered to be too expensive at present. With the price of fuels spiking worldwide, whether gas or crude oil, we must remember that, down the line, anaerobic digestion will be a legitimate industry for this State. I am concerned nothing is happening at present because if we can achieve that type of electricity generation from anaerobic digestion plants, it will be a significant benefit. There is also the benefit of getting people back to work in the construction sector. Thousands of jobs would become available if these plants were to be built. These jobs would be easily accessible and would be positive for the environment. I would appreciate the Leader requesting the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come before the House to discuss this important matter.
Senator David Norris: Senator Mullen’s honeyed words put me in mind of the fact that in recent days the Vatican has appointed the Rome correspondent of Fox News, who is also a member of Opus Dei, as their chief spin doctor. I welcome a debate but I remind the House that coating poison with honey does not make it any more palatable.
In his very thoughtful speech, Senator Bradford said that the control of language is highly significant in this issue. I am horrified that people should still peddle the idea that some people are pro-abortion or their tails are up and all this kind of stuff. I am not pro-abortion and I strongly object to anybody taking over the label “pro-life”. I am pro-life. There are only a few people, like Pol Pot and the rest of them, who are not pro-life. I notice another little seepage in language where people, such as those in the Iona Institute, describe themselves as pro-family. It may come as a surprise that I emerged from a human family and I am pro-family. I am not apologising to anybody about it. I publicly condemned what occurred in China, and while I applauded the Chinese Government for facing the fact the world population is an explosive situation, the woman in question was violated and that is a different matter. I am pro-choice because I think there are certain circumstances such as the rape of a 14 year old girl——
Senator David Norris: I am asking for a reasoned debate where people’s experience is allowed to be placed on the record without the kind of bullying and colonisation of language that has occurred so lamentably previously. There is a great difference between what has been allowed already under our Constitution and the taking by force of a woman who is seven months pregnant and forcibly aborting the child in her womb. It is appalling, it is a gross violation and I stand against it.
I look forward to a reasoned debate, and I hope it will be so. We may need to have a session somewhere else, in the audiovisual room or some other place — we did this when discussing AIDS — in order that we avoid the type of bitterness that goes on. I think that would be very useful. We have good debates in this House. We have a proud record, and as we speak, a Bill from this House initiated by Senator Feargal Quinn, which is very important is going through the other House. Today the newspapers are full of Dr. Crown’s intervention where children will be protected from smoking. The other House is doing a lot of things that people feel are damaging them. Seanad Éireann is promoting the interests of decent ordinary people. I think we need to send this message out.
With regard to cancer, I was very interested in the submissions by Senator Crown and his briefing where he made the point that diesel fumes are incredibly toxic. I walked down O’Connell Street today and I could hardly breathe because of the gush of diesel fumes from buses, public service vehicles, especially the tourist buses. The last time I asked about this, I was told these buses are not subject to any kind of vehicle test. They should be. Will the Leader bring this to the Minister’s attention with a view to ensuring the buses that create this level of pollution and other vehicles such as large lorries should be subject to a test in order that they do not poison our populace?
Senator Denis Landy: I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, on the process by which septic tanks can now be registered. I seem to be having a bit of luck with the Minister because on the week before last, I raised an issue and my effort was successful. Last week, I raised the issue of the septic tanks and at the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of which I am a member, and the Minister responded to it. I might add that my colleague from south Tipperary, Deputy Mattie McGrath, who is not a committee member, also attended and contrived to be thrown out of the committee.
Senator Denis Landy: I welcome the announcement by the Minister and the clarity he has brought to the subject. It is a pity Senator Cullinane is not here but I heard him give the latest Sinn Féin spin on how his party managed to wangle the money to get some of its volunteers to work for it full-time.
Senator Denis Landy: I asked the Senator to come back to the Chamber when I met him in the corridor. I told him that I was going to speak about him, but he refused to return. I cannot help it if he does not want to attend.
