Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting by criminal law and replacing Council Framework Decision 2000/383/JHA, to be referred to Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Sean Kelly, MEP, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 in accordance with the arrangements set out in a motion passed by the House on 25 April; and No. 3, National Lottery Bill 2012 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and adjourned not later than 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
On behalf of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I pass on the sympathy of my party on the recent death of former Deputy Harry Blaney who represented County Donegal with such great distinction. Niall, his son, another former Deputy, is a friend of mine. The service will be held tomorrow. I thank Harry and his family for their dedication and service to the State over many generations.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance about the status of the Mercer report on bank pay and conditions? I asked him last week to obtain a commitment from the Government that the proposed cuts of between 6% and 10% would be heavily weighted against the executives and board members of the two pillar banks and Permanent TSB, the banks over which we have control. Over the weekend I noted with great interest the statement of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, that bankers' pay should be cut substantially at executive level. I agree wholeheartedly, but I cannot marry his comment with the fact that he decided to abstain from voting on the pay of executives in Bank of Ireland. The Minister, on behalf of the people, holds a 15% stake in that bank, yet he chose to remain silent despite the fact that senior executives in the bank will have pay packages of over €800,000. The governor of the Bank of Ireland who works in a part-time capacity has a pay packet of nearly €500,000. The Government decided it had no opinion on it. While it was great to read his opinion in the Irish Independent on Saturday that the levels of pay were unsustainable, why, then, did he not use his vote on behalf of the people when the remuneration package was put to the shareholders of Bank of Ireland last week? I am still at a loss to understand why.
Will the Leader update the House and arrange a discussion on the negotiations on Croke Park II which was an abject failure? The Government, including the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, in particular, failed completely to allow and enable a deal to be done with the trade unions. This is the first time in 25 years we have not been able to bring the trade unions in the public sector on board. After the vote resulted in defeat, I welcomed the fact that the Minister had put Mr. Kieran Mulvey in charge to talk to the union side and determine whether we could move forward in some way. The Government gave Mr. Mulvey two weeks and within three days it was briefing against the public sector. Again, there were threats that it would cut pay and pensions. There was a threat of a 7% arbitrary cut across the board and the threat to job security is being made again. Why can the Minister and others not just keep their mouths shut and let the negotiations happen in a respectful manner and in private? Three days after the appointment of Mr. Mulvey to try to bring forward a resolution and a way forward, the Government was briefing against the public sector. The public sector carries out an extremely important role. I include gardaí, firefighters, teachers, nurses and staff in all Departments. How in God's name can one expect to get a deal if one is threatening people with a 7% cut across the board? That is not the way to do business. In the next couple of weeks I would like the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to explain in the House the Government's position. I again formally call on the Government to withdraw the threat of an arbitrary cut of 7% across the board should a deal not be reached.
It is ironic to hear Fianna Fáil present itself as champion of the public sector having imposed pay cuts when it was in government and after the failed policy of decentralisation which destroyed morale in large parts of the public sector.
However, as I said in the House last week, I welcome the fact that Mr. Kieran Mulvey has been invited to bring the parties together to see if a renegotiation is possible. We all await the outcome of that process.
I also welcome the announcement today of the creation of 1,000 construction jobs in the planned upgrade of the N7 and N11. As a very welcome consequence, we will see the removal of the bottleneck at Newlands Cross. This is a really important deal. It is worth €282 million and will provide some comfort to those who have lost jobs in the construction sector. It is a very welcome announcement.
I seek a debate on the levels of autism in Ireland. The survey commissioned by Irish Autism Action is examining the prevalence of autism in Ireland. I hope that before long this House will have before it the Private Members' Bill that was accepted in the Dáil, the autism Bill brought forward by my Labour Party colleague, Deputy Michael McCarthy. While I hope there will be a debate on that Bill in the House, we might also have a general debate on the prevalence of autism in Ireland and the best methods of education for children with autism.
Finally, the Cabinet meeting today has adjourned. We understand it was considering the heads of a Bill on the X case, 21 years after the Supreme Court judgment in that case. It is welcome that heads of a Bill have been prepared and are being discussed by the Cabinet with a view to providing clarity, at last, to doctors, pregnant women and their families as to the criteria which may be applied where a doctor needs to intervene to save a woman's life.
It is not only about such matters.
First, I wish to be associated with the brief tribute paid to the former Deputy Harry Blaney and I express my sympathy to his family and loved ones. I also extend my sympathy to the family and loved ones of the former Deputy and Parliamentary Secretary, Dick Barry. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the funeral of the former President, Mr. Patrick Hillery. I hope there will be an opportunity to pay tribute to him. He was certainly a gentleman. He told me some very interesting things about his early days in Leinster House.
I also wish to be associated with what my cousin, Senator Michael Mullins, said last week about the costs associated with the treatment of patients who have alcohol-related problems in Galway, with over €22 million having been spent in the past five years in Galway hospitals and 35,000 bed days having been occupied. Considering how much time we spend talking about saving money, can we not get smart for the future and tackle the problem of alcohol abuse in this country with more aggression? My parishioner Joseph Treacy of the Irish Psychiatric Nurses Association, or should I say my fellow parishioner-----
Mr. Treacy comes from a family that has made a great contribution to cultural life. His brother Philip is extremely well known. I must confess a church connection because I sang in the church choir with him at one time. Joseph Treacy has spoken critically about the availability and marketing of alcohol and how it is the slickest campaign we have ever seen. We must respond with particular measures to discourage the abuse of alcohol in our society, and not delay about it.
I understand the Cabinet meeting has adjourned. I do not know if that is just for the optics, but I wish to pay particular tribute to my fellow Galwegians, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames and Deputy Brian Walsh. They have spoken clearly-----
I renew my request to the Leader that we not just have a debate on this when the legislation eventually comes to the House. It is not a good idea that whatever the Government proposes to introduce in the draft heads of a Bill would be developed and discussed at the health committee first. There is an unequal relationship between Deputies and Senators in that committee. This is a life and death issue which should be discussed at the heads of a Bill stage in each House. Senator Healy Eames and Deputy Brian Walsh have laid bare the fiction that this is about necessary medical or life-saving treatment. All of that is just spin. This is about a dangerous and destructive proposal to introduce abortion on a ground of threatened suicide for which there is no medical evidence.
Last week we heard from more than 100 psychiatrists, representing 90% of those who responded, who are deeply concerned about the way their profession would be compromised by being drawn into something that is not evidence-based.
The Taoiseach needs to give leadership. Even at this stage the issue needs to be stalled, not just adjourned until 5.30 p.m., until we can have a proper discussion about what constitutes a genuine, necessary medical intervention - which we would all support - and something that is really just a fiction masquerading as medical treatment designed to introduce abortion into Ireland.
It has not gone away indeed. The myth of laundered diesel being a victimless crime still abounds. It costs a fortune to clean up the toxic waste that is dumped on the side of the road from the diesel laundering process and this is taking money out of the pockets of every taxpayer in the county. Together with Senator Brennan I had the honour of attending the second meeting and the first instalment of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association last Friday. On the fringes of the meeting we had a discussion with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly from the Border region. They too are very concerned about this issue. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, back to the House to give an update on what measures are being taken to combat this criminal activity, particularly with regard to North-South co-operation on the matter.
I join our group leader and others who have expressed their sympathy to the Blaney family on the sad passing of Harry Blaney, a former Deputy who served in these Houses between 1997 and 2002 and who continued a long and illustrious tradition of national politics for the Blaney family in Donegal. I express our deepest sympathy to his wife and family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. Also, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I echo the comments of Senator Mullen in expressing our sympathy to the Leader and the Fine Gael party on the passing of Dick Barry, the former Deputy and Minister of State. I first came around these Houses as a member of the Fianna Fáil national executive when Dick Barry was coming to the end of his illustrious political career and had the pleasure of knowing him and his daughter, Myra, who, all would agree, was a great loss not only to the Fine Gael party but to national politics when she decided to retire from national politics. I call on the Leader to convey to the Barry family the deepest sympathy of the Fianna Fáil group on his sad passing.
I wish to alert the Leader to an issue that has been mentioned here frequently not only by my colleague Senator MacSharry but also by others as part of the ongoing campaign to have essential road works carried out on the N4 at Castlebaldwin, going into Sligo. There was some good news last week and I pay tribute to all those involved. I understand there will be an environmental impact assessment and a compulsory purchase order in the coming 18 months, which, I hope, will lead to the works being carried out. Anyone who has travelled on the N4 will know that this stretch stands out like a sore thumb. I pay tribute to the local campaign group, which kept this on the national radar. Despite all the pressures on Government, it has responded to the activities of the campaign group. Some 30 people have been killed on this stretch of road, which is only a couple of miles long; the most recent was killed in the last few weeks. With all the crosses erected along the route, it looks more like a cemetery than a national primary route. The reason I raise this issue - I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence - is that the newspapers are reporting today that the president or chairman - I am unsure of his correct title - of the European Investment Bank has indicated that the bank would facilitate loans being provided for essential infrastructural works in the country.
He cites a number of examples to which the Government has already committed, such as the N11 at Rathnew, Newlands Cross and the Gort road.
I am sorry. All I am asking is that we could have an opportunity, if the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, could come to the House in the context of the initiatives the Leader has embarked on, to question him on this, perhaps in the form of a question and answer session.
I raise the impending carbon tax on solid fuel, which will have effect from tomorrow. I am concerned, as are members of the hardware industry, that this will result in a loss of jobs in that sector. Apart from all that, it will be an added burden on struggling households. People may not realise that in many cases, with families using up to three tonnes of coal per year to heat their homes, their carbon tax could amount to more than their property tax. We should be very mindful of that.
