Wednesday, 11 July 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages, amendments from Dáil Éireann, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 12.45 p.m.; No. 2, Gaeltacht Bill 2012 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m.; No. 3, Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m.; and No. 4, Private Members' Business - Access to Cancer Treatment Bill 2012, to be taken at 5 p.m. to and conclude not later than 7 p.m.
I propose to follow up on a number of points I raised previously. Has the Leader received feedback as to when the review of the community employment scheme will be published? Will the report be published during the summer recess? Community employment schemes are under increasing pressure and those involved would like to know where they will stand later this year and next year. The review is one of a number of reports that have been delayed by the Government. I ask the Leader to follow up this matter again. Perhaps he is in a position to give the House an update.
I refer again to the report on pyrite in homes which was due to be published in February and, subsequently, in March, April, May and June. It is now July and I understand from a response to a parliamentary question that it will not be published before the summer recess as it will go before the Cabinet over the summer. This is a grave disappointment. To be fair to the Leader, I know he shared that disappointment last week about the delay. I need not remind Members that up to 70,000 households, predominantly on the east coast, are potentially affected by this.
I will next week publish a Bill I have prepared which will extend the Statute of Limitations for families on the basis of when they receive a positive pyrite test - in other words, the Statute of Limitations will only start then. The longer the Government, and I include the previous Government, delays on this, the more people who become statute-barred. Although we should allow time for the Government to respond, we must remember that while there is delay, more and more people are being taken out of the process and will not be able to have recourse to courts, which is a crucial point. I want to put on record my grave disappointment that this report will not be published or debated before the Seanad and Dáil rise.
When will the Taoiseach come to the Seanad in light of the fact we were given a commitment he would do so? Some 15 or 16 months have passed and he has not yet come for a formal sitting of this House, bar to interact with parliamentarians from other jurisdictions. While we were told he would be here before the summer recess, I do not see this anywhere in this week's schedule. Will the Leader inform me if the Taoiseach is coming to the House next week?
I put this point in particular because the House will deal tomorrow with the establishment of the constitutional convention and, although this House voted for the inclusion of the Seanad in that constitutional convention, the Taoiseach has flatly rejected this. I would have liked an opportunity to debate with the Taoiseach in this House and to actually try to get some logic from him on that insane decision. I would be very disappointed if the Taoiseach is not here next week, which is the last sitting week before the summer recess. We were given a commitment the Taoiseach would be here and he has not bothered up to now. I would like to see the Taoiseach in the House.
I ask that we would have a debate in the House very early in the new session on perinatal care. I thank Senator Rónán Mullen for arranging a most thought-provoking presentation from the One Day More group of parents whose children, unfortunately, survived only a very short time after they were born. Any of us who were present were very moved by the frank and honest personal accounts these men and women gave today. It gave us a very different perspective about the joy experienced by families and their friends, even in such a difficult situation when their children, who were born with major disabilities, had only a short lifespan.
They deserve, and I am sure the Leader will arrange, a proper and considered debate in September on the issue of perinatal care. I was struck, particularly in regard to the mothers who spoke today, by how well they were treated and what an experience it was for them to bring their children into this world, even if it was, as one mother recounted to us, just for the 17 minutes the child survived after birth. We need to look at how we might improve on that for parents and for the children who were born, and look at the whole area of perinatal care. I ask the Leader to arrange that debate early in the next term to see how the House can assist these very brave people, whom I commend. I again thank Senator Rónán Mullen for organising the presentation.
I welcome the start today of European science week and the events to celebrate the Euroscience conference here in Dublin. It is a great achievement for the city to host this and there are some very important developments and significant lectures and events taking place this week across the city, some for children, some for adults, with the idea being to involve as many people as possible in the events of European science week. In particular, it is very exciting to see that NASA will announce research links with Ireland at a lecture in Trinity College this week. This is just one of the many exciting announcements and lectures we will see this week. It is a very encouraging time for the development of science and science research in Ireland.
I join with others who yesterday raised concerns about the pilot school in Waterford and the students who have been left in such a difficult and unfortunate position as a result of the suspension of the training programme. There are many questions still to be answered, as several colleagues pointed out yesterday, including how the Irish Aviation Authority let disagreements fester between the Waterford-based college and its Florida-based training provider before it finally intervened, and why the students were left high and dry. I very much welcome the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, that students will be paid their fare home but-----
I suggest to the Leader we should have a debate on third level education, which many in the House have sought. In particular, we might focus on the regulation of private education and training providers. That is the bigger question this whole difficulty raises for many of us, namely, how we ensure appropriate regulation of private providers, which is the root of the difficulty for these unfortunate students.
I welcome the review that has been announced of outdoor concerts and how they are run in light of the very tragic events at the Swedish House Mafia gig at the Phoenix Park on Saturday night. I know many colleagues raised the issue in the House yesterday and it is quite right to express real concern at the appalling events that took place at the concert. I suggest we need a measured approach. We need to ensure the concert promoters take responsibility and that they, in particular, express to the Garda and the licensing authorities the issues that may arise around particular types of concert and event.
I would be against an outright ban. I was at the Phoenix Park last Thursday night for the Stone Roses concert, which went off smoothly and where the security presence was very clear, bags were searched and it would have been very difficult for anyone to have got in with knives and so on. I understand from reading reports about the concert on Saturday night that security broke down, bags were not searched, there was a clear breakdown and, as a result, the appalling behaviour ensued. However, it is not necessarily about an outright ban. Rather, it is about making sure appropriate responses are made in order that if particular events are organised with particular types of performer, there are more strenuous attempts at security. There is undoubtedly an issue about whether the Phoenix Park is suitable for certain types of concerts but to talk about an outright ban on outdoor events, when so many pass off without this sort of appalling event, would perhaps be overblown as a response.
I was impressed to read this morning that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has taken responsibility for attempting to save somewhere between €50 million and €70 million in the purchasing of various goods by different agencies and Departments. I mention this because I am amazed how long it takes to get things done in our State. We seem to be very slow in this regard. A colleague of mine sat on a committee in April 1995, the report of which recommended almost exactly the same thing, namely, instead of the various agencies purchasing locally, they would be able to purchase centrally. While that issue is a threat to some local SMEs, the savings that were suggested in 1995 were just £15 million whereas we are now talking about €50 million to €70 million. However, it takes so long to get things done in State bodies and there must be a new urgency. I urge the Government to get behind the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, and support him on this to make sure things happen in time.
We debated the Construction Contracts Bill which went through this House during the last Government's time and had to then go to the Dáil before it comes back to this House to become law. While it has full all-party support, it has not even got to Committee Stage in the other House yet after a period of 15 to 18 months. We have to find a way of making things move and of getting things done, rather than delay.
An item in today's newspapers concerns fuel laundering, which is a scandal I raised some six or eight months ago. There must be a better system of identifying the fuel used in agriculture than the current system of adding colour to it. Senator Bacik referred to the week of science. This is a very simple challenge. Although I am not sure of the position in Britain, I believe we are the only country to use this system. In other European countries there are other systems under which farmers obtain reductions merely by showing their invoices and without the need to tamper with the fuel. During the raid that took place in County Monaghan yesterday equipment which could be used to launder 15 million litres of fuel per annum was discovered and some 40,000 litres of laundered fuel was seized. It appears we are extremely slow when it comes to getting things done. Let us take action in this matter immediately.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to contact the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the subject of places at agricultural colleges? This is a matter on which I am seeking all-party support. I raised it last year and acknowledge that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform lifted the embargo and appointed one extra tutor to each of the six agricultural colleges. This year 921 young people applied for places at these colleges. There are 640 such places, which means almost 300 of the young people to whom I refer will not be attending agricultural college this year. Agriculture is one of the industries which is assisting the country in getting out of the recession. In that context, only 9% of farmers are under 40 years of age. Unless we allow the young people to whom I refer to gain access to agriculture, we will not make progress in achieving our goals under Food Harvest 2020.
It is not the position that people are being refused entry to agricultural colleges. What is happening is that they are now expected to sit an academic examination. I know people who have sat the examination in each of the past three years and failed to obtain a place in one of the agricultural colleges. This has serious implications for their future as farmers. If one does not have the green certificate which is presented to those who complete the relevant two year course in agricultural college, one is not entitled to claim the single farm payment or any of the grants available under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's schemes. In addition, one cannot avail of any of the changes introduced in the most recent budget in respect of inheritance, etc. I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to contact the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and request that he lift the embargo again. It is unfortunate that an academic examination has been introduced. When people apply through the Central Applications Office system, they are offered places - perhaps on similar courses. However, there are no such similar courses for the young people to whom I refer because in order to obtain a green certificate one must attend agricultural college. I ask the Leader to take the action I have suggested in order that the embargo will be lifted and additional places created. I acknowledge the six additional tutor positions the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform sanctioned last year. These ensured an additional 120 people could attend agricultural college. I am requesting all-party support in this matter.
I again refer to the issue of the trainee pilots who are stranded in Florida. I also wish to nail a couple of lies. I gave an interview on a Waterford radio station this morning and it was stated a relation of mine was one of the trainees involved. That is not true. I know some of the students - three of them are from the constituency in which I live - but they are not related to me. I was in contact with three or four of the trainees in Florida early this morning and they informed me that they had not received any money to book flights home. They may be reimbursed in respect of such flights, but $600 or $700 dollars is no good to students who have each lost €85,000.
The pilot training group e-mailed Senators and it might be worth reading a paragraph from that communication. It states:
We understood and expected that a school that carried a licence from the IAA would be one that would be responsible, properly run and safe for us to pay our money into. Little did we know at the time how shallow the IAA assessment was and how meaningless IAA approval was to count for in terms of being genuine and trustworthy.
I deliberated on the option offered to me by the Leader of tabling a motion on the Adjournment on this matter. However, many questions remain unanswered. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, does not even know the answers to these questions. A carefully couched parliamentary response - padded and fluffed up - to a matter tabled for discussion on the Adjournment would not answer many of the questions I have posed. I sent a total of 16 questions to the Minister, but he has not supplied answers to them.
Many of the students involved have lost the €85,000 they invested. They cannot progress in their chosen careers because they do not have training certificates owing to the fact that most of them could not complete the course. Their dreams have been shattered. These 80 young Irish people will be returning home to join the dole queue. Some of their parents remortgaged their homes or obtained loans in order to help them to finance their studies and the repayments on these are not going to be met.
Because of the serious nature of this matter, I again propose an amendment to the Order of Business that this item be dealt with as a matter of urgency and that the Minister come before the House to explain what is happening. All we are seeking is honest answers. Almost three weeks ago the students involved received notice from the Florida Institute of Technology to the effect that all of their training had been cancelled and that the money they had put up had never been paid to it. To where did the €10 million to €15 million collected from these students go? The trainee pilots, particularly those who are Irish citizens, deserve answers. In fairness, Senator Cáit Keane was the first person to raise this matter which has been raised on a regular basis in the House during the past three weeks. This House - more than the Lower House - deserves the attention of the Minister in dealing with it. The students who have literally been left without parachutes deserve better treatment than they have received to date.
I refer to the high number of fatalities on the roads during the month of June. The figure for fatalities had been falling, but it rose again significantly last month. I commend the Garda for adhering to the terms of the Croke Park agreement and implementing its new roster, which means there are many more gardaí on the roads in squad cars, etc. However, the one difficulty I have is that speed cameras always seem to be placed in 50 km/h zones. The number of deaths which occur in such zones is very low and accidents in them usually involve pedestrians. Speed cameras should be located on the open road where motorists are driving at high speed. Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to come before the House, perhaps in the autumn session, for a debate on speed cameras, traffic calming measures and reducing the number of fatalities on the roads? As stated, the number in June was extremely high. Then, on 1 July, a 40 year old father of four was killed in a hit and run accident in County Kerry and, to date, no one has come forward to claim responsibility for his death. That accident got the month off to a very bad start. Perhaps the Leader might ask the Minister to come before the House for a debate on the matters to which I have referred.
I wish to correct something the Minister for Education and Skills stated on radio earlier this morning. The matter to which he was referring is, perhaps, one on which he might need a little more education. He stated there was a need for a referendum because of the constitutional definition of marriage. That is incorrect because there is no definition of marriage within the Constitution, as such. It does not refer to marriage as an institution between one man and one woman as the prayer book and the Roman missal do. This was such a source of concern for a previous and significant member of Fine Gael, the late Declan Costello, who also served as Attorney General, that he raised the issue in his 1967 review of the Constitution. As one of the most prominent lawyers in the State at the time, he indicated that his clear, professional view was that this laid the Constitution open to the interpretation that it would sustain same sex marriage. That is my first point.
My second point relates to the fact that the Law Reform Commission was provided with information on this subject to the effect that what was involved could only be deemed unconstitutional if the institution recognising same sex relationships purported to give greater rights than marriage. I stress that the reference in this regard was to greater, not equal, rights. As I stated last week, the word "Teaghlach" which means household community is used in the Constitution. Who can deny the fact that persons of the same sex living together in harmony and love and whose relationship is recognised under the legislation on civil partnership constitute a household community? That is my third point. It is, therefore, a lie to say the Constitution presents a barrier because it does not do so. The Government should at least have the courage to introduce the legislation it promised in this area. If a citizen wants to challenge such legislation, an answer will be supplied by the Supreme Court.
The next matter to which I wish to refer relates to the press and an incident about which I heard in recent days involving a member of it.
A young reporter was snapping like a cur at the heels of a postman about the fact that Members of Parliament received an allowance for telephones. He was persistent until the person turned around and pointed out that the questioner was a reporter for one of the senior newspapers and asked whether he received an allowance. He was very reluctant to answer, but, eventually, he had to admit that he did. Apparently, reporters are senior to Members in their need to communicate. Having taken a telephone call from someone who had indicated they were on the point of taking their life and having spent one hour talking that person down and persuading them not to do so, a grant for telephones for Members of this House is significant and useful. This was followed by a discussion about civil servants who receive an allowance of €1.80 for working through their lunch hour. I consider they are doing the State an enormous service by so doing. It was said on the same radio station this morning that it amounted to 16 days free labour. We should have rationality, decency and courtesy in the newspapers.
One of the newspapers contains a very interesting article on tourists. Some 15 people were interviewed, some of whom, when asked about W. B. Yeats, asked if he had been married to Paula Yates. However, they had all heard of James Joyce. Will the Leader inquire of the Minister if it is possible to reopen the James Joyce Tower? In the circumstances, it is extraordinary that it is closed.
I refer to the sale of alcohol. Yesterday, following the concert in the Phoenix Park, Members focused on the volume of alcohol young people and not so young people had consumed at the concert. Last week we heard from Senator Averil Power about an irresponsible supermarket promoting alcohol products. We are in the summer season. The leaving certificate results will be released next month and the junior certificate results in September. There will be many opportunities to party and many young people will procure alcohol. Some two weeks ago the National Off-Licence Association called on the Government to introduce a mandatory training programme for retailers of alcohol and their staff. I support its call because it is very important that those dealing with and selling alcohol to young people have the confidence to say "No", examine identification and question the volumes being purchased. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, to discuss the sale of alcohol, the progress she has made on the issue of below cost selling and her approach to introducing changes to how alcohol is sold.
Today a meeting of representatives of the Internet industry, backed by the European Commission, is taking place to discuss how children can be kept safe online. It is taking place on foot of research carried out by the EC Safer Internet programme led by the London School of Economics. The document is entitled, Towards a better internet for children. It does not consider how we can stop the spread, virally, of information on items such as Project X Cavan. Rather, it considers what is happening on the Internet and the conclusions and statistics are shocking. One in five children has seen potentially dangerous content online such as that carried on pro-anorexia websites or on suicide techniques. Some 7% of Irish children have seen naked images or videos, 6% have seen sex online, 4% have seen information on how to commit suicide and 30% had had contact on the Internet with someone they had never met before. I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on how we can keep children safe online. This is very important because the Internet is becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives. This is especially true of young people who are using it more and more for school and education purposes.
Will the Leader provide an update on when we can have a discussion on youth unemployment with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation?
I support the request for a review of open air concerts made by Senator Ivana Bacik. After the events on Saturday, people have tended to jump to conclusions. My son was at the concert on Saturday. He went into the venue at 3 p.m. almost as far as the stage. He was unaware of any stabbings until Sunday. I told him by telephone what had happened and he did not know anything about it. Many young people enjoyed themselves at the concert with their friends and got into no trouble. My son stayed in Dublin that night. We should, therefore, not come along with a hammer and stop all concerts because of what happened on Saturday. When I was younger I went to concerts such as the Mick Jagger concert in Slane. There was a strict rule at the gate, that no alcohol was allowed, and it was adhered to. The concert promoter did not have the required level of security and must answer for this in the review.
I support the position of Senator Pat O'Neill on providing places in training colleges on agriculture courses. We need to have the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, speak on this point.
I want to raise-----
I request that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, review legislation on the protection of the rights of workers where companies, particularly in the retail sector, close down overnight. As matters stand, when a liquidator is appointed, workers are the last to be considered for payment. All creditors are paid first, which means there is no money left. We need to examine legislation in this area to put workers at the top of the food chain. Sinn Féin recently published legislation in this area which should be re-examined.
I compliment Senators Rónán Mullen, Darragh O'Brien and Mary Ann O'Brien on co-hosting a briefing by One Day More this morning. A number of Deputies were also involved in this very moving cross-party event. One Day More comprises families with children with severe disabilities and who lost a child shortly after birth because of severe disabilities. In times of difficulty we look for stories of inspiration and hope and we need look no further than the seven parents who spoke at the Hibernian Club this morning. They shared their personal experiences and did not show bitterness or regret. It was about showing the love they had for their children. Even though they had died, they were still very much part of the parents' lives. It would be a lovely experience if the Leader could arrange for the seven parents in question to discuss the matter in the Chamber. Over 50 Deputies and Senators turned up at a very early hour this morning. If the parents were to appear in the Houses, every Deputy and Senator would be overawed by their stories. I compliment everyone involved, but I would like their stories to travel further than the large attendance this morning.
I also thank Senator Rónán Mullen and other colleagues for organising the event held this morning. It is interesting to deal with this issue. Figures were published in recent days on the perinatal mortality rate. We have made significant advances in this country in the past ten years. The figures are clear. There were 58,261 births in the country in 2001. The perinatal mortality rate was 8.6 per 1,000. In 2010, this had reduced to 6.8 per 1,000 despite that the number of births in the country had risen to above 75,000. This took place without a significant increase in hospital staffing. Much credit is due to the nursing, medical and all the back-up support staff in all the maternity hospitals in the country for the achievements of the past ten years. The perinatal mortality rate is now one of the lowest in all European states. This is a credit to the medical services in the country. We should debate the issue to determine how we can further improve the rates and give support to people such as the parents who were here this morning telling their stories. I agree with Senator O'Brien's call for a debate on this issue. We are fast to criticise the health service but slow to give credit where credit is due. This is one area where credit is due and where a significant improvement has been made in recent years through the dedication and commitment and hard work of the staff in all the maternity units.
I join Senator Landy in supporting my colleague Senator O'Neill in his request of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Agriculture is one of the good news stories in this faltering economy. It is heartening that young people in particular are seeking out the various courses on offer in agricultural colleges. It is a far cry from a time less than ten years ago when agriculture was seen as being a no-hope, no-future industry. It is difficult to understand why this Government, which has laid a great emphasis on education, and education is the key, should oversee any moratorium or cap on the number of places available, especially given the growing demand from the farming sector and young farmers not only to commit themselves to the industry but to get involved in the industry in the long term. I fully share the concerns expressed by Senator O'Neill, a colleague of mine on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I trust the Leader will respond appropriately. He understands the importance of the agriculture industry to the country. This is a perfect example of where, for a small amount of money, we can ensure a steady stream of competent, experienced young men will go into an industry that has, as Senator O'Neill suggested, a high quotient of older farmers. It is important for 2020 and beyond that we have a steady stream of young farmers coming into the sector. I welcome the comments made by Senator O'Neill and I am fully supportive of them. I hope the Leader will provide a positive response to the query.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business moved by Senator O'Donovan.
I fully agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien and the remarks of Senators Ó Murchú and Burke with regard to the One Day More group we heard from this morning on perinatal care. It is remarkably important. I gather great advances have been made in this area. I compliment the Senators who arranged the event, including Senator Mullen, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and others. They gave moving accounts. That would not normally be my scene at that hour of the morning, or any morning, but it was moving and it opened our minds to the tremendous value of human life, even for such a short time. It was good that so many Members were there to hear their stories. Will the Leader indicate whether there is any way we could advance this, spread it or hear more about it in greater numbers in the Oireachtas? Any way we can advance it would represent a good day's work and I sincerely commend all involved.
I, too, commend Senator Mullen, who was the catalyst for this morning's One Day More event. The elephant in the room is the word "abortion". The lives of the babies we heard about this morning would have been terminated. I did not speak myself this morning because it was a time for the parents but I too had a baby that died at two years of age, who I could have terminated when he was in my tummy. His name was Jack Irwin. Because of him we have raised €36 million for the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation. By the way, it has nothing to do with me. I do not do any of the work. My husband, Jonathan, his foundation and all the lovely people throughout Ireland do the work. This shows what can happen. I wish everyone had been there this morning to hear how fragile life is and that we are here to respect human beings. There was great sadness but great dignity portrayed this morning by those wonderful parents. I am not here to talk about that.
I wish to highlight an issue in Fergus Finlay's column yesterday in the Irish Examiner. Last week the Independent Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked a question in the Dáil about the future of young intellectually disabled people who finished school this year and what services would be put in place for them. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, replied:
The demand for day services, including rehabilitative training, for school leavers continues to grow. The HSE expects approximately 654 school leavers will require services in 2012. This year disability services are required to cater for demographic pressures such as new services for school leavers from within their existing budgets. In previous years demographic funding was provided to meet this need. The 2012 budgets have been reduced by 3.7% and the moratorium on staff recruitment gives rise to additional challenges in service provision ...The HSE is working with all relevant service providers to maximise the use of available places.
The Cathaoirleach can hear my tone of voice. I do not intend to finish the reply because it is, basically, Civil Service waffle. What does it really mean?
Let us pretend for one moment that we have a profoundly disabled child leaving school this year. The column identified a father in this position. Let us further pretend that one of us is such a father who has been told that there will be no day service for his profoundly disabled son unless dedicated funding is made available for that child. Let us imagine the case of a person who is, unfortunately, in intensive care, wholly dependent on others for her existence and unable to communicate. Let us further imagine that the consultant informs her that he cannot guarantee the continuation of her care beyond the end of the month because the hospital has not been provided with any funding beyond that date. She has no say in the matter. This is what we, the State, are doing to those with intellectual disabilities. It is a life sentence for them.
The young man to whom Fergus Finlay referred was real. He cannot talk, communicate, go to the toilet on his own, dress himself, eat or drink. How is it possible in this day and age that the State could turn its back on him and his family and other children or young adults like him? Are we really as uncivilised as this in 2012? It does not apply only to him. Many families find themselves in that position.
Last week the Leader kindly informed the House that the Government intends to publish the value for money review of disability spending next week. Corrective action must be taken this week to help the 650 families with intellectually disabled young people who are facing into a great deal of uncertainty and a life for hell for their families.
What I have to say will not be as heart-rending as what Senator O'Brien had to say just now. I support Senator Ivana Bacik's comments on the Euroscience Open Forum. Ireland secured the hosting of the forum from stiff opposition from other European countries. I understand the final choice was between Vienna and Dublin and that Dublin won out. This is a major achievement for Ireland.
There was a new announcement today of 50 extra jobs from ancestry.com. One reason the company gave for choosing Ireland - it is here already - was the great array of talented people. We must have debates on where we are falling down in mathematics and science but we should not talk ourselves down too much because we have an array of talented people in Ireland and this is recognised. We must ensure we keep this going and have a debate that will support it. Moreover, Ireland is to become the first international research partner of NASA. The country was not chosen by chance. It was chosen because of the people who are here and those who were here.
I want to ask today what we are going to do about electric cars. The technology is ongoing but we have only developed a small percentage of it. This week Dublin was shown to be in the top ten most congested cities in Europe. That is a statistic at which we all should look to see what we can do to ensure we speed up the introduction of electric cars. Today the Dublin Airport Authority announced five new charging points at Dublin Airport, which is a great advancement. There are 340 such points nationwide in Ireland. I want to see whether we can produce a leaflet and whether we could encourage the Minister to come to the House in order that we could ask him whether we could introduce incentives to get rid of our anxiety about the journey range of electric cars and other incentives such as free parking spaces for them. There is a need for innovative incentives such as exist in other countries where some shopping centres have free charging points for electric cars. One could not have such incentives forever but if we could have a debate on it, we could see how we can speed up the introduction of such cars. There are eight different electric cars on show today at the science forum. We should go down and have a look at them.
I want to raise two issues. The first is a proposal that the Order of Business be amended to take No. 23, motion 8 on the Order Paper, which states: "That the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012 (Section 12) (Commencement) Order 2012 (S.I. No. 206 of 2012) be and are hereby annulled." Members on all sides of the House have had correspondence over recent weeks from the free legal advice centres on this particular section of the commencement order, which restricts the availability of the mortgage interest supplement to borrowers. In the debate in this House on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, which was guillotined earlier in the year, we had a brief debate on this section where the Minister, Deputy Burton, stated that the object is for the Department to help those in mortgage arrears but also to force lenders to engage in the mortgage arrears process. Otherwise the Department would be handing out money without any requirement for engagement.
Everybody in the Fianna Fáil group and, I am sure, other Members in this House believe that banks should be forced to engage. I agree in principle that the State should not be paying mortgage interest for the first 12 months and that the banks should do it. The problem is that the Minister, in bringing forward the commencement order, has done so in a way that is entirely premature because the adequate protections are not in place to ensure borrowers are protected. That also was a failing of the Personal Insolvency Bill that was published last week. My party agrees in principle that this change should be made, but it should only be made if and when adequate protections are in place for the borrowers. Such protections are not in place. That is not only our view in the Fianna Fáil group but the view of the free legal advice centres which deal with people day in, day out and which know exactly the legal rights of these people and the weaknesses in the current protection.
That is why my party will push for this amendment to the Order of Business today. I call on Members on all sides of the House to support it. We all know the difficulties being experienced in respect of mortgages and we have an opportunity in this House today to stand up for those affected.
I join Senator Norris's call for a debate in this House on the issue of same-sex marriage. Personally, I was incredibly disappointed by the Taoiseach's reaction when he was asked about it by my party leader yesterday. He has been incredibly cowardly on it because he will not say where he stands. This issue does not need to go the constitutional convention. It needs leadership from political parties. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, has given his view. Our party leader has given his. I do not know why the Taoiseach will not give his own because his party passed a motion in respect of same-sex marriage.
----- that all that will happen as a result of referring this issue to the constitutional convention is that we will ensure there is no referendum in the lifetime of the Government, and that is wrong. Members should ensure parties show real leadership on this issue.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business moved by Senator Power. This important issue requires to be discussed.
I remind Members, as I am sure they already will be aware as the Leader has said it, that I will propose later today the Access to Cancer Treatment Bill 2012, which is non-adversarial legislation. I would hope that, between now and this evening, everyone will take a moment or two to read this quite short but important legislation. I hope normal political hostilities can be shelved in the interests of the patient because that is what this legislation is about. As the House will be aware, Senator Crown is a co-sponsor. The Bill is about making drugs available to vulnerable cancer patients and ensuring clear processes on that, while still protecting the Government ability to opt out of the provision of a drug. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure the automatic provision of drugs which help people and to allow the State opt out case by case, which we believe is much fairer. It will certainly avoid vulnerable cancer patients having Joe Duffy as their only recourse.
I am glad to take the opportunity to explain a little in advance of the debate. I hope all the Members will take the time to attend the debate. I very much hope we can celebrate it as a pioneering legislation put forward by a united Seanad rather than use it for political adversarial purposes, as is so often the case.
I echo the sentiments raised today by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien. It is an issue I raised last week, the awful situation in which parents of persons with a disability find themselves as a result of cutbacks, with no day service provision available unless specific funding is in place. Like Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and other Senators, I live in a world with children with a disability and recognise the absolute need for funding to be able to provide adequate education and services for them.
I also spoke last week about the cut in respite care. I repeat that perhaps those who do not avail of respite or who do not have that luxury of maybe getting one night's sleep in six weeks do not fully appreciate and understand this. I again call on the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss this issue. I had not intended raising that.
I add my concerns, along with those of other colleague, about the unfortunate dreadful situation in which the Irish student trainee pilots find themselves. I note it was raised yesterday as well. I agree we should have a debate on the issue in the House. It is important to ascertain why the Irish Aviation Authority let the disagreement fester between the pilot training college and the Florida-based training provider before intervening in the 12 month dispute. Many of the families, whom we saw on the news, have remortgaged their houses, given their life savings or, in some cases, borrowed significant sums of money for their sons' education. The sums involved are astronomical.
I join those who complimented Senators Mullen, Darragh O'Brien and Mary Ann O'Brien and thank the Senators for their invitation to us to hear what was a story of integrity, courage, parental love and a lesson to us all in how to face adversity. I join Senators Ó Murchú and Paul Coghlan who stated they hoped there would be a follow-on. I encourage the three Senators to have further initiatives because it is important everybody in this House hears their stories. It is part of the enlightenment we should have in the process of formulating legislation.
I want to raise with the Leader the report, provided with EU funding and issued yesterday, on the effects of the Internet, particularly on children as young as nine who are exposed to hardcore pornography. It is an appalling situation which was allowed develop. The Internet is a source of tremendous good, be it in the fields of education, information, communication, and social and employment opportunities, but there are also risks attached to it. I am reminded of a recent incident in England where a 12 year old boy was prosecuted for raping a nine year old girl precisely because he had accessed hard-core pornography on the Internet at a young age. This had totally corrupted his view of sexual activity and according to his defence counsel, the case was only the tip of the iceberg. Affording unfettered access to the Internet from an early age has major consequences. I ask for a debate on this issue with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who will clearly be concerned about the problem, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The Government has launched a campaign on Internet freedom. Like all freedoms, however, some form of regulation and control is required to prevent such adverse effects.
The issue I raise may appear frivolous in the context of disabled children and similar issues raised by other Senators. I was disappointed to learn that Ireland will host a "Toddlers & Tiaras"-style children's beauty pageant later this year. It appears the organisers have managed to secure a venue for the event in question. This is one American export that we could do without. Beauty pageants of this nature have potentially damaging consequences for young children and are the antithesis of what childhood is about. Young children should be left to enjoy their childhood. While I accept the event in question is likely to take place, I urge mothers-----
-----not to allow their children to participate in it. Children should be allowed to enjoy childhood activities such as cycling and playing in parks rather than being dressed up, having make-up applied, their hair done and tiaras placed on their heads to look like mini-adults. I strongly discourage these types of pageant.
I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senators Mary Moran, Mary Ann O'Brien and others. We have been assured that the Laurence Crowley value for money report on funding for services with people with disabilities will be published before the end of the term. Much work has been done on the report, which was initiated by the former Minister of State, Mr. John Moloney, at a time when services were not improving despite significant increases in funding. We should be fair to Mr. Moloney and acknowledge his role in establishing the value for money audit which is being continued by this Government. I look forward to the outcome of the report because I believe it will revolutionise funding for services for people with disabilities.
As we approach the end of term, Senators may recall that last year we were kindly invited to the Abbey Theatre by Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, who made tickets available to attend a show. It would be appropriate for Senators to buy tickets before the end of term to attend the current production at the Abbey Theatre, "The House", which is, I understand, a good production. This would show solidarity-----
May I raise a point of order and make a correction? Yesterday, I suggested the Leader had simply recited the same answer he gave to me last week on the matter of pilots in training. Having checked the record, I acknowledge that there were substantial differences in his replies on the two days in question and that the explanation he gave yesterday contained new and considerably fuller information than his previous reply. I acknowledge that I was incorrect.
I appreciate Senator Norris's clarification on that matter.
Senator Darragh O'Brien asked when the report of the review of community employment would be published. I am not aware of when the report will be available. I am naturally as disappointed as the Senator that the pyrite report will not be available to Members before the recess. I hope, however, that the House will have an opportunity to discuss it early in the new term.
On the possibility of the Taoiseach's coming before the House, I gave an undertaking that he would do so before the recess and I still believe that will be the case next week. On the Taoiseach's comments on the Seanad, Senator O'Brien should have listened to his party leader's comments about this House this morning.
Senators Darragh O'Brien, Labhrás Ó Murchú and several others referred to One Day More, an organisation that held a breakfast information meeting this morning, and called for a debate on prenatal care. I will seek to arrange such a debate in the new session.
Senators Bacik, O'Donovan and others mentioned the pilot training college in Waterford. I gave a comprehensive response on this issue yesterday, which I received from the Minister's office. I have asked the Minister to address the matter in the House. However, he is in Brussels today and will be in Northern Ireland tomorrow. He will then visit Cyprus on Friday to prepare for the EU Presidency. I have asked him to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date report on the matter next week. I hope this will suffice for Senators who are seeking to have the Order of Business amended.
Senator Quinn referred to the lack of progress in procurement and advancing legislation in the House. All of us would like faster progress to be made on these issues. On the environmental problems caused by fuel laundering and its impact on revenue to the Exchequer, action must be taken quickly on this issue as it is causing havoc in many counties. The erstwhile subversives who are involved in this activity are doing a great deal of harm to the environment and standards of living are being adversely affected by the decline in revenue from excise duties on fuel.
Senators O'Neill, Landy and Mooney called for the recruitment embargo to be lifted to allow staff to be recruited at agricultural colleges to enable more students to attend the colleges. Additional staff were employed last year. I am sure this issue is close to the heart of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, who will be before the House this week, at which time Senators will have an opportunity to raise the matter with him.
Senator Moloney referred to Garda rostering arrangements. As Senators will agree, the new rosters will benefit everyone. On speed cameras, it may be possible to have a debate on road safety in the new term.
Senator Norris called for the reopening of the James Joyce tower. I will inquire as to the position from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan.
Senator Clune referred to training for people who operate off-licences and called for the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, to come before the House. I have contacted the Minister of State and she will come to the House in the first few weeks of the new term to discuss the issue several Senators raised this morning.
Senators Reilly and Walsh raised the dangers of the Internet and the need to keep children safe online. I will ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come before the House to debate the issue in the new term. If we are unable to have a Minister come before the House next week for a debate on youth unemployment, which is long overdue, we will ensure such a debate takes place early in the new term.
Senator Landy referred to security staff at concerts and argued against banning all concerts because of the actions of some of those who attend them. I am sure Senators share that view. As I noted yesterday, the Minister has taken action on this issue and legislation will be introduced on security at such concerts and the security industry in general. I will inquire of the Minister as to when it is intended to have legislation on the rights of workers.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about the advances made in perinatal care. We all agree that the dedication and commitment of staff in maternity hospitals are excellent. As I said, we will arrange a debate on the issue in the new session.
Senators Mary Ann O'Brien, Mary Moran and Martin Conway referred to the position of young people with disabilities when they leave school. The State should not turn its back on families such as those mentioned by the Senators. As Senator Martin Conway stated, Mr. Laurence Crowley's value for money report on disability services will be available next week and I hope we can have a debate on the issue as soon as possible. I agree with Senator Mary Moran that the people involved know more than anyone else about the importance of respite care to carers, which should be paramount when we are speaking about funding for disability services.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to the science forum, as well as the effectiveness of electric cars. She suggested we attend the exhibition today. I hope no Members on this side will be attending because we have very important business to deal with today.
Senator Averil Power suggested we amend the Order of Business in regard to non-Government motion No. 8 on the Order Paper. I do not propose to accept the amendment. The Senator called for a debate on same sex marriage. As this issue will be dealt with in the constitutional convention, let us see what happens as a result. I am sure we will be having debates on the constitutional convention and its findings when it reports.
On Senator Mark MacSharry's point, I am sure we will have a healthy debate today on the Access to Cancer Treatment Bill. I note Senator Catherine Noone's comments on beauty pageants for children which I certainly would not encourage.
Senator Denis O'Donovan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the ongoing problems being encountered by trainee pilots who were attending flight school in Florida be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 19 (Sean Barrett, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Mary Ann O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White)
Against the motion: 29 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, John Crown, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Denis O'Donovan and Ned O'Sullivan; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 21 (Sean Barrett, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Mary Ann O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Katherine Zappone)
Against the motion: 27 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Denis Landy, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Catherine Noone, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Averil Power; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.
Amendment declared lost.