Senator Denis Landy: My question for the Leader is on the use of fire brigades, especially in rural Ireland, where firemen are retained. I have dealt with the issue for a number of years but there has been another instance in recent weeks. There was a fire on somebody’s premises or land and a good samaritan rang the local fire brigade or 999. The fire brigade put out the fire and the owner of the land or premises, who did not contact the fire brigade, was billed. I have approached the authorities about the matter and been told they are constrained by legislation and must bill somebody. A number of years ago, a dairy farmer I know left his farm to visit his mother in hospital. Three days later he discovered the fire brigade had been on his land to put out a fire and he was given a bill for €1,300. The farmer did not even know there had been a fire. I ask the Leader to seek clarity from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the issue. There must be a case made that people who do not cause a fire are not liable for a bill supplied by a local authority’s retained firemen. I ask for clarity from the Minister on the matter. I have been lucky for two weeks in a row and received answers. I hope my luck will continue and that I will receive an answer to my question next week.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I, along with other Members, ask for a debate on the personal insolvency Bill next week. It seems ridiculous in the extreme that we must continue to wait. We have already waited for many years, and I include the years when I was on the Government side of the House when proposals were also made. Many proposals have been made and Bills introduced since I have been on the Opposition side of the House. It is almost 11 months to the day since the Family Home Bill was debated in this Chamber. If my constituency colleagues had voted for it then, it would been enacted into law and something would have been done to alleviate the plight of people in mortgage arrears.
Senator Ó Domhnaill has pointed out, rightly, that the banks were the only people to have been consulted on the issue, which makes no sense. We might ask them for a submission, but to invite them in here and give them a private briefing before the rest of us is ridiculous.
Senator Marc MacSharry: It is similar to showing a burglar the blueprints for an alarm system before it is installed. I call for a debate, even if the Bill is mammoth in size and consists of 200 pages. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste quite comically wasted public time by holding a press conference to display their unity rather than highlighting the importance of the mortgage issue. This House has the capacity and must put the interests of the people front and centre, to coin a phrase regularly used by the Taoiseach when in opposition, and debate the Bill, make worthwhile suggestions and make it law. As I have often said, I fear that Senator Barrett is on the back stairs of the Department of Finance with the bankers. My fear is alive and well. As we saw yet again yesterday, we will have a bankers’ solution for the bankers with the people playing mere spectators. I would like to see real legislation and real change that puts the people first, not the banks and their bottom lines.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Perhaps I do not mix in the right social circles either or travel through the wrong railway stations. Perhaps it is simply my macular oedema but I have not seen the so-called offensive advertisements yet and neither, as Senator Norris will know well, am I going to bully, try to bully or try to colonise——
Senator Paul Coghlan: I thank the Senator and I appreciate his comment. Like the rest of the Senators I find abortion abhorrent. Like the rest of the Members, I condemn forced abortions in China and wherever else they take place. We are all anti killing and the taking of life, so I would expect, as has been said in the Chamber, that any debate on the subject would be reasonable and rational. Personally, I recognise life as being from conception until natural death and we are all capable of being quite rational when expressing our views on the matter.
Senator Jim Walsh: It is very liberal for anybody to suggest that. Whether I agree with the structure of the billboards or not, I defend the right to have them. It is interesting that those who oppose it will be on the other side of the argument.
I listened to the debate and Senator Ó Murchú rightly mentioned forced abortion. Many people in the House have paid tribute to Chen Guangcheng for his strong position on the matter that led to his incarceration in China and subsequent high profile release.
With regard to the issue of pro-choice or pro-abortion, people on the pro-choice, pro-abortion side will be aware of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. It has been detected recently in Texas, and perhaps in a couple of other states, that people who classify themselves under the umbrella of pro-choice have encouraged young pregnant girls to have an abortion because the young girls already had daughters but now wanted sons. Effectively, we are promoting gendercide. I do not know where anybody stands on the subject. I was appalled by the images of the Holocaust where dead emaciated bodies were scattered around, and I am sure everybody in this House was revolted by them. I have also seen images of abortions with dead babies, their arms and legs torn apart and left to die in buckets and all sorts of boxes.
There were changes made at a very late stage to the composition of the expert group that has raised serious suspicions and we need to debate this important issue in the House. There are well-known abortion advocates on the expert group and, therefore, anybody of a pro-life disposition would have serious concerns. The Minister for Health’s comment in the Dáil on the Clare Daly Bill would have exaggerated those concerns. I ask for a reasoned, rational debate in the House, but one with honest language, not subterfuge.
Senator Michael Mullins: This morning Senator Landy praised the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, so it is time that Senator Ó Domhnaill stopped scaremongering about the septic tank issue. The details outlined by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, yesterday are clear and concise.
Senator Michael Mullins: The people want to protect water quality and public health. We have in place a system that will do that and which will meet our obligations under the European Court of Justice ruling of 2009, an issue with which the previous Government failed to deal. It is time to move on, to allow the work continue and for people to register.
Senator Feargal Quinn made some interesting observations on road safety, a matter which is of concern to every Member. While the number of fatalities has reduced significantly in recent years, there was a worrying increase during the month of June. I hope this trend will not continue. An initiative has been brought to my attention by a number of constituents recently in regard to our roads.
Senator Michael Mullins: Perhaps it is an issue on which we could have a discussion with the Minister. It concerns the number of oil spillages on roads and leakages from trucks which can cause very serious accidents. Due to the difficult economic situation for hauliers, perhaps the same investment is not being made in maintaining the quality of vehicles. It is an issue about which we must be concerned given the volume of large vehicles on the roads. Anybody who has had an incident with an oil spillage will be aware of the catastrophic consequences. There is a need to keep the issue of road safety high on the agenda. This issue deserves attention. Local authorities would have good information on the number of times they have to clean up following oil spillages. We should not lose sight of the issue because of the potential catastrophic consequences for citizens.
I join Senator Pat O’Neill and Senator Michael Comiskey in calling for a debate on local authority rates. This is a significant issue, especially for small businesses, and is causing enormous hardship for many. I am aware of a case where the rates on a premises in a county town amount to €15,000. The premises has recently been leased. Before the person opens the door a bill of €15,000 is due to the local authority. This is a scandal in the current economic climate. I ask the Leader to arrange for an urgent debate with the Minister, Deputy Hogan, on the rates issue. I welcome him back, having witnessed him walking around the House on a number of occasions yesterday. As my colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, said, he looks well. Perhaps I should request Senator Landy to ask him to come to the House because he appears to have more luck with him than the Leader. Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the local government reforms he proposes to introduce early next year. He owes it to the House to give us an opportunity to debate local government reform. While he ignores the House and the views of elected councillors, perhaps he would do us the courtesy of coming to the House. I ask the Leader and Senator Landy to speak to the Minister and invite him to come to the House.
Senator John Kelly: I support the call for a debate on local authority rates, an issue I have raised on numerous occasions. It is time we had a look at the rates being charged to small businesses. In the North there is a rates holiday for those wishing to set up a new business. This is the type of idea we should take on board.
I call for a debate on how the medical referees in the Department of Social Protection assess applications for invalidity pension, carer’s allowance and, particularly, domiciliary care allowance. I have said consistently that it is obvious there is a change of tack in the way cases are evaluated now as distinct from the past. I listened to the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly, on the radio recently speak about the same issue. She expressed serious concerns about what she has seen — exactly the issues I have raised. She made the point that in the case of carer’s allowance, if one seeks an oral hearing, it is not the person cared for who is assessed but the carer who is asked to evaluate whether the person cared for needs to be cared for. The Ombudsman also expressed concern about the domiciliary care allowance where people had been in receipt of the allowance for their children and, while nothing had changed medically with the children, it was decided to withdraw the allowance. The Ombudsman has overturned many of these cases. If 50% of appeals for social welfare are overturned on medical grounds, then 50% of them were incorrectly diagnosed by the medical referees. I call on the Leader for a debate on the way medical referees do their business in the Department.
