Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m and adjourn not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, statements on fisheries, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 3.50 p.m.; No. 3, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Seanad Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, come before the House to explain the reports today on the intention to abolish Sligo County Council. It seems that a new Labour Party driven policy within the Government is dictating that provisions required for the assistance of communities throughout the country be ignored.
One would have assumed the Cabinet meeting yesterday dealt with the crisis in Irish Water, but instead, what has emerged from the meeting is the frustration of the Minister. It seems that a local authority which has already cut its staff by one third, had its central funding cut by 50% and has had to cut its services substantially now has a gun to its head and has been told it will be abolished and will get no assistance from central government if it cannot overcome its debt situation over the next two weeks. This is totally unacceptable.
At a time when debate on Irish Water is taking place throughout the country but Labour Party Members of Government are not available to participate in that debate, one wonders why they should be so quick to take to the airwaves and put the gun to the heads of the people on smaller local authorities such as Sligo.
It is disgraceful. It seems that following the Cabinet meeting yesterday, at which it is alleged the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, had quite a rant in frustration about Irish Water, he has taken that frustration out - through his fellow party member, our colleague Senator Susan O'Keeffe - on the regional airwaves today, and following a meeting held in secret last night for Government Members of the Oireachtas, this gun has been placed at the head of a local authority.
We will vote today for the Minister to explain this, and again tomorrow if he is not available today. The local authorities of small counties of Ireland, unlike the larger local authorities with €100 million or more on deposit, as opposed to debt, following the centralising policies of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, will not stand by and let the Labour Party do to them what the Government has allowed Brussels do to the Irish people.
It is interesting that Senator MacSharry has a remarkable capacity to know what happened at meetings at which he was not present. I did not realise he had the capacity to be in places where we could not see him.
There is no denying that Sligo County Council is in crisis and has been for some time. The Minister did not have a secret meeting on this. If it had been a secret meeting, Senator MacSharry would not know about it.
The fact the Senator was not at it does not make it a secret meeting. We are in a serious position. The Minister has said he wants a solution to the finance issue in Sligo County Council. I have made clear that I believe we need a collaborative and coherent response to the debts of Sligo County Council. I do not believe we need a deadline, although I know why the deadline is in place. It is because that is when the council is due to meet to discuss the budgets. However, I do not believe that discussion will provide a coherent, collaborative and cogent response to the difficulties facing Sligo County Council. I made my position clear in public this morning and I do so again now.
It is a difficult position when a council faces the kind of debt faced by Sligo County Council. Nobody in this Chamber, not even Senator MacSharry, would approve of any council carrying that kind of debt. However, there should be no rushing into a quick fix for a council that has had such tough times, is central to the activity of the county and puts in time and effort to try to build the county for a sustainable future. If, as we now find, there is a more positive approach in Sligo and people are working as hard as possible to try to build a future for the county, pulling the house down, particularly in short order, is not the correct approach.
I know the Minister is not intent on abolishing Sligo County Council, and Senator MacSharry knows that well.
I call on the Leader to arrange for a debate on the serious findings of the Garda Inspectorate report. I thank the inspectorate for the work done and believe a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, on the findings of the report would be timely. It is timely because, as we look for a new Garda Commissioner and independent commission, if we are to make progress and build a good strong Garda force, this is the basis on which it should be done.
It pays to read the up-to-date version. This Bill refers to the Royal College of Surgeons and its being awarded university status outside of but not inside Ireland. However, the name of the Royal College of Surgeons is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill, and it was not mentioned in our previous debate. I realise that when we move to that business, those who are not particularly interested in it will move off to attend committees or be elsewhere. In this era of openness, transparency and accountability, not to refer in legislation to an organisation that is the beneficiary of that legislation strikes me as rather strange. We had hoped that by Report Stage the Minister would have listened to what was said on Committee Stage and dealt with the problem, but the only amendment put forward by her relates to the Freedom of Information Act.
According to today's papers, we have problems in regard to secret taxation arrangements for individuals and companies and with regard to base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS. Dealing with a Bill that does not inform us through its title of its intent, as well as the fact that it was not mentioned in the debate or in the Minister's speech-----
I was disappointed to hear the news this morning in regard to Sligo County Council. I received a number of phone calls earlier and I understand there was a meeting last night. I was not invited to that meeting, but I believe there was a legitimate reason for my not being invited. I understand there was a mistake.
It is important that the Minister act to help Sligo out in its difficulty and sort out the problem. This is not an issue we can walk away from. We must stand up to the mark and sort out the problem, just as Ireland has been helped sort out its problem through the bailout from Europe. Sligo needs a hand and we should all try to see it gets help.
I also wish to raise the issue of the beef forum that is taking place today. Hopefully, we will be able to solve this problem once and for all. I wish the forum every success.
I second the amendment put forward by Senator MacSharry. It might be Sligo this week, but it could be Leitrim next week. If this is the line the Minister is taking on smaller local authorities, we should all be concerned. I hope to be able to speak directly to the Minister today, if this amendment is agreed to, and I will tell him that if meetings are held here concerning local authorities, all Oireachtas Members from that region and other interested parties should be invited to attend.
Given the past performance of Labour Party parliamentarians, it would be better for them to seek advice from farther afield because they might then resolve the issue. I suggest that they be more collegiate and invite people in.
If the Labour Party Senators support the amendment, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government can easily come into the House to clear up the matter if it is the case that he does not want to abolish Sligo County Council. Either he wants to abolish it or he does not. It is as simple as that. I understand that the Minister is, ironically, in Swords, County Dublin, this morning. Some 30 gardaí have closed off North Street in Swords to allow him to speak at a conference on housing. This is an example of the waste of Garda resources that is occurring at present in areas like Swords, where Garda numbers have decreased by more than 25% in the last three years. I do not necessarily lay the blame for this at anybody's feet. The Taoiseach said yesterday that he does not need a corridor of gardaí to protect him. I wonder why the Minister, Deputy Kelly, needs such protection. Is this the correct use of Garda resources?
A debate is taking place in the Dáil over yesterday and today on the fair deal nursing home scheme and the pressure it is experiencing. I ask the Leader to arrange a specific debate in the Seanad on this issue. The numbers waiting in the Dublin region have increased by 300% in less than one year. This Government removed €23 million of funding from the scheme and waiting times have increased to an average of 15 weeks. These are senior citizens who are assessed as requiring nursing home care. The Government has taken €23 million out of the scheme and waiting lists have gone through the roof. As of yesterday, more than 2,541 people were waiting 15 weeks or more for funding under the fair deal scheme. This is something we could address in the Seanad. The debate in the Dáil is worthwhile but we should also address this issue. If we are concerned about our senior citizens, surely they should be a priority and the €23 million taken out of the scheme should be reinstated immediately.
This is an important day for justice in this country. I thank the Garda Síochána Inspectorate for its ground breaking and comprehensive report. Most rank and file gardaí will welcome the report because they are doing their best in systems that have let them down. There is now a realisation, based on the recommendations of the inspectorate's report, that the systems have to be fixed. Much that is positive in An Garda Síochána has happened in the last six months. The Acting Garda Commissioner is doing a very good job, and the new Minister for Justice and Equality is extremely committed to reforming the Garda. Her brief is specific, and the transfer of the defence portfolio to a different Minister has facilitated her in focusing on implementing the necessary reforms.
Now that we have the report, it is time we moved to put the new systems in place. I ask the Leader to recommend to the Minister that every single recommendation in the report be implemented. It is welcome that a Cabinet sub-committee and other structures have been put in place to start the process of implementing the recommendations. To that effect, it would be useful if the Leader could arrange a debate with the Minister on the Garda Síochána Inspectorate's report. That would give her an opportunity to update the House on the timeline for implementation of these recommendations. It would also give us an opportunity for a full debate on the issue of Garda reform.
The Garda is an important pillar of society. The rank and file do a phenomenal job and it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure reform of the systems is kept at the top of the political agenda. A number of Members of this House were nominated by the Garda Representative Association. I am sure they will be delighted to participate in such a debate and I ask the Leader to facilitate one at an early opportunity.
There is a crisis in the private pension sector. The leader of the industry stated recently that confidence has never been so low in the sector. Senator Darragh O'Brien recently raised the huge crisis for the pension schemes in Dublin Airport Authority and Aer Lingus but I do not think we have debated the wider issue of pensions recently. I suggest it is time to have a debate on what is clearly a crisis.
The industry feels threatened and believes it will need to start earning trust very quickly if it is to regain that trust. In the region of €2 billion has been taken out of pension schemes. People who saved all their lives for their pensions are suddenly finding they cannot retire on the expected basis. In regard to ensuring people have saved enough, usually self-employed people have to do this themselves. Concerns have been expressed that the Government is not valuing the self-employed, who are building industry and jobs in Ireland. The budget is almost telling people to stay in their safe and secure 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs rather than go out to start their own businesses. This Government does not appear to recognise the benefits brought by self-employed people. We have to do something about that.
Many people are looking for jobs in Ireland but many employers are looking for people with the skills they want. France recently introduced the teaching of computer coding at primary level. Students younger than ten years of age are being taught computer coding. A young man in Ireland, James Whelan, has set up an organisation to facilitate such activities worldwide and it has been very successful. It is a reminder that we have to do something about the stresses and strains on primary schools. I do not understand why teachers are so opposed to continuous assessment, even though the Minister for Education and Skills is proposing that only 40% of assessments will be based on continuous assessment. In other countries teachers are crying out to be allowed to assess their pupils.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government that an additional €4 million will be allocated to the Dublin regional homelessness executive to deal with homelessness in the Dublin region. This is a supplementary sum on top of the money that has already been allocated for homelessness in Dublin. Approximately 300 families are currently in emergency accommodation in Dublin, of whom 160 are living in hotels. The tenancies sustainment protocol, which was developed by the four Dublin local authorities and is operated by Threshold, has had 942 families at immediate risk of homelessness coming to its service. There is no doubt that homelessness in the Dublin region is at critical proportions.
It is rather sad that much of this difficulty has been brought about because the level of rent supplement paid in the Dublin region is inadequate to cover the cost of accommodation. It is ironic that we have saved €170 million on the rent supplement budget in the Department of Social Protection since 2010 but are now paying over and above the odds to accommodate families in hotels instead of proper housing. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection into the House at an early opportunity to allow her to outline to the House her plans for reviewing the rent supplement system. It is not acceptable that people are losing their homes because the level of rent supplement paid in this city is inadequate.
I agree that we should have a debate on the report by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate under Chief Inspector Robert Olson. It is a one-sided report. I note the comments by the Acting Garda Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan, that the men and women of An Garda Síochána are focused on providing a police service of which the people of Ireland can be proud. I am certainly proud of the Garda. It is an unarmed force and its members have laid down their lives to protect Irish citizens against subversive elements since the foundation of the State. We remember Jerry McCabe who in 1996 gave up his life in Adare for this country. We remember Garda Morley and Garda Byrne in County Roscommon, and Garda Dick Fallon.
I could go through a list of heroes whose contributions should be recognised. The Garda Inspectorate was not allowed to advise the Government on the optimum strength of the Garda force or study what would be the required numbers in a country with a population of 4.5 million. It was told not to make recommendations on this issue as to do so could embarrass the Government. Having reduced the size of the force from 14,500 to 12,000 and mothballed the Garda training college in Templemore for three years, the Government expects a force of 12,000 to carry out the same work as a force of 14,500. Could one expect the Garda Inspectorate to make findings other than those made in its report? The Garda traffic corps has been reduced in strength from 1,200 members to 800. Senior gardaí, the most experienced members of the force, have been given early retirement and bought out by a Government which expects gardaí to be experienced. The Government has closed down Garda stations all over the country and gardaí do not even have official e-mail addresses. The Garda fleet has deteriorated to such an extent that gardaí are forced to use what can only be described as bangers. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Garda Inspectorate has produced a report of this nature on a force that has been neglected and ignored by the Government. An Garda Síochána has performed excellent work on behalf of the State. The Government may gloat over this report, but I am very proud of gardaí and want to give their side of the story.
I acknowledge the extensive work done on the Ansbacher accounts by Mr. Gerry Ryan who has, I understand, met the Committee of Public Accounts. Mr. Ryan has done the State some service. It is wrong to assume, as may have been the case in the past week, that nothing much came of his reports or that they were downplayed. We know that everything he did was referred to the appropriate authorities at the relevant time. The Revenue Commissioners have admitted that Mr. Ryan's work and the reports and material he provided led them to several cases which they successfully pursued against former Ansbacher account holders. These investigations generated in excess of €112 million for the Exchequer and six cases remain outstanding. I assume this income is separate from moneys that flowed to Revenue from the amnesty of 1993 which some of the individuals in question appear to have legitimately pursued prior to the Ansbacher investigation. We should welcome the new whistleblower legislation and accord to Mr. Ryan the acknowledgement he is due for his work. I have no doubt that we will hear more about the matter.
The teaching unions and the Minister for Education and Skills appear to be at odds with each other. I hope this problem will be rectified in the near future. Both sides have moved a considerable distance and I hope they will move the rest of the way.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on a scandal in the banking system. It appears a small number of mortgage holders, primarily those aged in their 40s and over who bought houses 15 years ago or thereabouts, are carrying the burden of returning the banks to profitability by paying interest rates that are as much as 4.2% higher than the rates paid by those with tracker mortgages. The overall cost of this discrepancy to the mortgage holder can be as much as €650 per month in repayments, which is a scandal. We must remember that all those who are paying mortgages, irrespective of when they took them out, are subject to pay cuts, tax increases, property taxes and water charges. One section of society is, if one likes, carrying the banking system on its shoulders, while another pays tracker rates. I am not arguing that the latter group is doing anything wrong. Tracker mortgages were a marketing ploy that worked well. However, we must act now to correct this problem, given that, as I stated, the difference in the interest rate paid by the holder of a tracker mortgage and the holder of a variable rate mortgage can be as high as 4.2%. I would appreciate it if the Leader were to arrange an urgent debate on this matter to highlight it in the public domain and encourage further discussion.
I refer to the decision of the European Court of Justice yesterday in the case of Dano v.Job Centre Leipzig. The court ruled that a non-economically active European citizen had no right to any non-contributory benefit in whichever European state he or she decided to reside. To put the ruling in more understandable terms, the court decided that a citizen of another member state, for example, France, would not be entitled to claim family allowance in Ireland if he or she had not been economically active here for an appreciable period. It also decided that it was a matter for each member state to decide what non-contributory cash benefit it would grant to citizens of the European Union who were non-nationals. The decision will clearly have implications for Ireland. I ask the Leader to request that the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection come to the House to discuss what will be the consequences of the ruling for taxpayers.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Mr. Joe Walsh, a brilliant former Minister for Agriculture and Food who protected the country from foot and mouth disease. Mr. Walsh was a gentleman at all times under pressure and a personal friend. I look forward to the House being afforded an opportunity to pay proper tributes to him.
On my way to Clonakilty yesterday, I received an emergency call from a lady in Dundrum, where I live, informing me that a woman living in a rented property in the area had been ordered to leave her home because she could no longer afford to pay the rent. The lady in question has four small children, the eldest of whom, a young teenager, suffers from depression. She was distraught at the prospect of spending the night on the streets. Friends in the area telephoned Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to seek support for her. I compliment council staff on the empathy and sympathy they showed to the lady in question. They organised and secured a place for her and her family on Gardiner Street, which is not especially close to her former home. She had to leave her home because she could not afford to pay her rent which her landlord had increased by €300 per month. My duty is to help those in society who are less well off. That is the motivation that drives me and about which I am passionate. I support Senator Aideen Hayden in her mission to help people who are homeless. While everybody knows that the shortage of housing is a problem, we also have landlords increasing rents without compassion, which has had the effect of forcing a person with four small children onto the streets. I call for a debate on developments in the property market. While we all understand the law of supply and demand, justice must be done for the weaker in society.
I, too, welcome the report of the Garda Inspectorate. While I have not read the document, many of its conclusions will have been well known to many beforehand. I was a member of the policing board in County Roscommon. We were told repeatedly at monthly meetings that crime in the county had declined. It appeared to us that the Garda at senior levels was downplaying the incidence of crime because everyone, including people in my home town, knew it had increased. For this reason, I would welcome a debate on the report.
I hope the Garda Inspectorate's report also deals with the issue of Garda transfers and promotions because it appears to me and many others that unless one is a member of a particular party, one does not have a hope of being transferred or promoted.
On the beef crisis, it is vital that action be taken to alleviate the problems faced by small farmers.
The small farmers in Roscommon are on their knees and ministerial intervention will be required to solve the problem. I welcome what is due to happen over the next few days and I hope it yields results.
I call on the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to intervene in the current difficulties that have arisen with the teachers' unions. I am not asking her to cave in, and I welcome the fact that she has amended the proposals of the previous Minister, Deputy Quinn. However, I ask her to meet with the teachers' unions as a matter of urgency to avert the threat of a strike. I agree with Senator Craughwell in that regard.
I also join Senator Craughwell in seeking a debate on banking. I am aware the banking inquiry is currently under way, but it is important that this House has an urgent debate on banking. A number of areas must be discussed, including the rate of interest mortgage holders must pay. At a time when the European Central Bank, ECB, rate is at an all-time low of almost 0%, the banks in this country are charging mortgage holders well in excess of 4%. That must be addressed. We must also examine how the banks are dealing with mortgage arrears, receiverships and the sale of properties which they have put into receivership. There are serious questions in this regard and I ask the Leader to arrange that urgent debate.
Finally, it is very serious if the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has made a threat to abolish a democratically elected council without good reason.
It is also very serious if he chooses to hold a meeting with some Members of the Oireachtas, not all of them, to discuss this matter. I support the call this morning for the Minister to be invited to the House to clarify this situation before it gets out of control.
I wish to raise the report of the Garda Inspectorate. Before going further, all Members of the House should support An Garda Síochána. It is the thin blue line and its members have served the State well over the decades.
The specific area in the Garda Inspectorate report that concerns me relates to domestic violence. This Chamber could do the State some service if it held a specific debate on domestic violence.
It was clear from the Garda Inspectorate report that members of An Garda Síochána dealing with domestic violence did not really understand what they were dealing with, and the short, medium and long-term impacts on the victims were simply not considered. When one considers that 11,000 cases were reported last year and that there were 248 arrests, it means only approximately 2% of the cases led to an arrest. That is really shocking. I raise this issue as a male because it is almost always the male who is the perpetrator of the violence against the female.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue sooner rather than later. The 11,000 cases reported last year is a shocking figure, but even more shocking was the inaction of the Garda. I speak as somebody who strongly supports the Garda, but the inaction and the lack of understanding of the impact it has on the victim and the other members of the family should not go unchecked.
Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seandóir D'Arcy ar an rún. The Garda Inspectorate report is a major milestone in Irish policing. It calls on the Minister immediately to establish the criminal justice service group to implement the recommendations of the report. It is a comprehensive and devastating critique of the systems within An Garda Síochána. We all acknowledge that many men and women in An Garda Síochána do very good work in very difficult circumstances, but we can also see from the report that there has been a systemic failure.
It also points to issues of particular embarrassment for the Government due to the way the new Garda rosters were implemented, the lack of Garda vehicles and the loss of trained gardaí to administration duties. The spin that has been put forward by the Government over the last number of years does not have substance, so we must have a full debate on this report before the Christmas break. I hope it is not kicked to touch; it must take place sooner rather than later. We must also discuss the previous report on the fixed charge processing system, which is also important.
We have called for a debate on domestic violence on many occasions. I believe I have raised the matter at every joint policing committee, JPC, meeting I have attended in Galway. It appears to be the only figure that is increasing each time there is a meeting, but one can see from the report that the figures are probably underestimated, along with the capacity of the gardaí to deal with the situations they face. The Leader said previously that he would be open to arranging such a debate so I hope we can have it soon mar is cúis an-mhór imní é. It is a particular concern when one sees organisations such as Domestic Violence Response, DVR, in Connemara having their budgets cut again. That organisation's helpline will be curtailed as a result of the cutbacks to its funding, so it is an important issue.
I join Senators Craughwell and Wilson in calling on the Minister for Education and Skills and the teachers' unions to redouble their efforts to ensure there will not be a strike in the run up to Christmas. The last thing pupils, teachers and parents want is a strike. It is obvious that significant progress has been made by the Minister in recent weeks and I hope a satisfactory conclusion can be reached to resolve this unnecessary and unwanted dispute.
I join colleagues in calling for a debate on the Garda Inspectorate report. I strongly support and applaud the wonderful work done each day by the gardaí at the coal face. They are operating in difficult and dangerous times and they are doing an amazing job. However, the Garda is typical of an organisation that has not been modernised in recent decades, and successive Governments must take the blame for failing to invest in and modernise the Garda systems. This Government is committed to doing that and I have no doubt that it will. The report shows the need for a sea change in policing in Ireland. Very serious systemic weaknesses have shown up in the Garda structure. There is a need for huge investment in new technology, modernisation of crime investigation and operational and support infrastructure.
Senator Michael D'Arcy highlighted a major issue that is central to this report, the poor handling of domestic violence. However, I welcome the Government's commitment to putting a new victim liaison office in every Garda division. The victims of crime are very much forgotten in the general debate and I hope the Government's commitment is honoured and implemented quickly.
I support the well articulated call for a debate on domestic violence. Last Monday, I attended a COPE event in Galway. There are 800 reported cases of domestic violence in Galway this year in which the victims required shelter from their partners or spouses, the abusers. That is the situation at local level. The report from the Garda Inspectorate is excellent and necessary. It is clear the Garda has been working with Dark Ages technology. It is unbelievable that it has been able to do its job at all.
My main reason for contributing this morning is to comment on the dispute with teachers. It must be appreciated that the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has gone some distance in offering a very good deal to teachers.
She is now offering 60% external assessment, plus the State exam, with 40% internal assessment by teachers on the basis of continuous assessment. Much of this is going on already. At a committee meeting a number of months ago, I sought a deal of this nature from Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who was then Minister, and he was nowhere near there. The current Minister has been extremely positive in listening to teachers' needs when we consider what she is offering today. In light of this, I ask the teachers' unions to think again and re-ballot members, because the deal that was refused is very different from the deal that is now on the table. We must appreciate the importance of assessment for learning and, for that reason, teachers should do some assessment. This improves their professionalism. If the children were just a few years older, they would be marking all of their tests in colleges and in further education. Many teachers are impressed with the deal, and I appeal to the unions to put it back on the table.
I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien about the need for a debate on the Fair Deal scheme, because we are facing major problems. Given the number of people in hospital who have been assigned nursing homes, the cost to the State is approximately €40 million. This is a huge amount of money and the question is whether we provide those beds by making cuts in other areas or by increasing taxation. These are the choices we must make. It is also a major problem for long-term planning. Estimates suggest that we will need an extra 7,000 beds between now and 2021. If that is the correct estimate, the question is how it will be funded. The Fair Deal question must be debated and we must decide how to plan.
Another area concerns the number of people coming home for Christmas and the pathway home for young people who have had to leave because they were unable to find jobs in this country over the past five to eight years. Many of them have difficulties getting access to social welfare when they come home. We must review this. Returning to the nursing home issue, given that 990,000 people will be over 65 years of age in the next 17 years, we need 2.7 million people to be working to maintain the current level of support. At the moment, 1.9 million people are working. We must ensure that we encourage young people with qualifications who left the country and have a contribution to make to come home. We must put in place mechanisms to support them in staying here at the earliest possible opportunity. We should consider the issue leading up to Christmas.
With regard to the report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, the answer is obvious. The criticism that the Garda Síochána is receiving is no different from the criticism in the report on the Department of Justice and Equality, the HSE or any Department. It relates to a total lack of management in the structures of our public service. Locally, a good superintendent in charge means that people notice a significant improvement in the quality of Garda operations. I am sure other Members notice the same. The common denominator in all successful companies is good management. Those who follow sport know that successful teams have good management. Unfortunately, we do not have any emphasis on it in the public service.
One of the major criticisms of the current Administration is the failure to use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity during the economic crisis over the past six years to get things right in the public service. Most people are followers and there is a dearth of leadership worldwide. Where there are good leaders, they get the best out of the people following. We do not have an emphasis on that or a system to try to encourage it within the public service. Consequently, much of the criticism politicians come in for and the debacles we have seen are not the creatures of the politicians but are due to the failure of anonymous administrators. Unions protecting people who are not performing must also be tackled. That is not good enough when taxpayers, as Senator Diarmuid Wilson pointed out, are struggling to pay their mortgages, working hard to rear their families and paying high taxes, particularly the universal social charge. To the shame of the Government, it failed to address the USC and has increased it. Hard-earned money should be put to good use and any waste should be penalised by the structures in the system and the political structures in these Houses. The Committee of Public Accounts does a good job, but we need something stronger to root out waste across the public service, which is endemic.
I support Senators Craughwell and Wilson in their points about the mortgage issue, particularly with regard to variable rates. In view of recent decisions on whether there should be a requirement for house buyers to provide a deposit of 20% of the purchase price, the topic of mortgages could be usefully debated in the House in the near future. A general debate on banking is also overdue.
I support the comments of Senator Michael D'Arcy on domestic abuse. What shocked me most of what I heard about the report was the attitude towards domestic violence and the feeling that there is not much point in investigating it. It was seen as a waste of resources, which is a frightening attitude. We have had requests to debate this and we should do so.
I want to highlight a report by the Irish Cancer Society published in recent days which reveals that cancer death rates in the capital are up to three times higher in less affluent communities. Lifestyle, smoking and obesity play a substantial role in this glaring disparity and I have consistently highlighted the surge in childhood obesity, especially in socially disadvantaged areas. However, health care access is also a factor. In deprived parts of north Dublin, for example, there is one GP for every 2,500 people, compared to a national average of one per 1,600. I welcome the debate and call on the Minister for Health to tackle the high rate of cancer incidence and death in poorer communities as a priority.
Any report that makes 200 recommendations on the operation of the Garda Síochána, and describes some of the recommendations as more urgent because they have been made previously but not fully implemented, requires a full debate in the House. I call for that debate. I caution against two extremes in the response to the Olson report. One is the extreme tended towards by the mainstream political parties, which involves a blind rush to the defence of the Garda Síochána, as though any criticism were inappropriate. Just as wrong, however, is the attitude of Sinn Féin in describing the Garda Síochána as not fit for purpose. The view is understandable in the context of the post-conflict situation in Northern Ireland and the work of the police force there, but there is no suggestion of bias on the part of the Garda Síochána against any group. Taking the Sinn Féin position is inconsistent with the role it is trying to play in Irish politics.
I would go further-----
We need to understand the criticisms made as constructive and we must support the work of the Garda Síochána but also help it to do its work better. The criticisms must be understood in the context of major cuts in Garda numbers and resources over the past number of years.
Systematic failures and poor management practices have been identified. One of the deficiencies involved a lack of oversight of decisions and an inconsistent approach to updating victims of crimes and a lack of IT and equipment to support the investigation of crime. There have been delays and failures, with gardaí getting statements of complaint and criminal cases even being adjourned.
I understand that. It makes all the more urgent the call I made here recently, to which the Minister for Justice and Equality appeared to respond positively, for the introduction of a "Track my crime" online system to allow victims of crime to access information about how their cases are being managed and dealt with and to access information that is important to them.
It is no secret that Sligo County Council has had financial difficulties for many years. Major investment in water and property and many other projects was made several years ago; some of these are losing substantial amounts of money. The downturn in the economy had a major effect on the finances of the council. Many businesses in Sligo are struggling and finding it difficult to pay their rates. It is not necessary to bring the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the House today. He is meeting the CEO and the management of Sligo County Council and they will have a frank discussion as to how to move forward and what options are available. Also, the local councillors have a job to do in supporting the CEO and the management on whatever proposals are put forward. I look forward at a later stage to finding out the proposals. It is disappointing that we find ourselves in this situation, but it is no secret. As a former member of Sligo County Council, I know the council has had many difficulties down through the years. It has come to a stage at which we have to sort out the problem once and for all and move forward so that the people of Sligo do not suffer in respect of services.
I was very disappointed when the talks between the Minister for Education and Skills and the teachers' unions broke down yesterday. As Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has said, the members of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection asked the previous Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to increase the level of standardisation of the junior certificate. I was very pleased to note that the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, arrived at an offer of 60% standardised assessment. To be quite honest, I never thought the unions were seeking total standardisation, as the president of the TUI, Mr. Gerry Quinn, said this morning on RTE radio. He said that the system had to be standardised and not open to opinion. A mother knows her baby, a shepherd knows his flock and teachers know their pupils. A certain level of assessment by teachers of their pupils is reasonable. I hope they can get together again and sort out the issue for the benefit of the pupils.
I raise an issue in light of the report from the Garda Inspectorate in which a number of key recommendations were made concerning the running of the police force. I refer particularly to the penalty points process, which has been the subject of-----
-----much debate in recent times. That one can appeal penalty points to a Garda superintendent, who can then cancel the points, seems odd in light of the fact that gardaí should not make judgments on appeals pertaining to their own decisions. Quite simply, it is nonsensical to allow the prosecuting authorities to decide on issues relating to penalties imposed by themselves. I suggest we need a debate on the issue to work in tandem with yesterday's report. These appeals should be heard by a District Court judge who may be assigned by the Minister solely to that function. I do not think it is necessary for oral evidence to be given but simply a submission on paper. This would restore the public's confidence not only in penalty point appeals but also in the members of the Garda Síochána, who have undergone much trauma in recent months and years as a result of this issue. Judges would offer standardisation in decision making and a transparent system which is publicly credible. It would also mean that the statistics on refusals and appeals would be readily available to the public and there would be nothing to undermine the process, given that it would operate at arm's length from the prosecuting authorities. The reality is that the Garda has effectively been asked to exercise a quasi-judicial function, which is unfair to them. That is the reason I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to address the specific issue of how to deal with the penalty points process.
I join with those who have commented on the concessions made by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on junior certificate reform. I applaud the teachers' unions, and particularly the TUI, which stood alone on the issue initially and was joined later by the other teacher unions so that a collective approach was taken. This has obviously resulted in a rowing back by the Minister. I think she did it on a common-sense basis. I got calls from my own local teachers in the school in Drumshanbo, which is a TUI school, who are very pleased with the developments. I hope that a mutually acceptable conclusion will be reached in the best interests of all the pupils of Ireland because, ultimately, this is about them and their future. I wish the Minister well in that regard.
I wish to raise an issue that, rather surprisingly, has not come before the Chamber - that is, the remarks in New York last week by the president of Sinn Féin, a Member of the other House, Deputy Gerry Adams. I preface my remarks by saying that this is not an anti-Sinn-Féin comment or reference. This is about a comment he made, which he said was a joke, in front of corporate America. The people who have attended that dinner down through the years are the CEOs of some of the largest corporate entities in America. It is quite extraordinary that they would turn up for a Sinn Féin dinner while Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil would not be able to attract such people to a dinner. I fail to understand the gulf of knowledge-----
-----between those in corporate America and what is happening on the ground here, and the attitude that people have towards the past, about which Sinn Féin seem to have amnesia. In that context, I think that what Deputy Gerry Adams said in New York is totally unacceptable. I say this as a working journalist, as well as for those from across the journalistic field. Every international journalists' organisation has criticised Deputy Adams's comments. They have done it because they said he seems to be unaware that journalists, men and women, have been killed across the world in areas of conflict doing work which we then find out about. Without them we would not know what is going on in conflicts in various parts of the world.
He seems to have total amnesia about that particular attitude as well. I think what he said was unacceptable. It will be a matter for him to decide what he is going to do next. Not only did he say it at the meeting but he then went onto social media and actually justified it.
It was historically inaccurate to suggest that Michael Collins had gone in and pointed a gun at the editor of the Irish Independent. It never happened, but it seems that, as with most other revisionist attitudes that Sinn Féin has towards Irish history, this was the way it was protected.
This evening is an opportunity for the Seanad to leave a legacy of commitment to its own reform, thereby leaving a legacy of genuine commitment to political reform, in our debate on the Bill tabled by Senator Feargal Quinn and me. Fintan O'Toole opined yesterday that the political reform project has run into the sand. It does not have to be this way. This evening we can do something immensely significant if we focus on the good. I know from having spoken with members that everyone wants to achieve Seanad reform and that every member wants to demonstrate before the next general election that we could not be counted among those who are part of a system that is unwilling and unable to reform itself. More than a year ago the people voted to retain the Seanad so that it could reform-----
It is 3.50 p.m. Senators MacSharry, O'Keeffe, Comiskey and Henry, who all happen to be from Sligo, raised questions on Sligo County Council. We are all aware that it has a massive debt at this point in time. Of course, it is the elected members themselves who have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of the authority, which include adopting an annual budget and authorising borrowing. They are democratically accountable for all expenditure by the local authority. That said, I am sure the problems will be surmounted and that wise counsel among all parties will prevail. I understand the CEO is meeting with the Minister today and I hope that wise counsel will be seen among all parties and a resolution occurs. However, it must be pointed out that it is a reserved function of the members themselves to deal with the budgetary process. That is something forgotten at times by members.
Senators O'Keeffe, Leyden, Conway, Kelly, Michael D'Arcy, Ó Clochartaigh, Walsh, Mullins and others referred to the report of the Garda Inspectorate. The report was very comprehensive and all Members need time to digest its contents. I will certainly endeavour to have a debate on the report within a matter of weeks as it deserves the counsel of the House. I will try to have the Minister attend to discuss the matter at that point.
Senator Barrett referred to the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and I am sure he will raise the point he raises on the Order of Business with the Minister during the debate. It was a very valid point.
Senator Comiskey and others referred to the beef forum and wished it success today. The matter was also raised yesterday by a number of Members. Senator Darragh O'Brien and Senator Colm Burke also raised a matter which was raised yesterday by Senator Thomas Byrne and others in relation to the fair deal scheme, on which we will try to arrange a debate.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also mentioned approximately 30 gardaí in Swords getting access for the Minister to attend an event. The protection of the institutions of the State and the elected representatives of the people is of paramount importance and guarded properly by An Garda Síochána. It is a matter for the Garda to allocate resources for such an event, but the protection of a Government Minister or any Member of the Houses elected by the people is always a matter for the Garda and something it addresses well. Peaceful protest is a right but we have seen - and I do not allude to the situation in Swords - peaceful protests infiltrated by small groups of dissident republicans and others who have attacked gardaí in many instances. This cannot be tolerated by anyone. We should be seen to protect and defend our gardaí in instances like this and I will do so at all times.
Senator Quinn referred to pensions in the private sector. We will have the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill in here and the Minister will attend on 2, 4 and 9 December to deal with it. There have been other requests for the Minister to attend on other matters also this morning and we will try to get her to attend on additional dates to discuss some of the things that have been mentioned. Members will realise that the Minister will be here for three days and we will try to get her to fit matters into her very busy diary as both Tánaiste and Minister. I must disagree with Senator Quinn in that the Government recognises fully the benefit of the self-employed and has adopted many measures in the current and previous budgets to help and assist them.
I note the Senator's points and those of others on the junior cycle. Senators Craughwell, Wilson, Mooney, Michael D'Arcy, Mullins, Healy Eames and others referred to the dispute with teachers on the junior cycle. It has been recognised that the Minister has gone some way, though obviously not as far as the unions would like, and I hope both parties work for a solution. That is what everybody wants, especially parents and pupils who will be affected by any dispute.
Senator John Kelly supported Senator Hayden on an additional €4 million for homelessness services in the Dublin region. He also raised a point, as he has done consistently, on rent supplement. The Minister will attend on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, in respect of which the points could be raised.
Senator Leyden referred to the Garda Inspectorate and I named the other Senators who spoke on the matter. Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the work of Mr. Ryan, a former civil servant, on the Ansbacher accounts and welcomed the whisteblower legislation and its operation in this regard.
Senator Naughten referred to the European Court of Justice ruling and the consequences for taxpayers. It is a matter on which I am sure the Senator can address the Tánaiste in respect of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. Senator White praised Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for its efforts on behalf of a constituent on rent and an eviction. We have many unscrupulous landlords who are raising their prices to exorbitant levels in Dublin in particular. Many people have come to me who cannot find a place to rent due to the prices being charged. It is a matter that will certainly have to be addressed.
Senators Michael D'Arcy, Ó Clochartaigh, Healy Eames and Noone referred to domestic violence. It is a debate we should have outside the Garda Inspectorate report in any event and we will ask the Minister to come to the House on the matter.
Senator Colm Burke referred to access by people returning home to social welfare and the difficulties they experience. Again, it is a matter which can be raised during the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.
Senator Jim Walsh referred to the Garda Inspectorate report and the need for greater leadership. He also mentioned the universal social charge, which is a Fianna Fáil-introduced tax the Government has taken-----
The Government has taken more than 500,000 people out of the universal social charge which Senator Walsh and his party imposed on the lower paid. That is what the Government did on the universal social charge and it will continue to reduce that Fianna Fáil tax.
I note Senator Lorraine Higgins’s points about the penalty points system.
I am glad that Senator Paschal Mooney referred to the remarks made by Deputy Gerry Adams in New York, which had not previously been mentioned. They were totally unacceptable. Journalists are being killed throughout the world and very upset at such remarks. Although the Deputy might compare himself to him, he is no Michael Collins.
Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on reports that he intends to abolish Sligo County Council be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- Gerard Craughwell
- John Crown
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- James Heffernan
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- John Kelly
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy yesterday on the death of the former Minister and Member of this House, Mr. Joe Walsh, who was a colleague of mine. Unfortunately, I was not here as I was attending his funeral mass. I have been assured by the Leader and the Cathaoirleach that statements will be made at an appropriate time on his association with this House.