The Order of Business today is No. 1, statements on Government policy on food safety, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business. It is proposed that spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes.
Order of Business.
That is agreed. Will the Deputy Leader indicate if the Minister for Health and Children has agreed to come into the House to discuss cancer care services, particularly breast cancer care services, as we asked for yesterday? We have just come from a meeting with Professor Drumm. I did not get an opportunity to ask any questions, nor did many of my colleagues, but I make the point that having Professor Drumm address us in this setting indicates confusion in governance and administration.
One of the issues I want the Minister to address when she comes to the House is that question of governance and responsibility for health policy and administration, which are two different aspects. Part of the confusion about the health service arises because nobody is answering the question, namely, who is responsible?
What is the role of Professor Drumm and the Health Service Executive in respect of policy or is it service provision? We need an answer on that from the Minister for Health and Children. I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader could indicate whether the Minister is coming into the House to address those concerns.
On a separate matter, I hear there is interest in promoting some of the long-promised Dáil reforms in a real way in the next few weeks. A report on Seanad reform was published and it contained many detailed recommendations which I understand were accepted cross-party. Will the Deputy Leader come back to the House with plans to progress in some way the recommendations——
Sorry for laughing.
Was that a cynical laugh?
It was a totally cynical laugh. I put their own recommendations to them——
Senator Fitzgerald, without interruption.
If we are to have Dáil reform and we have a full report on Seanad reform but no action on the issue, it will lead this House into disrepute. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Government about the action that will be taken on Seanad reform in this term.
I agree with what Senator Fitzgerald has just said. I remind the House that not only was the matter accepted by all parties in the House, it was then sent to a committee under the chair of the previous Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and of which our distinguished colleague, Senator Boyle, was a member as well as myself. We had organised a structure under which some of the issues could have been brought into play immediately. We examined step by step the changes in Standing Orders, legislation and constitutional changes that would be required. We did not put in place a timeframe but we set priorities. We should take the matter from there. I support Senator Fitzgerald on this point.
On a personal note, in a recent contribution on this issue the Leader, who is not present, made a remark to the effect that Senators on the Opposition side are not as committed to Seanad reform as they appear to be. My core vote consists of primary school teachers but since 1996 not one qualified primary school teacher can vote for me on my panel. I am fully committed to Seanad reform, although it has the potential to reduce my vote by 10,000. No Senator stands to lose more than me if we proceed with reform of the university panel. I also want all the other reforms to proceed.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that the House should discuss the health service. We should start by examining the legislation which established the Health Service Executive. While I may not agree with her conclusion, Senator Fitzgerald is correct to call on the House to examine the question of accountability. We should also examine the issue of responsibility. It would make for a more serious debate if Senators knew who is responsible and who is accountable and what is the difference between responsibility and accountability. Unfortunately, as I have observed over the past 20 years, attitudes quickly change depending on which side of the House Senators sit. We must be able to understand the structure in place and identify who is responsible for what. As I indicated yesterday, the Health Service Executive was established because we did not want political interference in the health service. However, once political interference is removed, we are inclined to demand political responsibility. We cannot have it every way. We must decide what we want in this regard. Let us re-examine the legislation.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that Senators should examine how the House does its business. If the other House holds a debate on its role, the Seanad should certainly have such a debate on how it orders its business and addresses issues of concern.
I also agree with the Senator's views on a point I raised in the House yesterday regarding public and political accountability. The meeting we had this morning, while most useful to people in terms of issues being raised, was an extraordinary spectacle in a modern democracy. In a crucial public service with a massive public budget voted from taxpayers' money — the health service — we saw a lack of fit between political representatives and the service providers. Political accountability has been deliberately removed from the health service to provide an alibi for the Government on issues of concern and to allow the Taoiseach, Ministers and others to argue that the health service is not their problem. It is the Government's problem and one from which it cannot walk away. What we saw this morning was an extraordinary spectacle. I do not say this to criticise anybody but it is strange in a modern democracy to have politicians raising their hands, as it were, to ask questions of the chief executive of a State agency. This matter must be addressed.
On another issue, there was a rare outbreak of all-party agreement in the other House during a recent debate on undocumented Irish people living in the United States. I am sure Senators support the resolution agreed in the Dáil calling for action to be taken to regularise the status of thousands of undocumented Irish people living in the United States and noting the precarious position in which these people find themselves.
While I am aware, through experiences in my family, that undocumented Irish people often live in a legal limbo in the US for many years, we cannot forever ignore the fact that we do not have to walk too far from this building to see very similar circumstances. Thousands of undocumented illegal immigrants face precisely the same sort of precarious life, isolation and exploitation. We cannot, on the one hand, state that we are actively committed to a certain course of action in the United States, one which I support, while forever ignoring the situation on our own doorstep. Perhaps the Deputy Leader would request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to explain the reason he is so quick to reject proposals, such as that made by the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland yesterday, to provide a bridging visa for people in Ireland who face the same precarious, isolating and, in many cases, sad human dilemma that Irish people have faced overseas.
The issue I raise relates to an issue which featured in the newspapers in recent weeks, namely, the large number of people who send their children for maths grinds before the junior certificate examination. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on the role of the arts, specifically music, in early education.
We should debate class sizes.
There is a proven link between music and left hemisphere development in the brain, which is the side on which the reasoning function is located. It is important, therefore, that children are exposed to appropriate influences when the brain is developing. The House should have a discussion on the fundamental value of music to early education. The greater use of music in early education could result in parents no longer resorting to sending their children to grinds, a practice which has been shown not to work by a recent report. In addition, we would have more rounded students who would have social outlets other than spending an increasing amount of time on the so-called three Rs. This is a pertinent issue.
If the Senators who are laughing are so misguided about the role of music and brain development that they find the issue amusing, I suggest they start researching the subject.
The relationship between music and brain development was proven in the 1980s. MRI scans carried out on professional musicians demonstrate that their brain development, including the shape of the left hemisphere, differs greatly from that of non-musicians. This is linked to mathematical skills. Rather than jesting, I ask Senators to inform themselves.
Will the Deputy Leader convene a debate on Irish Aid and development programmes, specifically on the need to mainstream disability rights in development programmes? I have just come from a seminar on disability and development being run by the Centre for Global Health at Trinity College Dublin in conjunction with Dóchas and Irish Aid. In the year in which Ireland signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — it has still not been ratified — it would be timely for the House to debate the importance of placing the rights of people with disabilities centre stage in our development programmes. Irish Aid had done a good deal of work on this issue but Ireland is required, under Article 32 of the convention, to promote disability awareness in our international co-operation programmes.
It is very important we meet this requirement, especially in light of the report published yesterday by the Disability Equality Specialist Support Agency which found that almost half of child care providers in Dublin do not include disabled children in their services. Even at home, we are falling short of providing for the rights of children with disabiities. On an international stage, it has been estimated that only 2% of disabled children in developing countries receive any education. It is critical, therefore, that we address disability issues in development aid and Irish Aid programmes. I echo the call made by Senator Ormonde yesterday that the House debate Irish Aid and ask that such a debate include the issue of disability.
I support Senator Alex White's comments on the rights of undocumented persons living here and those who have experienced difficulties in the area of family reunification. I raised this issue last week. The Refugee Information Service produced a report showing the difficulty experienced by those with refugee status who seek to bring family members, dependants and children to Ireland from their home countries. We treat these people, who have secured refugee status and been through persecution in their home countries, appallingly badly by preventing them from bringing their families to Ireland.
I support calls for Seanad reform, an issue on which Senators have often spoken. While many of the reform proposals are reasonable, implementing some of them is not a realistic option. For example, proposals to have 50% of Senators elected and 50% appointed or to hold Seanad elections on the same day as the general election are unrealistic. It is difficult to meet my constituents between general elections. It would be virtually impossible to meet them if there was an election.
The current structure of the Seanad has served the State well. For this reason, I repeat my proposal to increase the number of Members of the Seanad. I support reform when it is necessary to change some simple matters. Senator O'Toole, for example, noted that 10,000 members of his constituency cannot vote for him. By and large, however, I support increasing the number of Senators and leaving the structure as it is. The Seanad should assume a greater role through its representation on Oireachtas committees. The Seanad has served the country well and can continue to do so.
Will the Minister for Health and Children attend the House, given the seriousness of the crisis in the health service? This morning, when we were treated to Professor Drumm's charade, it was like being in spin city. We need accountability. Senator O'Toole referred to political interference. As Members, we are worthy of answers and deserving of information, none of which we are getting. There is no accountability in the provision of health services. It is high time for political accountability on the part of a Government that has abdicated responsibility.
In saying that I am not being political.
The Senator would never be political.
Yesterday, we were accused of being political. When everything goes wrong, it is our fault and when everything goes well, it is the Government's doing. We need political answers and leadership.
Given that the Minister will allow Cork Airport's debt, I raised an issue on the Order of Business regarding the elimination of its debt free status. Has the Deputy Leader information regarding the elimination of the debt and the separation of Cork Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority?
Deputy Máire Hoctor is the dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for older people. Will the Acting Leader invite her to the House to discuss my document, A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism, and to outline her agenda? I am not referring to important health issues alone. For example, there is an age cap of 64 years in respect of free breast cancer screening and a cap of 70 years is only an aspiration. I want a broader debate on the elderly. The new Minister of State has been proactive and a debate would be interesting and helpful to everyone.
We should spare a thought for the salvage operation under way off the south-east coast at Dunmore East in County Waterford. It is a difficult and emotional time for the families of those on the stricken vessel,Père Charles. As we are an island nation and similar events could affect any part of our country, there should be a protocol or system in place for when vessels sink. At the time, there was controversy regarding how difficult it was to have the Père Charles raised. The Minister of the day stepped in and addressed the situation. Will the current Minister attend the House to discuss protocols and systems for when vessels get into difficulty?
I acknowledge the role of the emergency services in those tragic circumstances. I refer to the Irish Coast Guard, the Navy divers involved in the salvage operation and the salvage company. We hope the difficult operation reaches a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned. We should consider the families and communities bereaved by tragedies along our coastlines. Will the Deputy Leader facilitate my request for the Minister to attend the House?
This is the 20th anniversary of the outrage at Enniskillen, which led to pressure being placed on the Provisional IRA to cease its actions. I was newly elected at the time and I remember how Mr. John Robb went to the desk of the then Cathaoirleach, Mr. Charles McDonald, and gave him the poppy he was wearing, which the Cathaoirleach then wore for the day. It was a moving gesture. We remember the horror of the day and welcome the fact that the situation has ended.
I welcome the calls for Seanad reform. I laughed cynically because I have heard such calls for the 20 years in which I have been a Member. I made many calls and suggestions, but they disappeared into thin air. Let us not hear about rotten boroughs because none of the nominating bodies have influence. The majority of Senators are nominated by the Taoiseach or put in by a handful of councillors and parliamentarians. That is fine, but there is a constant diversionary attack on the only constituencies with real constituents. We are described as rotten boroughs, but I will not accept that.
We can discuss this matter later.
We will return such attacks four fold. If one wishes to know how enthusiastic Members are for reform, one should examine the record of some weeks ago when a report I tabled was voted against by Government Senators. We have a role to play in these matters and we can use our powers, such as they are.
Yesterday, I raised the matter of former Senator Maurice Manning's statement to the effect that the Government attempted to interfere with his report on rendition and to put him under pressure, angering him. Will the House exercise its facility to invite Dr. Manning to present the report and to allow Members to question him?
Our inquiry was set up, but it was crippled and destroyed at the instigation of the Government. Let us have the matter out in the open and let us use our facilities to bring Dr. Manning before the House.
I am proud that Trinity College is one of the 60 top universities in the world and I congratulate Dublin City University on getting into the top 200 for the first time. As an almost brand new university, this is a wonderful tribute to Ireland's third level system.
The Senator has made his point.
The Senator believed it was the best in the world.
It is only dawning on me.
Senator Donohoe without interruption.
I will refer to my colleagues' comments on the need for a discussion on immigration matters. A number of weeks ago, I requested that the Minister of State with responsibility for integration policy to attend the House to debate those matters. I repeat my request.
One of Ireland's most shameful issues is the number of people who come here to seek refuge and must spend six, seven or eight years awaiting an answer from the State as to whether they are worthy of refugee status. Consequently, they live in an appalling, grey world on the margins of society. They cannot work and are not entitled to empathy or support. Our treatment of them ill behoves us. Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister of State to the House?
Yesterday, a discussion on the M50 roundabout was requested, but Fingal County Council or its traffic strategic policy group would be the appropriate chamber for the debate. We should focus on the changes being made to Transport 21. They appear significant in that the construction and operation of the Dublin interconnector will occur earlier than planned. It was planned to dig up half of Dublin to put new Luas and metro lines in place, to cover it up afterwards and to dig up other parts of Dublin to join the lines. Now, this work will occur simultaneously. That this commonsensical suggestion is lauded as evidence of strategic thinking shows how low the Government's expectations are for joined up and strategic delivery.
Will the Minister debate Transport 21 in the House to ensure the nearly €10 million of taxpayers' money to be spent on public transport every day for the next ten years will be properly and transparently spent?
Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, when we deal with the Defamation Bill, to consider the sequence of events whereby the courts awarded Ms Julia Kushnir, the woman from the Ukraine, substantial damages regarding the unfortunate and tragic death of our late colleague former Deputy Liam Lawlor. Ms Kushnir deserved the money she got, but it disturbs me that the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, and the newspapers concerned did not acknowledge the great hurt, opprobrium and shame that fell on Mrs. Lawlor and her family. We talk about setting up an ombudsman for the press, and in such a situation the ombudsman could take the lead. It was tragic enough for Mrs. Lawlor to receive the news from Russia that her husband had died, but to read in the Sunday newspapers the allegation that he had been with a prostitute was shameful and damaging. Nobody in the media, especially the newspapers concerned, some of which are powerful, conveyed a sincere apology. Under the existing libel laws the dead cannot prosecute or be compensated, but we should at least let them rest. I urge the newspapers concerned to have the courtesy and dignity to apologise to the widow and family of the late Mr. Lawlor for the severe hurt she must have felt.
I heartily concur with Senator O'Donovan's remarks. It was shocking journalism, as everyone in the House will agree. I agree with Senator Fitzgerald's remarks, and those of other colleagues, on the health services. I, too, attended that meeting this morning. Given the success of our country, I cannot understand why we use mammography machines that are 15 years old or more, ten years past their expiry date. This is crazy. The machines can give false positives or negatives. We know about the resulting tragedy and how it has damaged women's lives. I cannot fathom it.
Is Senator Coghlan calling for a debate?
I do. As Senator Fitzgerald and others said, the buck must stop somewhere. I support the call to invite the Minister for Health and Children to explain matters further.
Perhaps we should hasten slowly on Seanad reform. Much could be done, but let us see how the Dáil is reformed. Much of what the sub-committee on Dáil reform deals with relates to procedural matters and how it can improve its use of time. We can take some actions immediately, particularly to deal with topical matters. I am sure our Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, has this in mind and will take it up. Let us wait and see.
Press freedom is, rightly, a cherished principle in any civilised society. In light of Senator O'Donovan's comments, with which I heartily concur, there is a need for this House to appraise the balance we must strike between press freedom and the need to bring about a greater culture of responsibility among media practitioners. There is the provision for the award of aggravated damages in certain cases, for example, where parties are shown to have acted in an especially culpable way, either in events leading to the proceedings or in the conduct of the proceedings. I am concerned about the uncertain status of the proposed privacy legislation and whether the media's influence causes politicians to stay their hands on bringing about the necessary debate on how to foster a culture of responsibility. There is only one way to bring about responsibility in this area and that is to target people's pockets when they are culpable.
Perhaps it is time to consider compensatory mechanisms when the press steps out of line and hurts innocent parties.
I subscribe to the opinions expressed by the previous three Senators. I regret that the Defamation Bill is coming back on the Order Paper. Before it does so, it might be opportune for the Leader to arrange to debate the responsibilities and freedom of the press. It is alarming that the press seeks to impose a veto on the introduction of the Privacy Bill. That is a significant factor on which we could give our views and consideration.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to attend this House soon to discuss the appropriateness of speed limits. Speed cameras operated by private firms are to be introduced and this will have consequences. It behoves the State to ensure realistic speed limits are in place. I refer in particular to the N11, which has been upgraded to exceptionally good dual carriageway standard but still has a limit of 100 km/h although traffic travels on it comfortably and safely at 120 km/h. Such matters must be examined. We are investing significantly in roads to facilitate the travelling public and the economy. We should benefit from it but we are not. We should invite the Minister to debate this.
I second Senator Walsh's call. We have a similar situation on the Ashbourne bypass in County Meath which could easily cater for 120 km/h but is limited to 100 km/h. I would like the Minister to come and tell Members if he would consider reviewing speed limits.
It is up to the county councils. The Minister has no responsibility.
Senator Hannigan without interruption.
The county councils deal with local and secondary roads. The National Roads Authority deals with bypasses. I apologise to the Cathaoirleach. The county councils have no responsibility for our national roads.
That is what the Minister told me when I raised the matter in this House.
Somebody is wrong.
If people continue interrupting those who want to make contributions, I will ask them to leave the House. I will not tolerate people who interrupt Senators who want to make points on the Order of Business.
I also want to raise the proposed development outside Balbriggan and Gormanstown of the Bremore Port. This morning Drogheda Port Company announced it had entered an agreement to build a €300 million development on the Meath-Fingal border. The proposed port is four kilometres from the M1 motorway, which is the responsibility of the NRA, and close to the Dublin-Dundalk rail line. It is proposed that the port will take up to 10 million tonnes of traffic every year, three times the current volume of traffic going through Drogheda Port. It will take some traffic from Dublin Port and complement it. It is important we ensure a project of this size is carefully planned in terms of its impact on land use planning, the environment, pollution, transport and local housing needs.
Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to consider establishing a task force comprising members of the relevant local authorities such as Meath, Fingal and Louth county councils, Dublin City Council, CIE, the NRA, the Health Service Executive and others to set criteria for how this should be planned and managed? It is vital a development of this size is well thought out and well implemented.
I support Senators O'Donovan and Mullen's calls for a debate on the press. Perhaps we should examine regulating the press in the same way we regulate the medical and legal professions.
Senator Feeney should read the Defamation Bill.
They do as much damage to people's lives as some of those in the medical and legal professions. At least the medical and legal people have a fitness to practice and a code of conduct to which they must adhere. If they continue to offend, they are suspended or removed from their register. I agree with Senator Mullen that newspapers should pay high compensation when they offend and ruin lives, as they do. Newspapers are wealthy and I do not know how significant an impact fines would have. If a journalist or a newspaper continued to offend, we should be talking about sanctions, such as three strikes, then out, cutting off their livelihood. We would then see how the media would write about people.
Senator Feeney addressed the issue that we tried to struggle with in the last session, the delicate balance between the freedom of the press and the privacy of the individual. Both points of view have a very strong case, and we certainly have not resolved it. It is important that we state that we abhor the intrusion on one's privacy by the press, for the obvious reason that we are all public figures. If we are talking about regulation, we should make absolutely certain that we are not talking about control, which is offensive to the freedom of the press.
I did not rise to speak on that issue, but on an issue of interest to the Leader where we can set the example. Much has been said recently about the Oireachtas setting a bad example on pay and expenses, when we are asking the general public to restrict themselves in the weeks and months to come. We might take this a little further. I drove into Leinster House, just as I suppose everybody else did.
That is exactly what the Senator ought to continue doing.
I saw the Senator's car there on Monday.
No, the Senator did not.
A gas guzzler.
A big black Jaguar.
Senator Ross without interruption.
He is asking for it. I am being provoked.
The Senator is like a child at the back of the classroom.
I will decide that. Let Senator Ross speak.
Leinster lawn was once a lovely park, a green space, which was temporarily made into a car park some years ago. We are all at fault because we all drive and the car park is chock a block every single day. We could give an example to the public if we were to put restrictions on ourselves and on the staff of this House. We look after the internal fabric of Leinster House magnificently. The staff and the OPW have done phenomenally good work, but the outside is a desecration of the past. We are not looking after the heritage of the house. It is a disgrace that there are hundreds of cars there everyday. The Oireachtas Members and staff should be prepared to make some sort of sacrifice to restore it to its former glory as a green area, of which people of Dublin could be proud.
I support the remarks made by Senator Denis O'Donovan and others on the press. The former Senator Willie Farrell calledad nauseam for a press council. I am sure that few members in this Chamber have not felt the weight of the pen in an adverse way at one time or another. In most cases, the central focus is the story and if the truth gets in the way, the story wins every time.
I hate to say "I told you so", but now that the ashes have settled, the reports of what happened at Hallowe'en make very dismal reading in the Westmeath local newspapers. The county council workers were stoned. This is being reflected in reports right around the country. I spoke on this issue down through the years. Other Members have spoken on what has now become an annual event. It is high time the matter was addressed, as not only have valuable trees and tracts of play areas been destroyed but old people and animals have suffered. There must be a meeting of minds between the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and possibly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. If we are to have bonfires and fireworks, let them be organised and co-ordinated under the auspices possibly of the local authority. The currentad hoc arrangements serve no purpose.
I have sought information from the Leader on a number of occasions, but perhaps the Deputy Leader may be able to inform me on when the student support Bill will come before this House. Is it expected before the end of the year or at the start of the next term? A commitment was given to students that the Bill would be taken in early 2007 but the end of the year is now approaching.
Will the Deputy Leader facilitate the taking of an all-party motion, similar to what was agreed in the Dáil last night, that we support 100% the call for the plight of the undocumented Irish to be resolved? Will those who are not members of the main political parties be given an opportunity to add their voices and send a clear message to the families of the undocumented that not only Deputies but Senators agree that the issue needs to be resolved and are calling on the Government to do everything in its power to resolve it and to send a clear signal to the US Government that both Houses of the Oireachtas are in full support of it? Will the Deputy Leader agree to consult the leaders of the groups on a motion, similar to the way we dealt with the issue of Burma, that could be debated as early as possible?
I support the point made by Senator Glynn on the Hallowe'en season. The more vulnerable members of the community suffer hardship and distress at that time. It is ironic that we outlaw burning in the open, yet we see evidence of an ever-increasing number of enormous bonfires.
I have come from a briefing with the HSE this morning where it was stated that those with an intellectual disability in institutional or in State residential care, who had money deducted for such care, similar to what happed to old people in nursing homes, are not eligible to have that money returned to them. I would like the Deputy Leader to clarify this matter. I believe it could be a misunderstanding on the part of the HSE representatives. The families of people with intellectual disabilities were encouraged to apply for the return of money deducted by those in charge of the institutions.
Will the Deputy Leader also take the opportunity to ask the Minister what steps are being taken to ensure accountability for the standardised rate paid by those with intellectual disabilities for residential care?
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, should attend the House to discuss water quality monitoring and safety. Yet again the water crisis has revisited us in Galway with a new outbreak in Clarenbridge. It was national news in Galway city and the hinterlands, including Knocknacarragh, but the issue has not yet been resolved. The latest outbreak of water pollution is likely to have a far wider national impact than it did in Galway. The HSE tests are proving to be so sensitive in Galway that contamination is being picked up, but the same level of testing may not be happening elsewhere in the country. I would appreciate if that issue could be addressed by the Minister and I ask the Deputy Leader to invite him to the House.
Senator Norris referred to the issue of Seanad reform. As a former councillor, I wish to state that councillors are a very real electorate. In the first instance, they are elected by upwards of 2,000 people which may be up to half the electorate that some people have to achieve in this House. They are in touch with people on the ground, which is local democracy in action. It is important to state that some Senators who have chosen to be elected through the Oireachtas route or via nominating bodies, could have chosen the university route.
They would be very welcome. I hope they do.
I find it encouraging to hear so many Senators calling for greater responsibility and accountability on the part of certain sections of the media. In the past, there was a tendency to remain silent lest we might suffer the media's ire by criticising them. I have had a couple of such instances in this House. On a few occasions I called on the National Union of Journalists to see if the ethics of that profession were being upheld. However, the union wrote to the CPP complaining about me. That letter was circulated to every Senator at that time. Luckily, when I checked the official record I found that they had erred with regard to the case they had cited. Eventually they offered me an apology and asked me if I wanted a public apology.
At the time of the Liam Lawlor case, I made the point that if a public representative had done what a particular Sunday newspaper did, they would call immediately for our heads. Three weeks later, the newspaper ran a story about another issue on which I had spoken, which was totally at variance with the record. I checked the Official Report and the paper was wrong in that case. It even went as far as publishing a cartoon with the article. I wrote privately to the editor furnishing him with a copy of the record of the House and the report from theSunday Independent, asking whether this was ethical and fair comment. I heard nothing for three weeks and then got a telephone call. It was evident they had decided they were going to do a good news story for me and gave me a half a page. That is not the way to run this business. If we can be criticised daily and rightly held to account, likewise, the media must accept criticism. By showing a stubborn streak in complaining, writing and trying subsequently to misrepresent someone, they are doing harm to their own profession, credibility and the great record which so many journalists have had in the past. At this stage, we should take off the gloves. It should not be dealt with on the Order of Business but in a real debate on the issue.
Why is the Senator's Government introducing the Defamation Bill on Committee Stage? There is no Second Stage debate.
Senator Ó Murchú without interruption.
In fairness, when the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, attended the House, many of us spoke courageously at that time.
We should revisit the matter now and not let the media off the hook on this occasion.
We were cut off because the Government is introducing this legislation on Committee Stage. I have asked about this matter.
Senator Norris has already spoken on the Order of Business.
Yes but we were cut off without a proper Second Stage debate.
I call Senator O'Sullivan before the Deputy Leader replies.
I have one or two brief points. I welcome the proposed debate sought by Senator O'Donovan and would like to participate in it. Like everyone in public life at any level, I have also received a few belts from editorials. At the same time we must be cautious and remember the words of Benjamin Disraeli who said "Never complain and never explain". That maxim goes a long way for me.
I ask the Deputy Leader to convey my thanks and the thanks of the House to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, for the efficient way in which he resolved the issue I raised here two weeks ago concerning expense remunerations for members of regional river basin committees. He moved with great speed on an issue that had been dragging along for quite a while.
That is ten votes.
I also ask the Deputy Leader to raise an issue with the Minister for Education and Science concerning the establishment of a payment regime for chairpersons of vocational education committees. Senators will be aware that chairpersons of almost everything are salaried, including county and town councils and strategic policy committees. Chairpersons of vocational education committees do tremendous work and have a large workload. Many of them are well known to us as public representatives. The Deputy Leader might raise that matter with the Minister for Education and Science.
Today we have had a more varied assembly of requests from Members but some were also carried over from yesterday's Order of Business. I regret that I have not been able to announce the availability of the Minister for Health and Children to attend the House. I am confident, however, that we will have confirmation of her intention to come here by the time we meet again next Tuesday. Several Members raised the question of the governance of the health services on top of yesterday's concerns about cancer care, and whether it is possible to have combined statements on both matters. I think that can be facilitated. It is accepted that today's briefing session, following the first such session last year, is not the most satisfactory for informing Members of the Oireachtas, allowing Members to voice their ongoing concerns or discuss the development of health policy. Perhaps collectively we can come up with better ways of approaching these maters when the HSE next offers such a facility.
Senators Frances Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White and others broached the question of Seanad reform. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has responsibility at Cabinet level for progressing this matter. I understand he is in the process of writing to the Leaders of political groupings in both Houses seeking a reconvening of the committee that was established during the last Dáil and Seanad. Once established, I would like the committee to have a time commitment, perhaps even as narrow as six months, in which to undertake its work. We have an agreement from the last Dáil and Seanad, which is the 11th such report. There have not been any legislative or constitutional changes in the make-up or workings of this Chamber since it was established under the 1937 Constitution. We have a responsibility to ensure such changes can come about in the lifetime of the 23rd Seanad. I can certainly give my personal commitment on that.
The question of an agreed motion on Irish emigrants has been debated in the Lower House. It was raised here by Senators Alex White and Doherty. I cannot see any difficulty in having such a debate and I think the House will speak with one mind on that issue. As someone who was born in the United States, the son of Irish immigrants, I can readily identify with the matter.
Senator Keaveney raised the question of early schooling and the development of music in the curriculum. I am convinced that I became the Green Party's finance spokesperson because I was seen strumming a guitar at a party convention. It is obviously true, as Senator Keaveney said, that the development of mathematical and musical skills are on a par and our primary school curriculum should reflect that.
Senator Bacik sought a debate on development aid which can be easily arranged. In light of recent statements, we should also focus of the disability programme in such a debate. She also referred to access to child care for children with disabilities. Initially, the implementation of the Disability Act is concentrating on the 0-5 years age range. In implementing personal development plans for this age group, it is hoped that many of these continuing difficulties can be overcome. However, if a debate is needed to show progress on that, we can arrange it.
Senator Bacik also called for a debate on family reunification, as did Senator Donohoe. The immigration Bill will come before the House early next year and we hope that will provide the forum. Most Members are frustrated with the current system and the need to make it more humane and more efficient. I realise that Senator Bacik is speaking at a conference on this next week.
Senator Buttimer asked about the current Cork Airport debt. As I understand it, the airport will stay under the auspices of the Dublin Airport Authority until an agreement is reached. Everybody in the Cork area thinks that this is unsatisfactory.
We were given a commitment in this House that it would be debt free.
I am trying to explain the current situation. A consultant report has referred to a debt of €50 million being carried over, but that is disputed by the interim committee for the Cork Airport Authority. That is where the matter lies at the moment and I do not believe any firm decision has been made on it.
How long must we wait?
I will try to find that out. Senator Coffey spoke about the raising of thePère Charles, which is the second vessel to be raised this week. The Minister is to be commended on trying to meet the concerns of the family involved. It is subject to ongoing policy review as to whether this could be done in every circumstance. It does not seem to be standard practice in other countries, but the information gained from the raising of these two vessels will bring a degree of certainty for the families involved. The Minister may be given an opportunity in the House to talk about policy in that area.
Senator Norris asked about the Irish Human Rights Commission's report on rendition and whether Dr. Manning could come before the House. I am not aware of precedent in this matter, but if it can be arranged there might be a value in it. Senator Donohoe spoke about the interconnector and Transport 21. I am not too sure of the point he was making, but the House should acknowledge a policy that gives precedence to public transport and tries to build public transport links in Dublin city, even if it is a reversal of what has happened before.
Senator O'Donovan brought up the issue of an award to a Ukrainian citizen, following the reporting of a story a few years ago that represented a huge stain on journalism in this country. He was supported by other Members. We await the introduction of the Defamation Bill 2006 and we should acknowledge the informal arrangement that currently exists, following the appointment of a press ombudsman working through the press council.
Will the Bill be brought before the House on Second Stage?
On a point of order, will we all be permitted to have supplementary questions when the Deputy Leader is responding to the Order of Business? This has happened three or four times in the last few minutes and it is not fair to other Members. I would like to come back in with supplementary questions as well.
The Leader should not be interrupted in any shape or form, so that he could be given an opportunity to answer questions raised. I hope people respect that and if they cannot do so, there is room outside for them.
I hope that every question can be answered eventually, even if not within the scope of this reply. I am trying to get through all the submissions that have been made this morning. We should acknowledge the appointment of a press ombudsman operating through the informal press council that the media organisations have established themselves. The fact that the ombudsman is a former Member of the House and a distinguished commentator on media affairs will help to avoid reoccurrences of situations like this. If such situations do occur, he can make sure that there is a better response for all those who are affected by such defamation.
Several Members, beginning with Senator Walsh, spoke about the re-establishment of speed limits on various roads, particularly redeveloped roads. I am sure the Minister would be pleased to respond to such a debate. There were contributions yesterday from Senator Quinn and Keaveney asking for restrictions on speeding. The debate must be held within the context that there are many problems with speed on our roads. Whatever speed limits are set, there are people in our society who will drive even faster. Perhaps we should adopt the Japanese technology that restricts cars from going faster than the legal limit.
On a point of order——
The Senator, without interruption please.
I was misrepresented.
Senator Ross spoke about Leinster Lawn and I know that the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government has expressed his unhappiness about it in the past. There have been proposals for an underground parking facility to restore the lawn to its former glory, but these have not been funded. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and perhaps Members of the House on that commission can express our concerns. I agree with the sentiments of Senator Ross.
Some Senators spoke about the effects of Halloween. I am not sure if this is a matter for debate or new legislation, which is already in place. It is difficult for the various agencies to enforce it. We could do with an audit of the cost of policing and the fire services at this time. A factory unit was burned down in Ballincollig, yet Cork does not even have the tradition of bonfires on Halloween night. These problems are becoming manifest all over the country.
Senator Healy Eames spoke about the continuing difficulties with water quality in the Galway area. I will bring those to the attention of the Minister, but the water services funding programme has been recently announced and it is the highest ever in the history of the State. It is hoped that we can start to tackle the problems that exist.
Senator Doherty spoke about the student support Bill, which is in section A of the legislative programme of the Oireachtas. There is a promise that the Bill will be published before the start of the next session. By the latest, it will be published by the middle of January. The Senator can keep reminding us of that if he feels there is a need to do so.
Senator White called for a debate on the care of the elderly. There was a similar request yesterday for the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, to come before the House and this debate can be easily facilitated. There are particular references in the programme for Government that would help such a debate.
Following the Order of Business on 25 October, the House divided on the ministerial order for Cockles (Fishing Management Conservation) (Waterford Estuary) Regulations 2007. On foot of the concerns expressed that day and following further investigation, I am pleased to announce that the order is to be rescinded next week.
Well done. Bravo.