As Leader of the House, I warmly welcome and congratulate Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin from Galway city on becoming a Member of the 23rd Seanad. It is a proud and memorable day for him, his wife, Niamh, their children and his many supporters who, it is no exaggeration to say, have come from all over the world to be with him today. I welcome, in particular, those who have come from the city of Galway. I wish him well and look forward to his support from the Government benches.
Order of Business.
Listen to that now.
I congratulate him on his substantial election victory which was a magnificent achievement. He is no stranger to public life, having been elected to Galway County Council in 2004. He has since worked tirelessly on various campaigns and we are well aware of how he has championed those causes. He became the first Green Party mayor of Galway in 2006 and yesterday was elected to Seanad Éireann. I hope he will have a long and enjoyable career in national politics and, in particular, that he will find his time in Seanad Éireann worthwhile and fulfilling. Comhghairdeas Senator Ó Brolcháin.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 2, Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House.
I join the Leader in welcoming Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin to the Seanad. It is a proud day for him and his family. On behalf of Fine Gael, I wish him success in the Seanad and extend our congratulations to him on his election.
As people take in the effects of what is an unfair and unjust budget and as they struggle to find hope for the future, I ask the Leader to provide time for a discussion on jobs, competitiveness and moving forward and the links between social welfare and work. It is critical we have that discussion at this time.
As well as coping with the effects of the budget, people are very concerned about lawlessness, anti-social behaviour and the report we saw on "Prime Time" last night on what is called petty crime, although it has far from a small effect on the people who suffer at the hands of those portrayed. I take this opportunity to send my condolences to the family of the young garda, Garda Gary McLoughlin, who was killed yesterday. I repeat the call Senator Cummins made for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss these issues.
We also need to discuss the legislation the Law Reform Commission recommended in regard to home protection, which is vital. Another elderly couple was attacked this week. We need to discuss that legislation as soon as possible as well as the outstanding legislation on reproduction to which Mr. Justice Fennelly referred today as serious and urgent. These issues need to be addressed in the House as soon as possible. Will the Leader ensure they are on the agenda?
In the meantime, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House today.
Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid atá ráite ag Ceannaire an Tí chun fáilte a chur roimh an Seanadóir nua, Seanadóir Ó Brolcháin. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go maith leis sa job atá os ár gcomhair. I congratulate the Senator on his election. I hope he will take time now that he is a Member of the House to look at the great need to reform the electoral process. That is not to take from his victory and I congratulate him on behalf of the Independent Members. There is, however, a wider agenda. We ask the Senator not to feel snookered and smothered by those around him, retain an independent mind, speak out and do what he needs to do.
Is Deputy Boyle listening?
When we discussed the various economic issues in the past year, an issue which came up time and again was credit flow and pressing the banks to release credit. We see now what I said then, that no matter what one puts into the banks, they will not release credit. President Obama, who gave hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks in the United States, is having the same problem.
The other issue raised time and again was mortgage protection for people in difficulty with their mortgage repayments, which was raised on this side of the House by Senator Healy Eames, in particular, and by Senator MacSharry, who prepared a report. All these issues are now top of the agenda.
After the budget of last week, which effectively robbed the poor to pay the rich one more time, we saw the mask slip from the Minister for Finance on two occasions last Sunday night. He displayed a bullying and threatening attitude towards public servants whom he told to put up with the cuts, otherwise he would come back with more next year. It sounded like something from the feudal times. I do not know whether ambition has taken away from good judgment in this situation but I thought it was horrific. I had not seen that for a long time in Government politics. It must be marked and recognised, although I do not expect Members opposite to agree with me.
We began this debate last year by hearing from Government, the private sector, the media, etc. about the Rolls Royce pensions of the public sector and the great positions of people in the public sector. To make them pay more justly, the Government placed a huge additional levy on them. I said at the time that there was a need for an extra payment. Now that public sector workers are paying 15% or more for 40 years for their pensions, the Government announced in the budget that it will dismantle the so-called Rolls Royce pension. There will no longer be parity.
Our telephones have started to ring and we have received e-mails, etc. There is a demoralised and a divided workforce and there is a bitterness among public sector workers. The mask slipped on the other side. We began to see very clearly that what we, on these benches, having been saying for one year is only the start of it. We are now starting on the profitable semi-State sector for no reason at all. The threat now is to reduce the pay of people working in that sector. The next step will be the private sector. It is the old fashioned strategy of divide and conquer — the public sector, the semi-State sector and then the private sector. The idea is that people will suffer at the end of it. I ask my friends on the other side of the House to have a good look at this. The approach is neither political, strategic nor good for the economy. In a public sector, we need to recruit the best, reward well and retain the best. With the level of broken morale there at the moment, we will fail on all three of these tasks. I ask the Leader to have a look at the issue as we will have more to say about it during the course of the week.
I join others in welcoming Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House and the Labour Party welcomes his addition very much. I am sure he will be a very active Senator. As Senator O'Toole noted, his election reminds us of the need to debate Seanad reform and the method of electing persons to this House. It may also be a timely reminder of the need for debate on the role of Senator Ó Brolcháin's party in the Government in the wake of last week's budget.
It has been aptly described as a war on the poor. We saw a budget that was anti-family and anti-youth.
There should be no Second Stage speech. The Senator should put questions to the Leader.
In the wake of that budget, will the Leader initiate a debate on the role of the junior coalition partner? We saw a certain out of control outburst from a Deputy from that party last week and we also saw a certain lack of control in the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's own back yard with the start of construction of the new incinerator in Ringsend yesterday. That was in the teeth of opposition from not only the local community but the Minister himself. It is timely to have a debate on the role of the Green Party and how much it is in control of its policies in government.
I echo Senator Fitzgerald's words in asking for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to this House. On behalf of the Labour Party, I express condolences to the family of Garda Gary McLoughlin, who was so tragically killed. His terrible and untimely death reminds us of the need to keep an eye on criminal justice reforms. With the Law Reform Commission recommendations yesterday on new legislation on defences, it is important for us to have a debate on that issue as soon as we can.
I ask the Leader for a debate on another urgent matter which was mentioned by Senator Fitzgerald. This is the need for legislation on assisted human reproduction. The Supreme Court's judgment this morning reminds us of the long overdue nature of such legislation. My predecessor, former Senator Mary Henry, very courageously put forward legislation on IVF and assisted human reproduction and was one of few voices, with Senators Norris and O'Toole, on the matter. It is time we grasped that nettle as legislators. Mr. Justice Hardiman this morning stated there is a masked reluctance on the part of the Oireachtas to legislate on the issues around assisted human reproduction.
It is a marked reluctance.
Yes. It is not just a marked reluctance; it is cowardice which we must confront.
We must legislate for this as there are many other couples and families like the Roches who are left in an unregulated wasteland. Mr. Justice Hardiman noted that by default, Ireland will become an unregulated environment in these practices.
The Senator has sought the debate. We will not have a Second Stage speech on it.
We need this legislation urgently.
It is a privilege to welcome and to have introduced my friend and colleague, Niall Ó Brolcháin, to Seanad Éireann today. It is an historic day not only for Niall and his family but for the Green Party-Comhaontas Glas, which has increased representation in this Chamber from no representation prior to the 23rd Seanad. I am very confident and certain that Niall's contribution will further the role we have sought to achieve as a party of Government and in interacting with all parties in this Chamber.
He enters the House at a time of great political, economic and social uncertainty. I know his life experience and his experience as a public representative will be to the advantage of this House and our deliberations in the time we have left in the 23rd Seanad.
I go some way down the road to agreeing with Senator O'Toole in that we need a major debate not only in this House but in this country on the question of pensions in general, including State pensions, the level of State support we give by way of tax incentives to private pensions and the different types of public sector pensions. It should be remembered that when the national pension fund was established for 25 years, putting in 1.5% of GDP for those 25 years, the best it would have achieved, even after appreciated market value over that time, would be to provide enough money to pay for public service pensions alone. There would be nothing for the State pension or the needs of other pensioners. We need to discuss how pensions can be organised differently and how a benefit can be secured for all citizens in an equal and proportionate way. Ireland has not had such a debate and we very much need to have it in the next decade, in particular.
Because there should be a pensions fund.
Some believe they are entitled to better pension terms and conditions, which is part of the problem we have without having a debate. I am open to the House having such a debate because we have avoided the issue for too long.
With regard to work commencing at the Poolbeg incinerator site, I look forward to Senator Bacik supporting the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when local government legislation is introduced in the House to ensure city and county managers have recourse to Government policy and the wishes of the Minister of the day in outlining Government policy.
On whose side will the Minister be?
Senator Boyle to continue, without interruption.
The difficulty with local government is we have more than 30 local authorities which operate as independent republics and do not pay attention to Government policy.
That is not true.
There is also an independent republic of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
That is unfair.
No interruptions, please. I will ask whoever interrupts to leave.
I would like a debate on the issue raised by Senator Bacik because the commencement of building work has a presumptuousness about it that needs clarity.
Is the Senator opposed to it also?
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House but until we have worked out what his temperament is, we will not rile him in case we experience a linguistic outburst similar to that in the Lower House last Friday.
I second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. The population is concerned that the Government has gone soft on crime and its causes. Hardened and petty criminals are not fearful that the Government will do something serious to restrict their activities, which is why the country is up in arms about what is happening.
The media are wrong when they criticise the House for not being brave enough to enact legislation regarding IVF treatment and the status of the embryo. That is a Government decision. The Minister for Health and Children should be called to the House to explain why the legislation is lacking. There is no protection for women who receive IVF treatment in the State, a point I have made clear in the House a number of times. Legislation is needed to protect embryos used in the IVF process and how they are handled and managed. Many Senators do not realise there is no protection anywhere for the embryo, eitherin vivo or in vitro. I am asking that such protection be provided. For those who do not understand what I am talking about, in vivo refers to the embryo still being within a woman’s body. Under legislation, the morning after pill and intrauterine devices can be used to prevent implantation. IVF - in vitro fertilisation — is not covered by ministerial regulations or legislation. This issue has been debated ad nauseam in the House since the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction reported to the Joint Committee on Health and Children as far back as June 2005.
I join others in welcoming Senator Ó Brolcháin. I congratulate him and his family on his election. Having known him for a number of years, every legislator can be rightly proud of his prospective participation and input. I wish him well in the years to come.
Will the Leader urgently make contact with the Minister for Finance to introduce legislation to prohibit the granting of a court order for the repossession of a primary residence due to mortgage arrears without a verifiable, detailed independent analysis of repayment capacity, an examination of the quality of the original mortgage application and the quality of the underwriting, and a consideration of a range of alternative actions, including those outlined by the Prevention of Family Home Repossessions group, of which I am a member, to a joint committee——
Surely that is a justice matter rather than a finance one.
Senator Norris would be correct if it were done through the Enforcement of Court Orders Act but it can be done through any legislation and as it is financially connected I propose we speak with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on the issue.
While the anecdotes in the media about people losing their homes make me sad — they are tragic — I am not disappointed that finally it is getting to the top of the agenda. Many of us in this House, including Senators Healy Eames, Butler and Norris, identified it and we all have the aspiration to provide for this in an adequate way. We do not state that the Government should pay people's mortgages or anything like that. We simply state that we should make adequate provision for breathing space for people. The Irish Bankers Federation, IBF, and MABS introduced welcome measures in their protocol but the type of institutions mentioned in the stories in today's media, namely Stepstone Mortgages and Start Mortgages, are not covered and there is no obligation on them to follow due process as outlined in the IBF and MABS protocol. I fundamentally believe we require immediate legislation in this area and I call on the Leader to raise it with all Ministers in the Cabinet, starting with the Minister for Finance.
I call on Senator Harris. I apologise I meant to call on Senator Norris.
That is some mistake.
A slight mistake.
I am flattered by the confusion.
They are both verbose.
And a Gogarty to you too, Sir.
Many issues of considerable importance are before the House today but the most urgent is the Supreme Court's extremely important decision, which I welcome. I wish to express my sympathy to the Roche family on both sides of the argument. It is painful and difficult to go to court and I am sure they both feel rather bruised today. We in both Houses cannot feel satisfied with the situation because this is the umpteenth time we have been rebuked. My colleagues are quite right to point out that this is a Government responsibility but all of us, as Members of the Oireachtas, share the reproach and blame. The Chief Justice remarked on the fact that the Supreme Court has been calling for action in this area for 14 years. We have had reports from various groups, such as the 2005 report from the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, and the report of the Irish Council for Bioethics a year later. However, nothing has been done. Today's decision is highly significant because in at least one, if not all of the judgments, the view is taken that the embryo before implantation is not fully human and does not attract the protection of Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. This highlights a major gap in legislation. The judgment will have very significant effects on embryonic stem cell research. This House can hold its head up high because Dr. Mary Henry sat on the commission and introduced a Bill here which those of us on the Independent benches supported. We can exonerate ourselves from blame.
On a housekeeping matter, there is a statue in the car park of Queen Victoria's husband. She was transported to Australia, which some feel is an appropriate fate for that monarch while he languishes in the car park. Yesterday was the one hundred and somethingth anniversary of his death. Whatever its political content, the statue is a superb work of art by a great Irish sculptor, Foley. It would be useful if a small amount was spent on removing the shrubbery that surrounds it.
I call for a debate on the Corrib gas field. Maura Harrington has been sent to jail again and we have the scandal of the waste of enormous revenues, which could help plug holes in our finances, given away by Mr. Burke and Mr. Ahern.
I congratulate Senator Ó Brolcháin on his election to the House and I wish him well. I have no doubt he will make a tremendous contribution. It is also a big day for his party because it now has three Senators. As Senator Boyle pointed out, the party did not have representation in the Seanad until 2007; therefore, this result is to be welcomed, as it provides a wider political spectrum in the House.
I would like Members to express their sympathy to the family of the late Garda Gary McLoughlin who was a neighbour of mine. We express our deepest sympathy to his mother, Una, his father, Noel, his grandparents, brother and sister. His death is a tragic shock for them and their community. It shows us the danger gardaí face on a regular basis. Nobody is attributing anything to anyone at this stage, but it shows us the gardaí who look after our communities face enormous risks each time they put on the uniform and go to work. I would appreciate it, therefore, if Members expressed their sincere sympathy to the family. However, sympathy does not go very far because their loss will continue forever.
I ask the Leader to arrange a full debate in the House after Christmas on the recent floods. We need to do something to ensure the floods we saw in places such as Carrick on Shannon and in the Shannon basin towards south Galway and County Clare do not recur. Let us not forget about something just because it has passed. Let us remember that it could come back to haunt us. It may not happen next year, but it could in five or ten years time. We should try to ensure proper management of the River Shannon and that other rivers and streams will also be properly maintained.
I join other speakers in paying tribute to the late Garda McLoughlin and call for a debate in the House on justice issues. I am genuinely concerned that we have lost respect for the law and the institutions of State.
In congratulating the new Senator Ó Brolcháin I pay tribute to his family for the sacrifice made by them on his election. He has a good track record coming into the House. I implore him, as a member of one of the Government parties, to do everything in his power to ensure we will have an enhanced public sector which is dispirited and feels unwanted by the Government. Will the Leader explain the reason the Minister for Finance has not come into the House to explain the cause of the collapse of the social partnership talks prior to the budget? Why has he not explained his inflammatory remarks last Sunday night on "The Week in Politics"? He pointed the finger at the trade unions and public sector workers and intimated that if they did not do things his way, he would make further cuts. Does the Leader accept that type of government and diktat from the Minister for Finance?
We now have a new divide in Irish society. Whether they like it, the Green Party and Fianna Fáil have succeeded in creating a gargantuan divide between the public and private sectors that will take a generation to heal, if at all.
Ba mhaith liom chomh maith fáilte a chur roimh an Seanadóir Niall Ó Brolcháin agus comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis. Tá aithne agam ar an Seanadóir le fada an lá. Go n-eirí leis. I welcome and congratulate Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin. I know him for quite some time and have no doubt he will make a very impressive contribution to the House. He is a dedicated young man involved in public life and I have no doubt he will make his mark here.
It is with great sadness that I say that today in my own town of Mullingar another young life has been claimed by the drug culture. With Senators Ó Murchú and Ó Domhnaill, I ask the Leader to invite to the House the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, for an extensive debate on the drugs problem. I congratulate the Garda Síochána on its great successes.
I join colleagues in expressing sympathy to the family of Garda Gary McLoughlin. While I did not know Garda McLoughlin, from the comments of Senator Ellis and others, he was clearly a highly valued member of the force whose death will be a sad loss. The Garda is doing its best but we must put those who deal in death where they belong. They must be taken out of circulation. We must change our approach to tackling the drugs problem. For every one step forward, we take three steps back. This is the truth which must regrettably be told. It can be shamed but never blamed. The young life lost in County Westmeath was one of many, as Senators from other counties will agree from their experience. I ask the Leader to arrange a full debate on the drugs problem at the earliest opportunity in the next session.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome former Galway city councillor, Niall Ó Brolcháin, to the House. Senator Ó Brolcháin and I entered politics at the same time and it is lovely to see him in the House. As Niall knows, however, there is a job to be done. I hope to see him use his position on the Government side to ensure projects such as the light rail system for Galway are rolled out.
Senator Healy Eames should address the new Member as Senator.
I did so.
Last week the House discussed the Murphy commission report. The Leader will recall that several weeks ago the debate on the plan for implementing the findings of the Ryan report on institutional abuse was adjourned. We must know what action is being taken to prevent such institutional abuse recurring. Mandatory reporting must be introduced and child protection guidelines placed on a statutory footing for all cases involving abuse, whether by members of the church, family members or others. Last night a priest told me it was time we faced up to serious cultural issues concerning sexuality.
That would be an interesting discussion.
Senators must not interrupt speakers. Senator Healy Eames should put questions to the Leader, rather than make a Second Stage speech.
I could not agree more with the priest to whom I spoke. The perverted notions of sexuality that have prevailed in this country lie at the root of abuse. The priest in question also stated that the time had come for a review of the formal training for priests. I ask for a debate to discuss these and many other matters.
I also call for a debate on the accountability of local government, specifically the role of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I submitted two matters for discussion on the Adjournment recently, both of which were refused. The first was on the water crisis in Galway city, while the second was related to recent flooding. On both occasions I was informed that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government had no responsibility for the matters raised. To whom is local government accountable? The Green Party consistently refers to good local government. Let us make it accountable.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House and congratulate him on a fantastic election success. Senators on this side were delighted when he was given such a great endorsement by both parties in government. The mutual support shown by the Government parties in elections to the House showed their sense of unity. I also welcome to the House Senator Ó Brolcháin's wife, Niamh, and other members of his family who have travelled from Galway. I knew the Senator while he was mayor of Galway when he was always courteous to everyone. He was an excellent mayor of that great city and I have no doubt he will make a major contribution to the House and public life, as he has done since the day he was elected to Galway County Council.
I am also pleased for Senator Healy Eames because she will have some support in the House. The free run she has enjoyed for the past two years is over.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader? Senators may not canvass.
I am not canvassing.
I understand that. Everyone else does not.
It will be interesting to see the debate in Galway from now on. I am delighted to welcome Deputies White and Gogarty to celebrate their colleague's election.
It is a very happy occasion for them but today is a very sad occasion for the family of Garda Gary McLoughlin. Senators Cummins and Feeney and I are nominees of the GRA and Garda Gary McLoughlin is from the constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim. We extend our sympathy to his father Noel, his mother Úna, his brother and sister, his colleagues in Buncrana Garda station, the Garda Commissioner, the secretary, president and officers of the GRA and all those concerned with this courageous young man who has given up his life for Ireland. He stood in the breach defending the public and was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the people. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin. I wish him many happy and successful years in national politics. I extend the same welcome to Senator James Carroll because I was not present when he joined us for the first time.
The ordinary people continue to lead the way when it comes to generosity in situations where people are in desperate need. I took part in a Newstalk debate on the amazing and outrageous story of a family with a child with special needs who lost possession of their home. It is up to us as legislators to follow the good instincts of the ordinary people, who were already phoning that radio programme at lunchtime, in which I participated, to offer assistance. We have had extraordinary legislation — rightly so — to deal with banks in the context of NAMA. We must have equity in our system. Our courts are based on the twin pillars of common law and equity. We desperately need serious measures to rescue families in this kind of situation.
Is the Senator seeking a debate on this matter? We cannot have Second Stage speeches.
Yes, I am asking the Leader when there will be a Government initiative that acknowledges it was partly the irresponsibility of Government policy in recent years that allowed so many ordinary people to get into situations that now prove untenable. We need something as far-reaching and innovative as NAMA to deal with the extraordinary situations in which ordinary people find themselves.
I seek a debate on assisted human reproduction, following what other Seanadóirí have said. The Supreme Court decision leaves us in a situation where we must legislate to protect the human embryo. I proposed model legislation last year to protect the human embryo in the context of destructive research. I would like to see the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, not the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, publish legislation according to that model. We also need legislation to protect the human embryo in the context of assisted human reproduction. I support the calls for legislation. It must be ethical and inclusive and must cherish all the children of the nation equally.
I congratulate Senator Ó Brolcháin and his family on his election on this special day. I add my voice to the sympathies extended by colleagues to the family of Garda McLoughlin.
In last week's budget the Minister announced €47 million for mental health services. Additional funding will be allocated from the sale of assets and separate funding will be provided for the new central mental health facility. The Minister for Finance has indicated that he is considering a new location for the proposed new central mental health facility. He also announced a comprehensive mental health review for February or March 2010 to consider the future of mental health services and the implementation of A Vision for Change. The year 2010 is to be one of the most significant years for mental health services in our country's short history.
There is an opportunity for this House to have a real and meaningful input into our future mental health services. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, to attend the House immediately upon our return in January to facilitate us in this opportunity. Many Members will contribute experience and ideas and they can advocate on behalf of services of which they are aware. If we are to avail of this opportunity, we must do it before the end of January. While I appreciate there are many demands on the Leader's time as he tries to juggle the schedule, I cannot overstate the urgency of this matter in light of the significance of the 2010 date.
