Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding a European small claims procedure, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on public sector reform, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 5.20 p.m.; and No. 3, Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Committee and Remaining Stages, resumed, to be taken at 6 p.m.
Yes, she might not remember. I refer to an extremely serious issue that I have had occasion to deal with in north Dublin. Nationwide, there are 58 early intervention teams but in 11 Health Service Executive, HSE, areas, there is no early intervention team at all. The entire Dublin region has no early intervention teams. The purpose of such teams is to assess and support children with disabilities by agreeing with their parents a path forward for them and to consider the areas in which the children need assistance to help them to develop further and to reach their potential. However, there are 11 HSE areas without an early intervention team and consequently, the children have no support at all. More worryingly - I have written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, in this regard because I have encountered a couple of cases in the north Dublin region - since June 2012 the HSE is not even adding to the waiting lists. This is about children with disabilities but a family seeking early intervention assistance through the HSE for a child is not even being added to the waiting list. The purpose of this obviously is to enable the HSE to massage the figures. I have to hand the complete figures on an area-by-area basis as to the number of children who are waiting for early intervention but surprisingly enough, for the Dublin region the number of children in each team has been left blank in all of the areas because the waiting lists have closed. I have written to the Minister and know of families who have visited his office in Swords. The response they received was to ask the parents whether they could not have the assessment done privately. Many of these parents cannot afford to have such assessments carried out privately. This is an extremely serious issue that must be addressed.
The Minister with responsibility in this regard is the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, as well as his junior ministerial college, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. Moreover, I imagine the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, would have something to say in this regard. What is the Government's response to this issue? Will there simply be no early intervention teams in 11 areas, including all the Dublin areas, Kildare, west Wicklow and Wicklow itself? No service at all has been made available in those areas. What is the Government's position about not even having a waiting list? Anyone who applies is being told the waiting lists are closed. Colleagues on all sides of the House, of any party and none, will agree this is a completely unacceptable situation. I will conclude by asking the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come into the House to discuss what will be done in this regard as soon as possible, that is, next week or this Thursday. I do not believe anyone thinks the current position is tenable or acceptable as, after all, this pertains to kids and anyone who understands the issue of children with disabilities will understand the importance of early intervention and being able to set out a plan for such children to reach their potential. All Members will be concerned about this issue and I respectfully ask the Leader to arrange an early debate on this matter, in order that the Government can put forward what it plans to do about it.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the revelations that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, has been the victim of apparent surveillance. In the context of the story that first was broken in The Sunday Times last Sunday, it would be a good idea for Members to have a debate once they have a little more clarity as to what exactly has occurred. Certainly, it is a matter of grave concern that the agency that has been entrusted with the independent oversight of the Garda Síochána apparently has been subjected to surveillance. I understand the Minister is likely to give a statement to the Dáil this afternoon and that tomorrow, the three members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions here in Leinster House. While there may be greater clarity as to what occurred after those two developments, I seek a debate as soon as possible thereafter to address the critical question as to whether there was bugging of GSOC - if so, who authorised it or was it authorised, whether it was carried out unlawfully, and, if so, by whom?
There are other questions to which no doubt the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will be asked to respond tomorrow concerning the reason it considered it wise not to report the matter to the Minister for Justice and Equality, but the critical question-----
I agree, but the critical question is whether bugging was carried out and, if so, by whom and for what purpose. That is the sinister question. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Transparency International and other groups have expressed grave concern about the reports. We only have reports at this stage; there is very little clarity as to what exactly went on. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's own statement is not clear on what exactly went on and suggests this was not the first occasion on which it believed it might have been subject to surveillance. Clearly, we need more information, but I would like us to have a debate in when we have a little more information.
I commend our colleagues in the other House, Deputies John Lyons and Jerry Buttimer, for speaking so frankly and openly last Thursday night on their experiences of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, in other words, their experience of homophobia. I also commend our colleague, Senator David Norris, for speaking so eloquently about the matter on "The Late Late Show" on Friday night.
In the context of the ongoing debate on homophobia, I also commend the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, who has turned down an invitation to attend the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York-----
-----on the basis that it is not inclusive of gay people or any banner supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, rights. In that regard, she is following the example of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who has taken a similar stance. All of our Ministers should consider taking the same stance.
I ask the Leader to refer a specific and grave matter to the relevant committee of the Oireachtas. It concerns homophobia. I would like to read the most authoritative statement on the welfare of children. It comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics and was published in April 2013. It reads:
A complaint was made by a solicitor acting on behalf of a particular person. The solicitor was instructed on 11 January. That person remained on the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland until 23 January, nearly two weeks later. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is charged with upholding freedom of expression. There was a very clear conflict of interest.
Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research revealed that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological and sexual health, despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma. Many studies have demonstrated that children's well-being is affected much more by the relationships with their parents, their parents' sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents. Lack of opportunity for same-gender couples to marry adds to families' stress, which affects the health and welfare of all household members. Because marriage strengthens families and, in so doing, benefits children's development, children should not be deprived of the opportunity for their parents to be married. Paths to parenthood that include assisted reproductive techniques, adoption, and foster parenting should focus on competency of the parents rather than sexual orientation.
On "The Late Late Show" I quoted from an interview, which can be substantiated. It states:
...this is really a kind of satire on marriage that is being conducted by the gay lobby. It is not that they want to get married, it is that they want to destroy the institution of marriage because they are envious of it ... [They] started a campaign for marriage which is purely an attempt to discredit an institution, a normative institution, on which society, on which human civilization, is founded...That is an attack on gay people, which is clearly homophobic. It states gay people are an insidious element that is attempting to destroy our entire society. If I felt that way, I would believe it was right to repress them in the most strict and harsh manner possible.
I am asking the Leader to refer this matter to the appropriate committee because, in addition to this, there is a further very destructive and extraordinarily unpleasant quotation and if the Leas-Chathaoirleach gives me a moment - I was not expecting to be called quite so soon - I will-----
I have found the piece. I ask Senators whether they think the following is homophobic. The person concerned, Mr. Waters, stated: "Well, you know, if two brothers applied to adopt a child, they’d be laughed out of court but the fact that they’re buggering each other would make a difference, would it?”
I am exercising my freedom under parliamentary privilege to raise a scandal, with the protection of this House. I ask my colleagues, if that kind of thing was said about them or black people, Jews or Islamic people, would the person who said it not be up in court? I object strenuously to my money being paid out to this person and demand that it be paid back. I demand that the appropriate committee investigate this matter because the solicitor said RTE had trawled around for two days. I do not think it was very good. It must be pretty dim witted if, in one day, I could find this piece of filth.
I was concerned to hear in the past few weeks, as well as in a debate on radio this morning, that hauliers who crossed the Border into Northern Ireland would be charged £10 for every trip they made. This will have serious consequences and we should try to do something about it on behalf of people who live along the Border who might cross into Northern Ireland several times a day. We have given large sums of money to the roads authorities in Northern Ireland and pledged considerably more in the future. It is unfair and there will be serious consequences for people who live along the Border if they are to be charged £10 for every trip they make.
I express disappointment that, once again, we are not sitting this Thursday. I understand the Leader has indicated that it may be the same next Thursday. We should sit on Thursdays. I acknowledge it is not the Leader's fault, but calls have been made in the Chamber for debates on important issues which we could easily take place this Thursday and next Thursday. It is disappointing that, through no fault of any Senator, the Cathaoirleach or the Leader, the House is not sitting and it does not look good for this institution or the Government's approach to political reform.
I primarily want to raise the concerns many citizens have about the alleged bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Office. This is a very worrying development. The Government's response was disappointing in that the Minister for Justice and Equality appeared to be more concerned about not being informed than about dealing with the central questions of whether the office had been bugged and, if so, by whom. We need to get the answers very quickly because it would be appalling if the watchdog over An Garda Síochána was being bugged. We need a prompt response and the Minister needs to act quickly. I would like an independent inquiry to be conducted to get to the bottom of the matter to ensure the integrity and independence of the office is protected and to find out who was responsible. I join Senator Ivana Bacik in calling for a debate on this important issue. All of us want to ensure whoever is responsible is brought to justice and that we get the full facts. Why can we not have that debate on Thursday? I fail to see why the Minister cannot make himself available to discuss this issue in the House.
We have not yet debated the HSE service plan, even though we were promised such a debate. The Leader stated last week that we could have the Minister for Health before us to debate 15 issues. Why can he not come to the House on Thursday to discuss the HSE's service plan?
I am not placing the blame for this at the door of the Leader, but I am saying it is an appalling situation that must be rectified. Moreover, I am serving notice that if no Thursday sitting is scheduled next week, my party will write to the relevant committee of the Oireachtas seeking permission to hold a debate in this Chamber on any issue that is of relevance to the people of this State. If that request is refused, we will book the AV room and hold the debate there. We will turn up for work and do our job. We will not be held back from doing so by any Minister or by the Taoiseach.
On a day when the Oireachtas and the entire country are convulsed by revelations of bugging and the question of who is bugging whom, I raise an issue that is bugging me and people throughout the midlands who have a grá and affection for and an affinity with our inland waterways, namely, the actions of Waterways Ireland. As the previous speaker pointed out, we are hardly run off our feet in this Chamber. In fact, it is an absolute disgrace that for the second week in a row the House is sitting for only one and a half days. In making this point, I mean to cast no reflection on Members, the Leader or anyone attending the Seanad. An attempt was made to kill us off in a referendum, but it did not succeed. An effort was made to remove our ability to have a workplace and that, too, failed. Now they are trying to kill us with kindness by denying us an adequate legislative schedule and refusing to make Ministers available.
I am not afraid to speak up, unlike Senators opposite who, when their party was in government, went along like sheep. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, who should be able to spare us an hour this Thursday or any other Thursday, to come into the Chamber, as Minister responsible for inland waterways, and explain how he proposes to put a stop to what Waterways Ireland is doing. I call on all Senators to intervene to save the Naomh Éanna, the vessel currently in dock at Grand Canal which operated as an Aran Islands ferry from 1956 to 1986. Waterways Ireland's plan is to throw that vessel on the scrap heap even though there is a group of people in this city willing to salvage and restore it at no cost to the taxpayer and thereby preserve an important item of heritage.
More urgently, we must ensure the Minister does not sign into law the new regulations and rules concerning canals. Canals throughout the county are being destroyed because the last few remaining barges and boats are being driven out by a tenfold increase in fees and fines. If the new regulations come into force, there will be no boat or barge left on the canals, with devastating consequences for towns such as Tullamore, Sallins, Athy, Vicarstown and Monasterevin, which rely on the tourism from the canals. They are an important amenity and resource which were run into the ground in the 1960s and 1970s and turned into dumps before undergoing something of a revival in recent times. We must have the Minister in the House to hear the Seanad's view on this matter. These draconian new laws will desecrate an important amenity that we should instead be regenerating in order to build tourism in the midlands.
I join with others in raising the question of what have been referred to as anomalies at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Although I do not agree with him on most issues, I support the call made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on his way into the Cabinet meeting this morning for the commission to clarify what it means by "anomalies".
The Government response to this issue has been poor in the extreme. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, seemed mainly concerned with complaining that he, as Minister, should have been told about it first. We had the Taoiseach talking rubbish from abroad, apparently not even fully briefed on the relevant legislation, and echoing the line that the Minister should have been informed of what was happening. We had a representative of the commission effectively telling us last night, through the media, that the commission had come to a dead end with its investigation but, by the way, the Garda Síochána was not implicated. That looks dodgy to me. Delegates from the commission will come before the relevant Oireachtas committee tomorrow, but the question arises as to what they will be allowed to tell us.
What is required is an announcement, before the end of the day, of a full independent inquiry into this matter. Indeed, we should have had an announcement this morning that some international body would be invited to examine the situation. This is up there with the Arms Trial. It is up there with a murderer being found in the Attorney General's apartment in the early 1980s.
We are talking about the most important arm of the State from a justice perspective. The people who oversee the police force and the legal apparatus of the State are saying there were anomalies and may have been bugs. We have the Garda Síochána saying it had nothing to do with it and the representative organisations calling on the chairperson of the Ombudsman commission to consider his position. Ministers are running around in circles, more concerned about knowing first. This is a disaster. Who is running the country? Who is in charge of our justice system? Where does the buck stop? We need to know. The only way we will get that in a way people can be confident of is through an international, independent inquiry as a matter of utmost urgency. It should be given a couple of weeks to report. Then we can know what is going on, who was listening to who, why, and what implications there are for the security of the State.
I agree that we should support the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in the proper functioning of its duties and should deplore any bugging if it took place. It is not up with the Arms Trial and the bugging of the telephones of Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold, which were proven facts. Who was reputed to have provided the tape recorder for that event? We should also protect people - and hope the Garda Síochána is protected - from unwarranted aspersions and this "dodgy" stuff. There is nothing dodgy at this moment about the Garda Síochána.
With regard to the Order of Business, I ask that No. 3 be taken at Committee Stage rather than continuing to Report Stage as is on the schedule of business circulated to us. We had a most valuable discussion on that with the Minister, covering issues such as the fact that the fatality rate on Irish roads increased by 17% in the past year. I am hoping it is not a trend away from a very good trend over a number of years. There were discussions about technology and infrastructure, which are very important. The Bill would gain if Committee Stage were taken today and Report Stage amendments considered at a later stage.
Important discussions are taking place this week with respect to EU-US free trade. Some of the talks are taking place here. One matter that concerns the wonderful relations we have in respect of investment and the role of the United States in the peace process is the absence of an ambassador. The well-respected Dan Rooney resigned on 14 December 2012 and the House would welcome the vacancy being filled as quickly as possible in view of the major investment links between the two countries, the role of the United States in the peace process, and the approach of St. Patrick's Day. We would welcome an ambassador. The chain of warm communications between Ireland and the United States is broken. Irish people living in the United States are very strongly in favour of the vacancy being filled. Perhaps the Leader, on behalf of the House, will communicate this to the appropriate authorities. We very much look forward to welcoming a new American ambassador to Ireland.
I support my colleague, Senator Whelan, in calling for a debate on the proposed increase in mooring charges. I asked for a debate on this last week. It is scandalous that we are letting Thursdays go to waste and not taking the opportunity to debate many issues. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland has contacted me because it has not been given much consultation time on these proposed charges. Only 21 one days was given to everyone.
Hundreds of single people and families will be affected by these decisions. I listened to a debate on radio this morning between Senator Whelan and a representative of Waterways Ireland who said the increases could be €4 per year but under the proposed by-laws the increase is ten times the current charge making an increase of up to €3,500 a year. That will drive those people off the canals into the waiting room of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy O’Sullivan, and onto housing lists, putting further pressure on the system. There is no reason we cannot have a debate tomorrow or next Thursday, before the Minister signs these by-laws.
I support Senator Bacik’s point that the bugging scandal at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, which is being covered by the media at the moment, be independently investigated. There is a lot of innuendo in the media about the gardaí which is very harmful to the gardaí and I am not sure there is any accuracy in it. I will not rush to judgment because many organisations could have bugged the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. In 1986 or 1987, when the murder of Father Niall Molloy was under investigation, Martin Cahill, one of the biggest criminals in the country, broke into the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and stole that file, purely to embarrass the gardaí. This matter warrants independent investigation before anybody rushes to judgment.
I agree with those Senators who have spoken of their disappointment about the Thursday sittings. Could the Leader forward a list to us of the engagements that each of the Ministers and Ministers of State had last Thursday so that we could see what was more pressing for them than coming to the Seanad? It might be quite enlightening.
Ba mhaith liom freisin tréaslú le Rónán Ó Domhnaill, atá ainmnithe inniu mar an té atá an Rialtas ag roghnú maidir le háit an Choimisinéir Teanga a ghlacadh. Táim an-cháinteach ar an Rialtas maidir leis an chaoi a bhfuil sé tar éis an cheist seo a láimhseáil, ach caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil ard mheas agam ar obair Rónán Ó Domhnaill agus ar an obair atá déanta aige mar chomhfhreagraí polaitíochta sna Tithe seo agus guím gach rath air insan ról nua. Ach, sílim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil sé ainmnithe i gcóir ról a bhfuil fabhtanna móra fós ag baint leis. Ní raibh aon díospóireacht againn sa Teach seo maidir le Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla ná na ceisteanna a d'ardaigh Seán Ó Cuirreáin mar Choimisinéir Teanga.
Tá Seachtain na Gaeilge ag teacht agus tá súil agam go bhfuil muid le seachtain iomlán de dhíospóireachtaí trí mheán na Gaeilge a bheith againn anseo, ní hamháin faoi chúrsaí Gaeilge, ach trí mheán na Gaeilge faoi chúrsaí eile, ar nós sláinte, cúrsaí leasa shóisialaigh agus mar sin de. Táim ag iarraidh go dtabharfaidh an Ceannaire léargas dúinn faoi chéard iad na pleananna a bheidh ar bun maidir le Seachtain na Gaeilge.
Tá géarghá fós, má tá Coimisinéir Teanga nua le bheith i bhfeidhm, go rachfaidh an Rialtas i ngleic leis na deacrachtaí a léirigh Seán Ó Cuirreáin agus é ag imeacht ón bpost, mar ní fheicim go bhfuil aon athrú tagtha ar pholasaí an Rialtais ina leith siúd ná go mbeidh aon seans ag an duine nua atá sa ról an jab a dhéanamh ar bhealach níos fearr ná mar a bhí Seán Ó Cuirreáin. Mar sin, b'fhéidir go b'fhéadfadh muid díospóireacht a bheith againn chomh luath agus is féidir maidir le ról an Choimisinéir Teanga agus Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. An dtabharfaidh an Ceannaire léargas dúinn maidir le díospóireachtaí eile trí mheán na Gaeilge a bheidh againn sna Tithe seo i gcóir Seachtain na Gaeilge?
Nursing Homes Ireland launched a report this morning entitled Health’s Ageing Crisis: Time For Action, A Future Strategy for Ireland’s Long-Term Residential Care. It highlights the challenges we will face over the next few years in respect of the growing number of people over 65 years of age.
For example, there is an interesting statistic indicating that by 2021 there will be a 46% increase in the age group over 85. We need to start long-term planning, particularly with regard to home care and nursing home care packages. In particular, there is a need for an increased number of nursing home beds, and by 2021 we will need approximately 4,000 additional beds, even if we are speaking conservatively about the available figures. If we started that process in the morning, it would take at least three years to take in the planning, construction and completion of nursing home accommodation.
It is time for us to have a debate on long-term planning for this area. There should be a five, ten, 15 and 20 year plan. We must debate the issue, as it is extremely important. It will not go away and we must put in place a long-term plan to deal with it. I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the relevant Minister at an early date.
A few weeks ago we had a very good debate about the possibility of avoiding strikes in what we called critical utilities. We did not manage to convince the Minister that something should be done about it and that we should follow the example set in a number of other countries, but we were discussing only water and electricity. I have not yet heard the result of today's vote, but personnel in Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports are deciding whether to engage in strike action. It seems there are other critical utilities and services. We really should give attention to the issue in order to avoid the automatic assumption that a small number of people can close down the nation. Electricity and water are vital but major transport also plays a part.
I also seek a debate on a decision that is likely to come here very shortly on what is termed a statutory code of conduct in the grocery business. This was voted on in the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but although it recommended the measure, no attention was paid to the cost of food for the average household. If a statutory code of conduct is pursued in the grocery trade, there will be two consequences. The price of food will go up, and everybody in the food business will be encouraged to import from outside, as the State cannot exert control on that basis. The debate that occurred in that committee needed to go much further and needed to hear the opinion of the housewives, families and parents of Ireland; these are the people who buy food and serve our citizens. We should do more than just taking into account the voices of those in the production, grocery or agricultural businesses. We should have a wider debate than the narrow discussion that took place in that committee.
I am also afraid that the apparent or alleged surveillance of the Garda Ombudsman's office may turn out to be a bag of wind or a bottle of smoke. I am inclined to agree with Senator Bacik that until there is much more clarity and detail - and, at a minimum, until we hear the Minister's statement and until we establish whether there has been bugging - we should not go near the issue. We would only be adding to the wind, as I would see it.
Until we have concrete business, we should not be adding to the wind on Thursdays. Senators all have good representational and other work to be dealing with and they may get on with it. Many Senators want to spend more time in their alleged constituencies than in this House, so let us get on with the work and not be adding to the wind.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh. Níl aon amhras faoi ná gur duine éifeachtach agus cumasach é Rónán Ó Domhnaill agus guím gach rath ar an obair a bheidh idir láimhe aige mar Choimisinéir Teanga nua. Ach fós, tá ceisteanna le freagairt, ceisteanna a d'ardaigh an iar-Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin. Is ceisteanna bunúsacha iad sin, maidir le stádas na Gaeilge agus cur chun cinn na Gaeilge, go mórmhór cur chun cinn na Gaeilge sa státcóras. Más rud é nach bhfuil na hoifigigh, fostaithe nó daoine ann chun seirbhís a chur ar fáil, seirbhís atá leagtha síos sa straitéis, ní féidir dul chun cinn a dhéanamh.
Dúirt mé anseo cheana go bhfuil súil agam nach mbeidh aon pholaitíocht ag baint leis an gceist seo. Thug mé faoi ndeara anseo sa Seanad go raibh gach éinne thar a bheith sásta comhoibriú le chéile maidir le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge agus sin mar ba chóir é a bheith. Bheadh sé an-cabhrach agus Seachtain na Gaeilge ag teacht, dá bhféadfadh muid ceis na Gaeilge a phlé arís agus seans a thabhairt do dhaoine níos mó eolais a fháil maidir leis na ceisteanna atá i gceist.
There is an opportunity for the Seanad to play a central role in the issues and controversies that have arisen on the Coimisinéir Teanga and also straitéis 20 bliain na Gaeilge. There is not a Member in this Chamber who does not feel a sense of ownership where the strategy is concerned. I can remember the debates which took place. They were totally separate from politics. It was about the importance of the language and the love we all have for the language and the richness of the language. It is not just a St. Patrick’s Day syndrome or a seachtain na Gaeilge syndrome; it is our national language. If we were discussing issues such as those that have arisen from the controversy on the Coimisinéir Teanga, they would be at the top of our priority list. Perhaps the Leader would arrange in the coming weeks an opportunity for the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McGinley, to come to the House and to put a lot of the controversial issues to bed once and for all.
I share the concerns others have raised at the apparent bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s, GSOC, office. It has a serious role to play. If anyone has deliberately set out to cause damage to its activity then they will have questions to answer and must be held accountable. How we do that is a matter of debate in this House and elsewhere. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. We have a role to play. Parliament has the right to ask questions to try to establish what happened. At this point, whether there is a need for an independent inquiry remains to be seen but the fact that GSOC is coming readily to the committee tomorrow is a good sign. I will ask the Garda Commissioner to also come back before the committee because there is so much confusion and so many remarks have been made in the public arena that it is the right place for it to be sorted out, and it would be welcome for the Garda Commissioner to have his opportunity to speak in a fair and clear manner. While it remains to be seen, it may well be the case that we need also to have a debate in this House on the matter.
In fact, the matters Senator Norris raised, have also been raised with the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions last week. We will look into those matters. Perhaps I might be able to have a word with him on the issue afterwards.
It is important that we have a full independent inquiry into the alleged bugging of the office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I was out and about in Galway yesterday and there is much public concern. While the appropriate word might not be “dodgy”, there is certainly a lot of doubt. Questions are being asked about what type of country we are living in and what type of culture this is. We thought we had gone away from that but serious doubts have been raised about penalty points and top-ups. All that is feeding into doubt. I take cognisance of what others have said. We might need to pursue the issue further following tomorrow’s session with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission in the committee.
The Leader will know that I tabled an item for discussion on the Adjournment today but the Cathaoirleach ruled it out of order. I was seeking a debate on Irish Water, with seven questions to be answered. From next September, every householder in this country will be billed for water, with payment starting next January. The Cathaoirleach ruled my adjournment matter out of order on the basis that it should form part of a substantive debate. In that context, I ask the Leader to agree to a substantive debate on Irish Water. Questions remain unanswered concerning staff numbers, bonus payments, pensions, obsolete metering and the carrying out of a cost-benefit analysis. We also need to know why the Siemens bid to install meters for €800 million, without an up-front payment, was rejected. These issues are of enormous public concern. I ask the Leader to schedule that debate because the issues arising now were unknown to us at the time of our previous debate on Irish Water.
As the justice spokesperson for Fine Gael in this House, I am, like many others, very concerned about what was revealed on Sunday concerning the Garda Ombudsman Commission. To be quite frank, I was most disappointed to hear the statement from the Chairman of the Garda Ombudsman Commission on the evening news yesterday. I felt sorry for rank and file gardaí with the mention of the Garda in the statement. The Chairman would have been well advised to refrain from commenting until after the Cabinet meeting today. Members of the Garda Síochána all over the country are upset. At least one of the Garda representative bodies has now called on the Chairman to resign. He certainly needs to respond to the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan and clarify exactly what he meant by his comment. Clarity is needed urgently because rank and file gardaí all over the country are very upset. Whether it was the Chairman's intention or not, gardaí have taken offence. In everybody's interests and as a matter of urgency, the statement needs to be clarified.
I call on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to discuss the price Irish farmers are getting for meat in this country. The success of our agriculture sector is being hindered by recent cattle prices which suggest that the market is uncompetitive. This is of great concern to most people out there, particularly those who are working as farmers. Recently I did a price comparison and the average market steer prices among the top three companies in Ireland were almost identical, with the greatest difference between two companies being only five cent per kilo. Right now beef prices in the United Kingdom are at almost €5 per kilo, which is over €1 per kilo more than what Irish farmers are making. This gap in the prices between Ireland and the United Kingdom is unprecedented. The uncompetitive meat companies are holding prices down in the Irish market and livestock farmers are suffering as a result. The Government cannot allow this kind of profiteering to continue. It is clear that the market is lacking in true competition. This is harmful to our economy and especially harmful to our livestock farmers. Irish farmers have had to put up with a lot in recent years, with rural areas hit the hardest by the recession, the fodder crisis, budget cuts and now the flooding problems. In 2011, Members may remember, the Competition Authority found that an agreement had been made among competitors in the beef industry to reduce capacity in Ireland and control the market to their benefit. I support a full investigation into what is happening in our beef industry. If foul play is not involved, then it needs to be ruled out now. In order to ensure that the beef market is competitive and to safeguard the well-being of our livestock farmers, the Minister should come into the House to address this issue, with all Members given an opportunity to express their views.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to request one of the health Ministers to come into the House today to comment on the discrepancy in the way health-related legislation is dealt with across the two sovereign jurisdictions on either side of the Irish Sea. Last night the British House of Commons passed an amendment to a Bill to ban smoking in cars when children are present. This occurred within one month of it first seeing the light of day in the House of Lords as an Opposition amendment to a government Bill on child welfare. The hurdles facing that Bill over one month were significant. In the first instance, there was a real chance there would be use of the Whip by the UK Government parties against it, but this was not done in both Houses. There was also widespread recognition that there was the potential influence of the tobacco lobby in Downing Street which had incredibly adopted a position of opposition to a slam-dunk public health measure. Despite all of this, the Whips were lifted and the Bill was passed in both Houses and will become law within one month. This should be contrasted with the position here where the well thought-out and well crafted Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill, into which public health professionals had an input and which sparked widespread debate, has been bunged up for two years in the bureaucracies of the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s office. If it had been given any degree of priority, I do not find it credible that there was not the competence within these two great organs of State to ensure this relatively simple Bill would have been passed into law. It was originally our intent to have it on the Statute Book two summers ago.
I remind Members that British public health authorities brought out figures yesterday, estimating that 140,000 children per day were subject to tobacco smoke in cars. Using a rough calculation, that would mean that 7,000 children per day are exposed here. I am despondent and cannot understand why a Bill as simple as this has taken so long. It would give the Government its first anti-smoking legislation three years into its term, led by a campaigning anti-smoking Minister for Health whose forthcoming Bill on plain packaging for tobacco products I support enthusiastically. I will be seeking a division on my proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
I remind the House that tomorrow is the final day for registering an interest and engaging with Judge Yvonne Murphy on the issue of symphysiotomy. Any lady unfortunate enough to have had this barbaric act performed on them should register their interest with the judge. She has agreed to travel around the country to meet any lady affected. I encourage everyone to register with her in order that we can receive an independent report and have full closure on this matter.
In today’s edition of The Irish Times Elaine Edwards has an article on online content and children. I am concerned to read that one in five children has been upset by something they have seen online in the past year. Up to 20% of nine to 16 year olds reported they had viewed something that had made them uncomfortable or wished they had not seen. That is double the percentage in a similar survey three years ago. The report also found that more girls were bothered than boys. This is Safer Internet Day. To create a better Internet together, everyone in the Internet community needs to be aware and it is vital that parents keep themselves fully informed as best they can. Will the Leader organise a debate on children and Internet usage, especially in the light of the concerning figures reported today? I welcome the announcement which coincides with European Safer Internet Day by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, on the extension of the public consultation process on online bullying, with the task force accepting submissions from the public until 18 March. I am glad that they submissions will identify policy solutions to the problem of cyberbullying.
While I will not support the amendment to the Order of Business, I strongly call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to immediately bring forward this piece of proposed legislation. It makes no sense for us to long-finger this urgently-needed legislation.
Last year we discussed and condemned the appalling scandal in the garment industry in Bangladesh where many people lost their lives as a result of badly-run premises and poor legislation. Another scandal is emerging in Cambodia where four people have lost their lives, 40 people have been injured and 21 people are in prison as a result of their protesting against poor conditions and campaigning for a minimum wage of $160 per month. I support all the labour organisations and the very many individuals throughout the world who are mounting an international campaign on this issue. The Cambodian garment industry employs 500,000 people and represents 95% of Cambodian exports, worth approximately €3.8 billion. Seven reputable international brands have called on the Cambodian Government to investigate the recent violence and, most importantly, to release the 21 workers whose only crime has been to stand up for colleagues who are campaigning for a decent living wage.
Some time ago I raised an issue on the Adjournment about broadband at Lismullen national school, Scoil na Tríonóide Naofa, in Lismullen, County Meath, beside the Hill of Tara. I am delighted to report that the school is very pleased I raised it on the Adjournment and broadband was installed a couple of weeks later. We should have more of those debates. The Leader has a proposal for changing them, maybe to have them in the middle of the day, and that would be even more useful.
Senator O'Brien raised the issue of early intervention schemes for children with disabilities. I note the point he made about waiting lists. I will raise the matter with the Minister. It is a matter that could be raised on the Adjournment. Senator Bacik and many others raised the situation involving GSOC. This is a very serious matter. The Minister will address the other House on the matter this evening so I would prefer not to comment on it until we hear the facts. It is regrettable that people can make statements when the facts are not even out there. I am prepared to await the Minister's response this evening. Tomorrow's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions will deal with the issue. The chairman of GSOC will attend that meeting so it would be inappropriate to comment further on the matter.
Senators Bacik and Norris raised the issue of homophobia.
Senator Norris also raised the matter of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Senator O'Keeffe has agreed to take up these matters. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, will come to the House next week for a two-hour debate on the question of homophobia.
Senator Comiskey raised the issue of charges for hauliers crossing the Border into Northern Ireland, which was raised by Senator Brennan last week. I have brought the matter to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is well aware of the situation.
Senators Cullinane and Ó Clochartaigh spoke about a point made last week. The Sinn Féin press office should be aware that the Cathaoirleach is Senator Paddy Burke and the Leader is Senator Maurice Cummins rather than Maurice Manning, who left the House approximately 14 years ago.
I suggest there is more to the role of a Senator than being in the House. As we all know, many people do not attend the House on many occasions.
Senators Whelan and Kelly raised the issue of Waterways Ireland and the proposed mooring charges, which was also raised by the Leas-Chathaoirleach, or another Senator, last week. The Minister, Deputy Deenihan, will be available to come to the House after the Order of Business on Wednesday, 26 February to discuss this matter.
Senator Barrett raised the issue of the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013. The reason we arranged for Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken is that so few amendments remain. I will accede to Senator Barrett's request to complete only Committee Stage today and will amend the Order of Business accordingly.
I presume that quite a number of amendments will be tabled on Report Stage, which we will probably deal with next week.
I am afraid I cannot provide any help on the matter of the appointment of the US ambassador to Ireland because it is a matter for the President of the US, and I cannot speak for him.
Maybe. Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Ó Murchú raised the issue of the straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, will come to the House for seachtain na Gaeilge, as I announced last week.
Senator Burke raised the issues of home care packages, nursing home beds and the need for long-term planning. He called for a debate with the Minister for Health on this matter.
Senator Quinn spoke about the proposed statutory code of conduct in the retail trade, which was discussed at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I agree with Senator on the need for a wider and more substantial debate on this issue before any statutory code is put in place.
In response to Senator Healy Eames, we have had 20 hours of debate on Irish Water-----
-----to discuss a number of queries. There is also a dedicated Oireachtas e-mail address where Members can have these queries answered.
That is more than sufficient, and the queries of Senator Healy Eames in that regard can be answered in that forum. In that context, Members can gain a great deal from Adjournment motions, as Senator Byrne mentioned, but there have been cases where Members have not turned up for Adjournment motions even though the Ministers have arrived. I am not alluding to Senator Byrne. Only last week, a Minister was waiting in the Chamber but the Member did not turn up. I remind Members that if they have tabled an Adjournment motion, the least they can do is be present when the motion is to be discussed.
Senator Higgins raised competition in the marketplace, particularly in the beef industry. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was in the House a few weeks ago and he addressed that matter. Indeed, he addressed similar matters in the other House when replying to parliamentary questions today. However, I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Coveney.
Senator Crown spoke about the ban on smoking in cars where children are present. I agree with him that we are very slow in getting the wheels moving where legislation is concerned. I ask him to withdraw his proposal today. I assure him that I will allocate Government time for Report Stage of that Bill next week.
Senator Moran reminded Members that tomorrow is the final day for submissions on symphysiotomy. She also mentioned that today is Safer Internet Day. In light of the figures she highlighted we will have a further debate on that matter in the near future.
Senator Mullins spoke about the poor conditions in Bangladesh and Cambodia, especially in the garment industry, and about supporting the workers. We would all support his sentiments in that regard.
The Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business with regard to No. 3, "That only Committee Stage of the Road Traffic Bill 2013 be taken today." Is that agreed? Agreed. That disposes of Senator Barrett's proposed amendment to the Order of Business, even though it was not seconded. You are a winner anyway in that regard, Senator.
Senator John Crown also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the discrepancies in the way in which health legislation is dealt with in Ireland and in the United Kingdom be taken today." In view of what the Leader has said, is the Senator pressing the amendment?