Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009, Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009, Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2009 - all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2; on Second Stage spokespersons may speak for ten minutes, all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time by agreement of the House; No. 4, earlier signature motion on the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2009, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3.
Last night in this House we saw a pathetic display of weakness from the Green Party, a party that was demolished in the recent elections. Last night the Green Party did not back the Government, of which it is part. If it is not going to vote for the Government, why does the Green Party not pull out of Government? Why does it continue to keep Fianna Fáil and this ineffectual Government in power? The behaviour last night was a sign of weakness, not strength. It illustrated exactly what the Irish people know, that the Green Party in government is not listened to by Fianna Fáil-----
A number of areas are extremely important and require further discussion, debate and review by this House. The report of an bord snip nua is being presented to Government today. Presuming the report is published, we will not be in session to discuss its vital recommendations. The implementation plan for the Ryan report was meant to be published in July. Again, that report should be discussed in this House. That vital report was critical of society and we should be here when it is given to Government so that we will have an opportunity to discuss its recommendations. If we owe anything to the victims whose plight was outlined in the Ryan report, we should be here to discuss the recommendations and the report of the Minister of State with special responsibility for children and young people, Deputy Barry Andrews.
We have yet to hear whether the Minister of State has information for this House on the bilateral agreement with Vietnam. Does the Leader have information for the House in that regard? Hundreds of families are waiting to hear the outcome of the visit by the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to Vietnam and whether agreement can be reached on this critical bilateral agreement for many families.
This House will adjourn today, at a time when thousands of people are losing their jobs and the unemployment rate is fast approaching 15%. No job creation programme has been put forward by the Government. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has not come to the House to explain how the Government proposes to assist hard-pressed families, hundreds more of which each day are newly faced with unemployment. We will oppose the Order of Business on the grounds that the Seanad should sit next week to get on with the task of addressing these important issues.
Following on from the points raised yesterday by my colleague, Senator Coffey, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us to discuss last week's decision by the Cabinet to exclude new applicants to the fourth round of the rural environment protection scheme. This is an important source of income to many small farmers, being worth an average of more than €8,000. Many farmers are dependent on this revenue as part of what is a meagre income by today's standards. We should show solidarity with the farmers protesting against this decision in Dublin today. Will the Leader facilitate even a short debate on the matter?
It is odd that the Seanad will not assemble even for a short period in the coming weeks to discuss a report as significant as that of an bord snip nua. Despite the many challenges the State faces, it seems we must put something as trivial as scheduling ahead of the national interest.
With apologies to Senator Daly, I ask the Leader to allow a debate at some future date on how we might become more like the House of Lords. Last evening, the British Government suffered a defeat when Members of the House of Lords voted to remove a clause which would have brought an end to the common travel area between our two islands.
The interesting point is that Britain's immigration Minister agreed to accept the amendments. It would be nice to have a similar parliamentary process in this State, whereby the Upper House could vote down an amendment without it resulting in the collapse of the Government. A more mature approach and an openness to good ideas would be welcome. That would lead to a more empowered Legislature.
An issue that is of grave concern to me and many others is the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to hear a challenge to our abortion law before its grand chamber of 17 judges by three Irish women. Quite apart from the merits or substance of this case, it is a very serious matter if any international body to which we are party should question our law on this most fundamental and significant of human rights and human dignity issues. Moreover, it would raise questions about the propriety of our continued membership of a body such as the Council of Europe and our adherence to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights if what we end up with is a bastardised form of human rights which does a violence to human dignity.
The preamble to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified convention internationally, contains language to the effect that the child, by reason of his or her vulnerability, requires physical and legal safeguards before and after birth.
How is it intended to fund the management of the swine flu pandemic in the State? I attended a briefing yesterday at which Dr. Tony Houlihan informed us that it is expected that up to 1 million people, or 25% of the population, may succumb to the virus in the coming autumn and winter. Up to 1,000 people may require life support in the hospital system. In the past, budgets were set aside to deal with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and the decision to recall pork products. How is it proposed to deal with this pandemic without choking the entire hospital system? This is an unknown virus and the impact of infection on such a potentially large scale is unknown. It is incumbent on the Minister for Health and Children to make a statement on the matter in the House.
The Taoiseach has accepted that the contents of the report by an bord snip nua should be debated by the public. It is also important that the report be debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It merits a recall of the House to facilitate that debate. It should not be left to languish over the summer. Moreover, the recommendations contained therein should be kept entirely separate from the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, the outcome of which is of great importance. We must all concentrate our minds in order to ensure people are not confused by issues not relevant to the treaty itself.
The Ombudsman has expressed concerns that elderly people may have been inappropriately sold certain investment products. Institutions who engage in such activity should be named and shamed. Such behaviour is an absolute disgrace.
Recent speculative newspaper articles have suggested that the an bord snip nua report recommends that Shannon Development, the enterprise body for the mid-west region, should be wound up or, at best, amalgamated with some other organisation. This has been greeted with dismay in the region, where Shannon Development has delivered a fantastic service for decades. It has pioneered broadband provision, opened some 60 technology and business parks and recently secured the €500 million LNG project for north Kerry. Oireachtas Members in Kerry, Limerick, Clare, north Tipperary and the south midlands are fully supportive of the work of Shannon Development, as are all local authority members in the region. The chairman of the board, Councillor John Brassil, is a colleague of mine in Kerry and one of the best councillors in the State.
Local authority members are very much in touch with local opinion.
It is important to bear in mind that Shannon Development, unlike some organisations and quangos of which there are so many in the State, is self-financing, generating income from its own activities. It is not too late to do something about the recommendation in the report of an bord snip nua, if what we have heard is accurate. Since the days of the French Revolution, tribunals have been noted for throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This may be a classic example of that. Nobody is expecting an bord snip nua to present a love letter to the public. We all know a hard rain will fall, as Bob Dylan said.
There is a nice photograph in The Irish Times today accompanying an article outlining how a Dublin mother of ten from Stillorgan, Ms Ann Stapleton, was called to the Bar yesterday. The article observes that this "must be a first for the Law Library". I congratulate Ms Stapleton on her achievement. However, since The Irish Times is the newspaper of record, I must point out that my mother, Mary Regan, the mother of 13 children, qualified for the Bar in 1990 at the age of 75.
I do. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, stated some time ago that trust in Government has been eroded. He should look no further than his own party in this regard, including those who are Members of this House. During yesterday's debate on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009, Senator Boyle stated:
I hope that in a short timeframe legislation of this type will not be needed and we will live in a more peaceful, prosperous and safe society. On those grounds I support this Bill, albeit reluctantly.
Hiding behind the numbers that Fianna Fáil Senators could muster yesterday-----
I am pleased to note that some Members of the Opposition are concerned about the Green strategy and supported the Government. To continue in the poetic vein of my good colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, there are 40 shades of green.
Questions to the Leader, please. It might be the last sitting day of this session, but we do not want a comedy here. This is serious business. Senators should put questions to the Leader on the Order of Business and if not I will call the Leader to reply.
On a serious note, I am disappointed that we have had no debate on the fishing industry despite the four requests I have made since Easter. I am acutely aware that the Minister was ill for some time. I accept that situation but he should attend a debate on the fishing industry as a matter of priority when we return from the recess. I also wish to support my colleague who sought a debate on farming, which is well overdue. That should also be a priority when we return for the new session.
I also wish to raise an issue that is of great concern to me having been born in a coastal area. It concerns the current search off the Cork coastline for two people who are missing after a fishing expedition. Unfortunately, this is a far too frequent occurrence along our coastline. Many people living inland have no idea of the severity and ferociousness of the Atlantic swell, which can sometimes hit our coasts five or ten metres high - as high as a two-storey house. Far too often, people from eastern Europe in particular, who have no knowledge of the Irish coastline go fishing. In this unfortunate case, a father took his 13 year old boy to do some fishing on Cod Head on the Beara Peninsula. Such accidents occur all too frequently I ask the Leader to use the influence of the House to suggest that local authorities should erect warning signs in remote coastal areas. It is obvious to most local people that it is unsafe to fish from rocks in these areas, but such accidents have occurred in Clare and Kerry also. Every year we lose seven or eight people off our coastline in such circumstances. We should have a debate on the safety aspects involved, as well as demanding that the dangers should be signalled. There is a long summer ahead, but some people are foolhardy enough to go rock fishing in areas that are absolutely unsafe.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business on the basis that the Seanad should be sitting longer. Recent days have shown the need for more sitting time. Yesterday, the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill was railroaded though the House.
It is interesting that we could not put any amendments through in the Seanad last night. I also want to ask the Leader why we are not having time to debate the report of an bord snip nua. The Seanad should be sitting for that next week. We are all under the impression that the report will be published at some stage next week. There has already been widespread selective leaking of some of its recommendations. One in particular gives me great cause for concern - the report that the Office of the Ombudsman for Children may be merged with another office. I ask the Leader for a debate on that because, in the wake of the publication of the Ryan report, it is vital that we continue to have an office with an independent role in scrutinising conditions for children, particularly vulnerable children in care.
I also wish to ask the Leader for a debate on rape law and how we can improve conditions for rape victims. I have just come from the launch of the 2008 report of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which highlights the need for more debate on this issue.
I dislike ending on a discordant note, but I thought it was ludicrous of Senator Mullen to suggest that we should consider leaving the Council of Europe just because, as I understood him to say, three women are exercising their right to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights on an issue that is vital and which, they say, concerns a breach of their rights under the convention.
-----regarding the European Court of Human Rights. We have also mentioned the European Court of Justice in this House before now. All of these bodies intrude into domestic situations here. I am always flabbergasted by people, whom one would regard as logical and sensible, who argue for human rights on the one hand, but have no difficulty at all in abrogating the rights of people to the most fundamental right of all, which is the right to life. We had it on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill yesterday and have it in this whole area.
I support Senator Ned O'Sullivan's comments on Shannon Development, a company that has done remarkable work. It has an outstanding track record in the mid-west. While I would be fully in favour of abolishing many of the quangos such as the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Authority - which, thankfully, has gone - and others-----
One of our national newspapers has a misleading headline this morning. It stated that the economy was going to shrink by 11% over the next 18 months, but that has no basis in fact. If one reads the article, it properly states that the governor of the Central Bank has stated that the economy will contract this year by about 8% and by perhaps 3% next year. In fact, it has already contracted by about 11% or 12%. Most economists consider that from the peak we will ultimately be down by about 16%. I wish to emphasise one matter raised by the governor of the Central Bank - that further fiscal corrections must be done by way of cutting expenditure. In my opinion and the opinion of many economists, the focus should be on payroll costs which must be brought back to €15 billion. In that regard, I wish to express my concern at the recent findings of the Labour Court which is awarding almost a 5% increase at a time when the economy is facing such challenges.
I have asked him two questions already. Given that we have had no debate on the Cork docklands area, unemployment is heading towards 15% and yet again there has been a guillotine on the Ryan report, will the Leader explain why the House is going into recess today? Why can we not sit until the end of July?
My final question for the Leader is about a matter of grave urgency. From 24 July, people who have traditionally carried their pension books to the post office on a Thursday or Friday will no longer be able to do this but will be paid electronically through a nominated post office. This will have a major impact on many old age pensioners.
From 24 July a pensioner cannot go to the post office with his or her pension book and pensions will be paid into bank or post office accounts, which will result in serious emotional and psychological difficulties for many elderly people. I ask the Leader to communicate to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, as a matter of extreme urgency, that she should desist in this and that we need further discussion in this regard. I have had numerous telephone calls from pensioners about this.
There is a need for reform of the manner in which we do our business. This is a genuine and serious point. I have asked questions in the Chamber about health, the HSE, education and finance and economics, among other matters, and the follow-up has been very poor. There is one issue about which I am deeply concerned, namely, the reduction in fees to pharmacists. I was advised the Minister was to come to address the House on this but I hear this morning that she may not be in the House until September. There are many other issues I have raised. Senator Buttimer was talking about my colleagues in government and whether they are yellow-bellies, langers or whatever they are called.
We are living in extraordinary times. People have made extraordinary sacrifices and next week they will be asked to make more in order that the Government can aggregate €5 billion. Given the circumstances, with unemployment at almost 15%, the impending report of an bord snip nua and the overall gravity of the situation, we need to show a particular type of leadership. We need to take extraordinary action as we are not in ordinary times. We must extend our term and our debates. It will be a bold strike and it is not something we want but something we must do. We must remain in touch with a public that is shell-shocked. I met people last night who are in a state of shock from the fear of college fees and a plethora of other expenses. This needs a response from the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader to extend the Seanad term and place the Seanad at the vanguard in dealing with this.
One issue which was raised eruditely by my colleague yesterday and again by Senator Mullen today was that of the rural environment protection scheme. I have one question for the Leader on this. Given that the removal of the scheme will push a large contingent of farmers into the farm assist programme and that 60% of the money comes from Europe while the other 40% is spent in the local economy, is it financially sound, apart from the environmental factors, which the Green Party should be speaking about rather than engaging in nonsense-----
No, not the House of Lords, I speak of the three women who are taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights on the matter of abortion. It is high time we in this country decided our laws for ourselves. As a mature democracy, we should do so. I ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to introduce legislation to deal with this issue at home so that nobody can accuse any other body, parliamentary or otherwise, of usurping the powers and the authority of the Irish people. All too often the question of abortion is bundled into other issues, such as the Lisbon treaty, and becomes clouded. It is high time we debated that issue here. We see the number of people who are going abroad to procure abortions - they no longer go only to the UK - yet the issue is ignored time after time and it comes back to haunt us.
I am sure the Government read this morning's story with some horror, thinking this was just what it does not need when the Lisbon treaty referendum is approaching. This is what happens when issues are not dealt with properly and legislation is not introduced. I agree with Senator Mullen that it is time this country decided its own laws in this regard and put options before the people. I ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to make this a priority so it does not come back to haunt us and so that other authorities concerned with human rights are allowed an input before the Irish people determine this issue for themselves. If we had a debate that was open and honest and simply about the facts, with the humanity and compassion that is necessary when dealing with this issue, we would all be a little surprised at how mature is our country.
I second Senator Mullen's call for an amendment to the Order of Business. I have two issues with regard to passports which I ask the Leader to draw to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs so he can work on them over the coming months. The first relates to a Czech-born fugitive in the United States who holds an Irish passport that he purchased here ten or 15 years ago. We have passed legislation to make sure this will never happen again, but apparently the Government has examined, as far as I can see, without any great vigour or determination, the possibility of removing the fugitive's passport. This man has been accused of bribery in the United States and is claiming that because he has Irish citizenship the law does not apply to him. We should have some procedure for withdrawing Irish passports from people who purchased them during those days. I do not believe we are pursuing these efforts with sufficient vigour. We must ensure that those of us who travel with Irish passports are regarded as genuine. The danger is that if these passports are being used in such a way, every time we go through immigration when entering another country its officials will look upon our passports with disdain.
The British had planned to do away with the common travel area and, as far as I gather, one now needs a passport, or certainly photographic identification, to travel from Northern Ireland to the island of Britain. If that is so, it is good news because it gives us the opportunity to break the common travel area between Ireland and Britain and join the Schengen countries. Ireland and Britain are the only two of the 27 member states which are not part of the Schengen area. Irish people would be able to move through the same passport and emigration control points used by citizens of the other 25 member states if Ireland were part of the Schengen area. The fact that the British Government decided to remove the common travel area between Ireland and Britain is extremely good news. The fact that the measure was not passed by the House of Lords last night is merely a stumbling block on the road. Ireland should be part of the Schengen area.
I take on board Lord Mullen's point with regard to his suggestion that the Seanad might become more like the House of Lords. I know what the Senator meant and I do not believe he wants to give up the Republic just yet or is suggesting that we should rejoin the British Commonwealth.
I am deeply concerned with an bord snip nua's proposal to get rid of Shannon Development. It is a serious matter for an bord snip nua to suggest that an organisation which is making a profit and which is not costing the State anything be closed down. An bord snip nua has probably moved outside its remit in this regard.
I ask the Leader to pursue the matter when an bord snip nua's report is published.
I also ask that the Leader take up with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the issue of Eircom's provision of services to users in Kerry. In the 1970s, the Black Valley was famously the final area of the country to obtain access to electricity supplies. Mr. Tim O'Connor who lives in the Gap of Dunloe is seeking to have his telephone connected and was sent a bill for €29,000. To be fair to Eircom, the connection fee is only €107. However, the company decided to charge him €29,226.65-----
It beggars belief that Eircom would give someone who lives only a hop, skip and jump away from other users in the area a quote of €29,226 in respect of a connection to telephone services, particularly when one considers that many people are of the view that access to such services is a basic right.
I request a debate on the future status of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009. I could not care less about the antics of the Green Party, but I care about the measures designed to tackle the evil of organised crime in our cities and elsewhere, which many Members of the House supported last night.
Will the issues that appear to have been raised by the Green Party undermine the measures that Fine Gael has requested in order that organised crime might be tackled? There was no reference to these issues, which appear to have emerged from nowhere, in either of the contributions of the two Green Party Senators during the Second Stage debate on the Bill.
I am forced to draw a particular conclusion from what has happened. Many explanations have been offered in respect of this matter. The road to Damascus-----
-----and the road to a special conference have been mentioned. However, with its behaviour, the Green Party has set itself on the road to nowhere. The Bill contains extremely important measures and an indication must be provided with regard to whether those measures will be implemented in full.
I support the call made by Senator O'Reilly in respect of the REPS issue. I ridicule the behaviour of Fianna Fáil Senators who sought a debate on the report of an bord snip nua but refused to seek that additional time be provided in order that such a debate might take place. There is no more lethal sign of the disconnect of these Houses from the people than the refusal of the Government to allow the report to be debated in public. The report will probably be available as a free supplement with most Sunday newspapers during the summer. However, the Government will not allow the matter to be debated in the House. Shame on the Government. It should make time available for a debate on this report.
In recent weeks, the House engaged in a well informed debate on the Lisbon treaty and some fine analysis was put forward by Members with regard to why the previous referendum was not successful. The House also discussed the guarantees the Government has obtained to lay to rest some of the concerns expressed by the electorate, among which were neutrality and taxation. In addition, there was the pro-life issue, which would be seen as a matter to be decided upon internally by the State. The news today that an international court could potentially set aside the guarantee relating to the latter is not a good omen for the forthcoming referendum. This could be the banana skin of which we are all afraid and which could affect the result of the referendum in the autumn.
I hope the Government will get the opportunity to ensure that this matter will not take priority over the main debate on the Lisbon treaty. I am of the view that everyone accepts that the issue of abortion is a matter on which the State should decide. Why then should an international court have the power to interfere in any way with or adjudicate on an issue of this nature?
My question relates to a proposal the Leader has put forward on the Order of Business. We understand why people did not want Report Stage of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 to be taken immediately after Committee Stage. Regardless of what the Leader might say, effectively a guillotine was applied in respect of the Bill.
The Leader previously gave assurances to the House that it would only be in rare or exceptional circumstances that we would be obliged to deal with all Stages of a Bill in one day. However, he is at it again because he has proposed that all Stages of the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2009 be taken today. When other Senators and I sought clarification in respect of this matter recently, I thought the Leader had indicated that this would no longer happen. In such circumstances, I support the calls that the Seanad should sit next week.
Senators Prendergast and O'Sullivan highlighted the need to debate the proposals contained in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes, which is also known as an bord snip nua. Senator O'Sullivan referred to the leaked proposal in respect of Shannon Development. The report is available to the Cabinet for consideration. In fairness, the Taoiseach publicly stated that the report should be published and made widely available. When will the report be made available to the Members of both Houses? If the Leader does not propose to extend the Seanad sitting into next week - he should do so - when will Members be afforded the opportunity to debate the report, rather than having it debated in public and the House being made irrelevant as a result?
Yesterday in the Seanad, the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, reflected on one of the great achievements of democracy, namely, the peace process in Northern Ireland. He stated:
It was built upon unprecedented partnership between the British and Irish Governments, and the strong support of our friends in America, the EU and around the world. In more recent years it has been greatly strengthened by a transformation in relationships between North and South and between Nationalists and Unionists on the island.
-----Historical Enquiries Team to review all conflict-related deaths and to assist in bringing resolution to those families of victims affected by deaths attributable to the Troubles between 1968 and the advent of the British-Irish Agreement in 1998. Two weeks ago, the family of Henry Cunningham met the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, to discuss his murder 35 years ago this August. Henry Cunningham, who was 16 years old, was shot dead as he travelled home from work in County Antrim in August 1973. Gunmen opened fire from a bridge on the M2 motorway at a van carrying a mixed group of workmen back to County Donegal and Henry, who was sitting in the front row, was shot dead. The men had been travelling on the same route for three months and it is thought the van was targeted by the UVF because of its southern number plates and that the killers presumed the workmen were Catholic. In fact, the van's occupants were a mixed group of Presbyterians and Catholics and the 16 year old victim, Henry Cunningham, was a Presbyterian.
The Historical Enquiries Team, HET, set up by Sir Hugh Orde to look into conflict resolution for families, published a report in June 2009 that I have laid in the Oireachtas Library today for those who are interested in consolidating the peace process. While the HET has not solved the crime, it was able to provide amazing information and answers to the family. For example, the family was never told that the RUC believed the UVF was responsible for Henry Cunningham's murder.
I propose a change to the Order of Business to discuss how, if 1,000 pharmacists withdraw from the community pharmacy scheme by the end of the month, patients will receive their medication next September. Although this issue has been raised a number of times, no statement has been forthcoming from either the Minister or from the Leader of this House. Consequently, there is a need for Members to debate this issue and I wish to propose a change to the Order of Business in this respect.
I refer to a well-known Green Party Deputy who performs a popular breakdancing routine at public meetings in his constituency.
On hearing there would be cuts to the education grant, the same Deputy resigned his position as his party's spokesperson but did not resign the more lucrative position as chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science. It seems as though this green virus of cynicism is spreading to other members of the Green Party in this House. Members should have a debate on this issue because what the Green Party tried to achieve last night was nothing more than debasing the manner in which this House works.
In recent weeks, the House undoubtedly has dealt with a large quantity of legislation. Questions have arisen in the media regarding a clear outline as to the blasphemy provisions in the Defamation Bill. In many ways, the media are unclear until they receive clarification. In addition, I refer to the possibility of a case being brought and as the courts do not judge in a vacuum, they need direction as to the intent of a Bill. Consequently, I ask the Leader to restate that the Bill was passed with a view to the ultimate respect for all religious beliefs. I refer to the belief in God, whatever one may perceive him to be, and that no one would be offended by any article, words or image that might offend people or attempt in any way to denigrate people's beliefs or to actually blaspheme. In other words, it was a technical Bill and this would be of benefit to the media, which are unclear, and to the courts, were they to require clarification.
Second, I refer to the European Court of Human Rights. In respect of a court of human rights, there can be no other decision, as a human right, as to the preservation of the right to life. In the next session, it might be useful were Members to debate, in the context of the provision of referral information in Ireland, an obligation to suggest an ultrasound whereby it will be quite clear to the person seeking an abortion that she is dealing with a living human being.
I second Senator Twomey's proposal to amend the Order of Business regarding the pharmacy issue. I also add my voice in support of Senators Mullen and O'Reilly regarding the proposal to amend the Order of Business to discuss and debate REPS. I called for such a debate yesterday and would continue to so do, were the Seanad sitting every day. This is an extremely important matter for farmers and for rural Ireland and will have a massive negative impact both on the rural environment itself and on family farms and rural employment. This has been a good scheme in respect of the protection of the rural environment. Members should be discussing such issues of the day in this House and I ask the Leader to consider them seriously and to amend the Order of Business.
Later today, Members will be debating the Local Government (Charges) Bill. They will consider amendments made in the Dáil that had been debated and recommended in this House. All Senators who contributed to that debate may take a bow because such amendments were badly needed and now are being framed in legislation. Unfortunately however, some concerns were highlighted in this House with regard to the rental accommodation scheme, about which the legislation contains great inequalities and anomalies, in that rental accommodation scheme houses will be exempted from the proposed €200 annual charge. This is both unfair and an anomaly and is another reason legislation should not be rushed.
For example, Galway City Council has 6,000 houses under the rental accommodation scheme under a five-year secure contract that is worth €11,000 per annum to the landlords concerned, who are exempted from the charge. Consequently, like many other local authorities, Galway City Council will be deprived of income of which it should be availing. This is another anomaly that must be highlighted. At a Galway City Council meeting last Monday night, members from all sides expressed concerns and the strong view that houses registered under the rental accommodation scheme should not be exempted and Fine Gael agrees with this point. While it is a pity the legislation does not allow for it, this matter should be reviewed and Members should return to it at a later stage.
I wish to raise an issue I believe will be extremely important in the future. Local authorities are not prepared and certainly are not well organised in respect of inward investment that comes into a county. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for a debate in this regard. I note that IKEA, which is a fantastic company, is about to open in Ballymun with the creation of 500 jobs. However, it took three years to organise that development with the local authorities in respect of putting in place a road system to suit the project. I agree with the comments of my colleague, Senator O'Sullivan, regarding the Shannon Development Company, which plans ahead. However, local authorities do not plan ahead for inward investment, which should be on top of the agenda.
Sandyford Industrial Estate is an example of how development should take place. However, inefficiencies also exist in that industrial estate, whereby southern access to the motorway still is not in place, which is due to local authority planning. Having been a member of that local authority for many years, I know it does not plan ahead sufficiently. I call on the Minister to come before the House and debate this issue, namely, how to get local authorities up to speed regarding likely developments. For example, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's area, the Beacon Clinic would not have been developed without proper planning and appropriate zoning. Therefore, I seek a debate in this regard because this pertains to jobs. While Members talk about jobs here every morning, employment is the most important issue they will be obliged to consider for the next five years.
I support the call from Senator Mullen and others for a full debate on the REP scheme before the House adjourns. While I acknowledge there was a brief Adjournment debate on the matter last night, a substantial debate is needed on a matter of such fundamental importance to tens of thousands of farming families nationwide. I will give the Leader a political health warning on the forthcoming Lisbon treaty referendum. Members of Fine Gael will be the strongest advocates of a "Yes" vote in the Lisbon treaty rerun. In the previous referendum, all sorts of issues arose that caused people to vote on the wrong question rather than on the referendum. I am gravely concerned that unless significant progress is made in resolving this dispute, the decision of the Government will result in tens of thousands of people from rural Ireland opposing the Lisbon treaty for the wrong reasons.
From the perspective of farming, the environment and the forthcoming Lisbon treaty referendum it is important that we have a substantial debate to resolve this issue. Hundreds of people are protesting outside Government Buildings but, more importantly, thousands of people are genuinely concerned that their only real source of family farm income has been removed at a stroke of the Minister's pen. It is ironic that, as the Government was about to shut down the Dáil for the summer recess, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food decided to shut down this vital scheme of funding for rural Ireland. I ask the Leader, who comes from rural Ireland, understands rural communities and knows the importance of this scheme to people, to ask the Minister to reflect on this serious error. We all make mistakes and we must all recognise the country is in financial crisis but some schemes repay their costs over. REPS is such a scheme and, from an environmental and financial perspective, the decision must be reviewed immediately.
I wish to add my voice to the calls for an amendment to the Order of Business to address REPS, which is crucial to rural Ireland and the future of small farms across the State.
I also add my voice to Senator Twomey's amendment concerning pharmacists. I refer to the problem that those who want to receive medication in the next few weeks will face if this dispute is not resolved. This is a rerun of the previous dispute and I have been very vocal on the approach the Minister is taking. I have challenged her to look at the books of some of the pharmacists who will be put out of business if the Government continues in the direction it is going. I was glad that the court found the actions of the Minister at that time to be illegal.
The issues raised by Senator Mary White and others merit lengthy debate in this House. Later this evening the House will be adjourned for two months but there is a need for serious debate on an bord snip nua, Irish unity, collusion, REPS, pharmacies, Eircom and the 200,000 jobs lost in the past year in Ireland. For two months Senators will not be allowed to debate the issue of the day. It is appalling. The vast majority of people have no respect for this House, a point that was amplified by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he allowed a debate to take place knowing that no matter what was said, amendments would not be accepted.
Yesterday, in the House of Commons, MPs gathered to open a debate on Irish unity. Yesterday we had 60 minutes to talk about Northern Ireland and no party mentioned Irish unity. These are questions we need to start debating. MPs can open a discussion in the House of Commons on Irish unity yet this Chamber will not discuss it.
I add my voice to those on this side of the House who expressed anger and disappointment at the decision of the Government to axe REPS 4. This is on top of the Government axing installation aid and the early retirement scheme. As I have pointed out on debates on agriculture in this House, axing those schemes cost one family in my area €20,000. The family has been bereaved. We recognise that cuts must be made in this economic climate and the axe must fall somewhere but the farming communities are being singled out and that is unacceptable.
The legislation passed last night was masked legislation, masking the problem that the Garda Síochána does not have enough resources to fight organised crime. This is a knee-jerk reaction, pandering to the fears of people who are vulnerable and living in communities overtaken by criminal gangs and thugs. The legislation last night was merely semantics because it did not allow for amendments from the Opposition.
It was a knee-jerk reaction to a very grave situation.
I went into a shop in Kinsale recently. A notice on a lottery machine stated that every time one purchases lottery tickets, one supports an arts project or a sports programme in one's community. The sports capital programme for 2009 has been abandoned. Every time someone buys a lottery ticket in this country, a portion of it goes to the State for the sports capital programme. I do not know how much will accrue to the State this year but, seeing as the sports capital programme has been abandoned, what is the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen, doing with the money? Is it being used to bail out and recapitalise the banks?
Senators Fitzgerald, Mullen, Prendergast, O'Reilly, Donohoe and Coghlan expressed concerns about the Order of Business. Legislation is the priority on the Order of Business. I congratulate everyone who participated in the debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform last night. That was one of the finest debates on the passage of a Bill in this House in the number of years that I have been in this House. No guillotine was used on this Bill last night. I offered the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Fitzgerald, a one hour break between Committee Stage and Report Stage. This might have been misunderstood, not by a Member of the House, but by the public in general. We do not guillotine Committee or Report Stages in this House.
I respectfully request the same courtesy to be shown to the points I will make to respond to the genuine concerns of colleagues, particularly those on the Opposition side. I have done everything possible to facilitate at all times, or at least 90% of the time, responding to requests from leaders. It is my duty and I consider it an honour and a privilege to do so. I will continue to do so for the next three years.
Regarding the summer break of eight weeks, the last time colleagues of the Opposition parties were in power, breaks of 11 weeks, 12 weeks and 13 weeks were taken. We have reduced this to eight weeks and we are sitting an extra week this week in response to urgent legislation. Anything we can do in Seanad reform will be considered and it is important to assist colleagues of all parties to try to make Seanad Éireann responsive to the day to day requirements of the country, particularly in the current climate.
That is to give information to the new members of the House.
Senator McCarthy, Doherty, Mullen, O'Donovan, O'Reilly, Coffey and Bradford referred to REPS. This is serious blow to the farming community and our hearts go out to them. Everyone is feeling the pinch at the present time.
I have an update for those concerned about the bilateral discussions with Vietnam.
I also have an update on the pharmacy situation and I will provide one in the pigeon holes of every Senator in the late afternoon or evening on the agricultural challenge facing our farmers. I give a commitment that on our first or second day back, these Ministers will attend the House to brief Members on the position at that time in respect of the very serious, urgent requests made of me by my colleagues over the past number of weeks.
Senator Mullen raised the matter of amendments in the Seanad. Last year, when he was a Member of the House, 1,201 amendments to Bills going through the House were accepted by the Government. The Seanad has a real meaningful role in the protection of the Constitution and of the taxpayer.
We need to put the record straight because I know Senator Mullen represents some very serious, decent people in the House.
Senator Prendergast raised the matter of finance to deal with the flu epidemic; it will be a top priority and one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation in the autumn. Please God perhaps it will not be the case. We will have it on the agenda during our first week back with the Minister present to update us on how we will face this challenge and have the finances available as Senator Prendergast correctly asked.
Senators O'Sullivan, Walsh, Buttimer, Daly and Coghlan expressed their views on Shannon Development. I can honestly state at first hand as the former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business that in every trade mission led by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, from 2002 to 2007, Shannon Development was a credit to Ireland plc. It was magnificent and the job that it is doing, and has been doing for decades has been something that we can look at and be proud that we established Shannon Development. I know Shannon Development - in my heart I feel it - will not be in any shape or form interfered with by an bord snip nua because what it does is crucial, particularly during a downturn in the economy. What it did for broadband is a shining example as Senator O'Sullivan outlined to the House today.
The contents of the report by an bord snip nua are for consideration. However, as my predecessor, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, stated the last report wanted the train to stop in Athlone and not go to Galway. Some of the proposals are practical and others are very impractical. It is down to us as politicians and parliamentarians to decide what is in the best interests. If there are good proposals we will examine them but if there are off the wall proposals just there for the optics they do not have a chance in hell of getting any further than the paper on which they are written in the report.
Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on the fishing industry. I gave a commitment and I will respond. This will certainly be debated in the first days after our recess. I join with Senator O'Donovan with regard to the two men, father and son, who are missing and I suppose presumed dead off the Beara Peninsula - that beautiful peninsula that everyone of us likes to drive around and see at holiday time. The Senator warned that every local authority, Department and agency has a responsibility for safety regulations.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on the law on rape and I have no difficulty holding such a debate.
Senators Mullen, Bacik, Walsh, O'Malley and Hanafin discussed the European Court of Human Rights and the three women who have taken their case there. Senator O'Malley made a plea that I would consult with the Taoiseach on her proposals. I certainly will do so and I will pass on the strong views of Senators on that issue.
Senator Buttimer raised the issue of old-age pension books being discontinued. This is certainly not a good idea. A person has a prerogative and a right not to have a post office or bank account. No one should dictate that old-age pension books be taken from pensioners. I hope the proposal does not go ahead and I will certainly express my strong views along with those of Senator Buttimer to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs in this regard. It is never the wrong time to do the right thing. God knows this is all these people have at the end of their hard-working careers. They should be left with their pension books and should not have them taken away by some bureaucrat who will misuse the information and all the other things that go with it when we have issues that are challenging us morning, noon and night.
Senator Callely called for a debate on all of the serious challenges that the Seanad will have to examine and the urgent need for change in the Seanad. As I stated, Seanad reform will take place. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, will be in the House after the Order of Business with his Bill. He will bring forward proposals for our consideration on Seanad reform during the next session.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the withdrawal of passports and the high regard and respect with which Irish passport holders have been held worldwide for decades. I join with the Senator in the views he expressed on anything that interferes with that credibility. Senator Quinn also raised the matter of the common travel area, which is of great importance, particularly with regard to Northern Ireland as so many people commute from the UK to Ireland. The news from the House of Lords is to be welcomed and I join Senator Quinn in so doing.
Senator Daly raised the matter of Eircom and the Black Valley, and €29,000 is a serious amount of money to charge anyone for a telephone connection. We must discuss this with the Minister to see how we can help the few areas in Ireland that still need telephone connections. There are difficulties receiving signals in the beautiful Gap of Dunloe and the mountains in that area. I will pass on the views of the Senator to the Minister.
Senator O'Donovan raised the matter of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill and tackling the challenges of time. Senator McCarthy also mentioned this issue. I wish the Garda Síochána and the Commissioner well with the new legislation; if it assists in dealing with the difficulties they experience then all of us in both Houses have done a great deed in the name of Ireland in protecting our people from the difficulties being experienced by the Garda at present.
Senators Ó Murchú and Bradford raised the matter of the Lisbon treaty and the guarantees received by the Government on taxation, right to life, neutrality and all of the issues that the Senators outlined to the House. We will all join together to ensure that this is brought to the attention of the Irish electorate and, if possible, to get a successful result on this occasion.
Senators Mary White and Doherty raised the matter of the report which Senator White announced to the House this morning. The report is in the Oireachtas Library for us all to consider and I congratulate her on the hard work she continues to do in many of these areas. She outlined to the House the tragic death of Henry Cunningham. It happened a long time ago but when it was recalled to us on the Order of Business quite a number of us remembered the terrible tragedy that took place.
Senators Twomey, Doherty and Callely raised the question of how medication will be available from pharmacies. I hope that is clarified in the update from the Minister. If that is not the case then Senators can use my office to obtain the information required.
Senator Hanafin outlined to the House the various Bills which the House has dealt with. As we all know this was the busiest session for many years. A total of 26 Bills were published during this session and most of them have passed through both Houses. On that point, I congratulate the President, Taoiseach and Cabinet and everyone concerned.
I also congratulate the veterans who took part in our national day of remembrance in Kilmainham on Sunday. It was a wonderful occasion. I was privileged and honoured to attend and represent the Seanad with the Cathaoirleach.
Senator Coffey raised the matter of rented accommodation. The Minister will be in the House immediately after the Order of Business and if the Senator raises it with him perhaps he will receive a direct response.
Senator Larry Butler, who brought the attention of the House to his long experience as a member of a local authority, raised the issue of inward investment for local authorities. We all recall the great work county development officers did in our local authorities when the county development officer was the person responsible for inward investment in particular. That is an area the Minister might have to revisit and reappoint the county development officers and the deputy county development officers because as Senator Butler said, inward investment is crucial.
Senator McCarthy raised the issue of capital programme funding. I will pass on his views to the Minister.
I wish the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, our Clerk, Deirdre Lane, our Assistant Clerk, Jody Blake, and all the staff of the House a happy holiday time. I thank the ushers, our Captain of the Guard, John Flaherty, our Superintendent, Paul Conway, Jimmy Walsh, our terrific supporter who writes up the issues as they happen here in the House, and, in particular, Michael Conway, who gives such good coverage of the proceedings of the House on "Oireachtas Report". I thank the leaders of the groups, the Whips, especially our own Government Whip, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, our Assistant Whip, Senator Camillus Glynn-----
We will be back in early September when we can take up the difficulties the nation is experiencing to see how we can assist in that regard. We will also debate the referendum due to take place on 2 October, which will be of crucial importance.
There are two amendments proposed to the Order of Business and I will take them in the sequence in which they were put. Senator Rónán Mullen has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the Cabinet decision to exclude new applicants from the fourth round of the REPS be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Reilly, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 26 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Peter Callanan, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Rónán Mullen; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Senator Liam Twomey has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the arrangements for dispensing medication to patients after September, if pharmacists withdraw from the general medical services scheme, be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Ivana Bacik, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Reilly, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 27 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Peter Callanan, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Liam Twomey; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 25 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Peter Callanan, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, 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)
Against the motion: 20 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Reilly, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Liam Twomey)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Liam Twomey.
Question declared carried.