Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

10:30 am

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Tánaiste will be aware that the Government has now entered its ninth year. If it runs for its full term, it will have been in office for ten years. That is a decade too long, characterised by a crisis in the health services, rampant crime and the fact that Ireland has become the most expensive country in Europe. This Government has been characterised most by its consistent litany of broken promises. This is an absolute scandal when it comes to carnage on the roads and the Government's ability to deal with transport services. For instance, does the Tánaiste recall the Government's promise in 1998 to roll out speed cameras nationally within two years? Does she realise that seven years later, only three out of 20 speed cameras in the greater Dublin area are in operation at any one time? Does the Tánaiste remember that the Government promised to make 69 offences liable to penalty points by the end of 2003? Does she realise that two years later, only three have actually been enacted? Is the Tánaiste aware that on average, only one garda in every Garda station has been trained in the use of breathalyser machines? Does she realise that the conviction rates between 2001 and 2003 have climbed significantly?

The result of this inactivity and inability to cope by the Government is that, unfortunately, road deaths continue at a terrifyingly high rate. Already this year, 172 people have lost their lives on our roads, an increase of 12% on 2004. Of course driving behaviour is the responsibility of individuals, but if they believe they can get away with speeding, drunk driving or whatever, they feel safe in so doing. Can the Tánaiste offer any assurance that, almost ten years later, having given a litany of promises, the Government and the Minister will take some action to implement the litany of broken promises, which have resulted in road deaths continuing at a startlingly high rate? Is this not a complete failure on the part of the Government and the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport to implement systems and standards which will ensure that all road users know they must be compliant in the interest of public safety?

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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The Tánaiste has other things on her mind.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I acknowledge that the Government has been in office for eight years. That is true and the Government was returned to office at the last election. However, if we reflect on those eight years, while we can see challenges and difficulties, equally we can see major progress in Ireland. For example, last year, this economy created 72,000 jobs. When the two Government parties came to office in 1997, the unemployment rate was 11% and there was still emigration. Today we have net immigration and an unemployment rate of 4%. When we took office in 1997, 1.5 million people were at work in Ireland while today, there are 1.9 million people at work. Undoubtedly, we have made enormous progress.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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People need jobs to live.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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One in every seven houses in the country was built in the last number of years. However, I must accept there are challenges, including in respect of the provision of infrastructure, in health care and in education.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Definitely.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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In accident and emergency services.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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Yes, there are challenges in other areas. It is our job as a Government to deal with those challenges, which we will do.

Specifically regarding road safety——

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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The Government has had eight years to do it.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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What about Wexford General Hospital?

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Government should not take any credit for it.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Tánaiste should be permitted to speak without interruption.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I will not be distracted by heckling, but specifically in respect of road safety, although the numbers of fatalities on our roads are too high, they are much better than they were some years ago. The decision of the Government to increase the membership of the Garda Síochána by 2,000 is——

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Another broken promise, coming before Christmas.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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No decision has been made.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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No, it is happening and as part of this, a new dedicated traffic corps will be established. That is essential if we are to enforce safety standards on our roads.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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Robocop.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Tánaiste should not believe her own rhetoric.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Tánaiste should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I will not be distracted by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I will keep trying.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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That is all the Deputy is good for.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I accept Deputy Kenny's statements pertaining to road safety and the Government has a major role to play in this area. However, all of us as citizens also have an important role to play in this regard and we should not lose sight of that.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am disappointed by the Tánaiste's response as she is usually better briefed. She states it is the Government's job to meet these challenges and that it will do so. Obviously, however, there has been a complete failure here. I do not know if the Tánaiste is aware that only 34 extra gardaí have been drafted in this year. Let me provide some examples of where the Government has fallen down in respect of road safety. In 2002, the implementation of 69 offences which were to be liable to penalty points was promised by the end of 2003. Up to this year, only three have been effected. The immediate introduction of a Garda road traffic corps was proposed in 2002. The Tánaiste now states the Government intends to introduce a traffic corps. The introduction of random breath testing was to be extended nationally in 1999. However, in 2005, no legislation to allow for it has been introduced and no roadside drug testing has been introduced. A penalty points fixed charge processing system was to be rolled out by the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, who stated in 2004 that it would become live and active within a few months.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Brennan was rolled out instead.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Currently, no operational computerisation of the system has been implemented. The ban on mobile telephones while driving was to be introduced after the announcement in August 2001 by the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Bobby Molloy. In 2005, no legislation has yet been enacted to introduce fixed penalties for driving while using a mobile telephone.

Recently I had occasion to travel by a different mode of transport from Kerry to Donegal and it was an education in terms of the abuse of mobile phone usage by some truck drivers and by many motorists. The Government has fallen down completely in terms of implementation of standards for road safety. There is no compulsory training in place for motorcyclists and 46 have been killed on our roads this year. Motorcyclists comprise 2% of traffic yet 15% of accidents. Is this not an admission that the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport have fallen down completely on this job, not to mention the absent Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is in London today? I hope he does not raise the issue he raised at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last night when he said the building was surrounded and that if he was not let out in an hour, he would have to call in the marines.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I hope Deputy Kenny acknowledges the last comment was a light-hearted one from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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All his comments are light-hearted.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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When Deputy Kenny talks about roads, traffic and so on, he does not mention the huge drop in the cost of motor insurance in recent years. When he criticises the Government on matters which are being addressed, perhaps he could acknowledge the progress made in motor insurance costs which are down by over 30%.

The number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads has been substantially reduced from what it was in the late 1990s. There are challenges for us all in terms of our personal responsibility and there are issues for Government. There were constitutional issues in regard to random sampling and that is the reason it did not proceed. The commitment was to examine the matter. The Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Transport are working closely to address the issues, particularly in regard to a traffic corps to enforce the existing law. If we could enforce the existing law, there would be a huge reduction in the number of road fatalities.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I remind the Tánaiste that in 2002, in respect of measures to combat corruption in police forces, the Government committed to a package of measures at Interpol, including provision for an annual review of the efficacy of these measures and provision for participation by civil society. Two years later, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform produced the Garda Síochána Bill — an in-house Bill following an in-house agenda. There was no participation by civil society. One year later in 2005, Mr. Justice Morris produced his report. That report made only one major recommendation directed at Government and this House. He said:

The Tribunal is much concerned by the lack of any independent body to receive legitimate concerns about Garda behaviour. The provisions of the Garda Bill need to be reviewed by the Oireachtas, so as to satisfy the legitimate disquiet that arises from the Tribunal's study of the documents in this case.

The Taoiseach spent his time yesterday trying to persuade the House the Minister had taken that into account despite the fact he published the Bill a year before Morris reported. Morris reported last week and the Taoiseach flimflammed, ducked, dived and confused——

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Himself.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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——including some of my learned friends in the media. He said the Minister had taken it into account.

As the leader of the Progressive Democrats, does the Tánaiste stand over this insult to Morris? This is his second report. Her Government would not even agree to a debate on the first report. His major recommendation in this second report is that we review the Bill. The distinguished expert the Minister appointed said he has no confidence in it and the Taoiseach seeks to persuade the House the Minister has taken on board the Morris report. Does the Tánaiste also betray the Morris report? If so, why should Mr. Justice Morris continue with the third module in this extraordinary inquiry?

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Taoiseach and the entire Government take the findings of the Morris report very seriously and the Minister is already on record as saying he intends to bring forward amendments to the legislation on foot of the recommendations in the Morris report to ensure greater accountability and oversight in regard to the operation of the Garda Síochána. It is a shocking indictment of our democracy that any family should be framed in this way. No democrat and certainly no member of Government could stand over what happened in Donegal and what has been brought to light in the Morris report. The Minister is big enough and courageous enough to bring forward amendments on foot of the recommendations in the Morris report or, indeed, any other recommendations which are brought forward to ensure that where wrongdoing occurs and where shortcomings are identified, they are appropriately dealt with on an independent and accountable basis.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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He is not showing much sign of it now.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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That is the reason the Minister wants an Ombudsman commission for the Garda Síochána. We may argue about how it should happen but the Minister is open to suggestions in that regard.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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How far standards in the House have fallen when the Tánaiste rows in behind the mantra the Taoiseach trotted out yesterday. None of that has any meaning. She said the Minister is big enough and strong enough. His mouth is big enough anyway but when it comes to addressing the particular issue, he evades it and the Tánaiste ought to know that. There is no point talking about an Ombudsman commission as it is a contradiction in terms. The Minister only included the Ombudsman, which has been a splendid success in Northern Ireland, because of the significance of the term. He is, in fact, setting up a committee. The Tánaiste will have heard Senator Maurice Hayes comment on that.

It is not true the Minister is bringing forward amendments in the context of what we are talking about here. He is bringing forward one amendment, the purpose of which is to make gardaí amenable to their superior officers to answer for their whereabouts when they are supposed to be on duty. Is that the type of advance the Tánaiste spent her years on this side of the House advocating?

Mr. Justice Morris painstakingly produced a report. The one major recommendation directed to Government is that the Garda Síochána Bill be reviewed. In the interests of society and of decent conscientious gardaí in the force, a review of the Bill is required. It is patently clear if one reads the report which, incidentally, it was clear the Taoiseach had not done, what Mr. Justice Morris advocates. I do not ask this in order to inflict another defeat on the Minister but will the Tánaiste, as leader of the Progressive Democrats, stand over this reneging on Morris and on the major recommendation in his report?

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I answer on behalf of the Government and not on behalf of a particular party in it. I answer for the entire Government when I say it is taking on board the recommendations in the Morris tribunal report. There will be a debate in the House on Friday of this week and the Minister will clearly outline his proposals in regard to the Garda Síochána. As the Deputy knows, the Minister intends to bring forward a number of amendments to the Bill.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Great intentions.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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To be fair, Deputy McCormack, no Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in recent times has brought forward more reforming measures than the current Minister. That will continue to be the case.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Recent months have shown labour laws to be pathetically inadequate in vindicating the rights and entitlements of workers in this State. Incredibly yesterday, the High Court said the law prohibits the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from publishing the report of the labour inspectorate into the vicious regime of exploitation by Gama Construction on its sites. Is the Tánaiste incredulous that the labour laws allow ruthless exploiters of workers, whether Irish or migrant workers, to hide behind the courts and the laws of this land in having shameful truths suppressed?

It is now clear from not only this but from many examples that vulnerable workers suffering low pay and or oppressive working conditions have no hope of a speedy vindication of their rights from current laws, which favour ruthless bosses who can buy the most expensive lawyers in town, hired guns, and in the meantime intimidate, sack or otherwise silence employees seeking their rights. The industrial relations machinery is totally inadequate to deal with that. Workers are being increasingly forced to find other ways.

Workers at Global Mobile Vision, with serious allegations of wages paid late, harassment and bullying, approach the Independent section of the Technical Group, including Deputy Finian McGrath and myself, to try to expedite a solution.

A major multinational, General Electric, a partner of Gama, in Clonshaugh in north Dublin, sets up puppet companies so that it can set about a legal swindle to compel the IDA to pay it millions of euro for land belonging to the Irish people. It uses the proceeds of this sale to finance its puppet, Diamond Innovations, to force a redundancy deal on 50 workers, whom it bullies and pressurises into accepting, so it can replace them with cheap labour for its industrial diamond enterprises. What does the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Government do? They rubberstamp this shameful deal.

This neo-liberal jungle is heavily promoted by the Progressive Democrats and the Tánaiste but is inimical to workers. Will we have a speedy amendment to allow reports of shameful exploitation by the inspectors or otherwise to be published for the Irish people? More radically, will we have legislation providing a mechanism where ordinary workers can detail abuses they are suffering and enable them to get immediate redress, within a week or two, as speedily as the bosses can get their injunctions in the High Court for which they can well afford to pay? What is the Tánaiste's response to the urgent increasing need of Irish workers?

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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We all have to abide by the decisions of the court. The High Court made a decision yesterday in regard to the inspectors' report on Gama, but the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment had already circulated that report to all the relevant authorities, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and many others.

As the Deputy is aware, labour law in Ireland applies to workers, whether they are Irish or foreign, in equal measure. Recently, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment greatly expanded the labour inspectorate. Therefore, it is not always a question of making more law but rather — similar to an earlier question — of enforcing existing laws. The Minister is certainly doing that.

In regard to GMV, I understand that matter is being investigated and I am aware it was the subject of an Adjournment debate here last evening.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The labour inspectorate did an excellent job in trying to out the truth in the Gama affair. I am talking about the rights of all workers, Irish and migrant. The laws under which the labour inspectorate work are totally inadequate. The workers are chasing justice 12 or 18 months down the road in the courts. In the meantime they have been harassed, bullied and sacked from their jobs by their employers. That is the position. Justice delayed in the case of vulnerable workers is justice denied.

There is a new situation that will be fraught for Irish workers. Eastern European subcontractors are increasingly being used by some bosses in the construction industry to undercut trade union rates of pay and conditions. The Tánaiste welcomed this as a champion of the neo-liberal jungle. She wants workers' wages to be undercut and their conditions to be downgraded. The trade unions should have none of that and should launch a major drive to integrate migrant and Irish workers to defend trade union rates of pay and conditions. However, at the same time we need to force the Government to amend the legislation to provide immediate justice. Just as quickly as a boss can go into the High Court with €10,000 and get an injunction prohibiting workers from seeking their rights, we need such mechanisms that are amenable to Irish workers and all other workers here to secure justice. What is the Tánaiste's response?

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I am a champion of the policies that create high quality employment. I am the Minister who brought in the minimum wage. It is the policies over the past few years that have delivered 500,000 people at work here. That is an incredible statistic not matched by any country in the developed world. That is what I champion.

We have strong laws in regard to unfair dismissal and constructive dismissal. Where there are deficiencies in legislation, they will be addressed, but the enforcement of the law is a crucial issue. We must remember that, thankfully, we are talking about a small minority of cases. Those cases are being pursued by the relevant authorities and we have——

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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It is not a small minority of cases but an increasing number of cases.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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——robust labour relations machinery in this State that acts very speedily and quickly. That is a fact. If the Deputy were to compare our labour relations infrastructure, the LRC, the rights commissioners and the Labour Court, it compares extraordinarily favourably with many other countries. The trade union movement has been the first to acknowledge that.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That concludes Leaders' Questions.