Blog Archive | News
Posted on March 30, 2017
Today is the day that British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50. She will address the House of Commons on the issue within the next hour. The Seanad's Brexit hearings are a welcome initiative, but we also need to consider raising the issue of Brexit in other debates in the House. Yesterday, we in Labour published our detailed Brexit policy, outlining 20 concrete actions that the Irish Government should be taking. We expressed our concern at the lack of detail from the Government regarding what it proposed to do as the Brexit negotiations got under way. What positions will it take?
The Government needs to ensure that adequate money - €1 billion from the rainy day fund - should be deployed for the capital investment likely to be needed as a result of Brexit. A €250 million Brexit trade adjustment fund should be set up to support directly Irish businesses that suffer because of trade upheaval with the UK. New transport connections will be needed, in particular at major ports and airports. Others have pointed to the instability in Northern Ireland. The prospect of Brexit negotiations is not helping that situation. A special status for Northern Ireland needs to be incorporated in the negotiations. At a minimum, a new Irish protocol to the EU treaties recognising the common travel area, the Good Friday Agreement and the unique situation of the Irish Border must be negotiated.
There have been disturbing signals about what might happen because of Brexit. In an article in today's The Irish Times, Ms Patricia King points out the downward pressure likely to be applied as a result of the UK no longer having to observe minimum terms and conditions of employment as set down in EU treaties. The concern is that there will be a race to the bottom among Irish businesses. Pressure will be placed on Ireland and other EU countries to reduce the quality of workers' terms and conditions.
Posted on December 06, 2016
This Bill seeks to address the small number of cases where retired employees who were legally not permitted to marry persons of the same sex before a particular date may be deprived of certain pension benefits.
Posted on July 14, 2016
A study by the Nevin Economic Research Institute has shown that almost three quarters of people earning the minimum wage in Ireland are women.
The disproportionately high number of women earning the minimum wage clearly demonstrates the need to introduce a living wage to help tackle the gender pay gap.
This government has completely taken its eye of the ball when it comes to improving pay and conditions for low paid workers. It is extremely disappointing there is no commitment in the programme for government to introduce a living wage.
Posted on July 13, 2016
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. I commend Senator McDowell for bringing forward this important legislation. Indeed, I thank the Leader and the Government party for giving Government time to this legislation. This is an indication of the new politics we saw in evidence in this House last week when we had Committee Stage of our Private Members' Bill on freelance workers' rights. We did so in Private Members' time but the Government promised to give us Government time for Report Stage of the Bill. It is an indication of how well the Seanad can work.
Colleagues will forgive me for a slight sense of déjà vu. Like Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said earlier, and like so many others here, I am familiar with the many debates that we have had over the years on Seanad reform. I count myself as very privileged and honoured to have been re-elected for a third term in the Seanad. I value every colleague in the Seanad equally, a view that should not need to be said. Every one of us brings our own unique life experiences and background to the Seanad.
I agree that we have had so many reports and debates on reform and yet this new Seanad has a new dynamism and energy due to the number of new Senators elected to the House. The Manning report has provided us with a blueprint for reform. When we debated the Manning report in May of last year and the draft Bill that Dr. Maurice Manning and Mr. Joe O'Toole prepared, from which Senator McDowell's Bill borrows, we said that this should be the last report on Seanad reform and that we should be able to unite in principle behind the Bill. Therefore, I am glad that the legislation has received general support across the House. I am happy to indicate the Labour Party's support for the Bill, while, like many others, recognising some flaws in it or issues that we would like to see improved on. Certainly, we welcome the legislation.
The Labour Party has tabled an amendment to Sinn Féin's motion on Seanad reform simply calling for the establishment of an implementation group on Seanad reform because we believe a smaller implementation group might be more capable of working speedily. We also recommend that an implementation group has a timeframe of 12 months to implement the recommendations of the Manning report. It is in the same spirit as this Bill. We call on the implementation of a report rather than draft a new one or start from scratch.
The context in which we debate this Bill and in which Dr. Maurice Manning's group worked was the context in which we looked at reforms that could be implemented through legislation within the current constitutional framework. All of us might like to see particular changes to the Constitution. In the Labour Party Senator's group, we have said we would like to see changes made to the Taoiseach's power to nominate 11 Senators and the existing five vocational panels. However, the agreement, and I think the pragmatic approach, is to ask what can we do within the current constitutional framework and that is the aim of this Bill, that is, to seek the maximum change we can achieve within the constitutional framework.
