The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality of a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council amending Decision 2005/681/JHA establishing the European Police College, CEPOL, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 1.35 p.m.; No. 3, motion on the appointment of An Coimisinéir Teanga, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.45 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
With regard to No. 3, my party supports the appointment of Rónán Ó Domhnaill as An Coimisinéir Teanga. I hope the Government will show the new Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, a lot more respect than it showed the previous one, Seán Ó Cuirreáin. Perhaps it will listen to the thousands of people who marched in Dublin last week to celebrate Lá Mór na Gaeilge. Today's debate will be interesting. I hope the Government fully commits itself to the protection and improvement of the Irish language and allowing State services to be accessed through Irish.
Does the Deputy Leader support or have full confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter? Does the Minister have the confidence of her colleagues in government, particularly the Labour Party? As junior coalition partner, her party has a role to play in the matter. On a daily basis in the past two weeks we have witnessed the Minister's attempts to rubbish whistleblowers and attack the man but not deal with the issue. Yesterday my party leader gave details to the Taoiseach about allegations made by the whistleblower, Sergeant McCabe, who needs to be commended. Let us recall, a short two weeks ago, the evidence that the Garda Commissioner gave to the Committee of Public Accounts and the Minister in which they tried to rubbish the whistleblower. Very serious allegations were made. Even if there is a scintilla of truth to them they deserve to be looked at and not swept aside. The Government has tried to drape a veil of secrecy over the issue.
The same applies to the Government's handling of the GSOC. I am glad that there is now some type of a review although the Minister said that we did not need an independent review. Let us remember what type of review we are getting. It is an independent desktop review and is not an inquiry. Two very serious issues have arisen. The Seanad led the way because we tabled a motion of no confidence in the Minister nearly 18 months ago and I am inclined to do the same again. However, we need to get to the truth of these matters, which are very serious. The Minister has acted as if he owned the Department, the justice system and the Garda; he does not. He is a servant of the people of the State and should act accordingly. He should show due respect to the people who put their necks on the line to publicise the truth of these matters, but he has not done so. I ask for a debate to be arranged, in due course, on the way the Minister has handled these matters. I specifically want to know whether he has the confidence and support of the Deputy Leader.
On a lighter note, I congratulate the Irish cricket team on its magnificent victory yesterday over the West Indies in Jamaica. The win comes seven years after the team won on the same pitch but beat Pakistan. Yesterday's win is a magnificent sporting achievement because the team beat the world T20 champions. I send them my congratulations on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group and I am sure other colleagues wish to share in them.
All of us.
The coach is from Malahide.
The coach lives in Malahide and I congratulate Mr. Phil Simmons also. He is a good "Big Phil".
We are bowled over by the Senator's remarks.
We all heartily concur with the latter remarks made by Senator Darragh O'Brien. I say well done to the team.
In regard to all of the other matters raised by the Senator, all of the allegations are serious and the matters are very important. I agree with the Senator that the interests of truth and clarity is what we as public servants must totally serve, all of us. I believe, contrary to some of his other remarks, that the Minister for Justice and Equality shares that view also.
He was dragged kicking and screaming.
No. I cannot speak about that matter. Mr. Justice Cooke has been appointed and there is to be a review, as the Senator has said, which we all welcome.
In regard to the other very serious matters which we accept have been raised, I am sure they will be dealt with in the fullest manner possible. This is a rolling situation and I am sure other things will be said in the other House today and elsewhere. I shall leave it to the Deputy Leader to respond more fully to Senator Darragh O'Brien. The interests of truth and clarity are what we must serve.
It depends on what justice is worth.
Why is it that any time anybody blows a whistle, the Minister dumps a load of manure all over them?
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption, please.
Does Senator Paul Coghlan have confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality?
Yes, I have confidence in him. He is concerned to do his job properly to the utmost.
I am confident that anybody who opens his mouth will be shot by Shatter.
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption, please.
Let us await further developments.
I welcome the research broadcast this morning by Mr. Kieran Cuddihy on Newstalk radio because it reflected the issues raised here on Tuesday afternoon about penalty points. We raised, with the Minister, the fact that there were some 318,000 penalty points in 2012 that were attached to people with no licence. Mr. Cuddihy has updated that figure to 445,000. It appears there is a problem in the Courts Service. Mr. Cuddihy's findings show that one can turn up in court without a driving licence and nothing will happen. He has said that the reality is that drivers can turn up in court without a copy of their licence and be issued penalty points that will disappear into the system. We have the undertaking that the Courts Service will, in the near future, commence providing An Garda Síochána with details of the incidence of the non-production of driving licences. It will then be a matter for the Garda Síochána to commence prosecutions. On Tuesday last during the course of the debate on the relevant legislation we asked, in an amendment, that what had been published as the category, people with no licence, be broken down into numbers. The Minister gave other categories to the House such as learner permits, no licences, licences from outside the jurisdiction, the non-appearance in court and unmatched penalty points from previous years. Therefore, we received quite misleading data and the Minister, on the instigation of the House, has taken steps to correct the situation. The result will be safe roads and more reliable data. The House has played an important role in this issue. We had a listening Minister who realised that the penalty points should have been attached to existing drivers rather than attributed to new drivers without a licence. The result is that we will have a more reliable basis on which to formulate road safety. Undoubtedly, if penalty points are properly attached then the roads will be much safer. We are indebted to the broadcaster today but also to the House and to the fact that the Minister listened to us last Tuesday. It shows the good work that we can do to make the country a safer place.
