The Order of Business is No. 1, referral to joint committee of motion re Bord Bia, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and Senators may share time; No. 3, statements on the swine flu epidemic to be taken at 5 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and Senators may share time; and No. 29, Private Members' business, motion 36 — efforts to prevent energy shortage in future years, to be taken at 6 p.m.
Order of Business.
There is no doubt that the major concern for families is the appalling job losses which are affecting almost every family in the State. However, there are other issues of concern with regard to children and I wish to raise three of those issues. I wish to table an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Health and Children should come to the House today to discuss these issues which are of huge concern to families. The first issue is the situation regarding international adoptions; the second issue is the suspension of the investigation by the Ombudsman for Children because, despite having the powers to do so, she is not getting co-operation from the HSE on the investigation into child abuse in the Catholic church Dublin diocese, and third, the absolute confusion surrounding the introduction of the Government's plans to provide child care places for three year olds.
I will deal with these issues individually. The Government appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for children and there is a National Children's Office, yet there are three areas in regard to children which are mired in confusion as far as the person in the street is concerned who is worried about these issues. Why is this the case and what is happening?
I will deal first with the international adoption situation. As every Senator knows, there is great concern about the bilateral agreement with Vietnam, which expired on 1 May 2009. We have had no clarity from the Minister of State with responsibility for children on this. Families are deeply concerned about it. I quote from one e-mail I received:
We write to you to express our utter disappointment and heartache following the closure of Vietnamese adoptions from 1 May. [This also applies to the lack of a bilateral agreement with the Russian Federation] Our lives have been on hold for the past five years on waiting lists for assessment by the HSE, then waiting for social workers, and now, when our waiting was almost over, we are left in limbo because this was not sorted out in time. Why did the Minister let this go to the wire? Why was the bilateral agreement not concluded before the last one expired?
That is a very serious question and I want the Minister of State in here to explain to the hundreds of families affected by this what he will do and the problems and barriers to concluding this agreement.
I quote from another person:
This means that at least 1,000 children will, at best, spend longer in institutions and may be condemned to a lifetime in institutional care. No matter how good it may be, institutional care is not a substitute for a loving family life.
That is the first issue which, as I said, is mired in confusion. The second is the Ombudsman for Children suspending a serious investigation into the handling of child abuse cases by the Roman Catholic Church dioceses and the lack of information she appears to be receiving. The Department of Health and Children has co-operated with her but the Health Service Executive, HSE, has not given her information on this. Whom is the HSE trying to satisfy? Why is this information not being given to the ombudsman who says she has the power to get this information?
This is disgraceful, if we are putting children's rights at the centre of our agenda. My final point is on the child care places. Child care providers do not know how many places will be available, are not happy about the costings that have been done and feel they will not be able to run their centres with the costings the Department has put out. These are three very serious issues about children and there is much confusion on each of them. I ask that the Minister of State come to the House to address those issues which are at the top of the agenda for many families in this country.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I regret that the Leader on his own, without any contact or agreement with me or anyone else, changed Private Members' time. As he has made some time available to discuss an issue with the Minister for Health and Children, I suggest that time would be better spent discussing the row between the Ombudsman for Children and the HSE rather than swine vesicular disease, which the Government is handling very well. That is my amendment to the Order of Business.
I especially want to do it because Senator Fitzgerald's point is correct. There is a lack of information. Subject to being corrected, it is my belief that the problem is that the HSE has documentation it got half-filled by the Roman Catholic Church which refused to give the full information in the Ferns and Dublin investigations. This is the documentation solicitors and lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church are saying may not be made available to the ombudsman. To the public eye the ombudsman and the HSE are involved in a row. I would like to get it all out in the open. There is an opportunity for the Minister to deal with that now and for us to be topical and useful in dealing with that.
I wish to say bon voyage and recognise Senators Donohoe, Corrigan, Alex White, O’Reilly and our colleague Senator Bacik, who have put themselves forward for the European elections.
What about Senators John Paul Phelan and Norris?
I apologise. Senator John Paul Phelan.
I shall reserve myself for the Phoenix Park. It will be the Park or nothing.
At a time when politics is at a very low ebb, when there was never so little trust or confidence in the political system, I express my admiration for all those people for putting their names before the electorate and standing out there and standing for something. In welcoming Mr. George Lee for crossing over to our side, I wish to correct some of the wonder about it. Whereas I admire and recognise that anyone might give up career prospects and salaries to come into Leinster House, both Houses are full of people — every lawyer, solicitor, barrister, doctor and many business people — who have put their careers on hold to come here. That should be recognised. What George Lee has done is perfectly admirable, but many people in both Houses have done exactly the same over the years. That might come as a surprise to cynical commentators and callers to talk shows, but it is the reality.
We should recognise that and wish those people well.
