Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 81, non-Government motion No. 19 re availability of medication to treat cystic fibrosis sufferers, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 1, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 (Section 44) (Variation of Indemnity Amount) Order 2016, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 81; No. 2, Road Traffic Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and adjourned not later than 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 81, non-Government motion No. 10 re review of local government arrangements, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3, with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed 90 minutes and, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the speech of every Senator not to exceed three minutes and the speech of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes. The Senator who proposes the motion will not make a speech in reply.
The Minister for Health has dismissed a report which rates emergency care waiting times in Ireland as the worst in Europe. Ireland ranks alongside Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia in the provision of emergency services. However, as Senator John Crown pointed out last week, when one is closing an entire surgery department to accommodate and cater for patients in the emergency department, one knows one has a crisis.The Minister does not appear to be aware there is a crisis, although he is very good at commentating all of the time, as if he was not the Minister for Health.
Last week I raised the issue of the victims of child abuse and the fact the Minister has been attacked because she is trying to minimise the State's liability for the payment of compensation to the victims of abuse. The Irish Timeshas stated that the State has gone to the courts to seek protection to minimise its liability because it is being sued by the victims of child sexual abuse. In that High Court case, the State is trying to minimise its liability and to seek protection from being sued, along with the Christian Brothers. We all know about the Louise O'Keeffe case and the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. To date, on the basis of that ruling, 350 cases for compensation are pending and only six cases have been settled by the State.
Unfortunately, in this job, we come across some horrific cases of people who have been the victims of child sexual abuse. We also hear about some of the victims who have gone to the courts and secured criminal convictions. When those victims have sought compensation from the religious orders, including the Christian Brothers, they have been pursued and blocked at every turn by the religious orders. That has happened despite the fact the victims have secured a conviction against the Christian Brothers in the criminal courts. Victims of abuse have asked me where the State was when they needed protection. The orders are now seeking protection through the courts to minimise their liability. Worse than all of that, when one asks those in the Christian Brothers why it is going to court to try to minimise its liability, even though a member of the organisation has been found guilty in a criminal court, the answer one receives is that it wants the courts to decide the level of compensation. When a member of the Christian Brothers told me that, I asked, "Is that what Jesus would say to you?" If Jesus were here now, would he say that we should go to the courts?
A case in Florida, which was reported in the newspapers, was of a priest from Donegal who, in 2015, reported an allegation against a paedophile priest who was subsequently convicted. The priest who made the allegation was victimised by the church. He was locked out of his house and put on leave of absence by his bishop. The priest reported these matters to the Vatican but he has not received a satisfactory reply.
Despite all of the assurances given by the Taoiseach in the other House and his fine words about protecting and looking after the victims of child abuse in this country, we can see that the State is still seeking protection not for the victims but from the victims. We can also see that the church, as recently as last year, victimised the priests who were brave enough to report people who perpetrated child abuse. The priests who reported the abuse suffered consequences because of their brave actions. Will the Leader amend the Order of Business so that the Minister can come to the House and we can know why, despite all of the fine words about protecting the victims of child abuse, the State is going to the courts to seek protection from paying compensation to the victims of child abuse?
I thank the Leader for taking the all-party motion on medication for patients with cystic fibrosis, which is No. 19, motion 81, on today's Order Paper. I refer specifically to the provision of Orkambi for cystic fibrosis sufferers which is a hugely important and pressing issue for many people across Ireland. As I said last week, the matter is too important for it to be made a political football by us. I thank the many colleagues from across the floor and from this side for signing up to the motion.
I also welcome the introduction of paternity leave, which was announced today.The Cabinet has announced that it has given the green light for the introduction of two weeks paid paternity leave to take effect from September 2016. This is a welcome first step in the recognition of fathers' rights in the workplace. The Tánaiste gave a commitment on it this time last year and it will come into effect later in the year. It may not be possible between now and the general election but when time permits, will the Leader arrange for a broader debate not only on paternity leave and provision for fathers in the workplace but also on child care costs and the best models for child care, including the most cost effective and high quality models? We, in the Labour Party, have given a commitment to extend paid paternity leave rights by three months over five years and to take measures to tackle the cost of child care. It is a very pressing issue for many people.
I welcome the announcement this week in respect of physiotherapists. Many of us raised the issue of the title of physiotherapist in the House and with the Minister for Health. I am glad the Minister has decided not only that the title of physiotherapist will be protected under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act but also that he will protect the title of physical therapist as a varied title of physiotherapist as the best way to eliminate the ongoing risk of confusion and the consequent risk to public safety. I am aware that new grandparenting provisions are being prepared which will allow practitioners to apply on a once off basis-----
-----and for a limited period to register in the physiotherapist register and that after this period only qualified physiotherapists will be permitted to register. This is a sensible decision. It has been communicated to the Physiotherapists Registration Board and other interested parties and the Department of Health is preparing the necessary legislation to give effect to the Minister's decision. It has been welcomed by practising physiotherapists, many of whom have been in contact with many of us. It is an eminently sensible decision.
I call for a debate on fourth level education and research funding when time permits. I am aware we had a debate in recent weeks on Horizon 2020 but the issue of fourth level, postgraduate education and postgraduate research opportunities is a pressing issue on which I would like a debate.
I am sure the Seanad has noted that the European Court of Auditors has been in Ireland to produce a report on the crash and on the way in which the moneys supplied by the ECB and so on were administered here but, most regrettably, there was no Irish representation because the person appointed to be our representative on the European Court of Auditors was deeply implicated in the crash and, as a result, was forced to withdraw. I wonder if it is appropriate given this very significant inquiry - looking into the causes of the crash, looking into the way in which money was applied and looking into and criticising quite heavily the European Commissioners - that we had no representation whatever on this body. That is devastating. That is the result of cronyism. This individual was transferred over to Europe as a sop to get him out of the way after he was involved in making a bags of the situation. I have not named this person.
It is really lamentable that we had no representative on this body. It is crucial to the well-being of this State and accountable to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are adversely affected by this situation.
Another issue to which I draw the attention of the House and on which perhaps we could have a debate is the way in which planning regulations for apartments in Dublin have been changed in order to allow ever smaller apartments, tiny little one bedroom apartments into which a bed would hardly fit and for which the minimum size in terms of square metres has been reduced. This is disastrous. The inner city of Dublin is suffering from decisions made ten, 20 and 25 years ago which led to the continued increase in the provision of one bedroom apartments which means there is a completely volatile community passing through the inner city, leaving nothing of value behind.These apartments are neglected by many of the residents, although not all. It is a recipe for disaster, socially and every other way, to have an over-abundance of tiny, cramped apartments in the inner city. This is the Government's response to the housing crisis and the shortage of apartments and other living accommodation. However, it is not appropriate to stuff the city with one-bedroom apartments. An architect who appeared on television last night said these regulations are completely unworkable.
I am raising an issue of great importance today because I was contacted directly by victims yesterday and this morning regarding a story printed yesterday by Allison Morris in the Irish News. I am calling for an urgent debate on the matter. The story states that the IRA broke into Special Branch headquarters in 2001 and stole thousands of documents, which it decoded. It discovered its commander in north Belfast was an informer and that certain information was known to intelligence services in advance of the Shankill bomb. I know the identity of this man but I will not name him here today. The news is all the more shocking because it demonstrates the republican movement concealed this information for 15 years - since 2001 - while all the time highlighting collusion within the loyalist community.
Two children were murdered in the Shankill bombing, along with seven other innocent people and an IRA man. All those families deserve the truth. In addition, while the IRA commander was ordering murder and mayhem from 1991 to 2001, 68 people were murdered in north Belfast. The British were also running intelligence agents in the Shankill area and the majority of those murdered were innocent people. Serious questions need to be asked. I did not hear one statement from anyone within Sinn Féin or the main Unionist parties yesterday. Furthermore, this information shows that the IRA knew since 2001 that Denis Donaldson was an informer, yet he continued his position as a senior Sinn Féin member working in Stormont right up until 2005. Why would Sinn Féin allow an intelligence agent to continue to act as the public face of its offices while knowing this information?
I am looking for an urgent debate on this issue. The victims, who are the most affected, are always at the bottom of the pile when it comes to action. People with broken hearts and broken minds are living with the legacy of grief to this day. There are people who can put a stop to it but they will not because self-preservation and political expedience are more lucrative for them.
I will finish on this point. It is traumatic, sick torture for those families to be denied answers but worse when they discover the truth has been deliberately withheld from them. With the greatest of respect to the Leader, I do not want to hear any more waffle about truth recovery processes. The reality is that neither Sinn Féin, the British Government, the current republican or loyalist paramilitaries or past loyalist paramilitaries are capable of telling the truth. They are instead delaying and waiting on relatives to die in the hope that the issue will go away. It will not go away. Nothing short of an inquiry for all actions during the Troubles, including present actions, will suffice.
I second the amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Daly, to the Order of Business. Over the years, I have used the platform of the Second House of the Oireachtas to inform people of and alert them to the issue of e-mail spamming and its insidious practice. Sadly, it has reared its ugly head again in the past week. This time the potential victims are customers of Irish Water. An e-mail - a copy of which I received myself - is being sent, as is the practice, to customers and non-customers alike. The e-mails have become increasingly sophisticated. I am sure all Members of the House are familiar with banking spam e-mails, which look like the real thing. This one looks like the real thing too and an unsuspecting consumer would be inclined to respond to the request to log on with his or her details. The senders then get the person's bank account details and clear it out.
I am sure the Leader will join with me in condemning this practice and highlighting to all those who are computer literate and use e-mail that no institution - financial or otherwise - such as Irish Water uses this type of e-mail to contact or communicate with its customers.Therefore, it is a scam. It is the old cliche in the newspaper business, namely, "if in doubt, leave it out". People should not touch it or click onto it but should simply delete it. It is an insidious practice but sadly, people will be caught by it. There are regular instances of people who succumb to this type of scamming and as a result have lost considerable sums of money, as well as enduring the emotional anguish that surrounds it. The Leader should take this opportunity to agree with me and to highlight this insidious practice. Hopefully, that will at least save some potential victims from losing all their money.
I support Senator Mooney in what he just said. All Members regularly receive such e-mail scams. Recently, I have been getting one such scam consistently, which claims to be notification from the Revenue Commissioners that a refund is due to me.
If only it were true. Given the current level and sophistication of technology, I am surprised it is not possible to get to the source of such scams because that is the only way in which they can be stamped out.
All Members and all right-minded people are horrified by the reports being heard on a daily basis regarding the horrific murder that has resulted in an unfortunate victim's body parts being found in the Grand Canal at various locations close to the capital city. Members' thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim who suffered an horrific death. They also have heard that in recent months there have been similar murders with similar outcomes for unfortunate victims and the media have suggested the existence of a serial killer or killers at large in Ireland. We must support strongly the Garda, which is trying to resolve these horrific murders. The Garda needs manpower and resources and I have no doubt but that all resources are being made available to it as it attempts to crack these particular crimes. However, the Garda also needs the support of the public in the form of information on the movement of such dangerous criminals. I urge the next Government, which probably will take office in less than two months' time, to commit additional resources to tackling organised crime in all its guises and to place particular emphasis on the drugs trade that is destroying the lives of so many young people nationwide. That is my message and appeal to whosoever forms the next Government.
Four years have passed since I introduced a Bill into this House on organ donation. While I had hoped to make presumed consent part of organ donation, the Bill was not accepted by the Minister although a lot of attention was given to it. The reason I mention the Bill is because of a lovely story that emerged yesterday of a young man who had just arrived back into Dublin Airport, having had a double lung transplant in England on Christmas Eve. Looking at him, I would say he is not ten years of age, but it was a wonderful achievement. However, the fact he was obliged to travel to England to get such a transplant is a reflection on Members themselves, who should be able to do something more than is being done. His mother has urged people to take out a donor card, which is something all Members would encourage. In the meantime, however, I hope Members' voices will be heard on presumed consent, which is that one assumes that unless a person has opted out, in the case of his or her death, a person is willing to have his or her organs transplanted to save the life of someone else. The life of the young man in question was saved and he is back on its feet. On meeting him yesterday at Dublin Airport, his mother could not get over the fact that he was smiling, was delighted with himself and was able to walk again. Members should be able to do this; it is in their hands and they should make sure they do it.
I welcome the fact that industrial action undertaken by over 100 construction workers in Waterford over the past number of days has come to an end and agreement has been reached between the main contractor on the site and the workers. Over 200 workers were working on the site. The issues that led to the strike will not go away. There is widespread anger in the construction sector that a lot of subcontractors are employing people but paying well below the construction rates. This is particularly that case with people from outside the country. This exploits workers from outside Ireland and should not happen.
All workers, regardless of whether they are from Poland, eastern Europe or anywhere else, should be paid the same rates as Irish workers and there should be no exploitation of workers in these areas. There is no doubt that it does exist. Since the employment regulation orders and registered employment agreements were dismantled, there has been no registered agreement in the construction sector. A sectoral agreement needs to be put in place. The problem is that the contractors and developers do not want to sign an agreement. They want to continue the lower rates of pay and do not want agreed rates. If that is not put in place, I fear we could have more industrial action as we progress. As there is some sign of a recovery and there are more promises in terms of capital investment, we must make sure we can ensure that all these developments can go ahead and that workers are treated and paid fairly.
I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the issues that led to this industrial action and the need for a sectoral agreement to be put in place to protect construction workers and to ensure that we have decent rates of pay and that no construction companies can exploit foreign or domestic workers. I am sure Senators from across the House would agree with that. I would appreciate it if the Leader could communicate that directly to the Minister.
I do not think we will have time for debates. Perhaps we will have time. I want to raise one important issue, namely, recycling. The city of San Francisco banned the 18-ounce plastic bottle last week. Hopefully, we will all be back here speaking in the House and putting the most important issue first, namely, our environment.
I am from the west of Ireland and am very familiar with the ocean. If we continue the way we are going, there will be more plastic rubbish than fish in the ocean by 2050. That is a very serious proposition. We are bound to look at what we are doing with plastic. This country led the way with the plastic bag initiative and it could lead the way as well on the smaller plastic drinking bottle following San Francisco. We could look at that issue. Some 95% of plastic packaging worth €73 billion per year is lost to the economy because it is not recycled. When, hopefully, we are all back here again, our environment should be one of the first issues we deal with. We introduced the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, which is very welcome, but we should also look at further recycling, particularly the glass initiative, and curb plastic pollution. San Francisco has done it. It is estimated that 50% of the plastic on the planet is only used once. We must think outside the box. The Think Outside The Bottle campaign is one of the initiatives used in San Francisco. Will the Leader put this on the agenda for our environment?
The Leader has allocated 90 minutes to the debate this evening on the review of county councils. He will be aware that I have an amendment to that motion. I seek reassurance from him that the amendment will be taken and that I will not be subjected to the nonsense of us running out of time before I get an opportunity to speak.
I agree with Senator Bacik. What has happened today regarding physiotherapists and physical therapists is a tremendous step forward for which I compliment the Minister for Health.I also ask Members to meet with the Teachers Union of Ireland in Buswell's Hotel regarding the establishment of technological universities. During a meeting last week of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection a noted academic of high esteem asked why we need 16 universities in Ireland and what has happened to level 6 and level 7 qualifications that they are being downgraded?
There has been much talk about cronyism, particularly in the context of the appointment of Mr. David Begg as chairman of the Pensions Board. I am categorically of the view that David Begg is the correct person for the job. I am delighted he was appointed to that post. He has represented the working class people of this country for many years and has done a great job in that regard. I know that Mr. Begg is himself unhappy about the manner in which he was appointed and would have been preferred if there had been an interview process before-----
I appreciate that we will be having a debate on local government structures and ancillary matters later but there will probably not be sufficient time to allow all members to make contributions. Last Thursday, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I had the opportunity to discuss, by way of a Commencement matter, the issue of local government reform and, in particular, municipal districts and town councils with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Ann Phelan, who, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Kelly, stated that unfortunately as far as he is concerned the current debate on the future of local government is off the table. I was, therefore, surprised but pleased to hear the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, concede once again that as far as he is concerned the abolition of town councils was a grave mistake and one that should be rectified. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, has indicated that he wants this issue to form part of the Labour Party manifesto. However, that is the business of the Labour Party. It is an issue that forms part of the manifesto of my party, Renua.
Every political party should reflect on the fact that this country and its citizens have been well served down the years by the women and men who served in an almost voluntary capacity on town councils. It is more rather than less democracy that we need. I am glad that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is brave enough to admit that the Government made a grave mistake in this area. We should legislate well in advance of the local government elections in 2019 for the repeal of the current local government Act and put in place proper local government structures such that local means local and all citizens have a say in electing their council. This would include former town councils and, hopefully, many more units of local government through which the people of a particular community want to be represented at local level. This is the norm across Europe. We moved in reverse and in a negative fashion by abolishing the town councils in 2013.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Bradford, that taking 744 town council seats out of the democratic institutions of 80 town councils was the wrong move. It was but a tinkering around the edges in terms of the weak local government structure we have in Ireland. According to the European Commission, Ireland has one of the weakest forms of local government anywhere in the European Union. There are many shortcomings in our local government system in terms of the lack of fiscal and oversight powers of our local authorities versus the Executive. I commend the Leader for facilitating debate this evening of the all-party motion on the local government sector. While I welcome that debate I agree with Senator Bradford that there is a need for the political system to re-evaluate the decision in regard to the abolition of town councils. Many Governments, irrespective of political colour, come to office with many grand ideas in relation to reform but very often they do not materialise. There was a golden opportunity on this occasion to bring about many reforms, given the straitjacket of the troika.While some of those reforms have been introduced and some good work has been done, unfortunately other reforms, such as public sector reform, political reform within the Houses of the Oireachtas and budgetary oversight, were not touched. There is a failing in the political system generally regarding the role of Members of Parliament whether in the Dáil or Seanad vis-à-visthe powers afforded to local authorities. There is a debate there which I am sure this Seanad-----
----- may not have the time to have. At a future time we all need to reflect on that.
I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate if possible - perhaps not before the Taoiseach dissolves the Dáil, but before the term of this Seanad expires in the aftermath of the general election - on the issue of Brexit and the economic implications of the UK's decision on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. It would have huge consequences for the economic opportunities of these islands and in particular for those in the business community who depend on Britain for exporting their goods and services, and for the many people from the State who work across the water. We also need to reflect on the North-South dimension. It would be opportune to have such a debate before the conclusion of the 24th Seanad at the end of April.
As the Senator is speaking about that motion, I meant to amend the Order of Business regarding No. 81, item 10. It is statements on the cross-party motion regarding the review of local government arrangements to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3. The time allocated for the debate shall not exceed 90 minutes and, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the speech of every Senator should not exceed three minutes and the speech of the Minister should not exceed ten minutes. We are not actually dealing with the motion, but with statements on the motion. With three minutes allocated, I hope that we will get about 25-----
Senator Daly spoke about child abuse. He raised this matter last week and I think I gave a very comprehensive reply to the points raised last week. I do not wish to expand on the points he made. I read about the priest in Florida who was a whistleblower. He suffered as a result of it through actions by his church, which was absolutely crazy. An elderly nun who assisted him in reporting the allegations of child abuse was also ostracised. That is a matter for another jurisdiction, but I think I dealt comprehensively with the Senator's comments last week on the matter.
Senator Bacik welcomed the green light for two weeks' paternity leave and called for a debate on it and the cost of child care. I doubt if we will get around to it in this term. I am sure whoever will be in this place afterwards will arrange such a debate. The Senator also welcomed the Minister's clarification regarding physiotherapist and physical therapist, which has been welcomed by all.Senator Norris spoke about the EU Court of Auditors and the fact that the Irish representative there had to stand aside. It is regrettable that there would be no representation from Ireland on this body when dealing with the issue referred to. The Senator also expressed his views strongly against the new regulations on the size of one-bedroom apartments. That has been debated at length and I am sure will continue to be so debated in the coming months.
Senator Cahill raised a very important matter in regard to the IRA, informers and all that went on and the fact that Sinn Féin should clarify its position on this matter. She rightly pointed out that victims are always at the bottom of the pile, which is most regrettable. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Senator Mooney raised spam and e-mails regarding Irish Water. I got one myself. I agree with him that this is a despicable practice. He said that banks - Senator Mullins mentioned Revenue - do not contact their customers in that way. Customers should be aware of that and not be conned. People must be very wary about what they receive in their e-mails.
Senator Mullins also referred to a recent horrific murder and called on the public to co-operate fully with the Garda. That is something we would all endorse. Senator Quinn raised the issue of organ donations and presumed consent, which we debated in this House. I note his point in regard to a young boy who received his transplant. It was wonderful to see how well he looked and how young and vibrant he was after the treatment. I am sure we all wish him well. It is a matter that will not go away. Differences were expressed in this House from some sides on whether presumed consent was the right approach to take. Personally, I think it is, but there is a difference of opinion. Some action should be taken by the Government one way or the other on the matter.
Senator Cullinane raised the issue of difficulties in the construction sector and the fact that some subcontractors are not paying proper rates. Workers must get a fair rate of pay. Any exploitation of workers should be condemned.
Senator Keane spoke about the ban on small plastic bottles in San Francisco. She suggested we should adopt a similar approach to curb plastic pollution and to protect the environment. She called for a debate in this House. I doubt if we will have time to debate the matter in this Seanad, but I am sure it is a matter that will be raised and debated in the new Seanad.
In response to Senator Craughwell's inquiry, I mentioned the time available for the debate. Provision has been made for 25 speakers to contribute and that will probably be the maximum offering to speak on the matter.
Senator Bradford raised the issue of town councils and recent comments by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the matter. The issue was also raised by Senator Ó Domhnaill. To go back on the decisions that have been made would take much debate in terms of which councils should come back and which should not if the decisions were to be reversed. I am sure it is a matter that will be discussed by the new Members of the Oireachtas, whoever they may be.
Senator Ó Domhnaill also called for a debate on Brexit and the economic implications of same.This has been debated at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and several other fora. I agree with the Senator that it is of paramount importance for this country if Britain decides to leave the EU and it will have severe implications. However, as I said before regarding time, I doubt we will have an opportunity to discuss it in the coming week or two.
Before I deal with the Leader's amendment, Senator Mark Daly has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on the Government's treatment of the victims of child sexual abuse be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?