Tuesday, 13 December 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1, motion re the establishment of a mutual information procedure on asylum and immigration, is a referral motion whereby the subject matter of No. 14 on today's Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights for consideration. This proposal will establish a web-based mutual information procedure or network through which member states will be required to communicate to other member states and the Commission measures they intend to take in the area of asylum and immigration. The measures covered in the area of asylum and immigration include draft legislation at the latest when it is presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas, draft international agreements at the latest when initiated and court judgments when delivered. The motion will be taken without debate.
No. 2 is the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed 12 minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.
I would like to raise two issues on the Order of Business. Will the Leader make time available today for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to make a statement concerning the selective leaking to one particular journalist of a document concerning a third party? I know the Minister will make a statement in the other House today and I wonder if we will have an opportunity to hear from him also.
While that issue is important and I have no doubt the Minister will account for his actions later in the day, it is equally important to say that those who set themselves up as moral and ethical watchdogs for the rest of us or for public bodies must answer for themselves concerning their own history and affairs. That is as important, if not more so, than the Minister's statement to the other House today. Just because a person may not face a criminal trial in regard to an issue does not mean that person is free from exposing to the country and the citizens within it what he or she knows about that history and those events. Where serious allegations are made against a third party, it is important that third party has an opportunity currently in the courts to take a libel proceeding against the two newspapers in question if he so chooses. That is a matter for that individual. As I have always said in this House, there is an over-arching responsibility on the State to expose subversion wherever it finds it. I say that as someone who believes and upholds the constitutional principles that exist here and have always existed.
I was greatly heartened, as I am sure were other colleagues, by the show of strength on the streets of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and other cities last Friday when more than 150,000 Irish workers took to the streets. Serious issues arise from that demonstration by the Irish labour movement last Friday. People are concerned about their terms and conditions, the issue of displacement and the working environment, particularly for immigrant workers. If there is one lesson to be learned from the Irish Ferries dispute and its spillover impact in terms of the march last Friday, it is that partnership must note the lessons from this process to ensure those who work within our economy are well protected and well guarded against exploitative measures by other employers and by people outside this State.
I would also welcome a debate on the issue of a statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I would particularly like if that kind of a debate could take place in a non-party political ambience. There are some serious matters which we need to discuss and about which people need to put their views clearly on the record. I believe strongly in the idea of parliamentary privilege, which is important because it allows Members of the Oireachtas to say certain things in the House which they cannot say outside the House. We have put in place ways of dealing with abuses of parliamentary privilege in each House. I do not agree with the suggestion in some newspapers that Members of the Oireachtas are only allowed to say things in the House which can be proven in an outside court. That was never the intention of the system of parliamentary privilege.
I support completely the idea behind the establishment of the Centre for Public Inquiry. It is important in a democracy for people to ask questions and test limits, etc. It would be very helpful if we could discuss the matter, but I do not know whether it will be possible to organise a debate at this stage. I agree with Senator Brian Hayes's suggestion that the Minister, Deputy McDowell, should make a statement and take some questions as part of a debate on the matter in this Chamber. I do not think it should be a political debate with contributions in turn from either side of the House. We need to be clear about the fundamental issues and principles in respect of this issue. As I do not understand the Minister's decision to put certain information on the public record, I cannot give a clear opinion on it. I do not know how that decision was made and how it should have been made. I am not sure that we have any rules to deal with such cases — perhaps that is the issue that needs to be addressed at some point. It is important that the House debate the matter.
I do not want people to assume the Minister was abusing his right to parliamentary privilege in some way just because they disagree with how he did something. I do not share that viewpoint. If a Minister feels strongly about something, he or she should do what he or she thinks is right. Only then should he or she be made answerable. That issue was raised by my colleague, Senator Norris, last week. If Ministers are asked whether they did right or wrong in such circumstances, they can answer questions as part of the proper processes to deal with that. People who are named should also have access to due process. If they feel they were not given fair play, they can make a complaint to the Oireachtas so the matter can be dealt with.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes that it was heartening and encouraging that such a substantial number of people from all sides of the labour spectrum — business people and entrepreneurs felt the same as those involved with trade unions — took to the streets last Friday. I was not surprised that many business people had no problem with giving workers time off to make a statement because such people are interested in fairness, which involves fair competition and everybody working within the rules, regardless of what such rules happen to be. We have learned that we need to consider how we share the wealth in Irish society. Why are we creating wealth? For whom are we creating wealth? If, as a community, we do not have a clear understanding of how it should be shared, we are not going anywhere. We should not be interested in creating more and more wealth for a small number of people, but in sharing that wealth in a fair way. We need to deal with immigrants and other people who are working in our society, regardless of where they come from. It is clear, the way things are going, that such matters need to be examined.
I ask the House to consider that labour legislation has become more and more complex. All sorts of issues, such as health and safety regulations, are affecting the lives of workers. Salary negotiations have become more and more complex. Therefore, we should consider the possibility of recognising the trade union movement as a service to workers. It seems to me that going to work without having joined a union is so complex that it is like going to court without having hired a lawyer. We need to give serious thought to the legal recognition of trade unions. We need to give more authority to the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. For example, it should be possible to compel witnesses to attend the meetings of the commission and the court. Similarly, the findings of such bodies should be made binding.
I would like to speak about the events of last Friday. It is worth repeating that we do not often encounter times when our choices are clearly defined for us. I do not think it is sufficient for Senators to stand up and say we think something is a great idea. The Government of this country has a job to do. Almost 75 years ago, the late Mr. Dan Morrissey asked the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. Seán Lemass, how many industrial inspectors there were in this country. He was told in 1932, when there were a few hundred thousand people at work in the private sector, that there were 16 such inspectors. We now have 21 inspectors and are waiting for more.
The fundamental issue here is no longer worker protection legislation but the enforcement of worker protection legislation. That is entirely within the Government's brief. It can decide there are enough inspectors with a mandate to do the work. It can change the law so that Gama can never go to court again and prevent the publication of a report on its exploitation of Turkish workers. That is what the Oireachtas and the Government can do and let the trade unions sort out the brutes who run Irish Ferries.
Speaking of brutes and since the Minister believes it to be true, he can say what he likes about people, I am entitled, presumably, to say what I like about him, but I will not. I will simply quote Mr. Justice Flood, who Members of this House——
Sorry, a Chathaoirligh, Mr. Justice Flood is the chairman of the Centre for Public Inquiry whose director has been traduced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Let me explain clearly. Nobody in this country has to explain themselves because somebody cast imputations on them. Regardless of whether they should or should not, nobody has to do so and nobody has the right. I spent 20 years on and off fighting for people's right to an unqualified right to silence. We have made only minimal changes in that area. It is not proper, and it is the way of Robert Mugabe to say that the security of the state is threatened, therefore one can say what one likes about somebody. That is a fundamental issue. If the security of the State is threatened I would like to know what the Minister who dines with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty knows about them.
We do not know whether they travelled on false passports. We do not know anything about them because the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, so worried as he is about subversion is cosy with them and has picked on one individual, at most a subordinate individual in that organisation.
What Mr. Justice Flood said was that statements made in privileged circumstances where they cannot be tested are unworthy and that they are unworthy of this State and the Government. We have a Constitution. Let us be clear, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is as much bound by the Constitution as am I. He has no special rights.
It is offensive to make that comparison. Senator Ryan reminds me of whatChurchill said about Baldwin, that he occasionally stumbled on the truth but, undaunted, he got up and carried on. It is incorrect to say that because the Minister believes something to be true that, therefore, he can say what he likes.
He did not say what he liked. We all know the Minister has always been amenable to come into the House and staying in it to a degree that is highly unusual for a Cabinet Minister when dealing with legislation and going through it in great detail. I am sure he will do the same in respect of this matter. He is to make a statement in the Dáil and we should await what emerges from that statement.
The burden of proof is not the same in this context, or in many other cases within these Houses, as it is in a court of law. We can all think of cases where senior Ministers lost their jobs and were out of Cabinet on the basis of allegations made against them that were never subsequently proven to be true. Parliamentary privilege is at the heart of our democracy and is something that should be protected and used sparingly. In that context, the Minister did exactly the right thing.
I join with Senator Brian Hayes in calling for a statement from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I accept Senator Dardis's point that the Minister has always been amenable to requests to come to this House and I am sure he will be on this occasion also. I would like to hear the Minister's views on the code of conduct for office holders, specifically with regard to sections 14 and 15. I look forward to that and I am sure the Leader will try to arrange it forthwith.
The Leader is no doubt aware of the recent remarks of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on a different issue, namely, the age of some members of a particular party in this House. However, there are four relative youngsters here, representing the Labour Party, and perhaps the Leader has a view on that important subject.
I agree with the analysis of Senators Brian Hayes, O'Toole and others on the march last Friday. I took part in the march in Limerick and was very heartened to see in excess of 10,000 people demonstrating. I hope there will be an opportunity after Christmas to discuss this issue further because we are all aware of certain multinational companies that are seeking to undermine the labour movement and the co-operation between all parties concerned with the fair treatment of migrant workers. An effort has been made to abuse migrant workers in an attempt to undermine their Irish counterparts. I would welcome a debate on this issue.
I also believe there is an opportunity for consumers to speak loudly by boycotting the services of companies that are seeking to undermine the good relations that exist in the Irish working environment. I hope that consumers will take that into account over the Christmas period and seek to address the problem in an effective way.
I support the calls for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House and make a statement. We should have a debate on the matter, at the very least. However, I find myself in some disagreement with my colleague and friend, Senator Brian Hayes. I do not think the Connolly response is more important than the issues facing the Minister. Mr. Connolly is a single individual and I do not think he should be forced into a libel court. That is a choice he can make, if he wishes, but I do not agree with the argument that if someone makes an allegation against an individual, he or she must go to the libel court.
There are issues of principle at stake. I am worried because I detect what I would call the "Eileen Flynn syndrome" whereby the Minister does not like the political background, political choices or the acquaintances of a certain individual and therefore the law does not operate to protect that individual's rights. The law should do so and I find it extraordinary that the Minister used parliamentary privilege in the way he did, in particular his use of a written reply, where he could not be interrupted by the Ceann Comhairle and told to stop because he was naming people outside the House.
I remind Senators that this is the Minister who introduced penalties of up to five years in prison for gardaí who leaked information to journalists. The Minister said, in that context, "I am not supposed to just throw out into the public domain facts which haven't been proven in court about people". What has changed to enable him to completely reverse this position and to do precisely what he said he should not do?
We are entitled to an explanation because the chairman of the Centre for Public Inquiry, Mr. Justice Flood, has argued that the Minister's action amounts to a drumhead court martial. In other words, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has established himself as judge and jury. Professor Walsh has argued that the question of undermining the Constitution arises in this scenario. This is a very serious and regrettable situation.
One final question, which should be asked ——
Will the Leader ask the Minister, if he is not able to come to the House, to answer two specific questions? The Minister indicated that democracy was under threat and there was a threat to public safety. If he is not able to come to the House I ask the Leader to inquire of him as to the nature of that threat to the State. The Minister has not spelled that out. In what manner was it properly addressed by his action? We are entitled to know.
I ask the Leader to continue the series of debates on Iraq. Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, is outside the gates of this building today. We discussed the aeroplanes that passed through Shannon Airport and she told me she would personally sink a hatchet into any aeroplane that she thought might be carrying a boy like her son off to be murdered by George Bush. We must bear that in mind while we press for information on the aeroplanes that still stop at Shannon Airport.
He said that a particular individual might be a subordinate member of an organisation but I am not aware of any evidence to that effect. The imputation may damage that person's reputation.
We are talking about ethics, not law. The body in question is established to look primarily at ethics. That may include a criminal wrongdoing but its primary focus is on ethics. People are entitled to examine the ethical background of bodies involved in such work. The imputation seems to be that people are entitled to throw anything they like at the State but the State must operate with its hands tied behind its back, unable to respond.
Will the Leader make inquiries with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regarding the current status of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004? We spent much time dealing with it in this House and it is a good Bill which we supported. It provides for parents of children up to the age of eight to take parental leave. At the moment parents with children between five and eight cannot avail of leave because the Bill is sitting on the Minister's desk. It is a simple Bill and I ask the Leader to put pressure on the Minister to ensure it is completed so parents can avail of its provisions. Considering the pressures parents are under these days, and I acknowledge the work the Government is doing in the area of child care, it is important the Bill is enacted as quickly as possible.
I call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss the leaking of material from Garda files to a newspaper. I do not normally agree with the Minister but he is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and is responsible for the security of the State. We cannot fight with our hands behind our backs. The director of the Centre for Public Inquiry also has serious questions to answer. On this occasion the Minister, while he may not have used the right vehicle, is right to defend the security of the State.
As an employer I welcome the march that took place on Friday. It is a rain check of employees' rights. Over the years, the employment situation has changed and as an employer I cannot match the pay that Irish Ferries or many Departments can offer. Many employers would like to match that pay and offer the same conditions. We do offer the conditions set down in employment legislation but as small employers we cannot match conditions that exist elsewhere. We should debate the shifting sands of employment in Ireland. Employers and employees together can come up with a positive response.
Over the years we have seen Irish workers coming home from England. The price of airline tickets at Christmas between Britain and Ireland could cost up to two weeks' wages. Now we talk about migrant workers going back to Europe. Between Ryanair, Aer Lingus and other companies, airline tickets are three times the price at Christmas.
What are we doing about that? Will no one sit down and ask airline companies to explain the way they are ripping off workers in this country, the EU and the United States? If the same thing happened with train fares, with a threefold increase at Christmas, there would be uproar.
On "Liveline" yesterday, nursing home costs were discussed. Some people are removing relatives from nursing homes because of the cost. We should debate the nursing home subvention and home care in the new year. The lack of public beds in the west is serious and would be much worse if it were not for nursing homes.
Senator Brian Hayes asked for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House. I do not know if he can do so because he will be in the other House, having agreed to answer special notice questions. The Senator said that those who set themselves up as moral should account for their own actions.
Senator Brian Hayes also said he was heartened by the show of strength on Friday. Like Senator Dooley, I walked with the teachers in Athlone. We had a great outing, it was a great show of solidarity. Partnership must learn lessons to prevent the exploitation of workers.
Senator O'Toole mentioned parliamentary privilege and I could not agree with him more. The whole point of parliamentary privilege is that a person is allowed to say things he or she could not say in another forum. Otherwise it would not be privilege. Reporters keep saying, "It was said under parliamentary privilege". The Minister is entitled to do that, it is the point of parliamentary privilege. Look at the fun I would lose in the way I can berate a particular person. Senator O'Toole also found Friday's march heartening, saying that trade unions should be recognised as a service to workers. The Labour Court and the LRC should also be recognised.
Senator Ryan referred to the enforcement of worker protection legislation, noting there were 16 inspectors in the 1940s while there are now 21 and we are waiting for more. The Senator quoted a former, or a retired judge — I suppose one always remains a judge in one's mind if one was one. I found the comparison made offensive and Senator Dardis replied very ably to it by rejecting the comparison between a particular gentleman, or whatever one might call him, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Parliamentary privilege is a cornerstone of our democracy — that is the point of it.
Senator Coghlan is losing his touch.
It is Christmas week and everyone is getting very bold.
Senator Dooley also took part in the march, and I say well done to him. Senator Norris said an individual should not be forced into taking a libel suit to get his rights and he quoted the retired judge and Professor Walsh. He also said we should continue to have serious debate on Iraq. Senator Mansergh said we are talking about ethics and not law and he raised the famous Starry O'Brien court case in Cork.
Senator Terry asked about the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill which is on Committee Stage in the Dáil. It is on the desks of those contributing to the debate.
Senator Feighan said he would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House. I welcome the note of sanity from that side of the House since there is not very many of them. The Senator is quite right — the Minister is responsible for security and whatever action he took, he did so in that vein.
Senator Feighan cannot have it every way. He also welcomed last week's march and asked why airline tickets are three times more expensive at Christmas. He should ask our favourite guy.
Senator Kitt bewailed the lack of nursing home beds. We will have a debate on those matters during Private Members' time tomorrow night.