Thursday, 28 May 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re transfer of functions of Bord Iascaigh Mhara - back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Finance Bill 2009 - all Stages, with Second Stage to commence at the conclusion of No. 1, to conclude not later than 2 p.m., with spokespersons having 12 minutes to speak, all other Senators eight minutes, and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and Committee and Remaining Stages to commence not earlier than 2.30 p.m.
I accept that my Adjournment matter cannot be taken because, as the Cathaoirleach stated, it is repetitious to a motion on the adjournment on 7 May 2009, which is three weeks ago. However, I ask the Leader to look at the reply given to me by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on that occasion. She stated in relation to the accident and emergency department at Wexford General Hospital that a report was being carried out and that it would be published at the end of 2009 or early in 2010. We now know, however, that 24-hour call at the accident and emergency department in Wexford General Hospital will cease at the end of the summer. Either the Minister was misled by the HSE or this House was misled by the Minister, and the matter deserves a clear answer. There is not much point in us putting matters down for the adjournment or asking questions in this House if we are to be given misleading responses by the relevant Minister, either deliberately or because she is being misled by her officials. I want the matter cleared up because it is very important. It was a deliberate untruth. We were told that €7.5 million would be spent on the accident and emergency department in Wexford when clearly the HSE's intention was to close down the accident and emergency department. I want that clarified.
I ask for an extension of yesterday's debate on the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. It was a very good debate but not everybody managed to get to speak on it, and I want that clarified. I also want to ask a question about the Leader's role in the House. I asked him on the Order of Business on Tuesday to put a few specific questions to the Minister responsible so that he would reply to those questions when he came into this House to contribute to the debate on the Ryan commission. The Minister informed me that he was not made aware of any request from the Leader about the questions I asked. Is the Leader obliged to put those questions to the Minister or to merely give an answer in the House? I would like an extension of that debate, which was excellent.
I noted with interest over the past week or so that the Green Party has indicated that it is unhappy with the progress on climate change and it is demanding of the Government that movement be made on this issue. Members on the Independent benches, who are gravely concerned about the lack of progress on this issue, have decided to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow for No. 12, the Climate Protection Bill 2007 in the names of Senator Bacik and others, to be taken as the first item of business.
Three or four times I raised the matter of credit unions, in respect of which I have tabled a Bill on the Order Paper, and each time I was opposed by hard political lobbying that prevents progress. I am also opposed by a twisting of the truth by the Irish League of Credit Unions, ILCU. I ask that people, particularly those who have been critical of regulators, take a serious interest in what the regulator of credit unions announced today. The Financial Regulator announced that he wants the reserves of each credit union to be not less than 10%. Every Member of the Oireachtas who gives the matter serious consideration should support the regulator's position. This morning's announcement by the ILCU twists the truth in a language of desperation, undermining what we are trying to do. Those comments should be resisted and rejected.
Two months ago I stated in the House that almost 150 credit unions had not announced in their half yearly returns that they were making losses. They are not required to do it, but they should do so. This is a question of audit. The unions did not break any law, but the law of the land is that credit unions may not pay dividends if their reserves are below 10% and unless they have a profit to show. This morning, they are trying to twist the fact that they are not making profits.
The ILCU has not been properly engaged in the governance of credit unions for many years, as I often stated. It is trying to blame the regulator, and there will be a ready market for that. At least 150 credit unions are not in a position to pay dividends this year. The ILCU referred to hundreds of credit unions, but I have checked with the regulator and fewer than 80 of them will be impacted upon negatively by the requirement announced this morning by the regulator. The ILCU has questions to answer and it should not mislead people. The political world and classes should take a very strong line on this.
Since becoming a Member of the Seanad I have supported, as have many people on all sides of the House, the placing of photographs on ballot papers. We have reached a point at which the photographs on posters are the same as the photographs on the ballot papers. I say this as a disinterested person, but very often there is very little resemblance between the photograph on the ballot paper and the person standing for election. I am serious about this as people are being misled.
I would like an investigation into this matter. Posters must carry a printer's name, but they should also carry a D, for the date of the photograph, an A or a line through it if it has been air brushed and an N if it is natural, that is, whether the person's hair is dyed, is a hairpiece or whatever.
I am still approximately 40 years younger than Senator Norris and I do not need air brushing.
I second Senator O'Toole's amendment to the Order of Business. He is correct in that the Bill would provide the Government, particularly the Green Party, with an opportunity to put its principles where its mouth is and to debate the issue.
As credit unions have been front page news this morning, Senator O'Toole is justified in raising the matter. Regulation is important and the Houses have bemoaned the absence in recent years of proper regulation of the banking system. In this case an attempt is being made by the Financial Regulator to put a framework in place for credit union cash reserves. Introducing a strict new ratio reserve by September this year will put pressure on credit unions. The regulator went on to say, however, that some flexibility will be built into the regulations. As credit unions are owned by their members, the latter have access to reasonable rates when they start saving. The ILCU has a duty to its members to ensure transparency and governance and that credit unions are flexible in their dealings with the regulator.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the operation of the HSE, an organ of the State that executes Government policy? I am very concerned about this matter and I am raising this issue at national level. The HSE is engaged in a war against acute hospitals in the southern area. We know what it has done to services in Nenagh and elsewhere. Cynically, the Teamwork report on the future of accident and emergency services at Tralee, Bantry and Mallow general hospitals will not be published until after the local and European elections. On Friday of this week, the Taoiseach will travel to west Cork to give a commitment on the future of Bantry General Hospital. This will come a week after the Irish Examiner leaked the story that the Government, through the HSE, will downgrade ICU and accident and emergency services at that hospital. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the way in which the HSE does its business and on the connection between the Government and the HSE? The latter is trying to close acute hospitals and the Taoiseach will travel all the way to Bantry this week to give a commitment about that hospital's future. Someone is clearly not telling the truth.
Regarding the appearance of photographs on election posters and the fact that they may be air brushed, to be fair to a Government town council candidate in my area - Senator O'Donovan will be aware of this - his photograph on the ballot paper has been almost blacked out. That was brought to the candidate's attention by people who avail of postal ballots and he is justifiably considering legal action. I suggest that we consult The Southern Star because last week the same candidate forgot to mention the Fianna Fáil logo in his election material.
In response to Senator Twomey, the information in the Minister for Health and Children's reply, which I read, was confirmed to me directly by the HSE when I pursued the issue of the accident and emergency department in Wexford General Hospital. In a number of regions the HSE is considering - the process has started in the south east - the reconfiguration of acute services. I was clearly told by the HSE that this matter would probably not emerge until the end of this year or early next year and that there would be much consultation in the meantime. It would be alarming if we as politicians got such information from the HSE while something else is happening.
I will not accuse Senator Twomey of this, but his constituency colleague in the Dáil has raised the matter of Wexford General Hospital in the run-up to a number of national and local elections. We must be careful not to make a political football out of the issue because it would not be in the interests of the hospital.
I was appalled that a pub on the north side of Dublin was destroyed by a group from the Traveller community that ran out of control. We need to debate that issue. Publicans, who have an obligation to run and manage their premises, are not in a position to decide on who they will serve because the equality legislation is not being used as intended.
I am horrified by the details of the horrific death of the troubled teen, Melissa Mahon, a 14 year old girl. When we look at the facts of the case, it seems everyone has failed this child, including her family, the monster who took her life and also the HSE. To be taken into care in this State should mean care, and care that works.
Melissa is the 20th child to die in State care in this country in the last nine years, a terrible indictment of our State system. We know who the troubled teens are-----
Gabh mo leithscéal. I am engaged in an Oireachtas study on early school drop outs, and all the teachers involved in the study can tell which children are at risk, even those in junior infants.
I call on the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, to put in place a concerned watch register for the children who are at risk so we can act early to save lives. It is something everyone in this House would support, because we know, given the history of neglect and abuse in this country which we heard so much about yesterday, we cannot allow any more of the lives of those who end up in care to be lost.
I read in a newspaper this morning that the head of one of the religious orders thought the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse would be off the table by the end of the week. The report will not be off the record of the Irish republic in my lifetime, and the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.
It is important we are allowed to debate and reflect on it. It is the equivalent for us of what the Germans went through. The reason the Germans can hold their head up in Europe is because in the 1950s, there were trials all over Germany, which are not mentioned much in the media and are not part of the Holocaust porn industry one sees on television. In every major town in Germany, there were trials of local Nazis, and that kind of due diligence in pursuing the guilty must be part of the Irish republic's response to this report.
We must also be allowed to reflect on every aspect of the report and not be rushed. Therefore, we need every chance to debate it from all sides, so everyone is heard, including decent brothers and priests who did their duty. All parties must be heard, especially the victims. That must be worked out.
It is running story. The report on the archdiocese of Dublin will be released in the next few weeks. I am concerned this will happen in the middle of summer and may not be adequately debated, but it is to be hoped the archbishop of Dublin will show the same diligence in being transparent about his own significant property portfolio, which is probably the largest and most valuable in the State, as he has been in requiring religious congregations to pay up.
I hope the comparatively small voices of the victims are heard and that, for example, Michael O'Brien's simple request that the GAA hold a minute's silence be considered. All aspects of the report should be reflected and worked on without rushing away from it because how we handle this issue is important. It will leave an indelible stain on the Irish republic.
The Germans hold up their heads because they dealt with their past. Let us deal with our own past and not run away from it now. We should take every chance to mark the release of the report. As part of marking it, I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to consider the incarceration of almost 4,000 people in our prisons. Many people are in jail for minor crimes against property, such as fines or small thievery, and are in their own way social victims. The Minister should consider, in marking the release of this report, a general amnesty for minor offenders and review of those currently serving time in prisons in view of the overcrowding and difficult conditions in jails and to mark a moment of humanity.
I refer again to a matter I raised yesterday, that is, the atrocious sectarian murder in Coleraine. A loyalist group has re-routed its march, and that is very welcome. Speaking as a southern Protestant from a Unionist background, I ask the group to cancel the march completely because it is inappropriate for music to be played and people to march when a man is lying dead as a result of his religion.
Returning to the issue we discussed yesterday and about which Senator Harris has spoken so passionately, namely, the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Leader gave an undertaking, on a number of occasions, that he would go to the Department and get a reading on the motion I again propose be taken today which concerns exemptions from the operation of equality legislation. I do this in light of the fact the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, yesterday gave an undertaking to the House that he would examine the issue. It is appropriate that we use this House to examine the issue, especially in light of the comments made this morning on RTE radio by Her Excellency, the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who said she knew about the situation. She said the report did not surprise her because she knew about the culture and ethic in the church at that time, which was of dominating authoritarianism.
If we all knew about it and the Government knew, how could the authorities surrender children to these authorities and place such a culture and ethic above the law? I am not anti-Catholic. I simply seek for all churches to be placed at a level of equality with the rest of the institutions. That cannot be seen as sectarian. It is fair.
I endorse the comments of Senator Norris on the need for the march to be cancelled or the request that the group consider it. It would be a sign of the maturity of the people of all communities that, while respecting the right to march, there should also be the right to respect human life. It would be a sign of maturity all of communities if those involved in the marching season reflected seriously on what happened in Coleraine. In this instance, they should go with what the majority would see as a sign of solidarity with the family who have lost their loved one, and with those who were injured and almost killed at the weekend.
In the context of the good weather we will have in the next few days, when the sunburn index will be very high, I encourage the Leader to continue to allow discussions on cancer. We have discussed bowel cancer and I have raised the issue of melanoma cancer awareness. We should support the Irish Cancer Society's campaigns. I ask for an update in October on the roll-out of BreastCheck to the remaining counties, including Donegal, which is due to happen in September or October.
I ask the Leader for an update on the judicial review committee which has been talked about for many years. It would have an oversight role regarding the judicial system and it is important we see some advances on that soon.
Regarding posters and hoardings, whatever about the age and profile of people and whether their DNA is that which is in front of us, I suggest this is a day and age where many posters and hoardings are destroyed as soon as they go up. Their value in terms of what is spent on them in comparison with what is gained from them in terms of visibility is almost negligible. We should look at alternative ways of getting the message across about who is standing for election. I suggest we pursue the idea of banning posters and hoardings and finding an alternative.
I am concerned about an issue which is causing disharmony in a beautiful part of the world which is near and dear to the Leader's heart and where he holidays annually, namely, the area west of Gleneagle and towards the meeting of the waters, which includes Brickeen Bridge, Glena and Muckross, and encompasses a national park. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, made an order that a certain device will have to be attached to horses pulling carriages in the park from early next month. I would like the Leader to use his good offices to discover what liaison, if any, has taken place with the town council because it appears that if this is not required for insurance or other purposes, the licensing authority will be obliged to issue the licence and we will have one law on the streets and a different law, so to speak, in the national park. This could be a profitable business. This is about not allowing the manure to be spread about. Colleagues across the water got into frightful difficulty recently in regard to manure, moats and mortgages and apparently they were able to claim for that valuable substance on their expenses. This is a matter for by-laws. I wonder if the Government is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. I employ the words of that renowned, colourful journalist who wrote last week, is Government policy now "A lot dung, more to poo."
I support Senator McCarthy's call for a debate on the Health Service Executive and the manner in which it goes about its business. For some time I have said the jury is out on the HSE. However, for that period a number of people have been suffering due to the lack of an appropriate provision of service. In light of that I suggest we have a debate on the matter. I read with interest in today's newspaper about personal care packages for older people, which I initiated when I was in a position to do so. They can be easily applied but I understand the problem is in the application. I am in favour of ensuring that consumers avail of appropriate services.
Last week I asked the Leader a question about the HSE and its changing procedures for processing medical cards. That work has been removed from local offices and is centralised in an office in Finglas. People cannot find out from their local office how their medical card application or renewal is progressing. I understand staff who were dealing with this issue have been redeployed and new contract staff have been engaged for this process. I seek clarification on the matter as it goes against the grain. I would also like to know what additional costs are involved.
I asked the Leader yesterday to outline Government policy on the stability of our financial institutions and the assistance provided with their balance sheets to obtain funds from the international markets. It is important that the Leader makes a clear statement on the matter, whether it is today or some day next week. More important, we had a debate on the National Asset Management Agency in recent days. While we in this House participate in the parade, sometimes people watching get a different message. I ask the Leader to make a clear, unambiguous statement on NAMA. Is NAMA a bailout for developers? I know the answer to that but I would like to hear it from the Leader.
In the past two years we have seen the Green Party at the centre of Government. In that time it has had ample opportunity to introduce a central plank of its platform, namely, climate change legislation, but it failed to do that on every occasion. Some 19 months ago Senator Bacik introduced a Bill to this House that got favourable attention from all parties and all sides of this House, but that was moved into the sidings where it has remained since. Today, we have an opportunity to debate that Bill again. I ask all colleagues in this House, especially those in the Green Party, to get that Bill out of the sidings and back on track.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the economy. It appears that in recent months there has been an upturn in the markets internationally that is growing and consistent. The major indicators from the research authorities indicate that the upturn is real. In light of the fact that we are a small open economy and should be the first to benefit from any upturn, I seek a debate on the economy with specific reference to what is happening internationally.
I support calls made this morning for a general amnesty, in particular where people have been incarcerated for petty and minor offences. That would be a wonderful gesture. In other states an amnesty is given to certain prisoners, especially to mark the inauguration of a new head of state, for example, or some other great event. I note that in the United States the outgoing President is allowed to give an amnesty.
A fair point was raised this morning about posters. Two more points could be made to describe those posters. One is that many of them are digitally enhanced and the other is that the candidates are irradiated in that instead of the light coming down on people it seems to emanate from some candidates.
When the Provisional IRA murdered Robert McCartney in Belfast it continued to intimidate his family for a long period, forcing some of them to emigrate. The same thing seems to be happening in Dublin at present. That organisation, not content with murdering Joe Rafferty also, now continues to intimidate his sister who decided to run for the local elections to highlight her brother's case and campaign for justice. Five thugs smashed in her car and it is stated that the incident is related to her contesting the local election, especially against the Sinn Féin candidate. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should ensure that this case is thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators of the crime are brought to justice.
That type of intimidation must be stopped and the people responsible must be caught because it is an attack on democracy. That is the last thing we need in the State at present. I urge the Leader to liaise with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure every step is taken to bring the perpetrators to book.
Like my colleague, Senator McCarthy I ask the Leader for a debate on accident and emergency services in the southern region. My colleague referred to a leaked report, but I am satisfied that the report that was leaked was predicated on outdated medical practices. I am pleased to note that, at the request of the Minister, Professor John Higgins, a consultant obstetrician, is carrying out a review of acute hospital services in Mallow, Tralee and Bantry, my home town, and I look forward to that report. He has plans and dreams for Bantry and I hope his report, which is due in a matter of weeks, will override the leaked reports, which are negative.
Unfortunately, the downgrading and closure of Bantry hospital has been an issue since I first ran for public life in 1985. As usual, at election time the state of the hospital and its services are exaggerated and exacerbated by all sorts of rumours. I have confidence in Professor Higgins, whom I met. I hope he will find ways of circumventing the problems there with accident and emergency services.
I note there is a motion on the Order Paper to be taken without debate and I will obviously adhere to the request by the Leader regarding the transfer of seafood marketing functions to Bord Bia from Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM. The issue is worthy of debate although I do not demand it today. Sometimes orders are made that have significant impact and are welcome. I urge the Leader to consider debating such matters in the House, including the salient features or the negative impact of the transfer of marketing functions from Bord Iascaigh Mhara to Bord Bia. I hope it does not denigrate the status of BIM, which, from my dealings with it in the past 20 years, is an excellent organisation. It has an international reputation that is second to none. I hope the transfer of some of its functions to Bord Bia will not have an adverse effect on Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
On the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Senator Harris is correct to say that we will be judged by future generations on how we responded as a society to the needs of the victims and survivors of abuse. Horrific though the findings of the report are, it is clear that it is only the tip of the iceberg because the scale of abuse and the further revelations to come will shock us further.
I support Senator Norris's call for a change to the equality legislation and a removal of the exemption for religious orders. We should also be looking at quashing the convictions of the infants and children who were sent to institutions on the foot of criminal convictions. That is outrageous in this day and age.
I second it. I express gratitude to Senators O'Toole, McCarthy and Hannigan for proposing at my request that we debate today No. 12 on the Order Paper, the Climate Protection Bill. I introduced that Bill in October 2007 with the support of Friends of the Earth and a coalition of environmental and development non-governmental organisations, all of whom are very concerned that we would see binding legislation committing the Government to making reductions in carbon emissions. Since we proposed that Bill, and at the time we were told the Government would provide extra time for a debate on it, the UK has introduced a climate protection Bill on very similar principles. We are seeing moves towards similar legislation in other countries and we are seeing an urgent deadline approaching at the Copenhagen talks this December.
Senator Hannigan pointed out that this is an extremely urgent matter. The Green Party promised it would commit to a climate protection Bill, the Labour Party has proposed one in the Dáil, and we are proposing that we debate this Bill today as the Government committed time to it. I would be very disappointed if the Green Party Senators voted against this proposed amendment to the Order of Business. It is a vital amendment.
Other colleagues have raised the issue of posters, which is obviously an issue of particular interest to me. I would say that I am being told on doorsteps that I am better looking in real life than I am in my election posters.
One could not but be moved following the statements made about the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Looking at the facial expressions of Members in the Chamber, there was almost a crucified look on them, which is indicative of the trauma being felt in the community at the moment. Like other speakers, I do not believe that the report will go away in a short time. It will haunt us as a people for years to come.
That said, I hope it challenges us at the same time. There is a danger that as the emotion dies down after a few months, we may still be left with little action to show how sincere we were in our response to the suffering of those innocent victims. We were all struck by the apportioning of blame, which will go on for a period, between the religious orders, the State, society and so on. Gradually we will tease out and analyse this situation.
We are all well aware that many of the unfortunate victims should never have been in these institutions in the first place. Most were sent at the whim of some official in the community at the time. There will be legislative requirements. I was taken by Senator Harris's suggestion of a human reaction to show we have moved on and have improved as a caring society. There are many people in prison who should not be. We have had the classic case of an unfortunate woman who was imprisoned for stealing a bottle of milk. We have had a case of a pregnant mother having to give birth to her child in prison. All this is wrong, and if we do not show a human, compassionate, caring response, then all the emotion we have had in this House and the haunting we have received from this report will be lost. I sincerely support Senator Harris's suggestion of an amnesty for those type of people who should not be in prison. Perhaps we could all could come forward with other, perhaps unorthodox, examples to show we have moved on and we have improved as a caring society.
I ask the Leader to facilitate Senator Twomey's request to have a further debate on the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. That report is just the beginning and I agree with Senator Harris. How we handle the report and what we do in the future will be a litmus test of how we are as a people and as a society. It is not good enough to talk about days of atonement and days of remembrance. We need to see action and results that will in some small way help ease the pain of the people who have suffered. We can never allow ourselves to go back to those days.
I look forward to the publication of the Dublin archdiocese report. No matter what Archbishop Martin has done, the colour of where he goes from now will be how he handles the report on his archdiocese.
I call for a debate on how we conduct elections in this country. I have noticed breaches of the Electoral Acts throughout the country, and I look forward to the publication of the findings of Standards in Public Office Commission following the elections. We need to have a reformation on how we carry out elections in this country. For example, thousands of people will be disenfranchised because they live abroad and they cannot vote. Hundreds of people going on holidays or going on pilgrimages will be unable to vote. That is wrong. We must facilitate people in voting. We must extend the franchise to all citizens so that we can have a truly democratic electoral process.
I support the call made by Senators McCarthy and O'Donovan for a debate on the HSE. We have had a reconfiguration, which is a great way of saying acute services in many parts of our country are being closed, but especially in the city and county of Cork. If we close the hospital in Bantry, does the Leader think it is right that a person living in the Beara peninsula must drive to Cork for hospital services? It is wrong. The HSE has failed in its duty to the people and we must amend it immediately.
Senator Norris and I agree on many things, but we do not agree upon the exemption of the churches from equality legislation. I was in the House when it was introduced many years ago and I believe the churches should have the right to be able to be exempted. I mention this because The Irish Times today referred to the fact that I supported Senator Norris and I would like to correct that.
On the other hand, I support Senator Bacik's Climate Protection Bill 2007, and I was very impressed yesterday by the actions of Senator Larry Butler, who invited us to the audiovisual room to see the Spirit of Ireland. The voluntary work being done to suggest how we can solve the problem is very imaginative thinking, although I have no idea whether it will work. This is a huge scheme which is suitable for only five or six countries in the world, and Ireland happens to be one of them, which traps wind power and links it to hydro-power. The group behind it have set out to achieve financial success and energy success for Ireland in the next few years at no cost to the State. It is very costly but these people have voluntarily put this together and are proposing that this take place. From the State's point of view, it would mean wind farms would have to be erected and not be delayed as has happened in the past. I mention this because Senator Butler introduced us to this topic yesterday. He excited us at the possibility of what can happen, and it should be supported. That is why I also support Senator Bacik's effort today.
Senator Hanafin spoke yesterday about events in North Korea. It was referred by others in the media that it was a long way away and that we should not be too worried about it. I was in Arlington Cemetery in Washington last year for the first time. We saw the wall in which 57,000 Americans who died in Vietnam were commemorated. My son was with me and we saw another wall commemorating the loss of 57,000 Americans who died in Korea in the 1950s. The North Koreans announced yesterday that they were making void the peace treaty that brought that war to an end. It is something that should concern us. If 57,000 Americans died, I am sure millions of Koreans died. That happened in the 1950s and it could happen again because the North Koreans have just announced that they regard the peace treaty as void. We are on the brink of huge problems in that part of the world. I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs to take an interest in that matter and to draw the attention of the European Union to it.
While I have not yet completed my reading of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, it is a shocking report. The worst aspect of this is the criminalisation of children placed in these industrial schools and institutions, for which the State and the Judiciary are responsible. There is no doubt about that.
I believe that all these people should receive a pardon. I was in tears, when watching "Questions & Answers", to hear Mr. Michael O'Brien set out how he had been treated by the Rosminians. The panel was shocked to hear how he had been treated and of how his family had been broken up. It was shocking.
The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, recently brought before this House a Bill which provides for expunging of convictions for misdemeanours, thus allowing people to travel to other countries. That Bill should be extended to provide that a pardon be given to all those people who were so badly treated by the State and the organisations concerned.
I thank Senator Quinn and other Members who came along to the Spirit of Ireland presentation, a new idea that will enable Irish people, who have the spirit to get up when down, to create an economy similar to that which we have enjoyed for the past 14 years. This will do it. As Senator Quinn said, we are one of six countries that will provide this type of energy, resulting in a saving to the Exchequer of €3 billion every year. One can only imagine the impact of this over a ten-year period. We would also be an exporter of energy for the first time. I thank everyone who supported me. This is a new start and together, we can do this. I will bring forth a motion on this matter on which I will seek Members' support.
I thank the Leader for organising the debate yesterday on the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. It was timely and important we held that debate as soon as we did. To that end, I second Senator Twomey's proposal and the request of other Members for an ongoing debate on this issue. Today's Irish Examiner contains an article in respect of another family that wishes to have the remains of their sister who died in 1955 exhumed to find our how she died. While it was stated on her death certificate that she died from dysentery, apparently she had serious wounds. I believe that the testimonies of Michael O'Brien, Christine Buckley and Colm O'Gorman will empower other unfortunate people to come forward. This is not about money, I firmly believe that. I read this morning that the Government is to have a say in how the money will be spent. It is right that we, as Members of the Oireachtas, should have a say in how that money will be spent.
Senator Harris's proposal, while a little unorthodox, is good. I agree with him that there are people in our prisons for petty crimes - we all know them - who should be set free.
I support the calls to bring forth the Climate Protection Bill to the Seanad. It is a matter that can be dealt with in a cross-party way. I ask that the Leader facilitate this request if at all possible.
Senators Quinn and Butler spoke about the Spirit of Ireland presentation which many Members attended yesterday. Those involved are people who have volunteered their expertise, including scientists, geologists, engineers and those with technical expertise in the energy field. Ireland has the capacity to come up with solutions. It did so before through the establishment of the ESB, which is responsible for the infrastructure in Ardnacrusha that was developed in the 1920s, the rural electrification scheme introduced in the 1930s and Turlough Hill, a similar project, that was developed in the 1970s. The ESB has led the way in projects of this scale across the globe. It has developed power stations in the United States and Europe.
The Spirit of Ireland concept is similar and will require changes in legislation and cross-party support. I am interested in the concept and I thank Senator Butler for inviting us to attend the presentation yesterday. I said at the presentation that the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security might be an ideal vehicle through which this idea could be progressed. I ask the Leader to make time available in the next session for a full debate on the Spirit of Ireland scheme, which deserves our attention. It would allow us to develop windfarm co-operatives along the west coast of Ireland and to use natural valleys for reservoirs that would allow us as a country to become self-sufficient in terms of our energy needs. It would also allow us to export energy. It is an idea worthy of serious consideration. Climate change is a big issue on all our agendas.
Agriculture and transport are the sectors responsible for most of our carbon emissions. While we cannot tackle the agriculture sector as we need to produce food and to develop agriculture, we can address issues in the transport sector through the electric vehicle strategy. I believe the answer may lie in the Spirt of Ireland or a similar concept. However, there will need to be a national debate on this issue which will require general consensus. I ask the Leader - I am aware Senator Butler intends to bring forth a motion on this matter - to provide time for a debate on this issue. The future of our country depends on it. We must have the vision to support concepts like this.
I support Senator Coffey's call for a debate on the Spirit of Ireland proposal. I too have called for a specific debate on that proposal. I congratulate Senator Butler on organising the briefing on it. Like Senator Coffey, I believe this concept has tremendous potential, not least because at a time when serious questions are being asked about Ireland at home and abroad in terms of how we manage ourselves, what a boost to our morale it would be if we could be seen to come up with an answer to the challenges we face. This is the type of creative thinking Ireland needs at this time. The matter deserves specific debate in the Seanad and I urge the Leader to organise such a debate at an early date.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, McCarthy, Callely, O'Donovan, Bacik, Harris, Ó Murchú, Buttimer, Butler, McFadden, Coffey and Mullen expressed strong views on the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, a matter of serious concern to every person on the island of Ireland. I have no difficulty in providing further time for debate, as agreed with the leaders of the groups, when Members have had an opportunity to read the entire report, which comprises 3,600 pages, made up of five volumes. Following the forthcoming elections, we will review progress on the matter.
Matters on the Adjournment are dealt with by the Cathaoirleach, as has always been the case in this House. Members called for a full debate on the Health Service Executive, including its proposals and the challenges facing it in terms of the downturn in the economy. It is hoped this matter can be debated in the House prior to the summer recess, bearing in mind that up to ten or 11 Bills are due to come before the House for consideration prior to the recess on 10 July. I will discuss the matter with the leaders on the next sitting day to see what progress can be made in this regard and on the important issue of hospitals in every part of the country.
Senator O'Donovan is confident about Bantry hospital, on behalf of which he has been working hard alongside colleagues from all political parties. I take on board the Senator's views.
Senator Harris spoke about the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and an amnesty for minor offences. His suggestion should be considered in the context of our overcrowded prisons.
In regard to the proposed amendment to the Order of Business, those of us who have been in the House for the longest time know that the annual Finance Bill is the most important legislation we have to consider. The Finance Bill 2009 will be before the House all day and all night. Unfortunately, I cannot accede to the request but I will seek a way to accommodate a discussion on climate change on our next sitting day.
I am uplifted by the remarks made by Senators Quinn, Buttimer, Coffey, Butler and Mullen regarding the Spirit of Ireland proposals. Many of my colleagues were impressed yesterday by the presentation made on these proposals. Unfortunately, time did not allow me to attend the presentation but I will make it my business to attend a seminar on the proposals for wind and water power. If, as Senator Butler noted, Spirit of Ireland can save us €3 billion, it will represent a significant opportunity. Ireland is one of only six countries which can take advantage of the proposals and we are all prepared to support them. I will allow a debate on climate change and the opportunities available to us for exporting energy.
In regard to Senator O'Toole's strong views on credit unions, the Financial Services (Deposit Guarantee Scheme) Bill 2009 will be before us soon for our consideration. This Bill will give effect to the Government's decision to increase the limit of its deposit guarantee to €100,000 with effect from 20 September 2008. I have no difficulty in facilitating a debate on credit unions but the debate on the Finance Bill will allow the Minister for Finance to enlighten the House on the concerns expressed by Senator O'Toole.
I take this opportunity to congratulate my credit union in Castlepollard which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Great festivities are planned to mark the occasion.
Credit unions have made an immense contribution to every small income-earning family in every town and village and of every political creed. They are to be congratulated for their success. However, as Senator O'Toole has pointed out, certain areas must be debated. Perhaps the Senator will raise the issue with the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who will be in the House for part of our deliberations on the Finance Bill. It would be an opportunity to gain clarification on this matter.
In regard to posters and photographs on canvass cards being the same as those on the register of electors, many council candidates experienced difficulties in submitting the necessary digital details. In the world of entertainment and in the words of Cash, it is early to bed and early to rise because you will have your tea if you do not advertise. The comments made this morning came from well-established parliamentarians but I do not think they are the experts in this area because how are young and unknown candidates going to become known to the public?
In regard to conduct at election time, Senator Buttimer has brought the word "conduct" to my attention. Those who go on pilgrimage should be allowed a postal vote. This is not always the case, however.
Senator Walsh called for a debate on equality issues. I have no difficulty in allocating time for this issue. Senator Healy Eames referred to the dreadful death of Melissa Mahon. This has happened too often in our country and the fear has to be put in the law.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on melanoma and breast cancers, which have long challenged our society. I have no difficulty in arranging time for such a debate.
Senator Coghlan spoke about his town of Killarney. Perhaps a matter raised on the Adjournment would allow him to get the information he seeks. I have always been supportive of him in regard to the beautiful town of Killarney.
It is not about property developers. The intention is to put the banks into a position whereby they can lend again to families and small businesses so that credit can flow. This is essential if we are to create and sustain employment. This is the simple explanation I have put together for a Senator who inquired about the matter yesterday. I wish the Minister well in his efforts to free up credit because if the present situation continues for the next three or four months, it will be very difficult for families to survive, pay the wages of their staff and keep their doors open while paying off their debts to banks or for their leases. The coming four or five months will be crucial for Ireland and the support of all parliamentarians from both Houses will be necessary as we address the bad debts which are killing credit. I wish the Government well in this regard.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on the economy. I have no difficulty with arranging such a debate at any time. We debated NAMA on Tuesday and will consider the Finance Bill today. We are discussing all the major issues affecting the economy.
Senator Cummins noted that the sister of Joe Rafferty is standing in the elections to make a statement and to seek support. We support her in every shape and form. It is regrettable that she must face challenges in terms of interference and bullying. We live in a democracy, thanks be to God, and generations from both sides of this House gave their lives in 1916, 1921 and 1922. We thought we were free of that after the Good Friday Agreement in the North of Ireland. I condemn the actions highlighted by Senator Cummins. I call on the Garda Commissioner to act immediately on the incident that Senator Cummins highlighted. The greatest democratic opportunity the public has is to freely cast votes in the ballot box in support of who we think will best lead us in local government in the coming four or five years.
I agree with Senator O'Donovan's reference to the transfer of marketing powers from Bord Iascaigh Mhara to Bord Bia. The latter body's great marketing powers must be commended on promoting good food products.
Other Senators referred to the Spirit of Ireland and I responded to that point.
Senator Quinn commented on events in North Korea, which present a major international challenge. As he pointed out, 57,000 American soldiers who fought in the Korean war are laid to rest in Arlington cemetery. Perhaps even more Korean soldiers died in that war in the 1950s. We do not want to see that conflict resuming in any shape or form in the future.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 25 (Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Joe O'Toole; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 17 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 27 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Rónán Mullen, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and David Norris; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.