Thursday, 25 June 2015
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 3.15 p.m., if not previously concluded. Contributions from group spokespersons are not to exceed eight minutes, and those of all other Senators are not to exceed five minutes.
The attitude of some of the EU governments could be likened to the attitude of Captain Bligh of the famous “Mutiny on the Bounty”. When ordering some of the members of his crew to be given 50 lashes, he said the beatings would continue until morale improves. That is exactly what we are seeing in Europe where the EU and eurozone Ministers are continuing to beat and punish Greece until its morale improves or it does what they want.
What is amazing about the situation is that while the current Greek Government did not cause the crisis, those who did are the ones who are benefiting the most, namely, the German banks and those other EU banks that lent recklessly to Greece. There also seems to be a collective amnesia, especially among the Germans, who seem to have forgotten the 1953 London debt agreement whereby nearly 50% of their debt was written off. Greece might have incurred debt because of reckless spending but the Germans incurred the debt because they caused a world war, and yet they seem to be insisting that Greece would have to suffer the humiliation of a Versailles Treaty-type arrangement.
What is more surprising is that our Government is backing the policy of the beatings continuing until morale improves by insisting that Greece gets no quarter when it comes to debt. The reason for that has nothing to do with the best interests of Ireland, which would be that Greece would get a debt write-down and therefore we too could argue that we should get a debt write-down. However, that would not suit the mission and the position of the Government.
The beatings will also continue until morale improves for those on tracker mortgages in Ireland. The Irish taxpayer lent €64 billion to the Irish banks. We have 300,000 people on tracker mortgages. The Government said it would act. It has given the banks until 1 July for them to come back to it, but of course the banks are only laughing at the Government. The Minister for Finance has the power to instruct the Central Bank to take charge of the issue and to ensure that the banks pass on the reductions in the European Central Bank rate, but it is failing to do so. Is that a new continuation of a policy that was known as light touch regulation?
Does the Government not want to have regulation of the banks? Does it not want to help tracker mortgage holders?The Leader might be aware that those on a tracker mortgage in Ireland have to work three months longer per annum than anybody else in order to pay back the banks, compared with those on a bank rate that is not-----
On 1 July will those in government stand up for those on tracker mortgages or will they continue a policy of light-touch regulation? I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the matter.
It is reported in today's newspapers that in 1973 An Garda Síochána was aware of the abuses of Fr. Brendan Smyth.
The Law Reform Commission has proposed a corporate manslaughter Bill. We have seen that those in positions of authority who should have acted did not act and as a consequence people suffered abuse that should not have happened. In some cases lives were lost as a result, as we saw in the case of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. Those in positions of authority who should act but do not must be held to account. Today Cardinal Brady, a man who has apologised, will appear before the inquiry.
I welcome the announcement by the local District Attorney that there is to be a formal investigation into the Berkeley disaster in which so many people lost their lives and many others were left with life-changing injuries. I wish to comment on one of the bravest of young people, Ms Clodagh Cogley. The injuries she has suffered are unbelievable and she may never be able to walk again owing to a broken spinal cord. However, despite all this and the traumatic experience of losing so many friends in the incident, she is facing life with optimism and has vowed to enjoy life to the full. She said, “Enjoy a good dance and the feeling of grass beneath your feet like it’s the last time because in this crazy world you never know when it might be.” How true and apt that is. I salute her bravery and optimism. I hope she will be an inspiration for those facing tragedy, just as young Donal Walsh from County Kerry was when he was facing a terminal illness. He was such an inspiration for so many.
It is disappointing that the banks were let off the hook in reducing their mortgage interest rates when the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court's ruling. Irish mortgage rates are 2 percentage points higher than the European average. If the banks will not do so voluntarily, it is time the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, put the boot in and forced them to do it, perhaps by introducing legislation to cap mortgage interest rates. I welcome the Taoiseach's statement that it is unacceptable that lenders are breaking the code of conduct on mortgage arrears.
I welcome the launch yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, of Connecting for Life, Ireland's new national strategy for suicide prevention 2015 to 2020. The new strategy succeeds and builds on Reach Out, Ireland’s first strategy for suicide prevention for the period 2005 to 2014. The Government also committed to replacing the old Central Mental Hospital with a state-of-the-art national forensic hospital, which will be operational by 2018. It is developing four 30-bed intensive care rehabilitation units in Cork, Galway, Portrane and County Westmeath, which is most welcome. However, one size does not fit all, which is why there is a wide range of services included within the strategy. CSO figures show a slight drop in suicide rates in recent years, but the figures are still too high. One life lost through suicide is one too many. Perhaps the Leader might invite the Minister of State to come to the House for a debate on the strategy.
Before I call Senator Feargal Quinn, I am sure Members of the House will join me in welcoming to the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery, with Senator Rónán Mullen, the former British Minister and star of "Strictly Come Dancing", the Right Honourable Ms Ann Widdecombe. She is most welcome to Seanad Éireann. I am afraid we do not have any stage for her on which to perform.
I also welcome Ms Ann Widdecombe. In addition to playing a large part in British politics, she has been a very active member of the pro-life movement in opposing abortion and the trend in that direction. She is very welcome and I know that she will continue to act with the same enthusiasm she has shown in the past.
I have often asked ambassadors how they measure success. Those involved in business can measure success at the end of the year by their profits or the level of sales, but I have never quite understood what ambassadors do and how they know if they are doing a good job. We received evidence this week of clear success in the case of the Irish consul in San Francisco. The consulate there represents Irish interests throughout the western United States. When the disaster occurred in Berkeley, the consul acted so well, quickly and movingly that he deserves a great deal of credit. There has been some mention of this in the newspapers. It is a reminder of the important role ambassadors, consuls and others can play and the matter is worthy of consideration.
I hope the Leader can find some time to discuss the following matter. The organisation ALONE has pointed out that a large number of older people are using up hospital beds. We should try to find a way for them to live at home, which is what they all want to do if they can. The programme for Government has called for this, as have the HSE service plan and the national positive ageing strategy. We have a great difficulty with the shortage of hospital beds, yet hospital beds are being blocked by people who are not ill but old. There are so many facilities to have them live at home. It is worth having a debate on the issue. On that basis the ALONE organisation that has pushed for this deserves a great deal of attention.
I wish to make one other point on the situation in Greece. Let us not be too sure of ourselves about what we are doing. The European Union as a whole could overstep the mark. I believe I made my first visit to Greece in 1967. When I went to get my money from the bank in Dublin that morning, I was asked if I was still going because the colonels had moved in and taken over in Greece that day. They introduced some very tough legislation because the economy in Greece was falling apart. I would not be surprised if there was a movement somewhere along the line in Greece to say the colonels were still around and could still move very quickly. Let us be very careful, therefore, that with whatever we do we take into account that there are alternatives that would not be very welcome.
This is likely to be a record year for tourism. Recent CSO data show that the number of overseas visitors to Ireland in the first five months of the year increased by 12.1% compared with the same period last year. Thankfully, growth trends show no sign of abating. If the trend continues, it will be a record year for overseas visitor numbers. This will be the fifth consecutive year of growth in visitor numbers, with benefits for every part of the country. Up to the end of May, there were just over 3 million overseas visitors. The number of visitors from North America increased by 13.6%; from mainland Europe, by 14%; and from the rest of the world, by 13%. I am happy to say there was an increase of 10.1% in the number of visitors from Great Britain, with 1.33 million visitors so far this year. Tourism Ireland in promoting Ireland as an island has helped to increase the figures.I congratulate Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, on the part they are playing in increasing our visitor numbers. I look forward to further growth during the remainder of the year.
This morning Liberty Insurance announced 270 redundancies, with 135 job losses in Dublin, 20 in Enniskillen and 115 in my town of Cavan. This comes on top of 285 redundancies in 2012. These redundancies will have a devastating effect on the workers who will lose their jobs, their families and the towns involved. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to the House as a matter of urgency to outline what the Government intends to do to try to prevent these job losses. In the event of these job losses going ahead, the Minister must outline what the Government will do to replace those jobs. Liberty Insurance took over the former Quinn Group in April 2011 and, in my opinion, got it for a song. It has an obligation to the original insurance company and its employees, as well as to the towns affected by its actions. It has an obligation to maintain employment in those areas. I am not proposing an amendment to the Order of Business because I understand the Minister is not available today, but I want him to come the House as a matter of urgency to see if these redundancies can be prevented and to hear his plans to replace these much-needed jobs if the redundancies go ahead, which I hope they do not.
I wish to be associated with earlier remarks about our consul general in San Francisco, Philip Grant, whose recent work was very impressive. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to the House to give us an update on our network of embassies throughout the world? Irish embassies and consulates do vital work and we have all engaged with them on behalf of constituents. I have always found embassy and consulate staff to be most courteous and extraordinarily helpful.
I would also like a debate with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. When he comes to the House to deal with the issued raised by Senator Wilson, perhaps he would also debate the issue of small businesses and specifically the red tape that is choking them. We had a debate in the House last night on Dublin and the issue of red tape and bureaucracy featured strongly in that debate. We are a small country but we seem to be incredibly good at obeying EU directives whereas some of our much bigger colleagues in Europe do not seem to be as obedient. It is amazing how practices in business in Ireland differ so substantially from the practices engaged in by businesses in places like Italy, Spain and France, particularly in the hospitality and food sectors. A lot of establishments along the west coast, particularly in small towns and villages, would be more inclined to give a food offering to people if the regulations and red tape were not so onerous. Human instinct and the natural tendency to be cautious around issues like cleanliness will prevent food poisoning far better than having the swankiest facilities but staff who do not wash their hands.
On Greece, everyone should take a step back and reflect on the fact that substantial numbers of people are on the breadline in Greece. There are many who are homeless and who are literally starving. Such people do not fit the mould of the homeless populations that one will see in many other cities in Europe. These are people who were professionals a few years ago and they are literally starving now. We have a responsibility as European citizens to take cognisance of that fact and not to leave them high and dry.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that we deal with No. 67, motion 17 before we deal with No. 1, that is, the issue regarding the proposed changes to the one-parent family payment. I heard a Government backbencher on the television last night speak about his disquiet at the proposed change. I know the Labour Party convened a meeting of its parliamentary party this morning to discuss Deputies' disquiet about the changes. There is no doubt that a substantial number of parents will lose significant sums of money as a result of the change and in that context it is of vital importance that this House debates the issue. Today is the last day for such a debate because the change comes into effect tomorrow.
I wrote to the Cathaoirleach some time ago concerning my position as an Independent Senator in this House. I might add that, apart from those on the university panel, I am the only Independent Senator in this House. Historically, I am the first Independent Senator in this House to be elected by way of a by-election. My position when it comes to speaking in this House is that I am always at the end of the list. The Cathaoirleach has been most kind to me, as have most who take the Chair, but I sought membership of the group known as the Independent nominees, which is an oxymoron-----
This is very relevant to the Order of Business because I am sick to the back teeth with the situation. I paid a high price to come into this House. I lost €8,000 a year in salary by being forced to leave my job-----
I am sorry but it is because I am calling on the Cathaoirleach to refer my position as the leader and only member of the independent group to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to ensure I get priority just like everyone else.
I remind Senator Craughwell that I have the sole authority to call on speakers and I operate under Standing Order 34, in accordance with decisions that were made by the House and the CPP and also in accordance with precedent.
My speaking rights and my right to bring Private Member's motions before the House are dictated by the size of the membership of any group to which I belong. The Technical Group in the Dáil has already tackled this problem and the Lower House has managed to accommodate all Members who are independent.
