Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Forbairt Pobal
 Header Item Drugs Payment Scheme
 Header Item Register of Electors
 Header Item Road Safety Strategy
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014: Committee Stage
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Resumed)
 Header Item Establishment of Electoral Commission: Motion

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 238 No. 8

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have received notice from Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

  An gá atá ann go ndearbhóidh an tAire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta go leanfar le maoiniú a sholáthar do Phléaráca Teoranta chun go mbeidh siad in ann leanúint den obair atá déanta ag an eagraíocht i gConamara le fiche bliain anuas.

    I have also received notice from Senator Colm Burke of the following matter:

  The need for the Minister for Health to clarify the current position in respect of including the drug, Fampyra, as part of the drug payment scheme in view of the fact that it has proved successful for some MS patients but is currently costing in excess of €300 per month.

    I have also received notice from Senator Katherine Zappone of the following matter:

  The need for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to outline his Department’s strategy to mobilise those not currently on the register of electors to be included on the supplement to the register of electors in order to be able to vote in the forthcoming referenda.

    I have also received notice from Senator Fidelma Healy Eames of the following matter:

  The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline why speed vans are not located in dangerous driving black spots but appear to be placed instead in areas where speed limits increase, thus prioritising revenue collection over enabling positive driving behaviour.

  I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion and they will be taken now.

Commencement Matters

Forbairt Pobal

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, go háirithe an tseachtain seo, Seachtain na Gaeilge. Is breá an rud go bhfuil muid ag cur leis an obair sin inniu ó thaobh na Gaeilge de.

  Baineann an cheist atá á hardú agam inniu leis an eagraíocht Pléaráca Teoranta. Is eagraíocht ealaíona agus pobail í Pléaráca atá ar bun le os cionn 20 bliain anuas. D'fhás Pléaráca mar eagraíocht as an droch íomhá a bhí á thabhairt don Ghaeltacht, bunaithe ar leabhar le fear darbh ainm Reg Hindley a bhí ag tuar go raibh an Ghaeltacht le bás a fháil taobh istigh de 20 bliain. I dtosach báire, bhí na daoine a bhunaigh Pléaráca ag smaoineamh ar agóid mór a dhéanamh, ach ansin bheartaigh siad ar rud éigin dearfach a dhéanamh agus bhunaigh siad Féile Phléaráca, a bhí ag ceiliúradh gach rud a bhí go maith ó thaobh na healaíona agus mar sin de i gConamara.

  Bhí Pléaráca neamhghnách ó thús, mar tá sé ag fáil maoinithe mar gheall ar an gclár áireamh shóisialta, nó social inclusion, atá ar siúl aige. Ní airgead díreach ar son chúrsaí Gaeilge ná cúrsaí ealaíona a bhí ann ón tús. Ach de réir a chéile, d'fhás Pléaráca. Bíonn an fhéile ann go bliaintiúil agus bíonn eagraíochtaí agus imeachtaí ealaíona ar siúl ar fud Chonamara agus ar Oileáin Árainn. Cuireann Pléaráca scribhneoirí cónaithe agus ealaíontóirí cónaithe isteach in eagraíochtaí, scoileanna agus i bpobail. Mar thoradh ar sin, tá cuid mhaith ealaíontóirí ag baint amach slí beatha san obair sin agus tá anam sa gceantar. Bíonn meanma an phobail ardaithe de bharr na hoibre iontach atá ar siúl ag Pléaráca. Bíonn drámaí, ceol, féilte agus mar sin de ar siúl. Freisin, tá Pléaráca tar éis maoinithe breise a mhealladh chuig an cheantar agus chuig an eagraíocht ó fhoinsí eile, le rudaí ar nós féiltí leabhar agus clár imeachtaí óige agus mar sin de a chur ar bun.

  Tá Pléaráca lonnaithe i Rosmuc ó thús aimsire, ceantar a bhfuil an-tábhacht ag baint leis ó thaobh na Gaeilge agus a bhfuil géarghá ann leis an bhfostaíocht atá cruthaithe agus ó thaobh imeachtaí eile a bhíonn ar siúl ann. Tá an maoiniú reatha atá ag Pléaráca ag teacht chun críche mar gheall go bhfuil deireadh ag teacht leis an gclár LCDP, local community development programme. Tá éiginnteacht an-mhór ann maidir leis an gclár SICAP atá ag teacht ina áit. Chuala muid fógra i nGaillimh inné go mbeidh an clár SICAP, social inclusion and community activation programme, á bhainistiú agus á riaradh ag comhlacht darbh ainm GRD, Galway Rural Development. Tá ceist faoi sin agus faoi chonspóid faoin leagan amach atá tógtha ag an LCDC, local community development committee, maidir le leagan amach an clár SICAP i gContae na Gaillimhe ar fad.

  Tá imní ó thús ann maidir leis an ghné Gaeltachta de, an easpa ionadaíochta ar an LCDC ó thaobh ionadaíocht Gaeltachta agus daoine le Gaeilge agus daoine as ceantar Chonamara, a thuigeann na gnéithe éagsúla a bhaineann le sin. Tá imní ann freisin go mbeidh laghdú ar an mbuiséad i SICAP agus dá bhrí sin, go mbeidh níos lú airgid ar fáil le tograí cosúil le Pléaráca a mhaoiniú agus go mbeidh Pléaráca ag teacht chun críche de bharr sin. Mar, má chaileann Pléaráca an chroímhaoiniú, an maoiniú a bhíonn aige le haghaidh riarachán agus daoine a fhostú, beidh sé an-deacair air leanacht ar aghaidh i Rosmuc.

  Dá bhrí sin, táim ag cur na ceiste seo ar an Aire Stáit. Tuigim go dtuigeann sé an obair iontach atá ar bun ag Pléaráca. Leis an gceart a thabhairt, bhí tacaíocht an-mhaith anuas tríd na blianta ó Údarás na Gaeltachta do Phléaráca, tríd an chlár ealaíona atá ag an údarás, agus é ag riaradh na scéime LCDP i gConamara ar son Phobail. Má thagann deireadh leis an mhaoiniú trí SICAP, nó fiú má thagann laghdú suntasach, beidh gá le duine éigin eile teacht sa bhearna baoil le cinntiú go leanann an obair iontach atá ar bun ag Pléaráca le roinnt blianta eile. Mar Aire Stáit le freagracht don Ghaeltacht agus mar dhuine atá ag iarraidh na Gaeltachta a chaomhnú, a neartú agus a láidriú, tá an obair chultúrtha, ealaíona agus áireamh shóisialta seo thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá an obair seo an-tábhachtach do cheantar Chonamara agus tá sé an-tábhachtach go dtiocfaidh an Rialtas isteach le maoiniú a chur ar fáil, tríd an Roinn, tríd an údarás nó trí meicníocht éigin eile le Pléaráca a choinneáil ag imeacht ar feadh scór blianta eile ar a laghad - b'fhéidir fiche bliain ag fás, fiche bliain faoi bhláth agus b'fhéidir - seachas an leabhar le Muiris Ó Súilleabháin fiche bliain ag dul in éag - fiche bliain breise ina dhiaidh sin a bheidh i gceist.

  Beidh seo an-tábhachtach freisin do chur chun cinn An Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge. Tá súil agam go mbeidh dea-scéala ag an Aire Stáit dúinn agus go mbeidh sé sásta a thacaíocht iomlán a léiriú do Phléaráca Teoranta sna blianta atá romhainn.

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis seo an rún ata curtha síos ag an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh maidir le Pléaráca a phlé anseo. Ba mhaith liom fosta mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl do Bhaill an Tí seo mar gheall ar an spéis atá léirithe acu san ábhar seo.

  Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin eagraíocht, Pléaráca. Tuigim gur bunaíodh an eagraíocht os cionn scór bliain ó shin i gConamara theas. Cuireann an eagraíocht béim ar úsaid na n-ealaíon i gceantar tuaithe. Ar ndóigh, is í an Ghaeilge teanga oibre an tionscnaimh os rud é gurb í an Ghaeilge teanga an phobail. Tuigim go ndeanann Pléaráca clár leathan imeachtai ealaíona a reachtáil i rith na bliana sa limistéar ó Charna go Bearna.  Thar na mblianta, tá réimse tionscnaimh éagsúla bunaithe ar na healaín agus ar chultúr na Gaeltachta curtha chun cinn ag Pléaráca, lena n-áirítear scéimeanna ealaíona pobail, féilte ealaíon, scéimeanna ealaíona don óige, féilte litríochta do pháistí, agus ceardlanna ealaíona, drámaíochta, scríobhneoireachta agus damhsa. Mar is eol don Seanadóir, tá Pléaráca lonnaithe san ionad fiontair i Ros Muc ó bunaíodh é agus tá spás oibre ar léas ó Údarás na Gaeltachta. Tuigtear dom go bhfuil beirt oibrí, duine lánaimseartha agus duine páirtaimseartha, fostaithe ag Pléaráca chomh maith le hoifigigh ealaíona atá fostaithe le tacaíocht ó Ealaín na Gaeltachta Teo.

  Ó bunaíodh é, tá Pléaráca ag fáil maoinithe ó chláir thacaíochta éagsúla de chuid an Stáit. Suas go dtí trí bliana ó shin, bhí Pléaráca ag fáil maoiniú bliantúil ón Roinn Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtas Áitiúil tríd an chlár forbartha áitiúil agus pobail. Nuair a tháinig an clár forbartha áitiúil agus pobail nua i bhfeidhm in 2012, cinneadh an fhreagracht i gcás trí thionscadal forbartha pobail, nó CDP mar a thugar orthu, lena n-áirítear Pléaraca, a aistriú chuig Údarás na Gaeltachta. Is ar mhaithe le comhordú níos éifeachtaí ó shólathar an chláir do phobail na Gaeltachta a tharla sé seo.

  Mar chuid den socrú sin, aistríodh suim airgid ó Vota na Roinne Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtas Áitiúil chuig Vóta mo Roinne in 2012 agus bhí sé san áireamh sa soláthar a cuireadh ar fáil ó mo Roinn don Údarás ina dhiaidh sin. Dá bhrí sin, d'fhéadfaí a rá go raibh an tÚdarás ag feidhmiú mar fheithicil faoin chlár maoinithe deiridh chun maoiníu a chur ar fáil do na tionscadail seo. Mar is eol don Seanadóir, tá deireadh le teacht leis an chlár áirithe sin an 31 Márta agus tá clár úr, an social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, le teacht i bhfeidhm ó thús mhí Aibreáin. Tuigim ó Údarás na Gaeltachta go bhfuil maoiniú curtha ar fáil acu do Phléaraca go dtí deireadh mhí an Mhárta.

  Tuigim fosta ón Údarás go bhfuil iarratas déanta ag Pléaracha ar mhaoiniú don tréimhse amach romhainn chun cuidiú leo leanúint ar aghaidh lena gcuid gníomhaíochtaí. Beidh athbhreithniú le déanamh ag an Údarás ar na tionscadail seo i gcomhthéacs buiséad forbartha pobail an Údaráis agus i gcomhthéacs an clár úr SICAP a bheidh ar an bhfód go luath.

  Chomh maith le sin, tuigtear dom go mbeidh deis ag Pléaráca iarratas a dhéanamh ar thacaíocht faoin chlár seo. Beidh sé seo le deimhniú nuair atá cinneadh déanta faoi chur i bhfeidhm an chláir SICAP i gContae na Gaillimhe.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Tá ceist shimplí agam ar an Aire Stáit. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit sásta airgead breise a chur ar fáil ón Roinn don Údarás sa chás is nach mbeidh an maoiniú ó SICAP chomh hard agus a bhí sé ó na cláir eile roimhe sin. Cinntódh sé sin go mbeidh an méid céanna airgid ag Pléarácha le leanacht ar aghaidh lena gcuid oibre sna blianta atá romhainn. An mbeidh an Roinn sásta an difríocht a dhéanamh suas agus cinntiú go bhfuil an leibhéal céanna airgid acu an bhliain seo chugainn agus a bhí sna blianta roimhe seo?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Níl cinneadh déanta fós ó thaobh an SICAP. Chuir an dream iarratas isteach maidir leis an bpróiséas SICAP. Mar is eol don Seandóir, bhí Údarás na Gaeltachta freagrach as chúrsaí a bhain leis na trí thionscadail. Beidh dhá thionscadail i mo cheantar, i dTír Chonaill, Pobal Le Chéile agus an grúpa eile sna Rosa. Tá fios agam go bhfuil díospóireacht ar siúl anois. Níl an cinneadh déanta maidir le SICAP. Nílim inniu in ann breis eolais a thabhairt maidir leis. B'fhearr liom fanacht leis an gcinneadh maidir le SICAP a bheith déanta. Mar is eol don Seanadóir fosta, laghdaíodh buiséad Údarás na Gaeltachta 14% thar na blianta. Tá na buiséid atá ar fáil do na trí ghrúpaí ag laghdú. B'fhéidir go bhfuil seans ann anois deontais nó maoiniú a fháil ó na grúpaí atá freagrach as an SICAP. Cífimid an scéal atá romhainn. Tá fios agam go mór an sár-obair atá ar siúl ar an bhFál Carrach, sna Rosa agus ag Pléaracha i gceantar an Seanadóra. Tá sár-obair ar siúl acu. B'fhéidir go bhfuil cuidiú nó tacaíocht le fáil ón phróiséas SICOP. Muna bhfuil fadhb ann amach anseo, b'fhéidir go mbeidh seans ann na cinn a chur le chéile agus obair le chéile chun réiteach a fháil maidir leis an ábhar seo.

Drugs Payment Scheme

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I am raising this matter regarding a drug, Fampyra, which is suitable for some MS patients. I accept fully that it is not suitable for all patients. A number of people have been in contact with me about this. They are paying more than €300 a month for medication. They are not entitled to claim under the drugs payment scheme and I know one of these people is on a medical card and is finding the situation extremely difficult. The drug is suitable for this person. It has been recommended by the person's medical consultant and advisers. While it is available for sale in Ireland, it is not included in the drugs payment scheme. I accept that it is not suitable, or the solution, for every MS patient. However, it is extremely beneficial to quite a large number of MS patients. These patients feel they are being sidelined as, even if they did not have a medical card, they are not getting any benefits whatsoever in the sense that they have to pay the first €144 themselves with the balance taken up under the drugs payment scheme. In some areas, pharmacists are charging more than €350 for the drug. Could it be included in the drugs payment scheme?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As usual, he probably raises the most pressing issues relating to health.

  Decisions on which medicines are licensed for use in Ireland and which are reimbursed by the taxpayer are not political or ministerial decisions. These are made on objective, scientific and economic grounds by the HSE on the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics. The HSE has statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicinal products under the community drug schemes in accordance with the provisions of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. At the outset, I would like to clarify that Fampridine, brand name Fampyra, was never available to multiple sclerosis patients under the GMS and community drugs schemes. I am not suggesting that the Senator is saying that this is or was the case. However, I understand that the manufacturer of Fampridine supplied the drug free of charge to some patients who were prescribed the drug by their clinician. The manufacturer has stopped supplying the drug free of charge, thereby requiring these patients to finance the drug themselves if they wish to continue with this drug treatment.

  The HSE received an application for the inclusion of Fampridine in the GMS and community drugs schemes. In accordance with agreed procedures, the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics conducted a pharmacoeconomic evaluation of the drug. That evaluation published in 2012 concluded that it was unable to recommend reimbursement of the product as the manufacturer was unable to demonstrate sufficient effectiveness and a fair price for Fampridine in the Irish health care setting. On foot of this, the HSE decided that it was not in a position to add the drug to the list of reimbursable items supplied under the GMS and other community drug schemes. The manufacturer, Biogen Idee, submitted a new application to the HSE on 25 July last year for the inclusion of Fampridine in the community drug schemes. The HSE's corporate pharmaceutical unit has since been engaging with the company seeking improved commercial offerings and the HSE is now considering the outcome of those commercial engagements. The HSE has also had discussions with clinical experts regarding this drug, the outcome of which is also being considered. I want to assure the House that the HSE and I fully understand the concerns of patients regarding the availability of this drug. While I appreciate that some may take the view that the taxpayer should reimburse every licensed medicine for whatever price the drug company demands, I hope it is appreciated that the better interests of the health service require that we only reimburse the most effective medicines and only at a fair price.   The HSE's corporate pharmaceutical unit has since been engaging with the company seeking improved commercial offerings and the HSE is considering the outcome of those commercial engagements. The HSE has also had discussions with clinical experts on this drug, the outcome of which is also being considered.

  I assure the House that the HSE and I fully understand the concerns of patients regarding the availability of this drug. While I appreciate that some may take the view that the taxpayer should reimburse every licensed medicine for whatever price the drug company demands, I hope it is appreciated that the better interests of the health service require that we only reimburse the most effective medicines and only at a fair price.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply. She said discussions are ongoing. Does the Minister of State have any idea when the discussions might conclude or is it very much a case of what progress is made in the coming weeks? Has there been any indication that there will be some progress on the matter?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch We cannot pre-empt the outcome of the discussions but the fact that they are ongoing is positive. We already have the results of the investigations on the effectiveness of the drug and the engagement with clinicians. The information is being considered as well. In the past we have agreed to reimburse extraordinarily expensive drugs. It is not always about the price; it is about their effectiveness as well. We are engaging on the matter in the manner outlined. I would not say that all hope is lost. I believe that we will find a solution. As with other drugs, I appeal to manufacturers to be sensible and reasonable about the type of hope drugs can offer people who clearly would be very distressed at getting certain diagnoses. We need to continue to engage with both the manufacturers and the clinicians on the matter. We have not yet concluded the process but I would be hopeful that it will conclude at a very early stage.

Register of Electors

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. I appreciate the opportunity to have an exchange with her. However, with respect, I also draw your attention, a Chathaoirligh, to the fact that this is my third Commencement matter since the year began and I have not yet been able to get the relevant Minister or even the relevant Minister of State to respond to the matters I have raised. I am aware of the organisational difficulties involved and that the relevant Ministers are currently in the Dáil. In registering my disappointment I wish to say that I would be willing to wait for the matter to be dealt with until the next opportunity.

  That said, I will now address the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. I am aware that she is committed to encouraging civic engagement, which is essential to achieving functioning democracy. I have asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to outline his Department's strategy to mobilise those not currently on the register of electors to get on the supplementary register to be able to vote in the forthcoming referenda. I am aware that the date has not been officially set by An Taoiseach, although he has indicated 22 May could be the polling date. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government cannot sign the polling day order until the relevant legislation has been passed by the Oireachtas, and that citizens will have until 15 days before the polling day, excluding Sundays and public holidays to register to vote in the referendum. I wish to highlight the importance of an effective information campaign by the Government to advise citizens who are not on the register of electors on how to get on the supplementary register during the short period that this option is still available.

  If the referenda take place on 22 May, the cut-off date is less than two months away. The reason I raise the matter now is because I wish to instil a sense of urgency in the Government as well as to request some innovative thinking in terms of how the information campaign can be conducted. Getting people on the voting register can be at least as critical if not more so than anything else we do in terms of the campaign on either side of the equation. The youth vote is especially critical for democracy to thrive and for the Constitution to evolve in harmony with society. To achieve that, we need to hear from the young about what kind of Ireland they want to live in. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that 30% of those aged 18 to 25 were not registered to vote in the European and local elections held in May 2014. That is 4% higher than five years earlier. A political disconnect is especially evident among 18 to 21 year olds given that 43% of the age group is not registered to vote. That percentage has increased from 36% in 2009. Eight out of ten young people did not vote in the previous referendum.

  I hope to hear that the Government is going to do all it can, especially to ensure young people are aware of what they need to do to secure a vote. The marriage equality referendum and the referendum on the minimum age requirement for one to stand for the Presidency should be seen as an opportunity to engage with young citizens. We could also be inspired by the engagement with democracy in Scotland last year where a record number of people registered to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. In Scotland a total of 97% of the adult population registered to vote.

  The Union of Students in Ireland, USI, student unions and civil society organisation are working tirelessly to mobilise people to vote. They are now moving to get people on the supplementary register. However, the Government must provide leadership on the issue and perhaps some financial support as the resources of those organisations are limited. I would like to hear from the Government about new strategies to encourage young people in particular to partake in this democratic process.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I fully understand the Senator's frustration at not being able to get the relevant Minister. She can take it from me as someone who always comes into the Seanad when I am asked to do so that I would appreciate it as well if the other Ministers came in and took their own slot. It would be a little less work for me as, God knows, I have enough to do.

  I am not certain that I will read out the official reply even though Senator Zappone is welcome to take a copy of it. It is virtually the same information as that outlined in her contribution.

  It strikes me that the Scottish experience was something about which everyone in Scotland had an opinion. I am not certain that everyone in Ireland has an opinion on the type of referenda we have had or will have in the future. I expect the campaign to be very polarised. I do not think everyone will be fully in agreement with the proposal and therefore I am not certain we will ever achieve the type of participation witnessed in Scotland on the fundamental future of the country. If we had a referendum of that nature in this country, one would see as great a participation rate.

  Young people are very busy. Depending on the time of the year they often have exams or they are going on holidays or abroad to work for the summer. It is therefore very difficult to engage them because of how busy they are. We do not often see them in that light but they are very busy people. One would imagine from the public expressions of engagement in recent months that there is significant engagement by young people with politics, but I am not certain that it is the type of engagement Senator Zappone and I would like in terms of voting and registering to vote. What we see on the streets is a different type of engagement. I am not certain whether the constitutional provisions relating to voting are embedded in that type of engagement. I do not say whether it is right or wrong but it is not an indicator of people's engagement in politics.

  I will bring Senator Zappone's remarks to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when I see him this afternoon. Senator Zappone is correct; we must be far more imaginative. We must persuade people that this is their democracy, their Republic and that it is their responsibility for themselves, not necessarily as we used to think for one's neighbour or for the good of the rest of the humanity. We must persuade young people that voting is an issue that relates to their personal freedom and their rights, responsibilities and benefits within the democratic process.

  I am sure there are people who are sufficiently talented to put an information process in place that would do all of that, but it is incumbent on those of us who will go from door to door to find out whether people are registered and, if they are not, to encourage them to do so. It is significant that we are talking about three working weeks, if one takes out Saturdays and Sundays from the 15-day period, in which people can get on the supplementary register. It is a significant period which will be frenetic and in which there will be much talk about the upcoming referenda. It is up to people to use their ability to find a process agreeable to everyone and it should be possible for us to do that.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Minister of State. I respect her views on the matter.  I am happy that the Minister of State is willing to communicate my concerns to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

It appears, from what the Minister of State has said, that the Department will do the usual thing - namely, advertise in the national newspapers - with the local authorities being ultimately responsible. I am raising this issue now in order to encourage the Government to be a little bit more imaginative in this regard. The Minister of State understands the importance of getting people to register to vote and, while the forthcoming referendum here may not be as important as the recent referendum in Scotland, I referred to the Scottish example because the Scots used some imaginative methods to encourage people to register.

