Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re revision of Standing Orders (Private Business), to be taken without debate; No. 2, statements on the Action Plan for Jobs, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed three minutes and the Minister to be called on not later than 4.50 p.m. and on which Senators may share time; No. 3, Fiscal Responsibility Bill 2012 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 8 p.m.
Will the Leader state the Government's position and policy on advertising vacancies in Departments and State agencies? There is an unbelievable situation. Last week I raised the issue of the appointment by the Tánaiste of his fourth special adviser at a cost of more than ¤80,000 a year, bringing to more than ¤500,000 a year the total cost of his special advisers. The most recent appointee is a media adviser. We find out with great interest today that the Tánaiste?s wife who will cease working in the VEC when it is disbanded has been given a position, starting from next year, with his Labour Party colleague-----
I do, if I am allowed to ask it. What is the Government?s policy on advertising job vacancies within the public and Civil Service? Is it Government policy to appoint an individual without there being any public advertising of the job and an individual to a position in the Department of a Labour Party colleague? Furthermore, will the Leader confirm that the Minister for Education and Skills knew nothing about the issue and that neither did the Tánaiste whose wife has been appointed as a special policy adviser from January to work with the Minister for Education and Skills?
I have asked the Leader to confirm the Government's position on advertising posts publicly. Is it the Government's position that vacancies should be advertised? If it is the Government's policy to advertise vacancies in the civil and public service why, in this instance, did no advertising or interviews take place? Basically, a Labour Party crony has been appointed to a ¤90,000 a year job to work with a colleague of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the relevant Department.
-----I have not impugned anyone's reputation, their experience or whatever, I am simply asking if it is the Government's policy to advertise vacancies in the civil and public service. If it is the Government's policy to do so, why, in this instance, did no advertising or interviews take place? Who decided to make an appointment without the job vacancy being advertised and an interview process being held? That is a relevant question and if Senator Bacik does not like it, that is tough.
Yes. I have a question for the Leader on a separate matter of national and public importance, namely, the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and its aftermath. Along with thousands of others - and carrying a Labour Party banner - I took part in Saturday's protest march. There is an enormous depth of public feeling, outrage and grief at the tragic circumstances of Ms Halappanavar's death. It is very clear that there is a need for the Government to act and to pass legislation to clarify the grey area that undoubtedly exists for doctors when confronted with situations such as that relating to Ms Halappanavar where the life of the woman is threatened by the continuance of her pregnancy.
I am glad the expert group's report has been published. That report is due to go to Cabinet next week and I expect it to be published immediately thereafter. I hope it will be debated in this and the Lower House. I ask that the Leader expedite matters in the context of holding a debate on the expert group's report in the Seanad in order that we might reach a clear Government decision on the need to legislate. On the latter, there has been some discussion with regard to the passing of secondary legislation or guidelines. From any objective legal analysis, it is very clear that secondary legislation would be subject to legal challenge unless it were introduced under the authority of an item of primary legislation. Such primary legislation does not currently exist. Even if the detailed criteria for doctors in cases such as that of Ms Halappanavar are set out in secondary legislation or are the subject of ministerial order, primary legislation will still be required.
On the specific issue of the tragic death that occurred in Galway University Hospital, I am extremely concerned with regard to the composition of the inquiry team. Savita's husband, Praveen, has also expressed his concern in this regard. He is quite right. The current make-up of the inquiry team is not legally robust. Including three members of staff from Galway University Hospital clearly breaches the legal principle of nemo iudex in causa sua, namely, the rule against bias. Experts from the hospital should not be included on the inquiry team.
Their input could be much more robust as witnesses rather than as members of an inquiry panel who might well be compromised in any litigation. The inquiry must be conducted expeditiously. It seems far too long to suggest that it would take three months. It is clear that there is a need for the Government to move on legislation in the immediate meantime.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 14, the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2012 be taken before No. 1 today. I hope there is consideration of that.
It is time for us to ensure there is a discussion on what is happening in Israel and Gaza at some point, but sooner rather than later. It seems to me that we must find a solution to the horror and terror that is being inflicted in that part of the world. I am sure that it is possible for a country such as this to have an input into the solution. Talks are ongoing in Egypt at the moment and it is hoped to reach a ceasefire, but I am not sure what stage the talks are at currently. It is clear from what it is happening in the Middle East that we could do with having a discussion on it. We should do so shortly.
Another topic we debated in the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation last week was the smuggling of counterfeit tobacco and other items. We have debated the matter previously but there is so much evidence that the Garda or whoever is in charge ? there is a doubt as to whether the drugs squad or the Garda should be tackling the issue ? believe that the penalties suffered by those who are caught smuggling are not in any way commensurate with what is needed. This is a serious problem. I gather that if one goes down Moore Street at the moment almost every second stand has someone selling cigarettes. I gather that cigarettes are sold house-to-house also. The cigarettes are not just smuggled, they are counterfeit. We must take the necessary steps to tackle the issue. Other smuggling is taking place as well but that one needs attention. The Garda have scanners that enable it to identify smuggled cigarettes but only two scanners are available. Investment in a scanner that would identify the location of smuggled tobacco would be worthwhile. I hope we could have a debate on the issue shortly.
-----for telling her story, which must have been difficult for her. True leadership is shown by example. She did herself proud last weekend.
I wish to raise an issue that has come to my attention in recent days, namely, the RTE drama, ?Love/Hate?, and the absolute violence depicted on the programme. I understand that in last Sunday week?s episode a woman was brutally raped and the perpetrator was kicked to death. In last Sunday?s episode two people were murdered in cold blood. It is not for me to say whether it is correct or appropriate that taxpayers? money would be spent on funding such a programme but every now and then it is probably a good idea to have a debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas on standards in the media. There is a school of thought that maintains that such dramas are appropriate because they reflect life in the cities of this country. Others believe that teenagers aged from 12 to 15 are still up after the "Nine O'Clock News" and watch such programmes and will be influenced by them. There is a fine line to be drawn. I accept it is difficult to strike a balance. The programme could serve the purpose of precipitating a debate on such an issue and for us to try to establish what is appropriate. While I commend those in RTE, who by and large do a good job, it is appropriate that we would have a debate on media standards in particular in drama.
Like Senator Quinn I wish to raise the current conflict in Gaza. I note that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, is concerned about the issue.
The situation is deeply serious. We flagged the fact that it was a powder keg ready to explode. There has been continuous conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. One hundred people have died in the bombardment of Gaza, including women and children. Three were killed in Israel. The Dalou family were wiped out by F16 jets on Sunday evening. Jamal Dalou's wife, daughter, sons, brothers, nieces and nephews were all killed. Mr. Dalou survived but 14 were killed in one hit. Some 814 people have been wounded, including 225 children. It is time the European Union took a more active role in the peace process in the region. The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is there and the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is en routebut I have no word of Baroness Catherine Ashton's role on behalf of the European Union. The Minister should ensure that she takes action. The European Union, Ireland included, is a major contributor to humanitarian aid in the Gaza region. The European Union is lax in its reaction in this regard.
The previous invasion of Gaza cost more than 1,000 lives, and if there is another invasion more lives will be lost. We may be a voice crying in the wilderness for a ceasefire, but there must be a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine, a two-state solution. Unless that happens, conflict will be a constant every few years, particularly in advance of the Israeli elections. We must bear in mind that most of the military hardware supplied to Israel comes through the United States of America and other Western countries.
I welcome the announcement by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, that next year's G8 summit will be held at Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. That is a great achievement. It will be great for the country as a whole, as he pointed out this morning. I am delighted to have heard him say that he will promote the South of Ireland as well as the North. I welcome that news.
I am glad my colleagues have raised the situation in the Middle East, which is very troubling indeed. The behaviour of the Israeli government in recent years indicates a kind of malign triumph for Christendom. After 20 centuries of persecution of the Jews, we have managed to drag them down to our own barbaric level. I find it absolutely disgusting. Yesterday one entire family was wiped out. Eleven people were killed, nine of them representing four generations of one family. The Israeli spokesperson described this as a technical error. That has sinister resonances of previous regimes which used this kind of dehumanised language about people. It should not come as any surprise, however. This happened before in Operation Cast Lead, as Israel described it, in which rocket fire had virtually stopped before its actions provoked it again. Mr. Jabari was actually in negotiations with the Israeli authorities when they launched their strike against the people of Gaza who were imprisoned in a ghetto from which they could not escape. My colleague Senator Leyden is right in saying the Americans provided the hardware. Should we be surprised?
The Americans used drones. I have a question for our friends, the Americans, and our friends in Israel. What has happened to judicial process? What has happened to the right to a trial before a life is snuffed out as a result of a decision taken in a secret and private room? There is a double standard, as there was at 9/11 when it was shocking and tragic that 3,000 people were killed. However, what about the hundreds of thousands who were killed in Asia during the Vietnam war? What about the people in Iraq? Are they not human? Do they not bleed as well? Do they not breathe the same air as us? Are their lives not as valuable? I stand in solidarity with Trócaire and Christian Aid, who are doing what they are supposed to do. They are witnesses to the barbarity; they are speaking about it. We neglect this and we cover it over. We conceal and ignore it at their peril. We should beware. The Israelis have a highly sophisticated disinformation service that clearly reaches into the heart of many states, not just the United States but into this State, this Republic of Ireland as well. All people of good conscience, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, should stand up for human rights - not Israeli, not Palestinian - but human rights.
I was honoured to be in the company of Mr. Gerald Kaufman, a distinguished British-Jewish parliamentarian. He took the same view as Trócaire and Christian Aid.
Last week in this House I raised the importance of having an independent inquiry into the case of Savita's death in Galway. On that occasion I called on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health to provide for an independent inquiry in the interest of truth and justice. I am delighted that an inquiry team has been appointed. However, I am disappointed with its composition. One of the requirements set down by the Minister was that the husband of Savita would be involved in the inquiry. Today we learn he has no faith in the HSE. I ask the Leader to intervene to ask the Minister to reconsider the format of the inquiry team and to appoint new members where necessary. In my view, one representative from UCHG is more than adequate on that team. The inquiry report should be produced as quickly as possible. This is a matter of great public interest.
The House will debate the report of the expert group but in my view we will need to have the results of the Savita case inquiry in advance of that debate. Such is the public concern. We do not know the facts of the case but the very sad and tragic death of this young mother-to-be is being used in some quarters as a motivation to promote abortion. This is not right, in my view. We need the facts of the Savita case as soon as possible so that we can consider it in its true light. We need to have confidence in the inquiry report and that is why we need the membership to be more independent than it is currently.
Ach an oiread le mo chomhghleacaithe, ba mhaith liom cás na bPalaistíneach a tharraingt anuas anseo. The situation in Palestine is absolutely abhorrent. Some of the reports would literally frighten the life out of anyone. There is talk of Israeli soldiers doing leaflet drops telling people that if they move outside their houses they will be shot. We have heard stories of entire families being wiped out, of four year-old twin boys being killed and their parents dying in hospital; of more than 105 Palestinians killed in six days. There are also media reports of Israeli Ministers calling for Israel to use bombs to re-format Gaza, to wipe it clean like a computer hard drive. Another Minister advised that Israel should bomb Gaza so hard that the population would flee into Egypt and that Israel should cut off water and electricity supplies to Gaza. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House to have a debate on the situation in Gaza.
What we are seeing now is a population of people that are like fish in a barrel to a megapower that is being backed up by other huge states. What is going on there is atrocious. In recent months and years we have seen the blockade of Gaza and an increase in the number of settlements. We should be calling for an end to the blockade and a ban on settlement goods.
We should have the Minister in the House to discuss what is going on in the region.
I call on my colleagues who mentioned the Savita Halappanavar case in Galway and the obvious debate on the X case to talk to their colleagues in the Dáil and ask them to support the Sinn Féin motion before the Dáil this evening.
That is extremely important. I agree with most of what Senator Bacik said about the need to introduce legislation as quickly as possible and to ensure that whatever is brought in is legally robust. Seven Governments in the past 20 years did not legislate or act on this issue and it is about time this Government acted on it. In all fairness I ask it to support the motion being put forward by my colleagues in the Dáil.
First, I join in the congratulations to Fermanagh on securing the G8 summit next year. It is an opportunity for the north west, and especially Donegal, to benefit from the massive exposure Donegal will receive. I ask the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport to put a plan together with the tourism bodies to bring the leaders and President Obama, who has Irish roots, across the Border, which is only ten miles away, to view the scenery in Donegal and perhaps get them to lift the Sam Maguire Cup. It is a massive boost for tourism in the north west and in Fermanagh and I congratulate the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, on his move.
Second, regarding Senator Ó Clochartaigh's assertions about his party, the former member of the IRA who holds high office in Northern Ireland is quoted yesterday as saying that his party has been anti-abortion-----
I ask the Leader to delay consideration of No. 1 with which I have serious problems. Paragraphs 49 to 52, inclusive, of the report deal with whether the majority one needs to move a private Bill through the House is 50% or 75% of the body corporate. Serious legal issues arise that must be resolved based on an earlier case. That item should not proceed today and I ask the Leader to put it on hold.
I join with colleagues in condemning the appalling loss of life in the past week in Gaza and in Israel. I echo the call to invite the Tánaiste to the House for a discussion on that worsening crisis, particularly in light of our history of conflict and the contribution Ireland could make to resolve it.
There is no way to dress this up. We have witnessed acts of unacceptable terrorism by both sides in the past few days. I call on both sides to co-operate with those who trying to bring an end to hostilities, in particular, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. I also call on the international community to throw its weight behind the efforts to bring about a long-term solution. The actions of the Israelis in striking against the Palestinians in the past week are totally unacceptable, but Hamas is exploiting vulnerable people in Gaza to achieve its own aims and objectives, similar to what we witnessed in this country over a period of 30 years. This is a major international crisis in which some of the most powerful countries are involved in some way or other and on which I urge the Leader to organise a debate as soon as possible with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Will the Leader also organise in the coming months a debate on broadcasting standards and, in particular, the quality of home-made programmes? The programme referred to, "Love/Hate", is shockingly violent. I do not know if the public good is served by the airing of such a violent and horrible programme. There are other programmes on which we might like to comment at a future date.
I join others in calling for a debate on the conflict in Gaza and the escalating death toll. It is no coincidence that this is happening at the same time as the Israeli elections. It seems to be part of the election cycle in Israel that when a general election is called, the Prime Minister decides to attack Gaza and the other side responds. There are no clean hands in these situations. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the issue as soon as possible.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised issues about openness and transparency in government. As I pointed out previously, only 2% of the legislation enacted in Ireland in a given year is debated by the Dáil and the Seanad, with 98% being implemented outside the Houses, much of it by officials, public servants and members of the cabinet, and very few at that. When we are appointing senior policymakers and advisers, as was the case last week with the Minister, Deputy Gilmore, openness and transparency are paramount. As my colleague said, if there was high moral ground to be found when he was in opposition, the Deputy found it at every opportunity. Deputy Gilmore now seems to think the appointment of persons to positions in other Departments without scrutiny-----
I hope Senator Ivana Bacik will support the request for a debate on the issues of openness and transparency in the appointment of advisers who have so much power and influence, given that 98% of legislation is not debated by the Dáil and the Seanad. When the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade appoints a fourth adviser on a huge salary and is pushing for others without publicly advertising-----
Why were the jobs not advertised in the public service, as they should have been, given that 18 months ago the Government promised to ensure openness and transparency?
I second Senator Sean D. Barrett's amendment to the Order of Business.
I wish to raise the issue of an unusual situation that has developed in the family income supplement section in the Department of Social Protection. People who applied for family income supplement last June or July are in a backlog queuing system waiting for their applications to be processed. However, if one applies today or within the next two weeks, one will be dealt with immediately and the family income supplement will be processed straight away. This just does not make sense. I have been in touch with the Department which has informed me it has two different sections, one to deal with the backlog and one to deal with new applications. It does not make sense that those waiting for months will have to wait until the new year to have their application processed. I know the lead-up to the budget is a busy time but I hope she could find time to attend the House to have this matter rectified. Those who are waiting the longest for their applications should be dealt with first. Will the Leader put this to the Minister for Social Protection as soon as possible?
I speak with a very heavy heart about this and I am sorry if I am taking the risk of hurting the feelings of any of my colleagues. As the only hospital specialist medical consultant and the only medical doctor who is not a member of the dominant party of government in the Oireachtas, I feel I must give the independent opinion I was mandated to give when elected on a health issue which has arisen and about which I feel very strongly. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to attend the House today to explain and to defend the composition of the investigative panel into the Galway tragedy? I believe it is absurd.
With no disrespect to the individuals involved, Ireland is small and so too is our medical community. With approximately 2,000 consultants, it is well known that it is notoriously difficult whenever any medical-legal issue arises in Ireland to get an Irish doctor to give any testimony about any other Irish doctor because there is a better than batting average chance they have been in medical school together or know each other from a professional society. With no disrespect to Galway, there are 122 consultants in the medical community there, three of whom are on the investigative panel. It is simply not credible that these people do not have an extensive network of professional, and probably social, connections with some of the people whose actions they may be directly or indirectly investigating and adjudicating on. It is wrong and inappropriate that it has been set up in this way.
The argument that has been advanced is that it is necessary to have them on the panel to explain the procedures, standards and protocols which are in place at the hospital in question. Again, this is simply not credible. If I wanted to get all parliamentary and glib here, I would draw certain parallels with other situations of investigation where people should not be on an investigative panel. Out of respect to my colleagues, however, I will not do it.
It is singularly inappropriate that these three persons are on this panel. All of the evidence and information concerning the standards in Galway could be and should be sought from testimonial witnesses, not by members of the investigative panel.
In a situation like this where there may be an influence on legislation, there is a significant influence on the poor family who so sadly lost their daughter and wife. They have already expressed their displeasure and lack of satisfaction with the composition of the panel. Before this goes any further, we need to let it be known that this is just not satisfactory. I will be pressing for the Minister to come in here today-----
I join with other Senators in welcoming this morning?s good news about the G8 summit coming to Enniskillen in the north west of Ireland. Two weeks ago we congratulated the US President, Mr. Obama, on his election. It will be great to see him flying into Enniskillen along with other leaders from across the world. I hope my colleague, Senator Harte, does not take all the visitors to Donegal on this occasion. As it is the year of The Gathering, it is important we see visitors coming to Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan, as well as Donegal. We welcome this news and look forward to meeting all of the people that will be coming to Enniskillen.
I join Senator Harte and Senator Moran in welcoming the announcement by the British Prime Minister that the G8 summit will take place in the Lough Erne resort outside Enniskillen next year. This is a welcome development and we would welcome the world media attention to this beautiful part of Ireland, namely, the lakeland district of Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim. I have no difficulty stretching it as far as Donegal, a county I love to go to on holidays. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to promote this beautiful part of our country in the build up to the G8 summit. It is never highlighted by Tourism Ireland or any public body. It deserves this attention and this is an opportunity for the area to be promoted between now and when the summit takes place next year. Will the Leader arrange for a general discussion and debate on tourism and the potential it has for the economy?
I second Senator Feargal Quinn's amendment to the Order of Business.
I agree with the remarks of Senator Crown on the composition of the inquiry set up to investigate the Galway tragedy. All the people appointed are credible but we now have a problem that must be dealt with and it cannot be allowed to run on and on. It is important for everyone, including the family concerned, all the medical staff in Galway, the consultants and nursing staff, that there is an inquiry which is seen to be fair and accurate and which brings forward a report outlining how this matter should have been managed and how similar situations should be managed in future. It is something we cannot allow to go on ad infinitum. The composition should be revisited to ensure it is seen to be fair and to ensure it has the ability to deliver an accurate and fair report on this incident. I agree with Senator Crown. Given that there are three people from the hospital involved concerns have been raised in the public domain and these must be tackled at an early stage.
In fairness to everyone involved there should be some compromise by everyone. There is no way something can be delivered that will satisfy all parties. Anyway, this must be examined at the earliest possible date and I call on the Leader to convey this to the Minister for Health. I realise it is not possible for the Minister to come to the House today but it should be dealt with at the earliest possible date.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business by Senator John Crown. I agree wholeheartedly with him. If we are to have an investigation into these matters it is vital that it should be credible, as Senator Crown has rightly pointed out. That is not to impugn the expertise or contribution of these fine medical professionals. There is no doubt that they could probably play a vital role as expert witnesses in any investigation, but it is wholly inappropriate to have an investigative body that includes those who are effectively members of the same team. It is absolutely not credible and it is important in the interests of everyone concerned that it would include people who are absolutely not connected in any way to this institution.
I call for a debate on agriculture to be arranged in the not too distant future. I realise there have been debates in the past about Common Agricultural Policy reform and so on but it is vital to have another. Despite the best intentions of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to represent all farming interests, some smaller farmers, especially those along the western seaboard and in the north west of the country, are not being adequately catered for. There are proposals to change how commonage is catered for. This is completely discriminatory in terms of how the Government envisages taking it forward.
There are other issues of concern in terms of a prioritising of those with larger holdings, who have scale and fertility in the context of what they can produce, rather than those with smaller holdings throughout the country. Given the world food crisis and the role that agriculture can play in our economic recovery, we must do our best to keep all of those involved in agriculture on the land to allow them to make the best contribution they can.
I support my colleagues, Senators Crown, MacSharry and Colm Burke, in asking the Leader to invite the Minister here, at his earliest convenience, to discuss the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. No issue has generated as much public debate as this in recent years and public confidence must be maintained. While I understand that it is probably not possible for the Minister to appear in the Chamber today, I hope he does so as soon as possible.
Senators Mullins and Conway referred to the television programme "Love/Hate" currently being aired on RTE but I take a contrarian view to my colleagues on the matter. If the events depicted in that programme give an accurate picture of the awfulness of the world of gangland, subversive, IRA and drug-related crime, then the programme makers are doing the State some service. The programme depicts the sheer and utter mindless violence and thuggery that exists in that underbelly, that largely unseen part of our society. I congratulate the makers of the programme and RTE for showing it and I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate, already called for, on drama on RTE.
The points made by Senator Crown and others today must be taken very seriously. The principle that justice must not just be done, but be seen to be done, applies to any kind of inquiry in the public interest. Today I wonder whether the reset button will have to be pressed on this inquiry. It is not just about the Galway membership of the inquiry team but from the chairperson down, anyone who has been known, or seen, to be involved in any advocacy on any side of this issue, given how fite fuaite it has become with the issue of abortion, should not be involved. Such involvement would lessen my confidence in the impartiality of the inquiry. There may be issues to be examined across the board and not just regarding the Galway membership of the inquiry team. I have concerns at this point.
It is tragic because it is quite clear that we must await the outcome of the inquiry into what happened to the late Savita Halappanavar before we can have any credible or coherent debate about the issue of abortion. Clearly there has been a hijacking of this issue, very sadly, by people who have a very radical agenda. That is why I am particularly disappointed that Sinn Féin has chosen to make the running by seeking legislation for the X case at this point when it is quite clear from the utterances of spokespeople from that party that they have not considered, or do not seem to know, the precise implications of that case. It goes far beyond anything that could be described as necessary medical interventions and that is simply inexcusable. Given the information that we heard over the weekend, namely, that elements in Sinn Féin and perhaps also in the Labour Party, are part of a pro-choice network who seem to have had advance notice of this case, who seem to have been planning a campaign of some kind ---
We must proceed with great calm and caution. I ask the Leader to ensure that we hear from the Minister because we need to get the right inquiry into what happened. We must await the findings of that inquiry before we can resume a calm and coherent debate about where we go from here.
I support the call made by a number of Senators that whatever inquiry is held into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, it must be truly independent and the family must be central to it. Senator Ó Clochartaigh made the point that it should not involve people from the hospital in Galway if the inquiry is to be truly independent, although they will obviously be part of what happens.
As we have been waiting 20 years for legislation in this area, it is not fair to ask us to wait for the outcome of the inquiry into this tragic case. A number of referendums have already been held, as well as a Supreme Court judgment in 1992 and a European Court of Human Rights judgment. The State clearly needs to legislate so that we can provide certainty to medical professionals. It was disingenuous of Senator Mullen to suggest that Sinn Féin does not understand the implications of the X case. I advise the Senator that views differ on this issue within every political party. Some in Sinn Féin are pro-choice and others are pro-life, and both groups are entitled to their positions. We have a long-standing party policy that aims to ensure -----
I add my voice to other speakers regarding the ongoing loss of life in the Gaza Strip as a result of the exchange of rockets across the border between Gaza and Israel. While nobody should condone the violence and loss of innocent lives in Israel and the Gaza Strip, I hope the ongoing discussions, with Egypt acting as an honest broker, will reach a satisfactory conclusion so that the conflict can end. According to news reports a Hamas spokesman indicated that 80% of an agreement had been reached. It is always the remaining 20% that proves problematic but the eyes of the world are watching for what Israel is going to do next. I hope common sense will prevail because, whatever sympathy Israel may have engendered as a result of the thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately at it over the past several days, some of which have reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, there is at least some semblance of discipline in the context of what the Israelis say they are trying to do.
One cannot condone yesterday's incident in which a police station was supposed to be targeted but which instead resulted in horrendous loss of life with an entire family being wiped out. It is important that the House should give its attention to these matters, particularly as the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be taking over the EU Presidency in January. There is no question that the complexities of the Middle East problem mean that we will be revisiting this topic. I understand the Tánaiste will address the Seanad prior to Christmas and I hope he will be able to set out the Government's position on the events as they unfold. This House has a proud record of addressing Middle East issues, irrespective of which side of the argument one takes, and I hope that tradition will continue. I express my deepest sympathy on the loss of life on both sides of this terrible conflict.
I remind the Senator that as part of the major reform of further education and the training sector, 33 vocational education committees are being merged into 16 educational training boards. As part of this reform it has been necessary to undertake a redeployment scheme for permanent CEOs of each of the VECs.
Obviously, with 16 new ETBs, there are only 16 CEO positions. However, there are 19 permanent CEOs in the existing VECs. Under a redeployment scheme agreed with SIPTU, the filling of the new CEO positions was decided on the basis of seniority. This left three CEOs to be redeployed, including the current CEO of Dún Laoghaire VEC. She is to be appointed as policy specialist on further education and training at the Department of Education and Skills. The person in question was treated no differently than any of the other CEOs who were redeployed under the agreement. That clarifies the position. All of the CEOs involved will report to assistant secretaries in the Department of Education and Skills, not the Minister directly. There was no political involvement in the redeployment of the person mentioned or the other two CEOs covered by the redeployment scheme. I hope this adequately answers the Senator's question.
Senator Ivana Bacik raised the issue of the report of the expert group, which will be placed before the Cabinet next week. I gave an undertaking to the House that we would discuss it when published. I hope it will be published immediately after the Cabinet receive it.
I propose to accept Senator Feargal Quinn's amendment to the Order of Business, that the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2012 be taken before we deal with No. 1, motion re the revision of Standing Orders. This will allow the Senator's Bill to be published.
The Senator also called, as did a number of other Members, for a debate on the situation in Gaza, an issue raised by many Members last week on the Order of Business. We all share the widespread concern about the ongoing exchanges of fire into and from Gaza. In a statement issued on 15 November the Tánaiste made the Government's position clear. He called on both sides to avoid an escalation of hostilities and refrain from further attacks. Yesterday, Monday, 19 November, he discussed the situation in Gaza with his EU partners at the GAERC Council meeting in Brussels. The Council made a similar strong call for a de-escalation and restraint on all sides. Much attention has focused on the casualties caused by Israeli air strikes and the use of heavy weapons in the crowded and built up area of Gaza. It is essential that the exchanges of fire stop on both sides. We simply cannot ask one side to stop. Intensive efforts are under way on the part of Egypt and others to communicate with both sides to bring about a ceasefire to restore a sense of security for the ordinary people of Gaza and Israel. The UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, is in the region where he is due to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories today. As I mentioned, EU Foreign Ministers discussed the issue at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday. Ireland has already stated it is disposed to supporting a balanced and reasonable resolution of the issue which this House has been to the forefront in highlighting on many occasions. I will endeavour to arrange for the Tánaiste or the Minister of State to come to the House to discuss it as soon as possible, I hope this week if that can be arranged.
Senator Feargal Quinn also raised the issue of penalties for smuggling not being adequate and the need for more resources for the Garda and the Customs service. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to address these matters. I agree with the Senator that the penalties are insufficient.
Senator Martin Conway and several others mentioned the television drama programme "Love/Hate" which is broadcast on Sunday nights and called for a debate on media standards in drama programmes.
The programme referred to is certainly shockingly violent, but it is clear when one reads newspaper articles written by people who were in the police force for many years that it is indicative, unfortunately, of what is going on in many areas of this city. I will see what I can do to get somebody in to discuss this question. While it is shockingly violent, as I have said, I think it is an excellent production by Irish people, who are to be commended. I agree with those who have pointed out that it is not something children should be watching, as it is very difficult viewing.
Senators Moran, Harte and Comiskey referred to the exciting news about the G8 summit announced by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. We all hope it will go off successfully and will be a boost for tourism in the north east and the whole island of Ireland.
Senators Healy Eames and Crown, as well as other speakers, referred to the need for an independent inquiry rather than a HSE inquiry into the Halappanavar case. I share the concerns expressed by Senator Crown about the composition of the panel in question. I cannot get the Minister in here today, but I can certainly agree to ask him to come to the House to address the matter as soon as possible. I can inform the House that the Minister's office has confirmed that the three consultants who were previously named will not now be part of the inquiry. I think that addresses some of the points made by Senator Crown. Three new appointments of people who have nothing to do with University Hospital Galway will now be made to support the chairperson in his work.
Senator Barrett asked about No. 1 on the Order of Business. Revised Standing Orders have been unanimously agreed by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament. As they have remained unaltered since 1939, they are completely out of date. We received an opinion on paragraphs 49 and 50, which were mentioned by Senator Barrett, from senior counsel. The committee accepted the advice that was received and consequently amended the 1939 provision that is reflected in Standing Order 17. It provides for a simple majority of consent by a chartered corporation. This provision was also accepted unanimously by the committee. I will take into consideration what Senator Barrett has mentioned. He has given me a note with a query or two. I presume we can answer them for him. I am prepared to accept his amendment to the Order of Business to enable us to deal with this matter next week, when the questions asked by Senator Barrett have been answered.
Senator Moloney raised the issue of applicants for family income supplement jumping the queue, which is a ludicrous situation that will have to be addressed. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister as, I am sure, will Senator Moloney.
Senator Wilson called for a debate on tourism. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be in the House, if not before Christmas, then early in the new year at which time Senator Wilson can put his questions to him.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was in the House a number of weeks ago. However, if the Senator has some specific questions I will arrange to have them answered by the Minister, who has been very amenable in terms of his attendance in this House on many occasions. I am sure it will be possible to get answers from the Minister to any specific questions raised by Senator MacSharry.
Senator Mullen referred to the Sinn Féin motion before the Dáil. What Sinn Féin does is a matter for that party. It is a matter for the other House rather than this House to deal with that motion.
I have already addressed the issue of membership of the inquiry team.
Three amendments have been tabled to the Order of Business. Senator Quinn has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Barrett has also moved amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 1 be deleted from the Order of Business." The Leader has also indicated that he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Crown has also moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the composition of the investigation board appointed to inquire into the death of Savita Halappanavar in the University College Hospital, Galway be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I am prepared to withdraw that amendment in light of the information provided. I ask the Leader to convey our appreciation to the Minister for making the correct decision and our concern that great thought be put into the composition of the board. I would urge that in the interests of independence as many non-Irish based specialists as possible be appointed to the board.