Seanad debates

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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It is proposed to take No. 1, Access to Central Treasury Funds (Commission for Energy Regulation) Bill 2011 - all Stages, with Second Stage to be taken at 2 p.m., on which the contributions of group spokespersons are not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators are not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 3.25 p.m., and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 3.30 p.m.; and No. 13, motion No. 6 re gendercide, to be taken at 4 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m. Business will be interrupted following the Order of Business until 2 p.m. We had to change our schedule because the Minister for Education and Skills had further amendments to draft to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011. The Minister withdrew the legislation on Monday and stated he would not be in a position to take it today. I apologise for the resultant changes to the Order of Business today.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Yesterday's debate on the Keane report was useful and I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, on his contribution. He made some significant remarks, giving a firm commitment that the implementation strategy to deal with mortgage arrears will be published in advance of the budget and this is welcome. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, several items were put to him from all Members and I believe he will take them on board. The gravity of the mortgage issue crosses all parties here and I wish to put on record that I was pleased with the Minister of State's contribution and interaction.

I did not get an opportunity to ask the Leader about a matter which we might take up if the Minister of State, Deputy Willie Penrose, is due in the House in the coming weeks. The Housing Finance Agency financed many affordable housing and shared ownership scheme mortgages. For example, in the case of my county council in Fingal almost 19% of affordable housing and shared ownership mortgages are in arrears. The county councils are not following the code of conduct applicable to other lenders. It was outside the original code of conduct and I have anecdotal evidence from constituents not only in Fingal, but in other county councils, that mortgage holders are finding it remarkably difficult to strike deals with local authorities. We have direct control over the local authorities and the Housing Finance Agency should be on the agenda. I call on the Leader to find a slot to debate this in the next week or two.

I note the change to the Order of Business today and I fully accept that there is nothing the Leader could do about the matter with regard to the Minister for Education and Skills. Several members have raised the question of scrutiny of European Union legislation in recent weeks, how the Seanad could play a role in it and how we are entitled to play a role in it due to the passing of the Lisbon treaty. I call on the Leader to pursue this. The schedule has been light on certain weeks. We should set aside a minimum number of days every month to consider EU directives and legislation coming down the tracks. The House can play an important role in scrutinising such legislation. We have done so with our Bills and the House has done well with several recent Bills and has done well in scrutinising legislation. We have the capacity to do so and we should do so.

I am pleased the Minister for Health will be in the House tomorrow. It is timely because we have seen reports about the slow privatisation of our hospitals by stealth, especially in the HSE west region, where a tender has been put out by the HSE with the agreement of the Minister to privatise the management of the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick, and University College Hospital, Galway. Fine Gael gave this commitment in its manifesto, effectively privatising the health sector. We are particularly concerned about this and I will ask the Minister about it tomorrow.

All Members should be concerned because the Minister addressed these matters to regional Deputies and Senators late last week but no statement has been given to the House. I will ask the Minister about it tomorrow but in my view we are creating another layer of private management consultants which, apparently, will interact and share their experience with other hospitals that will not have this private layer of management over them. This is the start of a privatisation which has outlined the creation of Tory-style hospital trusts in the country, to which we are most opposed. I will use the opportunity tomorrow to ask the Minister about it directly.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Like Senator O'Brien I welcome the fact that we are having the health debate tomorrow but I listened with growing disbelief to his comments about creeping privatisation. This, from a member of the party which initiated the co-location principle with Mary Harney as Minister for Health and Children, was an extraordinary comment to make-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Not really.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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-----particularly given the commitment in the programme for Government, which is part of a common policy platform that Fine Gael and the Labour Party share, to end the two-tier health system-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It is to privatise the health system. That is what the Government is doing.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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-----and bring in universal health insurance and, for the first time, bring in an equitable and fair fundamental basis for our health system.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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The bearded ones in the unions are not happy at the moment with this.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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It was extraordinary to hear him speaking about creeping privatisation.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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That is what it is.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I renew my calls for a debate on political reform to take place in the House at some point after the referendum tomorrow. A good deal was said about the referendum yesterday, much of it contrived controversy about the Oireachtas inquiries referendum, legislation for which was passed in the House by an overwhelming majority. In fact, there was no vote on the Bill and I believe only three Senators voted in favour of a particular amendment.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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That was my one.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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It really was a contrived controversy. Senator O'Donovan, who spoke yesterday, was a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Bacik does a great disservice to all the distinguished people-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator without interruption.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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-----including members of the Senator's party and a former Attorney General.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Bacik without interruption.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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He was a Member of the Joint Committee on the Constitution.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Bacik has had 24 hours to prepare something she should have said yesterday. She obviously watched it back and realised what was said.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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It recommended a referendum in January on this issue and sought submissions from the public exactly 12 months ago, on 21 October 2010.

It is also extraordinary that eminent lawyers, including former Attorneys General, are claiming that the referendum will rule out recourse to the courts for anyone who believes his or her constitutional rights has been breached by an Oireachtas committee. That is not the case and anyone who has a doubt about it should read Professor Gwynn Morgan's excellent article in the Irish Times today, which points out clearly that other articles of the Constitution preserve the jurisdiction of the High Court to judicially review any decision or procedures of Oireachtas committees.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Are the Attorneys General contriving as well?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Those concerned about the powers the Oireachtas should examine the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act brought in by Michael McDowell which confers all these powers, including the power to seek a search warrant for entry to someone's home in the case of commissions of investigation. All these powers are in place. The legislation the Minister, Deputy Howlin, published in September mirrors the legislation from 2004. A good deal of scaremongering is going on and many people are coming in late and jumping on a bandwagon of opposition to the referendum.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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That is ridiculous.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I hope it will be passed. Then we can debate how best to implement the referendum in this House in November and how to ensure we hold Ministers to account through our parliamentary committees.

I offer my congratulations to Claire Loftus on her appointment as Director of Public Prosecutions. This means for the first time the three senior legal offices in the land, the DPP, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice, are held by women. This is a significant step forward. These are three excellent individuals on their own merits, apart from the question of gender.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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And there are no quotas.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Yesterday I asked that the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, would come to the House and state whether the Bar Council had been warned that it would be to its disadvantage in the context of its lobbying on the Legal Services Regulation Bill were it to oppose the proposal to give new powers to Oireachtas committees of inquiry. I have received a courteous letter from the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, and I am grateful to him for acknowledging that I set about addressing issues with honesty. He assures me, and I am happy to accept his assurance, that at no stage did he warn the Bar Council or any member of it, either expressly or implicitly, against voicing opposition to this referendum.

However, I was hoping to raise the issue again because I am in a position to put the question more forensically today and I believe I ought to because it is a question on which we must hear from the Minister, Deputy Shatter, not in his personal capacity, but in his capacity as the responsible Minister. Senator Bacik may be interested in this point as well. Was it the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, or some other Labour Party Minister who warned the Bar Council or members of the Bar Council that it would go to their disadvantage and that Labour Ministers-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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On a point of order, that is an outrageous allegation.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I am asking a question and if Senator Bacik wants parliamentary inquiries, I am sure she will be happy to allow parliamentary questions.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Bacik, have you a point of order?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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The Senator made an allegation about the Minister, Deputy Shatter, yesterday which he had to withdraw today. Now he is making a similar allegation about the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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That is not a point of order.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator, that is not a point of order.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I presume he will withdraw that tomorrow when it is proven to be incorrect.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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First, I did not make an allegation. I asked a question which it was my duty to do. As I stated, I am now in a position-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Have you a question for the Leader?

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I call for the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to come in and address this issue and to check with his colleagues in Government. It would be a scandal if the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, or some other Labour Party Minister were to convey any message to members of the Bar Council that it would be to their disadvantage in terms of Labour Party Ministers' attitude to the proposed legal services legislation were they to oppose the referendum on Oireachtas committees of inquiry.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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That is absolute rubbish.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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The question remains. It is put more forensically and I believe a Labour Party Minister or Ministers may have a question to answer.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Are you proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I believe it is a matter which must be of concern to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, as well. I repeat my request, with absolute respect for the Minister, Deputy Shatter's, bona fides in this regard, for him to come in and address this issue in the House.

I acknowledge and agree with what Senator Bacik had to say about the appointment of Claire Loftus. It is very good news and I wish her well in her job.

I am disappointed the Government has seen fit to table an amendment to the Private Members' motion on gendercide. While the amendment correctly condemns female infanticide in the strongest terms, it is a pity its authors cannot stomach the prospect of mentioning forced abortion and fatal neglect of baby girls after birth. The motion was drawn up with a view to attracting support from all Senators and people of good will.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader? He can raise these points when the House discusses the motion.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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It has been tabled in support of Senator Jillian van Turnhout and others. The Government has missed an opportunity in this regard. I look forward to the contributions of members of the Government parties, as I am more hopeful they will include more favourable comments about the motion than are reflected in the Government inspired amendment.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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As there is not much difference between the motion and amendment, I expect Members will largely say the same thing.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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The Senator is ever the peacemaker.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I again express my disappointment at the decision of the British Government not to hold an inquiry into the death of the eminent legal gentleman, Mr. Pat Finucane, despite the trenchant and strong viewpoint expressed by the Taoiseach and Government on the matter. We discussed this issue at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly which I was honoured to attend. While all murders are appalling and shocking, the murder of Mr. Finucane was different because the British Government has acknowledged it involved state collusion. It has made a decision to appoint an eminent Queen's Counsel, Mr. de Silva, to review all the papers on the case by the end of December 2012. Now that it has decided to go down this road, it has struck me that Mr. de Silva's report could provide, as it were, a book of evidence for a suitable parliamentary inquiry.

I note in that regard that Senator Darragh O'Brien and other colleagues opposite spoke with divergent voices on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution Act.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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No, we did not.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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One of this morning's newspapers features comments from one of the Senator's colleagues. Last night I heard one of the Fianna Fáil Members of the other House-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I always have a question for him. On the de Silva report possibly becoming a book of evidence, if necessary, given that people have died and others' minds are gone, such a parliamentary inquiry would only need to call a small number of individuals. If necessary, it could be more definitive. That is the point I wish to make.

To tie in the issue of a parliamentary inquiry in Britain with the proposed constitutional amendment, as parliamentarians, we want to find cheaper and more effective ways of conducting investigations. We all support the idea of parliamentary investigations and irrespective of the result of tomorrow's referendum, this issue will not go away. I suggest, therefore, that it is a suitable matter for a debate.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The House should extend its sympathy on the tragic death of brave Garda Ciaran Jones who died during the recent floods.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The House extended its sympathy yesterday.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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As full confirmation had not been provided yesterday, I waited until today to extend my sympathy. It is in order to do so. I extend sympathy to the parents of Garda Jones, John and Brenda; his brother, Alan, and sister, Michelle. His actions on the night in question in seeking to save lives were above and beyond the call of duty. I extend sympathy to his family, the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality, as well as to the family of Cecila de Jesus, a Filipino care assistant, who also died tragically in the floods in Dublin.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the closure of courthouses. I raise specifically the closure of Boyle courthouse which it is proposed to amalgamate with the District Court in Carrick-in-Shannon and Circuit Court in Roscommon. Fianna Fáil Party Councillors John Cummins and Rachel Doherty from Boyle have raised this issue with me and are deeply concerned about the effect the closure will have on the town which is the capital of north Roscommon. The courthouse has operated since the foundation of the State and Boyle was the first town to elect an independent Sinn Féin candidate in the 1918 elections. The closure of the courthouse will be a major blow. I call on Deputy Frank Feighan to do something about this proposal. He could resign, as his colleague, Deputy Denis Naughten, did in response to the closure of the accident and emergency department in Roscommon County Hospital.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The matter the Senator raises is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy made a statement that he was not even aware of the matter. He will have to stand up for the people of north Roscommon.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the closure of courthouses. A courthouse is economically important to a town and the closure of Boyle courthouse will sound the death knell for the town. It will also have a major effect on the work of the Courts Service, solicitors, the presiding judge and the surrounding area. A courthouse has an economic benefit for a town and affords it prestige. Given the seriousness of the issue, I was surprised Deputy Frank Feighan was not even aware of the proposed closure. The announcement was made by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, a divine individual in the sense that he is both two in one and one in two, having been appointed Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is out of order. Deputy Frank Feighan is a Member of the House.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is two in one; he is the Minister for Justice and Equality and also Minister for Defence.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I have asked a question. Incidentally, this issue also affects the Cathaoirleach's county which will not be exempt from the proposed closure of courthouses. He should be deeply concerned about the issue.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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I request the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, to consider extending again the period during which slurry may be spread. It was originally extended from September to the end of October owing to the high rainfall that month. I need not point out that the rainfall has been even higher in October. Farmers are struggling to get slurry out and it is environmentally unfriendly to do so in the current conditions. I ask that the Minister to consider extending the slurry spreading season for a further two weeks.

11:00 am

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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The Leader does a good job in accommodating requests for debates, with which he is inundated. I make a special appeal to him to arrange a debate on the issue of homelessness. This may not be a headline making issue, but given that the homeless do not have a voice, the Seanad must strive to give them one whenever we have an opportunity to do so. We can only imagine the hopelessness people who do not having a permanent roof over their heads must feel.

In my school days I learned a poem about the old woman of the roads. Senators of a certain age will probably remember it and the desire the old woman expresses for a home of her own. The position of the homeless today is not different. They are helpless in so far as they cannot make a case. On the other hand, I am sure they would all wish to return to a normal way of life. The people who are homeless today are not like the subject of the poem to which I refer, as many have become homeless through no fault of their own. The number of homeless persons is increasing as a result of the recession. They depend on the Simon Community which does a fantastic and heroic job under the radar and without much acknowledgement. It serves as an example to us all through the work it does.

The purpose of the debate, particularly if it was held prior to the budget, would be to highlight that while voluntary bodies do excellent work, they can only do so much. It is important at budget time to identify what assistance, support and resources voluntary bodies working with the homeless require. I am sure Senators will have received a communication from the Simon Community in this regard. It expects Senators to raise the issue of homelessness in the House. I also believe the Government is compassionate. It must seek to prioritise homelessness because although it is not a big issue from the point of view of cost, it is a huge issue from the point of view of the individuals concerned. The homeless include professional people who were not able to meet ends meet.

May we have a debate as soon as possible? I am sure the Leader will give my request serious consideration. We have all walked the streets and seen the hopelessness of these people as they try to live in winter conditions. Is this not a great opportunity for the House to support them? They may never vote and thus we are not looking for votes or any such return but are indicating that we cherish all the citizens of this country equally.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I concur with my colleagues, Senators Bacik and Mullen, in congratulating Ms Loftus on her appointment to the office of Director of Public Prosecutions. As Senator Bacik remarked, it is interesting that three of the highest judicial posts in the land are now held by women, and I congratulate all involved. It is also worth noting that these high positions were achieved without the imposition of gender quotas. We might reflect on that point.

I concur with Senator Coghlan in regard to the lack of progress in the Finucane inquiry. I raised this matter last week and requested that we pursue further the possibility of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission. I have raised this issue in the House on numerous occasions in recent years. A degree of progress is required. The Leader might advise whether further consideration is being given to the matter.

On the broader aspect of Anglo-Irish and Northern Ireland related matters, perhaps the Leader might inquire on my behalf concerning the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. This might appear to be an unusual request. That forum met from approximately 1994 until 1996 or 1997 and a number of Members of this House would have served on what was a very effective body. It is my understanding that the forum never made a final report and did not officially conclude. I was at the final meeting of the forum when it adjourned on the basis that it might meet again should that be required. I do not believe there is any requirement for the forum to meet again, thank God, but the Leader might inquire as to its current status. Perhaps it could be a vehicle for putting in place a commission for truth and reconciliation, by way of a recommendation from the forum. My understanding is that the forum did not produce a final report. If I recall correctly, it was chaired by the former judge, Ms Catherine McGuinness. I also understand it was not deemed to have adjourned permanently so perhaps there is a possibility it could be used to bring about a truth and reconciliation commission. In recent weeks we have heard claim and counter-claim in regard to what happened and did not happen in Northern Ireland, and who did what. Many questions remain and answers must be given to bereaved relatives. We should try to put in place a vehicle to facilitate these people.

Photo of Jimmy HarteJimmy Harte (Labour)
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I concur with my colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, who called for a debate on homelessness. He mentioned the Simon Community, of which I am a director in the north west, so I appreciate his remark. He made a valid point that may need clarification in that the definition of homelessness has changed in recent years. We always used to regard homeless people as those who were actually sleeping on the street but there is an entirely new breed of homeless people - those who simply do not have an address to call their own. This may be because of family circumstances, perhaps a marriage break-up or an alcohol related problem. They have no address and it is important we recognise there is a group of people who are homeless, even if not obviously so.

Groups such as the Simon Community, Respond and other voluntary housing associations play a very important part. Having been on the local authority in County Donegal as well as with the Simon Community, I can see the benefits to local authorities when the Simon Community provides support staff for people. I know of cases where persons have been given a council house, perhaps a single man in his 40s or 50s, who literally cannot switch on a kettle and does not know how to live on his own. Such people need support. It is fine to give a person a set of keys and a two bedroom apartment or a three bedroom semi-detached house but it is necessary to run and maintain the home. There are simple pointers to learn such as how to switch on and off heating. It is amazing what people do not know. The Simon Community and other associations provide a vital link for people in that bracket. I concur with Senator Ó Murchú in asking for a debate on homelessness. I reiterate homelessness has been redefined in Ireland and is no longer merely that person with a cardboard box on the street but also people who have no address to call their own.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate there will be a debate on health in the House tomorrow and we all look forward to having the opportunity to ask questions of the Minister under the new format. However, I ask for a special debate in coming weeks on cardiology. Professor Ciaran Daly of University Hospital Galway is currently implementing recommendations to ensure Ireland matches up to international best practice, whereby from the moment a heart attack occurs a person can have a stent inserted within international best practice timeframes, namely, within 90 minutes. Regrettably, however, as is the norm for the HSE, when these plans are implemented, a person will have that kind of service only if he or she lives in one of the five centres chosen, namely, Dublin, Galway and Cork, or in Limerick and Waterford where there will be step-down facilities. This represents the usual gaping void in the north west of the country, and indeed in the south west, where the policy of the HSE, as borne out by the national cancer control programme, would seem to be simply that people must move closer to a centre or die. We really need to have a debate about the health strategy for this country. It is simply not acceptable that some people are clearly more equal than others.

Senator Leyden raised the proposed closure of courthouses throughout the country, as confirmed yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. These include those in Boyle in County Roscommon and Ballymote in County Sligo. This is an illogical step. Some years ago this step was suggested by Department officials as a proposed saving, but at that time Members on this side of the House, whose party was then in Government, faced down the Minister of the day and convinced him that such an illogical step would not be supportive of communities, especially given the economic adversity that faces the country when Government should be seen to support activities.

Will the Leader bring forward in the coming weeks a cost-benefit analysis as to what can be saved by these closures and the resulting alienation in communities such as in Boyle, County Roscommon, and Ballymote in County Sligo? It does not seem to show the pro-community spirit one expects from a Government, especially at a time when we should be seeking to enhance and maintain Government administrative services in local communities, as the private sector is clearly suffering as a result of the economic downturn. I would be most grateful if the Leader raised those issues.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I support my colleague, Senator Susan O'Keeffe, in her call for an extension date for slurry. There has been a very serious problem in recent months. Farmers did not spread slurry because of constant rain, in especially in the west. It would be fitting to extend the date.

I refer to the great cost imposed, in particular on publicans in rural Ireland, especially those in small villages, who may have to pay up to €5,500 in rates for their premises. A number of these people have contacted me. This is at a time when their doors are closed most of the time and they are open only for a few hours at night. We should debate this issue in the House. Ideas were floating around some months ago to the effect that we should facilitate people to get out and about, especially those living in rural Ireland who may be semi-isolated, who used to travel to pubs but cannot now do so because of the drink driving ban and the downturn in the economy. Such a move to help them get out and about would help their mental well-being. We should debate the whole issue, in particular that of publicans' rates, which is causing major concern.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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My first question relates to the imminent EU summit. It is clear that there may be potential changes to EU treaties. The Taoiseach is on record as stating that 90% of what might lie in any future deal would not require treaty changes. However, it is clear there may be some. Will any treaty changes be put to the people in a referendum? The people should decide.

This is the last opportunity we have to ask the Government to end the madness of paying the €700 million bond, due next Wednesday. This is an unguaranteed bond relating to Anglo Irish Bank. At a time when the numbers of special needs assistants and home helps are being reduced, when people and families are struggling, when austerity is beginning to bite and when individuals have lost their jobs and are not receiving support, the Government is going to pay back the bond to which I refer. I am asking the Leader, Fine Gael and Labour to again give a commitment that they will not sign the cheque relating to this bond on Wednesday next.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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Will the Leader make time available for a debate, possibly with the Minister for Finance, on the levels of pay in the semi-State sector? People would have read with dismay reports in this morning's newspapers to the effect that a prominent broadcaster in RTE who earns more than three and a half times the amount earned by the Taoiseach is resisting any attempts to reduce his pay. At a time when most people are struggling to make ends meet, when individuals are losing their jobs and when there is massive stress and uncertainty on those in the workplace, the House should be concerned with regard to the enormous amounts of money being earned by an elite section of our society. It would, therefore, be appropriate for us to engage in a debate on the levels of pay that apply in many of semi-State bodies. On previous occasions, reference has been made to the enormous amount of money earned by the chief executive of the ESB. People are being asked to tighten their belts and accept cuts to their wages but it appears that a small section of the community is being treated in a much more favourable way. I would like the matter to which I refer to be discussed in the House.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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Last week I referred to the issue of those who are collecting assets on behalf of lending institutions. When I sought legal opinion in respect of the current position in this regard, I was informed that it seems lending institutions are doing whatever they want and are flouting the law. Under the law as it currently stands, the only people who can take possession of properties from other individuals are the county sheriffs. I am not referring to tax sheriffs but rather county sheriffs. Outside of Dublin and Cork, county registrars act as county sheriffs. County sheriffs can only take possession of properties on foot of court judgments being handed down and the making of court orders in respect of such judgments. When a suitable order is handed down, a county sheriff or someone acting on his or her behalf has the authority to enter someone's property and repossess either that property in its entirety or contents contained therein.

Members continually refer to the relevance of this Chamber. It will have no relevance unless we can put in place a structure or procedure that will allow us to bring to the notice of members of the public the current law governing this area. No one other than a person with the support of the law can enter someone else's property. The financial institutions are not adhering to the law and they are being allowed to act as they see fit. I call on the Leader to give Members the opportunity to debate this matter with the head of financial regulation at the Central Bank. Lending institutions are making it up as they go along and are dealing with this matter as they see fit. Perhaps there could be unanimous agreement among Members on both sides that the head of financial regulation at the Central Bank be brought before the House following next week's break. We could then put it to him that policy being pursued by the financial institutions flies blatantly in the face of the law. We must try to ensure that these institutions will not be allowed to continue to deal with this matter as they see fit by asking the head of financial regulation at the Central Bank to deal directly with them in respect of it.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I support Senator Michael D'Arcy's request that the head of financial regulation at the Central Bank be brought before the House in order that we might discuss with him the matters to which the Senator refers. In the previous Seanad, I raised the issue of a lending institution - Friends First - which sent a group of what can only be described as thugs to deal with a young man who had purchased a truck for transporting quarry material. The individual in question signed the documentation relating to the loan he obtained - for €80,000 - in the car park of a public house. When the building trade collapsed, the man in question, through no fault of his own, lost his job. Even though he had already repaid 75% of his loan to Friends First, that company sent thugs to his parents' home. The individuals to whom I refer intimated his parents and grabbed the keys of the truck and stole it. I am aware that behaviour of this nature is being engaged in by allegedly reputable financial institutions throughout the country. In the instance to which I refer, Friends First sold the man's truck for a pittance and is still pursuing him for the balance of the moneys due. I ask the Leader to facilitate Senator Michael D'Arcy's call that the head of financial regulation at the Central Bank be asked to come before the House.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, referred to the very good debate on the Keane report in which the House engaged last evening. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, performed very well and took on board all of the points raised by various Senators. In the context of the Housing Finance Agency, I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that there are problems with the shared ownership scheme and with people being unable to repay their mortgages. This matter can be raised with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Penrose, when he comes before the House on 16 November. Senators Ó Murchú and Harte will have the opportunity to raise the issue of homelessness with the Minister of State on that date.

I assure Senator Darragh O'Brien that there is no question of privatising the health service. We are trying to move away from the current two-tier system. I am sure there will be an opportunity to debate this matter further when the Minister for Health comes before the House tomorrow.

Senator Bacik requested a debate on political reform. I will be able to facilitate such a debate. I join her and other Senators in congratulating Ms Claire Loftus as Director of Public Prosecutions.

I am not going to address the conspiracy theories put forward by Senator Mullen in respect of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. I am glad the Senator withdrew the allegations made in the House yesterday against the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter.

Senators Paul Coghlan, Bradford and others referred to the de Silva report into the death of Mr. Pat Finucane. The Government is continuing to press for an inquiry in respect of this matter. We understand that the de Silva report will be completed by December 2012. If the findings in that report are not acceptable to the Government or to Mr. Finucane's family, I do not believe it will be possible to rule out the holding of an inquiry thereafter.

Senator Bradford also referred to final report of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. I will seek to discover what is the position in respect of that matter and I will pass on any information I receive to the Senator. If a final report is forthcoming, the House could certainly discuss it.

In the context of the issue to which Senator Leyden referred, yesterday the House extended its sympathies to the families of Garda Ciaran Jones and the woman from the Philippines who, unfortunately, drowned in Monday's floods. Senators O'Keeffe and Comiskey asked that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine extend the period of time allowed for spreading slurry. I will certainly take the matter up with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government after the Order of Business.

Senator MacSharry called for a special debate on cardiology. I am sure the Senator MacSharry will ask the Minister for that debate when he comes to the House tomorrow to discuss health. Senator Comiskey also raised the issues of rural transport and rate supports for small businesses in rural areas. We had the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, in the House previously to deal with the issue of rural transport, and we will try to arrange a debate on the other subject also.

Senator Cullinane mentioned possible treaty changes. The Government will certainly have a referendum, if necessary, on any treaty changes, but the Taoiseach has stated he does not believe a referendum will be necessary. I certainly do not wish to get involved with the responsibilities of the Minister for Finance with regard to bondholders.

Senator Mullen mentioned pay for personnel in semi-State bodies, especially RTE. Perhaps when we have a debate on ownership in the media, those matters could be raised. Senators Michael D'Arcy and Diarmuid Wilson spoke about lending institutions hiring people with previous criminal convictions to collect money. I raised this matter with the Minister after the Order of Business last week and received a comprehensive reply which I believe I sent on to Senator D'Arcy. In so far as it pertains to the Financial Regulator, the appropriate place to raise this would be at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and I urge the Senators to do that.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I asked the Leader about the courthouses in Boyle and Sligo.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I do not have control over what the Leader says on the Order of Business.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I asked him for a debate on the issue.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 11.25 a.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.