Order of Business 10th-11th February 2015
Posted on February 16, 2015
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Senator Ivana Bacik: The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion re the Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the adoption of new Standing Order 103N and the amendment of Standing Order 90, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, Gender Recognition Bill 2014 - Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken on conclusion of No. 1.
In response to Senator O'Brien, I agree that we need a debate on pension provision. I am happy to look for that. I also agree with his comments on the intimidation of councillors and staff at Fingal County Council. I was horrified to hear about it. I heard some reports on the radio, but had not been aware quite how sinister is was until the Senator spoke. To identify and single out individuals seems particularly reprehensible and anti-democratic and I am happy to join him in deploring it.
Senator O'Neill spoke in similar terms about that intimidation last night and generally on an increase in anti-democratic protest. Not only is it anti-democratic and intimidating, but it undermines people who are legitimately engaging in peaceful protest. It is wrong for all kinds of reasons. Senator O'Neill also welcomed the fact that Irish beef is back on the US market. That is good news, which we could all agree is very welcome. He also asked me to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, about the persecution of the Baha'i faith and its members in Iran. I am happy to raise that issue with the Minister. It might also be raised with him by way of a debate on the Commencement, but I am certainly happy to write to him in those terms.
Senator Mac Conghail congratulated the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, for publishing the consultation paper on the electoral commission. This is a welcome step. We could all very much welcome this long-overdue reform. He also supported Senator O'Donnell on the establishment of a public water forum. I agree with Senators Mac Conghail and O'Donnell on the importance of the forum and the need for its establishment without delay. Senator Mac Conghail also spoke about the climate action Bill and mentioned his briefing this afternoon. Along with many others, I attended the Stop Climate Chaos briefing in Buswells earlier today and hope to make the briefing later. There may be improvements to be made to the Bill that has been published, but it is long overdue. Even the Green Party in government with Fianna Fáil previously could not get it through. It is very welcome to see it finally get to this stage and all of us who have environmental concerns would be delighted with that.
Senator Darragh O'Brien: One does not often hear, "even the Green Party."
Senator Ivana Bacik: Senator Norris commented on the arrest yesterday of a number of individuals, including one Deputy. I do not want to get involved in discussing that. It is important that we do not in any way look like we are politicising what is in fact an ongoing criminal investigation. That is all I intend to say on it.
Senator Norris also spoke on Syriza and on Greece. The Irish Government is supportive of any resolution to help the Greek people. We would all like to see that. The Irish taxpayer has already invested approximately €350 million, as Senator O'Neill has said, as part of the Greek programme.
Senator Whelan asked for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on courthouse closures. We will look for that. He also referred to worrying developments in the street in Portlaoise. That is certainly of concern.
Senator Mooney spoke about a crisis in the library service. I am very happy to look for a debate on that. It is an issue that is also close to my heart. It is a matter of great concern if we are seeing any downgrading of library services. Clearly, it is generally a matter at local authority level, but we should look for a debate on that in this House, and I will seek one soon.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I am very grateful to the Deputy Leader.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Senator D'Arcy referred to the ferry service from Greenore to Greencastle in County Down. The Senator has raised similar issues on many occasions and I am happy to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, to speak about ensuring there are strong links between Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It is important that we ensure those links are strong, to maximise tourism across the island.
Senator Barrett spoke on the Swiss bank accounts and the revelations in the newspapers about those. Like Senators Barrett and O'Keeffe, I commend the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which worked on exposing this issue. I agree with Senator Barrett in that we should invite in the Minister for Finance to speak to us about the impact here. Revenue has reported that there have been a number of investigations and 20 settlements to date related to the data, so one can anticipate that it would be good to hear the Minister for Finance reporting on that.
Senator O'Keeffe again commended the journalists and also Mr. Spellman, the founder of an OCD support group. He is seeking a debate on mental health issues and OCD. We certainly agree to that.
Senator Cullinane seconded Senator Mooney's amendment but I have already addressed that and the importance of that debate. The Senator is also seeking a debate on the proposed debt conference. I can look for that. In the Dáil this evening there is a debate on a Private Members' motion on European debt, so it is a debate worth having in this House as well. I have already commented on the arrest yesterday, I do not intend to comment further.
Senator Mullins spoke about Safer Internet Day. It is good to see it highlighted. Other colleagues, Senators Noonan and O'Brien in particular, also spoke about Safer Internet Day and sought debates on awareness-raising on this issue. Those are important debates to have.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke on the issue of anti-social behaviour, again referring to some of the earlier points and to the Garda. Senator Noone spoke on safer Internet day and also looked for a debate on the issue of obesity. There is a worrying rise in childhood obesity. As a mother of small children I am concerned, as everyone is, about this issue and would be happy to look for that debate. Senator Quinn looked for a debate on fracking and I thank him for raising the issue of the House of Lords debate. I was not aware of that. Like the Senator, I would like to have the debate about fracking and about other issues.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I would like to have one too - I would shoot him down in flames.
Senator Pat O'Neill: Is Senator Mooney threatening Senator Quinn?
Senator Ivana Bacik: I did not hear what Senator Mooney said, perhaps it is just as well. Senator O'Neill advises me that the issue might be best addressed first by the joint Oireachtas committee. It is really the sort of area where we would want to hear experts who would put different sides of it. To have a debate on the report from the joint Oireachtas committee might be the better way to approach it. It is certainly an issue on which I would like to see more up-to-date information presented.
Senator Brennan welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, of funding for heritage buildings and the positive consequences for local employment. We would all join in that welcome.
Finally, Senator O'Brien supported the other speakers on raising the issue of Internet safety and seeking a debate. The Senator is quite right in saying it falls between a number of Ministers, and mentioned the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Education and Skills. I would say perhaps also the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and maybe that is where we should start. I agree that we need to look at Internet safety for children and young people using the Internet who are under 18. As parents and as legislators, we might want to address it in that context first.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Paschal Mooney has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the future of library services in rural Ireland be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Senator Paschal Mooney: No. I am satisfied with Senator Bacik's response on that issue. I would like to withdraw the amendment and hope that the Deputy Leader will be successful in having the Minister, Deputy Kelly, come before the House this week. Otherwise I will proceed.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Order of Business agreed to.
Standing Orders: Motion
Senator Ivana Bacik: I move:
"That the Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the adoption of new Standing Order 103N and the amendment of Standing Order 90 be adopted, laid before the House and printed."
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 4.25 p.m. and resumed at 4.45 p.m.
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Senator Ivana Bacik: The Order of Business today is No. 1, Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and adjourned not later than 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2 Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 63, Private Members' business, motion No. 16 regarding the private rented sector, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I will respond first to Senator Paschal Mooney, who raised the issue of turf cutting and compliance with the habitats directive, as well as differing views on the levels of compliance here. The Senator has asked that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, come to the House to debate the issue. I will seek such a debate with the Minister and have already asked for a debate on library services which the Senator sought yesterday. However, if there is a specific issue arising with regard to levels of compliance, that might be best approached as a commencement matter directed to the Minister. That would certainly be a quicker way of getting a response from her. That said, I will seek the broader debate for which the Senator has called.
Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of an An Taisce case in County Kerry. I am not aware of that case and I expect that the Senator will write directly to An Taisce on the matter. I do not think I should comment further on something which may be the subject of a judicial review.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised the issue of the Private Member's Bill put forward by Deputy Clare Daly in the other House yesterday. The Cathaoirleach has ruled on that issue and my own views on it are well known. The Senator sought a debate in this House on the office of the Attorney General. As colleagues will be aware, under Article 30 of the Constitution, the Attorney General is legal adviser to the Government. I have not seen her advice on this matter which was issued to the Government for Government members. Government members stated that in respect of Deputy Clare Daly's Bill, the advice was that it was unconstitutional.
[Senator Ivana Bacik: ] I can certainly look into having a debate on the role of the Attorney General, but I am not sure we can do so in this House. However, if it is possible to do so, we will.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: It is not directly related to the Bill.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I accept that. We have had an extensive debate on the Order of Business because a number of other colleagues raised the issue of the role played by the Attorney General.
Senator John Gilroy referred to the role of the Attorney General and Article 15. Colleagues will be aware that Article 15.4.1° states the Oireachtas shall not enact any law which is in any respect repugnant to the Constitution, but, as we know, in any Article 26 reference that succeeded – in other words, where the Supreme Court struck down a Bill as being unconstitutional – there was advice from the Attorney General that the Bill was constitutional. Clearly, no Attorney General is infallible and I do not think anyone would ever suggest the Attorney General was.
Senator James Heffernan referred to the Private Members' Bill on which the Cathaoirleach had ruled and asked specifically about a matter before the Labour Party Parliamentary Party. All I can say is that the advice of the Attorney General was not disclosed to anyone who was not a member of the Government. Like the Senator, I wish Deputy Anne Ferris very well. I regret that we could not legislate for fatal foetal abnormalities and have asked the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health to look at whether it would be possible to draft legislation within the terms of the Constitution to deal with that specific issue. I accept it would have to be highly restrictive to stay within the terms of Article 43.3 which I believe should be repealed, but that is a matter for another day.
Senator Hildegarde Naughton welcomed the announcement by IDA Ireland and the launch today of An Action Plan for Jobs which is region focused. We should all join in welcoming this really important initiative. It is a new five-year €250 million strategy aimed at accelerating jobs recovery, which is under way. A few colleagues mentioned really good news on job announcements in specific parts of the country, which are hugely welcome. Each of the eight regional areas is to develop its own action plan. There is a very structured plan at which I advise colleagues to look in terms of how it will be rolled out, with the first tranche of €50 million to be made available this year. Colleagues referred to specific aspects of the plan, with Senator Hildegarde Naughton referring to Galway, to which Senator Michael Comiskey also referred. It would be worthwhile colleagues looking at it, particular from the point of view of their own areas, to see how it will be rolled out and how they can assist in any way in supporting it.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the proposals for the restructuring of Greek debt which had been put forward. I answered this question yesterday when I pointed out that there would be a debate on the matter in the other House last night on foot of a Private Members' motion. I committed to looking for a debate on it in this House also. As I said yesterday, the taxpayer has invested in the region of €350 million as part of the Greek programme and the Government has stated it wants to see a resolution to help the Greek people. As the Senator said, we all appreciate the suffering and hardship people in Greece and other eurozone countries have endured in recent years as a result of particularly high levels of unemployment and debt.
Senator Michael Comiskey referred to the job announcements and welcomed the visit of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to the United States and the return of Irish beef to the market there, which we all welcome.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson referred to the habitats directive. He also welcomed the provision of a new complex in Monaghan to include the new Gaelscoil. I thank him for being very inclusive in his remarks. He thanked colleagues in different parties, including the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, for the action taken, which, obviously, is very welcome.
The Senator also asked about the development of the former barracks in Cavan town. I suggest he table a Commencement Matter to the Minister for Education and Skills as it is a very specific question which is probably not appropriate to a more general debate.
Senator Michael Mullins welcomed the jobs plan and the announcement of the creation of 100 jobs in Tuam. He also referred to the greening of iconic buildings around the world, including the Sacré-Coeur in Paris, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the Colosseum in Rome, which is hugely welcome for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. As the Senator said, this is a unique opportunity for us to grow the tourism industry.
Senator Jim Walsh called for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the impact on victims of the crimes of burglary and theft. I will seek such a debate. I have dealt with the issue of abortion and the Constitution.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to renewable energy targets and developments on solar energy at Dublin City Council and in other places. She called for a debate on the issue of renewable energy. It would be good to have such a debate which I will certainly look to have. I did not know about Leipzig being the location of the biggest solar panel in the world, which is interesting.
With her customary eloquence, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to the treatment of customers by banks and ongoing practices in banking. I do not know if the Joint committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has specifically looked at the issue of customer service in banks, but it would provide a really good focus for the committee because, as I said yesterday in another context, it could invite people in and hold hearings. We can look for a debate in the House on the issue, but the committee might provide a better forum for it.
Senator Catherine Noone referred to An Action Plan for Jobs, is which region-focused. I have covered that issue.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the issue of access to AVCs and giving people access to pension funds to free up money for spending. I agree with the Senator that we could deal with that issue in the context of the debate on pensions which was looked for yesterday and for which I have asked.
Senator Mary Moran referred to the very worrying reports from Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital on the treatment of breech births, a matter of great concern to us all. I understand practices have improved since. The Senator also referred to other issues in the health service and called on the Minister for Health to come to the House to debate the issue of trolley figures and overcrowding in accident and emergency departments. As the Minister for Health said, the current high figures which are very concerning are due to a combination of factors, including delayed discharges which are at a higher level. It was apparent from listening to staff working in accident and emergency departments on radio this morning that the issue of delayed discharges is very significant. It is not so much that more beds are required in hospitals but more beds in step-down facilities to ensure patients may be discharged safely. The Government has taken action in allocating 300 additional fair deal scheme places, 400 additional home care packages and reopening or funding 500 transitional and community beds. The Department and the HSE are working to have another 200 beds opened in the next two weeks. Mount Carmel Hospital, local to my area in Dublin, will be reopened as a community hospital in March. We all hope these developments will result in an easing of the problem. There has also been a difficulty in recruiting senior decision-making doctors, while there has been the seasonal outbreak of flu. These have contributed to the problem. However, it must be remembered that there were problems with overcrowding in accident and emergency departments even during the boom times. It is as much a matter of seeking to manage the problem as it is an issue of funding and resources. I will certainly look for the Minister for Health to come to the House to tell us what he was doing to tackle the issue.
Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the issue of contract procurement and spending in the HSE, which I suggest is one for the Committee of Public Accounts or the Joint Committee on Health.
Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 1.15 p.m.