Wednesday, 6 November 2013
Order of Business
I join the Cathaoirleach in wishing Tom McGrath well in his retirement. His courtesy and assistance to Members have been wonderful over the past 37 years.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 2, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1.
I, too, would like to be associated with the Cathaoirleach's remarks and I wish Tom McGrath all the best in his retirement. Many of us would be willing to serve even a third of the time he has. He has given 37 years of unbroken service. Well done to him.
When was No. 1 scheduled? Was an amended schedule issued?
I asked the Leader on a number of occasions about the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2012 and online betting. Many of us agree such betting should be brought into the tax net to provide a level playing pitch, particularly for Irish high street bookmakers. I was expecting something in the budget but that did not materialise. The Leader has chased this up previously and he is of the same mind as I am. However, I would appreciate an update on where the issue stands.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality of his appointment of a barrister to carry out an independent review of the Fr. Niall Molloy case. I commend Senators John Kelly and John Whelan on their persistence in this matter. It is a step forward in the right direction and it is to be hoped we will have a report shortly on that and that justice will be served for Fr. Molloy's family.
I have asked on a number of occasions for a debate on policing and the view of the Minister for Justice and Equality on smart policing in Ireland. Gardaí are operating with one hand tied behind their backs. They do not have the resources to do their job. The Minister has announced on a number of occasions that he will open up recruitment for new gardaí but he is yet to set a date. With new recruits having to attend college in Templemore, it will be two years before they will be ready to go on the beat. The Garda fleet is being replaced by commercial vans because they can do more mileage with them. The number of gardaí serving our communities has been drastically reduced in many Garda stations over the past two to three years. For example, the main station in north county Dublin is Balbriggan which serves 50,000 people. On 2 November, one Garda car was available for the entire district. There were four burglaries that evening and an individual was arrested. The response time to calls that evening was between two and three hours. That is the type of policing our citizens are getting. I do not blame gardaí for this because they are not being given support by the Minister or the Government to do their job.
I would like to have a proper considered debate with the Minister in the House on this specific issue. The position is worsening and he can talk about crime figures all he likes and reductions in certain categories, although many people question their veracity, but gardaí are at breaking point and they need the support of the Government and the Minister. They are not getting it and, therefore, I ask the Leader to set aside time between now and the Christmas recess to debate policing in Ireland. What date has the Government set to resume Garda recruitment?
I add my own good wishes to Tom McGrath on his retirement as Head Usher. I thank him for the great support and help he has given over the years. He has been extremely facilitatory to all Members and we appreciate that.
I welcome the Government announcement yesterday that a referendum on marriage equality will be held during the lifetime of the Government, probably in the first half of 2015. It is vital we move forward on this vital civil liberties issue. I pay tribute to Senators Norris and Zappone who in this House have been hugely instrumental in moving the debate forward. The introduction of the civil partnership legislation was an important step on the road to the equality, but clearly that alone was not equality. I am hopeful the referendum will be passed. I am also glad we have time to prepare the ground for that and that the Minister for Justice and Equality has committed to publishing by Christmas a children and family relationships Bill, which will go a long way to ensuring equality for children, irrespective of the family unit they are in or the marital status of their parents. That is important ground work that should be done. It is also important to note the role of the Constitutional Convention and its resounding majority in favour of this referendum.
I call again on the Leader in that context to invite Mr. Tom Arnold, the chairperson of the convention, to speak to us not only about that recommendation but also about the range of recommendations the convention has made, including the most recent recommendation on blasphemy. It recommended last weekend that this offence should be deleted from the Constitution. It would be good to hear from Mr. Arnold about the work the convention has done and the work on amendments it will undertake next February.
I echo Senator Darragh O'Brien's welcome of the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality yesterday that he will appoint a senior counsel to conduct an independent review of the Fr. Niall Molloy case. I acknowledge the significant contribution made in pushing that issue onto the agenda by my colleagues in the Labour Party, Senators John Kelly and John Whelan, who have been instrumental in getting this decision made. This again demonstrates the role of the Seanad in vital issues of public policy.
Reference was made yesterday by Members to the new international soccer management team. I welcome the appointment of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane. They will be a strong team and there will be huge celebrations. Even Eamon Dunphy has welcomed it.
I would also like to add my congratulations to Tom McGrath. He has been much more successful than myself because he entered the House directly in 1977. That was the first year I ran and it took me another ten years to penetrate the sanctum of Leinster House. He is always helpful and courteous and never flustered.
I also welcome the Government's commitment to same-sex marriage and, in particular, I commend the Taoiseach. I very much welcome what he had to say because I did not know where he was. I was not sure whether he was sitting on the fence or was actively hostile to the idea but yesterday he said he would support it strongly. There could be nothing less ambiguous than that and he said he would be out campaigning for this. Approximately 80% of the members of the Constitutional Convention voted in favour of a referendum while a large majority of people according to consistent opinion polls think this should be done, and so it should. Somebody on the wireless said yesterday there were 79 differences between marriage and other partnerships. There are 179, with some less significant than others. I pay tribute to the role of Deputy Jerry Buttimer.
When I was involved in this issue a long time ago, it was very much on the margins. Now it is in the centre and it is terribly important that it is now a mainstream issue, which is taken up not by people like myself but by other people, gay and straight, who have progressive ideas and who understand the pain and difficulty of children, for example, in gay relationships.
With regard to the role of the bishops, they have every right to speak out. I have no difficulty whatever with that. I do wish, however, that they would talk a bit of sense sometimes and take a leaf out of Pope Francis's book. The suggestion that marriage will be devalued is absolute tripe. Coming from a group of people who are elderly, celibate, have no experience of marriage and presided over a system which was criminally dysfunctional with regard to the abuse of children, women and gay people, they should be more considered in what they say.
In respect of the Iona Institute, I would like somebody to tell me how it is funded, how it was set up and who its members are. It is a mysterious organisation that is somehow given some kind of credibility. It should, however, be completely discredited because time after time, on every single issue, it has misquoted and abused scientific papers and been reprimanded by the authors of those papers.
The Government's approach on this issue is very clever. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who is very astute, will be sent out to draw the fangs on the most contentious issues, after which a fairly bland proposal will be put through. It is a clever strategy.
I certainly am seeking a debate. We must never forget the children who exist in these relationships. The real abuse is the present situation whereby a child can enter a loving relationship between persons of the same sex, be fostered, cherished and loved by them, but then, if the adopting parent dies, be left completely bereft.
I very much welcome the erection of a memorial in Kerry to Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, a remarkable and courageous man who should be a world figure. We in Ireland should be much more proud of him than we are. At the height of the Second World War he exposed himself to danger by rescuing Jewish prisoners. Although from a republican family, he also rescued a considerable number of Allied airmen and soldiers. He represents the conscience of the Vatican and is a man of whom we should be extraordinarily proud. The Italians were so impressed with him as a human being that in a film made in the late 1950s or 1960s, they claimed him as one of their own. It is time we told the world that Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty was an Irishman and we are as proud of him as we are of Roger Casement.
As a member of Clare County Council I had the opportunity to serve on the western river basin water consultation committee. This was a hugely enlightening experience which allowed us to develop a forensic knowledge of water pollution and the challenges facing the country in terms of producing purified water. There has been a proposal by Dublin City Council for some time to extract between 350 and 500 million litres of water per day from Lough Derg. While it sounds like a great idea in theory, in practice it certainly is not. Lough Derg is one of Ireland's most beautiful lakes, attracting thousands of fishermen, tourists and people who engage in water sports for several months of the year. In fact, water sports take place on the lake all year round.
Environmental groups argue, quite rightly, that the proposal, if implemented, will have a detrimental effect on the lake. From my work on the consultation committee I am of the view that it would be in breach of the European water framework directive. Greece has already been subject to a rebuke from the European Court of Justice for doing something similar with one of its beautiful lakes. Are we as a Government, and Dublin City Council as an arm of government, going to go down the same route and face being brought before the European Court of Justice and losing? The proposal is balderdash and should be taken off the agenda without delay. Will the Leader facilitate a general debate on water services, as already called for by colleagues, which would allow a mature and honest discussion on the future of the water supply to this city? We must not deconstruct one of the country's most beautiful lakes, with its enormous tourism potential, to facilitate the provision of water for this city, when alternative solutions are so readily available.
Listening to Senator Martin Conway, one is left wondering what we as a society are at. I spoke last night on the Adjournment about efforts to prevent flooding in places like Skibbereen, Bandon, Clonakilty and Bantry. The same water seems to be a problem for people in Dublin, but sin ceist eile.
Will the Leader agree to a debate, if not before Christmas then in the new year, on the issue of job creation? This is relevant to our ongoing debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. There are serious challenges to contend with, including mass emigration, the collapse of the construction industry and the huge decline in the fishing industry. It is vital that attention is given to creating sustainable jobs outside the metropolises of Dublin, Cork city and other urban centres. Sustainable jobs are simply not being created in rural areas; there is no point in claiming otherwise. I am not rushing the debate, but these issues must be addressed as soon as possible. Several Members spoke yesterday of how IDA Ireland is focusing on the main centres of population at the expense of rural Ireland. I concur with that view. It would be an interesting debate.
I hope Senator David Norris's long campaign on the issue of same-sex marriage is finally coming to a head. A great deal of work has been done on that issue in the past 20 years and is now coming to fruition. I am concerned, however, about the impact of the Taoiseach and certain members of his Government on a campaign, given that their success rate in referenda in recent times has been very hit and miss. As such, I am proposing that Senators Norris and Zappone should be appointed joint directors of elections. They know what they are talking about, will create a fresh image and side-step the problem of the damage that could be done to this very valid and important proposal through the appointment of a Government director of elections. Any effort by members of the Government in this regard could see the initiative sink like a lead balloon. We were all told the Seanad would be abolished, and thank God it was not. In fact, the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers made sure this House will be here longer than I will be on this earth.
I welcome the reopening of the Fr. Niall Molloy case by the appointment of a senior counsel. Senator John Whelan and I have been calling for action on the issue for several years. After 28 years of inaction by politicians, campaigning by Fr. Molloy's family and the great work done by Gemma O'Doherty of the Irish Independent, matters are now moving in the right direction. What remains to be seen are the terms of reference and a roadmap for the investigation. In particular, we must have an indication of the envisaged timeframe. I hope the senior counsel who is appointed will eventually recommend an independent commission of inquiry. I thank Members of this House for their constant support on this issue and the Minister for allowing the door to be left open so that we can hope eventually to get to the truth.
An issue being raised in the Dáil today concerns contractors who transport large round and square bales of hay the length and breadth of the country. With the introduction of new regulations last week, they are now limited to stacking their cargo two bales high as distinct from three bales high, as was the case heretofore. We are told this is a health and safety issue, but there have been no accidents as a result of loads being stacked more than two bales high. The problem now is that round bales will cost farmers one third more in future. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine? He knows it is an issue, because I have raised it with him already, but I am anxious to ensure it is addressed with urgency.
Ba mhaith liom freisin buíochas a ghabháil le Tom McGrath as ucht a chuid oibre agus a chuid seirbhíse anseo, agus gach dea-ghuí, gach rath agus fad saoil a ghuí air. Tá mé an-bhródúil ag seasamh anseo inniu chun comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le fear de bhunadh Chonamara - Máirtín Breathnach, nó Martin Walsh - atá tofa ina mhéara ar Bhostún tar éis feachtas an-dhian ach an-fhéaráilte. Ní raibh mórán barúil ar dtús go ndéanfadh sé an gaisce, ach tá sé déanta aige. Is mór an éacht é dó féin, dá chlann, dá chairde, dá ghaolta, do mhuintir Chonamara agus do mhuintir na hÉireann. I wish Tom McGrath all the best in his new life and thank him for all he has done for us.
I stand very proudly today to congratulate Martin Walsh, whose parents are both from Connemara, and who was elected mayor of Boston last night. It is a huge victory for him. He was the underdog at the beginning of the race and he came through in flying colours last night to take the mayoral seat. We wish him well there. It is a wonderful opportunity for him but it is also a great testament to the people of Connemara and the people of Ireland that somebody who has come from such a humble background and who worked hard in the labour movement has come to that office. What was significant was the amount of coverage given by Radio na Gaeltachta and TG4 to his campaign, and I commend them for that. He was also able to do a number of interviews as Gaeilge. Bhí sé ag labhairt as Gaeilge ar na meáin le linn an fheachtais.
I wonder how the mayor of Boston would fare if he was educated here at the moment or if his children were going to school here, because of the recent report inspectors have given us about the teaching of Irish in primary schools. Tá an-imní orm faoi seo. Léiríonn an tuairisc go bhfuil fadhb mór le múineadh na Gaeilge sna scoileanna agus sna bunscoileanna ach go háirithe. One of the biggest problems we are seeing is that we have many teachers who do not have the ability to teach Irish as Gaeilge in schools, so I would like to call for a debate on the Irish language in our schools. It is very important. We have been highlighting this as a crisis for quite a long time, and the inspectors' report backs up everything we have been saying. It would be important to have the Minister for Education and Skills in here to talk specifically about the teaching of Irish in schools.
We might add the teaching of maths to that as the report was not very complimentary of those standards either.
I welcome the decision by the Government to have a referendum in 2015 on marriage equality. That is at least 15 months away, but the time lag is important and crucial to the success of that campaign will be the publication and the enacting of the Family Relationships and Children Bill 2013. That will go a long way towards changing the tone of the referendum when the campaign takes place.
This morning the Taoiseach is launching a report by McAfee, the Internet security company, on Internet safety for children and young people. While we do not know the full details of the survey yet, some of it has come out this morning in the media. One of the comments was that much more needs to be done in terms of educating our young people on over-sharing on the internet. This is about cyberbullying and cybersecurity, but it is also about how to behave on-line. Much is being done in our schools. The Minister is doing much in that area to incorporate the issue into the teaching of RSE and SPHE in our schools. Whether that is a success and what more can and should be done should be part of a debate in this House, in order to keep the issue to the fore at all times. Parents are probably not as Internet savvy as children and certainly not aware of the full extent of what is going on. It is a very important issue. Clearly much damage has been done to young people and much of it will be permanent. There is an issue about how to behave online and how to respect others as well as oneself. That is an important that we could and should have again.
I agree with Senator Kelly on the new regulations that took effect last Monday. The implications of the regulations go far beyond the transportation of fodder around the country. It also includes the live export trade in our part of the country, where 40% of the weanlings are produced. The higher transporters for cattle exports are now going to be affected.
I would like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business so that the Minister for Health and Children can come to the House today to discuss the letter which has been written by the CEOs of the four hospitals in Dublin, highlighting their grave concern about the fact that they are at breaking point due to the €206 million worth of cuts that they have had to sustain and due to the fact that there are more planned. They made reference to cancer patients not being in a position to get adequate care due to backlogs. They also made reference to the fact that the situation is seriously threatening the quality and safety of patient services. Their view is that lives will be lost because of the blunt instrument of cutting across the board without what they describe as a proper understanding of the dynamic of hospital services and their functions. It is of vital importance that we begin to look at this because lives will be lost. That is not coming from a political hack on this side of the House but from the people who know, namely, the CEOs of the four best known hospitals in our capital city. I can assure the House that the situation is the same in hospitals in Sligo, Letterkenny and elsewhere throughout the country.
In such a debate, we can also ask the Minister to address the situation regarding the children's hospital, where I am reliably informed off the record that the committee involved has been instructed to spend no more money. I want an answer to the question as to whether that is the case and whether that project is effectively on hold, something the rumour machine is clearly indicating.
I have had my differences in the past with the Minister for Justice and Equality, but this morning I would like to commend him for his courage in not continuing with the cover-up of the death of Fr. Niall Molloy, and for giving a glimmer of hope to his family, his community, his neighbours and friends in Offaly and Roscommon. This would not be possible were it not for the cross-party work that took place in the Seanad. I thank the Leader for the manner in which he facilitated our debates and discussions on this issue, and Senator John Kelly from Roscommon who has driven this matter for the last 18 months. The Minister is to be commended and I hope that the appointment of an eminent senior counsel will be a necessary first step towards a full-scale commission of inquiry into the horrendous circumstances surrounding the death of Father Niall Molloy 28 years ago. It is gratifying to think that the work we do here in this Seanad can have positive results. It would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the courageous work of the investigative journalist Gemma O'Doherty, who persevered with this issue when nobody wanted to hear about it. I again congratulate the Minister and I hope this is the start of a process that can finally allow the family and the community to put this matter to rest and to bring closure to this issue once and for all.
Yesterday I raised the issue of not debating the motion to appoint the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, and I was given the excuse that this was discussed at the relevant committee. However, there was a full debate in the Dáil yesterday. The Seanad has equal powers in this function to the Dáil. Why are we handing that power over to the Dáil? We had a referendum a few weeks ago where we said we would do things differently. We said we would make changes in the Seanad, yet yesterday we just rubber-stamped the appointment of important officers of State, without any debate. I am sure the person who gets the job will be an outstanding Ombudsman; he certainly has a good track record. However, if there is a problem, people will look back and ask why we never debated the issue and appointed the man without any discussion. That is a dereliction of our duty.
I see a motion on the Order Paper on justice and home affairs. I do not know if it is on the Order of Business today because I was not here at the time, but if that is going through without debate, again it is a disgrace. We have equal powers with the Dáil in respect of justice and home affairs at European level. If we do not pass the motion, it does not get passed.
It is about time we took our duty seriously in this House following the referendum. Otherwise people will come to the conclusion that maybe they should have abolished us. We have important powers to exercise on behalf of the citizens of this country and we should use them, debate the issues and we should look at these things properly. There is no point saying we are going to scrutinise European legislation when we are putting through significant decisions on changing the law in the form of a three-paragraph motion that is not debated. I call for full debates on all these motions. They do not have to be long debates, but they should be full debates.
I wish to raise the issue of Eirgrid. I am delighted that my party decided yesterday to call for the suspension of all Eirgrid transmission projects and the appointment of an independent mediator to mediate between residents and Eirgrid. This happened in Cork Harbour many years ago. It could provide a solution for people. The meeting last night in Trim was hot and heavy, with over 1,000 people attending. There was a very strong message put out that communities throughout the country, from Meath and Cavan, across to Mayo and down to Waterford, are not happy with this project and they are looking for answers from the Government. They are looking for a reversal of the decision of the Government with regard to Eirgrid and the planning issue. The Labour Senators will be disappointed to hear that the Labour Party officially declined to attend the meeting last night.
The Labour Party has given up on rural Ireland, but we will look after it as best we can when the Labour Party has left it. I second Senator MacSharry's amendment.
I agree with everything that was said about Tom McGrath, who is retiring. I wish him well.
It was wonderful to hear the words of the Father of the House, Senator Norris, when he spoke of that great wartime national hero Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, a man who, with Sam Derry and others, was responsible for saving more than 6,500 lives. He was honoured by up to six countries at the time, but not by Ireland. In any event, the Taoiseach made a major speech in Killarney last year acknowledging his great work and that was very welcome. Monsignor O'Flaherty cherished everyone, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Hence his saying, "Got has no country". Members must come to Killarney to see the wonderful sculpture that was erected there last week. However, enough of that today. There will be another day.
I join other speakers in commending the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on his agreement to consult with the Attorney General with a view to appointing a senior counsel to review all the papers and examine all matters regarding the mysterious death of Fr. Niall Molloy years ago. It is important. There are two objectives. One is to put a report in the public domain which we will be able to debate. The second is to determine if any further inquiry is necessary to establish the truth. This is an earnest and serious effort to determine the truth in this case. I also commend Senators Whelan and Kelly in this matter, and indeed other Members on all sides of the House, because it has been raised often in the House. It is a long running sore that must reach finality.
The Leader probably thinks I have a bee in my bonnet about Charleville railway station as I have raised it in the House a few times, especially the lack of facilities for elderly people to cross the tracks. Another issue that arose recently is the steep increase in the charges for car parking there. I am sure the situation in Charleville is replicated throughout the country. When I was first elected to the House car parking at the station was free. Three years ago a charge of €2 per day was introduced. Last year that was increased to €3 and recently it was increased to €4. That is a huge increase in a couple of years. If one is travelling to Dublin for a few days work such as we do in the Seanad - there might be three or four overnight stays - it is an extra €16 on the cost of the train fare. It will be as expensive as airport parking before long. CIE should be held accountable for that. It will be a disincentive to people using the public transport system, which we consider so desirable.
Senator Kelly raised an interesting point about road haulage. I have some views on that. It is well known that many of the main hauliers do not use the toll roads because they consider them too expensive. I am indebted to my colleague, Senator MacSharry, for the information that all toll roads are toll free for November as an incentive. The one exception is the M4 to Sligo. That is quite discriminatory as there should be one rule for everybody.
In that context, this country has acquired a great network of motorways in recent years. It is one of the many great things the last Government did, although people are probably only beginning to realise it now. However, the one thing that never caught up with the motorways is the mobile telephone signal. Vodafone, O2 and the other operators must step up to the mark in this regard. There are huge stretches of the M7 on which one cannot get a mobile telephone signal. I am referring to a driver with a hands free phone, should anybody have any other ideas about it. That should be dealt with because the same thing is happening throughout the country. These companies are making fortunes from their mobile telephone licences, but they are not giving the service people want.
I echo the call made in the House yesterday for a debate on EirGrid and pylons. The Labour Party Senators in the House will continue to make the case for undergrounding cables across the country. We have recently discovered it can happen in certain parts of the country, so there is no reason it cannot happen everywhere. That is the case we will make.
In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded by Michael Cusack and Maurice Davin in Hayes' Hotel in Liberty Square, Thurles. It is little known that the hotel was also the scene of the founding of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association in 1974. Indeed, the first All-Ireland championship in ladies football was won by my native County Tipperary. The hotel was the centre of the centenary celebrations in 1984. Cork beat Offaly in the All-Ireland championship that year. In recent months, however, Hayes' Hotel has been put into receivership. According to local councillors and my colleague, Councillor John Kennedy, it is being run into the ground. Staff are being let go and no bookings are being taken in the hotel. The GAA is the largest voluntary organisation in the world. It currently has assets of €2.5 billion and an annual revenue of €100 million but, to date, it has not come forward to purchase or save this iconic building.
This hotel is more than just bricks and mortar. It represents the beginning of a part of our culture that defines us as a nation more than any other. It binds people throughout the country together.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, to meet with the GAA to find a solution for the purchase of this building. This has been done elsewhere in the country. Cahir Castle, Ormonde Castle and the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary have been taken over by the OPW. I ask that this iconic building not be allowed to deteriorate and that we as a nation take responsibility for our culture and purchase it.
Since the referendum a few weeks ago Members of this House have faced a challenge, how to make ourselves more useful so what we are doing is appreciated. I suggest that we establish a small team of four or five people, not necessarily in this House but somewhere in the Oireachtas, to look at international developments and international legislative measures. Very often there is a tendency to reinvent the wheel. Throughout the world, and not necessarily only in highly developed countries, there are examples of good legislation which we could adopt and adapt for this State. This would be very useful and it is something we should do. I am not sure how it should be done but it would be very useful if this House led the way in doing it. Independent Members have introduced legislation and had it passed. We should look at what is happening around the world. Recently, I looked at what is happening in France. There is so much happening there that we could learn a great deal from much of it. My concept is that somewhere in the Oireachtas there should be a small team to look at and examine such things. One of the few places one can find information such as this is in The Economist magazine. It is very good but it is just one example. I believe we could do what I suggest. It would be very useful and of benefit to the future of this House.
I join my colleagues in wishing Tom McGrath well in his retirement.
The newspapers today report that the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, is calling for a yellow card system for farmers who are penalised. This is a very good idea which I support. The number of farmers being penalised has increased from 1,079 in 2009 to over 3,050 in 2012. This is a difficult time for farmers, particularly after the last couple of difficult years. Money that is lost to the farming community is also lost to the local community and local businesses. It is important that farmers in this situation be subject to a yellow card system.
My colleagues, Senators Kelly, MacSharry and others, have raised the issue of the height of loaded trailers. This follows on from a decision made by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to lower the load height that can be transported on our roads. This regulation is causing great hardship not only to members of the farming community but all transport companies are affected by it. They will have to reduce the height of the loads they carry and will have to have their tailers adapted, which will cost a great deal of money at a time they are already experiencing difficulty. This regulation should be suspended for the time being and reconsidered to give those people a chance to develop their businesses further.
I learned overnight that Galway Airport has been purchased by Galway City Council and Galway County Council. While there may be much merit in that, I am glad that some firm decisions have been made. I would like to know the plans for the airport and I request the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to come into the House to outline them. If it is being funded by Galway City Council and Galway County Council, the State has still quite a role in it.
I support Senator Feargal Quinn's comment on advancing the debate and a move for reform of this House. It does not mean that, simply because the Taoiseach was in this Chamber more than a week ago, it is all sorted. The Leader might update us on what are the Taoiseach's plans around the timeframe for reform. I am conscious that no commitment has yet been given to universal suffrage, a universal vote for the election of Members to this House. That is an important point. I support Senator Quinn on it.
I request that we have a debate on moneylending. I was horrified to read today that interest rates of up to 200% per annum can be charged by moneylenders. What is the Cental Bank doing about this? We have a personal debt crisis in this country when people were lent money at ordinary rates but imagine people having to rely on moneylenders. I want the Central Bank and Professor Honohan to take a far more proactive role in this area. This is outrageous. It would be helpful if the Minister for Finance led on this to ensure that Professor Honohan is brought before the finance committee in that respect. We need to regulate moneylenders to ensure that the poor unfortunate people who rely on them are not strung out any more.
I welcome the news from Cabinet yesterday that a referendum on same-sex marriage will take place next year. The church in Ireland should reflect on the statement it made and take its lead from Pope Francis who has embraced the idea of asking people for their views. If the Catholic Church is to be saved, it will be Pope Francis who will save it. The church in Ireland seems to have come out full guns blazing to oppose this. However, Thomas Groome, an eminent theologian from Boston, has said that in a major move by Pope Francis, he is to ask the people what they think about matters to do with the church. It seems that the church in Ireland is holier than the pope but it should wait until the pope makes the next move rather than condemning people. It is not that long ago since mixed marriages between men and women in this country were condemned because it was considered that one of the partners did not have the right religion. The church frowned on people getting married who did not have the same religion but thankfully that is no longer an issue in most relationships. This referendum will be a further move beyond that point and I expect it will be passed.
I call for the Minister for Social Protection to come into the House to discuss the JobBridge and JobsPlus schemes, which have been successful. I have attended meetings in Donegal, and have got news reports of this, where Sinn Féin constantly hammer the JobBridge and JobsPlus schemes because they are successful, not because they are not successful. I point out that the two Sinn Féin representatives from Donegal, two Deputies, were funded on a scheme by taxpayers while they were on the dole.
I join in the tributes to Tom McGrath on his retirement. Without exception all of the ushers in Leinster House gain our respect and admiration very quickly for the job they do and the way they do it, and Tom was no exception.
I welcome the appointment of a senior counsel to review the evidence and processes in the case of Fr. Niall Molloy. I pay tribute to the work of the journalist, Gemma O'Doherty in particular. I look forward to this work being done and I hope it leads to a commission of inquiry.
The Leader will be aware that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has published a code of practice for the retail sector. Its report recommends that a statutory code - not a voluntary one - should be implemented without delay and that there should be legislation to force large stores such as Tesco and others to publish their profits figures. I have spoken on this issue before, in particular my concern that the current imbalance of power between suppliers and retailers is unsustainable in the long term and that the family farm structure and primary producers are being squeezed about of the market. I agree with the joint committee's findings that in many respects primary producers are not getting fair treatment in the food supply chain, nor a fair price for their goods. I support the call by the IFA that the Government should now confirm that legislation incorporating the committee's regulations is on the way. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, was here recently and he spoke about the Common Agricultural Policy review and reform but I would like to hear from him again on this subject. The latest figures show that the major multiple stores control more than 80% of the grocery market and this has major implications for consumers and suppliers.
On the Government's referendum proposal, all I would say at this point is that I hope that the media in particular will ensure that there is a completely fair debate and that there is no demonisation or diminishment of either side of this argument, whether it be those who see this as a marriage equality issue or those who see this as a marriage redefinition issue, those who believe that marriage with State support is primarily for loving relationships or those who believe that this issue is intrinsically connected with the socially preferred context for the upcoming legislation in respect of children. Whether people are on the change or the retain side of this argument, there must be a free, fair and respectful debate.
Today is a great news days for children's cardiac services in Ireland. Gone is the Third World, 50-year out of date, crammed facility of St. Teresa's ward in Crumlin with the opening of a state-of-the-art cardiac unit with 25 units which will cater for children all over Ireland, both North and South. That is thanks to the millions of euro that were raised by parents, volunteers, marathon runners, golfers and even our dear friend GMac, the US open champion, whose contribution funded four of the 25 units.
An Taisce raised concerns recently about the new paediatric hospital on the St. James's site, namely, that it could be in breach of EU and Irish planing law because it will not be colocated with a maternity hospital. I raised this issue with the Minister earlier in the year when St. James's Hospital was chosen as the site for the new paediatric hospital. I pointed out to the Minister that very day in this Chamber that having a maternity hospital within the new hospital is part of phase 2 and I stated that the history of phase 2 buildings in hospitals over many years has never been completed. I asked him could he clarify if the maternity hospital would be built. Second phase projects simply do not work. I request the Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to discuss this issue with regard to planning permission which has not yet even been granted on the St. James's site. We all know that An Bord Pleanála turned down the Mater site, which has spent millions of euro on that project which would have built 100 units in Crumlin Hospital. Let us not go down that road again and let us not push this beyond 2020.
Yesterday morning I raised the matter of the harsh cut by the Government of maternity benefit to women who are on leave having their babies, It is important to reiterate the point I made that we are in a male dominated environment in the Oireachtas.
The senior civil servants who draw up the budgets are also male-dominated. A lack of respect is shown to women who have babies while working and putting their energies into their jobs. It is not easy to be pregnant while working. It is physically demanding. The men in the Department of Finance have made a cold and ruthless decision to cut maternity benefit.
We had a very interesting session with the Minister for Social Protection yesterday. She put her heart and soul into the afternoon. I drew attention to the issue of apprenticeships in Ireland during that debate. Angela Merkel and David Cameron are working together to help Britain to emulate the outstanding apprenticeship system in Germany. Most parents in Ireland traditionally want their children to be doctors, lawyers or barristers. Trade and commerce are not looked down at in Germany, whereas the conventional wisdom here is that the professions are the way to go. Germany has a very successful economy with very little unemployment and very little youth unemployment
I will conclude on this point. Germany has 342 recognised apprenticeships, ranging from bankers to opticians. Ireland has just 29. The Minister is talking about presenting an Irish plan for youth unemployment to the EU and seeing how we will get on. I am saying that he should develop a relationship with companies immediately to ensure that young people are given work experience. Rather than paying them unemployment benefit for six months before they can get a job, we should encourage companies to take them on so they can learn on the job. The Government would then compensate such companies for the money they would pay to young people. How can they learn-----
Ba mhaith liom míle buíochas a ghabháil le Tom McGrath and all the ushers for their service over the years. They look after us in the House and bring pride and joy to their work. I thank Tom for his 37 years of service. I have known him for just a couple of years.
Is mian liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le muintir Breathnach as Conamara tar éis do Máirtín Breathnach a bheith tofa mar Mhéara ar Bhostún.
I would like to pick up on what Senator MacSharry had to say. I agree with him that there is a need for a major debate on the health sector. Over the last two months, discussions on health issues have been personalised by the focus on the Minister. I think there should be a focus on long-term planning and on the real issues. Even though over €2.5 billion has been cut from the health budget in the last four or five years, we are continuing to provide the same level of service. In fact, we have increased it. Over 254,000 additional medical cards have been issued. We are providing that service to those people. I accept that a debate is needed. One of the problems in the health sector is that it has been allowed to develop in an unplanned way in many respects. I will give a simple example. There are three transplant units in Dublin. There is just one such unit in Norway, and it is doing three or four times more work than the three units in Dublin. We need to sit down and engage in long-term planning, rather than allowing the health sector to continue to develop in a disjointed way. While I would welcome a debate, I would not like a continuation of the personalised debate that has taken place over the last 12 months.
I join colleagues in wishing Tom McGrath a long, happy and healthy retirement. I thank him for his outstanding service to this House over the years.
As a Galwegian, I want to join those who have congratulated the new Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh. I know there is great excitement about his election in Connemara, which is where his parents emigrated from in the 1950s. I know the people of Connemara will be celebrating over the next few days.
I support the call by Senator Healy Eames for a discussion on money lending. Figures published by the Central Bank show that there has been a 20% increase in this activity since 2007 and that 360,000 people have taken out loans from registered and licensed money lenders. No figures are available with regard to illegal money lending, which is the most worrying aspect of this issue. Illegal money lenders prey on vulnerable people. I would like this matter to be discussed in the House. The reports in this morning's newspapers in this regard are certainly worrying.
I join the tributes and expressions of goodwill that have been extended to Tom McGrath. I thank him for his contribution to the Oireachtas.
I support Senator Ó Clochartaigh's request for the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to come to the House for a major debate on the standard of Irish being taught in national schools throughout this country. Our national tongue is the only difference between Ireland and any other country in the world. Tá brón orm a rá go gceapaim go bhfuil an Ghaeilge ag fáil bháis. Níl an teanga agam mar a bhí sí agam nuair a bhí mé ag dul go dtí an scoil náisiúnta. Tá seisear clainne agam. Some of them can speak Latvian, Russian and English, but I am sorry to say they are struggling with our native tongue. We must investigate the methods of teaching Irish that are used in national schools throughout this country.
I also want to wish Tom McGrath a very happy retirement. Like other speakers, I thank him and all the ushers for their professionalism in the House.
I want to support Senator White's comments about the regrettable cuts that have been implemented in the budget. The cut she mentioned is certainly not welcome. Perhaps we need to have a wider debate on this issue. At a time when we are trying to get more women involved in politics, boards, legal services and commercial life generally, more support needs to be provided to women, who obviously give birth to children. I think we could have a useful debate in this House on the balance between work and life and on the role of women. If women are to be expected to play a fuller part in working life, and particularly in politics, these issues should be discussed in this House. I would welcome such a debate in the near future.
I am calling on the Leader to request a debate with the Minister for Finance on the reputational damage this country has suffered this year by virtue of the rates of corporation tax being paid by some companies in this jurisdiction. I am aware that the Minister is currently speaking in the Dáil on Second Stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013. In the recent budget, he took the first step towards repairing some of the reputational damage to which I refer when he announced that stateless companies would be disallowed, in effect, from participating here. It is important for us to have an opportunity to put the word out in this jurisdiction and other jurisdictions that we are attempting to start this process. We cannot do this on our own, however. We need the support of other countries, organisations and political entities on a Europe-wide basis. We would benefit significantly from being able to debate the matter in this Chamber as soon as possible.
Senator Darragh O'Brien asked about the betting tax Bill. I will find out what is the exact position. The Bill was initially prepared by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, before being sent on to the Department of Justice and Equality and subsequently to the Department of Finance. I do not know what is the exact position on it.
I know the heads of that Bill have been discussed in the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I am not sure how far away it is from being published but I will find out for the Senator.
Senator O'Brien welcomed the independent review of the case of Fr. Niall Molloy, as did Senators Kelly and Whelan and others, and complimented the Minister on his intended appointment of a senior counsel to examine this affair. That is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped, as a result of that investigation, that there may not be a need for a public inquiry. Let us wait for the appointment and the report from the eminent senior counsel the Minister intends to appoint.
Senator O'Brien mentioned a debate on policing policy. There is no doubt that a significant amount of money has been invested in the Garda fleet over recent years. Gardaí have welcomed the major investment in the Garda fleet, which was run down in the period during which Fianna Fáil was in government.
Senator Bacik and other Members welcomed the fact that there will be a referendum on marriage equality in 2015. Many Members, including Senator Norris, have welcomed this announcement. People also mentioned the role of the Catholic Church in the referendum. As Senator Norris said, the Church has every right to outline its stance on that matter. Senator Mullen also called for a fair, free and respectful debate, which is the wish of everybody when this referendum is put to the people. Senators Norris and Paul Coghlan spoke about the memorial to Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty who was certainly a great Irishman.
Senator Conway mentioned his concerns regarding extracting water from Lough Derg and the dangers for tourism. We will have a debate. We had a debate on the Bill establishing Irish Water but we could have another debate on water infrastructure. I will try to arrange this debate with the relevant Minister.
Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on job creation and sustainable jobs in the regions, which was called for yesterday. I hope the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will come to the House before the Christmas recess to discuss the good news of the 34,000 extra jobs created last year. I am sure there is much good news on the jobs front but I agree that the issue of jobs for the regions needs to be discussed further.
Senator Kelly spoke about the Fr. Niall Molloy case. I compliment Senators Kelly and Whelan on repeatedly raising this issue in this House. This House has played a very prominent role in highlighting this issue with great thanks due to Senators Kelly and Whelan in particular.
Senators Kelly, MacSharry and Comiskey raised the question of the transporting of round bales of hay and the restrictions in place. Perhaps we can get the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to outline his reasons for those restrictions.
Senators Ó Clochartaigh, Keane and Mullins spoke about the election of the new mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh. We all welcome and congratulate him on his election. The fact that his parents were from Connemara and that he has a great grasp of the Irish language is to be welcomed. I am sure we will all congratulate him on his wonderful elevation to the post of mayor of Boston.
Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Brennan expressed their concerns about the teaching of Irish in schools. Senator Clune spoke about the teaching of mathematics in schools. I am sure the Minister for Education and Skills will come to the House to discuss the inspector's reports with us in due course. Senator Clune also spoke about online security and the survey being launched today. The Minister for Education and Skills has been quite willing to come to the House to discuss these issues and I am sure he will continue to do so.
Senator MacSharry referred to the letters from the CEOs of the four Dublin hospitals and the national children's hospital. My information is that the project is certainly not on hold but is full steam ahead. I will certainly call for an update on the matter from the Minister for Health.
Senator Byrne spoke about the Ombudsman and the Information Commissioner. We did not have a debate on it yesterday but if it had been requested that it be debated in the House, I would certainly have acceded to it yesterday. Senator Byrne asked whether it was addressed by the relevant committee and it was confirmed that it was.
I wonder whether Senator O'Sullivan will stand in Cork next time around with all the mentions of Charleville but he makes a very good point about the railway station in Charleville and the charges there. I also note his points in respect of mobile phone signals, an issue that has been raised by several Senators on many occasions.
Senator Landy spoke about Hayes Hotel. I honestly believe it is a matter for the GAA to decide whether it wishes to purchase that hotel but I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in particular who would be strongly involved in the GAA. It is definitely a matter for the GAA to decide whether it wishes to purchase that hotel.
Senator Quinn spoke about motions and legislation in international development. I would be pleased to discuss that with the Senator to see how we can have that debate in the House.
Senator Healy Eames spoke about Seanad reform. We had the debate with the Taoiseach during which he said he would bring the party leaders together. We are awaiting those discussions and awaiting proposals. I am sure such matters can be discussed with him when we have that meeting. The Senator also spoke about Galway Airport and I am sure she will get clarification of what is planned from the county council. She also spoke about moneylenders and called on Professor Honohan to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I am sure if that request is made to the Chairman of that committee, he will invite Professor Honohan in to discuss the matter.
Senator Mullen spoke about the proposals of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine. While the Minister, Deputy Coveney, only appeared in the House a few weeks ago, we hope to have him here again fairly soon to discuss these matters.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan spoke about the children cardiac services and the new 25-bed unit. That is to be welcomed by all. He also called for clarification on the co-location of maternity hospitals. We will seek that clarification from the Minister for Health.
Senator White spoke about maternity benefit and I am sure she will raise that matter with the Minister for Social Protection on Committee Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill later today. I note her points about jobs and apprenticeships. I will try to get the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House.
Senator Burke called for long-term planning in the health service. I agree that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, is overdue a visit to discuss the overriding issue of the health service.
Senator Mullins spoke about moneylending, which I already mentioned. Senator Noone spoke about the involvement of women in politics and business and called for a debate on work-life balance. We will certainly try to have that debate. Senator Michael D'Arcy spoke about corporation tax. I am sure that issue will be discussed when we discuss the Finance Bill and other matters in coming weeks.
I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business.
I am making a very important point here this morning and I do not want anybody interfering other than myself and the Cathaoirleach. This is the second time. My passion in life is to create employment for all the young people unemployed in the country. I intend taking this to the highest level in the Oireachtas. I want to know why my amendment to the Bill today is not being accepted. Last week my amendment on mentoring was rejected because it would cost-----
I have to say this because I want my colleagues to hear it. Last week my amendment on mentoring was rejected because it would cost money. That is not correct. There are thousands of people in this country who will work with-----
Senator MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the letter from the CEOs of four hospitals to the HSE regarding cutbacks and the future of the children's hospital be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Thomas Byrne
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Paschal Mooney
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- 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
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan