Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 1 May 2008

Vol. 189 No. 10

Order of Business.

Today's business is No. 1, an all-party motion on Zimbabwe, No. 2, a message from the Dáil about the Criminal Justice Human (Trafficking Bill) 2007 and No. 3, the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. It is proposed that the all-party motion on Zimbabwe will be taken without debate on at the conclusion of the Order of Business; that the message from the Dáil about the Criminal Justice (Human Trafficking) Bill be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; and that the Second Stage of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 be resumed at the conclusion of No. 2. It is proposed to interrupt the business of the House for five minutes at the conclusion on Second Stage of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, after which time it is proposed to start on Committee Stage of that Bill.

The Order of Business is agreeable to this side of the House.

It is disturbing that such scant regard was shown for the medical files of patients from the southern capital, as outlined on the front page of the newspaper this morning. I am sure the acting Leader has taken note of this. It was disgraceful——

——that such files, which one would consider confidential, were found in a landfill site. How a hospital authority could have behaved in such a way is beyond belief. These items should have been shredded or incinerated. Given this, the news of laptops going missing recently and so on, perhaps there is a need to legislate for stronger guidelines in the area of personal data protection. I wish to hear from the acting Leader on this matter.

We welcome the resolution, which hopefully is not temporary, of the dispute between pharmacists and the Health Service Executive. We also welcome that medicines will continue to be dispensed to medical card holders and others under the drug schemes. It is proper that the independent body on pharmacy contract pricing is allowed to get on with its business. The HSE has behaved badly and it should never again resort to unilateral action of that kind.

Yesterday the acting Leader perhaps overlooked the questions which Senator Ross and I raised regarding the property services regulatory authority Bill. This is an important measure and it is badly needed. Nobody wants consumers to be mislead in any way. There could be something of a conflict given the existing legislation on data protection and the consumer protection agency. Perhaps some amendments are necessary to allow for proper and full information where relevant to be revealed. This is something everybody in the House would welcome. However, it would be wrong to use estate agents as scapegoats and there seems to be an inclination to blame them for any collapse or decline in the housing market. Hopefully the market will become more buoyant than it appears at present.

I congratulate the Members of this House who won awards last night.

They were all well deserved and merited.

I agree with Senator Coghlan on the seriousness of the situation in County Cork. That personal files have been unearthed in such a fashion — they were clearly visible owing to railway works — is regrettable. A man with a history of alcoholism and drug use was referred to on the radio news this morning because his file, containing details of his address, occupation and so on, was found. This concerning issue should be treated seriously. It may also be a question of illegal dumping. How did the files get there? Senator Coghlan was right to refer to this matter.

I do not agree on taking No. 1 without debate, which would be extraordinary. Zimbabwe is an important problem because democratic rights therein have been violated, its army and police have been used against democratic opposition parties and its electoral process has been usurped. A number of Senators met some of the people persecuted previously. A small amount of time should be set aside for debate of the motion.

When will No. 21, motion 3 be taken? In it, the Independent Senators request the Minister for Foreign Affairs "to seek the establishment of a monitoring group to supervise the implementation of the Human Rights Attachments to the External Association Agreement between the European Union and the State of Israel". If human rights are to mean anything and if protocols on them are to be attached to international treaties, they should be monitored. I am not calling for the implementation of sanctions. Rather, the EU should establish a watchdog.

On the subject of human rights monitoring, colleagues may know that the report of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Thomas Hammarberg, has been published. Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on this important report's findings and conclusions which are both positive and negative in respect of Ireland? I agree with the Commissioner that some developments have been positive and important, namely, the establishment of the Ombudsman for Children and the Garda Ombudsman Commission. However, the House should debate the number of criticisms made by the commissioner. For example, the deficiencies in the provision of professional care for children in State accommodation should be examined. Of particular concern is the standard of care for young people in psychiatric institutions. Our prosperous country is still accommodating children and young people in adult psychiatric units, a situation that no civilised country should allow to continue. The Commissioner was right to point this issue out. Will the Acting Leader accommodate a debate in the House?

The Commissioner raised the question of the law in respect of abortion. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities as legislators permanently. In the X case, the Supreme Court set out the law. Members will have opinions and disagreements on what should occur, but we cannot turn our backs on the issue having done so for long enough. The commissioner is correct that the matter should be debated fully and legislation should be introduced to set out clearly the Houses' opinion on the provision of abortion.

Each winter, the House spends much time discussing road safety. Given the lengthening days, it is timely that we consider ways in which to improve road safety so that we need not discuss it so much next winter. I do not know whether the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or one of his colleagues would be responsible for requiring lights to be on all bicycles. Before suitable batteries became available, the speed of one's pedals powered a bicycle's light.

It is still the case.

Senator Keaveney is showing her age.

I challenge every Member to stand outside the gates of Leinster House on a dark evening and to count how many bicycles without lights go past. Whether technology has reversed or advanced so far that there can be unlit bicycles, we should return to the good old days of pedal power. It should be compulsory to attach lights during the manufacture of bicycles. This would aid road safety in rural and built-up areas such as Dublin.

Yesterday, other representatives and I attended a briefing given by the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, which is concerned about the underfunding of third level education. Registration fees in some colleges amount to almost €1,000. The percentage of money allocated from them to student support services is decreasing whereas the percentage used to pay budget deficits is increasing. The USI suggested that it takes 12 weeks for students in need of help to see counsellors. This is a damning indictment of colleges and I ask that the Minister for Education and Science address it as a matter of urgency.

Some students live in dreadful conditions. Last year, the number of properties available to them decreased by 20%, forcing students into appalling conditions. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated that he would establish a task force or working group to examine this matter. When will this urgently required task force be established?

I support the call for a debate on the Middle East, especially in respect of ongoing tragedies in the Gaza strip where 1.5 million prisoners are kept in an open prison. Recently, a woman and four children were slaughtered by Israeli firepower. Hamas continues to launch missiles against Israel. This conflict must be resolved. I commend former American president Jimmy Carter on his courageous stand during his discussions with Hamas. That movement must be spoken to if a resolution is to be brought about, as was the case in Northern Ireland.

We are in a good position in that respect. In this light, I hope a role alongside Tony Blair in the Middle East will become available for the Taoiseach, who would be a wonderful peace envoy to the region.

I support the call for a discussion on Commissioner Hammarberg's report on human rights. He was given open access to Ireland and, while I have not read the report, a debate would be worthwhile, subject to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The commissioner would be available to attend, as he addressed Senators at Council of Europe meetings. Ours is an open and democratic society and we opened all of our facilities to the commissioner. We put a stop to nothing during his tour of Ireland. It would be worthwhile for the House to discuss his opinions openly.

I disagree with him in some respects. I have not read his opinion on abortion, a matter beyond his jurisdiction, but it can be debated.

I agree with the acting Leader of the Opposition, who I congratulate on doing a good job.


Hear, hear.

You are too kind.

He has reached his rightful place.

He is moving up the ladder.

I do not know why he is being overlooked. I hope it was not a question of gender balance.

He is like Senator Leyden.

Desist now, please.

As a former winner, I congratulate Senator Regan.

We are not discussing awards, whether for beauty or otherwise.

Modesty is Senator Leyden's byword.

He pipped Senator Harris by a few points.

If we continue like this, there will be no awards for the Chair.

I cannot exclude mention of Senator Norris for the award he received for best dressed politician. His entitlement to it is debatable, however.

On the Order of Business.

My colleague, Senator Feeney, should have received that reward.

Is she on Senator Leyden's panel?

In the context of the comments made by prison officers on overcrowding in prisons, I call for a debate on the prison system, criminal justice and our response to crime in society. It appears Cork Prison houses double the number of prisoners it should and, as we know, Mountjoy Prison is seriously overcrowded. The Prison Service has spoken about the expansion of prisons and increases to the number of places under its programme of modernisation, but we need to discuss whether those responses are sufficient. We need to consider alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders and heed prison officers when they point out the obvious by warning that overcrowding increases the risks of aggression among prisoners, illness and problems in the system for prisoners as well as for those who have the task of working with them.

Instead of focusing on a punitive model, we need to seek the rehabilitation of prisoners not only for their own sake, although we cannot overlook their human rights, but also in order to work smarter rather than harder on preventing crime in our society. For everybody's sake, it makes sense to work towards the rehabilitation of prisoners. We are being short-sighted about crime if all we think about is expanding the number of prison places. The Seanad is the place to hold the debate on how we can foster a more visionary approach than has been taken thus far, not only for the sake of prisoners but also for society as a whole.

I wish to respond briefly to the remarks made by the supposed top human rights watchdog, Mr. Thomas Hammarberg. I agree with him in so far as he spoke about foreign national children who are in danger of being trafficked for exploitation due to the insufficient care provided in State accommodation. I also agree with his warning against placing child offenders in institutions with adult offenders. Quite frankly, however, he hobbles his right to be called a human rights watchdog when in the same breath he calls into question Ireland's law on abortion, which is one of the few civilised laws in that regard in western Europe. It is time we faced up to the fact that people who call themselves advocates of human rights have a duty to society to be consistent rather than selectively support human rights. I would go further by saying there should be no co-operation on the part of this State or its officers with supposed human rights watchdogs who have such questionable views about the equal dignity of all human persons and the equal right to life. We should make it a condition of our co-operation with such personages operating on behalf of international organisations that they do not seek to interfere with our laws——

We can discuss that matter if the Deputy Leader agrees to arrange a debate on it.

——and demonstrate consistent human rights credentials before they start looking at other countries.

So, it is only when we agree with them that they are right.

Consistency is required.

Pick and choose.

It is clear to me that the Labour Party has called for the implementation of abortion legislation. Senators should correct me if I am wrong. Such a call is both untimely and wrong. It was wrong in terms of the X case, in which for reasons of suicide Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution was allowed to include suicide. A report was recently published by the Royal College of Psychologists which indicated that abortion is a major cause of suicide. We should not only avoid legislating but we should also ensure the significant expansion in the X case judgment is amended so that the true wishes of a large majority of the people in this country are taken into account and the right to life is protected.

On the subject of violence against the person, we have experienced a significant increase in anti-social behaviour and violence, some of it fuelled by drink. Certain areas cannot be visited on Saturday nights for fear of random acts of violence. I ask that some strategy be devised to deal with this major infringement on our rights. People should be allowed to visit every part of town at any time of the day or night without fear of meeting with random, mindless violence. As a country, we need to address that issue.

While I accept the Cathaoirleach's advice about awards, it is important that we join Senator Leyden in congratulating Senator Regan on the illustrious award he received last night.

In the context of this morning's Irish Examiner report about personal medical files, I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange an urgent debate on data protection and accountability of the HSE and the former southern health board. We are discussing people in this regard, not clients or users. Sensitive information about a person should not be disposed of carelessly and without accountability. It is not good enough that sensitive information is strewn around the countryside or lost in cars. How did it get there and who was responsible? We need answers and accountability from those who were in charge.

This morning's reports on overcrowding in prisons make disturbing reading. It is unfair on prison officers and staff to work in such conditions and it raises the question of what we want the Prison Service to do. Is the function of prisons rehabilitation or incarceration? Are they punitive or can we reform people? The dispute which began between prison officers and the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, is warming up again. Prison officers are concerned about the situation which is developing. That is bad for morale and the Prison Service.

I concur with the calls made by other speakers for a debate on overcrowding in prisons and new models. I listened carefully to Senator Mullen when he spoke about how we could introduce a rehabilitation element before locking away people, which is not the way forward. I would welcome a debate in which we could discuss the potential roles of the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science. I am like an old gramophone record in that I speak every day of the week about the role that society can play. We can only do so much but working together we can develop new models of justice and rehabilitation.

I welcome the all-party motion on Zimbabwe but want to focus on human rights closer to home. Yesterday saw the publication of the Council of Europe's report on human rights in Ireland. It contained 34 recommendations for action by the Government. Senator Alex White referred to some of these areas, which include rights of travellers, access to education and rights of people with mental health issues.

A particular area of concern is extraordinary rendition. The report calls for a proper regime of inspection to be put in place at our airports. The Government has said it has assurances that everything is all right but I am concerned about those assurances because I recall from history that assurances were given at the time of the Vietnam War about bombings in Cambodia and Laos. More recently, assurances were given about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I would not take those assurances from the Government at face value.

During the negotiations for the current programme for Government Senator Boyle and the Green Party were pleased to say they expected the situation to improve. I have not seen any improvements and planes continue to take off and land at will. They will be half way toUzbekistan before they are inspected. We must put an inspection regime in place. Amnesty Ireland has called for one as has this most recent report. I ask for a debate to be held on this issue as soon as possible.

On Monday last I attended the launch by the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance of the OECD review of the Irish public service. It is an impressive report which has an executive summary attached. This is one of the most significant reports ever published on the public service and it is timely.

And damning of the Government's record.

The OECD concludes that there is a need for a more integrated public service, with all the Departments working together. The logo on the cover depictsgadgets fitting together.

Is it a case of a lot done, more to do?

Is Senator Buttimer trying to get an award for interrupting people?

The Tánaiste stated also that the setting up of the Office of the Minister for Children was a significant development in integrating services and an important part of our policy making.

The report recommends that rather than creating new structures there should be a network approach to working across existing structures to allow greater connectivity between different sectors. Importantly, in a potentially tighter fiscal environment, the Tánaiste said there is a need to prioritise spending within budget frameworks. On the Order of Business I have drawn attention to the Health Service Executive budget of €14.9 million and the fact that rather than look for more money it must prioritise the areas it is dealing with and deliver efficiency and performance.

There are many recommendations in the report but the Tánaiste stated: "I agree with the OECD that there is a compelling need to adopt a more citizen-centred approach". That is the first time I have heard that spelt out. As in private business, the customer is the most important person. The public services are to be geared towards looking after the citizens who fund the public services.

Is the Senator calling for a debate on that?

We must put the public at the centre of our public services.

The launch was quite a long event with many senior public servants speaking, but in his final points the Tánaiste, and this is relevant to everybody in this Chamber, stated: "I am determined to take decisive action to improve Irish public services and look forward to working with the social partners to achieve this".

He did not do that in the past three years.

Please, Senator Buttimer.

It is a pity he did not——

He further stated: "I intend that when I am Taoiseach, I and my successor as Minister for Finance will set out our more detailed response to the Review".

I look forward, having worked in the public and private sectors for many years, to seeing the way the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, deals with this area. I believe he has a passion to reform——

He has; the Senator is right.

——and will be a leader in public sector reform.

I, too, want to raise the topic of the OECD report Senator White mentioned. I called for a debate on that last week because it was likely this would be a landmark report on the state of our public services.

I wish to comment briefly on the state into which we have got ourselves. How has it happened that the concept of the user of a public service being the person around whom the service is designed is suddenly a revolutionary idea? After ten years of increasing tax revenue year after year why is it suddenly dawning on this Government that the person we should be putting at the centre of our public services is the person who is using them?

It is important to have a debate on this report alone because it comments on two major policy initiatives this Government has undertaken, to which Senator White did not refer.

I could not mention everything.

It describes the Government's decision on decentralisation as being inherently wrong for the long-term success of our public services and challenges strongly the decisions this Government is making on cancer services. One of the most reputed organisations on economics and the development of countries is stating that many of the major strategic decisions this Government has made on cancer services and decentralisation are wrong.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this report to ensure that all Members of the House have an opportunity to comment on it. Why does no Member of this House get a copy of these reports?

The Senator can get one.

Does one have to be in Government to get a copy of a report and be invited to a reception?

The Senator should take the initiative and get it himself.

Senator Donohoe, without interruption.

I tried to take the initiative. I got on to the OECD website yesterday to get a copy of it but I was not allowed do so.

The Senator got an invitation to the launch.

I did not. How did we get ourselves to the point where not only action on public services is confined to Government, which I can understand, but the right to comment on that is also confined to the Government?

I support Senator Buttimer's point on the loss of important and sensitive data belonging to patients. The Government is proposing to introduce a new directive that will allow more information about citizens to be stored. A directive is coming from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has not been debated, that will extend the amount of time in which that Department can hold information on e-mails sent and mobile phone calls made.

In recent weeks and this morning we have seen the inability of the HSE to manage that information. Last week we saw the inability of one of our leading banks to manage it. Why can we not have a debate in this House on the reason such a directive is needed, given that no other European country is doing this, and how it will be implemented without the privacy of our citizens being jeopardised?

I support the comments of Senators Mullen and Hanafin regarding abortion. We all know there is no connection between the issue of abortion in Ireland, for instance, and the Lisbon treaty yet on the other hand we know there is a fear abroad that if our traditional pro-life stance on abortion is to change, the prompting for that is likely to come from outside the country. It does not matter whether it is in a human rights document or whatever. It is a matter entirely for the Irish people and the majority of the Irish people do not want abortion in this State. If there is any need for legislation it should be to strengthen the position of the unborn and ensure their rights are beyond question while at the same time helping those misfortune women who are prompted to have abortions.

From time to time I have seen the lobby groups promoting the idea of abortion but I have not seen them think of what it was like for women who had abortions. There is no doubt they are traumatised for life and depressed, and many of them are suicidal also. That is what we should be focusing on.

I support the comments on the Middle East made by other speakers because in many ways the Palestinian question has gone off the radar, yet the atrocities are continuing. To look at the picture of the four innocent children killed by Israeli forces must make one stop and ask what is happening. I have raised the point in the House on many occasions that if we are to have progress on the Palestinian question, it will have to include Hamas which has been elected by the people to represent them.

Former President Jimmy Carter has again put his head above the parapet, as he has done previously on many occasions on human rights issues.

I praised him in the House many times for doing so. I hardly think he is doing this without a nod and a wink from within officialdom. It is vital we continue to take a stand to arrive at a proper peace with justice, as we have achieved in Northern Ireland.

One of the reasons we hear so little about it currently is because we are in the throes of a presidential election in America. It is a pity that so many hundreds more people will be killed before that election is over and any progress is made. I wish Jimmy Carter the best of luck because I have no doubt in my mind that if we face this issue with courage, in the same way as we did in the North of Ireland, bringing all the involved parties into the equation, there is some hope of success.

I wish to raise a serious matter evident overnight in St. Ita's Hospital in Portrane. Last night a number of staff covering three units had to continue working their shift to complete a full 24-hour cover round-the-clock work regime. They could not go home because no relief was available to let them home.

This outrageous situation has arisen as a result of an ongoing dispute of which many Senators are aware relating to the compensation scheme for nurses working in the mental health services who were injured as a result of an assault at work. I understand the Psychiatric Nurses' Association and SIPTU served notice in this regard three weeks ago. The notice expired yesterday and no meaningful negotiations took place within the three-week period. Nurses are now forced to take industrial action, including a ban on overtime, which staff consider to be voluntary in any case. They are sticking to rostered hours. As a result, units were covered by staff working for 24 hours. This is to continue today and over the weekend until negotiations take place. Similar cases are arising in St. Brendan's Hospital in Dundrum as well as other locations throughout the country. The other locations are less reliant on overtime. It is a dangerous position for vulnerable and high-dependency patients and it is very unsatisfactory for staff.

I ask the Deputy Leader to bring this matter urgently to the attention of the Minister and ask her to direct the Health Service Executive to initiate meaningful negotiations so this15-year campaign by nurses can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

I welcome the all-party motion on the Order Paper. In doing so, I ask that we use every tool available and join our international colleagues to ensure the official results of the recent presidential election are published as quickly as possible as that would solve many of the problems being suffered by the people of Zimbabwe. The sooner that matter is published and dealt with, the better. We will see other events after that.

My good friend and colleague, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, congratulated former President Jimmy Carter, which I support. From what I have read, former President Carter has made very poignant suggestions and recommendations as to what is necessary to try to achieve some type of settlement for the Palestinians. I hope this House will be able to support whatever proper publication of those recommendations comes in due course.

I wish to mention briefly that some success has been made, as we know, on an issue that many of my colleagues and I have raised, namely, the community pharmacist issue. I indicate that the issue is not over, although the Health Service Executive has given a little to prevent disruption of services. Community pharmacists are still as anxious as ever to have these matters properly resolved.

To date, the community pharmacist has been proven to be right and the people on the other side of the fence——

The Senator should tell his Minister.

The HSE and the Department of Health and Children have been proven to be wrong.

The Senator is right.

Thanks be to God, they have given way and we have resolved the issue.

It is a pity the Senator is not in Government.

Senator Callely, without interruption, please.

Will the Deputy Leader arrange briefing material on the supports and services in place for vulnerable people, those with addictions and those with difficulties and mental health problems? I ask this because, as the House is aware, I have raised the matter of homelessness on a number of occasions. I listened today with interest when Senator Mullen and others mentioned the issue of people in prison and being discharged from prison.

We have a range of State agencies and different Departments. With regard to the group of people I am talking about, whether homeless or partaking of services, I ask for some type of briefing material that would outline the co-ordination that exists between the various services, State agencies and Departments.

I thank those who congratulated me on receiving the Magill Senator of the Year award.

It is quite an honour. It is a mark of recognition of this House and its significance that the magazine has a distinct award for Senators.

I refer to the Department of Finance statement to the social partners reported in The Irish Times today. It states that the economic prospects for this year and 2009 are challenging, which must be the understatement of the year. The Department also points out that the three priorities are to manage the slowdown in the economy, stabilise public finances and regain competitiveness.

On the note of competitiveness, I know the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, is reflecting on the ministerial pay awards. If we are serious about competitiveness and showing some leadership in the area, my question to the Deputy Leader is whether a decision has been made on reversing the ministerial pay awards and whether the Green Party supports the Minister for Finance and incoming Taoiseach in that decision, if such a decision is about to be made.

As an aside, I congratulate Senator Regan but he should bear in mind that his award should not go to his head. Among his predecessors are Senator Leyden and myself.

On the Order of Business, please.

We were never made fun of in this House.

The Senator is very modest.

Senator Leyden got into the Council of Europe.

The Senator came down to earth with a bump.

On the Order of Business.

We should put it in perspective.

The back pages of the Sunday Independent will be the same.

I have a matter which is not just housekeeping and is important. I was very pleased to see the motion on Zimbabwe on the Order Paper, as it was bounced on, so to speak, in the last 24 hours as far as I can see. I rushed down to the Chamber to make a speech on Zimbabwe as it was something in which I was interested only to be absolutely shattered to find it is simply an all-party motion to be rubber-stamped and put through this House. I see no precedent for this.

There is a precedent for matters going through this House being rubber-stamped by all parties without debate when they are technical or have been passed by other committees or elsewhere. There is no precedent where issues of a substantial nature have been proposed. This matter requires debate as there is much detail, emotion and passion in this motion.

It is a great achievement to get an all-party motion. I suspect the Department of Foreign Affairs has breathed down someone's neck and said that the motion should go through but that it does not want people exerting pressure on it or saying things that might exacerbate the situation or cause embarrassment to the Minister. It is not our job to protect the Minister for Foreign Affairs from embarrassment. Our job is to express our views on issues of great importance.

There are very credible organisations, such as Amnesty International and others, that would thoroughly approve of this motion. However, it is incumbent on us to properly debate motions relating to matters of this nature. If the motion is meant to exert pressure on President Thabo Mbeki or President Robert Mugabe, it will not have the desired effect because when these people realise that we merely rubber-stamped it, we will be a laughing stock. The way this matter is being dealt with will prove counter-productive. It would be useful if the Leader agreed to devote time to discussing the motion when we have dealt with our other business. From inquiries I have made, it does not appear the latter will take long to complete.

I am glad the impasse involving the IPU has been resolved. I congratulate the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and her team, especially the Minister of State, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher. It would be wrong if we were to say that one side had been victorious in this dispute. Senators on all sides who have worked on this matter would agree that compromises were made by everyone, that the midnight oil was burned on many evenings and that many discussions took place behind closed doors. Those on all sides, especially the members of the IPU, are happy this morning.

As public representatives, developments have given us confidence that the consultation process can work. We look forward to the Dorgan report, which is due to be completed by the end of the month. In the interim, we should not interfere or take the part of one side over the other.

I wish to be associated with the congratulations extended to Senator Regan. I am disappointed that a "heckler of the year" award was not presented.

Senator Buttimer, I presume.

I could quite easily present that award.

Senator Buttimer would win hands down.


Will the Deputy Leader arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House? I requested on a number of previous occasions that the Minister might discuss with us matters such as the proposed new building regulations, planning guidelines and zoning. It is estimated that the population will increase to 4.9 million or 5 million by 2041.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and his Department are taking a hands-on approach to the affairs of local authorities regarding the adoption of county development plans where zoning is taking place. In respect of a number of provincial towns, some of which are classed as hub towns, the Minister is asking local authorities to reduce the level of zoning proposed. In some instances, this is unbelievable because in many cases the necessary services — water, sewerage, waste water and gas — are available. Such services are funded by taxpayers and ratepayers. Where the relevant services are in place, land should be zoned. If we reduce the amount of land available for zoning, we will merely increase the cost relating to land that is zoned. I ask that the Minister come to the House at an early date to discuss these issues.

I call on the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the issue of anti-social behaviour on housing estates. Who holds responsibility in this area? Is it the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, because there has been a breakdown in law and order, is it local authorities, which do not appear to have any regard to whom they place as tenants in their houses, or is it certain greedy landlords who take no responsibility regarding to whom they rent their properties as long as they obtain moneys from people's rent allowances or supplements?

This is a serious matter. Some long-established housing estates are being destroyed. Families are living in fear of heroin addicts and criminals who come into housing estates and cause havoc. There is a need for joined-up thinking between the Departments on this matter. In addition, legislation designed to safeguard people's right to live in peace must be introduced. Will the Deputy Leader make time available for a debate on this matter? We all know what has happened on housing estates in cities such as Limerick and Dublin. Some families have invested heavily in their homes only to have their entire housing estates destroyed by two or three bad elements.

I echo the congratulations extended to Senator Regan on his prestigious award. It is a great personal achievement for him.

I am delighted the all-party motion on Zimbabwe will be taken today. This motion is very important. The situation in that country is horrific and major human rights issues have arisen. The results of the recent elections in Zimbabwe should be published. I live near a missionary who worked in Zimbabwe and who continually informs me about the day-to-day hardships experienced by people there. The stories she tells are horrific. Action must be taken. I am inclined to agree with Senator Ross that we should debate this matter, if only to signal how serious we consider it to be.

As a country with a tradition of respect for human rights and a belief in moral law, we should seize the high ground in respect of the Palestinian question. This matter also should be debated in the House. Senator Ó Murchú was correct to state that Hamas must come into the equation and be part of the solution. We must take action in respect of this matter. I ask the Deputy Leader to reflect on making time available for debates on Zimbabwe and the Palestinian question.

I agree with Senators Coghlan and Buttimer in respect of the dumping of Cork hospital patient files. As someone who represents Cork, I was appalled by today's news reports and the likelihood that I might know some of the people whose details may have been made public as a result of what happened. Issues obviously arise in the context of the prosecution of existing data protection legislation and the need to examine whether it is adequate. The files date from the 1970s and 1980s and it may well be that the Data Protection Commissioner may not have a role because the legislation did not come into force until the end of the latter decade.

Senator Coghlan and others referred to the resolution in the pharmacists' dispute. This is a welcome development and it provides justification for not using the House as a means to prosecute the dispute any further. Members should assist in ensuring agreement can be reached between the Health Service Executive and pharmacists. I welcome that those who would have been affected by what was being threatened will not now feel the impact of the dispute.

Senator Coghlan inquired about the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, which is awaiting Committee Stage in the Dáil. Some of the issues — and also the concerns expressed by Senator Ross yesterday — that might be addressed by the Bill might also be dealt with under the designated land (housing development) Bill the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intends to publish before the summer and bring before the Houses later in the year.

Senators Norris, O'Reilly and Ross asked why time cannot be made available for the motion on Zimbabwe. I have no difficulty with having such a debate. The motion was ordered this way today due to precedent. We have dealt with recent motions in the same way, for example, regarding Ingrid Betancourt. It depends on the availability of a suitable Minister. I ask Members to share the sentiments included in the motion when they are asked to agree to it later. Time can be provided at a later time to discuss the impact of the motion itself and issues like the Middle East, which many Senators have raised today.

Senator Norris also asked that his motion, No. 3, be taken. While I am positively disposed towards it, I have received a response from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which I would like to read into the record. Senator Norris and other Independent Members might take that into account. The Department states:

Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement of 2002 states that relations between the parties, as well as the provisions of the agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles which guide their internal and international policy, and constitutes an essential element of the agreement. The human rights situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are monitored constantly by individual member states, including Ireland, through the representative office in Ramallah, the embassy in Tel Aviv and contacts with a wide range of Israeli and Palestinian rights NGOs and by the Council of Ministers. The relevant Council working group in Brussels, on which all member states are represented, keeps the human rights situation under detailed review. Individual instances are raised directly with Israel by the Presidency of the European Union and the member states. The situation is formally reviewed at the annual meetings of the EU-Israel association committee and at official level in the EU-Israel association council at ministerial level. The next meeting of the association council takes place in Brussels on 16 June.

The Department is saying that a monitoring system does exist and that an important meeting will be held on 16 June. I ask Independent Members who have tabled the motion to leave it on the Order Paper and to review developments in light of that. I am not prepared to accept the motion today or to reorder the Order of Business on foot of that.

Senators Alex White, Leyden, Mullen, Hanafin and Ó Murchú referred to the report of the Human Rights Commissioner. Details of the report demand a debate in this House. While most of its contents concerning the need to improve many aspects of human rights in this country seem to be readily agreed, there are also contentious areas. Members should have the opportunity of discussing them. Whether or not it is possible, as Senator Leyden suggests, to have the commissioner himself present is a matter that could be raised at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Even a standard debate on the contents of the report, however, would be a useful use of the Seanad's time.

Senator Keaveney raised the issue of road safety and the possibility of regulations or legislation insisting that bicycles have lights fitted. It is a very good idea. Perhaps we could also have better enforcement of the law as it applies to the one-eyed cars we see driving around the roads of the country every night. The principle seems to be similar.

Senator Cummins raised the question of the USI lobby and his comments will be forwarded to the Minister, especially those concerning access to councillors. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated his intention to see how the idea of a task force can be proceeded with and he plans to make a statement on the matter in a few months' time.

Senators Mullen, Buttimer and Ormonde referred to overcrowding in prisons. Today's press reports are deeply disturbing as regards Cork Prison which is the most overcrowded prison in the State. Last year, the Government decided to develop a new prison in Kilworth which should alleviate the overcrowding situation, but raises new issues because it is 13 miles from Cork city. Some type of regime would have to be put in place to assist family visits to prisoners.

Senator Hanafin also asked about anti-social behaviour in public places, which tied in with Senator McFadden's request concerning anti-social behaviour in local authority housing estates——

And private homes.

——and private rented accommodation. The House should debate those matters with the relevant Minister in attendance. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intends to introduce a landlord and tenant Bill, whose provisions may cover some of the points raised by Senator McFadden.

Senator Hannigan mentioned rendition flights. There is a provision in the programme for Government, which has yet to be implemented, that would require the training of gardaí to inspect aircraft as and when a fear exists that a plane might be being used for rendition purposes. There is a precedent for the Irish authorities to inspect planes of foreign nations. It is hoped that this provision of the programme for Government can be implemented soon on the basis of the existing precedent. The Senator's views will be made known to the relevant Departments.

Senators Mary White and Paschal Donohoe referred to the OECD report on public services, but from different perspectives. The fact that both perspectives were aired means we should have a debate on the contents of the report. We are all interested in seeing more efficient and higher quality public services and we all suspect there are reasons that is not being achieved in many areas of our public services at the moment.

Senator Donohoe referred to the decentralisation programme, which would arise in such a debate. My take on what the OECD seemed to say is a bit removed from that of Senator Donohoe. It seemed to say that while there are reasons for the Government's policy — namely, moving Government services into areas to provide an economic impetus, jobs, opportunities and spin-off effects there — it is not decentralisation, it is the relocation of services that are still centralised. The debate we need to have is on how public services can be improved by having actual decentralised services, so that decisions will be made in local communities for those communities which are affected by the decisions.

Hear, hear. Let us have that debate.

Senator Ryan referred to St. Ita's Hospital and the situation that occurred last night in terms of cover. It is an unsatisfactory situation and his views will be made known to the Minister for Health and Children. However, this House cannot become involved directly in what is essentially a trade union dispute. The Senator's views are on the record and the Minister will be made aware of them.

Several speakers mentioned the recognition by Magill magazine last night of Senators Regan and Norris. I wish to be associated with that congratulatory note although, like Groucho Marx, I do not want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

Does that include the Seanad?

The Seanad is an institution, not a club.

Senator Regan also referred to ministerial pay awards. He will be aware that the initial decision made by an independent body was deferred by the Cabinet, first to July and subsequently to September.

We should watch this space.

No doubt there is consideration about how these pay awards will be made and it is the subject of an ongoing debate within Cabinet. Senator Regan asked particularly about the Green Party members of the Cabinet. However, not being privy to Cabinet discussions, and rules on Cabinet confidentiality notwithstanding, I know those Ministers will be fully in accordance with the agreed Cabinet decision when it is reached. I expect that decision will be reached in September.

I believe I have covered most of the items raised by Members on the Order of Business. I would now like to provide the House with an update on Seanad reform. I have received a note from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which states that following the Seanad debate on Seanad reform before, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government wrote to party leaders in January seeking nominations to a proposed all-party group. Nominations received to date are Senator Alex White and Deputy Joanna Tuffy, representing the Labour Party; Senator Ciaran Cannon, leader of the Progressive Democrats, and Deputy Noel Grealish, representing the Progressive Democrats; and Senator David Norris and Senator Joe O'Toole, representing the Independent Senators. The Minister, Deputy John Gormley, will chair the group and I will represent the Green Party on it.

Other political groups have yet to respond to the invitation to participate in the group. Reminder letters were sent to the party leaders in mid-March. Notwithstanding this, the Minister has decided to expedite the process by setting a date for the first meeting of the group. His Department will be in touch with the Seanad office to set up the meeting and it is hoped the setting of a date for the meeting will encourage those who have yet to nominate people to the group to make those nominations.

Order of Business agreed to.