Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Taxi Regulation Bill 2013 - Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to be adjourned no later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded, and No. 30, Private Members' business, motion 10, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8 p.m.
I wish to advise the House of the arrangements for next week. Following a decision of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges some time ago, the inaugural Seanad Éireann young Senator student challenge took place and will culminate with a special event in the Seanad Chamber next Tuesday, 23 April from 12.30 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. approximately. The event will see the top 45 entrants participate in an event in which they will have an opportunity to present their essays to members of the Government and ask questions in an Order of Business-style fashion. The Seanad bells will ring for one minute at 12.29 p.m. before the event commences at 12.30 p.m. Senators are welcome to attend the event and those wishing to attend will be accommodated in the available seats and in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.
I advise the House that the event will take place on Tuesday, which means the Order of Business shall probably be taken at 4 p.m.
On behalf of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the dreadful terrorist attack in Boston. I also extend our sympathy to those who were injured. We all roundly condemn the disgusting attack on those participating in the Boston marathon and spectators of the event. We hope the perpetrators will be brought to justice. I formally extend our condolences to the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts following this terrible event.
On the basis that the Croke Park II agreement has failed, does the Government intend to proceed, as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has threatened, with an arbitrary 7% pay cut for public and civil servants? What is the current position on the Croke Park II agreement? Does the Leader agree that the Minister's handling of the negotiations was nothing short of disastrous? The threatening manner in which he approached workers in the public sector was badly thought out and he got his answer from the unions. There will be an essay competition in the Seanad next Tuesday, which is fine. However, I would like ample time to be set aside next week for a discussion on where we go following the failure of the Croke Park II agreement. That debate must happen. The way the Minister and the Government handled the negotiations was nothing short of disastrous. The Government does not have a plan and perhaps my party can assist in compiling one. That is why I ask for ample time to be set aside next week to discuss other options and alternatives. Does the Government intend to proceed, as the Minister threatened to do, with a 7% pay cut for public sector and Civil Service workers?
I ask the Leader to use his good offices to raise a matter with the Minister for Health. I refer to the fact that the Minister and the HSE have breached Labour Court recommendations on home helps and gratuity payments for persons who worked in the home help sector between 2000 and 2008. As the Leader will know, most of those who work in the sector are with voluntary agencies that are majority funded by the HSE. They are low paid workers and the average payment due to them ranges between €12,000 and €15,000. I wrote to the Minister and his Department and they acknowledged that Labour Court Recommendation 19550 stated the workers were entitled to gratuity payments of 4.5 weeks pay per year of service. Furthermore, they explained that they would not pay it. That decision affects thousands of workers across the State who low paid and provide a front-line health service. The State has chosen to hold back the money due to them. Even though they made their contributions, the State is unwilling to pay out. I intend to raise the matter next week on the Adjournment. In the meantime I ask the Leader to use his good offices to advocate on behalf of thousands of workers to whom the State owes money. Will he ask the Minister why he has set aside a clear Labour Court recommendation in that regard?
Like Senator Darragh O'Brien, I extend sympathy on behalf of the Labour Party group to the city of Boston and the families of those who were killed and injured in the horrific bombing during the marathon on Monday. We were all appalled and shocked to see the footage and read about the devastation caused by the bombing. We all share the hope that the perpetrators of the massacre will be swiftly brought to justice. I know that enormous resources are being brought to bear in that pursuit in Boston.
On a more positive note, I commend the Government for accepting the Private Members' legislation brought forward last night to lift the Statute of Limitations for the survivors of symphysiotomy.
It was great to see the survivors, most of whom are elderly, in the Visitors Gallery and who will be able to benefit from the legislation. It is good that the other House should take on board Private Members' Bills and allow them to pass through Second Stage. It is welcome that the Government will take on that legislation in aid of the survivors of symphysiotomy which is long overdue. It is great to see it finally moved on a cross-party basis.
On another matter that has cross-party support, I welcome the decision of the Constitutional Convention, of which I am a member, at the weekend which voted by a 79% majority in support of calling on the Government to hold a referendum on the right to marriage equality, that is, the right to marriage for same sex or gay couples. There was enormous support for it at the convention. That report will go to Government and we look forward to a referendum on the issue in due course.
In regard to the vote on Croke Park II, it is important that the unions and the Government have time to reflect on the outcome. Many unions may wish to preserve some of the core elements of the package in respect of the protection of core pay for members earning less than €65,000. That was an important aspect of the agreement. It is important to note that some sectoral agreements were conducted, for example, with the Prison Officers Association. There are complex issues involved for those unions and for unions on both sides whose members either supported or rejected the agreement. It is important to have time to reflect as we await the response from the unions and, in turn, the Government's response.
I am disappointed the matter I wished to raise on the Adjournment was not taken as it was lodged before some of the others that were accepted.
I welcome the Government's acceptance of the cross-party Private Members' Bill, along with Senator Ivana Bacik, to set aside the Statute of Limitations for the survivors of symphysiotomy. I am aware from the debate in the House last May that many Senators advocated this position. It is a horror story which I have followed closely as a member of the victims of symphysiotomy all-party support group. I pay tribute to the survivors, their families and supporters and those who advocated and campaigned tirelessly on their behalf. I pay tribute to Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, convenor of the all-party group, whose determination and commitment to seek justice for the survivors has kept the issue firmly on the Oireachtas agenda. While I do not condone the length of time it has taken to get here, this is how things should be done. It has restored my faith in consensus politics and how we can work together to achieve good. While the agreement by the Government to support the Bill through Second Stage is welcome, I ask the Leader to urge the Government to begin actively engaging with the survivors and their representative groups to address their immediate health and support needs and, in parallel, to put a structure in place that will ensure redress.
