Thursday, 25 October 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007 — Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time.
That is agreed. I note the Garda has arrested a suspect in this country as part of an investigation into international child trafficking involving six police forces. Approximately 300 unaccompanied children have gone missing from the care of the Health Service Executive, which is very disturbing. We are planning a constitutional amendment on children.
The Leader will be aware of the concern about child care facilities and the changes that are being recommended to the funding of child care. Many community playgroups are concerned that the change in funding arrangements will effectively mean that parents will be forced back on to welfare. The increased costs will mean the working poor, as it were, will not be able to afford child care and a very disjointed service will be made available.
I also note the ESRI is publishing a report in which it outlines concerns about children sitting their junior certificate and working part-time, which impacts on their results. For all these reasons it would be an appropriate time to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brendan Smith, to the Seanad to discuss this range of topics, especially the constitutional amendment, so that we have some idea of what way the Government is thinking about the provisions of this amendment. Perhaps we could get some indication of the date as well.
Perhaps Senator Boyle might be able to clarify whether we are to have two, four or eight incinerators.
In terms of clarification, was the Cathaoirleach aware of the intention of Aer Lingus to cut the routes between Shannon and Heathrow? It appears that everybody in the world knew what was going on except the people who should have been told about it.
The Cathaoirleach will be aware I raise regularly in this House issues relating to the regions, especially the west. I do not understand what is going on in regard to Shannon Airport. This is the most political of all airports and the one that has taken more time than other airport, yet senior personnel in various Departments found it unnecessary to tell the political leadership, and the permanent Government appeared to keep this out of the sphere of political influence. Serious questions must be asked.
We know the Department of Transport and the Marine decided not to tell the Minister. We also know the Department of the Taoiseach decided not to tell the Taoiseach. We further know the Department of Transport and the Marine decided it was important enough to tell the civil servants in the Department of the Taoiseach but it was not important enough to tell any of the political leadership. We know that Aer Lingus found it important enough to communicate with the Dublin Airport Authority but that the Dublin Airport Authority, which was responsible for ensuring the viability of the Shannon Airport business plan, found it unnecessary to tell the Shannon Airport development group. Serious questions must be answered. We have been kept in the dark.
This is a bad day for politics if we have now reached the stage where the 226 people who are elected to the Dáil and Seanad to deal with these issues apparently know nothing about what is going on and these serious decisions are being taken in another sphere. Will the Leader raise with the Taoiseach the importance of clarifying all the issues? The Leader knows I am not raising this matter in any petty, party political fashion. This is as important to the Members on the Government side as it is to the Members of the Opposition. We should set up an ad hoc committee of the Houses or this House with compellability powers to call witnesses to find out who knew what, who told whom and why information was not passed on. I urge the Cathaoirleach to give this the most serious consideration.
The other matter I wish the Leader to arrange is for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to explain his views on the self-regulation of the Law Society. One can look at this in two ways: either it is doing a superb job because it has unearthed important problems or it is not doing a good job because those problems arose in the first place. I do not know the answer. Many people are worried because this affects their houses and residences. It would be useful to debate the matter and receive clarification.
While I am glad the threat of power cuts at Moneypoint appears to have been averted for the present, I am concerned that a matter as vital as our nation's electricity supply can be threatened by a disagreement between a German contractor and a Polish subcontractor. When the contracts were signed, penalty clauses should have been inserted to deter this type of instance from occurring.
While there is little ESB can do in the sense of getting involved in disputes between two companies, it is perhaps time an audit is carried out of all contracts that could have an impact on our electricity supply and energy security. Perhaps the Leader could pass on this request to the relevant Minister.
I am concerned by the disturbing evidence which is emerging of malpractice by solicitors in re-mortgaging their client's properties, a matter referred to by Senator O'Toole. This situation has arisen because conveyancing solicitors can give undertakings to financial institutions affirming that no loans are outstanding on their properties and that, in effect, the deeds have a clean bill of health. It is clear some solicitors are breaching their ethics and the law by seeking multiple loans on properties from financial institutions and doing God knows what with the money. I am glad the financial institutions have stated they will review their practices and loan portfolios. They need to learn lessons quickly because it is ordinary families who are losing out.
It is clear corners have been cut in this regard. Last year, one of the solicitors involved was found guilty of misconduct by the Law Society and fined €15,000, the maximum possible fine. This is a clear sign the offence was serious yet just two months ago the same solicitor received a €9 million loan from one of the banks. What is the ordinary hard-working family to think of this? Families are told to trust the lawyers, the banks and the Law Society and to be cautious how much they borrow for their mortgages. Yet, when it comes to the lawyers and banks, caution appears to be thrown to the wind. There is little scrutiny of these organisations. When things go wrong, it is ordinary families, house-owners and those who believe they own their houses who lose out.
I am concerned this is just the tip of the iceberg. A clear message must go out from the Government to these organisations: "Clean up your act or we will act".
The Order of Business can be a forum only for seeking debate on a matter. It cannot be used for expressions of opposing views. Senators can do this in an actual debate if the Leader provides that debate at a later date. I ask Members to observe this practice as best they can.
I ask the Leader to refer two matters to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The first concerns salary and expense remuneration for county and town councillors who are members of regional water boards, of which there are many — I had the privilege of being chairman of the Shannon basin water board in its first year. It is extraordinary that whereas the officials who attend these board meetings are fully covered for expenses, in many cases the elected members are not. An anomaly has arisen whereby some county managers reimburse councillors for their out-of-pocket expenses. As these are important boards, I ask the Leader to pursue the matter with the Minister, who gave me a favourable response as late as yesterday.
The second matter I want referred to the Minister concerns the proposal to establish a liquified natural gas, LNG, terminal at Ballylongford on the Shannon estuary in north Kerry. This project, which is of great importance for the nation, will greatly enhance our energy options while providing badly needed employment in north Kerry and west Limerick, particularly in towns such as Listowel, Abbeyfeale and Newcastle West.
The Cathaoirleach stated he wanted the Order of Business used by Members to seek debates. Last week the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform came to the House but failed to give much of an explanation as to why murder rates have increased by 50% or why the Deputy Leader of the House thinks this is a pantomime. We want to use the House properly to get answers.
Yesterday Senator Eoghan Harris expressed a clear view on the matter. It is the type of contribution the House should debate. We should get answers from Ministers on the issues raised in the House. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames asked yesterday how many more solicitors were involved in causing problems for house purchasers and the banking system in general. We should raise such issues in the House but when we do so, nothing further is done.
The Deputy Leader should not treat the issues we are discussing as pantomime politics. It is not pantomime politics; it is very serious.
If Senators raise issues in the House, Ministers should come back with proper answers. They should not just ad lib and give glib answers. This issue should be taken up with every Minister.
I served with Senator Boyle in the other House, where he was passionate about issues. It is amazing how quickly his role seems to have changed since he became part of the Government.
A case came before the courts at the beginning of the week during which issues arose regarding the protection of and fulfilment of the rights of people with intellectual disability under existing legislation. Will the Leader invite the appropriate Minister to the Chamber to discuss these issues?
The Law Reform Commission spent considerable time in recent years reviewing and addressing some of the anomalies that exist within existing legislation. It issued a report last December concerning the law and vulnerable adults, and has made a number of recommendations. It specifically examined the issues of capacity and consent and also considered issues around guardianship and ward of court. This would be a valuable topic for the House to discuss.
A number of instances arise where people with disability, particularly those with a mild intellectual disability, do not have the opportunity to have their basic human rights realised under existing Irish law. I ask that this situation be addressed as soon as possible. The Chamber could play a role by inviting the Minister and leading the debate.