The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3. No. 1, Finance Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Members may share their time, with the Minister to be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 2, statements on the Shot at Dawn Campaign, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude at 7 p.m., with the contributions of each group not to exceed ten minutes; and No. 3, Aviation Bill 2005, changed from Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8 p.m.
Order of Business.
In a reference to drug bosses in Dublin a few months ago, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform spoke about "the last sting of a dying wasp". There are clearly many wasps around the place, given the events on the M50 over the weekend. Can the Minister come into this House some time in the next two weeks to set out his position on the issue of increasing drug-related crime in Dublin? Automatic weapons were used on the M50 last weekend in Dublin, where one gang was pitted against another and innocent bystanders could easily have been shot dead as a result of the gangs' actions. A promise was made to introduce a new offence on gangland membership and membership of such gangs was to be prohibited by law. That promise was made more than a year ago, but we have not yet seen an amendment made to the Criminal Justice Act 2004.
The Government needs to make its position clear on this area. We are dealing with a new type of criminal who is young, amoral, thuggish and vicious and who would shoot people as quick as he would look at them. People in this city are genuinely concerned about their safety. Innocent people, such as the woman in north Dublin a few weeks ago, will be caught up in the gunfire. The Government needs to reply to such concerns.
No. 24, motion 23, on the Order Paper was mooted by Senator Norris and it concerns Mrs. O'Keeffe from Cork, who unsuccessfully took an action in court last week regarding child sex abuse in a school. Schools were outside the remit of the Residential Institutions Redress Board when it was established, but the State has an obligation to pay the costs of her case. This is a test case and it has given a degree of certainty to the law in this area. Mrs. O'Keeffe is to be congratulated for the brave stance she has taken and for her courage in bringing this case. She should not be pursued for costs in this matter. I ask that the Government act immediately to ensure that costs for this case are borne in full by the State so that the legal certainty that has arisen in this judgment might apply to other victims too.
As we go about our business in Ireland, it is worth looking at the rest of Europe. Over the last year we have seen strikes in Italy, Belgium, France and Germany. Today, France and the UK are shut down entirely, with rail travel, education, and health care affected. We may ask ourselves why that is not happening in Ireland. That there is not such disruption here and that we have recently had fewer days of public service strikes than any other country in western Europe can be ascribed to what the previous Minister for Finance, former Deputy McCreevy, described to me in private conversation as "the grand prize". We delivered something through a formula that boils down to two expressions, "social partnership" and "benchmarking". The next person who stands up to ask whether it was worth it and whether we gave away too much should remember that is the prize that we have delivered.
On another issue that I would like us to examine, we have regularly discussed the Lisbon Agenda. The Heads of Government are meeting this week to discuss economic and other reform in Europe and progress on the agenda. The reality is outlined very well in this week's Charlemagne column inThe Economist. It states that we need what has been achieved in Finland, which is now a model for reform in the area. “TEACHERS, teachers, teachers” is the subtitle. It goes on to state that we can do it without examinations, a national curriculum, or testing. All we need is good teachers with the responsibility and freedom to get on with their work. To get good teachers, we must simply allow them professional responsibility and pay them well.
A good start has been made within the last hour in the announcement of the establishment of the Teaching Council, a move forward. Let us keep such matters to the forefront of our minds when considering discussions in Government Buildings on public service pay, benchmarking, the cost of teachers and so on. We are the beneficiaries. Senator Ormonde and I particularly welcomed aspects of the report on third level education published by the OECD within the last year, especially since it finally accorded freedom to the institutes of technology by giving them annual grants through the Higher Education Authority. We bemoaned the fact that they had no access to doctorates, but that is now being addressed under the Government plan in the budget.
We must carefully consider how we can move matters forward positively. The only danger would be if we did not have a properly paid public service or failed to deal with the issues causing problems in France or affecting lower-paid migrant workers. There are issues to address, and the prize is as good now as last time.
I join with Senator Brian Hayes in raising the shoot-out on the M50 and N4 near Lucan, which is in my constituency. I am seriously concerned at the incident. Last night I attended a public meeting at which I was approached by a constituent who told me that she feared for the future, wondering what kind of place it would be to raise children. That is the feeling on the ground; people are afraid. Matters seem to have spiralled out of control very quickly.
The shooting only stopped when the car being pursued pulled in to the Texaco garage at the N4 in Lucan. Even at that time of the day, there would have been people in the vicinity, since it is a very busy garage. Innocent bystanders might have been shot. People in their beds in neighbouring estates would have heard the shooting. I have read newspaper reports, and the information emerging is surreal. A person was shot a few weeks ago, and those involved, who were very young, wore bullet-proof vests. A certain individual seemed to have amassed great wealth at an early age, but we do not know how. There is a problem and I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House and, instead of going on the defensive and trying to prove this, that and the other with statistics, to outline what he will do to solve it. Will he demonstrate leadership because strong leadership is needed in the face of this problem? We need to know what policing measures will be introduced to tackle gang warfare and the drugs issue, which has been allowed to go out of control by the Government.
More than 100,000 people, the majority of whom are young, are on a waiting list for the driving test. A number of them have been on the list for more than 12 months. The Minister for Transport has tried to implement a scheme over the past 12 months, which would have involved outsourcing driver testing, to reduce the backlog. However, two weeks ago, the Civil Service arbitrator shot it out of the water and turned it down on the basis that an article in Sustaining Progress prevents the outsourcing of core business. Senator O'Toole stated the grand prize was delivered but, in return, reform and delivery of service should be provided. I would like a debate on Sustaining Progress. The article in Sustaining Progress has hampered all Departments and it has implications for them in the delivery of services. It should, therefore, be debated. I would also like the Minister for Transport to come to the House to outline how he proposes to deal with the waiting list over the next 12 months. The backlog is not entirely of his own making but he has been hampered over the past 12 months in his attempts to resolve this issue, which is costing young people thousands of euro in premia they should not have to pay. I seek debates on Sustaining Progress, which has hampered the Government, and on how the issue of driver testing should be resolved.
I seek permission to move First Stage of the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill 2004, which is designed to eliminate the practice of consumers being forced to make stage payments on houses on housing estates. This is a blatant anti-consumer measure and the Bill is intended to eliminate such payments and make savings for consumers.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments. The Lisbon Agenda will be discussed later this week and we must focus on our teachers to achieve a knowledge-based economy. If teachers are not given the freedom to administer their responsibilities, it will not matter what kind of education system we have because it will not work. I welcome a debate on this issue.
The Higher Education Authority has taken over the funding of all third level institutions. A debate on how it will administer funds to institutes of technology and how benchmarking will be rated would be worthwhile. This is a significant responsibility and I welcome the concept of putting the funding of all institutions under the one roof but this issue needs to be teased out so that postgraduate courses and doctorates provided by the institutes of technology can also be funded. I would like to ascertain how funding will be allocated and benchmarked, as it is worthy of a debate.
I thank Senator Brian Hayes for raising No. 23 on the Order Paper regarding the child abuse victim from Cork. I am pleased that both Fine Gael and Labour Party Members signed the motion but, on the basis of my contacts with Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Members, everybody feels the same way, whether they are at liberty immediately to put their names to the motion. The woman was a victim and she took an important case very courageously. She illustrated a principle in law, which will be helpful. Normally one does not go after people in those circumstances and mulct them in damages or legal costs. This woman has two small children. We hear a great deal about cherishing all the children of the nation equally and it would be awful if a decent woman found her home was sold over her head. I hope the Leader will have something positive to contribute in this regard.
I welcome the fact the European Commission appears to be about to act on roaming phone charges. It is iniquitous that people who answer calls when they are abroad are charged. This is wrong and I hope the Government will follow up on it.
I agree with Senators Brian Hayes and Tuffy that the shooting on the M50 is an appalling business. It is apparent these people were expecting it because they were wearing bullet-proof vests. The driver had just been released from hospital after a previous shooting. The situation is getting like that in Chicago in the 1920s. I remember as a child going to see films such as "The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond" and the "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" and because they were in black and white and the bloodshed was all cosmetic, we found them great entertainment. Now, Chicago would be a safer place than Dublin. The kind of activity seen in those films has taken root here. I would support whatever measures are necessary to curtail this horrendous activity.
I mentioned the idea of cherishing all children of the nation equally. A phone call came to my office a few days ago from an elderly lady who would not give her name or telephone number because her husband would be upset and ashamed if he knew attention was brought to the matter. This woman wanted the Oireachtas to be aware that people like her and husband who live on very low incomes — all she had was the non-contributory pension — are very glad that the cold weather spell seems to be over because they had such difficulty in keeping themselves warm. We need to realise that elderly people who live on minimal State support are in difficulty. We used to have a fuel supplement or subsidy and I wonder if it still exists.
It is still there.
That information should be made known as widely as possible. Sometimes people are ashamed to take up such subsidies because they think they are getting something for nothing. They are not. We should encourage all elderly people with this difficulty to take what is their due in terms of allowances and fuel vouchers.
Will the Leader provide time in the near future for a debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to discuss the implementation of section 15 of the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, which enables the establishment of a Garda reserve force? The Minister is committed to this measure. However, it would be a grave mistake to allow such a significant change in the way our police force is staffed to pass without considerable reflection ——
He is going to speak about it tonight, is he not?
This House is the perfect forum for such a reasoned debate.
Did the Senator vote against it?
The right to disagree or agree is fundamental in a properly functioning democracy. We in Fianna Fáil are a Government party and although we may only be the bread in the sandwich, we are 90% of the sandwich.
Fianna Fáil members are the vegetables on the plate.
We may not be the sweet meat, but we are the Government. The reason I am making this point is ——
Because there is an election coming. We all know.
The Garda Síochána will find this sandwich difficult to consume at the next election, as will many members of the public.
I support Senators Brian Hayes and Tuffy and others in their call for action on street crime, particularly following the incident on the M50 over the weekend. Although we give out about crime constantly, we have become complacent. It is as if we take it for granted but the time for talking is over.
We need to see action taken against these armed criminals who now go about their business prepared for conflict, wearing bullet-proof vests in case they come up against one of their enemies and are shot at. We cannot stand for this any longer and need to see action from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He must come to the House to outline the measures or rather the action he is going to take. We do not need any more measures. We want to see action that will give the streets back to the ordinary people of the country so that they can go about their business in the knowledge that it is safe to do so.
Senator Norris made a very good point about older people and keeping warm. Older people get a fuel allowance but it is insufficient. The allowance is only paid from the end of September to the middle of April but nights can be cold for longer than that period. It can be cold at night in May as well as October and it has been particularly cold this month. While the fuel allowance has improved, it still does not fully address the needs of older people. I urge the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to consider increasing the allowance in the next budget. People are still cold, as Senator Norris has pointed out.
I am not sure whether Senator Leyden was telling us that he was the ham in the sandwich.
Deputy McDowell is the ham.
I disagree profoundly with him, but in a civilised way, on the question of the Garda reserve force. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government what steps he is taking to safeguard the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which is a matter of considerable interest to many people in Northern Ireland. It is an important element in North-South relations and a significant part of our heritage that should be protected. If sensible planning steps are taken in time, we may be able to avoid the sort of dispute that arose over Tara and the M3. Problems can be foreseen.
I support Senator O'Toole on the question of teachers. The best steps we could take for teachers are to reduce class sizes and give them as much support as we possibly can. I am not keen on the idea of giving themcarte blanche because we are finding difficulties with other professions but we should be able to ensure that good teachers are rewarded for staying in the profession. We should ask ourselves why people do not want to take up headships in schools. It may be that the Teaching Council can find ways to civilianise many administrative chores and the same applies to the Garda Síochána.
I am sure I am not the only member of the Seanad who wishes to congratulate the Minister for Transport on securing Mr. Gay Byrne as chairman of the new statutory road safety authority. Senator Morrissey will be glad to know that the issue of unaccompanied learner drivers is one of the first he intends to address. I support Senator Morrissey's call for a debate on road safety, which should also address the issue of over-tiredness and people falling asleep at the wheel as a major cause of accidents. I was astonished to find that the civilian drivers of Ministers of State work on a week-on, week-off basis. They drive between 90 and 120 hours per week, which does not seem safe. It is an area I wish to see addressed when the Minister comes to the House.
I support the appointment of Mr. Gay Byrne as chairman of the road safety authority. Mr. Byrne is an icon in society.
We will not have a debate on that matter.
He has shown he is capable of making tremendous social changes. His target to save 150 lives every year, which I believe he will achieve, is to be lauded.
That is the Government's job.
Mr. Gay Byrne is 72 years of age.
Senator White, we cannot discuss this in the House. I would prefer if the Senator addressed the Order of Business. I always dread when names of non-Members are mentioned in the House. A discussion may take place on an individual in which that individual may find some remark offensive. I know Senator White would not be offensive but other Senators might be.
To whom it concerns.
I call for a debate on the issue of aging and ageism, with particular reference to the mandatory retirement age of 65 years. The individual, whose name I will not repeat will, at 72 years of age, bring tremendous experience to chairing the Road Safety Authority. I support the comments made by Senator Norris on pensions. In my research on ageism and aging, I noted from a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, that 27% of Irish people over 65 years of age live on a wage below the poverty line. The OECD report considers living on a weekly earning below €185 as poverty. Our non-contributory pension, to which Senator Norris referred, is €182 per week. Some 120,000 people over 65 years of age are, according to the OECD, living in poverty.
I join in the condemnation of the recent gangland outrage. It was a miracle that no one was killed. What can be done about these drive-by shootings? Mike Tyson and his entourage must have felt at home. It is no wonder he escaped to the west. Young men, with automatic machine guns and bulletproof vests are trying to murder one another. I appreciate Garda resources are available but not enough is being done about these gangland activities. An article in today'sIrish Independent pointed out that those who take cocaine are indirectly fuelling these gangland murders. We must ensure the sale of cocaine is stopped.
Last night at 6 p.m. I listened to an interview on the radio about the Morris tribunal. The language in the radio interview was distasteful and wrong for 6 p.m. Words were used that I will not repeat in the Chamber. On the other hand, the newspapers dealt with the subject matter in a more tasteful manner by using the phrase "the husband was having an affair". The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources should highlight with radio programmers the use of such unnecessary language at that time in the evening.
I endorse Senator O'Toole's comments on social partnership and would be very glad to debate it at any time. If one governs by decree and does not go before Parliament, one cannot be surprised if national strikes and industrial chaos ensue.
The question of driver-testers has been lamentably a long-standing problem that did not arise just last year. I am not a fan of the outsourcing of road, rail, air or any other safety agencies. Given that people who want a test have to pay a significant level of fees, which I imagine more or less covers the cost of administering and conducting the test, I cannot see why the appropriate number of people cannot be recruited. Perhaps a semi-State agency could be established for that purpose but I do not necessarily see much merit in outsourcing.
On occasions in the past, Senator Ross has spoken about the need for this House and the Lower House to debate social partnership before such decisions are made. The example that Senator Morrissey has provided shows exactly what we should be doing. If the solution to coping with the large number of people who are not able to sit driving tests is outsourcing but it was determined not to go through with it at the negotiations on Sustaining Progress, that situation would benefit from a debate both here and in the Lower House. That is one area which concerns road safety.
The selection of the new chairman of the road safety authority was an inspired choice. The new chairman has said he will be the first to step aside if he does not get the required Government action. That is not unlike what happened with the chairman of the National Safety Council who criticised the lack of action that was taking place at Government level. His contract was not renewed or perhaps the council does not exist any more for that reason. The threat by the new chairman of the RSA will create an impetus for the Government to take the necessary action.
The question of cocaine was also raised. I am told that while it is illegal to sell cocaine in a public house, I doubt if it is illegal to snort — I think that is the correct word — cocaine. Therefore, many public houses and other places, including well established restaurants and hotels, are being used for the consumption of cocaine. I gather there is a doubt over whether such behaviour is illegal. It is illegal to sell it but not necessarily for premises to be used for that purpose. That may be one of the reasons we are having gangland shootings and killings, such as occurred last weekend.
I agree with Senators Morrissey, Quinn and others who have called for a debate on social partnership. I also want to raise the issue of the over 130,000 people who are awaiting driving tests, to whom Senator Morrissey referred. I agree wholeheartedly with him. I am not pushed one way or the other as to whether the solution to the problem is outsourcing or taking on more people within the Department on short-term contracts. Something needs to be done by the Government, however, to ensure the backlog is cleared. The Minister for Transport should take some positive action in that regard as soon as he possibly can.
I also wish to raise another social partnership matter with the Leader of the House, indeed perhaps we should have a debate on social partnership with the Minister for Finance. Community employment schemes are constantly raised in the House and an issue of continuing concern is the cap that exists for people over 50 years of age who must retire from such schemes after three years. That cap should be removed as part of the current negotiations on social partnership. In that way, the vital service many such people provide in various voluntary associations around the country will be allowed to continue. There are not many job opportunities for people over 50, particularly in rural areas. Therefore, the cap should be lifted as soon as possible.
I agree with my colleagues who have raised recent incidents of gangland crime in Dublin. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should attend the House to discuss his responsibilities, instead of having a go at Opposition spokespersons for doing their various jobs.
We have an ideal opportunity to ask the Minister for Transport to attend the House to inform us why he has appointed the new chairman of the road safety authority. It would be wrong if we were not allowed to debate an appointment of such extraordinary importance. I do not share the otherwise unanimous view of this House that it should be welcomed without question. It is an ideal opportunity for the House to show its worth by asking questions of the Minister about why Mr. Byrne was appointed and what qualifications he has.
I take on board what Senator White stated and agree that we could also have a debate on ageism. If those to whom problems are addressed, in this case the young people who are the main culprits and offenders in road accidents, do not identify with the people appointed to administer and regulate those problems, we may have made a wrong appointment.
Anyone reading three of this morning's newspapers will see a photograph on the front pages of the Minister for Transport and Mr. Gay Byrne. Certain people get a great political advantage for a day in making appointments of high-profile people who are charismatic on television. However, it may not necessarily be more than a gimmick in terms of the good of the nation. We should seriously debate the matter. It is an extremely serious problem.
As the Leader will ask the Minister to come to the House to explain the appointment, she should take the opportunity to also ask him to debate the issue of Aer Lingus with us.
The issue is reaching a crunch. The Minister should tell the House whether Aer Lingus will be privatised in June, September or not at all before the next election.
When is it intended to introduce the new gaming and lottery Bill, which has been on the Government's legislative programme for the past three years? While an interdepartmental report was made in 2000, no action has been taken and it does not appear to be coming before either House of the Oireachtas. What is the reason for the delay and when will it come before this House? Private member card clubs are being established throughout the country. These clubs gradually develop into casinos. The Minister indicated there is a loophole in the law which he intends to plug soon. When does he intend to introduce legislation to address this problem?
On the road safety issue, last year I highlighted the fact that Garda cars are not subject to NCT tests as is every other car. This endangers the lives of members of the Garda Síochána and the public. When will this situation be addressed?
I share in the call for a debate on ageism. It is entirely appropriate that the Seanad debate this in light of the fact that the word "senate" comes from the Latin word "senex", which means old man. The association is immediately made with wisdom and it is true that wisdom comes with old age. Ageism exists in this country and I believe every Senator has received representation from a person in their fifties seeking a job who finds it extremely difficult at a time of full employment. I look forward to that debate.
I also support the calls for a debate on ageism. I am sure we recall that when former US President Ronald Reagan was at the age mentioned by another Senator, namely 72, he went to the country and received the largest youth vote ever. I am sure all Senators readDe Senectute in their schooldays and know the value of the wisdom which comes with old age, particularly for Senators.
To whom is Senator Lydon directing his final remark?
Senator Brian Hayes remembered the words of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, some time ago, about a particular murder being the "last sting of a dying wasp". The Senator referred to the spiralling drug problems, gang warfare, and gangland membership which the Minister has promised will be covered in the criminal justice Bill.
He also raised the matter of Louise O'Keeffe from Cork. I will reply to this question when responding to Senator Norris because he and the Independent Senators tabled the motion. Senator Brian Hayes, however, is right to associate himself with this motion.
Senator O'Toole talked about the mayhem in France and the United Kingdom today saying that they do not have social partnership and benchmarking as we do. He also mentioned the Lisbon Agenda and Finland. He spoke about what the teaching council will mean for teachers. I recall the President of the ASTI when I was teaching pushed that agenda hard.
Senator Tuffy spoke about the shoot-out on the M50. I too hear people say that physically and mentally they fear for their lives. It is horrifying to hear it casually said that the people involved were wearing bullet-proof vests, as if we put them on every morning, as a fact of life. The Senator asked that the Minister show leadership on the matter.
Senator Morrissey referred to the outsourcing of driving tests, quoting Senator O'Toole's term, saying that although we have achieved the "grand prize", it has not delivered on this matter because a Civil Service executive has deemed that it cannot be outsourced. He also asked for a debate on Sustaining Progress. I remind the House that we had a debate on Sustaining Progress some time in February so I am not sure we could have another one. We can, however, try, when more people have examined the document. Maybe some people did not speak during that debate. The Senator may well have delivered himself brilliantly but I cannot recall.
Senator Coghlan sought permission to move First Stage of his Bill. A Chathaoirligh, is it up to me to accept this?
An amendment is required to the Order of Business.
Can I accept a formal amendment if the Senator so moves or is that up to the Cathaoirleach?
No, it is not up to me. The matter will be dealt with on another occasion.
Will the Cathaoirleach find out when that might be? I approve of what Senator Coghlan has done.
The Leader is replying to the Order of Business, to which no amendment has been tabled.
Senator Ormonde wants a debate on the Lisbon Agenda, particularly on how the money will be allocated by the Higher Education Authority, which has undertaken to fund all third level institutions, including the institutes of technology, particularly in respect of benchmarking
Senator Norris mentioned Louise O'Keeffe from Cork. Ms O'Keeffe has contacted me several times, as no doubt she has contacted other Senators. When I called the Taoiseach's office his adviser told me that Ms O'Keeffe wanted to persuade the Minister for Education and Science, and the State Claims Agency to waive their rights to collect these costs. I understand that neither the Department nor the State Claims Agency will move to collect their costs to date.
That is helpful but I was told to say clearly that this refers to the costs to date.
Senator Norris also spoke about roaming telephone charges, and compared the M50 shoot-out to events in Chicago in the 1920s. He said that the cold spell which lasted longer than normal affected elderly people. This could return. Somebody else also said we should have an enhanced fuel allowance.
Senator Leyden wants a debate on section 15 of the Garda Síochána Bill. I fully agree that, although we are all enthusiastic about the principle, we should debate this issue.
It is not enough to hear it shouted at us that the electorate will deal harshly with those who do not want the reserve force. We want it but we want to know the terms, conditions and all the details. It is not enough to present it on a plate — be it a sandwich or otherwise — and say "that is it, take it". I am in favour of the principle of the reserve force but we want to know the details and have the right to hear them. Senator Leyden has done a service by raising the matter and I will find out if the Minister will discuss it and also address the crime problem. He is fond of talking and is good at it. Just because the decision on the reserve force is to be made by the Government does not mean we cannot discuss it. I never heard anything so puerile. We need to discuss it.
Incidentally, the Cathaoirleach in his exalted position would not of course be attending public meetings, but people are certainly asking questions and seeking answers. We look foolish when we do not have any details and people want to know why we do not have them. If the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform attended the House we would get those details.
Senator Terry spoke of crime on our streets, which we take for granted. I find it chilling that people can drive by in cars and fire seven shots on each side, and it is just another statistic. Senator Terry also suggested the Minister for Social and Family Affairs might consider increasing the fuel allowance.
Senator Maurice Hayes asked what steps were being take to safeguard the site of the Battle of the Boyne and supported Senator O'Toole in regard to rewarding good teachers. Senator Henry congratulated Gay Byrne on his appointment. She noted that there are almost 0.5 million drivers on the roads who have not been deemed fit to drive by means of a test. Mr. Byrne said this was one of the issues he wanted to tackle. Senator White noted that Mr. Byrne has tremendous experience, which he has, and called for a debate on the driver testing issue. She also quoted OECD statistics on poverty, and asked for a debate on ageism.
Senator Feighan spoke of the drive-by shootings and the sale of cocaine. He has been one of the consistent voices in the House on drug use. He also objected to the coarse language used on the 6 p.m. radio news item on the Morris tribunal. I heard the programme and I suppose it was relaying what was actually said. Maybe one should just close one's ears but I presume the report was factually correct and was not an enhanced take on events.
Senator Mansergh supported Senator O'Toole and noted that government by diktat is never very successful. Speaking of driver testing, he said that generally speaking, outsourcing of many Government functions is not a good idea.
Senator Quinn said Gay Byrne was an inspired choice for the chairmanship of the road safety authority. He also asked if it were not a legal anomaly that it is illegal to sell cocaine but not to snort it. Senator John Paul Phelan spoke about the driving test backlog and gangland crime, and said the cap on community employment scheme involvement should be removed. Senator Ross called for a debate on road safety and questioned Gay Byrne's appointment, saying that people in such positions should be able to engage with young people. Gay Byrne could engage with anyone — he is that kind of person, which is one of his strong points. I do not agree with Senator Ross that Mr. Byrne's appointment was a gimmick. The Senator also asked for a debate on Aer Lingus.
Senator Cummins asked when the gaming and lotteries Bill will be published. I hope to know tomorrow. Senator Cummins also spoke of private members' card clubs developing into casinos. As he is aware, there is a loophole in the relevant law, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said he wishes to plug it. Senator Cummins also pointed out that Garda cars are not subject to the NCT. With regard to the Garda car involved in a fatal accident, the question of its roadworthiness is a moot point. There were diverse opinions as to whether the tyre treads on the Garda car were worn.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on ageism and I agree with him that wisdom comes with age. Senator Lydon called for a debate on ageism and referred to former President Reagan's achievements. The Senator also referred to the wisdom accruing to older Senators.