When families are struggling and do not have money, they will look at other ways of providing their fuel. They will look north and get their coal provided from Northern Ireland at a cheaper cost and at a VAT rate of 5%, as distinct from 13.5% here. The sulphur content of coal in the North is 2%, whereas it is 0.7% here. It is a serious concern. When we realise it was a big mistake to levy this charge on coal, we will do what we did with diesel; we will give a rebate on costs. Hauliers were driving out of this country and filling up in foreign countries to save hundreds of millions of euro. Eventually we will address it, but we should do so before it is too late. This year was the coldest winter I can remember in years, and the fodder crisis is evidence of that. It is very important.
On the free fuel scheme, we should consider a voucher or smart card scheme, as has been highlighted by the hardware sector. If the Exchequer is giving people a free fuel allowance and they are spending that money in Northern Ireland, we are losing money. A voucher system would ensure they spent the money locally. It is important that this be brought to the Minister's attention and that this decision be reviewed as a matter of urgency before we lose jobs as well as everything else.
I welcome the fact that the Government appears to be making the first hesitant steps towards taking a humane view on the troubled subject of abortion. I deprecate the level of hypocrisy, abuse and heckling that goes on from people who are opposed to this. The real mistake was in 1983, when the theological position of one church in this country - that the fertilised egg represents a full human being - was instituted in the Constitution. My church was very strongly against this. The Constitution was not the place for that, and that is what has landed us in all this trouble. Anybody who knows anything about reproduction knows that the female body sheds fertilised eggs all the time. There is no doubt about that. Millions will vanish unknown, and these are said to be full human beings. That is the kind of logical impasse into which one drives one's self.
My colleague, Senator Mullen, talked about psychiatrists. Apparently just over 100 spoke. I understand the membership of the association is 800. They tried to make out that 90% of those replied. They wrote to 300 or 400 and approximately 100 replied. That is a small proportion, and out of 800 it is minute.
It is ridiculous.
My colleague here, who spoke about it earlier, referred yesterday on the radio to opponents using bogus science, and he instanced somebody who could be clearly identified as a psychiatrist as practising the corruption of medicine. I would have thought that was actionable. It most certainly does not represent respectful dialogue, courtesy or anything like that. Other Members have brought up this fantasy that women are automatically damaged by this.
In 2011, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in Britain, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, published its report on abortion-----
The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.
I am just ending. Its report stated: “Having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems.” That is the definitive professional opinion, not the opinion of people who seek to damage the reputation of psychiatrists-----
On several occasions in the House, I have commended the increase in the number of tourists to our country. I am glad to state there has been a further increase in the number of tourists visiting our capital city and our country, particularly from North America and continental Europe. We are all aware that Dublin will be the epicentre of European rugby in less than three weeks’ time, when the capital stages both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup. The RDS will be the venue for the Amlin Challenge Cup on Friday when Leinster meets Stade Français Paris on Friday 17 May. The Heineken Cup showpiece will be held the following day at the nearby Aviva Stadium, between ASM Clermont Auvergne and Toulon. Interestingly, three out of the four teams are French.
I have. Up to 70,000 people will converge on our capital city over that weekend, a major influx of tourists. We have much to show and offer and, indeed, we hope they will return with happy memories. Dublin will be a sporting experience that weekend for many continentals and for ourselves. We should promote the possibility of holding the Rugby World Cup in Ireland. We have the facilities in Dublin with the Aviva and Croke Park stadiums, Thomond Park in Limerick and Belfast-----
Tá mé ag iarraidh mo mhíshástacht a léiriú leis an gCeannaire maidir leis an sceideal atá againn do ghnó na seachtaine seo. I am not one to have a go unless there is a reason. However, this week’s Seanad schedule is very disappointing. It is quite light on meaningful debate on serious legislation. There also seems to be a significant lack of Ministers attending the House this week, which is not acceptable. This is a trend that has been going on for the past several weeks. This week we have three MEPs rolled out almost like a human shield to protect the Ministers. I have no doubt the debates with them will be fruitful and meaningful, as was the debate with Pat The Cope Gallagher last week. However, they should not take the place of robust and meaningful debate on the issues raised by Senators on the Order of Business over the past few weeks.
I am not laying the blame at the Leader’s feet. Perhaps it is at his behest. Is there an issue with the Ministers? Are they afraid of coming into the House because we give them too much of a hard time when they do? Is it that they have so much disdain for this House and they feel it is already half abolished that they do not bother to come in at all? What is going on that we are not getting Ministers in to debate issues of health, education, mortgage distress, poverty, equality, rural affairs, agriculture, direct provision and natural resources, all issues raised over the past several weeks? It is about time the Ministers showed us the respect we deserve.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, attend the House to discuss developments on Croke Park II, where the Government stands on it and why it is trying to bully the unions into taking a stance that they are obviously not going to take.
We certainly need to have the debate on Croke Park II while he is here. The Leader also needs to explain to us the stance of the Government regarding the Seanad. Will this continue until the summer recess? Is the Government trying to wind us down slowly? If it is, it should remember that we have not been wound down yet.
I would like to raise the idea of having Irish music added to the UNESCO programme for intangible cultural heritage. By intangible cultural heritage, UNESCO means all kinds of oral traditions of living expression of culture, as opposed to objects and monuments. Music is an obvious and important example of an intangible cultural heritage. I believe that by adding Irish music to the programme, we could have Irish traditional music, or at least some aspects of it, validated as part of UNESCO's list of intangible heritage of the world. If we look to other recent examples, this could have a real impact on cultural tourism here.
I call on the Minister with responsibility for arts to work to ratify the UNESCO convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. Ireland has yet to do so, while 142 other countries have already done so. Ratifying the convention would be the first step towards having Irish music recognised in the UNESCO programme and is worth doing in itself. Once the convention has been ratified, after a short interval of time a country is then in a position to nominate some aspect of its intangible cultural heritage to be inscribed by UNESCO on its list. I believe Irish traditional music should be considered worth nominating.
Portugal was successful last year in applying for its Fado song tradition to be inscribed on the UNESCO list. Following its successful application, there was a huge surge in activity around Fado and cultural tourism in the country. I call for the Minister to look into this as I believe it would be worthwhile for Ireland.
I would like to support Senator Brennan in his comments on tourism. On a related issue, I hope the Government will maintain the 9% VAT rate on tourism services. As Senator Brennan said, some 1.25 million trips to Ireland were taken by individuals between January and March this year, a huge increase which shows The Gathering is having an effect and that sporting events are also having a significant impact. I believe the VAT decrease has been an integral part of the increase in tourism and in leaving tourists with a pleasant taste in their mouths when leaving the country. I call on the Minister to retain the VAT rate at the reduced rate for the coming year.
I second Senator Ó Clochartaigh's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I would like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to the Blaney family, to Margaret, Niall, Liam and the family, on the death of an excellent parliamentarian and wonderful public servant who carried on the great tradition of the Blaney family in Donegal. I would also like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to the family of Dick Barry, with whom I served in the House and with his daughter Myra, two excellent Deputies who made history by being a father and daughter combination from the one constituency. Myra was elected in the by-election of 1979. Everyone who knew Dick would say that he left a lasting impression on all who met him. He was a wonderful character and Deputy and we are sorry to hear of his passing.
I would like to reiterate the comments made by Senator Denis O'Donovan two weeks ago with regard to the fodder crisis. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine should come to the House to make a statement and should take action in this regard.
It is not just a fodder crisis, but a fodder famine. The Government does not have a co-ordinated policy to deal with the issue. When Fianna Fáil was in power, all the farming organisations would be outside Leinster House protesting on such an issue, but that would not be necessary because the former Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, would have taken decisive clear action. Some 846 cattle have been picked up dead by a company in east Galway in the past seven days. These cattle will never be replaced. Cows with calves cannot even get up and are dying.
When one goes through the countryside and sees the devastation, it is unbelievable. The reaction of this Government reminds me of the reaction of the British Government over 150 years ago.
I would like to be associated with the tributes that have been paid to the late Deputies Dick Barry and Harry Blaney. Many of us knew Dick Barry for 30 to 40 years. He was a great, kindly, personable man, who, as has been said by Members on the other side, liked nothing more than meeting new Members as they came into the House, conversing with them and regaling them with stories. He was always most engaging. We knew his daughter Myra well and we offer our deepest sympathies to her.
I got to know Harry Blaney very well when he and Jackie Healy-Rae claimed, probably correctly, that they were the fourth wheel under the Government of 1997 to 2002. They did keep it on the road for five years. For family reasons - not a connection, but a friendship - I happened to get to know Harry well. I would like to be associated with those tributes and to pass my sympathies on to his wife Margaret and his son Niall, who served in the other House.
Senator Darragh O'Brien, do you know you are a gas man?
Here he is again trying to berate the Minister, Deputy Noonan, the man who was responsible for the Mercer report, who addressed this subject and who has let the banks know that they have until the end of April, which is today. He wants the cuts to come in at between 6% and 10% - a proper reduction. Senator O'Brien has been answered before by the Leader and by many of us on this issue.
I want to mention the article in The Sunday Business Post which claimed the Department of Health opted for a dearer insurance levy. It states that the Department of Health increased the amount decided by the Health Insurance Authority as an appropriate compensation for the treatment of old people by 53% over what the referee had recommended, resulting in an increase from €190 to €290. We will soon have a distinguished sports person in the House, and I am delighted the Leader has invited him. However, I do not believe overturning referees' decisions to that degree would be accepted in any part of society.
We have to cast serious doubt on whether the Department of Health has any bona fides when it adjudicates between competing health insurance companies. The intervention in this case was disgraceful and will cost the consumer €30 million. Given the Milliman report, which the Leader kindly placed in the Oireachtas Library, we have always said in the House that this whole thing is bogus. When the Southern delegates were in Stormont last Friday, Professor Charles Normand, who previously worked at Stormont and is now at Trinity College, Dublin, and the secretariat from the North also cast serious doubt on this piece of folklore that old people need to have their health insurance compensated by other people. It seems that, more and more, it is just an excuse for the Government to keep on bailing out VHI.
We should debate the basis of subsidising health insurance companies according to customer age and the movement of all of this away from the Department of Health, which has such a dreadful record in so many ways, to the financial services regulator and the Central Bank because health insurance is a financial service. This latest intervention casts even more doubt on whether the Department of Health has ever been sincere or neutral in adjudicating between competing health insurance companies. It should not have decided to increase the amount of the independent award by 53% in a couple of months. We must address this because the result is that fewer and fewer people will take out health insurance, particularly the young, and when we have compulsory health insurance, goodness knows what it will cost if the Department of Health is in charge of the pricing.
Last week, I asked the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House for a question-and-answer session. I reiterate that call today for a different reason. I want to discuss with him what is happening in the central medical card office. Obviously, it must have cleared the backlog of applications because it has now embarked on a campaign of reviewing everyone with a medical card. Many people issued with medical cards until 2020 are now being reviewed and in many cases, being denied cards following the review. In particular, many people received discretionary medical cards due to serious illness and did not receive them lightly. They received the cards because they were extremely ill but the cards are now being taken off them as well. I want the Minister to come here and answer questions from us as to why this is happening and why he feels it necessary to review people whose circumstances have not changed since they last applied for cards but who are now being refused them.
I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the families of the bereaved ex-Members. I did not know Dick Barry personally but I certainly know Myra Barry. As a Munster colleague, I found her to be an exceptionally good and forward-thinking politician. I express my sympathy to the Blaney family on the death of Harry Blaney, particularly to his sons Niall, a loyal former Deputy, and Liam, a county councillor in Donegal. There always has been a strong family connection between the Blaney family and my home town of Listowel for reasons that are too complex to go into. It has much to do with their holidays. I take this opportunity to extend the sympathy of the community in Listowel to the Blaney family.
I previously raised the absence of Parkinson's disease-trained nurses in the south. Articles published at the weekend prompt me to repeat my call for the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss a clear inequity in the system whereby Parkinson's disease-trained nurses are found in the west, north and, naturally, Dublin but not in the greater Munster area where a very prominent neurologist described what we are facing as akin to an epidemic because the number of patients with Parkinson's disease will double in the next ten years due to the aging population.
I also wish to touch on the imminent publication of the Government's position on dealing with the X case. I welcome the fact that it has finally agreed the heads of a Bill we can examine. I hope it will be debated at an early stage, as Senator Mullen requested - even at heads of Bill stage. I also express the hope that the debate will be conducted in a very gentlemanly or ladylike and proper manner. I have never commented on this before. There has been so much pre-emptive debate on this issue in the past six months and very strong voices on both sides of the argument have been heard. I respect the rights and opinions of those people but there are many other people whose opinions have not been heard. There is a middle ground somewhere. My parliamentary party will discuss it and I will make known my views known there. Let everyone have a fair share. Nobody will be bullied in a debate no matter what side they are on. We all have minds of our own and have all had to do our thinking for ourselves. It is very difficult but I hope the debate will be conducted in the manner I outlined.
I join with colleagues in extending my sympathy to the family of the late Dick Barry. I met him on a number of occasions and was particularly friendly with his daughter Myra. I know he made a major contribution to politics over the years. I also extend my sympathy to members of the Blaney family in Donegal on their loss.
I am disappointed Senator Leyden is playing politics with the difficulties experienced by the farming community.
He knows full well that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, is working very closely with the co-ops, the financial institutions and the farming organisations and has provided subsidised transport to ensure badly needed fodder is brought into the country as a matter of urgency. The Minister has taken this matter seriously from the word go and has been working on this project with the farming organisations for the past few months. We need solidarity rather than division between politicians in respect of the task the Minister is undertaking.
Will it be possible for the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to come to the House for a discussion about the length of time it is taking to have applications for carer's allowance and disability pensions and benefits processed? This is unacceptable, particularly applications for carer's allowance. It is taking medical personnel too long to review appeals. We want to keep elderly people in their homes for as long as possible and out of nursing homes. The carer's allowance is critical in achieving this. It is totally unacceptable that in some cases it can be up to six months before anybody looks at these appeals. I would like for the Minister to come here to discuss how we can streamline the process and get more timely results and decisions from the Department.
I, too, extend my sympathy to the families of Dick Barry and Harry Blaney. I was not acquainted with Dick Barry, but I knew Harry Blaney for many years when he was in this House and before when we were both members of the General Council of County Councils. He was an absolute gentleman, one whose heart was always in the right place. He epitomised the ethos and values within our party and was always prepared to stand up and defend them. That challenge faces many of us now, in my party and others.
I welcome the announcement today by the National Roads Authority about the improvement to the N11. It is good to see this, not least because it is needed and long overdue but also because capital expenditure will generate jobs and improve infrastructure in the south-east corner, particularly my own county of Wexford. That infrastructure will I hope be a driver of economic growth. Rosslare Europort is one of the major entry points for goods into the country and when the motorway is finished, it will end at Gorey. There is a real need for the rest of that section of roadway to be prioritised. I hope that will follow immediately after this section is done.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, in asking the Leader to have an early debate in the House on the forthcoming abortion Bill. I agree that the debate should be conducted in a respectful way that will recognise that there are different viewpoints, but it must also be honest. This morning I heard a senior politician on radio claim that the Bill would protect the unborn. If that kind of dishonesty is to be injected into the debate, it is not going to be respectful.
I am asking that we have that debate and I appeal to people in all parties who are conflicted between their loyalty to their party and what their conscience is telling them not to allow anyone to abrogate their conscience. We have seen examples of people saying to their personal disadvantage where they will stand on this issue, particularly people in the Labour Party.
I support Senator Catherine Noone in her call to have Irish music added to the UNESCO programme for intangible cultural heritage. As a former member of South Dublin County Council when we were always seeking funds for the N7 flyover, I am delighted to welcome the announcement today of the expenditure of €282 million and the 1,000 jobs that will be created during the project.
Hopefully, the bottleneck at the N7 will be alleviated. I wholeheartedly welcome this.
One might say Bangladesh is a faraway place to talk about in the Seanad but it is very relevant to people in Ireland because some of our clothing chains purchased clothes in the factory which collapsed killing hundreds of people. We have enough to do in looking after our own building and safety regulations but I would like a debate to see what we can do in regard to those who source clothing from those factories not only in Bangladesh but in Saipan, China, etc. Nike and Apple are doing something. Penneys has said it will compensate the families of those who were killed but it is a bit late to compensate families when people are dead. It is unfair to mention Penneys because Gap, Walmart and others source clothing from those factories. Consumers want cheap good clothes, and rightly so, but they do not want them at any price, or at the price of lives being lost.
I call for a debate to see if we can draw up a code of ethics for chains to ensure preventive measures are taken, that independent inspectors go into those factories from which they source the clothes before they sign the deal and that they do not buy clothes at any cost. We must see what measures we can advocate and if we can take example from companies taking measures to ensure it is policy. We all want to buy Irish but if we cannot do so and if we must buy something else, we should ensure the people making these clothes are working in humane conditions which are satisfactory to us.
I warmly welcome the major jobs announcement for Waterford and the south east, which has just been announced. Glanbia Ingredients Ireland is to build a state-of-the-art facility in Belview on the Waterford-Kilkenny border. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister said 1,600 jobs will be created in the south-east region. There will be 450 construction jobs and 1,600 part-time and full-time jobs through a combination of jobs at the facility and increased dairy output in the south east.
This must be seen as a very good news story for a region which has suffered very badly because of the jobs crisis. As the Leader, who is from Waterford, will know, we have taken a lot of knocks and heavy hits over the past number of years, so a major announcement such as this must be welcomed by everybody. It will obviously be good for the farmers in the south east, for rural communities, which have suffered because of the economic downturn, and for everybody in Waterford and the south east in that it will give the region a lift and will create jobs, which is what it needs. Hopefully, this will be the start of a lot more to come for Waterford and the south east.
I commend all of those involved, including Government representatives and, of course, the company for its vote of confidence in the Waterford site, which is a very important one, and in the south-east region.
I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Barry and Blaney families. The late Deputies Barry and Blaney gave great service to this country and to public life over many years. May they rest in peace.
Senator Cullinane mentioned Waterford and the south east but I remind him that the plant is being built in County Kilkenny. Glanbia is a Kilkenny company with worldwide distribution. It is welcome news that 1,600 jobs will be created and that there will be 450 jobs in construction, which will start on 17 May. It is great to see Sinn Féin coming into the House with a positive message for a change. I compliment Glanbia and Enterprise Ireland on this major investment. Hopefully, it will have a benefit for rural Ireland, for farmers and for the people involved in small industries such as providing trucks to bring the milk to the plant.
I listened to the Opposition with its populist politics. If Senator Leyden knew anything about agriculture, he would know that the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine is doing all he can in regard to the fodder crisis.
I will have a question for the Leader in a second on this crisis. The problem is that last summer we could not make fodder and it had to be imported from England. It is now being imported from France.
The Minister did announce a fund of €1 million to subsidise the cost of transporting this feed into the country. If Senator Leyden knew anything about it-----
I do not need a debate because it has been debated by an Oireachtas joint committee and in the House. The local IFA branches have been proactive, along with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, regarding the matter. There is a Freefone number that can be called, 1850 211 990. If anybody cannot source fodder or pay for it, the Minister gave an undertaking at the meeting of the Oireachtas joint committee and in the Dáil that his Department will pay in order that no animal starves. It is important that the general public is made aware of the Freefone number.
We have again listened to populist politics. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to come here to explain why we need a property tax. After listening to the Opposition at the weekend at its Ard-Fheis, one would wonder how the leopard has changed its spots so much.
Last Friday the newly independent Shannon Airport made 300 acres available to the IFA and made a contribution of €5,000 to cut the grass. The airport must be commended on its actions. It also contributed hundreds of bales to a scheme operated by the IFA to help the farmers of County Clare. That is a clear example of the benefit of an independent Shannon Airport. If it had been tied to the Dublin Airport Authority, the fodder crisis would have been well and truly over by the time agreement was reached to cut the grass and a financial contribution would not have been made. I say hats off to the management team of Shannon Airport.
The banks need to step up to the plate when it comes to assisting farmers and dealing with the fodder crisis. Unfortunately, evidence on the ground to date is that the banks are not co-operating to the degree that the Minister and the farming organisations expected. We need a new and renewed commitment by the financial institutions to farmers during what is hopefully a temporary difficult period.
Finally, I was troubled to make a discovery in the past few days about a construction project in Clare that the NRA has tried to embark upon for some time. I refer to the demolition of houses at Blake's Corner in Ennistymon, County Clare, which is regarded as the most dangerous junction in the west of Ireland, with more than 1 million cars travelling through it in any one summer. I was troubled to discover that An Bord Pleanála has recommended to Clare County Council that €100,000 be spent on an environmental impact study, when everyone, whether they have expertise on the area or not, realises that the result will be the demolition of the two buildings.
I will be brief. Tomorrow the carbon tax increases will come into effect. I would like to ask at this late hour if the Minister for Finance would consider extending the deadline for a fortnight due to the harsh weather that we are experiencing. By that time, temperatures should have risen. It is lovely outside today but last night it ranged from 3° to 4° Celsius where I come from, and it is still very cold at night and early in the morning. People in the lower socioeconomic grades have been affected by cold weather and fuel costs this long winter, which lasted from October to May Day. An extension would help people.
I join with Senator Darragh O'Brien and several other Senators who extended votes of sympathy to the families of Harry Blaney and Dick Barry. I knew both men.
They were wonderful men who gave great service to the country. I am sure we all wish to express our sympathy to their families.
At the risk of repeating myself on the Mercer report, I have given a number of explanations for the Minister's decision not to oppose the proposal, including that we only have a 15% shareholding in Bank of Ireland. The Minister has requested a 6% to 10% pay cut, in particular for senior bankers. We hope we will have these proposals within the next day or two. It would be much more meaningful to have cuts and wait for the proposals rather than going through the motions of opposing something we know will be accepted.
With regard to Croke Park II, I do not deal with speculation and leaks to newspapers. We should alllow the space requested and hope the negotiations will bear fruit in the near future.
Senator Ivana Bacik and other Members welcomed the N7 and N11 improvement projects and the creation of over 1,000 construction jobs in the next two years. This should be welcomed by all.
The Senator also mentioned the prevalence of autism in Ireland and called for a debate on the issue. I will try to arrange it. She also mentioned a Bill in the other House. I am not sure whether it will be dealt with. I do not think it is on the A list, but we will check to see when it is intended to have it discussed in the House.
Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the €22 million being spent on treating alcohol-related diseases in Galway and said we should encourage methods to discourage the abuse of alcohol. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, to come to the House soon to discuss the issue with us.
On the protection of maternal life Bill, ample time will be afforded to discuss that issue in the House. Anyone who wishes to speak on it will be afforded the opportunity to do so. I can give that assurance to the House.
Senator Jim D'Arcy raised the issue of diesel laundering, a criminal activity, and called for the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to come into the House to discuss it. I have requested the Minister of State to come to the House to address the matter and he is agreeable. I am waiting for a date and hope it will happen in early course.
Senator Paschal Mooney referred to the N4 road works mentioned by Senator Marc MacSharry last week. As he stated, we have seen progress since last week in that an environmental impact statement has been requested. The compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, will also be attended to, which is good news. The matter is being progressed, which I am glad has been welcomed by Members on the other side of the House.
Regarding the European Investment Bank, I am sure the Minister will take on board what Senator Paschal Mooney mentioned in that regard. To the best of my knowledge, he has already taken that matter on board.
Senators John Kelly and Tom Sheahan spoke about carbon taxes. Senator John Kelly referred to a voucher system, while Senator Tom Sheahan spoke about extending the fuel allowance. That issue might be raised in the form of an Adjournment matter to allow the relevant Minister to deal specifically with these items.
To reply to Senator David Norris, as I have stated, ample time will be afforded in this House for the debate on the protection of maternal life Bill. As expressed by Senator Ned O'Sullivan, I hope when that debate it held, it will be conducted in a proper manner with respect shown from all sides.
Senator Terry Brennan welcomed the positive news on the tourism front where visitor numbers were up significantly in the first quarter of 2013. He also noted that there would be a large influx of rugby supporters in the next week or two, in particular from France. I am sure they will afforded the welcome they always receive in our capital city.
I remind Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that, as I announced last week, that next week is Europe week. I indicated that in the lead-up to Europe week we would have three MEPs in the House this week. If one looks at the subjects of the addresses of the MEPs to the House, especially those of Ms Nessa Childers and Ms Marian Harkin, one will see that they deal with items requested by many Members, including the links between the Seanad and the European Parliament and European directives. They are very relevant matters for the House to address.
I have also announced on several occasions that there will be a scarcity of Ministers to attend the House until June as Ireland holds the Presidency of the European Union for six months. Ministers have their responsibilities in that regard, as well as to the House. We have had all senior Ministers attend the Chamber when requested to deal with legislation. I will endeavour, as I have always, to have Ministers attend to hear statements. Many Ministers have co-operated, notwithstanding their busy schedules in the European Union and the other House. I agree with Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh on the Seanad - "We have not gone away, you know."
Senator Catherine Noone referred to Irish traditional music and its UNESCO programme listing. It is a matter the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, will probably attend the House to address. I am sure the matter is of interest to Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú who has been involved in the area for a long time. I will certainly bring the matter to the Minister's attention. I agree completely with Senator Catherine Noone on the measures the Government has taken in the context of tourism, including the 9% VAT rate. The rate has certainly borne fruit and I hope it will be continued.
Senator Terry Leyden is always a good man to look for a headline. He is probably the only person who does not agree that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is doing his utmost to deal with the fodder crisis.
The scheme will reduce the cost of imported hay to farmers by approximately one third. As Senator Pat O'Neill mentioned, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is responding to queries from farmers who face animal welfare emergencies and need support. Feed is being sourced and provided for any farmer dealing with an animal welfare crisis. Farmers can contact the hotline number which the Minister mentioned at the joint committee and which has been advertised in the broadcast media. There should be no question where animal welfare is concerned about contacting the Department at 1850 211 990.
I will bring Senator Sean D. Barrett's comments to the attention of the Minister for Health.
Senator Paschal Moloney referred to discretionary medical cards issued for serious health reasons.
It is regrettable that people granted discretionary medical cards on the basis of serious medical illness are being asked to account again for them to the Department. I will seek clarification on the matter from the Minister of State, Deputy White.
I note Senator O'Sullivan's points on the plight of Parkinson's disease patients. I assure the Senator there will be no bullying in any debate on a Bill in this House. I have the utmost confidence in the Cathaoirleach to ensure there is no bullying in this House on any issue.
Senator Mullins called for a debate with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, on the delay in processing appeals for carer's and invalidity allowances. I agree with the Senator that many people are experiencing long delays, in the appeals process in particular. There is a need for dialogue between staff in the appeals office and applicants whose applications for carer's and invalidity allowance appeals, in terms of documents submitted, are found to be deficient. This is not happening.
Senator Walsh welcomed the proposed improvements to the N11 and the benefits that will accrue therefrom for Rosslare and Waterford ports. Senator Keane also welcomed the N7 proposals. I note her point in relation to Bangladesh. The disaster there was dreadful. I also note the Senator's points in relation to companies using what can only be described as slave labour in places like Bangladesh and so on. I have already spoken to UN Commissioner, Ms Margareta Wahlström, who deals with disaster relief. I am hopeful that the UN Commissioner, who is second in command to Ban Ki-moon, will be in a position to address this House in the future. I believe everybody would welcome that debate, which would do well for the stature of the House.
Senators Cullinane and O'Neill welcomed the announcement of the 1,600 jobs being created through the Glanbia project in Kilkenny and adjacent-----
These jobs are in addition to the 200 jobs announced by Nypro only a couple of weeks ago. It is welcome that so many jobs have been announced for the south east. It needs many more jobs, as do other counties throughout the country. The Government is working towards the creation of jobs and is currently creating 1,000 jobs a month and hopes to increase on this significantly over the coming years.
Senator O'Neill also raised the issue of animal welfare. I refer him to the telephone number I provided earlier to Senator Leyden when he raised the same matter.
Senator Conway referred to the benefits of independence for Shannon Airport and he noted the great co-operation between the airport company and the community in the fodder crisis.
Senator Sheahan called for the extension of the fuel allowance.
I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Blaney family. I knew Harry Blaney very well. They have made a huge contribution to Irish policies over many decades.
I would also like to extend my sympathy to the Barry family. I knew Dick Barry well and the family had the distinction of having a father and daughter serve in the Dáil at the same time.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on Croke Park II be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- David Cullinane
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Darragh O'Brien
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Averil Power
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Jimmy Harte
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- James Heffernan
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan