The Order of Business is No. 1, Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and adjourned not later than 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 63, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 16 regarding the private rented sector, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I understand the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, reported to the Cabinet yesterday that there was large-scale compliance with the habitats directive regarding turf cutting on bogs, particularly in the west of Ireland. From media reports I understand she indicated a current compliance rate of 80%. This figure has been disputed by the newly elected Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice, who has represented the turf cutters for a number of years. He pointed out that only 1,500 out of 9,000 turf cutters were in compliance. He said that while his group was prepared to sit down with the Minister, if the Government continued to drive the issue he would continue to oppose it. This raises fundamental questions over Ireland's position on the EU habitats directive. It comes in the wake of an incident mentioned by our colleague, the Seanad Government Whip, who referred to the death of a hen harrier in County Kerry, which, I now understand from media reports, may have been shot accidentally rather than deliberately, which may be of some comfort. As a result of that incident, it has been reported that 6% of the land of Ireland is reserved for the protection of wild bird species, raptors, as they are called. This is having a detrimental effect on the valuations of farms, particularly in half a dozen counties. Some farmers and farming organisations have referred to this running to several hundred million euro. I ask for the Minister to come before the House to outline what has been going on in the area of the EU habitats directive and Ireland's role in it. It has been pointed out that we are liable for fines of up to €12 million a year, yet Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice has pointed out that Ireland has not paid one cent in fines so far. The habitats directive has caused enormous problems in the agriculture sector for a large number of years. I believe it is time to have a debate on the matter. The Minister could air her views on the habitats directive, specifically as it affects the turf-cutting issue, which will not go away. I, therefore, call on her to come before the House to discuss this urgent matter without delay.
Like all reasonable people, I am saddened and disturbed at what is happening regarding one of the most important tourist routes in the country, namely the 4 km section of the road from Dingle to Tralee. In the interests of safety and sanity, I appeal to An Taisce to withdraw its judicial review opposing the decision of An Bord Pleanála, which is the final arbiter. Of course, it is entitled to a judicial review if a judge grants it. I think we accept that An Bord Pleanála weighs up these matters properly, taking into account its inspectors' reports, and decides accordingly. It should pay more attention to them, as well as all local views. This is not a new road.
It has been widened in the interests of safety. There were major accidents on it and there are incidents annually that we would like to see eliminated. I appeal to An Bord Pleanála which is aware of the concerns of local people, as I am, about the matter which is of the utmost importance. The money is in place to do the work. Safety should be paramount, as we should all recognise.
Yesterday legislation introduced by Deputy Clare Daly was voted on in the Dáil and defeated on the advice of the Attorney General. The matters surrounding the issue raise questions that must be addressed in a modern democracy. Article 30 of the Constitution states:
1 There shall be an Attorney General who shall be the adviser of the Government in matters of law and legal opinion, and shall exercise and perform all such powers, functions and duties as are conferred or imposed on him by this Constitution or by law.
2 The Attorney General shall be appointed by the President on the nomination of the Taoiseach ...
4 The Attorney General shall not be a member of the Government.
In recent years the Government has frequently advised the Oireachtas and the public that, on the advice of the Attorney General, it had no choice but to enact or oppose an item of legislation. The question arises as to why such weight is attached to the advice of one man or woman. Why is one barrister's advice held in such high esteem? Is the Law Library not full of contradictory voices and opinions? The Attorney General who is referred to as the chief law officer of the State cannot have his or her advice followed slavishly and without question. Appointment as Attorney General does not bestow infallible wisdom on the holder of the office for, if it did, it would make the Taoiseach infallible in the selection of the officeholder.
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader? We should not be discussing the Attorney General.
I am getting there. The Attorney General gets it wrong sometimes and when that happens-----
We are not discussing the Attorney General.
The issue must be discussed in the light of the debate in the Dáil yesterday. The Attorney General sometimes gets it wrong and when that happens, the State must carry the cost of erroneous advice. Court actions to rectify where the law is wrong frequently end up in the Supreme Court. This is a very costly place to have to go and the public carries the cost. Is the legal advice the Government receives always correct? According to the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, it is not. An article in the Irish Examiner on Saturday, 10 November 2012 by Paul O'Brien, political editor, headlined, "Varadkar: Referendum legal advice was wrong", states, "The legal advice 'was wrong' Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday of the process that led to the Government misusing public money on its referendum website and booklet".
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?
Yes; I am getting there. The advice in question had come from the Office of the Attorney General, Ms Máire Whelan, and cleared the material on the website and in the booklet, "But the Supreme Court found this week that elements of the website and booklet were 'not fair, equal or impartial'".
There is also the question of the advice given in 1999 about the Aliens Act. It is my understanding the superior courts of the State, the High Court and the Supreme Court-----
Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue? We are not having a debate on the advice given by the Attorney General.
I am coming to the end. These courts may make decisions on the constitutionality of any disputed matter and, as such, the advice of the Attorney General can be assigned no more weigh than any other advice available at any given time. I ask the Deputy Leader to hold a debate on the role of and weight assigned to the advice provided by the Attorney General on legislation.
Following what Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said, it is important that the House recognise the authority of the Attorney General's position. I am not talking about the Attorney General.
We are not having a debate on the Attorney General.
I am not speaking about the person of the Attorney General but the Office of the Attorney General. It certainly is allowable to speak in this Chamber about the Office of the Attorney General or any public office. The idea that the Attorney General's advice is sometimes wrong is uncontestable. It is challenged at Supreme Court level and sometimes found that it is not what it is. However, when the Attorney General expresses the opinion that the actions of the Government are unconstitutional, Article 15 of the Constitution kicks in and requires the Government not to enact or attempt to enact legislation thought to be unconstitutional. It is as clear as day and there can be no argument about this, as Article 15 makes clear.
They got it wrong in 1999.
Does Senator John Gilroy have a question for the Deputy Leader?
I support the proposal made by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell that we have a discussion on the matter. The idea that the Attorney General wakes up in the morning and forms an opinion shows a blatant misunderstanding of how the Office of the Attorney General arrives at conclusions. It comprises 35 legal officers-----
We should not be discussing the Attorney General at all.
The Office of the Attorney General is a legitimate topic for discussion, the person of the Attorney General is not.
We should not be discussing the Attorney General or the Office of the Attorney General.
Is the Office of the Attorney General not an allowable topic of discussion?
No, that is correct.
I cannot accept that ruling. I will accept it, of course, but-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?
If the Attorney General's opinion is as valid as anyone else's, it demonstrates an misunderstanding of the operation of the Office of the Attorney General. The Attorney General widely canvasses opinion among academics and senior law officers in the Four Courts, the Law Library and elsewhere. Having canvassed their opinions, the Attorney General arrives at a particular position. It is not as if he or she wakes up in the morning and decides what is right.
The Attorney General is the only practising barrister in the office.
I support the Senator, but I disagree with what he stated. I support him, however, in seeking a debate on the role of the Office of the Attorney General.
Yesterday saw the defeat of the Bill proposed by Deputy Clare Daly on fatal foetal abnormalities. I found the defeat distasteful and shameful. I remember when the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was debated in this House that I voted in favour of an amendment to include families and women affected by fatal foetal abnormalities-----
That Bill was never debated in the House. It was a Private Members' Bill in the Dáil.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was debated in the House and an amendment was tabled to it to cover fatal foetal abnormalities.
The Bill proposed by Deputy Clare Daly was not debated in this House.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout proposed the amendment and I voted in favour of it. I wish Deputy Anne Ferris the very best. She stood by her principles and the longstanding principles of the Labour Party.
That is a matter for the Dáil.
It has brought the rigid Whip system in the Oireachtas into focus.
That has nothing to do with this House. The Order of Business is about the business ordered for the day.
This issue certainly affects the business of the House. It has also brought into focus the issue of the advice of the Attorney General.
We are not discussing the advice of the Attorney General. I have ruled on that matter.
According to various media sources, yesterday and this morning, the Attorney General's advice was divulged and spoken about at a Labour Party Parliamentary Party meeting. While I understand from media sources that leaks from the Labour Party Parliamentary Party rooms are not always the most reliable or the most credible-----
Does the Senator have a question? What goes on at parliamentary party meetings has nothing to do with the Seanad.
Is it true that the advice of the Attorney General was debated and discussed at a meeting of the Labour Party-----
What does that have to do with this House?
It is necessary to discuss the issue because the advice of the Attorney General-----
That is a matter for the Labour Party.
It was given to the Cabinet to show that the legislation was unconstitutional. The recommendation was debated by the Labour Party and not divulged to any other parliamentarian, which is utterly wrong.
This is not relevant to the Order of Business.
I welcome the jobs announcement made this morning by IDA Ireland worth €250 million as part of its regional investment plan. IDA Ireland in Galway has more than replaced the jobs lost in supported industries.
An Action Plan for Jobs is targeting regional areas and ensuring we are accelerating job creation in all towns and villages throughout the country. Led by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, local authorities, businesses and community groups are asked to develop their own action plans and the Government is committing to substantial funding for regional job creation in the next five years. Some €100 million is to be made available by Enterprise Ireland to support and fund regional job creation. As part of a €150 million property investment, an advance manufacturing facility will be provided in Galway next year. This is a significant boost for the west that will ensure job creation extends into the regions, towns and villages. I am delighted with the news of this investment this morning. It is great news on the jobs front for Ireland.
Cuireann sé alltacht agus iontas orm cuid de na ráitis atá déanta ag an Aire Airgeadais san Eoraip ar maidin maidir le muintir na Gréige agus é ag cur an mhilleáin ar na gnáth daoine ó thaobh na bhfiacha atá ar an tír sin.
I find quite flabbergasting the statements that have been made by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to the eurozone Finance Ministers on the plight of the Greek people. In the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to visit Greece, Portugal and Spain and I have met people affected by the crisis at first hand. I met the women cleaners who were on strike outside the Ministry of Finance in Greece because of their situation. I met staff from the national broadcaster that was shut down in Greece because of the impact of the cutbacks and I have met people in Spain and Portugal in similar situations. The ordinary people in those countries are suffering badly and the fact that the Government and the Minister of Finance will not even enter into debate about how debt could be restructured across Europe is an absolute disgrace. The Labour Party, in particular, as a party that stands for trade union rights, etc., should stand up and say we need to have this debate. I believe the Seanad would be the ideal arena for us to look at the proposals that are being put forward by the progressive government in Greece. The least we could do, in solidarity with comrades across Europe, is to look at and debate the proposals to see if there is merit in them. If we come to the same conclusion as the Minister for Finance, so be it, but at least let us have a debate on them. The fact that debate is being shut down and that the Government is signalling in Europe that the door is shut, without having had a debate, is a disgrace. We need to ensure this does not happen. I call for a debate on this issue in the Seanad. We have expertise in this House and have open debate on issues such as this. This is the least we can do for and on behalf of our comrades across Europe.
I join Senator Hildegarde Naughton in welcoming the IDA Ireland proposals. This is great news and the proposals are important for the west, including counties Sligo and Leitrim. A fund of €50 million will be drawn down in 2015 to promote jobs in these areas. We have significant job creation in the eastern part of the country, but critics would say there has not been enough investment west of the Shannon. This investment west of the Shannon is a real opportunity. Some 612 jobs have been created in Sligo in the past couple of years and 352 in County Leitrim. We can now look forward to adding to that figure. The people with the lead responsibility in this area will be the local authorities and communities and Enterprise Ireland. If people have ideas, they will have the opportunity to put them on paper and talk to IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and to move forward with them. This is good news.
It is welcome that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, is in the United States signing deals for beef exports. The good news is the US market will take approximately 1 billion tonnes of Irish beef in the next period. Any of us who have been out and about in cattle marts recently know that coming on the back of a difficult 2014, this expected buoyant trade is good for farmers. This has come about because of the good deals that have been signed in the agri sector.
I join in the call made by colleague Senator Paschal Mooney for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to come to the House to debate the effects of some aspects of the habitats directive on rural Ireland. I hope we can have this debate as soon possible.
Last Friday, I attended the official opening by the Taoiseach of the Cavan-Monaghan education and training board multi-complex in the former Army barracks site in Monaghan town. This complex houses Gaelscoil Ultain, Coláiste Oiriall, the Monaghan Institute and the Garage Theatre. It is a state-of-the-art complex and I pay tribute to everybody involved in getting the complex to its completed state, fully occupied and officially opened by the Taoiseach last Friday. I compliment everybody involved, including the chief executive of Cavan-Monaghan education and training board, Martin O'Brien and the committee members of the former County Monaghan VEC whose brainchild this was. They were ably assisted in the project by a former colleague in the Dáil, Margaret Conlon. I also thank former Ministers, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary Coughlan and Ruairí Quinn for the input they had in ensuring this complex came into existence. Will the Deputy Leader please invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House in order that we can ask her what plans, if any, she has for the former Dún Uí Néill Army barracks in Cavan town which are now in the ownership of the said Cavan-Monaghan education and training board? This barracks was the only purpose built Army barracks in the history of the State. It is a state-of-the-art building, but it was closed over two years ago by the Government. It has been in the ownership of the board mentioned for over two years and is sitting idle. It costs more to maintain it closed than it cost to keep it going when fully occupied by members of the Defence Forces. It is a matter of urgency to ascertain from the Department and the Minister what plans, if any, they have for that site.
I join colleagues in welcoming the significant announcement made this morning by the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, regarding making available €250 million in the next few years. Some €150 million of these moneys will go towards building nine manufacturing facilities, strategically located throughout the country, one of which will be in County Galway. I will make a strong case for the Galway location to be in the east of the county, in Ballinasloe, where 1,000 industrial jobs have been lost in the past decade. I also welcome the fact that €100 million will be made available to Enterprise Ireland to invest in local projects with good prospects of creating significant jobs in the next few years. It is gratifying to see a Tuam-based company, Steeltech Garden Sheds, announce a significant expansion this morning that will create 100 new jobs in Tuam. We must take advantage of every possible opportunity and it is welcome that the regional action plans for jobs will be completed and published by July. The plan for the midlands is due to be published in the next couple of weeks and the plans for the other regions will be rolled out in July. We support these plans.
Tourism is strongly linked with our economic recovery and I welcome the significant announcement made by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, this morning that this year a number of iconic buildings will be part of global greening for St. Patrick's Day such as the Colosseum in Rome, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the Sacré Coeur basilica in Paris.
This will add to the very significant number of buildings throughout the world that will help us by recognising St. Patrick's Day. We must build on the wonderful work being done by Tourism Ireland promoting tourism throughout the world. In 2014, there was a very significant 14% increase in visitor numbers to the country. On St. Patrick's Day, we get a window of opportunity that no other country in the world gets and we must take advantage of it and build on it. I hope our Ministers will travel throughout the world promoting Ireland this St. Patrick's Day because the tourism industry depends on it.
I concur to a degree with Senator Michael Mullins and it is appropriate that we remind ourselves that St. Patrick's Day is about more than just tourism, although tourism has become an important part of it. We could renew some of our Christian values which St. Patrick bequeathed to us. There is a need for it in society across Europe and Ireland.
Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, here to debate the issue of crimes such as burglaries and theft, which go under the radar and receive very little focus and publicity, yet which are very insidious and damaging to people's lives? I have already mentioned here a lady in her 90s who was living alone and was burgled. The experience ruined the rest of her life because she no longer had the confidence to live alone. This crime is endemic across the country and in my area, south west Wexford, there has been a spate of robberies. Most of them go undetected and unresolved and nobody is brought to justice for them. One of the most significant problems is that the perpetrators go on to become involved in much more serious crime. There is no such thing as a victimless crime. I would like a debate here on this because there has been no statement from the Minister or any Government politician on it. The Garda must put more emphasis on it in order that the detection of such crimes is brought up to the standards of best practice internationally. Very few of these crimes are solved. Often, gardaí know who the perpetrators are but cannot meet the evidential barrier.
I would like a debate on the Constitution. Recently there have been debates here and in the Lower House about abortion in situations in which unborn children are diagnosed as being terminally ill or having a disability that means they will not survive. We must be careful because in the neighbouring island, where this is allowed, unborn babies who are diagnosed in the womb with a cleft palate or a club foot have been aborted as a result. It is used as an excuse to introduce abortion on demand. The Constitution has been a great protection for Irish people over the years and rather than dismissing it and its provisions, we should welcome its protection. Ultimately, the people will decide all these issues.
I welcome a debate on the Office of the Attorney General, which applies not to one person but to four.
We cannot debate the Office of the Attorney General.
Then we should not imply, as a Senator did, that the Attorney General wakes up in the morning and makes statements off her own bat. She is advised by the Advisory Counsels, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and-----
We cannot discuss the Attorney General. I have already ruled on the matter.
I would like to know how one Senator can make a whole statement on the issue and another Senator cannot comment on it.
I have ruled on the issue
I raise another important issue, energy. The EU directive requires that by 2020, 16% of our energy must come from renewable sources. Only 7.1% of our energy comes from renewables. Today, Apple has invested $700 billion in solar energy and will create a plant in San Francisco, which will do good for the world and climate change. I congratulate Dublin City Council which also announced today that it will install solar panels on four of its libraries and the Civic Offices, which will save the council €21,000. I seek a renewed debate on renewable energy. Of our renewable energy, 46% comes from wind and 43% from biomass with only a small proportion coming from solar. People might say I am mad thinking about solar energy. I am not. There are new types of panels. The biggest solar power facility in the world is in Leipzig, Germany and a new report has found that Dublin would benefit in the same way as Germany from solar energy, not just from sun but from daylight. I seek renewed debate and action to ensure we provide more of our energy using renewable sources and discuss how we will do it. We are approaching 2020. It will be upon us before we know it. We are in the throes of discussing climate change and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill. We had a good debate here before. I compliment Jody Corcoran, who had an article on wind energy in the Sunday Independent. He wrote that he was walking beside wind turbines and they were like a lady's skirt blowing in the wind.
Members should Google Jody Corcoran's good article on wind energy. May we have a debate on the issue?
It must have been a huge bustle he was walking past.
On a serious note, I would like the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to come to the House and explain to me how Bank of Ireland is continuing to do to the people what it did during the banking crisis. Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story entitled The Fall of the House of Usher, and one could align it to the fall of the house of banking in 2008 in which we, the Irish people, had to pay back €65 billion of private debts, creating an enormous albatross. At the same time, the Bank of Ireland is telling its customers they will have to pay more to withdraw cash, pay in cash and use cheques. The same practices are happening in an individual, insidious way as in 2008.
There is an excellent banking inquiry under way with people coming from all over the world to tell us about our own-goals, Kalashnikovs to the kidneys and what we did and did not do. Every day, something new is coming from the banks to ostracise people. Human beings are no longer needed or spoken to in banks. Only if people play the banks' games their way, the automatic, technological way, will the banks answer them. While it is all right for small businesses, most Irish people deal with the banks individually with their cash. I would like the Minister to come here and tell us what smacht, to use the Irish word for order, is being put on Irish banks, especially Bank of Ireland, to prevent them from carrying on and doing what they like to the Irish people while we are still saving them and keeping them open because they have not got a penny to their names, except what the Canadians gave them.
I join other speakers in applauding the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, on today's launch of the Government's new regional action plan for jobs. Many have argued that the economic recovery is a Dublin-only phenomenon and across the world's economies it has been shown that economic recovery must take place in capital cities before the effect is felt outside urban areas.
This new strategy is geared towards dealing with growth outside Dublin. The plan will see €250 million spent over five years, with €150 million going to IDA Ireland to develop infrastructure to attract companies to the regions, outside the urban centres. This strategy is crucial in helping to revitalise regions which have lagged behind in the recovery, while stemming the flow of emigration of young people from regional and rural areas. It is easy to forget that when the Government took office we were haemorrhaging jobs on a weekly basis. We made a commitment to create 100,000 new jobs by 2016 and now look on course to exceed that target. This latest strategy is a vital stepping stone towards the target of full employment by 2018.
