The Order of Business is No. 1, Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2007 — all Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m., with spokespersons having 15 minutes on Second Stage, other Senators ten minutes, the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage which will be no later than 5.15 p.m., and Committee and remaining Stages to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m.; and No. 2, statements on the report, Learning to Teach — Students and Teaching Practice in Irish Primary Schools, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes and other Senators six minutes, on which Members may share time and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of the statements.
Order of Business.
It is accepted by most people and across all party lines that the level of rights given to victims within the Irish criminal justice system is very limited. While we saw developments in recent years with victim impact statements, which are welcome, victims are not given full information as cases progress through the courts and regularly feel left out of the loop when it comes to the progress of those cases.
Last evening, the Irish Prison Service stated it does not have the legal power to inform victims about the imminent release of a prisoner from the Irish prison system. This issue also arose approximately one month ago when Mrs. Nora Lynch, that very articulate woman, stated victims need to know when someone receives a temporary release or is being released following the conclusion of his or her sentence.
If we do not have the legislative basis to inform victims of this situation, will the Government consider providing for it in law? It is a significant issue which arose today and over the weekend in the case of an appalling series of child abuse cases from the past 20 or 30 years. This matter is raised regularly and not only with regard to the issue in the public domain at present. Will the Government implement a straightforward change to allow the Irish Prison Service or members of the Garda Síochána to inform victims when an imminent release from prison will occur?
I was not privileged to be in Croke Park last Saturday, unlike, I suspect, many Members of the House. It is worth putting on the record——
I do not know whether this is an appropriate matter for the Order of Business.
I think it is for the reason——
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is wrong. He must obey the leader of his Party.
——that it was raised last week on the Order of Business. Not only was it a fantastic result and occasion but the pluralism, tolerance and good sportsmanship of the entire country was reflected in Croke Park last Saturday in contrast to the more ugly and prejudiced remarks, some of which unfortunately emanated from this House last week, by people who used the occasion for their own narrow political ends.
We will not go back on last week's business.
I make the case that it was the very best of Irish sport. We should celebrate it and the new pluralism and tolerance which exists in this country——
We are very tolerant on the north side.
——and ensure, whatever the background and country people come from, they are welcome to this country and we can all celebrate in that great achievement.
It would be nice to welcome back the Cathaoirleach with a note of congratulations to the GAA to be taken on the Order Paper on his return.
The Senator knows where to send it.
We debated the nursing homes question on a number of occasions and the Leader will be aware of the issues raised both on the Order of Business a number of times previously and in discussion through recent statements. I am of the firm opinion that no one set of inspectors can inspect nursing homes and I have argued as much here many times.
There are too many aspects to the job, with facets ranging from health and safety to overcrowding to sanitation to medical issues and others. I have noticed in the debate over the past few days that we see two or three sides arguing, but nobody in this House would know what the argument is exactly about. Some people may be too intense about it and do not like the way it is being done.
What exactly are we checking and what boxes are to be ticked? Everybody in this House would agree there should doubtlessly be an intense inspection regime. I have previously asked how this can be done and how any one person could have the ability to do it. It continues to be my view that local doctors might do one aspect of the job, health and safety officers might do another and sanitation workers would also play a part. The work would produce reports each year or every few months. This would be a more dependable process.
It would be worthwhile discussing the issue again, although we should not have an argument about it. I do not know the answers to these problems but I am unhappy with how they currently stand. Others would be as well.
I thank the Leader for scheduling the business on at 5 p.m., which we asked for last week. It is much appreciated.
I hope all who spoke last week will speak up this evening.
If they do not we will guarantee the debate will last for the time allocated to it.
The Leader has a little list.
There has been a very disturbing report on a subject that has been raised on a number of occasions, by myself and Senator Coonan among others. It concerns the differentiation between retail prices and farm gate prices and the undermining of farming. It is nothing to do with my colleague, Senator Quinn, who has left that behind him, but the farming element.
There is something wrong if foodstuffs are bought at the farm gate for a price but are sold on for exponentially greater amounts. Clearly there are transport and retail costs, among others, going into it.
There is VAT.
We must consider how this works. Farmers are not getting a fair deal. They are arguing about the wrong issues and perhaps we should argue on their behalf because they need some support in this regard. They are not getting the value of their work.
