Thursday, 30 January 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, to be taken at 11.45 a.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 1.35 p.m.
I wish to inform the House that next week, more than likely, we will sit for only two days, as business is not flowing through the office. At the moment it appears we will sit only on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
I learned before coming into the House of the death of a former Senator, John Carty. I extend my deepest sympathy to his family on his death. John Carty was an excellent Senator, a wonderful man who had a great personality, and I am sure everyone who knew him will miss him, as we will here.
We will not oppose the Order of Business.
I thank the Leader for his words and pay tribute to our colleague. We have all heard the sad news this morning of the passing of our colleague, the former Senator John Carty, who was a former member of the other House as well. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group and all of us in the House we offer our sympathy to Kathleen, his wife, and all his family. During his time in public life, John Carty dedicated his life to public service, as an agricultural officer with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for many years and later as a public representative in Mayo County Council and in the Seanad and the Dáil. He was one of life's true gentlemen, a champion of the small farmer and of the causes of the west, and somebody who can only be described as all graces and no airs. I am sure we will have an opportunity to pay a more detailed tribute in the weeks and months ahead. I extend the sympathy of all of us to Kathleen and the family.
Following on from comments yesterday on pylons, we welcome the Government row-back on the inclusion of all parts of the country in the review. However, we regret the absence of a health professional on the review group, which makes a mockery of it. Even if there was one such professional on it, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, has made an entire mockery of it because yesterday he said the Government would not be bound by the recommendations of the group. Clearly, this is an aesthetic stroke to facilitate better polling in the elections where the pylons were being proposed. The Minister has clearly announced that the Government will not be bound by any findings of the particular review group but if it suits it may take aspects of it on board. One wonders if we are going through this fruitless exercise just to politically appease certain people.
While trying to further the Irish cause in the US yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, told Bloomberg that Dublin is thriving while the rest of the country is still coming to terms with the financial crisis. That is true. We have a housing crisis in Dublin. The house price differential between Dublin and the rest of the country is 28%, while this time last year the differential was 17%. All Governments must begin to take a strategic view of regional Ireland. That includes the west and north-west, where some lay-offs have been announced at Abbot Ireland's diagnostics and nutrition facilities in Cavan, Donegal, Sligo and Longford. The work of the IDA must be given a greater focus in regional Ireland because employment is a rising tide that will lift all boats, and we can begin to bridge the serious gap of 28% in house prices, which is indicative of the wider costs scenario. As an auctioneer, I declare an interest here. Throughout the country, one can buy a house for up to 80% less, in some cases, than it cost to build it. This is as a result of the negligence of consecutive governments in the context of treating regional Ireland in a strategic manner and trying to harness the natural contribution these regions can make to the national effort. This has been consistently ignored. There is a need for a cross-departmental team led by the Taoiseach to focus on increased investment into regions such as the north west to ensure they can make a more sustained and greater contribution to the national effort.
On behalf of the Labour Party group I wish to be associated with the sympathy extended to the family of the late John Carty, the former Senator and Member of the other House.
I compliment Senator Katherine Zappone on last night's debate on Seanad reform which was prompted by the motion tabled by the Senator and her colleagues. It was helpful for all of us to hear from the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, of the plan for progress on Seanad reform. While there was a vote, clearly there was a united view in the House on the need for reform and for swift progress on bringing forward reform proposals. It is helpful that we now have a clearer sense of how progress will be made, in the first instance, through the publication of the heads of the university franchise Bill, which will extend the franchise for university seats to all graduates of third level institutions in the State, and, second, through proposals to be put to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Those proposals on internal procedure and operational reform should come from all of us to the CPP. It is also important that all of us feed into the process of putting forward proposals for further legislative reform through the task force that the Minister of State announced would be set up.
I ask the Leader to schedule a series of debates, with a suitable gap between each, on the progress of the task force when it has been established. I am aware that at the meeting with the Taoiseach in December there was mention of the leaders of the groupings in both Houses. It might be easier if we moved first with leaders of the groupings in this House and if we were to set up a subcommittee of the task force for ourselves to put forward proposals for reform through legislation. In the Labour Party group we have already developed our proposals for legislative reform, which we have put to the parliamentary Labour party. We need to ensure we are not dragging our heels and that we are doing all we can within this House, particularly as leaders of the groupings, to try to make progress on the strategy of reform that we all agreed on last night.
I support Senator Colm Burke, who called for a debate on a dementia strategy. We saw some very troubling figures this week on projections for dementia in the State. It would be good to have a debate on how the Department of Health and the HSE are planning for that eventuality.
This weekend at the Constitutional Convention we will debate the issue of Dáil reform, which had a very narrow win over Seanad reform. My colleague Senator Aideen Hayden pointed out during the debate on Senator Katherine Zappone's motion last night that Seanad reform was an issue that many Constitutional Convention members wished to see debated. Unfortunately, there will not be time to debate it. Some of the comments and suggestions put forward last night may be raised again this weekend.
I join in the tributes to former Senator John Carty and the condolences to his relatives. I also sympathise with Deputy Michael McGrath on the passing this week of his brother in Cork.
As my group leader is in hospital, he was not present yesterday during the debate to which Senator Ivana Bacik has referred. The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, spoke exactly as a representative of the Dáil, where six of seven Deputies tried to abolish this House. We have much work to do on him and on the Taoiseach, who refused to debate the issue before the referendum. Within the House, it is quite remarkable that the Senators opposite, who voted to abolish the House in October, are now reformers. It is rather like people who are in favour of capital punishment masquerading as counsellors and social workers.
That is what the Members opposite did. How can they interpret a mandate they never got? The position they advocated was rejected, particularly in the Dublin area and overwhelmingly in all middle-class and working-class constituencies. The Senators opposite ought to reflect on that. It was an overwhelming rejection of the way the Dáil operates. Against us were Fine Gael, the Labour Party, People Before Profit, the United Left Alliance and, regrettably, Sinn Féin. All of those were rejected in the referendum.
It would seem from what was coming forward from the Minister of State yesterday that the fault lies in the two university constituencies. I contend the five university Senators saved this House from being abolished. What we say about checks, balances, accountability and representing minority groups demonstrates what the Seanad was set up for. That is what we got the mandate for. I am interested in reform but if the university seats are abolished and taken over by the political parties, this House will become a Chamber of Fianna Fáil reserves against Fine Gael reserves, which is certainly not what people voted for. The Independent university Senators comprise a valuable part of this House and that should have been recognised in the Government's contribution. I exempt the Leader from any criticism but believe the Seanad committee ought to be more balanced in its treatment of what exactly happened on 5 October.
I echo the calls for debate. We must establish why the political parties, Government and opinion polls were so wrong. People wanted the Seanad's unique contribution to governance to be retained and not to have it dominated, as heretofore, by the political parties.
I concur totally with the views of the Leader and Senator MacSharry on the late John Carty, who served with us in this House and the other. He was a wonderful character; God be good to him.
I commend Deputy David Stanton and all the members of the justice committee on their wonderful hearing yesterday on community courts. It is a very good idea and has the total backing of the Dublin business community. I am sure all fair-minded people tuned in to what happened yesterday. Unfortunately, we were very busy in this House and many of us did not have the opportunity to witness the proceedings. I am sure Senator Bacik and some other members of the committee would have wished to have been present. I was very much taken by the view of Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, the Inspector of Prisons, who made some telling points. There was a spokesman from New York. The three previous mayors of New York have totally backed the concept. I will not say it has worked wonders in New York but it has brought about improvements. It puts judges in dialogue with the offenders, and reasonable arrangements are worked out. I believe from talking to those concerned that community courts greatly reduce the level of re-offending. It is well worth trying. The idea has the backing of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and I commend it to the House. It is worthy of the support of us all and I wish it well.
