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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 18 Oct 2018

Vol. 260 No. 13

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Competition Act 2002 (Section 27) Order 2018, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on An Update on Rebuilding Ireland, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each.

We were all listening to the radio this morning and heard about the delay in smear tests. They take up to 18 weeks or longer. After what happened in the past few months in particular, no woman should have to wait 18 weeks or upwards for the results of a smear test. I will be asking the Minister for Health to address this issue.

Today I would like to finish the point about mental health that I was prevented from making yesterday. One area identified in the final report of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care as containing serious barriers is the area of young adult and teen mental health. There are just not enough services for that age group and we lose real people inside the statistics. That is why I wanted to talk about three young people who are showing us all the benefits of sport for mental health. The sport of kickboxing is thriving around the world. In the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations, WAKO, World Kickboxing Championships in Italy, competitors from Kickboxing Ireland won 12 gold medals, 11 silver and 29 bronze on the global stage. Three of those gold medallists were from Larry's Kickboxing club in Carlow - Billie Maher, a 14 year old girl; Jack Dawson, a 14 year old boy; and Jamie Walker, a 12 year old boy. I wanted to raise their triumph and the achievements of our other young athletes in sport in the past few months because we should shout loud about the great work our young people are doing. In an age when we worry about resilience in our children, the benefits of sports such as kickboxing cannot be overlooked.

The committee's report which was launched yesterday laid out several suggestions for better mental healthcare, including a move to 24-7 services, which are sorely needed. Through our work on the committee, we saw how accident and emergency departments across the country are the only available places for people with mental health issues to go, which is wholly unsuitable. We cannot look after one another if we do not have specialised staff and facilities equipped with the right tools to help.

A total of 22 recommendations were made in the report. I will not mention all of them as I would like to be brief. However, we constantly see funding being the main barrier to helping people. We need to change that and to push mental health, especially in younger adults, teens and children, up the political agenda. We identified smartphones and other such devices as areas where schools need to work with parents and children, but we need to look at how young people are living in Ireland today and how we are not listening sufficiently to what is going on.

Yesterday the ESRI released the Growing Up in Ireland report. The report deals with the lives of 13 year olds and how they are doing. While the issues of overweight and obesity levels are cited, I draw attention to the statistics showing that about 10% of 13 year olds reported that they had been bullied in the three months before they were interviewed for the report and that 2% said they had bullied someone else. Boys and girls were about equally likely to have been bullied. Having been bullied was associated with a higher risk of socio-emotional and behavioural problems. Yesterday, the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in DCU stated that 22% of children aged 12 to 15 years have been bullied. If there is anything that can empower our children, we should be supportive of it in order that their futures are not decided outside their control.

In schools across the country, despite new policies and initiatives, cyberbullying and real-life bullying still take place. We are not doing enough. As we have the information to stop bullying now, why would we not do so? From a series of questions entitled The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire that were answered by their parents, we can see that the socio-emotional and behavioural well-being of 13 year olds is generally good and very similar to levels from UK studies. Based on the answers to this set of questions, 13 year olds with certain characteristics and from some family backgrounds were more likely than others to be classified as being at risk of socio-emotional and behavioural problems. I will finish on this point.

The Senator is already a minute over time.

I believe these new data, coupled with the report of the Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, are invaluable and show that we need to intervene early and support on another along the way in order that we can ensure positive outcomes for all children in Ireland today.

Last week this House remembered the disaster that was the RMS Leinster tragedy 100 years ago. With that in mind, I pay tribute to those involved in the events that took place in Belgium and France last weekend for soldiers who fought and died in the First World War.

Significantly, it was a joint commemoration of human sacrifice by the soldiers of the 16th Irish Division and 36th Ulster Division centred in their last major engagement in the Great War. Among those attending were members of the Somme Association, the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Army. They were joined by British and Irish Embassy representatives and, uniquely, for the first time, members of the 6th Connaught Rangers Research Group from the Falls Road in Belfast.

I shall quote Harry Donaghy from the group, who said:

Bitterness is a very difficult thing to expunge from our political calendar, but I would argue that, in the main, there has been an understanding and acceptance of something that was ignored or forgotten about for almost 100 years.

I shall also quote Alan McFarlan from the Somme Association who attended the event. He said: "We've got the two traditions here, we have a cross-border tradition here today, the Irish Army, and the British Army." In addition, at the service, the exhortation at Sunday's act of remembrance was: "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old", which was read in Irish and English. The significance of this event is that this was the last time the two traditions in Ireland fought a common cause. Young men from all four provinces, from both unionist and nationalist traditions, were represented and perished.

As we move into the period of remembrance and reflection, we need to focus on shared identities. Poppies and remembrance are about reflection and respect. It is about the human cost of war, not glorification. One hundred years ago thousands of young men left Ireland following promises of adventure and opportunity, many of whom had never been out of their town, village, townland or parish. They were promised that they would be home for Christmas, but many never returned. As for those who did, it was not the homecoming they deserved or expected. There was no recognition of their service or valour that they truly deserved.

In this current era of challenges for this country, whether it be jobs, housing, healthcare or Brexit, we all need to work together to fight common causes. I urge the House to remember and never forget the horror of war and conflict. I urge them to ensure this season of remembrance will be relevant to all and completely respectful but not contentious or confrontational, and to consider that any ideology that threatens human safety, security or life has no place in a modern democracy.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House in the near future for a debate on deportations. I am particularly concerned about reports on the threatened deportation of a nine year old boy in Bray. He was born in Ireland and he has spent his entire life here. He is in fourth class in St. Cronan's national school in Bray, but he faces imminent deportation to China. More than 30,000 people have signed a petition to argue against his deportation. A group of hundreds of Chinese parents in Ireland have asked the Minister not to deport this young boy on the basis that it would be wrong and that the Chinese educational system is so different from the Irish one. It would be difficult for a boy having been born in Ireland and lived all of his life here to be deported to China. It is particularly noteworthy that just last week it seems the Minister intervened in a case in his own constituency of Laois-Offaly to ensure another young boy was not deported to Nigeria. It is a sad day when campaigns against deportation seem to rely on the likelihood of having a Minister in the constituency. Having said that, the local Minister in Wicklow is appealing to the Minister for Justice and Equality against the deportation of young Eric Zhi Ying Xue in Bray.

The latest deportation should remind us of the referendum campaign that was run and supported by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in 2004, which removed the right to birthright citizenship from our laws. I was very proud of the strong stance taken by my own party, the Labour Party, against that referendum.

However, because the referendum was passed, young children like Eric and the young boy from Laois-Offaly are being threatened with deportation, despite the fact that they have lived all their lives in the country, have a huge network of friends and a community here and know no other place as their home. They also hold no other citizenship.

I appeal to the Leader to invite the Minister to the House. I will not call a vote on this matter during the Order of Business. However, we need a debate on deportation and, in particular, we need to address this apparent postcode lottery where certain children are at particular risk of deportation. I appeal to the Minister not to deport this young boy and his family from Ireland.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on funding for disability survivor groups. I ask this in the context of meeting a group called Justice for Polio Survivors earlier this week. The group has lost funding from the Rehab Group in recent years. The survivors are concerned about the de-recognition of the needs of polio survivors. There has been ongoing negotiation between the Rehab Group and the polio survivors. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the broader issue of the need for funding for survivors, particularly for groups such as Justice for Polio Survivors.

Regarding the discussions on Brexit-----

I cannot hear a word the Senator is saying.

I cannot hear Senator Leyden.

I am sorry. Perhaps the sound system is not good.

On the Brexit discussions taking place in Brussels involving the Heads of Government, I note that there is a proposal not to hold a meeting in November because it looks like the current meeting will be inconclusive. I understand meetings are being arranged for December and prior to the end of this year where, I hope, there will be a major breakthrough in that regard. We all wish the Government well in the negotiations and, in particular, I commend the leader of Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party or the ALDE group. We are in Brussels to support the Government and the negotiations because quite a number of our colleagues are Prime Ministers of different countries throughout the European Union.

At this point in time there has been a major surge in UK searches for information on Irish passports and citizenship. There is a great interest in ensuring that people in Britain would apply for and receive an Irish passport. If a person's grandparent was born in the Republic of Ireland, he or she should be eligible for a passport. I commend such passports and recommend that people in Britain apply. I refer to the fact that 1.5 million citizens in Northern Ireland are fully entitled to an Irish passport, which is very important; therefore, they can hold dual passports.

I recommend that Irish people living in Britain apply for a British passport because two passports are useful particularly in a situation where we have such close links with our nearest neighbour. If a parent of an Irish person was born prior to 1922 or 1949, he or she is eligible because this was declared to be a republic then. By applying now Irish people can hold dual passports. There is nothing shameful about holding dual passports and it is something of which to be proud. British people are delighted to have an Irish passport, which is a European passport. Many Members are eligible to hold a British passport and thus their families are eligible. They may not want or need a British passport, but they should remember that in many years to come, their grandchildren would be eligible through them applying for a passport now. I am quite proud to recommend that both British and Irish people apply for dual passports because we have a shared past and a shared future.

In recent months I have had time to sit down and think about what happened between 2008 and the current day. Between 2011 and 2014, I was actively involved in some of the cuts that were made to the salaries paid to public servants. Members of my union at the time, the Teachers Union of Ireland, were thrown into income poverty and I remember that my own net salary fell by €1,000. Substantial sums were taken from public servants. In the 2012 Lansdowne Road agreement negotiations, I, as president of the TUI, was told that as all of the low-hanging fruit was gone, they were hard times and we all had to put our shoulder to the wheel as we were all in it together. I have since realised there was an exclusive class in this country for whom the case was made to top up their salaries by up to €20,000 per year and they were people who already earned €80,000 a year.

The argument was that they were indispensable. There were fine and hard-working civil servants for whom nobody could make a case for topping up their salaries. Nobody could make a case to defer or ignore the employment framework, but from the top of the political system from the office of the President right down through Ministers, special cases were made for salary top-ups and special jobs to be created. Before we have an inauguration on 11 November, I want legislation to be brought forward to regularise the office of Áras an Uachtaráin, which can be done prior to the next President taking his or her place.

We have to ensure we are all in it together and that we are all suffering in the same way. While we are at it, we might start trawling around ministerial offices to see how many special advisers have had top-ups on their salaries, because public servants do not have that option open to them. By the way, neither does the Leader.

The Senator is correct.

He cannot go into the Taoiseach and tell him that he is a special guy who deserves an extra €20,000 a year because he will not get it. Let us try to be a little honest with public servants.

I could try. I am glad I am not special.

A few days ago, while a Senator was rightly berating the Government, probably on the grounds of its talent, ability, professionalism and resilience, he went on to call Deputy Lowry "a criminal". The Cathaoirleach was not here. It is important.

I am the Cathaoirleach and I am in charge. I read all about it and was briefed on it. I would be much happier if the Senator did not bring it up. What she is doing is amplifying the problem.

The Senator should be very careful what she says.

I will be very careful with what I say because I have already-----

If the Senator continues talking about it, I will prevent her because I do not want this topic highlighted again today and if a Member wants to speak about Deputy Lowry, the plinth is the place to do it, where the protection of this House is not available. He is not a Member of this House and cannot defend himself here.

It is not a good thing for Members of this Seanad to stand up and call anybody "fascists" or "criminals," regardless of who they are or what their job is. It is bad enough that we come into the Seanad and that nobody is listening to us because Members are on their phones, or writing home or whatever, but I do not want to be part of a Seanad where language such as that is used. If people have a legitimate reason to undermine, or argue against, somebody in a position of power or representation, that is fine. They should argue against their policies, what they do and what they do not do. If one was to use that language outside, he or she would be in court for slander and libel. I am not an apologist for anybody in the Lower House or the Upper House, but we have to curb our language, argue our cases well and not spend our lives as if we were in schoolyards throwing objects at one another. That is my objective opinion on the issue.

I commend Mr. Michael Barron, the former executive of Equate, who spoke out in last weekend's edition of The Sunday Business Post against the cruel and targeted complaints made through the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, against Equate which resulted in it being shut down. While SIPO found no wrongdoing on Equate's part, these complaints hindered its ability to fundraise and it was forced to cease operations in November 2017. Equate was a civil society organisation which sought the secularisation of the education system and was instrumental in the recent legislation to remove the baptism barrier from school admissions. The complaints made against Equate targeted obligations under the Electoral Acts, 1997 to 2002, which ambiguously prohibit anyone engaging in political work from accepting anonymous donations above €100, donations of more than €2,500 from any source or donations from abroad. The regulation was initially intended for political parties and candidates but was extended to all organisations in 2001. Since the extension the phrase "political activity" has been broadly interpreted to include, and sometimes censor, civic advocacy, which I do not believe was ever intended to be a consequence of the regulation. There have been other instances where the Electoral Acts have forbidden people from speaking out for social change and it ultimately places a muzzle on activists and hurts democracy. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has raised concerns about the narrow interpretation of our electoral laws, as have the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, The Wheel, Transparency International, Uplift and Front Line Defenders. I, therefore, call for a debate in this House where the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government with special responsibility for local government and electoral reform, Deputy Phelan, could address the Seanad and answer these concerns.

As no other Senator is indicating, I call the Leader.

The Cathaoirleach has caught me unawares. I thank the seven Members for their contributions on the Order of Business. I formally welcome a guest of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Mr. Martin Taylor, the director of Dublin Glass, which has been in operation for more than 50 years. He is most welcome to the House and I believe he is still going strong.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the smear tests. I heard Ms Anne Kelly on "Morning Ireland". The backlog is frustrating and deeply annoying. At one level it is good that women are participating and engaging with the HSE to get the service. The backlog is disappointing and frustrating but the words of Dr. Mary Short that people should not be overly worried or concerned are worth noting and it is important that we do not heighten fear among women, ensure the issue is addressed and there is a proper and accurate reading and allow for the CervicalCheck programme to continue. The Minister is cognisant of the demands.

The Senator also raised the report of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care and I commend the members of the committee again. It is worth putting on the record the remarks of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, when he spoke at the relaunch of the redeveloped website He spoke about how more and more people were going online to avail of apps and messaging services in times of crisis. It is welcome that €1 billion is being spent by the State on mental health services at a time when there has been a reduction in the numbers of people who have died or who are self-harming. That is to be welcomed. Obviously one death or incident is one too many and a compendium of approaches is needed for the issue of mental health. It is important that the National Office for Suicide Prevention is supported and resourced and the Minister of State has also secured €55 million in new development funding, aimed at enhancing community mental health teams for adults and children. I am sure the Senator will welcome those new resources which will go to many key areas of the country, including her town and county of Carlow. It is important that prevention and early intervention are provided to promote recovery in complex and acute cases. I welcome the Minister of State's use of eMental Health and digital technologies, with the fact that he has now introduced a pilot programme for telephone counselling, together with a dedicated mental health telephone number and a crisis text service, all of which are important. The worry that we all share is that men accounted for 80% of all suicides last year, according to the CSO figures. That is an extraordinary figure. Part of the work that the joint committee and other organisations in the State are doing is to continue to raise awareness. It is important that we encourage people to talk and engage.

As I did yesterday, I commend those involved in the kickboxing club in Carlow and in Kickboxing Ireland on their achievements. Senator Murnane O'Connor is correct that sport generates resilience, unifies and brings much joy and success. It is also good for forming character and I commend all involved in the matter.

Yet again Senator Marshall made a fantastic contribution on the Order of Business. I commend him on highlighting the commemorative events last weekend. He is so right. It is important that we commemorate, remember and reflect, as he does in his work here and as other Members of the Houses are trying to do. It is a question of bringing traditions together not in an adversarial way but to build bridges, unify and unite, for which I commend and thank him. I commend all involved in the commemoration last weekend in France. I hope, as Senator Marshall said, that in this period of reflection and remembrance we will honour all people and bring both traditions together. It is a question of sharing ideas and, as the Senator said, reflective remembrance and going forward in a positive manner. I commend him on his contribution.

In response to Senator Bacik I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House. I am not familiar with the case to which she referred, but it is important that there be clarity in individual situations. Yesterday Senators Ardagh and Paddy Burke raised the issue of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, website, which is a different matter, but it is all part of the issue of immigration. I will try to get the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House next week or the week after. I am not familiar with the issue of the funding of disability survivors, but the Senator might do better to table that as a Commencement matter. It deserves attention.

Senator Leyden raised the issue of Brexit and passports. I commend him on his presentation and briefing last night. Unfortunately, I could not get to the briefing, but I heard it was very informative, good and very well attended.

I thank the Leader.

We all welcome the positive atmosphere in Salzburg last night. Whether it be a backstop or a two-tier backstop, all of us who wear the green jersey, north, south, east or west, want to see a positive outcome from Brexit.

I do not want to correct the Leader, but as far as I know, the meeting was in Brussels, not Salzburg. That was the previous meeting.

Senator Leyden is an expert on European matters.

And on other matters.

The Cathaoirleach is here almost as long as Senator Leyden. I hope I get to be here as long as him. I might become a bit of an expert in something at that stage.

It was just to have it correct.

The Leader is doing all right. He is very knowledgeable.

It is important to recognise that there is now a better atmosphere, in terms of a calm, respectful and firm view that we want a Brexit deal. All in this country and on this side of the negotiations want the commitments the United Kingdom has already made. That includes the backstop guaranteeing there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

I commend the Tánaiste on his leadership on Brexit and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, and the Taoiseach. We are very lucky to have a strong leadership team negotiating on behalf of Ireland. I commend all Members of the House-----

What about the discussion on passports? Will the Leader give me a view on my point about the idea for dual passports?

I suggest the Senator table a Commencement matter to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come in on it. I will certainly have the Minister-----

There is no need for that. I am just making it clear that we are eligible to apply. I would like the Leader's view on it.

I do not have any particular view. I am open to what the Senator is considering, but it is something we need to discuss further. If the Senator wanted to take it a little further, perhaps the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade might come in for a Commencement debate on it.

If the Leader is eligible for a British passport, will he apply?

No, I will not apply for a British passport. I am quite happy to have my own Irish passport. I am very happy to travel with my Irish passport. Has Senator Leyden applied for a British passport?

Does he intend to?

I am actively considering it.

I will not be. I am quite happy to have my Irish passport and travel as an Irish citizen on it.

Senator Craughwell never ceases to come up with interesting angles on the presidential election. I remind him-----

It had nothing to do with the presidential election.

The Senator did mention the Presidency.

I said from the top of Irish society. I also raised the salary.

To be fair, if that was the case the Senator should also have commended the Uachtarán on taking a pay cut at the beginning of his term in office.

An tUachtarán McAleese, fair play to her.

We cannot have a discussion.

I am not going to discuss the Presidency.

We cannot discuss it. That is inappropriate when there is an election.

I remind Senator Craughwell that this and the last Government have been unwinding the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI.

It topped up the salaries of certain people.

The Senator should let me finish. If he wants to have a debate, let us hear all the facts. This and the last Government have been unwinding the cuts imposed. Pay restoration is happening.

Pay restoration is happening. I did not see or hear the Senator come into the House today or any day and welcome the fact that he and many other public servants had received a pay increase and would receive further pay increases of between 6.2% and 6.4% since we started the process of unwinding FEMPI. It behoves the Senator more to recognise that by 2021 or 2022 FEMPI will be no more.

It was a comment-----

I accept and have always spoken, as one who has been a public servant all my life, of the importance of the public sector, of the massive imposition that men and women who work in the public service had to endure in the turbulent times of the economy being wrecked by the Fianna Fáil Party-----

With respect, the Leader is not dealing with the issue, namely top-ups and the disregard for the special jobs.

If I may finish – I did not interrupt the Senator at all – there was a top-up given to some ministerial advisers, in some cases signed off by the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and a second by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. There are cases made. I have always made the point and I am on record as saying there should never have been a breach in the salary limit for advisers to Ministers.

I have always made that point, from which I do not recoil. It is, however, a little unfair of the Senator to come in here and castigate the Government when he fails to recognise that FEMPI is being unwound and pay restoration is happening.

The Senator can "come on" all he wants to. That is the reality.

It is €20,000 top-ups.

That is the reality.

I suggest the Senator table a Commencement matter at a later date because he is not going to resolve the issue here today.

The Cathaoirleach ruled on Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell’s point. The only contribution I will make is to side with the Cathaoirleach in that the language we use in this Chamber, in particular, should always be parliamentary and such that we should not be afraid to use it outside. I concur with the Cathaoirleach in that regard.

Senator Warfield raised a very important matter. I did not read The Sunday Business Post but I join with him in commending Mr. Michael Barron. I have known him for several years, as the Senator does, and always found him to be an exemplary citizen who has been very active in bringing good social change to the country. I did not know that the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, had exonerated them. I am delighted to hear that. I very much regret that Equate had to close down because it was doing great work. I fully subscribe to the sentiments the Senator expressed. I would be happy to invite the new Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the matter.

On a sad note, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party and the House, I extend sympathy to the family of the late Margaret Brady who was a member of staff here in the House for many years. She passed away this morning. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

Order of Business agreed to.