Some weeks ago I asked for a debate on affordable housing and what constitutes an affordable house. When it was announced by the Government around 1998, the original idea was that affordable housing could be bought at a cost approximating the expense of its construction. My local council has sold such houses for about 60% of the market value but more recently affordable housing is 70% or 80% of the market value. The price of so-called affordable homes is now over €300,000. It is becoming somewhat of a moveable feast and I would like the issue to be discussed.
Who can now apply for affordable housing? Some weeks ago, the affordable homes partnership advertised 500 housing units which it bought on the open market, being offered to buyers now as so-called affordable homes. The minimum income which must be earned to apply for any of those 500 houses is €45,000.
I looked up the salary scales for teachers, nurses and gardaí, and a person would have to be a member of any of those professions for many years before he or she would get an annual income of €45,000. That income stipulation also rules out bus drivers, many journalists and other people who should be key members of our community but are no longer able to afford a so-called affordable house. The issue is a bit of a joke.
This brings me back to the overall issue. There is another scandal, I believe, in that the affordable homes partnership has asked developers to submit proposals for unzoned land in order for it to get the land rezoned in return for so-called affordable housing. Developers can buy cheap high-amenity lands, have them rezoned and make many hundreds of millions of euro on their investments, which is a scandal. We must examine the issue of affordable housing.
Affordable housing has become the new brown envelope. Developers get land rezoned and maintain the speculative approach to the housing market and land prices. We need to revert to what the Taoiseach said, namely, that he would do something about the price of land. He requested the Joint Committee on the Constitution, of which I am a member, to do a substantial report on that matter, but the report is sitting on a shelf. Its recommendations should be implemented as a matter of urgency.
Last week, I was proud and honoured to be in Croke Park for a wonderful occasion and our most terrific result in a game of rugby. I was proud to be Irish and even prouder to be a citizen on this little island. Congratulations must be offered to many people, but we should remember the GAA primarily, which did itself proud.
I would like to say "Well done" to the GAA for its foresight and application in developing such a stadium.
I also congratulate the Garda for its unobtrusive, but effective presence on the day. I would go so far as to congratulate every Irish man, woman and child present for the good humour and respect shown to the various protocols. It was a great display and result for Eddie O'Sullivan, Brian O'Driscoll and the entire team. The result was for sport, particularly Irish sport. We can hold our heads up and be proud that we do not need to look into anyone's back yard or front garden. We are a nation in our own right, which was the winner on the day.
I want to join with the leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, in his expression of concern and his call for legislation to protect the rights of victims in light of events in recent days. Someone who abused children in a dreadful way for many years and who served nine years of a 29-year sentence is to be released without any of the victims being informed. We heard some of the victims expressing on radio their hurt and fear of the——
——man returning to the community. They do not know when or where they will bump into him. The victims are the people about whom we should be most concerned.
There should be a system and legislation in place to protect them and to tell them in a timely fashion that the man will be released into the community, where he will live, what restrictions, if any, will be placed on his movements and any information that will help ease their pain. They will suffer for the rest of their lives, but they have received no compensation. The case is a debacle involving the insurance company and the Irish Amateur Swimming Association. Should the Government not move to protect the victims, who are still suffering?
I support the Senator's statement fully and I call on the Leader to do whatever she can to ensure legislation is put in place to prevent this type of event occurring in future and, if anything can be done at this late stage, to help the victims.
I do not recall a debate in the House in the past five years on horticulture or the production of fruit and vegetables. On Senator O'Toole's point, I was shocked that a fine head of Savoy cabbage would fetch only 40 cent from a supermarket. If the argument is that this is what the consumer wants, many people go around supermarket shelves looking for fruit and vegetables that could be grown in this climate, but fail to find them. This needs to be addressed because it makes no energy or environmental sense to bring bulky products from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.
On a related point, I believe I am not alone in being disturbed at what seems to be a ruling by the Competition Authority which prevents a professional organisation, the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, from negotiating with the HSE. This House is founded on vocational principles. We have social partnership, which has worked very well for the past 20 years and is responsible for much of our prosperity. We do not necessarily want a totally atomised neo-liberal world where people of like interests cannot come together to negotiate. That matter should be addressed.
I should like to come to the defence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who was criticised by abien pensant commentator this morning. I believe we all agree that legislation to do with civil unions is a very serious piece of endeavour. However, if there is doubt, as there is because of a Supreme Court case, about what the present position is legally and constitutionally, then of course one waits for the Supreme Court to establish the position before deciding exactly on the changes one will make.
I am very glad to have been preceded by Senator Mansergh. Some weeks ago I raised on the Adjournment the issue of the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and got a very dusty answer from the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. This matter also affects Irish Actors' Equity, which is far more vulnerable because its members are just doing voiceovers and are among the most meanly paid people. I thank Senator Mansergh and believe he should contact the Minister in this regard because he is right that it is not fair.
Let us not fool ourselves in regard to the civil partnership Bill. There was a delaying tactic by the Minister when I introduced my Bill and there was an attempt to vote it off the Order Paper, which is a disgrace. We managed to avoid that, however, and then three conditions were put down, one of which concerned the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, which has been published, and another which concerned the report of the Law Reform Commission, which has been also published. It recommends the type of proposal I suggested, largely along the lines of the Bill the Labour Party introduced in the Dáil. The Minister then established his own commission, chaired by Ms Anne Colley. This has reported along the same lines and as Senator Mansergh said, there was a Supreme Court judgment to be considered. There had been a decision of the High Court and the judge reprimanded the Oireachtas for not acting because we continually neglect our duty. There is no question it is our duty and it was a disgraceful fudge, dishonesty even, to table a motion which stated this matter would be postponed for six months knowing there is to be an election in the meantime. Those are not the types of standards I want to see in public life.
I am very glad my colleague, Senator Tuffy, raised the question of affordable housing. This is another farce. My friends in Fianna Fáil ought to be very careful about getting too chummy with the building and construction trade, which is a very dangerous area. They have had their fingers burnt before and they should be careful it does not happen again. I have what I am sure is the same letter Senator Tuffy received, which was sent to a friend. It coyly states they have some property in Dublin 13. They do not say how they acquired it and, from reading the letter, one would imagine they had built it themselves. Yet a single person has to earn between €45,000 and €58,000 to avail of the scheme, when the average wage is about €30,000. Who are they talking about? This is supposed to be affordable housing for people such as poorly paid nurses about whom we are still squabbling as regards giving them a decent wage. A couple must have an income of between €45,000 and €75,000 to qualify for the scheme. Let us live in the real world. This scheme was supposed to provide for people who could not afford housing. We should re-examine it. There is a possibility of land rezonings being involved and all the rest of it, but the critical factor is that this measure was contained in legislation passed here, providing that a proportion of developments would be allocated for affordable housing, but the developers have been allowed to get away with it. They have been allowed to weasel their way around this measure and many decent people in Fianna Fáil know that is the case.
Other Senators are offering.
I will be brief. I wish to raise two other matters, the first of which relates to planning permission. In this instance it concerns an ex-Fine Gael Member of this House, Councillor Farrelly, who has tabled an amendment to the development plan for Meath County Council to seek to shrink the safety area around a very historic house, Headfort House, in County Meath from more than 700 acres to approximately 50 acres to facilitate the building of houses. People will have seen the advertisements in regard to the stable yard which was redeveloped, but it is proposed that even that area will be excluded from the safety area.
Appalling developments have also taken place all around Marino Casino and there are further plans in that respect. Carton House has been devastated by——
Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?
I am definitely seeking a debate on this issue, particularly as only 30 of 1,500 big houses in existence at the time of the Civil War remain. I will leave the raising of the other issue I mentioned until tomorrow.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the sacrifices made at the weekend by Garda Brian Kelleher from Bruree and Michael Liston, a part-time fire fighter, from Foynes who died in the course of their duties. We should recognise their unselfish approach to their work, the carrying out of which resulted in their untimely deaths. We all owe them a debt of gratitude and well as all members of the part-time fire fighting service and the Garda Síochána for their unselfish work on behalf of the State.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the success of the pilot schemes of the joint policing committees established by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, in mid-2006? They were rolled out in 22 areas. The joint policing committees proved successful with the participation in them of local authorities members and Oireachtas Members. It was agreed that such committees would be further rolled out in 2006. Based on the success of the pilot schemes, particularly given the need for co-operation between the public and the Garda Síochána, joint policing committees should be rolled out throughout the country well before the Government is dissolved. It is important to ensure local policing committees operate in every local authority area and every major urban district to enable local authority members and Oireachtas Members to work with senior members of the Garda Síochána in the interests of the security of the State, policing and community involvement.
I hope that the Leader will invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to report to the House on the progress made by the policing committees that have been established.
Where were they established?
They were established in Bray, Dublin, Kildare, Galway and throughout a mix of areas. They have proved to be successful. The Minister should be commended on introducing this initiative and, hopefully, on rolling out such committees to every local authority area. Such a debate would give the Minister an opportunity to outline the progress made in regard to the pilot committees that have been established.
In the past ten years or more, the credibility of our planning process has taken serious knocks on numerous occasions. A recent decision of the High Court which agreed a decision by An Bord Pleanála that planning permission for a landfill facility in County Kildare be overturned seems to question the credibility of the processes within An Bord Pleanála. It asked that it be quashed because the board had reached the decision on the basis of inadequate records. There was no record of any meeting of the board about how the planning conditions, as finally prepared, were approved. We often talk about objectivity, impartiality and transparency, but all of them are absent in this case. It calls into question the processes within An Bord Pleanála. The inspector made a decision to recommend refusal. After that recommendation, the board sought further information. A four-day oral hearing was held and further information was again sought, probably to justify its initial decision.
Will the Leader call the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government before the House to assure Members he has confidence in An Bord Pleanála to make fair, impartial decisions on planning permission applications submitted to it. It is unbelievable that An Bord Pleanála, the last arbitrary body able to make a decision, has question marks over its impartiality and credibility. We must have an urgent debate on the issue so that this case and others like it will be queried from now on. People are losing confidence in its processes.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the important issue of victims' rights. We sometimes forget the terrible trauma and hurt suffered by victims. It is vital that victims are made aware of the imminent release of the perpetrators of the crimes committed against them.
I know of a young woman whose husband was murdered on a normal weekend in a quiet, provincial town. She and her family were deprived of their loved one for all time. They have been irreparably changed as a result of that crime. The first time they knew he had been released was when they passed him on the street in that particular small town. How can we justify adding more hurt and trauma to people's lives? It is vital that an urgent effort is made to ensure that such a case never arises again.
I have recently had reason to visit twice the Passport Office on Molesworth Street and I congratulate the officials for a very efficient operation there. It was announced two or three years ago in Britain that passports could not be handed out to British citizens unless two months' notice was given because the technology was too much for its passport office. My only disappointment here was that when my photograph was being taken, I was told not to smile by a very diplomatic usher. Why does that rule exist? Irish people like to be seen to be smiling when they go around the world.
We are trying to be recognised as a high-tech country. In recent years, we have put microchips into our passports which are very efficient. I was stunned to discover that 5,900 passports were stolen last year, while 33,000 Irish passports went missing. With modern technology, this microchip can be detected in every passport control around the world so that the missing or stolen passport is identified when passing through. That would provide the opportunity for Irish technology to be recognised as leading edge. Radio frequency identification, or RFID, exists for products in supermarkets, so it is certainly possible to do it for passports as well. I congratulate the Passport Office and the Department of Foreign Affairs, but I urge them to go a little further.
Senators O'Toole and Mansergh raised the issue of the importation of products that could well be produced in Ireland. The solution to the issue is in our hands and those of customers. Some customers refuse to buy products that have what we call "food miles" on them, products that have travelled many miles and have what we call a "carbon footprint" because of the carbon emissions as a result of bringing the product from the far side of the world.
The solution is in our hands. We do not have to pass laws to solve the issue. Customers can say they want a fresh product and producers who label their produce with the names and addresses of the farmers producing the product will give the edge to their produce. This sort of labelling will give those products an edge and lead. I urge all producers to do the same rather than let us ask Government to interfere and pass a law. We should leave the issue to customers and the marketplace and the issue will be solved.
I am moved by Senator Ó Murchú's intervention because some years ago my wife had a similar harrowing experience. The Prison Service may well be confusing not having a statutory duty and not having the power to inform victims of prisoners' releases. There is nothing to prevent an administrative instruction being given in this regard. We do not have to wait for legislation. An administrative instruction should be given that in these circumstances the families of the immediate victim should be informed that such and such a person is being released. In that manner they would not learn of it from the public press or run the risk of bumping into the person in the supermarket or church and learning about it that way. Informing them in advance would be a more compassionate way of dealing with releases.