Senator Marie Moloney: I thought the Chair had forgotten about me. I am sure all Senators are aware of the Jigsaw project and the Jigsaw network. Today young people appear to have much to deal with, such as study, work, friends and family relationships, drugs and alcohol, and it all gets on top of them. If they need immediate help in my area, Jigsaw Kerry is one of the places to which they go. The Jigsaw project aims to ensure young people’s voices are heard and that they get the right help where and when they need it. Jigsaw Kerry forms part of a network of Jigsaw projects delivering tailored community-based supports for young people’s mental health needs. We are all aware that good support can help offset the isolation and stigma associated with mental health issues.
I ask that the Minister with responsibility for mental health come to the House specifically to debate youth mental health, in light of the fact that, today, Killarney is coming to terms with the untimely death of a young teenager, to whose family I extend sincere sympathy. There is a need for a debate specifically on youth mental health. The Jigsaw project, which is a three year pilot in a number of areas, must continue to be funded. I have written to Dr. Tony Bates of Headstrong asking that funding continue. As a Government we must ensure funding is in place for Headstrong to go on the Jigsaw projects. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House for an open debate on the issue.
Recent reports have highlighted that 1,311 retired teachers were employed as supervisors at the State examinations. This alarming number is up from 1,147 retired teachers who were employed last year, an increase of 13%. It is inequitable and highly unsatisfactory that retired teachers are being rehired to supervise examinations when thousands of graduates are being forced to emigrate because they are unable to get work. In comparison with the high number of retired teachers employed for supervision this year, only 742 unemployed and substitute teachers were employed. I call on the Minister to cease this practice and ensure young graduates, substitute teachers and unemployed teachers get first preference when supervisors for State examinations are being hired.
I have raised continually throughout the year the issue of the employment of unqualified teachers and the urgent need to hold on to our valuable graduates, if at all possible. In the past year, 700 graduate teachers have gone to Abu Dhabi. Since February of this year, 321 retired teachers have been re-employed by schools, 186 in primary schools and 147 at second level. We need to provide every opportunity for our graduates to work in Ireland. To that end, we must put a structured system in place. I propose we reintroduce the practice of maintaining a panel of suitably qualified teachers who would be available to work at short notice. This would be preferable to the practice of hiring non-qualified or retired teachers when suitably qualified teachers are available.
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O’Brien, raised the case taken by Deputy Thomas Pringle. While I do not wish to comment on matters before the courts, I understand Mr. Michael Cush, counsel for the State, told the court yesterday there would be no Executive action before Ms Justice Laffoy gives her ruling on that case. My understanding of that is that the instrument of ratification of the treaty will not be lodged with the EU by Ireland before that time. However, there is no impediment on the House dealing with Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill today.
I note Senator O’Brien’s point regarding Ministers’ scripts. Ministers have been informed that they should provide a script for Members when speaking in the Seanad. Some Ministers prefer to speak from notes, as opposed to using a script. We have asked that those notes be made available to Members. My office has raised this matter with Ministers over a period of time. I understand what Senator O’Brien has said on the matter.
A number of Senators referred to the personal insolvency Bill. I understand the Bill will be published as a Dáil Bill and will go to the Dáil first. It is a matter for that House to order its business and decide when the Bill will be taken. However, if the Opposition wished to have this raised at an early stage, I am sure the Government would be amenable to those requests.
Senator Bacik said the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on personal insolvency legislation should be circulated. The heads of the Bill were discussed for days on end by the joint committee, long before it was discussed with the banks. The report of the joint committee should be examined. It is incumbent on Senators to inform themselves of the proceedings of the committee hearings. I will, if possible, arrange a briefing by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, similar to that held before the referendum. I will contact the Library and Research Service to arrange that briefing for Members. It would be very informative.
Senator Bacik raised the matter of advertising and billboards, which gave rise to a debate on the pros and cons of abortion. Abortion, as has been stated, is a sensitive subject. When the House holds a debate on abortion, I hope it will be devoid of bitterness and division. I hope that will be the case.
I note Senator Zappone’s comments on the LGBTQ parade. The Senator’s question regarding Dr. Lydia Foy might best be dealt with as an Adjournment matter. In that way, Senator Zappone may be given the information she requires. I will endeavour to find out the progress of gender equality legislation from the Minister for Social Protection, as the Senator requested.
