Thursday, 16 July 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the appointment of the chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 3 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the current state of the economy as we will not have much time to discuss the budget provision. The economic policy being pursued by the Government is akin to economic Darwinism because it involves the survival of the fittest. Those who have get richer and those who have not get nothing. Those who are on the outside of our society keep looking in and those who are on the inside of our society keep getting more.
I would also like the Leader to organise a debate on our judicial system. It was widely reported during the week that a non-custodial sentence was applied in a horrific rape case. Some 69% of people are not satisfied with the way our Judiciary hands down sentences. A gender quota is needed in our Judiciary. Even though we have women at the highest ranks of our justice system, including the Garda Commissioner, some Supreme Court judges and the Attorney General, our judicial ranks are full of white middle-aged conservative men who hand down appalling sentences, unfortunately based to a large degree on prejudice.
I am asking for a debate on our judicial system because there needs to be a gender quota in the appointment of our judges. It is as simple as that. We have gender quotas in politics and in other areas, but we do not have such a quota in the Judiciary. As I have said, some 69% of people are not satisfied with our sentencing regime. There are mandatory sentences for murder, which is as it should be. The same thing should apply in areas like abuse and rape. A two-year sentence was handed out to a principal. I am not identifying anyone.
What is wrong with our Judiciary that allows that? Why is it that when judges are sentencing people to jail for abuse and rape, they talk about the background of the perpetrator and how he came from a good family and how he is held in high regard-----
The Senator might look at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and the work we have been doing. In fact, we had a debate on appointments to the Judiciary in the past few months, at my initiation, looking at the work of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB, and gender breakdown among the Judiciary. I tabled a matter on the Adjournment on this issue a short time ago. In recent years we have had a significant increase in the proportion of women in the Judiciary. I ask the Senator to look at the figures. Anyone who is interested in this area, before he or she starts shouting about it, should look at the figures. Up to a third of our Judiciary are women at different levels and in different courts. Certainly there are some imbalances, but it is a huge improvement on the number of women in the Judiciary just ten years ago. In 2003, my colleagues and I in Trinity College did a major report, the first and only one of its kind in Ireland, called Gender InJustice, looking at the gender breakdown among the legal profession and among the Judiciary. At that point we were concerned about the low levels of women among the Judiciary, but I think that issue has been addressed in more recent appointments and we have seen a much better balance in members of the Judiciary.
With regard to sentencing in rape and sexual offence cases, of course there has been concern. I am one of the people who expressed concern at some recent reports. It is important to note that since 1993 there has been a provision whereby the Director of Public Prosecutions may apply to review a sentence handed down on grounds of undue leniency. We have seen that review mechanism applied in quite a number of cases where concerns have been expressed, and sentences have been altered at the Court of Criminal Appeal on the basis of reviews. The DPP has 28 days from the handing down of a sentence to initiate the review procedure. In any current case, it would be wise to remember that review process may well be utilised.
In the justice committee, we have taken a stand against mandatory sentences, as has Rape Crisis Network Ireland, regarding the maximum sentence appropriate for rape, which is life imprisonment, and pointed out that judges should have discretion. I do not agree with mandatory sentencing for drugs offences either, with the presumptive minimum sentence that exists. Certainly a debate on sentencing would be useful, but the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence is currently looking at judicial appointments and has done some work on this already.
I commend all those involved in yesterday's debate on the Gender Recognition Bill 2014. It was a good day when the Bill was finally passed in both Houses and came back to the Seanad for us to agree Report Stage amendments. The Bill changed significantly and was improved during its progress through both Houses of the Oireachtas, particularly during the Seanad debate. As the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, pointed out, the Seanad has been instrumental to the positive changes made to the Bill. Last week I organised a seminar in Trinity College at which Senators David Norris and Katherine Zappone were speakers, along with Ann Louise Gilligan, Professor Mark Bell from Trinity and Brian Sheehan from GLEN. We talked about the positive impact that legal advocacy - through particular cases, but also in the form of legislation and referendums - has had on the progress of LBGT rights. Yesterday's Gender Recognition Bill marks another stage in the development and progress of rights, particularly for transgender persons. I look forward, as other colleagues will, to the outcome of the two-year review that was built into the Bill. That is the outcome of an from the Seanad, and it strengthens the Bill because it will allow us to deal with issues that were raised during the debate and are not addressed in the Bill.
On Tuesday we saw the report on farm incomes based on the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2014. The findings are shocking. They show that more than 25,000 farm households are classed as economically vulnerable - in other words, the farm is not generating enough income to support the family and neither the farmer nor the spouse has an off-farm job. The report shows graphically that most of the financially unviable farms are concentrated in the Connacht-Ulster Border area, with up to 45% in Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon. The human cost is that 7,000 farm families are not making enough money to allow them to get by or to stay in business in the medium term. In western counties such as Galway and Mayo, only 16% of farms are deemed to be financially viable in the medium term, by far the lowest level in the country. I have had the opportunity to go around many of the areas identified in the Teagasc report. Rural poverty is an issue that is not adequately addressed by the Government. The economic collapse resulted in a collapse of other sources of income for farmers, particularly off-farm employment in the counties worst affected. In Galway it is predominantly dry stock farming. The Teagasc survey shows that dairy farms in the south and east of the country enjoy higher levels of farm viability, whereas cattle and sheep farms in the west are not able to support their farmers' families. The reality of poverty for rural families is often hidden from view. It rarely makes the headlines but its effects are devastating on communities. We need an urgent debate on falling farm incomes and rural poverty.
A delegation from the European Parliament gender equality committee, FEMM, is visiting Dublin in September. Its draft itinerary shows that it is meeting the Abortion Rights Campaign and the National Women's Council, and then the Minister for Justice and Equality. It would be highly inappropriate for an EU parliamentary committee to take a side in a domestic debate on abortion, particularly when that issue has nothing to do with this country's EU membership, and in view of our constitutional protection for the unborn child. As matters stand, this committee plans to meet abortion advocates without meeting NGOs and human rights groups who defend the rights of women in pregnancy and their unborn children. That is very troubling, and I intend to raise it again unless the committee changes its partisan stance. I ask the Leader to intervene with the Minister and make the point that there can be no question of the Minister for Justice and Equality granting a meeting in such circumstances.
This is happening while Planned Parenthood, one of the largest abortion industry groups, which has funded the Irish Family Planning Association to the tune of €500,000 in the past three years, has been exposed in a very disturbing and disgusting video released which depicted one of its senior officials casually discussing the shipment of aborted children's body parts to research labs in exchange for money. This was a sting operation done by undercover activists. It showed Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical research talking in a glib and horrific way - which put ISIS in the shade - about the sale of body parts.
Yes. I ask that people in this House and elsewhere who talk glibly about deleting the eighth amendment to the Constitution should consider the reality of what abortion is and who is involved in it. I urge members, though it is difficult, to view this chilling video which shows the terrible callousness and cruelty of an industry based on the destruction of human life. Finally, we as parliamentarians should call on the Irish Family Planning Association to cut all links with Planned Parenthood International. It is a rogue organisation which is apparently engaged in an illegal criminal conspiracy in the US.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come into the House in the autumn to outline the progress made on junior cycle reform. I was very pleased yesterday when she announced that agreements on all aspects of that reform have been concluded with the TUI and the ASTI.She said that these agreed proposals will be put to a ballot of members in September.
The reformed junior cycle will deliver a modernised curriculum across all subjects. There is now a career path for everyone through education, allowing us to take the elitism out of education and training. Colleges like O' Fiaich College of Further Education in Dundalk and the Drogheda Institute of Further Education offer a wide range of education and training which, with the existing and new apprenticeships coming on stream, will be a new dawn for those children and students who do not necessarily want to study for a university degree. We can have a system where everybody is valued in education and where all children can have enhanced self-esteem. It would be useful to have the Minister for Education and Skills in to the House in the autumn.
I wish to say a few words on the points raised earlier by Senator Rónán Mullen on farm income and the Teagasc report. We are not giving nearly enough attention to this area. I read recently that the United States is concerned that it is currently creating jobs that will not exist in the next generation. An example given was that at the beginning of the 20th century, 50% of the US workforce worked in agriculture but only 2% work in agriculture now. We must ensure that when we concentrate on creating jobs that they are jobs for the long term.
We have to remember, and Senator D'Arcy touched on this, when we talk about education that we do not talk solely about academic education. We must talk about what the Americans call STEM which is science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The concentration has to be on these areas because it is technology which will enable us to have jobs in the future.
The air ambulance service is an item which has been brought up in this House in the past. There was grave doubt as to whether the service would be maintained but the Government announced yesterday that the service is to be continued, which is good news. This is something that we have realised is important enough to ensure investment into it, and the decision was made. Congratulations to the Government for agreeing to this. It is a wonderful achievement to hear that a life has been saved because the air ambulance was able to get them to hospital quickly enough.
I want to join with my colleagues when they talk about farm incomes and the price of milk. I welcome the EU Commission decision to intervene in the price of milk. The price of milk has dropped from 40 cent a litre to 28 cent a litre. Yesterday the Commission decided it would set a floor price for intervention. This floor price is currently 21 cent a litre. It is important that this is raised closer to 28 cent or 30 cent to make sure there is an income there for farmers. Since quotas were abolished farmers made huge investments over the last six to 12 months and we do not want to see their backs now put to the wall after making those investments. This is an important move by the Commission. Milk production was at its highest in June and by setting an intervention price it will make sure that these farmers have an income into the future.
Quite a number of young farmers have applied to Teagasc to do a green certificate course, which is presenting some difficulties. Teagasc says that it does not have enough staff to carry out the courses but it is very important that every measure is put in place to enable those farmers to complete their course by October 2016 or the farmers will be penalised under the direct payments system. This is an issue for Teagasc to take up and make sure those young farmers get a chance to do the course.
Cé go bhfuil na Teachtaí Dála ag fáil faoi réir le dhul ar a gcuid laethanta saoire, tá ábhar gur ceart dúinne déileáil leis sular mbíonn briseadh againne. The Deputies may be getting ready to pack up and go off on their holidays but an issue has come to the fore which the Seanad might be able to deal with. So far, 512 women have signed up for the Magdalen redress scheme. In order to sign up, the women were required to indemnify the State. They did this on the understanding that the Government would honour in full the recommendations made in the Quirke report. We debated that in this House.
In recent weeks women based in Ireland have begun to receive their long promised medical cards only to find that the cards are inadequate for their health needs. The cards do not entitle them to the enhanced range of services they were promised when they signed up and as we were promised in this House. No provision has been made for the survivors who reside outside of Ireland, all of whom are entitled to redress. If all of this was not problematic enough the actual cards issued to the women in recent weeks clearly identify them as survivors of residential institutions, which is a breach of their privacy. These women are mainly elderly. They have been, and are sadly still being, treated appallingly. They have no time to waste. Some of these women have passed away since the tearful apology to them made by the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny. They deserve the best we can give them immediately, not when our politicians return from the summer holidays. We need to have a debate with the Minister on this issue as soon as possible.
There are calls for the Government to introduce emergency legislation to bring the healthcare provisions, under the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act, in line with those provided for under the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, as recommended by the Quirke report. We in opposition feared this and highlighted it when the legislation was coming through. This needs to be done immediately. I ask that these women are not left hanging in uncertainty while the Dáil goes into summer recess, that we use the Seanad to help them get what they deserve and to offer the proper redress as soon as possible. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House.
I support Senator Jim D'Arcy in his call for a debate with Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan, in the upcoming session. I welcome the progress that has been made in the reform of the junior cycle and that agreement was reached with all unions. The much overdue junior cycle reform can now proceed as a matter of urgency.
The air ambulance service is being put on a permanent basis which a very welcome development, particularly for people living along the west coast of Ireland. It will continue to be based in Custume Barracks in Athlone. The Minister for Health, Deputy Varadker and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney announced yesterday that the service will be established on a permanent basis. The valuable service ensures that people who are seriously ill and in remoter areas of our country have timely access to the appropriate high quality clinical care they require. The National Ambulance Service and the Air Corps have operated the service on a pilot basis since 2012. There was concern recently that it might not be put on a permanent basis. With the Irish Coast Guard providing backup support the service has completed over 1055 missions to date. Over 300 of those missions involved people with serious heart conditions who needed to be transported to a primary care centre within 90 minutes. This service is invaluable to many people and it is very welcome news that it is to be continued on a permanent basis. I have no doubt that it will be evaluated for ongoing effectiveness but it is now a permanent fixture as part of our improving health service. I compliment the Ministers involved in bringing this to fruition.
I refer to the proposition which was put before the committee at the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council.The proposition was on the protection of the family and the contribution of the family to the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living for its members, particularly through its role in poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development. "Family" was not defined, it just says protection of the family. Happily that motion was supported by a majority of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council with 29 countries voting in favour, 14 against and four abstaining. Sadly, Ireland was one of the countries which voted against it.
There is a need for some accountability of people who represent Ireland abroad on these issues. They should be in some way accountable to Parliament for decisions and positions they take. Often they are taken from the point of view of self-interest in arrangements within the organisation as part of the cut and thrust which we often see in politics. People look to chair meetings and deliberations. It is unacceptable that we would put ourselves in such a position. Will the Leader arrange to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House at an early stage to explain to the people as well as the Seanad why Ireland would consider voting against a family motion which is clearly one that would seem to be representative of the views of everyone, regardless of what way they voted in the recent referendum.
I will very briefly refer to the comments made by our colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, on Planned Parenthood. This morning I forwarded to each Member of the House a video clip illustrating the points he was making. I will not make any comment on it other than to say that I urge Members to look at it and come to their own conclusions. In particular, I ask those who have a different disposition to me and may be pro-abortion to look at it because it raises serious questions about the manner in which they carry out the abortion but also the way they then take body parts and sell them. Unfortunately, if Members do not look at it-----
Senator Bacik referred to the very significant increase we have had in recent years in the appointment of so many lady judges at all levels in the Courts Service. When individual sentences and sentencing were spoken about by the Acting Leader of the Opposition this morning, cases were identifiable, as the Cathaoirleach pointed out. We cannot speak about individual cases, which I respect. The behaviour of the Member opposite this morning is a disgrace-----
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. I will share an incident one might consider local but it is a symptom of our health system. On Monday there were 81 people on trolleys in University Hospital Galway. One of those patients has severe dementia and she was on a trolley for two days. She did not even know where she was. Her husband, who is almost 80 years of age, told me he did not want any special treatment from me. He was not even looking for a bed from me for her, but he said he had one message he wished me to bring to the Parliament, which is that the patient must come before the system.
We are now asking for debates for after the recess. This problem will not go away over the holidays. I ask to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, in this House for a serious debate on our health system. Some 70% of all healthcare costs come from five chronic illnesses, namely, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer. Many of the admissions result from exacerbation of those chronic illnesses. If they were treated in the community at earlier stages, through investment in our primary health care systems, we would have an answer to our problems in accident and emergency departments. I know we are looking to extend our accident and emergency department in Galway, but that will not get to the root of our problems. I ask the Leader to honour that debate in the autumn.
I wish to follow up with one key point. I am disturbed and I am sure everyone else in this House is disturbed, whether they are pro-choice, pro-abortion or pro-life, at the thought of the sale of baby parts from abortions in the United States by Planned Parenthood. I have one question. The Irish Family Planning Association has received €500,000 from Planned Parenthood over the past three years. Does the Irish Family Planning Association support the sale of baby organs by Planned Parenthood? Will the Leader find out the answer to that question? This link must be explained. I expect outrage on this issue. I am terribly disturbed, first, at the thought of the baby's life being taken because the baby is aborted and, second, that the baby becomes a commercial commodity. Let us stand up for humanity and the right to life of the unborn.
I would like to raise the issue of school transport for students with a disability. I received word through a parliamentary question yesterday evening that a child with a disability who requires considerable attention was refused free school transport because he is not attending the nearest school deemed by the Department to be resourced to meet his educational needs. He is therefore not eligible for free school transport. I was further informed the family can now apply for school transport on a concessionary basis but this is subject to terms and conditions, including the availability of spare seats or the payment of an annual charge. This child is due to start school in September. While the school is not the nearest school, it has been determined and deemed to be the best school to suit his needs by, most importantly, his parents and also the therapists in the local disability services.
I raised the query with the Department immediately on being contacted by the family. I am disappointed with the response.
I understand the topic is more suited to a Commencement debate but as the update on the matter only came through yesterday evening, the deadline had passed. I have spoken to Bus Éireann and there does not appear to be an issue on its end about transporting the child. It is now a matter for the Department to apply common sense to the issue. I have had similar issues.
As I said, I have raised similar issues for other people. As we are coming to the end of the school year, parents need to know at this stage of the year how their children will get to school in September, particularly children with special needs. They need to know what is available. Any child attending a normal primary or secondary school will know.
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan