Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, and No. 10, motion 1. We will deal with No. 1, the election of a Leas-Chathaoirleach, in 15 minutes. Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive - which involve the restoration to the Order Paper of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011, the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008, the Coroners Bill 2007, the Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgments (Amendment) Bill 2011 and the Privacy Bill 2006 - will be taken without debate. No. 7 will be taken no later than 4.15 p.m. and will conclude at 5 p.m. Spokesperson may speak for five minutes and the Minister to reply not later than 4.55 p.m. No. 10, motion 1, which relates to the tourism sector, will be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. as normal.
When I spoke during last week's sitting, I was not aware that Senators Cummins, Bacik and Paul Coghlan had formally been elected as Leader, Deputy Leader and Government Whip, respectively. I wish to place on the record my congratulations to them. Senator Cummins will be obliged to grow eyes in the back of his head if some of the comments made by certain Members on the Government side at the weekend are anything to go by. However, that is a matter for another day.
I welcome the fact that the Leader has indicated that the Seanad will sit on additional days. I suggest that the House should at least sit until 30 July. The Leader can take it that I and other Fianna Fáil Members intend to introduce a number of relevant and constructive items of legislation in the House prior to the end of this session.
As a new Member of the House, I welcome the comments that have been made in respect of reform. As a number of Senators mentioned last week, it is not just this House which needs to be reformed. I served in Dáil Éireann and I am aware that it also requires reform. I remind all Senators of our individual responsibilities to ensure this House is and is seen to be relevant to the people and can do the business for them. This Seanad, with the diversity and broad range of experience its membership from all sectors in society has, can be the best so far.
Of course it is right that Members raise concerns. However, change does not occur overnight in any walk of life, be it in the private or public sector. It is a great game played slowly. We have to be careful about what we do. We must examine our procedures to see how the Seanad can be reformed. This side of the House will be proposing innovative reforms such as that mentioned by the Leader earlier of inviting outside experts and European commissioners to the Chamber.
I also welcome the Leader's proposal to extend the number of sitting days. I believe the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sittings are crucial. The Fianna Fáil Senators will be asking for certain Friday sittings too. It is no harm as we are here to do a job and must be serious about it.
The Leader referred to various reports including ones on child protection and employment regulation. The Seanad must discuss the programme for Government. In the interim between the Seanad elections, the 23rd Seanad debated the programme for one day. Many new Senators have been elected since then. The House deserves the opportunity to have a proper and meaningful debate on the programme. Will the Leader consider scheduling such a debate?
In the 23rd Seanad I raised the crucial report of the review group on State assets and liabilities. The Seanad's views on which State assets will be sold or which will not must be taken into account. Other matters such as how the Seanad can represent the Irish abroad must also be debated.
The Leader will find this side of the House to be robust in opposition and debate. I urge him to ensure the House sits until 30 July and not just for the sake of it. There is real business to be done. This is an open forum in which every Senator must be able to raise issues and matters which they believe are important.
Will the Leader clarify the position on the household management charge announced yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government? The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade this afternoon claimed the charge will not be in place and any charge on water metering will only come in on the basis of the metering being completed. Will the Leader clarify the Government's position on this?
Last night, the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, spoke on RTE about the future of the fair deal scheme. This is a concern for all of us. Thousands of families cannot access the scheme. The Minister is holding a review of the scheme, which we welcome, and is set to be completed by Friday. He will then make a statement on the matter on Monday. This will be the most crucial issue of how the elderly are cared for. Will the Leader arrange for a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on the operation of the fair deal scheme as soon as possible?
I welcome the election of Senator Maurice Cummins as Leader of the House and look forward to working with him and Senator Darragh O'Brien as Leader of the Opposition. I also welcome the announcement of a new configuration of groups in the House which will be conducive to the carrying on of effective, coherent and well-informed debate in the House. I welcome the Leader's announcement that procedures will be reformed. We need to see transparency and clarity around procedure. There must be advance notice, where possible, of upcoming debates and legislation. We always sought this when we were on the other side of the House but were not always successful in achieving it. I hope this House will be able to conduct its business in a more efficient and effective manner. It is unfortunate that last week's debate was somewhat incoherent and lengthy. It is fair to say many speakers on the opposite side were not sufficiently concise. It is important procedures are put in place to ensure as many speakers as possible can contribute. We need to ensure the new Senators who have much to say and a great deal of expertise to bring to bear on debates will have an opportunity to contribute and that contributions are concise, thus enabling the House to be more effective in the manner in which it conducts its business.
I welcome the announcement that the House is to hold debates on a number of reports. I also welcome the announcement this week by the Government of two initiatives to progress women's rights, which include the electoral (amendment) (political funding) Bill which will set quotas in terms of minimum numbers of candidates of either gender to be achieved by political parties, something for which I campaigned during the previous Seanad. It is hoped the Bill will come before the Seanad before it rises at the end of July. I welcome the fact that the first Bill to be debated in the House tomorrow is the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011, the principle of which received cross-party support in the House last year when introduced by me on behalf of the Labour Party. It is welcome that the legislation will be introduced and debated in the House tomorrow.
I ask the Leader to provide time before the end of this session for a debate on white collar crime. The Director of Public Prosecutions raised this issue over the weekend in his speech to the prosecutors' conference. He made the point that public concern and anger at the delay in prosecuting individuals as a result of failures in the banking system needed to be addressed. There is immense public anger in that regard. As legislators, we must examine how we can reform the law to ensure people will be brought to justice for engaging in white collar crime. There are plenty of provisions in the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 which could be used to prosecute those whom it appears have committed fraud offences. As such, it is not necessary to go into the complex corporate offences code in this regard. The matter could be considered in the context of a debate on white collar crime.
Imeasc buanna an tSeanaid tá an deis atá aici cúrsaí reatha a phlé, go háirithe nuair a bhíonn fadhbanna ollmhóra os comhair an phobail. Tá sé rí-thábhachtach go dtapódh an Seanad an deis chun na cúrsaí sin a chur faoi chaibidil. Ní fiú é sin a dhéanamh muna bhfuil saineolas agus cruinneas le cloisint freisin.
One way in which the Seanad can make a difference is through its ability to comment on important and pressing current issues. However, we will only really take advantage of that opportunity and serve the public well if wisdom is reflected in our contributions. I support Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for a debate on the programme for Government and it is important such a debate should take place. It would be impossible to ignore the good work done by "Prime Time Investigates" as shown in the past couple of nights in highlighting not alone the human cost of cutbacks but also their hidden human cost. These programmes, in particular the programme shown on Monday night, drew public attention to the suffering of so many good people in silence.
It will be difficult for Members of this House and the Dáil to debate these issues in the coming months knowing the gruesome trial we face in trying to close the deficit between what is taken in and what is paid out. It is not enough for the Minister to say it is a matter of prioritisation. Members of the public, in particular those at the centre of the documentaries, deserve to be told by the Government at the earliest possible opportunity the full menu of options in terms of cutbacks to be made and how precisely it proposes to prioritise in order that the needs of some of the most vulnerable in our society will not be pushed aside. It is not acceptable for the public to have to depend on the public broadcaster to highlight such suffering. We need to be up close with the details of the cutbacks, commenting on them and making recommendations to the Executive about what is appropriate and what is not.
Members of the Government and the Minister who now has responsibility for health made great play when in Opposition of the fact that the previous Government used the operational independence of the Health Service Executive as a way of dumping and quarantining problems that needed to be dealt with. It is right and proper that the Minister would seek to put order on the HSE's house but he is now the person in charge. He will need to come to this House and to the Dáil to tell us in advance what will be done, as part of the necessary prioritisation. We must look forward to a moment when we are not dependent on RTE to bring the hidden suffering of so many good people to light.
I encourage the Government to resist taking the opportunity to be in Government and Opposition at the same time. In recent days we saw a succession of events when Ministers announced proposals and Members from the other party in Government snapped at the ankles of the Minister. That strikes me as playing the PR game. The people who will be affected by, for example, changes in registered employment agreements or the introduction of water charges deserve that the Cabinet should settle on a line before we hear about changes. The next people to be told should be Members of the Oireachtas. Let us have an end to announcements being made in the media before they are heard of in the Oireachtas. If we are serious about political reform we will maximise the potential of the Oireachtas. One way that will happen is by the Executive outlining plans that have been agreed in Cabinet and sharing them with the Oireachtas at an early date. The Government can then have its press conference. People will have no time for the Dáil and Seanad if it is widely known that we are the last to hear about important developments in public policy.
I welcome the promise of a new group in the House. I encourage them to be as independently minded as the university Senators will be. If they are not, we will want to know why. I encourage them in their deliberations.
I extend my congratulations to the Leader and deputy leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and whoever else needs to be congratulated.
I confirm that the Independent Taoiseach's nominees will form a group. We come from very different civil society groups and have different representations. Our diversity is our strength. We wish to maximise the opportunity that has been presented to us. We all have issues that are close to our hearts. However, I can guarantee that we will knock on the Leader's door to discuss Seanad reform.
I thank my colleagues in the group for putting their trust in me to lead the group for the time being. I will do my best. We have people of excellent calibre in the group and we will use our time wisely.
I thank the Leader for his agreement to a debate on an important report by Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, who is a special rapporteur on child protection. Too often, reports come and go and we wait for television programmes like "Prime Time Investigates" to expose the horrors. I recommend to colleagues that they read this report before we debate it next week. I hope we do not use the time allotted for the debate simply to complain but to discuss the solutions required and the legislation and policies needed to achieve them. These solutions include the provision of a 24 hour out-of-hours social work service, a range of reforms for children with mental health difficulties and reform of elements of the criminal justice system, including the introduction of legislation to disclose confidential records.
There is a long overdue need to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis, which would ensure there is a duty to report concerns of neglect or abuse of a child, a point which was very much highlighted this morning at the launch by the Ombudsman for Children of her annual report.
I welcome the opportunity that will be presented to us tomorrow to discuss the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011. This is an issue that is very close to my heart and I have seen the horrific ramifications the practice can have for women. I hope we will be able to strengthen the Bill and help it move through the Houses as quickly as possible.
Like previous speakers, I commend the appointments which have been made. At our last meeting, I commended my colleague from Waterford, Senator Maurice Cummins, on his appointment and I take this opportunity to do so again. I welcome his proposals in regard to the extension of how long we sit. I agree with previous speakers that we should sit until 30 July and return earlier in September. I also welcome the longer sitting periods and the fact we may sit on Fridays on occasion.
I welcome the formation of the second Independent group. I made the point at our last meeting that it was a very good choice by the Taoiseach to ensure a broad range of groups is represented. Their independence in this Chamber is very positive and I welcome it.
The Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House should take note while Sinn Féin may not have the magic number of five to form a group, I hope there would be some form of informal recognition of Sinn Féin as a group. In the spirit of fairness and reform, this may be something for the Chair and the Leader to consider.
In respect of Seanad reform, it is important that this House leads and is central to the debate. We all accept there will be a referendum and we must be part of whatever proposals are put to the people. At the first meeting of the 24th Seanad, the point was made that those of us who believe in a second Chamber need to work constructively together, where there is common ground. I hope this opportunity will be afforded to us. I welcome the suggestion we would invite outside organisations to the Chamber. There are many advocacy organisations which advocate for political reform, not just in regard to the Seanad but also in regard to local government, the Dáil, a new constitution and many other issues and ideas.
It is welcome that there will be a discussion on the report on the joint labour committees, JLCs. I remind the House that this was an independent report. Aside from just having a debate or discussion on those proposals, new and different proposals have been put forward by the Minister which deviate from the scope of that report. If we are to have a discussion, it must be wholesome and we must also discuss the Minister's proposals. With regard to the timeframe for consultation, while the Minister has referred to a period of ten days, the trade unions and social partners are deeply unhappy with that consultation process. If we are to discuss this report, we need to do so quickly if the Minister's consultation process is ten days. I welcome the fact the Minister stated he wanted to hear the views of public representatives across the State, including Members of this House.
A previous speaker referred to the report published today by the Ombudsman for Children, which is a critical and important piece of work. I was taken by what the Ombudsman for Children said this morning about law makers taking into account the rights of children. She cited the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act as an example of where, collectively, law makers failed to take into account the rights of children. It would be important, in the spirit of bringing people to this House, to invite the Ombudsman for Children to the Chamber. She made some telling points, and, if I can, I will read one quick paragraph from the report which-----
There is a final issue. I support the call for the Minister for Health to come to this Chamber because there are very many issues that need to be discussed, including the fair deal scheme. There are issues affecting local and regional hospitals, people with diabetes and many others.
I wish to see the Seanad working. This morning I telephoned the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House to discuss a revolutionary, or radical, change in this House, namely, how we might invite people to come to the Chamber who would be accountable and answer questions. I compliment the Leader for stating he will seek to have Standing Orders amended through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, to achieve that. That is what I call progress.
For that reason, and in the public interest, I raise the issue of NAMA and what precisely it is achieving. I have learned that the business plans required by NAMA are completely unworkable, some being hundreds or thousands of pages long. Some businesses are charging between €40,000 to €240,000-----
I shall explain what I seek. We need business to work and to be released. NAMA was set up in order that credit would flow. I ask the Leader to invite the chief executive officer of NAMA, Mr. Brendan McDonagh, to the House in order that we might ask questions-----
There is no provision for that. It is a matter for Senator Healy Eames to address through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but it is not on today's Order of Business. Does the Senator seek to have a debate on NAMA?
I seek answers as to how NAMA is serving the public good. I shall take the Leader's advice on whether we should first look to the Minister for Finance, but ultimately we should use the method he suggested today and invite persons to the House to answer direct questions. In that way this House might be accountable to the people.
Will the Leader arrange an emergency debate on energy provision and security and ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come to the Chamber and make a statement on ongoing difficulties in a major project in the mid-west? The Shannon LNG project, which is under the auspices of a multinational energy provider, the Hess Corporation, is well advanced. Millions of euro have been spent in developing a site on the Shannon Estuary in north Kerry.
Perhaps we might discuss it more immediately. Our colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, has been proactive on this matter in the other House and we in this Chamber should act likewise. This issue is very important for energy security and 500 jobs are at stake in the Kerry region.
On a lighter but not entirely jocose note, I am happy about the extended sittings of the Seanad and will be glad to continue until 15 August, if needs be, but it has come as a tremendous shock and is a matter of deep regret to me that the Leader proposes to bring us back in the third week of September which, as the entire world knows, is the week of the Listowel races, a most important event in the racing calendar and a major festival for the whole south west of Ireland.
Arising from my nomination to contest the Seanad election, I request a debate on joint labour committee, JLC, rates, a very important issue that will have a significant effect on the lives of people in this country who are compelled to work at weekends and on Sundays. This matter warrants an open debate.
The Leader stated that the debate on the employment regulation order would be an opportune time to discuss this matter. There is a timescale involved, given that only ten days remain and, therefore, I ask for the debate to be advanced as quickly as possible.
I congratulate the Leader, Senator Cummins, not on his election on which I already congratulated him, but on the manner in which he speedily addressed the efficiency of this House. He will have the support of all sides of the House in so doing. There was a slight delay, but it was not caused by the Leader of the House or any of his officials, rather it was caused by the Taoiseach in his deliberations on his selection of nominees to Seanad Éireann and it was worth the wait because we have such an unusually excellent group of people. Today those Senators have taken an historic step. Never in the history of the Seanad have the Taoiseach's nominees formed a group and elected a leader. I sincerely congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout on her election. She has a fine record in protecting the rights of children. In that regard, I join my colleagues from Sinn Féin in asking for a serious debate on the report of the Ombudsman for Children in which she makes some serious remarks, including that children are still being denied the right to be heard, that they still have an impossible task in some instances of realising their rights and that they are being denied basic essential services.
I am calling for a debate to be held on the matter. I bow to the Cathaoirleach's ruling. I should have put the question mark at the start of the sentence. As a grammarian, I am used to putting it at the end of a sentence.
Can we have a debate that will also include information gleaned by all of us so painfully from the "Prime Time Investigates" report on carers? We saw clearly the tragic consequences not just for adults but for children too, some of whom are in a terrible situation because funding has been withdrawn from the Jack and Jill Foundation which was supporting them. I am pleased that among the Taoiseach's nominees is one of the leaders of the foundation, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, and I am sure the name will be correctly pronounced in this Seanad, although it was mistaken in the last.
It is particularly important that we have this debate and I was pleased to hear a distinguished commentator from The Irish Times remark on my consistent record in this House on the protection of children, by which I stand. I want it to be known publicly that I will not be deterred and will continue to protect the rights of the vulnerable, particularly children. I invite anyone who questions this to look at the record of Seanad Éireann, on which I stand proudly.
I welcome the legislation being presented to us, again in a speedy and efficient manner, but what is the ultimate fate of Senator Feargal Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill which was one of the most important to be put before this House? I understand it is in suspended animation in the other House and hope it will soon be passed into law.
I know in my heart, as Mr. de Valera might say, that the Independent Senators feel the same as I do and that we will play a constructive role. We are engaged in our own debate on the division of responsibilities within the group. As the Cathaoirleach is aware, under the regime of former Senator Joe O'Toole, we did not have a leader, but we are opening up these issues. In this House we should make sure we are constructive, not confrontational. If there is to be sniping, partisanship and mud-slinging which sometimes form part of political life, let it take place in the other House; let us make sure the atmosphere in this House is calm.
I will support strongly the rights of the Sinn Féin group to be heard as a small group. It started with one Member; it now has three and those Members should not be downgraded in their privilege to speak.
I welcome the initial statement of the Leader on his plans for "in-house" reform. I fully support the idea of European commissioners and MEPs addressing the House, as was the case a number of years ago. The Leader should take the obvious step of ensuring that each Minister will come before the House at least once every five or six weeks, as they do before the other House, to account for their stewardship of their Departments and to take questions, queries and suggestions from Members of this House. I expect the Government to respond favourably to such a request. I made it a number of times when on the other side of the House but I will not change my view of politics simply because of musical chairs. Each Minister should come before the House and this should start in the near future.
In this context, the first Minister who should appear before Members at the earliest possible date is the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. While the meeting should be on a wide variety of issues, Members must take note that today's unemployment figure of almost 450,000 people demonstrates clearly the scale of the problem facing the Government and this House. Job creation also must be at the core of this House's agenda and many of its Members have ideas they would like to present to the Minister, Deputy Bruton. He has the ability and range of thought to respond favourably to them.
Action is what is needed from Ministers, not the so-called consensus that obtained over the past ten or 15 years in which everyone was permanently in meetings talking about solutions but not doing anything. I look forward to action by the Minister, Deputy Bruton. He should appear before this House within the next week or two to discuss his plans to put Ireland back to work. Every problem is secondary to this. Problems cannot be solved in the areas of health, education and social welfare unless people are put back to work. Will the Leader facilitate an urgent debate on unemployment and job creation, with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, at the earliest date possible?
In respect of the Jack and Jill Foundation, for the benefit of those Members who were not present at the time, it was referred to as the "Jekyll and Hyde foundation" by a former Member of the House. Moreover, despite being corrected, he kept referring to it as the "Jekyll and Hyde foundation".
It was for the purpose of clarity. As I did not get an opportunity on the last day on which the House sat, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment. In addition, I congratulate my constituency colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, on being made Whip - a more affable man one could not meet. I also congratulate Senator Cummins on being made Leader of the House. He discussed the issue of Seanad reform and I suppose the system failed the people. Had the Government, the Dáil and the Seanad been working as they should, Ireland and its citizens would not find themselves in the present position, namely, in a dark place in which one can envisage a return to unemployment and emigration. One can envisage a return to the past in which citizens see a future not in Ireland but in another land.
Moreover, the future of this House is in doubt because people believe it is not fit for purpose. Then again, neither is the Dáil or the Government. The entire system failed the people and if the forthcoming referendum contains only one substantial proposal, namely, the abolition of the Seanad, that will not constitute reform. That will not prevent the type of catastrophe in which we now find ourselves.
As the Leader brought up the issue of Seanad reform, I ask whether such reform will be comprehensive and will it simply be about Seanad reform? When the issue is being debated in this Chamber, will the debate be about legislators legislating to pre-empt disaster, rather than talking about it after the event? In essence, that will be the benchmark. Reform of this House, the Dáil and the Government will be benchmarked against a single issue, namely, whether it will prevent the kind of catastrophe in which we find ourselves at present. Unless it does so, it does not constitute reform of these Houses but merely a papering over of the cracks. I commend the Taoiseach on his nominees. It is welcome that it took him four weeks to nominate them, because although choosing from 4.42 million people is no easy task, he appears to have found some extraordinary individuals who undoubtedly will make an enormous contribution to this House.
Today's newspapers mentioned a report from the World Health Organization on mobile telephones and the danger to children. In the last Seanad, Members from this side of the House published a Mobile Phone Radiation Warning Bill, which proposed that a warning label be put on all mobile telephones. I note the European Environmental Agency proposed the precautionary principle and that it took 47 years to prove that tobacco caused cancer. Moreover, a labour court in Italy gave compensation to an employee because he was using mobile telephones as part of his work.
Yes. In addition, Lloyd's of London refuses to insure any mobile telephone company because it is unable to quantify the risk. I hope Members opposite, some of whom do not see this House as being fit for purpose, might consider supporting this legislation.
Before I ask the Cathaoirleach to refer my proposals to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I wish to make a few observations on my first day speaking in Seanad Éireann. As a Senator who was quoted in the newspapers about the possible abolition of the Seanad, I do not think anyone sitting here today wants to see it abolished and if anyone wishes to abolish it, he or she can make their views known.
In August when we will have some time on our hands, I suggest Members read a book entitled Lustrum by Robert Harris in which he refers to the emperor, Cicero, who introduced a Bill to curb the travelling expenses of senators throughout the Roman Empire. Nothing has really changed.
That was the Roman Empire which was slightly bigger than Donegal. Perhaps we could learn from Cicero when he wrote that the art of political debating was to keep speeches short, remember names, tell a few jokes, put on a show, but above all, render an issue, however complicated, into a story anyone could grasp. This is advice from 53 BC and perhaps we could all learn from Cicero today. I advise Members to read Lustrum during their August break when they have a few spare hours.
I am not finished at all. My proposal, which I would ask the Leader to refer to the CPP, is that this Seanad should meet outside Dublin on perhaps one occasion every year. Article 15.1.3° of the Constitution states:
The Houses of the Oireachtas shall sit in or near the City of Dublin or in such other place as they may from time to time determine.
I ask that the House give this some consideration. I am sure my colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, would not disagree that it should be held in County Donegal for the first time and after that it could sit in Galway, Cork and Kerry, to name but a few counties. The people have to see the Seanad is active and not just in Dublin. Many of the new Senators are from rural Ireland and they would like to see the Seanad sitting one day a year in another place, perhaps in the Cathaoirleach's own county of Mayo which I am sure would be second after County Donegal. I would not object to that.
I ask that my proposal be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for consideration. It would be in the interest of all Senators to travel. Some Senators may not have been in County Donegal in all their lives so I am inviting everyone to visit. We will provide a suitable venue in which to host the Seanad and it will also be a tourism boost for Donegal.
I know that when any of us refers to legislation being passed in the other House, we are told it is not our business. I ask the Leader to draw to the attention of the Minister concerned the fact that the Daylight Saving Bill has passed Second Stage in the British House of Commons. The reason I raise this matter is that it will be on Committee Stage in the next few weeks. It proposes that Britain should join central European time which would give it an extra hour's daylight every evening. The Cathaoirleach will know that I have been arguing this point for many years. My argument is that we should be doing something about it. I was contacted recently by people in the British House of Commons who told me that Northern Ireland is concerned that if it joins central European time, it will be operating in a different time zone from this State. It is proposed that Britain will change over in the next couple of years on a trial basis, as happened in the years 1968 to 1971.
I am a firm believer that there are many benefits in this country joining central European time and gaining an extra hour of daylight every evening of the year. The number of road accidents would be reduced quite dramatically, as was the case during the trial period. There would be an energy saving, something that is now more important than it was 30 years ago. Along with the advantages to tourism, these are just some of the benefits to be had from joining central European time. I raise this issue because if Britain determines to do so now we will be seen to be coming after it. In the past I said we should be willing to leave the nursery even if nanny does not come with us. We should claim that it is our intention to move and let it be seen that we are leading on this issue. It would have so many benefits that the British would follow us. I would like the Leader to call to the attention of the Minister that this change is likely to happen very shortly and we do not want to be seen to be following Britain.
In regard to the Construction Contracts Bill which was passed by this House in March, it will go before the Dáil. It is the intention of the Government that it will pass and I look forward to making sure that happens during the coming months.
Ba mhaith liom, ar an gcéad dul síos, mo chomhgairdeachas a dhéanamh leat féin, a Chathaoirligh, mar gheall ar an onóir agus ar an omós a bronnadh ort ar an ocáid spéisiúil a bhí ann Dé Céadaoin seo chaite.
I restrained myself the last day and that is why I did not speak. I did not succeed in restraining too many others but that was allowed and understandable on the opening day. As was unanimously agreed, there is no one better or more eminently qualified than the Cathaoirleach to occupy the Chair.
You have always been fair, well balanced and even-handed. We will leave it at that.
I wanted to congratulate the Leader of the House and compliment him on the very businesslike intentions which he outlined for us here today. It shows how well we intend to proceed in this House. Many important items were touched on. As I did not speak the last day I congratulate Senator Norris on his very thoughtful address and all the matters he touched on, which I have no doubt we will come to do. He was most helpful to the House.
The Leader's intentions, which he outlined today, are most helpful and can be coupled with Senator Bradford's comments on bringing Ministers before the House. We should remind ourselves of the Taoiseach's intention that Ministers would be equally answerable to this House, as they are constitutionally obliged to be, as they are to other House. It is an important point to make.
I, too, want to very much welcome the formation of the new independent grouping. It will add greatly to the work of the House, as the Cathaoirleach and Leader mentioned. I look forward to working with all Senators.
I compliment the Leader on the very impressive presentation he made here today. It does not come as any surprise because he is a man who has given excellent service to this House as a Senator in the past.
I hope to have an issue debated in the House if time can be found. It might even culminate in an agreed motion. All reasonable people at the current time welcome the new, improved relations between Ireland and Britain. It augurs exceptionally well for the future and something which happened recently has added to that. We have had the report on the inquiry into the murder of Ms Rosemary Nelson. It is a very harrowing report but it is good to be able to say that the family now regards itself as having been vindicated.
However, there is another group of people which is currently in limbo, namely the families affected by the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We have discussed them here in the past and they have been examined by a committee. The Government has taken a position on the issue but I hope that, given the good relations which now exist between Ireland and Britain, we might be able to get out of the cul-de-sac on the issue. The cul-de-sac seems to have resulted from the fact that we are not getting co-operation from Britain in regard to files.
I will make a suggestion to the House and when there is a debate we might be able to get an agreed motion. I believe it would be possible to have a joint, low profile inquiry on which Britain and Ireland would co-operate. Senators who have met representatives of Justice for the Forgotten will know the terrible agony endured by those affected by the bombings, some of whom are very old.
Yes. If we do not act on this matter, the next generation of the families affected will have to continue their quest, which would be a pity.
I endorse the request of Sinn Féin for designated speaking times. If such an approach were adopted, it would demonstrate that the Seanad is inclusive and get the House off to a good start.
I congratulate all those who have been elected to various positions, including the Leader, Senator Cummins, who has been a friend of mine for many years, although he has caused me to lose a great deal of money on various race tracks.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the proposed household management and water charges. I concur with Senator Mullen's view on announcements being made before they have been fully endorsed by the Cabinet. Decisions and announcements should be made following agreement by the Cabinet. Members of the public are concerned and confused about the proposed charges. While I accept that the country is tied in to certain commitments arising from the EU-IMF deal, there is a right and wrong approach to these issues. The right approach would be to request the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the proposed charges and give Senators a clear understanding of what is proposed.
On the Leader's comments on reform of the House, as someone who has been involved in local government for almost 25 years, I fully support the concept of inviting European Commissioners to appear before us. However, it is equally important to invite the first and second tier of local government - town and county councillors - before the House to allow them to have an input.
I ask the Cathaoirleach for latitude as this my first contribution. I am learning from seasoned Senators how to get more speaking time.
Local government, which has a strong place in the democratic system, does not receive much of a hearing. In this regard, I thank the 880 councillors who elected 43 of the Senators present. I also congratulate the Taoiseach's nominees and the six Senators elected by university graduates. Local authority members are the forgotten electorate and practitioners of democracy in their own right. No one referred to them last Wednesday or thus far today. I thank them for putting up with Seanad candidates when we were on the road for six or eight weeks and engaging in the democratic process by electing us.
Iarraim ar Cheannaire an Tí díospóireacht a thionóil maidir leis an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach, go háirithe inniu i gcomhthéacs an lá stocaireachta a raibh muid ar fad aige trasna an bhóthair in Óstán Buswells. Is ceist í ceist na Gaeilge a raibh muid ar fad aontaithe fuithi agus, sa dá Theach, glacadh d'aonghuth leis an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge agus glacadh leis go gcuirfí i bhfeidhm í. Rud a chur an-áthas orm ná an méid Gaeilge a labhraíodh anseo an lá faoi dheireadh agus impím ar dhaoine a bhfuil Gaeilge acu í a úsáid i bhfad níos rialta mar is éard atá daoine a rá ná go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go dtaispeánaimid ceannródaíocht sa Teach seo agus sa Dáil maidir le húsáid na Gaeilge.
Ba mhaith liom go bpléifí straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge mar, mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Mullen romham, tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go bpléifimis na gceisteanna tromchúiseacha seo a bhaineann le cur chun cinn na teanga i dTithe an Oireachtas, seachas taobh amuigh dóibh, ar dtús báire. Ceann de na spriocanna a bhí sa straitéis ná go mbunófaí Údarás na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta. Bhí caint ar maidin ann go ndearnadh cinneadh Rialtais inné agus go bhfuil fógra le déanamh dé hAoine go bhfuil na feidhmeanna fiontraíochta atá ag Údarás na Gaeltachta le baint de dé hAoine, sula mbeidh deis againn an cheist sin a phlé. Is ceart an cinneadh sin a chur siar go dtí go mbeidh deis againn na impleachtaí a bhaineann leis sin a chíoradh.
I welcome the opportunity to speak for the first time in Seanad Éireann and look forward to working closely with fellow Senators. I have a long-standing interest in disability issues and received a nomination to run for the Seanad by Inclusion Ireland, the association for people with an intellectual disability. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issues raised on the RTE "Prime Time Investigates" programme broadcast on Monday night, which reported on the silent suffering and lack of support services for carers of people with special needs.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an méid atá ráite ag an Ceannaire. In particular, I welcome his commitment to bring some innovation to the business of the House. While the idea of inviting European Commissioners to the House is a good one, we should go further. The current economic challenges are the most pressing issue facing the country. There are many eminent economists of international standing who could make a significant contribution to charting a way forward for us. Unfortunately, however, we are being inundated with commentary by celebrity economists, many of whom are moonlighting from various universities when they appear on media programmes. I am singularly unimpressed with some of the commentary emanating from them because it is not helping the economy and could be doing economic damage.
While I support those who have called for a debate on joint labour committees, JLCs, I ask the Leader to consider framing it in the context of an overall debate on competitiveness. I also ask that the Minister would come to the House to explain the reason certain employees are paid between €3 and €4 per hour more than their counterparts in Germany, our Supreme Court judges are paid more than €100,000 per annum more than their counterparts in the United States and professors in Irish universities and consultants in Irish hospitals earn 50% more than their counterparts on the neighbouring island.
I am asking the Leader to ensure they are included in a clear-cut debate. The challenges facing us are of such magnitude that if we fail to address them properly, we will consign not only this generation of young people but the next generation to unemployment or emigration. We must face up to these challenges and I ask the Leader to include them in a broader debate on competitiveness and specifically address them to the Minister in the interests of those who are unemployed.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and Senators Cummins and Bacik on their respective appointments. I also congratulate Senator Paul Coghlan on his appointment as the Fine Gael Party Whip.
While I support Senator Moran's call for a debate on the issue of people with disabilities, I ask that the discussion be widened to include Ireland's failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I bring to the attention of Senators an article in today's edition of The Irish Times which reports that Inclusion Ireland has highlighted the fact that increasing numbers of parents with mild disabilities are having their children removed from them by the State. The organisation also pointed out that many parents in such circumstances would be capable of keeping their children if they were provided with appropriate supports by the State. The House must be concerned about this issue, especially given that all available evidence shows that parents should be supported to help them be the first and primary carers of their children. I ask, therefore, for the motion to be extended to include the wider issue of ratification of the UN convention
I wish to inform the House that I have published the Registration of Wills Bill 2011, which is the first Private Members' Bill of the 24th Seanad. I will be seeking support from the Leader of the House for Government time in which to have this measure debated in due course. I want the Government to consider this matter, which was unanimously agreed by the previous Seanad. We were in Government at the time and the Opposition parties were very supportive of the Bill.
I also want an opportunity to brief colleagues on this measure, perhaps next week. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is no system for the registration of wills in Ireland or, indeed, in most countries. There are more than 2,000 solicitors' offices and each one has its own method of registration, which sometimes can be very inefficient. In fact, many wills have been lost or mislaid and thus people have been deprived of their inheritance rights.
I will be glad to do so. This House can be useful for the purpose of introducing Private Members' Bills. I encourage those who may have difficulties with how this House is run to gather their thoughts and put forward ideas for legislation to be introduced here. It is a great opportunity for Senators to introduce legislation via Private Members' Bills.
I hope I will get the support of both sides of the House for the Registration of Wills Bill 2011. I am anxious that new Members would have an opportunity to study the Bill. I would like to brief them on the measure and hope they will also have an opportunity to table amendments to it. I would be glad to consider such amendments, and accept them, with the agreement of the House. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for giving me the time to announce this matter today.
I welcome some of the younger people who have just arrived in the Visitors Gallery. I am sure some of them may be Senators in time to come if we can ensure the future of the Seanad.
At the risk of overburdening the Minister for Health, I ask that he attend this House to discuss the future reconfiguration of hospitals. There has been much discussion throughout the country about the way in which hospitals are being reconfigured. We know that some small regional hospitals are concerned about their futures, not least Sligo General Hospital in my own area. We have seen how the configuration of cancer services changed the system so that there are no centres of excellence above a line from Dublin to Galway. When hospitals are reconfigured in future in the interests of delivering quality services and efficiency, I do not want to see us ending up with an imbalance of hospitals and further arguments arising. I therefore ask the Leader to request the Minister for Health to attend the House for such a debate.
Rather than having a broad, sweeping debate on health issues, which it could be, given the wide variety of important issues involved, perhaps we could break it down into sectors. I am seeking a specific debate on the HSE budget, which is an issue I have raised many times before. I am uncomfortable with the fact that the HSE, which is effectively a third party organisation, has control of more than half the country's tax take. Given the new expertise available to the House and the diverse interests here, it would be important to have a debate specifically on HSE financing.
I would also like to have a debate on where the national cancer control programme is working and where it is not. There are gaping holes in service provision, particularly in the north west, as Senator O'Keeffe pointed out.
I ask the Leader to bring forward a series of debates on the difficulties faced by many families in dealing with mortgage arrears, high unemployment and the inevitability of higher interest rates in future. As the Leader will know, in the previous Seanad many of us regularly referred to these matters and brought forward proposals to deal with them. In this context and following Senator Leyden's lead, this side of the House intends to introduce another Private Members' Bill - the enforcement of court orders (amendment) Bill. It aims to give statutory protection to the primary family residence, effectively preventing the granting of court orders to repossess such a residence unless the court is satisfied that an independent assessment has been made of the existing ability to repay. The court must also be satisfied that the original mortgage application and underwriting quality are assessed and that a range of alternatives is available, such as those brought forward by our group in the past and as now outlined in the code of conduct for the mortgage arrears resolution process. The proposed Bill, if enacted, would put such matters on a statutory footing. These issues had cross-party agreement in the last Seanad and I hope that the new configuration of the House, with two Independent groups and such a diverse array of backgrounds and expertise, will accept this Bill. It would show the kind of leadership that will ensure the future of this House.
On a humorous note, if the love bombing from Senator Norris continues, I am confident he will have his nomination for the Presidency by the end of the day.
I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your elevation to high office. I also congratulate my colleague Senator Maurice Cummins, on his appointment as Leader, which is well deserved.
Can the Leader outline when the necessary legislative measures will be introduced to ensure the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities? Like Senator Mary Moran, I was nominated by a disability body, People with Disabilities in Ireland, to run for the Seanad. The issues raised in the "Prime Time Investigates" programme last Monday night are of deep concern to everyone, especially carers and those suffering from various disabilities and mental health issues.
The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is concerned with very important issues. As a country, we should be pushing these matters to ensure the necessary legislative measures are in place. As the only Member of the Oireachtas with a declared disability, I will be highlighting such matters with the Leader. In addition, I will work hard to ensure this House reflects and espouses the rights of minorities. I look forward to working with the Leader in this respect and would welcome his response to the matters I have raised.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment and acknowledge his wish to reform the House and its workings. In that way, the Seanad can be more effective and efficient in the way it conducts its business. I welcome the example given by the Leader that members of the European Commission could attend the House to discuss issues of relevance to this country. I respectfully suggest that we could extend an invitation to the Commissioners with responsibility for agriculture and fisheries to a debate on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, both of which are under review. Agriculture is the current growth sector in the economy and is fuelling exports. It is very important we secure the benefits that Europe is providing to that sector, so it would be timely to have such a debate, if possible before the summer recess, with either Commissioner.
Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh i dtaca leis an Ghaeilge agus an cur i láthair a déanadh níos luaithe inniu in Óstán Buswells ag an eagraíocht, Guth na Gaeltachta agus ag Conradh na Gaeilge. Cuireadh i láthair an straitéis atá acusan i dtaca le todhchaí na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta agus na moltaí atá acu i dtaca le cur i bhfeidhm an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge.
It is vital that the new Government addresses the issue of the Irish language both inside and outside Gaeltacht areas and that a clear strategy for the implementation of the 20-year strategy for the Irish language is adopted. I call for a debate on that strategy and on the future of Údarás na Gaeltachta. The news emerging on the future of Údarás na Gaeltachta is alarming to say the least given that the previous Government gave a commitment that its enterprise functions would be retained. I hope clarification can be given at an early date that the Government agrees with the decision of the previous Government and that those functions can remain in place. We should have a discussion on the Irish language. No one party or individual in the country owns our language. It pleased me greatly that in the previous Seanad and Dáil all the political parties worked in unison to prepare the 20-year strategy for the Irish language. I hope we can discuss that strategy and obtain an insight into the Government's thinking on the manner in which it will fund it over the next 20 years. I hope we can have a debate on that issue next week or the week after given that it is very timely. I appreciate the Leader will have pressing demands to have discussions on an array of topics but the Irish language is a vitally important aspect of the country's future, not least in terms of economic tourism in the cultural sense. I hope we can have such a debate and I trust that the Leader will address that issue.
Is féidir liom comhghairdeas a thabhairt do mo chara, Seanadóir Cummins. I did not have the opportunity to do so last week because, as a colleague said, we were awaiting the official confirmation. I am delighted the Senator has taken up this role. I also praise him for a presentation of considerable substance that he outlined to the House.
I have a number of brief questions. On the issue of Seanad reform, will the Leader consider at some point providing Government time to allow a debate on proposals as to how the Seanad should organise its business? I appreciate this is in the Government's remit and that the Leader, in his role of representing the Government in this House, will set the Order of Business. I am particularly interested to hear the views of the newly elected Members of this House, some 38 of them, who, considering their large depth of expertise and world experience in a variety of different areas, would perhaps bring new, fresh thinking to the debates that have already taken place.
Will the Leader consider at some point providing Government time for a debate on the Irish diaspora on a regular basis? Those who know me will know that, wearing my other hat as a broadcaster and as a former emigrant, I have championed the cause of the Irish abroad inside and outside this House. I am privileged to currently present a monthly radio programme on RTE, "The Irish Abroad", which will come to the end of its series this month. In that context, the fact that the Tánaiste has been appointed not only Minister for Foreign Affairs but Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade indicates that the Government is aware of the growing importance of the Irish diaspora in various parts of the world where the Irish gather. I am astonished at the number of Irish societies which are not only involved in social activities in their adopted countries across the world, particularly in Europe and Asia, but which have used their network of contacts in recent years to promote not only the image of Ireland but the trade and commerce links that are continually growing between ourselves and various other countries, particularly in the larger economies. Considering that the Government allocates some €11 million, at the last count, towards funding Irish diaspora activities, with the bulk of that money going to the UK, particularly in the area of social outreach where there is an ageing population, but also to Australia, Canada and America, it would be a useful exercise and would send a strong signal to our diaspora that those of us in these Houses of Parliament have not forgotten them and that we are aware of the issues confronting them, especially the new Irish emigrants who are leaving.
The Leader made some reference to committees. My understanding is that the Government proposal is not only to reduce the number of committees but to reduce the membership of the surviving committees. This would pose a particular difficulty for this House in that if the number of members of the committees were reduced, the number of Seanad representatives would be proportionately reduced. I urge the Leader to fight the corner for this House to ensure that we get not only numerical representation based on whatever system is used but a more relevant representation that would embrace all the various strands of thinking within this House.
The first day of the new Seanad last week was largely ceremonial. Those of us who were here on the first day of a previous Seanad would know that. There was only one issue on the Order of Business, namely, the election of the Cathaoirleach. As a mark of respect, courtesy and friendship to the newly elected Cathaoirleach, in my contribution I single that out. I would be the first to admit that it is not a contribution that would rank alongside Cicero, the brilliant orator referred to earlier. That was the nature of that first day. I deeply regret that an elected Member of this House saw fit, as Andy Warhol said, to pursue his "15 minutes of fame" on national radio by denigrating myself and a colleague of this House.
I have a request for about 30 debates on various subjects already on the first day of this Seanad. There would be no problem facilitating such debates but getting Ministers in here to deal with every one of them may be a problem. There is always the possibility that we could have debates in this House without Ministers being present. Some people may feel it would be pointless to have debates without Ministers present but it is an option open to us if we cannot get Ministers from time to time and it is something to which I will also have to give consideration.
I am mindful I have business ordered for 4 p.m. The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, requested a debate on the programme for Government, on the report of the review group on State assets and on the fair deal scheme and I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss those soon.
Likewise, the deputy leader, Senator Bacik, spoke about the issue of white collar crime. It is a matter the Minister takes very seriously and he expects legislation will be introduced soon.
Senators Mullen, Norris, Hayden, Conway and others spoke of the hidden cost of the cutbacks and the requirement to prioritise the needs of families such as those we witnessed on the "Prime Time" programme recently. I am sure we will be in a position to arrange for the Minister for Health to come into the House. He has been asked by Members to come to the House to debate nine health items. As to whether those items can be clustered or broken into different areas for consideration, we will try to arrange for the Minister to come to the House as much as possible to deal with the matters raised by Members today.
I welcome the maiden contributions of several new Members who are present and I hope it will be the first of many contributions we will hear from the new Members.
I thank Senator Cullinane for his comments and assure him that I will certainly try to be fair in the allocation of time. It is not my intention to exclude any Member from making contributions in this House. I will do my best regarding the allocation of time, taking account of the number of groupings and the priority they will have. It is not my intention to exclude any Member from making contributions and having time to do so in the House.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames raised the issue of NAMA. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will take it up, but it is not yet in place. It will have an amount of work to deal with in its first couple of meetings.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to energy conservation and security. As suggested, this matter could be raised on the Adjournment. I am afraid there is nothing we can do about the Listowel races or, for that matter, Kerry being in the all-Ireland final.
Senators Marie Moloney and Jim Walsh raised the question of JLCs and competitiveness. We will arrange a debate on the matter in the coming weeks.
Senator Feargal Quinn explained the situation regarding the subcontractors Bill to Senator David Norris. That important legislation was initiated by Senator Quinn in this House and, as he stated, the Government intends to proceed with it. I will inquire as to when it is intended to deal with it in the Lower House.
Senator Paul Bradford asked for as many Ministers as possible to attend the House to debate the issue of the scourge of unemployment, given that more than 450,000 people are unemployed. Senator Mark Daly made the same point. The policies pursued in recent years led to these appalling figures. We will arrange a debate on the issue.
Senator Daly also asked about mobile phones and legislation to prevent disasters. It is a pity there was no legislation in place to prevent the economic disaster of recent years.
I will take Senator Jimmy Harte up on the interesting reading he suggested for the summer months, that is, Lustrum. I agree with his comments and those of Cicero on the brevity of statements in this House and the Roman Senate, respectively. It is important that Members keep their remarks brief. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will meet to set down the length of time Members can speak on the Order of Business. It was two minutes in the previous Seanad, a time limit which I hope will be retained by the new committee.
We will consider the possibility of meeting elsewhere, but we must be mindful of the costs involved. Bringing the Seanad to County Donegal or anywhere else would be expensive. Not only must we consider Members, we must also consider the many other costs attached to the running of the House.
As he has often done, Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the Daylight Saving Bill in the United Kingdom. I will raise the issue with the Minister.
Senator Labhras Ó Murchú discussed relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The Taoiseach raised the latter matter with the British Prime Minister. I will inquire as to the progress made on the issue.
Senator Denis Landy called for a debate on water and household charges, the importance of local government and the democratic duties taken so seriously by local councillors in the recent Seanad election. Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Brian Ó Domhnaill asked about the Irish language strategy, on which we can arrange a debate. I am mindful of the fact that Cumann na Gaeilge is meeting in Buswell's Hotel until 8 p.m. today.
Senator Terry Leyden referred to his Registration of Wills Bill 2011. I welcome the introduction of the Bill which could be appropriately dealt with during Fianna Fáil's Private Members' time next week. I am sure the Senator will raise the matter with his party.
Senators Susan O'Keeffe and Marc MacSharry raised health matters, in particular, cancer services and the configuration of hospitals. The Minister for Health could be in the Seanad for days in the light of the number of requests made today. We will do our best to invite him to debate a number of these subjects.
I am glad to note Fianna Fáil Members will introduce a court orders Bill. I welcome it when Senators introduce Bills. The Bill mentioned can be debated during Private Members' time.
Senator Martin Conway discussed the rights of people with disabilities, a cause I am sure he will champion. We will do our best to have the Minister attend to discuss the matter.
Senator Paschal Mooney raised the issues of Seanad reform and the Irish Diaspora. The number of committees will be reduced from 23 to 14. I welcome these necessary reforms, including the reduction in committee numbers. The reduction is right. Every Senator will be a member of at least one committee, allowing him or her to make an input.