Thursday, 17 May 2018
Order of Business
We are sitting for two days next week. I understand it is to do with the referendum, but there is a lot of legislation that needs to be done.
I refer to Vicky Phelan and her desire for accountability, as she says, and not revenge. She made some important statements at the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday. She said that she did not want to die in vain. She wanted protocols to be put in place, and sanctions for people who make mistakes. She wanted the HSE to be overhauled from the ground up. Mr. Stephen Teap, whose wife has died because of this gross mismanagement in the health service, said that mandatory open disclosure was worthless unless sanctions are introduced for those individuals who do not comply.
Last week we had a debate on the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016. I have written to the Minister asking when the Government's proposed amendments would be brought forward. Again, the Government wants to water down the Bill that was proposed by the Law Reform Commission in 2005 as a result of the hepatitis C scandal. The most important section of that Bill is section 3, "Offence of grossly negligent management causing death", for which a person who should have acted would go to jail for a period of up to 12 years. The Government wants that taken out of the legislation, because it does not think anybody should be held individually accountable for gross mismanagement. Why do we think we have these scandals over and over again? There are people in senior management all across the public service who are not held personally liable for their inaction and for deaths of Irish citizens as a result of that inaction.
I also ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on, and hope that the Government will bring in legislation to reflect, the latest news from the European Commission. The Commission is investigating the ongoing scandal in the car insurance market. It looks like there is some form of collusion between the insurance companies, given the fact that we are paying such high rates for insurance with no real reason or justification for it.
The cartel the insurance industry and its lobby group appear to be running is affecting businesses and jobs. It is affecting people's ability to get a car and go to work. That is how it is impacting on people, and yet the Government is not taking action. I will give the House an example of an insurance case in Kerry. My father is an insurance broker. The issue here is of course the reform of the legal system. Mr. Justice Kelly of the Supreme Court pointed out that unless one is a pauper or a millionaire one cannot get justice in Ireland. Anyone in the middle will not be able to afford it. In this instance three people were injured in a motor insurance claim. The claim for each of the individuals was €500. The three claimants got a total of €1,500. The legal costs amounted to €9,700 and the outlay was €3,300. The total cost was €14,000, of which 10% went to the people who were injured. The legal profession got 66%, and the outlay of the legal profession was 22%. I repeat, 10% went to the people who were injured.
That needs reform. We all know that former Minister for Justice and Equality, then Deputy Alan Shatter, was trying to reform that, and bring in a system that made justice affordable for all. If it is not affordable for everybody, then one cannot get justice in this country because one simply cannot afford it. That is not an equal society, and I hope that the Leader will organise not a debate but legislation, to address the insurance industry and the cartel it is running.
On this beautiful sunny day I want to bring it to the Members' attention that the Balmoral Show, the premier agricultural show in the island of Ireland - along with the National Ploughing Championships - is taking place over the next few days. I encourage anyone to take the opportunity to travel to Balmoral in Northern Ireland, to that amazing agricultural show. I am heading there myself tomorrow, and I think it is a wonderful event.
I encourage the Cathaoirleach to go up and experience it for himself.
Secondly, I want to point out that the women Independent councillors are organising a rally at the gates of Leinster House today at 5 p.m. If any Members can go, I think they would be delighted to see them. I know Senators would be delighted to see the councillors.
It relates to the cervical cancer saga.
I also want to raise the issue of the National Economic and Social Council's report on urban land planning. This is a particularly important document, and it is a pity it comes so late and did not feed into the Rebuilding Ireland documentation. People may have heard about it on "Morning Ireland" this morning. It talks about the need to use and retain our State lands, rather than pursuing the policy we have had of selling them. I think of the RTÉ lands at Montrose in Donnybrook. None of that land was set aside for social and affordable housing. What a disappointment. This report calls for the retention of State lands. I think it is an important report. We should read it and we should consider raising it again.
Finally, I just want to say a few words about Tom Murphy. I did not speak here yesterday morning. I read many of the tributes to him today. One cannot help but remember his moving passages, words and plays about emigration and displacement. There was emigration and displacement then, but we still have displacement in our country today. It is linked to access to social and affordable housing. People wish to remain and live in their communities, particularly rural communities. We should be mindful and look back on some of those words, because they are as relevant today as they were then. I want to pay tribute to him and to his family.
I wanted to come in today to say a few words about a woman I met about three years ago. Her name was Kathy McMahon. I only learned yesterday of her passing.She would have been familiar to some Senators and Deputies in recent years for founding the organisation Irish First Mothers, which has been campaigning relentlessly for survivors of mother and baby homes and women put up for forced adoption. She died unexpectedly on a trip to Geneva in the past couple of days. She was a very strong, working-class woman who advocated for women who had been failed by the State in the generations before mine. She opened my eyes to my situation when, three years ago, she asked me to speak to her Irish First Mothers group. It became apparent that if I had been born in the generation before mine, I could have found myself as a teenage mother in the same position as the members of the group. Seeing my rise to success through education at Trinity College made her happy that a young mother could achieve so much but it also made her extremely sad that women like her never had the chance to be the kind of mother that I was allowed to be to my daughter at such a young age.
I have two issues to raise today and they are related. The first concerns a woman jailed for contempt of court for refusing to surrender her house to a vulture fund. This woman has two teenage daughters. It is quite extraordinary to think no banker in this State has ever gone to prison yet we jail women with children for refusing to vacate their premises for vulture funds. I raise this in the context of the Supreme Court hearing a case on the issue and the fact that European law does not allow judges to jail citizens in this way. The Supreme Court heard an appeal in April. We await the outcome. It is quite extraordinary that a woman would be jailed while we await a decision of the Supreme Court in this matter.
The second point concerns a practice that is developing once again - we experienced it during the boom - whereby developers are advertising housing developments on websites and in the newspapers and using the term "price on application". This is a method for them to determine the level of interest without disclosing the price. They can then raise the price to the level they think the market will bear. This is very wrong.
Is it already illegal? In that event, I ask that the law be enforced because what is happening is completely wrong and against the interests of the citizens. We do not want to fall into a trap whereby, once again, greedy developers precipitate a dangerous economic situation.
I am sometimes anxious that I might talk too often on a certain issue but I also subscribe to the view "If not you, who?". Today marks International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. On this day, global and state policymakers are asked to consider their progress in eliminating bigotry and prejudices that damage the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex, LGBTQI, community. During our debate on conversion therapy, I said that we live in a society where many same-sex couples will not hold hands in the street, where "gay" is a term of abuse in playgrounds and where mental distress is much higher among LGBTQI people. This week, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, ILGA, released its European rainbow map, an annual benchmarking tool which ranks 49 countries in Europe on their LGBTI equality laws and policies. The map also reveals states where advances are not being made at the rate they once were. The intention behind this exercise is to highlight the lack of sustained progress on LGBT equality issues and it should set off alarm bells for policymakers and advocates alike. While most of us recall the recent referendum on civil marriage equality and the Gender Recognition Act 2015, it must be noted that this State ranks only 15th among its European counterparts. The review accompanying the map refers to positive events of this year, such as the review of the Gender Recognition Act 2015, the LGBTI+ youth strategy, Senator Nash's legislation on pardons and apologies for gay men who were criminalised and the election of Deputy Varadkar as Taoiseach. However, it also states that Irish law "continues to be conspicuous by its absence from Ireland's statute books of hate crime legislation that protects LGBTQI people". This State is the only western European jurisdiction without standard hate crime legislation. This means, in reality, that we have no way of bringing specified charges against individuals who specifically target minorities with racist, homophobic or bigoted biases. Sinn Féin is calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to discuss his plans to implement robust hate crime legislation in the lifetime of this Government.
As the House may know, today marks the 44th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. On 17 May 1974, 33 people lost live their lives, which was the largest loss of life in any event of the conflict. The families and Justice for the Forgotten have campaigned for four decades for the truth of what happened to their loved ones. The release of British state documents has been the subject of two all-party motions passed by these Houses. I call on the Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to renew his efforts in seeking these papers from the British Government.
Last evening, the House discussed the case of the hooded men. This is another case whereby justice has long been denied. We cannot become complacent because most of these legal struggles are now entering their fourth decade without answers, without truth and without justice being forthcoming.
I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, at the University of Limerick, UL, of a €47 million investment between Science Foundation Ireland, funded by the Government, and the heads of industry. UL will be the lead partner in it and it will involve University College Cork, the Tyndall Institute, Limerick Institute of Technology, the National University of Ireland, Galway, Athlone Institute of Technology, the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and Cork Institute of Technology. It focuses on robotics and artificial intelligence. Visiting the stands from the institutes yesterday was very worthwhile. There will be 55 jobs there initially, with 100 high-end jobs to be created. It is also a question of highlighting what will happen in the future. Much research and work had been put into each of the projects especially on 3D and futuristic projects.
Mary Immaculate College announced its new president today. I wish Professor Eugene Wall all the best in his new role. He has been the acting president for the past year and a half. I congratulate him on his appointment.
A Councillor D'Arcy from the village of Fore on the far side of Castlepollard told me that the Data Protection Commissioner ruled against Dublin City Council for making video recordings of illegal dumping at a site. The images were very clear and the council published them on the Internet in order to try to locate the people involved. There was quite a large response and the people were identified but the Data Protection Commissioner took a case to say the council was in breach of these people's privacy. If somebody is acting illegally and committing an offence against the State, he or she should not be protected by the Data Protection Commissioner. This is an area in our legislation that will have to be considered. Everybody is entitled to his or her privacy if he or she is abiding by the law of the State but if he or she acts outside that law and to the State's detriment, he or she should not be protected by privacy legislation. I have strong views on this and I oppose the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner. I would appreciate if the Leader would invite the relevant Minister to the House in order that we might discuss this matter and inform him or our ire. I think I would have support in the House on this. We could see if the Minister would talk to the Data Protection Commissioner about it.
Does it not? The Acting Leader can respond to that request.
I call Senator Marshall. I was not here when he was elected.I wish to formally congratulate him on his election to Seanad Éireann. It is obviously a big honour for the Senator and his family. It is a great occasion. On a personal level, I wish him all luck and every success in this Chamber. The Senator may proceed.
I wish to echo the sentiments expressed by my colleague, who stole my thunder. The Balmoral show in Northern Ireland is a major four-day event. It is not just about farming; it is for everyone including families and communities. The Balmoral show, the National Ploughing Championships and the Cork show are significant community events and act as trade-building exercises for businesses right across the island. At this critical time, when it is especially important that we strengthen our business links, infrastructure and the relationship between the farming fraternity and everyone on the island of Ireland, I wish to make it known near and far that when the sun is shining, it is a good opportunity to travel north to visit the show in Balmoral Park. I encourage people to reciprocate the gesture and come south for the National Ploughing Championships.
I am a great supporter of shows, including the Bantry and Munster shows. They are wonderful occasions. People from Northern Ireland with horses and sheep farmers from Donegal travel to Bantry. They are great events. I concur with the Senator.
I will be near Balmoral tomorrow because I am going to a conference in Liverpool. I was able to get a flight from Belfast International Airport for over €100 cheaper that from Dublin. That is not always the case. I will not be able to visit the show but I send those involved my best wishes.
It has been 18 months since the collapse of the Government at Stormont. Some parties seem to be unable to govern together and civil servants are not allowed to govern. We are in a very difficult situation. We are looking for ways out. We visited Capitol Hill to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, thank the United States for its involvement and renew the agreement. I was struck by how important Capitol Hill, the State Department and Congress are to the island of Ireland. I am not a supporter of President Trump, but he is meeting Kim Jong-un of North Korea on 12 June. It is to be hoped that there will be a resolution. It is not how we think of diplomacy, but it is one form of it.
The fact that President Trump is coming the United Kingdom on 13 July could provide an opportunity for the State Department to talk to the two major parties in the North, namely, Sinn Féin and the DUP. I am trying to be helpful because we are operating in a silo. People need a way out. The visit of President Trump to the UK could be a way out and help people to resolve some differences. Once ones goes into a silo of people being right and wrong, it is difficult to find a resolution. The people in the North of Ireland want power-sharing at Stormont. I understand all of the complications involved but the visit of President Trump could be a catalyst towards creating a seismic moment whereby the two parties might be assisted in getting together at Stormont. That would help not just Northern Ireland but the island of Ireland and Irish-UK relations. I understand that 12 July is an important date in the North, but there could be a moment in time. The relevant departmental officials could consider where such a seismic moment might be facilitated.
I apologise; I have to return to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. I will go to the Balmoral show because it is very important to have an exchange. I am looking forward to speaking to all of the rich farmers in the North. Us poor farmers in the west do not have a lot. All of the good land is in the North. I am looking forward to the Balmoral show. Agriculture is important to the entire island and we need to unite in terms of our responses.
I wish to pose a question to Senator Feighan. I accept that he is trying to be helpful. If the DUP was not supporting the Tory Government in Britain, would we have reached an agreement by now? I will not answer that question. It is something to think about. I wish to reiterate that Sinn Féin wants the institutions in the North up and running in order to deliver for the people. There is no question about that. We showed that earlier this year when we reached an agreement that could not be carried through on.
I have tabled three or four Commencement matters in the past week in respect of the Newport sewerage scheme - raw sewage is flowing into the sea at Newport - in order to try to get accountability or a status update from the Minister on what is being done to address the issue. I received correspondence to say that the Minister would not be answerable for that. I contacted another Minister and received the same correspondence. That worries me. I submitted another Commencement matter in respect of the Lough Mask regional water supply and the extension from Westport to Newport. It was ruled out of order because the Minister could not come before the House. Communities around Croagh Patrick do not know whether it will be closed for Reek Sunday because they do not have water. Nobody will give them answers as to why the extension to the Lough Mask water scheme did not go ahead and its current status in terms of the investment category.
I attended a meeting with several hundred people last week at which this issue was discussed. A local teacher talked about children not being able to wash their hands or flush toilets. Men and women involved in business talked about the opportunities that were lost, the jobs that were under threat etc. People in the community talked about having a right to water. I cannot get a Minister to come to the Seanad to answer a question on the issue. I ask the Leader to address this matter. If we have learned anything over the past few weeks it is that a lack of accountability where responsibilities are given to State agencies and removed from the responsibility of the Government is something we need to examine.
I am in a difficult position. If a Minister quotes Standing Orders, that is appropriate. I have some sympathy on these issues, having been a Deputy for a rural constituency. Water supplies and sewerage schemes are very basic and important matters. Perhaps the Leader could get someone to reflect on why Ministers are refusing to deal with those issues. That is a personal view. When I am informed that something does not come within the remit of a particular Minister, I cannot drag him or her into the House. However, I have sympathy for the plight of the Senator.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Senators Marshall and Lawlor on their recent election to this House. I congratulate all of the candidates who took part in those by-elections.
I take this opportunity to indicate that I intend to reintroduce - for Committee Stage debate - the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2013 to the Order Paper next week. The Bill passed Second Stage during the lifetime of the previous Seanad. It proposes to extend the franchise for Seanad by-elections to all eligible county and city councillors. I look forward to all-party agreement on seeking to have the Bill passed before the end of the year. I join Senator Warfield in recalling that today is the 44th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings when 34 people lost their lives in three bombing incidents in Dublin and one in Monaghan. Twenty-seven people were killed in Dublin and seven were killed in Monaghan, including an unborn child. Over 300 people were injured. I ask the Deputy Leader to work with the Leader to ensure that the families of those victims get the justice they deserve and the truth of exactly what happened 44 years ago.
Finally, I have visited the Balmoral Show on many occasions and I look forward to doing so again. As the Cathaoirleach said, there are many fine shows throughout the Thirty-two Counties but as an Ulster man I must say the best major show is held in Balmoral.
I would love to attend the Balmoral Show with Senator Marshall and the other Senators but it will not happen for me this year.
With regard to the North and Brexit, it is clear that the UK remaining aligned with the customs union is perhaps the only way to resolve the continuing dilemma over the UK's future relationship with the European Union, thereby removing the Irish backstop obligation. The matter is under discussion in Brussels between Michel Barnier's team and the team of the Brexit secretary, Mr. David Davis. Hopefully, they can find a suitable way through it. Alignment with the rules of the Internal Market and customs union, supporting North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday Agreement, would be a most suitable resolution, regardless of what it might be called. I am sure a term for it would not be beyond the bureaucrats and wordsmiths when necessary. This would mean the UK as a whole, not just Northern Ireland, remaining aligned and it would mean no customs checks either on the Border or on the Irish Sea. I am looking at Senator Marshall because I am sure he sees, perhaps more plainly than some of us, that this should suit all Irish interests, including those of the unionist community in the North, which seems to be so upset about the backstop and so forth. That is something we should encourage, and I have no doubt that we are doing that.
As I was not present yesterday I wish, belatedly, to offer my sympathy on the passing of the great playwright, Tom Murphy. He was certainly one of the great playwrights of our time, along with Brian Friel and my late townsman John B. Keane. It is a huge loss. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I support Senator Wilson's call for an enlargement of the franchise for future Seanad by-elections. The entire franchise would be approximately 1,000 people, which is not a huge number. I have already congratulated the two successful candidates and wished them well here.
Finally, I welcome the announcement by Shannon Foynes Port Company of a €64 million development of the port, which will develop land-side and port-side infrastructure. There will be expenditure of €20 million on increasing the marine port handling facilities. I was a director of that port company for 16 years. It is the most important port in the country outside of Dublin. Its continued growth even through a huge recession has been remarkable. Any infrastructure investment in Foynes is an investment not just for Limerick but also for Kerry, Clare and the mid-west region in general. I wish the company well for the future with this huge project.
I wish to raise the report today that the Poolbeg incinerator has reduced waste exports by 7%. This is welcome but incineration is not the way to go for producing energy. It just encourages waste and is an easy policy option. There are emissions with the production of waste in the first instance and there are emissions at the end when we burn it. It is not good for the environment. We are improving the recycling of waste in the State, which is positive, but it must get better. If we recycle more there will be less waste. Will incineration plants then have to import waste for efficient burning?
We must discourage waste production in the first instance and put obligations on manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging. Recently, supermarkets have started asking people to leave their plastic and cardboard behind. That is a great initiative but we need to bring it to the production area. It is estimated that almost 100 tonnes of packaging waste were generated in Ireland in 2015 and plastic used in packaging accounts for 40% of Europe's overall plastic usage. At the end of the conveyor belt it creates a financial burden for the ordinary household with ever-escalating bin charges in a largely unregulated household waste collection service. The model of side-by-side competition in the household waste collection market, unique in Europe, must change as well. We must reduce what is going into the bins in the first instance through the creation of such incentives as a deposit and return scheme. We must protect our environment.
I thank the Members who raised issues on the Order of Business. Senator Mark Daly raised the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill, the general issue of accountability and the admirable words of Vicky Phelan yesterday. She is not interested in revenge; she wants accountability. We owe it to her and others like her to ensure we get to the bottom of this matter. Certainly measures such as those suggested by Senator Mark Daly are called for. We must allow the scoping exercise to be completed. It is a relatively short period of time. However, before the end of the session I hope to hear some constructive proposals on where we go from here with regard to State organisations and proper accountability in these circumstances.
With regard to insurance, we have heard in the last few days about the huge issues with insurance in this country. We should have a debate on it in the House in the near future and hear from the Minister about what measures are being put in place to try to reduce insurance costs. I do not believe it all can be laid at the feet of lawyers. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, exists and there is no logical reason that lawyers should be involved with a claim for €500. That must be examined.
Senator Boyhan raised the Balmoral Show, as did Senator Marshall and others. I have major FOMO - fear of missing out - so I will have to go to the North this weekend-----
I thank the Senator. I agree with the sentiment that it is a good thing to have businesses, farmers and people from the South travelling to the Balmoral Show at this time, given Brexit and so forth. It is certainly to be encouraged.
Senator Boyhan also paid tribute to Tom Murphy. He was a wonderful playwright and I had the pleasure of seeing many of his plays. He was certainly among the best we have ever had. May he rest in peace.
Senator Ruane paid tribute to Kathy McMahon, who by all accounts was a fantastic advocate for mothers, babies and women in this country. May she also rest in peace.
Senator Norris raised an issue involving vulture funds. Obviously, it is a huge problem. He also raised the issue of developers putting up prices through price on application.Senator Davitt pointed out that this is illegal. We should learn from our mistakes, if nothing else, in this regard. It is a matter that might be usefully raised on the Commencement in order to get a full answer on this type of activity and what the Minister's response might be to such activity.
Senator Warfield should never stop raising the issue he mentioned. There were many years in which the issues of homophobia and gay rights were ignored to the detriment of many citizens in this country. He should never feel it is something he cannot raise as often as he wishes in this House and elsewhere. It would be a good idea for the Minister to come to the House to discuss such legislation. I note the comments on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and those families are in need of justice. I know that all that is possible to be done by the Government is being done in that regard.
Senator Byrne welcomed the investment involving Science Foundation Ireland and the University of Limerick. These types of future projects are vital and very good for the mid west, which is to be welcomed. Senator Davitt raised a matter with which I am concerned as well relating to illegal dumping. I know a case where somebody attended a licensed premises and caused a huge fight and was subsequently fired from a job because his employer had access to CCTV from the business. I am a lawyer and there is a core principle in law and equity that people come to court with clean hands. The idea that somebody who is dumping illegally is using the data commissioner to get protection from prosecution for a criminal act is really bringing privacy law to a level that was never intended. Although I have nothing personal against the data commissioner, I am concerned about the office not seeing the wood for the trees in those types of circumstances. I share Senator Davitt's concerns and it is something we could debate in the House. He should certainly raise the matter as a Commencement matter at the very least.
Senator Marshall mentioned the Balmoral Show and I hope it is a very successful weekend for all concerned. I wonder if Senator Feighan has booked his flight to go to the wedding or perhaps the invitation has come in. As usual, he has come up with positive and innovative suggestions as to how the deadlock in Stormont might be solved. It is only through continuous international and national conversation and negotiation that this will be solved. I hope he has a nice time, wherever he goes this weekend. I am not sure but the Senator might be trying to keep it quiet that he is going to the wedding.
Senator Conway-Walsh also mentioned the Balmoral Show. The Cathaoirleach dealt with the concern about Commencement debates. It is something about which I will speak with the Leader. The Senator also suggested having a debate on water and sewerage schemes, and I am sure the Leader can facilitate this. Senator Wilson raised the electoral (amendment) Bill that would extend the franchise and I do not see any difficulty with that coming into the House. The Senator also raised the matter of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. As he said, the families deserve justice. The Senator also mentioned the Balmoral Show so I feel I have definitely been extended an invitation to it at this point. My interest has been piqued in the show and although it is a very busy weekend with the referendum next week, if I can at all I would be inclined to go up there.
Senator Coghlan continues to work on the issues of the North and Brexit. He referred to the backstop, which is a red line issue for us, as is the Border. There is continued diplomacy. Prime Minister May has major challenges and we must hope that in the coming weeks, something positive will arise with respect to the North and this country. Senator O'Sullivan paid tribute to Mr. Tom Murphy, a wonderful playwright, and mentioned the electoral (amendment) Bill that I have referred to. Investment in Foynes is clearly important for the mid west and south west, so it must be welcomed.
Senator Devine mentioned another matter on which I have done much recent work. It speaks to the prevention issue that we need in many Departments. Ultimately, we would not need incineration or waste reduction if we were not producing as much waste. The deposit return scheme is a fantastic idea that I have suggested myself. The big issue is soft plastics, which are completely non-recyclable and cause major problems. The Senator mentioned that it is about asking producers to find measures to ensure they do not use as much plastic. It is very convenient for supermarkets to display food in the way they do but ultimately it causes much damage to the environment. I have asked for a debate on the matter to raise such issues and I would like to see that before the end of term if possible.