Thursday, 26 November 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Planning and Development (Urgent Social Housing Supply) Policy Directive 2015, back from Committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.25 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, motion re earlier signature of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 5 p.m.; and No. 5, statements on emergency department waiting times. On the Order of Business yesterday, Senators requested that the Minister for Health would come to the House to speak on emergency department waiting times. The Minister has facilitated that request and will be here from 5 p.m. until 5.40 p.m. The contribution from group spokespersons must not exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 5.35 p.m.
I join colleagues in wishing Bernard Hand a long and happy retirement. If he can solve the mystery of how to spend time without spending money, he might share it with all of us in this House. I am sure that Paddy Cullen would have been delighted with Bernard's services when Kerry scored that famous goal. Paddy was described at the time as being like a woman who smelled the cake burning but if Bernard had been on the field at the time, he might have prevented that famous goal.
I am delighted that the Minister for Health will be in the House today to discuss the situation in emergency departments but I note that he will only be here for 40 minutes, which is not a lot of time. There is an issue about the length of time it takes emergency ambulances to reach patients in some instances. In Roscommon, it took over three hours for an emergency ambulance to arrive at the house of a stroke victim, even though the house is located next door to the ambulance depot. There are numerous similar cases all over the country. The 40 minutes that the Minister is granting to this House to debate the issue is the same amount of time it takes ambulances to reach stroke and heart attack victims and the scenes of car accidents. The term "death by geography" is relevant here. A report by Dr. Browne of UCC points out that people in Kerry, Donegal, Roscommon and other parts of the country are dying because there is a shortage of emergency ambulances, never mind them actually reaching the accident and emergency departments. This is due to the Minister's lack of management. He says that his popularity is due to his better bedside manner but he is like a doctor who, instead of using his knowledge as a doctor to treat the patient, just gives tea and sympathy and says, "If only there was something I could do". If only he had been elected to Dáil Éireann, had been in the Cabinet and was appointed as Minister for Health. All he is at present is an apologist for the health service. I am delighted he is coming into the House this afternoon. I am disappointed that he will only be here for 40 minutes but, as I said, that is about the length of time it will take an emergency ambulance to reach someone who needs it.
I ask the Leader to reconsider the plan to take all Remaining Stages of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015 this afternoon and to consider just taking the Report Stage debate today. I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the case of Ibrahim Halawa. My party will be tabling a motion on same in the context of a report published by Doughty Street Chambers, the legal team representing this Irish citizen. Mr. Halawa has been on hunger strike for 35 days in a prison in Egypt. His legal team's report contradicts the stance of this Government in not pursuing the same course of action as that pursued by the Australian Government. The Irish Government is saying that nothing can happen in Mr. Halawa's case until such time as the trial is completed but Mr. Peter Greste was released by the Egyptian authorities prior to his trial being completed and while he was still on remand in prison. He was sent back to Australia because the Australian Prime Minister got involved in his case. That has not happened in the case of this Irish-born citizen and we must ask why that is so. If the Australians can do it for their citizens, why are the Irish not doing it for theirs? I ask the Leader to support the aforementioned motion next week because Mr. Halawa has been in prison for two years and has now been on hunger strike for 35 days. However, the Irish Government, a bit like the Minister for Health, is saying "Sure, what can we do about it?". It is not like we have a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-----
The Government has said that it can do nothing about the case but the Australian Prime Minister got involved in the case of one of his country's citizens who was in the same position as Mr. Halawa. There is no difference between the cases legally, but this Government chooses to do nothing.
I join the tributes to our colleague, Bernard Hand, who is retiring tomorrow after more than 20 years as an usher in this House. I join others who have complimented and commended Mr. Hand on his unfailing kindness, calmness and good humour. We will miss him in the House but I hope he has a very long and happy retirement. I wish him, his wife, children and grandchildren well on my own behalf and that of the Labour Party Senators.
I thank the Leader for organising the debate on accident and emergency waiting times. A request for a debate was first made on Tuesday, when I took the Order of Business in my capacity as Acting Leader. We submitted a request to the Minister's office on that day and I welcome the fact that he has now acceded to that request, as Members are anxious to have an opportunity to discuss the matter with him.
In respect of Ibrahim Halawa, I support calls for a debate on his case although I am conscious that we have a hugely busy schedule between now and Christmas, with much legislation to be dealt with. It is distasteful to see the Senator seeking to make political capital out of this very difficult and complex case. I was interested to hear lawyers acting for Mr. Halawa from Doughty Street Chambers speaking on radio recently. They spoke in a very careful and circumspect manner about the case. Clearly, there is a good deal of diplomacy going on behind the scenes and we should be united in seeking to see an early resolution of the matter for Mr. Halawa-----
I welcome the passage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill yesterday. I am conscious that it must go back to the Dáil so that the amendments to it can be passed there. I compliment Senator Barrett on having some important amendments accepted, in support of which a number of Senators spoke during the Committee Stage debate. Those amendments will ensure greater scrutiny by both Houses of the Oireachtas over some of the reporting mechanisms in the Bill. It is great to see this Bill finally being put in place. It has long been promised and will provide for a much stronger framework - a proper statutory framework - for the meeting of our emissions targets. I hope we will see great progress made at the Paris talks on climate change next week. I also hope that we will have time in the New Year for a debate on the outcome of those talks in the context of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, which has now been passed by this House and which will have become law by January 2016.
Finally, I was pleased to launch, along with Labour Women and former Members of this House, Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness, Ms Mary Henry and Dr. Peter Boylan, legislation produced by Labour Women on the repeal of the eighth amendment, which sets out the framework within which legal terminations of pregnancy would be provided for upon repeal of that amendment. This is a crucial part of Labour Party policy and our manifesto states that we will be seeking repeal of the eighth amendment if elected to Government at the next general election. I would like the House to debate this matter in the new year, particularly in light of the comments made by the Taoiseach last night to the effect that he would support the concept of establishing a convention to examine this it. Many of us who were involved with the Constitutional Convention, particularly with regard to the issue of marriage equality, would be very supportive of such a mechanism. Whatever the mechanism, we need to see a referendum on repeal of the eighth amendment in the early course of the next Government.
On behalf of the University Senators, I pay tribute to Bernard Hand. I hope he will drop into the House from time to time because wise counsel is always most welcome here. Reference has already been made to Paddy Cullen.Many stories are told about Paddy, one of the great characters in Irish sport. One was that after four games between Dublin and Meath in 1991, which 250,000 people attended, his team lost the fourth by one point. Sean O’Rourke asked him if there was any future for him in management and he said, “I don’t know. I’m off to the airport. I’ll check if there’s anything for Siberia one-way.” Of course, there was no need for that. Paddy remains one of the great characters and I am sure Bernard also has many stories about him.
Today's edition of The Irish Times contains an article by David Robbins in which he discusses the coverage of climate change issues. Senator Bacik introduced the first Bill here on climate change and we debated the topic yesterday. According to Mr. Robbins, “Irish coverage stood at 10.6 stories per title per month, compared with 58.4 in the rest of Europe.” Our three or four-hour debate yesterday would form the basis for many articles to remedy that deficit. I hope the climate change march in Dublin is a success and, like Senator Bacik, I also hope the Paris conference will a success.
I welcome the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council report. I esteem Professor John McHale and the Ministers involved, Deputies Noonan and Howlin. The warning, however, is that budget 2016 does not address weaknesses with the Government’s medium-term fiscal plans beyond 2016 and multi-year expenditure ceilings are not being implemented. The large increase in spending in 2105 through the Supplementary Estimates process was a deviation from prudent policy. We have to keep that under review. Perhaps one of the Ministers should come to the House to tell us how he sees the situation.
Having wished Bernard a happy retirement, it is a time for congratulations because Senator Norris will receive an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin at 3 p.m. tomorrow. That is a great honour for the father of the House.
I join my colleagues in wishing happiness and good health to Bernard Hand on his retirement tomorrow. I hope he will have a long and happy retirement. Bernard is a true gentleman, courteous and always good-humoured and he always had great banter with visitors to the House. I hope that in his retirement he will spend some time in east Galway where he visited often during his early years. I hope he goes back to see some of his relatives in Woodlawn and Menlough. We wish him well and I hope he will drop in on us regularly.
I am very disappointed with Senator Daly’s contribution on the Ibrahim Halawa case. He was present yesterday at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade when the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, outlined the efforts he, the Taoiseach and the diplomatic staff are making to bring about a successful resolution to this case. We need to work together on this. Quiet diplomacy is required.
I hope both Houses will unite in the efforts being made to bring about his release and return to his family and education.
Yesterday the Road Safety Authority, RSA, the Garda Síochána and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport launched the Christmas-new year road safety campaign. It calls on all drivers to be very drink aware over Christmas. It is frightening that a survey conducted on behalf of the RSA shows that up to 284,000 drivers admit to having driven while under the influence of drink in the past 12 months and that 150 people are arrested every week for drink driving. Men are by far the worst culprits, at 85%. Some 50% of those people who drank and drove are in the age category 20 to 39. Most arrests take place on Saturdays and Sundays. As we come into the Christmas party season, I advise everybody to leave the car at home and organise a taxi or designated driver. We do not want to hear any more heart-rending stories, such as Gillian Treacy’s account of the heartbreak her family has endured as a result of the loss of her four-year-old son. As well as the potential loss of life, people need to be conscious of the loss of their livelihoods as a result of a driving ban. No family should ever be bereaved as a result of a drink driving accident. I urge everybody this Christmas and new year, and for all of 2016, to keep that in mind and to make sure they never get behind the wheel of a car after having consumed alcohol.
I wish to be associated with the words to Bernard Hand for his diligence and commitment to the House. He represents all the wonderful staff in the House, particularly the ushers who have been so helpful over the years. He showed the same respect to Members and former Members, such as I have been. I compliment him and all his colleagues on that.
I also offer best wishes to Senator Norris on receiving an honorary doctorate. It is not before time. He was never recognised in his own land. I thought he was professor of English in TCD and was disappointed when he told me he was not and that he was a lecturer. The college lost an opportunity in not appointing an international expert in English. Maybe it will make it up to him tomorrow.
Even though it is legal now.
I compliment the handlers of FBD insurance who challenged a claim for a couple who knew each other, crashed into each other and claimed approximately €15,000 each. The case was exposed through Facebook. It highlights and exposes the point I made yesterday in respect of alleged fraudulent cases. The Injuries Board is too quick to settle without questioning the details and the insurance company is afraid to go to court because the courts award enormous damages in addition to the cost of solicitors and barristers.
I also compliment An Garda Síochána, particularly Detective Superintendent Dave Dowling, for exposing 1,000 sham weddings. Clients paid between €15,000 and €20,000 to have these sham marriages arranged. There were eight swoops in the Cathaoirleach’s county, Mayo, four in Louth, three in Kildare, two each in Longford and Limerick and one each in Meath and Cork. Marriage registrars should be more diligent in exposing these sham weddings. There are over 1,000 applications which are being challenged. It is a very serious abuse of the EU treaty rights. It is only fair to commend An Garda Síochána’s work and to ask it to brief the marriage registrars who should brief their staff on how to detect this serious abuse of marriage. The couples do not even have to consummate the marriages. People pay €15,000, get a bride and gain access to the EU. It is about time it was exposed in this country.
I too join the Cathaoirleach and the other Members in paying tribute to Bernard for his 20 years’ service. He was always friendly, helpful and jovial. He is too young to retire but I wish him well. I am also delighted that Senator Norris is receiving a well-deserved honour. I wish him well too.
I was delighted to read this morning in The Irish Timesthat the construction of a McDonald's opposite three schools in Greystones will not proceed. I mentioned this yesterday and I am delighted people have got sense. This was going to be close to three schools, which expect to cater for 1,800 pupils.It was not in line at all with national policy as far as I am concerned. I am glad it is not going ahead.
We have recently seen the huge difficulty and turmoil that the IFA has gotten itself into as a result of the hefty remuneration package it paid to one of its officials. I am glad that as a result, CEOs of many other quangos and national organisations have decided to reveal the remuneration they pay to their top officials. These are people who frequently lecture society on the need for transparency and accountability. It is natural for unions to seek more for their members - that is part of their job - but there is something remiss in the fact that some of the CEOs of those organisations are refusing to reveal what they are earning as a result of their members' fees. They need to reflect and examine their own consciences. All should be prepared to have that information in the open so that there is no argument or controversy. This will affect other organisations unless they make a clean breast of it.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, I appreciate your good wishes. I would like to send my good wishes to Bernard Hand. He is, as everybody has said, courteous and very knowledgeable. Anyone who has eavesdropped on the tours he gave of the House will know that. It is of course in the tradition of the ushers who, since the day I entered Leinster House nearly 30 years ago, have been very helpful, kind, efficient and courteous. It is rather sad to lose one of the old faces but there is a constant turnover.
We will miss Bernard's particular skills. I could not help noticing the efficient way in which, a few minutes ago, he detected the presence of a stray mobile telephone on a seat and immediately and quietly removed it so it could not cause any further nuisance. We will miss those talents. I was unaware of his prowess at football but could not help noticing the wide smile that spread across his face when the GAA, football and Paddy Cullen were mentioned. It is very close to his heart and he will now have an opportunity to follow his favourite teams and attend matches. I wish him every happiness in his retirement.
I would like to raise one issue following on from what Senator Mullins said about drinking over the Christmas. I was listening to the wireless this morning and there was an item about the way in which the drinks companies are specifically and deliberately targeting young people. They are doing so with merchandise. It has been demonstrated by academic studies that children in possession of drinks company merchandise are, I think, four times more likely to become involved with drink in a damaging way. It is time we took on the drinks companies on this.
The voluntary approach to this is rubbish. Some stupid creature goes around blathering about drinking safely and such like. There are large advertisements that suggest one will be sexually, socially and financially successful if one has a good slop of a particular brand of beer, gin or whisky, and then at the bottom appear the words "drink carefully". That is not what they want at all. They want us to gorge ourselves on their products and make profits for them.
It is no longer Uncle Arthur, who was a fairly benevolent figure in this city and did contribute; it is now Diageo, which makes underground railway trains, lavatory paper, contraceptives - I do not know what else it makes but it is not a bit interested in the welfare of people here. These executives sit in boardrooms in London and New York and look at graphs. The only way they want to see them go is up, and damn the consequences for the young people. I would like to ask the Leader if we can have a debate on the problem of alcohol in this country.
I would like to be associated with the good wishes to our friend and colleague, Bernard Hand on his retirement. He is an avid GAA fan like myself and unfortunately I must admit that I did not take his good advice on all occasions. It was always a pleasure to listen to him. I also join in the good wishes for Senator Norris tomorrow. I wish him well. He is back to his brilliant best from a recent illness and I wish him continued good health, as I do Bernard Hand, to whom I also wish long life and happiness in his retirement.
I refer to the record number of visitors and overall trips to our country this year. It is up 12.8%, while our August to October visitors have increased by 14%, which is significant. Our European visitors are up 14.1% while those from the United States are up 13.3%, which will hopefully continue. Our visitors from Great Britain have increased by 11.3%. From January to October, almost 3 million have visited our country from there. Our long-haul overseas visitors from China and Japan and such far-off places number 461,000. I did not realise that. These are CSO figures issued this week.
I call on the Leader for a debate. While these visitor numbers are most welcome, I would like to think that all parts of our country have gained by them. I would like to see that the north west, the north east, the south west and the south east have gained accordingly and that tourists are moving out from the capital city to the countryside.
I endorse everything that has been said and wish Bernard every happiness in his retirement. He will be a loss around this House. We will miss the various exchanges about the football. Leitrim would not come anywhere close to Dublin's success but Bernard was always aware of how Leitrim was doing in the various championships and leagues. It was always great to have a chat with him about that. I wish him every happiness.
Should we refer to our distinguished friend and colleague, Senator Norris, as Doctor Norris from now on? I understand he would not be the only doctor in the House - I mean in academic terms. I think we would also be correct in referring to Professor Barrett as Doctor Barrett. I congratulate Senator Norris on his elevation.
I want to correct the record. Yesterday I quoted a statistic on the wearing of seat belts and did not have the actual note with me at the time. I referred to 65 fatalities due to people not wearing seat belts. In fact, to date in 2015, 65 drivers and 24 passengers have lost their lives on Irish roads. Some 16 of the 65 drivers who were killed, or 25%, and 8 of the 24 passengers, or 33%, were confirmed as not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision. Although I might not have gotten the figures exactly right, it is shocking that 24 people were killed on Irish roads so far this year and were not wearing seat belts.
I thank the Leader for his response yesterday. It was universally felt across the House that these statistics are shocking. In light of Senator Mullins's comments about drink driving coming up to Christmas and being drink aware, surely the most basic requirement for anybody getting into a car is that they should instinctively put on their seat belt. The statistics bear out the severe consequences of not wearing one.
I also join with the my colleagues. I did not know Mr. Hand for very long but I wish him well in his retirement and I am sorry I did not get to know him better. Perhaps he will come in from time to time, take a tour of the House and give the ushers marks out of ten for their performance on the day. I join with my colleagues regarding Senator Norris's receipt of a honorary doctorate in Trinity College, which is not before time.
The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015 is before the House today and we are taking Committee and Report Stages as far as I am aware. I ask the Leader to reconsider this and schedule Report Stage for some day next week. It is wrong to push legislation like this through so quickly. I do realise that there are people who are depending on the legislation to get their pay rises and I would want to see it passed before Christmas, albeit that I have submitted amendments, all of which have been ruled out of order, which I will discuss at a later stage.
I am deeply concerned by comments this morning from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council regarding budget 2016. It is something we need to get a grip on. I would hate to see Fine Gael's meteoric rise in the polls achieved on the basis of a purchased election. There are some serious questions to be answered. The economists involved have raised some serious issues around the budget and its expansionary nature. We should have a debate in this House with the relevant Minister to tease out some of them. I am aware that there is a serious issue regarding the price of property, particularly on the east coast. When we couple that with warnings from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, are we heading down the same miserable route we headed down in the early noughties? It is better for us to put it out in the open, have a debate in here about it and see what emerges from that.
Following on from Senator Norris's comment about the very hypocritical admonition of alcohol companies to drink carefully, they mean "don't spill it". The truth is that alcohol companies have one ambition and that is to sell more alcohol. I have said here and in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that any attempt by the authorities to engage with the alcohol industry as some sort of partner in alcohol limitation is absurd.
I do take a drink from time to time but I am going to talk about my favourite vice for a few minutes. Again, it is the latest onslaught by the tobacco industry against the children of this country. Please remember that the entire business plan of the tobacco industry is summed up in four words - "addict children to carcinogens". When you lose 50 of your customers every day from smoking-related illnesses, you must replace them. The overwhelming majority of smokers start as children. The majority of smokers wish to stop and the majority of those who wish to stop fail to stop. Our best strategy is to stop people starting in the first place and we need to be eternally vigilant in our attempts to do this, so I was appalled to discover that there is a new and discretely available product that is often labelled "good things come in small packages". These are starter cigarette packs - small little pouches that contain tobacco and cigarette paper - that are sold in small amounts at a price that is substantially below that which applies to the smallest pack of cigarettes that are currently available. These products are placed within the price range where children on pocket money or small change can afford to purchase them.
The tobacco industry is extraordinarily well-resourced. In case people do not know, it is the second largest lobbying industry in the EU after the agricultural sector. Members will know I attempted to bring in an anti-tobacco lobbying Bill here when it was disclosed that the Taoiseach and two senior Ministers had breached the international guidelines of the WHO in their dealings with the tobacco industry. Prior to that debate, we found in the well of this Chamber the business card of a public relations candidate who works with the tobacco industry. Given this, it is apparent this is an issue we need take relentlessly seriously. I propose to the Leader that we have a debate on this House not just on tobacco policy but specifically on the issues of marketing and how we can strengthen the regulatory process in terms of limiting the eternally clever ways the industry has of getting around the tobacco regulations in this country.
I also propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 59 be taken before No. 1. As I have stated previously, the reason for this is because I have three outstanding Bills. They are outstanding in the sense that they have not gone anywhere. While I do not suggest they are outstanding legislative measure, hopefully, history will deem that they are. However, I am not that ambitious. These Bills have passed Second Stage and in the time-honoured tradition of Pyrrhic victories in this House, I am supposed to be happy as an Opposition backbench Independent Senator that they have got this far and am then expected to let them die with the Oireachtas. I do not want them to die. I want them to be either passed or defeated. That is why I was elected to this House - to introduce legislation - and that is why I am asking for an amendment to the Order of Business, to take No. 59 before No. 1.
I second Senator Crown's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
I join with colleagues in sending my best wishes to Bernard Hand. Since the day I became a Member of this House, he has been very courteous, polite, unassuming and helpful. I thank him for that. As has been stated here by other colleagues, he is an avid GAA fan. I understand he got his love for the GAA from his late father, Benny, who was from a quiet village in County Monaghan called Scotshouse. The people of Scotshouse are very proud people who love their GAA. They are just unfortunate in that they are on the Cavan border and nearly made it as far as becoming Cavan people. Bernard always had a great interest in Cavan GAA and would regularly ask me how we were getting on. It was not very difficult to answer that question because it was only asked about once a year or twice a year at the most. Things are improving and we are getting there. Bernard always reminded me that his father was a great Cavan supporter in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. We look forward to the day when Bernard not only has Dublin to support but will be able to go back and support the Cavan team in the not too distant future. I wish him and his family many years of happiness and join with other colleagues in wishing Senator Norris the very best on receiving an honorary doctorate tomorrow from Trinity College Dublin.
Could the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Defence on the Defence Forces?
I support Senator Crown's amendment to the Order of Business in respect of No. 59, which concerns the healthy living Bill.
Bernard Hand has been a joy ever since I came in here. He has been a joy to meet and has been a joy to anybody he has shown around this House because he has not just shown people around the Houses of the Oireachtas as part of his job, he has done it with enthusiasm, interest and a love of the place and its history. We are going to miss him but we assume he will drop in on a regular basis in the future. I thank him for those years of service he has given us.
As we heard earlier on today, we have had some very good tourist numbers. However, during the week, the US Government issued advice to its citizens warning them to be careful about where they travel. I want to make sure we take whatever steps we can to ensure that there is no fear among Americans who are thinking of coming here and that they feel very safe in Ireland. We hope they do. I am not sure what we must do about it and how we draw attention to it. I know that ISIS has included Ireland in a list of 52 countries it is unhappy with.However, we should work on the issue and do something about it. I am sure the Irish tourism industry is already working on that and doing whatever needs to be done.
I join colleagues in the tributes to Mr. Bernard Hand and wish him well for the future. I am sure like many of his previous colleagues, he will continue to visit us here from time to time. He will probably learn, as all of us have learnt, that nothing much changes. I concur with what has been said about Senator Norris as he collects another award of distinction tomorrow.
I support Senator Bacik's call for a debate in the House on abortion services because a democratic debate is always useful and helpful. The Senator put on record her pleasure at the pronouncement of the Labour Party's proposal on abortion. While I disagree in every respect with the Senator on the matter, she is absolutely entitled to her opinions and I am sure she will fully respect mine. I am sure she will fully respect my view that what she and the Labour Party are proposing is absolutely akin to the British and American regimes on abortion, about which I and many other people in the country are deeply disturbed. Let us have that debate.
It appears the Taoiseach has reflected and revised his views on how a Government should operate and he might well allow a free vote of his parliamentary party colleagues on the matter. I am not sure if it is a question of Sunningdale for slow learners or a question of trying to rewrite history. I regret the Taoiseach did not allow such a facility when he and his Government presided over the abortion introduction in this country in 2013. If he had been as willing then to allow the free vote he now claims he might allow, things would be different. It is important that in a House of democracy, we debate all subjects - the difficult ones as well as the easier topics. I look forward to that debate in the new year.
What the Labour Party proposed yesterday is exactly what was proposed in Britain in 1967 and in the United States in the 1970s.
Senator Bradford speaks for me 100% in what he has said. The Labour Party on this issue has lost all credibility and any claim to be defenders of human rights has gone out the window. Senator Bacik and others have never expressed opposition to abortion in any of its aspects internationally, which is a remarkable and disturbing fact.
I wish to be associated with the tributes to Mr. Bernard Hand. Our ushers are a treasure to us, as those of us who have guests in here frequently are constantly witness to. Bernard has always been up there with the best of them. I thank him for all that he has done and I hope to see him often into the future.
As politicians, we know that full disclosure and transparency increase public confidence in our institutions. The register of Members' interests, the SIPO requirements and other statutory provisions in ethics all give the public confidence, hopefully, in the Oireachtas and in public representatives. Referring to transparency, the former US Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis said, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants". Touching on some of what Senator Crown said, allowing the public full disclosure on financial matters, including payment and commercial interests, fosters accountability and prevents obvious corruption. It is remarkable that for so long in Irish life, secrecy and lack of transparency around pay packages and salaries of senior staff in representative organisations continue to be an issue.
Speaking as a son of the land and as somebody whose family farm would take about 200 or 300 years of activity to match the pay packet of the famous retiree from the IFA, I do not find it surprising that farmers are outraged and horrified that they, as members, were contributing to what can only be described as grossly inflated pay and compensation packages for senior management. The Irish Independentrevealed that over the past 14 months, the IFA refused repeated requests to furnish details of the general secretary's package and also the level of compensation paid to the president. I can only assume the ordinary rank-and-file members were also kept in the dark, which is not good enough. How many more unions and representative organisations throughout the country conceal the pay and compensation packages of senior managers from their members?
We need an urgent debate to establish what options are open to compel transparency in this sector. In the charity sector, the Oireachtas was required to pass legislation so that practices could be reformed. Perhaps it is time to consider covering unions and representative organisations also. There used to be a line that senior trade union officials needed to earn as much money as their industry counterparts so they could eyeball them across the table effectively. Where did that nonsense come from? What a lack of idealism. What a lack of a sense of service to the people they represent.
I join other Senators in passing on best wishes to Mr. Bernard Hand on his retirement, which, I hope, will be long and happy. We have had references to Cavan football for two days in succession and it all seems to rest on the infamous occasion in the Polo Grounds in 1947. I wish Bernard every success. He was always a gentleman as far as I was concerned.
This matter may have been mentioned on the Order of Business; I was late coming in. Irish Water has firmed up on its plans to extract water from the River Shannon and to pipe it through the midlands and into Dublin. I was chairman of the Shannon water advisory board when that plan was first mooted eight years ago. The initial reaction was a kneejerk one. The people in the west were of the view that their water was being stolen and so on. I think people have had a better look at it since. I hope when this is going ahead, the local authority members will be consulted first and last because they are the people who know most about the environmental impact it will have on their area.
It is disappointing Bord na Móna'a plans to create an eco-lake in the midlands as part of the scheme seem to have been shelved. Apparently, it will be one pipeline with offshoots in the various counties where water is required. It is a big project that will create a great number of jobs. It is not exactly draining the Shannon as was promised in these Houses for decades. However, it is basically a step in the right direction, provided the local authorities are involved in the process at all stages.
I welcome the publication of the scheme of a Bill from Labour Party women yesterday with regard to repealing the eighth amendment. Far from being disturbing, as some Senators have said today, it is actually an attempt to deal with the issue in a very sensitive way. It is a constructive attempt to deal with an issue that has been repeatedly been pushed down the line. It is not good enough that this country forces 12 women a day, some of whom are in very difficult situations, to travel to England. We need to take the nastiness out of this debate. We need to listen to women and deal with the very real and emotive issues in a sensitive way because we do women a great disservice by not doing so. I echo the calls for a debate on the issue.
I will be sorry to see Mr. Bernard Hand leave the House but I expect he will return. He has treated everyone with warmth and great attention. I will miss him.
Further to Senator Mullen's comment about farmers and the IFA salaries, farmers feel very deceived at the unacceptable and undisclosed levels of salaries for senior IFA personnel that have gone on for a long time. I hope that will resolve itself and we will have a new future there because farmers' representation is vital.
On the issue of the abortion debate, I would certainly welcome a debate in this House on the human right to life for mother and baby. I want it to be as broad as that because we are talking about two people here and not just one person. We have heard overnight that the Taoiseach is now willing to give a free vote to parliamentary party members in the event of a referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment.I would not be so presumptuous as to claim that he learned from the seven members who were expelled for keeping our promises to the electorate. The narrative is more likely to be, "Steady the ship, boys, we have a second term in sight. A free vote is no problem, so let us high five that, lads. Stick with the party and I will be Taoiseach again." The offer of a free vote by the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, is as meaningless as the letter from Fine Gael to the people of Ireland before the last election which stated that the party would not legislate for abortion. Fine Gael did legislate for abortion.
The reason I am on this side of the House is that I kept my promise to the people, as did Senator Bradford and five Deputies in the Dáil. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong. I am not trying to score points here but I am speaking about the truth and not using a subject that is so deeply human and important to the existence of life as another joy-ride into power. That is what we are talking about here. I ask the Leader to arrange for that debate and to hold it before this Seanad term ends.
As I mentioned, it was Fianna Fáil Members and the leader of their group who requested on Tuesday and yesterday that a debate be held on accident and emergency services and that the Minister be invited to the House for whatever short period of time to debate the issue. The Minister has acceded to that request and I am glad he is coming to the House today for the debate. Obviously, it is not welcomed by Senator Daly but it was requested by his party yesterday and on Tuesday-----
-----when the Senator was not present.
With regard to the unfortunate Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, Senator Mullins informed the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade attended yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade at which he gave full details of his and the Government's efforts to secure the release of this Irish citizen. I hope there would be unity of purpose from all sides of the House in trying to secure this chap's release from custody. I presume it is the intention of every party that we would do everything possible to try to secure his release, and the Government is doing that.
Senator Bacik also spoke about the Halawa case. In addition, she called for a debate on the Paris talks on climate change. We will try to facilitate that in the new year. She also called for a debate on the repeal of the eighth amendment of the Constitution. There have been many such requests in the House today, for different reasons, including from Senators Bradford, Healy Eames, Mullen and Cahill. I have no intention of having that debate before Christmas but we will try to facilitate one in the new year.
Senator Barrett referred to keeping financial measures under review and Senator Craughwell spoke in a similar vein in respect of the budget and so forth. There will be ample opportunity to discuss the budget in the debate on the Finance Bill, which will be before the House in the next week or two. It will also be an opportunity to discuss the matters mentioned by Senator Barrett.
Senator Mullins raised the issue of road safety and drink driving and the need for all of us to change our attitudes. I believe attitudes to drink driving have changed significantly over the years but there is a need to continue monitoring it. The message must be conveyed that if one drinks, one does not drive. Obviously, that message has not got through to everybody but let us hope it will get through, especially during the Christmas period.
Senator Leyden referred to a point he raised yesterday about motor insurance. He highlighted the fact that FBD challenged a case recently and won. He also complimented the Garda for highlighting the number of sham marriages that are taking place in this country. I agree with Senator Leyden and I compliment the gardaí involved.
Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the decision of McDonald's not to proceed with a planning application for a premises adjacent to a school, a matter that was raised by several Senators yesterday. Both he and Senator Mullen raised the need for greater transparency regarding CEO payments. This matter was also raised on the Order of Business on Tuesday and Wednesday and I agree with the sentiments expressed.
Senator Norris spoke about drinks advertising and the problem of alcohol. I am assured that an alcohol Bill, which will deal with alcohol, pricing and so forth, will be brought before the House before the Christmas recess.
Senator Brennan highlighted the excellent news on tourism figures, which are up 12.8%. Tourism has been a tremendous boost for the economy. I recall that when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, took office four years ago he emphasised that tourism would be one of the engines that would drive our economy. That is the reason the 9% VAT rate was introduced. He was proved correct and it has proven to be a great boost to the economy and to the growth we are witnessing at present. Long may it continue. I will try to arrange for the debate the Senator requested but I doubt that it will be held before Christmas due to the amount of legislation we must deal with between now and then.
Senator Mooney corrected the record of the House in respect of the wearing of seat belts and the number of people killed on our roads as a result of not wearing them. Irrespective of the numbers involved, it is crazy that people do not wear seat belts in their cars in this day and age. The message must be conveyed that people must belt up at all times when in a car.
I referred to Senator Craughwell earlier. He spoke about the expansionary nature of the budget. I assure him there will be no return to what we witnessed in the economy over many years. The Senator will have the opportunity to discuss that during the debate on the Finance Bill.
Senator Crown rightly highlighted the ploys of the tobacco companies and the tobacco industry to get young people to start smoking. I will try to organise a debate on the matter in early course. With regard to the proposed amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 59 before No. 1, No. 59 deals with not just finishing Second Stage but also taking Committee Stage of that Bill. I cannot afford the opportunity of holding Committee Stage of that Bill today before No. 1. It was pointed out yesterday that a number of Bills had concluded with five seconds or so left on Second Stage. It would be appropriate to try to deal with those. I ask the Members concerned either to remove them from the Order Paper or to deal with the concluding seconds of the Bills. I will facilitate them in doing that if they wish. If a vote is required to conclude Second Stage, we can deal with that. I will consider what can be done with regard to the Bill mentioned by Senator Crown.
Senator Wilson called for a debate on the Defence Forces. I agree that such a debate is long overdue. I will try to schedule it in the new term.
Senator Quinn spoke on tourism and the need to ensure that people from the US feel safe when travelling in Ireland. That is very important for our tourism industry and I am sure Fáilte Ireland and all concerned are working on that. I have referred to the contributions of Senator Bradford and Senator Mullen.
Senator O'Sullivan referred to plans to extract water from the Shannon to supply houses in Dublin and the need for local authority involvement. He also referred to the need for environmental impact studies and I am sure they will have to be carried out. I agree with him that local authorities should be involved in the process.
I have referred to the matters relating to the repeal of the eighth amendment raised by Senator Cahill and Senator Healy Eames.
I join in the thanks and praise to Bernard Hand.
Will the Leader clarify if he will make time available for outstanding Bills on Committee Stage before the expiration of the current Oireachtas? If not, I will press for a division on the amendment today.
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- Gerard Craughwell
- John Crown
- Mark Daly
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson