Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on defence matters, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister will be called to reply no later than 2.25 p.m.; No. 2, statements on areas of natural constraint, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called to reply no later than 3.55 p.m.; No. 3, motion regarding Commission of Investigation (National Asset Management Agency) Order 2017, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and the Minister to be called to reply no later than 4.56 p.m.; and No. 4, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude within two hours.
I congratulate our colleague, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, and her husband, Mr. John Lee, our colleague in the press, on their birth of their son, Edward Anthony Lee, on Monday. She will be back with us soon.
The Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, published his annual report this week in which he raised his concern that homeless children and children with disabilities are not being prioritised in the receipt of State services. These children are the most vulnerable and, as such, must be protected most. We learn from the report that a child with intellectual disabilities was left in a hospital for three months because the Health Service Executive, HSE, could not find suitable residential accommodation for him. This depiction recalls the scenes of vulnerable children in orphanages in Chernobyl, but it is the reality in modern Ireland. It is incredible that the State is actively neglecting our children. It sickens me. Further, the report highlighted that many children are placed in inappropriate placements and that the number of complaints about Tusla is most unsatisfactory. Will the Leader ask the Minister to take heed of this report from the Ombudsman for Children and to actively address each of the complaints raised?
Yesterday, Mr. Seán FitzPatrick was acquitted of wrongdoing by Judge Aylmer in the Four Courts. The first reaction of many was that this would only happen in Ireland. However, when we dig deeper we learn that there was serious incompetence in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, and this was highlighted by the trial judge. It is clear from the judgment that the ODCE did not conduct an impartial and unbiased investigation. It is very worrying and a poor reflection on the ODCE that a judge felt it necessary to highlight publicly the inadequacies in that office. It is very unusual for a judge to do so. The judge essentially said that the office lacked objectivity and criticised the office for shredding documents pertaining to the file, which is extraordinary. The ODCE is the body responsible for policing corporate Ireland and ensuring we have the highest standards of corporate governance. Every person charged with a criminal offence, no matter how unpopular they are, is entitled to a fair investigation by the relevant State authorities. When simple fair procedures are not followed by an agency in its prosecutions it casts doubt over the competence of the agency and is ultimately an embarrassment for the country. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to address the House on this matter and on the efficacy of the ODCE.
I do not know if Members have noticed the headlines over three days relating to the children of our country. I would be interested to know what the visitors to the House think of how this nation treats its children. The first headline stated that a 16 year old child sat overnight in an accident and emergency department waiting to see a consultant psychiatrist. She was suicidal. No psychiatrist turned up so she sat there all night. The second headline stated that ten beds in Linn Dara in Dublin will be closed next month. There are only 22 beds for children who are suicidal or who have other mental health issues and ten of them will now be closed. The third headline related to a hospital in the west, where a suicidal teenager was refused to be seen by the hospital. However, we hear from the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health that everything is rosy in the garden. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to the House to answer the following three questions. How was the budget money spent last year? How does the Department intend to spend the €15 million this year? With regard to the third question, I am continually given the reply that the problem with the mental health services is lack of personnel. What does the Department plan to do in 2017? There is a 50% shortage of psychiatric nurses, doctors and consultants. What is the plan to recruit these people? The Leader should invite the Minister, Deputy Harris, to the House to answer those questions.
First, I wish to propose a change in the Order of Business, to call for a vote on motion No. 18 of the non-Government motions on the Order Paper and for that be taken at the conclusion of statements on areas of natural constraint, ANC, with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I wish to call for a vote at the end of the debate on ANCs today with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on motion No. 18 of the non-Government motions on the Order Paper. I can explain it to the Leader later.
I will let the Leader respond but I have been in the House for a long time and I have not heard of such a proposal. You must propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I do not think that you can schedule a vote on it at the end of statements.
If the Cathaoirleach could do that, that would be good because it is important. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State is coming into the House.
Second, I want to raise again the issue of the Mayo campus of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, and I commend the action group which has organised a public rally for this Saturday at 3 p.m. in Castlebar. I encourage everyone who cares about the advancement of education in Mayo to attend that rally.
It is never too late for the Taoiseach to do the right thing. Before he leaves office, together with his Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, he can secure the future of the Mayo campus in his own town by, first, ring-fencing funding for the campus to support the growth and diversity of courses offered in that campus. He needs to put a stop to cuts at least until the Higher Education Authority, HEA, working group releases its report. He can guarantee full autonomy for the Mayo campus and, in the short term, he can appoint a minimum of four representatives to the GMIT governing body. It is not too late for the Taoiseach to wear the red and green jersey by enabling the Mayo campus to reach its full potential by fully utilising the human capital that is available through the highly-skilled staff in the Mayo campus.
I want to say how incensed I am by the bizarre series of calamities that led to the collapse of Seán FitzPatrick's trial yesterday. It is very clear that there has never been the political will to put in place the infrastructure to tackle white collar crime in this country. That is a crime in itself. Reckless lending and corporate corruption cost citizens of this State over €67 billion and it costs citizens almost €7 billion each year just to service this private banking debt that was nationalised. Tom Gilmartin must be spinning in his grave today, and who pays? The Taoiseach in waiting said that he wants to represent those who get up early in the morning, those people from Dungarvan to Doohama. What about the citizens who have suffered as a result of the corruption and cronyism of white collar crime in this country, the people who cannot get up early in the morning because they suffer excruciating pain because they are waiting for hospital treatment-----
I know my time is nearly up but what about the carers who have been up all night caring for relatives because they cannot get community care, the people with disabilities who have to beg for services and the many people in the west who cannot find a job, including the 608 people who applied for eight jobs within Mayo County Council? It is disgraceful that the Taoiseach in waiting-----
-----should be trying to divide citizens in this country and trying to ignore the people who have suffered because of the corruption and the cronyism that we see in trials and nobody pays except for these most vulnerable citizens. It is wrong. If people in this House think it is a laughing matter, it certainly is not.
The proposed amendment is "That No. 36, motion 18, be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate". Obviously, it will be up to the Leader to agree to accept that. The proposed amendment will have to be seconded and one of the Senator's colleagues can do that. I call Senator Ruane.
I had intended to initiate a Bill to be taken in our Private Members' time next Wednesday but there was a mix up with the Bills Office last night. It seems I cannot initiate the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill but it will be presented next Wednesday. I understand I only need the signatures of Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and the Leader to allow that to happen. I had planned to initiate it on the Order of Business and I acknowledge that its introduction will go ahead and that it will be printed. I am holding a briefing on it next Tuesday and some of the international experts in the field of decriminalisation of addiction will be in attendance. I urge any Senators who are unsure of what this Bill entails or what it will mean in an Irish context to attend it themselves rather than only their representatives who work in their offices. I urge the Senators to come along and speak to the four high calibre experts from Ireland and abroad who have been working on decriminalisation of addiction across Europe for many years. It would be great if Senators came into this Chamber fully informed on what this Bill entails next Wednesday when we will have this debate.
I would like to second much of what Senator Conway-Walsh said concerning some comments made by our potential next Taoiseach. I find them concerning and they are divisive. I do not make this claim lightly because I do not like attacking people personally but I have a fear that we are moving into a time where we are going to be looking at a Taoiseach who is very classist in his nature. I did not want to have to stand here and say this today but it is the first time in my life that I have felt a little bit of fear about what is coming in terms of our next Taoiseach. I was also close to thinking that I would nearly sign up to Fine Gael just to vote against him and put a No. 1 beside Simon Coveney's name, and that is saying something.
We would be very happy to have Senator Ruane join us in the Labour Party.
On a more sombre note, as I did not have the opportunity yesterday, I wish to join with colleagues in expressing sincere condolences and sympathies to the families and victims of those caught up in the horrific Manchester bomb attack and to express sympathy also to the people of Manchester at this appalling carnage. It is a new low targeting children in this way. I urge colleagues to sign the book of condolences which the Lord Mayor has opened in Dublin's Mansion House today, and I know many will do that.
On a happier note, I join Senator Ardagh in congratulating Senator Clifford-Lee on the great news of the birth of her baby.
I ask the Leader for a debate on white collar crime. It requires the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into this House to discuss the serious issues that have arisen following the collapse of the trial of Seán FitzPatrick, about which others have spoken. Looking at the comments of Judge John Aylmer in directing the acquittal yesterday and noting that the Director of Public Prosecutions had already dropped nine of the 27 charges at the close of the prosecution's case, we see some serious issues emerging about the conduct of the prosecution, in particular the conduct of the investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, and by its officials.
In particular, the judge seems to have focused on the way in which witness statements were prepared. They were prepared as if for a civil trial with numerous drafts to and fro and none of the normal meticulous procedures used that one would have in a criminal trial in terms of witness statements. A number of issues arise. I noted other comments of the judge about lack of impartially by the ODCE and the fact that it seemed to be building a case rather than seeking to investigate impartially. There are a number of different issues. It would require the Minister for Justice and Equality to speak with us on the means of investigating complex matters of white collar crime to ensure that this sort of outcome does not transpire again.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on maternity services in light of the HSE's review of maternity cases published this week and also in light of the huge concern many of us have around the governance issues with the move of the national maternity hospital to St. Vincent's Hospital. We are expecting some statement imminently from the Minister for Health on that matter but the review of the cases, particularly in Portlaoise, raise bigger questions also about maternity care in this country and about the treatment of pregnant women and babies in hospitals. I ask for a debate on that in due course.I ask colleagues for their support this evening for the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017. We hope the Government will support it and that there will not have to be a vote on Second Stage. There will be quite a number of people from the trade union movement and the National Women's Council present inside and outside the Chamber to support the passage of the Bill.
I support my colleague, Deputy Ivana Bacik, on the issue of white collar crime. It shows that when the events occurred, we did not have the necessary capacity to deal with them. We now need to ensure such events will not occur again and that we will have people adequately trained in how to prepare such an investigation and how to present the findings to the courts in order that they can be dealt with properly in a fair manner. Deputy Ivana Bacik has raised a very important point. We need the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue and tell us what his future plans are for dealing with it. Do we have sufficient resources provided? Do we have enough trained people? If not, they need to acquire the necessary skills.
There is an issue with maternity services going back to 2003 when a report clearly set out the number of medical consultants and specialists needed. There has been very slow development with totally inadequate numbers. In particular, when we go back to what happened in Portlaoise, the number of deliveries had doubled within a very short period, but the HSE did not respond adequately to make sure there were proper staffing levels and the proper number of qualified personnel in place. That is the problem we have in the health service. It fails to respond in a timely manner when things change. It is important to ensure that what occurred there will never be allowed to occur again. Overall, in maternity services, I understand reaching the target, or getting anywhere near it, of having the number of suitably qualified staff and consultants required will take us anything up to ten years as a result of employing ten new consultants per annum. I am not even sure whether that number will be reached this year. The Minister for Health should come to the House to deal with this issue and let us know what the plans are in the next five to ten years in order that we will not have to wait for a new report to come out in 12 months's time on the issue.
I raise the issue of the electronic tagging of offenders. Will the Leader use his good offices to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality why it has taken ten years to enforce the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act which allows for the electronic tagging of suspects? It is high time the legislation was enforced. It could be a major resource for the Garda in its ongoing efforts to deal with suspects. It has been widely proved that electronic tagging greatly reduces the number of likely breaches of bail conditions. For this reason, it is difficult to see why ten years have elapsed and we have yet to see the provisions being brought into force. All of us in the House are aware of breaches of bail conditions which in many cases have led to violent assaults being perpetrated on innocent individuals. It is difficult to understand at a time when Garda numbers are being reduced. In the four year period to 2015, €250 million was spent on providing criminal legal aid. It is high time the legislation was introduced to enable us to provide additional security for the victims in communities who live in fear of crime at all times.
I wish to discuss an issue with the European Commission's annual economic recommendations and its commentary on Ireland. It has issued a warning to Ireland that the property tax take here is too low - at 1%, it is below the EU average of 1.6% - and that the country is too reliant on volatile revenue sources. No wonder people are becoming disconnected from the European Union on a range of issues. I have always strongly opposed the local property tax. One particular party had a slogan a few years ago that it was the wrong tax at the wrong time. It is the wrong tax at any time as it is grossly unfair. My next door neighbour who is widow in receipt of a basic pension pays the same amount in property tax as I do. This is something that needs to come into the light in public debate within days, not months. This is a very appropriate juncture in politics for the issue to be raised by all political groups and none. In its annual economic recommendations the Commission also speaks about the risk of there being some deviations from EU budget rules this year and next. It speaks about issues related to a tax on gasoline and diesel. Given many of the issues on which it touches in the case of Ireland, we should have a debate on the report. Will the Leader arrange for the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the critical recommendations being circulated by the Commission as they affect Ireland?
Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Clifford-Lee agus a fear céile, John, ar bhreith a linbhín óg. Guím chuile ádh orthu. I congratulate Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee and her husband, John, on the birth of their child and hope everything goes well for them.
I wish to be associated with the sympathy conveyed to the people of Manchester and the families and friends of all those who were hurt, injured and lost. I was privileged to be at the St. Patrick's Day parade in the city several years ago when I visited the Irish centres. I was born and brought up not too far away from it. What happened there was despicable and our hearts go out to everybody at this very tragic time.
I remind Senators that we will have a guest in the AV room today, Mr. Raül Romeva, the Catalan Foreign Minister. He will be there at 4.30 p.m. and I hope some Senators will be able to come and listen to him. He will update us on the political position in Catalonia where, as is happening in many European countries, things are changing very rapidly. The update will be most welcome. Perhaps we might even have a debate at some stage on issues affecting Catalonia.
Ba mhaith liom freisin leasú eile a mholadh. I will not second the proposal made earlier as it will be seconded by one of my colleagues. However, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business which I have discussed with the Leader that No. 11 be taken without debate before No. 1. Tá mé ag iarraidh an Bille um Údarás na Gaeltachta, 2017 a chur os comhair an Tí inniu. Moltar sa Bhille simplí go leor seo go dtabharfar ar ais an toghchán le haghaidh bord Údarás na Gaeltachta. I mo thuairim, tá easpa oscailteachta agus easpa trédhearcachta in obair an údaráis. Tá géarghá againn athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar ról Údarás na Gaeltachta maidir le cruthú fostaíochta sa Ghaeltacht. Beimid ag súil leis sin a bhogadh ar aghaidh. At some stage in the future we may also have a debate on the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta, the make-up of the board and the role of the organisation in creating employment and keeping Gaeltacht communities vibrant. B'fhéidir go mbeidh an Ceannaire ábalta cuidiú leis an leasú atá curtha chun cinn agam agus leis an díospóireacht amach anseo.
Will the Leader at the earliest opportunity invite the next Taoiseach to come to the House to pick through a few issues? We assume the next Taoiseach will be the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar. I described him yesterday as the John Terry of Irish politics for taking credit for things in which he had little or no involvement.
The other day I was peeking through his list of accomplishments. He has claimed credit for the introduction of paternity leave, with which he had nothing to do, and free GP care for the under-sixes, with which again he had nothing to do. I was also flicking through his policy document which I can only assume he put together with his campaign manager, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. There is not one mention of mental health in it. I find it particularly odious that two Dublin private school boys are lecturing the rest of the country on how the poor should behave.I find it particularly odious that this Fine Gael leadership campaign has been paid for in part by the taxpayer. I listened to Deputy Leo Varadkar yesterday talking about this fraud campaign. It is amazing he did not find it within his capability to talk about the fraud perpetrated on the Irish people and the release of Seánie FitzPatrick. I do not remember any other campaign he talked about which was plastered all over Dublin Bus vehicles. I agree wholeheartedly with what Senator Lynn Ruane said that if anyone in this Chamber or this country were about to assume the highest office in this land, one would assume that individual would be trying to unite people. However, what Deputy Varadkar and his buddy are doing is trying to create a culture of blame, victimisation and assumption that some people get up and work hard and some people do nothing and some people pay for everything and some people pay for nothing. I suggest we have been through too much over the past ten years - the hurt, cuts, economic collapse, social collapse, emigration and unemployment - to finally come out of that situation and have a celebration last year of our new republic, only to be about to elect to the highest office in the land someone who thinks some people pay for things and other people do not. Deputy Varadkar is running a disgusting campaign. I am disgusted he is about to become leader of this country. I am disgusted he is using taxpayers' money to do it.
-----that victimises social welfare recipients in order to appeal to the right-wing instincts of Fine Gael members. That is exactly what he is doing, and the public is paying for it. I, therefore, suggest to the Leader that if and when this individual becomes Taoiseach, he might invite him before the House so we can pick through some of these issues with him.
It is frightening for the rest of us.
I support Senator Freeman in the questions she asked of the Leader about mental health, especially the mental health of our children. We have been talking about this for years. Every time the Leader rises to respond, he roars back at us and tells us "dún do bhéal" and be quiet-----
-----because we are asking questions and asking for forensic audits of the mental health budget that seem to disappear. The Leader may well laugh, but the children of this country do not. Services are being shut down time and again-----
-----when we need to expand them and embrace our kids and not leave them languishing in accident emergency departments and other not-fit-for-purpose services for too long.
I welcome Deputy Pearse Doherty's Bill, passed last night, which will see the removal of the six-year rule. It will strengthen consumer rights for people who have been done in by financial institutions over a number of years. I hope the Seanad will not allow it to languish on a dusty shelf but will allow it to pass.
I think we all have a bit of a bone to pick today. I welcome the fact that €17 million has been paid out so far as part of the new help-to-buy scheme. It is a great scheme. As we all know, it is for first-time buyers, whether it be to build one's first house or to buy a new house or apartment, provided one is going to live in the property. It is an excellent scheme. It provides for a refund of one's taxes paid over the previous four tax years. The rebate depends on how much one has worked over the four years and, as we are all aware, €20,000 is the maximum rebate. However, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has said that if he is elected leader of Fine Gael, he will consider getting rid of this new scheme. I would have massive concerns about that. It is part of his programme. The €17 million paid out is helping people who do not qualify to be placed on the local authority housing list and who are trying to get on in life and better themselves. I, therefore, ask the Leader to go back to the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and ask him not to get rid of the scheme.
I have just been at a meeting about disability. It is sad to think that people with a disability in the survey done in February have been suffering more over the past few years and are now further in poverty. I will also have to address this with the Minister.
I second Senator Conway-Walsh's proposal to amend the Order of Business.
I wish to raise the issue of the history of the State's dealing with white collar crime. It is quite shocking. There were 289 Ansbacher cases and no one prosecuted and there were 3,675 DIRT bogus accounts and no one prosecuted. In regard to the HSBC scandal, 350 Irish persons held accounts amounting to €3.1 billion in Geneva bank accounts but nothing happened. It is worth considering the words of Remy Farrell, who, as the House will be aware, is a senior counsel who often prosecutes cases for the State. He spoke out about what was going on, namely, that the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation was absolutely swamped a number of years back, leading to just one in ten cases it was examining coming to prosecution.
In Drennan of the ODCE spoke out and said there was just one forensic accountant working for the ODCE, and we wonder how our State came to collapse. It collapsed because of a lack of regulation and accountability. When will this Government get to grips with this? I was reading back over my contributions when I was justice spokesperson for Sinn Féin. In 2012 and 2013, I raised the issue of amalgamating all the various agencies - the ODCE, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Central Bank, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Revenue - so they would come together under one management to oversee the issue of white-collar crime and the State that was brought economically to its knees. This is the seriousness of this. It is not just about Seánie Fitz yesterday; people are watching a whole procession of these people walking away, getting away scot-free because of a failure to put in place a proper system. I urge the Leader to contact the Minister for Justice and Equality and ask her to come to the House to present on provisions for tackling white-collar crime so we can debate her vision and argue it through.
Finally, we need a meeting on Jadotville. The Leader knows I have held back a motion on this issue for some time. I ask that he and the Minister meet with me and Senator Craughwell and get this sorted out.
I wish to offer a word of caution. I do not like people's names being mentioned. To my knowledge, Mr. FitzPatrick was cleared of any wrongdoing, whatever the Senator's views on the matter. It would be wrong to impute guilt to him because the courts have cleared him. Senators should be very careful naming names because someday it will backfire on one or other of us. I call Senator Rónán Mullen.
I call for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline her plans to combat increased thefts from farms. Farmers have been making the best of this weather by spreading slurry and doing all sorts of cutting and other general maintenance on their land. However, some are waking up to find that their machinery, equipment or livestock have been stolen from their yards or fields while they slept. Official figures indicate that burglaries on farmland fell 14% in 2016 on the corresponding figure for 2015, but each week that passes this year there are news reports of farmers being robbed of their possessions. In the past few months, tractors have been stolen from yards across the country, cattle and sheep rustled and vehicles and tools taken. In one week recently, the Irish Farmers' Journalreported that a quad bike and trailer were taken from a dairy farmer in County Waterford and that four miniature ponies worth €4,000 were stolen from fields in County Leitrim. On St. Patrick's Day, a tractor worth about €30,000 was taken from a farm in County Carlow at 7.30 p.m. It has been claimed that drones are being used to spy on farms, some of which are very easy targets if they are located near good road networks. This is why I would like the Minister to come to the House and outline what measures she is taking to protect farmers and what her Department is doing to prevent such crime from taking place in the first place. The closure of rural Garda stations has been very difficult for communities around Ireland, as we all know, and has increased the fears of those living on farms or in rural parishes.Last August, we had a major awareness campaign from the Garda Síochána, the Irish Farmers' Association, DoneDeal and Crimestoppers to halt thefts on farms but crimes against farmers, as I have been saying, continue to happen on a frequent basis. Of course, some farmers are potentially losing more money by offering cash rewards of thousands of euros in order to get their means of production back, while others are forced to pay higher premiums for insurance. That is the context in which it would be important that the Minister would come before the House.
-----but I have to say that the comments from both parties - I heard the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney echo his colleague this morning - in regard to curtailing the right to strike are concerning. This is not merely right-wing politics. This is far-right politics. I would remind the House that the right to strike is a fundamental human right. It is recognised as such. It is a right of self-defence. To hear both prospective leaders declare that they intend to curtail the right to strike for public sector workers can only be describe as sinister. Such a proposal would also undermine the industrial relations machinery. It is a disgraceful proposal. It would mean that the State could use Labour Court recommendations that suit the employers and make them enforceable while ignoring recommendations that do not suit the employers. In this regard, I would remind the Leader that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, is currently ignoring a host of Labour Court recommendations, and I have written to the Leader in regard to that. That shows the Minister, Deputy Varadkar's level of respect for trade unions. As someone who likes to brandish his trade union credentials, I would like to hear the Leader clearly condemn these ideas of curtailing the right to strike.
Now that we have the prospect of two Deputies on the far right of Fine Gael vying for leadership, I would say to my colleagues in Fianna Fáil that to facilitate the election of one Fine Gael Taoiseach is unfortunate but to facilitate the election of two is careless.
Members of Aosdána have criticised the Arts Council for failing to properly consult those members of Aosdána. For clarity on the issue, I refer to a letter written by Colm Tóibín to the Arts Council in which the artist makes clear that the letter is for public consumption and is not confidential. Colm Tóibín states, "I notice that the council wishes to change the definition for those artists eligible for cnuas". He goes on to state:
The Arts Council discussed the definition of 'full-time practising artist'. It was agreed to no longer use this definition. The new definition for eligible artists is 'working artists engaged in productive practice'.
He then, with great honesty, states:
While I am not seeking a cnuas, and never have sought one, I presume I am a working artist, but I have not written a single word since last November. I can't think of anything. Sentences won't come. I can't force them. I don't know when I will start write again. I do nothing most of the time. I am waiting. That is what artists do sometimes. This may be necessary. In time, I hope to get an opening paragraph, but who knows? In any case, I am not involved just now in productive practice - whatever that is (I suppose it means writing).
Colm Tóibín asks the Arts Council:
Have you seen the work the Agnes Martin produced in her nineties? Have you studied that long period in her life, when she was old, when she made no paintings at all, a period of inwardness and reflection that may have been essential for her and may have made all the difference to the work she then produced in the years before she died.
He goes on to quote the Arts Council who, "agreed that members not advanced in years but who are temporarily incapacitated due to ill health and unable to engage in 'productive practice' during the course of a cnuas five year term would have their cnuas suspended and would not be eligible to seek financial assistance via alternative measures". To the Arts Council, he draws, and I quote from him, "attention also to Patrick Kavanagh's poem 'The Hospital', which is one of the greatest Irish poems of the second half of the twentieth century. The images came to him while he was being treated for lung cancer". He than asks:
Would you really have written to him when he was stricken so, to let him know what the Arts Council had agreed? You need to remember that there have been many Directors of the Council, and there are, as you know, many ex-Directors, and many ex-Chairs, ... And this is the way it should be. But there are no ex-artists. There never have been. That is not how the imagination works. We are often silent, and indeed we may often seem to be indolent. But we don't retire.
It was also agreed by the Arts Council to produce audits of the work undertaken annual and Colm Tóibín wonders and asks whether if John McGahern, who published no novel between 1979 and 1990, had been in receipt of a cnuas, would the Arts Council "have sent 'auditors' down to Leitrim to do 'a sample audit' of what he was doing?", and whereas James Joyce produced no work between 1922 and 1939, would they have asked for sample "drafts of 'Finnegans Wake'?"
Apologies, I will finish on this.
In a response, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, has adopted a hands-off approach to this. It is crucial that the Arts Council proceed with a sense of justice and with wisdom, decency and a clear understanding of the realities facing artists, in this instances, older artists. I am asking for Deputy Heather Humphreys to address this House on Aosdána.
I thank the 16 Members of the House who contributed to the Order of Business.
I join the Cathaoirleach and all Members in welcoming Dr. Omar Shuayb, the trade and investment Minister from Somaliland, to the Chamber. I join all of my colleagues in sending congratulations to our colleague and friend, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee and her husband, John, on the birth of Edward, and wish them every happiness and joy. Certainly, from looking at the photographs on social media, Edward is surrounded by love. We wish all the family a happy and enjoyable few days before sleep deprivation kicks in. It is a day of celebration.
The majority of Senators this morning have raised the overarching issue of white collar crime. Senators Ardagh, Bacik, Conway-Walsh, Colm Burke and Mac Lochlainn all raised the issue, in particular the issue of the decision in the courts yesterday regarding the trial of Mr. Seán FitzPatrick. The matter is also before the court today as well and, as the Cathaoirleach rightly stated, we all should be cognisant of our remarks. It is important we recognise that there is disappointment and dismay at the decision announced yesterday, irrespective of one's viewpoint. I certainly share Senator Mac Lochlainn's view in terms of the litany of reports and events, and the lack of prosecution for whatever reason. It is bewildering that we have this type of outcome when perhaps there is an outcome that we all think differently about, but the courts are independent of us all.
There is a need to address the issue of white collar crime. As a first step, I have asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, to come to the House because the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement falls under her remit. From a perusal of the remarks yesterday - I have not gone into them in detail - what happened is disappointing. There are serious questions to be answered regarding the manner in which this trial was approached. From what the Senators, particularly Senator Ardagh, have stated, there is a right to fairness and a right to a presumption of innocence, but there is also a right to expect things are done properly and that seems to be missing in this. It is bewildering to the citizen outside who is watching from afar who expects those charged with responsibility to do their job properly. Certainly, the conduct of the case looks to have been poor. It looks to have been badly handled. Those issues must be addressed and I have asked the Minister to come to the House.
The Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, has asked the director of the ODCE for a full report, including on the role of all professionals in the case. That needs to be examined and there needs to be outcomes from that. It is no longer good enough to say we must learn lessons. I fully agree with Senator Mac Lochlainn that the lessons have not been learnt. There is a litany of instances in which there has been a lack of prosecutions that we need to see addressed.Although I do not want to stray offside, it is upsetting when one sees the people of one's country collectively paying a price and nobody being held to account. As politicians, we have all been held to account for the stewardship in government. We fall or are re-elected, but there is nobody being held to account at another level, which is appalling. It is absolutely appalling that nobody is being held to account in spheres other than the political sphere. The Minister has said she will examine the report and review the judgment when it is available from the court. The issue of resources was raised. Since the Minister took office, she has increased the resources for the office. They include five forensic accountants. There has also been the recruitment of digital forensic specialists.
Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the report of the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon. In my former role as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I always found Dr. Muldoon to be a person of extraordinary probity, who in his role was very much focused on achieving positive outcomes. He is very clear in his annual report and makes very valuable contributions through being available to the Oireachtas committee and giving advice to the Government. He raises issues of importance that have an impact on the lives of children and their families. His report is one that we need to examine in its totality. Certainly, the issues raised by Senator Catherine Ardagh need to be addressed. It is important to recognise, however, that this and the previous Government have been committed to protecting children's rights. The previous Government set up a full Department of Children and Youth Affairs. We also had a referendum on children's rights. The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, was created. We launched strategies on the role and rights of the child. The introductory remarks made by Dr. Muldoon in his report are worth examining as they reflect the range of sectors in which the Government has had an impact on the most vulnerable. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, is committed, with the Ombudsman for Children, to ensuring the protection of the rights of the child and greater investment. I am a great proponent of early intervention and the need to intervene early through the early years strategy.
Senator Joan Freeman referred to Linn Dara and raised the matter of treating a 16 year old in an emergency department. Any of us who understands the significance of her remarks recognises that there should be no child of that age in need of psychiatric care in an emergency department at any time. The Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, the line Minister with responsibility for mental health services, is prepared to work with all people, political parties and Independents to ensure the issue is prioritised. We will not be bringing the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to the House but the Minister of State. As the Senator knows well, the HSE administers the Vote, the funding for mental health services. As I stated yesterday on the Order of Business, we all accept that there is a need for increased funding for mental health services. The Government has already provided for such an increase. There are posts being created and additional moneys being made available. The Senator should sit down with the Minister of State and those involved in the cross-party group on mental health to ensure positive outcomes are achieved.
With regard to Linn Dara, which was referred to yesterday and again today by Senator Joan Freeman on the Order of Business, the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, visited the facility yesterday. Nobody is being discharged to allow a bed to be closed. That is the first point we should make. The HSE is working to increase the capacity of child and adolescent mental health services. In the case of Linn Dara, the core issue relates specifically to the difficulties being encountered in the recruitment of mental health professionals. Therefore, it is not a matter of funding availability but about staff recruitment. From my conversation with the Minister of State this morning prior to the taking of Commencement matters, I learned that she was determined to have the matter resolved and that no child would be turned away and no bed closed on the basis of what some were alleging.
I will not be accepting Senator Rose Conway-Walsh's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. She referred to GMIT.
To be fair to the Taoiseach, irrespective of whatever else he has done, he has always worn the green and red of Mayo with pride. Like his Government colleagues, he is committed to multi-campus provision in the case of all institutes of technology but particularly GMIT. As I stated before to Senators Colm Burke, Rose Conway-Walsh, John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin and Keith Swanick who have raised the matter, it is important that all Mayo public representatives, irrespective of their political persuasion, work together to ensure GMIT will be back on a secure, sound financial footing and as a campus offering courses and places to students. That is why the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, has visited the campus and set up the working group. That is also why he has guaranteed a bright future for GMIT. As Senators know, the working group has met the students and staff and is working to ensure a positive outcome for everybody. As I said before, when the working group reports and we have the debate, Senators will see there that is a positive future for GMIT. I share their view that it should have a positive future.
I will be very happy to allow Senator Lynn Ruane's Private Members' business item to be taken next week. As she knows, the role of the Leader of the Seanad is not connected to that of the Bills Office. There will not be a refusal or reluctance on the Government side of the House to take the Private Members' Bill. I hope that, with the intercession of the Cathaoirleach and, perhaps, the Clerk of the Seanad, we can reach an accommodation to allow that to happen. I will not be blocking the taking of the Private Members' Bill next week.
I do not know how to answer Senators on the Fine Gael leadership election. Many Senators, including Senators Lynn Ruane, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Máire Devine and Paul Gavin, mentioned it. It is great to have another debate about Fine Gael in the Seanad. It is good that the Senators are talking about us because Fine Gael is the largest political organisation in the country.
I am very proud of my political party. As a member of the Fine Gael Party that stands for a just society, like all of my colleagues, I stand for the inclusion of all people in society. Our record, unlike that of the party opposite, in particular, is not about dividing society or communities but about bringing everyone together-----
I will be quite happy to do so. Regardless of who wins the Fine Gael leadership contest, whether it be Deputy Leo Varadkar or Deputy Simon Coveney, the country will be in very safe hands. There will not be a laying of hands in the party, unlike other parties; rather, there will be a democratic exercise involving all members, be they public representatives or ordinary members. There will not be any closed door and darkened room, with one candidate emerging. We will have a contest and an election in which all members will declare who they want to vote for.
Senator Ivana Bacik raised the issue of maternity services. I will be happy to arrange such a debate. On the Order of Business yesterday I replied on the issue.
Senator Robbie Gallagher referred to the electronic tagging of offenders. I will have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Victor Boyhan referred to property tax being too low. Some parties are about taxation and spending. The party opposite is the high-tax party. Those of us at the centre in Irish politics recognise the importance of getting the balance right. I will be happy to have a debate on the issue in the House.
I fully accept that there is a need to have a discussion on the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta. I will be happy to have that debate. I commend the Senator for his initiative in arranging a briefing on the situation in Catalonia in the audiovisual room this afternoon.I hope to be there the week after next. If I am not able to go to the Senator's meeting today I will certainly pass on his views after today's audio-visual room presentation. I thank him for doing that. I know some of my colleagues opposite think that I am always criticising but it is important that people like Senator Ó Clochartaigh get credit for the work they do in promoting human rights and in raising different viewpoints from different sides of political arguments across the world. My views would not be too dissimilar to the Senator's on some things, but on other things they are. I commend him for that.
Senator Ó Ríordáin made reference to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, in his presentation. Neither of the Fine Gael leadership candidates are spending public money on their campaigns. Senator Ó Ríordáin's remarks are mischievous, misleading and should certainly be clarified because the Minister is not expending any public moneys on any campaign. Social welfare fraud is a different issue. All of us recognise that we need to address all issues in this area, whether they relate to white collar crime, social welfare fraud or whatever. We commend the Revenue Commissioners when they publish a list of tax defaulters and pursue them. Equally, those who abuse the State's social welfare programmes should not be allowed to get away with it. I do not know whether the Senator disagrees. I am not seeking his endorsement, but that is a fact of life.
I was not quite sure what Senator Devine was seeking, to be honest. I am not being disingenuous, mischievous or trying to provoke her politically but I did not know what she was looking for in her contribution. If she wishes to tell me afterwards I will endeavour to talk to her.
There is a need to promote it more. I certainly think that we should be incentivising and helping people to get on the property ladder, in this case first-time buyers.
To address Senator Mac Lochlainn's contribution, I have spoken to Senator McFadden about Jadotville and I have also met with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, in that regard. The Senator might not think we are trying to progress the matter but we actually are. I share the Senator's view on this, as he knows quite well. I am trying, as Leader of the House, to arrive at a positive conclusion for everybody. If the Senator can give me a bit more patience, I will be happy to try to get him a meeting with the Minister of State on that issue. To be fair to Senators McFadden, Craughwell and Senator Mac Lochlainn himself, we need a commonality and unity of approach in order to see this matter resolved positively for the families and the men who served, in particular.
I will endeavour to do that. To be fair, I know the Minister of State was away on Government business relating to the Defence Forces because I had asked for a meeting this week. He has just returned this morning. I met him this morning. I will endeavour to get that meeting.
I will try to deliver. I am being genuine in that.
Senator Mullen raised the very important issue of farm thefts and the need for vigilance and proactivity in rural Ireland. I certainly agree with him. We have seen a decline in burglary across the country. I have not got the figures to which the Senator referred, but it is worrying that we have seen an increase in theft at this time of the year. I was travelling to Cavan last night for a particular event and I was struck by the amount of activity in rural Ireland. The Senator made his point well. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
-----they would withdraw the right to strike, to be fair. As somebody who was a member of a union, I recognise the importance of the right to strike. Equally, we need to have a debate about making resolutions of the Labour Court binding. I am only posing a question. Should some public workers not be allowed to go on strike, for example our gardaí, our Defence Forces and people who provide key essential services? I am only posing the question. That is a debate we could have and which I would be happy to have.
I welcome the Senator's interest in that contest, but we would have the debate in the context of our society.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of the importance of the Arts Council of Ireland. I did not know that this matter of the productivity of artists was being put forward. The Senator's presentation of the Colm Tóibín piece was a very good example of members of the arts community going through fallow phases, if that is the right phrase to use. It certainly poses a good question in terms of productivity and what a positive and productive outcome is. That is something that we need to look at and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
I will take Senator Ó Clochartaigh's amendment and I would be happy to take Senator Ruane's Bill next week, but I will not be accepting the other amendments.
Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Pádraig MacLochlainn, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gabrielle McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Diarmuid Wilson.