Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Sustainable Energy Act 2002, back from the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re referral to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality of the proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of an agreement between the EU and the US on the use and transfer of passenger name records, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, statements and questions and answers on---
It can do. I agree that it would be good to have a debate on it. No. 3, statements and questions and answers on the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m. with the contributions of groups' spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of one Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed three minutes and all other Senators not to exceed one minute when asking questions of the Minister; and No. 4, Private Members' business, the Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken from 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
I ask the Deputy Leader to ensure that the motion on the transfer of data between the EU and the USA returns to the House after it is finished being dealt with by the joint committee.
Since late last September I have raised the following issue almost every week, namely, the Government's inaction on the ongoing and increasing mortgage arrears crisis and distressed mortgages. A number of weeks ago the Leader indicated that the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, would come here but a debate has not been scheduled for this week. There has been a lack of urgency in dealing with the fact that one in seven mortgages is now in arrears of 90 days or more and the Government needs to address the matter. I know that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste - and Senator Bacik will state the following as her answer - have set up a special high powered Cabinet committee. The Government could have accepted legislation like the Family Home Bill tabled by my colleague, Senator MacSharry, and have something in place and ready for people. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange at the earliest possible opportunity for the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, to return here. Last November he told me here that the Government would have published the mortgage arrears implementation strategy prior to the budget, and then prior to the end of 201 but it is now 9 May and time has passed.
Can the Deputy Leader find out when the Government proposes to complete the review of the community employment schemes? I ask for a commitment that when it has been finalised that it comes here for discussion
I also raise the issue of the refusal by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to rule out a waste water treatment charge, on top of the water charges that the Government proposes to introduce. Last week in the Dáil he refused to rule out the introduction of a waste water treatment charge specifically for people living in urban areas and specifically for Dublin. I would like the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to this House. We have not forgotten debacles like the household charge or the announcement that water charges will be introduced from 2014. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, needs to come to the Seanad urgently for a debate on these matters. What is the Government's position on the waste water treatment charge we are hearing about? Is the Government leaking the details of the charge slowly? Will it be used to fund the monstrous sewage treatment plant that is due to be lobbed in on top of the people of north County Dublin at a cost of €2.1 billion to the Exchequer? I ask the Deputy Leader to follow that up with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.
I move an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to this House to discuss the specific issue of the closure of 39 Garda stations in urban and rural areas throughout the country.
I made a similar request last week and the week before. We should also debate the restrictions that have been imposed on a further ten stations. I have found out, through the Department, that thousands of euro will have to be spent on the installation of CCTV cameras to protect the stations which are now closed or restricted.
I have learned that prisoners will not be allowed to stay in the downgraded stations and that Garda resources will have to be used to transfer any prisoners detained after 9 p.m. to the nearest full-time Garda station. Furthermore, the Minister should come to this House to confirm whether he has received a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers recommending that 400 Garda stations throughout the country should be closed during this Government's term in office. I remind the House that the Minister has been in charge for 14 months. During that time, he has closed more Garda stations, or announced plans to do so, than the last Government did during its 14 years in office. The amendment to the Order of Business that I have moved calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to explain his policing policy. Specifically, I would like him to explain to the House why he gave incorrect information to me in this House when I raised the closure of Garda stations in my local area on the Adjournment.
Senator O'Brien has raised three items. He knows well the question of mortgage arrears is high on the Government's agenda and is still being worked on. We will hear the Deputy Leader in a few minutes. I think we will have the Minister in the House next week.
These are early days. A great deal of detail has yet to be worked out. A brand new authority is being established as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis. The Senator will hear the Minister speaking about this often in due course. There are more serious matters in this country at the moment, such as the referendum that will take place on 31 May next. On the question of water, a great deal has yet to be worked out. Senator O'Brien knows that no one will have to pay a cent prior to 2014.
I do not have a question for her. I look forward to hearing her response. The third issue raised by Senator O'Brien was a justice matter. He knows well that the Minister for Justice and Equality will be in the House tomorrow. The Senator will be able to address anything he likes to the Minister when he contributes to that debate. I look forward to hearing the Deputy Leader expanding further on those topics.
I regret the people in the Visitors Gallery are leaving because the question I intend to ask is of great relevance to many of those visiting the Houses. The voices of older people must be included and heard. Older people must be listened to. They have something to tell us of which we might not be aware. They are informed by the lives they have lived, the depth and breadth of their experience and understanding, and the urgency of their age. They have something to tell us about the care they need and are entitled to as they age.
The first consultation of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which was initiated by the Taoiseach's 11 nominees and established and developed by the Seanad, related to the rights of older people. The findings of the committee's report on that matter, which was published in March, have yet to be debated. The committee made findings regarding the UN treaty, the mental capacity legislation, the entitlements of older people, the community care audit, the carer's allowance regime, the amendment of the Health Act 2007, the travel schemes and the issue of end-of-life care. Such issues need to be debated in the Seanad soon. As Senators, we made a promise to that effect to all relevant stakeholders in the rights of older people at a public hearing on the floor of the Seanad Chamber. I am calling on the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the rights of older people as a matter of urgency. Such a debate is as urgent and profound as age and ageing.
I commend Senator O'Donnell on what she has just said. I support every word of it.
I would like the Deputy Leader to arrange for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to this House to discuss the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland report that has been finalised and published in recent days. We debated media standards with the Minister some weeks ago, but there was a shared feeling in this House that the debate was insufficient. It did not provide for the level of scrutiny we would have liked, particularly with regard to the case of Kevin Reynolds. It is important a further discussion would take place soon. Ample time should be provided not just to those leading off for each group but to all Senators who wish to speak. There are times when short contributions and questions are appropriate, but this issue calls on us to reflect more deeply together.
I welcome the decision of the board of RTE to require quarterly monitoring reports to be compiled, setting out how RTE is dealing with the issues that have arisen on foot of the "Prime Time Investigates" documentary. There has been some excellent commentary in recent days. Anna Carragher did us all a particular service by bringing the issue of groupthink to the surface. She suggested the issue arose in the context of this documentary. I came across an interesting quotation in a newspaper about the suggestion that there were mixed views among the production team on the question of whether the doorstepping of Fr. Reynolds, which did not in any way breach the then RTE guidelines, was right. According to the newspaper article, the executive producer of the documentary, Mr. Brian Páircéir, "argued for it on the basis that in the past, priests under scrutiny had tended to 'disappear' before they could be interviewed on camera".
I am indeed. The quotation I have cited is not conclusive, but I suggest when we come across that kind of level of assumption about a particular group or category, we begin to understand what groupthink means. Another important issue was raised on the "News at One" when it referred to the high level of intervention and incorporation of legal advice that took place when Charlie Bird and George Lee made a programme about National Irish Bank a number of years ago and asked whether a lower standard was applied when a programme was being made about the clergy. It is easy to ask such questions but difficult to answer them.
Yes. Perhaps the Deputy Leader will agree that a sustained consideration of the issue of groupthink, not just within RTE but outside it, is needed now that it has been brought to the surface. Groupthink can flow from editorial hubris when a production team has been highly successful, for example. Equally, we need to consider whether certain assumed cultural ideas and attitudes within an organisation might cause it to treat one category or set of issues differently from another. A debate is urgently needed to allow Senators to discuss that issue and other issues. I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader could make progress in that regard.
Last weekend, I was concerned to read in a Sunday newspaper that the Minister for Health, to save money, is considering the withdrawal of medical cards from 200,000 people who have not used or activated their cards for more than two years. While I accept we should not make payments to general practitioners in respect of medical cards that are not activated, it must be borne in mind that the card holders in question are entitled to their medical cards. I am not in favour of the withdrawal of medical cards from them. The fee per item system that was agreed with general practitioners in the past worked to a degree. It was changed to allow general practitioners to receive payments in respect of each medical card holder. I would have a problem with the withdrawal of cards from people who derive peace of mind and security from them and who might need them in the future. Rather than proceeding with this ill-conceived proposal, the way forward would be for the Minister to deduct a fee from each general practitioner on the basis of his or her overall percentage of unused medical cards. When legislation relating to general practitioners has been considered in this House in the past, such people have been the subject of some criticism. I brought my son to a general practitioner yesterday for a second visit regarding an ailment that had not cleared up. To be fair to him, I must compliment him on his morals. He did not charge because the medication originally prescribed did not work. There are, therefore, general practitioners with high moral standards and I must compliment them. I ask the Deputy Leader to relay to the Minister for Health my view that withdrawing medical cards from patients just because they have not used them is not the way forward.
Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come to the House to comment on the statements made by the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, in London in recent days. The Governor strongly advocated a European-level resolution agency for banking debt. The European Union and the euro, in particular, were saved as a result of the severe actions taken here over the years, including bank guarantees and austerity measures, which measures nobody would wish for but which the people have had no choice but to sustain in these difficult times. With the admission of the Governor of the Central Bank, the Government should move swiftly, irrespective of the campaign afoot regarding the referendum. I will still continue to advocate very strongly for a "Yes" vote. Mainland Europe, including the other countries in the eurozone, owe the Irish people for having saved the euro. The Governor of the Central Bank is absolutely correct to make his suggestion on a Europe-level agency to take over the banking debt, particularly the payment of bondholders for bust banks. In September of the year in question, actions that were taken here saved the euro. History will record this. It is appropriate that the European governments, led by our Minister, Deputy Noonan, take the initiative and deliver for the Irish by setting up the agency advocated by the Governor yesterday.
I will be a little parochial today. I am a Member for just over 13 months, as are the rest of the Senators. A monumental decision was taken today on Shannon Airport and Shannon Industrial Estate. Shannon is my town. I welcome the decision by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, to set up an autonomous debt-free Shannon Airport and industrial estate under the management of a new body. The industrial estate will be under the remit of the IDA where the placement of industry is concerned. Enterprise Ireland will handle the enterprise side, and responsibility for tourism has been transferred to Fáilte Ireland.
Many present may not know that the demise of the industrial estate and airport over the past ten years has been phenomenal. Today, however, is a new day. I welcome the courage of both Ministers and their staff in making their decision. I have no doubt that, by the end of the year, there will be a new body in place in the Shannon region free from the dead hand of the DAA. Will the Deputy Leader ask both Ministers to keep us informed about the decision-making process involving the steering group over the next seven or eight months and keep us updated on progress. I welcome the decision and wish the Ministers the very best of luck in that regard.
I echo the call by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for an urgent debate on the rights of older people on foot of the public consultation report. The Senator outlined many of the recommendations contained therein. The Leader promised a debate on this matter. Given the work of the consultation committee, we are a little ahead of the media. Many colleagues will have seen the "Prime Time" report last evening on the fair deal scheme. It highlighted the need for a debate on the rights of older people. It demonstrated that law-makers must find a rights-based solution to provide appropriate services for older people. Senator O'Donnell identified a number of the recommendations we made at a high level in terms of the United Nations and at a very practical level in terms of legislation.
There is a need for mental capacity legislation, which has become even more urgent on foot of the Oireachtas committee's report. It has been recommended that Ireland encourage the drafting of a UN treaty on the rights of older people. This is the first time a European parliament has recommended this. My colleagues in Galway sent their report to the European Commission, which said it was excellent. It is, therefore, important that we have this debate as urgently as possible. It has been recommended that those responsible for the HSE's performance information system should carry out an audit of all community care services for older people. This would be particularly helpful given the way the media is covering the issue. I second Senator O'Donnell's request for a debate as soon as possible.
I echo Senator O'Brien's call for an honest debate on policing, especially on rural Garda stations. Crime levels have reduced by 12% in the past year. The previous Government should take some credit for that as the drop did not occur since last February alone. While I agree with the Senator that policing should be discussed, I must point out to members of the Opposition, but not those in Fianna Fáil, that a delegation of Sinn Féin members went last week to the chief superintendent in Letterkenny voicing their concern over the closure of rural stations in Donegal, and they said they were satisfied with the response. I do not like pointing out the obvious: in Northern Ireland, 21 PSNI stations, including rural ones, are being closed, and the two Sinn Féin MLAs are saying they are delighted with this.
I spoke to a local sergeant in Carrigart in Donegal, a rural station. He read from a newspaper that Sinn Féin members said last summer they were monitoring the activities of Carrigart Garda station because they were not happy with how the law was being applied there. The local sergeant was applying the law and Sinn Féin was not happy with the arrangements. This was in the local press. It is not new for Sinn Féin because, as one reads in the Smithwick report, the Garda station in Dundalk was being monitored from the telephone box outside.
I agree with Senator Mullen in that I believe a grievous wrong was done to Fr. Reynolds. However, the focus of the debate the Senator has called for is far too narrow; it should encompass the entire media. We have had a couple of meetings in here in this regard. I tried to introduce a privacy Bill. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, says he will now have an inquiry into an inquiry. It is becoming a laughable procrastination. Rabbitte by name, rabbit by nature; it is just appalling.
The Government is concentrating entirely on the issue of Fr. Reynolds as if it were an isolated case, but we all know perfectly well it is not. I refer not only to RTE but to the sheer effrontery of the print media in affecting a self-righteous tone and talking about the evils of lying, door-stepping-----
I am supporting the call for a debate on the failure of media to investigate properly before they publish. Every single one of them has been guilty of this. Let us have a proper inquiry. If we cannot do so ourselves, let us bring Lord Justice Leveson over here. Let him do it. Let us have a proper judicial inquiry into what is nothing but a collection of whited sepulchres.
Since the Deputy Leader was gracious enough to respond to my question on No. 2, will she give us a guarantee that the matter will be brought back from the committee? It is appropriate to go to that committee. I am concerned about the issue. Only today we heard about the underpants bomb. First, we were fed the idea that a secret agent was involved and that when he emerged from the lavatory, smoke emerged and he was jumped on.
What exactly is going on? To whom are we handing over the information? I want to know the precise nature of the information. I ask the Deputy Leader to be kind enough to address this very serious issue about the handing over of information about Irish citizens to what is clearly a totally incompetent authority in a foreign power.
I am not an expert on the subject of groupthink.
We certainly had groupthink in this country for a decade on the question of property prices and the development of an economy based on a property boom. We must acknowledge our current economic difficulty was caused by the property splurge.
I raised this the House a couple of weeks of ago that once again we seem to be wishing a new property boom upon ourselves. I have no difficulty with NAMA's decision yesterday to offload some properties but certain media groups have recently been writing that property prices are increasing again, as if that is automatically a good thing. The purpose of a house should be to provide a home for a family and housing estates should be places where families and individuals live, not investment vehicles for other persons. We need a debate with the Minister of State responsible for housing so we can chart the future of the property market in this country. If we believe repeating the mistakes of the last decade, and seeing property prices inflating will return the economy to growth, we are making a grave mistake. I urge caution regarding the welcome for increased property prices. We should hope property prices will be at a level where families can afford to buy houses and homes. It would be helpful if the Minister of State, who has shown her capability since she took responsibility for the housing portfolio, should report progress on her ideas on the property market and housing in general.
Sticking to the theme of groupthink, we certainly had that in this House in recent weeks when we had discussions on the austerity treaty. There were 56 in favour and four against the treaty in this House, but that is not a reflection of events outside the Chamber in this State or across Europe. Looking at the elections in France, Greece, Germany and Italy, people voted against austerity and bank bailouts and voted for a growth strategy. Francois Hollande spoke about the need for a growth strategy and now the Taoiseach and Tánaiste are supporting those comments. We must put it up to those who are now coming around to the view that we need a growth strategy to spell out exactly what that will mean for the country.
Which of the pre-election commitments will the Government implement? Will it be the €7 billion stimulus promised by Fine Gael to invest in energy or the strategic investment bank of €2.8 promised by the Labour Party, or will it be the €7 billion stimulus we have called for, where we can use money from the National Pensions Reserve Fund?
Following those elections in Europe, and the fact the people in those countries are now clearly opposed to austerity and support a strategy of growth, it is important the people of this country do likewise and reject this flawed, bad treaty. It is important this House debates the meaning of a growth agenda for the people of this State and the people of Europe.
I welcome the extension of the JobBridge scheme to lone parents and those on disability allowance. I have been pursuing this with the Minister for some time and I am delighted it has come to fruition.
On my way home from Dublin on Thursday, I stopped at a service station and met four delightful young girls, Colleen, Caoimhe, Fiona and Ciara. These young girls told me they had just won the company of the year award at the national finals of Junior Achievement Company Programme. They will now go on to represent Ireland in the European finals in Bucharest in July. They formed a company called Sign4Life and developed an application for Irish sign language for the deaf and hard of hearing. It has opened doors for people to communicate with others.
As well as wishing these girls well in the European finals, we should have a debate in the House with the Minister for Education and Skills on Irish sign language, which is a language specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing, and for it to be put on the curriculum in order that it can be taught in schools. This would open many doors for the two children born deaf in Ireland each week, 90% of them born to hearing parents.
I second Senator O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business. Will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange an early debate on a study carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland on the use of cannabis, which showed it can physically change the brain and increase the risk of schizophrenia in adolescence of those who are genetically vulnerable? The study's lead author, Dr. Áine Behan, of the psychology department of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, launched the study. It is important we have this debate. I am former chairman of the National Drugs Advisory Committee of the Department of Health and we found cannabis is a gateway drug. There has been an increase in the use of this drug and growing cannabis has become more common. The most recent studies by the Department of Health found 8% of children of school-going age admitted smoking cannabis in the previous year, with 5% using drugs in the previous 30 days. It is a serious situation that can lead to harder drugs. It is important we debate this study in this House because it would be worthwhile to bring this to the attention of the public. There is an idea now that it is acceptable to advocate for the use of cannabis or even to use it. It is a dangerous drug, and this has at last been proven by this study. For a number of years I was chairman of the National Drugs Advisory Committee and we were quite convinced it was a gateway drug so it is important we do not ignore this report. The Government and the Garda Síochána must continue to clamp down on the growing, importation, distribution and use of cannabis in this country.
I call on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to put in place an new agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, for farmers. There has been no scheme for a number of months and it is important that farmers who are exiting REPS 3 and 4 should have a scheme available to them. An environmental scheme has been in place for 18 years in Ireland and this is the first time there is a danger there will not be a scheme. All of those schemes put money into rural communities and create jobs.
Arising from the points made by Senators MacSharry and Bradford, we are moving towards a stimulus package, with the French election results confirming that. It is important the package actually stimulates and we do not end up bankrolling bankers, bureaucrats and builders and end up with empty airports, hotels and golf courses. This must be done skilfully so I ask the Deputy Leader and the Leader to monitor for the House the progress in the establishment of the proposed Government economic service and its role in designing a genuine and efficient employment stimulus for the country.
It is not often that we have a good news story day in this House. The announcement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Social Protection on Shannon Airport and Shannon Development is a good news story. This should have happened years ago but, thankfully, it will happen now. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport announced earlier that Shannon Airport will finally be separated from the Dublin Airport Authority. Shannon Development will lose it tourism remit to Fáilte Ireland and its foreign direct investment to the IDA, where they should have been in the first place. What is left of Shannon Development will merge with Shannon Airport to create a new entity that will drive job creation in the region. The new body will run the airport and this will act as a stimulus to attract aviation-related industries to Shannon industrial estate and the airport. Shannon Airport pioneered aviation in Ireland going back to Dr. Brendan O'Regan years ago. We have a proud history of aircraft leasing, maintenance and related industries. Hopefully, through the two Ministers and the new entity, a world class aviation centre will be created in Ireland. Such a centre does not exist in Europe and there is no reason Ireland cannot champion itself as an aviation hotspot and a place with first-class knowledge, the best mechanics, engineers and technicians and financiers in the aircraft industry. The new entity will in time create thousands of jobs in the Shannon area.
There has been positive feedback from all sides of the political divide and from the tourism and commercial sectors in County Clare. A steering committee has been set up to monitor the implementation of this break up over the next eight months. Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate on this new entity in her own good time?
I welcome the Government's announcement of additional places on the JobBridge scheme. This has been a successful scheme to date and I welcome its extension. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Social Protection if it would be possible to extend the time people can remain on the scheme? It is currently 12 months. Most of the participants are employed in the private sector but a few are employed in the public sector, particularly in the education system. Their placements have been a success and I would like an extension to be granted to them to afford them the opportunity of another 12 months, thus enhancing their employability in the future.
I welcome the BAI report into the "Prime Time Investigates" programme, "Mission to Prey" and, in particular, the segment that defamed Fr. Kevin Reynolds. We are all saddened that the report found a cavalier attitude and shoddy and unprofessional journalism within RTE. I support the call for a debate on the report. However, I also call on the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to ensure another segment of the programme, which referred to Brother Gerard Dillon, be investigated. The reason I call for an investigation is RTE made a finding of fact pronouncing Brother Dillon guilty of criminal activity on national television.
I call on the Minister to ensure this segment of the programme is investigated because the family have been in touch with me and with hundreds of people in South Africa where this brother ministered for 60 years. They have failed to come up with one person who can corroborate the evidence produced by the programme which used one individual who made the allegation.
I seldom support Sinn Féin but I support Senator Cullinane's call for a debate on the stability treaty. Every time people who advocate a "No" vote in the referendum opens their mouths, they lose support. There is no case whatsoever to be made for a "No" vote. The fact that four Members believe they should vote "No" means it would be worthwhile to have a debate. We probably should have one every week for the next three weeks. The vote is three weeks tomorrow but we have not had enough discussion on it. There was an interesting meeting earlier attended by 200 people representing business in Ireland. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and a few others made the case for a "Yes" vote. The basic case is that the reputation of Ireland has been enhanced over the past six months. Ireland was highly regarded five or six years ago. Three years ago, the State was a huge worry for everyone in Europe but over the past weekend leading European voices said they hoped and assumed Ireland would vote "Yes" because there is so much at stake. It would be worthwhile to have a debate on the treaty if only to hear those opposed to it argue their case for voting "No" because they will lose the case strongly.
Senator Moloney called for sign language to be included in the school curriculum. I have experience of arranging sign language classes. It is something people can adapt to quickly and it supports many of those who do not have good hearing.
I agree with Senator Quinn about the importance of voting "Yes" in this referendum and of replying to Senator Cullinane. The Government has been to the fore in pushing for the creation of jobs and I refer to three examples - PayPal, Eli Lilly and Apple. Today's newspapers list job announcements over the past six months. It is important we generate a positive news story about what is being done and what will continue to be done by the Government. We need to restore confidence in Ireland and the Government is doing that. I would welcome a weekly debate to highlight the positive actions being taken and that will be taken but we need to ensure a "Yes" vote in the referendum.
I refer to the report by Mr. Justice Quirke on the payment of compensation awards by the courts by instalment. The report was produced in 2010. Two weeks ago, the High Court made an award of €11 million and the presiding judge again raised the issue of the need for new legislation to facilitate periodic payments of court awards. The report is comprehensive and sets out 13 recommendations. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to debate the issue and how the report can be implemented? There is no point producing a report and leaving it to sit there. It is a constructive and well thought out report. It is time we moved forward and implemented its recommendations.
Last week one of our most successful Irish traditional music groups, Dervish, was prevented from attending a concert in Israel. This was at the invitation of a peace activist who was attempting to promote peace and reconciliation. It came about as a result of intimidation and bullying on social networks by a group in this country which, for its own misguided reasons, believes that a cultural boycott will somehow enhance and improve the plight of the Palestinian people. I believe the overwhelming majority of the people totally oppose this action.
Ireland has a wonderful image abroad not only in the sporting field but primarily in the cultural field. Anyone who knows anything about Ireland will know about our music and culture, which we all hold dear. I cannot understand why any group representing a particular point of view would believe they could enhance their agenda but not realise the considerable damage they are doing to the image of Ireland abroad.
I understand that to date more than 250 musicians have now been embroiled in this so-called cultural boycott. There is no cultural boycott in this country and I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader would clarify, once and for all, that there is an even-handed approach to the Middle Eastern problem and that while we fully support and understand the plight of the Palestinians and the human rights abuses to which they are subject, there is another story, namely, the plight of Israelis under constant rocket attacks from across their borders and surrounded by hostile nations. Why is this group so silent when it comes to the outrageous human rights abuses that are currently being perpetrated in Syria? The reason is that Syria is one of the mentors of groups that represent the Palestinian cause. I call on the Deputy Leader to clarify the position. I believe she will have the support of the House. I am speaking for the vast majority of people in my party in condemning this attempt to introduce music and culture into politics. Certainly, it is not helping the Palestinian cause. I am pleased to say that the Palestinian Embassy in this country has disassociated itself from the action. This a dangerous development and I call on this group to desist from any further attempts.
I praise the Tánaiste for his actions. When a similar attempt was made last year to ensure that an Israeli film festival would not go ahead in the country, he and the Minister for Justice and Equality turned up as an act of solidarity and to inform people such as those in this group that through what they are trying to do they do not represent the overwhelming majority of the people. I ask them sincerely to desist from any future intimidation and bullying of Irish musicians and artists who wish to attend or to go abroad anywhere in the world, not only to Israel.
I agree with Senator Quinn's comments on the fiscal treaty. The "No" campaigners are doing the canvassing for the "Yes" campaign. I was amazed to hear the stuff the "No" campaigners were coming out with on our national airwaves this morning. I welcome their voice and the air time they are getting because no right thinking individual in the country would go along with the la-la land stuff that is going on. I agree with Senator Quinn's comments.
I welcome the figures released by UPC at the end of last week, showing that more than 200,000 people per week are tuning in to the new political channel, UPC 801. It shows there is a significant appetite for unfiltered, unbiased information. It shows that people are engaging with politics, at least to some degree. Now, UPC has decided to move the channel UPC 801 to a channel in the 200s. This way more people will come across the channel and start watching it because at the moment many people do not realise it exists. This is to be welcomed. The next step is for the Oireachtas to seek other ways to try to get the people to know what is going on in the Houses. I call on RTE to make political programmes more accessible to people who are not night owls or insomniacs. The figures show people are watching politics on television. The national broadcaster should take UPC's lead.
Senator Quinn's words today about having a debate on the fiscal treaty each week between now and referendum day were sensible. We should have a common sense discussion on the treaty. It is so significant and important to Ireland and to our future. Those on the opposing side of the treaty are the same people who said this country and other Governments were behaving irresponsibly on budgeting. The treaty will bring responsibility in respect of budgeting. I am unsure how the "No" campaign can position themselves after what has been said over many months.
I refer to the words expressed last night by the Governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan. He called for European-wide responsibility on the banking debt issue. That is the way forward and we should explore this option at every available opportunity. I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss this issue and how we can pursue that avenue as a sovereign State within the eurozone and the European Union with the assistance of the Central Bank Governor. We should consider some form of write-down of banking debt but it is a separate issue to the treaty and it is only mixing the case to bring it in as part of the treaty debate. The issue should be explored and pursued.
I support the call by Senator Moloney for a debate on the deaf. This was the first issue I raised when I entered the Seanad more than one year ago. Irish sign language should be included in any debate. I was a founding member of the model school for the deaf project. It is important for all-inclusive education. The Minister stated he would come back with an update on the issue. I welcome and congratulate the four girls the Senator met at the filling station on their great achievement and on the app they have produced.
I have a question on the ageing strategy. I support the Senators who have called for a further debate on this issue. When we discussed the matter previously, the Minister of State indicated that she would bring forward the national positive ageing strategy. This is one of the main priorities of the Older & Bolder campaign for senior citizens. This year is the European year for active ageing. The Minister of State should strive to bring forward this document in 2012. I call on the Minister of State to make a statement on the national positive ageing strategy. I hope she will have it finalised in 2012, the European year for active ageing.
I do not often agree with Senator Leyden but I agree with his views and his call for a debate in the House on cannabis use. A report by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland outlined the problems that the abuse of cannabis can cause in adolescence, including schizophrenia. A debate should be held in the House. During the week I saw a picture in a newspaper of a protest in Molesworth Street in which a Member of the Lower House was campaigning for legalising the use of cannabis. It is a disgrace that Members of the Lower House would do this.
Recently, certain Members of the Lower House have proposed that people break the law in respect of the household charge. Now they are calling for the legalising of the use of cannabis. This is an important issue because it affects young people. The picture showed young people on the street in that protest.
We are bringing forward the vehicle clamping Bill later this year but it should be much sooner. Will the Minister clarify to the House whether it is lawful for private clamping companies to apply disproportionate sanctions amounting in some cases to €120 per day? I will give one example. In the Dublin City Council area, the fee to release a clamped vehicle is €80. The charges of various private companies are €90, €100 and €120. I know of a person who was clamped by mistake during this bank holiday weekend in her private apartment building. She left on Friday and when she returned on Monday evening, she found that her car had been clamped for four days.
I want to give an example because it is important. It cost her €480 to have the clamp removed, an extra €35 because it was after 10 p.m. and an additional €5 to use her credit card. She had to pay this money because the clamping company had nothing to do with the management company. There are cowboys operating in this regard. It is important, therefore, that the Bill be brought before the House as soon as possible to ensure there are proper sanctions to be imposed on clamping companies.
I support Senator Darragh O'Brien in asking the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to come to the Seanad to discuss the mortgage problem. I welcome recent reports that the banks plan to introduce a split mortgage product which would allow borrowers to shelve part of their loan, with no repayments and, crucially, no interest payable on that part of the loan. It would not constitute debt forgiveness; there is no such thing, rather it would amount to debt transference. The taxpayer would have to foot the bill, but if we could get this through, it would dramatically reduce monthly outgoings for cash-strapped families and give them breathing space. This, along with the Keane report which on its own will not solve the problem, would assist thousands of families in these difficult times. I, therefore, ask the Minister to come into the House because the Department of Finance official, Mr. Declan Keane, raised this issue with the banks last September and it is time we got this measure through.
Senator O'Brien has made reference to the number of Garda stations that will close in the coming years and the cost of providing CCTV security systems in these stations. To what extent will the Department of Justice and Equality save money in that regard?
I raise a point made to me by the organisers of the Athy triathlon, TriAthy. This event has been held for the past seven years and enjoyed enormous success and co-operation from An Garda Síochána. However, at a recent meeting the organisers were informed by the Garda that they would have to pay €10,000 for policing the event. That is a cost the organisers of the event cannot absorb.
Athy has been designated as a RAPID programme town and aside from the positive economic advantages such an event brings to it, it is a key driver of community activism and enhances civil pride. The event has a positive influence-----
Yes, I have, if the Cathaoirleach will bear with me. The event has a positive influence on health, as well as the tourism and social aspects of the town. It is imperative, therefore, that we try to follow the stated objectives of the national task force on obesity in increasing the level of physical activity. This type of sports event does this.
I commend the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, for her announcement that the number of places on the JobBridge scheme will increase from 5,000 to 6,000 and that the scheme will be extended to allow applications from recipients of lone parent and disability allowance.
I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come into the House to comment on the delay on the part of the health authorities in assessing within the legal time limits thousands of children with disabilities. Any delay in making an assessment can be very damaging for children with disabilities who need access to early intervention and relevant services as quickly as possible. Under the Disability Act, the Health Service Executive has a statutory obligation to assess children who have been referred to it within a maximum timeframe of six months. Alarmingly, it is estimated that up to 80% of children who require assessment, or approximately 2,500 children a year, are not being assessed within the legal time limits. It is very difficult for a parent or a guardian to hear that his or her child requires an assessment, and a delay in making an assessment of his or her needs adds to that difficulty.
We all know that the earlier intervention can be provided for and supports put in place the more beneficial it will be for the family as a whole. I, therefore, call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to discuss the issue.
I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien and also Senator David Norris that the motion on the transfer of passenger records between the European Union and the United States might be brought back to the House for a debate on the subject. We will scrutinise it fully at the justice committee, of which I am a member. No one has a difficulty with us referring it without debate, but I would welcome a debate on it when it is brought back from the committee. I will speak to the Leader about organising such a debate.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also asked for a debate on the mortgage arrears crisis. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, will be in the House next Tuesday, 15 May. Work on that matter is proceeding.
I do not have the time yet, but he is due to come to the House. I understand it will be immediately after the Order of Business.
On the review of community employment schemes, I will certainly look into the matter. It would be useful to have a debate on it in the Seanad.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the wastewater treatment charge. It has been made clear that no water charges will be imposed until 2014. Therefore, that issue is not imminent.
The Senator also sought an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Justice and Equality come into the House for a debate on the closure of Garda stations. A number of other Senators also raised this issue. We can certainly ask the Minister to come into the House on some future date. He will be here tomorrow for two and a half hours to introduce the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill, but I do not believe he will be available to come into the House today. Therefore, I will not accept the amendment proposed, but I am open to asking the Minister to come into the House on some future date.
Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell raised an important point on the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the rights of older people. Those hearings were excellent and I would welcome an opportunity to debate the report in the House. I have checked and understand the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will come into the House to speak on it on Tuesday, 12 June. A debate has already been organised. I commend Senators Katherine Zappone and Susan O'Keeffe, in particular, for all their work in compiling the report following the hearings held in the House. Senator Rónán Mullen also supported the call for a debate on the report.
I will follow the Leader's example in not responding to Members not in the Chamber. A number of Senators referred to the report of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on the RTE programme, "Prime Time Investigates". The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, was in the House on 22 February for a full debate on media issues. I have no difficulty in arranging for him to come into the House again, perhaps before the summer recess. I am conscious that he has sought certain information from the board of RTE and that there are ongoing discussions. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to hold such a debate in the next week or so, but we could certainly invite him to come into the House before the end of this term.
Senator John Kelly raised the important issue of ghost medical cards, which is the expression being used. I agree with the Senator that it is a major concern if medical cards are being withdrawn simply because they have not been used. However, I understand a review is taking place of the numbers of such medical cards to determine if the persons involved are deceased or have emigrated, in which case it is clear an issue arises about continuing them. We could monitor the position and request that the Minister come before the House if it is an ongoing issue. I concur with Senator Kelly as I, too, have found some general practitioners to be very obliging in not charging for second visits.
Senator MacSharry referred to the comments of the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, and called for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come before the House. The Government position is entirely in keeping with the Governor's comments on the need for a European wide strategy on recapitalisation. It continues to work on this issue, which may be a matter for a future debate. While I disagree with some of Senator MacSharry's comments on the 2008 bank guarantee, the House could have a useful debate on the comments of the Governor of the Central Bank.
Senator Mulcahy was the first speaker to raise today's announcement on Shannon Airport by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar. I will write to the Ministers to welcome the decision and seek updates, as requested by Senator Mulcahy.
Senator Zappone sought a debate on the rights of older people. As I noted, a debate on the issue has been arranged for 12 June. She also sought a debate on the report into the "Prime Time Investigates" programme on Irish missionaries abroad. We may have such a debate in the coming weeks.
Senator Harte supported the call for a debate on policing and noted that crime levels have been reducing, which is a welcome development.
Senator Norris was in flying form when he sought a debate on the media and privacy, making a number of puns. He also supported the call for a debate on the motion on the transfer of information between the European Union and the United States. I understand that despite the news on the underpants bomb, there will be no requirement for persons to remove underwear at airport security locations, which is a matter of some relief. The House will debate the media and privacy.
A debate on mortgage arrears, as requested by Senator Bradford, will be held on Tuesday next.
Senator Cullinane raised the stability treaty and the need for growth. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade made clear his warm welcome for incoming President Hollande's growth oriented strategy. The Government has long argued for such an approach as Ireland has much to gain from stimulus measures to promote growth. As other speakers noted, it would be useful to have a further debate on this issue. In light of the limited time available before the referendum takes place, I may speak to the other leaders about having a debate without a Minister present. The House debated the treaty on 14 March and the referendum Bill on 23 April. We could have a further debate in the context of the referendum campaign, although it would probably take place without a Minister. We will arrange a meeting of the leaders to discuss the matter.
Like Senator Moloney, I welcome the extension of the JobBridge programme and congratulate the four girls who have developed an app - application software - for sign language, a most innovative idea. It would be good to have a debate on this issue and I note Senator Keane supported Senator Moloney's request for such a debate. A great deal of work is being done on the development and recognition of sign language in the centre for deaf studies in Trinity College Dublin.
I support Senator Leyden's call for a debate on the report of the Royal College of Surgeons on cannabis.
Senator Comiskey called for a debate on the agri-environment options scheme for farmers. It may be useful to raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Barrett joined calls for a debate on stimulus and growth. As I noted, we may organise such a debate in the coming fortnight, albeit perhaps without a Minister.
Senator Conway referred to the announcement today on Shannon Airport. I also look forward to a world class aviation centre at the airport. We may have a debate on the issue in good time given that the announcement has just been made.
Senator Wilson also welcomed the extension of the JobBridge scheme.
Senator Mullins referred to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's report on the RTE programme on missionaries abroad. We will arrange a debate on the issue before the end of the term.
Senator Quinn requested debates on the stability treaty and sign language, both of which I have addressed.
Senator Colm Burke requested a debate on the referendum, which we will organise, and raised the issue of the Quirke report. I will ascertain whether the Minister for Justice and Equality is available to discuss the issue in the House. The Senator may wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment if he wishes to make a specific point.
Senator Mooney referred to the band, Dervish. While I am not aware of the details of the case, I can look into the matter. I thank him for praising the Tánaiste's balanced approach to the Middle East. We had a good debate on foreign affairs with the Tánaiste during which the issue of Israel and Palestine was raised.
Senator Noone referred to the stability treaty, which I have addressed. While I am not aware of UPC political channel 901, I take her point.
Senator Ó Domhnaill also referred to the treaty and the comments of the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan. I will try to arrange a debate on that issue. The Minister for Finance has emphasised the benefits of an EU level approach to recapitalisation, which is a view shared by the Governor.
Senator Keane referred to sign language and the national positive ageing strategy. The latter can be raised with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, when she comes before the House on 12 June.
Senator O'Neill voiced support for a debate on the report on cannabis and called on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to introduce the clamping Bill. I will have to consult the legislative programme as I am not sure what is the position with the Bill. I hope it will be introduced without delay and it would be good to have it introduced first in this House. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, will tomorrow introduce in this House the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill, while last week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, introduced a Bill on animal rights and animal welfare in this House. It is always welcome to have legislation introduced first in the Seanad.
The debate on mortgage arrears requested by Senator Jim D'Arcy will take place next week. I have written to the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, on foot of a request by Senator Landy seeking a briefing with all colleagues in the audiovisual room with representatives of the two pillar banks. I hope such a briefing will take place.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan raised the closure of Garda stations and referred to the Athy triathlon, TriAthy. While I agree with the Senator's sentiments, the specific point he makes could be raised on the Adjournment.
Senator Moran referred to the extension of the JobBridge programme to lone parents and those on disability allowance, which I welcome. We can seek to have the Minister for Health come before the House to discuss delays in the assessment of children. This is a matter of considerable concern which could also be raised on the Adjournment.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the closure of Garda stations and the restricted opening hours of other Garda stations be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 30 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Jim D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.