Is mian liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir nua-thofa, Niall Ó Brolcháin. Fáiltím roimhe mar Sheanadóir. Níl aon amhras faoi ná gur duine cumasach agus díograiseach é. Chruthaigh sé go maith mar Mhéara chathair na Gaillimhe — thaispeáin sé a chuid misnigh nuair ba ghá. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh na tréithe sin chun tosaigh chomh fada is a bheidh an Seanadóir anseo linn.
Is mian liom freisin mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl do mhuintir Mhic Mhathúna ar bhás Ciarán. Fear uasal ab ea Ciarán Mac Mathúna. Dhein sé sár-obair ar son an cultúir Ghaelach. Níl aon amhras faoi ná go bhfuil an náisiún go mór faoi chomaoin aige. Ciarán Mac Mathúna was an exceptional Irishman. He was one of nature's gentlemen. He travelled to far-flung corners of this country to discover the hidden Ireland. He uncovered many treasures of tradition and talent. He gave local communities a sense of pride in the wonderful heritage they inherited from previous generations. He inspired the nation at large to be curious and to take an interest in a culture that is steeped in antiquity. He brought to the fore many people who became household names thereafter. The Irish nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to Ciarán Mac Mathúna. He can take credit for much of the recent international admiration of Ireland's culture, including its traditional music, because he sowed the seeds for it. He gave subsequent generations a bountiful harvest. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. I express my sincere sympathy to his wife, Dolly, and his family.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House. I wish him the very best as he pursues his deliberations and debates in this House.
I would like to speak about the unanimous judgment that was delivered today by the five Supreme Court judges in a case relating to the protection of human embryos. They decided that human embryos do not constitute the unborn within the meaning of Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution and are therefore not entitled to that constitutional protection. The court pointed out that the human embryo is entitled to respect and suggested that it is a matter for the Legislature. The important point about the judgment is that it makes the job of the Oireachtas much easier. It has cleared up a key constitutional point that would have been the subject of an awful lot of debate in this House and the Lower House. I do not doubt that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would have been quoting the advice of the Attorney General on this matter. The net constitutional point has been the subject of a major clarification today. The Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction has produced an excellent report. We have signed up to a number of European conventions. The path is clear for the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader to pass on a message to the effect that we would welcome an initiative from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, aimed at dealing with this situation and producing legislation.
I also welcome our new colleague, Senator Ó Brolcháin. It is timely, in the context of the appointment of a Green Party Senator, for the House to debate genetic modification. Perhaps such a debate could take place early in January. I do not doubt that there are certain circumstances in which genetic modification would enhance the green agenda significantly. Plants would need fewer nitrates if they were modified to enable them to retain nitrates. Rivers and lakes in the midlands and elsewhere were polluted when nitrates were overused. If plants were modified to continue to survive underwater, it would assist vulnerable countries like Bangladesh, large parts of which are flooded for weeks on end. That would assist its large population to grow their own food and feed themselves.
I would welcome an opportunity to debate the legislation that is necessary to protect the unborn and to give the respect to the embryo that has been called for by the Supreme Court. I am conscious that we have in the past had groups who were on dependable boards that could be depended on to give a particular slant, and which did so unstintingly, despite it being against the expressed wishes of the majority of the people of this country. I would like to see a situation where we legislate properly for the embryo, in particular for the embryoin vitro, as distinct from in vivo, which was upheld by the Supreme Court today.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin. It is good to have him in the House and we look forward to lively debates with him in the future.
I support what has been said by Senator Hanafin. The future of this country will depend to a very large extent on science. We have taken a viewpoint in recent times that science has gone away from our target policies. I am thinking particularly of the issue to which the Senator referred, genetic modification. A challenge is facing the world of not being able to produce enough food. If we turn our back on genetic modification, we are saying "no" to that.
At the same time, I have previously asked the Leader for a debate on nuclear energy. I believe it is necessary to include nuclear energy as part of the challenge facing us. We should not have our mind made up one way or the other. Too often, we have said, and we have stated in legislation in the past, that the energy challenge that is facing us must not include nuclear. I believe it should be included in the debate and I look forward to ensuring we have that debate some time in the near future.
I welcome Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin to the Seanad Chamber and congratulate him on his successful election yesterday. I believe he will make a very valuable contribution to the debate that occurs in this House. It is a good day for the Green Party because we have increased our representation in the Seanad by 50% overnight. I have no doubt Senator Ó Brolcháin will provide very effective representation for the people of the west, as Senator Boyle has provided great representation for the south while I have done my best for the east. We will have great representation for the people in the west on all the many issues they want to see promoted and advanced within the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I ask that we invite the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, to address the House on the issue of the citizens' initiative that has been introduced as part of the Lisbon treaty. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member, discussed the issue this afternoon. A Green Paper has been issued by the Commission and all public submissions have to be made on it by 31 January.
Members of the Seanad will find that people will approach them about this initiative and it is important, at this early stage, that we influence how it will work. Important questions arise, such as the number of member states from which the initiative should come, the number of signatories per member state, and how Ireland, as a small member state, has a vested interest in ensuring it is not discriminated against in terms of any such citizens' initiative owing to our small population. There is also the issue of the minium age of signatories to the citizens' initiative and the issues of transparency and funding around any campaign that surrounds such an initiative. These are important issues and I ask that the Minister of State would appear before the House to explain the Government's position on the way in which the citizens' initiative will roll out.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House. I well remember calling to his front door and getting a grilling. It was more an interview for a job than anything else. I look forward to working with him in the Seanad on the issues we discussed on that day, including mobile phone masts, active citizenship and alternative energy. I congratulate not only Senator Ó Brolcháin and the Green Party but also his wife and family. Being part of a political family is difficult for the spouse and children, and their sacrifice in getting him to the Seanad should be noted on this day. I look forward to working with him.
I join all colleagues in welcoming Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin to the Seanad, and I also welcome his family. I congratulate him on his win and wish him well in his time here.
I was delighted to note the conversion of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to the idea that is close to the hearts of many Members of this House, the relocation of the Abbey Theatre to the GPO site in the middle of O'Connell Street rather than to a site in George's Dock, an issue so ably argued by our colleague Senator Norris. As many of us subscribe to this idea, I genuinely welcome the Minister's conversion. It will cost about half of the estimated figure for relocation to George's Dock and makes more sense. I hope the work is undertaken quickly in order that we will have the theatre in place for the great anniversary celebrations in 2016.
On behalf of my husband who is from County Leitrim, I sympathise with the family of Garda McLoughlin from Feena. How frequently in recent months have we heard disparaging remarks about people working in the public service, as if they had a cushy ride? Gardaí place their lives at stake — this is an example and a tragedy for the man in question. People should be more careful in showing their lack of respect for our public servants.
I also congratulate and welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin and his mother and father. I cannot see his wife. It is an honour for him and his family. I would like to let everyone in the Chamber know, particularly on the Opposition side, how well Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are running the country. We face an economic recession of gigantic size and in their partnership Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are putting their hearts and souls into bringing about a resolution.
Why is that? Why are we in crisis?
The Government caused enough of it.
It is an excellent partnership.
It is also opportune to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, on receiving €47 million in the budget for the Vision for Change programme. I have called a number of times for him to attend a discussion on suicide. This is a serious issue for many people who are unemployed who have never suffered from mental illness and those who feel insecure about their jobs. I tried in vain last week to raise the issue of widowhood. A recent study in the European Journal of Public Health found that widows and widowers were twice as likely to die by suicide. Senator Corrigan commented that it would be good for the Minister of State to listen to the practical ideas we could come up with. One such idea could be implemented overnight, that community and public health nurses call to people who have been recently bereaved to assess their mental health and offer them support.
Public health nurses cannot even call to the people they are supposed to see.
I have a number of Senators who wish to speak and if they are brief, I will try to get through as many of them as possible.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House. I am here nearly three weeks and know exactly what he will go through in the next while. If I can be of any assistance to him, he need only ask. This is a huge honour for his family and friends, something I experienced three weeks ago. It is a great day and I hope he makes the most of it because the hard work starts tomorrow morning.
I support Senators White, Corrigan and MacSharry in calling on the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, to attend a debate on suicide. For the country 2010 will be a huge year. As Senator MacSharry said, the possible repossession of primary residences will be a big issue and it is inevitable that interest rates will rise over the coming months and years. I was speaking last night to the Drogheda area manager for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He told me the society is now visiting estates which he never imagined he would be visiting in which houses sold for €400,000 and €500,000 up to 12 to 18 months ago.
In that context I welcome the multiannual mental health budget announced last week by the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney. This House could be a great advocate for protecting the rights of people with regard to the repossession of homes and also with regard to mental health. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on these topics as soon as possible.
I join other Senators in welcoming Senator Ó Brolcháin to this Chamber. I wish him the very best for the future. I hope this courtship will continue over the next two and a half years for him and I also congratulate his family. As spokesman on justice on this side of the House I concur with the remarks of my colleague, Senator Ellis, on the tragic and untimely death of the young garda from County Leitrim, Garda Gary McLoughlin, who was killed in County Donegal. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to come to the House to discuss the situation with regard to the Cork-Swansea ferry. I congratulate the co-op in locating and purchasing a vessel. I am aware of some financial and logistical difficulties to overcome before the vessel is launched, it is to be hoped in the spring. I am confident this project will succeed and it will be a significant boost for tourism in the Cork-Kerry region.
I welcome the report of the Law Reform Commission on the subject of defence of one's home. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this subject in the new year. I congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for his positive reaction to the report. He has stated he will introduce legislation with regard to the report's recommendations. I express my grave concerns at the negative reaction of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to the report on the basis that people should run away rather than fight and protect their home. The day has come when legislation in this regard is probably well overdue. The Minister said last year when dealing with the Opposition Bill that he would wait for the report of the Law Reform Commission which is now to hand. We should give out the message that one's home is one's castle and people have the right to defend their home and not be forced to retreat or to run away. This is a disappointing suggestion by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
I add my voice to the welcome for the new Members, Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin and also Senator James Carroll as I was not here to welcome him at the time. We can hear from him that he has hit the ground running. While it is a difficult and new situation for him to be in the House he is very right when he advises Senator Ó Brolcháin to enjoy the day when everyone tells him he is wonderful. I was elected to the other House as a result of a by-election a long time ago and I was warned it would be the one day when everybody says nice things about you and after that it is a case of game on. I advise Senator Ó Brolcháin to enjoy the day with his family, friends and supporters. It is a great honour and this is a great House. We may get slated a lot outside the House but we do very valuable work in here.
I extend my sympathies and those of the entire Inishowen community to Garda Gary McLoughlin's family, his friends and his girlfriend and all those who served with him. It was a very difficult day for us yesterday in Buncrana. It was nice of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to take time out of their busy schedules to sign the book of condolence. There is a very genuine sense of grief there. I travelled a lot of the country yesterday and the thoughts and prayers of everybody throughout the country are with that family. It has reawakened the memories for the family of Garda Robbie McCallion. We often criticise the Garda for inaction but these boys were on duty and were killed. I am glad to say that Garda Bernard McLoughlin is out of hospital and is doing well. I extend my sympathies to all concerned.
The time has expired. I allowed speakers on condition contributions would be brief.
I have just one more sentence. I wish to endorse what Senator Corrigan said about the issue of mental health. It is an issue within and outside communities.
I will be brief. I join my colleagues in welcoming Senator Ó Brolcháin to the House. I wish him and his family well. It is nice to have a fellow Connacht man along with me, especially from the next county. I also join my colleagues in proposing a vote of condolence to the McLoughlin family. The loss of their son is a great tragedy for them and for his colleagues and for the Garda Commissioner. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Ó Brolacháin as ucht bheith tofa go dtí an tSeanaid. Polaiteoir den chéad scoth is ea é agus cuirim fáilte is fiche roimhe go dtí an Teach seo. Senator Ó Brolcháin is most welcome. He was well known as an outstanding city councillor and I am sure he will be equally effective in this House.
I was invited today to a briefing session with other former teachers who are Oireachtas Members by the teachers' unions. I was very heartened by the positive and dispassionate manner in which teachers' unions put their case to us. I would hope the Minister may have an opportunity to come to the House to spell out some particular problems with regard to teachers' pensions, both current pensioners and their pension parity with serving members and also to explain to us in more detail this averaging out of pensions in the future and which is envisaged in the budget. I believe in consensus and that consensus can be retrieved and the sooner we start, the better.
Tá áthas orm an Seanadóireacht seo a ghlacadh ar son mhuintir na Gaillimhe. I wish to thank first my family as it is very important to get our priorities right. I thank my wife, Niamh who was here yesterday and our children. I thank my parents, Pádraic and Sue, who are here today in the Visitors Gallery and all my extended family. I thank them for all their support over the years. I thank my colleagues in the Green Party, Senators Boyle and de Búrca and Deputies Mary White and Paul Gogarty who were in the Visitors Gallery earlier. I thank everybody who took part in the election which was a very interesting campaign. Many people were involved but I thank in particular those who voted for me and all the people across the parties for their courtesy throughout what was a very interesting Seanad election campaign. I thank the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, and her staff for their courtesy and professionalism throughout the whole process.
The Green Party now has representation in all four provinces and also in all five European Parliament constituencies on the island. We can possibly claim to be the first party to represent every single community on this island and this is a very important signal. I hope other parties follow suit.
I also thank and congratulate the two gentlemen who took part in the by-election, Councillor Eoin Bannigan from Fine Gael and James Heffernan from the Labour Party. As anyone in this House will say, it takes great courage to put one's name on a ballot paper but it is very important that people participate in the electoral process.
I noticed one or two Senators referred to Seanad reform. I assure them they will not find any difficulty debating this issue with me. There is a definite need to reform the whole political system in this country and this is a strong principle of the Green Party. Many Senators told me during the election campaign they believed this 23rd Seanad is a very strong Seanad as it has many capable people on all sides of the House and I refer in particular to the Independent Senators who are very strong. I hope I am not being totally naive in saying I hope we can show real leadership during the lifetime of this Seanad. We are facing difficult times following events such as flooding in my part of the country in Galway. Flooding occurred throughout the country but Cork and Galway were the hardest hit. We need to show real leadership and I would like to work with Members on all sides of the House to achieve the best possible outcome for the people.
I look forward to working with all Members of the House during the next two and a half years. I hope that during my time here I will receive the same level of courtesy that I have received today and throughout the campaign. Members on the opposite side are shaking their heads. It is an enormous honour for any citizen to stand in this or the other House and represent the people. I feel that honour on my shoulders today. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leir. I thank everybody who has come to the House to support me today.
I welcome Senator Ó Brolcháin. I wish him well and sincerely congratulate him, his wife and family on this occasion when his parents are present. He will make a major and valuable contribution in Seanad Éireann. As one who keeps in close contact with events in Galway, lives on the Galway border and spends considerable time and holidays there, I have watched the performance of elected members in Galway. I compliment the Senator and members of Galway City Council on the outstanding contributions they have made to Galway city in recent years. I wish the Senator the very best of luck in the future.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Twomey, Ellis, Buttimer, Glynn, Healy Eames, Leyden, Mullen, Corrigan, Regan, Hanafin, de Búrca, Mary White, Carroll, O'Donovan, Keaveney, Carty, O'Sullivan, together with the Cathaoirleach, offered the new Senator their heartiest congratulations. With two new Members, Senators Carroll and Ó Brolcháin who took their seats in the past four weeks, the House will be well served in the future by their determination, expertise and quality. We look forward immensely to working with them during the next two and half years.
Senator Fitzgerald, in particular, and other colleagues called for a debate on jobs, competitiveness and matters relating to the public sector. Second Stage of the Bill dealing with the public sector will be taken on Thursday, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken all day on Friday. Colleagues are concerned about many issues which they can bring to the attention of the Minister during the debate on the Bill on Thursday and Friday. They are worthy of concern and can be raised with the Minister when he is present in the House on Thursday.
As Leader of the House, I join colleagues in offering our sincere and deepest sympathy to the father and mother of the late Garda Gary McLoughlin. For him to lose his life at the age of 24 years in the course of defending the legislation we put through in these Houses is a tragedy. To his mother and father, Una and Noel, and family, we convey our deepest sympathy. As has been said, it brings home to us the risks members of the Garda Siochána, the Defence Forces and the Air Corps face in protecting us as citizens. Our prayers go out to them. I have already given a commitment that a debate on crime will take place. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be present in the House for such a debate.
On the Law Reform Commission's proposals on protecting oneself in one's own home, we all remember the death of Mr. Barry in Waterford. I will have no difficulty in allowing the House to reflect on the proposals made. We will discuss them in the first few weeks after the Christmas recess. The Law Reform Commission has presented its proposals in the form of draft legislation. It is our duty and responsibility, as legislators, to ensure we continue to do anything we can to put fear back into the law.
Senators O'Toole, MacSharry and Mullen called on the Minister for Finance to make provision for mortgage protection measures. As Members have often said on the contents of the MacSharry report, it is necessary to protect those with a very good track record in making repayments. Young couples who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who made their repayments during the past five to seven years must be protected for the next year or two until there is a turnaround in the economy and they return to employment. The Minister has provided that those who purchased homes when prices were at their peak in the boom years 2005 to 2007 will be able to avail of an extended period of six to 12 months to make their mortgage repayments, but there are those who will come under the auspices of NAMA. I know some mortgage companies are charging rates of 11% and 12% and these are the ones which have to be addressed. It is my intention that this matter should be brought to the Minister's attention when he is present in the House this week to examine what we, as legislators, can do to deal with it as a matter of urgency. We do not want anyone to lose his or her family home because someone is ripping him or her off. In the crudest sense, that is what is happening to the most decent and hard working boys and girls, the families of the men and women who worked hard during the years. They are being ripped off and we have a duty to act to protect them.
Senators Bacik, Twomey, Norris, Mullen, Regan and Hanafin called for a debate on required legislation and on the Minister to introduce such legislation as a matter of urgency on foot of the judgment in the Supreme Court today on the protection of human embryos and in response to the serious call made by the Judiciary for the Oireachtas to introduce legislation and make a definite decision on the issue. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate at the earliest possible time when we return after the Christmas recess.
Senator Norris called for a debate on the Corrib gas field. I have already given a commitment that such a debate will take place. The Independents are due next to have a debate in Private Members' time. Perhaps their leader, Senator O'Toole, might consider accommodating Senator Norris's request.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on the drugs culture and expressed his horror at the death in Mullingar. I have already given a commitment that a debate will take place in the House and I will have no difficultly in allocating time for it in the first two or three weeks after we return following the Christmas recess.
Senator Ellis asked the up-to-date position on the flooding along the banks of the River Shannon, in Cork and many other parts of the country and what would be the long-term plan, having regard to the Doherty report which embraces the three previous reports on the flooding and management of the River Shannon. Such consideration would be worthwhile. I intend to set aside an afternoon to allow Members to make recommendations to the Minister after we return following the Christmas recess.
Senator Healy Eames called for the debate on the Ryan report to be continued. I have already given a commitment to that effect. I support the sentiments expressed by her in that regard. She also sought a debate on the accountability of local government. The debate on the Appropriation Bill to be taken in the House on Thursday will present an ideal opportunity to raise that matter. I will allow a timeframe to enable colleagues to bring matters of expenditure to the Minister's attention in that debate. I strongly recommend that Senator Healy Eames would take up the matter with the Minister during the debate on the Appropriation Bill on Thursday.
Senators Mullen, Corrigan, Keaveney, Mary White and Carroll applauded the allocation of €47 million for mental health, in which we are all aware the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, played an important role. He has responded to the challenge of being an active Minister with responsibility for this serious portfolio. I will provide time for such a debate in the first three to four weeks of the session following our return.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú paid tribute to the late Ciarán Mac Mathúna. He was one of the greatest men of his time. The first time I heard of the McPeakes of Armagh, Felix Doran or the great Joe Burke was on his programme, "A Job of Journeywork". He uplifted the people as far back as the 1950s. He came to our towns and villages with the old Volkswagen RTE outside broadcast unit. As Senator Ó Murchú outlined, he compiled an archive of hidden treasures. No one else could have stayed up until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning listening to tunes. A famous piece of music is called after the great Junior Crehan. All of those archive pieces would possibly have been lost forever were it not for Ciarán Mac Mathúna. I join with Senator Ó Murchú in offering his wife Dolly and his family our deepest sympathy on the passing of a great Irishman.
Senators Hanafin and Quinn called for a debate on genetic modification, science and the challenge facing us in this area. I have no difficulty in ensuring such a debate takes place. Senator Quinn also called for a debate on nuclear energy, the challenge facing this country in the future in terms of energy costs and where we are going in the face of that challenge. I have already given a commitment for such a debate to take place at the earliest opportunity.
Senator de Búrca referred to the citizens' initiative and the Green Paper that is due to be published. That is a timely call and I have no difficulty agreeing to accept her proposal in that regard.
Senator Coghlan welcomed the support of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, on the proposed move of the Abbey Theatre to the GPO. I fully agree with that. I have long advocated such a move, along with Senator Norris. I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's announcement, to which I pledge my full support. The GPO is the right place for that national treasure. As Senator Coghlan correctly indicated, that location will also save the State €80 million to €90 million.
Senators Carroll and Mary White outlined to the House the serious challenge presented by suicide. Senator White referred also to widowhood. We learn much about up to date statistical data from Senator Mary White every week. She is to be congratulated on her total commitment to this area. I will have no difficulty in having further debates on that issue in the near future.
Senator O'Donovan welcomed the proposals on the Cork to Swansea ferry, which are before the people of Cork and the Government for their final consideration. That is great news for tourism in the south.
Senator O'Sullivan called for a debate on teachers' issues. That is a timely call, as discussion on it can be included in the debate on the Bill before the House on Thursday and all day Friday. If any Senator wishes to bring an issue to my attention after that I would be only too pleased to support him or her in that call.
Senator Francis Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform present on anti-social behaviour be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- de Búrca, Déirdre.
- Ellis, John.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.