Tuesday, 7 July 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 9 p.m. if not previously concluded.
I thank those colleagues who have signed the motion on the prioritisation of the filling of the vacancy for the pancreas transplant surgeon in Beaumont Hospital and other matters relating to pancreas and kidney transplants. We have issued a revised version of that motion and I encourage all Members interested in this matter to put their names to it in order that a clear message from the Seanad can go out that this is important and that we believe that people who are waiting for pancreas transplants are important. By way of further information for Members, 15 pancreas donations went to waste this year thus far because we did not have a surgeon in place and the vacancy has not been filled. I have received this information from the retired professor and surgeon, David Hickey. Those 15 pancreas donations could have been used in life-changing and life-saving operations but they were not used because we do not have the facilities or the surgeon to carry out that life-saving surgery. I do not think anyone thinks this is acceptable. If people are interested in this matter I ask them to put their names to the motion by 5 p.m. today. I intend to move the motion tomorrow, I hope with the full agreement of the House.
On other health issues, I refer to the figures for the record number of people waiting on trolleys. The numbers of people on outpatient waiting lists increased by over 200% and there has been a 400% increase in St. Vincent's hospital in Dublin. It is gone past a crisis. The Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, will be in the House next week but there are very many issues that are not being addressed. I refer to the frustration of people who cannot get appointments. People are on trolleys and outpatient appointments are being cancelled. It has gone from bad to worse and worse again. We need to have a specific debate before the summer recess to give the Minister an opportunity to outline his plans for addressing this crisis. All we get from the Minister is tea and sympathy. He says it is terrible and I agree with him but what is he doing about it? That is the problem. I do not see anything happening.
I have further referenced the point with regard to the Fampyra drug, an issue I have raised in the House time and again for more than a year. Three thousand multiple sclerosis patients who would benefit from this mobility drug cannot get the drug. It is as simple as that. They cannot get it because of inaction by the Department and by the Minister.I have raised the matter time and again and the Leader has used his good offices to raise the point with the Minister, but nothing is happening. I raised it in February 2014. People I know of in my area and all over the country can no longer work. They no longer have mobility, are dependent on the State and cannot access a life-changing drug. This is an issue for 3,000 MS patients and it is beyond disgraceful at this stage. There is no logical reason for it. The drugs policy unit can state what it wants, that it is assessing this or that application, but the reality is that people cannot access the drug that was helping them. This is not right and the Minister must address the issue. Therefore, I am again today proposing an amendment on the Order of Business that the Minister come to the House to address specifically the issue to allow 3,000 people to access and benefit from the MS drug, Fampyra.
I thank all colleagues who at 1 p.m. today in front of Leinster House joined members of the Bosnian community to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre during the genocide that occurred 20 years ago this July. Also today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, following representations made to him, has issued a statement officially commemorating the genocide from an Irish perspective. This is in keeping with the European Parliament resolution of 2009 which called on the Council and the Commission to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of the genocide and support the recognition of 11 July across the European Union as a day of commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre. I anticipate that next year, to mark the 21st anniversary, we will have more official events taking place to commemorate the genocide.
I commend the crew of the LE Eithnewho this week are due to finish their tour of duty in the Mediterranean where they have saved the lives of many hundreds of migrants seeking to enter Europe. It is important that we see a proper transnational migration policy adopted across the European Union. I look forward to this happening and ask the Leader for a debate early in the next term on migration policy with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister for Justice and Equality.
A briefing has just been held for Members interested in discussing the amendments being made to the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, Report Stage of which is to be taken on Thursday at 3 p.m. I know that a number of colleagues have submitted amendments, but there will also be a number of Government amendments to the Bill. Briefing notes are available to anyone who wishes to have them. The Government's amendments have been circulated.
I would like to send a strong message of congratulations and support to the Greek people on their courage in taking on the bullying apparatus of the European Union and striking a formidable blow for democracy with their resounding "No" vote in the referendum. Despite all the threats, the intervention, the leaks and the bullying, they stood up for democracy. It is a shame that Mr. Varoufakis' head had to be sacrificed, but-----
I do not mind being interrupted, as I understand the realpolitik. However, it was made very clear by European leaders that they wanted Mr. Varoufakisgone. There is no question or doubt that that is from where the impetus came. There is no vision or leadership in Europe. This is a disaster for the European project. What has happened to the idea of solidarity? I know that it is not fashionable or politically correct to say it, but it is time somebody reminded the Germans that they started two world wars and were penalised heavily through reparations. However, after a number of years, there was a massive debt cancellation, but now they are the ones who will not permit debt cancellation for the Greeks. It is time somebody mentioned their record. The EU negotiators and the principal people involved are anonymous and unelected.I am not sure if the rumours are true but I have it from a fairly well placed source that at least one of them is so drunk by lunchtime that he is incapable of conducting any afternoon meetings. I wonder why are we paying these people for this kind of behaviour.
With regard to the general situation, national indebtedness all over the globe cannot possibly continue. Tommy Tiernan did a very good skit on this matter some time ago about what happened when somebody owed money to somebody and they always-----
Yes, I want a debate. In the skit somebody else borrowed money, then somebody else borrowed money from him, and on it continued. The conclusion at the end was why not get the last fella and murder him. We cannot do that but we must look at the whole-----
The Cathaoirleach will find out in a minute if he stops interrupting me. One cannot continue this indebtedness. Since they went off the gold standard about 85 years ago, money has become a fiction. It is just figures moved around on television screens. It has no relationship to productivity, work or effort. I believe we will have a continuing series of these catastrophes until we look and examine the whole basis of the world economy.
I wish to draw attention to a report that was issued yesterday by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport entitled Transport Trends: An Overview of Ireland's Transport Sector. Among other things, it noted that Galway is one of four national urban areas that has experienced a decreased level of service due to congestion. Anyone who knows Galway would hardly find such a conclusion surprising given the volume of traffic. It also proves there is a need for better public transport and to finalise plans for an outer bypass, as a matter of urgency. I sincerely hope that such a route could proceed as soon as possible. However, if we are to be realistic about this matter, it will take at least five to ten years given the difficulties regarding route selection. As I have stated in the past, and as I shall state here again, in order to tackle traffic congestion in Galway city and the western region it is critical that we have park and ride facilities located east, west and north of Galway city. A bus service must be provided. It would mean people can park their vehicles and use a bus that will travel every ten or 15 minutes at peak times in the mornings and the evening, and to a lesser degree during the day, to bring people to their education centres, places of work or hospitals, all of which are located in the city centre. All reports that have been conducted in Galway city will show that over 90% of people want to travel into the city centre area. Therefore, it is critical that we have an efficient and cost-effective bus service. If we want to develop the western region, and want to promote and develop the local economy, then we need to deal with traffic congestion in the short term while we await longer-term projects.
What was important about the referendum in Greece was that the people were given an opportunity to express their views. Let us bear in mind that they expressed their views against a backdrop of austerity which they have already suffered. Even leading up to the referendum, with the difficulty in banks, people still felt strongly and passionately enough about their independence and sovereignty. Also, it would be very wise for us in Ireland not to lecture the people of Greece.
It was meant to be about co-operation. It was meant to be about understanding each other's difficulties, etc. What is coming out at the moment, whether it is a bad PR exercise or not, shows there certainly was a strong feeling when the debate took place in Greece that the people were not being listened to. Can one imagine Europe without Greece? I certainly cannot imagine such a scenario. I have no doubt there has been brinkmanship on both sides. Therefore, the best way for the rest of us, who are not immediately and directly involved, is to try to find compromise because at the end of the day the matter will be resolved one way or another, positively or negatively.We should remember that we are a small country. We have our own difficulties. We also have the residue which will be with us for a long time of the austerity measures which people have had to suffer.
One can talk about growth in the economy but there are so many people out there who are absolutely and utterly downtrodden at this time. Some people see no light at the end of the tunnel. I would be very careful about cosying up too much and getting into bed with some of the people who are calling the shots in Europe at present.
In the past we have gone against the prevailing world view. I think there is an opportunity for us to demonstrate independence and our sovereignty.
I second Senator Darragh O'Brien's amendment to the Order of Business.
I second Senator Bacik's sentiments in acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. I acknowledge that today is the tenth anniversary of the killing of 56 people in London on 7 July 2005. This anniversary is almost in the same week as the horrific events in Tunisia. It behoves us to remember what the word terror means. It means putting fear into the hearts of people. I feel very much for the people of Tunisia who fought very hard for their democracy and now see it fading from them as international tourists abandon Tunisia, which is totally understandable.. It is sad to see the democratic regime in Tunisia coming under pressure because of the activities of terrorism.
I congratulate FLAC on the launch of its annual report yesterday. I commend it on the excellent work it does and note that it acknowledges that there was an 80% increase in the number of calls coming in to the office as a result of the current crisis in housing, in the rented sector in particular.
Could I ask the Leader that we have a debate on the issue of access to free legal aid, because at the end of the day, it is a person's ability to vindicate his or her rights that is at issue? I think FLAC has put that on the agenda. It behoves us to examine it and see what we are doing as a House to vindicate that right.
I have a concern about defective buildings. We have had the experience in recent times of Berkeley in California but also of Priory Hall and the row of homes in County Kildare that burned down. It seems there are defective buildings likely to be occurring even yet. During the Celtic tiger building went up at such speed that I do not think there were controls on them. I understand the Minister is looking at introducing a review of building regulations. I think it would be very useful to have him come to this Chamber so that we would have an opportunity to discuss matters. If somebody buys a house, as many of us have, and ten, 20 or 30 years later we discover it is a defective building, we cannot get in touch with the builder or do anything about it, yet in other countries they have an insurance policy that continues to enable the owner of the home to be able to seek recompense many years later. I think it would be worthwhile if the Minster were to come to this House to give us a chance to discuss the regulations before he introduces them.
May I mention one other occasion today? Mrs. Kathleen Hayes Rollins Snavely who died yesterday was 113 years and 140 days old and was born in Feakle in County Clare. To the best of my knowledge she was the oldest Irish person and she died in New York. She was the 16th oldest person in the United States. I am sure that when she was born in 1902 she did not realise she would still be around in 2015 and might be mentioned in an Irish Parliament.
I welcome the news from our televisions and newspapers today of the turning of the sod in Connemara where €3 million will be spent on Pearse's cottage. A number of my colleagues were present for the event. I ask, as I have done in the House previously, that some more money be put into Seán Mac Diarmada's residence in County Leitrim. County Leitrim is allocated only €30,000 for the whole celebration and it is not enough. We have been lucky in that money has been allocated by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht towards a car park at Seán Mac Diarmada's house but much work remains to be done around the house. That area could be transformed by bringing more tourism to the locality. The village of Kiltyclogher, which will be Leitrim's heritage town, will be recognised shortly. This is a great opportunity to promote tourism and encourage more people to the area by spending a little more money. I call on the Minister with responsibility for this area to have another look at the issue with a view to developing Seán Mac Diarmada's house and the village of Kiltyclogher into something which will be of great significance in 2016.
I support everything my colleague, Senator Michael Comiskey, has said in regard to the Seán Mac Diarmada cottage. When I looked at the photographs in the newspaper of the Pearse cottage in Galway I thought it was the Mac Diarmada cottage, such is the similarity between the two. Without wishing to appear partisan, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris, visited the Mac Diarmada homestead a few weeks ago to launch the annual Leitrim County Council sponsored Seán Mac Diarmada summer school. There was a high level of expectation, especially among Senator Comiskey's party colleagues, that the Minister of State would not leave without making a specific announcement. Not only were those in the Government parties disappointed but all of us who live in Leitrim were disappointed that no such announcement was made about funding. I found it hard to absorb yesterday watching all the media attention on the Taoiseach and all the various foot soldiers in Fine Gael turning up in Connemara for the announcement in terms of the Pádraig Pearse cottage. I do not want to set one cottage against another but, as history has already proved, he was probably the most significant member of the Provisional Government of 1916. We in Leitrim believe that reality should be recognised and recognised financially. In that regard I fully support the comments of Senator Comiskey and call on the Government, even at this late stage, to allocate the necessary funding. Leitrim County Council has plans for its development. The road access is very narrow and funding is required. I am sure it can be found somewhere.
I support Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, Senator Sean D. Barrett and others on all sides, who are calling for a humanitarian approach to what is going on in Greece. There is most definitely an elite between the German-Franco-Finnish-Dutch axis, although I would probably exclude the French in that they seem to be standing in solidarity with the Greek people.
The people have spoken. Therefore, if Europe is to mean anything other than just an economic unit which appears to be the agenda of many of the larger and richer countries, that are controlled largely by banking interests and those not interested in the distress and trauma experienced not only the Greek people but others who have suffered from austerity policies in recent years, they are the people who have to be confronted and challenged. There is a moral imperative on the part of all EU countries to ensure the decision of the Greek people is recognised and acknowledged. They do not want further austerity.
I will leave the House with one specific issue surrounding all the debate taking place between the Tsipras Government and the European institutions. The European institutions have called for a dramatic increase in tourism tax on VAT, from 6% to 23%. That would crush and destroy the Greek tourism industry.
That is an indication and an insight into the agenda of a number of countries. It is not at all about humanitarianism or the moral imperative that all of us are joined up in Europe, that Europe is more than just an economic unit. It is about real people and their difficulties. We should be doing something about that.
I am calling for a debate on the planning process in Ireland, particularly the way competitors use it as a tool to stymie others from getting a foothold in a market. While I fully accept the majority of objections are made by private individuals and community groups with real concerns about planning applications, there are a number of body corporates that use the process as a strategic tool to clamp down on competition in their chosen field. I have been informed that there is a company in this country which is a serial objector.
In the past five years, it has objected more than 70 times to planning applications made by competitors, with up to half of them being successful. It even says on its website that it opposes unsustainable out-of-town retail development. I fully agree with it on that point, but what about the sustainable retail units and supermarkets being built smack bang in the middle of our town centres which it opposes?
The cost of submitting a planning objection is so cheap, at €20 to the local council and €50 to An Bord Pleanála, it makes great commercial sense if one is looking to retain one's market share. The actions of these naysayers, however, are costing towns jobs, not only in the retail sector but also in the construction sector. To turn a blind eye to what is going on right now would be nothing short of negligent. We must continue to highlight the kind of strokes being pulled. The essence of democracy allows for people to make their concerns known and I want to uphold that right, but it is wrong and worrying that the integrity of the system is being called into question and large companies are abusing the process for their own commercial gain. We need to have a debate on the issue and look at strengthening our planning legislation to ensure it is not left open to abuse. For that reason, I ask that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government would be invited to this House to debate the matter at his earliest convenience.
Can I first of all speak uninterrupted? I did not interrupt anyone on the other side of the House when they were speaking. I commend the people of Greece on the way they have voted. They have showed real courage in voting against what has been described by other Senators in this House as an attempt by the European elites to force upon the Greek Government and people unsustainable debt, poverty and economic changes which simply do not make sense. Any economist worth his or her salt knows there will be a need to restructure the debt in Greece. The European elites are trying to find a political solution, which is concerned with regime change and putting the Greek Government under pressure, rather than finding an economic solution which is obvious to most right-thinking people, namely, ease up on austerity and restructure the debt. Even the IMF, for all people may think of it, has clearly said it wants a restructuring of debt but the Greeks are not being offered that because it is being frustrated by bigger countries such as Germany which simply do not want it to happen.
On a separate issue, I call for a debate on the Lansdowne Road agreement. We have not had a debate on that issue in this House. We know ex-taoisigh, ex-Ministers-----
-----and sitting Ministers are in for substantial pay increases. We also know that despite the facade of fairness which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is trying to present as underpinning the Lansdowne Road agreement, higher earners, those with more than €65,000, including Deputies, are in line for a €7,000 pay increase over the next two years. What of those earning less than €65,000? They get crumbs from the table: €1,000. Yet the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform says it is fair. It is not fair. I am calling for a debate on the unfairness of both those agreements and their impact on the vast majority of public servants who will not benefit to the extent top civil servants will benefit. It is a golden ticket for those on the highest incomes in this State and crumbs from the table for the vast majority of public sector workers. The Minister should come in and explain what the deal means and go through its detail rather than the continue with this facade of fairness he is currently trying to present.
I welcome the fact the Greek Government is still in negotiations to sort out its problems. As the Taoiseach and others in this House have said, at the end of the day it will be solved by negotiation.I am glad the Greek finance Minister, the communist, has departed because we were not going to get a solution-----
In addition to acknowledging the need for a structural rearrangement of the debt, one should please accept that the Greek Government has to collect its taxes. There must be structural reform also. Rather than having rhetoric, there has to be a little understanding that one cannot get one thing without doing another. For example, today the Irish Minister for Education and Skills announced an additional 610 SNA posts to complement the 220 allocated in 2014 for 2015. That makes for a total of 830 SNA posts.
Owing to necessary structural reforms, we are now able to start in a cohesive, strategic, sustainable way to cater for everybody in this country.
I wish the Greeks well in their negotiations. Greece is a wonderfully historic country. The Greek people have intimated that they want to stay in the eurozone and the European Union. I would ask-----
We should not be wary of Greeks seeking gifts but we should avoid excessive certainty on either side of this question affecting the Greeks. It seems too simple to blame EU leaders but it is also too simple to engage in casual dismissal of the Greek people and their approach to taxes, etc. Many people will miss Mr. Varoufakis as he sails off into the sunset on his motorbike. I hope his successor, a man by the name of Euclid, is capable of the necessary political triangulation that might be needed to bring about a solution.
Senator Bacik rightly mentioned the anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, but it is also appropriate for us to recall that this is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Today in the House of Lords there will be a debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with specific reference to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. Those rights are under major threat and attack in the world today. We should remember that the massacre of Armenian Christians, Assyrian Christians and others, and the massacre in Namibia of the Nama and Herero people in the early years of the 20th century, really began the story of genocide in the 20th century. It was Hitler who famously asked who remembers the Armenians. Modern-day Turkey does not remember them. It refuses to discuss to them to this day. It behoves us, given what is happening internationally, particularly to Christians, to remember the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
I ask that we have a debate at some point soon on the persecution of Christians that is occurring in the world today. It does not matter whether one is a Christian, believer or non-believer if one is being persecuted but we cannot ignore that what is happening in the world today is affecting Christian minorities particularly acutely. Indescribable horrors are taking place.Given our own traditions and our concern and influence as a small country non-aligned in many ways it is important that we take a far more vocal and visible lead on this issue.
I wish all the negotiators well at 5.30 p.m. this evening, when the Greek Prime Minister will present new proposals, not the old proposals - they are off the table. Obviously, responsibilities come with everything - I imagine everyone will agree. One thing I would say to Yanis Varoufakis, looking at his motorbike and his wife on the back of it today, without a helmet, is that it is reckless in the extreme, not alone on economic policy but in respect of his wife's health as well. I would ask him to-----
It is a report from the University of Cambridge out today by Dr. Linda O'Keeffe on alcohol and pregnant women - because men do not get pregnant - drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The figure is 90%. I could not believe it. Fully 90% of women drink alcohol before pregnancy and during pregnancy 82% drink. There is a mismatch between the guidelines. The guidelines on the Department of Health state that people should not drink at all. I have to raise the matter today because 45% binge-drink during pregnancy. That is a serious number. It was found that Ireland-----
I am looking for a debate on the issue. The research shows that there is a variance. This is the case in the last two studies I looked at as well. They were not that high. They were alarmingly high, but not that high. Among Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and England, Ireland came out tops, shamefully. Those were the numbers for Ireland. I am looking for a debate, but I am also looking to include it-----
It is a question of responsibility and irresponsibility.
A woman has put a plea out as well. She is a woman who had a one night stand in Coppers in 2003. She is looking for the father of her child. I would like to help her find that man. His name is Sean - the same name as my husband - but he is not from Ardagh.
Do not say "follow that".
We have had a few clashes between the Kerry Senators in recent years relating to No. 21 on the Order Paper, the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill. Arising from the profound concerns which will now surround the sale of the northern loan book by NAMA it would be advisable if, at the earliest possible opportunity, the Minister for Finance, notwithstanding his duties on the Greek situation, would come before the House to make a clear statement in respect of this sale.
In the past decade or so we have been transfixed by tribunals, inquiries and commissions of inquiry into various matters, whether planning, money to politicians, the sale of licences etc. We are now arriving at the tipping point where there will be, at some stage, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, some sort of inquiry into NAMA sales.The taxpayers and citizens of this country will be short-changed if assets are sold for less than their true worth.
The ongoing revelations about Northern Ireland are of deep concern. NAMA is coming before the Committee of Public Accounts on Thursday. It is important that a clear statement is made in this regard but the overall issue of NAMA's responsibility to the taxpayer should be addressed by the Minister for Finance. I would like to have the Minister come to the House in the near future, and certainly before the summer recess, to offer us assurances in regard to NAMA sales. It is a matter of significant public interest. We are speaking about figures amounting to billions of euro and we must ensure there is absolute propriety and transparency. We need to hear from the Minister on the matter. I appreciate that the Leader cannot arrange for a debate with the Minister overnight but I ask him to arrange an opportunity before the recess for us to get the necessary assurances. I hope NAMA will also be in a position to provide clarity and certainty when it appears before the committee on Thursday.
I did not know there are so many economists in the House. We all have sympathy for the plight of the Greek people. Regardless of whether they voted "Yes" or "No", both sides were pro-Europe, pro-euro and anti-austerity.
Any decent and respectable citizen would share that opinion. All of us want to keep them in the Union and in the eurozone. Senator Cullinane spoke about debt restructuring. There must, of course, be debt restructuring but I think he meant debt write-off.
Of course there must be debt restructuring and re-profiling. It is very simple. It happened in our case. I accept that the Greek situation is worse. Of course the maturities need to be lengthened and the interest rates lowered.
I hope the Greeks are sensible in what they bring to the table this evening. It is plain that Mr. Varoufakis had to go. Mr. Tsipras insisted on his departure, and was supported by his other colleagues in doing so, because Mr. Varoufakis had openly insulted everybody in the last few months.
He was never serious about negotiating. At least Senator Norris would be wise enough to wear a helmet.
Senator Bradford referred to clashes between Kerry Senators. I want to put it on the record that I have never clashed with Senator Ned O'Sullivan.
I agree with Senator Coghlan on the issue of responsibility around debt but I remind the House that Germany, which is now the strongest industrial nation in Europe, was given a significant debt write-down after the Second World War and it only recently finished repaying that debt after 70 years. We are hearing horrific accounts of families sending their children to orphanages because they cannot feed them and, while I wish the negotiations well this week, Greece needs a humane plan for the short term to keep its people alive.
We are rightly shocked by the accounts from Greece but I have been shocked to hear accounts of pregnant women who are homeless in Dublin city. We heard a presentation on the issue this afternoon. Currently 17 pregnant women are waiting for accommodation in Dublin city.They have nowhere to go except to hostels. Last week one pregnant lady was living in a squat and another in a tent at the back of a derelict house. Pregnant women who are homeless are known as the hidden homeless. They cannot and do not beg on the streets. If they have another child it is illegal to do that, while men can. At the moment 1,034 children in 490 families are in emergency accommodation in Dublin.
A social worker from Holles Street described the appalling situation of a young woman, a diabetic, who has to move out of her hostel at 9 a.m. She has nowhere to store insulin and she cannot cook appropriate food for her health. Last Christmas we had an emergency with homelessness. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and others sat around the table, and we felt there was some alleviation of the problem. Today that social worker and others from Life Pregnancy Care Ireland, have said things have not improved. It is the worst accommodation crisis ever. I ask for a statement on the matter from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government prior to the summer break? How can we let our pregnant women go homeless?
While I also express my solidarity with the people of Greece, it seems that the argument about debt relief has become a battle of ideologies rather than a battle of answers. The Government took the very pragmatic step in putting the national interest first by negotiating with the best hand it had in a quiet manner. While there will be many critics of this, there are no queues today at banks in Ireland to make cash withdrawals. The pharmacies here have medicines. People here can spend money because they have money. If we had listened to the counsel of some of our opponents on the strategy being pursued, we might have found ourselves in that position.
With the benefit of hindsight we can see how awful and hateful that decision was, but also probably how necessary it was. If foresight was as good as hindsight, we would not have any problem. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Finance to come to the Seanad to discuss the issue. Ireland has direct exposure of €365 million, which is our contribution to the ESM. I believe I heard of an overall Irish exposure of €2.4 billion to a Greek default or write-off.
The Greek debt stands at $370 billion. According to the World Bank, the debt for the entire Continent of Africa last year stood at $390 billion. The Greek debt is the same size as the debt of 54 African countries. We are asking here if we can write off debt. In light of that figure, we need to know where our priorities should lie.
I certainly have no vested interest in protecting it. Every Member of the House should be given an opportunity to ask the Minister for Finance some straight questions about NAMA's transactions. To date neither this House nor the other House has received an answer as to who the directors of the new 17% in NAMA that was sold under the watchful eye of the present Minister for Finance to a property portfolio somewhere in the Isle of Man or Jersey.Senator Paul Coghlan might know who the directors are, but I do not.
We need to have some fresh air blowing through the organisation. Perhaps we might start here.
The Greek issue is not just about the debt. Everyone seems to refer to the vote in Greece, but it is a much bigger question than that. It is a question about the European Union and the future of the euro. Greece is one of 19 eurozone members and represents 2% of the European economy. Its people are suffering, but the situation will get much worse if Greece leaves the euro because there will be food rationing and rationing of other items. We should not advocate that such a situation should occur. European political leaders and bureaucrats, who perhaps are the real leaders, need to work out a refinancing and rescheduling plan. They must stop issuing threats to the European Central Bank to the effect that it cannot lend money to Greek banks. That is disgraceful and fuelling what is happening on the streets in Greece where people cannot access their own money. There are real, fundamental issues at stake about democracy and capitalism and where both concepts cross over. Capitalism is winning and democracy is losing. Unfortunately, when political leaders and politicians protect capitalism, democracy loses. We must reflect on this. European political leaders who were elected by the people in sovereign countries must also reflect on it.
Like other colleagues in the House, I was honoured this afternoon to stand with members of the Bosnian community in Ireland in a very dignified ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. The killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in July 1995 marked one of the darkest days in the troubled conflict that engulfed the former Yugoslavia. It was one of the worst atrocities to take place in Europe since the Second World War and was very much a failure of the international community to prevent the genocide from taking place. Mr. Mirza atibuši from Bosnia spoke very movingly and warned us of the dangers of a repeat if the international community failed to act on some of the awful things happening in the world today. I hope that in the next term we will have a discussion with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the situation in Syria and other conflicts throughout the world. The official ceremony to mark the genocide in Srebrenica will take place on Saturday, 11 July. I am pleased that Ireland's ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Patrick Kelly, will represent the Government at the ceremony. As has been said, today also marks the tenth anniversary of the appalling terrorist attack in London in which 52 people were killed and more than 700 were injured.
I join Senator Jim D'Arcy in very much welcoming the announcement that an additional 610 special needs assistants, SNAs, will be provided. The decision was sanctioned at today's Cabinet meeting. It will mean that every child with an assessed need will have access to an SNA. From September, there will be 11,820 whole-time SNA posts in primary and post-primary schools, an 11.7% increase since the Government took office.
The decision very much reflects the fact that the economy is on the up and that good decisions were taken in the past four and a half years. I hope we will see continued investment in public services in the years ahead.
Approximately two weeks ago, each and every Member on both sides of the House agreed that what had happened to the Clerys workers was unbelievable and totally disregarded them.Like the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Ms Patricia King, I believe employers should be prevented from being directors of companies for up to five years if they fail to meet their legal obligations to their employees. As I stated, all Members agreed that the Clerys workers had been treated outrageously. They have been disregarded and treated with disdain, which is totally unacceptable. Current legislation sets out that employers must enter into a 30-day consultation period before redundancies are implemented. That is the statutory legislation period required, but it was not adhered to in the case of the Clerys workers. These loyal workers with commitments, mortgages, etc. were given one hour's notice. Company law should be amended such that any employer or someone working on behalf of an employer who fails to comply with the procedures can be removed as a director for at least five years. I support the cause and call for an urgent debate to consider the legislation required.
I may have made a mistake in outlining the times, as I think I said Committee Stage of the Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2015 would be taken at 7.15 p.m. It will actually be taken at 7 p.m. and adjourned not later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded. Consequently, I wish to make that correction to the Order of Business.
Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to the filling of a vacancy for a consultant to carry out pancreatic transplants. He also mentioned this issue last week when I suggested he might table a Commencement matter on it. I understand a motion on the issue and others is in circulation. I do not propose to accept the amendment proposed to the Order of Business on access to Fampyra. As the Senator mentioned, the issue has been discussed several times previously. On 17 June Senator Colm Burke debated a Commencement matter on it, as did Senator Martin Conway on 7 October last. Senator Colm Burke also tabled a motion on it on 4 March, while Members made statements on the issue on 26 November last. Consequently, I do not think a further debate on it would help to deal with the situation.
Senators Ivana Bacik and Michael Mullins referred to the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. The commemoration held outside Leinster House was dignified and, as has been mentioned, the official commemoration will be held at a later stage.
Senator Ivana Bacik complimented the captain and crew of the LE Eithne, who certainly have done tremendous work. I believe they will be replaced in early course by another of our naval vessels.
Senator David Norris, among many other Senators, spoke about the situation in Greece. It is to be welcomed that the Greek Prime Minister will present new proposals today to deal with his country's deepening debt crisis by seeking another bailout. It is also to be welcomed that the European Central Bank will continue to provide emergency liquidity assistance for the banks. I agree with the comments made by Members that there should always be flexibility to accommodate changes to bailout programmes sought by governments. I remind Members that when the Government took office, it secured significant changes to our bailout programme. It replaced the €750 million in further income tax increases agreed to by the previous Government with alternative measures that were less damaging to jobs. The Government secured agreement to reverse the cuts made by Fianna Fáil to the minimum wage, to cut the lower rate of employer's PRSI for three years and to cut the VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors from 13.5% to 9%, which resulted in the creation of more than 30,000 jobs.The Government also secured interest rate reductions on the bailout debts and got rid of the promissory notes relating to the IBRC.
That happened as a result of the negotiations the Government carried out in respect of the bailout programme. I hope the Government of Greece will negotiate in a similar manner for the sake of that country's people.
Senator Naughton referred to congestion in Galway and several other transport issues. Perhaps she might seek to raise these matters by means of the Commencement Debate in order that she might elicit more information in respect of them.
Senator Hayden referred to a number of terrorist atrocities carried out across the globe. The Senator also raised the issue of access to legal aid.
Senator Quinn referred to poor building practices during the Celtic tiger era and stated that new building regulations are being put in place. The Minister has requested that anybody who wants to have an input into the process to make a submission. The Minister will be coming before the House to discuss a Bill relating to urban regeneration. Perhaps the Senator might take that opportunity to raise the matter to which he refers with the Minister. The Senator also referred to the death of Kathleen Hayes who was 113 years old, a remarkable age.
Senators Comiskey and Mooney, I presume, welcomed the fact that the Government has given €3 million towards the maintenance of Pádraig Pearce's house in Rosmuc and the development of an interpretative centre there.
I am sure the Minister will provide funding additional to the €30,000 that has already been granted.
Senator Higgins referred to the planning process and highlighted the fact that companies are objecting and trying stifle opposition in the marketplace. Again, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will be coming before the House to take a number of Bills in the next week or so and I am sure the Senator will have the opportunity to raise those issues with him at some point.
Senator Bradford referred to the sale of the northern loan book by NAMA. I am sure that matter will be addressed by the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform and the Committee of Public Accounts. The Senator is correct, there is a need for absolute transparency and probity. These are essential in these matters.
Senator Keane referred to the University of Cambridge study on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The results of that study are a matter of some concern. I will not comment about Coppers. I assure the Senator that it is a long time since I have been there.
Senator Healy Eames referred to the writing down of German debt after the Second World War. That happened prior to the formation of the EU. The Senator also correctly highlighted the plight of homeless people who are pregnant.
Homeless people. I do not think men can get pregnant in any event. However, as already stated, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will be in the House on several occasions in the coming weeks and that matter can be raised with him then. Senator Gilroy also referred to Greece and the exposure of the economy to a Greek bailout and that should be spelled out as well. We have come a long way from Sinn Féin telling the troika to take their money and go. We would have been in a bad state if that had happened at that particular point in time.
Senator Mullins called for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on Syria and other areas of conflict. Senator Mullen also called for a debate on the persecution of Christians worldwide, which is another issue that can be raised with the Minister.
Finally, Senator Brennan outlined the duties of directors and their obligations to employees in the context of the Clerys workers, and he called for amendments to company law.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the specific issue of the availability of the drug, Fampyra, in the treatment of MS be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Thomas Byrne
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- David Norris
- Darragh O'Brien
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Pat O'Neill
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone