The Order of Business is No. 1, Radiological Protection (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 2, statements on piloting a New Zealand-style community banking system through An Post, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude within 75 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, statements on the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee entitled Report on Children’s Mental Health Services, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contribution from the Chairman of the committee not to exceed eight minutes, the contribution of the rapporteur not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 65, motion 14, Private Members' business, to be taken at 4 p.m. with time allocated in this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6 p.m.
Order of Business
I call Senator Mark Daly.
I thank the Leader for outlining the business of the House. He might arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to debate the report that 27% of gardaí are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and what the Government and Department of Justice and Equality propose to do about that in terms of putting in place services to ensure that all those who have suffered the effects of work-related stress, but especially the Garda Síochána, have access to the necessary counselling.
I refer to what seems to be a bizarre situation where the Government is outlining that there are 126 cases of births illegally registered, as if this was news that had not come out before. On 17 May 2017, the Seanad debated Second Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 and the reason that Bill was being brought in was because of this very issue. People should be entitled to information on their birth parents and to all information regarding the circumstances of their adoption. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, said she would bring forward Committee Stage amendments. Here we are one year later and suddenly it is news that 126 citizens of this State, and possibly hundreds if not thousands of others, are affected by this illegal practice. Again we have a situation where we have activity masquerading as action, where the Government agrees to the Second Stage of a Bill and promises the amendments but where there are no amendments. Why are there no amendments? Why has Committee Stage not been taken one year on?
Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House? I was going to say for a debate but let us not have a debate. Let us take Committee Stage of the Bill. If the Minister is available tonight and if the amendments are ready, let us change the Order of Business. If not, will we take Committee Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 next week or the week after? We must bear in mind that the Bill was published in 2016, Second Stage was taken in 2017 and it is now in 2018. We now have this issue of hundreds of babies who were adopted illegally, or basically sold, by religious orders to people the United States and to the UK.
I would also like the Minister to come to the House to debate what is possibly a greater scandal where GlaxoSmithKline plc was involved in testing the babies of unmarried mothers. This happened less than 40 years ago. There seems to have been an arrangement, if not a contract or a business transaction, where it was given access to new born babies in Irish hospitals to use them as guinea pigs. The Minister is well aware of this and has said she was going to take action on it. The Minister has said a lot of things, but she has not done anything. Why have we not got a report on that issue? Why have the people who were subjected to those tests not been given all of the information by GlaxoSmithKline plc? Why have they not been given compensation by GlaxoSmithKline plc and the State? They were used as human guinea pigs in this State with the knowledge of the people who were supposed to be looking after them and yet they do not have access to the information they should have, just like the 126 citizens of this State who were illegally registered and whose birth certificates were altered.
This was done not only without their consent but also without that of their birth parents. It was an illegal activity and the best defence the religious orders can come up with is that the people who did it are dead. Is that the best we can do?
Yesterday, many Senators spoke about the outcome of Friday's referendum and about those within this House who helped to achieve it. I was struck by the words of my Independent colleague, Senator Boyhan, as he recognised the process itself and how fundamental the vote is to every citizen of the Republic. Once again, just like in the same-sex marriage referendum, "home to vote" was the rallying cry for many tens of thousands of people who stepped off aeroplanes and boats to vote in order to ensure that never again would women of this country have to get on an aeroplane or boat in some of the most tragic and personal circumstances imaginable. As they did during the same-sex marriage referendum campaign, the images on our television screens, the sounds on our radios and the videos on our news feeds of returning emigrants inspired us all not just to think about the question on which we were asked to vote but to actually get off the couch and vote in record numbers. The tens of thousands who came home care sufficiently about their country that they were willing to pay for a plane ticket or a boat ticket just to exercise their franchise. If ever there was a rallying cry for why all emigrants must be given a vote, then this is it and those to whom I refer are the messengers. In the context of the fearmongers who say that the emigrant community does not understand what makes this nation tick and that its values are not the same as ours, the "home to vote" movement - and it is a movement - has well and truly put that myth to bed.
Many are asking, "Where to next?" How can we maintain the energy and enthusiasm for participation in our democracy? How can the young and old remain inspired? I say very clearly and without any hesitation that the Irish emigrant community will play a role in answering these questions. It has proven its ability to inspire, so let us all formalise its right to vote. Emigration today is not permanent, it is temporary. Today's emigrants have every intention of returning home with new skills and vast experience. Of course they have a vested interest in having a say in the running of this country. The Taoiseach has already committed to a referendum to permit emigrant voters an opportunity to vote in the presidential election in 2019. It is my sincere hope that those of all parties and none will remember these special and rare days in our little republic and give our global community a permanent say on who should be our head of state.
It is a new day and we have another scandal. I refer to the scandal of illegal adoptions. I do not think it comes as a surprise to anyone because many of us have spoken to women who have lived in such homes and those who had their signatures forged and their babies taken away from them to be sold or traded. This is what happened in this country. Now, we have 126 cases that have been identified as part of the scoping exercises but we know that there will be thousands more. I wonder will the people who are responsible for this - Government, religious institutions and so on - be advised to go to and confess their sins?
It is absolutely disgusting. My thoughts and prayers are with the people who have been involved, those who have been illegally adopted and those who have had their identities stolen from them. Can people imagine anything worse than having one's identity stolen?
I wish to speak about the situation in respect of home help and the fact that 6,450 people have been assessed and approved but they are still on the HSE's waiting list for basic home help services. We have all the words of how important it is for people to be cared for in their homes and home help, home care, carers and so on. However, we have 6,450 people assessed and approved but who are still waiting. I spoke to one of them even this morning, a person who has Parkinson's disease, who is 79 years old and who is being sent home from hospital to his wife, who has multiple conditions as well. We are leaving people in these situations and we decide to provide for a rainy day fund. It is a case of "Wow, aren't we good?". Instead of providing for a rainy day fund, my suggestion would be to use the money to get rid of that waiting list of 6,450 people. I asked many questions about home help services at this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health but I got very few answers. Nothing has changed in the HSE when it comes to transparency, openness and accountability. Nothing will change unless we make it change and force such change to come about. I commend everyone involved in the cervical cancer rallies of women together outside the gates of Leinster House, in Castlebar and in the different communities throughout this country. They will come out and have their voices heard to bring about change.
I wish to refer to a television programme I saw last night. A very remarkable woman, Lucia O'Farrell, instigated the programme. She was concerned about the appalling, tragic death of her very talented and brilliant son, Shane. He was killed by an eastern European drug addict who hit Shane's bicycle, failed to stop and then went and concealed the car. This man had numerous convictions for theft, drugs offences and driving offences and was improperly out on bail. If, on at least six occasions, the Garda had acted appropriately or if the judicial system had been correct, the individual in question would have been in jail at the time when the young man to whom I refer was unfortunately killed. It is quite extraordinary that Ms O'Farrell has had to wait six years for part of a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, report. That report does not name anyone or hold anyone responsible, so it basically leaves the O'Farrell family in limbo. They say they have not named anyone because of continuing inquiries. How long are those inquiries going to continue? I would like the Leader to ask this of the Minister. I have raised this issue repeatedly but I have got nowhere. The only thing I have been able to do is to try to give some succour to Ms O'Farrell and her family. By the way, this man continued to act in precisely the same manner and to collect further convictions after he killed Shane O'Farrell. It is absolutely extraordinary and raises questions about the use of bail.
The second matter I wish to raise is the extraordinary arrogance and impertinence of the American representative to the United Nations in raising, as a matter of urgency, the rather pathetic and amateurish flight of rockets that was sent by Hamas into Israel. As far as I know, no one has been injured or killed in any of these attacks. The rockets may have done some marginal damage. It is, of course, unpleasant. However, where is the sense of proportion? I could take this if the Americans had not vetoed an inquiry into the slaughter of Palestinians in recent weeks. I find it an astonishing breakdown of moral values that the Americans could operate in this way and I take this opportunity to condemn them strongly. I see exactly what they are doing. They are trying to build up a case that the Palestinians, who are the victims, are responsible for their own situation. They are not.
I wish to highlight the importance of a campaign led by young people involved in Comhairle na nÓg in Leitrim.
The Use Your Brain Not Your Fists campaign is being run in conjunction with the community safety division of An Garda Síochána. The campaign highlights the consequences of assault for victims, but also for perpetrators in terms of prison sentences and the impact it would have on their career and travel prospects. I recently attended the launch of a film relating to this campaign which, as I said, was made by young people involved in Comhairle na nÓg in Leitrim. The film features Rosie Dolan, a mother from Carrick-on-Shannon. Her son died after being involved in an unprovoked attack. It also features Shane Grogan from Tuam and his parents Joe and Joan. Shane was the subject of a separate unprovoked attack on a night out and suffered catastrophic injuries. The film, which, as I have said, was produced by young people, really shows the human consequences of such assaults. I very much commend all of the young people involved in this campaign. They really are young leaders who are trying to ensure that a message is communicated to all young people to use their brains and not their fists. It is a very simple message but it can be a very effective one in terms of thinking before acting. This film, as I said, is being run in conjunction with the community safety division of An Garda Síochána and it will be promoted in all secondary schools in order to show our students the huge implications of not acting in an appropriate way. I very much commend the young people involved and the leadership they have shown on a very difficult issue.
I want to raise a broad issue and throw out a few ideas. As the weather is improving, we are moving into the depths of the sheep-shearing season. Unfortunately, the value of and demand for sheep wool, which is a natural, renewable commodity, has dropped off the face of the Earth in recent years. In the past three years alone, wool prices have fallen to one third of what they were. It now costs a farmer money to shear a sheep when there was a time when there was profit left behind from the wool. In an age when all sectors of farming, and sheep farming in particular, need a little boost, as a population and as a race of people we are moving towards synthetic and petrochemically produced fibres when, in the context of climate change and renewable energies, wool is a renewable, natural fibre. Perhaps the Leader will say that this matter relates to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine but it could also relate to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment or the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
The time for talking is over with regard to renewables, a greener society and climate change. I propose that this House take the initiative and set up a select committee to start looking at these things properly and realistically. As I say, the one example I am using, of the many that are out there, is that of sheep wool. It is a renewable, natural fibre that has to be shorn each year, after which another fleece is produced the following year. It can be used in insulation, clothing and carpets but instead we are destroying our climate and environment by continually moving towards the petrochemically produced synthetic fibres. It is not just an issue of sheep wool. There are many more items and products out there. Somebody will have to take the lead on this. It cannot be kicked from one Department to another like a football. In this instance alone there is the double advantage in that it would provide much needed income to the sheep farming sector and, in turn, help to solve our environmental issues.
I rise to speak about the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill in the context of the stories that have been released in the past 24 hours by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. There is nothing new about this story. We have all known this for a long time. I speak with some experience. I could have been adopted three times but my parents, individually, against all the odds, resisted the church and the State and refused to relinquish any of their seven children despite the judgments cast upon them and upon their fitness to be parents. In a way, 40 or 50 years later, I can now look back on that. However, I grew up from day one in what was described as a clearing house for adoptions. I grew up in the very building where the Wellcome drug trials took place. I was one of those subjected to them. I lived there. I want to draw the attention of Senators to one thing: Deputy Micheál Martin was Minister for Health when that matter came to light. One of his greatest political hours was his speech to Leinster House at the time. I am going to circulate it to every Member of both Houses today because he was the one who set up the inquiry, although it was overturned and found to be ultra vires . Hundreds and hundreds of boxes of information in respect of those matters were secured under court orders, but sadly that never went any further.
To return to the issue, for far too long people were denied knowledge of who they were, where they belonged, their history, their heritage and, for that matter, their religion. I will conclude because I am conscious of time, but I would ask the Leader if he would organise to have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs come here in time. I specify in time because we need to speak with calmness. I will say one other thing before I make that ask. There are many people in this State, many of whom I know, who were adopted and who were exceptionally happy. Many people were facilitated with homes without going through the proper process but were happy. We cannot judge the past by the standards of today. There were many people in religious life who thought, perhaps misguidedly, that they were doing good and doing well for people. We know that in all of our families there were uncles, aunts and cousins who reared the children that nobody wanted. They did not do it out of badness or to mislead anybody. They did it to fill a vacuum and to give a child a bit of security, a bit of welfare and a bit of love. I want to paint that into the context because of how big an issue it is.
I will sum up by saying that every child should know where he or she was born, who his or her parents were, whether he or she had siblings, and whether he or she was inducted into a faith or religion or not. There is a bigger picture there. A lot of this could be dealt with through the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. We should get that back on track. I would really welcome it if the Minister were to come and share her knowledge to date and to tell us why it has taken this long to come out with all of this. Why was it this week? Why not last week? A lot happens in a week in politics. We know what happened last week and we know that many things will happen next week. It is important for the Minister to come in. I would appreciate it if the Leader could raise that with her.
As certain Members will recall, last February our very important Oireachtas rugby team played a charity match against An Garda Síochána. It was great fun and a great way to meet and socialise. Senator Mark Daly is a surprisingly good right winger when he wants to be. However the more serious side is that match was played in order to raise awareness of and funds for the work of Pieta House. I join with other colleagues who have mentioned it today and yesterday and I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Justice and Equality, and all of the other relevant Ministers, to the House to talk about mental health within our front-line services.
Seven members of An Garda Síochána have committed suicide in the past year. It is a scary number and it is something that is endemic across our front-line services including our fire-fighters, our paramedics and our Defence Forces. We really need to address this. It is not unique to Ireland. It is happening in countries around the world. We have all seen that, unfortunately, a number of extremely horrific crimes have been committed in recent weeks in Ireland including one close to my own home, that terrible murder in Rathmichael. It is the people who arrive at those scenes first who have to deal with the effects. Perhaps they go into the great unreported situations and talk people down off bridges, such as the M50 flyover on Blackglen Road. They often find themselves abandoned afterwards. I met a number of gardaí and a couple of paramedics earlier this week who struggle daily not just to deal with other people's mental health issues but with their own.
We need a new strategy to talk about the people we rely on the most in this State to make sure the State itself looks after them. I appeal to the Leader to organise that debate as soon as possible.
I had intended to raise the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill but as it has been very eloquently dealt with by the previous speaker, I will not try to bring out that type of sentiment again. However, it would be useful for the House if we could get that back on track, have an informed debate and try to get the legislation through.
I very much support the comments in regard to climate change and some very good points were made on natural fibres and how they are used. We also have to remember how this House voted in regard to microbeads. Microbeads are used not just in the cosmetic industry but also in the clothing industry and, in the context of controlling the licensing of that, unfortunately, the vote in the House was lost. However, I believe a good job of work could be done by the House in regard to concentrating on how we use natural fibres, whether in the wool industry or in regard to what comes from the agricultural sector within Ireland.
Many people have been praised in regard to the recent referendum, in particular the many young people who engaged in the referendum on both sides. Democracy is a good thing and to see people engaging in debate on the eighth amendment was worthwhile. I am heartened to see the number of people who participated in the referendum. When driving around the city today, I asked myself whether there is something practical we could do. A high number of volunteers on both sides went out, knocked on doors and put up posters, but the Litter Pollution Act means that anyone who put up a poster will be fined from Friday if it is not taken down. Taking into consideration that many of those involved in the referendum were young activists on both sides who did this in their own time as volunteers, I ask that the Leader might ask the Minister to extend the period until Tuesday to give people an opportunity to get the posters down. Political parties are well used to the idea of getting their posters down but this was civic society engaged in democracy and I think we should give a little extra time. I want to compliment people on the number of posters that have already been taken down and, in the main, they have disappeared from our roads and country lanes. To give volunteers a little leniency until Tuesday, after the bank holiday, would give both sides the opportunity to get those posters down without being fined.
I want to bring to the attention of the House very real concerns in regard to what is happening in University Hospital Limerick. I am not just talking about the ongoing scandal of the emergency department and the ever-worsening trolley crisis, which is desperate, but there is something altogether more sinister apparently happening within the hospital. I can tell the House that the industrial relations climate within the hospital is at an all-time low. In fact, I understand the Workplace Relations Commission has been called in, originally by SIPTU but now by all of the unions, because they have lost faith entirely with hospital management. There is an absolute scandal about the senior shop steward, a man I know personally, who is not being allowed to return to work. He did not do anything wrong and he has not been accused of anything by the hospital. In fact, he was threatened with assault while in work and became ill, and he is now fit to return to work. He is a senior spokesperson who stands up for people in the hospital but, without any explanation, the hospital management refused to let him back in. There are ongoing reports of bullying and intimidation of staff. There are credible reports of people being appointed to positions without any interview process, people who just happen to be direct relations of senior management in the hospital - there have been a number of instances in this regard.
There is the ongoing scandal of privatisation of services, on which I will cite just two examples. In radiology, there is a highly active private department within the hospital which has access to all the public facilities but only to treat patients with private care. Private patients are treated in less than two weeks while public patients languish for months, years in some cases, without access to the service. Similarly, in MRI there is a staff agreement that allows the MRI to operate seven days a week but management has decided to curtail it to 4.30 p.m. and instead outsource it to private companies from 4.30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The impact of all of this is that staff are at their wit's end. There is something rotten at the heart of management in University Hospital Limerick. I have written to the Minister and he has promised an investigation. I ask the Leader, as a matter of urgency, to bring the Minister to the House. All of us in Limerick are suffering at the moment in terms of what is not working right in the hospital but the staff are suffering most of all. Someone in authority in the Department of Health or the HSE needs to hold the management of the hospital to account and it needs to happen now.
Last week I raised an issue in regard to schools and how prepared or, as I said, unprepared they were in regard to the GDPR legislation that came into effect last Friday. At the time, based on information the Leader had received, he was of the opinion that it was a figment of my imagination.
I did not say that. The Senator should clarify that. He should be fair. If he wants to make a political charge, he should do so, but be fair.
Order, please. Allow the Senator to continue.
I am being fair. I know no other way.
He can make a political charge but he cannot say that.
The Leader will have a chance to respond shortly. If Senator Gallagher is incorrect, you can clarify that but you should not try to stop him speaking.
Be fair. Do not make political charges that are false.
I do not come in here and do that. I never have and never will.
He just did.
Perhaps if the Leader would listen sometime as opposed to preaching, he might be wiser.
He just did.
Respect the Chair, please.
Perhaps I can be allowed to continue without interruption. What I did say was that, at the time, they were unprepared. Two days ago the general secretary of the INTO on its website issued a statement in regard to that issue. She criticised the Department of Education and Skills for failing to provide comprehensive GDPR training and support to schools. The website states:
"The GDPR legislation sets a high bar for compliance and it is unacceptable that support and training has not been put in place to assist Principals to meet the demands of the legislation. In addition to the absence of clear guidance on policy matters, no additional funding had been made available for the required safe storage of documents."
Ms Nunan called on the DES [Department of Education and Skills] to recognise the challenges facing schools in fulfilling their obligations and immediately provide the necessary support.
Separately, I would like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, would come to the House today to discuss the case of Shane O'Farrell, who was tragically killed in a hit and run accident. I, along with Senator Mac Lochlainn and others, attended a briefing this morning given by Lucia O'Farrell, who outlined how her son Shane was tragically killed by a foreign national in a hit and run accident, the same foreign national who had entered this country with a criminal record. I think we would all agree that for any mother to lose a son is unnatural and against the grain, but to lose a son in such tragic circumstances is worse again, and we can only imagine what that poor woman and that poor family are going through. It is a serious issue. For her and her family, for the memory of her son, Shane, and for future lessons, the Minister needs to come into this House to discuss this issue.
I wish to fully support Senator Gallagher's call. Last night RTÉ's "Prime Time" was a devastating exposé of the failures in our criminal justice system. Shane O'Farrell was mown down by Zigimantas Gridzuiska on 2 August 2011. Not long after that I met Shane's parents. What will never leave me is their grief and the love they had for their son, and the sheer devastation. However, the anger has grown over the years in that family, given what they have discovered. Mr. Gridzuiska was responsible for an absolute litany of criminal activities around that area, on both sides of the Border. There was an order from a judge that, if he was found guilty of any other offences in terms of fraud and theft, he would be sent back to jail, yet, repeatedly after that, he was not, and this is before he knocked down Shane O'Farrell.
There are huge questions.
It should never have been left to GSOC alone. It was not a matter just for An Garda Síochána. This was a whole-of-system failing. Any decent citizen of the State would see there has to be a public inquiry into this matter.
We cannot leave it to GSOC. The first part of its report is a shambles and a travesty in terms of what we can see with our own eyes based on the dossier of evidence that Lucia O'Farrell herself has put together. It is an insult to the Irish people just to leave it to GSOC. There has to be a public inquiry. We have some solemn powers in the House. We do not abuse them and we use them sparingly, but today the House should call in the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan-----
-----to listen to our concerns and to tell us there will be a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell.
I propose this along with my colleague, Senator Gallagher, supported by Senator Norris.
It is proposed and seconded.
With regard to the Garda and the Minister for Justice and Equality, I would like to put to the House that applications for the current round of Garda recruitment finishes next Wednesday, 6 June, at 3 p.m. Bringing the Garda strength up to 15,000 by 2021 is something we should absolutely welcome. It is great for rural and urban areas. I was a bit concerned that the GRA stated there was a lack of tasers for gardaí. These would be very helpful, as would vehicle number plate recognition, which has worked extremely well in the North. Perhaps we should ask the Minister what exactly has happened and will happen, because it would be very helpful to law enforcement, particularly on the roads.
I join with other Senators in raising the adoption of children without the families' knowledge. Senator Boyhan made a very good and genuine case with his personal evidence here today. On 17 May 2017, the Seanad debated Second Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 and there was great urgency then. Seemingly the information that came into the public domain yesterday has been well known for a very long time. Action has to be taken in this particular regard because there is nothing worse than being deprived of one's heritage and background.
These people, who were adopted between 1946 and 1969, and some of whom are now approximately 48 years of age, must be informed. They must know and they must be told. Why live a lie? They were adopted illegally. Former Ministers with responsibility for justice or foreign affairs - whoever had responsibility for passports - must have been aware these were forged passports. The Garda Síochána is supposed to be involved in this also, but the main issue at this stage is not a question of going back into what happened then but that people have a right to know. The best way to do this is through DNA samples. Millions are available now. I know people who have traced their families and the number of people coming forward in this regard is extraordinary. This is with regard to people who emigrated to the US back in the 1920s and reared families there, lost contact with their families in Ireland and are now being reunited. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should look at the situation from a DNA point of view. There may not be records there so how will the person find the DNA? We should at least make it available to people who will try to trace their families.
What sort of a country would do this? The Sisters of Charity did not show much charity in sending little babies away and taking them from their mothers. Some of the mothers thought their children were dead. It is an outrageous situation. The Minister should come back here immediately and get the Bill through before the summer recess. It is unacceptable that a Bill she said was urgent on 17 May 2017, one year ago, is not urgent now. There was a big press statement yesterday. There is a lot of publicity going on here. The Ministers are trying to grab the headlines, as far as I am concerned. I know they are carried away by the great event in Dublin Castle on Saturday-----
The one the Senator voted "No" for.
Please, the referendum is over.
They were like rock stars. I thought they had won the World Cup and the European Cup all in the one day.
They did better than that.
That is terrible stuff.
We will not go down that road at this stage.
Tá an t-am istigh.
I request the Leader to request the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter and ask her to please bring forward Committee and Report Stages of the Bill.
An issue has been brought to my attention by Councillor Pat Fitzpatrick in Arklow, who works with Deputy Pat Casey. There seems to be an anomaly in the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. Tenants of a landlord who withdraws from RAS, who previously qualified for the housing assistance payment, HAP, no longer do so. It is up to the local authority in this instance, namely, Wicklow County Council, to house these people in a vacant council house, which we know do not exist readily, or place them in temporary accommodation. The Minister needs to adjust the scheme because there is definitely an oversight.
These former tenants have to be able to qualify for rental allowance or HAP. Apart from having to move into a non-existent house, being left on the side of the road or moving into one-bedroom accommodation, as many people are, there is the further complication that they are bypassing those who have been on the housing list for 15 or 20 years. This is actively happening as we speak. This is not a party political matter. It was a genuine oversight in the way the RAS scheme was adopted and introduced. People living in a house that is being sold cannot apply for a rent allowance or HAP.
I thank the 15 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business. At the end of the Order of Business I will propose an amendment that No. 4a on the Supplementary Order Paper, statements on incorrect birth registrations, be taken at 7 p.m. to conclude after 50 minutes. The arrangements for the business shall be that the contributions of group spokespersons are not to exceed six minutes, with the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to apply to the debate. I am sure we can discuss it at the meeting of group leaders after the Order of Business.
Will it be only group leaders?
I hope that Members would be able to participate-----
No, that is fine.
If Senator Norris wants to participate-----
I would have loved to, but I have guests whom I have already pushed up the list.
Given that we have a recess next week and this is a very-----
To be clear, I presume people can share time if they wish.
Group spokespersons will be allowed to share time.
Yes. This is to facilitate the House as it is important, given the extreme sensitivity of the issue and that it is a matter of urgency. Senators Mark Daly, Conway-Walsh, Boyhan, Humphreys and Leyden contributed on the issue. I thank and compliment Senator Boyhan for his very personal contribution on the Order of Business. This is an historical wrong and, as we know, people have been denied what is rightfully theirs and it is important that we rectify this. As all of us have said here this morning, we are all thinking of the people affected by this awful tragedy and the awful wrong done to them. Senator Boyhan was generous when he said we cannot judge the past by the standards of today. He made a very magnanimous contribution. This is very much something we need to get right. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of people who have been treated so wrongly by the State and various institutions. If we are honest, this is about people trying to establish who they are, having to find a birth mother or father, wondering who they are and who are their siblings and, very often, being blocked by society or the institutions of the State.
I know from friends of the heartache and turbulence in their lives. Senator Boyhan is correct as although some people are happy and do not want to find out any information, others do and it consumes them. I remember going through a phone book in a certain part of the country with a friend trying to find names. We drove a certain part of the country ten times in a day. I am thankful that person was reconciled with his birth mother but it consumed him.
Events are unfolding which are absolutely awful. I commend the Minister, Deputy Zappone, but I condemn Senator Leyden's remarks this morning. This was not an exercise in public relations but rather it was about getting the truth out there. That the children - now adults - were incorrectly registered is an appalling failure by the State.
Hear, hear. She was the first to address it.
The Government must respond immediately and effectively. If there needs to be an independent inquiry, let us have it. Let us give the Minister, Deputy Zappone, the space and time to do this. As Senator Norris suggests, she has only one interest. I have heard some people coming in and talking about an information tracing Bill. There is a reason for the delay, and it is not as easy as some people suggest. There are sensitivities, rights of people and protections that must be provided. We must get the balance right. It is a complex matter. Listening to the Seán O'Rourke's radio programme this morning one would have heard the remarks of Mr. Tim Bracken, a senior counsel. He spoke of the major legal complexities in what has happened, including elements of parenthood, relationship succession and the rights of the adopted person. People could lose one right associated with a birth parent by being adopted but that may not be the case after all. I do not want to create hysteria, and that is why we need calm debate.
I do not know if we can retrospectively amend legislation. All of us want to see the publication of amendments for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill and it is important for this to be done in a manner that progresses the Bill. It is a bit like the post-referendum call for legislation. We should get it right rather than having to revisit everything again. I am very much of that view, although I might be in a minority of one. Let us not give the legal eagles a field day in any scenario any more. We have an obligation to the affected people to get this right. I commend the Minister, Deputy Zappone, on her work.
We have created Tusla and there is an adoption agency. There is a duty on it to put right the wrongs of the past, and that is what we will do. It is why I asked the people in the office of the Minister, Deputy Zappone, about this before the Order of Business. It is important that we, as a House, debate the matter, as is the wish of Senators Mark Daly, Conway-Walsh, Boyhan, Humphreys and the Civic Engagement Group. We should discuss it tonight.
I do not have information on the trials from GlaxoSmithKlline mentioned by Senators Daly and Boyhan. If what they say is the case, it is appalling that this has been done. People should be informed on that. I am not being critical of the Senator.
I know. Perhaps when the Minister comes to the House she could update the House on the matter? Her Department is dealing with it and it is supposed to do a report on it.
It may not be possible to do it today but we will certainly endeavour to do it over the next couple of weeks.
It has been brought to her attention.
I give a commitment on that. Senators Daly, Richmond and Feighan mentioned An Garda Síochána. It is important we support members of An Garda and front-line emergency workers, including those of the fire brigade and ambulance service, when it comes to stress. We can have a debate on that with the appropriate Minister.
Senator Lawless raised the outcome of the referendum. I join him in commending all those people who travelled home to vote, no matter what side on which they voted. It is important for us to recognise that many young people are today exercised by issues rather than party politics. For all involved with the world of politics, there will be an exercise to engage and see how we can continue to gain that attention and work with young people. All of us recognise the importance of the home to vote movement. I agree with the Senator and I am thankful that emigration is temporary today. We benefit greatly from people returning home to work. It is about further enhancing participation in democracy.
I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh on the matter of home help. It is unbelievable that we have a delay in home help hours being allocated to people. I could wallpaper my desk, as I am sure the Senator can, with correspondence from people who are waiting. It is unacceptable. There has been an increase in the budget and we speak of keeping people at home living in the community. We need to see that working effectively with the allocation of hours. I do not agree with the Senator's remarks on the rainy day fund. We had the debate last week and we will not open it again now. I welcome today's rally with regard to the cervical cancer issue and I thank the people for organising it. However, it is important that all the necessary supports and information continue to be given to the women and families affected by this. The Government is committed to this.
Senators Norris, Gallagher, Leyden and Mac Lochlainn raised the matters arising from last night's "Prime Time" programme and the death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell. I did not see the programme. I know Ms Lucia O'Farrell is in the House today. There is a huge sense of grief and understandable anger being felt by the O'Farrell family and no words of mine or any other Members in the House today will ease the pain. It is important to note the tragic loss of life - Senator Mac Lochlainn eloquently disclosed to the House the nature of the incident and the perpetrator - and none of us condones that sort of behaviour. The Senator is correct that there is only place for that type of person, which is behind bars. In saying that there is a need for the family to have closure and answers. I support any call to get those answers. The Senators mentioned the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, inquiry. I am not sure if the findings have been published but I hope they will be.
Part 1 has.
All the information should be put in the public domain. It is about justice and I hope GSOC will publish the report so we can allow for the investigation outcomes to be published. I hope we can get answers for the family so they can get real justice. I do not say this to in any way gloss over the contributions of Members but we should definitely stand united in supporting the family in its search for all the answers. I am happy to give that support.
Senator Norris also raised the incidents in Gaza. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has condemned the attacks as being unhelpful, and he is right. This should be about dialogue and getting answers. I certainly hope we do not see politicisation of the United Nations by the United States. In response to requests by Senators Norris, Gallagher, Leyden and Mac Lochlainn, I will endeavour to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House after the recess if possible.
Senator Hopkins raised the matter of young people in Leitrim and the campaign to use their brains rather than their fists. I commend all involved in the campaign and thank the Senator for highlighting the matter today. It is important in the modern world that young people think about how they can best serve their communities, friends and peer group.
Unprovoked assaults are not a way and we should do everything in our power to ensure that young people see an alternative to violence and physical contact like that. The message that Senator Hopkins communicated through the video is one we should promulgate and I commend all involved.
Senators Paul Daly and Kevin Humphreys indirectly made reference to climate change and agriculture. I support Senator Daly's call for a Seanad committee to deal with not just the reduction in value of wool but the intersection of agriculture and climate change. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine established a bio-economy working group, which is a cross-departmental group that had its inaugural meeting recently. The Seanad reform committee met yesterday. It is chaired by Senator McDowell, whose birthday was yesterday. I wish him a belated 66th birthday; he is on the bus pass now.
Not until next year.
He is on more than that.
I should also congratulate Senator Bacik, who reached the milestone of 50 at the weekend. I wish her a happy birthday. I am digressing for a moment. Senator Paul Daly's point is one that would, again, make the Seanad relevant in terms of the agricultural community. We have an agriculture sub-panel as part of our electoral system. I would be happy to support a debate on the issues raised by Senators Daly and Humphreys regarding climate change, renewable energy and synthetic petrochemicals.
In respect of Senator Richmond's point, we are very lucky given the quality of members of An Garda Síochána who serve us. To hear yesterday and this morning that seven members died by suicide is a worrying trend. and I hope the Department of Justice and Equality and Acting Garda Commissioner Ó Cualáin will put resources in place to ensure there is access to counselling, support and a range of specialisms because our front-line defenders do a huge amount of work and work unsociable hours in unpalatable conditions. I commend them for that.
Senator Humphreys made a very good contribution regarding referendum posters. I hope that the local authorities will show discretion to the volunteers who erected the posters throughout the country. In many cases, they were not paid to put them up. I hope that all those who take down posters will take the cable ties down as well. Extending the deadline is a matter of discretion at local level. It is enshrined in law but it is important that discretion is used.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the industrial relations climate within University Hospital Limerick. I am not aware of the information he put on the record but if it is half as bad as he has suggested, then it is pretty bad. I advocate that the Senator make a contribution by going to the Workplace Relations Commission himself and making a complaint. I hope he knows I cannot comment because I do not have the information but it would be appalling if a person acting as a shop steward or trade unionist - a voice for workers - is prevented from going back to work if he is fit to do so. I would not support that, as Senator Gavan will know well.
Regarding Senator Gallagher's comment, I did not say anything was a figment of his imagination last week. He is putting words in his own mouth as well as mine.
Senator Buttimer is very much a reality. He is not a figment of-----
I very much live in the real world. I have my finger on the pulse of the people every day, which is why I enjoy being a Member and being involved in public life. If Senator Gallagher wanted to quote me correctly, he would have referred to the website I gave him with access to the information. He should reflect on that.
On a point of information, I have no appetite whatsoever for getting into an argy-bargy here. I raised an issue last week after being contacted by a number of school principals who said that there appeared to be an issue. Two days ago, the INTO issued a statement, according to which it is clearly completely in the dark. It has no preparation made whatsoever and no direction from the Department of Education and Skills. With respect, all I am looking is for the Department to get a grip on this, contact the schools and tell them how they are meant to comply with this new legislation.
The Senator has made his point.
Senator Feighan made an important contribution. Under the previous Government, the Garda Training College in Templemore was reopened. Garda recruitment is open to the public and the closing date is 6 June. I hope that people who are interested in An Garda Síochána will apply to become members. I am proud of the fact that the party that founded An Garda Síochána has recommenced recruitment to it.
They are paid peanuts. Maybe if the Government paid them a proper wage-----
Senator Wilson is definitely spoiling for a fight today. My friendship with him predates our election to the House and I will not rise to his bait on this occasion.
Senator Davitt raised an important point about a potential anomaly. I suggest as a matter of urgency that he tables a Commencement Matter on the matter as he will get an answer more quickly. I am sure the Cathaoirleach would be happy to help him in that.
I thank Members for their contributions. It is my intention to amend the Order of Business to allow for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House tonight.
On a point of order, Mrs. Lucia O'Farrell is in the Public Gallery of the Dáil and will be happy to meet Members.
I am not sure if that is a point of order but the Senator's information is noted.
Senator Gallagher has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on matters arising from the tragic death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell in a hit-and-run accident", be taken today. Is the amendment being pressed?
No, I have received assurance from the Leader that the Minister will come to the House at the first available opportunity. It is very important.
I apologise to Senator Gallagher. I did not realise he had proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. It is my hope that the Minister will come to the House the week we come back. I will endeavour to have that debate. I did not realise the Senator had proposed an amendment.
Senator Gallagher proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that was seconded by Senator Mac Lochlainn.
I spoke to my seconder as well. It is important that it be a one-item agenda.
Is the amendment being withdrawn?
The Leader has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That statements on incorrect birth registration be taken at 7 p.m. this evening with the contributions of group spokesmen not to exceed six minutes, time may be shared and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate".