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Meanwhile back at the Seanad… October 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad.
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…I’ve missed a week or two of this. But no matter, the debates aren’t that different from last time we looked in. A Bank Holiday this week so naturally the Seanad sat for…er… two days.

 

Let’s start with a quick word from Senator Jim Walsh (FF) about ‘the real cost of our public service’.

 

Senator Jim Walsh: Information Zoom There has to be accountability; we can no longer continue to hide. At the time I was critical of the Government for failing to take action against those who were culpable and criminally negligent in the HIV scandal. People died as a consequence of the gross negligence of individuals within the service and there should have been accountability.

Another aspect of the case which is a concern – this has arisen in other inquiries we have examined in the House, such as the Dublin-Monaghan bombings – is the failure of people to keep proper records. There has been criticism in this instance that the inquiry had tremendous difficulty getting any details on the records of social workers and the management of social workers within the system. That is intolerable when we have all sorts of management procedures in place. People in the public service are extremely well paid now, so the lack of performance in this area, or any area of the public service, is no longer acceptable.

I would like an earlier debate than is proposed on the Croke Park agreement and suggest we could debate this on a weekly basis. Last week, I raised the issue of lecturers and professors within our universities who are paid in excess of 50% more than their counterparts in Britain. It is on the public record of these Houses in recent times that many of them only lecture for six hours per week. I know they do research and spend time on preparation, but these conditions bring into focus the amount of money being paid and the lack of value we receive for it. I would like to highlight that the Chief Justice in Ireland receives €130,000 a year more than the Chief Justice in the United States.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom The Senator’s time has concluded.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information Zoom Supreme Court justices here are paid €100,000 more than their counterparts in the US.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom That is public knowledge.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information Zoom We cannot continue to pay these kinds of salaries. When I listened to the Dáil debate yesterday, I heard Ministers focus on what people in the public service who earn less than €100,000 get, because it was a good soundbite, rather than focus on the real cost of our public service.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom The Senator’s time has concluded.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information Zoom We need to tackle this and I call for a debate on the Croke Park agreement as a matter of urgency.

It’s a bit hard to divine his intention, is he saying that 100k plus salaries are more typical of the public service, or is he simply complaining about the public service full stop? Who knows?

 

Meanwhile who could shoe-horn the public sector into a discussion on savings… who indeed, who indeed?

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom Senator O’Toole drew attention to the fact that our savings amount to over €100 billion. Some €88 billion of that is private savings and commonsense tells us a considerable portion of it must come from public servants such as the one who resigned recently on a pension of €155,000. What will he do with it? His children are presumably reared and his House is presumably paid for so he is probably saving it.

Senator Mary M. White: Information Zoom Hear, hear.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom We must find some way of extracting that idle €88 billion. One of the ingenious suggestions is that the Government should borrow from its citizens instead of borrowing abroad. It could set up a national bond, as was done during the War of Independence, where the citizens take part of the national debt at attractive rates. Look how effective the SSIA scheme was. If the Government offered an attractive rate of return and the scheme was guaranteed to the citizens, it would release the €88 billion fairly rapidly.

I draw attention to the fact that this is not a poor country. A sum of €88 billion does not argue a poor country. In that respect, I was baffled to read on Aertel on bank holiday Monday that Ireland is the number one international choice for inward investment. I did not read that in a newspaper, I did not see it on television and I did not see it reported as the number one item on the news. If we are the number one inward investment destination in the world, I would have thought it was worth headlines or that the Government would have its public relations staffers selling the good news. We hear so little of it.

The odd thing is that there is indeed a ‘national bond’ of sorts as Paschal Mooney pointed out in the next minute:

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information Zoom I am glad that Senators O’Toole and Harris raised the question of savings. Members on this side of the House and our colleagues in the other House have had discussions with the Minister for Finance on how this can be utilised in the national interest. In the context of the Minister coming to the House, perhaps this can be teased out in more detail. As currently instituted, the national recovery bond term is too long. Most of the people who have money are near or at retirement age and a ten-year term proves to be too long to leave the money in place. Perhaps a reduced period of between three and five years should be available. I wrote to the Minister in this regard and the matter is being actively discussed. The post office savings bond, which currently holds between €3 billion and €5 billion, can be used immediately by the Government unlike the national recovery bond. It is paying a rate in excess of 3%, which is competitive with the commercial banks. I ask for a more proactive marketing campaign targeted at the people who have money, as pointed out by Senators O’Toole and Harris.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom Hear, hear.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information Zoom We should encourage them to put money into post office savings because that money goes to the Exchequer and can be used immediately.

Indeed.

Then some thoughts about the Roscommon abuse case…

 

Senator Eoghan Harris: Information Zoom I support Senators Norris and Walsh in their belief that the fundamental problem in Roscommon was a dereliction of duty by public servants. There have been other reasons adduced and there is much merit in Senator Alex White’s belief that in the background a certain amount of foot-dragging was caused by the constitutional protection afforded to the family. This certainly causes people to look over their left shoulder at the Constitution. Perhaps public servants are now looking over their right shoulder at the Freedom of Information Act. Many journalists informally agree that the Freedom of Information Act, which was meant to illuminate large policy decisions and protect the public purse, may be inhibiting public servants from making decisions they should make. Nevertheless, that does not excuse the failure of the will, what the Greeks called akrasia, a failure to do one’s duty. In that respect, I wonder what kind of training public servants now get in the culture of decision making, of integrity and of standing up and having some basics of moral courage. Parnell said that the Irish people had huge respect for moral courage because it was such a scarce commodity in Ireland. There is a lot of truth in that in the public sector.

Mention has been made of a right wing organisation supporting the children. It calls itself a Catholic organisation, but I think that is a travesty of Catholicism. It is just a fundamentalist family organisation. Its support reminds me of Lenin saying the Communist Party should support the bourgeoisie. The organisation in question supported the children as a rope supports the hanging man.

A perhaps more measured contribution…

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information Zoom I, too, welcome the debate on the Roscommon abuse report. Like others, I am appalled and saddened by the terrible failures of the State it discloses. It does not bear thinking about that for 25 years, from when the family concerned first came to the attention of social services in 1989 to 2004 when the HSE finally took some of the children into care, these six children were subjected to such horrific abuse. I know we all feel that way.

Senator McDonald is correct that it is not just that there were failures during that lengthy period by individual social workers or the health care system but also that there was a failure by the political system to provide the legal and constitutional framework within which this family would have been treated differently and within which, as Senator Alex White stated, there would have been a different threshold for intervention. The children’s rights referendum is essential because it would provide that different culture or legal or constitutional framework within which social workers and the HSE would be able to operate and intervene at a different and earlier stage to prevent this type of appalling abuse from happening.

Other Members referred to the Kilkenny incest report and the Sophia McColgan case. Many brave individuals, young adults, who were abused as children have come forward in order that this would not happen to other children. We owe it to them to ensure we change the framework to ensure this does not occur again. I urge the Government to set a date for the holding of the referendum. There has been much debate and work done on the wording. We are all agreed that it is essential the rights of the child come before the rights of the marital family. Unfortunately, there is undue deference in our Constitution to the rights of the marital family, enabling the type of sinister intervention we saw in this case to have occurred by a right wing organisation. That, too, must be investigated.

It gets more heated too…

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom I am not sure that today is the day to debate this important report. It seems to me to be an exercise in window dressing because I wonder how many of us will have had an opportunity to give it the scrutiny it deserves. If we were operating in a mature fashion we would be debating this report early next week, having had an opportunity to consider it properly. Instead, we will have bland statements to the effect that the Seanad discussed it and were we not wonderful but that is no substitute for genuine concern for children’s rights and welfare.

We are being invited to believe by some that if we had passed the proposed constitutional referendum we would have less of this kind of abuse. I found Geoffrey Shannon’s intervention on “Morning Ireland” this morning to be deeply cogent, very clear and wonderfully passionate. Nothing I have heard here today was any substitute for the clarity and the depth of knowledge with which Mr. Shannon spoke. He made it very clear that it is no excuse to invoke the absence of better constitutional protection for children’s rights. I am open to that debate and if we can give extra constitutional impetus to the need to intervene in favour of children’s welfare, by all means we should do so but we should not cover up or make excuses for people who were in radical dereliction of their duty—–

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information Zoom Nobody is doing that.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom —–by trying to use this to gain some political leverage for a constitutional referendum proposal which needs to be debated on its merits. There is a certain denial about the failure of people to simply do their duty. Red herring no. 1 is the Constitution. It is not an issue. The law was in place. People in this House have been quick to condemn the Church, and rightly so, for not coming up to the moral mark even when the law was not as clear as it should be about what needed to be done in the area of reporting yet they are making excuses for people who did have a clear legal mandate—–

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information Zoom Nobody is making excuses, Senator.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom —–to act in the context of social welfare. There was a clear legal mandate to act and they did not do it.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information Zoom That is a red herring.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom The second red herring is invoking the intermeddling family, the right wingers, as they are called.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Thank you, Senator.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom I do not care if they are left wing or right wing. They were no more than bar room chums in terms of the access they had to the courts. They had no standing.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Please Senator. Your time is up.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom Their role is of irrelevance.

Senator David Norris: Information Zoom It is not.

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom Please. No interruptions. The Senator’s time is up.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom The issue here was the failure to take action and we should stop making excuses for the people who failed to take action—–

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information Zoom Nobody is making excuses.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information Zoom —–by seeking to propose other agendas.

Senator David Norris: Information Zoom These people should be exposed.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information Zoom On a point of order, nobody is making excuses. Senator Mullen is misrepresenting—–

An Cathaoirleach: Information Zoom That is not a point of order. I call Senator Butler.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information Zoom —–a very serious debate that is due to take place later in this House.

And in truth for once this is serious…so let us leave it at that.

 


 

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