Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Order of Business
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I would like to convey my deepest condolences and sympathies on the tragic events that took place in California. I commend the Leader on his highly appropriate gesture in thinking about those families. I suppose we have our arguments, disagreements and discussions on policy - we all try to do our best - but when tragedies happen on days like today, we are shown what is really important. I am certain - I am glad the Leader made this point - that the Government and the staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our consular service will do absolutely everything to assist the families of the deceased and the other young adults who have been critically injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with them today.
On foot of that terrible tragedy, I will temper my remarks on a couple of items. Like some of my colleagues in this House, including Senators Landy and Craughwell, I spent this afternoon meeting the Clerys workers. It is a distressing situation for the more than 400 staff who have, in effect, been locked out of their jobs. When we have a debate on that at the appropriate time, we should consider where we are at regarding the legislation on protecting workers' rights. Furthermore, I ask that we fast-track as best as possible any redundancy payments due to these workers, most of whom have no income whatsoever now, and need the assistance of the Department of Social Protection. When I discussed these matters with many of the decent workers who were at today's event in Dublin, they told me their worlds have come crashing down. It has been a massive shock to the system for them.
I would like to refer briefly to something about which I am slightly concerned. I was not going to mention the manner in which one political party, in particular, tried to take over part of what happened outside Clerys. As members of the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and as Independents - I am sure members of Fine Gael were there - we were there as public representatives to show our support, to listen to people talking about what happened to them and to see how we can do better and be of assistance. Unfortunately, some members of a political party tried to bully people off the streets of this capital, which are not owned by anyone. Maybe one could say they were nearly trying to capitalise on a terrible situation. The only party there that had banners, unfortunately, was Sinn Féin. I am not suggesting that many of the Sinn Féin people who were there are not also concerned about what has happened - of course they are. However, on the idea that other public representatives should not be there or are intimidated in some way into not being there, I think we have to watch it. I am a big boy; I can take any grief I get and it is no big deal to me. However, it is a trend that has started to come in on a few different issues. All Members across parties, including Sinn Féin Members, are very concerned. We want to do what is right and we want to make sure this situation does not occur again. However, I will not be bullied off O'Connell Street in my own city by a couple of thugs either. That is just not going to happen.
I am not going to say any more than that. I think we are all committed. We should do whatever we can to ensure the workers in Clerys are assisted, that they get the money they are owed and that the suppliers and those who have concession stands get the money they are owed. We must ensure a situation like this does not happen again, and it is outrageous to think it can happen.
I know we had quite a fractious debate in some part last week. I apologise if I offended anyone last week when we debated the regeneration of Moore Street, as that was not my intention. However, the Bill I introduced was about this very thing - the economic regeneration of the north O'Connell Street-Moore Street area. Now, Clerys is gone - a massive block of O'Connell Street is gone. What is going to happen with that? I worry not just for the workers but for the future of our capital street in Dublin. At the appropriate time, over the next few days or certainly next week, because time is of the essence, I ask that we set aside time to debate all the aspects of this terrible turn of events at Clerys.
With other colleagues, I want to join in expressing enormous sympathy to the families and individuals concerned in the tragedy in Berkeley, California, involving Irish students. News is only just coming out now but it is clearly an appalling tragedy. I thank and commend the Leader on having a minute's silence, which was a most appropriate way to show our deep commiseration with the families.
I want to raise the issue of the way in which the workers in Clerys have been treated and the sudden closure on Friday. Along with other colleagues, I was there outside Clerys earlier today to support the staff and concession holders of Clerys. It was a hugely dignified protest. I was delighted to meet some of the staff, particularly some of the many women who had been working there and who were let go so suddenly. They are clearly still very shocked about their treatment, and rightly so. It is very important that all of us, on a cross-party basis, should express our concern and outrage at the way in which the staff and concession holders have been treated and the way in which the closure was carried out. In doing so, we should be seeking to put pressure on the consortium that has taken over the store, which is in fact Irish-led, and whose actions have closed it down. I would absolutely support all who do that. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, who has been actively engaged on the issue since the announcement was made on Friday. I again express my commiserations to the staff in particular and to all of those who have lost out, because there are clearly plenty of other people who are also at a great loss as a result of this sudden closure. It really is obnoxious treatment of people, and that needs to be said.
I welcome the opening yesterday of registration for the free GP care scheme for children under six. I note the gpvisitcard.iewebsite was inundated with requests from parents seeking to register their children, so clearly it is going to be hugely popular, and rightly so. It is an enormous advance in health care in that it puts the focus on keeping children healthy and preventing illness in children. It is a major step forward towards a universal health care system. The Bill we are dealing with today at all Stages represents a further step forward. I welcome the opening of registration yesterday.
On a lighter note, I wish a happy Bloomsday to all, particularly to Senator Norris, who has done so much work for so long on the Joyce issue. I also congratulate Senator O'Keeffe on her work on Yeats 2015 because, just in the last few days, we have seen some very important events in Sligo to mark the opening of Yeats 2015.
I wish to join with others in expressing my shock and sadness at the closure of Clerys department store. I understand it was the first custom-built department store in the world. I always used it and found the staff to be unfailingly courteous. I suppose there was an old-world air about it, apart from the little cloches of hired-out spaces where Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent and the rest of them roosted. There was something lovely and significant about the place, and it is a really iconic building at the heart of O'Connell Street, one of the very few fine buildings left in O'Connell Street.
One wonders about these Gordon Brothers gentlemen. The last time Clerys was taken over by a collection of yanks, they fired a lot of old people out of it without paying their proper redundancy. We should use this opportunity to examine the whole way in which redundancy is used by these people, particularly when there are takeovers. I would love to have an accountant's view of the way in which this was handled. First of all, they bought the place for €1 million plus a €13 million debt which was subsequently run down. They then sold a building, which reduced their entire cost to €11 million, and they are reputed to have sold it on for €29 million. That leaves €18 million in their pockets, yet they are kicking off with their long-term employees. I think it is an absolute disgrace.
I call on Gordon Brothers to honour its obligations to its employees. It is not good enough for American companies to use this country as a kind of offshore hedge fund shopping area, where the natives will sing dumb and put up with whatever is done to them.
I did not know about the meeting and am sorry Sinn Féin misbehaved, if they did so - I cannot comment on that as I was not there. Today is a very busy day for me, but in my heart I am strongly in solidarity with the Clerys workers and very much hope something can be done for them.
I received a letter today from a friend of mine whose partner works in Clerys. He came home from a late-night shift delighted with himself because he had made the company €114,000 that day. Yet the next day, he found the place was closed and, the day after that, he was let go without so much as an apology. I find it deeply shocking. If this is capitalism, let us have communism.
Yesterday was world elder abuse awareness day, which was commemorated in a number of ways across the country. There was a public lecture at NUI Galway by the school of nursing and midwifery. The objective of the day was to raise awareness of elder abuse and how prevalent it unfortunately is. It is not confined to residential settings but can be carried out by a friend, neighbour, family member or stranger. Hidden abuse is often particularly vile. There is an imperative on all of us to protect our elderly from abuse by these predators, who often strike at a very vulnerable time for our elderly in society.
There is a HSE senior care worker team which will deal with concerns regarding elder abuse. It is important to get the message out that if people have concerns about somebody in their community, family or network of friends, they should contact their local HSE community care organisation to report the matter.
I am sure many here watched last night's RTE programme on the collusion between the security forces in the North of Ireland and the loyalist death squads. It is quite evident that this collusion was known and sanctioned by the very highest level of the system. Great credit is due to RTE for this programme. It was exceptionally well researched and balanced in giving others the opportunity to express their views.
We must remember that there are still outstanding issues. Certainly, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings require attention from the point of view of Seanad Éireann. Each year we watch the commemorations by the relatives of those massacred at that time. We must also remember the particular tragedy that befell these families at that time. The Government has been proactive on this. However, last night’s television programme showed quite clearly there was collusion by the British security forces in the killing of our citizens. The Leader might once more ask the Taoiseach to ask the British Administration to release the papers in its possession and to carry out a full and proper inquiry. Those who watched Pat Finucane’s family on last night’s programme would have been impressed with their dignity. One could also see the outrage they felt. They were expecting a public inquiry and every indication was given there would be one. Tony Blair had made the promise that it would happen. It was quite clear from looking at last night’s programme that the only reason the public inquiry did not take place was because there was collusion by the security forces. As a House of Parliament in the Republic, we should make our views strongly known. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to once more raise the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, the Pat Finucane murder and the broader issues in question with the Prime Minister in Britain? We all accept there is a good relationship between our two countries, something which we all welcome. However, it is not possible to watch a programme like the one last night and say, "Forget it all". It is not as simple as that.
I join with Senator Darragh O’Brien in raising the plight of the workers of Clerys, many of whom I met at lunchtime. Several issues were brought up with me which I said I would raise on the floor of the House today. Obviously, we have to deal with the bigger issue, a point already articulated by Senator Norris.
The workers asked me to raise two issues. First, Clerys, as of lunchtime today, was still selling gift vouchers online. Legislation governing gift vouchers is being brought forward in this House soon. It would be most appropriate that the cutting off of this type of practice be enshrined in that legislation.
The second issue brought to my attention concerned those who had paid deposits to Clerys. One person, as was outlined in the media over the past 24 hours, had paid a €5,000 deposit on furniture which has gone into the big black hole of the capitalists who have moved in on Clerys. These two issues need to be addressed. The first can be addressed by legislation which will come before us soon. The second must be addressed also, namely, where a company closes down, those who paid deposits must have their money returned immediately.
I echo the Leader’s sentiments about the sad loss in California of five young Irish people. I also note the President issued a statement from Italy on it and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has expressed his regrets and is assisting the relatives.
I welcome the Taoiseach’s announcement yesterday that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, will be meeting the trustees of the Beit collection regarding its financial difficulties with Russborough House and its paintings. Alfred and Clementine Beit were honoured by the former President, Mary Robinson, as honorary citizens of Ireland on the nomination of the current President, Michael D. Higgins, when he was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. They were most generous in their lives with presentations to the Irish people. I hope this matter can be resolved.
I regret strongly the ultimatum issued by the UK Competition and Markets Authority to Ryanair to sell its shareholding in Aer Lingus down from 30% to 5% and to do so by Thursday. This is an appalling intrusion into the internal affairs of two Irish companies by the United Kingdom. It is unjustified. I have done as much as anybody in this House to promote better relations between the two countries. This, however, is neocolonialism. It is a unilateral UK decision without apparent reference to either the Irish or EU competition authorities. Can I remind the United Kingdom authorities that Ryanair operates in 31 countries and Aer Lingus in 28? The Competition and Markets Authority should immediately withdraw its ultimatum. It is an affront to this independent jurisdiction that it should seek to impose extra-territoriality. Its decision is based on an entirely false premise that allowing Aer Lingus to be entirely owned by British Airways would not be a threat to competition, whereas Ryanair's 30% shareholding in the company is a threat to competition. The UK authorities are wrong in both instances. Ryanair has promoted European integration like no other airline ever did. British Airways, on the other hand, was part of a cartel that made it impossible for Europeans to fly around. The bureaucracy in the United Kingdom will be shown to be out of control if this ultimatum is not withdrawn by Thursday.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy extended by the Leader and previous speakers to the families of the young Irish students who were tragically killed in California this morning. As someone with a son on a J1 visa in California, it was especially shocking to hear the news.
I welcome the letter issued by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the four local authorities in Dublin. The letter should be circulated to all local authorities. Planning will be a major issue if we are to increase the number of homes. We have a housing crisis, with more than 3,500 people on the housing list in County Kilkenny alone. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on planning and request that the Minister organise a seminar on the issue. While I accept that each county has a development plan, planners may exercise discretion with regard to the types of once-off housing that can be built. A uniform approach to this issue is required and people's wishes should be taken into account. I would welcome a debate on these issues.
I understand the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has established a boundary commission to examine the possibility of moving part of south County Kilkenny into the Waterford constituency. It should keep its hands off south Kilkenny. I do not believe Henry Shefflin's sons will ever wear the Waterford colours. Waterford city attempted a land grab in south Kilkenny a few years ago. The boundary commission must consult all interested parties.
I welcome the announcement by the universities of Aberdeen and Harvard that chocolate is good for us. As a chocolate lover, I am delighted to hear that eating it can reduce stress and the incidence of heart disease.
I join the Leader and previous speakers in expressing sympathy to the families of the five young students aged between 20 and 22 years who were killed and the eight students who were injured, some critically, in Berkeley, California. This tragedy has occurred in a country that has very good building standards and the students will have felt safe and secure in the building in question. We all share the sadness of the families of those involved in this terrible tragedy.
I join Senator Ó Murchú in complimenting RTE on its excellent documentary, "Collusion", which was broadcast last night. The programme confirmed the collusion that took place between British Government forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Britain should hold a full public inquiry into the matter. The documentary highlighted many atrocities, including the assassination of Patrick Finucane in front of his wife and children and the bombings of Dublin and Monaghan on 17 May 1974, which resulted in the murder of 33 people and one full-term unborn child and injured 300 others. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings were the deadliest single attack carried out during the Troubles. The British Government owes it to the Irish people to carry out an inquiry into this matter and make all relevant documentation accessible to the Department of Justice and Equality in order that the issue can be fully examined.
The bombings are a cloud that hangs over the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The Ulster Volunteer Force claimed responsibility for the atrocity in 1993. It is now understood, as I have stated in meetings of the Council of Europe, that while Britain stands up against atrocities in other parts of the world, it colluded with forces in Northern Ireland against this Republic and its standing has been damaged by its lack of accountability on this matter. We all owe a debt of gratitude to RTE because it has highlighted the situation in a balanced way. I was appalled by the attitude of former MP Ken Maginnis regarding the fact that there was an apology to the Finucane family, not a public inquiry.
I also wish to add my voice of sympathy to the families of those who were killed and injured in Berkeley today. It is really bad news that is just winding its way through Ireland at present. I also wish to stand with the workers of Clerys. While I was unable to attend their protest today, I stand foursquare behind them and my sympathy goes out to all those who found themselves out of a job overnight, or in a matter of minutes, really. As spokesperson on social protection, I will work closely with the Minister to ensure the workers will be able to avoid the hassle and grief of applying for their redundancy, that it is fast-tracked and that their social welfare payments are put in place as quickly as possible.
The Cathaoirleach should forgive me for raising a matter that was raised last week, but I was off with a medical issue. I can tell him it did me no good to hear from the media that funding for Rape Crisis Network Ireland was being withdrawn by Tusla last week. The entire health budget was €13.1 billion, out of which Tusla was given a budget of €609 million. Cumulatively, 16 rape crisis centres and Rape Crisis Network Ireland received €4.2 million of that, which is just 0.7% of the overall health budget. It would be an absolute disgrace were funding to be withdrawn from these centres, which are absolutely invaluable to women in particular, because it is predominantly women who are raped and sexually abused. However, according to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, report, one in five girls and one in six boys experience sexual abuse as children. For adults, the figures are even worse, as 42% of women experience some form of sexual abuse and 10% are raped, while 28% of men endure some form of sexual abuse and 3% are raped. These are frightening figures and it is terrible to have the funding withdrawn.
I come from County Kerry, where the sexually transmitted infections, STI, clinic was closed down and transferred to Cork. If one looks up the telephone number for the STI clinic in County Kerry, it is care of an 021 number, which is a Cork number, and consequently, people in Kerry do not even have that. Although the clinic visits regularly, there is a third level institution in County Kerry and there should be a permanent STI clinic. I acknowledge and welcome that the forensics and the experts are in Cork, but when a person has been raped or sexually abused, he or she really needs to speak to someone locally, and the rape crisis centre is obviously a port of call for such people. Consequently, although this may have been sought last week, I reiterate that call for the Minister to come to the House and explain to Members why this funding was withdrawn and the reasoning behind it.
First, I join with Senator Darragh O'Brien and other Members who have expressed sympathy to the families of those young students who died tragically in California. I also wish to raise an issue that has been raised already, namely, that of the Clerys workers, which must be debated in this House. First, I welcome the support that has been expressed and, to be fair, given to those workers by Ministers and Government Senators. Unfortunately, however, Members have been here before and it is a painful reminder of what happened to the workers in Talk Talk in Waterford back in 2011, who also were given extremely short notice and who again were treated shabbily by their former employers at that time. There also have been sit-in protests at Vita Cortex, Waterford Crystal and Lagan Brick, and in many other cases recently. Legislation must be changed to ensure there are much more robust protections for workers, because in the Clerys situation, 130 direct staff will receive only their statutory entitlements. In addition, a further 330 staff who are employed by concession holders face an uncertain future. The former and previous employers have refused to meet the union or the workers themselves. I also attended the protest today to stand in solidarity with the Clerys workers. I spoke to many of them who had been there for 40 years and more and who simply were heartbroken by the manner in which they were treated. While the primary responsibility for this obviously lies with the employer and the disgraceful way in which they were treated, Members' job is to legislate to make sure people are protected. There have been numerous instances where workers have been obliged to engage in sit-in protests. What we need to do is fix the problem, through the introduction of legislation, to ensure that employers cannot walk away from their responsibilities, which they repeatedly seem to be doing in this State. That is not good enough. We can give all the tea and sympathy in the world to the workers in question and to those who were affected in the past but what they want is protection and it is our job and that of our counterparts in the Dáil to provide for it. I support the call that has been made for the appropriate Minister to come before the House so that we might engage in a debate on the legislation which must be put in place to solve these problems and to ensure that much more robust protections for workers will be provided.
I, too, wish to express my condolences to the families of those young students who were killed or injured in Berkeley in the United States. For them to have been attending such a happy event, the 21st birthday party of one of their contemporaries, and for it to end so tragically is quite shocking.
I also wish to voice my support for the Clerys workers. When I first heard about this matter, I was concerned, shocked and surprised by the fact that the store was closing. However, my feelings soon turned to disgust when I discovered how the workers are apparently being treated. We often discuss the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers but I do not believe I have ever previously seen quite such brazen treatment of staff, although reference was made to the former employees of TalkTalk in this regard. This style of takeover and shutdown of retail companies does not reflect how business has traditionally been carried out in this country and I do not believe it should be welcomed to these shores. The most heartbreaking aspect of this matter relates to the fact that when they commented on it in recent days, the staff seemed to be of the view that the store was doing much better than previously. It was making money but obviously this was not enough to service the huge debts it had built up. This is an extremely difficult situation and I wish the Ministers involved well in their efforts to provide assistance.
I welcome the decision the Government took earlier today to remove 1 cent and 2 cent coins from circulation. I only made a request last week that this should happen so I am delighted the Government has been so quick to deal with it. On a serious note-----
I will get to my question. I just wanted to congratulate Senator Quinn who was involved in the original trial in Wexford which has resulted in the withdrawal of 1 cent and 2 cent coins nationwide. As I stated last week, it costs 1.7 cent to produce a 1 cent coin and this is not sustainable. Other countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Hungary have already introduced the policy of rounding. This policy will be rolled out here in the coming months on a voluntary basis. The coins in question will remain legal tender. I welcome this development.
Our thoughts go out to the families whose loved ones died in Berkeley, California. My wife and I have five children, all of whom worked in the United States when they were students. Some of our grandchildren have done so as well. The thought of receiving a telephone call to say that one has just lost one's child is horrific. While we are aware that five people were killed, there is a possibility that even more could die. Our thoughts are with all of those involved. What happened was certainly not expected. However, it has happened and we can only hope that something can be done to relieve the sorrow of the families involved.
Our thoughts are also with the former employees of Clerys. This matter is a reminder of how long the store has remained in business. I think it first opened its doors in 1853, while Arnotts opened in 1841 and the Burgess department store in Athlone commenced operations in 1839. Some department stores have lasted quite a long time. We must remember the benefits we, as a society, have enjoyed as a result of competition but we must also recognise that the only way one can remain in business is by pleasing one's customers and moving with the times. It appears that Clerys, which went through the hands of various owners, had difficulty in doing both. I hope that a resolution will be found for the workers involved who find themselves in such a difficult position.
I thank Senator Noone for her congratulations on the removal from circulation of 1 cent and 2 cent coins and for making a call on this matter on last week's Order of Business. Last year, I was asked by the Central Bank to travel to Wexford and act as an ambassador for the removal of such coins from circulation. It has taken approximately a year to have all the coins withdrawn but their removal is going to be of major benefit. I was a little concerned listening to the radio earlier when it was stated that the idea was to round up but that is not the case. If it is 99 cent, one rounds up but if it is 91 cent, one rounds down. If it is 96 cent, one rounds down; if it is 94 cent, one rounds up. In other words, there will be no cost to the public in getting rid of 1 cent and 2 cent coins. It worked well in Wexford and it was accepted by practically everybody there. We should encourage this and we should congratulate Senator Noone for pushing this.
Age Action Ireland combined with Ulster Bank on a great campaign to highlight the fraud perpetrated within families against older people. A good conference was held in Ulster Bank. The spotlight must be put on those who have deprived their older family members of their money, which they deserved. The action of Age Action Ireland and Ulster Bank deserve congratulations.
I join colleagues in extending my deepest sympathy to the relatives of the young people who lost their lives and of those who were seriously injured in Berkeley, California this morning. I heard a short while ago that my neighbour's son was in the building. While he was uninjured, he knew two of the young people who were killed. It is an appalling situation and I applaud the fact that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deployed its consular crisis centre on the ground immediately in Berkeley to assist all the young people. In addition to those who were injured and who have lost their lives, many other young people have been traumatised by what has happened and they will need all the help they can get from the Department.
I share the sorrow for the workers in Clerys and the appalling manner in which the announcement was made last Friday. Everybody throughout the country feels for them. Clerys was an iconic brand through the years and many of us from the country on probably one of our first trips to Dublin as youngsters with our mothers would have visited Clerys. The shop has stood the test of time. It has been there since 1853, as Senator Quinn said. What has happened is appalling. I support the call for redundancy payments to be fast-tracked for the people concerned. I heard a number of the concession holders being interviewed earlier and they are in an awful position. Their stock is tied up and money is owed to them. We have witnessed a new low in business practice and in light of this, a thorough review of how business is conducted in this country, particularly in the retail trade, is needed. If legislation needs to be amended to provide greater protection for workers, then that must be done as a matter of urgency. Issues arise from this Clerys scenario that we, as a Government, cannot ignore. I hope the people who have worked there all their lives and who were about to retire but who now find themselves out of work receive whatever basic entitlements they are due immediately.
I join colleagues regarding the case in Berkeley. On the morning of 9-11, my son was in New York and he was on his way to the twin towers. I pay tribute to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which worked overtime at the time to put parents' minds at rest. I recall that we got our telephone call at 7 p.m. to tell us our son was alive and uninjured. When I saw the photographs he brought home from New York, I realised how close he was. We have photographs of him standing looking up at the towers coming down. I am deeply sorry and I am fully aware of the pain and suffering parents are going through today.
I visited Clerys earlier with a number of Members of both Houses. As previous speakers said, the need for the new owners to meet the workers and to sort out redundancy payments, pension entitlements, etc., is urgent. In particular I rise to speak about the collusion which was covered in a programme on RTE last night. It is no secret I served in two armies in my time, and last night I watched in horror when I saw what I would call highly-trained people on the Protestant side of Northern Ireland march around the place with the UVF and UDA. When I saw what went on there I was horrified by it. I know decent, good people on both sides of the religious and political divides in the North. In fairness, the IRA, who are no friends of mine, have taken some hammering over the years for the atrocities they carried out. We need to impress upon the Taoiseach the need now to open up what happened on the loyalist side and the collusion which took place. I am horrified to think people in high positions and political officers of the state of the United Kingdom employed soldiers to assist terrorists carry out their actions in Dublin and Monaghan and in the various killings which took place in Northern Ireland. We all know about the IRA ones. It is time we opened the door on what went on with the security forces in Northern Ireland. I commend the RUC sergeant who came out publicly on the RTE programme and I commend RTE for the great job it did. I would like to see some action on this as soon as possible.
I commend the Leader on the most appropriate way in which he commenced the business today given the tragic event in California and the loss of five of our citizens with so many others injured.
I agree totally with everybody on Clerys. I did not know about the meeting. It is a shocking and appalling situation given the great, loyal service of so many very long-serving members of staff. I agree with everybody that whatever should be done should be fast-tracked for them where necessary. I very much express solidarity with the sentiment expressed by Senator Darragh O'Brien on the bad behaviour, to put it at its least, of some people who tried to bully or intimidate other public representatives showing their assistance and support.
I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Ó Murchú and Senator Craughwell. I saw most of the programme last night. There is no doubt it was a great programme. I accept Prime Minister Cameron has publicly apologised, as was shown. We have all felt for a long time about the Pat Finucane situation. Through the committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in which I am involved, I have pushed for these people to be heard and for a public inquiry to be held. It is now imperative because it is beyond all doubt. I have no doubt the Taoiseach will raise the issue when meeting Prime Minister Cameron in a few days' time.
Nothing could prepare parents for what they might have heard today on the death of their young sons and daughters in the United States. It is an absolute tragedy and I send my sympathies and condolences to any family suffering this loss.
The Beit collection, Russborough House and all in it was left to the State in 1976 by Alfred and Lady Beit, so could somebody please tell me what it is doing leaving the State without our permission, without an export, or any, licence, and possibly without the knowledge of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht? I know her to be a person interested in preservation. Those who know anything about preservation in Monaghan and her background know she has an excellent record in preservation. How much did she know about it? I would like to know what she knew about it. Who gave permission for this?
Yes, that is what I am saying. That is why I am asking the question. If she was not consulted, why not? How dare anybody take our paintings and put them on a boat or a plane and send them off to Christies. I do not accept it at all. What licence did they have to do so, export or otherwise? What moral, ethical or State licence did they have to do so? I would like an answer to this, please.
Outrageous, appalling, desperate and awful really does not cut it with regard to the closure of Clerys. What are we going to do about it?
What can the Seanad do to save those jobs and pensions and the franchises within it that will also lose money, wares and so on? Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to the House? I could ask him or her what we can do about this and whether we can challenge it in the commercial court in terms of there being one law for one group of people and a lesser law for the traders and people who work there. What can we as a Seanad do outside of the language of "it is appalling", "it is outrageous" and "I attended the protest"? That language is not enough.
I add my voice of sympathy to the Clerys workers for the unbelievably despicable way that they have lost their positions and to the families of the young people who tragically lost their lives today in California.
I wish to raise the issue of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, reports that were released last week. In the programme on Áras Attracta, some of the disturbing happenings were visible. Last week, three HIQA reports featured on the news. They were damning. I will refer to the one relating to St. Mary's in Drumcar in my county of Louth, which was found to be significantly non-compliant in nine out of the ten areas in respect of which it was inspected. St. Mary's is a congregated setting. I have raised the problems there numerous times down the years. It is disturbing that management was singled out in the report. St. Mary's was inspected last May, inspected again, given a warning letter in October, inspected in February and inspected again in April. From reading the report, the lack of work that was done is heartbreaking. There is no point in bolting the gate after the horse is gone.
Some of what has happened is due to staff shortages. It is for us to ensure that adequate funding is provided so that the people in such facilities have what they deserve. It is nothing less than a matter of human rights. We have all seen the reports. I agree that moving people out of congregated settings should be our aim. That is supposed to be done by 2019, but at the rate we are going, it will take much longer. Will the Leader arrange for a debate on some of these reports and reiterate the work being done by nurses and care staff? It is not their fault. They are doing the best that they can with what they have. We need to do something.
If I may, I-----
I join in the message of sympathy from the House to the families of the young persons who were killed or injured in California. It is a profound tragedy.
I support the sentiments expressed by colleagues across the board regarding the "Collusion" programme that was shown last night on RTE. While it was shocking, it was not surprising. We all know that, tragically, this type of illegal activity happened in Northern Ireland during the years of conflict. The term "dirty war" in the programme's introduction was a misnomer, as I do not know what a clean war is. Every terrorist, paramilitary and illegal act in Northern Ireland for 30 or 40 years, be it the awful killing of Pat Finucane, the murder of Senator Gordon Wilson's daughter or the bombings in Monaghan or Dublin or on Bloody Sunday, were dirty and horrible incidents. We need to move forward and welcome the progress that has been made in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. It is not a perfect peace, but it is much better than was envisaged 25 or 30 years ago. I have asked previously for a truth and reconciliation commission. While one cannot rewrite the past, it would allow us to focus properly and in a balanced fashion on the history of the conflict. We could examine and move forward from the atrocities carried out on both sides. I met the Finucane family in the Houses many years ago and theirs is a very sad and tragic tale. Even more tragic is the fact that there are countless such tales of woe and misery across the province of Northern Ireland. We must never forget that.
I note that tribute was rightly paid earlier to Senator Susan O'Keeffe for her role in the Yeats programme of commemoration. We should also recognise the positive role played by Senator Healy Eames. There was a fine event in Galway at the weekend in which she played a very constructive and leading role.
I join colleagues in conveying condolences to the families who have lost a son or daughter. I also express my condolences to those who have suffered serious injury and to their parents and families. I thank the Department of Foreign Affairs for being so proactive in helping the families. It is extremely important that families get every possible support at this time.
I join Senator Bacik in thanking the GPs who have signed up to the contract for free GP care for children under six. It is a very important first step in a programme to introduce free GP care. The next step will be free care for those aged six to 12, and after that for those aged 12 to 18. It is important in welcoming the decision of so many GPs to sign on to understand that we need to give them further support. Over the last number of years, they have suffered substantial cutbacks in support from the health service. It is one of the important areas in which we need to help and encourage people. In particular, we must help to keep people out of accident and emergency departments. The only way to do that is to help develop the services GPs can offer in their surgeries. That can only happen where the necessary support is provided by the HSE and the Department of Health. This is only a first step in the right direction. I thank the Irish Medical Organisation for coming on board to make that agreement and to ensure that more than 60% of GPs have now signed up. While there are a number of outstanding issues in some areas, particularly in rural areas, we can hopefully get over them in the next few weeks. I thank the GPs for coming on board. It is an important service that we are providing, especially to young families, and it requires the full support of all of us here.
I listened to the testimonies of Clerys workers and franchise holders this morning as I came to Dublin. The question that struck me was how the Minister is helping Clerys workers and those affected by the announcement of the sudden closure. Is the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, providing leadership on this issue? Two types of help are needed here. The first is immediate help and moral support. It is only by listening that one figures out what one can do. It is very easy to say one cannot do anything and that the law takes over. However, the second issue is that we need a wider debate on this, as we need to determine what protections are needed not just for people's jobs but for franchise holders also. A great deal of money is held in trust that was due to be paid yesterday. Because of the announcement on Friday, the money was not paid into the relevant bank accounts. Time is of the essence and I hope the Government is standing in solidarity on this. I would like to know if it is.
My sympathies go out to the families of the young people whose lives were lost today. This is a terrible tragedy. No parent wants to get that announcement. I happen to have a son who is around the same age as those involved. He is attending many 21st birthday parties at the moment. When one is talking about a situation of great fun, for it to be matched by a tragedy on this scale is awful. I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department on the strong early intervention, which is wise.
I want to flag a question I have for the Minister for Education and Skills because the examinations come to a closure this week. My daughter, and many others, finished their junior certificate examination today but I do not know if many Members are aware of the number of independent supervisors and rooms being made available to students. We believe they are for those with learning difficulties but they are now being made available to students suffering from examination related stress. I was with three other mothers last week and among the four of us we had six teenagers sitting examinations.
Five of those teenagers had independent supervisors and rooms, and in three of those cases it was for stress. I checked the figures with the Department of Education and Science and there has been a 20% increase in independent rooms and supervisors in the past two years. That is a huge increase. The Minister needs to do an analysis on that to determine for what those rooms are being used. If it is for stress related illness, we have to consider the timing and the pressure of this examination, and the question of leaving certificate examination reform.
I would like to be associated with the condolences expressed on the tragedy in California involving so many young Irish people. I have family living in that part of the world. I sympathise with those young people and their families and commend the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the consulate on taking immediate action.
The workers at Clerys need more than sympathy. As Senator O'Donnell said, we should be asking what we can do to ensure this does not happen, either by way of revised legislation or whatever.
I did not see the "Collusion" programme last night but a famous man I knew extremely well, who had seven young children, the eldest of whom was 13 years of age, was taken from his cow byre and shot in south Armagh. Nobody was brought to justice. The relatives did not know we would be discussing this today. I had the occasion to meet a very fine lady in the United States. When she introduced herself to me I said, "Not the Finucane" and she said "Yes". Pat Finucane's wife introduced herself to me and I had a long discussion with her. Pat Finucane was killed in front of her and her children and she is not happy that it has not been fully investigated. I call on the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Taoiseach who might raise it again with the British Prime Minister as soon as possible.
I join other Members in offering my sincerest condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Berkeley, California, in the early hours of this morning. It is every parent's nightmare and it has shaken all of us.
I raise the issue of the "Collusion" programme broadcast last night, which other Members raised also. This was state-sponsored murder by loyalist death squads of Irish citizens north of the Border. It is no different from what happened in the worst despotic regimes throughout the world, whether that of Pinochet, in North Korea or elsewhere. This was reprehensible. Loyalist paramilitary forces were used as a type of auxiliary force to the British Army. This happened on our shores and it is nothing new. Last night's disclosure was nothing new. I remember as a student in the University of Limerick around 1999 reading Sean McPhilemy's book The Committee, which was very stark. Anne Cadwallader has written extensively on this also.
I was often reluctant about having a truth and reconciliation commission in that some people might spill their guts and probably get away with it. The practice of collusion was known at the highest levels of the British Government. It has now come around to giving a mealy-mouthed apology, but only after denial and cover-up have failed. An apology is not much good for the victims and families who have been left with unresolved questions. It is high time the Irish Government got to grips with the reality of collusion and demanded that the British Government fully disclose any files related to the practice. If we have full disclosure then maybe we will have some form of justice for the victims.
I too express my sympathies to the young people, and the families of the young people, who lost their lives in California. I also commend the great work done by the Irish consular service. I have had occasion to be in contact with the service over the past number of years and have never found it wanting. I have no doubt the service will not be found wanting at this difficult time either.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in due course on the sale of funds to what are known as international vulture capitalists. I want to know what guarantees have been enshrined in legislation to protect workers who happen to work in a business that becomes part of such a portfolio. I refer to portfolios that have been purchased at a knockdown price at a time when this country, its society and its businesses are in distress. What do such capitalists do? They take businesses apart and sell them at an enormous profit. I am not quite sure about the background to the situation at Clerys, but I assume that something along these lines has happened.
When Irish companies, particularly ones that have been controlled and funded by the State - I am thinking of NAMA and IBRC - sell portfolios of investments that include such things as retail shopping centres, when the lives of citizens of this country are on the line, a protocol on how people are to be treated should be written into the sale agreement when the vultures decide to cash in and make enormous profits. I seek a debate on the issue with the Minister for Finance. I also want to know what type of framework or protocol can be put in place to ensure this type of situation does not happen again. What has happened to Clerys is appalling, but it is our responsibility to make sure it does not happen again.
Many Members of the House have expressed their deep sympathy. It must be every parent's worst nightmare to hear that one's child has been involved in such an horrific accident. Many people still do not know whether their loved ones have survived, because it is 8 a.m. in California and people are only waking up. I am glad the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has acted by putting a consular crisis team in place to operate on the ground. Obviously, so many young people of ours will be distraught when they hear what has happened to their friends and colleagues while they themselves were sleeping. We, rightfully, send our deepest sympathies to everyone who has been affected by this dreadful accident.
Senator Darragh O'Brien and many Members of the House mentioned the workers of Clerys. Senator Darragh O'Brien also referred to the meeting that took place today. He said that some people tried to hijack proceedings in order to capitalise on the misfortune of others. That is highly regrettable because most, if not all, parties will be doing everything to assist these workers. There is no doubt but that the treatment of the Clerys workers, which was a Dublin institution, as has been mentioned, has been appalling. The Department of Social Protection has assembled a team to meet and advise workers regarding their entitlements to jobseeker's benefits, secondary payments such as rent supplement and future options in respect of alternative employment, training and education. Moreover, I understand that arrangements have been made with SIPTU to use Liberty Hall as a venue to meet workers tomorrow. It is intended that this meeting will provide information to all workers, including those employed by concession holders. The precise format of the meeting has yet to be finalised, as workers may be involved in other meetings in Liberty Hall, but it is likely to involve the Department's team being made available for referral to individuals or small groups on the day, rather than a large presentation to all workers. This will better facilitate the delivery of specific information and claim-taking, as required. The Department also will advise, as appropriate, on the day with regard to queries arising in respect of redundancy and insolvency for the affected workers.
In addition, the representative of the liquidator has verbally advised the Department of Social Protection that all staff have been made redundant and P45 forms will issue this week. It is possible that one or two staff members from the payroll area may be retained to assist in the liquidation. I also understand that the liquidator will seek, on behalf of workers, payment from the insolvency payment scheme, IPS, in respect of unpaid wages, accrued but untaken leave and payment in lieu of statutory notice. It is intended that individual meetings will be held between the liquidator and the workers affected to determine on an individual basis the extent of the liabilities involved. The Department of Social Protection will deal promptly with individual applications submitted in respect of the IPS by the liquidator. The Department of Social Protection will also ensure that jobseeker's claims will not be delayed pending the liquidator resolving individual issues with regard to any leave accrued but untaken. This means that jobseeker's claims can be paid quickly, subject to the usual criteria, and reconciled, as required, at a future date. The Department is informing its network of local offices in the greater Dublin area of these developments to ensure that claims from affected workers are processed in a speedy and sensitive manner.
I agree with the comments of many Members that if legislation is necessary to give greater protection to workers in these instances, it must be done. I refer to people who have themselves been made redundant, like myself, and how one only realises the shock that happens at that particular time when one is least expecting it. I am glad the Department of Social Protection is doing everything possible to assist staff with entitlements.