There is room for a wider debate on the issue of released prisoners, particularly those who have committed sexual offences. We should debate how they can be treated fairly and in a way that will protect the public and the victims and their sensibilities without turning into a witch-hunt.
The case mentioned by Senator Ulick Burke is frightening. It is no wonder An Bord Pleanála went into court with its hands up. We should be grateful for the judgment of Mr. Justice O'Neill of the High Court on 24 October 2006 in his ruling on the Grealishv. An Bord Pleanála case. This judgment was not appealed to the Supreme Court and is now the law of the land. Mr. Justice O’Neill ruled that the board should never again overrule one of its inspectors without setting out in writing all the relevant reasons and considerations and that it was unreasonable and irrational to waiver an inspector’s judgment and the board should not do so again. Objectivity and impartiality are a sine qua non of the planning process which should be open and transparent.
Reasons and considerations are important and we must always ensure the public interest and the integrity of An Bord Pleanála is upheld. The board is the final arbiter of planning matters and must be seen to be above reproach. As Mr. Justice Kelly said in another famous landmark decision, there must always be sufficient information for the citizen who must always have a reasonable chance of assessing whether he or she could succeed in judicially reviewing a decision.
I support Senator Ulick Burke's call for the Minister to come to the House to debate this matter.
I support Senator Ó Murchú's call for victims of a crime to be notified of when perpetrators of crimes are being released. Four or five years ago a lady approached me as a result of an assault she had suffered from a young thug. The same youth assaulted others also and was imprisoned as a result. Subsequently, he was released, without the knowledge of the victim, the lady who came to me about it, and he moved next door to her as a partner of the tenant there. It took three years to have him and his partner shifted. During those three years he wreaked havoc and sought revenge at every opportunity. This was an appalling situation for the poor old lady living alone and for the other people in the neighbourhood. It is a potent example of the need for information for victims.
I am sympathetic to the sentiments on affordable housing expressed by Senator Tuffy. Those are sentiments I have held for a long time. If one looks back over the years, those in the professions she mentioned and many other people in steady jobs, such as in Aer Lingus and in the banks, were able to acquire houses within a few years of taking up employment. That is no longer the case. Even if one takes the affordable housing criteria to which Senator Tuffy referred, where the minimum requirement is €45,000, she has a forceful argument.
I have looked at this issue, especially in recent times with constituents coming to me frequently about it. With the difficulties in frontloading a sufficient number of affordable houses, regardless of whether they are admitted, and the fact that the market is so demand-led, I suggest again that we seriously consider returning to an old concept of the Land Commission and reinvent that commission to acquire land, through compulsory purchase order and otherwise, in order that it can be rezoned by the State and offered in lots by tender to builders. In that way and despite the best efforts and wisdom of Dr. Bacon who produced several reports on this issue, one would have real competition among builders in the marketplace. This suggestion has the potential to make a significant contribution to addressing the problems to which Senator Tuffy referred as well as the overall problems of house prices.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the matter of the rights for victims. He stated that it has emerged that the Prison Service does not possess the legal standing to inform victims of perpetrators of abuse that such perpetrators are about to be released and that if such standing could be given to the Prison Service, it would be good. I, too, heard people speaking on the television who had been victims of a particular person and who now fear his release. In a way, giving rights all round would be good because arrangements could be made for that perpetrator as well as those whom he has abused.
Senator Hayes also raised the matter of the magnificent——
I do not mean to be discourteous, but could the Leader confirm what she seems to have stated, that they are prevented by law from informing the relatives?
Senator Norris cannot contribute at this stage.
I do not think that is the case.
The Senator cannot interrupt the Leader of the House at this stage. The Leader without interruption.
The Prison Service stated exactly what the Leader said.
I understand that the Prison Service stated it did not have the legal right to inform victims of people who are in prison who have perpetrated——
I am quite sure they are wrong.
If they say so, no matter what Senator Norris states, they must be right. It is all very well for Senator Norris to say they are wrong,——
What law prevents them?
——but he cannot be right in everything.
I stand as good a chance of being right about that as the prison officers.
He cannot be right all of the time. If the Prison Service states it does not have the rights, why is Senator Norris stating they have the rights?
Senator Hayes also raised the magnificent spectacle of Croke Park last Saturday. No matter whether one saw it in one's local pub, at home or in Croke Park itself, as Senator Feeney who was lucky enough did, the hairs tingled on the back of one's head. It was a wonderful day and we beat them, which is what was really wonderful.
Paddy the plasterer was there too.
Apart from everything else, it being a magnificent spectacle and the national anthem and all of that, we trounced the English team. I found great delight in that, not from any nationalistic point of view but from a sporting point of view, that we won a great game. With every single person on that team, it was near perfection. It was a team of perfection, in my view, and one just knew they would not put a foot wrong, but the people did not put a foot wrong either.
Senator O'Toole raised the matter of nursing homes inspection. He has stated often in the House that there are many aspects to the inspection — medical, social and health and safety — and there should be a team of inspectors who could combine those skills of inspection rather than adopt a narrower focus.
Senator O'Toole also referred to farm gate and retail prices. A debate on the consumer price of horticultural produce, as mentioned by Senator Mansergh, would be well worthwhile.
I fully agree with Senator Tuffy on the issue of affordable houses. The term "affordable housing" is becoming derisory because houses are in fact not affordable, as the Senator demonstrated by referring to the salary scales of those who apply for such houses. The term "affordable house" has become a catchphrase. The Senator referred to developers being encouraged to submit proposals for unzoned land. It would be a good idea to have a debate on the affordable housing scheme.
Senator Feeney mentioned the match in Croke Park, which she was lucky enough to attend. Good for her. I did not want to go as I wanted to look at it in the local pub with company. We raised the roof. The Senator referred to the GAA, which had the foresight to develop the stadium, and to Eddie O'Sullivan and Brian O'Driscoll. All those involved were heroes.
Senator Terry believes there should be legislation to protect the rights of citizens when perpetrators of crimes against them are released from prison. I agree that we should be concerned about the victims.
Senator Mansergh called for a debate on horticulture and did not agree with the Competition Authority's ruling on the Irish Pharmaceutical Union. He also referred to criticism of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I know the identity of the commentator to whom the Senator was referring because I read the article in question. The Senator outlined how the Minister wants to remove uncertainty before moving forward with the legislation.
Senator Norris referred to the delaying tactic of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and also referred to affordable housing. He raised the issue of the shrinking of the safety area around Headfort House to approximately 50 acres to facilitate the building of houses. If the land is good for housing and if Headfort House itself is protected, I would not lose a lot of sleep over people getting houses on decent land. We cannot all live in houses such as Headfort House.
It is not exactly affordable land for affordable houses.
That is a fairly cheap shot.
The Senator said that Councillor Farrelly was bringing this forward. I just feel it sounds sensible.
Senator Leyden referred to the sacrifice made by Garda Brian Kelleher and fireman Michael Liston. They were in the front line of duty in the service of the State and it is therefore right that their deaths be raised and that we praise them in the House. The Senator also referred to the joint local policing committees, which comprise Oireachtas Members and the members of the police force. It would be good to have a review and report on these.
Senator Ulick Burke referred to the credibility of planning. We would have thought An Bord Pleanála was the bastion of impartiality but the Senator questioned this and asked that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government speak on the matter in the House.
Senator Ó Murchú mentioned victims' rights and recounted a very poignant story concerning the shock of a woman who met her husband's murderer on the street in a small town. Senator Quinn congratulated the passport office in Molesworth Street on how proficient it has become in the issuing of passports. He referred to the importation of produce that could be produced here. Some consumers deliberately do not purchase vegetables if they are from Israel, for example, because of the carbon footprint involved or the amount of fuel used in importing them to Ireland. This is a fair point but the climate in Ireland does not allow many of the products in question to be planted and reaped here. The answer is in our own hands in that we can purchase what we want if the goods are made available in a carbon-friendly or carbon-neutral way.
Senator Maurice Hayes expressed the view that the immediate families of victims should be informed of the release of the perpetrators. It would be a better thing to do because of the incitement we see in neighbourhoods when such people move into them, sometimes rightly so. It would also bring better justice to those concerned.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the impartiality of An Bord Pleanála. Senator Fitzgerald raised the prospect of a convicted abuser moving next door to one of his victims. Imagine waking up to that. The Senator also sought a debate on affordable housing. We will endeavour to have a debate on that issue because, as part of our constituency work, we have all dealt with people who are desperate for housing. They come to us with their hearts full of hope that they can acquire affordable houses, only to be disappointed because the imponderables that surround the matter are too many.