Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Action Plan for Jobs 2014, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude no later than 1.15 p.m., with contributions from all Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 1.10 p.m.;

No. 2, motions re Standing Orders 82B and 82C concerning the attendance by committee members of meetings of the committee inquiring into the banking crisis, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contribution of all Senators not to exceed five minutes - I know similar motions were passed without debate in the other House but if any Senator wishes to contribute on these motions, they are welcome to do so; No. 3, Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m., with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, statements on homelessness, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to conclude not later than 9 p.m., with the contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 8.55 p.m.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leader for outlining the business for today and particularly for allowing time to debate the motions concerning the two Standing Orders which need to be discussed.

I request we have a debate at the appropriate time, which will probably be in the new year, on the HIQA report on the National Ambulance Service. This is an issue that has been discussed in the House over a number of years. I have mentioned issues related to the great work done by Dublin Fire Brigade, its ambulance service and the National Ambulance Service, but we need to look towards the creation of one combined emergency medical service system. I have read through much of the report but the headlines do not tell the full story. It is quite a complex situation with regard to resourcing and areas of responsibility. When Members have had an opportunity to read the report, it would be useful to have a debate on it early in the new year, and I ask the Leader to organise that.

I welcome that a debate on the issue of homelessness, with the Minister, Deputy Kelly, in attendance, will take place this evening. I know there was a vote on this yesterday and people are genuinely concerned. I know some Senators would accuse other colleagues of mock outrage at this, but that is not the case. I am in receipt of correspondence from Dublin City Council through the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, Councillor Paul McCauliffe. As far back as 6 November all group leaders of the city council groups - Labour, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, the Independents and Fianna Fáil - have been seeking a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Kelly, through the office of the Lord Mayor, Christy Burke, to discuss the urgent need for action to be taken to tackle homelessness in Dublin city. Following a series of e-mails, the Minister's office eventually came back and scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, 26 November, but a few days prior to that meeting an e-mail was received stating that the Minister, Deputy Kelly's office had phoned to cancel that meeting. It stated that the situation with Irish Water and water charges over the previous two weeks had impacted greatly on this diary and his staff were in the process of rescheduling meetings. It also stated that they would be in touch to discuss and agree and alternative date as soon as possible. The city councillors had flagged the issue. I am chair of the regional drugs task force in north County Dublin and I am very familiar with the issue of homelessness, and much of the cause of it is related to drug and alcohol abuse, although not all of it is.

I am glad the Minister will at least be coming into the House this evening. However, the priority of homelessness was obviously not high on his agenda when he saw fit to cancel a meeting with the leaders of the groups on Dublin City Council and said he had other issues to deal with. The leaders of those groups had been seeking a meeting with him since he took over as Minister. I would like us to have a proper debate on this issue this evening and for people to come forward with some solutions. One idea I have, which the Minister should examine, is to take account of the infrastructure that is already in place such as the regional drugs and alcohol task forces, groups such as the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Community and others, and to have a specific conference on this issue to examine ways to solve the problems that exist. The Minister has not shown up to now that he views homelessness in Dublin as a priority and that fact is borne out from his cancellation of the meeting with elected members of Dublin City Council. I hope he uses the debate we will have later to state that he will prioritise this issue.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I thank the Leader for arranging a debate on the motions concerning Standing Orders 82B and 82C around the conduct of the committee of inquiry into the banking crisis. We had a long meeting of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges about that last night.

I offer congratulations to Senator Susan O'Keeffe who is the chair of Yeats2015, which was officially launched in the Arts Club last night. Many colleagues were in attendance and it was an excellent launch. I commend Senator O'Keeffe on her work.

In respect of homelessness, the Leader has organised a debate on this evening with the Minister, Deputy Kelly, in attendance. As I said yesterday, all of us should very much welcome the Minister, Deputy Kelly's immediate response to the terrible tragedy of the death of Jonathan Corrie-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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He cancelled a meeting with the leaders of the groups on Dublin City Council.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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-----in convening a special forum on homelessness for tomorrow.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, but why? Because someone died. That is why he did it.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I am not sure if colleagues in the Opposition are fully aware that the Minister has invited in the chief executive officers of the four Dublin local authorities, the Lord Mayor of Dublin City, the cathaoirligh of South Dublin, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal county councils and the non-governmental organisations working in the sector, and he is also meeting the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin. Clearly, there is a role for all those stakeholders in seeking to address this very serious problem. I spoke about this yesterday, as did many other Members. There are very particular issues involved. The Simon Community recently closed 37 units of accommodation for the homeless on Seán MacDermott Street and there have been calls that they should be immediately re-opened. The Catholic Housing Aid Society has been in dispute over levels of rent and therefore 99 new units of accommodation on Gardiner Street have not been opened. There is some spare capacity. I know Archbishop Martin has sought to intervene there and that a good deal of work has been done to try to ensure that this large housing complex in the heart of the north inner city, which scandalously has been lying empty for more than six months, should be opened to provide facilities for people who are homeless. There is a good deal of work that needs to be done. I welcome the fact that this special forum has been convened by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, for tomorrow. It is a very prompt response by him. He will speak more about that in the House tonight. Colleagues on both side should acknowledge the work that is being done on this.
I also welcome the announcement yesterday of the reopening by the Irish Government of the hooded men case in the European Court of Human Rights. Tribute should be paid to the RTE investigative journalism team whose work led to the reopening of this case and to the uncovering of new evidence. That should be welcomed on all sides of the House.
I had previously sought a debate on third level education, in particular on issues around gender among academics in third level. I note a new study shows there are very low levels of women's representation among senior academics across the third level sector, in particular in certain universities. I raised that in this House in the context of the successful case taken by Micheline Sheehy Skeffington against NUI Galway, but it is clearly an issue that goes beyond NUI Galway. I again ask the Leader for a debate on that in the new year.
In the context of education, I ask colleagues to have a read of Tom Collins's excellent article in today's edition of The Irish Times making the pedagogical case for changes to junior cycle assessment to ensure that it is more student-centred with more emphasis on continuous assessment. That is something all of us engaged in education should acknowledge.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the statement by a Government spokesman that it is looking into the future development of the property tax as a tax base. The fear would be that at next review the property tax would be 70% more expensive than now, which would be a serious problem in a period when there has been no increase in real incomes.

I note the report on the ambulance service and the statement by the chairman of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association that we have developed in Ireland a misuse of ambulance service which he said should not be tolerated. He said: "There should be some sort of a charge, because people do abuse it. We have instances of that - we have our regular callers." He also said that :"If [the people abusing the system] are an a medical card, it should be three strikes and you lose it." This is an expensive service. It is needed for vital purposes and to have it used as some kind of taxi, as seems to be implied by the statement of the chairman of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, is a travesty. I hope that problem can be tackled.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I note there is speculation this morning regarding renewed talks with a view to averting further industrial action by teachers over the junior certificate reforms. I would welcome any engagement on both sides and I call on Dr. Pauric Travers to reconvene talks before Christmas to avoid any further disruption to students and parents.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Leader to arrange for an urgent debate, with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in attendance, on the crisis facing dairy farmers with the new proposals and with the abolition of quotas.

The quota system which was imposed on us by Europe was a retrograde step and it was wrong. However, that is history now. There is good news and bad news. What happened when the quotas were imposed in the area in which I live is that in excess of 50% of farmers got out of milk because it was not viable. My difficulty is that apart from the proposed price structure next year where farmers will be asked to produce milk at cost, with little or no profit - as little as 1 cent or 2 cent per litre - we could face a serious crisis, which will have a knock-on effect on companies such as Glanbia and other major producers if they do not have a supply of milk. My concern is that many young farmers have borrowed and are currently developing and expanding their herds and facilities for new production. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, with the help of our new Commissioner in Europe, Phil Hogan, should seriously seek to ensure we do not have a catastrophic situation in the new year. A significant difficulty exists.

The New Zealand model is based on producing milk at 21 cent and 22 cent a litre. It is not possible to achieve milk production at such cost in Ireland. In New Zealand there are huge factory farms where 2,000 and 3,000 cows are milked. I do not wish such a model to be replicated in this country as it would bring an end to family farms where farmers milk between 80 and 120 cows. That would be a sad day. We need urgent and early intervention as much concern and worry is evident.

I did not speak on the matter yesterday but I wish to express my sympathy on the death of the man who died on the streets of Dublin. There is much talk of the 99 units, or however many, in the north inner city currently lying idle. Archbishop Martin made inquiries on the matter yesterday. The matter should be investigated as the organisation describes itself as a Catholic one. When the Archbishop inquired about the reason for the delay in the houses in question being ready for use by those who are homeless or need shelter he was told to basically get lost, that it was none of his concern, and that even though the organisation is described as a Catholic one, that it is a non-denominational organisation. That fact should be put on record.

10:40 am

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I call on the Leader to bring to the House the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, in order that we can have a debate on issues that have been ongoing in recent years in terms of people's difficulty obtaining the carer's allowance. It appears that in most cases people are initially refused the carer's allowance and they must jump through many hoops. Eventually, 50% of appeals find in favour of the applicant. I believe an issue arises in the Department in that regard. People who seek the carer's allowance are frustrated.

I am aware of a mother who currently gets the carer's allowance whose child is just over 16 years of age. The child was getting a domiciliary care allowance and the mother was in receipt of the carer's allowance. When the child reached the age of 16 he was transferred to a disability allowance but the mother's carer's allowance is now being reassessed. When I telephoned the Department to inquire about the matter I was informed that different criteria exist for entitlement to the carer's allowance for a child over 16 than for one under 16. The person to whom I spoke would not be more specific than that. It is very important that we would have a debate in the House because if one talks to anyone who is either applying for or getting the carer's allowance, he or she is frustrated by the system.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le cairde agus muintir Jonathan Corrie, a fuarthas caillte ar an tsráid taobh amuigh anseo. Bhí sé uafásach brónach agus an-truamhéileach bheith in éineacht le cuid acu tráthnóna inné. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I raise an issue which we have debated previously but it is important that we would do it again, namely, the Government's proposals on the rural development programme, RDP. I received a copy of a document containing the observations on the rural development programme from 2014 to 2020, which have come back from the Commission. It lists hundreds of issues the Commission has raised on the Government's proposals on the rural development programme. I was part of a delegation that travelled to Brussels recently to discuss the way the Leader programme is to be implemented. It would seem that the Commission is very much in line with what people on the ground in this country say, in particular the hill farmers who will protest about issues relating to the GLAS scheme in Castlebar on Friday. They are concerned at the way the rules on commonage will be imposed. They are also concerned at the way the Leader programme is to become more centralised through the local government structure. Given that 266 recommendations and-or questions have been raised by the EU Commission on the RDP, there is a need for a rethink on it. Many issues relating to it have been raised by Senators on all sides of the House. Perhaps we should have a debate on the recommendations that have been made and the clarification that has been sought in order that we can properly discuss the issue so that the rural development programme proposed by the State suits the needs of the people on the ground and is a good programme for the future.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I agree with my colleague, Senator Denis O'Donovan, on the worrying report by Teagasc on the dairy industry. We must take action and call on the Minister to do all in his power to alleviate any hardship that could be caused to farmers. I also call on the new Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, to ensure at EU level that the base price of milk is brought in line with the cost of production, which is approximately 28 cent a litre in this country. That is at a bare minimum. Such a measure must be introduced to alleviate further hardship on farm families.

I spoke to a farmer this morning who has got out of suckler cows and invested in more dairy cows. The situation will have a considerable effect on people who have now decided to put all of their eggs in the one basket. They could find themselves in great difficulty from 2015 on. We must take heed of what has been reported by Teagasc and do whatever we can to alleviate further problems.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I agree with what Senator Ivana Bacik said on the decision by the Government yesterday to reopen the case on torture in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I commend the Government under the former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, former Minister for Justice, Des O'Malley and Paddy Hillery, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had the courage of their conviction to take the original case on behalf of people who were tortured in Northern Ireland. The case was inconclusive from the point of view that torture was considered not to have taken place. The RTE investigative unit, which has had its difficulties over the years, has proven very successful in regard to the case. Excellent work was done by RTE. As the public service broadcaster, RTE has the resources and ability to highlight the case. The outcome of the case could have international repercussions. I am delighted the Government had the courage of its convictions yesterday to make the decision, because the deadline is Thursday, 4 December. The outcome will be watched by people throughout the world, including those connected with Guantanamo Bay, which was used for the purpose of torture, yet which was concluded not to have taken place in that case. The Israelis will also be interested in the outcome of the case in terms of claims of torture by Palestine. The case is very serious. I wish the team representing the case success in the European Court of Human Rights.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I hope the outcome will be a clear statement that torture was used in Northern Ireland. A degrading abuse of power was evident. People were thrown from a helicopter and were also assaulted. What went on in the northern part of this country was outrageous. I am pleased the Government has the courage of its convictions to follow up the case, irrespective of the outcome.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I support the words of Senator Leyden in very much welcoming the fact that the Government has supported the opening of the inquiry into the hooded men case. It was an appalling vista and it is good that it will be addressed even at this late stage.

I ask that the Leader would allow the House to have a debate at some stage on Irish Aid and its effectiveness. I very much welcome the report by the OECD development assistance committee, which reported yesterday that Ireland continues to excel in delivering effective aid. The peer review that took place was an in-depth review of each country's aid programme and it was carried out by peers in other government aid programmes. In this case the review was carried out by Austria and Portugal with Lithuania as an observer.

It was conducted over the course of a year. The report shows that Ireland continues to be a world leader in effectively tackling hunger and poverty and assisting the world's poorest communities. As citizens, we can be particularly proud of the work being done on our behalf by Irish Aid and the difference it makes to millions of people around the world. To put it in context, extreme poverty has been reduced by half since 1990 and 17,000 fewer children die each day. However, it remains the case that one in nine people worldwide remain hungry. Ireland spends 20% of its development budget fighting hunger and is working hard to galvanise international action. Next year, Ireland will contribute in the region of €600 million in overseas development assistance, which is a significant amount. For this reason and to assure Irish people that this aid is being spent well and that progress is being made in the poorest regions, it is important we have a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on our overseas development aid budget.

Later today we will have a debate on homelessness. If we can be seen to be world leaders in developing assistance and aid internationally surely we should be able to tackle a much smaller scale problem in our own country. I look forward to the forum that is being convened tomorrow by the Minister in that regard.

10:50 am

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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As someone who many would say has a big heart, I also have a tricky heart and as I have had to use the ambulance service on a number of occasions I know that lying in bed waiting for an ambulance is not something I relish. As stated yesterday in this House were I living in rural Ireland I would probably not be alive today. I would welcome a debate on ambulance services. I am particularly concerned not about misuse of ambulances by people but misuse of them by the health service in terms of the number of patients on ambulance trolleys in our accident and emergency departments, which leads to the immobilisation and unavailability of the ambulance service.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I have previously raised the issue of rent control in the House. The importance of rent control is now more obvious in the context of the issue of homelessness now in the public domain. I mentioned some days ago that I was conducting a survey across county councils. To date, more than 70% of the respondents have asked that rent controls be implemented. There is something fundamentally wrong with people profiteering from the housing crisis in Ireland. In my opinion this is a societal rather than Government problem. At the same time, the line Minister should come to this House for a debate on the issue. I call on the Leader to organise a debate on the housing crisis with the line Minister tomorrow.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome yesterday's report on the ambulance service by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, to the Joint Committee on Health and Children. I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that people who work in the ambulance service provide an excellent service and are extremely committed and dedicated to their jobs. In this regard, I would like to read into the record of this House an extract from the HIQA report. It states:


Many managers outlined that they had changed roles with the service in recent times. Some of these staff reported to us that they did not have formal job descriptions which outline the specifics of their roles and the aligned responsibilities. More worryingly, some staff reported to us that while they had accepted new positions within the service they did not have the appropriate technical knowledge.
That is extremely worrying. It ties in with an issue I identified six months, namely, the transfer-promotion of 1,100 HSE staff to new roles in respect of which they had not undergone any job interview. Is the same happening in the ambulance service? Are people hiding behind the recruitment embargo and promoting people to positions for which they are not suitably qualified? According to the HIQA report this is what is happening. It is about time we addressed the problem within the public service of people being given jobs for which they do not have the required skills. It is time we had a debate on this matter. The day of people being able to hide behind the recruitment embargo is over. The job of Government is to provide services for the general public. We are now finding that some of the people providing those services do not have the skills, knowledge or technical know-how to do so. It is time we had a debate on the issue and time people stopped hiding behind the recruitment embargo.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh scéal a fheicim sa The Meath Chroniclean tseachtain seo, ag rá go bhfuil postanna nua i gcomhlacht nua ag teacht go Baile Ghib i nGaeltacht Chontae na Mí. Nuair a bhí díospóireacht againn sa Teach seo ar an Athló maidir le dúnadh monarchan i mBaile Ghib sa bhliain 2012, dúirt mé leis an Aire Stáit a bhí ann ag an am gur cheart dó, agus d'Údarás na Gaeltachta freisin, gach iarracht a dhéanamh jabanna agus postanna nua a chur ar fáil sa Ghaeltacht. I read an article in The Meath Chroniclethis week in regard to a jobs announcement in Baile Ghib i nGaeltacht in County Meath. I hope it is true. I expect that it is. More than two years ago, I raised on the Adjournment the need for Údarás na Gaeltachta and the then Minister, Deputy McGinley, to make every effort to provide new jobs in the Gibbstown area following the closure of a factory there. If these jobs do transpire - I sincerely hope and expect that they will - this will be welcome news for Baile Ghib i nGaeltacht in County Meath.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Exchequer returns as further evidence of our economic recovery, one which is being seen by everybody in terms of increased footfall on our streets and in our shops. From what I have heard from many Senators, we are all feeling it a little in our pockets in terms of increased accommodation costs in Dublin. I also welcome NAMA's continuing progress. It has now paid off €15.1 billion in bonds and will today pay off a further €1 billion bond. I welcome its involvement in the development of the 400,000 sq. ft. Boland's Mills site which will cost €150 million and will address shortfalls in office and rental accommodation. It should be noted today that NAMA will have paid off all bonds by 2018, which is two years ahead of schedule. This is a sign of further good progress. Please God at the end of it all there will be a profit for the State, which would be very welcome.

Senator Darragh O'Brien referred earlier to homelessness. In this regard, I would like to reiterate what I said yesterday. I believe the Lord Mayor, Christy Burke, has been doing great work. Dublin City Council is also to be commended on its provision of €2.44 million towards emergency accommodation and a further €2.5 million to various charities, including the Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Community and others, in respect of their important work in this area. As stated yesterday, more sheltered accommodation should be provided through Dublin City Council. As pointed out there are a number of idle buildings throughout Dublin city and perhaps through the good offices of Dublin City Council some of them can be obtained and used to provide short-term accommodation for homeless people.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I agree entirely with Senator Coghlan's remarks with regard to the Exchequer returns, behind which is another figure that is even more promising, namely, the competitiveness figures which indicate that Ireland has become much more competitive. That we allowed our costs to get out of control during the good years caused real difficulty. All of the current statistics in terms of competitiveness indicate we are in a much stronger position for the future. Let us ensure we protect ourselves and do not make the same mistakes we made in the past.

I am looking forward to the debate tonight on homelessness. The real problem in this regard is that we do not have sufficient houses or other types of accommodation in which to house people because over the years we got into the habit of building outwards rather than upwards.

In other countries, there has been a tendency to build much taller buildings. We made mistakes in Ballymun some 30 or 40 years ago. In general terms, though, making better use of land in this way would enable us to support the infrastructure. If we continue building houses outwards rather than upwards, each with its own garden and space, the schools, shops and infrastructure that are necessary to follow through on that policy will also have to be built. Making better use of our land by building upwards rather than outwards is worthy of consideration in the near future.

11:00 am

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the National Roads Authority's minor works scheme for next year. I am particularly pleased to see that a further section of the busy Barronstown-Hackballscross N53 has been included. It is substandard in several places. This work will ameliorate one of those sections. The proposed extension will go from the newly-realigned section at Newtownbalregan to Barronstown, 1 km west of the Hackballscross junction. These improvements will further enhance the route's consistency and integrate with the previously completed schemes. As well as improving road safety and capacity, the improvements to date have included overtaking sections and led to improved journey times and access from the north west to Dundalk and the M1.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Well done and congratulations.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I concur with Senator Leyden's comments on RTE, which has done the nation and human rights a great service. Its investigation into torture in Northern Ireland was meticulous. Without that work, the torture would have been forgotten. It is important that no state can feel immune where torture and war crimes are concerned. Such things are counterproductive in Northern Ireland. The history of torture down the decades has led to a feeling that the vulnerable will not be protected or vindicated.

When people are in captivity, they are particularly vulnerable. In a time of conflict, the net can be spread wide. For this reason, innocent people will always suffer. The House debated the Palestinian situation. There is no doubt but that Israel committed war crimes. It is important that the influence, contacts or power that a state has are not used to prevent it from being held accountable. Where sanctions are required, they should be imposed. The issue of torture in Northern Ireland has been hanging around for a long time. It can be brought to a conclusion and those responsible held accountable. As long as the issue remains, it will add to the difficulties experienced on this island.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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A great deal of pious angst has recently been expressed in the Chamber about homelessness, which is a significant problem. The recent events that occurred close to this House demonstrated the urgency of the situation. It might be more relevant to make my next point during our debate this evening but, at a recent meeting of Dublin City Council, which has operational responsibility for homelessness, the Labour Party proposed making an extra €4 million available to tackle the homelessness crisis. The Labour Party and the Green Party were the only ones to support the proposal. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil voted against it.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It was in the context of the property tax. That is quite unfair.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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So when I hear the expressions on what is a dreadful situation, I am thoroughly disgusted by parties' hypocrisy-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Fine Gael also voted against it.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Gilroy without interruption.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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-----and point scoring in this House. When they have an opportunity to do something about it, they do not. They prefer to score political points.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Gilroy's colleague is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. Deputy Kelly is responsible for the budget.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Gilroy without interruption.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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At October's meeting of Fingal County Council, the same decision was taken. When the Labour Party proposed to reduce property tax to 10% from 15% and to make approximately €2 million available to tackle the homelessness crisis, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil voted against it. Their members come to this House and-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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And Fine Gael. It was not-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Gilroy without interruption.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It had to do with housing.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Senator Gilroy is waffling again.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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It has to do with tackling the crisis of homelessness.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It was not specifically about homelessness.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil want to give a few pounds to the middle class for electoral advantage. When they have an opportunity to do something about a real crisis, they do nothing. It is as simple as that.

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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I concur with Senator Gilroy's comments. The same point was eloquently made on radio by Councillor Dermot Lacey yesterday. People have operated a populist position on property charges-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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-----which has perhaps resulted in services not being delivered.

I rise to discuss the issue of the Aughinish Alumina plant in Askeaton in west Limerick. No bond against the company has been secured by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The bauxite waste pools contain corrosive elements and irritants. Should an accident occur, the potential consequence would put Haulbowline in the ha'penny place. The director general of the EPA, Ms Laura Burke, attended the environmental committee a couple of weeks ago. The only conclusion that I can reach is that the EPA is still operating light-touch regulation. It needs to revert to being the watchdog against big industry. It should protect the environment, as its name suggests, but it should also be responsible for protecting communities and human and animal health.

At the same meeting of the environment committee, Ms Burke stated that she had no objection to the establishment of an environmental ombudsman, as was recommended to the previous Government's environment Minister. That proposal has not progressed one bit. If the EPA does not object to the idea of an ombudsman who would investigate people's complaints against the agency, I do not know why the current Minister has not established one. He needs to attend the House for a debate on the EPA and the establishment of an environmental ombudsman.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Last weekend, I attended the official opening of a heritage centre in the village of Kiltyclogher in north Leitrim, close to the home of the Irish patriot Seán Mac Diarmada. The centre was initiated by the local community council and funded by Leitrim County Council and the peace and reconciliation fund. Its opening was hosted by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys. We were delighted to welcome her to County Leitrim.

Will the Leader establish the Government's marketing plans to attract visitors to places like Kiltyclogher that are economically disadvantaged? The heritage centre, which is a wonderful asset to the village and the county in general, is housed in a former courthouse that is linked to the restored cottage where Seán Mac Diarmada was born and reared. Government money will be invested this year and next to provide better access to the village for visitors.

I am anxious to explore the Government's marketing plans because the perception is that all the 1916 commemorations will happen in Dublin and nowhere else. I would like to see more visitors to the Seán Mac Diarmada homestead and the village of Kiltyclogher which would be of enormous economic benefit to the area.

It is important for the Government to outline its plans. The same could be true of other locations associated with the signatories who did not all come from Dublin. We have a dual interest in the 1916 Rising in that not only is County Leitrim proud to have been the home of Seán Mac Diarmada but also that the parents of Thomas McDonagh were from Carrigallen in County Leitrim. There are two reasons for us to be anxious to ensure that Leitrim would be put on the map in the context of the 1916 commemorations so that people can have the opportunity to visit. However, it will be down to the Government to promote this. I would be very keen to explore it. The Government plans for the 1916 commemorations seem to be very fuzzy.

11:10 am

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy speaking a few days ago pierced people's hearts when she said that 800 children in Ireland were made homeless in the first ten months of the year and that in November, 45 families had lost their homes. Speaking on this issue she said that the Government, if it raised the rent supplement for people who are in danger of being evicted from their homes, would solve the problem overnight. It is very simple to deal with it. I am dealing with an issue near where I live in which the landlord of a woman with four children raised the rent. I will not name the Independent Deputy who, I have been told, advised the woman to leave the home and she would get a house. The woman's emotions and feelings were manipulated by devious means by an Independent Deputy.

All of us who were involved in campaigning in the recent by-election recognise this. Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy has said there is a radical increase in inequality in this country even though unemployment is falling. She also said that a quarter of children in Ireland are living in poverty. It is good that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is having the conference of all the CEOs and mayors of the local authorities tomorrow. The 1916 Proclamation states that we should treat all of the children equally. I call for a debate on the increase in inequality, the number of children living in poverty and what austerity has done to people on the fringes of our society.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I call for a debate on the foreign aid we provide, mentioned earlier by Senator Mullins. The recently published OECD report on foreign aid stated that all of the €600 million a year spent on foreign aid is borrowed and paid for by the taxpayer. Approximately 75% of that money actually goes to banks and other institutions and does not get fed down to the people on the ground. We should have a debate. In light of the homelessness situation in this country, as a society we have to decide where we want to spend money, where we want to spend money that is not borrowed, and how we want to look after our own people-----

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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-----in the overall context of solidarity and poverty. We have a poverty crisis in every constituency in the country. We can blame whomever we like for that poverty. The Government has a responsibility to defend the rights of every citizen and not just the rich and the bankers. We should have a debate on where that money is spent and whether the Government has carried out any economic appraisals of how the money is spent. The information made available to me is that no such appraisal has been carried out.

I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the presence of the Minister for Justice and Equality and any other relevant Minister on the issue of private investigations and private investigators. A newspaper article on the subject was published earlier this week. Over the weekend I met three families on whom private investigative reports had been carried out by insurance companies, by a bank and by the HSE. Some of the information collated by the insurance company was used by the Department of Social Protection in making a decision on whether an individual was entitled to carer's allowance, which is disgraceful behaviour. It is a totally unregulated industry. Not only were the individuals followed by private investigators, who are paid approximately €100 an hour, but children were followed, and photographs and video recordings were taken. Movements, including following people to the toilet, were observed in cafeterias. I have read some of the report. It is alarming.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator looking for a debate on this?

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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We need to clamp down on the issue immediately. Willy-nilly people inside and outside the State are carrying out private surveillance on our citizens for reasons best known to banks, perhaps Departments and insurance companies. It is disgraceful behaviour in any democracy.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I acknowledge the co-operation of my friend and colleague, Senator Mullen, for allowing me to speak first so that he can second my amendment to the Order of Business. I propose that the Minister for Health or the Minister of State at the Department of Health should come to the House to brief us urgently on what is happening with obstetrical care.

It is now more than two years since the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. Since then we have highlighted many other occasions where there have been concerns about the adequacy of the resourcing of obstetrical care. We have had one entire inquiry about another episode in a hospital in another part of the country. A common theme across all of these is a desperate, unbelievable shortage of obstetricians per head of population, placing an inappropriate burden of responsibility on trainee doctors. Trainee doctors are there exclusively to train; that is why they are here. Our service should not depend on the labour of trainee doctors; we should be educating trainee doctors. Unfortunately we have a shortage of fully trained specialists and it is much easier to have departures from the high-quality care we would have.

Much phraseology was tossed around over recent years about the superlative quality of maternal care in Ireland and that it was the safest country to have a baby. We now know that is not the case. It is a very safe country and we have wonderful doctors and midwives but just do not have enough of them.

In the past 24 hours Sam Coulter Smith has highlighted another glaring problem. None of the three maternity hospitals in Dublin, which are among the three largest delivery units for babies in Europe, has an adult intensive-care unit. This means that anyone who develops a serious medical complication must be transferred from the campus of the maternity hospital to another hospital. Once there is that kind of blockage in the care of a patient, be it transferring them to a neurosurgery centre to a cardiac centre or to an intensive-care unit, there will inevitably be delays. A degree of triage starts to creep in and occasionally, sadly, there will be an outcome that is inferior. I acknowledge that not every hospital can have every facility. However, there is clearly something wrong when three of the largest maternity hospitals in Europe are in one city and not one of them can have an intensive-care unit. That is wrong.

I ask for the Minister to come in to us today because I am not one bit happy. I have raised the issue of obstetrical care on a number of occasions in a number of contexts and we still have not had a clear answer. There has been huge debate over whether it is suitable to locate a children's hospital some place because of car parking, bus stops and such things. There has been a totally inadequate debate on the issue of where our young women - in some cases slightly older women - go to have babies and the level of support for them.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I am very happy to second Senator Crown's amendment. He has expressed the issue of urgency very clearly.

Creidim féin gur chóir don Aire sinsireach teacht isteach, mar tá ceist tromchúiseach eile ardaithe anois faoi bhronnadh na gconarthaí le haghaidh seirbhísí a sholáthar do na hospidéal san iarthar. I would like the Minister for Health to come to the House himself, because I also want him to address the serious concerns that have been raised in the media, and by others, about the award of contracts for the provision of information technology services to the group of hospitals in the HSE north-west region, recently rebranded Saolta. The contract to provide these services was awarded to Northgate plc, a British company, and the value of the contract has not been disclosed by the HSE, but The Irish Timeshas reported that a senior member of management with Saolta was previously a consultant with that company. It is also clear from that The Irish Timesreport that Northgate was the only company invited to bid for this contract.
We have a problem here which has arisen before in relation to this hospital group and the tendering for contracts. This hospital group includes - and Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised this previously - major hospitals in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon and Galway. Previously there was a contract for a report on the provision of maternity services. Again, only one body or group was invited to tender for it and that organisation had an association with the then chairman of the hospital group. It was on foot of that, it appears, that this chairman resigned.
In order to maintain public confidence in the management of these major hospitals, the Minister for Health must address certain key questions in the House. What was the value of the contract for IT services? In light of that value, did the tendering processes follow correct procedure? Was the Department of Health and the then Minister aware of the possible tendering anomalies to which I am referring in the context of Northgate plc when the other issue was raised previously in the Seanad? If so, why was no advertence made to that fact? The Minister gave an assurance that there would not be further breaches in relation to procurement matters.

11:20 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That might be appropriate for an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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If the Minister knew at that time that there had already been a significant breach, a serious issue is raised by his not adverting to that fact. If it happened subsequently, what does that say about the attitude of this particular hospital group to the question of appropriate tendering and procurement requirements? It would raise questions if there was any conflict of interest or commercial connection between any member of senior management of those hospitals-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That might be more appropriate for an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I am asking for the Minister to come to the House because if there was any commercial connection, whether as a consultant at any stage or whatever, between any member of senior management of those hospitals and the company that received the contract, it would raise serious issues. The current CEO is due to finish his term as CEO of the north west hospital group, Saolta, at the end of this year and he is due to go on to the north-eastern region. If there were any issue here, it would raise questions about his ability to transfer to that role.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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At the very least, it seems that there would have to be a suspension of the appointment until there was full clarity that nothing inappropriate has taken place. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister in. I would be delighted if he would address Senator Crown's serious issue, but there is a serious issue of-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I am seconding Senator Crown's amendment-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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-----and I am asking the Leader if the Minister for Health could come to the House to discuss the serious issue that I have also raised.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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I support the previous interventions of Senators Crown and Mullen. Both have raised matters of profound importance. The purpose of politics and of the Houses of the Oireachtas is to discuss such matters in a timely fashion, not once the horse has bolted. I hope the Minister will be in a position to come before us sometime this afternoon by agreement. I also want to support the comments of a number of colleagues earlier, who expressed their concern about the possible future crisis next year in the Irish dairy industry. A very well-informed report was published by Teagasc yesterday, which highlighted the dangers facing Irish farmers in respect of the price of milk next year. Sadly, we should not be surprised by this, because when one relies on world markets and international pricing trends, things can go up and down and one is never in full control of the situation.

There was a huge degree of heralding of the end of the milk quota regime. There was a huge degree of ministerial and Government congratulations about the future development of the dairy industry and the expansion and the jobs that would flow. We have seen this across the townlands and the parishes of this country, where people are seriously increasing dairy herd size and people who have not been dairy-farming for the past 20 or 30 years now intend to invest. We must ask ourselves whether a property-type boom could now hit Irish agriculture unless we manage this expansion in a careful fashion. One cannot have a permanent bonanza. One cannot keep increasing production and expect prices to remain solid. We must be realistic. In fairness, the Minister is meeting the IFA dairy committee this afternoon and other such meetings are planned, but it would be helpful if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, could come to the House in the near future to debate in a realistic fashion the challenges as well as the opportunities facing the Irish dairy industry, Irish agriculture and all the jobs that depend on it.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senators O'Brien, Barrett, Craughwell and Burke spoke about the ambulance services and the HIQA report. We can certainly try to have a debate in this House on this issue. There was a very comprehensive debate on this subject in the joint Oireachtas committee yesterday and we do not want duplication, to have it going on both in the committee and the House. However, the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has agreed that he will come in for statements on the health service plan, as has been requested, in early January, so there may be a possibility of discussing that matter with him and encompassing it in that debate.

Senator Bacik raised a number of items, especially welcoming the decision by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Government on the "hooded men" case. That was also referred to by Senators Leyden, Mullins and Ó Murchú. It was also raised yesterday, when Senator Daly castigated the Government for not taking action. I am sure he will be in next week to welcome the Government's stance on it.

Senator Barrett also spoke about the National Ambulance Service, which I have referred to.

Senator Naughton spoke about the teachers' dispute, calling for Dr. Pauric Travers to reconvene talks at the earliest opportunity. We all hope that talks are reconvened, before Christmas if possible, in order to solve this dispute. It is in nobody's interest to have disputes like this and the only way they can be solved is through negotiation. I hope Dr. Travers reconvenes those talks as a matter of urgency and that all sides of the dispute respond favourably.

Senators O'Donovan and Bradford spoke about the difficulties that may accrue in the milk sector next year. Teagasc and the farming organisations are looking for an increase in the intervention price. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, will be in the House next week to speak on sustainability and I have asked him also to address the crisis that may occur in the milk sector, so hopefully we will have the opportunity to discuss that with him next week.

Senator Kelly discussed difficulties with the carer's allowance. He might table a motion on the Adjournment on that matter and get a specific answer.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about the rural development programme. As he stated, we had a debate only two weeks ago on the CEDRA report, but he is calling for a further debate on the rural development programme. We will try to get the Minister in on that matter.

Senator Comiskey also discussed the concerns of Teagasc, to which I have referred.

Senators Mullins and Ó Domhnaill called for a debate on Irish Aid and the recent OECD report complimenting Ireland on its support of many worthwhile projects. Obviously there is a difference of opinion between the two Senators on this issue, but I agree that we should have a debate on Irish Aid soon. We will probably have it in the new year.

Senator Byrne welcomed the announcement of new jobs in the Gaeltacht area of County Meath. This news is to be welcomed by all Members.

Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the Exchequer returns. He also welcomed the proposal from NAMA in respect of the redevelopment of the Boland's Mill site. The Senator also complimented Dublin City Council on the work it does for homeless people.

Senator Quinn stressed the importance of competitiveness in the economy. I note that figures released this morning show that the unemployment rate has fallen to 10.7%, which is another very good indicator for the economy.

11:30 am

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Senator also referred to housing density. That is a matter which we should discuss with the Minister of State with responsibility for housing. I will try to arrange a debate on the overall housing sector and this could contemplate the issue of rent controls, to which Senator Craughwell referred. Such a debate is overdue.

Senator Brennan welcomed the allocation of funding through the minor works scheme to tackle problems at some accident blackspots and other road safety issues. Senator Gilroy referred to the record of various parties represented on councils on the issue of homelessness.

Senator Heffernan questioned the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in respect of a site in Askeaton. I suggest that he table a matter on the Adjournment to obtain a reply to his specific query.

Senator Mooney referred to the Government's marketing plans to attract visitors to the houses of Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas MacDonagh. I will raise this matter with the relevant Minister. I am sure Fáilte Ireland also has a role to play in respect of it.

Senator White referred to rent supplement. This is one of the only issues on which I would disagree with Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy, who stated that the problem of homelessness would be solved if rent supplement were increased. I am of the opinion that if it were increased, landlords would raise rents again.

Senator Crown tabled an amendment to the Order of Business regarding obstetric care and the need to employ more obstetricians. As the Senator is aware, advertisements have appeared in the newspapers in the context of filling vacancies relating to obstetrician posts in many hospitals. As already stated, the Minister for Health came before the House only a couple of weeks ago and we engaged with him in a very comprehensive debate on the health service. I do not know if the issue about which the Senator is concerned was raised at that point.

Senator Mullins referred to the provision of information technology services within the HSE hospital groups and to the suggestion that the tendering process in this regard may have been flawed in some way. I suggest that, as the Cathaoirleach mentioned, the Senator raise the matter on the Adjournment in order that he might obtain a reply to his specific query from the Minister.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the adequacy of resourcing for obstetrical care in Irish maternity hospitals be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 25.


Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Rónán Mullen; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.