The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the fight against fraud to the European Union's financial interests by means of criminal law, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on the EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol), to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 11.45 a.m., adjourned at 2.15 p.m. and resume again at 4 p.m.; No. 4, Health (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m.; and No. 5, Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m.
Order of Business
I ask the Leader to indicate how he sees the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 progressing.
Earlier this week the British House of Commons published a report on the horsemeat scandal, which is still very much alive despite the lack of media coverage. It is alive in the context of a lack of prosecutions. The report was critical of both UK and Irish Governments for what it described as lack of action in exposing fraudulent activities in the meat industry. One member of the committee, Margaret Ritchie, MP, of the SDLP, went further, stating that within the committee criticism had been expressed about Ireland.
The Irish interests were well defended in that it was Ireland that initially exposed this scandal but according to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who was on the media earlier this week, there is one prosecution pending. That is not enough. I would hate to think that people within the industry who acted fraudulently will get away with this just because the matter seemingly has been resolved. Restrictive procedures have been put in place to ensure this does not happen again. In that context, the Minister is before the agriculture committee discussing the recent CAP reform decisions. The Leader might consider inviting the Minister to the House in the new session. It would be an opportunity also for him to expand on the horsemeat scandal in the context of the questions I have raised.
I was one of the members present at the transport committee meeting yesterday and, as has been widely reported in today's media, raised the issue of the lack of sufficient funding for the maintenance of the primary national road network as distinct from the local and regional road network. On the previous occasion I raised that issue with Fred Barry, the chief executive officer, he indicated some concern in the National Roads Authority about the lack of adequate funding to ensure that the road maintenance programme would be maintained. The amounts we are talking about are running to billions of euro. I appreciate fully that the Government and the economy does not have that sort of resource but it seems to me, and I have made this point previously, that that it is "short-termism". A way should be found to come up with a sufficient amount of money, whether from the European Investment Bank or under the proposal now emanating from Government, to use some of the €1 billion promissory note savings on capital programmes because we must maintain our national road network, which is a vital artery in terms of our entire economic activity, to the required standards. That the funding has been cut from €600 million last year to €300 million when €1.2 billion is needed gives some indication of the scale of the problem. It would be worthwhile if the Leader invited the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to the House in the new session to outline the Government's thinking on this issue because it will be coming at a time when the Budget Estimates are more or less confirmed and it might give some succour, not only to private motorists but also to the commercial life of the country, that the road network would not continue to crumble in the manner in which it now appears to have done, as outlined by some engineers.
I welcome the publication yesterday by the Minister, Deputy Burton, of the Bill for gender recognition, which will finally provide a way in which transgender persons can achieve recognition of their gender. This Bill has been a long time coming. There was a very detailed consultation process, and I very much look forward to having a debate on it in this House, but we need to move on also with seeking to legalise marriage for same-sex couples because without that it is difficult to see how the new gender recognition legislation will apply to persons who are already married. That has been a real obstacle in trying to achieve the final drafting of that Bill. In a way that issue has been left unresolved pending the referendum on marriage equality that we all hope will happen next year.
I also welcome the publication this week of the new Bill on assisted decision-making and capacity to replace a very outdated wards of court system dating back to 1871. We have had extensive hearings on that issue in the justice committee on the previous heads of a Bill. Again, it has been a long time coming and I am glad to see it has been published. I hope we will debate it early in the autumn.
I call on the Leader for a debate, as other Members have done, on the Magdalen institutions but in particular on ways in which religious orders might be compelled legally to provide contributions to the redress fund. The Taoiseach and others have said rightly that there does not appear to be any way legally to compel them but a creative debate on ways in which compulsion could be brought to bear would be very useful. Today's edition of The Irish Times reports that the assets of the four religious orders that ran the Magdalen laundries, and profited for many years from the slave labour of the women incarcerated there, on the last occasion they were valued, were worth €1.5 billion. It is clear there are assets available and it seems extraordinary that there is no legal way for the State to compel some sort of recovery from those religious orders of the moneys that will be expended on the redress scheme, given the extent of those assets.
I call for a debate in the autumn on the MABS service in light of the worrying delays reported in accessing the MABS, particularly with the new insolvency legislation coming into place. Increasing numbers of people will be looking for the services of the MABS and it is a worry to hear there are real inconsistencies in the length of time people must wait for an appointment with the MABS across the country. Some of it may be to do with management in particular offices but if there is a resourcing issue we need to examine that issue. I ask the Leader for a debate on that topic again early in the autumn.
I wish a happy 95th birthday to Nelson Mandela. I have here the tributes to him when he got his honorary degree in Trinity College Dublin in 2000. Professor John Luce stated: "With all due respects, I now present to you our past century's most outstanding champion of human rights, His Excellency, Nelson Mandela." The accolade to him concludes:
You see before you a man of exceptional tenacity and outstanding magnanimity whom I think it is appropriate to salute in the old Roman fashion as the father of his country. As he inscribes his name on our Roll of Honour, see to it that the thunder of your applause re-echoes through this hall.
His proposers were two great human rights advocates, one a former Member of this House, Senator Trevor West, and Professor Kader Asmal. It is worth noting also that long before that the students named their headquarters in Trinity College Dublin, when Nelson Mandela was in the Robben Island jail, as Nelson Mandela House. It is a terrific occasion for us to celebrate one of the great people of recent times.
I express my support for the Government again in dealing with banking. I base that support on the Which? survey of banking, which shows that the two worst banks are Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank. Bank of Ireland has 41% approval while Ulster Bank has 45%. We all realise the immense problems these people have created for the Government and I assure it that any measures to reform these awful institutions will have support from this side of the House.
Regarding Senator Paschal Mooney's comments about roads, the Leader may recall that when we discussed it with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, on a previous occasion he said he would come back with a measure to change the way in which heavy goods vehicles are taxed from the unladen weight of the vehicle to the laden weight per axle. He was not against the idea in total but I am informed by civil engineers that these inappropriately taxed commercial vehicles account for the bulk of the damage done to roads. The research is 40 or 50 years old. It is time to change the basis on which we tax commercial vehicles to reflect the fact that in times of budget constraints we wish to reward vehicles that do not damage the highways, impose the appropriate levies on those that do and hope the fleet will gradually change to ones which do not crack the road surface. A road tax system could be designed to reflect that. The Minister of State was not opposed to the idea. He said he would examine it and in view of what was presented in the transport committee yesterday and Senator Paschal Mooney's comments, it is now time to reopen the file on that issue. We might debate it in the new term or perhaps the Minister of State might consider it is worth doing without debate.
I am concerned, as I know all Members are, about the absence of the MABS and the Irish League of Credit Unions from the Central Bank pilot debt scheme. We learned this week that the well respected Government-funded body, the MABS, has been forced out of the new pilot resolution scheme being set up by the Central Bank because lenders were not happy with their part in the process. That is a worrying development. The Irish Independent quoted a MABS spokesperson as saying they were booted out of the scheme because the MABS approach to debt resolution was not acceptable to certain members. The MABS had been proposing a more holistic approach to debt resolution and apparently this was not acceptable to some banks. It now looks as if the Central Bank will seek to get a United Kingdom debt charity or a debt collection service to get involved in place of the MABS. That is a very worrying development because it means that the pilot process set up at the initiative of the banks now only comprises the Central Bank and the lenders.
It is devoid of the involvement of those who are concerned about financial services from the perspective of the borrower and the wider general public. The Irish League of Credit Unions opted out because its members regarded it as too one-sided against borrowers. Now the banks have succeeded in getting the MABS excluded because they do not like the proposals from it. We need to become involved and to find out more about the situation. We need to ensure the Central Bank is not being led by the nose by some banks. We all accept that this is a very important initiative. It is a major concern that the Central Bank is apparently allowing the banks to dictate terms and set the parameters for the scheme. This partnership and close co-operation in the past, as we know, has yielded woeful results for the consumer and the wider public. I call on the Governor of the Central Bank and the heir apparent to Mr. Elderfield, Ms Fiona Muldoon, to show that the Central Bank is independent of the banks - which it is meant to be - and can resist their attempts to mould an initiative in a way which sets the lenders' agenda. I call on the Leader to arrange an early debate. We have asked for this debate before and I acknowledge it has been difficult to arrange. I suggest we have this debate very early in the new term because this is a most important subject.
I second Senator Barrett's proposal to send the best wishes of the House to Nelson Mandela on his 95th birthday today. This occasion is wonderful for the world and it is being celebrated throughout the world. It is proposed in South Africa that people dedicate 67 minutes of their time today to helping others in honour of Nelson Mandela. It is a lovely gesture and I hope it will be repeated here. I recall the joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas which was addressed by Nelson Mandela. I was a Member of the Dáil at the time. It was a great honour to welcome him to Ireland. He also attended the Special Olympics in 2003. The years he spent on Robben Island and his dedication to the ending of apartheid was an inspiration for people throughout the world and throughout America, where apartheid, in a sense, is still being exercised in many areas, as highlighted by the recent tragic death of a young black person. Kadar Asmal was a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin and subsequently became Minister for Water in South Africa. We should also recall today those heroic workers in Dunnes Stores who boycotted South African fruit in support of the anti-apartheid movement. Those women should also be recognised today, on Nelson Mandela's birthday, for their contribution. They were absolutely courageous in the stand they took.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I ask the Leader to convey the best wishes of this House in an e-mail to the former President of South Africa for a very happy birthday and to thank him for his contribution to the human race through his work.
I support the comments of my colleague Senator Paul Coghlan on the independence of the Central Bank and the apparent message that the interests of the lenders are paramount and will not in any way be subservient to the interests of the borrowers. On a number of occasions I have called for a debate at which the Minister for Finance would be present in order to discuss the banking system. I do not think that letters to say the code of conduct on mortgage arrears is none of his business are an adequate and sufficient response. A debate on banking is critical in the context of where we want to go in September. A resolution of the mortgage crisis is one of the most pressing issues, as discussed in recent months, which will not go away over the summer and will be waiting for us in September. The latest IBF figures on mortgage lending showed that lending is down by 20%, from 2,630 mortgages in the first quarter of last year to 2,068 mortgages in the first quarter of this year. I am sick of seeing the advertisements everywhere from the various pillar banks stating that they are open for business and please come in because they are dying to lend money. This statement is misleading and deceptive. Unless we get the mortgage market operational again, there will be major difficulties.
I support the comments of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland which suggests the Government should introduce a mortgage credit review body to ensure fairness and transparency in the mortgage market. It is a very interesting call, which I support.
I support the calls for moral pressure to be applied to the various orders of nuns. I understand some orders have investment portfolios in hedge funds and elsewhere of hundreds of millions of euro. It seems to be grossly unchristian not to make this available to people who have been mistreated and to lump the burden on taxpayers who are already very heavily overburdened.
I share the concerns expressed on the Government side about the MABS. It is a wonderful service but it is grossly overstretched and it has not been properly funded. People looking for appointments are being told they will not be seen until Christmas. The banks have now been unleashed upon them and with the passing of the Insolvency Bill they can make any number of harassing telephone calls. I voted against that provision. I am afraid this will lead to people taking their own lives.
I welcome the Bill on gender recognition, but it has some very serious flaws. For example, the plight of younger people going to school has not been sufficiently addressed. More worrying, this is despite the evidence given to the Joint Committee on Health and Children by Dr. Crowley, the HSE national director for quality and patient safety, who said that the HSE endorses a gender recognition process which places the responsibility for self-declaration on the applicant rather than on the details of a medical certificate diagnosis. In doing so, the emphasis is placed on the process of legal recognition of that self-declaration as opposed to the legal recognition of the medical certificate or diagnosis. They are flying in the face of their own expert advice.
I campaigned on the divorce referendum. Just as I said about abortion, I have said nobody is being forced to have a divorce, but the worrying aspect is that it seems they are. This legislation provides that people who undergo gender reassignment - even if they are in a happy relationship from which the sexual element may have faded out, they may have children and want to stay together for the sake of the family - the State is now forcing them to divorce. This is forced, involuntary divorce and it is utterly wrong. It should be the decision of the two people involved. Why should the State destroy that wish if they want to stay together as a family? It is absurd.
I welcome the Bill on gender recognition and acknowledge that there are some flaws, but the provision on age could be re-examined. Yesterday I raised the issue of the orders of nuns who are not paying up. I then discovered that they had €1.5 billion in assets and I was even more incensed.
Brendan Nix, the coroner for Limerick, spoke on "Morning Ireland" this morning. In his opinion the verdict of suicide should be officially recorded at inquests as this is not the current practice. The pathological evidence of cause of death is recorded. In his view this serves no purpose and actually conceals the real suicide figures. The House has debated the issue of suicide but we need to do more than talk about it. We need to reach out to people who are suffering. Services are in place but information on these services should be available to those who are suffering. Brendan Nix is also a senior counsel. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister if the practice in inquests could be changed. More than 500 people died from suicide last year and the figure is increasing.
We must do something about it other than talk about it in the House. If we do not have real statistics, we will not know where we are going or where we have come from, but we know we have to do something. Many issues have been raised. Young people, in particular, are suffering. We should publicise the services available more and ensure we can reach out.
The MABS was mentioned in the context of people in trouble with debt and I support what has been said. An official of the MABS said on radio this morning that anybody with an emergency would skip the queue. People should not fear that they cannot go to the MABS, as they will be seen straightaway in an emergency. The official made this point loud and clear because he did not want people to be scared that they would have to wait three months if they had a real problem. A MABS official is always at the end of the telephone. I want to make this clear also.
I, too, welcome the announcement made yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on the publication of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill, for which I have called on many occasions in the past two years. It will replace the wards of court system with a legal framework to support people in exercising their decision-making capacity in order that they can better manage their personal welfare, property and financial affairs. It will also clarify the law for carers and enable individuals to have greater autonomy, where possible, in decision-making in order that they can better manage their affairs.
Yesterday I raised the issue of the decision made by the four religious orders not to support financially the fund for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. I read yesterday exactly how much money was in the pot, or how much money they had. We need a debate on this issue now to see if there is any way the religious orders can be compelled to contribute.
I refer to a comment made during a debate yesterday which was extremely offensive to people with disabilities and any person with any knowledge of same. During the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill yesterday Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said: "The Senator is depriving future Special Olympic athletes of being born." I find these comments absolutely appalling. The amendment under discussion at the time was on fatal foetal abnormalities. It had nothing to do with disability.
The Senator has made her point.
I utterly resent anybody using disability as a-----
I remind the Senator that the debate will continue. It would be more appropriate to make her point later.
I call on Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill to withdraw the comment and apologise to the House.
As he is not present, bí cúramach.
Yesterday I raised the issue of the Magdalen laundries and the refusal of the religious orders to face up to their moral, ethical and financial responsibilities to the women concerned. I also asked the Leader if he would impress upon the Taoiseach the need for him to be more forceful on the issue. I was not at all persuaded by the Taoiseach's contribution in the Dáil yesterday. The State has a responsibility to be much more insistent, to say the least, with the religious orders to force them to face up to their responsibilities. Equally, the religious orders have to look to themselves. If they seek redemption and want to redeem themselves for the horrors of the past and what the women concerned went through in the Magdalen laundries, they must face up to their responsibilities and contribute to the redress scheme.
There is also the issue of the survivors of Bethany Home. They also deserve justice. It was a disgrace that they were excluded from the residential institutions redress scheme. We know Bethany Home was not just a mother and baby home but that it was also a home for children and bore all of the characteristics of the Magdalen laundries and the inhumane treatment people suffered. The State inspection of Bethany Home, under the Maternity Home Act, showed that there was horrendous neglect. Again, the State has a responsibility to face up to its failure to protect children and women. The survivors also need justice. I understand the Taoiseach gave a commitment yesterday that the Cabinet would discuss the issue next week. I hope we will all use our collective influence to make sure the Taoiseach does the right thing by the survivors of Bethany Home. He made a very powerful and emotive speech a number of months ago in the Dáil on the survivors of the Magdalen laundries and it was universally accepted and commended. He must also do the right thing by the survivors of Bethany Home. Will Senators and the Leader raise this issue with the Taoiseach in advance of the Cabinet meeting next week?
I join Senators in extending good wishes to Nelson Mandela on his 95th birthday. As was said, he is the inspirational world leader of our time. Many leaders of the strong nations of the world would do well to model their behaviour and actions on his as they struggle to find peace in the troubled parts of the world.
I welcome the renewed efforts by the Taoiseach to reduce unemployment levels. I understand he will unveil a plan today to get 75,000 off the live register by 2015. We regularly speak in this House about the totally unacceptable levels of unemployment, even though some progress has been made in the past 12 months. We need to give people hope and look at all aspects of the economy to see how we can assist it in reaching its job creation potential. I hope the forthcoming budget will be innovative and geared towards helping the creation of badly needed employment, in particular in small businesses and throughout the retail sector.
We need to see the construction sector return to sustainable levels. I very much welcome the fact that the Construction Contracts Bill has been passed by Dáil Éireann and pay particular tribute to our colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, for his work on that Bill. We have seen a drop of 200,000 people employed in the construction sector in recent years and badly need to rebuild trust in that sector, in particular for small contractors and small business people involved in it. In complimenting Senator Feargal Quinn, I hope this will be the start of a gradual return to sustainable economic levels in the construction sector and that many of the Government-sponsored projects, in particular the building of schools and other infrastructural protects, will be of significant benefit to many of the small contractors who lost out significantly as a result of, and whose livelihood's were ruined by, ruthless operators. Let us ensure this never happens again and that we get the construction sector back to sustainable levels.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate when we come back in September on the future of rural Ireland. Like many other Members, I am very concerned about its future because there is nothing happening there. We see economic activity in Dublin and the large cities, but there is nothing happening in the west. Anything west of the River Shannon is forgotten about. There is probably a need to consider having a Minister for rural affairs. I was concerned when I read newspaper reports yesterday that there was talk of rowing back on the provision of broadband in rural Ireland. That would be a retrograde step at a time when EirGrid is putting up pylons throughout the country.
In rural Ireland, the infrastructure serves only to provide a conduit for energy for the bigger cities. At the same time, we say there should be community gain where pylons and wind turbines are accepted. If pylons are to crisscross the landscape, broadband should be provided on those pylons for rural Ireland. There should be joined-up thinking on the part of the Minister and EirGrid to provide these things. This warrants an extensive debate. Anybody from rural Ireland knows that towns are dying on their feet. It has been said repeatedly in the House. It must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I call on the Leader to provide for a debate early in September.
The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Paschal Mooney, raised the question of the horsemeat scandal which was raised by Senator Denis O'Donovan in recent days. I note the Senator's points. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is addressing the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the CAP negotiations. I hope he will attend the House early when we return to discuss agriculture, during which debate the particular matter of the horsemeat issue can be discussed.
I note Senator Paschal Mooney's question on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications which is discussing the issue of road maintenance. I will seek to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, address the problem and provide the House with his opinions.
Senators Ivana Bacik, Mary Moran and David Norris spoke about the publication of the Gender Recognition Bill which I understand will be brought before the House in the autumn. There will be a comprehensive debate and we will all have ample time to discuss it.
Senators Mary Moran and Ivana Bacik also welcomed publication of the Assisted Decision-making (Capacity) Bill, which is very comprehensive. I am sure it will be discussed and debated at length in the House in the autumn.
Senator Ivana Bacik and others spoke about the Magdalen laundries, which matter was also raised on the Order of Business yesterday. I stated then that there was no legal responsibility on the religious institutions. Certainly, they have a moral responsibility and I call on them to make a significant financial contribution.
Senator Sean D. Barrett and others congratulated Nelson Mandela on celebrating his 95th birthday. I am sure we all join in wishing that wonderful man a happy birthday and wish him well.
Senator Sean D. Barrett also referred to the recent report on banking and I note his points. He also referred to the change in the basis on which we taxed heavy goods vehicles, in particular. I will raise that matter which was addressed with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, whom I will ask what is the up-to-date position.
Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden referred to the MABS withdrawing from the pilot scheme. The MABS has released a press release which states:
MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, was surprised at media reports of their withdrawal from the Central Bank initiative on support to distressed borrowers with multiple debts. MABS was very pleased to submit a proposal to fulfil this role of Third Party Service Provider and to present a proposal to the panel of lenders, convened and facilitated by the Central Bank. As indicated in its submission and elaborated on at the meeting with the panel, MABS felt that the initiative was an important one for borrowers and one which was attractive to MABS on the basis that it provided an opportunity to further expand on the work MABS currently does with all creditors, and in particular with IBF members, and to further develop relationships with credit unions. Further it is to the mutual benefit of all parties, and most importantly to the benefit of distressed borrowers. MABS were willing to accept the associated terms and conditions as presented however, on further engagement with panel members, it became apparent that the proposed approach was not acceptable to certain lenders. Based on its proven track record of delivering for both lenders and borrowers for over 20 years, MABS believes it could add value to this important initiative, delivering positive outcomes for borrower and lender alike. MABS' proposal, as originally outlined, still stands.
I concur with Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden that we will have to take a very hard look at this situation if lenders and bankers are dictating things. It will have to be addressed.
Senator Aideen Hayden also called for a debate on banking. Certainly, I will ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to come to the House for a debate on that topic. We have had a number of debates on banking, but I agree that we should continue to discuss the subject.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to the opinion of the Limerick coroner on the recording of suicides in reports. It is something we will raise with the Minister for Justice and Equality to see if it can happen.
I note Senator Mary Moran's remarks on the offensive comments made by a Member in the House yesterday.
Senator Michael Mullins spoke about the Government's priority of job creation and called for an innovative budget to include measures which would help to create jobs, particularly in the construction sector. I agree with him. The measures which will be taken will assist. While we are creating 2,000 jobs a month, it is very important that we provide jobs in the development of infrastructure, including schools, which would put people who were involved in the construction industry back to work.
Senator John Kelly called for a debate on rural Ireland, with particular reference to broadband services. I have asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come to the House and I am waiting for a date to be nominated for him to attend to discuss that matter.
I asked the Leader if, for the benefit of all Members, he would give some indication of his thinking on how the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill would progress through the House.
I hope Committee Stage of the Bill will be concluded today. Report Stage will take place on Monday and Tuesday.
At what time is it expected to finish?
It has been ordered from 4 p.m. for two hours and thereafter it will take whatever time it takes.
In fairness to the Leader, it is an ongoing debate which he has indicated he will not stymie. It is difficult to set parameters on it.