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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 5 Feb 2013

Vol. 220 No. 9

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Planning and Development (Planning Enforcement) General Policy Directive 2013, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 4.45 p.m.; and No. 35, motion No. 2 re Order of Business, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes.

I concur with your remarks, a Chathaoirligh, about former Senator Martin McAleese and those of the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I express our disappointment at losing a very good colleague in Martin McAleese whom I first met when he came into the Seanad and who is a man of the highest integrity, a gentleman and a pleasure to work with. I hope the work he did that will come to fruition today in the investigation into the Magdalen laundries and the terrible blot on the State for many years will bring finality and justice to the ladies who were so badly treated by the State and successive Governments.

Martin's track record in terms of his assistance to former President Mary McAleese but also the work he did in building bridges and reaching out, in particular to the Unionist community, particularly the loyalist community which increasingly feels marginalised, even within the North, is fantastic. One of the highlights of my term in the Seanad so far was the day on which the Orange Order representatives came here and the open and frank discussion we had with them. I know that Martin worked closely with both the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House to ensure that happened.

We in Fianna Fáil wish Martin the very best, but I am sure it is not the last we will see of him, as I am aware he does fantastic work in Dublin City University, as well as in his role as chancellor. Earlier today I could hear a stampede from afar of failed Fine Gael election candidates and councillors looking to lobby the Taoiseach to fill the vacancy, but that is for another day.

Does the Senator know anyone himself?

Bipartisan policy.

I wish Martin all the best.

I want to raise two items with the Leader. Last week I stated I understood, not through any announcement by the Minister for Social Protection but from a local school in Swords, that the exceptional needs payment to cover religious events was to cease in 2013. The Minister and the Department of Social Protection did not see fit to issue any advice on the matter. The Department had contacted the schools in my area to inform them that in respect of any parent who previously had received a payment up to a maximum of €242, which figure was cut to €110 last year, the payment was to cease in full. That is a fact. I have received a response to a letter I have written to the Minister which states the Department has confirmed that the exceptional needs payment will no longer cover religious events because they do not qualify as unforeseen or exceptional circumstances. Religious events such as first holy communion and confirmation, to give the two examples, do not qualify as being exceptional.

All of us are aware of the secular agenda within the Labour Party. I respect those of all religious faiths and none and ask the Minister for Social Protection and her Labour Party colleagues to respect the fact that First Holy Communion and Confirmation are important exceptional events for those within the Catholic community. There are no payments for these events. I agree that schools should do their level best to reduce costs and that there are pressures on parents and children at these times, but I will always remember my First Holy Communion and Confirmation and cannot understand the reason the payments are to cease.

I would like the matter discussed. I wonder why the Minister for Social Protection did not see fit that this should be done. That is disgraceful because what is happening is that families who cannot afford these payments on two very special days for their children will not receive any payment.

I thank the Chair for his indulgence. I draw to the attention of the House a matter which will be debated during our Private Members motion tomorrow, namely, policing and justice. I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, the minutes of the Dublin Central area joint policing committee meeting of 10 December 2012 which note for the north inner city area of Dublin, that a directive has been issued to the Courts Service to reduce the number of custodial sentences being given for burglary crimes. It was agreed that a letter be issued to the Minister expressing the committee's objection to the directive. All of us, leaving party politics aside, would be absolutely disgusted and shocked if we found out, as per these minutes of a joint policing committee meeting in the north inner city, that a directive had gone from the Department of Justice and Equality to the Courts Service stating it should effectively reduce the number of custodial sentences being given for burglary crimes. That is not on. I want to get to the bottom of this issue and I will do so, if the Minister comes to the House tomorrow.

Does the Leader have any information on whether the Minister will take the Private Members motion tomorrow? If so, I will put the issue to him directly. If this is true, I ask the Leader to investigate the issue and I have written to the Minister today. This is a departure about which I am absolutely shocked. What is being implied is that burglary is not a serious crime. What the Department has indicated in its directive to the Courts Service is that it should go easy on burglaries and ensure there are reduced custodial sentences. I do not think any of us would be happy with that. Certainly the people of the north inner city would not be happy with the directive. I wonder whether any other area joint policing committee has received the same directive? I ask the Leader, through his good offices, to make inquiries. If this directive has been issued, it should be withdrawn immediately.

Like previous speakers, on behalf of the Labour Party group, I wish former Senator Martin McAleese all the best in his future career. I have never had many dealings with him, but he struck me as being an intelligent and dignified man who brought an enormous presence to any project in which he has taken part. I wish we had seen more of him in the House. I have every confidence the Taoiseach will appoint a person of equal ability to fill his place. Aside from his work in bringing the Orange Order before the House, it is well to acknowledge that he participated in a number of debates. Had he spent more time in the Chamber he might have caused even greater debate in the future. I am sorry we will not have his contribution as an individual.

I draw to the attention of the House that as and from 1 February, last Friday, the traditional bedsit is no longer permitted under Irish law. This follows on from regulations introduced in 2009. Fortunately, many landlords have taken the necessary steps to upgrade their accommodation. Many people have warm and fuzzy feelings about their time in college and their early years of employment and look back with some fondness on the traditional bedsit. From my personal experience I have seen a period house divided into 17 units with three bathrooms shared by the occupants of those 17 units. One elderly lady shared a bathroom with numerous men and was afraid to leave her room after 6 p.m. to go to the toilet and had to avail of a potty under the bed. That is the reality of life for some people in Ireland in 2013. It falls on local authorities to ensure that scandal is a thing of the past.

Today marks the publication of the interdepartmental report under the chairmanship of Martin McAleese on the State's involvement in the Magdalen laundries.

