The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform re the proceeds of the sale of the State's shareholding in Aer Lingus, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded, 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 6.50 p.m.
Order of Business
On No. 2, I hate to tell members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, "I told you so," but there was no way the banking inquiry committee was going to be able to do its work within the set time and many Members agreed with me at the time.
It was a collective "We told you so."
It was. I do not know how this will fit in with the general election which it is proposed will take place between now and then. It might all be done for nothing.
I cannot agree with No. 1 being taken without debate. It relates to the disbursement of the funds from the sale of the Government stake in Aer Lingus, to the tune of €335,272,000.
The Senator can come back to us and we can have a debate on it.
I am aware that I can do that, but I have used every opportunity to argue against what has happened to the retired and deferred pensioners in the Irish aviation superannuation scheme, the airport pensioners, many of whom have lost up to 60% of their pensions. All of the retired members, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, have lost six weeks pay and are taking a case to the European court, having lodged a case on account of the fact that their basic pension rights have been torn up by the Government. Using part of the proceeds of the sale would go a long way to reducing the level of cuts facing the retired members, represented by RASA, and the deferred members, many of whom have sent e-mails to colleagues in this House in the past couple of days detailing their circumstances. Some of them have paid into their pension scheme for 42 years, but they have now been butchered to permit the sale of the Government's stake in Aer Lingus. It was a divi-up purely to get rid of the deficit in the pension scheme to sell to IAG. That has been done and the Government has moved 5,000 existing members of the scheme into an inferior pension scheme and cut the benefits for the other 10,000 substantially.
At every opportunity available to me I will argue that we should not have sold the 25% stake, but now that the Government has done it, it is not prohibited from finding other funds to make a payment which would reduce the level of cuts suffered by retired and deferred members of the IASS scheme. For that reason, I oppose taking No. 1 without debate. It is important that the Seanad's voice is heard on the issue prior to it being referred to the committee and that ideas on the use of the funds should come from the Seanad. That is what I want.
My colleagues and I in Fianna Fáil will oppose taking No. 1 today without debate. We should have a debate, for which the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, should come to the House.
Does the Senator wish to propose an amendment?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, come to the House to explain what, if any, steps he is taking to reduce the savage cuts foisted on the retired and deferred pension members of the Irish airlines superannuation scheme. Furthermore, I ask him to take on board the views of the Seanad on the use of the proceeds of the sale of the Government’s stake in Aer Lingus. The Leader can fit this in at the bottom of the stream.
Many of us raised the issue of the timescale for the banking inquiry when the matter was brought before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The Chairman of the inquiry committee acknowledged that the date might be pushed back.
I welcome the announcement over the weekend that the Labour Party wouls propose a candidate in the Seanad by-election, following the very regrettable retirement of our colleague and friend Jimmy Harte. It is welcome that we have announced that we will propose Máiría Cahill who is a really fine and wonderful candidate. I know that my colleagues join me in that welcome.
I welcome the Startup Gathering. On Monday a series of over 400 events in five cities over five days started, led by the not-for-profit group Startup Ireland, supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, with the sponsorship of Bank of Ireland. I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash, who chairs the steering committee of the Startup Gathering and wish them well in making progress on the Action Plan for Jobs arising from this welcome initiative. I hope we will have an opportunity soon to again debate the Action Plan for Jobs and the concept of the Startup Gathering and the events that will have taken place.
Will the Leader arrange a debate soon on the role of the Data Protection Commissioner and the issue of digital privacy following today’s judgment by the European Court of Justice in the action taken by Max Schrems in the case against Facebook? This is a very significant judgment and Senators are aware of the lead-up to it. The Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems initially took a case in the Irish courts and then to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg against the safe harbour agreement, the data transfer agreement between the European Commission and the United States. He won his challenge today. There will be a press conference this afternoon hosted by the Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, on the implications of the judgment for the European Union. It will also have implications for Ireland. The matter is being remitted to the High Court The Data Protection Commissioner has welcomed the move and the clarity offered by the European Court of Justice. It has implications for the overall issue of data sharing between the European Union and the United STate. I would like us to have a debate on it when the matter has been dealt with in the High Court.
I strongly condemn the dreadful attack on Kunduz Hospital in Afghanistan in which staff of Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, and patients were killed. There were approximately 22 people killed, apparently in a US airstrike. I join others in calling for a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances of what MSF has described as a war crime.
