Tuesday, 12 April 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re expressions of sympathy on the death of Pope John Paul II, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business with the contribution of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators five minutes.
We agree with today's Order of Business and welcome the opportunity to make statements in the House concerning the recent death of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. There are some matters I would like to raise on the Order of Business with the permission of the Cathaoirleach.
Will the Leader ascertain from the Revenue Commissioners and specifically the Minister for Finance why, in regard to Revenue's investigation into another form of tax evasion by persons who had investments in insurance and unit-linked products over a period of time, there is no investigation into the insurance industry, specifically into insurance companies that were aiding and abetting this practice and were putting forward to investors the opportunity to evade tax? If the culture was as rotten as it appears to have been over a period of decades, insurance companies, the banks and the big agencies have a great responsibility for the way in which they sold these products. Up to 200,000 people, many of them small-time investors, will be hung out to dry while the insurance industry gets off scot-free. We need an explanation from the Revenue Commissioners and from the Government as to why there is no initial investigation into the insurance industry at this stage. I ask the Leader to take that matter up with the relevant Minister.
I pay tribute to the off-duty garda who yesterday, not far from where I live in my constituency, acted in a brave and heroic way which we rarely see when faced with a most violent situation. The garda tackled someone who was brandishing a knife and was about to rob a substantial sum of money from a post office. The way in which officers put their lives on the line is an example of the daily commitment of the Garda Síochána to this country. Perhaps the Leader would pass on my comments, and those of all colleagues, to the Garda Commissioner.
There has been a demonstration today outside the gates of the House regarding an issue concerning workers at Gama, of which we are well aware. It is appalling that only those on the left side of politics appear to have taken an interest in this matter. Is it that we cannot add, count or read? Workers, builders and the Irish economy have lost an opportunity because these unscrupulous people, as well as exploiting their workers, were also able to undercut fair-minded, compliant and honest contractors in making a bid for the work which Gama has robbed. This is not just an issue for trade unions and workers, but also for IBEC, the employers' body. IBEC should be out there today. This is one of those issues in which the importance of national wage agreements is well reflected. It is of equal importance to people in all strands of Irish life, on all sides of the economy and the political spectrum. I would like the House to make its position very clear on this. It suits a great many if the matter is just hived off to a group of people who are clearly identified with left wing politics, fair play to them. I conclude by asking the House to pass on its congratulations to Deputy Joe Higgins, who, despite being called a liar and the inference that he was totally daft, stuck with this issue and proved himself to be right. He has done us all a favour, because if this matter were not uncovered at this point, we would all be losers in the future.
This is an important European issue. We are considering a constitution for Europe, about which we have previously fought. People such as I have stood before groups of workers and argued that one of the important aspects of a constitution for a broader Europe is that it will bring fairness and compliance — health and safety regulations that apply in Ireland will cover all who work in this country or within the European Community. Gama flouted that, undermined the European idyll and what we stand for. It is a fundamental issue of crucial importance to all of us. I know the House will discuss aspects of the way migrant workers are treated in this country later this week but this is an economic issue of importance to Government at all levels. It should be made absolutely clear that these people will be routed out of Ireland, to ensure they no longer cause damage, not just to Turkish workers, but also Irish workers and the economy.
I agree that the treatment of the Gama workers and everything to do with this case is a matter for us all. We will debate the issue of migrant workers tomorrow, which I welcome because it reflects badly on the country that this should be allowed to happen. It is time a line was drawn in the sand, not only as regards this, but also because of what has happened recently to Filipino workers. My impression is that people are shocked and horrified and will not tolerate the fact that our status as a prosperous nation is being maintained at the expense of the rights of poor workers from Third World countries. I welcome tomorrow's debate and look forward to contributing to it.
I want to raise the issue of the country's environmental standards. Once more Ireland has been shown up by the European Commission as the "dirty man" of Europe. It appears that we are simply not able or willing to raise our standards to a level that is acceptable right across Europe. This has gone on for far too long and I ask the Leader to request the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to tell the Seanad what we are failing to do and what is needed to bring our environmental standards up to the required level. Finally, as I am sure the Leader has noted, the issue of child care is finally on the agenda of political party conferences. I hope this does not mean that discussion will end because there is much to talk about. I ask, in particular, that the Leader takes out the OECD report, published a few months ago, on child care in Ireland and that this be used as the basis for a debate in the future.
