Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the address to the House by Ms Phil Prendergast, MEP, on 13 February 2013, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business: No. 2, motion re opt-in under Article 4 of the 21st Protocol to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the readmission agreements with the Governments of Macao, Sri Lanka, Albania, Russia, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Moldova, Pakistan and Georgia, referral to committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, Taxi Regulation Bill 2012 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the 3.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5.45 p.m., if not previously concluded.
I and my colleagues on this side of the House are increasingly concerned and dismayed, as I am sure are many Members on the Deputy Leader's side, by the Minister for Justice and Equality's handling and management of An Garda Síochána.
Unprecedented steps have been taken by Garda representative associations in the Dublin north metropolitan area, north County Cork and Cork city, in which members voted no confidence in the Minister.
Last week, our party tabled a Private Member's motion on policing and justice. Numerous times, I have raised the issue of Government policy on policing. I do not just refer to the closure of more than 130 stations, but to the downgrading of further urban and rural stations, the lack of resources provided to gardaí and the absence of new members of the Garda because the Minister will not lift the recruitment ban. Gardaí rightly have no confidence in the Minister.
I will explain what this situation entails for the people on the ground, the citizens we are supposed to represent and whom the Garda protects every day. For four and a half hours yesterday morning, not a single Garda car was operational in the entire north Dublin metropolitan area, including Coolock, Swords and Malahide Garda stations. The reason was that the Minister would not permit over-time for court appearances. Gardaí must now drive Garda cars to court. The area in question comprises more than 150,000 people. Road traffic accidents and burglaries were left unattended. This is a crisis in policing.
Last week, my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, asked the Minister 14 specific questions. The Minister would only give answers to four. His attitude to this issue is wrong. His modus operandishould be concerned with the protection of citizens. The Government, through his policies, is letting down the people and, as importantly, the gardaí. The men and women who protect us every day of the week are having the rug pulled out from under them by the Minister.
With this in mind, I want answers to Senator O'Donovan's ten questions that the Minister would not answer last week. I want him to explain why not a single Garda patrol car was operational in the north Dublin metropolitan area for four and a half hours yesterday. To this end, I am tabling an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that the Minister should attend the House to explain why such a situation was allowed to occur, what contact he has with the normal rank and file of the Garda Síochána and what he will do to win back the confidence of gardaí who, in an unprecedented step, voted no confidence in him.
This situation will get worse and worse as the days and weeks continue. In two weeks time, we will be discussing industrial action by the Garda. I am putting the Minister on notice - he should tell us what he is doing in this regard. I am formally tabling that amendment to the Order of Business.
I join with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in expressing my sincere good wishes to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, on his declaration yesterday of his intention to retire. This is something to which he gave much careful consideration. In common with the views of many others, I believe that his declaration arose from a deep sense of duty to the office he holds. He provided strong leadership and great service to the church and its people. He worked tirelessly for world peace and co-operation. Our thoughts and good wishes are with him in particular, but also with those who will shortly gather in conclave to choose his successor.
It is six weeks since the new year. The Chinese new year was celebrated last Sunday. This is the year of the snake. My first question relates to a report that was promised in the new year.
I believe we have qualified on both counts that we are in the new year. I refer to the report of the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare chaired by Ita Mangan. The Minister, Deputy Burton, challenged us to examine the facts of this report and gave an undertaking in this House to publish the report early in the new year. My question is when that report will be published. Yesterday a report from the Consumers' Association of Ireland showed there has been a 12% rise in the cost of a typical basket of groceries. We have seen a very brutal cut across the board in child benefit payment. I am willing to take some tough decisions on child benefit but let us see this report and let the discussion begin. I do know why it has taken so long for it to be published.
We were also promised that the child and family support agency Bill would be published in the new year. Colleagues in the House will know that I have repeatedly asked for us to debate this new agency which has a budget of ¤545 million and a staff of 4,000, yet we have not had a debate on it. I have tried every angle to have a debate on it in this House but that has been blocked. When will the Bill be published? When will we see it? This is a very important agency. My fear is that staff are just being transferred from the HSE. I question whether any Member of the House would say it is a great idea to transfer staff from the HSE, with all the deals and practices they have, into the agency. When will that Bill be published?
A report was commissioned six years ago from the commission of investigation into the Death of Gary Douch. That commission of investigation was established in April 2007 following the attack and subsequent death of Gary Douch in a cell in Mountjoy Prison. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality when that report will be published?
I second Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business. The Senator has raised an issue that will not go away. Anybody who is in touch with ordinary folk will know how much such a debate matters to them. People throughout Ireland, especially older people, do not feel the security they deserve to feel in their own country in terms of proper policing in their community. I realise, as does every other Member, the pressure there is on the Exchequer, but effective policing in terms of the role of the Garda Síochána operating effectively is something we cannot do without and we must not tolerate any failure on the Government's part to ensure we have a proper police service in our country.
I note, for example, that in the Galway City Tribune last Friday, Denise McNamara wrote about marauding gangs of thieves creating palpable fear and a growing sense of unease among residents in Galway city despite burglaries levelling off. At other times I would say that the media is given to exaggeration but we know there is not exaggeration on this issue. In Salthill recently a gang gathered in a particular area only a 100 yards from the Garda station but no garda was in a position to arrive and investigate when notified. There is a real problem when we do not have a visible Garda presence and effective Garda patrol in areas. We need to keep the pressure on the Minister for Justice and Equality.
In signalling support for our Garda Síochána, the excellent work its members do and how much we need them, I would like to hear from the Minister about a problem that sometimes occurs when gardaí talk to the media. I have huge sympathy with our colleague in the other House, Deputy Clare Daly, about the way she was treated recently.
A public representative is not in a different position from any other member of society but the damage to a public representative is particularly severe when there is any kind of suspicion about his or her acting with propriety.
Yes. I would be grateful if we could have a discussion with the Minister - as this not just a matter for the Garda ombudsman - about what the Department is doing to ensure that gardaí are acting properly. If there is any kind of nexus, on a financial or other basis, between gardaí or any kind of vendetta mentality towards certain politicians because of certain other things they have done, that will bring our Garda force into disrepute and it would need to be stamped out. We should stand in solidarity with Deputy Daly about the way she was treated. It was simply not acceptable.
I ask for a date when we will have a debate on the excellent report on the Magdalen laundries by the former Senator, Martin McAleese.
As well as discussing the report, we will want to record our thanks to former Senator McAleese for a report that is characterised by fairness and truthfulness. We should have a further discussion on this matter very soon. I know the Government has given a commitment in that regard but I would be grateful if we were given a date given for the debate.
I will be opposing Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business regarding the blue flu protest threat by gardaí. The blue flu was not invented this week or last week. It is a legacy of a previous Administration.
It is a legacy of a previous Administration which had gardaí scared witless in 2009. The blue flu took off then. I do not accuse the Senator of hypocrisy but it is hard to listen to him expressing concern for gardaí. When his party colleagues were in government, they had the opportunity to negotiate with the Garda, and the blue flu protest was the first time in the history of the State that Garda authorities, or anyone associated with the defence or justice systems-----
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister or Minister of State to come to the House to explain the situation regarding the Garda and the public service, in general.
The action of Fianna Fáil in tabling a motion about the threatened blue flu-----
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the hostile takeover of Aer Lingus by Ryanair, its implications for Cork, Shannon and Knock airports and the fallout from it. I have no faith in a European Commission which might make a decision at arm's length and without looking at the real problems of this country. Over the last four or five years there has, for different reasons, been a 40% fall-off in traffic in and out of Cork Airport. We should not rush into allowing this takeover but look at its full impact and make a full evaluation of it. It is worthy of a debate in the House.
I also join other Senators in asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the proposed sale of Coillte. This could be a retrograde step and could have serious implications for the future of forestry in Ireland. The various aspects of the sale of Coillte merit a half-day's debate in the House. It could tie in with the proposed takeover of Aer Lingus by Ryanair. Given the lessening of the pressure on our financial debts following last week's negotiations, the Government should re-think these strategic developments.
In discussing matters relating to the Garda Síochána, it is important for us to be aware of the ongoing investigation of the death of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. Media headlines come and go but the death of this young father will be remembered forever in Dundalk, County Louth and throughout the country.
Speaking at a specially convened press conference in the Garda barracks in Dundalk last Friday, the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, said over 360 statements had been given to the Garda on the matter,1,125 lines of inquiry are being investigated, there are over 300 exhibits relating to the case and 140 separate CCTV recordings are being examined.
He also heaped praised on the people of Dundalk, saying there had been a great local response to this vile act and that the people of Dundalk and the Cooley Peninsula were also welcoming to the many gardaí from across the State who were in Dundalk. We can make political points relating to An Garda Síochána and I accept the right of anyone to support the Garda. However, will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House, as has been requested previously, to outline the additional resources that might be available from the Government to combat criminal elements in the Border region? I support the Minister but we need that debate. Will he outline what additional supports are being given to this case?
I wish to restate a call I made before the Christmas recess for a debate on Ireland's foreign aid budget. On that occasion, many Senators expressed difficulty with my stance on the issue but welcomed the idea of a mature and responsible debate on the topic. Ireland spent ¤639 million in 2012 with a further ¤623 million due to be spent this year. More than 80% of this money will go to Africa, where we have witnessed examples of corruption and waste in recent months. "Wasteful" and "riddled with corruption" are two statements that come to mind when I think, for example, of Uganda. Ireland's 0.53% of GDP aid allocation is among the top nine donors in the world in per capita terms. On the same scale, the US is 19th in development assistance, although this statistic does not reflect what the US spends on emergency aid. We must debate the reform of our auditing procedures to ensure every euro spent by taxpayers overseas creates economic growth not only for the recipient countries, but also for us in our dealings with them. We must also debate our strategy on how foreign aid is spent to ensure we embrace change. It was reported earlier that a report on the Garda has not been done for almost half a century. I wonder when a policy document was last created on foreign aid and how we spend it.
I echo the comments of my colleague from my Dundalk. Yesterday, I met the Garda superintendent for the town who conveyed his thanks and appreciation to the people of Dundalk for their support following the brutal murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. He referred to the sense of community spirit that was exhibited throughout the weeks after the incident and how diligently the force is working to apprehend the perpetrators of this crime. I was shocked when he described cases of robbery and attacks and he mentioned that two 14 year old children were before the court yesterday in the town. When the Minister for Justice and Equality comes to the House, perhaps we can examine what we can do to combat the increasing incidence of juvenile crime, which is happening all over the country.
I echo Senator Coghlan's comments about the shock resignation of Pope Benedict yesterday. While it was courageous of him to admit his frailty and humanity and that he is not in a position to carry out his duties any longer, and many people feel he did not have the charisma and likability factor of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II enjoyed, he showed a personal commitment to the role and he worked tirelessly for world peace, as Senator Coghlan said.
However, his successor is taking over the Catholic Church at an extremely difficult time while the church is still reeling from the many clerical child abuse cases that have been brought to light in recent years. I hope his successor will, perhaps, look at the role of lay people and women in the church as I consider they will be important in leading the Catholic Church in future years.
This is not a day when it would be appropriate to be negative about the pope. However, my view of that gentleman has not changed. I understand he is to take up residence at the bottom of the papal garden which may be an inconvenience to his successor but I am profoundly glad that he is not taking up residence at the bottom of my garden.
I consider it appropriate that Senator Jillian van Turnhout drew our attention to the fact that this is the year of the snake in terms of the Chinese people. Yesterday was the opening of the lunar new year for the people of Tibet, the Tibetan Buddhists. It is horrifying that they have had to cancel the celebration because of the appalling treatment they are receiving at the hands of the Chinese. We tend to forget human rights in Ireland when a little bit of a purse is jingled in front of our nose and we think of money. As one of the founders of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs I have consistently regretted this change in balance to take in foreign affairs and trade.
May I also raise a matter - it was mentioned in one of the newspapers that nobody had taken up - a report, Globalising Torture - CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, which has just been published. We must have time to have a look at it. It is a matter of shame to all of us that we should be numbered among the countries assisting in the capture and transport of detainees, permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees, providing intelligence leading to secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals and interrogating individuals who were secretly captured. We are in that company with Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Syria. I raised the issue at the time and I gave information to Members of the other House collected from those very brave people in Shannon who were making notes of the planes. Everything was denied.
May we have a debate on the issue, particularly in light of the fact that, to our eternal shame, a committee of inquiry, a special committee of this House, was established and then removed because of pressure from local authorities in the Shannon area?
I agree with my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, on the need to debate the subject of Irish Aid and how we spend money in the developing world. We should not be debarred by political correctness from asking hard questions as posed by Senator O'Brien because we must ensure that the money we spend, which is not the Government's but the taxpayer's money, is put to genuine developmental purpose and that there will be a long-term economic spin-off to those in the Third World and the developing world. Yesterday, the British Minister in charge of international development made the same argument on behalf of the British taxpayer when he expressed concern about British taxes being expended across the globe. We need a debate in the House to ensure that the money being spent by the Irish Government and Irish taxpayers on Third World development is achieving long-term economic results.
The second point I wish to raise relates to policing. The more I hear of and from the Fianna Fáil Party on this matter the more I think back to the 1990s and the promises of zero tolerance. There was at that stage a deliberate and successful political campaign by Fianna Fáil to frighten the people of the island into believing we were on the verge of social breakdown and that the delivery of John O'Donoghue's policy of zero tolerance would solve every problem. Of course that did not happen. If people suggest we need more policing and more gardaí on the beat they must recognise that policing must be paid for. They must also say where the money is to come from and if they favour the presentation of a supplementary budget and additional taxation to pay for it. Alternatively, can we have a genuine and mature conversation about policing?
Last week, there was a Private Members' motion, but such motions, where the Opposition say "Yes" and the Government say "No" are purposeless and meaningless. I would have said the same when I was on the other side of the House. The amendment to the Order of Business today is meaningless as well. Perhaps, if Senator Darragh O'Brien was willing to withdraw his amendment and liaise with the Acting Leader, the Minister could come forward within the next week or two and there could be a mature debate in this House where we could discuss the matter in detail. The charade of Senators putting down a motion condemning Ministers which they know will be defeated is purposeless and pointless and it adds to the cynicism. I have seen this fail spectacularly on too many occasions.
Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don Phápa Beinidict as ucht an cinneadh cróga agus ceannródaíoch a ghlac sé inné. Guím chuile rath air agus ar na cairdinéil a bheidh ag roghnú duine le teacht i gcomharbacht air.
It also is important that we have a debate on the Magdelen laundries report. It is clear from the report that the State was complicit in what was happening in those homes. There was a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste yesterday and it is important that we find out what is to come of it. No doubt an apology is warranted and it is only a question of when it should happen. Then we need to look at the other series of necessary discussions on recompense for those who were in those institutions, as many of them are elderly.
There is a report from Accord, the marriage counselling service, reported in the news today, which states that there has been a huge increase in the demand for marriage counselling over the past year. The service has dealt with 6,536 couples in 2012 and the amount of counselling increased to 50,422 hours. An interesting part of the report listed the reasons for the increase. Some 58% of the couples cited financial difficulties as a problem, 82% stated they were suffering from stress and anxiety, 59% stated emotional abuse and 51% stated they were suffering from depression. An addiction counsellor to whom I spoke recently told me that there has been a huge increase in the number of referrals of persons suffering from alcohol addiction, drug addiction, etc. It is clear that the austerity imposed on families is having a huge effect and its social consequences is totally uncosted. We should have a debate on the social cost of austerity, particularly on families, whether they be married couples or any other type of family unit. We need to count the cost of the austerity cuts made in budgets in a social sense as well as in pounds, shillings and pence.
I, too, welcome the talks that are taking place between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Justice for Magdelenes. It seems that it is women and children who suffer at the hands of the institutions in this country. For example, the victims of symphysiotomy are still waiting for their report and the Magdelene laundry sufferers are awaiting an apology. That apology is inevitable. No doubt we will give one and I cannot see why we are putting it off.
The reason I rose to speak was similar to that of Senator van Turnhout. It is nearly two months since the budget debate during which the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, told us that she had in her possession the report from the advisory group on taxation and social welfare, chaired by Ms Ita Mangan, and that she would lay it before this House in the first instance for debate and discussion before she would take it anywhere else. I ask the Acting Leader if the matter is on the schedule, if the Minister has given an indication as to when she will present it to the House, and if it is not on the schedule, if the Acting Leader could ask the Minister at her earliest convenience to bring it before the House so as not to have a repeat of last year's budget process where Senators had no time to discuss matters. Let us discuss the report and see what recommendations are in it.
It is just over three years since, speaking from the other side of the House, I and others first predicted in this House the crisis in mortgage arrears. Since that time there has been the Cooney report, the Keane report and a superficial code of conduct, but on the ground there are ambivalent banks who engage only in a superficial way. By way of showing forbearance, they are giving no easement to the families all over the country suffering from the stress of their inability to pay their mortgage bills and the prospect of losing their homes.
The Personal Insolvency Bill puts the financial institutions in complete control. Independent Deputies in the other House have made several attempts, as have I with the Family Home Bill and other initiatives, to bring forward tangible solutions which will help people but nothing has happened. This week I am glad to welcome into the debate the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, who has said he is losing patience with the banks. I also welcome the troika mission announcing we must achieve sustainability for households and those in distress as a result of mortgage arrears. No financial institution has put forward the option of warehousing debt, as it seems we as a nation have just been permitted to do. Nobody from the banks has come forward to say they are prepared to take equity in people's property for a period of time. Nobody has come forward to suggest intergenerational mortgages. The level of superficiality is disgraceful. There has been nothing yet in the crisis for the citizen and I include all Governments over the past three years in this condemnation. It is time the people in the street see tangible results. As an intermediary acting on behalf of a couple, I have requested a mortgage to rent option, which is what the family wants, but under no circumstance will the bank consider it. The bank is thinking of one thing and the bottom line is that the citizen comes last. The citizen needs to start coming first.
I wish to raise the upgrade of the N4 road from Drumfin to Castlebaldwin. Sadly, another death occurred on the road last night and I offer my condolences to the family of the young man who lost his life. I believe 30 people have died on the road. It is the worst stretch of road between Dublin and Sligo and it is time all efforts were made in this regard. I call on the NRA and the Minister to make the funding available. Much work has been done by Sligo County Council on the issue and many studies have been done. If the money were put in place we could finally see the upgrade of the road, which has been sought for many years. It is time we move on it and upgrade it.
The Deputy Leader raised the possibility we might complete work today on the Taxi Regulation Bill. I wish to make the case to the contrary. The Bill was circulated on 3 December. Yesterday we were notified of two major amendments, one of which seems to seriously interfere with the rights of part-time workers and with what a person in employment should tell his or her employer; and the other seeks to change how the bus sector is regulated, which certainly will have the bus people hopping mad. This cannot be allowed to happen. Serious issues with regard to labour law and employment law arise to be considered. Introducing these as amendments to taxi legislation indicates the House should not allow Committee Stage to be completed today.
I thank the Deputy Leader. As a lawyer she would like to see workers have rights with regard to what they tell employers. There are many case studies on the rights of part-time workers. I very much welcome the Deputy Leader's decision and I thank her.
With regard to the Magdalen laundries, a most interesting work by Eoin O'Sullivan and Ian O Donnell, Coercive Confinement in Ireland, records that at any one stage between the 1920s and the 1950s 30,000 people were locked up in this country. Former Senator McAleese's estimate is that on average approximately 200 of these were in laundries. The maximum number of children confined to institutions and held coercively was approximately 6,000. This has now been reduced to nothing and we all applaud this. In discussing this we must look at all the aspects of the coercive incarceration of people in which Irish society engaged, including locking up unwanted relatives in mental hospitals. Elizabeth Malcolm stated families, police, magistrates, clergy and doctors co-operated to take advantage of lax procedures so as to rid their communities of those deemed trouble or troublesome.
That happened to 30,000 people. We need to discuss the matter fully. It is a bit trivial to ask the Taoiseach to apologise. All of Irish society, in the past, liked locking up people and we should open up a debate on that horrible period in Irish history.
I have just been informed of a worrying development from a person who, like me, has raised funds for good causes. Dunnes Stores has banned all animal charities from collecting in its stores nationwide. Apparently, it is not willing to discuss its new decision with anybody. It is also unwilling to talk to Joe Duffy about it and will not give any good reason it has decided to do this.
Yes. At the same time the company sells dog food, cat food and other pet products but it is not interested in contributing to the welfare of these animals. I have been in touch with organisations like the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, and the ASPCA. These organisations survive solely on voluntary contributions, donations and fund-raising. For them to achieve their goals, they need access to stores like Dunnes Stores. I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for small business to find out why the store has taken the decision. There does not seem to be a logical reason for it.
I support my colleague, Senator MacSharry, in his call for action by the Government on the banking issue. All we have seen so far is activity portrayed as action. The sight of the Governor of the Central Bank calling on the Government to do something tells us that even he is frustrated by the lack of action two years on.
I ask the Deputy Leader to organise a debate regarding a specific action and issue related to The Gathering. We had a debate on it recently but airlines seem to be sabotaging the Government's initiative by price hikes, which in some cases have doubled. I have been contacted by people in Boston who paid $4,300 for flights and car hire for a family of five less than two years ago but the same package costs $8,000 this year.
This tells us that the airlines are taking advantage of a great Government initiative. Events for The Gathering will take place in Kerry and throughout the country. How will people travel to The Gathering if they will be charged double the fare and rates of a couple of years ago? I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange the debate.
I agree with Senator MacSharry's comments to a large extent except that the Personal Insolvency Act will make a difference. One of the concerns I have and which I want the Deputy Leader to follow up is that members of the accountancy profession have approached me and advised that they now have difficultly, just like my colleagues in the legal profession, entering into negotiations with the banks. Some of their clients have been referred to retired bank officials who have set up consultancy businesses and who so not seem to have any difficulty in accessing the banks and can talk to someone in the banks. I am concerned that some banks have adopted a new policy that they will only talk to people who have previously worked in the banking sector when dealing with people who want to reach a sensible arrangement that would satisfy the bank and the borrower. I ask for the matter to be clarified. I want the Minister for Finance to seek clarification from the banks that they are prepared to deal with everyone, whether in the legal profession or accountancy profession, who wants to work with them on behalf of their clients. I ask that the issue be clarified. I want to know that negotiations are not solely confined to retired people who have set themselves up as consultants. It is an urgent matter which needs immediate attention.
I remind the Deputy Leader that this year is the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out. A number of weeks ago I asked the Leader whether the Oireachtas would consider marking the centenary in its own way.
I put forward a proposal that this House could invite a senior trade union leader from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to address it on the subject of workers' rights and employment rights. It would be an important thing to do as we are in a decade of centenaries and there will be many different events that Members should rightly mark in the coming years. I believe the 1913 Lock-out was a seminal moment in the struggle for workers' rights, and as legislators, Members of the Oireachtas and people who were elected by the people of the State, Members should mark the event in their own way. It would be remiss of this House not to so do and I ask the Deputy Leader to have discussions with the Leader to ascertain whether this could be done this year in order that Members could pay tribute in their own way to those who were involved in the Lock-out, to remember the sacrifices made and to re-dedicate themselves to ensuring they protect workers' rights at all times. I ask because, unfortunately, many workers throughout this State have been obliged in recent years to engage in sit-in protests to demand even basic rights and entitlements. I sincerely ask the Deputy Leader to consider this proposal.
Like other Senators, I wish Pope Benedict well in his retirement. When Senator Moloney observed that it usually is women or children who suffer at the hands of institutions, it brought to mind the women in the church, and perhaps the new Pope might look on women in the church in a new light as well.
We are always evolving and changing. As it has been 600 years since the last Pope retired, one never knows.
However, I did not rise to speak about such an evolution. I wanted to raise the issue of development levies and the manner in which they are being interpreted differently nationwide. I refer to manner in which the question of whether the levy follows the developer or the person living in the house is being implemented. This is an important issue because Members will have noted that people in County Wicklow are being billed by Wicklow County Council for huge sums of as much as ¤4,000. While it is important that all development and outstanding levies be paid, it also is important that there should be fairness in how that is implemented. I refer to scenarios in which, having purchased their houses, people have letters from solicitors regarding the deeds and that a search having been done, there are no outstanding charges on the deed or whatever. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government should issue a statement in this regard because it must be implemented uniformly nationwide. At present, different statements are coming from different councils and from the aforementioned Department. One council has stated it is following the developer while another has stated it was thinking about following the purchaser. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government stated it was a matter for each local authority. It is a matter to be implemented fairly throughout the country and I ask the Leader to request that the aforementioned Department issue a statement on this matter and on how it is to be implemented. While it is important for local authorities to ensure they get their levies, they must get them fairly.
I wish to support the suggestion that the report by the former Senator, Martin McAleese, into the Magdalen laundries be debated in this House as soon as possible. I greatly regret that the former Senator has resigned from this House. Unfortunately, I was absent last week, being at a meeting of the European pro-dialogue group on the Malvinas Islands while Members were debating an extremely important Bill in the Chamber. I remind Members that in Britain, these islands are called the Falkland Islands but I-----
I was engaged in that last week. However, I wish the former Senator McAleese the best. I presume Members already have sent best wishes to him in my absence. He resides in County Roscommon with his wife, Mary, and is a loss to the county as a Senator. Will the Taoiseach decide to fill the vacancy or await the outcome of the referendum in October for so doing?
I wish to support Senator Coghlan's proposal that Members send best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI on his decision to stand down as Bishop of Rome and Head of the Vatican State. It is a great decision for him in the sense he is 85 years of age. However, it is very historic from Members' perspective, as this is the first Seanad of which I have been a Member when a Pope has actually resigned.
It is certainly-----
We should not trivialise this important event. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. One sixth of the entire population is Catholic and the role of Pope is an important one. Ageism does not apply in the Vatican, which is refreshing. Furthermore-----
I too, like the vast majority of people, was horrified and disgusted with what I saw on the television programme "Inside Irish Nationwide" last night. It is a good reminder for people everywhere as to what went on in this country-----
------for the past ten to 15 years. It is also a good reminder of the mess we must clean up as a society, and of the over-indulgence and appalling waste of a valuable commodity, namely, money. I ask the Leader to again request a banking inquiry in the State. It is appalling to think that no banker in this State has gone to prison yet for what has happened in terms of the reckless behaviour that has taken place with the valuable commodity of money. It is also appalling on the other hand to see ordinary householders being hounded by banks-----
-----and threatened with eviction and repossession. On the one hand, there was an exuberant element in society that spent money like it was going out of fashion on champagne, wine and the addition of a million here or there to a sale. On the other hand, families are being run out of their homes because they are ¤15,000 or ¤20,000 in arrears. We must get real as a society. Everyone who has a role to play should push for a State banking inquiry headed by a High Court judge. The truth must come out. I commend the journalists who worked tirelessly to expose the rot that took place in this country in the past 20 years.
I support Senator Cullinane's suggestion that as part of the State commemoration of the 1913 Lock-out, the Seanad might consider inviting a senior trade union official to address us. It would be most appropriate.
I compliment President Michael D. Higgins on the very courteous and generous message of goodwill which he issued on the impending resignation of Pope Benedict. I join with that the generous message from An Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore. He pointed out specifically the work which the Pope had been doing for peace in the world, and never was that more important than it is at the moment. Our representatives have joined with the President of the United States and the other world leaders in pointing to the work which the papacy and the church itself has been doing throughout the world. President Obama was exceptionally open in his comment when he talked about the contribution being made by the Catholic Church to the United States. We could all learn from that.
We live in an imperfect world and at times we isolate issues away from the overall attitude we should have to people and organisations that are endeavouring to make society better, more equal and safer. The current good will that is evident on all television stations might prompt up to seriously consider reopening the Irish Embassy at the Vatican. If it is genuinely a financial issue I have no doubt we could raise the money throughout the world to pay for it. With the upcoming election of a new Pope, there is a danger that we might be misrepresented among the nations of the world. No one wants that and now is a time to revisit that decision and come up with a solution.
Since we met last week, some significant things have happened in our country. There was a successful outcome to the promissory note negotiations, which will see the country not having to pay ¤3.4 billion at the end of March and save the State ¤20 billion over the coming ten years. We also saw the successful completion of the ninth review by the EU-IMF, which gave the Government a clean bill of health. The end of January Exchequer returns showed the income tax take up by 10% and excise duties up by 10%. This all culminated in the Standard & Poor's ratings agency raising Ireland's outlook from negative to stable. We now hope and want to see the Government build on that stability over the remainder of the lifetime of this Administration. The major challenge we face is the curse of unemployment and I welcome the fact that a further ¤6 billion was committed to fighting youth unemployment at the last meeting of the Council of the European Union.
In line with Senator Conway's remarks on mortgages, it would be useful to have a review by the Taoiseach or Tánaiste of the progress that is being made with the programme for Government and the objectives that remain to be achieved.
It is a very important development for the future of our country.
I join other colleagues in wishing Pope Benedict well in his retirement. I wish him a long and peaceful retirement in the Vatican or wherever he decides to reside. He made a very courageous decision to retire, the first Pope to do so in almost 600 years.
When is the Education and Training Boards Bill going to arrive into the House? I join the leader of my party in the Seanad, Senator O'Brien, in calling for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House. The gardaí are operating in deplorable circumstances. In Cavan town there are six detectives and they have no unmarked car. The traffic corps is operating with an almost defunct squad car. Court houses have been closed and policing districts are being amalgamated, with gardaí being forced to move up to 30 miles from their families without compensation. I will not mention the mess the same Minister has made of the Defence Forces but I will not allow him to do the same to the honourable and decent people in the Garda Síochána who protect us on a daily basis.
I also compliment the Pope in his infinite wisdom on realising when it was time to go and on having the courage to break with practice where one went when one died.
It is unbelievable how old people are when they are made Pope. The then Cardinal Ratzinger who was in his late 70s when he became Pope is now in his mid-80s and in ailing health. Perhaps the Catholic Church should consider this issue in the context of the leadership that is required and job that must be done for the worldwide population of Catholics.
If there is one common strand in Senators' contributions, it is the need for the House to unite on the banking issue and help people in mortgage arrears. I agree with Senator MacSharry that the mortgage arrears resolution process, MARP, is a joke. It is a superficial code that is not working. I am in close contact with a family that was told after 40 days in the process that it did not qualify for any reduction in payment, despite the relationship manager of the bank in question, Ulster Bank, having recommended that the application for a reduced mortgage repayment be processed. The family, which is not yet in arrears, has been invited to appeal the decision, a process that is expected to take a further 40 days. The upshot of this approach is that the bank in question is inadvertently promoting arrears by delaying people who are under extreme financial stress.
The stress people are under is not properly understood. For this reason, I was pleased to note the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, intends to switch his energies to focusing on mortgage arrears. What percentage of decisions taken as part of the mortgage arrears resolution process is going to arrears? In my view, the MARP is an unacceptable delaying tactic that is placing people under stress. If Senators stick together on this issue, we will make a difference.
It is inevitable and appropriate that all sides pay tribute to Pope Benedict XVI following his courageous decision and wish him well in his retirement.
It is interesting and somewhat salutary that Senator Mullins was the only speaker to highlight seismic changes in the economic and fiscal programme being pursued by the Government. The Senator will be aware that the Fianna Fáil Party in both Houses applauded the initiative taken last week on the promissory note. Anyone with common sense must applaud any reduction in the overall national debt. However, in everything I have read on the issue only one or two people have pointed out that while the deal is perfectly acceptable and welcome, the Government's fiscal policies are having a detrimental effect on confidence and people's pockets. I advise the Government to tread cautiously in respect of any hype surrounding the events of the past week and not to take its eye off the main focus of its policies, which must be to reduce and, if possible, eliminate austerity measures. In the next 12 months, upwards of ¤1,000 will be taken from people's pockets as a result of water charges, the property tax and goodness knows what other budgetary policies the Government decides to pursue from October onwards. Notwithstanding everything that took place last week, the Government must still address the deficit. I support Senator Mullins's request to have the Taoiseach or Tánaiste come before the House to give people a little hope for the near future rather than 38 years down the road.
I hope I am given the same time as Senator Leyden who was shown considerable latitude, perhaps because he has not been in the House for some time.
Senator Wilson referred to the most recent opinion poll. I am concerned the Senator is starting to believe the fairytale of the past 14 years. Maybe he still believes in the tooth fairy and Easter bunny as well. I assure him that the 450 people employed in Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny are very happy with the terms they have in the Army. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, is doing a great job.
We passed the Equal Status (Amendment) Bill in 2012 to ensure equality in the insurance industry. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to discuss the insurance industry? Ladies' insurance has increased by an average of 30% but there has been no decrease in the amount of insurance paid by men. This is profit-taking by the insurance companies.
I agree with previous speakers in regard to the need for an inquiry into the banking sector. Recently, we saw how inexpensive an inquiry can be. The inquiry by the former Senator McAleese cost in the region of ¤11,000, which is a tiny amount compared with what some inquiries over the past number of years cost. In many cases, young people are in negative equity in respect of their houses and the banks are completely unable to think outside the box. We now see that there was no expertise in the banks during the boom. All they did was hand out money - in many cases, far too much money which people could not afford to borrow. To a large extent, that led to the crisis. Individual borrowers should not be treated in the way they are being treated by the banks. Will the Deputy Leader try to convene a debate on the issue as soon as possible so that we might be able to come up a plan in this regard?
We all know small and medium-sized industries are the backbone of the economy given the part they play in many communities. I read in yesterday's newspaper that they are owed millions of euro by Departments and local authorities. It beggars belief why Departments and local authorities take so long to pay for works well done. Like all of us, these small and medium-sized industries need cashflow. Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate? Is there anything we can do to encourage Departments and local authorities to pay their bills more quickly?
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of the strength of the Garda force and station closures and proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, to which I cannot agree. We had a full debate on this issue last week in Private Members' time, which was taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. I will certainly provide the Senator with a briefing on it, which I have been given. As he will be well aware and as was said during last week's debate, the Garda strength is 13,400 and average retirements are 400 per year and it goes without saying that the necessary funding for Garda salaries will be made available even if this means adjustments within the Garda Vote, the wider justice group of Votes or otherwise. In terms of Garda stations, as Senators are aware, this is about smart policing and the most efficient and effective deployment of Garda resources.
I have undertaken an interesting exercise which is to look at the number of crimes recorded in individual Garda stations over a number of years and it is an eye-opener to see how small a number of crimes were reported in some Garda stations. We should also be cognisant that there have been significant advances in modern policing, transport and technology and that the station network must reflect this current situation. Even after the closure of stations in 2013, we will still have 564 stations throughout the country, comparably more than in Northern Ireland or Scotland.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised a very specific issue, of which I am not aware. I suggest he make the Minister, Deputy Shatter, directly aware of it. That is probably the most appropriate way to deal with it rather than request the Minister to come to the House for debate, since he has just been here.
I accept it is a serious matter and that is why I think the Senator should raise it directly with the Minister. As I said, he was in the House last week but I will certainly ask about getting him to come here for another debate on policing. I am very much open to doing that, as I know many Senators on both sides of the House have sought that. It would be worthwhile having a bigger debate on policing which looks not only at station closures but at smart policing and the effect and impact of policing.
If we look at the crime figures, we see that serious crime levels have decreased. That is not to downplay in any way the serious recent incidents of aggravated burglary that have occurred and caused great concern around the country. It is none the less worth noting that the launch of Operation Fiacla to tackle mobile gangs and burglary has had a significant effect. I am told that between April and December 2012, more than 3,500 persons were arrested and approximately 2,000 persons were charged as part of that operation. Smart policing is having an impact on crime figures. The picture is somewhat more complex perhaps than is being painted. We might have a more reflective debate on the issue when the Minister is available rather than deal with it by way of knee-jerk amendment to the Order of Business, in particular given the recent debate on Fianna Fáil's Private Members'-----
I take that back. It sounds like I am dismissing the serious concerns of the Fianna Fáil Party and I am not. This is a serious issue for me also, as it is for all Senators.
Senator Coghlan joined the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in sending good wishes to Pope Benedict XVI on his surprise resignation. Colleagues will be aware that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste made statements in response to the resignation, both of which extended their best wishes to the Pope on his declaration that he intends to step down from office and paid tribute to him, which was shared by colleagues on both sides of the House today.
Yes. Senator van Turnhout spoke about the Chinese year of the snake. She also referred to the report by Ita Mangan which was referred to in this Chamber by the Minister, Deputy Burton. I thank Senator van Turnhout for reminding us about the report of the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare. I have made inquiries since she last raised it. An update has been sought. I understand progress is being made on the report. I have not yet been told if the report is with the Minister. We will have a debate on it in early course.
Senator van Turnhout also sought a debate on the child and family support agency and the legislation in that regard. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, will be in the House tomorrow at 4.15 p.m. to deal with all Stages of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2013. It might be worth the Senator's while raising the matter directly with the Minister at that time. The Senator also asked about the Consumers' Association of Ireland report, which raises eyebrows in terms of the rising price of goods. It is worth pointing out that the consumer price index produced by the Central Statistics Office provides a more complete figure and indicates that food and non-alcoholic beverage prices have fallen by 6.3% since 2008. There is a mixed picture on that issue. On the Gary Douch report, I am making inquiries on that matter. I understood there was a publication arising from that appalling death.
Senator Mullen also raised the issue of policing, which I have dealt with. He also raised concerns about the treatment of a public representative of the other House in the context of a road traffic offence. I share the Senator's concern in that regard. The Senator also asked for a debate on the report on the Magdalen institutions by former Senator McAleese. I understand the Leader has promised such a debate. We are continuing in our efforts to secure a date for that debate. I assure colleagues that we are all keen to ensure there is a full debate on the issue. We will give notice of the debate so that Senators have time to prepare for it. I believe we can anticipate a Government response that is more fulsome than that given last week, in particular in light of the meeting yesterday between the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and some of the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. Many of us firmly believe there must be a State apology on this matter.
Senator Harte also raised the issue of policing. Senator O'Donovan spoke about the hostile takeover of Aer Lingus. The Government position is that it does not support the revised Ryanair bid for Aer Lingus because of concerns about competition, productivity and employment. On the Government's stake in Aer Lingus, it will be disposed of when the conditions are right. On the sale of Coillte, which has been raised in the House previously, I will revert to Senator O'Donovan on that matter.
Senator Jim D'Arcy referred to the tragic death of Garda Adrian Donohoe and the resources put in place to investigate that matter. I understand extra resources have been put in place. The Garda Commissioner has made clear that resources will not be an issue in that investigation, which I understand is at an advanced stage.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien referred to the foreign aid budget. She may be aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, has promised to attend for a comprehensive debate on Irish Aid. No date has yet been confirmed but he has promised it at an early course.
Senator Moran also referred to the death of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. I have addressed that point. She also raised the issue of juvenile crime and the role of women in the church. As others have mentioned, while ageism may have no place in the church, which is welcome, sexism clearly does.
Senator Norris discussed Pope Benedict's retirement. Senator Bradford called for a debate on Irish Aid. One has been promised.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked for a debate on the report into the Magdalen institutions. We will have one. He also asked for a debate on the social cost of austerity but he might need to frame his request in a more focused manner, as I am unsure as to which Minister would attend such a debate in terms of marriage counselling.
We had planned a debate on children, child care and family policies with the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, but it needed to be adjourned because of the funeral of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. When that debate resumes, it could be a good opportunity for the Senator to raise these issues.
Senator Moloney referred to the need for an apology regarding Magdalen institutions. I agree with her. She also referred to the Mangan report, a matter on which we need a debate, as the Minister, Deputy Burton, promised us last year. I agree with Senator Moloney on the need to avoid a rerun of last year's budget. We need a full debate on the issue as soon as possible.
Senator MacSharry raised the issue of the mortgage crisis. He will be aware that the Government has taken steps to address the serious mortgage arrears crisis. The Cabinet committee on mortgage arrears has driven real change, ensuring the most significant change in insolvency laws in more than a century, which was welcomed by us all, the establishment of the Insolvency Service of Ireland, the strengthening of protections for mortgage holders in difficulty and, working directly with the Central Bank and Governor Honohan, the putting in place by banks of additional restructuring options for those in difficulty. The Senator will also be aware that the mortgage-to-rent scheme forms part of the package of measures that the Government has developed to deal with this serious issue. He referred to this scheme. He also referred to some more creative solutions.
We can certainly have a further debate on the matter.
Senator Comiskey mentioned the upgrade of the N4. We all commiserate on last night's death on that road, but it might be a topic for a matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Barrett raised the issue of the Taxi Regulation Bill. That debate is due to adjourn at 5.45 p.m., if not previously concluded. It will be rolled over if it is not concluded today. A substantial number of amendments have been tabled. The Senator also mentioned the excellent book, "Coercive Confinement in Ireland: Patients, Prisoners and Penitents", by Professors Ian O'Donnell and Eoin O'Sullivan, which I have read. As the Senator stated, it sets out a full and appalling picture of confinement and incarceration in Ireland, not just in Magdalen institutions, but also in industrial schools, psychiatric hospitals and so on.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of the ban on animal charities in Dunnes Stores, of which I was not aware. It might be worth writing directly to the board of the shop in question, a private enterprise,-----
-----and the Minister of State with responsibility for small business.
Senator Daly raised the issue of flights. I have outlined the Government's position on Aer Lingus.
Senator Burke referred to the issue of employing consultants. We might discuss it in the context of a fuller debate on the mortgage crisis and banking policy.
Senator Cullinane mentioned the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out. Like all Senators, I am well aware of that centenary. Inviting a senior trade union leader to address the House is a great idea. Perhaps Senator Cullinane - I believe another Senator also raised the issue - should write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, to ask for a specific consideration. The CPP considers requests from every Senator who wishes to invite someone to address the House. Quite a number of guest speakers have visited the House during this term. In the context of the centenary, trying to do something along these lines might be worthwhile. Recently, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, debated the centenary issue specifically in the House.
Senator Keane discussed the issue of a woman pope. I agree that we might see one some day. I have a full briefing for the Senator on development levies. Her issue concerned Wicklow County Council and households charged development contributions. Some legal action is pending in that regard, but I can share the briefing with the Senator. Some letters were issued to home owners in Wicklow regarding breaches of planning permission as a result of the non-payment of development contributions, but a separate legal action has been taken against the original developer seeking payment of the full amount of development contributions outstanding of more than ¤60,000. That matter will be before the Circuit Court later this month.
Senator Leyden discussed Dr. McAleese's report.
We will have a debate on it and that was promised by the Leader.
We all appreciated the comment by Senator Leyden that even in his memory no Pope has resigned.
Senator Conway raised the matter of the need for a banking inquiry in light of the excellent investigative television programme on Irish Nationwide last night. We could have a debate on it although a banking inquiry is a somewhat different issue. It might be worth inviting the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to come to the House to speak to us about how he proposes to set up that inquiry, which I know he is anxious to have established.
Senator Ó Murchú raised the matter of inviting a senior trade union figure to address the House. I have said that is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and it would be a good idea to put it before that committee. The Senator referred to the reopening of the Irish Embassy at the Vatican, which another Member raised. High level diplomacy between the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Vatican is ongoing and I understand that is going particularly well.
Senator Mullins referred to the economic situation and welcomed the deal last week on foot of the introduction of the emergency legislation. Everyone has welcomed the change in the terms on the promissory notes. It is a significant improvement in our economic situation, perhaps reflected in Standard & Poor's announcement today.
Senator Wilson referring to the opinion polls, which were taken before the deal on the promissory notes, as he is aware.
-----pre the introduction of the emergency legislation and the deal on the promissory notes.
I will find out for the Senator when the Education and Training Boards Bill will be taken in the House. I think it is still on Report Stage in the Dáil. I checked it last week as I have an interest in it. I do not think it is due before the House imminently but I will check.
Senator Healy Eames raised the matter of banking and mortgage arrears and I have given a response on that.
Senator Mooney put forward the idea that the Taoiseach or Tánaiste might be requested to address the House on the programme for Government and we could have a reflective review of it. We can submit a request for the Taoiseach or Tánaiste to come to the House and speak to us on that.
Yes. Senator Mullen.
Senator O'Neill referred to the Equal Status Bill and the equalising of insurance premia. He has raised a good point and he has requested that it be brought to the attention of the Minister concerned since that was not the desired effect of the legislation.
Senator Noone requested a debate on banking, to which I have responded in respect of requests from other Members.
Senator Brennan raised the matter of small and medium-sized enterprises and their need of cashflow. There is a code of practice in place and Departments are supposed to pay for work done within a specific time. If there is a breach in the code of practice, and I have also heard complaints about this, that should be brought directly back to the Departments concerned. They should be told they are in breach of the code of practice if they do not pay for work done within the requisite time.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the worsening crisis in the operation of An Garda Síochána due to the lack of resources and a lack of confidence by the rank and file of the force in the Minister for Justice and Equality be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- RÃ³nÃ¡n Mullen
- David Norris
- Darragh O'Brien
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Trevor Ã“ Clochartaigh
- Brian Ã“ Domhnaill
- LabhrÃ¡s Ã“ MurchÃº
- Averil Power
- Kathryn Reilly
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- Jimmy Harte
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Lorraine Higgins
- CaÃt Keane
- John Kelly
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Feargal Quinn
- John Whelan