Order of Business (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Seanad Éireann Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Senator John Whelan: Information on John Whelan Zoom on John Whelan] As my colleague, Senator Comiskey, has pointed out, the Government has moved to appoint a new Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Tom Hayes, and I wish him well in his work. He will have responsibility for Coillte, and in that context, I ask the Leader to invite him to come before this House and to finally make a categoric statement on the matter. We have had some interesting mood music about this issue, including various winks and nods that the hills will remain free to roam on, but I would like to see that in writing to be sure that is really the case. Approximately 7% of our land is covered in forestry. It is an important resource, in a strategic sense, as well as being an important tourism, recreation and leisure amenity for people throughout the country, not least in counties Laois and Offaly and the midlands in general. The Government must finally lay to rest any uncertainty regarding the future of Coillte in order that the company can get on with strategic planning and development. The question should be laid to rest before the summer recess.

  I also ask the Leader to address the question of when the Government proposes to hold the referendum on the abolition of Seanad. We do not have a definite date or knowledge of the timetable. It was sharp practice for the Bill to be launched last week when the Houses were in recess. That left a lot to be desired in terms of public discourse and providing Members with an opportunity to engage on the issue. Whoever came up with that idea knew we were not sitting last week. In the same regard, it would be pre-emptive and unfair if the Seanad were to be shot in the nest. Even pheasants know when the shooting season starts. There are rumours circulating that the referendum could be held as early as 11 September, immediately after the summer recess. If that is the case, it would stymie fair and public discourse on a matter that is very important. Even a condemned man before the gallows is allowed a few last words. The Seanad should be permitted at least to make a case for its future. An early referendum is unnecessary, given this Seanad will run its course until the next general election. A stand-alone referendum in the autumn will cost the taxpayer €30 million-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is way over time.

Senator John Whelan: Information on John Whelan Zoom on John Whelan I thank the Cathaoirleach for his forbearance and ask the Leader to inform the public and this House of the proposed date for the referendum on the abolition of Seanad.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I support Senator Quinn's call for a debate on tourism. Indeed, we should have regular debates on tourism in this House. Given that the six monthly figures will be published shortly, now is an ideal time for the Government to outline the impact of The Gathering so far. Indications are that it is proving very positive, with the exception of the British market, which seems to be the Achilles heel of Irish tourism.

  I also call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to sign the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating both violence against women and domestic violence before the end of the Irish Presidency of the EU. We are one of 18 countries in the 47 member Council of Europe that have not yet signed that convention. A great deal of lip service is paid by this Government to the injustices that are being meted out to women every day. Now it is time for action. There is a short window left and the Government would send out a very powerful message, domestically and internationally, by signing the convention.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Hear, hear.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I also wish to bring to the attention of the Leader my disquiet, and that of many others, at an article that appeared last week in the Irish Independent written by a journalist who decided that he would use the criteria of the first quarter to highlight what he believed was the absence of Members of this House during the sitting periods. The facts of the article are not in dispute. However, two women Members of this House were highlighted and photographed. The journalist knew that one of them, in particular, was severely ill during that period but he still went ahead with his heartless article. The other female Member, Senator Imelda Henry, who is a very dear friend of mine and a good colleague to everyone here, had very traumatic personal experiences during that same period, which meant that she was unable to attend this House as often as she would have liked. These are just two examples.

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