Friday, 17 July 2015
Order of Business
Before I call the Leader, I am sure Members of the House would like to join with me in an expression of sympathy regarding the late Alexis Fitzgerald, a former Member of this House and the Lower House. I am sure the Leader will arrange for expressions of sympathy at a later date.
I join the Cathaoirleach in offering my condolences to Alexis Fitzgerald's wife, Mary. He was an excellent representative in this House. We will arrange a commemoration for him in the House at a later stage.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Monday and Tuesday, 20 and 21 July 2015, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to adjourn not later than 1.45 p.m., with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; and No. 3, Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.45 p.m.
We agree to the Order of Business. I join the Cathaoirleach and the Leader in expressing the sympathy of our group on the passing of the former Senator and Deputy, Alexis Fitzgerald. There will be an opportunity to have more substantial expressions of sympathy, but I add my voice to the sympathy extended to his wife, the former Deputy and Minister, Mary Flaherty, and his children. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
In the same context, I am sure Members on all sides of the House will express their sympathies to a former Member of the House and current Deputy, Joe O'Reilly, on the death of his mother, who I understand passed away yesterday.Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.
In about 20 minutes the LE Eithnewill steam up, if I could use that somewhat outdated nautical term, to Ringaskiddy in Cork Harbour following a most extraordinary ten weeks during which the Irish Naval Service covered itself in glory. The crew will be returning as heroes in a modern sense, having saved the lives of more than 3,300 refugees who found themselves in one of the most inhuman environments. It was a new departure for the Irish Naval Service and is one that will be added to its illustrious record. It is not often we have the opportunity to praise the Naval Service in these Houses. Generally, we tend to refer to the Defence Forces in the context of their peacekeeping activities. On this occasion, however, the House will join me in congratulating the Chief of Staff, who is a naval officer and rear admiral, and ask him to convey the thanks of this House and of the people of Ireland to the 65 crew and medical staff who did such impressive humanitarian work on the Mediterranean over the last few weeks.
I also understand the Naval Service will be welcoming the addition of a new ship, the LE James Joyce, bringing the complement of Naval Service ships up to eight. Considering that we have such a huge area of sea to cover for fishery protection, this is a welcome addition to the Irish Naval Service and to fishery protection, particularly on the south and south-west coasts.
Finally, Members of this House have occasionally raised the plight of the homeless. The most striking example of it occurred late last year when there was an outcry about the tragedies that occurred in the city as a result of homelessness. Quick and active resolutions were put in place at that time. Sadly, however, the homelessness issue has not gone away and a report today reveals the shocking news that 17 pregnant women are sleeping in nothing more than tents and the back seats of cars. They have no homes during their pregnancy.
Homelessness is unacceptable in a modern society, regardless of what category of people it affects, but that 17 pregnant women cannot find refuge during their confinement is an indictment of a society that prides itself on having a humanitarian approach. Perhaps the Leader would convey the sentiment of the House, as I am sure all Members will agree with me on this, that something must be done immediately, similar to the proactive approach of the Government on the last occasion along with Fr. Peter McVerry and others who work in this area. This issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency. I understand only four beds are available with Anchora, the organisation that looks after pregnant women. I hope direct and immediate action will be taken in this regard.
I offer condolences to the wife and family of former Deputy, Alexis Fitzgerald, on behalf of the Labour Party group. I also offer condolences to Deputy Joe O'Reilly. I and many other Members served with him in the previous Seanad, from 2007 to 2011, and he is a great friend and colleague. I am very sorry to hear of the death of his mother.
I join Senator Mooney in offering a huge commendation from across the Seanad to the crew of the LE Eithneon the immense humanitarian work they have done. A number of us have spoken about it in this House, but it is hugely positive to see the amazing work they have done and to read some of the detailed accounts of the rescues in which they were engaged and of the many thousands of migrants they rescued.
In that context, I ask the Leader to schedule a debate, early in the new session, with the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, on the implementation of the report on direct provision that was published recently. I note that the Minister of State has been appointed to head an implementation body to assess how the recommendations of that report can be put in place. Clearly, when we discuss migrants the issue is not just migrants being rescued in the Mediterranean but also migrants living in Ireland. Many Members of the Seanad have worked on this issue over a long period. The recommendations of the working group on direct provision are welcome, but Members should keep a watching brief on this and hold regular debates on the issue.
I also support the call for a debate on homelessness early in the next session. After the justified outcry last Christmas the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, put in place significant increased investment in services for homeless persons, but we should have a debate on the issue again in the House.
I also seek a debate in the new session on child care, in light of the report published this week by Early Childhood Ireland. The report, "Footsteps for the Future", by Dr. Stephen Kinsella from the University of Limerick looks at the funding of early childhood or preschool education. In particular, there is an analysis of the provision of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme year and of the provision of child care by service providers. However, we should have a broader debate on child care, looking at the matter not just in the context of early childhood education in the three to five year old cohort but also child care for infants and children up to three years of age. I am aware that a report is due on this. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, has commissioned a working group report on how best to ensure accessible, affordable and high quality child care for parents and children in Ireland. The report is due to be launched shortly, so it would be timely for the Seanad to have a debate on it when we have considered its findings. It would give us an opportunity to have an input on that.
I echo the sentiments of Senator Mooney and the Leader on the loss of Alexis Fitzgerald, a most popular, friendly and courteous man to meet. I extend the sympathy of the Independent Senators to his wife, Mary.
I welcome that two of the students injured in Berkeley, Niall Murray and Jack Halpin, are returning to Ireland this week. For them and the others who survived that tragedy - Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Clodagh Cogley, Hannah Waters and Aoife Beary - we wish that this summer will be a time in which they can recover fully. We also think of the other foreign disasters for Irish people in the early summer, particularly for the Carty family in County Meath and the Hayes family in Athlone who were bereaved by the Tunisian event.
Like Senator Bacik, I welcome the work of Dr. Stephen Kinsella. He is around these Houses quite frequently; he attended a finance committee meeting last week. He is a most interesting person to meet regarding many aspects of how the Irish economy might develop. Perhaps we will see more of him in the House.
I hope the people in Greece and Germany will not put a currency before a country. There has been too much of that. One does not make a god of a currency. It is simply a means of exchange between countries and it has received far too much prominence.
I welcome the good news that three-quarters of our population have high or very high satisfaction with life in this country, despite all of our problems. That brings to mind a former Member of the House, W. B. Yeats, and his words:
Cast your mind on other daysDespite banks, their accounts and so forth we are still doing well, surviving and emerging from these great disasters. That is a positive note to mention. Some people will be taking up their buckets and spades, as the newspapers put it, but the banking committee will be working for another two weeks. We will continue to delve into these matters and the Members will not be disappointed by the work of Senators O'Keeffe, MacSharry and Michael D'Arcy. This House has been splendidly represented on that committee and it will be a good report.
That in the coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry.
I welcome the wonderful news from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, with the announcement of the €100 million investment to promote tourism, transport and sport. This brings the Department's capital spend in 2015 to €1.7 billion. It will be used to support the public transport system, road maintenance and a speedier roll-out of all the necessary work on various projects. A sum of €60 million will go towards transport, €34 million will go towards remedial road works both at national and local level, €4.2 million will go into tourism, which has been a jewel in the crown in recent years with regard to what it has contributed to the economy, and €1 million will go towards road safety.I am especially pleased to note that in ten minutes the official sod-cutting ceremony will take place for the national indoor arena at Sports Campus Ireland in Abbotstown. I remember competing as a young man on the American indoor circuit when there was talk of a national indoor arena being built in 1979 in the docklands area of Dublin, but that did not happen. The allocation of €800,000 for the national campus is appropriate and it will accelerate the delivery of the project. That is an indication of the work the Government has been doing to return the public finances to order. We are building a better future and providing levels of investment to meet economic and social needs for people in this country. I welcome today’s announcement.
I add my condolences on the death of the former Member of this House and of Dáil Éireann, former Senator Fitzgerald, who passed away. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
I wish to refer to an issue which was highlighted last night on the “Prime Time Investigates” programme, but which has been under review by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General for some time, namely, procurement within the HSE and hospital sector. The HSE spends approximately €1.6 billion every year on the procurement of services. It is trying to distance itself this morning from the hospitals concerned but the fact remains that the HSE provides a block grant to each of those hospitals and is responsible for the manner in which the block grant is spent. The HSE is answerable to the Comptroller and Auditor General who found in his audit of the HSE procurement as far back as 2012 and 2013 that goods and services were being procured in some instances without competitive tenders.
A different but linked issue was raised in last night’s programme. It appears to be endemic across the HSE and hospitals. While it may have been common practice in the past, it is totally unacceptable as we try to obtain value for money in the procurement of any services or goods for the public health care system. We should debate the matter, but I accept we might not have time ahead of the summer recess. However, I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Health on the issue in early September when we return, taking into consideration some of the recommendations made by the Committee of Public Accounts on HSE procurement and what steps have been taken by the Department of Health, the HSE and the hospital groups to fulfil some of those recommendations. If the practice is continuing, as was highlighted last night, it would appear that the recommendations have not been taken into consideration. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate in early course upon the Seanad’s resumption.
I also express my sympathies to the family of Alexis Fitzgerald, in particular his wife, Mary. I knew Alexis through UCD. I also express my sympathy to Deputy Joe O’Reilly, another UCD colleague, on the death of his mother.
I agree with Senator Mooney on the need for a debate on homelessness. I formally ask the Leader to call on the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, to immediately meet with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, about the €18.6 million shortfall in the homeless budget in Dublin city, and the four Dublin counties.
I commend the work of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and the Tenancy Protection Service. In spite of very significant difficulties, they have secured housing for a significant number of people who have been facing homelessness. It is a crisis that needs further action and to be further addressed but we must acknowledge the work that is done by the two organisations to which I referred in protecting people who would otherwise be on the streets.
We all know the homelessness crisis is being largely driven by the shortage of housing and high rents. I am somewhat disturbed by a narrative that is coming across to the effect that what we need to do is lower building standards in order to get more housing supply quickly. Along with many other people, I campaigned for many years to improve building standards and to move us away from the 600 sq. ft. two-bedroom apartment that blighted Dublin city, in particular the centre of the city of Dublin for many years, and are now proving to be the slums of the 21st century that are being occupied almost exclusively by single parents. I very strongly believe that we must hold the line on building standards. Dare I say, housing is for life, it is not for Christmas, to borrow another adage. We cannot have a scenario where poor quality housing is built now because we want to quickly increase the supply. We cannot abandon good quality building standards.
Ba mhaith liom thar ceann mhuintir Shinn Féin anseo sa Seanad comhbhrón a dhéanamh tar éis bhás an iar-Bhall den Teach seo, Alexis Fitzgerald, lena chlann, lena mhuintir agus lena chairde. I echo the sentiments on the passing of former Senator and Deputy, Alexis Fitzgerald, and pass on our condolences to his family and friends as well.
I concur with Senator Bacik’s call for a debate on the working group on direct provision. It is very important that we would debate the issue. I have serious misgivings about some of the findings of the working group, which I will make at the time. Perhaps before we break up next week, if he is able, the Leader might also give us an indication of the progress of the protection Bill, which is intricately linked to the work of the working group. A Bill is required to introduce most of the recommended changes that need to be made.
Many Members might be thinking about taking a break from the Houses, but I raised an issue to which the Leader did not get to respond due to the shenanigans going on, about a number of women who do not have much time to wait. I refer to the 1,512 women who have signed up the Magdalen redress scheme. In order to sign up the women were required to indemnify the State. They did so on the understanding that the Government would honour in full the recommendations made in the Quirke report. In recent weeks, women based in this country have begun to receive their long-promised medical cards, only to find they are inadequate for their health needs and do not entitle them to the enhanced range of services they were promised when they signed up to the scheme. No provision has been made for the survivors who reside outside of this country, all of whom are entitled to redress.
As if the situation were not problematic enough, the cards issued to the women in recent weeks clearly identify them as survivors of residential institutions, which is a breach of their privacy. The women concerned are elderly and they have been and, sadly, continue to be treated appallingly. They have no time to waste. Several of the women have passed away since the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny’s tearful apology to them. They deserve the best we can give them immediately, not when we return from our summer holidays. I note that we will have a Minister or Minister of State from the Department of Justice and Equality next week. I call on the Leader to make time available either today or next week so that we can address the issue and raise the concerns that have been raised by the women. The Government should not leave the women hanging in uncertainty during the summer recess. They deserve the best we can offer. We must take action and we should do that while we are still here. I call on the Leader to organise such a debate.
I agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said this morning by Senator Paschal Mooney about the LE Eithneand her crew and the sterling service it provided on behalf of all of Europe in the Mediterranean. I am pleased it has been replaced by a sister ship. I pass on our good wishes and congratulations to Rear Admiral Mellett on his position and promotion. He is shortly to take up the role of Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.
I also sympathise and pass on our condolences to the widow of Alexis Fitzgerald, Mary Flaherty, on his untimely passing. As has been said, he was a very friendly man whom many of us knew very well and held in high regard. I also extend my sympathy to our good friend and colleague, Deputy Joe O’Reilly, on the death of his mother.
I too add my condolences to the family of Alexis Fitzgerald.
There is much congratulatory talk this morning on the crew of the LE Eithne. It is rather surprising that the crew has had to put in a claim to be compensated for overseas service and that it has not been met on the same terms as would be afforded were the crew on UN service.I do not know how far that claim has progressed but for those who put their lives in jeopardy to serve this country, rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean is not just about the issue of rough seas and so on. We see they are garbed up when they undertake these rescues but we do not know if sick people are being brought on board that ship. When these men and women of the Naval Service are away from home there is serious family hardship. I ask the Leader to inquire of the Minister about the claim with respect to their overseas service payment.
We should note that Rear Admiral Mark Mellett is the first ever naval officer to take over as Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, and it is a great day for the Naval Service.
With respect to what we saw on the "Prime Time" programme last night on procurement, will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if there is a role for the Garda? There are hundreds of people on trolleys in hospitals yet people are accepting holidays in Portugal and elsewhere. I am not saying anybody is guilty at this stage but if money is going astray, and we heard this morning that ten times the price was paid for a particular article, surely that is fraud, and that there are criminal offences that should be investigated.
With respect to the issue of homelessness, I remind the House that Senator Healy Eames brought to our attention 17 pregnant women who are homeless in Dublin this very day.
I extend deepest sympathy to the Fitzgerald family on the death of Alexis Fitzgerald, who served in this House and was Lord Mayor of Dublin in the 1980s. He and his wife, Mary Flaherty, both served as Members of Dáil Éireann at the same time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family today.
I extend my sympathy to Deputy Joe O'Reilly on the recent sad passing of his mother.
I support the call for a debate in the autumn on the procurement processes within the Health Service Executive. What we saw on the television programme last night is cause for grave concern. Senator Ó Domhnaill said such practices may have gone on in the past and if that was the case, they were no more acceptable then than they are today. We need to have a root and branch investigation of what is happening and if sharp practices are taking place or there is illegality, the people responsible must face the full rigours of the law, which I certainly hope happens as a result of the programme last night.
I am concerned about an issue that came to my attention yesterday. The prison in Castlerea was unable to accommodate a prisoner who was brought there to serve a five year sentence for indecent assault because he was a wheelchair user who had special medical needs. He was taken on a 150 km round trip to the prison, but brought back to his home last night. That is an issue of serious concern. I am conscious of how the victims of that man's crime feel about the fact that he is not in prison having had a five year prison sentence imposed on him last week. The prison authorities were instructed to sort out the situation in Castlerea last Friday, and they were unable to do that. I ask the Leader to request a statement from the Minister for Justice and Equality on that issue and seek confirmation as to when this man will commence his five year sentence.
Out of 47 European countries, Ireland has the fewest number of judges per 100,000 of population. I ask the Leader for a debate on that but also that the issue of barristers defending and prosecuting cases of sexual violence should, as they do in other jurisdictions including the United Kingdom, undertake training on the impact of sexual violence on victims. That does not happen currently but it should be mandatory.
Currently, only 17% of judges in the High Court and only 12.5% of judges in the Supreme Court are women. Again, we are not in proportion with the rest of Europe. Too often, the judges presiding over cases of rape, child abuse and those involving minorities are men who have been educated in private schools and are largely conservative and middle class. Their number is way out of proportion with the population, and that must change. However, it can only change by law, as we did in this House when we changed the requirement for political parties to have gender quotas. Forty per cent of members of State boards must be women, yet that has not happened. The problem with having the same group of people sitting on our Judiciary is that there is group think. They think the same way about the impact of violence on women. We have seen suspended sentences being handed down in cases in which-----
-----yet suspended sentences were handed down. We saw this week, in regard to the house of horrors, where three judges said that the sentence should be reduced for one of the most horrific cases of abuse in the history of the State.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to address the Leader this morning. He will recall that nine days ago I raised the issue of 17 homeless women in Dublin who are pregnant. It is a scandal. It has taken me a week to get one media outlet to cover this story. I compliment the journalist, Philip Ryan, of the Irish Independent, for covering it. I have met with some of these young women who are pregnant and homeless. Some of them are living in squats, in tents behind homes or on sofas. Other Senators mentioned the issue earlier. Cura, an agency that helps pregnant women, has only four places available. The situation is desperate. I have written to the Taoiseach but got no response. I have written to the Minister for Health but got no response. I wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and got an acknowledgement. I met him, but nine days later nothing has been done. One of these girls is due to give birth three days from now. Where does she go? It is bad enough to be pregnant and homeless, but imagine being homeless with a new baby. One of these women has diabetes but she has no place to store the insulin. She has to be out of the hostel at 9 o'clock in the morning. It is unsustainable. I am delighted the Cathaoirleach is giving me the opportunity to speak. The House will sit next week. I ask the Leader to help us get an emergency response, priority one status, to provide supportive accommodation for these women.
We are either a caring society or we are not. I will continue to raise this issue over the coming days. I am relying on the Leader with regard to this issue.
Is it true that we will not have any Commencement matters next week?
If that is the case, I have had a Commencement matter down regarding Innis Meáin national school for more than a week. It needs a second teacher. It has a woman working with children on her own, with no cover to allow her go to the bathroom or have her lunch.
Senator Mooney paid tribute to the captain and crew of the LE Eithne. This is a special day for the Naval Service with the LE Eithnereturning and the LE James Joycearriving in Haulbowline at the same time. It is great to see €70 million being spent on such a wonderful new vessel.As the Senator pointed out, our seas are almost ten times greater than our landmass and it is very important that we have these vessels. I wish to join in complimenting the captain and crew and I commend them on their humanitarian work. Senator Craughwell raised a related item. I was not aware that there is a claim for overseas service. I am fully aware of the sacrifices that members of our Defence Forces make and I will raise the matter with the Minister for Defence, but I am surprised to hear that. I had not been informed of the situation.
Senators Mooney, Craughwell, Healy Eames and Hayden raised the issue of homelessness. We are all aware that the problem has not gone away and that there is a need for further investment. We saw a big improvement. There was a significant injection of capital last year and it solved it for some time, but we still have problems, especially the dreadful problem of homeless pregnant women, which has been highlighted by Senator Healy Eames.
Senator Hayden praised the work of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. There is no doubt those involved have done Trojan work since the organisation was set up. This issue needs to be addressed and it is a priority. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and ask him to address the question of the shortfall in funding for homeless services. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing will be in the House later today and I will bring the matter to his attention as well.
Senators Bacik and Ó Clochartaigh commented on direct provision and the recent report which has been published. A task force has been established by Government to assist with the transition of persons from direct provision. It will be chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and will report back to Government on key aspects of the report by 30 September. The working group will deal with the protection process. Separately, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is writing to her Government colleagues to seek their views on aspects of the report that impact on their Departments. The immediate focus of the task force will be on the particular needs of the cohort of people who continue to reside in direct provision, despite having been granted protection status or leave to remain. The task force will bring together representatives of Departments and will draw on the expertise of relevant agencies and non-governmental organisations, as appropriate, to consider the issues involved in the successful transition of these people into Irish society. I imagine this will be welcomed by everyone. Perhaps we can have a further debate on the matter in the autumn session.
Senator Barrett welcomed the return home of some of the survivors of Berkeley. I imagine we all wish them good health and happiness for the future. Senator Barrett also recalled the resilience of the Irish race - despite our difficulties - in the recent report which has been published.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan welcomed the €100 million additional investment in tourism, transport and sport. The injection of capital for remedial roadworks will be welcomed by local authorities throughout the country. It is great to see the sod being turned on the new indoor arena at Sport Campus Ireland, something which was mooted over 50 years ago, as Senator Coghlan mentioned.
Senator Ó Domhnaill and other Senators raised the matter of procurement services within the HSE and hospitals. I did not see the programme but I agree these practices are totally unacceptable and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. In respect of Senator Craughwell's comments, I take the view that the procurement issues are employment disciplinary matters and I do not think there is a suggestion of criminal activity. However, I am sure if there is the Garda will be actively involved in the situation.
Senator Hayden, as I mentioned, spoke on homeless services and the need to hold the line on housing standards. I agree totally with her. There can be no short-term or quick fixes in respect of the difficulties we have with housing. Standards will have to be maintained.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the matter of direct provision, which I have addressed, and the Magdalen sufferers, a matter raised by Senator Heffernan on Tuesday. I hope these matters will be addressed by Government in early course.
Senator Mullins highlighted the case of a prisoner in Castlerea. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality. When we have people convicted of serious offences, it is important that they are incarcerated as soon as possible but I am sure this matter will be addressed. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Senator Daly relayed facts in respect of judges. I wish to point out that the facts and figures he gave relate to civil law jurisdictions. We are a common law jurisdiction, so the facts to which he referred have no bearing on the Irish situation. Senator Daly should note that 33% of judges in Ireland are female, which is one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage in Europe among the common law jurisdictions. Last year, the Government appointed 21 judges, 12 of whom were female, that is, over 50%. I think Senator Daly should look at that situation. These are the facts. I believe the Government is doing everything possible to raise the number of justices who are female, and I believe Senator Daly should acknowledge that. The question of sentencing is another issue altogether. I will certainly try to arrange a debate on sentencing in the autumn.
Senator Healy Eames remarked on the homeless situation, which I have addressed. She also asked about Commencement debates. We will not have Commencement debates next week.