Thursday, 22 October 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 4(7)) (Membership of Council) Regulations 2015, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Marriage Bill 2015 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m.
I am delighted to see a fellow Kerryman leading off in the Seanad. I am sure he will agree that a smart man makes a mistake, learns from it and never makes it again, but a wise man finds a smart man and learns not to make the same mistake. I am sure the Government could not be accused of doing either. In the newspapers today we see that 500 people who had been disqualified from driving were involved in accidents that resulted in injury and, in some cases, tragically, death. All of these deaths could have been prevented if the Government had allowed smart policing and the police force to have the equipment and the wherewithal needed to enforce the law. We have seen gangs travelling around the country and terrorising communities, yet their members are out on bail and the Garda does not know where they are. If we were to provide for smart policing, it would allow the Garda to know where criminals were at all times. Believe it or not, section 102 of the Criminal Justice Act allows for the tagging of those charged with serious offences who are out on bail awaiting trial However, but it has not been commenced and thus is not available to the Garda. I am sure Members will be aware that 62% of those released from prison reoffend and that 80% of offences are carried out within the first 12 months. It would cost €6.45 a day to smart-tag somebody while out on bail or early release; it costs €264 a day to keep someone in jail. One does not have to smart or a wise man like Senator Paul Coghlan to know that this would be smart government. If a person electronically tagged were to be stopped at a Garda checkpoint, a garda could check using a smartphone and would be able to take the appropriate action. If section 102 of the Criminal Justice Act had been commenced, the 500 incidences in which injuries and deaths occurred might have been prevented. I am calling for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the reason that section is not in use, given that it would allow those currently on bail and awaiting trial and those on early release to be smart-tagged. Why does the Garda not know where they are at all times? If they were to commit an offence, the Garda would have the evidence to show that they were in the said location at the time. Given what we read in the newspapers today, the 500 drivers in question should be smart-tagged. If they had been, the injuries and deaths caused could have been prevented.
I will move on. I will let the Acting Leader address the changes the Government is making in a number of ways, including in support of the police by way of recruiting new police officers and providing additional resources for high-tech strategies and so forth.
The funerals of five members of the Connors family are taking place in south Dublin and their bodies will then be moved to Wexford for burial. I am happy to say Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has found a solution to accommodate the remaining family members who were previously located on the site in Carrickmines. As the council has pointed out, the site it has found is by no means ideal. To be honest, it is time there was a new strategy and a new dialogue with the Traveller community on the issue of Traveller accommodation which has been ongoing in this society since the 1960s and on which there have been numerous strategies and reports. We now find ourselves in a position where local residents, in spite of the horrors visited on the Traveller community in the area, cannot find it within themselves and the system to reach an accommodation within a reasonable period of time. As I said, the remaining family members have been forced to reside in a car park.
I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, of 500 modular housing units to deal with the homelessness crisis in Dublin. It is welcome that 22 of them will be available immediately before Christmas, while a further 28 will be fast-tracked and may even be available before Christmas or shortly thereafter. I genuinely hope we will not meet the same resistance in siting these modular housing units in Dublin that we have met in seeking to accommodate the members of the Traveller community mentioned. There has been a lot of speculation in the media in the past week, including today, as well as certain "guesstimates", about what the Government's strategy will be to ensure rent certainty.Focus Ireland and Dr. Rory Hearne from Tasc have called for the introduction of rent certainty in today's newspapers. One can tinker with the system, have extended notice periods and require landlords to come up with three comparable rents but the bottom line is that if one does not deal with rising rents, then one cannot tackle the issue of homelessness. There is no other solution to this problem but rent certainty.
I again call for a longer and more comprehensive debate on housing and homelessness and that it includes a wider discussion on Traveller accommodation and the need for a wider strategy for same.
Will the Acting Leader amend the Order of Business as I would like to take No. 16 on the Order Paper? Apropos of the last speaker, No. 16 is the National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015. The Bill is entitled an Act to create the national mortgage and housing corporation for the purposes of ensuring fair access to home ownership, address accommodation shortage and ensure the smooth operation of the property sector in Ireland. I propose that we take Second Stage on 4 November.
As Senator Hayden has pointed out many times to us, there is a need for new policies and responses on accommodation. Professor Ronan Lyons in TCD has estimated that 90% of the population will require a housing subsidy in order to live in a new two-bedroom apartment in Dublin. I sat with Senators O'Keeffe, MacSharry and Michael D'Arcy on the banking inquiry. I do not see any ideas coming from that source, from either the financial community or the construction community. That is why the Independent group has brought forward this Bill which I hope it will provoke interest and discussion on all sides of the House. We have tried to develop models from Canada and from economists in Princeton and Chicago, given that the banking inquiry was unable to illicit from either industry I have mentioned much of a response, except an admission that houses used to cost two and half times the average income in Ireland but that it rose to 12 times the amount. That rate is now down to six times but it is still in excess of what it is in most OECD countries.
We discussed an allied construction item during a Commencement debate this week. I refer to the sale of the Baggot Street Hospital and its projected sales revenue of €14 million. The estimate for Tralee and Ballincollig, both of which the Acting Leader would be acquainted with, is that it would cost €40 million to replace almost 200 beds, which is a figure based on costings for those greenfield sites. A reserve price of €40 million should be put on Baggot Street Hospital because that is what it will cost us to put 200 new beds into the system. At the moment people are on trolleys and are being sent out of the jurisdiction for treatment. Therefore, selling off hospitals to developers at bargain prices is not the way to proceed.
I support the many comments that have been made about the housing crisis, in particular those made by Senators Hayden and Barrett. As a further contribution to the debate, this morning we all received a document from the Irish League of Credit Unions. It has substantial resources available and would like to contribute to alleviating the housing crisis. The ILCU has proposed that the Government should examine how it could use the league's significant resources in an off-balance sheet way through the establishment of a special purpose vehicle to fund the development of social housing. The proposal is worthy of a debate in this House. We are trying to address a significant housing crisis and I welcome the provision of 500 modular housing units announced yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. We have a very large hill to climb so every contribution and source of funding should be looked at. Will the Acting Leader organise for such a debate when we return after the break?
I welcome the Garda Síochána building and refurbishment programme 2016-2021 announced by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris. The programme contains a number of elements, including public private partnerships to deliver new Garda stations in key areas, including Galway city. There will be essential remedial works done to existing stations and there will be an upgrading of cells and provision of improved custody management facilities. This will have an impact on 30 facilities around the country.
I am particularly pleased that Ballinasloe Garda station has been earmarked for station refurbishment and custody management facilities, a move which is long overdue. I recently visited the station and was appalled at its primitive conditions. As well as poor working conditions for the gardaí, there is little privacy for the general public who wish to conduct routine business at the station. The custody management facilities were atrocious, with only one holding cell meeting health and safety requirements. Such facilities are totally inadequate for a busy urban station that covers a large divisional area. If people want gardaí to work effectively and efficiently, then they must be provided with the appropriate facilities and resources. I am pleased that the Government will make significant investments. This forms part of a major plan that is being put in place, including the recruitment of additional gardaí and the provision of extra resources for patrol cars. I welcome the announcement made by the Government this week which will effectively deal with the very serious criminal elements that roam the countryside.
Will the Acting Leader arrange an urgent debate on the persecution of Christians worldwide which has reached genocidal proportions? Thousands of Christians have been exterminated due to their beliefs and hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes. In parts of the Middle East and Africa, an ethnic cleansing campaign is taking place. Surprisingly, the UN has been most inactive on this issue and the crisis has got very little publicity. The issue is a cause of grave concern to all of us who believe in freedom of speech, tolerance and democracy. This is allowed to happen with no outcry or accountability by ambassadors and others. It is vital that we should avail of every opportunity, including in this House, to make a case for an immediate focus on this issue.
Let me give one example. It is estimated that in five years' time there will be no Christians left in Iraq. That is how serious the problem is. The fact that we allow it to happen, are not working together in a united fashion to resolve it and have not put pressure on the governments where this extermination is taking place will come back to haunt everyone who believes in democracy. Will the Acting Leader set aside a couple of hours for a debate the week after next? Senators could leave politics and partisanship aside to put forward a joint motion and suggest that Dáil Éireann does the same.
At this morning's briefing on this issue, a copy of the report entitled Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15 was circulated and its executive summary is absolutely shocking. We are all aware of the problem but it exists under the radar, to some extent. Unless we bring it centre stage at this time, we will have lost the opportunity of proving that when something like this arises we do what we can, no matter how limited that is, to correct such a tragedy.
The figures that were published yesterday by the Irish Kidney Association on organ donation transplants in Ireland were quite startling. They show that Ireland had a record of 13% last year but in the UK, it was 20%, in France, it was 24%, in Portugal, it was 28%, and in Spain and Croatia, it was 36%.We have totally failed in this area and to a large extent this failure has occurred because we have been concentrating on an opt-out approach to organ donation. It is fairly clear from the Irish Kidney Association and others to say that it is not just a question of having a different opt-out facility. We need to have the right number of transplant co-ordinators available in hospitals. That is the big difference. The Government should be able to do something about this because it is a comparatively easy decision to make. There should be transplant co-ordinators in hospitals to enable organ donations to take place. On that basis, it is worthy of consideration and another debate in this House. We had a Bill and an opportunity to do something on organ donation in this House some years ago. This has happened more than once. However, I do not think the figures were as blunt and as bad as they are on this occasion.
Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on the biosphere status which has been achieved recently by the city of Dublin? This mainly concerns Dublin Bay and the opportunities it presents in the years ahead. It has been shown that practically none of the primary and secondary level students in the city have had the chance to get out on a boat in Dublin Bay, and yet a huge number of jobs connected with the bay are likely to arise in the years ahead. We have achieved biosphere status and this gives us the opportunity to create these jobs.
I second Senator Barrett's amendment.
I take the opportunity to welcome the Connaught-Ulster Alliance's first step towards a technological university. It has been given approval by the Higher Education Authority and the Minister for Education and Skills. The alliance is made up of IT Sligo, Letterkenny IT and GMIT in Galway. While they have been, if one likes, last to the table on the technological university front, it is good news that they are now moving to stage 2. This will require them to put together a detailed plan to show how they will come together as partners to create a new technological university for the west and north west. It is an obvious thing to say that it would bring great benefits to the economy and the type of educational opportunities available to our young people in the north west if they succeed with this plan. Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on this issue? I appreciate the Minister for Education and Skills is due to bring the technological universities Bill forward in the near future but it would be a good idea to have a debate on the way technological universities will open a whole new way to educate young people. We would have the best of what institutes of technology currently offer but what they do would be extended and expanded, in particular when they are looking for collaborative opportunities in Ireland and beyond. We should have a chance to debate this change to the educational landscape in Ireland prior to the Bill.
Agus muid ag seasamh anseo, táimid ag smaoineamh ach go háirid ar mhuintir Connor, a gcuid cairde agus gaolta agus an cúigear den chlann sin atá á chur i gcré na cille inniu. The failure to reach a satisfactory outcome over a proposed temporary halting site at Rockville Drive for the bereaved Traveller families is deeply disappointing. Travellers are citizens with rights but those rights are being denied to them. On Tuesday, in the Dáil, my party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, called on the Taoiseach to intervene directly in the Traveller issue and to establish as a matter of urgency a State-wide forum involving Travellers, political parties, Government, local authorities, the health and education sectors and media organisations to make recommendations on how this major issue of inequality facing our society can be addressed. The Taoiseach refused claiming existing structures are sufficient. We support the call by Pavee Point for a dedicated Traveller agency to co-ordinate and, where appropriate, enforce Government policy affecting Travellers. I urge the Government, as a first practical step towards new and effective positive policies for Travellers, to implement the recommendations of the April 2014 report on Traveller ethnicity by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. In particular, the Government should recognise formally the distinct ethnicity of the Traveller community, as promised.
I visited a number of halting sites over the weekend. There is a halting site in Carrowbrowne in Galway city. Its planning permission has expired and I am told the city council has no plan B for the people on that site. There is another unofficial site next to it which is adjacent what is basically a dump. A pregnant woman had to go to the accident and emergency department at the weekend because the stink from the dump was so bad. I am told the children cannot eat their breakfasts there because they feel sick in the morning. They are being brought to friends' houses in the morning to eat their breakfasts. It is galling to hear some of the Senators on the Government side talking about these issues when we see all the cuts to funding for Traveller initiatives which have been brought in over recent years. Funding for Traveller education has been cut by 86% and funding for Traveller accommodation cut by 85%. Funding for equality projects for Travellers has been cut by 77%. On top of that, there have been underspends on Traveller health and Traveller accommodation of 18% and 36%, respectively, and an underspend on a FÁS special initiative of 40%.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, has sat on €50 million in unspent moneys allocated for Traveller accommodation. This is exacerbated by the Department sitting on €292 million over the past decade. Neither the previous Government nor this one has taken this issue seriously. We need a serious debate in this House on Traveller ethnicity and the rights of Travellers. There needs to be a dedicated debate with an open discourse and people's issues need to be taken on board. However, we need to recognise the rights of Travellers, who are citizens. It is an important debate that we need to have as soon as possible.
Yesterday was an historic day in this House. An amendment was moved by Senator van Turnhout and accepted by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, which provided for the abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement and, for that purpose, to amend the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and to provide for related matters. The Children First Bill was passed unanimously in this House.
No, but I want to put a question to the Leader of the House. The Bill will now move to the Dáil and we hope that it will be expedited there. We can give no greater honour to the 1916 Proclamation than that of yesterday when we passed the Bill cherishing all the children of the nation equally. We certainly cherished all the children of the nation equally.
All the children are protected under this legislation. The Bill passed yesterday does not discriminate against those with special needs or otherwise. They are all protected. This House has served a great purpose and it proves that the Taoiseach's 11 nominees should be maintained in any reform of this House because it gives the Taoiseach of the day the opportunity to appoint people of expert ability. As a result of this, the amendment was tabled and the Minister, Deputy Reilly, accepted it and brought it to the Cabinet and the Attorney General. It was an historic day yesterday and I hope that when the Bill is passed there will be some effort made to commemorate it. Everyone in this House can share in this wonderful occasion. Senator van Turnhout initiated it but we all supported her wholeheartedly. I thank the Minister who really showed his strength and ability in bringing it through the House.
I bring to the attention of Members that yesterday was Back to the Future day. It was the day depicted in the famous 1985 movie starring Michael J. Fox, following the intervention of Christopher Lloyd and a DeLorean encapsulated time machine. If Marty McFly had been Dr. Marty McFly and had been transported from the Irish health service in 1985 to the health service in 2015, he would have said not to call it "Back to the Future" but rather "Just Staying the Same". Some 30 years later, figures have recently emerged that show we have an 11,000% increase in the number of people on waiting lists for inpatient or day-care treatment for more than 18 months and some 13,000 individuals have been waiting more than 18 months for an outpatient appointment. I was in the accident and emergency department in St. Vincent's University Hospital on several occasions recently. It was jam packed with trolleys throughout all the corridors. We have had an increasing focus in the past few days on the emigration of medical personnel. I emigrated in 1985, the year of Marty McFly. Thankfully, I came back. Two thirds of my classmates in medical school emigrated and most of them did not come back. Figures released in the past few days show that, in addition to being the largest exporter of doctors in the world, Ireland is also the largest importer of doctors. At the same time, we have the highest number of medical schools per head of population. If anybody here can make sense of it, will he or she, please, explain it to me? What I can say is we need to have either a debate in this House or perhaps a public consultation forum on the issue of medical manpower and the structure of medical careers. The only way we can get to grips with this 30 or 50-year festering problem is to recognise that we churn out large numbers of Irish doctors who then expect to find an adequate number of training positions as junior doctors, but, in many cases, as they are not available, they leave. On the other hand, we have a health bureaucracy that wants them to stay here, not because it wants to train them but because it wants them to continue as cheap labour as opposed to appointing them to appropriate career level positions. There is an urgent need for us to tackle these issues.
I wish to parenthetically drop in one quick side message. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the death of the only doctor to die in the Northern Ireland conflict - Professor Gordon Hamilton Fairley. His family will be holding a private service tomorrow. They have been great champions of the peace process since their husband and father was murdered on a street in London in an IRA bombing in which Caroline Kennedy was very nearly killed. He was a founder of cancer immune and would have been very happy to have seen it advance.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 51, Seanad Reform Bill, be taken before No. 2. There is clearly a large number of Bills on the Order Paper that will never see the light of day during the current Oireachtas. It is ludicrous that Members go to the effort of writing Bills to try to improve the Statute Book knowing that not only will they not be passed but that they will also never be debated and either accepted or rejected by the system. I ask the Acting Leader that, instead of having endless motions and statements, we make this the first Oireachtas in the history of our republic to clear the Order Paper. I am sure those of us who have Bills pending will be anxious to them either accepted or rejected. It is my intention between now and then to make sure they are given the light of day. Two of them are mine and at least one is in the name of Senator Geargal Quinn. There are other Bills which have been tabled by the Opposition or Government sides. I am making the proposal that we amend the Order of Business to take the Seanad Reform Bill today, particularly on Back to the Future Day when we think that it was in 1979 when a referendum was held to amend the Constitution to reform the Seanad. Reform has never taken place and the Taoiseach said last week that it would not happen before the next general election.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator John Crown to have the Seanad Reform Bill taken today. It is reforming legislation aimed at political reform and it should at least be debated in this House. We should all be afforded the opportunity to debate its merits or otherwise.
There was a very good briefing this morning on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, an issue that was raised by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. It is one that merits debate in this House and I ask the acting Leader to facilitate a debate on it. I know that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is doing excellent work. My colleague, Senator Jim Walsh, is a member of the committee and informs me that the ambassadors will come before it in the near future. This is an issue that should be debated in this House, given its magnitude which has virtually gone unnoticed. It is not being discussed in western societies, which is remiss of them.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Sean D. Barrett. When we look at what has happened in the past week when the overwhelming grief in Carrickmines at the loss of ten lives suddenly put in stark focus the issue of housing, it reflects poorly on our society. We must take a step back and take the politics out of it and decide the kind of Ireland we want to live in and how we are going to help our fellow citizens who find themselves homeless after family members were burned alive and in light of the fact that DNA testing was required to identify the remains. Five of the funerals are taking place this morning. Money will solve some of the problems, but there is a societal issue at play which we must embrace and on which there is a need for a national debate. There may be a percentage of Travellers who have caused difficulties, but all Travellers should not be put in that category. It is something on which we in this House should give a lead and about which we should have a discussion which should include the issues of homelessness and housing. Local authorities throughout the country are waiting for money to buy houses currently available, but they cannot access the resources they need from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government because of hindering conditions which are slowing the process. We can say money is available at a Government level, but the problem is that it is not filtering down to the local authority level quickly enough. There are technical issues that should be discussed.
I support Senator Susan O'Keeffe's request for a debate on technological universities. I am somewhat concerned that we are moving forward and trying to develop new universities while not at all being sure that the plans will lead to an improvement in society.
I also support Senator John Crown's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Sadly, the great Irish boxing coach Billy Walsh will leave Ireland today to move to the United States. While I would not be noted for supporting other Members, one Member, Senator Eamonn Coghlan, one of our greatest ever sportsmen, has come in for a lot of stick on social media in the past few days. I was here when he addressed the House on the issue and the speech he made was powerful and expressed everything we felt. What has happened is grossly unfair. I have tried to contact him but have been unsuccessful. With every other Senator who spoke on the issue, he spoke about the disgraceful behaviour of the IABA. His presentation was outstanding and I would like to see it recognised in the House today.
I will not rehash what happened yesterday, but I will add my voice to that of Senator Terry Leyden on the removal from the Statute Book of the defence of reasonable chastisement of children. I hope the motivation that prompted the Minister and some Senators to support this measure heralds a sea change in their thinking with regard to the rights of children. I am referring specifically to the unborn. It would be fantastic if they were to reflect carefully on their position which I hope is absolutely genuine. Recently, we all received a video clip showing a young baby of 18 weeks in the womb responding positively to music. It is unimaginable and horrendous to think babies of that age have their arms and legs sundered or their skulls squashed as the preferred method of abortion, particularly in the United States, as shown in the video from Planned Parenthood. Let us not forget that there is a branch of Planned Parenthood here, of which the Minister and some of his senior officials are strong proponents. I really hope people will reflect on the issue. Otherwise the measure mentioned will smack of gross hypocrisy and a lack of genuine interest in children. I hope people will reflect on their position in order that there will be a genuine movement in the interests of children. On Monday and Tuesday, the Acting Leader, Senator Paul Coghlan, and I were in Britain for a meeting of the sovereign matters committee of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Subsequent to that, I attended the debate in the House of Commons when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland presented the report on paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. I know many Senators spoke about this yesterday but, unfortunately, I was not in a position to be here yesterday. As we are on the eve of marking 1916 when we commemorate those great leaders of that era who sacrificed their own lives so that we might enjoy freedom and be able to live in an independent State which we all value, it is imperative that those who pretend to stand for those great leaders’ particular values would reflect carefully as well. It is unimaginable that a movement, based on the idealism of those people who were very much into self-sacrifice, would now see its members, who pretend to succeed those very people-----
-----pursue their own financial aggrandisement. It is a terrible reflection on them and that era needs to be consigned to the history of the recent past. I would like to think Sinn Féin would be more about sinn féin and disavow mé féinism.
Earlier today, I raised the issue of rural crime with the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, the representative of the Minister for Justice and Equality who could not take the Commencement debate. I also called for a resumption of the programme started by the Fianna Fáil Government in 2005 for the provision of CCTV cameras in towns and villages but which was ended by this Government in 2013. This is vitally important in light of the fear and apprehension now felt by people in rural communities across Ireland about crime, burglaries and attacks on property and persons. Will the acting Leader convey to the Minister for Justice and Equality the importance of ensuring proper resources provided for the Garda, despite the spin the Government is putting out that it is providing more resources?
What astonished me in the reply I received was that it stated, "CCTV schemes certainly have a part to play in the detection of anti-social behaviour and criminality but of paramount importance is a visible and responsive policing service". From living in County Leitrim, there are serious questions asked about the Government’s commitment in that regard. At the most recent meeting of the Leitrim policing committee, the Garda conceded that of the new Garda recruits coming from the much-lauded increased recruitment presented by the Government, only five will be assigned to the Sligo-Leitrim division. And where will the five be based? They will be based in Sligo town with none of them based in County Leitrim.
I also asked if any of the high-speed Garda vehicles to be introduced by the Government in the next few months would be located in rural areas such as Leitrim where they are needed. I appreciate there is a need to have such vehicles chasing these thugs and criminals using our motorway system and welcome this development. All sides of the House will welcome any initiative and provision of resources which will help reduce crime and, particularly, the people’s fear of rural crime in their communities. The two agencies of the State which the people look to are the Government and the police force to protect them in their homes, to protect society and to ensure they are not going to be subjected to the vile brutality like we saw happen in Tipperary. Will the Acting Leader convey to the Minister for Justice and Equality and the wider Government that it has to get its priorities right in this regard? Although we have difficult economic circumstances, the Government seems to be giving the impression that it can throw money around like confetti at a wedding. Let the Government put more money into Garda resources to fight crime, particularly in rural areas.
I support Senator John Crown’s request to deal with the Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013. It is over two years since the public voted to keep the institution of the Seanad and to bring about a reformed Seanad. It was the cornerstone of the Taoiseach’s pre-election commitment, namely the whole issue of democratic and political reform. To ignore the concept of Seanad electoral reform is a mark of the Taoiseach’s disdain for this House. If we can at least keep the issue before the public by dealing with matters such as the Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013, we can keep it to the fore. The will of the people was clearly expressed in the referendum vote on the Seanad and we have to respond to it democratically. Accordingly, I support Senator John Crown’s request.
I join with my party’s acting leader, Senator Mark Daly, in calling for the tagging of those criminals walking our streets every day who have been remanded by our courts. As he pointed out, it would cost very little money compared to what it would cost to hold them in the prison system. As I have stated on several occasions, smarter policing is the way to go. A good start to that would be the introduction of the number plate identification system across the country. This system would tell whether a car is registered, taxed, insured and its NCT is up to date. It would also make it easy to identify whether the plates were cloned, a car had been stolen or used by criminals for an illegal or attempted illegal act. These are matters in which we can make progress on relatively quickly. Will the Acting Leader impart that information to his colleagues in the Government?
I welcome the recent announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality that her Department will spend money on the acquisition of new high-powered Garda vehicles, as mentioned by Senator Paschal Mooney. On Tuesday last, Senator Terry “The Scoob” Brennan welcomed that allocation of money and the 230 odd high-powered vehicles that will be purchased, in addition to the 300 already purchased, allegedly. This will bring it up to almost 600 Garda vehicles. The question I want to put to the acting Leader and Senator Terry “The Scoob” Brennan, is who is going to drive these vehicles. Garda numbers have depleted.
The recruitment has to be welcomed. If one takes into consideration that, on average, the 500 gardaí who retire on an annual basis are not being replaced, the numbers coming out of Templemore will not even cover that in two years.
I congratulate the Acting Leader on his role. I do not know if it has a pensionable aspect to it. I thank him and other colleagues for being present this morning at the briefing session with Aid to the Church in Need, where we learned, yet again, about the crisis facing Christian communities in the Middle East. At a time when numbers of displaced people and refugees have hit an all-time high, Islamist groups have carried out religiously motivated ethnic cleansing of Christians, notably in parts of Africa and the Middle East.Are we taking this seriously enough and are we ready - as Pope Francis has done - to name what is happening as constituting genocide in some cases. It would be great for an all-party motion to be tabled in this House in order that what is happening might be named as "genocide" and to call on the Government and the EU to pay particular attention to the plight of persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, many of the members of which are Christian. As a result of a meeting with Church in Chains, another organisation doing good work, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is to bring together those ambassadors who are resident in Ireland and who come from countries in which Christians are being persecuted. It is very important that the latter meeting should take place. It is also important that the Government step away from the EU fuzz and start talking and acting in a global way in order to support particular persecuted minorities.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has welcomed the restoration of the vital respite carer's grant, which is a lifeline to the 50,000 people who provide round-the-clock care to people with dementia. Many of us have loved ones who are benefiting from that grant. But the society still questions whether the Government is fully honouring its commitment to people with dementia. The funding process needs to be expedited for applicants to the fair deal scheme. Alzheimer Europe is calling on Ireland to sign up to its Glasgow declaration, the aim of which is to make dementia a European health and research priority. By means of its declaration, Alzheimer Europe wants emphasis-----
I thank the Cathaoirleach and I will conclude by stating that the declaration calls for the right to a timely diagnosis of the condition, the right to access quality post-diagnosis support and the right to person-centred, co-ordinated, quality care throughout the illness. It is important that this House should hold a debate on the challenges facing people with dementia and those who care for them.
I support Senator Mullen and I attended his briefing earlier. I have a very close friend in the Middle East, a Lebanese Christian, who stood for President of Lebanon in 1989 and received 25% of the vote. Christians are being persecuted, particularly in Iraq, as are Shi'ite Muslims, but because of the relatively small number of Christians in the area, they are being attacked in a particularly brutal manner. I would welcome the tabling a motion to debate that issue.
I again call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House to discuss the establishment of a special task force to deal with dissident criminality. I am loath to call these people "dissidents". They are criminals masquerading as some type of weird republicans; in no way are they republicans. The Sinn Féin leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, has said that Sinn Féin members have paid a price for standing with the police. I say "Welcome to the club", because for 30 years the people of Louth and other areas who stood with the police were subjected to intimidation at times. Nevertheless, I welcome anything Sinn Féin can do to support this new task force. Following the sad funeral of Garda Tony Golden, I spoke with Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, the Garda Commissioner, and with her senior people at the club rooms of Geraldines GFC in Haggardstown. I have every confidence in the Garda and we should not be prescriptive as to how that special task force is to be set up and operated because that is an operational matter.
Like the Acting Leader and others, I attended Senator Mullen’s briefing this morning. Too often Senators can become very focused on local issues, particularly those of us who hold the dual role of serving a constituency as well as being Senators. We can get caught up dealing with county issues, constituency issues and national issues. When we attend presentations such as that given earlier by Senator Mullen, we realise there are people who have the same beliefs as us, who come from a Christian ethos and who are suffering abuse and torture and who are being executed. I agree with and second Senator Mullen’s proposal that an all-party motion to identify what is happening as genocide be tabled.
We are experiencing a whole new world order. It is a dangerous new order. As a nation, we pride ourselves in believing in equality and in respect for other religions and minority religions. Obviously, Catholicism is the majority religion in Ireland but it is a minority religion in other countries and these Christian people are being persecuted. We should not sit down, do nothing or say nothing. The Acting Leader should place that issue on the agenda of the House without delay. I suggest that the Leader’s office could work with Senator Mullen and other party leaders to agree the wording. It would send a powerful message to the UN and to other agencies that Seanad Éireann does not condone what is happening.
-----or on mature reflection, Fianna Fáil promised zero tolerance but in fact the number of offences committed by offenders out on bail peaked in 2008. Which party was in government at that time? Since Fine Gael came to office, there was a reduction across a range of serious crime categories-----
In the absence of the Leader, I will do my best. I am sure the Members will be understanding in that regard.
Senator Daly referred to Garda equipment, the bail laws, gangs roaming the country and whether people should be tagged electronically or otherwise.The Senator would like a debate on the matter and I would be very happy to take it up with the Leader. It is appropriate for us to have a debate on the matter.
Senator Hayden responded to Senator Daly on the bail laws. That is under consideration, as she knows. She referred to the new site Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council found for the bereaved relatives of those people who suffered terribly in that appalling tragic fire in Carrickmines. She dealt with the question of rent certainty and seeks a debate on that, with which I would also agree. If she wants a debate on Traveller accommodation also, I am sure we can put it on the list. These are matters that, as we know, are being dealt with by the Government at present.
Senator Barrett spoke about the acute housing shortage, his Bill and the increasing number of people who will need housing subsidy. I have no objection to that being taken and to proceed further. He referred to Baggot Street Hospital. I am sure the Minister is taking on board what he has said.
Senator Mullins spoke about the housing crisis and the material received this morning from the Irish League of Credit Unions. That is certainly worthy of debate and we can also deal with that matter. It is setting out to be very helpful. The 500 modular units announced yesterday are very welcome. They will not fill the gap totally, but it is a first step. The Senator welcomed the Government building and refurbishment programme.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke about the persecution of Christians, the thousands being exterminated, the ethnic cleansing that is taking place, the UN not taking appropriate action and the fact that there is no outcry. It needs immediate focus. I agree totally that it is a very serious matter and is worthy of debate. It is a total affront to democracy. It is an absolutely shocking situation. Coming up with a joint motion is an excellent idea.
Senator Quinn highlighted that our organ transplant rate is only 13% whereas other countries range from 20% to 36%. We do not have enough transplant co-ordinators. Of course, it is worthy of consideration and the matter can be put on the list for debate. I will take that up with the Leader. The Senator spoke about boating in Dublin Bay and the jobs that would be involved. Anything that we can do to encourage that would be meritorious.
Senator O'Keeffe would like a debate on the detailed plan for a new technological university for the west and north west. We are seeking so many debates we will be very crowded. Again, I will take that up with the Leader's office. She said that there will be a technological university Bill in the near future. In advance of that she would like a debate on what would be best for the IT sector and what the ITs have to offer. Again, I will discuss that with the Leader.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about Traveller sites and a dedicated Traveller agency. He suggested their ethnicity should be recognised and I agree totally. Again, he is seeking a debate.
Senator Leyden referred to yesterday's passing of the Children First Bill. He acknowledged the acceptance by the Minister, Deputy Reilly, of Senator van Turnhout's amendment which was unanimously agreed, cherishing all the children equally, particularly people with special needs. He hopes it will be expedited through the other House. Again, we will have a word with the Minister regarding that.
Senator Crown outlined very detailed health service considerations, including an 11,000% increase in the number of people on waiting lists. He outlined a situation in St. Vincent's Hospital, with which he is very familiar naturally, which is jam-packed with trolleys. We were exporting doctors and now we are importing them. It is a huge festering problem. There is an urgent need to tackle these issues. I have no doubt he is right. He also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that we take No. 51, the Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013, before No. 2. As I understand it, there is a Government implementation body and I am afraid I will not be able to accept the amendment.
Senator Ó Domhnaill supported Senator Crown and agreed with Senator Ó Murchú about the persecution of Christians. He referred to the Carrickmines situation and the ten lives lost. He called for a national discussion on the Traveller situation. He is right; I agree with him.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the technological universities raised by Senator O'Keeffe. He also spoke about the coach, Billy Walsh, going to the United States. He expressed praise for the comments in this House by Senator Eamonn Coghlan on the IABA. I agree with him on that.
Senator Walsh agreed with Senator Leyden on the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement of children from the Statute Book following the passage of yesterday's Bill. I have no doubt that what he said about the videos of abortion methods would be absolutely horrific. I have not seen them, but I have no doubt that he is correct in that. He mentioned the address of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, to the House of Commons. He is obviously right. These people are not republicans. They are looking after themselves financially and are mé féiners more than anything else. I do not think there is any argument on that.
Senator Mooney spoke about crime and burglaries in particular. He asked me to pursue a debate on justice and I certainly will do so. He talked about the resources for the Garda and questioned the Government's commitment given that only five of the newly-appointed gardaí will be deployed in Sligo and Leitrim and they will be based in Sligo. He welcomed the high-speed vehicles and all the additional resources. Again, we know there are budgetary constraints.
Senator Bradford supported the call regarding the Seanad reform Bill.
Senator Wilson echoed what Senator Daly said about criminals on our streets. He suggested that people on bail should be tagged. There is a constitutional matter about freedom of-----
Hold on. I am not a lawyer, but we know that people are innocent until proven guilty. I am not saying the Senator is wrong, by the way; I agree with him. I want to see further steps to deal with people who are on bail and we know it is under consideration by the Government at the moment. The Senator also wanted to see progress made on the number plate identification system, with which I agree. He welcomed the 230 new high-powered vehicles, which will bring the number to 600. I took a note to remind the Senator that the Garda training college in Templemore has reopened and ongoing recruitment will be taking place.
Senator Mullen spoke about this morning's briefing session with Aid to the Church in Need, which was absolutely wonderful. The situation in the Middle East regarding genocide is tragic. I agree with the idea of an all-party motion and we should get cracking on that right away. The Senator outlined his support for the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. He is seeking a debate on the Government's commitment to people with dementia. Again, I will add that to the list that I will discuss with the Leader.
Senator Jim D'Arcy supported Senator Mullen on the persecution of Christians and would welcome a motion, which we will deal with, please God. He referred to the Minister for Justice and Equality and a special task force. I agree totally, obviously. As he said, these people are not republicans in any true sense of the word. I believe we need a task force, involving Revenue. The Garda will never defeat these people on its own given that these are full-time professional criminals. It needs to include the Garda, Revenue, the Customs and Excise, CAB and its Northern equivalent, and the EPA. As the Senator said, we are not being prescriptive; the detail can be worked out. Let us get on with it.
Senator Conway also agreed with this morning's briefing. It made us understand the suffering which we might not have fully realised. He also supported the idea of an all-party motion. We need to have respect for other people's beliefs - for all people's beliefs. He is right.
I think Senator Brennan was just referring to some friendly fire from the Opposition and I will not go down that road. I repeat what I have already said that the Garda training college in Templemore has reopened.
- Sean Barrett
- Paul Bradford
- Gerard Craughwell
- John Crown
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Averil Power
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone