Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Order of Business (Resumed)
It is amazing that there are still people in this country who do not realise that in cases of rape, it is the victims who suffer a life sentence. My learned friends say that there are many disadvantages with mandatory sentences. Is it the position that they do not work and, presumably, suspended sentences work better? This matter should be debated in the context of forthcoming justice legislation because it is legislation that expresses the will of the people and should determine the limits of judicial discretion.
I strongly support my colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, in his quest for information from the Government and from the Leader of this House on the long-promised judicial code of conduct. There is a judicial institute, but the code is a separate matter and, presumably, will have a legislative basis.
When will the MacEntee report, which has been delivered, be published? It deals with the 1974 Dublin bombings and the alleged involvement of British military intelligence in these matters. Does the Leader envisage that we will debate the report in this House? I formally request that we hold a debate on that all-important report before the dissolution.
When will the Government make the appointment to the new statutory position of inspector of prisons? Would it not be fitting if the present incumbent, whom we know well and who has served the State well, was the first appointed to that statutory position?
I express my appreciation to the Taoiseach and to our delegates from the Seanad and Dáil who fought for the undocumented Irish in the United States of America. Our friends from New York would be well disposed towards our undocumented people. I make specific mention of the late, great Paul O'Dwyer, who was one of the greatest friends Ireland ever had, whose son is a member of New York City Council and with whom I had dealings in New York in the 1980s. It is fitting that the delegation is present today so that we may thank them for their efforts on behalf of the undocumented Irish.
It will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Leader to find time before the general election, but when it is called, we might have more time for a few weeks to discuss issues.
If we get an opportunity between now and the Easter recess, the Leader may be able to fit in a debate on Palestine. I welcome the formation of the Palestinian national unity government which is approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council. It contains Hamas and Fatah representatives under President Abbas. The late Brian Lenihan was the first foreign minister in Europe to recognise the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, and the right of the Israeli state to exist. We can continue the great work we have done in that regard through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has welcomed the formation of the unity Government. I call on the European Union to formally recognise the unity Government established by the Palestinian people.
The Israelis should release the 40 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who are in jail and, in turn, the Palestinians should use their influence to release the Israeli soldiers being held in Palestine. That would help to create a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Middle East. A significant opportunity has arisen to bring about a settlement in the Middle East and Ireland, as a neutral state, has a responsibility to lobby the European Union to restore financial support to the Palestinian state. I commend the people of Norway, who have recognised the establishment of the new Palestinian Government. Their representative has been snubbed and boycotted by the Israeli Government as a result of that decision.
It is an important issue for the people of Ireland. As far as we are concerned, Palestinian self-determination is vital and it is a great opportunity for me, as convenor of the Friends of Palestine Oireachtas group, to raise this issue on the Order of Business.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Ryan, that we should recognise this terrible and shameful day, the fourth anniversary of the declaration of what this House has described as an illegal, immoral and unjustifiable war. The regime which made that declaration has since shown itself to be deeply criminal and shameful in terms of the way in which the values of the West have been destroyed or undermined. It is inexcusable that attempts were made to undermine the United Nations, subvert the Geneva conventions and introduce legislation to justify torture. Equally inexcusable was the depiction of this country by President Bush as having provided support. The people of Ireland did not wish that, nor did the 100,000 protestors who took to the streets of Dublin. Today, the United Nations rapporteur has pointed out the abject failure of the world to recognise the humanitarian disaster that is taking place in Iraq. I speak as somebody who consistently opposed Saddam Hussein and who went across the desert at the risk my own life to beard Tariq Aziz in his den on the subject of human rights.
We should have a debate on the health service. I have suspended criticism of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, because I believe she is a courageous woman who has put her head into the lion's mouth. However, given the events of the past few weeks, we need to debate what is clearly becoming a two-tier system. This week, a woman spoke on television about her smear test, which was delayed for six months because she was a public patient.
I wish the Cathaoirleach could bring the health service to order. The aforementioned women was basically sentenced to death by our system for the crime of being poor and unable to afford health service treatment through private means. That should not be tolerated. It is a reproach to us, as representatives of the people, that the life expectancy of those with cystic fibrosis is ten years shorter here in the Republic than it is 90 miles up the road in the North of Ireland.
