Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 13 Mar 2012

Vol. 214 No. 4

Order of Business

The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, opt-in motions under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 8, Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill 2011 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, and conclude not later than 4.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 7, ráitis maidir le Seachtain na Gaeilge, statements on Seachtain na Gaeilge, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister of State to be called on to reply not later than 5.50 p.m.

The Leader will be aware that it is more than five months since the residents of Priory Hall had to leave their homes. Those residents have also been waiting five months for a meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Taoiseach. Unfortunately, as residents of Priory Hall waited outside the Department of the Taoiseach today, their request for a meeting was not granted. This is not just a local issue; it is a very serious issue. Dublin City Council is contesting the fact that it must pay rental for these people even though it is clear the council was negligent in building control and enforcement. Can the Leader say whether the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will meet concerned citizens of the State who have been made homeless but are still paying mortgages on properties that are now worthless?

My second question is also related to building regulations. How many times has the committee on pyrite met since it was established by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government? When is its report due to be published? I have raised this matter on a number of occasions. More than 72,500 houses on the east coast of Ireland could potentially be affected by pyrite, and the longer the Government lets this committee sit, the greater the number of people who will be statute barred from litigation. The statute of limitations is six years and there has been no action from the Government on this matter. Will I have to ask again this time next year when the pyrite committee will report? Can the Leader say when it will report and, most importantly, how many times the committee has met so far?

This is a very serious matter for the greater Dublin and east coast area in particular. Many people have been in contact with me and my colleagues about it. They cannot afford the legal cost of going to court. The Leader will also be aware that HomeBond has washed its hands of this; the insurers are avoiding all responsibility. Of the 72,500 houses that are potentially affected, only 700 have been remediated to date — most of them in my constituency — on foot of a court case that was taken. There should be some urgency on the part of the Government in this regard.

I note the announcements from the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. Some educationists on the other side of the House have already raised their hands to contribute and I am sure they will welcome the construction of certain school buildings which has been announced by the Minister in the last couple of days. It is the third and fourth announcement in many cases. While I realise we will have an opportunity to debate this with the Minister, it is interesting to note that the funding announced for the five-year period is €1.5 billion. That is substantially less than the €1.9 billion announced in the four-year plan for new school buildings.

It is also ironic that many of the schools mentioned in the list have already been built. In my constituency Loreto secondary school, Balbriggan, is referred to in the list of projects on site in 2012. The people on site are the students. This project was announced in 2009 and the extension is built. There are many other examples. I am aware of another school in Tallaght which has already been built. The Minister has used his good offices to make at least four separate announcements on this issue.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I urge my colleagues on the other side of the House to look at the list. I believe the Minister is due to visit the House in April. There is a great deal in his grand master plan, and I welcome much of it because any school that requires a building should get it. However, the Minister should state that it is actually a reduction of €400 million in the capital programme, and a reduction of €600 million if one annualises the amount. It is a reduction in investment in our schools. Perhaps the Leader and some of the educationists in the House can tell how many of the schools on the list are already built. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House specifically to discuss the school building programme in order that we can get to the bottom of this?

I am pleased Senator O'Brien has given me the opportunity to address the schools building programme. I had not intended to raise it.

It is uncanny that Fianna Fáil still has not learned to see the wood for the trees. It is €1.5 billion for 200 new schools and 49 major extensions. It will lead to 15,000 construction jobs, which is not to be scoffed at by the country's builders——

We are not disputing that. They want more, as we had planned.

Portlaoise is due to get seven new primary schools. For 30 years, and under the Fianna Fáil regime, children have been taught in prefabs in Portlaoise in which their parents went to school. It is nothing sort of a scandal that generation upon generation——

That is probably why we need a debate.

I commend the perseverance of people like the parish priest ofPortlaoise, Fr. John Byrne.

Is the Senator being colloquial again?

He persevered against the odds.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I just want to commend the Minister, Deputy Quinn. It bewilders me that Senator Darragh O'Brien has joined the ranks of certain elements in the INTO that have managed to complain about this.

They are complaining because it is a major cutback.

I would like to inform the House that the Minister announced last week that a separate fund of €35 million would be provided to replace prefabs in small rural schools.

How many of these schools have already been built?

It is an absolute outrage.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. I would like to ask him to establish how it is possible to have strong local government and strong local services, such as libraries, good secondary roads, street lighting and fire stations, if local authorities are not being funded. Many Sinn Féin spokespeople have taken to the airwaves to appeal to people. It is lovely to hear them say they will not pay the household charge out of sympathy with those who cannot afford to do so. Such hypocrisy deserves to be exposed. They are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they want strong local government and strong local services while opposing privatisation. On the other hand, they are telling people not to pay the household charge.

We have never told people not to pay.

It is absurd in the extreme.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The Senator is misinformed as usual. He should listen to what people are saying.

Senator Whelan to continue, without interruption.

I have a serious concern in this regard.

If the Senator is going to tell lies in this Chamber, which is what he is good at——

Senator Whelan to continue, without interruption.

He should not tell lies.

That is wrong.

I ask Senator Cullinane to withdraw that word.

I will not because he told a lie. He said that Sinn Féin representatives are calling on people not to pay. They have not done so. The Senator has told a lie in this Chamber.

I ask Senator Cullinane to withdraw the word "lie".

I will not withdraw it.

