Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Decisions on Public Petitions Received
We are now in public session sitting as the joint sub-committee on petitions. We have had a chance to deliberate on the five petitions before us today and will record our decisions in due course. The committee has received a total of 159 petitions to date since the launch of the petitions system. The secretariat has been examining them to establish admissibility of the petitions on how best to progress a petition for consideration. Some 140 of the 159 petitions received have been brought before the committee on at least one occasion. Of these 75 were considered, a decision agreed upon and closed, 44 were inadmissible and 40 are awaiting or still under consideration. A total of five petitions are before the committee today. The first petition No. P000082/12, secondary use of patient information and the risks of electronic health records, is in the name of Ms Norrie Neary. I invite Senator Susan O'Keeffe to record the decision of the committee.
I thank the Chairman. Ms Norrie Neary's petition is very detailed and interesting. It relates to the use of patient information and the risks of electronic health records. The recommendation from this committee is that this petition be forwarded to the Joint Committee on Health and Children so that it can consider the petition fully and report back to this committee on its recommendations or findings. We are aware that is likely to happen in the life of the next Government and the next Dáil. It is a petition that is worthy of pursuit.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition, No. P000037/14, better cycle lanes in Dublin City - more cycle paths and cycle paths to be put in place beside Luas lines, is from Ms Alanna Blake. I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett who will record the decision of our committee on this petition.
We all think this is an important issue but it is one that properly would be addressed by Dublin City Council, the National Transport Authority and Luas, all of whom might have some practical role in this. We understand the petitioner has e-mailed Dublin City Council. Therefore, we need to ascertain if the petitioner got a response and, if so, whether the petitioner was satisfied with it. We should contact Dublin City Council to establish if it responded to the petitioner and, if so, what was that response and write to the other authorities mentioned and also tell the petitioner that if she is not satisfied with any response from those bodies, she can come back to us.
For the record, we will correspond also with the Railway Procurement Authority and the National Transport Authority to get their response to the issues raised. We will revisit that petition at a later date.
It is worth reminding people that it is illegal to cycle on Luas lines which is part of the issue that has been raised here. Luas has said that, as it goes forward with further building, it will be very careful and mindful of cycle lanes. All of us on this committee and outside of this committee would encourage cycle lanes and want to see greater use of them. Therefore, petitions likes this one are particularly useful in helping to address those matters.
I thank the Senator. The next petition is No. P000038/14. It relates to families of different nationalities travelling together through passport control and it was submitted by Mr. Norman Wilson. The matter is of considerable interest but we will defer the petition because we want to get clarification around some of the matters involved. We will revisit the petition in due course.
The next petition is No. P000029/15 and it has received considerable public interest. It is a petition for equal school access for all children, regardless of religion, and repeal of section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act that has been submitted by Mr. Paddy Monahan. I want to note that a large number of signed petitions have been handed over and are in the possession of the committee. The committee has deliberated on the matter and decided to invite officials from both the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Justice and Equality to appear before us to discuss in detail their interpretation of the current legislation. We want to also discuss how all schools are currently funded by the Department of Education and Skills. We have decided to write to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission seeking its opinion on the current legislation. That has been agreed by the committee members.
Might I add that this is a particularly good example of how the petitions committee has worked in terms of a petition with nearly 20,000 supporting petitioners. I remind the public that that is what we are here to do. When one accumulates people who want to submit a petition together then we will accept it and look at the matter. This is an important petition which will extend beyond the lifetime of this Dáil.
I am glad that we are looking further at this petition as it is an important issue. It follows on from the marriage equality referendum by demanding that we extend equality into other areas of Irish society. The petition is part of a big national campaign which I support and I suspect many of us here support calling for the end of religious discrimination in our schools. The contention of the campaigners is not only is there religious discrimination against a growing number of people who are not religious, of different religions or diverse religions and that they are being unfairly discriminated against but that the legislation is in fact in breach of their constitutional and legal rights, or that the law may be in breach of the Constitution. That is a very serious and important issue which needs to be addressed, as a matter of urgency. I say, "Well done", to the petitioners. It is a positive thing that this committee will look further at the matter.
It is a pity that the petition is going to be dealt with in the next Dáil because many of use might not be on this committee the next time round. The petition is very good in terms of the way it has been handled and put to us. The matter involves each and every one of us because we all have come across cases where people cannot get their children into certain schools, particularly with the new changes to school systems when it comes to admitting pupils. Various schools have capacity issues and we would hate to see people being discriminated against based on religious grounds when they want to attend a certain school.
It is safe to say that there has been considerable concern around the issues raised. The next Dáil will engage with the matter comprehensively so that is agreed.
The next petition is No. P000035/15 and it, too, has garnered considerable public interest. It calls for the image of Conor McGregor to be put on the €1 coin and it was submitted by Mr. Patrick O'Leary. We have deliberated on the petition. Unfortunately, we have been unable to establish contact with the petitioner. Our rules are clear that in such circumstances the petition must be deemed inadmissible. We have thought about the matter and decided that we would advise the petitioner, and any other interested party or parties, that he or they may contact the Central Bank to establish the EU's rules, on both commemorative coins and normal EU coinage, which may have restrictions negating the proposal made in this petition. Unfortunately, we cannot deem the petition admissible and cannot take any further action.
It is a matter of public interest concerning how decisions are made and who appears on coins. I will open it up to the members now.
We have no choice because we cannot contact the petitioner. There was a slight jokey element to the petition's wording, so we cannot take it any further. However, there is huge public interest in the suggestion. That is because there is a slightly more serious issue at stake which is how we should pay tribute to, commemorate or honour people in this country who have excelled and done important things on the international stage. Conor McGregor is a phenomenon at the moment, particularly after his very short demolition of José Aldo. There was a debate about how we should celebrate a fairly new sport and his achievements in it. It might be worth adding that there is a debate not just about Conor McGregor but also Katie Taylor, a woman boxer who has excelled on the international stage. Tyson Fury won the heavyweight championship but that did not get as much commentary, notwithstanding his unacceptable homophobic comments. I believe he did apologise afterwards. There is a serious discussion about how we should celebrate all these people and others who have excelled in great achievements. People might therefore consider addressing it in a more serious way, because it is something to look at.
As a member of this committee since its establishment, I am delighted that in one afternoon we have had somebody who is interested in the whole idea of commemorating and acknowledging success, as Deputy Boyd Barrett has said. There are also issues concerning equality in schools. It shows the range and depth of interest that members of the public have. This committee can examine a wide range of matters raised by members of the public. It is unfortunate that in this case we cannot get hold of the petitioner in order to ensure that we can proceed with the petition. We would encourage the petitioner to go directly to the Central Bank, talk to them and see where they go with that. This shows, however, that this committee is willing and able to respond to all matters that are raised by members of the public. That is what we are here for and will continue to be into the future.
Whatever the public may think of the merits of this petition, I welcome the fact that it has drawn attention to our work. Some very important issues are contained in the five petitions received today. They concern our health service and education system. That has been the case for the last five years. As we come to the end of this committee's lifetime, it is important to reflect on that. We are submitting a report to the Oireachtas outlining our vision for how this committee will progress in the next term, and how we will align ourselves to the European petitions committee system and the European ombudsman system. We want to ensure that any citizen can raise a matter of public concern, or their vision of how innovative public services could be, and have it discussed at the heart of parliament. We do not want to erect too high a wall; we want to be as flexible as possible. That is why we will facilitate petitions no matter how important, or unimportant, the public may view them as being. Every citizen has a right to bring matters to parliament for discussion and examination. It has been an important opportunity to put all of those issues on the public record. The last petition is inadmissible but the advice is there for the interested parties who are looking in today.
That concludes the public aspect of our meeting today and we will now go back into private session.