The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on progress in relation to climate action, to be taken at 1 p.m., with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I understand the House will debate legislation in the event of a no-deal Brexit in March. Yesterday, the matter of insurance cover in a no-deal scenario was brought to our attention. Obviously, we have a basic right to travel but it transpires that the European Commission has established we will need a green card when travelling to the United Kingdom. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has intimated this to the House, yet the insurance industry has not been informed and nor have consumers. This is worrying for people who will travel, including me as I have in-laws in the North, and also for those whose business involves travelling, for instance, taxi drivers. Many people who contacted insurance companies this morning were unable to get information. I calling my insurance company but its telephone line was jammed. It is time for the Government or the Minister to make a statement on the requirement for a travel insurance green card in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This is only one issue that has cropped up which will affect people's daily lives. I am sure that there will be many more.
Many of us in this House fought for equality in the State old age pension and to reverse the changes made by the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government in 2012. Last year, we were promised that payments would be made to people with contributory pensions in the first part of 2019. These payments have not been made. There is also an issue with the IT system in the Department. Many pensioners are required to submit further information but experience difficulties with the online system. I ask that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection come to the House to outline the position regarding these payments and provide clarity on when people will receive them.
Finally, I wish everyone a happy St. Valentine's Day.
Where are the chocolates?
Happy St. Valentine's Day.
I call Senator Conway-Walsh. The good wishes also extend to her.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and wish him and everyone here a happy St. Valentine's Day.
I raise the appalling revelation that emerged overnight that evidential materials were withheld by the PSNI from the police ombudsman in the North in the case of the atrocity at a bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in which five people were killed and several others injured. Relatives for Justice and its lawyers were continuously assured that, in the course of the police ombudsman's investigation, all of the materials sought had been provided. We now find that is not the case. There was clearly a systemic problem with disclosure in cases involving state killings, in particular killings where collusion was a feature. People may ask why this matter is the business of this House. The first reason is that the Government is the co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. Moreover, there are many legal minds in this House who will find this revelation appalling. The only reason this evidence has come to light is that it was uncovered as part of a civil case that has been taken. It is appalling to hear the issue being explained away. My colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, has called time and again for money to be made available to enable inquests to be carried out and the depth and breadth of state collusion to be examined properly in order that the families can get the truth about what happened to their loved ones.
It is not good enough to say computer systems were archaic or that there were things that were not keyed in. There were the Stevens investigation, the review by Mr. Justice Cory and the de Silva review of the investigation into the murder of Pat Finucane by the UDA and in each of the three processes more material was uncovered that it had been claimed did not exist. It is time for the files to be opened and the information aid bare in order that the families can get the truth. It is also important for us to have it as we have had a narrative spun for us and we have turned our backs on what happened over the decades in the North. The files and the information now coming to light on collusion will help us all to better understand what went on during the conflict. I commend the Pat Finucane Centre and Anne Cadwallader on her wonderful work. I recommend her books to Members, in particular Lethal Allies.
I commend Senator Ruane on her Bill dealing with the rehabilitation of offenders and to expand the framework for spent convictions which was passed last night on Second Stage without opposition from the Government. I hope it will progress to Committee Stage. In the coming weeks Seanad group leaders will speak about the subject of making progress on Bills that hav been passed on Second Stage without opposition from the Government.
I wish colleagues a happy St. Valentine's Day. Women's Aid has today launched a campaign to warn people about the dark side of dating and ensure there are knowledge and awareness, among young women in particular, of dating abuse which has been criminalised under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 as coercive control. The campaign has been launched with the hashtag, #TooIntoYou and is a way of bringing home, to young women in particular, the need to be aware of the signs when a relationship is becoming abusive such as when somebody stalks someone through the use of social media such as Twitter and persistent texting, including trolling. The Deputy Leader has been taking the lead on the issue for quite some time and we are all concerned about it. I am glad that Women's Aid has launched the campaign. Last night I spoke in the HIST debate of the historical society in Trinity College Dublin on the #MeToo movement. It was quite chilling to hear about the levels of sexual harassment the young women speakers had experienced. They are continuing to experience harassment, even with the #MeToo movement and despite there being greater awareness. Therefore, the campaign is really important. It is perhaps not very romantic to highlight the darker side of dating on St. Valentine's Day, but it is really necessary to do so.
It is very important.
Up to 60% of the abuse within relationships starts under the age of 25 years. It is important, therefore, that young women be made aware of it. I might look for a debate on it in due course. The 2017 Act only came into effect on 1 January and needs time to bed in, but we could have a debate on it later this year, or maybe in January 2020, to examine how the offence of coercive control is being implemented in practice, whether it has brought about a change in behaviour and contributed to greater awareness of the dangers of dating abuse.
I commend our colleague, Senator Lawless, for organising an excellent briefing for those of us on the foreign affairs committee with the new Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone. It was very impressive. It was equally impressive to have present the Irish ambassador to Sierra Leone, Catherine Campbell. It was good to meet the Minister and his officials and hear about the great work the new government is doing to tackle the enormous challenges the country faces in the areas of healthcare, education and food security.
I compliment the former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern on his answer to a question from an Member of Parliament in the House of Commons yesterday about Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth. His answer was appropriate, but the question had been put in jest by a Scottish SNP member and was not meant as a real question, although some Conservative and other MPs might be more serious about Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth.
On the subject of football, Declan Rice has made the decision not to play for the Republic of Ireland but for England instead. I have noticed huge criticism of him online, but he is a young man. He has played for Ireland but says he has mixed nationalities. He said he was a proud Englishman but that he was also proud of his Irish heritage and roots and that he had an affinity with Ireland. I am disappointed that he is not going to play for the Republic of Ireland, but I wish him well in whatever he does because I remember the 1980s when soccer was a minority sport and no more than 10,000 or 15,000 attended matches at Lansdowne Road. The vast majority of supporters between 1980 and the late 1980s when we beat England came from the London Irish supporters' club. They came by boat in their thousands and were the sons and daughters of Irish navvies and other men and women who had moved to England. They were proud to be Irish. Being Irish is not just about living on the island of Ireland; it is also about the diaspora. I do not believe Declan Rice should come in for criticism.
Yesterday evening the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade who has responsibility for Brexit, Deputy Coveney, briefed the Chairmen of joint committees. I am the Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs and represented Deputy Michael Healy-Rae at the briefing on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019. It is planned to take Second Stage of the Bill in the Seanad on 11 and 12 March, with the Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken on 13 March and 14 March. With our leader, Senator Ardagh, I pledge full support to the Government to ensure the Bill will be passed expeditiously in this House. It addresses the scenario in which the United Kingdom Government decides to withdraw from the European Union on 29 March without an agreement. The leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, and my party are acting in the national interest in renewing the confidence and supply agreement until 2020 to ensure this vital Bill will be passed and that there will be no disruption of the preparations in Departments for Brexit and what will happen in the post-Brexit period. The Bill is comprehensive and comprises 93 sections which cover most, if not all, Departments. It will allow a smooth transition, post-Brexit, in the making of social welfare payments to people living in the United Kingdom which at that stage will be a third country and the payment of health, education and student grants, etc. The land bridge will be secured to allow exports via the United Kingdom to mainland Europe. If Fianna Fáil had acted in an irresponsible manner in a no confidence vote on the Minister for Health, the country would have been plunged into a general election and the Bill would not be passed for approximately three months. That would have affected social welfare payments and other benefits such as pension payments, illness and child benefit payments. The Bill will protect workers whose UK-based employers become insolvent and allow SUSI grants to be paid to eligible Irish students in the United Kingdom. It would be chaotic-----
Formalise the coalition.
I must compliment the civil servants of this country who prepared a very detailed Bill to cover all aspects of Irish life, post-Brexit. How irresponsible it would be to plunge this country into a general election. Shame on those parties who have advocated that. They are not acting in the national interest, as Fianna Fáil has always done and always will do. That is what we were built on in 1926 and we will continue-----
It has nowhere to go.
-----in that vein irrespective of any type of effort by any other party.
Is the coalition a bit wobbly?
We will ensure that Irish interests are protected at all times.
We need accountability and responsibility. Fianna Fáil is not able to do its job.
Fianna Fáil is not the national party.
We are the national party.
The Ard-Fheis is a week away yet.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the House to discuss the future plans for Irish Water? I have been contacted by numerous representatives of local authorities and trade unions representing 3,500 workers who fear they will be effectively conscripted into Irish Water. They have contracts and are in effect public servants and have public service status. Many of them wish to remain in the local authorities, which are having difficulties recruiting staff to their water services. People are afraid that if they go into the water services section of a local authority, they will effectively be conscripted into Irish Water. There are serious concerns about this. I will not discuss the negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission.
The Minister spoke in the House last year on the service level agreements for workers in the water services of the 31 local authorities. It is a challenge and worry. The County and City Managers Association has expressed concerns and the trade unions representing the local authority staff in question are concerned. There is a fear about will happen to Irish Water in the long term. What is the current status of the Government's plan to hold a constitutional referendum on fully guaranteeing that water will remain in public ownership?
Ba mhaith liom cur leis an mhéid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Conway-Walsh go dtí seo.
I want to add to what was said by my colleague and leader, Senator Conway-Walsh, about this morning's shocking revelations about the failure of the PSNI to disclose what it deemed to be significant and sensitive information to the police ombudsman about the case of the Ormeau Road bookmakers. We are all familiar with the atrocity at the Sean Graham bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in 1992. The 27th anniversary passed last week. It is particularly frightening when we consider this in the broader context of the cases it relates to and the trajectory of the collusion through the importation of weapons from apartheid South Africa which were furnished to any number of Loyalist paramilitary organisations under the watchful eye of the British intelligence services. Many of these weapons were put directly into the hands of British agents within those organisations, which went on to commit some of the worst atrocities in the course of the conflict.
The revelation today about the Ormeau Road bookie case opens up new lines of inquiry not only into the that incident but also incidents such as the Greysteel massacre, the Castlerock murders, and a series of other murders, including the murder of an elected representative in this jurisdiction, Councillor Eddie Fullerton, in Buncrana. Senator Mac Lochlainn will speak more about that case which pertains directly to this jurisdiction, the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government, not least, as outlined previously, our standalone responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and supporters of the Stormont House Agreement's provisions on truth recovery and legacy issues.
In the first instance, this will be another traumatic day for the victims and survivors. Our thoughts are with them, not least the people on the Ormeau Road who are neighbours of mine. These are people I know because our constituency office in south Belfast is just a few doors up from the Sean Graham bookies shop. Today will be particularly hard for them. It is also problematic that this is only one in a series of cases where the PSNI is acting in bad faith and obstructing the release of information. This is hampering truth recovery for families and it should be of deep concern to all of us. The political reality is that confidence in policing is on the floor in nationalist and republican communities as a result of this. That should galvanise all of us to redouble our efforts and work hard to ensure that full truth recovery and justice are brought forward for these victims.
I join Senator Feighan in commenting on Declan Rice's decision to declare his allegiance to the English international soccer team instead of the Republic. He is quite entitled to make this decision. I understand that he qualified to play for the Republic through his grandparents and he was, after all, born and reared in England and is entitled to declare for his own country.
I want to focus on the abuse Declan Rice is receiving on so-called social media. I have raised this on several occasions in this House and other fora. The Deputy Leader has experienced some of this in the past, as have other Members of the House. It is time we stood up and legislated for the proper use of social media. While I understand it is not easy to do that because of the international context of these media, it is important to take a first step and the onus is on us in this Oireachtas to do so.
I highlighted the case of an up and coming country and western star who has suffered physically, mentally and financially because of the horrific abuse he is receiving on social media. I have reported the case to the Garda Síochána, through the Commissioner, and an investigation is under way. In many respects, in spite of threats to this individual, the Garda's hands are tied because there is no law to prevent this horrific abuse on social media. It is time we stood up and made a start for innocent people going about their business. People like Eamonn Jackson in County Cavan and Declan Rice in England are suffering unwarranted abuse from keyboard warriors without any consideration of the damage it causes their physical and mental health and financial well-being. I ask the Deputy Leader to use her good offices to start the ball rolling in that regard.
Following on from the Declan Rice conversation, we should not forget that the League of Ireland season starts tomorrow night and I encourage everyone interested in Irish soccer to get out and support their local club. I also wish Harry Kenny and all at St. Patrick's Athletic in Inchicore the best in their quest for Europe and a push for the title this year.
The 44% underspend on Traveller accommodation in 2018 is unacceptable. It follows an underspend in 2017 when only €4.8 million of the allocation of €8.7 million was spent. It is not good enough. The 2018 budget was €12 million. Sinn Féin welcomes the establishment of the working group that is reviewing Traveller accommodation programmes but the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has to explain why for the second year there has been an underspend on his watch.
He should engage with local authorities who are failing to invest in Traveller accommodation and the State should intervene wherever these authorities refuse to adequately fund Traveller accommodation. I do not need to say it, but the failure to deliver good and quality accommodation is how we end up with tragedies like Carrickmines. We should hear from the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, as to why there is a consistent and repeated underspend on Traveller accommodation.
I raise the matter of tomorrow's strike involving paramedics which is another one concerning the health sector. The National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, started on 22 January this year and I tabled a Commencement matter on this issue. These are the paramedics who have joined a branch of the PNA, which is called NASRA. They have left their previous trade union. Of the 1,600 members who were members of the previous union, 600 have left and formed their own union. Unfortunately, the HSE will not negotiate because it says it is not the proper union for it to negotiate with, for reasons of its own. The industrial action is looking to address terms and conditions. This is not acceptable as the fundamental right to join a union of one's choice is enshrined in law. The problem is that one has that right but the employer does not necessarily need to engage with that union, which in this case, 600 members have joined.
The Trade Union Representation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018 will give effect to that right. Sinn Féin introduced this Bill and it is still in the Dáil but I ask Members to support when it is brought into this House. The Bill will change the position and oblige the employer to collectively bargain with the union of a person's choice, as long as the union has a negotiating licence, which in this case, it does.
I wish to raise one other matter with the Deputy Leader. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is scheduled to come before the House, but I do not believe we have a date for that yet. It does not appear to be on his schedule either for this week or next week. Could the Deputy Leader clarify that for me please?
As colleagues in this House know, a very serious story has broken today regarding the fact that the PSNI has withheld huge volumes of information from the police ombudsman in the North. This information is pertinent to matters of the utmost importance, particularly to the families who have lost loved ones.
I want to talk about the family of Councillor Eddie Fullerton from my hometown of Buncrana, County Donegal. On the night of 24 May 1991 a group of unionist paramilitaries crossed the Border into Donegal. They took over a family home about 1 km from Councillor Eddie Fullerton's house. They had intimate details and later took the car and a sledgehammer from that family home and made their way to Councillor Eddie Fullerton's home. They came around to the back of the house and knew they would have the ability to do that. They used the sledgehammer on his front door and made their way immediately to his bedroom where he tried to fight them off and he was assassinated. One of the people in that gang gave Eddie the coup de grace, a bullet behind his ear. I have the permission of his family to talk about it in these terms here today. These were not your usual loyalist killers. This was a very serious operation and from the get-go it pointed the finger right to 10 Downing Street.
For all these years the family of Eddie Fullerton have pursued justice, piece by piece, and thanks to the efforts of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, an investigation was commenced called Operation Medina. It has now become a much wider investigation into the activities of loyalists from 1988 to 1994, including, of course, the Greysteel massacre, the Castlerock massacre and the targeted killings of three Sinn Féin councillors and various Sinn Féin members at that time.
The weapons used were taken from a South African shipment, brought into Ireland by the British MI5, given to unionist paramilitaries who then worked in co-operation with British operatives to kill elected representatives on the island of Ireland. What must be of the utmost concern to our Government - whatever about the concerns in the North of Ireland - is that an elected representative from County Donegal, a member of Donegal County Council and a member of Buncrana Urban District Council was killed by operatives of the British state.
I am asking that the request of the family of Eddie Fullerton to meet with the Taoiseach is agreed to as soon as possible. The failure of the PSNI to provide all the documentation to the police ombudsman about covert police operations has delayed the publication of this report. This matter must be treated urgently. I am asking that the Deputy Leader request the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to come before this House next week at the earliest opportunity to make a statement from the Irish Government in response to the serious developments today, particularly on the need to reassure the family of Councillor Eddie Fullerton about all of this.
I thank those Members who have raised matters on the Order of Business.
