Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Yesterday Deputy Hayes raised the issue of charges on schools for the use of water. This is a problem that has reached ridiculous proportions. On the one hand, one agency of the State, the Department of Education and Science, is paying money to schools while on the other hand, local authorities levy charges on them for water. One school in County Sligo is charged €7,000, a school in County Galway is charged €8,000, a school in County Louth is charged €2,500 and this is expected to rise to €8,000 next year. This shows there is no joined-up thinking on the use of water in schools. Parents of schoolchildren are currently making arrangements for charity walks, auctions, Christmas sales and golf outings as they are now expected to pay for the use of water in schools. This is a very real problem. I assume that when the charges are levied by the local authorities on schools, the Government, as part of that circle, will reduce the amount of money paid to local authorities. This situation is visible evidence of a complete lack of joined-up thinking by Government. The parents of the children are now being forced to organise extra-curricular activities to raise money to pay for water in schools when the Department of Education and Science pays grants to the schools and the local authorities extract this money.
The Minister for Education and Science, in response to a question from Deputy Hayes yesterday, was completely helpless and threw her hands up in despair. It is not usual for the Minister for happiness to be this way——
This is not a happy, clappy situation where schools will be on the dry by virtue of the fact that the Government has displayed a complete lack of joined-up thinking.
What does the Taoiseach propose to do? The Department of Education and Science will screw the schools by virtue of the fact there is no system to provide for usage of water in schools and where parents will be forced to pay for it.
At that stage all the submissions for derogation were put forward. From this country's point of view the big issue in those negotiations on the directive a decade ago was to achieve derogation for domestic water rates for residential use and we achieved that after a significant debate and battle. We did not achieve derogation in other areas, schools being one of those areas and therefore the EU water framework directive 1999 is being implemented.
School capitation grants have been increased over several years. The directive is based on methods of water conservation with which we are all in agreement. The programme for installing water meters in schools has commenced and it will take some time as there are more than 4,000 schools in the country. There is a need to achieve some kind of agreement on standards between the local authorities and the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and of Education and Science.
This is the implementation of the EU water framework directive. Metering will help but the framework directive is based on conservation of water and therefore is based on use. This is the law we signed up to in 1999.
I reminded the Taoiseach yesterday of his selective amnesia about persons who addressed the joint Houses of Congress in the United States. The Minister for Foreign Affairs forgot he received an increase of €10,000 in the past two years. I listened to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the radio this morning who seems to have forgotten that he is in Bali to save the world and to discuss climate change and instead has commented on social partnership.
The Government forgets. For instance, the programme for Government, on which the Taoiseach was elected, states clearly that the Government will examine the provision of waste and water allowances to schools, with charges becoming effective after these agreed allowances are exceeded.
The Minister for Education and Science yesterday threw her hands up in despair and said to Deputy Hayes, "I can do nothing about this".
I am now expected to leave this to the thousands of parents around the country who are being forced out to do all these charity gigs, golf outings, raffles and sponsored walks, to raise money to pay to the local authorities for water used in the schools where their children attend. This is a very real problem and the Minister for Education and Science has failed utterly to do anything about it, despite the fact that the programme for Government states the Government will examine the provision of waste and water allowances to schools, with charges becoming effective after these agreed allowances are exceeded.
The Taoiseach will be aware that when a business refuses to pay water charges, the local authority will cut it off. Will the situation arise where the school in County Galway now being charged €8,000, the school in County Louth which will be charged €10,000, the school in County Cork being charged €7,500, will all have their water supply cut off next year? Is this a situation the Government will tolerate and which the Minister for Education and Science — who has failed utterly in this matter — will also have to put up with? I bet she will not visit one of those schools on a Friday morning and appear in the middle of all the pupils and say, "We are all on the dry here".
There is no joined-up thinking between the Department of Education and Science and the local authorities. I want to know what will happen before these schools are presented with very substantial bills. In a school of 100 pupils, the capitation grant is €17,500. The amount required to run that school is at least double that figure. I spoke yesterday to Councillor O'Connor who has a 500-pupil school in Glasthule which is well known to Deputy Gilmore. The capitation grants paid by the Government are completely inadequate to deal with the running of the school.
What action does the Government propose to take to honour its proposal in its programme for Government which stated that the Government would look at these water allowances for schools, look for a waiver and after a certain time apply a charge? Please tell us now and save hundreds of thousands of parents much anxiety about this matter.
At the risk of repeating myself, I have to make three points. First, this is part of the EU Water Framework Directive which is now law. It was negotiated back in 1999 and was introduced in 2000. We argued against it at the time and succeeded in getting a derogation so that the hundreds of thousands——
It is part of the EU Water Framework Directive, which is law. At the time we argued that the 1.4 million houses in the country, in which the parents of all these children live, should not pay domestic water rates——
I hope the House is in favour of water conservation. I hope the House would not only support us putting billions into improving our water quality standards but would also be in favour of conservation measures. Dublin City Council has already sent out conservation packs to schools——
Five or six years ago this House set up a body called the Irish Human Rights Commission, which is an independent body to oversee the way in which the State complies with its human rights obligations. Yesterday, that independent body issued a report which states the Irish State is not complying with its human rights obligations to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. That was in respect of a process that is politely known as extraordinary rendition, whereby the CIA kidnaps citizens of European countries off the streets of their own cities, bundles them into a car, takes them to an airport and flies them to a country in Africa or the Middle East where they are tortured. A number of reports, including that of the Human Rights Commission, state that Shannon Airport is one of the airports used for the transiting of these people who are being ferreted away for the purpose of torture.
This issue has been raised on a number of occasions and the Government's response is that it has received diplomatic assurances from the United States' Government that extraordinary rendition is not happening through Shannon, and it has accepted those assurances. The Human Rights Commission, however, states that is not sufficient to comply with our human rights obligations and that what is required is inspection of the aircraft. In this report, the Human Rights Commission states that since 2005 it has been asking the Government to inspect the aircraft which are going through Shannon to satisfy itself independently that people are not being moved through Shannon for the purposes of torture but the Government has not complied.
Why has the Government not complied with the request from the Human Rights Commission to inspect the aircraft going through Shannon and is it going to start a system of inspections of the aircraft in Shannon?
The Government is totally opposed to the practice of extraordinary rendition anywhere. It is important to repeat that at no stage, despite the various investigations that have taken place in recent years, has any evidence been produced that any person has ever been subject to extraordinary rendition through this country, nor has there even been any specific allegation to that effect. That is the factual position.
In its report yesterday the commission recommended the introduction of a specific inspection and monitoring regime for aircraft alleged to have been involved at some point in extraordinary rendition, even if it is claimed to have taken place thousands of miles away. As the Government has repeatedly emphasised, the Garda Síochána already has full powers to search civil aircraft of the type alleged to have been involved in extraordinary rendition, where it has reasonable grounds for suspecting illegal activity such as extraordinary rendition. The Garda has investigated a number of allegations and found no basis on which to proceed.
It is not a case of whether we are about to start inspections; we started doing them a long time ago wherever there was any suspicion, evidence or talk.
As recently as 29 November 2007, the position of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this matter was clearly set out in an Adjournment debate. We set out in the programme for Government that we have to make sure we follow international laws in these issues. As Deputy Gilmore is aware, there is a commitment to seek a review of the Chicago Convention. The Department of Transport intends to raise this at a meeting of the sub-groups of countries which the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the parent body of the convention, intends to host in New York in the new year. The position of the Minister for Transport has been set out internationally and the Minister for Foreign Affairs has gone before the European Parliament on the issue. We have clearly set out our position time and again.
The centrality of human rights compliance on this issue to policing in this country is highlighted in section 7 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. That was inserted into the Act when these issues arose. The objectives include the protection of life and property, and the vindication of the human rights of each individual. That is law and that is something which is complied with now by the Garda.
There is a fundamental difference in having a system of inspections and the system the Taoiseach has just described. What the Government is saying is essentially that if anybody in County Clare hears that somebody is being moved through Shannon for the purposes of torture and they go into their local Garda station and report it, the Garda will then go and inspect the aeroplane. If one has that kind of daft position, it is no wonder one ends up finding golfers on the aeroplane rather than anything of greater substance.
What the Human Rights Commission is seeking is that there would be a system of inspection, that aircraft going through Shannon would be inspected by the Garda, or whoever else, to see whether anybody is being moved illegally through Shannon for the purposes of torture. Since 2005, the Human Rights Commission has been asking the Taoiseach to do that, but he has not done so. That is why the Human Rights Commission has issued what in any state would be regarded as quite a serious report criticising the Government in the strongest terms for not complying with human rights law.
Does the Taoiseach accept the report that was made yesterday by the Human Rights Commission? Does he endorse the recommendations that are contained in the report and what action does he intend to take to implement the recommendations that were given yesterday by the commission?
The Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Transport will examine the recommendations made in the report given to us, but both have already made the point that there are serious questions about the effectiveness of the inspection regime proposed by the commission. We have explained this in detail to it. No other European country has such a regime. There is an issue about highlighting Shannon Airport when there is absolutely no evidence of people, aeroplanes or anything else to do with extraordinary rendition.
The review fails to do justice to the extent to which the Government has been active on the issue of extraordinary rendition, both domestically and on the international stage. However, I am glad to note that it acknowledges the commitments given in the programme for Government which we will implement. As I mentioned, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has already called at EU level for a review of the Chicago Conventions governing civil aviation with a view to identifying possible further measures to counter any possibility of extraordinary rendition. Obviously, if there are such measures which are accepted and implemented internationally, we will implement them. I am grateful that this has been acknowledged by the commission also. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which was responsible for implementing the programme has been active in this regard. On the instructions of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda Síochána authorities have been requested to ensure all gardaí are appropriately trained and familiar with the relevant legislation to ensure these commitments are met. We have covered ourselves well on this issue in the past few years——