The issue has been in the public domain for some time. We are all keen in this House to ensure justice for the survivors of the laundries. The lives these women were forced to endure during their time in them was nothing short of slavery and it is even more shocking to think that the last Magdalen laundry closed only in 1996. While we await the launch of the report later, some facts are known. These laundries were not in the middle of nowhere similar to other institutions where children were held. They were in the middle of the largest towns and cities in the country, including Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dublin. There is evidence that what went on in the laundries was an open secret. Women and girls were sentenced by the courts to serve time in the laundries with no release date and escapees were returned by the Garda. Some women were held prisoner in the laundries for their entire lives. To cap the indignity of having their names removed from them, they were buried in unmarked graves. I do not believe that the State can walk away from its responsibility or that we can ever rest while the torture endured by the Magdalen women goes unacknowledged. As one representative of the survivors put it, "A lot of people knew but didn't want to get involved." Nothing short of a full apology by the people and appropriate compensation will be enough. I hope we will have a full debate on the report following its publication.

I join in the tributes to former Senator Martin McAleese and, on behalf of my group, wish him a fond farewell and thank him for his contributions. I wish him every success with his future endeavours. I also thank his assistant, Ms Catherine Butler.

We all await the interdepartmental committee report on the investigation into the State's involvement in the Magdalen laundries, on which Mr. McAleese worked. Everyone is thinking of the women today. It is part of our shameful past. Some of the survivors had, and have, intellectual disabilities and mental health difficulties, while others have disabilities as a result of their incarceration and some continue to live in institutions. When I realised they were still not being properly looked after, I wondered how much of this was about our shameful past and how much was about today. The measure of our society will be how we deal with the report. Will they get the apology and the compensation they rightfully deserve? The people will look at this carefully and each of us, individually and collectively, has a role in ensuring the voices of the survivors are heard. I trust that when the report is published at 4 p.m., we will give a voice to their suffering and will ensure justice is done, as opposed to being talked about.

I acknowledge the work of Older and Bolder which has announced that it will close on 30 June 2013. I am saddened that a strong advocacy voice such as this will cease due to a lack of funding. The organisation was funded by Atlantic Philanthropies but will no longer be able to continue after 30 June. It played a strong role in our work on the rights of older people and it provided a strong co-ordinated voice during the recent budget discussions. There are seven excellent older people's organisations under the Older and Bolder umbrella and a strong co-ordinated voice helps us as Senators in our work in advocating for change. I thank Ms Patricia Conboy and her team.

We are all aware of the extraordinary role, although sometimes played in a quiet way, of former Senator Martin McAleese and his wife, the former President, Mary McAleese. The greatest tribute we can pay him is a practical one, which is to discuss as soon as is practicable the report on the Magdalen laundries which coincidentally is being released to the survivor groups, taking into account the fact that it is important that we read the report carefully and deal with it appropriately. However, a few comments can be made in advance of the report's publication. First, the issue has been dealt with in dribs and drabs. We had to force the situation open. I pay great tribute to Professor Jim Smith, an academic in Boston, who was instrumental in this.

Initially, the Government was not keen on taking on this issue and it still has not taken on Stanhope Street, nor Bethany Home, a Protestant institution. Why are we dealing with this issue in dribs and drabs? Why can we not come clean once and for all? Why can we not clean out this Augean stable and admit that this country was shamed by being brought before the United Nations Committee against Torture? Why can we not admit that what we had in this country was slave labour? The people concerned were forced to work. If they managed to escape, the instruments of the State, the courts and the police, brought them back. This was illegal as many of them had committed no crime at all. Some of them were just social casualties and some had been pregnant outside of marriage, which is not and should not be a crime. Many of them were not even in that category. However, they were all lumped together. No social welfare was paid for them, a criminal offence. The nuns acted illegally in not paying social welfare. The women received no remuneration and at the end of the month got a voucher that could get them a bar of soap. I find this absolutely shocking. These women are owed an apology and owed multiples of the wages they earned. I knew nothing about it at all. People say we are guilty, but I did not know it was going on. I never had as much as a handkerchief washed by them. I knew it had happened historically, but I did not realise it was going on until comparatively recently.

The second issue I wish to raise is also a matter of reproach to the political system, namely, the use of ministerial powers to advance hospital building programmes selectively in order to favour political cronies. This has been going on and what concerns me is the kind of response we got on Raidió Teilifís Éireann at the weekend when a commentator said that was why we had elected them, that was what we were paying them for and the people of Wexford and Kilkenny would be delighted. I have no doubt they will; that is very human. However, we are not charged with dealing preferentially with our political allies. There should be criteria. The people who need these services the most should get them. I am aware, for example, that Members on the Government side in the Lower House are being given selective advance information about such developments. This is wrong and corrupt. We have a Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I would like to ask him where is the reform in this. They should all bear in mind that when it involves public expenditure, it is not their money. It is the money of taxpayers and we are entitled to call them to account for it.

I thought it an extraordinarily brazen performance on the part of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, when he said he would make no apology for such lobbying and would continue to do it. He introduced the name of the late Susie Long, a woman who had died because of poverty and because the medical services did not reach out to her.

The Senator is way over time.

I will end on that point. I would like to ask whether the family of Susie Long was consulted about her being dragged into this and used as a cover for political opportunism. I feel shamed by what has been happening and know decent Fine Gael colleagues will feel the same. I spoke in this way when there was another Government and will not cease now because the Government is made up of people I regard as my friends.

I join in paying tribute to former Senator Martin McAleese, not just for the contribution he made in this House but also for the contribution he made long before he came here. The first time I met him was when I was Lord Mayor of Cork. I met him a number of times during that year and he was always very much aware of the organisations and groups he and the President were visiting on the particular days they were in Cork. He had significant knowledge of what was involved and the contributions people were making at local community level. He was also very much involved in dealing with people in Northern Ireland and made a significant contribution there.

I would like to raise the issue of the ruling by the data protection agency requiring the cards containing the results of blood tests on newborn children to be destroyed. All of these cards, known as Guthrie cards, are stored at Temple Street hospital, but now all of them, from 1984 to 2002, are to be destroyed.

Many medical people, including Senator John Crown, have objected strongly to this decision on the basis that these essential records could be used for research in the future. I ask that this wrong decision be rescinded and that these records be retained for future research. While the ruling of the Data Protection Commissioner may have some substance, I do not think all of the issues were considered in this case. I ask that the matter be taken up with the Minister for Health and the various Departments involved and that the decision be reversed.

I ask the Leader for an urgent debate on the impending beef crisis that is unfolding. I am concerned that the "horse burger" phenomenon, as it is known worldwide, has become very serious and critical. The Minister said on "Prime Time" last night that he was not surprised by the most recent revelations that seem to be coming on a weekly basis. However, I was particularly surprised and the farming community was extremely concerned. All of the farming organisations are concerned about the future of the beef industry, which is a valuable component of our multi-billion euro agrifood industry. This issue needs to be discussed in this House as a matter of urgency.

I would like the Leader to find out why the initial information made available to the Minister last November was not acted on more swiftly. Why was the Garda Síochána not called in? Why was the Food Safety Authority of Ireland not more efficient in dealing with this matter? It is essential that we have a debate on it. I would have proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, but I know the Minister is away. I am not saying this to convey a threat to the Minister or anything like that. I am expressing deep concern on behalf of the farming community about where we are going. It is now a worldwide phenomenon. Originally, it was a joke that a bit of horsemeat was found in some burgers that were manufactured in this country. It is no longer a joke. I emphasise that it is doing severe damage to our substantial beef exports. As we all declare in here from time to time, the agrifood industry is the backbone of the recovery of the economy. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be more proactive. If Senators will excuse the pun, we are now trying to chase the horse when the stable door has bolted.

Will the Leader see if it is possible for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come before the House at the earliest opportunity? We need to debate the issue of wind energy before any legislation on the matter is considered. When the Minister addressed the European Wind Energy Association conference in Vienna yesterday as part of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, he set out the opportunities in the sector from 2020 to 2050. On a number of occasions, Senator John Kelly and other colleagues have raised the mounting concerns across the country - not least in the midlands - about some of the proposals that are being made. I support wind energy and renewables. It is important that we put viable and sustainable alternatives in place. It seems bizarre and inconsistent that the construction of over 2,500 turbines, each of which would be more than185 m tall, or larger than the Spire, has been proposed as part of developments in small pockets of the midlands. All sorts of telephone numbers are being bandied around in terms of the kind of job creation there will be. It has been claimed that two or three projects will create over 70,000 jobs. Not for the world of me can I see how that is possible, even though it would be great to think that it would be so.

I commend the balanced and sustainable approach being taken by companies like Bord na Móna on cutaway bogs in places like Mount Lucas. It is important that we do not end up with another building boom, which could turn into a sort of "Con Air". Rather than having ghost estates, maybe we will have ghost wind farms dotted across the country. Perhaps nobody will be in a position to do anything about these rusting blights on the landscape. That would do huge damage to our visual, tourism and natural amenities.

I ask the Leader to arrange to have the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, before the House to discuss this matter. We need to calm down the situation. We must ensure that any wind farm developments which are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer are subsidised on a value basis, that cost-benefit analysis is undertaken and that the question of sustainability is at the core of any plans or projects we put in place.

I welcome and acknowledge the journalist, human rights activist and campaigner, Orla Tinsley, who is in the Visitors Gallery today. I invited Orla to the House because I wanted to acknowledge her extraordinary leadership, as a young woman, in her presence. We are all aware of the tireless, dignified and effective campaigning she has done on her own behalf and that of all those with cystic fibrosis in Ireland. Most recently, her work and that of others has resulted in the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly's very welcome announcement that the Kalydeco drug will be made available to the 120 cystic fibrosis patients who can reap the extraordinary benefits of this medicine. As Mr. Tony O'Brien, director general designate of the HSE has said, the discussions surrounding the availability of this drug have raised "profound ethical and financial issues" for the State. To be sure, there are ethical issues involved. I might add that it is very welcome that policymakers and politicians acknowledge this. In fact, it is also true that all priorities related to financial issues have ethical implications for the way we recover as a society and as an economy, particularly in order that the foundations of our transformed republic might reflect that reality. Otherwise, we would be simply involved in rebuilding a political and economic model that mirrors the one that brought us to the implosion of our financial security, with the consequent risk to the well-being of most of the people.

Like most Irish people, I wondered if Orla herself would benefit from the accessibility of this drug which was assessed by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics in January 2013 and found to have significant benefits for those who take it. It will improve their quality of life and, given the significant improvements in lung function, it can be realistically hoped that many will be taken off the lung transplant list and be able to get back to work. I found out by tweet that, in fact, Orla was not one of those 120 with the mutation of the disease that would allow her to benefit from this treatment-----

Time, Senator.

I have a question for the Leader.

The Senator is over time.

Yet, Orla presents such an extraordinarily beautiful face of hope for those who can benefit and puts out the message that other drugs will be developed, I hope, for those who suffer with the disease. She is a hero and a leader to whom we, as lawmakers, must continue to listen.

In the light of the developments within the health sector, I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, to discuss future procedures for prioritising the access to new drug treatments.

I wish to be associated with the deserved warm tributes to former Senator Martin McAleese. He is an extremely courteous and kind man, quiet, effective and easy to deal with. I salute the work he did in regard to the Magdalen laundries, which often took him away from the House and involved a lot of research and analysis. I look forward to the publication of the report and, with the Leader's help, its debate in the House. As was pointed out, his greatest achievement during his time here was his work behind the scenes with people in the North and, in particular, bringing the Orange Order south for that day in the House was tremendous. It reflected well on the Seanad, but, apart from that, it was an important day in the continuing peace process and the building involved in that regard. On a lighter note, for me, as Government Whip, he never caused any difficulty in the slightest. I know he voted against us twice, but we understood that. I salute the work he did and wish him well.

I thank and compliment sincerely the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, for his instruction and decision that the spectacular ancestral home of the Liberator, Daniel O'Connell, will remain open throughout the season which, down there, has traditionally been from Easter to September.

The major upgrade and construction works and the €2 million being provided for it by Fáilte Ireland are very important and long overdue. I will not criticise anyone opposite. The work will not happen during the season because people travel long distances to come and see the place. It is fair to say that Derrynane House and gardens is one of the great tourism gems. I would go as far as to say it is on a par with Muckross House and gardens in our major national park in Killarney. I thank the Minister of State for ensuring this spectacular attraction will remain open, with all of the local employment it provides. We should also remember that a major event for The Gathering is planned for that house in September. I say "Well done" and wish the work well in the winter time.

I echo the general sentiments towards former Senator Martin McAleese expressed by the Cathaoirleach and the Leader. He was a remarkable man and the day he brought the Orange Order here as our guests was a remarkable one.

Yesterday there were leaks in the newspapers about the new format teacher training might take. It was obsessed with structures and bureaucracies and said very little about qualifications and learning. It is absolutely vital for the children of Ireland that we lose the emphasis on structures and bureaucracies. We could take as a model Finland, where a teacher should have a master's degree in a subject in order to teach it. It is also important that teacher training take place fully in the university, that any implication that teacher training is a lower academic activity than those in other parts of academe be rejected and that teacher training be integrated, because higher education's most important function is producing teachers for the next generation. I know the Minister is strongly of that view, but it appears from what was in the newspapers yesterday that bureaucracy and those obsessed with drawing lines on maps and structures were dominating the debate. It is too important for that.

I add my voice to the tributes being paid to former Senator Martin McAleese and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

I also wish to raise the issue raised recently by Senator Denis O'Donovan, namely, the fact that another factory has been identified as a source of products containing equine DNA. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must act quickly on this matter. I know he has referred it to the special investigation unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and asked the Garda to join that investigation, but that is not enough to safeguard our beef industry. The industry is worth over €2.7 billion and we cannot have any negative publicity abroad that will affect our exports. I appreciate that horsemeat will not kill, but if one buys a product that says "beef", the very least one can expect it to be is beef, without any other ingredients in it. It has been determined that the ingredients came from another EU country which I expect should come under the same regulations as this country and be subject to the same checks to which Ireland is subject. We must restore and maintain consumer confidence in our beef industry and exports. That is why I am asking the Minister to act swiftly on this and not let it go on any longer. He must put this issue to bed and restore our good name abroad. If the Minister has time, perhaps he might come to the House in order that we can have a debate on the matter and find out how it could have happened again. Did we not learn anything from the beef tribunal? It is time to put this issue to bed.

I join previous Senators and the Leader in paying tribute to former Senator Martin McAleese and wishing him the very best of luck in whatever he chooses to do from now on. In respect of the report on the Magdalen laundries which is being published, we all need time to digest the report and look at the recommendations that will undoubtedly be in it. I very much hope these recommendations are centred on the survivors and their needs and that they get the compensation they need and the recognition they deserve from the State that wrongs were carried out.

I sincerely hope this will be the substance of the report which is being launched. I also hope that in the coming days and weeks the Leader will provide the necessary time to allow Senators to engage in a full and informed debate on the report and its recommendations. We should reserve judgment on this matter until we have an opportunity to read the report.

I refer to the serious issue which has arisen in the food sector. As the Leader who lives in the south east will know, many people are employed in this sector which is of huge significance to the national economy. It is also of major significance to the regional economy of the south east. There is absolutely no doubt that the actions of a small number of rogue processors has undermined confidence in what is the food sector's very valuable and important brand of quality. It is absolutely disgraceful that certain companies have taken particular actions in order to cut costs and have thereby caused untold damage to the food sector. I join the IFA, farmers and all other interested parties in seeking answers in respect of this serious issue. The companies to which I refer were using cheap ingredients from outside Ireland as fillers in burgers in an attempt to cut costs. They did not care about the potential damage they could do to the food sector. I ask the Leader to make time available for a debate on this matter in the House in order that we might discuss the issues to which I refer and the need for tighter regulation and an increased number of inspections in this area. We could also discuss traceability and labelling, action in respect of which many parties and individuals have been seeking for many years. In view of what has happened, it is important that we engage in a debate of this nature in the House as quickly as possible.

I also pay tribute to former Senator Martin McAleese, whose office is across the corridor from mine. During the past two years I have found him to be a generous and genuine individual. It was a pleasure to work with him. The best way in which we might remember Martin McAleese in this House would be by implementing, in full, the recommendations his committee will undoubtedly make. Doing so would allow us to address the serious wrong that was done over many years to the unfortunate citizens of Ireland to which his report relates. We are, as a society, facing a moment of truth with regard to how the "hear no evil, see no evil" syndrome which has bedevilled this country for many decades might finally be unravelled. The best thing society and this House can do is to ensure that the recommendations contained in the former Senator's report are implemented in full. Furthermore, a debate on this matter should take place in the House. I suggest that, perhaps next week or the week after, time be set aside for the House to engage in a consideration of the report and its recommendations. The best way we can pay tribute to Martin McAleese is to have an in-depth discussion on this issue and, as stated, for the Government to implement the recommendations which will undoubtedly be contained in his report.

I wish to be associated with the comments made by Senator Martin Conway. I wish former Senator Martin McAleese well.

I wish to comment in the context of Senator Katherine Zappone's comments regarding Ms Orla Tinsley and the new drug that has been made available for sufferers of cystic fibrosis. I would welcome a debate in respect of the processes which are used to select the patients to whom certain drugs are made available. The Access to Cancer Treatment Bill was an effort on the part of Senator John Crown and I to put in place a clear process in this regard, to ensure that, when approved by the European Medicines Agency, all drugs would be made available to all patients and that it would be a matter for the State to opt out of providing a particular drug rather than merely opting in. It was unfortunate that, during a most unruly debate on the Bill in question, Senator John Crown and I were condemned for what we were trying to achieve. As stated, I would welcome a debate on the matter to which I refer.

The main issue to which I wish to refer is the crisis within the beef industry. In the primary part of my career, I worked in the industry for many years and I was involved - at the height of two BSE crises - in exporting 35,000 cattle per year to 46 countries across the globe. In that context, I express some confidence in the industry in this country, particularly in the post-beef tribunal era. It is appropriate that the Garda has been called in, particularly if any criminality is henceforth identified. I have not yet heard anyone highlight how certain things happen within the beef industry.

If beef is bought from another country, it enters Ireland under the veterinary seal under EU regulations. Containers are met and opened at a plant in Ireland by somebody with a veterinary seal. No other country in Europe has the same level of oversight and enforcement in the beef industry as Ireland. There is no processing of beefburgers, primal cuts or other products out of sight of agricultural offices. None is packed, labelled or put into a container unless it is under a veterinary seal. Therefore, what we have is systemic failure. The Leader should ask the Minister today, irrespective of whether he is out of the country, what the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development is doing about this matter. Are officers of Europol attending plants throughout Poland to investigate the veterinary controls in place therein?

I know from experience that post the beef tribunal Ireland has a greater level of oversight, regulation and enforcement than any other EU country. I am not saying Rangeland Foods and Silvercrest Foods do not have questions to answer but that I would be very careful about putting the entire blame on any Irish processor or producer. Has the Minister raised this issue with his European colleagues? What is being done in Poland and the other countries involved? We have heard that Spanish, Danish and Polish sources are implicated. What enforcement is there in these countries? Have the relevant Ministers asked the police to enter the various plants? This must happen because there is a European systemic failure, not one that is specific to Rangeland Foods or Silvercrest Foods.

With a number of my colleagues, I want to address the very serious issue of the horsemeat scandal that has gripped the country in recent weeks. Undoubtedly, it has done untold damage to the beef industry. As a consequence of what has happened, the industry is now, clearly, on its knees and at crisis point, with farmers being pushed to breaking point and a considerable number of employees, both direct and indirect, affected by what is unfolding. What perturbs me most is that this debacle demonstrates the fundamental unfairness in the application of the law in this country. Farmers are subjected to untold scrutiny and face sanctions with regard to the single payment if they breach any law, yet one meat processing plant and probably many more are clearly not subjected to the same checks and balances, despite the fact that a product unsuitable for human consumption was allowed to end up in the food chain.

It is clear that we need to avoid the kind of mantra that stipulates that if no risk is proved, there is no risk. We need to ensure rigorous testing takes place in each plant. Some commentators have tried to turn the issue into a discussion about why eating horsemeat is not a tradition in Ireland, but that misses the point. It is not a question of taste but of misleading the public. If the label states "beefburger", the product should be beef, not 29% horsemeat, as was the case in the case of Tesco beefburgers. Since the horsemeat was not intended for the food chain in the first instance, we have no idea what was contained in it or if it was safe at all. On that basis, we need to see prosecutions taken against those who knowingly and wilfully ignored food health and safety legislation. Given the untold damage done to the industry, those with meat processing plants who also have farms should have the single farm payment stopped by the Department.

What ultimately happened was tantamount to plain greed. There has been intentional deception for gain. Someone, somewhere, in this scandal is guilty of this. It is clear that the effort to provide food on the cheap by unscrupulous processors has backfired spectacularly. What has happened has destroyed the beef industry and it is clear that our reputation is in tatters. We have tried painstakingly to build a reputation during the years. It is necessary for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to debate the matter fully in this House in order that we can all air our opinions.

I welcome the news from the Minister of State responsible for the OPW, Deputy Brian Hayes, that Derrynane House will remain open this season. The Minister of State is a great believer in and follower of Daniel O'Connell, "the Liberator", the man who was accredited by none other than William Wilburforce as being instrumental in Catholic emancipation and the abolition of slavery.

I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the forthcoming property tax. Although the Minister for Finance was present in the House to deal with the relevant legislation, the debate was guillotined and we did not get to consider all sections of the legislation.

From what we hear and read in the newspapers, what is becoming apparent is that the shambles which will be the valuations done by the Revenue Commissioners will fall firmly on the heads of the 1.6 million people who will receive these letters in March. We were told that those who received a valuation from the Revenue Commissioners but who knew their property was worth less than the valuation could go back to the Revenue Commissioners and give a valuation. We now read that if the Revenue Commissioners send a letter giving a certain valuation and if the person pays the amount due on that valuation, the Revenue Commissioners reserve the right to go back to the person and say the house has been undervalued. Penalties and fines will be imposed on that person, even though the Revenue Commissioners will have done the valuation.

No one will make a mistake with valuation. One should know the valuation.

Senator Mark Daly to continue, without interruption. Does he have a question for the Leader?

Senator Mark Daly likes to mix things up.

Please, Senator. Does Senator Mark Daly have a question for the Leader?

If my learned colleague from County Kerry is making accusations, I look forward to the debate on valuations. When the letters arrive on his doorstep and the doorsteps of other people in County Kerry, I am sure the errors of the Revenue Commissioners will become apparent in regard to their valuations of people's houses.


Does Senator Mark Daly have a question for the Leader. He is over time.

The way the Government is going about this process is a shambles. This is the wrong plan at the wrong time.

The Senator would wish it to be so.

Please, Senator.

My colleague from County Kerry makes numerous interruptions on the Order of Business in regard to-----

The Senator is over time.

He likes to be provocative.

Senator Paul Coghlan likes to be provoked.

Quite a number of Senators have indicated they would like to speak, but they will not all be able to do so if the Senators continue on like this. Does Senator Mark Daly have a question for the Leader?

Will the Leader organise a debate on the property tax and the shambles which is this valuation process that the Revenue Commissioners are engaging in on behalf of, and on the instructions of, the Government?

Like other speakers, I express serious concern about and outrage at the most recent discovery regarding horsemeat. The farming community and the farming organisations are flabbergasted that this meat is in the country because we have so many exemplary producers. There does not seem to be any logical reason other than pure greed for these burger makers, etc., attempting to use this type of meat. It does not make any sense for them to bring in these trimmings and various meat products from other countries.

Of those who spoke, I liked Senator Marc MacSharry's line of thought on this in that we need to take an EU-wide approach to this. As he said, we have exemplary producers in this country and it does not make any sense for products to be coming in from abroad. It does not make sense for us to say we need to look at our regulations. We need to look at EU regulations. The very fact that this produce was found proves the point that our regulations are second to none and that the EU regulations are being implemented in this country. As the Senator said, this was not found to be happening in Poland. We need to have better labelling and traceability and to take an EU-wide approach to this issue. I would appreciate it if the Leader could convey our thoughts to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in order that we might have a debate on the issue as soon as possible.

I support the call by my colleague, Senator John Whelan, for a debate on wind energy and its future. In the past I have said that these wind energy developers can advertise 66,000 jobs to build 1,500 wind turbines while another wind energy operator will employ 10,000 to build half that amount. The figures do not add up and it is time we knew where we were going before we do untold damage to our environment. Like my colleagues, I am all for wind energy production, but the wind turbines must be set back far away from people's homes in order that life is bearable.

At no stage throughout the debate on wind energy did we discuss the dangers. Last week in the United Kingdom a 30 m turbine fell in 50 mph winds when it was supposed to withstand winds of up to 130 mph. Wind turbines here are going to be 185 m tall, the same height as the Spire in Dublin. What if a wind turbine crashes? Have plans been put in place to protect people from the dangers posed by wind turbines?

The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has announced a wind energy guidelines focussed review. People have until 15 February to engage in the process and express all of the problems that they see associated with living too close to wind turbines. We must not end up being the dumping ground for the United Kingdom because its wind energy policy has led to an increase in the demand for electricity there. The United Kingdom wants Ireland to provide it with electricity, but the process will destroy our landscape.

Like other Senators, I pay tribute to former Senator Martin McAleese. I compliment him on his work on the Magdalen laundries. When the media in County Roscommon refer to Oireachtas Members for the county, they always refer to three Deputies, Senator Terry Leyden and me. They always forget that Martin McAleese also lives in the county.

I join in the words of thanks and congratulations for former Senator Martin McAleese. We can say with certainty that he has done the State some service. This afternoon a significant report which uncovered our murky past will be unveiled. It is incumbent on us, as Oireachtas Members, to ensure its recommendations are implemented in full and that the people who were treated badly through the decades receive the recognition and recompense that they deserve.

I call on the Leader to organise a debate on Irish Aid in the near future. I do so against the backdrop of a report that Ireland is considering the resumption of aid to Uganda. We will all be aware of the recent controversy where €4 million of Irish money was misappropriated, but thankfully it has been returned. There was a second incident where €110,000 was misappropriated by the Uganda AIDS Commission or there were anomalies with it. I do not advocate depriving the most marginalised people in the world of assistance, but we need total openness and transparency when it comes to aid. Irish people want to be sure the moneys expended on their behalf are properly accounted for. Therefore, the Seanad must debate the issue and ensure that there is no repeat of the recent Uganda debacle and that we have total confidence that our money is being spent wisely.

I express my thanks and appreciation to former Senator Martin McAleese who was a valued colleague. I was fortunate to serve with him on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. He worked tirelessly to build bridges between the North and South on many levels. He will be remembered for the memorable visit by the Orange Order to the Seanad last year. He will also be remembered for his outstanding work in chairing the interdepartmental committee that will publish a report on the Magdalen laundries this afternoon. We all know that the treatment meted out to the women concerned was barbaric and unforgivable. They deserve nothing short of a full apology and compensation for their distress and the appalling treatment that they endured. We have all read in recent days and all know that they were not guilty of any crime and many of them were held against their will.

Recently we heard about the conditions under which they were held. I heard a poignant story at the weekend about one of the ladies who was impregnated while in the laundry. Her daughter has spoken movingly in recent days about the experience. I sincerely hope the injustice meted out to the women concerned will be rightfully acknowledged this afternoon.

Another group of women who are tirelessly waiting for justice are the survivors of symphysiotomy. The Walsh report was due to be published months ago, yet the women concerned are still waiting on that report. In cases like this, as in the case of the Magdalens, it is a double insult. We know the injustice that was done and the wrongdoing that occurred and it is a double insult when we do not do something about it. I call on the Minister for Health to publish that report without fail or to give us a definite date for its publication.

I add my voice to the congratulations to former Senator Martin McAleese on his fine work on the report on the Magdalen laundries. In a short year here he leaves behind a fine legacy. I look forward to reading the report and debating it in the House and seeing its recommendations implemented.

Orla Tinsley has left the Visitors Gallery but that fine young woman has done Trojan work on behalf of cystic fibrosis sufferers. I am delighted that the drug Kalydeco has been recognised and made available to the patients. Senator Marc MacSharry said these drugs should be made available and asked how they were made available, but this particular drug will be made available to all the cystic fibrosis patients with the G551D mutation, which is the controlling criteria for the drug. Mention was made of Senators making representations. I made representation to the Minister on this drug and I am delighted it is being made available. Another new drug is coming on-stream also, but I hope that this new drug will be made available to Orla who has that gene mutation and all cystic fibrosis sufferers.

The issue of wind energy was raised. I again bring to the attention of all Members that the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins, and I are organising a European-wide debate on sustainable energy and wind energy in Dublin Castle on 21 and 22 June. It will be attended by politicians from across Europe as well as our own politicians. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, is the main speaker, but there will be speakers from across Europe also. This entire issue will be discussed by people from academia, politicians and industry. This is the time and the place and Members should put their names down to ensure they can attend. It is part of the EU Presidency and has now been recognised as an associate event of the EU Presidency. It was instigated by this Seanad and will do a service to Ireland in terms of renewable and sustainable energy and the input to that conference from every Member will be most important.

With my colleagues, I acknowledge the significant contribution former Senator Martin McAleese has made to the peace process in Northern Ireland. His was one of the most significant contributions which was made quietly in his own way and from the heart. I congratulate him on the report on the Magdalen laundries which all of us will have the opportunity to read in the near future.

I refer to the recent decision by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to allow insurance companies have access to the national vehicle file where details of drivers who have incurred penalties can be obtained. It is the first time that has happened and it will give insurance companies access to details of individual drivers applying for renewal policies or looking to change insurance companies.

I am concerned for the impeccable driver who may have a track record for the past 30 or 40 years of no accidents and a 60% no claims bonus who suddenly obtains two penalty points for exceeding the speed limit by 5 km in a 50 km/h zone and the implications for renewing his or her policy. I ask the Leader to arrange for an urgent debate on the issue in the near future.

I too pay tribute to former Senator Martin McAleese. I got to know him long before we were nominated to the Seanad by the Taoiseach. We spent many an hour running around the Phoenix Park when he lived in Áras an Uachtaráin. I found him to be an honourable and decent gentleman who had time, respect and compassion for everybody who came to be in his company. He may have been a man of few words, but when he spoke we all listened to him very carefully. We listened to his analysis and to his wisdom. More important, the trust he was able to build up with the people was proved through the peace process and the building of bridges in Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that he will have left no stone unturned when we read the report on the Magdalen laundries.

Last week I spent an evening in New York at a fundraising event for Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin where a considerable amount was raised. Those in attendance at the dinner asked ask why I would come to America and New York to raise funds for the hospital. The answer is that €8 million is needed to fix the new cardiac wards at the hospital. Some €5 million is needed annually to continue the children's medical research that is world renowned. It was sickening on returning home to find out yesterday that between Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and Temple Street Children's Hospital approximately €5 million has been cut from their budgets this year. Some 180,000 children annually go through the hospital in Crumlin suffering from cancer, leukaemia, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and so on. We have been speaking about the new national paediatric hospital for the past eight years and it will probably be another eight years before it is built. We do not even have planning permission for the new paediatric hospital which has now been assigned to the James's Street site. I call on the Leader, on behalf of the children and their parents who are wondering why in God's name the Department is cutting €5 million from its budget, for an explanation of and the justification for these cuts.

It is 1,000 days tomorrow since the Construction Contracts Bill was passed by the House. I cannot understand how it takes so long to get things done. We have been told it is to go to the Cabinet shortly. We have been told it is ready to go before the other House again, but it is so frustrating. A Bill that was introduced in the House to do with presumed consent for organ donation was adjourned while consultation was to take place and nothing has happened since. What has happened today? It has been announced that Northern Ireland is to introduce presumed consent; in other words, it is presumed one has given consent unless one has actually denied it. One can opt out. The Bill was debated here and the debate was adjourned for further consultation and nothing has happened. It really is frustrating for somebody who comes from outside into politics and to see how long it takes to get things done in the State.

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the question of exceptional needs payments. I am surprised such payments have been withdrawn for First Holy Communion, Confirmation and other religious ceremonies. It is a matter I will raise with the Minister.

In regard to the directive from the Department of Justice and Equality to the Courts Service on burglaries, I will certainly raise the matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

I would find it difficult that the Department would interfere in any way with the Courts Service, but I will raise the matter with the Minister.

Senator Aideen Hayden mentioned the plight of people in rented accommodation. We will have statements on the private rented sector in the House tomorrow. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will be present and the Senator can raise the issue then.

The Senator, with many others, raised the issue of the Magdalen laundries. The report is 900 pages long and will need to be digested by all Members. We should let a short time elapse before we have an informed debate, but I assure the House that I will arrange a debate on the report in early course. Senator Jillian van Turnhout referred to the need for justice to be seen to be done and we will debate the matter soon. I note her comments on Older and Bolder which will cease its work later in the year. Like her, I commend its administrators for the work they did on behalf of older people and the part they played in the House's public consultation some time ago on issues relating to elderly people.

Senator David Norris raised a number of issues. With regard to Ministers' trying to make representations on behalf of constituents and trying to jump people up, Members of this House and indeed the other House lobby on behalf of constituents, organisations and communities on the Order of Business practically every day and Adjournment matters are tabled and debated every day in which Members lobby on behalf of constituents.

That is not the same as using public money when they are Ministers and attempting to justify it in a brazen way.

It is going on since Adam was a boy and probably will continue to go on.

It is a damnable practice that should be stopped.

The Leader to continue, without interruption.

Senator Colm Burke referred to the storage of Guthrie cards in Temple Street Hospital and the necessity of retaining this information. This issue was also raised by Senator John Crown and others previously. I will find out the position in this regard.

Senators Denis O'Donovan, Marie Moloney and several others referred to the crisis in the beef industry. The investigation is focusing on the food supply chain, including the meat trader concerned and others who facilitated the purchase of this product and its transfer to users in Ireland. Every step will be taken by the Government to protect the beef industry and restore confidence. It is important for the economy that confidence is restored and I assure Members that every step will be taken to ensure the rogue traders involved in this debacle will be brought to justice soon.

I note the valid points raised by Senator Marc MacSharry on the same issue. I worked in a port for more than 20 years and I am aware of the regulations the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine oversees in both ports and factories in the context of the beef industry. Horsemeat is not illegal in Ireland or other EU member states, but describing it as beef is certainly an offence.

Senators John Whelan and John Kelly called for a debate on wind energy and wind farms. I spoke to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources last week. I have not arranged a date with him yet, but I will try to get a date to have him in the House soon to discuss the matter.

Senator Katherine Zappone highlighted the plight of cystic fibrosis sufferers while Ms Orla Tinsley was present in the Visitors Gallery. I commend Ms Tinsley for her efforts in highlighting their plight. Like other Members, it is welcome that the new drug will be made available to CF sufferers. It is estimated that between 113 and 120 patients could benefit from this drug at a cost of between €25 million and €28 million.

It is very important that these drugs are made available to help the people concerned live a meaningful life. We all commend the Minister for ensuring they will be made available to cystic fibrosis sufferers.

Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of Derrynane House. It is welcome that it will remain open during the periods mentioned. The Senator seems to be the tourism ambassador for County Kerry in this House. Every time some house is mentioned, be it Muckross House or Derrynane House, he seems to be on his feet.

It is the tourist capital.

Senator Sean D. Barrett made important points about teacher training. I noted the points made and will bring them to the attention of the Minister.

Senator David Cullinane mentioned the importance of the food sector to the economy and our strong regulation and traceability standards. It was because of our strong regulation and traceability standards that we discovered the problem of the traces of horsemeat in burgers in the factories involved. Senator Lorraine Higgins also mentioned the problems related to the beef crisis and horsemeat in burgers.

Senator Martin Conway mentioned the Magdalen laundries. We will have a debate on that issue in a couple of weeks.

Senator Mark Daly called for a further debate on the local property tax. We had a comprehensive debate on this matter and practically had a debate on it on the Order of Business when Senator Darragh O'Brien raised it a couple of weeks ago. With regard to the assessment system, the local property tax will operate on the basis of self-assessment and self-declaration by liable persons. The Revenue Commissioners will have responsibility for administration, collection, enforcement and all other aspects of the matter and the normal Revenue enforcement and collection procedures will apply. With regard to the valuing of property, liable persons will self-assess the market value of the property and when the Revenue guidance on valuing a property is followed, property evaluations will not be challenged by the Revenue Commissioners. The initial valuation will be valid up to and including 2016.

Senator John Kelly raised the issue of wind energy. I hope we will have the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, in the House in a couple of weeks time to discuss this matter.

Senator Michael Mullins called for a debate on Irish aid. We have contacted the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, who has agreed to come to the House to discuss the issue. We have not yet agreed a date, but the debate will probably take place towards the end of February.

Senator Mary Ann Moran asked about the report on symphysiotomy. I will try to find out from the Minister for Health when it will be published.

Senator Cáit Keane mentioned the conference on sustainable energy to be held on 21 and 22 February. This important conference will be attended by representatives from all over Europe, most of whom will be MEPs.

Senator Terry Brennan raised the issue of access for insurers to penalty point records. He is concerned about the implications for drivers. We will ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come to the House to clarify the matter.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan raised the issue of funding for Crumlin hospital. I will try to obtain the information the Senator requires on the matter.

I share the frustration of Senator Feargal Quinn with regard to the Construction Contracts Bill and the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill which deals with organ donation and the issue of presumed consent. It is frustrating that these Bills have been introduced and passed through this House. It is 1,000 days since the Construction Contracts Bill was introduced.

I do not know what is holding it up. We have been told that it may be the Office of the Attorney General. I will find out the exact position on the Bills and get back to the Senator on the matter in a couple of days.

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

On a point of order, the Leader referred to Members' constituencies. I have mentioned to Senator Sean D. Barrett that it is rather curious that almost all Adjournment matters refer to geographical constituencies. The Leader has said he has noticed this too. My understanding is that Senators who are nominated through the panel system represent professional bodies and so on.

There are no geographical constituencies for the Seanad.

I mentioned "the other House".

I thought the Leader had mentioned both.

I mentioned "this House" and "the other House".

I shall check the record. I thank the Leader. We do not have geographical constituencies for this House.

Order of Business agreed to.