Last Wednesday, in the final hours before the Westminster Parliament was dissolved, the British Government passed the inquiries Bill. This legislation neuters the promised independent inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, preventing all evidence being heard and the full inquiry being held in public. The Canadian judge, Mr. Cory, who first recommended an independent inquiry, said that he cannot contemplate any self-respecting Canadian judge accepting an appointment to an inquiry constituted under the proposed Act. The proposed inquiry has now lost the confidence of Judge Cory——
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to make a statement to the House on how Tony Blair has let us down by not delivering his promise of a full and proper inquiry. The proposed inquiry is now neutered.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments on Deputy Joe Higgins who deserves to be complimented on highlighting the issue of the Gama workers. I heard Deputy Joe Higgins's defence on a radio broadcast when he was contradicted by the Irish spokesperson for the company who claimed his allegations were wrong. He has been vindicated by what has subsequently emerged. In recent times many people from the new EU member states have emigrated to Ireland. There are now approximately 50,000 Polish people living here. In every small town, there is a growing population from the new EU member states who are contributing to the economy.
It behoves the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to recognise the changed dimension of work patterns in the State. The inspectorate must be beefed up to conduct proper inspections and to ensure that what emerged in Gama is not happening with smaller firms. As many of these workers have little English, they are vulnerable. They have come to Ireland with the intent to make money, the same as those Irish people who emigrated in the past. There is an onus on us to ensure these workers are not exploited.
While I am not sure by what route this can be pursued, I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the issue raised by Senator White. What is proposed can by no means be regarded as a satisfactory means of looking into the issues that are concerned.
I agree with Senators Maurice Hayes and White. At the beginning of Senator White's contribution, it seemed from a technical point of view there was a lack of a question. However, she is quite right. I do not approve of the suppression of facts and material. This has happened in the case of the inquiry into the murder of the solicitor, Pat Finucane, and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. It is simply not good enough. There is a reluctance to face what Lord Denning called the appalling prospect of governmental and official intervention in Ireland. Everything we know about life shows that with appalling prospects, one must face them or they will continue to repeat themselves. If uncomfortable truths are dug up, so much the better because we will not have to face them again. I support the calls for a debate on this issue.
I support the comments made on the Gama workers. I did not intend to speak on this issue. It may have been better if we did not have an Order of Business today. It would have lent more solemnity to the occasion if we simply proceeded to statements on the death of the Pope. However, it is astonishing that the Gama company has the nerve to go to the courts again to seek the suppression of a report.
This is not the way we in Ireland want to run our democracy. The sooner the Turks are told this, the better. I concur with Senator O'Meara's view that as we have become more prosperous, we have become less caring, as evidenced by the recent case in Irish Ferries. To my shame, I heard of the case on the BBC World Service when I was abroad. The report stated an Irish company had been found in breach of human rights, with a beautician being paid a penny or some such derisory figure per hour. I am told that this is true of many ferries and that many of the crew are engaged from other countries, where they can be manipulated. Few Irish crew are involved. We must watch this case.
What is involved here is the exploitation of Turkish workers by Turkish firms, not by Irish employers. Furthermore, the permits should be given to the applicants, not the employers. This is where the difficulty arises. I hope the Department will publish the report tomorrow with the support of this House and that the courts will not suppress the truth. The courts are interfering with the rights of the Oireachtas by granting injunctions to prevent the publication of this report. The Minister should have the courage of his convictions and publish it tomorrow in the House. We can have a worthwhile debate on the Gama workers and other workers who are being exploited.
There was another murder in west Dublin this morning. A man was gunned down in cold blood. The incidence of murder in west Dublin is a cause of great concern for people living in the area and should be a matter of concern for everybody. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House for a debate on this type of crime? We do not know if it was a gangland shooting. The reasons for such murders, whether they relate to drugs, gangs or the number of illegally held weapons in the country, must be addressed. This issue should be dealt with urgently. We must also examine the resources available to the Garda to tackle this type of crime.
The Ongar area where the shooting occurred is not covered by the local Garda station in Blanchardstown but by Lucan gardaí, which is ludicrous. The Minister and the Garda Commissioner must reconsider where Garda stations are operating and the areas they cover. This must be addressed urgently so the gardaí are equipped to tackle this type of heinous crime.
Like my party, I condemn the Gama construction company for the way it has treated its workers. I hope that when the Minister comes to the Seanad tomorrow he will clearly outline where the Department stands on this issue. I am an employer and have employed migrant labour. There is a section in the application form for work permits which deals with the number of hours per week and the rate of payment per hour. The payment must be at or above the minimum wage.
How did these people get permits? What type of inspections are carried out on our behalf by the Department? I want answers to these questions.
It is time we invited the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to discuss Garda numbers and recent media reports which indicate huge variations throughout the country in the ratio of gardaí to local population. This is worrying. In the Carlow-Kildare division, the ratio is one garda per 600 people while in Cork the ratio is one garda per 200 people. The Minister should come to the Seanad to explain why there is such a huge variation.
Will the Leader congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his new appointment as UN envoy to the EU? He will be the eyes and ears of Kofi Annan. Hopefully, the Minister will have more success with that task than he had when he was sent to look up trees in north County Dublin. He might have learned lessons from that.
Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, spoke about the new investigation to be undertaken by the Revenue Commissioners. He asked that the Revenue Commissioners and the Minister for Finance disclose whether the insurance industry will be investigated for supplying these products to investors who will, of course, be called to account. That is a fair point and I will contact the Revenue Commissioners on the matter.
The Senator also paid tribute to the off-duty garda who acted heroically and suffered a grievous stab wound as a result. He did not have to intervene. We should convey our commendation to the Garda Commissioner.
Senator O'Toole spoke about the Gama workers and how compliant employers do not get contracts as they cannot compete on price. As the Senator pointed out, this is a European issue. When we debate the European Constitution, we will be trying to sell the idea that Europe has a properly regulated market. Even though we congratulate Deputy Joe Higgins, this is not just an issue for one party or one man. It is an issue for everyone who is interested in the employment rights of people.
Senator O'Meara also raised the issue of migrant workers. We will have a chance to debate that issue tomorrow. We are inclined to concentrate on the Gama issue, but there are many other examples which this issue highlights. The Senator also asked that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government appear before the House to give an explanation on the environmental standards to which we are not adhering.
Senator O'Meara also raised the issue of child care, which has been debated many times in this House. Senators White, O'Meara and others have spoken strongly on it before. If it is now being discussed as an issue, we should be glad that others have seen the light.
Senator White pointed out that one of the final issues to be decided in Westminster before the dissolution of the Parliament was the format of the inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, about which Judge Peter Cory was scathing. The Senator claimed that the debate was being neutered and she called for a debate here with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Senator Finucane also raised the issue of the Gama workers. He called for the strengthening of the labour inspectorate in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The inspectorate issued a startling report which was highlighted in the newspapers. It could not perform its duties as there was not enough inspectors to check up on employers that employ migrants. It is a huge area of activity.
Senators Maurice Hayes and Norris also requested a debate on the inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. Senator Norris also raised the human rights issue surrounding Irish Ferries. Senator Leyden also raised the issue of employment rights and wondered why the report on Gama was not being published. Apparently, Gama sought a court injunction to prevent publication. The Senator wondered how the company could do that when this House wishes to read it. He requested me to ask the Minister to release the report to the House, but the Minister is under a court order not to do so.
Senator Terry spoke about another murder in west Dublin and demanded that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform explain why the proper resources are not being deployed in that area. Senator Morrissey, speaking as an employer, requested the view of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the issue of work permits for migrants. I would like to know how the permits can be issued if the forms are being completed incorrectly. I presume Gama will maintain it arranged that so much money in the name of the workers would go to some other country. However, I am puzzled as to how that arrangement could have been entered into.
Senator Browne referred to the Garda Síochána report and the variance in the numbers of gardaí around the country. I suppose some areas are better at coping than others. The Senator also wanted the House to pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I will do so on behalf of Members.