I ask the Senator to withdraw the word "lie".

Senator Whelan has told a lie. Can the Cathaoirleach tell me how it is not a lie? The Senator has said that representatives of Sinn Féin are asking people not to pay.

I ask the Senator to please withdraw the word "lie".

I will not withdraw it.

Will the Senator withdraw the word "lie", please?

What does the Chair want me to withdraw?

The word "lie".

What would you call it?

I ask the Senator——

Why would I withdraw it?

I ask the Senator to withdraw the word "lie".

It is unparliamentary.

I will withdraw the word "lie", but the point still stands.

Senator Whelan to continue, without interruption. Does he have a question for the Leader?

I do. Will the Leader facilitate a discussion — a genuine and open debate — with the Minister for Justice and Equality at some stage in the future on the question of inconsistent sentencing in the courts? I fully acknowledge and respect the separation of powers. I am not speaking out of any contempt. In the past two days four people have received six-year sentences — one for killing a man with a car, one for——

We are not discussing that matter now. Does the Senator have a question?

We know about the man with the garlic cloves.

It is important that we discuss this issue in the public interest. A man was sentenced to six years in prison for importing garlic.

He failed to pay €1.6 million.

We are not discussing judgments at this stage.

It is a matter of huge public import.

The Senator needs to find a better question.

I am respecting the Judiciary and the separation of powers. I am not speaking in a contemptible fashion.

We are not in a courtroom. We cannot talk about court judgments in the House.

It is necessary to air the public disquiet on this matter. I am entitled to call for a debate on it.

The Senator is not entitled to do so.

This House had a debate on media standards not too long ago. Although the Leader is to be commended on organising it, the debate was not entirely satisfactory because the speaking time allocated to Senators was quite limited. I recall that Senator Norris made an impassioned and eloquent speech during the debate. Others who had prepared comments, thoughts and suggestions to share with the Minister were confined to a minute or so, or were allowed to ask a brief question. I am not finding any fault with that other than to say that the debate needs to recommence. It needs to be continued in a way that allows the Minister to hear extended contributions from Senators who have been expressing concerns about media standards for a long time. The Minister gave a very eloquent speech, responded to some contributions and answered some questions. We need more, however. That is particularly obvious in the wake of the latest controversy that is swirling around RTE and in light of comments by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who is the first in a long time to identify with particular clarity a certain bias that exists in our public service broadcaster's coverage on certain issues from time to time. I think there is a difference in style to be noted between Deputy Varadkar's very frank assessment of a bias in favour of left wing, or what he calls centre left, viewpoints.

I also notice a tendency in the comments of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to let RTE off the hook, so to speak. I do not think it was satisfactory that Deputy Rabbitte should go to the other extreme and ridicule the notion that one would have heads on plates so to speak. I do not think the Madame Defarge approach is being advocated by genuine critics of our public service broadcaster. There is a very legitimate concern that people who are in receipt of taxpayers' money are not doing their utmost to guarantee full fairness, impartiality and balance in their coverage of certain current affairs matters. There is no doubt that the way RTE set up Mr. Gallagher in the context of "The Frontline" programme did indeed change the outcome of the election. I am very surprised to hear people suggesting otherwise, because it is quite clear that the way the matter was handled on "The Frontline" programme set in train a series of events that operated very much to Mr. Gallagher's disadvantage. That is making no critique of the eventual winner.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

This is an extremely serious matter. On top of the Fr. Kevin Reynolds' affair——

There were many players at the scene of that little game.

——we now have this.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. Does the Leader think it is satisfactory that each time something like this happens, we get a vague announcement from RTE that it is having reviews of its editorial processes? I do not think we have heard yet what its editorial processes investigation has found after the Fr. Kevin Reynolds affair. It is important that the processes should be looked at by an outsider. Why is it in the context of the medical and legal professions, there is continuous professional development? There is a proper complaints mechanism for people to make a complaint about their experience of these professionals, which has consequences. When people make a complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the most the person will get from RTE is a neutral acknowledgement of the complaint. Last night we saw that Pat Kenny himself did not refer to the findings. It was read out in a neutral monotone, which is not good enough, given the public service money involved.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. In the light of this and other concerns, does the Leader consent to ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resource, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to the Seanad in order that we can have a more searching and informed debate to build on the debate on media standards that has already taken place? We can then reflect together on what is needed to deal with this very serious problem.

Senator Darragh O'Brien welcomed the schools building programme, and he has dealt with it very adequately.

How many of them are already built?

I support the call from many quarters for an independent inquiry into "The Frontline" presidential debate. RTE is the national broadcaster and as such it is important, as Senator Mullen has stated, that trust is maintained in it. It has been suggested that we hold an internal inquiry. There is a saying in Haggardstown: "Ask my brother am I a liar." I am not implying anything, other than to say that this is not the route to take. We need an independent inquiry. If there had been an internal inquiry into FÁS, we would not have got to the bottom of matters. If there had been an internal inquiry into the Dr. Neary case, we would not have known the answer. It would be in RTE's own interest, as well as ensuring the protection of the democratic process, that we have an independent inquiry. I ask the Leader to consider whether he thinks, as I do, that there should be an independent inquiry.

I share the concerns expressed by Senator Jim D'Arcy. The House should be heartened by his contribution and the fact that Senator Mullen requested a debate on the issue. I declare an interest as for many years I have derived some of my income from RTE in a non-political environment.

Through hard work.

I thank the Senator. I am not getting anything now but if the Senator has influence with the powers that be, I would like to have the programme returned as the emigrants are missing it.

The Senator should ask Senator John Whelan.

We all listen to those programmes.

I thank the Senator as I am particularly heartened. I apologise to the Cathaoirleach for encouraging interruptions on this issue.

I assure the House that RTE is tuned in.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

My question relates to the contributions by Senators D'Arcy and Mullen whose views I share. I have consistently supported the concept of public service broadcasting inside and outside the House because I have seen at first hand the team of dedicated and committed journalists who have brought forward great investigative stories. Senator D'Arcy is correct that it is not in RTE's interest to go down the road of an internal inquiry. Pandora's box has been opened, whether RTE knows it or not. We are in a different environment where serious questions are being raised about the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of the only public service broadcasting corporation in the island. RTE has a special place in the hearts of the people. They may wish to criticise it but they will also stoutly defend it. One has only to look at the list of TAM rated programmes. RTE radio and television programmes which people listen to and watch are consistently home produced. Therefore RTE has an important place. It is rather like the BBC in that if it is on RTE, it must be true.

I do not know about that.

I do not think Mr. Noel Curran needs to be to be reminded of his duties in this regard. However, I share Senator D'Arcy's view because it is one that has reflected a great deal of concern throughout the country about recent events.

Senator John Whelan and I have been charged by the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture to bring forward a submission under impartiality and objectivity on which subjects the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is engaged in a public consultation. That is an indication of the seriousness with which the committee is taking the issue. I share the views expressed and it is important that the House expresses that view. As Senator D'Arcy said it is in RTE's best interest and that of the dedicated team of journalists that the matter is open, transparent and accountable rather than being discussed behind closed doors. I would welcome a debate on the issue.

I commend the rape victim, Ms Lorraine Mulvey, for her courage and bravery in speaking publicly about her terrible ordeal. She could have chosen to go down the route of being anonymous but she chose to speak publicly on the steps of the court to give an insight on the struggle of victims.

I call on the Leader to provide for an open debate on child sexual abuse and domestic violence. The Garda Inspectorate report released last month made 29 recommendations to align Garda practices with those of best international practice.

I call for a general debate on standards and values in Irish life. I call for a debate having watched a programme called "Tallafornia", which is both compulsive and repulsive viewing. It is a seriously drink-sodden programme where young people are exploited.

Three young men and three young women are put into an atmosphere of continual drinking. They are encouraged to behave licentiously and compete to bring people home to bed them. The last episode was obnoxious. One of the young women had an interest in somebody who was not particularly interested in her. She managed to bring somebody back to the house and the other guys decided to gang up and take a bet on whether she could be taken from him. There was simulated sexual activity, leading, apparently, to full sexual activity. I wonder what values such behaviour inculcates and whether it is appropriate? I am not entirely familiar on a habitual basis, even in my neck of the woods, with the language used.

While we are discussing standards, I wish to raise the question of how we care for elderly people, a subject we have debated in the House on a number of occasions. For example, I raised the case of Valentia Community Hospital; a perfectly valid, functioning hospital was being closed down, the closure of which would cost money and lead to the break-up of a community.

It was not closed down. Will the Senator, please, get the facts right?

With the then Senator John Paul Phelan on this side of the House, I raised the case of Bethany Home in Carlow. Today I raise the case of St. Joseph's in Ardee which has been in operation since 1922 and gone to strenuous lengths to meet the appropriate HIQA requirements. The people of the area provide personalised care for the elderly. If they are displaced and transferred to the local hospital, it will be at a multiple of the cost.

I will end by quoting the fine words of the Minister for Health before or during the general election:

Facilities like these are being closed down, being told that they do not meet standards and they may close, having been deliberately run down. We have seen in the past how they undermine smaller hospitals with a very simple formula — starve them of resources, make them unsafe, commission a report and then use that report to justify closure.

I would like to see some standards in place. The then Senator John Paul Phelan played a noble role in assisting the hospital in County Laois when it was threatened in a similar way. Let the House act in a unified manner to protect standards and look after the young and the elderly.

I will end by referring, again, to "Tallafornia".

The Senator has had too much time.

What will happen to those people whose images are permanently on film when they want to get married ten or 20 years from now? What will their children think when their images turn up?

With regard to recent judicial decisions, it is important to realise that in each case there is a right of appeal on matters still pending. Before a decision was arrived at a number of days were spent in court and a lot of issues were dealt with. To be fair to the Judiciary, it adopted a balanced approach. It does not always get it right, but there is an appeals procedure in place.

I wish to raise an issue regarding the Irish Medical Council. I have received a number of emails from Irish graduates. I am talking about persons who graduated with a medical degree in this country, worked here as interns and junior doctors, left the country to work for a period and have returned to discover it takes up to two and a half months to re-register with the Irish Medical Council. Such a lengthy waiting period to process applications is absolutely outrageous when there is a shortage of doctors. One of the people who has contacted me was in New Zealand and within 24 hours of his arrival there he obtained clearance to start practising. I know criteria must be met before people can return to the Irish medical system, rightly so, but having to wait two and a half months to obtain clearance from the Irish Medical Council is outrageous. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the Minister's attention. Action should be taken immediately by the Irish Medical Council to stop this from continuing. It is a priority issue because there is a shortage of doctors in the medical profession.

When this side of the House calls for something and receives most of what it has called for, it is important that we welcome this. I welcome the €1.5 billion made available in the capital programme for the building of new schools. This is good news for the schools in question and it is also good news for teachers because more of them will be employed. Some 15,000 jobs will also be created. However, there are questions that Members on all sides of the House will want the Minister to address. Last December he said €2 billion would be made available, but that sum has been reduced. Where did the €500 million go? Some 27% of Irish language primary schools and 38% of post-primary Irish language schools are still in prefabricated accommodation. The Leader will know that in his own county of Waterford, Gaelscoil Philib Barún in Tramore has been housed in prefabs for 27 years. It has long lobbied for funding, yet it is not on the list. Throughout the country there are examples of schools where children are still being taught in prefabs. Schools without even a board of management have been allocated funding, yet schools such as the one I mentioned in Tramore is not on the list. While I welcome the money that has been made available — it is good news for schools that receive funding — there are many schools that have lost out. Those boards of management have questions and have asked us to put them to the Minister for Education and Skills. On foot of that positive announcement, the Minister should attend the House to answer our concerns. We can then revert to those boards of management in schools that have lost out.

The Government has been making good strides towards reducing the amount of alcohol that is being consumed in this country. That effort will take a long time, however, and I agree with much of what Senator Norris had to say in this regard. There is a teenage disco near where I live and the children are drinking once they leave their homes to attend it. I do not even know what word to use to describe how the girls are dressed, but it is very inappropriate. The boys, meanwhile, are in tracksuits. I really do not understand where this has all come from or where it will all end. I find it very depressing.

This morning, I heard that Paddy Power have begun installing betting screens in pubs, like televisions whose sole purpose is to display racing odds. It is timely with Cheltenham starting and perhaps it is convenient for some people, but for me this seems like a step too far. Pubs are offering free finger food and free euro bets. They are basically creating a link between drink and betting.

What is wrong with that? It is Cheltenham week.

It is not just for this week though, because this will be ongoing.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Will the Minister for Finance review this situation? People should not be encouraged like this. I know that a betting shop is never too far from a pub, but this is making it far too convenient for people.

The Senator should relax a little.

Maybe it does seem like "Bah, humbug" in Cheltenham week, but I may bring it up again next week.

Nonetheless we should not be encouraging this. The Department of Finance has responsibility for this matter, which would be worth addressing.

I echo the concerns raised about the schools building programme. Those concerns began on the "Morning Ireland" programme yesterday when the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, was incoherent. He did not know what figures he was giving.

That is an inappropriate comment.

It is the duty of Ministers to go on the radio having facts and figures at their disposal. It is also the duty of Senators to do that. In the meantime, after Senator Whelan made his claim about seven new schools in Laois, I have examined the figures. It turns out that there are eight in County Laois on this list.

On a point of order, that is inaccurate. In reality, there are 16 projects across Laoighis-Offaly and seven new schools in Portlaoise.

That is not what the Senator said earlier.

Éist, le do thoil.

I thought there was a ban on using these kinds of instruments in the House.

It is all in my mind.


Senator Byrne to continue, without interruption.

It turns out there are three on site already in County Laois, which means they are practically complete. We had that in Meath as well. In north Meath, two major projects dropped off the list and there was one on the list that is already built. There was one site to go in 2012, which was already announced by the Minister in December 2011. Therefore, four have already been built or announced, which is welcome news for the Portlaoise area which needs schools.

The Senator knows more about Portlaoise than he does about Meath.

Senator Byrne to continue, without interruption, please.

I know all about Meath, too, because I have looked at it and there is not one there. I have not looked at the problems concerning the four for 2013-14, but there is not one school in County Meath that has not been announced already by the Government or the previous one. While any investment by the Minister is to be welcomed, it falls far short of the radical investment he planned. It also falls far short of what we proposed in the four-year plan, which the parties opposite vigorously and ruthlessly opposed last year, both here and in the Dáil. It is €300 million a year on school projects. While every penny of that is needed and welcome, we committed more money in committing to €1.9 billion over four years up to 2015. We allocated €491 million in 2011 and €597 in 2010.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

I seek a debate on this issue. This is a victory for spin over substance. The capital plan has been ruthlessly dragged apart to put in place the most unfair budget in the past five years, as has been confirmed by the ESRI. Mr. Colm Rapple in the Irish Mail on Sunday stated it was most unfair because the Government targeted the poorest of the poor, cut the capital budget and is now spinning it to claim it is doing something great. We need the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to clarify the figures he mentioned on the radio yesterday and also to clarify the projects that will proceed.

Senator Byrne reminds me of Waiting for Godot in which nothing happens, twice. That happened under the previous Administration. Schools were promised right, left and centre, but they never appeared. Five or six new buildings or extensions in County Donegal have been announced in the past three months. During the 15 or 20 years when children were in prefabs, nothing happened. Nothing would have happened but for the change of government. Let Deputy Martin explain to the children of Donegal why he is apologising. He did not apologise for the lack of school places in Donegal.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

My question is as follows. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has indicated that the household charge can be paid through post offices. I ask him to extend that to include payment of the non-principal private residence, NPPR, tax. Many people, especially from across the Border, come to Donegal and wonder where they can pay this. Some of them do not do it online and council offices might be closed at weekends. They come on a Friday and may go home on a Sunday or Monday. Donegal is a county with many holiday homes and such a facility would be very handy for them. Unlike the locals, they want to pay it.

Some local people in Donegal do not want to pay for local services and want those local services to be provided by someone else. As someone who served on Donegal County Council for 12 years and Letterkenny Town Council for 17 years, I know the value of funding local government. These people are refusing to pay because they do not want to pay and not because they cannot afford to pay. There are people who cannot afford to pay, but they are being looked after. Sinn Féin should be consistent. It advocates non-payment, but is quite happy for people to pay it in Derry, Strabane, Fermanagh and Antrim. Why is Sinn Féin happy to pay it there?

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

I am seeking an answer. We cannot get an answer.

A Senator

The Senator will not get one.

Is the Senator asking the Leader for a debate?

I am asking that post offices should be allowed take payment for the NPPR tax. Perhaps Sinn Féin would clarify why it has no difficulty paying it in the North.

Like Senators Whelan, Jim D'Arcy and Cullinane I welcome the schools building programme. However, a sour note was expressed on "Morning Ireland" this morning when a spokesman for the Construction Industry Federation said many people would be unhappy to see Northern Ireland builders build these schools. I utterly disagree with that remark. The schools should be built following competitive tendering. Last week I presented evidence in the House and sent it to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, on certain works in Enniskillen. We have a problem with competitiveness in architectural services, mechanical and electrical engineering services, and structural engineering services. However, if we can spend the money in the best way on building, we have more scholar per dollar, as they used to say, which should be the object of the exercise. We are in a European Union free trade area. It is more than 50 years since Seán Lemass and Terence O'Neill tried to promote cross-Border trade. Ignoring the advice of the Construction Industry Federation, the Leader might suggest that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, Mr. O'Dowd, MLA, should do this as a joint project to get the best value for the young people of Ireland. This is an area of profitable consultation and co-operation between the Departments with responsibility for education on both sides of the Border.

I was going to say good morning.


I remind the Senator that the clock is ticking.

I wish to address an issue to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the fairness and proportionality of sentences handed down in recent days. The courage of Lorraine Mulvey, the 41 year old woman who has spoken out about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, has been mentioned. She was sexually abused and raped over a 12 year period. For that crime a sentence of six years was handed down. We must contrast this with the sentence handed down to the man who imported garlic illegally.

On a point of order, I am not sure how appropriate it is——


Senator Darragh O'Brien on a point of order.

I apologise for interrupting, but we must be careful about the separation of powers between the Oireachtas and the Judiciary. Members of the Oireachtas should not comment on sentences imposed, regardless of their personal views. It is not appropriate for them to comment on the leniency or otherwise of the sentences handed down in the cases mentioned.

The Senator has made his point. I ask Senator Fidelma Healy Eames to refrain from commenting on judgments given in the courts.

The public is going mad, rightly so. Questions have been raised that must be put to the Minister for Justice and Equality.

I ask the Senator to refrain from commenting on judgments made by the courts.

Are we saying these crimes are equal?

I have ruled on this matter.

Are the sentences handed down in proportion to the crimes committed?

The Senator cannot comment on judgments handed down by the courts. Does she have a question for the Leader?

Yes. These matters have been decided.

They have not.

They are in the public domain.

On a point of order——

I am not taking any point of order. I ask Senator Fidelma Healy Eames to resume her seat.

I will finish with one sentence. I am asking for the Minister for Justice and Equality to be brought to the House to comment——

That is highly inappropriate.

——on whether there is fairness in the judgments.

The Senator cannot do that.

I ask the Leader to inquire what steps is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade taking with regard to an Irish passport holder who is facing a death sentence if an extradition from Dubai to Egypt is carried out. In a report by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when this person was granted asylum, it was stated that if she was returned to Egypt, she would be arrested and possibly receive a death sentence for forgery and the abduction of Muslim children — her own — from their father and the national territory. This woman who is separated——

It would be more appropriate to raise this subject as a matter on the Adjournment.

It is a matter of extreme importance and I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it. The woman who was arrested on 28 February has not received any consular visit and her legal team which is requesting exorbitant sums of money from the family is stating she will be deported to Egypt and that there is little anyone can do about this. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is doing very little; the woman has not even received a visit from departmental officials who have been telling the family it is not their area.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I ask him to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the fact that an Irish passport holder is facing a death sentence if extradited to Egypt.

I call on the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the worsening situation in Syria in which more than 8,000 people, many of them women and children, have died in the past year since anti-government protests erupted. We all see the horrific images on our television screens on a nightly basis. In a separate development, we read this morning that a human rights group is accusing Syria of laying landmines along the border with Lebanon and Turkey which could result in casualties for years to come. Everybody in the House would support the call made by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, for the international community to speak with one voice on the situation in Syria. I am sure we would all call on Russia and China to support the humanitarian and political approach being adopted by the Arab League. It is clear that the Syrian Government has failed in its responsibilities to protect its own citizens, while the rest of the world has a responsibility to protect the innocent and the vulnerable. We must ask whether the United Nations should consider the possibility of sending a peacekeeping force to Syria. Perhaps we might also debate if it is time for it to consider having its own peacekeeping force instead of having to rely on countries to provide soldiers for peacekeeping duties in trouble spots throughout the world. This is a matter of grave importance which we must discuss in the House.

The integrity of the broadcasting system has been highly valued for many years, but it has been damaged recently by the Fr. Reynolds case and now by the Seán Gallagher case. I support Senators Jim D'Arcy, Paschal Mooney and Rónán Mullen who have all called for an investigation into the matter. It is not enough to have a debate on it in the House; there must be an open investigation into what is happening to ensure confidence in the national broadcaster of which we have been proud and which has done fabulous work during the years. We must ensure we help it to continue in the same vein, as it has been damaged and the only way to overcome the damage is by having an external investigation.

Senator Sean Barrett talked about competitiveness in the building industry. I was stunned — the Sinn Féin Senators will agree with me — to hear builders say we must exclude builders from the North of Ireland. During the years I have found there has been a protectionist as well as a partitionist attitude, forgetting that people in counties Armagh, Down and Antrim are as Irish as anyone else. If we look at what has happened in Switzerland where a move to increase national holidays was rejected in a referendum because it would make the Swiss less competitive and endanger jobs, it should serve as an example. If we were given the same opportunity here, would we give the same answer? Certainly not, judging by the way some display the attitude that we should exclude builders from the North of Ireland from building schoolshere.

There are times when institutions which have served the State well, which were born of and espoused integrity during the years, reach a point in their existence when they must stand back and take stock, particularly when there is reputational damage, as has happened in the case of RTE. I call on the director general and the chairman of the RTE Authority to take two or three steps back and look at the bigger picture, at the future role RTE will play if it can restore its reputation. They will have no choice but to do this when they take these steps back and see the damage done in the last 12 months. Having an inquiry would be healthy and must happen in the public interest.

I call for a debate on white collar crime. In this country, to date, we have seen no bankers go to jail, in spite of bankrupting the State. It is a shame that no one from Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society has had to walk into Mountjoy Prison and take his or her place in a cell, like those who have committed much less onerous crimes. We have a responsibility to debate the issue of white collar crime in the Seanad.

I finish by calling on the Mahon tribunal to publish its report. It has gone on for too long and we must put the issues involved behind us. The report must be published soon.

There are 365 days of the year on each of which we can find reasons to be proud of our achievements as a nation. During the years we chose St. Patrick's Day as the focus for that pride. I was sad the other evening while I was listening to a programme on RTE on which there was a vox-pop. People were asked what St. Patrick's Day meant to them. With few exceptions, drink was mentioned by the people interviewed. We know what we have seen in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin. There might be the same difficulties throughout the country as well, but we should remember that the abuse of alcohol has fuelled much of the violence in this country, including in people's homes. It has also been responsible for the terrorising of elderly people. One can imagine the reaction of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come here to be part of the celebration of St. Patrick's Day when they see what can only be described as thuggery taking place. It is unacceptable. There should be some way of getting across the message through the media that it is not acceptable. People want the opportunity to show off their talents and what they are doing in their communities. After all their hard work, to have that disrupted and misrepresented cannot be acceptable. This issue is quite minor compared with some of the major issues that have been raised in the House today, but I have listened to people in communities who have been terrorised and it is almost a matter of life or death for them. I hope this House will ask people to drink in moderation in order that we can keep the pride we have as a people, which we try to demonstrate on St. Patrick's Day.

I agree with Senator Mullins that the issue of Syria should be debated in the House. It is being neglected and we must consider what we can do, if anything, to help the people there. The laying of mines on the route between Syria and Turkey that is being used by the fleeing refugees is deplorable. We should condemn it.

The issue I wish to raise is public procurement. Members have spoken about the new schools, Irish builders and so forth. Naturally, the Government must seek best value. We are anxious to encourage North-South co-operation and so forth but we are also anxious to ensure there are jobs for people in this country as well. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, recently made an announcement on foot of "The Business" programme, in which George Lee pointed out that a meat factory in Meath had lost a contract through public procurement for the sake of €6,000. The factory said it would create eight extra jobs but the Government could not take that into consideration when evaluating value for money. The Minister of State went to Europe about it. Perhaps he would come to the House to debate public procurement. The Minister of State has negotiated with Europe and Ireland can now take into account the provision of jobs when evaluating value for money in contracts. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, to make a statement on it in the House.

I confess that I am not from Mayo but my three children are half Mayo. The reason I mention this is that I am trying to use that influence with two famous Mayo parliamentarians who have proven somewhat elusive on issues on which I have sought clarification. One of them is the Taoiseach. Yet again over the weekend there was considerable speculation on the future of one half of our Parliament and about when a referendum would be held on its future. Now that this Oireachtas is in its second year and with the approach of the first anniversary of this Seanad, it is very important that the Taoiseach comes to the House, both as a courtesy to us and to impart information to the nation, and let us know what plans there are with respect to the proposed referendum to abolish the Seanad.

A constitutional convention is due to take place which will deal with a number of important issues. However, what can be more important to a constitution and a democratic government than the structure of its national parliament?

It is extraordinarily unsatisfactory, despite my multiple entreaties. I will not play the stunt of proposing an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Taoiseach to come to the House. However, at this stage it is essential that he come to the House.

The second Mayo parliamentarian is the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Lucinda Creighton. On a number of occasions I have asked for clarification from the Minister of State on a particular issue. She came to the House previously but due to time constraints, my question was not answered. I hope I can ask the Leader to convey my questions to the Minister of State. How is it proposed that a structural deficit will be calculated for the purposes of the proposed fiscal compact? There is something far short of unanimity among the economics community on the question of how it is calculated. I would like to know whether it is the Minister of State's speculative or considered opinion, or that of the fiscal quadrumvirate that is running the Government, that the financial catastrophe would have been averted if this pact had been in place in the late 1990s or the early 2000s. Would it have made any difference?

I will conclude by mentioning in passing that I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade whether the Government can clarify what interventions it has made in the case of Pastor Nadarkhani in Iran, who is still on death row under sentence of death for the crime of being a Christian.

The coverage of the recent Presidential election left an awful lot to be desired. Not a single sector of the media emerged with much credit from it. I commend the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, for having the courage to raise a significant issue, as Senator Mullen said. I wish his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, would show the same seriousness in dealing with the complaints that have been made about a particular television programme. There is no doubt that people of every political persuasion throughout the country, including those who voted for the winner of the Presidential election, are disgusted with the manner in which the programme in question, and a radio programme the following morning, were dealt with. Questions have to be asked about what was behind the whole thing. I do not think the seriousness of the matter has been acknowledged to date. One way or the other, there will be a big debate on it. I call on the Leader to add his voice to the call for a public inquiry into the two programmes and the presenter who was the common denominator in each case. All of these people are good at asking questions of us and of business people, those involved in the legal profession and teachers. They are not as good at confessing their own sins and facing reality. The treatment of Mr. Gallagher on the programme in question not only cast a cloud over him and over the whole election, but it probably cast a spell over the Presidency itself.

Is the Senator looking for a debate?

I would like the Leader to add his voice to the call for a public inquiry into the matter.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has been exemplary in his attendance in the Seanad Chamber. Having listened to him, however, I do not feel he is addressing the key issue. We need the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come here. I told the Minister, Deputy Bruton, that a crisis is being caused by the lack of liquidity in the economy. I do not know how we can create jobs if people are unable to ensure their businesses grow. They cannot do so if finance is not available. It is not coming through. There is no point in having public relations events and jobs action plans of hundreds of pages if funds are not available to help companies to grow. Companies grow when they have finance. They create employment when they grow. We need the Minister for Finance to come to the House as a matter of urgency. To be honest, I do not know how Senators on the Opposition side can sit there so complacently.

We are on the Government side.

I do not understand how they can all be so complacent.

What about the 14 years of complacency?

As far as I can observe, they are all sitting in a very demure fashion. I do not know why they are not jumping up and down about the failure of the Minister for Finance to force the banks to release money to companies to create employment.

I would like to pick up on what Senator Ó Murchú said about our national holiday, which is coming up this weekend. I suggest that we organise a discussion on advertising standards in that context. One can buy a t-shirt in Penneys stores that simply says "Irish today, drunk tomorrow".

That is shameful.

I do not think such merchandise should be permitted.

Senator MacSharry to continue, without interruption.

I call for a debate on media in general, similar to the themes that have been raised by those calling for a debate on the presidential election coverage. The problem is that we preside over a national media that we praise constantly for its integrity. The reality is that we do not have reportage. We do not have newspapers, but "viewspapers". We do not have a national broadcaster that reports the news but we have a national broadcaster which reports a complexion it wishes to place on the facts that are promoted per day. Frankly, it does not matter who is in government, whether it is a Fine Gael and Labour Party Government, a Fianna Fáil Government, or Sinn Féin and so on.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am calling for a debate, and in that context, I am making a point.

We all want free speech. When people are tweeting, texting or online, for example, on boards.ie and Politics.ie. In my view that does not amount to free speech, but legalised subversion of the State. It is fundamentally wrong. What we need is someone or medium which reports the facts. We praise the people of Ireland for being among the most educated in the world. They are prepared and able to make their own decisions based on the facts, if presented, but not as presented by the editorial staff whether in RTE or in other news media.

I intend to raise the following issue privately with the Leader, but everybody should be aware, that there is a major news agency under the charge of quite a few regional newspapers which has instructed staff not to print any news releases from Members of Seanad Éireann. That must be addressed.

I want to refer to the manner in which the Minister for Education and Skills and the Government representatives tried to create drama when announcing the school building programme. He tried to recreate projects that were previously announced.

Welcome the Donegal schools, Senator.

Senator Ó Domhnaill to continue, without interruption.

In fact, very many schools in County Donegal were left off the agenda. Perhaps Senator Harte should visit his local secondary school, St. Eunan's College, where the then Minister, Mary Coughlan, and the Fianna Fáil Government brought the project to the tender document stage but what did the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and Senator Jimmy Harte do? They did not put in on the list.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

There are 700 young people in his own town who will suffer as a result.

Providing the funding is a different story.

We need to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come to this House to tell us the reason that projects which were so near to the tender stage now have to wait another six years?

I can tell the Senator why that is so. The country is broke.

How can that be fair? That is not fair. That is not a new system, that is playing politics. I heard a number of Senators say in their own constituency, where the Labour Party has got votes, that schools have been delivered. That is not the way to treat children equally.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

The Senator is way over his time. The Chair has been very generous to let him in.

I support my colleagues in requesting the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House. We were looking for him last week to comment on the closure of small schools. This week we are asking why schools that deserve to be on the programme are not included on it?

The Leader of the Opposition, Senator O'Brien, raised the question of Priory Hall. I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, met some of the residents of Priory Hall. The matter is before the courts and that is the reason the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, have not met the residents. It is a dreadful situation and the building standards that pertained at that point in time should be condemned by everybody. We wish the residents of Priory Hall well and hope the matter will be resolved in early course. On the question of pyrite, I will make inquiries on the matter and revert to the Senator.

Senator O'Brien asked last week when it was proposed to take the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011. It will commence on 26 April.

A number of Members raised the question of the schools programme. Everybody should welcome it. I know people would like to see more money being spent but we are doing our best to get the public finances back into some order after what was left to us. We would all like to see more money being spent on schools, local government, social welfare and many other services but it is not available. That is the simple fact. We hope to get the best possible value from the construction of these schools and irrespective of whether the builders will be from Northern Ireland, Senator Barrett is right that we must get the best value for these schools. It is to be hoped the schools programme will give employment to the 15,000 people to whom it is estimated it will give such.

Senator John Whelan and others raised the question of the inconsistency of sentencing, which is a matter of public interest. There is a separation of powers, as mentioned, and as some of these cases may be appealed, I do not intend to comment on the matter.

Senator Mullen and many other Senators raised the question of media standards. I am aware that RTE representatives will come before the relevant Oireachtas committee within the coming weeks. An inquiry was held by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland which vindicated and upheld Sean Gallagher's complaint. Many Senators have questioned the integrity of the national broadcaster and stated that to ensure its integrity is maintained, there should be a public inquiry into the matter. When the Minister came to the House previously, he indicated that he could return to discuss further the question of media standards. I will ask him to come back to the House to address that issue at a later stage.

I thank the Leader.

Self-regulation has not worked. We have seen it in many areas and it does not work. It would be akin, as a character in Waterford would say, to going to court with the devil and the jury from hell. That is how he described self-regulation. The question of an internal inquiry vis-à-vis a public inquiry will get much more ventilation on the airwaves and in the House in the weeks to come.

How about some independent regulation of the printed media?

Senator Moloney commended Ms Lorraine Mulvey's courage in going public on her abuse and called for a debate on child sexual abuse and domestic violence. I will try to arrange such a debate with the relevant Minister.

Senator Norris referred to a television programme called "Tallafornia". I am not familiar with the programme and, therefore, cannot comment on it, but I will take his word for it.

Regarding the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, standards, I realise they are exacting and in place to ensure the elderly enjoy the best possible conditions. I am aware that many people have issues with HIQA because of those exacting standards but I am sure they can be trashed out with the agency and the Health Service Executive.

Senator Burke referred to the Irish Medical Council taking two and a half months to make a decision on doctors. That is not good enough. The Senator quoted a case in New Zealand which took only a matter of days. It is a matter I will raise with the Minister for Health.

Senator Cullinane welcomed the schools programme and asked about the replacement of prefabs. An allocation of €35 million has been granted and it will help 200 schools to replace their prefabs. The replacement programme will continue in the next few years with a view to eliminating prefabs altogether.

Senator Noone mentioned betting machines in pubs. I do not think they are allowed in pubs and are illegal but promotions on behalf of bookmakers are different. A betting Bill is scheduled for the House in the autumn. I commend the Senator for raising the issue. Gambling can and will be discussed during the autumn debate on the Bill and it will afford Members an opportunity to speak on the issue.

Senator Harte raised the issue of the household charge and the matter was raised last week. I do not think the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will refuse money from any source, even An Post. I will raise the issue of the NPPR with him and he will be here on Thursday.

I have addressed the issues of competitive tendering for new schools and getting the best value for money raised by Senators Barrett and Quinn. Value for money is what is required.

Senator Mullins and Keane raised the issue of the worsening crisis in Syria. In the past few days we have witnessed appalling scenes on our television screens of women and children being shot and where executed men and women had their hands tied behind their backs. We all agree with Kofi Annan that the international community must adopt a united approach to the matter, as a matter of urgency.

Senator Conway called for a debate on white collar crime. I will try to arrange one with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Senator Ó Murchú mentioned the abuse of alcohol and the thuggery on our streets that we witnessed on St. Patrick's Day in previous years. Let us hope that people will drink in moderation at this year's celebration. I commend some of the off-licences for deciding not to open their doors until after parades have taken place and such a move should help the situation.

Senator Crown raised the issue of a referendum on the Seanad. It is in the programme for Government. We will have a referendum but it may be postponed until next year because we will have two referendums this year. A commitment was given and a referendum may take place in the early part of next year.

With regard to the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, I thought that the Senator concerned had indicated that he would write to her because she had indicated that she would respond. If the Senator has not done so, I suggest that he do so and he can do it through me if he wishes. I am sure that he will get a response.

Senator Mary M. White raised the issue of credit for small businesses. We have addressed the issue with the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The Finance Bill will reach here on 21 and 22 March and it will give Members ample opportunity to discuss the matter with him next week.

Senator Ó Domhnaill addressed the question of schools. When talking about the politicisation of schools, I read in one of today's newspapers that a former Fianna Fáil Deputy in a Cork constituency said that the people in a particular town had not voted for him and that they should vote for him if they want their school put on the list. I hope we will move away from that position.

Order of Business agreed to.