I, too, join in the expressions of sympathy on the death of Mr. John Carty. He was a good colleague and very warm friend. He had so many interests. We may be getting an opportunity on a future occasion to expand on these sentiments. I sympathise with John's family. His death came as a great shock to us all.
Ar ábhar eile, mar is eol don Teach, beidh an Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, ag éirí as a phost go luath agus tá conspóid ag fás, diadh ar ndiaidh, maidir leis an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge. Nuair a bhí an straitéis á phlé, ghlacadh leis d'aonghuth. Ach anois, tá daoine buartha nach mbeidh ar ár gcumas an straitéis sin a chur i bhfeidhm. Nuair a tháing an Coimisinéir Teanga isteach go dtí comhchoiste an Oireachtais chun é sin a phlé, bhí sé soiléir go raibh sé féin buartha faoi sin chomh maith. Tá an-chuid rudaí nach bhfuil ag tarlú. Níl go leor daoine, mar shampla sa státcóras chun seirbhísí a chur ar fáil. Níl aon earcaíocht ar siúl chun daoine breise a fháil, cé go bhfuil sin geallta ag an Aire Stáit anois. Perhaps for the first time in the history of the State, there was unanimous support for a strategy. The 20-year strategy enjoyed considerable cross-party support and goodwill, not only during debates in the Oireachtas but also during consultation with all the various players. I am a little concerned and worried, however, about the controversy that is now developing. I hope that all of us, in all parties, will make a special effort to regain the energy and commitment put into the strategy. There is not a Member of the Oireachtas who is not committed to the Irish language. I was absolutely thrilled that we got away from the political-football attitude to the language. The debates here were absolutely wonderful. I am a little concerned at present. The Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, will appear before the joint committee in the near future to debate the issues that were raised by the commissioner. Mr. Seán Ó Cuireáin is a very honest person and a man of integrity. He was very open and committed, and he is a very decent man. When someone like him expresses such concerns, we need to listen very closely.
I ask the Leader to consider a further opportunity to debate Seanad reform. We all received a few minutes to do so yesterday but it is not a good idea just to have a debate and then forget about it. Senator Barrett is quite correct that we need to take this issue seriously. There are great people in this Chamber on all sides. We can make good contributions towards reform. I genuinely do not believe reform will come from the Dáil; it must start within the Seanad.
It was wrong of Senator Barrett to say what he said about Members on this side of the House. The fact of the matter is that we did not vote to abolish the Seanad but to put the matter to the people. The record of contributions made by Members on this side of the House will show that they not only supported the reform agenda but also supported the reform Bills put forward by Members on the other side of the House. The matter was put to the people and they spoke. We need to move on from there.
I welcome the launch today of the Child and Family Agency. It will go a long way towards the protection of children. We must remember that, since 1980, we have had 29 major inquiries and reviews concerning child protection failings. We have a shameful legacy of child abuse and neglect. The agency, which will bring together in an integrated fashion a number of the services relating to child protection, is to be welcomed. I also welcome the Minister's statement that she will keep the matter under review in terms of some of the services that remain outside the agency. We all take her at her word on that.
I ask the Leader for a debate on child welfare and children's rights. This issue continues to feature and it will not be entirely answered by the setting up of the Child and Family Agency. I would like the right of a child to be parented and the right of a parent to parent to be raised with the Minister for Social Protection in respect of the payment of rent supplement. A parent without sole custody cannot obtain rent supplement in order to have housing adequate to enable an overnight visit by his or her child. Children are entitled to be parented by both parents, and that means they have the right to an overnight visit and spend time properly with both parents. I wish to raise this matter and other matters related to rent supplement with the Minister for Social Protection.
Ach an oiread le mo chomhghleacaí, ba mhaith liom ár gcomhbhrón a chur in iúl do mhuintir John Carty, a bhí mar Bhall den Teach seo. Labhróidh muid faoi sin a thuilleadh amach anseo. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú maidir leis An gCoimisinéir Teanga, ach théinn i bhfad níos faide. Sílim go bhfuil faillí iomlán á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas. Tá sé ráite go mbeidh fiosrúchán maidir le cás an Choimisinéara Teanga agus an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge.
The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in favour of Ms Louise O'Keeffe has a significant implication for the State. The Government now needs to make a full apology for its failure and that of its predecessor to deal compassionately with Ms O'Keeffe and other victims and survivors. Having forced Ms O'Keeffe to go through a long and difficult judicial process for 15 years, the Government should not add to her ordeal by delaying in making an apology. Given the importance of the court's decision for the State, the Minister for Education and Skills should make an early statement in the Dáil and Seanad setting out the Government's response to the decision and indicating the steps it intends to take to ensure full compliance with the judgment and protect children.
In response to a question from my party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, last Tuesday, the Taoiseach acknowledged that the O'Keeffe case indicated clearly the State's failure to protect children. He went on to state protection of children was absolutely a priority for the Government. As has been mentioned, today he will launch the Child and Family Agency, on which the jury will be out until Members ascertain how it will function. However, Members have learned today that at least 200 social work posts are vacant, despite significant increases in the numbers of reports of children at risk of abuse or neglect. This is despite the fact that approximately 40,000 referrals were made to child protection teams in each of the past two years, which constitutes an increase of almost one quarter on the 2011 figures, thereby placing strain on services already under pressure. The Ryan report, published five years ago, recommended the recruitment of an additional 270 social workers. However, there now are fewer social workers employed than when the report was issued. I have raised many times in this House my concerns about children in direct provision accommodation. In addition, there have been recent reports on the welfare of Traveller children. While Sinn Féin welcomes the launch of the Child and Family Agency, the Government's record on these issues is to be questioned. I seek a debate on the provision of social worker posts and what the Government intends to do about the issue, rather than engaging in these big public relations stunts involving great press conferences to launch new initiatives without putting in place the resources required to facilitate work on the ground and ensure all children in the State are supported equally.
I hope 2014 will also provide an opportunity for people to learn more about and become more familiar with Ireland's mediaeval history and spread knowledge of it to visitors to Ireland. This is an important year and given that the High King's birthplace was in Killaloe, County Clare-----
----- and that Dromoland Castle is the ancestral home of the O'Brien family, I suggest the Leader, in consultation with the Cathaoirleach and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, investigate the possibility of Seanad Éireann holding a once-off meeting in Dromoland Castle in April or May in symbolic commemoration of the death of the High King of Ireland 1,000 years ago.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss the recent revelations that RTE has paid financial compensation to individuals associated with the Iona Institute in response to complaints made about Rory O'Neill's interview on the "Saturday Night Show". It is incumbent on the Minister to appear in the House and advise Members of how much was paid to the Iona Institute on foot of the complaint; whether other remedies such as a right to a reply were offered to the organisation and whether these more appropriate remedies were refused by it. Did RTE give serious consideration to arguing the defence of honest opinion in any threatened defamation action? I also wish to give the Minister the opportunity to outline to the House whether he believes RTE acted appropriately, given its responsibility as a public service broadcaster, to ensure balanced debate on issues of public importance. RTE has a responsibility to ensure all voices are heard, not just those with the deepest pockets. The revelations in the media in recent days about this financial payment set a dangerous precedent ahead of the referendum on marriage equality that has been promised by the Government. To allow one side of the debate to dictate the terms - it is clear to me that the motivation-----
I am asking the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss this serious issue. The motivation of the Iona Institute in bringing the case is clear. It is afraid of the referendum and the fact that at the Constitutional Convention, in which people heard both sides of the debate over the course of two days, 80% of those involved voted in favour of equality. They voted to put behind the prejudices and discrimination of the past and to ensure all Irish citizens would be treated equally. This is what the Iona Institute is afraid of because it cannot win that debate. It cannot win a fair and open debate, but it has money and influence which it is trying to exercise in this case. RTE has a responsibility to ensure no organisation can dictate the terms just because it is influential or has powerful backers. Consequently, I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss this serious issue and the steps he will take to ensure such a dangerous precedent is not followed in the future. To be fair to RTE, in the past it has run excellent debates such as the "Late Late Show" debate which included a panel interview in which both sides were heard. Moreover, at its conclusion, the audience voted overwhelmingly in favour of equality. While I hope this was just a once-off event, Members must be clear this is the case and that as the country heads into a referendum, one side will not be able to silence its critics.
I join other Members who have expressed sympathy to the family of John Carty. Although I did not work in this House with him, I knew him quite well. He was a great character, as well as being a decent and warm person. I know his family very well and they will all miss him very much. He was a very popular man in County Mayo and although we were on different sides of the fence, he was very encouraging when I ran for the Seanad. May he rest in peace.
As for Senator Sean D. Barrett's comments, while I always admire the Senator for his passion and commitment, they were somewhat unfair to those Members on this side of the House who thought they were in quite a difficult position in advance of and during the referendum. Senator Aideen Hayden is correct and it is what I had intended to say, that Members had voted to put the matter to the people. The fact that it was put to the people has put this House in a stronger position than was the case. I see no reason Members on this side should not be as involved in the reform agenda as those on the opposite side. I would welcome any debate or proposal. It is important to state the issue should be revisited regularly in this House.
On the comments of Senators Sean D. Barrett and Catherine Noone, last night's debate was useful. One part that disappointed me was that Senator Sean D. Barrett did not get a chance to contribute, although he was present all the time. I hope he made up for it this morning in some way.
The aspect I found useful was that Members covered a much wider range of topics than they might otherwise have. In respect of the Leader's contribution, some good ideas came from it. My real difficulty is the length of time it takes to get anything done and, in this case, urgency is required. Something must be done because, as Senator Katherine Zappone mentioned last night, unless there is movement on the issue now, it will probably be delayed for seven years, until the election after next. Consequently, things must be done now. When I mention this frustration about the length of time it take, I think of Senator Mark Daly and myself and the time we introduced different Bills on organ donation and to provide for an opt-out but nothing has happened. If I remember correctly, my Bill was introduced approximately six years ago but nothing has happened. Senator John Crown has introduced a Bill to ban smoking in cars but nothing has happened. Moreover, I gather he cannot even get an interview with the Minister for Health. The reason I mention the Bill to ban smoking in cars is it was announced in Britain yesterday that a Bill to ban smoking in cars in which children are present was to be introduced. I believe it was introduced to the House of Commons yesterday. It is interesting to note that only yesterday it was announced that California intended to introduce a plastic bag ban and a tax on paper bags. Ireland set the example approximately 15 years ago with the tax on plastic bags, which has worked. It set an example for the rest of the world, some of which is following. However, I simply do not understand the reason it takes so long to get everything done and urge the Leader to move, in particular, on the reform of the Seanad and the suggestions that emerged yesterday, particularly from Senator Katherine Zappone. If Members move on them now, it will be done in time for the next election rather than the election after that.
I raise the issue of profiteering in many sectors but particularly in the hospitality sector.
Last year was a good year for tourism in this State, and The Gathering turned out to be a success. We are facing into the first rugby home match this weekend and in the past on such weekends the price of alcohol throughout Dublin city centre increased. That is wrong. There are good profits to be made without profiteering, and we should try to ensure this does not happen. Yesterday we discussed profiteering by some hotels in respect of the Garth Brooks concerts, on which there was a further discussion on the national airwaves this morning. An analysis was done and in the week before the concert the rate in some hotels was €140 per night but one week later for the nights of the concerts it increased to €440 per night. That is wrong and it is part of the reason this nation ended up in the mess in which it finds itself financially and so on.
It is greedy to do that to people who are prepared to go that little bit further and spend a few euro on such events. We should have a debate in this House to try to bring the conversation back to good business practices, and profiteering is not one of them.
Like other colleagues I was very saddened to hear of the death of a former colleague and friend to many of us in this House, John Carty. John was a humorous person but he was also a solid, serious person. He was a very humble man and while I was aware that he had been ill in recent months, he did not want that to be widely known. That humility was borne out to the end, and our thoughts are with Kathleen and his family today and in the months and years ahead.
This afternoon, the families of 11 people who were killed in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971 will meet with the Taoiseach to seek his support for the establishment of an independent inquiry to determine the truth about what happened on that very sad day. I ask the Leader to convey my wishes, and those of many other people in this House, that he support their call for an independent inquiry.
Ballymurphy is a part of Belfast with which I am very familiar because a relative of mine served as a priest there for over four decades. These are ordinary, decent people like those in most communities throughout the world, and they are entitled to the truth about what happened on that very sad day.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú as ucht an méid atá ráite aige mar gheall ar an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge. Ba cheart dúinn ar fad, ar ghach taobh den Teach, ár ndícheall a dhéanamh chun an teanga agus ár cultúr agus na moltaí atá sa straitéis a chur i bhfeidhm. Aontaím leis an méid atá ráite faoin gCoimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, freisin.
I welcome the launch of the Child and Family Agency. As a previous speaker said, it is a very important day for the country and I compliment the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Taoiseach for putting children first and ensuring that the agency gets the funding and the staff it needs to do the job it is charged with doing.
I raise the issue of anaphylactic shock and peanut allergy in particular. Over Christmas we heard about a young girl who died on O'Connell Street because she could not get an EpiPen. She had been in a restaurant where she ate food containing peanut, to which she had a reaction. She came out onto the street and went into a chemist shop but could not get treatment. That should not happen. Many people suffer from allergies and we must do something about that. I call for a debate on the issue in the House and I recommend that there be an EpiPen and treatment available in every restaurant, where one person would be charged with that responsibility. That should be available in every surgery, school and other place frequented by children. I want to sympathise with the family who lost their young girl.
What brought this issue to mind was new research reported in The Lancet on work being done to raise tolerance to peanut allergy. However, education, awareness and the provision of EpiPens, which can only be got on prescription, is important also and we must examine that. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come into the House to discuss this? When we see that a child can die on the street in a few minutes, the urgency of this matter can be appreciated. It should not have happened.
I too would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the death of the late John Carty, who was a great friend and who was popular on both sides of the House. He was witty and down to earth, and when he spoke on matters to do with agriculture, and the west in particular, people listened to him. He will be greatly missed also in a little town called Emmetsburg in the US state of Iowa, where he was guest of honour on a number of occasions at their St. Patrick's Day celebrations. He was very popular in that town. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I listened to Senator Sean Barrett's contribution on the monitor and I agree with every word he said about Seanad reform. Last night's Private Members' debate was very useful in reflecting on the significance of the Seanad abolition referendum, which was a significant day in the history of Irish parliamentary democracy. We should reflect more on the significance of the result, because the people gave a resounding endorsement for the continuation of the Seanad but they would like it reformed. That they were in favour of retaining the Seanad means they cannot have much of a problem with the Seanad as it is constitutionally set up. It was something of an endorsement of ourselves, even though I am sure the media would not accept that. The Latin term festina lente, make haste slowly, comes to mind. We should not have a stampede as if there were a mad rush about this issue.
I cannot see legislation being brought forward on the panel selection system this side of a general election. If that were to happen, it would be poor legislation rushed through the House. Nor am I certain that it will be possible in the lifetime of this Government to introduce legislative change of the university panels. It is well known that the university Senators have contributed more than their fair share to debates in this House in this term and in previous terms. We should be very careful about that legislation in terms of how we will work out a register of electors and the costs involved in that. It is fraught with difficulties. We should take it slowly; God made plenty of time.
I join my colleagues in the expressions of sympathy on the unexpected and sad death of a former Member of this House, John Carty. As many have recognised, he was one of nature's gentlemen. I called to see him a few months ago and he was in fine form, which is an indication of how quickly life can change for people.
I ask the Leader if he would arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House for a debate on what has now become an epidemic of burglaries across the country. We have heard instances of such burglaries and seen them reported on television and radio programmes. My own local radio station, South East Radio, is conducting interviews on a daily basis with distressed homeowners who were recently burgled. This appears to be going on without any recognition from the Minister or the Department of Justice and Equality of the imposition on people, and particularly on elderly people, some of whom have had to leave their homes because of the experience.
I support Senator Power's call for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House for a debate on RTE. RTE is required, under the Broadcasting Act, to be balanced. That these defamatory comments were made on the "Prime Time" programme and not challenged by the presenter-----
I am looking for a debate on it but I also want to condemn the hate mail going to an organisation that has recently suffered a very tragic event as the result of the death of one of its senior members of staff. Members of this House sympathise with those in the organisation on their loss. The organisation is now getting e-mails telling people in the organisation to kill themselves. I ask the Senators who might support that kind of thinking if they would stand over that. I certainly do not and I do not think any democrat should either.
I am asking the Leader if he would agree that the Iona Institute, in particular, has never had abusive comment or derogatory remarks made against it nor has it ever been in any way homophobic. What it stands for, a view which I and many people in this country share - I also look forward to the debate in the lead up to the referendum - is that every child in this country is entitled to have a mother and father involved in his or her rearing and development and any deprivation of that-----
It is very relevant in view of the fact that RTE, as our public broadcaster, failed once again to meet the threshold of being balanced in its reporting and programming. That is unacceptable and I ask that the Minister come into the House to have a debate on that.
I join with colleagues in expressing sincere sympathy to Kathleen Carty and her family on the death of John. Earlier comments were made about his public service as an agricultural officer and, interestingly, he spent some of that time in my home town of Drumshambo in County Leitrim, albeit before my time. He often spoke about that time with great affection. I would like to be associated with those remarks.
I would also like to be associated with the remarks of Senator Barrett and, more pertinently, with those of Senator O'Sullivan in the context of hastening slowly on Seanad reform. I agree with Senator O'Sullivan's analysis that there no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the Irish people, in their wisdom, when they voted to retain the Seanad did so for any one particular reason, but it seems the media and some other elements have taken it upon themselves to interpret the result as meaning that there had to be urgent reform. I believe it will be very difficult to engage in the type of reform proposals being suggested, for example, in the context of the panels. Having listened to the Minister of State's reply to the debate yesterday evening, it seems the Government is not keen on the idea of the universal franchise either because he pointed to the cost currently involved. It costs €5.25 to send out each vote under the current university franchise and if that were to be multiplied into millions of euro, the inference was that this would be a costly and prohibitive exercise. I agree with Senator O'Sullivan that one should hasten slowly in regard to reform. There are many reform initiatives that have already been initiated by the Leader that have been welcomed. I believe that is the road to go within the current framework of trying to expand the role of the Seanad without further referenda or legislation. There are many opportunities to do so.
I would also like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the wife of John Carty, Kathleen, and her family on the death of John. I served in this House and on Mayo County Council with John Carty and he was an absolute thorough gentleman. While we will have further expressions of sympathy in the House at a later date, I would like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to his family, to the family of the former Deputy Ted Nealon on his passing, and to Deputy Michael McGrath on the death of his brother.
Senator MacSharry raised the question of EirGrid and the expert group that is being formed. I certainly would not agree with his comments that it is a fruitless exercise. I would prefer to wait for the report before I would make any such statement.
In regard to the IDA and investment in the regions, I would agree totally with the Senator but we cannot dictate to industrialists that are coming into this country where they should go. It is a decision between Ireland and very many other countries where industries eventually go. I would certainly agree that there should be more emphasis by the IDA on the regions but I think it is doing that. We can see that there has been an increased number of visits by the IDA but that is not bringing the desired results.
Do not mind Leitrim, we can talk about Waterford and many other areas as well. The companies want to invest in places like Dublin, Cork and Galway where we have seen a massive increase in the number of jobs created during the past few years. We would be hopeful that such investment will spread to the regions in the coming years.
Senator Bacik and several other Senators spoke about Seanad reform and there was advice by some to hasten slowly and by others to get out the whip and move a lot faster.
I understand that the heads of Bill to legislate for the 1979 referendum result may be with the Cabinet next week. When the heads of the Bill are published we can have a debate on that issue in the House. There is movement in that regard. As I said last night, I would welcome proposals from all sides of the House and individuals on how we can improve the way we operate our business in this House.
Senator Bacik also raised the issue of the dementia strategy and called for a debate on that very important issue. On Senator Barrett's comments, I advise that in speaking about the heads of the Bill to legislate for the referendum result, I do not believe there is any intention to abolish the university seats but it will be more difficult with a larger electorate for people to organise canvassing and so on. We can debate that when the heads of the Bill are put to Cabinet.
Senator Paul Coghlan raised the justice committee's deliberations on community courts yesterday. I understand the debate at the committee was very good and that the Minister sat through all the discussion which continued for a number of hours. When the report of the justice committee is published that is another report that we could debate in the House.
Labhair an Seanadóir Ó Murchú agus Seanadóirí eile mar gheall ar an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Tá an Rialtas i bhfábhar na straitéise. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil don Coimisinéir Teanga as a chuid oibre. I assure the House that the Government is totally in favour of implementing the 20 year strategy for the Irish language. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, will appear before the committee to discuss the straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge on 6 March. He will be in attendance in the House shortly after that, around the time of Seachtain na Gaeigle, to discuss the matter then.
Senator Hayden raised the issue of children's rights and children's welfare and pointed out the anomaly which exists with rent supplement. Perhaps we can have a discussion with the Minister, Deputy Burton, on that matter in early course.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of the Louise O'Keeffe case which has been discussed in the House in the past few days. I am sure the Government will make a very comprehensive response to that judgment but, as I pointed out, during the past two days the protection of children is a priority for this Government and it will continue and remain so. I join the other Senators who welcomed the launch of the Child and Family Agency today.
Senator Conway raised the issue of the marking of the commemoration of the death of Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf and of an invitation for a meeting of this House in Dromoland Castle to mark the event. We will examine that but the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has examined previously the possibility of the Seanad having meetings in other areas and the cost may be prohibitive but we will look at that.
Senators Averil Power and Jim Walsh referred to an RTE settlement with the Iona Institute, but there are differences of opinion between the Senators. I suggest to Senator Averil Power that, in order to get the information she requires, she might consider tabling an Adjournment matter in order that the Minister can answer the question she posed this morning.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the delays in bringing forward legislation after passing Second Stage in this House. The Bill dealing with smoking in cars when children are present is an example. I agree with the Senator and cannot understand the reasons for the delays. As I mentioned last night, there must be a rethink by Government agencies. There is a rush of legislation towards the end of each term and little or nothing at the beginning of a term. Departments and Government agencies must look at the issue. It is not acceptable that there are such delays after legislation has been passed on Second Stage and promises are made that it will be implemented soon afterwards.
Senator Michael D'Arcy referred to the question raised by Senator Marie Moloney yesterday about the hospitality sector and alleged profiteering, including by the drinks sector and hotels. It is regrettable if it is the case that hotels are raising prices by 200% or 300% when there are rugby matches or concerts. It is not a good reflection on the country. The sector should have a rethink because, having had some good years, it will have some poorer ones if it continues to do what was alleged by Senator Michael D'Arcy this morning and Senator Marie Moloney yesterday.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson complimented the Taoiseach on meeting the people from Ballymurphy. We will know the outcome of the meeting later.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to allergies, particularly peanut allergies, and the sad case of the death of a young girl in Dublin over Christmas. There is a need to raise public awareness of the issue. I will ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the issue and others of a similar nature.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Paschal Mooney raised a matter I have already dealt with. To repond to Senator Jim Walsh, no Senator in the House stands over the type of comments to which he alluded.