I wish to raise the plight of the 32 thalidomide survivors. At an Oireachtas briefing they shared some of their specific support needs. Regrettably, they are being shunted between Departments. I ask the Leader to urge the Government to engage with them and their representative groups at the earliest opportunity.
On Monday, in response to the publication of the European Commission's report on trafficking in human beings, I called on the Government to transpose immediately the EU anti-trafficking directive into national legislation. This was due to be done by 6 April. The directive has the potential to impact significantly on the lives of trafficked victims and will help prevent others from falling victim to this heinous crime. I welcome the publication yesterday of the criminal law human trafficking Bill to give effect to certain provisions of the EU anti-trafficking directive. I look forward to comparing the Bill against the directive and hope to find all the necessary elements incorporated. Significantly, the Bill defines forced labour in accordance with ILO convention 29. This is something I have called for in the past and I welcome its inclusion. I ask the Leader to commend the Government for initiating the Bill in this House.
I welcome the appointment of the members designate of the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. They are of fine calibre and will bring extensive expertise to their role. I hope a suitable chair can be found at the earliest opportunity.
As a member of three trade unions who voted against the acceptance of the breach of an agreement by the Government unilaterally, I celebrate the fact that SIPTU and the other trade unions voted against it massively and overwhelmingly.
It was an exercise in democracy of the kind I would like to see more often around this joint. It is unlike the situation in which the people came here from the troika and lied to us to say we could not and must not, legally and morally, burn the bondholders. Within a short matter of time, they went to Cyprus to tell people they must burn the bondholders. There is no consistency or feeling for ordinary decent human beings. Thank God for our President, Michael D. Higgins, who told it as it was today in the European Parliament, spelling matters out in a most wonderful speech. The people of Ireland are the victims of an international swindle and the financial houses, ratings agencies and banks who organised it are now sitting up there dictating what we will do. They are unelected and it is undemocratic and time we told them to "F" off.
It is a very serious matter. Mr. Chopra has said himself that austerity does not work. It is not working and it is driving the people down. We should join a coalition of the southern European states and take the big boys on. We should not let Germany win the third world war. It is utterly wrong and shameful that we should go back. It is perhaps appropriate on the day of Mrs. Thatcher's funeral - and I do not approve-----
Yes, I have. Can we have a debate on the most important matter facing the country? We are reverting to Thatcherism. She said what she is quoted to have said. I have heard it and seen it. She said there is no such thing as society and it is only an economy, which is what our friends in the EU are telling us.
It is regrettable that there should be such a clear conflict between the Judiciary and the Government and we should have a debate on the matter. There is an appalling article in one of the low-bred rags, which the editor has accompanied by a picture of a grossly fat person in a library, who is supposed to be a judge. The editorial states that judges constitute a fat-cat elite and are overpaid, over-protected and wholly immersed in their own inflated sense of worth and entitlement. I cannot think of a better description of that gentleman and some of his colleagues.
With the greatest respect. It is very important for the House to consider the matter. If the Taoiseach has his way and abolishes the Seanad, there will be no brake on the Government. It will be able to do what it likes at the touch of a button and make mayhem out of the judges.
I agree with Senator Bacik and was very pleased that nearly 80% of people at the Constitutional Convention showed common sense and decency. I was disappointed not to be a part of it.
As an officer of the court and a Member of the Oireachtas, I will declare an interest on both fronts in the matter just raised by Senator Norris. We must be clear about the situation being reported on the relationship of judges with Government. It has all the appearances of a petty squabble over pay and related issues. My colleagues in both areas see this. It is the furthest thing from a constitutional crisis although I see how it would suit certain agendas to paint it as such. It is more like a dispute on pay and related issues. If the judges had taken a pay decrease when they were reasonably requested to do so, there would have been no need for the referendum and this conversation. I remind the House that the closest we have come to a constitutional crisis in recent times was when half of Mr. Brian Cowen's Cabinet decided to resign rather than to face the electorate in their roles as Ministers. There was a danger on that occasion that there would not even be enough Ministers to create a quorum.
Will the Leader organise a debate on the farming crisis? As someone who was elected on the agricultural panel I am acutely aware of the difficulties that farmers face after one of the toughest springs on record. March was the coldest month on record. This is a much bigger problem than the one in 2009 when the then Government made emergency funds available to help out the farmers. The situation is perilous and is causing a lot of angst, particularly in the south. I am sure it is the same throughout the whole country but I cannot speak for areas in which I do not live and which I do not represent.
Farmers in west Cork are drawing round bales of silage from as far away as Kildare, at astronomical prices. Unfortunately, in many instances they have run out of fodder and because of the lack of funding the banks, building societies and even credit unions are imposing strict constraints on farmers who are finding it extremely difficult to get extra animal feed because the animal feed providers are in a difficult situation. One sheep farmer told me he lost 85 lambs in one week. Dairy farmers are extremely badly hit. One dairy farmer who has done his accounts said it is costing him approximately €450 a day to feed his 50 strong herd of cows. The difficulty at this time of the year is that dairy herds producing milk go into decline and will not recover which will have a knock-on effect.
Given the seriousness of the situation I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we have an urgent discussion on the farm crisis today. The situation is dire. I am sure others here from rural backgrounds will understand the points I am making and concur with the need for an urgent debate today.
I disagree with the comments made by Senator Norris. They are inappropriate with respect to the role of Germany in Europe today. The Croke Park issue is very serious. I very much doubt that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will have any trouble coming into the House for a debate on the matter. It is, however, for the Leader to request that debate.
I congratulate the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, INDI, which launched the inaugural Nourish Children Week on Monday. INDI has conducted a mapping exercise of childhood obesity services around the country which shows that there are only three childhood obesity prevention programmes for children who are identified as being at risk of becoming obese, operating across seven counties. There are only two group intervention programmes for obese children, operating across three counties and Temple Street Children's Hospital is the only children's hospital with an intervention programme for obese children. It has also made several recommendations on what can be done about childhood obesity and we are all aware that the cause of childhood obesity, which affects one in four primary school children, is excessive calorie intake and lack of physical activity. With that in mind I would like the Leader to organise a debate on the specific recommendations of the INDI report but also in particular on one of those recommendations which is a call to remove vending machines from schools. In view of the seriousness of the matter will the Leader immediately ask the Minister for Education and Skills to ask all schools to remove vending machines selling calorific products?
I note the comments of other Senators about the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention last weekend. I would support a debate in this House on the functioning of the convention, having attended two full sessions. I have put on the record my lack of confidence in the ability of the convention properly to tease out some complex issues.
I say that with the greatest of respect and appreciation for the hard work put in by the convention team. I do not have confidence in it or in its ability to properly facilitate a full and searching debate. I have extensive reasons for that, which I will happily put on record in the event of a debate going ahead.
Following the comments of Senator Darragh O'Brien on the Government's communication in the context of the Croke Park agreement and the decision of the public sector unions, communication is at the heart of the current dispute between the Executive and the Judiciary. While it is not a constitutional crisis, serious issues exist in respect of the Government's conduct towards the Judiciary, which has been characterised by a culture of spin going back to the meeting between the Chief Justice and the Taoiseach, which appears to have been leaked. I doubt very much that the contents of the meeting were leaked by the judges' side. I refer also to the very reasonable request the judges made that there be an independent mechanism to establish and regulate judges' pay. The constitutional protection we had, and still have to some extent, on judges' pay is a feature of-----
I ask the Leader to convey this concern to the Government but also to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House. The communication style of the Government is key to the issue. The judges have an important responsibility to ensure their independence.
It is not a question of perks, pay or privilege, and to characterise it as such is to engage in the worst type of tabloid description of the issues. It is a question of the judges wanting to make sure the calibre of people coming into the profession is such that justice will be done.
Over the past number of weeks, it has come to my attention that a serious problem is developing along the Border. Heavy machinery and tractors are being stolen. It is alleged that many of the machines are going north and being exported through the ports in Northern Ireland. I call for greater co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. I welcomed the co-operation we saw during the period of bad weather. I spoke about that a few weeks ago. I call for greater controls and co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI to examine serial numbers on all machines exported through all ports, but particularly those in Northern Ireland, to try to alleviate the problem. It is a serious problem for people when their machines are stolen.
As a member of the Constitutional Convention and as someone who attended every sitting of the convention, with the exception of the opening, I put on record my full confidence in the operation and workings of the convention and the fair and balanced way in which the issues have been discussed and debated. That has been my experience.
I refer to the second Croke Park agreement, or Croke Park II, as it is known. The vast majority of public sector workers said "No" to what they see as a grossly unfair proposal and a deal that would have had a disproportionate impact on low- and middle-income workers in the public sector. The Government thought the proposal would sail through and that the bully-boy tactics of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, would work, such as the blackmail and coercion used by the Government and the Minister to the effect that if workers did not accept pay cuts there would be a unilateral 7% pay cut across the board. These are pay cuts people cannot afford, certainly in the case of low- and middle-income workers. There was a universal answer from the vast majority of public sector workers, who sent a clear, unambiguous and simple message that they had had enough to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and every Member of the Oireachtas. We have heard from teachers, nurses, doctors, gardaí and care assistants, and people on the front line of many public services have said "No".
Will the Leader give a commitment that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will remove the threats, end the coercion and not impose a unilateral pay cut of 7%? Will he also commit to going back to the drawing board and looking at genuine, credible alternatives such as taxing wealth and high earners, dealing with runaway pay and pensions at the top of the public service-----
I would like to take up the point raised by Senator O'Donovan. It is no secret that most of this country is swamped and water logged and that there has been a huge loss of crops and livestock this year. Last winter and the preceding year were the wettest on record yet bizarrely water in Dublin and the surrounding areas has been rationed during the past month. It is absurd that despite non-stop rainfall, water is being rationed.
As I have stated previously in this House no reservoir has built in this country since 1940. Bord na Móna and Dublin City Council have had a plan in the pipeline for the past 12 months to build a new reservoir at Garryhinch Portarlington to supply Dublin and the greater Leinster region. Bord na Móna has the resources to build this reservoir, which it is estimated will cost €500 million and will create 1,000 jobs over the five year period it would take to build it.
