The Order of Business is No. 1, the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012, Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., and No. 2, Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2012, to be taken at 4 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m. The latter Bill has been tabled by Senator Averil Power and will be taken during Private Members' business this afternoon. I have been asked, as a one-off, to allow the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Quinn, to respond to the Second Stage of the debate. I seek the agreement of the House to allow each Minister ten minutes to outline their position in respect of this important legislation. I am in no way setting a precedent in allowing both Ministers to speak.
Order of Business
May I raise a point of order?
When I finish.
I think it is a point of order.
I shall allow a point of order.
I am happy with the suggestion but I ask that time is not taken from the speaking time and that it is in addition. I ask the Leader to make that provision.
That is not a point of order.
I beg the Cathaoirleach's pardon.
I will try to facilitate the House regarding time. The attendance of the Ministers is an important indication of the role of the Seanad,——
——particularly with regard to influencing legislation. I ask for the co-operation of the House in that regard.
My party would agree but we must first examine speaking time. The legislation introduced by Senator Power, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, is well thought out and I hope that the Government will accept it. Having two senior Ministers present today is a good departure. It is either a feast or a famine but we are more than happy to have them here to discuss the legislation introduced by my group.
I have a question for the Leader on the closure and restricted hours of Garda stations. As of 30 April, 31 Garda stations closed and another ten have restricted hours. I raised the issue in the House on numerous occasions, as did many of my colleagues. The Minister for Justice and Equality is also planning another raft of 40 Garda station closures, plus further restrictions. The loss of a Garda station in a community, be it rural or urban, has a huge knock-on effect. I also raised the issue on the Adjournment with the Minister directly and I am concerned about his argument that restricted stations will not be open to the public from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. thus allowing more gardaí to be on the street. That was a spurious claim to put it mildly.
I have since found it to be fact that the restricted stations will be closed after 9 p.m. and any person detained or arrested, in any of the areas covered by the restricted Garda stations, will have to be driven to the nearest full-time station thus taking up the time of three gardaí. Let us take, for example, the closest Garda station to me, Malahide, where the only Garda car in the town will have to be driven seven miles to Coolock in order to book in a prisoner but will keep three gardaí off the street. All of the stations that have been closed, plus the restricted ones, will spend thousands of euro because the superintendents in each area have asked for a quote for CCTV cameras and security systems to be installed in order that they can secure these stations. When the Minister responded to me he said that there would be insignificant monetary savings from these changes and he was purely doing it to protect the public and allow more gardaí on the beat. That is patently not the case. There are fewer gardaí on the beat because they must spend their time driving detained persons to full-time stations and hundreds of thousands of euro will be spent on installing security systems in the Garda stations that have been closed and restricted. This makes no sense.
I am pleased the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is to attend the House this afternoon to deal with important legislation, which we will facilitate. He also needs to explain why the information in the responses he gave to me and to our justice spokesperson was incorrect. There will be fewer gardaí on the beat and not only will there be no monetary savings, but his proposal will cost the Exchequer. As indicated at the recent Garda Representative Association conference, it is putting citizens' lives and safety at risk. I am tabling an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Justice and Equality attend the House in order to explain the situation with regard to the Garda stations that have closed as of 30 April, the stations that are restricted and the criteria he will use to close a further 40 stations throughout the country.
On behalf of the Labour group, I also welcome that two senior Ministers will come to the House to discuss the legislation. It is recognition that the Seanad is a place where important legislation can be discussed and two Ministers can join together to contribute to that debate.
It is with some sadness that the words "Catholic Church" and "child abuse" are on the lips of many. It is sad on the part of those victims who now find themselves back in the centre of a story that has unfortunately persisted for too long. There is sadness for the families and for the church, and there is also some anger. I find it ironic that the church has stated that no State or church guidelines for responding to allegations of child abuse existed in Ireland in 1975 and yet a young man, Brendan Boland, knew enough in 1975 to be able to report the things that were wrong. He was not a priest, had not been trained and had not been to university but he understood something was wrong. He was the one who was ignored. I find the irony at the heart of that extraordinary and I echo the calls from the One in Four group for Cardinal Brady to make a proper response to the allegations made in the BBC programme at this time.
I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine regarding the payment for those on the AEOS 2 scheme. The scheme closed in May 2011 and there were 6,500 successful applicants. This money is given to farmers for the halting of the loss of biodiversity, improving water quality and combatting climate change, which we all agree are very important. I had understood the payments would be made by Christmas. I was further told that payments would be made by Easter, yet this week I have received phone calls from people asking where the payments are. I wish the Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine why the AEOS 2 payments continue to be delayed.
