Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding directive of the European Parliament and the Council on attacks against information systems and repealing Council Framework Decision 2005/222/JHA, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund (No. 2) Regulations 2010, to be referred to joint committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Social Welfare Bill 2010 - all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage which is to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m. not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon to respond not later than 6.20 p.m., with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at the conclusion of Second Stage and conclude not later than 8.30 p.m.; No. 4, earlier signature motion, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3; and No. 5, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill 2010 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4, on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House. I intend at that stage to discuss with party leaders the time to be allocated to No. 5. There will be a sos for 15 minutes at the conclusion of No. 4.
We have raised this issue on numerous occasions and again this week all Stages of a number of Bills are being taken on the same day.
It emerged this morning that the Minister had been informed some time ago about the AIB bonuses and yet we saw no action until the issue came into the public arena. There was public outrage and outrage in these Houses that after so much money had been given to the bank, bonuses were still to be paid. What disturbs me is that it was only when it came into the public arena that we saw some action.
It begs the question as to what else is happening about which we do not know. What is happening regarding NAMA and the other negotiations, so much of which goes on behind closed doors? This is a further example of the Government's lack of competence in the management of taxpayers' money and we need a general election as soon as possible.
Last night on RTE we saw another "Prime Time Investigates" programme on home care packages for the elderly. It became clear that there are major questions about the standard of home care that 65,000 elderly people are receiving. The Minister should come to the House to outline the Government's approach to the question of standards of care for the elderly in their homes. A number of months ago we saw the report into what had happened in Leas Cross and many questions were raised about the quality of care in some nursing homes. What we saw last night gives rise to the most serious and distressing questions about the quality of care in people's own homes. Anyone who watched the programme will have seen very disturbing images of elderly people in their homes and would be concerned about the standards.
It is important the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, would be involved in assessing the standards and that the investigation's standards question be put on a statutory basis. The Minister should come to the House as soon as possible to answer the questions raised by last night's programme. It is in the public interest to have a debate as soon as possible on home care packages for the elderly because so many people rely on them. While it is very important that people are in a position to stay in their own homes, it is equally important that the standard of care is appropriate to their needs.
Like Senator Fitzgerald, it is not possible to accept an Order of Business providing for the taking of all Stages today of such important legislation.
On the question of the bonuses for bankers, I have some experience on both sides of the table of dealing with this issue, negotiating for and against bonuses. I have chaired and served on remuneration committees. What we have heard during recent days about what happened in the banks is appalling. The number one point is that we would see the contracts. I would like to see them. I have never seen a bonus contract that had a figure on it. It is always a percentage which is conditional on achieving certain stated black and white objectives. A weighting is given to each of those objectives. There is an assessment to ascertain the key performance indicators which show the objectives have been achieved or partially achieved. At the end of that process at the end of the year the level of achievement is set against the level of the potential bonus and a figure arrived at on that basis. Following that, the remuneration committee proposes it to the board which finally approves the decisions that have gone through during the period of the preceding year.
This is not something that can happen, as indicated in today's newspaper, by a person having a quite chat with his or her manager in the office. There must be a clear paper trail indicating the objectives, the key performance indicators, the weightings on each of the objectives, how many of the objectives have been achieved and how the final figure was arrived at. If that did not come before the board, then management is at fault. If it did come to the board, then not only the public interest directors but all the directors are involved. It is not only the people who have been appointed by the Government but all the directors who have a statutory responsibility on behalf of shareholders of the bank. That is a reality we should be questioning. If this did not come to the board, then management has to answer.
I do not expect a Minister to micro-manage but half an hour spent on this would tell me whether this was done properly or improperly. It does not depend on issues such as supervening - a new word to me - circumstances such as the Minister has brought forward, but it certainly has not been done properly.
We need to know more information. My question is whether the Minister could find for us the template of the contracts to which we are apparently legally bound? I do not believe they exist. I do not believe that the proper procedures were followed nor do I believe in offering them that those in the bank followed the procedures required to ensure good governance.
I support Senator Fitzgerald and Senator O'Toole in opposing the Order of Business. It is unacceptable that we would be asked to debate all Stages of the Social Welfare Bill, which is an important Bill that will make many changes and result in reductions to many people's income. That we would be asked to take all Stages of that today makes a mockery of the processes in the Seanad. The strength of the Seanad lies in our ability to debate in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner. I know the Leader agrees with me as he is nodding his head. That we would be asked to take Committee and Report Stages of the Bill together in one day, meaning that we do not have any time for any meaningful debate on amendments, is unacceptable and undermines the status and the purpose of the Seanad. I strongly oppose the Order of Business.
I ask for an amendment to the Order of Business on a related point because last week I asked for a debate in this House on the OECD report on literacy levels. It is a hugely important report, on which I was supported by everyone on the Opposition side and by some speakers on the Government side. The Leader promised that he would make time for that debate either that day, and there was a sos of one hour in which we could have had it, or this week. It is not on the Order Paper this week.
I will ask for a further amendment to the Order of Business if the current order is agreed, which we cannot accept. I ask that time be made available this week, even for an hour, to debate that vital report. We all know education is the key driver to economic recovery and if we cannot debate this worrying report about levels of literacy, it shows we do not hold education in the high esteem we need to hold it in.
I support Senator Fitzgerald in her call for a debate at some stage on the troubling findings of the "Prime Time Investigates" report last night on home care. It was very disturbing, particularly to see an elderly woman being force-fed in her own home. That raises serious questions about levels of care, and it was also unacceptable for the Minister effectively to say that regulation is not the answer. If regulation is not the answer we are asking the wrong question. We clearly need regulation of home care as a matter of urgency and we also need that debate.
I congratulate the Minister for Finance in the action he has taken on AIB, as there are questions to be answered as to why we are still talking about bonuses at this time in a deep-seated recession.
I saw the programme last night and I agree with Senator Fitzgerald in all the points she raised. It was awful to watch.
I hope the people running those home care packages will never be in a similar position or find themselves where the elderly people last night were seen to be. It was an absolute disgrace and we should not entertain excuses from anybody in those home care companies. There were no licences or regulation and it is an absolute disgrace. I hate to think I would endorse any body of people looking after the elderly in the fashion portrayed in that programme last night.
I ask the Leader to bring the Minister to the House. I know her heart is in the right place and she wants to ensure there is appropriate regulation and that the local and regional HSE personnel will provide supervision. An overhaul must be carried out quickly. How many older people are in their own homes at this point, with perhaps no trust between them and the people who come in to look after them? Trust is the key word, as older people must feel they can trust the people who come in to look after them.
I support Senator Bacik's comments on the OECD report and we should have that debate. I have asked for it already and it is a very serious matter. Education is the way forward and the key to our future. That debate must take place. I know the Leader is running short of time but perhaps we could fit in an hour or two. If he cannot do so we should have the debate early in the new year.
In the interest of accuracy I wish to correct the record of the House. Last week I spoke with concern about two children found scavenging in the streets of our country. According to the national media it happened in Waterford city but the HSE has since confirmed it occurred in Kilkenny. The substantive issue remains and it is still of deep concern to us.
I also bring to the Leader's attention the annual competitiveness report for 2010 published by Forfás and the National Competitiveness Council. The executive summary states:
Continuing action to repair the public finances and restore the solvency of our banking system must be matched by an ambitious agenda of reform to enhance competitiveness and increase employment. Robust economic growth is necessary to generate the resources required to fix the public finances and the banking system.
As a responsible Opposition party, Fine Gael has been trying to impress this message on the Government over the budgetary debates and with our alternative budget. We need stimulus in our economy and growth measures; that is stated clearly in this publication by Forfás.
We need a debate on competitiveness, manufacturing and exports. There are already very strong indicators that our export businesses are doing very well but we must build further on that. I am concerned that in the recent budget we have seen cuts in areas such as research and development, innovation and enterprise and third level colleges. People have spoken about the €40 million that was supposed to go to AIB executives on bonuses. Imagine the great work, incentives and stimulus that the money would create if introduced into our research and development departments in colleges and institutes of further education.
There is an important need for us to debate new ways to stimulate our economy, as well as innovation and entrepreneurship. In the recent budget the Government decided to tax individuals with new patents, which is a hammer blow to entrepreneurship in this country. We must stimulate and create employment and there is a need for an urgent debate on the matter.
It will be a sad day if we cannot speak about the general development of youth councils.
I call for a debate on the drugs problem at the earliest possible opportunity, preferably as soon as there is a gap in the schedule. Last week an inquest heard about the role of cocaine in a high profile death. In my time as Chairman the then Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs completed a number of reports. In 2004 we produced a report on the effectiveness of investment in sport and the arts as a deterrent against substance abuse among the youth. In July 2005 we completed a report on the treatment of cocaine addiction, with particular reference to the Irish experience. The following year we produced a report on the inclusion of alcohol in a national substance misuse strategy, while in 2007 a specific report was compiled on drug abuse in Ireland, with particular reference to the situation in Waterford. I ask that we use these four reports to open a debate on drug use and misuse. While I do not wish to dance on anyone's grave, people are more alert to issues when celebrities are involved. For something good to emerge from what was a tragic event, people must explore the issues surrounding drugs and the implications of drug use. The joint committee initially considered giving its report on cocaine the title, "What Everyone Needs to Know About Cocaine". If a debate on the issue of drugs is initiated in response to the death of a high profile figure, at least the tragedy will have some value.
Perhaps we need to have a debate specifically on Allied Irish Banks which has been virtually 100% nationalised. The fiasco in recent weeks has been extraordinary. We do not need to congratulate the Government on its performance in this matter.
The Minister behaved in an appropriate manner at the last minute only because he was forced to do so by public opinion. It is highly disturbing that AIB and the Government have moved in tandem rather than in opposite directions on the issue of bonuses. This was evident in their simultaneous release of press statements yesterday in which they tick-tacked to each other exactly what they would say. Moreover, both the Government and AIB miraculously changed their minds on the issue at exactly the same time. Last week they both indicated it was fine to pay bonuses and took the line that the law had enforced payment. This week both of them changed their mind simultaneously and they did a U-turn together. The Government's reaction consistently on the issue of the banks has not been to take them on but to defend them in the worst of circumstances. When news of the bonuses broke, the Minister should have immediately sacked Mr. Spring and Mr. Collier, his appointees to the board of AIB, and stated they were not doing the job he had asked them to do, namely, to defend the taxpayer. Mr. Spring and Mr. Collier were acting precisely against the interests of taxpayers. The public interest nominees of the Government to the banks seemed to go native immediately. I do not know whether the reason is the €30,000 per annum they receive or whether they are under some pressure. They will only move when the Government compels them to move and it will only move when it is compelled to do so by public opinion. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to come before the House today in order that we can ask who is the puppet in this case. It is my contention that the Government is the banks' puppet. That is the position in this case.
I am relieved that the disgraceful suggestion that bonuses be paid to bank staff has not materialised. I would welcome a general debate on the banks. Considering the level of support we are affording them to keep going, it would be appropriate to ask whether salary levels throughout the banks are appropriate. While we have managed to limit the pay of top executives and ensure the non-payment of bonuses, are other salaries of banking staff still appropriate, given the level of support the banks are receiving? My information suggests most salaries remain as they were before the crisis.
If that is the case, given the level of support the State and the taxpayer are providing, clearly the levels of salaries throughout entire organisations need to be looked at without delay.
I join Senator Keaveney in calling for a debate on cocaine. Although there has been much mention in the media in recent times of the abuse of this drug we should focus on having such a debate, similar to the way alcohol abuse has been discussed. One calls to mind advertisements on television that have helped to reduce the level of drink driving throughout the country. Equally, there needs to be advertising on our airwaves and in our print media showing the direct links between drugs and death. People who still engage in snorting cocaine in the gin and tonic belts of Dublin and other cities without making a direct connection to murders in this city and other parts are deluding themselves. It is time that, as an Oireachtas, we promoted the highlighting of this issue in the stark terms required. This is not the recreational drug of the super elite but a drug that finances murder on a daily basis throughout the country and it is time we used our good offices to highlight that fact.
Last week I issued a press release on my local radio station about the €40 million bank bonus. At the time, the Minister for Finance was absolutely emphatic there was a legal agreement, people were in for the long haul and it was not possible to overturn the situation. As Senator Fitzgerald did, I find it extraordinary that yesterday this situation could be overturned. This is disgusting because it means that this incompetent Government is continuing on the same train-----
-----of mismanagement of our country.
I echo what Senator Fitzgerald said about the "Prime Time Investigates" programme about the elderly but it is strange we are all so shocked. This underegulation of care of the most vulnerable in our society is ongoing. In 2008 HIQA drew up a programme of standards that were to be adhered to in regard to people with disabilities, both adults and children. Sadly, this Government agreed that people treating those with disabilities could adopt such regulations if they so chose. It was a voluntary buy-in, which is an outrage. After the Ryan report, after children suffered to the extent they have, how can we be shocked here today at the way our elderly are being treated? There is nothing binding in regard to people who are incapacitated or disabled and do not have the wherewithal to mind and look after themselves. There is no regulation of any kind. Shame on this Government.
I am calling for a debate on stimulus, just as Senator Coffey did, because it is a valid point. In this House we spend a great deal of time discussing the downside in the cuts but it is important we look at ways in which we can avoid cuts in the future.
I call also for a debate on the issue of public discourse with the body politic. I had occasion to travel on a bus today on the way from the train from Galway. A young gentleman made a comment as he was passing the Four Courts. He asked if it was Leinster House. His father said it was not, it was the Four Courts. The little boy asked where Leinster House was and his father said, "We are going there soon". The boy said, "That is where the bail out took place", and his father said, "Yes, it's Bail Out House, that's right". That was so sad. We are working in a place some people consider to be "Bail Out House".
The Senator was here also. The reality is that the public has a very low regard for politics at present. There is a huge job to be done to win back regard. Both the Opposition and Government need to explore new ways to ensure the people and politicians interact in a more healthy way.
I have one theme today, that is, whistleblowing. I congratulate the Government on ensuring our ambassador to Norway, Mr. Gary Ansbro, attended the Nobel peace prize ceremony to honour to Liu Xiaobo, who is a whistleblower about human rights in China.
I fully support Mr. Julian Assange, the organiser of WikiLeaks. It is extraordinary that his reputation has been impugned in the way it has and that he has been convicted by the Australian Prime Minister without a trial. This is quite extraordinary behaviour. Senior American officials have called for his assassination. The more open our government and the more dirty little secrets that are out in the open, the better.
The same is true of the banks in that there is whistleblowing involved in this sector also. Thanks to a whistleblower, The Irish Times tells us that, far from being compelled to pay the bonuses, the banks organised their own contract in a rushed fashion. They front-loaded it and brought forward the contract. They gave verbal contracts. Everyone in the bank apparently knew this was being done to outwit the Irish people and to perpetrate a fraud on them. The officials involved in the banks should be discerned and dismissed. We should know who they are and they should be got rid of straight away.
With regard to home carers, the same issue arises. I raised this a year ago on foot of a case involving an elderly woman in the north-eastern part of this country. There were disastrous circumstances in which the carers were entrusted with giving medication and did not even speak English. They had never been investigated by the Garda and there was no regulation whatever. The people who informed me about this were afraid to get involved themselves because they were afraid they would be punished by the authorities.
Mr. Noel Wardick of the Irish Red Cross was punished and lost his job because he told the truth about money being sequestered and left idle in rural branch of a bank. My own whistleblower, who gave me information that led to the disclosure of a very serious breach of liquidity regulations in the Irish Financial Services Centre, has lost his job.
There is a common theme today. There is a need to honour and protect whistleblowers because of the good they do for us and the way in which they place us in circumstances in which we can enact the kinds of principles we are elected to enact.
As a member state of the United Nations, Ireland is due to have its domestic human rights record reviewed for the first time next year under the universal periodic review, UPR, mechanism. This is a very important review. I ask the Leader to have a debate on the UPR mechanism to assist in commencing the national debate, the consultation process and the production of the national report that is required to be submitted for the UPR.
This may well dovetail into what I am to mention next. As with other Senators, I express my concern over the exposure of certain matters relating to the level of care being provided to the elderly. The manner in which last night's programme was presented set off alarm bells.
I congratulate the tremendous army of personnel, some of whom are paid, some of whom work voluntarily and some of whom are family members, who are involved in the provision of care to the elderly in the community. This can be challenging on occasion, to say the least. This is a very complex area and no simple action will bring about a resolution. A mighty floodgate may be opened that could have grave consequences.
We all have a role to play in being a good neighbour and keeping in contact with the elderly, be they under the care of paid or voluntary carers or family members. Under all three sets of carers, abuses can occur. We all play a fundamental role in the provision of care to the elderly.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House and to agree with me in respect of what I have to say. The reality is that the Minister was dragged in, kicking and screaming, to prevent the payment of the bonuses yesterday. It is extraordinary that it took the Minister for Finance five days to agree with everyone in this House that the bonuses should not have been paid. It took two days to cut social welfare payments by putting the Social Welfare Bill through the Dáil. The events of the past week have underlined that the Government does not value people, given the cuts made in the budget, the level of care provided for the elderly and the lack of respect shown for taxpayers through the payment of bonuses by the banks. When will it end? When will those in government get the message?
When will the Government learn? When will it value people who matter in this society? The Government does not get it. As we learned last night, it does not value the elderly. Senator Callely was in government and a Minister of State with responsibility for older people when this was happening. The Leader-----
I wish to raise the question of a loss of revenue to the Exchequer. There is a serious situation where one third of the cigarettes sold in the State are illegal. They are illegal not only because they are brought in without any duty been paid, but also because they are not the original articles; they are cheap and very dangerous substitutes and people are seriously endangering their health by using them. However, this is not the main reason I raise the issue. I raise it because the same people involved in smuggling these cigarettes are also believed to be involved in smuggling drugs and people, which makes this a very serious issue. All of us wish to do the right thing. Many people buy Fairtrade goods because they know it will help somebody in a faraway country. Do people realise, however, that when they buy these cigarettes, they assist criminal gangs? This is something we need to address. I, therefore, ask the Leader to suggest we impose far more severe penalties for those who knowingly sell cigarettes which are forgeries and on which revenue has not been paid and that we ensure this is done in this term, if necessary by suggesting legislation in this House.
I commend the Government for taking the necessary steps and time to ensure bonuses would not be paid in the bank. Everything has changed and all of us - the public and private sectors and all sections of society - need to know there is a new dynamic and that we have to live within it. It is not that difficult, but we have to accept and embrace it.
Last night's " Prime Time Investigates" programme was hugely disturbing because the victims are people who are not in a position to fight back and many of them will not live to tell the tale. What is really disturbing is that it involves a systems breakdown in the HSE. The problem - I want to Leader to respond and to bring this point to the attention of the Minister and possibly have it debated - is that the HSE stopped the practice of recruiting home helps and home care assistants and brought in outside private agencies and speculative people to do the job. It diverted responsibility. There used to be a hands-on approach, whereby local nurses recruited home helps based on local knowledge and common sense. Those appointed were monitored by them. Now we have private agencies engaged in the business for profit and gain, which was very visible in last night's programme. The ones who need to answer are the HSE and, ultimately, the Department and the Minister. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue. I am sure the source of the problem lies in the fact that responsibility for recruiting and managing home helps shifted from the HSE to private agencies with a profit motive only which were not properly regulated. It is disgraceful and wrong. Sufficient personnel were available to do it, as there are enough people at middle management level in the HSE. The shift to private agencies is inexcusable, wrong and a complete failure of the system and the patients are the vulnerable victims.
I join the call for a debate on the issue of the bonus for bankers. We must have an investigation into how and on what grounds a bonus could be due because, as Senator O'Toole pointed out, there were no achievements that would give rise to a bonus. There is obviously something very wrong in that regard and I would like a debate on it.
The murder of Pat Finucane was one of the most notorious acts during the Northern Ireland Troubles. He was a solicitor who did his job effectively and who provided his services without fear or favour, but it would seem now that he was about to throw light on some murky happenings in the North which involved collusion by the security forces. There was an outcry at the time of his murder, not just in Ireland but throughout the world, because people saw it as an attack on the legal profession and the judicial system.
I listened to Pat Finucane's son on the radio yesterday and find it understandable that the Finucane family would want a proper, independent public inquiry into his case. It seems there are files in the possession of MI5 which would provide particular information on this murder. It would continue the good relationships which have developed in recent years between Britain and Ireland if the new Government in Britain would expedite an independent inquiry of this kind and ensure that all the necessary documents are made available. It will not be acceptable to suggest that they might in some way endanger national security. This is a case which if it is not brought to a conclusion, will only taint the success and the results which have emanated from the peace process to date. Above all else, the Finucane family, like any other family, is entitled to retrospective justice and proper process at this time.
The scenes depicted on "Prime Time Investigates" last night were very distressing and will have upset many families. We no longer have an option not to regulate the care area, where we saw untrained and overworked carers mistreating elderly people and unscrupulous employers facilitate this by neglecting their obligations. We can no longer opt for a situation where the HSE pays millions of euro to private companies, but does not monitor how care is provided. It was appalling to witness the indignity suffered by patients and to see how they were treated. The policy of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has been to make the private sector responsible for the welfare of thousands of elderly people. We need her to come to the House to explain how the situation we witnessed last night has arisen. Up to midday today, the HSE helpline had received 52 calls, all of which arose as a result of last night's programme. It is an appalling abuse to leave the care service unregulated and in the hands of untrained people. The issue must be addressed and the Minister must come to the House to account for herself.
I join colleagues in calling for a debate on the issue of drug abuse. Last week we saw the reports of the inquest into the high profile death of a member of the media. That was a missed opportunity by RTE to highlight the fact that the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine by any person is unacceptable. Senator MacSharry pointed out that the use of drugs such as cocaine leads to deaths, and not just in Finglas and west Dublin. We know of one case some years ago where a tradesman going about his business was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed when a drugs lord was targeted and murdered. One should ask oneself whether the person whose inquest was held last week was responsible for that death.
I work sometimes with the Kerry addiction counselling services and Leona Cronin and visit schools around the county to speak about the issues of drug and alcohol addiction. However, the abuse of substances such as cocaine by high profile personalities seems acceptable because the national broadcaster has not come out clearly to state it is not acceptable. It prefers instead to leave the issue alone because it does not want to speak ill of the dead. He was described as a good man who had problems. However, the source of his problems has led to deaths all over the country. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to travel to Colombia with Trócaire. I visited a town where the father of two young girls had been kidnapped and killed with a chainsaw. His limbs had been removed one by one until he died.
One must ask the question whether the person who was the subject of the inquest last week was also responsible. I put it to the House that he was. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on cocaine abuse in Ireland at the earliest opportunity.
Long before the recession began the media continually made all of the progressive and reform movements and politicians responded. We bring politics into disrepute by speaking every day about last night's "Prime Time Investigates" or last week's "Today with Pat Kenny" programme. Politics can have no currency if it continually follows the media. We follow the media because every progressive movement of the Government during the past 30 years was prefaced, followed, killed or stifled by politicians acting on the advice of the Attorney General. I have two rules for Taoisigh, the first of which is that they should never leave the country, whether to go on holidays or visit America, when a crisis is pending. The second concerns acting on the advice of the Attorney General which has been lethal for politics in this country. I am aware that this is a state of law, but, by definition, laws are static rules which stop people and politicians from doing things. I have never seen a law that has initiated fresh movements or progress. Surely, it is the function of the Attorney General to enable people to do things. He should tell a Minister how to act rather than why he or she should do nothing. The only proactive Attorney General I can recall is the much lamented Michael McDowell. I will put flesh on Senator Ó Murchú's recollection of Wikileaks. Michael McDowell reminded us that, far from packing it in 1993 or 1998, the Provisional IRA was actively engaged in planning the subversion of the State as recently as 2005. Adams and friends were up to their necks in it. All those who retrospectively offer benediction or assurances that it is all over or that they are all goody-goodies now that the peace process is under way should realise that as recently as five years ago they were actively setting up dirty tricks departments, targeting politicians, eavesdropping, hacking into telephone and computer systems and setting up a government within a government. They continue to control pubs, shops and security firms. They have built an evil empire within the economic structures of the State. Instead of confining his comments to Pat Finucane, Senator Ó Murchú should have mentioned Mr. Adams and his sunglasses and beret. Never let it be forgotten that we need a legal system and an Attorney General with the guts of Michael McDowell.
Like other Senators, I wish to speak about the terrible conditions revealed on the "Prime Time Investigates" programme and add my voice to those who have called for a debate on the issue. We will hardly be able to arrange such a debate this week because the issues arising are too serious to be discussed in a debate lasting one hour or 90 minutes. There is nothing like a report such as the one we viewed last night to exercise our minds and thoughts, particularly when vulnerable members of society are subject to such viciousness and cruelty. I watched a poor old lady crying as she pleaded with her carers not to force-feed her. They were people who had not received any training and who were probably not known to her. I had to switch channels and come back to the programme later because I was reminded of the terrible advertisement to encourage people not to drink and drive in which a young couple hug each other before being hit by a car. I can never watch that add as it is so horrendous, which is how I found "Prime Time Investigates" last night.
While regulation is needed, we also need to focus on training and standards, and perhaps this is where the debate should be focused. There are many good companies which are working very hard. There are rogue companies, as there will be in any walk of life, but the good companies provide excellent service and are not afraid of strict regulation. These are the ones we should look after and promote because they provide high standards.
While I hate to disagree with Senator Joe O'Reilly, I do not know that it is all the responsibility of the HSE or that it should take all the blame. It is right to give business and employment outside the HSE, as we know. The HSE has been very strict in this regard. Only last week, I saw that two nursing homes, one in my home county of Offaly, had been closed because of poor standards. This area is being regulated.
We need to have that debate. I ask the Leader to keep on top of the agenda when we come back in January.
We have spoken today about bankers and their bonuses, and we have learnt that the sham culture of banking still exists. Senator Ross is right to ask what the Minister for Finance has done about the attitude that exists in the banks. What has gone on is an outrage.
I raise this issue again based on the fact a major file is about to go to the DPP's office on the Anglo investigation. Today, I was shocked to learn that the annual report from the DPP stated that his office is fully stretched and, if there is a further increase in the workload coming into the office, something will have to go because of the public service cutbacks. I ask the Leader and the Minister for Justice and Law Reform to ensure nothing will come in the way of the Anglo investigation or of justice being done.
I have received a letter from the Director of Corporate Enforcement, Mr. Paul Appleby, stating that this is the largest file his office has ever handled since its inception in 2001. That office has analysed and evaluated several million Anglo and Anglo-related documents and has conducted over 200 interviews. One file will issue to the DPP before the end of this year and several files will issue in early 2011. While I could not get this information from this House, I got it from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement through meeting the director at the national ploughing championships. That is a disgrace on this House.
To return to my question, will the Leader guarantee the people that justice will be done and that the office of the DPP will have enough resources to handle the Anglo file and, furthermore, all the other justice issues going through that office? I look forward to the Leader's reply.
I wish to refer to two points. The first is the tragic death of the broadcaster, Gerry Ryan, and the fact he was a cocaine abuser. Senator MacSharry is right. There is no question that much of the crime committed in this country is drug-related. When will we cop on to that fact? We need an urgent debate on this whole issue as soon as possible.
With regard to the "Prime Time Investigates" programme, when I addressed the Chamber in 2005 on the refund of nursing home fees legislation, I said people were coming out of the woodwork who never put one foot past the other to visit their relatives. The chickens are home to roost now. I bet a pound to a ha'penny that in many of those cases a relative is seldom involved, but they are involved if there is money in the offing.
We are accused of being an over-regulated society but, in this case, we are under-regulated. There are people who present themselves as being able to care, whereas it turns out many of these people could not care less. I watched that programme, which was stomach-churning. Geriatric nursing is a specialised area, as is geriatric medicine. This is not a new phenomenon because I remember the case some time ago of a lady in a private nursing home. She required a particular injection and this lady in a white uniform, who had no training whatsoever, told her to turn over. The patient concerned refused to accept the injection, and rightly so.
We must bring this matter centre stage and have a debate on it. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House as soon as possible to debate this whole area? It is an absolute disgrace.
Senator Fitzgerald made the point that it was only when the bankers' bonuses came into the public arena that action was taken. We could apply that comment to the issue covered by last night's "Prime Time Investigates" programme. When will the public and the Department of Health and Children start to prioritise the care of older persons? The Minister must come to the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss this issue.
Last night we saw people who were little better than pimps procure incompetent, untrained and, in some cases, uncaring people to take care of older persons in their homes. We saw people who were supposed to spend an hour with someone spend sometimes as little as 15 minutes providing completely inadequate care. For how long did the health authorities know this was going on?
The Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, said the Department of Health and Children is currently examining regulations for the sector but for how long has it been currently examining regulations for the sector? Is it since last night's programme or for some time prior to that, which it might be able to specify?
It is a reflection on our society and on us that it takes documentaries of this kind to draw attention to major injustices in our society. It was said there have been approximately 38 complaints in recent years. Given the need to respect the desire of the older person, we know that only in the case of serious crime can the desire not to report a case be overborne. The responsibility is all the greater on us to ensure we get the necessary standards, training, regulation, oversight and integration with other services.
We need a suspension of the moratorium and special decision-making to ensure the Health Information and Quality Authority, other bodies and public health nurses have a supervisory role. We must end the spectacle of fly-by-night companies being able to advertise on their websites the fact they are HSE approved.
I generally support what I heard in regard to last night's "Prime Time Investigates" programme. On many occasions, I have spoken about the need for us to consider care of the elderly in a broader and more holistic fashion. The difficulties in the current private care arrangements were highlighted last night and we discussed the issue of nursing home subventions etc. previously.
My concern is that we are failing to consider the elderly in a broader fashion. We almost see them as a commodity that must be cared for and we do not consider the more obvious solutions such as family support, carer's allowance etc.
Notwithstanding the fact we are close to the end of this Oireachtas, we must put services for, and care of, the elderly back on the political agenda and debate the services which are or more pertinently are not available to the elderly. The one size fits all solution is not working. As I said previously, the view that nursing home subvention will provide a nice clean bed in a nice nursing home as a panacea for every senior citizen is a shocking dereliction of duty. We must be much more holistic, community and family orientated in the services we provide.
We will shortly debate the Social Welfare Bill 2010 in which carers are losers, and I will address that later. Care of the elderly does not begin and end with a nursing home bed, whether privately or HSE provided. We must look at the broader picture and I ask that we set aside time for an urgent debate.
I said previously when we debated the possibility of a referendum on the rights of children that I hoped the next Oireachtas would consider the concept of a referendum to give some degree of constitutional protection to the elderly because they are not sufficiently protected across a wide range of services. We must aim to redress that difficulty.
I apologise to the House that I have not been able to bring the Construction Contracts Bill before it, as promised. I thank the Leader and the Cathaoirleach for making arrangements for it on so many occasions.
This Bill, which was introduced in the House last May and came back in October, has turned out to be much more complex than I thought. The other day the Attorney General said he wished to get involved in some of the aspects of it and that is the reason it will not come before the House this week.
I wish to make a plea for help. It is very good legislation and the Seanad will come out of it very well but it will not be easy to get it passed. We will work very hard in the next few weeks and we hope to have the Bill before the House as soon as we come back after the recess. I hope Members will be able to help get the Construction Contracts Bill through the other House by using their influence with colleagues in their parties. It is good legislation and both Houses will benefit from it, as will the country. I urge Members to do their best to ensure it passes before this Government leaves office.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Ross, MacSharry, McFadden, Norris, Callely, Buttimer, Hanafin, O'Reilly, Prendergast, Feeney, Healy Eames, Glynn, Mullen and Bradford expressed their support for the Minister for Finance's decision in regard to the 2,400 plus AIB staff and their bonuses totalling €40 million. I welcome his decision and legislation will come before the House for its consideration during the week in regard to it. Legislation on financial matters will be before the House today, tomorrow and on Thursday. We will have ample opportunity to make the important points on banking and financial issues to the Minister and the staff of the Department over the coming three days.
RTE and the "Prime Time Investigates" team are to be congratulated on bringing to the attention of the nation the difficulties being experienced by the HSE in regard to home care packages. What we saw in the programme was appalling and shocking. Those of us who served for a long time on the health boards and who are totally committed to providing the best possible care to all patients could not condone what we saw on our television screens last night.
As regard the quality and standard of care and the good job the Health Information and Quality Authority is doing, there is a further work to be done. As I said many times, tens of thousands of carers are doing an incredible job but that 0.1% of people demean all the good work they do. I have no difficulty discussing this issue after Christmas and inviting the Minister for Health and Children to the House to update it on the proposals in regard to those not caring for our senior citizens. Our senior citizens should be thanked for all they did in their lifetimes in making a contribution to our country. I have no difficulty in allowing plenty of time for this issue to be discussed and debated.
Senators Bacik, Ormonde and Harris asked for a debate on the OECD report. I propose to have statements on this next Friday. I have no difficulty in allowing this debate to be continued after the Christmas recess. It is most important that this matter is discussed and debated in the House before the Christmas recess.
Senators Coffey and Ó Brolcháin asked for a debate on competitiveness, stimulus packages and growth and on the strength of our exports. I welcome the 107 new jobs announced for Galway by Hewlett Packard. The significant investment by the Government in research and development was one of the main reasons cited by the company. I congratulate everyone concerned, IDA Ireland, the Minister and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation who helped bring these jobs to Galway. I congratulate the lucky people of County Galway, 70 of whom are to commence work immediately.
I was surprised the Senator did not mention those jobs and welcome them when she was speaking.
Senators Keaveney, Ross, MacSharry, Daly and Glynn outlined again the shocking tragedy of some of our best people losing their lives as a result of the abuse of drugs. I have no difficulty in allowing a debate. I remind colleagues that the Appropriation Bill will be discussed in the House on Friday. All 14 Departments and their expenditure can be debated and discussed under the heading of the Appropriation Bill.
Senator Ó Brolcháin asked for a debate on politics in general and he expressed his concerns regarding the perception of the body politic. I have already given a commitment to hold this debate and it can take place in the near future. Senator Norris asked for a debate on the protection of whistleblowers. I have no difficulty in having this debate. Senator Ivor Callely outlined to the House the universal periodic review of human rights by the United Nations. This is a significant innovation by the United Nations. It was established in 2006 to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The domestic human rights records of 192 United Nations member states are reviewed every 40 years. A total of 48 countries are reviewed each year beginning from 2008, with 16 reviews currently taking place. Ireland will be one of these 16 states to be reviewed. Ireland's first review under the universal periodic review will take place on 6 October 2011. I have no difficulty in arranging a debate on this in the near future.
Senator Hanafin outlined the loss of revenue because of cigarette smuggling by those heavily involved in the drugs world. I have no difficulty in having that debate. Cigarette smuggling assists gangs and I support the call for a debate on the loss of revenue and illegal drug money. Senator Ó Murchú asked for a debate on the murder of Pat Finucane. This man did so much for the people of the North of Ireland. Senator Ó Murchú called for the establishment of an independent inquiry. Such an inquiry would be an acknowledgement of the miscarriage of justice that took place. His family live with the significant stress and strain of losing a very brilliant father, husband and man. He defended people in very difficult times over that 30-year period. His memory deserves an inquiry, as does his family. I have no difficulty in the House debating and discussing this matter. There has been an international outcry for an inquiry and I support Senator Ó Murchú's call.
Senator Harris outlined to the House his very strong views on the courage of the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Attorney General, Mr. Michael McDowell. He is a courageous person. I was a Member of the other House from 2002 to 2007. I often referred in that House to the courage of the then Minister. It was impressive to see the groups he faced up to, whether in the dock or in the North of Ireland. He was an outstanding man in his portfolio. I fully agree with Senator Harris's views-----
It takes someone with the courage of his convictions and he certainly was a man with the courage of his convictions. I saw this at first hand. Senator Healy Eames asked for the debate on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the 16,000 files-----
-----submitted to the office last year of which 80% had been responded to within three months. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been doing much good work on behalf of the people. I have no difficulty in arranging a debate after the Christmas recess to see what we can do to get extra resources for that office.
In answer to Senator Quinn, I am sorry the Bill relating to the construction industry could not be dealt with on 24 October. However, it has taken on a life of its own, particularly with regard to suppliers. I know the Cathaoirleach has done everything possible - as have I - to make time available. Whenever the Attorney General, Senator Quinn, the Minister for Finance and everyone concerned with that Bill decides it is ready to come to the House, I will leave time in the schedule of the House so the Bill can come to the House immediately. I give an undertaking that this Bill will be on the Order Paper the following week.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 32 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 17 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Brendan Ryan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Fidelma Healy Eames.
Question declared carried