The previous Labour Senator's group made a submission on Seanad reform to Dr. Maurice Manning's group in January 2015. We put forward a number of proposals. The key proposal, and one that has been reflected both in the report and in this Bill, is the proposal for universal suffrage - or one person, one vote. The need to achieve universal suffrage is a principle on which everyone in the House is united, although we may differ on how best to achieve it. I want to offer some constructive proposals but we all agree that we should move towards that model.
In the last Seanad, we made certain procedural changes that did not require legislation. These included, for example, the establishment of a public consultation committee. That committee has held hearings and produced reports on a number of key issues such as the human rights of older persons, lifestyle changes to prevent cancer and farm safety. These were new and dynamic ways in which the Seanad could be seen to work. We brought in different interest groups and held public hearings in this Chamber on different days. We had a series of debates with MEPs to improve and strengthen our links with the European Parliament. We also brought in a number of distinguished visitors to speak to us. We need to ensure that all of those changes are continued. We need to continue to change the way we work in this House without the need for legislative change in order to be a more dynamic and more effective Chamber. As I said, we are happy to support this Bill. In general, it will lead to a hugely improved and more democratic Seanad. In principle, the need to extend the suffrage for the Seanad and ensure an increased number of voters is a hugely important issue. In our submission the Labour Party proposed the extension of suffrage to those entitled to be on the local election register. This Bill there proposes to go beyond that to include the diaspora, which I believe all of us would support in principle. How this would be done is an issue. I believe that the approach taken in the Bill to restrict this entitlement to current Irish passport holders is a practical limitation. As the Minister said, the logistics and costings in that regard need to be examined in detail. Some of us are already elected by diaspora voters. A huge proportion of voters on my own panel are Irish citizens who live abroad. We should be conscious that the Seanad, as currently constituted, represents members of the diaspora.
There is a particular issue in the Bill about which I would like to speak, which issue I raised when we debated the report of the working group on Seanad reform on 8 July 2015. The Minister stated in his speech that there may be a difficulty in the Bill with balancing constituencies. Under the provisions of this Bill and as proposed in the report of the working group on Seanad reform, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, the voter chooses the constituency in which he or she will vote in Seanad elections. As I pointed out previously this means that panels could be very skewed. For example, in regard to section 8, 100,000 people might opt to vote in the arts panel and, although nobody is quite sure about this, there could be 850,000 voters potentially on the universities panel. As such, we could have very skewed numbers on different panels.
I note that Senator McDowell has proposed a complicated amendment to section 9 by way of a new section 45(1) such that limits would be applied to the number of elected representatives who would be registered in respect of a single constituency. The Labour group gave this some thought and we have come up with what I believe is a simpler and, perhaps, less cumbersome change, namely, that everybody entitled to vote on the Seanad electoral register would have a separate vote for candidates on each of the panels. In other words, a voter would not have to opt for one panel but would have five votes on the different panels. University graduates would opt for a vote on the universities panel instead of another particular panel. We suggested the national language, culture, literature, art and education panel. We also suggested that in accordance with Article 19 of the Constitution one of the panels would be reserved for election by city and county council members to preserve the existing link with local government which we believe is important. We believe that the public administration panel might be the most appropriate in that regard. I note there is a proposal in the Bill to preserve some voter rights for councillors. It is important that we preserve the link with local government in some way. The proposal put forward by Senator McDowell that we might look at changing the current position in legislation whereby councillors are not entitled to be Members of the Seanad is interesting. The preservation of one panel for election by councillors would not require constitutional change. One could also amend the current eligibility rules to enable councillors stand for election to that panel.
Returning to the Labour Party proposals, to protect against unbalanced panels, each individual registered on the Seanad electoral register would have five votes on five panels and could vote 1, 2 and 3 on each of those panels. It would be akin to a multi-seat constituency. This would guard against the skewing of voter numbers on different panels. It would also guard against what I believe is a real danger in this area, individual candidates organising registration campaigns on a particular panel to ensure they were more likely to be elected to it. We need to look at the practical implications of the panel system.
We need to look again at the online facilities and so forth. The working group on Seanad reform consulted on this with the National Cyber Security Centre, which provided some practical points on how to address security issues. The postal ballot requirement in the Constitution is a difficulty. In terms of the use of technology to try to reduce the cost of the postal ballot the Bill is very progressive. We should also introduce a system likechecktheregister.ieto enable people to check if they are registered to vote.
The Labour group has also put forward in its proposals one very radical but simple change which I believe could make a huge difference to the make-up of the Seanad, which, again, would not require constitutional change, namely, that a Seanad election should take place on the same day as a Dáil election. Article 18.8 of the Constitution provides that a Seanad election must take place not later than 90 days after dissolution of the Dáil. The Labour group proposes that it be provided by way of legislation that a Seanad election take place on the same day as a Dáil election on a PR-STV basis by secret postal ballot. Legislation could prohibit a candidate from running in both elections, which would break the direct link between Dáil and Seanad elections often criticised by many.
I thank Senator McDowell for introducing this Bill and thank the Minister of State for his support for it.
Posted on July 07, 2016
Senator Ivana Bacik today welcomed confirmation from the Tánaiste that Ireland will admit an additional 260 Syrian refugees for resettlement here by autumn 2016, but criticised the delay in admission of refugees from Syria under the government’s resettlement programme to date.
Posted on July 07, 2016
That Seanad Éireann:
Posted on July 06, 2016
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to debate this Private Members' Bill, which the Labour Party group of Senators introduced on Second Stage on 20 January of this year. On that date, it was not opposed on Second Stage by the then Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. We have now brought the Bill back on Committee Stage and it is unusual in the sense that it is a Private Members' Bill going through Committee Stage but we anticipate we will have cross-party support on it. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for expressing support for this Bill. I also welcome the many observers here in the Gallery from across the trade union movement and from the ranks of freelance workers, many of whom are in the acting and journalism professions where the issue of bogus self-employed, if I may call it that, is very widespread.
Section 1 provides for certain definitions while section 2 provides for the substantive issue. This Bill stems from a longstanding Labour Party commitment to ensure protection of the right to collectively bargain for vulnerable workers who are freelance, particularly those in the arts, creative and media sectors. Senator Ged Nash and myself have worked on this for some time. It dates back 14 years to a ruling by the then Competition Authority, now the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. In 2004, it ruled, applying a very restrictive interpretation of the Competition Act 2002, that a collective agreement between Irish Equity and the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland was in breach of competition and that was an agreement that has set rates for voiceover artists. To give colleagues something of the practical import of this, until then, it was accepted that, for example, unions could publish freelance fees guides. This is a particular issue in the arts and creative sectors, in acting and so forth, where unions such as Equity and NUJ had long made agreements about minimum fee rates, a minimum floor of rights for freelance workers, many of whom were employees in all but name. I am talking about people like session musicians, voiceover artists and freelance journalists. As result of the 2004 ruling by the Competition Authority, that sort of agreement of setting a minimum floor of fees was now seen as in breach of competition law.
Posted on June 23, 2016
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, back to the House and I congratulate him on his reappointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I look forward to working with him, as I am now Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs.
I commend the Government on the work that has been going on as detailed in the Minister's speech. This has included interventions such as the Taoiseach's article in The Guardian, supporting the "Remain" side while being sensitive to the fact that this is a matter for a different jurisdiction. However, it is clear that we have a major interest in this as citizens and residents of the neighbouring island. The Labour Party leader, Deputy Howlin, was in England last Thursday campaigning on the "Remain" side among the Irish community there.
It is impossible to take part in today's debate without mentioning, as others have done, the brutal murder of Jo Cox on Thursday. We paid tributes to her yesterday. We note that today would have been her 42nd birthday. For many of us the ugly rhetoric that had come to characterise some of the anti-immigration arguments on the "Leave" side consolidated the view many of us had of strong support for the "Remain" side. That ugly rhetoric was perhaps summed up in the awful poster revealed by Mr. Nigel Farage, MEP, last Thursday, which clearly plays on racist sentiment.
We have a direct connection. We have a very close relationship with Britain. For some of us it is closer than that. I emigrated to England and voted in previous British elections as an Irish citizen resident in England. Indeed now as a Dublin University Senator, I represent many Irish citizens who have a vote in the referendum. Some weeks ago I spoke with Trinity alumni in Derry and have been in contact with Trinity alumni branches throughout Britain and Northern Ireland. I am very heartened to hear back from so many of our graduates there who are so passionately on the "Remain" side and have been doing a great deal of work canvassing other Irish citizens resident in Britain to seek their support for the "Remain" side. I speak with people such as Nick Beard, whose blog on headstuff.org provides very compelling reasons for the UK to remain in the EU.
I speak with Brian O'Connell from the Irish4Europe campaign group. He has noted that with over 600,000 Irish-born people living and working in Britain, it is a larger group than citizens from many other EU jurisdictions and could be very influential in the result of the referendum, particularly given how close the sides appear to be according to polls.
As many have said, if the UK votes to leave, one of the main concerns for us on this island would be the citizens in the North. Most of us are very dismayed at the position that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, has taken on the "Leave" side, not seeming to recognise, as the historian, Roy Foster, has said, that a vote for Brexit could be disastrous for the advances we have seen in relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland. We should not take for granted the huge role the EU has played in British-Irish relations and its role in the peace process. British and Irish partners sitting as equals side-by-side at international tables of the EU from the early 1980s onwards arguably did more than many things to improve British-Irish relations and to begin processes leading to the Good Friday Agreement. That is an important factor for us.
It is also important not to be dismissive of all of the arguments on the "Leave" side because clearly there are people on the "Leave" side who genuinely believe in Brexit without adhering to the horrible rhetoric of Mr. Nigel Farage, MEP, and his allies in UKIP.
Some of the arguments on the "Leave" side indicate a very high level of disillusionment with the EU - a sense of a democratic deficit, as Senator Higgins mentioned, a sense of concern about democracy and decisions being made by an unelected Commission. Many of us feel that consolidated action is required to tackle that. We need the added voice of Britain at the table to help us in countering that and putting the case, for example, for a social Europe and in putting the case for the need for the EU to have a united front facing crises such as the economic crisis felt so recently and indeed the crisis of so many refugees seeking to enter Europe.
There are also very strong arguments to remain on economic and social grounds, in particular the strong economic evidence so many have pointed to. The ESRI, for example, has pointed to enormous losses for Ireland as a crucial partner with the UK. There are many reports on the adverse economic effects for the British economy should the Brexit side prevail.
However, there are also very strong social arguments for remaining in the EU. We should not forget that the Nobel committee presented the EU with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, noting the EU's work over six decades in advancing peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The EU serves as an example to many other countries of what can be achieved through solidarity and transnational co-operation.
The EU's work in terms of the social Europe and progress for equality and in particular for women's rights should not be taken for granted. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has emphasised the progress for women as a result of EU membership. Also in Britain, Frances O'Grady of the Trades Union Congress published a report entitled Women's Rights and the Risk of Brexit, making the point that Brexit risks turning the clock back decades on hard-won rights. The socialist movement in Europe has a strong tradition. The red flag of the Labour Party was first marched under in 1831 in Merthyr Tydfil by oppressed miners and red remains the colour of many of our social democratic partners in Europe, such as the SPD in Germany. We see a strong sense of European and national identity emerging from these movements around workers' rights, trade union rights and women's rights.
While the decision clearly rests with others tomorrow and not in this jurisdiction, for us the Brexit debate clearly raises many worrying sentiments and we need to challenge some of the arguments for Brexit and meet them with confidence because the European project of an open society of international solidarity of trust and mutual co-operation is an ideal that is worth supporting and worth building upon in co-operation with our neighbours. We need to have the confidence and leadership here and elsewhere to counter racist and narrow-minded commentary about immigration and we need to plan for a brighter future.
My hope along with that of so many others is that the UK will vote to remain and we can all work together to face the crises that will confront the EU in the rest of the 21st century.
Posted on June 22, 2016
I wish to share time with my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, with the slot divided in three minutes and two minutes. I stand to pay tribute to Jo Cox, MP, and join the tributes being paid by others as leader of the Labour Party group in the House, as a woman Labour Party public representative and as a mother of two young children, as Jo Cox was.
Posted on June 15, 2016
Speaking this morning in the Seanad, Senator Ivana Bacik called for an urgent response from the Taoiseach and the Government to the ruling last week by the UN Human Rights Committee that Ireland had breached the rights of the applicant Amanda Mellet due to the prohibition in Irish law of termination of pregnancy under the Eighth Amendment, even in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Commending Amanda Mellet and the Termination for Medical Reasons group for their courage in taking their application to the UN and in raising the issue of fatal foetal abnormality, Senator Bacik said: