Thursday, 25 September 2014
I am sure the Tánaiste is aware that many people are nervous to walk the streets of our towns and cities at night, and even during the day. Violent crime is a huge concern and the Government needs to show greater support to the Garda in tackling it. In recent weeks we have seen a number of high profile violent assaults. Such crimes appear to be occurring more frequently, in broad daylight as well as at night. An epidemic of knife attacks appears to exist in many parts of Dublin and many areas are becoming no-go areas. We woke up this morning to hear that a post mistress in Bayside was involved in a tiger kidnapping and the shooting dead of a person at a school in Balbriggan. People are worried and afraid to walk our streets. It appears the lack of Garda presence is feeding that frenzy.
The issue is not confined to Dublin. There was a massive meeting in Roscrea during the summer, where counterparts from Dublin and many small towns and villages expressed their fears and anxieties about the Government's policy for the availability of gardaí on our streets. A crisis is developing in Dublin whereby locals and tourists alike fear for their safety on our main streets. O'Connell Street, Grafton Street and other well known streets in Dublin and other towns unfortunately appear to be threatening nowadays. There is drug dealing at Luas stations. Dublin is fast getting a reputation for being a crime ridden city.
The lack of gardaí on the beat is cause for grave concern. The number of gardaí on our streets continues to decline. People need an assurance from Government in regard to how it will assist the Garda to confront crime ridden cities and towns throughout Ireland.
In regard to the attack on Jonny Cooper at the weekend, to which I presume the Deputy was referring, I offer Mr. Cooper and his family the sincere sympathies of the House. It seems to have been a particularly horrific attack.
I was surprised, when the Deputy referenced Dublin city, that he was not aware of the complete overhaul taking place on both sides of the city centre over a protracted period to get gardaí back on the beat in the city centre and residential areas between the canals. This initiative has been hugely successful. If the Deputy takes the trouble to speak to the gardaí who visit communities, streets and individual houses, he will find that both gardaí and local people have praised the initiative. I understand the results are being constantly evaluated so that lessons may be learned from what has happened. I do not know if the Deputy has heard of the initiative but it has certainly resulted in a significant activation of gardaí, particularly at street level, on the basis he appears to wish to seek. I would expect him to congratulate the Garda management on this initiative. Yesterday morning I spoke with a number of gardaí at a function in the docklands about their experience of the initiative. They spoke about how well it is proceeding in terms of co-operation with local communities of the kind that the Deputy describes as desirable.
The CSO crime statistics that were recently released do not reveal any dramatic changes. However, any crime that happens to an individual is traumatic. Anybody who is subject to a burglary or any other type of crime finds it a traumatic experience. The Deputy will be aware that the process for recruiting new gardaí and reopening Templemore has commenced. The issue of Garda numbers has been addressed by this Government. I am, therefore, slightly at a loss to understand the Deputy's description of the matter in light of the current figures. Any crime is of huge significance to the individuals, families, streets and communities concerned but the CSO crime statistics do not indicate major change. He appears to be completely unaware of the initiatives that Garda management has taken to put gardaí on the street and to connect to individuals and local communities.
Mr. Cooper, to whom we all send our best wishes, is one of many unfortunate victims in recent times. He may be more high profile than others but he is one of many. I speak with gardaí, and I empathise with them and congratulate them for the efforts they are making.
I also speak to members of the public, as should the Tánaiste. If one speaks to people in the large estates in Dublin and throughout the country, one of the main points they make is that they do not see enough gardaí on the beat or available to help them and to protect our streets. We need a greater presence. I accept what the Tánaiste said in regard to Templemore but what assurance can she give the House and, more particularly, those whom we represent that in three weeks' time, when the Government has to make decisions on how it will build the recovery, that it will have cognisance for the fears and anxieties that exist in Dublin and other cities over the lack of available gardaí? Can she assure us that funding will be made available to increase the number of gardaí on the beat and on our streets to reassure people with their presence? That is what we need to hear. She can speak about statistics for as long as she likes - every day if she so wishes - but the people we represent want her to make a commitment to make funding available to increase the number of gardaí on the street and to assure people they can reside in a safer place.
As I speak, an initiative that the Garda has taken to revitalise community policing, using a model developed in the city centre and which has been in operation for a considerable period, is bearing significant fruit. It is popular with members of the public and there is appreciation in the community. The heart of the policing relationship is with the community at a local level, and I agree with the Deputy in that regard. Community policing is vital and what the Garda management is doing shows us the way to increase contact with the community, as well as collaboration and co-operation, which is essential.
With regard to robberies in the Dublin area and other large towns and cities, the Garda has operated a number of specific programmes. I am sure the Deputy is aware that these days, the motorways have become avenues for professional criminals to travel to distant parts of the country, away from their locality. The Garda has set in train a number of very specific programmes which have been quite successful in apprehending some of the professional criminal involved in such activities.
The Deputy asked about commitment to the Garda. The first recruitment to Templemore since 2009 took place this summer, with more to follow. That is the commitment this Government has made to increasing the strength of the Garda. The Government and I were very gratified to see the major interest from people in joining the Garda force.
When the Government took office in 2011, it promised a departure from the stroke politics and cronyism which had permeated past Fianna Fáil Administrations. At the time, An Taoiseach went so far as to describe the election of this Government as a democratic revolution. Nevertheless, here we are in 2014 and we can see that An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, has clearly bought into the politics of the past with his nomination of Mr. John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in order to facilitate him as a Fine Gael candidate in the upcoming Seanad by-election. It appears that at least An Taoiseach regards the use of State appointments as an appropriate way to bolster the qualification of his candidate ahead of this election. It is a case of jobs for the boys.
Given the stink of cronyism that hangs around this turn of events, will the Labour Party fall in behind Fine Gael once again and support Mr. McNulty's nomination? Does the Tánaiste support An Taoiseach in his actions and will her Labour Party colleagues support and vote for Mr. McNulty?
It is not usual or acceptable in this House, by tradition, to name individuals from outside the House who are not here to defend themselves. I ask Members to respect that practice.
The practice has been that if a vacancy arises in the Seanad from one of the Government parties, the party from which the vacancy arises would nominate a person to fill the vacancy. Deputy McDonald would be familiar with the parallel practice for city and county councils, as well as the European Parliament. When people from the Deputy's party have stood down and a vacancy arose, the party would have nominated people to fill the vacancy. We are talking about a standard practice relating to the filling of casual vacancies and with the Seanad, the vacancy would lie with the party from which the vacancy arose. It is consistent with what Sinn Féin has done on previous occasions-----
With regard to the Deputy's comment on the gender of the individual, she asked where the Labour Party stands. Of the 11 appointments to the Government from the Labour Party, five of those are women and two of them are at a senior Government level. There are two at the Minister of State level and the Attorney General is also a woman. If the Deputy is trying to throw some dust on the policy of the Labour Party regarding the promotion of women, I suggest she consider the history of the Labour Party. We have a justifiably proud record of promoting women throughout the party. With the Seanad nominations, the number of appointments from the Labour Party - whether on elected panels or otherwise - had a good gender balance, with women featuring prominently.
If the Deputy is asking me to account for the internal practices of Fine Gael, it is a matter for that party, so I suggest the Deputy address her issues to that party. Sinn Féin has been heavily involved in appointing different members of its party to boards when vacancies arose. In the context of its participation in the government in the North, the party has been able to influence appointments. It has been pointed out that the party's current MEP from Dublin, Ms Lynn Boylan, was appointed to safefood Ireland. There is a list of Sinn Féin people who were appointed to boards as vacancies arose. I am sure those people were all eminently qualified.
I ask people on both sides of the House to respect the ruling of the Chair. I am here as an independent referee and I must enforce time limits. I also remind Deputies that there is a long-standing practice in this House that the business of the Seanad ought not to be discussed. I have allowed latitude because it is a leader's question. This is a matter for the Seanad.
I raised something entirely different. I asked the Tánaiste if she approves of and supports the actions of An Taoiseach in using an appointment to a State board to create qualifications for his candidate for an election.
I ask the Tánaiste if she supports the manner in which An Taoiseach has managed this affair, which has given rise to considerable public comment and concern. Should State boards be used as a springboard to qualify an individual for a Seanad panel? Is that appropriate?
The Tánaiste says this is a matter for Fine Gael. Appointments of that nature are a matter for Government, as are appointments to State boards. They happen on the watch of the entire Government. Is the Tánaiste satisfied with the manner in which An Taoiseach has conducted this appointment?
In her very lengthy response, which managed not to answer the questions, the Tánaiste described a process of co-option, which is not the case in the Seanad by-election. That is an election. I asked the Tánaiste whether she and her colleagues in the Labour Party-----
-----where she may choose to tell people how to vote, or else. She is speaking in the Dáil. She has no right to direct people of any party or none as to how they are to cast their secret ballot. It is quite impertinent of her to suggest how Members of the Dáil or the Seanad should vote. It is fine if she does that to her own members, via her own processes. They are voluntary members, as I understand it, of her political party.
She can offer them her guidance and direction if that is the way her party works. This is a secret ballot. The nomination falls to the party which has the vacancy. That is the practice within government. I accept that practice because that is how it is and has been done.
I wish to raise the circumstances surrounding the Y case and the subsequent report. The last time I addressed this issue was on the day the Dáil went into recess. That was in the week when the United Nations criticised the Irish abortion regime, particularly in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality and where the woman’s health is at risk.
Since then there has been the tragic Y case and the publication of draft guidelines which appear to be even more restrictive than the limited legislation. Under the guidelines, Ms Y would be even less likely to have received the termination she requested. A consultant psychiatrist, Veronica O’Keane, writing in The Sunday Business Postsaid that the opening statement of the draft guidelines serve to reinforce the complete prohibition on abortion and not, as one might expect, to make abortion legal when a woman’s life is at risk.
Over the summer we read the barbaric details of the Y case. A very young woman arrived in a foreign country having been raped and was told that it was not within her financial remit to have a termination. After attempting suicide she was forced to deliver the baby through an unwanted caesarean section. There have been the X case and the tragic Savita Halappanavar case. We are running out of letters in the alphabet for these cases. Behind each one is a real woman who happens to be a wife, a sister, a mother, a daughter.
This Saturday people will take to the streets in a march for choice. Each time this happens the numbers grow. How many times will it take for this to happen before the Government listens and acts?
To judge by the report, the young woman involved was not even consulted. Everyone else seems to have been consulted but not her. The Government can ignore the calls for the repeal of the eighth amendment. The last time I asked the Tánaiste about this she said people were consulted in 1983. One had to have been born before 1966 to have been consulted then.
Did the Tánaiste see the guidelines? Did she agree to the guidelines? Is she aware that the guidelines are more restrictive than the legislation? Will she acknowledge the public calls to repeal the eighth amendment and the changing public opinion on repealing it?
We are all aware that the Y case is a very sad one of a young woman who arrived in Ireland as an asylum seeker. Subsequently her baby was delivered. My concern in discussing this is that her confidentiality and vulnerability should be respected, as should those of the baby. This involves a young mother and a baby. We want to see the best outcomes for both. She has since been granted refugee status in Ireland. I also understand that she is in contact, through her legal representatives, with the team inquiring into the circumstances of what happened.
The information published recently in the media is not a report. It arises from work being carried out in the context of the report's being prepared. Ms Y, through her legal advisers, which is appropriate, is in some contact with the people carrying out the inquiry. That is a matter for her and her legal advisers. It is important that we do not intrude on her privacy or that of the baby in respect of this inquiry, which I hope will conclude as quickly as possible. We will then get the full facts of the case.
As we know since this case first came into the public domain and in the information published to date and broadcast this week, there seems to be information missing about what happened to her at various stages. This is not a report. Nothing has been published. It would be appropriate to wait until the full facts of this case, as far as they can be established, are published by the HSE inquiry team. The chief executive of the HSE made that commitment in late August.
The Minister for Health and the HSE published the guidelines last week. I expect that doctors involved in the care of women during pregnancy, at birth and after pregnancy, will discuss and consider those guidelines.
I believe I answered the Deputy’s question on the eighth amendment before. In 1983 the Labour Party did not support the introduction of the eighth amendment into the Irish Constitution. I told the Deputy that the people voted for an amendment to the Constitution in their wisdom and many parties in this House supported the amendment. I campaigned against it at the time.
I agree with the Deputy that public opinion in this matter has changed. I remind her that approximately 70,000 babies are born in Ireland every year. We want those babies to be wanted, and we want them to be born in the best possible circumstances.
The report was highly critical of the disjointed nature of the process and the impossibility of co-ordinating a response. I have to say that is really setting alarm bells ringing with regard to the protection of women in situations in which their lives are at risk. I acknowledge the role the Labour Party played in 1983. It was brave. It was against public opinion. It took courage. The Tánaiste is letting down the people who went out in 1983. It seems that the position she took then is not one she is prepared to take now, when public opinion is on her side and she is in a position to do something about it. I have to say that must be hugely disappointing for Labour Party people. The Tánaiste did not adequately answer the question I asked about the guidelines. Is she satisfied with them? They row back on the legislation, which was restrictive in itself. Did she agree to them? Is she happy that the restrictive legislation is being restricted further by the guidelines? What role did she play in agreeing them?
I can understand why she is doing so, given her own stance. She has always been upfront about these issues. I respect that. I think she is rushing to judgment, however. I want to draw a distinction in this regard. We have to find the actual facts of the case. It says on each page of the document that was published earlier that it "is a draft document and can only be considered as such". It is also made clear that the document "can be expected to contain factual/clinical inaccuracies and/or information that may require additional clarification". I put it to the Deputy that it is not a report. It is not even a draft report. It consists of workings and draft documentation in relation to a report that will be very important to establish the facts of what happened. The Deputy is asking me to anticipate the outcome of the report. I cannot do that because I do not know the facts. I want to be very clear about that.
On the guidelines, I would like to say my view is that the legislation passed by the Dáil has operated up to now to protect the life of the mother and life of the baby during pregnancy, which is what it was designed to do. From what we know from the public domain, the circumstances of this case came to the panel, in line with the operation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, at a very late stage of the pregnancy. If the Deputy is suggesting that somebody should be given an abortion at 24 weeks, I want-----
What we do not know, and what we need to wait for the report to get the best possible information on, is what actually happened to the young woman in the period between the identification of the pregnancy and her appearance before the panel in the context of the operation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. We do not yet know the answers in this regard.