The Order of Business is No. 1, Defamation Bill 2006 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m.; No. 2, Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Single Electricity Market) Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m.; No. 3, Defence of Life and Property Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and No. 4, National Oil Reserves Agency Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, at approximately 7 p.m., and to conclude no later than 9.15 p.m., with spokespersons having 12 minutes and other Senators eight minutes, and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
Recently the HSE informed me that there are 25 unfilled speech and therapist posts in hospitals and special schools throughout the old health board areas in the city and county of Dublin. In fairness to the Government, it has allocated money for these positions but they simply cannot be filled. This year alone, four universities will produce 100 excellent young professional graduates in speech and language therapy. They will be trained to a high level of proficiency and are prepared to work in this country, but they cannot be employed directly because the Health Service Executive has stipulated they need three years of postgraduate training.
Will the Leader use her good office to contact the HSE to determine whether we can surmount this problem? There are unfilled positions in Dublin and throughout the country, yet some of our bright young graduates will head off to England or France, which is crazy. We need to create junior posts to allow them to engage in speech and language therapy to the benefit of Irish children and adults. There has been a huge vacuum in the provision of the service in recent years. Will the Leader contact the HSE directly on this matter to make progress thereon? She might have more luck than I would have.
Will the Defence of Life and Property Bill 2006, in the names of Senators Morrissey, Brennan and Minihan, be backed by the Government tonight? When a Private Members' Bill in the name of the Fine Gael Party was introduced to address this matter in the other House, the Government voted it down. It has done a complete about turn on this issue. The two Bills are not exactly the same but the U-turn is now virtually complete. Is the Defence of Life and Property Bill 2006 a Government Bill?
We debated at length in the House the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill and received all sorts of reassurances in respect thereof, especially concerning section 13 which deals with resources. During the course of the discussion, I and others said there was a shortage of therapists of every kind, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The subject was also discussed by at least two committees of the House and it was requested that the number of therapists be increased as it was feared there would not be enough.
In the past month I have addressed meetings on the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act in three education centres around the country. At each meeting it was suggested that the system would collapse for want of therapists and psychologists. Senator Brian Hayes's point in this regard is correct. If action is not taken now, the legislation will collapse. The Act is a major cornerstone of Government policy on special educational needs and disability and was supported on all sides of the House. The therapists must therefore be made available. I recommend that the Leader read the report of the National Council for Special Education, published last month and available on the council's website. It indicates the importance of the points Senator Brian Hayes made.
The headline in this morning's newspaper concerns the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. I declare an interest in this regard as I am its vice chairperson. I reassure Members that the board is doing exactly what it was set up to do. The headline claims that 40% of personal injuries cases are being referred to the courts. The board was set up to deal with up to two thirds of such cases and there are always cases that necessarily proceed to court. The lawyers have frightened everyone into believing no case will go court. All that will ever happen is that the cases regarding which there is no dispute will be dealt with by the board.
As I pointed out when the relevant legislation was passing through the House, there is no confrontation or hearing involved, rather it is a question of a paper trail. For the process to work well, only two thirds of cases can be dealt with by the board. Of all the settlements that have been made, two thirds have been accepted by those concerned and, therefore, the system is working exactly as it is meant to.
A point was made in the paper this morning that the insurance companies are the big winners, in spite of the reduction in the price of premia and the lower legal costs. This may well be the case — I choose my words wisely — but the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has no control over this. It is a consumer and political issue and is being examined by the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. It must be considered very closely and is important. The committee has written to the insurance companies recently asking them to make specific information available to the board. This will be the next step in addressing the issue.
I want to raise two issues, the first of which concerns the headlines in the national newspapers today and yesterday on the abuse of a 14 year old boy. As a parent, I am horrified by this. It brings very clearly into focus the dangers of children playing around with the Internet and mobile phones. The story demonstrates there are predators in society waiting for vulnerable young people such as the 14 year old boy. The investigation is in its infancy but we should all be vigilant as parents to ensure our children are not exploring the Internet in the manner of the young boy in question which led him into the circumstances he now finds himself. It must be a horrendous experience for him and his parents and I shudder at the thought.
I have come across a number of cases recently concerning the gross neglect of tenants by landlords in cases where those tenants are having difficulties with their neighbours. On two occasions in recent months, tenants have approached me in Mullingar to complain about two different sets of next door neighbours. In one case, the landlord asked the complainant, whose life was made a living hell, to speak to the chairman of the residents' association. If ever there were ever a Pontius Pilate cop-out from one's responsibilities, that was it. I would welcome a debate on this matter.
There is a legislative void because landlords are not discharging their responsibilities concerning those living next to their rented properties. While rented properties are important and provide a facility for individuals who might not be able to afford to purchase such a property, this is not the issue in question. The real issue concerns tenants' behaviour towards their neighbours and landlords' duty to ensure their tenants discharge their responsibilities to their neighbours.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the manner in which appointments are made to semi-State boards and other agencies? Most appointments are made on the basis of the appointee's party affiliation.
The Senator would know something about that himself.
This is very evident in the approach of the current Government as people are not appointed according to their ability to do their jobs. This needs to be addressed. The 150 or so semi-State agencies are top heavy with appointees of both the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil. The Progressive Democrats Party was to address this when it got into power but it is now as bad as its Government partner at appointing its own people to boards and agencies of one kind or another. It is important to debate this as a matter of urgency because the boards could make it very difficult for the incoming Fine Gael and Labour Government to operate when it comes into power later this year.
I know all about it.
Is the Senator saying we should only appoint card-carrying members of Fine Gael?
Nearly all the Taoiseach's pals are on one board or another. One only has to look around to realise this.
Is the Senator calling for a debate?
It is now happening throughout the country.
Fine Gael members only for State boards. One must be a member of Fine Gael.
As this Government is in its dying days——
Qualification No. 1 is that one be a member of Fine Gael.
——its members are looking around to see who gave service to both Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and who can be appointed to various boards.
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
It is further evidence that the Government is losing confidence in itself and knows it will not be re-elected in May or June of this year.
We are brimming with confidence and have the proof of it.
At least we did not write letters asking that individuals be appointed to visiting committees for prisons far from their homes.
Senator Bannon without interruption.
I seek a debate on this issue as soon as possible.
I have direct experience of people on boards.
Senator Bannon clearly hit a raw nerve.
I want to speak about an issue which is germane to the matters raised by Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole regarding therapists, namely, the extent to which the intent of legislation is frustrated by the inability to provide sufficient staff. I do not understand why a trainee grade cannot be developed to retain the people concerned because they will be difficult to replace if they leave the country.
I have in mind an issue which was raised on the airwaves this morning. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement has complained that it has been unable to appoint sufficient staff to carry out its functions properly. It strikes me that the issue involves a conflict between two perfectly laudable policies and I wonder whether the Minister for Finance could come here to discuss it. I fully acknowledge the need to control Civil Service numbers and avoid superannuation and other liabilities in the future. However, such a policy can deprive Departments and agencies of the staff they need to carry out their functions. It has, for example, held up civilianization of the Garda and the introduction and staffing of the Office of the Garda Ombudsman. We should try to find a reasonable way to solve this problem.
I completely agree with Senator Maurice Hayes. I intended raising the same issue and am surprised it was not raised earlier because it is an absolute scandal. The Director of Corporate Enforcement, Mr. Appleby, can claim a remarkable rate of prosecution and success in an area of business life where we expect high standards. This sort of issue damages our international reputation because it sends a signal that we do not care much about ethical standards in business. Two years ago, Mr. Appleby sought 20 staff but has been given none to date.
He was given four.
No, he was promised four but has not yet been given them. On this occasion, I am right. I will not rub the Leader's nose in it but I was also right yesterday. I can be wrong but I know when I am right.
Except when he is wrong.
The matter suggests that we are not committed to the highest standards in business, which is a pity and damaging to our economy.
I ask that the House considers non-Government motion No. 13 on the Order Paper which states:
That Seanad Éireann requests the Minister for Foreign Affairs to seek the establishment of a monitoring group to supervise the implementation of the Human Rights Attachments to the External Association Agreement between the European Union and the State of Israel.
I raise the matter in light of an excellent position paper released yesterday by the Roman Catholic bishops entitled Palestine-Israel, Principles for a Just Peace. The spokesperson for the hierarchy stated on the radio this morning that he was not seeking any punitive action against Israel and did not want to be seen as anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. However, gross violations of human rights are taking place. Yesterday, I received a telephone call in regard to the continuing illegal demolition of houses of elderly subsistence farmers in the villages around south Hebron. It is intolerable that violence is being visited upon children and the elderly or that the most rudimentary sanitary facilities are being demolished in order to degrade the Palestinian people. The issue also highlights a element of hypocrisy. We claim to have standards but do not operate according to them.
Is Senator Norris moving an amendment?
I am not moving an amendment because I think that would be vexatious. However, I call for a discussion on this issue, which exposes the sham involved when we add human rights attachments to international treaties only to ignore them for pragmatic reasons in the face of the grossest violations. During the past week, both Jimmy Carter and the UN rapporteur have described the situation in Israel as apartheid.
We are not debating the motion on the Order of Business.
In that case, I will address the issue raised by Senator Glynn in regard to the case of the 14 year old boy. We have to be careful because it seems the newspapers may have already prejudiced a possible trial through the nature of their reports on the case. However, the reports reveal that the boy concerned has been dignified and honest in his approach to the inquiry and in the way he answered questions. He appears to have been surfing the Internet for some time in order to look for gay sites.
This State has let down and abandoned young gay people. There is no proper provision of education for them in terms of modules about sexuality, despite repeated requests. Last year, for example, I highlighted a case involving the suicide of a decent young man. We do not make proper provision because there is resistance to this kind of information. We cannot criticise this regrettable situation unless we support young gay school-goers. We do not do so at present and it is hypocritical for us to bellyache about the issue unless we support these vulnerable teenagers.
I wish to raise an issue of the utmost national importance. In Dublin and other towns and cities around the country, petrol stations are disappearing overnight.
Like post offices.
Like Garda stations.
I would like to know what planners are doing to facilitate people by ensuring a reasonable distribution of petrol stations. I seek an urgent debate on planning. Petrol stations are being closed solely because of their site value. Seven petrol stations have closed along my route to the House, including, last week, a station on Sandford Road which was one of the largest in the city. I raised this issue with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at last night's Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting.
What did he say?
He agreed with me. I told him of my intention to raise the issue here today. This is an urgent matter because we will be driving around in circles looking for petrol for our cars.
Nationalise the industry.
It is a case of bad planning.
Is Senator White seeking a debate on the issue?
Why should people who own these sites be able to get permission for a change of use?
It is called the market.
It is their private property.
I know what I speaking about.
If I had a site on Sandford Road, I would be happy to sell it.
Is Senator White seeking a debate on the issue?
I do not understand why planners have such a lack of vision for serving the needs of people who need petrol to fill their cars. There are 1 million more cars in Ireland now than ten years ago. How in God's name will we get petrol for them? Planners should not allow change of use from petrol to development. They have to look after the service and infrastructural needs of the people. It is a case of bad planning and a total disgrace.
I apologise for being late for the Order of Business. We could discuss traffic management in that regard.
I ask the Leader to consider arranging a debate on the safety of young people, given the widespread concerns that have been expressed about the reports of a paedophile ring. From what we have learned in the media, the matter seems extremely serious. Issues arise in respect of the vetting of public servants. The Garda vetting unit in Thurles needs additional resources. I urge the Leader to consider the issue as a matter of urgency and ask the Government how it will support parents to ensure their children are safe when visiting websites.
Due to technological advances, many parents, including young parents, will not be equipped with sufficient education and information to ensure they can guarantee the safety of their children. I ask the Minister and the Leader, a former Minister of Education, to consider the possibility of making available training courses for parents through schools to equip them with the requisite information to ensure that the Internet is not being used in such a manner that children's safety is being undermined. For the most part, it is a highly positive and useful tool.
What about the health of the children?
Today and yesterday are sad occasions for the Irish people, particularly those of County Limerick, where Brian Kelleher and Mike Liston are being laid to rest today. I ask the Leader to convey the sympathies of the House to the families, the fire service and the Garda Síochána. I apologise for not being present yesterday, as I was visiting the bereaved families. The Government should acknowledge the supreme sacrifice made by both people, as well as their contributions to their communities. Mike Liston had served for more than 20 years in the fire services and Brian Kelleher was deeply involved in the community of Croom, which he served. The Government should acknowledge their supreme sacrifice in some small way.
I wish to raise some issues in an all-Ireland context, or, more accurately, in a cross-Border context. The Leader might raise them with the Minister for Education and Science. An anomaly exists in respect of postal votes, whereby a few students from County Donegal who attend the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and Queen's University, Belfast, have been informed they are not entitled to a postal vote as they do not attend universities within the State. This anomaly could——
To what are they not entitled?
They are not entitled to postal votes for a general election. For example, a person from Carrickart who attends University College Cork is entitled to a postal vote, while someone from Buncrana who attends the University of Ulster at Magee College, which is ten minutes across the Border, is not so entitled. This anomaly could be cleared up if it was brought to the Minister's attention. The universities require instruction in this regard.
As for the all-Ireland context, many anomalies and complexities will arise. While Members refer to cross-Border issues, they should be referred to as complex Border issues from henceforth, because many challenges will be faced in areas such as telecommunications, all-Ireland energy markets and infrastructural project markets. Members must consider the capacity to handle such issues. Some reports have already been produced in this regard, including one I read this morning, which was an all-Ireland analysis on a cross-Border basis.
However, one critical element was omitted, namely, the concept of capacity-building at a community level. I refer to areas such as Newtowncunningham, which has been recorded as the fastest growing village in Europe. The 2006 census has indicated that it is growing at an accelerated rate. However, the critical point in respect of a Border village such as Newtowncunningham is that it has become a dormitory village of Derry city's urban sprawl.
People from Derry city who move to places like Killea, St. Johnston, Carrigans and Newtowncunningham continue to send their children to crèches and primary schools in Derry. They are entitled to so do under the EU regulations in respect of the free movement of people. However, I will give one example of the consequences. Last year, on examination of the census figures, a young woman decided on the basis that Newtowncunningham was the fastest growing village in Europe to establish a crèche there. However, she was obliged to close it down last year because she could only attract two clients. Serious issues exist along the Border.
Does the Senator seek a debate?
Members need to look at the capacity of communities, villages and towns along the Border. Although such communities are working on their local area plans and are being proactive at a local level, they are disintegrating into two communities. Two groups of people live side by side.
Does the Senator seek a debate in this regard?
They are not interacting or working at an intercommunity level because they live in one jurisdiction and go to school in another and it is not coming together. Working with communities on both sides of the Border, a formula or map is required as to how capacity can be built in places——
Does Senator McHugh seek a debate?
——such as Newtowncunningham, Killea, Carrigans, Muff and Quigley's Point. Senator Maurice Hayes will agree that——
Does the Senator want a debate on the issue?
——a community in which people simply sleep is undesirable. People should contribute to that community and involve themselves in it.
Does Senator McHugh seek a debate on this issue?
Moreover they should be part of that community.
Does Senator McHugh want a debate on the issue?
I am delighted to have had an opportunity to debate the issue a little. Yes, a major debate is needed.
I call Senator Dooley.
I also want to hear Senator Maurice Hayes's opinion on the matter.
I call Senator Dooley.
It is important.
I support the calls by Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole for an intervention in respect of speech, language and occupational therapists. Senator Daly and I have raised this matter in the House previously in respect of the mid-west region and in particular, the inability of the local representatives of the Health Service Executive to employ therapists to deal with autism and other difficulties in the autism spectrum such as Asperger's syndrome. In addition to the difficulties identified by Senator Brian Hayes regarding post-graduate requirements, they also exist in respect of pay scales. The HSE is bound by pay scales, whereas third party contractors are not bound by the same regulations. Ultimately, the HSE buys the services from such third party contractors and pays a great deal more than would be the case were it to take such people into its own employment.
In conjunction with the points made by Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole, Members must consider entry qualifications and could consider assistant posts. More importantly, pay scales must also be examined because at present, it is far more attractive for students who graduate from the very good courses run by the University of Limerick to enter private practice. Consequently they are not as interested in dealing with autism cases because of the complexities involved. Moreover, it is also more attractive for such students to travel for a year or two to places such as New Zealand and Australia.
Immediate intervention is needed. While it has been recognised that the Government has put money in place, unfortunately the bureaucracy within the HSE does not appear to appreciate children's urgent needs. Although a relatively good service is available for those aged zero to six, there is a major lack of facilities available to children aged between six and 18. Urgent action is required and I appeal to the Leader, as have the other Members, to try to bring about some level of clarity on the part of the HSE.
First, I endorse the comments of Senators Maurice Hayes and Norris regarding the Director of Corporate Enforcement, Mr. Paul Appleby. He is a fine civil servant who deserves the support of this House.
He has a key role to play, particularly in building up confidence in business in Ireland. It would be highly serious, particularly for multinationals, for the wrong message to go out. The wrong message would be that Ireland did not take corporate governance seriously and was in some way lax in its international obligations in this regard. This issue could be debated usefully on an all-party basis. There would not be any disputes in this respect.
However, there will be disputes regarding the next subject I wish to raise. I thank Senator Bannon for raising the subject of appointments to semi-State bodies. I have a long memory and recall the former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, indulging himself in an orgy of appointments in these Houses just before leaving office in 1977, which caused much comment at the time. Senator Bannon is welcome to sign the Independent Members' motions Nos. 8 and 9 of No. 21 in this regard.
All Members know that semi-State appointments constitute spoils of war that are distributed by whoever is in Government. This is an abuse and is carried out ruthlessly and not only by Fianna Fáil. That party does more of it because it is in power more often. However, Fine Gael in power also does it ruthlessly, by removing some highly able people from office and replacing them with political hacks. It has been done in an even more extreme manner by the Labour Party, whose members disgraced themselves in 1992 when they came to power. A mature debate could be held both on semi-State appointments and appointments to the Judiciary.
Every time I say there is a political input to appointments to the Judiciary, I am greeted by howls of protest, which is ridiculous because every Member knows that it is true. The most intelligent comment on the Order of Business was Senator Minihan's heckle of Senator Bannon regarding prison visiting committees, which is not a great reflection on the rest of us. He stated at least his party did not appoint people to the prison visiting committees in areas where the appointees were not living. Such appointments are an unspoken luxury, given as a party political reward so that, for example, people from Donegal can be appointed to visit prisons in Dublin and people from Dublin can visit prisons in Donegal.
Is the Senator moving a motion?
The Senator is moving in motion.
He is very moving.
The Senator moves in a different stratosphere from us all.
I seek a debate on No. 21, motions Nos. 8 and 9, so that we can discuss in a calm way the possibility of making appointments to semi-State bodies and the Judiciary subject to the scrutiny of the House. Unfortunately, the Independent Members have never had an opportunity to make such appointments.
They are doing all right.
Senator Ross must be joking.
We do not know how we would behave in that scenario.
Negotiations continue as we speak.
However, we are in position to say, "Let us not hear so much of the pot calling the kettle black on this issue". It is an important issue, which is totally abused by political parties.
FÁS plays a significant role in training and many people owe their careers to the opportunities provided by the organisation. It also plays an important role in community development and the maintenance of community amenities. However, the social needs of the participants on FÁS schemes are often overlooked. When participants exceed the age threshold or have been on a scheme for a specified number of years, they must leave and they cannot return. I was involved in an exercise in recent weeks to establish the profile of many of the participants. More than 80% fell into the social needs category and the primary issue is not whether they have a job for life.
When these people are forced to leave a FÁS scheme, they are unable to get a job and this was underlined strongly during a recent edition of the RTE Nationwide television programme. A FÁS project based on a bog in rural Ireland was visited and the participants were interviewed. One elderly participant was asked what it meant for him each day to leave his home and do this work. He replied simply that it was like coming to paradise. I understand fully what he means. When that lifeline is cut off from him and many others like him in the midst of our great affluence, their quality of life will disappear and they will have to remain at home. The capping issue can be corrected easily by approaching it on the basis of social needs of participants. If that is not done, we will have lost our way in cherishing all the children of the nation equally.
I support the call by Senators Brian Hayes and Dooley on the HSE to take action regarding vacancies for various therapists. This is an issue in the mid-west as well in Dublin. Under the previous health service regime, the Mid-Western Health Board established a course in conjunction with the University of Limerick to provide educational facilities so that people with disabilities in the region could qualify for assistance but the HSE in its wisdom differs on that. Since the HSE took over, the position has worsened. The precedent has been set and it would be worthwhile to pursue it.
I support yesterday's call by Senators for a debate on the comments of the chairman of the Road Safety Authority. He believes the Garda has lost the fight on drugs but I would like the debate extended to cover road safety. In particular, I would like to ask the chairman why the speed limit on the finest stretch of motorway in the State between Naas and Dublin on the M7 is 100 kph. Enforcement is like shooting fish in a barrel because the speed limit increases to 120 kph after Naas.
Was the Senator caught?
That does not make sense and what is happening on that road means motorists are being ripped off.
I support Senator White's call for a debate on planning but I would like an emphasis on the lack of planners throughout the State. The planning service provided by local authorities such as North Tipperary County Council is a disgrace. The north Tipperary local authority needs at least five additional planners but the manager of the council has stated there is an embargo on the appointment of staff. The citizens of north Tipperary must deal with a second class service. The suggestion that planners are responsible for the closure of petrol stations is untrue. Local authority members draft county development plans and they decided what lands are rezoned, as we all know to our cost.
A few weeks ago I raised the impending difficulties at Aer Lingus. I welcome the intervention of the Labour Court, which has brought both sides together for a hearing tomorrow and Friday, and, hopefully, the dispute will be resolved. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport whether a similar intervention might be made regarding the stand-off between management and unions at Shannon Airport? A dispute is pending following attempts over the past two years to reduce the airport's cost base. A crisis is imminent following much discussion. Will the Minister come to the House to outline whether a Labour Court intervention will be sought to bring both sides in this dispute together to reach a resolution? He might indicate an initiative to bring that about.
It is said the measure of a democracy is how a society looks after those who are unable to look after themselves and, from that point of view, we are open to severe criticism because of the lack of speech, language and occupational therapists. In future years, this period will be looked on as a disgrace because we have let ourselves down.
Yesterday the Irish stock market lost €4 billion. In the past, this would only have been of great concern to wealthy people who invested in it but nowadays it concerns a large number of citizens. Most pensions are invested in equities and many people invested in equity-based SSIAs. However, they should not panic, although they should not assume the market will bounce back. Many SSIA holders will have the opportunity to cash in from tomorrow but they might be wiser to hold on. In the past people panicked and that was not helpful. Yesterday's events offer a reminder that those who put their careers and livelihoods into equities rather than secure guaranteed futures take a chance. They could become very wealthy but a large number of people do not succeed in business and this is a reminder that businesses can fluctuate.
Part of our task is to make sure we make the country attractive for business. Senators Maurice Hayes and Norris referred to the lack of investment in the Office of Corporate Enforcement. Better regulation is required because there is the possibility that unsuitable red tape and regulations from Europe or from our Government will make this a less attractive place in which to set up a business and for business to succeed. Therefore, pensioners and SSIA investors will not have the guarantee of business success. Better regulation should be high on our agenda.
I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Brennan on the tragic accident last weekend involving a Garda and a fireman. Listening to the news on radio on Sunday morning, it was hard to believe something so tragic could happen. We take so much for granted in regard to people providing these emergency services, such as ambulance drivers, firemen and gardaí. If a car crash occurs, one telephones the Garda or the fire brigade. We should recognise the work done by these fantastic people who do not know what they will face when they attend an accident. I would like to remember all the people in these services and offer our full support.
Following on from Senator Ross's homily, I am sure he will agree we need to look at extending votes to all university graduates, including graduates from DCU, but that is for another debate.
I said that five years ago but nothing ever happened.
I agree with Senator Brian Hayes on the need to fill vacancies in the health service. I was amazed to learn recently at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that some staff in the health service need only give one months' notice. I suggested it should be extended to at least three months and that people should not be allowed to leave their jobs until they have been filled. That is what happens in teaching where one gives at least three months' notice. It is very unfair on the employer who must fill the vacancy. The problem is the patient suffers because no service is provided.
Why do clinical psychologists get funding from the Health Service Executive to do doctorates but educational psychologists do not? Perhaps the Leader will check that anomaly with the Minister. We need both types of psychologists urgently, yet funding is provided to one but not the other.
I agree with Senator Ó Murchú about FÁS. Another issue which might be included in a debate on FÁS is the quality of the stamps paid in respect of people on FÁS schemes. It has been brought to my attention that when people who have worked on FÁS schemes and who have made a huge contribution need to retire or draw benefits, their stamps are not what they should be. Perhaps we might consider the stamps people on FÁS schemes pay.
We have all become very pro-environment lately, and rightly so. I asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government about rain harvesters. A rain harvester is a very simple tool which collects the rain that falls on roofs and surfaces. Every day we cover more of our yards with concrete and tarmac and, as a result, water cannot soak through. Does it make sense to use drinking water——
Is Senator Browne calling for a debate?
I received a one-line reply from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stating that it had no plans to look at the issue, which is one we should examine. Everyone could do this in their homes and it would cut back on the demand for water. In Carlow, water is turned off between midnight and 7 a.m. because of a lack of water pressure. No doubt that occurs in other parts of the country. It is a step which could make a difference and at which we should be willing to look.
I strongly support what Senator Ó Murchú said about community employment schemes, the need to review their operation and remove the cap, especially in respect of the older age groups. I also support Senator Coonan's call for more planners in the context of the pace of development in the country.
Notwithstanding anything said by Senator Ross, this Government appointed a former Fine Gael Leader of the House as chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
That was to stop Mary Robinson.
It appointed a former Fine Gael leader to review agriculture to 2015 and it provided necessary backing for a former Fine Gael Taoiseach to become EU ambassador to Washington.
A matter which we do not debate in this House and which we should is the annual commemoration programme part funded by the Department of the Taoiseach. I had the pleasure of being in Letterkenny last week for the launch of fine stamps depicting the flight of the earls. It is very sad that there is no tablet to mark from where the earls embarked on their ship to the Continent in 1607. I gather responsibility for this may be our old friend private property. We may have forgotten the issue about private property being subject to the common good in the Constitution. I have some sympathy with Senator McHugh being blocked on Station Road and that there is, alas, no station in Letterkenny.
It is the centenary of the death of the famous patriot, John O'Leary, who was born in Tipperary town. I am glad to say that, contrary to the opinion of a former Senator of the Irish Free State, romantic Ireland is alive and well.
It is dead and gone with O'Leary in the grave.
I will try not to provoke anybody, particularly Senator Norris or Senator Ross. I refer to promised legislation of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to acquire building land compulsorily and, in particular, his warning to owners of land to use it or lose it. I presume that relates to designated land or land zoned for housing and where there is a failure to develop it. Given the point at which we are in the lifetime of this Seanad, I take it we will not see this legislation, even though the Minister has promised it. Perhaps the Leader will confirm that.
It is a very important matter, as are all the planning matters raised in the House. Perhaps we could have a useful debate. It would be great if the Minister could come to the House so we could learn more about his ideas and what he is including in this Bill. Perhaps this debate could be combined with one on planning which so many Members rightly seek.
Senator Brian Hayes raised a matter with which I believe we all have dealt in constituency work, namely, the inability to get speech and language and occupational therapists, particularly speech and language therapists, for young children who would be helped greatly by such therapy, especially if they are on the autism spectrum where speech is very deficient in many young children. The Senator said there are 25 unfilled positions in Dublin city and county. The reason is the HSE has laid down the need for three years' training before people can take up a position with it. That seems very heavy-handed and I will inquire about it.
Senator Brian Hayes also asked if the Bill proposed by the Progressive Democrats is a Government one. I do not know because the person who promoted it is not present but I am sure he will be later. Senator Minihan is not aware of what is to happen to the Bill.
Has the Cabinet approved it?
We look forward to it.
Has the Cabinet approved it?
The Cabinet has not approved it.
The Minister, Deputy Harney, was adamant it was not a Government Bill.
Let me finish.
Senator O'Toole also raised the need for the therapists. He said he addressed three recent meetings on special needs and disability at which this was the common theme. He also raised the issue of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board which was only ever to deal with two thirds of cases. The Independent Senators say they never get appointed to anything. The very worthy Independent Senator, however, declared he is vice chairman of the PIAB. He is doing a great job.
To correct the record, I was nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Is the Leader wrong again?
As Senator Ross would write, Senator O'Toole was appointed by the bearded ones. Senator Glynn raised the matter of the young 14 year old boy. We have all read about the case with much horror. I do not wish to prejudice the outcome of the investigation. However, every child is curious and, at the same time, vulnerable. It is a combination of wanting to know more and wanting to explore and perhaps a person's vulnerability being preyed upon by other people. I do not know the full facts of the case. Senator O'Toole also referred to the gross neglect of landlords towards tenants and how some tenants are advised to see the chairperson of the residents' association, which seems a bit cavalier.
Senator Bannon raised the matter of appointments to semi-State boards. I have great experience of going into a Department which had been expertly handled by former Ministers Lowry and Dukes, and finding so many people on State boards who were of Senator Bannon's noble party.
And the Leader left them there.
When Pat Cooney was Minister he reappointed——
The best comment on all of this was made by Senator Ross who stated the kettle calling the pot black was very apposite. I think Senator Bannon was the kettle.
The Leader was promised a directorship if she stood down this time in Longford-Westmeath.
Oh, will you stop. I always appointed on merit.
I do not think so.
Anyone I appointed was full of merit. They were bursting with it.
Senator Maurice Hayes wondered whether language therapists could have a trainees or apprenticeship stage before they become fully appointed. What a good idea. He also brought up the issue, which other speakers did afterwards, of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. He supports the cap on numbers in the public service. However, he believes a method should be found to steer a way to providing the numbers required in sensitive areas while still keeping faith with the cap.
Senator Norris also raised the issue of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and business standards. He raised the matter of No. 13 on the Order Paper and welcomed this morning's statement by the clergy which more or less echoed what he stated in the motion on the Seanad Order Paper about human rights. He also raised the issue of the 14 year old boy and stated he showed dignity and composure in his dealing with the matter.
Senator White certainly has petrol stations on her mind. I understand what she is talking about because she spoke to me before she came into the House. She knows they are owned privately and nobody can snap them up or rob people of them. However, in her view the planning authorities do not debate properly what should be in an area. Seven petrol stations along her route have closed.
Senator O'Meara raised the alleged incident involving the 14 year old boy. She also suggested Internet training courses for parents. One can imagine a young person with all this knowledge and discovery at his fingertips on the Internet and having a natural curiosity.
So it is the boy who should be looked at.
Training courses for parents would be good.
Senator Brennan praised Garda Brian Kelleher and fireman Michael Liston. Yesterday, Senator Leyden raised the matter officially in the House. I understand fully Senator Brennan's need to raise the issue, particularly as he is from the area. We do wish to record our sympathy to those who, in times of difficulty, come to our aid throughout the country.
Senator McHugh raised an issue regarding Newtowncunningham. His point was that people live in dormitory towns but do not avail of services there. They go to the main cities to do so. That is free choice. This point concerns capacity building whereby local communities obtaining capacity building skills can enable them to provide good services of which people would avail.
Senator Dooley raised the matter of the payscales of speech and language therapists. They go into private practice because they receive very good rates of pay.
Senator Ross raised the matter of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. He discussed semi-State bodies and what Fine Gael and Labour did in their day. Senator Bannon is gone. He will not have any lectures at all so he was right.
He is still here. He is hiding.
He is looking for an offer.
Senator Ó Murchú raised the issue of FÁS training, particularly the social needs of the participants. He described a participant who did not have a job and was then employed by FÁS. He now wakes up with something to go to, and can wash, shave and dress and then go. The man stated it was like coming to paradise. I understand how he would feel.
Senator Coonan supports what Senator Brian Hayes stated about speech therapists. He also wants a debate on the obvious disparity of speed limits. He also called for a debate on the lack of planners. Planners come and go. They bring in a wave of new ideology such as one can only have a single storey house. However, when one seeks them they are gone. The file is then dumped on another planner who may not have the same type of planning ideology. We have vacancies for planners in Westmeath. We should have a debate on planning when these issues could be raised.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Daly spoke about the difficulties at Aer Lingus and welcomed the Labour Court intervention. He asked whether the same could be done in Shannon where a crisis is clearly looming.
Senator Quinn raised the matter of speech, language and occupational therapies. He also advised us not to panic over the news from Japan and China about shares. The Senator referred to the matter of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. He stated we do not want to go too far in enforcing regulation on firms.
Senator Scanlon supports what Senator Brennan stated about firefighters and gardaí. Senator Browne raised the matter of the dearth of educational psychologists. He also raised the issue that FÁS employees are not on full stamps. He also spoke about rain barrels. I remember when I grew up everybody had a rain barrel out the back. One trapped the water which was supposed to be good for washing one's hair. My mother always stated so. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, will introduce a scheme for rain barrels for farm sheds and houses.
Senator Mansergh was in his Tipperary abú mood. He praised Senators Ó Murchú and Coonan. He also spoke about the flight of the earls in 1607, in which Senator McHugh has a great interest, and raised the matter in the House last year. Senator Mansergh spoke about John O'Leary who was also a Tipperary man. He is clearly imbued with constituency pride on this day.
I praised Donegal as well.
Is he the candidate running in Dublin for Fianna Fáil?
Senator Coghlan stated he did not wish to raise temperatures but he wants the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to come to the House to discuss the "use it or lose it" approach to building land. We will try to have a debate on planning and perhaps we will take in land usage in it.