Thursday, 16 October 2003
Order of Business.
The Order of Business today is No. 1, statements on the report, Education at a Glance, OECD Indicators 2003, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the debate to conclude not later than 1.15 p.m. The Minister shall be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements.
Yesterday, Senator Terry raised an important matter concerning the latest spate of gangland killings in Finglas and other parts of the city. Already this year there have been 45 murders, compared to 52 murders last year. Last week, Fr. Seamus Aherne in Finglas made stark comments following the appalling murder there. He spoke about the tyranny of the few and said that those who are harassing the community need to be harassed by the law. He added that a gang of ten individuals is terrorising the community, where people are losing heart because they are afraid. Does the Leader agree that we urgently need a debate and a statement from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the issue of gangland killings?
After the murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996 the political establishment woke up, took note of the situation and responded with new laws. Those same criminals, however, are back in business with new gangs, terrorising our community. It is about time the House had a major debate on crime, the spate of gangland killings and these new untouchables, who feel that they have a right to terrorise the community. It is a small group of people, but they are terrorising law-abiding citizens and we need a debate on this matter as soon as possible. Following Senator Terry's suggestion yesterday, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to address this serious matter.
I strongly support Senator Hayes. The issue I intended to raise ties in with his comments. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should concentrate on crime rather than telling us about half a dozen hardworking gardaí and prison officers who are earning excessive overtime. He may be right, but it involves six people and it is distracting attention from the real issues. Let us not worry about people who are working too hard. Let us worry instead about the job that they are trying to do and how difficult it is to do it. On one side of the crime debate are the issues raised by Senator Hayes while, on the other, are the gardaí and the prison officers. While it may be true that matters among them need attention, that is the minor end of the debate. The real issue is that people are living in fear not just of crime, but also of co-operating with gardaí and others in solving crime. We need to support those law-abiding people in communities.
One of the problems that always arises in these situations is that when people talk about an area which experiences a great deal of crime, everybody in that area appears to be a criminal. Finglas, which I pass through every morning as I live only a few miles from it, is a community of law-abiding, decent, hard-working people who are as committed to having a crime free area as anybody else. The people in those areas are as much victims as those in other areas and we need to keep that in mind. Any debate on crime should not be simply on the law and order aspect but also on the issues that give rise to it. I ask the Leader to give serious thought to the proposal that we examine crime and the causes of crime.
The issue raised by my two colleagues is perhaps the most serious that has confronted this country for quite some time. I want to elaborate a little on how we need to take this issue seriously. I do not want to make a political speech. I will not mention the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but I want to remind this House of what it was like, say, 20 years ago at the height of paramilitary activity. Those attending meetings connected in any way with Northern Ireland would be regarded as quasi-subversive or sympathetic and would be visited by at least two members of the Garda Síochána. It appeared there were limitless resources to keep an eye on and follow those sorts of people, whether the threat was real or imaginary. In my case I was at the receiving end of a few of those people when they were interested in what I was doing. We appeared to have limitless resources then but now we have communities in Dublin like the one mentioned earlier terrified of armed criminals, and the Garda Commissioner says he does not have the resources to make life difficult for the people who are making the lives of a whole community difficult. What has happened? We are richer than we were 20 years ago. We have more resources, yet we are told we do not have the Garda resources to deal with this problem. It is time we had a serious debate in this House about the way we deal with armed crime, and the same sort of focus should be on it. Otherwise, people will conclude that armed violence which threatens the State is taken far more seriously than armed violence which only threatens ordinary people. It is up to the Oireachtas to make a clear statement that the type of activity that is taking place in our capital city will stop.
I want to raise one other matter, namely what happened to the three US citizens in Gaza yesterday. It was wrong but it is worth reminding the House that they were not the first US casualties in Palestine. Rachel Corry, a US citizen, was murdered by an Israeli bulldozer less than a year ago and nobody in the world took it too seriously. The powers that be, the European Union and the United States, must resume a position of clear balance on the Palestinian issue and stop blaming a non-existent authority for the prevalence of crime. Having destroyed the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian security forces, they then turn around and say it is their fault. What do we want? Do we want civil war between the Palestinians? It is time the world stood back and said this problem has to be solved by serious compromise on both sides, not by continuing demands for further compromise by the Palestinian people.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of the bin tax yesterday and the conflicting statements made by various public representatives in terms of where they stand on the issue – some pay and others do not – and by various union leaders in terms of the succour they are giving to law breakers. The position is that law-abiding county council workers are being prevented from going about their work. Many Members of this House are former members of local authorities and they should make statements on this issue because the estimates will be coming up for discussion in the next six or eight weeks in various county councils and I would like to hear all Members indicate the stand they will take if service charges are included. Will they go along with the hypocrisy and in certain situations vote against service charges just because other people in a certain constituency, such as Deputy Joe Higgins, who is voting—
Yesterday the Hanly report was issued, the 105th report published by the Department of Health and Children in three years. What happened to the other 104? Its main recommendation was 2,500 acute beds and 2,000 consultants but the other recommendation was the reduction of accident and emergency hospitals from 40 to 12. There will be much discussion on this aspect because the closeness of these hospitals to communities is crucial to their survival. Where does the Minister for Finance stand in relation to this document? Will the resources be provided to implement its recommendations?
An aspect of the document I welcome is the Mid-Western Health Board area being selected for a pilot project and the appointment of 149 extra consultants over a period, creating many disciplines which do not currently exist. I am dubious, however, because in the good times we did not have health reform and now we are talking about health reform in the bad times. I would like to know if the resources will be provided to go ahead with this facility.
Will the Leader arrange to have, at the earliest opportunity, a detailed debate on the report of the task force on medical staffing, the Hanly report? If I am accused of being parochial I will accept the accusation because as far as I am concerned, we fought for and got a hospital in Roscommon. I signed a contract for approximately €8 million for an accident and emergency department in the hospital, which is under construction. We have appointed an accident and emergency consultant and it will be over our dead bodies, politically or otherwise, that we will close that facility before it is opened. I want to make it clear that I want this report rejected as early as possible.
I had not intended to comment on the Hanly report but we have just witnessed a lamentable outbreak of parochialism. That is what has the country in its current state. If we commission a serious report and if we are looking to the welfare of patients, and one is not interested merely in one's own re-election prospects, then we will get ahead. These matters have to be treated seriously in the light of the welfare of patients—
I support Senator Hayes in his call for a debate on crime, particularly the use of guns. There has been an immense increase in that activity which is very worrying. I also saw Fr. Aherne from Finglas and I was immensely impressed by his dignity, outrage and courage. One comment he made was that there has been a complete desensitisation. Many of these professional killers are now in their late teens and early 20s and they appear to have no capacity to imagine or understand the pain, suffering and grief they cause by their actions. This is an area in which we need to intervene and as a society we need to stand with the majority of decent people in Finglas and protect them because they are under a type of gun law. The rest of society has to show it is concerned. They are not a separate part of this country and city.
I also support the calls for a debate on the Middle East. It is extremely important. Of course, one condemns the outrage, the murder of the American diplomats, but as Senator Ryan pointed out the situation for the Palestinians has been difficult and disgraceful. It is important we keep this issue under review.
Will the Leader bring to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's attention a small but significant point which has been drawn to my attention before, that is, the house on the corner of Lincoln Place with Sweny's chemist – a curious spelling – which forms an important point of Joyce's Ulysses and is visited by many people? The main part of the building appears to be deliberately left open to decay. Next year is the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday and people from all over the world will visit. The Government has become involved in it. It would be a shame if tourists from all over the world came and visited one of the sites from Ulysses and saw classic inner city dereliction with the windows wide open inviting the building to fall down, although the chemist is still running satisfactorily underneath. It is something into which we need to ask somebody to look.
I support the remarks of Senator Brian Hayes. Every right minded person would have to do so. I wish to refer to another matter I have raised in this House on more than one occasion, that is, bullying in schools. We are talking about the breeding ground for the people about whom we are speaking. In regard to the management of housing estates, people are intimidated into leaving their homes. When they complain to us and we make representations, the first question we are asked is, "Will they stand up in court and say that?" The short answer to that question is "No". They then hand back their keys and are back on the housing list. When we make representations to get them rehoused, we are told that they had a house but they left it, and so the circle continues. There are many aspects to the debate sought today and that is only one of them. The streets of our towns and the playgrounds of our schools are where those people are bred and fed.
Will the Leader respond to the calls of many Members for a debate on planning issues as a matter of urgency? It has become more urgent given the announcement by the Taoiseach in the past week of the establishment of a national infrastructure body. In making this announcement and in his comments on the situation, the Taoiseach clearly slapped the hand of An Bord Pleanála and the delays therein. The Taoiseach has the ability to properly resource that body which is beyond reproach. It is immune from political interference. I suspect the establishment of a new body will provide a quick-fix for many of the problems the Taoiseach sees. It is not that people are against progress and an urgent response to infrastructural needs—
This clearly indicates that the Taoiseach wants to sideline An Bord Pleanála and the local planning authorities. In view of the Taoiseach's and his party's history on planning issues, they should be blamed for the delays. We must have an urgent debate on this issue.
I, too, call for an urgent debate on the Hanly report published yesterday and finally delivered to us last night, many hours after the media received it. I call for such a debate in order to ask the Minister for Health and Children to think again. The proposals in the Hanly report will mean that these so-called centres of excellence, these 12 regional hospitals, will end up like the Mater and Beaumont Hospitals with patients being treated on trolleys. The reason is simple. If one closes Nenagh hospital accident and emergency, 11,000 people will go to Limerick. That is not parochialism; that is a fact. It is the wrong way to go and we need to tell the Minister that. We need to get this report back to square one and put care back into hospital services.
I support the calls for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss the escalating and serious problem of crime and the sense that it is getting out of control and to ask him a serious question about his attitude to the media and the reporting of crime following his remarks during the recess.
I support my colleagues' call for a debate on crime, which is escalating. There has not been a day since the Seanad reconvened after the summer recess when a debate on crime has not been called for. I hope the Leader will accede to that in the near future.
In regard to the mid-term evaluation of the BMW operational programme, some of the results of the review are alarming. Little funding has been drawn down in several areas, including rural development, e-commerce, agriculture and waste management. A number of good recommendations have been put forward by the authors of the report and it is important we debate them and free up funding for the various programmes throughout the region. We need to look at the removal of administrative obstacles because if we do not, the funding will go back to the EU and it will not look on us favourably in the next round of Structural Funds.
I wish to add my voice to those who so coherently called for a debate on crime.
It would be remiss of this House if it allowed today go by without reference and congratulations to His Holiness Pope John Paul II on his 25th jubilee which takes place today. We all remember 24 years ago when he came to Ireland how the country stood still and the joy we experienced on that occasion. He is the most travelled Pope and the third longest serving Pope, a fact of which I was unaware. He is also the first non-Italian Pope for 400 years. We should remember him today with joy and recognition of that achievement.
I wish to draw the Leader's attention to a point which came to my notice last week, that is, a call by the Governments of Italy and Greece for a return to notes instead of coins for the €1 and €2 denominations. Apparently they blame the coins for the increase in prices because people in those countries are used to coins being of little value. It is a call we should reject and I urge the Minister for Finance not to give way to that move.
I, too, support Senator Brain Hayes's call for a debate on what he referred to as the tyranny of a few. It is clearly the oppression of the majority by the minority. We cannot expect to succeed in upholding democratic values if we tie the hands of the gardaí. We, as true democrats, must rely on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There is an urgent need for a highly specialised unit of the Garda force in this city in which, I understand, there are in excess of 40 gangs. This is ludicrous.
Will the Leader update us on the future plans for Aer Rianta, of which we have an outline? In particular, I wish to ask her about the Great Southern Hotel chain which is tied to it. I know she enjoys staying in those hotels.
There was a very impressive discussion last night on the transport challenges facing this country and city. The economic corridor between Dublin and Belfast is being inhibited if people from the North are not allowed to use sterling when going through the toll booths on the new motorway. I suggest that, as soon as possible, people coming from the North to do business here should be able to use sterling rather than having to change money to get through the toll booths.
After listening last night to everybody giving out so much, the best thing the Members could do now is move over and join us in running the country.
Regarding the sentiments expressed yesterday by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú on illegal Irish immigrants in the US, post September 11 these people, who have been there for perhaps ten or 15 years, or even longer, without green cards are living in fear of being returned home. They cannot come home to weddings and they live in fear of their parents getting sick or dying because they cannot go home for their funerals. We owe something to the people of that wider diaspora and we have an obligation to try our best to facilitate them. As one person expressed it to me, and this is a sad thing to say, they feel that Sinn Féin is the only one looking after them. That is a horrible state of affairs. I know it is a cynical Sinn Féin propaganda effort, but, at the same time, we are neglecting our wider diaspora in America. It is not through local authorities going over to St. Patrick's Day parades that anything will be done. We need the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to come to the House and make a statement on how we will facilitate dispensations for these people in America to enable them to receive green cards.
Our argument on the use of the Shannon stopover was based on the proposition that we owed the Americans on the basis of their investment in this country, which is a fair point. The Americans owe the Irish, who built their country. A special dispensation must be introduced and we need, as a matter of urgency, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, in this Chamber making a statement to that effect.
I thank Senator Morrissey for again raising the issue of the need to structure a relationship with local authorities after the abolition of the dual mandate, with Senators and Deputies, including myself, leaving councils last week. My council has set aside seats for Members of the Oireachtas above the chamber and has already set up a special database on the web for Oireachtas Members to access council information. I propose that we consider doing something similar for local authority members or take some other initiative to maintain our special relationship with local authorities. This should be done irrespective of reform because it is a totally separate issue. We already have that special relationship with county councils and we need to ensure it continues so that we can raise issues like the powers of local councillors.
In relation to Senator Morrissey's comments, the Government put another nail in the coffin of local democracy when it took away the power from local councillors to decide what waste charges should be imposed and if there should be charges in place at all.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on public private partnerships? We should have a debate on this as the Government has stated that many projects will be funded through such partnerships. We want to see which ones have been funded, how successful they have been and where we go from here. A debate on this matter is important.
One issue I am concerned about is the recent EU regulation which doubles compensation for passengers. This will pose a huge threat to our two passenger carrying airlines, Aer Lingus and Ryanair. It will be a major obstacle to tourism in this country. I call on the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come to the House and outline exactly what the Government is doing to ensure that this will not take place.
This week in the Dáil the Taoiseach corrected the record of the House and I urge the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, to do the same here. On 11 June, in the debate on transport, when people on this side of the House raised the difficulties at the Red Cow roundabout, we were told that we should listen to the experts and leave it to them. He also told us that he would rather listen to the people concerned than quotes from unqualified people.
It is important that the Minister of State corrects the record and apologises to the House. Will the Leader hold another debate on transport? There was a very good debate last night but it was disappointing that two main players failed to show. It was certainly bad value for money. The Minister for Transport failed to show as did the former distinguished Minister. Perhaps she was not allowed—
Senator Brian Hayes made a very timely point on the gangland killings when he referred to Fr. Aherne's words about the tyranny of the few being exercised on the many. The Senator referred to the individuals involved and the need for an urgent debate on crime. We will seek to have that as soon as possible.
Senator O'Toole echoed that matter and mentioned that it was better to deal with these matters in the communities rather than question gardaí and prison officers. However, the point about that matter is that it arose as a result of Parliamentary Questions, as I read in the newspapers today. Questions are put, answers are given and that is part of what we are all about. However, I take the Senator's point about the crime debate.
Senator Ryan talked about the early 1980s, when every meeting was attended by gardaí if there were suspect subversives present, but it was not only that. I will tell an anecdote in that regard. I was a teacher in 1980 when three other teachers and I ran a Padráig Pearse commemoration in the large girls' school where I taught. I was visited the next evening by Special Branch who wanted to know what I had been doing and what it was all about. I know exactly what the Senator is talking about.
When the Senator mentioned it, it echoed with me. One of the teachers in the group of three was the sister of Ruarí Ó Brádaigh. She has since passed away, but she was a very fine teacher. However, I think that was the connection and the reason for the visit.
The Senator referred to the US citizens in Gaza and the need for a debate on that matter.
Senator Morrissey called for a debate on the links with representatives on local authorities. This topic was also mentioned by Senator Ormonde yesterday and by Senator Tuffy. There was also a reference to whether there should be bin charges. There is a respite in the debate today and hopefully that will produce a resolution. Senators Finucane, Feighan, O'Meara and Leyden requested a debate on the Hanly report, the latter in a fiery speech, and I hope to invite the Minister for Health and Children to come before the House next week to take such a debate.
Senator Norris decried Senator Leyden's comments and, together with Senators Bannon, Coghlan and Quinn, requested a debate on crime, referring to people's desensitisation to it. It is a serious problem that the most awful crimes are now described in laconic terms. The Senator also spoke about the house at the corner of Lincoln Place which has a special James Joyce connection. I understand there have been recent moves by local authorities to address such issues, to which the Senator alluded.
Senator Ulick Burke referred to the national infrastructure body, pointing out that the Government has zapped An Bord Pleanála. However, An Bord Pleanála deals with all appeals, from simple house extensions to schemes of 1,000 houses and there is a great difference between them. We have all complained when major roads and infrastructural projects have not been progressed because of issues such as a snail on the proposed Kildare bypass or swans on a lake.
The views of environmentalists will have to be taken into account but a balance must be struck between wanting to get infrastructure in place and attending to environmental issues. The national infrastructure body will do just this and it is hoped we will have the legislation before us immediately after Christmas when we can debate the matter.
Senator Bannon requested a debate on the mid-term evaluation of the BMW region about which I am interested since it would be useful to have the report before the House in order to examine it. The debate would apply to just one region but it would be interesting.
Senator Quinn expressed his appreciation of the Pope as he reaches his 25 year anniversary and recalled memories.
Senator Coghlan asked what the plans are for the Great Southern Hotels. The Senator is a great habitué of the lovely Great Southern Hotel in Killarney, which I like very much too.
Senator White spoke about the North-South economic corridor and the use of sterling currency in the toll booths. I travelled by train to Belfast recently and met a businessman who told me the non-acceptance of sterling was a real deterrent to using the motorway since one must fish around for change. There ought to be an accommodation for sterling coins.
Like most other Senators, Senator McHugh has a case of so-called illegal immigrants in the US who cannot return for family reasons.
Senator Tuffy referred to the special relationship with local authorities and what her own authority has done is commendable. Different authorities have adopted different ways of keeping in contact. I am now invited to council meetings in regard to finance and so on.
Senator Paddy Burke asked how effective public private partnerships have been. I will try to get the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State to come before the House for a debate on the matter.
Senator Feighan praised his colleague, Senator Leyden, and a Roscommon rapport appears to have been established across the floor.