Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill 2015 - all Stages, notwithstanding Standing Orders, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to be brought to a conclusion not later than 6.15 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include those set down or accepted by the Government, the time allocated for Second Stage group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply for five minutes not later than 5.45 p.m; No. 2, earlier signature motion on the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill 2015, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages (Resumed), to be taken at 6.15 p.m; and No. 4, International Protection Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes.
I am glad to have the opportunity to touch on an item on which I believe we should clarify our standing. We should be proactive in our position on global terrorism, as evident from some of the contributions in the Seanad each time there is an atrocity underpinned by the type of depravity seen in Paris. We should not feel that we are outside the loop in terms of responsibility.
I recall a debate in the House during the bombing of Iraq. A very vulgar title was given to the debate, which included the term "shock and awe". It is estimated that tens of thousands of men, women and children were killed during that campaign. At the time a number of Senators spoke. I recall saying I believed what we were doing there would spawn a whole new generation of terrorists. World powers are now competing with each other to bomb opposing factions in Syria.One can only imagine the carnage left behind when all of this is over. We can be pretty sure it will spawn a further generation of terrorists.
We have had many debates on the Palestinian situation, and we know thousands of people were slaughtered by Israel in Palestine. It was allowed to do so with absolute impunity and was able to get away with it, even though it was suggested by spokespeople in the United Nations that it could be held responsible for war crimes. In recent months, Israeli forces have killed 71 people, including young babies. What do we expect the outcome of this to be? In addition to the killings, it has devastated completely the infrastructure in Palestine. People can barely survive at present. Recently I spoke to a medical specialist in Dublin who is from Palestine. He goes back to visit his family. He said he has to psych himself up for days before he goes and he must psych himself up again when he comes back. He said one could not believe what is happening out there.
There is an opportunity for people in Ireland, particularly at Government level, to be more proactive in our response to human rights abuses. At the end of the day, moderates are being sidelined in this. One wonders where the great diplomats of the past have gone. Where are the peacekeepers? All we are using at present is the language of war and the act of war, and innocent people, as happened in Paris and in so many other cases, are losing their lives. We will have more of it, because the people doing this cannot be reasoned with, but we can reason with those who are moderate and we must bring the moderates back into the circle.
Ireland must be clear on where it stands with regard to climate change and the environment. We must think about the economy, but Ireland has always been seen as being particularly friendly towards the environment. I would say the farming community could take the credit for being the custodians of the environment. The language we use on this is important, because if we are not seen to be supporting what now seems to be a momentum towards finding a solution, we may find ourselves to some extent being regarded as selfish and not prepared to play our role.
I concur absolutely with Senator Ó Murchú's comments on Palestine, the appalling situation there and the lack, it appears, of any move towards a resolution in the interests of the lives of civilians. Any sign that the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, and others are seeking to intervene to try to restore some form of peace or achieve some resolution is very welcome.
I welcome the speech by the US President, Barack Obama, at the Paris summit yesterday, where he pointed out that the Paris conference is a potential turning point for us in respect of curbing global warming. We are at a critical point to try to ensure we do not see it take hold, with the dire consequences we all know will occur. I concur with Senator Ó Murchú's comments on Ireland's role in this. Clearly, it will be difficult for us to seek to meet the 20% reduction by 2020, particularly because of our agricultural emissions, but we have a duty to ensure that we try to meet these targets. The House recently concluded a debate on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, which was very welcome, but in the new year I would like us to have a debate on how best to implement the policy in the Bill and how best to ensure we meet our targets in light of whatever decisions are made in Paris. I know all colleagues will want to join in expressing hope for a positive and effective agreement among the international leaders represented in Paris.
I commend the "RTE Investigates" team for its excellent and very powerful documentary, which many colleagues saw last night, on the sex trade in Ireland - in other words, prostitution and sex trafficking. It had some very disturbing findings. We are debating changes to prostitution law under sections 20 and 21 of the Criminal Law (Sex Offences) Bill 2015.In light of that, I have invited the makers of the "RTE Investigates" documentary to come to the AV room in Leinster House tomorrow at 12.30 p.m. to brief us on their findings. I have also asked a couple of independent experts to speak in more general terms about the way in which the law can impact on change in behaviour in terms of prostitution. The links between prostitution and organised crime were made explicit in last night's documentary and confirmed the findings we made in the justice committee report which led to the change in the law. I welcome that and invite colleagues to attend.
Finally, I welcome the Northern Ireland High Court decision yesterday, by Judge Mark Horner, in a case taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The judge found a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the failure to provide for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape. Clearly, there are implications for this jurisdiction, but the Leader has agreed already to a debate on that in the new year.
Yesterday, I attended the launch of the report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project. Its research showed that nearly one in three children in care cases have psychological, educational or physical special needs. The report highlights the need for a dedicated family court. The authors, Dr. Carol Coulter with Lisa Colfer, Kevin Healy and Meg McMahon, also raised the reality for vulnerable adults and vulnerable parents and the difficulty accessing services such as mental health, intellectual disability and addiction services. Perhaps that is an issue we could address in the Seanad. We could also examine the connected issue of families, children and their parents, being able to access the appropriate services they need in a timely manner. I commend the authors on giving us this evidence, which will help us in our work. I also commend the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation who supported this work.
I also wish to raise the International Protection Bill 2015. We will have an opportunity this afternoon to outline our views on the Bill, which is very welcome. However, I have concerns about children. Many of the recommendations of the working group report regarding children have been ignored in the Bill. Committee and Remaining Stages are scheduled for Thursday next. Given the time that is available to us, I give notice to the Leader that I intend to table Report Stage amendments so I ask that Report Stage be scheduled for a date next week. That would give us time to table considered amendments. I was not here last week due to the passing of my father, and I thank Senators for their kind wishes, but I wish to ensure that this Bill is given the consideration it is due. I also wish to ensure that children are not ignored in it.
First, I wish to record my sympathy to Senator van Turnhout on the death of her father.
I note that we are dealing with the Legal Services Regulation Bill at 6.15 p.m. and the Leader said we will debate the International Protection Bill when that is concluded. We are currently debating amendment No. 42 on Report Stage of the Legal Services Regulation Bill and 303 amendments have been tabled. How much time will be given to this? Even at two or three minutes per amendment, it will be quite late tonight if we are to deal with the International Protection Bill. I wonder if that is wise.
I welcome the decision of the court in Belfast on the abortion issue. Nobody likes abortion, and nobody feels one is not a complete person unless one has one. However, it is outrageous that third parties should seek to intervene in a situation where, for example, a 13 year old girl has been raped by a neighbour and is pregnant, where there is fatal foetal abnormality and the parents decide together that they do not wish to bring the pregnancy to term or where there is a case of incest. It is monstrous that third parties should seek to intervene. This is a private decision for the family and I very much welcome what has happened in the North.
I support what Senator Ó Murchú said about the Iraq war and the situation of the Palestinians. Mr. Cameron knows perfectly well that bombing Syria will have absolutely no impact on ISIS. However, it will affect the civilian population. He is making the very same mistake that Mr. Blair made.It is a disaster. It is very regrettable that Mr. Corbyn, the UK Labour Party leader, a man of great principle who stood against the Iraq war and all these matters, has been forced into a position where he has had to allow a free vote.
I have just been made aware today of a Palestinian family in the old city of Jerusalem who are being pushed out of their house and evicted to make way for a Jewish family. The Palestinian family has been in that house for 65 years. There is an endless process of attrition of the civil and human rights of the Palestinian people. The Israeli Government suffers no rebuke whatsoever because it is protected by the United States.
I am not sure I will be able to attend the briefing on prostitution tomorrow. I saw part of the programme in question. It is a disastrous mistake to criminalise one half of those involved in a transaction. Nobody believes that the lamentable legislation in Sweden has succeeded and nobody believes it will end prostitution in Ireland. I put a great deal of factual, scientific information from a study produced by Queen's University Belfast on the record of this House and it has never been challenged. This is an exercise in hypocrisy and self-righteousness by people who are, on the one hand, pretty strong feminists.
I will end on this. On the other hand, those to whom I refer are religious people from a particular background and many of them are from the order that supervised the Magdalen laundries. That ought to tell one something.
Today, 1 December, is World AIDS Day. It is important that we highlight the issue of AIDS. The average number of people to contract AIDS annually in this country is 350. To date in 2015, however, there seems to have been an increase. One factor is that there are better tests available and more people are aware of the syndrome. The population, especially young people, needs to be aware of the importance of sexual health education, and the curriculum in schools should be fully taught. AIDS was an issue people did not even dream of talking about a number of years ago. People totally distanced themselves from it or anyone who had AIDS. We have moved on from that but it is important that sexual health and the risks be dealt with comprehensively among all students in schools during the year. It is worrying that the number identified with AIDS this year has increased by comparison with other years. We need to be careful about this.
I join Senator Ó Murchú in raising what seems to be increasing tension over the question of ISIS. It is incumbent on our Government to take an independent line on international affairs, as it has always done traditionally. Specifically, we should be calling for an end to the civil war in Syria rather than for bombing more people, which inevitably results in a high cost in terms of civilian lives. To realise this, we have only to see the consequences in the form of an upsurge in the number of Syrian refugees. The refugees are ordinary, decent people. A significant number of them were, like us, living normal lives but they have been bombed out of their homes or threatened with bombs or murder. The key to this is ending the civil war in Syria. I hope that in the ongoing talks in Vienna, in which the so-called great powers, including the Russians, the British and the French - and now the Germans - are getting involved, some resolution will be reached. The United States and those supporting it in attempting to remove President Assad should change their tactics. We saw what happened in Iraq when the Americans got rid of Saddam Hussein. Instead of maintaining the infrastructure that was in place, they destroyed it.Now look what we have. Is there going to be a similar situation in Syria? One should end the war and then start political negotiations. Churchill famously said that jaw-jaw was better than war-war and that statement still holds true some 70 years after he said it.
Will the Leader say when the Bill on the reduction in bankruptcy years, to be published next week, will come before the House? Will it be a Seanad Bill or a Dáil Bill? It is very important that this Bill is brought through both Houses as quickly as possible, particularly in light of the imminent general election. I compliment Deputy Willie Penrose, who doggedly and, initially, single-handedly fought on this issue. I and others raised it when the then Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, was taking the bankruptcy Bill through the House. I asked repeatedly, on Second Stage and on Committee Stage, why we differed from the UK in this regard and why one could be declared bankrupt after one year in the UK but 12 years here. It did not make sense and I am glad the Labour Party has seen the error of its ways in this regard and now supports Deputy Penrose's proposals. I understand the decision has been taken at Cabinet and the Bill will be published next week. It is important and it is incumbent on the Government to introduce the legislation as quickly as possible. Without having had any prior discussion with colleagues on this side of the House, I assume there will not be any major opposition from Fianna Fáil to the efficient passing of this legislation.
A major issue has surfaced in my home town of Athenry relating to school admission procedures and the patent unfairness of the system which is in place. I have been contacted by numerous parents on the failure to have their children accepted into the school of their choice in the town. It is clear from the information I have gleaned from parents that there are a number of discrepancies in enrolment procedures which warrant further scrutiny. For example, boys and girls attend the same feeder school to the secondary school for the first three years of their schooling life, at which point the boys progress to the boys national school and all is fine and well until it comes to the point when the boys apply to the secondary school of their choice. They end up at a competitive disadvantage for school places because the girls get priority on account of the fact that their school is designated a feeder school. A gender bias exists and the impact is even more far-reaching as it is more difficult for the families in question to establish a family precedence of attendance at the school of their choice if they are unlucky enough to have a male student in the family. One child in particular, whose parents came to my clinic on Monday, lives in the middle of the town but was placed No. 77 on the waiting list, notwithstanding the fact that the student had attended the feeder school from the ages of five to seven. It is outrageous that a child from the centre of Athenry cannot get into the school he wants to attend. There are other difficulties with parents who are applying to numerous schools.
I accept that but if this is happening in Athenry, it is happening in Portumna, Tuam, Loughrea, Gort and throughout Ireland. Some parents are applying to have their children educated in numerous schools and are clogging up the system for others who are trying to get their children into just one school. It is unfair and there are issues relating to the enrolment process which require further scrutiny. I know several attempts have been made to look into this by the Department, on which I commend it, but given the specific circumstances which have arisen in Athenry, we must have a further debate on this issue and I would appreciate it if the Leader could schedule some time to debate the enrolment process in this country and invite the Minister for Education and Skills into the House for that purpose.
In Paris, yesterday, the Taoiseach promised new legislation in the current Dáil session to tackle climate change. I suggest that the legislation start in this House in view of the fine debate we had recently on climate change. If the Taoiseach brought the Bill to this House, it would be an improvement in the context of tackling the climate change issue. I compliment the organisers of the climate change conference that was held in Ballina on Saturday. It featured notable speakers such as the former President, Ms Mary Robinson, and the widow of Nelson Mandela. There is now a momentum behind tackling these issues, which is to be commended.
I commend the Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin, who were in this Chamber last Friday to promote a discussion on the role of women in political and public life, North and South. Both the speaker and the Ceann Comhairle must be complimented on the wonderful spirit they generated between people of different political persuasions. It was quite an inspiring occasion and they deserve credit for their work.
I welcome the postponement of the revaluation of the property tax from next year to 2019. There is a big problem in the sense that many of the areas where there has been a significant increase in prices since the tax was introduced in 2013 are also at the upper end of the local property tax. Naturally, the people concerned are fearful of an impending increase in the tax if the revaluation date were to be next year, as originally intended. However, the Department of Finance conducted a consultation process earlier this year which generated more than 40 submissions that have all been posted on its website in conjunction with a review by Dr. Don Thornhill, which I welcome. The upshot of that is we should take on board the views of professional valuers and the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers, IPAV, and that the property tax should not be based on value alone. Other factors such as location, size and many other aspects should be taken into account. I hope all this will be borne in mind by the Department and the Minister.
I concur with the sentiments expressed about the issue raised by Senator Lorraine Higgins. School enrolment is not something that should be confined to a Commencement motion. For some reason it is an issue throughout the State. This week I have been contacted by three families and I could not understand why, all of a sudden, school enrolment was an issue. There seems to be some sort of co-ordinated campaign being conducted by some schools not to enrol children or to enforce rules that always existed but were never enforced. For some political - with a small "p" - reasons, this issue has arisen. It has caused real concern for some parents who have had their child on an enrolment list since their child was six months old. These parents have now been told the school cannot take their child, even though it is the closest school, and there is the potential that they will have to send their child to a school miles away. Such situations are unacceptable. Parents have been told that if they baptise their child, he or she will be allowed to enrol. That is no way for any republic to treat its children and we need to examine the matter.
The Government has had five years to deal with the matter. If the Government were to bring forward legislation to deal with this matter before the election or even before the Christmas recess, we in Sinn Féin would lend our support. We are considering tabling our own legislation in the absence of the Government doing so. School enrolment is an important issue.
I support Senator Ó Murchú because he raised the issue of Syria. We need to confront what is called ISIS. We need to confront the fanatical element of people who live in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and all the region. It is clear to me that ISIS will not be defeated by France, Britain and America dropping bombs on Syria, and many people, quite rightly, feel that such an initiative would make the situation worse. We need a global strategy to deal with the people who were involved in the brutal acts of terror in Paris and elsewhere. What we will see if we continue to bomb Syria is more displacement, more refugees and more people being radicalised. Bombing the region will not solve the problem. Ireland, because of its position of neutrality and proud track record of peacekeeping, has a clear role to play. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we do not have to be neutral on such issues. As a State, we should not be neutral when it comes to fanatics like ISIS. Ireland does and should speak out against potential wars which are not in the interests of people located across the world.We have a clear role to play in this regard and I would support a call for a debate in this House on that important issue. The Minister should attend the House before the Christmas recess for such a debate.