The Minister listened to the Senator.
I join Senator Darragh O'Brien in congratulating the Irish cricket team which is an all-Ireland team that has done very well. I presume that another all-Ireland team will do equally well in Twickenham on Saturday and that we will be congratulating them next week.
Yesterday there was a lot happening in Leinster House and it was a bit of a circus at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, of which I am a member. However, in an adjoining room, before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality a more serious debate was taking place, which we are now charged with addressing, on the issue of domestic violence. I made a clear statement about my family situation yesterday. Following that, I had to telephone my mother and my three brothers and sisters who did not know what I was going to say. I did not know what I was going to say myself, but it is something that we needed to publicise. I could have done any number of radio or television interviews this morning and I did not do so because of that. I spoke to my sister in Australia earlier. I have never drafted a Bill, but I am going to try to do that before we finish our session in this House and I am lucky that Senators Ivana Bacik and Katherine Zappone are members of the justice committee with me. We need to criminalise domestic violence. We do not need to do much else, but at least we might wipe out between 30% or 40% of the problem if we were to criminalise it. Many groups appeared before the committee yesterday and it was a harrowing meeting that lasted almost three hours. They talked about refuge. We had this terrible situation in Ireland of talking about reform but that happens after the act or the crime has been committed.
In the coming months I would appreciate the help of colleague to bring forward legislation to criminalise domestic violence, to provide that gardaí when they visit a house become witnesses after the event and to give evidence in court about what they have witnessed and to call the doctor to effectively take a picture of the crime scene. In addition, a peace commissioner should be empowered to sign a paper to remove the perpetrator of the crime, male or female, from the home. The notion of taking the mother or father and the children away from the home to a refuge is wrong; we need to take the perpetrator away from the family home and we need to deal with the person who committed the crime. The Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Deputy Leader will be supportive of this, but, as a House, we need to do this. This has been a chronic issue all over the country for many years. One man at yesterday's meeting referred to the 1990s when reviews and reports were carried out. I am aged 54 years and I was able to take him back to 1964 or 1965. I can vaguely remember the first incident but they continued after that. We are charged with correcting this and I hope we can do this in the coming months and bring legislation forward to deal with it.
Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government come to the House to discuss the issue of alignment of local development companies, LDCs? The Minister likes to attend the House and he often attends for lengthy periods, but there is a great deal of disappointment and frustration about the manner in which the alignment process has unfolded, especially in respect of documentation and letters that have issued to local authorities, in the first instance, that are then made available to the LDC network. An alignment working group was set up and that brought together representatives of the Irish Local Development Network, ILDN, the City and County Managers Association, Pobal and the Department to work through proposals to effect the process but, unfortunately, the group has not met since last September. The ILDN believes the release of the documentation to front-runner local authorities and then to all other local authorities by the Department has undermined the credibility of the working group process. There is a great deal of confusion about the delivery mechanisms and the working and contractual arrangements between local community development committees, LCDCs, and LDCs. The Minister should come to the House to clarify issues relating to the tendering process, the delivery of programmes, the need to provide Leader programmes and traditional funding for a number of LDCs, the proposal that LCDCs will become local action groups in the context of the Leader programme and the implications of this decision for relevant LDCs and the management of communications, for example, with networks such as the ILDN, which is a key partner in the alignment process. I have received correspondence from local groups such as Breffni Integrated Limited and Monaghan Integrated Development and there is a great deal of concern about what the future holds for these groups, how they will navigate their way through the next funding period and what that will mean for the work they do in their communities, for example, with businesses and disadvantaged young people. This is an important debate the House should have and it would give us an opportunity to discuss these important outstanding issues.
I alsocongratulate the Ireland cricket team in far away Jamaica. It must go down as one of the greatest sporting wins ever for the country.
I wish the Irish rugby team well at the weekend. Three players from my area will, I hope, play a major part in securing a win in Twickenham.
I was also subjected to violence not in the home but in the school and on the football field in my young days. When one did not pass the ball properly one had to drop one's togs and one was given six or ten of the best across the "you know what" with a cane that length. That was violent and these people should have been locked up. I support the call by Senator Tony Mulcahy and, although I did not attend the committee meeting yesterday, I congratulate him on defining his own issue. It is criminal and nothing else for somebody to turn up at a house, see blood on the floor and say it is a domestic issue and no concern of the Garda. That is unbelievable and it is time domestic violence was criminalised. My peers and I witnessed violence in school and elsewhere outside the school. It is time we did something about it. I hope the violence of yesteryear is not happening today.
