Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on cancer awareness, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; No. 2, Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2010 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; and No. 37, Private Members' motion No. 19 re the recent power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m. No. 2, Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2010, shall resume at the conclusion of No. 37, if not previously concluded. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Today is the first day of Lent. The statement from the Vatican yesterday is a sorry start to this religious season. It is very disappointing for the victims of abuse that their main concerns were not dealt with at the meeting in the Vatican. It is very clear that pomp and circumstance are not what they want; they want a real response to the issues they raised. They are particularly disappointed that the question of a cover-up has not been dealt with in the discussions so far. I hope it will be dealt with later and that they will feel satisfied.
It is critical that the House have the opportunity to consider the plan brought forward by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, and that we have ongoing debate on its implementation. The political system must be seen to respond effectively and in an ongoing manner to the issues raised. We need further discussion on the budget for the implementation plan.
I want to return to a topic and key concern that I raised yesterday, namely, job creation. Over 400,000 people are unemployed. I want to return, in particular, to the issue of jobs in SR Technics and the discussions with Ryanair. There has been much comment recently to the effect that Ryanair has a hidden agenda. Its agenda has never really been hidden; it is about profit. It has been very clear and there has never been any mistake about it. Given the unemployment rate, these are extraordinary times. I hope the Government, especially the Tánaiste, and Ryanair will ensure the retention of jobs. The representatives at the meeting yesterday had a 51% stake in Aer Lingus. Irrespective of whether it is a question of a lease or discussions thereon, whether hangar 6 is not being used or whether the lease was only renegotiated last year, if there is scope, surely the Government, especially the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach, should be moving mountains to ensure the 300 jobs can be kept in this country rather than moved to another. If one thinks about the personal cost to those involved and their families, not to speak of the cost to the State of unemployment, surely every effort should be made in the coming days to save these jobs. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Tánaiste come to the House to discuss the Government's job creation plan. It is not just a question of the 300 jobs in SR Technics but of the job creation plan throughout the State and the role of FÁS. I meet people every week who have been offered courses by FÁS that are not suited to their needs. Some days agao I met a construction worker who had been offered a receptionist course. I am not saying what is appropriate or inappropriate for a particular person in his or her own circumstances but surely we should be discussing the macro approach to job creation in the House today.
It is the role of this House to ensure children are protected from abuse and other threats. Whether bishops resign is not our business, nor do I care, but it is our business to recognise that bishops are patrons and managers of schools and making rules for them. They are doing so without any form of vetting or clearance. They can sack teachers if they believe their lifestyle is in conflict with the ethos of a school.
At the same time, they can protect abusers and thereby undermine their own Christian ethos and be completely safe. Irrespective of whether one is a bishop or a lay person, one should be properly vetted and be regarded as safe to be in charge of a school. There is an inherent conflict between the bishop as line manger of a priest against whom a complaint is made and the bishop as champion of the victim who suffers. The current circumstances must not be allowed to continue. It is not a question of how the bishops get on in Rome but of how they run their schools in Ireland, their influence and authority. We need to deal with this issue very clearly. That is the issue for me. The Catholic Church can make decisions on who runs its dioceses but I want to know how our children in our schools are being protected.
I have another comment on the same issue. The spectre of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid hangs over the report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. In approximately 1935, 1936 and 1937, when the Constitution was being drafted, it was established that Article 42 would deal with the question of education. It required and allowed that parents would have responsibility "for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children". That is fair enough but when it came to determining standards in circumstances where the State had to take control following the failure of parents to take responsibility, it was included in the Constitution that, "The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social". Mr. Éamon de Valera wanted physical education to be added to this. However, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid intervened by letter and Mr. de Valera backed off, the reason being that the archbishop believed physical education could lead to people telling women in schools how their bodies worked or to the protection of children through sex education. Archbishop McQuaid was not ready to allow that to happen. I looked forward to the report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children in the hope this matter at least would be dealt with, only to see, to my horror, that Archbishop McQuaid's influence still obtained. The committee's proposal still excludes physical education from the aspects of education that need to be taught and dealt with in schools, at a time when we are pulling ourselves apart over the protection of children, the need for sex education, the need to inform children and the need for them to be able to deal with threats, victimisation and abuse. This is appalling. I understood there were people from various constitutional and legal backgrounds on the committee. I am completely appalled that the provision still maintains 70 years later.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in expressing concern about the outcome of the bishops' talks in the Vatican. It is appropriate, given the enormous influence the bishops continue to have in the institutions of the State through the system of patronage of schools, that we express our concern, as legislators, about the lack of any sense of responsibility or accountability on the part of the Vatican for the appalling abuse of children that continued for so many years in our religious-run and State-funded institutions. It is relevant for us. On the day that is in it, I ask for a debate on the relationship between the church and the State and, in the light of what Senator O'Toole said, on the ongoing control of the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, of our national school system. Considering that 92% of national schools are still run by the Catholic Church, it is important that we debate the relationship between church and State. Yesterday I expressed concern about the recognition by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, of two new Catholic schools at a time when parents were crying out for more choice in education and more multi-denominational schools. Archbishop Martin has recognised this. We need to debate the issue as a matter of urgency.
