Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Jun 2014

Order of Business (Resumed)

I join with the Cathaoirleach and other Members in welcoming our colleagues from Mozambique. They are very welcome to the House.

In respect of the Committee of Selection meeting tonight, I am sure the Leader will respond to Senator O'Brien. As leader of the Labour Party group, I am delighted that we are nominating Senator Susan O'Keeffe, who has unparalleled experience as an investigative journalist. I am delighted she will be supported by our Fine Gael colleagues as well as by myself. Speaking for the Labour Party group, I will be supporting the candidacy of Senator Sean Barrett who also has immense qualifications, experience and expertise.

And leave us out while setting up a partisan committee.

Senator Bacik, without interruption.

Can I just say-----

Senator, we should not be discussing this; it will be discussed at the committee of selection. It must come before the House again.

I did not raise it.

Senator O’Brien also referred to what I suspect is no more than a rumour that the District Courts in Dublin are to be closed. I certainly have not heard that. There was a positive move under the previous Government to move the very antiquated Criminal Court sittings in the Bridewell to the Criminal Court of Justice and a new setting. All criminal justice practitioners, service users, gardaí etc. appreciated that modernisation. I will certainly look into Senator O’Brien’s statement but if there is a programme of modernisation of District Courts throughout the country, that can only be welcomed. I have practised in sittings of the District Court outside of Dublin where it sits in hotel function rooms, community halls and other inappropriate spaces.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the so-called phoenix syndrome exposed by the plight of the Paris Bakery workers from Moore Street who held a rally outside the Dáil earlier. This syndrome has been particularly marked in the restaurant industry, where employers abuse the principle of limited liability by closing down businesses and opening others under new brand or company names without paying outstanding debts to workers who are owed back payment of wages, holiday pay and so on. In the case of the Paris Bakery workers, they have been left owed some €100,000. They have been occupying the Moore Street premises since 23 May. Attempts have been made to reach resolution with the owners. Mandate and the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, among others, are supporting the workers but there is a bigger issue here of companies closing and failing to engage in an orderly winding down process to enable priority debts to be paid. This is a very serious difficulty and a number of other companies have engaged in similar tactics. We must examine how best to resolve issues for the workers, for example the insolvency payments scheme could be used to pay workers owed money in these circumstances who face serious consequences as a result of lack of payment.

I support the call made last week by Senator Hildegarde Naughton who called for an inquiry into the recent worrying revelations of the deaths of some 800 infants between 1925 and 1961 in a mother and baby home in Tuam in County Galway. I know considerable momentum has gathered around this as local historians have uncovered appalling information about these deaths and the way in which they went unreported and were hidden. We need to know more about what has happened there.

I take this opportunity to congratulate former Senator Clune on her election to the European Parliament.

As one who would be sceptical about the banking inquiry and the role of elected representatives in inquiries of this nature because of the potentially partisan nature of the engagements, I stress that someone like Senator Sean Barrett is ideally qualified and has proven himself to be an acute and incisive voice, particularly on economic and financial matters. People should be happy to see a person of his calibre who is a quality independent voice. This inquiry should only be conducted by independent politicians who do not have any political axe to grind. I make this point without in any way casting aspersions on Senator MacSharry’s excellent credentials.

I refer to a Fianna Fáil motion on maternity services, which was debated in the House last week and I compliment my Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin colleagues on bringing to light some important issues. I was attending a meeting of the justice committee when the debate took place. It seems to me that certain answers given by the Minister for Health on that occasion were woefully vague, to say the least.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the question of a possible conflict of interest involving the chairman of the west-north-west hospital group. I think his question on that possible conflict of interest involving Mr. Daly stands and was not adequately addressed by the Minister. In the course of his response the Minister referred to an internal HSE review of the procurement of the contract with The Health Partnership.

The first issue raised was the association of certain members of the west and north-west hospital group, and particularly the chairman, with The Health Partnership group.

Senator Mullen is making accusations against persons who can easily be identified and who are not here to defend themselves.

I have no intention of doing that but I seek further clarity from the Minister, who stated that he understood the director general wrote to both the hospital group chairperson and the chief executive officer to outline his concerns, and to seek to ensure that the recommendations of the audit unit were implemented and that there would not be further breaches of procurement rules. It is not acceptable for the Minister to refer to such breaches as an operational matter.

We are not reopening a debate.

It is the job of the Minister to come into this House -----

This issue was debated last week.

I am asking the Leader to invite the Minister to come before the House and, rather than dismiss these concerns as simple operational matters to be dealt with under the covers by the HSE, tell us exactly what the audit found. Did the audit find that a conflict of interest existed or, alternatively, that problems existed in the tendering procedures?

The Senator can make those points when the Minister comes in.

If there were problems with the tendering procedures around a contract worth €20,000, who pays? Are the people involved going to pay the penalty or does the taxpayer have to pick up the tab?

Those points were made in the debate.

It simply is not acceptable to use the euphemism of operational matters to deprive this House or the other House of clarity on what occurred in this matter. I ask that the Minister come before us to give further details. That is the least he could do in the circumstances.

I wish to return to a matter I raised last week, namely, the babies buried in the septic tank in Tuam. Subsequent to my raising the issue, a number of politicians in the area took an interest in it and are rightly calling for an investigation. I wrote to the Taoiseach in this regard last week and yesterday I was in communication with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I am assured that the Government is taking the matter most seriously at the highest level and that an investigation will take place. The matter is complicated by the fact that several Departments are involved, and discussions are under way on how best to proceed.

I have heard it said that the institutional church, namely, the local bishop, had no hand, act or part in the running of the home in Tuam nor any say over the Bon Secours nuns. To be clear, canons 394 and 397(1) of the Code of Canon Law provide that jurisdiction today. A bishop serving between 1925 and the 1960s had even greater power over the religious in his diocese. I remind those who try to pass these events off by referring to the historical context in which they occurred that death by malnutrition was regarded as manslaughter under common law as far back as 1918. A decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal in R v. Gibbins and Proctor found that where someone takes upon himself or herself a duty of care, as in the case of the Bon Secours nuns, he or she has an obligation to care for the children. It has been reported that some of the death certificates record the cause of death as malnutrition.

Is the Senator calling for a debate on this issue?

I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Justice and Equality to request her to attend a debate in the Seanad on the matter of the unmarked graves of babies. Tuam is not the only graveyard in existence.

I extend to the family of Joe Dowling, the former Deputy and Senator, the deepest sympathies of this House. I presume we will pay tributes to him in due course. He passed away this week and was buried today. He was a member of Dublin City Council and he served as a Member of Dáil Éireann from 1965 to 1977 and as a Senator from 1977. He had a distinguished career and was a great Irishman. I hope that in due course we will have an opportunity -----

The Leader will arrange for it.

The family would appreciate that. I also wish Deirdre Clune success as a Member of the European Parliament. Our colleagues, Senators Byrne and Mullen, put up a great fight and they deserve credit for working so hard to put their case to the people.

I wish to raise the issue of the young Irishman, Ibrahim Halawa, who has been in jail in Cairo for 295 days. He was injured in riots. I appeal to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who might have a bit more time in the next few weeks, to dedicate the remaining weeks of his time as Tánaiste to getting this Irishman released.

He has not done enough and I do not see why he cannot go to Cairo to demand the release of this young Irishman who was badly treated. He was shot in the hand, but the injury was not treated. His finger is still injured, yet we are standing idly by. I am surprised at the Labour Party which seems to be more concerned about leadership battles than an Irishman stuck in a Cairo jail. I suggest the Tánaiste work on this problem. He has an opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory, although not electorally, but he might get one man out of gaol, which would be a great contribution. As a Senator, I once visited Greece to help to get a man out of gaol. I hope the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will use his influence to do something about this case.


Send the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White. He will have nothing to do after the contest.

I support Senator Hildegarde Naughton's call for a debate on the horrific discovery of a mass grave in Tuam where it is believed up to 800 babies and young children were buried in a septic tank.

I also refer to the Government's recent announcement that the review of discretionary medical cards will be suspended pending the establishment of a new expert panel and the development of a policy framework that will take medical conditions into account. This is something for which I have been calling. I raised the issue as recently as last week and wholeheartedly welcome the Government's decision to step back and examine the process. Even though it has taken a long time for the announcement to be made, I am pleased that we will now see action on the matter. I have spoken to numerous individuals and families about this issue. I have been shocked by some of the cases in which a medical card has been removed. We need clear and comprehensive guidelines under which HSE medical card staff can operate when making decisions. We also need clarity for the many people who have had their discretionary medical cards revoked in recent months. There have been umpteen interviews and media reports in the past 24 hours, in particular. Many representatives of the health and political sectors have stated different positions on the restoration of medical cards. There is a high level of uncertainty and there are reports on children and individuals having their medical cards returned after making their cases known publicly-----

The Senator voted for the measure in the budget.

Senator Mary Moran to continue, without interruption.

I never interrupt Senator Darragh O'Brien. This is the third occasion on which he has interrupted me on the Order of Business.

I am just reminding the Senator that she voted for the removal of medical cards.

I ask that the Senator not interrupt me when I am trying to make a point.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

She voted for the removal of medical cards.

I ask the Senator to desist. I would like to raise the point-----

I am just trying to set the record straight.

Does Senator Mary Moran have a question for the Leader?

Yes, but I would like time and to have an opportunity to make my point.

The Senator is out of time.

I can thank Senator Darragh O'Brien for that. I would like to raise the point that individuals with conditions that have no name or require a difficult diagnosis should not be left out of the process. Just because an individual does not fit in a box, as is often the case with rare or unnamed medical conditions, he or she should not lose a medical card. Preference should be shown in this process. We need equality and clarity across the medical card issuance process.

The Senator is way over time.

I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to address this urgent matter in the House at the earliest opportunity.

The Senator should not have voted for the measure.

I support the appointment of Senator Sean D. Barrett to the committee on banking. There is little doubt in my mind that the House should be honoured to have individuals in it of the quality of Senators Sean D. Barrett and Marc MacSharry, either of whom could do this job.

That is a matter for the Committee of Selection to decide.

I thought it had been decided.

It has been decided.

The Dáil has sent word already.

The Committee of Selection has not met yet.

Robert Mugabe is the Vice Chairman.

Senator Quinn without interruption, please.

He will ensure the Government's desire to-----

Senator Quinn without interruption, please. Do you have a question for the Leader, Senator Quinn?

While I believe Senator MacSharry could also have a role to play, I welcome Senator Barrett's nomination.

I was not aware that electricity in Ireland is 34% more expensive than in the UK. Of the 28 countries in Europe, Ireland is the fourth most expensive for electricity. Competing into the future is not going to be easy for Ireland. I understand that in her speech today the Queen will announce Britain's intention to introduce fracking. I know that fracking is not popular with Members, particularly those from the west of Ireland. However, we should not turn our backs on anything that can provide us with the energy we require in the future. There is a very interesting article in a recent issue of National Geographic in regard to fracking in North Dakota, which should be compulsory reading for everybody because it gives both sides to the fracking argument. There is little doubt that if we do not do something about our energy provision into the future and to address the fact that electricity in Ireland is 34% more expensive than in Britain and that we are the fourth most expensive country in Europe in this regard, we will not be able to compete. We must do something about this. I believe the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, should ensure that whatever needs to be done is done.

I, too, support Senator Naughton's call for a debate on unmarked baby graveyards. As mentioned by her, she was one of the first people to raise the Galway babies issue. The positive news announced by her today in regard to the inquiry is to be welcomed.

NAMA is offering units for social housing. While this is a good and positive development, I condemn NAMA's proposal to offer 500 units in one location, namely, Tallaght. This proposal was previously refused by South Dublin County Council but NAMA has recently announced its intention to put it back on the agenda. We all aware of the policy regarding 20% social housing provision in any area. Social integration is a must. However, when planning for housing, we must do so properly. A social mix is considered, not only in Ireland but internationally, to be best. South Dublin County Council is one of the most proactive in ensuring the social housing agenda is fulfilled. It is also one of the most proactive county councils in the country. NAMA cannot be allowed to do what was done in the dark ages when Dublin Corporation transferred people from the city to Tallaght. Tallaght is a beautiful area. It has all the facilities of the Luas, the hospital, a cinema and so on. In my view, NAMA should make some of the units concerned available for sale, with the remainder provided for social housing. Some €15 million has been ring-fenced by the council for social housing.

I call on the Leader to ask the Minister with responsibility for housing to ensure that every policy implemented by NAMA is in accordance with national policy. Everybody agrees that we need social housing, but it needs to be properly planned; otherwise, we will have problems down the road. Tallaght is a beautiful area. We must ensure it remains so and that we do not return to the dark ages in terms of implementing old policies when we should be implementing new ones.

I rise to raise the plight of the 1,100 workers at Bausch & Lomb in Waterford. It is a very tense time in Waterford city and, in particular, at the company concerned in terms of the-----

The Senator has already tabled that matter for discussion on the Adjournment.

Yes, but I would like also to raise with the Leader today the unilateral decision taken by the company last week to announce 200 redundancies and pay cuts of up to 20%. Negotiations in this regard are ongoing. We all wish the trade unions well in their discussions with the management. However, there will be a need for Government support to shore up jobs at the plant.

The Minister will address this issue on the Adjournment.

On behalf of all members of this House, I ask the Leader to impress upon the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the importance of the retention of as many jobs as possible in Waterford and the need for him to do all he can to make that a reality.

We have a responsibility to represent the 1,100 workers and this is the place to do so. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to use his office to impress upon the Minister the urgency and seriousness of this situation, given the very high level of unemployment in Waterford and the feelings of the workforce. I also want the Leader to impress upon him its importance and the need for the Government to be an active participant in finding a solution.

I want to condemn the actions of Aer Lingus in withdrawing the staff concession of standby flights from the cabin crew who participated in a one-day strike action last week. A worker has a democratic right to strike and nobody should take it away. The staff concession was cost-neutral to Aer Lingus, because staff members do not get on a particular flight but remain on standby until a seat becomes available and then pay the taxes and fees. Therefore, the concession did not cost the company anything. As a matter of fact, Aer Lingus is punishing people for exercising their democratic right and has pandered to the request made by Ryanair to remove the concession. Aer Lingus is a disgrace to do this to its staff.

I know about the situation experienced by staff. I have been married to a shift worker for 34 years and, therefore, I know how important it is to know one's work roster in order to organise childminding, babysitting and the collection of children and to plan for a day away or a holiday. One cannot plan for anything if one has erratic rosters and does not know when one is needed for work. The situation is an absolute disgrace. I want the Minister concerned to come here for a debate on the matter.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business and call for the Minister for Health to come to the House. Following on from what my colleague, Senator Mullen, has said - and it is a shame he was not here for the debate last week on the hospitals issue - two things remain to be discussed. First, we do not know why a report was prepared in the first place and we do not have its terms of reference. We do know that its underlying agenda - which was clearly considered by the board's management - is to downgrade, downsize and reduce the number of maternity centres in the hospital region. That is clear when one reads the report.

Second, the Minister mentioned that there was a breach of procurement policy. However, he did not bring into the public domain the fact that the chairman of the west and north west hospital group was a shareholder in the company that had compiled the report in the first place.

That matter is completely out of order.

What is out of order?

The Senator's reference to a person who is easily identified and is not here to defend himself or herself.

With regard to the person I should not mention, who is easily identifiable and happens to be in control of public funds, I make no apology for highlighting the facts in this House on behalf of the people. For far too long we have tiptoed around a practice that is not in the best interests of the people, but I will not tiptoe around it today. I ask the Minister to come to the House to highlight for us what precisely is going on with the west and north west hospital group, which is what we need to know.

I wish to say how delighted I am by the nomination of Senator Barrett to the banking inquiry. One feels absolutely assured that his contribution will be second to none in the context of his intended participation.

The matter will be dealt by the Committee of Selection.

It needs to be dealt with here, in fairness.

Senator, come back to the House.

I ask the Leader to go back to the Taoiseach, or whoever made the balls for him to throw on this particular occasion, and say the following in the interest of democracy as opposed to authoritarianism. I want him to say that, in contrast to the method of allocating speaking rights in this House, where the largest Opposition party has been excluded from certain things, and in contrast to the Government's policy in appointing the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, whereby the Taoiseach and Ministers opted to take all of the discretionary appointments for Labour Party and Fine Gael members, on this occasion we should facilitate the inclusion in the banking inquiry of the expertise of the likes of Senator Barrett, including Members of the other House. That should be done as per the practice, which is fair. Irrespective of whether it is Marc MacSharry, Darragh O'Brien, Diarmuid Wilson or any other Fianna Fáil colleague-----

The Senator is way over time.

This matter is very important.

That may well be, but the Senator is over time.

This point is very important.

There are several ways for him to raise the issue.

They will have to wait. The situation is that the largest Opposition party is comprised of 14 Senators.

This constitutes 24% of the membership of the House and they ought to have a Senator as a member. On this occasion, as the Senator who praises the Leader most for his innovations-----

I do not see how this is relevant to the Order of Business.

-----I suggest that the Leader speak to the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and the Taoiseach and say that he will not be the puppet with its strings pulled but that he will lead the Seanad in the interests of democracy as opposed to a hang-them-high fudge by the Government.

The Senator is over his time.

In the interest of the credibility of the inquiry, we would like to ensure the full participation of the necessary bodies.

Can we turn him off?

I support my colleague Senator Naughton in her call for a statement from the Minister for Justice and Equality with regard to the bodies of babies found in Tuam and other locations. There is great human suffering and misery to be addressed and I urge the Minister not to rush the statement. The information has been made available to her quite recently so we need a comprehensive statement dealing with this in its entirety and dealing with what the Government proposes.

I assure Senator Terry Leyden that everything possible is being done to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa, the Irish teenager who has been in prison in Egypt since August. On Thursday, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, of which I am a member, met his family members to discuss the issue. The family expressed its gratitude for the wonderful support it receives from the Irish Embassy and for the frequency of visits made to their son. The family urged us to keep the pressure on the Egyptian Government to have him released as a matter of urgency. The Tánaiste has taken the matter very seriously.

It is timely that the Taoiseach is in Silicon Valley for three days, focused on securing investment and jobs for Ireland and supporting Irish firms and entrepreneurs. He will visit the headquarters of many of the major multinationals located here. That comes on the back of additional good news published in a recent Red C survey showing that conditions are improving for SMEs. Some 74% of respondents say they have improved turnover or that it has stabilised, and 23%, a significant number, will be adding employees this year. The situation is improving and I wish the Taoiseach every success in his significant trade mission to Silicon Valley.

I join Senator Naughton in calling for debate on the horrific discovery in Tuam. These children were not afforded the slightest bit of dignity or common decency and, even in death, they were still regarded as unclean. Their 800 bodies were discarded in unmarked graves. They were innocent infants, their only crime being that they were born of unmarried mothers, in most cases after a crisis pregnancy. I wonder how many more cases will be unearthed around the country. The issue must be discussed with the utmost gravity and seriousness in the House.

I was speaking to a friend of mine during the week and she revealed to me that, 18 years ago, she found herself in a crisis pregnancy. She was going to go to one of those mother and child homes to give her child up for adoption but, thankfully, her family got behind her and she received the support she needed. Her child is now sitting the leaving certificate. I extend my best wishes to all students sitting the leaving certificate. The issue is wider and is one I touched on before. I read a compelling review of a book, Stolen Lives by Bette Brown, in yesterday's Irish Examiner. It outlines the institutional abuse I spoke about previously in the House. I was castigated for describing it as being like a concentration camp. The phrase comes from one of the survivors in this book.

Des Murray, who described Artane as a concentration camp, said he was singled out by two brothers, two sadists, and his biggest regret was that he did not kill those two bastards. The psychological scars that have been left on thousands-----

Have you a question for the Leader, Senator?

-----of survivors, families and on our national psyche as a whole-----

Have you a question for the Leader?

The only crime of these people was to be born of unmarried mothers and taken away. I have a question. Some months ago the House extended a kind invitation to Pope Francis to come and address us. If he is going to come I will welcome him with open arms. I am certainly not anti-clerical or anti-church but I am anti-cover-up.

Have you a question for the Leader, Senator?

I am anti-deception. If he is going to come I would stress to him to come and certainly bring his cheque book with him such that we can, with the Office of Public Works and the Department of Education and Skills-----

Senator, that has nothing to do with the Order of Business. Senator Landy, please.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should take this into account. A decent proper memorial should be given finally to the survivors of institutional abuse.

I have four minutes as well, have I?

Senator Landy, please.

I wish to offer my concern and support to the workers in Bausch & Lomb in Waterford city who are facing a difficult time at the moment in the absence of Senator Cullinane, who raised the issue earlier. In his absence last Thursday, the Leader of the House and myself raised the issue with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. We had a detailed discussion with the Minister and impressed on him in no uncertain terms - it was not that he did not already know - the seriousness of the problem. We have already raised this with the Minister and we have brought our concerns to his door already.

I wish to raise today my concerns on another issue, namely, the lack of service from the new Irish Water helpline to public representatives throughout the country. When the legislation was going through the House to set up Irish Water I raised the issue with the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy O'Dowd, highlighting the need for public representatives to have access to and be made aware of any developments in their area.

Two weeks ago the place where I live was subject to a boil water notice. Although a public representative for 26 years and a resident of the area, I knew nothing about it for 36 hours. In fact, my wife was in bed sick with a pain in her stomach. I had to find out from someone else that we were on a boil water notice. When I contacted Irish Water I spent 45 minutes on the telephone to the public representative section of the company but I got no answer as to why we were on a boil water notice. I tried again the next day and I still got no answer.

The concern I have is the number of other people who drank that water and did not know anything about it. There were 2,000 houses approximately on boil water notice. The way we are being treated is a complete shambles. I raised this already in the House in a different context last week. I want the Minister to come to the House. I am asking the Leader to call on the Minister to come to the House to give a full report on what was promised to us in the debate on the setting up of Irish Water while the legislation was going through the House as well as at committee level - I raised the matter at the environment committee. We are not getting the service. The people I contacted did now know what county Carrick-on-Suir was in. That is how bad it is. It is unacceptable.

I second the amendment of my colleague, Senator MacSharry. I wish to reassure Senator Keane in respect of Tallaght and its developments. Now that Charlie O'Connor has been restored to his former glory as a councillor in Tallaght Central he will ensure that Tallaght is put back on the top of the agenda. I have no doubt whatsoever about it.

It has always been looked after.

I imagine Senator Keane would agree with me-----

Fianna Fáil is back in power.

-----that Charlie's unique talent will enhance the Tallaght area.

We are always working together.

I wish to draw attention to the comments made by Senator Quinn about fracking. Not for the first time Senator Quinn has espoused the concept of fracking. He is fully entitled to his opinion, which I totally respect. However, I am unsure whether the research in America to which he referred relates to what is going on or what might happen in my part of the country, the Lough Allen basin, where exploratory licences have been granted.

There is a very real danger, and total uncertainty, regarding what effects fracking can have on groundwater. As Senator Quinn will know, the area of Cavan, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Sligo relies heavily on its tourism economy in the absence of an industrialised environment. He should be somewhat cautious in embracing this new technology without ensuring that all of the facts are laid out. That is what I await and I applaud the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, for having stayed the hand of the companies involved. Incidentally, County Clare is involved in this as well as an exploratory licence has been granted. The Minister has stalled the licence applications until such time as the Environmental Protection Agency produces a well researched report. That could take up to 18 months if the American experience is indicative, as the US Environmental Protection Agency has taken almost five years to reach conclusions about this very controversial concept. However, I fully agree with the Senator that there is a need to examine alternative forms of energy. I simply caution against embracing the concept of hydraulic fracturing at a time when there is still great uncertainty about it.

Finally, there is a little sub-plot under way in the pursuit of the leadership of the Labour Party, which is a very important role.

Sounds interesting.

We are not discussing the leadership of the Labour Party on the Order of Business.

I am not discussing it. The reason I raise it is for my question to the Leader. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, who is a contender for the leadership, has stated that taking €2 billion out of the economy in the October budget is both unnecessary and unhelpful. This question was put to the Taoiseach yesterday and he demurred somewhat and said he would have to await the economic indicators. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and I wish him well in his recovery, also demurred today-----

The Senator is way over time.

-----regarding the €2 billion that might be taken out of the economy, yet an EU Commission official has said, a little like Mr. John Bruton, that we could continue to have austerity for forever and a day. I believe there is a need to have statements on the economy so we can get a clearer picture, even at this early stage of the budgetary negotiations which the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has indicated have already started. This House should debate the state of the Irish economy and get to the truth of what exactly will happen. The people have already spoken in the recent election. They will not take any more austerity.

The Senator is way over time. I call Senator Noone.

The question of where the money will come from remains. A debate on the state of the economy would be of assistance in that regard.

I would favour a debate on the fracking issue raised by Senator Quinn so all sides of the issue could be discussed with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, including the different research that has been carried out in America and elsewhere, with a view to getting all the issues on the table. I agree with Senator Quinn that there is a great deal of scaremongering on this issue. If the Americans have been investigating it for five years, we should look at what their research has brought to light. A debate on the issue in this House would be very useful.

I have been looking into something recently which I did not believe could be true, but it is. There is largely a ban in place on running in many of our schools. This relates to the child obesity issue which I have raised on numerous occasions. One in four Irish children are now either overweight or obese. Poor diets and those with high fat and high sugar content are a major factor, but sedentary lifestyles are also a huge factor. The problem has escalated to such a degree that Temple Street Hospital, as I heard yesterday, has had to bring in new, larger theatre tables to cater for overweight or obese children. If it were not so sad, the idea would be almost funny.

It is a huge issue. Last year, the EU information network found that Irish primary schools offered fewer hours of physical education, PE, than schools in any other EU member state. Break time is a time when children should be allowed to run, within reason.

The idea that they are being prevented from doing so in certain schools is somewhat mind-blowing. The National Parents Council has a great deal to say on the matter. While safety issues would be at play-----

Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?

Yes, I am for ever seeking a debate on it.

The Leader should be able to make time available for a such debate.

Yes and I am sure he will do so. Childhood obesity is as matter which should be debated in the House and I would have a great deal to say on it. We have touched on the issue during previous debates but I would like the Minister for Health to come before us in order that he might indicate the strategy that is in place to deal with this escalating and serious problem.

In the context of news reports earlier today, will the Leader seek clarification from the Minister for Health and his Department on whether the discovery of a hitherto unsuspected complex and fairly ancient sewer system under the site for the proposed national children's hospital could delay construction? As Senators are aware, conditions at the existing children's hospitals in Dublin range from unacceptable to simply Dickensian. There has been an understandable tendency to defer any major refurbishment of units in those hospitals pending the development of the proposed and long-delayed national children's hospital. I am somewhat alarmed because it appears that, despite a commitment to the contrary earlier in the year, the advancement of the next stage of the planning relating to the new facility has been delayed beyond the current budgetary year. I am seeking to ensure that this in not merely a budgetary strategy. In addition, I am of the view that the problem which has arisen is not insurmountable.

I support the calls for a debate on energy. As the Leader is aware, I have proposed that a public consultation forum on energy policy should be established. Such a forum would provide the right platform to allow us to invite large numbers of people to come before us to discuss food, water and energy, which are the three things that will determine our survival as a species during this century. If we get it wrong in respect of any one of them, then we will find ourselves in existential difficulty.

I echo what Senator Noone stated in respect of the obesity epidemic. I have just returned from a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, at which some tremendously interesting and also quite sobering data was presented. For example, it is estimated that all of the advances made in respect of the treatment of breast, colon and other cancers could be completely undermined by the number of new cases of cancer that will result from increasing obesity. Combating obesity makes incredible sense from both a health-humanistic point of view and also a health-economic one.

I urge all Senators to support the proposal that Senator Barrett should represent Seanad Éireann on the committee that will carry out the banking inquiry. One of the reasons for the establishment of this House was to bring into the Oireachtas non-professional, part-time politicians who have expertise in specific technical areas. I intend no disrespect to the full-time politicians who are also needed but there is something wrong if the most senior economist in the Seanad is not appointed to serve on the committee.

I thank Senator Mooney for his concern with regard to the leadership of the Labour Party. Unlike the position in Fianna Fáil, the outcome of our leadership contest will be decided by our members. If fact, the Labour Party is probably the only political party which has a one member, one vote system. The outcome of the contest will not be decided by Independent Newspapers or anyone else other than the members of the Labour Party.

I was not criticising the Labour Party's leadership process at all.

That is good. I thank the Senator for providing that clarification.

Senator Hayden, without interruption.

The Senator should not use me as a platform for-----

The leadership of the Labour Party is not a matter for the Order of Business. Does Senator Hayden have a question for the Leader?

Yes. In the context of the €2 billion to which Senator Mooney referred, I remind him that a great deal less was taken out of the economy last year thanks to the actions of the Labour Party in government.

More than €2 billion was taken out of the economy. The Senator should not be re-inventing the past.

That was done through negotiation and by means of a process of pre-budget submissions. I support the Senator's call for a debate on the economy. His suggestion in this regard is excellent.

The only reason I raised the matter-----

Senator Hayden, without interruption.

I ask the Leader to accede to the Senator's call.

I also support Senator Naughton's request for a debate on the unfortunate situation in Tuam and the discovery of the bodies of dead children in a septic tank. I read about this matter on the weekend before last but I did not grasp the full implications of what was involved.

I had some idea that this had happened during the time of the Famine. It was only when I spoke to Senator Naughton after she raised it last week that I realised the true horror of what had happened. These children died during the 1930s, within the memory of people living today. I take this opportunity to reiterate a call I made previously. We need to establish a permanent body to inquire into all issues of institutional abuse. I sincerely believe that the issue still to come before us is what happened in the county homes. It is time we faced up to the fact that this situation is far from over, and we need a permanent inquiry to be established.

I ask the Leader to avail of today's sitting of the Seanad to mark the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. It seems a long time ago but the murder of thousands of people whose only crime was that they favoured democracy and full participation in Chinese society is still a stain against the Chinese Communist Party and leadership. As we in this country and governments throughout the Western world do economic and political cartwheels to curry favour with the new Chinese business elite, we must also avail of every possible opportunity to ask the Chinese Government to ensure that full human rights and citizens' rights are available to the 1 billion people in China. It is 25 years since that massacre but, unfortunately, it is almost unrecognised in China. Ireland, and every democratic country across the globe, must continue to mark it because it was one of the most horrific massacres known to civilisation.

Senator Keane raised a very interesting matter regarding Tallaght and NAMA. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the views she offered, in this instance we should remember that NAMA does not make housing policy for any local authority area. As I understand it, NAMA was only responding to calls from Government, civic leaders and others to make available housing stock that is currently surplus to its requirement and sell it on in the taxpayers' interests to investors. I am not aware of the position regarding the 500 houses in Tallaght but I am sure they are available and that the local authority would have suitable applicants to occupy them. It would be a matter for the local authority to decide who those applicants should be, the mix and so on. It might be fashionable, and I am not saying Senator-----

They were turned down.

Senator Coghlan without interruption.

Senator Coghlan should get the facts right.

Senator Keane was not doing it-----


I believe it was a sincere offer on behalf of NAMA.

Senator Coghlan without interruption, please.

This is a matter for the local authority to deal with.

The local authority has not dealt with it.

Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?

The Senator should let it deal with it. With respect, it is not a matter we need to bring up in this House.

On a point of order-----

It might be fashionable in some quarters to bash NAMA-----

Senator Keane on a point of order.


On a point of order, it is important that the record is correct.

Senator, that is not a point of order.

Dublin County Council has not dealt with-----

That is not a point of order.

-----and they are offering them to other local authorities.

Senator, resume your seat, please. That is not a point of order. The record will speak for itself.

It is other local authorities.

I acknowledge and welcome the announcement of a €300,000 boost for Dublin city centre tourism projects announced earlier today by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar.

Some €300,000 is being allocated, from Fáilte Ireland's capital investment programme, for these two projects in Dublin.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. Three quarters of overseas visitors stay in Dublin at some point during their trip to Ireland and tourism is worth over €1 billion to the local economy of Dublin.

I support the call made by Senators Feargal Quinn and John Crown for a debate on energy requirements, future plans, costs, etc. I was disappointed to hear Senator Feargal Quinn state our energy costs were among the highest in the European Union. I call for a debate on the issues of supply and demand, interconnectors and so on.

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the matter of the District Court service in the Dublin metropolitan area. I will inquire into the matter and come back to him on it.

On the banking inquiry the Committee of Selection will meet this evening to decide who will represent the Seanad on the committee. Not too long ago we were arguing whether the Seanad would be represented on it and I made strong representations to the Taoiseach on the matter. As a result, we will have two Members of the Seanad on the committee.

Two more of your own.

This is a positive advance for the Seanad.

The Committee of Selection will decide-----

Whenever the Dáil sends word.

The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.

One of the Members chosen will be from the Government side of the House and one will be from the Opposition side.

Senator Marc Mac Sharry is not in opposition.

Some 20% of the nine members will be Independents.

I am sure the person from the other side of the House on the banking inquiry committee will not interrupt when people are speaking.

The Leader is not being interrupted.

Can we hear the Leader, without interruption, please?

That is because it will include the people the Government wants to have on it.

It is regrettable that we have these constant interruptions which do nothing for the image of the Seanad.

It is the only way we can be heard. Even the Leader's party members do it. Senator Cáit Keane could not get a word in earlier.

Please, Senator, let us hear the Leader. Please allow him to reply to questions raised in the House.

I just want to put him straight when he is veering off course.

The Senator has asked his questions and should wait for the responses.

We know that the Senator is quite good in the theatre, but he does not have to prove it every time he comes into the House.

I speak in the interests of the people.

Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the Phoenix syndrome in the context of the Paris bakery in Dublin and the workers involved. Any system under which workers are treated in the way mentioned by the Senator should be amended and dealt with as a matter of urgency. I am sure the matter will be brought to the attention of the relevant Minister.

Senator Ivana Bacik and several other Senators, including Senator Hildegarde Naughton who was the first to raise the issue in the House, referred to the mass grave in Tuam and called for a proper memorial. The Government is treating the issue seriously and actively considering an inquiry into this appalling situation. It is of serious concern that the issue was first raised in 1975. How has it taken so long to deal with it? What happened was shocking and I hope an inquiry will be held as a matter of urgency.

That is also taking into consideration the point made by Senator Hayden calling for a permanent body to be put in place to deal not only with industrial abuse but other abuse which has taken place. We are likely to see more of these situations coming to the fore.

Senator Mullen referred to maternity services in the west and north west, a matter also raised by other Senators. Senator Mullen was not here last week when I advised Senator Ó Clochartaigh to table a matter on the Adjournment on the points he raised. The Minister will be in a position to come to the House to give clear and concise answers to the questions raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh. I do not think Senator Mullen took part in that debate.

I was at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality but I read the transcript. He was woefully vague.

I think Senator Naughton has raised that point. Senator Leyden referred to the death of Joe Dowling, a former Deputy and Senator. We all express our condolences to the family of the late Joe Dowling. We will have tributes to him at a later stage in the House.

In relation to the Irish prisoner held in Cairo, I am assured that the Tánaiste is using every diplomatic means to secure this gentleman's release. It is a matter which Senator Mullins has mentioned also. Representatives met the families last week. They are quite happy with what has happened and with the assistance they are getting from the Tánaiste. Obviously, there is a need to ensure that pressure is maintained on the authorities in Cairo.

Senator Moran referred to the issue of discretionary medical cards. She welcomed the restoration of medical cards and mentioned the need for further clarity on the issue. Senator Quinn raised the need to be more competitive with particular reference to the cost of electricity. He asked that further consideration be given to fracking, something about which Senator Mooney has expressed concern. He has very different ideas to Senator Quinn on the issue.

Senator Keane referred to NAMA and the 500 units being made available for social housing. She referred to the need for a balance between social and private housing. That is a matter for local authorities. It is a matter which was addressed by Senator Paul Coghlan and there is obviously a difference of opinion with Senator Keane.

I am sure the local authority will make a decision on that as the appropriate body.

Senator Cullinane referred to Bausch & Lomb and the plight of the workers. The company is seeking 200 redundancies and a reduction of 20% in the wages of a further 900 people who are employed there. This is devastating news for the workers and their families as well as for Waterford and outlying areas. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, called a meeting with Oireachtas Members last week and outlined the situation to them. He set out the Government's commitment to provide any necessary assistance to the company. That is the position of the Minister. I spoke to the Minister today. Obviously, he is looking at developments in Waterford and is prepared to assist in any way possible to progress matters.

I had a meeting at which Senator Cullinane was present last evening with the vice president of Bausch & Lomb. It was a very constructive meeting. I wish the union and management every success in their very difficult negotiations. It is about protecting the employment in Waterford. There is commitment on both sides to achieving that. I wish them well in their endeavours in that regard. It is a matter of paramount importance that this issue is dealt with as Waterford has been hit harder than most places by unemployment. There is a need for greater investment and the establishment of a strategic development zone in Waterford and south-east generally given the difficulties being experienced there. This has been ongoing for the last number of years.

Senator Marie Moloney referred to the action of Aer Lingus in withdrawing discretionary travel concessions from staff and outlined her resistance to these moves.

I have dealt with the matter of the west-north-west hospital group, an issue also raised by Senator Marc MacSharry.

Senator Michael Mullins raised the question of the Taoiseach joining a trade mission to the USA. The Senator highlighted the recent report on small and medium-sized enterprises which outlined the vast improvement in conditions for these enterprises.

I note the points made by Senator James Heffernan when he spoke passionately on the issue of institutional abuse.

Senator Denis Landy referred to the response from the Irish Water helpline to public representatives. He outlined the position in Carrick-on-Suir which is subject to a "Boil Water" notice. The treatment meted out to the Senator and especially the people of Carrick-on-Suir is not acceptable. I suggest he seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment to receive a comprehensive answer from the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.

Senator Paschal Mooney raised the issue of fracking and referred to the need to wait for the EPA's report. I think the Minister for Finance said it was premature to speak in May about the budget to be announced in October, but he did say the figures that would be released today would be evidence that the economic indicators were good and receipts would be ahead of target. It will all depend on what cuts, if any, will be necessary in October.

Senator Catherine Noone raised the question of childhood obesity, an issue to which Senator John Crown also alluded, and referred to the need for more physical education in schools. I will certainly seek to arrange a debate with the relevant Minister on the issue. We had a debate on it, but there is obviously a need for a further one.

Senator John Crown referred to the sewer system at the proposed National Children's Hospital. I understand a statement from the people in charge of the project indicates that it will not affect it materially, but it is a matter that will have to be dealt with eventually. We will check to see what the true position is.

Senator Aideen Hayden called for a debate on the economy. I will certainly try to have the Minister for Finance come to the Chamber for such a debate. We all wish him well.

Senator Paul Bradford noted the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square and called for a debate on the matter.

Senator Terry Brennan raised the question of grants for various tourism projects in Dublin which would prove very beneficial.

Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the proposal to downgrade maternity services in the west-north-west hospital group be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 22.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden..
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 17.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.


  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.