The Order of Business today is as follows: No. 1, motion concerning the report of the Standards in Public Office Commission investigation into contraventions of section 21(1) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, which is available in the Library, to be taken without debate; No. 2, motion, the subject matter of which was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which has completed its discussions, be taken without debate; No. 3, motion concerning the further opening of the electricity market with effect from 19 February 2004 to be referred to the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for discussion, to be taken without debate; No. 4, Protection of the Environment Bill 2003[Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]– Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude at 12.30 p.m.; No. 5, Immigration Bill 2002 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]– Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. This was scheduled to conclude at 4 p.m. but we have a further hour and, therefore, it will conclude at 5 p.m. There will be a sos from 12.30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Order of Business.
If we needed any evidence from the Government that it was using the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2003 to suppress information, it comes in its starkest form from Mr. Justice Kinlen today in his excellent report as the new Inspector of Prisons. He must be congratulated for the very clear, precise and direct way in which he has used the report to highlight deficiencies in the prison service. I put the matter bluntly to the Leader: the Government, through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is not only giving Mr. Justice Kinlen virtually no support in his new role as Inspector of Prisons but it is trying to suppress the information that he seeks. On several occasions he has asked the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform specific questions about overtime and manpower levels in the service and he has not received answers. This eminent judge, who is doing an excellent job, is being undermined by the Government. This issue merits debate. He is to be congratulated for calling for the demolition of Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons and for exposing inefficiencies within the service.
Who appointed him?
Within the first two months of his appointment he was asked to go to Western Australia and study the prison service there rather than poke his nose and ask the hard questions in this jurisdiction.
Who appointed him?
Next, they will be banning booing. Can the Leader say when the legislation to put the post of inspector of prisons on a statutory footing will come before the House?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that motion 34 on the list of non-Government motions be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business. I ask the Government to take this motion because from next Monday a whole raft of new charges will be imposed on people when they make requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The basic charge will be €15, an internal appeal will cost €75 and an appeal to the Information Commissioner will cost €150, a total cost of €240.
In rare cases.
The Leader knows full well that we have 21 sitting days in which to annul such charges. I propose that we do so. I seek the debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business. Let us see the colour of the Government's money on this issue. It promised when the debate was taking place some months ago that there would not be massive hikes and charges. They are here now. People will have to pay €240 if they appeal the decision.
Not the individual.
Let us have that debate now. I understand the Government—
The Senator is misleading the House.
The statement "misleading the House" is rich, coming from the Senator.
The Senator is telling lies.
The Senator should restrain himself.
A Chathaoirligh, the Senator will have to withdraw that remark.
Senator Leyden will have to withdraw that remark.
It is a lie to say the public is paying for Freedom of Information.
Senator Leyden will have to withdraw the remark.
I withdraw it.
I thank the Senator for withdrawing that most ungracious remark. Next Monday the Government will impose these charges.
Not on individuals.
Senator Hayes without interruption.
The new Minister for propaganda is doing a very good job. From next Monday these charges will take effect. It is wrong that the charges should be imposed before the Oireachtas has an opportunity to debate them. We have 21 sitting days in which to annul these charges. I suggest we annul them today.
I second Senator Hayes's proposal. What disturbs me about the report by the inspector of prisons is that none of us appears to have received it before the press. It does not appear to have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, yet the press appear to have been able to get copies of it. I wish that sort of thing, which happens all too frequently, did not occur.
There are serious problems in the nursing profession. We had an excellent Commission on Nursing chaired by Judge Mella Carroll three years ago. When we resume, can we debate the progress made on implementing the recommendations of that commission? It will be noted from today's newspapers that the Irish Nursing Organisation states that by 2005 there will be a real crisis in nursing because no graduates will come out of college that year. It is reckoned that some graduates this year will not be able to get hospital jobs due to the cutbacks. They will go abroad immediately and it is most unlikely that we will get them back to work in our health service.
When one listens to the reaction opposite one knows Senator Hayes has made a valid point.
On the Order of Business, please.
The howls from those who do not believe in freedom of information and the realisation—
Fianna Fáil has always been the great pragmatist and it had a view—
On the Order of Business.
On the Order of Business, I am simply responding to some of what was said opposite.
That is not the purpose of the Order of Business.
That is the Leader's role.
There was no contribution made opposite. Even if there had been, the purpose of the Order of Business is to deal with the Order of Business.
I really wish Fianna Fáil would realise that after 20 years it will not shout me down.
That is not on the Order of Business. We will be short of time coming to the close of the half hour and delays such as this are the reason. I ask the Senator to concentrate on the Order of Business and to be fair to Senators offering later.
If Members opposite will refrain from interrupting me I will do my best to be as brief as possible. I fully support what Senator Hayes has said. There is no logic of any kind which can justify the scale of fees for appeals to the Information Commissioner. The only logic is that it is a deterrent, as the commissioner said. What we have is a deliberate attempt to deter people from pursuing their rights under freedom of information legislation. That is an attack on the concept of freedom of information, or perhaps it means that only the rich can have the right to freedom of information. That, perhaps, reflects the view of the party opposite as well. We should debate these regulations, dispose of them and reject them.
The second issue concerns amendments to Bills made by the Dáil. One contains 30 amendments and it is 32 pages long, the other contains 62 amendments and is 36 pages long. Under a Standing Order of this House we cannot debate these amendments independently but as a single text. That Standing Order obviously envisaged minor amendments. I invite the Leader to move a motion to suspend that Standing Order so that we can have an intelligent debate and look at these 62 amendments, section by section, rather than dealing with 62 amendments.
It is a disgrace.
The Dáil is perfectly entitled to amend legislation and nobody is disputing that, but many of these amendments were barely discussed in the Dáil because of the guillotine. We cannot discuss intelligently 62 amendments if we can speak only once on them and it reduces spectacularly Government accountability. In the meantime I ask the Leader to look at a motion to suspend or to amend temporarily that Standing Order – we do it regularly here to cut short debate – so that we can have a proper debate on very complex amendments to legislation.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate in the next session on the drug culture. I ask her to invite the new Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, to come into the House and give a full report.
The Celtic tiger has been replaced by the magic dragon. Within the vicinity of this House on 24 June, two young men were viewed and photographed taking drugs in the Phoenix House car park overlooked by the new Millennium block. They were sucking or sniffing cocaine and were half-clad. They were sweating and were taking drugs for about an hour. The car number has been taken and the Garda has been notified. The photographs in my possession show them in action. That is only part of the problem and it is happening all over the country. There will have to be zero tolerance of drugs.
Do not use that term.
That is sentimental. This is the silly season back again.
Senator Leyden without interruption.
Is it possible to invite the new Garda Commissioner to the House and to contribute to the debate?
He can be invited to the committee.
I wish to invite him to this House. I commend theSunday World and the journalist, Paul Williams, on his courageous attack on the drug barons. This debate should take place in the next session.
I support the remarks of Senator Brian Hayes, particularly in regard to the report of the inspector of prisons and places of detention, Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, who in all his years as counsel was a fair minded man.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
When does the Government intend placing this position on a statutory basis?
Senator Ryan made valid points regarding the two Seanad Bills amended by the Dáil. The Leader must agree that the relevant Standing Order should be suspended because, unlike the Dáil, this House has a fine tradition of not applying the guillotine.
I am delighted with the evidence that the Government has appointed forthright, courageous and independent officers. I would be happy to engage in debate on the prisons issue.
The standard charge for non-personal FOI requests is €15, which is modest. The number who will want to make further appeals will be limited.
One of the jobs of this House is to scrutinise the activities of European institutions. In six months time the Taoiseach will occupy the office of President of the European Council. The Order of Business should not pass without expressing concern about the unworthy remarks yesterday of the President in Office of the European Council. I admire post-war German democracy enormously and its tremendous achievements.
I agree with Senator Mansergh that it was an inappropriate remark. I expect nothing much else from Mr. Berlusconi who has a murky background in his own country and used the law to escape from prosecution.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's call for a debate on the prison system. While I welcome the proposals to demolish prisons, I am not so sure about rebuilding them. We ought to move away from the mania for custodial sentences towards a more community based programme for lesser offences. Some changes need to be made as it is inappropriate that we have Dickensian conditions with prisoners slopping out etc.
I support the call for further debate on the Freedom of Information Act. The charges are wrong and the Act should be re-examined. I received notification of a request for information about the various allowances etc. that we get, as I imagine everybody in the House did. It is a perfectly fair request but when I rang to ask from where the request came, I was told that information was confidential. It is absurd that the newspapers can poke around legitimately. We should know which newspaper is involved in order that we can watch out for it and correct it when it is wrong, as it almost invariably is, or when it misinterprets facts because it does not understand the staged fashion in which the payments are claimed.
In regard to information, I ask the Leader to examine our latest bulletin. I have brought to the attention of the House several times the fact that there are a large number of factual errors, for example, misattribution of debate contributions. My contribution in Private Members' time on domestic partnership law was attributed to my colleague, Senator Ross, who did not speak in the debate. I could multiply these instances. We should issue the bulletin once a year, showing the work we do. It should not be issued during holiday periods when nothing is done and should be properly vetted and proof read in order to do credit to the House.
The case of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane has again come centre stage. The European Court of Human Rights has found Britain guilty of a breach of human rights because there was not sufficient investigation of the suspicion that there was security force collusion in the murder. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the hope the inquiry sought by the Finucane family will be granted. We should have this inquiry because of the terrible trauma suffered by the family and in order to ensure there can be confidence in the security forces in the future. It is important it takes place soon because the longer the delay continues the less hope there will be of creating confidence in the security system in Northern Ireland.
I support Senator Henry's call for a debate on nursing. The issue has been put in focus due to the tragic death of Róisín Ruddle. Our hearts go out to her family. There are 45 nursing vacancies for the 115 intensive care nurses required in Crumlin Hospital – a scarcity which resulted in the child being referred home. The consultant has stated this could happen again because of the shortage of nurses. There is a problem with recruitment which will probably have to be solved by providing extra funding to pay nurses more for this highly skilled job.
A point which has emerged is that there seems to be lack of liaison between Temple Street Hospital and Crumlin Hospital. Temple Street Hospital has facilities for intensive care beds. It is reported in the newspapers today that a senior person in the hospital said if there was proper liaison between both hospitals, it might have been able to accommodate such a situation and the tragic death might not have happened. We cannot allow this to happen again. That is the reason I support Senator Henry. There is already a scarcity of nurses. This must be addressed or we will, regrettably, have more tragedies.
We should welcome the report of the inspector of prisons and places of detention. The Leader should arrange a debate on the report early in the next session. The attempt by the Leader of the Opposition to make a political, partisan point is unworthy of him. If he consults his colleague, Senator Terry, he will be aware that the Minister has invited the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to visit the prisons in order that its members can assess the situation.
Is that a case of shooting the messenger?
Committee members will see that there is no attempt other than to adopt a totally transparent approach. If the Senator kept in touch with his spokespersons, he would be better informed.
In regard to the Freedom of Information Act, those of us involved in local government are aware of the additional cost imposed on them. It is just one sector of the public service to which the Act applies. Sections have been set up and staffed to deal with the matter. Anybody who has kept in touch knows that certain individuals are inveterate applicants to the units for all sorts of information. There is a huge cost involved, which the public pays. It is only appropriate that a small charge should be applied in order that people would be more selective in regard to the information they seek.
I agree with Senator Ryan in regard to large numbers of amendments coming to us on Report Stage from the Dáil. While it is probably not possible for the Leader to do anything at this late stage in regard to the Bills before the House, the issue should be looked at to ensure that when significant changes are made to legislation which returns to this House from the Dáil, adequate time is made available to scrutinise and deal with the legislation to the satisfaction of the House.
I support my colleague, Senator Ryan, in regard to the number of amendments which have come before us this morning. I am concerned at the speed at which it appears we are being forced to deal with them. Will the Leader consider a temporary amendment to Standing Orders to allow us to deal with the Bills section by section? There are 62 amendments to the Protection of the Environment Bill, some of which are comprehensive and propose to make major changes to the Bill as presented to the House some weeks ago. It is difficult to adequately examine those amendments as we are entitled to and should do.
I support the comments in regard to the Freedom of Information Act and the charges for requests. I hope the Government takes on board the views of the Information Commissioner on this matter, although I suspect it will not. I note, in his report on prisons, that Mr. Justice Kinlen stated that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform seems to have difficulty dealing with the Freedom of Information Act, a fact which was obvious from early on.
I strongly support the requests of Senator Henry and Senator Finucane for a close examination of the supply and availability of nurses, particularly at ICU level. We have clear evidence of the problem and a warning of a pending crisis. Are we going to stand by and let this happen or will we do something about it? This is an issue to which we must return as a matter of urgency at the earliest available opportunity.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate on the Equal Status Act, which comes within the remit of the Equality Authority? A tragic case in Sligo has been brought to my attention regarding a 17 year old boy who lost his sight as a result of an operation to correct his failing eyesight. He is now back living at home, having gone through rigorous training with his guide dog. Two weeks ago, the boy, his parents, trainer and guide dog turned up at a restaurant and were turned away because the guide dog would not be admitted.
I wish to highlight the Act in the House next term so that it might act as a deterrent to restaurant owners and a warning that they cannot inflict pain. The law states that restaurant owners and suchlike do not have the right to do what was done in this case. Pain was inflicted on a child who is already burdened with pain. I raise this issue this morning because we are in the wake of what I called the greatest week in the history of the State, namely, the Special Olympics. In that regard, I stated that we should put our money where our mouths are. Therefore, will the Leader arrange a debate on this matter next term to ensure people do not inflict pain on people with disabilities?
I too wish to raise the issue of the report by Mr. Justice Kinlen which casts a grim shadow over the condition of our prisons. It calls for the demolition of Mountjoy and Portlaoise Prisons, given that it describes the conditions for prisoners there as unacceptable. We need an urgent debate on this matter and it is a pity we cannot have it before the summer recess. However, we should have one early in the next session.
It is some months since I raised the issue of prison visiting committees, yet we have heard nothing about any reforms. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform accepted many of the points which I made to him in committee, but we have not seen anything concrete. We need that legislation before us to enable a full debate on prisons.
I wish to respond to Senator Jim Walsh who, unfortunately, is not in the House.
He is in the House; he has just moved position again. He has moved further to the right.
I want to visit the prisons and members were promised such visits when I first joined the justice committee. I am still waiting for such a visit. However, I hope it will be better attended by members than was the trip organised to visit Templemore, when apparently I was the only member available to go.
He who lectures most.
On a point of information, I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark. I was one of a contingent that was ready to go to Templemore on Friday last, but I received a call late on Thursday evening pointing out that, because of issues in the Dáil, it was not possible for Deputies to go.
In the past number of years there has been increased enforcement of the litter laws, which has brought about a welcome change on the streets of our villages, towns and cities. Many litter wardens are doing heroic work while facing verbal and physical abuse. Much good work has been done. The Garda has the power to enforce the litter laws but how many prosecutions have been brought? I welcomed the helpful plastic bag levy. The Seanad should show leadership by taking statements on the issue to ensure the good work continues. In that context, I request a debate on this serious issue.
I welcome the measures taken by MEPs last week in regard to the fight against road deaths and injuries. I understand that the European Parliament is to introduce welcome new changes in design and new technologies are to be used in motor vehicles to eliminate blind spots. I have noticed a variation in the view available in the rear view and wing mirrors on my car. It is an anomaly which must be addressed. Our MEPs are insisting on it and, therefore, it is important we have a debate on the matter in this Chamber.
I support my colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, in regard to the report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and the Freedom of Information Act. The fact that the report was published in the public domain before it reached Members of the Oireachtas demonstrates that the Government has too many spinners.
I support Senator Ryan's request for extra time in the debate on the Protection of the Environment Bill because there are 34 pages of amendments from the Dáil. I was pleased to read that the Minister has accepted some of the amendments which he had earlier rejected in this House.
The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, referred to the report of Mr. Justice Kinlen on the prison service and his recommendations for the demolition of the prisons in question. As other Members said, it was the Government of the day which appointed Mr. Justice Kinlen and it would not have done so without being aware that he was an upright and forthright person. That was clearly in its mind when he was appointed. Although the Senator did not condemn the report—
He wanted the information.
—he condemned the Government which appointed Mr. Justice Kinlen. The Senator sought to have the inspector's position established on a statutory footing. I do not know when that Bill will be before the Houses but I will make inquiries. Together with Senator Henry, the Senator also sought to have No. 34 on the Order Paper, regarding the statutory instrument governing charges for freedom of information requests debated in the House today.
Senator Henry also queried the reason we did not get copies of the report of the inspector of prisons and places of detention. I wondered about that also but it is the way of the world now that reports are released to the press before others. The Senator also raised the problems in nursing. It is very important that we have a debate on the matter to ensure adequate information about whether there will be a shortfall in the numbers graduating in nursing and about Miss Justice Mella Carroll's proposals in this regard.
Senator Ryan raised the issue of the new charges under the Freedom of Information Act. He also wanted me to change Standing Orders governing the manner in which we discuss Bills initiated in this House which have been amended by the other House. It is a difficulty if a Bill initiated in this House is heavily amended by the other House, as both Bills being discussed today have been. We will have to raise the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and bring it to the reform committee because it is clear that great changes have been made to the two Bills, especially the Immigration Bill, which we debated at length in the House. That said, it is not within my powers to change Standing Orders to take account of this. As it is, they will—
They could be changed temporarily.
I cannot change them to discuss a Bill section by section or amendment by amendment. However, the manner in which such Bills are discussed should be changed. I agree with the Senator on this. That said, I know he will push the matter to a vote.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of the drug culture and referred to the Phoenix House car park with which I am not familiar. The Senator requested that the Garda Commissioner attend a debate on the issue in the Seanad. I do not think that is possible. We will certainly discuss the drug culture.
Senator Coghlan supported Senator Brian Hayes in the issues he raised. It is great the way Fine Gael Members support their leader.
We always do.
It is very inspirational.
The war is over.
Senator Mansergh was delighted that Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, who is a courageous person, expressed his views in such a forthright manner. We are all delighted he did so because that is how circumstances are changed and improved, when people of Mr. Justice Kinlen's standing see fit to give a forthright report. Senator Mansergh has pointed out that an initial query under the Freedom of Information Act costs €15, which could not in any way be regarded as punitive, and that one is entitled to seek personal details for free. The Senator also condemned the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, for his remark on the second day after Italy had assumed the Presidency. It was so obnoxious and out of kilter with what the European Union is about that I hope Mr. Berlusconi gets a good rap for it. The Senator also said he admired post-war Germany and what it had done in difficult circumstances.
Senator Norris agreed with Senator Mansergh and raised another issue regarding freedom of information. Like him, I was subject to a freedom of information request about my statement of accounts or whatever it is called. I inquired as to who had made the request and the nice young man at the other end of the telephone said he was not allowed to tell me because it was private but that it would come out in time. I thought that was humorous. Senator Norris should submit a freedom of information request to find out who made the request.
I am not sure I can afford it.
As it would be a personal request, it would be free.
If he appealed, he would have to pay.
I agree with Senator Norris regarding the parliamentary bulletin. We will have to raise this with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The bulletin was published yesterday and is full of inaccuracies. I do not know its origins or who compiles or edits it but it will certainly have to be examined. I found five factual inaccuracies in it.
That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
It is certainly very inadequate.
Senator Ó Murchú raised the issue of the Pat Finucane case and asked me to raise it with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to see if a public inquiry into the issue could be secured. I agree that it will undermine belief in the security forces if it is not attended to.
Senator Finucane supports Senator Henry's call for a debate on issues relating to nursing and what he perceives as a lack of co-ordination between Temple Street and Crumlin Hospitals that could address some of the inadequacies were it rectified. We passed a vote of sympathy on the death of the young child in question and should all vow that it should not happen again.
Senator Jim Walsh welcomed the report of the inspector of prisons and places of detention and said the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights would visit the pri sons. Senator O'Meara disagreed with the amount of time allocated for the two Bills to be discussed today and also agreed with the call for a debate on issues relating to nursing. Senator Feeney requested a debate on the Equal Status Act because a young man and his family were denied access to a restaurant because he had a guide dog.
Senator Terry wants to debate the report of the inspector of prisons and places of detention and said she was the only committee member available to go on the trip to Templemore. It appears, however, that because a Whip was enforced in the Dáil on that day, Deputies were not allowed to go. That is a different matter as Senator Jim Walsh made clear.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of littering and the enforcement of litter legislation while Senator Bannon commended MEPs for bringing forward ideas which will help towards alleviating the number of road deaths.
Senator Brian Hayes proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 19, motion No. 34, be inserted before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?
Bannon, James.Bradford, Paul.Browne, Fergal.Burke, Paddy.Burke, Ulick.Coonan, Noel.Feighan, Frank.Finucane, Michael.Hayes, Brian.Henry, Mary.
McCarthy, Michael.McDowell, Derek.McHugh, Joe.Norris, David.O'Meara, Kathleen.Phelan, John.Ryan, Brendan.Terry, Sheila.Tuffy, Joanna.
Bohan, Eddie.Brady, Cyprian.Brennan, Michael.Callanan, Peter.Cox, Margaret.Dooley, Timmy.Feeney, Geraldine.Fitzgerald, Liam.Glynn, Camillus.Kenneally, Brendan.Kett, Tony.Kitt, Michael P.
Leyden, Terry.Mansergh, Martin.Minihan, John.Morrissey, Tom.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Rourke, Mary.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Phelan, Kieran.Walsh, Jim.White, Mary M.Wilson, Diarmuid.