The Order of Business is No. 1, a procedural motion to allow for the withdrawal of the Prisons Bill 2005, which had been ordered for Committee Stage in the House, the motion to be taken without debate because the new Bill is published and we hope to take it as soon as the Minister is free to debate it in the House; No. 2, statements on the UN Committee's report on progress made on the position of children in Ireland (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 3, Local Government (Business Improvement Districts) Bill 2006 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at approximately 7.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8 p.m.; and No. 27, motion 22, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.
Order of Business.
What is the status of No. 25 on the Order Paper, a motion in the Leader's name calling for the removal of Judge Curtin from office? Since the establishment of the committee inquiring into the matter, I have made no public comment because I wanted the committee to do its work and to ensure its report would be made to all Members without prejudicial comment that might influence those of us who may have to come to a final determination on the report and its evidence. This has now been short-circuited by the judge's decision to resign from the Bench. I express my thanks and appreciation to the committee members who worked tirelessly, meticulously and painstakingly over the past two years to ensure the procedures they adopted were fair and above reproach.
There can be no satisfaction on this issue. It is clear under Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution that the Houses of the Oireachtas have the power to impeach a member of the Judiciary for stated misbehaviour. In light of this affair, we now need to put in place legislation to give effect to that constitutional right of the Oireachtas. We also need to put in place a judicial code of conduct to make abundantly clear the rights and responsibilities that apply to all members of the Bench.
The manner in which this matter has been handled is a matter of regret. In effect, we asked the members of the committee to do an impossible task. In hindsight, it is a task we should have done ourselves when the information was placed before both Houses.
I record my appreciation to those Members who did their work in such a diligent manner over the past two years. It is interesting that the judge, who was able to give clear instruction to his legal counsel over the past two years to take actions in the High and Supreme courts, has now decided to resign for medical reasons. Is the Government accepting that resignation and his decision to resign on medical grounds?
I move that No. 27, item 23, a Private Members' motion in the name of Senator Browne and others on the Leas Cross issue, is debated following the conclusion of No. 1 on the Order of Business. Some 18 months after this saga was brought to public attention by the "Prime Time" programme, firm guarantees on a dedicated inspectorate which would enter nursing homes to audit procedures and standards have not been honoured and a uniform policy has not yet been established. This House should debate the matter today. The question of whether the Minister for Health and Children will attend is of scant importance for me because all the Ministers responsible for this matter have been sitting on their hands for the past 18 months.
As someone who has regularly raised the Curtin affair over the past two years, I believe this House should give thanks to the members of the Committee on Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, who worked tirelessly to do all that was required of them. I never thought they would be able to conclude their work because the cards were repeatedly dealt to the other side of the table and too many options were available to people who wished to scuttle the committee. That, however, does not take away from the extraordinary work they have done and they deserve our thanks for giving up two summers to deal with the matter. I have said they would be used as the wedge between the parties and left to carry the can but I am glad this has not been the case. They can at least take pride in their work.
Will the Leader consider a debate on the fourth report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution, which addressed the issue of removing a judge? The committee also produced a draft Bill on the issue. In the aftermath of the O'Flaherty business, we held similar discussions on how these matters should be addressed. When we failed for the second time two years ago, I recommended that we would at least try to avoid getting it wrong a third time. We should move immediately to follow that advice by debating the report of the joint committee and by asking it to continue its work. Having spent two years considering the matter, the committee's members are now the only people in the Oireachtas with expertise of any description in this area. They should be given the draft Bill which was published some years ago in order to report on whether they feel it is adequate to deal with the situations they have encountered over the past two years. We should harness their expertise to ensure everything is in place to deal with potential future problems in an efficient and statutory way.
Everything that has been said about the committee is more than deserved. As was the case with the DIRT inquiry and other investigations, its work demonstrates that empowered Members of the Oireachtas can address issues and serve natural justice with a level of capacity and skill that does not seem to be evident outside these Houses. The only Member of the Oireachtas who managed to make a mess of matters was the former Tánaiste, who undermined the trial of a former Taoiseach by finding him guilty before the proceedings even started.
It is true.
Members of the Oireachtas are apparently more capable of understanding the nuances ofsub judice than are members of the Cabinet, despite the high powered advice given to the latter.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Brian Hayes. This issue is not just about history. The Health Service Executive has now insisted that there be no further admissions to a number of nursing homes because of HSE concerns about standards in those nursing homes but it will not tell us the number involved or their location, nor will it identify them to the families concerned. In spite of all the glowing words, promises and acts of contrition etc., which never got as far as amea culpa — it was a collective culpa in that no individual was ever responsible for anything in the health service — the HSE has admitted some nursing homes are causing concern because of the standard of care but it will not identify them or the number involved. For anybody who has an elderly parent or other relative in a private nursing home, that ought to be a matter of great concern but the response of the HSE is to leave everybody worried. That shows a lack of good will, which is the reason we need an urgent debate on the report.
There is a separate issue on which I believe an urgent Government response is needed. Five hundred members of Amicus are on strike today because of the disgraceful decision of Bank of Ireland to act in breach of every principle of industrial relations on which partnership is based. As one who believes in a true partnership I am getting fed up of the annual ritual of some major employer here finding a loophole through which they can escape their commitments. Effectively, Bank of Ireland is preserving the joys of a defined benefit pension for its senior, important people and depriving its new recruits of the same guaranteed secure pension. If an organisation as successful as Bank of Ireland gets away with ignoring the Labour Court and proper procedures and condemning its employees to a future of insecurity in their old age, we can forget about partnership because that sort of activity effectively amounts to class warfare between those who are rich, powerful and in control of capital in this country and those whom they employ.
A number of Senators have indicated they wish to speak. I ask Senators to be brief.
Will the Leader organise a debate, without delay if possible, with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to examine the Department's policy regarding speed restrictions in built-up areas? Great concern has been expressed in built-up areas, particularly in some of the newer communities, where speed limits apply but there are no speed restrictions in place. It is important that we put in place the necessary funding to ensure existing housing estates are provided with speed ramps. Some local authorities indicate they do not have sufficient resources to do that but the Department should allocate those resources. Also, speed restriction facilities should be part of the planning guidelines for new estates. Much work was done in this and the other House in terms of road safety. Real difficulties are being faced in some built-up areas, particularly in housing estates where boy racers use the facilities there to avoid police activity and put in jeopardy the lives of very young children. Many housing estates now have a limited amount of green areas and children are forced to play in culs-de-sac and on the road. The lack of speed restrictions in these areas means we are heading towards a dangerous precedent and the potential for loss of life. We should act now as part of the overall road strategy. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has not moved as quickly as it should on this issue, particularly in terms of putting in place guidelines that would be helpful to ensure planning authorities could make these restrictions part of future planning permissions.
Yesterday,The Irish Times published a comprehensive listing, on a county by county basis, of the main feeder schools to third level institutes and universities throughout the country. The fee-paying schools, particularly those in Dublin, were on top of the list, which demonstrates the imbalance that exists. A hidden factor in the statistics is that many of the fee-paying schools do not take in special needs students and those that do provide few if any resources for them. I have asked on previous occasions that the Minister rectify this as a matter of urgency. She has failed to do so over the past two years.
I ask that we have an urgent debate on education, particularly highlighting the unfair circumstances whereby most pupils with special needs are in disadvantaged schools throughout the country. I hope the Minister will properly resource special needs teachers and address the inequity that exists, which represents a glaring anomaly according to the article in yesterday's newspaper.
I was totally incensed by an article I read inThe Irish Times last Friday. It stated an off-licence in a supermarket had sold two bottles of vodka to two 15 year olds on the night on which the junior certificate results were released. The case was heard in court and the off-licence was fined €100. It later came to the attention of the judge that mandatory closure applies in all cases where under-age customers are sold alcohol. The off-licence was therefore directed to close between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., that is, for two hours. I believed this was a joke and that we must not be reading the decision correctly.
We frequently talk in the Seanad about youngsters behind the wheels of cars, which are lethal weapons. Surely a bottle of vodka in the hands of a 15 year old girl or boy is a lethal weapon. In view of this the judgment is a crying shame. When we next deal with legislation relevant to this issue, I ask that provision be made for further security and restrictions in the issuing of licences, particularly to off-licences associated with supermarkets.
Senators Dardis, Finucane and I served on the Joint Committee on Article 35.4.1°. of the Constitution and Section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, which achieved a great deal. For two and a half years, it satin camera and its members were not allowed to speak about matters discussed. There were no recordings of its meetings. The committee met on 37 occasions and all its members had to be present for it to meet. It was like a court in that we could not carry on our business if one member was missing. The committee dealt with potential legal and constitutional difficulties associated with impeachment and they have all been resolved. A roadmap has been created to allow for hearings if a similar case occurs again. New cases will not be tied up in the courts, as was the one in question.
I support the calls for a debate on the Leas Cross report. More than 100 people, which is a large number, seem to have died in the nursing home, some of whom apparently died unnecessarily. It seems the inspectorate is not working. I am particularly concerned about public facilities that care for the elderly, which are not inspected satisfactorily at all. We should have the Minister in the House to outline the level of inspection of State facilities.
I raise this issue because I had an interest in a patient in such a facility. As far as I could establish, the patient was reasonably well looked after but she developed bed sores. Most people believed, in their ignorant way, as I did, that bed sores just meant an old person was uncomfortable. However, they are a very serious matter and this became known after the revelations about Leas Cross. The woman in question was eventually hospitalised and died as a result of her bed sores. People are not aware of this problem. I am alarmed and concerned that the situation in these public institutions might be quite difficult.
May I also ask for a debate on the Shell to Sea campaign in light of the Taoiseach's extraordinary remarks at the weekend? He said, more or less, that dialogue was over and that no further correspondence on this issue would be entertained. I wonder about the fact that he seems to be aligning himself and the Garda with a malign multinational corporation.
That is not true. He was upholding the law.
I saw footage down in Limerick at the weekend — I was at a police conference — of people being baton-charged. The police issued an edict that a perfectly legal and peaceful protest was to be banned. The people who were protesting were then baton-charged. I spoke to an independent reporter who had been asked what he was doing while he was standing on a ditch. When he said he was doing his professional work, he was batoned and kicked into the ditch and his camera was smashed. I ask the Taoiseach to remove the plough and the stars from his shoulders because he has certainly done in his socialist credentials. I wonder whether we will be treated to Government-sponsored evictions on behalf of banks and building societies as well.
Can we have a debate on the road tunnel? It has been announced that it will open on 20 December next. Serious concern has been expressed by the Irish Road Haulage Association, the members of which have a heavy professional commitment in this area, that dangerous flammable and toxic materials, including liquids, will be carried through the tunnel without the precautions which are in place in other countries. The road hauliers pointed out that when such materials have to go through much shorter tunnels in Britain, for example, the whole area is cleared and they are brought through in a convoy with flashing lights and with vehicles in front and behind, etc. The response of the man representing the civic authorities here was lamentable. He quoted statistics and said it was statistically unlikely an accident would happen. The problem with accidents is that they cannot be predicted. In light of what the road hauliers have said, it seems we would not be properly prepared if we had an accident here. We should bear in mind that fireballs have been experienced in some continental tunnels. The House would do the nation a service if it were to examine this issue and to consider whether the potential dangers and hazards could be avoided.
There is a need for a debate on Professor O'Neill's report on Leas Cross nursing home. It should not be held today, however, because we have to consider the details of the report.
Whose decision is that?
Senators should bear in mind that a second report on the nursing home in question is being prepared by the Health Service Executive.
That report might not be published.
We owe a debt of gratitude to RTE and the people who contacted the makers of the "Prime Time" programme to highlight the problems at Leas Cross.
We should thank the whistleblowers.
Numerous members of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil ran the 12 former health boards from 1970. As a former chairman of a health board, I can tell the House I was aware of what was happening on the ground.
What did the Senator do about it?
We had an inspectorate for the registration of nursing homes. High standards were applied when private nursing homes sought to retain their licences. The members of the boards were well aware of what was happening.
The Senator can speak for himself.
They were entitled to visit the nursing homes in question. We were regular visitors to public nursing homes. Some Senators on the other side of the House were with me when we visited public nursing homes.
Is the Senator referring to public or private nursing homes?
If we were not satisfied with the conditions in those homes, we would take action. Responsibility in this regard rests with the former members of the then health boards, rather than with the Taoiseach. If the members of the health boards were not carrying out their duties, they should have been doing so.
Does the Senator support the call for a debate on the matter?
I support the holding of a debate on this matter.
The Senator is dumping on councillors.
We should not frighten people who are in nursing homes at present. The most important inspectorate of all consists of the family members who visit their loved ones in private or public nursing homes, as well as the doctors and other professionals who tend to the residents of such homes. An inspectorate will not solve everything, regardless of whether it is established under new legislation. The issues which were raised in the Leas Cross report are extremely grave and serious. It is right that these matters were investigated by Professor O'Neill and the HSE. It is right that the House should have a debate on the Leas Cross report and on nursing homes generally. All of us who served on health boards must ask how we administer the responsibilities delegated to us under the Health Act 1970. As far as I am concerned, I have nothing to be afraid of in any investigation of the Western Health Board.
The Supreme Court gave a ruling this week on the so-called baby Ann case and there has been much public comment on it. There is an issue at the heart of the case about the rights of children, including the question of a constitutional amendment. Can we have an opportunity to debate the issues arising from the Supreme Court judgement in advance of the publication of the proposed wording of that amendment? A consultation process has begun on this with the non-governmental organisation sector, but we could provide a valuable contribution to the debate if we had an opportunity to discuss the issue in this House.
I asked the Leader some time ago to schedule a debate on youth mental health issues. Has she had an opportunity to do this? I raised a number of these issues with her. I would also like to her to schedule a debate on hospital policy in this House with the Minister for Health and Children in light of remarks by the Minister in a meeting with representatives from Monaghan. There is one representative from that area in this House. She told them that it was the policy of the Government to implement the Teamwork report, which is a replacement for the Hanly report. This will see the closure of the hospital in Monaghan and the downgrading of acute services there, but it will also see the closure of acute and emergency services in small hospitals throughout the country.
Not in Roscommon.
That is what she said and she made it clear it would happen. She said it is Government policy. We need to debate that in the House because it has implications for hospitals and people's lives throughout the country. The Leader must ensure that such a debate takes place. With the Health Service Executive, HSE, in place, there is no avenue for public representatives to influence this kind of policy. We must have this debate and I will continue to insist that we have it.
I join those Senators who have commended the diligence and work of the committee that dealt with the Judge Curtin affair. The Chairman stated yesterday that it was time for us to examine how best we could put a mechanism in place to deal with these issues effectively and expeditiously. There have been other instances in which people have resigned and a less severe outcome would have been more appropriate in the circumstances. In other jurisdictions, there are effective mechanisms that deal with the disciplining of inappropriate behaviour by members of the Judiciary. We should examine those mechanisms quite closely.
The mechanisms also ensure some consistency in sentencing. In that respect, I pay tribute to the Director of Public Prosecutions who stated that there is a need for giving explanations in cases where sentencing is at variance with what may be regarded publicly as the norm. These explanations would be given to ensure that public confidence is maintained in the system. Following the attendance of the DPP at the child protection committee, everybody was impressed with the substance of his contribution on what is a complex area. Will the Leader organise a debate on these issues as a matter of urgency?
I commend the commitment of Members in both Houses who were on the Curtin investigation team. Everybody knows how diligently they approached their task. However, they were up against it, particularly in view of the earlier court decision to acquit the defendant and the very able team that he retained, which included a former Attorney General. Written guarantees regarding personal integrity are also enshrined in the Constitution. I congratulate the committee members; perhaps, as has been suggested, there is a more important task that might suitably be entrusted to them by the Oireachtas.
Regarding the matter raised by Senator Ryan, I too felt that the decision made by one of Ireland's major financial institutions was most unfortunate. Given what we are trying to inculcate in people and the great deficiencies in pension provision in this country, it is frightful that such a major financial institution should yellow-pack its staff and deny people their pension entitlements.
I too commend members of thead hoc judicial committee and thank them for their work. The matter underlines once again the almost infinite resources available to those who wish to slow the wheels of justice to prevent a decision being reached expeditiously. However, I hope that its work will shorten any future such procedures.
We should debate the Leas Cross report but while private, for-profit nursing homes are vital, we should be under no illusion that they are necessarily the panacea for every problem in the health service.
This House, like the other, exists so that contentious problems and issues are not fought out on the streets or in other ways but debated and decided here. Without any of the emotive argument on either side, it is high time that we debated the issue in Mayo relating to the Rossport five.
I hope that we will have a calm and rational debate and will be able to show leadership on the issue.
The United Nations has designated next Sunday, 19 November World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. It is an ideal opportunity for the country to focus the attention of all new road users. However, I understand that there is no official Government plan to recognise it. It is outrageous that we should forgo the opportunity to draw attention to the occasion. One man who lost his daughter and her boyfriend four years ago is having to do it single-handedly at Tullyesker on the road between Drogheda and Dundalk. He lost his daughter on the same day, 19 November, and because of that fact he is doing the job on his own, circulating posters and drawing attention to the occasion.
This is an ideal opportunity for the Government to do something in this regard. I am amazed that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, should have been quoted in a newspaper as saying that there are no official plans. I ask him to reconsider at this last moment and draw attention to this important occasion.
On behalf of its members, I thank Senators for recognising the work of the Joint Committee on Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution and Section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924. I note in particular the contribution of the Chairman, Deputy O'Donovan. It is a tribute to him that we were so successful in arriving at a point where we were about to hear the evidence. I also thank Dr. Gerard Hogan, counsel to the committee, the legal team and the secretariat.
Certain lessons have been learnt. As I understand it, the judge's resignation is irrevocable and was made on the basis of stated incapacity to serve rather than misbehaviour, which was what the committee was investigating. Given that Mr. Curtin is no longer a judge, the work of the sub-committee has come to an end. However, it has prepared a report and I expect this will be laid before the Houses. There is a resolution on the Order Paper, which remains current. I am sure the Leader will deal with it and that the House will dispose of it later.
There is probably some merit in examining Standing Orders and how they relate to matters of this nature. The Houses were vindicated in respect of the way the motions were drawn up, Standing Orders amended, etc. However, perhaps there might be merit in the Committee of Procedure and Privileges reviewing Standing Orders in the context of the narrow issue of impeachment. The Chairman of the sub-committee of which I am a member has requested that a judicial council be established as a matter of urgency. In other words, there should be an independent way of dealing with behaviour, etc. which falls short of the required standard. I understand the relevant legislation is in an advanced state of preparation and that consultation is taking place with the Judiciary in respect of it. I hope the legislation will be brought before the Houses in the near future. As Senator Feeney stated, we are in a much better position and if these unfortunate events were to recur, we would be able to deal with them in a far more expeditious manner. It is worth recalling that we spent in the region of 16 months in the courts and this hindered the work of the committee to a significant degree.
I raised the issue of pensions in the past two weeks and requested a debate in respect of it. I take no pleasure from raising it again today. However, the Taoiseach stated last week that employers have got it wrong in respect of pensions. I presume he was referring to how they are changing their pension schemes from those based on defined benefits to those based on defined contributions. I am amazed the Taoiseach informed employers they got it wrong. In my view, he, the Government, the Pensions Board and the pensions industry have got it wrong. The Taoiseach must take responsibility for changing legislation to allow employers to do what they are now doing. I do not condone what employers are doing and I made that point on several occasions in the House. However, they are doing nothing wrong and are able to use the legislation to their own benefit. The Government, the Taoiseach and the Pensions Board have not taken action to protect the interests of workers.
Before coming to the Chamber, I listened to "Liveline" with Joe Duffy. Pensioners who previously worked in the public service, in State and semi-State bodies and in the private sector rang in to complain about their pensions. These people are at last waking up to the fact that they have been let down by the Government, which is responsible for looking after the interests of future pensioners — it is not doing so — and encouraging young people to take out pensions.
I want the Taoiseach to come before the House to explain what he meant when he said employers got it wrong. He got it wrong and he must take action to protect pensioners.
I welcome the report on the Leas Cross nursing home. I understand the nursing home subvention is much higher in the eastern part of the country than it is in, for example, the western region. We must address this issue. I advocate the home-care package, which has been very beneficial and under which up to €150 million was provided in the last budget. That money should be available for patients everywhere, regardless of whether they remain at home or are placed in nursing homes. Families are aware of the good care that has been provided in many nursing homes. I am aware the home care package costs money but I believe it must be retained.
If any Minister has spoken about the matter of pensions more than any other it is the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan.
What is he doing about it? Nothing. All we get is a great deal of hot air and report after report.
Talk and action are different.
He has highlighted this issue.
He is in a position to do so.
We can all highlight it.
Senator Ryan's point about banks and pensions is relevant. We have seen what has happened. I raised the issue of banks laying off and transferring staff, and closing branches in smaller towns, which is what I call economic withdrawal. It is also an abuse of staff, which must be stopped.
I hope we have a debate because I cannot question a Minister or the Taoiseach about banks. We must have the debate in this House.
I concur with Senator Mansergh that private nursing homes are not the panacea for problems within the health service, but the Minister for Health and Children and her officials seem to think otherwise as these homes are repeatedly being used, often unsuitably, to solve the situation in the acute hospitals. It would be far preferable if step-down facilities were built throughout the country.
Will the Leader try to arrange a debate before Christmas on the report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention? I have asked about this previously and I am sure the Leader has tried to obtain the report. A new, improved Prisons Bill will come forward next week but it would be a good idea if we debated the situation as is and, as the inspector and the visiting committees have seen it, before we consider the Bill.
I support the many Senators who raised the issue of standards in nursing homes. The fact this issue is getting public recognition in the House should give an opportunity to the Leader to arrange a debate. Members will agree we need a debate but the Leader should be given a chance to organise it and arrange for the Minister to come to the House.
With regard to pensions, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, would be delighted to come to the House where he has spoken many times on the issue of pensions.
No better man. He has time on his hands.
Of course he will deal with the issue. He is the one person from successive Governments who has grasped the nettle in this regard.
It does not sting.
Where is the Green Paper he promised?
Senator Ormonde, without interruption.
I want to take up Senator Ulick Burke's point on the list of feeder schools. I understood that yesterday's article related to access to third level. The Deputy is correct that many schools on the list did not provide access for special needs students. I spoke to the Minister just yesterday in this regard. She is dealing with the problem and acknowledges that some feeder schools are not allowing access for special needs students. We should have a debate in which the Minister could reassure the House in this regard. She has spoken about it in the field.
She has done nothing about it.
Everyone is aware of the issue. The Minister would welcome a debate.
The comments of Senator Leyden and others on the Government side are a bit rich given that from 1971, Fianna Fáil controlled the health boards throughout the country.
There have been successive Governments since 1971.
When health board members tried to raise matters such as hospital services or nursing home services, they were voted off health boards.
That is not true.
I tried to raise an issue with the health board on which I served and I was voted off the board. That is a fact.
I would say there were other reasons.
If the Fianna Fáil side of the House had any respect for the elderly, it would ensure a debate took place in the House today.
Has Senator Bannon a question for the Leader?
He was not doing his job on the health board.
Senator Bannon, without interruption.
I support the call for a debate on Leas Cross and the nursing homes situation.
At a time when this country is——
Awash with money?
——awash with money, I would like to have the Minister for Finance invited to the House to debate the issue of charities being charged VAT for essential expenditure. For example, the Longford Association for the Mentally Handicapped pointed out at its annual general meeting yesterday that it paid a whopping €157,000 in VAT last year when it was attempting to equip its unit with essential equipment. This is shameful and disgraceful at a time when the country is awash with money and when so many volunteers are involved in trying to raise funds to keep organisations going day to day.
I request that the Government introduce a compensation relief for this tax so the cost burden for charities nationwide may be relieved. When one considers the amount squandered on the PPARS system, it is shameful and disgraceful.
I hope the Leader will facilitate a debate on this issue as soon as possible.
When will the Barr report be debated by the House? This has been promised for the past six months and the Leader promised to facilitate a debate as soon as possible.
The Senator has asked a question. I call Senator Fitzgerald.
This is not Longford County Council.
The Government signed off on the report and published it last July and, to date, we have not had a debate on this expensive report, which concerns people in my constituency and elsewhere.
This is an abuse of the Chair. I call Senator Fitzgerald.
I hate to break Senator Bannon's flow. I agree partially with Deputy Ulick Burke that it is disturbing to read about the ongoing practice among certain schools to cherry-pick students. Like most Members, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of this practice. Education is supposed to be about making the world a better place for all our children and future generations. Cherry-picking flies in the face of that core principle. It must be condemned because it is a reprehensible practice, which must be stopped for many reasons. This practice means the schools involved almost totally disregard their special educational needs provision, which is vital, and that cannot be allowed to continue.
Cherry-picking also has a polarising effect within the education system. I love excellence in education but I hate elitism.
Cherry-picking promotes elitism, both academically and socially and that must be stopped. I disagree with Senator Ulick Burke's assertion that the Minister for Education and Science has done nothing about it. As Senator Ormonde correctly said, the Minister has confronted this issue vociferously and she has taken action. She has set in motion an audit of the enrolment policies of our schools.
She has done nothing.
Yes. The results of the audit will be published and the Minister will seek voluntary co-operation from schools to cease the practice. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the introduction of a penalty system to ensure they do so?
I support Senator O'Meara's comments about accident and emergency departments. Last year 1.2 million people passed through such departments, of whom 285,000 were admitted to hospital. It is vital that the House debates the future of accident and emergency departments throughout the State.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Brian Hayes, which calls for a debate on the Leas Cross report. The issue was first mooted 18 months during a "Prime Time" programme, although Deputy O'Dowd raised it as far back as 1999 when he was a Member of this House. We have waited a long time for action. The Government was quick to introduce legislation to charge people in nursing homes, yet 18 months after the Leas Cross scandal was exposed, legislation to address the issues raised still has not been brought forward. This is not the way to do business. Senator Norris referred to inspection teams, which are needed.
An amendment to the Order of Business is proposed to discuss the report. These issues can be raised during the debate.
The presence of the Minister for such a debate is irrelevant, given that she did not even turn up at the press conference to launch the report. That was bad form and it is not the way to do business.
I support the call for the nursing home report to be debated.
Senator Norris may have an opportunity to see inside the Dublin Port tunnel prior to its opening. I am taking part in a 10 km fun run through the tunnel ten days before it opens.
Is Senator John Paul Phelan running as well?
In the opposite direction.
Will the Senators be running a two-legged race?
Gardaí are charged with maintaining law and order, but what they are subjected to daily in County Mayo is appalling.
Gardaí are carrying out their duties in a restrained and professional manner.
It behoves us to support them in their work on our behalf.
I support calls for a debate on the Leas Cross report. People must be held accountable for what happened. We cannot just wash our hands of the matter and say that is it. I would welcome a debate on the issue.
Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, asked about the status of No. 25 on the Order Paper, the motion establishing the Joint Committee on Article 35.4.1° and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, or the Curtin committee, as it was called. The committee and its membership have ceased to be because the person in question is no longer a judge of the Circuit Court. The motion will be withdrawn by a motion in my name. The committee's report has been prepared and, as stated when the committee was established, the report will be laid before both Houses. The Senator thanked the committee's members.
Despite what happened, the work of the committee is interesting because a roadmap on how to deal with such matters has been laid out and an acceptable template has been put in place. It is good that the committee's hard work and its members' attendance will not have been in vain. It has been proven that a joint committee has the power to impeach a member of the Judiciary. Senator Brian Hayes was right to mention a code of conduct for the Judiciary. Senator Dardis mentioned various measures that are in place or will be rolled out.
Senator Brian Hayes proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, as he is entitled to do. The amendment has been seconded and there will be a vote. I cannot fetch a Minister just like that. While the Senator stated that there would be no need to do so, I have always held that a Minister should be in attendance when we have debates.
The Minister did not turn up at the press conference.
There is no point in having a debate if the relevant Minister or another Minister is not present. The matter will be before the Dáil next week and we are endeavouring to debate it in this House then. This morning, we were busy in that regard, but the Senator has every entitlement to table his amendment.
Senator O'Toole called for a debate on the fourth report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution. He asked that the draft Bill be converted into a proper Bill, debated and enacted. This would be worthwhile because it would be helpful.
Senator Ryan stated that Members have proven to be fit members of a committee. While he is entitled to raise any matter, I am sure that I speak for many in the House when I say that I did not like his reference to the former Tánaiste. The Senator seconded Senator Brian Hayes's——
Was it untrue? What was wrong with my statement? It was a statement of fact.
The Leader without interruption.
It was an act of gross irresponsibility.
It was factually correct.
The man of whom the Senator spoke has passed away and the matter in question occurred quite some time ago. If I may say so, the issue was raised in a malicious fashion. Senator Ryan seconded Senator Brian Hayes's proposal on the Leas Cross nursing home. He also——
Obviously sensitivities were affected.
The Leader without interruption.
I listened to the Senator and did not open my mouth.
The Leader opened her mouth to say my comment was not worthy.
It was malicious and was certainly not worthy of the Senator.
I am happy to stand over it.
I am explaining what I said, that is, the Senator was malicious. I will keep repeating that.
The Leader is entitled to her opinion, but I happen to think she is wrong. That is all.
Regarding the bank strike, a representative of the Bank of Ireland was asked on "Morning Ireland" today whether the bank's new human resources specialist would be employed on the basis of the yellow pack pension. While the answer was "Yes", it was interesting that he stated the pension is not a yellow pack one. Nevertheless, I agree with Senator Ryan that there is meant to be true partnership. How can there be partnership when the bank can have an escape clause when it wants one?
Senator Dooley raised the issue of speed restrictions in built-up areas. Senator Ulick Burke mentioned the list of schools inThe Irish Times. I perused the list yesterday and it showed the schools with the highest rates of progression to third level education. One of the very highest is a non-fee-paying school, my old school, St. Joseph’s in Summerhill in Athlone which has 600 pupils. It is in a huge special needs catchment area and has many such pupils. It has a wonderful principal and teachers. Some so-called posh schools do not encourage the enrolment of special needs pupils, which is wrong. A school gains by having people of different abilities because of the fact that they interact with other pupils. Many of the schools on the list were non-fee-paying. The Senator suggested that many semi-posh schools do not want special needs pupils. However, the Minister is carrying out an audit of enrolment and under the Education Act 1998, schools have a duty to accept a child who presents. We are trying to organise a debate on education.
Senator Feeney told of the two 15 year olds who were able to buy two bottles of vodka. The penalty for the shop was only a fine of €100 and closure for two hours, from 2. p.m. until 4 p.m. The Senator suggested better regulation of off-licences.
With regard to the Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924 committee, Senator Feeney said there was now a road map for the purpose for which it was established. I congratulate the Senator and Senators Dardis and Finucane, the three Members of this House who did their duty on the committee.
Senator Norris asked for a debate on Leas Cross and the level of inspection at public nursing homes. He also raised the issue of the Shell to Sea campaign. I agree with Senator Cummins that gardaí have a job to do. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue they are sorely tried on a daily basis by the demands to keep the peace. I have friends in that area and around County Mayo and they tell me that many people are heartily fed up of the whole thing and wish it would stop. We cannot blame gardaí for everything when they have to maintain the law.
Senator Leyden raised Professor O'Neill's report on Leas Cross and said many Members of the House were members of health boards. I do not know how health boards operated because I never sat on one. I agree it is a huge and grave issue. We are all destined to get old and one tends to think, "There but for the grace of God go I." We saw many people on "Prime Time" being ill-treated or abused so we must debate it thoroughly. I am incensed about the fact that nobody has said, "Lámh in airde", or, "I am to blame", and I do not know if accountability will emerge, given that the Minister for Health and Children could not publish the report for some time to allow people to discuss it.
Senator O'Meara raised the case of baby Ann and asked about youth medical health issues. What is the name of the body to which the Senator referred?
It has produced much good material on the subject. I will endeavour to arrange a debate. The Senator also said the Teamwork report was now a code for the Hanly report and I think she is right. She asked for a debate but I was struck by an article the Minister for Health and Children wrote — I think it was inThe Irish Times — in which she said what was best for the patient was the best way to proceed.
Unfortunately she is misleading us on that point, which is why we need a debate.
Senator Jim Walsh commended Senators for their work on the Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924 committee and referred to measures in other jurisdictions. Senator Coghlan also praised the work of the committee. He mentioned the Bank of Ireland dispute.
Senator Mansergh commended the Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924 committee. He also called for debates on Leas Cross and the Rossport five. It would be a good idea to have a debate on the Rossport five but we need to know something about it, because we do not know much at the moment. Perhaps the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows more, as he is from Mayo. I am looking around for other Senators who may be of help.
Senator Feargal Quinn raised next Sunday's UN day of remembrance for those who have died in road accidents. I commend Charlie Bird, which I do not do often. Once a month he produces a list of all those who died on the roads in the previous month, giving their names, ages and date of death. It is very chilling and very effective.
Senator Dardis praised the chairman of the Joint Committee on Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution and Section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924, Deputy O'Donovan. He also referred to the need for a judicial counsel and looked forward to future legislation in this regard.
Senator Terry has been consistent in her interest in pensions.
She became worked up about it because of conviction. We will endeavour to arrange a debate. She said that pensions should be protected though I do not agree that everyone she named got it wrong. We have tried all morning to arrange a debate on Leas Cross for next week and we have also been trying to get the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, to come to the House to discuss pensions.
Senator Kitt raised the different rates of subvention between the east and west coasts. Senator Henry said private nursing homes were not the panacea we all thought they were. She wanted the report of the inspectorate, for which we keep asking. Senator Ormonde asked for a debate on pensions and raised the question of third level feeder schools. I agree that an effort is being made to audit those who send young people to colleges. A place in a third level institution is not the be-all and end-all of life.
The way people carry on would lead one to think it was the only way to turn out a child. Senator Fitzgerald spoke on that subject. School should produce rounded people who can mix with others and all abilities should be catered for.
Senator Bannon asked about Leas Cross and VAT on charities. He attended the annual general meeting of the Longford Association for the Mentally Handicapped, for which I commend him. He said the charity had paid €157,000 in VAT. There are constant requests to reduce VAT and every case put forward is a good one. However, I take his point and if the Minister comes before the House, the Senator can make it to him.
The Senator also asked for a debate on the Barr report, which is another we are trying to arrange. We have a wish list but it is a matter of people being free to come to the House. However, the Senator is right because it is a fine report and should be debated in one of the Houses. I have not neglected it and it is one of the ones we try to arrange each week.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald's point about real education. Senator Browne asked for a debate on accident and emergency services. He is taking part in the fun run in the tunnel. If he gives me a card I will sign it, if it is for a charity.
Senator Mansergh is taking part as well. If the Leader names a charity we will do so.
I hope the Senator comes out the other end.
I do not agree.
I am running it twice.
I have a vision of the Senator going on forever.
I will produce a report on the roof.
I referred to what SenatorCummins said earlier.
Senator Brian Hayes has proposed the following amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 27, item 23, be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bannon, James.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Browne, Fergal.
- Burke, Ulick.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Coonan, Noel.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Hayes, Brian.
- Henry, Mary.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McHugh, Joe.
- Norris, David.
- O’Meara, Kathleen.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Terry, Sheila.
- Brady, Cyprian.
- Brennan, Michael.
- Cox, Margaret.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Dardis, John.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Fitzgerald, Liam.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kett, Tony.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lydon, Donal J.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mansergh, Martin.
- Minihan, John.
- Morrissey, Tom.
- Moylan, Pat.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Rourke, Mary.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Scanlon, Eamon.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.