Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 45, motion No. 9, Private Members' business, to be taken at 12.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.30 p.m. Tributes to the former Senator, Jimmy Mulroy, will be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group and as somebody who served with the former Senator and late Deputy McFadden, I express our sympathy to Nicky's family, particularly her two adult children, the community in Athlone and the Fine Gael Party. She was a great friend to everybody in the House. As a town councillor, county councillor, Senator and Deputy she exemplified how business could and should be done, in an amicable way while still at times being robust in the defence of the values she pursued and tried to promote in such a professional and exemplary manner. We could all learn from that and follow her great example. As you correctly said, a Chathaoirligh, she faced her illness with great courage and great leadership, in terms of the fund-raising and way she used her position to promote the importance of highlighting this terrible illness and the fact that we must do much more about it. She faced it with great courage and dignity. We absolutely agree with the suggestion that the House not sit tomorrow to allow all Members who wish it to mark the passing of Nicky and attend the funeral. All Members look forward to participating in more fulsome tributes to Nicky at a later date.
We must oppose the Order of Business for today, given the very serious situation that has been ongoing over the last few days. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is engaged in a debate in the other House, as a third part of the Oireachtas it is important that this House also do its duty in parallel. For that reason we call on the Taoiseach to make himself available today to come to this House and answer questions and make a statement on these matters. In the event that he is not available due to affairs of State, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, the pioneering Minister who appears to have forced the hand of the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, and presumably the Minister, Deputy Shatter, as he prepares to make a statement in the Dáil, could make himself available today. There should be no shortage of Ministers to come to the House, given that Ministers such as Deputies Noonan, Coveney and others have made themselves available on the airways, in the absence of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, in recent days, and allow us to play our role on behalf of the people of Ireland in questioning and scoping out the true implications of this most ugly situation.
Can the Leader say how many working groups currently operate without the knowledge of the line Minister under the auspices of this Government? That is the key question. How many working groups operate in isolation with what appears to be full independence and plenipotentiary status without the knowledge of the line Minister? Despite the fact that we often disagree and are divided on how to achieve the end we all seek, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has been calm and assured in carrying out his duties in the last number of years and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, whether we agree or disagree with various aspects of his work, has also been calm and assured in carrying out his duties. It is a shame how mediocre and unprofessional they have been made to appear in the defence of the indefensible.
The situation is not credible. Somebody somewhere is lying through their teeth. Yes, everybody seemed to miss the implications of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, report last June, but are there no people in the Department who read such reports and report to the Minister of the day? This is very important and I beg the Cathaoirleach's indulgence. When the Garda Commissioner then consults with the Attorney General and a working group is set up, does nobody tell the Minister? A working group has been set up to investigate what appears to be highly illegal activity, but the Minister is not told about it. Finally, something very important that was omitted from the Taoiseach's statement yesterday, Senator O'Keeffe's contribution last night and the various contributions from Ministers and the Tánaiste is the fact that the Garda Commissioner sent a letter by courier to the Secretary General of the Department specifically asking that these issues be brought to the Minister's attention. It appears they were not.
This situation is incredible from beginning to end. The reality is that heads must roll. People cannot have confidence in how the police force of this nation is being managed-----
-----on the basis of the incredible stories of the last number of days. It is simply not credible. We will press this amendment to the Order of Business, so as to ensure that the Taoiseach or a senior Minister will make themselves available in this House tonight to tell us the truth, rather than the incredible fantasy which has been created to make a number of people look very bad in the last couple of days.
The amendment states: "That, at the conclusion of the Order of Business today, the Taoiseach or, in the event that he is not available, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, come to the House, make a statement on these extraordinary matters and answer questions on them."
I join you, a Chathaoirligh, and Senator MacSharry in paying tribute to the late Deputy Nicky McFadden and expressing, on behalf of the Labour Party group, our deep regret and sympathy to her family on her untimely death. Like many other colleagues, I served with the former Senator, Nicky McFadden, in the last Seanad and she was an extremely collegiate individual, a very warm person and an effective Senator. We will have time to pay tribute to her properly in the House and I look forward to that.
I also express sympathy to the family of the late Edward Haughey, also a former Senator. Again, we will have the opportunity later to pay tribute to him in the House.
On a happier note, I join the Cathaoirleach in expressing congratulations to Mr. Colm O'Rourke, the new Head Usher. Like Senator MacSharry, I believe we must have a debate on policing. I do not believe we should have it today, as it is important to hear what the Minister, Deputy Shatter, says in the Dáil this morning. I am conscious that he will be making statements and that these will account for the bulk of the Dáil's business today. We should have a debate on the matter in this House as soon as possible in the next week, but we must hear a clarification from the Minister as to the sequence of events and the state of knowledge of relevant parties at different points.
These very serious revelations about widespread recording of phone calls in Garda stations throughout the country since the 1980s give rise to very serious concerns about particular matters.
As somebody who has practised in the criminal courts, I am aware there would have been knowledge that some calls were being recorded, and everyone has knowledge about the recording of 999 calls, but what transpired in the Waterford Circuit Court case that has been spoken about and written about in the newspapers, and in another case in which a discovery order was made, is that this practice was more widespread than had been thought. It now transpires that it was extremely widespread, and it gives rise to serious concerns, in particular about client-solicitor communications, many of which are made over the phone, privileged communications in respect of which there have been real issues in many trials, and trials in which I have been involved, where there has been concerns that gardaí might have been listening in to phone calls or standing nearby when people were making them. It now transpires that these calls may have been recorded. That has implications for cases in which convictions have been obtained in the past and cases that may be pending.
I very much welcome the Government announcement that a commission of investigation will be set up to review and uncover exactly what has been going on with this widespread recording, the reason it was started, the extent to which it continued, whether client-solicitor communications were among those communications being recorded, the reason it ended suddenly in November of last year, who knew what about it, and when. That is very important. I welcome that the acting Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan, will be reviewing the matter as well. However, the commission of investigation is vital and I welcome that we have moved to that.
I very much welcome that at last the Government has made an announcement that a policing board will be established. It is something many of us had called for in the debate on the 2005 Act.
That is quite right. It was the then Minister, Michael McDowell, of whom I was critical at the time as an academic. Many of us were critical. It has been Labour Party policy that we should have an independent policing authority. I welcome that we will do that, and that the justice committee has been tasked by the Minister with reviewing the oversight provisions in the Garda Síochána. I hope we will see from that a strengthened mechanism for the oversight of policing in this country, an independent policing board to act as a buffer between the Minister of the day and the Garda Commissioner, and a strengthened Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission that will have proper powers to investigate various allegations of wrongdoing and misconduct in the Garda.
On behalf of the Independent group, we are very glad to agree to the House not sitting tomorrow in deference to our late colleague, former Senator Nicky McFadden. I will not say very much about her today except to agree with what my colleagues have said and to say that, without any doubt, she was the best loved politician in either House. She was a remarkable, courageous and dignified woman. I regret I will not be able to attend her funeral because I have to stay close to Dublin for hospital reasons but I know our group will attend.
I do not believe I have ever asked in this House for anybody's head previously but I did say two weeks ago that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and the Commissioner, would have to go, and I gave reasons. In terms of the confidential recipient saying that if one goes against Shatter, he will screw one, he should have gone then. That is incredible from a Minister for Justice and Equality. In any other jurisdiction he would have been gone. I do not take any joy in that. I know he is a very clever, remarkable man. It is like a Greek drama. He has a tragic flaw of arrogance and an inability to resist the temptation to smear anybody who gets in his way.
In terms of events that happened on the Minister's watch, the arrest of Deputy Clare Daly was an absolute disgrace for which an apology should have been made. The misuse of information about Deputy Mick Wallace and where he got it from was shocking. Last night, I believe unintentionally, the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, who came to his defence and threw his substantial weight behind him, hung him because what he said was that for the Minister to have to resign there would need to be a serious situation involving either incompetence or malpractice. Can anybody today deny that this is a serious situation or that it involves both incompetence and malpractice on behalf of the Minister? I do not delight in making these remarks. I would much prefer to be positive but it seems to me that this situation cannot be allowed to continue.
I also listened to Senator O'Keeffe on the radio programme last night and I would say, particularly to Labour spokespeople, that if all they can say is that they are not happy and make routine references to processes, timelines and so on, they would be better to stay off the air.
None of us is happy, but it is a question of honour, decency and standards. We have had scandal after scandal involving the church, the banks and corrupt politicians, including people in this House, and now we have this issue with the Garda. That is a situation which must be addressed. We were told this Government has come in to reform. Where is the reform? The arrogance of the Minister, Deputy Shatter, is replicated throughout this Government. I point to another fact that must be noted. The Government set up the Constitutional Convention and it was required, by resolution of this House, to respond within three months to resolutions of the convention. A resolution was passed, the three months for which expire today, about the presidential election system. The Government has done nothing. It is three months outside the timeline on Dáil reform. Again, it is treating its own institutions with contempt.
With regard to the Garda issue, it is just like the banking scandals, the church scandals and so on. The ordinary person will pay; watch this space. The lawyers will be at it and the Members, I and Joe Soap will be paying for this. There will be retrials. I believe people will sue the State, and we will be picking up the bill.
I am not happy about the process or the timeline of this, and I believe the Minister, Deputy Shatter, should go as soon as possible.
The Government may unravel over this issue. We are watching them explode minute by minute like a fireworks display. If the Government wants to stay in business, it would want to act decisively on this issue today.
I raise the issue of increased charges for elderly and vulnerable people in nursing homes. It has come to my attention in recent weeks that many elderly people have been requested to pay extra money for services in nursing homes. We are all aware there is a fair deal system in place where people on basic social welfare pay 80% of their social welfare payment per week. That leaves elderly people in particular with a meagre €40 per week for themselves. It now seems that contracts signed in some cases a number of years ago, and also ahead of the new quality standards and regulations for nursing homes, are being revisited by people running nursing homes, and in the cases I have heard about elderly people are being asked for extra money to read the daily newspapers. That is a scandal and it must be addressed. Clarity must be brought to this matter because we are talking about the most vulnerable in society.
All of us here witnessed what happened and what was required to be done by Government to tidy up this entire area and it is working very well. Nursing homes are being run properly now but to think that elderly people are being asked for money, out of the meagre €40 per week that is left to them, to read the daily newspaper is unacceptable. I call on the Leader to request the Minister for Health to re-examine the contracts in place between nursing homes and the State and also to have an examination of the contracts representatives or the elderly people themselves signed when they went into nursing homes.
We all know how difficult it is to get somebody into a nursing home now. In some cases the person is given only one or two days notice. People are provided with forms, which they sign, only to discover in the small print that they must pay ridiculous charges for services that should have been included in the contract.
I am asking for the matter to be investigated. I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health as soon as possible.
I express my deep condolences to Fine Gael and the McFadden family over the sad loss of Nicky McFadden. She was a lady, a political flower that had not yet blossomed. I soldiered with her on Gerry Ryan's first "Operation Transformation" programme. She had much less to lose than I had. When I heard the news initially I was deeply upset. I found her a confident and polite person. When she spoke in this House she meant what she said and there was no acrimony or political bias. The likes of her are few and far between. Her passing is a loss to Fine Gael and to her constituency, as well as, obviously, a very sad loss for her family.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator MacSharry. As spokesperson for justice it would be remiss of me not to show concern over the unravelling events. I will not repeat the issues Senators MacSharry and Norris have mentioned. The series of events that happened in the past six or eight months and are currently unfolding puts the original 1982 GUBU into the penny ha’penny place. I am deeply concerned that the confidential recipient, Mr. Oliver Connolly, was pushed overboard. In my view the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, was pushed overboard. If I were in the position of the Attorney General, Ms Marie Whelan, or the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, I would want to be wearing a very strong lifejacket in the current climate given what is going on.
Yesterday the Government established a commission of inquiry on the taping of telephone conversations of solicitors, journalists and witnesses which, as Senator Bacik mentioned, is extremely serious. I understand that the Cabinet agreed to set this up in the absence of the Attorney General, Ms Marie Whelan. If that is the case it is of concern.
I have sometimes made political points here - normally that is not my style. I have had my rows with the Minister, Deputy Shatter. I agree with Senator Norris that his position now seems to be impossible. It is a difficult situation for the Government. We should reflect back on 1993 when a seemingly innocuous event with a letter brought down a Government. A letter concerning a paedophile was not presented in time, which was a non-event in one sense. The then Tánaiste, Mr. Dick Spring, brought down that Government because of the serious nature of the matter.
Over the past 24 hours I have been consulted by up to a dozen rank and file gardaí. Ordinary gardaí who are out there protecting our streets, have no knowledge of all this. They are absolutely innocent as far as tape-recording is concerned and are innocent as far as whistleblowers are concerned. Some 98% of them do decent jobs, protecting our homes, lives and property. What is coming to me from my conversations with ordinary gardaí, none above the rank of sergeant, is the deep concern and disbelief at what is happening. There is a lack of morale, a lack of leadership and a lack of trust. I ask the leader to convey to the Taoiseach and the rest of the Cabinet that the trust in the Garda Síochána must be restored urgently.
I wish the acting Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan, well in new role. She is inheriting a can of worms. She has decent west Cork connections and I wish her well. There is a serious issue of Garda morale and authority. We need to reinstate the confidence in the Garda urgently.
I also express my deep sadness at the passing of my very good friend, Nicky McFadden. She was a friend of mine for many years before she was a Member of this House. I have greatly admired her courage in the past two years as all of us have. I pass on my sympathies to her family, her sister, Councillor Gabrielle McFadden, her children, her grandchildren, her aunt and her staff, including Una Mulhall, who worked here with Nicky. It is a very difficult day for them because they lost their leader. I look forward to contributing more when we have the formal tributes in due course.
I agree with much of what Senator O'Donovan has said about the morale in An Garda Síochána. The systematic recording of conversations is deeply troubling. Any fair-minded person would expect 999 phone calls to be recorded. However, the systematic recording of telephone conversations is deeply troubling and may have significant consequences for the judicial process. Is it the case that telephone conversations between accused people and their solicitors have been recorded? One would worry about the whole presumption of being innocent until proven guilty. However, this has been going on for 30 years and at least 13 Ministers have presided over the Department of Justice and Equality over those years.
We need to take a step back and allow the commission of investigation the Cabinet established yesterday to do its job. Serious questions remain to be answered by the Minister for Justice and Equality and many of his predecessors, and also by many previous Garda Commissioners. The best we can do is to allow the commission of investigation to complete its job and encourage all parties, including former Ministers, if necessary, to assist and co-operate with the commission. This has the potential to be the most serious matter ever to hit our system of justice, depending on how it is handled, and the gravity and seriousness of the telephone calls recorded and the people who were listening.
We have heard of the abuse of the PULSE system. I want to know who has been listening to these telephone conversations. A serious job of work remains to be done. The commission needs to be established and start its work as a matter of urgency.
We had a very good debate here on the amount of food we waste as a nation. I am delighted that Foodcloud has launched a pledge to reduce food waste. It has given some figures showing what can happen. Despite so many people around the world starving, we waste a colossal amount of food. The Foodcloud campaign is to get us to reduce 1 kg of the food we waste each week. It is aiming to get 50,000 people to sign up to this. If that were achieved the savings would be the equivalent of 5.7 million meals. This is a matter we should debate more regularly. We had a very good debate on it the last time. There are things supermarkets can do, things kitchens can do and things that the ordinary citizen can do.
On a more urgent matter, we had a good debate on a defibrillators Bill introduced a few months ago. I know the Minister is planning on doing something about introducing defibrillators. Last week saw the second anniversary of the collapse of Fabrice Muamba during a soccer match in White Hart Lane in England when his life was saved by getting 15 defibrillator shocks. He is only 25. He has made a case for the availability of defibrillators and not just at sports grounds. The Minister has accepted the Bill in theory, but it takes too long to get these things done.
That is something about which we should be urging the Minister to do something, rather than waiting until September or October before it happens. I believe it is something that can happen and I believe it is something that should happen.
Like others I pay tribute to the late Nicky McFadden and I offer my sympathy to her family. I knew Nicky from the hustings down through the years, and the only way I could describe her is that she was a lovely person.
I am three years in this House looking for justice for Father Niall Molloy. All I have ever got was the Minister skirting around the edges, despite pre-election promises that there would be an independent commission of inquiry. As soon as the Minister's job is on the line, he calls for an independent commission of inquiry into phone tapping. I know that phone tapping is quite serious, but I think murder - in this case, holy murder - is far more serious. This has been going on for 28 years. It might not be a good time to call on the Minister to initiate this independent commission of inquiry, but I am sure if he puts things into context, he will realise that the murder of Father Niall Molloy and the subsequent cover-up is far more serious than the position in which he finds himself at the moment. I call on him again to initiate that. It is overdue and the sooner he does it, the better. The family of Father Niall Molloy will not be at ease until such time as they get justice.
I join the sentiments of sympathy that have been expressed on the death of Nicky McFadden, and I pass on my condolences to her colleagues and her family. I am sure we will have an opportunity over the next number of days and weeks to pay tribute to Nicky, and I will do so when that occasion arises.
Notwithstanding the views of Members of this House or the Dáil on the Minister for Justice and Equality, it is fair to say the majority of citizens in this State think that the Minister should resign. They think so because he has presided over a number of debacles over the past year. It began when he divulged information given to him by the Garda Commissioner on Deputy Mick Wallace and put it into the public domain. When the penalty points situation occurred, there was an attempt by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner at the time to muddy the waters and to call into question the integrity of the two whistleblowers. That was quite serious at the time. We also had an alleged bugging of GSOC and now we hear about the recording of phone calls into and out of Garda stations. One of those Garda stations is in Waterford, where recordings were made of calls between members of An Garda Síochána about the case taken by Anthony Holness. That was referred to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission-----
No, that case is finished. It is a matter of public record and it has been talked about in all media outlets. The point is that this happened in Waterford. We need to know how many telephone conversations there were, why they were recorded, what information was recorded and how was it used, because it has profound implications for the judicial system in this State. It is very serious and has implications not just for this Minister for Justice and Equality, but for previous Governments as well. I believe the current Minister should resign. I do not think his position is credible. Ordinary citizens are scandalised that the Minister still seems to be hanging in there. If we are to have accountability and a new way of doing business in this country, which this Government promised us, only one thing can happen. In the interests of accountability, transparency and democracy, the Minister, Deputy Shatter, should resign.
A Chathaoirligh, I agree with your comments and those of the Leader and Senators MacSharry, Bacik and O'Donovan about our late colleague, Nicky McFadden, who was a brave person of magnificent courage. Please God there will be an occasion shortly to pay tribute to her more formally. I also agree with the suggestion of the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition that the House not sit tomorrow as a mark of respect and tribute to her while her funeral is taking place.
In respect of Senator MacSharry's proposed amendment to the Order of Business, I think Fianna Fáil, given its own history and everything that has happened in this State, should exercise more caution and less haste in levelling criticism in advance. No one is happy with the situation, but we must know before acting, and we know people did not know until very recently. Our duty first of all is to hear the Minster himself, and that is happening today in the other House. I suggest that the Leader should allow for a full debate on this issue next week in this House during which we can digest what has been said by the Minister and others in the Dáil today. We know a committee of investigation has been agreed. We know an independent policing authority is being set up, which is something both parties in the Government subscribed to as far back as the Mullingar accord in 2006. We also know Mr. Justice Cooke and Mr. Seán Guerin SC will be reporting on related matters in the very near future. These can be considered as well.
We all have the utmost respect for the institution of An Garda Síochána, and as has been pointed out by members of the Opposition, gardaí are hurting right now. Many of them are disgusted at what has happened, because they did not know this recording was so widespread throughout the State. Let us pause sharply, but not for long, and we can have the full debate next week.
I rise primarily to express sympathy to the McFadden family on the death of poor Nicky, and also to express my sympathy to the Fine Gael Party for their sad loss. She was an outstanding public representative who was cut down in her prime. I cannot find any cause for complaint with all the eulogies that have been uttered so far today. Her legacy will remain long in the memory in this House. By way of ensuring that legacy, I suggest the Leader encourage the Government to provide more money for motor neurone research. There is a centre in Trinity College Dublin, and those who followed the equally painful journey of Colm Murray will be familiar with the sterling work being carried out by a professor in this area. It is the most cruel of diseases, in that it eats from the inside, and the last sense one has is that one's brain is still active. One is fully aware of all that happening right to the end. It is the most cruel of diseases. Along with Alzheimer's disease, it is the curse of this generation. Perhaps the greatest legacy that could be left to the memory of Nicky, who worked so tirelessly for research in this area by raising funds during the later period of her illness, would be for the Government to provide funds for this research.
I would also like to express my deep sympathy to the family of the late former Senator and Lord Ballyedmond, Edward Haughey. Although he was Ireland's richest man and could have bought this entire building and maybe half of Dublin, I was always bemused by the fact that we both shared a secretary. He was Northern Ireland spokesman for the Fianna Fáil Party during his tenure in the House. I served with him in this House and also on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, where he made an outstanding contribution. After his ten year tenure in the House, he was elevated to the House of Lords, which was a unique situation. I think he is the only Irish citizen to have served in both Houses. It was sad to some degree that his talents were lost to this State when he left this House and moved his focus to the United Kingdom Parliament. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I welcome students from St. Joseph's national school in Dundalk, 70 of whom came through the House this morning.
I extend my sympathies to the former Senator and Deputy, Nicky McFadden.
I did not know Nicky until I became a Senator but was immediately struck by the warmth and friendliness of her personality. She was a person who was always smiling, always in good form and always had a cheery "hello". For somebody coming into a new situation, she was a person who was very welcoming. Her dignity and courage were exceptional. As Senator Mooney said about Colm Murray, it must be an inner strength that people get because she certainly was a lady who showed amazing courage, strength and dignity and bore her illness with great courage. I extend my sympathy to her children, grandchildren, aunt, family, friends and staff.
I also extend my sympathy to the family of the former Senator Edward Haughey who was a great Dundalk man and had great Dundalk connections and who did so much quietly, behind the scenes, for the people of Dundalk. I am aware that one of the schools in Dundalk has a building called after Senator Edward Haughey for the work he did there. He was a man who played a major role and is another great loss to this country.
Next week, 2 April, is world autism day. On that day people are requested to light up buildings blue. Last week as we celebrated St. Patrick's Day the country went completely green. Every year we are going more green and this year Government Buildings were green for St. Patrick's Day. Its purpose is to highlight autism and raise awareness of the issue. Great strides have been made. I note from the list that the Empire State Building, New York, is lighting up, as is the Sydney Opera House. I ask the Leader whether the obelisk in Leinster Lawn could be lit up for world autism day to show our solidarity, awareness and support for those with autism.
I wish to express my sadness at the untimely death of Nicky McFadden. She was a great friend to me and will be missed. I have missed her for a long time, such was the isolating nature of the disease. She had a beautiful quality in her voice and, sadly, it was the first thing that motor neurone disease attacked in Nicky. The greatest tribute we could pay to her is to continue her legacy in research for motor neurone disease to get a cure for the disease.
In Fine Gael we were the only two females from the country who joined the Seanad in 2007 and out of that we struck up a great friendship. She fought hard for her constituents whom she loved, whether in Athlone or in the Seanad. Jobs and people's lives mattered to Nicky. I recall when she spoke here about the heartache she felt having come upon a family who had no light and were living in darkness because they were trying to pay their mortgage. Jobs mattered a great deal to her.
If I could speak for her today, I am sure she would support me in the call to protect the 700 jobs at risk in Elverys Sports, two shops in Athlone and one in Galway. The business is viable but the jobs are at risk. I am aware that an understanding examiner, Mr. Simon Coyle, is in situ. The only bid that is committed to saving the jobs is a management buy-out. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to support the management buy-out bid in order to save those 700 jobs. I am sure that if Nicky was here she would support that call.
I express my sympathy to the family of my friend and colleague, Nicky McFadden, who bravely fought the horrendous illness from which she suffered. She was a beautiful person. We will have an opportunity to pay tribute to her on another day. May her gentle soul rest in peace. I join with others who have suggested that a great way to pay tribute to her would be to better resource research on this horrendous disease.
The issue of ambulance response times is serious. Data have come to light recently which show that in the south-east region, only 45% of 999 calls made by patients in cardiac or respiratory arrest situations were responded to within the maximum recommended time of 19 minutes. The Health Information and Quality Authority recommends that a first responder should be on the scene of a life-threatening incident within seven minutes and 59 seconds and 18 minutes and 59 seconds. The HSE's target is 85%. Clearly, targets are not being met. I ask the Leader for a debate on the issue at the earliest possible juncture.
I join with those Senators who have extended sympathy to the family of the late Nicky McFadden. She was, as has been stated by many Members, a very gentle lady who was always pleasant and engaging when one met her. I join with my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, in extending sympathy to the Haughey family on the tragic death of the late Senator Edward Haughey with whom I served in the House in the 1990s. May the light of heaven shine on both of them.
I call on the Leader to arrange for an early debate on the justice debacle. It is essential and has been the tradition that the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality work in close collaboration with each other. I am aware from speaking to former Ministers that they share much confidential information, which is given, obviously, on the basis of trust. My comments here on 27 February, 22 May and 28 May 2013 reflect my serious concerns in regard to the politicisation of certain information which went from the Commissioner to the Minister. The Minister saw fit, for whatever reason, to betray that trust on "Prime Time" when he disclosed information he had got in confidence from the Garda Commissioner. It had happened in the past but very infrequently. I felt at the time, because of the nature of the information, and particularly when I learned it came from the Commissioner, that it was a matter of serious consideration for both of their positions. Unfortunately, the Commissioner found he had to resign because of his total dismissal of the importance of whistleblowers and the valuable information they gave, but the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, is also guilty of the same offence and still he is remaining in office. I am surprised, given that Ministers have spoken openly against those comments, that he still continues in office. It reflects badly on the Government and on Ministers in Cabinet, including Labour Party Ministers. I also think, and this is my real concern, that-----
It undermines the relationship and the trust between a Garda Commissioner and future Ministers for Justice and Equality which is detrimental to the State. Unless the Taoiseach has the courage to do the right thing in this situation, given that the Minister is not doing it, this is an appalling vista and an appalling legacy for the Government.
I appeal to people to, even at this late stage, do as the Garda Commissioner has done and in the interests of this country, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Defence take responsibility and do the right thing in respect of this important matter.
I join with colleagues in expressing sympathy to the McFadden family on the death of Nicky who as a councillor, Senator and Deputy worked tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. She will be sadly missed by her family, her constituents, all in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Fine Gael Party.
On the events that have occurred over the past 48 hours, I pay tribute to the Taoiseach for the manner in which he has dealt with this matter. He acted immediately and within 48 hours has done everything that is required to be done-----
The Cabinet has dealt with the issue and we are moving forward in a proper manner rather than, as in the case of previous Governments, hiding behind State confidentiality and so on. The Taoiseach has acted properly in this matter. People are jumping to conclusions too early on in this matter. Let us hear all of the information before reaching conclusions.
I would like to touch on an issue relating to the Department of Justice and Equality and my Private Members' Bill in regard to missing persons. In regard to the disappearance of the Malaysian aircraft and the 230 people on board, which is very sad, if a similar tragedy occurred in this jurisdiction today we would not be able to deal with the affairs of the people disappeared because we do not have in place legislation to do so. As I explained in the context of my Private Members' Bill in regard to missing persons, if a body cannot be located a death certificate cannot be issued and the administration of an estate cannot be dealt with. This emphasises the importance of that legislation being enacted. It should now be brought back before the House and dealt with at the earliest possible time.
I join with the moving tributes of other Senators, in particular Senator Healy Eames, to the late Nicky McFadden. Those of us who were Members of the previous Seanad are very sad at the loss of our former Seanad colleague. We will remember Nicky as having been a gentle and decent person. I recall that on the day I brought people to meet with Nicky and Deputy Áine Collins, Nicky received the very happy news that she had become a grandmother. I know we will have an opportunity to pay tribute to her on a later date. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
The departure of a Garda Commissioner is an event of huge significance. There is a history in this State of major moments of controversy, including the departure three decades ago of Commissioner McLaughlin and the late Éamon de Valera's sacking of General Eoin O'Duffy. When something like this happens we need to be seriously concerned. There are major issues arising in terms of public confidence in the Garda Síochána and the administration of justice. Whatever the complexities about what the whistleblowers had to say and how they went about bringing information to public knowledge it is fair to say that the Government has handled this whole situation appallingly badly. I do not believe that people should necessarily have to resign in all situations. It reflects badly on our culture that there cannot be intermediate steps in that regard, including, for example, the Houses noting their displeasure with aspects of what the Garda Commissioner had to say and then mandating him or her to continue with his or her work.
We have now reached a pass whereby the Attorney General appears to have known about the recording of telephone calls by the Garda Síochána. What is not clear is of what and when the Attorney General advised the Minister or the Department of Justice, Equality and Defence in relation to those matters. We need to know whether the Minister was told, when he was told or whether if an official was told when he was told. Was it the case that the Attorney General told senior officials and they did not pass on the information, which is Travers' report type territory? It would be helpful to have that information.
It is important that the Government now put its cards on the table and disclose in full what it knew, when it knew it and who told what to whom. Senator MacSharry asked earlier about the practise in relation to working groups being established without the knowledge of the line Minister. It is important the Government puts its cards on the table. It would also be helpful if the Attorney General were to clarify matters, including her role in this regard and who was told what and when.
I join with colleagues in expressing sympathy to the McFadden family, particularly Caren and Eoin, Gabrielle and Áine, on the sad passing of Nicky yesterday. All of us who knew Nicky were aware that she was a special lady. We all felt better having met her and conversed and interacted with her. She was an outstanding public representative, with lots of ability, who was very much in tune with her constituents, which she demonstrated as a councillor, Senator and Deputy. As we all know, Nicky displayed enormous courage during her harrowing illness, during which time she touched many lives and gave great hope and courage to others. I am honoured to have known her and to have helped in a small way in her successful campaign in 2007 for election to Seanad Éireann. She will be greatly missed throughout Leinster House but the people who will miss her most will be her family, close friends and staff. May her gentle soul rest in peace.
In terms of the main issue of the day, it is becoming obvious that there is a need for a root and branch review of the justice system in this country. There is little doubt but that the Minister has inherited an amazing amount of dysfunctionality in terms of the administration of justice. The Commission of Investigation has a major job of work to do to get to the bottom of a lot of issues. As stated by others, there is a real urgency in that regard if we are to restore confidence in the administration of justice and support for the Garda Síochána, the majority of whom are doing an amazing job on the ground. We need gardaí to be concentrated on cracking crime in this country and to focus on the core concerns of the people of Ireland, namely, a justice system that works and a garda force focused on cracking crime.
I join in the expressions of sympathy on the death of former Senator and Deputy Nicky McFadden. Nicky had the gift of personal connection with the person. During the time in this House when Nicky was in opposition and I was on the government side we would smile across the room at one another. If I may say so, she was a physically beautiful woman and had a beautiful soul. She is sadly missed by everybody who had the privilege of knowing her. Nicky's father, Brendan, died last Christmas. One can only imagine his pain at his daughter's suffering. We will always remember Nicky.
In the summer of 2005, we held lengthy sessions in this House on the Garda Síochána Bill. I am not a lawyer or barrister. However, I do have common sense. When a Member on the government side in this House I challenged former Minister, Michael McDowell, on the many complex legal terms used in that Bill. The most important issue for me was the establishment of a Garda authority. The Garda Síochána in Ireland is politicised.
I was amazed that a man of Michael McDowell's intellect could not resist holding onto the power of appointing the Garda Commissioner, Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners. I can remember asking him why he would not relinquish that power which has to be separate from the politicians. We now have another crisis at the core of our country.
I have to say also that the Fianna Fáil-PD Government did not bring in a separate Garda authority. Although I do not have a legal background, I knew in my heart and soul that this would continue. At the time, it reminded me of a Stasi relationship because it is very dangerous that politicians can appoint gardaí from the level of a superintendent up to a Garda Commissioner. It is totally wrong. The former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan, was shocked recently when talking about the same issue. She could not believe it and said that in the North they have an independent policing commission.
I have to say that there were failures by my own party for not doing it. It is a critical issue. Senators should think about how dangerous it is that politicians have power and influence over senior Garda appointments.
I wish to congratulate the acting Garda Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan. It is a great day for Irish women and the first time in the history of the Garda Síochána that a woman has the leading position.
I wish to join with my colleagues in conveying our sympathy to the McFadden family. I got to know Nicky McFadden in 2011, although many other Senators had the privilege of knowing her long before I did. She was one of the nicest people I have met in politics. She had a lovely way with her. I was walking along the corridor one day when she and Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy asked me to join them for a cup of coffee, which was lovely. Nicky was a Deputy at that time, not a Senator. She had feelings for people, connected with them and asked them how their day was going. It was the human touch as well as everything else. We will have another day to speak about her many achievements in the Seanad and what she prioritised in her home county.
Senator White mentioned the first female acting Garda Commissioner. Nicky McFadden was the first female Deputy elected for Westmeath.
It is true for our party, Fine Gael.
As regards what we are discussing today, including the Garda Síochána and the Minister, Deputy Shatter, I support the proposal by our Whip, Senator Paul Coghlan, for a full debate on these important issues. It did not happen today or yesterday; the taping was going on since 1990. The machines were renewed in 1990 and newer machines were put in in 2008.
The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has said he did not know but other people did not know either, so it is unfair to say that he is the first Minister who has handled this situation. That recording was already going on. I listened to Mr. John Redmond, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, and they did not know.
I do. I congratulate the Government for bringing forward the Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 to protect whistleblowers. It was initiated in this House but when will the Bill come back to this House? I would like to get an update on that.
Senator White said she was sad that the previous Government had not introduced an independent Garda authority. Such an authority is being introduced by this Government. Goodness can come out of badness. With the forthcoming statutory inquiry we will see more goodness.
I wish to be associated with the vote of sympathy to the McFadden family on the death of former Senator and Deputy, Nicky McFadden. We sympathise with her daughter Caren and son Eoin, as well as her sisters Gab and Áine, granddaughter Matilda, aunt Kay and her extended family. I knew her father Brendan very well. He was a former town and county councillor. It was sad that he passed away knowing that he would be joined very soon afterwards by his daughter.
It was a proud moment for Nicky when she was elected to the Seanad and she was a very good Member of this House. She was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011 after years working as a town and county councillor and as a Senator. It is sad, however, that she has left us after only a short time in the Lower House. I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to her family.
As regards the statement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, he has not gone far enough to explain the situation or to apologise to the people who went public concerning the abuse of the system. Maybe he will do so later today but he certainly did not say so in his statement. He did say there would be an independent decision on the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner, which I welcome. That decision, by an independent assessment board, will thus be taken out of the political sphere. I wish the candidates success. In addition, the establishment of a Garda authority is not before its time because the situation is serious.
The former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, gave great service to the State. He had a most distinguished career and it is unfortunate that at this stage he felt he had to retire early. We have to recognise his major contribution to Irish life and to the Garda Síochána.
I would like to reiterate my support and loyalty for the Garda Síochána for its dedication and commitment to the people of this country. We should recognise that gardaí put their lives on the line every day of the week.
If the Minister is replaced very shortly that may help to restore more confidence within the whole system of the Garda Síochána and the administration of justice. I just do not think that he can continue.
I want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy and tributes to former Senator and Deputy, Nicky McFadden. She was a lovely person with whom I had many interactions over the years. We both served in opposition in our time here.
I also wish to be associated with the tributes to the former Senator Edward Haughey. When I was a member of the Fianna Fáil cumann in Trinity College, his daughter was a contemporary of mine. I met him on a number of occasions and he was indeed a great asset to the Border region, including south Down and south Armagh.
The Seanad should carefully consider the commission of investigation that is being proposed by the Government. It is up to us to decide whether or not this will go ahead. It is one of those powers that I keep talking about. Under the legislation, we have equal power with the Dáil to approve the draft order that the Government will have to put forward. If we do not approve it, it will not go ahead. I appeal to colleagues to listen to the commentary that is going on today. There appear to be political reasons for launching this commission of investigation all of a sudden and I think that is very wrong. There is an onerous moral responsibility on the Seanad to examine this matter very carefully. The Government cannot do it without us. This is one of the first commissions of inquiry or tribunals, since the Beef tribunal, that is directly related to the conduct of a Government Department at this time. That makes it a very serious issue. The Mahon tribunal was mainly concerned with local authorities, while the Morris tribunal dealt with the Garda Síochána in a previous era, but this one goes right up to today.
The difficulty is that under the Commissions of Investigation Act, a specified Minister must be appointed who will deal with all the administration of the tribunal, consult with the people concerned, basically run the tribunal and be the person to whom the chairman of the commission of investigation reports. Normally that would be the line Minister, so I am asking the Leader if Deputy Shatter is going to be appointed as the specified Minister by the Government.
However, if Deputy Shatter is not going to be appointed as the specified Minister under section 3 of the Commissions of Investigation Act, then who is? If he is not going to be appointed, why does he remain as Minister for Justice and Equality when matters current to his Department are being investigated? This is a political smokescreen, so let us not have the Seanad involved in it. I am asking Members of the Labour Party, who I have respected over many years, to put their heads up and speak out. They should look at the truth of this and look at the political shenanigans that are going on at the moment. It is an absolute disgrace.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to call the Attorney General in to attend and be heard in the Seanad under Standing Order 56.
I wish to be associated with the tributes that have been paid on all sides of the House to our former colleague, Deputy Nicky McFadden. Like others in this Chamber, I had the pleasure of serving with Nicky in the Twenty-third Seanad. As previous speakers said, she was a very genuine and beautiful person. An area in which I worked closely with her, together with Senator David Norris and others, was the head shop issue that was prevalent at the time and which caused a great deal of distress to people throughout the country. Our combined efforts helped to bring about legislation banning head shops. I have very fond memories of working closely with Nicky on that issue and in other regards. I pay tribute to her and extend my sympathies to her children and family.
I extend my sympathies to the family of Deputy Nicky McFadden. The disease from which she suffered is an extraordinarily cruel one and she bore it with great bravery. It was particularly inspiring that she went public and used the knowledge of her illness in an attempt to raise much needed research funds for the condition. Without wishing to politicise the tragedy, it would be remiss of me, as a doctor, not to point out that one of the legacies of this terribly sad event should be an expediting of medical card applications for all patients with chronic neurodegenerative diseases, especially motor neurone disease.
It has been documented repeatedly in the past year by professional bodies and patient representative groups that there have been increased challenges in obtaining medical cards when these dread diseases occur. We all understand the economic context in which we are operating, but this is an issue that should be reviewed.
I am grateful to the Leader for his help at every stage in our efforts to progress our Bill proposing a ban on smoking in cars where children are present. However, several statements by the Minister in the past week have caused a little confusion in my mind in this regard. The Minister seemed to refer to the introduction of new legislation, whereas my understanding is that Report Stage is ordered in this House next week in respect of the existing Bill that Senators Mark Daly, Jillian van Turnhout and I brought forward two years ago and which has passed Committee Stage. As I said, the Leader has been extraordinarily helpful in assisting us thus far. I would be very grateful for a clarification from him at this time.
For those of us who are of an age to remember certain events that took place 31 years ago, it was very difficult to read the newspapers this morning and not feel one had been journeying in a time machine. There certainly is a degree of repetition in some aspects of the news coverage today. However, the issue that struck me the most in this regard was not the ongoing discussion about gardaí, bugging, Ministers or Attorneys General - although it did ring a 31 year old bell for me - but the news that consultants at Waterford Regional Hospital have contacted GPs in the area to tell them not to send on any cases unless they are considered really urgent - skin cancer cases, for example - because the consultants cannot cope with the volume of work. Thirty years into an ongoing discussion of the various deficiencies in our health system, we still have this problem. It is grounds for despondency in the minds of people who have been trying to address those deficiencies to hear this type of statement. What other business in the world tells its customers to go some place else?
I wish to be associated with the comments regarding the late Deputy and former Senator, Nicky McFadden. Her death is a sad loss to these Houses and to public life, but above all to her family.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business that the Attorney General come before the House today, as is allowed for under Standing Order 56, to clarify what is going on within the Department of Justice and Equality. The Attorney General made no bones about having statements issued on her behalf when it came to the recall of the Seanad last August. We have the power within this House to bring her to the Chamber so that she may be heard. The people of Ireland would like to see her come before the Oireachtas, rather than the media, to explain what is happening in the Department and in her office. The inquiry that is being established is only a smoke screen to deflect from the difficulties of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Attorney General must be held to account on this issue. She cannot be allowed to hide behind the veil of being legal adviser to the Government. She is responsible to the Irish people and should be heard in this House.
I thank Members for their kind words regarding the late Deputy and our former colleague in this House, Nicky McFadden. We will have an opportunity at a later stage to pay tribute to her. It was remiss of me not to express our sympathy also on the death of former Senator Edward Haughey. Again, we will have an opportunity to pay tribute to his family.
Senator Marc MacSharry rightly raised the issue of policing and the matters that have been raised in the other House. I understand the Minister for Justice and Equality is making a statement in the Dáil Chamber as we speak. I will endeavour to have him come to this House next week for a debate on this very serious matter. In regard to the comments by Senator David Norris, I do not believe the Minister is guilty of incompetence or malpractice. He has proven to be a very reforming Minister in this and the other House.
There were calls for clarification of the sequence of events, which I understand the Minister will give. Several questions in regard to these matters were raised by Senators this morning. The questions that arise are the reason the Government has set up a commission of inquiry, to get-----
It is important that the Minister would come to the House and debate the issues with us even though, as colleagues are aware, the Government is responsible to Dáil Éireann under Article 28 of the Constitution. I am sure, however, that he will be willing to come here and address these matters. We should allow the commission of investigation to do its work. I reject totally Senator Byrne's assertion that it is being established for political purposes. When the matter comes before the House, we will have ample time to debate it.
I note Senator Denis Landy's points in regard to extra charges for elderly people in nursing homes. I will bring that matter to the Minister's attention.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the importance of reducing food waste and called for a further debate on the issue, following the debate we have already had. I note his points regarding defibrillators.
Senator John Kelly called for a commission of inquiry into the death of Fr. Niall Molloy, an issue which has been raised on numerous occasions in the House. I am sure the Minister is aware of the matter.
As I have stated, the questions Senator David Cullinane and others raised are the reason the commission of investigation has been established. Senator Paul Coghlan advised that we hasten slowly in these matters and summed up the various actions the Government has taken.
I could not agree more with Senator Paschal Mooney's comments regarding research into motor neurone disease. I will bring his points to the Minister.
I note the points made by Senator Moran on World Autism Day. If she raises the matter with the Oireachtas Commission, perhaps it could arrange what she requires.
I note the matters raised by Senator Healy Eames with regard to 700 jobs at Elverys Sports.
Senator Noone raised the issue of ambulance response times, which are certainly a cause of concern. I hope the Minister for Health will come to the House to address the matter. The Senator also referred to cardiology services in the south east, the only region in which cardiology services are not provided 24 hours per day.
I accept it is the case. No region should be without 24-7 cardiology services.
Senator Colm Burke noted the importance of the Bill on missing persons in the context of the loss of lives in the Malaysian Airlines disaster. I note the points made by the Senator and will ascertain what progress is being made with the Bill.
I note the point raised by Senator White in respect of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the matters she raised regarding a policing board when the legislation was being debated in the House. I was the Opposition spokesperson on justice in 2005.
Senator Keane asked about the Protected Disclosures Bill. I will find out what is the current position and revert to the Senator.
I note the points raised by Senator Leyden concerning the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan. There is no doubt the former Commissioner was an excellent policeman who gave 41 years of distinguished service to the State.
Senator Wilson paid a moving tribute to former Senator Nicky McFadden. Senator Wilson and the late former Senator McFadden frequently raised the issue of head shops in the House, which resulted in the closure of such shops.
Senator Crown raised the issue of providing medical cards for people with motor neurone disease. I concur with the Senator's view on the matter, which I will bring to the attention of the Minister. I gave an undertaking to have his Bill proposing a ban on smoking in cars when children are present taken on 2 April. I assure him that undertaking will be honoured. I am very concerned by his remarks about Waterford Regional Hospital. This is the first I have heard of the issue.
I will not accept the two amendments proposed to the Order of Business.
While I understand that the issue of the day is the political difficulties the Government is experiencing, I raised another matter of great seriousness to the House. I refer to a convention established by resolution of the House. The Government is in contravention of the decision of the House in not taking any action. I ask the Leader if he would-----
Senator Marc MacSharry has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Taoiseach or Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on matters relating to An Garda Síochána be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Thomas Byrne
- John Crown
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Denis O'Donovan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Fiach MacConghail
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
Senator Thomas Byrne has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That in accordance with Standing Order 56, the Attorney General be invited to attend and be heard in the Seanad today in regard to matters relating to the Garda Síochána." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Thomas Byrne
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Fiach MacConghail
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Denis O'Donovan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- John Crown
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan