Thursday, 1 July 2010
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate on Second Stage not later than 1.50 p.m.; No. 2, Road Traffic Bill 2009 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, European Financial Stability Facility Bill 2010 - Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 but not before 4 p.m. and to conclude within two hours, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon to reply ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage, to be followed by Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 4, motion for earlier signature, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3.
The recession is at an end and this is to be welcomed. Sadly, we are in for a long period of growth in the numbers unemployed. The new live register figures reveal that 452,882 people are out of work. Unemployment has risen to a staggering 13.4%. I accuse the Fianna Fáil and Green parties of having no jobs strategy.
Yesterday the House witnessed the appalling self-congratulatory exercise of the Government's Private Members' motion, in which the Government complimented itself on introducing our policy of exempting employers from PRSI, with the highest number of people unemployed and the staggering rate of suicide, as was mentioned yesterday, with 527 poor unfortunate people losing their lives to suicide because of the stress and anxiety of being unemployed. This is the biggest crisis facing our country. There are 300,000 more people unemployed now than when the Government took office in 2007. This unemployment crisis is its sad legacy.
It is reported today that the United States Ambassador, Mr. Dan Rooney, is calling on the Taoiseach to intervene regarding the granting of a foreshore licence for a water cooling system for the Poolbeg incinerator. Why is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, stalling this project when there are 600,000 jobs at stake-----
He has also been asked to deal with the issue of waste. It is time for the Taoiseach to restore our reputation with this US company, to intervene to implement Government policy and to remove the Minister, Deputy Gormley so that he does not have a conflict in this matter.
Another issue which really saddened me today is the new data from a leading financial journal stating that losses at Anglo Irish Bank are the worst recorded losses anywhere in the world of any bank, worse than Citibank or Royal Bank of Scotland and we have bailed it out to the tune of €22 billion. We have bailed out the developers and Fianna Fáil and the bankers. The Government should mark my words: not one rogue banker will go to jail. This is a terrible situation. We have been led a merry dance to pay for their crime and it is a crime.
The Minister for Health and Children came to the House yesterday. She hopes to save €2 million by introducing a prescription charge Bill. The people who will pay are the poorest of the poor, the sick people, while at the same time we are bailing out the banks to the tune of €22 billion. It is outrageous and the Government has stood idly by. Nursing homes have been closed; home care packages have been reduced; Alzheimer's patients are not getting the care packages they need, including respite care, while services for people with disabilities have been cut. St. Luke's Hospital is also being closed.
I have a lot to say because Members on this side of the House must represent the voiceless and the sick. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party should not be as exercised about animal rights and welfare but about the rights and welfare of people.
I refer to the story in The Irish Times today on legal fees. I declare an interest in that I am vice chairman of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The Leader has been involved in this issue since 2002 when he chaired an inquiry into the insurance industry. I have been involved in the issue for many years and the idea is to keep the cost of claims reasonable. We have been fought every step of the way by the legal profession, as it is entitled to do. We seek to deal directly with people who make a claim. If a person is injured at work and makes a claim, we want them to receive all the correspondence. However, the legal profession fought against us with the support of the Law Society and took us all the way to the Supreme Court. We were told we could not deal with a client directly but that we could copy to him or her information on our dealings with the solicitor. That helped to ease the problem.
We should take an interest in this issue because the legal profession is central to the democratic structure. I hold the profession in the highest regard and its input is of great importance in a free society. However, its members also have responsibilities to the citizenry. In this case they submitted a bill of €2.1 million in legal fees and the matter was appealed to the Taxing Master who hears appeals. He stated: "I have never encountered such grossly excessive fees being marked by learned counsel or solicitors." He was outraged and expressed his bewilderment and disgust, words we do not normally see included in decisions handed down in court. People must be aware that Personal Injuries Assessment Board is working hard to reduce costs for clients and should be doing so with the total support of the legal profession which has a major role to play in that regard. If we are being fought every step of the way, with constant judicial reviews of the work of boards and constant attacks, I would like to receive the support of the House to make whatever changes are necessary to legislation governing the board to achieve what was intended by the legislation passed by the Oireachtas. I also ask for the support of the legal profession in so doing. It is appalling, a bill of €2.1 million in legal fees was reduced to €400,000.
I assure Senator O'Toole that there are many in the legal profession who are just as appalled, shocked and amazed as he is at the story he related and the level of fees marked in the case mentioned. As the decision is being appealled, we cannot debate the matter in too much detail. However, the Senator's amazement is shared across the legal profession. It would be a mistake for anyone to think the fees in question are typical of what lawyers across the board earn.
I have no difficulty in having a debate on the PIAB. I respectfully disagree with Senator O'Toole on his point about the attempt made to exclude the possibility of people receiving the advice and assistance of lawyers in a personal injuries action. That was always wrong and the decision of the Supreme Court was correct, but that issue is separate from that of the level of fees claimed which should be debated. As this point is usually raised late on the Order of Business, I do not get an opportunity to respond to it. As a lawyer, I have no difficulty in debating the matter in the House and more publicly. By all means, let us have these issues debated. I have no difficulty in debating them, if the Leader wants to arrange such a debate at a time he sees fit.
I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the role of this House in monitoring European legislation. It may be difficult to fit this item in before the end of the session, but I ask him to try hard to do so, particularly in the light of what he said yesterday on the involvement of the House in the processing of European legislation. He was contemplating setting aside one Thursday every month in the autumn for a discussion of the issue. This sounds like a very good idea, but, as a member of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, with Senator Leyden and others, there are great complexities associated with the scrutiny of European legislation. This is not an argument against the proposal made, but let us not rush in jumping the fences. A report of the Sub-Committee on the Review of the Role of the Oireachtas in European Affairs is to be published next week. I will attend a meeting at 11.30 a.m. to finalise it with my colleagues. It looks to be a very good report on how the Houses can participate more fully in European affairs and the monitoring of European legislation. We could have a debate on the report before the end of the session. The report will be published on 7 July. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue the following week.
Will the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government about the proposed overview of planning in Cork city and County Cork? He should also examine the glaring inconsistencies as regards one-off houses and in planning policies in rural areas. I do not refer to developments in towns but to how families, sons, daughters, nephews and nieces, find it almost impossible to receive planning permission in rural areas, despite the effects of the recession.
We must give credit where it is due. I have been listening in the past few days to many people, including our backbenchers and Independent Members, on the success they have enjoyed with the Minister in resolving issues associated with the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, of which I fell foul in this House on a point of principle. Credit should be given to Senators Coffey and Cummins of Fine Gael who batted on the issues involved and apparently agreement has now been reached. We will debate the Bill the week after next and accept what should have been accepted initially.
I do not always praise Fine Gael, but Senator Coffey tabled amendments on Committee and Report Stages, at which point I decided not to support the Bill. They amendments were neglected by the Minister ridiculously. This morning four or five Fianna Fáil backbenchers have come out and claimed credit for the changes to be made. Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae is also claiming credit, as is Deputy Michael Lowry. Credit is due to this House. If business had been conducted properly, I would not be in the position I am and the furore in the Dáil in the past few days could have been avoided.
I have been asking for a debate on fisheries for over 12 months, particularly in the light of the Common Fisheries Policy which is being negotiated in the European Union. It will lay down a marker in terms of the rights of fishermen and their quotas in the next decade. It is important that the House debate this critical issue for a couple of hours in the next few weeks. I received a commitment this time last year that it would be the first issue to be debated in September. I would not like to be here this time next year still calling for a debate. I also call for a debate on farming before the year is out.
I thank Senator O'Donovan for his acknowledgement. I also thank Senator Ormonde and other Senators on the other side of the House who spoke in favour of Fine Gael amendments to the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill which they saw as credible and realistic. It was disappointing to hear Independent Members and backbench Fianna Fáil Deputies debating matters in the media. Two months ago we tabled reasonable amendments which we told the Minister we would withdraw if he was prepared to table amendments. The Leader needs to take note and ask all Ministers to give proper consideration to amendments tabled in this House. We are debating the issue of the relevance of the Seanad.E However, what has happened in respect of this Bill constitutes an insult to this House and its Members. As a Member who worked hard on the Bill and who tabled many amendments that apparently are about to be accepted in Dáil Éireann, although they are as yet unseen, I certainly took this as an insult. All Members should note this for future consideration with regard to any legislation coming before this House.
More than one year ago, I asked for a debate on the future of waste management. I refer to the fairly public and serious conflict between Dublin City Council and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with regard to the Poolbeg incinerator. In common with Senator O'Toole, on occasion I have raised the point that multiple incinerators are planned through the various regional waste management plans. However, there is no overall national waste management strategy and no co-ordinated plan to decide on the future for waste streams. Waste infrastructure is vital for competitiveness in business, residences and local authorities and it is important to have clear direction and a clear plan and strategy for this. Consequently, I ask the Leader to provide for a debate on the subject either during this session or early next session and to bring this matter to the attention of the relevant Department.
I endorse the suggestion that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should come before the House to discuss issues such as the report in today's newspapers regarding the Taxing Master's report on a particular incident involving the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. I understand the separation of powers between the political sphere and the Judiciary but there must be a chance for Members to discuss issues such as sentencing policy, the costs charged by the legal profession, the right of people to their good name, the number of times that some people are obliged to come before court without their hearing taking place, as well as issues in respect of the free legal aid system. There must be a place and time in which Members can express their point of view, rather than trying to impose their thoughts on the Judiciary. I understand that not many of the issues to which I have just referred have been reviewed by the Judiciary in the recent past and therefore, it is valid for Members to air their concerns here. Anyone outside the House can do so at the pub. Members should have the capacity here to have a discussion in respect of real and important issues within the judicial process and within the generality, rather than the specifics, of particular cases.
I also ask that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform be invited to the House to discuss briefly a recent report to the effect that cigarette sales in shops have fallen by 40% since the internal advertisements within shops have been banned. The retail industry asserts that there has been a 40% drop in legal cigarette sales within a one-year period. However, the contention of the retail industry is that this has led to illegal sales being the real way in which people now buy cigarettes. Its contention is that many retailers are being offered illegal cigarettes to be sold under the counter. Will the Leader invite the Minister before the House to discuss his views on this report? While I would welcome a genuine 40% reduction in cigarette sales, if this fall is as a result of them being sold in another way, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be able to explain to Members the measures he proposes to take to counteract the illegal cigarette trade, while acknowledging the great successes the Customs and Excise and Garda are having in finding many hauls that have been imported.
I was impressed with and agree with the essential point made by Senator Coffey on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. I participated in the debate on this Bill in the Seanad with great interest and tabled a number of amendments. What struck me at a the time was that although Members had different views on the various amendments, there was an intense debate. I formed the impression that the arguments were not heard in respect of the content of the aforementioned amendments. Were it to now turn out that similar amendments will be accepted for political pragmatic reasons when the matter comes before the Dáil, it would reflect badly on the Government's commitment to engage with this House. The Legislature has a job to do, which is to scrutinise legislation and to make amendments. Members deserve to have such amendments considered on their merits. It will look bad if a different attitude is adopted simply for political pragmatic reasons. While I do not wish to prejudge this because those amendments remain unseen, it appears somewhat ominous.
On the Civil Partnership Bill, there have been a number of calls for a free vote on this issue, precisely because of its significance and importance as a cultural and moral issue about which many good people have different views. However, I ask the Leader whether he also will give a commitment to there being a full and open debate on Second Stage on this Bill. Time limits should not be imposed on people's contributions on an issue of such significance. I also ask the Leader whether a guillotine will be imposed on Committee and Remaining Stages of this Bill. I sincerely hope there will not be because this Bill pertains to a highly important issue. It is evident that it is of concern to many people with different points of view. However, all amendments and all sections must be considered in full.
I do not like the possibility that this Bill might be before the Seanad at a stage where, if amendments are to be included in the Upper House, the Dáil will not sit to consider such amendments. I cannot discern how this conveys any kind of respect for the legislative process. Once the Dáil has risen for the summer, the most that should be considered in the Seanad are fiddly, relatively unimportant legislative items. I refer to matters about which no great injustice would be done to the political process were amendments not accepted in the Seanad because the Dáil was not sitting. However, on an issue as important as the Civil Partnership Bill, it must be the case that there is full openness in the other House to the possibility that amendments may be accepted in this House. I would be grateful for a response from the Leader on this.
I support the remarks of my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, in acknowledgment and praise of Senator Coffey and the Fine Gael group. It is important that he made those remarks and I always have tried to acknowledge the contribution of others. Moreover, it normally is in the best interest of best legislation to so do. It is the manner in which Members should be seen to conduct their business, rather than contributing some political baggage for the sake of it. I greatly welcome and support the sentiments and remarks expressed by my colleagues, Senators O'Donovan and Mullen.
Although approximately 5,000 people die each year in Ireland from sudden cardiac arrest. Everyone can help to reduce this number by being aware of what to do in the case of a person suddenly collapsing. To this end, I congratulate the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council on its Citizen CPR initiative, which is a nationwide public awareness campaign to promote bystanders' CPR. Will the Leader consider allocating time to debate the issues surrounding CPR? I note that many appliances have been installed in Leinster House but I am unsure whether either Members or staff are fully aware of the procedures that would apply, should they need to be used. Therefore, I seek a debate on this issue. Anyone who consults search engines such as Google about CPR will learn of the benefits that have accrued in places such as the United States with its mass population, where this has been greatly promoted over the past 25 or 30 years. It is a highly important issue.
Yesterday, I asked the Leader whether he could arrange to have the business plan of NAMA and the progress thereon brought to Members' attention. I was aware that NAMA had submitted its business plan last October. On my return to my office yesterday having raised the issue, I became aware that NAMA submitted a new business plan to the Department of Finance only yesterday. May Members see the new business plan submitted by NAMA?
I support Senator Alex White's call on the matter pertaining to European affairs. I am pleased to note there has been agreement regarding the setting aside of one Thursday in a month for debate on such matters. I have asked for a considerable period that a time in the month also be set aside for a debate on financially-related matters and the economy.
Following on from Senator Callely, I wish to tell people about the heartsafe programme in Clonmel. It is the only heartsafe town in the country. A total of 16 defibrillators are placed throughout the town. The aim is to have ten people trained on resuscitation on each of those defibrillators. I have raised previously in the House that defibrillators are placed around the Houses as well and Members should know how to use them. In Clonmel we recently had a public display on how to use defibrillators. One of those involved in the display was a six year old boy, which shows exactly how easy it is to use a defibrillator.
It is incumbent on Members of the House to know how to use defibrillators. It is so easy to do. It would give a certain amount of security and ensure people would have more of an interest in their health. People should have certain tests carried out at a certain time in their lives. Many people present would fall into that category. It would be a good exercise to have physical health check-ups and for people to be aware of the facilities we have in the Houses.
Many respected Members of this House, namely, Senators Ó Murchú, Mullen, Ross and others, have consistently called for free votes in the House on issues of conscience. Speaking to Members privately, others share that view. We should move towards that approach in debates where people's consciences are engaged.
I add my voice to that argument. Whether it is decided to allow Members the freedom to vote according to their conscience on matters of conscience I will be guided by my conscience.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has come in for criticism in the House and this morning on the amendments to the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. Waste management is very much on the agenda this morning. I fully support the Minister's approach in that regard.
For a long period I have argued with conviction against the introduction of incineration. As far back as 2001 I opposed it in a debate in this House on two grounds primarily. One is the health risks that are involved with the emission of dioxins. I accept people contest that belief but serious questions arise in that regard. A significant issue arises in terms of incineration taking waste in a way that totally negates all the other higher priorities in the waste management structure of re-use, recycling and minimisation. In order to justify the significant capital expenditure on incinerators they will gobble up all the waste they can get and more. I compliment the Minister. I hope he is successful in his campaign.
Another issue that arises in that regard-----
-----relates to democracy and local government. I will be very quick. My understanding is that the democratically elected members of Dublin City Council were opposed to the introduction of incineration, which raises issues about local government and giving powers to unelected bureaucrats to make those decisions.
I agree very much with what my colleague, Senator McFadden, outlined this morning. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs in which we find ourselves. While there has been a slight increase in growth in the economy, that is due to a surge in exports, which is welcome. However, we must not run away with ourselves or allow ourselves to be deluded because when the CSO figures were seasonally adjusted we found there was an increase of 5,800 in the number of unemployed. That is something that needs to be worked on more than is, unfortunately, the case at present.
What Senator O'Toole outlined this morning and what we read in the newspaper on the level of fees was stunning. We have been most supportive in this House of the work of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. Perhaps the Leader would arrange for us to have an early debate on the matter.
The Central Bank Reform Bill is due in the House shortly. Will the Leader clarify whether it is correct that it will not arrive until 8 July? That is bad practice because the Dáil will have risen-----
It will not. Perhaps the Leader will outline the position in that regard to us because we are making a mockery of the House if there is no opportunity for the views that will be expressed on this serious issue to allow for a possible amendment. I look forward to hearing the Leader's views on the matter and confirmation of the date. We do not wish all Stages to be rushed and taken together on the one day.
I endorse the many points that have been raised on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. I was astounded by the decision that the amendments would not be introduced in this Chamber but in the Dáil Chamber. I compliment Senators Coffey, Cummins, Mullen and Senator O'Donovan on this side of the House for taking a stand and having the amendments brought forward. For the life of me I cannot understand why the amendments were not introduced into this Chamber. It does not make sense. It was an offence to all of us who were working on the ground on the issue and had a great knowledge of how the Bill was progressing in this House for the Bill to be transferred to the other House. I hope that when the Bill returns to the House that the amendments will be the ones introduced by the Opposition, which I had to vote against. I felt such a hypocrite in that situation.
I called for a debate on the planning guidelines, which I accept will not take place before the summer recess. The planning guidelines for one-off houses is important in terms of how we go about planning. The issue does not relate to planning per se but to planning guidelines. There are two separate issues. The Leader should not put the two together because they do not go together. We need a discussion on that issue.
The jury is out on another matter introduced by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, namely, landfill versus incinerators. That discussion is ongoing. It is important that we have a discussion on the matter in this Chamber. There are no fixed answers to the issue. I do not know where the hammer will come down but it would be useful to have a debate on the matter in this House.
I rise to support Senator Mullen on the Civil Partnership Bill. I had not thought it out until he spoke but if it is the intention to have the Civil Partnership Bill taken after the Dáil has risen then we are wasting our time in having the debate unless there is a willingness to accept amendments. I would like some form of guarantee from the Leader that at least we will be listened to on any Bill we take after the Dáil has risen. I am not sure how one does that but I imagine we will have to take the Civil Partnership Bill before the Dáil has risen so we can propose amendments and know they can be accepted.
The Leader will recall when Senator Ross discovered a flaw in the public opinion aspect of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill on the very last day after the Dáil had risen. I recall that on the evening he discovered the flaw the Leader accepted that and within minutes the Bill collapsed. That is not going to happen this time unless there is a commitment that the debate will take place either before the Dail rises or we ensure we will not find ourselves in a situation where no amendments are accepted. That is an important point. I am pleased Senators Mullen and Coghlan have raised it.
We have been worried about costs and we have talked about the cost of the legal profession. There have been a number of discussions in recent days on the cost of other products in the Twenty-six Counties. Yesterday the euro reached its lowest level since its introduction against the Swiss franc. We may well say that every time it drops in value it is of benefit to exporters but it means the cost of everything we import increases. We are inclined only to measure ourselves against sterling which has not been doing very well against other currencies. Let us recognise the difficulties associated with trying to build the economy when the euro has a low valuation. We should be trying to build the economy while the euro has a high valuation, as others have done, and obtain the benefit. A low valuation makes life much easier for exporters but much more difficult for importers, particularly importers of fuel and other products that affect almost everything we do. Let us recognise that it is not all good news when the euro has a low valuation; it is considerably bad news for all of us in Ireland who must purchase and produce goods.
I very much support the views of other Senators that we must debate the integrity of the Seanad vis-À-vis the Dáil. Many issues have been mentioned such as the Civil Partnership Bill and the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, as have many others during the years. The former leader of the Progressive Democrats, Mr. Michael McDowell, announced a few nights ago that he had changed his view on the Seanad. He previously believed it should be abolished but now believes it should remain because it is important. I share his view. Mr. McDowell is a former member of the Fine Gael Party whose leader is still sticking to the notion that the Seanad should be abolished. This is absolutely wrong. We, therefore, need a debate on the integrity of the Seanad. The leader of the main Opposition party-----
The second issue I would like to raise is that of waste incineration. I ask the Leader for a debate on waste management which is always a very important social issue. In Galway for many years there was an extensive debate on waste incineration and the maximum recycling option was chosen. We were told when the initial reports were released that the maximum level of recycling that could be achieved was 48% and that this was the highest figure in terms of the viability of an incinerator. However, in the pilot project a recycling rate of up to 77% was achieved. The recycling figure in Galway has consistently remained above 50%.
There are better and safer ways to manage waste than through incineration. We need a debate on the issue before we go down the route of having waste-guzzling incinerators. The key aspect is that they destroy important natural resources. We, therefore, need to examine proper recycling options. The debate should be held early in the next session.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to come to the House this morning or afternoon to discuss the reason a €350 million project that could create 600 jobs is being stalled. Senator McFadden is absolutely correct in saying 452,882 of our fellow citizens are unemployed. That is the fault and responsibility of the Government. The Minister has refused to grant a foreshore licence critical to the development of the project at Poolbeg. Why did the United States ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Dan Rooney, feel compelled to talk to the Taoiseach and seek a meeting with the Minister? I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in order that the Minister can discuss the matter in the House.
I remind the Members opposite that on radio this morning the Minister did not accept he had made changes to the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill; he said the opposite. The hypocrisy of the Government has been further exposed.
Where do we stand on the Bill? Is the Minister making amendments? Has he accepted them? What is he doing?
The examples I have given, namely, the prevention of job creation in Dublin and the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, show how the Government is run. The key word is "run": it does not think or plan and has no strategy or job creation plan. It has nothing. The best thing it could do is call a general election, get beaten and let us govern.
That is the best thing the Government could do. Government Members come here day after day and have a conscience in respect of the Civil Partnership Bill, yet they had no conscience when cutting disability and social welfare allowances and taxing public servants.
On the points made by Senators Mullen, Walsh and Quinn on the Civil Partnership Bill, the timing of the Bill is unfortunate because it will be discussed on 13 and 14 July. I am confident, however, that very good amendments will be tabled in this House. I am also confident that the Dáil will be recalled or that the legislation will be referred-----
It is a very complex Bill and I have no doubt that in exercising the wisdom of the House we will bring to the attention of the Minister issues that may require the tabling of amendments and the consideration of the Bill again in the other House. If so, so be it. There is no panic about the Bill and I do not see a need to rush it. It has been discussed for some time, is very important and has many implications.
With regard to voting according to one's conscience, Charles Stewart Parnell introduced the Whip system in a strong way. Liam Cosgrave and Dick Burke voted against their own family planning Bill in the 1970s.
If there had been a free vote on the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, it would have been defeated and there could have been a general election. Let us be clear about this. The point is that the Whip system has a certain benefit as far as the Government is concerned. No Government could perform its duties without a Whip system.
The Leader has outlined his recommendation that the Seanad discuss European affairs every month. It is recommended in section 20 of the recommendation we are to discuss at 11.30 a.m. that the Seanad hold discussions every month and that the Chairmen of select committees make proposals to this House for discussion. I commend the Leader for being far-sighted in anticipating the decision made in this regard.
Much has been said in the House about voting according to conscience in the past week or two. The reality is that if Government Deputies and Senators had exercised their consciences, €22 billion in taxpayers' money would not have been poured into the zombie bank, Anglo Irish Bank, to prop up the supporters of those Government Members in both Houses who do not have a conscience. How can the Government, particularly the Green Party which has attempted to flex its muscles on a Bill to ban stag hunting, a Bill of show over substance, not have a policy on unemployment? Unemployment presents the biggest crisis the country has faced in recent years. I refer, in particular, to youth unemployment, for which the figures are absolutely startling. The figure for young jobseekers has risen by over 6,000 and now stands at 91,646. The Government has increased registration fees in third level institutions and wants to reintroduce third level fees which were abolished by Ms Niamh Bhreathnach when she was Minister for Education and Skills. The level of unemployment has tripled and the Government has cut social welfare payments for the under-25s, in some cases by half. That is absolutely shameful. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Taoiseach or the Minister for Finance, to the House to be held accountable, for once, for one of the biggest crises the country has faced in modern times.
Last week during a motion on the Adjournment, I was in a position to uncover a level of unhealthy proximity and familiarity between HIQA and the HSE. Documents were finally made available to me as a result of directions by the Office of the Ombudsman. Today, we will see further evidence of this situation, as inconsistencies in HIQA have been found in respect of the 133 nursing homes it has surveyed. This information shows that the proximity and subjectivity within which the HSE and HIQA operate is similar to what occurred in terms of our economic meltdown, in that the regulatory authorities, the Central Bank as the overall authority and the service providers were operating with a level of familiarity and proximity that led to catastrophe. The details I have uncovered are borne out in today's The Irish Times in regard to the nursing home issue. If we allow this unhealthy situation to continue, it could compromise more than people's financial well-being.
I call for an urgent debate on governance standards within the HSE, an organisation that has €15 billion of the people's money Voted directly to it with no recourse to the Government or the people. Approximately €2.1 million went missing lately. This would put FÁS in the ha'penny place. I would also like a debate so we could evaluate the relationship between HIQA and the HSE-----
-----which the documents I possess have proven to be inappropriate and could compromise more than people's financial well-being. We also need a debate on how to reform the Health Act 2004 in a meaningful way to bring that budget - €15 billion of the people's money - back under the control of the people, the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government.
I fully agree that we should debate the new NAMA business plan, which was recently provided to the Minister. NAMA's first formal report was made available to him in recent weeks. An early date for a debate on these matters would be welcome.
I refer to the intervention of the US ambassador, Dan Rooney, in respect of the Poolbeg incinerator and the failure of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to deal with a two year old application for a foreshore licence. I second Senator Buttimer's proposed amendment to the Order of Business in this regard. The serious issue that arises is that of abuse of office. We are running the risk of the State being taken to court by the company in question if the rules and regulations laid down and in respect of which the company has a legitimate expectation are not applied in a fair, transparent and open manner.
Whatever the merits of the incinerator, decisions have been made and the rules must be applied. As in Greece, we will face daily fines for not complying with our landfill obligations under EU law. The Minister must know that he cannot act in an arbitrary manner. He must apply the rules, regulations and law as laid down. The Minister should recognise his conflict of interest, given that the incinerator is to be situated in his constituency. This matter should be handled by another Minister.
There is a more fundamental issue. A US company is involved and the spotlight is on Ireland as to whether we are prepared to abide by the rules and regulations and whether the regulatory system operates. There have been unfortunate examples in the financial sector. If the Government is seen as operating in this way in its dealings with foreign investors, we will have a problem. The Minister should stand aside and another Minister should deal with the matter.
I agree with the calls for a debate on waste management, the issue underpinning the points, some of them valid, on the legitimate expectations to which Senator Regan referred. I do not doubt that the Minister is aware of the requirements for consistency with legitimate expectations, but the situation is more complex, as he warned the incinerator's promoters that the waste management strategy had changed and now involved new thinking. International studies on the best way to handle waste did not recommend a mass burn municipal incinerator. If the incinerator contracts go ahead, they will eventually be seen as akin to the West Link contracts that so enraged people. We will either pay fines for not providing the required levels of waste or stop recycling to ensure we avoid those fines. Neither is a palatable solution.
Taking waste and not viewing it as a resource is out of synch with the 21st century. Resource scarcity is a considerable issue and resource wars will begin to emerge. We must look after our resources, given our position as an island nation dependent on imports. The burn technology to deal with waste is dinosaur technology and needs to be put to one side. Leading experts in the Irish recycling industry with whom I have spoken believe that 100% recycling of all waste streams within the municipal waste quotient is possible. I was impressed by some of what I heard recently. Mentioning names and companies would be invidious, but one can think of the country's main companies.
I have asked him for a debate on waste management.
There are issues on which morality demands a free vote, but civil partnership is not one of them. It is a civil rights and civil law issue. It is about succession, inheritance, social welfare and the State-----
Regarding the Poolbeg matter, reports suggest that the Attorney General has advised there is no good reason not to grant the licence. Why is the Minister ignoring the Attorney General's advice?
Before the last general election, Fianna Fáil fanned the flames in rural Ireland by suggesting a vote for Fine Gael would be a vote for the Green Party in government. It is ironic that we now have Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in government.
Next time, the people will not be waiting in the high grass for Fianna Fáil. They have cut the grass and are waiting out in the open.
It sickens me to see Independents and backbenchers on the plinth and on radio claiming credit for changes in the dog breeding Bill. On Report Stage in this House, the Minister read out the amendments he would introduce to the Bill in the Lower House.
Yes. Last September and October, we held all-party meetings with the Minister on Seanad reform. He stated he would introduce those reforms by Christmas. Admittedly, he did not say which Christmas, but we still have not seen them. When will he table those proposals?
Many people in a knee-jerk reaction just say that we need Seanad reform. Some of the ideas put forward were nothing short of hare-brained. We were told, for instance, that the Seanad elections would take place on the same day as the Dáil elections. How could we possible meet our electorate if they are out canvassing for votes? How could an electorate be asked to elect, say, 20 or 30 Seanad Members when the quota is in or around 50,000, and then tell those people that they cannot deal with financial matters?
People who give this reaction should think long and hard about the benefits and the system that operates in this House. We have a wonderful opportunity at the moment. Will the Leader write to the Chair of the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on European Affairs that is looking at how the Oireachtas will deal with the new requirements under the Lisbon treaty? The Seanad is ideally placed to deal with the new requirements for dealing with EU directives, so much so that we have the panels that represent each of the different facets of Irish life represented in this House. If we did not have that, we should set up a committee to deal with these directives which would have such representation. We already have it. Let people think long and hard before they give knee-jerk reactions.
Incidentally, I suggest that the level of interruptions in this House has got out of hand. It should not be allowed and it should be brought up at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I support the calls by others for a debate on waste management. It would be useful to have such a debate in the House. There are conflicting views on the best approach to waste management. I agree with Senators Ó Brolcháin and Dearey who spoke against relying on mass incineration as a policy. That has now been shown to be outdated. Instead, we should put more reliance on renewables and increasing our recycling rate, which is not impressive at the moment. Senator Regan is right in saying that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is conflicted on this. People in Dublin south-east will be most unhappy that the incinerator still appears to be going ahead, despite the many stalling tactics the Minister has adopted. Certainly, the prospect of this mass incinerator on an ill-conceived site in a densely populated area is of great concern to many.
In response to some of the contributions on civil partnership, I welcome the fact that this is an historic day for same sex couples in Ireland, who for the first time will see the prospect of legal recognition for their relationships being put on the Statute Book. As a member of the Labour Party I must say we are very unhappy with aspects of the Bill and we do not believe it goes far enough in terms of achieving full equality for same sex couples. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction, and that has to be welcomed by all who are concerned about human rights of others.
The National Suicide Research Foundation, NSRF, in its annual report, 2009, indicated that there has been a major increase in deliberate self-harm among Irish men since 2007, particularly among younger men. The increasing rate of deliberate self-harm is a strong indication that there will be an increase in suicide. As an acute observer of suicide, in line with the production of my document, What We Can Do About Suicide in the New Ireland, in 2008, I was not surprised by the latest CSO figures on the surge of 25% in suicides in 2009 over 2008. Some 80% of the suicides were among men and the largest increase was in the 25 to 44 age cohort. That brings us back to deliberate self-harm, because the main method used by men is potentially much more lethal than for women, that is, hanging or drowning, where the chances of dying are much higher. Women generally self-harm by self-cutting, tranquillisers or whatever.
The NSRF says the indications are that the frightening 25% increase in suicide in 2008-09 is due to the economic recession, enhanced by job losses, spiralling debts and the fear of homes being repossessed. These factors lead to marital tension, strain in relationships and mental illness.
Why is the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, allowing cuts in acute services in hospitals for people who turn up in accident and emergency departments, having deliberately self-harmed. There has been a serious cutback in nurses in accident and emergency departments that are dealing with deliberate self-harm. On the one hand, we have an increase in suicide and the incidence of deliberate self-harm, with young men in particular turning up in emergency departments, where the services have been drastically cut. It is a paradox that there is more deliberate self-harm and suicides, and yet the acute services have been drastically cut back.
------because the issue of suicide is still not being addressed publicly. We need to address it and open it up. It is the responsibility of the Government and the Minister for Health and Children. It is the responsibility of all to open up the whole topic of suicide and self-harming, and stop denying its existence. People are being tortured to death by the economic crisis, and the appropriate services are not there.
I join Senators McFadden, O'Toole and Alex White in welcoming the announcement yesterday on the recession coming to an end. We must be seriously concerned, however, because we know jobs will not emerge from the improved figures for a considerable time, perhaps a year or 18 months. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe this morning on the new 100 jobs in Galway. I remind the House that 1.87 million people are still at work in Ireland, but there is a serious challenge facing both Houses of the Oireachtas on high unemployment. I shall support anything that may be done to address this, in any shape or form.
I join Senator McFadden and her colleague, Deputy O'Rourke in welcoming the big announcement for Athlone. Please God it will come to fruition, that is, the potential massive investment in County Westmeath by Chinese investors. In the event, it would be a dream come true.
Senators McFadden, Coffey, Walsh, Ó Brolcháin, Buttimer, Regan, Dearey, Cummins and Bacik all had strong views on waste management and everything to do with the proposed Poolbeg incinerator. I remind colleagues that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, will be in the House tomorrow with a Bill. We should get an up-date on that and avail of it on Second Stage, while he is in the House.
Senators O'Toole, Alex White, Keaveney and Coghlan all expressed shock and horror at the costs of the legal profession, particularly in relation to the €2.1 million claim examined by the Taxing Master, where he awarded €400,000. Incidentally, Senators Coghlan, O'Toole and I were among those who championed the setting up of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board arising from the insurance industry inquiry during the lifetime of the previous committee that I had the pleasure of chairing. I thank colleagues for their compliments on the great work we did in that committee. The setting up of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has to be one of the greatest achievements in my long life as a Member of the Oireachtas.
It is timely that we will review the board's progress under the legislation. Senator O'Toole is a member of the board and it is fortunate to have him assisting it. The board is saving the consumer and the nation an absolute fortune. All Members support the board's chief executive and everyone associated with it and its future.
As was said earlier, the case in question was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. Today, we now know of the huge rip-off in certain areas of the legal profession.
Senators Alex White, Ó Brolcháin, Leyden, Cummins and Hanafin welcomed the future role to be played by the House in the scrutiny of EU proposals. However, I must caution the House that there is a large amount of work involved. I know the report has made suggestions as to how the Seanad can assist in the EU scrutiny process for all Departments. We will await its publication today and it will be discussed in the House before the summer recess.
I intend to propose to the various leaders and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges that we will at least devote one day a month for the scrutiny of EU proposals. The report to be published today will propose the various consultants who assist committees and their chairmen on EU scrutiny matters will assist us in our deliberations on them. Unless we have these consultants and their advice available to assist us, we certainly will not be in a position to deliberate on them. The consultants are the watchdogs, as well as Oireachtas Members, of proposed new EU legislation or changes to existing legislation.
Senator O'Donovan raised a proposed overview of planning in Cork city and County Cork. The planning Bill has been before us for our consideration.
Senators O'Donovan, Buttimer, Coffey, Mullen, Callely and Walsh raised the greyhound breeders Bill which will be back in the House with amendments from the Dáil before the summer recess. I share the concerns expressed by Senator O'Donovan and other colleagues on the experience of how the Bill was dealt with by the House. It is not the norm and I will ensure it will not create a precedent so as to maintain the respect Ministers and Departments must show to both Houses.
Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on fisheries policy which I am endeavouring to have before the summer recess as I have made a commitment to this.
Senator Keaveney raised the drop of 40% in cigarette sales recently but asked if illegal cigarette sales were on the increase. I will pass on her strong views to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister will be in he House before the summer recess and Senator Keaveney can seek an update on this matter if she so wishes then.
Senators Mullen, Walsh, Leyden, Bacik and Quinn raised the Civil Partnership Bill. We have a very accommodating Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and he is very supportive of all the Bills he brings before this House.
He comes here to present the Bills himself. This commitment must be recognised. Whatever necessary amendments need to be brought forward will be. For example, the Minister for Transport has tabled 60 amendments to the Road Traffic Bill 2009 which will be taken in the House today. The Civil Partnership Bill is not rushed legislation. It is a serious Bill that every Member must consider.
Let us be honest about it. The bottom line, as Senator Leyden said, is that the Whip position has to be in place for the Government's policies to be pursued.
I assure the House the longest possible time that Senators require for Second Stage will be given. Under my stewardship of the House, there has been no guillotining of Committee, Report and Final Stages of Bills.
On the promotion of CPR, it can be raised with the Minister for Health and Children who will be in the House today with a Bill. It is a serious matter and I support the call for its promotion. Senator Prendergast raised the matter of the availability of defibrillators which can also be raised with the Minister when she is in the House.
Senator Walsh called for democracy in local government. I fully support him in all his efforts in this regard.
Senator Coghlan raised the ordering next week for the Central Bank Reform Bill. I will do everything I can to look after the format it will take on next week's Order of Business.
Senators Callely and MacSharry called for a debate on the new business plan for NAMA. This is a commitment I have given every week on the Order of Business and I have no difficulty in such a debate happening.
Senator Quinn raised the matter of currency values and that it is not all good news with the strength of sterling against the euro. It is a huge advantage for our exports and tourism. However, I take his point it will work against us on imports.
Senator McCarthy raised the matter of the €22 billion that was given to Anglo Irish Bank. First, it has not been given it yet. Second, does it exercise anyone's mind about the future of the deposits of, say, credit unions or other deposit-holders' moneys in Anglo Irish Bank? These have to be protected and that is what the Minister for Finance was doing.
Senator MacSharry raised the matter of inconsistencies concerning HIQA, the HSE and 130 nursing homes accommodating 17,000 senior citizens. I have no difficulty in having an all-day debate on this matter. The Minister for Health and Children will be back in the House on at least two occasions before the summer recess. Today is one of those days and Senators can use it to bring these points to her attention.E
Senator Hanafin referred to interruptions on the Order of Business. This is an issue for the Leas-Chathaoirleach and I will leave it to him to deal with. Senator Mary White pointed out the serious and alarming figure of a 25% increase in suicides from 2008 to 2009; the number was 547.
Senator Jerry Buttimer proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on non-granting of foreshore licence for the Poolbeg incineration proposal be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 16 (Paul Bradford, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross)
Against the motion: 33 (Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, Pearse Doherty, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Michael McCarthy, 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, Phil Prendergast, Brendan Ryan, Jim Walsh, Alex White, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson
Amendment declared lost