Rushing through legislation is always a matter about which we should be concerned, especially when such legislation is introduced by this jaded and fatigued Government. What happened last night is further evidence that we need a new team at the top, with new energy and enthusiasm to bring the country forward.
Order of Business (Resumed).
That is absolute rubbish.
The Government has again taken its eye off the ball. The rushing through of legislation last night smacks of an executive decision.
The Senator should confine himself to today's Order of Business.
We are not here to facilitate the rushing through of legislation. I agree with other Members——
The Senator should speak on today's Order of Business.
——that a full explanation is required why we were informed——
Where was the Senator during yesterday's debate on health?
Senator Bannon on today's Order of Business.
——that the legislation had to be passed by midnight. The legislation was not passed until eight minutes past midnight.
Where was the Senator during yesterday's debate on health? He is rabbiting on——
The Government let the House and the people of Ireland down yesterday.
Senator Bannon cannot be heard.
That is no bad thing.
We would appreciate a little protection for the Senator from the Cathaoirleach.
Order, please. Senator Bannon should speak on the Order of Business.
What I am saying is very relevant to what took place in this House earlier this morning.
We are discussing today's Order of Business.
It is the same day.
What happened in this Chamber earlier this morning was shameful, as was the way in which we were treated.
Does Senator Bannon have a question?
While welcoming the mid-Shannon area tourism tax incentive scheme, which will bring valuable benefits to parts of the midlands, I am disappointed that all of County Longford was left out of the scheme. The Minister for Finance, who has been very parochial in his activities in the midlands in recent years, should come to the House to explain why County Longford, which is in proximity to the area in question and through which the River Shannon runs, was left out of the scheme. People in the midlands are very disappointed about this development.
The Minister is a parochial politician. He moved the proposed gas pipeline away from County Longford and he has delayed the development of phase 2B of the development at Longford-Westmeath General Hospital.
Westmeath did very well.
The Minister also provided for a hospital in his constituency, a development of which the then health board members were unaware.
The Senator has made his point in requesting the debate.
People are very disappointed with the Minister. An urgent debate is required on the way in which he is putting in place infrastructure in the midlands.
What did Senator Bannon say?
Will the Leader consider asking the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to debate the report relating to the training of primary schoolteachers? Many serious and unfounded allegations have been made. For example, Senator O'Toole insinuated or stated — I am not sure which because I could not hear him very well — that the survey of 140 students was very selective. I stand corrected if that is not the way in which the Senator presented the facts. There appears to be a suggestion that the report was published for mischievous reasons or reasons not related to education. I do not agree with this suggestion.
It was published for political reasons.
It would not be the first occasion on which that proved to be the case.
There is a necessity for a debate on the training of primary schoolteachers because, over a three-year period — between 2003 and 2006 — at college, I became aware that a significant minority of members of the student cohort were openly stating that they had no interest in or intention of teaching. That was quite a disturbing development and it raises questions regarding aptitude, methods of interviewing and many other fundamental issues.
Given the fact that primary schoolteaching is so much at the core of what the Celtic tiger economy is about and that we value primary schoolteachers so highly and the contribution they make, it is essential that we debate this matter. In realistic terms, every profession has its good and bad performers and it would be naive to suggest that teachers — I was one myself — are an exception to that rule.
My credentials regarding what occurred yesterday are reasonably beyond question because I took part in the various health debates. I was dining last evening and, by accident, I happened to look at the monitor and saw that we were to be summoned back to the House at 10.55 p.m. I asked various people if they knew the reason for this development but was informed that they had no idea. I am the Whip of the Independent Group but I knew nothing about the change in yesterday's business and could not, therefore, inform other Members about the reason for it.
This is a serious matter and we should consider what occurred. We were informed that the reason for the late sitting was that the Attorney General had indicated that the Bill had to be passed by midnight. It was not so passed and was not signed into law by the President until approximately 8.30 a.m. today. Either the House was misled or the Attorney General gave the wrong advice. We are entitled to know the exact position.
The Leader will recall that I specifically asked her on a number of occasions what the advice provided by the Attorney General was and why, in law, it was required to pass the Bill before midnight. I received no answer but I know the Minister was prepared to remain in the House to allow people to contribute. As matters stand, not even all the spokespersons of the various groups made contributions. However, I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach on this matter because he ensured that most of the groups had an opportunity to contribute. We are all in his debt for intervening to ensure that even though we got only approximately 50 or 60 seconds, we could at least say something. The Cathaoirleach maintained some shred of the dignity of the House by so doing.
We are entitled to know the nature of the Attorney General's advice. I presume this advice was provided and that we were not misled further. If it was given, what was the nature of it and was it wrong? In my opinion, questions arise regarding the Attorney General's credibility in this matter.
On another matter, we should have another debate on the media. We are currently discussing the Defamation Bill, which is a most interesting Bill. The Minister has shown a degree of flexibility in response to pressure from this side of the House. However, today we received disturbing news about the arrest of a journalist. That is an extremely serious matter. I am probably the only Member of the House who has criticised the Government for conceding to the press barons. I am a member of the National Union of Journalists trade union. Arresting journalists is a serious issue. There must be an important reason for it.
Yesterday, I criticised a narrowness on the part of the some of the church authorities, having been provoked by Senator Mansergh. Today, I pay tribute to the Roman Catholic hierarchy and ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the subject referred to by the hierarchy in its excellent pastoral, which was launched in the last few days, on the dangers of alcoholism. There are very powerful lobbies involved. It is clear that the Government is in the pockets of property speculators and pub owners. The vintners are probably the most effective lobby in this area. Society is being undermined. Two bishops, including the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Martin, launched the church's campaign at the statue of Fr. Matthew in O'Connell Street. I believe we need another person like Fr. Matthew to lead a campaign against the consumption of drink. Irish culture has been made synonymous with drink and that is an insult to the Irish people.
A number of questions remain to be answered after last night. During the debate the Minister admitted that the reason she was acting was a threat by VIVAS Health to pull out of the market and let the company be taken over. She also admitted that the December court case forced her hand. Why was this legislation not introduced in January? Why wait two months? The Minister also admitted meeting Sean Quinn during the week. This is all new information that was given in the course of the Seanad debate.
While I am trying to give Senators some latitude, they should not dwell too long on last night's debate.
A Chathaoirligh, this is extremely relevant to the 400,000 customers and 350 employees, or former employees, of BUPA Ireland. We are entitled to ask questions. Last night I asked the Minister if there was a need for an independent financial analysis of VHI. We hear rumours that it is in trouble. It is time that was clarified. The Minister has spoken about breaking up the VHI in the past but has not done so. Why not? Was the VHI on the verge of bankruptcy if the risk equalisation payments were not made? If Sean Quinn decides to stay in the health insurance industry, the Minister, as a result of last night's action, has now guaranteed that he will have no new competition for the foreseeable future.
Last night the media reports constantly referred to the Dáil meeting to discuss this issue. We were here until after midnight and it is unfair of RTE and other broadcasters not——
That was rectified this morning.
Good. They kept referring to the Dáil and one would think the Seanad did not exist.
We should debate the issue raised by Senator O'Toole and Senator Fitzgerald, the standards of teaching. However, our attention should be focused on the teaching colleges and the relevance of their courses. I have a B. Ed. degree but I was never taught how to fill in a roll book. When we reflect on the course, I and many of my friends from college would question how relevant it was in preparing us to teach. I spoke to the Minister last night about this. Perhaps the Leader will arrange a debate on the issue, which should focus on the relevance of the course for preparing people to teach.
There is a great deal of upset as a result of what happened last night. The vote was carried by 26 Members on one side against a much smaller number on the other. However, a substantial number of Senators were not informed that there would be a change to the Order of Business. I and some other Members spoke in both health debates yesterday. I left the House after listening to the Minister's speech at 5.50 p.m. I was available to return for the debate but I was not informed. I do not know why but I understand from Senator Norris that, as Whip, he was not informed but simply noticed what was happening. He happened to be in the House. Had I been in the House I might not have been informed either. However, I was available to attend, as was Senator O'Toole and a number of others.
So called "quickie" legislation is usually bad legislation. Democracy is a delicate plant. We have had our freedom under the Constitution since 1937 and we must be careful not to allow anything to interrupt that. Last night elected Members of this House, who wished to vote and to participate, regardless of which way they wished to vote, should have been given the opportunity to do so, but were not. There is a question as to whether this subverts our constitutional rights. The Constitution provides that legislation should be debated and go through the various Stages in the House. On the occasions when it is necessary to rush a Bill through the House, we should treat it carefully and delicately. That did not happen last night. I hope the comments made today will ensure that this never happens again.
I wish to raise the issue of teacher training, from the perspective of parents who are concerned about the report. The report suggested that one third of teachers are leaving college and going into the education system without being suitably trained. Senator Browne suggests that the debate should focus on teacher training. We should have that debate, particularly on behalf of the students and the parents of young children who are now concerned that they are not getting the education they deserve owing to a fault on the part of those who are training the teachers.
I welcome the content of a letter I received this morning from the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern. It informs me that the practice of stage payments in the purchase of houses in housing estates will officially end from 30 June next. No new contracts after that date will permit it. This is a voluntary code, of course, rather than a legislative provision. Members of the House were unanimous about this practice, which is wholly one-sided and anti-consumer. It puts a huge additional financial burden on people, particularly first-time buyers who can ill afford it. However, I welcome this development. Perhaps we can discuss it on another occasion.
Senator O'Toole raised an important matter this morning, the different standards that are allowed to operate in Kerry and Galway with regard to road signage. Unfortunately, visitors to the kingdom are being misled because of the road signage, whereas in the Minister's constituency visitors can read the road signs in a language familiar to most of them. That discrimination must cease immediately. I hope the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, who recently visited Kerry, will do something practical urgently.
I support the call for a debate on the report on education. For some time I have been disturbed that, as is the case with most professions, there are many instances of round pegs in square holes. A number of teachers in the primary and secondary sectors——
Earlier in the week the Senator said it was in every school in Ireland. I look forward to him proving that.
——are not up to the required standard and that is unfair to the children who go through their classes and do not get an education as a result. It is also unfair to the teachers who do not have the necessary skills and are perhaps working under stress. There should be a mechanism to allow them to leave a profession for which they are unsuited.
There was a highly dangerous incident this week at a football match in Europe in which the safety of spectators was put at risk. I hope appropriate security measures will be in place for the game in Croke Park on Saturday evening, especially to avoid a repeat of the English bringing armoured cars and machine guns, as they did on the last occasion they came to that place.
In reply to that, I hope we do not have a repeat of what happened last year on O'Connell Street. Irish citizens must behave with dignity, treat our guests respectfully and not go back to events in history.
Random breath tests and speed cameras are among the measures introduced to improve road safety. I would like to believe these measures have led to a reduction in deaths on the roads. An outstanding issue in terms of road safety is evident on our roads at night, especially in rural areas, where one observes that many pedestrians do not wear reflective gear. The Minister should explain to the House whether there are proposals to make the wearing of such gear compulsory. It is a dangerous practice to walk at night without any reflective apparatus. An unfortunate motorist who knocks down a pedestrian is left wondering for life whether he or she should have done something differently.
Senator Norris spoke about problems in regard to alcohol consumption. A recent report indicates that consumption has reduced. I hope this is a sign of a more mature attitude to alcohol. I welcome the bishop's comments that we should ensure that consumption is further reduced. The country would be better off for such a reduction.
I speak in defence of schoolteachers in the wake of the critical report on the performance of new teachers. This report is unfair. These young teachers are straight out of college and they should be given time before undergoing this type of assessment. As Senator Browne suggested, we must review teacher training practices, with a particular emphasis on the practical component of training. Theory is all very well but one must put that theory into practice. An increased element of practical training, whereby young trainees would spend more time in classrooms, would be beneficial.
We have experience in this regard in the training of nurses. I have heard many older, experienced nurses say that young nurses trained by way of the new degree course and who do not spend as much time gaining practical experience on the ward are not equipped with the same abilities as their predecessors.
I do not say this to be critical of nurses but to make the point that practical training is vital. For several years now nurses' training has involved greater emphasis on theory than practice. A review of this situation may well conclude that practical experience is the best method of training.
The system of promotion in schools is not of benefit in terms of encouraging young people to go into teaching. It seems promotion is based on years of experience rather than ability.
Does Senator Terry refer to primary schools?
Yes. I am not sure if this extends to secondary schools. It is an unfair system. Young people who enter teaching or any other profession want the opportunity to progress. Their progress should not be stymied if they are entitled on the basis of ability to promotion. This will discourage suitable candidates from entering or staying in teaching. We need good teachers. A general review of training practices must be carried out in teaching and nursing.
Senator Brian Hayes, Leader of the Opposition, asked why legislation was rushed through the House last night and asked me to explain the guillotine. He exercised his beautiful French to make an analogy between me andla guillotine. It fell dead flat, honey.
The Leader knows that is not true. She is deliberately misinterpreting what I said.
I know right well what the Senator was talking about.
With respect, it is unacceptable deliberately to misinterpret what people say. That is wrong.
Allow the Leader to continue.
My office was informed by the Government Chief Whip that emergency legislation would be introduced and that it could not be announced what it was about, only that it related to health. I came to the House at 6.40 p.m. and announced that the Order of Business would be amended and the sitting suspended until 10.55 p.m. A Bill put forward by an Independent Senator was being debated in the Chamber at that time. This Bill was appreciated and welcomed by Members. Senator Norris spoke effusively on Senator Henry's Bill while I was in the Chamber.
We did not know about the emergency legislation at that stage.
I was not told what the Bill was about.
Senator Henry and I were both present. I do not know whether the Leader even knew what it was at that stage. The announcement had not been made.
The Leader without interruption.
I want to be clear on this. I made the announcement in the House. I did not say what the legislation was because I was not empowered to do so. At that time, two Independent Senators were in the House, one of whom had brought forward a Bill which was widely accepted and one of whom spoke on that Bill, as did I. The Official Report makes clear the times when Senator Norris and I spoke.
The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, was asked by a Member last night why it was imperative to put through the legislation in this fashion. She replied that this was the advice she received from the Attorney General. She told me the same before she came into the Chamber, as did two of her officials.
They said the opposite outside the Chamber afterwards. I overheard them.
The Leader should be allowed to continue without interruption.
I do not care what was said afterwards. I can only tell Members what I was told. One of the gentlemen sitting there said it was on the advice of the Attorney General that the Bill would have to go through the House in this fashion, as it did in the other House.
The advice was wrong. Questions should be raised about that.
The Leader without interruption. She is doing her best to explain the situation.
The advice was clearly wrong.
The Attorney General gave incorrect advice. This is a serious matter. If the Attorney General misadvised the Government, there is a situation that must be examined.
The Leader to reply without interruption.
I cannot tell whether his advice was wrong. I can only repeat what I was told. What was said afterwards is a matter for Senator Browne to bring to a tribunal if he so wishes.
The advice was obviously wrong.
We are lucky to have a gutsy Minister for Health and Children who took it upon herself to be in the Chamber for three hours in the afternoon——
That is not the issue.
We are talking about procedure.
She was not in the House for three hours in the afternoon.
——go back out and have a meeting, prepare the legislation, bring it through the Dáil and present it to this House. She came here prepared to be upfront with anyone in the Chamber.
The point is that the Attorney General misadvised the Government.
I ask Senator Norris to allow the Leader to reply without interruption.
It is difficult if people keep shouting. I do not shout back.
I am doing my best to prevent that.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. Had this emergency legislation not been put through, there would be uproar in the House. If the loophole had not been filled, we might have found ourselves in a precarious financial situation. One can imagine the shouts and roars there would have been in that eventuality.
Senator O'Toole spoke about the report on teacher education. Senator Ulick Burke raised the matter earlier in the week and said teachers should not be criticised but I disagree, because honest criticism is good. I take Senator Ulick Burke's views seriously because he knows the teaching profession well. Senator O'Toole made the point that teachers go on probation for a year but do they not also spend a year gaining practical teaching experience?
They do so in years one and two so they get plenty of practice. I agree, however, that the report was loaded.
I thank the Leader.
Its terminology was loaded and we should debate it fully in this House. I have met parents who have already raised questions about primary teachers and it is a serious matter for the future of primary teaching. We will ask the Minister if she is available, not next week because her schedule is full but the following week.
Senator O'Toole also mentioned the difference in the signage in Connemara from that in County Kerry and called on the Minister to explain why there are bilingual signs for An Cheathrú Rua-Carraroe and An Spidéal-Spiddal.
I referred to County Galway generally.
Senator Ryan said the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2007 was not passed before midnight and so was invalid. That remains to be seen.
The Leader said that was the view of the Attorney General.
On the Order of Business, please.
Two explanations are possible. Either the Attorney General advised the Leader that the Bill had to be passed before 12 midnight, in which case the Bill is invalid, or the Leader inadvertently misled the House. There are no other options
Maybe the Attorney General was wrong.
Order, please. Allow the Leader to reply.
Either this House invalidly passed legislation last night or the Attorney General gave incorrect advice to the Leader.
Please allow the Leader to respond.
If the Leader received incorrect advice, she still inadvertently misled the House and should clarify the situation. I call on the Leader——
I will adjourn the House if there are interruptions. The Order of Business must proceed.
On a point of order, is it in order for the Leader to ignore a question from me as the leader of the Labour group as to whether she was inadvertently or deliberately misled by bad advice? If that was not the case, is the legislation invalid? I am entitled to an answer to my question. Either the legislation is invalid because of the Attorney General's advice or the Attorney General was wrong. If the latter is the case we could have debated the legislation properly.
The Leader's reply is a matter for the Leader and no one else.
I am very glad to answer. I did not speak with the Attorney General but the Minister told me of his advice. I cannot be any clearer than that.
Did the Attorney General advise that the legislation had to be passed by 12 midnight?
The legislation had to be cleared——
By 12 midnight? It was passed at 12.08 a.m.
The Leader has replied to the question. Please allow her to continue.
I cannot say whether the legislation is valid.
It is now clear that the Minister said two different things, one to the Leader of the House and another to Senator Norris. That is extraordinary, given the calibre of the Minister.
Please allow the Leader to reply to the Order of Business. There are other ways to raise this matter.
The House was misled last night.
That is outrageous.
Someone was misled.
I propose to pursue the matter through the appropriate channels.
I ask Senator Ryan to resume his seat.
I reported what the Minister for Health and Children told me. I can do no more than say that.
That is not true. The Leader can find out whether what she was told was true.
The House will suspend for five minutes.