Thursday, 15 December 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive. Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are motions which were referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has completed its deliberations on them. The motions relate to agreements between the Government and the governments of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Republic of Cyprus and the Republic of Poland, providing for co-operation in combatting crime. The motions, which have been considered by the committee, will be taken without debate. No. 4 is a motion that was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has completed its deliberations on it. The motion relates to a proposal to establish a web-based mutual information procedure, or network function, through which member states will be required to communicate to other member states and the Commission any measures they intend to take in the area of asylum and immigration. The motion, which has been considered by the committee, will be taken without debate. No. 5 is the Social Welfare Bill 2005 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons to last 12 minutes and the contributions of other Senators to last eight minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. No. 6 is a motion re the draft Commission of Investigation (Child Sexual Abuse) Order 2005, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of each group spokesperson not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the debate on the motion. No. 7 is the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005 — all Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons to last 15 minutes and the contributions of other Senators to last ten minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
I welcome the Government's acceptance of the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005 in the other House. I am glad the Bill is to be taken in this House today. I expressed my approval of the Bill, which will amend the Coroners Act 1962, last week, following its publication by Deputy Rabbitte. It is good that the Government accepted a Private Members' Bill in the other House. I welcome its decision to ensure that the legislation will be passed swiftly before the Christmas recess.
Can I ask the Government what action it proposes to take following yesterday's description by the President of Iran of the Holocaust as a "myth"? The gentleman in question said some months ago that Israel should be "wiped off the map". Regardless of the difficulties between Iran and Israel and the clear differences of opinion in the Middle East, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the memory of the victims of the Holocaust is not forgotten.
I ask the Government and its EU colleagues to lodge the strongest possible objections and comments on foot of the recent remarks by the President of Iran. It was particularly insensitive of him to make such comments this year, when we are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Belsen and Auschwitz. The Government and its EU counterparts need to take a very firm view of the latest outburst by the President of Iran.
I welcome the significant comments made last week by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, about the aid relief programme in Pakistan. The Leader of the House is aware that when we worked on the Seanad reform document I made a proposal, which was accepted by all Members, that former taoisigh be ex officio members, or non-voting members, of the House. There is vast experience among former taoisigh of all political parties and a platform should be provided for them as they have important things to say because of their connections in the world and their reputation as Leaders of Government over a whole generation. A way has to be found where that experience can be tapped into and used. I believe this House is the appropriate means by which that can be done. This is an important issue that I know our group on Seanad reform will take forward.
On that latter point, I am sure the Leader will be happy to confirm that the Seanad reform group is writing to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses on that issue this week with the idea of moving it on.
On the Iran issue, it is crucial that there is an international response to his comments for the second time in two months. We should be aware that, perhaps, unlike other similar states, the President of Iran is playing national politics on the international stage. Clearly, he is losing the battle in terms of fundamentalism within his own bailiwick. Recent reports from Tehran show clearly that there are two societies in Iran and that many people are taking a much more progressive view. It is nice to see young women and young men walk down the streets in parts of Tehran holding hands and so on, something which was unheard of years ago. It is important that those people hear our voices in response and to that extent I fully agree with the point made by Senator Brian Hayes.
In the past week we had another appalling situation where seven people from the Middle East, in particular, working in this country were paid a paltry €2 per hour by a company called A1 Plastering which was doing work for a huge construction company, JJ Rattigan. That has been reported. I want people to recognise again that we have a serious problem in convincing those in the business community who are exploiting migrant workers, those who come into the State, that this is utterly wrong.
This is particularly important if we are looking at a new social partnership. I ask Members when speaking with people who run medium-sized enterprises whose spokespersons shout off at the mouth on radio and television, week after week, to be aware that if we pay workers lower wages we collect lower taxes, if we collect lower taxes, we cannot put money into health and education. If we pay lower wages to people it means they have less marginal income and the first people to lose will be the business community. It is in their interests, if they want to be selfish about it, but if we do not collect tax from one place it has to come from another.
We are creating a wealthy society in order to ensure the standards of living of all people in society, whether one is running a business or working for a business person, or whether one is in the public or private sector. That is what we are trying to achieve and that is what we need to ensure we deliver. It is pure practical simple politics. If we do not pay people more we pay the price at the end.
