Thursday, 5 July 2018
Order of Business (Resumed)
I welcome the re-establishment of the Brexit working group under the stewardship of the Chairman, Senator Richmond, who has done an excellent job in that capacity. It is an important committee. I call on the Deputy Leader to bring the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation before the House to talk about the interaction she has had with her counterpart in the UK regarding the trade between Ireland and UK. It is probably as important to the UK as it is to Ireland because it has a trade surplus approaching €6 billion with Ireland. It has a lot of companies depending on exports to Ireland as we have companies depending on exports to the UK, with certain sectors very exposed. I would like to hear what the Minister is doing to support Irish exports to the UK market.
The second issue I want to touch on is to call for a debate on the pensions crisis facing all of us. The reality is that many people today who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s will have little or no State pension availability by the time they reach pension age as a result of the lack of investment in the pension fund. People are ageing. They are now expected to work longer before they become eligible for a pension. The interdepartmental working group identified that outside of the public sector, 60% of Irish employees have no occupational pension. Therefore, they are dependent solely on the State pension, which will not be there come pension age for these people. This is a crisis. It does not get highlighted because it is not in the electoral cycle, but it will be in the electoral cycle in ten or 15 years when it will be too late to do anything about it. Now is the time. I ask that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection come before the House, if possible, to discuss the issue.
I second the proposal of my colleague and friend, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, on the Order of Business.
I want to talk about GRECO. I commend and thank the Deputy Leader of the House who made a remarkable speech on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. It was a brave and courageous speech and I would expect nothing less from her. That distinguishes leadership and politics. I acknowledge a whip structure is in place for political parties as opposed to Independents, but she had the courage of her convictions when she spoke and set out her stall. I acknowledge that because it is the mark of a politician and someone with leadership who is prepared to decipher the difference between blind loyalty to a political establishment and taking a reasonable and rational view of things. There is also the fact she is an experienced lawyer. This brings an awful lot of weight and I acknowledge it because it was a significant and important contribution.
It is very important that we have this GRECO report today. I played back the contributions of the Minister yesterday and it was absurd. We had the Minister tell us in the House that he had not even read it. Then he told one of the Senators not to worry that he will allay all of our fears. Yesterday evening he told us he had a look at it yesterday. I am putting out an appeal here today. Today at Cabinet it was agreed to publish the report. I want the Minister to tell us what day he received it because he did not answer us the other night. I am putting him on notice now that if he does not do so this very day I will make a freedom of information request of the Department of Justice and Equality to ascertain who, be it the Secretary General or the Minister, received the GRECO report, when it was received and when it was brought to the Minister's attention. He failed to give us any clarity on this matter. I want to put on the record that this day I will put in a formal freedom of information request to the Department with regard to the Secretary General, the Minister and his staff. He has time today when he comes back in to clearly clarify the point.
We have an opportunity to defend the judicial independence of our State. We have an opportunity to ensure our Constitution is in no way eroded with regard to the independence of the Judiciary and the appointment of its members. I will make another appeal, as my friend, Senator Michael McDowell, said earlier, to have respect for the Bills Office. Do not push an enormous amount of work on the Bills Office for the next Stage when we complete this Stage. It also has a hard job to do. We must respect that and value it. I hope we will give it the time and space to let it do its work in terms of preparing for the next Stage of the Bill. I acknowledge the staff. I particularly acknowledge the Bills Office and the Seanad Office for the support they give us an ongoing basis, but particular the Bills Office regarding this matter. It is important the message goes out loud and clear from here. We generally as Senators are not prepared to make unreasonable demands of the Bills Office on this matter.
I want to put on the record of the House my disbelief that last night Ireland passed into law a Bill that actually endangers nature and the wildlife of this island, a Bill that is anything but a Heritage Bill. We saw the shameless tactics deployed by the Government to get it over the line. At a committee meeting a year ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, told me:
It needs to be understood that we have to live down there. If others want to visit, they are very welcome, but they do not understand the problems that we have when we have to live there for 52 weeks of the year.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, should know that if I go on holidays I go to France and to Spain. This is my country, and I have as much say on legislation that affects this country as Deputy Ring. The Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, goes to the European Parliament and tells of how Ireland's action on tackling climate change has not been good enough. I look forward to the day a progressive Government repeals the Heritage Act because, quite frankly, it is trash. The first act of the Minister, Deputy Madigan, in government should have been not to proceed with the Bill. It was not her Bill, she did not draft it and she had no obligation to pursue it. I want to put on record my disbelief that we have passed a Bill that endangers the nature and wildlife of this island.
On a point of order, I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that not a single Member who supported the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill last night, not Sinn Féin, Fine Gael or Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill-----
I thank the Senators who raised a variety of issues which I will address. Senator Leyden mentioned the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which I will come back to shortly.
The Brexit committee has been reinstated, which we all welcome. I agree that all reasonable resources of the State are being invested in Brexit. The British Government has been difficult to understand on this issue, and it has been challenging. We definitely agree on the fact that a good deal for the UK is a good deal for us. We all have a common ambition in that regard.
Senator McDowell raised the judicial appointments Bill, and the GRECO report specifically. I do not like this Bill, and I am uncomfortable with certain parts of it. There is no intention of guillotining the Bill, if I have anything to do with it, and I believe the Leader is of the same view.
I will come to that. If Committee Stage is not completed on Monday, it will resume on Tuesday. If it is concluded, which we accept it may not be, the Leader will consult colleagues in the House, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Oireachtas staff and the Bills Office, which was quite rightly mentioned on best to move forward to Report Stage. There is nothing decided in that regard at this point. I am of a similar view that time is required between Committee Stage and Report Stage, especially on a Bill as large and important. Time should not be an issue. In fairness, we have spent ten hours on Committee Stage, notwithstanding my comments on the Bill itself. We will spend eight hours on it on Monday, assuming the Order of Business can be agreed for Monday. By anyone's estimation, this is not ramming a bill through the House.
That is why I said that, notwithstanding the time that is allowed, we may not conclude Committee Stage in the time we anticipate. It is one of those situations where we have to watch, wait and see, and consult one another. I do not disagree with most of the Senator's comments.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the pensions issue. Many difficulties exist in that space. It should be one of the first debates we have when come back for the new term, and I will ask for that to be arranged.
Senator Norris raised the GRECO report. I do not see why we should not have had it before now. It is an absurdity that it is being discussed in the media while Oireachtas Members have not seen it at a time we are discussing the Bill. Whether or not it is relevant, it exists and we should be allowed to have sight of it. I anticipate that it will be delivered to our inboxes later. If not, that will be unacceptable and I would not stand over it.
We have all seen over the years what is achieved by defying the Whip on an issue. I would rather have an influence from within the party of which I am a member. I do not know how much one politician putting their neck on the line politically-----
I can speak only for myself. Senator McFadden raised the Defence Forces and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. She is a constant voice for the Defence Forces, and outlined many issues. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, should come in to discuss the issues which she and Senator Craughwell have raised on a regular basis. Senator Craughwell also raised issues with the White Paper which could be usefully discussed with the Minister of State responsible for the area.
Senator Reilly raised an issue about flooding in The Burrow, Portrane and families being discommoded. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works and flood relief is receptive and he has visited the area. It is an issue that might be served well by tabling a Commencement matter.
Senator Reilly raised an issue about flooding in The Burrow, Portrane and families being discommoded. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, is receptive and has visited the burrow. It is an issue that might be served well by tabling a Commencement matter.
On the issue of Garda investigations for insurance fraud, I have dealt with much insurance litigation over the years and I found it frustrating as a lawyer to deal with cases where I know the plaintiff is clearly trying it on. For every one of those, there are plenty of genuine cases. However, that behaviour increases the overall cost. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, will have to come to the House to address that. Significant resources are needed by the Garda, as are training and innovative ways of dealing with insurance fraud. Everyone would welcome this from the point of view of bringing down the overall cost of insurance for businesses.
Senator Devine raised the issue of cervical cancer and the Scally review. She acknowledges Dr. Scally needs to be given the space and support from the HSE when it comes to the availability of documentation electronically, which was a frustration for him. I agree with her point about a clinical trial, which would make eminent sense. Such a trial would be the most cost-effective approach for women in those circumstances. It is something I would push for as well.
Senator Bacik proposed an amendment to the Order of Business and raised the GRECO report. I do not disagree with her that we should be given sight of that. She also raised the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. I am not sure if that will be in the House before the end of term but I will inquire and revert to the Senator.
Senator Byrne also raised cervical cancer issue and backed a call for a trial drug that has been used by a county woman of hers to great effect. Any woman in a situation like that would like to have access to such a trial or the drug. I agree with her on that. She also mentioned a good news story about National Science Foundation awards. It is an initiative that is worth supporting, highlighting and building on.
Senator Gallagher also raised the judicial appointments Bill. He then mentioned the councillors' terms and conditions, which have been raised on all sides of the House. Councillor Geoghegan from Waterford was on the radio this morning. I have come across many councillors who simply do not see the point in doing the job for the reasons the Senator outlined. We need to have a good conversation about the idea of wanting councillors to do a full-time job for a part-time wage. We should either make it a full-time job, or truly have a part-time expectation from the job. That would involve major review and change in how we approach local government. It would be worthwhile, and more meaningful than talking about terms and conditions, if debate how we should approach governance structurally.
Senator Humphreys raised the jobs initiative scheme, JI, and the services it provides in communities. It strikes me as a matter on which he might get a helpful answer through a Commencement matter. He would get a specific response from the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.It is certainly something I will relay back to the Minister and it is obviously a matter of great concern.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of Norwegian Airlines and I agree with what Senator Higgins said that there was a bait and switch approach and that some false promises were made. I will ask the Minister what is being done about that. Clearly, there is an issue there that needs to be addressed.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of car insurance. We all can sympathise with the Senator's experience. It is very helpful to give a tangible, personal experience of that. I would encourage a debate on that issue with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, who is charged with making some impact in this area. Reducing insurance costs is a very challenging area but is clearly an issue. The Senator asked for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House. I do not have access to this Minister at this precise moment, but I imagine we would have a difficulty getting him in today. I am sure we would have a lot of questions to ask him if we were to get him into the House.
We know that.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of racism. The statistics she outlined are a matter of serious concern. None of us wants to see an increase in the instances of racist attacks in this country. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, is extremely passionate and hard-working on this issue and a debate with him early in the new term is a very constructive idea.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and her access to free and fair elections. It is a very serious issue that should be brought up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and it one that we do not face, notwithstanding any negative comment one might have about people who get elected. I have visited countries which have very basic concerns about democracy. We should be very proud of our democracy, apart from any negatives we may find.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of workers rights, as he does regularly. I apologise but we had our parliamentary meeting at the same time as his presentation in the AV room last night. I had intended to go to it but that is the challenge around here. I would have liked to have heard what they had to say. Clearly, there are issues to be addressed. It would be helpful for us to have a discussion with the Minister on the wider issue of those types of contracts.
Senator Ó Domhnaill welcomed the re-establishment Brexit committee and asked for a constructive debate with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to outline the interactions on a trade-level between Ireland and England, which would be a good idea. There is great concern and that is a good suggestion and something we should arrange sooner rather than later. The Senator also raised the issue of the pensions crisis, which I addressed. That is something we all face and we should certainly have that conversation in this House.
I thank Senator Boyhan for his comments. I have said what I have to say with regard to GRECO. We should have sight of that report, and we should have had sight of it before now. I feel for the Minister on this one, to be honest. I would not be overly-critical of him because bringing this Bill through the Houses is quite a difficult thing for him to do as a member of the legal profession. He is the Minister for Justice and Equality at the moment and it must be difficult for any member of the legal profession to be a Minister when this legislation is being put through. I cannot speak for the Minister, and I cannot say he would have initiated this legislation himself.
I entirely agree with the Senator's comments on the Bills Office, which I have addressed already.
As regards Senator Warfield's comments, we have had a debate on the Heritage Bill and I appreciate he has difficulties with it and I have noted them.
I wish to acknowledge the presence of our former Seanad colleague, Mr. Eamonn Coghlan, in the Visitors Gallery. I had to look at him a few times because he looks far healthier and at ease in his new role than he did in this Chamber. He is very welcome and I wish him and his friends a nice day.
Senator Ivana Bacik has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 1 be taken with debate." Is the amendment being pressed?
Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, John Dolan, Robbie Gallagher, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Grace O'Sullivan, Keith Swanick.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Fintan Warfield.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on increases in motor insurance premia be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Joan Freeman, Robbie Gallagher, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Grace O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Keith Swanick.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Fintan Warfield.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Grace O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Fintan Warfield.
Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Joan Freeman, Robbie Gallagher, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Keith Swanick.