Order of Business.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 18

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Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy The Order of Business today is No. 1, Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Bill 2008, Second Stage, to be to taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business. Spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes, other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald There are a number of recurring themes we speak on in the Seanad across all parties. This morning I heard Pat Kenny on RTE read a letter from a woman who stated it was a very bad week for parents in Ireland. She was referring to the horrific deaths of the two Polish men — the second man has now died — caused by what appears to be a gang of young people. She was also referring to the tragic suicides in the west of Ireland, with two reported again this week.

This is a sad commentary after ten years of the Celtic tiger and an indictment of the Government, which has taken its eye off the ball with regard to public services, health services and a focus on drugs and alcohol. We have also had ongoing discussions here about drugs and alcohol and at a conference organised by MEAS yesterday we heard about the numbers of people, as young as 13, having access to alcohol.

I make a special request this morning that we ask the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science and Health and Children to come together to begin a serious initiative to deal with these issues, as they are very corrosive. We would be letting down future generations if we did not address these issues.

We have had many task force reports on alcohol and it is time for action. We have all the information. I ask the Leader to bring to Government the request from this House for a serious initiative in this area of underage drinking and anti-social behaviour. This links to justice issues with regard to more community policing. We have seen a very depressing scenario this morning and I strongly believe we must invest more in public services.

I strongly believe there has not been the focus on social issues that there should have been in recent years. We will pay a very heavy price for this. It will not just be the more disadvantaged communities which will suffer, it will be Irish society as a whole that will pay the price.

Linked to this, another issue has emerged from the organisation of primary school principals, the IPPN. It is extremely concerned about funding [1367]for primary schools. The IPPN president has stated that each of the 455,000 children in our primary schools is supported at a rate of 96 cent per day, or half the cost of a loaf of bread. It is hardly a level of investment likely to enable us to keep pace with our EU neighbours.

The IPPN president also repeated what many of us here know, that many primary schools must raise funds to remain open and pay for basic necessities such as heat, light, insurance, cleaning and maintenance. Pressured parents sell jam and cakes to keep schools open. Funding for primary schools will have to be re-examined in light of this comprehensive survey which is being done in all primary schools and being reported on tonight on RTE’s “Prime Time”.

I ask the Leader to bring this information back to the Minister for Education and Science and allow us have another debate in this House on primary school education. It is very clear schools are continually being disappointed at the moment. I had a group of young pupils in yesterday from St. Brigid’s school in Palmerstown who were excited about moving into a prefab so their school could be rebuilt. I received a reply from the Minister which was equivocal and which did not confirm the building would go ahead. This is one of many schools around the country who have been very disappointed at the lack of funding and the building programme seems to be grinding to a halt.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe O'Toole Zoom on Joe O'Toole I will also speak on a point raised by Senator Fitzgerald, the funding of primary schools. It is a good time to remind the House this Government promised during the election that the capitation grant for primary schools would be doubled but this has not happened. This is the outcome.

Parents and teachers met around the country, organised by the INTO, prior to the last election. Meeting various groups, the Government gave a commitment to the rise but there is no sign of it. Schools are now skimping and scraping trying to make ends meet and managing schools on a shoestring but they are not succeeding. The cannot make available what is supposed to be available. It is time we saw exactly how schools are doing their business and how schools cannot be run on the amount of money available.

There was also a commitment that every school in Ireland would have broadband. I saw a reference two days ago in a publication to the effect that 98% of schools now have broadband availability. I have double-checked that in the past few days. It is ludicrous to suggest that 98% of schools have access to broadband. These issues have been raised with everyone in the House. There should be a priority list of schools designated for building work or new schools this year. It should be open, transparent and available. We should see it when it is published and it should continue. People might not be aware a list is put together one year [1368]and if it is not completed, a new list is drawn up the next year with no reference to the schools prioritised the previous year. Everyone in this House has been lobbied by some school or other for information wanting to know where it stands on the list and when the building work is likely to happen. There are nine stages and schools are held back at every one of them, not knowing how to get to the next point or where the blockage exists. It is appalling.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I was delighted to see that Meteor mobile telephone company has been named as one of the top 50 Irish employers in the past year. It promotes a work hard, play hard ethos and that is why it has achieved a growth in subscribers of 150,000 in the past year which increased Eircom’s profits. Meteor’s revenues have risen by 30%, not only because the number of subscribers has increased but also because the average revenue per user has, as Rex Combs from the company said this morning. According to ComReg’s report last December Irish mobile telephone users pay more than users in any of the European countries ComReg has studied. Paying higher than average charges for mobile phone usage will impact on our competitiveness. Although we have an open market we are paying high prices. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to meet ComReg and the mobile telephone providers to come up with an action plan on how mobile telephone charges can be reduced for users in this country?

Yesterday traffic crawled at a snail’s pace through Dublin following the closure of the port tunnel and once again the emergency services failed to plan adequately for the incident. Only a few weeks ago a different incident brought the whole of Dublin to a standstill.

I do not accept that nothing can be done. I read in the latest edition of Garda Review that divisions often have to share equipment so, for example, public service vehicle inspectors must collect equipment from one division and bring it to the scene of an accident before they can clear the scene. That can take hours and such delays are common. Work could be done on issues such as this to improve the process. Will the Leader speak to the Minister for Transport to impress upon him the need to put adequate emergency planning procedures in place so that we do not continually suffer such gridlock as we did yesterday?

Senator Camillus Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn There have been several suicides of young males recently in Longford, Westmeath and the Mullingar area. Statistics prove that the suicide rate among males aged from their mid-teens to 28 or 29 is seven times that of young females. Despite all efforts made to grapple with this problem it is a creeping cancer in society. It is time we had another debate on the subject in the hope that worthwhile sugges[1369]tions will come forward. Whatever we do and whether we like it or not, this issue will not go away. If one puts the reality under one’s pillow at night it remains the same in the morning. Can we have an urgent debate on this matter as soon as possible? Senator Corrigan is our spokesperson so perhaps she and the Leader could arrange such a timely debate.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan Zoom on Eugene Regan I add my voice to those of Senators, including the Leader, who expressed confidence yesterday in the independence of the Mahon tribunal. The tribunal has treated each witness in equal terms and no special provision has been made for the Taoiseach or any witness although the tribunal has been intimidated in that regard. I also commend the tribunal’s professionalism in unearthing new secret accounts of the Taoiseach, which brings the sum under investigation to €500,000.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle That contradicts what the Senator has just said.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I have allowed the Senator speak in general about the tribunal but I do not want any Senator to speak about specific evidence.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan Zoom on Eugene Regan I know I should respect my betters so I will defer to the Cathaoirleach. It appears from newspaper reports today that the Taoiseach is putting it up to the Tánaiste, Deputy Cowen, to show unqualified support. Will the Leader clarify that the Tánaiste’s support is unqualified in respect of questions arising from the Mahon tribunal?

Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely Zoom on Ivor Callely Is the Senator serious?

Senator Camillus Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn The Senator disappoints us.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Cathaoirleach certainly would know.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan It is not relevant. The relationship between Ministers or Deputies or whoever else——

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Is there a relationship?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan ——is not relevant to the Order of Business in this House.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer All is fair in love and war.

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a debate across the Departments of Education and Science, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children in light of the death of a second young Polish man this morning. A few weeks ago we held an effec[1370]tive and worthwhile debate on alcohol and drug abuse. While the Celtic tiger society is affluent, certain fabrics in our society have broken down. It is not all the fault of the Health Service Executive. One has to consider families, homes and parents. We awoke this morning to hear of the death of that young man, another death by suicide in Westport and the case of a young girl being bound and gagged by colleagues in her classroom in Galway a few days ago.

I call the youngsters in Drimnagh young thugs. One wonders what is in their system that they can commit murder in cold blood in broad daylight. This is worrying and I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that it requires an urgent debate.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins When does the Leader intend to make time to debate the Bill at No. 11 on the Order Paper? It could be dealt with quickly because it is a uncontentious Bill which I presume has full Government support.

The Government will introduce new standards for nursing homes and nursing home care soon. This is not before time and probably will help redress some of the neglect of our elderly citizens we have witnessed in the past. When will the regulations and standards be fully implemented? Will the Minister for Health and Children come into the House to indicate when the promised nursing home support Bill will be published? We will need time to consult and reflect on the Bill after publication and I hope it will not be rushed through the House. That is the last thing we need for such important legislation. Will the Leader say when the Bill will come to the House?

Senator Larry Butler: Information on Larry Butler Zoom on Larry Butler I ask the Leader to facilitate a full debate on Ireland’s EU involvement and the role it plays therein. It also is important to recognise that Ireland has contributed €914 million this year in overseas development aid, ODA. As Ireland is the sixth largest contributor in the EU, it is important to have a debate on this subject. Almost €46 billion was contributed last year by the 27 member states of the EU, which plays an important role in the development of Third World countries. The European Union should continue to play a leadership role in the implementation of the millennium development goals to help tackle the poverty in the Third World, intensify the battle against HIV-AIDS and maintain good governance in respect of the expenditure of donated moneys. Ireland plays an extremely important role within the European Union in helping countries that are less well off. I am glad that Ireland is playing its role in this regard. While it has been criticised in the past for not coming up to scratch, I believe it now plays its role, as well as showing leadership.

