Thursday, 18 June 2015
I want to ask the Tánaiste about the changes being applied by the Government to the beef genomics programme. This represents a bad deal for farmers. Lest the Tánaiste is not aware of it, it is being talked about across all counties in the country as a bad deal for farmers. There is serious concern about the current structure of the programme, which has serious implications for productive farmers, many of whom have told me that this scheme is unworkable and needs to be changed. Farmers continue to highlight that the scheme is over-complicated and will impose excessive costs on participants and that the conditions attached to the scheme are turning away potential applicants.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, has put in place a rule that will bar any new applicants to the scheme following the close of applications, even if desirable changes are made to the scheme in the future. The draconian rule which provides that all payments made over the lifetime of the programme will be clawed back should a farmer withdraw from the scheme is totally unreasonable and will have a negative impact on farmers who are forced to withdraw from the scheme due to a change in personal circumstances. Farmers should also be allowed to make application to the scheme based on the size of their suckler cow herd this year rather than for 2014, as proposed, as this places an unnecessary limit on those who want to expand their herd size into the future.
The outstanding issues in regard to the six-year rule, the star ratings and the overly bureaucratic nature of the scheme need to be urgently addressed. Can the Tánaiste confirm that she is aware of the farmers' concerns and will she ask Government to request the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to take on board the concerns of farmers and agri-organisations in relation to this scheme? Will she further confirm that the Minister will, at least, return to Brussels and attempt to renegotiate a better deal?
It was a well attended meeting, with in excess of 500 in attendance. As such, it was not that private a meeting. I understand there was a fairly robust and detailed debate-----
-----on the issues which are very important for farmers. I realise, with all the changes taking place within farming, particularly for young farmers who have large investments and big commitments, either in terms of the acreage they own or acreage they may be leasing or renting, that there are big decisions facing family farms and farm companies. It is important that the Minister engages fully with farmers and addresses their concerns and that is what he is doing.
In regard to the changes that came into effect this year in the farming sector and future changes in terms of how these issues are dealt with, anybody who reads the farming press in detail will know how complex an area this is. When Deputy Cowen and I were campaigning in the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election this was certainly an issue farmers wanted to talk about. As I said, it is an important issue. The Government is engaging with the farmers and, in particular, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is meeting farmers. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is focussing, in particular, on rural communities, on which these changes will also impact.
If Deputy Cowen has proposals around more detailed consultation processes I am sure the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will be happy to look at them. As Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, has always been available to the farming sector. He continues to engage with small and large groups of farmers and with farmers on an individual basis. As Deputy Cowen is aware, because of his continued dialogue with the IFA and other farm organisations on a range of issues there is a strong social partnership between the farming community, the farming organisations and the Government.
If the Deputy has proposals he would like to make, let us hear them.
Every farming organisation is at the end of its tether in regard to this issue. They have briefed Deputies on it here in the Oireachtas and at public meetings in their constituencies. The time for talking is over in terms of farmers putting forward suggestions. Their suggestions have already been made. I would have thought the Tánaiste, as a member of Government, would be aware of those suggestions and that she might have been privy to conversations at the Cabinet table in regard to this issue, if there were any. Clearly there were no such conversations because the Tánaiste is not too well informed on this issue.
Lest the Tánaiste is not aware of them, I will again put on the record the suggestions made by the farmers, which information might be helpful to her when attending future meetings on farming issues. They have suggested a rolling reference year, a mid-term review and a reduction in genomics testing and costs and that in terms of qualification, eligible calves and weanlings be included along with heifers and cows. All they want is more flexibility to make the scheme work.
It appears that the Tánaiste, most definitely, and some of her colleagues are ignoring this issue. Has consideration been given by the Government to any of the reasonable proposals put forward by farmers? Can the Tánaiste confirm today that some action will be taken to alleviate the concerns of farmers throughout the country? Will she also confirm that there has been no discussion on this issue at Cabinet or Government level and reassure me, this House and the people I represent, particularly the farming community, that the Government will take seriously the current concerns expressed by farming organisations on behalf of their members throughout the country? Will she come back to me at a future date with a more reasonable answer?
