Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Order of Business.
With the permission of the Cathaoirleach I would like to send the condolences of the House to the people of Donegal, especially the families of the eight men who tragically lost their lives on Sunday night in Inishowen.
It is proposed to take tributes to former Senator Nuala Fennell at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude within 30 minutes, with leaders and Senators having three minutes to speak. The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on carers in Ireland, to conclude within 90 minutes, on which spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators for five minutes, on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and 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 Procedure Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3.
First are tributes to former Senator Nuala Fennell, we are taking statements on carers second, third we are taking the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009, report from the Dáil, and No. 3, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, will follow the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009.
I join the Leader in expressing our sincere sympathy and condolences to the eight families of those who were killed tragically in Donegal. Road safety is something on which we should all keep our minds and on which we should reflect to see whether we can do anything in this or the other House on road safety.
The HSE's ongoing failure to respond to HIQA's grave concerns in respect of the safety of children in foster care is a clear demonstration that child care needs to be removed from the ambit of the HSE. It is clear the HSE is out of control, a sentiment that has been expressed by Members on the Government side of the House. It is failing in its core duties and is impervious to complaints from agencies such as HIQA. HIQA has expressed concerns in this area regarding unsafe placements of foster children, missing files and failure to assess carers. More than 100 child protection concerns have not been responded to by the HSE. Advocacy groups estimate that up to 800 children are in foster care without any assessment of carers taking place. What is the point of the State taking children into care if we cannot have some guarantee that they are placed in safer hands? That is the key to it all. HIQA has stated that some children in foster care have not had any contact with social workers for up to a decade and there are serious deficiencies in the social worker area, with wholly inadequate hours and wholly inadequate numbers. The net effect of this is that children's lives are in danger. It is time for the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to face up to her responsibilities and ask if the HSE is fit for purpose at this stage. She needs to come to the House and explain to Members at the earliest possible opportunity what she intends to do to address this most important area.
Newspaper reports yesterday indicate that the final cost of the Anglo Irish Bank bailout could be as high as €33.5 billion. Given that the bank guarantee is due to be reviewed prior to renewal while the Oireachtas is in recess, can the Leader tell the House of the Government's plans to debate this issue in the Oireachtas prior to its renewal? That is very important.
My party has taken a different view from that of the Government on Anglo Irish Bank. Could the Leader also comment on the fact that yesterday it emerged that Mr. FitzPatrick is one of the bondholders who the Government appears so keen to protect? We need a working banking system. We need a guarantee, certainly on deposits. However, do we need to protect risk-taking professionals and investors who knew the risks they were taking at that time? I do not think we do. That matter must be addressed and I ask the Leader to comment.
In discussing the issue of where we are with the banks and the economy, we should consider the growing list of FitzPatrick, Mansfield, McNamara, etc. and put to bed one idea. Whatever criticism there has been of the Government, it has not sought to bail out builders and developers. Let us get that out of the way for the moment because that distracted from our focus. It is right that we all should focus on NAMA and the banks, look honestly and come to honest conclusions, but at least the phrase of bailing out builders and developers has gone from the lexicon, and that is good. The next matter is to see how we deal with the banks and how we ensure people are brought to book over the next few months, and it is important that the Government shows us its commitment to doing exactly that.
I share the views articulated by Senator Cummins about the latest HIQA report. I have rarely criticised the HSE in this House. Many of the issues that have arisen repeatedly have been historic issues coming to light. The importance of this week's report is that there was a report last autumn, measures were supposed to have been put in place and the HSE gave commitments to us, to HIQA, to the Department of Health and Children and to the world at large that all the issues raised were being dealt with. Six months later, HIQA goes back to reassess, see where they are, and comes up with an astonishing report. The report reflects all the points raised by Senator Cummins and caused such obvious dismay in the Department that the Minister wrote to express her views to the chair of the HSE. The reality is that we have abandoned children. They are lost in society somewhere, out of touch and out of contact, with no files on them, no contact with social workers and no consideration or assessment of the condition in which they are being kept, fostered and maintained. This, surely, is proof positive that the HSE is not fit for purpose in this regard, whatever about in other matters, and we should state that clearly. The HSE should be relieved of this responsibility. These children do not get another shot at the last year in foster care. They must put up with the pain. For a State agency such as HIQA, which is balanced in its statements and consistently produces balanced, evidentially based reports, to come out with a statement to the effect that there is a potential dereliction of duty on the part of the HSE is a clarion call to politicians and public representatives. We cannot ignore this and we must take action. I wish to hear what action the Department of Health and Children and the Minister can and will take on this issue on foot of the report to ensure children are not in an unsafe fostering environment, that their cases are properly maintained, filed, managed, recorded and safeguarded. I call for this to be done as a matter of urgency and for this call to be communicated by the Leader to the Minister as soon as possible.
I join with the Leader and Senator Cummins in expressing sympathy following the horrible tragedies that have befallen the people of Donegal. To lose one or two lives is tragic enough, but to lose eight in such a close knit community is dreadful. This is a reminder to all of us of the whole issue of road safety. I join with the other speakers in expressing sympathy on behalf of the Labour Party members of the House to the families of those who have lost their lives and to the community in Donegal which will be marked for some time because of this appalling tragedy.
I wish to raise the issue of Anglo Irish Bank. In the past week it has been in the headlines for two different reasons. First, because of the bankruptcy application of its former chairman and second, because of the fact that it may well take more money from the taxpayer. I have stated consistently in this House what I wish to be done. What happened in the case of its former chairman was inevitable. Unfortunately when one examines the financial scandal and the role of Anglo Irish Bank, no one has taken responsibility for it. Thousands of people are still affected by negative equity, house repossessions and unemployment. They have really paid the price for the economic collapse of the country. However, there is still no financial responsibility for it. Now, we believe there may be more money pumped into Anglo Irish Bank. When will the Government realise this is no longer an option and engage in an orderly wind down? Some €22 billion has already gone in and possibly more billions are to come. Is it any wonder people are up in arms? I realise we are at the end of term and it is unrealistic to expect any movement in the House on this issue. However, as we go towards the summer recess it is an issue of which we must be cognisant.
Last week, in response to a parliamentary question, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, admitted that no decisions has yet been taken with regard to the e-voting machines. In a climate where we are penny-pinching and saving and the Government is engaging in cutting and generally targeting vulnerable groups in society, it is a disgrace that no decision has been taken in respect of the electronic voting machines. The whole saga was marked by financial imprudence, bad decision making and political blindness. However, these machines are still costing the taxpayers a fortune in storage costs. There is still no decision on the contracts under which these machines are being stored. It is ridiculous. Can we get some indication of when the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intends to deal with this matter conclusively, once and for all?
I join in the notes of concern expressed by Senators in respect of the tragic road accident in County Donegal at the weekend. The fact that it occurred on the Inishowen Peninsula where 25 such deaths have occurred in the past number of years means particular attention must be given to the factors that exist in that part of the country and why so many tragic accidents involving large number of people occur.
I refer to the debates which are taking place and will take place on the ongoing banking crisis in the country. Senator O'Toole has put down one interesting marker in respect of who is being assisted here and for what reason. The debates have not been helped in the past by suggesting there are bailouts for developers. Likewise, the reference to figures left, right and centre that must be qualified about "may" and "could" without actually being realised do not help the debate either. It is clear that whatever course of action could have been followed in respect of the banking crisis, given that these financial institutions were licensed and badly regulated the State has picked up a liability that will cost billions of euro.
I refer to Senator McCarthy's call for a debate on e-voting machines.
Whichever way the House handles the matter, a definite decision has been made on e-voting machines. They will not be used in future elections. The decision must be made on how they are to be disposed of, which is very much an ongoing process.
Yesterday at my clinic in Mullingar I met an elderly lady with osteoporosis who told me she had to attend a hospital appointment. However, because no transport is provided by the HSE for patients from Longford, Mullingar and Athlone who must attend hospital appointments in Tullamore, she had to cancel the appointment, for which she had waited a long time. She subsequently rearranged it and will attend St. James's Hospital which is bursting at the seams. It is incredible to think the HSE is deciding which hospitals patients will attend without providing transport. Family members of this little old lady have cars, but they work. She was outraged and disgusted because there is no transport to Tullamore from the area provided by CIE or the HSE. People must travel more than 50 miles from Longford to Tullamore. Patients must also attend Tullamore hospital for chemotherapy. My colleague, Councillor Peggy Nolan, has raised this issue on several occasions. Will the Leader arrange an debate on it at his earliest convenience to ensure transport is provided in all these areas?
I join others in extending our condolence and expressing sympathy to those affected by the tragic road accident in County Donegal and to all of the other families who have suffered as a result of road fatalities and injuries. I acknowledge the good work of the Road Safety Authority in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the roads.
I appreciate the Leader's acknowledgment of my request to place on the clár a debate on carers. The Carers Association and the volunteer army of people involved in caring will greatly appreciate this opportunity. While I acknowledge we will be making statements, will the Leader consider arranging a follow-up debate on the issue when we return in the autumn to assess the progress made on the issues raised in the debate?
I join previous speakers who expressed concern about other matters relating to the HSE. I have been vocal in my concerns over a prolonged period regarding this unwieldy executive. I am unsure that I agree it is not fit for purpose, as I believe genuine, committed individuals are involved, but we established one single authority as service provider, having had 14 separate regional health boards which may have been a few too many. We should probably consider the provision of a service on regional basis based on European Parliament constituencies. I share the concerns expressed about the HSE and ask the Leader to put this and other health related issues on the agenda when we return.
The horrific deaths in County Donegal are a reminder to us that we cannot take our eye off the ball in regard to road safety. The work done in recent years may have meant people relaxed a little because the number of road deaths had reduced. Our sympathies go to all of the families who have lost the young men involved.
One of the scandals linked to the health service is the cost of medicines and health care, which is dramatically more expensive here than elsewhere. Those of us who have filled a prescription in Spain, France, the United States or Britain have been amazed at the difference in price. I had not realised until this week that one of the reasons for this was a large number of prescriptions in these countries did not need to be written by a doctor. One can go to the pharmacy and pick up the medicine there. It is good news that the Minister will announce later that steps are being taken here in that direction this year and I gather flu jabs will be available in pharmacies later this year without the need for a doctor's prescription. However, they will have to be paid for, including by medical card holders. I am sure there will be sufficient controls to ensure we are protected. The flu jabs are just the first step in that direction. It seems the vested interests the Minister must face in order to achieve any change in our health care system are difficult to deal with, but she has shown over the years in her various portfolios that she is able to face up to vested interests and let them know the right approach to take and tell them what we need to do. I urge the Minister to ensure over the next few months that she looks again at and faces up to the challenges so as to protect us and our pockets so we have a health care service that has more comparable costs to those of other countries. The Minister's heart is in the right place so let us encourage her to do this.
I too extend my sympathies to the families of the eight men in the two car crash in Donegal. My thoughts are with the relatives of the deceased. This crash raises again the question of road safety. We have all the rules and regulations in place, but still things go wrong. The issue goes beyond rules and regulations into communities. We all have a role to play and must discuss this issue in our communities, homes, businesses, licensed premises and at sports events. It is tragic to think that such an accident has happened once again to people on their way home after enjoying watching a match. We must all ask ourselves what is going wrong when something like this can happen so fast. People are careless. The National Roads Authority is doing its best and the regulations are there, but accidents are still happening. We need an ongoing debate on this issue. We must discuss it here time and again so we get the important message across of the need for care when driving.
I condemn last Sunday night's bomb attacks in Kampala. Victims were watching the World Cup final when the bombs exploded and now there are 74 people, including an Irish person, confirmed dead. I am saddened at this dreadful and appalling loss of life and by this vicious attack on innocent people who were enjoying celebrations on the conclusion of the World Cup.
I share the concerns of many of those who spoke about the HSE and its management of children at risk. This is a serious issue and I ask the Leader to convey our views on it to the Minister.
I agree with the remarks made by Senator Maurice Cummins with regard to the bank guarantee scheme and its renewal, which is due in September while the House is in recess. I am particularly concerned with regard to Anglo Irish Bank and how the scheme may be refined or varied. What are the Government's intentions and what message has come from the Commission and the European Central Bank on that? This issue is vitally important. Every taxpayer has serious concerns about the guarantee and our future. If necessary, the House should be recalled so that debate can take place when appropriate.
Publication of the Dublin mayoral Bill has been promised for a long time. It is intended to include in that Bill in some way a provision for the righting of the Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis matter, which has been outstanding for years.
I refer to the issue of child protection which a number of other Senators have raised. I note that a debate on carers will be held after the Order of Business, which is to be welcomed. However, I regard this as separate from the issue of child protection. While I have no doubt child protection issues will be raised during the debate, we need a separate debate on child protection because I agree with Senators on the opposite side of the House that it is absolutely clear there is a deficit in that regard. We are calling for a referendum on children to be held later this year or early next year and I ask the House to note that the outcome of the referendum will make it easier, rather than more difficult, for the State to take children into care. What we need to do is ensure, after the referendum is held and once we have the legislation to back up the result, the children of this country will be properly protected by the institutions of the State. Following the Ryan and various other reports, it is time we put child care and child protection at the top of our agenda, not the various financial issues that we discuss so strongly in the House. More than anything else, child protection is at the core of our society. It is very important, therefore, that we hold a debate on the issue.
What he said was untrue and I want to correct him. In fact, I spoke against it, as the record shows.
I refer to the situation of an Irish company which, apparently, has been deprived of the opportunity of applying for a job. Many of us will know about the magnificent pipe organ in the National Concert Hall which was built by an Irish company using Irish crafts people. It has been very successful and is widely regarded as a work of architectural significance and art. Now, apparently, it is to be revamped and redeveloped, but the firm which originally made it is, for some reason, to be precluded from even tendering. It has not been asked about it and has not been allowed to tender. Something should be done about this, as we should be encouraging Irish companies. It seems absurd that the company which actually made the organ is to be prevented from tendering.
It is very important that we have an opportunity to relate the stories of some of the people being injured in these terrible financial circumstances. We all receive letters, day after day, some of which are heartbreaking. I recently received a letter from a wonderful man who, with his wife, started a business in the midlands. He was hit by the cutbacks to bank loans-----
It would be a shame if the situation in which people are being forced by Government policy to a point where they are almost at the brink of suicide could not be raised on the Order of Business. I would like to outline the situation for the Cathaoirleach if he will allow me to do so.
The man in question has no money for food or clothes for his children. We must hear these voices which are getting louder and more frequent all the time. He said:
What we are living in is poverty. We do our best to disguise it to neighbours but if you ask what I had for dinner today I would tell you honestly that I had two slices of toast with marmalade and tomorrow the marmalade is gone.
In the past few days there have been very disturbing reports from Iran concerning a young girl who at the age of 14 years was subject to an arranged marriage with a much older man. Within a couple of months she was accused of and found guilty of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. Because she was 14 years old, it was believed they would hold off from carrying out the sentence until she turned 18 years. She has spent the past four years in prison, where she has been subjected to two mock stonings. I ask the Leader to make contact with the Minister for Foreign Affairs as soon as possible after the Order of Business and urge him to advocate on behalf of this child, who will be sentenced to death by stoning. I also request him to ask our EU colleagues to take up the case on behalf of the young girl. We have signed the Hague Convention and we believe in the rights of the child. This should not go ahead. The fact we have this information makes us responsible for taking some form of action on her behalf.
A report on 4,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities living in institutions and in congregated settings is concluding and is due to be published in the coming months. When ordering the business of the House when we resume after the recess can the Leader organise a debate on the future for people with intellectual disabilities? Significant changes are afoot, the value for money report is due out and the report on those living in institutions will be published soon.
The fundamental task of Government is to protect its citizens and, as Senator Cummins has shown, the HSE is in dereliction of its commitment to its people in the protection of children. It is important that the Leader orders business tomorrow so the Minister for Health and Children comes into this House.
Regarding what Senator Norris raised on the Order of Business, it is imperative we hear about people and jobs. Yesterday we saw the great friends of Fianna Fáil fall from grace. They are now bankrupt. Hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed. There is a link between the banks, Fianna Fáil and developers and the Galway races next week will show that. It is the holy trinity of Ireland that has caused so much trouble in the past four years.
I am looking not only for a debate but for action from the Government, which has failed to provide jobs for 450,000 people who are unemployed. That is the fundamental task of the Government and it has failed to do that. It has failed to cater for the escalation in the number of unemployed people. Senator Norris is correct. There are people who cannot pay mortgages or buy food and they make choices between medicine or trips for their children. When will it end?
I seek a resumption of the debate on health with the Minister for Health and Children. It was unfortunate but necessary that the debate was curtailed the last time she was in the Chamber. I look forward to her picking up a number of the outstanding items from the early part of that debate.
I wish to reflect further on what has happened in the past day or two between HIQA and the HSE with regard to child care. I refer to the range of issues the HSE has command of and must manage, all going through Professor Drumm, who is a medic turned manager with the greatest of respect to him. He has to deal with everything from child care to community welfare and assessments by community welfare officers. All this goes across his desk. Instead of breaking up the organisation with regard to region, I suggest doing so according to function. We should allow it to do its core activities, primary health care and hospitals, and find another way of dealing with a range of other functions. I note the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has written to the chair of the HSE, Mr. Liam Downey, with regard to the HIQA report on shortcomings in child care. I propose that serious consideration be given to amending the Health Act to the effect that the Minister does not merely write, but can issue a direction to the HSE if it deviates from State policy. Last week, I raised an issue in respect of mental health provision, which is driven by the document, A Vision for Change, but which is being eroded in an effort to save money. In such circumstances, the Minister should have the ability to direct the HSE, rather than simply to write to it requesting that it amend its positions. Such an assertion would permit the Minister to give greater direction to the HSE and there would be more accountability. It would be a two-way street and the Minister ought to consider this suggestion. I look forward to a debate on an amendment to the Health Act 2004 and I respectfully make this suggestion to the Leader.
I support the comments made by Senator Corrigan regarding the position in Iran. It brings to mind the comments of the late lamented former Deputy Brian Lenihan Sn., in which he spoke of the futility of consistency. There certainly is a futility of consistency policy in operation within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Whenever an outrage takes place in the only democracy in the Middle East, that is, Israel, of which tragically there have been many, the Department, the Government and public opinion takes an extremely hard line. In this instance, however, although there is the prospect of a possible tragedy of enormous proportions in Iran, there is almost complete silence from this House, from those who usually march to the gates of Leinster House, from the Government and from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Consequently, I agree with Senator Corrigan that strong statements are needed from this House, the Minister and the Government. As far as I am aware from media reports, there may have been progress in respect of this particular case. However, it is absolutely deplorable that any state could provide for the passing of such an horrific death sentence on a child or on an adult. Members need to express their disappointment on the lack of a Government response to date.
On another subject, I was glad to hear confirmation from at least one Member, namely, Senator Norris, that he was opposed to the guillotining of an item of legislation in this House last week. I have had the privilege of serving in both Houses over quite a long number of years and Seanad Éireann always has held-----
I appreciate that. However, Members must make a statement about the role of the Seanad and must revert to the position they always have held and which the Leader has confirmed on so many occasions, that is, that legislation is dealt with fully, absolutely and totally in this House. Furthermore, Members should not practice the politics of the guillotine. Unfortunately, I was not in a position last Wednesday to be present in this House for the initial Second Stage debate on the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009. However, in my preamble to the legislation some weeks ago, I expressed the hope that this House-----
While Members certainly passed the legislation, which I welcome, I wonder whether they passed the test of tolerance. Did Members demonstrate that they are able to listen to everyone's opinion? This is what time, space and debating time is needed for and I hope the Leader will reflect on his decision last week to guillotine legislation.
I ask the Leader to consider having a debate in September on the interim report of the expert group on mortgage arrears and personal debt, chaired by Mr. Hugh Cooney, which was published during the week. Many issues raised by that report are highly welcome. One issue pertains to the great difficulties being experienced by borrowers who were being penalised with additional penalties. The report now has dealt with that issue and I am glad this is happening. Moreover, the report proposes that each bank be obliged to have a dedicated section dealing with mortgages right across the system. I have undertaken a considerable amount of work on this issue and a report produced by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs contained at least 22 proposals in this regard. I hope some of them will be integrated into the report by the expert group chaired by Mr. Hugh Cooney, because MABS is a highly important organisation that will play a major role in helping people who are in difficulty with their mortgages. It is important that we have a full debate on this when the full report is released in September. We should be able to add or subtract from it as we see fit in this House. It will be important to analyse the report.
Some 35,000 people are in major trouble with mortgages. If we allow this issue to feature beyond September, many more people will be in difficulty. It is important that the Leader expedite the debate on this as soon as we return after the recess.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the people of the Inishowen Peninsula. The parish priest said now is the time for grief and solidarity but that questions will need to be asked and further conversation had in respect of road safety. It is very important that this happen.
I support what was said on the HIQA report. We need to reflect on the disconnect that while we are focusing, justly to some extent, on enlarging the State's ability to intervene where children are vulnerable, it is becoming increasingly clear that the State is no substitute for the family. We need to discuss in the next term what we are doing to support families to try to ensure children have the best possible start and support in life. Unless we focus on marriage and the family and are willing to brave charges of political incorrectness, we will not vindicate the rights of children in the longer term.
I have a question that very much relates to last week's business, albeit connected with last week's business. I will be tabling a motion for the Order Paper today and will be asking for a debate tomorrow on the question of using the guillotine on Committee Stage debates. I am very glad Senator Bradford brought this up. It used to be the Leader's proud claim that Committee Stage debates were not guillotined in the Seanad. The ability of the Seanad to scrutinise legislation and offer alternative perspectives to those heard in the Dáil was one of our proud boasts collectively. Last week, however, for political as distinct from emergency or exceptional reasons, that good practice was jettisoned on a fairly flimsy pretext.
The reason I am asking for this debate tomorrow, and giving the Leader notice thereof, is that we have had longer Committee Stage debates in the past. It must be said that some Members in this House knew there would be a guillotine. The Green Party, for example, called an impromptu press conference at 3.30 p.m. before any of us knew there would be a guillotine.
The point I want to make is actually on violence. I want to make a very serious point on the terrible scenes we saw at the end of the match and on our condemnation of violence on our television screens. Young people should not be exposed to the likes. I categorically dismiss any suggestion of the involvement of true Louth GAA supporters in such violence. The prompt delivery of sport and fair play is in the provincial and national hands of the GAA.
I express my heartfelt sympathy to the families bereaved by a tragic accident in Inishowen during the late hours of Sunday night. From speaking with people on the peninsula, I know they are preparing for the funerals. The next three days will be a difficult time during which the funerals, mostly of young people, will go ahead. Incidents like this focus us on road safety. It is important we discuss the matter, but acting on it is more important. I ask that we all redouble our efforts.
In late March, I tabled a motion on the Adjournment about the annual seat belt review conducted by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, and asked that it be extended to school buses. However, my motion was ruled out of order because the Minister for Transport did not have jurisdiction over the matter. I thank God that we have not had an incident involving a school bus recently, but were the excuse of the survey not being extended provided to the press or the bereaved, it would not be acceptable. Our sympathy and solidarity are with the families, but we have a duty to refocus on the issue.
Will the Leader indicate when the legislation on a directly elected mayor for Dublin is expected to be thrashed out in the House? Is it the intention to go to the polls and fill a position that does not exist in law while continuing to deny the people of Donegal South-West their constitutional entitlement to have the vacancy created by Pat "The Cope" Gallagher's election to the European Parliament filled? Members are aware that I was granted leave yesterday-----
I share the sorrow and sympathy expressed across the House concerning the tragedy in Inishowen. I come from the small county of Leitrim, which only has a population of 30,000. Inishowen is like my wife's area of west County Cork. While it is part of the broader county, it is a tightly knit community. The devastation visited on the good people of that part of the country can only evoke the greatest of sympathy.
Will the Leader convey the thanks of the House to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his efforts last week following an all-party motion in the Seanad regarding Mrs. Ashanti, who was under the threat of stoning? Last week, I conveyed to the House the nauseating detail of what might occur. As a result of the pressure applied by Ireland, the EU and various international agencies and governments, the Iranian authorities stated at the weekend that they would not be proceeding with the execution. Even at a remove, this example highlights the importance of the effect a parliament can have on a government without interfering with the latter's sovereign right to decide its judicial processes, however one might view stoning.
I also share the concerns of Senators Corrigan and Bradford regarding the 18 year old woman who was convicted when she was 14 years old. Her situation has been explained in detail and I agree that the Minister should make Ireland's position on the issue known. From speaking with the Minister last week, I know he called in the Iranian ambassador in the past month to deal with this matter, but it needs to be revisited. Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs met representatives of the Iranian Embassy to discuss the case of Mrs. Ashtiani.
Seeing that we are approaching the end of term, one of the most important decisions made in the House, reluctantly, was to pass the NAMA legislation. Some speakers referred to Anglo Irish Bank. I refer to a statement by a former director of the bank, Mr. Frank Daly, now chairman of NAMA, that the banks had misled NAMA. Media comment, in particular, has adopted this line uncritically. It is a national pastime to bash the banks, but we have to look at the issue more closely.
I have a question. The point is that the establishment of NAMA was announced in the supplementary Budget Statement in April last year. The draft business plan, according to which we were to make this phenomenal €4.8 billion in profit, was published on 13 October. Having nationalised Anglo Irish Bank in December 2009 and appointed public interest directors to all of the banks, there was adequate time for the Government to find out the true story. It is an abdication of responsibility to suggest it all comes down to the information the Government received from the banks. NAMA and the Government have a multitude of advisers to check these matter for them.
Did the Government not present, intentionally, a rosy and misleading picture on the profitability of NAMA in order to get the legislation over the line? It either did engage in a due diligence process on the banks - it had the capacity to do so - and hid the figures from us, or it did not, which would amount to a dereliction of duty. That is what is unpatriotic about the Government - it misled the Houses and the public on one of the most enormous financial undertakings ever made by the State.
Like all other Senators, I am shocked by the tragedy on the Inishowen Peninsula in which so many young lives were lost. It prompts the need for a full and thorough debate on where we are going on the issue of road safety.
I am aware that the Taoiseach is in New York where he is doing a fine job in raising funds for the development of new technologies. With that in mind, I ask for a debate on the development of new technologies. When the Commissioner with specific responsibility for the matter, our own Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, was here recently, she pointed out that the gap in Europe was in the development of the new good ideas. She suggested that, rather than reinvent the wheel, the new innovative products being developed in Europe, not be sent, for its benefit, to the New World which was only too ready to develop them.
Will the Leader please request the Minister for Justice and Law Reform for a cost schedule for the civil partnership Bill? It is unusual that we have not received it. I requested it twice during the debate last week. A ready reckoner was provided in the Dáil in which it was quickly indicated that it would cost €1 million per 1,000 couples. Is it true that, at the lowest end of the scale, we are looking at a possible cost of €73 million per annum within three to five years?
I add my voice to those of Senators Corrigan, Bradford and others on the situation in Iran and congratulate the Department of Foreign Affairs. I echo the words of Senator Mooney - if the words of the Minister for Foreign Affairs had an effect last week, that is laudable and something we should encourage. The case involves a barbaric act, something on which we cannot be neutral. However, I hesitate in taking the view that we should only protest when these things happen in Iran. They happen elsewhere also.
Stoning in Iran is absolutely deplorable and disgusting. It would be commendable if we could unilaterally punch above our weight in making protests as a nation and not under the European umbrella. We might, however, extend it as we tend to be a little À la carte about our protests over executions. Will the House consider why we remain regularly silent when executions take place in the United States of America?
I am not going to rank capital punishment on various levels of barbarity and primitiveness. It would be appropriate, however, were we, at every possible opportunity, to make it clear to the United States of America, China and other nations that we also find their activities in executing people utterly unacceptable. We have abolished capital punishment ourselves in this country.
Professor Robert Butler, a leading gerontologist about whom I have spoken many times in the House, died on 4 July. Older people across the world have lost a valiant friend, supporter and visionary against ageism. He coined the phrase "ageism", opening up a whole thought process and debate about the subject.
Ageism, the denial of basic human rights of older persons, is one of the most pervasive prejudices across human society. In speech after speech, Professor Butler pounded home the message that longevity in the United States had increased by 30 years in the 20th century, greater than the gain during the preceding 5,000 years of human history.
Last week, in defence of older people, Ringo Starr at 70 years of age held a concert in New York's Radio City. Clint Eastwood still directs movies at 80 years of age.
I have called for this debate on numerous occasions. As spokesperson on older people, my duty is to keep the spotlight on the issue. That is why I started my all-Ireland inspirational life awards, sponsored by BT, The Irish Times and Vodafone.
I certainly am not an ageist. Senator Ross made a good point about capital punishment. We are all appalled by the prospect of what is about to happen in Iran. However, we are slow to point out what happens regularly across the Atlantic. I am a strong supporter of the United States but when it comes to its capital punishment policy, we should not be afraid to point out our difficulties with it.
I agree with Senator Butler's point about the Cooney report and the difficulties experienced by those with mortgage arrears. A debate should be held on this as soon as possible.
Last week in Carlow, the HSE signed a contract to rent premises with no parking facilities in the middle of the town for €365,000 a year to house its occupational therapy and other community care facilities. This is despite the fact the facilities are already housed in the local public hospital, St. Dyspnea's, which is half empty and could be easily be refurbished to accommodate these facilities well into the future.
Despite this, €1,000 a day is being spent to rent this new premises in Carlow town.
I agree with Senators Bradford, Mullen and others on the guillotining of legislative debates in the House. It is not a practice we should adopt or encourage. I supported the civil partnership legislation last week but I also respect the rights of people to raise issues of concern to them about the legislation. We should have had a full discussion last week.
Last night the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Mary Hanafin, launched the Galway Arts Festival. In doing so, she was encouraged to be an artist for a day, as the festival generates a turnover of €20 million and brings 150,000 visitors to the city. Every day, we come to this House looking for solutions to our current economic crisis, yet there have been many missed opportunities.
I encourage the Minister to be a film-maker for a day. Last Saturday, I had the honour of being invited to the world premiere of a Galway-based film, "The Guards". The making of the movie generated €150 million in Galway. However, it very nearly did not happen because of prohibitive union practices that delayed and added extra costs to filming.
Up to 80% of the movie's budget came from overseas. Is the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport aware that union practices could be harming or even closing down our film industry? Some 26 film prints of "The Guards" have been struck for distribution which involves much money for the movie sector and the economy.
The people of Galway are reeling from the news of the proposed closure of large sections of Merlin Park Hospital.
Does the Minister for Health and Children know that this facility is the only specialist stroke centre in the west? With the proposed closure, up to 4,500 people who were to have orthopaedic elective surgery are now on a waiting list because University College Hospital Galway only takes trauma and emergency orthopaedic procedures. When will we have a Minister for Health and Children that believes in preventative care not just fire-brigade responses?
Senators Cummins, O'Toole, McCarthy, Boyle, Callely, Ormonde, Coghlan, Ó Brolcháin, Corrigan, Buttimer, Dearey, Mullen, Regan, John Paul Phelan and Healy Eames outlined their concerns to the House about the HSE and child care. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Áine Brady, will be in the House shortly for a debate on carers. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed, particularly those about the young men and women, boys and girls who are in foster care. I have no difficulty in allowing whatever time is needed after the summer recess for a debate on the HSE, the Department of Health and Children, the portfolios of the Ministers of State, Deputies John Moloney and Áine Brady, and the Galway Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney.
For every second week after the Seanad returns, we will have a debate on NAMA and the future funding of Anglo Irish Bank. Senators McCarthy and Boyle referred to e-voting machines. I suggest the Senators take the opportunity of the Minister being in the House tomorrow to give a report from the Dáil on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 to obtain an update on that matter.
-----in relation to the provision of hospital transport for the towns of Mullingar, Athlone, Longford and Tullamore. I take on board the Senator's comments. I welcome the appointment of the dermatologist who will operate for three days at Mullingar Hospital and two days in St. James's Hospital. This certainly is good news for Mullingar Hospital.
Senator Quinn called for a debate on the cost of medicine in Ireland in comparison with other EU countries and the possibility of the flu jab not now being available on prescription. I am aware the Minister has sought huge reductions in medicine costs, which she outlined to the House on the last occasion she was here and which she will reiterate when next in the House. I welcome this massive reduction in the cost of medicines to the Exchequer each year. I congratulate the Minister on her achievements in this area.
Senator Ormonde spoke of the horrific bombing in Kampala and the loss of 80 lives as a result, including one Irish person. I agree with the Senator's sentiments. Senator Coghlan inquired about the Dublin mayoral Bill. I will update the House tomorrow in regard to progress on this legislation. Senator Norris raised the issue of the company which made and installed the pipe organ in the National Concert Hall and is now not being allowed to tender for its refurbishment, which is a disgrace. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister. This is hard to accept given the bad times we are now experiencing. If there is in place a regulation preventing this company tendering for the job, we must take another look at it. Senator Norris also called for a debate on poverty. I have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate following the summer recess.
Senators Corrigan, Bradford, Mooney, Ross and John Paul Phelan expressed their shock and horror in regard to Iran and the proposed stoning to death of a 14 year old girl. I congratulate Senator Mooney on his all-party motion last week in respect of the challenges facing the young lady last Sunday. I say well done to the Minister for Foreign Affairs for all he has done and continues to do in respect of these matters and for calling in the ambassador and letting him know in no uncertain terms our total opposition as a nation to this practice.
Senator Corrigan called for a further debate on disabilities. I have already arranged with the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, to come to the House in the first week following the summer recess to update it on all matters within his portfolio, in particular disability issues. Senator Buttimer called for a debate on jobs and the 450,000 people who are unemployed. I have no difficulty providing time for a debate on this issue which is the most pressing in terms of the challenges facing Government. However, it must also be noted there are currently 700,000 more people working than was the position in 1987 when the Fine Gael Party last received a mandate from the people, which is a remarkable achievement.
Senators Bradford, Mullen and Phelan referred to the guillotining of legislation in this House. I gave an assurance in 1997 that no legislation would be guillotined in this House. I take credit for the fact this was not the case before then. The guillotining of debate is against everything I stand for. I prefer that every section is debated line by line. There is available to members a CD of last week's Second Stage debate on the Civil Partnership Bill, which was exemplary. It was one of the best Second Stage debates in this House during my lifetime. What happened later in terms of repetition and filibustering-----
Senators Butler and Phelan called for a debate on the interim report of Mr. Hugh Cooney. It is hoped the full report will be available for consideration in September at which time I will have no difficulty in allowing time, perhaps half a day, for debate on that matter. Senator Hanafin called for a debate on new technologies. I have already given a commitment in respect of such debate. I have no difficulty in inviting the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy O'Keeffe, to the House to discuss the challenges facing the country in this regard. It was refreshing to see the Taoiseach in New York yesterday.
I acknowledge all he is trying to do to assist those wishing to create jobs here.
Senator Carroll, a proud Louth Member of this House, raised the issue of the use of CCTV by the Gaelic Athletic Association, which we fully support. The GAA is a marvellous organisation which we want to support in correcting any wrongs that may have transpired. I congratulate all on an outstanding game of football last Sunday.
On the matter of by-elections, I say to Senator Doherty that Dáil by-elections are a matter for the Dáil and by-elections of this House are a matter for the Seanad, as has always been and will continue to be the position.
Senator Hanafin asked about the financial cost of the Civil Partnership Bill. I will pass on his comments to the Minister and will endeavour to find out for him what may be the costs in this regard. Senator Mary White raised the issue of ageism and referred to the outstanding contribution of Dr. Robert Butler in this area. On the matter of Mr. Ringo Star and Radio City, I hope he acted naturally when there. The song "Act Naturally" was the biggest harlem hit of the 1960s.
Senator Healy-Eames called for a debate on the film industry and the huge potential in this country in this regard. Members who saw on television last night the documentary on Mr. John Huston will be aware of the important role played by the late former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, in terms of getting it right for the film industry at that time. There can be no greater ambassador, employer or communicator than a friendly film industry that attracts investment from all over the world. I support the Senator's comments. We should do all possible to assist the film industry in Ireland, the potential of which is massive.