I am a co-convenor of the mental health cross-party committee. Tomorrow we will join in the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland tea party day — if Senators will excuse the expression — in order to raise money and awareness of Alzheimer's disease here in Leinster House. As people will know it is the most common form of dementia in Ireland and the number suffering from the disease is predicted to rise to 104,000 by 2036. The Alzheimer's Society of Ireland does much work in providing support for families, carers and those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. That event, sponsored by the mental health group will take place between 10 o'clock and noon.
I ask the Leader to drop a line to Glen Hansard congratulating him on the 11 Tony Award nominations for his very successful Broadway play, Once. It is something bright and good news. It is evidence of Glen Hansard’s extraordinary perseverance over a long period of time. Even though he thought he would never make it, here he is being recognised for the second if not the third time as reward for his hard work.
The Leader will be aware of the concern I have expressed for a number of years over the number of organ donations in Ireland. There was great news yesterday when Facebook announced it would provide a facility to allow its users in Britain and the United States to declare whether they were willing to donate organs. This means that if somebody dies it will not be necessary to check if he or she had an organ donor card and instead it could be found from his or her Facebook page. I ask the Leader to draw the Minister's attention to this development. If it is available in Britain and the United States we should surely have it in Ireland. I know the Irish Kidney Association would support that wholeheartedly.
I had a very interesting day yesterday. I visited Stormont as part of a delegation from the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education. I found the visit very educational in many ways. While Stormont meets for much shorter times than we do, it limits the length of time Members have to speak, in most cases — I believe there are some exceptions — to five minutes. Some Assembly Members indicated to me that it should always be possible to say something in five minutes and it does not take 20 minutes to do it. Incidentally, if a Member decides to speak in one of the other two languages that are allowed, it eats into those five minutes as it is necessary to get translators for Gaeilge or Ulster Scots.
I wish to raise an item that might be considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. There were reports yesterday that seven months after new rules came into effect in America limiting the amount banks could charge as a fee when consumers swipe debit cards, the Federal Reserve indicated that the average fee paid by merchants for debit-card transactions covered by the rule was 24 cent in the fourth quarter of 2011, which compares with 43 cent before the federal law took effect on 1 October 2011. In other words, the US Government was able to introduce legislation limiting the amount retailers could be charged and which they need to pass on to their customers. I believe in Ireland each trader negotiates how much he pays to the bank for the debit cards. If they could get anything like the reduction achieved in the United States we should consider it here. In the case of credit cards it is done on a percentage basis, which means the more a customer spends, the more the bank charges the retailer. However, the cost to the bank for a €1,000 purchase should not be any more than for a €10 transaction. That is something we should consider. At a time when we have concerns about costs, this is one cost on which we could act immediately and show immediate results.
I would welcome a debate in due course on rural policing. While I cannot speak for the experience in the cities, Garda station closures in rural areas were necessary because they were costing a significant amount. A proper communication system and the availability of more vehicles thereby allowing gardaí to respond quickly to crime would be far more useful than having a member of the force sitting in a Garda station, where he or she might only sign one passport application form in a month. There is an argument for a mature and reasonable debate.
What did the Senator tell the people in Carrigaholt when the Garda station was closed?
Senator Conway without interruption.
When people get proper information about decisions, they understand the rationale and accept it. Within that discussion and debate there is an argument for increasing the role of the local policing committees. I used to be a member of a policing committee. It is a very good model with potential to ensure that the message is properly communicated. Nobody wants to put anybody in jeopardy or undermine policing, but at the same time we need to ensure the money spent on policing is having maximum effect. I would prefer to have increased communication and greater ability to make use of the vehicle fleet. Gardaí are more flexible when they are not tied to desks and that is ultimately what people want. There is an argument for a full debate on policing with the Minister in which he can explain the rationale for his suggestions. The personalised nature of the attack on the Minister for Justice and Equality at the Garda Representative Association conference was appalling. I have yet to hear an apology for that attack, which was completely out of order.
He is well able for it.
He is well able for it. He has ice in his veins.
It would not bother him one bit.
He has ice in his veins.
I would like to second my leader's amendment to the Order of Business——
Senator White should withdraw that remark.
Senator Wilson without interruption.
He would be dead if he had ice in his veins.
——proposing that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the closure of rural Garda stations, and indeed those not so rural, as my colleague has pointed out this morning. The latest stations to fall victim to the Minister's cuts in recent days have been Clontibret and Smithboro in County Monaghan and Tullyvin in County Cavan. While he is here I would like him to outline, in his capacity as Minister for Defence, what progress, if any, has been made in disposing of the four barracks that were closed in recent weeks. Maybe he would outline to the House how much it is costing the State to provide security at these barracks. I know, for instance, that in Cavan there are a number of security men on 24-hour duty, which is costing a substantial amount.
I also ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to the House. We read in the newspapers over the weekend and again today that the Minister intends to publish his blueprint for local government reform in June. I am particularly concerned about reports that the number of county councillors to be elected at the next local government elections will be dramatically reduced. Indeed, there are reports that he intends to do away with town councils altogether. This is an affront to democracy. Fianna Fáil is totally opposed to this measure, and the Minister should give the House the courtesy of coming here, prior to the publishing of any blueprint, to outline to us his plans in this regard.
I agree with Senators about the Garda stations; we should ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss this. There was an incident last night in the St. Johnston area of Donegal, near the border with Derry, in which a young guy was injured in a punishment shooting at his home. The issue is not whether the Garda stations should remain open; it is whether there should be more gardaí on the road and out around the place. I do not think that if the Garda station had been open in the St. Johnston-Carrigans area last night it would have made one bit of difference to the people who carried out this punishment shooting. The Minister should address the organisation of the Garda in the area. It would be more useful if Garda cars were employed along the Border area as a deterrent. I do not think it is any great advantage to have a garda in the station at 10 o'clock at night.
We must examine how the Garda stations have changed over the years. Garda stations in rural areas were used almost as drop-in centres, but now we have technology and we have drop-in centres in towns and villages everywhere, so the stations have become more of a base for gardaí to come into and leave again. It is not an issue that stations are closing; it is an issue that gardaí are not available to combat crime. Garda stations were used for everything; my own wife was born in one. I do not think that would happen again. Her father was not in for questioning; he was actually a garda. The stations used to have a family-oriented function, but now they have moved on. I agree with the sentiments of the Senators in opposition. The Minister must show criminals that there are more gardaí on the streets rather than more police stations. Gardaí on the streets in patrol cars and gathering intelligence act as a deterrent to criminals. I sympathise with the family in Donegal who had this foisted on them last night.
I would like to repeat a call I made last week to the Leader to provide a debate on the relations between Church and State. I say this in light of the tragic revelations of last night. It is extraordinary that these have come on foot of the silencing of Fr. Brian D'Arcy and Fr. Sean Fagan, and in this case children were silenced as well. Gay people have also been silenced. The term used in the church, which demonstrates this prejudice against gay people, was peccatum illud horribile inter christianos non nominandum— that sin so horrible it must not be mentioned among Christians. A veil of silence descended. I compliment Fine Gael on the courage of Deputy Buttimer in coming out. At least I am not the only gay in the village any more. There is quite a little flock gathering.
This is a terribly serious issue, because it also affects the Protestant churches. The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin repeatedly asked the then Minister for Justice to include the victims of the Bethany Home in south Dublin in the investigations into child abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board, but this was never done. There is an unmarked grave in which several hundred infants are buried anonymously. If it had been the Cardinal who had asked, it would have happened immediately. I simply do not understand it. Although we are blaming the Catholic Church all the time — like any institution, it deserves a certain amount of blame — we must not leave the State out, and we must make sure we consider any instance of abuse.
I was absolutely shocked to learn of the various cardinals in Britain launching a campaign against gay marriage. Not only are they instructing politicians and having pastoral letters read out, but they have now gone into the schools and instituted an instruction that schools should be made to campaign.
I can guarantee one thing: that will silence every gay pupil and lead to an increase in homophobic bullying.
Do you have a question for the Leader, Senator?
Yes. I am asking that we have this debate so that we can discuss this in a reasonably measured way. I know of continued instances of homophobic bullying in schools, inspired by clergy, and I want to make sure no such campaign against gay marriage is instituted in this country by the religious. Believe me, it will lead to further examples of bullying.
I support my colleague Senator Conway in his call for a debate on rural policing. It would be very wrong to judge the quality of our policing throughout the country by the number of buildings we have. Senators know well that the proliferation of Garda stations around the country date from an era when policing was done by bicycle. We have moved on from that and we need to consider our policing system overall. A debate in this House would be appropriate.
I also ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on his recently announced early release programme for low-risk prisoners. Over the past 24 hours there has been a lot of scaremongering, but many legitimate fears have been expressed as well. It would be good for the general public if we had a comprehensive discussion on this issue. We want to ensure vulnerable people do not feel less secure in their homes, and do not feel worried or concerned, as a result of this progressive action. The Minister has taken some brave initiatives, and it would be appropriate that he come to the House for a forthright discussion on the rationale for and logistics of this programme. Some of the commentary in the last couple of days has been over the top, and it is only right that we set the record straight and have a measured debate in this House.
Last September this House passed a Labour Party motion that was supported by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Independents and, of course, the Labour Party itself. It proposed that greater protections be instituted for employees facing collective redundancy and that the Government review existing legislation to examine whether a longer notice period than 30 days should be provided by a company that employs significant numbers of people and intends to make collective redundancies. That was in the context of what was happening in the economy at the time.
It was brought forward in the context of what was happening in Waterford, especially with Waterford Crystal and TalkTalk where 500 workers were disgracefully treated by the company and given inadequate notice.
Since then the Government has not introduced any legislation in this area. We have had Lagan Brick, La Senza, Wilson Publishing, Game, Vodafone, Vita Cortex and many more examples of workers engaged in sit-ins and protests for their just demands. During the debate, Senator Denis Landy argued that an extension of the notice period for workers to be made collectively redundant was necessary as it would improve the situation of many workers faced on being made redundant. Yesterday, in the Dáil, my party moved the Protection of Employees (Amendment) Bill 2012. The response from the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Seán Sherlock, who argued against the Labour Party motion at the time was that an increase in the notice period to 90 days is unrealistic and would lead to a prolonged period of uncertainty for employees.
Will the Senator please give the full quotation?
During the same debate, Senator Marie Moloney criticised the inordinate delays which faced applicants for entitlements under the insolvency fund but yesterday the same Labour Party Minister of State said he believed the relevant current legislative provisions provide an adequate level of support for employees who find themselves in a position where their employer has become insolvent. I do not quote any of that in order to be mischievous but because that is what was said in the House. In good faith, this House passed the motion which called on the Government to extend the notice period, to enhance employment rights and to ensure workers get their entitlements quicker than at present. There was universal acceptance in the House that the people in Waterford, in TalkTalk and in Waterford Crystal, who have been treated unfairly, needed to be protected and workers rights needed to be enhanced. I ask the Government representatives to lobby their parties to pass the Bill before the other House to give practical expression to the motion passed here, and also to ensure we, collectively, play our part in enhancing workers' rights in order that there is not a recurrence of such situations and crocodile tears from public representatives. Our job is to legislate to protect workers. That was the intention behind the Bill which is before the Dáil. I hope it is supported by those parties who supported the broad thrust of the Bill which was debated here.
In recent months I have noticed an increasing tendency among Deputies, particularly, Government backbench Deputies, to voice critical comment about this House, the tenure of which is that it should be abolished. It is undesirable that we would enter into a controversy on the matter with the Lower House but a response is required. I am happy to engage in any debate on the future of the House with anyone but the difficulty that arises is that the commentators who raise these concerns put forward no argument, which leads me, rightly or wrongly, to conclude that these calls are based on the issue of abolishing the House to save some money. There may be many reasons to abolish the House but to save money is not one of them. I could, perhaps, suggest to our colleagues in the Lower House that another way of making comparative savings would be to look at the salaries of politicians in that House. I am puzzled at the fact that there are 23 Deputies——
We are not discussing the other House.
That is right, we are not discussing the other House. We are merely being helpful in moving forward the debate.
The Taoiseach is discussing our future.
They are two separate entities. Each House does its own business.
There is also the Leaders' allowance and, perhaps, that could be looked at. I am puzzled at the different pay rates for Deputies and Senators. A Deputy earns €27,000 more than a Senator, yet the Seanad sits the same number of hours, Senators sit on the same committees and the House passes the same legislation.
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
The public would consider Senators and Deputies to do primarily the same work in the constituencies. In future, when we hear Government backbenchers calling for the abolition of the House, I suggest they first reflect on reforming their own House. They can then come back to us and give us the argument and, perhaps, we will listen to them.
They might yet be glad to get in here.
I join Senator Susan O'Keeffe in calling for a debate on the issues raised in last night's BBC television programme which were shocking in the extreme. As a Catholic, it is incumbent on the Catholic Church and the institutions of the State, including the Houses of the Oireachtas, to ensure appropriate action is taken. How many more revelations are to be made? How much more do we not know? Do we depend on the BBC, RTE and investigative journalists, such as the Senator in her day, to uncover these issues? The Catholic Church, in the interests of its own people — I being one of those — must clarify the position and ensure all action is being taken, that appropriate comment is given to the issues as seen last night. There are many reasons for failure but there are no excuses. People from all religions and none were united in shock at the revelations last night. Some of the commentary this morning would not inspire confidence.
On another issue I seek a debate on poverty in Ireland. Yesterday the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service launched an on-line calculator, after 13 years of research, to help determine the precise level of income required by a household to eat, clothe and pay important bills. The issue has been raised previously in the context of mortgage arrears and it has been suggested that we identify an amount of money which must be protected for families and may not be drawn upon for the payment of debt and other bills. Some years have passed and yet no decisive action has been taken on the issue of mortgage arrears. Families are still suffering. The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service revealed yesterday that some families have to live on as little as €15 per week for groceries. Collectively, we are failing on a weekly basis to provide for the protection of basic levels of income for these people. It would be useful for the Civil Service and Departments to use the calculator to help determine the effects of any proposed reductions or increases on social welfare rates. We could usefully debate these matters.
I support Senators Norris and MacSharry who have called for a debate on church and State. While we had a good debate yesterday on pluralism in education it would be valuable to have a debate on church and State. Senator Norris said he knew of several cases of homophobic bullying by clergy. If any Senator knows of anything of this nature, the onus is on them to do their level best to ensure it is not happening. Also there is an onus on everybody involved in the Catholic Church. As Senators Norris and MacSharry have said when one hears references to notetakers or whatever there is a need to ensure everything is done.
I wish to raise the position of kidney donors. From today, in the UK and US Facebook will be able to register donors. Senator Feargal Quinn will be pleased to hear this as he was one of the first to raise the issue and brought forward a Bill on organ donation. We do not have such a facility in Ireland. For myself, I would like an opt-out rather than an opt-in. In the US and UK, users will be able to register as organ donors through their websites. I suggest Facebook be approached here to provide a similar service. The Taoiseach has a good relationship with the leader of Facebook and Sheryl Sandberg and has had many discusssions on bringing Facebook to Ireland. I ask him to approach Facebook and help the Irish Kidney Association. Last year it announced an organ donor card app for the iPhone and Android which allows users to make their intentions clear. As Facebook is used by most Members and widely across the country this would be an easy way to let everybody know one's intentions. Perhaps it could be done in an official capacity in Ireland as well as in the UK and US.
That well known phrase "Evil prospers when good men stay silent" was epitomised in that television programme last night. No doubt, Cardinal Brady is a good man but he stayed silent when he needed to speak up. The reason he is a cardinal today is because he stayed silent. There is no doubt that if he spoke out in the Ireland of the 1970s——
Is the Senator calling for a debate on this matter?
I call on the Leader to allow an urgent debate on this issue. I know there is proposed legislation on this matter. We see that Fr. Brian D'Arcy and others are being silenced, as part of current church policy.
We are not discussing this matter today. Names cannot be mentioned under privilege on the Order of Business.
This abuse is not just in the Catholic Church, but as Senator Norris pointed out, it is across society. Most abuse takes place in the home and is perpetrated by a family member. It is the silence and inaction of the church that allows the abuse to continue which is the grave crime. Anybody who hears about it is totally appalled.
Will the Leader allow time for a discussion on the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill 2011 which my colleagues and I have published? This Bill allows the public to see the properties that NAMA is selling. Last week a property that was never on the market, but which was bought for €100 million, was sold for €7 million. Nobody in the area knew it was for sale and then it was gone. Under the legislation NAMA must sell all State assets under its control. Loans are State assets and NAMA is a State body and must sell them in an open and transparent manner in accordance with the sale of public goods, whether by tender or public auction. That is what NAMA is supposed to do, but it is not doing it. We, as Senator Coghlan who is a former auctioneer would know, are losing millions of euro as a result of a lack of transparency. I ask the Leader to allow time for the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill to be introduced and discussed in the House?
I rise in support of my colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, who has called for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to come to the House to discuss his proposals on the future of local government. It is extremely important that the Members of both Houses and also the representatives of the Association of County and City Councils should be the first people to whom he outlines his proposals. I was disappointed to discover the Minister's first real comment on proposed reform of local government was made at a planning conference in the marble city, Kilkenny, when he had ample opportunity at two other conferences that were organised by councils' associations to outline some, if not all, of his proposals. He did not take that opportunity. There is a requirement to show respect across the board and to take cognisance of the difficulties that will arise from these proposed changes. I fully support the points made by Senator Wilson on the process.
I support Senator Gilroy's call for a debate with our colleagues in the Lower House.
Go raibh míle maith agat. Tréaslaím leis an Aire Leanaí agus GnóthaíÓige as ucht an cheapacháin a rinneadh don choiste ghníomhaíochta maidir le luath-oideachas san earnáil oideachais. I commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for announcing the early years expert advisory group. This is a very important step forward. I note the expertise of members but I raise the issue of the Irish language in early years education and the early years education in Gaeltacht areas. Having made that point, this is a very welcome step. It would be helpful if the Minister were to come to the House to outline her vision of early years education. It was also mentioned that we needed to discuss the issue of child care. While child care and early years education are linked and are not mutually exclusive, early education is a much broader area. We have a particular expertise in this field. Members have worked in this area and have been involved with community child care committees and could bring a lot to the debate. It would be pertinent to have the Minister's vision on some of the child welfare cases we read about in the media.
Bheadh fáilte ann roimh dhíospóireacht den chineál sin, go dtiocfadh an tAire isteach sa Teach go bhféadfaimis go háirithe an straitéis nua seo atáá forbairt aici a phlé i gcomhthéacs na Gaeilge chomh maith agus cén saineolas atá ar an gcoiste seo a bheadh in ann déileáil le naonraí agus Gaelscoileanna.
I will resist the temptation to refer to NAMA. Instead I welcome a genuinely good news story on the white tailed sea eagles. As the House will be aware, a pair have settled and nested on an outcrop in Lough Derg, where they are hatching two eggs.
Where is the Kerry connection?
I am coming to that. These chicks were reared in Killarney on the shores of Lough Leane, from where they were released into the wild. There is growing interest in these birds.
Where is the relevance to the Order of Business?
They are growing in importance and significance. I congratulate the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, on his foresight in all heritage matters. The growing interest in these birds will be a boost to tourism. People are flocking in from all over and using their binoculars to see them. We have seen it in Killarney and it is already increasing the boat trips on the lakes. It will do things for Lough Derg and for the other parts of the country.
I welcome this good news. Tomorrow morning I will return to the issue of NAMA.
I support Senator Gilroy's call for a debate on political reform. The debate should not be solely concerned with the future of the Seanad but should be a broad ranging discussion. I am not sure of precedent but would the Taoiseach take the opportunity to air his views on the raft of areas that could be improved and developed, as a commitment was included in the programme for Government to hold a referendum on the future of the Seanad?
Due to the Supreme Court ruling on the McKenna judgment, once a referendum is called our hands are tied. I count this as a form of censorship. If a referendum is called in the morning on the future of the Seanad, we would be proscribed from advocating a "Yes" vote or a "No" vote, which I think is absurd. We are expected to argue the debate with one hand tied behind our back. The debate on political reform should be broadened. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, and the Garda Representative Association at their recent Easter conferences called for the establishment of an independent policing authority. It was dismissed out of hand by the Department of Justice and Equality, as if it did not count. In the context of the matters raised by Senators Darragh O'Brien and Martin Conway on policing in both urban and rural areas, it would be helpful if we had an independent policing authority to look at these matters in a detached and apolitical fashion.
Everyone is bewildered by the fact that 19 Deputies draw down €50,000 each as an allowance for so called party leaders. That is absurd in the extreme.
They are not party leaders, they are Independent Members.
It is not a matter for discussion on the Order of Business.
With respect, in the context of political reform, is this not a fair point to raise? Can we not say that these Members are not party political leaders but Independents?
Yes. This is not a matter for discussion on the Order of Business.
It is an absurd burden on the taxpayer at this juncture.
It is not for discussion on the Order of Business.
Senator MacSharry referred to the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. It produced a very useful piece of information last Christmas. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to come here to facilitate a question and answer session like we had with some Ministers to discuss the multiple welfare payments made to some homes, the multiple welfare payments plus income made to some homes and the lack of balance where homes do not get the support that they need. There are homes where if a person works it right by working 20 hours per week they will receive family income support, lone parents allowance, a few bob from the partner who has left, wages and every support going. In contrast some people do not have enough to live on. We need to arrange a debate to discuss a welfare plus income cap and give people a decent income to live on.
I want to raise an important matter. Last weekend a family in my town ferried its four children to their first communion using three Hummer vehicles and a glass carriage.
This is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It is relevant. Nobody works in that household and every one of them is in receipt of welfare payments. We need the courage to discuss this type of issue here.
We had the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.
The amount of money spent in such instances and provided by the State has gone beyond a joke and gives the two fingers to people living in normal society. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister here to openly discuss a welfare cap and the provision of an appropriate amount of money for people to live on. I want to prevent cases like the showboating that took place in my town last weekend, and I am sure it took place in every town in the country, by a particular ethnic group in our society. No one is in employment in that home but the girls had Swarovski diamonds embedded on their dresses and a young fella had accessorised his outfit with a top hat and cane. Such extravagance is beyond normal people. We must arrange for the Minister to come to discuss the matter and we must have the courage to put such matters on our agenda.
I want to raise the issue of the youth vote and echo a call by the National Youth Council of Ireland urging young people to have their voice heard and register to vote in the forthcoming referendum on the European stability treaty on 31 May. A previous NYCI study found that as little as 26% of 18 to 25-year olds were registered to vote, rising to 36% among 18 to 21 year olds. Campaigns such as the Rock the Vote campaign in Canada and the United States went some way to increasing participation of younger people in the electoral process. I hope that all parties, regardless of their stance on the treaty, will do everything in their power to encourage those in the under-25 age bracket to register and vote on 31 May.
If the Government had arranged to hold the referendum on a Saturday it might have helped.
It is only by registering to vote and voting can they have a say in their future. The closing date for registration is 14 May.
I want to raise an issue relating to a young lad called Calum Geary who today is receiving a transplant due to his inability to hear. He cannot hear any sound and the procedure is known as a bionic implant.
We cannot discuss an individual case on the Order of Business.
I raise the case because it relates to the treatment abroad fund and the support that it has given to the family in ensuring the transplant took place. I wish to raise the issue of the EU cross-border health care directive passed in February 2011 and we have 30 months to implement it. I have contacted the Department of Health on a number of occasions and there has been no indication of when the directive will be transposed into Irish law. It is extremely important because we do not have expertise in certain medical areas, cannot provide treatment and people must seek treatment abroad. Therefore, we must ensure that all of the proper procedures are in place to deal with such a situation. The directive deals with such cases and I ask that it is transposed into Irish law at the earliest possible date so that people like Calum Geary can continue to receive support and at an early date. I ask that the Leader raise the matter with the Department at an early date and that we can discuss it with the Minister on the next occasion he is in the House.
I echo the calls this morning for a debate on the church and State and the harrowing cases of child sex abuse in the church, in particular the case revealed in a programme last night on a young Dundalk boy. It is imperative that Cardinal Seán Brady answer the questions raised in the programme. As a practising Catholic it is important for the credulity of the whole church that he answer these questions. Recently I played music at a confirmation service in my local parish church where he officiated and spoke about Christianity, goodness and the Holy Spirit. As primate of Ireland, his defence of being a notetaker at these meetings does not justify——
We are not discussing the issue today. Does the Senator seek a debate on the issue?
I am seeking a debate and wonder why the priest in question was allowed to continue to abuse children who could have been saved. I raise the issue as another priest from my diocese was removed by Cardinal Brady from the parish.
We are not discussing it today. The Senator can seek a debate on the general issue.
Yes, I call for a debate.
I want to briefly raise the issue of internships in this country. At the moment there is a lot of unemployment here and we should welcome internship programmes. Recently I carried out a survey on internship programmes and interns in different organisations and found that a large number of them feel undervalued. Jobs are also advertised but suddenly an internship with the same job specifications is notified and companies are taking advantage of unemployed people, recent graduates and young people. I seek a debate on the issue. It may not seem like a huge issue but I know that it is following my research over the past number of weeks. I would be grateful if the Leader could ask for a debate on internships when next the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is in attendance.
I reject the comments broadcast across the media that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was scaremongering by saying that budget 2013 will be tougher unless we get a "Yes" vote.
The Senator is 24 hours late because we discussed the matter yesterday.
The Minister was correct. Let us face it. We must start thinking with business heads.
What about barristers and solicitors?
We rely on investor confidence in this country. We are a small island on the west coast of Europe, we are an open economy and we rely on investment here. Voting "Yes" will provide stability and we will know that we can pay our bills in the future.
That is exactly what Senator Tom Sheahan said yesterday.
We are going to pay for it.
Senator Sheahan said that yesterday.
I am on my feet.
We are not going to have a debate on the issue.
Unless we have funding stability we are going to affect growth.
It was said yesterday.
We are going to affect confidence.
We are not going to have a debate on the issue.
I am. I presume that we are having a rolling debate on the stability treaty.
Certainly we need to give reasons for a "Yes" and "No" vote. If we think with business heads we will realise that a "No" vote will wreck confidence in our futures.
What about the €11 billion?
A "No" vote will create uncertainty about everything.
Does the Senator seek a debate?
Éamon Ó Cuív does not believe it and it is not what he said.
I will say it again. Yes, we need a serious debate on the stability treaty and the reasons for a "Yes" or "No" vote. For me, a "Yes" vote will give certainty and stability and it is only then that business can transact with confidence.
Senators Darragh O'Brien, Conway, Harte, Mullins and others spoke about the closure of Garda stations and rural policing. As Senator Darragh O'Brien mentioned, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, was in this House and dealt with such a situation on an Adjournment motion. The proposed closure of Garda stations was based on recommendations from the Garda Commissioner under the policing plan for 2012. The closures are a result of in-depth assessment of the Garda authorities, the levels of activity and policing requirements for each station throughout the country. It is a firm objective of the Government to ensure that gardaí are freed up from unnecessary administrative tasks and are in a position to carry out the functions they have been trained to do, such as policing in communities and throughout the country.
There has been a focus of criticism to the effect that only modest cash savings can be made as a result of these closures. This is not solely about savings.
It is costing money.
Some savings will be made but it is about more efficient deployment of available resources and the changing of Garda rosters which will free up gardaí, giving us more efficient policing as a result. That addresses the question of Garda stations. The Minister outlined that others will be closed in the coming years. We have had approximately the same number of stations since the foundation of the State. Northern Ireland used to have 160 stations only some years ago but this has been reduced to 80, with talk of closing more. This is the situation as it stands.
The conflict is over.
They are not trying to pretend they are not closing them. They are not lying about them.
The Leader, without interruption.
Senators O'Keeffe, Norris, Keane, Daly, Moran, MacSharry and others spoke about the BBC2 programme about child abuse broadcast last night. I, too, viewed it. The fact that families of other victims were not told about the danger of Father Smyth was appalling. The abuse of children continued for years after the investigations mentioned in the programme, which is very damning. This abuse could have been prevented if action had been taken, but this did not happen.
Calls were made for a debate on church and State. We can do that but, as was stated by some Senators, yesterday we had the beginning of that debate with the Minister for Education and Skills in regard to schools.
I took part in it but I would prefer a wider debate.
I agree we should have a wider debate on the subject and I will try to arrange that.
Senator O'Keeffe also raised the issue of the AEOS scheme and late payments. I will raise this matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I am sure we would all like to compliment and congratulate Glen Hansard on receiving 11 Tony award nominations.
Senators Quinn and Keane spoke about organ donation and the Facebook initiative. Facebook is to be complimented on this and I hope we will have a similar initiative in this country.
Senator Quinn also raised the question of bank fees on debit cards in the United States and suggested we should consider similar measures here. I will raise this matter with the relevant Minister.
Senator Conway spoke of the role of local policing committees and stated they should have an enhanced role, a point we can take in the context of a debate on rural policing.
Senator Wilson called for progress on the disposal of Army barracks. Perhaps he could table this as an Adjournment matter in order to get an update from the Minister for Defence. He and Senator Landy raised the issue of local government reform. On 1 February the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, attended the House and stated his wish for Senators to put forward informed and practical proposals to improve local government. That process is ongoing and Senators can make further proposals in this regard, if they wish. The Minister stated he will issue a White Paper June on local government reform in June.
Senator Harte mentioned Garda resources. Senator Norris spoke of the relationship between church and State and I acknowledge that he has raised the matter of the Bethany Homes in the House on several occasions.
Senator Mullen raised the issues of the release of prisoners and policing. Many factors are taken into consideration regarding the suitability of prisoners to participate in the scheme for temporary release mentioned by the Senator. These include the nature and the gravity of the offence for which a sentence is being served by the prisoner, any recommendations made by the court in regard to the sentence imposed, the potential threat to the safety and security of the public by the person to be released and the person's previous criminal record. There are a number of areas involved. We might ask the Minister to the House to discuss that scheme at a later stage.
Senator Cullinane spoke of the Protection of Employees (Amendment) Bill. I believe we would all agree with the Senator it is very important that workers get their rights in a timely fashion.
Senators Gilroy, Whelan, Landy and others mentioned reform of the other House. I certainly have no intention of dwelling on such reforms which are a matter for the other House. As to some of the misinformed comments made by people in that House, I would treat them with the contempt they deserve.
Well said. Good man.
Senator MacSharry spoke about mortgage arrears. We addressed that subject and I reiterate the Taoiseach is heading a sub-committee of Cabinet to deal with the issue. I am sure there will be further proposals in that regard, in addition to those I have mentioned on several occasions on the Order of Business.
Senator Daly mentioned the Bill on transparency in NAMA. I am sure he can use Private Members' time for this subject. A Private Members' Bill from Fianna Fáil is to be introduced and the party could certainly promote that Bill, if it is important, during their next Private Members' time.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh welcomed that the early years expert group has been set up, stating it is a step in the right direction. We will ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, if she will attend the House and give her vision on this matter. On 7 March, we had a comprehensive debate on early intervention and family support services with the Minister so further discussion is a little premature at this stage. We will invite her at a later stage.
Senator Coghlan reminded Members that white-tailed sea eagles have been born in Killarney. I am sure we will have a future debate——
They have only just hatched.
Was that at Muckross House?
They will survive on the shores of Lough Leane.
Senator Quinn has already called for a debate on heritage and wild life. We will have one and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, is willing to come to the House and discuss these matters at a later stage.
Senator Mulcahy mentioned the Social Welfare Bill. The House spent all day on Friday and Monday having a comprehensive and excellent debate on that Bill and there was ample opportunity to raise those matters. I am sure there will be other opportunities to raise with the Minister the points mentioned by the Senator.
I am sure we all agree with Senator Sheahan about encouraging young people to come out and vote. We should outline that there is still time for them to register to vote in the referendum.
Senator Burke raised a very important item in respect of the EU health care directive and the cross-border issue. I will inquire when it will be transposed into law by the Minister. Senator Noone raised the matter of internships and companies taking advantage of young people. It is a matter I will raise with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and perhaps he will come to the House. Regarding the point raised by Senator Healy Eames, we dealt with the comments of the Minister for Finance yesterday on the Order of Business.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the situation pertaining to the closing, and restricted opening hours, of some Garda stations be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
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