The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re appointment of the chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, referral to committee without debate, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re the Ombudsman Act 1980 (Section 1A) (No. 2) Order 2015, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015 – amendments from the Dáil, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 3 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 4, motion re earlier signature of the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015 – Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded, with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; No. 6, the Defence (Amendment) Bill 2015 – All Stages, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 6.30 p.m., with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each, the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate on Second Stage, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 7, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
We have no difficulty with the Defence (Amendment) Bill. I understand that it is to facilitate the promotion of the rear admiral to head of the armed forces.
Chief of Staff.
I thank the Senator. The printed Order Paper states: "Order for Second Stage". Has the Leader amended that?
It is all Stages.
The Order Paper always shows the Bill at the next Stage, which is Order for Second Stage.
The Leader is proposing that we take all Stages.
Four years in and I am still learning. That is great.
The Senator is a fast learner.
He will not be here much longer.
We will try not to detain him.
We will worry about that on another day.
Last week, I asked for a debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, regarding the situation in Greece. A number of us asked for it, actually. It is important. The schedule is tight this week and difficult to manage. It shows that, as we approach a recess, there is a glut of legislation once again.
We have never planned our legislation properly over successive Governments and successive years. There is always a run. We have four or five Bills today and more Bills right the way through the week while there have been other weeks where we were light on business. It is a pity.
The Greek situation is one that should be discussed. As a citizen and a Member of the Oireachtas, I want to know what our Government's position has been and I want it confirmed in the House. I have seen the interviews and read the reports, but a debate is important. Neither the European Union nor the Syriza Government has covered itself in glory and one cannot escape the fact that the Greek people have been very badly treated by both. The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, has attended many of these meetings.
They entered into the last bailout, which is the one they did not fulfil.
Will Senator Coghlan allow Senator O'Brien to make his point?
That goes to my next point. There is a new bailout for Greece, which is only right and proper. No one wants to see Greek society descend into chaos. We want to see the banks open and people being able to withdraw more than €60 a day if they have it. We want to see an end to the crisis but we are entitled, as a Parliament within the EU, to discuss it. Ireland will, I am sure, be asked to contribute to a further bailout. It will be well over €1 billion and perhaps closer to €2 billion. Rightly, we contributed €350 million to one of the previous bailouts. While I have no problem with that solidarity, we need to know what the Government is saying and what its position is. I am insisting that the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, come to the House.
The talks have yet to follow.
Please, Senator Coghlan.
We should be allowed to discuss it. I ask the Leader to respond and, hopefully, we can set aside an hour or an hour and a half to discuss a matter of significant national and EU importance.
I wish to update colleagues on a matter I ask the Leader to take up again. Since February 2014 I have been raising the issue of the Fampyra drug for 3,000 MS sufferers who cannot access it. I have been writing repeatedly to the Minister and HSE, as have other colleagues, only to get the same stock answer. What really bothers me is that we have to get our information third hand. I am finding out that the HSE has in fact written to all consultant neurologists for a list of names of patients using Fampyra and benefitting from the drug with a view to compiling a list for August-September of those to whom the drug will then be released. That is great, but why in God's name will they not tell us about it? Why are the Department and the HSE providing us with nonsense responses while I have to find out third hand from an MS sufferer? While I am glad of the news, if it is correct, my point is a more general one. We are raising matters here on a regular basis and the Department knows that. We should be kept informed of how things are, or are not, progressing. I find it unacceptable that we are not. I welcome the news as it looks as if we are at long last getting some long overdue movement. I will be writing to the head of the HSE to get confirmation.
I welcome the motion on the appointment of the chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It is a very fine appointment and I am delighted to see the matter on the Order Paper notwithstanding the fact there is clearly no need for debate on it. In terms of the situation in Greece, I was one of the Members who spoke on it last week. All of us have immense concern for the people of Greece who have been left without a functioning banking system or, it seems, economy in the last few weeks. It seems like a very volatile situation and, while I would like to hear what the Leader says, I am not sure a debate today or tomorrow would be of any assistance.
We need to wait at least until the Greek Parliament has debated it.
I would like to know what we are on the hook for.
That seems to be changing all the time.
I ask the Leader for a debate in the autumn on hate crime legislation. I was present at the launch of a report yesterday by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties together with University of Limerick academics who have drawn up draft legislation on hate crimes. They propose the introduction of aggravated offences against the person and an aggravated offence of criminal damage where the motivation for an offence was bias against a person on the basis of ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
A range of non-governmental organisations including the Gay + Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and others have worked with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, on this legislation. It is impressive. The Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and I attended the launch and we will be looking to work on it to see if we can introduce some form of legislation on this area in the autumn. We heard powerful testimony about the experiences of individuals who have been targeted because of their ethnicity, sexuality, they are transgender or for other reasons and subjected to hate crimes in Ireland in recent years. It is appalling that there is no legislation dealing specifically with that but also no systematic means of recording these offences. An Garda Síochána has some policies but they are inadequate at this stage. Given there is no legislation, it is particularly difficult for the Garda to record these instances specifically as hate crimes. I ask the Leader for that debate.
I thank all colleagues who contributed in the debate last Thursday afternoon on the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which, following enactment, will be renamed the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It was a good day for the Seanad. It started life as a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad introduced by myself and the Labour Senators and it was great to see it getting Government approval, moving forward and concluding Report Stage on Thursday afternoon in the Seanad. We had a good array of people in the Gallery who had a strong interest in the Bill, which will now come before the Dáil. I am sure we all look forward to it becoming law and finally removing the possibility of discrimination under section 37.
I support Senator Bacik's call for a debate on the proposed hate crime Bill. Earlier this year, our group tabled a Private Members' motion on that issue, particularly on the definition of a hate crime and, importantly, how to encourage the collection of statistics. We had a full debate on that in the Seanad. I am interested in the University of Limerick report, and I support Senator Bacik's call in that regard.
I wish to raise the unlawful detention of and Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, in an Egyptian jail for almost two years. Many Senators have raised this issue. I have great respect for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, but I ask that he come to the Seanad and offer us reassurance that the Government is doing everything possible to seek the release of this Irish citizen. I was concerned to hear on the news last Sunday that the human rights lawyers representing Ibrahim Halawa were not aware of any formal support from the Irish Government for a request by lawyers in Cairo for his release under a presidential decree. My concern is whether the Government is doing enough in this matter.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 80, motion 17, on the Order Paper be taken today, at the Minister's convenience, to allow Senators hear the latest view of the Government. I am not criticising the Government but we need to hear its latest opinion on the illegal detention of an Irish citizen in a foreign jail. He was a child of 17 when he was arrested and has endured arbitrary detention over two years, with no review. He is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly. The Seanad must continue to put pressure on the Irish Government, but also on the Egyptian Government, to expedite his release and return him safely to this country.
I second Senator Mac Conghail's amendment. I feel strongly about this issue. The Egyptians are maintaining he is an Egyptian citizen but the position of Ireland should clearly be that he is an Irish citizen. If they want a tug of war, we should give it to them.
I support the call for a debate on Greece. There should be an inquiry into the role played by Goldman Sachs in the initial entry of Greece into the eurozone. There is a lot more that could be said but I will not bother with it today.
I raise the issue of the Beit pictures. Sir Alfred and Lady Beit are on record as saying they wanted these pictures specifically to be kept in Ireland. They wanted them exhibited to the Irish people. Russborough has never exhibited them. Instead, the foundation attempted to put them secretly into an auction. They also sold an old master painting off the walls to a Russian oligarch. I suggest that they now be offered, on loan, to the municipal gallery for exhibition to the people of Ireland. It is a very fine gallery. It has half the Hugh Lane pictures, and I believe people would very much appreciate it.
I also think it is about time something positive was done for the northside of Dublin. Unfortunately, I have not been able to contact the municipal gallery. I telephoned on a number of occasions but its telephone system seems to be out of order. I ask the Leader to send a note to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on this matter, asking that the Beit paintings, including the Rubens and the other paintings, are made available to the municipal gallery for exhibition to the people of Dublin. These paintings have never been seen and it is about time that this gift was exhibited in the proper manner.
I wish the Greek Prime Minister well. He has a very difficult task ahead of him to sell the terms of the proposed deal to his people over the coming weeks. It has become obvious that expectations were raised in Greece that were impossible to live up to. He will need a lot of support from politicians within his own country. The people of Greece are facing a most difficult and testing time. We all want to see commerce and business restored and resumed in Greece as quickly as possible and for people to carry on normal banking functions, which they have been unable to do in recent weeks. The Greek people have been badly served by their politicians over the past number of years. Serious economic issues needed to be addressed but they were not. Ireland would be in the same situation if we had let things run on and had not taken action four and half years ago. There are lessons to be learned. All parties would be well advised-----
It started in 2008.
-----not to raise expectations in terms of what can be achieved.
I very much welcome the strong performance posted yesterday by IDA in regard to its activities in the first half of 2015. It shows that IDA has managed to attract major global brands to Ireland because of the stability here and the way the economy is being run. As many as 110 projects of major significance were attracted to Ireland this year which will lead to the creation of over 9,000 jobs this year and in future years. Last year there were 100 projects which had the potential to create 8,000 jobs. All of that shows we are making significant progress. A notable feature of the figures published yesterday was that 59% of the investment projects attracted here will be located outside of Dublin and in the regions. Two significant projects will come to my county of Galway. Apple will invest €850 million, resulting in the creation 300 jobs in Athenry, and Zimmer will create 250 jobs in Oranmore. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House in the autumn to discuss the Action Plan for Jobs 2015-----
Is this the Senator's manifesto for the Dáil?
-----to see how we can further attract more jobs into the regions.
The Senator's contribution is long.
I want to debate how we can push the 59% figure up further and-----
The Senator is way over time.
-----how we can continue to build on the progress that has been made over the past four and half years.
I support Senator Mac Conghail's motion on the Order Paper. My party supports it fully, as I did last week. I agree with him that there has been a lack of action as far as the Irish Government is concerned. It has not been treated with much respect by the Egyptian Government in this regard.
The Greek people have hard decisions to make. They should be wary of the European Union bearing gifts. Some of the gifts are from the Irish taxpayer and as much as €1.5 billion could be involved in this regard. It is very hard medicine for the Greek people to swallow after having a referendum and electing a left wing government. In fact, what they needed were steady hands like those of the former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and the former Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, who steered the ship of State so carefully through troubled waters.
The Greeks would be well and truly up on the rocks.
It proved the point that the money would have run out and we would have been in dire straits, with no reputation internationally. What company would invest in Greece when there is such uncertainty at present?
I welcome the announcement at 11 o'clock this morning that following discussions, an agreement has been reached with the Republic of Iran on its nuclear programme. I ask the Leader to call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Government to reopen the embassy in Tehran. It was irresponsible of this Government to close that embassy. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for trade, I visited Iran and found we were building up a great relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was damaged by the premature closure of the embassy. I call for an immediate reopening of this embassy. Our links with Iran are a counteraction to the ISIL proposals because the Islamic Republic of Iran is an Islamic state, controlled by the Ayatollah with a limited democracy.
They have no legislative democracy. The candidates are chosen. That is not democracy.
I accept Senator Norris's point because we discussed this matter in Kenya and we criticised that government's actions in relation to minority groups.
The Cathaoirleach recently received the speaker of the Iranian Parliament and we witnessed the excellent relationship that he and all those who met that very fine delegation had with it.
We wish the Greek people well. Naturally, we are all concerned for them. They held an unnecessary referendum in the sense that the question put to the people was off the table. With respect to Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for a debate, I do not think that a debate in the immediate term would be helpful. We know that the Greek Parliament must pass certain measures by Wednesday evening, some of which refer to the last bailout on which they did not follow through. That is the fault of the previous Greek Government. The current Government will have enough to deal with. The agreement is only to allow for detailed talks on a bailout. There are rough figures but the detail has to be worked out and the Finance Ministers must hold a further meeting, so I would counsel caution. I agree with Senator O'Brien that we should have a debate but it would be pointless having one until we have the detail of what the Finance Ministers agree in regard to the bailout.
There is no point in having it in September.
That is not going to take place-----
Why can the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, not come into the House?
Senator Coghlan, without interruption.
What would he say?
He might have something to say. His job is to keep us informed.
We would be navel-gazing.
Senator Coghlan, without interruption.
Until we have further detail, I think this would be pointless. We should have a debate when we have the detail.
When? In September?
It shows the difficulty of having communists in government in a democratic society.
I express some concern about No. 4 on the Order Paper. I acknowledge that the Leader is less than enthusiastic about these motions in which we seek to curtail the time in which the President can consider legislation. This relates to low pay and I do not know what the urgency is. The President had a distinguished academic record in dealing with income distribution and poverty matters when he was in the sociology department in UCG. I am mindful that the last time we were asked to do this was in regard to Eircode. By a motion of the House on 1 July 2015, the President was asked to hurry up his consideration of that but I am sure that had he been allowed the time to consider it, he could have pointed out, as a Clare man, that Shannon Airport is located in County Clare even though Eircode thinks it is in County Limerick. We should not devalue the contribution of Uachtarán na hÉireann.
Nor should the House be bypassed where bureaucrats cannot get their act together and submit legislation in time for the President to consider it.
We have also, through the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, a letter from Aer Lingus today declining to come to a meeting of that committee tomorrow on the grounds of complexity and the Irish Takeover Panel's rules. In the absence of the appearance of Aer Lingus, it is urgent that the Minister should come in to the House. That excuse was used by senior civil servants in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. All that is left to defend the interests of the consumer now is the European Commission. We should have the views of this House on the competition policies that arise from this hostile and anti-competitive takeover of our airline by British Airways. Despite all the PR for which the advisers earned €30 million, all we got was a one-page document of approximately 1,000 words which leaves Ireland seriously exposed to monopoly. We need to have an input because some reports, no doubt also leaked by the two airlines, have stated that the EU competition staff would make up their minds this week. The Aer Lingus refusal to turn up is strategic and the matter should be debated in the House. I hope that the Leader will ask the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to come in today to tell us what steps he is taking to restore competition in Irish aviation after the hostile takeover of Aer Lingus by British Airways.
Listening to Senator Leyden - I am sorry he is gone-----
We do not refer to Senators who leave the Chamber.
I will only say that a long time ago a well-respected Vincentian priest said to me that we all have to have our illusions in this life. I will leave it at that.
With Senator Leyden in mind.
Senator Leyden is in the anteroom. He is watching.
I note the prominent role the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is taking in the discussions in Europe, and how highly respected he is and how people value his guidance in these matters. In relation to Greece, it appears what will probably happen is that people from all sides of the political spectrum who act with good authority will effectively work as a national government to bring through the structural reforms that are necessary so that Greece can begin to move forward. It is not because of austerity that Greece is in the trouble it is in at present, but because of the failure of successive Governments to bring through the necessary structural reforms. There is no point in raising taxes, for example, if one is not collecting those taxes. I, along with other speakers, such as Senator Michael Mullins, wish the Greeks well. They are very much a part of the EU and very much a part of the euro. We must remember that although Greece voted "No" in the referendum, at the same time 80% of Greeks said they wished to stay in the euro. Let us hope that we can have a new beginning in Greece where the Government and the parliamentarians work with good authority.
It is not the time for a debate while negotiations are going on. We do not debate the negotiations.
Nonsense. We want to be updated by the Government on its position.
Senator D'Arcy, without interruption. Does he have a question for the Leader?
I understand that. I would love to, but Senator O'Brien will be aware that at the time when negotiations are going on about anything,-----
Does Senator D'Arcy have a question for the Leader?
I am talking about it in September.
Senator D'Arcy is way over time. I call Senator Cullinane.
I support the call by Senator Darragh O'Brien for a debate on Greece. We need to have a discussion on the role of the Government in this, which is essentially what he called for.
The Senator is playing a blinder.
I will come to that, Senator, with respect.
We might have a debate on the role of Sinn Féin as well.
Absolutely. I would have no difficulty with any such debate if people would allow me to make my contribution.
Senator Cullinane to continue without interruption, please.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. We are served up a number of gems on the Order of Business and we have had two classic examples today. The first was from Senator Michael Mullins, who is in the Chamber, who said that the Greek Government had raised unrealistic expectations. In fact, what the Greek Government wanted to do was exactly what Senator Jim D'Arcy said, which was to clean up the mess created by previous Governments, who created the problems in Greece in the first place.
It was the two previous bailout programmes, supported by the troika and parties associated with Fine Gael and the Labour Party, which created the deep problems in Greece. At least the Syriza Government wants to see taxes collected from the wealthy, the oligarchs and the well-off in Greece, who have not been paying their taxes, as well as others. At least they are committed to doing-----
They need to get on their motorbikes.
At least they are committed to doing that, unlike the Senator's sister parties, which failed in Greece. What the Greek people need is not Brian Cowen or anybody else being sent to Greece to heap more misery on them, but debt restructuring and debt reprofiling. That has to be a centrepiece of this deal, which many people would call a diktat because the Greek Government and the Greek people were not given any choice. What was appalling was statements made today by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who said the referendum was unnecessary, and not only unnecessary but a grave mistake, because essentially it turned off the tap on the banks. The taps were turned off before the referendum. There was an attempt to have a cash famine in Greece, with the German Government and others deciding to cut off liquidity to the Greek banks to put huge pressure on the Greek people and Government. That is what happened. That was a decision taken by the ECB. It was a political decision taken by the more powerful blocs in Europe to prevent a fair deal for the people of Greece.
The Senator has a great-----
The reality is that the banks were closed when the referendum took place. That appears to have escaped the minds of the two Ministers who made their comments today.
The Senator is way over time.
What we need is a debate in order that we can have a discussion on this issue. I do not believe that what was agreed will bring about the type of sustainable economic recovery that is needed in Greece. What we are trying to prevent is our being back here again in six months' time or a year-----
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
-----when matters are worse because we did not have a comprehensive agreement that would sort out the problems in Greece.
I would welcome a debate on this issue. Let us have a sensible debate on the issue in which we can leave behind political charges being made by the Government representatives and discuss the type of deal that is necessary for the people of Greece.
I am sure the members of the House would like to join with me in welcoming a former member of the Dáil and Mayor of County Clare, Mr. James Breen. He is very welcome to the Seanad.
I express my congratulations to Councillor Breen, who has become Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council. It is a great honour for him. He is a former member of this House. I welcome him. I think his guests from San Francisco may be present also. If so, I welcome them and I hope they have an enjoyable trip to Ireland and to Leinster House. Speaking of County Clare, and what I would describe at this stage as the Eircodes fiasco-----
Everybody knows where Shannon Airport is. Everybody knows the address of Shannon Airport.
I have been there a few times.
It certainly is not in County Limerick. It certainly is in County Clare.
Did it move?
Michael McNamara country.
For all their attempts over the years to claim that Shannon Airport is in Limerick, it actually is not. It is indicative of a certain degree of - I will not say incompetence, but certainly complacency - that this organisation would make such an error. I note there is a particular Eircode for the Visitors' Bar in Leinster House, for the Dáil Chamber and for the Members' Bar, but not for the Seanad. It seems those behind Eircode, as well as other people, want to get rid of us.
That is why there is no one here today. They are lost.
Clarity on this issue is needed and I have no doubt the Leader will try to establish some clarity for us.
On a much more serious matter, I commend the woman who has spoken in the media in recent days and challenged and questioned the suspended sentence the man who was convicted of raping her received. It was very courageous of her to waive her anonymity and come out and question the sentencing in rape cases. It is appropriate for the House to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come before it for a debate on sentencing. For very serious crimes, such as rape, a custodial sentence is appropriate in all circumstances. When the courts find that somebody is guilty of rape, in all circumstances there should be a minimum custodial sentence. This is something we might have a lengthy debate on in September or October. I would be interested to hear what other Members of the House have to say about sentencing and sexual violence.
I am somewhat relieved that I am not on Senator Conway's panel. He gave a great welcome to my good friend and former colleague in Dáil Éireann, the mayor of Clare, James Breen.
On a more serious note, even though it may be impractical to have such a debate before the recess, I ask the Leader for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on the amalgamation of Cork city and county councils. It is a regressive move and is not appropriate. I read yesterday's editorial in the Irish Examiner and it focused on the issue again today. It compared the amalgamation to the decision by a former Government to get rid of health boards and create the HSE regional areas. The administration of our health system is appalling, something which has been going on for 20 years. It does not work now, it did not work ten years ago and it was better 20 years ago. I think it was Karl Marx who referred to the thesis, the antithesis and the synthesis. Where are we going with regard to the amalgamation of Cork city and county councils? It will be a large local authority.
I would also like Members and the Leader to reflect on the inequality of representation nationally. In my old electoral area, we lost four council seats and three local authorities. One needs 3,100 votes to become a local authority member, but in other areas 600 or 700 votes will do. The councillors in my area represent places like Dursey Island, Bere Island, Cape Clear and Sherkin Island, as well as remote peninsulas like Mizen Head and the Bere Peninsula. There is less representation for those from west Cork than those in other counties, or even those in Cork city where the quota is half that required in other areas. We should reflect on where we are going. I refer to people's constitutional right to get fair representation. This probably affects other areas, but it is an important issue in Cork.
I ask the Leader to indicate the week, if not the day, on which he expects the next election to be. It is a serious question. Yesterday, during my travails, I happened to be in Tallaght, Swords and Nenagh. A female Government Senator was actively campaigning and it concerned me that she may have known more than I do. I know the Leader has the ear of the Taoiseach. I ask him to indicate as closely as possible, to the nearest week, when the general election will be.
You do not honestly expect the Leader to answer that question.
I refer to No. 80, motion No. 18 on the Order Paper, an all-party motion with respect to city and county councils. I am aware of the many telephone calls and letters originating from this House, promising support and action on the issue relating to the motion, that were sent to distinguished members of city and county councils.
In light of what Senator O'Donovan has just said, I would hate to think we would come back after the summer break and find we are into an election, meaning that the matters raised in the all-party motion have not been discussed in this House. I ask the Leader to confirm that the item in question will be taken before the summer break. Given that it is an all-party motion, I expect that there would be no difficulty getting agreement to have it brought before the House. Letters, soft talk and soft telephone calls are easy to make, but actions speak louder than words. I think the time has come for action. Like other Senators, I think I will be knocking on doors in the autumn. I do not yet know the week, but I assure Senator O'Donovan I am working on it.
We need to remind ourselves that when we raise a matter in this House, it can result in action, sometimes much later. We had a very good debate here two years ago on food provenance. It was suggested that we should be able to determine where food comes from. The Minister was not able to accept the proposition that was before the House at the time because he wanted to go through Europe first to ensure it was in line with anything being introduced there. It was announced yesterday that the consultation process on country-of-origin labelling for non-prepacked meat, which will involve the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, would have to conclude by 31 August. We have had food provenance determination for prepacked meat, but not for loose or non-prepacked meat, including beef and pork. Now we can have it on non-prepacked meat as well. We have until 31 August to make sure that happens.
I would like to mention another item that was announced or taken into account yesterday. It has been said on a number of occasions in this House that people should not be going to prison for not paying their fines. The Government announced yesterday that people would now be able to pay fines in instalments. I have given two reminders that matters raised in this House, on the Order of Business or in the context of a Bill, can result in something happening. I congratulate the Government on the action it has taken in these two areas, even if it has taken a long time.
Senators Darragh O'Brien, Mullins, Paul Coghlan, Jim D'Arcy and Cullinane spoke about the situation in Greece. The euro summit statement stressed the need for the Greek authorities to rebuild trust as a prerequisite for a possible future agreement on the new European Stability Mechanism programme. In this regard, the Greek authorities have committed to legislate for a first set of measures without delay. As a precondition for the Eurogroup to agree the new European Stability Mechanism programme, Greece will also need to request continued IMF support, monitoring and financing from March 2016. A decision to mandate the institutions to negotiate a memorandum of understanding cannot be made until the implementation of the above measures, as well as their endorsement by the Greek Parliament, has been verified by the institutions and the Eurogroup. We have a little way to go yet before we get the full facts in relation to any bailout programme. I will ask the Minister to come in for a debate on the issue in due course. I feel it would be a little premature at this stage, considering the points I have made in this regard.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also raised the plight of sufferers of multiple sclerosis. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel in that regard. I note his points in relation to the HSE, the Department and the need to come clean with information before the House when information is being imparted to Members.
I note the comments made by Senator Bacik about hate crime and the possibility of legislation in that regard. As Senator Mac Conghail mentioned, we have had a debate on this matter previously. I am sure we can arrange a further debate on it in the autumn.
I remind Senator Mac Conghail that I gave a comprehensive reply last week on the case of Ibrahim Halawa.
I assure him that the Government is doing everything possible to secure the release of this Irish citizen. The next hearing in the case is scheduled to take place on 2 August and the Irish Embassy's officials will attend. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials in Dublin and in Cairo will continue to work actively behind the scenes to do everything possible to facilitate positive progress on this case as early as circumstances permit. Embassy officials visited Mr. Halawa for the 42nd time on Wednesday, 24 June last, and the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, met the Halawa family on 4 June. There is a high level of consular visitation, which is an important and practical tool in monitoring Mr. Halawa's welfare and ensuring that the embassy in Cairo is well placed to raise any concerns directly with the prison authorities. The Department has received correspondence from a firm of solicitors regarding the Halawa case in recent days and that is currently being considered.
The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Department are maintaining extensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities and with other international partners that have had citizens in similar circumstances. Examining other similar cases, it is clear that irrespective of any political efforts made by foreign governments, including high-level requests, the other trials were completed before any political consideration of a possible release by the Egyptian authorities took place. In Mr. Halawa's case, the trial is still ongoing. While we continue to maintain extensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities, including at very high levels, the precedents examined to date suggest that it is unrealistic to expect that a release will take place before the initial trial concludes. I assure Senator Mac Conghail that the Government is doing everything it can to secure Mr. Halawa's release.
I note the points made by Senator Norris about the Beit paintings and the suggestion that they go on loan to the Hugh Lane municipal gallery. It is a wonderful suggestion and I will bring it to the attention of the Minister. Obviously it will be a decision for the board but it is something it should certainly consider. The paintings were donated to be viewed by the Irish people and that would be an opportunity for it to happen. I compliment Senator Norris on the suggestion and I hope it will be taken up.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Mullins spoke about the major success of the IDA in attracting companies to this country and in creating so many jobs. It is very important that 59% of the jobs created by the people who are locating in Ireland are going to the regions. Many Members of the House had complained previously that most of the jobs were going to Dublin, Cork and Galway, but they are also going to the regions and the figure verifies that fact.
Senator Leyden spoke about the Islamic Republic of Iran. We all welcome the successful negotiations on its nuclear programme. With regard to the reopening of the embassy, that is a matter for the Government and will be kept under review. However, I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senator Barrett called for the Minister to be invited to the House for a debate on Aer Lingus. It is regrettable that representatives of Aer Lingus will not appear before the joint committee, as the Senator mentioned, but we have held several debates on the issue. I will bring the Senator's comments to the attention of the Minister but we cannot arrange for a debate on the matter in the House this week. As the Senator knows, we have a large amount of legislation to deal with.
Senators Jim D'Arcy and Cullinane spoke about the role of the Irish Government with regard to Greece. Indeed, we could ask about the role of Sinn Féin.
Its emphasis now seems to be on the Greek people rather than Syriza, which is a change in its agenda and equates to moving the goalposts. Senator Cullinane also mentioned that debt restructuring and re-profiling were what were required. That is exactly what the Irish Government did and what the Minister, Deputy Noonan, suggested that the Greek Government do, and I believe it has come around to that now.
Senator Conway raised the introduction of the Eircode system. As the Senator mentioned previously, Shannon is on move again, but I do not believe it is on the move to Limerick. He also raised the question of having minimum custodial sentences in rape cases and called for a debate on sentencing. I will try to arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House for such a debate early in the new session.
Senator O'Donovan raised the issue of the possible amalgamation of Cork city and county councils. Cork is the biggest county in the country. There have also been suggestions that there be an amalgamation in Galway. That follows amalgamations in Tipperary and Waterford.
Yes, and Limerick. Such amalgamations have occurred, and I believe there are only three counties - Cork, Galway and Dublin - that do not have one local authority dealing with both city and county. It is a matter that is under review. I take the Senator's point regarding inequality of representation and I sympathise with him on that point. I am sure it is something that local authority members in those areas will bring to the attention of the Minister and their representative associations.
With regard to the next election, I can only surmise, the same as anybody else, when it will be. My gut feeling is that it will probably be in February or March of next year, but I am only one voice. The only voice that counts is the Taoiseach's and I am not aware of what is in his mind on that matter at the moment.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of city and county councils. As the Senator is aware, the representative associations have been seeking for some time to meet the Minister to raise with him the points covered in the motion in question. I am pleased to advise the House that the Minister will meet the representative associations this week, and hopefully those matters will be addressed.
That is as a result of a recent meeting with the Minister, in which many parties were involved, to press him for such an action.
Senator Quinn referred to a debate on the Food Provenance Bill, and I note his point regarding the extension of country-of-origin labelling to non-prepacked meat, which is welcome. He also referred to the issue of fines and attachments to earnings, which we will be dealing with in the Civil Debt Bill (Procedures) Bill on Friday.
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 80, motion 17, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Yes, it is.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cullinane, David.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Mac Conghail, Fiach.
- Norris, David.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- Power, Averil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- White, Mary M.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Mullins, Michael.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Whelan, John.