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Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy] How does one put in place a measure to evaluate the position in that regard? Nuair a chuaigh mé go dtí Scoil Phádraig Naofa i nDún Mánmhaí fadó fadó, d'fhoglaim mé a lán Gaeilge. Nuair a d'fhág mé an scoil, rinne mé dearmad ar go leor de. We are all students of politics because we are here practising it at a level that is important in the context of our professionalism. However, we also have personal links. How does one assess whether someone is a competent speaker of Irish or whether he or she is a native speaker? What would be the position with regard to someone who speaks German as his or her native language? How would the provisions of this legislation apply to such an individual?

Another issue which arises is that which relates to qualifying prisoners. One can easily understand the subjective nature of the provision in this regard. In terms of the law, however, a prisoner is a prisoner. How does one distinguish between the reasons one individual has been imprisoned and those - non-political - reasons another person has been imprisoned? There is a vested interest in this regard. It is difficult to understand how this matter should be viewed in the context of equality.

Reference is made in the legislation to a person's socioeconomic background. How does one establish this? Should one sift through the reports of the CSO and examine the breakdown of social classes? Should one allow for the massive social mobility that occurred in this country during the Celtic tiger years? There could be one person who left school without sitting the leaving certificate and who obtained employment on a construction site at a rate of €1,000 per week and another individual with a degree in business who took up a managerial position in a company and earned half that amount. How should we assess people's socioeconomic backgrounds?

The Bill is extremely flawed and there is a great deal of confusion surrounding it. I am of the view that the flaws and confusion in question are not deliberate but are the result of error. I, along with other colleagues, will be opposing the legislation.

Deputy Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I neither welcome nor agree with this Bill. The Employment Equality Act prohibits discrimination in the area of employment and the Equal Status Act prohibits discrimination in the supply of goods and services. A great deal of work was done in order to produce these two items of legislation.

A number of members of the Opposition raised the case of Tony Rochford, who is on hunger strike outside the Houses. Mr. Rochford is similar to many self-employed people. I was self-employed and I employed 30 people at one stage. The self-employed are experiencing serious difficulties. Self-employed people work every hour that God sends and they put a great deal of time and effort into their businesses. In many instances those businesses are family concerns. As a result of the downturn, many of these people were obliged to diversify. Diversification can involve moving into other areas of business but it can also mean moving into property or buying shares in banks - which were previously perceived as blue-chip companies - in order to provide for one's pension. Many people such as Tony Rochford have experienced tough times. I am of the view that the Government should try to meet this man and address his grievances.

People in this country are currently involved in a love affair with the airwaves and other forms of media. They feel that their problems can be solved by contacting Joe Duffy's "Liveline" programme or the Shannonside radio station, using Twitter or writing to the newspapers. I have seen evidence of this. As a local Deputy, people telephone me in respect of various issues. I ask them to meet me and discuss how their problems might be resolved with the relevant Minister, Department, etc. However, they do not want to do this. It may have been the case when we were on the other side of the House but I believe matters have become worse as a result of a race to the bottom because all those in opposition now want to do is to go on the airwaves and state how bad things are. As sure as day follows night, people's problems must be solved at some point. This must be done in a rational way by trying to identify the nature of such problems and then finding solutions to them. The Opposition must oppose the Government and that is great. However, we must tell our constituents the truth and try to resolve the issues they raise with us rather than attempting to score political points.

Point-scoring such as that to which I refer occurred in respect of both the household charge and the local property tax. Like everyone else, I am obliged to pay the local property tax. I do not particularly like paying it but I must do so. I am also obliged to pay the second home charge. I was only in a position to pay that charge on half the properties I own and, as a result, an additional fee of €20 will be applied in respect of each of them next month. When I get paid next month I will pay those charges, but I do not want to pay them. However, we must all pay these charges because they relate to the provision of services. There was a great deal of hoo-ha about the charges to which I refer and there were those who stated that people should not pay them. Unfortunately, many individuals listened to what was said and are now being charged extra as a result. I inform anyone who approaches me to see if anything can be done that I cannot help them. I cannot even do anything about the charges that apply to me. In my opinion, those who advised people not to pay should take responsibility for their actions. As has often been stated, two things in life are certain, namely, death and taxes.

We must try to be lenient because there are other people who, like Tony Rochford, find themselves in difficult situations. As already stated, Mr. Rochford's problems would be much better resolved if representatives of the Government met him and, hopefully, tried to address the matter about which he is aggrieved. It is not good that politicians in this House are seeking to try to articulate his case in the House in a way which appears to make a martyr of him. Having said that, my heart goes out to the man. The Government and other politicians must try to resolve this matter.

The Bill would require the adoption of a hugely resource-intensive approach. It is far too much to expect local authorities to try to address many of the matters with which it deals. In light of the constitutional status of the Irish language, it is not clear what is intended by the provision that deals with native Irish speakers. Does this provision relate to the 2% of our people who are native Irish speakers or to the further 8% or 10% who are competent speakers and who are natives? The position in this regard is not clear. Tá mé ag foghlaim na Gaeilge agus tá feabhas ag teacht orm. I had the honour of being made a member of the Fine Gael Front Bench three years ago and 10% of my brief related to the Irish language. A number of academics who profess to speak a much purer form of Irish than anyone else decided to write to the newspapers about my elevation. We in this country can hardly speak English properly. Like tens of thousands of others, I spent 14 years trying to learn Irish in school but I was put off the language by people such as the so-called academics to whom I refer, who expressed the view that they did not consider me pure enough to hold the position on the Fine Gael Front Bench to which I was appointed. The native Irish speakers I encountered during my time on the Front Bench - those in Conradh na Gaeilge and Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge - were absolutely fantastic. They understood the position in which I found myself and I really appreciate the support they gave me.

I have fundamental problems with this Bill and I will be opposing it.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I accept the spirit in which the Bill has been introduced. My understanding is that the basic intent behind it is to ensure that decisions made by the Government and public bodies will, in essence, be proofed in order to assess the impact they might have on certain sections of society. In theory, that is a fair enough concept. However, the problem is that the Bill is simply not practical.

As everyone is aware, the Government is operating within extremely tight and difficult budgetary constraints. Major efforts have been made to reduce the numbers in the public service in order to bring down costs. A number of State bodies have been abolished or merged as we attempt to secure greater efficiencies of service. The Haddington Road agreement, if implemented, will lead to many public servants working additional hours as well as making other major sacrifices. Only last week the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, announced the redeployment of 54 staff from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and other areas of the public service to the Garda central vetting unit. While this is most welcome and will, I hope, help to alleviate the delays relating to the processing of vetting applications, and also the backlog,

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