Tuesday, 26 May 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re referral to committee of the Companies Act 2014 (Section 1313) Regulations 2015, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Customs Bill 2014 – Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 7 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, statements on the national drugs strategy, to be taken at 7 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate not later than 8.25 p.m.
I thank the Deputy Leader for outlining the Order of Business. The Order of Business gives me an opportunity, on behalf of my party, to very much welcome the result of the marriage equality referendum, and not the presidential age referendum. The participation in the referendum by way of turnout was very heartening and shows that when civil groups, in particular, are at the centre of campaigns like this, people become engaged. It was heartening to see the response of the "Yes" vote.
It gives me great pleasure to commend, in particular, Senator David Norris. I am sure people will not mind me singling him out, as someone who has championed the cause of equal rights to same sex marriage dating back to when homosexuality was a criminal offence. It makes ones think how quickly this country has moved on in relative terms. I also commend Senators Katherine Zappone, Ivana Bacik and many others who played their part in having the same sex marriage referendum passed by the Irish people. There is a slight degree of irony here in that although we passed this referendum, we had a small break-up in the Fianna Fáil Party, but we are over that already and have moved on.
Senator Averil Power played a very important and very active role in the campaign and I would never take that away from her - she is a very good colleague of ours so that is for another day. It is important for the occasion to be marked and I also welcome the fact that the Government has decided to bring the legislation forward to July. The Government can be assured of our party's support in ensuring the legislation has a quick passage.
I have just come from the Lower House and I congratulate Bobby Aylward, the new Deputy who was elected for the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency to replace the EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan. I am delighted he has been elected by the people of that constituency. He is a colleague of mine in Fianna Fáil and I pass on my congratulations to him and to all candidates, of all parties and of none, who put their names forward in the by-election and campaigned so hard in that constituency.
I believe that, earlier today, the proposed takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG was discussed in Cabinet. Our views are very clear on this - we oppose the sale of the State's share. Under the Aer Lingus Act 2004, once the Government makes a recommendation to sell its stake it has to be voted on in the Dáil. I ask the Minister for Transport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to the House at the appropriate time, whatever the Government decision is, to go through the rationale for the decision and to take questions. I remind Members that 15,000 pensioners and members of the IASS pension scheme are suffering savage cuts to their pension benefits, which allowed Aer Lingus and the airport to wipe away a €740 million pension deficit in order to fatten the company up for sale. Those people must be remembered in this and maybe, if the Government is going to sell its stake, part of the residual moneys can actually be used for the benefit of the deferred pensioners who have been cut by 60%-----
I agree fully with Senator O'Brien and I pass on my congratulations to Senator Norris. Nobody has campaigned for as long and as hard as he has. I also congratulate Senators Zappone and Power and the many others who took part actively on the "Yes" side of the campaign in the referendum. We also welcome the new Deputy.
Today is a very important day for another reason. Today saw the publication of the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on farm safety. It is a tremendous and very useful report and I congratulate the Chairman of the committee, Senator O'Donovan, and its rapporteur, Senator Martin Conway, for all the work they put into it. I also hope the rest of us assisted somewhat. It makes recommendations on the education front, in terms of awareness of new technologies, on targeted agricultural modernisation and on a scheme for tractor safety, and we know how important that is. It also deals with farm safety visits, a tractor adaptation grant which we have recommended, assistance for bereaved families and a scrappage scheme. Of particular importance in this area are PTO shafts, the dangers they present and the number of bereavements for which they are responsible. I lost a great friend in Ballyhar when a tractor pinned him down for 24 hours and he died a short time after being found in the cold of winter. I do hope the Minister and his departmental officials take serious note of everything that is in this report. It will be sent to them now and I look forward to the Leader giving a commitment to a debate on the report, for which the Chairman of the committee asked. The report is most useful and I heartily recommend it.
It was an honour and a privilege to be present in Dublin Castle for the final declaration on Saturday and to see the landslide in the marriage equality referendum. I was in the count centre in the RDS early on Saturday morning and, while it became apparent from the first batch of boxes that we were heading for a resounding victory, the sense of occasion only grew in momentum as the day wore on.I have known very few such days in my lifetime. Indeed, I had the lyrics of Nina Simone's 1965 classic - "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me, and I'm feeling good" - going around my head for that entire weekend. Everybody one met around Dublin Castle and Dublin in general did. The result is more than what it says on the tin. It is a definitive reflection of a societal shift that has been developing for some time. The people have spoken and they are saying, "Welcome to 21st-century Ireland, which is open, inclusive, fair and tolerant." I congratulate Yes Equality and all the civil society groups that advocated, campaigned and canvassed to bring about the referendum and to bring about the courage in the Irish people to say "Yes." As a children's rights advocate, I was involved and was delighted to be part of a rallying call at the official launch of the BeLonGTo campaign, the largest coalition of children's and youth organisations supporting a "Yes" vote in the referendum. Well done to them on all their work. That organisation will need support as more and more young people are now having the courage to come forward. I hope we will arrive at a day when we do not need courage. On the issue of courage, I thank my colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone, who had the courage to take the Government to the Supreme Court, and Senator David Norris, who had and continues to have courage on the issue of ensuring equality. Particular mention should be made in this House of Senators Averil Power and Ivana Bacik, who played a very strong role. Well done to all of us who played our individual parts.
I want to raise the issue of direct provision and the increase in the momentum for change. On 7 May, the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions produced a report stating that the direct provision system must be made subject to the Ombudsman for Children and the Freedom of Information Acts. On 22 May, the Ombudsman for Children's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which will be looked at the week after next, raised specific concerns about mental health services for children in direct provision. Yesterday, HIQA published the report of its inspection of child protection and welfare services for children living in direct provision centres. We heard very startling reports. Today, at the ISPCC inaugural lecture, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, talked about the cultural norm we must have of protecting all children. We have, in a way, accepted that these children are treated differently. In this era of equality, we need to say it is no longer good enough. Given this focus on direct provision - I know we have a cross-party group and our group of nominees has put forward many motions on the issue - I ask the Leader to seek a commitment from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, to introduce the working group report on improvements to the protection process, including direct provision and supports to asylum seekers, into the Seanad for debate, given our cross-party work on this issue. We have to have it soon and we must take urgent action. There are children at risk in direct provision in Ireland.
I join in the congratulations to everyone who was in Dublin Castle on Saturday and, in particular, our great colleague, Senator Norris.
For some of us, this is a sad day. The Government has presided over the sale of the Irish national airline without reference to the Oireachtas transport committee. They did not even have to give the Taoiseach the papers when he went into the Cabinet meeting this morning. My office was told by the Department of Transport yesterday that it was not on the Cabinet agenda. This is an appalling way to proceed. We need that national airline. The conduct of British Airways shows contempt for this House, for this Parliament, for an independent country. It has gone to a British quango, the Competition and Markets Authority, to force Ryanair to divest its shares in Aer Lingus so that British Airways can take it over.
This is an outer offshore island that needs to access transport. This is an outer offshore island from which Aer Lingus has developed nine transatlantic routes. There are none from Scotland, which was a major factor in the rise of the Scottish National Party in recent elections. Angus MacNeil, the transport spokesman, said that British Airways neglects Scotland. It has no routes to North America. We are trying to develop this country, yet we are handing over the national airline to an airline whose track record is not to provide services from Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham or any other region of the UK to North America. We need that North American investment. I am calling for the suspension of Standing Orders to make the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, come to the House and say what he is doing.I remind the Minister that two thirds of the people surveyed in The Irish TimesIpsos MRBI poll opposed the privatisation of that share of Aer Lingus, including a majority of the supporters of the Fine Gael Party and a strong majority of the supporters of the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Independents and Fianna Fáil. Why is a 21% share in an airline which we, the citizens, owned being given away for a paltry sum by the Cabinet today? Apparently it has adjourned and intends to meet again in the evening to complete this foul deed, which is not to the advantage of this country. It is anti-competition, anti-consumer and anti-development.
I believe we should suspend the Standing Orders to force the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to come to the House because we, as Members of the Parliament, have not been supplied with the documentation. It also has not been given to the transport committee and it appears from the Taoiseach's interview this morning that he was not given the papers either. This is a shoddy way for British Airways to proceed with its business-----
I also welcome the outcome of the marriage referendum. It was very heartening to see the cross-party support for it and to see everybody campaigning together. Tomorrow they will be protesting again but for that period of time everybody acted as one. Some campaigned more than others, but that is grand because that is democracy and everybody is entitled to their beliefs. Anyway, the outcome was good. I especially congratulate those who are not involved in politics but who went out knocking on doors and to campaign for Yes Equality. Perhaps it will give them a taste of politics and they will continue in that line.
I wish to mention funding for the schemes to support national organisations, SSNOs. This is something on which Senator van Turnhout and I have been working. It was also the subject of a Commencement debate in the House. The Minister and the departmental officials met with Senator van Turnhout and I to try to move this forward. Last night I was delighted to hear that the Minister had announced funding of €1.3 million to provide security for at least 12 months. However, I believe these organisations should be put on a more sustainable footing. The Department of Health must move into this area and take over the disability and health organisations that should come under its remit. It should put proper funding in place for them to give them security, rather than have them not knowing whether they will be in their jobs in a year's time or whether they will be able to provide a service. Perhaps the Deputy Leader would invite the Minister for Health to the House so we can discuss it in detail. Otherwise, this will be before the House again this time next year. Some of us might be back here again too, although some of us might not, and we will be seeking funding again for these organisations for the future. Now is the time to act and to put it on a more sustainable footing before then.
I congratulate Deputy Aylward on his re-election to Dáil Éireann. It is a great honour for him and his family. I also second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Barrett.
I acknowledge the tsunami victory that the "Yes" campaign achieved over the weekend. I was very interested in the remarks made by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. As a practising Catholic, I believe that unless the Catholic Church takes heed of the seismic shift in Irish society it will decline further into the abyss. His remarks were encouraging and acknowledged the situation in which we find ourselves. It is important that this is done because, historically, the Catholic Church has buried its head in the sand. I would like to see a move in the Catholic Church to a more centrist position and to an acknowledgement of how society is evolving. If it does not do that, unfortunately, the church to which I have been attached since my childhood, and as a practising Catholic I will probably die a member of it, is certainly going nowhere and on a hiding to nothing.
I also rise to acknowledge the tremendous work done by my colleague, Senator David Norris. I became a Member of the Seanad on 27 October 1989.At that stage Senator Norris was ploughing a lonely furrow, not only in this House but in the country, and he was often scoffed at by members of my party and other parties. I admire his tenacity and his courage in holding out. He won a very successful court case in Europe, which led to the then Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, taking on board the decriminalisation of homosexuality. At the request of the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in 2002 and 2003, I chaired a committee on the Constitution, which was the first group to examine the whole area of the family and to recommend civil partnership. It was a big step in that direction. At that time I had many discussions with Senator Norris both on and off the record. It was my view then that a referendum to change the situation at that time would probably have failed. That was my view and it was the majority view of the committee. It was a large committee. I specifically requested the Taoiseach to bring on board the Independents, Sinn Féin and the Green Party. Our work was acknowledged, but it would be remiss of me today, as the deputy leader of this group and on behalf of Fianna Fáil, not to congratulate the "Yes" side. If any person in this country was the catalyst for change who often ploughed a lone furrow, that is Senator David Norris, and I bow to him here today.
Before I ask for a debate, I congratulate Senator O'Donovan and the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the farm safety report, which will be very useful. We look forward to debating it in the House.
It is less than 100 years since this country gained independence. The momentous decision at the weekend shows how much we have moved on in that 100 years. It has vindicated the work done by Senator Norris, Senator Zappone and many other people in this House. With regard to the result of the by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny, I wish to congratulate my old adversary from Kilkenny County Council, my good friend Bobby Aylward, on his election to Dáil Éireann. I look forward to working with him as a constituency colleague. I also congratulate my colleague, Councillor David Fitzgerald, who put up a good show on the Fine Gael ticket.
It is with regard to the by-election and the referendum that I raise this matter. I ask the acting Leader to request a debate on the electoral system. It can be seen that the referendum captured the imagination of the people when one notes that more than 65,000 people registered to vote and more than 2,500 of those were in Carlow-Kilkenny, whether for the by-election or the referendum. However, what concerns me is that in the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election there were 2,066 spoiled votes, that is, 3% of those who voted, whereas in the referendum vote the proportion of spoiled votes was 1%, over 600 votes, which is the national average. I saw the boxes being opened because I was helping with the tally, and I saw the spoiled votes being counted and sorted. More than 1,000 of those spoiled votes had no preference marked on the paper. Therefore, there were people who wanted to vote in the referendum but did not offer any preference as to whom they wanted as their representative for Carlow-Kilkenny. Besides the 1,000 papers which showed no preference, there were also spoiled votes that had the usual comments written on them. Perhaps people are entitled to do as they wish with their vote, but in my view, young people need to be educated on how our PR system works. As seasoned politicians, we are often baffled as to how voting preferences work. I noted that some voting papers had 12 preferences indicated for 13 candidates. It is important that people vote down the list on the voting paper.
Other speakers were given liberty today because it is a momentous day for this country.
The elimination of the Sinn Féin candidate resulted in 9,990 non-transferable votes. Is that the party's policy, or were people voting-----
I will conclude. I called for this debate previously. People should not need to register themselves because a PPS number should be a means of automatic inclusion on the electoral register.If that were the case, we would not have this situation where 65,000 people were obliged to apply to go on the supplementary register. As I said, the number of spoiled votes, at 2,066, and non-transferable votes in the by-election worries me.
It is such a privilege to stand up in the House and welcome the decision of the Irish people to say "Yes" to marriage equality. I acknowledge today our great hero and champion, Senator David Norris, along with all of the colleagues who participated in bringing forward that outcome. I acknowledge, too, all the citizens who voted, whether "Yes" or "No", for their engagement and the depth of their reflection on their values and on the arguments from both sides. My Dublin South-West Yes Equality team visited approximately 25,000 households in the course of the campaign and had at least 10,000 conversations with residents on the doorstep. I was deeply moved, time and time again, by how Irish people engaged in those conversations and showed their care for this State. I had the wonderful opportunity yesterday to speak with our former President, Mary Robinson, about the referendum. One of the things she said to me was that it feels like we are back to the early years of her Presidency, when there was great engagement, hope and a vision for change for Ireland, and a consideration of how we might offer that example of change to the rest of the world.
I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the spokespeople for the "No" side, particularly those who sit on the opposite side of this Chamber. I witnessed their immense dedication to this debate time and again. Although we disagreed deeply, I always felt personally respected by them. I thank them for that.
When my life partner, Ann Louise Gilligan, soon to be acknowledged as my spouse in the eyes of this republic, and I conducted our case in the courts almost a decade ago, one of the arguments put forward by our legal counsel was that our human right to marry each other should exist, even if the majority did not agree, and it was the role of the courts to protect the rights of those in the minority. I take this chance to express, one final time, our profound gratitude to that legal team. It included Senator Ivana Bacik, who sits in this Chamber with me today.
When we saw that the decision on this fundamental right was to move from the courts to the people, it was not easy in the beginning. However, we came to the view that if the majority of the people were to say "Yes" to equality, freedom and love, it would far outweigh the import of any judicial decision, even that of the highest court in the land. I thank the people of Ireland for their decision.
I join colleagues in voicing my delight at the result in the marriage referendum and thanking all those who worked hard to get it over the line. I take this opportunity to acknowledge Senator David Norris as the path finder on this human rights issue and for his role in leading us to a more modern Ireland.
President John F. Kennedy famously said, "[Ask] not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Yesterday, our country lost one of its famous sons with the passing of Mr. Bill O'Herlihy. Bill did more for this country than many a man for many a decade. He united us all, coming into our living rooms in the depths of winter and the heat of summer. He thrilled and excited us, whether we won, lost or drew. Bill O'Herlihy was a genius of a journalist, combining that skill with his television broadcasting. He got the best out of the so-called experts with whom he worked. Not just on television but also in his place of work and with his family and friends, Bill was provocative and stimulating. He stimulated debate and touched the nerve of the nation like no other before him and perhaps like no other after him.
It is often said that achieving fulfilment is less about what one gets out of life and more about what one puts into it. Bill put so much into his life, and we as a nation are richer and better for it. He was a great friend and mentor to me and many others in the world of sports. He will be dearly missed by all of those who were privileged to know him. To his wife, Hilary, his daughters, Jill and Sally, and his grandchildren, family, friends and colleagues in RTE, I offer my deepest condolences.At exactly this time tomorrow, Bill was scheduled to play in a four-ball with his mates. He would not give a gimme and there would be no mulligans. It would be pure golf. I know he is watching and that his friends with whom he was scheduled to play tomorrow are deep in grief and are asking whether or not they should play. What Bill is saying right now is: "Lads, go out and play. Life is too short. Enjoy. Your round is not up yet. Make the most of life." Rest in peace, Bill.
-----"Well done, Ireland." I would like to mention the wonderful work done by the Leas-Chathaoirleach and his committee, which took evidence from both sides quite impartially. I say this because it is the only aspect that has not been mentioned and complimented. Everyone else has been already.
I look forward with great interest to the Government's legislation which will give effect to this enabling clause in the Constitution. There are certain anomalies that need to be ironed out, for example, pension irregularities and the question of section 37 of the equality legislation, which allows schools, at least theoretically, to dismiss people for their lifestyles being in conflict.
That has been parked, but what about the presidential age referendum?
A total distraction. The reason for the distraction was that none of the stuff about the Presidency was on the Constitutional Convention's programme. I managed to squeeze on a motion about opening up the Presidency to popular nomination. I was accused of doing it for my own ends, but I have no intention of going for that particular job again. It was an altruistic motion. The people should have a say. The motion went through by 96%, by far the highest percentage of any vote taken by the convention, but what has the Government done about it? Nothing. It produced a farce about the Presidential age.
What is the Government doing about it? Interestingly, Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP, also raised this issue.
The issue of direct provision was mentioned. I prepared legislation and tabled it in the House. We were told that, of course, it would all be sorted out in a matter of weeks. Rubbish.
Nothing has been done at all. We would have passed that legislation had Sinn Féin not jumped ship at the last minute with a dog-in-the-manger-type attitude because it wanted to grab all of the kudos of solving the problem.
The people of Ireland made a significant and monumental decision. What stood out in the campaign was the considerable debate on radio and television. Everyone who participated on both sides of the argument is to be complimented on informing the general public about all of the issues pertaining to the referendum. Democracy was well served and people made their decisions based on everything they had heard. The outcome was a good day for our citizens who have felt undervalued and under-respected down the decades.
I join Senator Eamonn Coghlan in extending our deepest sympathy to the family of the late Bill O'Herlihy, a much loved and much respected journalist. Some of us remember when he presented "7 Days", including that famous programme about moneylending all of those years ago, where he cut his teeth in the world of politics. We were present with him on every great sporting occasion for the country. He was a wonderful businessman who lived life to the full and brought out the best in everyone with whom he worked. It was great to hear former colleagues speaking with such high regard for him and the advice and mentoring he gave many through the years.What an exit. He attended the Irish Film and Television Awards on Sunday night in great form and then left the stage. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Conway on the publication and launch of the document on farm safety in the audio-visual room earlier. It is appropriate that it should be published this time of year when the farm is the busiest place in the world with so much activity. All the people who participated in the hearings and fed into that wonderful report should be complimented but it is incumbent on all of us to highlight its contents. I look forward to a lengthy debate in the House and to ensuring we focus people's attention on farm safety.
I pay tribute to two people, in particular, who made a significant contribution. One is Patrick Duffy, a young student from County Monaghan, who designed a board game on farm safety, and a lady called Alma Jordan, who has published her first in a series of six books for children on farm safety. This is a good day for the House and I look forward to the debate on the report.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú le chuile duine a raibh baint acu leis an reifreann ag an deireadh seachtaine, an reifreann ar chomhionnanas pósta.
Although it is important to recognise the role played by political and public figures, the referendum on marriage equality last weekend was a win for the citizens of this State and a great day for them.
The grassroots movement that came forward to canvass on behalf of a "Yes" vote was phenomenal and it was great to see the outpourings of joy. I am disappointed the second referendum on equality did not pass because I do not see a difference between a citizen who is aged 18 and one who is aged 88-----
-----and it was disappointing that the referendum did not pass.
As "equality" is now the buzzword and most politicians were willing to wear Yes Equality badges, although some were a little shy, we need to examine other equality issues in the State. I refer to the economic and social inequality and the growing disparity between those who have and those who have not. We also need to consider the issue of child poverty, which was debated in the media yesterday. It is an ongoing debate. This issue affects children in all spheres of life. In a number of days, 10,000 lone parents in Galway will have their benefits cut because of changes being introduced to their social welfare payments. It was pointed out at the inaugural ISPCC lecture that 1,000 children live in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation in Dublin, which is unacceptable, while more than 1,400 children are in direct provision centres. They are certainly not equal in the eyes of the State. It would be appropriate for us in light of the concerns raised by HIQA yesterday and by other Members to have a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on the issue of direct provision, which has cross-party support. It is a comprehensive report with comprehensive proposals, which I am sure Senator Norris will welcome when we have the debate.
I also welcome the positive outcome of the marriage equality referendum and rather than thanking members of my own party and others who campaigned so positively for it, I wholeheartedly commend the members of civil society groups who convinced the citizens to come out in a such a resounding fashion.
I would like to raise the issue of startups. Last Thursday, in Galway, I attended a meeting where representatives of multinational companies, large corporates, local authorities, universities and institutes of technology were present to discuss the Startup Gathering, which will run throughout Ireland between 5 October and 10 October. In excess of 50 events will take place that week in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and other urban centres. The aim of the event is to be one of the largest regional startup events in the world. The Startup Gathering is part of the Action Plan for Jobs 2015 and it is supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.I encourage colleagues from all parties and Independent Senators to get involved with the Startup Gathering taking place in their localities. This initiative is the brainchild of Eoin Costello, who is a very impressive individual. What he is doing is fundamental in the context of getting people back to work and in terms of supporting SMEs and other businesses in their efforts to get up and running. If we are contemplating a recovery, these people will continue to form the backbone of our economy.
The Irish people are remarkable because they will always follow the truth if the truth is authentic. In this instance, they followed the truth. Our common humanity can never be undermined. The referendum was about our common humanity, and that influenced how the Irish people voted. I congratulate them on voting the way they did. I wish to inform Senators Norris, Zappone and others that what has been achieved has been coming for a long time, and it has now found its rightful place in our society. I am very glad of that and I congratulate all of my colleagues and the great Irish people for their sense of what constitutes truth. The people will never let one down when the truth is invoked. I also wish to thank the Labour Party and Fine Gael, who created the platform - in both the Lower and Upper Houses - to allow this referendum to come about and to ensure that people could vote in it.
I remind the House that it was the Taoiseach's nominees who imagined and initiated the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, out of which have come the reports on farm safety, positive aging in Ireland, alcoholism and many other matters. The Leader took on board the concept of establishing such a committee, but it was imagined, initiated and developed by the Taoiseach's nominees.
I wish to alert Senators to the fact that UPC is ending its relationship with An Post. The company will no longer allow any citizen in Ireland to pay his or her UPC bill at a local post office. The relationship in this regard is all over and UPC is walking away. One must now have a credit card or a debit card and a bank account to pay one's UPC bill. Many elderly people do not have any of these. UPC is capitulating to the great banking model. Some 3.5 million people use the services of An Post. The Government is trying to keep An Post alive but UPC - representatives of which went to An Post on their knees a few years ago begging it to allow their customers to use its facilities to pay their bills - is now walking away.
I want the relevant Minister to come before the House to explain the position regarding this matter. New social welfare forms have arrived in post offices, but the Government is recommending that people should use the services of banks. That is disgraceful.
UPC is going to have to answer for this. How is it being allowed to do what I have outlined to the people? Many older people do not have bank accounts, credit cards or debit cards. This is because they do not use the services of the banks. In fact, An Post is their bank, and the reason for this is that it never let them down. I would like the Leader to provide an explanation of the position with regard to both UPC and the new social welfare forms.
The report contains many good proposals and we look forward to their being implemented. For far too long there have been too many deaths on Irish farms. For example, there were more than 30 fatalities in 2014, and there have already been quite a number of very sad incidents to date this year. What we want to see happen is the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of farm safety. As many Senators outlined on that great day - 25 March last - when the House debated this matter, it all must begin with education. The farming organisations, Teagasc and all of those involved in farming at every level were involved with the committee's consultation process on this matter. I look forward to the implementation of the proposals contained in the report.
Deciding how to vote in a referendum is a very personal matter for individuals. How people vote should be respected by everyone. I live in the constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim, which voted "No" by a small majority. Individuals in the constituency reflected on the matter and voted according to their consciences. They took an informed view as to how they felt about this issue and then cast their ballots. We should respect-----
We live in a democracy and we should fully respect the wishes of the people to vote in accordance with their consciences and in a confidential manner at polling stations, as is their right. I regret very much the decision by Senator Power to leave the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, where she played an important role, and she will continue to play an important role in this House. She is an enlightened Senator who brought good legislation through the House, and I wish her well in her continued work in this House and in whatever she decides to do politically or otherwise, because she is a breath of fresh air to politics.
On the referendum that was passed, I compliment and wish well Senator Zappone and indeed Senator Norris, who was at the forefront of this issue. However, I must point out that Fianna Fáil, through Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, brought forward the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, not homosexuality, which was not a criminal offence in Ireland. Furthermore, we brought-----
I would not have any knowledge of that issue. Civil partnership was introduced five years ago by a Fianna Fáil Government, and without civil partnership there would not have been this success for individuals last Friday.
God bless them, but the point is that this was an ongoing development, and I and Fianna Fáil Members voted here in this House and lost members over this issue.
The points made by Senator Barrett should be listened to by the Government. The sale of Aer Lingus to IAG is absolutely undermining the airline, and it is national sabotage to decide on it. It reminds me of when a former Fine Gael Government, including the late Jim Mitchell, sold Irish Shipping and deprived Ireland of its own shipping line for imports and exports. It was an absolute act of sabotage, and the same situation is arising now.
In his major contribution to the media and to sport, he never forgot that he was from Cork and always retained that Cork accent that was very important in any presentations he made, no matter what it was, be it current affairs or sport. I pay tribute to the contribution he has made and sympathise with his family, as he will be greatly missed on his passing.
On the equality referendum, like everyone else I pay tribute to the Yes Equality campaign. On the night before the vote, it was interesting to see more than 700 people working in Cork city as they distributed leaflets and worked on the campaign. It was a huge contribution that people made to democracy. The debate that took place within families was very interesting and was summed up for me when I knocked on a door and thought I was disturbing a party. The person who answered had a pint glass in his hand and stated he was voting "No" but that they were all at him, because while there was a party under way there also was a major debate. The great thing about this referendum was the debate within families and how people voted for what they believed in firmly, whether on the "Yes" side or the "No" side.That was the great contribution of this referendum to democracy. Likewise, I hope that people will look at the issues in a very fair and balanced way and come to their own decisions, whether it is in a referendum, local election or general election. That was a very important part of the debate in this case.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 15 be taken before No. 1. The Minister for Finance met the banks this week and we have not heard from him exactly what came out of that meeting. We should have the Minister in the House very shortly to tell us the outcome in regard to variable mortgage rates. The Bank of Ireland has said it has no intention of reducing its rate, yet the Minister has given us the impression that he convinced it or had made a case that had been accepted. We would like to have the position clarified. The only one who can answer that is the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. I would like to see him come to the House and I urge the Leader to encourage him to come here very shortly.
I join colleagues in expressing joy at the result of the referendum. It was a proud day to be Irish and an even more proud day to be Senator Norris or Senator Zappone or any of those who went public with their personal stories. It was the likes of those interventions that made the difference in this campaign. I personally know someone very significant in my life who was intent on voting "No" and who is quite elderly. I did not ask her on the day but she said she had heard so many personal stories about people's circumstances throughout the campaign that when it came to it she voted "Yes". I was personally delighted about that. Obviously, a lot more than she voted "Yes". We were the talk of the world, which is important, but the effect it will have on citizens is much more important and it is definitely something to celebrate.
I briefly welcome the consumer regulations that have been proposed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, in respect of gift vouchers and other vouchers. A great many of those who issue vouchers have overly onerous terms for them. While I await the detail I welcome the initiative. We will have an opportunity to discuss the matter when it comes before the House. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on one minor concern, perhaps through the Deputy Leader, in terms of how the regulation will impact on businesses and their balance sheets. Does the Minister propose a mechanism to ensure vouchers will not remain a permanent liability on the balance sheets of businesses, given that there is a likelihood that a percentage of gift vouchers will never be redeemed? It would seem wise to try to formalise a structure that would ensure a balance of fairness to both consumers and businesses. I very much welcome the proposals that have been outlined to date by the Minister, Deputy Bruton.
Yes. That is correct. There has been much congratulation over the weekend about the referendum. The result is due to the people, not necessarily to the political system. It was the people who went out and got the votes. I was particularly struck at the count on Saturday in the RDS at the inverse relationship between the "Yes" to the referendum on marriage equality and the referendum on the age of candidates for the Presidency. A seismic shift is taking place in this country, namely, a total and utter rejection of what the Government regards as reform. How dare it bring forward a referendum seeking to reduce the age of candidates for the Presidency to 21. What effort was put in to push that referendum over the line?
My heart sank when I listened to the debate on the recent report on Seanad reform. While it will not do so in the lifetime of this Government, the political class needs to wake up, as the Catholic Church has done. As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin stated, the church will take a step back, reflect on what has occurred and try to bring itself into line with citizens who are two steps ahead of us.
The Deputy Leader provided the schedule for today's debates and statements. Speaking time has been cut to the bone again, with non-group Senators excluded from having a say. I ask her to provide additional time to ensure every Senator-----
On my way to Dublin this morning, I stopped for a meeting in the famous Ballymascanlon House Hotel on the Cooley Peninsula. The motto over the front door of the building is "Festina lente", which translates as "Hasten slowly". Count Plunkett, a previous owner of Ballymascanlon House, was a Member of the First Dáil which assembled in the Mansion House.
I ask him to change his mind and run for President. I congratulate Senators Norris, Zappone, Power and Eamonn Coghlan on the major effort and significant contribution they made to the "Yes" vote. Well done to all concerned. I will speak tomorrow about another issue I had intended to raise as the Cathaoirleach has cut me short.
I acknowledge the result of the referendum on marriage and thank Senator Zappone, in particular, for her very gracious words. I would like to reciprocate, and I am sure I speak for other "No" campaigners, by stating that I always felt respected by the Senator. I extend good wishes to her and Ann Louise.
If the proposal had been rejected, it would have behoved those of us who had advocated a "No" vote to seek some kind of a generous accommodation. For example, we could have considered whether the law on civil partnership, an issue that arose during the debate, needed to be amended or strengthened. By the same token, it is important to recognise that the 730,000 people who voted "No" are not mired in ignorance or atavism but have a different view on marriage. They retain their views which should be respected.
From now on, rather than having culture wars, we should consider how we can accommodate different visions of important issues in society. We could start by taking a generous view in the section 37 debate. It is important that schools of different denominations and ethos are entitled to transmit the values that are dear to them and reflect their foundational ethos and that of the people who send their children to them. We do not have to take a winner takes all approach to these issues. I look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with people who take a different view from me on the meaning of marriage and hope the Government will lead this dialogue instead of seeking to press home its advantage.
Incidentally, it would be good if the 38% of voters who voted "No" were represented by 38%, more or less, of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is an issue for the parties to consider.
The rural practice allowance for general practitioners working in rural areas is paid to GPs to defray the additional costs of running a practice in a rural area. These include the greater number of house calls they must make to older patients than doctors in urban areas. Some of them also act as dispensing agents for medicines in locations where pharmacists are not readily available.
Under the scheme a doctor is paid the allowance where his or her practice is in an area three miles from a town or village which has more than 1,500 people. A local medical service is absolutely vital to older people living in relatively isolated areas with limited or no rural transport. Furthermore, access to primary care locally helps reduce the number of people who present themselves. I raised this issue previously when I informed the House that the Health Service Executive, HSE, was revising the terms of the statutory scheme by stealth.
This affects doctors in east Galway, in rural parts of Clare and it is important not to raise it as a Commencement matter but to ask the Minister for Health to come in and state that the Government will not abandon its commitment to the provision of GP services to people in rural Ireland. I would like to have a debate on that in early course.
Last winter I asked about the role of the energy regulator when the cost of fuel went through the roof. We were promised then that electricity costs would fall by the end of April. I have not been contacted by anybody whose electricity bills have dropped as a consequence. The electricity suppliers promised that the cost of electricity would drop.
Can the Deputy Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the job description of the energy regulator? As of this morning, crude oil cost $59 a barrel and yet the price of petrol has risen consistently over the past few weeks to between €1.41.9 and €1.42.9 per litre. Fuel costs have risen weekly. What is the job of the energy regulator? How can the fuel companies substantiate raising the cost of fuel when a barrel of crude oil is $59?
In respect of the referendum last Friday, this House has a very proud history of debating civil and human rights, civil liberty and equality issues. This Seanad has justified the need for this House. I sincerely congratulate Senator Norris, the father of this House, who has been here for many years, and Senator Zappone.
While we have fantastic debaters and a fantastic debate on marriage equality took place in this Chamber, the real debate took place in our homes with our families, where people thrashed out the issues. Irish people came to the conclusion we would stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends and neighbours to show them this is a welcome, open and free society that has a very proud history of standing up for what is right. In some parts of the world, people are put to death because of their sexuality. This vote has made us a beacon of hope to other parts of the world. I spoke to gay friends in Australia, Bahrain and Germany who are over the moon with this result and could not thank the Irish people enough. We have broken the chains of repression in that 1937 document, written by de Valera and McQuaid.Travelling around my own constituency, I noticed a huge change. I went to de Valera's home town of Bruree and could see the spring in people's step when they were leaving the ballot box. They knew they were making a serious change. To paraphrase a former Member, repressive Ireland is now dead and gone and is with McQuaid in the grave, and romantic Ireland is definitely making a huge comeback.
A major feature of this campaign has been the influence of social media, and the hashtag I saw on the morning of the referendum, #hometovote, really blew me away. We saw our emigrants, who cannot vote from abroad, putting their holiday funds into coming home to exercise their democratic right.
It was inspiring to see such a mobilisation of young people to bring this country into a new age of enlightenment. They took planes, trains, buses, boats, automobiles, you name it, to get home to cast their vote. I congratulate them sincerely.
I am conscious that it is a momentous day coming so shortly after the result in the marriage equality referendum, and that most colleagues referred to the referendum and in almost all cases welcomed the result. It was very moving to listen to the comments and their strong expressions of welcome for the resounding majority of 62% in favour of marriage equality. It was a magnificent result and, as many have said, reflects the immense social change that has already occurred. It reflects a common humanity, inclusivity, positivity and joy in Irish society. In particular, I commend Senators David Norris and Katherine Zappone for their immense work and contribution to the change that has come about.
The referendum result also marks the end of an incredible journey. For many of us who were involved in the campaign for marriage equality going back more than ten years, as Senator Zappone has said, the journey is remarkable. I also want to pay tribute to my own party, the Labour Party, which championed this when it was not a popular cause. I commend Eamon Gilmore, our former party leader-----
-----who personally championed the issue of marriage equality, and described it as the civil liberties issue of this generation. He has been vindicated. I also commend the Constitutional Convention, which, through its 79% majority vote in support of marriage equality, placed this referendum very firmly on the Government's agenda. We then saw the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and all the political parties, along with the Government, championing the cause of marriage equality.
I pay tribute to all those who campaigned and canvassed so hard, particularly the civil society groups such as the Yes Equality coalition. This coalition galvanised huge numbers of young and older people to go out canvassing. I was canvassing with them and with the Labour Party across Dublin Bay south. It was incredible to see the immense numbers that came out. Tribute should be paid to Gráinne Healy, Brian Sheehan and all those who led the Yes Equality grouping from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
Others have mentioned Home to Vote, which was a very moving, last-minute campaign. I had a friend who flew home from the Middle East for 24 hours to vote. Colleagues have talked about the national conversation and the personal stories that contributed to the incredible majority support for marriage equality. I thank the many colleagues who spoke so eloquently about the result. What a great celebration we had all weekend at the RDS and in Dublin Castle as well as in other venues in Dublin and all around Ireland. This result was echoed across the country in every constituency except one.
Senator O'Brien welcomed the result of the referendum and pointed out that it was an historic day.He also referred to the small break-up in Fianna Fáil that perhaps may have tarnished things somewhat for that party. It is obviously a matter for Fianna Fáil. I personally commend Senator Averil Power for all the great work she has done in the Seanad, as Senator Darragh O'Brien did too. She has made a very important contribution on many issues in the Seanad over many years and I am sure she will continue to do so as an Independent.
Maybe not. Senator O'Brien asked a specific question on when we are likely to see the marriage Bill. There is a draft published on the Taoiseach's website and the Minister for Justice and Equality has announced that she will have the Bill enacted by the end of July to enable same-sex couples to get married. She intends to seek Government approval for the final draft of the Bill in June and the aim is to introduce it into the Oireachtas immediately thereafter so it can be enacted before the end of this term in July. The Bill will include a provision to enable couples to convert a notification of intention to enter a civil partnership into a notification of intention to enter a marriage. Clearly, that will make things more efficient and speed things up for couples who have already registered their intention to enter a civil partnership, which is very welcome. I know we will have a full debate on that Bill in this House.
Senator O'Brien also welcomed the new Deputy for Carlow-Kilkenny, Deputy Bobby Aylward, and we all join in wishing him the very best. I also commend Councillor Willie Quinn, the Labour candidate in Carlow-Kilkenny.
Senator O'Brien mentioned the Aer Lingus bid. I understand the Cabinet is reconvening after 6 p.m. today to consider the IAG offer. There are reports the offer represents a significant improvement on what was there before. I understand the Cabinet has adjourned until after 6 p.m. given the volume of detailed information involved. The Government's underlying position remains unchanged. The shareholding will not be sold unless market conditions are favourable and unless key concerns are addressed on a number of issues. I have certainly made my own views clear that I do not agree with the sale of 25%-----
I note SIPTU has said it wants to see commitments on jobs in particular, which is very important. Senator O'Brien also asked that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, would come to the House to brief us all on the issue. I think that is very fair and I will ask him to do that as it would be most useful.
Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the public consultation committee report on farm safety published today. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been formally invited to the House to debate this report, which is a welcome one on a very important issue. We would certainly hope to have that debate very shortly.
Senator van Turnhout referred to the marriage equality referendum. I agree it was a momentous day and thank her for her kind comments. The Senator also sought a debate on direct provision, in particular that the debate on the report on direct provision, commissioned by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, would be brought into the Seanad first. I will certainly look for that because it would be appropriate, given the huge work the Seanad has done on the issue of direct provision. I have asked for a briefing on this issue. I understand the report is at a very advanced stage and is due to be completed in the very near future. I hope we can have that debate before the end of this term.
Senator Barrett raised the issue of Aer Lingus. I cannot accede to his request to amend the Order of Business. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to come to the House once he is in a position to do so in order to discuss this with us. Therefore, we can have the debate on the deal. although I think it would be premature to do that today.
Senator Moloney asked for a debate on funding for schemes to support national organisations and asked the Minister for Health to come to the House. I will certainly look for that debate.
A large number of Senators spoke and I am conscious we will be here for some time if I am to respond to them all. Many of them have not stayed to hear the response. I did say, the last time I was Deputy Leader, that I did not believe we should continue to facilitate those who come in, often at the very end of the Order of Business, speak and then leave-----
-----when other colleagues are trapped here, listening to a very lengthy leader's response to Members who are not here. With the permission of those who are here, I will just respond to those who are here, and if anyone listening on the monitor wants a response, they can come to the House. If I miss anyone, they can tell me.
On that basis, I will move to Senator Zappone. Again, I pay tribute to the Senator. She welcomed the result of the marriage equality referendum and spoke again of the incredible journey it has been for her personally and for Ann Louise Gilligan. I wish her the very best and want to say how moving her proposal was on television.
Senator Norris, with customary eloquence, spoke of referendum fatigue. I think he is quite right that the debate also has to move on. Again, I pay tribute to his enormous work on this. There is legislation still to come. We will have the marriage Bill before the end of July and there is also the Bill on section 37, which, as the House knows, is before the Seanad as a Private Members' Bill that I introduced two years ago.
We are pushing on that and I know it is a priority for the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin. I am hopeful it will finally finish in the Seanad before the end of this term. I would welcome help on that.
On the forgotten referendum on presidential age, I very much regret the result. I take issue with what Senator Craughwell said about it. I thought it was an important issue and in the spirit of equality, I was very much a champion of the referendum. Colleagues in Trinity College wrote very powerfully on why people should vote "Yes" on that.
Senator Norris also referred, quite rightly, to the Constitutional Convention and some other very important recommendations that I regret we did not get to put to the people, in particular the voting age, the removal of blasphemy and the place of women in the home. They are all referendums which are now overdue.
Yes, that was the other issue on the presidency which was supported by a large majority of the convention.
Senator Mullins expressed a lovely tribute to Bill O'Herlihy. We all want to join other Senators in expressing our sympathies to his wife, Hillary, his daughters and his family, friends and colleagues. It was a real shock that he passed away in such an untimely fashion.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the referendum and also asked for a debate on other equality issues, notably children in poverty and direct provision. As I said, I will look for a debate on direct provision. The reports from HIQA and the ombudsman are particularly concerning. It would be appropriate to have a debate when we receive the report from Ministers.
Senator Colm Burke paid tribute to Bill O'Herlihy and pointed out that Fianna Fáil had sold off the controlling interest in Aer Lingus, which is important to note. It is difficult to take a brazen approach on this from Fianna Fáil Members.
I accept Senator Quinn's amendment. He also asked for the Minister for Finance to come before the House to discuss variable mortgage rates. I will look for that debate. Last week the Minister held a series of meetings with Ireland's six main mortgage lenders, focusing on the high standard variable rates being charged by the banks. That is a matter that is under ongoing review.
Senator Noone referred to the gift voucher proposal from the Minister, Deputy Bruton. Like the Senator, I welcome it. She may know that in the previous Seanad, my colleague, the then Senator Brendan Ryan introduced a Private Member's Bill on the issue. It is long overdue, as a matter of consumer rights. We will see if the Bill can be introduced in the Seanad because we have had a debate on the issue.
Senator Craughwell referred to the referendum on the age of presidential candidates. It is very regrettable it was defeated. He also asked for more time for statements on the national drugs strategy. The Customs Bill is being given ample time and is to adjourn not later than 7 p.m. People have plenty of time to speak on the Bill. Statements on the national drugs strategy finish at 8.30 p.m., but I will ask the Minister of State to return to the House on another occasion to continue the debate if more people wish to speak.
Senator Brennan asked Senator Norris to run for the Presidency again.
Senator Barrett has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on the reported Cabinet discussions today on the IAG takeover of Aer Lingus be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- Gerard Craughwell
- John Crown
- David Cullinane
- James Heffernan
- Terry Leyden
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Katherine Zappone
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Jim D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- Terry Leyden
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Pat O'Neill
- Feargal Quinn
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Rónán Mullen
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan