Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Order of Business
Today's business is No. 1, the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 — Report and Final Stages; and No. 2, motion re information for voters. It is proposed that No. 1 will be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and that No. 2 will be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1.
This afternoon I wish to make two points about the events of today and of the past month. Deputy Bertie Ahern has taken a marathon lap of honour to which much attention has been paid. I congratulate him on his address to the Joint Houses of the US Congress and on being the fourth Taoiseach to do so and on yesterday's opening of the Battle of the Boyne visitors' centre. As we know, Deputy Brian Cowen will announce his Cabinet later today and much attention will be given to the personalities who will make up the Government in the coming months.
I would not like the departure of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan, to go without comment or recognition of his time in Government. He is a man of great courtesy and capacity and will be a serious loss. I wish him well in his recovery from his illness and congratulate him on what he has achieved to date.
As leader of the Opposition in the Seanad, I wish to point out that the long goodbye to the Taoiseach and the anticipation of a new Government end today. After today, we must return to normal politics. We must return to tackling the challenges facing people every day, the challenges of the health service, crime, child care, education, the cost of living and quality of life, all key issues. For the past number of years we have had the programme for Government held up as what the Government is working towards, but everything has changed now and the programme can no longer take care of the challenges facing us.
The Government and the new Cabinet must recognise that tax receipts are down and the programme for Government is not being implemented. They must stop hiding behind the now defunct programme and bury it. They must now come to us with new information and a set of clear and immediate indicators of how they will shelter Ireland from the global slowdown, how they will deal with the negative equity affecting many families and young housebuyers, how they will turn the hospital situation around so that patients will no longer be afraid to go into hospital and will have renewed confidence in the health service.
In the immediate term, we must see action from the new Government on the Lisbon treaty. If we do not see a strong campaign from the Government, the treaty will be lost. Such a decision would be an assertion by the people that the Government is out of touch and has not tackled the issue coherently. I urge the Leader to bring the message to the Government that we on this side of the House want to see an active and strong Government campaign to ensure the Lisbon treaty is passed by the people. The Government will have our support on the treaty. Fine Gael has been very active in its efforts to ensure the treaty is passed.
We want to hear from the new Taoiseach and his Cabinet how they intend to deal with the critical issues I have outlined, issues faced by every family in the country on a daily basis. There is huge disappointment that the Celtic tiger has not helped people to get better hospital and education services. Those are the issues this House must discuss.
I ask the Leader to speak to the Government about doing whatever it can at European level at the Council of Ministers on the situation in Burma. It is a terrible tragedy. Some 20,000 people are known to have died and 40,000 are missing. I heard Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL speak about the difficulty GOAL is having getting aid into the country and asking the Government to use every action it can to try to get the junta in that country to allow aid in. I ask the Leader to bring the issue to the House and perhaps we could bring a motion before the House.
I join with Senator Fitzgerald in sending good wishes to the retiring Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. I did not have the opportunity to praise him in this House. I listened to some of the ceremony at the Battle of the Boyne site and was very struck by memories which came to mind to which nobody else has referred. I recalled a moment during a difficult period of the peace process when the Taoiseach said something that attracted the ire of Dr. Ian Paisley, who threw a tantrum and demanded a withdrawal and an abject apology. It showed an extraordinary degree of statesmanship that the Taoiseach did not allow his self-importance to stand in the way of this and he gave a humble apology. I would not have had the moral courage to do that, and this was the single event that struck me most about his career. I also send good wishes to Deputy Séamus Brennan who, as Senator Fitzgerald said, was always a courteous and efficient Minister. I hope his health continues to improve and that he goes on to other appointments, perhaps in Europe or elsewhere. I wish the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, good fortune. He is heading into choppy waters financially and we must all support him, as Fine Gael very honourably did in the past on the Tallaght strategy, if he takes the correct decisions. The situation facing the country is serious.
I would like to turn to the other issue Senator Fitzgerald raised, namely Burma. Coincidentally I was at a performance of a play called "The Lady of Burma" in the Helix theatre by a very brilliant young English playwright of Irish extraction, Mr. Richard Shannon. It was immensely moving and raised in my priorities the question of Burma. I had intended to raise it this week but little did I know the tragedy that would hit Burma and its people. It is very important the Government uses whatever diplomatic muscle it has to ensure aid and personnel are got in. It is extraordinary when we think back to October last year when we discussed the riots in Burma and the ruthless military efficiency with which the junta mobilised personnel in that country to suppress its own people. I hope it is able to find similar efficiency in assisting its people and not in repression. I welcome the fact that it belatedly cancelled the 10 May referendum. It would have been an insult to any sense of morality or decency if it had gone ahead with that in light of the tragedy that probably involves at least 60,000 people. We need to examine that situation and I would welcome a discussion on it.
I have been very closely examining the meteorological reports and analyses, and underneath the incident is the phenomenon of global warming. There is no doubt that Cyclone Nargis is one of the predicted by-products. Underneath that is the elephant in the room, the subject nobody will address. Apparently no moral, political or spiritual leader has the guts to confront the disastrous population explosion that will get worse. We will have more of these and nincompoops, including people in this House, will say one can create a mathematical model whereby the entire population can be fed. Perhaps one can, theoretically, in an academy, in a laboratory. However while we are doing this tragedies will occur, people will starve and there will be a disaster. Let us look not just at the immediate prospect but the underlying disastrous situation, namely population explosion.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come to the House to debate mining in this country and particularly the after-effects of the mining industry in the past 50 or 60 years. There are a number of distressing stories that this House, and the Oireachtas, need to consider. People's lives are being affected by toxic lead and other substances that were allowed to enter the air in a number of areas throughout the country. I refer especially to the Silvermines area. An environmental clean-up is required. The by-products of the mining industry are affecting people's lives detrimentally and this needs to be addressed. I ask the Leader to facilitate a discussion on this. There are other examples of the worrying after-effects of mining, such as those affecting the Ballingarry miners, some of whom have been waiting up to 30 years for compensation for the effects of their work. Their lives have been detrimentally affected and a number of them are no longer with us. I hope the Leader can facilitate a discussion on this.
I request the opportunity to ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment what policies are in place for inward investment through IDA Ireland. I recently attended a meeting with this organisation and I was shocked by its statistics on the numbers of jobs throughout the country and the major differences in the areas of focus for inward investment. Obviously, investment is aligned with the national spatial strategy. However, we must be realistic and accept that communities in areas that do not have a hub or gateway are still hoping for inward investment that will provide jobs. It was confirmed to me that the board of IDA Ireland is to align investment with the spatial strategy. If this is the case, there are a number of areas, including some not unfamiliar to me and the Cathaoirleach, that will not benefit. Is there a need for the IDA and the Government to focus on commuter infrastructure, as I was told at this meeting? We have been told commuting is now a natural way of life, which is something I do not accept. If this is the case, the Government could at least come out and say it.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children if and when the Teamwork report on acute hospitals will be published? I have my doubts it will ever be published as it is such a politically sensitive issue. I do not want to see the report being introduced by stealth as the Hanly report was. Perhaps the Leader will reply to me on this. I am concerned about accident and emergency, elderly care and surgical procedures in these hospitals and I am concerned the Teamwork report will be brought in by stealth.
As one of the Opposition spokespersons on tourism, I wish to be associated with the good wishes expressed by other Members towards the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Séamus Brennan. I wish him well in his retirement.
I wish to be associated with the comments of other Members on the retirement from the Cabinet of Deputy Séamus Brennan. As a Member of the other House I had the dubious privilege of shadowing him in his capacity as Minister for Social and Family Affairs. He always had a disarming tactic of agreeing with much of what I had to say and acting on several of the contributions that were made, which in politics is not playing the game at all. I also had the opportunity of becoming quite familiar with him during our joint incarceration last June when we were negotiating the programme for Government.
I might point out that is not the type of contribution that Deputy Brennan would make in either House, but that is beside the point.
I also join the comments of other Senators on Burma. It is important for whoever the Taoiseach decides should have the foreign affairs portfolio as of today that he or she is given the strongest possible message from the House that we would like to see action quickly. It is fair to say that the developed world has already failed Burma in the last year and now that a natural disaster has occurred, it behoves us to put whatever means are at our disposal to alleviate the distress of that country.
I, too, would like to be associated with the words of goodwill and good wishes for the Minister, Deputy Séamus Brennan. I found him to be very courteous. He is a Galway man and I would like his contribution to be noted.
I call on the Leader to facilitate a cross-departmental debate in this House on the social, personal and health issues affecting young people in this country. Very important issues such as parenting and the important role that parents play must be addressed. Drugs and alcohol come under that banner. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Pat Carey, is on a very useful tour around the country at present to see if there is a need for a single strategy for drugs and alcohol.
Bullying must be examined. In a recent study of 4,500 young people, 43% said they had been bullied during the current term. Physical violence had been experienced by 90. That is a large number of young people experiencing physical violence today in Ireland.
Regarding suicide, as law makers we must look at a very serious issue, namely, the regulation of social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. I can tell the House that Galway is in shock right now. A young man took his life at the weekend having left his goodbye note on Bebo written in the past tense. Bebo and Facebook are making millions in revenue out of young people every year from advertising. They give nothing back to society or to youth in terms of social infrastructure. I ask the Minister, gabh mo leithscéal, the Leader——
I ask the Leader to facilitate a cross-departmental debate. That would mean bringing to the House the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Pat Carey, and, again, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. Let us examine the question of taking responsibility. As Senator Fitzgerald said, it is now time to move on and address the serious issues affecting our young people.
I wish to put on the record, briefly, my sadness that our Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, is moving on today. There is sadness because of his close connections to west Cork. His mother hailed from Bantry, his father from Tracton and his grandmother came from Whiddy Island. In that regard it is a sad day for my part of the world. I wish him luck in his retirement. I also add my voice to those who, very properly and magnanimously, spoke from the other side of the House congratulating the Minister, Deputy Séamus Brennan, on his success and wishing him luck in his retirement as well.
I urge the Leader to have a debate on the fishing industry as soon as is practically possible. I raised this matter in the House before. Again, I wish to express my serious concern. Substantial stocks of Irish fish are leaving Irish waters, especially those taken by Spanish fishermen who have quota rights. I have no faith that the management, controls and policing of the landing of such stocks and quantities of fish are being monitored, particularly in Spain. This may be a European matter but I believe we need an urgent debate on it because there seems to be over-regulation and excessive policing of Irish fishermen. Somewhere along the line the strain that causes will have its effect, not alone among fishing communities but on rural Ireland in general. I am deeply concerned. I do not believe there are proper controls of the fish taken from our waters, especially in Spain. It is criminal and unfair and the wrong people, Irish fishermen, are being targeted.
I call for a debate on rural Ireland. There is a suggestion that the legal alcohol limit may be further reduced. I am not advocating drink driving in any way. As someone who worked in the courts for years, I know the damage that is done. However, before we react in a knee-jerk fashion on this issue, a proper survey should be undertaken on the effects of such curtailment in rural Ireland.
Even if it must come, a proper rural transport system, which is available in patches throughout rural Ireland, should be buttressed and made more available so that people in remote areas, on peninsulas and on islands do not suffer in the future. There is far more to people being killed on our roads than alcohol. Drugs, speed and other attitude problems play a role. If the alcohol limit was reduced to nil, there would still be deaths on the roads. I am concerned that such a reduction may have an unnecessary, serious adverse effect on parts of rural Ireland.
I want to see an audit by IDA Ireland of what has been achieved over the past decade of success in the economy in rural towns throughout this country. Large areas of population such as Cork city, Dublin and Galway have their successes in the creation of jobs. Parochially, I am concerned about the lack of jobs in places such as Dunmanway in west Cork, Skibbereen and Bantry — to name those of just one county. I wonder whether the Minister involved could undertake an audit of what has been achieved and the road plan of the industrial development authority over the next five to ten years for remote rural towns throughout the country.