Two or three years ago in the run-up to the budget I made a strong case for the Minister for Finance allowing people to access their additional voluntary contributions, AVCs, from their pensions. The scheme he set up was minimal but very worthy. Recently I asked him to consider extending that and doing it again but I received a reply in recent days to the effect that he has no intention of doing so. In his reply he states, "I have no plans to extend pre-retirement access to pension savings beyond what is provided for in relation to AVCs". I wish to express my disappointment with this, particularly with the announcement this week that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain has introduced a scheme under which 1 million people over 65 years will enjoy better incomes. One pensioner in ten will be up to £600 better off under the multi-billion pound bonds windfall announced by the Chancellor on Monday. I mention this because being able to access their AVCs enables people to spend money which in turn helps the economy, as well as relieving them of financial worries. It gives people the opportunity to help the economy. Yesterday Senator Darragh O'Brien made the case for having a debate on pensions and I agree that we should have such a debate soon. If we do so, we will be able to cover a much wider area than would be possible otherwise.
I call on the Minister for Health to come into the House to debate two current issues. Once again, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is in the news. I was absolutely shocked to hear Mr. Tony Fitzpatrick of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, on radio this morning referring to the fact that well over 60 people were lying on trolleys there. This simply cannot be allowed to continue. Some of those people have been waiting four or five days to be seen and admitted. Last night there were up to 40 patients on trolleys in the accident and emergency department, ten on trolleys in already-full wards and 13 in the medical assessment unit, MAU. Ironically, the MAU was set up two years ago to help to alleviate this very problem. I was astonished to hear that many of the patients were elderly, some of them over 75. Mr. Fitzpatrick confirmed that if beds were provided, such patients would take up two full wards. It is vital that the Minister come to the House to discuss this issue.
The second issue is the audit that was carried out over two years on the number of undetected breech births in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. The biggest disappointment in this regard is the fact that the audit was patient-led. It was only when the patients complained that something was actually done. Unfortunately, there were 221 breech births at the hospital and one baby lost its life. A further source of disappointment is the fact that of the 21 late-diagnosis breech births, 13 were in the clinical-led unit, while eight were in the midwifery-led unit. These figures are disproportionate in the context of what is acceptable by European standards. I ask that the Minister for Health would come to the House to discuss these issues.
I have been raising the issue of expenditure and contract procurement by the Saolta Healthcare Group in recent weeks and in that context, it would be appropriate to have a debate in this House on HSE spending on PR consultants. We should hear from the Minister for Health on this issue because between 2005 and 2009, the HSE spent approximately €10 million per year on spin doctors and PR firms. I have been unable to get the up-to-date figures and undoubtedly the annual spend has fallen somewhat. Nevertheless, the question remains as to why the HSE has been engaging the services of PR firms at all. Why is a public body, established under the Health Act 2004, investing in a press operation? Senators will have heard the phrase about having a dog and barking oneself, which is relevant here. Why is it that the HSE has people in receipt of publicly-funded salaries doing communications work for it but is also procuring PR and spin doctor services through contracts at a time when people are struggling? I and many other Senators have been raising so many challenges faced by individuals, families and communities. Recently I spoke about people trying to get basic housing allocated to them and about people being in danger of losing their accommodation because of rent increases. This is going on while our public bodies spend fortunes on making themselves look good in the eyes of voters and the wider public.
I raise this issue today because currently the west has no baby cooling system for children who were deprived of oxygen before birth. Unless such babies are given cooling treatment brain damage can occur. I understand that Saolta, as it is now called after an expensive name change, has engaged Setanta Communications - a PR firm - to justify and spin about the fact, among other things, University College Hospital Galway has no cooling system in place. Let me just draw on the words of one particular advertisement - the cost of a baby cooling mat: €10,000; the cost of the services of a neonatalogist: €60,000; the cost of a law suit for a child who suffered brain damage: €4 million; and the cost of saving a child's life: priceless. We have our priorities all wrong and it is disgraceful that the spend on PR firms is greater than the spend on life-saving treatments.
