Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

10:50 am

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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We have had several discussions in the past week on sport, but there is a need to deal specifically with the scourge of doping in sport. Anyone who has an interest in the greyhound industry will be aware that six greyhounds, some of them competition winners, which participated in the most recent national coursing festival tested positive for banned substances. This is a totally unacceptable situation, with genuine dog breeders and enthusiasts having to put their animals up against dogs which have been doped. I had a discussion recently with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Tom Hayes, on the greyhound industry, track racing and the difficulties in regard to doping. This latest revelation brings coursing centre stage as an additional cause for concern.

Will the Leader ask the Minister of State to extend the terms of reference of the independent report he has commissioned on the greyhound industry to include coursing? All these revelations are doing substantial damage to the image of the Irish greyhound industry nationally and internationally. This disreputable activity cannot be allowed to continue. It is costing breeders, owners and others involved in the industry millions of euro. The report commissioned by the Minister of State is due for publication in a couple of months, which leaves plenty of time for coursing to be included in its remit.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh d'alt a bhí sa Daily Mailinné ag Brenda Power. I take this opportunity to convey my abhorrence at this article concerning the Traveller community. It was totally ill-informed, inaccurate and biased, and possibly bordering on racist. Many people are very offended by what was written and I hope the relevant authorities will deal with it in a timely manner. A statement should go out from the Seanad that this type of journalism is not acceptable in Ireland.
I am disappointed that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has indicated his satisfaction that the banks are meeting the Central Bank's mortgage arrears resolution targets. My colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, put it to the Minister yesterday that the banks are only meeting those targets through wholesale legal actions, but the Minister did not change his tune. At yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Ulster Bank representatives defended their use of legal proceedings in more than 4,000 cases, which make up almost half of that bank's proposals under the targets set by the Minister and the Central Bank. Ulster Bank knows it can get away with this because of the Minister's Pontius Pilate attitude. I expect the other three banks will tell the same tale today and Thursday, notwithstanding the latest data which show that six years into the crisis and excluding legal threats, the banks have made a sustainable offer to only one third of mortgage holders in distress. These data are coming from the banks themselves.
The Minister has stated on numerous occasions that he does not accept that legal action constitutes a sustainable solution and that he has communicated this assertion to the banks. The reality, however, is that he is hiding behind the Central Bank. The latter accepts the banks' figures and the inclusion of legal letters and the removal of people from their homes as sustainable solutions. That is simply not good enough. It is not acceptable for the Minister to hide behind the Central Bank in the midst of a mortgage arrears crisis. He should be leading the way, not hiding behind the Central Bank or civil servants. Will the Leader agree to a debate on this issue in the near future?

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid. Is é sin a dúirt ár nUachtarán. We certainly do live in one another's shadows but we also live together and depend on one another. Both speeches last night, by the Queen and the President, did us proud. It was great to hear the Queen indicating a royal willingness to participate in the commemorations of 1916. We look forward to that. The Taoiseach is meeting the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, this morning to discuss the possibility of a joint trade mission abroad. Looking at the trade figures, it is absolutely the case that ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh stole my thunder in raising the article by Brenda Power in the Daily Mailyesterday, but I am very glad he did so. In conjunction with the news that John Joe Nevin, who has done us all so proud, has had both his legs broken, it is a sad day for Travellers and for boxing. John Joe apparently went into the middle of an affray and we see what transpired. Travellers have their own pride and their own troubles. At the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly this term, we will be producing a report on issues affecting the Traveller community throughout the island of Ireland, which has involved taking evidence from Traveller communities in the North and in London. We will be reporting on that at the end of the term.
Will the Leader agree to have that report brought before the House for discussion? It goes without saying that everyone, settled and Traveller, has to take responsibility for themselves, but the article by Brenda Power focused on ethnicity. In particular, I condemn the language that was used. Every responsible person has problems with what some Travellers do, just as we have problems with what some settled people do. People are not all the same. Pavee Point today condemned outright the language used in the article. It is time we debated this subject and I ask that we do so after the BIPA report is published, which report should include recommendations in this regard.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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Spiralling energy costs are affecting households throughout the country. In fact, recent figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland reveal that electricity prices in this country are now 4% higher than the European average. In some cases, indeed, they have jumped to more than 14% above the EU average. The Commission for Energy Regulation is responsible for controlling energy prices. Not only does that body appear to be above question, but the Government has given it additional powers to decide on the cost of water for every household in the country. This is an organisation that has everything but the genuine concerns of the consumer at heart.

I have called on previous occasions for either the Minister or the CEO of ComReg to be brought before this House to explain why it is increasing the cost of energy to consumers at a time when taxes are rising and wages are reduced. At the same time, the Government itself, through a public service obligation, is charging every household in the country a flat rate on every electricity bill, the benefit of which goes directly to wind farm developers to pay them for when they are not making money. In the past three years, the Government has allowed €140 million collected from households in the country to be transferred in this way. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Last night, the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, when responding to an Adjournment matter, tried to defend the indefensible on behalf of the Government, developers who are making money at the expense of ordinary consumers. The Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, needs to get a life and a grip of his Department and to stop being in cahoots with the developers who are making billions out of wind energy. While the Leader is not responsible, I appeal to him to invite the Minister in to the House to advise us as to why he is standing idly by when money is being transferred to those who do not need it while it is taken from those who cannot afford to give any more.

11:00 am

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise an issue I raised yesterday on the present difficulty in filling consultant vacancies. It appears there is now a difficulty in filling general practitioner trainee vacancies. We need to have a debate on the cost of education. The cost of medical education here is approximately €90 million per annum, yet about 60% of that investment is gone out of the country within 12 months of people graduating from college. I note this morning that Ireland is one of the largest contributors to the United Kingdom in providing trained general practitioners. In the past four years, we have provided 1,049 trained general practitioners to the English health system which is at a cost to the Irish taxpayer. It is great that people are able to get jobs and that they have been provided with superb training here, but it is time we looked at the whole cost of education in this area, given that we cannot fill medical positions here, even though we are providing the education and the follow-up training. It is time we had a serious debate on the cost issues and how we are to move forward in the next ten to 20 years. I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate in this area.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Leader for an early debate with the Minister for Finance on the sell-off of the IBRC loan book and also, perhaps, others that may be pending. The Minister has been sure-footed but on this issue he has completely missed the point and, in my opinion, has abandoned those hard-pressed mortgagors who need support. We were all elected to support citizens who are in difficulty, regardless of those difficulties. I would like to think the Minister will address the issue to ensure it is not left to the discretion of the banks as to whether mortgage holders will be treated fairly and properly in accordance with the code of practice.

I wish to make a comment on President Higgins' visit to the UK and, in particular, his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, today. The President has a long tradition of adherence to and championing of human rights issues. I hope that today he will avail of the opportunity privately with the British Prime Minister to raise the issue of the victims of the Troubles, particularly those killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in Belturbet and various other atrocities that occurred here which involved British security forces and which, in all probability, involved people in high political office who were aware, if not of the specifics of these atrocities, of the general approach by the security forces in these matters. There is also the issue of, say, Pat Finucane and the agreement between the two sovereign states for a public inquiry into his murder, which everyone accepts involved collusion at a high level. The British Government has failed to meet its commitment in that regard. If we are to have good relations with our neighbouring island, I believe the President should use the opportunity to raise the issue. It is good to see progression in that area. It must be based on a solid foundation and mutual respect. Issues of the past and the legacies of these issues must be addressed and dealt with once and for all, and that includes partition.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the launch today by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's Menu-Cal. Certainly calorie counting is not the answer to obesity but it is widely accepted that it can have a positive effect. On the one hand, the restaurant representative bodies say this will be expensive for them and that it will, ultimately, be ineffective. On the other, it is clear from research that 96% of people want to see calories displayed on menus. I would have a certain sympathy for restaurants, particularly, those who change their menus every day. I have no doubt it is a habit that would be very useful for restaurants because by controlling portion sizes and being more mindful of what goes into the meals they present to consumers, it would lead to a reduction in waste. Research in America found that when calories were signalled on menus, for example, in hamburger joints, people consumed 152 fewer calories in those joints and 70% less when it came to sandwich bars. If we were to transport those figures to Ireland, there would have a positive effect on obesity levels and type 2 diabetes problems.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that when food and drinks are prepared outside the home, the consumer does not know what goes into the food. While calorie counting may be a somewhat crude measure when it comes to overall health, it certainly would be a helpful measure in addressing the obesity crisis which will get worse if measures such as this are not adhered to and put in place. Currently, it is a voluntary opt-in service but I hope people will buy into it and that it will not be necessary for the Minister to make it compulsory. With regard to my question for the Leader, I have called for a debate on obesity at some stage with the Minister. A more positive debate might be one on health and the promotion of health in terms of alcohol, obesity and many other items.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Did Senator Martin Conway indicate that he wishes to speak?

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to speak at such short notice. Today happens to be national job shadow day. There are a number of participants in the national job shadow day in the House. One was supposed to be in my office job shadowing me. I have met a number of them. It is a useful initiative from an organisation that had its roots in Mayo in the Irish supported employment association. If nothing else, job shadow day highlights the need for equality in terms of access to employment and job opportunities across a wide spectrum. Too often, people with disabilities are seen more for their disability as opposed to their varying abilities. People with disabilities thrive when they get the opportunity in companies here and internationally. Job shadow day is designed to raise awareness. I welcome all the participants in Leinster House on job shadow day and the thousands of participants throughout the country who are taking part in this unique day which raises the profile. I ask the Leader if, at some stage, we could have a specific debate on job opportunities for people with disabilities and how to break down the barriers.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the question of the Dublin fire brigade and ambulance service. When the Government came to office in 2011, no targets were set for the ambulance service. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has raised the bar annually in respect of response times, and for 2014 a new target has been set for 80% of life-threatening calls to be responded to in under 19 minutes.

In 2013, the target was 68% to 70%.

Emergency ambulance services in Dublin city and county are provided by Dublin Fire Brigade by arrangement between Dublin City Council and the Health Service Executive. The National Ambulance Service is working to modernise and reconfigure its services to ensure emergency pre-hospital care is delivered in an appropriate and timely manner. In particular, a single national control system to improve the control and dispatch performance of ambulances, for which members of the House have been calling over the past number of years, is being developed and will be introduced in 2015.

In light of the new control and dispatch system, the HSE's chief operating officer and the Dublin city manager commissioned a joint review of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service. The focus of the review is to identify a model of service provision that ensures optimal provision of emergency ambulance services in Dublin. The review was expected to be completed in early summer. However, the timescale has now been revised to allow for the results of the national ambulance capacity review to inform the recommendations of the Dublin Fire Brigade review. The purpose of the capacity review, which is now under way and is expected to be completed by the end of this year, is to determine the level of use of resourcing required in terms of staff, vehicles, skills and distribution, for a safe and effective ambulance service now and into the future.

I can assure members that work in this regard is ongoing. In regard to the response of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, our response is that we want the best possible ambulance service for the people of Dublin and countrywide.

Senator Bacik and others spoke about the Presidential visit. I am sure the event last night was wonderful and that the remainder of the visit will be well received by all. The President, in terms of his speech last night, was a credit to us.

11:10 am


Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Bacik also spoke about the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013, with which we will be dealing following the Order of Business. As members will have noted, we have dealt over the past number of weeks in this House with a number of Private Members' Bills. I hope to progress these Bills and to schedule as many motions as possible for discussion over the coming months in an effort to clear the Order Paper.

I note Senator Norris's comments in regard to constitutional nationalism versus the armed struggle. The Senator made some interesting points in that regard and also raised the issue of unsolicited cold calls from companies, which are very annoying for many people.

Senator Comiskey welcomed the World Sheep Shearing Championships in Wexford and the benefits that will accrue for tourism in Wexford and the south-east as a result.

Senator Mary White also spoke of the benefits of the Presidential visit and outlined that age is no barrier to success. Senator Mullins also called for a debate on the ambulance service. I will try to have the Minister in the House for that debate as soon as the review has been completed.

Senator Barrett spoke about the future of third level education. As mentioned by the Senator, there are currently two or three Bills in this regard in the ether. Perhaps when these Bills are being dealt with we can have a comprehensive debate on the issue of third level education and its future.

Senator Landy spoke about the greyhound industry and the doping of six dogs in a recent national coursing event. We had a debate on the greyhound industry in recent weeks. However, I will bring the Senator's point that the issue of coursing be included in the review to the attention of the Minister.

Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Keane referred to a recent article in the media regarding Travellers. As I have not read the article, I do not propose to comment on it. However, I take on board the points made by both Senators. Also, I am a member of the British Irish Parliamentary Association sub-committee dealing with the issue of Travellers in all jurisdictions. I would like to put on record our thanks to Pavee Point and others representing the Traveller and Roma communities for their help and co-operation during the recent visit by the sub-committee to Dublin.

Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about electricity prices, which he stated are 4% higher than the EU average. In this regard, the Senator asked that the Commissioner for Energy Regulation be asked to come into the House. I understand the regulator recently appeared before a committee, which is the appropriate place for a debate on energy. It is important there is competition in the electricity marketplace.

Senator Colm Burke spoke about the need to fill vacant consultant and trainee general practitioner positions. In this regard, he referred to the more than 1,000 Irish trained general practitioners who went to work in the UK last year and called for a debate on the cost of education and follow up training for GPs. I will try to arrange that debate.

Senator Walsh spoke about the sale of the IBRC loan book, which issue we discussed at length on the Order of Business over a number of weeks. The code of conduct is in place. I understand that the purchasers of the loan book have signed up to the procedures in that code of conduct. The Senator also spoke about the possibility of the President raising particular issues while in the UK. The issues raised by the Senator are outside the remit of the President. However, the Senator can be assured that the Government has raised them and will continue to raise them with the UK Government.

Senator Noone spoke about Menu-Cal and called for a debate on the promotion of good health and obesity. We had such a debate recently by way of a Private Members' motion. However, it is a matter that must be kept under constant review.

Senator Conway referred to today being national jobshadow day and the need to raise the awareness of job opportunities for people with disabilities. I hope that the person jobshadowing the Senator is not also jobshadowing any other Senator or Deputy from Clare.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Senator Darragh O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a one hour debate to clarify whether the Government supports the retention of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service in the city and county of Dublin be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 24.

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

Amendment declared lost.

Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to.", put and declared carried.