The previous Government spent much of its time on plans in regard to building of the Bertie Bowl and other vanity projects and, in my opinion, seriously neglected important infrastructure such as the repair of the pipe network for our water supply-----
I ask that the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to the House to explain when water metering will be introduced, in respect of which we are getting mixed messages from the Cabinet, and when water charges will be introduced. The new CEO of Irish Water took up his post this week, which is important. We need a coherent plan to ensure we have a sustainable, safe and secure source of water for Dublin, foreign direct investment, farming and the domestic sector. It is an absurdity that this Government could go down in history as the Government which allowed Ireland's capital city to run out of water.
I second Senator O'Donovan's amendment. The Leader may be aware that former Senator Bernard McGlinchey passed away over the weekend. I am sure he will make time available for expressions of sympathy and will contact the family in the interim. Mr. McGlinchey served as a Senator for 21 years between the early 1960s and 1980s.
I join with Senator Norris and others in calling for a debate on the implications of the rejection of the second Croke Park agreement. This is a vital issue which is very much a symptom of how the wider public are feeling in terms of the Government's performance and what is being prioritised. We have rightly, to some extent, celebrated in this House the deal on the promissory note, the extension of the term of liabilities and progress on restructuring our debt profile. We have also witnessed the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, travel the world accepting accolades that would have been given to the late Brian Lenihan had he been alive. While people celebrate these so-called breakthroughs in the country's debt and reductions in the current Government deficit they wonder what is the Government doing for them. Tonight's debate on mortgage arrears must be the 50th on the issue during the past three or four years.
Nothing has happened, however, and we have gone into reverse.
I will press on and finish as quickly as I can. I would like to see a debate in this House on the matter of a senior official in the Department of Finance, who is now the Secretary General of that Department, making himself and the Department's resources available to property speculators - the twins from London - to secure part of a portfolio that the Irish people effectively own.
In thinking of another incident in another time and era, I am tempted to ask "What crisis?". I understand the Fianna Fáil agenda. It is natural to the adversarial system. However, this is a time for calmness, cool heads and reflection. I have no doubt that, given the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the Executive and the union leadership, the necessary consultation and dialogue will take place. We should allow what is happening behind the scenes to proceed. Likewise, in the case of the Judiciary, we have confidence in the Chief Justice and the Attorney General. As the Taoiseach noted yesterday, that channel has existed and it will continue to exist. Judicial independence is constitutionally guaranteed and it will not be infringed. We should not be reading into it.
I commend Mr. Ken Murphy and Mr. Justice Kearns on their remarks. I think the Master of the High Court was out of order with his comments but that is a side issue. In all these matters, a little calm and dialogue should be allowed.
I add my voice to those who have called for cool heads and calmness in the spat between the Judiciary and the Government. There is a channel for discussion and we should allow that discussion to take place. We have enjoyed an independent Judiciary for 90 years and it has worked well for us. Let us make sure we do not do anything that loses it. I think it is in the Government's hands to do something about that.
My attention was drawn to a case involving a Pakistani woman who has been in solitary confinement in Pakistan for four years. She is a Christian and she was imprisoned for blasphemy. The sentence was death by hanging. I will pass her name to the Leader because I believe something can be done about the matter. She has had no access to fresh water, light or a toilet. She is the mother to five children. We recognise the benefit of an independent Judiciary. The only two senior people in Pakistan to speak in her favour, a Muslim governor and a senior official, have been assassinated. We should value the independence of our Judiciary and the freedoms we enjoy. I urge the Leader to draw this case to the attention of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to see if we can add our voice to those who are calling for justice.
Like Senator Jonathan O'Brien, I offer my sincere condolences to the resilient people of Boston. I was there two weeks ago at the world Irish dancing championships and actually stayed at the Lenox Hotel on Boylston Street right across from where the second bomb exploded. To think one was coming in and out of that hotel with one's wife and kids while a terrorist organisation of some description was plotting a bomb across the street puts the hair standing on one's neck.
The Fr. Niall Molloy murder case is considered to be the biggest cover-up in the history of the State. There were media reports earlier this week that the cold case investigation into the murder had concluded after three years and had recommended to the Garda Commissioner to go ahead with a public inquiry because it too was met with a veil of silence. We all know the cover-up involved five arms of this State - the Judiciary, the church, the health fraternity, the Garda and the political system.
I have. This issue has lain dormant for 28 years. Senator Whelan and I have supported the call for a public inquiry into the case. The chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party has written to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality calling for a public inquiry too. As this House initiated the call for a public inquiry, will the Minister for Justice and Equality make a statement on the matter in the House? The Molloy family, the people of Roscommon and all connected rightfully deserve an independent public investigation.
The Gathering is a reminder once again of the importance we place on who we are as a people. We are interested in tracing our roots, being more aware of the environment in which our ancestors grew up, their challenges and achievements. Genealogy is an important tool when it comes to tourism because it helps the families of emigrants return to the homeland to see where their people lived. In that context, I have a Bill on the Order Paper relating to the publication of the 1926 census returns. The importance of this census is that it was the first since the foundation of the State. As there is common interest on both sides of the House in publishing these census returns, will the Leader agree to take my Bill in Government time?