I call on the Leader to organise a discussion with the Minister for Health on the recruitment processes of the HSE because either the processes are not fit for purpose or else those working in recruitment in the HSE are incompetent. I say this because Merlin Park hospital in Galway has cancelled hundreds of appointments for rheumatology patients over the next three months. People who are in severe pain and who need a service will not receive it until November or December even though they were scheduled to be seen in July and August. The HSE has said the appointments have been cancelled because of staff shortages, annual leave and maternity leave. Maternity leave is not something that happens overnight. The HSE would know at least six months in advance if somebody will be going on maternity leave. If a major company or industry in this country operated like the HSE and failed to plan for its personnel requirements, such a company would go out of business very quickly. The recruitment structure in the HSE must be analysed; it is either overly bureaucratic or it is under-resourced. The Minister needs to come to the House to address this issue. Every problem occurring in the HSE nowadays is down to staff shortages. I fail to understand how this can be allowed to continue and how the people who work in the recruitment section of the HSE can stand over their failure to fill vacancies as they arise and particularly vacancies they know are planned to arise and about which they have notice in advance.
I ask the Leader to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House at an early date. There has been a very successful promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way but unfortunately this is skewing business away from other areas. I refer in particular to the south east, which will be familiar to the Leader. We are also part of the Atlantic coast but unfortunately we do not appear to be part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Much public moneys have been invested in tourism projects around the south east, not least in my own county of Wexford. There appears to be anecdotal evidence that because the promotion is skewing in one direction it is affecting tourism in the south east. I ask for a debate on this matter because both my county of Wexford and the Leader's county of Waterford have many very good attractions. I refer to my own electoral area of New Ross. Anyone spending a fortnight there can visit a different beach every day if the weather is right. The south east in general has better weather.
I concur with Senator Quinn in paying tribute to the former Tory and Conservative Minister, Ann Widdecombe who has been a champion of the pro-life movement and someone who has opposed the abortion culture in Britain over a long period of time. This culture has led to a situation where despite the good intentions, perhaps, on the part of some politicians to alleviate some of these hard cases, this culture has resulted where almost one in five babies are killed before they are born. This is an appalling vista but apparently one which the industry promotes. Unfortunately they have been unable to place a check on it. It shows the value of what we have decided here. In that regard I ask the Leader if we could have a debate on the media in general and our national broadcaster in particular. I am sure many people would have been appalled to have heard the bias which comes across, both in the written media and from our national broadcaster in particular. Anyone who listened to "Morning Ireland" this week and heard the-----
-----person involved from the UN committee being interviewed. It was a very soft interview by a very good interviewer for whom I have good regard but who unfortunately on this occasion failed to put the difficult questions. The interviewee was allowed to get away with all sorts of disingenuous statements. On the other hand, a representative of the pro-life organisation was rightly scrutinised on the points she was making very well.
The payment of water charges is causing a lot of controversy. Our water rates will not be any more than a TV licence fee. I wonder why many of us would pay our moneys to an organisation which is totally biased and unbalanced and not fulfilling its requirements under the Broadcasting Act and it is in receipt of €160 a year from every one of us. It is unacceptable and perhaps the time is coming when people must stand up and perhaps have a boycott of the television licence until RTE fulfils its statutory obligations under the Broadcasting Act. "The Ray D'Arcy Show" in particular was appalling.
I wish to fully endorse the Cathaoirleach's welcome to Ann Widdecombe this morning who has done so much to champion the cause and to promote the right to life. It is appalling what is happening across the water from us and in other places, that so many lives are being lost in the womb as is happening throughout the world. We would want to be very careful not to travel down that slippery slope.
