Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

2:30 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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It is Government business that the Seanad should deal with the matter on today's Order Paper but we have a fundamental objection to the proposal to deal with Committee Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill on Thursday. That is very wrong. This is serious legislation that will have a lasting impact on tens of thousands of pensioners and there is a deliberate attempt by the Government to hush it up and ram the legislation through the Seanad at the earliest possible time. I have been contacted by a number of pensioners’ organisations and pensioners themselves who are very concerned about the Bill. They feel this possible major change to the pension structure of many older people and future pensioners is being hidden by the Government.

Unless the Leader can give a commitment in that regard we will oppose the Order of Business and we would also oppose any motion this evening to have Committee Stage on Thursday. That would be a retrograde step. I acknowledge that the Leader has been most co-operative on such matters in recent weeks. We are most grateful for that on this side. I am particularly grateful for the acknowledgement last week by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform of the referendum result and for accepting amendments to legislation concerning the Seanad. I am most grateful to him in that regard and for the co-operation of the Government side. It would be an injustice to the people who voted to save the Seanad to allow such a major piece of legislation as the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill to be railroaded through the Seanad this week. I urge the Leader to reflect on that. I ask him in a co-operative way but we will have to oppose the Order of Business and any further motions on the matter this evening.

I briefly wish to allude to another matter, I will not say too much about it, namely, the notorious Rodolphus Allen trust. I raised the matter in the Seanad last July. I described it as a scam and I encouraged people not to get involved. I reported it to the Garda. I am pleased to see action has been taken at last and some of those involved have been arrested and are before the courts. I repeat my warning to people about such scams. They should not deal with them but they should contact appropriate advisers, banks and organisations that deal with people in mortgage difficulties.

I would appreciate the Leader’s co-operation on the Order of Business. I know he is sympathetic but I realise the pressure he is under from the Government on the legislation.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the reports in today’s newspapers that the Government will introduce legislation to extend the right to vote in Seanad elections for the university panel seats at least, and that we will see an expansion of the electorate for the six university seats to cover all third level graduates in the various institutions across the State.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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It was Senator Terry Leyden's Bill.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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All of us on the university panel have always called for such an extension. When the Taoiseach was in the House speaking on Seanad reform in the aftermath of the referendum he gave a commitment in that regard. It is most welcome to see today's newspaper reports that the Government is now considering a Bill to extend the university franchise.

It is a step on the way to ensuring we see reform of the Seanad through legislation. We should have another debate on this in the new year. I hope we will and that at that point we will see more concrete proposals coming forward, not just from the Government but from all parties. We already have two Private Members' Bills which have passed Second Stage in this House and which provide for reforms through legislation. I would welcome further debate on the issue that would look at the sort of concrete reforms we can make through legislation. I welcome the reports on the expansion of the university electorate, which is hugely important. It is great to see the institutes of technology, the DIT and the other institutes, becoming part of the electorate. The DIT graduates had a vote for the university seats for some years, prior to it getting the right to award its own degrees. Therefore, it is not true to say no institute of technology graduates were represented in the Seanad. The three of us here from the University of Dublin represent some DIT graduates. It is great to see the expansion of the vote to all third level institutions.

I also welcome the CSO data published today, which shows an increase of 58,000 people at work over the past year and a rise in employment of 3.2%. This small rise is welcome, but must be taken with caution. The data also shows a parallel decrease in the unemployment rate, from 13.6% to 12.8% in the last quarter. This is welcome. It is particularly welcome that long-term unemployment has reduced. Will the Leader arrange a debate in the new year on the unemployment data and the measures we can take to allow this pattern continue?

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, has promised to bring before us her implementation plan for the youth guarantee before Christmas and we will debate job creation in that context. However, we should have an opportunity in the new year to debate job creation, in particular the sort of measures and policies that can be implemented by the State in this regard. The Minister has spoken of the role the family income supplement can play in helping people return to work, by allowing a top-up payment to employees on low pay with children to ease the transition from welfare to employment. Currently, more than 40,000 working families are covered by the scheme. This is the sort of scheme that can assist in helping people return to work and we could usefully debate this in the new year.

2:35 pm

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I too welcome the announcement of the Bill relating to Seanad reform, but it is only a small step. When the Taoiseach was in this House, he said there would be a meeting with leaders on reform, but I have not heard of any date for that meeting. Will the Leader advise us on whether a date has been set for that meeting? The people voted and gave us a mandate and we now need to see reform. We need to see all Senators involved in that debate.

I wish to raise again the issue of the Bill to deal with smoking in cars with children. I am not happy with the answers we have received on this. I do not believe there is an any real block, other than the lack of political will to move forward on the Bill. Senators Crown, Daly and I have put considerable effort into a Bill. Will the Leader advise us when the Minister for Health will be able to bring to us the amendments he would like to see?

In regard to youth unemployment, Senator Bacik mentioned the debate on the youth guarantee. We have yet to receive a date for that debate, although the time is fast approaching for Ireland to submit its plan to the European Union. One of the small concessions we won in the Seanad when we debated the Social Welfare Bill was that we would have this debate on the youth guarantee. Will the Leader advise us whether the Minister, Deputy Burton, has given us a date for that debate? Many of the organisations involved, who are in contact with various Senators, await that debate so that we can give voice to and articulate their views in regard to the proposals to be put forward to the European Union in Ireland's name.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I also give a ritual welcome to the idea of reforming the Seanad. However, during the referendum campaign the Government showed an extraordinary degree of cynicism and dishonesty. I do not believe the leopard changes its spots much. I have always called for the expansion of the electorate for the university seats, but we were told during the referendum campaign that none of us ever did. We need to look at the implications of expansion of the electorate. There are already approximately 200,000 voters in the combined university electorate. This will increase to 500,000. That is fine, but there must be an accurate register or the system will not work.

It will mean young candidates will have very little chance because high-profile candidates in a six-seater constituency will have a much greater chance of getting in. There will be a question of funding. Printing 500,000 leaflets is an onerous financial task for young people. It took me ten years and six elections to get in and I had an overdraft which I could hardly bear. We should be facilitating young people in getting into the Seanad. For example, all graduates of Trinity College Dublin have retained their @tcd.ie e-mail address. This is a cheap and easy way for candidates to communicate with their electorate.

We have been calling for the reform of the university seats for a long time. I have been in this House for 26 years and the only target of reform has been the university seats. We need real reform to include the other seats. The only democratic element, which has 200,000 voters, will increase to 500,000 voters while the political panels, in the control of the political parties, will have their vote base reduced from 1,000 to 500 because of the diminution this wonderfully democratic Government is inflicting on local authority membership. On the one hand, we are having this vast increase in the electorate for the universities and, on the other, a comparable decrease in the electorate of local authority members. That is not democracy. That is the kind of slyness and hypocrisy about which I spoke earlier.

2:45 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Yes. I am calling for a debate on this. There should be some degree of finance available to young Seanad candidates. I believe young people who run for the Seanad, whether they are successful or not, and who reach a certain number of votes should get some recompense in these difficult days. I put this down as an amendment to a Bill recently but it was thrown out.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is over his time.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Taoiseach has already met with the party leaders in the Dáil about the Seanad - about us - yet he has not met with us, which I believe is treating us with contempt. Last week the Seanad had to cancel business and not sit because, out of 30 Ministers, they could not find one to come into this House.

I congratulate the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, and its president, Mr. Joe O’Connor, who have disassociated themselves from this ridiculous DrinkAware campaign, funded by Diageo to the tune of €10 million, which is intended to get people drinking as hard as they possibly can. Arthur’s day? What a laugh.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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They have eliminated the whole Guinness family from the company. It should be called Diageo day. We know they make submarines, planes and lavatories. It is not Arthur’s Day, a national day. It is a squalid-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I call Senator Conway.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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-----capitalist plot.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I believe in positive politics and looking to the future. Today’s announcement by the Government that it will extend the university franchise to graduates of Dublin Institute of Technology and every other third level college is a step in the right direction.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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We all believe in positive politics.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I did not interrupt the Senator.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Conway without interruption.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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It makes all graduates equal, a badly needed development. It is a significant reform in the right direction which we should be embracing. We should offer to facilitate the legislation in this House. If we need to sit extra days in the run-up to Christmas to facilitate getting this legislation through, then we should. It would be a good day for the Seanad. I admire the Government for listening to the people and moving forward positively following the result of the Seanad referendum. It is a major and significant step in the right direction for the fundamental reform of this House.

It is also a great day in that we welcome the fact that the unemployment rate has gone below 13%, to 12.8%.

That is significant. We in this House played a role as the result of an initiative by Senator Mullins, who had debates here on job creation in which citizens of this country came in and outlined their views and ideas on how we could create jobs. This informed the Department and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The process has worked well and we should consider continuing it in the new year. The one way to create an equal-opportunity society is to give people work and allow people to gain access to it. We have made significant progress in this. We all have our part to play and I look forward to more people getting jobs.

2:50 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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When will the Bill be published? I have already published a Bill, which took me some time. We could run the two Bills together in the House and compare notes.

I compliment the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, and his team, the Garda Síochána, the emergency response unit and all associated with the successful capture of seven people detained for the robbery in Killenaule, County Tipperary.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That case is before the courts.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It is before the courts but it is still public knowledge. I want to make a point about this and compliment the Garda Síochána on its speedy action. It is a matter for the courts to decide what the penalty will be for this crime. Emma and Mark Corcoran's house was robbed. Their three children were threatened with having their hands cut off, and yet these-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We will not discuss the specifics of the case.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Coming up to Christmas people should be on guard and alert to the robbery of gold and jewellery around the countryside. Shops have been opened up inviting people to bring gold jewellery to be melted down and sold with no restrictions. I am getting tired of free legal aid being granted to people who commit crimes, come out on bail and commit more crimes. The judges, without even questioning the fact that they may have assets, like some of the people in "Love/Hate", grant free legal aid willy-nilly. The best lawyers are employed at the best fees to defend these people, who are indefensible.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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As Senator Leyden well knows, that is a matter for the judges.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, but it is no harm for us to discuss it. We pass the legislation. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to review free legal aid. I want to put people on alert regarding the threats coming. They have closed the Garda stations and it is an encouragement to crime. This is a battle between law and order and the gangsters. We must ensure the Garda is fully funded to defend citizens against robbers and people who are prepared to kill, murder and maim in the pursuit of their own aims.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I welcome the fact that the first case has been concluded through the Insolvency Service of Ireland, resulting in the write-down of 70% of the debts of the individuals concerned. Given that one petitioner has submitted 20 cases, if the Leader is agreeable we should have a debate early in the new year on the progress made by the Insolvency Service of Ireland in dealing with distressed mortgages. There is a particular difficulty in resolving mortgage arrears where a couple is in a marital breakdown situation. To deal with that there will be a need for a change in the law, and we need a review of that.

I was recently at a meeting at which Traveller accommodation in the Dublin City Council area was discussed and I was disturbed to discover that a number of Traveller families were living in approved Traveller accommodation which lacked basic facilities such as electricity and water. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, here to discuss the national strategy on Traveller accommodation. We cannot stand over a situation, in spite of our economic difficulties, in which any family in this country has no access to basic facilities such as running water and electricity.

2:55 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I wish to raise the issue of Seanad reform. In as much as we can, we welcome the news the Government may extend the vote in Seanad elections to all third level graduates. At one level this is a step forward, but we can all agree it is not real reform; it is not what people want and it will not go far enough. As long as all citizens in the State do not have a vote for the people in this Chamber the House will suffer as a consequence. I genuinely believe in a republic all citizens should be able to elect the people sent to any arm of Parliament, whether it be the Dáil or the Seanad. I would like to see universal franchise.

