The Order of Business is No. 2, statements and questions and answers on mortgage arrears, banking and the economy, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and a contribution by one Sinn Féin Senator not to exceed three minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed two minutes when asking a question. I ask Members to be as brief as possible in their contributions on the Order of Business as the Minister of Finance will be in the House for a couple of hours.
Order of Business
I will follow the Leader's lead. It is important that the Minister for Finance will be here today and, therefore, I will not propose amendments to the Order of Business. For us, mortgage arrears is an important matter for discussion, particularly in light of the publication of the Personal Insolvency Bill. I will leave my remarks on the matter until the Minister is here. As we discussed last week, there might be an opportunity to examine the Personal Insolvency Bill in the next week or so.
I welcome and congratulate the Leader, the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Martin McAleese for holding an informative and successful event with the Orange Order presenting to the Seanad for the first time. We had an open debate and, importantly, it was not an exercise in back slapping. We all may share different views but unless we talk to each other and engage in debate then we will never move forward together. Today, it has been proven once again that the Seanad has a real and effective purpose and not just on the legislative side. For all of those who contributed to the earlier debate it was a significant day. It was great to see the Orange Order here. I would like us to continue, as has been done under the Leader's stewardship, to extend invitations to relevant civic groups and individual across the country, both in Ireland and internationally.
I echo what Senator Darragh O'Brien has said and congratulate the Chathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and the Leader, Senator Cummins, in particular, and also Senator McAleese, for their work in organising today's address by Mr. Drew Nelson, grand secretary of the Orange Order. It was an important and historical event for the Seanad. I agree that it is important that it was not an exercise in back slapping or sycophancy and that we had a critical engagement with the Orange Order. Unfortunately, I did not say to Mr. Nelson that there is no chance of us rejoining the Commonwealth anytime soon.
I congratulate the Leader again.
Had we been invited?
Mr. Nelson appeared to invite us.
It was a generous offer.
I would like us to look forward to another historic occasion. We will have the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in the House before too long and I know that we all look forward to it.
I ask the Leader to consider a debate on the proposed merger of the Irish human rights and equality commission in forthcoming legislation. The Oireachtas joint committee shall consider the proposed merger and legislation tomorrow and Thursday. There has been some concerns raised about aspects of the proposals and the need to ensure real independence and effectiveness of the new merged body. We could hold a debate here either before the end of the session or very early in the next one.
I echo the compliments to all around on the historic event that took place this morning.
I welcome the withdrawal of a promotional leaflet by a supermarket for children's allowance day specials. I know that my colleague, Senator Averil Power, raised the matter in the media this morning and that the offer has now been withdrawn. The child death report last week indicated that there is a clear link between parental drinking and child neglect. The idea of having a children's allowance day special is obscene and I am glad that it has been withdrawn.
I would like to draw attention to the publication on last Friday of a HIQA inspection report on children's residential centres in the HSE south area. The report followed a two day pre-announced inspection of the children's residential centres in April. Three young people resided in the centre, one aged 14 years and two aged 15 years. The report was highly critical. The inspections described the living accommodation at the centre. It consisted of two separate purpose-built bungalows that were described as shabby and not fit for purpose, the heating was broken, walls were broken as well as cupboards and doors. The inspectors also identified serious concerns over the care being given to children by staff at the centre due to their very low morale. One of the findings that I found particularly troubling was that two of the teenagers had attended school intermittently before being admitted to the centre but they no longer attend school. They had not been to school for over eight months. We know from the child death review group's report last week of the importance of education and school attendance and that the report spanned 2000 to 2010. The new report is dated April 2012. It alarms me because it has highlighted the fact that the issues contained in the child death report have not been addressed. It is imperative that the HSE act on the 23 recommendations in the HIQA report. I also draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is still no independent inspection regime for children in disability services or children in direct provision. It baffles me, given the truly dreadful record in child welfare and protection that not only are many children in Ireland seen but not heard, some of the most vulnerable are neither seen nor heard. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the House to explain the reason there is no inspection for these categories of children. In recent months I have had correspondence with both Ministers, neither of whom will take responsibility for these categories of childrens
I add my congratulations to all those involved in facilitating and organising the visit of Mr. Drew Nelson to the House today. It was a good day for the Seanad. I hope also that it will lead to further improved relations between the peoples of the two jurisdictions. I was particularly impressed by the quality of all the contributions of the leaders which were excellent.
I am pleased to raise an issue I raised almost a year ago, that is, the naming of the Boyne cable bridge on the M1 motorway over the River Boyne, the President Mary McAleese Bridge. Yesterday, the National Roads Authority informed Meath County Council that it could go ahead and name the bridge, the Mary McAleese Bridge. At that time, the Taoiseach, fully supportive of the idea, asked that the motion be passed at Meath and Louth county councils. For procedural reasons, Louth County Council is introducing the motion this month. I have no doubt it will be passed. It is fitting that the issue was raised here and supported at that time by eight contributors from all parties. Mr. Drew Nelson, the grand secretary of the Orange Order has told me that, if invited, he would be honoured to attend the formal naming of the bridge, the President Mary McAleese Bridge.
I agree with everything the Senator has said. To the list of those who have been praised should be added the names of Senators David Cullinane and Ivana Bacik for splendid speeches.
As of 25 June, nine more people were killed on Irish roads compared to last year. We have had almost a 40 year reduction in road accidents from 1970, when more than 400 people were killed, down to 186 last year. As I am aware this is a matter which greatly concerns the Minister for Transport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who is taking a great interest in it, I ask the Leader to invite him to the House. If this is a turning point that an improvement of more than 40 years is reversed, there will be many dead young people. It is a challenge to the House which rose splendidly to the challenges it faced this morning to debate the issue with the Minister. Is it a problem of drug driving, older vehicles during the recession or that mobile telephones appear to be used with impunity while driving? I have noticed advertisements around the country — signs for worn tyres. What are they for? Did we need special care in the recent bad weather? This could be a serious problem after a period of such good progress under former Ministers, former Deputies Martin Cullen and Noel Dempsey and the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar. I am sure the House, as it showed this morning, would be able to assist the Minister as he addresses this sudden and unexpected problem which has arisen this year.
Last week I raised the issue of Ulster Bank. At that time we were assured that all the issues pertaining to the whole debacle would be sorted out by the end of that week. We are now in the third week and the problem still persists. It is nothing short of shambolic on the part of the management that people are still not being paid their wages, that their social welfare entitlements are not being paid and that they are unsure that the bank systems are competent enough to accurately record transactions. More worryingly, I wrote to Stephen Hester, the chief executive officer of Royal Bank of Scotland, two weeks ago and I await a response from him. That is an indication of the priority Ireland is getting in this situation. It is distasteful and disdainful that we would receive a public relations message from the bank stating that it is sorry for this when it is simply not good enough.
At this point I am forced to reiterate the calls I made last week with regard to an Oireachtas inquiry being held into this matter. It is the only mechanism capable of holding to account those responsible for this debacle and horrendous ineptitude. Also, I call on the bank not to charge their customers bank fees until January 2013 and I call on the management in Ireland and the United Kingdom to agree to forego their bonuses. I would like cross-party support in my calls on that basis.
Like previous speakers I commend the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Leader of the Seanad on the invitation extended to the grand secretary of the Orange Order. It was a significant, historic and important day. There have been many important days in recent years, and in recent months. The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, MLA, attended a soccer match with Peter Robinson, MLA, in which Linfield was playing. We had Peter Robinson, MLA, watching a GAA match in Casement Park. We had the Lord Mayor of Belfast, who is a Unionist, throw the sliotar into a game in Casement Park. All of those are significant steps. The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement is 14 years old but it is still in its infancy in that much of the work that is ongoing is part of a long-term project of which many of us are supportive. Progress was made again today with the invitation to and the speech from the grand master of the Orange Order. Senator Jim Darcy was wearing an orange tie for the occasion, and fair play to him
On a somewhat related but different note, people spoke about the relevance of the Seanad. I ask that later this year we would have a number of constructive debates on the preparation for the budget. I called for this last year. We seem to have debates when the stable door has closed. There is a real purpose for this House to have debates on the pre-budget submissions, not just from the political parties or the views of the Independent Senators but also from the plethora of organisations that lobby all of us on an individual basis. I ask that we would have a number of structured debates, not just with the Minister for Finance but also with Ministers with different responsibilities, and that we would seek to have a number of those debates in the run up to the budget this year. It would be helpful for the Minister, the Government and all of us in ensuring we have constructive criticism and debate on the shape of the budget.
I, too, join my colleagues in thanking the Leader and all those who contributed to this morning's debate. It was very constructive, and well done to everyone involved.
I raise an issue that was raised last week but it is important that it be raised again. It concerns the flooding in Cork and the need for decisive action to be taken on that matter. One of the problems experienced by people who have suffered severe damage is the delay in getting payment from insurance companies. I have suggested that on this occasion insurance companies would pay out a preliminary amount of €3,000 to all householders who are insured because people are having to rent alternative properties. Money is tight, and I ask that would be done by the insurance companies at an early date.
I am aware that the Minister was in Clonakilty and in Cork city yesterday. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to attend the House and outline how it is proposed to deal with what is a tragic situation for businesses, those in residential properties and, in some cases, those who do not have insurance. If at all possible I ask that moneys should be made available for people who could not get insurance and that some support would be given at this stage. I ask that the Minister come to the House to outline how it is proposed to deal with this matter.
With regard to the insurance companies, I ask for them to be requested to deal with the issue immediately rather than drag it on for six, 12 or 18 months, as has happened previously.
Will the Committee on Procedure and Privileges now consider issuing an invitation to Cardinal Seán Brady and the heads of the Church of Ireland, the Anglican community and the Moslem community, in line with the invitation to Mr. Nelson today? We need balance and I hope this suggestion will be followed up and that we do not just have the one invitation to a particular group.
With regard to the takeover of Aer Lingus proposed by Michael O'Leary, I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss that issue. The Minister should come to the House to discuss it because it has serious implications for this country. I have great admiration for Michael O'Leary. He has revolutionised transport and has made so many airports and Europe accessible to Irish people. There is no question about that. However, the possibility that he might take over Aer Lingus would remove competition on the ground and when competition is gone, prices rise. Therefore, I would like the Minister to come to the House to discuss this issue.
On the issue of airports, terminal 2 in Dublin Airport is a disaster. I went to terminal 2 last week——
On a junket.
——and had to walk out and go to terminal 1 to get my aeroplane. On my return journey through terminal 2, I had to find the bus to the car park. Then, even though I had booked car parking in advance——
One would miss the old State car.
I did not park in the Aer Lingus car park.
Senator Leyden, without interruption please.
I call on the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, to come to the House to discuss the issue of access, the future of Aer Lingus and the manner in which the Dublin Airport Authority is handling the situation. I would now be in favour of the privatisation of terminal two and for some better management at the airport. Just try booking car parking in advance sometime and then not being permitted remove one's car from the car park.
Like all my colleagues, I commend what took place here this morning. It was truly historic and the Leader gave a fantastic speech, as did all other contributors. I particularly commend Senator Cullinane on his contribution. That is the type of dialogue we need. As he said, if we have dialogue, and lots of it, it is amazing what can be solved. I commend all involved.
I wish to raise the issue of the post office in Corofin in County Clare which closed unexpectedly this week without notice. I acknowledge the efforts that are being made by An Post to accommodate people in this regard. Children's allowance payments were paid today in the premises in Corofin and I understand that social welfare and pension payments will now be paid in Kilfenora. However, there is an issue with regard to transportation. Many elderly people in Corofin and many of those on social welfare do not have transport and they will find it difficult to get to Kilfenora. I spoke to the head of communications at An Post just before I came into the House about I called for An Post to provide bus transportation on a Tuesday and Friday for people without transportation, until an alternative premises can be found in Corofin. Will the Leader, on our behalf, make contact with An Post and ask it to put transportation arrangements in place for people in Corofin who have been collecting their pensions for years in Corofin but who now find they have to travel in order to collect them. An unfortunate set of circumstances led to resignation of postmaster in Corofin and to the closure of the post office. I acknowledge An Post is doing its best, but the connectivity issue between the villages needs to be addressed.
I second the comments made by Senator van Turnhout regarding children's allowance and the advertisement in Centra today. However, I would go one step further. Should we have a debate on banning the advertisement of alcohol altogether? In the past two weeks, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee discussed cancer and heard that alcohol was the problem. The death of children in care report also said alcohol was the problem. I like alcohol but we need to be careful of it in our beautiful culture.
I refer to last weekend's The Sunday Times article on sick certificates. To my utter amazement, the journalist who wrote that report went around Dublin and told doctors she wanted to go to a wedding on a Friday. I think seven out of nine doctors gave her a sick certificate. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, is considering making changes to the current system by transferring more of the cost in the area of sick payments to the employer from the State. We need to invite the Minister for Health to the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss the practice and guidelines around doctors issuing sick certificates.
This was far from news to me and many employers because it is incredibly easy to get a sick certificate. There are some wonderful doctors but there are many who just hand out sick certificates to anyone who wants one. We want to get Ireland working again and ask employers to employ more people, so we need to be careful about the balance here. Will the Leader please invite the Minister for Health to the House and let us have a debate on this issue?
Along with other Senators, I note the Orange Order's contribution to the Seanad today. I grew up in Raphoe in east Donegal and the Orange Order was, and still is, very prominent in the town in which there was 50:50 breakdown in terms of religion. The Orange Order was part of the community. As Senator Bacik said earlier, before 1968 or 1969 the bands played music. The Ancient Order of Hibernians band would swap instruments if the other band was short a drum or a flute and one particular man, God rest him, also taught the Orangemen how to play the instruments. It is an historic day for the Seanad. I mention, in particular, the people who died over many years and the connotations the Orange Order had. It is a good day when the Seanad can invite a group like the Orange Order in to speak.
I refer to the news that Irish soccer fans will be awarded a special trophy for their behaviour and good humour in Poland, despite the results. Michel Platini, president of UEFA, will come to Dublin to present the award. The Irish fans expressed a form of Irishness Europe does not understand. European countries perhaps do not understand how we feel about ourselves. When Italy played Spain, it had difficulty getting fans to go to the matches whereas if Ireland had got to the final, 3 million people would have been looking for tickets. Europeans have a different outlook. When I was in Poland, I noticed fans from ten to 80 years of age. Every part of society was represented. Some 30,000 Irish people had a few beers and a sing-song. We did more for Irish tourism than Bord Fáilte ever did and the fans must be commended on that.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Higgins, about the debacle in Ulster Bank. However, the front line staff in Ulster Bank should be commended because they are bearing the brunt of the abuse and they do not deserve it. I know many staff who are working long hours and are trying to deflect the issues with which they are being hit. Someone in Ulster Bank or in Royal Bank of Scotland must be answerable. This has happened in Ulster Bank but what would happen if it happened to all the banks in the one week, which is a possibility? No one would have predicted this and one would have assumed the technology was 100% safe. I think the problem is much more severe than the bank is letting on. Last week we were told, one day after another, that the problem was about to be fixed. I felt as though I were in a plane sitting on a runway and being told repeatedly that take-off was delayed, only to discover, eventually, that the flight had been cancelled. It is important to have a debate on the Ulster Bank problem, but front line staff should not be blamed. This morning, I heard someone refer to a line from a song by Woodie Guthrie, "Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain-pen". That is what is happening in this country.
Today was a good day for the Seanad. It was particularly rewarding to hear the speeches made by the various parties. We enhanced our reputation and I believe this is a first step that will be followed by others in the same direction.
Mr. Drew Nelson referred to working with Tourism Ireland. Here is a real opportunity to work together. My father came from County Down and he often claimed we should have made a celebration of the day of the truce in 1921 which came into effect, to the best of my knowledge, on 11 July. He often said we should have a national holiday on that day.
How about having a national holiday here on 11 or 12 July? We may as well make it the 12th while we are at it. This could be an all-Ireland occasion. We have a great day on St. Patrick's Day. It has been very successful and we should, of course, continue it. Perhaps, instead of having Easter Monday followed by May Monday and June Monday, we could consider having a national holiday to overlap the 12 July holiday, as the grand secretary said today. All the festivals and parades could take place on the same weekend.
I support what Senator Cullinane said about pre-budget debates. If we are to debate the budget there is no sense in doing so after its publication. Ten years ago, I was involved in making proposals for Seanad reform. One of the proposals was that all lobbying should take place here in full view. This would be an ideal opportunity for lobbyists who want to gain the ear of the Minister and his officials to come to the Seanad and do so before budget day. Anyone who wished to lobby could do so, not behind the scenes but in full view of the Seanad. The Seanad could provide a perfect opportunity to lobby the Minister if a debate were held pre-budget instead of post-budget. It is nonsensical to have the Minister deliver his budget and for us to debate it afterwards.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien spoke about last weekend's sick leave scandal, where a reporter visited ten doctors in Dublin, made it clear that she was not ill but wanted a day off work to go to a wedding and seven of the ten doctors gave her a doctor's note. Of the doctors who did not give her a note, one refused because he suspected she might be a reporter and he had been similarly caught out on a previous occasion. I am reminded of what other countries do. In the last week, Barclays Bank was fined £290 million for its breach and GlaxoSmithKline, in the United States, was fined $3 billion for its misbehaviour. I mention this because it seems the Irish Medical Organisation supports the seven doctors who were willing to give a sick note to someone who had no illness whatsoever. There may be a need for us to consider fines for misbehaviour, although perhaps not as big as the GlaxoSmithKline fine. Money talks, and fines might make people think twice before they misbehave.
Other Senators have referred to the sick leave issue. I recently read that an average of 5,000 sick days are taken every day by HSE staff. It beggars belief that there are 5,000 sick days taken every day on average in one concern in this country.
I am delighted to hear that the new bridge over the River Boyne is about to be named the Mary McAleese Bridge and commend my colleague, Senator Jim D'Arcy, whose initiative it was. It was his proposal and as I recall, I seconded it. I welcome the forthcoming decision by Louth County Council. I believe the NRA is in full approval of renaming this bridge. It is to be welcomed by all. I say, "Well done", to my colleague, Senator D'Arcy.
I join with others in congratulating those involved in putting together today's address. It was an historic day for the House and a sign of what can be done in the future. I would agree with Senator Leyden's suggestion that leaders of some of the other organisations, particularly from a religious perspective, be invited here in the interests of balance and following on from the lead shown by Senator McAleese and the Leader in bringing forward today's address. It was a good beginning.
Senator Quinn mentioned that Tourism Ireland and the topic of tourism in the context of the Northern question are a significant vehicle. It would be remiss not to mention the Rally Ireland project. A North-South co-operation very much from both traditions, the theme of those events when they started in 2009 was, "Hands Across the Divide". It proved to be a winning formula in sports tourism and I am sure, as we heard from the Grand Secretary of the lodge today, and as Senator Quinn and others agreed, it can form the basis of part of the answer to the economic challenges posed to us.
I welcome the fact that today we will debate some elements of the Personal Insolvency Bill and hope that the Bill can be brought to this House as quickly as possible. As one of the many Senators who raised this issue up to three and a half years ago, I am most disappointed to see the main crux of the legislation holding a veto for the financial institutions. It is like saying to the kidnappers that the law now states they must release the hostages if they choose to. It is ridiculous in the extreme that legislation that has involved so much work, with the heads of the Bill being worked on by the committee and the Department officials, enshrines the hand of the financial institutions rather than of an independent person or people's representative. That is gravely regrettable. I hope that can be rectified on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann in advance of coming to this House. I fear that the Bill, if it is to be maintained as is outlined in the Dáil, only enshrines the powers that the banks have rather than puts the people of the country front and centre, which is what is required in this crisis.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Senators Mary Ann O'Brien and Quinn on the abuse of sick leave in certain limited circumstances around the country — not everyone is at it. I would be concerned if new legislation introduced to tackle this problem put any further burden on small businesses and employers who are already put to the pin of their collar in trying to keep their businesses open. The problem needs to be tackled but we had better ensure we do not throw out the baby with the bath water.
I ask the Leader to inform us on long-overdue legislation on the issue of media ownership and control that has been mentioned. I wonder will we have it at all this year. It has been mooted and has been kicked around all year. I raise the issue today on what is a sad day for me in that it marks the closure of yet another regional newspaper, the Offaly Express in Tullamore, with the loss of many jobs. Unfortunately, it coincides with the passing of Mr. Kevin Farrell, one of the founding journalists of that newspaper who, true to form, missed the deadline yesterday evening, and when word of his passing came through, the newspaper had to be changed and held up before it was sent to print. It was characteristic that Mr. Farrell should have the last word. I take this opportunity to extend our sympathy to his wife, Eileen, and family.
The reality is that the media sector is under grave pressure. RTE is in serious trouble, with debts running in the millions of euro and further lay-offs being sought, including in the newsroom. National newspaper titles which have been in print for decades are under serious duress. Several regional titles which have been in operation for upwards of 200 years are facing closure. Consolidation of large newspaper groups both nationally and regionally, far from being beneficial for the sector, has diminished choice and diversity and employment levels have suffered. Representatives of the local radio sector will be in Leinster House tomorrow to set out their stall and outline their concerns. There can be no denying that the industry is in chaos, with jobs being shed and one title after another facing closure. Although this issue is under the remit of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, I understand the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, is the lead Minister in terms of the pending legislation, with the latter having to divest responsibility to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Can the Leader give any indication of when we might see movement on this long overdue legislation? It is very important for the future of the sector and the security of the jobs it provides, as well as for the public in general.
I support the proposal that a bridge over the River Boyne be named for former President, Ms Mary McAleese. Such a gesture would be particularly appropriate given that bridge-building was the theme of her Presidency.
Last Saturday the annual Gay Pride march took place in Dublin. The Irish Times disgraced itself as usual with the three photographs it published of the event. Colourful and entertaining as they were, if the same was done to any other group, the newspaper would be picketed and subjected to severe abuse. It is a disgrace for a national publication to treat such a matter with so little gravity, especially given the very serious political issue that arose in the lead-up to the event. I attended the opening at Dublin Castle and listened to the addresses given by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner. I spoke at the dinner hosted by the European Gay Police Association, a very important meeting attended by some 300 members of police forces from 26 countries spanning three continents. When members of this group visited Áras an Uachtaráin, an attempt was made by the Garda Commissioner to prevent the gardaí involved from wearing their uniforms. This was only overcome after a second meeting involving the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. That is very strange.
At the conference we were told that one of the problems was the way in which the grapevine was used by members of the Garda. The Commissioner succeeded in his efforts to prevent Irish officers from wearing their uniforms at the parade on the basis that they would be off duty. However, being off duty is no impediment to the wearing of uniforms by gardaí participating in the homophobic event that is the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. Likewise, no objections were raised when off-duty gardaí escorting the remains of St. Thérèse of Lisieux wore their uniforms. When it is a gay issue, however, gardaí, alone among the police force representatives of 26 countries, are apparently not allowed to wear their uniform. These gardaí are facing discrimination in their own country.
Will the Leader confirm whether, as I understand it, the Garda Commissioner also attempted to prevent the foreign representatives from wearing their uniforms in the parade? Second, in the light of the grapevine situation, which is highlighted by a brilliant academic paper by two women from DCU, is it the case that a verbal message was sent by the Commissioner's office to all assistant commissioners advising them not to attend the conference and, moreover, to advise their chief superintendents and superintendents that they would be better employed in their own divisions and districts? It is a fact that no assistant commissioners attended the conference, nor any operational chief superintendents or superintendents. These are very serious questions and I ask that they be answered factually and on the record of this House rather than sub rosa. These serious concerns place the disgraceful exhibition by The Irish Times in context——
The Senator should not display a newspaper in the Chamber.
——with that publication refusing once again to take these matters seriously and instead choosing to trivialise them in a reprehensible and insulting manner.
As the Father of the House and an experienced Senator, Senator Norris is aware that it is inappropriate to display newspapers in the House. I call Senator Noone.
I did not mention any name. Did I?
There is only one Commissioner.
Senator Noone, without interruption, please.
I join with the remarks made by previous Senators in regard to the Ulster Bank issue, in respect of which we are all agreed there has been a lack of communication and competence on the part of the bank to deal with its systems failure. Everyone is crying out for accountability in respect of the banking sector. It is hoped that this issue will be sorted out sooner rather than later and that there will be some accountability for this fiasco.
The Irish people have been treated with some disdain by Ulster Bank and its parent company. It is bad enough that the problem arose in the first instance and that there was a failure to communicate but it seems the bank was able to sort out the problem a lot faster in the UK than in Ireland, which I take great exception to. I agree with comments made by previous speakers in regard to communications generally from Ulster Bank. I hope that above all there will be some accountability and that the relevant Minister will call for this at the appropriate time.
I support the comments of Senators Cullinane and Quinn in regard to the budgetary process and pre-budget discussions that will occur here in advance of budget 2013.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report last week by a two-thirds majority. The report, entitled "Austerity Measures — A Danger for Democracy and Social Rights" highlights a comment made by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Thomas Hammarberg when on a visit to Ireland in June 2011. Mr. Hammarberg stated that budget cuts planned in Ireland may be detrimental to the protection of human rights and that it is crucial to avoid this risk, in particular regarding vulnerable groups of people.
It would be important, in terms of our pre-budget discussions, that we discuss this report, in particular given it was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which Ireland is a member and that we discuss the ten point resolutions contained therein which call for member states to closely assess their current austerity programmes and the effect they are having on our social rights, decision-making processes and social security systems. I would appreciate if the Leader could arrange a debate on this report.
I am glad I was present in the House this morning for the visit of the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Mr. Drew Nelson. The wonderful speeches made by all of my colleagues enhanced the standing of this Seanad. It is hoped it was the first of many other significant events which will greatly enhance the standing of Seanad Éireann.
I welcome the safe arrival in the early hours of this morning of the competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway, which is a huge event for Galway and is the largest sporting event in Europe this summer. It has the potential to bring in excess of 600,000 people to Galway and to inject €80 million into the local economy. I pay tribute to everyone associated with the race, in particular Mr. John Killeen and Mr. Enda O'Coineen who on this occasion secured this prestigious event for Galway. I invite all Members to Galway for the weekend, where they will be spoiled for choice in terms of the Connacht Fleadh in Ballinasloe and the wonderful festivities in Galway city. It is a positive day for the west and a positive week for County Galway.
If all this crowd attends, I would be worried about accommodation. I call Senator O'Sullivan.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach, Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader, Senator McAleese and all other Senators on their contributions in the House this morning.
I must admit I had some reservations about whether it was a good idea but it has come to pass and I welcome it. It enhanced the Seanad. I hope the Taoiseach was watching. Perhaps he might rethink his view of us.
It was informative. Clearly, the mindset of the Orange Order has not changed. Our guest made that clear although the dialogue was good. We would not want to lose the run of ourselves, however, and the idea that Orange marches are of tourist potential in this country is a long way off. On 12 July there will be the stern-faced men with their bowler hats, their sashes and their hob-nailed boots, with their Lambeg drums, going through very sensitive areas. That is not a Macnas parade; it is not the Mardi Gras. However, we live in hope.
I refer to a matter I am sure has already been covered, the increased number of people who have paid their household charge, which I welcome. I congratulate the people concerned because these are tough times and this was a very difficult ask for many who had to cough up that money. They were less than enamoured by the cack-handed way in which this was handled by the Government. Ultimately, however, the majority are not listening to the shrieks and harpy voices of those who are trying to preach revolution in this country which I find very heartening. It might be an indication of the way forward.
I welcome the announcement, reported today, that the State is undertaking that women who were victimised by the implantation of industrial-grade silicon in PIP breast implants will have recourse to it if the companies responsible for inserting the implants cannot be forced to look after them. I encourage the Minister for Health to use all power at his disposal in national and international law to pursue relentlessly those extra-jurisdictional organisations which were responsible for this grotesque departure from good practice.
On an allied issue, I was extremely distressed when I received a letter from a patient recently. I shall not name her but she told me she had had a surgical mastectomy of both breasts performed preventively because she had been diagnosed with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. This is a very sad circumstance that arises. The great majority of breast cancers are not genetic in that sense but a minority are. For the small minority of women who carry one of the identified genes the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is believed to be so high that the option of preventive surgery, an extremely difficult decision for any woman to make, is one they often confront and have to make. One of the things that in some sense has lessened — though not removed — the pain of being forced to undergo such potentially mutilating surgery, often at a relatively young age, is the fact that reconstructive surgery is available. Using plastics procedures, this surgery gives patients a reconstructed artificial breast that goes some measure towards dealing with issues of self-esteem, cosmesis, etc. I was horrified to hear that Aviva Insurance, one of the leading private insurers in the country, refused coverage to a patient for this surgery, stating that the treatment was performed "prophylactically and therefore was not deemed medically necessary". A person who has the gene in question has an 80% lifetime risk of getting breast cancer and when it occurs the type of cancer can be very aggressive. This surgery is absolutely medically necessary.
Will the Leader bring this matter to the attention of the Minister? I know he does not have jurisdiction over Aviva but one wonders if there is some place within health insurance regulation whereby somebody can enforce standards because this is an appalling decision. If women believe they cannot have reconstruction done, they may make the decision not to have the surgery that could save their life in the first place. This situation also applies to the great majority of women who do not have genetic breast cancer but who may at some stage need a mastectomy. One of the factors that makes mastectomy palatable is the possibility of having reconstructive surgery. I was really distressed to hear this account. I have had an extensive correspondence with the patient in question. I could not believe that such a decision could be made by a leading insurance company in a modern Western country.
I compliment the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach and the Leader on this historic and memorable day. It was a wonderful event that, as has been said, was very good for the House. I compliment the Leader and all the group leaders for their wonderful contributions. I look forward, as I am sure do other Members, to a future day when we will have the First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, address this Chamber. Please God there will be many more good days for this House.
I am aware that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is waiting outside the Chamber since 3.45 p.m. He must leave at 5.45 p.m. and therefore we have cut into 25 minutes of the time available to him. Members made important points on many subjects on the Order of Business, and I have taken note of every point made.
There is no question that this has been an historic day. It means that dialogue and exchanges such as those we had here earlier is what is necessary for us to progress the area of reconciliation and peace into the future. I ask the Members to forgive me for not responding. I will bring the matters they raised to the attention of the various Ministers.