Senators O’Neill, Comiskey, Wilson, Kelly and Conway raised the matter of the valuation of business properties and rates. Senator Comiskey suggested that more discretion should be allowed to city and county managers or to local representatives with regard to rates on properties. This is a serious situation. A new tenant can be liable for rates owed on a property. This is inhibiting business. Members have raised the issue and it should be addressed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Minister is aware of the problem and I hope we will see action to help people to start up a small business without having this millstone around their necks.
Senator Mullen made some points about increments, which I addressed on a previous occasion. Senator Cullinane called for a debate on planning. The House has had several debates on planning, but if it is necessary to have another I will arrange that.
Senator Brennan congratulated the Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI who received 96% in her Irish examination and has been awarded a silver fáinne. As the House debates Bille na Gaeltachta, it is good to note that some members of the PSNI are fluent in Irish.
Senator Quinn made valid points about road safety and Ireland’s lack of conformity with safety regulations that apply in other EU countries. I received notice yesterday that the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has begun a public consultation on the new road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020. A public consultation document and questionnaire on the various education, engineering, enforcement and evaluation measures which have and have not worked is available on the RSA website, and submissions may be made online to email@example.com. It is apt that Senator Quinn raised those points today. The vehicle, if Senators will pardon the pun, to make those submissions to the RSA is available.
Senator Ó Domhnaill asked that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government come to the House to discuss the Water Services (Amendment) Act. I am sure Senators have seen plenty of the Minister. We had more than 24 hours of debate on that legislation. If Senator Ó Domhnaill does not have all the answers at this stage, I do not know what I can say.
Senator Michael D’Arcy referred to anaerobic digestion. The points he raised could be made to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, who will be in the House later today.
Senator Norris’s points regarding buses and trucks could be made in a submission to the RSA. It is my understanding that trucks, in particular, are subject to tests. I was in that business at one time and I know that trucks are subject to stringent annual tests. I would think buses are subject to similar tests. In any event, submissions may be made to the RSA on that subject.
Senator David Norris: Could the Leader respond to my suggestion about a debate on abortion? Could we have a discussion in the audiovisual room to prepare for the debate, so that it is the kind of debate the Leader wants?
Senator Maurice Cummins: I will not arrange a discussion as several discussions have been organised in the AV room by various Members on various sides. I have enough to do to arrange a debate in the House. I fully agree with Senator Norris that we should have a reasonable debate devoid of bitterness and division. That is all I wish to say on the subject at this point.
Senator Landy referred to billing for fire brigade charges for those who do not call out the service. We will raise the matter with the Minister and try to get another result for him from the Minister on the matter. Senator Landy seems to be so successful himself that I am inclined to leave it to him.
Senator Mac Sharry raised the issue of the insolvency Bill. I have said the heads of the Bill have been discussed at length by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. All Members should inform themselves of the contents of the hearings. Senator Mullins spoke about the maintenance of trucks and oil spillages. I dealt with that in my reply to Senator Quinn and Senator Norris.
Senator Wilson inquired about the review of community employment schemes. I will endeavour to find out when the review will be published and I will revert to the Senator on it. On local government reform, I am sure that when the Cabinet has discussed it we can have a debate in the House on the matter. Despite what has been said about the absence of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, for the past two months, he has probably been in this House more often than any other Minister on many subjects and pieces of legislation.
Senator Kelly referred to medical referees and the fact that 50% of the appeals are overturned. We can make those points to the Minister when he comes to the House. Senator Moloney mentioned the Jigsaw programme. Senator Moran also called for a debate on youth mental health. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has been most active in that regard. She has come to the House on several occasions to discuss the matter. If necessary, I am sure she will be willing and available to come back to the House to discuss this serious matter.
Senator Moran also raised the issue of retired teachers being employed in supervision of State examinations. I totally agree with her sentiments. Graduates and unemployed teachers should get priority in that regard. I am sure she has made representations to the Minister for Education and Skills on the matter. I will press the matter with him also.
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