Seanad debates

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

3:30 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 5.45 p.m.; No. 2, State Airports (Shannon Group) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 5.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.15 p.m.; and No. 3, Companies Bill 2012 - Second Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and adjourn not later than 9.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.

3:35 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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The Companies Bill 2012 is the longest piece of legislation ever to be proposed by a Government. It is important legislation and my party welcomes that Second Stage will take place today. On Committee Stage, I will look for an assurance that there will not be a guillotine or delay, and perhaps the Leader would look at some way to regulate the debate on Committee Stage. My party does not want to delay Committee Stage but it is important that the Bill, despite its size, is dealt with line by line. It may be possible to implement a suggestion I made some time ago that we allocate a specific amount of time for every section, if necessary, so as to allow full debate but not to allow filibustering. However, that is something the Leader can think about because the Bill will take a long time if we do our job as legislators properly.

The Fianna Fáil Party welcomes the tone and content of the statement of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on the radio at lunchtime today about the Government decision to set up a commission of inquiry into the mother and baby homes. We will co-operate on a cross-party basis. We do not believe that it is a political issue. We should all work together on it and we will support every effort of the Government in that regard. The Seanad will have a role to play because a commission of investigation can be set up only with the consent of each House. We will have a strong role and I look forward to the Seanad debate in that regard. The Leader can expect nothing other than cross-party co-operation from us.

A couple of issues arise on that matter, including the privacy of the women involved in and the children who survived these institutions. This was mentioned by my colleague, Deputy Troy, on the radio today. I hope that will be a key concern. Some of them have been talking to colleagues and they have concerns. We are also looking for a helpline to be established for the women and surviving children who were in these institutions. That would be useful. We will give our full co-operation in that regard, both in the Dáil and here in the Seanad.

Another issue has arisen in the past couple of days in relation to the industrial wind turbines that are planned across the country by a number of companies. A few weeks before the election, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, announced that the project to export wind energy was cancelled and would not go ahead. In fact, he expressed his disappointment in that regard. In the past week, one of the companies involved in County Meath lodged a preplanning consultation document with An Bord Pleanála outlining that it proposes to apply for planning permission for 50 wind turbines in County Meath. I suspect that this will happen elsewhere. Given the political ramifications of this, including the international ramifications between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the secrecy of the negotiations that have been going on at all levels, whether commercial or international, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, come to the Seanad to explain what is going on in relation to industrial wind turbines in this country.

What is happening is a complete contradiction of what the Minister stated three or four weeks ago. It is causing considerable concern in County Meath and I am sure it will cause concern all around the country as these applications are made. The aspect that annoys citizens around the country is the secrecy of these deals. Secret deals are being done on the ground. There are secret arrangements between multinational companies and there seem to be secret arrangements between Governments. The An Bord Pleanála process is completely secret as well because all that has happened is that Element Power has written to An Bord Pleanála notifying it that the preplanning consultation under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 has commenced. I propose that the Order of Business be amended so that the Minister come in today to explain the position.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Like Senator Byrne, I welcome the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Government decision on the need for an investigation into the mother and baby homes, the incidence of abuses within them of the women and children, and the manner of death and the high mortality rates in those homes. Given that many of those children who ended up in industrial schools had been born in mother and baby homes, there is a good deal of information already before different commissions. Having in the past represented survivors of abuse in the industrial schools, I am aware of how often these institutions of confinement were interlinked and how, to the shame of all of us, for many decades of the 20th century there was a network of institutions in which women and children were confined.

While the church and the church organisations certainly bear a large responsibility, equally so do the State and society more generally. Increasingly, one sees an acknowledgement that many women ended up in mother and baby homes because their families no longer would accommodate them. This is a sad truth on which we also should reflect as we embark on a further investigation, which I very much welcome.

I also congratulate SAFE Ireland on the event it organised today on another issue that again should bring shame on Irish society, namely, the incidence of domestic violence and domestic abuse in Ireland. SAFE Ireland organised an event today in Temple Bar which I was glad to attend in the company of a number of other female colleagues from both Houses. This was the event, entitled "On Just One Day", in which SAFE Ireland wished to highlight the incidence of domestic violence in Ireland through providing a window, that is, a visual representation of an ordinary day in Ireland, 5 November 2013, on which 467 women and 229 children were accommodated or received support from a SAFE Ireland domestic violence service. Being the national organisation representing front-line domestic violence services, SAFE Ireland is well placed to illustrate to Members the extent of the incidence of domestic violence and how much they must ensure stronger legislative and legal responses to it. While Members have had a number of debates on domestic violence, I ask the Leader for a debate in early course on the report by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which is in the process of producing a report on domestic violence resulting from a series of hearings the joint committee has held. Its members have heard strong testimony about the need for various legal changes and it would be good to have this debate in the Seanad. While the Minister intends to bring forward legislation on this issue, hopefully later this year, and I hope there will be a move towards ratification of the Istanbul Convention, I note there are a number of specific legal issues regarding the ratification of the convention, notably pertaining to the property rights of perpetrators or alleged perpetrators. Consequently, Members could have a good debate on this issue in this House.

3:45 pm

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I also welcome the announcement of the commission of inquiry into the story of the mother and baby homes across the country. I have been greatly impressed by the commentary of some figures in this debate and in particular, I single out the local historian, Ms Catherine Corless, both for her great work and for the reasonableness with which she has addressed the issues that have been under debate. Unfortunately, I do not believe we have been so well served by the media, whose coverage on this issue has been mixed and the quality of their coverage has been patchy to say the least. We are not well served by international media, perhaps assisted by ideological elements in the media in Ireland, who wish to promote and perpetuate a particular narrative of Ireland.

The truth is what should matter and the truth will be very painful for our society to consider. In all that we do, we must not lose sight of the lack of respect for children and the lives of children in our country and abroad as it goes on at present. Let not the truth-telling that is so important in respect of these homes distract us or allow us to be hypocritical in respect of our failure to care for people properly in our society today. I wish to make one particular point in this regard, which is we have not been well served by politicians who have engaged in a degree of profile building on the back of this issue. It was too early to be using words like "manslaughter" or "genocide", whether in this House or the next. All Members must be extremely careful not to instrumentalise the very tragic stories involved simply to get short-term coverage. While it is a legitimate aim for politicians to try to get attention in the media, please not on the back of these unfortunate people.

I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government come into the House to discuss the issue of the operation of the building control regulations. I have heard from a friend in east Galway who finds himself facing several thousand euro, up to €10,000, in additional costs because of the operation of these building regulations. He told me the money he had put aside to put the windows and doors into the new home he plans to build on his own land will be swallowed up by these costs and he does not know whether he can proceed with the project.

It seems that these regulations make a lot of sense in the context of Priory Hall-type developments, in which large contractors engaged in shoddy practices and used shoddy materials. I also am very much in favour of ensuring high standards.

I note there is an online petition by people - small people one might say - who want to build and are concerned about the operation of these regulations and the costs they will impose, particularly where money has already been spent on the planning process. I would like the Minister, who is a countryman himself, to debate this issue further with us.

I welcome the proposed publication of legislation on lobbying. This is long awaited legislation but what it contains is important. It is, for example, important that a required cooling-off period be introduced between the time a Government employee ceases work and subsequently begins employment as a lobbyist. We will also have to give careful consideration to the definition of "lobbying intent" and to distinctions between official and private contacts among lobbyists and public officials. It seems to be that would not be appropriate and I look forward to seeing the legislation.

3:55 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs that a statutory commission of investigation will be established to investigate the matters arising in the mother and baby home in Tuam and in other institutions. It has been less than two weeks since I raised this matter in the House. There was no delay by the Government because it is taking the matter extremely seriously. Given the ongoing public interest and the wider issue of apparently significantly higher rates of infant mortality in such homes as compared with the wider population at the time, I am asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter in the House this week and to invite the Minister to attend. In the absence of concrete facts on Tuam, and although there is ample material to warrant an inquiry, I suggest that the debate should concentrate on the wide-ranging and comprehensive research on such institutions in general, including allegations of medical trials and forced adoption. I am sure such a debate will assist the Minister when the terms of reference of the inquiry are being drawn up. It frustrates me greatly that we as a society only get to grips with our terrible social history when something comes to light that galvanises the international media. It is time we discussed these matters in a calm manner and, in doing so, leave our prejudices, political and otherwise, outside the door.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Byrne. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on job creation and sustainable jobs in rural Ireland with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I would like the Minister to outline to the House his plans for places like the Leader's county of Waterford, west and north County Cork, County Kerry and County Donegal. These regions have been more intensely affected by emigration than anywhere else in Ireland. We often hear job announcements for Dublin, Galway and Cork city but there are huge areas of rural Ireland which need a similar focus. I ask that the Minister come to the House for a full debate on his plans for creating sustainable jobs in these parts of rural Ireland rather than the community employment schemes, a category into which most people fall. It is critical that we have such a debate and I hope it can be arranged within the next four or five weeks, if at all possible.

I will conclude by referring to a hobby horse of mine. Perhaps before the summer recess we will persuade the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come into the House for a debate on the fishing industry. This has been long promised. He was here several weeks ago to deal with Common Agricultural Policy reform but I have been calling for a debate on the fishing industry in terms of where it is going and the impact of the appalling weather last winter, which forced a considerable number of fishermen to remain idle and caused some of them to lose their gear. As self-employed people, fishermen who are off work for as long as 12 weeks are unable to sign on to get a few bob for their trouble. That debate is long overdue and I hope the Leader will respond favourably to my request.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I congratulate my colleague, Senator Zappone, on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014, which we will be debating on Second Stage this afternoon.

I was struck by the document that Senator Zappone produced to accompany the Bill, which summarised in everyday language what the legislation contained. I was quite shocked because this has only recently come to my attention.

4:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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These are issues that can be raised during the debate on this matter.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I was about to make the point that it was interesting to see how law that will come before this House can so easily be translated into everyday language. It is striking to see that somebody with an intellectual disability in this country does not have the same right to a relationship as somebody without an intellectual disability. It is wonderful to see this legislation before the House, but we must also realise that fundamental issues of equality in our society still have to be dealt with.

Senator Bacik referred to the report by SAFE Ireland which indicated that almost 700 people, including women and children, were homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness on one day, 5 November 2013. It was more shocking to realise that 70% of cases of physical and verbal violence against women and children are not reported. It has been my experience that one of the main reasons women remain in unsafe situations and are sometimes virtual prisoners in their homes is because they find it difficult to access suitable housing supports. That is because they may happen to be joint owners of a home and, in many cases, those homes are in mortgage arrears and subject to repossession hearings. Although I know we have had a debate on domestic violence in the past, I support the call for a further debate because there is more to be said on the subject. In addition, more can certainly be done about the matter, so I ask the Leader to arrange for such a debate.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I wish to raise concerns about the recommendation by the Commission for Energy Regulation, published last Friday, that in the next accounting period the public service obligation charge on electricity should be increased by 55% from €210 million to €328 million. This would result in a 47% increase in the levy on domestic consumers, a 66% increase for small commercial consumers and an 81% increase for medium and large commercial consumers. At a time when we are trying to increase the productivity of the economy, I find the rationale for these horrendous increases bizarre, to say the least. To quote from the report, one reason is to compensate for lower wholesale prices, so when the price of electricity goes down, the subsidy goes up. It is meant to be good for a country if electricity prices fall.

A second reason is the lower running of a gas station in Tynagh, County Galway. Because its costs are fixed when it is used less, the subsidy has to go up.

The third reason is something that interests our colleagues on the Government benches, namely, a large subsidy for wind generation, which is to increase to €84 million. Government party Senators, particularly those in the Labour Party, have raised the issue of wind power and Senator Byrne has also raised it. Can we please have transparency? Trying to have an argument with a man who has €84 million of public subsidies in his back pocket promoting wind energy as a cheap form of electricity does not really add up.

I hope we can have a discussion on this report. What are these PSO costs for? They seem to be subsidising the high-cost production of electricity and they are levied on consumers. What is the rationale for the payments? The 4 July deadline is one to which Senators may wish to respond. Given the way they have set the price of electricity, I am concerned that the same energy regulator is now in charge of regulating water. Goodness knows what they will do to the price of water if we allow them to get away with what they proposed last Friday.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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The Health Information and Quality Authority report into the accident and emergency unit at University Hospital Limerick was shocking, to say the least. It stated that the unit was not fit for purpose. The report was so bad that the chief executive of the hospital group was on local radio yesterday and felt it necessary to apologise to the people of Clare and Limerick for the extraordinarily long delays and the serious distress, discomfort and hardship caused to them as a result. While I am pleased a new state-of-the-art facility is being built, it will not be completed until the end of 2016 or possibly 2017.

This is a serious matter, which requires immediate action by the Minister for Health and Health Service Executive. A smaller type of accident and emergency unit operates in Ennis and Nenagh hospitals from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. It has been suggested, in response to the current appalling crisis, that these units open for 24 hours per day until such time as the new unit opens in Limerick.

While the principle behind reconfiguration is fine, it is unworkable and should not proceed unless the necessary facilities are in place. I ask the Leader to communicate to the Minister for Health my request that he consider the option of opening the accident and emergency units in Ennis and Nenagh hospitals in response to the crisis. Clare county councillors have unanimously called for this measure to be taken. While it may not be practical or possible, the option must be examined to provide an urgent response to the crisis.

4:05 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an bhfógra atá déanta inniu maidir leis na huafáis atá tagtha chun cinn i dtaobh na tithe i dTuaim agus in áiteanna eile ina raibh máithreacha agus leanaí ina gcónaí.

I welcome the announcement by the Government that a full inquiry will be held into cases that have come to light in Tuam and elsewhere. I support the proposal made by Senator Hildegarde Naughten that the House debate this issue this week. I will explain the reason such a debate would be pertinent. My party colleagues in the Dáil have tabled a Private Members' Bill and while it is important that the other House debate this legislation, the Seanad should also be given an opportunity to debate the issue. Our discussion should cover all issues arising out of the recent discovery, including the reason this case is only now coming to light and why action is only now being taken. Senators should also discuss issues such as infant mortality , stories of forced adoption, governance issues, who knew what and when and the conditions in which people were kept. We should also explore what should be the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry as these should be agreed by both Houses. I support Senator Naughten's call to have a debate in the Seanad as Senators have a positive input to make in this regard.

Last week, I pointed out that the Ombudsman had noted that he had received a large number of complaints about the issue of discretionary medical cards. Will the Leader seek clarification from the Minister for Health as to the reason the Ombudsman has been unable to obtain records related to discretionary medical cards? It appears from the Ombudsman's comments that the files associated with cases referred to his office were not centralised when the medical card application process was centralised. Clearly, something went awry in the centralisation process. The Ombudsman stated he cannot adjudicate on cases if he does not have the original case files which formed the basis of decisions to grant discretionary medical cards.

This is an important issue. While the Government trumpeted the decision to centralise the processing of medical cards, the process has turned into a fiasco in many cases. It is not acceptable that the Ombudsman has not been able to locate or secure files when he has sought them. Perhaps the Leader will ascertain from the Minister the reason files have gone missing or are not available.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join colleagues in welcoming the prompt decision to establish a full statutory inquiry into mother and baby homes. I concur with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that this is a time for showing great sensitivity, rather than sensationalism. The behaviour of some elements of the media in their reporting of the appalling tragedies that occurred was despicable. I hope the inquiry will present the full picture of how women and children were treated not many years ago. The inquiry will be painful for many individuals and organisations, agencies of the State, the church and, in particular, the families involved. Thankfully, we live in a more enlightened time and I hope what happened in the early days of the State will never happen again.

There are many people still suffering today as a result of what happened in the past. In order to give these people closure, the inquiry must be established promptly. It might allow people to achieve some peace and get on with the rest of their lives.

I very much welcome the announcement by the Minister for Education and Skills of 6,100 new places on Springboard courses for this year and next. Jobseekers have access to 171 different courses in 38 colleges, free of charge, in areas of study in which there is significant job growth. This is the fourth year of the Springboard scheme. Will the Leader invite the Minister or Minister of State to the House in the coming weeks to review what was achieved in the first three years and how many people have found gainful employment after participating in these courses?

4:10 pm

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister of Health come to the House today to provide a briefing on the medical card fiasco. We have heard a great deal of positive commentary on this issue in recent weeks. The Taoiseach has assured us it will be dealt with, and there have been indications of a postponing or ending of the reviews of discretionary cards. We have had news reports featuring various Ministers giving off-the-cuff indications that some, most or all discretionary cards will be returned to recipients. In the meantime, however, we have, in effect, a zombie Minister who seems in line for the chop in the coming Cabinet reshuffle. Further procrastination has arisen as a consequence of the posturing within the Labour Party in advance of its leadership battle, with one-upmanship and attempts to win party members' votes the priority for the competing Minister and Minister of State rather than looking after citizens.
While all of the positive rhetoric has been welcomed - I welcome it myself - it must be followed up with tangible action, which has not happened to date. I have seen a newspaper advertisement seeking people's views on whether discretionary cards should be returned to recipients, but that is all I have seen. On the other hand, we heard this morning that a discretionary card has been taken from a lung transplant patient. A person whose discretionary medical card is currently under review came to my clinic yesterday and outlined how, having queried whether this review was now halted, the response was that it was not. When this individual pointed to reports in the media that such reviews were, in fact, halted, the response was that this was the case for some people. In other words, the situation remains as it was before all the positive rhetoric from the Taoiseach and others and the preoccupation of the prospective leaders of the Labour Party with the battle hustings. A type of Animal Farmequality continues; all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. If there is a discretionary system of medical card provision in place, surely a lung transplant patient must be high on the list of likely candidates?
The people, frankly, do not care whether the Government continues with a zombie Minister for Health or who wins the forthcoming Labour Party leadership battle. They are concerned with the tangible facts surrounding discretionary medical cards. Are the reviews ongoing, as seems to be the case for the person who came to my clinic? Will transplants patients continue to lose their cards? What are the Government's plans on this issue?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I support Senator Naughton's call for a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on the Tuam issue. It is important to acknowledge where we have come from and how attitudes have changed in more recent times in terms of what is and is not acceptable. Of course, the practices we are discussing were happening not so long ago. It is less than 30 years, for example, since the status of illegitimacy was abolished in Irish law, a campaign in which I was involved. We expected it to take up to ten years to achieve our objective. In fact, from the date we launched our campaign, it took seven years to achieve the change in law. There was a different type of thinking on the issue at the time.

I well remember the opposition to having the law changed in regard to children who were born outside marriage. They did not have the same rights as children born within marriage. Let us not forget where we have come from and the attitudes that existed at the time. I would welcome a debate in this House on an issue which has now come into the public domain.

I want to raise the important issue - it is not the first time I have raised it - of the lack of progress that has been made on the recruitment of junior doctors in the past three years. We are facing a changeover again within the next month. Many junior doctors will go abroad because we have not put in place a comprehensive structure to retain them in this country. There is the major question of why taxpayers are paying out €90 million per annum for medical education and a huge portion of that is disappearing within 12 months of people graduating from college. We need to have a debate in this House with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education and Skills on how we deal with this issue. More than 60% of junior doctors are gone within 12 months of that €90 million being spent. It is time we had a serious debate on restructuring how we employ junior doctors, the training that we are offering them and their prospects of remaining in this country. It is sad that, in an area where there are jobs, Irish graduates are not finding them sufficiently attractive to encourage them to stay in this country.

4:15 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I support the call by Senator Mullins for a debate on Springboard. I attended the launch of Springboard yesterday. It is something in which I have been involved for a while. It is a great success and a wonderful story. It is aimed at people who have degrees but who are not able to use them. It may be somebody connected with the construction industry, for example, an architect, an engineer or a quantity surveyor. Springboard arranges for them a dual course of one or two years to give them a higher degree in an area where a job is going. It has been a huge success, and some of the stories I heard yesterday are well worth hearing.
In the North of Ireland, there have been vaccination programmes against shingles for the past year. We can do that now, but we are not doing it. I gather that an information campaign is being started. The condition generally applies to older people and a huge effort is needed in this area. A number of places on the Continent have developed the vaccination. They have been able to do it in the North for more than a year. I understand it is only for people who are over 60 or 70, and I gather that half the population over 80 will get it. We now have a vaccination that will enable us to overcome shingles. It is worth drawing to the Minister's attention that if this can be done in the North, we should do it as well.
There is a lovely little shop on Lincoln Place called Sweny's. It is mentioned in James Joyce'sUlysses. Leopold Bloom visited it at 11 a.m. on Bloomsday 110 years ago next Tuesday. It was a pharmacy, but it closed in 2009 and has since been taken over by a group of volunteers who meet there to study Joyce and to talk and read. It is a glorious story. They pay for the rent, the heat and everything else but, even though they are a charity, they now have to pay rates. I do not know whether an exception can be made for them but, if nothing else, we should all at least drop in and support them.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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I, too, welcome the decision of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Flanagan, to hold a public inquiry into the mother and baby homes. That was a dark period. Everyone talks about the good old Ireland of the past but that was not always the case, as the recent controversy shows.

We have to learn from that and be a better country today. We can judge the past, but we can bring a real benefit to those mothers and children by giving them closure and by making our country a better place.

Like my colleague, Senator Mullins, I welcome the launch by the Minister, Deputy Quinn, of the fourth year of Springboard, which will offer 6,100 new places and include 25 ICT courses. One of my friends who was at a low ebb benefited personally from one of those courses and is now set up again and ready to roll. In that regard, we must acknowledge bad news. Newspapers love bad news, and why not? Some 1,000 jobs are being created in this country every week. When I was talking to a builder in Dundalk yesterday, I was told there is a three-week waiting list for an electrician and one cannot get a plumber for love nor money. I accept that this is anecdotal, but it is certainly very good news. I would like to say that there is a pick-up. I went into Sexton's for my lunch yesterday with my colleague, Jim Lennon, who is a former councillor. He got the last roast beef dinner on the menu. I had to make do with a hamburger, which was very lovely.

4:20 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We are not discussing menus on the Order of Business.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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There is a big pick-up now. There are green shoots.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I have. I agree with what has been said about Springboard. I would like the Minister to come to the House to outline all the good initiatives that are happening on the jobs front so we can get a bit of good news into the newspapers.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I would like to welcome Councillor Ian McGarvey to the Visitors Gallery. He is very welcome.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the announcement that a commission of investigation is to be established to report on the mother and baby homes. I note the assurance that the commission will have full statutory powers. I understand that a cross-departmental group will report to the Government by 30 June to advise on the terms of reference. I join other Senators in calling for an early debate this week ahead of that work so that Members of this House, as Members of the Oireachtas, can feed into that process and make suggestions regarding the terms of reference of the investigation. It is essential for the commission to have a broad remit and to consider all the issues involved, including the conditions in the homes, the mortality rates, the issues of forced and illegal adoptions, the vaccine trials and the medical research. It should have powers of compellability.
It is essential for the Government to act now to seize and centralise all records in relation to adoption, including illegal adoption, and make them available to families. Many people who have sought to find out about their birth parents and many mothers who have tried to find their children who were lost through illegal adoption have found themselves completely abandoned by the State, which has shirked all responsibility for this issue. The State has said it is a private matter that has nothing to do with it. All over this country, there are records in State offices of passports that were issued to facilitate adoptions to other countries. There are records in GP offices. A nurses' file with the original birth names of 1,000 babies, as well as the names of their birth mothers and their adoptive families, was found ten years ago. If the Government is serious about this issue, it is incumbent on it to act to centralise all of those files. It should seize all of the adoption files that are held on the records of agencies around this country, particularly the illegal adoption files.
The experience depicted in the movie Philomenais not uncommon. Many agencies have gone out of their way to be deliberately evasive when people have looked for information. They have not provided those records. I do not think they can be trusted to do so. The State should seize all of that information. The HSE has some information in respect of agencies that have closed but not in respect of the other agencies. It should seize all of it. It is long past time for us to act to give proper rights to adopted people in this country. I was fortunate to find my mother after 28 years. I am one of the small minority of people who were matched through the adoption preference register. In almost every other country in Europe, people like me have an automatic entitlement to their birth certificate at the age of 18. Irish people should have that right too.

If we are serious about this issue and providing justice for people, it is not just about the past but also about the daily experience of thousands of mothers and babies in this country who are separated and who want to find each other and deserve support from the State.

I second the motion proposed by Senator MacSharry that the Minister for Health would come to the House for a debate on medical cards. I too have been contacted by dozens of people who are confused about where they stand in the midst of all the various announcements. It is important we would get clarity in this House.

4:30 pm

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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I support Senator Power's view that birth certificates would be made available. That would be very helpful for many children throughout the country. I also support the call for a debate on employment. We need to do a full analysis of where people are employed. There is a massive drive to promote employment through foreign direct investment jobs in particular in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dublin. We must put a spotlight on those foreign direct investment jobs. While much has been said about the south east being left out, there are areas within regions that are left out. I wish to provide statistics about my county of Wexford. The county has in the region of 26% unemployment, which is equivalent to Donegal and the north midlands. In terms of foreign direct investment jobs - the last year for which full data are available is 2011 - there are only 12 IDA companies in County Wexford who employ 2,060 people out of 146,000 people. That means 1.4% of those employed in County Wexford, which is one of the largest counties in the country, are directly involved in IDA companies.

In 2011 a total of 51 jobs were created by IDA companies and in 2012 a total of 111 jobs were created. That is less than 3.4% of the workforce in County Wexford. I do not want something belonging to somebody else but there are counties that are being hard done by in terms of their fair share of the cake. Those are minor statistics in the scheme of things nationally and I feel hard done by that it is the case. Not enough is being done and there is insufficient analysis on a county basis, a regional basis and even on the basis of commuters. Some areas are being neglected by the IDA in terms of foreign direct investment and to a lesser extent by Enterprise Ireland. It is something we in this Chamber could do well, namely, to provide the analysis and make the information available in order that people can see exactly where the jobs are going. I feel hard done by given that people in Wexford are on the dole who could fill the positions if they were given the opportunity were the jobs to be made available in the county.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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It is my pleasure to support my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, on his introduction of the subject of shingles in the Seanad today. Having suffered, and still suffering, the remains of it over the past year and a half, I concur with him on the severity of the illness which has been under the radar for so long. In the United States every person over 50 is recommended to get the vaccine against shingles and for the past two years a free vaccine has been introduced in the UK for everybody between the ages of 70 and 79. We owe a responsibility to older people in society to have a discussion on the matter. I can confirm that the vaccine is now available in this country but, as with most things, we are behind the times. I thank Senator Quinn for raising the matter.

I introduced a Bill that was supported in principle by the Government on the abolition of mandatory retirement. I take the opportunity to reaffirm what you, a Chathaoirligh, said about Councillor Ian McGarvey, who is in the Gallery, who at the age of 84 has successfully completed a term as chairman of Donegal County Council. I also welcome his wife of 82 years, Marjorie.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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It is not in order to put such personal details on the record.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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It is my pleasure to welcome them. It is a very serious issue in society that people must compulsorily retire at 65 and it is my duty to draw attention to the matter.

When there is someone in this Chamber who has been allowed to continue in his work, then it is only my responsibility to draw our attention to it.

4:35 pm

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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I support Senator Denis O’Donovan's call for a debate on the fishing industry. I hope such a debate will include the inshore fisheries sector, such as the oyster, mussel and lobster fishing industries, and that we would discuss first-time licences and the time it takes to have one renewed. Many families throughout this island are involved in inshore fisheries. Will the Minister indicate his future plans for both European and Far Eastern export opportunities for these industries?

I hope the appalling scenes witnessed on our national television broadcaster in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, prior to the commencement of a national football game, will never be replicated-----

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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The Armagh crowd was responsible for it.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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-----and that the perpetrators will get their just-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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This is not relevant to the Order of Business. I call Senator Paul Coghlan.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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It is to me.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming the active county councillor in the Visitors Gallery, Ian McGarvey, and warmly congratulate him on his recent re-election. He puts many others to shame.

Speaking of green shoots which my colleague Senator Michael D’Arcy mentioned, it is almost 50 years to the day since the late Dr. James Ryan, as Minister for Finance, re-opened the magnificent Muckross House which had been closed since 1932. I also want to remember the late Deputy Honor Mary Crowley who was very influential with a local group in assisting-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator can submit this by way of an Adjournment matter.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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No, this is a wonderful story and is very relevant. Several years ago, there was a Cabinet meeting in Muckross House. I happened to be present there at the time to facilitate other matters. It might be appropriate on the 50th anniversary of its re-opening that we have a meeting of the Seanad there. This is a matter the Cathaoirleach might consider. It is a wonderful story of co-operation between the State and a local group of trustees. The development there of the traditional farms, the garden restaurant-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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-----the story of the House itself, the late Billy Vincent and his people, the Bourn Vincents, after whom 11,000 acres of the 27,000 acre national park was called. We should not forget that nor the people who were associated with that on behalf of the State, such as Dan Kelleher, the manager in 1964, and all those since such as Paddy O’Sullivan and Pat Dawson.

Considering Muckross House has been used in the past for auspicious State occasions, will the Cathaoirleach seriously consider, on the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the house,-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator can take this to the CPP.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I will do so as I always take the Cathaoirleach’s advice. Will the Leader also consider it and use his good will in this respect?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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There was much discussion about plain tobacco packaging again in the media over the past two days. I understand legislation in this regard was brought to the Cabinet earlier today and will be initiated in the Seanad. The tobacco lobby,as all Members know, is a strong one. When this matter was discussed at EU level, it practically had one lobbyist per two Members of the European Parliament, such is the money expended and the amount at stake for the tobacco industry with this new legislation. Up to 78% of current smokers started before the age of 18. The marketing and packaging of cigarettes is particularly targeted at those under the age of 18 to initiate the habit at a young age. Plain packaging will limit the tobacco industry’s ability to reach young people by using marketing techniques that are intentionally misleading.

All citizens, especially children, should have a right to be protected from the marketing of a highly addictive and seriously harmful product. The tobacco industry has promoted the argument that this will impact on counterfeiting and increase illegal activities. I hope we, as legislators, will have the courage to stand up to the lobby. It is at a stage where legislation should go through. Some ten years ago we became the first country in Europe to introduce a smoking ban and it would be very fitting, a decade later, if we became the first county in the EU to compel tobacco companies to use plain packaging.

4:40 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Byrne raised the question of the Companies Bill 2012. Committee Stage of the Bill is due to commence next Tuesday, 17 June and will run for a number of hours. Two further Committee Stage sittings have been scheduled, making a total of 13 hours of debate over the various sessions. There will be no guillotine. If the 13 hours allocated are insufficient to complete the Bill, I will arrange for further time.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Leader will not delay it unnecessarily.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that and would welcome the co-operation of all sides of the House in moving this very progressive Bill forward.

A number of Senators raised the question of mother and baby homes and welcomed the establishment of the inquiry. I have asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House tomorrow or Thursday for statements on this very important issue. He has acceded to the request and it is more than likely that we will have statements on the matter on Thursday. I will give the House notice of the exact time for this debate and I hope all Members who made contributions on the issue on the Order of Business will be there to take part.

Senator Byrne also raised the matter of wind turbines. Although I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business, I will invite the Minister here in early course to address the issue. I will do my best to have the Minister come here.

Senator Bacik raised the matter of domestic violence and abuse and the shocking figures from SAFE Ireland which she mentioned. She also said the justice committee is about to report on the issue and we can arrange a debate on that report as soon as it is published.

Senator Mullen raised the question of building control regulations, which were formulated to ensure we have proper standards for building. I think the Minister came in for a debate on the issue. The Senator can correct me if I am wrong. If the Senator has specific issues, I suggest he tabled an Adjournment debate matter.

Senator Naughton raised the issue of mother and baby homes more than two weeks ago and welcomed the inquiry, and I am sure she will participate in the debate.

Senators O'Donovan, Jim D'Arcy and others raised the matter of job creation in the regions and called for a debate on it.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, came to the House to discuss another matter on the Adjournment last week, but I agree he should come to the House to discuss this matter and I will tender the request.

Senator O'Donovan also called for a debate on the fishing industry. He mentioned that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, came to the House to discuss the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations a number of weeks ago. I will renew my representations to him on a debate on the fishing industry. On this matter Senator Terry Brennan also called for a debate on inshore fishing, and this debate would be taken in conjunction with the overall debate on the fishing industry.

Senator Hayden complimented Senator Zappone on her Bill, which we will discuss today and which addresses fundamental issues of human rights. I am sure it will be a very good debate.

Senator Barrett raised points on the public service obligation levy and the report of the Commission for Energy Regulation. This is another matter which we can ask the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to the House to discuss.

Senator Conway spoke about the Health Information and Quality Authority report on the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick. The Limerick group is the first hospital group to be assessed against HIQA's national standards for safer and better health care. This reform will improve the quality and safety of services for patients who use them. The HSE has identified actions which have been and will be taken to address the concerns raised and provide an improved and safer service for patients. As the Senator mentioned, an extensive capital project is under way to build a new emergency department which will open in 2016. In the interim, the HSE has advised the Department of Health that a number of initiatives have been put in place to address the current limitations for patients and staff in the emergency department. In particular, since the review visit, a separate paediatric emergency area has fully opened which provides a separate area for children who require an emergency response. A new €35 million critical care unit opened recently at University Hospital Limerick, which is a major step forward in the development of acute hospital services in the region. I will certainly bring attention to the matter raised by Senator Conway on the accident and emergency departments in the hospitals in Ennis and Nenagh.

Senators Ó Clochartaigh and MacSharry spoke about the issue of discretionary medical cards and the location of the original files. This matter will have to be addressed as well. I will certainly ask the Minister to come to the House to clarify the situation. The Minister has assured everyone the matter will be dealt with in early course, and perhaps we can have an update on it to clarify the situation.

Senator Burke raised the recruitment of non-consultant hospital doctors, a matter which the Senator has raised on a number of occasions in the House. I am sure the Minister is well aware of the matter. It is another issue we will try to get the Minister to come to the House to discuss.

Senators Quinn and White raised the issue of the vaccination against shingles which is available in Northern Ireland. We will try to get an update to see whether this matter can be progressed here as soon as possible. Senators Quinn, Mullins and Jim D'Arcy welcomed the 6,000 additional Springboard places and the array of courses available to people participating in the scheme. They also called for a debate to review the scheme after its three years in operation.

I am sure the Minister, Deputy Quinn, would be willing to come to this House and discuss that matter.

Senator Jim D'Arcy referred to the creation of 1,000 jobs per week and the improvement in the economy.

Senator Power spoke on mother and baby homes and there will be a debate on that matter in this House this week. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Flanagan, has indicated that he will attend.

Senator Michael D'Arcy raised the issue of job creation in the south east, particularly his own county of Wexford. I will ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to come before the House on that matter.

Senator Paul Coghlan spoke of the 50th anniversary of the reopening of Muckross House and I am sure that will be raised at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Senator Noone spoke of legislation on the packaging of tobacco. The Minister for Health intends to introduce such legislation and I understand it will be published this week. I have given my full support to the Minister on progressing this matter through the House in an orderly fashion and I am sure all Members of the House would support such legislation. We are taking the lead on this issue and the Minister should be complimented on his efforts.

4:50 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Thomas Byrne has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to explain the process in relation to the construction of industrial wind turbines in this country be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 27.

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

Amendment declared lost.

4:55 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Byrne inadvertently voted in Senator Darragh O'Brien's place but it does not alter the result of the vote.

Senator MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the allocation of medical cards, including discretionary cards, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 26.

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

Amendment declared lost.

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 16.

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

Question declared carried.