This morning we must also welcome Greece's new-found friend, Senator Daly-----
The truth is they falsified the situation, they lied their way in. I am all for holding them in the Union but let them be like so many other countries who are not in the euro. The situation did not permit for them to be in the euro-----
Many of us will have heard about the issue of voluntary redundancies at Liberty Insurance. The company is commencing a process to seek 270 voluntary redundancies following its withdrawal from the Great Britain personal general insurance market. The company is seeking 135 redundancies in Dublin, 115 in Cavan and 20 in Enniskillen.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the House to discuss the issue of inward investment and the role of the enterprise agencies. I am from Cavan and I worked for Quinn Insurance a number of years ago as a credit control agent dealing specifically with the British market. These are very significant jobs in the Border and midland regions. In the Cavan office the staff are from Cavan and the neighbouring counties. In recent years the record of enterprise agencies to bring potential investors to Cavan and Monaghan has not been good enough. I would like to know what action the Minister and the enterprise agencies are taking in the wake of this and other closures in the past number of months in counties Cavan, Monaghan and the surrounding counties. A large number of jobs have been lost but there has not been sufficient replacement jobs by means of companies or in small and medium enterprises being supported to take on more workers.
The people working in Liberty Insurance and other companies that have closed in recent months have particular skill-sets. They are highly qualified and we need to ensure that they can take up employment in their home areas so that they do not have to travel extreme distances in order to take up employment in their fields. We need to ensure that the enterprise agencies are supporting balanced regional development and that people are able to live and work in their own home areas. I ask for a debate or discussion on enterprise agencies, investment and regional development.
I wish to support the very measured comments on Greece from Senator Quinn. We must proceed with great caution. Given that everybody in politics looks at the political side of things, it is fair to say from a political perspective that from the point of view of Renua, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Labour, Mr. Tsipras and Syriza may not be our cup of political tea.However, we must respect the fact that he is the democratically elected leader of the Greek people and we must treat him him and his Government accordingly to bring some sort of order to the chaos which is Greece.
It would be a major leap into the dark if Greece left the eurozone. There is no example of what happens when a country leaves the eurozone. This would be the first such example. Undoubtedly, there could be a grave threat of contagion which could affect not just Athens but the entire European Union to Achill Island. It is important that our Government and other governments in the EU work very constructively. I concede that we may not like the politics of the Greek Prime Minister or his government but his government is elected. It will probably not be elected next time but the Greek people will still remain. Their plight is very serious. It is one of the oldest civilisations in Europe. As I said here previously, Greece is not just about feta cheese. Greece is the home of democracy and civilisation and is a most cultured country. It is shameful and deeply distressing to see what is happening there at the moment. Much of it is happening as a result of the wrong political decisions taken by its own governments over many years but rather than punishing it and displaying it as an example of what not to do, we must do everything possible to work with it. I would be shocked if the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance were not thinking along the same lines but the next 24 or 48 hours will be crucial. The entire European project, not just the eurozone, is at severe risk if a solution is not found. The solution must not be based on settling political or economic scores. It must be based on trying to ensure that support is given and Greece can remain in the eurozone and remain an active part of the European family of nations. There are forces outside Europe, and certainly forces outside the EU, that are hoping that it will go wrong for Greece and that they can pick up the pieces. These forces are not too far away from Greece geographically. We must work against that.
Senator Daly raised the question of Greece, as did many other Members. Ireland's policy is to ensure that a viable and sustainable solution is agreed. As part of this, it is essential that Greece has the funding required to support its banking system. As the ECB governing council has been required to increase funding to support the Greek banks and economic system, there is concern as to how long this can be sustained. Reaching an agreement on a way forward for Greece will create certainty for the Greek people and secure their future. The eurozone has an obligation to Greece in this difficult times but Greece has an obligation to itself. It certainly needs to reform the economy and return it to sustainable growth, which is not the case at the moment. I assure the House that together with other member states, Ireland understands and empathises with the difficult situation faced by the Greek people. This is why there has been a willingness to negotiate a way forward which takes account of the realities of the situation in Greece and the political priorities of its new democratically elected government while also respecting existing commitments. It is a very delicate balance but I take what Members are saying on board, particularly Senator Quinn on democracy. It is very important that democracy is upheld and everything possible is done to solve this problem. We all know how badly the Greek people are suffering.
Senator Daly spoke about light touch regulation. I thought that came in under the previous Government. Did the previous Government have "no touch" regulation in respect of the banking sector? I would not comment too much on that where Fianna Fáil is concerned.
Senator Moloney spoke about Clodagh Cogley, one of the people who were very badly injured in the accident in Berkeley. Her words on Facebook were inspirational. A wonderful and inspirational gentleman appeared on "The John Murray Show" this morning. He was injured after a dive at the Forty Foot many years ago and is in a wheelchair. His words were also inspirational in respect of Clodagh and those other young people who were injured. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families. Hopefully, they can make a significant, if not complete, recovery from the horrific injuries they suffered in Berkeley.
Senator Moloney also referred to the national strategy for suicide prevention. This is a very important strategy that brings all the agencies together to combat suicide. I assure the Senator that we will try to have a debate as soon as possible on that strategy. We have debated that issue on several occasions in the House and rightly so. It would be an apt time to have a further debate on that matter.
In response the points raised by Senators Quinn and Conway, we should all praise the Irish consul in San Francisco, Philip Grant, for his work in Berkeley. It highlights the importance of our diplomatic service abroad. It does a lot of work that goes unnoticed in many cases but when a situation like that in Berkeley arises, it shows its true colours. It does an excellent job in representing us and helping our people when required. We should all compliment the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on its efforts in this regard and indeed in areas throughout the world where we have diplomatic missions.
Senator Quinn also raised a point that was raised by Senator Bradford yesterday about older people being allowed to stay at home as long as possible. That is the policy of the Government but it is needs to be enforced to a greater degree. We need greater supports for people to allow them to remain at home rather than spend €1 billion on the fair deal scheme. It is necessary in many cases but I am sure that quite a number of the people who avail of fair deal would be happier in their own homes and could be facilitated to stay there. We must all aspire to this.
Senators Brennan and Walsh spoke about tourism. We have seen a significant increase in visitors. Certainly, the Government's decision to reduce VAT to 9% and abolish the travel tax has had a major impact on the increase in visitor figures. I note what Senator Walsh said about tourism and his argument that the Ancient East should be promoted significantly. I know that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is in Waterford today visiting a number of tourism spots. I have arranged for the Minister to come to the House next week to discuss the strategy for tourism for many years ahead. We will have an opportune time next week to discuss tourism.
Senators Wilson and Reilly spoke about the planned redundancies in Liberty Insurance. If they happen, it will certainly be a devastating blow to the communities and families involved. I will try to get the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to outline IDA and Enterprise Ireland policies for balanced regional development, which have been developed over the past six months. I will try to get the Minister to come to the House before the recess if it is possible.Senator Martin Conway raised the whole question of small businesses and removing red tape, which the Government is doing its best to remove, and also EU directives and how quickly we transpose them into Irish law whereas other countries do not do so as quickly. I note his point in that regard and, hopefully, it is an issue on which the House will have a greater say in the future.
I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Gerard P Craughwell. We had a similar motion only a day or two ago.
In regard to his plight as an Independent Senator, we welcome him as a prominent member of the House, the Cathaoirleach gave very good advice which he should adhere to. We will do everything possible to assist him but it is up to groups to decide who they want in their groups.
Senator Michael Mullins raised the issue of the recruitment process in the HSE and the appointments cancelled in Merlin Park. He made a good point in that regard. The whole question of recruitment in the HSE will have to be examined because we are being told constantly that many of the problems arising are the result of not having a sufficient number of consultants and staff in the health service. There will have to be a look at that whole situation and what we can do to attract consultants into Ireland to provide the necessary health service for our people.
I note the points made by Senators Paul Coghlan and Jim Walsh in respect of perceived bias in the media - the national broadcaster against the pro-life movement. Hopefully, we will have a debate on media mergers which might possibly include the whole question of media coverage.
The other issues raised were in regard to Greece which I have addressed previously.
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- John Gilroy
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Pat O'Neill
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone