Thursday, 12 July 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 13 July 2012, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re changes in Standing Orders to be taken without debate; No. 3, resolution to establish a constitutional convention to be taken after No. 2 and to conclude not later than 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, a contribution by one Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed three minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 12.40 p.m.; No. 4, Industrial Relations (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2011 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and conclude not later than 2.45 p.m.; No. 5, Microenterprise Loan Fund Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, to conclude not later than 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 4.35 p.m; No. 6, Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 - All Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions on Second Stage of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, those of all Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate, Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken immediately thereafter.
I take strong issue with the Leader on the way in which the resolution on the establishment of the constitutional convention is constructed. Only one hour has been allocated in respect of the debate on this motion, while two hours are being allocated to the Committee Stage debate on the Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill. What is even more worrying is the fact that only group spokespersons will be allowed to contribute.
With respect, one hour is not sufficient. I remind Members that some weeks ago we had a good debate on a motion - which was subsequently passed by the House - seeking that the Taoiseach should include Seanad reform in the constitutional convention. For whatever reason, neither the Labour Party nor Fine Gael allowed their Senators to contribute to that debate. That is fine, particularly as they will have the opportunity later today to contribute to the debate on the motion to which I refer. The Leader is allocating one hour for the debate, with one spokesperson per group being allowed to contribute. The Sinn Féin spokesperson will have less time than other spokespersons in which to make his or her contribution. There are many Senators who wish to contribute to the debate on this matter.
I hope the Cathaoirleach stopped the clock while I was being interrupted. I remind colleagues that the constitutional convention will only be dealing with two matters immediately after its establishment. These are the potential reduction in the voting age from 18 to 16 and a reduction in the term of office of the President from seven to five years. Big deal. Both of these matters could be dealt with in a week. The largest single political reform the Government has proposed is the abolition of the second House of Parliament, namely, the Seanad. It does not propose to allow the constitutional convention to consider the matter of Seanad reform, even though the Members of this House passed a motion in that regard.
I ask the Leader to devote at least two hours to the debate on the motion to be put before the House in respect of the establishment of the constitutional convention. The Seanad is sitting tomorrow and there is only one item on its agenda. We have no difficulty facilitating the extension of today's business into tomorrow. People should be allowed speak on the matter to which I refer. One hour is not sufficient for a debate on it. We will oppose the Order of Business if further time is not allocated. I ask the Leader to consider extending the debate. The House is only due to sit until 12.30 p.m. tomorrow and some of today's business could be delayed and taken at that point.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that a minimum of two hours be allocated in respect of the motion relating to the establishment of the constitutional convention and that all Members who are offering will be allowed to speak. I know I cannot propose an amendment in respect of tomorrow's business. However, I suggest that any business not completed today be resumed tomorrow. That is my proposal.
Yes. It is a very serious question and I will address it to both the Leader and the Cathaoirleach. Those of us elected to this House are all colleagues. I consider us to be professionals. We can engage in robust debates and disagree with each other. We can then walk out of the Chamber and be friendly and cordial to one another outside. We are all trying to do a job in the interests of the State. I have never previously come across a situation where a Minister of State accosted one of my colleagues during a vote-----
I accept the Senator may not wish to hear this but I am going to proceed in any event. I wish, on the record of this House, to lodge a formal complaint about the behaviour of the Minister of State yesterday evening. I refer to the fact that a colleague of mine was accosted in the Chamber during a vote on the legislation. If the Minister of State did not like what was being said, that is fine. However, I would have thought the Minister of State would not be so thin-skinned. What occurred yesterday evening showed complete disregard and disrespect for an elected Member of this House who is a colleague of mine. What happened was extremely serious and I would not like to see a recurrence of it. I will not even refer to the contribution that was made and the script - written by God knows who - that was read into the record.
I ask the Leader and the Cathaoirleach, on the basis of my contribution this morning, to relay our deep dissatisfaction regarding the manner in which the Minister of State to whom I refer, Deputy Shortall, conducted herself yesterday when a vote was called. I want this matter pursued with the Minister of State.
All of a sudden those in Fianna Fáil are expressing shock at the amount of time allocated in respect of the motion relating to the establishment of the convention when their party, in the 50 to 70 years it was in government, never considered setting up such a body.
The truth does sometimes offend. I welcome last night's statement from the Orange Order. I understand it is seeking a way to ensure that today's 12 July parade in Ardoyne will be held. I trust the day will pass in peace, especially in light of the historic visit to the Seanad by Mr. Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Order of Ireland, two weeks ago. Mr. Nelson came in peace to this House.
I commend indigenous Irish food companies such as Glanbia, Kerry Group and Dawn Meats, which are all in the top group of exporting businesses in this country. I am sure everyone in the House will agree they have worked extremely hard to fly the flag for both Ireland and for Irish food abroad. This sector is expected to grow by 40% in the next ten years in the context of exports. In light of the challenges presented by the weather at present and concerns with regard to rising prices for feed and fertiliser, I urge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to continue to battle to protect farmers. Without the latter, there would be no indigenous Irish food companies and they would not be doing such a good job on our behalf.
I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, urging him and his officials to reconvene talks with the Irish Thalidomide Association. I am sure Members will agree that the survivors of thalidomide have battled all their lives merely to live those lives. Few of these people expected to survive until the age of 50. I and others do not want to see them being obliged to take legal action against the State in the interests of obtaining a better settlement. The Government in the UK made a settlement of £20 million in 2010 in respect of survivors of thalidomide in that jurisdiction. I fully expect the Irish Government to do likewise. The Leader should write to the Minister with a view to having the talks reconvened rather than having the matter end up in court.
I ask the Leader, when the Seanad resumes sitting in the autumn, to set aside a full day for a debate on the increase in the incidence in suicide revealed this morning in statistics compiled by the Central Statistics Office. The number of suicides in 2011 rose to 525. While our thoughts are with the families of those who have died as a result of suicide, it would be good if we could devote an entire day to debating this issue. During such a debate, the various Ministers who have any responsibility in respect of suicide could be brought before the House in order that we might find ways to pool our expertise and knowledge. If we can save one life or build something better for one community, then the House will have done a worthwhile job. We have talked enough about trying to do something about suicide, and now the incidence is rising again. If we were to concentrate our minds for one full day and engage in an exercise of joined-up thinking, perhaps we might be able to produce something that would be of genuine assistance to families whose loved ones have died as a result of suicide and to those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Yesterday, Senator Higgins collected signatures from all Members in respect of a petition relating to the suspension of the imposition of bank charges during the current debacle at Ulster Bank. I ask the Leader to take up this issue with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. The banks intend to abolish chequebooks but in light of the debacle to which I refer, any action in this regard must be postponed. What is happening at present is certainly an instance of where a paper trail is required to discover what is happening in banking. In light of yesterday's all-party agreement and the fact we do not know what is going on in the banking sector in this country at present, I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, in order that they might impress on the public interest directors in our banks the need to retain chequebooks.
Two weeks ago, severe flooding took place in areas of Cork. In that context, Douglas, Glanmire and Clonakilty were particularly badly affected. We are now dealing with the aftermath of the floods, and reports from Cork City Council and Cork County Council in respect of what occurred are due to be submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works will also be involved. There is already a possibility of companies, businesses and home owners not being offered insurance assistance and not being re-insured. In the cases where they are offered insurance, they will pay a premium in addition to the normal cost of insurance. After the floods in 2009, some businesses were not able to re-insure themselves and in the Bandon area, those who got insurance had to pay a €5,000 excess. I am aware that I am talking about the Cork region, but flooding could concern all Members. Many areas of the country are susceptible to flooding.
I ask the Leader to request either the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW or the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the issue and explain what negotiations and consultation he is having with the insurance companies on efforts to mitigate against future flooding. The insurance companies need to be in dialogue with the relevant authorities to ensure that infrastructure is put in place to prevent such flooding and to reassure local businesses and home owners that such flooding is being acted on.
Insurance is very important and I am aware the Minister is negotiating with the insurance companies and I would like him to report on it to the House and give us an opportunity to question him on it.
I join with others in seeking a debate on suicide. Last year the number of people who died by suicide was 525, which is effectively the population of a sizeable village. As I said, if this was happening in Syria or another country, we would be sending in UN troops.
The piecemeal approach to suicide in the past number of years is inexcusable. The number of suicides increased last year but spending on suicide prevention was just €9 million compared with the €35 million budget of the Road Safety Authority, which with the appropriate funding has succeeded in reducing the number of deaths on the road from a similar level to just below 200 last year. This shows that Governments have failed consistently to address the issue of suicide. As Senator O'Keeffe rightly said, we need not just debate but joined-up thinking, and appropriate resourcing for a single agency. A sum of €35 million is supposed to have been ringfenced for mental health in 2012, but I would like to see that money specifically dedicated to suicide prevention.
Suicide is a silent crisis. Last year 525 people, the majority of whom were men but some women and many young people, were wiped out by suicide. We must deal with it.
I understand from Senator Darragh O'Brien that the behaviour during last night's debate was unbecoming. Will the Leader clarify the procedures to be followed when legislation is brought forward? Is it the norm, as the Government side suggested, that the director of the national cancer control programme would draft, proof and approve particular responses?
Yes. Is it the procedure that the independent director of the national cancer control programme proofs and approves what are highly political draft speeches? If it is confirmed that is the case, I wish to question that person's capability to continue in that role?
Yes, I have said that there are more important things than the sensitivities of Fianna Fáil.
I want to support Senator Clune's call for joined-up thinking and a strategic response to the flooding in County Cork. I know that in Glanmire there are over 50 homes which are very badly damaged, so that they are temporarily uninhabitable and residents have had to move out of their homes. Disturbing reports from Glanmire are reaching me in the past couple of days about the heavy handed tactics of insurance companies who are putting what I consider to be, undue pressure on and causing undue alarm and anxiety to people who are already distressed. I ask the Leader to facilitate, if he could do so, some sort of communication between this House and the insurance companies, perhaps through the offices of the relevant Minister. The actions of the insurance companies in this regard are particularly heinous, adding further distress to a very distressful situation.
I do not agree with motion No. 1. I propose that it be removed from the Order Paper on the basis that there is no Order of Business and no provision for an Adjournment debate. On that basis I will be opposing the Order of Business. It is an extraordinary abrogation of democracy. We have no Order of Business. One of the most significant items of the day is being removed. There are also no debates on the Adjournment. The Labour Party did not even bother to table a motion for Private Members' time and did not hand it over to anybody else.
It appears to me from all that is going on and the nonsense we have about the convention, as if certain elements within this House are quite deliberately collaborating with the Taoiseach in his wish to demean, degrade and finally close down this House. I strongly object to that.
---and less than one hour when we have the votes, is given to a subject where people are not allowed to speak about the future of their own jobs. I address Senator O Keeffe through the Chair. She is supposed to be a trade unionist. How can Senator O'Keeffe stand over this muzzling of the rights of workers to express their opinion? It is a disgrace.
I have a question for the Leader. Why are we not having a proper debate on the convention? Why is this House being treated with gross disrespect? Why is the Constitution being flouted? Why are we making a farce of the convention? Why are members being gagged? The Chair has it in his power as Cathaoirleach to ensure this does not happen. Why has the Chair apparently done nothing? Only spokespersons will be allowed to open their mouths on this issue. This is an issue that concerns the future of this House. The establishment of a convention which we were supposed to take seriously is clearly being exposed as nothing other than a gimmick. Every so often additional little bits are tossed into it to get them conveniently out of the way. I am a democrat and I know there are democrats on the other side of the House. That is what the Government is afraid of. It is afraid of an outbreak of democracy on the Government side.
Initially I had intended to speak in support of Senator Susan O'Keeffe in her call for a day long debate on the horrific suicide figures published by the CSO in the past 24 hours. It is the biggest crisis facing the country. As previous speakers said, 525 people lost their lives by suicide, of whom 439 were male. We must question why so many males, particularly young men, decide to end their lives by suicide. There are two issues involved - insufficient suicide prevention programmes and insufficient investment in mental health services. In this year's budget €35 million has been ring-fenced for mental health services, but we need to ascertain whether it is being used for that purpose. In 2006 and 2007 moneys allocated for mental health services were spent elsewhere; therefore, there is a deficit to be closed. I strongly support the call for a discussion on this major issue. Twice as many people lose their lives by suicide as are killed on the roads. Significant resources have been made available to tackle the issue of road deaths; we need to show the same urgency, give the same attention and provide the same resources in dealing with the issue of suicide. I hope the Leader will arrange for a debate in the early part of the next session and invite all of the relevant Ministers who can play their part in tackling the crisis once and for all to attend.
I wish the Cathaoirleach and all other Senators a happy 12th of July. Last week the grand master of the Orange Order addressed the Seanad. It was an historic occasion. As we all know, Orangemen across the island of Ireland are celebrating their heritage, culture and identity today. While many of us disagree with aspects of the Orange Order, including its sectarian nature, we must engage in dialogue. Last week's event was a first step in that regard. Many events will take place in the North today that will highlight the unpleasant nature of some of the celebrations when the tricolour will be burned on bonfires and a lot of marches will be forced through communities which are not being respected. No dialogue or discussion has taken place with community representatives. I hope, therefore, that we can use last week's engagement, as the grand master said, as a springboard and that it will encourage and open up dialogue between the Orange Order and all political parties and communities.
I second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. It is an absolute disgrace that we will have only one hour to discuss the formation, composition and logic behind the constitutional convention. It is the biggest missed opportunity for the Government. We could have a very good convention if it was to examine a range of issues, not just some of the minor issues, important though they are, that will be discussed by it. Many other issues have been dropped completely. I want to see the vindication of social and economic rights examined by the convention. I would also like to see the economically disadvantaged, the socially marginalised and other groups being part of the discussions. Let us be clear. The reason we only have one hour to discuss the motion is reference was made to Seanad reform being part of the constitutional convention, as proposed in amendments tabled by a number of Senators. There is a reluctance on the part of the Government to allow its representatives and Members to have an open and frank discussion on the issue in the House. The Tánaiste told us that he would allow his party Members a free vote on the issue. It is absolutely appalling and despicable that only one hour is being allowed to discuss this important motion. The convention is being diminished and diluted by the Government every passing day.
The Government should stop gagging its Members and allow them to debate the issue in the House. It will not allow a democratic debate. I, therefore, support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business which calls for at least a two hour debate. My party will only have three minutes in which to make a contribution.
I would like to raise an issue that was brought to my attention over the weekend when a young man collapsed after a match. There were a number of contributory factors, including fatigue and dehydration, but the most crucial was the consumption of a high energy drink prior to the match. There is not sufficient awareness of the dangers on the part of those who sell such high energy drinks and consume them. Thankfully, the young man in question is fine. I am told by people in the know who work in the sports field that in certain circumstances consuming such a drink prior to a match can be very dangerous. I would like the Leader to allocate time for a debate on the issue prior to the end the session next week because there are quite a few matches due to be played. I wish to use this platform to raise awareness of the dangers involved in the hope somebody will not consume one of these dangerous products when he or she is fatigued and dehydrated. I hope we will have some good weather, but potentially that will increase the danger. I ask the Leader to set aside even a short period for a debate on the issue and invite an official from a Department to attend. This would ensure the matter was raised and aired and help to increase awareness on the part of those who sell and consume such products.
Like other colleagues, I object to the Order of Business because of the limited amount of time allocated for the debate on the constitutional convention. The Government has most certainly turned it into a window dressing exercise in order to distract attention from the real issues.
I also join the many Senators who have called for a debate on suicide, the real issue of this generation. It is not just another issue as the Taoiseach would have us believe and he will still not answer questions on some of the other topics either.
I have previously asked the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the US-Ireland Alliance and the future of the Mitchell scholars programme, the funding for which was cut by the US State Department. The programme is a fitting and appropriate tribute to George Mitchell, the extraordinary man who helped to bring peace to the island. In March the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade extended an invitation to the president of the US-Ireland Alliance which was greeted yesterday with a letter stating she could not come before the committee because funding had been cut, about which she had only learned recently. The US State Department cut the funding available on 13 February. Either she was unaware of it - which means possibly she is not up to the job - or she was and is slightly misleading us, which is disturbing in itself. The letter also stated the scholarship was not going ahead in September. That is amazing given there is $3.8 million, some of which is Irish taxpayers' money, sitting in the US-Ireland Alliance account to run the Mitchell scholars programme. The letter also stated the board regretted it was not possible to meet up at this moment in time, yet when the president came to Dublin in May and would only meet the chairman, not the committee, she brought a barrister, Mr. Brian Barrington.
I ask the Leader to provide time next week for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to discuss the future of the Mitchell scholars programme and the future of the US-Ireland Alliance in light of the fact we cannot get the president of the US-Ireland Alliance to appear before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.
-----a cycle to work scheme for politicians. I may not take it up myself, but one never knows. Stranger things could happen. Another scheme also being launched today is Hailo, a download and application for taxis. Taxi uptake in the city has fallen by 30%. That may have to do with the stringent economic conditions, but there could be other reasons, such as safety issues. The application being launched today is free to all taxis and free for the person.
This is a safety issue. One can book a taxi in advance, pay by card, know the taxi one got into and contact it later on the web. It is free for people to download this application onto their telephone. A cashless transaction is safer in taxis. As not everybody will use cards, there will have to be some transaction by cash.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator David Norris. He has made an impassioned plea to maintain the standards in the House, one of which is the Order of Business. He is concerned about the removal of the Order of Business, Adjournment Matters and other issues. We have succeeded for many years and have established a code of practice. As the House meets on a Friday and extra days, it would be a shame to drop some of the high standards attained.
Senator Susan O'Keeffe drew attention to the major investment by some of the companies associated with the milk sector, and these were mentioned today and in the past week or two. The reason for the significant investment in the next couple of years is the removal of the milk quota in two years time. This is a reminder that we have not scrutinised well enough the legislation we have allowed to be passed by the EU. I suggest the concept of milk quotas was to protect certain sectors of the community and it may have been to protect farmers in other countries rather than in Ireland. The removal of milk quotas is an opportunity to invest not only in farming but in milk associated food products. Our future does not lie solely in the production of basic agricultural products but in associated added value foods. That is where the jobs, investment and success can be found in the future.
I draw attention to new legislation passed recently in the US, the Entrepreneurs Access to Capital Act, which enables small investors to invest on the Internet with small companies. They do not have to meet them and establish the same stock market quotations. These are people who have got good ideas and seek funding which comes from small investors, but they do it via the Internet. I suggest the Government consider a similar Bill. If not, perhaps we in the Seanad can do it ourselves.
Before I put a question to the Leader, I compliment Sinn Féin on becoming the chameleon party of the country. It depends on what side of the Border one is on. I agree with Senator Cullinane that it is a disgrace that the flag of any nation would be disrespected and burned on bonfires, but I would also hope members of Sinn Féin respect the Union flag and the flag of Ulster today, 12 July.
My question to the Leader is in on the school transport system. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, to come to the House and make a statement. The school transport system was set up in 1964 when the catchment areas were decided. We have had 13 censuses of population since then and have had major changes in centres of population and schools. I compliment the Department on changing the rule this year which entitles one to free travel to the nearest school if one has a medical card. It also raises an issue in families that one has what one holds. In other words, if one was entitled last year to a category A ticket and had a medical card, one was entitled to free school transport. However, if one wishes the second child to travel on the same bus but not to the nearest school, one is asked to pay, even if one has a medical card. I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on an appeal system for hardship cases. This system will split families. I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on the new school transport system.
Apropos Senator David Cullinane's remarks about 12 July, I look forward to the Sinn Féin representatives following in the distinguished footsteps of a former Member of the House, Mr. John Robb, who presented a poppy to the Cathaoirleach, on 11 November. I look forward to this in light of his good wishes for 12 July.
I share the concern of distinguished Senators David Norris and Feargal Quinn on the absence of the Order of Business tomorrow. I cannot help but contemplate, and perhaps the Leader will clarify, that it may have something to do with the fact that Friday sittings do not appear to be enthusiastically embraced by members of his party.
I do not know why. My understanding is our leader objected when the issue arose, according to what he told me. Irrespective of whether he did, I object with my colleagues. I do not see why a time-honoured tradition should be dropped in the House. The Leader, for whom we have enormous respect in what he does in the House, trumpeted the idea of Friday sittings and of extra sittings, but if he continues to diminish the long-standing traditions of the House, all he is doing is creating a stick with which we can be beaten. I do not see what objection there might be to having an Order of Business. Perhaps the Government side is afraid that it will not have enough bodies if a vote is called. I do not know what other reason there might be. I admit I am speculating. I would like to know the reason for this decision.
The main issue I wish to raise on the Order of Business is highlighted in a report in today's Irish Independent:
More than 220 young people with a disability are in limbo as cutbacks have left them with nowhere to go this autumn .... The crisis comes against a background of cuts of 3.7pc in budgets to organisations providing services for people with a disability.
According to the report in question:
660 school leavers with disabilities need some form of specialist placement this autumn and another 390 should have a training place. However, the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that to date just 414 school leavers and 320 people who had been in training have been given a placement. There are 153 school leavers and 73 people who had been in training who will now be forced to languish on a waiting list. The uncertainty has left many families devastated.
I would like to call on the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services, with whom I have a longstanding friendship and for whom I have great regard, to come to this House to explain and justify the cuts being imposed on these organisations. If we look behind the headlines, we will see that the devastation and trauma being experienced by the families of children with disabilities is going under the radar. I think it is outrageous. A country is respected internationally for the way in which it treats the most vulnerable in a society.
A government gets its mandate from the people on the basis of how it looks after the most vulnerable people in society. How can it be justified that the most vulnerable people and their families are being subjected to this outrageous cut? I would like the Minister of State to come to the House to justify it. The funds that have been withdrawn should be restored as soon as possible.
Like previous speakers, I would welcome a debate on suicide. Some 525 people took their own lives last year, which represented an increase of 7% on the previous year. Approximately 85% of those who died through suicide were young men. As Senator Daly said, it is a scourge on this generation. The mental health area is neglected within the health system. Suicide, in particular, needs to be addressed seriously. I would welcome a debate and some action in that regard.
As a new Senator, I do not wish to be disrespectful when I say that the Order of Business in this House is sometimes anything but businesslike. If we are coming in especially on a Friday, is it useful to have an Order of Business, potentially followed by two or three votes, before we get to the business of the day? If the Minister who is due to speak has to wait outside while we spend half an hour voting, we will not be getting our actual business done. I do not mean to be disrespectful to those who have been in this House for a lot longer than I have. Since I was elected to the Seanad, I have noticed that Senators spend a great deal of time-----
I would like to add my voice to the protests against the arrangements that are being made for the debate on the constitutional conference. It is extraordinary that the debate will last just an hour, with one Senator from each side being allowed to speak. It seems that the future of the Seanad is being totally excluded from the debate. I imagine that my colleagues on the other side of the House are ashamed of what is going on. They are probably not able to articulate it as freely as we can. Some of them expressed their feelings by not voting the last time this issue arose. They disgraced themselves by not participating in the debate that subsequently took place. They are now proposing to disgrace themselves again. Not only are they muzzling themselves, but they are attempting to muzzle us as well. We will not be muzzled on this issue because it is too important. As Senator Norris said, this is an honourable institution. Many eminent people have sat in these seats before us. What is going on is not only a slur on this Seanad, but it is also a slur on previous Seanaid. All I have to say is that the Seanad will not go without a fight.
I would like to join others in speaking about suicide. All suicides are tragic. Senator Norris mentioned the groceries order. I should have picked up on it the other day. He was absolutely correct to highlight the disgraceful way in which drink is being promoted by multiple retailers as a loss leader. No action is being taken, however. I was reminded by a professional the other day that alcohol gives action to thoughts. Very dangerous thoughts have often resulted in tragic suicides, unfortunately. I commend Senator Gilroy, who is holding a series of meetings throughout the country on this issue. He seems to be following in the footsteps of another great man, Deputy Dan Neville.
Certain vested interests have directed a contrived cynicism at Seanad Éireann in recent years. Those who study the record of this House will clearly see that the Seanad has played a significant role in the defence of democracy and the promotion of human rights.
It has displayed a legislative vision as well. It is difficult to understand why this House is being given just one hour to comment on the consultative convention on the Constitution. Over the years, people with great personal courage have contributed to debates in this House by proposing ideas. We all hoped that many of these ideas would come together in the constitutional convention. It seems that all the debate will take place outside this House. All kinds of contradictions and misrepresentations will be put forward. People are depending on us to bring their views and their vision to the convention, but we will be unable to do so. We are being given one measly hour to look back on the record of this House. The future of the Seanad is not the only issue that should be considered by the convention. It should reflect the changed Ireland, which has a different status internationally. No one can justify the allocation of just one hour for a debate on this matter. Like previous speakers, I admire Senator Cummins. He has been one of the great stalwarts of Seanad Éireann. He is a decent and honest man of integrity. I ask him to change this diktat, regardless of where it is coming from. We should have a full day, rather than two or three hours, to discuss the constitutional convention.
That is precisely what we need. If that is not done, we will hang our heads in shame in the future. We will be remembered as the Senators who missed a golden opportunity to do what was right by the citizens of this State and the people of this island.
I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Mooney when he called for the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services to come to the House. I spoke about the cut in services on the Order of Business yesterday and attempted to raise it on the Adjournment today. As I said yesterday, the families of some children with disabilities will now receive services three days a week, rather than five days a week. It is appalling that people with disabilities are among those most affected by cutbacks. This month, up to 1,000 will take part in the Department of Education and Skills one week Irish language and literacy summer camps. A further 1,500 will attend English literacy camps in August. The camps will take place in 29 schools. The topics of suicide and mental health were raised this morning and these camps are an excellent way of promoting good health and making learning outside the classroom fun. Perhaps they could be developed further in coming years, which would go a long way to helping the mental health of our young teenagers.
I thank those who attended the One Day More briefing yesterday and for their kind comments in the Seanad afterwards. The people who deserve credit are the families who were so generous in telling their stories and sharing the wisdom and insights gathered from their experience of having children with severe disability or fatal foetal abnormality. We were all encouraged by them and some interest has been shown in hearing more from the families. Perhaps in September they will come to Leinster House and meet some of the Oireachtas Members who did not have the chance to attend yesterday. I thank the Leader for signalling his openness to a debate in the autumn about perinatal hospice care in particular.
I echo the importance of a debate on suicide. In that report, Pain and Distress in Rural Ireland, I was struck by the words of a man called Niall who said he did not have the courage to live after his experience, with marital breakdown and alcoholism in the mix of his suffering. I was reminded of the line from the famous Victor Frankl, that the person who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. It would be a good thing if the Seanad could contribute to the debate on how society can address this issue and help people deal with issues causing unhappiness in their lives and reduce the tragic figures of suicide.
Suicide has been discussed most eloquently by my colleagues and is an extremely important issue. I commend Senator Gilroy on embarking on a national crusade of help and hope to assist people and put structures in place to help families who have lost loved ones through suicide. One hopes it will help to save lives in the future. Senators should row in behind him because the Seanad should be all about what he is embarking on, finding answers to difficult questions and identifying ways of assisting families in need of help and people who are at the edge and vulnerable. I commend Senator Gilroy and I commit to helping him in any way I can on this important work.
Ireland will hold the EU Presidency from 1 January 2013, and it is appropriate to set aside time in early September to consider the programme in which we will be involved. It would be useful to get the views of Senators on what we should focus on during this major opportunity to sell the advantages of Ireland over six months. Some 26 other member states will come here on a regular basis and we should not miss the opportunity. A 27th member state will join during 2013 and it is important to have a debate. I ask for time to be set aside in early September to deal with the programme for the EU Presidency.
We had a considerable amount of talk on the time allocated for the resolution. The Tánaiste will be here for an hour on a matter that was debated for two hours in the other House. I sought further time but the Tánaiste was not available. I hope we can utilise the hour in a proper manner. The Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which is No. 6 on the Order Paper, will be taken for over an hour. It also deals with the constitutional convention. There will be ample opportunity for people to make their points on the resolution. The resolution will be put to the floor after one hour, but people can continue to discuss the constitutional convention next week. I will endeavour to allow sufficient time for it, but we will deal with the resolution today.
I have no intention of going back on last night's debate. The exchanges were more than robust on occasion and did very little for the decorum of this House. Senators O'Keeffe and Quinn spoke about the achievements of Glanbia, Kerry Group and Dawn Meats. We all laud the achievements of the companies and outline the opportunities for similar industries, especially with milk quotas being phased out in 2015. Opportunities exist for value added goods after 2015.
Senator Quinn referred to the investors scheme on the Internet. The Microenterprise Loan Fund Bill will be in the House today and the Minister will be present. I hope these valid points will be made to the Minister when discussing the Bill.
Senator O'Keeffe referred to the Irish Thalidomide Association and I will make representations to the Minister for Health on that point.
A number of Senators raised the question of the increase to 525 in the incidence of death by suicide. They called for a debate in this House involving several Ministers. In January, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, attended the House for an excellent debate on suicide. More time is needed and I will try to arrange such a debate early in the new term. The number of people who die by suicide is a national tragedy. There is a need for joined-up thinking and, if a debate in this House can help, we will arrange it as soon as we come back in the autumn.
Senator Barrett made a brief point about Ulster Bank and the abolition of chequebooks. That would be a retrograde step. I am old-fashioned in that regard and we should retain a paper trail.
Senators Clune and Gilroy referred to flooding in Cork and the problems with insurance companies, with excess being added to insurance policies. Many people in distress are having difficulties with their insurance companies. We will call for a progress report on flooding damage from the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. It occurred not only in Cork but also in several other areas.
Senator Norris referred to the Order of Business and it was my understanding that the group leaders had agreed that, when we have a Friday sitting, we will not have an Order of Business. That is my understanding but Senator Norris has difficulty with it. I understand others also have difficulty with it. I have business ordered and Ministers in place for next Friday. I will do something similar next Friday but I would like to get the opinions of Members who feel we should have an Order of Business. If the leaders cannot speak for their groups-----
I am interested in the views of all Members. Moreover, I am certainly willing to facilitate the taking of an Order of Business on future Friday sittings, if that is what Senators wish. I hope to receive 59 e-mails or telephone calls from Senators in the coming days indicating their preferences for Friday sittings, whether there should be an Order of Business and so on.
Senator David Cullinane referred to the 12 July celebrations taking place today in the North. I hope respect will be shown for all traditions on this and all occasions. I agree it is vital that we have dialogue in regard to contentious parades.
Senator Michael D'Arcy referred to the possible dangers of athletes consuming high-energy drinks prior to participating in physical activity. I will raise that matter with the Minister with a view to having a debate in the House in due course.
Senator Pat O'Neill asked about the appeals system in respect of applications for the school transport scheme. Perhaps the Senator will submit a request for an Adjournment debate on the issue, which would afford an opportunity for the relevant Minister to furnish him with all the information he requires.
Senators Paschal Mooney and Mary Moran asked about services for people with disabilities. The report of the value for money review, under the chairmanship of Mr. Laurence Crowley, will be published shortly. I hope to have a debate on the findings of that report when we return in the autumn. I note Senator Moran's comments in regard to Irish language camps.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the work programme for the European Presidency. I agree that we should select some of the issues included in the programme for debate in the House in the autumn.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 18 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jillian van Turnhout, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Katherine Zappone)
Against the motion: 30 (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, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Ned O'Sullivan; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 17 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White)
Against the motion: 32 (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, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Norris and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 32 (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, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, John Kelly, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan, Katherine Zappone)
Against the motion: 16 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Ned O'Sullivan.
Question declared carried.