Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the amendment of Standing Order 57 of the Standing Orders of Seanad Éireann relative to public business, to be taken without debate; No. 2, motion to adopt the terms of reference for the Seanad Public Petitions Committee, established under Standing Orders 92 to 95 and in accordance with the report of the sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the establishment of a public petitions committee, to be taken without debate; No. 4, Finance (No. 3) Bill 2011 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken from 3.45 p.m. and to conclude at 5.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 5, Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011 - all Stages, to commence on the conclusion of No. 4 and to conclude not later than 8 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
First, I acknowledge the work that has been done by the Leader and the leaders of the other groups in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I welcome the establishment of the Seanad Public Petitions Committee. In the course of the first session of this Seanad we have made progress on changing how we do our work. They are small steps but it is important that we get the foundations right. I commend the Leader on his commitment to this. I also commend the other group leaders and the members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Last week, I put down a proposed motion on the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. Although a week has passed, I have not yet received a response to it from the Government parties. I have received responses from the other groups, and I thank them for those. It is a non-political, cross-party motion. It is crucial that we deal with it as the Dáil rises this week and the Seanad rises next week for the summer recess. What progress has been made on the Government side on this? Does it support the wording of the motion?
Regarding the business ordered for this week, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill is an important Bill that will be brought before the House on Second Stage tomorrow. Committee and Remaining Stages are being held on Thursday. This Bill is very important as it confers powers on the new Constituency Commission, which I believe did a very poor job the last time it drew up the boundaries of Dáil constituencies. It paid no heed to county boundaries even though it was supposed to do so. My concern is that the Bill is being dealt with on Wednesday and Thursday, with no time between Committee and Report Stages which are being taken on the same day. My party will table a number of amendments. This brings us back to the point which I and other Members have raised about the proper scrutiny of legislation. I believe the reason this is being done on Thursday is that the Dáil is not sitting next week, so the Bill is simply being run through the Seanad. It shows the Government's, although not the Leader's, scant regard for the Seanad.
In recent weeks many valid points on health have been raised in this Chamber, specifically on local hospitals and services. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has still not attended the House to answer questions on who is managing the health service. Is it the Minister or the HSE? The Minister attended the House to deal with a Bill on female genital mutilation which had cross-party support and was non-contentious. However, he has not seen fit to attend the House since then. Is the reason that his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, was discommoded somewhat when he came into the Chamber? I note with interest a letter in which the Minister, Deputy Shatter, complained about the way he felt he was treated in this House.
To get back to my original point, assuming the Minister for Health is not taking a line from the Minister, Deputy Shatter, on this, when will he attend the House for a proper debate on regional hospitals, services and psychiatric care? Last week I raised the issue of the psychiatric hospital in Portrane on the north side of Dublin with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. While that discussion was useful, this Government does not have a cohesive approach in regard to health and further issues are coming down the line. I cannot understand why the Minister for Health will not attend the House to answers questions and deal with issues which Members of all parties and of none have raised.
The Ministers of State, Deputies Kathleen Lynch and Róisín Shortall, have attended the House on numerous occasions. I apologise to Senator O'Brien for the delay on the Palestine motion. We will get back to him on that today. It took a little time toing and froing.
I commend the Leader and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Nos. 1 and 2 on the Order Paper. Both are noteworthy developments and changes to the business of the Seanad which will make our business much more relevant and effective in the coming term. As colleagues will see, the first change we have made is that with the leave of the House, representatives and persons in public and civic life may attend and be heard in the Seanad. The impetus for that came largely from the Independent nominees groups and we should acknowledge that. However, all of us on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges were very anxious to see it facilitated and that we would be able to hear from individuals outside the Seanad who would be able to come in and inform our debate. That will strengthen the quality of our debate.
The other change concerns the Seanad Public Petitions Committee which already exists under our Standing Orders but which we are now activating through the new terms we have adopted on the SPPC. I am very optimistic that will really change the way we do business for the better.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the continuing fallout from the News of the World scandal and crisis? It has become a full blown crisis not only in Britain but internationally as it has affected News International and media business worldwide. It was very sad to hear of a death in England which seems to have followed from it. There is also continuing fallout in terms of resignations of senior police officers as well as News International officers.
It should generate debate in this House on two particular issues. One is an issue on which a number of us in the Labour Party have called for debate, namely, the ownership of the media and the fact it should not be concentrated in the hands of one individual to such an extent that he or she feels he or she can abuse power in the way Rupert Murdoch did.
Today's hearings in the House of Commons should generate some debate in this House on the powers of Oireachtas committees. The programme for Government states that we should strengthen Oireachtas committees. The House of Commons committee is very much in the news today and it will call before it not only the senior members of News International but also senior police officers. We need to look at how we can strengthen the powers of our committees to ensure they have that level of scrutiny over individuals and officers.
I join with the leaders of other groups in thanking the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the Leader for bringing forward motions Nos. 1 and 2. These will give life to the motion which, though put forward by the Independent group, was worked on by Senators from all sides together. It is great to see this expression of our joint work. I hope we can reap the riches of this in the months ahead and demonstrate the importance of this House.
I ask the Leader to allow time for the House to inform and guide policy and legislation to underpin the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children. In the past week we had the Cloyne report, which was debated during the Order of Business last week. We have had much debate on this matter over the last few days. I send a strong message to all adults that there is only one State authority. If one has reasonable grounds for concern about the abuse of a child one should report it to the HSE or the Garda. That is the only answer.
Yesterday, we saw the conviction of Mr. Michael Ferry, from Donegal. He had been convicted but yet was allowed to continue to work in a school in Derrybeg, Donegal despite that conviction. This resonated with me because I went to summer school in Derrybeg, Donegal.
Later today, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will lay before the Oireachtas the second progress report on the Ryan report, which is something to which the House should give consideration. This report contains 99 actions. It could greatly improve outcomes for children. I note that the Minister, despite previous resistance, decided a few months ago that the oversight group should be more than just a public service group and invited a non-governmental organisation, the Children's Rights Alliance, to be part of the group. I welcome her decision and I look forward to seeing the report.
It is natural that we Senators should express our hurt, anger or shock at the recent reports, but the House has a stronger role to play. We need to remember that children are being abused in Ireland today. This is not about the past. It is about the here and now. On Friday, the Minister published Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, and will bring forward legislation. The House could help inform that legislation. We should have a debate on what needs to be done. There is fear among the public about statutory reporting. We should also talk about mandatory protection to ensure that State agencies co-operate and share information.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on what the Seanad can do to underpin the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children in Ireland today.
The grocery business in Ireland has been a very competitive one, as I have experienced over the last 50 or 51 years. I have been concerned for some time that the purchasing policies of companies based outside Ireland do not always support Irish products and Irish producers. What really concerns me at present is the intention of the Minister to introduce legislation putting a regulatory control on the purchasing policies of retailers in Ireland. That cannot apply to those whose headquarters are in Dusseldorf, Berlin, London or elsewhere. The measure will place restraints and restrictions on the ability of Irish retailers to negotiate the best deals they can with suppliers, whether in Ireland or elsewhere. It does not place the restriction on those who are not based in Ireland and whose headquarters are based elsewhere. A voluntary code of practice that could be agreed to by everybody would be much better. I have some concern about this because it has not always been proved that non-Irish companies have supported Irish suppliers.
While I am on my feet, may I express my concern, which has turned to pleasure, that Superquinn, the company I headed for many years, has been placed in the hands of an Irish family company? I am very pleased to see this and I am confident that the jobs of the 2,800 people who work there appear to have been secured. I am also pleased that the suppliers will continue to supply that company. Many of them are Irish companies. Concern has been expressed that some of the debts due to suppliers are not fully covered at this stage, but I am hopeful a solution will be found in that regard.
The grocery trade is a very competitive business and we must ensure consumers continue to reap the benefits of that competition. However, four of the larger retailers in this State are not based in Ireland and that development will not be reversed. Irish companies will continue to have to compete with foreign companies. In that context, it is good to see an Irish-owned family business growing stronger and strengthening its ability to compete into the future. We must do nothing to restrict the ability of Irish companies to compete. In the long term it is consumers who will win if there is a competitive and non-restrictive market.
Last week a judge of the Supreme Court made strongly critical comments about modern tribunals, describing their powers are "truly awesome", their expense "enormous", the cost of participating in them "grotesque" and the duration of some "nothing else than appalling". The comments were made in the context of an application by the Director of Corporate Enforcement to take certain actions in respect of individuals who had appeared before a tribunal in the past. Concerns in this regard go back to 1992 when Mr. Justice Finlay found that tribunal reports were sterile of legal effect. Despite this caution, we have had several tribunals in the following 20 years, at enormous expense to the State, and now find ourselves apparently powerless to act on some of the findings of those tribunals.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to discuss this matter? How do we deal with matters like these, which for some reason, cannot be addressed within the current courts structure? Are changes required to that structure to deal with such matters without recourse to tribunals of inquiry? Tribunals have not worked, will not work and cannot work.
I echo Senator Colm Burke's comments regarding remarks by Mr. Justice Hardiman, who has proved prescient in his strong criticism of tribunals. Unfortunately, the tribunals themselves have become a greater scandal than anything they have investigated in the past 13 years. This House should debate the complete repeal of the relevant legislation. We must find a mechanism for inquiring into issues of public importance to replace the tribunal system, which operates as a lottery for people in the Law Library. What has happened is a great shame.
An announcement was made today that roads throughout the State will be tolled as part of the continuing persecution of motorists. I have no objection to tolling long stretches of roadway which connect cities; there is a competitive advantage in that to the economy and to motorists who use them. However, I object strongly to the notion being promulgated by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, that every small section of the M50, for example, should have a toll. I am fortunate to be able to travel to Leinster House via three different routes, the first involving a succession of regional roads, the second using the M9 from Waterford to Dublin - which is motorway all the way and in respect of which I would not object to the imposition of a toll - and the third involving the N11, which has short stretches of motorway. The suggestion that a toll should be imposed on the latter is crazy. If we were to do that, car tax should be removed. It behoves the Government to tackle the waste in expenditure across the subheads in the various Departments. I urge that this be done.
I concur with Senator Bacik's remarks on the media scandal in Britain. I have no doubt that what happens there will happen here shortly. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the then Deputy Michael McDowell, organised a conference in UCD in advance of the privacy and defamation Bill, which has been enacted. The then secretary of the NUJ stood up and stated that standards here were being lowered and that standards across the water were diabolical. We need to look at ways of ensuring that people's privacy is safeguarded. The power of the media can be used and abused. Whether its use is legal or illegal, it is onerous on people and we, the Oireachtas, have a duty to protect vulnerable people who do not have the financial resources to restore their reputation to challenge the media, which is controlled by large corporations with financial resources.
I wish to raise two issues. I compliment the Minister for Health on extending the remit of pharmacists to give the flu vaccine from next autumn onwards. This is smart innovative thinking, which is very much needed. The pharmacists have been looking for an expanded role. Could the role of the pharmacist be extended to administering the BCG vaccine? We have had crisis in counties such as Cork and Galway, where we have large numbers of at-risk non-national children, with one parent not vaccinated.
In respect of child protection, I welcome Deputy Frances Fitzgerald's comments that we can no longer rely on voluntary reporting of child abuse. I have long been a proponent of mandatory reporting and I have spoken about it in this House. When I taught abroad, I had to mandatorily report any suspicion of child abuse. I welcome the remarks of Senator Jillian van Turnhout on the need for a debate to flesh out the issues. How will we deal with the pressure on the services that will result from mandatory reporting, given the way the health services are stretched already?
Great steps have been taken to promote Ireland abroad. We have hosted the visit of Her Royal Majesty, the Queen and President Obama. Now we have the fillip from the Irish golfers who have won majors. What initiatives are being taken to promote Ireland to the domestic market? This week the Galway Arts Festival is on and next week we will have the largest racing festival in Europe, the Galway Races, with eight days of racing. We have an incredible experience to offer. Will an invitation be extended to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar to come to the Seanad to look at the initiative to attract the domestic visitor? I do not expect him to change the weather. The word is out among Irish people that it is expensive to holiday at home. We need to see more synergy between the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to look at the range of holidays and the value for money that can be found. That is the way to grow our economy and distribute wealth across the country.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that we stay with what is on the original Order Paper and deal only with Second Stage of the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011 today. It is an important Bill and the idea of taking all Stages, with a possible guillotine - although it is a very short Bill and it may not come to that - is bad parliamentary practice.
I ask the Leader if he can look at the Government possibly reintroducing a Bill on involuntary use of ECT, which was introduced in this House during the previous session with support from his party.
It was introduced by Dan Boyle and Déirdre de Búrca of the Green Party and myself. I raise this on foot of reports that a man recovering from heroin addiction was going through the withdrawal process and was committed to a hospital. He was scheduled to be subject to an involuntary application of this procedure in defiance of his wishes and the wishes of his family. The family applied to receive information about this treatment but they were denied it. One of the reasons given by this hospital in County Kildare was that, since the family had been in contact with the press, they had no right. That seems very high-handed. The family also asked for a second opinion. For a long time I have said we should not make such clear distinctions between physical illness and mental illness. They are counterparts, as was pointed as early as the late, great Dr. Jonathan Swift. One does not have such a fuss made if one seeks a second opinion on a physical illness. It seems extraordinary the family should be frustrated in seeking a second opinion of a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, which is a very easy diagnosis to make.
Will the Leader consider reintroducing this Bill? It is a violation of human rights that someone should be subjected involuntarily to a treatment with a dubious background although it may be successful in some cases and, in particular, denying the concerned family access to news and information about what is being done to the son and brother. This is wrong and the Bill should be reintroduced with all-party support.
I wish to record my appreciation of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, and the Leader of the House proceeding so efficiently with the new Standing Order concerning the invitation of significant persons in public and civic life to attend the Seanad. There is an extraordinary, devastating famine occurring in the Horn of Africa. It is an increasing threat to human dignity and human life and to our understanding of the horror of famine and what is happening in terms of climate control. The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, visited the Horn of Africa and has been there for the past two days. Events are being broadcast on television. My recommendation is that the Leader discusses with the CPP whether we can invite the former President, Mary Robinson, to the Seanad. She is a former Senator and could brief us on what is happening. It would be a gesture of solidarity with what is happening in the Horn of Africa and the Seanad could become a conduit for further clarification and information.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Norris. I wish to record the opposition of the Sinn Féin Party to any motion from the CPP as long as Sinn Féin is prevented from having group status. We are not against the substance of the two motions but as a matter of protest, we will stand against them. Does the Leader agree that the comments from the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, about people who are out of work were inappropriate? Will the Leader join me in recognising that people do not make a lifestyle choice to be out of work? The only lifestyle choice that those people make is between the dole and the aeroplane ticket out of this country. Some 100,000 young people have emigrated from our shores and 500,000 people have lost their jobs since 2008. Some 460,000 people are out of work and all of those people are victims of very bad policies by politicians. It was not their fault that they ended up in that position.
It is wrong to blame the victims and engage in name calling and stigmatising of the many young people who are out of work. It is an attempt by the Labour Party especially and by the Government to divert attention away from the fact that the promises made by that party to create tens of thousands of jobs and to protect the vulnerable in society are not being honoured and have disappeared. Those young people, and many young people out of work, get up every day of the week and face into a process of sending off letters and CVs to companies seeking employment. Many of them have low self-esteem because it is so difficult to get a job in this State. When they hear comments such as those made by the Minister for Social Protection it adds to the self-esteem problem many of those people experience. It is appalling that well-paid Ministers and other politicians who sometimes live in ivory towers have no idea what it is like to have to try to find a job today.
Does the Leader agree with me that this was a spineless attack on some of the most vulnerable people in this State and that people do not make those lifestyle choices? Does he, or anybody else in this Chamber, believe that people in their own counties make those lifestyle choices? I do not believe that is the case.
The issue of long-term unemployment is complex and should not be trivialised in the manner done by the Minister for Social Protection. That was wrong. We should have a debate in this Chamber on how we can get those people back to work and deliver on the promises made but since abandoned by the two parties in Government.
I join with Senator Quinn in welcoming the acquisition of Superquinn by Musgrave's and that 2,800 jobs will be saved. It is particularly appropriate and a source of pleasure that the company is Irish owned. I have a concern, however, and I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that suppliers, particularly the many small suppliers and farmers throughout the country who supply to Superquinn, get paid for the goods they supplied to the company previously because many of them, unfortunately, will go out of business if they are not looked after in that way.
I support what Senator van Turnhout requested earlier, namely, a debate on child welfare and proposed legislation in that area. Many Senators spoke last week about the horrific accounts of abuse in the Cloyne report but equally horrific was the abuse by a mother of eight children which was reported and came before the courts in Galway last week. It is unimaginable that despite the involvement of the Health Service Executive the abuse could have continued for so many years and that those children could have endured the abuse we all read about in the newspapers last week. That case and many others that have come before the courts indicate an alarming level of abuse within families. We must ask ourselves whether the procedures in place are fit for purpose and whether the support services in place are properly resourced. We must have a discussion in this House on the need for us to invest in parenting education.
I note with interest correspondence between the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and not just the Cathaoirleach but the Leader of the House as well. I would like to know what the Leader said in response to the Minister. The fact is that the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator O'Donovan, Senator Mullen and to a lesser extent myself raised a number of important issues which were not addressed by the Minister in his Second Stage contribution but which were addressed when we dragged it out of him-----
-----on Committee and Report Stages, and which were fully addressed on Second Stage in the Dáil as a result of statements the Minister made here. We have a very sensitive Minister for Justice and Equality. Had he simply briefed spokespersons in advance or come into the House and given the full story in advance this would not have arisen.
He will not muzzle me or any Senator on this side of the House.
With regard to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, what happened was that she signed up to a four-year plan stating a certain amount would have to be cut from the social welfare budget overall. She reasoned with herself and, I suppose, her party and concluded all the money would be obtained from combating social welfare fraud. She gives an estimate of 3%, which amounts to approximately €600 million. She realises now she cannot obtain this. I fear she will target people who may not be guilty of fraud or remove benefits from certain individuals in order not to have to make an across-the-board cut. She will fail to keep her promise and it is fair to say she already has through cutting various benefits.
Related to this matter is the jobs budget. One of the best decisions I made since my being re-elected was to vote against the Finance (No. 2) Bill. Unless there is some movement in the labour market, that legislation will have to be repealed. Essentially, we have given €400 million to the private sector without securing a jobs benefit therefrom. We will have to review this very quickly. It must not continue for a number of years unless there is a jobs benefit.
With regard to health, Fianna Fáil proposes an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, be invited to the House to discuss local hospital services around the country. The Minister has absented himself from this House. It is ironic that we had motions on the Order Paper inviting anyone and everyone into the House when we cannot get Ministers to come here to discuss important issues.
Promises were made in Roscommon and also in County Meath. There are severe threats to accident and emergency services in County Meath. The latter services were always due to be moved elsewhere but not until appropriate facilities become available elsewhere. There are no such facilities. There is a now threat to orthopaedic services also.
I am critical to some extent of the Save Navan Hospital campaign, which is chaired by a Sinn Féin Deputy. The group emerged from a meeting with the Minister last week claiming a major victory when all it got from him was a six-month stay of execution on the accident and emergency facility and the first-ever public threat to orthopaedic services in Navan hospital. The Minister will come into the House to discuss a matter such as the Female Genital Mutilation Bill, which is admittedly very important, but will not come here to discuss issues that are discussed around kitchen tables all over the country. We cannot get the briefing that the Fine Gael Members of the Oireachtas got and we cannot give the Minister the flak they gave him. This is most unfortunate.
Not enough, of course. They need to keep the pressure on because promises were made on every single hospital. In this regard, the announcement on Navan hospital stated the removal of the accident and emergency facility therefrom would have devastating effects on patient safety in County Meath. There were no promises made about orthopaedic services because they were never under threat under Fianna Fáil, yet, all of a sudden, there is talk of moving the orthopaedic service to Cappagh as soon as possible. It is very important that the Minister for Health come to the House to discuss this matter. It is a stain on his record that he was pushed into meeting local representatives and we cannot get him into the Seanad to discuss the matter. He should be brought here as quickly as possible to discuss these issues and Fine Gael should be made account for promises it made all over Ireland.
I am glad Senator Byrne touched on social welfare fraud. A couple of weeks ago, I dropped some kind of clanger in the House when I suggested we should introduce a method of fingerprinting to combat social welfare fraud. As a result, great debate was generated in the media over recent weeks. There is an appetite to clamp down considerably on social welfare fraud in areas where it did not exist in the past. One will hear a lot more whistleblowing because people are now looking at their financial circumstances and realise the only way we can come up with money is to clean up our act. We cannot put a figure on what social welfare fraud is costing us at present. If the Minister for Social Protection suggests it is responsible for 3% of the budget, which would amount to €600 million, I suggest it may cost up to €1 billion per year.
Over the weekend I heard some absolutely scary stories that I will not tell right now. I hope the Minister can be invited to the House to have an open debate on social welfare fraud. A form of biometric fingerprinting is being used in other jurisdictions and we must consider it with a view to saving money to provide services we have been talking about cutting over recent years because of the downturn in the economy. By making savings, we could have money to invest in the health service and all the other services for which we do not have money at present. I ask that the Minister for Social Protection be invited to the House for an open debate on this. This is something I want to follow through to the end and I know the Minister is also committed to doing so. I hope all sides of the House support it. If we save money we will not shut down our hospitals.
I share the concerns expressed across the floor with regard to the Minister for Social Protection. While I agree with everything said by Senator Kelly, I would like him to take note that during the debate on social protection issues in recent weeks, I and others on this side of the House pointed out the considerable savings that have been made. The most recent report from the Department related to 2010 and showed almost €500,000 had been saved through the anti-fraud measures initiated by the previous Administration, particularly by the previous Minister Mary Hannifin and her successor, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. There is no diminution of the need on this side of the House to be reminded that the Department would continue to monitor anti-fraud measures and I welcome Senator Kelly's intervention in this regard.
There is growing concern not only about the remarks of the Minister, Deputy Burton, at the weekend which have been discussed by other Members of the House with whom I largely agree, but also about the question put repeatedly inside and outside the House on where the Government will find the money to fund essential services into 2012. If the Tánaiste has stated there will be no income tax increases, the Taoiseach has stated there will be no reduction in social welfare payments and the Croke Park agreement will continue to 2013 under its present arrangements whereby there will be no diminution of pay or status, in other words nobody will lose their jobs, the question remains as to from where the money will come for the essential services. Even as matters stand, Members on all sides are constantly complaining about them.
The comments of the Minister, Deputy Burton, at the weekend indicated a chink in the Government's thinking on this and that there are plans to reduce the social welfare budget irrespective of what the Tánaiste and Taoiseach stated. This is important for all of the people about whom Senator Cullinane spoke, namely, those who suffer from low esteem and who woke up this morning with no prospect of a job, in light of all of the commitments and promises made by the Government. Far be it from me this early in the mandate of the Government, to which everyone on this side of the House gave fair wind and continue to do so in the national interest, but there is a need for clarity and transparency to give these people some hope that the Government has some answers at least to improving their job prospects. It is important that the Minister for Social Protection come to the House for a debate in this regard.
Like Senators Quinn and Mullins I pay tribute to all involved in the Superquinn project, particularly the Musgrave family for purchasing the business, keeping it in Ireland and retaining the Superquinn name. Senator Quinn can take great pride from the fact that the Superquinn name has serious credibility in the marketplace in the country. Coming from a background of running a small retail business with my wife, I agree with Senator Quinn's comments regarding buying Irish and supporting Irish produce and businesses.
I recall a very prominent GAA person seriously advocating the opening of Croke Park to rugby and soccer getting a dressing down on the street from a certain individual who accused him of being unpatriotic. He told this individual in return that he would take a lecture on patriotism from him when he stopped shopping in Tesco, as he had a Tesco shopping bag in his hand. I suggest to Members that useful reading over the summer is a good book on the domination of Tesco and how it has destroyed retail in England. The book is called Tescopoly. The research and findings in the book are frightening. Will the Leader ensure the Government continues to promote the buy Irish campaign, ensures the resources exist to facilitate quality branding in agribusiness and retail in general in the country and continues to promote the concept of being patriotic and spending our money with Irish businesses and supporting Irish products?
I commend An Garda Síochána for being one of the first public State agencies to issue electronic payslips.
It appears from media reports earlier that this will save the taxpayer €400,000. Were teachers to follow suit, it would save the taxpayer €1.2 million. Will the Leader ask all senior Ministers to instruct their Department to issue pay slips electronically anymore because it is farcical in this day and age that this cannot be done? Millions of euro could be saved. It is a simple method to save money and I ask the Leader in correspondence with Ministers to bring that to their attention.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to explain to us in the context of lengthy briefings he will give us on matters we wish to bring his attention what is the current status and the health of the VHI? I was giving this some thought recently. The single biggest catastrophe that could happen to the public health system would be if anything were to happen to the VHI that resulted in a large movement of insured patients back on to the waiting lists for the public system. I supported the new Government parties when they were still in opposition on the notion that they would reform the health system to a single tier, insurance-based mixture of private and social insurance, which is the synthesis of the Fine Gael and Labour Party documents. It is the same as the German model, not the Dutch model, and that is how they will get their reform. Germany has the best large country health system in the world .
I have previously expressed a little disquiet that the plan is for this not to happen until after another election. It is incumbent on all of us to advance that agenda because all the problems, pathologies and difficulties in the health system currently are not fixable in a most fundamental way until the inconsistencies at the heart of the system are addressed. Pending that reform, the financial health of the VHI, in which the Minister is the sole shareholder, is of critical importance and I would be grateful if he could give us a report indicating what his assessment and international expert opinions are about the current level of support for the company and, in particular, if there is a possibility that it is unusually sensitive to decreases in acute flow to meet its ability to pay for the services of its contracted members. Most other commercial insurance companies have endowment and investment to support them. I do not speak with authority on this and that is why I ask the question. Does the VHI have that or is it dependent on current revenues to fund the expenses it has incurred from past memberships? If that is the case, as the economy contracts, one could imagine a vulnerability in this regard.
I asked a few quick question of the Ministers of State at the Department of Health recently. Will the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, equality and mental health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, get back to us regarding the number of psychiatrists in Ireland and how that compares to the UK and the rest of Europe as we attempt to make this great move from inpatient psychiatric care to community-based care?
Since I spoke on the issue of banning smoking in cars with children last week, I have experienced a tidal wave of support for an amendment. There is no necessity to sway public opinion on this in advance of legislation. A modest amendment to one paragraph of the 2002 Act could change this immediately and cost neutrally without debate. It would involve adding one minor amendment to the section that empowers the Minister to ban smoking in various places.
Will the Leader ask the Minister about the VHI and renew my questions about the other two issues? I urge him to consider an amendment to ban smoking in cars in which children are travelling sooner rather than later. There is no reason to delay that. Every month we delay means more children will be exposed needlessly to cigarette smoke in cars.
I support the remarks of Senators Quinn, Mullen and Conway regarding the takeover of the Superquinn group by the Musgrave group. Superquinn is an important network of stores and it is good it will continue in Irish ownership. Its commitment to Irish goods, produce and business is very important.
The code of conduct proposed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, between large multiples and suppliers will be important. If it is at all possible before the recess, will the Leader invite the Minister to explain what he envisages will be contained in the code? From anecdotal evidence, we know the larger operations have used much browbeating and bullying tactics towards their suppliers. It is important Musgraves has become involved in Superquinn and the jobs in the company secured. I hope there will be a renewed commitment to supporting Irish suppliers and produce.
I second the proposal to amend the Order of Business to consider my motion on accident and emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital. I am anxious the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, attends the House to explain his allegations regarding mortality rates at the hospital. Senator Crown has outlined his concerns about the Minister's figures. An outgoing physician, Dr. Pat McHugh, was in touch with me about this matter to explain the hospital staff were upset by the allegations. The figures the Minister gave for mortality rates at the hospital were inaccurate.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business so that the Minister for Health will attend the House to explain his allegations about a 21% mortality rate at Roscommon County hospital when it was actually 5%.
When does the Leader expect the House to debate the Cloyne report? Will it be next week? It must be debated before the House goes into the summer recess. Otherwise, when the House returns the issue will have moved on.
I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, in his actions regarding the serious sexual abuse case in Donegal heard in the courts yesterday. I commend those courageous young men who went public to ensure the person responsible was outed. When I heard them on the radio, I was impressed by the decision they made. The 2001 legislation covering the sex offenders' register must be reviewed considering it proved inadequate in the Donegal case. It is remarkable that someone found guilty of sexual offences was subsequently allowed to continue as a caretaker in a school and re-offend. The Minister has demanded reports on the Garda's role from the Garda Commissioner and from the staff and management of the school involved. This case deserves an immediate and detailed investigation.
I was impressed by Senator John Kelly's call for investigations into alleged social welfare fraud. I was in awe of his alleged generosity when he was a community welfare officer in the Ballaghaderreen area-----
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Finance to come before the House to explain in a clear, concise manner the ramifications for ordinary account holders in the banks of the €2.7 billion fund which must be set aside in the Central Bank by 2020 to guarantee the bank guarantee scheme. The Central Bank must set aside €300 million per annum in the period from 2011 until 2020 for this purpose. The ramifications of this requirement for ordinary account holders include interest rate increases, further bank charges, etc. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to explain the position as I do not believe members of the public are aware of the fund, even if they will have noticed that interest rates are increasing virtually weekly. One hears about debt forgiveness and the pressure people are under to make their mortgage repayments but the elephant in the room is the bank charges which will hit every person who holds a bank account. One must bear in mind that we have only three banks and many more banks were operating in this State when the €2.7 billion fund was announced.
I join other speakers in calling for a debate on health. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, should come to the House to discuss a wide variety of issues which have arisen. Notwithstanding that the Ministers of State, Deputies Shortall and Lynch, have come to the House to discuss specific issues, the senior Minister must make himself available to Senators.
Media reports at the weekend indicated that the Health Service Executive overspent by €170 million to the end of May. This will place additional pressures on the exemptions to the moratorium on recruiting staff. As a result, specialist ambulance personnel may not be replaced, which would have major implications for the health service in the context of accident and emergency services being wound down or reconfigured nationwide. I would appreciate if the Leader could arrange such a debate as a matter of urgency.
I ask the Leader to make time available to have the Minister for Finance come before the House to discuss the implications of the summit of European leaders which will take place later in the week. It is interesting that the gravity of the situation is absent from many of the media reports on this issue. Not since the Second World War has Europe, in this case the Single Market and European Union, been under such threat. It is important that the House debate the issue as it could, in a small way, produce some solutions which could be listened to. It is evident that a coherent approach is absent in Europe. In the absence of debt forgiveness by the large European banks, whether French or German institutions, the only option will be quantitative easing on a massive scale. Essentially, this means printing money to try to inflate our way out of the current economic problems. This would complement the good work governments, including the Irish Government, are trying to do by introducing austerity measures. In our case, it will ensure the €18 billion deficit is reduced. The position is serious.
Under the previous Administration the House had a weekly opportunity to debate economic issues. While I accept the Order of Business afforded some opportunity in that regard, irrespective of whether the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, or another Minister comes before the House, we must have a specific debate focused on solutions rather than political point scoring. Given that next week is the final week of the session and the Dáil will rise this week, the Seanad should comment on developments that will take place later this week.
I support Senator Mac Conghail's call to invite former President Robinson to the House to give her views on her visit to Africa. The Horn of Africa is facing its worst famine in 60 years. A total of 10 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya face starvation. Given our own history, the view of Africa from this side of the world is probably similar to the view the Victorians had of the Irish, namely, that we deserved what we got. When Lord Trevelyan closed the famine relief efforts and soup kitchens, he said the situation in Ireland shall be left to the operation of natural causes. I am sure there are elements in the World Bank looking at the situation in the Horn of Africa who have a similar Victorian-type view.
Dr. Nally, who is publishing a book on the Famine, Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine, spoke about the structural violence in terms of the Famine. There was an institutional arrangement that made society vulnerable to famine. It made us dependent on our near neighbour without us being able to realise our potential. The same situation applies in Africa today. The notion that science can provide a solution to famine is not true because famine is a human phenomenon. It can be solved through politics. In the same way as ships were leaving this country during the Famine laden with food for ports in other countries while relief ships were on the way, Africa, which has an abundance of resources in ores, diamonds and gold has all its resources leaving its land while people are starving at the same time.
I look forward to the debate in the House, which I hope will take place next week, on Palestinian statehood. The debate must happen now before the House reconvenes in September because the United Nations General Assembly will have voted on the resolution by then. The parallels between this country in 1918 and Palestine of today are similar in that no one wanted to recognise Irish independence. Palestinians are not looking for recognition of all of their lands, as the 1967 borders represents only 22% of what was formerly Palestine. They are not asking for the world; they are not even asking for their own share of it, they are only asking for one fifth of it. If our learned colleagues opposite do not put forward a resolution to be agreed by all Members of the House, then we will table one. We would be very interested to see how members of the Labour Party would vote on the issue given the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade stated today that he wants to be there to recognise Palestinian statehood. Let us see and test his mettle.
I have spoken privately to the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins, about how anxious I and all my colleagues on this side of the House are to get the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House. The most serious crisis in our country is the provision of jobs for the 450,000 people who are unemployed. I inquired last week about how we are going to get the increasing number of long-term unemployed engaged in jobs.
Two issues require the Minister's urgent attention. The first is cashflow to small businesses. Bank credit has plummeted from an annual expansion of approximately 30% in the boom years to zero in recent times. Cash and liquidity have dried up. The larger firms in particular are increasingly stretching out the number of days credit they expect from suppliers, especially SME companies. Many firms are caught up in the pincer movement as banks restrict or will not increase overdraft facilities. The net result is that many firms have collapsed or are in jeopardy.
The Minister seems to be basking in the glory of the increase in exports among multinational companies. With all due respect, that has nothing to do with Fine Gael or Labour. It was under the watch of Fianna Fáil that exports grew in indigenous and multinational companies. I want the Minister to come to the House. The jobs initiative makes a commitment that €20 billion of new lending would be available from AIB and Bank of Ireland in the next three years. The Minister will have to ensure the Department provides transparency and informs us as to whether this money is getting to small and medium-sized domestic companies.
The Fianna Fáil Members in the Dáil, through Deputy Willie O'Dea, are introducing a motion on Private Members' business tonight dealing with the decision of Mr. Justice Kevin Feeney in the High Court last week that JLCs are unconstitutional. My view about the attitudes of employers is not as cynical as that of Deputy O'Dea. I do not expect them to be rapacious in cutting back the wages of staff, particularly in lower-wage industries such as catering. However, I would like the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House and allay the fears of people in the sectors covered by the 13 JLCs by assuring them, bearing in mind last week's decision, that people's salaries will be maintained.
I rise today to outline my disgust at the fact that the French boat Dignité was attacked by Israeli commandos at 12 noon, Irish time, today. I hope that all parties support the attempts by the leader of the Seanad on this side to table a cross-party motion condemning the military action of the Israeli commandos, in order to emphasise Ireland's renewed stance in our attempt to bring about Palestinian rights to aid, trade and statehood. I hope all parties and Members of this House, and indeed the Dáil, will support this effort.
When the issue of hospital care was discussed here, I was unfortunately detained at a committee meeting but I would like to refer to it. I met with a voluntary community group yesterday evening to discuss its valid concerns, which are emerging on a daily basis, about our local hospital in Donegal, Letterkenny General Hospital. The budgetary constraints placed upon the hospital management were touched on by the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, last Friday when he said it was up to management in every hospital to live within their budgets - in other words, they must cut services if they cannot meet demand. That is an unreasonable stance for the Taoiseach to take. He is almost condemning the management practices being adopted within our regional hospitals. I want to say on the record today that the general manager of Letterkenny General Hospital, Sean Murphy, and his team are doing their utmost to live within the constraints they are subject to.
I hope the Leader will accede to the debate we are seeking. I ask that as part of it we discuss the issue of the moratorium on recruitment and the straitjacket placed upon HSE management at local level, which cannot send on requests to the Department of Health for the provision of essential services. We are asking for the moratorium to be lifted for certain aspects of hospital care. I hope that sense will prevail and that we can have this debate. I also hope that, for the first time in the life of this new Seanad, the Minister will not shirk his responsibilities and will come to the House.
Senator O'Brien and other Senators spoke about the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, and I thank them for their comments in that regard. We need to change the way in which we do business and this is another step in the right direction. With regard to the Palestinian motion, I hope that after the Order of Business we will be able to reach agreement on an all-party motion. We have a wording we would like to use and I hope we can agree on the motion today.
Committee and Report Stages of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill will be dealt with on Thursday. I had a meeting with the party leaders last week in which I outlined the position with regard to this Bill, and there was no objection at that stage to having Committee and Report Stages on that day, with a break in between. We will do our best to help everybody on this. We are not trying to steamroll it through.
Whoever represents the Senator was at that meeting. The Senator must have somebody representing him. Ample time is being afforded to Senators to discuss the Electoral (Amendment) Bill.
With regard to the request for the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to come before the House, we will try to have him in early in September. We have had the Ministers of State, Deputies Kathleen Lynch and Róisín Shortall, who are excellent junior Ministers in the Department and quite capable of taking any matter with regard to health. I compliment them on their performances in the House and the amount of time they have given to the Seanad.
Senator Bacik spoke about strengthening the powers of committees, and about media ownership and the fallout of the telephone hacking scandal in the UK. This is certainly something that needs attention here, and we can arrange a debate on the issue some time in the autumn. Senators van Turnhout, Mullins and others called for a debate on the safety and welfare of children. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has agreed to come to the House to discuss the recommendations of the Murphy report and others. I am sure we can arrange that at an early opportunity. The Minister will be coming to the House tomorrow after 7 p.m. to discuss the Child Care (Amendment) Bill. She will be here for a considerable time and I am sure there are many items with regard to the Bill that Senators would like to raise with her.
Senators Quinn, Conway, Coghlan and others spoke about the takeover of Superquinn by the Musgrave group. I am sure we all welcome the fact that more than 2,500 jobs will be protected as a result of this takeover. Senator Quinn has raised in the House on several occasions the issue of the purchasing policies of retailers. I accept his concerns about the Minister's intentions in that regard and I hope the Minister will address these matters.
Senators Burke and Walsh spoke about the cost of tribunals and the amount of time they take. I hope the increased powers for committees that are envisaged by the Oireachtas will negate the necessity for tribunals in the future. The expense is, from my point of view, totally immoral. I agree with Senator Walsh that waste will need to be tackled across all Departments; this is taking place at present, and I hope we have support from the other side of the House in this regard.
Senator Healy Eames spoke about the extension of the remit of pharmacists to administer 'flu vaccinations and wondered whether this could be extended further to include the BCG vaccine. She should contact the Minister in this regard.
I agree that we should have a further debate on tourism, particularly with regard to the home market. Of course, the Galway Races is a big event and if Members wish to go to them, they will have four days next week to do so. We hope to finish our business on either Tuesday or Wednesday next week, so there will be another four days of racing if they wish to travel to Galway.
Four days will be more than enough to lose money.
Senator Norris raised the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill. The other House took approximately one and half hours to complete all Stages of that Bill. I am allocating two and a half hours for the debate on it. If that is not sufficient, we can look at it again but I hope we will be able to complete our business in two and a half hours, given that the Lower House spent less than an hour and a half on it. I take on board his question regarding the involuntary use of ECT. I will check the status of the Bill.
Senator MacConghail and Senator Daly referred to a matter raised by Senator Quinn last week, the famine in the Horn of Africa. It is a dreadful situation. Mary Robinson is travelling to the region, and the suggestion that we invite her to address the House is excellent. We currently have requests for approximately ten people to address the House and we will try to deal with that in the next session. Two of the people who have been asked to address the House are former Senators, Mary Robinson and Maurice Manning, who can speak on human rights. I am sure they will accede to our requests. It would be excellent to have them in the House to address Members on their experiences on those issues.
Senator Cullinane referred to the remarks of the Minister for Social Protection. The Minister, Deputy Burton, has clarified the matter. She was referring to less than 2% of the people on social welfare. She is an excellent Minister for Social Protection.
Senator Mullins asked that contact be made with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I remind Members that tomorrow the House will see a new departure with questions and answers on agriculture, rather than statements. The Minister will spend an hour and a half dealing with agriculture and an hour on fisheries. He will address the House for ten minutes on agriculture and for another ten minutes on fisheries. That will be followed by a question and answer session, similar to what takes place on the Order of Business. I hope there will be almost full attendance in the House. It is what we envisage for such question and answer sessions. If a Minister is prepared to come to the House and take questions and answer them, there should be a good attendance. It might be a way in which we could change the way the House conducts its business. I believe it should be the way for the future.
In response to Senator Byrne and the press reports, I did not receive a letter from the Minister for Justice and Equality on that matter, as was reported. With regard to the Minister for Social Protection coming to the House to clarify matters, she was in the House to deal with the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. She is an excellent Minister and I have full confidence in her abilities. I have already addressed the question about health and the Ministers of State coming to the House.
Senator Kelly referred to social welfare fraud. The Minister is tackling that problem and I am sure we will see the result by the end of the year.
Senator Mooney spoke about money for essential services. Undoubtedly, that matter will be addressed in the budget but as I have said on a previous occasion, we are spending €18 billion more than our income. That problem must and will be addressed by this Government. There will be painful decisions as a result but they must be taken as they are necessary.
Senator Conway spoke about a buy Irish campaign and supporting Irish business. I would not be anti-Tesco in any way. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will inform the House tomorrow that Tesco spends well over €1 billion on Irish produce, thus supporting Irish producers. We all hope they will support us even more. They have created thousands of jobs. I am sure the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will address the question of food supply, producers and so on tomorrow and that the relevant questions will be asked of him.
Senator John Crown raised the financial health of the VHI and its vulnerability or otherwise. It is something I will address to the Minister along with his advice, like that of Senator Sean Barrett, that we advance the agenda of reform and universal health insurance. I am sure the Minister would like to advance it but it will be difficult. The Minister is totally committed to advancing universal health insurance. I will address the questions asked in regard to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on the number of psychiatrists and on an amendment in regard to smoking in cars in which children are present.
Senator Terry Leyden raised the dreadful Donegal case about which we read in the newspapers and heard on the news. I share the concerns expressed by the judge in that case. I also welcome the fact the Senator withdrew remarks in regard to Senator John Kelly.
Senator Tom Sheahan raised the bank guarantee scheme. Senator Mark MacSharry called for a solution-focused debate on financial matters next week. The Minister for Finance will be in the House for the next two hours to deal with the Finance (No. 3) Bill, and it will not be the first time he will have been in this House.
Senator Mark Daly raised the Palestine situation. I hope we will agree on an all-party motion today which we will put to the House. Senator Mary White raised the issue of jobs and small business. The Minister for Finance has written to the banks in regard to releasing credit for small and medium-sized enterprises and business in general. I hope the banks will act on the letter from the Minister. I agree with Senator Mary White in regard to Deputy O'Dea. He has a cynical view of many issues.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of budgets in hospitals. As I said, we are spending €18 billion more than we are taking in. Householders are expected to balance their books from one week to the next and hospitals are being asked to do the same. That is not a big thing to ask of hospitals.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 28 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.