Agus mé ag caint anseo inné, dúras cúpla rud mar gheall ar an Acht teangan, agus go mórmhór the difficulties to which the Taoiseach referred in the other House about the significant costs for the publication of annual reports. I said we should be careful about that and, perhaps, the Act needs to be reviewed. The Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, was good enough to contact me during the course of the past 24 hours. I made the point here yesterday that we could have the report properly translated but it need not necessarily be published in hard copy but could be published on the web. He said he is happy with that suggestion. His interpretation is that it will suffice if a report is published on the web. However, he wanted the publication to be simultaneous and I agree.
The Taoiseach got incorrect information when he spoke in the Dáil last week — which he has since corrected — about the costs of the English and Irish versions. It means we do not need to produce large numbers of publications in hard copy in the Irish language. If they are translated properly and available on the Internet that will be satisfactory. That is an important issue.
Táimid ag dul ar aghaidh. Níl scoilt eadrainn faoi sin, pé scéal é. Déarfainn, dá mbeadh acmhainní ar fáil, gur chóir iad a dhíriú i dtreo téacsleabhar do na meánscoileanna lán-Ghaelacha nach bhfuil ar fáil faoi láthair. I gcás mo mhic féin, leis an chuid is mó de na hábhair theicniúla a bhí idir lámha aige, bhí ar na páistí téacsleabhair Béarla a úsáid agus foclóir Gaeilge ag an am céanna chun na focail theicniciúla a aistriú go Gaoluinn. Ba chóir go mbeadh téacsleabhair ar fáil, agus sin an sprioc is tábhachtaí ar cheart don Rialtas a bheith aige. Rudaí a fhoilsiú i nGaoluinn would be to make sure that ever single second level school teaching through Irish would have available to it high quality text books in Irish. That is the most immediate problem.
Senator Brian Hayes is right about Iran. The situation there is becoming extremely worrying. Let us not forget that until comparatively recently the state of Israel pretended there was no such place as Palestine and said there were no such people as Palestinians, they were Jordanians and Egyptians and other people and that what they moved into in 1948 was essentially an empty space. I do not subscribe to that view but we genuinely have to worry about what is happening in Iran. It is an extraordinary country and is not by any means the most repressive country. It is a freer country than Saudia Arabia. It has used the greater freedom to elect a President and that is disturbing.
After Christmas may we have a solid debate on the Government's proposals on what it has described as, and I do not disagree, fourth level education, linked into which is the large capital funding the Minister announced last Sunday for the third level sector? A number of issues arise that deserve to be watched. One is the fact that in two years' time one of our biggest universities will turn virtually all of its engineering degrees into five-year degrees, with a three-year BSc, followed by two years in which to get a masters. This means that in the last two of the five years students will pay fees. Therefore, three years of the course will be fee free and students will pay fees for the other two years.
One will get a BSc in engineering in UCD. That is the plan and I think it will be followed in the whole third level sector. Therefore, people will have three years of free fees followed by two years in which to get a properly recognised degree in engineering where fees will be re-introduced for two out of the five years, in other words, 40% of the student's time. This is fees by the back door. If the Government has a policy of agreeing with this plan it ought to be a policy and not slipped in by universities operating with a nod and a wink from the Department of Education and Science. I ask the Leader to arrange for a long debate on that whole area of funding and third level education and all the changes taking place, Bologna and so on, in the new year because I know the Minister would be glad of an opportunity to elaborate on it. This is an appropriate Chamber for it to be done.
I ask the Leader to provide time for a substantial debate after Christmas on alternative land use. It is appropriate to have such a debate at this time. There are conflicting statements issuing from people who should know better and this is upsetting to rural people and farmers in general.
I compliment the Minister for Finance on the lead he has taken in the budget in which he has provided €20 million, €35 million and €50 million in aid towards biofuel production. There is a need to have people living in rural Ireland doing productive work.
If there is some difficulty with food production, then the alternative is biofuels. We should go down that road, examine it and give leadership to the people rather than issuing confusing statements on the matter.
I also read of the case of the plastering sub-contractor working for a very prominent building contractor. Many building contractors are members of the Construction Industry Federation and most new immigrants work in the construction industry. In that context, it is imperative, if social partnership talks go ahead, that it be emphasised that immigrant workers are at least entitled to basic, proper wages.
I have said on numerous occasions in the House that it is not satisfactory to have only 13 inspectors in the labour inspectorate when there is a need for at least 30. We should increase the number of inspectors to reflect the times we live in because I am sure what has been exposed in the newspapers is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of exploitation. Our treatment of immigrants here will be reported in newspapers in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and so forth and the image it projects of Ireland will be a wrong one. It behoves us to tackle exploitation because it is commonplace.
I share the outrage of Senators on the other side of the House at the remarks of the Iranian President but I would also suggest that Middle East politics is a murky stew of hatreds, prejudices and ignorance. In fact, the Iranian President is fuelling this ignorance. Of course the remarks should be condemned and I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will protest at official level, as he did on a previous occasion over a similar outburst about the state of Israel, to the Iranian ambassador. The protest could be more practical than that, however. People such as the Iranian President are happy in their own prejudices and, as Senator O'Toole said, the President is playing to a particular domestic political agenda. He is obviously losing and I am very happy that is the case.
It should be remembered that the President was elected primarily by those on the margins of Iranian society, to whom he promised a better life. That was the domestic political agenda. I have a more practical suggestion for a protest. As it is Christmas time, although that might not be acknowledged in a religious context by the Iranian President, people tend to do a lot of reading and watching of television. The civilised world, through its embassies based in Iran, should overwhelm the presidential office with Holocaust literature, including the hundreds of testimonies of victims. There are two particular movies that he should watch over Christmas, "Schindler's List" and "The Pianist". Then perhaps he might have some understanding of why there is such outrage and disgust in this part of the world at remarks denying the Holocaust ever happened. The president should also remember that Iran, Iraq and other countries were created as a consequence of the First World War, while the state of Israel was created as a consequence of what the allies saw in Belsen, Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Dachau.
I join with my colleagues in calling for a protest to be made about the statement of President Ahmadinejad but if the protest is to be made to the ambassador, we will have a difficulty because he has disappeared. President Ahmadinejad is somebody who is in touch with a different reality to that with which most of us are in contact. I saw him being interviewed recently and he spoke about how, when he made a speech to the United Nations — which, in fact, was in some ways a very fine and interesting speech — he felt that he was in the grip of some kind of holy emotion, that a light came around his head and that all the other ambassadors were frozen in their seats. This is not the kind of reality that most of us encounter, but it is what the President said.
I hesitate to come into conflict with my distinguished colleague and friend, Senator Ryan, but when he said the Iranian people used their freedom to elect this man, he is incorrect. They did not really do so because 98% of those who put themselves forward for election were ruled out by an unelected group of clerics. Therefore, it was not really an exercise of freedom at all. If an individual within Europe denies the Holocaust, he or she will face criminal sanctions. We should protest very strongly.
I strongly support Senator Brian Hayes's suggestion that we invite former taoisigh to the House. There are five of them, Mr. Charlie Haughey, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Mr. Liam Cosgrave, Mr. Albert Reynolds and Mr. John Bruton. Furthermore, there are spaces for them here on the Independent benches.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he proposes to examine the laws relating to consent. He indicated that he was troubled, particularly about a case which came before the courts recently where a 17 year old boy and a 15 year old girl engaged in consensual sexual activity and the 17 year old was convicted of statutory rape. The judge expressed surprise that the consenting 15 year old girl was not also before the court. Now it transpires that their parents support the two young people in their relationship. They have now moved in together and have had a child.
That suggests to me that what I said a long time ago should be re-examined. An age of consent is always arbitrary and perhaps it might be possible to examine the question of a principle of consent in troubled cases such as these, to be decided by a judge. It is plainly a nonsense to ask why we did not send the 15 year old girl to prison for having sex with a man she eventually moved in with, and whose child she is having. There were similar cases in the United States. The Minister was right to isolate this point and I ask the Leader to ascertain when his proposals will be brought before the House.
Ba mhaith tagairt a dhéanamh don mhéid a dúirt an Seanadóir O'Toole. Is oth liom go nglacann an Coimisinéir Teanga gur ionann iad foilseachán i bhfoirm IrelandNet agus foilseachán i bhforim leabhair. Ba chóir an rud céanna a dhéanamh le foilseachán i mBéarla freisin.
I am appalled by the number of glossy reports we receive every year from statutory bodies and the more they deal with matters like poverty, the more glossy the reports seem to be.
It is an appalling waste of money and most reports end up in the waste paper basket. I do not know why they cannot publish them on the Internet and advertise that fact. That would save a lot of money.
I also support the call for a debate on higher education. The additional money for that sector, which is to be welcomed, should be used strategically to ensure that Irish universities can compete on the world stage. I thank the Minister for Finance for including in the budget a little-noticed change which allows charitable people to contribute in the form of shares as well as money. This could have great potential for bringing funds into Irish universities.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir O'Toole mar gheall ar an tuarascáil ar a raibh sé ag caint. I agree with what Senators O'Toole and Maurice Hayes have said with regard to glossy reports. Enormous savings would be made if it could be agreed that such reports be published on the Internet, rather than being sent to people and largely going straight into the waste paper basket.
It was acknowledged in the House yesterday that all Senators have a favourite topic. This was in the context of Senator McHugh's grá for the north west.
We all read in the newspapers this morning about the unfortunate case of the diagnosis of bowel cancer in a woman, the results of which she was not given until she went for a routine check-up a year later. Yesterday the hospital in question agreed a settlement with her and apologised, saying the error was due to a systems failure. Last week we had a lengthy and good debate on oncology services. We on the Government side remarked on how good our services were, but good services are no use if the hospital system fails to support them. I ask the Leader for a debate after Christmas to review systems in all our hospitals because I sat on inquiries during my five years on medical councils where hospital failures resulted in fatalities and it is not good enough. We owe it to patients to do something about it.
I share Senator O'Toole and Senator Finucane's concerns about businesses which pay very low wages to their workers. It is worth remembering Henry Ford's statement that while he did not want to pay his workers high wages he wanted them to be able to buy his cars.
I join with Senator Ryan and Senator Maurice Hayes in asking for a debate on third level education. I am concerned by the fact that graduate entry may become a requisite for medicine. Is the enthusiasm for this the fact that students would have to pay fees? It could undermine the free fees system by the back door.
In the past couple of days during the debate on the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2005 I drew attention to the fact that in the past ten years there has been practically no growth in the food and drink industry in Ireland. I share Senator Callanan's concerns for the erosion of rural life and am worried about the resulting retraction in the numbers of people farming. I call for an urgent debate on indigenous Irish industry, particularly the food and drink industry, to examine its relationship with farming and the potential for business in the farming sector. We must remember that every large business started as a small one and we need another success likeBaileys. The success stories such as Google that we hear of every day are tremendous but we must develop our indigenous industry.
I wish to highlight failures in our health system, not just in individual cases such as the woman in Tallaght Hospital Senator Feeney mentioned. Not a day passes without our reading about a serious failure in the health system which points to a fundamental problem in the management of health services in this country. I ask the Leader of the House to schedule a debate as early as possible in the new year on the management of our health services. There have been numerous reports and reforms, the Health Service Executive has been established and there are promises of improvements yet we still have horrendous waiting lists and dreadful stories such as the one in Tallaght Hospital to which Senator Feeney referred.
Senator Brian Hayes welcomed the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005. I reported last week that I had met Deputy Rabbitte and I am glad it is to be debated here today. I wish to correct something I said earlier on the Bill. I said the Minister was to be called to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage but I should have said the proposer of the Bill, Senator Tuffy, will be called upon five minutes before the end to conclude.
This is a great use of Private Members' time and instructive for all of us. We have had Senator Leyden's Bill and I understand Senator White has prepared a Bill. Senator Norris is returning with a revamped Bill on civil partnerships and now Senator Tuffy is proposing the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005. I look forward to debating it.
Senator Brian Hayes also raised the matter of the Iranian President describing the Holocaust as a myth. He will turn into an urban myth if he continues like that. The memory of the Holocaust should not be forgotten. The Senator asked that we register our disgust through diplomatic channels and I will put that to the Minister for Foreign Affairs when I meet him.
The Senator also mentioned Albert Reynolds's call for further aid for Pakistan. We discussed that last Monday at the reform meeting. He also suggested that former taoisigh come to the House to share their wisdom on particular matters, without voting as Members. That must be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I will be glad to forward the proposal to it. They have valuable experience which should be tapped into. Former Taoiseach John Bruton's experience from his role in America would be particularly valuable but we could ask all of them.
Senator O'Toole raised the issue of seven workers in A1 Plastering who are paid €2 per hour. It happens all the time and I agree with Senator Finucane that the instances reported in the newspapers are only the tip of the iceberg. If somebody comes to a country where they know nobody and have very little money they must go to an employer to gain work. That employer then pays what they want and it is nauseating to hear business people say the minimum wage is too high. Businesses can manage.
I am glad the Irish Ferries dispute has worked out reasonably satisfactorily and that partnership talks can get moving again. Low wages demean those who pay them and those who receive them and are not acceptable.
Senator O'Toole also said he was contacted by the Coimisinéir Teanga who told him there was no need for hard copies because they can be accessed on the web. That is good because it is much cheaper. I am glad to know peace has broken out between Senator Ryan and Senator O'Toole on the language issue.
It is Christmas and I think the baby Jesus will speak Irish, judging by the amount of Irish being spoken these days. Senator Ryan made the point that textbooks in the meanscoileanna or Irish second level schools are not available and students have to read the English textbooks with an Irish dictionary, which is daft in such a context. That is a fair point.
Senator Ryan also raised an interesting issue which requires debating. He spoke of "fourth level", which it is, because one enters that level after one's degree. I do not call it "post-degree". It is just a consolidation of one's degree, taking another two years. One will not get the job if one has not done those two years. It is a sort of mean-spirited, back door method. At present one does not get funding to study for a higher diploma in education and one cannot teach without it in many secondary schools. That is something we should consider. We will probably have a debate on third level funding and where we are going in that area.
Senator Callanan raised an interesting topic, calling for a debate on alternative land use. He made his point well. Senator Finucane was in agreement with Senator O'Toole on the issue of low wages being offered by some employers. There are still many people in domestic situations being offered and paid very low wages. I have always felt that a labourer is worthy of his or her hire and should get decent wages.
Senator Mooney noted the interrace hatred so evident in Iran and suggested we should overwhelm the Iranian President's office with Holocaust literature. Senator Norris said the Iranian President lives on another planet and also supported the suggestion of Senator Brian Hayes that former taoisigh be invited to attend the Seanad. He also urged the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend the House and discuss his embryonic proposals regarding the age of consent. I think we all followed the case in question.
Senator Maurice Hayes noted the glossiness of certain reports by statutory bodies, particularly when dealing with poverty, and of other glossy reports. When I read or take a cursory look at such reports and possibly dump them a month later, I think of how much money was spent on them. They contain some very good material but there is surely no need for such a manifestation of money in these poverty reports and other well-printed and assembled reports. Senator Coghlan agreed with the views expressed on these reports, and also mentioned Dinis cottage. Poor Dina has not had her cottage fixed up yet. I thought the Board of Works had made arrangements.
Senator Coghlan also asked about the Great Southern Hotels. I will endeavour to ask about them but I believe that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, do not want to sell the hotels. I hope Senator Coghlan will bring that message back.
Senator Coghlan and I will have to meet.
Senator Feeney noted the dreadful upset for the woman whose bowel cancer diagnosis was not passed on to her for a year, and how the hospital claimed it was a systems failure. The Senator called for a debate on the internal management of hospitals.
Senator Henry called for a debate on third level funding. Senator White called for indigenous industry to be backed and discussed. She also spoke of rural life and development and, accordingly, is in tune with Senator Callanan on that, as she is on other matters. That is our own private party joke. I am just allowed to say it here.
We will. Senator O'Meara thanked us for taking on board the Labour Party's Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005. We are glad it is being taken on board. I heard the woman referred to by the Senator on radio during the week. Senator O'Meara also spoke of failures in the health system and we will endeavour to have the debate she called for. We look forward to the Bill being brought forward by Senator Tuffy.