I regret that my colleague from Dún Laoghaire, Senator Regan, continues to make cheap publicity on behalf of the tribunals. It is not good enough——

[1371]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Senator Butler——

Senator Larry Butler: Information on Larry Butler Zoom on Larry Butler ——and he should consider his position in that regard as spokesman.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I do not want——

Senator Larry Butler: Information on Larry Butler Zoom on Larry Butler I do not believe he is the spokesman on that subject——

Senator Geraldine Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Hear, hear.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Senator Butler——

Senator Larry Butler: Information on Larry Butler Zoom on Larry Butler ——and he is letting down his side badly.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The Senator should desist. I do not want Members talking across the floor saying anything about any other Members present.

Senator Larry Butler: Information on Larry Butler Zoom on Larry Butler I too am entitled to have my say.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan No. I call Senator Norris.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I share the concern expressed by Senator Fitzgerald about the appalling tragedy in Drimnagh. That said, I know Drimnagh, which it is a very pleasant area and the people there are very decent. It was a corporation estate and many residents had the opportunity to buy their houses. They include a good friend of mine who made a beautiful job of the house in question. One must be careful not to tar an entire district of Dublin because it is a place in which I would be proud to live.

However, it is interesting that Senator Fitzgerald raised the question of parenting, as did many people who spoke about the killings on the radio today. Among the points made about some of the gangs of youths that go around was that decent people are afraid to approach the parents involved because they are even more abusive and have threatened to let the children do precisely what they want. This puts in context the very useful debate held in the House last night, in which one or two Members suggested that the only possible family model was the heterosexual family model, comprising a man and a woman. While this model can be very good when it works, no one has suggested that gay parents were involved in any of these cases. Hence it is not universally true that the panacea is to have a man and a woman as there are highly dysfunctional families that let down the whole of society. Moreover, if one considers, for example, the question of the Kilkenny incest case or sexual abuse of children in general, it happens predominately in the home and is perpetrated by one of the parents or a sibling. One must bear this in mind when using children to attack gay couples. While I am sure there can be bad ones — I do not know of any — such couples are obliged to choose and sometimes even to fight to keep their own children. I know [1372]of no gay family that has a reproach of this kind on it.

Another interesting point to arise from this case is that apparently, the children, young people or whatever, were congregating in an attempt to get drink. They asked the Polish people to buy them drink and it was when the latter refused that they were so savagely and brutally murdered. In common with many other Members — I do not claim a unique role in this regard — I have raised the manner in which licences have been distributed throughout the country. Every huckster’s shop is up to the ceiling in wine, gin, beer and everything. When I said this on television one of the judges sued RTE, which of course collapsed like a paper bag and paid up. Members should have a further debate on this subject. I do not attack the family, which is an excellent institution. However, Members must recognise its blemishes and must not use children as a weapon against gay people.

I wish to raise a matter that has appeared in the Phoenix magazine and I have been contacted by the persons involved. Two articles were published that appear to set out to smear someone who appears to be a very fine man. I refer to Mr. Michael Semple, a diplomatic representative of some kind in Afghanistan, who was paid through the overseas development aid fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Apparently, he now is being hung out to dry, abusive articles are being written about him and both he and his family are highly distressed. The Minister for Foreign Affairs should come before the House to make a statement outlining Mr. Semple’s work. This man, unlike the Americans, actually speaks the local language, loves the Afghan people and has used his understanding of the conflict in Northern Ireland to help to resolve it.

This differs greatly from an occasion some years ago when I was invited by the American representative to a lunchtime talk to convert me on the war in Iraq. I met their expert on Iraq and when I asked him when he was last there, he replied he had never been to Iraq. I then suggested that he kept in touch through reading the local newspapers but he replied he did not, as he could not read or speak Arabic. It is no surprise the Americans got themselves into trouble. The case to which I refer involves a talented man who understands the situation and who may have been talking to some elements of the Taliban, which is a highly complex organisation. One must talk to one’s enemies to achieve progress. The Minister should come before the House to defend this man who does not have the money to take on the press in an expensive libel case.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú A very good debate was held last night on Senator Norris’s Private Members’ motion. Perhaps it is not useful to refer to a single small section of the debate because each section must be put in context and most Members spoke for eight minutes last night. [1373] I accept that perhaps Senator Norris’s comments did not refer to my contribution——

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris No.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú I accept that. However, the general tone of the debate last night was not such that any efforts were made to use children as a target or otherwise. The debate will be helpful in future and Members should read the Official Report of the debate because I was particularly impressed by the sensitivities that were expressed and by the forward thinking that also was evident.

I agree with Senator Fitzgerald and it may be helpful to have a debate on the downside of the Celtic tiger. There must be more to progress than fast cars, designer clothes, big houses, drugs parties and so on. There is much more to life than that and the old quality of life, on which we all prided ourselves so much, is now under attack in some ways and this issue must be considered. In particular, I find there is not a great sense of responsibility shown in some areas by parents towards the control of their children. In many cases, children are parentless for most of the day.

  11 o’clock

As for the aforementioned tragic case, there were reports on the radio this morning of cases in which eight year olds and ten year olds have physically attacked older people, which is highly worrying. I also heard on radio this morning that the crime under discussion could not even be described as a crime of passion because one of those involved had time to go home and get a screwdriver before returning to kill two innocent people. The references for the victims showed they were models in the community and in their workplaces and this is a highly worrying development. In addition, drunken louts feel they can terrorise and make fun of older people. All these issues must be considered. While I am unsure whether they necessarily should come in under a debate on institutions, everyone must pause and take stock of the present position. There has been an erosion of values in society and lives are being taken on a daily basis. The approach of accepting that life is sacred is no longer present. Even acknowledging the wonderful progress the country has made, we are not fulfilling out role as legislators if we do not get off the bandwagon every so often to analyse this issue in a much deeper way.

Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I request that the Minister for Health and Children be invited to the House for a debate on the ambulance service, an issue I raised previously on the Order of Business and on the Adjournment. There is a danger of going down the wrong road in terms of developments in this critical service, on which I received some disturbing evidence in recent weeks. Press reports have covered this issue. The manner in which the ambulance service in the mid west has been treated recently is disturbing. Recent decisions, [1374]based on clinical procedures, to bypass hospitals constitutes a separate debate. Ambulance drivers need clear direction, training and support from the Department and from the HSE that will allow them do what is a very difficult job. Unfortunately, in the space of two weeks they were given two different directives, one which allows them, in certain circumstances, to bypass certain hospitals and bring patients to major trauma hospitals if they are over 55 years of age, and the other relates to patients under the age of 55. Such directives do not constitute a clear direction. The HSE would not admit that technically it had made a mistake. Instead it engaged in a spin on the issue and said this was a procedural matter with which people like myself were trying to play politics. Ambulance drivers from across the mid west have told me that what the HSE has proposed is unworkable.

This issue comes on the back of a number of others. The Government gave a commitment that advanced paramedics will be allocated to work with the emergency medical technicians in the ambulance service. The allocation of such personnel is way behind schedule, which is particularly disturbing. Some ambulances now carry only one stretcher and advanced paramedics are required because the capacity of the service in that respect has halved. Furthermore, emergency medical technicians require training, which is also behind schedule.

The ambulance service has been increasingly privatised. We hear stories that this is the development in certain circumstances, but it has become more of an issue. Ambulance personnel have expressed concern to me that the personnel who provide the service are not trained to the required standards. We could have a crisis on our hands if private ambulance personnel deal with cases with which they are not qualified to deal.

I agree with the sentiments of previous speakers who raised the issue of the funding of primary schools. The primary school network has pointed out that parents have to sell jam cakes and engage in other activities to raise funds for schools. That is disgraceful. I was contacted in this regard by schools I attended. What does the Government propose to do about the removal of the summer works scheme? Its removal is of concern to Members across the House as Members on the Government side have raised this issue.

I hope the Cathaoirleach will allow me to say the following——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan A number of other Members wish to speak.

Senator Ann Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde The Senator is making a speech.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan To be fair, I want to give the other Members offering an opportunity to speak.

[1375]Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly We can all preach, even if we do not read the Bible. The Leader’s comments yesterday about the mature drinking of alcohol——

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy There is no such thing.

Senator Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly ——smacked of gombeenism.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I could see you all at night.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I call Senator Harris.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Leader is being interrupted.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris Zoom on Eoghan Harris Have the Members finished?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I call Senator Harris and I ask Members to refrain from creating a scene.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information on Eoghan Harris Zoom on Eoghan Harris They have all been waffling; they should give me some order.

I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on what Buddhist meditation experts would call his startled reaction time. The speed at which he now reacts to Senator Regan’s coat-trailing is getting faster and faster. I will not interfere and have him rule me out of order. However, I cannot let it pass without referring to Senator Regan trailing his coat in here again this morning about the Mahon tribunal. Not being a member of Fianna Fáil, I do not have to pay lip service to the Mahon tribunal. Senator Regan has built himself a bubble reputation. He is the darling of the Daily Mail for his endless pronouncements and reactions to the Mahon tribunal. What will he do if it ever delivers a judgment? Has he not got a club to go to?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan We are dealing with the Order of Business; we are not discussing Senator Regan and neither are we discussing any other Member of this or the other House.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I join Senator Harris in congratulating the Cathaoirleach on his impartiality in the Chair. I welcome and note the metanoia of the director general of RTE, Cathal Goan, and Mr. Mulholland yesterday on their conversion to the need for impartiality, independence and balance. The article in this morning’s edition of The Irish Times gives Senator Harris his answer. A serious debate on the independence of our national broadcasting station is needed. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister responsible to the House for such a debate because for too long certain media commentators have been setting agendas and trying to score political points. Perhaps Members opposite should consider the stable from which they come and the way in which they pillory certain members of my [1376]party? I will defend Senator Regan and challenge Senator Harris to a debate on Senator Regan’s integrity any place any time.

I join the Leader of Fine Gael Party in asking for a debate——

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I did not know Deputy Enda Kenny had gone yet.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Minister with responsibility for community affairs has not been invited to the House since we resumed this session. This morning we have read and heard in this Chamber of the breakdown of Irish society. Those of us involved in community life, schools and sport know there is a need for a debate on the pressures exerted on young families forced to spend an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic and who have to pay for child care and repay mortgages, thus requiring both parents having to work. In many ways what Senator Ó Murchú said is correct. There is a breakdown in society led by poor Government leadership. I request the Leader to arrange for a debate on the creation of sustainable communities and the way in which the Government, which promised zero tolerance on crime ten years ago, has abandoned any policy on justice and law order here.

I also request a debate on our integration policy. Basketball Ireland gave a great presentation at the Joint Committee on Sport and Tourism yesterday on the role it plays in integrating people into this country. It is a lesson from which we could learn. As is evident this morning, our integration policy is not working. Such a debate is urgently required.

Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely Zoom on Ivor Callely I share the concern expressed about the tragic murders of the two young Polish men and the escalation in the incidence of youth suicide. I raised this issue previously and complimented a number of Members of this and the other House, in particular, Deputy Neville, who has done great work in the area of suicide prevention. We need to examine the progress we can make to work with the people who have pioneered the issue of suicide prevention in recent years because the escalation in the incidence of suicide is frightening. I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate on the issue.

Concern was expressed about the level of expertise and training of personnel in the ambulance service. I would not like the message to go from this House that there are unqualified personnel in the service. I record my appreciation of the level of expertise and training undergone by ambulance personnel and those in the emergency services.

For those who have not visited them, I recommend a visit to the emergency services training centres on the Malahide Road in my constituency of Dublin North Central and in St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park. All the emergency services, both State and private agencies, the first [1377]response personnel and all the other specialties undergo a regime of regular training. It is important to acknowledge the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm of the people involved in the emergency services. They provide a service in very difficult circumstances on occasions.

I have raised the issue of homelessness and since I raised it there seems to be a heightened awareness and a focus on the issue. Today I note a question mark over the Health Service Executive decision to impose a freeze on funding for services to the homeless.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy On a point of order, there is interference on the broadcasting sound system because Senators are not turning off their mobile phones or the receivers. I can still hear the interference. It was embarrassing on “Oireachtas Report” for the past two nights. The broadcasting unit was forced to broadcast the affairs of this House while Members were not obeying the Chair with regard to turning off all the various apparatuses. I ask Senators to please support the Chair. I hear the interference again.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is coming from next to the Leader.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I have my mobile taken apart.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan We must return to the Order of Business. I appreciate what the Leader has said.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy It is unbelievable. There are people reading their messages. All phones should be turned off completely.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I have appealed to Members in the past to leave their phones outside or to ensure they are turned off in the Chamber, whether it is a BlackBerry or a mobile or whatever. I return to Senator Callely on his question to the Leader.

Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely Zoom on Ivor Callely I have raised the issue of homelessness. Today I note the report of a freeze by the HSE of funding to the agencies dealing with homelessness. I have asked the Leader to arrange that the HSE, the local authorities and the agencies be given an opportunity to come to the House so that we can discuss the issue of homelessness and the mechanisms that are in place to address the issue. It is not just a matter of money but rather a matter of commitment.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The matter can be discussed if a debate is arranged.

Senator Ivor Callely: Information on Ivor Callely Zoom on Ivor Callely Sadly and unfortunately, homelessness is an issue that will always be with us.

[1378]Senator Joe O’Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly The survey by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network displays a clear shortage of money for the day-to-day running of our schools and this is very disturbing. The 455,000 pupils in our primary schools are being subsidised by their parents to the tune of one euro a day and this cannot be easy in all circumstances. The schools and the parents’ associations are running cake sales and a myriad of functions to try to subsidise the schools. I ask the Leader to put this to the Minister and also in debate form. The funding of our primary schools should be an absolute priority and that kind of fund-raising activity should not be necessary.

The mushrooming population in the commuter belt towns of our big cities is not being served because the schools building programme is inadequate. While recent moves have been made recently to link up the granting of planning permission to developers with the building and improvement of schools, not enough is being done. There is no doubt that the school building programme should be transparent and should follow sequentially year by year.

It is very disturbing that the summer works programme would be removed from the schools building programme. The summer works programme was how schools were given a face-lift and prepared for the new academic year. It helped to keep older schools going. It is an absurdity to end the scheme and it will cost a fortune in the long term if it is removed. I support the call by Senators Fitzgerald and O’Toole and other Senators to have a debate on the question of school buildings, on the maintenance of schools and on the input of parents to their funding. I ask the Leader to put it again to the Minister that the greatest priority for investment in education must be investment at the very junior level because that is where it makes the most difference.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White Zoom on Mary M. White Will the Leader advise me of the last occasion the Standing Orders of the House were reviewed? I am now in my second term in the House. The Order of Business is a vigorous and robust session. I refer to the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill which was dealt with this week. I am pleased that the contributions were above political considerations and that Senators from both sides of the House participated. However, I am concerned about the use of the title “Statements” by some and “Debate” by others. We discuss the most serious topics in these sessions. I am not referring to last night’s Private Members’ motion because the subject could have been provocative but the debate was instead robust and stimulating. However, in all honesty, I find the statements and-or debates not to be debates and to be quite sterile.

We are calling this morning for an examination of the cracks in the Celtic tiger society with an increasing number of young men dying by suicide. We must find out how these problems have arisen. Statements are usually made and [1379]people then leave the House. I would prefer to see some form of discussion or cross-party debate resulting in an agreed consensus. I refer to the issue of suicide and the societal changes brought about by the Celtic tiger. There is no doubt society has become more selfish and aggressive. This has been one of the downsides of the Celtic tiger but I do not believe we have gone bad altogether. This matter is above partisan politics. I would like to see participation as we had last night on Senator Norris’s motion. I ask if the Standing Orders could be reviewed to allow this to take place.

Deputy Brendan Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan Zoom on Brendan Ryan I wish to express my extreme concern and anger at how State services deal with my constituents. I am referring to customers of State services, in particular, people on social welfare and on housing lists. These are the most vulnerable people in society who are in poor housing and on low incomes. I am referring to people whose documents are consistently going missing, who are being asked repeatedly to provide the same documents and whose cheque payments have been stopped on them. At the end of the week their money has been used up but their payments are not available, in some cases unjustifiably so. When I speak to the management it can be sorted out in two or three hours. This is unacceptable. In the case of missing documents the response from front-line staff is often that they do not have them and the applicant will need to bring them again. I am sure many Senators are familiar with this situation.

I worked in the private sector before I became a full-time politician when I was elected to this House. Inefficiencies such as loss of documents would not be acceptable in the private sector and they cannot be acceptable in the supply of State services. The management in these Departments talk the talk about customers but there is a serious gap between the rhetoric of the management and on the websites and customer charters and what is happening locally. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs should come to the House to explain that gap and why these most vulnerable people are being treated so disgracefully.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I ask the Leader to arrange an early debate on the health services with the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I am particularly concerned about the report regarding the acute surgical services in Roscommon County Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital that has been submitted to the HSE. However, the HSE will not give elected Members a copy of the report and will not consult with us in this regard. It has no democratic mandate to agree to downgrade the services at Roscommon County Hospital and deprive the people of that area of acute surgery, which has far-reaching consequences for the future viability [1380]of the hospital. However, the elected representatives, including former Ministers and Deputies, are not being consulted. The Department of Health and Children appears to have washed its hands of responsibility for the HSE. To bring back accountability to this House the Minister should give account of all policy decisions regarding vital services for the people of our area and the country. We are being left redundant in this regard. We are being snubbed by the HSE in many issues. It is about time that we, as the second House of the Oireachtas, brought the Minister into the House to question her, like the arrangement you have, a Chathaoirligh, through you and the Leader of the House. We should put questions to her and get answers in regard to our issues. We represent the people. I never came across the HSE or any of its officials on a ballot paper.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The Senator has made his point.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden It has no mandate from the people; we have, but we are not getting the returns.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan The Government set it up.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden We were set up.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I call for a debate on the relationship between freedom and responsibility in our society. I do so in the context of two issues which have been already raised by colleagues. One is the horrible murders of the two Polish gentlemen in Drimnagh and the second is the very bad news from a small town I know very well in my county where a number of male students in a second level school set upon, bound and gagged a female student and filmed her in a way that shocks and appals. We are dealing with urban and rural horrors that amount to the same thing, which is a shocking disregard for the person. I was listening to the radio this morning. At times like this we hear criticism of politicians and we hear people giving out about facilities. However, it is much deeper. There is a crisis of values in our society. There is certainly a crisis in parenting and in family life. Contrary to what my esteemed colleague, Senator Norris, said the challenge being faced by families is not an argument for stretching further the definition of family. It is an argument for recognising that families cannot be families in isolation; they need social support.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The Senator can make all those points in the debate if the Leader agrees to it.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I will conclude shortly, a Chathaoirligh. Other people went on much longer.

[1381]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan The time has expired.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I might visit you sometime and show you the transcript, which indicates the duration of some people’s speeches.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan If I were to stick rigidly to my time I would not have allowed Senator Mullen to come in. Is that clear with him? Two other Senators indicated earlier and I hope to allow them to speak also. I remind all Senators that they should shorten their contributions.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I respectfully suggest that my contribution has been very short compared with many others. That is a repeated phenomenon. I have a problem with the way time is allocated to different Senators. I will, if necessary, approach the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the matter. Perhaps we should allocate a set amount of time to each speaker.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I appreciate that.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Hear, hear.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I am not satisfied it is being carried out in a fair manner at the moment.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White Zoom on Mary M. White The Senator should come in early in the meeting.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen That is not my problem. I am sorry; I should address the Cathaoirleach. I am not in any way impugning your integrity in this matter, a Chathaoirligh. However, I am saying there is an unsatisfactory situation.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I accept that a number of Senators overstretch their time. Unfortunately we do not have a time limit on it. It is difficult to curtail them.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen This is an important debate. We talk about many bread and butter issues in this House. However, values are essential. Many of our young people are overdosed on various substances. They seem to be oversexed at a stage of their lives when they should be——

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan The Senator is over time.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Many have lives that are filled but not formed in terms of values, which is a serious problem for society and will take us in a very unhealthy direction where we will have a right-wing backlash in terms of how bad behaviour will be punished. A stitch in time saves nine. We need to operate on this now by having an honest debate about values and we need to stop being so shy about what we fear is moral judgmentalism and consider how we can form the minds and values of the next generation.

[1382]Senator Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy I thank the Leader for arranging yesterday’s excellent debate on Malin Head and Valentia, which was very constructive. It was one of many fine debates organised by the Leader, which I wish to acknowledge. I support Senator Glynn who has raised on many occasions in this House the issue of men’s health including that of younger males. Unfortunately, there have been a number of suicides in the west of Ireland in recent times. We have also seen considerable coverage on Sky News of a spate of suicides in Wales. It would be timely for us to return to that subject forthwith.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to come to the House to discuss the Lisbon treaty and give us a date for the referendum. I understand the Taoiseach is abroad consulting other European colleagues and is making statements in that regard. It would be timely and appropriate to know when the referendum is to be held.

Senator Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe Other Senators have called for a debate on values and how our communities are responding to the issues they are facing. I call for a debate on establishing joint policing committees and policing forums that were recently introduced under legislation in many towns and cities. They have been in place for between only one and two years. In my constituency of Dublin Central, four of them are in operation. Other Senators have raised issues this morning regarding how communities respond to upheaval in their lives caused by serious crime. The forums within which that is taking place locally are in many cases policing forums that have been established by legislation. I would like to have a debate on the operation of joint policing committees and policing forums. We need to review how they are working. In many cases they are pointing up deficiencies in how communities are policed and deficiencies in legislation. By having a debate we could make practical suggestions about how our communities could respond to issues that have been raised.

I again call for a debate on transport infrastructure. The Dublin Port tunnel is the pride of civil engineering in our city. It was closed for most of yesterday because the company with responsibility for it was unable to make it operate. I call for the Leader to organise an urgent debate on the policy of how we fund public transport infrastructure and how it is run. The Minister should come to the House and be made accountable for the issues raised by all Senators in this regard.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Feeney, Norris, Ó Murchú, Kelly, O’Reilly, Mullen and Donohoe expressed their concerns regarding issues that Senator Fitzgerald highlighted in her opening remarks. I too am horrified and we send our condolences to the family of the second Polish man who lost his life. As has been said here this morning, these were model [1383]citizens coming from Poland to a beautiful part of Dublin called Drimnagh. With every day that passes the standards and respect for life are getting worse. I will arrange to have the Minister present here to update us on the challenges and his proposals to meet those challenges regarding the events that have taken place in recent months.

As I said in the House yesterday, I am endeavouring to get the Minister to come to the House to have a full debate on the abuse of alcohol. We have 4,000 off-licences in the country. The situation regarding such outlets must be reviewed given the dangers involved in young people being able to obtain alcohol freely.

Senators have expressed various views on primary schools and I will arrange for a debate on that subject with the Minister present. In 2008 alone, the Department of Education and Science will provide €167 million to primary schools for day-to-day running costs. This year the primary capitation grant increased by €15 to €178.58 per pupil, thus providing schools with more money to cover expenses such as heating, lighting and insurance. Since 1997, the standard capitation grant has increased by 212% from €57 per pupil to its current level. Over the past ten years the ancillary services grant has also been increased, by €6 to €151.

That updates the House on major investments that have been made to allow primary school boards of management to cover costs such as secretarial and caretaking expenses. Taken together these increases mean that primary schools eligible for full ancillary service grants will this year receive €330 per pupil, which is an extra €21 per pupil to cover their day-to-day running costs. A primary school with more than 300 pupils will receive €6,300 more. In fact, such a school will receive almost €100,000 this year from the Department to meet its costs. Members of this House have made an immense contribution to education and I will have no difficulty in arranging for the Minister to attend the House for a full, open and frank debate on that sector.

Senators Hannigan and Donohoe expressed concerns about the Dublin traffic management plan, particularly in view of what happened at the port tunnel yesterday. I will arrange for a debate on this matter at the earliest possible date. Senator Hannigan also referred to the top 50 companies in Ireland and congratulated Meteor on its rapid growth and success. It was pointed out in the House yesterday that Ireland is the second most expensive mobile phone area in Europe, which is unacceptable. We must see what we can do about it as a matter of urgency. I will allow for time for such a debate.

Senators Glynn, Callely and McCarthy called for an urgent debate on suicide. I fully agree with those sentiments and will arrange for such a debate. I note that Senator Glynn has worked all his life in the medical sector.

[1384]Senator Cummins referred to item 11, the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members)(Amendment) Bill 2008, but as he knows the timeframe is very tight from now to the Easter recess. The House will be dealing with legislation every sitting day until Easter.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That is our purpose.

Senator Donie Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I fully support the sentiments behind the Bill the Senator has published. Many of us on this side of the House would be only too willing to support it but I suggest the Senator should raise the matter in Fine Gael Private Members’ time. This would mean the Government would take the matter to Cabinet and then make a decision on it. If the Bill were taken in Private Members’ time it would speed up matters so it could be dispensed with before the Easter recess. The Whips and party leaders can discuss this after the Order of Business to see how we can progress Senator Cummins’s proposal.

I will also make inquiries about the nursing home support Bill and will revert to Senators about it. I understand a serious challenge lies ahead as to what corrective measures must be taken in this area.

Senators Butler and McCarthy called for a debate on the EU and the Lisbon treaty. I am endeavouring to arrange such a debate. Senator Butler correctly pointed out that Ireland’s contribution to the EU, at €914 million, is the sixth largest in the Community. It is a sizeable amount of funding and will help less well off countries that are where we were 15 years ago.

I will revert to Senator Norris who called for a debate on the case of Michael Semple. I would have no difficulty in arranging for such a debate at the earliest opportunity.

Senators Kelly and Callely want a debate on health and children, especially concerning ambulance services and the availability of professional medics. I have no difficulty in leaving time aside for such a debate. The Minister for Health and Children will attend the House next Tuesday from 5.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m to deal with the pharmacy issue. I will try to secure another date in the Minister’s diary, possibly after Easter, for the debate that has been sought.

Senator Buttimer called for the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to attend the House for a debate on family values and integration policy, and I have no difficulty with such a debate taking place.

Senator Callely called for a debate on homelessness and I gave a commitment on this in the House yesterday. I would like to see such a debate taking place before Easter if possible, with the support of the party leaders.

As regards Senator Mary White’s intervention, Standing Orders are reviewed from time to time and can be amended by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. All good suggestions can [1385]be considered by that committee. I welcome this opportunity to extend an invitation to any Member of the House to write to the Cathaoirleach, who is the chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, regarding any suggestions they may have. I assure Senators I will do anything possible to enhance the proceedings of the House. I have an open mind on making the House more relevant and more attractive from the point of view of media attention which gets our message across to the public.

I congratulate all those who participated in last night’s Private Members’ debate. It was one of the finest expressions of free speech I have heard in my 26 years in the House.

Senator Ryan called for a debate on State services. Like many other Members, the Senator has much experience in the public sector. I will take on board his viewpoints, including the sentiments of frustration he has brought to the attention of the House. I will arrange for the Minister to attend the House and I give Members a commitment that this matter will be treated as a priority immediately after the Easter recess.

Senator Leyden called for a debate on accountability in the public health services, particularly concerning Roscommon hospital. Public representatives have fought for a long time to retain the services provided by that hospital. Senator Leyden has been a champion in that respect along with other colleagues in various political parties. It is a good suggestion to have a debate on health service accountability with the Minister present so that Senators can highlight issues and ask for an update on health matters in their own areas and what is happening with the Health Service Executive generally.

I am endeavouring to have a question and answer session following debates and featuring Ministers and spokespersons. It is working successfully and I thank all party leaders and spokespersons for their co-operation. The system is enhancing the affairs of Seanad Éireann and we appreciate the opportunity that Ministers and Ministers of State afford the House in this respect. I hope we will be able to take that even further in the next three or four years.

Senator Donohoe called for a debate on the Garda’s community response programme and joint policing with communities. I have no difficulty in allowing time for such a discussion.

Order of Business agreed to.

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