Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Order of Business
I also welcome our new Member, Senator Máiría Cahill, and her family and daughter, Saorlaith, who are in the Gallery. The Order of Business is No. 1, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 8 p.m., if not previously concluded.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I warmly welcome newly elected Senator Máiría Cahill to the Seanad. I congratulate her and her family on the honour of serving in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I look forward to working with her over the remainder of the Seanad term. I am sure she will be an excellent addition to this House and I assure her of our co-operation as far as is possible. It does not happen all the time, as Senator Bacik will confirm, but now and again it does. I offer our congratulations on her election.
Given the day that is in it, I do not propose to move any amendments or to discuss any particular political matters. All our thoughts are with the French people following the barbaric attack by the so-called Islamic State on innocent people in Paris, which killed over 130 people. All of us are absolutely disgusted by this act of terrorism. We condemn terrorism all over the world, wherever it happens. Hundreds of people are killed every day in Syria and Iraq by these thugs and we in Ireland will have to pay very close attention to this. These are our European colleagues, European citizens. An attack on Paris is an attack on Dublin and an attack on Cork, Galway and Belfast. Those involved attack the freedoms we in Europe enjoy and we should never relent. Europe, France, the United States and others in the coalition should never relent in tracking down these murderers and annihilating them. This is a threat to democracy and to our way of life. We have seen monstrous acts carried out by this group, not only on the people of Paris but also on people in Syria. As a State, we sometimes have to look at what neutrality actually means. One cannot be neutral in the fact of these murderers.Whatever our Government and the intelligence services can do to assist in any small way should be done. Let us remember that more than 30 people with Irish passports and Irish citizens are fighting in Syria and Iraq for the so-called Islamic State. We have to look at how we deal with these citizens should they return to this country. I believe that at an appropriate time, after the three days of national mourning in France are completed, the Minister for Justice and Equality should come to the House and advise us in regard to security in Ireland because anybody going to the theatre, going out for a bite to eat, for a drink or to a football match, such as last night when the thousands of people who were in the Aviva stadium in Lansdowne Road, could just as easily have been a target for these thugs. I congratulate our team on its qualification for the European championships, following its fantastic win, even though this is not the right day to mention that specifically. At the appropriate time I suggest the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House because Ireland cannot be neutral when dealing with terrorists like these. I want to ensure as much as possible that our intelligence services are sharing information with those in other states who are leading the fight against the so-called Islamic State.
Ba mhaith liom ar dtús fáilte mhór a chur roimh an Seanadóir Máiría Cahill chuig an Seanad. Táim lánchinnte go mbainfear tairbhe mhór as a saothar sa Teach seo. I welcome Senator Máiría Cahill to the House. It is a great tribute to her strength of mind and courage that she has arrived at this place, both literally and metaphorically. I am tempted to say she will need all that strength of mind and courage to survive here as well. I do but jest. I know that she is here to make a contribution and I have no doubt that although her time will be relatively short, in the first instance at least, she will make a significant contribution and that her bad and good experiences will inform a narrative that will be of particular interest and significance in this House. I hope she will become a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and will bring something significant to that committee also.
What happened in Paris was absolutely horrendous, as Senator Darragh O'Brien said. Paris is known as La Ville Lumière, the City of Light, but last Friday it became the city of darkness where the whole civilisation that we have built up since the Second World War of liberal democracy in Europe appeared to be threatened. As Senator Darragh O'Brien said, we must stand together for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe. I note he was not being adversarial today so that should be reciprocated. The universal becomes the local. In Paris last Friday, a young girl from my village of Blackrock, Katie Healy, and her boyfriend, David Nolan from Millstreet in Cork, were caught in the Bataclan theatre. David, through an heroic gesture in throwing himself over Katie to protect her, was shot but he probably saved both their lives. It shows that we are Paris, we are France, and we are Europe.
I join in the very warm welcome to Senator Máiría Cahill. I had no hesitation in supporting Senator Cahill, given her role on violence against children and women. To that end, I also welcome Maeve Lewis of One in Four and Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, who have joined us here today in the Gallery. I extend a very special welcome to Senator Cahill's family, especially to her daughter. It is lovely to see children in the Seanad, that is, actual children. I could not resist. Senator Cahill is very welcome and I look forward to working with her over the coming weeks on many issues of mutual concern.
On the horrific events on Friday evening, as the terror unfolded, it shook us all to the core. Indeed, it shook us out of our complacency, as did the attacks that took place in Beirut the day before, the attack on Russian civilians on the plane in Egypt and also the attacks that take place in Turkey, Iraq and Syria every single day. We need to wake up. I echo and support the call by Senator O'Brien to have a debate at an appropriate time in which we can come together and realise the importance of acting together. I was fortunate yesterday to join so many Irish people and French citizens at the French embassy for the one-minute silence in solidarity with Paris. I will echo in the Seanad Chamber the words of the French ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Jean-Pierre Thébault, "No to terror, yes to freedom, yes to life." I hope today in the Seanad that we can be as one. Nous sommes unis.
Without reflecting in any sense on the legitimacy of the recent by-election under the existing rules, that a person of any kind can be elected to a national parliament by an electorate of 200 votes is a real reproach to democracy and highlights the fact the whole Seanad apparatus needs to be reformed. Nothing has been done since we rescued the Seanad from oblivion.
So much has been said about the situation in Paris that very little more can be said. The thing that struck me most about it was the targeting of people in wheelchairs. It is abominable and beneath any kind of remotely civilised behaviour.
Speaking of civilised behaviour, I send my congratulations to the first people who embarked on same-sex marriage today in this country. That must be about the end of it now. I sincerely hope so. I wish them well.
There are two privacy Bills which have been lodged for many years on the Order Paper of Seanad Éireann and nothing has been done about them. I say this in the context of reports in the Irish Independentalleging child sexual abuse against a former Minister. It is a very serious charge and was leaked, I presume by the Garda. It is very shocking stuff. I heard journalists speaking immediately after this and they were all congratulating themselves on it as wonderful, a great triumph and a big scoop. The next day, however, they were rethinking things a bit and there were more sober voices. It is very shocking.
During the discussion, there was talk of victims. That seriously vitiates any possible forthcoming court case. There are only alleged victims at the moment. It waits for the progress of a legal case, if such is taken. One wonders will such a course be taken. I will not name the person involved. He is known to me and is a gentle, shy, diffident and very kind person. To be the subject of these kinds of allegations is fair enough but to have it bruited about and have newspaper reporters harassing him is very shocking. It is like the situation of Sir Cliff Richard in England, where the police alerted the media, in particular the television media. As a result, there were helicopters around when, without telling Sir Cliff Richard of the fact, they burst into his home and ransacked it. It was all on television and now the charges have been dropped. This man has had to forgo an honour given by the village in Portugal where he lives.
There is a strong case for looking at the operations of the media in this country.Most politicians are terrified of the media, and after my example during the presidential election campaign, when I was routinely libelled every day on radio and television and in the newspapers, I can understand why. However, we must have a little courage. The Government should examine the two privacy Bills with a view to moving one or other of them in the new year.
As the Labour Party Whip in the Seanad, I welcome Senator Máiría Cahill to the Chamber for the first time, along with her family and friends. It is an important occasion for a family. Our former colleague, Jimmy Harte, had been hoping for a Northern voice, and he will be pleased with the outcome of the election, a richly deserved victory on the part of Senator Cahill.
I join the other voices condemning the atrocities in Paris. I had just returned from launching the finals of the Model United Nations in Rathdown school when the first news of the shootings came in. As the night went on, the events became more horrific. I commend the bravery of the many French people who put their lives at risk for others. My friend and colleague, Professor Paddy Gray from the University of Ulster, was one of the people caught in the crossfire. A French man he had never met before in his life took Professor Gray in, from the middle of street shooting, and sheltered him in his apartment. There were many occasions of bravery of that sort, and they must be commended.
While I am very conscious of many of the statements made in the media, we must be very careful to continue to balance private against societal freedoms. We cannot allow our fear to cause us to look at other members of our society differently, particularly those who happen to be a different colour or practice a different religion. In this country in particular, we must continue to treat all members of society equally.
As Leas-Chathaoirleach, I welcome our new Senator to this august Chamber. I wish her a long career here, or maybe in the other House if that is what she desires. It is a great day for her and her family.
I add my condemnation of and deep disgust at what happened in Paris, our neighbouring city. It is much easier to fly to Paris than to get from Cork to Dublin. While it takes four and a half hours to drive from my home to Dublin, one can fly to Paris in an hour and 15 minutes. It is to be hoped we can get the right answers. The Syrian situation is very grave and there is much international concern. That a group of people, probably no more than 200 or 300 so-called jihadists can hold the world to ransom is a frightening scenario.
Although I had other matters to raise today, it is the wrong day to raise them. I concur with what my learned colleague, Senator Norris, said about a smear campaign against somebody who was never approached by a garda. Senator Norris rightly condemned the media for having a trial before anyone was arrested or questioned or had a file sent to the DPP. As spokesperson on justice for Fianna Fáil in the House, I think the garda or gardaí, who must have been at the level of sergeant or higher, who leaked the information should be gravely ashamed of themselves and the damage they have done.
I am always speaking in the House in support of the Garda and I have done so for many years. Last week, the Garda Commissioner appeared at the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. However, if this is how certain gardaí are going to treat us, leaking information and knowing the major damage that can be done by a whisper campaign - there were whispered messages around the House last week asking who it was and whether it was true - it is a most serious issue for the Garda Síochána.If that is the way some gardaí are going to do things, it is a most serious issue for the Garda Síochána. While I appreciate that a complaint has been submitted to GSOC, I emphasise that the Garda Commissioner, GSOC and the Minister for Justice and Equality must grab this issue by the scruff of neck immediately. This type of approach to matters that are not even under investigation is serious because it undermines the morale and confidence of people like us in our Garda Síochána. I am deeply ashamed of the person who leaked this story. We must not forget that he or she did so with malice aforethought. In supporting our gardaí, we must condemn those who stoop so low by doing injustice to one man or to society.
I welcome Senator Máiría Cahill to the Upper House. I congratulate her and her family on her election to the Seanad. I wish her every success and look forward to working with her.
I would also like to add my voice to those who have expressed sympathy to the people of France and particularly to the families and friends of those who were injured and who passed away during the horrific act of terrorism at the weekend. Now more than ever, there is a critical need for the political leadership across the world to work together to combat these attacks on our democratic process.
I welcome Senator Máiría Cahill. I hope she will enjoy being here. I look forward to hearing the perspective she will bring from Belfast to the deliberations of this House.
I echo what other Senators have said about the bombings in Paris. I commend the Taoiseach on his statement. I also commend Uachtarán na hÉireann, who went to the French Embassy in Merrion Square yesterday to sign the book and be present for the minute's silence. I think both were commendable and expressed the national mood at this time.
I welcome my new neighbour, Senator Máiría Cahill, to the seat vacated by my dear friend, the former Senator Jimmy Harte. I wish Jimmy well and I wish Senator Cahill well in her future in this Chamber.
I send my sympathies to all the families of those who were killed in the massacre in France. I would also like to sympathise with the family of a young cyclist who was killed on the roads in County Kerry on Saturday morning. I know that people in Killarney Cycling Club and throughout the local area were shocked by his untimely death in such tragic circumstances.
I welcome the decrease in the number of people on the live register that was announced today. It is very welcome that the figure in question has dropped below 9% for the first time since 2008. It is a sign that we are getting people back to work in this country, thankfully. I wish that some of the jobs would come to our neck of the woods. Obviously, most of them are based in large urban areas, particularly Dublin, and that is driving up the demand for rented properties and causing rents to increase in such areas. I know the Taoiseach plans to bring jobs to the west of Ireland and I hope he will think about the south west as well. I look forward to that in due course.
On behalf of my colleagues in the Sinn Féin Party, I warmly welcome Senator Máiría Cahill to the Seanad. I wish her very well and every success. I acknowledge the presence of her family and friends in the Gallery. Like previous speakers, I think it is appropriate to remember the former Senator Jimmy Harte and to wish him every success in his recovery. It has to be said that I had some fiery exchanges with Jimmy here in the Seanad, but he was still a good friend and a good colleague. I hope he continues to recover. I welcome his daughter to the Gallery.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I express my sincerest sympathies to all of those who lost their lives in Paris when brutal acts of terror were carried out by the people who were responsible for those attacks. As somebody said, we do not have to be neutral on these issues. We can be a neutral country, but that does not mean we cannot act or show support or solidarity to those who lost their lives in these tragic attacks.We must look at what being neutral means but it does not mean staying silent on issues like this. I am also heartened to see that various Islamic organisations in Ireland have spoken out very clearly and condemned these attacks. It is very important for us to focus on that because there have been a number of attacks on Muslims in recent days. A Muslim family in the North was attacked yesterday which should be condemned utterly. There is no place whatsoever for such attacks. As other Senators have said, we are in a republic and we should be tolerant of the faith of all people here. I am very heartened by the very strong condemnation which has come from all the Islamic organisations which have distanced themselves from these acts of brutality which were carried out by people who are twisted and who have a twisted ideology. It is to be hoped we can have more comprehensive statements on these issues in Seanad Éireann in the coming days or weeks and I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange such a debate. It is important we focus on what is causing these problems and what the solutions might be.
I wish our former colleague and good friend, Senator Jimmy Harte, the very best in his continued recovery. We look forward to seeing him in the House again very soon. I also warmly congratulate our new colleague, Senator Máiría Cahill, on her election to Seanad Éireann. While she may think there is not a lot of time left in this term, I suggest that it is quality rather than quantity that matters in terms of her contribution to society. I point out to everyone that in the past 12 months, Senator Cahill has made a very positive contribution to this society and I have no doubt she will continue in that vein in Seanad Éireann.
Like everyone else, I condemn and express my outrage at what happened in France last week. We have a major problem with religious fundamentalism and the world order as we know it is changing quite dramatically. I agree that it is a good idea to get the Government's perspective on this with a statement from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in this House at the earliest possible opportunity. Seanad Éireann has a role to play in terms of discussing and deliberating on such matters and I support Senator O'Brien's proposal in this regard.
As the Fine Gael Seanad spokesperson on justice, I wholeheartedly agree with everything Senator O'Donovan said about the Garda leak that caused the headlines we all saw last Wednesday and Thursday. It is shameful that a person's good name would be undermined when that individual has not even been questioned by An Garda Síochána. I look forward to a full investigation into this matter. I understand there are now three investigations into media leaks from An Garda Síochána, which is a very serious matter. I look forward with interest to the results of those investigations.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group in Seanad Éireann, I welcome Senator Máiría Cahill to the House and members of her family to the Public Gallery. We look forward to working with her for the remainder of this Seanad. I understand from recent media reports that Senator Cahill has no desire to sit in the Lower House. I have no doubt she will wish to remain in the Upper House once she sees how it operates.
On the issue of the by-election, I agree with Senator Norris that it is unacceptable that somebody would be elected in a closed shop, with just Members of this House and the Lower House allowed to vote. In this context, I wish to inform colleagues that Fianna Fáil intends putting forward legislation next week that would expand the electorate for any by-election to fill a casual vacancy in one of the 43 seats in this House to include county and city councillors.It is our intention to introduce the legislation next week as part of Seanad reform in the present-----
As someone who came through the Seanad electoral process in recent months, Senator Craughwell should welcome the extension of the franchise to the entire electorate of county and city councillors. I understand from Senator Norris that if a vacancy arises on a university panel, it is open to the entire electorate to vote in the subsequent election.
For the same reason, the franchise should be extended to the entire electorate in respect of the 43 Senators who are elected under the vocational panels. I welcome Senator Cahill and look forward to working with her.
I listened with interest to my great friend, Senator Wilson. Perhaps the issue he raised should be left for another day as today is one for celebrating Senator Máiría Cahill joining the Seanad. I warmly welcome the Senator and, in doing so, I recall Jimmy Harte who officially finished his time as a Senator yesterday evening. What better way to do so than with Ireland qualifying for the European Football Championship. Last night's result was fantastic and given Jimmy's passion for soccer, I am sure he was thrilled with it.
I also add my voice to the condemnation of the recent events in Paris. On a much brighter and happier note, when I opened my e-mails this morning, I saw an embargoed message which effectively stated that the era of the hedge school and education in prefabricated buildings have been consigned to the past. The Government has ensured that no child will be allowed to go to school in facilities that are not up to 21st century standards. I congratulate and commend the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and the Government team which produced the programme announced today.
I wish to be associated with the expression of best wishes to Jimmy Harte and his family and the welcome extended to Senator Máiría Cahill. I welcome the Senator to the practice of the vocation of politics, which is how the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, described politics last night at the launch of his book, Faith in Politics. As one would expect from Mr. Bruton, he made a very interesting speech in which he stated that the purpose of politics was to deal with problems that are intractable. If there were only problems that were capable of a technical resolution, we would not need politics, he added.
That said, one hears the best and worst from the mouths of politicians. Senator Norris spoke for every sensible person when he referred to the media treatment of a former politician last week. Sadly, many of us started off being curious and only later reflected on the horror of what was happening to the individual in question. I also regret that a Member of the European Parliament from the Government side stated on the Marian Finucane programme that he thought the leak came from people on the "No" side in the recent referendum. It is highly regrettable that he made that statement without any substantiation.
We then had comments from Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly in the wake of what happened in Paris. While the comments were harmless enough in themselves in that they are only talk, they were untrue and quite unhelpful. The idea that demilitarisation by western powers would somehow lead to peace is taking us to a fool's paradise. It is a dangerously misleading and futile attempt by western minds to make the pain, fear and uncertainty of what happened on Friday, 13 November somehow capable of being explained away. Pope Francis has spoken about a third world war being waged piecemeal. The frightening thing is that the attacks on Friday were not unexpected. The only things we did not know were the time and place. Tragically, this movement of misguided idealists has beguiled enough young people in many countries to believe in its particular understanding of Islam.It is not just the great military powers that should be concerned. Even the small neutral countries which pride themselves on their ability to talk to the strong and weak together must be worried about the future we all face. We must look at that head on.
I congratulate sincerely Senator Máiría Cahill on her election to the Seanad and welcome her and her family to the House, particularly her young daughter. I join colleagues in extending our very good wishes to our dear friend Jimmy Harte and hope he continues to make good progress. We look forward to meeting him in the House as a visitor in the near future. Senator Cahill will bring a great deal to the House as a result of her life experience, some of which no person should have had to endure. She has spoken out with great courage and I was appalled at the level of abuse to which she was subjected in the course of the recent campaign. Senator Cahill is a person of courage and conviction. As someone who has admitted to having made some mistakes, she is ideally suited to be a politician. She will be a strong advocate for those who have suffered abuse from whatever source and I wish her a long and distinguished career in the short time left in the current Seanad and in her political life into the future.
I join colleagues in expressing the deepest sympathy to the families and relatives of all those who lost their lives in the horrific terrorist attack in Paris on Friday. Our thoughts are very much with the injured, to whom we wish a speedy recovery. This was a horrendous attack which was well planned and executed. It was an attack on democracy and the western way of life. We must all stand in solidarity with the French and work to ensure this axis of evil does not succeed. It is incumbent on all world leaders to address the root cause of these acts of mindless terrorism in order that ordinary people can go about their daily lives in the way we expect. A wonderful article appeared today in The Guardianwhich was written by a man called Nicolas Hénin, who is a French journalist who was recently held captive by ISIS. He makes some very interesting comments and refers to the problems of overreaction, division, fear and all the things that ISIS thrives on. At the end of his contribution, he said that there is no political roadmap to engage the Arab-Sunni community. He said that ISIS will collapse but that it is politics that will make it happen. It is incumbent on us all to work to ensure politics brings about solutions in the most troubled parts of the world today. We think very much of those people in Syria who are under siege.
Ach an oiread le mo chomhghleacaithe, cuirim fáilte roimh an Seanadóir Ní Chathail agus guím gach rath uirthi ina cuid oibre anseo. Guím gach rath freisin ar an iar-Sheanadóir Jimmy Harte atá anois ag ligean a scíth. Last night's match proved that Jimmy Harte is still winning matches, which is a good sign. I wish him very well.
I concur with colleagues who have spoken about the awful situation in Paris over the weekend. It is something one could not even imagine happening to anybody. The fear and terror that has been wrought on the whole community there is unfathomable. I am concerned, however, that we may find jurisdictions jumping to a conclusion that there has to be a crackdown on anybody who is different. I have noted some of the very commendable commentary from France itself where it has been stated that there must still be a respect for diversity and people from different backgrounds. The people who did these atrocious acts in Paris over the weekend are very much a minority and do not speak on behalf of all the Muslim community. They are fundamentalists. We must also look at ourselves as a country and how we deal with integration issues.
I note that the protection Bill has been approved by Cabinet and will be discussed in the Houses.Will the Deputy Leader provide an indication with regard to when that will be coming through? Even though we have been calling for the Bill for a long time, I would hate for it to be rushed through the Houses without a full and proper debate on all the issues relating to people who are coming here seeking asylum and our protection or those who are different in any way and who do not conform to what might be considered the mainstream. It is important that ample time be allocated in respect of what I imagine is going to be a complex Bill. Can the Deputy Leader give an indication of when the legislation is going to be brought before the Houses?
I join colleagues in wishing the former Senator, Jimmy Harte, well with is recovery. I also wish the former Senator's family well. Jimmy Harte is a gentleman and a nice colleague. We will miss him. I trust his family will pass on our regards.
I welcome Senator Cahill and wish her well. I think she will be a positive voice in the Seanad. She certainly has something new - arising out of difficult circumstances - to bring to this House. As Senator Conway said, she has been very vocal for the past year or more. I look forward to hearing from her regularly in the House.
I, too, join others in extending sympathy to the families of those killed in horrific circumstances in Paris. This tragedy feels close to home. It has hit all Europeans hard and has affected us deeply. What happened was horrific. It is hard to know what the world is coming to.
On a more positive note, I wish to raise a matter on which Senator Landy has already touched. I am being somewhat parochial, perhaps, but I welcome the provision of new schools in the Dublin West area, in particular, two brand-new schools, one primary and one secondary, as well as three extensive rebuilds. I echo what has been said before. This is the first capital programme in respect of which we have made a conscious decision that there will be no more prefabs in schools in Ireland. The latter are no longer acceptable. Much of the school accommodation that is being replaced was hardly fit for purpose. It is very good to hear that, finally, we have money to invest in education and in our children.
It was appropriate that we marked the appalling tragedy in Paris with a moment's silence. What we should attempt to do is have a full and frank debate on the security and political crisis facing both Europe and civilisation in general. The attendance in the House of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, has been requested and I echo that call. I heard the comments of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, at the weekend. He outlined his view to the effect that Ireland is in no way under threat. That is an innocent statement. We need a substantial debate on the threat facing both Europe and western civilisation. This is a matter I have been raising for the past two years. Our response to the actions of ISIS has been entirely inadequate. We will sleepwalk into disaster unless we start taking this matter seriously.
I congratulate our newest Senator, Máiría Cahill, and wish her well in the context of whatever political route she chooses to take in future. In seeking to replace former Senator Harte, she is certainly attempting to fill large shoes. We think of the former Senator with affection and we wish him well for the future.
Through the years in this House I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving with colleagues from across the Border in the other jurisdiction. I refer to Gordon Wilson, John Robb and Eddie Haughey. Before that there was Bríd Rodgers and Seamus Mallon. They all had a major and constructive impact on this House. They were very much involved in changing of minds and attitudes. It is fair to say that they came to the House to be constructive. They came in the spirit of reconciliation and of spreading a message of hope to us all. Their role was strong and significant. I know this is what Senator Cahill aspires to as well. It is important that all of us attempt to see everyone's perspective and that we can see something different to black and white - we should always try to see the shades of grey.As a Member of the House, I saw people change their minds because of contributions made by individuals such as John Robb, Gordon Wilson, Edward Haughey and Sam McAughtry. That spirit of generosity and the goodwill those former Senators displayed in debates here was very helpful. I am sure the Senator will act in the same fashion. We look forward to working with her and sincerely welcome her to the House.
I, too, welcome Senator Cahill to the House and wish her well in her future career. I also want to pay tribute to former Senator Jimmy Harte. I wish him well and a full recovery.
Senator Moloney referred to the employment figures. These now show that over 135,000 new jobs were created since February 2012. The unemployment rate is now 8.9%, which is a significant and welcome drop from the rate of 15% which obtained when we entered office. For the first time since 2008, fewer than 200,000 people are unemployed. There are interesting figures for job creation in terms of the south east, where employment has increased by 14.4%. In the midlands it has increased by 13.8% and by 12% in Border areas. Job creation is happening right across the country. I accept what Senator Moloney said, namely, that certain areas require further work. In the past 12 months, 56,000 new jobs - over 1,000 per week - were created. This shows that what the Minister, Deputy Bruton, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have said and done in recent months is now coming home to roost in the sense that people are back in employment. The number of long-term unemployed has decreased from 204,000 to 109,800, which is a substantial drop, but we still have a lot of work to do in this area.
We also have a great deal of work to do in respect of people under 25 years of age who are unemployed. We need to ensure they have access to training and education opportunities in order that they will not become long-term unemployed. Perhaps we might have a debate at some stage to determine the further action we need to take to deal with young people aged under 25 who are currently unemployed and who have missed out on education and training opportunities. This is an important area on which we need to work. I ask the Leader to make time available in order that we might invite the Minister to the House to come before the House to discuss the matter.
I join Senators Norris and Wilson regarding the farce that is Seanad by-elections. Fortunately, the new Senator did not have the same trouble I did in the context of trying to find nine people to sign a nomination form. I thank Fianna Fáil and the nine Independent Members of the Oireachtas who gave me two nominations. I will support Senator Wilson's new Bill to extend the electorate beyond the confines of Leinster House.
I did not know Jimmy Harte and I regret that to some degree. Given the kind words have been said about the former Senator, apparently I missed out on knowing a great man. I wish him well.
I welcome Senator Cahill. I will echo Senator Bradford's words by saying that she should use her time here to engage in constructive debate, champion the issues she has brought into the public domain in recent times, see people for who they are in here and see our point of view. That will be important.
Like every other Senator, I am appalled by the situation in Paris. The security of a nation does not fall to the security services alone. We must wake up to the fact that we live in a new world where people can traverse the globe and travel to this country in a matter of hours. It behoves every citizen in the country to report things they find suspicious. We walk past a suitcase sitting unattended and leave it there. Last night, as I sat in Lansdowne Road and watched a fantastic match which led to our qualifying for the finals of the European Championships, it crossed my mind that if three individuals walked into the stadium wearing vests loaded with explosives and detonated them, how many hundreds more people would be killed in the ensuing stampede?It behoves every single one of us, and I do not appreciate the Minister stating the country is safe. Nowhere in the world is safe now. This message needs to go out. I support the call for a debate on security in the House.
I welcome Senator Máiría Cahill and wish her the very best of luck in Seanad Éireann.
I express my disgust at the atrocities which occurred in Paris. It has shaken the very core of the world's liberty and has instilled fear in our society. When we think of going out to enjoy a concert, dinner, date or drink, one never knows the hour or the day when something like this will happen.
I echo what Senators Landy and Burke stated. They took the very words out of my mouth when they referred to how proud former Senator Jimmy Harte would have been with the great win Ireland had last night. Having said this, we are definitely the only island in Europe which has two teams playing in the European championship. Being the only island with two teams, we also have two managers by the name of O'Neill - Michael and Martin. Sport has united Ireland in many ways for many a decade, and when teams from the North or South were playing in respective championships, both North and South cheered. It will be quite interesting to see whether the North and the Republic will be matched up in the European championships next year, but we will cheer for both of them. Well done to the Republic of Ireland last night.
I welcome Amy Rose Harte to the Gallery. If Jimmy were here, he would be having a great time talking about the qualification last night, and I am sure he would be giving me a bit of a ribbing for Limerick's capitulation when the team went to Ballybofey to play Finn Harps. Ba mhaith liom a rá leis an Seanadóir Ní Chathail, a clann agus a cairde agus le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre that today really is their day. Senator Cahill is very welcome to the House.
I read with interest Mary Minihan's article in The Irish Timesyesterday in which she gave five reasons it is hard to be a "Nordie" south of the Border. I will not start singing Gene Autry's "Down Mexico Way", but her first reason was we think they talk funny. I am sure Senator Cahill will have no problem making herself understood in the Chamber. She joins a long list of illustrious characters, including Martin McAleese, John Robb, Brid Rogers, Sam McAughtry, Seamus Mallon and Gordon Wilson. Gordon Wilson and Seamus Mallon in particular had a vision of a just and peaceful society in Ireland. They were voices of reason and integrity and they spoke against what was a warped ideology tearing our country apart at the time. Senator Cahill has laid down the gauntlet today by bringing in members of the Rape Crisis Centre and those affected by abuse, and I am sure she will be a strong advocate on their behalf as well as being someone who will speak out against criminality on the island.
The same warped ideology I mentioned, which thrives on disenfranchisement, marginalisation and deprivation, manifested itself in Paris at the weekend in the very shocking attacks made against innocent members of the public. We need to learn the lessons of integration from our European partners, particularly countries such as Denmark which has had issues with integration in Copenhagen, but countries such as France, Belgium and others. What we do with direct provision in this country leaves much to be desired, and anything which would drive young men to wear a suicide belt and carry an assault rifle and do what they did on the streets of Paris cannot be condoned.
I am sure Ireland's neutrality is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality.Our neutral position in the international community is an issue held dear by many citizens in this country. The continued use by the US military of Shannon Airport flies in the face of that neutrality. This issue has been advocated very strongly by An tUachtarán, Michael D. Higgins, and it has been argued for very strongly by the Labour Party. I hope it will step up to the plate again and call for this debate to happen sooner rather than later. The Social Democrats will be against the airport's use and we advocate a phase-out. I hope the Government will support that.
It is a huge honour to serve in Seanad Éireann and I have my friends and family here, including my five-year-old daughter, Saorlaith. I was going to say she was being uncharacteristically quiet, but she has actually fallen asleep.
I also pay tribute to Senator Jimmy Harte, who has experienced a horrific number of years. I had the privilege of speaking with him last week and I am glad to say he is slowly but surely making a great recovery. I also thank the Harte family in its entirety for their support, particularly Jimmy's daughter, Amy Rose, who has looked after me so well over the past number of weeks. There has been a great Northern tradition of representation in the Seanad. I have not had the privilege of meeting all the former Senators but I am lucky to have met and have the support of Mr. Seamus Mallon and Bríd as well.
I echo the heartfelt sympathies sent from this House to the people of Paris and I strongly condemn the very cruel attacks that took place at the weekend. I ask the Leader for a debate on sexual offences and abuse. I am thankful that the directors of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and One in Four are here today, and I welcome them. I ask for an indication of when Committee Stage of the sexual offences Bill will be taken.