The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on alcohol consumption, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 1.35 p.m.; No. 2, Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 - Committee Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 4.15 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Mortgage Credit (Loans and Bonds) Bill 2012 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.15 p.m., with the debate on Second Stage to conclude not later than 6.15 p.m.
Order of Business
The statements on alcohol consumption are being taken by the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for primary care, Deputy Alex White. Will the Leader confirm that the powers in this regard have been devolved from the Minister for Health to the Minister of State in advance of him coming into the House?
On the Order of Business yesterday and on numerous occasions in the past year, with other colleagues on both sides of the House, I raised issues in the banking sector, specifically mortgage arrears. The matter was put as stark as it could be yesterday at the Irish Bankers Federation conference when Ms Fiona Muldoon, head of banking supervision in the Central Bank, lambasted the banks for their inaction on it. According to her, there are 167,000 mortgages, to a value of €35 billion, in arrears. She states a culture of leadership is missing in Irish banks. We know this, as does the Leader. It is as plain as the nose on his face. The mortgage arrears figures are 50% worse than they were this time last year and they are getting progressively worse every day. When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, were here earlier this term, they both confirmed that by 30 September the Central Bank would be in receipt of mortgage solutions from the mortgage lenders to the problem of distressed mortgages. I am not talking about the Personal Insolvency Bill which is the nuclear button for people in moving towards bankruptcy; rather, I am talking about those who are struggling.
The Minister for Finance and the Minister of State both said the banks should submit their solutions for mortgage holders not yet in severe mortgage difficulty but who will be in the future to the Central Bank by 30 September. Will the Leader confirm that the deadline was met and that the Government is examining the proposed solutions for distressed mortgage holders? It is very important that we know the stage the process has reached to provide some light at the end of the tunnel for mortgage holders. Was the deadline of 30 September missed?
Yesterday a number of Senators on both sides of the House asked for a debate on the issue of mortgage arrears. It behoves us to have such a debate very quickly. I am not going to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, but I ask the Leader to ensure that in the next two weeks there will be a specific debate on the problem and solutions to it. This must happen because if the head of banking supervision in the Central Bank is saying to the Irish Banking Federation what other colleagues and I have been saying for over one year now, there is no reason we cannot allow time in the House to have a proper discussion on how we can help thousands of Irish people. The Leader must arrange a specific debate on this matter in the next two weeks, not by way of another Bill or an overall discussion on finance issues. It must be specifically about mortgage arrears and solutions. Two weeks ago many Senators were outraged at the increase of 0.5% in the variable mortgage interest rate charged to AIB customers, but last week we had confirmation from the Taoiseach that he would do nothing about it. He said the primary goal of the Government was to make AIB viable again. There are thousands of mortgage holders who have found they are not viable and cannot continue to repay mortgages at inflated rates. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange in the next two weeks a specific debate on the issue of mortgage arrears and solutions to the problem.
I know the Leader will respond to Senator Darragh O'Brien's request, but I point out that we will be discussing Senator Sean D. Barrett's Bill on mortgage credit during Private Member's time this evening, which will give us an opportunity to discuss this very important issue. I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien regarding the comments of Ms Fiona Muldoon, to which other colleagues referred in the House yesterday, including Senator Aideen Hayden.
I call for a debate on prison conditions. We have sought such a debate in this House before and I know the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is examining the issue. A debate is called for in the light of the very disturbing report published yesterday on St. Patrick's Institution. The report by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, is an appalling indictment of the conditions and regime in place for young offenders in that institution. Some of the most worrying and disturbing findings concern serious allegations of intimidation and bullying, serious incidents when young men were stripped and cut by prison officers and situations where children were held in 24-hour lock-up for several months at a time. It is absolutely appalling, although it comes as no surprise to many of us who have been aware for a long time, following the presentation of other reports, that conditions in St. Patrick's Institution are dreadful. The Government has already committed to ending the detention in that instution of children, that is, those under 18 years, but I am really glad that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, have now said they will close the institution as a place of detention for those under 21. That is a very important commitment to make. The Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Mr. Michael Donnellan, has said that since the report was prepared, action has been taken and a new governor appointed. That is all hugely important, but when members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality visited the prison recently, it was an anodyne and cleaned-up version of the institution that was presented to us. In that context, I am concerned to ensure the abuse of young people in the institution is not continuing. The point is made in the report that of the 190 prison officers in the institution, only a small number were involved in the aforementioned practices and Mr. Donnellan has said action has been taken against them. However, it is important that we are assured that the appalling practices in the prison are at an end. I am very glad that St. Patrick's Institution is finally going to be closed. It should have been closed a long time ago.
I look forward to a debate, after the referendum, on children's rights more generally, for which the Leader has committed to having the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs present. We have just come from the launch of the Labour Party referendum campaign, at which we heard articulate and eloquent presentations by two children, both aged around 15 years, who made a very strong case for supporting the referendum proposal. It is important that those of us on the "Yes" side are not complacent and that we are conscious of the fact that a "No" campaign will be launched. It will actually be quite helpful in generating debate and ensuring plenty of discussion on the airwaves and in public fora because it will be crucial to have a high turnout on 10 November.
Sometimes the Seanad is accused of being a talking shop, but this can be very valuable. I ask for a general debate on the state of the nation and, indeed, the planet. It seems there is a significant and worrying lack of vision. In this country we are becoming a divided community. There is also division among the nations of Europe and globally and there do not seem to be many with an encompassing global vision. I am worried because several years ago in this House I said I believed financial and climatic problems were going to produce circumstances where catastrophic events would become more frequent, occur closer together and be more disastrous. Regrettably, these words are coming true, both in the world of finance and in terms of climate change, as today's weather conditions show, although mercifully the threat to Cork has not materialised.
When I speak of a lack of vision, I am thinking of the tragic replication of the problems faced by the country during the Famine when needless suffering and tragedy was caused by the imposition of economic theories from the centre. These theories were mistaken and caused disaster. We have the same situation, with the IMF admitting that it was wrong. It is like the 18th century when doctors bled their aristocratic patients by applying leeches to them because they thought it would cure their sickness, but it actually killed them. We have the same situation where economic theories are applied and it is then admitted that they are mistaken. What is being done to rectify this? The consequences are not negligible but real, in human terms. As an Irishman, let alone as an elected representative, I am horrified and ashamed to find food poverty is at a level of 10% in this country. I am horrified that a professional man has to steal €58 worth of groceries to feed his children; that a garda sergeant's wife says she does not have enough money to feed her children properly and that they have cornflakes days. This is shocking in the 21st century, especially when there is so much money and wealth. It is a question of having the vision to put people first, to look at and reorganise financial structures in the interests of the people in order that we will no longer feel shame at the level of food poverty in this country.
I agree with Senator Ivana Bacik in her comments on the report on St. Patrick's Institution. The Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, a wonderful civil servant who has done us proud in standing up for the rights of children, was mocked and derided by officials, right up to the level of Secretary General in the Department of Justice and Equality. That is frightful and the matter must be examined thoroughly. We must all work together to protect the rights of children.
We will have an opportunity to speak on the issue of mortgages later. If the Seanad ever wished to show it has relevance, it will be able to do so today when a new Senator with a brilliant academic record brings forward legislation. I know from experience how difficult it is to formulate legislation. He is doing what many other colleagues have done in the past, including Senators Ronán Mullen and Fergal Quinn and former Senator Joe O'Toole, and providing a wonderful opportunity for the House. He is adapting ideas from elsewhere in Europe and history in the interests of the people to alleviate a crippling problem. We can be proud of this. Let us make ourselves proud by having a global debate and showing that in this House we can give a lead and show vision.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has made most of the points I wished to make on the banking conference held in Dublin yesterday.
One of the bankers said in his opening address that the banks have been humbled. I compliment Fiona Muldoon, the new director of banking supervision, for saying that she has not found humility in her dealings with banks. I wish her the best of luck in her new job.
The Senator should not mention individuals by name.
I am about to ask the Leader to do something.
We do not mention individuals in this House.
I apologise. Senator Darragh O'Brien asked for a debate on mortgage arrears. I would not tie the Leader to a timeframe of two weeks because he will arrange the debate for a time when the appropriate Ministers are available. I ask the Leader to consider inviting Ms Muldoon to address the Seanad. She has radical new ideas on the regulation of banks in this country and I hope we will no longer have light regulation.
Let us get real and relevant regulation.
The Senator should raise the issue with his representatives on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
We should also hear from the public interest directors of the bank.
I remind Senator Norris that I introduced a Bill in the previous Seanad.
I recall that it dealt with wills and testaments.
I thank the Senator for his generosity. I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion of the report by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Judge Michael Reilly, on St. Patrick's Institution. The report was delayed for three months before being released on the night of a soccer match alongside reports on other prisons. It was a significant report but it was unfair to those prison officers who do an excellent job in difficult circumstances without giving them a right to reply.
On "Morning Ireland" the Minister for Justice and Equality was given plenty of time to reply but he failed to acknowledge the difficult work carried out by the majority of prison officers. The officers in Oberstown have received no training in dealing with juvenile offenders. There is a lack of balance both in the presentation of the issues and the Minister's defence of his own staff. He seems to have no regard for their position and they are being condemned without proper recourse to law. It is difficult to manage one's defence when the Minister can speak on the radio. The report is worthwhile, however, and Judge Reilly has been efficient in visiting the prison without advance notice. I commend the Ombudsman for Children on the position she has taken on the issue and welcome that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has given her powers to meet young offenders.
Fr. Flanagan from Ballymoe on the border of counties Galway and Roscommon founded Boys Town in the USA. He would turn in his grave if these allegations prove to be truthful. Bullying and intimidation should not be allowed in any prison in a developed country like Ireland. A solution will be found, however. St. Patrick's should be closed but alternatives will need to be put in place beforehand.
I support the call by Senator Darragh O'Brien for a debate on debt and the role of the banking sector. When I made a similar call yesterday I mentioned the comments by Fiona Muldoon at the Irish Banking Federation conference, which had the odd title "Restoring Confidence, Rebuilding Trust" but did not include a single speaker who might have represented distressed mortgage holders or organisations like New Beginning. If the federation really wants to build trust it must consult the people most affected by this disaster.
I join other Senators in calling for further discussion on the report on St. Patrick's Institution. I am reminded of the comments by Dr. Eoin O'Sullivan in regard to the Magdalene laundries. He pointed out that the people of Ireland knew about the laundries because every family in this country knew somebody who was affected by them. The first report calling for the closure of St. Patrick's was written in 1985. Emily Logan stated that she was patronised and made fun of when she reported on the conditions in the institution and that officials of the Department of Justice and Equality treated the matter with an attitude of indifference because it related to young people who had broken the law. In a day and age when we are about to hold a referendum on the rights of children, this is not good enough. The retraining of 60% of the prison officers in St. Patrick's does not - no disrespect intended - go far enough. We need a full judicial investigation into what happened. How has 28 years elapsed with collusion by the Department of Justice and Equality - I do not think I can put it any other way - in what happened in St. Patrick's? It is not good enough and we need to draw a line in the sand before this becomes another Magdalene laundry.
Tugaim faoi deara go raibh díospóireacht an-mhaith ins an Seomra seo Dé hAoine seo chaite ar chúrsaí Thuaidh-Theas, agus fáiltím roimhe sin. Is maith an rud é. On a number of occasions since entering the Seanad I have called for an invitation to be extended to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the North to address the House. The Leader has indicated that he is amenable to sending such an invitation. I ask for an update on the current position of the discussion, which would be useful in the context of the statements that are made from time to time on the economy in the Six Counties. We could raise these questions directly with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
I call for a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on renewable energy and the exploitation of natural resources. International experts have estimated that 20% of Ireland's energy needs could be met by renewable energy by 2020, a proportion which increases to 80% by 2050, and that 20% of our GDP could be derived from exports of clean energy. Investment in tidal energy and renewables could lead to a renewables revolution and create thousands of green jobs throughout the country. Sinn Féin receives the occasional jibe about what we do in the North but we have delivered on this agenda in the Northern Executive in co-operation with the other parties. We recently published the offshore renewable energy strategic action plan and attracted significant investment in this area, including an announcement last week of a project in which Bord Gáis and OpenHydro will develop a 100 MW tidal array off Tor Head on the north coast in County Antrim. Stormont is delivering on renewable energy and our target is to provide 40% of electricity supplies from renewable sources by 2020.
The report by the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture on our oil and gas licensing regime does not appear to have gone anywhere. It is imperative that the Minister tells us how he intends to progress the report. Our licensing regime is more amenable to oil and gas companies than most of the western world and a plethora of wind farms are planned for the west coast, despite extensive local objections. Senator Kelly brought forward a Bill on wind turbines. The Leader might indicate when we will take Committee Stage of that Bill. It appears to be stuck in a departmental quagmire at present. A debate on these issues would be very useful.
Last night Cork experienced heavy rain and flooding and a further 50 mm of rainfall is forecast for today. This highlights the vulnerability of individuals, homes and businesses in flood prone areas. We recently had a discussion with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, on the issue of insurance companies. I have called for an engagement with insurance companies to ensure that the OPW's work on flood prevention measures is communicated so that businesses and homes are not left without essential flood cover.
The forecasts for yesterday and today certainly raise tensions, concerns and worry among those who have been flooded previously. It is a very important issue and we should keep it to the fore in this House and keep up the level of communications with the Minister and the OPW to put pressure on insurance companies to work with individuals who are their clients.
Like others, I ask the Leader to organise a real debate in regard to the mortgage issue and the disturbing case reported in the The Irish Times today of a Garda sergeant and his wife who, as Senator Norris pointed out, have cornflakes days because that is all they can afford to eat. These are the new vulnerable in Irish society. Former President Bill Clinton said in October 2011 that we must solve our mortgage problem in Ireland and that it was the key to ensuring the economy gets going again. Yet, 12 months on, there has been no action by the Government.
I also ask the Leader to organise a debate about the survivors of child sex abuse, particularly the disturbing cases of those who were offered compensation by the Christian Brothers and other organisations, where they had secured criminal convictions against the perpetrators. In one case, however, a person who is terminally ill had that offer withdrawn by the Christian Brothers. That man suffered abuse and succeeded in a criminal conviction yet, when asked by the judge whether he wanted a custodial sentence bestowed on the perpetrator of that awful crime against him, he asked the judge not to do so. Now, the Christian Brothers have withdrawn their offer and, knowing that he is dying, hope that John Allen passes away before his case ever gets to court.
Senator, you cannot name people like that on the record of the House. You know that quite well.