The Deputy summarised some of the points made by the farming organisations. Rather than throwing around suggestions, Deputy Cowen might outline Fianna Fáil's view on the matter.
The remarkable RTE documentary aired last Monday night exposed the full extent of collusion between British state forces and Unionist paramilitaries in the decades of the conflict. It was not just a case of a few bad apples; it was systemic. Agents of the British state controlled and armed Unionists and loyalist paramilitaries for all of those years. All parties in the House have called on the British Government to open the files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The Tánaiste tells us that the Taoiseach has raised this issue with the British Government but that it is not for turning. The British Government has also failed to honour its commitments in the Weston Park agreement and to have a proper and full independent investigation into the murder of Pat Finucane. The Tánaiste tells us that the Taoiseach has raised the matter with the British Government but that it is not for turning. For how long will the Government tolerate this? If the British Government presided over the murders of human rights lawyers and elected representatives in Scotland, can the Tánaiste imagine this being tolerated?
I raise the case of Councillor Eddie Fullerton. He was a much loved and respected member of Buncrana Urban District Council and Donegal County Council and assassinated in his home on 25 May 1991. His family has since been failed by the sheer apathy of those in power in this state. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of his family, we now know that an RUC special branch car took his killers across the Border that night. We also know that two of the guns used in the massacres at Castlerock and Greysteel were used in the murder of Eddie Fullerton. Incredibly, when these weapons were found, the Garda failed to interview those in custody.
The RTE documentary, with other BBC "Panorama" programmes and the recent book, Lethal Allies, confirm that collusion between security forces and paramilitaries was endemic during the Troubles. Our position is that the people responsible must be brought to justice. That is also the Labour Party's position. The families of the victims deserve nothing less. The family of Councillor Fullerton and all other families on both sides in the Troubles deserve nothing less. The Government has consistently called on the British Government to face up to its responsibilities in regard to what happened in the past.
The Deputy mentioned Weston Park which dates back to 2004. He knows the history of what has happened since. A framework for achieving what we are talking about is contained in the Stormont House Agreement. The leader of Sinn Féin and the Deputy First Minister were present at the Stormont House discussions and I believe that Agreement provides a framework for us. The Smithwick report dealt with issues of Garda collusion with the IRA, for example, in the deaths of two RUC officers. When that report was published, my predecessor, the then Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, took a leadership role in dealing with the past. We all need to be careful in making attempts to rewrite the past. The debate on collusion in the Assembly earlier this week and in these Houses on Tuesday shows that we need to look at this as a conflict which involved two sides and address what paramilitaries on both sides did. That is the reason I refer again to the Stormont House Agreement as offering a way forward takeing into account the needs of victims' families on both sides.
The Tánaiste is right that all families deserve the truth. The difficulty is that the British Government and the British state have never accepted full responsibility for their full role in controlling, arming and directing Unionist paramilitaries throughout the decades of the conflict. That is the responsibility of the Government which is co-guarantor of all of the Agreements, from the Good Friday Agreement through to the Stormont House Agreement. Therefore, it is its responsibility. Can the Tánaiste imagine any other European jurisdiction where if a much loved elected representative was murdered by agents of another state, the government would pretty much sit on its hands for 24 years and accept it, despite the overwhelming evidence? Again, will the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach meet the family of Councillor Eddie Fullerton, listen to the latest update on their investigations and serious concerns and act on them? Furthermore, will they look at the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the case of Pat Finucane? Will they tell the British Government it must take full responsibility for its part in the conflict? Other groups have accepted responsibility and apologised for the hurt and pain they inflicted during those terrible years. The one party that is missing from the equation is the British Government. It is the responsibility of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to make it live up to its responsibilities and get to the truth for the families who are asking for it.
