Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

11:00 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.15 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 3.45 p.m., if not previously adjourned; No. 2 Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 - Report Stage, (amendments from Dáil Éireann) to be taken at 4 p.m.; and No. 3, Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2014 - All Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, with the contributions of spokespersons during the Second Stage debate not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be given five minutes to reply. Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken immediately thereafter.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I ask the Leader to verify that No. 3 will be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and not at the conclusion of No. 1. Is that correct?

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil will be opposing the Order of Business today. I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health comes to the House as a matter of urgency to discuss the crisis in our accident and emergency services, in particular those in our flagship hospital, Beaumont Hospital. On 8 September last the CEO of that hospital went public because he said it was unsafe for patients.

He said it was in the interests of the safety of all patients that the hospital should regain stability as a matter of urgency. One wonders why the inaction since 8 Septembers, as Beaumont Hospital, the flagship for neurology and other disciplines, had to be taken off being on-call for the first time in its history. What has led to this crisis in which a most important tertiary hospital had to be taken off being on-call?

What has happened since the CEO flagged these problems? The Government has cut funding to acute hospitals, such as Beaumont. The Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar has his head in the sand and is interested in convincing the Seanad to support the Government's flawed Water Services Bill next Thursday and Friday. He needs to focus on outlining how this crisis will be dealt with. Before I came into the Chamber I checked the number of people around the country who are waiting to be admitted to hospital through the accident and emergency service. Some 385 families have a member who is waiting to be admitted to hospital.

People have been advised over the airwaves in the past couple of day not to come to Beaumont hospital because the hospital is no longer able to admit patients. The CEO said this on 8 September 2014 but the Government, inept and unable to listen, is not hearing what is being said. It has cut funding to acute hospitals such as Beaumont in the recent budget announcements. This is completely unacceptable. Serious action needs to be taken. How many hospital wards are closed? If ever there was a case for the immediate lifting of the embargo, it is now when a major hospital has to cease being on-call as it is no longer able to admit patients.

Serious action has been taken in the past few days to deal with the homeless, let the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, call for an urgent commission within 48 hours to deal with the situation in Beaumont Hospital. As with the abuse of residents in Áras Attracta in County Mayo, it is no less abuse for people to be told they cannot come to a hospital and, if they do attend they will be left on a trolley. Let the Minister tell that to the 386 families who have a member who needs to be admitted to hospital. What has happened since 8 September when the CEO of Beaumont issued a warning? Nothing. Blinded by the paralysis of inaction, the Government has cut services. We have not had a cold spell. Even before a possible flu epidemic, we are cutting services.

I ask Members who are considering how they will vote later in the week, to reach their decision in the knowledge that the Government can be beaten on this issue next Friday. I ask them not to listen to the veiled and disgraceful threats of a Minister who is reported in the media as having said if the Seanad does not support the Water Services Bill 2014, then the people will pay higher charges. That is rubbish. As Members of an institution of this State, we listen to the people, not a Minister trying to ram unfair legislation down the throats of the public.

11:05 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I am sure all colleagues will join with me in expressing sympathy to those who were bereaved, traumatised or injured after the siege in the cafe in Sydney, which was finally ended in a tragic manner last night.

I welcome the fact that the Cabinet will be discussing the referendum on marriage equality to be held in 2015. It is not yet clear whether a date will be announced following today's meeting, but it is very welcome to hear it is on the agenda. We all await the announcement of the date of the referendum next year as well as an announcement of the other issues that will be put to the people in a referendum on the same date. I ask the Leader for a debate on the other matters that are likely to be voted on around the same time as marriage equality, such as the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention on the age of voting, which it recommended would be reduced to 16 years, and on the proposed removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution, which the convention also recommended should be put to the people.

Could I also ask for a debate on the recommendations of the low pay commission after it has given its advice to the Government? I welcome the announcement this week by the Minister of State with responsibility for business and employment, Deputy Nash, that a low pay commission is to be established. He has called on interested parties to apply for membership of the new commission. The low pay commission is hugely important because it will enable an evidence-based assessment of appropriate levels of the national minimum wage to be undertaken for the first time. It will advise the Government generally on low pay issues. I understand these positions are being advertised on the State boards website, with a closing date of 12 January 2015. It would be good to see a healthy level of applications for the membership of that commission. I welcome the establishment of the commission. I hope we will have an opportunity to debate its recommendations in the House after it has produced its report.

11:10 am

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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According to The Irish Timestoday, the "Government expects Independent Senators to help pass Water Bill" and "Brendan Howlin says public wouldn’t welcome having to pay higher utility charges". Will it be my fault, or the fault of my Independent colleagues here, if the Water Services Bill 2014 does not pass through this House this week or next week?

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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Will it be our fault? If it does not pass, will we revert to the original scheme, under which it is estimated that people would have to pay approximately €240 per annum, PPS numbers would be used and bills would arrive in January?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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What about the Fianna Fáil figure of €400?

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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I have a question. All the applications would need to be in. I do not know whether everyone has already sent in their applications.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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I remind the House that on 19 December 2013, the Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013 was rushed through the Dáil. Does the Government Leader in this House expect the Seanad to make the exact same mistake this Friday, 19 December 2014? Does the Government expect the Seanad to make the exact same mistake?

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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I remind Senators that the Water Services Bill 2014 was presented on 28 November last.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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There will be no guillotine.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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The Dáil agreed the Order for Second Stage on 4 December last. Now it is being rushed through the Dáil. They have already spent 13 hours on it and they are not even finished. They want us to start on Thursday and finish on Friday. Then they will consider that it is our fault. I expect to have some amendments, possibly, depending on what happens in the Dáil. I do not think it will take such a short period of time to pass the Bill. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach whether there is some legal way to give us more time? Are we going to make the same mistake that was made last year?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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No, we are not. We will have plenty of time. The Senator is wrong.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Independent)
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Is there not some legal way of giving us more time? That is my question. If the Government cannot find some way of giving us more time, it is not probable that all of us reasonable Senators would advise the public not to pay when they get their bills?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I ask the Leader for a debate on the CIA report on torture, and particularly on this country's involvement in the scheme of rendition flights. I am absolutely astonished at the emergence of Dick Cheney. It is quite incredible that such a discredited blackguard should dare to raise his head. He should hang his head in shame. He should dig a hole, creep into it and hope to Christ that the rest of the world forgets about him and his dirty filthy tricks. He endorsed torture. He called the torturers "heroes". This was the attitude of Heinrich Himmler. We know the man is a thoroughgoing blackguard. I could use other words, but I would be ruled out of order. He leaked against his own staff during the Iraq war. He was such a coward that he got an exemption from the Vietnam war, which he stoked up from the sidelines. I wonder what is happening to his colleagues, Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Karl Rove. I notice they have kept their heads down. It would be interesting to hear if they have anything to say about this. Mr. Cheney is not a stupid man. He is a filthy coward and a blackguard, but he is certainly not stupid. He knew perfectly well that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombing of the Twin Towers. He used his pal Rupert Murdoch's company, Fox News, to mislead the American people. Much of this was done for gain. This is a man who was the head of Haliburton.

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

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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He was involved with Kellogg, Brown & Root.

He was a criminal involved with these companies for profit. Hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed so that this man could get fat in America. I just hope that Mr. Dick Cheney is indicted for war crimes and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal.

11:20 am

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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Regarding the point raised by Senator Marc MacSharry, the numbers attending outpatient services in hospitals has increased by 25% in the first eight months of this year and a service has continued to be provided. I do not want the impression being given that the health service is falling down left, right and centre. The level of services has increased in all hospitals right across the country.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Just Beaumont.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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It is wrong that the message going out is that the health service is in chaos. The health service is not in chaos. Services are being delivered and there are more than 100,000 people within the health service who are extremely dedicated and committed to delivering a quality service. I accept there are issues, and there are issues that we have inherited and need to be tackled which I raise here consistently in regard to how we treat and employ staff. The Government has changed the position in regard to the embargo and nursing staff are being recruited and the number of medical consultants and doctors is being increased. If we want to have a debate on the issue, let us have it on all the issues in the health service and let us give credit where it is due. For example, in regard to maternity services for 2015, it is proposed to add ten new consultants in that area. This is a long way from the Hanley report of 2003. Senator Marc MacSharry was around from 2003 to 2011 when-----

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I was, yes, I was Minister.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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-----the number of consultants in that area was to increase from slightly over 100 to 191. At present, we have 130 but by this time next year there will be 140 or 145.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator can make those points during the debate.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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It is just to give a clear example of where progress has been made and where progress will continue to be made during the lifetime of the Government.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the macro financial problems illustrated in the Central Bank report today, particularly in the property sector. The loan to values from 80% to 95% are running far in excess of what they were in the past decade. This is what the 80% loan to value proposal from the Central Bank was designed to correct. The 20% deposit which would be the remainder is opposed by people in the property sector and in financial services. There is a warning in The Irish Timestoday, referring to the United States, from Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize winner, where the people who brought the economy to its knees are seeking the chance to do it all over again. I ask that early in the next session the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, come to the House to debate these issues.

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I wish to raise the issue of the nursing home support scheme. There are outrageous delays in securing funding for elderly people discharged from hospitals to nursing homes. In my own county there are 15 week delays in securing funding for a nursing home. Whereas the hospital funds the first four weeks, the person has to wait for 11 weeks without funding and when it is granted, there is no retrospective payment. This is a crisis for many families. In rural Ireland, elderly people have to come up with between €7,000 and 8,000 to fund that period for which they do not receive HSE funding. I am sure the cost could be double that amount in the capital city. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and ask him to put funding in place from 1 January 2015 to clear all the waiting lists into future in order that there are no delays in proving funding for the elderly. Given that we have an ageing population, once they go into nursing homes, funding should be available from day one.

11:25 am

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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It is obvious that the Government has a contempt for the Seanad. We have seen it several times attempt to trample all over the rights of the Seanad, one of the institutions of this State. We saw it with the botched referendum campaign. We saw it with the botched by-election campaign. This was one they could not lose but they did, and Senator Craughwell is sitting here today as a consequence of this monumental failure on their part. Now the Government is attempting to blackmail Independent Senators to vote for a Bill which is flawed and which the vast majority of citizens do not want to see passed. It is disgraceful behaviour for Ministers, who are again attempting to subvert the democratic process and the independence of the Seanad, to try to blackmail people by saying that if we do not vote for their flawed Bill, people will end up paying higher charges. It is nonsense. The Government could bring forward emergency legislation to prevent this from happening if it wanted to do so, and that is what it will do if the Seanad, as it should, defeats the Water Services Bill.

I appeal to those Independent Senators who campaigned for the retention of the Seanad and for a Seanad that could be a second check and balance when passing legislation. If the Dáil passes the Water Services Bill against the will of the people, the eyes of the people of this State and those who marched in their tens of thousands will turn to the Seanad. They will be hopeful the Seanad will do what the Dáil refused to do, because the Government has such a big majority. I hope that the Seanad can show its worth, defeat the Government on this Bill and stand up for ordinary citizens. What a day that would be for Seanad Éireann and the citizens of this State. I therefore appeal to people not to be taken in by any blackmail attempts of Ministers and to recognise that we are an independent Chamber in this Oireachtas. We can, as it were, stand on our own two feet. We can and should make our own decisions without interference from any Minister in the Dáil. I hope this will happen, if not this week then next Monday, if we have to sit next Monday as well. I hope the message that we send out to the Government is that we will not be blackmailed and that we will debate the Bill independently of whatever any Minister says or does.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I can assure Senator Cullinane that there will be no shortage of time to debate the Water Services Bill. I have no doubt that people will not be taken in by the huge U-turn his party took in recent weeks on the water issue.

I join the Deputy Leader in extending our sympathies to the families in Australia who lost loved ones yesterday in the most unfortunate hostage situation which occurred there. It was a very worrying day for many Irish people yesterday who have loved ones in Sydney. I had some worrying moments myself. I have a niece who was evacuated from her place of work yesterday, which is located right behind the restaurant in question. We also all wish to remember in our thoughts today all the families of the 100 children in a Pakistani school who are dead as a result of an attack by the Taliban in recent hours. It is a most horrific situation.

Will the Leader arrange a debate in this House next term with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on oil prices and why it is we are not seeing a bigger drop in the price of oil at pumps and in the price of home heating oil, despite the fact that Brent crude oil has dropped below $60 a barrel for the first time since 2009? It hit €59.75 today. Oil prices have taken a 50% plunge since June of this year. We are only seeing relatively minor adjustments at the petrol pumps. We need to have a full debate on the reasons for this. We could also debate all the economic reasons oil prices are dropping so significantly. It is very interesting to see that overnight in Russia, key interest rates increased by 6.5%, bringing interest rates to 17%. There are some people in this House who will remember the bad old days when interest rates were 17% in this country.

11:30 am

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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Senators Zappone, MacSharry and Cullinane have made some interesting observations on the water debate. The Seanad must do its business, irrespective of what Ministers tell us we should do. We cannot and will not be browbeaten into taking any particular decision. Over 12 months ago the Irish people decided to keep Seanad Éireann, not to have a second axis of Government but to have an independent Chamber for democratic debate and decision-making. Let us act on that and not be browbeaten into taking any particular decisions. I look forward to a substantive debate on substantive amendments to the Water Services Bill 2014 and hope we have the time and space for that.

While I appreciate that this week’s schedule appears rather full, if it is possible and if the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, is available for one hour it would be helpful to have a briefing from him and a short debate on the political developments, or lack of development in Northern Ireland. Last week the all-party and governmental talks did not succeed as we would have wished. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister and make our own views known and make our contributions. The political developments in Northern Ireland and the discussion surrounding them should not be confined to a few political parties in Northern Ireland. They are of interest to every political party on this island and every politician in this House. I am sure the Minister’s diary for the week is busy but if he was available for one hour between now and Friday afternoon we could have a very useful and constructive debate on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Senator Bacik mentioned the Low Pay Commission which must make decisions shortly, on 12 January, I think. We keep hearing calls to make sure the minimum wage is maintained or increased. There is a definite link between the minimum wage and unemployment. We have the second highest minimum wage in Europe but we ended up with a very high unemployment rate, particularly among young people. Let us not automatically assume that the Low Pay Commission’s decision on minimum wage will seek to reduce the minimum wage. If that means fewer jobs it is not healthy. It is not the right way to go.

We should also in the new year debate young people’s access to pornography on the Internet. There must be some way of protecting children, particularly teenagers or younger children from the amount of pornographic material coming through. There are ways to do it. While I do not know the technique for doing this but I understand that in one method parents could identify every message their children receive on mobile phones or on the Internet. It seems worthy of consideration because it is a frightening thought. I do not have experience of this but I understand that some of the pornographic material on these sites is very dangerous. We as a nation should be able to protect ourselves.

To add to Senator Bradford’s point, the people last year voted to maintain the Seanad. It will be the focus of attention in the coming days. Let us make sure that our decisions are worthy of the decision of the people last year whose vote said they want an independent second House. Let us not be browbeaten or bullied into making decisions we do not want to make.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I echo the words of all Senators who have spoken against the rush to bring the Water Services Bill 2014 to this House. The Seanad was retained as an independent House and I deeply regret the words of the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and various other people.

I also will not be intimidated by the group e-mails I am receiving that seek to force my decision-making one way or another. I will make up my mind in due course and will have more to say about that during the debate on the Water Services Bill.
Last week, I called for an urgent debate on rent controls. This morning, Threshold also called for the introduction of rent controls. Fr. McVerry has also called for rent controls. I cannot understand why nothing is being done about this issue. I am last the person to want the micro-economy to be interfered with by any Government but, unfortunately, because there has been no property development in this country of any worth over the past eight years there is a shortage of property. Reference is made in this morning's edition of The Irish Times and Irish Independentto the shortage of property in this country. Whether we like it or not - I said this the other day - the animal instincts of capitalism will kick in very quickly as people try to cash in on the shortage of housing. I intend to propose an amendment to the Order of Business tomorrow morning to ensure a debate is held on rent controls. For me, this issue is more urgent right now than the water issue.

11:35 am

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment put forward by Senator MacSharry. I ask that the Leader request that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Flanagan, come to this Chamber prior to the recess to brief us on the shambles of the collapsed talks last week between the democratically elected British and Irish Governments. A recent article in the Irish Republican Newsby Mr. Brian Feeney, an esteemed observer and journalist in the North, whose opinion is well regarded states:


The responsibility for yesterday's debacle at Stormont lies scattered around the feet of our clueless proconsul. The slightest glance at the paper presented to the parties at 11pm on Thursday night - 'Paper for the Parties, a draft Agreement at Stormont' - shows conclusively that she was daft to encourage the Taoiseach and David Cameron to come to Belfast.
The issue of flags, parades and the past were never a priority of the draft agreement presented by the Secretary of State. The £1 billion offer by Prime Minister Cameron in respect of the North turned out to be a loan to be repaid with interest. In this regard, Mr. Peter Robinson said, "To bribe us with our own money is a bit short of what is required". Deputy Gerry Adams, described the talks as the most amateurish, hamfisted episode in which he had ever been involved.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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The discussion centred around reform of the welfare system rather than address of the issues outstanding from the talks chaired by Dr. Haass. This is a very serious issue for those of us involved constantly on issues relating to the North. The elections in the North will be held soon. I believe the two main parties will hang in there together and, hopefully, a Labour-led coalition Government, which will not impose cuts as brutal as those being imposed by the Conservative Party, will be returned.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I rise to again ask the Leader for a debate on the persecution of Christians throughout the world, which is a serious issue. There are many replicas of the incidence which occurred in Sydney. I believe in freedom of religion and the right of a person to be a Muslim, Jew, Baptist and so on. I have previously called for a debate on this issue in the House. A debate on this issue has never been more timely as we approach the Christmas season. However, I do not expect that the Leader will be able to provide for it prior to the recess.

I urge him to find time early in the new year when our schedules may not be as busy as they are this week to have a two-hour debate on the persecution of Christians, which is becoming a serious issue in many countries. It is an issue that we in this country should not ignore.

The Minister with responsibility for fisheries, Deputy Simon Coveney, will be away in the next few days at an annual event in Brussels negotiating quotas for next year. In this respect, every year our backs are to the wall. If we are to listen to and believe the concerns of the fishing organisations from Donegal to west Cork, there is deep concern about this. If the quotas suggested by Europe were to be imposed on this little country, we would lose 700 jobs, either directly or indirectly, in the fishing industry. It is an industry that has been under severe pressure in recent years, and some of the issues are historic. Will the Leader convey to the Minister our support from this House in the negotiations and ask him to be strong and fervent in support of the Irish fisherman? We have lost enough jobs in this industry. Our fishing fleet is about one third of what it was 30 years ago. We need the Minister to be very strong and to demand appropriate quotas for our Irish fishermen that are supported by science and the Marine Institute, which know where the weaknesses and the strengths are. I wish the Minister good luck but warn him that he will have to hold steadfast.

11:40 am

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Here we are yet again in the run-up to another Christmas having had another rushed legislative session for the past week. We will deal with nearly more legislation this week than we might have dealt with in the whole term. It is outrageous and it is doing the public a democratic disservice.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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The Seanad and the Oireachtas as a whole has a huge challenge because there are those who do not believe in parliamentary democracy, rather they believe in other forms of democracy.

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

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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We must show that parliamentary democracy is worth fighting for-----

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

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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-----that it is something we value and something that people will support, as some people are getting very sick of it with legislation being rushed through, before Christmas in particular, and mistakes being made. We have seen that with the water services legislation and we are already on the third or fourth version of that Bill due to mistakes and U-turns. The Road Traffic Act is another disgrace where we are now trying to row back on a mistake that was made. To show that this is a democracy and a Parliament of which the people can be proud, the Seanad should seriously consider not deciding on the Water Services Bill before Christmas. There should be a period of reflection and we should not rush it through. We have rushed this legislation through on a number of occasions before at the whim of the Government and the result has been confusion, street protests and a Government nearly collapsing.

Let us give this legislation the time it deserves and not pass it before Christmas. I respectfully ask the officials of the House not to communicate with us about Bills currently before the Dáil. The Dáil can take its time dealing with legislation and when it comes before us, we should consider it carefully then and not before that time. The Water Services Bill is before the Dáil. Let us leave it with the Dáil for the Members of that House to debate it, to go through each of the provisions, in which I see quite a number of flaws already, and let us not be rushed into something before Christmas that we will later come to regret. Unfortunately, there are too many precedents on this Bill alone and a number of precedents this week of mistaken legislation. Let us not do it this week or before Christmas.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I always regret a situation where large numbers of items of legislation are fast-forwarded to the last week of the session. We should be able to do business better.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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It is the Government's fault.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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The Lower House needs to take a good look at itself because this is not the fault of this House or the Leader of this House. Whoever deals with such matters in the Lower House should have a good look at how they do business. Perhaps that is the question that should have been put to the people on the previous occasion, and not whether this House should be retained.

An important project that will happen in the new year is the public consultation process on farm safety which has been initiated by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I called for that on the Order of Business some time ago because of the dramatic increase in the number of deaths on Irish farms. I thank the CPP for agreeing to hold a public consultation on farm safety and I was delighted to be asked to be a rapporteur for that committee. I notify Members of the House that the closing date for submissions from organisations and members of the public is 9 January.

Perhaps Members might alert individuals or organisations with an interest in farm safety to the fact that this process is under way and that they should have their submissions in by 9 January. That would be a great help. I can provide further information on the matter to interested Members. I look forward to the public consultation process, because ultimately it is utilising the experience and opportunity we have in the Seanad to deliver a report that will hopefully save lives. That is a very worthwhile endeavour. I look forward to the co-operation and support of all Members across the House on the project.

11:50 am

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I was quite taken with Senator Craughwell's contribution. I agree with him that this House will calmly and reflectively do its duty without dictation from anybody, in particular, as he said, the group e-mails with which we have been bombarded. Of course we will ignore them. In fact, I deleted the lot. We will make up our own minds. I am sure the Leader will enlighten us shortly. We have a proud record in this House of not having a guillotine, so let us not get too excited. We will take all the time necessary. We can sit on Christmas Eve or whenever. We will find plenty of time to deal with the Bill. I am sure we will not have any guillotine.

I never doubted Senator MacSharry's acting ability-----

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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A Chathaoirligh, I am entitled to some protection from the Chair.

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

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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It is not acting, it is action.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator MacSharry could take it as a compliment.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I realise Senator MacSharry is superb in that regard.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Sligo amateur dramatics society.

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

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I remember when Senator Coghlan had to read everything out.

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

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We all need prompt cards now and again.

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

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am told that even the best actors need them. No, I do not have a question; I am happy to hear from the Leader.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Coghlan will hear him now. Senator MacSharry called for a debate on the health service and he proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. He spoke about the statement made on Beaumont Hospital on 8 September. We had a very comprehensive general debate on health with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, on 4 November in which 15 Members took part. I am sure all the points Senator MacSharry raised today were raised with the Minister at that time and I see no point in having an amendment to the Order of Business to bring the Minister in to discuss the same subject again only a couple of weeks later.

A number of speakers raised the Water Services Bill. I assure the House that I will not be browbeaten, as has been suggested, by a Minister or anyone else. We will run this House in a proper businesslike manner, as we usually do. I have not been browbeaten by any Minister on the issue.

Senator Cullinane mentioned blackmail when he was present. Independents will decide what way they wish to vote on the Bill. I suggest they will not be bullied by anybody. They will not be bullied by the comments this morning of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. I have the utmost confidence that Members will make a decision based on the Bill before them and its contents. Many people are trying to exert pressure on Independent Members in particular in regard to the Bill but people will make up their own minds.

Senator Bacik expressed sympathy to the relatives bereaved in the siege in Sydney. Senator Mullins expressed sympathy to the families of children killed in a school in Pakistan. I am sure we would all like to express our sympathy in that regard. Senator Bacik also sought information on the dates of the various referenda. I am sure we will have them very soon and we will provide the information to the House at the time.

Senator Bacik also called for a debate on the low pay commission report, when it is complete. Senator Quinn, on the same subject, raised the link between the minimum wage and unemployment, etc. That will form part of the debate on the low pay commission report.

Senator Zappone raised the issue of the Water Services Bill 2014. The previous Bill on the matter was not rushed in this House. We spent 16 or more hours debating it and I can assure the Senator it will not be rushed this time in the House. Ample time will be provided.

11:55 am

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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We will sit Saturday, if the Senator likes.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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On sitting times, we will sit as long as the House decides, when it goes through its Committee Stage and Report Stage. If we are not finished Committee Stage, we will continue it on Monday and then finish Report Stage on Tuesday. Let us wait and see until we get the legislation. There is no point in jumping fences before we reach them. Let us wait and see what happens.

Senator Norris voiced interesting opinions on the former Vice President of the United States, Mr. Dick Cheney, which, I am sure, many would share also.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I was looking for a debate.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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We will try to hold a debate. Senator Norris also mentioned it last week. Senator Bacik sought a debate on rendition and those areas as well. I am trying to organise a debate on that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I thank the Leader.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Colm Burke told us the health service is not in chaos, that certain issues remain to be solved but much progress has been made in that area. Senator Barrett raised the issue of mortgages and the Central Bank and called for a debate with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. We will try to arrange that early in the new year.

Senator Kelly raised the issue of the delays in funding for the fair deal scheme. I note an additional €25 million was provided for the scheme but I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister again.

Senator Michael Mullins raised the question of oil prices and the need for them to be reduced even further at the pumps. In my city, it is down to 127 cent or 128 cent for diesel. If it is that way in Waterford, there is no reason it should not be that way throughout the country. Neither am I saying that we in Waterford have the lowest prices. Obviously, taxation makes up a large amount of the price of a litre of petrol.

I already addressed Senator Bradford's issue. On Northern Ireland, which is something Senator White raised as well, and the request that we try to get the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to the House to have a debate on the breakdown in talks in Northern Ireland, I will certainly try to get the Minister in this week if at all possible.

Senator Quinn also called for a debate on young people's access to pornographic images on the Internet. The Minister is about to publish the sexual offences Bill and that will be covered in that Bill. We will have ample time to debate that important issue at that stage.

In response to Senator Craughwell, I have asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, to come to the House for a debate on the property situation and rent controls. As the Senator will be aware, the Minister is busy on other issues at present but I will continue to ask him. I note Senator Craughwell will propose an amendment to the Order of Business tomorrow. I have continued to try to do something about it. It is proving difficult to get the Minister to come to the House on the issue when he is dealing with other matters in the other House.

Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on the persecution of Christians worldwide. We will certainly try to hold a debate on that. On fishing quotas, the Minister has said he is unhappy with the proposals that are before him currently.

I note Senator O'Donovan's point that he must remain steadfast and I am sure we all wish him well in the negotiations.

I agree totally with Senator Byrne that parliamentary democracy is paramount and we will do everything to ensure parliamentary democracy will work in this House.

Senator Conway spoke about farm consultation on farm safety and the closing date for submissions on 9 January next year. We are very thankful that Senator Conway has agreed to act as rapporteur on this issue.

12:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Marc MacSharry has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on his plans to address the crisis in the accident and emergency services at Beaumont Hospital be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 23.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Thomas Byrne and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 12.05 p.m. and resumed at 12.15 p.m.