I congratulate the Nobel Prize winner William Campbell, a native of Ramelton, County Donegal. He studied at Campbell College, Belfast, and Trinity College Dublin where he graduated in zoology in 1952. His work and that of his colleague Professor Satoshi Omura has been praised by the Minister for Health because they developed medicines to kill parasites and have been active in promoting the sale of low-priced drugs for Third World countries. I presume this will be celebrated in both places. There is no need to change the name of Campbell College to celebrate the Nobel Prize winner. Trinity College Dublin gave him an honorary degree two years ago; therefore, somebody on the committee was fairly good at anticipating great developments.
Professor Campbell begins each lecture, no matter where in the world he delivers it, with a slide of The Mall, Ramelton, to remind him and the audience of where he comes from. I also found that humility with Ernest Walton who was especially concerned, in his time as a Nobel Prize winner, with the fact that physics was not taught widely in girls' schools and, therefore, provided extra tuition. There is a humility in both Noble Prize winners, which is commendable. Our Nobel Prize winner is aged 85 years and, therefore, will support Senator John Crown's Bill to abolish the retirement age. Let us hope we are all winning Nobel Prizes at that age.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not just a trade deal, as it addresses environmental and labour considerations, including International Labour Organization standards, minimum wage requirements, and ensures they are actionable within the terms of trade. That is a huge advance on traditional trade agreements and something we might note in future agreements involving this country.
With regard to the banking inquiry, we might have made the timetable, but the whistleblower required the absorption of the secretariat in dealing with the whistleblower investigation, but I hope the report will be worth waiting for in January, given the additional time required.
I would like to say a few words about the recent death of Brian Friel, the master and a giant of world theatre. I understand time can be set aside for Members to pay tribute to great leaders of our nation, of whom Brian Friel was one. Will the Deputy Leader set time aside to pay tribute to him? Brian Friel was a Senator in the 18th Seanad between 1987 and 1989, as a Taoiseach's nominee. He has the record of not having spoken a single word. For such a prolific writer, he kept his own counsel and never said one word in the Chamber during this period. Is binn béal ina thost. He was born in Omagh, County Tyrone in 1929. His working relationship with the Abbey Theatre and other theatres dated back to 1962 when "The Enemy Within" had its world premiere. Other premieres at the Abbey Theatre included "The Freedom of the City", "Volunteers", "Living Quarters", "Aristocrats", "Dancing at Lughnasa", "Wonderful Tennessee", "Give Me Your Answer, Do!" and, of course, "The Loves of Cass Maguire" and "Faith Healer".
Brian Friel began his career as a short story writer, but his play, "Philadelphia, Here I Come!", revolutionised Irish theatre. Plaudits followed over the course of a long and prolific theatre career in the form of the London Evening Standard Award for "Aristocrats" and again for "The Home Place" in 2005, which was staged at the Gate Theatre, a Tony award in 1992 and an Olivier award in 1991 for the massively successful "Dancing at Lughnasa", as well as a lifetime achievement award from The Irish Times. He was also a Saoi in Aosdána. As a co-founder of the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980, he worked with a number of other seminal artists, including Seamus Deane, Stephen Rea and Tom Kilroy, to provide a theatre company for Northern Ireland and particularly for Derry in the middle of the Troubles. It opened with a premiere of another extraordinary seminal play, "Translations". His legacy is a collection of plays which interrogate language, family, religion, history and our concept of what it means to be Irish. These works will resonate with future generations.
I consider Brian Friel to be one Ireland's greatest nation builders who forensically interrogated and challenged the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. He understood the power and ambiguity of memory in developing a sense of who we are as a people and a nation. His work constitutes a living, evolving history of Ireland. Here was a playwright who was striving to ensure the past never became fossilised and deeply aware that it was not the literal past, the facts of history, that shaped us but images of the past embodied in language such as in "Translations". His loss is deeply regretted not only by his family, including his wife, Anne; son, David; daughters, Sally, Mary and Judy, but also his friends and colleagues across all theatres in Ireland, Britain, elsewhere in Europe and the United States, from Broadway to Los Angeles and from Ballybeg, the mythical site of Glenties where all his work was based, to the Abbey Theatre. However, in his own words, we are now invited to a place where words are no longer necessary.
I welcome the recent launch by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Irish passport card which can be used in 30 EU countries.
This innovation will allow Irish citizens to travel within all 30 countries of the European Union and also within the European economic area. Adults who already hold a valid passport book are eligible to apply for this new card. It will fit into a wallet or a purse, which is very handy. The Passport Office is now open for online applications for this new card.
I take the opportunity to commend the Naval Service for its migrant rescue mission in the Mediterranean. I understand its mission is due to be suspended from early December, when the Mediterranean will be much rougher and stormy weather will prevail. I do not think the boats carrying migrants will cease to travel. They will continue to be launched and migrants' safety will be threatened. I commend the three naval ships, the LE Eithne which I had the opportunity to visit when it was berthed at Greenore Port some 18 months ago, the LE Niamh and the LE Samuel Beckett. Since these naval ships were deployed to the Mediterranean, in excess of 7,500 people have been saved. Unfortunately, however, far too many migrants did not survive and many bodies were found. I ask the Minister to keep an eye on the situation and consider providing for our rescue mission to re-enter the Mediterranean, as I believe boats carrying migrants will continue to travel over the rough seas and fatalities will occur.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by our group leader in the House, Senator Darragh O'Brien.
In response to Senator Ivana Bacik's reference to the forthcoming Seanad by-election, it is the intention of the Fianna Fail Party to present the electorate with a candidate about whom I am very pleased. While we all have enormous admiration for Máiría Cahill, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting on a number of occasions in the House, as a brave and courageous woman, as a political party, we believe it is serving the democratic process at its most effective to present the electorate with alternative choices. Obviously, there will be further details forthcoming in that regard.
I also express my condemnation - I am sure Members on all sides of the House agree with me - of last week's attack on two Israeli parents who were driving in their car with their children. Effectively, they were assassinated or executed in front of their two children. There has been very little international reaction to this incident. I should not be too surprised because there is an overwhelmingly pro-Palestinan sentiment in this country that is fuelled by certain elements within the media. All I have ever attempted to do is not to take sides but rather to present an alternative view to that which is sometimes aired in the House.
I firmly believe the only solution to the Middle East problem between Israel and Palestine is a two-nation formula. I utterly and completely condemn the actions of the Israeli defence forces on many occasions, particularly the massacres that took place on the West Bank and in Palestine last year. My credibility in that regard should not be questioned in any way. It is right and proper that whenever there are issues to be raised in respect of both sides, a balance should be struck. I sometimes fear that there is not complete balance in this House when it comes to issues relating to the relationship between Israel and Palestine. I raise this matter because I am sure Members on all sides will utterly condemn this terrible attack. Can Members imagine an innocent couple with two of their children in the back of the car driving along a road being stopped and shot dead in front of them? It is terrible and an indication, perhaps, of the sad descent into violence that has happened in the relationship between Israel and Palestine.
All one can do is pray and hope. I am sure the Leader will convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that we in Ireland will continue to promote peace between both factions. I have always admired the Government’s stance of supporting the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem. In the past, my party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs, Deputy Brendan Smith, has highlighted and will continue to do so in the future the need to strike a balance and the fact that, as a country with its own colonial history, we do not condemn one side without taking account of the other.
The Senator is way over time.
I add my voice to Senator Ivana Bacik’s welcome for the nomination of Máiría Cahill to contest the forthcoming Seanad by-election. She will contest a selection convention in the Labour Party, should there be other nominees. If she is successful, or if there is no other nominee, she will contest the by-election. I welcome Senator Paschal Mooney’s announcement that Fianna Fáil will be putting up a candidate too. Of course, it must put up a candidate; that is democracy at its best. We will be ready and able for that challenge.
I welcome the work done by the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, on workers’ rights and for the unemployed. He has fought tirelessly on these issues, issues on which I have worked with him. He has delivered on the Low Pay Commission, the joint labour committees, employment regulation orders, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Startup Gathering 2015. I welcome what he has done to date in these areas.
When I first became a Senator, I moved a motion on domestic violence which received cross-party support at the time. As it was in the early days of the Government, funding was an issue. It was impossible to get extra funding for any service to deal with domestic violence. Last week I was saddened to read about the Tallaght women’s refuge, which is expected to close by Christmas. This is worrying as the service helps people from the very rich to the very poor. It does not matter how much money one has. If one has to flee home in the middle of the night with one’s clothes on one’s back, one will still need somewhere to go. I would prefer to see these services enhanced and funded rather than eroded. They are vital, particularly for women. I ask Members, particularly women Members, to stand up and fight the closure of this refuge centre, as it is vital for women. While it is considered a second stage refuge centre, where those out of immediate danger move on, they still have nowhere to go. Will the Leader make representations to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, on this issue and ensure the centre will not close?
I just want to correct the record. There were four children involved in the unprovoked attack to which I referred. They were aged nine years, seven years, four years and four months.
On the forthcoming Seanad by-election, the selection of the candidate Máiría Cahill is an internal matter for the Labour Party. It can do whatever it likes. She is a fine person, but the election is a complete farce, with only 100 voters. It is not even an election because Fine Gael has withdrawn from it. It is an own goal for the Labour Party. It is a nomination, not an election.
The last by-election did not represent an own goal.
It was an own goal. The Senator is damn right. It was a goal scored against Fine Gael’s goalkeeper.
This is not an own goal.
The Senator should join the board of the National Museum of Ireland.
The Senator cannot have it both ways.
Senator David Norris to continue, without interruption.
I am horrified, as I am sure everybody else here is, by reports today that an 11-year old boy has been arrested in America for the murder of an eight-year old girl with his father's shotgun. One looks at what President Obama is trying to do, but the appalling National Rifle Association is stymying all of his efforts.
With regard to the date for the general election, I always believed when the Taoiseach said he would hold it in the spring that he would live up to his word. I look at the repercussions, for example, for the banking inquiry where my colleague, Senator Sean D. Barrett, has played such an important role. That would all be down the drain if the Government was to go in November.
Like Senator Ivana Bacik, I welcome the judgment of the European Court. I opposed the measure when it was introduced in this House. I was one of very few Members to do so, but nowadays, with the kind of technology available, people are spying on everybody else all the time. They can photograph others from space in a remote location. I have had my telephone bugged. However, I do not say anything in private that I would not say in public, which sometimes has got me into trouble; therefore, let them just listen, but I do think citizens' rights were impinged on in the legislation. I felt so at the time and thought the transfer of information to the United States was completely and utterly wrong. I hope something will happen as a result of the judgment.
I join Senator Ivana Bacik in condemning the appalling bombing of the hospital in Afghanistan over the weekend, with the appalling loss of life, including the deaths of workers with Médecins Sans Frontières, whose only interest in being there was to help people and save lives. It is an appalling war crime that must be independently investigated by an international body and there must be consequences. It is absolutely appalling when such indiscriminate bombing takes place. We must have a discussion on what is happening in Syria, the escalation in bombing by the Russians and the dreadful situation there that seems to have no ready solution.
The decision of the courts in Egypt over the weekend to postpone the mass trial that involves an Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, is very much to be regretted. It is a mass trial in which more than 400 people are involved, but because two people were unavailable to attend, the entire trial was postponed. That says a lot about the justice system in Egypt. I very much applaud and thank the consular service for the support and help it is giving Ibrahim and the very frequent visits it is making to him. I welcome the pressure and involvement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in trying to have this young man released. He should be at home with his family and back in college, pursuing his education. It is truly shocking that he has been incarcerated for almost two years, even though he has not been charged with any crime. It is heartbreaking to see his sisters outside Leinster House again today, protesting and keeping the issue on the agenda. As parliamentarians, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure we keep the issue highlighted and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to give Ibrahim support and keep pressure on the Egyptian authorities to release him.
This is the first opportunity I have had to offer my best wishes to former Senator Jimmy Harte who has retired. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I wish him continued success in his recovery. We all hope he will recover fully. It was untimely and dreadful that his time in the Seanad was cut short. He was a very able Senator and we had many exchanges across the floor, as Members know, but we were always very fond of him as a Senator who represented a constituency that needed strong representation. I wish him the very best and continued success in his retirment. It is important also, regardless of whether it is a farce, as it has been described by some in the Chamber, that there be a Seanad by-election.
There may be a number of candidates from different groupings and I wish all of them the very best. I acknowledge that Fianna Fáil will also put up a candidate. All elections should be contested.
I welcome the suspension of the strike action by the Communication Workers Union regarding An Post and IO Systems. We now have some breathing space for the negotiations taking place. Some fundamental issues have been raised. IO Systems first received a three-year contract in 2003. Pay reductions were introduced in January 2011, which followed a Labour Court finding, to which both sides agreed and it was binding. The most recent contract was signed in September 2013, following which further pay cuts were sought by IO Systems. Talks between IO Systems, the Communication Workers Union and the LRC failed to reach agreement. IO Systems proceeded and introduced its so-called new pay and roster arrangements, which meant a cut in pay for some staff. As we know, this resulted in strike action on 1 October.
What is interesting and very worrying is that we almost had the complete closure of the entire postal service in the State. How did that happen? The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, told the Dáil last Thursday that An Post had a contingency plan to deal with any dispute. According to the Communication Workers Union, that contingency plan included closing the entire service. Was the Minister aware that the contingency plan included closing the service? Did he give the nod to this? These questions need to be answered. If he was not aware of it, it surely raises questions about senior management in An Post failing to give information to the Minister when he made his statement to the Dáil. Irrespective of those questions that the Minister needs to answer, I hope the negotiations will result in agreement on the substantive issues.
I ask the Leader to raise these questions with the Minister. If he is not in a position to do so, the Minister should come to the House to answer the questions that should be put by the Opposition. There are genuine questions from our perspective.
I call for a debate on the proposed amalgamations the statutory committee to review local government boundaries is considering. It is proposed to merge Monksland in County Roscommon with Athlone and County Westmeath. As ratepayers in Monksland contribute significantly to Roscommon County Council, there would be a massive loss to Roscommon County Council's coffers if this was to happen. I know that Councillor Tony Ward and many others have made submissions to the statutory committee, but submissions always seem to fall on deaf ears. We have had experience of this with submissions on wind turbines and pylons in the past and this smells like it is a done deal. In this particular case, from a sports perspective, this could decimate two of County Roscommon's top clubs, St. Brigid's, former all-Ireland champions, and Clann na nGael. It is important to bring the Minister to the House to discuss with the elected Members the ramifications of any proposed change to the boundaries. We can look at the experience of this issue. Two areas in County Roscommon have amalgamated with Westmeath County Council and consistently neglected during the years. There are 45 closed shop units, with no investment in the area. The fear is that something similar will happen in this instance. If any proposal comes before us between now and the general electin to merge Monksland with County Westmeath, I will vote against it. If I am elected in the general election, I will vote against any statutory committee proposal that will decimate south County Roscommon, which proposal I regard as nonsense.
It is not just south County Roscommon but rural Ireland that is being decimated. It is one of the major failures of the Government.
I agree with Senator Michael Mullins's comments on Ibrahim Halawi. It is a disgrace and sad reflection on the justice system and the Administration of President el-Sisi in Egypt that once again Ibrahim Halawi has been incarcerated because of the failure of the legal system there.
I also join the Senator in condemning the bombing of the hospital in Afghanistan. The United States previously chastised the Russians for what they were doing in Syria. The bombing of the hospital in Afghanistan by a US military aircraft is a resigning matter at some level within the US Administration, but we have not seen or heard anything in that regard.
What we have been hearing recently about NAMA, in particular its proposed sale for €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion of loans which it purchased for €31 billion, is alarming and warrants debate in this Chamber. The private equity companies and others who are buying these loans are making 50% to 100% profit on some of them. This is the result of a failure by the State to properly set targets. I believe NAMA should be seeking, at a minimum, a 50% return on that investment.
On the Seanad by-election, I have no doubt that it will be overtaken by a general election. It appears very obvious that the Taoiseach is set to cut and run. Despite the best wishes of the Labour Party, it will be cut adrift to stormy political waters within, probably, the next two to three weeks. The self-congratulatory comments from the Government benches, of which I am sure we will hear more in the next few weeks and during the election campaign, ring very hollow to the many people who have been badly affected by the failures of the Government, in particular. The situation in relation to the banking inquiry which was mentioned by Senator David Norris is a good reason to call a general election now. The establishment of that inquiry was a political ploy by the Government. I would welcome a debate on the matter.
The Government has also failed to bring about any public service reform. Irish Water speaks for itself. The people will give their verdict on it when approached on the doorsteps. Homelessness is at an unprecedented level and measures to tackle burglaries have been a complete failure. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, have been two of the worst Ministers for Justice in the history of the State, yet they are being applauded by Members on the Government benches for all they have done.
We also need a debate on the issues of bankruptcy and insolvency. Repossessions are being ratcheted up. The Government is running to the public to avoid any fall-out from its failure to manage the banks, the actions of which resulted in the crash of the banking sector.
I, too, welcome the nomination by the Labour Party of Máiría Cahill as its candidate in the Seanad by-election. I have already made known my views on her suitability. She would be a great asset to the Seanad. I also welcome the Fianna Fáil announcement that it, too, will be nominating a candidate, which is very good for democracy.
This Saturday is Positive Mental Health Day. In many places this has been Positive Mental Health Week, in respect of which a number of events have been organised around the country. In my town of Dundalk events such as a walk, coffee mornings, art exhibitions and cookery classes have been used to promote what people can do to ensure positive mental health.
I welcome the launch last Friday at Farmleigh of the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities, the introduction of which I worked on consistently for some time. The strategy seeks to address difficulties experienced by people with disabilities when it comes to accessing and maintaining employment. While I welcome publication of the strategy, for which we have been campaigning for the past year, it is important it is acted on and implemented swiftly so as to ensure people with disabilities who can and want to gain paid meaningful employment will be able to do so with the necessary supports.
I also wish to mention that Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is once again in the news as a result of having 41 patients - the highest number in the country - on trolleys. The news that broke in the past week alone in respect of what had happened at the hospital really needs to be addressed. I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come before the House to address the issues that arise, including those relating to data protection and the fact that last year medical notes were found strewn across the road in Drogheda, and the unannounced HIQA inspection in respect of the danger posed by legionnaires' disease.
The Senator is way over time.
Louth County Hospital in Dundalk was downgraded to ensure Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital would become a centre of excellence. It is now recognised as probably the worst hospital in the country. That is in no way due to the staff who are excellent.
I am very much in agreement with what Senator David Norris had to say about the Seanad by-election. I wish Máiría Cahill and other candidates well. No doubt they are very worthy individuals, but it is disturbing that the timing of elections seems to be a tool of party political consideration. Whatever her merits, the nomination of Ms Cahill is obviously aimed at Sinn Féin. The Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on when it is going to hold the general election.
That is not true. The Senator cannot surmise about matters in that way.
It would serve the public better if there was not the pretence that it was all going to be in the national interest when it is really about party political jostling. I say this with no particular axe to grind regarding when the general election will be called.
As somebody with a personal interest in the care of people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, it was an honour to attend the pre-budget briefing held by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland last week. When I was home in Galway recently, I encountered a person who was caring for somebody with Alzheimer's disease. When the discussion about extra care services came up, the helpful local health board representative asked the carer, "Would you consider putting him into respite for a week?" The carer found this very upsetting because the person in question would not be fit for this and would find it extremely disorienting. Whereas she realised that the health board official was seeking to be helpful, she felt all the more lonely that her particular circumstances were not understood. Cases such as this underline what the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and others are saying when they talk about the need for intensive, dementia-specific care services in the community. In fact, they are talking about funding such provision beyond the eight current pilot sites to all local health office areas, which would cost approximately €320 million. Of the order of €1.69 billion is being spent in caring for people with dementia, but most of it is spent on nursing home care when, in fact, such care should be the last resort. It is important to have care provided in the community and that people are assisted in living and being cared for at home. That requires supports. The care on offer should be specific to the condition of the person concerned. With all the pre-budget and pre-election talk, I hope the care provided in this important service is something the Government takes seriously. It should listen to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and provide funding to meet the need in this area.
I support the request made by Senator Fiach Mac Conghail for tributes to be paid to Brian Friel. I recall attending the first production of "Dancing at Lughnasa" in the Abbey Theatre and I walked out stunned. It was something completely new and revolutionary. There was a statement which is still ringing in my head all these years later. Mr. Friel was a prolific writer whose plays included "Translations" and "Philadelphia, Here I Come!" He wrote 24 plays and many other learned pieces.
Bearing in mind that he, John Hume and Seamus Heaney attended the same college in Derry, it shows how close we are on this island. They all considered themselves to be Irish and we consider them to be great Irish people. Taken together with our new Nobel Prize winner, we have great people in the North, of whom should be very proud.
I join colleagues who have spoken about the forthcoming Seanad by-election. I agree with what Senators David Norris and Rónán Mullen had to say. We debase ourselves in this House in the way we allow elections to take place. They are a foregone conclusion before they have even started. It has been in the public domain, put there by members of-----
Not in the Senator's case. He jumped through the gap.
He would not be here.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell to continue, without interruption.
As one of my colleagues on the other side of the House said, somebody scored an own goal. That is the only reason I am here. The bottom line is that I do not believe Fine Gael will put up a candidate. I compliment Fianna Fáil and hope Sinn Féin will consider it. If there is a person who is independent and looking for a signature, my signature is waiting. I believe the candidate who has been nominated is worthy. She has been through a lot in her life and is highly articulate. Like any other victim of abuse who is equally articulate, she would be a great asset to this House. I will welcome her when she comes.
I ask the Leader to establish how it was that the National Monuments Service allowed the destruction of over 75% of a Bronze Age road in Mayne bog in Coole, County Westmeath. We had a debate here previoulsy about the Beit collection. It appears that the company in question in this instance was trying as hard as it could to comply. No instruction came from the National Monuments Service or Dúchas; nobody told the company what it could not do and as a result, it ripped up an archaeological site. It is outrageous.
I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House for a debate on rural crime. I wish, in particular, to discuss why many of the recent criminals robbing and plundering rural Ireland have not been disqualified from driving. Section 27(1)(a) of the 1961 Road Traffic Act provides that where a criminal has used a mechanically propelled vehicle in the commission of a crime or an offence, he or she can be disqualified from driving. This has not happened to any of the ringleaders imprisoned recently who were responsible for a spate of burglaries, robberies and assaults. It is not good enough to do nothing about this. We should try to curtail the freedom of movement of the criminals involved in more ways than one. The law is being under-utilised by legal officers. I feel strongly that the Director of Public Prosecutions should throw the book at these thugs and bring forward charges of disqualification against every criminal using a car in the commission of crimes. If we are serious about combating rural crime, it is imperative that we use the legal infrastructure already in existence to punish those who rob and plunder rural communities. We should also consider amending the legislation in order that we can include a further provision that any criminal who is a passenger in a car and intent on being an accessory to a crime could also be disqualified from driving. Unless we introduce hardline deterrents for all criminal gangs, we will lose the battle in tackling crime in rural Ireland. Fear is pervasive in every town in my constituency - I am sure it is the same across the country - from Athenry to Dunmore, Loughrea and Gort. The Garda is working hard, but our laws need to be more hardline. We need to deter criminals and cut them off from their market, which is rural Ireland. At the same time we must offer solace to those who are living in their homes in fear. As rural dwellers, we deserve nothing more but certainly nothing less than this. I ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House in order that we can have a proper discussion on why section 27(1)(a) of the 1961 Road Traffic Act is not being utilised more often in the courts.
Senators may remember that last May we had the unprecedented sight of psychiatric nurses marching outside University Hospital Galway owing to a dispute over staffing levels. An engagement took place with management and a resolution was agreed and promised. Unfortunately, we are back to a situation where these promises have not been delivered on. There was a crisis in University Hospital Galway at the weekend when there was a shortage of psychiatric nurses in the acute unit, putting the lives of the nurses and patients in jeopardy. I have spoken to nursing representatives this morning who are extremely angry at what has happened. They believe no move has been made to try to move the psychiatric patients and the staff into the new unit at the hospital which is lying idle because of inexplicable delays and the nursing quota has not been put in place.
This is in the broader scheme of mental health services in Galway-Roscommon which are also in crisis. We have seen a reshuffling of management in that area recently. We have seen scandals in Roscommon, but they all come back to management of the service overall. Much of the pressure in University Hospital Galway is due to the closure of the facility at Ballinasloe. When the facility there was closed, there was a promise that a community service with up to about ten nurses would be put in place to deal with people in the community, but that has not been delivered on. I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to come to the House to look specifically at the issues in Galway-Roscommon where services are in absolute chaos as nobody appears to be managing them. When the Psychiatric Nurses Association was trying to contact management at the weekend about the position at University Hospital Galway, management which is responsible for putting nurses into the unit was nowhere to be found. It is disgraceful. This put lives in jeopardy at the weekend and the position does not appear to be improving; therefore, we need the Minister of State to come to the House. I hope it is only a Galway-Roscommon issue, not a nationwide one. Certainly, the service is at crisis point and the issue needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has opposed the referral of No. 1, motion re the proceeds of the sale of the State's shareholding in Aer Lingus, to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I was trying to explain to him that it would be brought back to the House to be discussed. I appreciate his position on the matter, but I certainly cannot accede to his request that I accept the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Ivana Bacik and several other Senators referred to the Labour Party proposing to nominate Máiría Cahill to contest the Seanad by-election. We have heard many people speak about whether there should be a Seanad by-election. In the past Senators have been appointed for two or three weeks without holding by-elections. This is a democratic process and-----
Sometimes it can go wrong and we can end up with-----
It is true that we have had Senators appointed for two or three weeks after a general election.
That was in the past. Is the Leader confirming that it will not happen?
I am only saying it has happened. Certainly, we should not be afraid of holding a by-election in this instance.
We are not afraid.
A couple of hundred voters all know what to do.
I am sure we will elect a very good person-----
The Leader knows very well whom we will elect.
-----because we still have about four months to go to a general election.
Do not try to fool the Labour Party.
As we have at least 28 Bills to pass by Christmas, we will be very busy.
The Leader is rowing back by a further three weeks.
Whether we come back after Christmas is another matter, but I can assure Senators that it be will 2016 before we have a general election.
I hope the more excitable elements of the Irish media will pick up on those remarks.
I am glad to clarify the matter to the best of my ability.
Senator Ivana Bacik mentioned the Startup Gathering and the Action Plan for Jobs, on which she called for a debate. On Thursday we will have a debate on Horizon 2020.
Senator David Norris, among others, was in agreement on citizens' rights and data protection in the context of the decision today by the European Court of Justice. I am sure we will hear a lot more about the matter and when the time is appropriate, we can debate it in the House.
Senator Michael Mullins joined Senator Ivana Bacik and others in condemning the bombing of the hospital in Afghanistan. It was a dreadful incident in which so many people were killed. There is definitely a need for an inquiry.
Senator Sean D. Barrett congratulated the Nobel Prize winner Mr. William Campbell. I am sure we all wish to compliment him on his wonderful award. Senator Sean D. Barrett also noted the issues involved in the trans-Pacific trade agreement. Perhaps we might have time at a later date to discuss the matter, especially in the context of the European and US trade agreement which has also been mooted.
Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jim D'Arcy mentioned the sad passing of Brian Friel. They paid fitting tributes to a man who was a giant of the theatre and a wonderful playwright. I extend my condolences and those of the House to his wife and family, as well as to his extended family in the arts community in Ireland and abroad. It is customary to pay tribute to former Senators. We will try to arrange same at a later date.
Senator Terry Brennan welcomed the announcement of the new biometric passport. He also complimented the Naval Service on its work in the Mediterranean.
Senator Paschal Mooney notified the House about the four Israeli children who had been murdered and outlined the need for a two-state solution in the Middle East. All Members of the House condemn the violence on all sides of the dispute.
Senator Marie Moloney complimented the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, on his work in his Department. She also made a point about the closure of a women's refuge. Perhaps she might table the issue for discussion in the Commencement debate.
Senator David Norris referred to the arrest of a 12 year old child for the murder of an eight year old in the United States. He outlined again the futility of the gun laws there which are incomprehensible to people in other countries.
Senators Michael Mullins and Jim Walsh mentioned Ibrahim Halawa and the ninth postponement of his trial. They are in agreement that this is an appalling position for an Irish citizen to find himself in. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is doing everything possible to secure his release. Let us hope he will be released sooner rather than later and returned to his family.
Senator David Cullinane has welcomed the suspension of strike action which brought postal services to a standstill in recent days. He also wished those involved in the negotiations well. I am sure the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is on top of his brief in that regard.
Senator John Kelly rejected the amalgamation of electoral areas in counties Roscommon and Westmeath. I am sure we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter when legislation is brought forward in that regard.
Senator Jim Walsh mentioned NAMA, an issue which has been debated extensively in committee. I do not think this House should duplicate the committee's efforts. The Senator also chose a number of issues on which he hoped the next general election would be fought.
Senator Mary Moran talked about Positive Mental Health Week, the promotion of which is laudable. It is a very important subject. The Senator also welcomed the employment strategy for people with disabilities which was announced last week. On her question about Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, perhaps she might table the matter for discussion in the Commencement debate to obtain the relevant information from the Minister for Health.
Senator Rónán Mullen spoke about Alzheimer's disease and dementia. I agree with him that care in the home is the most important. I note his points in that regard.
Senator Jim D'Arcy paid tribute to the late Brian Friel for his work.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell wondered why the National Monuments Service had not intervened in the case of an archaeological site in the midlands. Perhaps he might table the matter for discussion in the Commencement debate in order that he could ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht about it.
Senator Lorraine Higgins said disqualification from driving should be mandatory where a burglar used a car and called for more effective laws in that regard. The Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated that she will be bringing the burglaries Bill before both Houses in early course. I am sure the points made by the Senator can be made at that time.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the plight of psychiatric nurses and the provision of services in counties Galway and Roscommon. Again, tabling a Commencement matter for discussion might be appropriate.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on the reduction of the pension entitlements of airport pension scheme members be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Cullinane, David.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- Power, Averil.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- Gilroy, John.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- O'Keeffe, Susan.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Whelan, John.
- Zappone, Katherine.