The Cathaoirleach ruled earlier on the question of adverting to Deputy Clare Daly's Private Members' Bill in the other House which was a direct assault on the dignity and rights of some very vulnerable children.
It was not.
That is an outrageous statement.
I only wished, following the news on this issue, that Deputy Clare Daly had met some of those who-----
The Senator cannot say that.
The Senator cannot speak like that. He cannot claim that it was a direct assault-----
We are not discussing the issue now. It is a Private Members' Bill in the other House and I have already ruled on the matter. Senator Rónán Mullen is way over time.
Okay, I will conclude by saying that I only wish that she had met some of those families who received the news that their child had such a fatal abnormality but which child went on to live for months and even years, in some cases.
The Senator is way over time.
Does he have his definitions of "dignity" with him this morning?
That is what is at the heart of it.
In conclusion, was it not bizarre to hear various media commentators and people on the left, calling for freedom of conscience for Labour Party Members?
The Senator should sit down. He is now coming here to give us definitions of "dignity"-----
Where were they in 2013 when other Deputies were following their consciences? Where were they?
One House does not encroach on the business of the other.
I will respond first to Senator Paschal Mooney who raised the issue of turf cutting and compliance with the habitats directive, as well as differing views on the levels of compliance here. The Senator has asked for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to come to the House to debate the issue. I will seek such a debate with the Minister and have already asked for the debate on library services which the Senator sought yesterday. However, if there is a specific issue arising with regard to levels of compliance, it might best be approached in a Commencement matter directed to the Minister. That would certainly be a quicker way of getting a response from her. That said, I will seek the broader debate for which the Senator has called.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to an An Taisce case in County Kerry. I am not aware of that case and expect the Senator to write directly to An Taisce about the matter. I do not think I should comment further on something which may be the subject of a judicial review.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the Private Members' Bill brought forward by Deputy Clare Daly in the other House yesterday. The Cathaoirleach has ruled on that issue and my own views on it are well known. The Senator sought a debate in this House on the Office of the Attorney General. As colleagues will be aware, under Article 30 of the Constitution, the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government. I have not seen her advice on this matter which was issued to the Government for Government members. Government members stated the advice was that Deputy Clare Daly's Bill was unconstitutional.
I can certainly look into having a debate on the role of the Attorney General, but I am not sure we can do so in this House. However, if it is possible to do so, we will.
It is not directly related to the Bill.
I accept that. We have had an extensive debate on the Order of Business because a number of other colleagues raised the issue of the role played by the Attorney General.
Senator John Gilroy referred to the role of the Attorney General and Article 15. Colleagues will be aware that Article 15.4.1° states the Oireachtas shall not enact any law which is in any respect repugnant to the Constitution, but, as we know, in any Article 26 reference that succeeded – in other words, where the Supreme Court struck down a Bill as being unconstitutional – there was advice from the Attorney General that the Bill was constitutional. Clearly, no Attorney General is infallible and I do not think anyone would ever suggest the Attorney General was.
Senator James Heffernan referred to the Private Members' Bill on which the Cathaoirleach had ruled and asked specifically about a matter before the Labour Party Parliamentary Party. All I can say is the advice of the Attorney General was not disclosed to anyone who was not a member of the Government. Like the Senator, I wish Deputy Anne Ferris very well. I regret that we could not legislate for fatal foetal abnormalities and have asked the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health to look at whether it would be possible to draft legislation within the terms of the Constitution to deal with that specific issue. I accept that it would have to be highly restrictive to stay within the terms of Article 43.3 which I believe should be repealed, but that is a matter for another day.
Senator Hildegarde Naughton welcomed the announcement by IDA Ireland and the launch today of An Action Plan for Jobs which is region focused. We should all join in welcoming this really important initiative. It is a new five-year €250 million strategy aimed at accelerating jobs recovery, which is under way. A few colleagues mentioned really good news on job announcements in specific parts of the country, which are hugely welcome. Each of the eight regional areas is to develop its own action plan. There is a very structured plan, at which I advise colleagues to look in terms of how it will be rolled out, with the first tranche of €50 million to be made available this year. Colleagues referred to specific aspects of the plan, with Senator Hildegarde Naughton referring to Galway, to which Senator Michael Comiskey also referred. It would be worthwhile colleagues looking at it, particular from the point of view of their own areas, to see how it will be rolled out and how they can assist in any way in supporting it.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the proposals for the restructuring of Greek debt which had been put forward. I answered this question yesterday when I pointed out that there would be a debate on the matter in the other House last night on foot of a Private Members' motion. I committed to looking for a debate on it in this House also. As I said yesterday, the taxpayer has invested in the region of €350 million as part of the Greek programme and the Government has stated it wants to see a resolution to help the Greek people. As the Senator said, we all appreciate the suffering and hardship people in Greece and other eurozone countries have endured in recent years as a result of particularly high levels of unemployment and debt.
Senator Michael Comiskey referred to the job announcements and welcomed the visit of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to the United States and the return of Irish beef to the market there, which we all welcome.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson referred to the habitats directive. He also welcomed the provision of a new complex in Monaghan to include the new Gaelscoil. I thank him for being very inclusive in his remarks. He thanked colleagues in different parties, including the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, for the action taken, which, obviously, is very welcome.
The Senator also asked about the development of the former barracks in Cavan town. I suggest he table a Commencement matter to the Minister for Education and Skills as it is a very specific question which is probably not appropriate to a more general debate.
Senator Michael Mullins welcomed the jobs plan and the announcement of the creation of 100 jobs in Tuam. He also referred to the greening of iconic buildings around the world, including the Sacré Coeur in Paris, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the Colosseum in Rome, which is hugely welcome for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. As the Senator said, this is a unique opportunity for us to grow the tourism industry.
Senator Jim Walsh called for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the impact on victims of the crimes of burglary and theft. I will seek such a debate. I have dealt with the issue of abortion and the Constitution.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to renewable energy targets and developments in solar energy at Dublin City Council and in other places. She called for a debate on the issue of renewable energy. It would be good to have such a debate which I will certainly look to have. I did not know about Leipzig being the location of the biggest solar panel in the world, which is interesting.
With her customary eloquence, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to the treatment of customers by banks and ongoing practices in banking. I do not know if the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has specifically looked at the issue of customer service in banks, but it would provide a really good focus for the committee because, as I said yesterday in another context, it could invite people in and hold hearings. We can look for a debate in the House on the issue, but the committee might provide a better forum for it.
Senator Catherine Noone referred to An Action Plan for Jobs, which is region-focused. I have covered that issue.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the issue of access to AVCs and giving people access to pension funds to free up money for spending. I agree with the Senator that we could deal with that issue in the context of the debate on pensions which was looked for yesterday and for which I have asked.
Senator Mary Moran referred to the very worrying reports from Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital on the treatment of breech births, which is a matter of great concern to us all. I understand practices have improved since. The Senator also referred to other issues in the health service and called on the Minister for Health to come to the House to debate the issue of trolley figures and overcrowding in accident and emergency departments. As the Minister said, the current high figures which are very concerning are due to a combination of factors, including delayed discharges which are at a higher level. It was apparent listening to staff working in accident and emergency departments on radio this morning that the issue of delayed discharges was very significant. It is not so much that more beds are required in hospitals but more beds in step-down facilities to ensure patients may be discharged safely. The Government has taken action in allocating 300 additional fair deal scheme places and 400 additional home care packages and providing for the reopening or funding 500 transitional and community beds. The Department and the HSE are working to have another 200 beds opened in the next two weeks. Mount Carmel Hospital, local to my area in Dublin, will be reopened as a community hospital in March. We all hope these developments will result in an easing of the problem. There has also been a difficulty in recruiting senior decision-making doctors, while there has been the seasonal outbreak of flu. These have contributed to the problem. However, it must be remembered that there were problems with overcrowding in accident and emergency departments even during the boom times. It is as much a matter of seeking to manage the problem as it is of funding and resources. I will certainly look for the Minister to come to the House to tell us what he is doing to tackle the issue.
Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the issue of contract procurement and spending in the HSE, which I suggest is one for the Committee of Public Accounts or the Joint Committee on Health.