John Allen asked me to name him on the record of the House. I ask the Leader to organise that-----
I have already explained on numerous occasions that Members cannot name people like that and use the privilege of the House to do so.
I think that is what the privilege of the House is for.
It is not what the privilege of the House is for. I ask you to refrain from mentioning people's names in the House.
If a person asks me to bring his or her case before the House, I will bring it before the House. If he asks me to name him-----
I ask the Senator to respect the privilege of the House and not abuse it.
I am respecting it. It is for that reason I am using it. I thank the Cathaoirleach. I have asked the Leader to organise a debate in regard to those cases and so many other serious cases.
The Senator is over time. I call Senator Keane.
I agree with all those who spoke about St. Patrick's Institution and called for a debate in the House. It is being closed down and something is being done about it. We have been years and years listening to issues concerning St. Patrick's Institution. I pay tribute to Judge Michael Reilly who, night time, day time and every hour of the day, went into the prison when he was not expected. We know of his inspection reports.
A point was made about the delay in the report. The report was available but the Minister had said, and repeated on radio this morning, that he was ill himself, which was one of the reasons, and we have to take such matters into consideration. There was another glitch in that the computer system broke down at the time the report was due. Fair is fair. It was mentioned on the radio, so I am not telling any secrets of State or anything like that. While I did not stand up to raise that issue, it is very important and we should raise it because many of the residents of St. Patrick's Institution deserve that.
I stood up to raise the issue of the report on local government, Putting People First. I was not present in the House yesterday because, as spokesperson on local government, I was at the launch of this important report. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government must be commended for ensuring we have, for the first time in history, a real overhaul of local government which is going to put the people first. It does and we will. I hope I will be able to come back in a few years and say it did what it said on the tin and put the people first.
I have two questions.
Is the Senator supporting the call yesterday for a debate?
Yes, but some issues were not mentioned. As it was such an important issue and I wanted to see what was said, I listened to the debate on playback. It was not mentioned that there is a new facility in the report that provides for a citizens' assembly and participative community-----
We are not discussing the report today.
I ask the Leader-----
Senators sought a debate. Are you supporting that call?
Yes; I call for an early debate. I also ask that we have a date for the announcement of the citizens' assembly, as this is not mentioned in the report.
I also support the call for further discussion and a debate about Judge Michael Reilly's very damning report. We see in this report the revisiting of some of the tragic themes from the story of the abuse of young people in Ireland. We hear about institutional defensiveness in terms of the State's response and its claims that these reports were not to be believed, the general non-belief and attitude of disbelief towards young people who make claims, the further victimisation of young people who have already been abused, which is something we have heard before, and, in particular, the targeting of children who are already vulnerable.
It seems very hard to credit that a State institution could be responsible for such neglect and such blatant cynicism about the welfare of young people, and that this could go on in the 21st century. It is hard to credit that a judge preparing a report did not believe in the integrity of the statistics about the provision of education and schooling in terms of teacher and prisoner attendances for schooling and, therefore, brought in his own experts to test that.
How can it be that we have a State institution where prison gangs are running riot, where a drug problem is rife and where there is not a basic duty of care or an attitude of care, more importantly, being shown towards young people? It can only be because there is a cultural lack of sympathy towards these children, these young people, because they are offenders. That is precisely when we must have high standards. It is precisely when the people in one's care are hard to love or make life difficult for themselves that we have to have high standards and that we should not be allowed to drop our standards in the way people are treated. It is important that we get a chance to ask some very hard questions in this House and I hope we can have a debate on this report.
Senator Darragh O'Brien is right to draw attention to the growing mortgage arrears crisis. In fairness and in light of the remarks of the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, where he called for the banks to provide workable solutions and to show more forbearance, particularly for families suffering unemployment, we can now expect action. In addition, of course, the Central Bank has pointed out that the banks have done little or nothing in this regard. It is as though they are in denial about the scale of the problem. We should have a debate on this matter when that can be arranged but, in any event, we can expect action in light of those remarks.
I commend Judge Michael Reilly for his serious work in regard to St. Patrick's Institution. Slightly contrary to what Senator Leyden said, he did praise the great majority of officers and he made it clear it was only a small minority of officers who offended and who violated the human rights of the children in care there. Again, we commend Judge Reilly. Perhaps we could have a debate on this in due course.
I join with other colleagues in calling for a debate on the Prison Service. That debate should not just be about prison buildings but about the culture of what goes on in those prisons. I commend Judge Reilly for his persistence in undertaking his task of exposing what was going on in St. Patrick's Institution. It is a disgrace that in 2012 these types of horrific incidents should be occurring to vulnerable young people in State institutions, for that is what St. Patrick's Institution is.
I welcome the fact that St. Patrick's Institution is to close by 2012 and I also welcome the new facilities being provided in Oberstown.
In light of the announcements yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, in the so-called document, Putting People First, I took Senator Landy’s advice and read the 200 page document last night. It is very impressive-----
Is Senator Wilson calling for a debate?
-----and glossy. I wish to say two things, with your indulgence, a Chathaoirligh.
We are not having a debate on the issue today.
No, we are not. It is a big document. Putting People First will mean 32 fewer councillors in Munster, 22 fewer councillors in Connacht-Ulster, seven fewer in Leinster and 53 extra in Dublin city.
We are not discussing the matter today.
We are having a debate.
I call for an urgent debate on the document.
Is Senator Wilson seeking a debate?
With respect, instead of being called, Putting People First, it should be called “Putting Labour First”.
That is nonsense.
I call Senator Mullins.
Gerrymandering will not save you.
Giving power to the people is not putting Labour first.
I call Senator Mullins.
James Tully is alive and well.
You would need an extra 100 seats to be safe in Dublin.
The Tully gerrymander. We heard it before.
Senator Mullins should be allowed to speak without interruption.
One never forgets.
I join with previous speakers in complimenting and congratulating Judge Reilly on his report. I also congratulate the Minister, Deputy Shatter, for taking swift and serious action on the shortcomings in the Prison Service since he came to office. I understand that in his first week in office he visited St. Patrick’s Institution. We were all horrified at the level of shortcomings that were highlighted in the report such as the weak management structures and the culture of bullying among a minority of prison officers.
As previous speakers have said, we should not lose sight of the difficult working conditions in the prison system in which prison officers operate. We cannot under any circumstances accept a culture of bullying among staff within the system. What is most worrying is that there appears to have been a culture of indifference within the Department of Justice and Equality. The comments this morning by Emily Logan on how she was treated in respect of the issue are worrying and deserving of debate. I support the strong call by Senator Hayden for an inquiry into the conditions in St. Patrick’s Institution.
I very much welcome the fact that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, plans in the near future to introduce roadside testing of drivers for drugs. There is growing evidence that a large number of people are driving under the influence of cannabis and other illegal substances. It seems ludicrous not to have a facility in place to test drivers for illegal substances at the roadside in the same way as they can be tested for alcohol.
I understand that it will be next year before a system will be in place to test drivers for drugs at the roadside. I urge the Minister, if at all possible, to bring forward the date for the introduction of the system. Many lives are being lost as a result of people driving under the influence of drugs. It is a serious situation and one that cannot be allowed to continue for much longer.
Will the Leader arrange debates in the House on alternate weeks on the fiscal position in the run-up to the budget, which is crucial if we want to restore consumer confidence, investor confidence and job creation? The settling of the fiscal situation is the one issue that is under our control. I am a critic of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, for his serious failures in that regard. We should have a debate to focus on the issue.
The second issue which we should debate on alternate weeks is the banking situation. I agree with Senators who have called for such debates. Banks are not lending. I do not share Senator Paul Coghlan’s confidence that the comments of the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, which I welcome, will in any way change the modus operandi or attitude of the banks. Unfortunately, we have a situation in the country where banks are not functioning. There are no flows of credit. The situation is serious.
We are four years into the crisis. We have an insolvency Bill that is still sitting in the Department of Justice and Equality. Recently, I had occasion to try to ascertain information for a solicitor who made a representation to me on whether a person made bankrupt this year would benefit from the provisions of the new insolvency Bill. After some time I got confirmation that this person would not benefit. I was told by an official in the Department that they were too busy to engage with me due to the work on the Bill. I have never come across that in my 15 to 16 years in this House. It reflects the attitude of the people from the HSE and the Department of Health who went before the Committee of Public Accounts. They appeared to be under political duress not to co-operate with the democratic process. That is appalling.
When we were in government, those in opposition, in particular the Labour Party, shouted about greater transparency and more freedom of information. I have never seen a situation closed down to the extent that it is under this Government. Nothing is transparent and as a consequence we are paying a price for that. I call for a debate on those issues and the insolvency Bill. The proposals on the latter are highly deficient. To have three years when neighbouring jurisdictions have one year will lead to a situation where many people who have been made bankrupt, many of whom will want to get back into business, recreate their wealth and create jobs, will do it to the benefit of other countries not this one. The manner in which the situation is being approached is lunacy. The pedantic way in which the matter is being pursed is appalling.
I welcome the statement of the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, that all young offenders will be moved from St. Patrick’s Institution by 2014 on foot of the Reilly report. The young people in St. Patrick’s Institution have been humiliated, suffered sensory deprivation and worse. Is it any wonder that children who go there as young offenders sometimes come out badly damaged mentally with cold hearts and that they are hardened against the world?
Some speakers were ungenerous to the Minister this morning in their comments. Emily Logan said that Alan Shatter was the first Minister of any party in many years who listened to her on the issue when she was being sneered at, laughed at and made fun of by senior officials. I agree with Senator Leyden that the full blame should not fall on prison officers. That is like blaming the prison guards in Dachau, Auschwitz or Belsen for the Holocaust. What has been exposed was institutionalised abuse sanctioned or treated with indifference at a high level and it does need to be discussed in this House. I support the call made by other speakers for a debate on the issue.
I agree with my colleagues who have spoken on the prison issue, in particular the comments of the previous speaker. One of the structures which has traditionally been in place to monitor, observe and make recommendations in each place of detention, is the prison visiting committee. Traditionally, such committees were unfortunately seen by many as beneficiaries of political patronage and their full value was not obtained.
When we have a discussion on the broad issue of our prisons we should reflect on the role of the prison visiting committees. Perhaps we should also recommend to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I am a member, that each prison visiting committee should attend every year to give a report on its activities and monitoring of the prison in question.
I had intended to raise No. 19, whereby the Seanad is being asked to note a report of the finance committee on the principles of acceptance by public bodies of recommendations of the Ombudsman. I trust the Seanad is noting that report rather than debating it. Keeping in mind this issue of acceptance by public bodies of recommendations by the Ombudsman, will the Leader make efforts to inquire what is happening to the Lost at Sea report? That report was debated in this and the other House, and there was a special report to the Oireachtas committee by the Ombudsman, one of only three such reports made since the foundation of the Office of the Ombudsman in the 1980s. We would be very remiss in our duty if we did not put maximum pressure on all concerned to ensure the Ombudsman's special report is enacted. If we are to treat with respect the Office of the Ombudsman we must take note of that special report. Will the Leader make further inquiries of the relevant Department in this regard? We are duty bound because of what all of us in this House said previously. That we have changed where we sit in the Chamber does not change the issue. We are duty bound to act positively in response to the special report of the Ombudsman.
I support calls made this morning asking for a further analysis of the banking sector in this country. We are in a battle with our banks, unfortunately, and it is a battle we have to win. Very recently, I spoke to a gentleman who had had a meeting about his distressed mortgage. He came out of the meeting feeling shaken, chastened, depressed, disturbed and utterly humiliated. He said he would have been treated better by the worst moneylenders in operation - that was how badly he felt he was treated.
We need a code of ethical conduct to be established as a matter of urgency as to how banks engage with and speak to people who try to get their mortgage situation addressed. This gentleman at least engaged with the bank; many people do not because they are too frightened. This is becoming a national crisis and we need to deal with it in those terms. It is both a crisis and a battle. We, as a State, must win that battle, not the banks. We owe it to our people.
Like other members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I visited St. Patrick's Institution a number of months ago. I commend the report and fully support its proposals. It is absolutely necessary that we have a full judicial inquiry into the appalling circumstances and behaviour mentioned, not only of former staff of St. Patrick's Institution but also of the Department of Justice and Equality which, it would appear, was totally involved in this sad and sorry situation. What went on is appalling and we owe it to the young people who went through that institution to establish some kind of truth commission.
It took a woman, Ms Fiona Muldoon, in the lions' den of the bankers' conference yesterday to spell out to the bankers how incompetent they are in dealing with the crisis in mortgage lending. She also drew an analogy between the treatment by the banks of their customers who are small and medium sized business owners and those who have mortgage difficulties, pointing out that the treatment of both was identical. She noted the Central Bank found there was a lack of experience in Irish banking:
Clearly, we were in uncharted territory and we found that the banks' teams were generally too small and insufficiently resourced with the appropriately experienced people. We pushed on this with all the major institutions: asking for an increased skill set, a bigger shop, a better operational platform and earlier intervention on "pre-arrears". Old-fashioned credit collection techniques were largely absent.
Yesterday, at the same conference, Mr. John Moran, the new supremo in the Department of Finance, was critical of the banks along the same lines. This week is Enterprise Week for small and medium enterprises. Mr. Moran stated that banks have to get their act together because small and medium enterprises are needed in this country to curb the scourge of unemployment. In time, we are going to be looking back at this. The banks failed us, the regulators failed us. The banks are again failing to deal with the issues in the economy. Increasingly, I wonder if we in this country are able to solve our problems in any way. As Ms Muldoon observed, why do we not solve each problem and each mortgage in a business way, one by one, in an American way? The failure of our banks means they are the cause of the economic crisis we are in - there is absolutely no doubt about that. What is the Minister for Finance going to do about this?
Hear, hear. Well done, Mary.
I wish to be associated with the comments on St. Patrick's Institution. It was a very wise move by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to state earlier this year that the institution was no longer a suitable place for 16 year olds and 17 year olds.
I refer in particular to the report in The Irish Times about a Garda sergeant's wife who spoke anonymously and very bravely about the burden on her family arising from a mortgage repayment that has become unsustainable. It is now clear, as I have known for some time, that we need to have these stories told on the record. Middle-income families are now a new poor but they are not on social welfare. We need to find a way to assist these families because there is no doubt that it is on them that the charges such as the property tax, water charges, etc, will fall, as they are owners of homes.
On Thursday we will have a debate with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton and we must work out a way to assist these families.
This all points to the need for this country to grasp every opportunity for growth. Yesterday I attended an EU meeting which, in my view, brought hope. It showed that if this country moves quickly to implement the EU services directive we will increase our growth by 2.4% GDP. Let us do it. In addition to the Minister, Deputy Burton, we must ask the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, to attend to look at our progress in this regard and what it will achieve. It will achieve the easier establishment of business both here and across borders, in other countries, without the need for actual set-up. It will provide for single points of contact, electronically speaking, with e-signatures and e-invoicing.
Let us be fair. If we can do this and increase our growth surely we will reduce the burden on families who are to the pin of their collar trying to put food on the table - they are eating cornflakes. Let us have some joined-up thinking here.
I join others in asking the Leader for a debate on prisons, in light of the report on St. Patrick's Institution and ask, in particular, that it be a debate about young people and about how we treat them and take care of them when they break the law. Do we treat them, as it appears from the statement by the Ombudsman for Children, as people who have broken the law, or as people who need assistance, care and attention to be rehabilitated so that they can come back into the world and make their own way there rather than end up on a pathway to crime? That pathway is often laid out at the beginning and if it is ignored the situation is exacerbated.
I thank the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention for his perseverance in regard to St. Patrick's Institution and for his efforts, especially in going in there at times when he was not expected and in the middle of the night in order to make sure that what he reported would be accurate. He has done a good service.
I have another question for the Leader which also relates to young people and is linked to those children.
We have talked before about bullying, particularly cyberbullying. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Education and Skills asking for education centres to be brought into the loop, with the rest of the school community, in order to deal with the issue. Last weekend I attended an event run by the Sligo Education Centre. It was attended by parents and teachers who were desperate for information on how young people were treated, cyberbullying and how social networks were used in that regard. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue. At 5 p.m. there will be a brief meeting in the AV room to discuss it. As a member of the cross-party committee on mental health, I urge Senators to attend.
Many Senators have spoken about the report compiled by Judge Michael Reilly on St. Patrick's Institution. It is time for us to examine the structure of prisons and what they provide. In 1996 I was involved in a project in Cork where 20 prisoners undertook an education programme. The approach resulted in 12 of them returning to full-time education after they had left prison. There has been no innovative change in how we deal with people who have been involved in crime once they enter prison. We have provided for the same mechanisms that have changed very little in the past 20 years. Now that we have this report it is time to examine what occurred in St. Patrick's Institution and find a way forward. We must adopt a different approach for the next 25 to 30 years. Now is the time to have such a debate.
I support the comments made on St. Patrick's Institution. Wherever young offenders are held - I do not intend to cast aspersions on prison staff in St. Patrick's Institutions - there may have been a lack of training and people may not have known how to deal with young offenders. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk reaction that the young people concerned got what they deserved because they may have inflicted pain on people on the outside. We must bear in mind that, by and large, prisoners are the most damaged in our society. Very often they had no opportunities where they lived and did not receive a proper education. If we inflict inhumane punishment on them, all we are doing is continuing a vicious cycle. When prisoners return to their communities, it will simply be a question of their getting their own back on people all over again. I am glad that the topic of prisons was raised in the Chamber because politicians have shied away from it because there are no votes to be gained. We must adopt a humane approach to the young people concerned. I am glad the report has been published and we should avail of the opportunity to debate it as such a debate would prove helpful.
I wish to raise the issue that I raised last week when the Leader was not here, the standard of responses given by Ministers. I take the opportunity to bring this House into line with the Dáil. When a Senator tables a question to a Minister and he or she is dissatisfied with the answer, we should be able to appeal to the Cathaoirleach and have the question immediately asked again. Such a measure would prove helpful to Senators. The days of Ministers of State coming here to read a script handed to them should end because that was what happened during the term of office of the last Government. Unfortunately, the same is happening during the term of this Government and it should quickly come to an end.
I have raised the following matter on a number of occasions. In the last budget the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, made a bad decision about DEIS schools. He subsequently reversed it, which was the correct move. Because of a legacy issue, a number of schools that have met all of the DEIS programme requirements are still not considered to be in that category. Not alone do they not benefit from DEIS school pupil-teacher ratios and other benefits, but they are also being forced to accept the same reductions as standard schools. It means such schools have been abandoned twice, which is a mistake. I call on the Minister to do what is required when it comes to the arithmetic for the budget. Not many schools are involved, certainly not hundreds. Unless we take steps now, we will have to commence regeneration schemes such as those undertaken in certain areas of Limerick. I hope the Minister will do as I ask.
I echo everything said in the Chamber this morning about St. Patrick's Institution. There is a need for greater urgency because, as has been said, there are still 17 to 21 year olds detained at the institution. Therefore, the problem has not gone away. I ask for an update on the development of a detention school at a site located at Oberstown-Lusk. We need to ensure that when children are transferred, it is to a good location, as we do not repeat past mistakes. I listened to the debate. Several colleagues talked about the culture of those in charge at St. Patrick's Institution and my comments made here last December were brought into sharp focus. I will not break privilege, but I am concerned. Why did we make the appointment to the committee on the prevention of torture? I am greatly concerned about who Ireland appointed to the committee and express my concern again today.
I support Senator Mark Daly's call for a debate on the plight of the survivors of child abuse. I know the details of the case to which he referred. It involves an appalling injustice and is unacceptable. I have met the person mentioned for several years and can vouch for the fact that he is dying. When we bring him to Dublin to meet colleagues, I ask that Senators attend to demonstrate greater compassion.
There are other cases.
The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, asked a question on the devolvement of powers for primary care services to the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White. The Senator will recall that he was appointed by the Cabinet last week. A statutory instrument to delegate certain functions to him has been drafted and the formalities will be completed shortly.
That is good to hear.
I am glad that the Senator is happy with my news.
I am very happy.
We have had three debates on the issue of mortgage arrears with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. We will have another opportunity this afternoon to discuss the matter when we debate Senator Sean D. Barrett's Bill. I agree that we should have a further debate on the issue which I will try to arrange. As many Senators have stated, the leadership structures in the banking sector must be changed. I am not aware if proposals on the issue of mortgage arrears have been submitted to the Central Bank. However, as Senator Paul Coghlan mentioned, workable solutions are required. There is no doubt that the banks need to cop themselves on and change their culture drastically in order to meet the needs of small businesses and individuals in mortgage arrears. The Government will press them on the matter, as we need action sooner rather than later.
The vast majority of Members rightly raised the issue of St. Patrick's Institution. The findings of the report on what happened in the institution are shocking. The Inspector or Prisons, Mr. Justice Reilly, should be complimented on his report, as many Members said. He visited the prisons at night and when he was not expected. He acted above and beyond the call of duty in our interests and those of the public and should be complimented on his efforts. He was critical of some prison staff in terms of their interaction with prisoners. He also identified a culture of bullying that involved a minority of prison officers.
He is also satisfied that a minority of other prison officers engage in bullying and intimidation of other prison officers and staff and refers to the potential to corrupt good prison officers. These are damning findings. I agree that a debate is needed on Judge Reilly's report on St. Patrick's Institution and the wider issue of prisons.
The Minister has acted quickly in this matter and new guidelines have already been introduced. Another matter which cannot be brushed aside is the actions of senior officials in the Department of Justice and Equality and the attitudes they have shown towards the Ombudsman for Children and, as we have heard over the years, many other individuals. This issue will have to be tackled and I am sure it is one on which the Minister will act. I was pleased to note the Ombudsman for Children's comment that the current Minister is the first Minister for Justice to listen to what she had to say about senior officials in the Department.
The report addresses a serious issue and must be acted on. The Government and Minister are treating it very seriously and I assure Senators that we will debate it at the earliest opportunity. Members should be given an opportunity to comment on this serious report, which was raised by the vast majority of speakers.
On the matter raised concerning the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, I will renew inquiries in this regard. Representatives of the Orange Order appeared before us when they were supposed to come. Certain protocols are involved in such matters and the Seanad cannot issue invitations until we know the individuals in question are willing to come before us. I will raise these matters again to reactivate the issue.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources come before the House to discuss energy issues. I will make the necessary arrangements.
Senator Clune asked that local authorities and the Office of Public Works liaise with the insurance industry on flooding and inform it of any improvements in this regard. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, gave an undertaking that this would be done and I do not have any reason to believe otherwise.
Senator Mullins asked that the introduction of drug testing for drivers be expedited by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar. I will inquire from the Minister as to the position in this regard.
Requests were made for a debate on mortgage arrears and banking. We have had three debates on banking issues and, as Senator Walsh noted, we will also have a comprehensive debate on the Personal Insolvency Bill when it comes before the House. The Senator also asked that the Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, come before the House. Senators will have an opportunity to raise issues with the Minister when he comes to the House on Thursday, 8 November, to take part in the pre-budget process.
The issue of local government was raised. As I stated yesterday, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will come before the House. Legislation must be introduced to implement the announcements made yesterday. The Minister indicated he is prepared to come to the Seanad to debate his report. Senator Diarmuid Wilson referred to a democratic deficit. The Manchester metropolitan area, with a population of almost 3 million, has approximately 500 councillors. Under the new system of local government published yesterday, the number of councillors will be reduced from more than 1,600 to 950. For a country of this size, we will have-----
Ireland's system is different from the British system. People here will be under-represented.
That is not the case. The Senator should consider the example I gave.
I am surprised at the Leader.
Senator Bradford referred to the special report of the Ombudsman on the lost at sea scheme. We must ascertain the current position in this regard and I will try to obtain an update for the Senator. The lost at sea report should not be gathering dust on the Minister's desk. The Ombudsman produced a comprehensive report and the actions she proposed should be acted upon.
Senator Healy Eames asked that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, and Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, deal with the issue of the services directive. The Minister will come before the House tomorrow, while the Minister of State will come to the House next week.
I apologise if I have not addressed any specific issues raised by Senators.