However, I assure Members that I certainly will bring the matter to the attention of the relevant Ministers to ensure that legislation, if necessary, is put in place and to ascertain whether such situations can be rectified for the future.
Senator Bacik also raised the issue of concession holders at Clerys and that certainly is another important matter because moneys were held in trust by Clerys for the concession holders and obviously there was a contract between them in that regard. However, while I am sure that matter will be played out between the legal advisers and the liquidator, it also must be addressed. Senator Bacik and other Senators also welcomed the introduction of the free GP care for under-sixes. We welcome the fact that so many GPs have signed up to the scheme. I hope that by the end of the year all GPs will have signed up to it.
Senator Norris also raised Clerys, stating correctly that it was an iconic building in the heart of the city and calling for Gordon Brothers to honour its moral, if not legal, commitments in this regard.
Senators Naughton and Quinn raised the fact that yesterday was world elder abuse awareness day. It is imperative that we all do everything possible to protect the elderly at all times. I note the point Senator Quinn made in commending Age Action and Ulster Bank for their efforts also.
Senators Ó Murchú, Leyden, Paul Coghlan and Heffernan and others raised the RTE programme, "Collusion". It was an excellent programme, but it was a replay of the Barron report. I sat on the sub-committee on the Barron report for one or two of the modules, especially the one on this Glenanne gang, and we took testimony from the Reaveys, the survivor of the Miami Showband and so many others. It was heart-wrenching to listen to the witnesses and the testimony that was given during those submissions at that time. Nothing in that programme was new to me because it was all part of that module, which was outlined in the Barron report. After that, the previous Government and this Government made many representations to the British Government to release the papers involved, and we call on them to do so again today. This House would also call on the British Government to release those papers. In my mind, I have no doubt of the collusion that was involved at that time between loyalist paramilitaries and members of the British services. Likewise, in relation to the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane, while an apology has been made, the Government will continue to press for a public inquiry into his death. I also commend RTE on the programme but, as I said, the vast majority, if not all of it, was contained in the Barron report.
Senator Landy raised the Clerys issues also and the fact that Clerys is still selling gift vouchers. It is despicable that this has not been addressed. They were quick in closing the doors and letting staff go, but how this loophole, where gift vouchers were still being sold, was not cut off immediately is dreadful.
Senator Barrett raised the issue of the trustees of the Beit collection. I can say specifically that the foundation did not consult the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht in advance of taking this decision. The Minister was informed after the decision was taken and after the export licence was granted by the National Gallery - this is a devolved function to the gallery. The sale of the paintings was, therefore, presented to the Minister as a fait accompli. The Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, has expressed her concern about art of such high quality leaving the country. She will meet the chair of the Alfred Beit Foundation this evening to discuss the situation. Hopefully, as a result, we will have more answers in relation to the proposed sale of these wonderful paintings. Senator Pat O'Neill mentioned planning issues and the need for uniformity in all local authorities. A planning Bill will come before the House before the end of the session when I hope these matters can be addressed. I agree there is a need for greater information for all local authorities in this regard. The Boundary Commission is an independent body. I do not think Waterford will be looking for any hurlers from Kilkenny, as I think we have good hurlers ourselves.
Senator Marie Moloney raised the issue of the Rape Crisis Network and emphasised that its funding should be protected. There is no doubt the network does excellent work. I agree that if cuts have been made, the network should be looked at again and its funding protected.
Senator David Cullinane raised the issue of the Clerys workers. I have addressed that issue. Certainly legislation to address that issue needs to be put in place. Senator Catherine Noone also raised the issue of Clerys. She also mentioned the removal of the one and two cent coins, a matter raised some time ago by Senator Feargal Quinn. I think it is welcomed. Senator Quinn made a very important point in terms of rounding up and rounding down and it is no loss to the consumer overall.
Senator Michael Mullins paid tribute to the consular crisis centre in Berkeley. He referred also to new low in regard to the business practices in Clerys. Senator Gerard Craughwell and others paid tribute to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on its efforts to date.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to the Beit collection. I agree with her comments. I have addressed that matter and I hope to have a reply from the Minister after the deliberations with the chairman of the Beit collection.
Senator Mary Moran raised the matter of the HIQA reports, particularly in relation to St. Mary's, Drumcar. It is excellent that HIQA is highlighting bad practices. These are practices that were swept under the carpet year after and year. Even though it is dreadful news, it is refreshing that these bad practices are being highlighted by HIQA. The Senator also asked about the education (welfare) (amendment) Bill 2015. I do not have any notice about the Bill and I think it has not been seconded. Perhaps the Senator would raise that matter again tomorrow when I will have no objecting to accepting that Bill.
Senator Paul Bradford said all illegal and terrorist activities in Northern Ireland must be condemned. I agree with the Senator. He complimented Senators Susan O'Keeffe and Fidelma Healy Eames on their efforts in Yeats 2015 and the work they are doing in their communities in that regard.
Senator Colm Burke welcomed the fact that a number of GPs have signed up for the free GP care scheme for children aged under six years and the need to resource GPs properly.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames raised the issue of the Clerys workers. I think I have assured the Senator that the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash, and the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, and their senior Ministers are actively involved in assisting the Clerys workers, as I outlined earlier.
I will certainly bring the matters in regard to stress-related issues to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills. Senator Brennan also spoke on a number of items that were being discussed earlier, particularly regarding Pat Finucane. It is the Government's policy to continue to press the British Government for a full public inquiry into this matter.
Senator Heffernan spoke about the loyalist death squads and the need for full disclosure. I think we would all agree with that.
Senator Conway discussed issues relating to Clerys and the sale of assets to venture capitalists.