Thursday, 5 July 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. a1, motion regarding the eighth report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Monday, 9 July, to be taken on conclusion of No. a1 without debate; No. 2, Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2018, all Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, with the time allocated to group spokespersons for the debate on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes and all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 3, Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017, Report and Final Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, National Archives (Amendment) Bill 2017, Report and Final Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3.
I would like to hear the views of Members of the House about this particular proposal. I am aware that the Government is particularly anxious to get the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 through the House. It is a priority as far as it is concerned, and it is very important to the Government that it be passed in the Seanad before the summer recess. The other proposals regarding the Order of Business are quite acceptable but I would like to hear the views of the other Members of the House on this particular matter.
I accept the establishment of a committee of the Seanad relating to Brexit. It is important and significant. The last committee prepared a report. I would like to see more emphasis on the implementation of that report, or at least its promotion, before we go into another report and have another deadline at the end of December, because the countdown to March 2019 is on. That is the month in which the United Kingdom proposes to leave the European Union. The period between now and then is crucial. After that time there will be no more contesting of the European elections. That is a fact. I do not see any prospect of a reversal of the decision via another referendum, despite what we might hope for. From my experience, as a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and as a representative of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union, COSAC, for the meeting next week in Vienna, I do not believe there will be any change in the situation in the United Kingdom in the near future from either the Conservatives or the Labour Party. The priority must be that all the resources of the State are used to ensure that we get the best deal possible for this island. We are an island off an island off the coast of Europe. I respect the value of a seat on the United Nations Security Council, which is important. We had one before and I do not believe it created a great reaction or contributed much to the economy. I believe the resources of the State should be focused solely on Brexit, and that all contributions and ideas should be considered.
I gave a lecture last Tuesday at the National College of Ireland. It is a college that is working on solutions to problems. It is very advanced in the area of cloud computing and it is now investigating what would need to happen to ensure a seamless border which would not have to be controlled. I accept that the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic must remain as it is now, without any barriers whatsoever. I also understand the concerns of the Democratic Unionist Party, which does not want to see a border down the Irish Sea. Negotiations are continuing. We look forward to the outcome of the negotiations of the British Government at Chequers tomorrow. I hope that it will take a united approach. At the end of the day, our interests are primary and vital but I also believe that a good deal for the United Kingdom should be a good deal for the Republic of Ireland.
It is important that the proposed committee is established and that it meets as soon as possible. We should remember that work is going on elsewhere as well - I am the Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs - and I hope that committee will be up and running as quickly as possible.
Arising from the proposal for the Order of Business and the first motion, which is to be discussed after the matter to be taken without debate relating to proposals to meet and consider Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill further on Monday, I want to indicate a few things at this stage, without anticipating the debate on that proposal, which I presume we will discuss further.
There has been concealment and deception and it is wrong.It is all motivated by a desire to slip things through so as to satisfy the ego of one person in a hurry. That is what is happening here.
What I want to say to the Deputy Leader here today, through the Chair, is that even if Committee Stage finishes next Monday, in the hours allocated for it - and nobody has filibustering on this debate, even though speeches from the Minister have been quite lengthy, I have noted - if there are to be Report Stage amendments, these must follow a decent space of time, in which we have time to consider what happened on Committee Stage and have time to prepare proper Report Stage amendments. It is utterly wrong, especially in view of the rules of the House in respect of Report Stage amendments and the manner in which they are debated, to say to us that this House will have a matter of hours to do its homework and have it in to the Bills Office.
The other point is that the Bills Office deserves some consideration in this regard. It is a hard-working body, which serves this House very well. It works and assists the Members of this House in doing their work well. It will, however, be inundated with work on the conclusion of Committee Stage. It is fair that it should have time to carry out that work properly and it is fair that Members of this House should have the opportunity to prepare their amendments properly as well.
I do not see why we should have No. 1 decided without debate. I would like to hear the Deputy Leader's assurances about the time that will intervene between the end of Committee Stage and the beginning of Report Stage. I would like to hear her assurances on this point. This is another deceitful effort to brush this issue under the carpet, to say there will be no debate and to force us into a situation where there is not sufficient time to consider our Report Stage amendments.
We therefore must oppose the Order of Business and must oppose the arrangements for Monday. We have to waste time again because we are not being told the truth. I note RTÉ can see the GRECO report and while a Minister could come in here and warn Senator Craughwell that he would be disappointed by the terms of the GRECO report, when we see what RTÉ has broadcast today, it is no disappointment. The only disappointment is how a shabby attempt to deceive this House has come off the rails. If this is going to happen, all of the consequences fall on the Government. I was a member of the Fine Gael Party and I can tell the House that never in the past did it abase itself to one person in the way it is doing now. That party should be collectively ashamed of themselves for what they are doing.
I wish to raise the issue of pension changes today, which were meant to address the anomalies in the 2012 legislation. I have been contacted by many people, mostly women, who are unable to receive their entire pension entitlements due to the 2012 changes. Sinn Féin has long called for the reform of the way the contributory pension is calculated but we do not want to see bad legislation replaced by new legislation that will see others affected. I welcome that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, launched a public consultation recently on the proposed changes but I am worried that these changes, as they stand at the moment, may end up with a different category of people being unable to access a full pension. It is being reported that up to 40 years of social insurance contributions will be needed to qualify for a full State pension. This is completely unobtainable for those who became employed in 1988 and will be retiring in 2020. The most they can amass is 32 years, leaving them considerably short.
There is also the issue of the women born before 1950 who are not being looked at. This is age discrimination and it is not acceptable. Older women should be looked at first. Their retirements are turning out to be really miserable. They need fairness but they also need the money that is owed to them paid back to them and that needs to be looked at.
The Department has confirmed that over 40,000 pensioners assessed under the 2012 rate band changes will be contacted from autumn 2018 and will be invited to have their pensions reviewed. I hope that by that stage, this new anomaly can be addressed. It is not good enough to strive for the fairest possible solution that leaves people in an impossible situation, quite literally unable to do anything to change their past contributions. The sense of helplessness adds to the frustration felt by many of those affected. Pensioners already face huge challenges in planning for the future, and they do not need further cause for concern that they will not have enough to get by in later years.
Recently, an assistant principal officer at the Department stated it was difficult to do something that was fair and affordable at the same time. A fair system would allow both the average and the total contributions model to continue to include self-employed and part-time workers. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to discuss the issue of pensions and the anomalies within the pensions system that are pushing many people, as they retire and as they get into their elder years, into poverty. This is something that needs to be addressed. We cannot leave people behind in these situations.
I, together with the Technical Group, will be opposing No. 1. We think it is wrong to force this matter through in such a way.
With regard to the GRECO report, the Minister said that there would be no earthquakes in it and that Senators would be disappointed. I do not know what his definition of an earthquake is, but the report states this Bill opens the way to political interference. If that is not an earthquake, I do not know what is. This Bill alleges that it is seeking to address this very problem but it is doing absolutely the reverse. It is opening the way to political interference and corruption in the judicial system of this country at the whim of one person. I think that this is an outrage. The Minister, Deputy Ross, is a byword for political hypocrisy but the fact that Fine Gael will follow him into this is outrageous and I honour Senator Noone for her contribution yesterday when she said she would vote, albeit with a heavy heart. I would say do not vote with the Government on this. Show a bit of spunk. I do not think there is a single Member of Fine Gael in this House who approves of this Bill. Certainly from their speeches one would not detect it. Let them show the relevance of the Senate, that we stand up for principles, that we will defy political corruption in Government which we see at this moment. We should put the country before the party. This is what has got Britain into such an appalling situation where they put the Tory party's interests above the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Fine Gael, regrettably, had the same situation when Deputy Enda Kenny tried to abolish the Senate. Nobody in Fine Gael agreed with it. They all trooped, nonetheless, like lambs into the division lobby to support it. That was a violation of political conscience. Let them now find their political conscience and let them vote against this Bill, which is a disgrace to an Irish Parliament.
According to the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, there is a manning level crisis in the Defence Forces. It is not only RACO that is saying this but it also is being said by many ordinary honest-to-God personnel who I meet on a regular basis. This does not just affect officers but all personnel within the Defence Forces. The current trend of early voluntary retirements is not sustainable. The rate of members leaving will not be alleviated solely by the current reasonably high levels of recruitment. A major contributor to this situation was the very flawed re-organisation of the Army, and the loss of one brigade from the structure, with the consequential reduction of officers and personnel. This has left us with inadequate manning levels. That has huge implications and not just in respect of the troops who, for argument's sake, are required to travel from regional barracks to Dublin to perform duty.The Department of Defence should address these reorganisation issues and pay and conditions rather than leaving it to the Public Service Pay Commission, as it is doing. I have spoken on this many times, as have Senators Craughwell and Wilson. We should invite the Minister of State to the House for a debate on this. It should not be a debate where he gives us a list of positive things about the Army which we all know. We all know about the occasions such as the storms during the year where the Army comes in to help, the wonderful work that it does in the United Nations peacekeeping and on Operation Sophia. We all know all of these things and we do not want a speech about how wonderful the Army is. We want a proper debate on what the Department of Defence should be doing to look after our Defence Forces.
I thank Senator McFadden who lives in the heartland of the Defence Forces and who works with them on a constant basis. The Minister constantly tells us that the White Paper is the pathway forward for the Defence Forces. If one reads it, however, there is not one word in the White Paper about retention. We have no plan for keeping the expertise that we have spent millions training. They are climbing over one another to get out. The recruitment campaign has been excellent in getting people to express an interest in the Defence Forces, but of the 3,000 who did so, 380 were called, 180 turned up and some of those left before their training had concluded. Let us get real about the Defence Forces. I agree with Senator McFadden. We need to stop the talk and bring the Minister in here and get him to explain how he will reverse what is happening. It is disgusting that we are out in New York with U2 trying to get a seat on the UN when our Defence Forces, the very people we send out for peacekeeping, are falling apart.
Senator Leyden mentioned Brexit. He and I have worked quite hard on this area. The bottom line is that we have no plan. This will go wrong and we know that. I wrote a piece about it the day after the referendum. There is no plan. There is no military barracks between Dundalk and Finner Camp. There are no police stations most of the way along the Border. There is no longer corporate knowledge of managing a customs post on the Border because we never expected to have one.
My prediction is that the Brits will not seek to impose a Border in Northern Ireland but they will be quite happy to send 100 40 ft trucks daily from Scotland to Belfast to drive down to Rosslare to go to Europe so that we will have to close the Border on behalf of the European Union. Senator McFadden has just explained the problems with the Defence Forces. We have no way of closing the Border and we do not even know how to go about it. There is no electronic solution. I have no confidence in how we are going about this.
This weekend is a very important one in Ireland. On Saturday we will celebrate and remember those Irish people who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. On Sunday we will remember all service personnel from Ireland who died in wars or on peacekeeping duties throughout the world. I ask that we step back and think about it. For the best part of a century, we turned our eyes away from those brave men and women who went to war in 1914 to 1918. Today, it is quite respectable to have a couple of First World War medals. We are all searching around in our drawers to dust off the medals of our grandparents and great grandparents. Let us give them some thought over the weekend. Anyone who has ever been out to the Somme or any of the other grave areas in France will know that it is heartbreaking.
At this time of year, especially with the sun shining, it might seem strange to raise this subject, but it is one I have raised many times. Every winter there is flooding and coastal erosion, and nowhere more so than in The Burrow in Portrane. One family has had to abandon their home there, 13 other families face the same prospect and two businesses will also have to leave unless action is taken. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, on coming to The Burrow in Portrane. He understands the problem and has shown great interest in it. Fingal County Council is coming to the completion of the measures that it needs to take immediately to protect the remaining 13 homes and those two businesses, and it needs approval from the Minister of State and funding to implement those plans. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister of State to come before the House to outline that he will give approval to this, which I know he wishes to do? We do not want 13 families to lose their homes to the sea, along with two businesses. They deserve the help of the State to be able to stay in their homes, particularly in the midst of a homelessness and housing crisis. I hope that the Minister of State will take action immediately and allow us to do this work in the best conditions during the summer, not in the middle of the storms of winter.
I also welcome confirmation by the insurance industry that it will make funds to a dedicated Garda fraud insurance unit, something that the insurance alliance has been calling for and now the insurance industry is interested. Irish businesses and Irish motorists cannot sustain the ever-increasing hikes in premiums caused in large part by fraudulent claims. A present, people go to court, are found to have made vexatious and utterly false claims, walk away free without any fear of retribution or consequence, and then just try again.
I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, in particular, to re-examine this and to discuss, along with his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the Garda Commissioner, the urgent need to establish this unit. I understand that the Garda would be in a position to do this fairly quickly. We need it to happen. We cannot allow this crime, which is what it is, to continue.
Before I call the next speaker, I acknowledge and welcome to the Visitors Gallery the Royal British Legion from Armagh. I note that Senator Craughwell has urged us to attend the commemorations on Saturday. Our visitors are very welcome.
I continue to raise the smear test scandal which is not going away. The number of women affected has risen to 221 as of today. I am dismayed but perhaps it is not unexpected. An extra 12 cases have been identified yet the review of the smear test slides has not yet begun two months after the deadline for completion. Some 3,000 tests need to be audited again. It puts the completion of the Scally report in August into doubt, although it should not. Dr. Scally's review is preliminary. We must plough away on that as more delay and procrastination will not help the women who may be affected. Not having the results of the audit is a challenge but I urge Dr. Scally to continue his work. He is a strong advocate and has taken up the failure to provide information with the HSE when this has arisen.
Dr. David Fennelly, the consultant medical oncologist for Vicky Phelan, has called for a clinical trial of the drug that has done so much for her.The drug Pembrolizumab is not licensed in Europe but has proved extremely effective for Ms Phelan. They can actually pinpoint the patients who will benefit from it. It is not given blindly. A trial in this country would be the quickest and most cost effective way to do it.
I thank those who were in the Chamber and who voted the right way yesterday evening when my Bill, the Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2017, was narrowly defeated by one vote, however, we will plough forward.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 1, the motion proposed by the Deputy Leader for the sitting of the House on Monday, be taken with debate. I opposed the idea that we would sit in this way to deal with the Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill at the leaders' meeting, as did other group leaders. We oppose the motion because the entire purpose for the sitting on Monday and the early sitting on Tuesday is to ensure the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill be rammed through Committee Stage and then go straight into Report Stage with a view to finalising it in the Seanad by next Wednesday so that it can be rubber-stamped in the Dáil on Thursday. As Senator McDowell has said, this is an utterly unacceptable way to do business on such a contentious and important Bill.
We now know that RTÉ has the GRECO report, which is all the more reason that Members should have it by now to enable us to debate Committee Stage of the Bill. I hope we will all have it by Monday, if indeed the House supports the motion. I think it is unacceptable, given the very strong critiques that were expressed in the GRECO report, that we do not have it. The Minister's description of the report was bizarre. He had not read it when we started the debate on Committee Stage. He said there was nothing shocking in it, that there was no earthquake in it, and then he told us yesterday that he had read it but that we, the Members, could not get it. I endorse the sentiments expressed by Senator Noone yesterday that she would only be voting for this with a heavy heart. I think we all know the reason. Clearly the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is driving this Bill through. It is a one man show. It is unfortunate to see the craven way in which the rest of the Fine Gael Party and others are supporting him on it.
Is it proposed to take Senator Frances Black's important Bill, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018next week? We were also to have a debate on Palestine. I welcome that and I hope that in all the rush to get the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill through with such unseemly haste and without any real urgency that we will not lose sight of that debate and that there will be time to have it on Wednesday.
I agree with the point made by Senator Máire Devine on the call from the leading oncologist, Dr. David Fennelly, on trialling the drug, Pembrolizumab. I listed to Ms Vicky Phelan being interviewed on radio recently where she spoke so passionately about her health. Certainly it has been shown that her tumours are reducing in size. Nine new cases of cervical cancer have come to the fore. The fact that it can be shown in advance whether the drug will have a good effect on a person is exciting for the patients. The HSE should trial this on patients and make it available as soon as possible. It is cost effective because it can be shown in advance whether it will work for a patient. I ask the Deputy Leader to request the Minister for Health to come to the House to debate issues on this drug because it is very important and Ms Phelan has been an inspiration for the women affected by cervical cancer.
Science Foundation Ireland has presented awards to 641 primary schools for work on STEM subjects. A report released six months ago showed that children with a love for maths and science at the age of eight or nine, will continue to love these subjects. The different universities and employers highlight the shortage of engineers with STEM backgrounds. The children in these schools had to visit facilities that offer the sciences and undertake experiments. We should build on this and expand the programme to more schools.
I concur with the sentiment of Senators Bacik and McDowell on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. The manner in which it has been handled by Government is very disappointing. I was under the impression we had entered a new era, the politics of consensus. What we have is that an individual's pet project, which he wishes to see over the line, and the members of Government collectively trying to facilitate that. That is very disappointing. What is going on is clear. We had our suspicions and Senator McDowell highlighted what our friends in Europe thought during the week. Courtesy of the national broadcaster, we had that relayed to us. In light of the fact the GRECO report is in the public domain, we need to think again about this Bill.
I was listening to the radio this morning and I wish to compliment Newstalk on the discussion on the terms and conditions of councillors. They had a member of the local authority on the programme who said that 104 members of local authorities had stepped down from the role in the past four years. That highlights the difficulties for local authority members, and he put it that we were asking people to do a full-time job for effectively a part-time wage. I know that Government has belatedly grasped this issue and is conducting a review. I hope a report will issue shortly on the terms and conditions for councillors. It is vitally important that the report is fast-tracked and that we reach a conclusion. Local democracy is the most important layer of democracy. It is critically important that the right people get elected and want to participate in local government. I look forward to the Government bringing forward that report as a matter of urgency.
I wish to sound a word of caution. I spent 24 years in the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical companies always pay for their own clinical trials. I know that it may be unpopular to say that. Now, the medical profession is putting pressure that nation states pay for the clinical trials. If we are to pay for those clinical trials we have to be paid the profits. We cannot hastily go down this road.
I second Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business that we take No. 1 with debate.
I wish to raise the issue of the community employment, jobs initiative and Tús schemes. These schemes play a very important role in the State and provide a valuable service to the community in the work on community centres, tidy towns, childcare, marking out the football pitches and other areas of the community. We really have to consider that these are core jobs and the community cannot function without the work of people on these schemes. There has been no replacement for the jobs initiative, JI, scheme. These were core staff who paid the wages and ensured the community employment programmes were up and running, there was work to be done, the pitches were marked and childcare was provided. All of those JI workers will retire in the next four years and they are not being replaced. We need to recognise that these are full-time jobs.These people are a core part of our communities and we must plan to replace these jobs in an orderly manner. I suggest that where a JI worker wants to continue working after he or she reaches the age of 65 that he or she is allowed to work for another year on a voluntary basis. Such a provision would help communities. We must plan an orderly replacement of JI as otherwise, childcare centres and community centres will close and the football pitches on which children play will not be maintained or marked for usage. These people provide core services to all of our communities in locations as diverse as the top of County Donegal all the way down to the bottom of County Kerry. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a discussion on this matter.
I want to raise an issue that I have previously raised in the Seanad. I refer to the decision by Norwegian Airlines not to progress with the winter service from Cork Airport to Providence in the USA this winter. The cessation of a transatlantic winter service is a huge issue in many ways, particularly when one wants balanced growth in a region. Originally the airline offered to provide the service all year round, which worked very well last year. However, in April of this year the airline announced that it would suspend the winter service.
I believe we must immediately engage with the airline about the issue. I realise that Norwegian Airlines must make a profit. However, if it has been granted a licence to provide a service all year round, we must work with it to ensure it does so. As three months have passed since the announcement, negotiations must happen sooner rather than later. On previous occasions in the Seanad I have asked the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on the matter. I realise there is a proposal to invite representatives of the airline to appear before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport but we need clarity on the matter in order that we can build the tourism industry and the business element. The multinational companies that operate in County Cork found the transatlantic flight very important because it provided connectivity. Such connectivity is what multinational and indigenous industries in Cork need to develop and grow connections that they have created with their US friends over the years.
Before the recess, we should work with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and at least get clarity and engagement on this matter. It is important that we so.
I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, here this morning because I want him to tell me what has happened with car insurance. Recently I was given a quote for my car insurance by telephone and was informed that it has doubled. I was shocked by the increase because I have not changed, I have not changed my car, I was not awarded penalty points and I have not been involved in an accident. I offer myself as a visual, aural and oral aid here to emphasise that this must be happening to thousands of people all over the country. I am shocked that willy-nilly and out of thin air one's insurance premium is doubled. When I tried to speak to the insurance company it felt like I was talking to the bottom of my shoe or something under my shoe because its staff were not interested. The cost of increase is an absolute disgrace and hikes in premia affect families, young people, people working and people in trade.
Deputy Ross is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport but at the moment one would think he was the Minister for something else because his Bill on the Judiciary has the whole Senate enthralled. I would like him to come in here as the Minister of his due Department, which is the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I would like him to outline to me, as I asked my insurance company to do this morning, why insurance companies are getting away with this? What are the statistics? Why are they making such decisions? How do they make their decisions? Why do they pull numbers out of the air for people who have never caused a road collision or accident or anything that would increase their insurance costs, including penalty points?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I ask that the Deputy Leader invites the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport to come here today as the Minister responsible for transport. I ask Senators to consider seconding my proposal.
I echo the comments made by Senator Lombard about the cessation of a transatlantic flight from Cork Airport. The move made the airline is a classic example of bait and switch. His call for action is very appropriate because Norwegian Airlines handled the matter in a disgraceful manner by making false promises.
I want to speak about the increase in the number of racist attacks. I am concerned about the report this week that shows there has been an increase in the number of racist incidents and in racism. This situation is not unconnected to the type of language used to describe migration across Europe. It can be at the lowest level with the subtlest of dog whistles, in the outright racism by other leaders in Europe, in the suggestions that we have a problem, that migrants pose a danger and hence we need to control them and in the very dehumanising treatment of migrants. We have criticised Trump at length due to his policy of separating children from their parents on the Mexican border. However, we need to ask questions in Ireland and Europe about racism. Today, representatives of Médecins sans Frontières attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. One representative of Médecins sans Frontières said that last week was the "deadliest" week on the Mediterranean Sea with the highest loss of life. Are we happy to allow people drown in the Mediterranean Sea and thus act as a deterrent? We cannot use children, families or human beings as examples. We cannot dehumanise them. Devaluing people sends a very negative signal, all of which is connected to racism. The articles on the report pointed to certain factors such as Brexit, Trump, the political narrative on migration and whether migrants create pressures when we know that they are an asset to society.
I urge the Government to consider a practical suggestion. In the past I had the honour of being a board member of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, NCCRI. It was a constructive State body that was created to drive constructive and positive discussions on inclusion and anti-racism. Unfortunately, the NCCRI and the Combat Poverty Agency were dissolved at the beginning of the recession. That was the exact time that we needed organisations to tackle poverty and issues like racism. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask whether we can revisit the question of creating a new national consultative committee for racism and interculturalism or a similar initiative. I acknowledge that we have had anti-racism campaigns in the past and that Senators in this House were involved.
I have been asked by members of the Irish-Bangladeshi community in Ireland to raise the current situation regarding the former Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia. She has been imprisoned and her supporters want her to receive a fair trial. They feel that in order to hold free, fair, participatory and inclusive parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, she should be released. Her case is very important. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come in here and outline the Government's view of the situation.
On Saturday I shall attend a ceremony at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge. For far too long we have ignored and airbrushed from history the sacrifices of 49,000 Irishmen from the island of Ireland. Since 2006, we have come to terms with our shared history and with two sides of our history. However, I believe that 95% of the population in the Republic do not know where the memorial gardens are located even though they may drive by them virtually every day. Other countries give a higher profile to such sacrifice. Therefore, I propose that the memorial gardens are located in a more central location such as Merrion Square. Again, the gardens were conveniently located in the countryside because people wanted to airbrush this part of our history.I am so happy the country is embracing all sides of our history.
I have a brief point on the Defence Forces. The best way we can help them is to grant them the right to collective bargaining, a right that was upheld by the European Committee of Social Rights. If Fine Gael Senators are serious about helping the Defence Forces they should call on their own Government to support collective bargaining rights.
I want to raise another issue with regard to workers' rights. Tomorrow the workers in Lloyds Pharmacy will take their fourth day of strike action. Lloyds Pharmacy is owned by the McKesson Corporation, which has annual revenues of €198.5 billion. Yesterday evening we had a presentation from some of the workers. I regret to say nobody from the Fine Gael side took the time to come along. We heard a couple of interesting facts. The first is these people are extremely poorly paid. We heard from one lady who, after working for Lloyds Pharmacy for 15 years, received a pay increase of the princely sum of 5 cent an hour, which brought her up, after those 15 years, to €10.50.
The second fact is the McKesson Corporation deals with unions all the time. For example, it owns United Drug and has no problem with doing a deal with the unions there. It recognises them and pays decent wages. Interestingly, the workforce of United Drug is predominantly male while at Lloyds Pharmacy the workforce is almost exclusively female, and they have been completely denied the right to collective bargaining. It is the biggest pharmaceutical company in the State and the workers are denied even a basic sick pay scheme.
My point is we have this huge corporation earning millions of euro in taxpayers' money through the HSE medical card scheme and something needs to be done about this. The Government needs to address this issue of companies flagrantly disregarding the industrial relations machinery of the State, flagrantly disregarding the Labour Court in this case, and flagrantly disregarding workers' rights and continuing to receive massive largesse. Last week, we united to call for full support for Lloyds Pharmacy workers. We need to re-echo this call. These people are fighting for fundamental workers' rights and they are being treated appallingly by one of the richest corporations in the world. I contend that one of the reasons for this is the predominantly female workforce. If we want to understand the gender pay gap look at how Lloyds Pharmacy is treating its workers.