Wednesday, 10 November 2004
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on competitiveness and consumer protection, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and other Senators for ten minutes and the Minister will be called upon to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 2, Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004, Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at 2.30 p.m. until 5 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and other Senators, who did not contribute yesterday, for ten minutes and the Minister will be called upon to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 18, motion No. 16, to be taken from5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from1.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m.
Last week, under Standing Order 30 I raised the matter of approximately 36,000 British passport holders on our electoral register who are unable to vote in the upcoming referendum on the EU constitution. I said this matter should be rectified, and the Leader kindly agreed to raise it with the Government to see whether these people would be entitled to vote in the referendum. Mr. Blair and the British Government have given a commitment that all citizens in the United Kingdom will be able to ratify the constitution, so why will 36,000 British passport holders be disenfranchised in our State when their fellow citizens will be able to vote on the matter? This is an EU-wide treaty and has nothing to do with our Constitution. It is a matter for the people of Europe as a whole to determine and ratify. I ask the Government, through the Leader, to raise the matter to see if a conclusion can be reached.
Some eight months after the first appeal from the Mahon tribunal, the Government has decided to amend its terms of reference to ensure latitude in aspects of its investigations and allow for the three judges to deal with three separate cases at the same time. When will this matter come before the House? Has the Leader information on this? It is important the tribunal be allowed to get on with its work as it sees fit in the context of its terms of reference. This issue should be expedited, considering the matter was first brought to the attention of the House eight months ago.
We are within a month of the budget and the Estimates will shortly be published. This will set the tone of taxation for the next year. Whatever people think of taxation, tax breaks and the importance of having an attractive tax regime, the idea that people who earn millions pay no tax at all is utterly unacceptable to ordinary people around the country. People should not be able to write off their entire tax obligation against tax breaks. This is wrong and should not be allowed. There should be a minimum amount below which people cannot drop. Some people pay no tax at all because of tax breaks. Since this information became available, there has been much misunderstanding as to why it should be the case. This inequity is unfair and we should deal with it.
People with big jets, large amounts of money and residences abroad play ducks and drakes with the residency rule. Certain people who earn millions and pay no tax in this country are often presented as model employers. Some of them are able to claim non-residency on the basis they are out of the country at night because this is counted as a non-day in Ireland. I have no problem with non-residency rules and tax breaks but if somebody is in the country for any portion of any day, it is a day. Anybody who earns millions should pay some form of tax.
The best way to deal with people who claim to be non-residents is to require them to prove they are non-resident, rather than the reverse whereby the Revenue Commissioners must prove they are resident. We should adopt the approach of the United States. Any tax paid by Irish citizens abroad, if they are non-resident, should be offset against their Irish tax but if this still leaves them owing tax in Ireland, they should pay. That is what the United States requires its non-resident citizens to do.
A company I will not mention by name announced this morning in Cork that 120 employees, some in Mitchelstown and others in Mallow, are to be moved to an office in Cork Airport because there are no suitable premises anywhere nearer. I thought we had partnership in this country, which would mean that such destructive decisions, which mess up people's lives and families, were not taken arbitrarily and announced out of thin air, but were negotiated and agreed on. I thought this was what partnership meant. I appeal to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to intervene on behalf of families whose lives have been turned upside down by a company which seems to be determined to emulate Ryanair in the quality of its industrial relations.
As we speak, the brutal assault on Falluja continues. It is worth pointing out that all journalistic news reports from Falluja are currently subject to military censorship. This is not something I picked up from any of the Irish media but from the BBC in one of its reports. We have regularly asked for a debate in this House on the Middle East, and I know the Leader supports that. Before we have that debate I would like to see a statement from the Government as to whether it believes Kofi Annan is right when he says the assault on Falluja is illegal and foolish or whether it supports the US-led coalition in this brutal assault. The coalition will of course capture Falluja but will lose the minds of millions of Iraqi people in the process. Again I ask that we discuss in this House the implications of this extraordinarily foolish adventure in the Middle East.
Regarding the adoption or otherwise of the European constitutional treaty, I am in agreement with Senator Brian Hayes that the franchise should be as wide as possible to the extent that all European citizens in this country should be able to vote. Such people can already vote in European elections and even stand for those elections if they so wish. Matters are not as simple as one might think because of our own Constitution. The difference between Ireland and the United Kingdom is that in the case of a constitutional amendment or the election of the President, only Irish citizens can vote. In the United Kingdom they do not elect their Head of State and do not have constitutional referendums. They may hold a plebiscite but that is not the same. I suggest to the Leader that she ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government what might be possible in this area because the general proposition being made is reasonable and should, if possible, be adopted.
The Middle East issue was raised yesterday by Senator Norris and others as it was today by Senator Ryan. It would be appropriate for us to return to the matter. We should not merely consider Iraq but must always give serious consideration to the situation in Palestine, given the circumstances there and the apparently imminent death of President Arafat. Hopefully there will be a peaceful transition of power there, the extremists on both sides can be resisted and the terms of the road map can be implemented. It would be appropriate for us to revisit that matter in the next few weeks; the House has a good tradition regarding such debates.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has stated that Fine Gael was guilty of anti-Garda propaganda. I do not know what evidence the Minister has for this assertion. I remind him that Fine Gael established the Garda Síochána. That Minister has great cheek and arrogance to make such a statement, which is absolute rubbish. This is the same Minister who formerly asserted that gardaí were taking bribes from journalists and who, when asked to substantiate the allegation, said "I know what I know". It is galling to hear that Minister lecturing the Fine Gael Party and I will not tolerate it.
Yes. I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to address these issues. This is the same Minister who asserted that the IRA was involved in racketeering activities in the Dublin docklands but was again unable to follow up his allegation when asked to substantiate it. Accordingly, I regard the recent remarks about Fine Gael as cheek and arrogance.
I support the call for an ongoing debate on the situation in Iraq, the slaughter now taking place there and the general situation in the Middle East. The Very Reverend Matthew Byrne, a former dean of Kildare, has written a wonderful article in today's Irish Independent. Reverend Byrne was a chaplain with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in the Korean War. He mentioned a young soldier in a trench and said it was very strange that politicians who have no qualms about waging war never fight themselves and do not know the young men or women being sent out to do their dirty work. He said that we have learned nothing from the First World War, the Second World War or the Korean War. He made an excellent suggestion that the politicians who promote war should all be brought into one room and given one long sharp needle each with which they could prod each other; he guaranteed there would be no bloodshed in that room.
We can learn an important lesson from this. I wish we had a system whereby we could bring someone such as the Reverend Byrne, a gentleman of such calibre, experience and insight, into this Chamber to address us. At times we feel we are not succeeding in having our voices heard but we must have them heard because otherwise chaos will prevail in the world in the long run.
I support my colleagues who have called for a debate on the Middle East, in particular the situation in Iraq, which is disastrous. A number of us said the attempt to take Falluja would have dire consequences. As Senator Ryan said, the coalition can physically take the city but the repercussions will continue for a long time.
I support what Senator Ó Murchú said about politicians. Not a single child of any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate in the United States is currently fighting in Iraq. The members would worry a little more if they were worrying about their children.
There is also a brutalisation of the military personnel in Iraq. In one of yesterday's newspapers there are reports of comments made by American soldiers which are chillingly similar to those made during the Vietnam War. It is not pleasant to hear such gloating and sneering remarks as, "Yeah! Battle damage assessed."; "Buildings gone. I got my kills."; "I am coming down. I just love myjob!". Many such quotations are given.
I agree that a debate on the Middle East should be extended to the situation in Palestine which is currently very volatile because of the parlous health of Yasser Arafat. That however provides an opportunity for Ireland, with its role in the European Union, to help ensure at least some positive direction emerges from this tragic situation.
I find myself slightly at odds with some of the comments made in the House today but that is not unusual. I agree with the need for a debate primarily focused on the Middle East in the light of what sadly seems like the impending death of President Arafat. It may not be widely known that Ireland not only plays a key role at a political level but that under our development aid programme we contribute directly to UNRA, which operates in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As my colleague Senator Norris knows, yesterday's debate at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs centred on the involvement of the various NGOs. Senator Ryan also attended that meeting. Perhaps I remembered Senator Norris because one contribution was more voluble than the other. In that context, we should consider what is happening in the Middle East but we should focus specifically on events in Palestine and Israel. I am sure the Leader and Members on all sides will agree this is where the key to providing solutions to the ongoing problems lies. Prime Minister Blair publicly stated in recent days that in his first post-election meeting with President Bush he intends to make that issue the focus of the bilateral dialogue. As a result of Ireland's involvement in the region, it would be appropriate for the House to engage in a debate on the matter. Perhaps the Leader will set time aside for such a debate, in which my focus would be on the Middle East rather than events in Iraq.
Despite the pro or anti rhetoric we have heard this morning, from a human perspective we should think of the families who are being killed. We should also consider the families of those dying on the other side of the battle in Iraq. We sometimes lose sight, with all the rhetoric being uttered, of the human cost of war.
I support Senator Finucane's call for statements regarding comments made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. What the Minister said is somewhat rich, particularly as he does not trust the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste.
Will the Leader invite her friend, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, to come before the House to debate the removal of the means test for those providing continuous care to people with high-care requirements? In a time of plenty, it is shameful that fewer than half of those who cater for the needs of people who required full-time care are not receiving support from the State. The removal of the means test relating to the individuals to whom I refer should be addressed in the forthcoming budget. Women who are providing care are being discriminated against on foot of their husbands' or partners' incomes. This matter must also be addressed.
I wish to raise two issues of national importance which will have an impact on rural communities. First, will the Leader contact the director of the RTE Authority regarding its coverage of the story involving variant CJD. Unfortunately, the first case of a human contracting the disease in this country has been confirmed. RTE appears to be hell bent on doing maximum damage to the agricultural sector, particularly the beef industry, by showing the famous footage of the mad cow on its evening news programme which goes out at dinner time. Such animals never enter the food chain. Will the Leader call for greater sensitivity on the part of RTE in respect of the beef industry?
My second point relates to rural Garda stations. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to explain why the pilot project in respect of eight stations in Limerick and Tipperary is not proceeding? Despite significant involvement of consultants and the putting forward of a private solution in respect of the difficulties relating to this matter, the project has collapsed because it is not attractive. The same difficulties exist in respect of 100 Garda stations in other rural areas. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State to come before the House to outline how he proposes to deal with this matter, which is another clear indication of the effect of lack of planning and bad Government decisions on rural communities?
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to preserve the part of the REP scheme which comes under her Department's remit? There has been a serious intrusion in this area on the part of other agencies, particularly local authorities. Farmers are being obliged to suffer an invasion of inspection personnel. This is a total waste of money and it is undermining the REP scheme because anything up to 12 people from various agencies can inspect a particular farm. The REP scheme has done wonderful work in terms of preserving rural areas and organising farming in an environmentally friendly way. However, it is a waste of resources to have representatives of local authorities and various safety agencies involved in the same kind of inspections of farms. Will the Minister for Agriculture and Food streamline the inspection process and stop the intimidation being visited upon the farming community?
Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come before the House to discuss the recent decision by the Attorney General to issue a letter to local authorities in respect of the waste collection waiver scheme? I understand the Attorney General has advised county managers that the scheme should not be allowed for in their estimates when they are framing their budgets. This will have a severe impact on the marginalised in society. It will not affect private waste collection services but it will have an effect on local authorities which still carry out waste collections.
In light of President Bush's election victory last week, are there any plans to invite him to make an address to a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas? He has not done so to date and almost every other recent President of the United States has made such an address. Perhaps it is time to issue an invitation to Mr. Bush.
I support the calls for a debate on the Middle East. We must keep this matter to the fore in terms of our foreign policy. I look forward to discussing the issues and I hope the Leader will make time available for a debate in the near future.
I also support Senator Finucane's call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come before the House. It is time we listened to the policies put forward by one of the most reforming Ministers for Justice-——
Senator Brian Hayes, Leader of the Opposition, referred to people's eligibility to vote on the EU constitution. We notified the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, about that matter. The people to whom the Senator referred could only vote if some new procedure was brought forward and it would require a change to the Constitution. I have left the matter in the hands of the Minister. This is an important issue because people in other countries will all be able to vote on what is a fundamental right.
The Senator also inquired if the matter of the amendment of the terms of reference of the Mahon tribunal would come before the House. The matter will have to be debated by both Houses. When the additional judges were appointed, the House dealt with the matter. I imagine that we will not only have to deal with the amendment of the terms of reference but Judge Mahon will also be obliged to announce the matters he does not intend to proceed with, otherwise the matter would be deemed incorrect. We will be dealing with the amendment in this House, hopefully next week or the week after. We sought clarification on the matter before the Order of Business but we were not able to locate the person to whom I wished to speak. I will be able to give details to the House tomorrow.
I agree with Senator O'Toole when he states he sees nothing wrong with tax breaks nor with the residency matter to do with living abroad. However, everybody should pay some tax and I agree with the Senator's point that there should be a limit. I do not believe anybody would have any gripe about that. Everyone in the PAYE sector and all those who pay tax must have their noses out of joint when they read about the number of people who are getting away with paying no tax. They use legitimate tax breaks to plead their case. The Senator's point is that they should not be allowed relief on their total income in that manner.
Senator Ryan spoke about the firm moving to Cork Airport. He asked for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to deal with the matter. He also raised the question of the brutal assault on Falluja and asked for a debate on the Middle East. That debate has been requested and I hope it can be held next week.
Senator Dardis is in agreement with Senator Brian Hayes's general proposition on voting rights but is of the opinion there would be a need for constitutional change. He asked for a debate on the Middle East and Palestine.
Senator Finucane referred to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, accusing Fine Gael of anti-Garda propaganda and he asked that the Minister come to the House. Senator Ó Murchú asked for a debate on Iraq. He referred to the retired dean of Kildare, the Reverend Matthew Byrne, who was the Church of Ireland chaplain to the Defence Forces. The Senator referred to an article written by Reverend Byrne. As always when Senator Ó Murchú speaks on these matters, he has the gift of allowing the integrity of the person shine through. The Senator made excellent points.
Senator Norris asked for a debate on Iraq and referred to the gloating words used. He also supports the call for a debate on Palestine and the parlous health of President Arafat. That debate is well due and it may be held next week. Senator Mooney asked for a debate on the Middle East. He asked that the families of the dead and injured soldiers be given some consideration. I was unable to hear Senator Bannon's first point because of the rí rá in the Chamber.
The Senator asked that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, come to the House to discuss the means test for carers. The Senator's point was well made but it would be neither possible nor correct to have that discussion with the Minister in a pre-budget situation. Senator Bannon also referred to the matter involving the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell.
Senator Coonan complained that RTE is showing pictures of the staggering cow at inappropriate times and therefore damaging the rural community. He asked a question about the eight pilot programmes in Tipperary and Limerick involving rural Garda stations which are not now being proceeded with. He asked that the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, come to the House to explain the situation.
Senator Ulick Burke asked that the Minister for Agriculture and Food keep the REP scheme within her Department and he spoke about the serious intrusion in this area on the part of other agencies, particularly local authorities. I presume their purpose is one of health and safety. The Senator asked for codification of what is happening.
Senator Browne proposed that the President of the United States of America be invited to address the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Senator might be the only listener. We will not be issuing him an invitation; it would be for a higher body to so do. Senator Minihan gave a very spirited defence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I regard him as a very fine Minister. He always comes to this House when invited. He is open, he listens to the points made and he stays for the full debate. He deals with amendments. I have no complaints about him and I am sure the Cathaoirleach feels the same. I imagine the Minister would be very heartened by Senator Minihan's contribution. The Senator should send a video of his contribution to the Minister and the Senator will go higher up the ladder.