Tuesday, 15 November 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3. No. 1 is a procedural motion to discharge an order of the House of 10 November 2005 in respect of the Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005 and will be taken without debate; No. 2 is a referral motion whereby the subject matter of No. 8 on today's Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for consideration. It concerns a proposal for a Council framework decision on the European evidence warrant for obtaining objects, documents and data for use in proceedings in criminal matters. It is envisaged that the framework decision, when implemented, will result in quicker and more effective judicial co-operation in criminal matters. This item will be taken without debate; and No. 3, statements on the Ferns Report, resumed, will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed 15 minutes.
In April 2004, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform set up Operation Anvil to take on the crime gangs in west Dublin at the time. He seems to have provided financial resources for overtime, etc., to stamp out gangland murders. In November 2004, the Minister announced that he believed the Garda had broken up the substructure of the criminal gangs that existed and that he was on top of dealing with the problem. He referred to a murder at that time and said that with regard to the criminal gangs he believed it was the sting of a dying wasp. Four people were murdered in gangland situations in 2004. So far this year 17 people have lost their lives due to gang warfare activities. In that context, we face a serious problem.
While life appears to be cheap with regard to criminal gangs involved in this activity, the image being portrayed of this country is wrong. There have been 51 violent deaths up to this point in 2005. I would say to the Minister that, contrary to him saying in November 2004 that we had got to grips with this situation, we now have an escalating situation which is extremely serious. Irrespective of whatever resources and manpower are required, it behoves the Minister and the Government to take on this issue.
Reflecting on the 1995-97 period, to which Members opposite often refer, I remember the then Minister, Nora Owen, being scourged at the time by Deputy O'Donnell and Deputy O'Donoghue of zero tolerance fame. I remember her being criticised because a prisoner who had been out on temporary parole had not returned to prison. The incident made one of the news broadcasts. Contrasting that incident to the current situation that has emerged highlights the seriousness of the current situation.
I wish to refer to statistics from the Health Service Executive revealing that in excess of 10,000 people who went for elective surgery in the first six months of this year had their operations cancelled. Many of those people suffered from cancer or a serious heart condition. I ask Members to empathise with people with such a condition, whom I am sure they met as constituents from time to time, when they tell one of their disappointment, hurt and worry at their operation being cancelled. I remind people that a commitment was made that 3,000 extra hospital beds would be provided but to date only 300 extra beds have been provided. I listened to what Professor Drumm said recently and he seems to be at variance with regard to the projected provision of 3,000 extra beds and wants such provision to be more community based. It appears the beds are needed if the operations are required. Somebody somewhere needs to get to grips with this situation. I was surprised to note that the figures had reached what I regard as an astronomical level. It is more acute in certain hospitals in different parts of the country. I am sure the people from those areas are aware of that situation. I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come to the House and tell us what is happening and if the policy is to provide more beds or more step-down facilities within the community. We need to get an idea of what is actually happening with regard to the health brief.
This House has noted on a number of occasions that by dint of co-operation between unions, management, business, Government and all interested parties we have the best strike record in Europe. That has been hard won. It has been achieved through a long, hard-sweated process of negotiations, engagement and the building up of trust and confidence. This has ensured that people have sought to find a solution and structures were in place to find solutions via arbitration, mediation or whatever else to bring matters of conflict to a resolution without resorting to the withdrawal of labour through strike action unless it was absolutely unavoidable. In that sense it has been difficult for all sides.
What we are now witnessing and envisaging from Irish Ferries is worrying, not only in terms of what it has done but also its attitude. We saw what it did to the hairdresser two years ago and we now see what it has attempted to do to staff in recent months — to get rid of all of them. Its view is inspired by greed to hold everything to itself and to refuse to share whatever profits are being created. It is now putting at risk a significant structure of partnership and trust. This is something we should debate so that people will see the road we are going down.
When push comes to shove and the union takes the final decision that will be required of it to call industrial action, people will stand up in the House and ask why we are at that point. We are at it because Irish Ferries is refusing to accept the outcome of the Labour Court process, which has been established by the State in order to bring to a conclusion intractable industrial relations disputes. Irish Ferries should be urged to listen to the court and accept its recommendations.
We are all aware of the extraordinary case in Mayo where a would-be burglar was shot dead, the farmer who owned the property and who killed him now finds himself in jail and two families are suffering. There are possibilities of the matter continuing further as threats have been made. A call has been made for demonstrations, etc. It is time we reminded ourselves how our democracy works. Under the Constitution people have an entitlement even to the extent of taking life to guard themselves against attack from wherever it might come. That is duly respected. In the event of that being challenged, there is a process whereby people go to court, the law is explained and 12 citizens make a decision as to what the outcome should be. I share the concern for all parties in this issue but I am more concerned that democracy would be threatened by large organisations, which have given a lot in their own way, that would get involved in something to undermine the application of justice under the Constitution. We must recognise where we are. It is a terrible outcome all round but let us not make it worse.
I, too, want to raise the issue of crime. It is extremely worrying that 17 people have lost their lives due to gangland killings of one description or another — executions being the most recent type of manifestation of the worst type of violence that exists in this country.
I echo the sentiments of the acting leader of Fine Gael, Senator Finucane. It is amazing that throughout the period 1994 to 1997, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, repeatedly raised the issue of crime. Along with others, I believe that issue was inflated somewhat and added to by some organs of the media in order to create a type of situation whereby the rainbow coalition Government was accused of allowing crime take over. That was extremely unfair in the way it was executed in terms of Government policy.
What we have seen in both Administrations since then is zero delivery. The Minister who replaced the then Minister, Nora Owen, did very little to reverse that trend. If the Government does for tourism figures what it did for crime figures, tourism will be a profit making industry. This will be a huge reverse in fortunes because the figures we have seen in terms of crime are startling to say the least. We have a Minister who is content to issue flowery press releases and who takes no action.
It is extremely disturbing that in the first six months of this year, according to health experts, over 10,000 elective surgical, medical and diagnostic treatments have been cancelled in hospitals throughout the country. Given the recent creation of the Health Service Executive and the appointment of Professor Brendan Drumm as chief executive officer, there is a question mark over who is accountable. It used to be the Minister but now we are told it is Professor Drumm. Where do we go when we want political accountability? It is extremely disturbing that over 10,000 appointments of one description or another have been cancelled in the first six months of this year. It is also extremely disturbing for people waiting for heart by-pass and hip replacement operations. These are very important procedures for those concerned.
I refer to the issue raised by Senator O'Toole. There was a deafening silence from that organisation in regard to the Rossport five and I do not believe it is advisable for organisations of that nature to get involved in issues which are the jurisdiction of the courts and officers of the courts.
A pattern has developed recently where issues raised by those on my right and now on my left affect Departments in which Progressive Democrats Ministers are in office, namely, crime and health. That is no coincidence.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on illegal drugs as soon as possible? I was deeply disturbed, as I am sure everybody was, to note that one of our main hospitals is overrun with illicit drugs. That is very worrying. Some time ago when a consultant in a certain psychiatric hospital did blood tests, a number of inpatients were found to have traces of illegal drugs in their bloodstream.
I am pleased to notify the House that the training unit, through the Irish Cancer Society, is laying on an in-house seminar——
——on prostate cancer and other cancers which affect men. After approximately 15 requests and 18 months, I do not believe it is unreasonable that I should again ask when we will have a debate on men's health and, of course, that other old chestnut, type 2 diabetes. There does not seem to be a great appreciation of conditions which affect men's health. As I have requested many times previously, could we have a debate on these matters as soon as possible?
There should be a mandatory sentence of at least ten years for anybody who attacks and injures someone with an offensive weapon, such as a knife. I would welcome a visit to the House by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I accept he is doing much good work. He is a gutsy and brave Minister despite what some people might say. I believe we would benefit from such a visit.
I join with colleagues who raised security issues. Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform find time in his schedule to come to the House to discuss the recent gangland killings and the fallout from the case mentioned by other speakers? People in rural and urban areas, especially elderly people, live in absolute fear of attack, particular during the hours of darkness. The man at the centre of the case mentioned lived in absolute trepidation of the attack which eventually occurred. We are all aware of the consequences of that case but I would like to ask the Minister what he intends to do to ensure this situation does not arise again.
Will the Leader arrange a debate with the relevant Minister on the production of biofuels? Many householders will notice the cost of fuel has more or less doubled when they go to fill their fuel tanks this winter. It is an apt time for a discussion on this issue both from an environmental and an agricultural point of view, because it is an alternative enterprise, and given the amount of money people will spend on fuel.
Will the Leader arrange an early debate on the two cases highlighting the levels of fear among people living in the west of Ireland? In my own town, Roscommon, publican Ned Gilligan was violently attacked by four youths in his pub on 8 November. He received 30 stitches and a broken nose. He is a very good publican and one of the nicest, most decent people one could meet. It is disgraceful that while he was doing his duty as a publican——
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to explain why water meters have been put on farmers' property. I received a letter from Roscommon County Council indicating that my water supply will be metered. We are paying enough water rates.
This is the first I have heard of it. I do not recall this being decided by Roscommon County Council when I was a councillor. The Leader is concerned about this issue from a constituency point of view. Will she ask the Minister to explain the situation?
I support Senator Finucane and others who have called for a debate on the rising tide of violence but hope it will be conducted in a non-partisan way because it affects everyone. Some incidents are worrying. Ireland has changed a great deal in my lifetime. I never thought I would see the day when there would be contract killings and that somebody would say he or she received €10,000 for taking another human being's life. I would like to think that as a result of a debate with the Minister we might get at the people behind the contract killings. There is something chilling about this notion.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments on Irish Ferries. The Labour Court has given its recommendation and the Taoiseach yesterday said he hopes it will be accepted, yet the company cavalierly threw it aside. We need a debate on the trade unions, and I say this with a specific matter in mind. I must declare an interest. I am a member of the actors' union Irish Equity and I have been briefed by SIPTU——
It is difficult to hear the Senators. Perhaps they should join Equity too. Some voice projection training might be useful. This is a serious issue as it relates to the lowest paid workers in the State. They earn €7,000 per annum, and they represent us all over the world. They are the most vulnerable people. It is extraordinary that the Competition Authority has put a gun to the head of SIPTU and said it cannot represent freelance artists. Performance artists are regarded by the Competition Authority as an undertaking or a business if they make arrangements themselves. They have been forced to sign an agreement saying they will not provide or share with any self-employed actor information relating to minimum fees. That is astonishing. We must look at this issue.
Competition law is supposed to protect consumers from the creation of cartels and non-competitive pricing. Here we have the weakest members of society on pathetic incomes being prevented from getting information on a proper minimum wage. That is a reproach to us all and I ask that this House consider the matter.
Recently, I read a newspaper report on the activities of American and British intelligence agencies as they relate to Ireland. The matter was also brought to my attention by a constituent. Normally, I do not have much faith in what I read in many newspapers, but this matter may be worth exploring. According to the article, those intelligence agencies are vetting all telecommunications emanating from this country, including the landlines, mobile phones, faxes and emails of every citizen. This has come about apparently because of the Echelon agreement, which Ireland signed in 2000. I understand that somebody is taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights on this matter. Perhaps this issue could be explored further by the House. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to clarify it?
I support my colleagues' comments on gangland killings. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is always good for a soundbite. In 2004, he described a killing as the last sting of a dying wasp, but since then we have seen 17 such killings, which is far from being the sting of a dying wasp. The Minister is good at issuing press releases and speaking in theoretical terms, but he is ineffectual in combating crime. I am seeking a debate on gangland crime and firearms offences generally because the problem has grown out of all proportion.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children should attend the House to discuss the provision of a dedicated transport service for cancer patients. Members of the House have requested such a debate on a number of previous occasions. Seriously ill people from Donegal and Waterford must travel for hours to attend hospitals in Dublin. A committee was established to examine this matter but it has not yet reported its findings. Nonetheless, another report is being sought on the issue. How many more people will have to die before we have a dedicated transport service for cancer patients? It is ridiculous that these people are not catered for in this day and age.
I support Senator Glynn's call for a debate on male cancers and men's health generally. Senator Glynn has raised these matters in the House on many occasions. I note that lady Senators refer to the effect of certain cancers on females, but we seem to be shy and slow in taking up the question of male cancers. I am sorry to say that I have been there myself, so perhaps it is something we need to discuss. I ask the Leader for a debate on male cancers. The Irish Cancer Society is giving a presentation on prostate and other male-related cancers in Leinster House today. I have contacted the society about why there is a lack of emphasis on cancer treatment for men.
Senator Finucane is quite right in referring to the appalling ongoing crime situation. I would also like to hear the views of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in this House. A year ago, the Minister told us that these people were on the back foot but, sadly, the dying wasps seem to be on the increase. I would like the Minister to attend the House to present a review of the situation. He would have to choose different language on this occasion.
Senator Finucane also referred to another item of equal importance. I am astounded at the second-class status being accorded to the citizenry of County Kerry on health matters.
Yes, unfortunately. Tralee General Hospital is the second biggest acute hospital in the Health Service Executive's south-western area. It is not getting its fair share of resources, staffing or funding. Despite all the promises the accident and emergency unit has not been built. There is no full-time cardiologist there. As a Limerick man, the Cathaoirleach must share my concern in that regard because the hospital serves some of the west Limerick area too. There is no registrar and funding for the part-time cardiologist has been cut.
Tralee General Hospital recorded 28,000 new attendances last year and treated 35,000 patients in all, including reviews. Will the Leader arrange for the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come into the House to debate this matter? Like everyone else I cannot understand this situation. General practitioners in Kerry are so frustrated they had to down tools yesterday to make a protest. There is no consultation with the Health Service Executive. I would like the Minister to tell us how resources are allocated.
Will the Leader schedule a debate soon on issues connected with security in rural Ireland, particularly for elderly people and those living in isolated areas? The tragedy to which Senator O'Toole referred has brought this problem to light again. There are two victims in this case, the misfortunate man who was killed, and the other man whose life has been ruined. He says he feels safer in prison than he would feel at home.
In fairness to the organisation mentioned, there were two organisations involved, the Irish Farmers Association and the GAA. Both took a stand because they are at the heart of the community and know the issues. I understand why they found it necessary to speak on this case.
It is vital that we do not allow the message go out that Travellers are somehow less than human. However, we must also look to those who live in isolated areas and whose lives are ruined.
I wish to support the call for a debate on the breakdown of law and order in our society, and the gangland killings occurring almost nightly. Rural policing needs to be stepped up not down, as has happened under this Government for the past eight years. Dublin-based gangs nightly attack isolated rural areas and elderly people in rural communities. These people are being assaulted and robbed and live in dread.
In November and December evenings elderly people across the country board up their homes to protect themselves. That is not right in any civilised society. The issue needs to be addressed. We need to fill the lack in society by bringing back the small rural Garda stations and putting police into rural communities.
On another issue, will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, into the House to tell us when he will change the present legislation on behalf of those who wish to live in rural areas? There are serious injustices in the planning area for those who wish to live in rural communities. I see situations in my county and the Leader must know of situations in County Westmeath too——
The constituent will not be able to vote for Senator Bannon over there. Senator Finucane, the deputy leader of the Opposition, spoke about Operation Anvil, which was introduced to combat urban crime. He asked for a debate about criminal activity in Dublin and in urban areas generally, noting that there were four gangland deaths in 2004 and 17 so far in 2005. On the question of resources the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said on a number of occasions that if resources are needed they will be provided, and that it is not a matter of not having them. Senator Finucane also noted that the previous Minister for Justice from his party, the former Deputy Nora Owen, was constantly criticised.
Senator Finucane also raised health issues and the HSE, and the cancelling of 10,000 operations. I understand how someone awaiting an operation and psyched up for it would feel if then told the operation was cancelled. I understand that the budget will tell a tale for elderly people and for operations. We will not have to wait too long for that.
Senator O'Toole said we have the best strike record in Europe, which is true, and noted that Irish Ferries is refusing to accept the outcome of the Labour Court process. Irish Ferries uses the term "outsourcing", which I also heard used on RTE. Displacing all the employment is not "outsourcing" and makes a nonsense of the word. The word is wrongly used, yet I have heard esteemed media labour commentators use it in that way. If one is sacking 500 people, that is some "outsourcing". It is a nonsense word in this context.
The concern over whether we will have a new programme for Government, and the long wait for it, is having a destabilising effect. There is no doubt it is affecting people.
Senator O'Toole also referred to the case of the Mayo farmer and expressed concern for all the parties involved. He questioned the wisdom of large organisations — we know the two involved — aligning themselves with the planned march in Athlone next Saturday. On balance, that alignment is not good. Everyone has sympathy for all parties involved, but the issue is very difficult. We are all bolstered by the law and the courts and we must go along with that process.
Senator McCarthy noted that the rainbow coalition Government was regularly accused with regard to crime levels, yet the crime figures now emerging are startling. He also asked if we should seek accountability in the health services from Professor Drumm or from the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and their Departments.
Senator Glynn referred to illicit drugs being traded in the foyer of St. James's Hospital, which is awful, and called for a debate. He also urged a debate on prostate cancer, men's health and diabetes. I hope we will have a general health debate next week on cancer and the oncology services because we are now seeing a roll-out of those services. I will ask for prostate cancer and diabetes to be covered.
Senator Glynn also asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law attend the House to talk of knife attacks. Tomorrow's Private Members' motion in the name of the Labour Party deals with juvenile crime, so there will be an opportunity to talk of crime in general to some extent.
Senator John Paul Phelan noted the gangland killings and called for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend a debate. He also called for a debate on biofuels. I am glad to tell him that the price of diesel has fallen to €1 per litre at the fuel station I called into today, which is amazing.
Senator Leyden drew attention to the levels of fear among the elderly and to the court case involving the Mayo farmer. He also addressed the non-domestic water rates issue. Senator Norris noted the rising tide of violence and the use of contract killers. One could be knifed in prison. He raised the Irish Shipping issue and that of Irish Equity, whose members earn only €7,000 per annum and are not allowed to be represented by unions.
Senator Kenneally spoke of American and British intelligence agencies vetting all telecommunications as a result of the 2000 Echelon agreement. That might be a suitable matter to raise on the Adjournment, but the Senator can decide.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of gangland killings, 17 of which have been carried out since 2004. He also called for debate on a dedicated transport system for cancer sufferers. The Tánaiste is meeting with the Northern Ireland health Minister in Belfast today to make arrangements that would permit cancer sufferers in County Donegal to travel to Belfast rather than face the journey to Dublin. I understood that a transport service for cancer patients is available. Is there not?
Such a service is needed because patients who are already ill and broken down in mind and body ought not be subjected to the vagaries of travel. This issue should be discussed if a full oncology debate is held next week.
Senator Callanan, whose own recovery is a credit to all, raised issues of men's health. We will endeavour to include those issues in next week's debate on cancer.
Senator Coghlan commented on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the lack of a full-time cardiologist in Tralee General Hospital. He said that GPs in County Kerry feel affronted by the services they receive.
Senator Ó Murchú discussed security in rural Ireland and the issue of people who live in isolation. I concur with his point that Travellers are no less human than the remainder of the population.
Senator Bannon raised the issues of gangland crime and elderly people living alone. He called for the reopening of small rural Garda stations. Will his party be promising such a measure? We will see.