Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Health (Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) Bill 2013: Second Stage
 Header Item Philanthropy and Fund-raising: Motion
 Header Item Courts Bill 2013: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Courts Bill 2013: Second Stage
 Header Item Adjournment Matters
 Header Item Job Creation Issues
 Header Item Flood Relief Schemes Funding
 Header Item Defence Forces Properties

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 222 No. 7

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Chuaigh an Leas-Chathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.

Business of Seanad

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I have received notice from Senator Deirdre Clune that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, she proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to provide financial assistance for businesses affected by flooding.

I have also received notice from Senator Martin Conway of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to provide an update on the plans for Sluagh Hall, Lahinch, County Clare.

I have also received notice from Senator David Cullinane of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to discuss the south-east unemployment action plan, the status of the plan, the progress that has been made by the action group and if there has been any noticeable effect on unemployment in the region as a result of the work of the action group and to outline the work that is outstanding.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and they will be taken at the conclusion of business.

Order of Business

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Order of Business is No.1, Health (Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 3.50 p.m.; No. 29, motion No. 10 re philanthropy and fund-raising, to be taken at 4 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m; and No. 2, Courts Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and adjourn not later than 8 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.

  That is the Order of Business for today but it would be remiss of the House if we did not acknowledge the fact that Jimmy Walsh of The Irish Times, the reporter who has covered this House so well for many years, is retiring tomorrow. In his fledgling days, Jimmy was one of the reporters who covered the visit of President Kennedy to Ireland. He joined the press corps in the Houses of the Oireachtas more than 40 years ago, initially covering proceedings in the Dáil and then covering Seanad proceedings for more than 20 years.

  Jimmy is the old style reporter, with his notebook, pen, typewriter and shorthand. I believe his shorthand is excellent. I was always amazed by his retention and memory for details that happened many years ago. He has covered this House with distinction and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his honest and accurate reporting of events in it. He will be missed by all of us.

  Whether the newspaper will replace Jimmy, I do not know, but it is only right and proper that we acknowledge the work he has done in covering events here. I hope when he retires tomorrow that he will not cut all ties with the House and that he will come back and visit at regular intervals. As he was presented with a pass for the Houses up to 2016 by the Ceann Comhairle yesterday, there is no reason he would not be in a position to visit at regular intervals and we look forward to his company during that time. I express our gratitude and thanks to Jimmy for his coverage, work and the friendships he has built up over many years in the House.

Senators: Hear, hear.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I was going to acknowledge formally the presence of the mighty Jimmy in the Press Gallery on this special occasion but the round of applause beat me to it.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry Before normal hostilities resume, our group would also like to acknowledge the true greatness of our friend and the great friend of the House, Jimmy Walsh. In my 11 years here, my experience, which would reflect that of us all, has been that he has been an innately decent man who has been a great friend to the Seanad, the only one it has had. From a journalistic perspective, that is a simple fact that is widely acknowledged. The House has been very lucky to have the expertise of Jimmy Walsh and the honesty and professionalism he has always shown in reporting.

  On a personal level, Jimmy is the true definition of the honourable profession and traditions of journalism in reporting the facts as they should be reported, rather than as so often happens with so-called modern journalists who like to put a particular complexion on one side or the other of the facts. That is foreign to Jimmy and it is something younger or so-called more modern journalism could look to as an example and learn a little how well the business was done over the years. He will be missed and I invite the Leader to see if the Taoiseach would take the opportunity, with one of the Taoiseach's 11 nominee places vacant, to make Jimmy a Member of the House. God knows, he has the experience to make a very valuable contribution, having reported the House so well over the years.

  As far as Fianna Fáil is concerned, Jimmy Walsh is all graces and no airs. We hope he enjoys his retirement and will be a regular visitor to the House.

  Will I continue with the points I want to raise now?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan We will continue with the Order of Business. I remind the House that last week a number of Senators spoke glowingly about Jimmy Walsh and I do not want a repeat. Those who have not mentioned him, particularly the leaders of the groups, will have some latitude.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I realise time is short with the Easter recess approaching, but an urgent debate is required on the insolvency guidelines and how they will be dealt with by the personal insolvency service. There are mixed messages from Government and very worrying reports in the media. At the weekend, one newspaper indicated that women would be forced to give up their work if child care could not be afforded. On Monday the Taoiseach said, "I would find it quite incredible that somebody will say 'You are required to give up work in order to meet these charges'." That gave some hope and solace to the many women throughout the country who were concerned after reading about this in the Sunday newspapers, only for that to be dashed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport saying clearly that women who were not in a position to pay for child care would have to give up their jobs.

  We think this is fundamentally wrong. It is reminiscent of a day when women who were blessed with pregnancy were forced to leave the Civil Service. Women cannot help but wonder what the plan is within the Government in terms of assisting women in the workforce. We have had cuts to child care, the taxation of maternity benefit and now the suggestion that someone who cannot afford child care must give up her job, with a senior Minister contradicting the Taoiseach on it. One wonders what is next. Are we to take the vote off women altogether? This is worrying and in the interests of the women of Ireland, we must have a debate in order to have clarity on the issue because we cannot have senior Ministers and the Taoiseach contradicting each other on it. I do not think it is appropriate either that a Government should set up an insolvency service that would preside over a situation whereby women would be forced to stay at home rather than being supported in the workforce through the provision of the necessary child care, which I imagine the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would like to see, given that she has indicated she would like to see the provision of a second free preschool year. She should press ahead with that as a matter of urgency rather than the reports we have seen in recent days suggesting women will have to give up work.

  There are reports today, following the conference of the AGSI where a number of members walked out as a protest, that those members might have disciplinary action taken against them. That would be highly regrettable. Members of the Garda have limited tools at their disposal to highlight the difficulties they have at any one time. Surely within the confines of their own conference, they should be entitled to register their protest in such a peaceful and meaningful way. I would regret very much if the Garda Commissioner felt it necessary to take disciplinary action against those members.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I would also like to begin by paying tribute to Jimmy Walsh on the occasion of his retirement this week. With most other Senators, I attended the wonderful event yesterday to celebrate his distinguished career.  The Leader referred to his excellent shorthand skills, his many experiences and the great distinction with which he covered the Seanad. He also covered many other events, including the visits of President Kennedy, which he spoke about graphically, and President Reagan, which he spoke about with eloquence and wit. Jimmy's reports are noted for being honest, accurate and impartial and Senators will agree that his reporting has done the Seanad and the institution of Leinster House a great service. He provided a fair account of the proceedings, which are often overlooked by other newspapers and media outlets. All of us will miss his regular reporting and the wit and banter we experience when we bump into him on a corridor. He is a true raconteur and gentleman and I will miss him greatly. I express this tribute to him on my behalf and on behalf of the Labour Party group. I express also my gratitude to him for the long service he has given in reporting on the Seanad. I wish him and his family well on his retirement and what will be, I hope, the next stage in a very distinguished career. We would all welcome the publication of a memoir detailing some of his experiences and recounting some anecdotes for the greater enjoyment of the public. I thank Jimmy very much.

I welcome the launch today of the report on penal reform by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I was the rapporteur for the Sub-committee on Penal Reform, which spent 18 months examining how best to reform the prison system. It examined, in particular, end-of-sentence strategies and how to ensure greater rehabilitation of prisoners. We finished the report in February and it was adopted unanimously by the full joint committee. Launched this morning, the report makes five practical, sensible and credible recommendations for improving the penal system, in particular, the adoption by government of a decarceration strategy to reduce prisoner numbers and penal system's reliance on prison. I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality come before the House for a debate on the report now that it has been published. While the joint committee will also engage with the Minister as it seeks to have the report's recommendations implemented, the document should also be debated in the Seanad, especially given the active role a number of colleagues, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senators Conway and Zappone, played on the sub-committee in producing it. Such a debate would be good.

The draft insolvency guidelines have been the subject of media reporting. Writing in TheSunday Business Post, Niamh Connolly raised the concern that the draft guidelines suggest that people who are paying for child care should give up jobs if their child care costs are higher than their income. I strongly disagree with any suggestion by any insolvency service or Minister that any man or woman should have to give up work for this reason. Senator van Turnhout spoke about the value of early childhood education and its importance to children. It would be wrong to suggest that insolvency guidelines would force people to give up work. No parent should be required to do this. It would be an utterly short-sighted approach given that while child care costs are especially high for preschool children, as I know from personal experience, they reduce substantially when a child begins school. It would be short-sighted for a parent to give up work on the basis that his or her income would be only slightly more or even slightly less than the cost of child care for a short number of years. Long-term careers and employment are much more valuable than this. The idea that someone would be forced to give up work on that basis is wrong.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout On behalf of the Independent group of Senators, I pay tribute to and thank Jimmy Walsh. As I will have only been a Member for two years in May next, my memories of Jimmy do not go back as far as those of other speakers. However, I used to read Jimmy's accounts of Seanad proceedings before I entered the Oireachtas and had the opportunity to meet the legend. I thank him most sincerely for his advice and the insights he gave me in the corridors of Leinster House. His journalistic skills are clear. He is able to get to the heart of an issue and understand what speakers are driving at. He has given me great encouragement in my work as a Senator, including, on occasion, to press a little harder on certain issues as perhaps I seek consensus a little too much. We will, however, leave that issue for another discussion. Even in the relatively short time I have known Jimmy, I feel I have made a real friend, someone who will give critical advice but also explain in his newspaper articles what takes place in the House. I echo the tributes paid to him.

 The issues of insolvency and early childhood education and care must be decoupled. The latter is about the child, not the status of his or her parents or whether they are working. We need to decouple these issues and discuss them separately.

  On the issue of direct provision, last Saturday The Irish Times featured an excellent article by Breda O'Brien under the title "Inhumane asylum seeker system needs radical reform". A letter by Dr. Joan Giller in today's edition of the same newspaper is a must-read for all of us as it provides a marvellously accurate account of the harrowing system of direct provision offered in this country. Given that Dr. Giller has worked in direct provision accommodation since 2007, her comments are not hearsay. I have raised the issue of direct provision several times, primarily on the Adjournment, and recently took it upon myself to visit the direct provision accommodation in Hatch Hall as well as a site in Athlone located behind a Department of Education and Skills building which houses 100 mobile homes for asylum seekers. I was accompanied by Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.

  I refer to the work done on this issue by a group of committed Senators from all parties and none. As such, this not a party political issue. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the system of direct provision, in particular, to address the appropriateness of direct provision for the welfare and development of the 1,725 children who have been in the system not for one or two months but several years. When we speak of institutionalising people, we should not forget this is being done now. I call for the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism and inspection system for direct provision centres. The Government's Special Rapporteur on Child Protection called for such a system to be introduced one year ago. Let us debate and face up to this issue as it can no longer be tolerated. Will we wait for another 20 years to have another Ryan report published, this time on direct provision?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan One of the most pleasant functions to have taken place in the House occurred yesterday when many of us saluted the great stalwart, Jimmy Walsh, in the private dining room. I salute the fine words spoken by colleagues in tribute to Jimmy. Yesterday's function was proper, correct, fitting and very nice. It was ably chaired by Fionnan Sheahan who was a wonderful master of ceremonies. Stephen Collins, Michael O'Regan, the Cathaoirleach and Senators Cummins and Quinn related wonderful stories and anecdotes. I hope their words were recorded. We heard contributions about Jimmy's accuracy, superb note-taking and wonderful shorthand, all of which are true. His service to the House started more than 40 years ago in The Irish Press. I loved the story told by Michael O'Regan about Frank Aiken's funeral when all the Haugheyites were lined up on one side and all the Colleyites on the other. Whatever the arrangements were, the press corps deputed Jimmy, as the accurate note taker, to approach Mr. Haughey with the awkward questions about the arrangements and what Mr. Colley - God be good to both men - was to do. Jimmy, who was well known to Mr. Haughey from his role in the Oireachtas, approached and asked the question and Mr. Haughey bent his head and looked at Jimmy through hooded eyes.  Mr. Haughey, who knew Jimmy well, said "Who the - expletive deleted - are you?" Michael O'Regan noted that this was not reported by the press at the time but today, as he pointed out, it would have been emblazoned in full technicolour on the front page of several newspapers, with nothing left out. Mr. O'Regan went on to wonder how The Irish Timeswould report such an incident today and suggested that it might record that Mr. Haughey declined to comment, in colourful language. They were great stories and anecdotes and I hope that they are recorded, somehow. We have all enjoyed many a cup of tea in the bar with Jimmy Walsh over the years. I was delighted he was presented with lifetime membership and will continue to come in here among us, for as long as we are here. He made a joke himself about whether the Seanad or Jimmy Walsh would be abolished first. He should record the anecdotes and stories, some of which he told yesterday and many more of which he did not have time to tell us. I wish him long life and happiness.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I acknowledge the appreciation and time given to Jimmy Walsh but I do not want everyone to speak for four or five minutes on it.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is remarkable how every time I stand up, the person in the Chair prefaces my remarks by expressing the hope that Senators will not speak for too long.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I was admonishing Senator Paul Coghlan for the length of his contribution but I was happy to give a certain amount of latitude him because he is almost the father of the House.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Absolutely and, unlike the Pope, the Leas-Chathaoirleach is always infallible in my book.

  While I said a few words about Jimmy Walsh last week, I welcome the opportunity to say good things about him again today when he is actually in the Chamber. In a degraded profession, he has maintained extremely high standards. We must value the meticulousness with which he recorded the doings of this House and his brave, long and sometimes difficult fight to keep the paper of record on track in terms of recording the business of this House. When I entered the Seanad 25 years ago, it was regularly covered by a panel of reporters from The Irish Times and the business of the Seanad was given considerable coverage in all of the national newspapers, including the Irish Independent, The Irish Press and so forth but now it is treated as a matter of no significance. On "Oireachtas Report", for example, coverage of the Seanad is shunted to the very end, after coverage of the various Oireachtas committees, which is wrong.

  The suggestion that Jimmy Walsh should become Senator Walsh is not a bad one at all because there is a vacancy and there may be another one if Senator Thomas Byrne wins a seat in the Dáil. The seat of former Senator Martin McAleese is vacant. Jimmy Walsh was always very careful not to show any bias and provided a meticulous and clear recording of what happened in this House. However, from personal conversations I have had with him, I know the values Jimmy has, which are humane, decent values of integrity. He believes very strongly in human rights on an international, as well as national, level. He would, through his political experience and his values, add very considerably to this House.

  I also strongly support the suggestion that he should write a book. However, I do not think it should just be about anecdotes because there is far more to Jimmy Walsh than funny stories and entertaining quips. There is a substantial intellect there that parses and analyses affairs at a national and international level. He has much wisdom and insight, which for reasons of professionalism he often kept outside his reports. It would be very good to have the real Jimmy Walsh stand up and share his values, which are so necessary in this day and age.

  Moving on to other matters, I wish to refer to the issue of child care. The situation is very clear in this regard. The cost of child care in this country is completely outrageous and ridiculous. The fact that people must pay more than their mortgage every month to have their children looked after is mad. Somebody should look at the cost of child care provision, which is the nub of the matter.

  The main issue I wish to raise has been signalled previously to some of my colleagues and to the Leader. Last week I referred to the lack of solidarity being shown by the highest in the land and I believe it is important that the Seanad plays a role in this regard. We should be imaginative and do something to demonstrate clearly and publicly that the members of this House are in sympathy with the sufferings of the people. In that context, I propose that Seanad Éireann moves its sitting for at least one day in the next term to a town like Athlone, which is in the centre of the country and is readily accessible for all Senators. I suggest that Senators come to Dublin and then travel by bus to Athlone and hold a session there. We should formally open Seanad proceedings there and also engage in an exercise of listening to the people. I would suggest that we then go and see the people in the situations in which they find themselves, whether that be a soup kitchen or an employment agency, so that we can have a real connection with the people. This is not precluded by anything in the Constitution or the rules of this House but has never been done by either House. We, in Parliament, are seen as remote from the people. I respectfully ask the Leader to set an inquiry in motion to determine how this can be done. It would require proper preparation, including holding discussions with the relevant county council. It would be useful if we could use the offices of the county council in Athlone for this purpose. This would get press coverage and would make us accessible to the public. Having made this suggestion, I would be very interested to hear if my colleagues would support this idea and if the Leader is in a position to advance it.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy I am sure Jimmy Walsh must be pinching himself to see whether he is still alive or listening to his own eulogy. I thank him for everything.

  I wish to relay some good news which even the Opposition will welcome. Yesterday, in Boston, a young man called Ronan Kelly won the Irish Dance World Championship for the third year in a row. On his way to becoming world champion, he won the Irish and Scottish championships. He is the son of our colleague, Senator John Kelly, and I have a picture here of him receiving his world cup yesterday in Boston. It is fantastic-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senators are not allowed to display printed material in the House. I am being very lenient on the Order of Business in allowing the Senator to congratulate someone but-----

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy Having done it, I apologise.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan That might be a cynical apology.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy It is not cynical but sincere.

  I ask the Leader to provide clarity on an issue I have raised on two previous occasions in this House, namely, the loss of €17 million to credit unions as a result of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Act. There has been much toing and froing on this issue for the last six weeks. In recent days, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, has stated that the Minister for Finance, under section 9 of the aforementioned Act, can instruct the special liquidator to act outside of the normal liquidation process to deal with this issue. The Minister has informed the Dáil and the media that there is a fund available to the Credit Union Restructuring Board to assist credit unions and that this matter can be referred to that board. It appears, however, that this fund only covers credit unions whose funds drop below a certain value.  The credit unions affected will lose all except the first €100,000 of their money. The people affected by this are ordinary members of 16 credit unions, one of which is in my town. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to give us clarity on the matter once and for all. The Opposition claims there is a provision in the Act to deal with this. The Minister has not answered the question and we need an answer in order that the credit unions can deal with the matter in whatever way they need to and move on.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I wish Mr. Jimmy Walsh a very happy retirement. I am sure he will enjoy it and go on to do many things and there may be a great book in him. The three Sinn Féin representatives in the Seanad have only been here for a short time and would not know him as long as some of those who have been here for many years. In the short time we have been here we have become friends. We will miss his wit and banter as well as the gentle advice he gave us all. He had an extraordinary way of giving advice in a gentle way while at the same time getting the point across very strongly. I will sincerely miss that and I hope he will make use of the pass he has been given to come back and visit us. I do not believe we could all stand up with integrity and say that about every journalist. When we say it, it is sincere and genuine. He truly was impartial and genuine in what he did. He represented the people of the State very well in covering the Seanad and very few journalists have. I commend him on his work in that regard and wish him the very best of luck in his retirement.

  "Stupid decision", "ham-fisted", "unfair" and "a complete mess" were some of the terms used by Labour Party Deputies and Senators in recent weeks in describing the property tax and I agree with all of them. Extraordinary powers have been given to a number of Departments on this property tax. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government can take money from people's grants. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine can take money from people's farming payments and grants. The Revenue Commissioners have been given extraordinary powers. The Department of Social Protection can take money from people's social welfare payments and pensions. Yesterday one of the Labour Party Senators asked us to celebrate that granny flats will not be subject to a property tax, which is good. However, many grannies and granddads own their own homes and will have to pay this unfair tax. Many of them simply do not have the money to do it.

  I wish to put a direct question to the Leader of the House. As a public representative - I am sure every Senator would say the same - I meet people who are making tough decisions every day about which bills to pay. They sit in our offices and ask us which bill they should pay because they cannot cope, especially if they are on social welfare or low pay. They are going without heating oil despite the current low temperatures. They need oil in their tanks but cannot find the money to buy it. They cannot find the money to pay utility bills. They are barely paying their mortgages and many of them are in mortgage arrears. However, none of them is exempt from this tax. They are all being asked to pay and the money simply is not there. What advice would the Leader give these people? Where will they get the money? Even though there is a deferral option for very low-income families, the Government in a disgraceful and cynical way will charge them interest of 4%, thereby penalising low-paid people because they cannot afford to pay.

  I again call for a debate on the property tax. The penny is now dropping with many families that this is coming and more and more people are recognising the unfairness of the tax. We should have a debate not just on the property tax but also the alternatives to it. There are fairer ways to increase taxation and I call on the Leader to arrange that debate as soon as possible.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane As I spoke the last day about Mr. Jimmy Walsh, I will not dwell on it other than to wish him the very best in his retirement. He has so much to offer. We always talk about the lack of coverage of the Seanad in the media. Perhaps having somebody inside who knows the scene and how to do it best might not be a bad idea.

  I have been speaking on child care for the past 20 years in public. I was on the first expert group on child care established in the 1990s. It is a regressive step for a Minister to express any doubt. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, he did not speak about women and child care. He was speaking about the economic issue and would be interpreted as gender neutral. It was on the economy, on child care. I agree with Senators Bacik and van Turnhout, one of whom requested that child care be decoupled from the economic decision. Child care is about much more than economics - child care is about society. If we want a society to work, we need proper child care.

  A Senator asked for reports, but we do not need any more reports. There are reports stacked high going back as far as the 1970s on the economic and social benefits of child care. Therefore, it is not an economic decision and social policy should not be left to bankers - it is a Government decision. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is being misquoted in reference to "women". He did not say "women" and that is my interpretation of it. It was on the issue of child care and economics. Every Minister should stand behind the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, who is doing a brilliant job. The report we had on child care outlined all the initiatives to be implemented that would save the Government money. It is absolutely brilliant. Everybody in government and opposition should support the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and support the child-care initiatives that will bring the country forward. Ministers cannot be blamed when taken out of context in the gender issue.

  I wish to raise one further issue.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator is-----

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I will leave it until tomorrow.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Some Members are already complaining because the Order of Business has become so elongated with the tributes to Mr. Jimmy Walsh, the journalist. Some Members are already getting frustrated, wondering when they will get in. Many speakers are offering and it will be the longest Order of Business in the history of the House.

  I call Senator Jim Walsh.


Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh When I was first elected to this House in 1997, I realised that I was only an imposter as Jim Walsh. During the count my family were manning the counting of the votes - I must have been away in the bar or somewhere else when I got to the stage I could relax at the count. When I came back I was told that a man was waiting to meet me urgently but had not left his name. When I came back a second time, that man had returned and this time said he wanted to meet his namesake. I am not even sure if we met at that count, but I certainly got to know Mr. Jimmy Walsh afterwards.

  Like all other Members of this House, I came to respect and like the genuineness of a reporter. Politicians often have a sense of suspicion when dealing people in the media - often with good reason. However, Mr. Jimmy Walsh stood out as a man who could be trusted and had good views. I concur to some extent with Senator Norris that if he could be a Member of this House, I would certainly like to welcome another republican among our midst. We got to know each other's political views over time, as I am sure many other Members have in sharing various stories and anecdotes. I also got to know some of my colleagues here who kept in frequent contact with Mr. Jimmy Walsh because I often got messages for him on my phone when I was in the five-storey block. Senator Norris was a particularly frequent caller and I always passed on his messages to Mr. Jimmy Walsh.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We never heard about that mobile phone.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh I join others in wishing Mr. Jimmy Walsh long life, health and happiness. Given how healthy and fit he is, I have no doubt he will be among us for a long time to come. I wish him well in the future.

  I wish to raise one issue on the Order of Business, namely, political reform.  We have concentrated in this House on Seanad reform, but we could usefully have a debate on political reform within this democracy. It is extraordinary that, five years after the biggest economic crash this country has ever experienced, there has been no focus on overall political reform. What we have are token gestures, such as reducing the number of Deputies by a very small number, a proposal to abolish the Seanad and the abolition of town councils. That is not political reform. That is destroying and dismantling our political structures to no political or democratic benefit. Recently, the Committee of Public Accounts, probably the most important committee of the Oireachtas, received the two fingers from senior officials in the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality. It is an absolute disgrace. It is one thing to live under a political elite that has been elected but which might be out of touch, but it is entirely different to live under bureaucrats who are unelected and who feel they are above accountability to Members of the Oireachtas. It is totally unacceptable. I ask the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on this issue. It is fundamental to our society and to democracy in this country.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I join other speakers in paying tribute to Jimmy Walsh. I am a new Member of the House but since I became a Member he has been extremely encouraging. As another speaker said, he always gave a little advice and I took it on board. I join others in suggesting that he write a book. There is often talk about this but I hope he undertakes that project. We would all benefit from it. Humour is no harm but it could have both humour and facts-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Yes, like my book.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone That is a plug for the Senator's book.

  With regard to the child care issue, I agree with Senator Keane's comments. It would be regressive of this country to move in a direction in which we did not consider the social and lifestyle aspects that are so important to working. It goes without saying that people work for money. However, there is a much wider issue involved with people working and it is not all about women. I am getting tired of women being singled out in this type of scenario, because it should be gender neutral. That the bankers who contributed so hugely to this country's economic downfall would be making decisions on policy, as Senator Keane said, is absolutely outrageous.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail I endorse what my colleague, Senator van Turnhout, said about Jimmy Walsh. Again, I am a new Senator but I acknowledge his journalistic ability, particularly his ability to put in one sentence what it takes Senators 50 sentences to say. He has created an art form in itself.

  Today is World Theatre Day, a day that Ireland can be proud to support. It was established in 1961. I ask the Leader to support my call to all Members to salute the many actors, playwrights, designers and technicians throughout Ireland who have contributed to Ireland's reputation through their craft and vocation of making and presenting theatre across Ireland and the world. Theatre is more than 2,000 years old, yet it continues to be supported by audiences and communities across the nation. It is a tough time for our actors and writers as they try to make a living, like other citizens, and to survive and contribute to society through their important medium. I ask all Members today to go and see a professional production by any Irish theatre company over the next few weeks to support our theatre artists.

  I have just come from a briefing given by Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, which was arranged by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. He is president of the Palestinian Theatre League and founder of Al Rowwad, a theatre company in Palestine. He works in his native land of Palestine, which is occupied by Israel, and has no designated official nationality. He works with young people and theatre and calls it a beautiful resistance. It shows how theatre and arts can continue to be important in telling stories and bearing witness across the world.

  I remind Senators that our motion this afternoon is about philanthropy and fund-raising. It is an important motion and I hope all Senators will contribute to the debate. There is a major conference today in Dublin on fund-raising, with over 300 people in attendance. I note that the Cabinet has accepted a proposal from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, that new rules to encourage philanthropy should be considered. Can the Leader elaborate on this before we debate the motion this afternoon?

Senator John Whelan: Information on John Whelan Zoom on John Whelan Out of respect for the Chair and given the time constraints, I will park an issue I intended to raise and take this opportunity to commend and congratulate Jimmy Walsh. I have known him for many years and I count him as a colleague. As a journalist for 30 years, I am only in the penny ha'penny place compared to Jimmy, who has 52 years on the clock. One would not think that to look at him or meet him or when one sees his sharpness of intellect, his level of energy and his commitment and compassion in the job he holds. One does not see that in many jobs. I do not think Jimmy will mind me saying that he is probably old school. I say that in the best sense of those words. I have always looked up to him and the standards of fairness, honesty and accuracy he upheld. While we know that Jimmy is a highly opinionated and, perhaps, sometimes argumentative man, there was never an occasion when he worked with The Irish Press or The Irish Times that it filtered into his copy or was reflected in any type of bias or spin. However, one learns something new every day in this Seanad and I am a little taken aback to learn that he has been acting behind my back as a type of spin doctor to some of the Taoiseach's nominees. That is a revelation that I will take up with him at a later stage.

  Jimmy is also unique and peculiar, perhaps in society but especially as a journalist, in not having a mobile phone. However, he manages to survive in the jungle that modern journalism has become and still has not missed a deadline or a story of any note.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Or read one of the Senator's tweets.

Senator John Whelan: Information on John Whelan Zoom on John Whelan Indeed. I am certain Jimmy has a good book in him, if not a great book and bestseller, but knowing the calibre and integrity of the man, it will not be a kiss and tell book.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I cannot let the opportunity pass to say a few words about Jimmy Walsh also. As I have been a Member of the House for 20 years, I am very experienced in terms of knowledge and I have always been impressed by his ability to be able to remember and jot down so succinctly exactly what was said, sometimes in a mumble and occasionally very loudly. One could meet him in the corridor afterwards and ask him exactly what somebody had said because he knew it and had written it down and memorised it. I was impressed when I heard so many wish him well for the future. I hope he will be well. I had not realised until yesterday how fit he is, when I heard some of the stories about his ability to both jog and run very fast. He walks for two hours every morning before coming to work here. He makes a show of the rest of us. Long may he live and have the same energy and commitment he has shown in the last 52 years. I cannot believe it is that long.

  Four years ago I introduced a Bill on organ donation. Will the Leader check if that Bill could be reintroduced now? We stopped the debate with two minutes to go because the then Minister said she wished to consult about it. By the end of that year the Bill had been dropped and we have not heard anything since. That is four, if not five, years ago. It would be great if we could do something about it. It deals with the opt out system. In other words, unless one opts out it is assumed that one is willing to have one's organs donated to save lives. I believe the reintroduction of that Bill is worthy of consideration. I ask the Leader for his advice on it. Perhaps he would check with the Minister to see whether that would be the right way to proceed.

  I congratulate the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on appointing Mr. Christoph Mueller as chairman of An Post.  This is a brilliant and worthy move. Mr. Mueller is clearly a very successful business person and he obtained a vast amount of experience in the relevant area before he came to Ireland. He is an exemplary individual and the perfect man for the job. I hope he succeeds.

Senator Michael Comiskey: Information on Michael Comiskey Zoom on Michael Comiskey I join colleagues in wishing Jimmy Walsh well in his retirement. I have been a Senator for less than two years and those of us who are relatively new to the House have come to know Jimmy very quickly. He always has a friendly smile and is willing to offer advice.

  I welcome the news that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has agreed to send helicopters to the aid of farmers in Northern Ireland who are experiencing great difficulties as a result of the bad weather. It is good that we are going to help our friends and neighbours. The past year has been extremely difficult for the farming community and recent weeks have been very bad, particularly for those who live in Northern Ireland. It is good to witness this type of co-operation between the North and the South. In the past I have called for greater co-operation in respect of animal health issues. I welcome the fact that such co-operation will now be forthcoming and that assistance will be provided for farmers who are in difficulties.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Accusations to the effect that a great deal of hot air emanates from this Chamber are sometimes made. There is certainly no hot air coming from the radiators this morning.

  I join colleagues in paying tribute to Jimmy Walsh. I have come to know Jimmy during the past 11 years and he is exactly as a number of previous speakers have noted, namely, very accurate, balanced and courteous. The title "Gentleman Jim" rests very easily on his shoulders. I wish Jimmy well in his retirement.

  Senator Norris has stated people throughout the country are of the view that we in this House do very little. I wish to second his proposal that, for one day, we should move our operations to somewhere such as Athlone in order that the general public might see exactly what we do. This would afford us the opportunity to listen to the concerns of those who live in the surrounding community. As Senator Norris suggested, we might also take the opportunity to visit certain areas to which most of us would not normally have an opportunity to travel in the normal course of events. The Senator's proposal is extremely worthwhile and if it can be accommodated, then we should do as he suggests.

  I wish to defend the Taoiseach. I was disappointed to read in one of this morning's newspapers that the other party in government has chosen to launch a personal attack on the Taoiseach. While most of us on this side of the House would disagree with many of the decisions the Government has taken, the Taoiseach is merely the chairman of the Cabinet. That Cabinet consists of Labour Party and Fine Gael Ministers. Regardless of what the Labour Party wants us to believe, it is as much responsible as Fine Gael for any decision the Government takes. I am disappointed that the Labour Party has chosen to engage in a personal attack on the Taoiseach - the chairman of the Cabinet - in order to prevent its candidate from coming fourth in the by-election in Meath East.

  Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House in order that we might discuss, openly and frankly, the difficulties which continue to affect An Garda Síochána? As Senator MacSharry stated, the Garda Commissioner, who is obviously just a mouthpiece for the Minister, has announced that the four members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors who walked out of their conference during the Minister's speech are to be disciplined-----

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy This is shocking.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson -----for democratically representing, in the only way possible, the members of their organisation. The individuals in question were mandated by the Carlow-Kilkenny district of An Garda Síochána to do what they did. It is sad if they are to be disciplined for taking democratic action in the only way open to them.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I reassure Senator Wilson, who is very concerned about the future of the Government, that there are absolutely no notes of discordancy between the partners involved in this particular coalition, irrespective of what any of the national newspapers - which are not noted for their accurate reporting - may say.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I have seen the leaflet. It is outrageous.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Hayden to continue, without interruption.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Not like some other-----

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden As the saying goes, "We are damned if we do and damned if we don't".

  Like others, I pay tribute to Jimmy Walsh. I have only come to know Jimmy since I was elected to the House and I must say he is not just a friendly face but also a font of information. I recall on one occasion making a statement on the Order of Business about a particular historical date. Jimmy met me in the corridor outside the Chamber and told me that I had got the sentiment right but the date wrong. Not only does he possess a knowledge of this House and its workings, he also has an intimate knowledge of international history. He is indeed a wonderful man. As I listened to the tributes paid to Jimmy yesterday and to his own reminiscences about his time as a correspondent here, I was struck by the thought that there is a book in this. It is not necessarily a seat in the Chamber he needs but an office somewhere in Leinster House in order that he might write that book. My one concern is that once Jimmy Walsh has left us, this House will not even get the coverage it has been receiving. It behoves all the national newspapers in this country to come to terms with the inadequacy of their coverage of the Seanad.

  I agree, yet again, with Senator MacSharry that a debate will be required on the personal insolvency provisions when they are introduced. The entire process relating to personal insolvency has been shrouded in mystery. I meet individuals on a daily basis who do not know either what is happening or what will or will not be covered. People are deeply distressed and they need certainty. I am not comforted by the attitude of the banks towards the mortgage arrears resolution strategy, MARS, process, particularly as there is no transparency and no real certainty with regard to who can avail of the relevant measures and what are those measures. The banks have stated that this matter will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The latter implies a lack of transparency and will mean that no one will know where they stand.

  The other issue I wish to raise also relates to the personal insolvency legislation. I refer to the purported comments of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. I do not agree with other Senators that this is about child care. It is, rather, about the position of women in society. I note it was not stated that men should give up their jobs and stay at home if the cost of child care exceeded their incomes. I am aware, like many other women, that if one leaves the workforce at a particular time, not only are one's career opportunities reduced but also one's pension options and financial benefits are severely impacted upon. I wish, therefore, to call for a wide-ranging debate on the position of women in Irish society and I request that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport be invited to come before the House for it.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I, too, join the tributes to Jimmy Walsh in respect of the contribution he has made during the past 40 years. In any democratic system, it is important to have a very good and fair media. Jimmy has made a major contribution to the democratic process in the way in which he has reported on matters in this House and in the Oireachtas generally for many years. I wish him every happiness in his retirement.

  I wish to comment on a matter raised by Senator Norris. I do not want the impression to go out that Senators are completely disconnected from the general public. I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will agree that if Senator Norris visited his constituency on any given weekend, he would discover that the Leas-Chathaoirleach is very much in touch with the people who live there.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Leas-Chathaoirleach does not represent a geographical constituency.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I am sure the position is likewise in Senator Cullinane's constituency in Waterford. If Senator Norris wants to spend the weekend with me in the constituency of Cork North-Central, he is very welcome to do so. I do not want anyone to obtain the impression that Senators are disconnected from the public in any way. Some 80% of the people who visit my constituency office wish to raise issues relating to social welfare. In the context of social welfare, the Government is not disconnected from the people. In the two years since it entered office, it has issued an additional 251,000 medical cards. A total of 165,000 of these were issued in the past 12 months alone. The Government is not disconnected from what is happening.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That may be what the Senator believes but the people disagree with him.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Colm Burke to conclude, without interruption.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke It is a fact that 165,000 additional medical cards were issued in the past year.  This is clear evidence that the Government is not disconnected from what is happening among the general public.

  The insurance industry is complaining that the 5% increase in claims might incur higher insurance prices. This is an outrageous statement, given the fact that the overall level of costs, particularly in the legal profession, has decreased by 50% to 60% in the past five years. The suggestion that an increase in claims is justification for increased prices should be contested. We should debate the matter. The industry has opted out of providing house insurance where it does not want to, for example, for properties that have not been flooded but may be subject to flooding. The industry is cherrypicking. There is no justification for its suggestion.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I mentioned Jimmy Walsh last week, but I will extend an invitation to him this week. If he has time on his hands and is interested in improving his Irish, he will be welcome in Connemara any time.

  I support Senator van Turnhout's call on the direct provision system. I have visited some of the centres. This serious and complex issue has been raised a number of times on the Adjournment. The letter in today's edition of The Irish Times puts it succinctly. The situation has been compared with that of the Magdalen laundries. We will have an investigation on our hands if we do not do something about this potential scandal quickly.

  One of the moments that sparked the debate on the Magdalen laundries was a play by Ms Patricia Burke-Brogan, which leads me to my second point. Today is World Theatre Day. The power of theatre and the arts should not be underestimated. I echo Senator Mac Conghail's sentiments, in that we need to support the theatre and arts community. It has been a while since the Seanad debated the arts. The Minister's attendance would be useful.

  On the back of this morning's presentation by Dr. AbdelFattah Abusrour and the President's "Glaoch" programme, which called on us all to determine how we could use culture, language, music and arts to put our country forward, a debate on this topic would be useful, particularly to discuss how our artists are faring in this difficult financial situation. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh díospóireacht againn faoi chúrsaí ealaíne chomh luath agus is féidir.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I would prefer to raise many issues, but I will confine myself to joining colleagues in paying tribute to Jimmy Walsh, whose retirement is upon us. No House could contain him nor the knowledge that he contains. He could be best described as a storehouse of knowledge, but that knowledge is only matched by his willingness to share it. He has given me and many colleagues encouraging and kind words in the past two years. They have led to me striving to be a better Senator. Jimmy is a great writer. His articles have been authoritative, pithy and insightful. More importantly, he is a great and decent fellow. I salute him in the strongest possible terms and wish him the best in his retirement. I genuinely mean that.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Jimmy would often stop one in the corridor and provide a nice word of encouragement. For that, I thank him. He has often given us advice. The advice that I give him is that the secret to a happy retirement is learning how to spend time without spending money. If he can crack that particular nut, he should let us know.

  Will the Leader organise a debate on the undocumented Irish in the US? In April, Congress will table legislative proposals to solve the issue for the nearly 12 million undocumented persons in the US, including 50,000 Irish. Last week, the Taoiseach was on Capitol Hill and had an audience with Republican and Democratic Congressmen. According to the press release published beforehand by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he stated that he would raise the issue. The time to do so is when one is in a room with the people who matter. From the White House transcripts, however, the Taoiseach did not raise the issue in front of the Republican and Democratic leaders.

  Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the Seanad to explain why the Government did not avail of the opportunity presented by St. Patrick's Day and press home our concerns about the situation of the undocumented Irish? We continually preach to the choir, those who are already on board the train, but we do not engage with Republicans who have concerns about the issue of undocumented persons in their constituencies. Will the Leader find out why the issue was not raised at the appropriate time on Capitol Hill?

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I join in the good wishes for Jimmy Walsh. With all of this morning's tributes, he is probably tempted to enter politics. He would win the popular vote among Senators. Jimmy is a thorough gentleman and a one-off. He has given outstanding service to democracy and journalism through his coverage of the activities of the Oireachtas in his long and illustrious career. I wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement. As I did after yesterday afternoon's fine presentation and enjoyable function, I encourage him to write his book. I hope he does.

  I join in the call for a debate on direct provision accommodation. An expensive system, it does not appear to serve well the people for whom it was designed. We need to investigate its merits or otherwise. I would hate it if an inquiry into why it failed people was ever necessary. I hope the Leader will find time in the next session to facilitate that debate.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Before I call the Leader, I wish to pay a brief tribute to Jimmy Walsh. I have known him for a long time, as I have been in the Houses for approximately 18 years. I have become a friend of his. We have often exchanged ideas and so on. I am unsure as to whether he would see fit to accept a nomination to the House. If he did, he might find himself the lily among the briars.

  Jimmy is the type of journalist that never played the man. From my knowledge of him and from reading his articles, he always played the ball and was fair. Many young and not-so-young journalists would do well to study and emulate what he has achieved. His contribution to journalism and his adherence to high standards, fairness and decency stick out strongly. Low standards in journalism are as pathetic and as damaging and demeaning to society as they are in politics, for which we are often criticised.

  I consider Jimmy to be a gentleman, a scholar and a good judge of whiskey. I wish him many more laps of Marley Park and a happy retirement. I hope that when he retires from journalism, he will occupy himself by writing a book and returning to Leinster House sometime when the straitjacket of his work is not upon him so that some of the Senators who have known him for a long time can spend a social occasion with him, perhaps a meal.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Good idea. Well said.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan That is merely a suggestion. With those few words, I wish Jimmy the very best in his retirement. I am quite certain that we will meet again. Our paths will cross. I sometimes walk in Marley Park but I do not think I could keep up with him.

  I now ask the Leader to conclude this very lengthy Order of Business but a deserving one on the occasion of the retirement of our journalist friend, Mr. Jimmy Walsh.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Marc MacSharry raised the issue of the insolvency guidelines. The guidelines have not yet been published and I am not one who comments on speculation. I can assure the Senator that no woman will be forced out of the workforce and that the guidelines will retain flexibility to ensure common sense applies. That is what will happen in all such guidelines.

  Senator Ivana Bacik called for a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on penal reform. We will certainly try to get the Minister here to discuss that matter.

  Senators Jillian van Turnhout, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Michael Mullins raised the issue of direct provision and called for an independent complaints commission in that regard. As has been mentioned, the matter of direct provision has been raised by a number of Senators on the Adjournment, but I will endeavour to have a debate on it.

  Senator David Norris proposed the holding of a sitting of the Seanad in Athlone or elsewhere. I will certainly consider that matter and bring it to the attention of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for consideration.

  Senator Denis Landy sought clarity on the loss of €17 million by credit unions which had investments with the IBRC. I am surprised that these credit unions did not withdraw the money.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy On a point of order, they were not allowed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader to respond.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I am surprised that they did not withdraw the money. I will seek clarification for Senator Denis Landy, but I am sure that if he sent a note to the Minister, he would receive clarification on the matter.

  Senator David Cullinane raised the issue of the property tax. I gave a comprehensive reply on that matter yesterday.

  Senators Cáit Keane, Catherine Noone and Jillian van Turnhout sought a debate on child care. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and perhaps we might have her attend after Easter.

  Senator Jim Walsh sought a debate on political reform. The Government held a referendum on greater powers for Oireachtas committees, but it was rejected by the people. Certainly, in relation to committees, as Senator Jim Walsh will be aware, that part of political reform which had been envisaged cannot go ahead.

  Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh have outlined the fact that today is World Theatre Day. I certainly join colleagues in saluting all those involved in the theatre and performances the length and breadth of the country.

  On the matter Senator Fiach Mac Conghail mentioned, the memo that went to the Cabinet was merely to mention that the Private Members' motion was being put forward this evening and that the Minister himself would be taking the matter. On the other matter referred to, as far as I am aware, no matter went to the Government on the specific memo or proposal to the Government which the Senator mentioned.

  Senator Feargal Quinn raised the matter of organ donations and the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill 2008. I will clarify the position on that Bill which he introduced and whether it can be introduced again, or whether it is the intention of the Government to bring an organ donations Bill before the House. I will get back to the Senator on that issue.

  Senator Michael Comiskey commented on the co-operation between the North and the South in providing forage for farmers, which is to be welcomed by everybody.

  I can assure Senator Diarmuid Wilson, despite the mischief to which he was probably trying to get up, that the Government parties are working well together. As to rumours of divisions, that is what they really are.

  Senator Aideen Hayden spoke about the role of women in Irish society and called for a debate on the matter. I will certainly try to arrange it. I can assure everybody that women play an important role in this House on a daily basis.

  Senator Colm Burke advised the House that 165,000 additional medical cards were issued last year. He also raised the issue of the cost of insurance. I will certainly raise that matter with the Minister and see if we can have a debate on it.

  Senator Mark Daly called for a debate on the undocumented Irish in the United States. That matter was raised by the Taoiseach with the US President. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and his officials have raised it on numerous occasions with representatives, both Democrats and Republicans. I can assure Senator Mark Daly that the matter is on the agenda on a constant basis, both in the Tánaiste's office and the Taoiseach's office.

  Order of Business agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 11.05 a.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

  2 o’clock

Health (Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) Bill 2013: Second Stage

  Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The maintenance of health services is a priority in 2013 for the Government, despite the need for significant and difficult financial savings in the health area. In the context of the very difficult financial circumstances in which the State has found itself in recent years, it is the Government’s intention that front-line health services will be protected to the greatest extent possible.

  As part of budget 2013, over €13.6 billion in current funding has been made available to the Health Service Executive for the provision of services. This amount represented an increase of €150 million over and above the original expenditure targets for 2013. However, despite the extra funding provided, just over €750 million in savings have to be made during 2013. This represents a major challenge for the health service. The budget strategy has been to achieve savings through efficiencies and re-organisation under the public service agreement, curtailing the growing cost of pharmaceuticals and increasing income generation. The aim of this budgetary strategy is, as far as possible, to cut the cost of services, not the services themselves.

  For example, we have focused on reducing the cost of the State’s drugs bill. Key actions being taken to achieve this include the following: the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill 2012 which is before the Dáil will introduce a system of reference pricing and generic substitution for prescribed drugs and medicines; the HSE has established a clinician–led, multidisciplinary medicines management programme, which will bring forward a series of measures to promote more cost-effective prescribing practices by GPs and consultants; and pricing deals have been agreed with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, IPHA, and the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers in Ireland, APMI, which are estimated to generate combined gross savings in excess of €120 million in 2013.

  For the health sector as a whole, budget 2013 set out a wide range of savings that were required, which are made up of the following: a €323 million reduction in the cost of primary care schemes; €308 million in pay-related savings; €65 million in increased generation of income by public hospitals; €60 million in net savings on the Department’s Vote; €20 million savings on procurement; and €5 million in other savings. Nonetheless, the achievement of €781 million in savings in 2013 remains difficult. The majority of savings have been designed not to impact on front line activity. However, we have previously acknowledged that it has been necessary to take a number of difficult measures in order to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected.

  The General Medical Service, GMS, scheme is comprised of the GP service and prescription drugs, as well as some other services, where such services are provided for holders of medical cards or GP-visit cards. In recent years there has been a significant expansion in the GMS scheme. At the end of 2007, there were 1.28 million medical cards. By the end of 2012, there were 1.85 million medical cards in circulation. This represents an increase of almost 600,000 cards, or about 45%, over a five-year period.

  The total cost of the GMS scheme is about €2 billion per year. At the end of 2012, there were approximately 1,986,000 qualifying people under the GMS. Medical cards make up the majority of this number, amounting to about 93% of the total. Medical cards for persons aged 70 years and over account for about 360,000 individuals or about 20% of all medical cards. The total cost of services provided for over-70s medical cardholders is approximately €750 million per year, which represents about 38% of the total cost of the GMS scheme.

  Under the Health Act 2008, special eligibility rules applying to persons aged over 70 years were put in place, which are more generous than those applying to the standard means-tested medical cards. Under the 2008 framework, a single person over 70 with a gross income of up to €700 per week, equivalent to about €36,000 per year, qualifies for a medical card. A couple over 70 with a gross income of up to €1,400 per week, equivalent to about €72,000 per annum, also qualify for a medical card.

  It is estimated that there are approximately 370,000 people aged over 70 in the State. Given that there are about 360,000 medical cards issued to people aged over 70, medical card coverage of the over-70s population is about 97%. By comparison, the medical card coverage of the under-70s population is about 35%. Last December, as part of budget 2013, two inter-related changes to the over-70s eligibility arrangements were announced to deliver €12 million in savings during 2013 from the €750 million expenditure on over-70s medical cards. First, the income limit for an over-70s medical card is to be reduced.  Second, people who no longer qualify for a medical card will continue to receive a free GP service. In addition, they will qualify under the drugs payment scheme, DPS, to have some of the cost of their prescription drugs met by the HSE.

  More specifically, the income limit for an over-70s medical card is to be reduced to €600 per week, equivalent to approximately €31,000 per year, for a single person. For a couple, the income limit for the over-70s medical card is to be reduced to €1,200 per week, equivalent to gross income of approximately €62,000 per year.

  As I stated, those who no longer qualify for an over-70s medical card will qualify for an over-70s GP visit card. A single person over 70 with a gross income of up to €700 per week, equivalent to approximately €36,000 per year, continues to qualify for unlimited GP care. A couple over 70 years old with a gross income of up to €1,400 per week, equivalent to approximately €72,000 per year, also continue to qualify for unlimited free GP care. In addition, under the DPS, the HSE will meet the prescription drug costs of the people concerned in excess of the DPS threshold of €144 per month.

  It is estimated that approximately 20,000 people will have their medical card replaced with a GP visit card under the new income rules. Therefore, it is important to note that approximately 95% of the over-70s population will not be affected by the new rules. A total of 92% of the over-70s population that have already qualified for a medical card will continue to have a medical card. The 3% of over-70s who did not qualify heretofore for a medical card will continue not to have either a medical card or a GP visit card. The 5% of over-70s who did qualify for a medical card will now qualify for a GP visit card instead.

  The new legislation is very focused and narrow in that it is only meant to affect a small proportion of people aged over 70, namely, single individuals earning more than €31,000 per year and couples earning more than €62,000 per year. Again, it is important to reiterate, to avoid any confusion, that approximately 95% of the over-70s population will not be affected by the new rules. I do not seek to minimise the effect of the changes on the small minority of persons affected by the new income rules. However, they will continue to receive free GP care and their expenditure on prescription drugs will be capped under the DPS. As a result, these new arrangements will limit the expenditure on prescription drugs of an individual earning €600 per week or a couple earning €1,200 per week to less than €34 per week.

  The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act was passed in 2010 to introduce certain rights and obligations for civil partners and cohabitants. It is important that these rights and obligations are also reflected in the legislation relating to over-70s medical cards and the new over-70s GP visit cards. The necessary amendments to achieve this are also included in the Bill to ensure spouses, civil partners and cohabitants are treated in a similar manner.

  A primary objective of public service reform is to integrate services with a view to providing better services for citizens and greater efficiency for the State. Inter-agency co-operation among public bodies at national and local level is one of the key pillars to the achievement of the objective. The legislation will facilitate the exchange of personal data between the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection with a view to ensuring public services are delivered as efficiently as possible to those who have an entitlement to such services.

  One of our intentions under the new over-70s arrangements was to avoid having to unnecessarily contact as many over-70s individuals as possible or to limit the number of over-70s we were required to contact. Contacting all over-70s would be a very wasteful and time-consuming task, as well as disturbing for the individuals themselves, especially given that 95% of the over-70s population are unaffected by the new rules. One of the benefits of greater co-operation between the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners is that the HSE will be able to prioritise contacts with higher income over-70s medical card holders. However, the exchange of personal information is more general than just the changes to the over-70s arrangements. The prevention of fraud and abuse of the health service is an important element of the work of the HSE, even more so in a time of severely limited resources. One of the most effective and efficient ways of targeting cases for review is to electronically match data from other relevant Departments and public bodies against the HSE’s computer systems. The purpose of that is to identify people who may be holding a medical card to which they are not entitled.

  It is very important to be clear that in carrying out such data exchange exercises under these provisions, the HSE is obliged to comply with its responsibilities to protect the rights and privacy of individuals in accordance with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. The rights and privacy of individuals continue to have the protection of the Data Protection Acts, even in the event of the Bill being enacted. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has made clear that a public organisation such as the HSE that collects, stores, or processes any personal data must obtain and process the information fairly; keep it only for one or more specified, explicit and lawful purposes; use and disclose it only in ways compatible with these purposes; keep it safe and secure; keep it accurate, complete and up to date; ensure it is adequate, relevant, and not excessive; retain it for no longer than is necessary for the purpose or purposes; and give a copy of his or her personal data to an individual, on request. Therefore, the proposed data exchange provisions and the data exchange agreements they allow build on the existing data protection framework. They are entirely in line with the existing data protection framework. In addition, the proposals were developed by the Department in full consultation with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

  It is a Government priority during 2013 that health services are to be maintained despite the need for significant and difficult financial savings in the health area. The majority of savings have been designed not to impact on front-line activity. However, it has been necessary to take a number of difficult but targeted measures, such as this proposal, to ensure the most vulnerable continue to be protected. I commend the Bill to the Seanad and look forward to hearing the views of the Senators.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry As always, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, back to the House. It is good to see him. I know he is working very hard in the Department. The Bill is hardly one the Minister of State would regard as a great achievement. It is, clearly, one we cannot support.

  In 2009, when the universality of the over-70s medical card went under the microscope, the Government of the day was rightly condemned in terms of the elderly people who were affected. Fine Gael Members will be aware of the words of their colleague, now Minister, Deputy Reilly, who at the time was rightly apoplectic with anger. It was probably mentioned in the other House as well that the people who were going to lose as a result of the legislation – at the time more generous criteria were being introduced – were those who made this country what it is today. He said they raised us, nursed us when we were sick, protected us from violence, grew our food and ran a proud Civil Service. In defending the current Government, people criticise me for having amnesia at times. I have no difficulty responding to them. The legislation shows there is an epidemic of amnesia in the Cabinet room.

  The Minister of State highlighted the figures in terms of who will be affected. The spin doctors within the Labour Party headquarters or the Fine Gael headquarters should do a political benefit analysis and compare it with the income that will be generated. I accept that is a cynical approach but political parties at times do make such considerations. Let us say, for example, that €12 million will be saved. One could ask what we could have done, for example, if the proposal of the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and other parties for a 3% increase in the universal social charge-----

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Is that in the manifesto? I do not recall seeing it.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry The Minister of State must not know the manifesto as well as I do. If he wants to talk about manifestos, there was a lot in the Labour Party’s manifesto and the Fine Gael manifesto.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill We are dealing with the Bill.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry It is a Second Stage speech. If the Acting Chairman were in the House for as long as I am, he would be aware that one can go off the subject to a certain extent.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill I know.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry There is a general thrust to the debate and speakers are allowed to refer generally to the subject, which is what I am doing.  The 3% universal social charge increase would have taken in hundreds of millions of euro and I am sure the Minister of State would agree that if it was his call, or that of his party, such measures could take in a significant amount of money and look after the relative security and well being of the most vulnerable, the over-70s who, regardless of income, are distressed. They are being told that although they have a medical card that does not expire until 2016, after the passage of this legislation, if they are a couple of euro above the income threshold they will get a GP only card despite the fact that they must pay for medication every month. For €12 million it is unnecessary.

  The Minister of State mentioned manifestoes. The Labour Party manifesto and the programme for Government both promise universal health care. We still have not seen a White Paper on that and this Bill will do nothing for universal health care. When in opposition, the Minister for Health said the 50 cent increase on prescription charges would stop people from going to the GP for a prescription but he has since trebled the charge to €1.50 and the threshold for medical cards is being reduced. Although only a small percentage will lose out entirely, following the Minister's own logic, we are focusing on people who are not in a position to deal with this sort of hit and who do not deserve it. These are the people who raised us, nursed us, fed us and grew crops for us.

  There was a cut in child benefit and the mobility grant is being abolished. There were legal issues with that but to cut the grant unilaterally without having a replacement for a period created unnecessary uncertainty. Now there is this but there is no sign of the free GP care or universal health care. There seems to be calamity after disaster after catastrophe for the Minister for Health generally with the haphazard management of the health service.

  As Senator Henry knows, in Sligo a consultant dermatologist had moved from England to take up the position in the hospital. Due to creative accountancy within the HSE or the Department, €10 million has been taken from the hospital; therefore, there is not enough money to keep the lights on never mind to appoint a dermatologist. Consultants in neurology, epilepsy and other areas were promised under the clinical programmes but there is no money to appoint them. The Minister was in Sligo last week to open a road but there was no announcement on the funding for these positions. In the final analysis, the people will pay the price. The existing consultant broke ranks last week to say he cannot take GP referrals because prioritising would be a lottery and waiting lists in Sligo generally were three years, while in Letterkenny, for which he is also responsible, the waiting list is five years. That is far from the window dressing we see with special delivery units.

  One wonders what this will achieve for the sake of €12 million. I would much prefer to see an increase in something like the universal social charge where we would be talking about hundreds of millions of euro. Those who were on higher incomes expected the hit in the last budget and they would not mind making an additional contribution to secure the health of the most vulnerable and the elderly.

  We know it is Government policy to abolish the Seanad. If that succeeds, no Minister will have to come in here to defend himself or herself or answer difficult questions on legislation, but from this legislation, it appears it will not even been necessary to go the Dáil to change the criteria for income. The Minister made the point in the other House that it was linked to the consumer price index.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White That is what it says.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I appreciate that but it does not have to be done by way of legislation. The Minister can change the criteria for eligibility without coming before the Oireachtas. It is a bad precedent because, increasingly, as a result of the Whip system and the fact that the Oireachtas is a mere tool of the Cabinet of the day, we are now passing legislation to remove the troublesome necessity of having to bring legislation before the Houses. We can do the deal on Merrion Street and we will not even to consult the parliamentary party meetings, which can be difficult from time to time; we can just plough ahead and make things up as we go along without any public scrutiny.

  We will be tabling some amendments tomorrow, if they remembered to put them in for us yesterday, and we will engage on some of the sections. The Minister of State is always welcome here as a colleague and friend but we cannot go along with him on this one because for €12 million, it is a step too far and it is unnecessary. There were other options which the Labour Party is well aware of, having tried to get the 3% universal social charge over the line. That was not to be, as reflected in the general theme of a particular election leaflet in Meath East yesterday.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the announcement by the Minister for Health that the proposal to destroy the Guthrie heel prick test cards is being scrapped.

  It is important we realise where we are coming from when looking at the current criteria. A single person is entitled to a medical card while earning up to a maximum of €700 per week or €36,400 per annum, and a couple is entitled to earn €72,800 per annum, or €1,400 per week. The current State pension is €230 per person per week, a total of €11,960 per annum. People earning three times as much as those on the State pension are entitled to medical cards as things stand. We are talking about a slight reduction in real terms, reducing the income for a single person down to €31,200 per annum and the income for a married couple down to €62,400 per annum. Those with an income up to that figure will be entitled to a medical card while those with an income greater than that will be entitled to a GP visit card. All services are not being withdrawn. If people spend more than €144 per month, they are entitled to apply to the drug refund scheme. The incomes limits will still be 2.5 times more than the State pension. The alterations are minor.

  People talk constantly about the promises made during the election.  Although we never promised to provide an additional 251,000 medical cards and general practitioner visit cards, that is exactly what we have done since entering government.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane That is because people lost their jobs.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke If the Senator gives me a little space, I will deal with that issue.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I look forward to that.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke Last year alone, we gave an additional 165,000 medical cards and GP visit cards.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Medical cards are not gifts from the Government. The Senator should provide some context.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke The Senator is correct that the increase in the number of medical cards is a reflection of the decline in people's incomes. In the past two years, the Government has acted in a caring manner by ensuring people have an entitlement to access the services they require. Some tweaking and tidying up is needed in health care and the Bill proposes only a small change. The figures for 2012 show that we were issuing approximately 14,000 medical cards per month, a significant number that reflects the Government's commitment to ensure people on low incomes have access to health care.

  Senator MacSharry referred to delays in the health service. The Hanly report of 2003 recommended increasing the number of consultants to 3,600 by 2012. The current figure of 2,500 consultants is 1,100 short of the target. However, in light of the change in the country's financial position, it will be difficult to implement the recommendations set out in the report.

  I welcome the decision to bring the rules pertaining to cohabitants into line with the provisions of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. Income is not calculated on the basis of gross income, for instance, in calculating net rental income allowances are made for certain expenses. I presume the property tax is regarded as an expense. Perhaps the Minister will clarify this matter as the Bill is a little unclear in this regard. Having said that the Bill has been carefully drafted to ensure income received from redress payments or compensation payments made as a result of an accident is not taken into consideration when calculating a person's net income.

  The health service presents many challenges and many issues need to be tackled. I refer specifically to the cost of drugs, an issue in which I have taken an interest in recent months. The efforts being made by the Department in this regard are not insufficient. The Sunday Business Post and other media outlets have reported on the costs of medication, which were also the subject of a recent report by the Consumer Association of Ireland. Susan Mitchell in The Sunday Business Post noted price differentials for medicines between Ireland and other European Union member states, with some items costing 25 times more here than in the United Kingdom. Domestic price comparisons show major variations in the price of drugs in different pharmacies in the same town or city. We must carefully examine this issue.

  In 2000, the State spent €574 million on drugs. By 2010, this figure had increased to €1.894 billion, an increase of 230%, and I understand it is set to exceed €2 billion this year. The Department should set a target for reducing expenditure on drugs as it is a major element of the health budget. It would not be unreasonable to set a target of reducing the drugs bill by 25% or €500 million. This would necessitate addressing the problem of over-prescribing. I spoke recently to a person who had worked and lived in England for some years and expressed astonishment at the much higher rate of prescribing here than in the UK. While medication is very important, its overuse can have negative long-term effects, such as increasing immunity to the treatments being prescribed. We must work on this issue in the next 12 to 24 months.

  While I am open to correction, I understand 90% of all income tax revenue is allocated towards meeting the cost of health care. A further 14 Departments must be funded from income tax revenues. We need to reduce costs in the health service without reducing the level of service. The Minister, Department and Health Service Executive have an important task in ensuring we obtain value for money for health care expenditure in the next ten years.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I, too, extend a warm welcome to the Minister of State. It is important to reflect on how one gets into a problem. The Brennan commission, of which I was a member, examined this issue. When we embarked on the process of issuing medical cards to everyone aged 70 years and over, it was estimated that 39,000 people would be eligible for the new card at a projected cost of €19 million. It subsequently transpired, however, that 77,000 people were eligible for the cards. Clearly, the Department needs a health economist.

  The medical cards for the elderly scheme was doomed from the beginning. It was not only that it amounted to a political promise to secure the votes of the elderly but that the Department did not know how many people of a certain age were living in the State. I found this failure impossible to believe at the time because the Central Statistics Office can provide information on the number of people in the various age categories. Professor Niamh Brennan's report was critical of the Department's mistake, which demonstrates the need for the Department to engage in proper appraisals and analysis.

  I agree with Senator Colm Burke on the need to secure a much better deal on drugs. Susan Mitchell of The Sunday Business Post, the journalist to whom the Senator referred, has been flying this flag. She cites Mr. Paul Bell of SIPTU who noted not only that we pay too much for medicines but that pharmacists receive secret discounts of up to 90%. The key benchmark used by the "Today with Pat Kenny" programme and in other forums is usually how much cheaper drugs are in Spain than Ireland. When the drugs industry argues that prices here are reasonable because Ireland is in a particular zone, I must ask what zone Spain is in and where does free trade in the European Union enter the equation? Why can the drug companies supply medicines at much lower prices in other countries?

  The Sunday Business Post and an International Monetary Fund report have found that our hospital bed night costs are twice the OECD average and twice those of Germany and Canada, two countries that enjoy the triple A credit rating that the Government is working hard to get back. In addition, the Milliman report on health insurance notes that treatments that would take 3.7 days on the basis of worldwide best practice take on average 11.6 days in Ireland. Closing this gap could give rise to savings of a couple of thousand euro per bed night.  We have to ensure that the people from whom medical cards are being taken, those who remain in the medical card system, the taxpayer and the Department get good value for the money being spent.

The Minister of State only mentioned it in passing but we must take cognisance of the fact that we passed legislation here to open up the GMS market to new graduates and perhaps we will be given an update on how that is progressing. I am concerned about a section in this Bill that appears to be sliding back from that. It was an IMF requirement under the bailout agreement because that organisation has expressed concern about the high cost of the Irish health service compared with the cost in some of the countries which are bailing us out. What savings could be made from opening up the GMS market? I came across some figures published in the Irish Examineron 29 September 2011. The article refers to GPs earning over €750,000 from the medical card scheme. I will not mention any names here but there was one doctor in Dublin who earned €767,000, another in Donegal who earned €754,000 and another in south Dublin who earned €718,000. A GP in Cork earned €679,000 while one in Kerry earned €569,000 and the list goes on. The summary was that 58 GP clinics earned over €500,000; 156 earned between €400,000 and €500,000; 379 earned between €300,000 and €400,000; and 615 earned between €200,000 and €300,000. Lots of new medical graduates had to emigrate last year but I am sure it was at least a possibility that some of those jobs could have been done for less than €300,000. I hope that the Department is shopping around for new graduates and not allowing local monopolists to push up the costs to the Department and to patients.

I broadly support this specific measure, albeit with the caveats I have just mentioned. The Minister of State has said that the income limit will be €700 per week for a couple. That compares with the €298 income limit for those aged between 65 and 69 and €266.50 for a couple under 65. In that sense, it has been tilted towards older people but we have a problem with universalism itself. This project was always bedevilled by the fact that we undertook it on the basis of incorrect data. To say that millionaires of a certain age are entitled to a benefit that is not available to many working people and to which those who are surviving solely on a State pension are barely entitled, was a mistake. It was a mistaken form of universalism in the first instance.

I have tabled two amendments to the Bill which we will be discussing tomorrow but, broadly speaking, as the Minister of State has said, this change has to be made. However, it does not address many of the huge problems regarding the way resources are allocated within the Irish health services, such as the drugs and hospitals bills and the lack of competition in health insurance. It does not address the question of whether local monopolists earning €600,000 or €700,000 per year from the GMS are inhibiting new doctors from providing such services instead of emigrating. Such doctors could provide a better service for patients and reduce the bill to the Exchequer.

Broadly speaking, I welcome the Bill. I know the Minister of State is new in the Department of Health and I wish him success in his role. However, there are a lot of legacy issues to be addressed in the context of this particular legislation and in the wider health service, in terms of its relatively high cost. The health service costs between 11% and 12% of gross national income. In the Scandinavian countries, which we admire so much, health service costs are between 9% and 10% of gross national income. There is an excess cost here, as documented in an article by Oliver O'Connor in the Sunday Business Post last Sunday, based on IMF data. The challenge is to get the best value for the patient and the taxpayer and to tackle many of the restrictive practices in the system. I agree with other Senators that drugs prices would be a very good place to start in that regard.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I cannot welcome this Bill but no matter how much I dislike it, I recognise the necessity of implementing the measures contained in it. The Minister of State referred to the requirement to take €750 million from the health budget, which totals €13.6 billion. This certainly presents a challenge, especially on top of the reductions in the budget we have already seen in recent years. There is no question but that the cuts or reductions in service we are implementing will cause real difficulties for people. Unfortunately, however, there is no possibility of closing the fiscal deficit without finding cost-savings in the large-spending departmental programmes. It is as simple as that. That is the horrible reality facing the Government. In other circumstances and in normal times, we would not be doing this at all because there would be no requirement to do it. Unfortunately, here we are and this is the situation we are faced with. If members of the Opposition or anybody else have suggestions as to how we can close the deficit without taxing ourselves into oblivion, the Minister for State would be very happy to hear them, as would I and members of the Cabinet. We must be realistic in what we are attempting to do.

  The Minister of State has pointed out that 97% of those over 70 will not be affected by this Bill and that the 3% who are affected will still be entitled to a doctor-visit card and will be eligible for the drug prescription scheme and many other schemes. This is a proportionate response to the issue at hand. It also recognises what could be called the enhanced health requirements that people accrue as they get older. The targeting of resources to this area is probably the most important element here.

  Senator Colm Burke referred to the fact that there are 165,000 extra medical cards in the system since the Government came to office. That in itself is a recognition of the need that is out there. It is also something that is never referred to by anybody except members of the Government. Nobody in opposition will draw attention to the fact that there has been an increase in the number of medical cards issued. Members of the Opposition prefer to hark upon the decreases. Having said that, once something is given as an entitlement, it is particularly difficult to take it away, no matter how few people are actually affected.

  The populist political decision to give everybody over the age of 70, irrespective of income, a free medical card was nothing short of reckless, especially as it was based on gross miscalculations. Senator Barrett referred to mistakes made at the Department of Health in this regard but the Department of Health has a political master. It is important to remind people that the Minister who made that decision in 2008 was Deputy Micheál Martin, the current leader of Fianna Fáil in the other House. Deputy Martin has form in terms of deflecting responsibility away from himself. We saw that when he blamed his officials for the fact that he had not read his brief when he was challenged about the illegal nursing home charges by members of an Oireachtas committee. He blamed one of his officials, who was moved sideways while the Minister was moved upwards. It is just remarkable that political accountability does not go both ways.

  At a time of limited resources, it is very important that we target spending and direct resources to where they are needed most. Senator MacSharry has said that a saving of €12 million this year and €24 million in a full year is a small amount of money. While that is true, it also demonstrates just how well targeted this initiative is, when the sums involved are acknowledged by the Opposition to be very small. Nonetheless, the changes in this legislation will have an impact on some people. The threshold we are dealing with here is an income of €31,000 per year.  Senator MacSharry said that we are again targeting a vulnerable group of people. To accrue an income of €31,000 a year would require an investment in a pension fund of approximately €650,000, which is not a small amount of money and such an investment would not be typical of the most vulnerable people in our society. Senator Colm Burke pointed out that the annual income threshold for medical card holders below the age of 70 who are in receipt of State pensions is in the region of €11,500. Proportionately, we are not doing too badly here. We certainly cannot be charged with targeting a vulnerable cohort of our society. In the interests of fairness, such a measure is warranted under the circumstances.

  Senator MacSharry has also mentioned that the Opposition is blind. Of course, the Opposition is always blind, as it is right now, because in 2008 in a vote in the other House, the Fianna Fáil-led Government voted by 81 to 74 in favour of doing exactly what we are doing here. It was in favour of it then and against it now. We were against it then and are in favour of it now. Does it not indicate how the Opposition of the country operates? It might be a debate for another day.

  Senator MacSharry also mentioned amnesia. I love the splendid retrospective detachment he has from every decision made by the previous Government. He seems to have opposed every measure the previous three Governments implemented and continues to oppose. We need to congratulate him on his consistency of approach to politics. I trust his colleague, Senator Wilson, will pass that message on to him.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Certainly.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy His language portrays the political opportunism at the heart of the poor decision to grant universal entitlement to a medical card to the over-70s in the first place. Of course, there was a lack of accountability after such a disastrous miscalculation was made. It is a pity Senator MacSharry did not stay to hear my witty contribution at his expense.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane We suffer on his behalf.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Unfortunately, he suffers from the St. Augustine approach to cutbacks. He is not alone; all Fianna Fáil people do this.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Senator would be well aware of what we thought.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy While Fianna Fáil Members are all in favour of reducing the deficit, every time they are just one cutback away from actually supporting it. The cutback we are discussing is always the one. They claim they will support the next one, until it comes and then it will be the next again. St Augustine would be proud. Of course, we would prefer not to have to make these changes.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson It is St. Jude the Government needs.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Judas.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Senator Gilroy to continue, without interruption.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy The religious analogies are flying around like mad. I thank the Acting Chairman for protecting me from them. We will be supporting the measure and it is important we do so. It is a minor change to the structure and does not target the more vulnerable in our society. In a matter of fairness, it is a requirement under the circumstances and we will have more to say about it tomorrow.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown Zoom on John Crown Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I speak from the perspective of having worked in the health service. The issue of drugs is deadly simple. The Government should pass a law to make it mandatory to use generic drugs unless there is a specific doctor-ordered exception to the rule, which will arise in virtually no cases. There is a bit of an argument brewing at the moment, which I understand, in the case of some very specialised drugs where the level of the drug in the blood is important. We have heard this argument being advanced appropriately and eloquently by those who are expert in the field of seizure disorders. In general, we should be using generics. I have been using Lipitor for almost a decade for high cholesterol and it has worked extraordinarily well. I have recently started insisting on getting generic atorvastatin calcium and while I may be leaving myself open to a charge of being unpatriotic, the next time I am outside the jurisdiction of the State, I intend on stocking up with a six month supply of it because it is so unbelievably expensive here compared with other countries.

  There are many ways we can save money on the drugs bill and there are some ways we cannot. We get some new, highly innovative drugs for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and cancer where we do not have alternatives. At international level I believe there are other strategies and it is a shame we are not pursuing them during our EU Presidency because we need concerted international action on drug pricing. We are beginning to see what I believe is predatory drug pricing in the rarefied, non-competitive atmosphere when companies have ten, 15 or 20 years of patency on products for conditions surrounding which there is significant emotional cost. Cancer and cystic fibrosis are such examples. I have been involved in the development of some drugs which were expensive but where it cost a lot to develop those drugs. I have recently seen drugs with prices of €80,000 to €100,000 a year, where I know they were not that expensive to develop because the trials used to license them involved not the 15,000 patients who were involved in one set of trials in which I was involved, but 40 or 50 patients, which costs much less. This is something beyond the abilities of a small country's government to do alone, but it is certainly a debate we need to start internationally.

  I believe the pharmaceutical industry was playing silly buggers with the Taoiseach and the Minister, suggesting there was some linkage between the location of its manufacturing facilities here and our decision to use generic drugs. This country appropriately has an extraordinary dependency on this wonderful sector leading to significant employment in a €40 billion industry, nearly all of the output of which is exported. The decisions about where those factories are located are not influenced by our decision to use generic drugs. Those companies will locate their plants here because of the low corporation tax and the ability of workers. It has nothing to do with what one of the smallest drug markets in the world is doing. Its local affiliates are trying to play a little game here and are trying to use a bit of emotional blackmail. I have used similar arguments with them over the years, trying to extort money for research undertakings. It is a game. The reality is that the person making the decision on locating a factory will look at the profit and loss balance sheet for what that factory will produce if it is in Ireland as opposed to Asia or eastern Europe.

  What about the inefficiencies in the system? We have now had expert reports from the IMF, which is not exactly a health economist but a loan shark. The IMF wants a system that gets the IMF's money back. The IMF is like big Vinnie. When big Vinnie comes around knocking on someone's door at collection time, he just wants his money back and does not care how he gets it. The reality is we have extraordinary inefficiencies in our health system because we designed it to be that way. I do a slow burn when I hear people alleged to be health care experts and international health care consultants, who had no background in health economics or health care consulting before they became officials of the previous Government, lecturing us about the efficiencies implicit in our health system and using a system that they themselves designed.

  Our hospital has one CAT scanner. An equivalently sized American hospital would probably have ten. What does that mean? It means somebody sitting in the bed waiting for a CAT scan not for that afternoon but for Wednesday week because it is cheaper to have that person sitting in a hospital for a week not having a CAT scan than it is to get him or her out very efficiently after one day and get different people on each subsequent day. That is how to deal with waiting lists and increase efficiency. It costs a little more but makes much more sense. However, the people at the top of the bureaucracy who run the health system will never see it that way and will always see it in terms of having a budget and needing to make it last. Hospitals are told that if they are great and more efficient at bringing in more patients, they will not get more money. People will inevitably be decanted onto waiting lists because they are free. That is why need to reform our system. That is why we have the worst waiting list in the world. That is why the British have the second worst waiting list in the world. It is because we follow this absurd budget-based model.

  I am sorry if I sound like the same old broken record every time. The Minister of State, Deputy White, is a new victim to my wrath. It is not wrath and I wish him well. I know he will bring the zeal of a reformer to a Department that at its zenith actually has some reformers right now - reformers who are swimming in a sea of treacle to get to the side of the pool where the reform will be achieved. They just have to keep working on it.  Until we fix the fundamental structure of how we finance the health system and run the health service, until we deal with the extraordinary bureaucracy which we have allowed to build up within it and until we introduce the German model of universal health care which is available to everybody based on a freely negotiable insurance instrument where everybody goes to one tier of care, we will not reform it.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, to the House for this important debate. The Bill seeks to amend the eligibility for the medical card for people over 70 years of age. Like other speakers, I would be much happier if we did not have to address this issue but we live in very difficult times, resources are scarce and we must target them at the most needy.

  A total of 40% of the population have access to GP services under the GMS scheme. It is amazing and alarming that, as of February 2013, almost 1,860,000 people or 40% of the population have medical cards. Another 130,000 or 3% of the population have a GP visit card. Due to the desire of a previous Government some years ago to guarantee re-election, medical cards were issued to all 370,000 people aged more than 70 years, irrespective of their means or income. That was not just or equitable at a time when the Government should have been targeting scarce resources at the most needy and vulnerable. Today, 360,000 or 97% of the over 70s have a medical card, whereas between 35% and 40% of the population under 70 years of age have medical cards. This legislation will still leave 92% of the over 70s with a medical card and a further 20,000 people, or 5%, will continue to receive free GP care instead of the full medical card.

  This change will have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of ordinary citizens over 70 years of age. We should not be worrying and alarming people about this. What is happening is scaremongering. People are frightened and are phoning their public representatives to inquire about their situation. In the vast majority of cases they will not be impacted.

  I welcome the fact that in the past two years the Department has been corresponding with people to determine if they still require the card and if they are eligible for it. There were huge abuses of the scheme due to the failure to cross check between social welfare, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Health. Politicians must take some of the blame too. They were complicit in securing medical cards for people who were not eligible for them. The full facts were not being declared and medical cards were being given out like sweets. Some people appeared to be able to manipulate the system and get a medical card, while somebody with comparable means living next door was unable to get a medical card. Obviously, the full story was not disclosed by many applicants over the years.

  The reality we must address today is the gap of approximately €1.2 billion per month between income and expenditure. There is no painless way of bridging that gap. However, when cuts are made we must ensure that the most vulnerable are protected and that those who are in a position to shoulder more of the burden are asked to do so. It is fair that a person with an income of over €600 per week and a couple with an income of over €1,200 per week should be treated somewhat differently from somebody on a very low income and possibly depending solely on the State old age pension. It is clear that only people who are quite well off will be impacted by these changes. However, we must be conscious of the middle income families who are really stretched to pay mortgages and educate their families. They are hit by every new tax and charge and in many cases will probably not qualify for a medical card because the gross income figure is used to assess eligibility.

  I ask the Minister to keep an eye on the administration of the medical card system. Many of us have great difficulty getting answers and also in getting through the appeals system, which appears to be slow and cumbersome. I encountered a case recently in which somebody's file was supposed to have been sent from Dublin to Donegal for review, but it appeared to take almost three months before the file eventually reached its destination. The appeals system is taking too long. That must be examined.

  I wish the Minister well in his efforts to achieve savings and to tackle the inefficiencies in the Department. Senator Crown gave him some very valuable advice. The Minister should examine the situation with the cost of drugs and deal with the many inefficiencies that remain within the HSE system. At a time when resources are scarce we must do everything possible to target those resources at the most needy in our society. This Bill will not impact too severely on any member of our community. I believe the modest adjustments being made will be accepted by most right thinking people who want to see the country back on its feet again, people back at work and resources being spent where they are most needed.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Unfortunately, my welcomes will end there. I do not support this Bill and will outline my reasons to the Minister of State. Modest adjustments are not what we were promised, incidentally. We were promised profound change. I glanced quickly through the programme for Government before this debate to remind myself of what the Government and both parties promised after the election-----

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke There are thousands of extra medical cards. Is that in the programme for Government?

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane This must be the fourth or fifth time I have got to my feet after sitting and listening to other Members without interrupting them-----

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke The Senator interrupted me.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane ----but they seem to think that is what should be done when I get to my feet. That is okay, but I will ask the Chair's indulgence to be given a few minutes to make my contribution.

  Senator Gilroy mentioned the decision by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government to extend medical card eligibility to people over 70 years of age without a means test and described it as outrageous.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy It was an outrageous miscalculation of the numbers, if the Senator is to quote me properly.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy If he keeps it honest.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane He used the word "outrageous". I am quoting the word he used.

  As what confuses me goes to the heart of this Bill, perhaps the Minister will be able to help me. The Government promised universal health care, although through the private health insurance model. The programme for Government promises universal primary care, which will remove fees for GP care, and that it will be introduced within the Government's first term of office. On the one hand it says there will be free GP care for everybody, but there is no sign of it after two years in office. We have no idea when it will be introduced. The groundwork has not been done. What we see is the introduction of measures such as this, which will reduce the eligibility for free GP care for some.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White They all get GP visit cards.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I am talking about the total cover.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White To clarify, nobody loses access to free GP care cover as a result of this Bill. The full medical card is removed from 20,000 people but each of the people concerned will continue to have access to free GP care.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I am talking about the universal supports or the total health cover which is being removed. The point is that the Government promised people that they would have free GP care and universal health cover. That simply has not happened.

  It is disappointing that the Minister for Health is not present today because he has an interesting track record on this issue, which is worth recalling for Members. Approximately ten years ago the Minister was the head of the Irish Medical Organisation's GP section.  When he held that position, he robustly opposed the decision of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government to extend medical cards, without means tests, to people over the age of 70. That was fair enough because that was the approach he adopted. On the other hand, however, he then negotiated a very generous deal for GPs to treat people over 70. At the time of the next general election, the Minister was Opposition spokesperson on health and he took a completely different position. He denounced from a height the decision of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party and then adopted a completely different position again and supported it. He appears to have changed his mind again and is altering the criteria for people over the age of 70 once more.

I do not believe that this sits well with the programme for Government or the reforms this Administration promised in respect of health care. I referred earlier to the commitment relating to universal primary health care. Perhaps the Minister of State might provide some indication of when the latter may become a reality. We do not believe it will emerge within the lifetime of the current Government. However, we may be proved wrong in that regard. The programme for Government states:

Access to primary care without fees will be extended in the first year to claimants of free drugs under the Long-Term Illness Scheme at a cost of €17 million.

Access to primary care without fees will be extended in the second year to claimants of free drugs under the High-Tech Drugs scheme at a cost of €15 million.

Access to subsidised care will be extended to all in the next phase.

The Minister for Health stated the first of these three goals was to be achieved in the summer of 2012. However, it has still not been realised. All of these promises were made and the Minister indicated that he would reform the system. If there was an Olympic medal for mental acrobatics, he would, in light of his track record, win it hands down. People have seen through both the Minister and the promises that were made in the context of what has been delivered in the area of health. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the Taoiseach has decided to take a more hands-on approach to health care.

  Senator Gilroy referred to the Opposition being blind. The best way to judge that will be when the results of today's by-election come to hand. People's eyes have been opened. When the votes are counted tomorrow, we will see exactly who is blind and which parties are being judged to be acting blindly.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy This is all about party political opportunism and populism. The Senator should acknowledge that at least.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane Perhaps we might discuss that matter next week when the people have passed judgment on all parties in government and opposition.

Acting Chairman (Senator Michael Mullins): Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins As there are no other speakers offering, I call on the Minister of State to reply.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White That happened more quickly than I expected. I thank Senators who contributed to this important and interesting debate.

  Senator Cullinane of Sinn Féin and the Fianna Fáil Senators are opposing the Bill for the reasons they explained. Those are reasons on which we all have views, one way or the other. However, no one actually made a strong case against the alterations to the eligibility limits. That fact is striking. Senators are perfectly entitled to oppose the Bill for whatever reasons they see fit. I have no objection to that because it is the system within which we work. It is worthy of note that no one, including Senator Cullinane, addressed the core issue with which the Bill deals, namely, the reduction in eligibility limits, nor has anyone, either expressly or specifically, opposed that reduction.

  I repeat what I said at the outset that 90% of those who are over 70 will not be affected by the proposals contained in the Bill. When Senator Cullinane was making his contribution, I offered a point of clarification and I take this opportunity to repeat what I said. Certain colleagues are seeking to convey an impression that the Bill in some way undermines - a number went so far as to suggest that it reverses - the Government's approach to universal free GP care. It does nothing of the kind. That argument simply cannot be sustained. Nobody will lose access to free GP care as a consequence of the enactment of this legislation. Anyone who loses his or her medical card on foot of the legislation will be given a free GP card. It flies in the face of both reality and the truth to suggest that the Bill will somehow give rise to a reversal. I understand the other arguments that have been put forward and I will deal with them in a moment. However, I must stress that what is involved here is not a reversal in the context of universal access to free GP care. This legislative provision is neither a reversal nor an undermining of that Government commitment. It remains an absolute commitment on the Government's part that it will extend free GP care to everyone in the community by the end of its term in office.

  A number of other issues were raised by different Senators as the debate progressed. Senator MacSharry raised an issue to which reference was made in the Lower House. I know the Senator is aware that it was raised there because he made mention of that fact. The point in question is not a good one because it is not really based on fact and it does a disservice to the debate. I admire Senator MacSharry very much and I value his contribution but it is simply not true to say that the Minister for Health is being given power under this Bill to unilaterally alter the general eligibility limits relating to medical cards without having recourse to the Oireachtas. That is simply not happening. In order to clarify the position for the benefit of the House, I wish to read the provision contained in section 7(5), which states:

The Minister shall, on 1 September of every year, review the most recent information on the consumer price index made available by the Central Statistics Office, and may, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, by regulations to take effect on 1 January next following that review, increase or decrease the gross income limits specified for the purposes of this section to reflect any increase or decrease in that index.

This is a very circumscribed power that will be bestowed upon the Minister and it will be based on upward or downward changes in the consumer price index. It is designed to maintain the real value of the eligibility limits. That is all it will do. It will not extend to the Minister a unilateral power to increase or reduce eligibility limits generally. The Oireachtas has the power in that regard, which is quite right. In the case of the Bill before the House, the Oireachtas is being asked to reduce the eligibility limits. That is a power which rests with the Houses of the Oireachtas in the context of primary legislation and it will not be disturbed by anything which is being done in the Bill.

  As Senator Gilroy stated, no one - least of all me or anyone else in government - takes pleasure in introducing a measure which takes away entitlements from citizens. We are endeavouring to protect the most vulnerable and to engage in the fairest possible distribution of scarce resources. Those resources are, of course, particularly scarce. I understand and appreciate that some Senators object to the Bill and may wish to oppose it. However, it should be opposed on the basis of what it actually says rather than on the basis of what people suggest it says.

  A number of Senators referred to the cost of medicines. I completely agree with the emphasis that has been placed on this issue. It is important that it should be addressed. I stated in my initial contribution that it is being addressed and that the legislation on reference pricing and generic substitution, which began life in this House, has passed Committee Stage in the Lower House. Report and Final Stages of that legislation will be taken in the Dáil in early course. The legislation is extremely important and it was long called for and long spoken about. It has now been introduced by the Government and is undergoing its passage through the Oireachtas.  It meets Senator Crown's point, namely, that the default approach should be generic substitution, but there should be exceptions, for example, where a doctor indicates that substitution is not appropriate in a particular case.

We have introduced responsible prescribing initiatives, in which respect we are working with general practitioners, GPs, and consultants to ensure a more careful and focused approach to prescribing. Professionals in the field will co-operate with these initiatives.

We saw progress in our agreements with the drugs companies last year. They have had and will continue to have an effect. However, a problem remains and must be addressed. One element has seen us commission the ESRI to conduct a comparative study of the price of drugs in Ireland and among our comparators. I hope that the results of this expert study will become available to the Government in the coming weeks. People want the problem rectified, as do I. As a minimum, I want an explanation. This is a matter of considerable public interest and concern. I compliment the journalistic work done in this regard, including that of TheSunday Business Post. Debating the information openly is in the public interest.

On the opposite side of the argument, it has been suggested to me that one is sometimes not comparing apples with oranges. Other countries have different circumstances and do not permit proper comparisons. These may be legitimate arguments, but I want to put my finger on the truth. For this reason, the study will be of benefit to us in seeking to address this issue. I agree with colleagues, in that it should be addressed. It will be.

Senator Barrett referred to the opening up of the General Medical Services, GMS, scheme. He fairly acknowledged the legislation that we passed last year, relatively early in the Government's lifetime. The legislation affords more doctors the opportunity to enter the scheme. The number of participating doctors has increased as a result.

In respect of GPs' earnings and as GPs would point out to the Senator, they have already been subjected to a number of reductions in fees under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts. My colleague, the Minister for Health, is undertaking a FEMPI process to assess whether it is appropriate to apply further reductions to primary care fees. Certain targets were set in the Estimates process, the outcome of which we need to await. Due process is necessary in the assessment. This issue will also be addressed in early course.

I take the Senator's point on what he described in his usual, reasonably benign fashion as legacy issues in the Department and across the health service, for example, excess costs. I am aware of Mr. O'Connor's recent analysis, to which the Senator referred. Considerable progress has been made on the financial restructuring and reform of the way in which business is done and finances are managed across the system. Given what I know about the changes to practices, I am confident that we will see many results from this process.

In Senator Colm Burke's interesting contribution he discussed the basis upon which income was to be defined or assessed for eligibility limits. He raised an interesting question on whether the property tax would come into play. The provision on income from property in section 7(7) is meant to prevent an elderly person from being penalised simply because he or she owns a family home or other property, even where no rental income accrues. Where there is rental income, the costs associated with renting out the property are to be taken into account. I will not express an opinion on whether the property tax is such a cost, but there might be a question mark over whether it can be considered a cost necessarily incurred and associated with the rental of the property.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke Put it up for judicial review.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Shoehorning it into this provision might be difficult. It is unlikely, but I will not express a definitive opinion on it, as it is not for me to do so.

  Senator Mullins asked about the administration of the medical card system, in particular its appeals system. That Ministers repeat the global figures on the scheme's success is sometimes a source of irritation for colleagues, but I should point out that, on 18 March, 95.38% of medical cards were being processed within 15 working days.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Incredible.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The move to centralise under the Primary Care Reimbursement Service, PCRS, has had a beneficial effect on the way the system is being administered. Some Senators are shaking their heads. As diligent public representatives, individual cases present to them. I have examined some cases, as I have also been approached. I have taken Adjournment debates and parliamentary questions. We have considered many of the issues that have been raised, but the backlog of people awaiting decisions on, for example, discretionary medical cards, the issue that concerns people the most, has reduced substantially. The target turnaround time for discretionary medical cards is 20 working days. However, if a Senator has an experience that causes him or her to disagree with my comments on the great progress being made, it should be brought to our attention so that it can be addressed.

  I wish to address the commitment in the programme for Government to universal access to GP-only medical cards. It remains a commitment to ensure it is done before the end of the Government's term of office. We pointed to a particular route. The programme for Government referred to addressing the long-term illness scheme first, high-tech drug users second and, third, a form of subsidised GP visit cards. That was our aspired route to a destination, although it is not the route now being taken.  I have dealt with the issue before in this and the other House. We are examining a different route, which is to extend GP visit cover to persons with certain chronic illnesses. That does not refer to people on the long-term illness scheme but rather people with certain demonstrated chronic illnesses. This chimes with a general population health approach to primary care and it is the route we are considering.

  I emphasise that we will get to our destination and it is absolutely our commitment to extend GP visit cards and free GP care to all of the community by the end of the lifetime of the Government. That is the intention and very much what I am dedicated to achieving; the biggest priority I have as Minister of State with responsibility for primary care is to make this happen. That will not come without difficulty or complication. The Health Act 1970 is based on extending medical cards to people based on income and financial or material hardship. For example, having a chronic illness would mean a GP visit card would have to be extended on the basis of a particular illness rather than income or hardship, which is a different conceptual issue and not without legal difficulty. That does not take from the strength of our commitment to reach the destination of universal GP care by the end of the lifetime of the Government.

  The Minister for Health and I still hold to the universal health insurance commitment in the programme for Government. We did not say we would be able to achieve universal health insurance within the life of this Dáil but we would do so by the end of the next Dáil. We have much work to do on the precise model to be put in place, which I accept, but universal primary care is a necessary prerequisite of universal health insurance. That is the objective to which I am most closely dedicating myself while working with the Minister for Health and the Government to achieve the broader agenda of universal health insurance in the coming years.

  I am almost exactly six months in this job and one discovers certain frustrations in public life, policy and administration. Nevertheless, I do not doubt the close dedication and commitment of public servants across the board, in the Department of Health and in the HSE. This is a period of major change and reform and the process takes longer than one may hope. That does not diminish our commitment or set us back in the least from what we need to achieve in the shape of true reform and a much-improved health service available to people on the basis of need rather than income.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 12.

Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on John Crown   Zoom on John Crown   Crown, John.
Information on Sean D. Barrett   Zoom on Sean D. Barrett   Barrett, Sean D. Information on David Cullinane   Zoom on David Cullinane   Cullinane, David.
Information on Terry Brennan   Zoom on Terry Brennan   Brennan, Terry. Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark.
Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm. Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry.
Information on Deirdre Clune   Zoom on Deirdre Clune   Clune, Deirdre. Information on Marc MacSharry   Zoom on Marc MacSharry   MacSharry, Marc.
Information on Eamonn Coghlan   Zoom on Eamonn Coghlan   Coghlan, Eamonn. Information on Paschal Mooney   Zoom on Paschal Mooney   Mooney, Paschal.
Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul. Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
Information on Michael Comiskey   Zoom on Michael Comiskey   Comiskey, Michael. Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú   Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú   Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin. Information on Denis O'Donovan   Zoom on Denis O'Donovan   O'Donovan, Denis.
Information on Maurice Cummins   Zoom on Maurice Cummins   Cummins, Maurice. Information on Averil Power   Zoom on Averil Power   Power, Averil.
Information on Jim D'Arcy   Zoom on Jim D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Jim. Information on Jim Walsh   Zoom on Jim Walsh   Walsh, Jim.
Information on John Gilroy   Zoom on John Gilroy   Gilroy, John. Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.
Information on Jimmy Harte   Zoom on Jimmy Harte   Harte, Jimmy.  
Information on Fidelma Healy Eames   Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames   Healy Eames, Fidelma.  
Information on Imelda Henry   Zoom on Imelda Henry   Henry, Imelda.  
Information on Cáit Keane   Zoom on Cáit Keane   Keane, Cáit.  
Information on Denis Landy   Zoom on Denis Landy   Landy, Denis.  
Information on Marie Moloney   Zoom on Marie Moloney   Moloney, Marie.  
Information on Mary Moran   Zoom on Mary Moran   Moran, Mary.  
Information on Michael Mullins   Zoom on Michael Mullins   Mullins, Michael.  
Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.  
Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.  
Information on Susan O'Keeffe   Zoom on Susan O'Keeffe   O'Keeffe, Susan.  
Information on Pat O'Neill   Zoom on Pat O'Neill   O'Neill, Pat.  
Information on Tom Sheahan   Zoom on Tom Sheahan   Sheahan, Tom.  
Information on John Whelan   Zoom on John Whelan   Whelan, John.  

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan; Níl, Senators Marc MacSharry and Diarmuid Wilson.

Question declared carried.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Tomorrow.

  Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 28 March 2013.

  Sitting suspended at 3.45 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.

  4 o’clock

Philanthropy and Fund-raising: Motion

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail I move:

That Seanad Éireann would welcome
- a national debate on the current context and challenges facing the not-for-profit sector with regards to philanthropy, fundraising, sponsorship and private giving in Ireland.
- the publication in May 2012 under the auspices of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising;

- that according to the Irish Non-Profits Knowledge Exchange the not-for-profit sector in Ireland employs over 100,000 people across the community, voluntary, sporting and cultural sector and has a pay cost of €3.5 billion;

- that 32% of the non-for-profit sector in the Irish Non-Profit Database are unincorporated, which means that pending the commencement of the Charities Act, we have no regulatory source of financial information about them;

- with concern that there is no centralised register available on the level of state funding given to the not-for-profit sector;

- that the programme for Government states "We will work with stakeholders in the Arts Community to develop proposals aimed at building support of the Arts in Ireland exploring philanthropic, sponsorship or endowment fund opportunities" - Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;

- that there is a dearth of accurate and robust data on which to base public policy in this area;

- the declining public funding environment and the exiting of two major foundations from Ireland (One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies) puts the sustainability of the sector in doubt;

- that approximately 20% of the national lottery fund goes to arts and heritage funding, with 19.4% going to sports and 36% going to community organisations.
- the initiatives within the voluntary, community and the arts sector across public and private organisations to build on capacity and leveraging for fundraising; in particular:
- the philanthropy leverage initiative by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;

- pilot RAISE scheme by the Arts Council;

- new stream by business to arts;     
- the work of both Philanthropy Ireland and Fundraising Ireland in supporting training and capacity building across the community and voluntary sectors;

- welcomes the proposal in the Finance Bill 2013 to simplify the tax incentive for charity donations;
calls on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government:
- to update the Seanad on the progress of the recommendations of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising; and

- to outline the impact of the departure of key philanthropic organisations such as Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for making a commitment to be present for the debate. I also welcome our guests in the Visitors Gallery. They are development managers in some of our arts and cultural organisations and foundations. I welcome, in particular, those representing The Wheel, a representative organisation of more than 900 members of the voluntary sector; Business to Arts; Dublin Theatre Festival; and the Abbey Theatre. I thank them for their background briefings for this debate.

  As director of the Abbey Theatre, I fund-raise on behalf of the national theatre and although I do not benefit personally from this, I have a professional interest in the matter. I also donate a portion of my Seanad salary to the theatre and the reminder to other not-for-profit arts organisations. I can, therefore, contribute as both a fund-raiser and a donor.

  The reason our group of Independent Senators tabled the motion is we feel strongly that the House and Oireachtas Members generally need to brief themselves fully on the complex issues surrounding philanthropy, fundraising, sponsorship and private giving in Ireland. We often use one of these terms when we mean another. Sometimes we look on philanthropy and fundraising negatively and others are suspicious of them because it might mean the Government of the day might encourage fundraising and philanthropic strategies to replace central government support. I would like to have a philosophical discussion on what might be the best way to gain a greater understanding of the context and challenges of fundraising in Ireland and to hear from the Minister about what has been achieved since the launch of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising.

  To give credit where it is due, I acknowledge that the Government, more than any of its predecessors, has done a great deal to create a policy framework and to take actions in this area. We welcome the measures in this year's Finance Bill to simplify the tax incentive for charity donations. We operate in a declining public funding environment where the cumulative effect of year on year decreases in funding is taking hold. In this environment, the Government has placed an emphasis on increasing private funding for the not-for-profit sector but has been clear in its message that the emphasis is not on displacement.

  My concern relates to trust. There is a genuine fear among organisations that we have consulted that if we invest and develop a strategy for diversifying our incomes in the not-for-profit sector, the Government will be let off the hook and might even punish fundraising success. Maximising private funding cannot be viewed as a pretext for reducing public funds. At the last meeting of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, we heard excellent presentations by some of the best of Ireland's social entrepreneurs. We also heard from Ms Deirdre Mortell, co-founder of the One Foundation, who bluntly and starkly spoke about the tough economic fundraising environment currently. One Foundation is winding down and exiting this year while Atlantic Philanthropies will exit in 2016. They are two extraordinary, innovative foundations, which have encouraged and supported social change in Ireland. Part of what they both do now is support their grantees on how to build their capacity for future fundraising. Capacity building is the buzz phrase for everybody working in the not-for-profit sector and if it is not, it should be.

  How can organisations in the arts and cultural, social justice, education, poverty and other sectors of the not-for-profit community, children's charities and advocacy groups manage to continue to support their goals by raising money through sources other than the State? The State provides a significant portion of funding but it has to understand and provide an enabling environment for all of us to raise money through strategic giving. A systematic approach to fundraising and philanthropy is required because philanthropy on its own is not the answer as this country is too small to concentrate only on that. Fundraising infrastructure is crucial. Recruiting, investing in and training staff are paramount. The board of directors of these organisations often might not understand that two factors are necessary to fund-raise - patience and money. The old adage that to raise money one needs to spend money is true. A return on investment can take two to four years but as is the case with my own organisation, the Abbey Theatre, it is worth it and results have shown that investment in staff and core costs yields additional diverse revenues.

  All this has to be supported by proper and consistent data and evidence. Data are necessary to implement strategic policy. As the motion states, there is a dearth of accurate and robust data on which to base public policy. One of the recommendations of the report of the forum on philanthropy is to increase philanthropic giving by 10% year on year in Ireland from its current level of approximately €500 million per annum to €800 million by 2016, a 60% increase.  In his introduction to the report, the Minister mentioned that they are "clearly ambitious targets". With due respect, this is near impossible even with some of the support mechanisms. I am not critical of the Minister but what I am critical of is that the figure of €500 million is an approximation. We do not have accurate data. If we do nothing else today but agree on the need for accurate data and evidence and to set about a process of collecting this evidence, it would be a good driver towards better policy. In my area of the arts, accurate data on private support is unclear. Business to Arts place this as between €25 million to €30 million, following research with Deloitte in 2009. Most recently, the Arts Council appears to match this figure although the sources are unclear. According to the 2009 report of the Irish Nonprofit Knowledge Exchange, the not-for-profit sector in Ireland employs more than 100,000 people across the community, voluntary, sports and culture sectors. This includes about 11,700 organisations, of which around 8,000 are registered charities, managing a turnover of about €5.75 billion. It means that the not-for-profit sector accounts for 5% of national income. However, as we wait for an update in the progress of the Charities Act we should be conscious that we do not have relevant, up-to-date accurate data for giving in Ireland. I ask the Minister, inthe light of the recommendations in the report, to comment on this.

Implementing the Charities Act would provide, as the report states, "a stream of reliable evidence on which to build better policy and evaluate outcomes". If it is not possible to implement the Act - I know this is not part of the Minister's functions - how else can we collect evidence? The important philanthropy leverage initiative by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, and the Arts Council's own pilot scheme, RAISE, could be seen as putting the cart before the horse. In that important capacity, building actions are being delivered in the context of no accurate up-to-date information.

Proposal No. 6 of the report states that the CSO should be mandated by Government to collect data on charitable giving in Ireland as a part of its quarterly household survey. This, I believe, would be an important and cost-neutral policy action to be taken by the Government. Another recommendation I wish to highlight and one about which I have concerns is the proposal to have a national giving campaign, that is, the way the forum proposes to increase giving by 60% to €800 million by 2016. What are the plans for this? I am concerned that this might be a white elephant and that although it is, in theory, well intentioned it could cause misunderstanding and competing messages across the not-for-profit sector. To what extent has the national giving campaign consulted with large charities, major flag days and annual fundraising campaigns to understand their strengths and weaknesses and how they establish a co-ordinated role between the charities? In his 2003 Budget Statement, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, asked for further recommendations from the working group on tax relief for charitable donations or the treatment of large scale donations to existing foundation or establishments of new foundations. Have their recommendations been tested with the proposed national giving campaign? For the national giving campaign to work it needs to be extremely targeted and even then there might be a case of spending that money on other strategic fundraising initiatives.

There is one area where the not-for-profit sector should develop and innovate, and this is in legacy giving. Some of us might find this too delicate or sensitive a subject but it is, to quote Damien O'Broin of Ask Direct, "a massively under-developed channel for fundraising in Ireland". Leaving a portion of one's will to charity, a cause or an arts organisation should be encouraged as part of any national giving campaign. In 2009, according to Mr. O'Broin, Irish legacy income was approximately €26 million. If we were as good as the United Kingdom at legacy fundraising on a pro ratabasis regarding population, we would raise €147 million from legacies, which is almost 50% of the target increase in one go. We are, of course, looking at a longer lead-in period when it comes to legacies of up to five years, but it is worth discussing and encouraging.

I request an assurance from the Minister about the degree to which his Department and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are working together, sharing information and pooling resources on this important work. The track record of the Government is second to none with regard to the commitment to the policy of philanthropy and fundraising. The programme for Government provides for a dialogue between both Departments, where both Ministers can be honest brokers, in order that within specific communities of the not-for-profit sector greater collaboration can be encouraged. Likewise, the expenditure of public finance within the not-for-profit sector must be transparent and impactful which will benefit the donor, in terms of making a strong case for giving, and the not-for-profit organisation in terms of achieving that goal.

I commend the motion to the House.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I welcome the Minister. I endorse everything my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has said, and thank him for all his work in the lead-up to the debate. I am honoured to second the motion on behalf of the Independent Group because, given the experience of each one of us, we all have tales and testimonies we could share with the House. The Senator started by showing us the figures from the Irish Nonprofit Knowledge Exchange of the number of people employed and the number of volunteers involved in community and voluntary organisations. That made me think of jobs. We regularly hear from the Government that one cannot create jobs but one can create the environment to sustain jobs. In the same say, the Government cannot create philanthropy but it can create an environment to encourage and sustain a culture of planned giving to charities and NGOs. What we are about is trying to ensure that the Government creates that environment and sustains that culture of planned giving. The report on the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising is a good start but I look forward to hearing the Minister's update on how the recommendations are being implemented and, therefore, I do not want to pre-empt that. I have a fear that after the report is published each Minister will go back to his or her own Department and look within their own Departments. The reality is that as cuts are increasing, organisations are going from Department to Department. I could list several organisations that are funded by a multiple of Departments and the Departments do not know that they are funding organisations to do the same thing.

  I wholly endorse what Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has said about the need for proper and consistent data and evidence. Before I was appointed as a Senator, I did not know too much about the arts. I was a spectator in the arts and that was about it. However, I was very involved in the community and voluntary organisation sector. What we have found striking in the past two years is that the challenges and the landscape are akin. The challenge for civil society organisations and for charities is to realise that while our missions may differ, the environment in which we are working is similar. I will not begin to mention the challenge if the Government introduces, which I hope it does, a ban on alcohol advertising for sports organisations. There is an increasingly challenging environment without the recession and we also see the exit of the philanthropists, mainly Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation.

  The reality is that many of the non-profit organisations that I know from the children and youth sector are involved in delivering essential public services across the length and breath of the country. The advocacy initiative is developing a report. One of the issues it raised a few weeks ago was the chilling effect. It made me think because a few weeks ago I shared, thanks to The Irish Times and the Irish Daily Mirror, my critique on the development of the planned new child and family support agency. Following publication, I was surprised by the level of correspondence and telephone calls I received from organisations. They wholeheartedly agreed with me but they did not wish to speak about it publicly. The new agency has a budget of €545 million, more than €100 million of which will go to organisations and NGOs to provide services, but as it cannot yet define or outline what these services will be organisations are on tender hooks. These organisations have direct first hand experience of working with most vulnerable children and could be invaluable advocates. On the other hand, I have a very positive example from my own experience, before becoming a Senator, having been chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance. At the end of 2006 we managed to negotiate with the Minister's Department for multi-annual funding and from that we were able to leverage funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation. This comes back to my point about the Government creating a culture of planned and sustained giving. All too often organisations only find out in quarter one or quarter two of the year of expenditure what funding they will receive from the State.  No business could operate in this way. How does the Minister leverage funding from corporate organisations, philanthropists and others, when the Government is not creating that culture?

  The Government needs to co-ordinate between the various Departments. We do not have information on how much funding the State gives in total to NGOs and charities. The Charities Act 2009 needs to be fully implemented. No doubt my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien will say more on this.

  The Government should not limit how it can support the work of charities and NGOs in other works, obviously, through developing philanthropy and creating that culture but also through looking at the use of public buildings such as school buildings, which, in my experience of youth work organisations, are locked up every evening. In many cases, we cannot access school buildings and must hire commercial buildings. If one looks at the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, the different rates being charged throughout the country to arts, sports and youth organisations do not create an even field. On a positive note, as I like to be positive also, on the property tax I made the case in December last that charities that hold properties for hosting and accommodating activities for children and young people should be exempted from the property tax and I am happy that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, accepted my amendment and introduced the exemption to the property tax Bill.

  The Government needs to create an environment to encourage and sustain a culture of planned giving to charities, and it does so by leading by example. It needs a co-ordinated approach to funding. Currently, there is a dearth of accurate and robust data on which to base public policy. This has been proven repeatedly and Senator Mac Conghail has really made the case for this. The State needs to be able to publicly and transparently account for how much it gives to each NGO and organisation. It needs to do that in a multiannual way, ensuring that outcomes are delivered on. It needs to invest in organisations to allow them to leverage and plan for their outcomes.

  This debate is a first step in looking at how we ensure that the challenges ahead can be faced together. I am concerned that everything happens within a Department, for example, one would assume that it is the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, under the youth service grant scheme, that gives most funding to youth work in Ireland but it is still the Garda youth diversion project. Do we wait for the problems to happen or do we invest early? By investing early the Government instils confidence, saying, "This is what it is about". It means that when the Minister goes to organisations, he can ensure that the Government must have a way of having structured vehicles for major giving. It must have a social innovation fund in order that we can have this transformative impact and change that we all want.

  I read that we can decide governments through the ballot box but philanthropy is a way that the public can decide what it wishes to support and where it wishes to see social impact. Today is the start of a debate. We all realise that many organisations feel they are on a cliff. We need to ensure that the Government is working in a co-ordinated and planned way and by doing that, helping organisations to work together. All too often we are encouraged to compete rather than collaborate. This is where we must work together. The Minister needs to use the experiences that are here, in particular, in the Seanad. There are many Senators who have active involvement in organisations right across the sectors that must work together rather than being merely one sector, such as the community sector or arts sector.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I am pleased to be here today to provide my Seanad colleagues with an update on the progress of the recommendations of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fund-raising, and to outline the impact of the departure of key philanthropic organisations. I thank Senator Mac Conghail and his colleagues for this opportunity and assure him that the views that he expressed here today are being taken on board by the forum on philanthropy under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank Flannery.

  Charity organisations play an important role in our society and there is no community in Ireland that has not been enriched in some way by these organisations. I reconvened the forum on philanthropy in May 2011, after some time of dormancy, to advance understanding, promote dialogue and inform the policy agenda on philanthropy and fund-raising, and the forum reported in May 2012. In implementing the recommendations of the forum, we have the opportunity to substantially increase the level of private sector investment in the sector by creating a favourable environment for individual and corporate philanthropy in Ireland, and developing fund-raising capacity. Increasing investment in the sector in the future, in partnership between the State and the philanthropic sector, will generate increased employment, build social capital and support the Government's agenda on national reform and national renewal.

  By growing the sector, a vital contribution will be made to Ireland's economic recovery. It will also play a significant social role in all the communities by providing support and assistance for citizens some of whom are living in disadvantaged circumstances. This will also help improve education outcomes for disadvantaged children, provide additional health care facilities and care of the aged which will supplement, rather than replace, the existing State supports in all these areas.

  The forum has set out an ambitious target to increase philanthropic giving by 10% year-on-year in Ireland, from its current level of approximately €500 million per annum to €800 million by 2016. The drivers for this increase in giving fall under four overarching themes: a national giving campaign, fiscal and infrastructure recommendations, building fundraising capacity and a social innovation fund.

  A national giving campaign is planned for two years with the objective of increasing private giving, in particular, planned giving, by 10% year-on-year to 2016. It will do this through raising awareness and understanding of the value of philanthropy and planned giving among all sections of Irish society, high net-worth individuals, business and the general public, by demonstrating the contribution of the charity sector to improving Irish society and the development of community in Ireland. Research already carried out clearly shows a willingness on behalf of the Irish people to continue to give to charity.

  Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation have had a profound effect in Ireland - on education, research, services for the elderly and the lives of young children, to name just a few. That is why the Government has decided to invest in a national giving campaign to be launched in the middle of this year. It will be led by philanthropic organisations but strongly endorsed by the Government. It is envisaged that charities will be encouraged to launch their own campaigns under the umbrella of the giving campaign. I am providing funding of approximately €1.9 million over a three-year period on the basis that it is matched by Philanthropy Ireland with funding from philanthropic sources. This will be used to provide support for the infrastructure sub-group and the initial set-up costs of the social innovation fund.

  In 2012, my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, announced the Philanthropic Leverage Initiative which was designed to encourage philanthropic sponsorship and endowment of the arts from private sources. The initiative, established with funding of €230,000 for 2012, has provided an incentive to arts organisations to be proactive in seeking new funding relationships with sponsors to deliver private sector financial support, thereby increasing the overall funding available to the arts. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht recently announced details of a 2013 philanthropy scheme. In a new departure for the initiative, this year the majority of the philanthropy initiative funding will be directed towards arts and culture organisations that are looking for support for projects that include an education component.

  The Philanthropic Leverage Initiative is run in parallel with a second initiative - the Arts Council's RAISE: Building Fundraising Capacity pilot initiative. This initiative provides one-to-one professional support for eight selected organisations for two years through planning and implementing a tailored fundraising programme. In developing this complementary programme, the Arts Council has identified that it is vital for arts groups to develop, agree and implement an effective fundraising strategy and to properly resource that fundraising function.

  I advise Senator Mac Conghail that the Department is represented on the forum and an active participant. Most Departments are represented on the forum, which gives some element of joined-up thinking.

  On fiscal and infrastructure recommendations, the forum also recommends the introduction of measures to promote the creation of structured vehicles for major gifts. This follows the example of other developed economies with mature infrastructures for giving through grant-making charitable trusts, foundations and donor-advised funds.   Public consultation on decoupling and simplification of tax relief for charities and donors has been completed. A working group consisting of officials from the Department of Finance and the charities sector prepared proposals for the December budget, which were accepted by the Minister for Finance and are now incorporated in the Finance Act. These proposals will simplify the tax relief scheme on donations and will result in a number of changes.

  One of the main changes that will result is that donations from PAYE and self-assessed taxpayers will be treated the same, with the benefit of the relief in all cases going to the charity or approved body. Tax relief will be applied at a new composite rate of 31%. The tax relief scheme will no longer be subject to the restriction on tax relief to higher earners. Instead, there will be an upper limit of €1 million per annum on donations to charity from an individual taxpayer that will qualify for the relief. Administration of the scheme will be significantly simplified with donors having the option to sign declarations for one year or up to a maximum of five years. Renewal of the forms will not require donors to give their PPS number again, the charity may use their own identifier to renew declarations and electronic processing of tax reclaims will be introduced.

  The Charities Act, enacted in 2009, which aims to enhance public trust and confidence in the charities and increase transparency in the sector, is not within my remit but under the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The legislation was enacted in 2009 in order to strengthen the regulation of charities and increase their transparency and accountability to those that fund them. Recently the Department of Justice and Equality conducted a public and stakeholder consultation on plans for bringing the Charities Act into force on a phased basis.

  The consultation invited views from charities, other interested stakeholders and members of the public on issues connected with the implementation of the Charities Act. These include the setting up of a charities regulatory authority, the statutory registration of charities and granting of charitable status, and the type of annual reporting that a charities regulatory authority will require from registered charities each year. The closing date for submissions was 20 March 2013. Submissions to the consultation will be published in due course by the Department of Justice and Equality. The views expressed will help to inform the phased implementation of the Charities Act.

  The development of a comprehensive statutory register of charities will be a key part of the process. When the register is complete it will constitute an important source of regulatory data for those interested in the charities sector here. As such, it will contribute to efforts to enhance the transparency and accountability of all charities.

  A structured national fundraising education and training programme is under way that will facilitate the growth of private donor income to the not-for-profit sector. I am providing specific funding of €400,000 over a three-year period on the basis that it is matched by Fundraising Ireland with funding from philanthropic sources in order to build fundraising capacity within the sector. A certificate in fundraising has been designed. The first class of 26 participants have completed their classes in Dublin City University and are completing an individual project as part of their course work.

  There is a social innovation fund of a significant size which starts at around €10 million. It will support the establishment and growth of social innovations with the potential for transformative impact on critical social issues facing Ireland, including unemployment and the environment and is being developed. It is envisaged that the structures for the establishment of the social innovation fund will be in place before the end of the year. The fund will provide growth capital to Ireland's best social innovators and innovations, investing in solutions to social problems and creating jobs.

  The forum's vision for the period ahead is that the role and legitimacy of the contribution of philanthropy and strategic charitable fundraising to Irish society will be reinforced, properly understood, which is not always the case, and valued. An appropriate infrastructure to facilitate philanthropy and fundraising will have been nurtured, including an efficient tax and legal frameworks that encourage giving, proactive and engaged intermediaries and wealth advisers that promote philanthropy and giving. It is important that the sector is seen to operate with integrity and trust. Philanthropy and fundraising in Ireland will be widely perceived as operating to the highest standards of transparency, probity and effectiveness. The fields of philanthropy and fundraising will be characterised by readily accessible and good quality information. That will enable progress and developments within the field to be tracked and understood over time, including appropriate international comparisons. The gradual implementation of the Charities Act can contribute to this. The implementation of the forum proposals will result in creating employment and addressing social issues in all of our communities and making a tangible difference to the lives of our people today and a better future for us all.

  I do not want to cause division in the House on the issue. I thank Senator Mac Conghail for engaging with my Department to ensure that we had an opportunity to discuss in an encouraging, factual and co-operative manner the development of new schemes and opportunities and the ways we can increase the amount of money available to help people in the ways that I have identified. Philanthropy should not be seen as elitist which has often been the case in the past. Everybody's donation, no matter how large, will receive equal treatment and respect.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I commend my colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, for his work in the arts and for tabling the motion. I also commend all of the Senators who are involved in the not-for-profit sector. The House is blessed to have such a range of people. I welcome the people who are seated in the Visitors Gallery who are involved in the arts.

  As we all know, Ireland has a great international reputation for giving, and 89% of adults in Ireland give to charity every year. By comparison, 58% of adults in England and 40% in Germany give money to charity on an annual basis. Only 0.1% of the top 500 businesses in Ireland donate part of their profits to charity but in England it is 1.2%. In the USA a staggering 2% of national product goes towards the charity sector which is nearly $300 billion but in Ireland it is 0.7%. That leads me to conclude that it is not that Irish people do not want to give, but that the mechanisms and systems fail in their giving.

  The Forum on Philanthropy made four key recommendations as follows: establish a national giving campaign; improve the fiscal environment and the infrastructure for giving which I shall return to later; develop a fund-raising capacity among not-for-profits; and create a national social innovation fund. The key recommendation is the second one. The budget must take account of how people and companies can give properly. If these structures were put in place and philanthropy was taken seriously in the last budget then we would not have seen a decline in the number of organisations that are involved in philanthropy, and Atlantic Philanthropies will leave Ireland this year. The Government must fill the gap and create a system where a one-off individual like Chuck Feeney, who is unique in the world, has such a love for Ireland that he became involved. The structures for his giving are not optimal and the Government has not tackled it in a budgetary way, particularly in the Finance Act, to make it easier for people to give, thus allowing people to be more generous, especially when it comes to legacies, which is the norm in the United States and hence the reason that a figure of $300 billion was given to charity.

  However, nine out of every ten adults in Ireland donate money every year to charity. They do so burdened by tax, a system that is not as generous as it should or could be. This leads me to my next question. The key recommendation by the Forum on Philanthropy was on the budget. There is no need for a giving campaign because Irish people already give generously compared with everyone else in Europe. We tend to give in response to a crisis and emergencies. That is because, in our heart of hearts, we know what that is like as a nation. Donating should be more sustained and structured. People should be allowed to donate from their estates and to give annually from their wages. Donating should not be the burden that is due to the Government's tax regime and limits on philanthropy.

  The American Ireland Fund, founded by the former United States ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Dan Rooney, will be the only large philanthropic organisation left in the State. The Government has not taken serious action to tackle the situation.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan That is not true.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly A report is not action.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I have just outlined some actions.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I do not see the bottom line.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Senator was not in the Chamber during my speech.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I was sitting in the Chamber for all of the Minister's contribution.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Senator obviously did not hear me make that point.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Daly to continue, without interruption.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly The Finance Act is where this is at. In other jurisdictions such as the United States, people who have the resources during the later years, because this is a time of lower financial outgoings, tend to be the most generous. That is the reason we need more action in the Finance Act to create the fiscal infrastructure to facilitate giving. The Minister's report raises the issue of the fiscal environment and the infrastructure for giving. This is not in place at present. We need to ensure this will happen.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I welcome the Minister to the House. I also take the opportunity to welcome those present in the Visitors Gallery. I thank Senator Mac Conghail and the other Independent Senators for tabling this very important motion. I compliment them on giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I think Senator Daly was not listening when the Minister was speaking, because we are discussing the steps to put fiscal measures in place to ensure we create an environment for financial giving.

  We do not have enough discussion on this important subject. It is a shame because Ireland is one of the greatest philanthropic countries in the world and giving is one of the core characteristic of its people. We rate giving highly. We take an interest in others and we support their work and efforts through the donation of our time and money. Many Senators have mentioned the voluntary commitment of people who give their time for the good of others. Heretofore people have raised money and established foundations and given of their time voluntarily. Time is not counted as money at all, but time is money for all those who invested their time in philanthropic foundations.

  Today, it is estimated that the total philanthropic income in Ireland is in excess of €500 million annually. I am using the word "estimated" and Senator Mac Conghail pointed out that data is essential. The Charities Act will bring that to the fore. It is vital to ensure we collect all of the data. That is a sizeable amount for a country such as Ireland.

  Philanthropic societies and donations have many objectives: to bring about lasting change to the lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable people; in support of higher education, preschool education and education for less advantaged pupils; in projects involving the elderly, human rights and the subject of our business this evening, the arts, and philanthropic giving.

  The Irish Funders Forum established in 1998 as a voluntary body is probably one of the first established philanthropic organisations in the country. The name was changed in 2004 to Philanthropy Ireland and a network of between 25 to 30 organisations came under its umbrella. People got up and did it themselves without the help. However, people need help.

The One Foundation was founded in 2004 by Declan Ryan and Deirdre Mortell is its chief executive, a name mentioned by Senator Mac Conghail. The motto of that organisation is "Giving while living". That must be applauded. In the United States, giving for living is fashionable but as Senator Mac Conghail mentioned, legacy giving is important as well because sometimes people just forget and they may not even think about it. If it were promoted, it would open an avenue that people would be thinking about. The dogs and cats home is important and many people leave money to it.

  We must acknowledge there are people who did not need Government intervention to give. Irish people are generous and have given to aid programmes or responded to emergency appeals, giving in times of need relative to our population size.

  Times have changed. We must adopt change. I congratulate the Minister on publishing the report on the Forum on Philanthropy and Fund-raising. He has commented on it in his contribution.

  The arts sector has pointed out that it receives approximately 0.6% of the amount of the €500 million raised annually. Income from philanthropy for arts organisations makes up only 3% of their total income and they have pointed out that this is less than half of the proportion of philanthropic sponsorship in other countries, such as the United States and the UK, to name but two, which have a much more highly developed approach to philanthropic supports not alone for the arts and culture, but for all aspects of philanthropic giving. It is clearly the case that while philanthropy is not new, it is not officially well developed in Ireland. Philanthropy for arts and culture, in particular, is underdeveloped in Ireland compared to other sectors in other countries.

  I am aware the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, stated he would be addressing this issue. He has addressed it. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, has outlined some of the elements that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, together with the stakeholders involved in the arts, are working on.

  Philanthropy requires close cross-departmental work, due to the crossover into nearly every Department that has needs, be it community, education, welfare, health and the disadvantaged. As Senator van Turnhout said, we and even some of the organisations themselves do not know where the crossover is. It is important that such a survey be done. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, has, as he said, established the forum on philanthropy in 2011 and set it the task of increasing the level of philanthropic and charitable giving along with developing fund-raising capacity and best practices across the sector. It is important to ensure there is best practice and rules and regulations right across every sector when people are asked for money.

  There are other findings and recommendations contained in the report also. The Minister has outlined some of them, stating the recommendations will be implemented in the next four years. I will confine my remarks to four of the main recommendations, which includes a national giving campaign. Senator Daly is no longer in the Chamber but we need a national giving campaign because people are good with giving but they need to be told how and given the mechanism and to know what to do for the most effective outcome. The national giving campaign should be aimed at the public, high net worth individuals and corporates to increase their giving. We have high net worth corporates in Ireland and we have seen much of the money go out of the country, be it under various tax schemes. We need to have mechanisms to incentivise corporate high net worth individuals to give. There is a need for better fund-raising capacity, education and training among the not-for-profit sector, and for the creation of a national social innovation fund, supported by the Government and the philanthropic sector. The Forum on Philanthropy and Fund-raising is a public private partnership bringing together the major philanthropic fund-raising groups, voluntary groups and relevant Departments and agencies to help shape and refine a strategy to develop philanthropy and fund-raising, and increase investment in good causes in Ireland. While the emphasis on this initiative has come from the not-for-profit sector, it has been a bottom-up approach, not a top-down approach from the Government. The Government has shown that it is more than happy to support-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator has less than one minute,

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane The Minister has said it will not displace funding, it will help funding.

  I firmly believe philanthropy is as beneficial to the donor as it is to the recipient. I have been associated with a range of arts, culture and heritage organisations and was chairman of the RUA RED South Dublin Arts Centre in Tallaght for many years. A great deal of time goes to raising money as well as producing the work. I know the significant personal reward that comes from a commitment of supporting the giving as well as the giving. I know, however, that philanthropy is a new territory for many organisations. Changing thinking and attitudes is as much a challenge as getting arts and other organisations such as social, voluntary and education organisations, to take the plunge and go out and seek the support they deserve.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Will the Senator conclude?

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane We know the Minister has his heart in the right place. The implementation of the report will add to philanthropic donations in Ireland. I compliment the people who are working in this area.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire . I welcome the Minister to the House. I compliment the Independent Senators who put forward this motion for consideration. These Senators have a very fine record in this House in bringing forward issues that might otherwise not get the airing which they deserve.  The issue is certainly one of them.

  I also appreciate the Minister's comments and think his tone is quite right. There are areas where we must develop partnership and this is one of them. It is easy to become frustrated and angry about issues today, but we cannot afford to go down that road. We must find ways and means of filling a gap that has occurred through no one's fault. The Minister is also right in selecting the words in the motion because there are different meanings to fund-raising, private giving and philanthropy. They may all have different meanings but at the end of the day, we are talking about people who have money and are prepared to share it for whatever cause. In that way, they can feel confident that the money they are giving will be used in the right manner.

  We have often seen cases where something might develop that would be negative in that area; therefore, people can be cautious about giving money. We do not have much of that in Ireland and the Charities Act certainly fills the vacuum in that regard. When it is fully implemented, I have no doubt there will be full policing of, and full confidence in, that area.

  It has been pointed out how good Ireland is at providing funding, with 89% of people saying they give money to charity on some occasions, as against 58% in the UK and 40% in Germany. That is quite a record in itself. The major part of that 89% is given in the case of emergencies that may occur either at home or abroad. It is to be welcomed and obviously it will continue.

  We are talking about stabilising funding, particularly in the arts and culture sector. We should start by realising the economic importance of the arts and culture in the country, and the amount of money our cultural heritage donates to the coffers. It is something between €4 billion and €5 billion. Some 79,000 people are engaged in that sector and we are talking about big figures. It is not a matter of just getting something that will sustain, expand and enhance the sector, it is also to ensure the money accruing to the State from that area will continue and will be underpinned. It is important to take that into consideration.

  I fully accept we are living in recessionary times and, as a result, everybody will take some type of hit. We must be careful, however, that the hit is not so great it will in some way undermine what has been achieved. The arts and culture comprise one of the great areas of which we can be proud, and tourism is another. We can feel proud to have something that is exclusively our own and in which the world wants to participate. That is what we will be looking at in a competitive world in future. It was sunshine for a while and then it was something else, but most discerning travellers want an experience they do not have at home. Cultural heritage is one such experience. I can still recall a survey undertaken by the former Bord Fáilte on what people wanted to do when they came to Ireland, and the first three out of six referred to cultural heritage. I am sure that tendency has not changed and, if anything, it has improved in the meantime.

  We must come up with a cohesive approach to this matter, involving players in the field, the Government and those from whom we are expecting to get funding. There is a lot of finance in the arts and culture sector provided that we can sell the concept in a way that does not undermine vital creativity and that leaves tangible results. We should all work together to produce something that will attract people's attention. Senator Daly quoted 0.7% for the top 500, but I think it is lower than that. As it is so low, there must be an opportunity of embracing it.

  What do people in the corporate sector want when they give money? In the main, I think they want acknowledgement, which we are pretty good at giving to them. There is also a major section of people who donate because they have done well themselves and want to improve the quality of life. They see this as a mechanism for doing so and the same applies in private giving.

  We can do it as individual organisations but that is not powerful enough. We are really talking about preparing the field before sowing the seed to have a great harvest. That is the way we must approach this matter because the way we prepare that field is important. Incidentally, we might only get one bite of the cherry because these types of things tend to be seized upon. When a report is published, it will last for so long, but after the sell-by date, it disappears quickly. That is why I think there is a degree of urgency involved.

  It would be well worthwhile if, in some way, we could have an extension of the forum and give the main players - be they six, nine or 12 - an opportunity. I am not talking about a quango, expenses or staff. All we are doing here today is setting out a stall, but what one puts into that stall is important. I will cite a small example that may be of interest. Capital funding in the arts and culture is virtually disappearing at the moment. We need only look at the figures. Where we might have had tens of millions we are now down to €2 million or €3 million. The Minister might consider a suggestion, however. There are billions of euro on deposit in Ireland at the present time. In the banks one gains nothing, apart from trouble. My suggestion might be an echo of charitable status. If a private individual wants to give to an organisation that requires capital funding for a project, the organisation could give 1.5% or 2% but no DIRT tax would be payable on it. That means, first and foremost, that the banks would lose the money for the time being. The individual donor will gain more than in a bank. The important thing from a capital viewpoint, however, is that an organisation could benefit. In other words, instead of borrowing at 4% or 5% it could borrow at half that rate. I will not go into the details now, however.

  If we take this matter forward and have some type of assembly or forum - private rather than public - there will be a great opportunity to get down to the real nitty-gritty of putting the infrastructure together that will sell the concept to which we are all committed. We all believe the potential is there. The tone of the Minister's address and the other contributions to the debate mark a good starting point. We should take it forward from here.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone As my party's spokesperson on the arts, I will concentrate on the initiatives that have been introduced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan. Senator Keane has referred to the other points that are worthy of discussion. Last May, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, announced the introduction of a new philanthropic initiative on a pilot basis for arts and cultural organisations.

  As the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has stated, the philanthropic leverage initiative was designed to encourage philanthropic sponsorship and endowment of the arts from private sources. The initiative, established with funding of €230,000 for 2012, has provided an incentive to arts organisations to proactively seek new funding relationships with sponsors which deliver private sector financial support, thereby increasing the overall funding available to the arts.

  The initiative was available across projects of varying scale, geography and art forms to not-for-profit organisations for arts programming projects. The organisations approved for funding under the initiative were required to procure matching philanthropic funds and complete their drawdown from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2012. Matched funding could not come from public funds or any public sector organisation. It was anticipated that a multiple of 3.5 on the pilot initiative funding of €230,000 would result in philanthropic funding of some €800,000 being raised for the arts. The initiative proved to be very successful with a multiplier of 4.26 in philanthropic donations being leveraged for the arts.  Therefore, the arts got a boost of more than €1 million last year of which less than one fifth came from the public purse. That was a real result. Senator Mac Conghail has mentioned the fact.

  The Minister recently announced details of new philanthropy initiatives for 2013. There was a slight reduction in the funding to €210,000, which will be available to arts organisations under the scheme. The terms of the scheme allow arts and culture organisations to apply to the philanthropy initiative for funding if they can generate funding from the private sector. There are various scales. Up to €5,000 in funding can be accessed through the scheme if the organisation can match each euro from the taxpayer with €2 from the private sector. A total of €10,000 can be accessed if an organisation can match each euro with €3 from the private sector. The sum of €15,000 can be accessed if each euro can be matched by €4 from the private sector.

  Priority is given to arts-in-education projects. Everything is being dealt with on a first-come, first-served basis but an advantage is given to arts-in education projects aimed at DEIS schools, which I welcome. This year the majority of philanthropy initiative funding will be directed towards the arts and culture organisations seeking to support projects that include an educational component. That is designed to support another of the Department’s policy initiatives on arts and culture. The arts-in-education charter was launched in January by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. The charter sets out a range of actions to be undertaken by the two Departments, the cultural institutions, the Arts Council and arts organisations. In 2013 it is hoped that the philanthropy initiative will continue to provide an incentive to arts organisations to engage in fund-raising. It will also encourage arts and culture organisations to engage creatively with children and young people and add to their education. In so doing, they will help to foster the artists and audiences of the future.

  The Minister has already mentioned RAISE and the Arts Council. I welcome the presence of representatives from Business to Arts. The Department has provided support for Business to Arts for a number of years. In each of the past three years that has been allocated to the delivery of new stream programmes which builds fund-raising skills in the cultural sector in this country. I have personal experience of the good work of Business to Arts through the Lundbeck art awards. I acknowledge the work of Business to Arts in supporting arts initiatives.

  A cultural technology grant has also been provided by the Department. In 2010 it awarded a grant of €20,000 under the cultural technology grant scheme to Business to Arts for the Fund it initiative. Business to Arts initially matched the figure with private funding and has since attracted additional foundation funds for the project. As Senator Mac Conghail mentioned, dialogue between the Departments is very important in order to achieve the shared ambitions. Flexibility is also important in such an area. We must be realistic given the size and means of the country, especially at the moment, and ensure we focus on more than philanthropy. We must recognise other sources of private investment. I thank the Minister.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I welcome the Minister to the House. I have a couple of words to add to the eloquence of my colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, who proposed the motion and Senator van Turnhout who seconded the motion.

  I thank the Minister and his office for engaging so co-operatively with the Independent Senators on the motion and for the new information provided in his speech. Senator Mac Conghail will comment on it in his concluding remarks. I acknowledge the way in which my colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, approached the Minister, Deputy Hogan, in a co-operative spirit in order that we could have a debate in a positive way and that the House would not be divided. The topic is too important for that to happen. There is a crisis and we encourage the Government to respond to it. We are heartened by the response. It is a very good day for the Seanad in terms of the way the business is being conducted on the issue.

  Senator Mac Conghail referred to himself as a fund-raiser and philanthropist. All the Independent Members who tabled the motion are fund-raisers. We are all philanthropists too in perhaps a new understanding of that word and we speak from expertise and experience, which is so important. Sometimes when we talk about the importance of the Seanad we refer to drawing on the experience and expertise in such debates. Some of us are art entrepreneurs, others are social entrepreneurs and community development activists but we all bring the experience to the debate. Approximately 25 years ago when I began some of my work with others in the west Tallaght community there were no Government grants for community development, but there were a lot of bake sales and cake sales. There are still many of those and long may they last. It is important that happens. As time went on more and more Government grants came on-stream for work within communities and the arts and eventually a plethora of grants was available in the boom time which seems so long ago now. More recently there was a pull-back in terms of the grants. Both within the arts as well as the community and social sectors we have grown and now there is a pull-back. It is a very important time to look at the issues that are being debated such as the forum on philanthropy and, as Senator van Turnhout described so eloquently, encouraging a new way of understanding philanthropy and giving within this country.

  Within the time period of the plethora of grants and eventually the pull-back of same, for such a small country we were fortunate to have two extraordinary philanthropies to join the efforts of those of us who were working within the arts community and social sectors, namely, Atlantic Philanthropies and also the One Foundation. Tom Costello is present this afternoon representing all of his wonderful colleagues in Atlantic Philanthropies. As Senator Mac Conghail said, Deirdre Mortell was present earlier in another forum. The philanthropy organisations and the philanthropists behind them filled a gap and encouraged us to become strategic. They looked for results. They gave us a business model. They led us into the use of a scientific model. They believed in communities and worked with them and with government. What an extraordinary legacy those two philanthropic organisations in particular leave for us as they move forward.

  One of the reasons the forum report is so significant – it is great to hear the Government response – is because we cannot lose what we have learned through their presence in this country. We must maximise their investment. This country has a unique opportunity to take those lessons forward. This is another way in which we can be a model for Europe. We are poised. We have had this extraordinary investment and the Government is now responding – not that it had not done so previously – but this is an extremely critical time as the philanthropies start to leave us.

  As the Minister indicated in his concluding remarks, everyone can be a philanthropist. It has to do with taking the generosity of heart and spirit and using it perhaps in a more planned and strategic way of giving. It does not have to do with the amount one gives. Senator Mac Conghail mentioned legacies. I have left legacies. I hope all Senators have. I did it a couple of years ago. It is great that we have started this debate. It is crucial for the Government to move forward on philanthropy. That is why it is lovely to hear all the things outlined by the Minister and also the suggestions from the other side of the House about ways to move it forward, in addition to the comments of my colleagues.  It is as crucial that we move forward on this issue as it is to move forward on the banks, mortgages and jobs. This is because cultural and social investment lead to economic growth. If there is economic growth without cultural and social well-being, it means nothing.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney I thank the Independent Taoiseach's nominee Senators for introducing this motion and compliment the Government on accepting it. It is a good day for the Seanad when these motions are accepted.

  I acknowledge some of the organisations that have worked hard without any State funding, such as Older and Bolder, which is now winding up, which will be a terrible loss after all the work it did for the elderly. I am very disappointed to see it is closing but I record my thanks and appreciation for its work for the elderly. Another organisation with which I have worked closely is the Parkinson's Association of Ireland, which does not get a penny in funding from the State but does huge work on a voluntary basis for those who suffer with Parkinson's disease, keeping sufferers informed of all their rights and the facilities available to them.

  During a recession voluntarism is vital. The people of Ireland are well known for their charity and they always dig deep to find the few bob for those organisations. People are suffering but they still help out these organisations. It does not always have to be money. If a person gives time and expertise to mentor young people, showing them the right way forward, that is also philanthropy. I know many people are bringing youths into their groups. In Rathmore, County Kerry, the sheltered housing has been put in place using youth work. The young people in that area are unbelievable, giving a huge amount of time to the sheltered housing organisation.

  I acknowledge the Older and Bolder group, as it is winding down. It will be missed.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after ‘‘Seanad Éireann’’ and substitute the following:
— a national debate on the current context and challenges facing the not-for-profit sector with regards to philanthropy, fund-raising, sponsorship and private giving in Ireland;
— the publication in May 2012 under the auspices of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising;

— that according to the Irish Non-Profits Knowledge Exchange the not-for-profit sector in Ireland employs over 100,000 people across the community, voluntary, sporting and cultural sector and has a pay cost of €3.5 billion;

— that 32% of the not-for-profit sector in the Irish Non-Profit Database are unincorporated, which means that pending the commencement of the Charities Act, we have no regulatory source of financial information about them;

— with concern that there is no centralised register available on the level of State funding given to the not-for-profit sector;

— recognises that the community sector is estimated to be worth €6.5 billion to the economy, three times the size of the State’s investment, proving that the community and voluntary sector is a cost-effective medium for the provision of many vital services;

— notes that the cut to funding in the community and voluntary services is entirely disproportionate to the level of cutbacks across the Exchequer;

— notes that the delivery costs of many of the services currently provided by this sector would be substantially greater if Government Departments, the HSE, or private companies were to deliver the same level of service directly;

— notes that the community and voluntary sector provides essential services which the State and private sectors are unwilling or unable to provide and that the services they provide are cost-effective and have a key preventive function;

— acknowledges that it is unacceptable for the State to abdicate its own responsibility for the delivery of vital services to the community and voluntary sector without providing adequate support and long-term security of funding;

— condemns the hollowing out of genuine community development by abolishing voluntary boards of management and placing control under partnership programmes which undermines local democracy and the bottom-up approach on which community development is based;

— notes that the programme for Government states "We will work with stakeholders in the Arts Community to develop proposals aimed at building support of the Arts in Ireland exploring philanthropic, sponsorship or endowment fund opportunities" - (Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht);

— notes that there is a dearth of accurate and robust data on which to base public policy in this area;

— notes that the declining public funding environment and the exiting of two major foundations from Ireland (One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies) puts the sustainability of the sector in doubt;

— recognises that while the value of philanthropy is obvious, that it cannot act as an effective substitute for essential services, funded by the Exchequer;

— notes that approximately 20% of the national lottery fund goes to arts and heritage funding, with 19.4% going to sports and 36% going to community organisations;
— the initiatives within the voluntary, community and the arts sector across public and private organisations to build on capacity and leveraging for fund-raising, in particular:
- the philanthropy leverage initiative by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;

- pilot RAISE scheme by the Arts Council;

- new stream by business to arts;
— the work of both Philanthropy Ireland and Fundraising Ireland in supporting training and capacity building across the community and voluntary sectors;

— welcomes the proposal in the Finance Bill 2013 to simplify the tax incentive for charity donations;

— calls on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to update the Seanad on the progress of the recommendations of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising;
calls on the Government to:
— reverse the cuts in funding to the community and voluntary sector and move towards multi-annual funding in order to allow organisations to plan ahead and end the practice of funding bodies requiring the production of detailed business plans before giving any indication of the size of the budget available for the year in question;

— ring-fence €50 million per year from the dormant accounts fund for the community and voluntary sector, ring-fence moneys seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, for community development and community-based drug projects;

— reconceptualise and extend the community employment, CE, scheme, and increasing the number of CE places available;

— outline the impact of the departure of key philanthropic organisations such as Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation;

— implement the Labour Court recommendations and, furthermore, to allow community and voluntary sector workers to negotiate their pay and conditions on a collective basis by introducing a mechanism involving Departments, employers and workers which establishes the right to collective bargaining; and

— establish an all-Ireland consultative civic forum promised by the Good Friday Agreement, which would enable communities to engage with others across civic society and across the country and share information, learning and best practice on an All-Ireland basis".

The motion is reasonable and I commend the Independent Taoiseach's nominee Senators for tabling it. It has much to commend it. It is, however, a weak motion that does not truly call upon the Government to take real action. I understand why Senators tabled such a motion: to get support from the Government, which makes sense. As someone who worked in the community and voluntary sector, however, I know at first hand the devastating impact of the cuts that have been inflicted on many of those groups over recent years and the effect they have had on the groups' ability to deliver services and programmes. On that basis, the motion does not offer those groups and others in the sector any real justice in that it does not hold the Government to account.

  We cannot have a debate on a subject like this without being frank about the matter. The community and voluntary sector is at crisis point. The decline will be irreversible if action is not taken now. The good work that has been done in communities over the last 20 years or more will be lost. We are tabling this amendment on that basis.

  A number of key points must be made about the community and voluntary sectors and about the philanthropy and funding sectors. In acknowledging the excellent work they do, we should recognise that they are forced to do certain work because the Government is unable and often unwilling to undertake such work. This is a key point. Successive Governments have been perfectly happy to reduce their involvement in various sectors and allow the slack to be taken up by community and voluntary bodies. The same goes to an even greater extent for local government. I discussed this with the Minister responsible in a separate debate some months ago. When communities are suffering because of cutbacks, the community and voluntary sector is being asked to step into the breach and provide services previously provided by local authorities or State agencies. It is important these organisations and community fora are supported but they are taken for granted because the Government knows many of the people who work in these bodies will serve their communities regardless of whether they are paid. Therefore, the Government is perfectly happy to make substantial cuts to the budget for the community and voluntary sector. Most groups working in the community, voluntary and youth sectors in the past five years have seen cuts between 30% and 40%.

  As the amendment notes, the cuts have been utterly disproportionate, far greater than the cutbacks in other areas, but the Government is mistaken if it believes these cuts will not do any serious damage to communities and community development. We have already lost many valuable and useful bodies and the viability of many more have been called into question. There is not a Senator in this House who is not in touch with his local community and development companies and voluntary organisations, many of which are surviving day to day and week to week. Many of those projects are at crisis point because of a lack of funding. That is the reality for many working in the sector.

  This is not about protecting jobs in the sector. I am talking about protecting the bodies themselves and the work that is being done. Increasingly, responsibility is being pushed onto volunteers. I will give an example from Waterford. The Waterford City Community Forum is made up of 220 community and voluntary organisations but is struggling to maintain funding. One would think an organisation that acts as an umbrella group for 220 organisations would receive significant funding. The funding for 2010 was €24,000 and this year it was €11,000. A part-time worker doing less than half a working week is all the community forum has to survive but funding is still being cut. How much more can it take before it can no longer exist? I call on the Minister to restore the funding to community fora throughout the State to pre-2010 levels. This is one of a number of fora across the State that provide a valuable service in bringing together a range of community and voluntary organisations, and there are many more similar examples.

  I have raised the need for multi-annual finance and budgeting. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government said he supports this, which I welcomed when we discussed it last year. He told me he would look at that idea as it was good practice, better than annual funding streams which have a lack of certainty. If there is multi-annual budgeting, the groups know three to five years in advance what their budgets will be and can plan service provision accordingly. It makes perfect sense and I hope we can get to that point at some stage.

  Certain revenue streams will be drying up in the future. Considering the recommendations of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising, the bodies referred to have contributed significantly to Irish life. Of that there is no doubt whatsoever. The One Foundation has a unique and interesting philosophy with its own prescribed shelf life where it aims to wrap up in ten years. Its work varies substantially, taking in sectors such as youth mental health and integration. Its outlay so far is €72 million, a considerable sum.  The foundation has done a great deal of work in many different sectors, including supporting young people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community. Atlantic Philanthropies has also done much work in this regard.

  All the philanthropic organisations are important and I welcome any decision by the wealthy in society to invest in the community or voluntary sector. However, the best way to ensure sufficient money is available to provide the services communities need is to tax wealth more through specific wealth taxes or increases in taxes within a progressive taxation system. This is the direction in which we should move, rather than depending on a small number of people with money to be so good as to give some of their money back to communities. Fair play to those who do so but the most sustainable approach is to have a proper, progressive taxation system that ensures we have sufficient money to provide the services people deserve to have as of right.

  I again commend the Independent Senators for tabling the motion. In pressing the amendment, albeit not to a vote, I acknowledge the reason the motion was presented in its current form. Unfortunately, however, Sinn Féin cannot support it.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is breá an rud Gaeilgeoir a bheith linn gur féidir linn beagán Gaeilge a úsáid. Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú atá á chur chun cinn. I second the amendment.

  Aithním, ach an oiread le mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Cullinane, an dea-mhéin atá leis an rún seo agus an iarracht atá ar bun maidir le comhoibriú a fháil trasna an Tí ar an gceist. Bhíomar istigh, ag am lóin, ag cur i láthair a rinne grúpaí óige, as An Chabrach, Fionnghlas agus Baile Munna i mBaile Átha Cliath mar a tharlaíonn sé, atá ag oibriu san earnáil dheonach. Ní fhéadfainnse seasamh anseo gan na pointí breise seo agus gan an leasú seo a bhrú chun cinn i bhfianaise an méid a chuala mé inniu.

  Bhí na grúpaí sin ag caint ar chomh deacair is atá sé acu maireachtáil i gceantair atá faoi bhrú agus ag daoine óga atá faoi bhrú. Bhí an seomra AV lán le daoine óga inniu, agus iad ag caint faoin tábhacht atá leis na seirbhísí óige. Tá cuid des na seirbhísí sin tar éis gearradh siar 30% a fheiceáil ina gcuid maoinithe le riar blianta anuas. Tá cuid acu a raibh seisear fostaithe acu dhá bhliain ó shin nach bhfuil acu ach beirt anois. Tá cuid acu a bhí ábalta tósta agus cupán tae a chur ar fáil bliain ó shin nach bhfuil in ann a leithéid a dhéanamh anois. Céim an-mhór ar gcúl é sin.

  An pointe mór a bhíodar ag déanamh, agus ní miste an pointe seo a dhéanamh, go mbeidh costas ollmhór ag an ngearradh siar, atá beag sa ghearrthéarma, ar an Stát amach anseo. Bhíodar ag caint linn faoi na deacrachtaí atá ag ardú ó thaobh daoine óga ag ól, daoine óga ar na sráideanna agus a bheith i dtrioblóid leis an Gharda mar gheall nach bhfuil aon áit acu le dul agus nach bhfuil na seirbhísí ar fáil. Is iad na daoine óga iad féin ata á rá seo.

  Sin an fáth a bhfuil mé ag brú leasuithe ar an rún tábhachtach seo, cé go n-aithnímid an ról atá déanta ag eagraíochtaí ar nós Atlantic Philanthropies agus an One Foundation. Bhí mé anseo agus thréaslaigh mé leis an cur i láthair a rinneadar anseo sna Tithe. Bhí sé iontach maith agus tá sé feicthe agam trí chuid de na comhlachtaí páirtíochta an maoiniú atá déanta acu ar scéimeanna éagsúla le blianta fada anuas. Tá an-tábhacht agus an-fhiúntas leis an infheistíocht a dhéanann siad ach ní cóir go dtógfaidís ról an Stáit san infheistíocht seo.

  The amendment seeks to add to the motion by committing the Government to specific actions. Dar linne, ní théann an rún sách fada mar níl sé ag cur brú ar an Rialtas aon cheo faoi leith a dhéanamh. Sinn Féin calls on the Government to take concrete steps to reverse the cuts to the community and voluntary sector and protect it from further decline. While we recognise current budgetary difficulties, we identified in our pre-budget submissions and elsewhere from where the required funding would come. As Senator Cullinane stated, we must target wealth. Sinn Féin calls on the Minister to ring-fence €50 million per annum from the dormant accounts fund and ring-fence the moneys seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau for community development and community drugs-based projects. This proposal is important in the context of a presentation we heard today. Money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau should be used in areas where drugs are having a devastating effect, for example, Finglas, Cabra and Ballymun. This would be a positive move.

  Sinn Féin calls on the Government to reconceptualise the community employment scheme and broaden its application. This is a key time to have strong community employment schemes in place. Many people are out of work and we often hear members of the Government parties speak of the need for job activation to get people back to work. Community employment is the ideal model for achieving this objective. More places must be provided on community employment schemes and greater recognition must be given to the work they do.

  Sinn Féin also calls on the Government to establish an all-Ireland consultative civic forum and thereby fulfil one of the outstanding commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement. As the motion notes, such a forum would enable communities to engage with others across civic society.

  What is the position on the percentage for arts scheme for large capital infrastructure projects? Is the programme still in place or in use? I ask the Minister to provide an update on how the moneys in the scheme are being used. Opinion on the benefits of scheme was mixed as some people thought the art was not appropriate to some of the settings in which it was placed. I note the Minister is indicating the scheme is under review.

  Notwithstanding the economic downturn, we must continue to invest in the arts as they are an important part of our culture and society. I note the President's call - the Glaoch - for all of us to embrace our arts, culture, language and music. Our culture provides a wonderful stimulus for tourism but the arts, of themselves, are also important to the nation. Initiatives such as the percentage for arts scheme can play an important role if used properly and must not be abolished.

  I commend the ingenuity of groups in the arts and community and voluntary sectors in using various means to pre-fund their projects. If they can get a sufficient number of people to invest in an arts, theatre or music project through an online forum, it will cover most of the costs of the project. The arts community is doing a great deal of its own volition and raising substantial funds through sponsorship of programmes. With much of these funds drying up, there is an onus on the Government not to baulk at its responsibility in this area.

  Sin an fáth go bhuil mé ag cuidiú leis an leasú ar an rún. Níl mé ag caitheamh droch-mheasa ar mo chomhghleacaithe Neamhspleácha, ach a mhalairt ar fad. Ní bheadh sé ceart nó cuí agamsa seasamh anseo inniu muna sheasfainn suas don dream a bhí ag labhairt liom inniu agus don dream a bhí ag plé le cúrsaí ealaíona thiar i nGaillimh nuair a bhí mé ag déileáil leo. Sin an fáth go bhfuilimid ag tairgeadh na leasaithe seo. Tá súil againn go dtógfaidh an tAire agus an Rialtas ar bord é agus go dtiocfaidís ar ais le freagraí ar chuid de na ceisteanna atá ardaithe againn.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the House. I commend the Independent Senators on tabling this motion as it shows they are well aware of the difficulty associated with working in the not-for-profit sector. Those involved in the sector are enriching communities in the arts and social enterprise area.

  I propose to focus on the concept of giving back through philanthropy. My first formal experience with philanthropy was in 2012 when Galway hosted the Volvo Ocean Race. I was asked by many people to seek additional funding for the event and to be fair to the Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, he obliged through a new philanthropic approach adopted in his Department. Under this approach, the Department agreed to provide funding for events if the organisers could show they had been able to raise a certain amount. A specific ratio was used - I believe it was 1:5 - under which the organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race would receive approximately €20,000 if they raised €100,000. While I consider the ratio to be too low, as a concept, this approach is correct and we are on to something good.

  Senator Ó Murchú asked how we would sell this concept. We will not have any problem selling it in the current environment, provided we raise public awareness of it and acknowledge the events or groups that are receiving the benefits.  Philanthropy could be, not just as good as a bank, because I am not too impressed with the banks, but better than any bank if we get the right structures in place and incentivise it correctly. There are two types of donors. The first are the very big, generous donors, some of whom have been mentioned, like Atlantic Philanthropies. That organisation has a strategic plan in place around philanthropy and has, as Senator Zappone pointed out, taught us all so much. The second group is the small donors who are just as important, if not more so.

  We had a public consultation session in this very Chamber recently, spear-headed by me, Senators Mac Conghail and Quinn, involving discussions with the One Foundation, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Ashoka and Women for Election on the topic of helping communities to help themselves. It was acknowledged during that session that everyone needs a bit of funding along the way. One of the most interesting things to emerge from that day, which I am exploring at a legislative level, is the concept of crowd funding, which involves the setting up of a type of social bank. As an individual, one might have €50 to give to a good cause but one does not know whether the cause is genuine or that the money will be used productively. The idea is that the individual would lodge that money in a crowd funding bank. That bank would then fund a certain number of worthy projects every year. I want to explore this concept further and would be delighted if any of my colleagues would join me in that exploration. We must bring forward many mechanisms to encourage people to give in a structured way in order that they know their money is going to a cause or project that is worthy. It would be very easy to sell this concept if it was accompanied by tax breaks and a range of other incentives.

  I ask the Minister of State to bring this idea to his Cabinet colleagues because in these times, we need to use every available methodology to leverage money. As others have said, we live in a country of haves and have-nots. One half of the people have no money left at the end of every week while the other half have savings. There is in excess of €100 billion in savings in this country. What can we do to leverage some of that money? That is the question. If we could leverage it and then direct it into worthwhile projects, that would be wonderful.

  I am trying to develop a young creators centre in Galway. I have conducted a feasibility study and invested personal funds in it. I have also received some funding from Leader, for which I am very grateful. To get this young creators centre, which will be built around areas of need, up and running, I need to access more money. I have a voluntary committee that will give time but who among us has the funding to be able to sign on the bottom line to draw down money for a building and to operate programmes? None of us has it right now but I am not giving up because I know the concept is good. We have so many young people in this country who are not adequately served by the education system. While we have a great education system, we need to run on twin tracks. We need to find a means to harness young people's creativity and innovative capacity. That must be done from senior primary school right the way through second level. Our children are still making relatively poor choices going into third level because they are not sure what they want to do. That is because they have not had enough experience in the various areas they might like. It is for that group of young people that I want to develop a creative centre. If we could fund that, we might also be able to roll it out as a model for the country. In the context of educational projects, I say well done to the likes of Atlantic Philanthropies and George Soros, who have done incredible work in eastern Europe and countries with very low literacy levels.

  Senator Cullinane argued that this motion is not holding the Government to account, but I disagree. We have started the process of raising awareness and are indicating in this House that this is a good concept. We are working together. It is time to celebrate good ideas and this is a brilliant idea. Let us find ways to incentivise it and structure it. We must look at the concept of crowd funding, which seems inherently good. I thank Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout for tabling the motion.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown Zoom on John Crown I welcome the motion because it is appropriate that attention be brought to bear on this sector. I also welcome the fact that the Government will pay some attention to the not-for-profit and charitable sectors, which are somewhat distinct.

  I speak with a little authority on this issue and wish to give the House an opportunity to understand how a small idea can grow into something which not only meets its original intention but also has unintended spin-off benefits. I also wish to point out some of the potential pitfalls which I hope the Government will avoid in increasing its level of scrutiny of the charitable sector.

  Back in the 1990s, it was brought to my attention that Ireland was the only country in the world that had not contributed patients to the major European and international cancer research network trials. Without giving the House a lecture on cancer research, many of the advances which have occurred in cancer research have happened because of co-operative trials. In such trials, groups of hospitals and investigators come together to ask and answer questions which require a large number of patients. The questions can be answered and trials then conducted in a single institution or, in some cases, in a single country. Some of the most important discoveries in cancer research, such as the fact that women did not need to lose their breast when they developed breast cancer, that lesser surgery plus radiotherapy could be effective, or that simple, old-style chemotherapy given to women after breast cancer or to men and women after bowel cancer would improve their chances of a cure were the result of large-scale clinical trials. In many cases, these trials took place through organisations that were set up as not-for-profit bodies. The United States of America, in particular, had a large number of such organisations and, with the passage of time, they developed closer relationships with the Government and achieved a degree of federal funding. That had its benefits but, in some cases, its drawbacks. One of the most outstanding cancer research programmes in the United States was led by Dr. Dennis Slamon, a recent visitor to our shores and someone who has been a great friend to Ireland for many years. He is a man whose research has probably saved more lives than that of any other cancer researcher in the world. All of his work took place in the context of charitable funding when he originally had great difficulty in raising Government funding for his work.

  Armed with these facts, we set up the Irish Co-operative Oncology Research Group, ICORG, in 1997. All the oncologists in Ireland were involved, that is, all six of us. The joke used to be that we could have our AGM in a telephone kiosk. That organisation has grown and succeeded and now has substantial Government and philanthropic funding. It also generates a huge amount of funding from the pharmaceutical industry. The quality of the work done is such that companies have been more than willing to help to develop new drugs here. This has had the spin-off benefit of creating jobs within the group and making better treatments available to Irish patients. Another major collateral benefit is that many of the pharmaceutical companies in Ireland, which only had a sales force before or a few sales representatives giving out pens and samples to doctors, have now developed large, muscular, well staffed research offices, which are well financed with international funding and which service the needs of clinical trials being conducted here.

  The initial primary goal was to bring new treatments to Irish cancer patients and there are a number of such patients still alive today who were given early access to a drug for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia. That drug was not widely available for several years after it was developed but without it, those patients would have died. The early access facilitated by the existence of our group kept them alive. I am sorry for the naked self-promotion on behalf of my research colleagues but this was social entrepreneurship before we knew what that term meant. As a result of the formation of the group, there are approximately 120 people employed across the hospitals and in the central office of ICORG, co-ordinating the research. We estimate that between 100 and 200 additional jobs in industry in Ireland would not have existed before the group was set up. Most importantly, 7,000 Irish cancer patients, disproportionately women with breast cancer, have had access to new treatments, bringing in an estimated €40 million worth of free drugs into this country over the 15 years the group has been in existence.  There are many ways in which this activity can repay, not just from the actual social benefit it brings. I now come to my punchline. I ask the Minister of State and his colleagues to be careful. It is important that the sector be appropriately regulated because there have been international examples of charities that have run amok and not behaved to the highest ethical standards and been beyond reproach. It really hurts the entire charity sector when that happens. There is a fine line between doing that and overregulating and stifling it. Great care will be needed in setting this up. As someone who founded three charities and was one of the first to get them voluntarily in line with international guidelines, I think it is important to be able to say that what one does is beyond reproach. However, there have been examples - I will not go into them today - where the overreach of bureaucracy can sometimes stifle the development of vital initiatives.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome all our guests from the sector. We have just heard from Senator Crown. Like many of my fellow Senators, I come to this debate as someone who has founded a charitable organisation which has in the past received and hopes in the future to receive funds from philanthropy, fundraising, sponsorship and private giving. The sources of moneys referred to have been invaluable funding streams for a sector, involving very ill babies, which does not attract the recognition it warrants or deserves. For this reason I congratulate Senator Mac Conghail and my fellow Independent Senators on initiating this debate in the House.

  Just over one month ago I published a report on the urgent need for regulation of the Irish charities sector to reaffirm public trust and confidence. I hope to bring the report before the Seanad with my colleagues in the coming months for discussion. I have shied away from doing this to date because the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, only last week closed his public consultation phase on the Charities Act 2009. Having had several meetings with the Minister, I am confident he knows the importance of implementing the Charities Act for the future development of the Irish charity and not-for-profit sector. I look forward to us all re-engaging with the Minister in the coming weeks and months as he plots the best way to proceed with the Act. With all due respect to the Minister and while I greatly welcomed his launch of the forum on philanthropy and fundraising, I could not but wonder why the charities regulator was not first put in place. This did not show joined-up thinking by different sectors of the Government.

  Senator Mac Conghail correctly points out that there is a severe lack of publicly available information on the sector's financial activities. Some organisations are largely unregulated or unsupervised by virtue of their formation. Voluntary codes of practice exist, but adoption has been very slow. As one can imagine, this poses many difficulties for the sector and the Government is operating in the dark when it comes to public policy and funding for the sector, which benefits nobody. The Government chose to stop funding INKEx which was and still remains the only database of reliable financial information about the not-for-profit and charity sector. That decision was incorrect and represents a major loss to the sector. I ask the Minister to clarify why he stopped INKEx and whether he has any plans to acquire it or re-engage it. In these severely stretched economically challenged times, why did we chose to stop INKEx which collected all the information on 12,000 not-for-profit and charity groups and was beginning to do the joined-up thinking we crucially needed? When I started to look at what INKEx had done, I realised that the Government probably gives in excess of €4 billion to the charity and not-for-profit sector. For example, how many autism charities are there in Ireland? How many autism charities are there in Munster or Leinster? We can use this in the arts and can use this regarding children. Maybe there could have been collaboration between charities. We might have found areas of crossover. Statisticians, journalists, the public, donors and those involved in philanthropy need the transparency and clarity that INKEx readily gave us. It will take time to put that back in practice.

  The majority of Irish charities and not-for-profit organisations act in an exemplary fashion, being guided by a moral and genuine passion for the cause or activities they undertake. We need to reflect on why so many charities prop up the State in the provision of vital services where the State has been found wanting. I will use the example of the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation, with which I am very familiar. Its purpose is to nurse severely-ill and severely brain-damaged - sometimes palliative - children in their own homes. In his speech the Minister referred to partnership, a point that relates to all charities, including in the areas of arts, education, children and cancer. I challenge the use of the word "partnership". Senator Cullinane will be interested in these straitened times. The Jack and Jill Children's Foundation has raised €38 million to date. The Government has given 18% of that money to us. I cannot call 18% a partnership. It is a very welcome donation but cannot be called a partnership.

  Senator Crown made a very good speech and I felt almost jealous because those of us involved in charities and not-for-profit organisations are very competitive. He mentioned the pharmaceutical companies. I wish the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation had that because these are difficult times and we are in competition - I am in competition with Independent Senators for funding. We need partnerships with the Government and need transparency because we are all desperately passionate about looking after our own areas. As Senator Cullinane said, these are tough times and all we are getting from the Government at the moment are cuts and more cuts.

  My desire to assist and reform the regulation if Irish charities is based solely on a love and deeply rooted respect for the sector and the thousands of men and women who work tirelessly to improve the lives of those they encounter. My agenda and that of my fellow Senators is simply to improve public trust and confidence. There is a very real thirst among the public and our donors to see that their taxes and private donations are being spent properly and reflect value. The lack of an operational charities regulator makes Ireland virtually unique in the developed world, something of which we are not proud. Even the creation of a charities regulator will fall short of what would be required to deal with the not-for-profit sector as many not-for-profit organisations are not registered as charities and the charities regulator will have no oversight of not-for-profit organisations.

  Many Senators may believe I have thrown away my green jersey and I am damaging this wonderful sector by casting doubt over financial reporting and the practices within the sector in Ireland. That is not my intention - far from it. I merely express the views I have encountered from people working in the sector, accountants, solicitors, corporate sponsors, donors, international observers and funding organisations. I have nearly finished.

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Leyden): Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The Senator is two minutes over time.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O'Dowd): Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd She is very good.

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Leyden): Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I thank the Minister of State, but I must keep to the time.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien The Minister of State is very gracious. I will finish up. Regardless of whether we like it, the endless good work that is being done in this vast sector is being hampered.  The State has failed to put in place the systems and processes required to have a not-for-profit sector that is functioning at its full potential.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, who has joined us for the latter part of the debate. I thank all the Senators who participated and remind Senator Cullinane that the purpose of the motion is to provide a philosophical framework for the beginning of this discussion, in order that every Member of the House has a shared understanding of what is a great challenge, a challenge we are ready for, which is engaging with our fellow citizens both abroad and here about how they might commit on a strategic basis to whatever cause or journey is required.

  Senator Daly has mentioned that we are very good givers when there is a crisis. What we want to do is shift that culture in a more strategic direction. It does not matter whether it is €1 million or €2. That is what we are trying to examine and for Senator Cullinane to accuse us of not calling the Government to account is disingenuous. In the last couple of sessions we have certainly called the Government to account. Last December, for example, our group tabled a motion on the value of youth work, while in September we used our group's time to raise the issue of the organisations working with children with life limiting conditions. We have a track record of raising challenges facing the sector. I was disappointed that Senator Cullinane did not engage with the core philosophy behind this motion and offer his personal history about, perhaps, how he engaged with his local voluntary community groups with regard to fundraising and philanthropy. I hope he will not divide the House. This is a motion on which we are trying to work together in order that we can bring it forward to the next stage. We might even bring it to the environment committee when Senator Mary Ann O'Brien introduces her motion later in the term.

  Our role as Independent Senators is to represent the debates, conversations and concerns of our respective communities and to relay them here in the Seanad. We are doing that today. Our ability to encourage and increase the standard of the way we work is an important point in that regard.

  The Minister made some serious and key announcements today, certainly announcements of which I was not aware. I will repeat them for the record. He made a commitment to provide matching funding of €1.9 million over three years for the set-up costs of the social innovation fund. Later in his speech he made a commitment of €10 million. The social innovation fund is something many of our partners in the not-for-profit sector have been calling for and it is a recommendation in the report. Subject to Philanthropy Ireland matching that funding we will have a social innovation fund ready to go by the end of this year. That is important. I presume that coincides with the fact that the One Foundation is exiting.

  The second important comment the Minister has made, certainly for me in terms of my research, is that he specifically set aside €400,000 over a three-year period, again to be matched by fundraising in Ireland, to provide for a pool of €800,000 towards capacity building in the sector. That is a headline piece of information I did not have before today. It was worth having this debate for that alone. How does that €800,000 for capacity building align with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht's commitment to capacity building and are there savings and value for money there? If everybody is going to procure various different experts to invest and train staff, perhaps both Departments uniquely can come together. In fairness to the Minister, he acknowledged that there is continuing dialogue between the two Departments. This would be an important area for us to examine in terms of value for money and procurement.

  The final big headline was that the Minister announced the setting up of the social innovation fund with a minimum amount of €10 million. That is what all our colleagues in the sector have been seeking. It was mentioned in the recommendations of the report on philanthropy and it is something we applaud.

  The message from this debate is clear. I thank everybody for participating in it. The contributions of Senators Ó Murchú and Keane were very valuable, as were those of my colleagues who, together, have brought this issue to the floor of the Seanad by way of engaging with this as we get through this recovery. Senator Zappone, speaking more eloquently than I could, understood to make those connections between our various communities and bring them together. Níl neart go cur le chéile. It is about individual giving and how we can encourage our citizens to make a commitment in order that they can bear witness and become active citizens by giving that euro, attending that cake sale or by buying a ticket to see something. That commitment is something we have innately but what we must do is make it strategically. I urge Sinn Féin not to divide the House on this motion. I commend the motion and thank the Government and the Minister for supporting it.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

  Motion put and declared carried.

  6 o’clock

Courts Bill 2013: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and the Child Care Act 1991 to allow bona fide representatives of the Press to attend court during proceedings heard otherwise than in public except in certain circumstances; and to provide for the prohibition or restriction of the publication and broadcasting of matters by such representatives in certain circumstances; to amend various enactments for the purpose of increasing the monetary limit of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in personal injuries actions and other civil matters; to amend various enactments for the purpose of increasing the monetary limit of the jurisdiction of the District Court in civil matters; to repeal certain provisions of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002; and to provide for related matters.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Courts Bill 2013: Second Stage

  Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Leyden): Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and his officials.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I thank the Acting Chairman. I am pleased to present the Courts Bill 2013 to the House. This is a relatively short Bill which contains two important and long overdue court reforms. The first of these is a proposal to change the long-standing in camera rule in family law and child care proceedings. The in camera rule provides that family law and child care proceedings should be held otherwise than in public. The rule is an exception to the fundamental principle of our law, guaranteed by the Constitution, that court proceedings should be held in public. The rationale behind this principle is that where justice is being administered, it must be open and transparent. However, like most important principles of law, exceptions must be carved out in certain circumstances if injustice is to be avoided. It has been a long-standing principle of law that family law and child care proceedings is one such exception. The purpose of the in camera rule is to protect the identity of the parties and other persons, including children, to whom proceedings relate.

  There is the exception for a very important reason that I accept and support. In family law and child care proceedings, often painful and very sensitive family and personal matters are at issue and it has long been accepted that there cannot be a public interest in the very private affairs of the parties such as would justify full public access to such proceedings. It is also essential that individuals can have their disputed family and child care matters addressed in our courts without fear of public embarrassment or the welfare and best interests of children being placed unnecessarily at risk. However, the absolute nature of the in camera rule has led to a situation that such proceedings are perceived to be shrouded in mystery and secrecy. There is no press reporting of these proceedings because press access to them is prohibited. There is accordingly an absence of reliable information on the administration and operation of the law in this area which is not conducive to confidence in our system of family law and child protection.

  Members of the public need to know what they could reasonably expect from the courts if they were to find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to seek access to the courts in such cases. Lawyers must be clear on how they might advise their clients and law-makers need to know how the law is being applied by the courts to assess whether the law is adequate to give protection to the individuals, the families and the children who seek or require its intervention. This important principle was recognised recently in a high-profile High Court case on the issue of whether the genetic parents of children born to a surrogate mother may be listed as the children's parents on their birth certificates. Three newspapers applied to be permitted to report on the case without identifying the parties. Mr. Justice Abbott, who described the case as one of serious public importance, permitted designated reporters from the three newspapers in question and a High Court reporter to report the case on a restricted basis.

  Recent policy in the law on the hearing in the courts of family law proceedings in private is reflected in section 40 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and in regulations made under that section. Regulations made under section 40 allow certain classes of persons to attend family court sittings, subject to ministerial approval, in order to draw up and publish reports. Ministerial approval is subject to certain safeguards, including a requirement that the parties to a case or any relevant child would not be identifiable. Under this scheme, several persons engaged in family law research who were nominated by bodies specified in the Schedule to the regulations have been approved. In addition, the Courts Service introduced the family law reporting service on a pilot basis in 2006. The purpose of the pilot project was to provide information on the operation of family law in the courts.

  While these initiatives have provided a useful insight into family law and its operation, they cannot alone bring the greater transparency that I believe is required on the operation of the law in this area. Accordingly, what I am providing for in this Bill is a careful balancing of the need for privacy with that of public access to important information on the operation of family and child care proceedings in our courts. My proposal is to retain protections on the privacy of the parties in respect of such court proceedings while providing that bona fide members of the press can be admitted to the proceedings. In this Bill the right of press access to proceedings is balanced with a strict prohibition on the publication of any information that is likely to identify the parties to the proceedings or any child to whom the proceedings relate. It will be a criminal offence to publish information in breach of this prohibition.

  I am also providing that the courts will retain the right to exclude or restrict the presence of members of the press from all or part of the proceedings in certain circumstances. The circumstances are where it is necessary to do so to preserve the anonymity of the parties or any child to whom the proceedings relate because of the circumstances of the case or in the interests of justice. The courts will, for the same reasons, be able to direct that certain evidence should not be published. The type of situation envisaged could, for example, be where a child or a vulnerable adult is giving evidence. This residual power is being included in the Bill to give the courts the capacity to deal with the myriad of sensitivities and situations that can arise in proceedings of this nature.

  The Bill is designed to achieve an appropriate balance between greater transparency in family court proceedings and protecting the anonymity and privacy of families and individuals, with a particular focus on the best interests of the child. The measure is also intended to ensure that sensitive information relevant to a family's or individual's commercial interests will not be disclosed in the reporting of family proceedings. The Bill, as published, does not include provisions to amend the privacy-in camera provisions applicable to adoption court proceedings contained in the Adoption Act 2010.  I intend, with the agreement of my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, to introduce an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage to amend the 2010 Act to deal with privacy and media access issues in line with the provisions contained in this Bill.

As the Bill embodies a fundamental change in our approach to family proceedings, I regard detailed consideration of these provisions as a crucial part of the legislative process to ensure that we achieve the right balance between the public interest and the right to privacy. Accordingly, I look forward to hearing the opinions of this House on the provisions and will have no hesitation in amending my proposals to reset that balance if it is necessary to do so.

I wish to turn to the monetary jurisdiction limits in the courts. The second important reform that I am providing for is an increase in the monetary jurisdiction limits for the District and Circuit Courts in civil matters. The purpose of these jurisdictional limits is to ensure that the level of court that hears a case is appropriate to the potential value of the case. I am sure that the House is aware that the legal costs incurred by parties to a case are related to the court in which the proceedings take place. It is estimated that, on average, the legal costs of taking a case in the Circuit Court, subject to the complexity of the case, are 30% less than in the High Court. In the current financial situation it is essential that all necessary steps be taken to reduce the high level of legal costs that can act as a barrier to the citizen and to businesses in seeking redress before the courts. An appropriate increase in the jurisdiction levels is long overdue to ensure that courts are dealing with cases at an appropriate level and that the costs being incurred by the parties are at a reasonable level.

The monetary jurisdiction limits of the Circuit Court and District Court have remained unchanged since 1991. The Courts Act 1991 set the current monetary jurisdiction limits for civil matters at €38,092 for the Circuit Court and €6,384 for the District Court. Although the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002 made statutory provision for increases in the limits to €100,000 and €20,000, respectively, these increased limits were never brought into operation because of concerns about possible inflation of awards and a consequential effect on insurance costs. Accordingly, almost 11 years have passed since statutory provision was last made for an increase in the jurisdiction limits, yet they remain as they were almost 22 years ago.

The retention of the lower monetary limits has rendered the District and Circuit Courts redundant in respect of some classes of civil proceedings. The low level of jurisdiction in the Circuit Court means that very modest actions must, in the absence of agreement between the parties, be taken in the High Court. Such cases are potentially the subject of appeal to the Supreme Court. This makes no sense at a time when the workload of the Supreme and High Courts has increased significantly in volume and complexity, with Supreme Court appeals currently waiting over 48 months for a hearing date. Following consultation with the Attorney General and the Presidents of the Circuit and District Courts, I am, therefore, proposing to increase the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court to €75,000 and of the District Court to €15,000.

The reason no action has been taken to address this issue to date relates to a concern that increasing the limit of the Circuit Court to €100,000 as provided for in the 2002 Act would have an inflationary increase impact on personal injury awards in the Circuit Court and a consequential inflationary effect on insurance claims. Accordingly, I have decided to address this issue in the Bill by setting a lower jurisdiction limit in the Circuit Court for personal injury proceedings. I am setting the level at €60,000, which is of course 40% less than the equivalent level set by the Court and Court Officers Act 11 years ago, which was not brought into force in this context.

The increased jurisdiction limits will prove to be a fairer and more cost efficient approach to the processing of civil proceedings by the courts. The proposed changes to the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts should ultimately lead to a reduction in the burden of legal costs for individuals, companies and businesses involved in litigation. It is crucial that parties involved in legal conflicts do not incur more legal costs than are necessary in circumstances in which they have to resort to litigation.

It is also important that our court jurisdictions keep substantially in line with inflation and that the higher courts are not unnecessarily overburdened with appeals that could and should be properly dealt with at a lower level. The extension in the jurisdiction of the District Court will result in a portion of litigation, at present undertaken in the Circuit Court, in the future being dealt with at District Court level. The changes will also result in a proportion of litigation currently being conducted in the High Court in the future being dealt with at Circuit Court level. Over time, this should effect a reduction in the number of appeals that have to be dealt with by the Supreme Court. A further amelioration of the burden at present imposed on the Supreme Court will result from the creation of a court of appeal should the proposed referendum it is hoped to hold next autumn to provide for such a court receive public support.

It is in the public interest that jurisdictional issues be revisited more frequently and I am considering what steps might be taken in the context of this Bill to ensure this occurs in the future. If I think it is appropriate to do so, I may bring forward an amendment to this Bill to provide for an appropriate review mechanism.

There are a number of important matters that need to be legislated for and I am proposing to deal with these matters by way of Committee Stage amendments to the Bill, either in this House or in the Dáil. They are as follows: first, the amendment of the Coroners Act 1962 and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 to provide for legal advice and legal aid in respect of certain inquests. The Coroners Bill 2007, which is before this House, is in the course of being reviewed in the Department of Justice and Equality with a view, among other matters, to making it as cost effective as possible. The Bill, as published, provides for the comprehensive reform of the existing legislation and structures relating to coroners and provides for the establishment of a new coroner service. The European Court of Human Rights has, in recent times, emphasised the importance of involving next of kin of the deceased in the coroner's inquest into a death involving the State and in providing them with information prior to the inquest. This means that, in certain cases, families may require legal assistance to participate effectively in the inquest process.

The Coroners Bill 2007 proposes some important changes to the legal aid scheme by providing in section 86, legal aid and advice in proceedings before a coroner, and in section 92, amendments to the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, that the Legal Aid Board may arrange for the granting of legal advice or legal aid to the family of a deceased person for legal representation at an inquest where the person has died in, or immediately after being in, State custody or certain institutional care situations. Swift attention is now required to address the issue of legal aid at inquest. Accordingly, I am proposing to introduce Committee Stage amendments to include the provisions contained in sections 86 and 92 of the Coroners Bill 2007 in this Courts Bill.

The second issue is the transfer of the existing Office of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy to the Insolvency Service. Unfortunately, owing to lack of time in finalising the Personal Insolvency Bill for enactment last year, it was not possible to provide in that Act for the transfer of the Office of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy to the Insolvency Service as originally intended. I am anxious that this matter be dealt with as soon as possible to ensure the Insolvency Service and the services of the Office of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy are aligned and provided for in the Personal Insolvency Act 2012. To facilitate, this I am proposing to provide for the appropriate additions to that Act by way of appropriate Committee Stage amendments to this Bill.

I wish to turn to the main provisions of the Bill. First, there is the amendment of rules relating to certain proceedings heard otherwise than in public contained in Part 2. The main provisions of the Bill relating to modification of the in camerarule are contained in sections 5, 6 and 8 of Part 2. Section 5 will amend section 40, proceedings heard otherwise than in public, of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. It provides for the amendment of the in camerarule, as contained in certain enactments relating to family law, so as to allow bona fide representatives of the press to be present in court during proceedings under those enactments. However, where a court is satisfied that it is necessary to do so to preserve the anonymity of the parties or any child to whom the proceedings relate because of the nature or circumstances of the case or because it is otherwise necessary in the interests of justice, it may exclude or restrict the presence of representatives of the press from the court during all or part of a hearing. For the same reasons, the court can restrict or prohibit the publication or broadcasting of evidence given or referred to during the proceedings. In determining whether to make such an order, the court will have regard to the desirability of promoting public confidence in the administration of justice and to any other matter it considers appropriate, including a number of other factors, for example, the best interests of any child to whom the proceedings relate, whether information given in evidence is sensitive personal information, and whether information given in evidence is commercially sensitive.

Section 6 inserts a new section 40A, prohibition on publication or broadcast of certain matters, into the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. Subsection (1) of the new section 40A prohibits the publication or broadcasting of any information on a matter that would be likely to lead members of the public to identify the parties to family law proceedings or children to whom the proceedings relate.  Subsection (2) provides that contravention of subsection (1) will be an offence. Subsection (3) is a standard provision regarding offences by bodies corporate and subsection (4) provides that the law as to contempt of court will not be affected by the new section 40A. Section 8 amends section 29, hearing of proceedings, of the Child Care Act 1991 so as to allow bona fide representatives of the press to be present in court during child care proceedings under that Act. The provisions of this section mirror those of section 5 regarding the attendance of representatives of the press at family law proceedings.

  Part 2 provides for the increase in the monetary jurisdiction limits of the Circuit Court and District Court, as previously mentioned. Section 11 amends the enactments specified in Part 1 of the Schedule to extend the monetary limit of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in civil matters under those enactments to €75,000. Section 12 amends the enactments specified in Part 2 of the Schedule to extend the monetary limit of the jurisdiction of the District Court in civil matters under those enactments to €15,000. Sections 13 to 18, inclusive, amend certain enactments to provide for the revised monetary jurisdiction limits of the Circuit Court and the District Court, including the lower limit of €60,000 for Circuit Court personal injuries actions.

  The Bill contains important steps in the process of modernisation of our courts to ensure that the essential service they deliver to the community is efficient, effective, fair and accessible to all citizens. It will ensure that access to the courts is not unnecessarily expensive for those who require such access. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to this House.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh It is welcome that adequate time is being provided for debating what is a short but important Bill that is not without consequences or ramifications for people. In this House we are not always afforded the time to properly debate Bills but I acknowledge that we have in this instance, as I have been critical of the practice in the past.

  The Minister is welcome to the House. I feel somewhat conflicted on the issue, although I concur with the Minister's comments on openness and transparency and the manner in which the law under the Constitution should be operated. My personal conviction on many issues is that the common good is a very important feature, and there is much emphasis on individual rights, although we must balance this dynamic. In this instance part of the motivation behind the Bill is the common good so that people will be aware of the process and be better informed about it if they must access the courts.

  On the other hand, as the Minister has indicated, these can be very painful experiences for the people involved in cases. One must consider the role played by the media and how people react to it, and in his opening remarks the Minister referred to the fact that there would be an obligation on solicitors to brief clients and prepare them for a new scenario in family law cases. To some degree, an unacknowledged advantage may well be that in the processing of cases, the judge in charge will be aware that he or she is subject to some element of accountability, which is an important feature of the entire legal process. I have been advocating for many years the establishment of a judicial council and I was a member of a Oireachtas joint committee which researched the idea in Canada and the US eight or nine years ago. We were impressed with what we saw and were enthusiastic in advocating a move in that direction. My understanding is the idea was not welcomed entirely by some people within the Judiciary but there is a real need for an effective review of judicial activities by peers. There should not be any political or external influence but there should be a review.

  Two judges have resigned, although the second judge only did so when there was no other option. In one case there was a consensus-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Leyden): Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden We should refrain from referring to the Judiciary in this House. That is a tradition.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh Anything I have said in this regard is a generality and not specific to a member of the Judiciary.

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Leyden): Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I am sure the Senator will observe the practice.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh I am sure Members will be aware that in family law cases there are often complaints regarding a father's rights and how they are dealt with. I welcome a move that will make the process more transparent.

  Many people finding themselves before family law courts see that it can operate in the District Court system, with cases appended at the end of a long day of hearings on cases. There may be a severe lack of privacy in many cases in courts. Should there be specialist judges involved in the area and should there be special courts for the cases to be heard on one day, away from other judicial procedures? I know there may be a cost involved and practical difficulties but it would be better to have specialists in the area.

  The rate of breakdown of marriage in this country is not particularly high, comparatively speaking, as the rate of divorce is lower than in other countries. It may be higher, from a social perspective, than one would wish. There is a significant cost attached to the Exchequer arising from it in many instances, so it behoves us for a variety of reasons - and not least for the benefit of children - to have structures in place to assist reconciliation between the parties. Existing structures are often inadequate, leading to people going to court in an acrimonious fashion. I mentioned to a predecessor of the Minister that we should have a problem mediation service and he assured me the idea was being examined within the Department. I discovered that the emerging mediation service was meant to facilitate a divorce settlement, and although that is a good idea, it is clearly not what I had in mind with regard to protecting children.

  The Minister has mentioned administration and operation of the law, and because of the in camera process it is not conducive to confidence in the family law system. I do not disagree with the Minister, who mentioned that people need to know specifically what the process is like. The reality is that when a relationship is fractious, children can become pawns in the hostility that emerges between two parties. I have taken the trouble to contact a small number of solicitors, all of whom have expressed personal reservations about extending the family law courts to the press. Nobody felt it was a good idea.  One person has told me he deals constantly with cases and remembers occasions when the presence of the court clerk, in itself, became an inhibiting factor in a case. That is why I feel conflicted about this issue. In cases where one partner feels aggrieved and blames the other partner for the breakdown or where a third party is involved, the presence of the press might, or might not, accentuate such feelings. My colleagues will remember from our council days that meetings were often more productive when the press were not in attendance. I accept that the situations are not parallel. Nevertheless, the presence of the press can have an effect. There is an element of personal embarrassment for the protagonists. If there are maintenance issues the parties will be obliged to spell out their costs of living and may have to discuss access to children.

  I am thinking particularly of local newspapers. In Dublin, anonymity will be more easily protected. In small towns, where the District Court operates, the local reporter will know the parties involved. Members of the public may be aware of certain situations but not the detail of why a couple are breaking up. Those details will be easier to connect when cases are reported. With the best will in the world, it will be difficult for reporters to ring-fence this. I ask the Minister to look at this issue and see if privacy can be safeguarded. The interests of the parties involved, and particularly of the children, should be of paramount priority. What we are doing here should not have a negative impact on a single family, not to speak of a number of families.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the Minister to the House yet again.

  This Bill is very important. Its effect will be greater than its content. It is part of the Minister's progressive reform agenda and it signals an important incremental step in the reform of our courts system. We have seen the referendum on judges' pay, and other important steps have taken place in the last two years.

  The Bill will bring the transparency and accountability that the Constitution embodies. The in camera rule needed to be changed. This is now being done, but in a delicate manner and with the necessary provisions to safeguard the identities of families who will be going through difficult periods. No family likes to end up in court. While the Bill is progressive in terms of transparency and accountability, it will ensure that the necessary protections are in place.

  We are fortunate that the Minister, in his previous existence, was one of the most successful family lawyers in the country. His firm was there at the very early stages of family law and I believe he may even have written a book on the subject. He is more aware than most of how to get this right. His statement that he will have no hesitation in accepting amendments on Committee Stage, if they are necessary to make the Bill work properly, must be commended. That approach to legislation, and the importance of the Seanad providing ample time to discuss the Bill and giving spokespeople ten minutes to put their views on the record, is important. Our interaction on Committee Stage may inform the Minister's decisions and his thinking. I look forward to that. The Bill is welcome, as legislation that will facilitate the reform agenda.

  The Bill places responsibility on the press. In recent times we have seen the fourth estate waver from the standards we expect of it. It plays a pivotal and important role in society. The Bill is an attempt to do the right thing and to ensure proper records and proper reporting in this important area of legal activity. I suggest that the press shoulder its responsibility to ensure that no one prints or broadcasts information that is prohibited by the Bill. The Minister has mentioned that such reporting will be a criminal offence. I hope that will never arise. I look forward to the various reviews of the code of conduct for the press which are taking place. The press has a responsibility in this area.

  The Bill is welcomed across the House which augurs well for its smooth passage through the Oireachtas. I commend it and welcome the Minister's comments regarding the proposed coroners Bill. It is needed. We must achieve value for money. It is not appropriate that local authorities should have to fund the Coroner Service. The Minister should consider centralising responsibility for paying coroners in a national system, whether by the Department of Justice and Equality or elsewhere. Local authorities have no discretion in achieving efficiencies by coroners. They are simply issued with a bill and must pay it. Local authority funding has been reduced dramatically and local authority finance officers must identify ways of saving money. I have had discussions with some finance officers and they constantly cite this area as one where they have no power. The Minister might consider this when drafting the coroners Bill.

  I was asked, at short notice, to cover for Senator Bradford. I read the provisions of the Bill very quickly. I believe it makes eminent sense and commend it to the House.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for continuing his practice of introducing Bills in this House.

  The Bill has a twofold purpose. The first is to amend the rules relating to certain proceedings heard otherwise than in public and the second is to increase the monetary amounts the District Court and the Circuit Court can award. I will limit my intervention to the first purpose, the proposed amendment to the in camera rule in family law and child care cases.  I broadly welcome the efforts in the Bill to strike the appropriate balance between the public interest and the privacy of adults and children involved in family law and child care cases. Most people are familiar with the variant of Lord Hewart's famous aphorism from 1924: "...it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done." The principle of open justice is a foundational common law principle, an important human rights obligation and an enumerated provision in the Constitution. The relevant article, Article 34.1, provides for exceptions to the administration of justice in public in "special and limited cases". Such cases include those involving the most vulnerable in our society and children are one such group. Children and families involved in family law and child care proceedings present with myriad vulnerabilities and in fragile situations. There is, therefore, a real danger of adverse effects for the parties involved in the immediate and long term. In the light of the highly personal and sensitive nature of family law and child care cases, privacy and the anonymity of the parties should be protected from public consumption through media reporting.

However, a balance must be drawn, which this Bill purports to refine, and I agree that where anonymity is guaranteed and respected, the facts of family law and child care cases and the decisions of the courts should be published. This balance, if fully legislated, guided, explained and implemented, can account for the vulnerabilities of the children and families involved while ensuring key issues are brought to the attention of the public and debated through public discourse. Failing to inform the public and adopting the cloak of secrecy, to the extreme, has had disastrous consequences for Irish society in the past. A clear example of this can be seen with the injustices perpetrated against the women detained in the Magdalen laundries. That issue remained completely out of the public realm while the injustices were occurring. It is important that the public interest and the need to foster and encourage a greater understanding and trust in the family law and child care system is embraced and implemented. The presence of the press will also, I hope, ensure the recording of precedent and the reasoning behind decisions in proceedings where there is no written judgment will take place.

I have a few questions about the practical application of the amendment to section 40 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, as contained in section 5 of the legislation. The scope of the circumstances in which the court may exclude or restrict the attendance of press representatives and prohibit or restrict publication of certain evidence is broad. Ultimately, this will be a decision for the judge to make weighing the public interest considerations against the considerations enumerated in the Bill, which include the best interest of the child; that the evidence is sensitive personal information; that the evidence might be prejudicial to a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings; that the information and evidence is likely to lead members of the public to identify a party or child; or where press attendance might inhibit or cause undue distress to a party or child. Will the court’s adjudication over this complex balance be guided by court rules, practice directions or clear procedural guidelines? Who will be charged with making applications that the press should not attend? Will this be the role of the guardian ad litem, family member, HSE or the judge? Will there be an avenue of appeal to the decision to allow or restrict the presence of the press? How will the manner by which courts arrive at decisions in this regard be monitored?

My concern is that once information is disseminated, it cannot be taken back. This is particularly concerning, given the adverse effect or impact for the party concerned may far outweigh a possible monetary remedy, press apology or criminal conviction of those responsible for the publication of the material in question. Whether it is a child care case, family law case or a case before the Children Court, I strongly recommend that any guidelines or rules relating to the media reporting of any case to which a child is party be proofed against the Council of Europe Guidelines on Child-Friendly Justice 2010.These were drafted by Professor Ursula Kilkelly of University College Cork in consultation with children across Europe. While not binding on member states, the guidelines are standards of best practice. Their strength and relevance further lies in the fact that they have been substantiated by children’s own experiences of the justice system.

I have no doubts about the intention of this amendment but I have doubts, in the absence of rules or implementation guidelines, about its practical application on the ground. We need only to consider the Children Act 2001, which reads as an informed, welfare centred and progressive legislation. However, the weakness of the Act lies in the distinct lack of any procedural guidelines being produced to date for its implementation. Guidelines are desperately needed for the implementation of the Children Act and for this Bill if their full intention and spirit are to be realised. The children’s rights referendum very much underpinned that the best interest of the child needs to be realised in practice. I have spoken to legal practitioners working in the Children Court who are deeply concerned by what have been described as routine breaches of the Children Act in Dublin and regional sittings of the Children Court.

Examples of these breaches include the calling of the name of the child by the court appointed registrar into the public waiting room, the former practice of District Courts of including the name of young person with "YP" in brackets beside the name on the court list or the presence of Garda and legal representatives unrelated to the specific case in the court room which is mandated to sit in camera. These malpractices cannot be tolerated and need to be remedied. Some of the remedies are straightforward. For example, why not ascribe a number to children for their cases which is communicated to them upon their presentation at court and the calling out of the case number only as opposed to the child’s name by the registrar for everyone to hear? We need to ensure the strict application of thein camerarule by liaising with judges presiding in the Children Court to make sure only gardaí and legal representatives directly involved with the relevant proceedings before the court are present in the court room. It is also clear that a child-friendly environment described by international standards of best practice and the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, in cases such as T v. UK and V v. UK are not being implemented. Privacy is central to the creation of this environment.

In the cases I mentioned, the ECHR expressly recognised the adverse impact of overt media presence on the ability of the children in question to effectively participate in the proceedings before that court.As a result, my earlier concern arises as to who acts as the guardian of the child’s privacy and whether those charged with that task fully understand the importance of the child’s privacy and the full extent of the child's vulnerabilities and backgrounds. This raises the greater concern and question as to what training and specialisation the people who are currently representing and adjudicating on children have, especially in light of the state legal aid payments that legal representatives appearing in the Children Court receive. Specialist training needs to be considered. In the UK, specialist panels have been set up where those involved must undertake specialist training. Will the Minister give serious consideration to a similar requirement here in order that if somebody is receiving legal aid payments in respect of a case in the Children Court, he or she must have attended specialist training?

I welcome the Minister's proposals to introduce amendments to the Coroners Act 1962 and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and look forward to dealing with them on Committee Stage. Senator Walsh referred to mediation and I look forward to the mediation Bill the Minister intends to introduce. It will be important to avoid cases going to court. This would be best, especially when children are involved. I look forward to developing alternatives such as family group conferences, which was proposed in the fifth report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection. There are other ways. While I raised a number of concerns, I welcome the spotlight being put on the Children Court.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Bill which has received general support. I thank the Minister for introducing it in the House. He has done this with justice-related Bills on a number of occasions and this is welcome, especially when there is general support in principle for the legislation but a number of complex issues must be teased out. Senator van Turnhout raised a number of them in her contribution.

  It is important that support is maintained for the in camera rule in principle and that we recognise that family law and child care proceedings are an exception to the norm under Article 34.1 concerning the administration of justice in public. It is right and proper that there should be exceptions. However, as the Minister said, we need to balance the need for privacy in proceedings involving inter-family disputes and child care proceedings with the need for public access to important information on the operation of these proceedings and patterns, trends and statistics on the proceedings  This is where the gap has been. This was partially addressed through the Courts and Civil Liability Act 2004, as the Minister stated, which enabled some research to be conducted, and I pay tribute to Dr. Carol Coulter who carried out the family law reporting pilot project and gave her report to the Courts Service in 2007 on the authority given her by the Courts and Civil Liability Act 2004. She wrote extensively on the need for this balance to be in operation and for the in camerarule to be modified to enable some reporting. She pointed out the irony that in the period running up to the referendum on divorce there was widespread public discussion on family breakdown and the impact of divorce on society, but this discussion came to an abrupt end when divorce was introduced, and no attempt could be made to examine how it was working out in practice while the in camerarule remained in place. The 1996 Law Reform Commission report on the family courts had criticised the over-rigid application of the rules to block any availability of public information on the conduct of family law proceedings.

Research has been conducted in other jurisdictions where family courts have been open to the media, such as in Australia and Scotland. Recommendations made by Dr. Coulter in 2007 referred to the need to have some statutory reform beyond the 2004 Act to ensure we have a regime in Ireland closer to that in other jurisdictions where reporting is permitted, such as that used in Canada, Australia or New Zealand, or similar to that operating in Ireland with regard to sex offence cases where reporting is permitted but the anonymity of the complainant is preserved and the identity protected. The work on family law courts in the pilot project has certainly given us more information and the recommendations produced in 2007 are very important.

The child care reporting project has also been launched and will be led by Dr. Coulter. The website will be launched next week. This should give us some information on the operation of the courts which make orders under the Child Care Act, and the idea is that the pilot project will publish reports on the nature and outcomes of child care proceedings while preserving the anonymity of the children and their families.

All of these developments are very welcome. Others, particularly Senator Conway, referred to the Minister's expertise and I learned family law from his text. I am very familiar with it. It is very important that somebody with such direct practical and expert experience would be engaged in making these reforms.

Senator van Turnhout set out very practical questions on the operation of the Bill, particularly whether there is a route for appeal where a party to proceedings has objected to the presence in court of the bona fide representatives of the press. This is a practical issue which may well need to be teased out. My suspicion, or intuition, is that judges would take a relatively conservative approach whereby if objections are raised and they are reasonable, they will be listened to and upheld by judges. We will see quite restrictive reporting, particularly in the initial period, and this may well be the right way to approach this. I also concur with Senator van Turnhout on the need for specialised training, having worked in a small way in the child care courts myself as a legal practitioner. People tend to learn on the job, which is not ideal, but there are some superb and highly experienced people working as guardians ad litemwho bring a great deal of necessary expertise and experience to the courts and whose input informs the work of these courts.

The Bill is part of a more general court reform process and reference has already been made to the reforms planned for family courts and the greater emphasis on mediation. The Minister has set out plans to bring forward a referendum to reform the court structures. I wish to make a plea for the need to establish a proper basis for the Court of Criminal Appeal. Its current operation is characterised by long delays in the system whereby appeals are often heard when sentences have expired. There is also inconsistency in the make-up of the court as no permanent judges have been assigned. Attempts are being made to address this which are very welcome.

With regard to the more general reforms I welcome, as others have done, the announcements made by the Minister that an amendment will be tabled to deal with the issue of legal representation in the Coroners Court. This is very important and I am glad to see the Minister will do it. I thank him for outlining in advance to us the amendment he proposes to make on Committee Stage which we will discuss in more detail then.

To turn to the other part of the Bill, which deals with the increase in monetary jurisdiction of the Circuit Court and the District Court, none of us would disagree with what the Minister stated about the practical need to raise these limits. Previous raises envisaged were never brought into operation so clearly this is overdue. This is an opportunity to look at jurisdiction more generally, particularly in the District Court on the criminal side. I have often thought we need to examine in more detail the way in which we have considered the various incarceration periods. With regard to the monetary jurisdiction on the civil side of the District Court, very careful consideration has been given to the raises in the monetary level which should be introduced and, as the Minister stated, an argument is to be made for keeping it under regular review. However, we have not had the same detailed consideration given to the sentencing jurisdiction of the District Court.

I have always thought, as somebody who started practising in the District Court as a criminal practitioner many years ago, that the 12-month sentence limit and the 24-month limit for more than one sentence are very high. Anyone sentenced to three or four weeks in prison would regard it as a significant imposition on his or her liberty. To deprive a person of his or her liberty for up to 24 months is a significant invasion of a person's constitutional right to liberty. It is worth examining again whether it is appropriate the District Court has the power to sentence. Should we consider reducing the jurisdiction of the District Court in terms of sentence length for criminal offences? It should come under any detailed consideration of jurisdiction.

I also ask this in the light of the report the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality published today. Senators O'Donovan and Conway were involved in this, with Senator Zappone and I and Members of the Dáil under the chairmanship of Deputy David Stanton. The report recommends the Government adopt a decarceration strategy and examine reducing prison numbers, particularly in respect of those committed to prison for non-violent offences, and that we examine particularly the purpose of sentencing people to prison for six months or less. We heard extensive evidence from various stakeholders who came before the committee that there is very little opportunity for rehabilitation if somebody is sentenced to a short sentence and released in an unstructured way. We believe that where possible, people should instead be directed to carry out periods of community service. The report is highly supportive of the community return programme being ,operated by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. The Department of Justice and Equality supplied us with very impressive figures on the results of this programme and information on the very positive engagement, with many people released early from prison directed to serve out the remainder of the sentence in the community under the supervision of the Probation Service. This seemed to us to be a very enlightened and more effective way to achieve rehabilitation of offenders and reduce recidivism rates.

We have made a series of recommendations which we will pass on to the Minister, particularly on remission, which focus on reducing the use of imprisonment and emphasising non-custodial alternatives with more genuine reform and rehabilitation potential. It is in this context I ask that we re-examine the jurisdiction of the District Court. I apologise for going slightly off the point of Bill but it is an opportunity to discuss this issue. Some of the amendments being tabled on Committee Stage are also rather tangential to the direct purpose of the Bill and it might be worth examining the issue of jurisdiction also.

Senator Deirdre Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune Zoom on Deirdre Clune I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on the Bill, which I welcome. It will introduce a positive approach with more openness and transparency with regard to decisions in family court cases and child care cases. I am conscious of the concern about this issue.  In general, the public is not aware of the details of decisions in such cases. The in camerarule originally was introduced for a good reason, which was to protect individuals and children in particular and to ensure they would remain anonymous and that the decisions, which in general are very personal and private in such areas, would remain within the system and not be made available to the public. This was the thinking behind the in camerarule but there has been a call for a long time to have it changed and adapted. I was made particularly aware that this was a concern, particularly of fathers, during the recent referendum campaign on children's rights. I do not know whether they are right or wrong, as I am not familiar with family court or child care cases, other than what I read or hear. However, the steps being taken with this legislation will ensure there is greater transparency and the public will be informed of the decisions.

I looked at some figures produced in the context of last year's Bill on the Courts Service and in the area of family law, I note that in 2011, there were 1,352 applications for separation and 3,354 applications for divorce. In general, the public is aware of neither the content nor the details of such decisions and it would be a very good thing were this information available, albeit with protections for the anonymity and privacy of the individuals concerned because they are special cases. While there certainly is a public interest factor, in general their privacy must be protected and those details are particular to these individuals. I note the Law Society has welcomed the move in this regard provided for in this Bill, which is positive. I share some of the concerns that were raised previously as to who will make decisions on when bona fide members of the press can or cannot be present. It is important for the Bill to contain clear guidelines in this area. However, the legislation makes it clear that judges will be able to prohibit press access when they are satisfied it is in the interests of justice to do so or is necessary to preserve anonymity.

Section 6 will insert a new section to prohibit the broadcast or publication of matters likely to lead to the identification of a party in family law proceedings or in child care cases. I was conscious, when considering this subject and the issue of the present state of broadcast and social media, that there are so many platforms from which information can get out and it will be important for the Bill to provide for serious repercussions. In this context, I note fines of up to €50,000 or imprisonment for up to three years can be imposed and it is important to provide for such sanctions because this is a serious issue. While such details may be a story to some people, it is private information relating to individuals, which can be sensitive and could have a serious impact on them were it made publicly available. Nonetheless, this is a positive reform which is to be welcomed. I look forward to reading about and hearing of information from family law and child care cases in order that the public be made aware of decisions that are made in the courts and which are not available to them at present. A previous speaker mentioned that since the introduction of divorce in this country, one does not hear about it any more. Consequently, in the public interest, this is a positive Bill which I welcome and look forward to further contributions in this regard.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Fianna Fáil has mixed views on this Bill and while we welcome this debate in this House, I will be opposing it because my party probably is more against it than for it. That said, it is an issue that should be debated in this Chamber. Perhaps Members will be able to tease out some of their difficulties in this regard on Committee and Report Stages.

  While I will not labour the point, it would be remiss of me to let this opportunity pass without alerting the Minister - if he needs alerting - to the deteriorating situation with regard to the problems with the Garda, the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI. Having listened to the Minister's input on "Drivetime" and to news reports, I consider it to be of great public concern that the Minister might address this issue before it deteriorates any further.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik On a point of order, I am not sure what relevance this has to the legislation.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone It is not relevant to the Bill.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan With all due respect to Senator Bacik, she deviated substantially from the Bill and I-----

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik With respect to the Senator, I was speaking about reform of the courts.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Yes. Are issues of law and order not of relevance to the Bill?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik That is pushing it.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I said I was not going to dwell on it and-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway The situation with Garda sergeants and inspectors is absolutely not appropriate.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Through the Chair, please.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway On a serious point of order, it is not appropriate for any Member to speak about An Garda Síochána on a Bill of this nature. It simply is not appropriate.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone That is a matter for the Chair to decide.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I suggest to the Acting Chairman it is not appropriate and seek a direction on it.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone While I thank the Senator for his help, I will rule on my own.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan With respect, as I stated, I simply wished to mention the matter. I am surprised my colleagues have become so hot and bothered. It obviously is a very serious issue.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Senator should return to the Bill. I have given him some latitude.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will return to the Bill but I wish to alert the Minister regarding this serious drochmheas, as we call it in west Cork, rank and file gardaí have on the ongoing situation. I will leave it at that but I have raised questions in this Chamber on the subject previously and did not get responses. The matter is ongoing and I consider it to be spiralling out of control. It is deeply worrying from a law and order perspective.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Please return to the Bill.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan While I will respect the ruling of the Acting Chairman, when a Minister's presence in the Chamber offers Members an opportunity to raise matters of huge public concern, it is important that they do so.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I have given the Senator some latitude and request him to return to the Bill.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will return to the Bill.

  The Fianna Fáil spokesperson on children, Deputy Troy, has published an in camera rule in child care and family law proceedings Bill 2013, which throws open windows on family law proceedings that have remained hidden for too long. This Bill, which is being promoted and advocated by my party, has greater transparency without jeopardising the need for sensitivity in respect of the identity of the family involved. As I stated, this Bill can be used as a platform without throwing out the baby with the bathwater entirely when trying to tease out the Bill's positive aspects, as well as addressing some of the major concerns held by my party and me. Fianna Fáil intends to submit a series of amendments in this regard.

  It is not too long since the referendum on the rights of children was held. While it was something for which I advocated for a long time - this relates to an extent to children's courts and the law relating to them - I was deeply concerned by the poor turnout and the unconvincing swathe of opinion in favour. While I had thought the vote would be carried by a substantial majority, this did not happen and much remains to be seen as to where, as a society, we are going in this regard. A major concern is that the Bill proposes to amend the in camera rule to introduce greater transparency in the administration of family and child care law by allowing press access to the courts in family and child care proceedings. The trick in this regard will be to ensure that Members get the balance right. Unless they do, I am unsure whether it will be favoured by journalists, leading practitioners or the public and it could be a recipe for disaster. I simply am spelling out Fianna Fáil's concerns and warnings in this regard and I listened to the comments of my colleague, Senator Walsh, who spoke first on this side of the House.

  While I acknowledge my time is extremely limited, I wish to comment on the proposed increase of the monetary limits of the District Court and the Circuit Court. I personally welcome this aspect of the Bill, because it is a good idea.  Considering the enormous delays in our higher courts, the notion of increasing the jurisdiction of both the District Court and the Circuit Court will ultimately lead to a reduction in the burden of legal costs and, in addition, will free up the delays in the courts system, the backlog of cases, etc. When I commenced practice as a solicitor, the limit given to the District Court, subsequently increased, was of the order of £750 in old money. That was the old Irish pound, which became the punt and then the euro. The proposed increase in the jurisdiction of both the District Court and Circuit Court, as set out in this Bill, is very welcome. I would be so bold as to say it should be under constant review, and would have no objection to the limits being increased even a little more. The most efficient, cost-efficient and user-friendly type of court to the ordinary citizen is the most local, namely, the District Court, followed by the Circuit Court. There are delays and problems for many people in getting into the higher courts and if the logjam in those courts can be reduced in any way that would be an important development.

  I also wish to make the point-----

Acting Chairman: (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone It is time.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will conclude on this point. During the years I have been studying and practising law I have found the quality of the judges who have been appointed in the past 15 to 20 years has improved immeasurably. There are now some excellent practitioners and we have some fine judges in all the various courts, especially in the District Court and the Circuit Court. They are very well capable of dealing with an increase in jurisdiction both in the civil law area and also in the criminal law.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke The Minister is very welcome to the House. I also welcome the Bill, concerning which I will touch on a few points, one relating to family law and the in camera rule. My concern is that this needs to be handled very carefully and the reason I say this comes from my own experience. As a legal practitioner, unfortunately I had to deal with two suicides, one coming 24 hours before an application for a barring order was heard. The person was due at a District Court hearing on a Wednesday but committed suicide the night before the barring order application. For that reason I am very concerned, because it is already a traumatic experience for people to be in court on a matter of family law, let alone having to face an additional worry about the in camera ruling. It is important the message should go out that it is only in exceptional circumstances a hearing would be opened up. The impression should not go out that every bit of information will be put into the public domain. We should be very careful in how the Bill is dealt with and how information is given to the media in regard to this issue. It is very important that people do not read it the wrong way.

  I refer to the increase in the court limits which, as my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, noted, are welcome. The Minister referred to the 2002 Act, which allowed the increases to go higher than the figures he gave, but in the meantime the level of damages has actually come down. The figures the Minister suggested offer the right balance and I welcome that change.

  The one area we need to examine is a problem we face in terms of the whole legal profession - the great changes that have occurred in the past four to five years in the work available within the profession and the great change in the need for processing this and bringing matters to a conclusion. I raise this in regard to the current time taken for dealing with the assessment of legal costs in the High Court. In fairness to both Taxing Masters, there is an enormous volume of work to be done. However, there is a problem. If I set down a bill of costs for taxation in a High Court today it will be October before it can be dealt with. This is at a time when people are under financial pressure in all walks of life and people in the legal profession are also under pressure. I realise this is not something the Minister can deal with immediately but we need to look at how to deal with it. The increase in jurisdiction in the coming three to four years will decrease the demand on matters being sent to the Taxing Master in the High Court, but in the intervening period there will be a substantial delay and we should see if we can find a solution to that problem and whether there is scope for same.

  I apologise for mentioning this but even in cases where the State is on the other side, my understanding from colleagues is that the State will not enter into negotiations in regard to the bill of costs until the matter is listed for taxation. Perhaps we could take a great amount of work in that area away from the responsibility of the Taxing Masters if the State was prepared to enter into negotiations at a much earlier stage.

  One area the Bill does not deal with is one we must return to, namely, the whole area of medical negligence where there has not been much reform in the past ten years. Costs in that area are still extremely high and there is a significant problem which must be dealt with by putting in place a better system. We have talked about payments in cases of medical negligence that would not come as one lump sum, which is something the Minister favours. That must be considered and we should do so at an early date.

  The creation of a civil court of appeal is extremely important.   The problem is that a large number of family law matters end up in the Supreme Court where they really do not belong. In addition, I understand there may be lay litigants on one or even both sides of cases that end up in the Supreme Court. If there was a court of civil appeal it could deal with much of that work. although a referendum would be needed. The Supreme Court was set up to deal with major areas of law but has been taken up with these matters. It could be used far more effectively and we would not have the great delays if there was a court of civil appeal. I realise the Minister is working on this but it is important to have a proposal introduced at the earliest date possible.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Ach an oiread le Seanadóirí eile, táimid buíoch dó as ucht an Bhille seo a thabhairt isteach sa Seanad. Tá Sinn Féin ag tacú leis an reachtaíocht seo mar feicimid cé go bhfuil an Bille gearr, tá sé iontach tábhachtach - cosúil liom féin. Tuigimid freisin go bhfuil gá ann bheith cúramach i gcuid de na réimsí lena mbaineann sé. I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for bringing this Bill to the Seanad in the first place. It is very important that he gives the House the recognition it deserves. Although the legislation is slim it is of considerable value. My party has some concerns in regard to the need for safeguards, as was outlined by other Senators, but we are broadly supportive of this legislation and will vote in its favour.

The Bill has two primary purposes, both of which we support. The former is to reduce the application of the in camera rule in order to allow for reporting by the media of the facts in cases of child and family law, provided identities are respected. This is an important change, one which can increase transparency and, we hope, public faith in the judicial system. I will return to this point.  The latter concern is to increase the monetary jurisdiction of the District Court and the Circuit Court, which should allow for a reduction in the fees being charged to clients and we hope, the costs of litigation overall, as in the long term this may ease pressure on the higher courts. We will also support this part of the legislation.

The Minister will be very familiar with the area of child law. He, quite literally, wrote the book on it. It is an area which requires great care and sensitivity and the same can be said about family law. The key consideration in any such judicial proceedings involving minors should be that the identity of the minor is protected. Failure to ensure that this protection is vindicated can lead to very considerable difficulties, pressures, stresses and to adverse treatment of vulnerable young people, which clearly needs to be avoided. Such protections need to be preserved. However, the application of the in camerarule has been unduly problematic and has limited the level of transparency in the system to the point where the faith of ordinary citizens in the system has become a serious issue, perhaps with some justification.

The role of the in camerarule most recently came into focus in the context of the child death review report. In August 2012, Dr. Aisling Parkes of University College Cork noted that the authors of that report pointed out that this rule should not be taken to mean that the operation and actions of the court should be kept secret. She stated, "...the report claims that allowing this veil of secrecy to exist can only serve to undermine public confidence in the childcare system, which has already had huge questions marks raised concerning its operation." There was particular concern about the manner in which the HSE was using the in camerarule to frustrate inquiries about children who had died in its care. It is believed that the HSE interpreted this to mean the files could not even be made available to the then Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, and to this review group. The author of the report, the esteemed child law expert Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, noted that the lack of co-operation from the HSE had delayed that report. Given the seriousness of these matters and the less than satisfactory role of the HSE in several of these cases involving children, such as in HSE v. McAnespie, this is very regrettable.

The difficulty that has been created vis-à-vischild law is that very little is known about what happens behind the closed doors of the courtroom in child care proceedings. Many of the key decisions are taken in lower courts and the number of written judgments is, therefore, extremely limited. A huge number of cases go through these courts, with very serious ramifications. For example, in 2011, 972 supervision orders were granted at District Court level and 2,287 care orders, including interim care orders, were granted. There were 1,064 child care order appeals made from the District Court to the Circuit Court, with 840 orders made. This leads to a lack of consistency across various courts and a certain degree of mystery surrounds this area of law, except to a small number of professionals who have regular experience of District Court child care proceedings.In this context, Dr. Parkes noted the following:

 For example, there is no information available indicating how much weight the judge attaches to expert/social reports or to what extent the child has a voice in such proceedings. Furthermore, there is little reliable statistical data available relating to such cases. Indeed, the appropriateness of the primarily adversarial nature of these proceedings is questionable and some would advocate a more inquisitorial process where the best interests of the child are at issue.

Likewise, with family law, while the lack of consistency is less of an issue, there remains a concern about the transparency of the system. The foreword to the report of the Family Law Reporting Project Committee to the board of the Courts Service notes that:

Increased awareness of what goes on in family law courts was seen by the Committee as a crucial prerequisite for a greater level of trust in the judicial determination of family law disputes. From its consultation process, the Committee was left in no doubt that past restrictions on the reporting of family law cases has led to significant levels of suspicion and resentment, by men in particular, and a belief that hearings ‘behind closed doors’ meant that perceived injustices ran on unchecked by any requirement of transparency.

It is clear that this is a very necessary and positive step. The example of how cases involving sexual offences are reported, in the way that identities are protected but the facts, in so far as possible, are recorded, pays testament to the value of this principle. However, the legislation is somewhat light on detail, particularly in terms of safeguards. There ought to be greater safeguards in place with regard to the reporters who will be permitted to attend such proceedings and the manner in which they will be able to report. While the safeguards in sections 5 and 8 are welcome and comprehensive, I note that the meaning of a bona fide representative of the press is not defined in this Bill, nor does it set out the terms under which a member of the press may attend a family or child care case. I believe "bona fide" should be defined and that members of the press who will be in attendance should be subject to some form of scrutiny. The Minister should clarify his rationale for not making this clear.

  The change to the monetary jurisdiction of the District Court and the Circuit Court is a positive step, particularly given the fact that two decades have passed since the review. Anything that leads to a reduction in fees, thus reducing the costs for ordinary families and businesses in taking cases, is welcome and indeed, we hope that the knock-on effect of this will be to reduce the costs for the State in the longer term.

  I have one minor query on this section, however. I note that the Bill repeals sections 13 to 18, inclusive, of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002, which was never commenced. These sections had proposed to change the monetary jurisdictions to €20,000 and €100,000 for the District Court and the Circuit Court, respectively. This legislation increases the jurisdiction to €15,000 and €75,000, respectively. The Minister might clarify the rationale for this and explain why he has preferred this more modest increase to that contained in the 2002 Act.

  I also note the comments of the Law Society which is concerned that the District Court and, more particularly, the Circuit Court, will not have enough resources to deal with the pressure which will inevitably result from the dramatically increased workload. There may be a need for more judges and more court staff to avoid delays, given that there is already too much pressure on the system. The society has called on the Minister to provide the resources necessary to ensure that the full benefits of this legislation can be felt. However, queries and concerns aside, we welcome this Bill, which will increase transparency and accountability within the judicial system.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I thank the Senators for their contributions, some of which were very wide-ranging. The benefit of this sort of engagement is that it allows us to reflect on the provisions of a Bill and look at the issues that may need to be addressed or teased out further. It also gives an opportunity to Senators to raise other issues of relevance to the courts system.

  Senator Walsh raised the issue of the judicial council Bill, which has had a somewhat long history. That Bill was to have been published by the previous Government and is part of the current programme for Government. Substantial work has been done on it and we are now dependent on the Attorney General's office to complete the work on the Bill. It is on a list of Bills that are awaiting publication. I regard it as an important measure and while I hope that we will see it later this year, that will depend on the capacity of the Attorney General's office, in the context of the Government's very large legislative programme.

  Senator Walsh also made reference to the importance of information on how the courts hear and determine cases and similar references were made by other Senators. I agree that it is important that more information be made available as to how the courts hear and determine cases. Reference was also made to judicial accountability. Members of the Judiciary are independent and are accountable to no-one other than the higher courts, to which their decisions may be appealed. Transparency is important because it ensures that there is public knowledge of how issues are being addressed within our courts system. Access to information ensures that, should it appear that any issues of concern are arising out of the manner in which family or child care law, for example, is being administered within the courts system, the general public, the Government and Members of this House are informed. This means that any necessary legislative corrective action can be taken. Unfortunately, for far too long, this area has been shrouded in mystique and secrecy, other than for members of the legal profession, particularly those who work in this area. It is healthy that we would bring a greater degree of openness and transparency to how our law is being administered.

  Of course, as Senators have said, this is a balancing act. My initial view, as a lawyer working in the family law area, was that a full in camera rule was necessary to protect peoples' privacy and to ensure the fear of a violation of privacy did not act as a barrier to those who might seek help in the courts obtaining that help.  Over the years, having observed family cases and participated in them, I concluded that there is a substantial lack of public information as well as a lack of information on the part of the Government and Members of both Houses as to how the law is administered. Unfortunately if the law is being administered in a way that exacerbates rather than ameliorates people's financial of family difficulties and if it is being administered in an erratic or inconsistent way, there is no mechanism of oversight of this. A degree of transparency provides some assistance in that regard.

Senator Walsh and others made reference to family courts. The programme for Government calls for the provision of a separated integrated unified system of family courts. It is the Government's objective to hold a referendum in the autumn to establish on a constitutional basis a court of appeal which will include both divisions of civil appeal and criminal appeal, and also to establish a separate system of family courts. The objective of holding referendums on both these matters is a very adventurous objective to achieve by the autumn, but we are working to that timetable and I hope we will be able to produce the necessary legislation to do so. It is in the public interest that we have constitutional provisions to establish a court of civil appeal. The huge burden of cases awaiting hearing in the Supreme Court is unacceptable and it is unfair to those who rely on our courts that when they have been through litigation in the High Court they may have to wait two, three or four years to have an appeal determined in the Supreme Court. I do not believe that is right or appropriate and clearly a court of civil appeal would result in many cases that would otherwise have to go to the Supreme Court being dealt with, determined and finalised at the court of appeal level. I look forward to bringing proposals before both Houses on that aspect.

Senator van Turnhout raised a number of issues. I agree with her that it would be very helpful if judgments, as they can be under the current legal system, delivered by District Court and Circuit Court judges in the family and child-care area were written judgments. Unfortunately written judgments from both of those courts have been few and far between. There is no reason for not giving written judgments. I understand and accept that the volume of cases determined, particularly at District Court level, may raise difficulties for judges producing written judgments in every case and I am not suggesting that. However, there are appropriate cases where written judgments should be made available. Certainly there have been some in the District Court in the child-care area, but there have not been enough of them having regard to the complexity and volume of cases dealt with in the District Court. In the Circuit Court there have been a small number of instances of written judgments delivered. It would be helpful if there were more.

By providing for greater transparency through media reportage at least ex-temporejudgments will be published. This will give people an insight into the decision-making processes and the reasoning applied. It will allow legislators and others to assess whether there is a consistency of approach in determining such cases and the insight necessary in dealing with issues relating to the welfare of children. Ultimately, in the context of family matters, this is an interim reform dealing with transparency issues and the new structure of family courts the Government envisages will usher in a very new and different era. It will apply to family and child care cases.

Senator van Turnhout asked about training for lawyers dealing with children's cases. There is a broad range of other issues relating to that, including training of judges to deal with child-care and family cases, and the role of the existing guardian ad litemand its importance. We are giving consideration to all these issues in deciding the structure of the new family-court system to deal with this area. We are considering providing for a more inquisitorial rather than adversarial approach to be incorporated in legislation to accompany any new children's courts established, should there be support for their establishment in a referendum.

The Senator asked who would make applications as to whether cases should be heard in public or private, or who would be admitted. The essential approach of the legislation is that cases will be heard in private but that the media will be admitted - the general public will not be admitted. Who represents the media? Bona fide representatives of the press is a phrase that has been used without creating any difficulty or mystery in other legislation. As mentioned the legislation relating to sexual offences, including rape provides for the media to be admitted, but the reportage requires certain anonymity. The concept of bona fide representatives of the press has been used in other legislation. It means people who are genuinely journalists working in the broadcast or print media, or the online media as we now have it. That has not given rise to any difficulty of interpretation of knowledge. I do not believe we need to spell out in any greater detail who they are.

It is clear in the legislation in circumstances where it is sought, for example, to have the media excluded from a hearing - from the totality of it or simply for a portion of evidence or some aspect of it - that can be done either by a judge on his or her own initiative or an application can be made by a party to the proceedings which in a family law case would be the husband or wife or in a child-care case the application could be made, for example, by a health board or the guardian ad litemrepresenting a child or by the parents of a child who are defending such proceedings. Where an application is made to the court it would then be open to the court to determine whether to exclude or otherwise restrict the attendance of representatives of the press or whether to simply prohibit or restrict the publication or broadcasting of some particular evidence or any part of such evidence. In deciding whether to do any of those things, the court would be bound by the criteria that are detailed in the legislation that I set out in my speech. They would start off from a perspective of seeking to promote public confidence in the administration of justice.

An element of public confidence is that it is transparent, but another element of public confidence is that those who require access to the courts in these areas are not - for fear of publicity otherwise - prevented or see it as a barrier. Particularly in family cases as opposed to child care cases often very detailed information about an individual's personal finances or business, or the commercial dealings in such business, might be a subject of debate or disagreement between estranged spouses or indeed in the future estranged civil partners. If there is a disagreement between people who were formally intimate with each other and living together either married or in a civil partnership, it is important that the revelation of that information in the course of any row that might take place does not effectively destroy the business of an individual because business information that should remain confidential finds its way into the media.

There is a range of issues. To take another area of concern, it may well be that where family cases being taken in the District Court outside a large urban area, publication of any nature of any information about that family case would in fact destroy people's anonymity because it may be well known in the locality that they have a family difficulty and a publication of itself could do further damage to them or their children. It is intended that the Judiciary would have a broad discretion in applying the specific factors in the legislation in determining the controls to apply in these circumstances. We will have to see how the legislation works in practice.  It is clear from the legislation that no court can automatically decide in every case that the media will be excluded. Each case will have to be determined on the facts. In circumstances where there is an application for the media to be excluded and another party thinks they should be allowed to remain, there will be a facility to appeal that as a preliminary issue. The courts will have to put in place appropriate rules of court to ensure that if that is an issue, it can be dealt with swiftly in order that the substantive family or child care case hearing is not unduly delayed. These are issues that can be addressed properly in rules of court by the courts rules committee and there is no particular reason that they should not be so addressed.

Senator van Turnhout raised a number of issues about circumstances in which there are breaches of the Children Acts and what she described as malpractice, for example, people's and children's names being revealed. First, if these issues are occurring, they should not occur. There are very strict rules relating to privacy matters. I recall a number of years ago when the Circuit Court initially got family law jurisdiction it was a practice that, although everything was supposed to be heardin camera, the court registrars would emerge into the hallway and shout out the names of the husband and wife whose case was about to be heard. That was easily remedied by the court list listing people by their initials. Indeed, the court lists also have numbers beside the initials. It is a number of years since I have been in the Children Court but if there is a problem with names not being kept anonymous and there is no system in place to ensure this issue is properly dealt with in accordance with existing legislation, it should be addressed. I will ask my officials to write to the Courts Service to raise that issue. It can be readily remedied.

Other issues were raised by Senators. Senator Bacik made reference to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which I have dealt with. With regard to the District Court jurisdiction on the criminal side, I believe more can be done to provide for alternatives to prison sentencing. Prison sentences are very important. Prison has a very specific role in circumstances where people commit serious crime and where there is a necessity to protect the community, but we can use alternatives. I thank the Senator for her comments about the community return programme. This was an innovation I initiated following my appointment as Minister. It is working well and is facilitating the release of some prisoners from prisons who have not yet reached the period when they should be released pursuant to the remission rules but where they have been assessed as posing no risk to the community. They are individuals who have behaved well in prison and are agreeable to an earlier release in return for doing community service. This both saves the State money in the context of the individual no longer being within the prison system and is a benefit to local communities. That system is working well. I look forward to receiving and reading the report of the Oireachtas joint committee that was published today in respect of prisons and sentencing.

However, I do not agree with Senator Bacik's view that we should further curtail the powers of the District Court with regard to the imposition of possible sentences of imprisonment. The District Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and it has important sentencing powers. If we were to limit those powers further, the effect would be that more of the serious offences would have to be dealt with at Circuit Court level. It would create difficulty for the Circuit Criminal Court and would further and unnecessarily delay hearings. Indeed, it might render those hearings unnecessarily more expensive to the State in the context of the criminal legal aid scheme. I would require a great deal of convincing about changing the law in that regard.

To return to something Senator Colm Burke said, people are hugely stressed when going into the family court system. Usually, where there are major family difficulties there are many other issues giving rise to stress. The actual attendance in court is not the primary stressful event. It is very sad to learn that two individuals who were in family difficulties, and whose issues were being dealt with within the court system, have committed suicide. I do not know why that happened. We do not always know what happens in people's heads to result in such a tragedy. This is why we must have the right balance. We must ensure that what we do here achieves the right balance for people who are under pressure, who are distressed because their marriage is in difficulties, who are possibly stressed because they are in financial difficulty and where there might be a range of stresses, for example, they might be suffering from a psychiatric illness or a personal breakdown. If this new legislation is enacted in its current form or Senators come forward with constructive amendments and they are incorporated into it, I intend to monitor how it is working. If it turns out that it is not being applied in the manner intended or if it gives rise to unintended consequences or difficulties, it is important that this is addressed as early as possible. I agree with Senator O'Donovan and others that we must get the balance right. That is crucial.

Senator Colm Burke also raised the issue of the Taxing Master and legal costs. It is important that matters coming before the Taxing Master are heard within a reasonable period of time and that the adjudication or decision on the taxation of legal costs is delivered within a reasonable period after the hearing has taken place. I also believe the State should take steps to resolve legal costs issues, where appropriate, in order that unnecessary expense is not incurred by a hearing that might be unnecessary or an unnecessary burden is not imposed on the Taxing Master's office by matters being listed for hearing, perhaps being partially heard and only resolved thereafter. I accept Senator Colm Burke's concern that when orders for costs are made against the State, the State does not attempt to resolve those issues until the very last minute and that this issue is putting an unnecessary additional burden on the Taxing Master. I will ask my officials to write to both the Chief State Solicitor's office and the Attorney General to bring the Senator's remarks to their attention, with a view to asking that where orders for costs are made against the State, the State will constructively engage with a view to resolving those matters without unnecessary hearings in the Taxing Master's court or matters being unnecessarily listed for hearing in order that there is not an undue burden in that court and no obstruction for other matters that must be heard being dealt with.

As the Senator knows, it has been my view for a long time and it is also part of the programme for Government that we should enact legislation to put in place a better system for those who suffer catastrophic injuries when there is medical negligence. There is a need to move away from the lump sum procedure to periodical payments, so that if somebody has suffered a catastrophic injury we are no longer in a position where the financial assistance available to them is based on the capacity of professionals to predict how long they might live or a prediction as to the extent to which their condition might deteriorate. Regardless of how professional individuals are, we all know these predictions are not always accurate. The provision of periodical support payments that can be amended to take account of further unexpected developments arising from medical negligence or serious road traffic accidents is a far preferable system. The Government has approved the preparation of legislation in this area. It is being worked upon by both my Department and the Attorney General's office. I look forward to bringing that legislation to this House in the future.   I apologise to those Senators who contributed to the debate and to whom I have not referred. I hope I have addressed all of the issues that were raised. I thank Senators for being supportive of the legislation. As I have stated in the past, no one has a monopoly of wisdom in this or in any other area. The day on which we all believe we possess such a monopoly is the day we all get into trouble. In that regard, I will be very interested in any amendments Senators may wish to table for Committee Stage.

  One question I did not answer is that which relates to why we have moved away from the position which was set out in the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002 and which was never brought into force. In other words, why are we providing for monetary jurisdiction limits of €75,000 rather than €100,000 in the Circuit Court and €15,000 rather than €20,000 in the District Court? The reason for this is that the relevant sections of 2002 Act were never brought into force as a result of, in the first instance, major concerns to the effect that the courts would not be able to cope with that huge leap in jurisdiction. The second reason, to which I referred earlier, related to concerns with regard to civil damages proceedings, the impact on claims and the levels of compensation which might be ordered. A huge issue arose in 2002 in respect of the sizeable additional resources the District Court and the Circuit Court would require if the leap in jurisdiction to which I refer had occurred. Unfortunately, the Government which introduced the 2002 legislation did not address that issue and it, therefore, remained in cold storage.

  We carried out a very simple assessment in respect of this matter. We examined the 1991 legislation and considered how, having regard to inflation, monetary values had changed since. Based on inflation, the current maximum monetary value in the Circuit Court is approximately €38,000. If we had just increased it on the basis of the level of inflation that obtained in the period from 1991 to the beginning of 2013, my recollection is that it would have worked out at somewhere in the region of €66,000 for the Circuit Court and that it in the context of the District Court it would have risen from €6,300 to approximately €10,560. Those were the inflationary provisions. We then considered a modest increase beyond these which would bring the courts back essentially to the levels at which they could determine cases in 1991, with a degree of leeway to take account of the fact that there is unlikely to be further courts legislation for at least two to three years. We concluded that €75,000 would be an appropriate monetary jurisdiction level for the Circuit Court. This almost doubles its jurisdiction in practical terms and the jurisdiction of the District Court will be almost trebled. As has been noted, we have a large number of very good, competent District Court judges who are well able to deal with litigation up to the €15,000 mark. I have no doubt about that fact. In addition, there are many good and competent Circuit Court judges who can rule in this area.

  We obtained some information on this matter and I was advised that between 30% and 40% of cases currently being litigated before the Circuit Court related to claims of €15,000 or less. Those cases will now be switched to the District Court. The District Court is, in a sense, the only court which will be obliged to shoulder a large additional burden. It will be taking responsibility for the cases to which I refer and which are currently before the Circuit Court. We will be obliged to ensure that it will have adequate resources available to it. On foot of the fact that a huge chunk will be coming out of the Circuit Court, there is new work coming to it which would otherwise have been dealt with in the High Court. Ultimately, I do not believe there will be a major additional burden in the context of the number of litigants coming before the Circuit Court. There will just be litigants dealing at higher levels. The advantage of this is that we will be relieving the High Court of a particular burden. This will not, however, resolve the problems relating to the huge backlog of appeals in the Supreme Court. That matter will have to be addressed by other means. When the backlog to which I refer is addressed, the level of appeals from the High Court to the Supreme Court will be reduced. Of course, there will still be appeals flowing from the Circuit Court into the High Court.

  We considered this matter in a holistic fashion. The hiccup relating to resources may take effect at, for example, District Court level. When the legislation is brought into force, we will monitor the position in that regard. If the experience of the President of the District Court and the President of the Circuit Court in respect of the legislation indicates that there is a resource issue, I have absolutely no doubt that they will communicate that fact to the Government, either directly or through the Courts Service. We will take appropriate steps to address the matter at that point.

  I thank Senators for their contributions and look forward to dealing with any amendment they may wish to table when Committee Stage is taken after the Easter recess.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Jillian van Turnhout): Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway On the first sitting day after the Easter recess.

  Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 17 April 2013.

Acting Chairman (Senator Jillian van Turnhout): Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.

Adjournment Matters

Job Creation Issues

Acting Chairman (Senator Jillian van Turnhout): Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I understand that, by agreement, Senator Cullinane's matter is to be taken first.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I warmly welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and thank him for the work he is doing in respect of the south east. He chairs a forum which brings together many of the key stakeholders in the region with a view to creating jobs and promoting economic development. I am aware that there may be a very positive announcement in respect of Waterford tomorrow, for which I am sure the Minister will be present. I take the opportunity to welcome said announcement in advance. Any job which can be created in Waterford and the south east is welcome, particularly in the light of the very high levels of unemployment which obtain there.

  The Minister will be aware that the unemployment crisis in the south east must be managed and addressed. The rate of unemployment across the region is 19.1%, which is 25% above the national average. In Waterford city, the rate of unemployment stands at 25.1%. I am sure the Minister will agree that this is not just unacceptable but that it is dangerous to have a level of unemployment of that magnitude in a city, particularly one which is supposed to be a gateway city and the driver of economic development and activity in the south east.

  What is required for the south east is a coherent long-term strategy that will align all of the relevant stakeholders and agencies. The key ingredient in this regard is the establishment of a technological university. I want there to be a university for the south east which contemplates the needs of the region. There is no point in creating a university just for the sake of doing so or in merely changing the name above the door. We need a university which is geared towards enterprise, which contemplates the needs of the region and which is for the people of the region. In the context of research and development, such a university must be capable of taking advantage of the region's key strengths.  Those strengths are health, life sciences and medical devices, financial and internationally traded services, tourism, arts and culture, agribusiness, food production and technology, engineering, telecommunications, software development and digital media, and the biotechnology and green economy sector. A strategy that aligns these sectors of potential growth for the south east is necessary. The crucial ingredient is the enterprise agencies. They must play a leading role. Their policies must be aligned with what the Minister is trying to do for the region.

  We must join up national policy with local and regional policy and ensure those with responsibility for delivering economic development, and job creation specifically, deliver for the region in real terms. There may be a positive announcement tomorrow, but that will only be a small start to what is necessary for the region.

  The region's educational attainment levels need to improve. This issue does not directly relate to the Minister's portfolio, but it is crucial to job creation. This is particularly the case of the linkages between secondary school and third and fourth levels. It is also a matter of fostering a culture of upskilling and training in businesses. The south east presents the potential for pilot projects in secondary schools, for example, fostering innovation, creativity, thinking outside the box and entrepreneurship. This approach will be key to the region's success. Long-term solutions are as important as short-term ones, but short-term interventions are required, for example, a university, the Rosslare bypass for Wexford, an expansion of Waterford Airport's runway and the use of NAMA assets for town and city centre regeneration projects. A great amount of work needs to be done.

  I am seeking an update from the Minister on what progress has been made since he launched his Forfás plan, the initiatives in which he is involved and whether they have made a difference to Waterford and the south east.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank the Senator for raising this matter. He has a keen interest in the south east, particularly Waterford. As he stated, unemployment levels in the region have been high. In the aftermath of the closure of TalkTalk, I conducted an analysis of the region and confirmed the Senator's remarks. It has embedded structural problems. The Celtic tiger, which brought a great deal of multinational investment, did not have the same impact in the south east as it did in other regions. Nor does it have the strong clusters of industry that have been a feature of the hubs of growth in successful sectors.

  There will be no big bang solution. A long-term strategy needs to be developed. The action plan I have put in place is focused practically and has brought the key players together, which has been beneficial in itself. They have set out a range of initiatives that various agencies are pursuing and that will serve to improve Waterford's positioning as a region.

  Significant progress has been made. The agencies have delivered on their short-term objectives, for example, special enterprise start-up initiatives aimed at getting people with ideas to develop them. Eishtec has been extraordinarily successful and has expanded to 600 employees in the south east. In 2011, it was merely a high potential Enterprise Ireland start-up. Approximately 750 jobs from the Enterprise Ireland portfolio have emerged since the action plan was initiated.

  We need a stronger strategy to develop a successful indigenous engine of growth in the south east. I do not disagree that the culture of training within industry and building a stronger educational infrastructure will play a part. Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, has been remarkably successful. It has incubated some high quality innovation in the telecommunications field and spawned many successful start-ups. Like the Senator, I see regional opportunities in the fields of life sciences, clean tech and food. The agencies are working together to develop these sectors as areas of potential growth.

  Tomorrow morning, I will convene a meeting of the south east action plan group to review the progress being made. IDA Ireland has sustained its focus on this area. The number of site visits increased from 16 in 2010 to nearly 50 last year. It is a question of building on the co-operation in the region. We need to build on its many competitive strengths, although some of them need to be developed. I can say with some degree of satisfaction that our focus on the south east is yielding results. It is welcome that the agencies are pursuing their common purpose in a more concerted fashion. This type of collaboration is how successful regional strategies are built. They cannot be top-down but bottom-up.

  While I am hopeful, employment numbers in the south east continue to pose a difficulty. They justify the focus that I assure the Deputy I will maintain in the coming years.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane There is a clear focus on the region. Much of it comes from within the region or is driven by the Minister's Department. I acknowledge the key role played by the Minister, but there is a sense that the enterprise agencies could do more. For example, the availability of property solutions has been cited as an impediment. If so, we should consider how to develop property solutions across the region.

  Today, I received figures to the effect that only one application was made from Waterford to the micro-enterprise fund. The company did not receive anything. The fund of €40 million provides start-up capital and supports for the micro-business sector. I cannot understand why only one application was made in Waterford, which has a high level of unemployment. Will the Minister investigate this matter? Are companies not coming forward, are they not being encouraged or, as mentioned at some enterprise boards meetings, are there problems with the scheme, for example, interest rates or bureaucratic difficulties? Whatever the problems may be, we need to flag and fix them. If money has been made available, the Minister will agree that it should be provided to those who need it in order that jobs can be created.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton Property solutions are an issue. The IDA has applied for planning permission to build out the available property options in the region. This forms part of the strategy being pursued.

  The Senator also raised the issue of micro-finance. It is a demand-led scheme and depends on people coming forward. We are administering it through the county enterprise boards, CEBs, which are soon to become local enterprise offices, LEOs. They are the first-stop shop. People with ideas can get help from CEBs with their business plans and apply to the micro-finance board for approval. We would be doing no one any favour by supporting plans that are not viable. It is important that a plan be tested before it is presented.

  The scheme is in its infancy and we have yet to see the scope of micro-finance.  In other jurisdictions it has not been a significant element of the overall funding environment. I draw the Senator's attention to other initiatives such as the competitive start fund, a micro-finance fund run by Enterprise Ireland. There are several high-potential start-ups and we are trying to develop a range of processes to meet the different needs of start-up companies. We will review the scheme after it has been in operation for a certain period to see if there are weaknesses either in local promotion or glitches in access. If the Senator hears of a bad experience, he should bring it to my attention, as we are only too pleased to try to improve it as we go along.

Flood Relief Schemes Funding

Senator Deirdre Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune Zoom on Deirdre Clune I thank the Minister for attending. I wish to raise the issue of support for businesses, in particular, affected by flooding recently and in the past few years. Unfortunately, Cork was in the headlines last week because of flooding, as it was in June last year and November 2009. Some commentators noted that if Cork city was to be built again, it would not be built where it is now; we are stuck with it nevertheless, and incessant rain over 48 hours seems to be the precursor to this type of flooding.

  This issue involves many participants, including the Office of Public Works, the Irish Insurance Federation and the Oireachtas committee dealing with environmental matters, which is holding a series of hearings on the issue. I will focus on possible compensation or support for businesses and raise the matter with the Minister because in July last year he contacted local authorities and asked them to submit details of the type of destruction done to businesses the previous June with a view to establishing some type of compensation fund for businesses. I know not everything can be covered, and in some instances businesses made a conscious decision not to insure premises. At the same time, some businesses cannot get insurance because they are in a flood risk area, meaning that some distinctions and intricacies can be made in the argument.

  As the Minister initiated correspondence with local authorities, asking them to provide information, will he inform the House of any report? Will he bring forward proposals in the area?

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. On behalf of the Government, I express my sympathy to those affected recently in Blackpool by the flooding. I am thankful no lives were lost but considerable damage was done, particularly to businesses, in Blackpool village.

  I will set out the role of the Department in these matters. In my role as Minister with lead responsibility for the response, I can indicate the following. The cause of the flooding was primarily due to partial blockage of the debris screen located in the River Bride upstream of a culvert in Blackpool village. I understand the screen was checked and cleared by council staff between 3.30 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the afternoon of 21 March. It was subsequently checked at approximately 7 p.m. and found to be clear. At 8.49 p.m. the duty officer at the city fire brigade received a call from a member of the public stating that flooding was commencing in Orchard Court, Blackpool. The city council call-out co-ordinator was advised and Ballyvolane fire station mobilised a unit to investigate. They sought assistance from city council call-out in the form of an excavator to remove debris from the screen. As a result of the blockage the river overflowed, with water reaching Thomas Davis Street and Watercourse Road, causing flooding to some 15 business premises. Flood depth on the road varied from 0.5 m to 1 m, with velocities high and representing a hazard.

  City council staff were on site but progress on clearing was limited until arrival of a JCB at 9.55 p.m. Once screen clearance commenced, an immediate abatement occurred, with the majority of clearance occurring by 10.40 p.m. During the period of the flood, the fire brigade were in attendance, deployed water pumping equipment and were assisted by Civil Defence and the Garda. I thank all the local authority staff and owners of the businesses for their work, which caused a massive inconvenience during this weather-related difficulty. The screen was subsequently monitored until 4 a.m., at which point flows had subsided in the river.

  This is an example of what has happened recently but I am also aware that the Senator has referred to other locations in Cork city and county subject to flooding in 2012, including businesses, some of which had no insurance. I asked for a survey to be carried out by local authorities and received a report. As Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, I do not have a role or powers in regard to the provision of financial assistance for businesses affected by flooding. Neither I nor my Department has any remit in the area of flood relief or assistance for businesses, although there is the issue of humanitarian assistance to residents. There is, therefore, a difficulty in meeting the unforeseen circumstances encountered by businesses with no insurance and how they have been affected by flooding. I am keeping the matter under review and notwithstanding that there is no precedent for compensation of businesses arising from non-insurance or flooding, I am conscious of the importance of small businesses, who may see some financial difficulties arising from the location of those businesses. I refer, in particular, to the shopping centre in Douglas.

  I understand the Office of Public Works has been in ongoing discussions with the Irish Insurance Federation regarding flooding insurance issues, particularly where insurance cover has not been provided in areas where flood defence or mitigation works have been carried out. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has met a delegation from Blackpool today and is conscious of the areas of Cork city and county that have been subject to these unforeseen weather patterns resulting in difficulties for businesses, particularly when they have no insurance. I will undertake to keep the matter under review.

Senator Deirdre Clune: Information on Deirdre Clune Zoom on Deirdre Clune The Minister referred to the report he commissioned and the information he sought. That would have raised expectations that there would be something happening in the area. Will the Minister indicate what was the purpose of the report?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan As the Acting Chairman and the Senator knows, I try to be as helpful as possible in meeting the requirements of the day and trying to overcome some of the unforeseen difficulties arising from inclement weather conditions, particularly where the work of local authorities may not have been carried out to the satisfaction of the local community and has resulted inadvertently in flooding of shops or centres. One does not expect such patterns to develop, especially if work could be carried out, with culverts cleared by the local authority. I sought a report on the extent of the problem to see if we could be helpful but I have not found a solution to the issue in that report. I will continue to seek solutions and the Government is very conscious of the difficulties that have arisen for small businesses. I will try to find solutions, if possible, but I will come back to the Senator if that is not possible.

Defence Forces Properties

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I feel guilty about keeping the Minister in the House given I have met him three or four times today in different guises. However, he will appreciate that this is an important issue. He may not be familiar with the fact that a significant parcel of land between the old and new golf courses in Lahinch, County Clare, is in the ownership of the Defence Forces. Due to the challenging economic environment in which we find ourselves, the Defence Forces have rightly had to rationalise and centralise. While this is regrettable, given the people of Lahinch have had a long association with the organisation over the years, I could not justify maintaining their presence there because, as a country, we cannot afford it. While it is difficult for me to say that, given this is my own parish, leadership is required from public representatives at this time and I am happy to play my part in that regard.

  Sluagh Hall is part of the Defence Forces complex in Lahinch. It is annexed off the main building and there are even walls built around it. The hall could easily be divided from the main lands. The purpose of the raising this matter is the community uses the hall regularly for musicals and as changing rooms for sports, and it is also regularly used by the golf club. The community feels an association with the hall, which was built in 1932. I would like the entire site to be sold to the golf club but it is not for me to decide that. That would be desirable from a tourism and community perspective for the parish of Lahinch and Ennistymon. I am keen that Sluagh Hall, which comprises a small area of the overall site, be made available to the community if a community group expresses an interest in doing a deal with the Defence Forces to retain it for the use of the community. I encourage the Minister to facilitate this. If the building was derelict and not in use, I would not have a case. However, it is used extensively and a successful musical ran in the hall in the past two weeks. There was a full house almost every night. That indicates the connection between the building and the community. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am advised that Lahinch military camp comprises a military barracks and Sluagh Hall on 5.19 acres. The camp was used up until 2012 by the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, and the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, for training purposes. The RDF is undergoing a major reorganisation. This is consistent with the recommendations of the recently published value for money review. The new "single force" concept comprises PDF units with Reserve components, rather than a parallel Reserve force. Reserve units within barracks are supported by their parent PDF unit and have access to the training facilities within the barracks. The 16 units outside of PDF installations have access to training facilities identified by the military as being most suitable from the pool of RDF training establishments already in place.

  Lahinch RDF post is one of the properties identified for closure under the reorganisation programme for the Reserve. All RDF properties identified for closure under the programme, including Sluagh Hall, Lahinch, will close by the end of March 2013. At that stage my Department will invite Departments and other public bodies to identify any interest in the properties in question, including Lahinch. If no interest is expressed by another Department or State agency the property will be disposed of by public tender or auction. I am happy to discuss with any interested group proposals they may have for the purchase and development of the site for the benefit of the local community. However, my Department does not have the resources to maintain surplus vacant properties, such as Lahinch camp, in the longer term. As the property no longer serves a role in the defence organisation, it will be disposed of.

  We have in the context of vacant Defence Forces properties been prepared to make them available to local communities for community purposes but this is normally done in circumstances where it is feasible, the property is sold to a local community organisation or group or a rental arrangement is entered into and the group takes full responsibility for the maintenance, upkeep and outgoings of the premises. If the Senator knows of a community organisation or a group of organisations that want to come together and make a proposal to my Department, we will consider it. I take on board his comment that he would like the site to be sold to the local golf club. Subject to my assuming that there may not be an interest from a public body in the site, which I cannot guarantee, the Department of Defence would be open to do business with the local golf club if it has an interest in the site. It may be well be that a joint proposal may be made by the golf club and community groups, which would provide for a use for Sluagh Hall. I have an open mind on the issue. At any stage, if a local community group or the golf club is interested, I will be happy to arrange an initial meeting with officials in my Department to explore any proposal that might be made.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway That was a detailed, comprehensive and positive reply. I suspect there will be contact. Sluagh Hall could easily be divided from the rest of the site because of the way it is designed. I am sure there will be discussions which will lead to a result in the public interest and to the benefit of the common good.

  The Seanad adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 28 April 2013.

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