Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re appointments to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply; and No. 3, statements on the funding of Orkambi for cystic fibrosis patients, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, with the time allocated for the statements not to exceed one hour, the contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply.

I raise the issue of sentencing policy and the increased use of firearms in this city. On Tuesday at 4.30 p.m., in broad daylight, armed raiders entered a McDonalds in Crumlin village and terrorised both staff and customers. This is a quiet residential area where firearms would never be seen. In 2009 minimum mandatory sentences were brought in to deal with the use of firearms and they had a certain welcome effect. However, I believe we need to go further. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to introduce minimum mandatory sentencing for first-time offenders. We need to update and strengthen the sentencing laws for gun crime. It is commonplace in this city for gardaí and drug lords to don their bullet-proof vests every morning before going to work. The carrying of firearms seems to have become commonplace on the streets of the city. We have to ask what we can do to ensure the possession of firearms does not become commonplace among citizens. I ask the Minister to attend the House for a proper debate about strengthening sentencing laws for firearms and codifying and making consistent firearms law in order to protect citizens and communities.

I refer to the ongoing debacle in the auction of the Pádraig Pearse surrender letter which is of immense importance to the State. I attended a protest last night. What I cannot understand is the Government is, at huge expense to the taxpayer, appealing the decision of the High Court in regard to the monument on Moore Street to secure it after years of failure by various Governments, but it does not want to spend money in purchasing the letter. I cannot understand this, given the year that is in it, of all years. Obviously, it is being sold to take advantage of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and increase the potential. Last night it did not meet the €1 million threshold which they had hoped to reach and they are now looking for an export licence for the letter which should be the property of the people for future generations to celebrate our heroes. The owner says he feels relieved of his responsibilities because neither the State nor the Minister is going to purchase the letter. I ask the Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and the Taoiseach. I assume everybody in this House supports the call that the State purchase the letter and secure it in a museum.

I assume that is the case. The Government has a choice. It can spend a fortune in appealing a High Court decision against the families of the 1916 Rising leaders, but it cannot purchase the letter. I will let people make their decision about the logic behind that decision.

In times of darkness it was great to see a positive light being shone on Europe recently, with the election of the Austrian President, Alexander 'Sascha' Van der Bellen. On behalf of all of my Green colleagues across Europe, I welcome this great election. I hope other countries will take a lead from Austria in order that we can work towards a united Europe, as I believe united we stand, divided we fall. This man is taking the lead in Austria.

I ask the Leader to amend the Order of Business to introduce a new Bill which I drafted with my Labour Party colleagues, the Pensions (Equal Pension Treatment in Occupational Benefit Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2016. I know that my colleague, Senator David Norris, will be seconding the amendment. The Bill aims to do the same thing that the Senator's proposed amendment to the Finance Bill sought to do yesterday - to address ongoing discrimination against LGBT employees in pension schemes which required that they be married or enter into civil partnership before a specific date in order for their partners to qualify for survivor's benefit. This arises from a case taken by David Parris against Trinity College Dublin which is before the European Court of Justice. Just a week ago Mr. Parris, unfortunately, lost the case, but there is nothing in European law to stop us from introducing in domestic law a provision to ensure people will not be discriminated against just because they could not enter a legal marriage before a particular date. This is ongoing discrimination. Even after the great result in the marriage equality referendum in 2015, we still see people who, like Mr. Parris, could not have entered a legal marriage or a civil partnership before the necessary date, in his case, the date of his 60th birthday, in order to achieve certain benefits and entitlements under the occupational pensions scheme. The Bill would only affect a small number of people, but it would address a very serious continuing issue of discrimination for the people affected. As I said, Senator David Norris sought to address this issue by way of an amendment to the Finance Bill. This is an alternative way to address it, namely, by introducing a Bill which would amend the pensions legislation to ensure people in Mr. Parris's position would not suffer ongoing discrimination.

This is in tandem with the Bill Senator Gerald Nash introduced this week to solve the problem of individuals in having offences on their record for acts that were decriminalised in 1993, after the decriminalisation of homosexuality. People are still suffering a chilling effect. This has been a huge issue in Britain and Senator Gerald Nash has called for an amnesty or pardon for the people concerned to have their convictions effectively struck from the record, given that intercourse was no longer criminalised after 1993.

Will the Leader organise a debate on judicial appointments in the light of the comments-----

I take it the Senator is proposing is that No. 12 be taken before No. 1.

Yes, that is what I should have said. I thank the Leader if he is willing to exceed to that request.

I would like to have a debate on judicial appointments in the light of the comments made by the chairperson of Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, Mr. Peter Ward, about the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross's, highly critical comments on the Judiciary, pointing to very serious issues surrounding the encroachment of the Executive on the powers of the Judiciary. There has been a serious delay in the appointment of further judges and, as a result, there are delays in people accessing the legal system. FLAC has a really proud record of standing for the rights of individuals and their access to the courts, notably in the case of Dr. Lydia Foy, whose litigation ultimately led to the passing of the Gender Recognition Act 2015.

I wish T. K. Whitaker a very happy 100th birthday. I note his enormous service to the State.

We all join the Senator in doing so.

I also congratulate T. K. Whitaker on his 100th birthday. He was the architect of modern Ireland. He got rid of the protectionist policies and effectively opened up free trade. He was Secretary General of the Department of Finance having joined the Civil Service in 1934. In 2002 he was named Irishman of the 20th century. I thank him for his work, now that he is 100 years young.

I have received correspondence about the Irish Coast Guard and the lack of legislation covering it. As a medic working on the west coast, I regularly liaise closely with the Irish Coast Guard and experience first-hand its members' bravery and commitment to serving the public while putting their own lives in danger. They face peril on every call out. Yesterday family members of missing people gathered in Farmleigh House to mark National Missing Persons Day. At the event the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, thanked members of An Garda Síochána for their work and continued support for those families whose loved ones were missing. He also said it was important to remember Irish Coast Guard volunteer Catriona Lucas who gave her life in the line of duty in September this year. She was the first volunteer member of the Irish Coast Guard to die in the course of duty and her tragic death brought home the true nature of the job. They really are unsung heroes. It is quite unbelievable, therefore, that their work as a primary response agency is not afforded protection under legislation. A few weeks ago when he addressed the House the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, said safety at sea was of vital importance to this island nation. I commend the Irish Coast Guard, the volunteers, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and all involved in ensuring safety at sea for their bravery, remarkable courage and heroism in the service of others. These salutations are well meant and placed, but they are not enough. More needs to be done to enshrine in law the duties, roles and rights of the Irish Coast Guard.

"Is it little more than a fiction that Parliament and Government are sovereign? [...] Are Governments nowadays to be compared to the totally deaf Beethoven in his later years, just being allowed to go through the motions of conducting the orchestra while the real control is being exercised elsewhere?" That is a quote from T. K. Whitaker from over 30 years ago. I, too, wish him a happy birthday. He has done an excellent job in the public interest and for the State.

Last night Mr. Peter Rice, a psychiatrist from Scotland, addressed the Irish Cancer Society. He is the chairman of the executive committee of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems. It is telling that this series of talks around the country, hosted by the Irish Cancer Society, is called "Decoding Cancer". A total of 900 incidences of cancer are directly related to alcohol intake and 500 deaths a year are due to alcohol-related cancers. This is important because we will be discussing and I hope passing the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. Awareness of alcohol as a cancer-causing agent is very low. People are aware of cirrhosis of the liver and so on, but women, in particular, should be aware of the incidence of breast cancer which is rising as the level of alcohol consumption among women is rising. I would like the Leader to support the presentation by the Irish Cancer Society to decode cancer for Members of this House.

In the last Seanad the Seanad Public Consultation Committee produced a comparative report on cancer and the damage caused by alcohol. It was very successful. I can empathise with the Senator’s point of view while being impartial as Cathaoirleach.

I second Senator Ivana Bacik’s amendment to the Order of Business. It is a matter we have all been pursuing. I instanced it first during the passage of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2010 because it was an anomaly then affecting the Civil Service. Subsequently Mr. David Parris took an action which I am sorry he lost.

A couple of days ago I received a telephone call from a very old friend of mine, Victor Griffin, the former dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral. He is 93 years old and had been sent home from Altnagelvin Hospital to die of cancer. As a Christian, he is quite happy with it and is in no distress. He wanted T. K. Whitaker's address because he wanted to write to him as an old friend and colleague to congratulate him on his 100th birthday. That is something well worth doing and I am glad that it has been raised by my colleagues. He was a very distinguished Member of this House. He was very young when he entered the Civil Service in a senior position. For a while the great poet Thomas Kinsella was his private secretary, which is a rather curious and interesting fact. He was also instrumental in improving relations between the South and the North. He entered discussions with the private secretary to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland which led to meetings between Mr. Sean Lemass and Captain Terence O'Neill. He worked with the Ford Foundation to launch the Economic and Social Research Institute and for a long time was president or chairman of that institute. He was chancellor of the National University of Ireland, president of the Royal Irish Academy, a member of the board of governors of the Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland and had a great love of the Irish language. The seminal collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600-1900, was dedicated to him. It is also interesting and very heartening that on an RTE television programme which held a mass vote on the greatest Irishman of the 20th century, as mentioned by Senator Frank Feighan, he was up against all kinds of armed revolutionaries such as Michael Collins and beat the hell out of them. That is a terrific tribute to the feelings of the people for the parliamentary democratic tradition of this country. I am very happy to wish former Senator T. K. Whitaker a very happy birthday. I am sure the whole House will want to do so. I only had the pleasure to meet him once. He was a friend of former Senator Feargal Quinn who last year held a lunch party in his honour. I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with him. He is a great Irishman. We are all living with the positive benefits of the economic plan he conceived.

I call the Leader to respond.

That was a short Order of Business.

We kept the best wine to last.

I thank the eight Senators who contributed on the Order of Business. I join those who have acknowledged that today is the centenary of the birth of T. K. Whitaker. I wish him a happy 100th birthday. It is important to acknowledge and pay tribute to him as a former Member of this House. He was appointed by both Jack Lynch and Dr. Garret FitzGerald, which was a sign of his ability to override political divides. He was, rightly, described as the Irishman of the last century and his contribution is one we should underline in the new modern Ireland. We can differ on ideology and politics, but T. K. Whitaker put in place the structure, economic and otherwise, that is now Ireland.

I acknowledge his contribution.

If Mr. Whitaker keeps going as he is - I wish him the best because I had the privilege to meet him once or twice - he may also become the Irishman of this century.

True. That is a fair point. It is important - this is something we do not do enough in this country - to pay tribute and recognise greatness, no matter who the person is. T. K. Whitaker is certainly a person we all looked up to when we were growing up. He was the architect of modern Ireland. I thank him for his service. He is the epitome of what good public service should be about. On behalf of all Members, I wish him well and a happy 100th birthday.

Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the use of firearms and sentencing policy. She is right to raise the matter in the context of the right to bear arms and the way in which people are using them. It is a tragedy. It is an awful indictment that people with guns are masquerading on the streets of Dublin, in particular, and killing and injuring others. There was an incident in my native city of Cork last night. I will be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the use and licensing of firearms.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn referred to the sale of the Pádraig Pearse surrender letter. He made a valid point in highlighting its importance. Having read the exchange in the Dáil between the leader of Sinn Féin and the Taoiseach, I note that the Taoiseach has stated the Government is not in a position to buy it. Having talked to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, I know that her departmental officials have spoken to Adam's auctioneers. They have also spoken to other stakeholders in the cultural institutions about the price of the letter. As for it having a value of between €1 million and €1.5 million, it has been withdrawn from auction. Perhaps one cannot put a value on it, but it is my information that such expenditure would not represent value for money, although I am not trying in any way to put a value on it. It is important, however, that we preserve a lot of letters, paraphernalia and artifacts. We have some very valuable pieces, including letters and clothing, while the Government has bought 14 to 17 Moore Street. A sum of €5 million has been invested in Kilmainham Courthouse and another €5 million in the Military Archives. I hope we will not allow the letter in question to be taken overseas. In an ideal world it would be kept here as part of an exhibition. On behalf of the House, I will communicate to the Minister that the matter has been raised here.

Like Senator Grace O'Sullivan, I congratulate the President of Austria on his re-election and wish him well.

I am happy to accept the amendment proposed by Senator Ivana Bacik to the Order of Business. I commend her for the work she has done on the Pensions (Equal Pension Treatment in Occupational Benefit Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2016.

We had a discussion yesterday on the Order of Business on judicial appointments. I will be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the issue.

Senator Keith Swanick mentioned the Irish Coast Guard and the lack of primary legislation in that regard. Senator Tim Lombard raised the issue in the House two weeks ago. It is one for the relevant Department to work out, but Senator Keith Swanick is correct that the men and women who serve in the Irish Coast Guard are first responders. They provide a significant service for the State in saving lives and rescuing people, putting their own lives at risk in the process. We can revisit the matter in the new year when we will have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss it.

Senator Máire Devine highlighted the important connection between cancer and alcohol. I will be happy to work with her on the issue. It is important that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 be brought back to the House in the new year in order that we can reduce the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol. The Cathaoirleach has rightly said that in the previous Seanad the Seanad Public Consultation Committee did a powerful piece of work on the issue. It is one we can revisit because it will not go away. There is a need for cross-party support, as well as support from Independent Members, in maintaining the message. The Senator is correct to highlight the link with the incidence of breast cancer in women, something about which we need to be vigilant. The issue transcends the political divide. I will be happy to talk to the Senator about it to try to move matters along in the new year.

Senator David Norris referred to the Parris case. He also seconded Senator Ivana Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business and spoke about T. K. Whitaker. I do not quite get what he said about the former dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

He is an old friend. Even though he is very ill and 93 years old, he contacted me because he wanted to write a note of congratulations. That is what first alerted me to the fact that today is T. K. Whitaker's 100th birthday.

Okay; I missed that.

That is probably the quickest reply the Cathaoirleach will get to contributions made on the Order of Business.

Senator Ivana Bacik has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.