The Government has consistently called on the British Government to face up to its responsibilities in regard to what happened in the past. We have made it absolutely clear that an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane should take place. We have also said time and again both here and elsewhere that the Ballyymurphy families should have the investigation they seek. The Government has made this clear on numerous occasions.
To return to the broader issue, we are all, undoubtedly, committed to a peaceful future for everybody on the island. In that context, I recommend the mechanisms in the Stormont House Agreement - the historical investigations unit and the independent commission on information retrieval - which are all part of a number of initiatives that need to be taken to allow the cases of families who lost members or were involved in other events to be investigated.
Sinn Féin also has a role to play, as does the broader republican movement. The families of the disappeared also need justice. The IRA must also face up to its role in covering up child abuse. The republican movement must address that issue. Máiria Cahill, for example, is entitled to justice for what happened to her. We should use the mechanisms available to move all of these issues forward, issues which have deeply affected people affected by the Troubles.
I will certainly talk to the Taoiseach about that matter. On the murder of Councillor Fullerton, we have continual discussions on the issues involved. Sinn Féin also has a responsibility. The IRA, too, has a responsibility to face up not only to the issues related to the disappeared but also to the issues of child abuse and specifically those raised by people such as Máiria Cahill and Paudie McGahon who have sought justice for what paramilitaries did to them.
The human rights of women and girls are violated on a daily basis because of a constitution that treats them like child-bearing vessels. In the past week these words have been spoken about Ireland by the secretary general of Amnesty International. They were not about a Third World country or a member state of the European Union but about a state which, ironically, had just the first popular vote ever on same-sex marriage and had one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the world.
It is with regret that, despite many pressing issues, I have to use Leaders' Questions to bring this matter to the floor of the Dáil. We have fewer women here than in the Afghan Parliament, for example, and also fewer women among those who will bring these issues to the Tánaiste's attention. What will she do about the ongoing denial of women's human rights? A total of 7 million people are intervening in this country for the first time ever in an Amnesty International campaign, following a detailed booklet and report produced by it on this country. What is the Tánaiste's response to the report and doctors such as Peter Boylan who told Amnesty International, "We must wait until women become sick enough before we can intervene. How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that." What is the Tánaiste's response to women such as Lupe who was carrying a foetus with no heartbeat for 14 weeks and who had to travel to her home country of Spain to receive proper medical treatment? More generally, what is the Tánaiste's response to the many women forced to raise money to travel abroad and to those having abortions in their bedrooms with the abortion pill? The Amnesty International report is made much worse when another UN committee dresses down the country for a second time in two years and calls Ireland a developing country because of the unique relationship between church and State.
Despite the best efforts of some to muddy the waters, the United Nations clearly stated Savita Halappanavar would now be alive if there was abortion in this country for health reasons. My question is whether the Tánaiste will now admit that the Government and the Labour Party, in particular, made an error of judgment following that tragedy in 2013. Instead of the conservative option that the Government took, of restricting and criminalising women, it could have allowed a referendum to repeal the eight amendment on the grounds of being necessary to protect women’s health. In the light of the fantastic vote on marriage equality, the overwhelming desire is for social progress in this country. Will the Tánaiste do what she can in this regard? She cannot guarantee being in a future Government, but the Government could hold a referendum on this issue in the autumn.
On Amnesty International's report, I had an opportunity to meet at length in my office its secretary general, Mr. Salil Shetty, together with its officials, including the head of Amnesty International in this country, Mr. Colm O’Gorman. They presented the report to me, which I understand they also presented to a number of other members of the Government, including the Minister for Health. The report is extensive and the Deputy will be aware that it contains a number of recommendations. However, she must bear in mind that it seeks to address an issue everyone would like to see addressed, namely, fatal foetal abnormalities, in order that women who are carrying a much loved baby but who have been advised that the baby will not survive pregnancy would have an option of dealing with the issue. Many women who find themselves in this situation may wish to carry the baby to full term, while others will not. It is important that women have choices in that regard. That formed a significant part of the report.
Amnesty International also presented the report to the Dáil. There is less understanding internationally and the fact must be respected that the Irish people in a free vote, as was the case in all recent referenda, chose in their wisdom, whether the Deputy agrees with it, to insert the eight amendment into the Constitution. Therefore, the legal advice to the Government is that when the people express their view in a referendum, as they chose to do, the majority position prevails. I believe the Deputy disagrees with the legal advice, from what she said previously. She should remember that in the previous referendum on gay marriage 62% voted in favour, but there were also many people who expressed their disagreement with the proposition, as was their right. That is called democracy. If there is to be any change in the matters which fall within the remit of the eight amendment, it must be done by way of a further constitutional referendum to be put to the people. In that event, we must clearly set out, in a way that takes into account the best interests of women and babies, the framework with which we wish to replace it. Unlike the marriage equality referendum, this is not about inserting extra words into the Constitution but about removing from it a particular framework which was included by the people in their wisdom 30 years ago and replacing it with an alternative framework.
It is going to take a great deal of detailed work in the Labour Party. Speaking as leader of the Labour Party, we have had extensive discussions within the party and an extensive motion at conference dealing with the issue, but in terms of the medical and legal experts with whom we have spoken, including Dr. Boylan and other eminent doctors, we have a lot more work to do. However, it is an issue we are committed to addressing, as per our conference motion. The Government has addressed the issues we agreed to address in the programme for Government, namely, the X case and the A, B and C case. We will shortly receive some reports, as set out in the legislation, from the Minister for Health on current practices.
The Government did not know about the cases that have come up since it came to power. The programme for Government can change. The Labour Party had no problem in changing its policy on many other issues such as water charges and cuts to child benefit. The Tánaiste met Mr. Salil Shetty, but fatal foetal abnormality is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. A very small section of women are affected by the position. We need full-scale change. I do not know what the dilemma is for the Tánaiste. The matter is simple. We should delete a wording that should never have been inserted in the Constitution in the first place. The Tánaiste referred to the decision of the people in a free vote. The Government reran the referenda on the Lisbon and the Nice treaties; therefore, the notion that something cannot be put to the population for a second time is ludicrous.
Some 32 years later, one would have to be 51 years old to have voted in that referendum in 1983 and thus not even of child bearing age. If one were to distil all of the poll findings, they would show a majority in favour of holding a referendum. In fact, Labour Party supporters are most supportive, in that 80% of them are in favour.
Does the Tánaiste agree that young people have also changed their opinion and that they are the ones most impacted on? I cannot believe the Tánaiste is citing what happened in a referendum 32 years ago. It is ironic that she has singled out lone parents for attack since she came to power, given that the Government prohibits abortion. I will happily present her with a petition against the attacks on lone parents. Will she consider the position in which she is putting women because the single biggest group living in poverty includes lone parents?
I note that young people from primary and secondary schools are in the Visitors Gallery. The Constitution provides the legal basis on which the Dáil rests. It is appropriate that every Member of the Dáil should have respect for the Constitution which dates back to the 1930s. I doubt if there are that many people alive or and serving in this House who voted on the Constitution. The vote took place in the early 1930s in a plebiscite.
The Deputy needs to indicate that the Socialist Party has some respect for the rights of the people of Ireland, whether or not she agrees with what the people of Ireland decide, if she is a democrat.
I met Amnesty at great length and we are having the Amnesty recommendations and report examined. Some of the proposals in the document do not reflect a complete understanding of the Irish Constitution and of its primacy and primary role in the future in changing issues in this area. The Labour Party has already had a very open and democratic debate and discussion on it. We voted against the eighth amendment to the Constitution and argued and recommended that people should not have agreed to the eighth amendment. However, we accept the verdict of the people until we have a situation in which we can put an alternative to them. The Socialist Party is very careful not to say what its alternative would be. If Deputy Coppinger wants a debate, she should set out what her alternatives might be.