Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item State Airports
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing
 Header Item Animal Disease Controls
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016: Second Stage
 Header Item Establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry: Motion

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 250 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 2 Next Page Last Page

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

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Business of Seanad

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I have received notice from Senator Martin Conway that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to appoint a representative from Clare County Council to the board of the Shannon Group to facilitate an input from the local community.

I have also received notice from Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh of the following matter:

An gá atá ann go dtabharfaidh an tAire Tithíochta, Pleanála, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil soiléiriú ar cad iad na cosaintí atá ann chun a chinntiú nach bhféadfaidh fostaithe de chuid údaráis áitiúla tithe a leithroinnt faoi aon cheann de na scéimeanna a riarann siad ar fhostaithe eile san údarás áitiúil céanna de shárú ar na critéir atá leagtha síos, cé mhéad cás den chineál seo atá tagtha chun solais agus cad iad na húdaráis áitiúla atá i gceist.

I have also received notice from Senator Paul Daly of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, having introduced regulations under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 that require the compulsory housing of poultry as a result of the increased threat of H5N8 avian bird flu, to state what provisions will be taken for free range enterprises if this compulsory housing period reaches 12 weeks, as after 12 weeks continuous housing they lose their free range status.

I have also received notice from Senator Kieran O'Donnell of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to outline his plans for the provision of additional school accommodation or buildings at Monaleen national school, Castletroy, Limerick.

I have also received notice from Senator Jennifer Murnane O’Connor of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to provide an update on when the location of the respite centre will be announced for Carlow as it is thirteen months since its closure.

I have also received notice from Senator Tim Lombard of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to clarify whether there any plans to upgrade the Garda station in Timoleague, County Cork.

I have also received notice from Senator Catherine Noone of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of Health to outline if he will take steps to seek an immediate resolution of the industrial relations issues in the Civil Registration Service which is holding up the commencement of section 97 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

I have also received notice from Senator Maura Hopkins of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide an update on the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project and if the necessary capital funding has been allocated to the project.

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

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to clarify the current position on funding being provided for a new primary school building for Scoil an Athar Tadhg, Carrignavar, County Cork, and to confirm that it will proceed to the tendering process early in 2017.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Conway, Ó Clochartaigh and Paul Daly and they will be taken now. Senator O’Donnell has withdrawn his matter, which I had selected. Senators Murnane O’Connor, Lombard, Noone, Hopkins and Colm Burke may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Commencement Matters

State Airports

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Minister is welcome.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway The Minister is always very welcome to Seanad Éireann, a House in which he had a distinctive career of service for many years.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan He is a former father of the House.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway He is a former father of the House and is doing a very good job in Cabinet.

  I am tabling this matter following a notice of motion that was unanimously passed by Clare County Council. It requested that Clare County Council have a representative on the board of Shannon Airport and the Shannon Group. This is a reasonable request given there is an indelible link, which I am sure the Minister appreciates, between Shannon Airport and the people of County Clare. For many decades, people from County Clare emigrated to the United States and other countries due to economic circumstances and the last port of call for them to see their loved ones was Shannon Airport. Many of those people returned on holidays to Ireland and passed through Shannon Airport. The people of County Clare have a significant emotional attachment to the airport. Separate from its extremely important role as the economic driver of the region, it also plays a role in terms of connectivity with other parts of the world. It also plays an important role in terms of generating income and jobs and facilitating the many businesses that are located not just in Shannon but in Limerick and the mid-west. It plays a crucial role in terms of tourism but not just for people from the mid-west travelling abroad. Much more importantly, many hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the west of Ireland and they do not all come from Dublin. The Minister is cognisant of the importance of regional diversity. Many of these people come through Shannon Airport. There is a very strong traditional link between America and Shannon. The councillors on Clare County Council, who represent 106,000 citizens of County Clare at local level, believe their voices and opinions and ability to promote and counsel are not being taken on board by the Shannon Group simply because they do not have a position at the table.   I have huge regard for this Minister and what he is doing in terms of State appointments, of ensuring there is accountability and credibility and of ensuring people with integrity and ability serve on State boards. He will appreciate, more than anyone, the importance of including a representative from the local authorities. We must bear in mind that it is not just a question of the 26 elected members of the local authority but also the executive, the senior management team and the nearly 1,000 people who work there, as well as the expertise, the local knowledge, the driving of enterprise and the marketing of the region that the local authority does internationally. When representatives of Clare County Council travel abroad, for example, to the Milwaukee Irish Fest and other events, it is always Shannon Airport they are promoting. It is as if the airport and the local authority are joined at the hip. As such, I am of the view that it would be an appropriate step to create a position on the board of directors for a representative from the local authority in Clare.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank Senator Conway for raising what is a very important and topical matter and for putting such a strong case for what he believes in. I know he is a very consistent advocate for the people of Clare and for Shannon Airport, and in particular for the links between Shannon Airport and the people. The case he has made here today is one which they will appreciate and one which could be considered when we are setting out criteria for airports, namely, that boards should at least coincide with regional policy, as the Government spells it out.

  As the Senator may be aware, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issued new guidelines in November 2014 on appointments to State boards with a view to introducing a more structured approach to such appointments. In accordance with those guidelines, all appointments to vacancies on State boards must satisfy the following criteria: they must be advertised openly on the State boards website operated by the Public Appointments Service, PAS; they must meet specific and detailed criteria determined by the relevant Minister necessary for the effective performance of the relevant role; and they must be processed by way of a transparent assessment system, designed and implemented by the independent Public Appointments Service to support the relevant Minister in making appointments to State boards under his remit.

  It is no longer open to Ministers to populate boards on a purely ad hoc basis. It is my objective in my Department to remove, as far as possible, political influence or political patronage in the appointments to State boards because I believe political patronage has been one of the great curses of Irish political life. In accordance with this new model of appointments, it is open to anyone to register an interest in an appointment to a State board. They simply have to go online on the PAS website and they will receive an alert when vacancies on a particular board are advertised.

  Since coming to office as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have, however, come to the conclusion that these guidelines do not go far enough. There are too many gaps and there are still huge opportunities under those guidelines for ministerial choice and political patronage. It would be far better for the boards, the individuals and the State if they were reduced or removed. For this reason, I reviewed the guidelines with a view to putting in place an additional internal process that would allow me to make appointments with greater confidence in the ability of the selected person to contribute effectively to a State board. I subsequently approved new internal principles to be implemented by my Department for all appointments. In essence, these new procedures provide a more thorough and professional and less political process. The Government-agreed guidelines for appointments to State boards will continue to be applied but, in my Department, an additional internal selection process will be undertaken following the receipt of a list of candidates from PAS. I have notified PAS and written to the chairs of all the boards under the aegis of my Department setting out details of this additional process.

  My preference is for a more broadly-based PAS assessment panel that would include one or more representative from outside the public sector and also for a minimal number of candidates who met the specified criteria to be submitted to me for consideration. Interviews, which were inexplicably missing from the 2014 process, are an essential part of the new process in my Department. As far as possible, I wish to remove my own discretion from the appointments process.

  In regard to Shannon Group specifically, I acknowledge the importance of the local authorities in the region - that is, Clare County Council, Limerick County Council, Tipperary County Council, Galway County Council and Galway City Council - working with the company to ensure its success and that of the region. The success of Shannon Group will be enhanced by the support and commitment of all stakeholders in the region working together for their mutual benefit. It is open to representatives of Clare County Council or, indeed, any of the local authorities in the region, to register their interest with PAS. There is currently one vacancy on the board of Shannon Group and I hope this will be advertised on the PAS website shortly.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I thank the Minister. Given that it has not been an easy week, I am sure he is extremely busy so I want to thank him for coming to the House to address this matter. I will advise all members of Clare County Council that they should nominate somebody through that process. I sincerely hope the gap in local representation on the board can be addressed through the public appointments system. Of course, what I would like to see is a more formalised structure whereby a nominee is accommodated on the board, but we will take it one step at a time. I thank the Minister for his contribution and for coming to the House personally to deal with this.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I would like to reciprocate the goodwill expressed by Senator Conway. When I am filling this new board place and considering the criteria to be set out for the applications, which we want to make as narrow as possible so that few candidates emerge due to my discretion, I will certainly bear in mind what the Senator has to say.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Minister. Hopefully, he will be coming in to us for a long time to come. I thank Senator Conway.

Social and Affordable Housing

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Go raibh míle maith agat a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim an-bhuíoch dó as teacht isteach. Táim an-bhuíoch don Chathaoirleach, a roghnaigh an cheist seo. Is ceist iontach práinneach í atá ag teacht chun cinn.

  I have been given documentation which suggests a senior management official with Galway City Council was allocated a house by another council official under the affordable housing scheme and that he was not eligible for this. It is claimed the income limit for the scheme was €36,500 and that the income for the position he was known to be in would have been at least double that, which should have deemed him ineligible for the scheme. It is asserted that the official in question has since retired and received a pension lump sum. It is claimed that he already had a primary residence prior to purchasing this house and that this new house is now being rented out.

  I am told a number of other senior officials also acquired houses, which are essentially assets of the taxpayer, and they would appear to have profited financially in that the houses have risen dramatically in value, with a significant dividend accruing to them at a cost to the taxpayer. The documentation also indicates that other officials were awarded houses in excess of their need; for example, some were given three-bedroom houses when their need was only justified as a one-bedroom or two-bedroom house. It is alleged that officials were allocating the better houses to their colleagues and that they were getting priority over other people on the waiting lists. If these allegations are true, it is a very serious situation. Questions need to be asked as to how the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the Department will ensure that such irregularities cannot happen. If the Minister of State has any knowledge of the case I have mentioned, I would be interested to know. If so, what does he intend to do about it? I would also like him to clarify whether his Department is aware of similar cases happening in other local authorities.  If this is happening, it is grossly unfair to the thousands of people with a legitimate housing need who are being pushed down the waiting lists due to these irregular allocations. I have sought this debate because we need to investigate these serious allegations.

  I note, from media reports dating back to May 2014, that an investigation was begun by the former city manager, Joe O'Neill, and was being continued by the current manager, Brendan McGrath. It did not, however, become public until media sources submitted lists of questions to city hall in the previous week regarding the fact that an internal investigation was taking place and that the alleged improper allocation of dwellings involved a number of staff members understood to be in the Galway City Council housing department.

  That internal investigation was ongoing at the time and we were told that there was going to be a report issuing soon after. My understanding is that report has not been made available. I do not know whether the public representatives on Galway City Council have seen it. I understand they have not. Has either the Minister of State or the Department been made aware that this investigation was happening? If so, has the report been received. If it has, could the Minister of State furnish us with a copy of that report in order that we might see what were the findings? In a time of huge crisis in housing, when people are under massive pressure on very long housing lists, to even think that officials within a housing department were allocating and cherry-picking houses that were available to the local authority beggars belief. It would also be extremely serious. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I will highlight the statutory basis for the provision of social housing support. Under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated regulations made thereunder, the assessment of households for social housing support - and the allocation of that support - is a matter for individual housing authorities in accordance with the prescribed criteria. Households that qualify for social housing support on assessment are entered onto the housing authority's waiting list and are considered for the allocation of suitable tenancies in accordance with the authority's allocation scheme made by the elected members under section 22 of the 2009 Act.

  As indicated, the assessment of individual housing applications and the allocation of accommodation to qualified households are matters solely for housing authorities. In the context of housing matters generally, the Minister has limited powers to give directions and guidelines to housing authorities under sections 4 and 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. However, section 6 of that Act specifically provides that these powers do not permit the Minister to exercise any power or control in the context of any particular case with which a housing authority is or may be concerned. I must also highlight the independence of local authorities in performing their functions, as provided for under section 63 of the Local Government Act 2001. The Minister has no role in the normal day-to-day operations of individual local authorities. The Minister's role in respect of local government is primarily to provide the policy, financial and legislative framework within which local authorities perform their functions.

  In that context, it is important to note that the Local Government Act 2001, Part 15, includes important provisions in relation to the ethical framework applicable to the local government sector, including providing a statutory basis for a code of conduct that has been issued for all local authority employees. In the ordinary course of events, it would be a matter for the relevant local authority, in the first instance, to investigate any allegations of malpractice regarding the operation of its housing allocation system. Subject to the outcome of any such investigation, it would then be for the local authority to consider what further action, either internally or by way of referring the matter to other relevant appropriate authorities, may be required. Matters concerning the allocation of social housing in one local authority have been referred to in correspondence received by my Department and this is the subject of ongoing engagement with the local authority concerned.

  If the Senator is aware of any cases which he considers require investigation, he should forward details to the appropriate authorities, be that the chief executive of the relevant local authority or, in the event that criminal conduct is alleged, An Garda Síochána, or through such other channels as may be appropriate.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I thank the Minister of State for the response but it sounds like a classic kick to touch. It does not answer the question I asked about this specific case in Galway City Council, whether the Minister of State is aware of it and has received the report. That report was to have been done in 2014. Surely by now the Minister of State should have got a copy of that report if it has been done. If so will he correspond with me to let me know whether it has been received. I will contact Galway City Council on the issue and if I feel it necessary I will contact An Garda Síochána and any other channels.

  The Minister of State does not indicate whether there are similar issues in any other local authorities. If it is widespread, that would be a matter of great public concern. To say that the Minister has no responsibility is not good enough. We need the Minister to take control of the situation in order to ensure that we have a fair, transparent and open allocation system that cannot be abused by officials, particularly those within the housing department who deal with people that are under huge pressure to find homes. Will the Minister of State indicate whether he has received that report from Galway City Council. If he has received it, will he supply a copy to me? Will he also indicate whether any other local authorities are undergoing investigations of this type?

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I have tried to answer the question as best I can, and I think I have answered it. The Senator asked were there other examples. I said very clearly one local authority has been referred to in correspondence with us. That is being dealt with. I cannot be any clearer than that. One has been referred to us and we are investigating it.

  The Senator raised a few different issues. They are all very serious and should be dealt with. Any information the Senator possesses should be handed over through the appropriate channels. It is up to the Senator to judge which are appropriate. I have outlined the various options. If the Senator has such information, that is very serious. He is absolutely right to say this is taxpayers' money and we have to ensure that housing policy and allocation of houses is managed correctly throughout the system. It is a combination of local and national government. The Senator should pass along any information in his possession.

Animal Disease Controls

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly As the Minister of State for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, is aware, there is a serious outbreak of the H5N8 avian flu. Only yesterday, the ninth case was confirmed. I compliment the Minister of State , the Minister, Deputy Creed, and the Department officials for the swift and appropriate action they took to minimise the effect of this bird flu within the Irish poultry business by introducing a compulsory housing order whereby all commercial poultry are kept indoors. I also compliment the poultry farmers who, by complying with that compulsory order, have to date kept this disease out of the commercial flock.

  There are, however, many members of the industry who trade solely in the free range category, particularly free range eggs. Under EU and Irish legislation, if free range hens are continually housed for a period exceeding 12 weeks they lose their free range status. Can any action be taken to help the people involved to overcome this problem? They are in this position because they are doing what they were asked to do in good faith. I commend the Department and the farmers for their action but they will be victims of their own vigilance. The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development was asked about this matter but he is not for lifting the derogation. Can we think outside the box? Is there a plan B to help these people get over the potential loss of their free range status which would put many of them out of business? They will lose their contractual markets. If they want to sell their eggs into the standard market, they will have to rebrand and remarket. This will have potentially serious consequences for these people. Rather than try to compensate and rebuild the industry after it has been lost, can we come up with some solution before that happens?

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Andrew Doyle): Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I thank Senator Daly for raising this important and topical matter. Following my opening comments I will be happy to further develop the points with the Senator in a subsequent conversation.

  Avian influenza refers to the disease caused by infection with avian influenza or bird flu type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. The current events are caused by a H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, which is present in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

  The epizootic started at the end of October. The virus has been confirmed in 37 countries in poultry, captive birds or wild birds. Over 300 outbreaks have occurred in poultry or captive birds and a further 300 cases in wild birds in Europe since the beginning of January. Some member states have been particularly badly affected, especially Hungary and France. Over 70 wild bird species have been affected, mainly water birds, such as ducks, geese and swans, as well as birds of prey. As the Senator has said, in Ireland there have been only nine confirmed cases in wild birds since 30 December. These have occurred mainly in migratory swans and ducks. However, this week, on 10 February, we confirmed cases in a mute swan and a grey heron. These are resident species. Thankfully, to date, there have been no cases confirmed in commercial poultry flocks.

  As a result of an increased risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza affecting commercial poultry flocks in Ireland, my Department introduced regulations on 23 December 2016 under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 requiring flock keepers to confine all poultry and captive birds in their possession or under their control in a secure building to which wild birds or other animals do not have access and to apply particular bio-security measures. The Avian Influenza (Precautionary Confinement of Birds) Regulations 2016 provide for these precautionary measures against bird flu. These regulations have particular effects on free range poultry flocks.

  EU regulations lay down detailed rules regarding marketing standards for eggs and poultry meat. These regulations set down minimum requirements that must be met to use the term "free range", including rules around access to the range. The regulations also provide for situations in which veterinary restrictions are imposed to protect public and animal health, as is the case in Ireland, and whereby eggs and poultry meat may continue to be marketed as "free range" for the duration of the restriction but not for more than 12 weeks.

  In Ireland's case, the 12-week period expires on 17 March 2017. Several member states currently have housing restrictions in place. The issue of what to do after the 12-week period expires was raised at an EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in January.

  Since the meeting in January, the Commission confirmed its intention not to table a proposal to extend the 12-week period during which the eggs or meat from birds subject to a confinement order can continue to be marketed as "free range". The Commission stated concerns about the integrity and credibility of marketing standards that were introduced for the protection of consumers. The Commission acknowledged that the 12-week period is a balance between the interests of the producer and the consumer and that it was regarded as a reasonable period to cover an avian flu epidemic. It is acknowledged that this outbreak or epidemic is prolonged in nature and the possibility that prolonged epidemics of this duration may become a more regular event. In these circumstances, the Commission has agreed to undertake a review of the marketing standards with a view to a possible modification of the current rule in light of the prolonged epidemic such as the epidemic we are experiencing.

  Free range egg production represents approximately 40% of total egg production in Ireland. Free range meat production represents approximately 5% of total poultry meat production. The importance of these free range enterprises, which are based in rural Ireland and provide jobs to the local economy, is foremost in our considerations.

  Staff in the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the EU in Brussels have engaged directly with agriculture officials in the European Commission on this matter and are liaising closely with officials in the Department. They have been considering practical solutions in the event that the Avian Influenza (Precautionary Confinement of Birds) Regulations 2016 remain in force on 17 March and beyond.

  I am mindful of the Senator's concerns and I share them. Producers and consumers have concerns too and I believe it is necessary to work to strike a balance between these competing needs.

  Yesterday, I was briefed further on this matter. Key stakeholders representing free range eggs and poultry meat producers, packers, processors and retailers attended a meeting at the invitation of officials in my Department to consider practical solutions to the labelling of product from free range poultry after 17 March should the restriction remain. Industry representatives are considering the proposals and further engagement is planned.

  The decision to maintain the Avian Influenza (Precautionary Confinement of Birds) Regulations 2016 is subject to regular review by officials in my Department. It has been decided that the requirement to keep poultry and captive birds confined in Ireland will remain in place due to the continued findings of the virus in wild birds in Ireland. Moreover, it is considered necessary to protect the high health status of the larger national commercial poultry flock.

  The most important actions that flock owners can take to protect their birds include, unfortunately, keeping them indoors and applying strict bio-security measures. Many outbreaks throughout Europe have been identified in housed poultry. Housing alone does not eliminate the risk but it certainly reduces it. The Department has produced material on the website for the various sectors to assist bird keepers.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate that this situation is unprecedented. As the Minister of State rightly pointed out, those of us who have an interest in the sector are all living in hope by virtue of the fact that until the last two confirmations, the birds affected were migratory birds. It might have been a question of living in hope somewhat and the expectation that they would migrate earlier than mid-March and in that way alleviate the problem. However, as the Minister of State has rightly pointed out, the most recent cases have involved native Irish birds. This leaves open the probability that we will not lift the compulsory housing order by 17 March.

  The Minister of State will appreciate from what I have said already that poultry farmers with free range status are between the proverbial rock and hard place. Do they abide by the compulsory housing order and lose free range status? Will there be a temptation on 16 or 17 March to undertake some supervised net covered release of the hens to enable them to tick one box? Ultimately, I believe there will be a reversal of that and that they should not have to release them. If the Minister of State was in that situation and his livelihood was at stake, he would have a sleepless night on 16 March. God knows what decisions will be made off the cuff.

  We have a little more than a month to the date. I have raised the matter today rather than coming to the House on 18, 19 or 20 March when the horse has bolted. I am delighted to hear about the negotiations with the stakeholders and that the European Union authorities will review the matter. When will that review take place? I doubt it will have come to fruition by 17 March.

  I hope the Minister of State keeps his finger on the pulse on this matter. He referred to 40% of the eggs being free range. That is a lot. For the people concerned, it is everything; it is their livelihood.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle I was surprised to learn the figure was as high as 40%. I knew it was significant but I had not realised that it was that high. The feedback from yesterday's meeting is that all sides were engaged. The relevant parties include the food and drink industry, IBEC, the IFA and all the various stakeholders referred to earlier. Those involved are trying to think outside the box. One option is an over-lay label that explains the context. In reality, if poultry has to stay inside, the produce will be deemed to be barn produced meat or eggs. An over-lay for free range stock temporarily confined could explain the position to the consumer. That option is being looked at.  There have been a number of suggestions and these have been left for consideration and comment from all sectors, so it is an ongoing consultation. The officials in my Department tell me they expect to have fairly active engagement. As Senator Daly says, we have about four or five weeks before this becomes a live issue. There was significant hope that the migratory season would end and that would take it away. The concern is that the latest two outbreaks have been in resident species which, wild though they are, will not be going anywhere. It is important that we contain it.

  The problem with letting them out before we know we are safe is that if there is an outbreak in the flock, one is wiped out for a period of production time. That is nearly a bigger consequence than loss of free range status. If this were to go on, it would be important that the industry and retailers would work together in order that consumers would know exactly what they were buying and that they were produced from free range animals. We are not going to have competitors from outside the country coming in and taking the market, because they have had to confront this problem before us. That is the reason they have already been to the Commission, because their 12 weeks is due to expire or maybe has expired in some cases. As I said, it is affecting other countries in Europe worse than it is affecting us.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly I thank the Minister of State for being on the case.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I cannot allow the Senator to continue.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly On the overlay, there would be a condition that we could revert to the original label.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I cannot allow the Senator to continue, but he can converse with the Minister of State in private.

  Sitting suspended at 11.12 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 1a, motion regarding establishment of a tribunal of inquiry, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed six minutes.

  I apologise to Members for the late notice of the Supplementary Order Paper. I did try to speak to Members before the Order of Business about the information regarding the tribunal of inquiry.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I welcome the motion to be taken this evening and the opportunity to debate the terms of reference of the tribunal of inquiry into the Garda. This is one of the biggest matters that has been before the House. It is important that the inquiry commences and that its terms of reference cover all the allegations. The information needs to come out into the public domain. It is important that the truth comes out for the families involved and that they get the justice they ultimately deserve. How they have been treated is appalling. The gardaí involved also deserve to have the truth come out because their reputations have been stained. There are many hardworking gardaí who need to be protected. The truth will come out from this tribunal of inquiry and everyone will be protected.

  October last year was the first occasion on which I voiced my concerns about the first-time buyer's grant. At the time, I stated it would not help people get on to the property market and would only increase the prices of new builds. In 2016, house prices rose by over 8% nationwide and by over 5% in Dublin. Today, a report from the ratings agency Standard & Poor's indicates that house prices are set to rise by a further 7% this year, with the Government's help-to-buy scheme playing a massive part in boosting demand.

  Boosting demand will not solve the problem. The problem is supply. The severe lack of housing supply is one of many issues the Government has ignored for way too long. There are many actions the Government can take to increase supply, such as looking at construction standards, architect approvals and building regulations for new builds, as well as the vacant sit levies and getting rid of the development levy. The Government needs to be more proactive in getting new homes built in Dublin city and at other locations throughout the country.

  According to the Standard & Poor's report, the severe lack of supply could see houses prices grow more than expected as the number of new homes for sale has dropped to the lowest figure in ten years. Last month, daft.ie and myhome.ie reported that just over 42,000 properties nationwide were for sale on their websites in December 2016, the lowest since January 2007. These figures indicate that only around 1% of housing stock is currently listed for sale. A normal functioning market would typically boast a turnover of 4% of housing stock. I was shocked to discover there are only 3,619 properties listed for sale in Dublin. Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons believes that we need to build 50,000 new homes every year to deal with ever-increasing demand. In 2016, only 14,000 new homes were built. Although we are talking about this matter all the time, I have not seen evidence of any massive impetus or incentives for to builders to increase supply. This matter is the elephant in the room and we have failed to take it seriously. I will keep raising it until it is properly addressed.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Due to professional duties of confidentiality and professional rules on publicity, I have been unable, like many Members, to deal in public with the controversies surrounding the demonisation of Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family. I remain in that position. Those duties, however, do not prevent me from fulfilling my constitutional and statutory functions as a Member of the Oireachtas regarding the proposal to establish a tribunal of inquiry under the 1921 Act, to examine and report on those matters and on the terms of reference which this House will debate this evening. In that context, I am looking forward to the debate.

  It would be wrong for me to refrain from stating in this House that the fairness and appropriateness of establishing such an inquiry, while the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, continues to exercise her authority and discharge her functions as Commissioner, is very much an issue.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Hear, hear.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell As a former Tánaiste, Minister for Justice and Equality and Attorney General, I am in a good position to form an opinion as to whether it is appropriate for the Commissioner, against whom the gravest of allegations of misconduct have been made and which will now be investigated, to exercise her authority in An Garda Síochána and to exercise her functions while the tribunal is being organised and until it has considered its report. The relationship between the Government and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána must be based on confidence. In anyone's language, confidence includes a solid belief and a working assumption that the person in question is truthful, reliable and appropriate to be in the position in every respect.  Confidence cannot be said to exist if sufficient doubt exists in the mind of the Government in respect of the gravest allegations to warrant the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry. Moreover, confidence involves an assumption of the truthfulness of a person. When we come to a situation where there is a direct conflict between that person's position as publicly stated and that of Superintendent David Taylor, and if we are operating on the assumption that the Commissioner is being truthful, that necessarily suggests that we are operating on the assumption that the allegations against her are false. That is not the position of members of the public or Members of this House.

  It is inconceivable that officers, including senior officers, of a disciplined force should be asked in their evidence to accuse, on oath and in public, of grave misbehaviour the person who is in charge of them day to day or that they be permitted to instruct counsel to cross-examine that person as to her honesty, reliability and suitability for office. It is also wrong in principle that the Garda force in its entirety, which will have a duty to co-operate in finding, presenting and making discovery of all records and evidence in its possession relating to the issues under consideration, should be under the day-to-day control of a person whose suitability for office is necessarily a central issue in that tribunal of inquiry.

  Accordingly, I want to state in the strongest possible terms that there is no reason at all for the Government to permit the Commissioner to remain in office and she must step aside either temporarily for the three month duration of the tribunal and until it has reported or else permanently. People in this House have said, and rightly so, that we should not be judge and jury in this matter. The rights of all persons to fairness comes first, including the rights of the public and everybody whose interests are at stake in this tribunal. The determination of the Commissioner to remain in office during the tribunal is neither fair, appropriate nor defensible.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh It is not every day that I stand here and agree completely, fully and wholly with Senator McDowell. It is disturbing that the Garda Commissioner is refusing to step aside for the duration of the public tribunal of inquiry. It is even more disturbing that the Government, the Cabinet and their partners in government, Fianna Fáil, feel that this is okay. It is wrong and I would ask all involved to reflect on that and to understand the predicament they put some witnesses in. The mere fact the Commissioner will not step aside and will be left in her position will do a disservice to Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family. I hope that by the time Senators return to the House next Tuesday the situation will have been resolved and the Commissioner will have stepped aside to allow the tribunal to do the work required to get to the truth.

  The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, did not answer one question last night in this House. I understand the Minister ran out of time but I and other mothers and citizens of the State need to know that there are not files held by Tusla on our children or on ourselves. We need to be given confidence that this does not happen. The Minister needs to put in place some kind of facility whereby we can check if that is the case, especially those of us who have spoken out against the justice system and against the behaviour of some senior members of An Garda Síochána or who have spoken out against the behaviour of the gardaí in disputes such as at the Corrib gas project and the protests at Shannon Airport and so on.

  I also want to discuss the fact we are in the third week of the ongoing dispute at the Tim Hastings Volkswagen garage in Westport. This is the third week where workers and their families have had to stand out in inclement weather to try to engage with management to bring about a resolution. Last week the Leader of the House said it was a matter for the mechanisms of the State, specifically the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and that it was important the mechanisms of the State were used to reach a solution. I absolutely agree with the Leader, but SIPTU members in the Tim Hastings garage have utilised all the industrial relations machinery of the State available to them. This was the third time that SIPTU members had to ballot for strike action in an attempt to get management to engage. In the first instance Tim Hastings Limited refused to attend the WRC to discuss the dispute. The company relented and attended the WRC eventually but no agreement was reached. The management side would not even sit in the same room as the union. The entire conciliation process was held in a side session. As no agreement was reached at the WRC, the next logical step was to refer the issue to the Labour Court, a highly reputable organisation for resolving disputes. Again, management only agreed to attend the Labour Court under the threat of strike action and a hearing was held on 4 November 2016. The Labour Court issued a recommendation on 20 December which said that for the positions genuinely made redundant, the staff affected should be paid an ex gratia redundancy payment of two weeks' salary per year of service in addition to the statutory redundancy and that the parts manger would be given the option of retaining the job or accepting the redundancy.

  I ask that the Taoiseach would get involved in this matter to ensure the company, which is in the Taoiseach's constituency, takes heed of the very institutions and mechanisms of the State that he asked people to recognise. I ask that Volkswagen Ireland also gets involved to resolve this dispute in order that the workers who want to can return to work and that the Labour Court recommendations are fully implemented.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I wish to express concern about correspondence I received earlier this week from the ambassador with the mission of the state of Palestine in Dublin, outlining his serious concerns around the ongoing and continuous approval of construction of settlements by the Israeli Government in the occupied Palestinian state. The construction of 566 new settlement units in occupied east Jerusalem must be condemned. These settlements are illegal and a violation of international law. It is imperative that the Government expresses its condemnation of these settlements and makes it known to the Israeli Government that it will lobby its fellow members of the European Union to bring whatever pressure is necessary to force Israel to abide by Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemns the expansion of settlements and the confiscation of Palestinian land. We know, unfortunately, from previous attempts to halt the expansion of settlements that mere condemnation and resolutions will not deter Israel from its policy of taking over Palestinian land. The treatment of Palestinian people by the Israeli Government is comparable to the actions of the apartheid regime in South Africa and, as such, must be condemned. There must also be the imposition of some penalties if the Israelis insist on ignoring their obligations under international law. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, before the House to outline the measures the Government will take to ensure Israel will abide by Security Council Resolution 2334.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy Last Monday morning at first light, machinery moved in to the Harold's Cross greyhound track. They removed the traps, took furniture out from the restaurant and put security on the gates. The 12 staff who work there were locked out. These are the actions of the Irish Greyhound Board, which says it wants to save the greyhound industry. The board held a meeting at the Harold's Cross stadium on the same day they closed it down. The problem within the greyhound industry stems back to a €20 million debt incurred when the new track was built in Limerick. The patrons, dog owners, breeders and trainers who use the Harold's Cross stadium are being made to suffer. There has been an attempt to isolate the patrons and the supporters of the Harold's Cross stadium by saying they are a contrarian group.  This week the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation had a meeting in the Horse & Jockey Hotel outside Thurles at which Harold's Cross track got the support of federations across the country from Tipperary to Waterford, Kerry, Cork, the north west, the midlands and Northern Ireland. A protest will be held next Saturday night at Shelbourne Park. No dogs that have run in the Harold's Cross Greyhound Stadium will run in Shelbourne Park. Blocking out staff from work, pulling up traps, dismantling furniture and putting padlocks on gates is no way to deal with a problem. The problem was exacerbated by a statement made by the interim chief executive officer. He stated:

We are committed to making Shelbourne Park perform excellently for all Trainers, Owners, Patrons and Staff, especially for those for whom Harold's Cross was their greyhound home. This will be challenging for all of us but there is a need for all stakeholders to leave aside disagreement and work together through a process of change and opportunity from which improved performance can be extracted.

This is the same person who gave the go-ahead to put the lock on the gate of Harold's Cross stadium. It is like pulling a person down a lane, beating the living daylights out of him and then saying, "Come on, we will be friends, we will have a drink together."

  Much reference has been made in this process to the Indecon report, a copy of which I have with me, which is now four years old. It was published in 2014. Reference is made to the need to find ways of saving money through the sale of assets, but the only asset that has been mentioned and acted on is the Harold's Cross track. However, the report states, "Potential asset disposals that should be considered include the site at Meelick, the old Henry Street Head office in Limerick, land in Cork, and the sale of [...] Harold's Cross". Just one has been acted on. The board, including the chair and the interim CEO, have lost the support of the patrons and of the owners and breeders and those involved in the industry want all of them to go.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I share Senator Landy's concerns about the Irish greyhound industry, which has been a traditionally strong industry not only in Dublin where the current controversy surrounds the Harold's Cross track but right around the country where patrons, owners and breeders are concerned about the future of the industry. I agree that we need to have a debate about the greyhound industry in this country, what the board is doing to sustain it and what changes need to be made to assist that industry.

  Despite the recent controversies, it is important that we in this House understand and recognise that every citizen in this country has a fundamental right, under our Constitution, to a presumption of innocence unless otherwise proven. I want to put on the record that I, too, welcome the holding of a public inquiry into the recent controversies around the McCabe case. The reputation and integrity of our agencies such as Tusla and, indeed, An Garda Síochána, which has stood by this country since its foundation, are under question until this matter is finally dealt with. I welcome the move by Government to have a public, transparent inquiry under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Charleton and we will be debating its terms of reference later on.

  I wish to raise an issue that has been of interest to me for quite some time, namely, the pyrite issue and the damage that it has done to many homes throughout the country but more especially in the Meath and north Dublin areas. The previous Government increased funding for the pyrite remediation scheme for the carrying out of remediation works to many of the houses that were affected, and strong and solid progress is being made. However, there is another similar problem concerning mica in Donegal and north Mayo. The Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, brought it to my attention a number of years ago and an expert committee was established to closely examine the problems being experienced by the householders affected by mica. I understand this expert committee is due to report soon. It has visited the houses affected which are literally crumbling around the families living in them due to concrete work that was insufficient and not of proper integrity. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the pyrite and mica issues and to invite the Minister with responsibility for housing to come into the House in order that we can debate these issues in detail to establish what assistance is being made available and what is planned to assist those families who have been let down by poor regulation in the construction industry.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly I support what Senator Black has said. I was in utter shock last night when I saw the off the cuff, almost comical and satirical remarks of President Trump on this issue. He did no favours to anybody on any side.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Hear, hear.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly I would like to raise an issue that was covered in an article in the Evening Herald regarding the seizure by An Garda Síochána of a large number of Taser guns from an organised crime gang. I welcome that seizure and I am delighted we can send a positive message back to the gardaí in light of what has been happening in the last few days. I am delighted that they have a positive approach to it being business as usual out on the streets while we are having our shenanigans in here.

  A major issue that seizure highlights is that while this involved an organised criminal gang there is an element of unorganised, two-bit, petty criminals with a monkey see, monkey do attitude at work. This will raise in their minds that they can harass elderly couples, in particular, in rural areas a little bit more who will not even be familiar with what a Taser gun is. I would like an issue addressed, and it is not only related to this area, that of the purchasing of materials on the Internet. While Taser guns are illegal under the Firearms Act in Ireland they can quite easily be purchased on legitimate websites for a mere €50. We need to address the issue of products which are illegal in this State, especially an item such as a Taser gun which would be used for all the wrong reasons, which can be purchased online for as little as €50 and brought into the country by a courier. That issue needs to be seriously addressed.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell When I turned on my radio this morning I heard that politics was being played with the Maurice McCabe issue, and I hope we will not have that in this House this evening. It is a very serious issue which has gone on for far too long. We have in front of us the terms of reference of the tribunal of inquiry, which I hope can be agreed in this House without politicising the issue.

  The issue of the presumption of innocence has been brought forward as a reason that the Garda Commissioner should be left in her position. There is absolutely no question from anybody here about the presumption of innocence. Everybody is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty, but the Commissioner must take a neutral position as we enter into this tribunal and the only neutral position she can take its to step down and step aside while the tribunal takes place. One of her most senior officers will appear before the tribunal in uniform and will tell a story directly opposing the story she will tell. We cannot have two of the most senior officers in An Garda Síochána, and I have said this several times-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We cannot foresee what evidence will be given. We should not be going into the detail the Senator-----

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell What I am talking about is in the public domain.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan The Senator can foresee many things.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell It is in the public domain.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Some Senators have macular edema but that is neither here nor there.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Superintendent Taylor was forced out of his job for 22 months.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator will have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the terms of reference this evening but we should not be going into this detail on the matter.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The Garda Commissioner must take a neutral position and in doing so that requires that she steps down and steps aside while the tribunal is going on. Whether she returns or not will be a matter for the outcome of the tribunal, but she must step down, and she must do that immediately.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Now the Senator is on safer ground.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell The Minister, Deputy Zappone, appeared before the House last night and primarily dealt with the Maurice McCabe travesty, particularly that involving Tusla. This is a critical aspect. We will have a debate in the House when the Health Information and Quality Authority report into Tusla is completed. I would like to see the terms of reference of that report as they will be key. A number of questions need to be included in that. First, who has access to Tusla's database, apart from Tusla? Second, I put the question to Minister last night that if the freedom of information request had not been put in by the McCabes, would this information have come to light. The Minister said it would not.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell No.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell She said it would not. That raises serious questions. There are many very good people working in Tusla and in An Garda Síochána. If Tusla is not fit for purpose, it should be abolished just as FÁS was abolished. I would like to see a timeline for when the HIQA report will be completed. I would like us to see the terms of reference and I would like them to be debated. If Tusla is not fit for purpose, the Minister needs to abolish it forthwith.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I commend Senator McDowell's comments. It is simply not credible for the Garda Commissioner to remain in situ. I do not think it does the Fine Gael Party any good whatsoever to cling to the position that she can remain in situ, especially given that all the rest of us have acknowledged that this is just not tenable in the current circumstances. I was astonished to hear the leader of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party saying on "Morning Ireland" that he does not accept there has been a conspiracy against Maurice McCabe. I find that absolutely astonishing.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Taoiseach was not on "Morning Ireland".

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I ask the Leader to acknowledge that there was a conspiracy against Maurice McCabe.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Taoiseach was not on "Morning Ireland".

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan To be clear, I was referring to the leader of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, Deputy Heydon.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan This matter will be looked into in due course.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I would like to hear what the Leader has to say. If, after all these years, we cannot agree that there was a clear conspiracy against Sergeant Maurice McCabe, how out of touch are we?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We cannot be so definitive in advance of the tribunal of inquiry.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan With respect, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I think we can.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We might all have our own opinions.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan My colleague, Deputy Cullinane, is launching a Bill today in an attempt to give trade union officials the right of access to trade union members. In light of the significant issues that have arisen in recent weeks in companies like Tesco, Kerry Foods and Bus Éireann, it is about time for all of us to decide whether we believe in the right of trade unions to represent their members. If we do, can we stand against a Bill that simply provides that trade union officials have the right to access their members in the workplace? Deputy Cullinane's fine Bill has been copied from similar enactments in New Zealand and Australia. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil do not support a basic Bill that seeks to give trade union rights to trade union members, we will see where they actually stand on workers' rights. Will our shop steward Leader across the way stand up for workers on this occasion?

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone In recent days, I have been looking at some startling statistics which show that the number of offences in the category of attempts or threats to murder, assault or harass and related offences increased by 25% between 2005 and 2015. In addition, there was a notable increase in the number of reported sexual offences in the same period, from 1,801 in 2005 to 2,348 in 2015. Of course there are multiple reasons for these increases, including the increase in the population. A review of the news from recent months supports these statistics and reveals that numerous assaults occur during the early hours of the morning or evening when people are commuting to and from work. I suggest that a safety awareness campaign should be rolled out immediately to provide advice on removing earphones at more vulnerable times, staying alert and walking in lit areas. Notices to that effect could be displayed at DART and Luas stations and on local bus services nationwide. The prevention of sexual offences is a serious matter that must be investigated. It must underlie the prosecution of sexual assaults. If people who tend to be in their own world as they go to and from work each day were to be given small reminders of the dangers that exist, it could have a very good effect.

  I would like to return to the issue of the abuse of synthetic and prescription drugs, which I raised on Tuesday. I do not think we realise the full seriousness of this situation. I heard some stories in this regard being reported on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" this morning. I have been in contact with the Minister for Education and Skills since Tuesday to discuss what we are doing to raise awareness of the use of these drugs by children. Some people start to take these drugs when they are as young as ten years of age. I suggest that as part of the new well-being educational programme that is being rolled out by the Minister for Education and Skills, children should be specifically educated about this problem. This may involve bringing children to drug rehabilitation centres or getting somebody who has experience of these drugs to come to schools to speak to young children about the detrimental effects that these drugs, which are so freely available, can have on their lives in the long term.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher A number of commitments were contained in the Action Plan for Education when it was announced with a degree of fanfare towards the end of last year. One of them was a commitment to hire 65 educational psychologists in the first quarter of 2017. The Leader will agree that the version of this commitment in the updated version of the action plan, as published last week, represents a significant and severe drop because it refers merely to the hiring of ten educational psychologists in the second quarter of 2017. No explanation has been given for this downgrade. Members will acknowledge that additional educational psychologists are very much needed in the education system to assist all students who have special needs. I found it quite startling to learn recently that 199 schools, with approximately 34,575 pupils, do not have access to educational psychologists. It is a shameful statistic. Needless to say, the schools that do not have access to educational psychologists are put at a severe disadvantage. Children with special needs in those schools are being forgotten about. As we know, teachers are not qualified to diagnose children. They need experts to assess children in order that recommendations can be made on work programmes for those children in their schools. I ask the Leader to impress on the Minister for Education and Skills the need to address this issue so that the most needy children can be catered for within our school system.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Yesterday, members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement were invited to meet members of the Likud Party in the Knesset in Israel and many religious leaders. They were very interested in the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to this country, in effect. I reminded them that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was the forerunner of the Good Friday Agreement. It did not lead to peace between the two parties, but it set up the institutions that gave the Republic of Ireland a role in Northern Ireland and helped to pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement. I mention this because the Israeli delegation was very interested in the peace process. I reminded them that the term "peace process" was coined by the United States in the context of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations of the 1970s. We have come an awful long way on the island of Ireland. I think we have done extremely well. It is ironic that the term "peace process" is still being used in the Israeli context even though they are still so far away from peace. The security of the Israeli State was mentioned, as were the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian diaspora. I said that this country is very well placed to act as an independent arbiter in the attempt to help to resolve those issues. These issues are never black and white. There are many grey areas. Our job is not to stand and wave one flag or the other. We need to see that there are two sides to every story and try to come to some conclusion. I think this country is well placed to step up to the plate again by helping to negotiating peace settlements in Israel and many other countries.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh plé againn leis an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna maidir leis an dul chun cinn atá á dhéanamh ar an bpolasaí oideachas Gaeltachta. Táimid ar fad i bhfabhar an pholasaí, ach tá céimeanna tábhachtacha le tógáil sa chomhthéacs seo maidir le hearcú agus oilúint múinteoirí ionas go mbeidh siad ar fáil le dul isteach sna scoileanna Gaeltachta i mí Mheán Fómhair seo chugainn. Ba mhaith liom a fháil amach céard atá ag tarlú faoi sin.  Last November and December the well-known playwright, actor and activist, Mr. Donal O'Kelly, brought attention to a situation which should be of concern to us all. Many asylum seekers suddenly found their scheduled asylum interviews cancelled without explanation until further notice. On 31 December, the International Protection Act 2015 came into effect. On 5 January 2017, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, website was updated with new content.

  On 3 February 2017, many asylum seekers in Ireland received newly published 60 page questionnaires, to be completed and returned to INIS within three weeks. It was 60 pages long, and there was a 30 page guidance booklet, ostensibly to help fill out the 60 page form. There is a shameful pall of stress and tension hanging over every direct provision reception centre at the moment, Mr. O'Kelly tells us. People try to find a place to study the monumental tome they have been sent. People try to make themselves tackle three or four pages a day. People try to fill in what they can, and leave the hard bits until they are in better form. People try to find quiet time in the tiny bedroom that they share with two others to read it through from beginning to end. People who have already been through an interview process must re-enter their data and much new material that is demanded into this new 60 page form. People ring their appointed solicitors for help with the form like every other applicant and their calls are not returned.

  There is a huge issue and it is concerning and alarming that asylum seekers should be put into this position. We were promised that the International Protection Act 2015 would make things easier with a single procedure. This three week deadline is unfair to those people and they probably do not have the supports that they need. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality, who I know is busy with issues this week, to come into this House in order that we can have another debate around people in and seeking asylum, particularly in the direct provision system. I call for this deadline to be extended and for the proper supports to be given to those people who are going to find it very difficult to fill in a 60 page form without the requisite support. Perhaps the Leader can bring that to the Minister's attention as quickly as possible.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill Will the Leader update the House on when it is proposed to have the legislation on greyhounds approved by the Cabinet and brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas in light of what Senator Landy and others have said about the turmoil in the greyhound industry? The Irish Greyhound Board, which is in receipt of a subsidy of €285,000 every week, is grossly unaccountable to the stakeholders operating within the industry, including greyhound owners and breeders. That was brought to everyone's attention at the weekend when the Harold's Cross stadium was put up for sale in dubious circumstances surrounding the manner in which the gates were closed.

  There is a lack of accountability and transparency within the organisation. There is no stakeholder engagement with the owners and the breeders and that is not right. In light of all that is transpiring, including the resignation of the CEO of the organisation just before Christmas, there is an urgent need to fast-track the legislation and bring transparency to the greyhound industry, as has been done with Horse Racing Ireland with huge success. While the Leader may not have the information today, perhaps he would update the House on that.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I noted with interest some of the remarks from Senator Feighan. I do not disagree with what he proposed or suggested on the role the Government can play in supporting and helping to develop other peace processes around the world. However, I would contest that it should probably focus more of its attention on our indigenous peace process and the outstanding commitments before it starts to focus on processes elsewhere. These include a public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane, the introduction of legislation on human rights and legislation on the Irish language.

  RTE's report this morning that the Department of Foreign Affairs has employed an additional 230 staff in the Passport Office is quite good news. This is probably the only example where Brexit is creating jobs on this island as opposed to doing damage to our jobs. The figures for me were quite stark and impressive. I commend the staff in the Passport Office who, it is clear, have been dealing with a huge amount of additional work as a result of this. Looking at some of the figures, there was a 74% increase in passport applications from Britain compared with January last year. In the North, 7,000 people in January alone applied for passports. That is a huge percentage increase on January of last year. In Britain, there was a jump of 71% in January of this year compared with last year. Overall, in 2016, there were 67,972 passport applications from the North, while there were 64,996 passport applications from Britain as well. We have spoken numerous times about Brexit and its huge economic, political and social implications. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and indeed the Taoiseach, will come back before us soon, and indeed regularly, to discuss that with Senators. This would allow for a very practical debate with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issue of citizenship post-Brexit. What will citizenship look like and mean? What will it do for people in the North who want to avail of their Irish and therefore EU citizenship?

  This is an example of where the Government could take a positive unilateral initiative by opening a passport office in the North, which would not just be symbolic for Irish citizens there. The figures indicate it would be a practical strategic advantage for the Government to do that. Perhaps the Leader will consider us discussing that and raising it with the Minister.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor The publication of the latest daft.ie report shows that average rent levels across the country are at an historic peak. We in the Dáil and Seanad recently brought in new legislation for rent caps for certain areas, including Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kildare. This seems unfair to me when one looks at this market because the lack of supply in housing is driving rents higher. When there are certain areas with this new rent cap and neighbours without it, it causes confusion. It is unfair. I ask the Minister to re-examine this new rent cap system. Everywhere in the country should be allowed to be part of it. At least it then gives fairness and justice to those counties that are suffering because the Government is not building houses. There is a lack of supply and the biggest issue going forward is that rents are still going up. In 2017, this new daft.ie report says housing is at its highest peaks for rents.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the 17 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business.

  Senators Ardagh, McDowell, Craughwell, Coffey, Conway-Walsh and Gavan raised the matter of a public inquiry. It is important we allow the tribunal to do its work first of all.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Fairly and without people feeling they are going to be bullied if they testify. That is the problem.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Absolutely.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Order. We will have that this evening.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That works both ways, Senator.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Sorry, it does not.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We will have that-----

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The bullying has gone one way so far.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan That will be appropriate on the terms of reference this evening, Senator.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer If I can reply without being heckled or bullied either, that would be nice.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Do not invite more comments.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is important to recognise a couple of things. A tribunal is being set up which is public, chaired by an eminent judge, and I have absolute confidence that he will do the job required of him. We are Members of the Upper House and our language is important. By extension of that, as I say every day of the week in this House, we cannot be judge and jury or attempt to influence or be seen to influence.  We cannot attempt to influence or be seen to influence. I am not saying the Senators are, in case they think I am. I think it is important that the judge is allowed to carry out his duties. If he makes a finding against people, that will be the result. All of us, I hope, have one common aim, namely, that the McCabe family get justice and are treated fairly and that we find out the truth in this inquiry. The tribunal is open to everybody. We cannot act as the tribunal.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell We are not trying to.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We have the terms of reference before us today. There are no findings against anybody yet. There are allegations in all shapes and forms. It is the job of the tribunal to establish the truth. I have every confidence it will.

  We are presumed innocent until otherwise proven guilty. We have a duty as Members of the House to ensure that the tribunal gets the support it needs. I think Senator Paul Gavan misquoted Deputy Martin Heydon on "Morning Ireland" and I would ask the Senator to go back and listen to the programme again.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I did not.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We will not re-enter that.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell No.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Even Senator McDowell agrees with me.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is what worries me.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Order, Please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer In the context, I am happy to announce to Senator Ardagh that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, will be in the House next Tuesday for education statements. In terms of the first-time buyers grant that she raises, it is new scheme and it will take time. May I just remind Senators Murnane O'Connor and Ardagh that we had a recession that killed off the construction industry when their party was in government. There is a reason that we had-----

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor The Fine Gael Party has been in government for the past six years. Senator Buttimer is telling the House that there is money there.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is not entitled to come in again.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor That is what we heard at the general election.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan On a point of order.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell It is grossly unfair of the Leader to throw back things that Members cannot reply to during his presentation. That is unfair in every sense of the word.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Yes, it is.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The points that people make need to be addressed, but not to be addressed in a political way.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Leader is responding to points made earlier.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Some day Senator Craughwell will be standing here and I look forward to hearing him give his reply.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I am glad the Leader has accepted that the Seanad will move to that stage.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The facts are very simple. We had a recession under the watch of Fianna Fáil in government which killed off the construction industry. That is a fact which must be acknowledged by the Members opposite.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor On a point of order, we have been told the recession is over. Six years-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator cannot address the Leader across the floor. The Senator must speak through the Chair.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor On a point of order, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It is not a point of order. Will the Senator remain silent in her seat.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I am entitled to make a point of order.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Leader, please do not invite any further comment from across the floor.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I was in Carlow once.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Order, please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is important to recognise that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, in Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness has set out targets and actions that must be followed up. We will have control of rent, which he has addressed by the introduction of rent pressure zones, which I am sure Deputy Murnane O'Connor will welcome.

  Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the Hastings garage in Mayo. As I said to her last week, that matter is outside our remit. There is a mechanism of the State to be employed and I would encourage all sides to engage with it.

  Senators Black, Feighan and Paul Daly raised the issue of Palestine. I think it is important that we reach out to all sides in this dispute, if I can use that term, to engage. We recognise as Senator Feighan rightly said that it is not black and white. There are two sides and the Palestinian people deserve to have their rights respected and upheld and also that we have constant dialogue and interaction. To be fair to Senator Feighan, the model he spoke about in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, is one that could be used. It is important that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade would articulate the views expressed here this morning in regard to Palestine when they are in Washington DC for St. Patrick's Day.

  Senators Landy, Coffey and Ó Domhnaill spoke again today about the greyhound industry and the greyhound stadium in Harold's Cross. The Indecon report set out the reasons the sale of Harold's Cross had to take place. There are legitimate concerns which have been expressed in this House and also at the Committee of Public Accounts where the Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Aidan O'Driscoll, is discussing the greyhound industry. Dialogue and communication are critical to solving any issue. The sale of assets has to be approved by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department. The Government is committed to the greyhound industry and has committed €16 million this year under the horse and greyhound fund. It is disappointing to see this type of action being taken out of frustration. I agree with Senators Landy and Coffey that the greyhound industry is important and we need to see this issue resolved as soon as possible.

   Senator Coffey mentioned pyrite and I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House in regard to the issue. Equally I join Senator Paul Daly in congratulating the Garda Síochána for the seizure of the Taser guns. There is an issue of access through the Internet. Equally, it is a debate we need to have as a country and I will be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, come to the House to discuss data protection along with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. There was mention of people going around and terrorising old people. These people belong to a community and people know who they are and they should share the information with the Garda Síochána.

  Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and the terms of reference of the HIQA report. It is important to have that report concluded and I would be very happy to debate it in the House. The Senator raises a very interesting point about access to databases, which all organisations should have a policy on. During the course of the debate last evening Senator Ó Ríordáin mentioned that in his school the principal had access to the filling cabinets. It is important that any organisation which has sensitive documents and files restricts access and there is a vouched for access and exit from that particular storage area. If the information is online, it should be encoded and there should be a strict access point. Senator Gavan raised Deputy Cullinane's Bill, but we all would want to see the rights of workers protected. I am consistent on that point. If he wants to bring the matter forward as a Private Members' Bill that is up to him, but it is important that we protect workers, that they are given access to unions and have representation.

  Senator Noone raised the increasing levels of violence which is up 25% in some categories. Thankfully the Minister for Justice and Equality is bringing forward a domestic violence Bill. All of us agree that any type of violence is unacceptable and that we should stand strong against it, whether it is a threat of violence or attempted murder. The matter the Senator raised in regard to education can be discussed next Tuesday. Senator Gallagher also raised education and as I have said, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, will be in the House next Thursday.

  Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of the polasaí don oideachas Gaeltachta. I will request the Minister to come to the House regarding that and perhaps he could discuss it next Tuesday as part of the debate. Should the Senator want the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to attend we can talk about that.

  Reference was made to the interview process for asylum seekers. I was not aware that was the case as I had not heard it but I will discuss it afterwards and we can take it up with the Minister. It is Deputy McHugh's intention to come to the House next Thursday. It is in my calendar for the schedule for next week but I will come back to Senator Ó Clochartaigh on an agreed date.

  In regard to the point made by Senator Ó Donnghaile, I hate saying that it was Sinn Féin which collapsed the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government is very invested and very committed to working with all sides in the North but it was his party who collapsed the Assembly.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Why did we do that?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I share his view on the Passport Office. It is good to see an increase in the staffing levels to deal with the increased level of applications.  It would be interesting to have a debate on how we might make access to passports easier for people. I do not see any reason why we could not have such a debate in Derry, Belfast or wherever else. I would very much welcome that.

Senator Murnane O'Connor referenced the recent daft.iereport. I would be happy to have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government appear before the House.

  Order of Business agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.

Business of Seanad

Acting Chairman (Senator Colm Burke): Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I propose a suspension of the sitting until the conclusion of the division in the Dáil. Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 1.45 p.m.

Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016: Second Stage

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  I welcome the Minister of State and thank him and his staff for coming before the House to deal with this matter. This is a Bill "to provide for the effects in civil law of persons who are missing, including arrangements for interim management of the missing person's property, and to provide for the civil status of the missing person where the circumstances of their absence leads to a presumption of death; and to provide for related matters". It stems from a Law Reform Commission report of 2013 which contained a very detailed examination of the existing law in this area. The number of families directly affected is quite small but it is important that we consider the issue, which the Law Reform Commission deemed important. The membership of the Law Reform Commission at the time of the publication of the report comprised Mr. Justice John Quirke, who had by then retired from his position as a High Court judge, Finola Flanagan, barrister-at-law, Donncha O'Connell, Tom O'Malley, who is from the Minister of State's area, and Marie Baker, who was a senior counsel at the time and who has since been appointed to the High Court. These people had much experience and a very long number of years of legal background. They examined this area quite extensively and produced a report which runs to more than 100 pages. They considered all the legal issues involved in cases of missing persons.

  The problem at present is that if a person goes missing and everyone knows that he or she has died but a body has not been located, an inquest cannot proceed. There is a procedure under the Coroners Act, I believe, whereby the Minister for Justice and Equality can give a direction for the coroner to hold an inquest. There have been a number of such cases but they have been very rare. The problem is that when someone disappears and no body is found, a death certificate cannot be obtained and there are, therefore, many matters one cannot deal with, such as the person's bank accounts and property. Mortgages, for example, present difficulties. I was looking at the figures in this regard. There were 62,426 cases of people reported as missing over a ten-year period, and after extensive searches and so on, 385 still could not be located. In the region of 7,000 people per year - approximately 20 each day - go missing or are reported as such. One might say the number is quite high. Many people are located and identified but, as I said, more than 385 people were still not accounted for.  There was a case in the south where a couple just disappeared overnight and to this day have never been located. In County Tipperary a man was missing for two years and nothing could be done until the body was eventually located in a slurry tank. Everybody knew the person was dead because his account had not been touched, the car had not been moved and the passport was still in place.

  In dealing with legislation on missing persons we must be careful of the issue of fraud. There was one case, the John Darwin case in 2002, where this man went missing and the body could not be located. There was a drawdown of a life insurance policy. The man subsequently turned up in a police station a number of years later. Both he and his wife were prosecuted. Such cases are very rare. In Scotland this law is in place and an average of five court orders, called a presumption of death order, are made per annum. Under my proposed Bill, a person will apply to the Circuit Court for a presumption of death order. In Scotland, the average is five applications a year, which is quite small but it is still important for the families who are directly affected. In the period up to 2011, of the 150 cases that had gone through the court, only one person subsequently turned out to be alive. It was very effective for the families and of assistance to them.

  Section 23 of the Coroners Act 1962 provides that where death has occurred and all the evidence is available that a death has occurred but no body has been identified, the Minister can direct that an inquest would be held. That would arise in cases where a person is lost at sea or where a building has been burned down but the remains cannot be identified because the damage was so extensive.

  When the Law Reform Commission was preparing this report, it looked at legislation in Australia, Canada, Scotland and other jurisdictions. There was a great deal of research done on it. It is important that we move forward in this matter. One of the things that happens here that I do not like, is that we produce reports and then park them on shelves. This has tended to happen in cases like this. The Law Reform Commission report was produced more than six years ago and we have not brought forward any legislation on it.

  The Bill sets out what needs to be done and the procedures that can be put in place. Section 1 sets out the definitions and terms used throughout the Bill. A definition of "missing person" is clearly set out. Section 2 sets out the persons who may apply for orders under the Bill. Section 3 sets out an application for an order of presumption of death and provides for an order for the interim management of the property of the missing person. The sections set out both the procedure that needs to be adopted. It is a Circuit Court application and there is a very detailed structure on the management of the affairs of the missing person. Before the court makes an order it must be satisfied that all of the criteria have been produced to the court. It is very comprehensive in dealing with that issue.

  Let me give an example. The appointment of an interim manager may only be made when (a) it is not known whether the missing person is alive, (b) reasonable efforts have been made to find the person, and (c) where the person has not contacted anybody who lives at the person's last known home address for at least 90 days, or any relative or friend of the person with whom the person is likely to communicate. The Bill sets out all of the criteria that must be met. If the person dealing with the court application, be it the county registrar or the Circuit Court judge, is in any doubt whatsoever he or she may look for further information before making the order. They will not be rushing off making an order unless all of the criteria have been satisfied.

  There are checks and balances in the Bill. While the Bill is published, I am not saying it is written in stone. If the Department wants to table further amendments, I have no difficulty in dealing with that.

  I believe we need to bring forward this Bill and we need to ensure it is put in place at an early date in order to cater for the families where the person who is missing has property, bank accounts or assets that cannot be managed. At present one must wait for seven years before a final order can be made. There is a period of uncertainty that needs to be dealt with.

Acting Chairman (Senator Michelle Mulherin): Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I understand that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is seconding the Bill.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I second the Bill. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Canney. It is good to see him here even in these traumatic days.

  Within the first hour of this debate, one person on average will have been reported missing in Ireland. One person goes missing every hour of every day. For family, friends, carers and social workers, there is possibly nothing as traumatic as not knowing what has happened to their loved one or the person they care for. The number of missing persons reported in Ireland has increased from 5,000 in 2004 to 9,000 in 2014. I welcome the announcement in recent days that the Garda Síochána is set to gain access to the EU-wide border security database for the first time next year which will assist in finding missing loved ones. The Bill that Senator Colm Burke has introduced would go further in assisting this work.

  On 30 January 2013, as Senator Colm Burke has alluded to, the Law Reform Commission published a report on civil law aspects of missing persons and made 19 separate recommendations that formed the basis of the Bill before the House and the work undertaken by the then Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. In the previous Oireachtas, Senator Colm Burke's Bill was accepted in principle by the then Government and the then Minister, Mr. Alan Shatter. I hope this Government would make further progress on this initiative as this would make a significant difference to those affected.

  I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016, a Bill that gives clarity under the law to people who have loved ones who are missing for long periods of time and who are unfortunately very unlikely to return home to their families. People in this situation at present are caught up in legal uncertainty as to what their options are when a loved one is missing and the Bill aims to rectify this by putting in place a statutory framework which would provide for the making of a presumption of death order in respect of two categories. The first category is where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that the death is virtually certain and the second is where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return. The records of the missing persons bureau of the Garda Síochána show that almost 20 people are reported missing every day, totalling 7,000 persons reported missing annually. While in the vast majority of cases the persons who have been thought to be missing turn up safely, unfortunately some do not.

  As the law presently stands in cases where a people remain missing and it is clear from all evidence available that they have died, there is no legal procedure available to allow for their estate to be managed. This is what we are talking about. While families of missing persons always hold out hope for their safe return, it is not always the case that they will return. Where it is not the case, it is helpful to the families to have a clear, legal pathway as to what their options are when dealing with estates, money and property, if any exist. Regardless of whether the missing person returns, those left behind are faced with immediate practical problems, such as how to deal with mortgage payments, how to deal with the lack of access to bank accounts that might become overdrawn, insurance, and all that life has left behind.  This only adds to the stress on families and we can help to alleviate that stress with this Bill, which I welcome.

The Bill is also intended to clarify the legal position as to who is entitled to apply to the court for an interim manager to be appointed to administrate the missing person's estate and what procedures must be complied with before the courts will issue a presumption of death order. The applicant may be a spouse, civil partner, cohabitee of the missing person or another family member. When someone is missing for a very long period and in most cases presumed to have passed away, a coroner will also be able to supply a death certificate if the court agrees. The fact that this can be done by a coroner along with the courts will hopefully go some way towards giving a family closure, a word I do not like, bringing an end to their living of a somewhat alien life and allowing them to begin the grieving and healing process that we all must go through when a loved one is lost.

While this Bill is largely technical in nature, it will be helpful to many families. Regardless of the circumstances of a disappearance or the period of absence of the missing person, the impact on those left behind, family members in particular, cannot be underestimated. As the disappearance of any person is often unanticipated and unexpected, the emotional trauma caused by that disappearance can be devastating for those left behind. I am currently writing a report for the Government on dying, death and bereavement in Ireland. I know, from what I have learned while preparing that report, that the devastation of those who are left behind, who do not know what has happened to a loved one, particularly when people have been missing for many years and are unlikely to return, is appalling. The mother of a missing teenager in England stated:

There is no preparation, no luxury of hindsight for dealing with the loss of a loved one. You are thrown into an alien world.

We must try to give some clarity to those people who have faced the devastation of losing a loved one in such tragic, unanticipated and unexpected circumstances. It is on these grounds that I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I welcome the Minister of State. Fianna Fáil is happy to support this Bill. I commend Senator Colm Burke and others on all the work they have done in respect of this legislation, including Members of the previous Seanad. This Bill has been a long time coming. As Senator Colm Burke outlined, it was drafted on foot of a Law Reform Commission report which suggested the streamlining of the law relating to this area. We are happy to support it.

  As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell outlined, the disappearance of a loved one leaves people in a limbo emotionally, psychologically and, often, financially. It is great that there will finally be a clear framework in place because the current model is cumbersome, costly and involves applications to the High Court. I am glad to see that future applications will be to the Circuit Court, which will limit the financial exposure of families who are already suffering and going through a very difficult time. I commend Senator Colm Burke for bringing this issue to the House's attention.

  The two categories of persons that this legislation will cover is also significant because every missing person's case is different. It is good that we have made the requisite distinction in that regard. I look forward to the passage of this Bill through the House and I may table some amendments to it at a later stage.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I will not even need the eight minutes allowed because, like other speakers, I commend both the proposer and seconder of the Bill. This is important legislation. While I will probably indulge in some repetition of what has been said already, it is important that I put on the record the position of my party because the legislation we are seeking to progress today is so significant. Sinn Féin has been of the long-standing view that legislation such as this must be introduced. The House should note that Deputies Pearse Doherty and Jonathan O'Brien of Sinn Féin introduced legislation on this matter in the Dáil. That in itself indicates the significance of the issue, with both Houses of the Oireachtas paying it due regard.

  The Bill is designed to provide arrangements for the management of a missing person’s property but also for processes where the circumstances of the person's absence leads to presumption of death. This presumption would apply to persons where the death is virtually certain and where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate it is highly probable that the missing person has died, for example, where the disappearance occurred in dangerous circumstances or other circumstances where the loss of life might be presumed. The law currently allows for the assumption that a person is alive for up to seven years after he or she goes missing but it is not conclusive. Under the Coroners Act 1962, an inquest can be held where the body of a missing person has not been found. If the inquest concludes that the missing person has died, the death may be registered as it would under normal circumstances. This is hugely important for the families of many missing persons in Ireland today.

  Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell outlined the trauma and impact that disappearance has on families. While we are debating this legislation, it is important that we reflect on and remember the significant loss suffered by many people throughout this State. There are hundreds of families across the country that are missing family members or friends. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are reported missing every year, which is almost 20 every day. Most of these actually turn up within a very short time and less than 1% remain missing for a long time. It is the to families and friends of that 1% who never return home that this Bill can provide some practical and moral help. It will bring this jurisdiction into line with the North and with Scotland in allowing for an application to be made to a register of presumed deaths. A presumed death will only be registered if it meets the strict criteria laid out in the Bill. This Bill comes out of a hope that when the worst has to be presumed, family members of the missing person do not have to suffer more difficulty than necessary. There is a gap in legislation that benefits nobody and compounds the tragedy of missing persons cases for families even further. Like other Members, we are happy to support this Bill.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister of State for being here. Again, I will not need the eight minutes allowed as I do not want to repeat what others have said. I thank Senator Colm Burke for approaching me to support this important legislation and for his tenacity in ensuring this issue is dealt with in Seanad Éireann. I welcome the work of the Law Reform Commission on the issue of how our legal system deals with missing persons. I commend, in particular, its 2011 consultation paper, Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the drawbacks of our current legislative framework and makes recommendations on the improvements that can be made in how the State responds to the many issues that arise from circumstances where a person is missing.

  I can only imagine - in fact, I do not have to imagine because I have a friend who is missing, presumed dead - the stress for a family or a community that has to deal with a situation where a loved one has gone missing. To be completely in the dark and unaware of the whereabouts of or the circumstances leading up to a loved one going missing is one of the most heart-breaking ordeals. In the tragic circumstances where this occurs, there is little that we can do to provide solace to a family that has to respond. However, what we can do is ensure that when this happens, the State is able to make the post-disappearance legal process as simple, straightforward and manageable as possible. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that our current legal process in respect of matters such as these does not meet these criteria.

  The Law Reform Commission’s 2011 paper details how one of the greatest challenges to families having to cope with these situations is one of "ambiguous loss", where much of the emotional impact on those left behind can be attributed to the lack of information when a person goes missing. These are people who are vulnerable and for whom this can impact hugely on their lives. Beyond the emotional impact, there are immediate practical and financial Implications that families have to deal with such as accessing bank accounts, making mortgage repayments and other issues relating to property. The fact that, under our current arrangements, families can be caught in this limbo for seven years is unacceptable and shows just how much we need to reform the system.

  The Bill sets out clear processes for the appointment of an interim estate manager, the process by which a presumption of death order can be obtained and the circumstances in which such orders can be dissolved in cases of reappearance. This Bill may only affect a small number of our citizens but to those it will affect, it will mean a great deal.  I am proud to support the Bill. I acknowledge when we work together we find areas that we can work together on and all agree on. I and other Senators from the Opposition and the Government supported this Bill. It is something that we should use in the future when the vulnerable are affected. We should be looking to other areas where we can agree In order that we can start pushing legislation as important as this Bill through the House as quickly as possible.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend Senators Colm Burke, Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Ruane on proposing this important Bill. In particular, I commend Senator Colm Burke who has worked on this issue for a good deal of time. It is good to see this Bill come before the House on this agreed basis. I echo Senator Ruane's comments that it is a sign of the Seanad at its best when we work together in a consensual manner to bring forward important legislation such as this on which a great deal of work has been done.

  Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell put it succinctly, stating this Bill would set out a clear pathway for the families of missing persons and for dealing with the civil status of missing persons. Clearly, this is an issue that is devastating for many families and we all need to acknowledge that.

  In 2012, the then Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I was a member, conducted a hearing on the issue of missing persons and published a report. At the public hearing that committee held on 28 March 2012, it was really very affecting to hear about the deep trauma and the devastation suffered by so many as a result of individuals and family members going missing. We heard from a number of organisations which are involved in searching for missing persons. We heard poignant and compelling testimony from Search and Rescue Dog Association, the missing persons helpline, Mountain Rescue Ireland and others.

  One of our recommendations was that we would have a national missing persons day, which we have had since 2013 on the first Wednesday in December. That is an important symbolic way of recognising the trauma and devastation for families and the fact we have significant numbers of persons going missing. Others have quoted figures on that. Certainly, when we were compiling our report, we noted that in the previous five years there had been 40,000 reports of missing persons to An Garda Síochána, the vast majority of which, happily, as we acknowledged, were resolved and persons were found safe and well within 24 hours. Nonetheless, there are a small but significant number of persons who remain missing and that is really what this Bill seeks to address.

  Others have pointed out that the Bill is very much based on the Law Reform Commission recommendations. The report of the commission in 2013 included a draft Bill. It pointed out the need to establish a statutory framework for the making of a presumption of death order that would be a less cumbersome process in respect of the two categories of missing persons, both where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain and where the circumstances and length of disappearance indicate it is highly probably the missing person has died and will not return. I echo the words of others that it is important the application would now be made under this proposed framework in the Circuit Court rather than in the High Court to keep costs down and to ensure easier access to the courts and, significantly, fewer delays.

  It is an eminently sensible Bill. The groundwork has clearly been laid for the Bill. There is a broad consensus in support for the Bill and I would like to add the support of the Labour Party to that of others who have supported the Bill.

  We at the justice committee also heard from an impressive group of transition year students from Davis College in Mallow in Cork who had run, as a transition year project, a forget-me-not campaign to acknowledge and raise awareness of the issue of missing persons in Ireland. They had a visual presentation that really affected all of us on the committee at the time and made a powerful impression in terms of the impact that persons going missing has on families and communities. That is something that stayed with me.

  I commend Senator Colm Burke on his great work in doing this. I commend the Minister on supporting the Bill and all the other colleagues who have expressed such strong support for it.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank Senators Colm Burke, Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Ruane for presenting the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016. I am happy to tell the House that the Government has decided not to oppose the Bill, although the text of the Bill is not without its problems. Careful analysis of its content will be necessary and amendments will inevitably be required when the Bill is considered in due course on Committee Stage.

  I am aware that Senator Burke proposed legislation in this area on a previous occasion and on that occasion also the then Government indicated it could support the Bill in principle. That indication was given in good faith and with every expectation that it could be followed through. Regrettably, it did not prove possible to accommodate the assessment needed of the potentially wide-ranging implications of this legislation given the need to deal with what became other pressing major legislative priorities at the time.

  Senator Burke has indicated that the primary purpose of the Bill is to deal with the civil law status of missing persons. To this end, the Bill would put in place a statutory framework to provide for the making of a presumption of death order in respect of two categories of missing persons. The first category is where the circumstances of the disappearance indicate that death is virtually certain. The second category is where both the circumstances and the length of the disappearance indicate that it is highly probable that the missing person has died and will not return, for example, where the disappearance occurred in dangerous circumstances or in other circumstances in which loss of life may be presumed.

  The Bill also has as its objective the putting in place of a regime which would allow an interim manager to be appointed to manage the missing person's estate. It places various obligations on those who are appointed to manage the estate of the missing person, including the requirement to effect a policy of insurance. This dual focus of the Bill is potentially problematic in that it blurs the boundaries between those who are missing and are in all probability dead and those who are missing but still alive. The legal issues attaching to the resolution of the difficulties presented by these two scenarios are not identical and, ideally, should not be conflated.

  The provision in the Bill allowing for a presumption of death order to be made when a missing person is understood to be dead but where the death cannot be confirmed or where the body cannot be recovered reflects the principles agreed by the Council of Europe in 2009. That principle is to the effect that states should provide for a person to be declared dead where death is virtually certain or highly probable. The Bill also conforms to the Council of Europe's principle that the declaration of presumed death, in this case through the presumption of death order, would have all the legal effects of death in terms of its impact on property, succession and relationships.

  As Senators will be aware, the Bill before the House is inspired by the work contained in the Law Reform Commission report of 2013, Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons. The report addresses two very specific issues. First, it addresses the need for a presumption of death order which could be obtained on foot of a court application and which would require a variety of proofs under a range of specified headings. The court would also have to take account of additional circumstances including, where relevant, the abandonment of valuable property and the presence or absence of a motive for the missing person to remain alive but disappear. Second, it contemplates a mechanism for an interim solution to be put in place where a person's affairs need to be managed in the short term but where the person's ultimate circumstances are unclear. This will enable a person's liabilities, such as for a mortgage or car loan, to continue to be paid. Being able to access a missing person's bank accounts to continue to pay essential bills such as a mortgage on a family home would go some little way to alleviating the deep emotional distress which is undoubtedly experienced by families in circumstances where a person is missing. However, it is also essential that adequate safeguards are put in place to ensure premature action is not taken which could have detrimental effects in so far as the missing person is concerned.

  Persons who are missing are not always dead. There have been some high profile instances but there are also many cases each year of persons who go missing but who are in fact alive and seeking to escape stressful situations, either temporarily or permanently. In examining this Bill, we need to be sure the potential for abuse is minimised to the greatest extent possible. We do not want to create a legislative framework which, however well-intentioned, could be suborned by those unscrupulous enough to see it as a vehicle for exploiting the assets of a vulnerable relative. Therefore, the scope of this legislation needs to be considered carefully to ensure an appropriate balance is struck.

  The definition of a missing person in the Bill may be too broad in that it encompasses all missing persons, including those who step out of their lives for whatever reason but who subsequently return to that life.  A narrower focus on the intended target group would see reliance on a definition which draws on the Council of Europe’s definition that a "missing person" is "a natural person whose existence has become uncertain ... because he or she has disappeared without trace and there are no signs that he or she is alive". An overly loose definition could result in premature applications being made to the court, particularly relating to the appointment of interim managers of the property of those who were not truly missing.

  The question of whether to impose a minimum waiting period regarding an application for a presumption of death order also requires careful attention. The Council of Europe has recommended that there be no minimum waiting period only where the missing person’s death can be taken as certain but where their bodies cannot be recovered, for instance as a result of the 2004 tsunami. It is a very particular category of missing persons. For those whose death was likely, the Council of Europe recommended a minimum waiting period of a year. It also recommended that the seven-year waiting period be retained for missing persons whose deaths are uncertain.

  Under the terms of Senator Colm Burke’s Bill, there would be no requirement for a minimum waiting period where a presumption of death order was being sought and a court would have to decide on the application based on the specificity of evidence available. While it is desirable to streamline processes to the greatest extent possible, thereby facilitating the families of missing persons in achieving legal certainty with a minimum of delay, we will have to consider carefully whether to dispense with a minimum waiting period, given the adverse consequences of a presumption of death order for a person who is subsequently found to be alive.

  I will touch briefly upon some other matters which also merit further consideration. First, the Bill envisages that a missing person who returns and who has been the subject of a presumption of death order can apply to the court to overturn the dissolution of the marriage or civil partnership which was attendant upon the granting of that order. However, it is wholly unclear as to the protections which would be in place to safeguard the position of the spouse or civil partner who was left behind.

  Second, the impact of a presumption of death order on the operations of An Garda Síochána in respect of the investigation of missing persons may also need to be considered further. Furthermore, there remains the question of whether the register of presumed deaths provided for in section 5 of the Bill would be better provided for as an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004 rather than creating a stand-alone arrangement. Taking the Civil Registration Act route would bring the register under the wider civil registration framework, for example, correction of errors, searches and issue of certificates etc.

  Of course, outside the legislative framework, some initiatives have been undertaken which recognise the lasting trauma for the families and friends of those who have gone missing. As previously mentioned by the Senator, the national Missing Persons Day is now an annual commemorative event. A particular feature of last year’s ceremony was a presentation from Forensic Science Ireland on the DNA database system and the valuable role it can and does play in identifying missing and unknown persons.

  In conclusion, I again thank Senators Burke, O’Donnell and Ruane for bringing this Bill forward today. I also thank all the other Senators who spoke on the Bill and acknowledge their contributions and points of view. The Government is committed to giving careful and sympathetic consideration to the proposals which have been made. Any legislation in this area, however, has potentially wide-ranging implications and time will be needed if workable solutions are to be developed and the right balance struck. I hope therefore that it will be understood that a period of some months will be required to progress matters and I believe it is likely to be close to the end of this year before the necessary progress can be made with a view to bringing forward substantial amendments on Committee Stage.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Since there are two Senators in the House named O'Donnell, I would like there to be reference as to which O'Donnell actually signed this Bill. Can we put that on the record? It is very important.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony It will be on the record.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell That is fine.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I am flattered, but I am actually named Ó Donnghaile. I appreciate the Senator's point however.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill is named Ó Domhnaill.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony Is it Senator Kieran O'Donnell?

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank-----

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony Sorry. To clarify, does the Senator refer to Senator Kieran O'Donnell?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Senator Kieran O'Donnell; I do not want it to be confused.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke It is on the back of Bill, that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell It is important because many people ask about something I said in the Seanad, when in actual fact it was Senator Kieran O'Donnell.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I thank the Senator for the clarification.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell This is especially the case when I have words of wisdom that I need attributed to myself.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile We are grateful for them.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Members who signed the Bill with me, namely, Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Ruane and I thank them for their assistance in this matter. I thank Members who spoke on the Bill from each of the parties, that is, from Fianna Fáil, Labour and Sinn Féin, and all the independent Senators, who have supported this Bill today. I believe in working together and Senator Ruane referred to that matter. This is an issue on which there is no political divide. While this issue affects only a very small number of people, it is important for them that some legal structure be put in place for them.

  As I said at the outset, well-prepared and well-researched reports have been produced in the course of which people have spent not just one or two days but in many cases up to 12 months looking at and going through all of the complexities this issue throws up. They prepared a very detailed report and researched the issues both here in Ireland and in the common law jurisdictions and in other areas. They researched in Australia, Canada, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They did not rush into drafting a report. They prepared a very detailed report and, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to, they gave very detailed recommendations as to how it should be dealt with. These reports should not be parked. That is why I have looked at this very carefully. I introduced a Bill in 2014, which obviously fell when the Dáil was dissolved, but I reintroduced it in July because this issue should not be parked.

  While I hope it never happens here, I will bring up the issue of what happened in Asia, where an entire plane disappeared and only very small parts of it have been identified. If such a case occurred, and I hope it never does, would we have to come into these Houses and rush through emergency legislation to provide for the families? Had Irish people been on that specific plane, would there have been a legal structure in place for any family to deal with it? This issue should not be parked.

  I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for his contribution. I accept what he is saying. This is not written in stone. The issue he raised in respect of the marriage question is very important and complex. I am not in any way qualified to say what I have set out in the Bill is the position that has to be accepted.

  Senator Bacik raised the fact that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality has dealt with this in great detail and has spent a lot of time on it. I am concerned that matters coming before committees of the House or joint committees are then sometimes parked. We should not be dealing with that.

  I accept that each Department has its own priorities for legislation. It has its A list, which is a priority, its B list, about which something must be done and its C list, to which it must try to get around at some stage. The groundwork is done. I remember being involved with the youth section of my party long ago. We wanted to bring about a change in the law of illegitimacy whereby a child born outside of marriage had no legal right to his or her father's estate. I remember that on starting that campaign, we set out that it would take us ten years to get the law changed in that area. I remember holding public meetings and getting signatures in the street during that campaign. I thought ten years was very far-fetched. It actually took us seven years to get the law changed.  There are young people here today who might think it strange law that a child born outside of marriage had no right to the father's estate, but that was the law in this country until 1987. It took us seven years to get that law changed. We are now running to seven years from the time the Law Reform Commission report was published to get this law changed.

  I appeal to the Department to take this on board, if possible. The groundwork is done. I accept that amendments are needed and that and all the loose ends need to be tidied up. I believe we should progress it and move it forward. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and I thank the Department for examining this matter and coming forward with constructive proposals for amendments. I have no difficulty sitting down and dealing with the matter.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke Next Tuesday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 21 February 2017.

  Sitting suspended at 2.30 p.m. and resumed at 5.05 p.m.

  5 o’clock

Establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry: Motion

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I move:

“That Seanad Éireann:
- bearing in mind the serious public concern about allegations that senior members of An Garda Síochána sought to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe because of complaints he made about the performance of An Garda Síochána;

- noting the Protected Disclosure that was made by Superintendent David Taylor to the Minister for Justice and Equality on 30 September 2016, and noting the Protected Disclosure made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe on 26 September 2016 alleging an orchestrated campaign, directed by senior officers, to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe by spreading rumours about his professional and personal life;

- noting the decision of the Minister for Justice and Equality on 7 October 2016 to request a judge to investigate whether there was an orchestrated campaign, directed by senior officers, to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe by spreading rumours about his professional and personal life;

- noting that, having completed his review, it is the opinion of Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill that a commission of investigation should be established;

- mindful that senior members of An Garda Síochána have denied the existence of or their involvement in any orchestrated campaign to discredit Sergeant McCabe as alleged in Superintendent Taylor’s protected disclosure;

- bearing in mind allegations that there may have been inappropriate contacts between An Garda Síochána and TUSLA in respect of Sergeant McCabe and Garda Keith Harrison and concerns that such contacts may have also taken place in relation to other members of An Garda Síochána who had made allegations of wrongdoing within An Garda Síochána;

- noting that a public inquiry is the most appropriate way to investigate these serious allegations so as to ensure public confidence in An Garda Síochána and to respond to the public disquiet caused by these allegations;
resolves that it is expedient that a tribunal be established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2011, to be chaired by Mr. Justice Peter Charleton, Judge of the Supreme Court, to inquire urgently into the following definite matters of urgent public importance:
[a] To investigate the allegation made in a Protected Disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, on the 30th of September, 2016, by Superintendent David Taylor, wherein he alleges that he was instructed or directed by former Commissioner Martin Callinan and/or Deputy Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, to contact the media to brief them negatively against Sergeant Maurice McCabe and in particular to brief the media that Sergeant McCabe was motivated by malice and revenge, that he was to encourage the media to write negatively about Sergeant McCabe, to the effect that his complaints had no substance, that the Gardaí had fully investigated his complaints and found no substance to his allegations and that he was driven by agendas.

[b] To investigate the allegation of Superintendent Taylor in his Protected Disclosure, that he was directed to draw journalists’ attention to an allegation of criminal misconduct made against Sergeant McCabe and that this was the root cause of his agenda, namely revenge against the Gardaí.

[c] To investigate what knowledge former Commissioner Callinan and/or Commissioner O’Sullivan and/or other senior members of the Garda Síochána had concerning this allegation of criminal misconduct made against Sergeant McCabe and whether they acted upon same in a manner intended to discredit Sergeant McCabe.

[d] To investigate the creation, distribution and use by TUSLA of a file containing false allegations of sexual abuse against Sergeant Maurice McCabe that was allegedly sent to Gardaí in 2013, and whether these false allegations and/or the file were knowingly used by senior members of An Garda Síochána to discredit Sergeant McCabe.

[e] To investigate whether the false allegations of sexual abuse or any other unjustified grounds were inappropriately relied upon by Commissioner O’Sullivan to discredit Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the Commission of Investigation into Certain Matters in the Cavan/Monaghan district under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice Kevin O’Higgins.

[f] To investigate whether senior members of An Garda Síochána attempted to entrap or falsely accuse Sergeant McCabe of criminal misconduct.

[g] To investigate such knowledge which former Commissioner Callinan and Commissioner O’Sullivan had concerning the matters set out in [a], [b], [c], [d], [e] and [f] above.

[h] To investigate contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and:
 Media and broadcasting personnel,

- members of the Government,

- TUSLA,

- Health Service Executive,

- any other State entities,

- or any relevant person as the Sole Member may deem necessary to carry out his work;
relevant to the matters set out in [a], [b], [c], [d], [e] and [f] above.

[i] To examine all records relating to the telecommunications interactions used by Superintendent Taylor, former Commissioner Callinan and Commissioner O’Sullivan, in the period from the 1st of July, 2012, to the 31st of May, 2014, to ascertain whether there are any records of text messages or other telecommunication interactions relating to the matters set out at [a], [b], [c], [d], [e] and [f] above and to examine and consider the content of any such text messages or other telecommunication interactions.

[j] To examine all electronic and paper files, relating to Sergeant Maurice McCabe held by An Garda Síochána and to consider any material therein relevant to [a], [b], [c], [d], [e] and [f] above.

[k] To investigate whether Commissioner O’Sullivan, using briefing material prepared in Garda Headquarters, influenced or attempted to influence broadcasts on RTÉ on the 9th of May, 2016, purporting to be a leaked account of the unpublished O’Higgins Commission Report, in which Sergeant McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible.

[l] To investigate whether a meeting took place between former Commissioner Callinan and Deputy John McGuinness on the 24th of January, 2014, in the carpark of Bewley’s Hotel, Newlands Cross, Co. Dublin and to examine and consider the circumstances which led to any such meeting, the purpose of such meeting and matters discussed at such meeting.

[m] To investigate such knowledge which Commissioner O’Sullivan had of the meeting referred to in [l] above.

[n] To investigate contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and TUSLA in relation to Garda Keith Harrison.

[o] To investigate any pattern of the creation, distribution and use by TUSLA of files containing allegations of criminal misconduct against members of An Garda Síochána who had made allegations of wrongdoing within An Garda Síochána and of the use knowingly by senior members of the Garda Síochána of these files to discredit members who had made such allegations.

[p] To consider any other complaints by a member of the Garda Síochána who has made a Protected Disclosure prior to 16th February, 2017, alleging wrong-doing within the Garda Síochána where, following the making of the Protected Disclosure, the Garda making the said Protected Disclosure was targeted or discredited with the knowledge or acquiescence of senior members of the Garda Síochána.
And to adopt a modular approach to this inquiry so that the matters set out at [a] – [o] inclusive shall be inquired into in the first instance, and thereafter upon consultation with the Sole Member the Government shall, if requested by the Sole Member, take steps to appoint another Judge to continue and conclude the work of the Tribunal namely the matter at [p] above as the second module.

And to report to the Clerk of the Dáil and to make such findings and recommendations as it sees fit in relation to these matters as expeditiously as possible;

and further resolves that–
(I) the tribunal shall report to the Clerk of the Dáil on an interim basis not later than three months from the date of establishment of the tribunal and also as soon as may be after twenty days of witness testimony of the tribunal on the following matters:
(a) the number of parties then represented before the tribunal,

(b) the progress which will then have been made in the hearings and work of the tribunal,

(c) the likely duration (so far that may then be capable of being estimated) of the proceedings of the tribunal, and

(d) any other matters that the tribunal considers should be drawn to the attention of the Houses of the Oireachtas at the time of the report (including any matters relating to its terms of reference),
(II) the inquiry shall be completed in as economical a manner as possible and at the earliest possible date consistent with a fair examination of the matters referred to it;

(III) all costs incurred by reason of the failure of individuals to co-operate fully and expeditiously with the tribunal should, as far as it is consistent with the interests of justice, be borne by those individuals; and

(IV) the Clerk of the Dáil shall within 14 days of receipt of any report from the tribunal either apply to the High Court for directions regarding publication of the report or arrange to have it laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.”

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I call the Minister of State to lead for us.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I am pleased to discuss the resolution with the House on behalf of the Tánaiste. People will understand that she is stuck at a question-and-answer session in the Dáil. In any event, it is good to be here again. The Tánaiste hopes to get here as quickly as possible.

  The Government has this morning approved draft resolutions to establish a tribunal of inquiry. The resolutions must now be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The terms of reference for the tribunal of inquiry are comprehensive and clear in their focus. Mr. Justice Charleton will chair the tribunal and is available to begin work this week. The Government thanks him for taking on this role.

  There has been much debate and discussion about the best way to establish the truth in the matters at hand. The proposal reflects those discussions and the information put into the public domain in the past week. These terms of reference will establish a public tribunal of inquiry get to the truth. That is in the interests of whistleblowers and members of An Garda Síochána, especially those against whom allegations have been made. Furthermore, it is in the public interest. It is required that the issue of how whistleblowers in An Garda Síochána have been treated is examined independently, fairly and publicly.

  I will comment on the terms of reference. The tribunal will, of course, look at the matters originally recommended by Mr. Justice O'Neill. The terms of reference now contains specific references to the contacts between gardaí and Tusla as well as the Health Service Executive and other agencies in respect of Sergeant McCabe. While allegations put into the public domain relating to Garda Keith Harrison about Tusla were different, the Tánaiste has included contacts between gardaí and Tusla specifically in the first module.

  In the light of specific concerns which have arisen, the tribunal will look at whether there is a pattern in respect of Tusla files and their use to discredit Garda whistleblowers. The Tribunal will also look at certain matters relating to the O'Higgins commission. It will also look at whether senior members of An Garda Síochána attempted to entrap or falsely accuse Sergeant McCabe of criminal misconduct.

  There has been much debate on whether we should look at how other gardaí who have made protected disclosures have been treated. The Tánaiste is providing for a new module which will allow the tribunal to look at these cases in the context of action to target or discredit gardaí who had made protected disclosures. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission will continue its work relating to complaints outside of these. There is provision for Mr. Justice Charleton to consult with the Minister for Justice and Equality if another judge may be needed to deal with the second module. The priority will be dealing with the issues arising in the first module. We are specifically providing that the tribunal can look at contacts between members of An Garda Síochána and any other relevant person that the tribunal may deem necessary. This would include members of the Oireachtas.

  I wish to comment on the six questions contained in the McCabes' statement relating to An Garda Síochána that they, understandably, want answers to now. The Tánaiste is of course keen to facilitate them as much as possible. However, it would be incorrect to suggest that this matter is completely straightforward in circumstances where a tribunal is being established. Having consulted with the Attorney General, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality has written to the Garda Commissioner, in accordance with section 40 of the Garda Síochána Act, requesting the information sought in the six questions. The Tánaiste expects that it will be necessary to consult further with the Attorney General once the Commissioner has replied.  This tribunal will ensure justice for Sergeant McCabe, his family and all parties involved. I commend this resolution to the House and I am sure all Members will join with me in wishing Mr. Justice Peter Charleton well in his task of great importance.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I wish to share time with Senator Gallagher.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House to discuss the terms of reference for this tribunal of inquiry. With the greatest respect to him, I am disappointed, however, that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, is not here herself, considering the seriousness of the matter before us. However, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I want to lend our support to the establishment of this tribunal of inquiry. The truth must be established and quickly. This matter has gone on for too long. The public has lost faith and confidence in the Department of Justice and Equality and the police service. We need to have this established as soon as possible.

  From the beginning of the contacts between our party and the McCabe family, we have fully supported the McCabes for several years. We have also kept contact with the McCabe family, which is more than can be said for the current and previous Governments. Complacency and minimisation of their claims have been the hallmark of these Governments’ handling of the matter to date. It is fair to say this Government has been dragged to this point today where a tribunal of inquiry is being established. While we welcome this, it is long overdue. Justice needs to prevail.

  We welcome the broadening of the terms of reference to explicitly include Tusla and other whistleblowers. Sergeant McCabe was failed by the system and the State while the fundamentals of justice and equality were not adhered to. A State agency tasked with investigating such vile allegations as child abuse was used through neglect or otherwise against an upstanding member of the police service. There is nothing more serious. I come from a Garda family and am proud of that. However, the Garda family as a whole has been sullied by this controversy. It is high time justice was done and be seen to be done.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is disappointing he is in the House addressing an issue such as this and the fact that it has come to this point where we have to have a tribunal of inquiry to ascertain the truth of what went on in this long-running sad saga. I feel for all members of the Garda force, including Sergeant McCabe. Untold damage has been done to the morale of the Garda as a result of this. We are fortunate to have such dedicated and hard-working gardaí who protect our country every day. They put on their uniforms going out to work every day but might never return home again to their families. We are deeply indebted to members of the Garda.

  I look forward to this tribunal taking place, as I am sure every Member does. I look forward to the truth emerging in all of this and that those who have been proved to have done wrong will be exposed. The people deserve nothing less than that. I sincerely hope this tribunal does not run on for a long time. It might be an unfair question to ask the Minister of State but have we any idea of the timeframe involved? Our history of tribunals leaves a lot to be desired. By the time we get to a point where we know the facts and are in a better position to make an informed decision as to who is right and who is wrong, unfortunately, many years have elapsed. I feel for all the parties involved and all those giving evidence. I do not want this to drag on for years, however. The quicker we get from the start to finish, the better for all concerned in the Garda and other State agencies.

  It is difficult for members of the public to ascertain what exactly is going on. The fact it has been allowed to drag on for so long has not helped. There is a big finger of suspicion pointing at two State agencies. We need to get to the bottom of this, iron it out and find out the truth of what actually happened.

  I ask all Members and those involved to reserve comment until such time as we know all the facts. When we know all the facts, then we can make an informed decision as to what exactly went on. Until such time as we have that opportunity, I encourage Members to reserve comment.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the House. I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, has had a long hard day, beginning with an early morning engagement on this matter. I am not going to say I am disappointed that the Minister of State is here.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English She is on Question Time in the Dáil.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell This morning on the Order of Business, I expressed my views as to the appropriateness, or inappropriateness, of the present Garda Commissioner standing aside while this tribunal of inquiry is prepared, put in place, has its sittings, deals with its evidence and prepares its report.

  The Commissioner is the head of a force which is a disciplined force and must be one. Uniquely, compared with other people in public office, she has a role in respect of every person who is in the force by virtue of it being a disciplined force. One aspect of that is there is a chilling effect on members of the force testifying in a manner critical of her or hostile to her interests. For that reason, I still believe it would have been and is appropriate that she should step aside from this process.

  The entire Garda force established under the Act of 2005 now owes a duty of co-operation with the tribunal about to be established. It owes a duty to produce from its own resources all information, all records and to make discovery, if the chairman of the tribunal requires, of a vast amount of material. In those circumstances, I do not believe that a person, against whom charges are made and which are under consideration, should be the person responsible for compliance by the force with that obligation. That is the second reason I advanced this morning on the need for the Commissioner to step aside temporarily while the tribunal does its work.

  Having looked at the terms of reference, they appear to me to be comprehensive and well drafted. I hope they have not missed any important points which would require to be considered. One point I want to raise with the Minister of State - it may look like a curvy ball but it is important - relates to section 45 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. It provides:

If a tribunal is established to inquire into a matter all or part of which was within a commission [of investigation’s] terms of reference, all evidence received by and all documents created by or for the commission relating to the matter or that part of the matter shall, at the request of any member of the tribunal, be made available to it by the specified Minister.

  In this case, it is the Minister for Justice and Equality. If this section applies, the evidence received by a commission of investigation, namely, the O'Higgins commission in this case, is deemed to be evidence received by the tribunal of inquiry. This should shorten matters and make it simple to establish what did happen at the O’Higgins commission, in so far as it is relevant to these terms of reference.

  I want some assurance from the Minister of State that the Attorney General is of the view that section 45 has application in the circumstances. I do not want a situation where we are told that from some technical point of view, the tribunal of inquiry is deprived of access to the records, transcripts and proceedings of the O’Higgins commission. We need reassurance on that point.  If the view is taken by the Attorney General that section 45 has application here and the terms of reference of this tribunal are co-extensive, at least in part, with those of the O'Higgins commission of investigation, then we should be reassured. However, this House needs to be told that the Attorney General is of that opinion.

  It has been said that we are not judges and jury here and I agree that we should defer to a process that we have established to establish certain facts. I note that the Minister of State has said that the six questions which were posed by Sergeant McCabe have been the subject of inquiry by the Tánaiste to the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. I believe that process must go ahead. I also believe that it cannot prejudice a tribunal of inquiry or the findings of a tribunal of inquiry that the minimal accountability involved in answering those six questions in public be afforded to the Irish public and to Sergeant McCabe.

  What I can say in public on this matter is circumscribed by professional obligations of confidentiality and of not attracting publicity to matters in which I have been professionally involved. I have been conscious of those obligations in saying nothing until today. However, as a Member of this House asked to consider these terms of reference, it is legitimate for me to have made the points I made this morning and to make those I am making now. I wish the tribunal of inquiry well and I know that Mr. Justice Peter Charleton is a man who can cut to the chase and get things done quickly. That said, three months is a very challenging timeline in which to do it. Given that the O'Higgins commission of investigation took, from beginning to end, over a year, three months is a very challenging period. There are issues here which may require more time. I join the Minister of State in expressing gratitude to Mr. Justice Charleton for undertaking this task, which nobody can oblige him to do, and I wish him well in his examination of the issues which the Houses of the Oireachtas are entrusting to his investigation.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is a frequent visitor to Seanad Éireann and his frequent flyer card is well marked at this stage. I welcome the tribunal of inquiry which is both necessary and important. While I would have a certain amount of sympathy with Senator Clifford-Lee's criticism of previous Governments, there were people within government who were not silent on the whole issue of Sergeant McCabe, Garda John Wilson and others and I was one of those people. I raised it in this House in 2013 and 2014 and many times after that. I also spoke at parliamentary party meetings on the issue. I believed Sergeant McCabe had a credible case and I was probably one of the few voices here that called on the institutions of the State to respond positively, engage and deal with the issues. People like me, who were few in government, were vindicated when the O'Higgins commission of investigation published its report.

  I listened with great interest to Senator McDowell this morning and again this afternoon. I have no doubt that he will be an active participant in the Charleton tribunal of inquiry when it starts next week. I have a lot of sympathy with the Senator's position on the six questions, which he put on the record during the Order of Business this morning and again this afternoon. The Tánaiste wants those six questions to be answered, as does every other Irish citizen. However, the last thing the Tánaiste or anyone else wants is for those questions to be answered and for that to prejudice anything. In that context, it is the prudent and correct course of action for the Tánaiste to request those answers in conjunction with the Attorney General. I call on all parties and institutions who can assist in the answering of those six questions, in the fullest way possible, to co-operate with the Tánaiste and her officials as a matter of urgency. The simple truth is not an issue and it should be made available. It is the least that all of us, citizens and parliamentarians alike, should expect. I may be going off script slightly in saying that but I believe it is the correct course of action.

  I wish to pay tribute in particular to Deputy Jim O'Callaghan who has been most constructive. The same is true of many other members of the Opposition. The Minister of State alluded to the fact that a lot of work took place behind the scenes late last night and into early morning to ensure that the terms of reference were acceptable in the broadest sense and that there is confidence in this tribunal of inquiry. That has been achieved. I am grateful to Mr. Justice Charleton, a person of immense ability, credibility and of enormous standing in this country. He did not have to take this on but is doing it as part of his lifetime of public service and that is something that must be acknowledge in this House.

  What happened in the past with tribunals of inquiry, where they went on for many years, must be avoided. We are in a different age now. We are in an age where an awful lot more material is available electronically so that if a document is required, it can be e-mailed without delay. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, when previous tribunals of inquiry were running, there was not so much electronic communication. The system and the world have moved on, thanks to the rapid development of new information and communications technologies. Of course, all institutions must co-operate in a speedy way with Mr. Justice Charleton and assist him in compiling the vast amounts of evidence, supportive documentation and research that he will need. There is an onus on the institutions that are covered in the terms of reference to co-operate fully and to make the necessary staff and resources available to achieve that.

  I believe that the publication of an interim report in three months will be achieved and I sincerely hope that by the end of this year we will have a final report. I hope that a number of things are achieved with this process. The first is that Sergeant McCabe and his family receive justice and the answers that will provide a pathway for them to live the rest of their lives in peace. I also hope that the Irish people get the truth. I hope that An Garda Síochána will emerge from this as a much stronger force. It cannot be easy for the 14,000 members of An Garda Síochána to hear how the institution is being spoken about, day in and day out, every time they turn on the radio or the television because to be fair, the vast majority of members of An Garda Síochána go about their work in a dutiful and conscientious way. That must always be remembered in the discourse and dialogue that takes place on this issue.

  In conclusion, this has not been an easy week for politics. It certainly has not been an easy week for the Government but it has not been easy for politics either. We have a responsibility to do what is right and I hope that now that a tribunal is about to be established, politics will be seen to have responded to the public mood but much more importantly, to a family who deserve and need justice.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield Sinn Féin has accepted the terms of reference to establish a tribunal of inquiry into the whistleblower claims and the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Sergeant McCabe and Katie Hannon have done the State a service. We now have much more comprehensive terms of reference compared with what was in place previously. Sinn Féin met the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality yesterday about the terms of reference and suggested a number of amendments to them that were aimed at making the tribunal as open, accountable, and comprehensive as possible. Six of the amendments were accepted in some format and we welcome the Tánaiste's willingness to engage with Members of the Opposition on the matter.

  We also welcomed that the case of Keith Harrison was accepted and included specifically in the draft terms of reference. We note there is a clause within the terms of reference that will allow for other whistleblowers to be included in the inquiry. We wanted other whistleblowers to be included and we are pleased there is scope for the judge to come back and request an additional module.

  Importantly, Sinn Féin wanted to see whether there was a pattern of behaviour among senior Garda managers in how they dealt with whistleblowers and the media. We believe there was potentially a pattern of behaviour where media figures were used to discredit whistleblowers when the whistleblowers were saying, quite reasonably, that there were systemic and chronic problems within An Garda Síochána. There is a consistent line of bullying and harassment present where gardaí stated that there were problems. We could be forgiven for suggesting that had the recommendations of the Morris tribunal been implemented in full, we would not be where we are today.

  There are clear problems with how An Garda Síochána functions. The Garda Commissioner is the subject of this tribunal and is expected to oversee reforms implemented on the back of other reports that have been published. The Commissioner is the person who oversees the safekeeping of evidence that will be central to this inquiry. It is completely unacceptable that the Garda Commissioner will remain in place while this inquiry is ongoing. It is mind-boggling that it is being allowed to happen. That the Government is willing to stand over that is typical of its arrogance. New politics appears to accept an alleged criminal conspiracy by senior gardaí to destroy the character of a decent citizen doing his duty and that the Government that has allowed this to happen would remain in office. The Government should not have voted in favour of itself in the Dáil. The Government is merely stumbling from one crisis to the next and it is no longer acceptable. Citizens deserve better. Maurice McCabe and his family deserve better. We want Sergeant McCabe to have the truth and we want the persons who have wronged him to be accountable for their actions. Although, ideally, we would have liked more time, it is for that reason we support the terms of reference.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I am very pleased that we are now discussing a public inquiry. I agree that it is the appropriate step to take. It took a while to get to this point of realisation but it is very good that it is now considered to be the most appropriate way to investigate the allegations given what we have seen happening in terms of other processes which were not put in place.

  I am happy to support the terms of reference for the inquiry. However, I wish to make a couple of points and I would appreciate if the Minister of State could clarify them as that would be very helpful. There is reference in the terms to contact between An Garda Síochána and a number of categories of persons, including members of Government. To clarify, when we talk about members of Government, I assume that covers both Ministers and former Ministers. It is important that it includes all of the Ministers for Justice during the period and all of the Ministers for Children and Youth Affairs because there have been changes in personnel over a period and in some cases Ministers have held both portfolios, as Deputy Fitzgerald was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in 2014 before becoming Minister for Justice and Equality. It is important that clarity is provided. It is important also that Ministers are included in that regard, including the Minister for Health, if necessary, and that when we talk about any other relevant person as the sole member, Mr. Justice Charleton, may deem, that this might include ministerial advisers and others. I would have liked if there was clarity but I recognise the scope is there, to provide for officials within the Departments of Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs to be deemed as relevant persons for the purposes of this inquiry. It is important and useful to clarify that.

  One other point which I would like to raise in that regard is that in provision [d] relating to the investigation of Tusla, it is my assumption that members of Government may also be called on in this inquiry in respect of the other areas, so not simply, for example, with regard to their contacts with the Garda Síochána but also the question as to whether Ministers were briefed by their officials and if not why not, for example, at the time the mistakes were being made in April and May 2014. I retract the word "mistakes", because we do not know what was occurring in April and May and we will uncover that. I wish to clarify that another area that will be covered by the terms of the inquiry is contact between officials on the question of whether officials were briefing Ministers in respect of these issues and if not why not.

  It is appropriate that we have a very short and sharp focus in terms of the timeline for an interim report of three months but I recognise that the timeline covered by the public inquiry is part of a much longer timeline, a disgraceful one which has moved across a number of Governments. It may be the case that when we get the three-month interim report, arrows might point to further areas that need re-examination and re-investigation and I hope there will be an openness in the Government to look at other areas of concern that are emerging, whether or not under the terms of this inquiry. We can go back to the mistreatment we have seen of Garda Wilson. I recognise that Garda Harrison is mentioned in the terms of reference, which is a positive measure. Arrows might point to other areas of the timeline that might need further examination. That might be something we need to look at in three months' time. Although it is appropriate that the inquiry would be sharp and focused I notice there is a point about making the inquiry as economical as possible. It is important that "economical" does not in any way cover the truth and the full scope. It is also important to emphasise that a full resourcing wherever required by the inquiry needs to be provided.

  I am very happy that the situation has come to this point. I hope we will see justice for the McCabe family but it is crucial to consider the bigger picture of the Garda Síochána in this country, who are guardians of the peace. Peace of mind is a concern, not just for the families who have been wrongly and shamefully affected by the measures, but also for the public and that must be addressed. I hope the inquiry will go some way towards addressing it. I hope there will be a full spirit of co-operation and no sense of obfuscation, reluctance or tendency to take an adversarial approach but that the engagement by all parties in the inquiry is full-hearted.

  A valid point was made by Senator McDowell. The Commissioner should have considered whether it might be useful to the process and the public trust and engagement in the process if she were to consider stepping aside at least during the period of the inquiry. I recognise that is her decision but to do so would not necessarily be an admission of guilt but it would perhaps be useful to the proceedings. Nonetheless, I hope and wish for a positive, strong engaged process and that in three months' time we will be able to return to this House with a little more confidence in the institutions of the State.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister to the House.  I also welcome the fact that we are now proceeding with this matter. Trust and credibility are two words that have consistently come up in all the debate and discussion in recent months. For the Garda to work efficiently, the general public must have trust in it and the force must be credible. I am of the view that it has been affected by all of the issues that have arisen over the past few months. The Minister and the Government are correct in that it should be a public tribunal and that all of the issues are dealt with appropriately and that it does not resurrect again once this matter is finalised. An Garda Síochána, set up in 1922, has served this country well. It is important that we have the structures in place to ensure full transparency at all times regarding how its affairs are managed and how the ordinary members of the force are treated. There are many questions that must be answered.

It is appropriate that an interim report be produced within three months. I agree with Senator McDowell concerning the short timeframe, and that to get set up and running will take at least three to four weeks. It is going to be a tight timeline to come back with an interim report, but at least, under the terms of reference, a broad outline of the expected length of the entire process is to be given. That is helpful. It is important that it is finished in the shortest possible timeframe.

One of the issues here is that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise, and there may be criminal proceedings after this has concluded. We do not want the inquiry to turn into a legal wrangle that continues ad infinitum. It is important that we do not have a situation were someone can go off to the High Court for a judicial review or in some way or another delay proceedings. There must be fairness and openness in the way it is dealt with at all times. The person we have appointed is the appropriate person. He has a well-established record. It is important for this country, for whoever is in Government, and for the Garda that we have a force that everyone can trust, whether one is working in the Garda or whether one is an ordinary citizen. The issue of trust is extremely important for maintaining law and order in this country. I welcome the Minister to the House and appreciate that she is here with us this evening.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I welcome the Minister to the House, and on behalf of the Labour Party we want to support the establishment of the tribunal of inquiry and the terms of reference as laid down. We have had a turbulent week and it gives myself and my party, considering our position in opposition, absolutely no satisfaction whatsoever to see what has happened in recent days. An Garda Síochána is again in the midst of a huge controversy. Tusla has been dragged into it as well. Public confidence in an Garda Síochána has been shaken to the core. I made this point last night but I will repeat it in the Tánaiste's presence. That the public could feel, on any level at all, that if they see a wrong or stand up against an injustice within the organisation or the entity in which they work that they could be taken down with the most vile accusation put against their name is unacceptable.

  It would be easy for an Opposition party like Labour to say that this has been rushed and that we do not agree with it, that not enough time was put into the terms of reference - clearly that was done - or to reject what has been done. We are not going to do that. Not only has what has happened shaken the public's confidence in An Garda Síochána and Tusla, the Tánaiste's and the Taoiseach's presentations of events over the last week are just not credible. It gives me absolutely no satisfaction to say that but, unfortunately, it is the reality.

  Like many people in this House, I have family members in the Garda. It is a fine force and deserves to have the support of the public. However, we cannot go through a situation where a culture of defensiveness creeps in. A young garda who has joined the force and who is putting his or her body on the line in the defence of the public needs to know that he or she has the absolute trust and confidence of the people. That is necessary because the type of accusation that has been made about the culture within the force hurts them. Many in this House will be aware of the various dark arts that are sometimes employed by members of An Garda Síochána. The dark arts are not exclusive to the force. There are people in this House who know all about the dark arts, as do other entities and organisations in this country as well. The confidence of the people in the police force is absolutely central to a functioning democracy. I trust and hope that this tribunal will help us recover that.

  I want to ask the Tánaiste a straight question which she did not answer this afternoon when my party leader, Deputy Howlin, asked it. Can the Tánaiste confirm to this House that she has already or will today issue a directive to the Garda Commissioner under section 25 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to secure the preservation of all Garda records and equipment that may be relevant to this inquiry and to safeguard evidence? I ask that direct question because my colleague, Deputy Howlin, asked it earlier and did not receive a response.

  This is a dark episode. It is not a matter with which anyone in my party wants to play politics but it is a depressing chapter in this Government's history. My honest view is that it will be seen in time to be the beginning of the end of this Administration. If one of the Tánaiste's final acts in her position is to establish this tribunal of inquiry and if, as a result of the work of that tribunal, the truth is found and faith restored in such crucial institutions of the State, then that will have been a good day's work.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Maurice McCabe was failed by the State in the most fundamental and damaging way. It is incredible to see how such a devastating administrative error with such serious personal ramifications could be allowed to go through the child care and justice system for so long. It is crucial that this horrendous episode be fully investigated. From listening to what was said in the Dáil today, I am of the opinion that we will have our first report back in three months. I would appreciate clarification on that.

  The public faith and integrity of the State agencies in general and the police force in particular is an essential foundation for the democratic institutions. Fianna Fáil fully support the call for a public inquiry to be conducted in this matter is are supporting this motion. We welcome the other whistleblowers, and we believe that the public inquiry will ultimately benefit An Garda Síochána and the general public.

  I would also like to say "Well done" to my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, for his work and commitment and I wish Mr. Justice Charleton well in this report.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell It took Superintendent Geary from Ennis around 70 years to get justice from An Garda Síochána. Like my colleague, Senator Robbie Gallagher, I compliment the gardaí, sergeants, inspectors and superintendents who will go to work tonight and have no guarantee that they will come home and who have served the country with distinction. I send a message from this Chamber that not everything is rotten. I also compliment the Minister. Her presence shows her commitment to dealing with this issue. She has had a long day and, God knows, a long week, but the terms of reference she has delivered are perfect, on which I compliment her.

  Mr. Justice Charleton who has been picked to chair the tribunal is the ideal man to do so, as my colleague, Senator Michael McDowell, said. As Senator Colm Burke said a few minutes ago, I sincerely hope Mr. Justice Charleton will not be impeded at every turn by people running off to the High Court to seek judicial reviews of this, that and the other. I also hope he will be provided with all of the information Mr. Justice O'Higgins had without any difficulty because that will shorten the time taken to deal with these matters. God knows, the McCabe name has been dragged through every newspaper and this House for I do not know how long. I sincerely hope those who have information and are now coming forward to say they knew this, that and the other - this includes Members of the Oireachtas, journalists and anybody else who claims to have known something about the McCabe incident - will make themselves known to Mr. Justice Charleton in order that the full story can come out. This is no time for shrinking violets and casting stones at anybody. Everybody here wants this issue to be resolved. Being quite honest, watching what has happened and some of the politics in the past few days have made me sick. I do not believe anybody wants this to be dragged out any longer than is necessary.

  There may be a need for an external criminal investigation. I hope the Minister's Department is looking towards having an international criminal investigator ready in the event that a criminal investigation will follow. I believe we have one, but that is another day's work. The presumption of innocence is the bedrock of the entire justice system. However, I am telling the Minister that we cannot have the most senior garda in the country, the custodian of all the data that may be called on in the tribunal of inquiry, sitting in uniform on one side of the tribunal, while another senior garda is sitting on the other side pointing the finger of accusation at that person. We cannot have that person sitting on one side of a tribunal, while one of her subordinates sitting on the other side has been dragged through the gutter. From what we can see, there is more than one such person. I believe the presumption of innocence stands, but ethics requires a neutral stance on the part of the Commissioner. For this reason alone, I ask the Commissioner to step aside. When the tribunal is over and she has been cleared - if she is - she may retake her post and do so with honour. If she is not cleared, what happens to her will be a matter for the Minister.

  I agree with my colleague, Senator Robbie Gallagher, that when this process starts and we finish in the House tonight, we need to step away from the issue and allow Mr. Justice Charleton the freedom to carry out his tribunal of inquiry. The only people who should speak again about the matter until Mr. Justice Charleton's report is on the Minister's desk are those who will speak before Mr. Justice Charleton and have something to offer. We should not try to run two inquiries at the same time. Whatever happens at the end of the process - my colleague, Senator Colm Burke, made this point a few minutes ago - we must have purged everything there is to be purged from An Garda Síochána. There are good, decent men and women in the Garda who are doing a great day's work and serving the country well morning, noon and night. God knows, some gardaí were shot and killed in the service of the country. How can we expect the young men and women concerned to go out and put their necks on the line if they are maligned on every bar stool in every pub in the country as crooked and corrupt? They are not. They are decent men and women and we need to protect them and their good names.

  I agree with what my colleague, Senator Michael McDowell, said this morning and this evening and what many other speakers have said. The Garda Commissioner has no choice: if she is ethical, she must step aside and allow Mr. Justice Charleton to do his work. When the time comes, she may retake her position with honour, assuming no finding has been made against her.

  I thank the Minister. I know that she has taken a lot of stick in the past few days. It never ceases to amaze me how she manages to stay on her feet and take what comes at her. She sees matters through to the end and I know she will see this one through to the end. I have every confidence in her and thank her for coming before the House as I know that she has had a tough day.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I welcome the Minister. There is unanimity that this tribunal is important, necessary and welcome. I have been a critic of the choice of tribunals as opposed to commissions of inquiry. Let me put it another way. I have welcomed the emergence of commissions of inquiry as an alternative to tribunals. However, I am prepared to believe the circumstances in this case are so serious and unusual and that the role of An Garda Síochána is of such fundamental importance that only a tribunal could deal properly with the issues involved. It is no rash prejudgment of the findings of the tribunal to say Sergeant McCabe and his family have been very badly treated - shamelessly treated - by the State apparatus in various ways. Neither is it showing any lack of respect to An Garda Síochána, to which we owe much and the vital job of which we should always recognise, to say issues of culture in it arise in this case and that the mere discovery of the facts of what happened to Sergeant McCabe, his allegations and subsequent treatment is one thing, but the diagnosis of any possible culture of vindictiveness, unhealthy conformity or groupthink in An Garda Síochána is just as important. Perhaps that is critical to the future healthy resolution of the problems that have surfaced in this affair. Whether we truly move forward will depend on whether the tribunal can be a part of addressing, examining and, if necessary, exposing a culture that needs to change.

  We also need to consider what the implications for Tusla will be. It seems at times that it has operated in a weird parallel universe. It is not the first time we have had to talk about a culture within it that some might call mendacious and others incompetent. We know that it has a difficult remit, but there have been cases in which the Garda found no evidence of wrongdoing but Tusla continued to carry on with actions that undermined people's reputations. That may very well surface in the work of the tribunal's chairperson and those who will assist him.

  On the Commissioner's role, much has been said about whether she should stay or go at this point. I often recall the words of Cecil Rhodes when Charles Stewart Parnell found himself in trouble. In a telegram Mr. Rhodes sent the advice: "Resign, marry, return." This is not completely on all fours with the case in question, but I often lament the fact that we do not seem to have a culture whereby a person can step aside without it necessarily implying the impugnment of his or her integrity or reputation. That is not to discharge the Commissioner of her responsibility to see the issues involved clearly. We live in a country in which, for example, school principals go on secondment all the time and are replaced while they are away doing certain jobs, often for the Department of Education and Skills, by acting school principals. Therefore, it should not be alien to our culture that a person in the frame so directly as the Commissioner should consider it possible to step aside pending the resolution of certain matters. It is the Commissioner's responsibility but also ours to ensure we do not find ourselves in a winner-take-all culture, that we will find the language through which it will be publicly shared and understood stepping aside does not necessarily mean disgrace. I say this to echo what my colleague, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, said.

  I wish Mr. Justice Charleton well.  I echo the view of my colleague, Senator McDowell, that he is absolutely the man for the job who can cut to the chase and has the expertise and the integrity to deal with the issues.

  I feel sorry for him too. It is a bit like when one offers to give up a room in one's house to people for the weekend and gets the applause of the whole community for doing so, and now one is being asked to give up one's whole house and there is a serious question about whether they will be gone by Monday as well. Mr. Justice Charleton has all my sympathy because his public-spiritedness has led him to this role and I would be surprised if it is over by Christmas or by the three months spoken of. That is not to be flippant about a very serious matter. I hope that things can be achieved within the timeline, but this is a difficult and knotty issue and none of us is underestimating that.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will be brief. I welcome the Minister. I want to remark again, without making a political charge, that our language and our words are very important. What we say gets covered. I know that today in the Order of Business, Senator McDowell raised the matter of the Garda Commissioner as he did again today. To be fair to him, he said there was a professional issue that he could not comment on. There is an onus on us not to be judge and jury.

  Senator Mullen made a comparison with a school principal being on secondment. This is not about the Garda Commissioner being on secondment. I am not standing up for anybody, but to be fair in this debate, only allegations are being made and no facts have been put out there. For many of us there is a serious question of confidence in An Garda Síochána, its management and how it does its business. Senator Ó Ríordáin referenced the Minister's role and commentary. I have always found the Minister to be a person of the utmost integrity, a public servant who serves the people and has not in any way tried to obfuscate or deny justice to anybody. I have always found her to be proactive and willing to engage and work with people.

  The people want truth. They want the culture within An Garda Síochána to change. The last Government and this Government have made important changes in the area of protected disclosures, to how people are appointed and promoted, and that is to be welcomed. We criticise the Minister, Deputy Ross, at times about judicial appointments, but in the case of gardaí it was important that we made that change and broke that link for promotions within the Garda. I was glad to hear Senator McDowell say that there were comprehensive terms of reference and that is to be welcomed.

  In the past public inquiries went down tangential routes, took off along different boreens and avenues, and ended up serving for years. In the pursuit of truth and justice, I hope that we do not take years to arrive at a conclusion. The people were jaundiced with and fed up of tribunals.

  I do not say this in an obstructionist way, but I also have a serious concern about cost. I know one could say that a cost cannot be put on justice, but I sincerely hope that we do not allow this tribunal to become a gravy train for a few. I might be wrong in that remark and I do not mean to be disrespectful, but I hope that we do not allow it to become a cash cow for some people. I hope Senators who are members of the Law Library or whatever will understand where I am coming from. It is not an attack on the justice system or on their profession, but we cannot allow this tribunal to become like what happened in the past.

  The issue of the independent review of An Garda Síochána has arisen in tandem with the tribunal and I would like to address it. I welcome that decision taken yesterday. My only concern is that we are now going to head down the road of having the Policing Authority, Garda Inspectorate and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. My view, in simplistic terms, is that we should have maybe one body overseeing the Garda, or maybe two including GSOC. I am afraid that we will continue to create further chains of authority and further committees or organisations that we perhaps do not need.

  I do not know Mr. Justice Charleton other than what I have read about him, and I wish him well. Senator Mullen referred to a house and the length of stay of visitors. Mr. Justice Charleton is a good public servant and deserves to be supported. That is why it is important that all those with any type of knowledge or involvement must come clean and must be involved.

  I have always found the Minister to be a person of absolute probity. She has served and serves the people. On the matter of criticism of her, I am glad Senator Ó Ríordáin tempered and toned down his remarks tonight because she is a Minister that has brought change to a country and is honest and decent. Some of the comments passed about her, not necessarily in this House but in the last week, have been unfair. This tribunal deserves to be supported, but I present that caveat about costs.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment her on the manner in which she has been handling this matter and indeed all of the other matters within her portfolio. I welcome the tribunal, in common with all the other Members. It would have been preferable if it was possible to have a tighter timeline, but the terms of reference are good and understandable in the circumstances. Three months for an initial report is extremely challenging, as has been said. In common with other Members, I believe that Mr. Justice Peter Charleton is probably very well-suited to the task. He is an eminent judge and has a justifiable reputation for heavy workload and efficiency. I was once a named defendant in an action he heard, and he was extremely efficient. I will not go into the case.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Senator Coghlan must have won it.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I did not say that either but I was very pleased with the result.

(Interruptions).

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan He heard it over three days and he delivered a 32-page judgment exactly one month later.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Where did the Senator lodge it?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan There was no money involved as far as I was concerned.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Coghlan is going into the obiter dictum.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Sorry about that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Stick to the res judicata.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Cathaoirleach.

  This is a very serious matter, as Senator McDowell said. An Garda Síochána is, of necessity, a highly disciplined force and we are not taking whatsoever from the presumption of innocence. It would be in the Commissioner's own best interests, and to avoid any possible hint of conflict of interest, for her to step aside for the duration of the tribunal. I say that because she is named several times in the terms of reference. They are very serious allegations. In the documentation I have are the details of the protected disclosure by Superintendent David Taylor, and the campaign that was allegedly mounted at a senior level in An Garda Síochána to discredit Sergeant McCabe is outlined therein. There are three or four more instances where the Commissioner is specifically named in the terms of reference further into this documentation, again regarding the protected disclosure. There are more than three or four such references.

  The speech that was delivered by the Minister of State, Deputy English, on the Tánaiste's behalf outlines that this is not completely straightforward. He stated:

Having consulted with the Attorney General, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality has written to the Garda Commissioner in accordance with section 40 of the Garda Síochána Act, requesting information sought in the six questions. The Tánaiste expects that it will be necessary to consult further with the Attorney General once the Commissioner has replied.

 The Tánaiste expects that it will be necessary to consult further with the Attorney General once the Commissioner has replied. I am a layman; the Garda Commissioner is the head of the Garda force and, presumably, will have to take a hand in providing all of the answers. It may be preferable for her to have her own personal legal representative at the tribunal to avoid any possible hint of conflict.

  I find this situation inexplicable and would like to hear the Tánaiste's views on it because it is so serious. All that said, I very much welcome the establishment of the tribunal and wish it well.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I invite the Minister to respond.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I am sorry. I forgot that I had one other matter to raise.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan It must be important.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It is very important. We were speaking about Mr. Justice Peter Charleton. Now that he is to be tied up, initially for three months or, as Senator Rónán Mullen said, a considerably longer period-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway He might have to sell the house.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan No, that is not the point. Mr. Justice Charleton will be absent from the Supreme Court, of which he is a very valuable member. I ask the Tánaiste if the Supreme Court will continue to have its full and proper complement of judges. Given that the judge's absence from the court for whatever period is involved, will the Tánaiste ensure a replacement will be provided, should it prove necessary to do so? It might well be. I look forward to hearing her views.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I thank Senators for being here, the contributions that have been made and making time available this evening. I was in the Dáil earlier, but I am very glad to be in the Seanad this evening. I have a list of the various questions raised.

  The first thing I want to say is just how serious an issue this is. I gather quite a number of Senators have addressed this point. The fact that we are in this place, where we must appoint a tribunal of inquiry, is extraordinarily serious, as we all have to acknowledge. It is regrettable that we are at the point where we have to set up a tribunal of inquiry into such matters.

  It began, in relation to one set of terms of reference, when two protected disclosures were made to me in October and I acted within four days of receiving them. I asked Mr. Justice O'Neill to examine them and advise the Government on the way forward. I gave him six weeks in which to do so and he came back to ask for a short extension. I received the report in December. A range of legal issues arose because there was a complex interaction between the protected disclosure legislation, the Constitution and privacy rights and precisely what could be published on the report I had received. The central points made in the report were about protected disclosures where they needed to be investigated, as we decided, by a commission of investigation. My advice - I certainly believe it was the right advice - was that if all of the material was put out, it would probably be injurious to the people involved. I did not want to do anything to compromise a future commission of investigation or that would impact on the reputations or lives of the people who were the central characters in this matter.

  During statements in the Dáil last Thursday I said I would take on board amendments suggested by Deputies and that I was very open to providing for greater clarity on the terms of reference. I had accepted in full what the Mr. Justice O'Neill had said about how we should progress. It was important for me to go into the House and say I was accepting in full what the judge had recommended.

  During the statements a number of points were raised and I showed flexibility in taking on board what colleagues had to say about strengthening the terms of reference. I had indicated that I would do so. Subsequently, of course, in the past week there has been a series of actions. We moved from a situation where there would be a commission of investigation to a tribunal of inquiry. I will not go into all of the detail on the various issues that have arisen because I am sure Senators have discussed them already, but the terms of reference before us are robust and focused. We are looking at a very particular set of circumstances. I have only extended the terms of reference to the point where I am taking full account of the information that has emerged recently and of people's views and those of the political parties.

  Various parties and Independents have submitted views to me on how they believe the terms of reference should be strengthened with regard to Tusla. A particular concern in the public arena is whether there is a pattern of allegations of abuse and undermining whistleblowers, be it in the Garda or Tusla which, unfortunately, has become involved. I agree with some of the comments made in the House that it is extremely unfortunate to see the reputation of the new agency charged with child protection undoubtedly affected in this way owing to the facts as they have emerged. Clearly, to have false allegations made about one's life, especially of sexual abuse, is one of the worst things that could happen to any person. We need to investigate very clearly - there will be separate ways of doing this with HIQA and so on - to assess precisely what needs to be done to make sure this cannot happen again and that we will have reliable and appropriate investigations. There are many thousands of allegations of child sex abuse, many of which are not proved. Whatever the outcome of cases, one must be absolutely sure the way we respond - there is a long history of ignoring this issue - is professional, effective and fair to everybody.

  A range of issues have arisen concerning the terms of reference of the commission. I will address some particular points.

  I am delighted that everybody is so positive about Mr. Justice Peter Charleton being the person who will lead the tribunal. He is of outstanding ability and if we pass the terms of reference tonight, he will start work immediately. He is prepared to do so and has already done some preliminary work, should we agree to the terms of reference. He is universally accepted and will do an excellent job. I thank him and the Chief Justice for saying she would support our request to have Mr. Justice Charleton do this work.

  There were quite a few questions about the timeframe. I will speak about the first module presently, but Mr. Justice Charleton believes he can complete the tribunal's work within nine months. Obviously, events may or may not arise; we are not quite sure how people will react or journalists may view the request to have their sources in the public arena. It remains to be seen what the precise course of the tribunal of inquiry will be, but the judge is very confident that it can do its work within nine months because the terms of reference, even the enlarged terms, are focused on a particular issue within An Garda Síochána, how whistleblowers were treated and all of the surrounding elements.

  On module B, depending on circumstances, Mr. Justice Charleton may continue the work. I allowed for this possibility. He asked me, if he were not able to continue, to appoint another judge to take that module.

  On broadening the terms of reference, many were concerned about the pattern of whistleblowers being undermined in An Garda Síochána, that it was not just about the case before us of Sergeant McCabe and that there might be a wider problem. This has been the subject of much discussion. I broadened the terms of reference to include module B to look at the responses within An Garda Síochána to the whistleblowers, not just the protected disclosures - and to see if there was a pattern of behaviour. The particular case of Garda Harrison has been included in the first module because of the overlap with Tusla.

  There are a number of other key issues, one of which concerns the Garda Commissioner. While there are very different views, I respect all views. There is no doubt that people can take a different perspective on it, but I must take a view on where the public interest lies. The fact remains that whatever views people may want to advance, there have been no independent or objective findings of wrongdoing against the Garda Commissioner.  I want to put on the record of the House that she has vehemently denied various allegations of wrongdoing made against her. It is important to bear that in mind. Also, Mr. Justice O'Neill states clearly in his report that when he asked the people against whom the allegations were made whether or not they were denying them, they denied them in full. There is a different perspective on that, which is the reason we are establishing a tribunal of inquiry.

  Mr. Justice O'Neill also made the point that having examined what all of the parties had to say, including those who made the protected disclosures and those about whom they were made, he could not decide on the truth. He said that because the disclosures were so serious and were about people serving at the highest level in An Garda Síochána, he was recommending the establishment of a commission of investigation. I appreciate the point made about people standing aside. I have emphasised again and again the importance of fair procedures. We do not set up tribunals to prove what we already know. We set them up to examine the facts and to get at the truth. That is what we are doing in terms of this tribunal. It may not be a popular point to make at this stage, but I believe enough harm has been caused in this area already without setting aside standards of fairness. Allegations are not convictions. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have an obligation to say that. That said, I appreciate the different views in this House on this issue.

  A number of other points were made. We have been through a very difficult period in terms of whistleblowing and the various twists and turns that have been taken in the past week. However, in terms of my own job and the cases that come across my desk, I have at all times sought to deal with them fairly and effectively and to put proper procedures in place. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission deals with protected disclosures. I agree that that agency needs more powers and I am reviewing the relevant legislation in that regard. I have always said privately and publicly that we should support whistleblowers. In my discussions, whether with Garda management or in other arenas, I have always asked questions about how whistleblowers are being dealt with. Only a couple of months ago, I sent the new Garda policy on whistleblowing to the independent policing authority. I asked the authority to examine it and to make recommendations about how it could be strengthened. I also asked it to have an ongoing role in regard to the implementation of that policy. At this point, we are in a different place regarding that. Nevertheless, we have to ensure that the right procedures are in place in An Garda Síochána, that we have bodies to whom the Garda is accountable, such as the policing authority and GSOC, and that those bodies are strengthened. That is my goal. In regard to the independent expert that is being appointed for An Garda Síochána, as I said in the Dáil yesterday, it is important that the work of the Garda Inspectorate and the policing authority would not be in any way undermined by an independent expert review of issues around the overall force. That is my view.

  Senator McDowell raised a question in regard to the O'Higgins commission. I am sure he is familiar with what happened in that regard recently. I did ask GSOC to investigate the issue that had arisen at the O'Higgins commission. It asked me for access to the O'Higgins commission records. As the Senator will be aware, they are under lock and key for 30 years but GSOC felt that to do the investigation I had asked it to do it would need access to the records. We felt that GSOC should take up the matter with the courts because there is a very important principle involved in terms of access to private records of commissions of investigation. GSOC went to court, which we did not oppose having asked it to carry out the investigation, and it was given access to the files. I do not know where the files are and I have not read them. I assume they are under lock and key somewhere in the Department of Justice and Equality but the independent expert will be given access to the files, most unusually. It will be up to Mr. Justice Charleton to decide the approach he wishes to take in regard to those files or issues around the O'Higgins commission. The principle has been established in regard to GSOC accessing the files in a particular circumstance. I will leave it to Mr. Justice Charleton to follow through on what he considers the appropriate action in that regard.

   On the three months' timeframe, this is to ensure we are updated at an early stage on the processes and procedures being put in place and how the judge is approaching the work of the tribunal. As that is very early on in the process there is only so much he will be able to tell us but it will be helpful for the Dáil to know how he is approaching the work.

  Many Senators asked about the six questions that Sergeant Maurice McCabe has put in the public arena. I triggered section 40 today. I said in the Dáil that I would like to give Sergeant McCabe as much information as possible, as did my colleagues, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. There will be interaction between Sergeant McCabe and the tribunal at a particular point because he will be party to it and, therefore, we need to be careful in terms of showing any bias regarding any of the parties to the tribunal. That is my legal advice. However, in so far as we can give any information on the six questions that he has asked, we will try to do so. I have triggered section 40 and my colleagues have done the same in regard to their own ministries.

  There is another question hanging around - some people have asked it directly - about interference with evidence that may be available. If we set up a tribunal of inquiry, it will be effective very quickly. It is a serious charge to make of anybody. It would be a very serious criminal matter if anybody did engage in that activity. Mr. Justice O'Neill said regarding that matter that everybody that he had spoken to or had interaction with had co-operated fully and he had been assured of their full co-operation. That is what we would expect in regard to the tribunal of inquiry. I am not convinced that section 25 would fulfil a further purpose in that regard. The tribunal is the place to deal with those issues. Mr. Justice Charleton has already informed the Department that he will be engaging expert help very quickly in regard to access to electronic material. We will be doing that immediately.

  On the key issue of costs, there were some suggestions made in the Dáil today about actions I might be able to take in that regard. If I am able to exercise any powers in that regard I will do so. I will be relying on Mr. Justice Charleton for the most part regarding that matter. I cannot predict the cost at this point. We are all concerned about the cost of the tribunal of inquiry given experience in this country with previous tribunals. We do not want costs to escalate. As I said, I believe, and Mr. Justice Charleton agrees, that the terms of reference are sufficiently focused for that not to happen but we cannot predict that. If there are any actions that I as Minister for Justice and Equality can take in that regard, I will do so.

  I ask the House to support this tribunal of inquiry and the terms of reference I have put before it. All of us want to get at the truth. This is the pathway for that.

  Question put and agreed to.

  The Seanad adjourned at 6.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 February 2017.


Last Updated: 19/10/2018 12:01:08 First Page Previous Page Page of 2 Next Page Last Page