Like Senator Fitzgerald, we all have had hundreds of e-mails from families with regard to the bilateral agreements with Vietnam and Russia on adoption. Hundreds of families are in limbo because of incompetence and inaction on the part of the Government. I join Senator Fitzgerald in asking for the Minister to be invited to the House for a debate. It is important that we take action on this as soon as possible.
I give a guarded welcome to the decision by the main retailer in the State, Tesco, to reduce the price of goods by an average of just over 20% in many of its stores south of the Border. This is welcome news for shoppers and it is not before time. However, before anybody goes away thinking this company is the champion of consumers, let us be clear that this is an attempt by Tesco to stem losses by encouraging people north of the Border where it has no shops to shop in its stores in the South. It is very clear that the company is trying to move the shopping border 20 miles south, to places such as Drogheda, Bailieborough and Monaghan. As a shopper in one of these stores, I welcome this. I welcome the jobs that will remain in the country as a result and the lower prices, which is good news for local people, but let us be clear that this is primarily a business exercise. Unless and until this company extends these price cuts throughout Ireland, we will see this move for what it is.
I raise the issue of the rip-off being imposed on its passengers by the Dublin Airport Authority's decision to charge passengers €1 for the use of a small plastic bag. This is just another example of how the authority continues to treat its customers with little more than contempt. There is a differential between the prices one pays at the airport, whether on car parking charges, airport food or bottled water, and that will not encourage tourists who are leaving the country to tell their fellow country people to come here. It will leave a bad taste in their mouths. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter because I see no additional passenger security from many European measures such as that relating to small plastic bags. This is another revenue-generating exercise, masquerading as an attempt to improve passenger security.
I congratulate the Members of this House who are running for election to other places, particularly my colleague, Senator Bacik. I believe she will do very well, as will other people. As the Australians and New Zealanders said——
What about Senator Alex White? Does the Senator not think he will do well?
What about Senator Kelly?
Senator Alex White, too. Senator Bacik has just entered the race.
Senator Hannigan, without interruption.
There will be calls claiming intimidation.
We are not canvassing for the elections now, we are dealing with questions to the Leader.
The average IQ of this House may go down but it will rise in other fora as a result and we must welcome that.
I very much welcome the decision by pension investment managers to invest a €7 billion fund in Government infrastructure. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House to discuss this issue, which will give a great boost to the economy.
We know more about this matter. He does not know anything about it.
Senator Leyden, without interruption.
This follows on proposals I put forward in this Chamber for a €10 billion international reconstruction fund which would be linked to pension schemes. There is money in the economy and people want to invest their money but they want security. This is a vehicle for achieving this. I welcome the fact that we will be investing our pension money in guaranteed schemes such as roads, schools, hospital projects, Luas and metro north. Those projects will kick-start the economy again.
Let us start now.
Do it. Just do it.
We have a stable political system——
The Senator should stop talking about it and do it.
There should be no interruptions. Everybody will have an opportunity to speak.
——and there is stability in inward investment. We have practically the best tax code in Europe as far as the Americans are concerned and we have attracted business and will continue to do so. We do not want more knockers. One knocker has gone from RTE to contest the election in Dublin South. It is a pity he did not have a health warning——
This is the Order of Business.
Name and shame them.
I am asking the Leader if he can invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to this House to draw up protocols and procedures for those in senior positions in RTE whose salaries are paid for by taxpayers' money. I pay my licence fee, but I am not doing so for George Lee to contest the by-election in Dublin South.
It is all fine when it is going Fianna Fáil's way.
I want a health warning attached to those in RTE. He has undermined this Government over recent years.
The Senator did not say that when it did the same to Michael Noonan.
He is a Fine Gael man in a Fine Gael shirt inside his striped shirt. It is the most serious——
Senator, please. I do not want any Member suggesting people outside the House are undermining the Government. I ask the Senator to resume his seat. All I want to hear are questions to the Leader.
He is on €150,000. When I was elected to the House, I could not go back to my own practice afterwards. He can go back to RTE. That is the deal.
The Senator has made his point.
It was biased reporting of the previous Government that damaged this economy and this State. I hope the public in Dublin South realise that.
It was the truth.
The Senator has made his point. I want him to resume his seat. When the Chair asks a Member to resume his or her seat, I ask that it be done immediately or they will be out the door.
I appreciate that, but I am very angry about this, as the Cathaoirleach will understand.
It is called democracy. People are allowed to join political parties.
I do not like hypocrisy.
It is called democracy.
We are not compromising the House. I call Senator Twomey.
Now that George Lee has gone, no doubt the public finances will be all correct in the morning. There is nothing wrong with the economy and everything is fine now that George Lee has left RTE. George Lee reports on the mess Fianna Fáil has made of the economy.
