Wednesday, 9 April 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Employment Equality (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to be adjourned at 1 p.m if not previously concluded; No. 44, motion No. 10 re long-term care for the elderly, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m.; and No. 2, statements on the 2020 Strategy on the Irish Language (resumed), to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 4.35 p.m.
Last Monday in Dublin it may have come to the Leader's attention that hundreds of members of the Dublin Fire Brigade and their supporters marched on City Hall in support of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service. All of us should acknowledge the fantastic work that service does in complementing the work of the HSE ambulance crews in the city and county of Dublin. It is the longest-standing ambulance service in the country. The people of Dublin and those who work in the aforementioned service are greatly concerned about the review of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service commissioned by Dublin City Council and the HSE. We understood after the protest on Monday that the HSE intended to suspend the review and I would have welcomed such a suspension because the terms of reference of that review indicated that the main aim was to subsume the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service into the HSE. I believe, as does my party, that this would be a retrograde step. The hundreds of people who marched in Dublin on Monday, along with the thousands of supporters who have signed petitions, also believe that it would be a retrograde step. I am most disappointed to learn through a statement from the HSE Dublin north east that the review has not been suspended and that the HSE and Dublin City Council intend to proceed with it once they have completed their national capacity review of the ambulance services across the city and county.
What is the Government's position on the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service in Dublin? Does the Government support that service? Why is it that neither the Minister for Health - who is Dublin based and should know the service well - nor any of the Ministers of State at his Department has made any statement on this or on the current controversy relating to the ambulance service? Why are they remaining silent? Does the Government support the retention of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service in the city and county of Dublin? The people who work in that service deserve to know the answer to that question. With that in mind, I am tabling an amendment to the Order of Business this morning to call on the Minister for Health or a Minister of State at his Department to come to this House for one hour to make a statement and to take questions on whether the Government supports the retention of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service in the city and county of Dublin.
Anyone who watched the recent "Prime Time Investigates" documentary on the ambulance service would have great concerns about inefficiencies in our ambulance service nationally and would be convinced of the need to ensure the best service is available to patients across the country. That is hugely important. Whatever is the best mechanism for delivering that service is the important point. I do not think there is any imminent threat, as Senator O'Brien has suggested, to the current structure of the Dublin service. That was made clear recently by the HSE.
I wish to refer to the state visit of President Michael D. Higgins to Britain. I found it extremely moving, as I am sure my colleagues did, to watch the reports of the speeches given by both the Queen of England and our President and to see real steps being made in fostering warmer relations between the two islands. President Michael D. Higgins paid his respects at the memorial to Lord Louis Mountbatten and the Queen acknowledged in her speech later the discrimination suffered by Irish people in Britain in the past. She also indicated the willingness of the British royal family to participate in the 1916 commemorations. We are seeing major steps forward in terms of the resolution of conflict in the North.
I also welcome the fact that today we will be having the Committee Stage debate on the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No.2) Bill which I introduced this time last year on behalf of the Labour Party Senator's group as a Private Members' Bill. I thank the Leader for ensuring that we are seeing Private Members' Bills, such as the Building Control (Carbon Monoxide Detection) Bill from Senator Fergal Quinn yesterday, being brought forward and receiving Government support. The only issue is that this can often take too long. It has been a year since the Second Stage debate on the Bill. We will have the Committee Stage debate today and I very much hope that we can conclude that debate before Easter and move on very swiftly thereafter to Report Stage of this important Bill which seeks to end any potential discrimination against LGBT teachers, in particular, in religious-run schools. It also seeks to end any discrimination against employees generally in religious-run hospitals and educational institutions. It is a very important Bill which has been widely welcomed by various stakeholders in the teaching professions in particular. I know the Departments of Education and Skills and Justice and Defence have also been very supportive of the legislation. I look forward to a good debate on the Bill on Committee Stage today.
I join my colleague Senator O'Brien in expressing concern about the situation regarding the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service. I have had occasion to use the service myself and found it extremely efficient and professional. That cannot be said of ambulance services throughout the country. I do not think that we should diminish our ambulance service in any way but should bring the rest of the service around the country up to the standards of the Dublin Fire Brigade service, which has been in existence for over 100 years. It has served the people of this city extraordinarily well and I have signed the aforementioned petition.
Regarding the royal visit, I am delighted that it continues to be a tremendous success. We are lucky to have somebody of the intellectual distinction of Michael D. Higgins as our President representing us in Britain. It is a gruelling programme, involving the President addressing both Houses of Parliament, which he did with great distinction, and speaking to the world's leading scientific organisation, the Royal Society.
We must also remember the extraordinary role played by the royal family. One of the things that is necessary is to imagine the situation of the other side. It is extraordinarily generous of the royal family to indicate that they will be here for the celebrations, if one can call them that, of 1916. I take a different view from almost everyone else in this House on this. I have never said, despite libellous comments in one of Mr. Murdoch's newspapers, that the leaders of 1916 were terrorists. They certainly were not - they were idealists. They clearly demonstrated that they were not terrorists by cancelling the rising when civilian casualties rose. Had they been terrorists, they would have been delighted at that and would have used it for political purposes. I believe they were misguided. The rising had the tragic impact of subverting the direction in which we were going. We would have got every single thing that was gotten under Redmond at the end of the war. I think, because they wanted to put themselves into the history books, that there was an element of vaingloriousness about the actions of those in 1916.
If that had not happened, what would have been endorsed would not have been the violent tradition, which is very much a minority. It would have been the glorious tradition that goes back to Grattan's Parliament, through O'Connell, Parnell and Redmond. That would have been very important and I see no additional gains.
If viewed from the other side, this was in the middle of a war for life and death. It was seen by many people, including a majority of people on this island, as a stab in the back and treachery. It was horribly badly handled by the English, but that is the tragic fact. We need to start to understand the other person's point of view.
Unfortunately I will not be able to take part on today's resumed debate on the Irish language because I took part on the previous day. The reason the debate has been extended is that so many people wanted to speak and every one of us made an attempt to speak in Irish, which is quite unlike what happened in the other House, the bullying House that tried to bully us into extinction, where the debate collapsed because with all its nationalism, it did not have enough Irish speakers in the place.
Can something be done about the former semi-State companies that offer so-called bundles of this, that and the other? We suffered from the toxic bundles, which brought the economic collapse. We now have other trickery by organisations such as Eircom, whose employees are cold calling people every evening between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. I try to husband my resources because I am not terribly well. I have to get out of bed two or three times every night because some little squirt is ringing me to try to sell me these bundles. Unsolicited cold calling and bundles should be banned. They are anti-social and they are a disgrace.
Sheep were in Kildare Street again yesterday evening for the launch of the World Sheep Shearing Championships to be held in Wexford from 17 to 25 May. This event will bring about 300 entrants from throughout the world and will bring approximately 40,000 visitors to the south east. This is very good from a tourism point of view and is most welcome.
I second Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment.
It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge last night's historic event in Windsor Castle, which will undoubtedly pave the way for further momentous events. The biggest beneficiaries of the event will be the younger generation, including the young people from Sallynoggin College of Further Education and their teachers, Lillian Doyle and Siobhán Murphy, led by an iconic young man, Ben Stafford, who is my intern. They are sitting in the Gallery today. These young people and their colleagues are great ambassadors for the youth of Ireland and will share in the bounty of this peace process for years to come.
In the words of President Higgins, his momentous visit to Windsor Castle shows that we are finally walking towards a brighter future, remembering our past but no longer allowing it to ensnare our present. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations. All citizens, young and old, have a contribution to make to society. Their age does not matter; what counts is the passion and commitment they have for their work and for other people. I acknowledge the age of three of the most momentous people working in our society today. President Higgins will be 73 shortly; the revolutionary Pope Francis is 77; and Queen Elizabeth is 87. That speaks for itself. None of these iconic figures allows age to impact on their work. They realise that passion and commitment are all that matter. As John Fitzgerald Kennedy said in his inauguration address: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." This applies to those of all ages.
I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of Miriam McHale, who has the courage to stand for election in the city.
I am very pleased that the Deputy First Minister in the North is on the front page of The Daily Telegraphtoday. It shows how far we have come that the Queen of England invited the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, MLA. The first time I met Deputy Adams was at dinner with the former President, Mrs. McAleese, many years ago when I was chairwoman of the Gaisce awards. We have come full circle. I acknowledge Deputy Ó Cuív, who is a hero as far as I am concerned. He and I are part of the cross-party group visiting prisoners in the North, trying to maintain the peace and look after their interests. If the prisoners are not treated humanely, it will arouse passions outside.
While I will not support Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business, following the recent "Prime Time" programme on the ambulance service, it would be appropriate for us to have a discussion on the ambulance service at some date. Some elements of the programme may have been inaccurate or exaggerated. To put people's minds at ease and for us all to become aware of what is happening in the ambulance service, it would be appropriate for us to discuss it in the House.
We all welcome the signs of increased economic activity, especially in our larger cities. In rural areas, however, the green shoots are rather slow to appear. Every town has many empty retail units. I would like to have a debate in the next term on how we might revitalise our small towns. The Members of this House have many ideas on what could be done to bring some economic activity back to our town centres, which have taken such a hammering in recent years. Perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could participate in that debate.
Referring to the Grant Thornton report, today's edition of The Irish Timescarries the headline: "A failure to attract international students at the root of third level crisis, says report". Attracting foreign students is very difficult to do. A major effort to attract foreign students to the United Kingdom brings in about 11% of the student fees. There are problems given that India has devalued its currency heavily and in the United States this is seen as the Pacific generation. On several occasions, plane-loads of people from the Department of Education and Skills, other bodies and universities have gone to China on this measure, but it is not easily done.
In Ireland, there is the added issue that because we have an increasing number of young people, there is a danger of displacement and the sons and daughters of Irish taxpayers may have less opportunity to attend if we go down that route.
Another concern is the statement in the report: “Effective change management or management of the 'people side' of change will therefore be crucial for institutions considering adopting any of the options proposed.” After almost a decade of so-called change management, we need to get back to basics, which means communicating the knowledge from the lecturer to 40, 50 or up to 400 young people in the class. There are too many layers of management and I would not support another one.
With the two Bills the Minister is preparing and the Bill we had last week, we are moving towards a situation when we can have an informed debate on the future of third level education. We must be careful to avoid some of the problems that have arisen in the United Kingdom, where the student loan programme is insolvent and some 40% of graduates will never earn enough to repay the average £9,000 per year cost of their third level education. A great deal of discussion is required, which I hope will be facilitated during the debates on the two forthcoming Bills and the one already before the House. Such a discussion is timely in the context of the conference taking place in the autumn, organised by the university heads, to discuss whether current funding models are sustainable. I certainly would caution against increased managerialism. In my view, it is the problem, not the solution.