Friday, 1 July 2005
Order of Business.
Before I begin may I say how refreshing it is to hear that the Dáil has agreed to amendments from the Seanad? It makes a change and I am delighted to hear they are sending us messages about it.
The Order of Business today is Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive. No. 1 is a motion, to be taken without debate, referred to the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which has completed its deliberations thereon; Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are motions, to be taken without debate, referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has completed its deliberations thereon; and No. 5 is the Veterinary Practice Bill 2004, Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business.
I welcome that. It is appropriate it would happen.
Yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform initiated a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of a young boy, Brian Rossiter, in Clonmel in September 2002. He was found in a coma in Garda custody. This is clearly a depressing case which involved a 14 year old boy. The question must be asked as to why he was detained in custody that evening. However, a further question which must be asked is why it has taken the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform almost three years to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death. I understand the Department was informed in January 2004 of the circumstances yet it has taken almost 18 months for the Minister to initiate an inquiry.
On Wednesday last, Senator Cummins, myself and other Members were debating an amendment to the Garda Síochána Bill which brings up to date the Dublin Police Act 1924 to allow for such independent public inquiries. I would have thought it prudent that the Minister would have put on the record of the House at that time that he intended to initiate such an inquiry. He had informed the family that morning, on Wednesday last. Why did he not put on the record of the House the fact he intended to use the very amendment we were discussing that evening to initiate a public inquiry into the tragic circumstances of this case?
I reiterate the point I made last week. Why is it the case that the Government continues with its practice of not making important public statements in this House or the other House? While I welcome the fact there is to be an inquiry, the Minister should have told Members of his intention when we were debating the very amendment which gave him the power to initiate such an inquiry. I regret this did not happen.
I ask the Leader to make known my views and those of my colleagues to all Ministers. There is no point talking about Seanad reform, Dáil reform or any kind of reform unless the Government reforms the way it treats the Houses of the Oireachtas. I hope that is the lesson we learn this summer.
Senator Henry recently raised the question of the difficulties for non-EU qualified doctors of gaining recognition, acceptance and entrance to practice in this country. She particularly raised issues with regard to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. There is also the issue of how the Medical Council deals with this issue. It has been represented to me that the process is long, expensive and highly bureaucratic, and that it demands academic standards that would not be demanded of Irish qualified and trained doctors.
I raise this issue because it is one which the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children could deal with on our behalf. There is a shortage of doctors in Ireland, an issue to which the Tánaiste referred in the House. The Medical Council is established by statute. Therefore, it is important we would have some indication of how it conducts its business. This issue arises with other professions. There is a similar difficulty in education with regard to the teastas cáilíochta sa Ghaoluinn, the recognition examination that non-Irish trained or qualified teachers must go through. It may be that there is a connection between all these issues.
However, the difficulty experienced by non-EU qualified doctors in gaining recognition and entry to practice in Ireland is extraordinary. In the new session, we would benefit from a discussion with the Tánaiste, which she would find helpful in light of the fact she has referred on a number of occasions to the shortage of doctors and the difficulty of getting trained doctors.
I support the remarks of Senator Brian Hayes. When I heard the Minister make his remarks yesterday about the death of the young boy, Brian Rossiter, in Clonmel, and the delay in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, my initial reaction was to say, "That is the Department of justice for you. What else do you expect?" However, on contemplation, we must state that this is not acceptable. The circumstances of this case were such that they should have set alarm bells ringing in the Department and elsewhere. A young boy of 14 died in custody. It is remarkable and unacceptable that it took so long for somebody in the Department to accept something was wrong and should be looked at. Something is wrong in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that should be looked at.
The coming weekend is one of those rare weekends when much of humankind will be focused on one issue, namely, poverty and development in Africa. I ask the Leader to use her influence in Government and with her nephew, the responsible Minister of State, to get back on track the commitment of this country to assisting the development of Africa. Many Members on all sides of the House have lamented the fact we have resiled from our commitment to meet the UN target on aid. In a sense, that is a closed chapter but it is important we put in place an immediate and ambitious target that we can meet. Whatever is said, we are ahead of the pack in the EU in terms of the commitments we currently meet. It would be very disappointing if the Government was happy, as it seems to be, to simply fall back into the pack and make the same commitment as other EU countries.
It is important we put in place an immediate and ambitious target, not in 2015, when those currently in Government will expect to be out of Government, so, in a sense, they are making a vague promise for somebody——
I am not talking about parties. Most individuals will expect to be out of Government. They are making a vague commitment for some future Government sometime in the next decade. It is important it is a tangible target of which people feel a sense of ownership, and one on which we can deliver immediately.
Apropos of the matter raised by Senator Brian Hayes, there should be an automatic and expeditious inquiry into any death in Garda custody, for whatever reason.
When the House resumes in the autumn, we ought to have a debate on the challenges facing what an expert from the ESRI called our "red hot economy". Employment is growing at 1,400 a week and we have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU. As the Commission President, Mr. Barroso, stated yesterday at the Forum for Europe, nothing is more social than employment.
Great credit is due to all concerned. It is not due only to this Government but to Governments over a period of years, the social partners and so on. We have a very healthy, strong economy. Our priority must be to keep it that way so, among other things, we can address social problems at home but also continue to increase, rather than stagnate, our development aid contribution, a process I support. I have every confidence we will do that.
I raised previously in the House the issue of the escalating cost of electricity. Last year charges increased by 13%. Last Tuesday, the energy regulator came before the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. He outlined the difficulties with regard to the cost of inputs and fuels. While he refuted a statement in a recent newspaper report that electricity charges could increase by 36%, he would give no definitive response on what the likely increase will be, except to state it would probably increase in September next. The Dáil and Seanad will be in recess at that time and will not be able to give the reaction that might be anticipated on this matter.
It is a serious situation. There is a public service obligation in all electricity legislation yet the input from peat is now only 5% of all the fuels used. The regulator stated the public service obligation is anti-competitive. If this is the case, the Minister should at the stroke of a pen delete it from the legislation and the ordinary consumer should not have to pay for it.
I am critical of the regulator and the Department in regard to alternative energy. There are many announcements concerning wind energy but there is too much wind on the issue. We know the megawatt capacity and we know that a multiplicity of projects are waiting for approval. As I pointed out to the regulator, a terrible situation exists where people are making planning applications to local authorities, which I can guarantee will never be approved. At this stage someone has not quantified the situation, stated that the figure will be 13.5% and that there is already a certain capacity in place if these applications are accepted. People are being put to considerable expense in framing proposals to planning authorities. I asked the energy regulator if he would collaborate with the Department on a report on the status of the situation. Let us not deceive people making applications in good faith and remove this unnecessary expense. It does not take a rocket scientist for the regulator's office to employ 40 people to do a report and tell us when we have reached capacity and when applications can no longer be accepted. The situation is totally unfair and deceptive.
I ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come to the House when we resume in September to speak on energy policy. I wish to ask him many questions.
The Health and Social Care Professionals Bill, which gives protection to a number of professional titles, was recently passed. It was disappointing to get a letter this morning from the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, RIAI. Senator Leyden, who is a member of that profession will be equally concerned that there are people masquerading as architects. A recent television programme referred to an individual who ripped people off left, right and centre. We have another legislative void regarding people who are struck off the register practising alternative medicine. Senators Finucane, Cummins, Kenneally and others raised the matter of the Killaloe clinic on which I would welcome proposals from the relevant Minister. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Dick Roche, is preparing legislation for the situation concerning architects. The practice of alternative medicine by people who are not suitable for inclusion on the medical register is a rip-off.
I do not agree with Senator Brian Hayes's comments on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The case in Clonmel is tragic and, as Senator Mansergh suggested, an automatic inquiry should be held into such circumstances. I am not sure it would have been appropriate for the Minister to cite specific cases. We are often told it is not appropriate to name people in this House as it may rehash their grief. As long as the instrument is available, and is effectively used, it did not matter a damn in this instance where it was announced. There are other far more serious circumstances in which the House is bypassed.
The tragic situation in Zimbabwe has been raised several times in the past two weeks. We heard of nuns trying to look after babies with AIDS who had been thrown out onto the street. However, there is some good news. I met with Mr. Roy Bennett some 18 months ago. His case was raised by me and some other Senators, including Senator Ross who raised it on the Adjournment and kindly shared time with me. Yesterday I heard that Mr. Bennett had been released from prison, partly as a result of efforts of people in this House. That is something positive on which to end the term.
I look forward to the introduction of legislation in the autumn governing the rights of workers coming to this county. I hope amendments will be accepted in this House. Based on what we know at the moment it is not generous legislation. In America they ask for the huddled masses and the poor. We ask the developing world for its doctors, lawyers and graduates. We ask for all its talented people and if they are really good we will let them stay for five years. If we need them for any more exploitation they can remain for another period and then we will kick them out when we have bled them dry. That is not the correct way to approach this situation.
Those of us who were privileged to be in the Mansion House, including our colleagues on the Forum on Europe and other interested individuals, could not but have been uplifted by the inspiring, visionary speech by the European Commission President. In the words of our distinguished colleague and chairman, Senator Maurice Hayes, the response was the nearest to a standing ovation ever experienced in the forum.
This momentous occasion showed real leadership at a time when leadership has been found to be lacking in Europe. I ask the Leader, in view of her stated commitment to continuing a debate on European matters, to formulate an opportunity to debate the European constitutional treaty in its various parts so that this House can continue to play the leading role started by the Leader when she introduced Members of the European Parliament to this House.
Everyone will welcome the proposal of the Minister for Education an Science to revise the leaving certificate in a simple way. This will involve addressing the problems that have arisen over the years, including the 20% drop-out rate at leaving certificate stage and the further 20% of pupils who do not do well in the final examination. In her proposals to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, which originally made far-reaching proposals, the Minister has adopted a sensible approach in suggesting a two-stage examination rather than the single terminal examination, which causes stress to students.
At the same time we must remember that her predecessor, Deputy Noel Dempsey, decide to make the 180-day school year sacrosanct. Teachers and pupils had to be in school for that period. Now, the current Minister is proposing a second stage examination during the school year. How can this be incorporated if the rule on 180 days is sacrosanct? I hope the Leader can request a debate on education early in the next academic year, at the start of the new session, particularly on the new proposals for the leaving certificate.
I welcome the Minister's clear indication that she will not tinker with the transition year, and that it will be retained as a stand-alone year, in which students can assess the direction in which they may go. I ask for an early debate on the proposals for the leaving certificate, which will be welcomed by all, and will contribute to retaining the high standing of the leaving certificate.
I reiterate the points made by Senator Ulick Burke. I was delighted to read the Minister's submission on revamping the leaving certificate. This has been a special interest of mine for many years. A debate in the autumn would be welcome. Perhaps we could have a brainstorming exercise on how we should move forward. The new system might work as described in the submission but I would like a full debate before we proceed.
I was privileged to be at the Mansion House yesterday to hear the magnificent speech of President Barroso. I would welcome a copy of his presentation. He showed pure leadership and I have never experienced anything like it. We should meet the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Noel Treacy, to discuss how to move forward in the autumn to project the future of the EU constitution.
I ask the Leader to remind Members to keep their eyes on Sellafield this summer. A friend of mine who googled the word "Sellafield" could not believe how many results on implications for Ireland this search returns. We are downwind of Sellafield. To suggest that for nine months the people in Sellafield did not notice a leakage of 83,000 litres is unbelievable. I mention this because we are in danger of getting tired of listening to such reports. Sellafield is a Chernobyl-type threat to us and we have not paid enough attention to the problem. The danger is that during the next few months we may even forget the problem exists. We must keep an eye on the situation.
I was inspired by the President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, yesterday. He was enthusiastic and provided a vision of Europe for the future. There are some challenges to him because he has not managed to get the economy right. An article in today's edition of The New York Times states: ". . . the only question is whether Germany and France will face reality: Either they become Ireland, or they become museums." It is a very interesting article and clearly identifies that the way of the future is the way Ireland is going. Let us make sure that during the next few months we keep our eyes on the challenges facing this country.
I support Senator Glynn's proposal regarding the professional registration Bill, which is long overdue. Discussions on the issue have been going on for approximately ten years and it is about time somebody decided to bring the Bill forward. The area is unregulated and it is a travesty that the Bill has not been introduced.
Will the Leader consider having a debate when we return in the autumn on the crisis in Palestine? I led a delegation including Senator John Paul Phelan and Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Gormley, Gregory and Gilmore to Palestine where a "wall of shame" is being built by CRH. I hope we can arrange a campaign to request shareholders of that discredited company to withdraw their support from a company that is building a "wall of shame" around Bethlehem which is the home and birthplace of Jesus Christ. How could CRH do it? The situation is a travesty. I am ashamed that a company from this country would supply the cement to build a wall 30 ft. high around the city of Bethlehem. I urge shareholders to withdraw their support from this discredited company.
Sellafield is a catastrophe waiting to happen. I tried to raise this issue yesterday. Sellafield must be closed in the interest of the health and safety of our nation. This is something we have been demanding for a long time. It is up to the Government to take this matter to the international courts again. What happened over the past nine months shows total negligence on the part of the staff at Sellafield. Fine Gael has called for independent observer status at Sellafield many times and this is something that must be granted while Sellafield remains open. The Government must pursue the issue again in the international courts.
What action does the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intend to take against the British Government on this issue? There is significant public concern about what is happening or has happened at Sellafield over the years. I think the call for the closure of Sellafield is unanimous in this House. It must happen and it is up to the Government to ensure it does, in the interest of the safety of the nation.
I ask the Leader for a debate in the new session on stem cells, particularly the situation where somatic stem cells in adult tissue are not investigated by the international community despite having the most promise. This offers an opportunity for Ireland to lead the way. The benefits in the next few years will derive from adult stem cells and germ line therapy. I urge that this country lead the way in this regard.
I thank Senators O'Toole and Norris for drawing the attention of the House to the problems non-EU doctors have, not just with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but also with the Medical Council. Will the Leader urge that a new medical practitioners' Bill, which has been sought by bodies such as the Medical Council for years and which has been promised for over a decade, be brought before the House in the next session? I am sure we could do as good a job on it as we did on the Veterinary Practice Bill.
No. 18, motion 11 on the Order Paper, in the name of the Independent Senators, requests the Minister for Education and Science to increase the number of places for medical students this autumn, as recommended by the Hanly report. I am sure many Members support this motion and I would be grateful if they would add their names to it because this would lend far more weight to it for the Minister. We are not in a position to debate the motion between now and the leaving certificate results when there will be the usual moaning and groaning about the points required for medicine and the shortage of Irish doctors. Without support for this motion, nothing will have been done and matters will remain the same as they have been for the past 25 years.
A report was published recently on the number of drug-related deaths in the Dublin area. The figures are shocking. In my area of Dublin 15 there have been 50 deaths in a four-year period and the figure for parts of the inner city is far higher. The issue is not being addressed in a manner that will curb the numbers of deaths. Some 100 recommendations were brought forward by the national drugs strategy two years ago. We are now midway through that strategy, yet only approximately 50% of the recommendations have been implemented. Many of them relate to treatment, timeframes for providing treatment, and an increase in the number of gardaí qualified to deal with the drugs issue. It is vital that we progress and implement the 100 recommendations and do something to end the number of drug-related deaths in our communities in Dublin and throughout the country.
Will the Leader prioritise a debate on the MRSA superbug at the start of the next session? A lady from Kilkenny spoke to me on the issue this morning and there is significant anxiety among the public about it. Over 200 people attended a meeting in Dublin last week on the issue and over 100 attended a meeting on the issue in Kilkenny a few weeks ago. I have written to the HSE and the Department of Health and Children about the matter, but weeks later I still await a reply. This suggests they are not on top of their briefs. Officially, over 550 people died last year from MRSA, but the figure could be far higher. We should prioritise this debate in the new session.
I agree with Senator Finucane regarding increased gas and electricity charges. If the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources did his job instead of sorting out Fianna Fáil problems in Castlebar, perhaps we would not face such regular high increases.
I agree that a debate on the MRSA superbug would be welcome. I was going to say that a gentleman from Carlow spoke to me this morning about it, but I did not.
I agree with Senator Ulick Burke with regard to a debate with the Minister for Education and Science. I would welcome an opportunity in the new session to discuss the Minister's proposals. From what I have read this morning, the proposals seem like a good idea. It would be useful to discuss the proposals.
I agree with the comments made by Senator Leyden. I was part of the delegation that visited Palestine. As somebody who did not really have any views on the subject before I went there, it was a real eye-opening experience for me to see the conditions in that part of the world. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the problem at the earliest opportunity in the new session. Things seem to be getting much worse for Palestinians and significant issues remain to be resolved.