The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill 2005[Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]- Report Stage and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Order of Business.
I extend my condolences to the family of Dr. Hillery because he was a man I always admired. I congratulate Senator Cannon on his elevation to leadership of his political party in the early hours of this morning.
For the past two days I have been in Brussels. As Fine Gael is part of the largest group of political parties in Europe, we meet other political parties across Europe with whom we are closely aligned in the European Parliament on a regular basis. There is confidence in Europe that somehow the Lisbon treaty will find its way through. We are in great danger on this island of losing the Lisbon treaty because of our complacency. The Government has been incredibly complacent about it. The comments made about the World Trade Organisation should be taken seriously and Mr. Mandelson could be a threat to the treaty being passed because we are not responding to concerns raised by the IFA. The Taoiseach has stated he will raise the issue of taxation with President Barroso this afternoon. All this is unnecessary and gives the impression we are not in control of events.
In Brussels I discovered that we are part of a larger family of 27 countries and that many of the smaller countries have the same position and the same concerns as Ireland. They feel the same way on many of the issues raised in this country, such as taxation and the European army. They are far more in tune with our position and we should contact these countries to encourage them to state publicly what they say in private — that they support us. It would be much more appropriate for Ministers to make known in Ireland the support of these countries. That is how we will get the Lisbon treaty passed.
There is an idea that the EU is what Germany, France and the United Kingdom think. It is far from that. Most of the European treaties up to this point have been about economicissues and have never damaged Ireland's economy. The Lisbon treaty has a major economic workload in it. It will not damage Ireland's economy. We should make this clear to the Irish people.
The Government has been too complacent about this. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is a major part of the treaty. When we see parties that claim to have a left-wing leaning opposing the treaty that consolidates the civil and human rights of people across Europe, one must ask if they are poorly informed or trying to mislead the people. This will consolidate the human rights of EU citizens. I feel more secure that Europe would defend my civil rights rather than some of the Governments we have had in this country in the past. We have seen Europe being a greater defender of the civil rights of Irish people than the Irish Government. We should get that message out to the people of Ireland.
There are concerns about the economy. We sought a debate and to meet the Minister for Finance in the House on a bi-annual basis to discuss what is happening. Can the Leader provide an update on this possibility? I do not refer to the Minister appearing during a debate on the Finance Bill. The Minister should attend separate debates in the House on events in the economy. Whether the issue is one of pensions, inflation or competitiveness, we are beginning to falter in a way that has not been seen in 15 years. We must discuss this matter clearly.
In the past year, we have had a number of debates on the question of civil partnerships, in respect of which there have been some extraordinary developments. Yesterday held an embarrassing moment when the Judiciary was required to fill the gaps in legislation left by the seemingly indolent politicians. Yesterday's decision of the High Court, which I welcome, should not have been necessary. Rather, there should have been clear laws about civil partnership irrespective of whether people liked it. We have a responsibility to deal with the issue. There is no better benchmark of our ineffectiveness than to find that the Judiciary must make decisions on issues from which we run away.
One year ago, the House received the commitment that it would be given the heads of a Bill on this matter by 30 March 2008, but there has been none. My colleagues in the Green Party indicated a date of 30 March. This is a live issue. A woman from the Cathaoirleach's Dáil constituency discussed the heartache, difficulties and pressures she and her family have been caused due to those in civil partnerships having no rights. For years, my colleague, Senator Norris, has pushed this issue time and again. It is disgraceful we are leaving a vacuum in legislation and that people must go to court to get mediation, decisions and authority. Yesterday's landmark decision was welcome but should not have been required. We should have addressed the matter in legislation. It is sad that the promises given to my colleague, Senator Norris, have been welshed on by the Government.
I offer the congratulations of the Independent Senators to Senator Cannon on his election as leader of the Progressive Democrats.
I echo the sentiments of previous speakers on yesterday's funeral of former President, Dr. Patrick Hillery. I was privileged to attend it. From the day's events and as seen throughout the country, it was clear Dr. Hillery was held in great affection by us all. It is always a sad day for Ireland when we must bury one of our great Irish men.
Like previous speakers, I congratulate Senator Cannon on his election to the leadership of the Progressive Democrats. It is a significant challenge for him and the Labour Party wishes him well on a personal level. I would like to express my condolences to Senator O'Malley on her disappointment. Knowing her, she will bounce back quickly. If she wants to bounce her way across to these benches, we will be happy to take her.
We echo Senator O'Toole's comments on civil partnerships. There has been a delay. While we were promised the heads of a Bill by the end of March, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has not delivered them. We need to see something in the House quickly.
I want to raise the subject of the OECD's report on the economy. The thrust of the report is that we must improve and control our wages and prices if we are to remain competitive on the international stage. I draw attention to two specific areas where work is needed. First, there is a low employment rate among lone parents which affects their children consequently. Additional programmes and resources must be invested in supporting lone parents and encouraging their return to the workplace. Second, we are falling behind in investment in education. The report states we must spend more to ensure people who fall through the net in school are supported. We must ensure adequate funding is in place for programmes such as Youthreach and to allow for their expansion throughout the country. The report draws attention to the fact our classrooms must be upgraded. Many children go to school in portakabins. In the morning, they leave their First World homes for Third World classrooms. If we are serious about maintaining our economic competitiveness, we must invest in education. Will the Leader arrange a debate on how education investment can help to improve our competitiveness?
I draw attention to the unfolding crisis in the world's food security. The past week has witnessed riots in Haiti leading to the resignation of its prime minister. The price of bread and cereals has increased by 50% to 60%. The president of the World Bank stated that up to 100 million people are in danger of poverty as a result of the increases in food prices. Yesterday, Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL called for rich countries to donate more money to buy food supplies across the world and to make them available to Third World countries suffering owing to food prices. The United Nations has called for rich countries to contribute €300 million towards the unfolding crisis. Will the Leader ask the relevant Ministers to ensure we are at the forefront of efforts to held the Third World? We know the horrors of famine and must be at the forefront of providing aid and relief.
I join in the congratulations of other party leaders and Senators on the success of Senator Cannon on becoming the leader of the Progressive Democrats. I add my commiseration to our other colleague, Senator O'Malley. It is the first time a political party has been led by someone in Seanad Éireann. There was such an occasion in the Seanad of the Irish Free State when a short-lived party, a breakaway from Cumann na nGaedhael called Clann Éireann, existed. However, it was not particularly electorally successful. If the inheritors of Cumann na nGaedhael want to form splinter groups, they are welcome to do so in the Chamber.
The Senator should mind his business and we will mind ours.
Senators should not canvass.
The Green Party has enough to deal with.
I am sick of the Senator lecturing us.
We see Senator Boyle's party as a splinter group.
I might be of assistance in terms of inquiries into a civil partnership Bill. The heads of the Bill exist. There was an accurate press report in The Irish Times as to what the heads might contain. As a Member of the House, that is not a satisfactory way to communicate anything. It is my understanding that one aspect of the Bill is under Cabinet consideration. Once that discussion has concluded, the heads will be made available immediately. We all look forward to an opportunity to discuss the contents of the published Bill.
When will that be?
As far as I understand, the timetable is still on course for September.
On the Lisbon treaty, the President of the European Parliament made a fine address to the House in recent weeks. It has been suggested on the Order of Business that the best way for the House to approach the subject would be to hold a series of debates on different aspects of the treaty, such as the social charter, the questions of what protections exist under the new structures in terms of taxation, etc. and whether Irish neutrality would be threatened in the future European Union. Were we to have a number of individual debates, it would help the public debate that must occur in advance of the referendum. Will the Leader consider this matter?
I support the calls made by my colleague, Senator Twomey, for a debate on the state of our economy, especially its manufacturing elements. In the past week, a number of events have highlighted the precarious position in which the country could find itself. For example, we are aware of the manufacturing job losses that could occur in the midlands, a matter a number of my colleagues will raise later. This week, some of our largest employers, the American banks in particular, have announced further unprecedented losses in their financial performances this year. They have indicated that as a result, they will need to take measures such as international job cuts and so on. One can only hope such measures will not affect Ireland or the employees of such banks here.
I raise this point because the issues faced by Ireland regarding the aforementioned difficulties and the state of its housing market also are being faced in other countries across the world. In particular, these issues are being faced by the Spanish Government and economy. Within the past week, the newly re-elected leader of the Spanish Government, together with his finance Minister, have stated publically that they recognise the scale of the issue facing that country. The Spanish Government has announced new measures outlining its intentions in respect of re-stimulating the economy, the housing market and so on. It is taking two steps that are not happening in Ireland. The Spanish have recognised the scale of the problem and seek to do something about it.
In the absence of such a framework, other companies and groups are trying to take the lead in deciding what should be done. In that light, I ask the Leader to clarify for Members the position regarding the credit note that Waterford Wedgwood plc seeks from the Government to finance its operations, both in Ireland and globally. I do not know enough about the discussions that are taking place in this regard to be able to comment. However, it merits discussion in this House because were this request to be granted, it would constitute a significant change in how such issues are responded to in Ireland. I ask the Leader whether the Government is considering similar measures for other companies throughout the country that are faced with similar difficulties, including those located in my constituency, as well as that of Senator McFadden and the Leader himself.
I wish to re-echo the comments made by other Members regarding the State funeral of the late President Patrick Hillery. He was everything that decency means. He was a constitutional republican in the truest sense and, in his own quiet way, brought a great deal of panache to the Presidency. The people of County Clare had a great champion in the late President Hillery and I was pleased to attend his funeral and to participate in the final tribute to him.
I also wish to be identified and associated with the congratulations extended to Senator Ciaran Cannon on his elevation to the leadership of the Progressive Democrats and to commiserate with Senator O'Malley. As one cannot have winners without losers, the role of a loser is highly pertinent to the creation of the role of a winner.
I have raised in this House a number of times the illegal practices taking place on lakes, canals and some rivers. My statements in this regard were confirmed by a headline in last week's edition of the Westmeath Topic. It stated that a member of the public who tried to report that four or five people had taken a number of fish illegally from a particular waterway was physically threatened and attempts were made to throw him into the river. Such activities, which have been ongoing, must stop. Those who have been Members of this House for a number of years will recall that I have raised this matter several times and I now ask for action to be taken. The point of talking has long passed. We have talked the talk and now should walk the walk. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this matter with the appropriate Minister, who I understand to be the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Definite proposals should be put forward to eliminate this practice.
I also wish to be associated with the tributes to former President Hillery. I regret that I was unable to attend the funeral yesterday. However, it is appropriate that everyone should pay tribute to this man who was, in his quiet way, as great a President as we have had.
I also wish to ask the Leader of the House to facilitate a full debate on financial regulation. While it sounds like a boring topic, it is highly important. At present financial regulation in Ireland is in a state of chaos and the high profile cases about which many people will have read in recent weeks show an inconsistency that is alarming. The House will be aware there was much rumpus about dealings in certain stocks and that the Financial Regulator came in rather late, supposedly to investigate those dealings.
However, there does not appear to be any consistency in what is happening. A couple of weeks ago, The Irish Times was fined, as was Phoenix magazine a little earlier. While I will not go into the details, they were fined €10,000 and €5,000, respectively, by the Financial Regulator for what appeared to be reasonably small offences. However, while the aforementioned offences were being punished with a great deal of fanfare and publicity, which was orchestrated by the Financial Regulator, another case in Dublin was finalised last Monday. I refer to the DCC v. Fyffes case, about which no one has done anything to attempt to remedy what happened.
This was an extremely serious case and was much more serious than what happened in respect of The Irish Times and Phoenix magazine. I now am free to talk about the case because it no longer is before the courts. There was a finding of insider dealing by the Supreme Court and none of the institutions that are meant to regulate the goings on at the Stock Exchange and in financial dealings did anything or have done anything thus far. I refer specifically to institutions such as the Irish Association of Investment Managers or IBEC, which as far as I am aware, has said nothing about it. The Stock Exchange and the Financial Regulator itself have allowed a situation — Senator Quinn referred to this some time ago — to develop whereby Ireland’s regulation is a laughing stock.
In no other financial centre in the world would one of the largest companies in the State be able to make money out of what the Supreme Court has found to be insider dealing without anything happening. The whole matter simply went away. The insiders have eyeballed the regulator and the regulators have blinked because they themselves are insiders. Many of them, while not collaborating, are fearful of taking on people who are committing what at the least are torts.
It is imperative that the Leader of the House should allow Members to air these issues and to ask what is going on. This would not happen in the United States and I doubt whether it would happen in the United Kingdom. I can think of no other financial centre in which the sort of shenanigans that went on in the DCC v. Fyffes case would be allowed to continue. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this issue.
I wish to extend my condolences to the family of President Hillery. At a recent conference that I organised on suicide, the son of President Hillery, Dr. John Hillery, kindly spoke on both the Friday evening and on the Saturday. He gave of his time and energy to help those who are in distress over suicide.
A Thaoisigh, this morning — or, a Chathaoirligh——
The Cathaoirleach is close.
It was a compliment.
He is getting closer.
Members should ask the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, to come before the House to speak on the reorganisation of the Health Service Executive. The work in which I am involved at present on suicide prevention in the new Ireland has enabled me to learn a vast amount about the HSE organisation. I have concerns about the HSE, which is the largest institutional employer in Ireland. It employs 100,000 people and has a budget of €14 billion. At present 11 positions are designated for the suicide prevention officers who are critical to suicide prevention efforts and families recovering from suicide. Four out of these 11 positions are unfilled. I want to know why the HSE's national director of population health, Dr. Patrick Doorley, cannot get four people out of 100,000 to fill those positions. It is time we stood up to be counted on this.
Who is in Government?
I will put my cards on the table by acknowledging the great regard I have for Professor Drumm and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, but I want to know the position of the board of the HSE on the re-organisation of health services. If this was a normal company, the board would be held to account for what has happened. I want to learn from the Minister why the HSE is re-prioritising its €14 billion budget and whether that money is efficiently utilised every year.
This morning Deputy O'Connor organised a meeting in Tallaght to seek the €50,000 promised to help Travellers in the area who experience suicide problems. Two years ago in this House, the former Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Tim O'Malley, spoke about suicide and, at a meeting in Tallaght, he promised this €50,000 to the Travellers' group. The bottom line for the HSE is efficiency, which will require re-prioritising the work being done on a day-to-day basis and reallocating employees to priority areas.
Who established the HSE?
Suicide prevention should be a high priority area in the context of the HSE's budget of €14 billion. The National Office for Suicide Prevention received no increase on the €3.5 million budget it was allocated last year. I want the HSE to re-prioritise its €14 billion budget to address the epidemic of suicide in this country. The money should be used more efficiently.
I spoke about the living conditions of Travellers on many occasions over the years. I am sure nobody in this Chamber can imagine what it must be like to be in the shoes of a Traveller who leads a dysfunctional life and feels suicidal.
I would prefer Members not to mention in their contributions people outside the House who are not here to defend themselves. Senators should be aware of that when they speak.
I wish to be associated with the condolences expressed by Senator Twomey and others to the family of our late great President, Dr. Paddy Hillery. Everything that has been said about him is fitting and true. I also join other Senators in congratulating Senator Cannon and commiserating Senator O'Malley.
Senator Ross addressed an important issue in his contribution. The Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision which laid down the law on insider trading and the retention of price sensitive information. It would appear that the concept of corporate governance and the strictures of company law have been given the two fingers by certain leading players in Ireland's corporate life. The Director of Corporate Enforcement has referred to these matters and the fitness of individuals to hold corporate office but nobody has accepted responsibility or was fired by his or her board. I am not even aware of anybody who has been censured. The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority and the Stock Exchange should have something more precise to say on this subject. If standards and accountability are to mean anything, I strongly support the call made by Senator Ross for a debate in this House and I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for trade and commerce, Deputy McGuinness, to set out the Government's view of the matter. It is not good enough that the courts have to lead given that we are supposed to be legislators. The lack of regulation has made a farce of this area.
I commend the leader on arranging at such short notice the attendance in the House of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and ask that our meeting with her be re-arranged. In light of the developing situation in the World Trade Organisation negotiations and the possibility of a reduction in food production in Europe at a time when we need to substantially increase production in the short term to alleviate world conditions, it is timely that we put our case to the Minister.
I ask that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources request the European Council of Ministers to consider the west coast as a location for green energy. There is ample space there to produce alternative supplies to our exclusive dependence on imports into the EU. These supplies would be a back-up but EU input would be essential.
I wish to speak about the serious issue that has arisen this week in north County Westmeath, namely, the loss of 420 jobs in Iralco. This long established company has operated in the area since the early 1960s with a highly skilled workforce producing quality products. It was anticipated by workers and management that they would work in tandem with its sister company in the Ukraine but, due to increasing inflation and the cost of running a business in this country, the entire company will be transferred to that country. However, I do not think all is lost. A meeting will be held today with the liquidator and management of the company, so there is still time. If it is possible to honour the orders that have been placed, the company could be sold as a going concern.
I am not political and I am aware how upsetting this matter must be for Senator Cassidy, who hails from the area. However, I lay the blame firmly at the feet of the Government for its mismanagement of economic growth and the wonderful Celtic tiger. County Westmeath has not received a single new manufacturing job. The chamber of commerce has stated that the business park in Mullingar has been waiting two years for the opening of its two units. Last month, 95 jobs were lost in Athlone on the same day that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, was on a trade mission to America.
I know the Leader will not be found wanting if there is any way he can influence the matter. It would make considerable sense for the liquidator to attempt to sell the company as a going concern. I repudiate the comments made by the Minister, Deputy Martin, in the interview. It is reported that he said there were difficulties between management and employees. This is not the reason for the problems, which are a result of rising costs, including energy costs. It was hoped the company would be able to work in tandem with the Ukraine, not that it would go out of business. I ask the Leader to consider this and I look forward to hearing his Adjournment matter.
Along with other Members, I add my voice to the tributes to our late President, Dr. Paddy Hillery. He was a fine gentleman who did tremendous service for this country. He was a most unassuming and modest man and an example for everybody in public life.
I refer to the remarks by Senators Ross and Coghlan with regard to the Fyffes v. DCC case. In the past Fyffes was a very good customer of a company in which I had a shareholding. That is no longer the case, but I followed the court case with some interest and the remarks made in the House fail to recognise that the High Court found in favour of the defendants in that case. When the Supreme Court found against the defendant, it stated in its judgment that the defendant was unaware he had price sensitive information. That is the declaration of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court was unanimous.
I am aware that there are more expert legal people in the Opposition than there are on the Bench.
We can discuss this if the Leader agrees to hold a debate on it.
It could happen in any country.
We need to be very careful when we deal with specifics. I am not opposed to a debate on financial regulation generally. However, it is not appropriate for this House to be second guessing what the courts have decided in a specific case involving individuals which has gone through the legal process.
We are not.
We have accepted the findings of the courts.
The financial regulator made known his views to the court in advance of its decision. The matter has been disposed of and it is not appropriate for the House to discuss the specific case.
The Director of Corporate Enforcement has said——
It is in order to discuss the general issue but not a specific case that has been dealt with by the courts.
I concur with the request made by Senator Twomey and others with regard to seeking a debate on the economy. Undoubtedly there are global and domestic issues which this House could address, hopefully in a constructive way. We have very fortunately attained a standard of living and a wealth base which was undreamed of in the past, which will stay with us. However, it is important it is preserved and spread among others who have failed to keep up with the developments in the economy. Periodic debates on the economy are always helpful and I support the call for such a debate.
I thank my colleague Senator O'Toole for raising the custody case. It is extremely important and it is a reproach to this House. We had the relevant Bill, prepared by myself and Senator Bacik, on the Order Paper for four years. It went into every committee. The Government raised questions and some of these questions have been now answered by the learned judge, Mr. Justice Hedigan, who stated — it is important to put this on record — that there was nothing in Irish law to suggest that a family of two women and an child "has any lesser right to be recognised as a de facto family than a family composed of a man and woman unmarried to each other". The judge stressed the absence of any provisions securing the rights of this de facto family under article 8 securing the rights——
I do not want people reading the newspapers on the Order of Business.
I insist on doing so and I will say why. Several people read speeches from beginning to end prepared by Government advisers and I want to accurately put on the record the reproach of this distinguished judge to this House for not doing what it should have done. I want to get it right and I do not mean any disrespect; I am being accurate. The judge stated that it is something that calls for urgent consideration by the legislators. That is what I want to put on the record and this addresses directly one of the matters referred to by Senator Boyle as being a subject of contention within the Cabinet, namely, the right to adopt and the rights of children within these families. In the Zappone case in the High Court evidence was given by Professor Patricia Casey which used Swedish research. It is extremely important to put on the record that the authors of that Swedish research have written to the newspaper stating this was an inappropriate use of this research and that the conclusions drawn by Professor Casey and given as evidence in the court were inaccurate. I hope this will be taken into consideration when this important matter is considered. Can I raise——
On that point, will the Senator give the source newspaper from which he is quoting?
I beg your pardon, The Irish Times. The newspaper of record and the only newspaper that records the doings of this House.
Enough said about that now.
I welcome the fact that the Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement supporting Mr. Michael Semple a distinguished diplomat who has recently had some turbulence in his career and who is accused by certain media sources here of being a spook and a spy, quoting low grade British newspapers in so doing. I hope the statement of support contains information stating that he most definitely was not a spy. The only difficulty is — this is something that is apparently quite foreign to the American authorities — he had an acquaintance with the local languages, Pashto and the other Afghani dialects. I welcome this statement.
I strongly support my colleague Senator Ross. I have listened to him with interest over many years. I am not gifted in the area of economy but I do recall him talking of insider trading. Unlike Senator Walsh, I think it is 100% appropriate that we support the decision of the court because that is what was being done. We have a decision; this was insider trading. There was an excellent article by Mr. Vincent Browne in The Irish Times yesterday which describes it appropriately as theft.
Will the Senator please speak through the Chair and to the Leader?
Through the Chair to the Leader, this should be left on the record of the House. In possession of information that their shares were on a decline, some of these gentlemen went around the world on what they called roadshows flogging the thing. They were selling something they knew to be practically valueless to unfortunate people. That is theft and the amounts involved were €80 million, twice the amount involved in the Northern Bank robbery, about which we got so steamed up. It is extraordinary to think that in this country we send people to jail for not paying their television licences and somebody can get away with €80 million of loot and get only a little slap on the wrist. That is an incitement of crime and Senator Ross is perfectly right to raise the question of a debate on the financial regulatory system. Well done to him.