Wednesday, 8 March 2006
In the words of Donna Cleary's family, she was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was a young mother enjoying herself at a friend's party. She was gunned down by a criminal who should have been in jail. No one has explained why this man was not in jail. He had a conviction, lost his appeal and there was a bench warrant for his arrest. The Government did not supply the resources to the Garda to implement the bench warrant. If it had been implemented, Donna Cleary would be alive. The fundamental point is that this Government is in a shambles while anarchy rules the streets.
On Monday, the Taoiseach said that murderers were getting out of prison after seven years. On Tuesday, he said murderers used to get out of prison after seven years and that a life sentence should mean life. Today, he says it is the fault of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister is like a modern Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of all responsibility and blaming everyone from the Judiciary to society to the House. Will the Tánaiste explain why the Minister has failed to introduce legislation on gun culture, which he correctly identified last year as being a serious issue? Where are the mandatory sentences for gun crime? Where is the amnesty for guns? Why was this criminal walking the streets when he should have been in jail and there was a bench warrant for his arrest?
I ask the Tánaiste to instruct the Minister to gather the details of the Criminal Justice Bill in so far as gun culture is concerned and present them to the House next week. We will facilitate the Government in putting through real, deterrent emergency legislation dealing with gun culture. We could enact this law in a very short time. It is a reasonable and practical suggestion that will send a clear message to people in this city who can leave a house and, in 20 minutes, have a loaded gun, fire it indiscriminately at a house and murder an innocent woman.
I recall times in the House when, on issues of much less import than this, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism sitting beside the Tánaiste was in apoplexy.
He blamed everybody for the woes afflicting the world. In this case, the Government is responsible for a situation in which resources were not made available to the Garda Síochána to implement a bench warrant for a convicted criminal who was walking the streets and responsible for the murder of an innocent woman who should be alive.
Words fail us all in seeking to describe the tragic and outrageous murder of Donna Cleary last weekend as she attended a private event in Dublin. Responsibility for this dreadful tragedy lies not with the Garda Síochána but with an evil and dangerous man. That is the reality.
He had to take personal responsibility. There was a bench warrant but no committal warrant. There is a significant difference between a bench warrant to arrest somebody and a committal warrant to have somebody put in jail. The reason the woman is dead is not that the Garda failed or does not have enough resources, but that we have too many dangerous and evil people in our midst.
I suggest the Tánaiste should answer Deputy Kenny's question. As leader of the Fine Gael Party, he was entitled to submit the question, not Deputy Allen. I ask that Fine Gael Deputies allow their leader to hear the answer to his question, to which he is entitled during Leaders' Questions.
In the next two weeks the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will bring forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill concerning firearms offences and an amnesty, to which Deputy Kenny referred.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has failed on two key performance indicators. Detection rates have decreased under his stewardship and the incidence of headline crimes is rising on an annual basis. If he survives until next year, he will have presided over 500,000 headline crimes during his tenure as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This is an appalling shambles of which the Tánaiste is part.
As Deputy Rabbitte pointed out yesterday, only 12 of the 75 murders committed with weapons between 1998 and 2004 resulted in convictions. On 28 February the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was unable to inform Deputy Jim O'Keeffe of the number of outstanding arrest warrants. I agree with the Tánaiste when she refers to evil and dangerous people but they should not be walking the streets. We do not blame an inadequately resourced police force that cannot implement bench warrants or committal warrants. Donna Cleary lies dead, God rest her soul, but she would be alive if this person had been in jail as he should have been. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is absent from the Chamber again today, wishes to wash his hands of all responsibility like some modern day Pontius Pilate.
I have made a practical suggestion. The Opposition has agreed to facilitate the Government if it wishes to deal with elements of gun legislation in the Criminal Justice Bill next week. We should deal with gun amnesties and mandatory jail sentences for gun possession. We should have a reaction that can be implemented rather than the Taoiseach stating one thing on Monday, something different on Tuesday and yesterday's Government spokesperson statement that no proposals exist to address this. Where are the consequences of the watershed to which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform referred? What will the Government do? It seems the Minister's recent lecture is accurate except the sandwich has gone stale and the meat has gone off.
Major adjustments have been made to the area of criminal justice and the Minister will be making amendments concerning arms in the next two or three weeks.
Donna Cleary was tragically gunned down because we have evil, dangerous people in our midst——
I refer to the National Children's Hospital. Responsibility for policy and health matters is retained by the Minister and operational responsibility is with the HSE. Since it came to existence the HSE is taking policy decisions and disputing policy decisions advocated by the Tánaiste, correctly so in some cases.
Concerns exist about the handling of the national children's hospital. A team of international experts, McKinsey and Company, submitted a report before Christmas. They were not required to report, or were explicitly precluded from reporting, on siting. A presentation was made on 31 January and some days later it emerged a joint working group of the Department of Health and Children and the HSE was established to deal with the siting issue. On 17 February a letter was issued inviting bids for the national children's hospital. The deadline for prospective tenders was 2 March. Although there are many public projects I would like to see them make progress at this rate, I know of no other that has progressed at this speed. A new hospital is a complex project, even if in this case it is a co-located one, and may cost €500 million. Professor Drumm is a paediatrician and may be the driving force behind this progress.
When does the Tánaiste expect to receive the report of this working group and when will a decision be made? Will that decision be made by the Tánaiste, the Government or Professor Drumm? Is she aware of the implications presented by a single build national children's hospital for existing hospitals that care for sick children? Many professionals believe the decision has already been made and we are going through a process to give the appearance of consultation on an issue of significant national interest.
Although Professor Drumm is a paediatrician he is not involved in making decisions on this matter. Any suspicions to the contrary are incorrect. Four hospitals in Dublin deal with tertiary children's facilities. We planned to build a new hospital for Temple Street Hospital, in conjunction with the new Mater development, and redevelop Crumlin Hospital. It was appropriate to have someone examine the best interests of sick children. McKinsey and Company were asked to do so, considered 25 places in the world and decided that for a population of 4.2 million people we needed one facility with 300 beds instead of the 650 beds planned for Crumlin and Temple Street at a cost of €750 million.
With a small population we cannot have specialists dealing exclusively with children and many will deal with transplants and surgery in adults. For this reason, and to aid research, a new children's hospital should be co-located with an adult hospital. Physicians could work on adults and children, research could be combined and synergy would result. After the report was received hospitals were briefed on the report and everyone, including Tallaght Hospital, Beaumont Hospital, Crumlin Hospital and Temple Street Hospital, welcomed the report.
Because of the rebuilding of the Mater, I did not wish a long period to pass before we could bring certainty to the decision and I decided a two month period should be allowed for a group comprising the HSE——
I received the report on 31 January and we allowed two months, February and March, for a group comprising representatives of the HSE, the Department and the OPW to receive proposals and make a recommendation to me on the most appropriate collocation. Deputy Rabbitte and I have heard suspicions but I assure him this will be a fair, competitive process.
My only concern is for sick children and doing the right thing for them. A total of 40% of the children will come from outside the Dublin area and therefore transport linkages and so on are also important.
I hope to receive the report at the beginning of April and I will make it public so that everybody can see the basis for the recommendation. I do not know what recommendation will be made. I assure the Deputy that it is not a foregone conclusion, notwithstanding the rumours within the medical profession in this city.
I thank the Tánaiste for her assurances and I take them at face value. Nobody I know of has criticised the McKinsey report and this is not the issue because the merits of the report are accepted. It may have been a slip of the tongue on the part of the Tánaiste but I think she took the report before Christmas. The presentation to which she referred was held on 31 January 2006.
The re-siting of Temple Street hospital has been worked on for the past five years. It has taken people a little by surprise that a presentation was made on the contents of the McKinsey report on 31 January 2006. A formal letter inviting bids was received on 17 February and a deadline of 2 March was imposed for those tenders. This seems to be a highly unusual way to progress such a large project and there is an inevitable connection with the suspicions to which the Tánaiste referred.
Many people are a little bemused at the policy priority being given to this, welcome though it may be. The accident and emergency figures published this morning are at the lowest point to date. Even allowing for the dispute between the INO and the HSE, the accident and emergency situation is the worst crisis in the health services. Of the 200,000 medical cards which the Tánaiste promised in November 2004, only 10,000 have yet been awarded, 9,984 being the actual number. One would have thought these were the kinds of issues that policy-wise might be driven to the top of the agenda, but instead it is this issue which has emerged over a lightning period. Very little time has been given for submissions. When will the decision be made and who will make it?
There are many priorities but the cause of sick children is a major priority. One need only visit Temple Street or Crumlin hospitals. Parents have told me that they do not care where the hospital is located, they just want a new hospital. Virtually every paediatrician I have spoken to has welcomed the fact that services will be brought together to provide a state-of-the-art facility for sick children. The reason it is an urgent priority is that new hospitals were to be built for Temple Street and Crumlin but the Mater Hospital badly needs redevelopment. If Temple Street is not to be co-located with the Mater in a single building I do not want the Mater project delayed for months. The usual criticism of the Government is that it does not make decisions quickly. Co-location can only be achieved in a few places if that is the decision. If this is to happen, a new hospital will need to be designed and planned. The Government is currently considering a co-location with an adult hospital which is the best option.
I will make the decision. I will not give anyone the opportunity to say the Government is afraid to make difficult decisions such as this. I will consider the advice of the group which I have established, otherwise there would have been no point in putting such a group in place. It is composed equally between the Department of Health and Children, the HSE and the OPW.
With regard to accident and emergency units, eleven hospitals have wards closed because of the winter vomiting bug and this is adding to the pressure. The provision of accident and emergency treatment is a priority but the cause of sick children is no less a priority. The facilities for the tertiary-level care of children with serious cancers, heart disease and many other serious illnesses leave a lot to be desired.
What is the Tánaiste's position on the latest pandemic of donations amnesia to afflict her Fianna Fáil partners in Government? Is it convincing that the Chief Whip of her Government could forget to tell the planning tribunal about a £2,000 donation from a wealthy landowner——
I am referring to the fact that items have come into the public domain and are admitted and certain. They are in the political domain. It is a nonsense if the Ceann Comhairle says that this Parliament cannot discuss it.
I ask the Tánaiste if it is of any concern to her that last week she said she discussed suspicions of corruption in Dublin County Council in the 1990s with Deputy Kitt and others. I know these were the most torrid days in the history of Dublin County Council because I was there. Speculators and bag men were crashing into each other as they arrived with donations to politicians. The Chief Whip accepts a donation, other Fianna Fáil TDs accept donations but then their memory fails.
I refer the Tánaiste to an earlier period of Progressive Democrats in Government when the unreliable memory of a Government colleague, the late Minister, Brian Lenihan, caused her to have him sacked from Government. By those standards, Deputy Kitt's memory lapse revealed last Monday would have the Tánaiste on Tuesday at the Taoiseach's door with her carving knife, followed close behind by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, with a silver platter to receive the Chief Whip's head. What has changed in the meantime?
I remind the Tánaiste that she is in charge. According to the Progressive Democrats president, Deputy McDowell, it is not the bulky bread which gives the sandwich its taste, it is the Progressive Democrats meat that gives the sandwich its flavour, incidentally reducing the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil to a soggy lump of batch. In west Dublin many people believe the PDs slipped into the sandwich under a leaf of lettuce and they hope it will be scrubbed better when the next one is being prepared. According to the Minister, Deputy McDowell, the junior party decides the essential direction of Government. Is it that the PDs are getting from this Government all they want such as privatisation of public assets — Aer Lingus is the next casualty — indulgence of the unbridled greed of speculators, a tax bonanza for the obscene rich and the pioneering of the race to the bottom which the Tánaiste pioneered by bringing Turkish big business to Ireland and so giving us the infamous Gama? In the indulgence of that orgy of greed which is the essence of the neo-liberal capitalism that she espouses, donations alleged, memory lapses and all the rest no longer cause her any problems.
For the possible amusement of the Ceann Comhairle, my research has indicated that the sandwich was invented by John Montague, the fourth earl of Sandwich. Apparently he did not like getting his hands sticky by handling the meat directly. He must have had a premonition of the future of Irish politics.
I think Deputy Higgins would make a very tasty meat sandwich. I suggest he talk to his colleagues in the Opposition about the possibilities after the next election.
The Oireachtas has established a tribunal of inquiry into certain matters and it is a matter for that tribunal to reach judgment and decision.
I have total confidence in the Government Chief Whip.
Of course the Tánaiste has confidence in the Chief Whip because she herself accepted political donations from speculators. The Tánaiste cannot evade responsibility for the consequences of the ethos which her Government has inculcated into Irish society. Has it ever occurred to the Tánaiste that the escalating cruelty and sheer callousness towards the fate of others, witnessed on the mean streets of Dublin in recent days and months, is really only a distorted reflection of the greed and callous disregard for social solidarity demonstrated by the very profiteering speculators and developers who have been financing her party and other parties? They are the exploiters of migrant workers and their ethos of greed is not only facilitated but glorified by her Government. When the Government allows speculators to become obscenely rich, for which homebuyers will pay for most of their lives, and Government politicians take substantial donations from those speculators when they illegally or legally accept donations from them, is the message not clear? The Government shrugs its shoulders and turns away. For the tens of thousands stuck with crippling mortgages as a result of the speculators who finance the Government parties we must say the PD sandwich has gone quite stale, in fact somewhat rancid. It is an indictment of the Government that it stands over and fuels this greed.
We should be proud of the record of this country in recent years. Only by supporting enterprise can one create the kind of environment that has generated unprecedented prosperity, while I acknowledge that there are many challenges and difficulties. Like many Members of this House and other houses around the democratic world, people engage in honest fundraising to support political activity.