I also support the call for a debate on global terrorism, as requested initially by Senator Ó Murchú and supported by Senator Cullinane and others. The appalling situation that is developing worldwide has to be a cause of great concern to us all, particularly the situation in Syria. In the four years since the commencement of the civil war there, 250,000 people have been killed and 12 million displaced, with no sign of the situation abating.
International peace talks on Syria commenced in Vienna in October and are due to recommence in January. They are being led by a Syria support group. Renewed urgency needs to be given to those peace talks. I find it difficult to see how progress can be made while the Assad regime, with the support of Russia, continues to barrel bomb innocent civilians every day.
As Senator Ó Murchú said, it is a time for international statesmen to step forward and take this situation in hand. They must try to resolve it so that innocent people - who are arriving in Europe, having been forced out of their homeland - can start to return to some sort of normality. I know it will be a major problem but it must be addressed.
I welcome the formal adoption by the European Commission in Brussels of a peace programme for Northern Ireland and the southern Border counties. This programme will bring €270 million of Structural Funds for EU-funded cross-Border activity. Successive programmes have made an enormous contribution to developing the peace process, as well as building bridges and reconciling people in Northern Ireland and the southern Border counties, since the first programme was launched in 1995.
The total value of the programme, including Irish and UK matching funds, will be in the region of €270 million. The programme will focus on four key priorities: shared education, children and young people, shared spaces and services, and building positive relations at local level. This is very much to be welcomed and I hope significant progress in building closer relationships and friendships between the two communities North and South of the Border will result following this investment. Much-needed economic benefits will also flow from this funding. I applaud everybody involved in ensuring this large amount of funding is available for the peace programme 2015.
It is always enlightening to listen to Senator Ó Murchú speak because he does so with concern and commitment. I have a difficulty, however, in that every time we seek to solve problems in other parts of the world we seem to be saying what they should be doing. I have a difficulty with that and especially in the case of Israel and Palestine. Palestine has continued to say it does not recognise the existence of Israel. It was continually bombing Israel, so it is very difficult to blame Israel for reacting in that way. I am not defending everything it does, but we should be careful to allow a balanced discussion to take place on that basis.
There is one other topic on which I would like the Leader to facilitate a debate. There is a big concern about obesity, although not just in Ireland as it is throughout the western world. In Britain they are now talking about introducing a sugar tax. We should use the carrot rather than the stick. If we are going to solve the problem of young people consuming so many sugary drinks, rather than taxing such beverages we should reduce the VAT on non-sugary drinks. A number of Irish firms produce such products.Sometimes they are water-based, wheat-based, grass-based and fruit-based products which are very healthy. However, we have a 23% VAT rate on them. Rather than automatically saying we are going to increase the price of unhealthy drinks, we should reduce the tax on healthy drinks. That would give us a much better chance of coaxing and convincing young people in particular to look for a healthier way of feeding themselves and avoiding some of the obesity occurring around this country.
Yesterday in Drogheda the Minister and Minister of State, Deputies Bruton and Nash, launched the Action Plan for Jobs: North East/North West 2015-2017 aimed at delivery 10% to 15% employment growth in the region over the coming years. This action plan is part of a new €250 million regional jobs strategy. Since the national Action Plan for Jobs was launched in early 2012 more than 20,000 extra people are at work in the north-east and north-west region. The plan targets employment growth of 10% to 15% over and above today's unemployment levels which, I am glad to say, are reduced to below 9%.
This plan covers counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and my own county of Louth which we all know suffered greatly during the Troubles which thankfully have come to an end. This is great news for the Border region. I compliment the Minister and Minister of State for launching this action plan for jobs.
I support the call for an urgent debate on the situation in the Middle East as mentioned by previous speakers. I am a firm believer in dialogue, peace talks and so on and believe the bombs, bullets and shooting down aircraft will solve nothing. The only way is through peaceful means and dialogue. I support the call for an urgent debate in the House.
I compliment the Government. I woke this morning and heard more jobs announced. This is becoming such a frequent event that I almost take it for granted. Credit where credit is due.
Then I switch on the radio and I listen to the happy clappy economist from Friends First who told us we were going to have a soft landing some years ago and disappeared when the landing hit the wall. I tire of listening to people like him. That is especially the case when I come in here today and the library service gives me figures of 3,428 homeless adults, 738 homeless families and 1,571 homeless dependants - I assume they are children.
I say to the Leader that I am not suggesting for one moment that any of us in this room can solve this problem. We had a very interesting debate at the Seanad Public Consultation Committee with representatives of the agriculture sector which was very productive and well worthwhile. I wonder if it would be possible to invite some of the external agencies to the House and try to thrash something out. I do not think any one person has the answer. I do not believe that the answer is coming soon. However, I have children who are in the age bracket to buy property or to find homes and I see one of my family who I believe will never see the day when she will own a home. Rents are at such a level, people cannot save money so they will never be able to get the 20% they need to buy or the get a mortgage to buy a property.
I am not sure how we are going to solve this problem. However, watching it happening is very frustrating. Today we have another march from O'Connell Street to Leinster House representing homeless people. I do not know what anyone can do about this. However, it is time for a consultation involving all interested parties. Perhaps this is the Chamber in which to do it. I will leave that with the Leader and perhaps he will consider it.
Yesterday I attended the Action Plan for Jobs: North East/North West 2015-2017 referred to by Senator Brennan.It took place in the Boann Distillery in Drogheda. This distillery is owned by Paddy Cooney and his family, who are reviving the time-honoured traditions of distilling. They are creating the finest "honey gold", Irish malt and pot still whiskeys for export all over the world.
They are an example of the type of entrepreneur that is mushrooming in this country at present. It is export-led. Since 2011, the numbers on the live register have dropped by 4,333 in Louth, by 734 in Ardee, by 2,263 in Drogheda-----
Yes, I really do. By creating these jobs, we are able to reduce taxes, improve benefits and sustain the economy. That is how we solve the problems. I would like the Minister to come in to talk about the strategy and particularly-----
I am very glad Senator Lorraine Higgins brought up the issue of education. I call for a debate sooner rather than later, with the Minister for Education and Skills coming in and giving an account of the stewardship of the Department of Education and Skills. We have had media item after media item about parents allegedly being told to baptise their children in order to get into Catholic schools, without any evidence of this ever happening actually being produced. It would be wrong for parents to engage in that. It would be unfair on them, on their children, on the school and on the community that provided the school. What is going on here is that the Department of Education and Skills has failed continuously over the years to ensure that schools have adequate places. I happen to know that Christian schools want to provide an education for all who want to be in that school, so why should they be blamed when the Department of Education has not provided them with the facilities they need? They cannot simply magic up an extension on the spot.
I heard last week from a parent who sent me a very eloquent message about her frustration that she could not get her children into a secondary school in east Galway. About 100 children got a letter to say there was no room for them. She said she wanted a Catholic education for her children. She appreciated this product, but she was not in the parish. She was not complaining about the criteria, because there have to be criteria, but she certainly was complaining about the abject failure of the Department of Education and Skills. We must not let those who are against denominational education and their friends in the media let the Department of Education and Skills hide behind this scare issue about baptism when in fact it is its failure to provide places for children, whatever kind of education they want, that is at fault.
Finally, I was saddened by both Senator Norris's and Senator Bacik's comments on the abortion ruling in the North of Ireland. What we are seeing here is the corruption of law, the corruption of the human rights community deciding that some vulnerable human being are outside the pale for human protection. The lack of consistency was also interesting. Senator Bacik wants open season, in accordance with the law, on unborn children, while Senator Norris wants it to be okay to contract with vulnerable women for the purchase of their bodies in sex.In each case there is a failure to see the full picture. One must be consistent when one talks about human rights and human dignity. In that regard, we can take a leaf out of Senator Ó Murchú's book today. He set the tone for that need to intervene in the world in a way that never does harm but that seeks to deliver peace, reconciliation, justice and, above all, the protection of the most vulnerable.
I have listened with interest to the comments on the jobs strategy for the north west and north east, which was announced yesterday. I am not sure about the number of jobs that will be created but I certainly hope it will help retain two jobs in the Seanad.
I would very much agree with the comments of Senator Quinn on the conflict in the Middle East. Perhaps it is time for a substantial debate on the matter. It appears that any time we talk about the politics and the conflict of the Middle East in the House we automatically revert to a position in which Israel is seen at being at the core of all problems, and we need to be balanced in our view of that part of the world. We need to recognise that the state and the people of Israel have for generations been the victims of the most appalling campaign against them, and we need to reflect upon that. Obviously, the two-state solution, which I think everybody in this House would support, seems to have faded from the political scene and there needs to be an international engagement to get it back on track. I fully respect the right of the state of Palestine to exist but I also respect the right of the State of Israel to exist. It is on the record that there are not only groupings but entire political establishments in the Middle East that want to wipe the state of Israel off the map, and we should not bow to that.
Finally, I concur with what Senator Rónán Mullen stated in relation to the earlier comments on the abortion legislation proposals from Northern Ireland. The Leader has wisely accepted that we should have a more substantive debate here in the early part of next year. Language is something I want to mention. Language is not only powerful; it is a very strong weapon. When we say the easy phrase, "fatal foetal abnormality," we are talking about babies who have a life-limiting or life-threatening condition. They are human beings. At least one grouping representing parents who had such babies, who might have lived for a day, a week or a month, attempted to make their views known to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children two years ago but were not allowed to do so. We need to be sensitive. There are no such babies as babies with fatal foetal abnormalities. There are babies with serious, profound, life-threatening and life-limiting conditions, but they are still human beings.
To follow on from that, I, on the other hand, quite welcome yesterday's ruling in Northern Ireland. To be honest, it is quite sensible that a medical intervention for the termination of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality be allowed. That is right and proper, and sensible. That is the position of most right-minded individuals on the island.
On the education issue, which has been raised also, I taught in the primary sector and I have received most of the sacraments, except a Catholic wedding and the last rites - some will say that those are somewhat related. I also encountered a difficulty because I trained in England. I taught in a Catholic school in the United Kingdom, where training for the sacraments - communion, confirmation or anything like that - takes place outside school hours, even though the school upholds its Catholic ethos. That is something that should come into education, especially at primary level, in this country. However, I will agree with Senator Mullen on one thing: there has been abject failure on behalf of Government to progress the idea of pluralism and reform patronage in the education sector.One need only listen to the president of Mary Immaculate College to know he speaks very dogmatically with a very strict Roman Catholic dogma. As a republican, I think in a republic of the people there should be a total separation of the powers of church and state. Such influence on our education system is wrong. I agree with Senator Mullen that it has been a major failure on the part of the Government, and hopefully this will change in the future.
We had many contributions. Unfortunately, many Members who raised points have left the Chamber. Senators Ó Murchú, Bacik, Mooney, Cullinane, Mullins, Quinn, Brennan and Bradford, among others, spoke about global conflict and the conflict in the Middle East. Members had various comments and opinions on it. The emphasis should be on jaw-jaw rather than war-war. There is a need for statesmen to come forward to ensure we get a negotiated settlement in Syria and between Israel and Palestine. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, was here recently to discuss these issues. We can ask him to come to the House again, but given that we have an enormous amount of legislation to deal with over the coming weeks, we will take only a limited number of statements.
Senator Bacik raised the "RTE Investigates" report on prostitution. Although I did not see it, I believe it was very damning. The Senator invited people to an event in the AV room to discuss the matter. Senators Bacik, Norris and Heffernan welcomed the decision by the Northern Ireland courts on abortion. Senators Bradford and Mullen took a very different point of view on it. Many people will have comments and opinions on the abortion debate. The Taoiseach has indicated that we will have a debate on the issue during the first few months of the next Government, if he is elected, and that we will take cognisance of what is discussed at the proposed committee of citizens. There must be extensive discussions between all sides whereby we can reach the proper consensus to deal with this problem, which has plagued us for many years. Senator Bacik also spoke on the Criminal Law (Sex Offences) Bill 2015, which will come before us in the coming weeks and will, hopefully, be completed well before Christmas.
Senator van Turnhout raised the difficulties encountered by vulnerable people in accessing services. Although the Order Paper stated that we would take Committee and Remaining Stages of the International Protection Bill on Thursday, in view of the fact that there will be so many Report Stage amendments, it was optimistic to think that we could take Committee and Remaining Stages together. We will deal only with Committee Stage this week. There are 60 or 70 amendments tabled for Committee Stage, and we will have them on Report Stage also.
Senator Norris raised the Legal Services Regulation Bill.He mentioned amendment No. 42. I think we are over halfway through that Bill because a number of amendments were grouped at an early stage of the debate. We will see how we get on with it today and whether it can be finished. It is the wish of the Minister to come in after that Bill to take Second Stage of the International Protection Bill 2015, so it could be a late night. It may not be. We will have to see how these things go. As I have mentioned, a great deal of legislation is due to come into the House over the coming weeks. It looks like we will be meeting five days next week, with a possibility of five days the following week as well. I am just putting Members on notice that this could be the situation. I cannot understand why such a large number of Bills are coming in at the last minute. This has been happening year after year. At legislation meetings over the past couple of months, we have been begging draftspeople and others to have legislation to deal with in the House.
It should not happen. We can expect that we will more than likely be sitting for five days for the next couple of weeks.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about World AIDS Day and outlined the importance of sexual health education in our schools.
Senator Mooney asked about the bankruptcy Bill. He mentioned that this Government has brought the bankruptcy term down from seven years to three years. It is proposed that it will be decreased further to one year. I do not yet have an idea on the scheduling of the Bill. I hope it will be finished here before the Christmas recess.
Senator Higgins and several other Senators referred to schools admission policies and the enrolment process in schools. That is a large debate. For the reasons I have already outlined, I do not think I can facilitate it before the Christmas recess. We may get into it early in the new year.
Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the postponement to 2019 of the property tax revaluation. It has been generally welcomed by everyone.
Senator Cullinane spoke about Syria and the global strategy on terrorism. I emphasise that terrorism must be condemned at all possible opportunities. It is a question of how we deal with it and respond to it.
Senator Mullins welcomed the €270 million in EU Structural Funds that have been allocated for peace projects in Northern Ireland. I agree that this type of funding has been very beneficial over the years.
I note Senator Quinn's points in relation to Israel and Palestine. He has raised these issues in the House on several occasions.
Senator Quinn also spoke about obesity and suggested that rather than increasing the price of sugary drinks, we could reduce the level of VAT that applies to non-sugary drinks. I do not know how the Minister for Finance would take to that. It is certainly something that should be considered.
Senators Terry Brennan and Jim D'Arcy mentioned the launch in Drogheda of the Action Plan for Jobs: North East/North West 2015-2017. Senator D'Arcy informed us that it took place at a distillery, of all places. The creation of over 4,000 extra jobs in County Louth means that there has been a similar reduction in the number of people on the live register. This proves that the Government is doing well from the perspective of job creation and the development of an environment in which jobs can be created.
Senator Craughwell asked about the possibility of the issue of homelessness being considered by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. While this would certainly be a good topic for the committee to consider, time might be against us. We might look at whether it can be done in the new year. We will have an opportunity to have a debate and a discussion on the issue when the House considers the planning and development Bill that will provide for modular housing.
I note the points that were made by Senator Mullen with regard to schools, education and the failures of the Department.However, more schools and extensions are being built than ever before. The Department is living up to its side of the bargain. We will have that debate in the new year.
Senator Bradford referred to the conflict in the Middle East and I have dealt with Senator Heffernan's points on schools policy.