We are not discussing George Lee.
If Senator Leyden believes nothing is wrong with the public finances, then he is living in an even more——
We are not discussing this. It is questions to the Leader. No candidates, whatever, will be discussed and that is it.
As the Cathaoirleach always says, these individuals cannot defend themselves because they are not Members of this House. Therefore we should defend them.
I will adjourn the House if Members will not stick to the rules.
If we are going to make wild charges against individuals outside the House, there is nothing wrong with Members on this side of the House defending such people. If Senator Leyden really wants to go through most of the people in public——
Never mind Senator Leyden. I am asking Senator Twomey to put questions to the Leader, now.
All I am saying in the light of Senator Leyden's comments is that if these charges are to be made in this House, we do not really need to be lifting the duvet, as it were, in terms of looking at the connections between people in Fianna Fáil and RTE or many news and media outlets. Let us stay away from that because I assure Senator Leyden that Fianna Fáil will come out of it the wrong end completely.
Questions to the Leader, now, please.
However, we will accept the Senator's comments as they stand for now and leave it at that.
Where were you yesterday when George Glee was smiling through it all?
Was that George Lee or George Glee?
I will call on the Leader to reply to the Order of Business and take no one else if that is going to be the decision. I am giving Members an opportunity to put questions to the Leader and I do not want to hear anything to do with elections.
I fully agree with the Cathaoirleach and I will only use this side of the House to defend individuals against whom wild charges have been made.
On the wider issues we should be discussing, I second Senator Fitzgerald's proposal on what is happening with children's services and how the Ombudsman for Children has been abused, to say the least, by the Health Service Executive. I have often said this House was being discredited because we were not getting satisfactory answers from the Government. That was tainting the perception the people have of all Members of this House. When we have asked questions of the HSE about the investigation by the Garda into Leas Cross, we have got no answers. When questions have been asked about what the Minister of State with responsibility for children has done with the report on the Dublin diocese or Ferns or any other report, bluff and bluster is all we have got until the answers have come out in the media. That is not the manner in which this House is supposed to be treated. If questions are asked about adoptions or about reports on the abuse of children in State institutions, we are supposed to get fully informed answers quickly from the relevant State bodies and not bluff.
I support the call by Senator Fitzgerald for some progress to be made on the dispute that has arisen between the Ombudsman for Children and the HSE. I am not going to take sides in this because I do not know the facts. I hope there is not an element of grandstanding going on. Equally, however, I was not impressed by the suggestion, which was stated by the Ombudsman for Children, that the HSE wanted legal representation. We have all seen the cost of that. This is an issue that should be resolved between two State agencies. It reflects badly on both of them that the dispute should continue.
I also wish to refer to the comments on adoption issues. We have all been bombarded by e-mails in this regard. One person kindly sent me an e-mail, which obviously was circulated to many others, asking me to join in ensuring we bombard Members of the Oireachtas to see if a head of steam could be created over this particular issue. I am surprised at some of the comments made here because if anybody checks with the Minister and his Department, they will find there are serious issues which must be addressed in those bilateral talks. Until they are resolved progress will obviously not be made, but it is a serious issue for the people concerned. Having spoken directly to the Minister, I know he is taking a hands-on approach to it.
Not in time, though.
I did not interrupt.
Please allow Senator Walsh to continue without interruption.
Anyone who has listened to the Minister on the various occasions he has attended this House to debate the Adoption Bill will be well aware of his absolute commitment and grasp of the issues involved. Those issues need to be resolved.
I support the comments by Senator Leyden on the €6 billion being made available by Irish pension funds for investment in infrastructure. Hopefully, that will yield job creation. That is the kind of thing we want to see happening.
I regret the recent comments on, and the lack of progress among, the social partners. Social partnership held us in good stead in difficult times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Social partnership — I am excluding nobody from it — contributed to the extent of the challenges we are now facing. We should have sought a package of €1 billion for investment in job retention and creation. I suggest that money could be obtained by suspending for three years the benchmarking process that applies across the public service, which they negotiated and for which they were responsible. That would yield the bones of €6 billion over three years for investment in the economy. I hope that suggestion will be taken up by the social partners.
While I wish all my colleagues well, I cannot join in the orgy of congratulation. I have always deprecated the practice of using the Seanad as a diving board into the Dáil and I continue to do so. However, I strongly welcome the intervention of Mr. George Lee, a man of the highest integrity. It is guaranteed to strengthen the gene pool in the other House, which seems to be made up principally of widows, orphans, eldest sons and local sporting heroes. Therefore, I think Mr. Lee's intervention is a very good thing.
We do not want to discuss that.
I also wish to raise the question of the Shell to Sea campaign. It was raised temperately by Senator O'Toole and intemperately by a Member on the other side. Attempts were made to smear the Shell to Sea people, which I think were completely disgraceful. There were attempts to link them, quite incorrectly, with dissident republican violence. In fact, violence was used against Willie Corduff who has been supported by groups like Afri and others.
The Senator should not name individuals.
I am calling for a public inquiry.
I do not want the Senator to name individuals who are outside this House.
They were all used last week, so I want all of that withdrawn. It is a complete disgrace.
I did not hear that name before.
The violence came the other way and I have seen videos of some of this stuff.
With regard to the HSE and the Ombudsman for Children, I find it extraordinary. I listened to Mr. Kane and it sounded like "The Caine Mutiny". Apparently, he would not talk and then he wanted it done with lawyers. This delay and waste is symptomatic of the HSE. He is supposed to be protecting children, but actually seems to be protecting, first, the HSE and, second, the Church. I do not think that is the duty of the HSE, so it must be cleared up.
I join with other colleagues, including with Senator Fitzgerald, in expressing concern about the bilateral adoption agreement with Vietnam. All of us who spoke on that debate expressed great concern about the possibility that this deadline would be missed and now it has been. We have a good, intelligent and decent Minister of State. I do not know how the current position came about and I will not blackguard the Minister of State who is a decent man but the position is not acceptable. Yesterday, I received 60 e-mails on this matter, which is indicative of the level of public concern.
I raise the issue of adoptions from Russia and Vietnam. In particular, I am cognisant that the difficulty that has arisen could be ameliorated through serious bilateral negotiations, notwithstanding the fact that all organisations, including the Health Service Executive, have limitations. Whereas normal criteria are applied prior to adoption, I understand post-placement requests have become extremely vigorous. If a little understanding were shown, it could help the HSE and put the matter in context.
I welcome Tesco's decision to reduce prices of products sold in its stores. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the retail trade. If the decision by Tesco results in a reduction in the unjustifiable prices paid in the South compared to the North, it will benefit all consumers. In addition, if the supermarkets were to enter a trade war, it would benefit consumers in this State and should be welcomed.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fitzgerald and second the amendment proposed by Senator O'Toole. As colleagues have noted, the number of messages and e-mails Senators have received in recent days indicates that major problems have arisen on the issue of adoption. These problems must be urgently addressed as it is unfair to leave large numbers of parents in the lurch and suffering from despair and anguish as a result of the current circumstances. The Leader will, I am sure, accept the urgent need for the Minister to come before the House to clarify the position and answer the many questions Senators have on the issue.
I refer to the unfortunate and tragic accident which occurred on Sceilg Mhichíl some days ago when a visitor lost his life as a result of a fall. The island belongs to the State and is in the care of the heritage section of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, the guide service on the island is run by the Office of Public Works. The Department and Office of Public Works must liaise better on this issue and, failing that, responsibility should be transferred in full to one or other body.
Similar circumstances pertain regarding other national monuments, with the Office of Public Works having one role and the wildlife service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government having another. Guides are not yet operating on Sceilg Mhichíl. Given the paramount importance of safety and the steep incline of the island, I repeat the call made by Councillor Michael Cahill in County Kerry that, at a minimum, a rope bannister or other type of rail should be erected on the island. We should not put lives at risk, as is clearly being done at present. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to have the matter addressed. I also intend to pursue it with both relevant Ministers.
I support Senator Hanafin's call for a debate on the retail trade. The Tesco store in Sligo was among the outlets which changed its pricing structure to reflect the prices available in the North. I spoke to people last night who visit the North once or twice per month to shop and now indicate they will shop south of the Border. I welcome Tesco's decision. I heard a spokesperson for the company state on a radio programme yesterday that it plans to extend its new model. We, in the Republic, especially those in the retail trade, will benefit greatly from the new pricing structure in the long run.
I also support calls by several Senators from all sides for a debate on the impasse which has arisen between the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, and the Health Service Executive. I listened to both sides this morning on "Morning Ireland" and could not get a sense that the HSE was complying in the way it should have been. I felt the Ombudsman was correct in being annoyed with what was going on. As Senator Walsh said, it is ridiculous that every time an issue arises the HSE would expect to have legal representation on both sides. I say this with respect to the legal people in this House, but everybody knows that where one has legal people present very little will be said and very little can be achieved, particularly when one has an impasse such as this. I ask the Leader, if we are not to have a debate on this matter over the next day or so, to make representations to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, and ask him to intervene in the dispute. On other occasions when we have debated other issues such as child abuse in the House the layperson liked to see the issue resolved.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senators O'Toole and Fitzgerald. I thank Senators O'Toole and Hannigan for their good wishes and I am delighted to have been selected to stand for the Labour Party in Dublin Central. I will not say any more about the election.
We cannot go down that road and I will call the Leader if the Senator does. There have been too many already.
It is important to debate the treatment of children today. It is extraordinary that this Government has time to legislate for an outdated and dangerous offence of blasphemous libel——
——and yet no time, apparently, to ensure the impasse between the HSE and the Ombudsman for Children is resolved and ensure the bilateral agreements for adoptions in Vietnam and Russia are resolved.
Well said. Hear, hear.
We need to ensure this Government gets its priorities right and the treatment of children should be uppermost in our priorities. I support others who have called for those debates today. It is essential.
I ask the Leader for a response to a question I have raised many times in this House regarding the Climate Protection Bill. It is another matter which should be a priority for the Government. We are entering very important international talks on climate change in Copenhagen this December, yet we still have no legislation to ensure binding commitments to meeting targets on carbon emission reductions is in place. I put this issue forward in a Bill which came before this House in October 2007. At that time I was promised more Government time. I am sorry the Deputy Leader is not here because it was he who promised that to me on the record.
I ask the Leader for more time for the Climate Protection Bill and a guarantee we will debate it between now and when we send our negotiating team to Copenhagen in December. It is essential we put legislation in place and I am backed by Friends of the Earth and a range of other NGOs in the Stop Climate Chaos campaign who will be lobbying all of us in this House to ensure we have binding legislation in place. I ask the Leader for an answer.
Like my colleagues, I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, to come in and explain the difficulties faced by the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, which led to her suspending her investigation into the HSE's handling of the child protection audit of Catholic church dioceses. The HSE should be absolutely transparent as a public body and should be forced to co-operate fully with the Ombudsman's investigation.
I tremble when I think of the words of Archbishop Martin a few months ago when he said over the summer we would hear of thousands of cases of abuse of children in the diocese of Dublin. I dread the thought of what is coming. As I have said many times in this House, the 1916 Proclamation, which was read in Arbour Hill recently, has the sentiment that we cherish all the children of our State equally and I am afraid we are not doing that.
When the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, was here to discuss the Adoption Bill he was exemplary in his understanding and comprehension of the legislation. I remember my colleagues on the other side of the House praised him for his dedication and understanding. It is critical we get to grips with the situation regarding adoptions in Russia and Vietnam. When I spoke on the Bill I said we must have compassion for the parents who are waiting to adopt children and for the children who are aching to be brought into a loving family.
Senator Fitzgerald also raised the issue of child care. The new scheme of universal access to preschool education for children aged between three years and three months and four and a half years is revolutionary. It is precisely what I have been urging since I issued my proposals on a new approach to child care. The detail will be worked out in the coming months. If the per capita allocation of €64.50 per week is inadequate, there is no reason the Government cannot increase it to €75. However, individual crèches should not be allowed to charge additional fees. That will only lead to a situation where some facilities become exclusive because they are unaffordable for many. Every child must have equal status in every community and private crèche.
I am pleased there is support on both sides of the House for an urgent clarification by the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, on the adoption crisis currently being experienced by families in this State. As an adoptive parent, I know what it is like to go through the process of adopting a child. As we speak, the applications of 24 Irish couples are delayed in Hanoi because the Minister of State has dropped the ball.
In the first week of March, we debated the provisions of the Adoption Bill 2009 in this House. Senator Fitzgerald and I told the Minister of State it was critical that the bilateral agreement should be in place by 1 May. His failure to act is hurting families, including the 250 couples who are ready to submit their applications to the Vietnamese authorities. The Minister of State has also dropped the ball in regard to Russia. Irish couples successfully adopted 484 babies from Vietnam and Russia last year, accounting for 84% of inter-country adoptions. I implore Members on the other side of the House to come together us on this issue. I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, be invited to the Chamber this afternoon to update us on the situation. I cannot answer all the e-mails I am receiving from people asking questions about it.
I raise the next issue only after careful consideration. As I participate in the canvass for the forthcoming elections, I am encountering great hatred and anger at foreign nationals, which seems to have become far more acute as the downturn deepens. This hostility is emerging in the context of two issues in particular, namely, social welfare and its cost to the State and, above all, education and the effect of the withdrawal of teachers providing English language support. In one school in Oranmore, for example, two teachers will have to provide English language support to 154 foreign national children. That is an impossible task.
The Senator has submitted this matter for debate on the Adjournment.
As an educator, it is impossible for such a system to work effectively. The quality of education for both foreign national children and Irish children will be compromised. It is absolutely imperative that the Minister of State with responsibility for integration policy, Deputy John Curran, be invited to the Chamber to debate this issue. He must work with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and the Minister for Education and Science to address this reality.
The Senator has made her point. I have called Senator Mullen.
Otherwise there will be social unrest in this State.
Without mentioning politicians' names, I wish to be associated with the congratulations extended to all those within this House and outside it who will put themselves before the electorate in June.
Senator Mullen should not concern himself with congratulations.
I simply make the point that for people to abandon one way of life in pursuit of politics at a time of crisis such as this is a vote of confidence in the political process. That is to be commended without taking sides.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I note the proposed amendments to the Order of Business. I agree we should have a debate on issues relating to the Health Service Executive. I heard the rather bizarre exchange — it was not so much an exchange as a series of interviews — concerning the dispute between the HSE and the Ombudsman for Children. I do not understand what is at issue here. However, if we are to have a debate, it should focus on more substantial issues than this argument and the fact that lawyers may be involved. There is an all too frequent recourse to criticism of lawyers. Sometimes lawyers are necessary, tragically. We should ask if the HSE could say it was conducting an audit when circulating a questionnaire containing a section which could not be filled in. That is the substantive question which we should be asking. I certainly support the call for a debate on this subject.
Senator Quinn's motion on energy is timely and reasonable. I cannot see why the Government brought forward an amending motion. Could we not come to a new bipartisanship in discussions about such important matters, particularly at a time like this?
My colleague, Senator Bacik, referred to the fact that Pope Benedict XVl was criticised in the Lancet for his views on AIDS prevention and condoms. It is worth noting that a leading expert, Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS prevention research project at the Harvard centre for population and development says, “the best evidence we have supports the Pope’s comment”. Dr. Green is, by the way, a supporter of condom use.
That is pathetic.
My point is simply that before speaking we should all commit ourselves to doing a little more research.
I join the many speakers who, in recent weeks, have called for a debate on banking and financial institutions. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate with specific emphasis on how financial institutions deal with people who fall into arrears in mortgage and hire purchase payments.
I am aware of a case, the details of which I will give to the Leader after the Order of Business, of a young man, married with four children ranging in ages from 12 years to two months, who purchased a lorry. The young man was encouraged by a financial institution to take out a loan. He was, in fact, followed around by a representative of the institution and the documents signed in the car park of a local pub. He took a loan of €120,000 to purchase a lorry which facilitated his job delivering materials to building sites throughout County Cavan. Through no fault of his own and due to the downturn in the building industry he was laid off at the end of last September. He contacted the financial institution concerned and informed them of his predicament. He missed three repayments on the loan but by the end of December had repaid €67,000. Having missed three payments and on the eve of the fourth payment being due, three thugs arrived at his house, harassed his elderly father and his wife and children and took the lorry. They stole the lorry from the house.
That is unacceptable.
Absolutely. These institutions would need to cop themselves on.
It is a disgrace. The institution concerned is Friends First. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on this matter, to invite the Minister for Finance to the House and to ask him what is being doing about institutions which act as thugs and upset ordinary decent families who find themselves in such predicaments through no fault of their own.
I join with others in welcoming Mr. George Lee's decision to stand for Fine Gael in Dublin South.
Not again. We will not have canvassing.
I do this, not in a partisan way——
There shall be no canvassing. Candidates may knock on doors if they wish to canvass. I do not want them canvassing here.
——but with a view to formulating a general question about politics.
Was Senator Regan overlooked?
This is a triumph for politics. It is recognition that one can be a commentator but to participate in politics is quite different. It is also a recognition that real change only comes about through changing the political system and, in this instance, in changing the Government.
We want no more doom and gloom.
In this connection, I refer to today's column by Mr. Vincent Browne in The Irish Times. Vincent Browne denigrates the entry of George Lee into politics.
He supports Fine Gael.
We are a broad church.
Vincent Browne had his chance to stand for Fine Gael in Dún Laoghaire but he seems to have a chip on his shoulder about it because, ultimately, he withdrew from going down that road. It is wrong to trivialise politics in this way.
Why do it, then?
My question for the Leader is——
I do not want to hear names. The Senator is naming people now and I have no wish for people who are not present to be named.
I will not mention George Lee again. Vincent Browne described——
I do not wish to hear about Vincent Browne either.
He is generally recognised as our best economic commentator.
There will be no more doom and gloom anyway. Good luck to them.
Is it not good for Irish politics that someone of such calibre is entering the political fray?
I support the comments of Senator Wilson. If we are to have a debate in respect of people who are under pressure financially we should stick to the area of families and those who are under pressure from institutions as opposed to the wider concerns of people such as developers, those who own hotels etc. Let us stick to the small and medium-sized businesses and the people who have smaller loans which will not be brought under the NAMA umbrella. Such a debate would be valuable and worth holding.
There have been calls today from all sides of the House for a debate on the issue of the impasse between the HSE and the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, and the resulting fall-out. Clearly, there is a frustration on her part and the matter requires immediate debate. I urge the Leader to consider the amendment that was put forward in that regard. The matter is very urgent. We are guardians of the Constitution and we should examine how best to ensure equality for all and to protect the children of the nation. An immediate debate is required to help push the issue along. If the Leader considered fitting in a Bill at some stage, it would be helpful.
I also support the call of Senator Wilson for some financial control. We have invested billions of euro of taxpayers' money in the banking system. I do not wish to be crude about it, but we have effectively been given the two fingers by these people, who rode off into the sunset with our money. We have bought little or no influence in day-to-day banking policy. That is simply one example of the carry-on that the people have had to put up with in recent months. Businesses cannot get overdrafts and people who are on punitive fixed-term rates cannot change over to variable rates. It is simply a disgrace. Last week, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Martin Mansergh, refused to even contemplate a discussion with the banks which might allow those on fixed-term rates to switch to variable rates.
I refer to two issues raised by my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald. This morning, I was appalled that the Ombudsmen for Children had to literally throw her hands in the air in utter frustration at not being allowed to do her job properly. I believed we had left behind the time when such concealment of vital information was commonplace. I believed we had arrived at a time when, as Senator Bacik remarked, the protection of our children was our utmost priority. I commend the Ombudsman for Children for refusing to get involved in legal shenanigans between her office and the HSE, which would, as she said, cost up to €4,000 per day. She is entitled to that information from another arm of the State.
I refer to the matter of adoption. I have much respect, as does Senator Norris, for the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews. He has brought fresh thinking and enthusiasm to that Ministry. However, the energy and effort invested in the attempt to get the agreement with Vietnam re-established took place far too late. It began in earnest in March and the Minister of State should have made it a priority. He should have gone to Vietnam to establish what the issues were and how they could be resolved.
I join the call of Senator Wilson for a debate on a very important issue. I reiterate my call of last week for an urgent debate on the issue of unauthorised and illegal money lending, but also on some legal forms of money lending. There are reputable UK plcs, calling door-to-door in this country, which are not using the normal underwriting criteria. They are offering people, who are at their most desperate, money with interest rates in excess of 150% APR. It is a disgrace. We need to legislate on it very quickly, especially given people's urgent needs in these difficult days.
Second, I am concerned about illegal moneylending, which came to my attention in a recent discussion with some members of the Garda. I also mentioned it last week. Elements from the criminal world are lending money to people, again when they are at their most desperate, and then heavy-handedly seeking repayment, threatening effectively to kill people or to perpetrate a variety of other crimes. We are not providing adequate protection for people. It should be enough to have a superintendent's testimony that a person is engaged in illegal moneylending and threatening behaviour of this nature. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should introduce legislation to deal with that as a matter of urgency. I would appreciate it if the Leader could arrange those debates.
I join my colleagues throughout the party in arguing that we urgently need a debate on children. I refer to the two points that my colleague Senator Fitzgerald made on child care. We can discuss the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Catholic church, but ultimately it is the children who suffer and are the victims. As Senator Mary White said, it is obvious what is going to come out. I, too, shudder to think of that, but there is no point in hurling on the ditch and leaving it to fester for longer. We need to deal with it as soon as possible. It is wrong for the HSE to try to hide behind a legal curtain. I ask the Leader to intervene and get the Minister for Health and Children to instruct her Department to get on with it. She is well able to do that.
I also support Senator Fitzgerald's comments on the bilateral agreement. I agree with Senator Norris about the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews. He is a good, caring Minister of State but why in God's name did he only start negotiations in earnest on 25 March? Why did he not go to Vietnam, as Senator Cannon said? We need to put ourselves in the position of the families who, after five years of negotiation, are going to get their packs, information and deposits back from Vietnam and such places. That will be heartbreaking and soul destroying for people, not to mention the effect it will have on the extended families. Given that 1,000 families are waiting in this situation, it is incumbent on us to sort it out as soon as possible.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Hannigan, Twomey, Walsh, Norris, Hanafin, Coghlan, Feeney, Bacik, Mary White, Healy Eames, Wilson, Regan, McDonald, Cannon and McFadden expressed serious concerns about proposed legislation and difficulties with issues regarding children. I am pleased to inform the House that the Minister of State will be in the House next Wednesday with the Adoption Bill 2009. No doubt Senators will be pleased to hear that. Given the challenges facing the Department and the Minister of State in this area, no doubt colleagues will be able to give them the benefit of their invaluable experience. On the HSE, the Minister for Health and Children will be in the House this evening. She will be taking questions on the last 10 minutes and I advise spokespersons to seek an up-to-date clarification on the No. 2 issue that Senator Fitzgerald highlighted on the Order of Business.
We will be dealing with legislation all week. It has always been the case that legislation takes priority, and it will continue to be the case. The Bills that we will discuss today and tomorrow were urgently requested and required. The Companies Bill 2009 is a huge and important Bill. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is in the House today, as was requested of me many times in recent weeks.
In regard to what was brought to our attention today about the provision of child care places, Senator Mary White correctly pointed out the Government's position. I congratulate her on championing the cause in this area. I thank all the Senators who brought the matter to the attention of the House.
We congratulate Senators who are candidates in the forthcoming elections on their courage in going forward and wish them well. A long-standing colleague, the former Senator Paschal Mooney, is a candidate in the European elections and I wish him well.
No names of candidates should be given in the House.
He would be a wonderful representative in Europe. As an experienced representative, he would be well received in the west and in our area.
We have an even better candidate from the Seanad.
There should be no naming of candidates.
I ruled on this matter earlier. I do not want such candidates named or canvassing by Members here for any elections. I will not allow it.
Even from the Leader.
It is important that there be balance in this respect. Those on this side of the House have as much right, or perhaps more right, as those on the other side of the House to express their views.
Members cannot canvass here. Allow the Leader to continue without interruption.
Senators Hannigan, Hanafin and Feeney called for a debate on the retail trade and I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate. Senator Coghlan of the Fine Gael Party has often called for such a debate. I welcome the new pricing policy announced by one of the multiples.
I can pass on to the Minister Senator Hannigan's view on the charge being imposed by the Dublin Airport Authority for the provision of plastic bags.
Senator Leyden requested that the Minister for Finance be invited to the House to discuss the issue of the major investment proposal linked to pension funds. The people can assist the country in its hour of need in the funding of major projects. Many colleagues on all sides of the House would wish to make a contribution in this respect.
Senator Leyden also called for the introduction of a code of ethics in RTE in regard to topical matters.
The Leader should be careful in that respect.
Senator Leyden has requested a debate on ethics in politics. I will accede to such a debate as a matter of urgency.
Ethics in politics is in demand. That would be a good day.
This issue must be addressed. As Senator O'Toole correctly pointed out, the profession of politics is uplifted by persons putting their career on hold for ten, 15 or 20 years to make their expertise available to the people. This must not be overlooked. Responsible members of the media will recognise and acknowledge the contributions that have been made in this area up until now. I am disappointed that Senator Norris is not standing in my favourite area in the north city where I know he would do very well.
If it was for the Phoenix Park, that would be fine.
I take it Senator Bacik is not representing the Senator. No, I believe she has joined the Labour Party. She is not a true Independent any more.
She will be a brain drain from this place. That is one certainty.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on climate change. There could be a constituency change but we will do our best after the by-election to see how we can address the climate change issue if the Senator is still with us.
We will take up the issue when she is gone.
Senator Healy Eames outlined to the House the need for a debate on the issue of foreign nationals and the urgent need to address the educational needs in this area in terms of the teaching of English. She spoke from the perspective of her expertise in this area. I will make time available for a debate on education in general during which this issue can be highlighted.
The issue involved is wider than that context.
Senators Wilson, McDonald and Cannon raised the serious issue concerning people who have been suddenly unemployed who cannot sleep at night because they are worried they will not be able to meet their repayment commitments. Senator Wilson outlined to the House the case of an unfortunate man who purchased a truck for €120,000, had repaid more than 50% of the cost of it and then three heavyweights came out to his ageing father to take away the truck. No one is doing this in the name of us as legislators. I will be in contact with Friends First immediately after the Order of Business. The Government Whip in this House seldom brings to attention the affairs of this House. An eminent economist represents this particular financial institution and he is also very well linked to a political party. I know he would not like to be associated with the truth that was pointed out to this House——
The Leader should leave Deputy Bertie Ahern out of it.
——in regard to this financial institution.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on moneylending and highlighted that moneylenders are demanding from people who have been made unemployed and who cannot make their repayments up to 150% APR. This is a serious issue. When we have a financial debate in this House we should seek unanimity in support of a proposal to park for up to 12 months the repayment of debts by people who have a good payment record but cannot make their repayments. I refer to those who are not fly by night people and who have been making their repayments with banking institutions for five, ten and up to 20 years. We have had 12 or 14 magnificent years of growth and deferring such repayment for one year would not, as the one-liner goes, break the bank. It is time we as legislators started to act by making such a proposal. I thank Senator Wilson for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. We hear of such cases in our clinics. Senator Wilson represents an area that neighbours my area. Heavy-handed tactics have started to be enforced on people who, up to now, have had a good record in making their repayments. Some of these people have been captains of small and medium-sized industries across the country. I will give this matter my urgent attention and will invite the Minister to the House to deal with it as a matter of urgency.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on international adoptions, the suspension of the inquiry by the Ombudsman for Children and plans for child care places be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
Senator O'Toole has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the relationship between the HSE and the Ombudsman for Children be substituted for No. 3."