Let us not stop with the education system; let us also debate the role of prayer in our national institutions. Why, for example, do we have a prayer every time the Seanad sits? Why does the national broadcaster still broadcast the "Angelus"?
These are issues on which people on both sides have very strong views. Therefore, we need to debate them.
The influence of the Catholic Church on the Constitution is still felt very strongly in respect of the role of women. It is very welcome to see a proposal to have a constitutional amendment to enshrine the rights of children in the Constitution. I am glad to see the place of parents, as carers of children, is recognised. We could include the phrase "parents of guardians" but that is a matter for debate. When talking about parents in respect of the new children's rights amendment, we should be deleting from the Constitution the specific reference to mothers which remains in Article 41 and which has been condemned internationally and by our national review groups, including the expert Constitution review group in 2006. We should be replacing the reference with one that recognises the role of carers. I refer to gender-neutral recognition to allow fathers a place in the Constitution and remove the outdated notion that it is only women who have caring responsibilities in the home. Why not hold that non-controversial referendum at the same time as the children's rights referendum? They are closely linked and it would improve the children's rights referendum, improve the Constitution significantly and contribute to our status as a developing pluralist republic and move us away from the unhealthy dominance of the Catholic Church that still lives on in so many institutions.
On the issue of job creation, yesterday there were welcome announcements in the context of a number of schools around the country going to tender and construction. As we all are focused on the smart economy in the future, in the context of awarding these tenders for construction of the schools announced yesterday I want to see us focused on the sensible economy and ensuring to the fullest extent possible that those tenders are awarded to contracting companies within this jurisdiction, employing people in this jurisdiction, and paying and contributing to the Exchequer in this jurisdiction. In particular, of course, I focus on the Border countries. Indeed, there was one major announcement on Summerhill college in Sligo, which is long overdue and much welcomed. I very much hope that to the fullest extent possible the contracts can be awarded to contractors who, if not local, are certainly operating within this jurisdiction. It is worth noting that while the Germans, our senior partners in the EU, are fully supportive of the European concept, one will not see a single German public servant driving anything other than a German automobile and supporting German industry. I want to see us, while focusing on the smart economy, focusing on what I call the sensible economy, that is, seeking to support employment in this jurisdiction. I hope all of the €600 million which Government has announced will be expended in construction over the next year and which is to begin this year, will go through Irish companies to ensure employment is supported in this jurisdiction and that the Exchequer gets the benefit of revenues created by that.
I formally second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment. Job creation should be one of the highest priorities, if not the highest, for all of us in the current climate.
I want to bring to the Leader's attention something that should be everybody's concern, that is, a recent report by the University of Limerick which, following research, found that almost half of Irish mathematics teachers are not qualified to teach that subject. This should be of major concern. The report recommends that there should be postgraduate qualifications in mathematics. Is it any wonder that recently Engineers Ireland has shown real concern over the lack of engineering graduates? I question Government's commitment to the area of science and engineering, if this is going on in our national and secondary schools. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Education and Science into the House to debate this important matter.
Already we see science-based testing being exported out of this country. We will debate cancer research later. All the cervical smear testing is exported to America. We do not have our own national laboratory capable of conducting smear tests, which is a national disgrace. Senator Ó Brolcháin would know well about the cryptosporidiosis problem in Galway. All of that testing on water, our most natural resource, is exported to the UK and Scotland, which also is a national disgrace. If we seek real commitment in science and engineering, we need to address it at the fundamental level, that is, at school. It is a disgrace that almost half those teaching mathematics are not qualified to do so, and I ask the Leader to address that.
Is it my imagination or is the Minister for Defence's nose growing longer? The Leader might answer that. I would appreciate it.
I ask the Leader as a matter of urgency to invite the Minister of Education and Science to come and speak about the role of our universities in the life of the country in the 21st century. Dr. Craig Barrett, speaking in the Mansion House last week on education and competitiveness, spelt out the reason Intel came to Ireland 20 years ago was because of the high educational standard of our young people. He spelt out that we have lost our position in the league - we are now only average. He stated that our blueprint for success in the past had been foreign direct investment, and I agree.
I believe that those days are over. We can no longer depend on foreign direct investment because we are not competitive in many areas. In the future investment must be made in indigenous ideas. New ideas come from universities in any country that is really competing at a serious level, such as the United States which has MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, and Israel which is a major competitive force.
Our eye has been taken off the ball. We are no longer No. 1, even in the hunger for learning and education. We have become complacent over the past 20 years and this will continue unless the Government takes initiatives. UCD and Trinity College came into the top 100 universities league worldwide last year, but they are not wealth creators. We must get the universities to play their role in developing indigenous industry via research carried out by them. These are industries of the future will come from science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the universities must become centres of wealth creators like Stanford, MIT and Israel's universities. I want an urgent debate on the role of the universities as wealth creators and the development of indigenous industries in the future. On the current blueprint for foreign direct investment, we are no longer competitive and that era is over.
I endorse what many have said about the issue of employment being so important at present. It has been highlighted, as everybody will be aware, by the spat between the chief executive of Ryanair, Mr. Michael O'Leary, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, in the past few days. If one could put the theatricals aside for a minute, Mr. O'Leary has highlighted some extremely important issues to do with employment and with what is happening in the State's ownership of certain semi-State companies. Not only does the State own 100% of the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, it also owns 25.4% of Aer Lingus. These are the two bodies supposedly in conflict about hangar 6. I ask the Leader to have a debate on why the State still continues to insist on maintaining 100% of one and 25.4% of the other if, apparently, it has no clout in this matter. There is no point owning in a monopolistic way the DAA and owning 25.4% of Aer Lingus if one is getting no return commercially. These are two commercial dead ducks. They will not make the State any money, if the State cannot get a commercial return for what it is backing or cannot exercise any clout.
We were told when Aer Lingus was partially privatised that the State insisted on holding 25.4% because it has a strategic national interest. Apparently, the Tánaiste is saying she is terribly sorry but there is damn all she can do to get these two bodies together to reach an agreement which will save 300 jobs. That is not acceptable. It begs the question of what the Government is doing with these two vital stakes. It should not hold them anymore if it cannot get a dividend or exercise clout. It also begs a question-----
-----as to the role of the DAA. Is it actually obstructing jobs? Is it a politically-appointed body with a board which does very little which has for long served the interests of Fianna Fáil? Can we do something about that in this House-----
I want to raise the issue of the all-party report on mortgages by the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs which was published yesterday. It brings forward 21 proposals with regard to the banking sector to ensure people currently in trouble in repaying their mortgages would have some say in how they can keep their houses into the future. I put a great deal into this report through the EBS which gave us solid banking proposals as to how this could work. I hope the Government will accept the proposals and introduce them as part of legislation for the entire sector, not just the Irish banking sector. A proposal has been made which I welcome that all banking establishments in this country obey the one year rule, but we are seeking a 24 month moratorium on the mortgages of all those who have lost their jobs. That is key to them being able to keep their houses. We have made suggestions on how the banks could take equity in houses, among various other proposals made in the report. God knows there are enough reports collecting dust on shelves. Senator MacSharry has put a great deal of work into his part of the proposals. This is one report which includes proper proposals with banking support from the EBS. It should be introduced as soon as possible and I call on the Government to do so. I will table a motion at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting next week to accept these proposals and ensure people in serious trouble would get a fair crack of the whip. The report also covers the issue of personal debt.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the Prevention of Electoral Abuses Act? It is a very important Act, of which section 15 provides that anybody guilty of an illegal practice under the Act shall be liable to a fine and that, during a period of five years from the date of his or her conviction, shall be incapable of being registered as a Dáil, Seanad or local government elector or voting in any Dáil, Seanad or local elections or at a referendum. Section 11 of the Act also provides that every person who, before or during any election or for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at that election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the personal character or conduct of such candidate shall be guilty of an illegal practice. This is what happened in the case of the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea. That is why it is a political issue, not a private citizen's matter.
I wish to make another point to the Leader and it is also addressed to the leader of the Green Party in the House. The Minister's statement does not give the full facts. I ask the leader of the Green Party, in particular, to examine the full facts of the case.
The last time I spoke about the horrific sexual abuse of children I suggested that if we concentrated too much on the resignation of bishops, we could do an injustice to the victims. I believe that has happened. The horrific hurt felt by victims has become secondary to some extent. Even this morning there was a very broad swipe at the Catholic Church, involving everything from the Angelus on radio and television and the prayer in the Seanad to religious involvement in education. I am a little worried that the main issue in some cases is not the victims but targeting the Catholic Church. Last night I listened to the correspondent in Rome who had also covered sexual abuse issues in America, Australia and other countries. He made it quite clear that the bishops' visit to Rome was part of a process, that what had happened in the last couple of days was only the first element of that process. If we make a pre-emptive and premature case about what we believe has emerged from the conference, we will not do justice to the victims. Will the Leader consider providing us with the opportunity to have not one but several debates on this issue? I accept we have had debates on the Ryan and Murphy reports but matters have moved forward since these reports were published. I suggest we invite not one but several Ministers to attend the debates. However, I appeal to all Members to be quite clear that it is the victims we wish to look after and to ensure it does not happen again. Please, do not let the Catholic Church be the target because in that case we will not do justice to anybody.
Yesterday I raised the issue of the delay in implementing legislation, particularly the legal services ombudsman legislation. In October 2008, almost 18 months ago, the House adjourned a debate on a Bill dealing with human organ transplants. The Minister said at the time that she was supportive of the objective of the Bill but wished to introduce her own legislation. I accept that she will do so but 18 months have passed. I urge her to introduce that legislation as soon as possible. I accept that her heart is in the right place and that she intends to do something about this, but consider what happened last month. At the end of January there were four kidneys and one pancreas available in Dublin for transplantation but there were 580 patients waiting for transplants. We are not sure why, although we have been told it might be due to a shortage of suitable beds, but only two of these kidneys were transplanted. The pancreas and remaining two kidneys were sent to the United Kingdom for transplant patients there. There is an urgent need to deal with this matter. I believe the Minister's view and objectives are in the right direction and that she is taking steps to introduce the legislation. However, it cannot wait and must be proceeded with immediately. There is a general problem with the State taking too long to do things; there is a lack of urgency about getting things done. On this occasion we should support the Minister and urge her to introduce the legislation as soon as possible and deal with the issue of presumed consent or whatever is required to provide in legislation for the ability to save the lives of people waiting for transplants.
On 5 December 2008 I raised the issue of a solidarity bond which I called a reconstruction bond at the time. It was based on the savings scheme introduced by the former Minister for Finance, former Deputy Charlie McCreevy. I also raised the matter in January 2009 in the context of Anglo Irish Bank and again in May that year. The Minister has now introduced the bond in the Finance Bill. I ask the Leader of the House to give special consideration to the national solidarity bond. It is an enormous opportunity to raise money for investment in the country. It will also be a very attractive bond which we can sell throughout the world on St. Patrick's Day. When he was Minister for Finance, Michael Collins sold a bond in America. The Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach, ambassadors and every Minister travelling from this country for St. Patrick's Day should include in their speeches the fact that we are seeking investment. I encourage every Member of the House to put any spare cash they have into the bond. I intend to put mine into it. The bonds are for five years, seven years or ten years. One will get a return each year and a bonus at the end of the term. A Chathaoirligh, I am using this House to promote the bond on behalf of the country and I believe you, with your experience, will also promote it if you are away on St. Patrick's Day on behalf of the State. There is no better man to sell it on behalf of the State.
My question to the Leader concerns when the Government will be serious about tackling smoking and tobacco smuggling. I compliment the Irish Cancer Society for its efforts regarding the forthcoming national daffodil day. It is important to put the issue on the agenda. It is on the clár for today but we need to do more about smoking and ask people to abstain from it.
My fundamental question for the Leader concerns whether the Government still understands the value of a job and employment in this country. As Senator Ross correctly said, we have a Government which is a stakeholder in the DAA and Aer Lingus and a Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who cannot seem to bring jobs to this country and who has insulted young people by her comments regarding emigration. It is high time the Government published its policy on job creation or outlined whether the smoke screen which is Government policy has finally puffed away and it has no job creation policy. I am alarmed at the principled members of the Green Party who are sitting with their hands on their backsides, assisting Government in its lack of action.
On a point of order, the Cathaoirleach referred to a word employed by Senator Buttimer as unparliamentary, an accusation which has sometimes been levelled against myself. Is there a list of words which are unparliamentary which can be made available so as to avoid this situation?
I support other Senators who asked the Leader to keep child protection to the fore of our agenda. I agree with all Senators who have spoken on this issue, in particular Senator Ó Murchú when he said we need several debates. We do need several debates. The Senator said, quite rightly, that what happened in Rome over the past few days was the beginning of a process. If it is the beginning of a process, why is there so much public outcry against what is coming back to us? Groups such as the Rape Crisis Centre and those who are victims of child abuse have spoken against what has been brought back to us. I watched the news recently and saw our 25 bishops, who are all good men, in their long clerical robes and skull caps and it put the fear of God into me. I can imagine what it did to those who have been abused by clerics.
The question is that we would keep child protection to the fore of our agenda. I heard two priests on the radio this morning. They discussed why the pope could not see fit to meet one or two high-profile victims who would carry the message of those who had been abused and hear their pain at first hand. Michael O'Brien asked that there be a message on Easter Sunday from the pope - that was all he asked for - to apologise, be humble and human and ask the victims to forgive the Church for what some of its members perpetrated. The church is still hiding behind canon law. The papal nuncio has been invited, yet again, to appear before the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, but he is hiding behind red tape and has refused to come. We need such debates and I ask the Leader to keep the issue at the top of our agenda.
Like colleagues and victims, some of whom are priests, I am saddened and dismayed by the charade in Rome. Pope Benedict has a problem because he needs to explain the involvement of his office in the case of a Mexican priest who faces charges regarding the abuse of priests in seminaries. I understand his name is Marcial Maciel Degollado and he founded the Legionaries of Christ. The Pope has refused to answer questions on the matter from American television crews. It is all of a piece with the question of the papal nuncio, who has refused an invitation from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which I have been a member since it was established. It is unusual to have such a refusal. Other ambassadors have appeared before the joint committee. As ambassador part of his function is to explain the position of the Vatican to the Irish people and its representatives, something which, on at least two or three significant occasions, he has failed to do. This raises the question of his position as doyen of diplomatic community in Ireland. It seems to illustrate the fact that one cannot serve God and mammon. In this instance Rome represents Christ and Caesar.
Parallel to this is the curious intervention of the Iona Institute recently in the matter of the proposed referendum to protect the rights of children. It is very much a case of déjÀ vu. It reminds me of the mother and child controversy because the position of the Iona Institute, as enunciated today on radio, seemed to be that it was concerned that any protection of children as individuals, as proposed in the referendum, would perhaps impinge on the power and authority of the Church. In Ireland we now have a situation whereby the protection of children is paramount and is certainly of more significance than the power and authority of the Church.
I raised in this House the question of a young man who was recently forced to take down a poster against homophobic bullying in a Christian Brothers school. I learned this week that the young man to whom I referred has been forced to withdraw from the school concerned because of continued bullying which has not been regulated. This is a situation we are continuing to face in this country.
There is nothing more important in the world, including the economy, than the protection of our children. I support calls from other Senators to have a series of debates on the protection of our children. I walked through places such as Letterfrack, which is one of the most beautiful parts of this country and the world, and saw the graveyard and experienced the feeling there. It is an extraordinarily powerful place. I ask the Leader to consider having a debate off-site in a place such as Letterfrack to commemorate the victims of the abuses which took place in the past. We need to take this matter very seriously and send out a message that our society has moved on and is taking the matter seriously.
I wish to refer to Senator Buttimer's comments about sitting on our hands and so on regarding jobs. That is not the case. Senator Coffey referred to laboratory services. I agree with him; there is great potential in laboratory services in Ireland and we need to have a debate on the matter. Job creation is very important and in areas such as laboratory services we could examine-----
As our banks stumble from one crisis to another the Government has become totally silent on the need for restructuring, which was touched on a year ago when we had a debate following the bank guarantee scheme and the need for recapitalisation. We understand the current position regarding the recapitalisation process. However, at that time the Government discussed restructuring, which it felt was necessary, and most people agreed with that view. What is happening? The Government has failed to engage in this matter. Talk of a third banking force has finished. Does the Government no longer believe in consolidation of building societies such as, for example, Irish Permanent and TSB? In the long-term landscape we will need competition. Or is policy solely about protecting the two main banks at this stage, important though that may be? I accept it as such. We need a debate on this matter to understand or hear the Government's updated thinking on where we are going.
I agree strongly with the comments of Senator Ó Murchú. As he said, it is very important that this matter is dealt with comprehensively and that we do not set out to victimise the Catholic Church which, let us be honest, has been responsible for so much of what is good in Irish society, despite the appalling failures of the few. I agree that we must look after children as a first priority but let us be comprehensive in our comments. Let us not focus narrowly and lash and bash people wrongly.
I support the call for a debate on job creation when this can be accommodated into our schedule in a meaningful way and the appropriate people are able to come to the House. I reiterate my call that we should revisit Government policy and strategy with regard to the aviation industry. Yesterday I said we should look to incentivising the industry, perhaps focusing on the north Dublin area where there is a related infrastructure and many qualified personnel. We have heard a great deal about hangars No. 6 and No. 7, that the first has been de-tooled and that its present value is different from the original.
I said yesterday there was a big industry presence in aviation leasing and maintenance. Today, we read in the newspapers that one north Dublin-based company has a turnover of close to €2 million a week placing pilots and first officers with airline companies throughout the world. This is because of the reputation this country has in the area of aviation. I understand that company also places aerospace engineers. That is a single aviation company with a turnover of almost €2 million per week. It earned approximately €85 million to €90 million last year alone by placing staff. I ask Members to imagine what we could do in job creation if we were to focus our attention and incentivise this industry by way of a tax-free zone or whatever in the north Dublin area. The structure exists. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this so that we can revisit Government policy and strategy in this regard.
A speaker referred to Government policy on smoking. Today is national no-smoking day and I hope it will help people who have the habit and that it will raise public awareness of cancer. I ask that Leader arrange a focused debate on prostate cancer-----
I welcome former Senator Kathleen O'Meara and the representatives from the Irish Cancer Society and I look forward to the coming debate.
I have a very serious question for the Leader. It relates to the reconfiguration of hospital services in the south east, in particular the hospital in Clonmel. Recently it was announced that 49 acute beds in the psychiatric unit were to be closed. These beds are factored into the general hospital complement and therefore this action will have a major impact on the reconfiguration of services which is under way. My concern is that the decision which was announced seems to have been made outside the knowledge of both the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Moloney, who kindly attended this House for an Adjournment debate on the matter. I am concerned that there are people within the HSE making serious decisions which will have a major impact although they have not been costed. We talk about money and fiscal responsibility and this would seem to be related but no costings were made with regard to this decision.
I would like the Minister for Health, Deputy Harney, to come to the House and take part in a serious debate about the processes taking place. Who informs the Minister and Minister of State? How many times and by whom are they informed in respect of decisions announced by the HSE? Where is the disconnect occurring? A Minister asks for more time to consider proposals but then a decision is announced. Mine is a serious request and I wish serious consideration to be given to it.
I share the concerns and disappointment of all sides of the House regarding the breakdown of talks last night between the Tánaiste and Mr. Michael O'Leary. I have stated in and outside the House on many occasions that I applaud everything Mr. O'Leary and Ryanair have done to make air travel more accessible. The benefits they have brought to this country have been and continue to be enormous. However, my heart goes out, as I am sure do those of every Member, to the families of those who have been waiting patiently in hope, especially during the past week, that there would be a breakthrough which would restore a significant number of jobs. As perhaps the first Member to have returned to the House from the ranks of the unemployed, I can easily imagine the emotional roller coaster families are experiencing as they watch news programmes waiting to see whether there is any hope of their family member getting back his or her job.
In that context I ask the Leader to say to the Tánaiste or the appropriate authorities that this issue cannot be allowed to be left to one side. I suggest there should be an attempt to schedule what are called "proximity" talks. This has happened in the North-South environment and in many other troubled spots around the world where conflict resolution has taken place. There is obviously a conflict here. I ask the Leader to say to the appropriate authorities that all relevant parties should come together without the glare of publicity. If I have one criticism of Mr. Michael O'Leary it is that he tends to take advantage of the very important position he has in the media.
Irrespective of whether it is right or wrong and irrespective of the agenda he is pursuing, everything he says is reported as if it is fact. Therefore, I suggest that such an action should take place outside the glare of publicity and that the parties should attempt to resolve the matter. It can be resolved, of that there is no question.
Apropos of the remarks made by Senator White and in the context of a debate on job creation, I ask the Leader whether there might be a role for the newly appointed European Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. I am not sure if the House or the country in general understands the very great significance and importance of the portfolio she has been given. President Barroso said recently that the amount of money Google spends on research and development is in excess of the entire budget the European Union spends on the same. In that context and because of the many remarks made in the Chamber today, the Leader might consider having an explanation of Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's portfolio and perhaps might even invite her to the House.
I support the call by Senator Fitzgerald for a debate on job creation. I return to the point I made yesterday regarding the attitude of the Government to young people. I repeat that this Government is allowing young people to take the full burden of the change that has taken place in the jobs market and the full burden of adjustment and flexibility needed in our labour market. Tragically, further proof of this attitude emerged yesterday when the Youthreach programme, which is designed to look after people who leave school early and provide a plan to keep them in the education system, stated that 1,000 teenagers were unable to access its 103 centres throughout the country. Six hundred places that were to have been created over the past two years to cope with the needs of the increased number of young people looking for jobs have not been created. They have been abandoned. It is apparent to me that it is not the places that have been abandoned, rather the young people themselves.
I support Senator Coghlan's call for balance in debate, in particular when speaking about the Catholic Church. This House is ad idem about the terrible fact that child abuse took place and was undertaken by certain members of different churches. I am also conscious abuse is against the rules, diktats and the specific teaching of every church and is considered a most heinous crime. This is something we should remember and which should provide us with necessary balance. The church has, and continues, to come out strongly against all of those who undertook any despicable acts.
I ask the Leader to mention the role of the Oireachtas in dealing with matters such as moral issues. Having been involved in different campaigns and having been very careful not to be seen to be sanctimonious or to draw conclusions about individuals, I am conscious the Oireachtas is not a particularly good place to debate individual cases of morality. Such debates become very much like a Salem witch hunt. Unfortunately, we have seen instances of individuals in the Oireachtas being questioned about what has happened. That does not seem correct, unless it affects their duty and work and is directly connected with them. As mentioned, I have been involved with issues regarded generally as moral issues and know that people must be very careful to deal with the generalities rather than the specifics.
I was very impressed by a point Sheila Nunan of the INTO made on radio this morning about the need for greater transparency with regard to the schools building programme. There is enormous frustration among school managers and communities around the country, not just with regard to delays on much needed projects, but with regard to the difficulty in accessing information. We have all raised Adjournment matters in the House asking similar questions and have received the same type of answer. It would be very much in the tradition of good public service if there was some better way to allow people to access information and track the progress of their projects. They could then ask the hard questions if those projects failed to progress.
I compliment Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú on the sanity he brought to the debate regarding the talks in Rome in the context of child abuse. It is understandable and almost impossible to imagine that in the current climate people would not be disappointed. That will be a feature now and in the future. There is so much hurt and anger that this is inevitable. However, I wonder what the impact of an endless cycle of recrimination will be and what impact that will have on our ability to heal as a society. I do not deny that the church continues to make mistakes in its communications. It is on its knees in communication terms and I believe it is inevitable that there will be a meeting between the Pope and Irish victims of abuse. However, we seem to be at a position where if a particular thing is not said at a particular time, we go into outrage mode.
I am very sorry when I see all of this tragedy and outrage being used to further separate agendas. If Senator Bacik believes in pluralism, as she says she does, she cannot have a problem with the establishment of Catholic schools if that is what communities want, if there is support for them and provided appropriate provision is also being made for atheists and other minorities. That is real pluralism.
I join Senator Prendergast in welcoming former Senator, Kathleen O'Meara and her colleagues from the Irish Cancer Society to the House. On the day that is in it, I wish all such organisations well in promoting awareness of the dangers of smoking. This day six years ago, I kicked a 40 a day habit, not least because of the advice and encouragement of Kathleen O'Meara, who herself is a former smoker. It is very helpful for smokers to meet people who share their experience to help them give up smoking.
The HSE intends to centralise all applications for medical cards to Dublin by the end of April. There has been no consultation with medical professionals, elected representatives, trade unions or local area health offices on this. We know from our experience with the decentralisation of the over-70s applications since December 2008, the system clearly does not work. A case I was made aware of concerns an applicant from Skibbereen for an over-70s card, who up until the decision to centralise the decision making process to Finglas would have had to go to his local area health office where his application would have been processed within two weeks. He applied for his card in July 2009, but he still has not got a reply. Clearly, the system does not work. Will the Leader arrange to bring the Minister to the House so we can hammer out the issues? Elected public representatives are picking up information that the system does not work. The centralisation of all applications is an area of Government policy that will add to bureaucracy and frustrate ordinary decent people.
Many Members on both sides have spoken today about the importance of child protection. I agree with the Member who said this was the most important issue for us. If we are serious, we must ask the Minister for Health and Children to put the child protection guidelines on a statutory footing and to introduce mandatory reporting. While we fail to do that, our children remain at risk and let us not fool ourselves otherwise. The guidelines will protect all professionals and whistleblowers in reporting so that our children are safe in the future.
I am also concerned -----
I am concerned about the lack of strategic thinking by the Minister for Education and Science. Youthreach has been a solution for young people who have dropped out of school before the age of 16, some one in six schoolchildren. However, the Minister is now refusing these children places. This is an outrage.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Ross, Ó Murchú, Quinn, Feeney, Norris, Ó Brolcháin, Mooney, Donohoe, Hanafin, Mullen and Healy Eames have all expressed their serious concern and made a strong case for justice for victims. The terrible things that happened in the past must not happen again. I wish to inform the House that the report on the Constitution will be before the House for consideration next Wednesday. On the Order of Business yesterday, many colleagues were concerned we keep the pressure on with regard to this issue. The report will be debated in the House next Wednesday and if enough time is not available, I will roll the debate over until the following week. Seanad Éireann will be to the fore in doing anything it can for the protection of children. I speak for colleagues on all sides of the House in this regard.
On the issue of job creation, the Tánaiste was present here for a debate on this issue two weeks ago last Thursday. If colleagues are serious in their request for a further debate on job creation, I will include it in the diary for the coming weeks. However, I will only do that with strong assurance from party leaders that the time will not fall as happened on the last occasion. I want to be sure of the sincerity of the call for a debate. If colleagues commit to coming in and making their contributions, I will allocate as much time as necessary and the Tánaiste will make herself available for that time. The facts are, however, we have created 700,000 jobs in the past ten or 11 years. We also have 1.85 million people still at work, which is 600,000 more than in the downturn in the 1980s. It was said this morning that the Government is not committed to creating employment. It is fully committed to supporting and creating employment. Let me give a few examples. The employment subsidy scheme, which is designed to support and maintain vulnerable jobs and prevent people from being made redundant, has allocated €135 million to protect employment between 2009 and 2010. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 jobs will be directly and indirectly supported and retained as a result of the scheme. I personally know of many SMEs which are availing of this scheme and, at a meeting I attended last Saturday, it was said to be a godsend that the Government introduced this scheme to retain jobs that are hanging on by the fingernails.
With regard to major investment in infrastructure, the Government has invested €6.4 billion in 2010, with priority in labour-intensive projects to support another 60,000 jobs. Investment by the Government in projects will include, as we now know, €500 million in school building projects, particularly in the maintenance sector, and over €800 million in local authority housing, including special needs accommodation and the public housing sector. Finally, in 2010, the Government is investing €1.15 billion in national roads, and nearly 300 km of new roads will be completed this year. These are the facts. We must acknowledge that in very difficult financial times a serious effort is being made by the Government to assist in every way possible.
Senators Bacik, Coffey, White, Ó Brolcháin and Healy Eames called for a debate on education and welcomed the €600 million announced yesterday for 52 new school projects which are going to tender or construction, or for which the appointing of design teams has been allowed. This is a very welcome announcement, particularly in regard to all of the structural engineers and quantity surveyors whose skills will be required at the planning stage, many of whom are in urgent need of work. I support Senator MacSharry's point that we should do everything we can to ensure Irish companies are considered and that, if there is a 50-50 situation, an Irish company should be employed. We make no apologies to anyone for making a commitment to keep Irish people employed, particularly those who are in the qualified services sector, which is crucial because this is the first step in regard to all of the processes beginning again. I support the views of all Members who referred to this issue today.
I will, of course, arrange a debate on education. I have made a commitment in this regard. I have had to change the date with the Minister because the Finance Bill is coming to the Seanad but I will endeavour to have a new date for the House and will inform Members in this regard, perhaps on the Order of Business on Tuesday next.
Senator Butler referred to the issue of the all-party report on mortgages by the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs in the context of the 24 months moratorium for those who have lost their jobs. I have no difficulty in having that report discussed in the House. It would be timely if we could discuss it with the Finance Bill, with the Minister for Finance present, and I ask Senator Butler to accede to this request. On the occasion of the Finance Bill, as I said, I intend to allow extra time for every Senator to make a contribution on Second Stage. I will take this proposal to the leaders' meeting before the Order of Business next Tuesday.
Senator Regan called for a debate on the Prevention of Electoral Abuses Act, which I have no difficulty in arranging. My long experience in both Houses would lead me to suggest to the Senator that the word here is "knowingly". That is the problem with the case he is trying to make and I do not believe that will-----
Senator Quinn called for a debate on the matter of human body organs and he also noted the case last week where organs had to go the UK for transplants. I have no difficulty in having time allocated for this debate.
Senator Leyden made one of the most worthwhile suggestions I have heard in a long time in the House this morning. I hope colleagues will support the advice of the long-serving former Minister of State and Deputy in regard to the national bond. Years ago, our forefathers invested their life savings to help the nation in its hour of need. This is a very worthwhile proposal and I hope many colleagues will tease it out with the Minister for Finance when the Finance Bill comes to the House. As Senator Leyden said, billions of euro could be raised by our own people to help the nation at this time.
Senators Buttimer, Callely, Prendergast and McCarthy welcomed former Senator Kathleen O'Meara and her Irish Cancer Society team. I thank those Senators who thanked me for ensuring it would be on the agenda for Ash Wednesday. It is 31 years since I kicked the smoking habit. I sincerely hope many people will avail of the opportunity provided by Ash Wednesday and desist from the habit. Quality of life completely changes when one stops smoking. It is to the great credit of the Irish Cancer Society that it is doing so much in the fight against the plague of cancer. I welcome the Irish Cancer Society to the House.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the aviation industry. The high quality staff involved are, as the Senator said today and yesterday, a huge asset in regard to what is happening at Dublin Airport. There is a trained staff of 1,000 people, no matter where Michael O'Leary wants to go. I have always saluted Mr. O'Leary's endeavour and what he has done for Ireland and for tourism. He is a world leader and one of the most successful men in the world. At the same time, the biggest plus from the Government point of view, from Ryanair's point of view and from all other points of view, including those of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, must be the skilled staff of 1,000 people. It would take seven or eight years to bring those skills to the level they are at, and that is the big attraction at Dublin Airport.
I sincerely hope common sense will prevail. The IDA and Enterprise Ireland will do all they can, as will the Tánaiste and the Government, because they are totally committed. As was said by colleagues today, perhaps now we can get away from the media side and find whether common sense can prevail. It would be a huge plus for the aviation industry because the potential is enormous. The number of planes Ryanair has, some 300, means these would be sustainable jobs. It would be a dream come true to have this happen. I know everyone concerned is doing whatever they can to ensure this can be facilitated.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the banks. I hope the Senator can leave this matter until the Finance Bill is dealt with in two weeks' time. We can certainly find out the up-to-date position in this regard.
Senator Prendergast referred to hospital services in the south east, in particular the hospital in Clonmel. The Senator is very interested to know the up-to-date position. I have no difficulty in having the Minister come to the House for a wide-ranging discussion on health matters. The Senator can deal with this matter on that occasion.
Senator McCarthy again called for the Minister to reconsider the system whereby all medical cards are dealt with at one centre in Dublin. We all know this is not working - we cannot even get an answer on the telephone. As there is a huge amount of legislation to deal with and I have acceded to the request to have the debate on the report next week, with the Finance Bill before us the following week, I ask that the leaders would facilitate us in Private Members' time on the question of medical cards. It is a huge issue for our senior citizens and those on the margins at this very difficult time.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 23 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan)
Against the motion: 30 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, 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 Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.