Wednesday, 18 July 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on developments in the European Union and Ireland's Presidency of the European Council from January to June 2013, to be taken at 12 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, which can be shared, the contribution from one Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed three minutes and the Taoiseach to be called on to reply no later than 1.25 p.m.; No. 2, the Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3.30 p.m.; No. 3, European Arrest Warrant (Application to Third Countries and Amendment) and Extradition (Amendment) Bill 2012 - Committee and remaining Stages to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.30 p.m.; and No. 22, motion No. 10, Private Members' business, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m.
Today the long-awaited report on pyrite will be made public, which I welcome. I have not seen the report yet but I thank the Leader of the House for continually following up on the issue. The House will see on tomorrow's Order Paper that I published a Bill which is designed to extend the Statute of Limitations for individuals who are in difficulty because of pyrite. I will move that Bill in September, subject to seeing what is contained in the report. Perhaps a recommendation for such an extension is already there. I ask the Leader to ensure in early September, when the House reconvenes, that sufficient time is set aside to examine the report and its recommendations. As I have stated in this House before, over 70,000 households, predominantly in Dublin and on the east coast of the country, are affected. I would be grateful if the Leader could organise a debate for the new session.
Yesterday I tabled an amendment to the Order of Business. I am not proposing to table any amendments today because the Taoiseach is expected in the House at 12 noon and not because of Senator Zappone's little slap yesterday.
The HSE overspend currently stands at €281 million and I note today that its chief executive is stepping down. I would like to know why that is the case. Was he requested to do so by the Government or did Mr. Magee feel that he could not continue to serve in the HSE? I believe all Members are concerned that we have had a €281 million overspend in five months, which is projected to be more than half a billion by the end of the year.
I have also received notice from Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to clarify that the future of the Malin Head coastguard station is secure in light of the Fisher Report recommendations.
Tomorrow, on the last sitting day of the House this session, we will be taking Second Stage of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012, which is six or seven months late. The Government has already projected savings on the HSE budget on the basis of reductions in the price of medical supplies. When will these savings be implemented? Yesterday I pointed out that nearly 40% of the beds in Thurles community hospital are being closed because the Minister for Health and his Department are not managing the health budget. It has already been proven that they are not up to the job. What is the timeframe for the passing of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012 and when does the Government intend to make savings in this area? Will we have to wait until next year? I ask the Leader to clarify with the Minister for Health that he made a promise on 9 November 2011 to the community group from Thurles that the beds would be reopened in January 2012 and to confirm whether he made the promise in front of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, and other Deputies from the constituency.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in our next session on reform of the structure of the courts following from the Cabinet announcement yesterday in this regard. Reform of the courts is long overdue. The Courts Service pointed out in its annual report that 500 cases are now being heard by the Supreme Court annually, which is beyond the court's capacity. Some 18% of those cases involve lay litigants, who take up particular time, and it is clear that a court of appeal is needed. We should debate the issue in this House, however, because the proposal agreed by the Cabinet was for a court of civil appeal. It is equally, if not more, pressing that we establish a permanently constituted court of criminal appeal. Such a court was envisaged in legislation as far back as 1995 but has not yet been established. As a result concerns have arisen about inconsistencies in appeal court judgments and these are contributing to a lengthy case list and delays in the Supreme Court.
I am delighted that the Minister for Justice and Equality has also proposed to change the nature of the judicial oath to enable individuals to make secular declarations as well as religious oaths. We should also consider changing the presidential oath to allow incumbents the choice of making a secular declaration if they so wish. A number of interesting and positive recommendations have been tabled and it would be worthwhile to debate them in this House before we see the shape of the referendum so that we can influence the changes.
I also call for a debate on prisons in the next session, including in particular the report on penal reform which the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will publish by the end of the year. We paid a stimulating and informative visit to Wheatfield Prison yesterday, where we heard about the Samaritans listener service. This is an innovative suicide and self-harm prevention programme run within the prison community. I pay tribute to the prisoners trained as peer listeners who provide an important service in almost half of the State's prisons. We should support the roll-out of the service by the Samaritans across other prisons. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who was with us on the visit, was very supportive of the service.
Senator Bacik referred to the proposals for constitutional change, many of which I support. There has also been considerable discussion of the constitutional convention. However, we seem to have forgotten the need for a referendum on children's rights. I thank the large number of my colleagues who attended the briefing this morning by the Children's Rights Alliance on why we need an amendment to strengthen children's rights in the Constitution, which I organised. The Kilkenny incest report of 1993 and all the subsequent reports elicited phrases such as horror and shock but they also signposted the need to strengthen children's rights in the Constitution. Without a constitutional framework it will not be possible to make consistent judgments to uphold the best interests of children, hear their voices and treat them equally. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come before the House without delay. The clock is ticking. It is easy to say it will be done in the autumn but referendums take time to prepare. This is a referendum which has received all-party support but in order to maintain that support the Minister needs to show us her plans for the referendum, including the precise timeline, so that we can coalesce around it.
A particular issue arises for the approximately 2,000 children in long-term foster care who are not eligible for adoption at present because of the Constitution. When these children turn 18 and blow out their birthday candles, they blow out any right to be adopted. We can speak about theory and waiting to deal with a complex issue but children's lives are directly affected. It is a call to action and I ask the Minister to discuss it in this House. Over the past five years we have held five referendums. I fear that all the talk of new referendums will mean that children are once again being told to sit in the corner and wait their turn. That is no longer acceptable. On several occasions in recent months I have called for the Minister to come to the House to deal with a variety of issues. However, I put this issue at the top of my list and I ask that a date be arranged for a debate on it.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality on a proposed referendum on the structure of the courts. It would be excellent if a debate was arranged in this House on what is being proposed. Some of the constitutional changes would be very welcome and I also welcome the despatch with which the Minister has proceeded on the recommendation of the Chief Justice only a few weeks ago regarding a referendum to establish a court of appeal. I agree with Senator Bacik on the provision of choice in making a judicial oath. This is one of the areas in which it is legitimate to speak about choice. I would support such a change, as I would in respect of the presidential oath.
I am concerned, however, about the suggestion that the Supreme Court could be put in the position whereby it may reject a referral from the President. The power to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality is one of the two absolutely discretionary powers vested in the President. It is not something that Presidents do lightly. They do not often refer Bills and when they do so they make the decision only after consulting the Council of State. It is somewhat insulting to the institution of the President and the deliberative approach we expect to be taken in these matters to suggest that the Supreme Court could reject such a solemn exercise of its functions by saying there is no basis for the referral. That is not something which should be in the Supreme Court's power. We must take the Office of the President, the Council of State and the consultative process seriously and if a President deems that an issue arises in respect of a Bill and wants to refers it to Supreme Court either to put the public's mind at ease or to clarify genuine doubts about the direction that the Oireachtas has taken it is entirely appropriate that he or she should have that discretion. The Supreme Court should act accordingly and that should be the end of the matter. I do not understand why it is suggested that the Supreme Court should be put in the position of rejecting such referrals.
The Irish Times does not go so far as to say so but it portrays the constitutional convention as a bit of a joke. While I will co-operate with the convention and I welcome the element of public consultation involved, it is not realistic to expect a serious and considered analysis of important aspects of the Constitution in the framework established for it. We now see that the Government is not serious about it because it is proceeding with the separate task of proposing constitutional changes. Some of those constitutional changes involve the Executive arrogating too much power to itself. That is another day's debate, however. One certainly sees the lack of seriousness with which the Government regards the constitutional convention, which is a pity in hindsight. I hope there will be time to have a debate on the convention before we reconvene in September.
Like the previous Senator who spoke about the referendum on children's rights, everybody in the House has mentioned that subject. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has made a commitment that the referendum will be held as a stand-alone one. She also said that political parties and other interested groups will be consulted. It takes time to get the wording right, but the commitment is definitely there for the autumn. Knowing the Minister, I know that I will not have to eat my words because she has said it repeatedly. She has made it her priority since taking office.
I wish to raise again the issue of the junior pilots' training college in Waterford, the PTA, which has folded. I wish to welcome two of the trainee pilots concerned who are in the Visitors Gallery. There is a picket outside Leinster House today and they are seeking a meeting with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Varadkar. I understand he is abroad but I ask the Leader to arrange a meeting between the Minister and the pilots with the Irish Aviation Authority also. The authority has overall power in this matter, so it is important that both the Minister and the IAA should meet the students. It is the least they deserve after putting so much money into the course. Some people are €80,000 out of pocket having taken out loans.
I understand that some of the students were advised by the IAA to continue their studies in Florida. Now, however, the IAA has said the expiry date for getting flights refunded is 31 July. Therefore those who were advised by the IAA to stay on and continue their course may not have their flights refunded. I want to ensure that all those students get their flights refunded and get their education costs reimbursed or else continue the course with some other college.
Pilot training is so important because we put our lives in their hands when travelling by air. The same applies to doctors. Look at all the money we put into training medical students. These student pilots are not seeking hand-outs, they want a leg up but have been denied it. Perhaps the Leader could meet the two pilot representatives here later if he has anything to tell them.
As I was travelling up on the M9 yesterday, I had an opportunity to listen to the radio. The first thing that came to mind was the beautiful highway which has added significantly to the competitiveness of our economy. It is a tribute to the vision which was invested in road infrastructure, particularly over the last 15, 16 or 17 years. Part of the news bulletin identified the €2.25 billion capital injection which the Government is now undertaking. It struck me that in the last budget, of which I was very critical, the soft option of removing €750 million from the capital programme, in addition to what the previous Government had already set out in the four-year programme, was a significant factor in reducing investment and competitiveness, as well as failing to create jobs in the short term.
I welcome what is being done, although the timeframe is too long. We will still be down hundreds of millions in investment in infrastructure this year and in 2013 and 2014, due to the decision to cut capital expenditure in the last budget. It is important for reality to bite home in that regard.
The second issue I wish to refer to came up next on the radio. It dealt with a report by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell who has spent some days on the streets of our capital city, including O'Connell Street and adjoining streets. Her report was an appalling portrayal of lawlessness in the capital. She spoke about drug abuse and drug pushing, and how they interfere with citizens. She also talked about the level of drunkenness and the interference with tourists in the capital from whom property was stolen. It begged the question as to what gardaí are doing. The management of gardaí within the system must be held to account. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House for a debate on this matter. There may well be a need for a municipal police force here.
I commend Senator O'Donnell for a very incisive report. Nonetheless it was a very sad reflection on our capital city. We should not tolerate this situation or allow it to continue.
Yesterday, the time allocated for the Order of Business expired before I had an opportunity to contribute. With your permission, a Chathaoirligh, I will return to a topic that Senator Whelan and others have raised, which is this country's policy on alcohol. I support the proposals by the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, to address the unhealthy relationship we have with alcohol.
Senator Barrett raised an interesting point yesterday in stating that in recent years, sales of alcohol have decreased and presumably alcohol consumption along with that. Yet alcohol remains associated with a range of social ills, including suicide, according to the report that was published earlier this week. We have also seen alcohol linked to street violence, public disorder, anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse and a range of other issues. The element of the debate that Senator Barrett raised points to the complexities and nuances which a debate on alcohol misuse presents to us as a society. I therefore call on the Leader to consider arranging an urgent debate when we come back in September to discuss this matter in all its complexity.
I rise again to ask the Leader to make time available, today if possible, for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Varadkar, to attend the House for a debate on the trainee pilot debacle. We must address the issues that have confronted these students who would prefer to be doing their pilot training in Florida or elsewhere rather than picketing Leinster House today with their families. It is a disgrace. Has the Minister discussed the matter with the Garda Síochána and, if so, has he considered bringing in the fraud squad? I have heard from reliable sources that a month before the situation became impossible in Florida, and when the Florida Institute of Technology called off the training programme because it was owed over $1.5 million, sums of money were accepted by the company concerned. Where is the corporate governance involved here?
As the Leader said yesterday, the Minister did respond to me but his response was like a Cesc FÀbregas pass - the ball went a long way. I raised 15 questions and with all due respect, most of the Minister's response was to defend the role of Enterprise Ireland. I have no problem with its role but the stark reality is that when I raised this matter twice last week and called for a vote, my colleagues on the Government benches decided to obey the Whip and vote down my proposals for an emergency debate.
These young people want to complete their training at no extra cost to them or their families. I am deeply concerned that there has been deception and fraudulent conversion of money that was paid over in good faith in recent months. The IAA should have known there were problems and even if it did, its light-touch regulation let it down and not for the first time. The Taoiseach is attending the House later today but I am appealing for a debate on the trainee pilot situation. I am therefore proposing, for the third time, an amendment to the Order of Business to invite the Minister, Deputy Varadkar - or if he is not available then another senior Minister, perhaps the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn - to explain what has gone wrong.
It is a shameful state of affairs that our own students have been forced to picket Leinster House having lost substantial sums of money. It is a disgrace and is a shame on our heads. We should have an emergency debate on it today. I have been seeking this for almost three weeks and have been given the push-off or the long pass like Cesc FÀbregas, the great Spanish midfielder. I have been getting no answers but these students deserve answers today.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to examine the plight of workers in some call centres. We have made great play of attracting foreign direct investment and creating employment in call centres. However, the stark reality is that some employees are being very badly treated. The health and safety guidelines that pertain to employees in call centres are not being implemented. People are being denied the basic right to use the toilet during their working time. They are being confined to their desks for periods of time that are considerably longer than those specified in the guidelines. People in many call centres are suffering from back strain, repetitive strain injury, stress, etc. Workers in this area have a basic right to be treated properly, and the health and safety guidelines should be adhered to. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, examine the guidelines set out in this area which pertain to office work in general and not specifically to call centres which is the big problem. Having examined them, he should replace them with guidelines that reflect the type of working conditions experienced by these people.
This week Social Justice Ireland published figures indicating that budget 2012 imposed the greatest income reduction on people who already had the lowest incomes. The poorest households experienced a reduction of 2% to 2.5%, while the wealthiest lost less than 1%. Regressive indirect taxes such as the increase in VAT, against which I argued in this House, along with cuts in welfare supports have disproportionately impacted the people who could bear it least.
Later today I look forward to welcoming the Taoiseach to the Chamber, as I know all of us do, and debating EU matters with him. One of the issues I wish to raise with him is Europe 2020, the European Commission's growth strategy. Many Members will be aware that one of the main objectives of the strategy is to reduce the number people living in poverty in Europe by 20 million by 2020. The Commission's social protection committee has highlighted that this poverty reduction target is not on track. The European Anti-Poverty Network stated this week that current approaches to economic governance are undermining this strategy. The Government here has recently revised downwards its poverty-target commitments under the programme. A change of approach is needed at EU and national level. We have had seven years of fiscal adjustment in successive budgets in which choices were made. Different choices within the confines of the fiscal discipline with which we are faced could have better protected those who are at most risk of poverty. Inclusive growth not only encourages employment, but also aims to achieve social cohesion, a phrase we have not heard often enough recently. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House for a debate in the autumn on the Government's anti-poverty measures and targets in the run-up to Ireland's EU Presidency and also budget 2013.
While I know I said it last week, I again offer my sympathy to the trainee pilots who have been landed in a dreadful situation through no fault of their own. Last night I spoke to the mother of one of the trainee pilots affected. She related to me harrowing tales of the sacrifices they had made for their children in terms of money, investments, remortgaging the house, etc. They will demonstrate outside the gates of Leinster House today and on a cross-party basis we should support them.
I also wish to raise something I mentioned on yesterday's Order of Business. Last week, it was reported that there were 190 deaths by suicide in County Cork between September 2008 and March 2011. I refer to just one aspect of the report which could be echoed throughout the country. It discovered that in the year before their death more than 80% of the people studied had been in contact with their GP and the majority had contacted their GP four or more times in the year before their death. This highlights a major issue that needs to be investigated. This disturbing statistic demonstrates the need for more awareness among GPs and health officials to recognise the signs that people may be in danger of showing suicide tendencies. I welcome the initiative by the National Office for Suicide Prevention, which is in the process of implementing training for GPs. However, people who are known to suffer from depression or who have attempted suicide should have greater access to aftercare. I recently spoke to a person who spent 11 weeks under the care of a consultant who then discharged him into the care of a registrar on leaving hospital with no follow-up treatment.
I am coming to my question. I am concerned that people who suffer from depression may not seek the care or have the confidence to seek the care they need and bring up the subject with their GP. Greater training in the skills of recognising the signs of depression could go a long way towards saving the lives of vulnerable people.
I ask the Leader to pass on to the Minister for Education and Skills my congratulations on the decision to develop the Grangegorman site for the Dublin Institute of Technology. It is important that this important educational institution should be brought together and concentrated on a very fine campus on which there is room for expansion. That decision has certain implications. A number of the buildings are out of date and not in good condition. However, at least one is a significant building, which is the school of catering in Cathal Brugha Street. It is one of three extraordinarily fine art deco buildings in Dublin and I hope it will be preserved as has the former Gas Company headquarters, which is now the school of nursing for Trinity College, and the building housing the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation across the road from this building, which is a superb building. We have three very fine art deco buildings and I hope the third one will be preserved following the move.
There is another implication. Regrettably, but I suppose understandably, the Minister for Health has again had to postpone a decision on the site of the new national children's hospital. This is a very urgent issue. I regret that both Houses will have risen when this decision will be announced. I have been lobbied by a number of groups, all of which present good cases for particular sites. There is a suggestion that the Mater hospital site is still in play. If this is the one that is chosen, taking that in conjunction with Grangegorman, it will mean considerable location of new developments on the north side of the city, which will have implication for possible reconsideration of the metro project given that the Government has committed itself to capital projects in so far as it is able to get the finance. Finance is - or at least was - partially available through the European Union and at one stage the Japanese Mitsui Corporation was lined up to take a considerable amount of that charge. If in addition to these two projects we could get more people back to work on this project, it would be very welcome.
I also welcome yesterday's Cabinet approval for the proposals of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on the reorganising of the court structure and in particular the provision of a court of civil appeal and a unified family court system which should make the process less costly and bureaucratic for families in dispute. There was reference to the power of the President to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court and the possibility that the need for EU treaty referendums could be avoided. There is obviously considerable room for manoeuvre in this regard. This matter could lead to a useful debate and I recommend the Leader provides for that debate early in the new session.
I wish to raise the issue of the student pilots left stranded in Florida after their training was suspended. A number of issues in this regard need to be discussed, including the Irish Aviation Authority and the light touch regulation mentioned earlier, the company involved in pilot training and its funding. There is also an issue with regard to the fact that Enterprise Ireland has invested significant amounts of taxpayers' money in the company. There is no issue with regard to investing, but the problem is that now that the company has gone belly-up and the pilots have been left stranded, there is an added responsibility on the State to ensure that the pilots get proper compensation and are permitted to finish their courses, which is most important. I support the call for a debate on this issue. It would be wrong for these Houses to rise for the summer recess without any debate on this issue.
The immediate and most pressing issue concerns what practical supports can be given to the trainee pilots over the coming weeks and months. It will be too late if we return in September for a discussion on this issue. It must be dealt with now as it is an urgent priority. The pressing priority for the trainee pilots is that they be permitted to finish their courses. I welcome the fact that the Irish Aviation Authority has offered to pay for flights home for them, but with the caveats already mentioned by Senator Keane. These pilots simply want to finish their courses and that is the issue that needs to be resolved. It is there that the main responsibility of the State lies. There are also wider issues concerning the regulation of this area, the light touch regulation and issues such as the financing of the company. These issues need to be addressed in the medium to long term, but the short-term priority for the Government must be to do what it can to support the trainee pilots and ensure they can finish their courses. I ask for a debate on this in the next number of days, before the recess.
I, too, share the concerns of Senators O'Donovan, Keane and Cullinane with regard to the trainee pilots. I would like to welcome to the Visitors' Gallery two young neighbours of mine from Laois who are caught up in this debacle, Cathal Simpson from Stradbally and Mark Ryan from Portlaoise. There is no point in playing games or politics here or in pretending that having a debate here and dragging the Minister to the House will help anybody. There is no need for a debate. There is nothing to debate. Everyone is agreed on what needs to be done. We need the Minister to meet the families and the trainee pilots and to resolve the issue. So, let us stop show-boating and let us stop pretending that by dragging him in here we are helping anyone.
To give credit where it is due, the Irish Aviation Authority intervened this week and flew the last of the cadets home. I have been told by the cadets they were well treated and that Aer Lingus could not have been more co-operative or courteous, and it is important to acknowledge that.
The trainee pilots are seriously out of pocket and some of them are within touching distance, some by days or weeks, of completing their training. This is the issue the Minister must tackle. He has a responsibility in the matter because the Irish Aviation Authority endorsed the training college. We have a responsibility to the students and that is the problem that needs to be resolved. There is no point in pretending that anything else will help.
It is unfortunate that the families and the trainee pilots have to be dragged up to Dublin today to protest in order to get justice and a fair response. That is the situation and I ask the Leader to intervene and appeal to the Minister to meet the families on his return to the country to resolve this problem once and for all. It is a manageable problem as there are only 40 trainee pilots affected. Therefore, the cost would not be exorbitant or open-ended. It is an issue that can be solved. Where there is a will, there is a way. Therefore, the Minister can do this.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business. It is an indictment of the way we do business and of the two Chambers of the Oireachtas that the young trainee pilots and their families find it necessary to come to the gates of parliament to highlight a plight not of their making. These young people could just as easily have wallowed in the demoralisation which comes with recession and high unemployment, but instead they showed ambition, vision and courage to pursue a difficult career. It is important that bureaucracy, demarcation of duties or responsibilities or passing the buck should not become an obstacle to these people receiving fair play and justice. This should be a given for them. These young people are role models for all the young people who find things difficult at this time. I am thinking of the thousands of young people who have had to emigrate from Ireland.
The families of the young trainee pilots have had to invest heavily in their training and have had to borrow to do so. These families must be absolutely disillusioned and frustrated at this stage. There have been some great contributions to the debate since it was initiated by Senator Denis O'Donovan and I am delighted the issue is being kept alive. The problem is that this issue will go below the radar very quickly and these families will have to go back and face what may be ruination. Then these young people will feel that they do not really matter to their government, to us as legislators or to the general public. If we do the right thing in this case, that will impact on other issues facing us and some positivity will come out with regard to how we respond to problems. I plead with the House not to ignore young people of the calibre of these trainee pilots. If we ignore them, we are not doing what is right and are doing further damage to the morale of the nation.
I support the call for every effort to be made to resolve the trainee pilot situation. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Government did not cause this problem. I have no doubt but that the Minister will meet the trainee pilots and I hope a satisfactory solution can be found. What the cadets require is the facility to complete their training, but the issue of the moneys lost is another part of the problem. I join the call to the Leader to ask the Minister to meet the trainee pilots and deal with the issue as a matter of urgency. I do not doubt he will as he is approachable and I am sure he understands the difficulties. He will be encouraged by the all-party support for the plight of the young trainee pilots.
I welcome all the good work the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is doing, in particular, the announcement he made yesterday with regard to the senior appointments he has made within the management ranks of the Garda Síochána. Previous speakers have spoken about the difficulties we have in this country and the high levels of crime in our cities and throughout the country. It is imperative the Garda Síochána is well structured and that a management structure is in place to ensure citizens get the best security they deserve. I support the call made by my colleagues for a debate on lawlessness and on alcohol related crime. I am sure the Minister would like this House to participate in that debate and that we work together to improve the justice system, now that he has put in place a strong and robust management structure.
I support the Senators who have intervened on behalf of the trainee pilots. The State has a duty to pursue where the money has gone in this case and to consider some kind of loan finance so that they can complete their training for their careers and pay off their debts. I rose, in fact, to ask the Leader about No. 17 on the Order Paper. The Fiscal Responsibility (Statement) Bill 2011 was debated in the Seanad in December last and supported on all sides of the House. I thank all Senators for that. The Department of Finance has failed to come up with its version of the Bill. As a term when strong debates in Irish took place comes to an end, my question about the Department of Finance's fiscal responsibility Bill is, cá bhfuil sé?
I welcome the €2.25 billion stimulus package announced yesterday by the Government and agree with Senator Norris's observation on the centralisation of the Dublin Institute of Technology in Grangegorman and the number of jobs that will create.
Senator Norris also mentioned the new paediatric hospital. The children's hospital in Crumlin was designed in 1936 and eventually opened 20 years later in 1956. Tallaght Hospital took 18 years from design until it opened. Over the past ten years or so, acrimonious debates on the new national paediatric hospital have taken place on the airwaves, in newspapers and in the Houses of the Oireachtas. A number of months ago, An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission for the new children's hospital in the area of the Mater Hospital, for obvious reasons.
It was encouraging that the Minister for Health initiated a new task force to find a solution to this problem. I understood the task force was to report to the Cabinet by 25 May, which is almost two months ago, but so far no report has been made. I understand the task force received approximately 40 submissions and heard approximately 20 interest groups. Today, I learned it will be September before the task force reports to the Cabinet. If history repeats itself, it will be 2020 before we have a new national paediatric hospital.
Every year, 120,000 children go through Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and approximately 60,000 children go through Temple Street Children's Hospital. Children's hospitals now have waiting lists. I think it would be appropriate to call on the Minister for Health, not to tell us the location of the new children's hospital but to explain the delay in presenting the report to the Cabinet.
I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach will come to the House this afternoon. I thank the Leader for arranging that debate and I look forward to hearing the Taoiseach's contribution.
Last March, the Government took a decision to close Army barracks in Clonmel, Mullingar and Castlebar, as well as Dún Uí Néill Barracks in Cavan town. We were told these were cost saving measures. This morning, I renew my call, which I have made on many occasions, for Dún Uí Néill Barracks, the most modern barracks in Europe, to be reopened, in light of the significant threat from dissidents located just seven miles up the road. The threat is not only to the Border region but to the security of the State.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, and Defence, to the House to outline the cost savings that have been made to date by the closure of barracks in Clonmel, Mullingar, Castlebar and Cavan and his proposals for the disposal of the properties. I qualify my request by saying I would object to the Minister's disposing of Dún Uí Néill Barracks. I want it reopened. Nevertheless, what proposals does the Minister have for the disposal of the other barracks? Could the Minister, at least, send someone to Cavan to cut the grass and weeds which are now six feet high. This modern barracks which was well maintained until it was closed is now an eyesore at the approach to Cavan town. What are the Minister and the Department of Defence planning to do about these barracks?
Other Senators have mentioned the Government's stimulus package but I will touch on it also. We now know more detail of the €2.25 billion that will span until 2018. I have reservations about the package. I see Senator Gilroy is shocked by that.
The package is a fudge. The capital budget will be cut by €755 million in 2012, and the Government has already announced its intention to cut the capital spend by €560 million in 2013 and by €120 million in 2014. We are told the package will create 13,000 jobs. In the programme for Government, the Government undertook to have 100,000 more people in work by 2016.
The projects announced are worthy and there are many others throughout the State that have not made the list.
There is a need for a real stimulus package with more funds behind it that would go further toward filling the gaps in health, education, energy and vital infrastructure. Nearly 200,000 people are long-term unemployed. This announcement is too late for people who are on the dole or who have already left the State, as mentioned by Senator Ó Murchú.
Will there be social and labour clauses within the public procurement contracts, giving some assurance that thousands of people will be taken off the live register as a result of this stimulus package? Even if the package creates only a minor stimulus, will it include clauses to ensure that social and labour standards are upheld by contractors?
I could not talk about unemployment without mentioning youth unemployment. Can the Leader guarantee the House that the Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise will come to the Seanad as soon as we resume after the summer recess to talk about youth unemployment and emigration?
Like others, I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the issue of pilot training. How did the Irish Aviation Authority give a clean bill of health to the company concerned a few months ago?
I renew my call for a debate on repairing the democratic deficit. Last week, we saw the democratically elected Údarás na Gaeltachta being abolished. We hear town councils are to be got rid of and county councillors throughout the country will see their numbers reduced. The number of Dáil Deputies is to be reduced and the future of the Seanad is in doubt. When, under the Lisbon treaty, 139 pieces of proposed legislation were sent to the parliaments of member states, 428 submissions were made by those parliaments but Ireland only managed to make one submission. The former Joint Committee on European Scrutiny estimated that 75% of Irish legislation is made by Ministers signing statutory instruments to give effect to EU legislation and is not debated here, in the Dáil or in committees.
For example, we have had four years in which to bring the EU organ transplantation regulation into Irish law. The four years will be up in August. The Minister will sign this into Irish law as he heads out the door for the summer. Organ transplantation is a serious issue but no one in this House or in the Dáil can even get a draft of the legislation. When the Minister signs the document it will become law and we will not see it.
How many times does that happen in a given year? It happens about 150 times. The Seanad passes 50 Bills a year but there is no mechanism to debate this measure or other such issues.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on repairing the democratic deficit. It is clear to anyone that the system is not working if a law on such an important matter as organ transplantation can be passed without a word of debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I support what Senator Daly said about organ transplantation. A Private Members' Bill on the matter was adjourned. I am amazed that we are going ahead without any discussion of the issue. We have looked for the opportunity to discuss it yet new legislation on organ transplants is being imposed without this opportunity for discussion.
I add my words of congratulations regarding yesterday's decision to develop a campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology at Grangegorman and to which Senator Norris referred. This is a very welcome decision and I am pleased that it will go ahead as this move has been announced about six times over recent years. I have a concern about the length of time it takes to get things done in this State. It is very frustrating. The students in the Dublin Institute of Technology have never had the opportunity to vote in the Seanad elections and neither do those in the University of Limerick nor in DCU. It is good news that DCU is now co-operating with the Dundalk Institute of Technology in order to grant degrees. Some very good developments are happening in third level education. However, a referendum was held in 1979 to enable graduates of those institutions to vote in the Seanad elections but it has never happened. I hope the Seanad will not be abolished but if we manage to convince the Government that the Seanad should not be abolished, let us make sure that at least those third level graduates who have been disenfranchised will be given the vote.
Senator Darragh O'Brien rightly raised the issue of pyrite and the report. I understand the report will be published today. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the recommendations of the report early in the new term. The Minister will speak about the report's recommendations today but I hope he will come to the House for a debate.
I refer to the news that the chief executive officer of the HSE is stepping down. I am not aware of the circumstances so I will not comment. Senators Bacik, Mullins and Coghlan asked about the reform of the courts structures announced by the Minister for Justice and Equality. We can have a debate on this matter in the new term. Senator Bacik referred to the report of the justice committee on penal reform. I hope the House will keep the Minister for Justice and Equality very busy in the new term. Senator van Turnhout and others asked about the children's rights referendum. To the best of my knowledge, the Government is totally committed that this referendum will definitely go ahead this year and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, will be in the House in September and there will be an opportunity for Senator van Turnhout to raise the many points she has raised on several occasions on the Order of Business over recent weeks.
Senators Keane, O'Donovan, Cullinane, Whelan, Ó Murchú, Mullins, Barrett and others, asked about the pilot training college. I fully understand the frustration of the students and their parents as they face uncertainty. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has been working with the Irish Aviation Authority and he has focused on securing the training records of all students so that all flight and ground training carried out to date in Florida will be credited towards the students' final qualifications, where possible. He is ensuring that the IAA works with other flight training centres to explore ways of facilitating the students to complete their training elsewhere either in Florida or in Ireland and that every effort is made to ensure as reasonable a cost as possible. The Minister and the chief executive officer of the IAA are agreeable to meeting representatives of the pilots and their families on Friday morning. I hope this will allow for the withdrawal of the amendment to the Order of Business. It is hoped an amicable solution will be possible.
Senator Walsh asked about the budget and the capital programme. The €17 billion capital programme plan was based on what the country could afford and this was announced in the budget for 2012. The additional stimulus of more than €2 billion is welcomed by everyone. Obviously the Government would like to pump in more money but the money is not available. However, we are still committed to €17 billion in addition to the €2.5 billion of a stimulus package which it is hoped will get people off the live register and back to work. This Government's first priority is job creation and getting people back to work. The stimulus programme will help in that regard.
Senator Gilroy and other Senators asked that the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall come to the House to discuss the problem of alcohol abuse, the question of the sale of alcohol and the problems over recent weeks. The Minister of State will be in the House before the end of September.
Senator Landy asked about health and safety matters and the working conditions in call centres. I am surprised that Senator Landy did not raise this question when we were discussing the Industrial Relations Bill recently as this issue should have been raised-----
I will take on board what Senator Landy has stated. I acknowledge he only learned about this situation in recent days but it is a pity that the points could not have been made during discussion of the Industrial Relations Bill.
Senator Zappone's point about poverty was also raised yesterday by Senator Cullinane. The Minister for Social Protection will be in the House on 11 October to address these points. The Government is taxing wealth but people argue that this Government is not taxing wealth. I refer to some of the key measures for the taxation of wealth in last year's budget. Taxes were all increased to 30% including capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and the deposit interest retention tax. The tax-free thresholds for capital acquisition tax have been reduced to take account of the fall in asset values over the past number of years. This Government is applying a balanced approach. We will have a debate with the Minister for Social Protection for two and a half hours on 11 October next.
Senator Moran asked for a debate on the Cork report on suicide deaths and we can have a debate early in the new term. Senator Norris and other Senators welcomed the development of the Grangegorman site. It looks like it will go ahead at this stage. He also asked about the preservation of the Art Deco buildings. Senator Norris also asked about linking up the national children's hospital and the metro project so that more jobs could be created. The aim of the Government is to promote joined-up thinking in the creation of jobs.
Senator Mullins welcomed the promotions in the Garda Síochána and the improvement in the management structures as a result. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, will come to the House to discuss law and order, penal reform and the other issues mentioned by Senators.
In response to Senator Barrett, I will find out about the status of the fiscal responsibility Bill and revert to him.
Senator Eamon Coghlan also raised the question of the national children's hospital and the delay with the report. I will raise that matter with the Minister for Health. It is unacceptable to have further delays with this. Work must commence on the national children's hospital. The process has been dragging on for far too long and I agree it is unacceptable to have further delays with this report.
Senator Wilson raised the issue of Cavan barracks, which he has raised on many previous occasions, and the threat of dissidents. That threat always remains, especially in the Border area, and I will ascertain from the Minister the situation regarding the sale of that barracks.
Senator Reilly referred to the stimulus package and youth unemployment. I am told that youth unemployment is under the remit of the Minister for Social Protection so we will be able to address that point when the Minister comes to the House. It is a matter the Senator has raised on several occasions.
Senator Daly spoke about the scrutiny of EU legislation. I totally agree with the Senator in that regard and I intend to address the matter in my few words to the Taoiseach when he is in the House later.
Senator Quinn referred to the delays in making things happen. We all get frustrated in that regard but, hopefully, the Senator will have the opportunity to mention that to the Taoiseach also.
Senator Denis O'Donovan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, that a debate on the need to resolve the problems being encountered by the trainee pilots who were attending a flight school in Florida be taken today. Is the amendment being pressed?
No, in view of the commitment given by the Leader that the Minister will meet with the trainee pilots on Friday morning. I have no wish to be political on this issue as it is a very sad affair. I respect what the Leader has said and I hope there will be a positive outcome. However, perhaps the Leader could find out where the $15 million went. It is something I would like to know.