We must also look at the powers and responsibilities of the Seanad in the spirit of the referendum result. It was very clear from the result, and from the debate, that many people who campaigned for a "No" vote campaigned for reform. In my view citizens voted for real reform of the Seanad and not piecemeal reform. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue in advance of legislation coming forward, so the Government will be able to signal to us and elaborate on what other reforms will come with regard to the Seanad? I hope we will not end up after the next Dáil general election with the election to the Seanad being exactly the same as it was for previous elections, with the exception perhaps of the university panel. This is an important issue and I hope the Leader will arrange for a debate on it.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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Many hospice associations throughout the country provide services. Men and women from throughout the country give up their time and take time off work to transport very sick and ill people to various hospitals in Dublin. Those who volunteer consider it an honour and an act of mercy but there is an issue I wish to take up with the Minister for Health. In many cases these people have costs with regard to tolls and petrol but the cost of car parking at hospitals in Dublin is astronomical. Last week I spoke to a young man who took a very ill person to Dublin. He collected him at 6 a.m. and he did not get home to his lonely cottage until almost 6 p.m. He waited for four or five hours in Dublin for his appointment. Is it possible to discuss the matter of hospital car parks in the House? I am sure it is of concern to other colleagues in various parts of the country. The car parks are run by private concerns. Concessions in hospital car parks throughout the country should be considered for the volunteers doing an act of mercy.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Will the Leader organise a debate on the headlines which appeared in the Sunday Business Post on Ireland's cancer survival rate, which is among the worst in Europe? The House has led the way in terms of a consultation process on cancer which provided the information that one third of cancers are caused by lifestyle choices. As my colleague, Senator van Turnhout, pointed out, a Bill brought to the floor of the House more than two years ago, which is supported by the Government, with regard to banning smoking in cars where children are present, got stuck in bureaucracy. This is an area where the Government could take action and on which it stated it would take action but nothing has happened.

It is one of the areas where the Government could take action and said it would take action, yet nothing happened.

I also welcome the news that the Government is going to expand the franchise. However, I am disappointed because the Taoiseach came in here and told us that he was going to consult with the leaders in this House about how reform should take place, yet now we read about the reform in the press. Will the franchise be expanded to the Irish living overseas? Will it be extended to the Irish living in the North? We are one of the few countries in the world that does not give votes to its citizens living outside the State, yet that will continue under the Taoiseach's proposal.

I would like to call for a debate on the BBC "Panorama" programme from last week. It was shocking. In a litany of what has happened in the North of Ireland, what was exposed by that programme was nothing short of outrageous. Earlier in the week, the DPP for the North of Ireland, Mr. Larkin, suggested that there should be no prosecutions as a result of what had happened in the past in the North. In this programme we saw members of a British army unit, the rapid reaction force, boasting about what they had done and saying they would do it again. They went on the programme not for reasons of remorse; it was about recognition and reward. They wanted to be recognised for what they did. They went around Belfast and they shot innocent civilians. Some of them got promoted for it.

3:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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You are way over time.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If that was happening in Argentina, Central America or the Far East, they would call them "death squads". The most shocking part of the programme - this needs to be questioned by our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - is that a memo to the British Prime Minister at the time, Mr. Ted Heath, stated that when the unit was being disbanded, special care should be taken to ensure that the British army replacement squad operated within the law. That suggested the British Prime Minister was well aware that the unit being replaced was acting outside the law.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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You are way over time.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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What did he do about it? What is our Government doing about asking the current British Prime Minister why no action was taken------

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I call on Senator Mullins.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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-----when a former British Prime Minister was well aware that there was a British army unit going around the North of Ireland killing people at will, acting like a death squad in Central America.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I want to join in the optimism this afternoon and welcome the significant increase in employment that we have seen to date in 2013, with a total increase of those at work of 58,000. It shows that the Action Plan for Jobs is working and I applaud the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Cabinet for keeping the pressure on to deliver on the action items that were contained in that particular plan. I hope that the trend continues into 2014, and that the budget measures taken, such as extending the lower rate of VAT to the hospitality sector and the tax incentive to people to upgrade their homes, will have a significant impact on employment in 2014.

There is grave concern across the country about the possibility of an ESB strike before Christmas. We all know the implications of a strike by ESB workers for all citizens, but in particular for the elderly. It also has implications for employment and the health service, including our hospitals. I call publicly today for the company and the unions to get back into discussions as a matter of urgency. We need a debate with the Minister about the contingency plans being put in place in the event of a strike taking place. We also need a wider debate on whether it is right that any group of workers would be in a position to hold the country to ransom and shut down vital national strategic services. I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on that particular issue, especially on the plans the Government is putting in place in the event of a strike in a few weeks' time.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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The group which visited earlier was from Derry, Donegal and Fermanagh as part of the peace process, and I did not get the chance to welcome them. Apropos of the other discussions we have had, a critical thing the university constituencies did was to enrol people resident in Northern Ireland. The State has been spectacularly unable or unwilling to do that ever since the partition of Ireland, so I hope that the new university constituencies will not be partitionist, as the State typically is and the universities were not.

I wish to express the hope, particularly as we will discuss pensions later, that the ESB workers do not strike on the basis of their grievance about pensions.

3:10 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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This is the place that they can bring their concerns. I am sure that the Leader and the Minister will take their views on board.

I agree with Senator Mullins on the increase in employment, which is most welcome. It is incumbent on the Government not to allow property booms, bubbles, false optimism or grandiose plans to reassert themselves. We seem to be going in the right direction and that is to be welcomed. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I strongly agree with the comments made by Senator Thomas Byrne on bogus trusts. People need to be extremely wary in all of these cases. We have already seen some instances of trusts being without legal standing. That is enough about the matter for the moment.

I welcome the announcement of the Luas cross-city rail project. It is tremendous that a loan for it has been arranged with the European Investment Bank. The project will transform rail transport in Dublin city and hopefully, as indicated, it will take up to 3 million cars off the road.

I wish to comment on the remarks made by Senator Daly. I urge him, as ever, to exercise more caution and less haste in levelling criticism. In the past the force to which he referred to was rather unsavoury, to say the least, but I do not think that we can be so assertive as to say that things happened at will. We should wait until the US special envoy releases his report on all legacy issues. When we have the report then we can calmly reflect on the matter and debate the entire situation.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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As Members will know, the HSE's service plan is supposed to be announced today and I wonder what is in store for us. Let us recall the €119 million overrun last September. What is it now? What about the proposed cut of €666 million? What about the notional achievement of €113 million in cuts to medical cards? In parallel, there are 29 CEOs in hospitals throughout the country being paid additional money from other sources. In addition, 34 out of 63 disability service providers receive HSE funds. That breaches the guidelines for HSE CEOs at a time when we saw, for example, St. Michael's House writing to families whom it caters for to inform them that it would have to cut services due to a reduction in funding.

All of these anomalies exist against the backdrop of the Government continuing to insist that there will be free GP care for under 5s even though, on the lunchtime news today, we heard the chairman of the National Association of General Practitioners call the plan laughable. The same applies to the overall plan to provide universal health care for all. It does not seem to be consistent with Government policy and certainly outcomes so far.

I wish to amend the Order of Business and call for the Minister for Health to come to the House today to discuss the blunt instrument that is called a "probity drive" which is used to assess and review medical cards. As so often is the case with anomalies in the health service, it takes a high profile intervention before finally some progress is made. We can hardly have a more high profile instance than what developed today. I refer to Ms Marie Fleming and her poor family. Ms Fleming went to the Supreme Court to seek the right to die but was unsuccessful. I apologise for mentioning names but I must use privilege in the public interest on this occasion. Her partner, Tom Curran, was on the lunchtime news today to highlight her individual case. He said that he was contacted as part of a review of her medical card and asked whether her condition had changed. He made contact by telephone with the HSE who asked him to fill out a form to give details of her medical condition. This was not good enough for the HSE and it followed up by seeking proof of her medical condition. It seems that he telephoned another three times to be asked to fill out further documentation.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Absolutely disgraceful.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Mr. Curran rightly pointed out to the nation that the medical card review was a waste of resources, money and time.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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And inhumanity.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Is it not possible to log the fact that somebody suffers from multiple sclerosis-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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-----and that his or her situation will not change. I ask the Cathaoirleach to indulge me, please.

3:20 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator's time has expired.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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This is far too blunt an instrument. There is not a member in this or the other House who has not had personal experience of a lower profile case that is equally needy.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Yes. I move an amendment that the Minister come to the House today. I do not care how busy he is with the media launch for the service plan for the HSE. We must have progress in this area where people's human needs are taken into account rather than this blunt instrument to save money.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Bureaucrats, not medics, are doing it.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I too welcome today's employment figures from the CSO which highlights some good news. That the employment rate has increased by 58,000 in the course of the year and approximately 90% of those jobs are full-time roles is hugely welcome. The trend is accelerating with 1,200 jobs being created per week, an incredible figure of approximately 5,000 on a monthly basis. That follows on from a situation where for the three years before the Government came into office 1,600 jobs per week were being shed. To stop that trend was an achievement. That we are now creating 1,200 jobs per week is a huge success story. While the unemployment figures are still unsatisfactory it is a sign of good things to come.

Employment in the accommodation and food sector is up 11.9% or 1,470. Again, this shows how the employment activation initiatives, such as the 9% VAT rate, are working. It is a real vindication of the macroeconomic policies of the Government. Certainly today's news is good for a change.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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There is little surprise in today's story in The Irish Times that our students who attend third level are mainly from prosperous areas, fee-paying schools and Gaelscoileanna. They are all advantaged in achieving that over children attending school in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. In this context I am worried about the Minister's proposal to replace the junior certificate with a school-based or school-examined school certificate. I do not know if people realise this is going to happen. The State examination at junior certificate level will be gone. I have been thinking about this development. Who will this disadvantage? It will not disadvantage those who are making it to third level but will disadvantage the early school leavers, the one in eight or one in ten students who drop out before leaving certificate who will then have no State certification. Those children may travel and may emigrate. When they present for jobs abroad they will be asked to forward a copy of their examination results from Ireland. What good will a school report be? That is all it will be. Education is meant to be the great equaliser. If the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, moves ahead with this proposal he will ensure that it will be the great unequaliser and will reinforce inequality, particularly where children drop out early from school. In this regard I ask the Minister to revise his plans to replace the junior certificate with a school certificate. I ask the Leader to invite him to the House for a debate on the junior certificate reform examination only. There is much I like about his ideas on reform but not on his proposal to replace the junior certificate examination with a school-based examination only. That is not good enough for the children who drop out early.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I second Senator Marc MacSharry's amendment.

I wish to raise with the Leader issues that have arisen from some recent documentaries on Irish and English television channels, particularly the atrocities committed where collusion was a very prominent feature.

While the Leader and others, including me, who followed the coverage of Mr. Justice Barron's reports will not be in the least surprised that there were shoot-to-kill gangs from the British army going around killing innocent civilians in the North, it is appalling to hear and see the evidence of those directly involved, just as it was appalling to watch last night the coverage of the atrocities perpetrated by the IRA during the Troubles. Recently I was at the launch of Anne Cadwallader's book on collusion by British forces in Northern Ireland, particularly in the murder triangle of Dungannon, Portadown and south Armagh, about which members of the committee heard over a number of years. We heard from people who had knowledge of the crimes and also from the victims. I would like a debate on these issues because there has been no closure for the families of victims of the atrocities. Families are still crying out for the truth about what happened to their loved ones. Unfortunately, as I believe our report indicated, the State failed them as much as any other authority. One of the great champions of human rights in this House was the President, Mr. Michael D. Higgins. I hope his great commitment will be in evidence during his official visit to Britain. I hope he will champion the need for the British to make available the documentation, evidence and information they have available which, no doubt, will incriminate many within the British establishment. If the truth is out, I hope we can at least progress from there and that the victims will be able to find closure. I would like to believe Senators, as a body in this House, will be supportive of this.

3:25 pm

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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Figures reported in the press in recent days from a reputable medical report on different cancer rates of survival across the OECD nations make for very sobering reading for people in Ireland. I will not go into all the details; suffice it to say the statistics indicate we are doing very poorly. In the case of some cancers, we are doing nearly as poorly as any nation in the OECD can do. In the case of one cancer, we are beaten only by a country that is relatively newly liberated from Soviet communism. There has been a slight tendency here, administratively and bureaucratically, in the past decade to indulge in self-congratulation of a near-orgiastic level over alleged improvements in cancer services. It is important for people to realise that most or much of what has happened has involved reorganisation, shuffling and changing bureaucracies. There has been an increase in the number of cancer specialists, which I welcome, and there have been improvements, which I also welcome. There have been improvements all across the world, including Europe and the western countries that have relatively developed medical systems. This is because cancer treatment has got better.

The second most important point to note is how poorly our near neighbour, the United Kingdom, has done in similar league tables, recently presented in the same study. The UK model is the one to which we seem to aspire most. If one wants to improve cancer treatment outcomes, there should be enough people doing the treating, enough access to treatment and good access to the drugs available. Historically, we were poor in the first two categories and good in the third, but now we are becoming poor in all three. This is really a time for honest reflection.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Thomas Byrne referred to the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013, with which we will be dealing today. There is no time limit on Second Stage, nor will there be a time limit on Committee Stage, within reason. There will not be a time limit on Report Stage. We can deal with today's business for as long as we want. Such an important Bill will be allowed the time it deserves.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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The deadline for submitting amendments was this morning, although we have not even considered the Bill on Second Stage.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I cannot give the Senator any further information. Committee Stage has been ordered for Thursday.

3:30 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Could the Leader give a commitment that amendments will be accepted at least until after the debate this evening?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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It is not within my remit to do that.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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The Seanad can decide.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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It is not within my remit. Notice would have been given of when amendments could be tabled.

Senator Bacik and several other Senators spoke about the expansion of university seats to all third-level colleges and institutions.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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On a point of order, Senator Byrne has raised an important point.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Leader is replying to the questions raised during the Order of Business.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The point of order is about the ordering of business in this House. The Leader, who is an honourable and decent man, has stated that his hands are tied; it is outside his remit. Within whose remit does it lie? It is quite extraordinary that before the Bill is introduced to the House, we are forbidden to table amendments. By whom - some kind of anonymous bureaucrat? The Leader stated it was not him.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Leader to reply.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Is it the Government? I insist on knowing who it is.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Leader is replying to issues raised on the Order of Business.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Perhaps the Leader would be kind enough to let me know. He may well have a satisfactory answer, but at present the matter is unresolved and I am deeply unhappy about it.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We had a meeting of leaders last week where the schedule for this week was agreed. That is all I can say. That business was tabled as it has been tabled this week.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I attended that meeting and the Leader is quite correct.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Norris should allow the Leader to reply.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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However, there was no question that we would not be allowed to table amendments.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Norris should resume his seat.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am sure the Leader will confirm that the question of amendments was not raised at that meeting.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Norris should allow the Leader to respond.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of order, when this has happened on occasion we have objected to it, but it has always been the case that amendments were accepted until Second Stage was completed. It was always allowed by this House, not by some bureaucrat or the Bills Office. This House tells the Bills Office the rules. They do what we tell them. Let us tell them that amendments will be accepted until this evening.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I will certainly-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Standing Orders allow the Cathaoirleach to accept amendments and waive notice. The Leader to reply.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Will the Cathaoirleach be disposed to do that?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I have no objection whatsoever-----

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Is the Cathaoirleach willing to do that?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I look at each case.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach. We will send them in.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I have no objection to extending the time if it can be extended. There is no question about that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I thank the Leader for his courtesy.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Bacik spoke about Seanad reform and the expansion of the University seats to all third-level institutions. This is a matter that has been raised by several other Senators. As Leader of the House, I have no indication of when this Bill will be before us. I certainly have no indication that, as reported in the newspapers, it may be here before Christmas. I have no indication whatsoever in that regard. As I hear news on it, I will certainly inform the House.

Senators van Turnhout and Daly raised the issue of smoking in cars in which there are children. I wrote to the Minister for Health last week on that matter asking for a progress report. I indicated that it was said to me that there was some legal problem with one aspect of the Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, and I asked the Minister to clarify that and let me know when the Bill would be taken. After 18 months or whatever - the Bill came before us in 2012 - it is most unacceptable that this short Bill could not have been dealt with and completed in the Seanad by now.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator van Turnhout also called for a debate on the youth guarantee. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, will be here with us all afternoon. Prior to the debate, I will ask her when she can come in to debate that issue.

Senator Norris raised the need for reform of the vocational panels. That was the subject of a couple of Bills that were before the House before the Seanad referendum.

Until Senator Norris informed me of the fact, I was not aware that the Taoiseach had held meetings with the leaders in the Lower House in respect of these matters.

3:40 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That may not be true. I only read it in a newspaper.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Such meetings may have taken place but I am not aware that they did.

Senator Conway and others referred to the unemployment figures and the fact that 1,200 jobs are being created each week. That is a wonderful improvement on the position which obtained up to two and a half years ago.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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At that rate we will have solved the problem of unemployment in 30 years.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Prior to 2011, some 250,000 jobs were lost in a three-year period. However, everyone will acknowledge that there is a long way to go in respect of this matter.

Senator Leyden complimented the Garda on its efforts in combating crime and called for a review of the free legal aid scheme.

Senator Hayden referred to the first case involving the Insolvency Service of Ireland and requested a debate on the matter. A number of months will have to elapse before we can examine the position with regard to debating a progress report on this issue. It would be March or even later before such a debate could be held. I agree with the Senator's call for a debate on Traveller accommodation and the standards relating thereto. I will ask the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to come before the House to address that matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

Senator Cullinane called for a further debate on reform of the House. We have engaged in many debates on this issue and what is required now is action. One of the matters to which we should probably give consideration is people who raise matters on the Order of Business and who then do not have to courtesy to remain in the Chamber for a reply.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Either the House or I should be able to address that issue.

Senator Brennan referred to hospice services and volunteers who transport people to appointments. Those volunteers do wonderful work and it should be appreciated. The Senator called for concessions to be made in respect of car parking charges in hospitals. I do not know who has responsibility in this regard. It is probably a matter for the hospitals themselves. I agree with the Senator that hospitals should re-examine the position. Concessions should be made in respect of those volunteers who transport people to hospital appointments.

Senators Daly and Crown referred to cancer survival rates, a matter which was the subject of a report in a Sunday newspaper. I note Senator Crown's comments in that regard and his acknowledgement that cancer treatments have improved and that the number of consultants has increased. There is, however, a need for this issue to be reviewed on a continual basis, particularly in the context of the comments made in the newspaper report in question. That report did not make for pleasant reading.

Senators Daly and Walsh referred to the "Panorama" programme on the activities of some elements within the British forces in the past. What was shown in that programme was reprehensible, as was the murder and maiming of people on all sides. That which was detailed in the programme was dreadful. I note Senator Walsh's comments on collusion between the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries in the zone to which he referred. The Government has exerted pressure in respect of this matter. There is a need for the British Government to provide the necessary information in order to give the families of the victims some closure in respect of the dreadful activities which took place at that point in our history.

Senator Mullins referred to the situation relating to the ESB and the unions. The threatened dispute is unnecessary, particularly as, according to the Pensions Board, the ESB pension scheme is fully funded up to 2018.

A couple of hundred million euro was injected in the company and its pension fund a couple of years ago. A funding plan must be agreed to restore the ESB to financial health. The House will debate the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill when the Order of Business concludes. Every second pension fund is in trouble. The pensions and jobs of workers in the ESB are not under threat and pay cuts are not required. I hope that, arising from the meeting between management and unions later this week, this unnecessary action will not proceed. A strike would have devastating consequences for businesses, schools, primary health centres and everyone else. I appeal for calm and common sense to prevail. Senator Sean D. Barrett has also noted that while the country is moving in the right direction on jobs, it still has a considerable way to go in that regard.

Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the decision of the European Investment Bank to endorse a proposal to provide a low interest loan for the construction of the Luas cross-city line. This is a major project and the EIB's decision is welcome.

Senator Marc MacSharry referred to the Health Service Executive's service plan and the waste of resources in the health service. I could not agree more with him. The case he has highlighted is appalling and should not have arisen. Such practices lack all common sense. I cannot agree to the amendment to the Order of Business to discuss a specific issue. The Senator may seek to have the matter discussed on the Adjournment. I hope the House will have an opportunity to debate the HSE service plan once it has been approved by the Government. The HSE has submitted its proposals for the Minister to examine.

Senator Catherine Noone also welcomed the success of the Government's initiatives on job creation.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames called for a debate on changes to the junior certificate syllabus. I will ask the Minister to come before the House, although the matter was debated previously. Continuous assessment has been encouraged by many educational practitioners.

3:45 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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We debated the content of the syllabus, rather than the examination.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I have referred to the concerns raised by Senators Jim Walsh and John Crown.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the method of assessment of eligibility for a medical card be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 27.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Eamonn Coghlan inadvertently voted "Tá" instead of "Níl" and the vote result has been amended.

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 18.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson..

Question declared carried.