With other Members, I attended the opening night of "Sive" in the Abbey Theatre and it is appropriate that we congratulate our colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghaíl, on a magnificent production. This was the Abbey Theatre at its best; it was electrifying. There was no doubt it was world class. I had to laugh inwardly because many commentators and critics were moderate in their praise when John B. Keane was alive and they rather looked down on him. This play is a masterpiece and there was no flaw in the Abbey Theatre production in respect of the lighting, direction and the setting, for example, the way in which the cottage interior blended with the ruggedness of the mountain. There were laughs in it and the language was wonderful, as language from County Kerry is always, but there was tragedy and drama with the two wonderful thinkers and the bodhrán. I saw the first production of the play in the Queen's Theatre, Dublin, many years ago when I was a teenager and I never thought it could be exceeded but this production has done so. I am not ashamed to say the extraordinary moment at the end when the bodhrán was played softly almost as a lament brought tears to my eyes.
I was very glad that John B. Keane's family were there to see it. It was a triumph for our national theatre and should be celebrated as such. It analysed not just evil but its causes and misery. I would like Senator Fiach Mac Conghail to pass on our congratulations to all the actors, including his wife who was wonderful.
The last matter which I wish to raise is a rather more serious and less pleasant. It concerns the recent trip to Japan. I am sorry the Cathaoirleach is not here today because he is charged with defending the rights of Seanad Éireann. They were not defended and the Cathaoirleach was pathetically weak. I remember a situation before when I almost managed to get a Cathaoirleach removed for interfering with a delegation. I accept the Cathaoirleach did not interfere in this trip to Japan, but he stood idly by while a Deputy from the other House, Deputy Emmet Stagg, the Labour Party Whip, stuck his nose into this House. Not one of the Labour Party Senators stood up to him. The Labour Party Seanad Whip was advised that-----
This is not appropriate to the Order of Business.
It is appropriate. If I do not get an answer to this matter, I will write to the Japanese ambassador to advise him of this insult to the Japanese Parliament. I know how they feel about these kind of issues of protocol.
This is not appropriate to the Order of Business.
I want an assurance that this will never happen again and that the other House will keep its nose out. If someone like Deputy Emmet Stagg sticks his nose in again, I hope he will be properly told by the Cathaoirleach to bugger off.
I join my colleague Senator Terry Brennan in complimenting and congratulating Senator Tony Mulcahy’s honesty in highlighting a major issue in our society, namely domestic violence, at the justice committee yesterday. It took much courage but, knowing him for a long time, he is a straight talker and always calls it as it is. He has done the State some service with his contribution yesterday. I did not know, until l had a discussion with Senator Tony Mulcahy last night, that it is not a crime to commit an act of domestic violence. I thought violence of any nature was always a crime. This is a real shortcoming in our legislation that this type of behaviour can go unpunished if it is regarded as a domestic incident. We need to empower the Garda to be able to act as witnesses in these situations. We need, as Senator Tony Mulcahy said, to remove the perpetrator from the family home. I look forward to legislation to this effect being brought forward by the Government as a matter of urgency. All colleagues will contribute to ensure a speedy passage of such legislation.
The allegations contained in this morning’s newspapers and passed on to the Taoiseach by the leader of Fianna Fáil are very worrying. I hope we get to the truth of this. There is no person better than the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, to get to the truth quickly and to seek total openness and transparency. We all need to express confidence in the justice system and get to the bottom of any wrongdoing.
What about confidence in the Minister?
I congratulate Senatorm Fiach Mac Conghail on the fine production in the Abbey Theatre last night. We also had amateur dramatics in this House last night. The behaviour of one Senator to the Leas-Chathaoirleach was not an edifying spectacle and did not reflect the House in a good light.
He was totally out of order.
I commend Senator Tony Mulcahy for his open and honest contribution on domestic violence that he gave at yesterday’s justice committee. Fianna Fáil joins other Members in offering support to the Senator and to legislation, whether amending or new, to criminalise this quiet act going on across the country. It not only affects women and children but also men, a point some forget. Men are bullied and beaten in their homes. It affects every segment of a family and should be criminalised. I am horrified. Until Senator Tony Mulcahy’s contribution yesterday, I did not realise it was not a criminal matter. I encourage the Senator to bring forward legislation in this regard as a matter of urgency which Fianna Fáil will support.
I attended yesterday’s presentation by the Irish Postmasters Union in Buswells Hotel, as did many other Members. It would be a sad day for rural communities if our post offices were forced to close because they were not given the opportunity to tender on a level playing pitch for State services. One example given yesterday was the new driving licence. An Post tendered for it, but it was not able to compete with private enterprise because some of the main criteria were not about accessibility or number of outlets but cost. As a result, people in larger counties have to travel up to 80 to 90 miles to a centre to apply for a driving licence. This is not acceptable. Will the Deputy Leader impress upon the Government the importance of a level playing field to allow post offices tender for any State contracts and thus ensure they can remain in rural areas? We have lost far too much already. We do not want to lose more post offices.
I commend Senator Tony Mulcahy for his revelations yesterday. I am surprised Senator Diarmuid Wilson claims he did not know domestic violence is not classified as a criminal offence considering I brought forward a motion-----
Excuse me, I did not say that. I said I was horrified to realise it was not a crime.
Yes, but I am surprised he did not realise it, considering I brought forward a motion in this House, with cross-party support, on the very issue.
The Senator is putting words in his mouth.
Fianna Fáil supported the motion and I highlighted the issue at the time.
On a point of information, in fairness I cannot be aware of everything that happens in this House 365 days of the year.
Fair enough. Point taken.
I am responding to an honest contribution given by a Member to the justice committee on domestic violence.
The Senator has made his point.
I merely pointed out that I was not aware and was horrified that it was not a crime.
Point taken, but it was an issue I had raised here before. We discussed it at length and there was cross-party support. I commend Senator Tony Mulcahy for his honesty and bravery for speaking out on this matter. Sometimes it takes someone giving their personal experience for people to listen. I hope we will now move forward on this issue.
Yesterday, the House had a good debate on A Vision for Change. However, many of us sat here for two hours waiting to contribute to it. It was dominated by the problems with mental health services in Ballinasloe, with which I do not have a problem as it is an issue for the people there and the Senators who raised it. There is far more to A Vision for Change, however, with many other issues which we would have liked to raise yesterday. Last night, I expressed my disappointment to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that there were many issues we wanted to raise but did not get a chance on which to speak. Will the Deputy Leader invite her back for another debate on A Vision for Change at the earliest opportunity to allow for other issues to be discussed?
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an bhfianaise a thug an Seanadóir Mulcahy dúinn inné nuair a tharraing sé aird ar an gceist seo. Spats aside, it is important the whole issue of domestic violence has been put back on the agenda. I would welcome a debate on this issue again. We have already had several debates on it.
It is a very serious issue to which I have drawn attention on a number of occasions in the joint policing committee meetings I have attended. It is one of the statistics that has been increasing month after month and meeting after meeting.
We have been talking about performances. I am looking forward to going to the Abbey Theatre to see a version of "Sive", in which I performed when I was a young fellow with hair. That is a few years ago. We certainly had a wonderful performance yesterday at the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. I would call it a performance and a tour de force worthy of the Abbey stage. The Minister for Justice and Equality certainly gave a great rendition, but I do not think any of the Deputies or Senators there fully believed him in respect of what has been happening in connection with GSOC. The inquiry certainly does not go far enough. I know the Labour Party has been trying to take the kudos for pushing for an inquiry but the fact that it will not be done under the Commission of Investigation Act 2004 is regrettable. We should be pushing for this because we need the compellability to go with it. The handling of the whistleblower affair leaves much to be desired, as does the fact that the confidential recipient has ostensibly been fired. There are some very worrying reports in the Irish Examiner and I believe on "The Pat Kenny Show", particularly one by Michael Clifford, about the case of Sylvia Roche Kelly who was murdered. The article by Michael Clifford states:
The reality, though, is that the case was an example of serious malpractice within the gardaí for which there can only be two plausible explanations. Either there was gross incompetence by a number of officers, or there was an organised cover-up designed to avoid scandal in the wake of an initial mistake.
That is a very serious allegation at which we really need to look. Given all the shenanigans that have been going on relating to these very serious issues, does the Deputy Leader and the Labour Party have full confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality or does the Deputy Leader agree with our deputy leader, Deputy Marie-Louise O'Donnell that-----
Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell is the Senator's deputy leader.
It feels like it sometimes. My secret is out. In all seriousness, does the Deputy Leader agree that the Minister's position is untenable as has been stated by our deputy leader, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, because I certainly think it is? I think there are serious questions to answer. Public confidence in the Minister has been seriously damaged and the Labour Party needs to act.
I congratulate Senator Tony Mulcahy on his contribution yesterday and hope it leads to some change in that area. Speaking as a member of the legal profession who practised family law, as did the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I can say that sometimes even when one uses the courts system, abuse of it can take place, particularly in the prolonging of litigation and proceedings. I have seen situations where family law cases have gone on for 12 years. Some 25 court orders later, the case goes to the Supreme Court. There are a number of cases going to the Supreme Court with long delays and it is just a protracted exercise. It is something at which we need to look. In respect of family law and domestic violence, it is very easy to criticise a Minister for Justice and Equality.
It is no difficulty.
His contribution to family law in the past 30 years should not be left unnoticed because he has been one of the biggest contributors to reform in that area. It is something we should not ignore. Major changes have been made in this area
It is his actions that are questionable.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, he has also brought forward many changes in that area, which we should not forget. It is important that this recognition is given. Domestic violence, particularly the number of serious incidents in private settings in the past two months, is frightening. The number of stabbings and murders is frightening and is something at which we need to look. However, we also need to look at it in our education system in terms of respect for one another. I am not too sure about whether we are doing enough of it. Regardless of whatever law is put in place, we must also change the culture in that area in some quarters. We need to look at respect for one another in the education system.
I have a few words to say about the points made by Senator Sean D. Barrett in respect of the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill last week and the very noble part that the Seanad played partly because we had a listening Minister with regard to the penalty points. The loophole will now be closed by the Courts Service and credit must go to Senator Barrett for drawing our attention and that of the Minister to this and for putting down an amendment on that basis.
In respect of GSOC, my attention was drawn to the fact that it was just so involved that I went back to look at the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Section 80(6) refers to various reports by GSOC which it set up at that stage. The constitutional position is that GSOC reports to the legislator - the Dáil and the Seanad. I will outline two very pertinent points. Section 80(3) states that "the report submitted under subsection (2) may contain recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the Ombudsman Commission". Section 80(5) states that "the Ombudsman Commission may make any other reports that it considers appropriate for drawing to the Minister's attention matters that have come to its notice and that, in its opinion, should, because of their gravity or other exceptional circumstances, be the subject of a special report to the Minister." Section 80(6) is the important one because it states "as soon as practicable after receiving a report under this section, the Minister shall cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas". I have not seen that report. I assume it has been given to the Minister and that the Minister is obliged to lay it before each House of the Oireachtas. I am not sure if this has happened and I ask the Deputy Leader to confirm that this has not yet happened and confirm whether it is due to happen. The subsection states "as soon as practicable after receiving a report under this section, the Minister shall cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas". To the best of my knowledge, we have not seen it here. I would welcome knowledge as to whether we are going to have it laid before us and the reason the Minister has not done so up to now.
I agree with Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson on the need for a campaign with regard to the post offices. A Government action plan is required for the survival of the post office. The dismantling of rural Ireland continues apace. We have seen Garda stations close in many rural areas and an increase in the amount of break-ins and burglaries that have ensued when gardaí are not on the ground to deal with these issues. We have also seen the local pubs and shops all being seriously affected. We have seen emigration, which has decimated many GAA clubs, and now we see post offices being abandoned by this Minister. I am appalled that a Minister, particularly one from the Labour Party, would favour big international business interests over small post office operations that often are run by families and indeed people in rural areas who need those operations. I accept fully that there is a need to have an economic balance.
On my local radio station this morning, I heard a former colleague of mine, Hugh Byrne, speak about the decimation of rural Ireland and the need to deal with these issues. There is a dearth of social capital in rural Ireland which must be addressed. I call on the Minister to say that while economic issues must be addressed, they must also be balanced with the social issues involved in this. If we are just going to deal with the administration of Government as a fiscal issue, it would be far better to engage accountants and let them do the job because they would be far more proficient at it. Unfortunately, democracy depends on politicians who have an interest in social issues and who balance economic issues with those social issues. That is not happening. As a member of Fianna Fáil, I must say we have always subscribed fully to proper rural development and infrastructure that underpin good healthy rural societies. Post offices were one of the fundamental pillars. I am asking the Government to turn its back on the route it is following and the influence huge businesses are having to the detriment of the citizen.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange an urgent debate on two matters of international affairs? The first is the very serious crisis in Ukraine, the political ramifications arising from such a crisis and the interaction with the European Union and Russia.
We need to hear the official Government position and response from the Tánaiste.
In recent days the UN report issued a report on the ongoing humanitarian, political and social crisis in North Korea. It was of no surprise, as North Korea is a Stalinist, almost hidden state. The shocking details in the report must result in the strongest possible response from the United Nations, the European Union and every civilised country. Families and citizens are being detained in concentration camps. The UN report likened the situation to the Nazi regime, but pointed out the significant difference that we fully know what is happening. The Tánaiste, on behalf of the Government, should issue a strong response and ensure the international community does not keep turning a blind eye to the shocking humanitarian and political crisis in North Korea. We are referring to a country that might have access to nuclear weaponry and is certainly a danger to international relations, yet there has been no response at UN or EU level of meaningful import. We must debate the matter and try to initiate some degree of response.
I am troubled by certain aspects of the emerging story of the intersection between the legislative branch that oversees the Garda and the various bodies that exist to ensure complaints from within and without the Garda can be handled and by the adequacy of the protection that the latter provide for whistleblowers. With this in mind, I will ask a question of the Deputy Leader, herself a distinguished lawyer. Let me state I have great respect for the intellect and reforming zeal of the Minister for Justice and Equality, one of the smartest and most able to ever occupy that office. He has brought a real energy for reform, which I commend. However, there is something deeply troubling about the culture of a public service in which the person who is responsible for protecting whistleblowers advises a whistleblower that perhaps the latter should not blow the whistle because of personal consequences for himself or herself. I will not go over old ground, but as someone who once found himself facing some very unusual reactions from public bodies in this country when I blew a whistle on a problem, I do not believe the culture of the public service collectively has yet managed to transcend corporatism and self-loyalty and to understand that it works for the people. If individuals blow whistles about problems, it is not the job of the public sector to put down the shutters, pull up the drawbridge and protect itself. Rather, its job is to protect the people in whose interests it should be acting. Frequently, and with no disrespect to our many fine public servants, this does not happen. The higher up the food chain one goes, the less likely it is to happen.
One then factors in other recent disclosures, for example, public bodies such as the HSE sending threatening letters to people who publicly and legitimately criticised aspects of public policy. One must have a serious think about from where this culture is emanating. Is the Deputy Leader happy that there is an appropriate culture of respect for whistleblowing in the public service or is it something about which we need to have a serious think? I wonder if this would be an opportunity to hold a public consultation forum in this Chamber at which people might have the opportunity to discuss specific examples of the protection of the State not being appropriately accorded to people who brought serious concerns that, five, ten or 15 years later, we know were often legitimate and involved matters as diverse as child abuse, financial mismanagement and specific acts of malfeasance by individual public servants. Perhaps we need to have a little retreat on this issue to readjust ethical compasses.
Following on from Senator John Crown's words, I am concerned as the plot thickens around the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission review. Only one question now counts - has the public confidence in this review? It does not. To achieve confidence, it is becoming clear that on this issue alone, the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, must step aside. He is a fine Minister with an incredible work rate and a great intellect but he is too heavily embroiled in this issue for the public to have confidence in him. The review must be seen to be independent of him. It is critical that the public feel confident around such security issues. If the Deputy Leader commented on what I have said, it would be useful.
Other questions arise. Will the review's terms of reference be debated in the Houses? As Senator Feargal Quinn stated, the Garda Síochána Act, which set up the GSOC in 2005, makes it clear that the GSOC should report to the Legislature. The confidential recipient was stood down yesterday. When will a new one be appointed?
Go through the list of Fine Gael donors.
The legal protection for whistleblowers must continue. Given everything that has emerged, we do not know for sure whether that protection was ever provided. I look forward to the Deputy Leader's response.
I join others in saying "Fair play" to Senator Tony Mulcahy for his statement yesterday to the committee regarding domestic abuse. It was not easy for him and took a lot of guts. It was good to see, as we need a little more of it.
I also join others regarding the threat to rural post offices. I was brought up beside a post office. My grandmother had the post office and my father is now its postmaster. In my experience, rural post offices are under pressure. My village has lost its bank, which used to be across the road. We have an ATM somewhere in the town. The Garda station was closed recently. Services are dwindling. As was mentioned during a presentation yesterday, the post office is the heart of the community. It is a place where people meet in the morning. Most importantly, it provides a social service. With some will, the network could be improved. My sister and mother, who work behind the counter, tell me stories about how they can see in the faces of the young fellows who go to the post office every week that the latter are despondent and down on their luck. The dole has been cut for lads aged under 25 years. To keep their old cars on the road, they can only tax them for three months at a time. They are being penalised because they cannot pay an entire year's tax at one time. If they could pay the tax in the post office, that would be something. They used to be able to rent flats in town but have had to return home to mammy and daddy. As they do not have the few bob to have a few pints at the weekend, they must sit inside with their mothers and fathers watching "The Late Late Show". The situation for young fellows in rural Ireland is demoralising. I have asked the Minister for Social Protection to speak to me about this matter.
The post office should be the first point of call for people who are unemployed and on the dole. They could be directed from the post office by the people who know them and who work there. I was going to set up a register of people who are unemployed and looking for work and to list the skills that are available. People who are looking for work locally could then check the register to see what is available. Unfortunately, the Minister does not want to do this.
There are many other ways in which the post office can be enhanced and used better. What about the likes of motor taxation? Why can that not be renewed in a post office? I cannot understand why the new driving licences were not given to the post offices. There is plenty that the Government, including the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Social Protection, could do if those responsible liaised with the Irish Postmasters Union and An Post. This is something that should be done. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence, but before I finish, it must be made clear that if the service is not being used by local people, then we will lose it. I appeal to people who are getting their pensions to think beyond simply getting it into their bank account in a handy way. People should use the post office and the services it provides. They should go down and meet the neighbours and the people there. They should keep the community alive and keep the post offices alive, because when they are gone they will not be coming back.
I advise colleagues that the Minister for Finance has confirmed his availability for 4 March for the statements promised. We had hoped he would be able to come next week, but it will be the first day of the following week.
I will respond first to Senator Darragh O'Brien. I am pleased to hear that Fianna Fáil will be supporting the appointment of an An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill. Of course, the Government is fully committed to the protection of the Irish language. We were all delighted to see the big crowd on the streets on Saturday for Lá Mór na Gaeilge and look forward to the debate this afternoon.
Senators Darragh O'Brien and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh asked whether the Labour Party and I had confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality. Of course, we do. Senator John Crown put it eloquently when he spoke about the intellect and reforming zeal of the Minister, which is, undoubtedly, the case. This Minister has carried out many important reforms, including the introduction of the heads of the child and family agency legislation, family law reforms, reforms in the legal professions and penal reform, a subject about which I feel strongly.
That is not the issue.
The issue concerns the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and whistleblowers.
I believe he could have handled the policing issue better and have said as much in other fora. In particular, he could have handled the GSOC controversy better. It is unfortunate that we had a drip-feed of information on what went on within it. I do not believe it was purely the Minister's fault, but it was unfortunate. It is welcome that we will have an independent review to be carried out by Mr. Justice Cooke. As colleagues will be aware, the terms of reference provide for the judge to take oral or other evidence; it is not simply a desktop review, as has been suggested. It is a tightly drawn review in terms of timing. This is welcome because we are all keen to see the review dealt with swiftly and clarity, in particular, on the sequence of events. The eight week timeframe is welcome.
Will it be debated in the House?
The Attorney General advised on it.
The Attorney General has advised on it. I would be glad to have a debate on the issue generally in the House, including the terms of reference for the independent review. I am unsure whether we would be better off in doing it when we have seen the independent review report or now. That is a matter I will take up with the Leader's office.
I wish to correct the record because some colleagues are a little unclear about the Garda Síochána Act 2005, under which the Minister inherited a rather flawed structure for the accountability of An Garda Síochána. Many of us were highly critical of the Act which was introduced by a previous Government under the then Minister, Mr. McDowell. In fact, it created a force that was accountable directly to the Minister. Someone suggested the force was accountable to the Legislature, but that is not correct. Senators should examine the provisions of the Act. One of the problems is that it creates too close a relationship between the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day and An Garda Síochána. I remember speaking in 2004 and 2005, as did many others, and contrasting the legislation with the PSNI reforms, as part of which there was a policing board linked directly between the political leadership and the operational leadership of the commissioner.
That makes sense.
That is the type of reform we need to consider. I am pleased that the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has been asked to advise on changes to the Garda Síochána Act. We discussed the matter yesterday afternoon at our meeting and will be looking with urgency at necessary reforms of the provisions relating to GSOC. There was cross-party agreement on the need to consider broader reform of the Act to ensure greater accountability mechanisms. I am pleased that the Minister has already promised reform of GSOC by way of an amendment to enable a serving garda to make complaints to GSOC. This has been a clear flaw in GSOC. At the time it was set up, I was critical because it was clearly a weakened version of the structure in Northern Ireland with the tripartite model rather than a single person. Straightaway we were diluting authority. We will debate all of this at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. There are many issues, many of which cannot be laid at the door of the Minister. This is a flawed structure and I am pleased that we will have an independent review of the allegations around bugging, which are serious.
Senator Darragh O'Brien should do good news more often because it suits him.
It is not easy.
We were all pleased to see the success of the cricket team.
More coaches for Malahide.
I congratulate the team. Some of the puns used by the Leas-Chathaoirelach and others put us on a sticky wicket, but we will pass on.
Senator Paul Coghlan raised the Garda Síochána issue which I have dealt with.
My thanks to Senator Sean D. Barrett for supplying me with some of the material about which he was speaking concerning the revelations on Newstalk this morning relating to the non-allocation of penalty points. I realise he engaged comprehensively with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport during the debate on the Road Traffic Bill and commend him for his important contributions and proactive engagement. It is a good example of the important work the Seanad can do with a listening Minister and good to hear the issue was highlighted this morning on Newstalk.
Senator Tony Mulcahy spoke about his contribution yesterday on domestic violence at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I was privileged to be present for the full three hour hearing and there, in particular, with Senator Katherine Zappone during Senator Tony Mulcahy's powerful and moving contribution in which he spoke about his personal experience. As others have said, he deserves our thanks because he brought home to everyone listening the appalling experience of domestic violence. I support the Senator in his call for legislation and a change in culture in respect of criminalisation. I emphasise for colleagues, however, that domestic violence is criminalised. The Garda police it and there has been a change in culture to take it more seriously. However, what we do not have is a specific offence of domestic violence. This was the issue raised with us yesterday by several groups, including Safe Ireland. By contrast, for example, Sweden has a specific offence of domestic violence. The Garda prosecutes on the basis of assault or non-fatal offences against the person legislation which includes a range of assault offences. Naturally, domestic violence encompasses these as well as sexual offences under the sexual offences laws. Most commonly it is prosecuted as a breach of barring orders. This is because where a barring order is in place, a breach by a perpetrator of violence is a criminal offence. There is extensive criminalisation but not the targeted focused criminalisation of a specific offence which might improve the culture of policing and the apprehension of perpetrators. Senator Tony Mulcahy spoke eloquently about the need for the Garda to be more proactive by removing perpetrators from the scene of the crime, which is what the family home is, rather than having the victims and, usually, children flee the family home, as often happens. It was a powerful contribution and we were all moved by it. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is drawing up a solutions focused report on the necessary changes to legislation to make the policing of domestic violence more effective. I know we have a listening Minister on the matter who is very committed to the legislation.
Senator Kathryn Reilly commented on local and community development companies and the alignment issue. I imagine the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, would be happy to come to the House to hear statements on the issue and update us on progress. I understand councillors will have more powers and that there will be more formal alignment arrangements. The Senator raised some practical issues that may be teased out with the Minister.
Senator Terry Brennan also congratulated the cricket team and remarked on the need to criminalise violence in all its forms in the home and schools. Again, we heard powerful testimony and I thank the Senator for his support.
Senator David Norris congratulated Senator Fiach Mac Conghail and gave a strong endorsement of the performance of "Sive" last night. I was sorry I could not see it, but I hope to see it at some point. Senator David Norris's description of the play as a masterpiece sounds right.
The Senator also mentioned the visit to Japan, an issue on which I will follow up with the Whips in the Dáil. I understand the invitation was received from the Whip's office, which is not the appropriate place. Senator Paul Coghlan has pointed out to me that we should put the matter on the agenda for the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and perhaps we might have cross-party support for it.
Senator Michael Mullins complimented Senator Tony Mulcahy on his contribution and spoke about domestic violence and the policing allegations. Senator Diarmuid Wilson also commended Senator Tony Mulcahy and spoke about the need to ensure more effective criminalisation of domestic violence. He also spoke about the issues in respect of the Irish Postmasters Union, on which I gave a full response yesterday when I said the Government was committed to sustaining a viable An Post network and supported the maintenance of a maximum number of economically viable post offices. We have one of the most extensive post office networks per head of population in the European Union. I gave the numbers and pointed out that we could have a debate on the report published last year by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on the sustainable future of post office networks. However, as I said yesterday, An Post is a commercial State body. It has seen an enormous drop in its business in traditional mail volumes which have fallen by 25% in five years simply because of changes in people's practices. It is bidding for other business on a level playing field. The local property tax can be paid through the post office and An Post has recently been selected, following a competitive tender, by the Department of Social Protection to provide over the counter cash services for social welfare recipients. It will pitch strongly in the tendering process for the e-payment business of that Department. Senator Paschal Mooney proposed an amendment to the Order of Business yesterday on this issue; therefore, those who have raised it today should look at the record to see what was-----
There is not a level playing pitch in tendering for State services.
As I said, we should have a debate on the report of the joint committee because these issues are addressed more fully in it. If we table a motion, we can tease them out. An Post has been successful in tendering for State business in the recent past and I hope it will be successful in the near future also.
Senator Marie Moloney spoke about domestic violence and a motion she had put forward recently in the House. She also spoke about A Vision for Change and last night's debate. It is unfortunate that it was dominated by a particular issue, but I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, would be happy to come back to address the broader issues. We will certainly ask her to do so. She has been here on many occasions to debate these and other issues.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh spoke about the issue of domestic violence and raised the matter of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission which I think I have dealt with. There are very worrying new allegations about failures in policing such as those in the Sylvia Roche Kelly case. The flaws in the investigation process of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder have been on the record for a long time. There are particular issues, but they are more operational policing issues that we need to examine.
The buck stops with the Minister.
The buck does stop. As I said, I do not believe An Garda Síochána should be accountable directly to the Minister.
It is and he is the boss.
That is absolutely right. We will look at how we could improve the legislation.
Does the Deputy Leader have full confidence in him?
Naming Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell in her new role reminds me of the naming by Sinn Féin of Maurice Manning as Leader of the Seanad, which was equally amusing.
Senator Colm Burke also spoke about the domestic violence issue and pointed to some examples highlighted yesterday by NGOs which gave evidence to us on such violence, delays in family court hearings and so on. He pointed to the contribution the Minister had made in improving family law.
Senator Feargal Quinn commended Senator Sean D. Barrett on the Road Traffic Bill 2013 and raised the issue of GSOC. He referred to reports under section 80 of the 2005 Act. In fact, that is not the relevant provision in the current controversy. It was raised wrongly in the Dáil by the Minister but he later corrected himself. The relevant provisions are sections 102 and 103 of the Act and I suggest colleagues look at them. Section 102(4) provides for the public interest investigations of the sort GSOC, in fact, commenced, although it is unfortunate that we did not know this until later last week. Once such an investigation begins, under section 103, GSOC has an obligation to supply the Minister with a report. It is a different, qualified obligation in the sense that GSOC does not have to provide the information if it believes it is not in the public interest to do so. The legislation is complex in terms of reporting requirements. GSOC has placed other reports before the Oireachtas under section 80, but in this controversy there are different provisions which deal with reporting obligations.
Senator Jim Walsh also spoke about post offices.
Senator Paul Bradford spoke about international affairs. I can certainly ask for the Tánaiste's presence. He was in the House recently for a debate on the situation in Syria. I understand he is in Brussels this morning, attending an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council meeting of EU Ministers on the crisis in Ukraine. It is a very serious crisis, on which I am sure he will be happy to update us in the future.
Senator John Crown spoke about the 2005 Act. Again, I would like to stress that it is not the Legislature which oversees An Garda Síochána under that Act. The Senator is right on the culture of a lack of protection and support for whistleblowers. The Government is bringing forward the Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 which is on Second Stage in the Dáil. It will be the first time we will have comprehensive protection for whistleblowers which is very important across all sectors. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames also spoke about whistleblowers and the 2005 Act. In respect of Mr. Oliver Connolly and the call for a new confidential recipient, I think the Minister is now saying he will amend the Act, which is very welcome, to enable serving gardaí to go directly to GSOC which they could not previously do. I understand the confidential recipient was introduced in the 2005 Act as an alternative. It may be that there is no requirement to have a confidential recipient if we see that amendment come through quickly. Clearly, there is a concern that there is no mechanism for internal complaints by gardaí and perhaps a temporary person might have to be appointed. However, in the longer term it is envisaged that this problem will solved by an amendment to the Act.
Senator James Heffernan spoke about rural post offices. I think I have dealt with that issue.