Senator Ardagh raised Brexit in the context of insurance. I heard a piece about that on the radio this morning. It seems there is no great clarity on the green card for travel, which would arise in the case of a no-deal Brexit and may need to be clarified. There are a lot of matters that will need to be clarified in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which we are all hoping will not occur. The head of the insurance bureau spoke on the radio and said it would be something that would be very straightforward to sort out in such an instance. One would merely need to inform one's insurer if it was one's intention to travel.
A debate on pensions would be a good one to have in the House and I will ask the Leader's office to seek to arrange same.
Senator Conway-Walsh and other colleagues spoke about the Ormeau Road incident or atrocity. It was an horrific event. When it comes to evidence in such matters, I refer to Senator Ó Donnghaile's point about the undermining of trust in policing. This is at the core of what the three contributors had to say on those matters. Although the location of this atrocity is not within our jurisdiction - although Donegal is - we should have a debate in this House with the Minister for Justice and Equality on some of the issues that the three contributors have raised.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of the Women's Aid launch of the Too Into You initiative which deals with the darker side of dating. We have unfortunately seen many high-profile cases where women have been either very seriously injured or murdered. I see young people in the Gallery here today and younger people are spending an awful lot of time online. This speaks to Senator Wilson's point as well that the Internet can be really dark and our citizens are vulnerable. Vigilance and awareness are key.
No more than how one conducts oneself in the real world when walking around, we have to take measures to protect our citizens when it comes to the online space. It speaks to a culture that is developing online, where people would never have had the courage to say to a person, in person, what is being said online. I am unsure how we are going to deal with this as a society. We really need to row back. It has become acceptable to say the most horrendous things to people online. This is very regrettable. We should all work in these Houses to try to do something about this and I will cover this a little bit more, when I come to Senator Wilson's contribution.
Senator Feighan complimented the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and also raised Declan Rice's decision, which he is quite entitled to make, to play for England. We are sorry he will not be playing for Ireland but I am sure we all wish him well.
That Declan Rice is being abused online is just not good enough. He is a young man who is entitled to make his own decision. We may be disappointed, but we should get on with our own concerns. It is no way to treat a player or to attract others to play for Ireland.
Senator Leyden's comments were welcome and I acknowledge his full support for the Bill to which he referred. We are focused completely on the date of 29 March. I know that the Bill will be before the House in the week beginning 11 March, by which date we hope the United Kingdom will be clear on the deal to be struck. It is hard to countenance a no-deal scenario, but I thank the Senator for indicating Fianna Fáil's support on the issue.
Senator Boyhan referred to Irish Water. We should have a debate on the issues involved. We should also discuss with the Minister responsible the proposed constitutional referendum on water services.
I have referred to Senator Ó Domhnaill's contribution, the core of which was confidence in policing, which I do not think is served by the evidence coming to light in cases such as those outlined by various contributors.
Senator Wilson also referred to Declan Rice and has been leading on the issue of online abuse, about which more Members have spoken. I, too, have spoken about it, but when speaking about the abuse one has received online, it may seem that one is feeling sorry for oneself, which is no way to conduct oneself. An interesting point was made that An Garda Síochána did not have the tools it needed to do anything about such abuse. Clearly, we need to look at the issue. I know that the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment is looking at it. As I said, we should discuss it in the Seanad as it has been raised by four or five Members in different contexts.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of Traveller accommodation. I do not know the details of the case he mentioned, but the issue should be debated in the House. At the very least he should seek to raise it by tabling a Commencement matter, but the Cathaoirleach might inform him that he has already raised it in the House. However, in that way the Senator should be able to obtain more detailed information from the Minister responsible. We should be trying to reach the targets set.
Senator Devine mentioned the proposed strike tomorrow by paramedics who, clearly, do great work, no more than the nurses. The Senator mentioned that she had tabled a Commencement matter to discuss the issue.
It was raised previously.
I will mention it to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, when I see him and hope the Senator will receive some feedback on it. We have not yet been able to arrange a date for the Minister to come to the House, but we are hoping we will have a date in the diary in the next few weeks. Obviously, there are many reasons for him to come to the Chamber, but it is especially the case now. It is a priority for the Leader's office.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the very tragic case of Councillor Eddie Fullerton. It is just horrific what happened in it. I will mention to the Taoiseach when I see him the desire to have such a meeting. The Minister for Justice and Equality has been spending a great deal of time in this House, but it would certainly be useful to have a debate on the issues raised.