Finally, we should look to organisations such as the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, in the context of encouraging young people to vote. That organisation managed to register 20,000 young people in the past. It is aiming to register a further 10,000 students and is engaged in a number of innovative activities to that end. The USI and other civil society organisations would be very grateful if the Government would provide a small grant or fund to support their work in this regard, although they are doing the work anyhow. They have found that www.checktheregister.ieneeds to be updated and monitored, because there are inconsistencies in the information contained therein. They also note that city and county councils are giving different types-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I must ask the Senator to ask a question.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone -----of information to people. I thank the Cathaoirleach for bearing with me while I point out that some civil society organisations have found that the registration process is pretty confusing. It seems the Government does not have a sense of urgency about this issue and is not going to use innovative measures. I ask that the Government listen to my requests and support those who are being innovative in this area.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I did not intend to give the impression to the Senator that nothing is going to happen. What happened in Scotland was that people registered to vote because they had an interest in the issue. I do not think much effort was required to get people to register because the issue was of such significance. That is the message that we need to convey. The issue is important and if we get people attached, hooked on and interested enough in the issue, they will register to vote - take my word for it. People will vote because of a particular issue rather than out of a sense of civic responsibility. They will vote because there are not enough schools in their area or because the roads are bad. That is how we interact and do things. It is about getting people interested in the issue, and we must be more imaginative in that regard than we have been in the past. I can see the old television advertisement in my mind's eye, with the ballot paper going into the ballot box, the X on the ballot paper and so forth. We must be more imaginative than that, because the rest of the world is far more imaginative and creative now. We must be more imaginative, but it is not as though we do not have the talent to do so. We are experts in that regard and are more engaged with Facebook, Twitter and so forth than many people in other countries.

  I also take the Senator's point about the USI, which is a great organisation.

Road Safety Strategy

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I ask the Minister of State, on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, to outline why speed vans and speed cameras are not located in dangerous blackspots but appear to be placed in areas where speed increases out of necessity. The general public would hold that many of them are placed in borderline areas where the speed limit changes from 50 km/h to 80 km/h or from 50 km/h to 100 km/h and where it is easy to get caught. It would appear, therefore, that the purpose of these speed vans and speed cameras is to prioritise revenue collection over encouraging positive driver behaviour. If that is the case, it is blatantly unfair. What is the purpose of speed vans and cameras and what is the policy on their location? Who decides where they are located? Is it the Garda Síochána that makes those decisions? It does not make sense to me that it would be the Garda Síochána, because gardaí themselves are now getting caught while driving official Garda vehicles. I just did an interview for Galway Bay FM before coming into the Chamber about this very issue and received two calls immediately afterwards from gardaí who told me that they were caught in patrol cars while travelling to a serious incident. Serious administration time is being wasted here because, as the Minister of State knows, gardaí are exempt when they are on official business.

  I will give the Minister of State a number of examples of blackspots where one will be caught speeding and fined €80. The first is on the Tuam Road, near the main post office in Galway. One post office worker was caught there twice while coming out of the main post office. The speed limit is 50 km/h, but to get into the traffic he had to travel at 62 km/h on one occasion and 67 km/h on another; otherwise, he would have caused an accident or would never have got into the right lane. At the very same spot, an 82 year old man from Corrandulla was caught three times in one day, even though, generally speaking, 82 year old men are not speeders. I know of another case in which a taxi driver was caught three times in 27 minutes. In my own area of Oranmore on the coast road, one will see a speed camera van almost hidden, in the manner of a vehicle carrying out a covert operation. The widely held view is that this is nothing to do with improving driver behaviour but is simply a revenue-collecting exercise for the State.

  I ask that the Minister review the speed limits in these areas because, at 50 km/h, they are too low. Instead of improving driver behaviour, they are actually causing dangerous driving. We should not be wasting Garda administrative time in this regard. We should also not be making gardaí feel they are in the wrong when they are trying to reach an incident in a timely manner. We must insist that these vans be located in accident blackspots. Who is deciding the location of these speed vans? Where is all of the money going? How much money has been collected to date? Is the money going to the people in the vans? Are they on commission? If they are on commission then obviously they are going to go to locations where it is easy to catch people.

  Finally, can speed vans park on private lands? I know of a case where a van was pulled in at Bushy Park church. It was actually parked on church grounds and fines were issued from that spot. The fine is €80 a pop, which is a lot of money, particularly if people are getting caught not once but twice and three times in a single day. That is a person's income for the day gone. We are talking about getting people back to work and giving them a fair deal, but there is no fairness in this system. It is full of errors. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Dara Murphy): Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy I thank the Senator for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who regrets that she is unable to be present due to other business.

  The Minister is in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner regarding a wide range of road safety matters, but the House will appreciate that detailed speed enforcement strategy is principally an operational matter for the Garda authorities. The Minister has asked that I emphasise that the purpose of safety cameras is to reduce speed-related collisions and save lives. Location is determined by road safety considerations and not by revenue generation. An Garda Síochána has contracted a service provider, GoSafe, to operate safety cameras in designated speed enforcement zones. These sections of the road network were identified following an extensive analysis of five years of collision data for incidents in which speed was deemed the primary contributory factor. GoSafe operates in addition to Garda safety camera vans, which are marked and unmarked and operate both within and outside speed enforcement zones.  This provides additional flexibility, again with the emphasis being on addressing dangerous driving behaviour.

  The Minister would like to clarity that GoSafe is paid based on the number of hours of surveys and monitoring. The number of detections has no bearing on the payments made. An Garda Síochána utilises the speed enforcement zones to direct enforcement activity in a proportionate and targeted manner, including through the use of safety camera vans. Signage is erected at the start of each speed enforcement zone. The locations, some of which the Senator mentioned, are in the public domain and are available on the Garda Síochána website.

  Speed enforcement zones are continually reviewed in light of survey data, collision history and local feedback to ensure enforcement activity is targeted at the locations where collisions are occurring. Monitoring is also carried out at set times and days based on when collisions occur. A higher weighting, and subsequently more monitoring hours, are assigned to those locations where compliance rates are lowest.

  When the safety camera network commenced in November 2010, a total of 518 stretches of road were selected as speed enforcement zones. Since then, additional zones have been identified as having a collision history suitable for inclusion while others no longer merit inclusion based on welcome changes in driver behaviour. The total number of zones currently stands at 727. Compliance has increased across the zones since the network was introduced. For example, between January 2011 and October 2013, compliance in 50 km/h zones increased from 62% to 98%, with compliance in 80 km/h zones increasing to 96% in the same period. These are very significant improvements in driver behaviour.

  All of the analysis carried out points to the conclusion that the safety cameras have saved lives and, therefore, bring enormous human and economic benefits. We are not aware of the people who are alive because of speed cameras but there are people who are living very productive and happy lives thanks to their introduction. Moreover, research carried out on behalf of the Road Safety Authority in 2014 found that 81% of adults surveyed supported the use of safety cameras and 71% surveyed believed them to be effective in influencing motorists to drive more safely. This support is very welcome and the Minister would call on all in the community to take the utmost care when driving.

  The unfortunate reality is that people ignore speed limits - the Senator named a few incidents this morning - and a significant number of fatalities and serious injuries arise as a result of speeding. Last year, 196 people tragically lost their lives on our roads. Slowing down would have prevented many of these fatalities. In conclusion and on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I again thank the Senator for raising these important issues. I am sure we are all united in supporting An Garda Síochána in addressing dangerous driving. I must revert to the Senator in respect of the question about the revenue raised as I do not have that specific information.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I appreciate that the Minister of State has given me a comprehensive reply. Of course, I support any initiative that would save lives. In his reply, the Minister of State said that data, including local feedback, have been taken into account to identify blackspots where collisions are occurring. I will check this but I have no evidence that collisions are occurring in the areas I have mentioned such as that stretch of the Tuam road near the post office, the coast road in Oranmore and the section near St James' Church in Bushypark. What has the Minister of State to say in response to what I have put to him about the prevalence of people in such areas as Cregmore, Claregalway and Corrandulla getting fines repeatedly without evidence of collisions? What is his response to my comment about gardaí saying that they are fed up being caught themselves? Why are they not being filtered out?

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy The first thing I would say to people in those areas if they are repeatedly being caught is "slow down". The reality is that everybody has a part to play in road safety and preventing harm to other users. Excessive or inappropriate speed continues to be a significant contributory factor in the number of serious and fatal injuries we have. The fact that people are being caught speeding does not seem to be an argument to move speed camera vans.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames That is not what I said. I do not have evidence of-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Minister of State, without interruption.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames That is not what I am asking about.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy As I said in my initial response, there is the provision for engagement with communities through the Garda to identify areas where there is a further requirement to encourage people to drive more slowly. The introduction of the safety camera network has seen sustained improvements in driver behaviour across speed enforcement zones and in compliance with speed limits.

  While I have no specific knowledge about the three parts of Galway that have been mentioned and whether there have been fatalities or serious collisions in the past, the decision regarding where to locate speed cameras or speed camera vans is based on the overriding desire to affect driver pattern, reduce speed and protect lives. The Senator mentioned emergency vehicles. My understanding is that there is provision whereby emergency vehicles that need to exceed the speed limit can have the matter corrected subsequently. It is far better for an administrative, bureaucratic exercise to be undertaken by a member of the Garda Síochána or ambulance service to identify that they were travelling to or from an emergency rather than to remove cameras that have such a very important role in encouraging driver behaviour.

  Sitting suspended at 11.17 a.m. and resumed at noon.

Order of Business

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Order of Business is No. 1, Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m., and No. 61, motion 17, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney In the past 24 hours, Members of the Seanad received a leaked report relating to overspending by the HSE. The Comptroller and Auditor General's office is involved and this is a very serious matter, as it raises questions yet again about the competency and efficiency of the HSE. A figure of €3 million seems to be involved in the overpayment of salaries. It seems extraordinary that in a country of this size, an organisation would not know staff and payment levels, as outlined in the leaked report. There is also a question mark surrounding excessive claims for expenses. I would like the Leader to address the issue and give some response to it. I listened to the Minister for Health on the radio this morning and, in a sense, he shuffled the matter away to one side. He indicated that, after all, it is only a draft report and little more than a puff of smoke. I find that extraordinary coming from the line Minister who has ultimate responsibility in the matter.

  I have raised the issue of child care charges and facilities on a number of occasions. There now seem to be many irons in the fire in this respect. For example, last week at the Labour Party conference, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection committed the party to introducing the second year of free child care. Why should we have to wait for another election in this respect? This has been on the cards for several years and I would like to know Fine Gael's position, as it is a Fine Gael Minister, Deputy Reilly, who has responsibility for this. We should not have to wait for an election and the issue should not be part of an election manifesto to give what is absolutely crucial and essential to reducing the unacceptable financial burden on young families with children and child care needs.

  Over the past 24 hours, the media have reported yet another attempt to use the primary school sector for after-school care. That raises fundamental questions. I have no difficulty with the idea in principle but I would like to know who will staff the after-school care service. What will be the attitude of the teaching staff in the schools and what financial impact will there be on parents? There are a number of issues involved and what particularly irritates me is that the Tánaiste is again reported today as saying that because of the recently produced revenue figures for the first two months of this year indicating an increase in the tax take, there is now an opportunity for investment, as she puts it, in education and the road network. I have no difficulty with those issues but in being specific about road networks while ignoring the entire west, it seems that it is a loss leader for the Labour Party if it focuses on the south west. I have no problem with those roads being upgraded, although there is a very serious issue surrounding the upgrading of portions of the N4 near Sligo around Castlebaldwin. It has been a scene of tragedy for many people because of the poor road network, although it is a national primary road.

  There are a number of issues relating to child care but it is interesting that the Tánaiste did not refer to them this morning, having mentioned the issue last Saturday in her conference speech. She had the opportunity to address child care and the need to reduce costs for parents but did not do so. I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would come to the House to explain exactly what is Government policy in alleviating the financial burden on parents with regard to child care. It is vital that with all the debate that now seems ongoing in the area, we should get some sort of clarity in this House in order that there can be some hope for parents and child care workers, who demonstrated outside this House in recent weeks for further investment in the sector. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in that respect.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It is an amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Yes.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I have also asked a number of times for a debate on child care and we should have one in this House. It would be best if we waited until we received the report commissioned by the Minister, Deputy Reilly, on the best mechanism to provide affordable child care. Senators may not be aware that the Minister has commissioned an expert group to report to him on this by the start of the summer on different ways in which child care can be funded. This is very important as there has been a long debate about how best to fund child care and there are different views as to the optimum model for working parents.

  For example, there is a question of introducing tax relief for child care or the option of extending the current early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme, which provides a subsidy for child care provision. Senator Mooney may not know that after-school child care is provided in quite a number of schools.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I am very much aware of that.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I did not interrupt the Senator. Generally, this is not done through the classroom and certainly not through teachers, as that would not be appropriate.  Parents would support teachers in calling for such care to be provided generally through parents' associations, in rooms or buildings adjacent to or part of a school's complex but not in the classroom, and with outside child care workers coming in. The Minister's task force is important. We should have a debate in the early summer, and as soon as the report on the best mechanism to support and ensure accessible and affordable child care has been handed to the Minister.

  Yesterday, I welcomed the Tánaiste's announcement at the weekend of the two weeks' paid paternity leave and the extension of ECCE.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney That is after the next election.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I ask for a debate on educational reform in the context of the ongoing talks on the junior cycle. I regret that there has been a failure to make further progress in those talks. Everyone, and certainly every parent, is agreed on the need to ensure greater emphasis on continuous assessment, to have an alternative approach to the old rote learning method that all of us would have been familiar with in school, and for a modernisation, reform and shake-up of the junior certificate process. Given that the vast majority of pupils happily stay in school until the leaving certificate now, the junior certificate has much less significance in the workplace than in the past. We need to seize the opportunity to make reforms and ensure the experience of the junior certificate is better for pupils.

  Finally, I ask for a debate on the Middle East to take place after the Israeli elections, which are due to take place on 17 March. I am sure all of us watched with concern the address made by the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, to the US Congress yesterday. President Obama was quite right in expressing his concern about the impact the address could have on the outcome of the Israeli election. It would be worthwhile for us to debate the matter and ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to comment once we know the outcome of the election.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I rise to support Senator Paschal Mooney's call for an urgent debate to be arranged with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on childhood, child care, early education, the coherence of all of those issues and also costs. Therefore, I must disagree with my right honourable colleague on this side of the House, Senator Bacik, because we cannot wait and the issue is a matter of urgency. Why do I say so? I am aware that the Minister has established an interdepartmental working group which will report in August. Is there coherence in the sector? Is there a sense of urgency? Is there a reason to believe that there will be political will and armour in the way we invest in early-years care, after-care, and childhood and early education?

  We have a document entitled Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, which is the national policy framework for children and young people, and another document, Right from the Start, the report of the expert advisory group on the early years strategy, which was put out in 2013. Recently, I have heard that the Government is about to develop an early years strategy along with a policy framework. As Senator Bacik has said, another interdepartmental group has been established to study the costs for children from birth to aged six years and after-school needs. Where is the cohesion? Do we have a full strategy for all child care, childhood development and early education? Yes, we should look at costs, but in the context of the strategies being developed and how they can cohere. In that regard, I agree with Senator Mooney that we need an urgent debate. We do not need to wait for another report to arrive. I want to know the following. What would such a report have to do with the expert advisory group on the early years strategy? Is a strategy coming? How will it relate to the later report? How does it all relate to the overall policy framework that was published by this Government in terms of better outcomes for children?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I rise to raise something that I feel very strongly about, and I am sure, and hope, that my colleagues in this House will feel equally strongly about the matter. I refer to the surreptitious attempt by management in the Oireachtas to cut the wages of ushers by 5.6% without reference to either House of the Oireachtas. This is an absolute outrage, particularly when the Tánaiste has said in the past 24 hours that tax revenue has increased, that the Government will now be able to spend on roads and all this kind of stuff. The ushers are people whose salaries range from €24,000 to €34,000.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke That is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris There are people in this House who live in County Dublin but get €25,000 in travelling expenses, which is more than somebody who joins the usher service would receive. We pay tribute to them on a regular basis in this House. We say how wonderful they are and talk about the way they look after us, and yes, indeed, they do. We are all part of a family and, therefore, are responsible for each other. It is disgraceful that people on such low wages should be subject to these savage cuts, particularly when we all know they must endure anti-social hours. Some of them do not see their children from one end of the week to the other. They are here sometimes until midnight or 2 o'clock in the morning. We should have some responsibility towards these people. These are our companions. These are the people who make life work in the Oireachtas. I appeal to the speakers who come after me to strongly support our colleagues and friends - the ushers in this House - and to reject any attempt by management to impose these cuts during a period when the country is recovering without recourse or advice from either House of the Oireachtas.

  I move an amendment to the Order of Business: that we take ten or 15 minutes, a very brief period, immediately after the conclusion of the Order of Business in order to make statements. I appeal to the Leader of the House to allow for a short time of ten or 15 minutes.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke That is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Yes, but we have an input into it. To hell with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Damn them if they are going to do this.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I cannot accept the Senator's amendment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris If they are going to put the screws on the ordinary workers in this House, then there is a moral obligation on us to protest about it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I cannot accept the Senator's amendment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Why not?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The matter is not governed by a Minister. It is the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission that deals with that issue.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris We can make statements on the matter. We can make statements on the colour of the sky if we feel like doing so. It is entirely within our powers to have statements. How can the Cathaoirleach say we cannot make statements on this matter?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Amendments to the Order of Business are proposed by the Leader.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Nonsense; they are proposed. Come on.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It has to be the Government.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That is the fattest one I have heard in a very long time. They are proposed. Everybody has a right to propose amendments to the Order of Business.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Of course.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Leader accepts them or rejects them.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It is the Government.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That is why I am proposing it. I request humbly that the Government, in the interests of the structures of this House, hold such a debate.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke There is no member of the Government responsible for the matter.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That does not matter. We can still make statements. We make statements on all kinds of things that are not the responsibility of members of the Government.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The statements are made by the Minister and then the responses are made by the Minister.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Not at all. Statements are made by ordinary Members of this House. We had statements yesterday and it was not down to the Minister but the ordinary Members of this House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I do not accept the amendment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am putting it anyway.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I call Senator Paul Coghlan. The Senator's amendment is out of order.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I ask the Leader to find a way in which we can reflect our disgust at the treatment of our fellow workers in this establishment.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It is not a formal amendment and is out of order completely. I call Senator Paul Coghlan.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I ask all the Senators who speak after me to support me.

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

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Only 25% of the Seanad is here. The way reforms have affected the Seanad has resulted in nobody being here for the Order of Business.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I call Senator Paul Coghlan.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We are all aware that the national lottery has experienced three outages or interruptions in service in recent weeks, including the cancellation of one draw. I am concerned about the impact these interruptions could have on sales at ticket terminals and that it would drive lottery players to an online environment. The new operators of the national lottery have made it clear that they see huge potential in developing the online sales channel. However, there is no doubt that the potential for irresponsible playing is greater online than in a face-to-face environment in shops. This is particularly the case when one realises that the online national lottery allows a customer to spend up to €75 per day on its games and to keep €750 on account with the lottery. These are inordinate amounts of money for people to be spending on a State-owned form of gambling. We need assurances from the operators of the national lottery on the controls that they will introduce to ensure we do not create online lotto junkies. I suggest that these controls need to be overseen by the national lottery regulator. I will seek assurances on this matter from the operator of the national lottery and the national lottery regulator at next week's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I am sure the Leader agrees with me that these matters are of huge concern.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris What about the ushers? The Senator forgot to say something about the ushers.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan That is a matter of concern too but I accept the ruling of the Chair.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Good. It is a matter of concern and I thank the Senator.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I accept the ruling of the Chair.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I call Senator Leyden and ask Senator Paul Coghlan to resume his seat.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We have to go through proper channels.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I thank the Senator.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I would like to second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Paschal Mooney. The points raised by Senator Norris are very important and it is the first I have heard of a proposed wage cut. I will be alerting our representatives on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The matter should be resolved because it seems strange that this should be proposed for people who are doing an extraordinarily good job. I hope the Commission will ensure it does not happen.

  The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, can be justly proud of having brought forward his Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014, which has been signed into law today by President Michael D. Higgins. However, the Bill does not exempt the packaging of cigar products, which are manufactured in Ballaghaderreen, meaning that some 50 jobs are in jeopardy. I have been involved with the plant in Ballaghaderreen for a considerable time and I can say that cigars are not a gateway drug for smoking. The Minister has followed the lead of Deputy Micheál Martin who, on 29 March ten years ago, brought in the ban on smoking in public places. He led not only Ireland but the world in this regard and has single-handedly saved thousands of lives at home and abroad. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. I commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for following in the footsteps and the leadership of Deputy Micheál Martin but the cigar plant is very important in Roscommon. The Minister closed the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon hospital so he seems to have a death wish as regards Roscommon. I am surprised Senator John Kelly and others have not persuaded the Minister to exempt cigar smoking from the standardised packaging rules, as is the case in Britain. Now we must compete with British companies in Northern Ireland. It might not be politically correct to be talking about this because nowadays we are talking about banning everything, but the loss of 50 jobs in Ballaghaderreen will have major consequences for Roscommon. I believe the Minister should review the situation. The Bill will not come into effect for another two years and I do not think he is aware of the consequences of his actions. I call on the Taoiseach, who has driven through Ballaghaderreen every day of his life since 1975 and is well aware of the plant, to intervene with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in this issue. The Minister has cost lives by closing the accident and emergency unit and now he is costing jobs in Ballaghaderreen.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy As far as I am concerned, all types of tobacco and nicotine cause cancer and they should all be treated equally, regardless of what the product is.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Hear, hear.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy I refer to a debate we held in this House on the future of rural Ireland with the Minister of State with special responsibility for rural economic development, Deputy Ann Phelan. During the debate on the CEDRA report, I called for a special task force to be set up to examine and implement the report. I am pleased that, on Monday this week, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly and the Minister of State announced an expert advisory group under the chairmanship of Mr. Pat Spillane. Members of the group will include Mr. Pat McDonagh of Supermacs, Mr. Edmond Harty of Dairymaster, Mr. Chris Martin, CEO of Supervalu, and Ms Helen Carroll from "Ear to the Ground". The full committee has not yet been decided but I think it is extremely important to include a representative of local government in this country, namely, the president of the Association of County and City Councils, who would bring to the table a knowledge and understanding of the issues pertaining to towns and to rural Ireland. I have written to both Ministers on this matter.

  CEDRA has put forward 34 recommendations, including on the provision of broadband, parking and rates. No timelines have been given for the implementation of the report, and in a radio interview on Monday evening Mr. Pat Spillane himself was unable to give clear timelines. I call for a further debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to examine and prioritise the needs and wants of rural Ireland in order that we can ensure that five or six key items in the report can be implemented in the remaining lifetime of this Government.

  I also wish to voice my support for Senator Norris's concerns regarding wage cuts for ushers in this establishment. Regardless of whether we have a right to affect this issue, we have a voice and I am using my voice to support Senator Norris.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Good man.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy It is disgraceful in a period of recovery that somebody in the organisation is seeking to cut the wages of people who are on very low wages as it stands.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I add my voice to Senator Norris's concern but I would like further details because I have only just heard the news this morning. It may be part of something bigger, but if such a thing is happening, I would share Senator Norris's concern. I am not sure how we should handle it and maybe it is not for today but it will need to be addressed. In the 22 years I have been here, I have been very impressed by the enthusiasm, commitment and level of service the ushers have given and continue to give. I would hate to think they were being singled out.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke As I said to Senator Norris, those concerns will be brought to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which deals with this issue.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris We should be allowed to express our strong feelings.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke There is no Minister with responsibility for the issue to take queries on the matter in the House.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The commission is responsible and it should take our views into account.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke There are Members of this House on the commission and I have no doubt that the issues will be taken to the commission.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris They should be looking out for the ushers.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I mention my concern but I also understand there may be a technical difficulty about how we handle it. I will leave that to the Leader to decide.

  I was impressed during the week to hear and read what the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, had to say about an open discussion leading up to the budget next year. Last year Senator Healy Eames proposed a Bill calling for the discussion about budget decisions to be held here in this House ahead of time. I do not think she managed to get a slot to discuss it but it is quite important that, if we have a big budget decision this year as suggested by the Tánaiste, it should be open and above board and not behind closed doors. We in this House should have our say.

  I wish to speak about concerns I have for people with allergies, particularly children, and the need for some person in each school to have an EpiPen on hand at all times. I am not sure how that can be done or if each teacher would be capable of doing it. One member of our family must carry an EpiPen, without which they could die within nine minutes. It was discussed on television this morning and it is very important that we take steps to resolve it. It is possible to do something about life-threatening allergies so let us make sure that we do not put it on the long finger and find that more deaths occur.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I accept the ruling of the Cathaoirleach on the matter raised by Senator Norris to the effect that ushers' pay is a matter for the Commission but it would be appropriate to request, through the Leader, that the Commission give Members of this House a briefing on the matter. People have spoken without any knowledge of whether this is part of a wage agreement, such as the Haddington Road agreement, so a briefing would be appropriate before we say any more on the matter.

  Senator Mooney talked about the overspending by the HSE on salaries and expenses.  The Leader will probably respond to the Senator but if there has been an overpayment, whether of salaries or expenses, those moneys should be repaid to the Exchequer. There should be no question of them not being recouped.

  I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House on the very welcome Irish diaspora policy, Global Irish; Ireland's Diaspora Policy, which was launched yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan. It would be appropriate for him to come into the House for such a debate as this is the first clear statement of Government policy on the diaspora, which recognises that Ireland has a unique and important relationship with our diaspora spread throughout the world that should be nutured and developed. It defines in a clear way the supports we would like to see in place for people who have left Ireland or who might need support and connects in a very unique way all the many people of many ages spread throughout the world of Irish decent who wish to continue their connection to this country. It also recognises the many Irish people who have done particularly well in their careers throughout the world who are continuing to invest in this country and continuing to make a major contribution. It is welcome that this new policy has been launched and it would be appropriate for us to have a full, frank and open discussion with the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, on it.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I support the call by Senator Mullins for a debate on the diaspora. The Leader promised such a debate previously. There are many laudable elements in the strategy that was brought forward but, sadly, the issue around representation and voting rights for the diaspora has been left out. The Leader might clarify when we would have that debate.

  A Minister should also come into the House to discuss the HSE document that was leaked by the Comptroller and Auditor General, albeit inadvertently, if that is what has happened.

  I support the calls previously for a debate around the staff in these Houses. I find it quite strange because we have had debates here previously around workers' rights in the case of workers in Aer Lingus and workers in other organisations, so I do not see why the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could not come into the House-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh -----to discuss workers' right issues and in regard to that we could bring up the situation of the ushers.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have ruled on this. It is a matter of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That does not mean that we cannot talk about it. We are not to be muzzled like poodles.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I suggest that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could be asked in to discuss workers' rights and as part of that we could certainly bring up the issues that have been brought up this morning as regards workers' rights in these Houses. I have concerns about this and I would like to see the clarification that has been asked for.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have already ruled that this is not a matter for any particular Minister. This is a matter for the Oireachtas commission. It is internal to the Houses of the Oireachtas and it will be dealt with by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris And we should be part of it.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling but workers' rights are workers' right no matter where they are working.

  Last week, following threats to republican families in south Armagh who have been forthright in their support for the PSNI and in their opposition to criminality, a booby-trap bomb was left close to the home of a local Sinn Féin leader, Frank McCabe. Francis McCabe junior, a good decent, hard-working man and a good neighbour, whose only offence is that he is from a republican family, was seriously injured. As the Leader will be aware, issues in the North, especially in the Border area, are generally seized upon by some politicians here to attack Sinn Féin but in this instance the Government seems to have been very quiet. This was a serious attack and an attempt to kill, and it was an attack on the peace process. As far as I can gather, the Government has been silent. Those involved are a small number of criminals who are believed to be responsible over the years for the killing of volunteer Keith Rogers, the beating to death of Paul Quinn, the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe and the wounding of Michael Bellew recently. They have also threatened the lives of Conor Murphy, MP, and another republican family, the Carraghers.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Will the Leader and the Upper House condemn the attempt to murder Francis McCabe junior?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Yes, definitely.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to ensure adequate resources are given to An Garda Síochána to investigate properly the activities of these criminals and will he ensure there is full co-operation with the PSNI and that the PSNI does what it is paid to do? Will the Government send a clear message-----

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

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh -----of support and solidarity to the people of north Louth and south Armagh that it stands with them in their opposition to criminality and in support of their right to a policing service that protects them and their neighbours?

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I welcome the commitment by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, over the weekend that he intends to move to regulate rent increases in the private rented sector. This is an issue that has achieved support from all sides of this House, not least because one in five families in our country and one in three in this area alone are living in rented housing and have been subjected to scandalous increases in rents. However, an immediate problem has arisen. It has been brought to my attention that there are fears that landlords will start to increase rents in advance of regulations being introduced. We have law that limits landlords in increasing rents to once a year and then they are limited in the extent to which they can raise it. I ask the Leader to bring to the Minister's attention an immediate problem, as I will, namely, that we need to have a vigorous education campaign for tenants now in the next week to educate them to say that they do not have to accept rent increases and that they can and should challenge them. In my capacity as the chair of a voluntary organisation dealing with the rented sector, I can say that I will commit my organisation to taking cases on behalf of any tenant who gets those types of rent increases in advance of legislation being introduced.

  I ask that Leader request the Minister, Deputy Kelly, or the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to come into the House to discuss with us further what type of regulation the Minister intends to introduce, and for him to listen to the views of Members of this House whom I know have much experience in this area.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Like other colleagues, I support Senator Norris and I want to do that while fully respecting the Cathaoirleach's decision that we do not have a role in regard to this matter. I refer to the proposal to reduce people's wages by 5.6% without any discussion. These are public servants after all who work extremely hard. This proposal is being made at a time when we have the establishment of a low pay commission, and when various Ministers at various ard-fheiseanna have said that this is the year we can look at pay increases for the public sector. This is happening at a time when ushers in these Houses who retire are not being replaced. It is happening at a time when members of the catering staff who have worked here for decades must during periods of recess go on social welfare payments because they have not been taken on in a permanent capacity. These are issues that have been brought to our attention and there is an onus on us to highlight them in whatever way we can. I respect the Cathaoirleach's decision but Members of this House are on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and the onus is on us to raise these issues with them.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The point I am making is that there is no need to go any place. There are nine Members of both Houses on the Oireachtas Commission. It is the Oireachtas commission that deals with this. No Minister deals with it. It is an in-house matter.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson That is what I am saying; I am agreeing with the Cathaoirleach. The onus is on us as Members to pursue these matters with the Members of this House who are on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission because it is not acceptable that these people are being subjected to working conditions to which they are being subjected.

  I agree with what the Government Chief Whip, Senator Coghlan, said about the national lottery. It is time we had a debate in this regard.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Hear, hear.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson There have been three major breakdowns of this network in the past number of months. Retailers are being subjected to much hassle as a result of having to check tickets from individuals who come into their outlets because the proper software has not been put in place for people to check their own tickets in the branches, and I understand it will not be in place until the beginning of May.

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

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Furthermore, I would like an analysis carried out into how much of a reduction there has been in the amount of prize money paid out since the new owners of the lottery have taken over?

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly In regard to Senator Leyden's outburst performance, which is what it was, it was nothing more than a performance in this House-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway It was amateur dramatics.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly -----where he comes in gives us a load of bluster and he is gone within seconds, and he goes out of the Chamber with a smile on his face.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Kelly, we do not allude to anybody who leaves the House.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly I am only sorry he is not here.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway It was a case of amateur dramatics at its best.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Kelly is completely out of order in raising that.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly In regard to the issue of plain packaging cigars, I was the only dissenting voice in this House yesterday with the Minister, Deputy Reilly.  Senator Leyden was not even here when the debate took place.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Kelly is out of order in that regard.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly He probably was in Buswells or somewhere else-----

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney On a point of order-----

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly -----but he comes in today to look at this passed.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have called Senator Mooney on a point of order.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney For the information of the House, Senator Leyden was on parliamentary duties as a member of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and was unable to be in the House. He apologised for same and I covered for him.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly For the benefit of the House, Senator Mooney might tell Senator Leyden that I raised the issue here in the House yesterday with the Minister and I was the only dissenting voice.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I am aware Senator Kelly did and I established that as well.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly Since I was elected, I have been finding it difficult to figure out the rationale of decision makers in this country. In Dublin, we have the second best fire and ambulance service in the world. It is second behind Seattle. Now we have a city manager who wants to disassemble it. We have an inadequate ambulance service in this country, purely because of a lack of resources, not because of the quality of the personnel, who are doing a great job. There simply are not enough of them. Why are we trying to fix a service in Dublin that is not broken? We have the man who wanted to reduce the quays to a cycle lane now wanting to destroy the fire and ambulance service. Incidentally, he is not a Garth Brooks fan. We have a service that almost guarantees a response time of eight minutes in Dublin, while in the rest of the country it is 40 to 50 minutes. Yesterday, there was the start of balloting for strike action within the fire service right across the country purely because they want to downgrade the fire service, our best emergency service. It is a disgrace. These people need to be reined in. I ask the Leader for a debate in this House with both the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, on the future of the fire and ambulance service, because these services should be combined right across the country.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford I sympathise with the issue raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh of the McCabe family in Northern Ireland. Any decent person must express concern about a terrorist attack.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Hear, hear. Well said.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford If we want to put it in context, 20 years ago another McCabe family on this island suffered a grievous moment of terror when a family member and a loved member of the Garda was slaughtered in the line of duty. At the time, it would have to be said, there was not very much concern - there was neither empathy nor sympathy - from Sinn Féin. Matters have moved on and progressed since. There is no need to engage in debate.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Senator Bradford seems to be stuck in the past. He has not really moved on, has he?

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford To look to the future, we can never forget the past. We can never forget the losses, the pain, the hurt and the suffering. I am surprised-----

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Bradford-----

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh On all sides.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke -----without interruption.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford I, more than anybody, have made that point in this House and have called for a truth and reconciliation commission. I have no difficulty in being sympathetic towards all sides, but I agree that we require that balance.

  What I wanted to raise this morning was my surprise at the comments of one of the leading trade union members on a radio show this morning. There is talk of some type of new national conversation or dialogue on pay, taxation and expenditure. That, if done properly, could be worthwhile, but when a leading trade unionist claims that the happiest day of his life was when Syriza was elected in Greece, one would wonder what sort of sanity would be brought to an economic table by such a voice.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Correct.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford The same gentleman, who, presumably, never in his life created any job or supported any enterprise, or supported any business, made the bizarre statement that business people across this country are stuffing their back pockets with loot. The same business people, the 200,000 self-employed business people in this country, are employing tens of thousands of people and they need support, not cynical comments-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Cheap jibes.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford -----such as that from a leading trade union member. I hope that there will be realism at the table of economic dialogue, not some sort of claptrap ideological debate which would be more in tune with the former Eastern European policies of the 1970s.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I agree with Senator Bradford's comments on the self-employed. Many self-employed people who ran small businesses over the past four to five years in difficult financial circumstances continued to pump money in from their savings in order to keep companies going and workers employed, and they made considerable sacrifices. Those who run their own businesses have to pay commercial rates whether or not they are making a profit. For instance, €66 million is collected from the rate payers of Cork City Council, and the total cost of wages and salaries in Cork City Council is €74 million. Regardless of whether it is making profits, the commercial sector is paying a significant amount of money in. I certainly agree with Senator Bradford's comment that small business have maintained employment right throughout these difficult times.

  I raise the issue of the HSE document which was circulated. It was good that it was sent to us because we now see what is happening behind closed doors. Many issues were raised in the 42-page document and it would be helpful if we had a debate on the matter. A number of issues were highlighted, such as funding being paid out where service level agreements had not yet been signed. Of 103 invoices identified, 41 could not be matched to a valid purchase order. There are many issues in the document related to the financial management of the HSE. In fairness to the staff of the HSE, they are doing a good job, but where there are deficiencies they should be identified and seen to. I see no reason we should not have a debate on this important issue at some stage in the future, because there is much going on behind closed doors that we are not aware of and that we should be aware of to ensure we are getting value for money for the taxpayers of this country.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I request a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on an issue that I have already raised in this House - that is, the Department's attempt to seek large amounts of additional information on pupils. School principals are being instructed to gather information, including details on pupils' religion and their PPS numbers, whereas previously only the school would hold that kind of data. The only State agency that collected information on citizens' religious beliefs previously was the Central Statistics Office, and this information was traditionally reserved for the census, where the identities of persons were anonymised for statistical purposes. I have been contacted by a school principal who told me that she has been contacted by concerned parents, as I have been, who want to know what safeguards are in place to protect their children's sensitive data. The Department has informed the principal that failure to provide the information will be met with withholding of funding to the school in question.

  We have already seen public concern about the gathering of PPS numbers by Irish Water. Indeed, Senator Quinn introduced an important Private Members' Bill and the practice was subsequently abandoned. I have grave concerns regarding the gathering of significantly more information about primary school students than has ever been collected previously. I am concerned that schools which have a duty of confidentiality to their students and parents are being threatened with funding withdrawal if they do not pass over students' PPS numbers and religious details. These are heavy-handed tactics from the Department of Education and Skills. There are real concerns about the confidentiality of the data, not to mention the need to gather it in the first place. We need the Minister to explain this policy to the House. Let us remember that the EuroMillions winner, Ms Dolores McNamara, had her private details viewed by over 100 employees in the Department of Social Protection at the time. My point is that information can be accessed once it is collected. What parents and schools need to know is what safeguards are in place, and the Minister should clarify.

  Briefly, I support the concerns expressed about overspending by the HSE. I raised with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, the culture of spin and the spending of taxpayers' money on spin doctors. There was a report in The Irish Times today of officials sending a note on which was written, "Say something about the context i.e. scale of €2.9m taken seriously however we pay out over Xbn per annum etc - careful not to give impression it’s OK but what would ‘good’ look at our scale of annual payroll payments."

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

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen This is the culture of spin that I am talking about. This is what taxpayers' money is paying HSE public service officials to do - that is, to make themselves look good by briefing each other about the bad news in advance. We should not be paying for that.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane Senator Kelly stated how good the ambulance service is, and it is good. I heard about a case in Knocklyon, in my constituency, last week in which one person was waiting three and a half hours for an ambulance. I presume it is something like this that garners attention, whether it is based on the correct evidence or not.  Something must be done about that because it is not right given that it is an area that is three minutes away from a hospital.

  I support the call for a further debate on child care but I want to put it in the context of a debate that is evidence-based. We must ensure we come out of that debate with strategic and co-ordinated developments. A Senator mentioned all the reports, which contain a lot of evidence-based material. The group set up by the Minister is cross-departmental and will gather all the reports together and look at evidence-based material. The most important debate in this House I am calling for is one on quality in child care. We are not putting enough money into child care because there are people working in child care who are on the minimum wage. We are asking child care workers to work for very poor wages. Quality in child care is very important, as are buildings. We now have funding of €260 million per year. It must be strategic and evidence-based.

  I am looking for a debate on child care, a debate we cannot hedge. We have had many debates on child care. I want to ensure that we have choices that guarantee quality and that respect the people working and providing the service for half nothing. We need a realistic debate. We cannot be against water charges, property tax and waste charges. We must come in here with a percentage of GDP that we are going to put into child care. I want us to come in here prepared. We have spent long enough talking about it and we have to do something. We are doing a lot. We appointed the first Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and set up Tusla. Significant action is being undertaken in a co-ordinated way for the first time. It would be a pity to throw the baby out with the bath water and say we want a second year. I want a second year of early childhood education but I want to ensure it is money best spent and that we are doing things properly.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I would like a debate on milk and the lifting of quotas in the dairy industry. We need to tease this out. I am glad to hear that a debate on the dairy industry is taking place in the Dáil. It is almost being painted like a new Celtic tiger, perhaps a milk tiger, but I am not so sure it is as clear as that. We need to tease out the ramifications for farmers. I know some farmers who are very concerned about their lot considering they bought quota in recent years and invested tens of thousands of euro. They want to know whether there will be compensation for them. It is being painted as being very rosy but let us have a real debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

  I support comments by previous speakers this morning about the lack of understanding shown to the self-employed and entrepreneurs by unsympathetic union leaders. I do not know if we fully understand the value of self-employed people who create jobs. I believe they deserve a medal and special commendation in our State. First of all, do we realise that they are actually tax collectors for the State? They must pay employers' PRSI for the joy of creating work and jobs on which people depend. They get a raw deal when they fall into unemployment themselves. In many cases, they pay unsustainable rates, development charges and rents as well as their income tax. Over 50% of our population - about 1.8 million workers - depend on the self-employed and our farmers to give them a job. Meanwhile, a union leader depends on those employers so they have people to represent. Will the Leader organise a debate on self-employment and its value in order that we get an understanding of it? If we are thinking about creating jobs, work, the value of work, creating opportunities for our young people and keeping our families in Ireland instead of telling them to look to the boat, we need to give special commendation in more than words to the self-employed. We need to come up with some really decent tax incentives and tax reform policies that will support our job creators.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I support the call for a debate on the self-employed and small and medium-sized businesses. I acknowledge the role they have played and are playing. We started off with an initiative to ask each of the small and medium-sized businesses to employ one additional worker. There are 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the country and it would have been a great initiative to fulfil. I know that some are doing this but I feel they are forgotten.

  I support the call for a debate on the diaspora. I acknowledge the role played by the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, and feel a debate in the House would be very worthwhile.

  I refer to last week's figures published by the CSO showing that the number of overseas visitors between November 2014 and January 2015 increased by 9% compared with the corresponding period for 2013 and 2014. Tosnú maith, mar a deirtear. These figures also show positive results for the sector with the number of people employed in the accommodation and food services sector increasing by 16%. Last year broke all previous records in terms of numbers of overseas visits-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator looking for a debate on the matter?

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I certainly am and it will be a worthwhile one because it is a worthwhile and very successful story. I acknowledge the role played by the tourism industry in our economic recovery. No doubt the initiatives by the Government such as reducing airport tax to zero and the 9% VAT rate were major contributors to this.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien I am asking about what I would call a "no-brainer", namely, the Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2013, which Senator Quinn brought to the House towards the end of 2013. I bumped into a really superb paramedic last week who told me about a 15 year old girl in a school he had been called to who had collapsed. The teacher put the girl into the recovery position. In fact, her heart had stopped. The little girl is back in school six weeks later and what saved her life is a defibrillator. It is a very easy piece of machinery to use and it is very easy to train people to use it. It is becoming more cost-effective to buy them. Senator Quinn put forward a very simple Bill. He wanted defibrillators in all sorts of places such as hospitals, schools, churches, shopping centres and bus stations. CPR is wonderful but it is not at the races compared with a defibrillator. A defibrillator is an incredibly intelligent machine that can tell exactly what position somebody's heart is in and restart it. It is very easy to use. Could the Leader ask the Minister for Health what they are doing and when they will come back to Senator Quinn and push this Bill through?

  I apologise as I know the Cathaoirleach has ruled it out of order but I have to stand up and support Senator Norris's statement on the cut in wages for the ushers. This is not acceptable.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I support Senator Ó Clochartaigh's comments on the McCabe case in Northern Ireland. Any act of terrorism is not acceptable. Certainly, we have made great progress in recent years and this case needs to be investigated by the authorities on both sides of the Border as a matter of urgency.

  I also support the self-employed. Thousands of self-employed people have gone out of business in the past five or six years as a result of the economic crisis this country faced. Unfortunately, they were not able to get social welfare or State benefits readily and were treated very badly. These were people who had created jobs when they had the opportunity but who fell on hard times.  These individuals found that the various structures of the State were not designed to offer them support. The comments made this morning by a so-called leading trade unionist were disgraceful. I may as well place on record that I have had no respect for that man for many years. The drivel he uttered this morning in respect of self-employed people was just shocking. That person should play no role whatsoever in any future partnership negotiations because I do not believe he is fit to do so.

  In the context of the timing of the Order of Business, the Leader has made great strides in the context of improving the efficiencies of the House. However, he should consider the possibility of taking Commencement Matters at 9.30 a.m. each Wednesday and Thursday and then taking the Order of Business at 11 a.m. I am of the view that it is a little late to begin the Order of Business at noon. Perhaps he will take my suggestion into consideration during his next review of the business of the House.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan Before I begin, I wish to confirm to the House that I understand the separation of powers between the Judiciary and the State. I call on the Leader to arrange an all-day debate on several matters. The first of those matters is sentencing. Some of the sentences handed down by members of the Judiciary are an absolute joke. The second matter to be discussed during the all-day debate I am requesting would be free legal aid. In recent times, a 19 year old with 46 previous convictions was again afforded free legal aid. Where is the disincentive to prevent that individual from committing further crimes? As stated on previous occasions, I firmly believe that anybody can fall, inadvertently or otherwise, on the wrong side of the law. In that context, it should be a case that after three strikes people should no longer qualify for free legal aid. Recently, two gardaí were ambushed by five men and one of them had his eye socket broken as a result of a blow from an iron bar. The five men involved were arrested the following day and brought to court where they were granted bail. That is wrong. These perpetrators were-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator should not comment on individuals. The people involved can be readily identified.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan The case in question is in the public domain in any event.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke That does not matter. Those involved are not here to defend themselves. The Senator should not comment on individual decisions handed down by judges either.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan A couple from the part of the country in which I live travelled to Australia recently in order to visit their daughter. Both were very badly injured when they were involved in a car accident that involved one fatality. The person who caused the accident was incarcerated within seven weeks. If the accident had occurred in this country, it would not be dealt with by the courts in under two years. Issues such as the security of prison officers and our prison strategy could also form part of the all-day debate I am requesting. There is a need for a serious debate on all the matters to which I refer and I am of the view that this is the House in which it should be held.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Before I reply to the Order of Business, I note that there are only seven or eight Members present. Approximately 25 Senators made contributions on the Order of Business. Where did they go?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Hear, hear.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan The Leader should not reply to them.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I am reluctant to reply in respect of many of the points raised by those who have gone missing.

  Senator Mooney quite correctly raised the leaked HSE report which deals with overpayments, copies of which many of us received. As a number of Members noted, those overpayments should be returned to the Exchequer. Those who are overpaid by the Department of Social Protection are obliged to repay the excess amounts they received. I will try to get the Minister to come before the House in order that he might discuss with us the fact that the document was leaked and also the information contained in said document. I am obliged to wonder whether Senators were meant to receive copies of the document in question.

  The Senator also referred to child care. As Senator Bacik stated, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has established a task force on child care. There is a possibility that the Minister may come before the House next week in order to discuss this matter in advance of the report's publication. When the task force has issued its report, I envisage that we will certainly engage in a debate on its contents. I am trying to encourage the Minister to come before the House for a general debate on the matter in order that the House might have an input into the process.

  Senator Bacik referred to child care and commented on the importance of reforms within the education sector, particularly in the context of the junior certificate. The Senator requested a debate on the Middle East following the forthcoming Israeli election. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has come before the House to debate that matter on a number of occasions and I am sure he would be quite willing to return.

  I take on board the Cathaoirleach's ruling on payments relating to the staff of the Houses. My understanding is that all staff endured similar cuts. However, it is absolutely ludicrous for people on low wages to be asked to accept further cuts. This is the first I have heard of the matter and I am of the view that it is worthy of investigation by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Those of us on this side of the House will be raising it with our members of the commission. I am sure everybody else will do likewise. It seems very strange that a proposed pay cut such as that to which Senator Norris referred is being contemplated. We are all aware of the work the ushers do and how it complements that which we do. The ushers also support us in our work in a very courteous and mannerly way. This matter should be examined by the commission. I am sure that members of all parties and none will raise it with their representatives on the commission and, hopefully, report back to us in early course.

  Senators Paul Coghlan and Wilson referred to difficulties relating to the national lottery system. As has been pointed out, this matter will be addressed by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform next week.

  Senators Leyden and Kelly referred to tobacco products and the possible loss of 50 jobs in Roscommon. I do not know whether the company involved stated that those jobs may be lost or whether Senator Leyden is suggesting that this might happen. As Senator Landy pointed out, however, tobacco is tobacco and, regardless of whether one is talking about cigarettes, cigars or pipe tobacco, it causes cancer. Members on all sides have supported the Minister with regard to plain packaging of tobacco products. We should stick by our guns and continue to support him rather than taking the parochial route, as Senator Leyden has done in this instance.

  Senator Landy referred to the CEDRA report. As he correctly pointed out, an expert advisory group has been formed to deal with the implementation of the 34 recommendations contained in that report. As the Senator stated, the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, was in the House a number of weeks ago to discuss that very matter. I am sure she would be willing to return in order that we might have a further input into the process.

  Senator Quinn referred to discussing relevant issues prior to the introduction of the budget. We did not discuss such issues last year but we did so the previous year. We will certainly try to ensure that the House will engage in pre-budget debates this year. All NGOs and interested organisations make submissions prior to the budget and the Minister is presented with all of the relevant information relating to these. I agree, however, that the House should probably have a further input into the process.

  I note Senator Quinn's other point with regard to allergies that are life threatening. The Senator requested a debate with the relevant Minister on the matter in order that we might ascertain what proposals he has in respect of it.   Senators Mullins, Brennan and Ó Clochartaigh made reference to Government policy on the diaspora. I have organised a debate on the matter with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Deenihan, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

  Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised the issue of staff of these Houses. We dealt with the Workplace Relations Bill in the House last week and it is a pity that it will not be before us this week. However, we have dealt with that matter. I can assure Senator Ó Clochartaigh that I have no problem whatsoever in condemning the attack on Mr. Francis McCabe. Indeed, I have no problem in condemning any violent attack on any individual in this State or across the Border and condemn it I will, on every occasion. The word "condemn" was not in the Sinn Féin vocabulary for a long number of years but I am glad that party members are coming around to using that word now. It is necessary for Sinn Féin to condemn all attacks. However, as has been pointed out by Senator Bradford, when another McCabe was murdered, Sinn Féin representatives were waiting for his killer when he was released from prison. They refused to condemn that murder for many years. I am glad that "condemn" is coming back into the vocabulary of Sinn Féin members. They will certainly have support from this side-----

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh The Leader should ask the Taoiseach to condemn it as well.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins They will certainly have support from this side of the House in condemning all violent acts against individuals in this country.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh The Leader should ask the Taoiseach to do the same.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Hayden raised the issue of rents and argued that an information campaign informing tenants of their rights should be instituted. I support her comments in that regard and hopefully the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or a Minister of State at his Department will come to the House to discuss regulations which could be introduced to help tenants.

  Senator Wilson agreed with Senator Paul Coghlan's comments on the national lottery. I am sure the questions he posed will be raised at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform next week and hopefully we will get answers to them from the new operators.

  Senator Kelly raised the issue of the fire and ambulance services, which was also raised yesterday on the Order of Business by many Senators. As was pointed out, HIQA has reported on the matter and its report cannot be ignored. Patient safety is of paramount importance and must be addressed. I am sure that this matter can be concluded and dealt with through conciliation and hopefully, the right result will emerge as a result of that process.

  Senators Healy Eames, Bradford and Conway spoke about a national dialogue on tax and expenditure. They also referred to the comments of a trade union leader about the self-employed and about employers stuffing their pockets with money, which were extraordinary. It would be right to say that many self-employed people are creating jobs and are helping to create a better economy. Many employers are putting people back to work and are putting money into their employees' pockets. That is what the trade union leader in question wants to see but his comments were very inflammatory. I also heard his comments regarding Syriza in Greece. He lauded that party's election but pointed out that the five demands of Syriza have already been delivered by this Government. His points in that regard should be taken on board.

  Senator Colm Burke made reference to the leaked document from the HSE. I note his comments in that regard and am sure that it will not be the last we will hear of said document, which was leaked to all Members of this House.

  Senator Mullen made reference to the additional data requested by the Department of Education and Skills and the need for reassurances from the Data Protection Commission in that regard. As the Senator pointed out, there has been much coverage of the recent introduction of the primary online database and criticism has centred on the use of the PPSN as a unique identifier for each student and on data retention. The creation of a database of primary school pupils is a long overdue development in the education sector which has been supported by both the INTO and the National Parents Council. Similar databases have existed for pre-primary, post-primary and higher education students for many years.

  The Department of Education and Skills consulted the Data Protection Commissioner about the collection and retention of individual pupil information for the primary online database in December 2013. The commissioner has stated that the PPSN can be collected by schools for the purpose of the preparation of the primary online database. The Data Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the Department had a legitimate and proportionate purpose for requesting personal details on primary school pupils for the new national database. The retention policy has been agreed with the Data Protection Commissioner.

  The primary purpose of the primary online database will be to monitor the educational progress of primary students through the primary school system and onwards to post-primary level and to help them to develop their full education potential. Once up and running, the database will also be used as a basis for the allocation of teachers and capitation grants. Aggregated data will also be used for the production and publication of primary-level statistics. The database will also collect information such as PPS number, name, address, date of birth, nationality, learning support status, Irish exemption status and class status as well as two optional items of sensitive personal data relating to ethnic or cultural background and religion. The latter two items require the written consent of parents for inclusion. The PPS number will serve as a primary identifier in the database and will allow for pupil identity to be validated to ensure that there are no duplicate enrolments in the system. Under social welfare legislation, both schools and the Department of Education and Skills are specified bodies which are allowed to ask individuals for their PPS number where such individuals have a transaction with the State. In this case, the individuals in question are availing of State-provided education.

  The primary online database may only be accessed through a password-controlled account and only the school attended by the pupils and a small number of departmental staff will have access to that account. Access within the Department to the primary online database data is limited to the database team which currently is fewer than 15 people. No agency or other Government Department will have direct access to the primary online database. The Department proposes in the future to share some of the personal data stored in the database with other State bodies, namely, the Central Statistics Office under the Central Statistics Act, to assist in the compilation of national statistics; the National Council for Special Education under the Education and Welfare Act, in order to assist in supporting resource allocation for pupils with special educational needs; the Child and Family Agency under the Education and Welfare Act, to ensure that each child of compulsory school age is in receipt of an education; and the Department of Social Protection, to validate pupil identity. This comprehensive response to Senator Mullen's concerns should give him-----

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I will consider that response and thank the Leader for it.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins -----all the information he requires and I hope he is satisfied in that regard.

  Senator Keane called for a debate on child care and asked that any such debate be evidence-based, which I am sure will be the case. Hopefully we will have that debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, next week.

  Senator Healy Eames asked for a debate on the elimination of milk quotas. We had a debate on milk quotas and milk prices on 10 December last so I do not propose to have a further debate on the issue. It was well flagged that milk quotas would be eliminated in 2015 so I cannot understand why anyone would have bought milk quota in the last year or two and paid a high price for same.   Senator Brennan referred to Central Statistics Office figures on overseas visitors. The figures make for wonderful news. He commented on the fact that there has been a good start to this year already. As he said as Gaeilge, tús maith, leath na hoibre. Certainly the efforts the Government has made in respect of the 9% VAT rate and eliminating the tax on flights has helped tourism and associated businesses, including hotels and so on.

  Senator O'Brien raised the matter of the Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill and the need for the increase in usage of defibrillators. As has been pointed out, the Bill went through this House but I will inquire again on the position. I gather HIQA carried out costings on the provision of defibrillators in all the areas that Senator Quinn set out. Anyway, I believe there should be an increase in the usage of defibrillators in many areas of the country.

  Senator Conway rightly pointed out the plight of self-employed people, who can get no social welfare payments when their businesses go to the wall.

  When we changed the ordering of business I said I would welcome comments from any Member on the changes. The comments on the Commencement debate are among the first I have heard on the matter. We are doing it for a trial period. I am willing to change it in any way that suits the vast majority of Members and staff. At the moment it is working quite well. Perhaps we will look at closing the gap between the Commencement debate and the Order of Business. We deal with the Order of Business at noon but perhaps we could bring that back to 11.30 a.m. and close the gap. That would probably be a good idea but we will leave it until this term is over and then make any changes that are necessary. I am certainly open to suggestions from any Member.

  Senator Sheahan called for a debate on the consistency of sentencing and the qualification of people who commit offences on a regular basis for free legal aid. He also raised the length of time involved in dealing with crimes. We have raised the question of law and order and sentencing with the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. She has a good deal of legislation coming to the House in the coming month or two and she has guaranteed that she will come in for a wide-ranging debate on law and order. Sentencing policy will form a strong part of that debate. I imagine Senator Sheahan will get the opportunity to raise the matter with the Minister at that point.

  I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Paschal Mooney has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to clarify the Government policy on child care and alleviating the financial burden on parents arising from child care costs be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney In light of the Leader's response I am not pressing the amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014: Committee Stage

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, and his officials to the House.

  Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete line 26 and substitute the following:
“(a) the provision of health services without charge as outlined in section 2 of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996,”.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill. The intention of our amendments is to provide clarity in regard to specifics within the legislation. The amendment we are putting forward is in line with Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendations. I hope the Minister will be prepared to accept it in order that there is no misunderstanding on that point.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus muid ar ais arís ag plé an Bhille iontach tábhachtach seo. Ar na leasuithe trí chéile, sílim go n-aontaítear ar an dtaobh seo den Teach nach bhfuil an méid atá molta ag an Rialtas ag teacht leis an méid a gealladh.

  We have had a briefing subsequent to the Second Stage debate on the issues we raised with the Minister of State. It is clear to me that the Magdalen survivors do not take the same reading of this legislation as the Government. They have sent us more information and appealed to us to bring forward the case. We are calling on the Minister of State to look again at the amendments put forward. Basically, they cover the area of Mr. Justice Quirke's redress scheme and what the Magdalen women believe to be missing from what the Government is putting forward.

  The Government told the Dáil that it would implement the redress scheme in full, but it has reneged on its commitment according to the women. In respect of section 2(1)(b), drugs, medicines and appliances should not be limited to the medical card reimbursement list. They are not so limited under the Health (Amendment) Act card. As we explained, appendix G of Mr. Justice Quirke's report sets out how Health (Amendment) Act cardholders are entitled to any prescribed medications, drugs or appliances whatsoever. Mr. Justice Quirke recommended in appendix E of his report the following provision in place of section 2(1)(b): "drugs, medicines and medicinal and surgical appliances".

  Section 2(1)(e) relates to dental, ophthalmic and aural services and references the Health Act 1970, namely, the medical card Act. This should be removed. We have been told the reference to the 1970 Act limits these services to the medical card standard, but 90% of the Magdalen survivors already have a medical card or general practitioner visit card according to Mr. Justice Quirke.

  The Minister for Justice and Equality amended the wording relating to GP services in section 2(1)(a) after Committee Stage to remove the reference to the 1970 Act. She did this to make it clear that the women would be entitled to private GP care rather than normal medical card standard GP care. The Minister of State should do something similar for dental, ophthalmic and aural services. Mr. Justice Quirke's recommended wording relating to the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 in appendix E of his report is "dental, ophthalmic and aural treatment and dental, optical and aural appliances". This wording should substitute the current section 2(1)(e).

  There is a major difference between the medical card and the Health (Amendment) Act card, as we teased out on Second Stage. For standard dental, ophthalmic and aural services, Health (Amendment) Act cardholders can visit any private practitioner and when referred for hospital treatment they are entitled to an appointment within two weeks.

  Similar points arise in section 2(1)(f) relating to counselling. It is believed that this section should be amended to provide for counselling for immediate family members as well as the Magdalen women. Health (Amendment) Act cardholders receive free counselling for immediate family members, as explained in appendix G of Mr. Justice Quirke's report. The Minister for Justice and Equality has stated that this service is not needed for immediate relatives of the Magdalen women. Justice for Magdalenes research respectfully disagrees with that and we support this view. The Magdalen laundries abuse has affected these women's entire lives with many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental illnesses as a result.  The women's experiences in the past and present have often affected their loved ones, including children and partners. Some of the women who were in contact with Justice for Magdalenes research have only very recently begun to speak to family members about their experiences in the Magdalen laundries. It is our view that the immediate relatives of Magdalen survivors need and deserve access to counselling services in the same manner as the family members of HAA cardholders.

  On the note regarding complementary therapies, it states the Bill should be amended to provide for complementary therapies which are available to HAA card holders if provided by a GP, registered nurse or physiotherapist. It refers to massage, acupuncture, reflexology, hydrotherapy and aromatherapy. The Minister for Justice and Equality has stated that she cannot include these in the Bill because the Minister for Health is opposed to them. However, she has acknowledged that she believes in the benefits of such complementary therapies and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who has responsibility for primary and social care opened acupuncture awareness week this week. The Minister for Justice and Equality has stated that her Department will consider-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I apologise for interrupting, but the comments are more on the section than the amendment.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh They are grouped.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson If you wish, you can make those points on the section.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I will leave it at that. We will reserve the right to come back in.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Perhaps it would be more appropriate for me to speak on the section rather than the amendment.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin): Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I am pleased to be here on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. As I indicated on Second Stage, the Government is fully is committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Quirke and will be providing all of the health services recommended in his report.

  I am unable to accept amendments Nos. 1 and 5. As I have stated, the women who were in Magdalen laundries will be able to avail of their GP of choice, whether he or she is a participant in the general medical card scheme or a fully private GP. However, if the Bill were amended as suggested and provided health services as outlined in section 2 of the 1996 Act, it would mean that chiropody and physiotherapy would not be provided in the Bill as there is no such provision in section 2 of the 1996 Act.

  Moreover, the counselling services in the Act are specifically described as counselling services in respect of hepatitis C. Since none of the women has hepatitis C, amendment No. 5 would be of no benefit to the women. The effect of these amendments would be to cause confusion and provide a more restricted service than is currently provided in section 2 of the Bill.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I am surprised at the obstinance of the Minister of State. He realises in principle that this Bill and the way it has been constituted does not have the support of Justice for Magdalenes and the people involved. They are very unhappy that there is an obvious disagreement between his reading of the Bill and theirs. That is why we have tabled the amendments. It would have been more useful if the Minister of State had come before the House today with some Government amendments to address the issues and genuine concerns raised on Second Stage by Senators across the House.

  Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendations have not been fully adhered to. When the Taoiseach made an apology in the Dáil, we heard that the Government was going to do everything in its power to try to redress the situation. A representative group speaking on behalf of the victims said very clearly to Senators and the Government, in a briefing organised by Senator Gilroy, that this is not cutting the mustard and it is not for what they asked. Surely the Minister of State could have some compassion and come back and accept the amendments we have tabled or introduced Government amendments. That would have addressed the genuine concerns that are there. They want expediency in the Bill.

  They can agree with the thrust of the Bill but they feel they waived certain rights before the Bill was published in order that expediency would be brought forward because of the ageing profile of the victims in question. I again get the sense today that we are hitting a brick wall with the Minister of State on these issues. There is quite a dismissive tone in the responses we are getting. He is trying to dismiss the amendments out of hand, which is very unfortunate. Maybe we should ask him to reconsider the amendments. If he is not happy with them, he could tell us what the Government intends to do on Report Stage to take on board the genuine concerns of the people who have suffered in the Magdalen laundries. They have voiced their genuine concerns since we had the debate on Second Stage. They still do not agree with the Government's reading of the Bill and something needs to be done to bring the two sides together.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I acknowledge and welcome to the Chamber Ms Elizabeth Coppin and her husband. Ms Coppin is a former ward of the State and survivor of the Magdalen system.

  We had a substantial and productive debate last week on Second Stage and have taken further steps to determine whether we can address the needs of the survivors and the perceived difference between what is proposed and what the survivors are seeking. We met a survivors' group last Thursday and met the Minister immediately afterwards. The assurance I received from the Minister went a long way to alleviate my concerns. In his response to me, the Minister of State might specify the differences, if any, between what the Bill proposes, what is recommended in Mr. Justice Quirke's report and what is contained in the legislative provisions of the 1996 Act.

  To save the Minister of State some bother, I note there is no provision for alternative medicine and counselling is not provided for in the Bill. He has assured us that the responsibility for including alternative medicine lies with the Minister for Health, who is not disposed towards including alternative medicine in any medical card. We received an assurance from the Minister last week that her Department will create a scheme under which the provision of alternative medicine can be considered. I would like the Minister of State to comment on that and provide reassurance that I did not misunderstand what the Minister said to me last week. Perhaps we could put it on the record of the House.

  My next point concerns counselling. Will a similar scheme be established in the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with counselling for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries, which would be outside the terms of the 1996 Act which specifies those suffering from hepatitis C?

  Is there confusion about whether dental, ophthalmic and optical services are provided free of charge by a provider of these services in the private sector under the various schemes outlined in the medical card or HAA scheme? I would like some assurance that my understanding of what is proposed is as I outlined. It would go a very long way towards reassuring the House and survivors that the Government is doing everything possible in the most generous way possible within the provisions of legislation and other provisions which may not be necessary to provide for under legislation.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú This amendment is motivated by our concern for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. As we know, they have suffered a lot and travelled a long road to justice. They met many roadblocks and obstacles on the way. It is vital that we allay their fears. They do not seem to be happy with the current Bill, which was our motivation in looking for clarity, not just in the Chamber but in the Bill.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I would like to speak on amendments No. 1 and 5, but I also wish to speak on the section. I listened to what the Minister of State and advocacy groups said. For me, this is about trust and confidence. I can see from the perspective of those involved in advocacy groups that trust has been shattered and confidence is low.  The difficulty is I feel we are parsing words but what will it actually mean? In preparing for today's debate, I spoke to a person who gave me an example of how this amendment could affect people. The person had come across two separate cases of women who were in disability services, not in nursing homes, and who, because our capacity legislation is not in place, cannot sign to get the amount of money of which they are so deserving. Treatments and services they require are being denied to them. These women are in a nursing home and are paying out of their own money for mattress protectors and walkers, products that should be provided by the HSE. They are told they would have to wait so long for them that they would be better off buying them out of their own pocket. These are women who do not have that money, who have been institutionalised for 30 to 40 years and who do not necessarily have an extended family because they have been institutionalised by the State.

  As I read the amendment, it seeks to give clarity and confidence to trusts to say to these women that they have a right to these services, not that they will be put at the end of the queue or will have to grovel, ask and beg. We want to be absolutely explicit, whether it is through this amendment or on the floor of the House, that the GP services, the treatments and the health services will be available to them without charge and without putting them to the end of a list. That is the least we can do. The Minister of State said on the last day that it was emotional; it is emotional but it is also a fact. I am not saying we should make sure we do this. We have to do this. We have to restore trust and confidence. We have to right the wrongs of the past. For me, the very least we can do is ensure that the services needed and should be provided are available as a right. For me, that is how we correct the past. We must ensure it is a clear right in the legislation.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin My responsibility and that of the Department is to implement fully the recommendations of Mr. Justice Quirke. I do not necessarily want to do this but there is a statement from JFM research, National Women's Council of Ireland, which sets out a list of things which are not in the Bill. Of the ten listed, Nos. 1, 3, 6, 7 and 9 flatly contradict the recommendations because they are provided for in the Bill. If people are going to send out statements on what is and is not in the Bill, I wish they would stick to the facts because it is easy to make a statement understanding how passionate and emotional people feel about this issue. Frankly, as the Senator is listing things that are not in the Bill, of course it will upset people. At first glance, that Nos. 1, 3, 6, 7 and 9 are wrong, is remarkable, and-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Can the Minister of State tell us what they are?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin -----No. 8 is not relevant yet. I will state categorically what our job is here. Mr. Justice Quirke recommends that legislation be introduced to give effect to his recommendation with regard to the provision of health services. In his report Mr. Justice Quirke was of the opinion that the women of the Magdalen laundries should be provided with access to a comprehensive suite of health services. Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendation that the women receive medical services equivalent to those provided by the holder of a HAA card has been given effect in this Bill. However, he also stated that not all of the services described in the hepatitis C guide may be directly relevant to the Magdalen women and any comparable guide for the Magdalen women would require suitable adaptation. This is Mr. Justice Quirke's report. It should be noted that the services provided in section 2 of the Bill are precisely those recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke on page 35 of his report. I ask Senators to compare the Bill with the report. They include general practitioner services, prescribed drugs, medicines, aid and appliances, dental, ophthalmic and aural services, home supports, home nursing, counselling services, chiropody, podiatry and physiotherapy. All of these services are specified in section 2 and will be made available free of charge to the women who were in the Magdalen laundries. I appeal to Senators and those sending out press releases to look at the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy The Minister of State has gone a long way to clarifying the issue. However, will he clarify whether the services to be provided free of charge to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries, such as dental, ophthalmic and aural services can be provided by providers in the private sector as well as the public sector in the same way as the section specifies in terms of general practitioner care that the sole arbiter of GP care, regardless of who provides it, is with the person seeking the service?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Yes.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Is the Minister of Stating saying on the record that is the case? That is at variance with some of the information put forward. Some of the information, from wherever it comes, is saying that these services are not available in the private sector but only under schemes provided by the HSE.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin They will have exactly the same facilities as the hepatitis C people; there is no difference according to the 1996 Act. If there is confusion, unfortunately it is unnecessary confusion. If I am coming across as being quite strident I apologise, but I feel strongly that we must have clear, concise proper information for the women.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy What the Minister of State is saying could not be clearer. There can be no ambiguity about what the Minister of State is saying.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien I thank the Minister of State for his patience but we are trying to achieve absolute clarity and certainty for the Magdalen ladies who are an extremely vulnerable group. Their advocacy groups have different perceptions of the Bill. Amendment No. 4 relates to dental, optical and aural appliances.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I will allow the Senator back in on the section.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien I thank the Acting Chairman.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I concur with Senator John Gilroy that there is still quite an amount of confusion between what the advocate group has to say and what the Minister of State is telling the House. That is a matter of concern because from the information we were given by the people in this organisation, who are close to the legislation and the victims in this scenario, that they were told they had not properly parsed the legislation and its implications for the victims to the extent that they feel that the deal put on the table and the deal promised in the Quirke report is not being delivered upon shows there is a significant gap. According to the Minister of State's statement, they were wrong in their assertions. We will seek further clarification before Report Stage. We are a cosignatory to amendments Nos. 1 and 5. I propose to withdraw amendments Nos. 1 and 5 and seek to resubmit amendments around this issue on Report Stage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson For information purposes, the order of the House is that Report Stage will take place immediately after Committee Stage.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I suggest Report Stage be postponed.  This is an area of such importance to the people and the organisations involved, and to the Minister-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson On a point of information, the Order of Business has been agreed by the House. My hands are tied in that regard. Unless it is amended I cannot-----

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh That is very regrettable. On previous occasions when such issues arose during debates, the Leader of the House has been contacted. I am sure he is watching with great interest to see how this debate is proceeding.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson It is the job of the Chair to carry out the order of the day.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh We are here to make sure that the legislation passed by this House delivers on what it is supposed to deliver. This legislation should deliver on the recommendations of the Quirke report to the satisfaction of the victims but there is major confusion this morning. There seems to be a contradiction between what the Minister is saying and what the advocate groups are saying to us and, based on that, we put down our amendments. I am trying to be helpful. The Order of Business is agreed but the Leader should be contacted on this matter. We might seek to withdraw the amendments and table similar amendments on Report Stage if we believe that the issues we are raising have not been addressed properly.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Senator Conway is the Acting Leader.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I am the Acting Leader and while I would regularly agree with my colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh, in this instance the Minister of State has been forthright and abundantly clear. With respect to the legislation and the order of the House, we should proceed as planned on the basis that the Minister has been abundantly clear. The press release put out by an organisation outside this House, whether deliberate or not, has caused a lot of confusion. It is an emotional and difficult issue for many people and the best service we can give is to try to come out with an unambiguous position. On a regular basis the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, gives clarity in this House but the clarity he has given today is unambiguous.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I agree with the two previous speakers, and Senator O'Brien also, that clarity is the single biggest issue at stake with regard to this matter. I will take a few minutes of my time, which I believe I can do on Committee Stage, to go through with the Minister, word for word, the points laid out in the press release by Justice for Magdalenes.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Is that relevant to amendments Nos. 1 and 5?

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy It is 100% relevant to amendment No. 1. If the Minister does not mind I will go through the points from No. 1 to No. 10. I have the press release issued by Justice for Magdalenes. My eyes are not what they used to be so I cannot find a date on this document, but it is the right one. The press release states:

All of the following services are available to HAA cardholders. None of these services are provided for in the Bill.

That is what the Justice for Magdalenes press release states. Point No. 1 specifically states that the Bill does not provide for private GP services. Is that right or wrong?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Absolutely incorrect.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy It does provide for GP services, unambiguously.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Yes.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Will the Minister clarify where that is covered in the Bill?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell And why I was ruled out of order on the grounds of-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Sorry colleagues-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Why was I ruled out of order on the grounds of-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson We will get to you in a minute, Senator.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy If the Minister says so on the record of the House, the House is obliged to-----

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh It might be useful to clarify where that is in the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy It was certainly laid out in the Second Stage contribution of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on the record of the Dáil, and it was also referred to here by the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, last Tuesday. It is on the record of both Houses.

  Point No. 2: "Any and all prescribed drugs, high tech drugs, medicines, aids and appliances (rather than being restricted to the Reimbursement List within the meaning of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013, as stated in the Bill)". That is totally provided for under the terms of the HAA card.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin They get the drugs as provided for in the reimbursement list. It is the same as the hepatitis C-----

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Okay. Point No. 3: "Any and all chiropody/podiatry services from any qualified (including private) chiropodist/podiatrist, without the need for a GP's referral."

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin That is absolutely incorrect.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy That is provided for under the HAA card.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin It is in black and white in the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Point No. 4, and we realise there is a difference and that this is not provided for in the Bill: "Complementary therapies, including massage, reflexology ... once referred by a GP." However, last Thursday morning, the Minister gave me and my colleagues a commitment that a similar scheme will be set up within the Department of Justice and Equality, not the Department of Health, to provide similar services as outlined here.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Not in legislation but-----

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Not in legislation but the Minister has given that commitment, and the Minister of State is doing so now on the record of this House.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Yes.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Point No. 5, with which we agree and to which I referred earlier: "Counselling, including psychological and psychotherapy services, from any professionally accredited counsellor, available to the woman or her immediate relatives, with no restriction or limit on the number of sessions attended. No GP's referral is required under the HAA card." Could the Minister comment on that?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin No. 5, which is in regard to counselling for the woman herself, is being made available in the Bill but not to her immediate family. Hepatitis C was different because of the potential for cross-contamination.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Is the Minister giving any consideration to setting up such a scheme outside of the HAA provisions?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Some kind of advocacy services outside of counselling, but not specifically in the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy It might be considered in the context of another amendment that is coming forward.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Yes.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Point No. 6: "Comprehensive dental care, including access to private dentists not within the Dental Treatment Services Scheme."

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Absolutely incorrect. It is in the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I hope there is no ambiguity with regard to any of these points.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin No.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Point No. 7: "Audiology services from private practitioners where services are not available within the public health service."

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin That statement is incorrect. It is in the Bill, black and white.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Point No. 8: "Dedicated liaison officers, such as those available to HAA cardholders, to help obtain optimum home nursing and home support services."

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin After the Bill is implemented they will be available.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Point No. 9: "The enhanced ophthalmic services provided to HAA cardholders (rather than being restricted to medical card services)."

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Absolutely incorrect. It is in the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Finally, point No. 10: "Private physiotherapy services."

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin It is in the Bill.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy Everything that is sought by the Justice for Magdalenes organisation is provided for, if not in the specific legislation in a commitment by the Minister to provide it in other legislation or under other schemes.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin At least six of those points are flatly wrong. They are in black and white in the Bill. I appreciate why people might be upset or concerned when a press release of this nature comes out but, as legislators, we can only deal with what is in the Bill in black and white, not what is in a press release.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I hope this interchange, which is perhaps unorthodox in the House, assures Members of the House that what is in the Bill or committed to by the Minister, or provided for under another scheme, is provided in full in the Quirke recommendations.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson We will soon find out, Senator, whether that has clarified the situation.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú It is clear that there are concerns on both sides of the House. I presume the Minister has met with the representatives of the survivors of the Magdalen laundries, and I presume they have asked the same questions. The Minister might tell us if he had such a meeting with those representatives because if he gave the same answers, why is there such doubt and concern among the survivors in this regard? It seems to me as if they have had legal assistance in this also, and they are not happy. I have to make the point that a Minister's assurance is not the same as something prescriptive in legislation. Will the Minister tell us if he has gone through all of those points with the representatives, and have they got exactly the same answers?

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I concur wholeheartedly with the sentiments of Senator Ó Murchú, who made the point much more eloquently than myself. In the years I have been a Member we have had many Ministers make promises in the House, but we are told that the promises Ministers give us, as opposed to what is in the legislation, are not worth much to the people who need redress. That is part of the issue. We are being told that a number of promises will be addressed with other mechanisms. That is not giving succour to the Justice for Magdalenes advocacy groups.  I imagine they have done much research and have had legal advice on this. I appreciate that the Minister of State has indicated this is in the Bill and although it might seem a tad pedantic, the Minister of State might indicate where exactly the issue has been dealt with in the legislation. Committee Stage is about parsing legislation and putting such issues on the record.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Minister of State's reply seems to be quite definitive and I cannot imagine anything that would be more definitive than saying this is in the Bill or a particular statement is true or not true. On the other hand, ministerial guarantees on the record of the House are one issue but legislation is another. I know it might be a little tedious but I concur with Senator Ó Clochartaigh and perhaps the Minister of State can point out where the provisions are in the Bill. It may be a cumbersome way of doing things but it would utterly obviate any doubt that exists. I respectfully ask that the Minister of State, who seems very clearly in charge of his brief on the Bill, would do this for us. In that case there could not be the slightest possibility of any ambiguity. I have also been contacted by representatives of these women and they have raised the six points mentioned by the Minister of State's Labour Party colleague on the other side of the House. The Minister of State's answer appeared to be very definitive but if he could nail this matter down, we would very much appreciate it.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout It would be useful. Perhaps we are all saying the same thing but we are not all hearing the same thing. To echo the Senator's comments and Senator Ó Clochartaigh's proposal, perhaps we could have a brief gap of a few minutes between Committee and Report Stage to allow a comprehensive statement to be put on the record of the House. This is in preference to just having a statement that this element is in the Bill or it is not there. May we have such a clear statement? It should outline the types of services that will be available and when the guidelines will emerge for the women. We are all focused on that. When the guidelines are available, the women will know they have the right to access those services.

  I am not suggesting that we go piece by piece and I do not mind if we pause for a while to allow the Minister of State to put together a comprehensive statement that can bring about absolute clarity. We do not want to play ping-pong and I want us all to walk out of here today feeling that we have done some good. At the moment I do not feel that way because I have not heard clarity in the statements.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson To clarify the position, we have until 4 p.m. to deal with Committee Stage and there is no rush or panic. As we get to the different sections, the Minister of State can deal with specific queries from Senators. There is no time constraint. The only difficulty that might arise is if we do not reach a conclusion by 4 p.m., as the order is that the Bill must be finished or adjourned at that stage.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy I cannot understand why people are saying there is no clarity about this. The Minister of State could not have been clearer. The people who lived in Magdalen laundries suffered an enormous abuse, not just of civil rights but of every single right they had and that was perpetrated by the State. The Taoiseach acknowledged this in his speech some years ago. What possible incentive could there be for the representatives of the State to backtrack on what the Taoiseach so generously said at the time? I understand it is procedurally cumbersome, as I understand and as we see today, but I am prepared, uniquely on this issue, to say this is a red line issue. I am sure everybody in the House is prepared to do likewise. The Minister of State and the Taoiseach are prepared to do likewise. In the procedures available to us and structures set out for Committee Stage, we are being offered the exact clarity we are seeking. I suggest the entire moral authority of the House should be thrown at whatever gaps are not being covered by the legislation.

  It is as clear as day to me what is being provided since the Minister of State spoke moments ago on the record of the House. Some elements cannot be provided under the terms of this legislation. We can agree on that as the medical card scheme or the Health (Amendment) Act, HAA, schemes work through the Health Service Executive and not through primary legislation. It is through regulation instead. I am probably confusing matters even more but it really is clear that the ten points raised by Justice for the Magdalenes-----

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I want to hear it from the Minister of State in one clear statement.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy The comments in the exchange could not have been clearer. Justice for the Magdalenes have the experts in this area and its ten concerns are clearly outlined on this piece of paper. I put them to the Minister of State on the record of the House and, as far as I can see, he has addressed them in sequential order. It seems there is no gap between what is recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke and what is in this Bill, other pieces of legislation or schemes or schedules to be set up by the Minister. It seems as clear as day, unless we are saying that we do not believe the Minister of State. I am not prepared to take that step.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell It is absolutely fascinating. This seems to be the greatest example of confusion I have ever come across, whether it is confusion of language or cognition. Last week when I was here, some of us rose to speak about the Magdalen redress programme and we were told we were being overly compassionate and emotional and losing our heads. I deeply resented that. One cannot feel profoundly unless one thinks profoundly. Most of us were bringing some kind of cognition to the table. The greatest emotional speech ever made on this came from the Taoiseach two years ago and there has not yet been a bullet point plan for the issue.

  Senator Gilroy, if he does not mind me saying so, is probably the greatest visual aid I have come across for the confusion. Last week he told us we were wilfully misreading the Bill. He is now wilfully standing behind the goalkeeper. I am more confused by his stance, his non-stance or his re-stance, as it were, than I am by anything else. If the Bill is everything the Minister of State says it is, why are my two amendments considered out of order in so far as they are-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson We will deal with them as we get to them.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I am delighted for anybody in the Gallery as drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances are now not going to be limited to the medical card reimbursement list. They will now go in parallel to the HAA. I am thankful if that is happening. The aural and dental-----

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin No.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell That is not what is happening. The dental, ophthalmic and aural services are not going to be limited to the medical card. They will be open to private as well as public concerns. If that is correct, that is also marvellous.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Let him answer.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I am delighted. I do not know why I am here if everything is present and correct.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Let the Minister of State answer. He has not said "Yes" or "No" yet.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Exactly. I thank the Senator. We are talking about cognition, the thought process and the lack of confusion in such a process, as well as the language in the process. That is what I am seeking, as well as the profundity of feeling.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Hear, hear.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú This is no ordinary case. We know the history and background and we know the length of time it has taken to reach this destination. I am sure the Minister of State will reply in a moment and I asked if he has met the representatives of those who expect to benefit from the Bill and has given them the same answers. Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Norris have both put points for consideration. Everybody in the House, including the Minister of State, wants to do the right thing, and that is why people are emotional about this. They want to ensure we are dotting the i's and crossing the t's, with any anomalies, doubts or lack of clarity being dealt with.

  We will have to take the Acting Chairman's direction on whether Senator Ó Clochartaigh's proposal to pause and reflect on what can be done on Report Stage can be considered. I certainly do not see any problem with the point put forward by Senator Norris. We all want to do the right thing and achieve clarity.  We are reflecting what the survivors of the Magdalen laundries are thinking and what they are concerned about. It should be possible and it has to be possible for us to put their concerns at ease.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney From my inquiries, I have found that the HAA card for hepatitis C sufferers is limited to the reimbursement list except for a very limited number of drugs which are specific to hepatitis C. That is the only thing hepatitis C sufferers get with the HAA card and these would not be relevant to the Magdalen laundries women.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Obviously, my previous comments have been misconstrued by Senators. I do not want anybody who has gone through this lifetime abuse, if one wants to call it that, to have that situation compounded by misinformation. I sat through the debates in the Dáil, sitting beside officials and listening to contributions from people who clearly had not read a single word of the Bill. They walked into the Dáil and decided that whatever the Government was doing was wrong, and they got very hot and heavy and made speeches without referring to a single item in the Bill. Anyone on the outside watching this debate would assume the Government is not implementing the Quirke report and is implementing something completely different. A political opportunity was used by speakers in the Dáil in order to give that impression.

  This is my second time in the House discussing this Bill. What I am saying now is similar to what I was saying on the last occasion in respect of the provisions of this Bill. When it comes to dealing with legislation, I have to say that, on the various different issues, I have had very good interaction with the Members in this House. I assume we are on the same side on this. There comes a stage when the campaigning ends and the winning begins. That is the same in every single campaign that anybody has ever been involved in. There comes a stage when the winning begins. This Bill is where the winning begins in terms of what Mr. Justice Quirke has asked for. I cannot say more. I am not asking the Members to look at a press release from the Department of Justice and Equality or to look at a statement that Minister X, Y or Z has made. I am asking them to look at the green piece of paper they have all been given, which is the Bill in front of them, which they have been asked, as legislators, to pass through this esteemed House.

  The Bill states:

Provision of health services without charge to relevant participants

2. (1) The Health Service Executive shall make available without charge to relevant participants—
(a) the general practitioner medical and surgical service specified in section 58 of the Act of 1970 [the same as with hepatitis C],

(b) drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances for the time being on the Reimbursement List within the meaning of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013 [as noted by Senator Moloney],

(c) the nursing service specified in section 60 of the Act of 1970 [the same as with hepatitis C],

(d) the home help service specified in section 61 of the Act of 1970, following an assessment of needs made by a registered medical practitioner or a registered nurse that the service is so required [the same as with hepatitis C],

(e) the dental, ophthalmic and aural services specified in section 67 of the Act of 1970 [the same as with hepatitis C],

(f) a counselling service, following a referral made in that regard by a registered medical practitioner, relative to a relevant participant’s admission to and work in any of the institutions specified in the Schedule [the same as with hepatitis C],

(g) a chiropody service... and

(h) a physiotherapy service... [the same as with hepatitis C].

All I am asking Senators to do is to look at what is in the Bill and to acknowledge that the only difference relates to quite specific circumstances which directly relate to hepatitis C and which do not relate to the Magdalen women. Mr. Justice Quirke's report is being implemented in full, and no Government, Parliament, Seanad or Dáil should stand over anything less. If I appear to be irritated by the misinformation, it is because I do not want people whose life experiences have been trawled through the media and in public comment in the last while, and who are trying to come to terms with their life experience, to have that situation compounded by misinformation and press releases and statements which are factually incorrect. I plead with Senators to look at the report and to look at the only bit of paper that is important in this context, namely, the Bill. I ask them to make their assessment, as myself and Senator Gilroy have done, by going through the subsections which list the ten services which we were told were not in the Bill but which we know are there because we have dissected them one by one.

  If Members do not believe me, I will make this offer. If the Cathaoirleach wants to adjourn the House for a few moments, if that is possible under the Order of Business, the officials here would be quite happy to nail down in a detailed manner the individual questions the Senators have. However, I would say this. I have been here before and have outlined this before. I would ask those who are making statements to refer to the Bill and we can get some really solid work done here today.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson By way of clarification, the order of the House is that Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken between now and 4 p.m. My hands are tied in that regard as that is the Order of the House. If the Acting Leader wants to amend the order to suspend-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I propose a suspension of the House for 15 minutes.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh On a point of order, I made a suggestion previously that we separate Committee Stage and Report Stage because-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson That is a matter for the House. There has been a proposal-----

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Surely the suspension of the House is a matter for the House as well.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson That has been agreed. The House has agreed to suspend for 15 minutes.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Could I make the point first?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The question was not put.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh The other crucial party in this are the representative groups. The suggestion made was that the Acting Leader could make a proposal to the House that we-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson We will get clarification on that.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh That would be beneficial.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I would make the point that this is a generous offer by the Minister of State but, on the other hand, it will not be on the record of the House. It will be a private discussion between the officials and the individual Senators who have worries.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The House is suspended for 15 minutes. I am sorry. That was the decision made.

  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

  Sitting suspended at 2.15 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

Business of Seanad

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill I call the Leader to propose an amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that Report and Final Stages of the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 will not be taken today and that Committee Stage will conclude at 4 o'clock, as previously outlined.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Is that agreed? Agreed.

Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 2

  Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete line 26 and substitute the following:
"(a) the provision of health services without charge as outlined in section 2 of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996,".

- (Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú)

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Does the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, who was in possession, have anything to add?

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin): Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Some of the issues that were concerning Senators have been outlined by officials outside the Chamber. If the Senators have any remaining questions that they want put on the record of the House, I am quite happy to reply to them.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It might be useful if some of the resolution to the questions that were asked outside, and some of the discussion, was now placed on the record by those who asked the questions, and the replies were gained so that these then become part of the record of the House.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin If the Senator asks a question, I will give a "Yes" or "No" answer.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris There was a question about whether it was an HAA card and what the difference was, and there is the fact that the only difference with the hepatitis C group was that they got certain specific drugs that were relevant to their condition only. That, to my mind, was a clarification.

  My colleagues, Senators van Turnhout, Mary Ann O'Brien and O'Donnell, asked specific questions and there were some concrete answers given. It would be useful for the House if these questions and the answers were put on the record of the House and confirmed by the Minister of State.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I concur. In some of the briefing notes we have been given it was stated that HAA cardholders are entitled to any prescribed medications, drugs or appliances. There seems to be a different view on that. The Minister of State might clarify the Department's stance on that one.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin The only difference is, as Senator Norris already outlined, the medication or services that were specific to hepatitis C. That is the only difference because it would not be relevant to the Magdalen women. That is the only reason and it is the only change.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris There was also a question that there were a number of items that were stated in material emanating from the Justice for Magdalenes that the Minister of State felt were unfair. He felt that they stated that certain matters are not in the Bill, and he went through it and stated these are in the Bill. If further clarification is needed by those who asked the questions, now is the time to seek it.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell There is confusion and a kind of obfuscation in the language. The clarity given to me, be it not what I would be genuinely looking for if I was looking a totality, is as follows, that the Magdalen women will be entitled to a medical card, to free prescriptions, to a suite of services as outlined in the Bill, to free access to a GP of their choice and, if necessary, referral to a consultant, maybe not necessarily within two weeks. That was the confusion. Am I correct on that? That is how I see the difference and that is what we have clarified outside. Could I also clarify that the ophthalmic and dental services will not be opened to private services and that they will be medical card services?

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien I wish to cover the dental, ophthalmic and oral services. The wording of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, and Mr. Justice Quirke's recommended wording in appendix E, is "dental, ophthalmic and aural treatment and dental, optical and aural appliances". The wording in the Bill is not the same as that in the 1996 Act, and we need to hear the Minister of State's commentary on that.

  As the Minister of State will be aware, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, amended the wording of the GP service at section 2(1)(a) after Committee Stage in the Dáil to remove the reference to the 1970 Act. She did this, very kindly, to make it clear that the women would be entitled to private GP care rather than the normal medical card standard GP care. It was wonderful. The Minister of State needs to do the same for dental, ophthalmic and oral services.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I concur completely with Senator O'Donnell's understanding. I can confirm that Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's understanding is completely correct as well, in terms of dental and ophthalmic services. The only difference is that some of these provisions in relation to hepatitis C are not relevant to Magdalen laundries. That is the only reason. There is no other motivation behind the changes in legislation. Whatever the women were entitled to in terms of hepatitis C, the Magdalen women are also absolutely entitled to, as is correct. The only difference is for certain circumstances and certain services which are not relevant because they are specific to women who were suffering from hepatitis C.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I welcome the support given by the Minister of State and the officials as we took the recess to discuss some of the issues. I also thank the Leader of the House for coming in and agreeing to put back Report Stage. That is useful.

  At this stage, as a signatory to amendments Nos. 1 and 5, I would suggest that we have discussed them and what we need to do is go back and look at what the Minister of State has said. If we withdraw amendments Nos. 1 and 5 and we are happy, after consulting some of those advocating on behalf of the Magdalen women, we will not need to resubmit them for Report Stage. If we feel, however, after consulting those advocating on behalf of the Magdalen women, there are still issues that need to be addressed or that are not 100% clear, we could resubmit the amendments on Report Stage. I would suggest, if we can do so, that we would withdraw the amendments at this stage.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I also thank the Leader of the House with regard to Report Stage.  I welcome the clarity provided by the Minister of State before our pause and since we have resumed. It is important and it is what I was looking for, that we would have absolute clarity. There is an outstanding question from me in regard to the guidelines and the timeline that will come into place. I am not putting the Minister of State under pressure to respond now but I would ask that he would provide clarity on Report Stage in regard to the anticipated timeline as to when these will be rolled out. This is what people are looking for. We can get caught up in legislation and we move on.

  I appreciate the Minister of State took issue at a press release by Justice for Magdalenes. Many of us have seen the outstanding work that Justice for Magdalenes has done with the women long before any of us realised this was an issue. I would want that the record of this House today would applaud its work and thank Justice for Magdalenes for the service it has done to the State and to us as parliamentarians but particularly to the women for whom it works. I want to ensure we have the right tone in the House. I agree with the Minister of State that we all want to be happy with this Bill. It is in all our interests that we are all behind it and that this legislation will make the difference that we all want it to make.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien Returning to the issue of dental services, the Minister of State said the only difference for the hepatitis C sufferers is that they have a huge need for very specific drugs, liver drugs and drugs for skin problems. Our amendments are simple and seek to delete the reference to section 67 of the Act of 1970 and insert "and dental, optical and aural appliances". This has nothing to do with hepatitis C or the liver. This is about teeth. I want the right for the Magdalen ladies that, just as they can go to any GP or a private GP, the same type of arrangement would apply to dental services.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney I, too, commend the work of the Justice for Magdalenes group. I know from speaking to the Minister of State that he and Justice for Magdalenes want what is best for the women. People have been getting hung up, as it were, on a HAA card. The HAA card was introduced under the Health (Amendment) Act specifically for people with hepatitis C. The only difference, as already outlined, is that hepatitis C sufferers get medication specific to hepatitis C. The card we are legislating for today is exactly the same apart from that specific medication for hepatitis C, even though it is not being called a HAA card. The card for which we are legislating has enhanced benefits for the Magdalen women. We are seeking to ensure that the women who went through the Magdalen laundries get the best possible treatment from the State. God knows they had the worst of times, and now is our time to redeem ourselves and make sure these women are looked after properly and will have all the services they need and require. Perhaps the card should be given a name other than just a medical card. It should be different from the ordinary medical card that the ordinary man and woman on the street would get because it will include physiotherapy, chiropody, podiatry and counselling services. The women need to know that those services are available to them under the medical card for which we are legislating.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is important that we proceed with this Bill and that the Minister of State gives us an indication as to the timespan within which these specific provisions of the Bill will come into operation. I say that because a number of these women are quite elderly, some have died, and we do not want this to continue.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney Which is why we need to get on with it.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I understand that there are legislative difficulties with waiting for the legislation to come into effect. There may also be regulations. There is also the question of the actual provision of the medical service which has to be laid on. It would be very useful if the Minister of State could give the House an indication of the time within which he anticipates all these measures will be put in place.

  I regret I have to leave the House as I have to do a couple of interviews.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell As stated by Senator van Turnhout, I, too, acknowledge the Justice for Magdalenes research, solicitors, lawyers and the women who have stood up for women who have been oppressed and have had lost lives. If I had had the Justice for Magdalenes research in my own life, I may not have taken some of the roads I took. What Senator van Turnhout said is very important. The draft guide will need to be a comprehensive HSE guide.

  Some €58 million has been given over to lump sum payments, €18 million has been paid in lump sums and €23 million has been spent to date. I am interested to know how much is left and how it will be used. However, that question does not necessarily apply to this amendment but it is certainly an important issue.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin On the last point, some of these payments are made over a continuing period until the ladies pass away so it is not as if we have to continue with these payments.

  The remarks about the Justice for Magdalenes group are well made. It has done sterling work and has been campaigning on a great injustice that was done to these women for a very long time. It is an Ireland to which none of us ever wants to return. When we debated this issue previously, I said there are many issues that still have to be dealt with in Ireland, particularly about the status of women, and also our love affair with institutionalising people which we still do to this day. We have spoken previously in this House on issues in this regard.

  When a press release or a statement, which is factually incorrect, is issued, as Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, I have to point to what is correct and what is incorrect. We have to refer to the Bill. I would make the point that there is in all things in life and in politics a time when the campaigning ends and winning begins. I genuinely feel that this is where the winning is beginning for women who deserve no less from the State. It is the intention for these provisions to be made available a month after the Bill is signed into law by the President. We have lost another week but if that week makes Senators more at ease with the Bill that is passing, then it is a week worth taking.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I will withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, not moved.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 6, after "service," to insert "as provided for in the services provided by section 2 of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996,".

It is suggested that we withdraw it, by leave of the House. We reserve the right to resubmit it.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I will not repeat the debate we have had. I have a question on how our amendments involve a charge to the Exchequer. I think Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell mentioned it earlier in respect of the two amendments we had tabled given that we were told it did not have material difference. However, I will put that one aside. I do not know if this is the appropriate section under which to raise the issue of personal advocacy. I raised it with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, when I met her last week with Senator O'Donnell. Section 5 of the Citizens Information Act 2007 allows the Citizens Information Board to appoint persons to act as personal advocates to persons who, by reason of disability or lack of capacity, are unable to access particular social health or welfare services. I understand this section has not been commenced for resource reasons and I know the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, has been pursuing this issue, but I think this is a way in which we could provide, in the interim, where the capacity Bill has not come into law, personal advocates to women, particularly those in the disability services.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I agree with the views expressed by Senators that the service would be a very useful facility to provide to Magdalen women who have capacity issues. The Department of Justice and Equality is in discussion with the Citizens Information Board with regard to the provision of personal advocacy services to Magdalen women and will have further discussions with the Department of Social Protection in this regard. Section 5 of the 2007 Act has not yet been commenced and will require commencement in order for such a service to be provided.  While I believe it is important to make the option of advocacy available to women who need it, it is also important to recognise that the role of a personal advocate under the 2007 Act is limited to assisting an individual to apply for a social service. The personal advocate does not have power of attorney or cannot otherwise manage the affairs of an individual. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, to which the Senator refers will provide an important additional safeguard for some of the Magdalen women who need more than an advocacy service. The Committee Stage debate on this Bill, which makes detailed provision in respect of a range of options - including decision-making assistance, co-decision makers, decision-making representatives and the public guardian - is due to be taken in the Dáil. The provisions to which I refer will cater more fully for the range of situations likely to arise in respect of Magdalen women who have capacity issues.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I welcome the Minister of State's commitment in respect of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill. However, the cases I cited previously in the context of Magdalen women seeking to access disability and social services illustrate that they cannot access them. It is obvious, therefore, that they require the assistance of personal advocates. I am of the view that this section of the Bill should be commenced as a matter of urgency because that would provide us with a way in which to deal with this matter in the interim.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I support Senator van Turnhout on this matter. We have tabled a similar amendment in respect of section 5. It has been brought to our attention that Justice for Magdalenes is extremely concerned regarding the welfare of survivors who lack capacity. The Government has decided to wait until the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill is passed before survivors can have a decision-making representative or a co-decision maker appointed to process their applications to the restorative justice scheme. The Magdalen women are of the view that until this happens, they will not be able to avail of the enhanced health care and other benefits available under the scheme. They believe that, in the interim, every woman who remains institutionalised in the care of the religious orders - particularly those who lack capacity - should be assigned personal advocates. The National Advocacy Service, which does excellent work, could be provided with additional funding by the Department of Social Protection in order to establish a small team of personal advocates dedicated to the Magdalen survivors. We call on the Minister of State to consider our suggestion in this regard. We all know how long - even with the best will in the world - it can take for legislation to be passed by the Houses. The age profile of the women involved must be taken into account. Obliging them to wait for the passage of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill would just seem to add another injustice to the list of those already visited upon these women previously.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin The Senators' points are well made and we will do the best we can in that regard.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sections 3 and 4 agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are out of order as they would involve potential charges on the Exchequer.

  Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.

SECTION 5

  Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh The issue we raised in respect of personal advocates in the context of section 2 also applies here. I question whether what is proposed in our amendment would constitute a potential charge on the Exchequer, particularly if it could be done through the National Advocacy Service. I refer here to putting in place an interim solution for those women who lack capacity. I take on board the fact that the Minister of State has indicated that he will consider this matter between now and Report Stage and that, at that time, he will possibly provide more information on the Government's plans in respect of this issue.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Information on Mary Ann O'Brien Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien It is very comforting that the Minister of State thought the Senators made good points in respect of personal advocates and that he agrees that action should be taken. The fact is, however, those women who remain institutionalised require to be represented in respect of obtaining things to which they may be entitled - including, for example, mattresses or walking supports - but on which they must spend their own money. Until we can help those women, they will not be able to access all the wonderful health benefits, medicines, dental services, etc., provided for in the Bill before the House. If provision is not made in respect of the appointment of personal advocates, some of the Magdalen women will be placed in a nonsensical position. It is extremely important that we should put in place something concrete - I do not suggest that this should be legislative in nature - to ensure the relevant steps will be taken immediately after the Bill is enacted.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Again, I take on board the points made by the Senators. We will hopefully have more to say in respect of this issue on Report Stage.

  Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 6

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
“(2) That within 1 month of enactment of this legislation the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will independently verify, in a report laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, that the legislation does indeed fully and faithfully implement the relevant recommendations contained within the Magdalen Commission Report on the establishment of an ex-gratia Scheme and related matters for the benefit of those women who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalen Laundries, authored by Mr Justice John Quirke and published in May 2013.”.

The importance of this amendment is underpinned by what has been already stated during this debate. While the Minister of State may take issue with the words used, it is obvious that we all want to do the best for the women involved in a timely fashion. We also want to see to it that once the legislation has been passed, there will be a mechanism in place to ensure that what is promised will be delivered within a suitable timeframe. We are of the view that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission can be trusted to independently verify that what has been said will be done and that the provisions of the legislation will be implemented. That is why amendment No. 8 has been put forward and we hope that all Senators and the Minister of State will support it.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin While I understand the motivation behind the amendment, unfortunately I cannot accept it. This is because it would make no sense for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to be asked to report if the Bill is used to implement the ex gratia scheme, when that scheme is not contemplated by the legislation at all. As the Senators are aware, the recommendations in regard to the scheme have been already implemented in full and as recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke. All women who worked in the relevant institutions receive payments of between €11,500 and €100,000, depending on the length of time they spend in those institutions. They also receive top-up payments to ensure their weekly State benefits of up to €100 until they reach 66 years of age and then the equivalent of the State contributory pension, €230.30 per week, for the remainder of their lives. To date, more than €18 million has been paid out and payments will continue to be made to the women for the rest of their lives. The Bill makes provision for all of the health services recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke but it does not implement the ex gratia scheme or various other things recommended by him. I reiterate that all of the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Quirke will be implemented in full and that the introduction of legislation will not be required in most instances.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy The entire debate on this matter almost broke down as a result of matters revolving around a lack of communication, miscommunication and, perhaps, the issue of trust. While I agree with the general tenor of the amendment tabled by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, there is nothing to require the Minister of State to attend in the House and provide progress reports on how the implementation of the legislation is proceeding. I am sure Senators will monitor the Bill's progress very closely and will invite the Minister of State to return to the House and lay reports before it in respect of this matter.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh If the Minister of State takes on board the thrust behind what we are trying to achieve, perhaps he will seek to ensure that the implementation of the ex gratia scheme and related matters will be dealt with and that there will be some form of oversight in this regard. If he is not going to accept the amendment, perhaps he will indicate how the Houses will be notified in future, in a very timely manner, with regard to how the promises being made here are being delivered upon. If he clarifies the position in this regard, I may withdraw the amendment and - depending on whether we are satisfied with his response - decide whether to resubmit it on Report Stage.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin This House has a proud record of pursuing issues that are of importance to it. We have engaged in an informative and robust debate on the Bill today. I would be both proud and honoured to return to the House at any time - at the invitation of Senators - to discuss any aspect of the legislation or the ex gratia payments being made to the women. I am sure also the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, would be happy to come here to discuss any relevant matters with Senators.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I have no doubt the Minister of State would, but with something this detailed and urgent, if possible, a more precise oversight mechanism needs to be put in place. A body such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, does need to independently verify the position. We could have a political argy-bargy in the House about what has been done and what has not been done but it would be preferable if an independent body such as the IHREC were to examine what has been done and what has been implemented within a very short period, as time is of the essence. In the political world things can get stretched out and it could take a while before the Minister of State could get back to see us. We have seen that happen previously. It would be more useful if the women themselves also had the mechanism in legislation to allow them to go to a body such as the IHREC to ensure that what is to be delivered will be delivered. Perhaps more steps need to be taken in that regard.

Senator John Gilroy: Information on John Gilroy Zoom on John Gilroy While I agree with the tenor of what Senator Ó Clochartaigh said, the wording of the amendment does not give expression to what he wishes to achieve. The view he expressed is something that is shared by all Members of the House.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin There are enough avenues within the Houses of the Oireachtas for Members to hold the Government to account and to find out facts and figures in terms of the payments and how the provisions of the Bill are being implemented. I refer, for example, to parliamentary questions, the Topical Issue debate, or in this House by means of a Private Members' motion, commencement debate or other means. I do not believe an amendment to the Bill is necessary in this regard. I am quite sure Members of the Oireachtas have lots of avenues to hold the Government to account, and likewise the Bill, and to allow for Members to stand up in various ways to ensure the women get what they are entitled to.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh With all due respect, the people about whom I am most concerned are the women themselves, and that they would have a mechanism to which they could resort to adjudicate on their situation and whether the promises have been delivered on. However, I do take on board the comments of colleagues and the Minister of State in terms of the wording of the amendment. I suggest we withdraw it at this stage and resubmit a similar amendment on Report Stage if we feel that needs to be done.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 6 agreed to.

  Schedule agreed to.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Next Tuesday.

  Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 10 March 2015.

  Sitting suspended at 3.05 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.

Establishment of Electoral Commission: Motion

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I move:

“That Seanad Éireann notes the Consultation Paper on the Establishment of an Electoral Commission in Ireland published by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in January, 2015.”

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the House. The electoral commission has been spoken about, thought about and dreamt about for a long time. When researching the matter I noted there were rumblings about it as far back as 2000. The Minister was very proactive on the issue and last month he published a consultation paper on the establishment of an electoral commission. He has taken the first steps towards setting up an electoral commission. I presume that what emerges from the consultation will be the first step in the preparation of legislation on an electoral commission Bill. The consultation paper has been forwarded by the Minister to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, on which I sit. As each party has only two Seanad Members on the committee I thought it would be a good idea to have a discussion on this important issue which will involve widespread change to how the electoral process is carried out. The House is noted for its contribution to good debate and consultation. It would be a good forum to play out the issues and to offer ideas. Not all Members sit on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The committees play an important role. A recommendation will come from the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the consultation paper but my reason for tabling the motion is to provide an initial opportunity to discuss the paper in this House.

  The Government is living up to its commitment in the programme for Government in this regard. The previous Government produced a document in 2008. Academics and other experts have done some work on the issue and have recommended that we look to establish an electoral commission, as exists in most countries in Europe. Could the Minister indicate the closing date for consultation? All-party consensus was reached previously and I believe we can achieve that again given that such a commission would be a significant undertaking and gives rise to a range of policy and organisational issues. On reading the consultation paper published by the Minister, I note it will look at international best practice, the commission's structure and functions, its relationship with other bodies, and the approach to be followed. Extensive legislation will be required in order to bring about the changes. Does the Minister have any dates in that regard? It will not alone affect politicians, as the administration of the new system will affect everybody who has a vote in this country. I very much welcome the public consultation.

  It is a huge undertaking and it will not be easy. I accept it might be difficult for the Minister to give exact timescales and dates as progress will depend on A, B, C and D. Everybody has good intentions and we all agree that this should be done and must be done. However, that was the case with the previous Government. Does the Minister have a dedicated team to oversee the process? If he does not, he should have such a team to deliver it over a certain period. It might not be done in a year or a number of years but the Minister should set a date for the establishment of the commission. Achieving consensus is also very important.

  The establishment of an electoral commission was reaffirmed by the Constitutional Convention and in April 2014 the Taoiseach confirmed in the Dáil the Government's acceptance of the recommendation. The Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 agreed that this would be done, but what was not agreed is a range of opinion on the precise functions to be assigned to an electoral commission and the roles that should continue to be performed by those who currently have responsibilities in this area. No decisions have been taken on what should be included or excluded and for what reason. Currently, a number of different bodies and office holders perform certain duties. Costs are also involved. It will be necessary to assign a dedicated budget to the commission. When I was a councillor and was trying to get money from A to B, it was common to look at the cost of producing the electoral register to see if a few bob could be shaved off from that area to put somewhere else or vice versa, one might think it needed more money because the electoral register was not performing up to scratch. When we discussed it at the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, we considered whether the cost of carrying out the work and producing the register was reflected in the budget. Very often, a lot of subsidiary work was done by local authorities that was not included in the budget. We must examine best practice worldwide to ensure economies of scale are achieved. There is no point in just changing the system for the sake of change. The job must be done better and must be effective and cost efficient. It is considered that New Zealand has a good system in place.

  I compliment the Minister on the consultation paper. To provide a focus to public and political debate, the consultation paper sets out a series of 11 questions and provides a lot of information. I would recommend that people who have not read it should do so as it is a very worthwhile paper.  It provides a series of 11 questions and information on them.

  Ireland is in a minority of countries that does not have an independent electoral management body. The consultation paper notes that two thirds of jurisdictions now have a system that is institutionally independent of Government. That is important as it must be independent. That is what this is all about, namely, to take it out of the realms of politics, local authorities, Government and councillors.

  Should the responsibility for general election boundaries be run by an independent electoral commission or, as it is, the independent body? Who should be responsible for voter registration? Should an electoral commission have an oversight role in respect of the responsibilities of local authorities in dealing with local election spending and donations with the Standards in Public Office Commission being amalgamated into it? It is important to update the electoral register. We all have our own stories to tell about that. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad and other times people turn up to vote and say they do not have a polling card but that they had one last year. Key problems have been identified and that one is one of the main ones that has come up. Other problems identified relate to registration, the use of ballot papers, voting and the type of ballot paper. There was an update with respect to photographs on ballot papers to ensure identity and realism in terms of voting to guard against fraudulent voting, and it has helped in that respect. However, the commission could examine other ways and means of ensuring that the register reflects the people living in an area in the year in question.

  The UCD Geary Institute was asked by the previous Government to examine this issue and one of its recommendations in its preliminary study on the establishment of an electoral commission was that personal public service, PPS, numbers should be used for identification. I know the trouble we got into previously with the use of PPS numbers but this is a methodology that is used in other countries, especially for identification purposes with regard to the electoral register. I will not ask the Minister to answer in respect of that recommendation but it is one we could consider and on which we could have consultation. It is one that I would consider and it should be seriously examined because there is no better way to identify somebody if we want to curb fraudulent voting, but there may be obstacles to that as well. The Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of the 30th Dáil held hearings on this. We have had hearings and consultations on this. Senator Mac Conghail has tabled an amendment to this motion to the effect that the commission would be established by the end of December 2015. I have no objection to that if it could be realistically achieved, but I have outlined all that will have to happen before it can be established and, therefore, I do not know if we can accept that amendment.

  The electoral commission should be tasked to examine and advise on policy issues in electoral administration, including how to increase political engagement. That is important because we have seen our political engagement slide. The commission could be tasked with educating voters as we do not have such a policy and such education is left to the schools. There should be a body in place that would educate voters ranging from the young to the middle-aged. Everybody needs it. Such a body is needed to examine the issue of education, how to increase ease of access to voting, how to improve the system and to examine the issue of how surplus votes are counted. Personally, I might be satisfied with how surplus votes are counted. That issue always arises and it is open for discussion but it should be explained to the general populace. The issue of how surplus votes are counted always arises at an election count.. There is a question and there is the matter of whether that should be examined.

  There is also the matter of maintaining the register of political parties. A further issue is broadcasting coverage during an election campaign, particularly during referendum campaigns. For example, with regard to the upcoming referendum, one person or two people may have come out against it and the issue of balance arises if the broadcasting authority has to allow 50% coverage to that side every time the referendum is given coverage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The Senator has exceeded her time.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane This involves a wide remit but enforcement and resources are important because this cannot be done without that.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Who on the Fine Gael side is seconding the motion? Can a Member formally second it?

Senator Michael Comiskey: Information on Michael Comiskey Zoom on Michael Comiskey I formally second the motion.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The Senator can reserve making his contribution until later if he wishes.

Senator Michael Comiskey: Information on Michael Comiskey Zoom on Michael Comiskey Yes.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I call Senator MacSharry.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I welcome the Minister to the House. What happened to the Seanad report? Why are we doing this all over again?

(Interruptions).

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry The Seanad report in 2008 did exactly what we are now welcoming as the beginning of a process of doing it all over again. What a waste of resources, time and the use of this House.

  The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, was whining in recent days about the abolition of democratic processes with borough councils. We have had broken promises on electoral reform from this Government from beginning to end. We were promised new politics, which culminated in the pinnacle of democracy with the McNulty affair. We have had 63% of all Bills guillotined. I will wait until the Minister gets briefed on the Seanad report. A gap of two weeks between the taking of Second and Committee Stages, as promised by the Government, has not been provided for in 78% of Bills. Those were some of the political reforms that were promised. We have a scenario where often in politics people play the ball, and sometimes even the man, but as to why the Labour Party and Fine Gael sought to dig up the pitch in the ill-thought-out attempt to abolish this House, I will never know. It was a disgraceful attempt to dig up the pitch. The greatest act of political delinquency was to try to abolish this House which the Minister abused as his own right to get elected to the other House. When he got elected there, he said we had to get rid of this House. He is here now wasting the public's money and his officials' time and resources talking about an electoral commission. The stones on the road know what needs to be done. He has the Seanad report of 2008. I am sure there is a room full of other reports that highlight the same things.

  I will be supporting the amendment to the motion tabled by the Independents which proposes that the commission should be set up by December. There is no need for all the old rhetoric such as what we had for 50 years about the draining of the River Shannon and having another Sinnott report. We will still be here ten generations from now talking about an electoral reform commission. The reality is whoever comprises the Government of the day wants to do whatever suits them and to be able to do it without having to put it to the people, the Houses of the Oireachtas or anybody else.

(Interruptions).

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry Two wrongs do not make a right. I am not here to defend anybody. I have no difficulty in saying how stupid and wrong it is to be wasting resources like this. From a constituency perspective, no county boundary should ever be breached. I am in a constituency, as is Senator Comiskey, where Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan will form one constituency. That is a disgrace. There is no guarantee for any of those counties to have a Deputy from their county representing them. It is a disgrace. It is not in keeping with the constituency. There was a ruling in 1965 but it should be challenged by any Government to ensure there is a minimum of one Deputy in each county and a minimum of representation that does not result in a county being sliced in half or in three, as the case could be, and it not having any representation. That is one aspect that should be stated as wrong.

  As soon as the Ministers ditched the State cars and went on the bus to Farmleigh to impress us all, what did they do? They reverted to type. Four Ministers in Cabinet run the entire show. The rest are told to do what they are told and if they do not like it, they can get out because there are people who want to take their place. Sadly, that is the reality. Lucinda knows all about that. Dare a Minister go against the Taoiseach or Tánaiste on abortion and out they will go and they can set up their own party. That is what political reform means to this Government. It does not want any dissension, debate or political reform. Parliament is subservient to the Cabinet of the day and that is why the public has zero confidence in our political system.  They will never have a sense of ownership of the policy platform until they can see the message they give to the likes of Senators Michael Comiskey and Denis Landy being delivered in the shape of legislation. In reality, they cannot do that because unless they can get to the four men up top, they have no hope. If party members go into a meeting in the parliamentary party room of the Labour Party or Fine Gael and tell the Minister they do not like something, they will be told "This is what we are doing and this is why. Now get out." I know this because I was in such meetings when we were in Government and it was, sadly, the same. We got our answer in the form of 56 seats so it is stupid in the extreme to make the same mistakes again. However, that is the practice. Why? It is because Parliament is subservient to the Cabinet or the stronger personalities within Cabinet at a given time.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Can we focus on the motion?

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry With the greatest respect, the Acting Chairman has an extremely narrow interpretation of the motion if he does not think this is absolutely in direct relevance to it.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The Senator is also coming close to the end of his allotted time.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry They are the kinds of reforms that are needed. Instead of the reforms, however, we have the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. He has so much respect for the Seanad that he is happy to look after senior civil servants and special advisers and break pay agreements in order that he can pay them as much as they want. As Senator Paschal Mooney said yesterday, however, the Minister will not even provide the necessary criteria for Members on all sides of this House to draw down the remuneration required for them to do their job. It is not a question of extra money but of providing the criteria which will allow them to be paid what they are supposed to be paid to do their job.

  I am glad to have the opportunity to make these points, but what a waste of time and what a waste of space. The Seanad report is there and everybody knows what needs to be done, but the Minister insults us all by saying it is going to take years and we will need loads of consultation. Nothing will happen but we will spend so much on it. Senator Cáit Keane asked if there was a dedicated team working on this. Who are they and how many are there? What are they doing? What are their timelines? Are they reporting back? Do not tell me it is being done on the never-never.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane Like the Senator's party did. It went on since 2001.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I have no difficulty with judging the governments of the past. I am here now to hold this Government to account. I apologise for saying this to the Minister but Irish Water is another waste of money and time.

  Can the Minister acknowledge that the people of Sligo matter as much as those in other counties? Does he want to push them out into the Atlantic because they do not have any resources? Is he saying he is happy to take their tax and spend it everywhere else, allowing Fingal County Council to keep €100 million on deposit while Sligo County Council closes its libraries? When is the Labour Party and Fine Gael going to realise that we are all Members of the Oireachtas?

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I will have to ask the Senator to conclude.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry We are all citizens of Ireland. It is not for a Labour Party Minister or a Fine Gael Minister to say the people of Sligo can sing for it. We want electoral and political reform that is representative of the people, not more BS which costs the people's money and wastes resources.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane There has been more in the past two years than there was in the past 22 years.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Senator Brennan has indicated but the motion has already been formally seconded so I will call the Senator in line with the rota. The Minister has indicated that he wishes to speak.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail On a point of order, shall I move the amendment?

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney No, the Senator's amendment will be formally moved when it comes to his turn.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan May I not contribute?

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The motion has already been seconded. It was while you were out of the House.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I had urgent business.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry Spokespersons speak first.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The problem is that it is not the turn of Fine Gael but of the Labour Party. The motion has been formally seconded so Senator Brennan will have to wait his turn.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I had a very urgent call.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail Is there not a protocol whereby each spokesperson of each group may speak? I do not want to be discourteous to the Minister. Is our group next?

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney After the Labour Party, yes.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy The only thing wasted so far in this debate was our patience listening to Senator MacSharry.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry When Senator Landy has been in the House as long as I have, he will share my frustration.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane He is jealous because something is being done now.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I ask Senators to address the motion. I will be even-handed.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy I am sure the Acting Chairman will give me the same leeway as he gave his colleague on the motion. I welcome the Minister and thank him and the Government for putting forward this proposal, which is set out in the programme for Government. It is true that it has been discussed before and brought to the stage of a report which the then Minister, former Deputy John Gormley, produced in 2010, after which it was left idle. I hope the Government goes one step further and that the Minister can look favourably towards Senator Fiach Mac Conghail's amendment. We need to see more than just a Government commitment to discuss it; we need a commitment to act. I hope the Minister has some favourable words for the amendment in order that it can be withdrawn. We all know the difficulties in trying to put together a perfect system.

  I will issue a word of warning about the register of electors. I have seen the franchise section in local authorities working on a register of electors. It involves a lot of work and many staff dedicated to the process. They have gone through the information street by street and name by name and it is still not right. That is because people change addresses and register at one address only to leave it later. The feasibility of having a registration system using PPS numbers needs to be discussed because such a system would not require addresses. We do not want to see somebody arriving at a polling station on the day of an election and not having a vote. We have all heard stories about this happening during elections. It is particularly distressing for elderly people and I know of one person, who has now passed on, who was 96 but lost his vote despite living in the same house for 60-odd years. For some strange reason there was no vote in the system for him and there was nothing I or anybody else could do about it on the day.

  We did away with town councils because we thought they were not viable. I made the case to the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, for the retention of town councils, as I did within my own party, and now we think they should be reintroduced. As a tailor would say "You measure twice and cut once." If we decide to take this matter away from local authorities, we must have a better system to replace it, something we did not provide for in respect of town councils.

  The costs must also be examined and there needs to be clarity as to whether the current costs of the Department and local authorities will actually shift and how they will be measured to move with a new system. Can we learn from Australia and New Zealand, who already have these systems in place?  Will we see a more efficient system as a result of putting this in place? There is the issue of the filling of casual vacancies. There is also the issue of the distribution of surplus votes, which is always very contentious in the political process. There are many things which need to be examined. Unlike previous speakers, I think we need to have a discussion on this and that it should be in an environment committee. We also need to have another opportunity for the broader public and interested people to debate and discuss this.

  We need timelines. I hope the Minister, in his contribution, will give us a timeline. This was included in the programme for Government in 2007. We had a report in 2010. No further action was taken. I do not want to see that happen this time round. I commend the Minister and his Department on bringing this forward but I want to see consultation result in action in a timely fashion. I hope we get a positive response to the amendment tabled by my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, on the issue of timelines.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail I move amendment No. 1:

After “January, 2015”, to add the following:
“and calls on the Government as a matter of urgency to establish an independent Electoral Commission before the end of December, 2015.”.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad. I call on the Government, as a matter of urgency, to establish an independent electoral commission before the end of 2015. There are a couple of issues involved. From the Fine Gael point of view, this is a poor motion. It is a motion that has not thought itself out. This Minister, for whom I have huge admiration, and who is a doer, sent this document to an Oireachtas joint committee. My esteemed colleague, Senator Landy, and I are members of this committee, as is Senator Keane. The Minister asked the joint committee to revert with recommendations and comments. It is a detailed and good document. The Minister has a political science background, having studied politics and history in UCC. I therefore find it extremely disappointing and almost lazy that this motion has been proposed by Fine Gael in the Seanad when, on 17 December, less than three months ago, our group tabled a motion calling for action on the establishment of an electoral commission.

  In my speech at the time, I cited core research carried out by the UCD Geary Institute, which Senator Keane mentioned. There was a commitment made in the programme for Government to overhaul the way politics works. The fourth report of the Constitutional Convention also looked at the issue. Senator MacSharry also mentioned the Seanad report. All of these lead to one thing: political reform. This Government's reputation will either be enhanced or diminished by its delivery of political reform. An independent electoral commission must be the pillar of any political reform. When the Minister was in this House in December, we did not put the motion to a vote. We took the Minister's word. I still take his word. I have an issue, however, with the extraordinarily bureaucratic way civil servants grab hold of initiatives. They grab hold of good ideas and weigh them down with proposals and consultation papers. This should be in place already. The Government will be in office for five years.

  We had a good debate on 17 December. The Minister in his response to us was very conciliatory. However, he said that he would like to deliver heads of a Bill by the middle of this year and that, by late 2015 or in early 2016, legislation he would bring legislation forward and move it through the Houses. The Tánaiste had also committed to this. I am concerned that the Minister went on the record in January to say that the more realistic timeframe for the electoral commission to be fully operational would be ahead of the next European and local elections. This is why I tabled the amendment. I will push this amendment because I want the Seanad to support the reform zeal of the Minister. I want to support the Minister on this. I do not want my esteemed colleague, Senator Landy, to feel that I am being disloyal in terms of the issue of political reform. We are pushing this because I want the Minister to have a further mandate going back to Government. This is why our group and I are very serious about this amendment.

  An electoral commission should be in place by the next general election or this Government will have utterly failed to have enacted any real political reform. This paper suggests that the process will be lengthy and states on page 7 that a commission will take a number of years to be established and will not be in place in time for the next general election. What a kick to touch; it is better than Johnny Sexton any day. It will not happen in 2019. We will be waiting longer and longer and the element of political reform will not be achieved.

  As is pointed out in this very good consultation paper, international evidence has shown that an independent electoral commission is more cost-effective and provides for better democratic stability. This country would appreciate both of these benefits right now. Given the political landscape of recent weeks and months, Irish citizens would welcome greatly the role of an independent electoral commission when the time comes for re-election. Our citizens would look favourably on a Government which follows up on a commitment to reform. I agree with Senator Landy that this Government's reputation is at stake if it does not make the commitment to establish an electoral commission by the end of this year. While this consultation paper rightly states that the electoral system enjoys a high degree of legitimacy among its citizens, it will not last forever. The time to act is now when we have the space and, it is hoped, the honest commitment of the Government to improve our democratic system.

  Senator van Turnhout spoke eloquently in December on voter registration. The answer to Senator Landy's 96 year old neighbour is to have same-day registration. This happens in states in the United States. I have seen it working at a local level. We have the technology. We had the ridiculous situation of having the former Minister, Phil Hogan, in this House arguing against a proposal we made to shorten the timescale between applying for a postal vote and the date of an election. It was ridiculous.

  I recognise and welcome the focus in the consultation paper on accountability in governance. Given the function of an electoral commission, it is also clear that it needs to be independent of Government. It also needs regulation and transparency. These are paramount. This is a crucial area which needs to be considered. Independence, accountability and performance are the crux of the issue.

  The paper also cites Laking's 2002 assertion that the decision to set up a new public body should be based either on considerations of improved economy, efficiency and effectiveness or in its contribution towards enhanced impartiality and public credibility in delivering public policy. This paper talks about starting from scratch, building it up and taking time. We could, however, use the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. We could start to develop it slowly and migrate its responsibilities in order that the electoral commission would support not only local and general elections but also referenda.

  Section 5 of the consultation paper looks outward for an international example of an electoral commission. It highlights similar ones in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Political reform needs to be achieved. The Government needs to enhance its reputation by delivering an electoral commission. I am supporting the Minister's reform commitment and moving that an electoral commission should be in place before December 2015.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I second the amendment. I reserve the right to speak later.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I welcome the opportunity to be back in the Seanad today. As my colleagues are aware, I was in this House last December when we had a good discussion on the Government's plans to establish an electoral commission. I said then, and I will say it again now: for me personally, and I say this genuinely and not passively, I would love to have dealt with this issue at the beginning of a longer term in this role. I would love to have five years in this job. This is an issue which is a huge priority and something to which I am personally committed because I believe it is necessary and has to be done. I feel very passionate about it.

  In December I told the Members of this House that I was working on a detailed policy paper and would bring it to Government. I said that I planned to publish the paper for consultation. I did this the following month. I committed to that and I did it. It is quite a comprehensive document. It is a very good document. It asks an awful lot of questions which need a lot of detailed answers. This afternoon is the first occasion that Members of either House of the Oireachtas have had to examine publicly and in detail the contents of that document. I thank them for raising this matter today.

  In addition to our discussions today there will, of course, be other opportunities for Senators to contribute their views. The consultation paper has been referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, which includes many Members of this House. The committee has been asked to undertake a focused and time-bound consultation process. I will meet the committee next week and I look forward to that meeting.  This is a thorough process. There are views on many of the issues we will discuss as part of this and it is not the case that the answers are wrong or right. Rather, it is about how we get to the best possible solutions and processes for the future. I thank the Chair of the committee who has taken a major interest in it.

  I am glad to set out my intentions and those of the Government in progressing the task of setting up an electoral commission. It is important for me to hear the views of Senators, as legislators, because there are few issues more important to the running of our democracy than how elections are managed and run. There is general agreement between the Government side and most Senators on the need for an electoral commission in Ireland.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy Is a copy of the Minister's response available to us?

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney We will arrange for that.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I will arrange for it to be given to the Senator. This was evident in December during our previous debate. However, there are a wide range of views on what exactly such a body will do and how it should work. A key lesson from international experience identified in the consultation paper is that significant changes in electoral governance ideally need to command broad political and public agreement. I do not see this as a Government versus Opposition matter. Rather, I see it as anything but.

  Members of the Seanad and the Dáil, as active participants in the democratic process, are well placed to provide expert insights. There are also many academics, non-governmental organisations and individuals who will also have an interest in electoral reform. I look forward to their input.

  Given its composition, the Seanad is in a strong position to contribute to policy-making on this issue. I ask Senators to provide their expertise in developing this legislation because many have shown an interest in this and many are present in the Chamber. It is evident from the motion and from previous debates in the House that Senators are more than willing to take on this challenge, and I welcome that.

  As the opening paragraphs of the consultation paper make clear, every person in the State is affected by the electoral process. That is why today's debate is important. The impact of the process of change that we have embarked on will be felt widely over a long period. To provide a focus to public and political debate, the consultation paper sets out 11 questions. It provides information, analysis and options to enable these questions to be answered. It would be worthwhile if I set out these questions and commented briefly on each. If the consultation process can provide solid answers to these questions, we will have made a good start to the legislative process.

  The first question, as one might expect, asks what functions should be assigned to an electoral commission. It is a very basic question but it needs to be answered. As a principle of good governance, it is advisable that the functions of any new public body are clearly defined when it is being set up. They cannot be loosely defined. These functions should then inform its organisational design from head to toe. The motive, purpose and goals in setting up the electoral commission, therefore, need to be clearly identified from the outset. Some or all of the responsibilities currently assigned to different bodies and officeholders could be assigned to an electoral commission.

  The second question follows from the first in asking what roles would or should those currently involved in electoral management continue to perform. As a starting point, the consultation paper reviews proposals from Oireachtas committees, political parties, research reports and other sources. A number of common themes emerge. I want to bring Senators through some of these because they give an indication of the current levels of agreement on certain points. They also provide food for thought.

  The register of electors features frequently, and we have heard contributions on it here and in many reports, instruments and recommendations. Most proposals see some form of centralised system of registration being managed by the new electoral commission, with it taking over responsibilities from local authorities. However, a recommendation from one body envisages the new commission overseeing the work of local authorities which would continue to have a role. We need to ask where we are going. There are many variations. We need definition to ensure that the gentleman mentioned by Senator Landy got his vote. That story is a disgrace.

  Given the emphasis placed on this responsibility in many of the proposals, it is clear that improving the electoral register is an important driving force underpinning the desire to establish an electoral commission in the first place. The register of electors is an issue of immediate interest to many here, especially with the referendums coming up in May. This matter was raised by Senator Zappone. It is important that all of those who are eligible are enabled to vote. To do this they must be registered. Inevitably, some will not be or will forget to do so, which is regrettable. These voters, if they are eligible, still have the opportunity to apply for inclusion in the supplementary register. I want to make sure everyone knows that.

  Returning to the consultation paper, most of the proposals from other bodies to date envisage the electoral commission taking on functions currently performed by my Department. However, a distinction can be made between the Department's operational and policy roles. There is a general coincidence of opinion that the operational responsibilities of the Department in respect of elections should transfer to the electoral commission. As the Minister, I am not a hoarder. If something needs to be transferred, I am only too happy to allow that to happen. The likely role to be played by the current Dáil returning officers in a new configuration has been considered to a lesser extent. This is a matter that we need to think about and address.

  The Standards in Public Office Commission features prominently in the recommendations from the different policy reports and studies. It is seen as a potential starting point, with the electoral commission either being formed around this existing body or, alternatively, as having its functions subsumed into the electoral commission from the outset. We need to think long and hard about that. If we decide to do something, it should be done cleanly from the beginning.

  The review of electoral boundaries and the role currently performed by the Constituency Commission is identified as a potential responsibility. It is an important and difficult area, given the constitutional requirements and the population pull towards the eastern seaboard. A role for an electoral commission in respect of local electoral area boundaries does not feature in any of the recommendations reviewed. Members of the Seanad may have a view on this.

  Electoral reform issues are mentioned to a limited extent in the various policy papers to date. However, in one particular instance it was proposed that the electoral commission would have an advisory role to the Minister, something with which I do not agree. Voter education appears commonly and prominently as a possible role, something with which I agree. It is clear that there are different views on what the electoral commission should do. I do not expect everyone to agree and I do not believe there are wrong or right answers to many of these questions. However, I hope we can reach a significant measure of agreements on issues of principle in setting this up, and then we can move forward.

  The third question posed in the consultation paper is what the cost implications would be arising from the assignment of functions to an electoral commission. The fourth question is related. It asks what the cost implications would be for the bodies performing these functions at present. The costs associated with different aspects of the current system are set out in section 3 of the consultation paper and are worth reading. I will not go through them as they outline their extent and nature.

  The decentralised nature of electoral governance in Ireland means that expenditure is incurred by a number of different bodies and officeholders. Some of these costs are publicly visible but others are not. Local authorities, for example, budgeted costs of €10.1 million in 2014 to meet their electoral administration responsibilities, including for the electoral register. The total cost of organising the most recent general election in 2011 was just over €29 million. Costs on a similar scale arise at each European Parliament and presidential election.

  It costs between €11 million and €12 million to run a poll for a referendum, not including the cost of work undertaken by the Referendum Commission. At the referendums held in October 2013, the Referendum Commission spent €2.4 million on its information campaigns.

  The Constituency Commission which reviewed the Dáil electoral boundaries in 2011 and 2012 had costs of approximately €46,000. The local electoral area boundary review in advance of the 2014 local elections had costs of €56,000. The costs for both reviews related, in the main, to website maintenance, advertising submissions and the publication of reports. There is also the cost of running the franchise section in my Department, and there are ongoing costs for Dáil returning officers in maintaining local arrangements in readiness for elections and referendums.

  Unlike other countries that have electoral commissions, in Ireland we do not have a full-time local infrastructure for managing elections. A key reason for the creation of new public bodies lies in their scope to improve cost-effectiveness and efficiency in the use of public money.   Evidence internationally has shown that independent electoral commissions are better for democratic stability and are more cost-effective. Those are the facts. That is something that, for me, is motivating. It cannot simply be assumed that economies would be achieved in setting up a new body. Such bodies must be realised and put in place. It is possible that net savings may not be achieved, especially if new and additional work is to be assigned to the electoral commission.

  It has been said that one cannot put a price on democracy and I wholeheartedly agree. However, one can put a cost on running elections and one can estimate the cost of research, analysis and voter education. Given the scale of expenditure in administering the electoral system and the cost of setting up a new body, financial considerations play a part in the debate.

  The composition of an electoral commission is a key consideration. The fifth question in the consultation paper was, "Who should be the members of an electoral commission?". The sixth question, which I will add because it is related, is, "How should the members be appointed?". As the consultation paper shows, electoral management bodies internationally vary in their numbers of members. One aspect that has been observed though is that those with a large membership are usually less effective.

  Some consideration has already been given to this issue. In 2008, as referred to earlier, the preliminary study on the establishment of an electoral commission, prepared by the Geary Institute in UCD on behalf of my Department, addressed this matter. The study recommended that the electoral commission should comprise a chairperson, who would be a judge or former judge of the Supreme Court or High Court; the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Ombudsman; the Clerk of the Dáil; the Clerk of the Seanad; and the chief executive officer of the commission who would be titled the chief electoral officer. This is one possible configuration. There are doubtless other views, and I would like to hear them.

  In setting up Ireland's electoral commission, a question arises as to whether the body should include members from a political background. This is a sensitive question. Few know as much about elections as politicians, but should they be involved? Should ex-politicians be involved? I do not have fixed views on this and I would like to hear the views of Senators on this point.

  The Geary Institute study that I mentioned concluded that "in our view, it would not be appropriate to have a member of the new commission who is a former member of one of the Houses of the Oireachtas, given the additional range of functions which the commission will perform". I can see the validity of that point too. On the other hand, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution recommended in 2010 that the new commission should include former Members of the Oireachtas. Here we go again with differing views, but we need to come to some agreement.

  Looking abroad, in the United Kingdom, four of the ten commissioners come from a political background, although with a detachment from current active politics, and maybe that is the solution. In Australia, Canada and New Zealand, political parties do not have a role in appointing members. In those instances, the background of the commissioners is expressly apolitical and non-partisan. I can see the validity of that too. Whoever the members of the electoral commission are, we need to ensure that they are selected or appointed in a manner that seeks to guarantee their independence. This leads me to the next series of questions for Senators to consider.

  Questions 7, 8 and 9 in the consultation paper deal with issues of accountability, performance and audit. Question 7 was, "What mechanisms will be put in place to provide for the accountability of an electoral commission?". Question 8 asked, "What will be the respective roles of the Oireachtas, the Government and the public in the accountability arrangements?", while question 9 asks, "What provisions will be made to assure the independence of an electoral commission?". As the consultation paper makes clear, accountability of the electoral commission will be important. However, accountability needs to be achieved in a manner that is consistent with the independence of the commission in the first place.

  Electoral management gives rise to competing priorities that have to be reconciled. In one international study, these were called the three conflicting imperatives of administrative efficiency, political neutrality and public accountability. These are in competition because no single imperative can be neglected, nor can they all be maximised at once.

  Experience in other countries points to both the desirability and necessity of having accountability mechanisms linked to democratic institutions. These, for example, include formal reporting arrangements to a designated parliamentary committee; the identification of a specific government Minister as a liaison with the electoral commission - I am not sure about that; independent audit arrangements must be in place; and the publication of documents against which performance can be assessed, for example, a statement of strategy, budget plan and annual report.

  In the other countries reviewed in the consultation paper, the head of the electoral commission reports regularly and appears before a parliamentary committee. This would seem obvious. There is a two-way communication process. Information is provided to the committee, issues are raised by members and questions answered. The electoral commission can also bring forward recommendations for change based on experience in implementing legislation and running elections. In Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, performance measurement and reporting frameworks have been put in place for their electoral management bodies. It may be desirable for similar arrangements to be put in place in Ireland.

  For Ireland's electoral commission, it would be advisable that an audit committee and an oversight structure be put in place. This has been the experience elsewhere. We have a great opportunity, in setting up our electoral commission, to learn from what has worked elsewhere. The experience of other countries can offer ideas, benchmarks and lessons. However, there is no one standard and no one best practice. There is merely practice and there are difference circumstances and different situations across the various jurisdictions I referenced. We must do as Kilmeaden Cheese does, that is, take the best and get rid of the rest, but we also need to add in our own flavourings given our own electoral circumstances in this country. We have a unique electoral system in this country and unique elections.

  Coming to the crux of the issue, particularly my good friend and colleague's amendment, the final two questions in the consultation paper deal with practical issues concerned with the process of establishing an electoral commission. Question 10 asks, "Should a commission be set up on a phased basis, and if so, in how many phases?". I can see the validity of that. Question 11 asks, "What would be an achievable timescale to complete the task?". The lesson from other countries is that significant change takes time and requires planning, and that is not a cop-out for me. It took almost four years to amalgamate the current functions of the New Zealand Electoral Commission into one body. This was done on a phased basis, between 2008 and 2012. Establishing the National Register of Electors in Canada took almost four years, from commencement in 1993 to full implementation in 1997, not including the process of debate that took place in the preceding years. Upon implementation, problems were identified at the Canadian general elections in 1997 and 2000 - we do not want that here - which caused controversy and required further modifications. We need to get this right from day one. Any questions in relation to how we run our elections would be unacceptable.

  As the consultation paper notes, the UCD Geary Institute study in 2008 envisaged a two-stage process in the establishment of Ireland's electoral commission. The principle of adopting a phased approach is consistent with practice that has worked elsewhere. However, this would involve making a decision on which functions are to be prioritised for inclusion within the electoral commission structure from the outset. That is a kernel issue and something on which the Senators might want to focus on in the debate. It is an issue that I want to focus on when I meet the Oireachtas joint committee next week and discuss what are the core functions that need to be prioritised for inclusion from the outset. Then we can look possibly at phasing.

  Having regard to the complexities involved in changing the system of voter registration, there may be a case for addressing this as a stand-alone project in its own right or as a separate phase in setting up an electoral commission. This is a good idea. The management of the setting up of the electoral register is a project in itself that has a unique stand-alone role, and that is an important point. This would imply a three-phased process rather than the two-phased process envisaged in the Geary Institute study, but we can tease this out. Of course, all of this will take time and the job needs to be done right. I made it clear when launching the consultation paper a month after coming into this role that it was a significant amount of work. The establishment of an electoral commission will take a number of years to finalise and complete.

  Clearly, it will not be in place for the next general election. If I was standing here in front of the Seanad in 2011, I would be say differently. As a student of politics, I am also committed to this on a personal basis. This is something that I believe in totally. What I am trying to do is ensure that the Oireachtas joint committee, to which I am giving a tight deadline, and the chairman probably is not fond of me for giving him such a tight deadline, will come back with its recommendations as quickly as possible. We will publish the heads of the Bill by the summer and we will start the legislative process then and get it done as quickly as possible. I cannot commit that we will have this in place before the end of the year. There is no point in me standing up here and stating that it will be in place. I will commit to engaging fully with the committee and as quickly as it turns the matter around, I will deliver the heads of the Bill based on what the committee comes back with because this involves more than Government. We will then start the legislative process and I will drive the legislative process as quickly as I can.  It is not realistic for me to say today that this will be in place for the next election. I also do not think, from a democratic point of view, that it would necessarily be the right thing to do given the amount of change in such a short space of time. To be fair, I am not sure it is deliverable.

  Establishing the electoral commission provides us with the opportunity to reform the governance of Ireland's electoral system. Unlike previous Administrations - I am in this regard not making an overt political point because I believe this issue should be above politics and is bigger than any one government - this Government has commenced the legislative process to put this body in place. It is something which I believe we must do. I admire the way in which elections in this country are run and I also admire the dedication of the people involved in that process. However, the process has not changed since the names of people like Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera or, my hero, Tom Johnson, appeared on the ballot papers. We must move on. The story told earlier by Senator Landy in relation to the 96 year old is unacceptable. It cannot be allowed to happen again into the future. We must ensure that everybody has their vote. The myriad issues which I have outlined show why this has to happen.

  I am committed to ensuring that once this issue exits the joint committee process there will be no delay in dealing with it legislatively. As Minister with responsibility for this area, and given my passion for this to happen, I will drive it to the best of my ability and ensure it is concluded as quickly as possible. It would be wrong of me to stand up here today and say it is feasible or possible to ensure it will be delivered before the end of 2015. I can say that once the heads of Bill are published I will drive the legislation through as quickly as possible. Depending on what has been decided by the joint committee, the commission will then be put in place on a part or full-time basis. How we deal with the electoral register may also be different. I will ensure that the legislation to drive this forward will be put in place for future local elections and referenda.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú There is no doubt but that our sovereignty and democracy were hard won. People feel very passionate about that democracy. Since democracy is underpinned by an electoral process, individuals have a sense of ownership of it. All the questions and cautions posed by the Minister during the course of his address are a given. The ordinary citizen would pose the same questions and cautions. Those questions have been around for a long time. There is no doubt but that any reasonable person would not want to do anything precipitous that would in some way undermine the very democracy we are trying to save and, at the same time, protect.

  Management of our electoral process is dispersed across a number of bodies, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, 31 local authorities and many agencies, including the commission of registration and the Constituency Commission. We have not become aware of this only in the past 12 months. It has been clear for many years that this is archaic and results in flaws in the electoral system. There is a barometer for checking how people feel about how things as they currently stand. Establishment of an electoral commission which will have overall responsibility for the management of the electoral process must form an integral part of overall reform of the political system. While that has become the mantra for many years, there are few people who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and do something radical, if needed, and definite about reform.

  It was interesting that the first target in terms of political reform, which amazed many people, was Seanad Éireann. People embraced the debate on abolition of the Seanad and realised that this was not the type of reform that was needed. While reform of the Seanad is required, the idea that any part of our democratic system would be abolished did not sit well with the people. That is why the Seanad remains. Balanced against that was the proposed reform of Dáil Éireann, which, it is clear, did not happen. While the number of Deputies has been reduced and the Dáil now sits every second Friday morning, that is the extent of Dáil reform. In fairness, we have not yet got around to the concept of a root and branch reform of our political system. This is one of the reasons that development of the electoral commission is way behind.

  The question that must be posed is whether we are sure that the current electoral list is 100% accurate. That is an important question because that is the essence of the prop we have for democracy. It is clear that list is not 100%, which then raises the question of why that is the case. I am not trying to match the questions posed by the Minister; I am just saying there are questions that need to be posed. I recall a by-election in Dublin in respect of which turnout was 23%, which is pretty small. Turnout for referenda is not at the level we would like. In this regard, the question that must be posed is whether people are in some way questioning or losing confidence in the system. I believe that is more the perception than the reality. However, if that is the perception, then we face a serious challenge. We must work quickly to try to allay peoples' doubts or fears.

  My next comment has nothing to do with any type of political development in recent years. Based on recent debates and polls, there is no doubt but that there is a sea change taking place in politics. The question that arises in this regard is whether this leads to stability or whether we should be using a franchise in a manner that gives us the best result. I am not always sure that public confidence at any given time is a reaction to a Government policy. I believe that is a perception. For this reason I believe the electoral commission is an important element of reform that should form part of general reform. This is one of those issues on which I think we should try to achieve unanimity within the Oireachtas.  This is not an area for point scoring. It is too important. We would only add to the uncertainty in the electorate. It is looking to us to work as a team to mend whatever is broken. There will not be votes in either direction on this issue but I believe it is urgent.

  The Minister’s questions, which he got from consultation, are the correct ones, but we hear those questions all the time. We need the answers. I am not saying we should do this before the next election although I wish we would but whenever we do it there must be a sense of urgency about the electoral commission. It must have integrity and resources. Reform must be revisited in a proactive way. The reform to date, and I am not referring to any Government, is not the reform people expect. If they expect something we should engage with them on that.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I do not want to be political but I have questions for Senator MacSharry who unfortunately is not here to answer them. The previous Government published a report in 2007-8 and nothing was done about it. Senator MacSharry was a bit harsh and hard on the Minister who is trying his utmost. He is a doer. He will ensure an electoral commission is established as soon as reasonably possible.

  The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht recommended that it be set up in 2010. I was not here at the time but there are other Members who were. It is necessary. Senator Landy mentioned a man in his 90s who has never missed a vote but did not have one in the last election. In my experience over many years, the keeping of the electoral register has been less than adequate and sufficient. I know people who have been on the electoral register for 50 years who boast that they have never used their democratic right to vote. Should those people, who do not feel a duty to vote, be allowed to stay on any register? We must take on that obligation.

  My understanding is that if people in Australia and New Zealand do not vote in two successive elections, they are eliminated from the register. I am aware of people who left to live in England and the United States, and who now have teenage children, and are still on our registers. Should we stipulate that those on the register have a personal public service, PPS, number, or a pay related social insurance, PRSI, number? There are young people reaching the voting age who wish to register but there are others who never vote and have convinced their children of voting age not to vote. Something should be done.

  I have no doubt the Minister is totally committed to ensuring the establishment of a commission and to bringing in legislation as quickly as reasonably possible. He speaks with conviction. I hope his wishes will be fulfilled in the not too distant future. I have great faith in him.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I agree with Senator Brennan. He has touched on valid points about voter participation and the electoral registers, which affect democracy and are the responsibility of an electoral commission. It is good to have this discussion. Between elections is the best time to reflect on the institutions of the State and how elections are run, whether by Departments or whether they can be depoliticised. I believe in depoliticising the running of elections by establishing an independent electoral commission that is beyond reproach, such as that proposed in the 2008 UCD report, to which the Minister referred.

  There is a crisis in democracy in the Western world. Research by eminent political scientists shows that political party membership is falling. The greatest political machine in the Western world in 1952 was the British Conservative Party, with over 3 million members. Next May, it will go into an election with fewer than 200,000 members. Politics is transforming, evolving, emerging and developing. The media has a role in that too. Some argue it is a positive role, others say not so, depending on which political scientist one follows. Irrespective of that, we live in changing times and democracy needs to change. We need an independent commission to consider all the facets touched on today and the valid questions posed by the Minister.

  The commission should be established quickly but not as a knee-jerk reaction. It should be done over time and if that means not all functions will be transferred at once, so be it. Responsibility for election turnout, voter participation and electoral registers is fundamental to a commission. Election turnout is falling. According to Peter Myer’s research, the membership of political parties here fell by 45% between 1980 and 2010.  The fall in voter turnout has not been as stark but, nonetheless, participation levels in political parties as a percentage of the overall population is in the region of 1.5%. That is much lower than in some of our European counterparts. In the isolation of Leinster House, we may think that participation in political parties is higher here than in other jurisdictions, but that is not so according to current research.

  The electoral register is in a complete mess but that did not happen overnight; it evolved over many years. At the last general election and even in the most recent local elections, in my own parish I could cite 50 examples of people whose names were on the register twice, in Irish and English. Others who were on the register up to the general election of 2011 and had voted in at least seven elections, were removed from the register through no fault of their own. It is nobody's fault, but that is the way the system operates. There is a major difficulty with the electoral register. We cannot have a definitive voter turnout figure while the electoral register is in such a mess. It is therefore very difficult to analyse voter turnout or extrapolate the outcome of election results given the mess the register is in. A number of years ago, an Oireachtas joint committee made some good proposals for transforming the electoral register, which included linking PPS numbers to avoid having individuals on the register who had left the country. We should re-examine that proposal.

  Some people from other jurisdictions may spend one weekend a year in the Republic, yet they find themselves on the electoral register and are allowed to vote. It is not right that such people can determine who are the elected representatives. That is not democracy. The electoral commission will have many specific and definitive roles to play, so primary legislation will be required in that regard. We can debate all the relevant issues when that legislation comes before us. I think the Minister of State is going in the right direction and I am glad to have had an opportunity to contribute to this debate.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House. I also thank the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, for a comprehensive response to Senator Keane's presentation, based on the deliberations of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

  The main focus of this debate has been on the electoral register and the question has arisen on the consultation paper as to whether an electoral commission should take on the registration responsibilities of local authorities. The Minister said that because of the complexities involved in changing the system, it may be a stand-alone project. I would be inclined to think that may be the way forward.

  It is interesting that the rationale for establishing a stand-alone, independent electoral commission is multifaceted, but most advocates say it should be about addressing problems identified with the electoral register so as to bring about a comprehensive, accountable and up-to-date register. I am thankful to the Oireachtas Library for some of the information contained here. Interestingly, it states that a key problem identified with the register is that it overestimates the size of the adult population, opening up possibilities for the fraudulent use of ballots.

  I listened to Senator Ó Domhnaill's interesting contribution and we know from experience that there are duplicate names on the register. The other aspect of the register is that electoral courts are held after the draft register is published. Local authorities then invite people to come before the council on a particular day either to get names added or withdrawn. There is more than anecdotal evidence to suggest that in some instances over the decades names have been removed from electoral registers for purely political purposes. In other words, people have gone into the courts and said: "By the way, that person isn't living there." One will usually find that the person advocating the removal of a name is of a completely different political persuasion.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Fine Gael.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan Fianna Fáil.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney That goes on, but how would one address it? Senator Ó Domhnaill is right in saying that the electoral register is in a mess, but the problem arose from the abolition of the rates.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane Bring back the rates.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Rate collectors went around a county and were able to identify who was living where.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan Depending on his affiliation.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The register was reasonably accurate; in fact, it was nearly always accurate. Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about a reduction in the membership of political parties. There was a tradition in Fianna Fáil, and I am sure the same was true for the Fine Gael and Labour parties, that when the draft registers came out annually, a special meeting was held. People trawled through the register to ensure that those in their immediate parish, branch or cumann area were on the register. This was before the regime of the supplementary register. That structure was in place in addition to the rate collector system, but both of those are now effectively gone.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan The rate collectors were all Fianna Fáil.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The rate collectors have gone but, in addition, the membership of political parties and their proactive nature at local level have greatly diminished over the past couple of decades. That is the problem we are left with, so how does one address it? I am firmly of the view that local authorities should continue to be involved; otherwise, the new electoral commission will have to be provided with enormous physical resources. I am talking about bodies on the ground, or else how will they identify people within those areas? We are talking about 2 million plus people who are eligible to vote. The Minister is right to say that this is a complex issue and one that needs to be addressed separately. In setting up the electoral commission, this work should not be taken away from local authorities. In fact, resources should be put into local authorities to ensure they have more accurate up-to-date registers, rather than taking it away from them and then providing the electoral commission with the resources. It is a half-way house and would be difficult to work in practice. In other words, if it is not broken, why fix it? Local authority structures are already in place so why remove this particular element from them?

  In 2010, the fourth report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution of the 30th Dáil contained an extensive review of the electoral system and recommended that an electoral commission be established. It identified problematic areas including drawing up constituency boundaries; filling casual vacancies in by-elections; the method of distributing surplus votes during a count; and ease of access to the ballot box on polling days.

  The method of distributing surplus votes during a count will have to come under the remit of the new electoral commission because that is the inherent flaw in the PR system. People have either lost or gained seats as a result of surplus votes being distributed, which are taken from a bundle at the far end of the constituency to where the remaining candidates live. In his seminal book The Government and Politics of Ireland, Basil Chubb highlighted that the distribution of surplus votes was the inherent flaw in the PR system. I know it is an academic exercise now but it is an interesting one that should be examined in the context of the new commission, as should ease of access to the ballot box on polling days.

  We pride ourselves on being a high-tech country at the cutting edge of technology. We should, therefore, think outside the box in making it easier for people to vote. There are all sorts of international examples. In America, one can vote online, while postal voting is permitted in England. That has been expanded beyond what we have in Ireland.  There is also a need for the electoral commission to examine the question of easy access.

  The question of how we encourage young voters is a major issue that must be addressed by Government. The electoral commission would be the right platform on which to do that, and it would start in the schools. It is not enough to have very committed teachers doing the civil, social and political education, CPSE, programme, with which we are all familiar, because that only comes in at second year. Beyond that, those students have no further exposure to the democratic system or how it works. It is only done during the year leading up to the junior certificate. There is a need for a rolling educational programme in our schools, particularly at second level up to leaving certificate.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch. I welcome also the recent consultation paper published by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, on the establishment of the electoral commission. I watched some of the debate from my office and I was pleased to see many colleagues on the Fianna Fáil benches distancing themselves somewhat from the contribution made earlier by Senator MacSharry, who was very critical of everything to do with the establishment of this commission. There were bodies established previously that reported and produced good documents, but nothing happened. The Minister has given a clear indication here today that he is proceeding cautiously but with intent, and only good can come from that.

  Our democracy is precious to us and as Senator Ó Murchú said, our democracy was hard won. The system we have in place has served us well through the decades, and we judge that by the clean transfer of power from one Administration to the next after every election since the foundation of the State. However, time has passed and our systems need reforming and improving, and that is the purpose of this electoral commission.

  Much has been spoken today about the need to do something about the register. It is not rocket science. We have never had better technology available to us than we have now. We do not want to start a debate on whether we should use voting machines or stick with the old peann luaidhe, but surely we can devise a system that will ensure all our people can be registered in an accurate manner, thereby ensuring that the integrity of the ballot box is protected.

  Registers in rural areas in particular are generally very accurate. There might be the odd case where the name of a person who has passed away or somebody who has emigrated recently is still on the register, but the urban registers are very inaccurate because people are more mobile in towns. They often move from one address to another. Some people ensure they are registered to vote; others are not so conscientious. The issue of the register needs to be addressed. I am not sure whether the local authorities have the resources to carry out that function in a timely fashion. In previous years rent collectors played a vital role in compiling that information. That is still done in some areas where local authorities are collecting rents.

  The key issue that needs to be addressed is ensuring that the commission is independent from Government while still being accountable to Government, with formal reporting arrangements and other mechanisms for accountability.

  The review referred to functions which should be transferred from existing bodies involved in electoral administration, including the returning officers at local level, the franchise section in the Department, the Constituency Commission in terms of the review of local area boundaries, and the new commission's relationship with the Standards in Public Office Commission.

  The Minister said that the cost of running elections and referenda is expensive, therefore, we need to examine whether we are doing that in the most efficient and effective manner. We are dealing with public moneys, and we need to ensure we are doing that in the most effective manner.

  Much has been spoken about the public's involvement in the electoral process. The number of people who turn out to vote varies from election to election but the figure is in decline in recent years. The ease with which people can exercise their electoral franchise must be examined. With the technology that is available it should be possible to ensure that if students are away from their constituency on polling day, they can still cast their vote. If somebody is away from the constituency on business, they should not be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their franchise. That is an area we need to examine.

  In terms of the technology, we can now pay our bills online and by using our mobile phones. We can transfer moneys overseas from our accounts. We can do many things now with the technology that is available. As a lay person, I believe it would be a nice project for some entrepreneurial person to devise a system for us where a person can cast their vote on polling day irrespective of where they are in the country. However, we must have a system that can verify the person whose name is on the register, perhaps by way of a link to their PPS or other security number. It is doable.

  I welcome what the Minister is trying to do. I urge him to keep to his indication earlier that heads of a Bill will be ready by later this year and that legislation will be put in place the following year that will bring the electoral commission on-stream. That will allow us to modernise our electoral system and everything associated with what is one of the foundations of our democracy, our voting system. I wish the Minister well in his endeavours.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane The debate was very worthwhile. I compliment in particular Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú, Paschal Mooney and Brian Ó Domhnaill who contributed. Many reports have been produced on this issue since 2000 and many institutes, including the Geary Institute in University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, have done studies. One of the main recommendations from those is that there be all-party consensus on establishing an electoral commission because it is too important an issue for politicians to play politics with it. Somebody should go and tell Senator MacSharry how to get things done.

  I am a member of the environment committee with Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú-----

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney The voice of reason.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane Did I not compliment Senator Mooney, Senator Ó Murchú and Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill at the outset? It may be unusual for me to compliment Senator Ó Domhnaill but the voices of reason have spoken on that side of the House in terms of political consensus. There is political consensus on the environment committee also.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: Information on Fiach Mac Conghail Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail A coalition.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane A coalition working together in the environment committee. I can give a commitment that we will speed up the process in the environment committee to make sure that we reach a consensus.  I will pay. It was Senator Mooney who mentioned we should leave voter registration at local authority level in order to make cost savings as it takes up a lot of resources. I know from the 20 years that I spent in a local authority that it hires in extra staff and pays them extra each time.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney They do not have to do that.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane That is extra moneys which could be allocated to the electoral commission.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Why not take it out of the local authority?

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane One could spend the same amount but give it to the commission.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney One would spend more.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Government is doing away with the local authorities.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane The local authority does not send its own staff out on the ground with little notebooks and whatever. It hires in extra staff which means extra money.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney That is accepted.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane That is what I am saying. As I said, when I spoke myself, some of the moneys taken into consideration for electoral spend are extra moneys that are under the radar but included as local authority expenditure.

  On the issue of political background, we can all discuss it further. One can see that every business has a drying out period for everybody, be they consultants, corporate or whatever, and that should be the case. Just because one wears a political hat one should not be excluded from everything. I disagree that one loses all sense of reason just because one is a politician.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Hear, hear.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane One gains an awful lot from being a politician. I admire the Ombudsman, the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk of the Dáil and the clerks of everything else. People are often busy and have no time to consider people like retired people who have many life experiences. Whatever their background, be they judge, juror, politician or whatever, they should be considered and that is all to play for.

  There has been an awful lot of reform. The three speakers that I mentioned stuck to the debate. I shall not outline the political reform achieved by the Government. I have a list to draw from but I shall not insult this debate by going off topic. Instead, I shall stick to topic and say we should and must ensure we set up the electoral commission as speedily as we can but do it right. New Zealand set up its commission over four years and in two parts. Perhaps Ireland could do the same. If we establish part 1 and then part 2 we would then have to decide what issues to prioritise in each section. Perhaps we could achieve all this a little faster than four years. As the Minister said, he is a student of political science and therefore knows the importance of an electoral commission. He is going to work on it but he has said he wants to get it right and to get it done.

  Senator Terry Brennan mentioned the Australian system. In that country, as well as taking people off the register, they are fined for not voting. Such an element would lead to great discussion in this country. The provision would wake people up and it is one issue to be looked at. Perhaps it would be too harsh on people. There are many reasons that people do not vote. One would probably spend as much money on investigating the reasons people did not turn out to vote as on anything else.

  I look forward to the debate. I am delighted we had this debate today because it allows one to get a sense of where people are coming from. It is the initial example of us working together and in partnership to ensure we get the best for all people on the road and that applies to all of the different bodies. It is extraordinarily important, as a Member mentioned, that we get the work on the road and do it as speedily as possible. We cannot do the work just like that. As I mentioned, the work took four years in one country and, therefore, we must adopt a reasonable approach to the timeline. That is why the amendment tabled by Senator Mac Conghail is pushing it.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 19.

Níl
Information on Thomas Byrne   Zoom on Thomas Byrne   Byrne, Thomas. Information on Terry Brennan   Zoom on Terry Brennan   Brennan, Terry.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm.
Information on John Crown   Zoom on John Crown   Crown, John. Information on Eamonn Coghlan   Zoom on Eamonn Coghlan   Coghlan, Eamonn.
Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark. Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry. Information on Michael Comiskey   Zoom on Michael Comiskey   Comiskey, Michael.
Information on Fiach Mac Conghail   Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail   Mac Conghail, Fiach. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Marc MacSharry   Zoom on Marc MacSharry   MacSharry, Marc. Information on Maurice Cummins   Zoom on Maurice Cummins   Cummins, Maurice.
Information on Paschal Mooney   Zoom on Paschal Mooney   Mooney, Paschal. Information on Michael D'Arcy   Zoom on Michael D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Michael.
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on John Gilroy   Zoom on John Gilroy   Gilroy, John.
Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú   Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú   Ó Murchú, Labhrás. Information on Aideen Hayden   Zoom on Aideen Hayden   Hayden, Aideen.
Information on Mary Ann O'Brien   Zoom on Mary Ann O'Brien   O'Brien, Mary Ann. Information on Lorraine Higgins   Zoom on Lorraine Higgins   Higgins, Lorraine.
Information on Jillian van Turnhout   Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout   van Turnhout, Jillian. Information on Cáit Keane   Zoom on Cáit Keane   Keane, Cáit.
Information on Jim Walsh   Zoom on Jim Walsh   Walsh, Jim. Information on Denis Landy   Zoom on Denis Landy   Landy, Denis.
Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid. Information on Marie Moloney   Zoom on Marie Moloney   Moloney, Marie.
Information on Katherine Zappone   Zoom on Katherine Zappone   Zappone, Katherine. Information on Tony Mulcahy   Zoom on Tony Mulcahy   Mulcahy, Tony.
  Information on Michael Mullins   Zoom on Michael Mullins   Mullins, Michael.
  Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.
  Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  Information on Pat O'Neill   Zoom on Pat O'Neill   O'Neill, Pat.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

  Motion agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

  The Seanad adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 March 2015.


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