The report of the relatives of the 1916 leaders of their visit to the historic buildings on Moore Street made sad reading. These buildings are some of the most important national monuments we have, which we were given to understand would be conserved. The relatives, however, said they were shocked and horrified at the state of the buildings. Water was running down the walls. Plastic sheeting was being used in an effort to keep out the elements. This is happening while we get closer to the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, for whom I have great respect? He needs to take a hands-on interest in this matter. For example, if the Alamo site were treated like this, it would shock people internationally, especially those who want to respect the sacrifices of patriots of the past.
I also want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy for the victims and those hurt during the Boston marathon. It was an horrendous attack on innocent life. I know when one is coming close to the finishing line, there is very little gas in the tank. To take people out at that point is as low as one can go. I hope those responsible are brought to justice.
The abortion Bill is on the legislative programme to be taken before the summer recess. Potentially, this Bill is society-changing legislation which will affect women and their unborn children.
I hope the fullest amount of time possible is given to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for the fullest scrutiny of the Bill. The Minister for Health gave a commitment here at the hearings that took place in this Chamber that the Bill would go to the committee and I urge the Leader to ensure adequate time is given for that. Perhaps we could be generous and offer to host those hearings in this Chamber so that the maximum number of people can attend. This Chamber was required to contain those interested the last time. In my five and a half years in the Seanad, the Oireachtas health committee hearings were one of the finest pieces of work I attended and participated in here. As such a potential life-changing issue for women and children here, the scrutiny of this Bill should be given the fullest amount of time possible and I would be grateful if the Leader could accede to that request.
Over the next two days, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will preside over the meeting on a free trade area between the United States of America and Europe. This was mentioned on this day last month by the Taoiseach and President Obama. I ask the Leader to convey the best wishes of the House to those at those discussions and I look forward to legislation being enacted quickly to give early effect to what will be an important boost to he Irish economy, being so strategically placed between the US and mainland Europe.
I concur with the comments made in regard to the explosions in America.
I want to raise an issue in regard to property tax, namely the significant confusion that reigns among people across the country. For example, in my town of Carrick-on-Suir residents of one full housing estate have received no notification of their property tax liability yet. Some people might think this is great, but many of those people have come into my office and asked me why they have not received their notifications. There is also confusion among people with regard to how property tax can be paid and I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to provide some clarity on this matter. At this stage, all properties liable for tax should have been notified and clarity should have been provided on the methods of payment. In my county of Tipperary, I heard in the past couple of days the suggestion there would be kiosks installed in supermarkets where people could pay in instalments whenever suited them. Many other ideas have been put out and we need clarity on all of these. I ask the Leader to seek that clarity from the Minister.
Céad fáilte ar ais roimh Seanadóirí. Ba mhaith liom, thar ceann Pháirtí Shinn Féin ár gcomhbhrón a chur in iúl do mhuintir Boston as ucht an sleacht a tharla ansin agus a rá go dtéann ár gcuid tacaíochta anonn go muintir Boston ag an am seo.
I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senator O'Donovan in regard to the farming community and would welcome a debate on that issue. An issue related to that is one on which I hope we can also have a debate. I hope we can have a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, on the Leader funding crisis that exists currently. Leader funding has been frozen for local development companies over the past while and it is unclear why this has happened. I would like to hear from the Minister whether there is a problem, because this is the final year of the programme and companies are trying to ensure their full allocation is used.
We also need to ensure we are drawing down all moneys available from Europe for this programme. We do not wish to leave anything unused because we need every penny to be spent here. Is there an issue regarding the matching funding and is there a spat going on between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government regarding the matching funding we need to put on the table before we can draw down the final allocation? This is very important, particularly in the context of where the Minister sees these companies going. We are all receiving letters from people supported by these companies with regard to their concerns about the new model being proposed by the Minister for Leader funding. They are concerned that the Leader companies will be sucked into the county councils and most of the funding will be used for county council works. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come in for a debate on Leader funding and rural development in general?
As this is the beginning of term, I reiterate my call on the Leader to contact the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the Six Counties to see if they have decided to take us up on our invitation to come down and speak to us in the House.
In dealing with the Croke Park agreement it is important for us to look at what has happened in the private sector. Many workers in the private sector have suffered pay reductions of more than 40%. Many small business owners are putting whatever money they have saved in the last ten, 15, 20 or 30 years back into their businesses to try to preserve jobs. Many are stuck in that position. We should, therefore, have a balanced debate on the Croke Park agreement, as many figures have been thrown out. The reality is that wage levels in the public sector are approximately 17% ahead of what they are in the private sector. There is also the issue of job security. There is, therefore, a need for a balanced debate.
I wish to mention an issue I have been raising for the past eight or nine months. It was raised last night on television by Mr. Liam Doran. The cost of drugs in this country is a very valid issue. We will pay more than €2 billion for drugs and medication this year. In 2000 the cost was €574 million. There have been minor reductions in the past three or four years, but the reductions we need have not happened. When we debate the Croke Park agreement, we should refer to some of the other major cuts that really need to be introduced. This is one of the areas in which substantial progress has to be made in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This is the time to start that whole process. I ask for this issue to be included in any debate on the Croke Park agreement.
Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir MacSharry mar gheall ar an iar-Sheanadóir, Bernard McGlinchey, a fuair bás thar an deireadh seachtaine agus a cuireadh i Leitir Ceanainn Dé Domhnaigh seo caite. Chaith sé níos mó ná 20 bliain sa Teach seo, ón bhliain 1961 go dtí tús na 1980í. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh an Ceannaire breá-sásta ócáid a eagrú amach anseo chun cuimhne ceart a dhéanamh ar an tseirbhís a thug Bernard McGlinchey do Chontae Dhún na nGall, don Seanad agus don Stát thar na blianta. Is mian liom freisin tacú leis an méid a dúirt mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir O'Donovan, i dtaobh na fadhbanna móra atá ag feirmeoirí faoi láthair i dtaca leis an nganntanas bia do na hainmhithe agus an t-airgead atá ag seasamh amach dóibh. Cuirim leis an rún atá molta sa chomhthéacs sin.
I wish to comment on a serious issue that affects all public servants - people on whom we depend such as gardaí, nurses, doctors, teachers, surgeons and firemen. Morale is at an all-time low. As public representatives, on a daily basis we meet civil and public servants who work for and defend the State and our interests. The manner in which they are being treated is totally unacceptable. While I agree with most of what Senator Colm Burke had to say, I remind him that the Government is creating a divide between the public and private sectors by trying to play one off the other, which is wholly unfair. Arguments to that effect are often presented by Ministers during debates. The Senator was right to suggest alternative approaches are available. He identified one of them and there are many others.
Why are we trying to push young teachers, gardaí and nurses over the edge? Those who bought properties during the boom cannot afford to take further pay cuts. It would be disgraceful if the Government moved to legislate for a pay cut without entering into meaningful consultation, as opposed to consultation after the event. There is a need for space and calm in order that there can be a total rethink. The Government needs to step back and listen to the unions at this stage.
It is an awful pity they did not listen to the unions six months ago, as we would not be where we are today.
I remind Members that 5 p.m. today is the closing time for submissions to the expert review group on mobility allowance and transport grants. If anyone wants to put in a submission and has not done so, although I am sure all Members have, there is still time to e-mail a submission.
I would like the Leader to confirm whether the transcripts of the debate we had in the House prior to Easter have been sent to the review group. If not, could they be sent before 5 p.m. today?
I gather this issue came up yesterday on the Joe Duffy show and it seems many of the disability groups are not aware of it. However, I did not get up to speak on that issue. Senator Moloney is, of course, right to remind people that it is very important that the consultative process be maximised.
Was the Leader aware that RTE had planned to produce the programme on the Houses of the Oireachtas which was transmitted last Monday evening? The Ceann Comhairle, as is his wont and his right, toured the Dáil Chamber - and he did it exceptionally well - yet there was no office holder from the Seanad. I do not mean in any way to disrespect the individual who toured with the cameras - that is not the point I am making and has nothing whatever to do with this. However, it has everything to do with the status and dignity of this House and with all the House is supposed to portray. I would like to know if the Leader was aware of this and to ask why no office holder was present when the cameras came into this House.
That was followed yesterday morning by a screaming headline in the Irish Independent that Senators had taken an extra day off despite a vote on abolition. This is yet another injurious and pejorative article that is only fuelling the poison already out there among people who have no empathy with this House, and is primarily fuelled by an apathetic and neglectful media who have not taken their own democratic responsibilities seriously enough to sit in this House and to listen to what we have to say.
Then we heard today - again, I say this with all due respect to the people involved, and I am sure it is a very important issue and an important day for them - that we have been given two and half hours of time next week to discuss essays. We are the national Parliament. I do not want to get into an argument about it. It was decided by the relevant committee and it has been processed, and I understand over 250 students were involved. It is an important issue and I do not in any way want to denigrate that. However, is that what we, as the second House of the Oireachtas, are supposed to be doing? This is at a time when the country is staggering along on a daily basis and on a day when the major trade unions - all of the trade unions, in fact, if one considers the totality of membership - decided they were not going to accept the Government's agenda in regard to Croke Park II. I understand the €300 million that must be saved has been included in the Estimates which were published this morning for the next year.
My question to the Leader is this. Where is the money going to come from? Are the doctors, the nurses, the teachers and the front-line services, those on maternity benefits, single parent families and all of those who are vulnerable in society, who are struggling under the yoke of increased taxation, the ones who will have to find this money? Where is the €300 million going to come from? The savings for each Department were already written into the last budget and are included in today's Estimates. The day after the trade union movement rejected Croke Park II, the Government has gone ahead and published the Estimates.
I want to join with colleagues in extending our sympathies to the victims of the bombing in Boston and wish all the badly injured people a very speedy recovery. It is appalling that a fabulous social and sporting event such as the Boston marathon could have been targeted by unscrupulous people. I hope the London marathon, which takes place this coming weekend, passes off without incident.
I know the Leader will not be able to accede to the request from Senator Ned O'Sullivan to amend the Order of Business today, but I ask that time be made available in the near future for a discussion on the challenges facing the farming community in light of the appalling weather in recent months, the shortage of fodder and the loss of animals.
It warrants a debate in this House and it would prove helpful to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
It is disappointing but not totally unexpected that the Croke Park II agreement has been rejected, although narrowly. The process highlighted the major challenges facing the country and gave the public a great insight into how various parts of the public service worked. I would like to see all parties getting back around the table to iron out some of the difficulties that emerged during the negotiations. We all agree that there were, possibly, some unfair elements that could be adjusted and that very high earners could take more of the pain. We should not let the issue disappear from the agenda. I would like to see all parties redouble their efforts to bring about a Croke Park II agreement. I do not think there is a significant difference between the parties when the matter is analysed in its entirety. There is still an opportunity and I urge the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to explore it.
I also extend my sympathy to the families of Martin Richard, aged eight years, and Ms Krystle Campbell, aged 29, both of whom died in the Boston bombings, and to all those who were injured and maimed in that terrorist attack.
I also ask the Leader to organise a debate on the undocumented Irish, an issue about which we spoke previously. Yesterday the US Senate published an 884 page immigration Bill which was brought before President Obama who is enthusiastic to have it passed. As the Senate will pass the Bill in the space of eight weeks, I hope we will be able to organise our own debate on the topic because the 50,000 undocumented Irish want us to ensure their pathway to legalisation in the United States is accommodated within the 884 pages of the Bill. Once it has passed through the Senate, it will go to the House of Representatives where some Republicans are promising to slow it down, to put it mildly. The 11 million people who are undocumented in the United States require the assistance of their home countries to ensure their position will be legalised. Therefore, I ask the Leader to organise a debate in the presence of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade as soon as possible to ensure Irish people in the United States who find themselves living in the shadows will be looked after by us at home.
I join the other Senators who extended their sympathy to the families of the victims in the Boston marathon bombings. I would also like to mention the death of Margaret Thatcher who was buried today. Love her or loathe her, she was a formidable lady in politics. I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and want to mention her name as she will be remembered.
I said love her or loathe her; I am not saying anything about the lady herself. I said she was a woman who would go down in political history. Anybody and everybody is free to make up his or her own mind and I have said I will mention the fact that a formidable lady in politics was buried today. I do not raise it to-----
The EU report deals with human trafficking in every member state. The British-Irish Parliamentary Association is compiling a report on the issue and most EU member states have parliamentary groups to deal with it. This report shows that Ireland is lacking in its rules and regulations. I ask the Leader if we could consider setting up an all-party group on human trafficking because this report shows-----
I have been here for two years during which time I have campaigned vigorously for symphysiotomy victims. I welcome what the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, said last night and hope an end is in sight. It is also welcome that the 35 women excluded from the Neary inquiry will be looked after. We hear plenty of complaints about the health system, but this is a good day for the women concerned, in particular Olivia Kearney who has devoted many years to the issue.
I am glad to see that all Members are in good and strong voice after the recess. I join the Leader of the Opposition and many other Members who have expressed their deepest sympathy to the citizens of Boston on the three deaths and injuries to so many people at such an event. I hope the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Speaking personally, it brought back memories of the many atrocities we witnessed on this island for many years. What happened must have resonated with the relatives of victims of bombings on this island. I join Members in expressing sympathy to the citizens of Boston, with whom we have such good relations.
A number of Members raised the issue of the Croke Park II agreement on public sector pay. I remind the House that the Government is determined to fix the national finances and get Ireland back working again. In order to reach our necessary deficit reduction target, a further saving of €1 billion was required in the pay and pensions bill for public servants. The proposals were fair and equitable in their impact in that it was proposed to protect the salaries of 87% of public workers earning less than €65,000. However, it was difficult for trade union members to accept the proposals and it has been a difficult process for each and every one of them. It is unprecedented to ask public servants to sign up to an agreement that would impact negatively on their pay and conditions. As the Government has made clear on many occasions in recent weeks, a rejection of the proposals does not change the fact that in order to meet our budgetary targets and continue on the path to economic recovery, we need to make payroll savings of €300 million this year and €1 billion by 2015. The Government will reflect on the outcome of the ballot and consider how the required savings can be achieved this year. This is a time for calm reflection by all concerned. A saving of €300 million will have to be achieved and I am sure the method by which this will be done will be outlined in the coming weeks.
Senator Ivana Bacik, among other Senators, referred to the issue of symphysiotomy and the fact the Government had accepted a Bill last evening. Senator Mary Moran has raised this issue more than anyone else over a period of months. It was a good day for Ireland that the all-party Bill was accepted by the Government.
Senator Ivana Bacik also complimented the Constitutional Convention on its ongoing work. There were differences of opinion on the convention between Senators Rónán Mullen and David Cullinane, with the former expressing a lack of confidence and the latter expressing confidence in it.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout also welcomed acceptance of the Bill on symphysiotomy. She also noted the question of thalidomide and said the Government should engage with survivors. I think that issue is ongoing.
The issue of human trafficking was raised by Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Cáit Keane. I inform the House that the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013 will be brought before the House next Tuesday or Wednesday. There will, therefore, be ample opportunities for the House to discuss the many issues raised on the Order of Business, not only today but on previous occasions. Senator Jillian van Turnhout also welcomed the members designate of the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. I am sure we would all like to congratulate them.
We have heard Senator David Norris' views on austerity on a number of occasions and heard them again today. With Senator Catherine Noone, among others, he also raised the important issue of judicial independence. It is the firm view of the Government that the effective operation of the judicial system, of which an independent Judiciary is the cornerstone, is indispensable to the State and all citizens. The Government also recognises that legitimate issues of concern can arise from time to time that will require constructive discussion between the Judiciary and the Executive. Some issues have arisen from the significant programme of reform under way, including concerning the recent proposed amendments to the Constitution which are of relevance to the Judiciary. Government policy on many of these issues is on the public record. For example, the position on a reduction in judicial remuneration flows from the decision of the people in a referendum and is well known. In some cases, the Government has yet to reach a final decision on the precise proposals to be made. The proposed referendums on the abolition of the Seanad and the reform of the courts are two cases in point. I think everybody acknowledges that these issues require some engagement between the Executive and the Judiciary and perhaps new thinking also. There is ongoing and regular engagement, as appropriate, between the Government and the Judiciary. The contact takes place within the relevant constitutional parameters and is both formal and informal in nature, as confirmed by the Minister for Justice and Equality recently.
It involves senior members of the Judiciary, the Attorney General, relevant Ministers and senior Government officials. That process of engagement will continue and address issues of legitimate concern.
Senator Denis O'Donovan, among others, referred to the fodder crisis in farming owing to the severe weather conditions we have witnessed. I am trying to get the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House and hope to have him here within a couple of weeks to discuss this and other farming issues. Therefore, I cannot accept the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Aideen Hayden mentioned the lack of childhood obesity intervention programmes throughout the country.
The matter was raised by the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute and should be debated further in the House.
I have addressed the question raised by Senator Mullen on the Judiciary. Senator Comiskey outlined the theft of heavy machinery in several Border counties. The matter is one that Customs and Excise and other agencies of the State on both sides of the Border should be, and I am sure are, addressing. I shall bring the matter to the attention of the relevant authorities.
Senator Whelan mentioned a need for proper infrastructure to harvest water and asked questions on water metering. I understand that the water metering programme is to commence in the next couple of months.
With regard to Senator Marc MacSharry, I was not aware of the death of former Senator, Mr. McGlinchey. I wish to express my sympathy and that of the House to his family. At a later stage we will bring his family into the House to hear tributes to him. A number of other matters were raised by Senator MacSharry but I only heard some of them. He raised the matter of access to the Department of Finance and allegations in that regard that are in the public domain in the form of newspaper cuttings. I am sure the Secretary General of the Department will address those matters.
I agree with Senator Paul Coghlan that consultation and dialogue is needed now in order to deal with the Croke Park II agreement and the Judiciary.
Senator Quinn mentioned a Pakistani lady who has been in jail for four years for blasphemy and awaits a death sentence. I shall bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as requested.
Senator Kelly referred to the cold case report that is due soon on the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy and called for a public inquiry. I am sure that when the relevant Minister receives the report from the Garda Commissioner, the matter will be addressed.
Senator Ó Murchú referred to his genealogy Bill on the Order Paper regarding the publication of the 1926 census. If he has insufficient time to address the matter during Private Members' time then I shall consider allocating Government time. Normally those matters are addressed during Private Members' time.
Senator Healy Eames referred to the forthcoming Bill that will deal with legislation to address the X case. We will consider any requests by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to use the Chamber, as we did previously. I am sure the Government will give ample time to discuss such a serious matter, as it has to date.
I can assure Senator Barrett that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, is working with his counterpart in the United States of America to conclude a trade deal between the two economic blocs. It will be of great benefit to Ireland if agreement is reached.
Senator Landy referred to a lack of notification by the Revenue Commissioners about the property tax and said that some people still had not received notification. He also requested that the relevant Minister clarify the methods of payment. I am not sure whether the information is contained in the note provided by the Revenue Commissioners. I am sure clarity can be given to the Senator and the general public on the matter.
I have outlined to Senator Ó Clochartaigh on numerous occasions that I did issue an invite to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but I have not received a response as yet. I gave him the same response the previous three or four times he raised the matter.
Senator Burke mentioned the cost of drugs. Significant reductions in the cost of drugs have been negotiated but I agree with him that significantly more reductions are required.
Senator Marie Moloney advised Members of the closing date for submissions in respect of the mobility allowance. I understand the transcripts of the debate were forwarded but, if not, I will ensure they are forwarded by 5 p.m.
Senator Paschal Mooney referred to an RTE programme. Perhaps that matter can be addressed by the Cathaoirleach. Certainly I did not have an input into the programme, nor was I asked. A Member of the House suggested this would happen and I brought the matter to the attention of the Cathaoirleach's office. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach will outline what happened in that regard.
I am sure the Cathaoirleach will address the issue.
In regard to next week's business, the House and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges agreed to encourage young people to be involved in politics and to listen to their issues. There is no obligation on Members to be in the House next week when the young people are present but I certainly will be here to listen to what they have to say. It is an ideal opportunity for them. It is only proper that the House would be utilised to give young people a voice and to listen. We would all do well to listen to what they have to say on a number of issues. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I have no objection to the use of the Chamber for young people. We will have ample time-----
Senator Cáit Keane mentioned the death of a former prime minister and conveyed her sympathy. I think we should convey our sympathy to the family. It is an Irish trait that we should not speak ill of the dead. I will certainly convey our sympathy to her family and our colleagues on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
In relation to the issue raised by Senator Paschal Mooney in connection with the RTE programme, an invitation was issued to RTE by the Ceann Comhairle. I got notice late on a Thursday evening that it was happening on a Monday. I was not available on the Monday and it could not happen any other day. However, I was given a guarantee that footage of the House would be shown in action.
Not empty. Obviously we do not control how RTE makes its programmes.
Senator Denis O'Donovan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the current crisis in farming be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- James Heffernan
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Jimmy Harte
- Aideen Hayden
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Fiach MacConghail
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan