Thursday, 8 May 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 41, motion re the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the review of legislation on prostitution, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 42, motion re report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on penal reform, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 41 without debate; and No. 44, motion re the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the recognition of Traveller ethnicity, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 42 without debate. Colleagues will appreciate that at short notice, following the resignation of the Minister for Justice and Equality, we had to amend the Order of Business, which was to have included the Second Stage of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System)Bill 2013.
While I understand the reason behind the removal of the DNA database Bill from the Order Paper, I fail to understand why the Deputy Leader can unashamedly propose three motions without debate. If she was on this side of the House, she would object because she would have a great deal to say about them.
We are not having a debate now. The Deputy Leader is asking the House to agree motions returning from the relevant committee without debate. The purpose of such motions is to have a debate. I would like a reassurance that they will be debated and not sidelined because a Minister cannot be found.
The main news of the past 24 hours has been the shock resignation of the former Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence, Deputy Shatter. It gives me no great pleasure to comment, adversely or otherwise, on behalf of Fianna Fáil about him. I have known him for a long time. I served under him when he was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and I travelled with him on a number of important visits to various countries. I have always found him to be a man of outstanding integrity. He has a wonderful brain and he is a great loss to the body politic of this country. While there has been no comment about this, one wonders what will be his political future now that he has stood down from a job he coveted for most of his political life having spent a considerable time on the back benches before he was promoted to high office. I wish him, Carol and his family well in that regard.
His resignation came long after his credibility as Minister for Justice and Equality had evaporated. We in Fianna Fáil have continuously questioned his approach to the administration of justice. Many of the concerns the party raised are still under investigation. Four investigations are ongoing in Deputy Shatter's former Department - the GSOC bugging scandal or the Cooke report, which we await; the whistleblowers dossier-Guerin report, which led to his resignation; the GSOC penalty points investigation; and the commission of investigation into Garda telephone recordings. We await the publication of the Guerin report tomorrow. The former Minister decided to resign as a result of its contents, despite the fact that he had only read three chapters, which leads me to wonder what else is in the body of the report.
Questions have arisen. We still do not know the contents of the letter from the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, to the Department of Justice and Equality or a believable account as to why the former Minister was not informed about it. Fianna Fáil has called for the letter to be published to set out what it contains. The letter falls under section 41 of the 2005 Act requiring the Minister to be informed about it. It is extraordinary when one considers the litany of events that have taken place over the past number of weeks surrounding him and his Department. We have witnessed an incredible series of shocking failings. The breach of data protection legislation, the penalty points debacle, shocking revelations of potential bugging of the GSOC, the exposure of the former Minister's contemptuous treatment of the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the sacking of the Confidential Recipient, Mr. Oliver Connolly, the forced resignation of the Commissioner and unbelievable claims of ignorance of recordings have all happened under the former Minister's watch.
Fianna Fáil has taken a constructive approach in all these matters and is committed to copperfastening the administration of justice in Ireland. I commend our party leader, Deputy Martin, who was the first to raise Sergeant McCabe's dossier, which Sergeant McCabe first brought to the attention to the authorities as far back as 2008. It was brought to the attention of the former Minister in 2012 and nothing was done until Deputy Martin produced it in the Dáil several weeks ago, following which the Taoiseach finally had to acknowledge the serious allegations contained therein which have led to the Guerin report. We have produced a detailed Bill to overhaul GSOC, bring the Commissioner under its remit, allow for internal Garda complaints and enable GSOC to access the PULSE system, which is vital to pursuing cases. An independent commission of investigation is necessary to reveal the full truth of these cases.
It gives me no great pleasure and I do not want to give the impression that I am dancing on a political grave. It is a sad loss whenever a Minister has to resign. John Drennan of the Sunday Independentearlier referred to the "moving finger". He says the finger has now moved to the Department of the Taoiseach, which has serious questions to answer because, up to the last moment, both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste steadfastly stood by their man, helped by the backbenchers in both Houses, including in the context of the issues surrounding the resignation of Martin Callinan, the early morning visits, the late night telephone calls and so on
I assure Senator Mooney the motions will be debated in proper and due course.
There is no doubt about Deputy Shatter's reforming zeal, his commitment to equality and his immense law reform record but, equally, I wish the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, every success. The Taoiseach will take over the Department of Defence. I reiterate Senator Bacik's comments that the motions will be debated properly and thoroughly. Equally, the Guerin report, which is comprehensive, will be published tomorrow morning and it will be dealt with. The Cooke report and the other reports to which Senator Mooney referred will also be properly dealt with in due course.
I will not comment on the events surrounding the former Minister, Deputy Shatter's resignation, but I extend personal thanks to him. When he was Opposition spokesperson on children and I was chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, he always showed his belief in children's rights, and he certainly took that into his role as Minister for Justice and Equality. His engagement with us as Members of the Seanad is something, perhaps, of which others could take note. When I tabled amendments, he engaged robustly but also fairly with us. He will be a considerable loss to our work, certainly on the long list of issues on which I am working, such as child abuse material on the Internet and the release of counselling notes. I welcome the appointment of the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the position of Minister for Justice and Equality and of Deputy Flanagan to the position of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
I want to raise an issue today. I oppose the Order of Business because I do not agree that we should take three reports without debate. Each of these reports would merit its own debate.
When we try to put them back on the agenda, we will be told that the Seanad has approved these reports.
The first report emanates from work on which the Independent group, of which I am a member, tabled a motion. In the Seanad, we held an excellent debate. We came back to the motion six months later and extended the debate, which led to the consultations that the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality held. Why are we merely giving this report a nod?
On the report on penal reform, a new Minister for Justice and Equality has just been announced. Are we assured of her commitment to penal reform in this report? This warrants a debate in this House.
I do not agree that we table motions on reports and state we will hold a debate because I know how hard it is to get debates in this House. We are not tripping over work. It is not that our agenda is so packed that we cannot fit in these. This is the reason this House is here, to discuss issues such as Traveller ethnicity and penal reform and to review the hearings and submissions on the review of legislation on prostitution. I have a huge difficulty with this and I will not be accepting the Order of Business today.
I congratulate the Ministers whose appointments have just been announced to us and wish them every success in their new roles. I thank the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, for being most sympathetic on issues we raised here with him, such as the rights of tenants in buy-to-lets and the insolvency issue. I recall one debate that went on late into the night and he was most courteous in facilitating the points made by me and by the Sinn Féin Senators at a very late stage in the evening. One should recognise a man's good points.
Yesterday we had a most interesting debate on disabilities and one point made was how much everybody in this House regrets not being able to do what we would wish in those cases because so much money has walked out of the Exchequer, so to speak, notoriously in the case of banks. We have a duty in this House to ensure we are supporting the watchdogs on public expenditure so that we have money for items such as disability services. One of the projects mentioned yesterday was the Narrow Water Bridge, which is an excellent project connecting County Louth and County Down, but the disagreement on which on the Northern Ireland side rests with what are scandalous cost overruns on this project. On 28 May last year, Mr. Sammy Wilson, the Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland, sanctioned €14 million as the cost of the bridge. Later, Louth County Council stated it would cost between €26 million and €40 million, plus VAT. It could be as high as €44 million. Why has the cost of this project risen threefold? It would be an act of North-South co-operation if the Comptroller and Auditor General in both jurisdictions, Mr. Kieran Donnelly in Northern Ireland and Mr. Seamus McCarthy here, were to investigate, as a cross-Border project, the scandal associated with the Narrow Water Bridge in terms of the cost having risen so much. Was the original €14 million an attempt to mislead the finance Ministers, North and South? Was it always going to be €44 million? It is less than 200 m. How does it compare internationally with bridges? We want North-South co-operation, we want these links but we cannot condone ever-increasing sums flowing out of the Exchequer when we need them, as we stated yesterday, for items such as disability services.
On 4 July last, the Minister responsible for the postal service was in the House. When we asked him whether it was true that the postcode system would cost €15 million, which figure was published in The Irish Times, he said one should not believe what one reads in the newspapers, the clear implication being that the €15 million was an over-estimation. That project has recently been signed up to for €24 million. It has gone up by 60%, or €1 million a month, and the cost-benefit analysis has not been presented to us. We already have 94% next-day delivery in the post office here. The volumes are down by 40% since the peak. What are the benefits of this project? I have constituents both North and South of the Border and writing to them with four letters and three numbers is far more awkward than writing, "Clones, County Monaghan." What are the benefits? With the Narrow Water Bridge and the postal codes, snake oil salesmen seem to have extracted remarkably easy deals from the Exchequer without cost-benefit analyses, and this House must call a halt to these kinds of processes. I seek a proper debate on the Narrow Water Bridge, reports on the project by the two Comptroller and Auditors General, and some explanation of how the postcode system comes in at €24 million, 60% more than the €15 million that was dismissed as an over-estimation.
I welcome the statement by the independent expert panel that was set up to oversee the integrity of the process to be undertaken by EirGrid on the Grid Link and Grid West projects. Yesterday, the independent panel, which has met on four occasions, issued a statement and also issued the terms of reference under which it will examine the integrity of the work that EirGrid has done to date, particularly on the issue of using overhead lines as against undergrounding the service. The terms of reference include assessments of potential environmental impacts, economic implications and also technical efficacy and cost factors. I note in particular that the expert panel, as per its terms of reference, now has the right to review the reports and to get outside expert opinion on the reports that EirGrid has and will submit to it. I welcome this because, to date, any of the interactions that many of us in this Chamber have had with EirGrid were "botchy", to say the least. We received different opinions, viewpoints and expert responses from EirGrid, both at committee level and at public meetings, and at consultations in a hotel not far from this House. We have found that most of what the agency has stated has turned out to be incorrect.
There is an issue I want the Deputy Leader to clarify for us on this matter. In the statement issued yesterday by the independent expert panel, it is stated that its findings will be returned to the Minister in due course. There is some concern in the country, especially in my county of Tipperary but also in Kilkenny, Carlow, through the midlands and as far as Senator Kelly's area of Roscommon, that this action will go on for too long. We would like clarity as to when the expert panel will finalise its report and give it to the Minister. If we could get clarity on that, it would be welcomed.
It is extraordinary that a Government which has the biggest majority in the history of the State and which was all set to go right up to Easter 2016 is starting to get so wobbly that we wonder whether it will make the Whit weekend. It has been really shaken by the revelations, mainly but not only in the Department of Justice and Equality. As my party's acting leader, Senator Mooney, stated, we have no ill will towards the former Minister, Deputy Shatter. I found him personable to deal with. He just seemed to have got caught up in so many problems and, eventually, he tripped up.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on her appointment. She is a well-liked Minister and a competent person.
I also congratulate Charlie McDonald on his promotion.
I apologise, Deputy Charles Flanagan. That might have been a forecast.
In any event, these are tough times in politics. Another extraordinary point is that a great deal of the heavy lifting has been done. In fairness to the Government, it has carried out the Brian Lenihan blueprint for recovery almost to the letter and this has been successful. However, now that this is out of the way, members of the Government appear to be playing silly buggers with one other. The Labour Party is playing silly buggers internally and one side is leaking against the other to the media on a regular basis. That is as it may be.
It is a quiet day and I will bring up a matter I have raised several times previously, namely, the Shannon liquified natural gas, LNG, project in north County Kerry. The Deputy Leader has listened to me speak on this subject previously but she might relay this point to the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, one more time. This is a project of huge importance for the economy of the mid-west, for economic security and, in particular, for the area around Ballylongford, which has been greatly depopulated due to emigration and lack of employment. This project will guarantee 500 jobs at construction stage and up to 100 permanent jobs thereafter. I was Mayor of Kerry County Council in 2004 when the genesis of this project took place but yet many years later, not a single hole has been dug in the ground. I believe much of this has to do with intransigence and that were this project located somewhere inside the Pale, perhaps in Poolbeg, the Fingal area of Dublin or somewhere like that, there would have been a great deal more engagement and focus on it. I again appeal to the Deputy Leader to take up the matter with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. He might come into the House to give Members a revised overview on what he thinks is happening with the project.
I join with my colleagues in paying tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, who was a reforming and hard-working Minister. It is a great pity, he will be a great loss to politics and I wish him and his family well. I also congratulate the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, as well as the incoming Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and I look forward to working with them in their new portfolios. Members must now start to work with the new Ministers and continue the job that has been started.
I welcome the recent news from the Minister, Deputy Noonan, that farmers who are forced to sell entitlements before 15 May will be exempt from capital gains tax. This will be worth an average of €7,000 per farmer to approximately 6,400 farmers. This is extremely good news because all Members have been contacted in recent months by farmers who were forced into a situation in which they were unable to use their entitlements or had been leasing them out in recent years and had no option but to sell them off. There was a risk that capital gains tax would be applied in that respect and consequently, this is very good news and will be a great saving for the farming community.
On the news that Senator Norris has been ill, while Members were not aware of how serious it was, I wish to express Members' thoughts for him at this stage. He has always shown such vigour and such enthusiasm and Members look forward to having him back here very shortly.
I wish to second Senator van Turnhout's proposed amendment to the Order of Business on the grounds that when Members do not have enough work to do, it simply does not seem to make sense to have debates without-----
The issue of carbon monoxide was introduced in a Bill in this House only last month. At the time, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, explained that he thought this could be done in a different way. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Hogan, because over the weekend he announced he was adjusting the building regulations to achieve precisely what Members set out to do. I believe he deserves credit and congratulations for listening to the case that was made in this Chamber to avoid new buildings being created without alarms for carbon monoxide. He believes he has found a solution without being obliged to introduce legislation in this regard.
I wish to make one further point, which has already been made, in respect of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter. He listened very carefully and was one of those Ministers who always listened when he came in here. He always played an active part and was a regular listener and attendee in this House. I wish him well in the future and believe his career at this stage is just taking a turn. I believe the man has huge ability and will continue with that huge ability in whatever he undertakes on that basis. I acknowledge Members had difficulty with him in respect of the issue of upward-only rents. He gave me time and attention and argued against me but as Members are aware, the House voted against him on that basis. Nevertheless, he handled it very well and I believe he set an example for the rest of us. I also wish to add my word of congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and to the incoming Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on their new positions.
I wish to support my colleague, Senator Landy, in welcoming the terms of reference that were issued by the expert group regarding the issue of overhead pylons versus the placing underground of cables. I also urge the expert panel to take submissions from all the community groups nationwide that have invested a great deal of time and money in fighting the pylon issue. It has been interesting that from the outset and over the past two years, Senators Whelan, Landy and I came out and backed those communities when nobody else was doing so. Suddenly, however, now that the elections to the European Parliament are under way, every candidate is on the side of those who are fighting against pylons, which in itself is a message to the Government. When one has candidates from Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and everyone else saying this, it is time to examine the possibility of placing these cables underground.
In respect of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, on a personal level I am sorry for both him and his family that he thought he needed to resign. However, I always believed that in certain situations, the former Minister was ill-advised. Prior to the last general election, he gave a clear commitment that were he elected, he would instigate an independent investigation of inquiry into the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy. I have no doubt but that he listened to his officials from the Department of Justice and Equality and to the Garda Commissioner. He danced around the edges of that issue and did not deliver by acting decisively on it. I intend to call on the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, to do the right thing in respect of the Fr. Niall Molloy case and do that to which every other colleague of hers has signed up and has pledged, namely, it should have happened, will happen and will happen as a matter of urgency.
As Members are aware, the leaving certificate examinations are due to start in just under four weeks. For many young people, it is perceived as the high-stakes examination in the education system and there is a lot of pressure on young people to sit the leaving certificate examination and to do well in it. I refer in particular to the retention rates of those who remain on after the junior certificate and who sit the leaving certificate examinations. Frequently, those young people who stay on will only get one chance at that examination. When one considers that each young person should be given the best chance to secure his or her leaving certificate, it is grossly wrong for any young person to have his or her legitimate educational aspirations impeded in any way.
At present, I am greatly concerned by the tendency of the State Examinations Commission to refuse the allocation of waivers to young people who are sitting their leaving certificate examinations, even when their applications have been supported by teachers and health care professionals, be it in respect of disabilities or specific learning disabilities. There is a vast discrepancy between the diagnosis by the relevant authorities and the actions of the State Examinations Commission in the run-up to the time for the examinations. In cases I have encountered personally, the State Examinations Commission has failed to provide a plausible explanation for its decision. I have come across instances in which students have been turned down for a waiver despite having had one-to-one assistance throughout their education and having had the same supports at junior certificate level. It is akin to taking swimming lessons with armbands and suddenly, when the time for one's test arrives, simply being thrown into the deep end to sink or swim. It is causing a great deal of stress for those students - and even their families - who are sitting their leaving certificate examinations, have put in all that time and effort and have studied diligently only to be told now that the supports they need will not be available.
If the Minister for Education and Skills is serious about ensuring that young people of all abilities have equal educational opportunities at school, he needs to ensure that these supports are available. Refusing to provide these supports will mean that students who need that extra assistance or support will be at a significant disadvantage during these high stake second level examinations. That could have long-term implications for their future prospects. When we talk about the knowledge economy or economic recovery, it could have economic implications for society. It should be remembered that education appropriate to the needs of the individual is a basic human right. I ask the Deputy Leader if the issue could be raised with the relevant Minister and perhaps we could discuss it. The leaving certificate exams are four weeks away. This issue did not just arise this year but has been an issue in previous years. We need to take it very seriously.
I join with Senators in wishing our colleague, Senator David Norris, a very speedy recovery. We look forward to having him back among us very soon.
The events of the past 24 hours show how difficult political life is and how quickly the story moves on with the announcement of the new appointments this morning. It is appropriate that we would pay tribute to the work of Deputy Shatter as Minister for Justice and Equality during the past three years. While much of the political commentary has been predictable, both from his colleagues in government and from the Opposition parties, it is worth quoting the director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Mr. Mark Kelly, who said yesterday:
However critical and controversial the findings of the Guerin review may be, the ICCL very much regrets that it has become necessary for a Minister as distinguished as Alan Shatter to resign in these circumstances. The Council shares the Taoiseach's view that Alan Shatter was an exceptionally hard working, radical and reforming minister. In particular, he brought to his position a genuine and deeply-knowledgeable understanding of the legal reforms needed to render Ireland a more equal society and was wholeheartedly committed to seeing the necessary legislation adopted. In this, and in many other areas where vital law reform projects remain incomplete, his talents and his undoubted mettle will be sorely missed.We all know that Deputy Alan Shatter, in a short three-year period, addressed and resolved many difficult issues that previous holders of the office failed to tackle. He has done the State and its citizens some considerable service, in my view. It is really regrettable that significant management problems within An Garda Síochána that occurred prior to him becoming Minister should end the ministerial career of such a talented and dedicated Minister.
I join with colleagues in wishing him, Carol and his family well into the future. I also wish those who were appointed to ministerial office this morning well.
It is very welcome that tomorrow afternoon, at 2.30 p.m. the Taoiseach will turn the sod for the Gort to Tuam N 17/N 18 motorway - the biggest and most significant infrastructural project that will happen in the country this year. It will bring significant employment into an area that has been ravaged by unemployment in recent years. I hope this project will be the start of some very significant employment opportunities that it will bring into the region in the coming years.
I acknowledge Deputy Shatter's true reforming zeal, the technical expertise and the enthusiasm he brought to the reform process in the Department of Justice and Equality. He showed skills in that area that could be learned by many others throughout government in this country. I think he saw current problems as problems to be fixed and not as something to wring one's hands and say "We cannot do anything about it". It is a shame that things have worked out as they have. I will not say anything further on this issue until we see the results of the full report that comes out about the handling of the entire issue of the reports of malpractices within the Garda Síochána. If it does emerge that there was a systematic manhandling of legitimate whistleblowers, who put their necks on the line in the service of this Republic, then the entire culture of government that allowed that to go on for so long must be addressed. It may well be that questions will be asked higher up the political food chain as to what exactly was going on in the past several months when everybody in the country was aware that serious allegations had been made and that rather than dealing with the allegations, every appearance is given that instead an attempt was made to undermine those who tried to blow the whistle - not only at one level but by civil servants, politicians, Ministers and by the higher echelons of the Garda Síochána. This is simply inexcusable. It is not acceptable in a democracy. It is not specific to this Government because I think those of us who are a certain age will remember the 1980s. We will remember that this is something that appears to be endemic in the process of government - this lack of accountability, which in its other manifestations has led to many of the financial disasters which we have had.
I request the Deputy Leader to get a commitment from the Department of Health that a report card will be submitted to us on the results of this very expensive - and I believe utterly wasteful - management consultancy exercise that Professor Robert S. Kaplan conducted on behalf of the HSE at huge cost and at a time that we have such a shortage of nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, speech therapists and where children are waiting so long for services. Will a report be given to the Members of this Chamber of the specific recommendations - in other words a value for money report - on the value for money consultancy? I think we need it.
I am glad that we have a lawyer of great repute acting as Leader this morning. I am still so incensed over this issue that the HSE was able to go to the Press Ombudsman in an attempt to silence wholly legitimate political criticism of the current policy with respect to medical cards. It is my intention in my next Private Members' Bill to attempt to introduce legislation which would limit the rights of publicly-funded bodies to resort to legal or other threats when they perceive that they have been "defamed". Criticising a public body is not defamation, it is democracy.
Let me add my voice to Members wishing Senator Norris well and hoping that he will be back among us again.
I wish to pay tribute to the work of the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. A number of political commentators have jokingly said that he was the next best thing to a Labour Party Minister. I would regard that as a serious compliment. I welcome the appointment of Deputy Frances Fitzgerald as Minister for Justice and Equality, whom I may also say is similarly acceptable to the Labour Party ranks and has done a wonderful job in her role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I welcome the appointment of Deputy Charles Flanagan to the Cabinet and hope he will do as good a job in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs as the previous Minister has done.
I welcome the joint launch by the Rape Crisis Centre and Women's Aid of an awareness campaign around violence against women. Some 91,000 Irish women experience sexual violence - more often than not at the hands of either partners or people close to them. The campaign today is entitled "Not happily ever after" and is calling on women not to be afraid to seek help.
It has been my experience unfortunately that some women seek help but do not receive it. I am shocked to say that in my own area of Dún Laoghaire we are only now opening a women's refuge in the near future thanks of the work of some very hard-working Labour Party councillors. We do not have the resources available to assist women experiencing violence in this country. In particular, the newspapers report today about increasing house prices. We know that it is reported in the news every single day how difficult it is to secure accommodation in this country. It is particularly vulnerable people like women seeking to leave unhappy relationships in family homes who are having severe difficult in accessing housing. I know we previously had a debate on violence against women but the emerging situation requires this issue to be dealt with again. In that context I ask the Deputy Leader to have another debate on the issue of women experiencing violence in their homes.
I had better correct the record from yesterday morning when I said "it appears that the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has taken on some of the Teflon left behind by Bertie". It is quite clear from this morning that Bertie is still ahead in the Teflon stakes.
On a personal level and as my party's justice spokesperson, I thank Deputy Shatter for the work he has done as Minister. We did not agree on everything but we agreed on a fair number of issues and we were always civil. There was never any doubt about his work rate, intellectual ability and knowledge of his brief. I wish him well. I welcome the appointment of Deputy Fitzgerald as Minister for Justice and Equality and hope that she will champion the issue of direct provision. I also wish Deputy Charles Flanagan well in his new role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
It is clear that Deputy Shatter presided over a number of debacles as Minister, however. As late as one hour before his resignation was announced yesterday, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other Ministers were rallying to his defence. I contend that his resignation is a party political head on a plate in response to the hammering that Fine Gael and the Labour Party are getting at the doors in the run-up to the local elections because they hope this will persuade people to vote for them. I do not think that is going to happen because Fine Gael and the Labour Party were complicit in the controversies over which Deputy Shatter presided. We will study the reports in due course and I will welcome the opportunity to debate them in these Houses. Government Members backed the Deputy in all of these issues every time they were debated in the Houses. He was not alone in the GSOC and other controversies. We need a full explanation on these controversies and a debate on the Government's plans for dealing with them. I do not think this issue will go away with the resignation of Deputy Shatter because we need to examine the reasons the Government stood fully behind the decisions he made in regard to the Garda Commissioner, the whistleblowers and the GSOC controversy. We can have that debate with the new Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, when she is available.
I pay tribute to Deputy Shatter for the work he has done since long before he came into the Oireachtas. He was the first person to publish a comprehensive review of family law, as far back as 1976, and gave leadership in progressing family law since then. He went on to prepare the judicial separation legislation and was directly or indirectly involved with a wide variety of reforms. It is not long ago that judges expressed the opinion that all family law matters should be addressed at home. We have come a long way in a short period in terms of reforming family law and Deputy Shatter has contributed immensely to that reform process. He was a very good Minister in the way he brought reforms that were badly needed and his loss will be felt in terms of the reforms that are still needed. I hope he will continue to contribute to the political arena for a long time to come.
I welcome the appointment of Deputy Fitzgerald as Minister for Justice and Equality. She has proven to be an effective Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I think she will be a good Minister for Justice and Equality. I also welcome the appointment of Deputy Charles Flanagan as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and wish him well in his new role.
I have previously raised the issue of the budget for health, of which 25%, or €3.25 billion, goes to organisations outside the HSE. Some 2,260 organisations benefit from that money. Under committee procedures, the Committee of Public Accounts appears to have a complete hold over every other committee when it comes to dealing with issues arising in these organisations. This means the Joint Committee on Health and Children is restricted in how it deals with a major part of its business. It is wrong that the latter committee has no influence over ensuring value for money for one quarter of the HSE's budget or making sure funded organisations are providing the services that are required. This situation should not be allowed to continue. The Committee of Public Accounts has only examined three or four of these 2,260 organisations to date. Perhaps we should have a debate on the issue in this House. We have already discussed it in the Joint Committee on Health and Children. We should not be prevented from doing our job in that committee.
I wish Senator Norris a speedy recovery and hope he will return to this Chamber soon. We miss his wit when he is not here. On a more sad note, I was previously a constituency colleague of Deputy Shatter in Dublin South prior to my transfer to Dublin South-West. I pay tribute to the Deputy for the work he has done and the way he supported me in the constituency. Every question I submitted to his office was speedily answered. I also pay tribute to the staff of his office, who are often forgotten. I wish Deputy Shatter, his wife, Carol, and their two children well.
The Deputy was well described by a headline in today's edition of The Irish Times, which stated: "Minister Shatter: a polarising reformer who leaves a long legacy on the statute books". Nobody can argue with that assessment because in his three short years in office, he produced a long list of legislation. A number of speakers have referred to the Children's Court and the reforms to family law. The reductions he made to judicial salaries did him no favours with the Judiciary. He made courts easier to access and introduced reforms to the citizenship process and the prison system, including ending the practice of slopping out. We were all proud of the solution to the Magdalen laundries issue, which he brought through the Houses. He is a socialising reformer with a liberal agenda. He leaves a significant legacy that will stand the test of time. His other initiatives include the new Court of Appeal, the personal insolvency system, the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2013, which we were due to debate today, the reform of legal services and the criminalisation of human trafficking.
I was speaking on the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 in the context of a Labour Party Private Members' motion on disability services when the news came through of his resignation. That Bill was delayed since July 2013 for the simple reason that Deputy Shatter wanted to ensure that it was in sync with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is an important Bill for people with mental and physical disabilities. He wanted to ensure he could get the legislation right.
The new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, also has developed a strong track record in her previous office as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. She is a woman who is well able to take over her new portfolio and I have full confidence in her. I wish her the best and also wish that strong man behind her, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who has been a popular and courageous chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, well. I am delighted that the acting Garda Commissioner, the Attorney General, the DPP and the Minister for Justice and Equality are women. I wish them all well. I also wish the good men behind them well. We cannot have one without the other.
Senator Hayden mentioned an important issue that should be discussed in this House in regard to Women's Aid not being happy ever after. We have had a good Minister.
Hopefully, he will be happy in whatever the future holdsr because he has it in him to carry on doing great things.
Along with fellow colleagues, I would like to send my best wishes to Senator Norris. I also send my best wishes to Senator Harte who, I understand, went back to Donegal yesterday, which is a good sign. We wish him well and hope the airs of Donegal will restore him to health. Like others, I welcome the appointment of Deputy Fitzgerald, as Minister for Justice and Equality, and Deputy Charles Flanagan, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and wish them well in their future work. They are good appointments. As Senator Keane said, it is good to see the girls aloud will make their contribution along with their male colleagues.
I welcome the resignation of former the Minister, Deputy Shatter, not because it is a good thing to lose a good man and a hardworking Minister but because it is a sign of our growing understanding of the need for accountability in this country in that when a report comes back and states that there are faults and failings, the person concerned stands up and states that it was on his or her watch and that he or she is resigning. I also welcome it because it strengthens the position and status of whistleblowers, in particular the whistleblowers in this case, John Wilson and Maurice McCabe. They have had, to put it mildly, a particularly difficult time. Their status has been enhanced and I trust whistleblowers in the future, who take risks as they did, will not have to put up with and endure the difficulty and indignity they had to put up with both at the hands of their colleagues and the wider public. What we have seen in the past 24 hours - the resignation of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter - is the first in a series of steps we will need to take which I trust will be taken to restore full confidence in the justice system in this country, in particular for the many hard-working decent upstanding members of An Garda Síochána who will be tarred with the activities of a few.
On a separate note, I take the opportunity to welcome the launch of a new website for politics for teenagers tomorrow. It is a website I have mentored with a group of students from St. Attracta's Community School in Tubbercurry. They have written the website and done the research. It is the first example in the world where teenagers have written and put together a website themselves for themselves to try to encourage more young people to consider and understand the role of politics in our daily lives. They have usefully called this website oblivious.iebecause, as they said, teenagers are, by and large, oblivious to politics and the political arena. I would like to thank them for their work and University College Cork, IT Sligo and Senator Mary Ann O'Brien for their support and say it was a pleasure to work with them and to see their interest in the political arena and politics grow.
Members might be entertained to know that Senator Bacik told the students when asked in their survey that she would in another life like to have been Lady Gaga while Deputy Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, said he would have liked to have been Muhammad Ali. That gives Members some clue as to what the content might be. I hope they are raising a smile and encouraging us and their fellow students to become involved because if we do not start with the education of our young people at that age, we have little hope for younger people coming into politics in the future.
I, too, would like to welcome the appointment of Deputy Fitzgerald as Minister for Justice and Equality. When she was a Member of this House, she was fair and equitable and it is great to see that, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cuman na mBan, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the acting Garda Commissioner, the Deputy Leader of the Seanad and the Attorney General are women. I think Countess Markievicz is probably smiling down on all of them. As I said, Deputy Fitzgerald is a fair person and listens to people.
The issue here is about whistleblowing and how we treat whistleblowers. In 2004, the Irish Bank Officials Association asked for protection for whistleblowers in the financial system. At that time the response from the officials through the Minister was that we needed more comprehensive legislation when it came to protecting whistleblowers. When the financial crisis happened, there was no protection for financial whistleblowers, or for any whistleblowers. There is still no protection for whistleblowers, so we must ask why. The reality is that those at the top, those senior civil servants in the various Departments, do not want whistleblowers protected or rewarded but want to punish them. Those gardaí blew the whistle on the activities within the Garda Síochána.
Let us be honest in that what happened in the Garda Síochána was a disgrace not because people got off penalty points but because those who got off penalty points were not taken off the road and went on to kill people. They should have been off the road at the time. As we saw from newspaper reports about what is in the report, which saw Deputy Shatter resign as Minister, when the Garda did not act against people they went on to murder citizens. They should have been in prison but the Garda did not act. If we do not reward and encourage whistleblowers, then the illegal activities will continue. The senior civil servants who do not want whistleblowing in their Departments or in Irish society have prevented and frustrated legislation coming forward which would not only protect the whistleblowers but would reward them.
I welcome Deputy Shatter's resignation as Minister because while he carried out reforms, as was pointed out by others opposite, he was an arrogant Minister. He did not listen and he became entrapped by the civil servants on whom he relied to give him the information and did not question them. I know Deputy Fitzgerald will be a Minister who will question information given to her and she will not be a slave to the civil servants. Deputy Shatter relied entirely on his civil servants but he should have relied first and foremost on his own judgment. Instead of punishing whistleblowers, he should have welcomed them because what they have done has been of far more service to this State than what he has done.
On a personal note, it is very sad for any Minister or somebody who pursues a career in any walk of life, but in particular in politics which is a very public type of career, to be forced into a position where he or she must resign. I suppose many of us would empathise with Deputy Shatter in that regard and regret that it has come to this. On the other hand, it was probably a year overdue. Some 12 months ago, I raised in the House the fact that when the Minister released information which had been given to him in confidence by the Garda Commissioner that was of a politically sensitive nature, it raised questions not only for the Minister but for the Commissioner. Both have resigned in different circumstances. At that time, I felt that issue needed to be dealt with in a much more transparent way.
Like others, I join in the expressions of good wishes to Deputy Shatter's successor, who was the Opposition leader in this House in the last Seanad. She carried herself with a great degree of decorum and, as was said, was always measured and reasoned. I hope she does a good job in that most important Department she now controls.
I wish to raise an issue which also involves females, namely, the abduction of more than 250 young girls in Nigeria. I am pleased but disappointed that it has taken many weeks for the western world to put this on its radar in terms of addressing it. I do not know whether it would have happened but for the fact the World Economic Forum on Africa is taking place in Nigeria this week. It is appalling that this organisation, Boko Haram, has been allowed to create carnage over the past years, in particular on Christian communities and in respect woman in northern Nigeria. It is now extending it throughout Nigeria. I hope bodies like the United Nations, which get involved in many pseudo campaigns on various issues, would focus their minds on the substantive issue of life and death for these people.
Yesterday more than 100 people were killed in Nigeria by this organisation. I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange an early debate in the House specifically on Boco Haram, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in attendance. More than one year ago I tabled motions on the Adjournment on this matter and I have raised it at meetings of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. We need to concentrate, and the world needs to act with greater decisiveness, on such serious human rights violations.
One issue has dominated the Order of Business today, which was the resignation yesterday of the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. We also had the announcement as we were sitting this morning of the appointment of Deputy Frances Fitzgerald as Minister for Justice and Equality, the appointment of Deputy Charlie Flanagan as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the moving of the defence portfolio to the Taoiseach. As others have stated I very much welcome the separation of the justice and defence portfolios and the appointments of Deputies Frances Fitzgerald and Charlie Flanagan. As other colleagues stated they have strong track records. Many of us who served with the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in this House when she was leader of the Opposition here were very impressed by her and are impressed by her work as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
With regard to the former Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, almost everyone who spoke paid tribute in some form, even those who stated they disagreed with him, to his outstanding record of accomplishment, his enormous appetite for work and the reform agenda he was in the process of pushing through. He has left a strong legacy after three years of office in terms of the reform of personal insolvency law, the legal profession, sexual offences and criminal legislation generally, particularly landmark legislation on community sanctions which are being debated at pre-legislative stage in committee. His commitment to equality has been commented on as was his commitment to family law reform, his piloting of the child and family relationships Bill which the committee is also dealing with, and his commitment to immigration reform. He has done a huge amount of work which we all hope will be continued by his successor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
As many Senators pointed out he was a very regular attender in the Seanad and commenced much justice legislation here. I am sure we all hope the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, will do the same. He always listened and engaged in debate. Senator Quinn commented in particular on this. Even where he disagreed on points he would engage and debate them. He often accepted amendments from many of us, such as from Senators van Turnhout. We must pay tribute to his work while we congratulate his successor.
In the Dáil this morning on behalf of the Labour Party the Minister, Deputy Quinn, praised the record of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and his tenacity and determination to change Ireland for the better. Having stated this we all acknowledge, as Senator O'Keeffe and others stated, that his resignation shows a recognition of the need for accountability in government and also shows a respect for whistleblowers and this is important.
Senator Mooney objected to the Order of Business before the House and Senator van Turnhout stated she will oppose it. As I stated when introducing the business, it is not the business we would have wanted.
It was sent after 7 p.m. yesterday evening after every effort had been made to try to get alternative business. Clearly we could not take the DNA legislation. In light of the comments by colleagues and my own views I will withdraw the three motions before the House.
I should have stated it was always envisaged that we would have a full debate on the three reports. I authored the report on penal reforms and I was very involved in the other two on prostitution and Traveller ethnicity. We always wanted to have a debate on these. If one looked at the text of the motions one would have seen the reports were to be noted and it was not a statement they would not be debated. It is intended to debate them soon but we needed business for today. We could not have an Order of Business without business. I accept the motions are not particularly substantive and I am happy to withdraw them. The consequence is we will have no business after the Order of Business, but this may be the preferable approach to take. I was Acting Leader at 6 p.m. when the business concluded yesterday and the alternative was not to sit today, which I do not think would have been appropriate. I am glad we did sit and colleagues have had an opportunity to express their views on the resignation of former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and his replacement.
It was important that we sat today. I stand over my decision yesterday to call for an Order of Business at 10.30 this morning but I accept the motions should be withdrawn. I hope the Order of Business will not be opposed.
I think I have explained the Leader's office made every attempt until after 7 p.m. yesterday to find another Minister to come in and take other business. My preference was to have had a debate on at least one of the reports today but we simply could not do it. When the resignation was announced at 4 p.m. yesterday it took most people by surprise and it was very difficult to get any business. We have a full schedule for next week.
The report of Mr. Seán Guerin will be published tomorrow and we all welcome this. None of us have seen the full text of the 300 page report and I hope we will debate it. Senators have sought a debate on it. An independent Garda authority has been announced, which is very welcome, reform of GSOC has also been announced, and the committee on justice is conducting an overview of Garda accountability mechanisms. These ongoing matters will be debated in the House.
Senator Coghlan referred to the appointment of the new Ministers. I have dealt with Senator van Turnhout's points with regard to the motion. She also welcomed the new appointments as did Senator Barrett. He also called for a debate on the cost of the Narrow Water bridge project. This matter has been raised by others in the House and we will seek this debate. It may be suitable as a matter on the Adjournment and I do not know whether the Senator has considered drafting one.
Senator Landy welcomed the terms of reference for the expert panel on EirGrid and called for clarification on when it will finalise its report. This question might be put to the expert panel. I am not clear on it. We can make an inquiry.
Senator O'Sullivan raised the issue of the energy project in Kerry and called on an update from the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. I will see whether the Minister will come to the House to discuss it. As it is a specific matter it might be appropriate to table it as a matter on the Adjournment which might provide a speedier response. Senator O'Sullivan also referred to the resignation of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and the new appointments.
Senator Comiskey also raised the new appointments and welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, of a capital gains tax exemption for farmers forced to sell their single farm payment entitlements. This is a welcome announcement.
Very importantly, Senator Quinn asked colleagues to express sympathy to Senator David Norris on his recent surgery and also stated how much we look forward to having him back and how much we all hope he will have a full recovery. We all join Senator Quinn in sending Senator Norris our best wishes for a full recovery and we all very much look forward to having him back in these benches once more very soon. Senator O'Keeffe also mentioned Senator Harte. We are very much thinking of him and we hope for his speedy recovery also.
Senator Kelly also referred to EirGrid and the expert panel and to the resignation of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter. Senator Reilly referred to the supports available to leaving certificate students. The leaving certificate will begin in four weeks. The matter he discussed might be raised with the Minister for Education and Skills. We all join in sending good wishes to leaving certificate students. It is a very stressful time and it is probably the most stressful examination most of the students will ever sit.
Senator Mullins also mentioned Senator Norris's recovery. He noted among the bodies paying tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, is the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which is noteworthy. The council referred to the former Minister as having been a radical and reforming Minister who brought to the role a genuine and deeply knowledgeable understanding of the legal reforms necessary to make Ireland a more equal society. It is a stunning tribute from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and it is worth noting. Senator Mullins also referred to the fact the Taoiseach will open a new motorway in Gort tomorrow.
Senator Crown referred to the resignation of the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, and pointed out the need to improve the treatment of whistleblowers. The Government will bring forth whistleblower protection legislation and will be the first Government to do so. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has been piloting it through the Houses. Colleagues have already made comments on and contributions to the legislation. Senator Crown also referred to the HSE and his proposal to bring forward a Private Members' Bill to limit the rights of publicly-funded bodies to take to the courts for defamation or libel cases.
As a lawyer I would be very interested in how the legislation could be framed. There would be difficulties in terms of restricting rights of access to the courts. One would have to look at that but I empathise with the Senator's position. It would be an interesting debate to have in the House. I suggest that it could tabled as a Private Members' motion which would allow us to look at how it could be framed rather than drafting legislation. That is just my thought.
We will await the wording. As a lawyer, I could not sign up to anything, the wording for which I have not seen.
Senator Hayden referred to the resignation of the former Minister for Justice and Equality. The Senator also welcomed the joint campaign being launched today by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Women's Aid called "This is not happily every after". It highlights the extent of sexual and domestic abuse in relationships. I join her in saying that we should all support the campaign. We have held some debates in the House on domestic violence and violence against women. The Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is finalising a report on domestic and gender-based violence. We might debate it in the House when it has been completed. We have held quite extensive hearings on the matter.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the former Minister for Justice and Equality. He welcomed the incoming Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and acknowledged her record on direct provision. I join the Senator in hoping that, as Minister, she will be very proactive on the issue.
Senator Colm Burke also mentioned the former Minister for Justice and Equality. He also raised the issue of the restriction placed on the Committee on Health and Children due to 25% of the health budget being diverted to non-Department of Health organisations, or organisations directly outside the remit of the committee. It might be best to raise the matter at the committee of chairpersons of committees, between the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Chair of the Joint Committee on Health and Children. Perhaps that has been done and, in that case, the matter should be taken up with the Minister for Health. It is also something that may change with the abolition of the HSE.
We all take on board the points raised by the Senator. I am not sure that this House is the appropriate forum but I can ask the Leader if we can facilitate a debate. I suspect it might be a matter that will go to the relevant committee.
Senator Keane extended best wishes to Senator Norris. She also paid tribute to the former Minister for Justice and Equality and his staff. She pointed out the interesting gender breakdown that has arisen as a result of the appointment of the former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to her new Department. The Senator noted that the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the acting Garda Commissioner are now all women, along with the Minister for Justice and Equality, and of course the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. The Chief State Solicitor and State Pathologist are also women. Many women have been appointed which can only be a positive thing. Of course we wish their male colleagues the very best, including the new Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan.
Senator O'Keeffe referred to Senators Norris and Harte and we wish them our best. She also gave recognition to the former Minister, Deputy Shatter. She drew our attention to a new website for teenagers interested in politics that has an interesting title. I am sure we all will check it out but it is called oblivious.ie. I had forgotten about my comments on Lady Gaga but it just goes to show that one must be careful when giving interviews as to where they might end up.
Senator Daly welcomed the appointment of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, to her new portfolio. He also spoke about whistleblowers. The legislation on the protection of whistleblowers is going through the House.
Senator Walsh referred to the resignations. He also referred to the appalling abductions by Boko Haram in Nigeria. He may not be aware that the matter was raised by a number of colleagues on the Order of Business yesterday. Following the Order of Business, the Leader and I drafted a cross-party motion on the issue. It has been listed on the Order Paper for next Tuesday and will be taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The text will be circulated to all colleagues in advance.
I wish to make a point of order. While I empathise with the Deputy Leader in her dilemma on the motions, it was unacceptable to put those motions before the House without debate and treat the House with a certain contempt. If one cannot find a Minister of State to sit in supervision over a motion that comes from a House committee, then something is seriously wrong at the heart of Government.
For the day that is in it, that is an appropriate comment by the Senator. I meant to respond to him on postcodes. We might get the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to attend here for a specific debate on the matter. I am sure he would be delighted to have an opportunity to debate the new plan for postcodes and it would be a good debate.
In response to the point made by Senator Mooney about the motions, I want a full debate on the reports and all of us who were involved with them want the same. I do not think it would have been appropriate to arrange for a Minister with no knowledge of their contents to come into the House. We did try to get a Minister who would have been able to do it. At 7 p.m. yesterday, however, it became apparent that we could not and we had no other business. I have proposed the amendment to withdraw the motions on the basis that people have objected to them. I accept they were not substantive business. In the extraordinary circumstances we were facing, it was an understandable set of motions to put on the Order Paper in that they simply noted reports. We had to put some business on the Order Paper or else we would not be sitting, and at 6 p.m. yesterday, I had said we were sitting. I stand over the decision, but I also stand over the decision to withdraw the motions and the promise that we will have a full debate on those reports in the future.
The Deputy Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That Nos. 41, 42 and 44 be deleted from the Order of Business for today." Is that agreed? Agreed. That means Senator van Turnhout's amendment cannot be moved.