Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Order of Business
I welcome the establishment of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and hope its work can take place as soon as possible.
I wish to raise two issues, the first of which relates to the maternity services group which was charged with developing a maternity strategy for 2016. It has met only once in the past 18 months. It was set up by the Taoiseach-in-waiting, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in response to baby deaths at Portlaoise hospital and in response to the Savita Halappanavar case. The report on the maternity strategy was meant to be completed last summer.The group met for the first time in April. It highlights the Government's intentions towards women and how they are treated. The delay is due to staff shortages across the HSE because of its own and the Department of Health's failed staffing and employment policies. That is the backdrop to what is going on. This week we heard about a case in which a child attempted to invoke her rights under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act only to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. It is a frightening thought for any woman who is pregnant and will experience any kind of difficulty during her pregnancy. It is meant to be a joyous time, but her life is at risk, not by her own hands but by those of the State. It is incredible. One would not have read about this in a newspaper in Ireland in the 1950s, but one can today. I condemn this act and ask the Minister to establish an independent inquiry to find out precisely what happened in this case. It is clear that the legislation is flawed and that women deserve a lot better.
I also refer to housing. The elephant in the room is supply. Some 22,000 homes for which there is full planning permission have not been built. It is scandalous. Dr. Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute has suggested the idea that the Government finance large-scale rental developments. It is a fantastic idea which would work hand in hand with other suites of measures aimed at reducing the cost of new builds. The Government promised 2,000 rapid build housing units last year and this year. Of these, 22 have been developed. Tonight, in south Dublin city alone, 479 homeless person beds will be occupied and that number does not include the 695 in private hotel accommodation across the city. There was a promise to eradicate this figure by the summer, but that has not happened. Now that the leadership contest in Fine Gael is over, I urge the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to return to work and make meaningful inroads in alleviating the housing crisis.
I wish the outgoing Taoiseach all the best as he sails off into the sunset in the west. I also wish the new leader of Fine Gael the best as he takes the reigns and moves forward in seeking to remain in government until 2020.
We were promised that the Sale of Alcohol Bill would be brought before the House and completed prior to the summer break. I understand the Minister for Justice and Equality brought amendments to the Cabinet today that are required to expand the Bill as presented by Senators Billy Lawless, Michael McDowell, Victor Boyhan and me to include areas not included by us. I hope the Leader will be able to give us some news on when the Bill is likely to be brought back before the House.
I understand the Minister of State with responsibility for defence matters will make an announcement on the issuing of the Jadotville medal. I thank the Leader for his assistance in having the issue dealt with on the floor of this House. I also thank Deputy Noel Grealish for his assistance in the Dáil. If medals are to be issued to all of the Jadotville tigers, it is not before time, but the Minister of State is to be commended for doing so. I express my thanks to the Leader for his assistance behind the scenes which is not always seen but which was much appreciated in this instance. The next time the House sits I will revert to my usual self and recommence criticising the Government.
Beidh orm cúlú siar chun an leathanach ceart. Irish politics faces two highly significant and unprecedented moments involving far-reaching change in the State. Earlier we witnessed the resignation of the Taoiseach. I endorse the remarks made by my party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, in wishing the outgoing Taoiseach well. To give 40 years service in this House-----
I apologise - the other House - this Oireachtas, I should say. That is no mean feat. He could end up here yet; one never knows. I wish him and his family well. It is an important time for them. Deputy Varadkar will be elected as the new Taoiseach tomorrow and I too wish him well. I hope his term of office will be notable for a more direct and hands-on involvement in the North, bringing the authority of the office of Taoiseach to bear on the overall direction of Irish politics.
I hope it is not an indication of what is to come but I am somewhat disappointed that the incoming Taoiseach took the time to contact Arlene Foster on the DUP's recent electoral success but failed to do likewise with any of the other parties in the North. The other highly significant event that I referred to earlier is of course the electoral results in the North. For Sinn Féin, this is the biggest vote for nationalists since partition and is the first time across the North that more votes were cast for non-unionist parties. The DUP also had a good election. Given this political context in which we now find ourselves as a result of the election and the impending threat posed by Brexit, it is critical that the new Taoiseach implements the long-standing promise that MPs from the North would, as of right, have speaking rights in this Oireachtas. I am glad to say-----
I am glad to say that for the first time since partition, nationalists have rejected Westminster and turned their backs on it. They have said they want no part in Westminster and, of course, that Westminster should have no part with them. That would be a more appropriate response than the comments we have heard from Deputy Micheál Martin and other regional party leaders such as Fine Gael and Labour, who have told us that republicans must take their seats in Westminster and swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England. I wonder whether the same people would have advised those who set up the first Dáil in 1918 that such a bold and decisive decision was folly and that Sinn Féin MPs should take their seats at Westminster instead. How dare they stand on the sidelines as passive observers of politics in the North and tell the huge expressed democratic mandate endorsed for the Sinn Féin stance that they have to ignore that and travel to England?
What they have to do is to listen to the expressed will of the people that they look to Dublin for leadership and political advance in the situation across the North, and not to Westminster, which has not proven-----
Perhaps I will be allowed get through my remarks, a Chathaoirligh. This is not just a position for the sake of it, this is a principled position that has been significantly endorsed now by the people of the North. Almost a quarter of a million have stated clearly that abstentionism is their favoured position. It may not be the favoured position of everyone in this House-----
I know it because of the results last week. Despite the interruptions, I have more on which I would have liked to have touched and will finish with this point. We have an opportunity to implement the outstanding agreements and to restore the institutions in the North that I believe everyone, North, South, east and west wishes to see implemented. My party and I are up for engaging with the incoming Taoiseach to ensure that the full weight of the office and of the Government is ever alert to anything that would threaten or jeopardise the progress made.
I wish to raise the horrifying case reported over the weekend concerning the young teenage girl who was sectioned and detained in a psychiatric unit under the Mental Health Act for requesting an abortion last year. The girl and her mother thought they were going to Dublin for an abortion and she was sectioned instead. This is nothing short of institutional coercion of a vulnerable young woman.
She lost her freedom and her right to bodily integrity. This shows what a complete failure the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013 has been in respecting the human rights of women in this country. The girl qualified for a termination under this legislation and was denied one. I would also like to read a comment from the then Minister for Health, Senator James Reilly, who stated, during a Dáil Committee Stage debate on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in 2013, "the very notion that one could section a woman who is expressing suicidal ideation but is not depressed to keep her confined for the duration of her pregnancy would be utter anathema and would not be tolerated or countenanced".It is truly extraordinary, given recent media reports, that we should be so naive as to think people will ultimately do the right thing in such circumstances. I call on the Leader to give a concrete date for the first meeting of the eighth amendment committee. This is the impact of the eighth amendment on vulnerable young women, who are treated inhumanely by the State in the name of that amendment. It needs to end.
I would like to wish the Taoiseach well on the day he is resigning and I also wish the incoming Taoiseach well.
I agree with all that Senator Ruane said. I think the first priority for the incoming Taoiseach must be to set a date for the holding of a referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment. I am delighted that the committee is being established. It is important that the committee would do its work and consider what sort of legislation might be introduced were a referendum on repeal to be passed.
We have heard about several cases this week, particularly the appalling case Senator Ruane described of the young girl who was denied a termination of pregnancy and who was sectioned in circumstances where she and her mother understood they were being offered a termination of pregnancy. That appalling case alone would be enough to warrant the holding of an urgent referendum on repeal. On top of that, however, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has today issued a second decision to hold Ireland in breach of human rights law for failing to offer any sort of compassionate response to a case of fatal foetal abnormality. I am referring to the case of Siobhan Whelan, the Wexford woman whose treatment, if one reads the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee, was appalling. She was treated with an utter lack of compassion by all the health professionals in Ireland with the exception of one locum doctor. She was eventually offered the termination of pregnancy she sought on foot of the very harrowing and cruel diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality in Liverpool, not in Ireland. The UN Human Rights Committee described her treatment as cruel, inhumane and degrading. We are told again, as we were last year in the case of Amanda Mellet, that our laws are simply not good enough for women.
The UK Department of Health has today published statistics which show that, last year alone, 3,265 Irish women travelled to the UK for abortions. This has to stop. We have to stop exporting these most harrowing and tragic cases, we have to stop exporting thousands of our women and we have to repeal the eighth amendment.
I think the key priority for the incoming Taoiseach must be to set a date for the holding of the referendum. The members of the Oireachtas committee can then discuss what follows and what replaces the amendment in terms of legislative provision for abortion in line, for example, with the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. The clear need for holding the referendum has been laid out. It needs to be held, I would say, by the end of February or early March of next year. I think that date should be set. There is a growing momentum around the realisation that the referendum is necessary. Successive generations of Irish women, my own included, have been failed over decades. It is time we stood up and said that no more children be detained and no more women be denied the compassionate services they require here in Ireland. We need to act now. I call on the incoming Taoiseach to do that.
I ask the Leader when he intends to make time for the House to debate the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, which has passed all stages in the Dáil. I understand there is a loophole in section 309 of 1958 Act that needs to be closed, so I want to know when he intends to provide time to deal with this.
I wish the Taoiseach the very best of luck in his retirement. He has done an outstanding job for this country over the past six years as Taoiseach and for the Fine Gael Party over the past 14 years as its leader. He took over a party that was depleted, wounded and in a very poor state in 2002. He welded that party together and we grew to be the largest party in the country in 2011 and in government from 2011 to 2016. He united the party, he united the country and he restored our international relationships.The Taoiseach can walk away from Government Buildings in the full knowledge that he has done a magnificent job for the country. He has left a great legacy, of which he, his constituents and party can be very proud. I wish him; his wife, Fionnuala; and their three children, Aoibhinn, Ferdia and Naoise, well. They have given a lifetime of public service to the country. The Taoiseach has served the people of County Mayo for 42 years. I have been involved in politics with him since 1979 when we were both elected to Mayo County Council. I have seen at first hand how he works on the ground, how he has worked in government and how he has led the country and the party from 1975 to this very day. I wish him well and his wife, their three children, his family and constituents in County Mayo the best of luck. He has a proud record.
I also wish the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, the best of luck on his retirement from Government office.
I wish to be associated with the sentiments expressed about the outgoing Taoiseach. It occurs to me that, although he has served 40 years in the Oireachtas, the Fine Gael Party Members in this Chamber must be in a state of sadness at the fact his term was cut short before he had the opportunity to deliver on the issue of Seanad reform-----
-----something he promised most solemnly to do on the last occasion he was in the House. In that context, it is important that the Leader make arrangements for the outgoing Taoiseach's successor to come to the House and equally pledge to lead the Fine Gael Party Members in their ongoing campaign to reform the House to make it more democratic.
Although we can be light-hearted about it, reform of the Seanad forms part of the programme for Government and is a commitment that must be delivered on. The Government made a solemn commitment to the people to implement the Manning report. We are waiting for it to deliver on it.
If it is the case that the change of personnel at the top of the Fine Gael Party in the other House will lead to the abandonment of that proposal, we should find out as soon as possible in order that we will be able to see how real the commitment was to implement what our former colleague in this House, Dr. Maurice Manning, had planned out for its reform. Of course, it is the case that Fine Gael Party Members of the Seanad are numb with grief that this commitment made by the outgoing Taoiseach has not been delivered on. I can see that their faces stricken with grief. Of course, it is also the case that we should have another opportunity to deal with the matter.
I could not let the day pass without wishing the outgoing Taoiseach, his wife, Fionnuala and their family well and thanking them for all their service to both Fine Gael and the country. By any reckoning, having restored the country's finances, the party's fortunes and our reputation internationally while making serious progress on social issues, he has succeeded on all levels. We all accept there is much work left to do.
I stand over the quotes attributed to me regarding the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, and I made it clear earlier that I want an investigation into the circumstances that led to a citizen of this country heading to Dublin in the belief that she was going for a procedure only to find herself incarcerated. That is utterly unacceptable and I want the truth of what precisely happened exposed. Laws and protocols are in place to prevent that from happening and I would like to know precisely what happened.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to explain why a community school project in Lusk which commenced in 2011 with phase 1 completed in 2013 and phase 2 to have been completed in 2014 remains unbuilt with planning permission only granted in 2016. A tenderer still has not been appointed. We were told that a tenderer would be appointed by July and that may be the case. However, this means with an 18-month build that this facility for Lusk, with a population of more than 10,000, will not be ready for occupation until September 2019. The local children started their education in the secondary school in 2013 in anticipation of continuing their education to the end in this facility. This is important in the context of keeping the community of Lusk together.
I would like to highlight the pre-budget submission published by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul earlier. I attended the launch of the submission and while I should not be shocked, I was. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an amazing organisation, which has helped many people in need through the Famine, the War of Independence, Civil War, two world wars and several economic recessions. It has been on the go since 1844 when its founder, Frederic Ozanam, stated:
The question which is agitating the world today is a social one. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash of opulence and poverty which is shaking the ground under our feet.
I would like to highlight the issues the organisation is facing. The figures its officers outlined this morning for a country as wealthy as Ireland are absolutely disgraceful. More than 91,000 households are in need of social housing while more than 2,500 children are homeless. One in four one-parent families live in constant poverty, which is disastrous. In Ireland's affluent areas, 90% of young people end up in third level education but, in deprived areas, the participation rate falls to 15%. How can we say we are giving those children a fair shot at achieving their potential? I was struck in particular by the comments of one lone parent this morning because I did not think that the reality was as bad as this, and I quote:
Yesterday I had a litre of milk and a sliced pan to feed my kids. I had to scrape together change to buy butter so we could actually have toast. The reasons for this was buying school books on Tuesday. I don't know how I will cope next year but something has to give.
A total of 130,000 people called the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016. It is not acceptable that people like this woman are barely getting by in a country as a wealthy as Ireland. It is time for change.That is really important. I wish Deputy Enda Kenny very well in his retirement. I hope he gets the time off he needs. I wish the incoming Taoiseach very well in his new job, but I really hope and pray that he makes homelessness one of his priorities. It is time for change now. It is not on that people are living in this disgraceful way any more.
I want to be associated with the many tributes that have been paid to the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, who is stepping down. I do not intend to go over them again. As a colleague and a fellow Teachta Dála of his for the constituency of Mayo for two terms, I would not be in politics if it were not for Deputy Enda Kenny. I pay tribute to the way he led this country at a time of the greatest economic crisis in the history of the State. I want to focus on the dignity with which he has carried out his business at all times, whether on the international, national or local stage, and his empathy in dealing with many legacy issues that had not been dealt with for many years. He deserves the greatest credit. As history will show, he will be recognised as one of the greatest taoisigh that has led this State.
I want to be associated with the good wishes to Deputy Enda Kenny as he resigns as Taoiseach today. However, I am filled with nervousness about what is coming next for two main reasons. I join Senator McDowell in requesting the new Taoiseach's presence in this Chamber. Yesterday, we learnt that this new Government arrangement will be supported by Deputy Michael Lowry, an individual who will be up in court in April accused of-----
Do not talk me down, Senator Ó Ríordáin. Bear with me a second. This matter is sub judice. It is a matter that has to be adjudicated by the courts. It is not fair for us to make the adjudication here or to cast aspersions. In fact, it could damage one case or another. I would prefer if the Senator would refrain from naming-----
Okay. I will make the point in a different way, if I might. It is already interesting to see the measures that have been taken by the incoming Taoiseach as to who he seeks support from.
Deputy Leo Varadkar accused the now Senator James Reilly, who was then a Deputy and a Minister, of doing something that looked like a stroke in his constituency. There was an announcement today that the Garda station in Stepaside will be reopened. This is from the Minister, Deputy Ross, who apparently came into politics to get rid of stroke politics, wants an independent Judiciary and does not want to have any political interference in the judicial system, yet he is now able to announce, just as the new Cabinet is going to be announced, that he himself has got his Garda station reopened. The new Administration is supported by Deputy Lowry and also by someone who has got a nice little Garda station open for himself in his own constituency. Is this the new politics that we can expect from the new Taoiseach?
I join the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad in paying tribute to the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. Deputy Kenny served the country well. He and I were elected to the Dáil in 1977. The date of the election was 16 June-----
I am very pleased to have been here to see many new taoisigh, probably ten or more. There will now be an 11th tomorrow.I wish Deputy Leo Varadkar every success as well. Many people in this Seanad await with anticipation or look forward to the possibility of being appointed to Cabinet by him just like Senator James Dooge was given a ministerial appointment by Garrett FitzGerald, and was very successful. Garrett FitzGerald also made Senator Alexis FitzGerald a special adviser, which was a rather strange move at the time. Sin scéal eile.
Enda will remain a very active Deputy until the next election and he will continue to serve the constituency of Mayo with great distinction as he has done since 1975. I know it was 1975 because I was involved in the by-election campaign by Michael Joe McGreal who, as far as I can recall, was a Fianna Fáil candidate. Some of my colleagues here will probably confirm the details.
Fionnuala was one of the press officers ever in this State. She certainly did the State some service and she certainly was of great help to Fianna Fáil as she has been to the Taoiseach since their marriage.
Today is a special day for the Kenny family. It is great to see that Enda decided to leave on his own terms because he would not have been ousted. I wish to make it quite clear that if he had decided to stay he would have stayed until the end whether one liked it or not. There was a point made that half the parliamentary party was against it.
I rise to join in the good wishes extended to Enda Kenny, Fionnuala, Ferdia, Naoise and Aoibhinn on the occasion of the Taoiseach's retirement.
I shall make a brief comment and quickly raise another issue. Enda Kenny brought a particular energy and positivity to whatever he did. He had a leadership style that had a huge enthusiasm and optimism. All of that was tempered with humanity and great personal skill. He brought those traits to his leadership of the party of which he was transformative. He also brought the same traits to the leadership of the country where he was transformative in the economic and social spheres and right across a range of areas. He has left a huge legacy and it was all done with probity. We should acknowledge today that alongside him was a person who brought enormous capacity, patriotism and great skill to his role and I refer to Michael Noonan. Great tribute should be paid to Michael Noonan today also.
I shall raise another issue that was very dear to Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and to Michael Noonan. I call on the parties in the North, as should this House, to restore the Executive in Northern Ireland. Brexit will be a huge challenge for this country on so many fronts. This island is being confronted by Brexit and a myriad of issues such as the fluctuation of sterling. Therefore, it is important that we re-establish the power sharing Executive in Northern Ireland. I call on the parties in the North to do so and this House should join in my call.
I join with other Senators in wishing Enda Kenny and his family well as he steps down as Taoiseach today. I sat in the Gallery of the Dáil to listen to him and I was struck by the modesty and simplicity of his speech, which should be acknowledged. He clearly demonstrated that he is a man with enormous energy who has mastered the craft of politics and how it is done, which is to be admired. There was a great expectation that his speech would be surrounded by razzmatazz or a circus but it was not. He has done this State an amazing service and we wish him well. Politics is a tough old business. We have our laughs and scraps in this Chamber but at the end of the day there are always people behind the politician.One must be mindful of them, so I wish the family well.
Another matter I wish to raise was raised by Senator Ó Ríordáin, who has now left. It is important that we invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House as soon as possible. I am reliably informed that there were a number of tweets from the Cabinet today regarding Stepaside Garda station. I understand there is literature about it circulating in the constituency, so it was clearly primed and ready. People have received printed literature stating that Stepaside Garda station is being re-opened. I am delighted about Stepaside Garda station, but many Members here represent and are in communication with community representatives across the country for whom rural and community policing are very important matters. We must have an explanation of the rationale for this Garda station being re-opened rather than others. Why not the ones in Dalkey or Kill-O-The-Grange, two other stations that closed at the same time, as well as stations in north Dublin, Cork and other places? There must be an explanation. I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality be invited to the House to explain the reason for that decision.
I wish to send congratulations from Seanad Éireann to Jeremy Corbyn on the remarkable result he gained for the Labour Party in Great Britain. It was so exciting. I stayed up until 6 a.m. watching the results. This was despite the vicious and dishonest attacks by the Murdoch yellow press. When he went out on the campaign, people saw him as he was - somebody who spoke in a moderate tone of voice and whose values were humane. He inspired young people. It is time for my colleagues in Sinn Féin to re-visit the abstentionist policy. It is complete nonsense. It is leaving the nationalist people of Northern Ireland, for whom they claim to care so deeply, unrepresented in Westminster-----
It is a complete fraud perpetrated on the people of Northern Ireland. It would be perfectly easy for them to re-visit this policy. They did so with regard to the Dáil. I recall when they said the Dáil was illegal and they refused to recognise it. They are happy enough to come into it now and they were happy enough to be part of the government-----
I wish the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and their families a positive retirement when it arrives and I wish them the best for the future.
I wish to speak about the terrorist attacks in London. I offer my condolences to the victims' families. I have spoken about Islamic radicals in this country previously. I agree with what Fianna Fáil Deputy Niall Collins said during the week, that these people with terrorist views have no right to be in our country. Recently, a group in Trim was caught laundering money for terrorist groups in foreign countries. We see in the newspapers that a cleric has said that Islamic radicals in Ireland now number 100 or more. Basically, they plan to attack to create more division and hatred in our society. That murderer in England - I could not call him a gentleman - stayed under the radar in this country as a pastry chef. Could the Leader invite the new Minister to the House to discuss the issue of these people being on our shores? If they need to be put out of the country, let us put them out. They should not be here in the first place.
Like other Members, I wish our departing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, all the best. In fact, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, was in the House on the last sitting day discussing the sale of AIB shares. Members who were present wished him the best. As Vice Chairman of the finance committee, I have encountered the Minister, Deputy Noonan, on a number of occasions in my short time as a Member of the House.I would like to pay tribute to him and to Enda Kenny, to recognise the long service they have given to the State and to wish them both all of the best on my own behalf and that of my party colleagues. Today is also the first sitting day in Seanad Éireann since the new leader of Fine Gael was elected on Friday, 2 June. I would like to wish Leo Varadkar all the best for his own sake, that of his party and indeed, of the country, because it is to everyone's benefit that he does well.
A number of Senators have already raised the matter of the reopening of Stepaside Garda station. It should be noted that the Dublin Rathdown constituency, where I live, only has a single operational Garda station. It is a three-seat constituency with 65,000 houses but there is only one Garda station. There are approximately 600 Garda stations in the country and 40 Dáil constituencies, giving an average of 15 stations per constituency. However, Dublin Rathdown, the former Dublin South constituency, has one single Garda station within its borders, albeit that some other Garda stations nearby cover parts of the constituency. I ask the Leader to obtain and then provide the details to this Chamber of exactly what we will be getting in Stepaside Garda station. Prior to its closure by the former Minister for Justice and Equality, former Deputy Alan Shatter, there were 34 full-time operational gardaí in Stepaside. A large extension was built onto Dundrum Garda station and all of the Stepaside gardaí were moved there. The station in Stepaside is very small and I would like to know exactly what we are getting back. Will it be a couple of hours per week from one or two gardaí, who will be stamping passport or driving licence applications or will it be a full-time, fully operational Garda station as it was before it was closed?
I know I am not supposed to raise more than one issue on the Order of Business but I ask that we would have a debate soon on the issue of school playing fields being sold off to pay debts owed to the State. In some instances, religious orders have been asked to sell land to pay debts to the State and that land is being lost to schools, which is very unfortunate. I will raise this matter again.
I would like to wish the Taoiseach well on the day that he steps aside. I also note that today the Attorney General, Ms Máire Whelan, has been appointed to the Court of Appeal and I wish her and her family well. Hers has not always been an easy role but she provided good public service.
I welcome the announcement of the names of the Seanad Members of the Oireachtas committee that will examine the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. It would be too much to say that I am looking forward to this particular committee and life on it, given the life, death and grim nature of some of the recommendations it will have to consider. However, I am sure that all members will do their best. I am surprised, if I heard her correctly, that Senator Bacik seems to be suggesting that a date should be set for a referendum now, in advance of the deliberations of the committee. Considering the very radical nature of some of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and that some of those recommendations seem to have come after zero consideration of the issues upon which the assembly was recommending, I would have thought the Oireachtas committee will have to consider, first of all, the respect it should give to the particular recommendations that came from the assembly. I would have thought that it is at least theoretically possible that we would come to the conclusion that there should not be a referendum. To suggest, in advance of the work of the committee, that we should set the date for a referendum seems to me to be bizarre indeed.
The sad story of recent days has, no doubt, prompted some of the comments. That story shows that trying to protect two lives is always a difficult business. Whatever the merits of what went on - I do not know the full details and I doubt that anyone else here does - it seems that there was at least an attempt to protect a mother's life. I am very sorry that nobody who has spoken so far has expressed any concern about the fate of the child that was involved in that story subsequently.
In conclusion, I agree that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is very flawed. I pointed out the fact that predicating a right to abortion on the grounds of threatened suicide was always unmedical and always wrong. What we now need to do is re-grasp our idealism and see the 3,265 women, referred to by Senator Bacik, who travelled abroad last year as tragedies but that figure is coming down. For an equivalent population, Britain would be having 16,000 abortions a year so we need to conclude that the eighth amendment has saved thousands of lives. That will also have to be part of our deliberations on this committee.
I rise on this historic day to pay tribute to the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and to wish him the very best for the future. I also wish to pay tribute to my own Limerick colleague, the outgoing Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. The two of them, working together, have done a fantastic job in bringing the country back from the brink and restoring our finances. I wish them and their families the very best for the future, although they are not retiring just yet. We will still be seeing them around the House but I wish them both well on what is an emotional day for them.According to a recent Road Safety Authority report, most of the 21,000 child seats that were tested were found to be faulty, were not the right size or were not installed properly. I understand that when the authority tested 224 child seats in the Limerick area, it found that 180 of them were incorrectly fitted. This is quite a serious position. I compliment Brian Geary Car Sales in Limerick, which is holding an event next Monday at which people will be able to have their car seats tested and will be shown how to install them in a proper manner. I encourage others to organise similar events all over the country because car safety is very important.
I wish Deputy Enda Kenny a great amount of luck in the future. In his poem "Beowulf", Séamus Heaney, whom we have commemorated in this Chamber, wrote:
Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power.
I think Deputy Enda Kenny was admirable. I know we might have differed. Many people in this House and in the Lower House might have differed with him in relation to argument, but his behaviour was to be admired. As many other Senators have said, he had great energy. Einstein said that people need just two things: the imagination to believe something is possible and the energy to propel it forward. The outgoing Taoiseach had both. He also had a great sense of joy against all the mockery, cynicism, sardonic behaviour and gossip masquerading as facts around the place. When I was listening to the debate in the Dáil, I heard some people ridiculing and reducing his stewardship. I wondered whether I should buy them some mirrors to look in because what he did was for the common good. Many of the people down there have done very little for the common good, but have acted instead in their own self-interest.
Deputy Enda Kenny's contribution spanned 42 years of public service, which is some legacy. He had a belief in what he wanted to accomplish and he accomplished it well. He had huge courage against odds and against major distractions. He brought his party from its knees by rebuilding it so that it could stand up and be powerful and persuasive once more. He was sometimes more recognised off the island than on the island, which seems to be a feature of the Irish personality. I am here because of him. Many of the new Ministers who were appointed in 2015 are there because of him. They should remember that over their next term. I am very grateful to be here. I am very affirmed by him. I take this job very seriously. I am privileged to be in the Seanad. All we have left is regard and respect for ourselves, and belief and value outside cynicism, mockery and negativity.
Deputy Enda Kenny never lived in his head. We spend most of our time living in our heads. He practised what he believed and his energy never wavered. I wish him and his family well. The legacy he has left behind with force and fire is one of passion, belief, value and respect. May the Gods be with the next Taoiseach that he might leave such a legacy of respect for our nation and our people. One is no use to anybody unless one has a passion for one's work. Perhaps some of the Senators around here might listen to the contributions of other Senators, rather than operating as if they were in some kind of back office.
I would like to join in the fine tributes that have been paid to my constituency colleague, the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. Many of the characteristics and fine qualities he has demonstrated over the years in his leadership of the country and the party have been well described. The day he was elected as Taoiseach - he was put forward and he assumed that position - was historic and inspirational for me as someone from Mayo and the west of Ireland. It was historic in the sense that the power base of politics and the media in this country, in terms of what the norm should be, has always been Dublin or some other big urban centre. The Taoiseach captured the imagination to the extent that we achieved history in that year's general election when four Fine Gael Deputies were elected in a five-seat constituency, something which had never been done before in this State. I dare say it might be a long time before it happens again.He was inspirational in the sense that we mock and make fun of the notion of "To hell or Connacht". However, I believe there is some psychological notion that things leave and that there is emigration. The point is that even though there are so many fine people, including fine people in Dublin who are established here and who have roots in the west and in Mayo, the power does not go there. I believe he has broken that glass ceiling for those of us from the west of Ireland and allowed us to dream big and achieve. I believe he is leaving a fantastic legacy. We have had the benefit of all that positivity as well as the idea of putting the shoulder to the wheel and putting the best foot forward and so on. I remember at one point, not long after I was elected as a Deputy, we were climbing mountains, going on walks and going on cycles in the middle of winter. His energy is remarkable. I also pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan.
Today, the report of the expert panel on the problem of pyrite in blocks in Mayo and Donegal was published. I am asking for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to be brought before the House to debate the report and for the Minister for Finance to attend subsequently. Many households are distressed and looking at their houses in ruination. Finally, I commend and acknowledge the fact that Senator Coffey was the person who established the group during his time as Minister of State at the Department.
This is our first sitting since the UK elections and it would be remiss of us not to comment on them. Obviously, they have an impact not only on Ireland, but on Irish society and people North and South of the Border. It is important that at some future date the Leader makes provision for a strong debate in the House on the outcomes and consequences of that particular election. This is in the interests of the stability of our country in terms of Brexit and our relationship with our people in Northern Ireland as well.
I am sorry to see that two parties which I consider to be of the middle ground in the North of Ireland, namely, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party, no longer have MPs in the House of Commons. They sacrificed their political futures some years ago in the interests of peace, and we should acknowledge that as representatives in this country. The SDLP is the party of Hume, Mallon, Durkan and McGrady and, as a representative in this country, I will always hold it in the highest of respect. I hope to see the day when the SDLP will return representatives again.
I also look forward to the day when political parties in the South, including my party, Fine Gael, run for election in the North of Ireland. It is something we need to debate seriously in this country. We need to look at putting up representatives there to bring some real politics to Northern Ireland and to represent people when elected in the various representative chambers. In that sense, I urge the parties of Northern Ireland to get around the table and form the Northern Ireland Executive to bring the representation and government that people so badly need as well as to bring stability to the entire island.
I wish to be associated with the tributes being paid to An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, also. I have been honoured to serve with him since 1999, when I was first elected as a councillor. Over many years I have had the great honour to serve under him as a councillor, Senator, Deputy and Minister of State. I wish him the very best in his retirement. He is a man of the utmost integrity, a man of compassion and a man who has shown extraordinary stamina and vision through difficult times. I wish him and Fionnuala the very best in their retirement. I wish the same to the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan.
There will be a changing of the guard in the coming days. We will have a new Taoiseach and I wish him well.
We will see new Ministers too. I certainly hope that there will be no change in this House and I hope the Leader of the House retains his place, because he has shown exemplary leadership in all debates in this House. I wish him well in that regard.
I want to follow up on the comment about the UK elections. There has been a seismic shift in what has happened. I pay tribute to Alasdair McDonnell, a good friend of mine and of this country, because I canvassed for him. He made a significant difference in Westminster. The SDLP have been close to us and, with Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie, I believe the party made a major difference. When I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of Good Friday Agreement they, along with Sinn Féin MPs, came down to attend the committee meetings on all occasions. Their voice in Westminster will be very much missed.
I also pay tribute to two Ulster Unionist former MPs, Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott. The fought their corner but they were very measured.The results have changed. The DUP has 10 MPs and is working very closely with the Conservatives. This may be a good or a bad thing. We should not judge.
A nationalist voice from Northern Ireland, which represents the island of Ireland, is missing in Westminster. Sinn Féin has seven MPs and I respect their right not to attend Westminster. We have to fill the void. Perhaps it can be filled through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
In my journeys to Westminster, I have noted the all-party group for the Irish in Britain. It comprises Members from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, mainly Labour Party representatives as well as many Conservative and SNP members. The group believes in advocating for all that is good for the island of Ireland and the UK.
Conor McGinn was re-elected. He is from Camlough, in County Armagh, and represents St. Helens North. He chairs the committee to which I referred. I urge the next Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadker, to consult widely with the group. It is a voice that we badly need. It is a voice of reason and one which brings the two countries together. It has been an interesting election. As somebody said, it is a case of needs must and we must work together even more now.
I would like to join my colleagues in paying tribute to the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. He did an outstanding job as leader of Fine Gael, as a Deputy and as Taoiseach of this country. He did a number of outstanding things. When he came into office, he provided leadership and made sure that the entire Cabinet and Government were motivated to deliver. Putting in place the right ground rules for the creation of jobs was a priority. As a result, over 200,000 people are now back at work compared to 2012. That has benefits, in that there is more income for the State which means more services can be provided.
Deputy Kenny gave two outstanding speeches as Taoiseach. One concerned the Cloyne diocese report, which sent a clear message to the church. The second was his more recent speech in Washington, in the presence of President Trump. It sent a clear message to the United States and around the world. It was a very important speech.
The contribution he has made will stand to this country for a long time to come. The groundwork has been done. We still face major challenges. We know those challenges can be dealt with. If we work together we can meet those challenges.
I refer to the comments of Senator Norris and others on Northern Ireland and the need for a nationalist voice in Westminster which is not there. It is not so long ago that the Sinn Féin Party objected to this country joining the European Union. It changed its mind on that and now has no problem in participating in the European Union. In vies of this there is no reason why it cannot represent the people who voted for it in the Westminster elections.
Before I call on the Leader, as Cathaoirleach and on a personal level I would like to pay tribute to the outgoing Taoiseach. I found him extremely cordial and professional in my dealings with him as Cathaoirleach, Leas-Chathaoirleach and a Deputy. When I was in the Dáil I always found him very courteous and a gentleman to deal with. Whatever about political differences, he deserves some time in the sunset with his wife, Fionnuala, and his family. I wish him the very best.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, who is a very affable, quiet-spoken gentleman from Limerick, has, like the Taoiseach, served the nation for many years, with many personal and political ups and downs. I would also like to wish him the very best in his retirement as a Minister.I expect both the outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the outgoing Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to spend less pressurised years in the other House.
With those few words of gratitude and respect, I ask the Leader of the House to respond to the Order of Business.
I thank the 24 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business, the vast majority of whom paid tribute to our outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. Together with the Cathaoirleach and all the Members of House, I extend, on my own behalf, on that of the Fine Gael Party and on that of the House, our every good wishes to An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, to his wife, Fionnuala, and to his family, Naoise, Ferdia and Aoibhinn, on their historic contribution to public service in our country. When history is written and the analysis of the past six years and decade are looked back on, the name of Enda Kenny will stand brightly, with him being regarded as a man of honesty, integrity, humility, compassion and empathy and a man who did our country Trojan service.
The Taoiseach spoke today in the Dáil about politics being work worth doing, and he certainly did that. He will be recognised, as has been said here today, as being perhaps one of the best taoisigh we ever had. I say that not in the sense of hyperbole or drama but he took over as Taoiseach at a time of crisis in our country. He was the man who held the Government and our country together and who helped, with our people, to bring it to recovery. That is an important tribute to the man who, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell quite eloquently said, has been a man of imagination and of huge energy. Whether it was at 7.30 or 3.30 in the morning, he was still going, working on behalf of all of us.
The manner in which he represented our country across the world, whether it was at European Council meetings, in the White House or on trade missions to many parts of the world, was such that he was that ambassador who represented our country with pride and with distinction. Many of us on St. Patrick's Day looked on him with pride for the way in which he spoke about immigration and the way in which he said all of us must be looked at as people.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell spoke about Einstein and imagination. Enda Kenny was often criticised for being a man of no vision, but he had one great vision, that of the importance of employment, of work, of people having a job and of Ireland being the best small country in the world in which to do business. I am very proud to stand here as Leader of the House and pay tribute to him and thank him not only for his service as a Member of the Lower House but for having given 42 of years of his life to public service. Equally, when we talk about patriotism, we talk about people who have vision, and history will be very kind to Enda Kenny.
Senator Leyden, in his very humorous remarks, paid tribute to Fionnuala. It is important that we thank her today not for being a member of Fianna Fáil but for having the vision and the temerity to fall in love with Enda Kenny and to join him in matrimony to see the other side - the positivity of being a member of Fine Gael. The Senator is right in saying she was and is a wonderful women, and her family made a huge sacrifice for this country.
I pay tribute also to the outgoing Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and thank him for his service. He was a member of every Fine Gael-led Government since 1982. He said yesterday that he enjoyed most of all being Minister for Finance. As many of us know, he is a man held in huge affection, a man in whose company we enjoy being and who has had a strong sense of what it means to be a Minister, to be in government and where he wanted our country to go. I thank him also.
I pay tribute also to the Attorney General, as Senator Mullen rightly referenced. From my dealings with the outgoing Attorney General, I found her to be a woman of courtesy, professionalism, warmth and absolute integrity. Whenever I spoke to her or met her, I always left her with a great sense of joy and of being appreciated. She had an interest in everything we were doing in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank her and her family for her service as Attorney General. Senators Ardagh, Ruane, Bacik, Mullen and Reilly raised the very sad case of the young woman who was sectioned as part of the report published. It highlights the importance of the work of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. It is important that we acknowledge the creation of that committee and allow it to do its work in a manner that is sensitive and respectful without recourse to adversarialism but that can examine the issue, as many people want to see happen, and come up with a solution that we will present to the Government. It is heartbreaking to read the reports in newspapers yesterday and today of the way this young woman, a citizen of our country, was treated and incarcerated. As Senator Mullen said, it is important to allow the committee do its work. It is premature to suggest that dates for a referendum and so on should be proposed because the committee must do its work. Equally, the investigation into what happened called for by the Senators should be carried out by the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Minister for Health because there are protocols outlined in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act and it is important that they are fulfilled.
It is important that we get answers to what happened in this case, but it is important also that the issue that will come before the Oireachtas in the coming weeks is dealt with in a sensitive, caring and respectful manner. Regardless of people's viewpoints, we, as Members of this House, on behalf of the people who elect us, must deal with the matter and, ultimately, either put it to the people or not. That is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and the people to decide. I hope that the Members will reflect upon the report of the Citizens' Assembly and read the papers given to them. Regardless of whether they agree with the outcome, a piece of work was done which was important and should be valued.
Senators Norris, Ó Donnghaile, Coffey, Feighan and Colm Burke made reference to the election that took place in the North and across the United Kingdom last week. I congratulate the MPs from all parts of the United Kingdom and the North of our country on their election. I pay tribute to them, their families, teams and parties - and Independents in some cases - for the role they played in the election of the new MPs.
I pay tribute also to the MPs in the North of our country who lost their seats. I express my disappointment at the loss of three fine Nationalist MPs, Margaret Ritchie, Alasdair McDonnell and Mark Durkan, who were exemplary representatives of the people and who carried out their work on behalf of the citizens of the North. The outcome of the election is one we all respect. The people have the final say. It is they who decide who represents them, but it is a source of concern that there is no Nationalist MP sitting in Westminster when a minority Government is in place which may be kept in power by members of the Democratic Unionist Party. At a time when we are dealing with Brexit and do not have a power-sharing Executive in the North, it is a concern that there is not that articulate Nationalist voice in Westminster. Senator Ó Donnghaile may shrug his shoulders at what I am saying, but I say it as a proud Republican and Nationalist. Abstentionism from Westminster is one thing, but Senator Feighan is correct. There is a wider forum where we must all be the voice of Irish Nationalism across the water in the United Kingdom.
That happens in this House too. Many of us do that, but arrogance or whatever does not cut the mustard. It is important that the power-sharing Executive is restored. There is an onus on members of all parties elected to the Stormont Assembly to sit down and negotiate a return to power of the Executive.
The Irish Government has not been and will never be found wanting in that regard. The Fine Gael Party, which was the party that negotiated Sunningdale and is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, will always put the people of Ireland and all of our country first in our endeavours and engagements.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of housing.I will be happy to have the new Minister, whoever he or she may be, to come to the House in the coming weeks.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the men of Jadotville. I join him in welcoming the announcement made by the outgoing Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, on the awarding of a medal. I thank him and Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Diarmuid Wilson and, most especially, Gabrielle McFadden for their role in ensuring this is a good day, one of celebration for the families of the men of Jadotville, the soldiers who fought in the battle. The mission to Congo, the first on which the United Nations sent Irish troops, will always be remembered, but it is important that Ireland finally remove the little black mark and congratulate all those who took part in the campaign. I again thank the outgoing Taoiseach and the Minister of State.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell also referred to the Sale of Alcohol Bill. As he knows, I am not yet a member of the Cabinet and do not expect to be tomorrow either. I understand the amendment associated with the Good Friday Bill was passed by the Cabinet today and that it is a matter of timing. I gave a commitment as Leader of the House to have it passed before the summer recess. Whoever is Leader next week can certainly honour that commitment. It is certainly my intention to do so, if I am still Leader. If not, I hope the new Leader will do so.
Senator Paddy Burke referred to section 309 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill which contains a loophole in dealing with poaching. Committee Stage of the legislation was taken in March. There are issues arising and the Department is considering them. The Bill will be before the House next week. I am not sure if it dovetails with the other Bill, but I am sure the Senator can raise the matters he wishes to raise when discussing it.
Senator Michael McDowell spoke with sadness about the demise of the outgoing Taoiseach and a lack of sadness, or perhaps gaiety, about impending Seanad reform.
I am sorry - retirement. The bottom line is that the issue of Seanad reform is still very much on the agenda. I believe Senator Michael McDowell's name was mentioned in dispatches in different guises before the outgoing Taoiseach left and I am not sure whether it is in the ether now. The other point is that the programme for Government is not put before the people, as the Senator knows quite well. There are differing viewpoints on the issue, but I am sure the horse that is Seanad reform will be galloping along the track in the coming weeks. Whatever jockey is on board and regardless of whether the Senator is weighed down or a lightweight, I am sure he will be able to make the case for Seanad reform.
Senator James Reilly referred to the community school in Lusk, for which he has been a champion in this and the Lower House. The Cathaoirleach is correct that may it be more opportune to discuss the issue as a Commencement matter.
Senator Frances Black raised the issue of inequality and referred to the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It is important that we recognise the importance of the work done by the society quietly and anonymously in every community in helping and supporting people. We should all praise it.
It would be remiss of us, however, not to recognise the progress made in the country in the past six years in reducing the unemployment figures and having more people back at work and increasing the standard of living. We all accept, of course, that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Senators Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Victor Boyhan and Gerry Horkan referred to Stepaside Garda station. I am certainly not going to rain on their parade, but Senator Neale Richmond is the public representative closest to the station. It is a matter for the Cabinet and I will be happy to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss it. Like the other recommendation made by the Cathaoirleach, perhaps it might be more appropriate to raise the issue as a Commencement matter. We welcome the opening of any Garda station, but it is important that Garda stations not be seen as amounting to policing and that there be community policing, with gardaí active on the ground as part of a people-centred model. Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of tweets from Cabinet. I cannot answer for that but I am sure that if the Minister did tweet from Cabinet, we will be able to raise that. I suppose it is important to recognise that the former Taoiseach did place a ban on mobile phones in Cabinet.
Senator Norris congratulated Jeremy Corbyn. It is important that we congratulate all who stood for election but where Senator Norris is coming from concerns the importance of being able to campaign. What Jeremy Corbyn did quite successfully was take his message to the people. It proves that if someone shies away from debate or engagement, people look upon it as a sign of reluctance or of their being taken for granted. The political campaign across the water is one we can all learn from again. I am not quite sure whether we will have an early election but I can tell the House one thing. The leader of Fine Gael and incoming Taoiseach is a far better candidate than Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May and I would be very happy to stand with him and run under his banner any time.
Senator Butler raised the issue of immigration and the threat of terrorism in our country. I do not want to become engaged in a disagreement with Members of the House but our language around immigration and those who come to our country is important. It is important that if people are in breach of our immigration law, they should be deported. We do not want any truck with terrorism or violence in our country but it is also important that we are seen as a harbour and place of welcome for people who need to come here for a place of refuge.
I fully agree with Senator Horkan regarding the very important issue he raised, namely, the sale of lands, particularly school playing fields, to pay debts owed to the State. We need to be very vigilant about this issue and I commend the Senator for raising that matter today in the House because it is one that we must not allow to continue at one level because these lands can be used to help and benefit young people and communities. To sell them off for whatever reason is understandable on one level but, equally, we need to keep an eye on the value to the community and the good they bring to people.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of child seats. The figure of 21,000 tests with the majority of seats being faulty is staggering in an era when more and more people are on the roads and where people are being penalised and receiving penalty points for a variety of reasons. We all welcome that and have a very strict application of our drink driving rules, which we welcome. It is important that people do not err and take chances regarding child seats. We will get the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss this issue.
Senator Mulherin raised the very important issue of pyrite blocks and commended the former Minister of State, Senator Coffey, for his work in that regard. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will come to the House to discuss that issue.
I think I have covered the majority of contributions other than the congratulations to the former Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Attorney General. I propose the adjournment of the House this evening at the conclusion of business until next Tuesday given that the new Taoiseach will be elected at noon tomorrow while there are issues regarding the availability of Ministers on Thursday and a question mark around junior Ministers. I apologise to Members. I made an offer to Sinn Féin to have-----
Exactly and it will be well stocked as well. I offered the second Private Members' session to Sinn Féin this evening but it declined the offer so it is my intention to have two Private Members' sessions next week. I thank the party leaders in the House, the Cathaoirleach and Seanad staff for their co-operation this week. It has been a different week. We will sit again next Tuesday but I am just informing Members that this is the rationale.