I call for a debate on the Abbey Theatre, an issue on which I have put down a motion. I have just learned from the radio that the Government is proposing to provide €750,000 to refurbish the theatre's foyer. As it has already announced its intention to shift the theatre from its historic site, that seems an absurd and imprudent waste of money. Let us have a debate about the appropriate site for the theatre. Let us not have it whisked off to some middle class financial services centre on the docks which the decent people of Dublin will not bother to attend. The spirit of Sean O'Casey would turn in his grave at the idea that this historic site is being abandoned and the theatre is not being relocated to the Carlton site. Why are the provisions of the Constitution that provide for the common good not applied? Why are those buccaneering capitalists not being pushed off the Carlton site so that it can be used it for the good of the people of Ireland? Andrews Lane Theatre is gone and the Olympia Theatre has been turned back into a music hall, which means there is almost nothing in the city centre. What will happen to the site of the Abbey Theatre? Why will the Government not take up the offer of the late Daithí Hanly who kept the stones of the entire building? They are available to the people. Rebuild the old Abbey and make it a site for a theatre museum in a city that has so often celebrated drama.
I support the call for a debate on the health services. With regard to Senator Ryan's comments on nurses' training, it is important to recall that one of his own party members was responsible, as Minister for Health, for the closure of many small schools of nursing which were not replaced. In the midlands, we had to wait until Deputy Cowen became Minister for Health and Children for a college of nursing. No training was available in the region for more than 20 years and both general and psychiatric nursing training are now provided as a result of Deputy Cowen's initiative. The Senator should get it right.
I endorse the call by many colleagues for a debate on the health services but for a different reason. The Health Service Executive, HSE, is seeking a review of funding of more than €500 million for what are termed front-line services, comprising primary care, community care and continuing care, on the basis of value for money. If front-line services are affected to this extent, what will be left for anybody in need of care? This brings us back again to the dirty dozen cuts. Last week the Minister for Health and Children stated through the HSE that an ambulance service will not be available for patients, except those in special categories who seek transport on an ongoing basis. It is proposed to withdraw the reimbursement of moneys paid by primary care patients for drugs. Front-line services are being dismantled. It is of the utmost importance that the Minister should come to the House and state whether she is in charge of the health service or whether the HSE is doing it its way.
The House did not sit on 8 March, which was International Women's Day. This was also the day a young man found guilty of rape walked out of court without a custodial sentence. A young woman in Ennis had to give up her right to anonymity to tell the nation about her horrific case. There was uproar with people from all walks of life commenting on the case and every news programme discussing it. We have had debates on domestic violence and other forms of violence but I would like the House to examine seriously the introduction of a mandatory minimum sentence for rape, not only of women, but also men. It is sad that this young woman had to waive her right to anonymity to seek justice, as she saw it. We owe it to her and other victims of rape to do something about it because we have the power to do so.
I support the call for a debate on the health service but we would need days for one because of the serious number of problems in it. I call for perhaps a more manageable debate on the reports of the prison visiting committees. Some Ministers are not enthusiastic about debating reports but the Leader believes they should be debated. There are several years of reports which have not been looked at by either House. It would be worthwhile doing so here, even for an hour or two.
We owe an immense debt of gratitude to journalists who go to the trouble spots in the world and endeavour to give us the facts. I do not mean as embedded journalists with any of the protagonists but as a broadcasting service with a humanitarian role showing the world precisely what is happening. One example of that was the invasion of Iraq. Those of us who opposed and condemned that invasion from the very beginning could see it would end in disaster. The problem now is the humanitarian fall-out and the hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering as a result. For some reason, we are not getting the details or the facts in this regard.
Another difficulty with a huge humanitarian impact for so many people is the new Palestinian unity government. That government was on offer from day one following Hamas's success in the elections. However, because of outside interference and obstruction, it was not allowed to progress. What is now happening would be almost comical if it was not so serious. The American Administration has said it will negotiate and communicate with the Ministers of that government who come from the Fatah party but not with those who come from the Hamas party. That makes no sense. It is time for every democratic legislature in the world to cry out in horror at what is happening, apparently in the name of democracy. I am especially uncomfortable when I see that type of manipulation continue. I hope that even in the last days of this Seanad, there will be an opportunity to put our views on the record.
The amendments, which will have a bearing on us tabling amendments, are not yet available to us. Serious issues are contained in the Bill. When will the Government amendments be available? I presume we can table our amendments before 11 a.m. tomorrow instead. If we do not get through all the amendments on Thursday, could we defer the Bill until next week? It is a very important Bill and we should not rush it.
I overheard the other House discuss the fact it was Seachtain na Gaeilge last week. The country is now very rich in terms of the diversity of languages spoken and it is not just two languages that are spoken. The Fine Gael leader, Deputy Kenny, asked the Taoiseach about translation facilities in the House for Irish. Perhaps it is time we looked to expand the translation service to include other languages.
There are people working in this country whose first language is not English. They are entitled to write to any of us as Members of the Oireachtas and are entitled to a reply. If we were to get letters from the large number of people working, paying taxes and making a contribution to society, we should be able to reply to them in their own languages. As I said, they are making a valuable contribution to every aspect of Irish life. The purpose of democracy is to include people from all backgrounds.
I agree with Senator Norris about the lobby of the Abbey Theatre. I knew Daithí Hanly well and he was a great friend of mine. The stones are preserved and numbered. There is much interest abroad in this issue and the lobby should be incorporated into any new Abbey Theatre that may be built.
Recently, there has been much disparity in judgments made in the courts, whereby a person might walk free in one case while in another he or she is not even allowed to appeal. The training of judges must be examined more carefully.
I am aware the Leader has stated the amount of legislation before the House means there is not much time for debate. However, in the coming weeks she may be able to make time for a general debate on the Middle East. In common with previous speakers, I condemned the war at the time by stating it was immoral and illegal. Be that as it may, it is still with us and must be considered. In a recent semi-private visit to Lebanon and Syria, in each country I met the President, Vice President, speaker, foreign minister and others. Having so done, I am convinced we in the West have a jaundiced and biased view of all Arab culture and politics, which has been fostered by western so-called democracies. I have viewed and discussed the Golan Heights from both the Israeli point of view and the other side. There are aspects of Middle Eastern policy about which Members have very little understanding.
I wish to raise a matter that has been raised in the House many times previously and is particularly topical this week, namely, the situation in Zimbabwe. I congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who has already protested about the unrest and the deprivation of human rights there. However, the situation is now becoming critical. All Members will be aware the opposition leader has been arrested and tortured while in detention and that there has been at least one killing by the so-called police in Zimbabwe. As Ireland punches above its weight in foreign affairs, it can initiate a diplomatic offensive, both within and without the EU, to demonstrate to the world and to President Mugabe himself that he is a dictator whose respect for human rights is zero.
I see no reason the Minister and the Government should not go on a solo run to make that protest, and not simply within the EU. Ireland has an honourable record on the issue of human rights and should capitalise on it. In recent times, events there have been particularly ugly and apart from the action by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, international reaction has been disappointing. One tends to tire of people such as Mugabe. People rationalise that he is an old man who will die eventually and who will be then replaced by someone better. However, there is no such guarantee.
While I welcome the Roads Bill before the House today, I seek a debate on road safety. We have experienced a very sad weekend in respect of the number of people who were killed on the roads. It is very disappointing to discover that some very large chain stores are promoting the sale of alcohol, whereby if one buys 12 cans, one receives 12 cans free. This is simply not good enough. Moreover, people must act responsibly and it is disappointing that some highly prominent people, particularly Members of this House, promote the sale and use of alcohol. As a pioneer, it disappoints me to pick up a newspaper and read about someone promoting the use of alcohol. Many deaths on the roads are related to its excessive consumption.
Senator Brian Hayes asked why the Bill on judicial conduct and other matters is not coming forward. My information is that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is awaiting the advice of the Chief Justice, and when he receives it, he will bring it forward. That is what is stated in the newspapers today and I would guess he must wait for the advice.
Senator Hayes also raised the disability issue on which I have been active. He is correct to state town and county councils do not fulfil their 3% quota. All public bodies are covered by the Disability Act and even before it was enacted they were enjoined to fill such quotas. However, they have not been filled. We hoped to have a full debate on disability in the House but we did not. The point is well made.
Senator O'Toole raised the matter of the increase in baggage handling charges.
I wish to ask a point of information of the Leader. She stated the Government was awaiting the advice of the Chief Justice. Is this correct? Would it not be the advice of the Attorney General, if anybody? Does the separation of powers come into play whereby the Chief Justice cannot advise the Government? I apologise if I misunderstood.
Senator O'Toole raised the matter of the increase in baggage handling charges at Aer Lingus and wondered whether it was the result of the famed privatisation and cited other matters. He also raised the issue of security of supply with regard to the White Paper on energy. He does not think separating the electricity grid from the ESB would mean security of supply and called for a debate on the matter.
Senator Ryan discussed the idiocy of the Competition Authority and I am inclined to agree with him. It sees competition gremlins where none exist and goes off on a tangent. I do not know who told the Senator that amendments must be tabled before Second Stage is debated. It was not my office. I never heard of amendments having to be tabled before Second Stage of any Bill. It would be very odd. I advise Senator Ryan to revert to whoever told his assistant because it is not true. I hope somebody is listening.
I apologise. I missed that exchange. Senator Ryan also spoke about Iraq and I agree with him. It is especially serious now. After four or five other items in news bulletins, one is told 56, 86 or 104 people were murdered in Iraq. It is not even the number one item; it is down the line. It is awful. The hanging of the man there this morning was done for effect. I do not know why. I do not agree with hanging.
Senator Ryan also spoke about one of the major maternity hospitals delaying antenatal visits. I was shocked when I read that. He also raised the matter of urological services and called for a full debate on health services.
Senator Mansergh spoke about the rape victim. Any rape victim suffers a life sentence and Senator Mansergh called for a debate on maximum and minimum sentencing in the context of the upcoming justice legislation. While I never comment on judges, women and men were highly alarmed and astounded at the decision.
Senator Coghlan supports the comments of Senator Brian Hayes on judges. He also wondered when the report into the Dublin bombings would come out and called for a debate on it prior to Easter. The Cabinet is to consider it today and it will come out forthwith. We will debate it if we have days available to take debates.
Our main function is to discuss legislation. I would like to debate it. The Senator also asked about the new statutory position of inspector of prisons and expressed the hope that our esteemed friend, whom we both know with his Kerry connections, would be considered for that position. I did not state his name.
Senator Leyden spoke about the undocumented Irish and thanked those who had helped with the issue. He would like a debate on Palestine and the new government there, which Norway has recognised.
Senator Norris spoke about Iraq as an abject failure of the world, which it is. I have studied and taught history, and it is the worst failure of which I am aware. Nobody thought of the aftermath, they just went gung-ho into the country to get the glory. The Senator also spoke about the Minister for Health and Children and expressed a fear about a two-tier system of health, citing one of the "Prime Time" programmes from last week.
He asked why the Abbey Theatre is being refurbished for almost €750,000 when it is proposed to move it to another site. I assume it is because of the large crowds that attend its plays. As the Senator and I know, one can hardly budge there at times.
Senator Glynn spoke about the schools of nursing and the fact that there was none in the midlands until the Minister, Deputy Cowen, set up a third-level school in the institute of technology in Athlone. He congratulated the Minister because the school is well patronised and wonderful people are being educated there.
Senator Ulick Burke spoke about the review which has been called for moneys being taken from the front line. Again the paper of record told us today that the revenue yielded by the review will go to the front line and not be taken from it.
Senator Feeney indicated that we should have a serious and reasoned debate on rape, which we should.
Senator Henry stated we would need day-long debates on the health service and requested a debate on the reports of the prison visiting committees. She has been requesting such a debate for a long time.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke of the increasing desperation in Iraq and how we are not getting the full details. Equally, the US has graciously stated it will speak to Fatah ministers in the unity government in Palestine but not to Hamas ministers.
I take Senator Browne's point on the Pharmacy Bill but I would think whoever deals with it tonight will in the course of the discussion spell out the Government amendments, which is what the Senator wants. The Senator also raised a good point about receiving letters from people from other lands in their language. I received such a letter and rooted out somebody who knew the language and had it translated. Such a facility would be useful in the Oireachtas Library.
Senator Lydon spoke of Daithí Hanly, who kept the stones of the original Abbey Theatre and had them numbered and annotated. The Senator wondered if these materials could form part of the new theatre. He spoke of the disparity in the judgments of judges and about the Middle East debate, having recently been in Syria and Lebanon.
I agree with Senator Ross's points about Zimbabwe and that awful Mr. Mugabe, and I do not mind saying so. One can see him strutting across the stage on television, squaring his shoulders, and he marched into the EU, despite restrictions against him. I think it is because they are of another colour that people do not want to think it is an horrific country, but the manner in which the opposition is being treated there is horrific. Ireland, which always had a stake in such countries, through proselytising or whatever, should be in a position to make a protest on the matter. We should do this as a State, and not just as part of an EU protest.
Senator Moylan sought a debate on road safety and noted the supermarkets which offered 12 free cans of alcoholic drink with every 12 purchased. That is wanton carry on because it will eventually lead to mishaps. Drinking at home or in a pub is the same if one drinks too much. It can be equally harmful to people, their health and their safety on the road.
A gremlin got into my Order of Business. Committee Stage of the Roads Bill will be taken from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. I am sorry, but it was a gremlin with a capital "G".