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Meanwhile… back at the Seanad… September 30, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics.
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For shame! I forgot! They’re back. Two weeks now no less. And the first one filled with the simple joys of being back. So it was all self-congratulations on merely turning up.

Senator Darragh O’Brien:     I am pleased to be back. I look forward to the upcoming session….It is the first day back and we are not too restricted by time.
An Cathaoirleach:     It is the same as before.

Senator Ivana Bacik:     I join others in welcoming colleagues back. I hope that everyone has had a break over the summer and is ready for the busy and challenging term that lies ahead in which we all hope the Seanad will play a productive and valuable role and in which we will see further progress with the procedural reforms we have begun to make.

Senator Katherine Zappone:     It is good to be back, and with all colleagues.

Senator Pat O’Neill:     As previous speakers have noted, everyone is welcome back and I look forward to this session.

Then here’s Senator Leyden.

Senator Ivana Bacik:     It is extremely rich to hear Fianna Fáil Senators talking about people reneging on their election promises, given that it was that party which brought us to the situation in which we find ourselves.
Senator Darragh O’Brien:     The Senator cannot keep trotting out that garbage. The Labour Party and Fine Gael have a programme for Government and have reneged on practically every promise made.
An Cathaoirleach:     Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     As the Minister for Education and Skills said, the country is in receivership thanks to the actions of——
Senator Mark Daly:     Its Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way. Is that the way things will be?
An Cathaoirleach:     Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.
Senator Mark Daly:     Did somebody say something about one red cent?
Senator Ivana Bacik:     I will not be lectured by Fianna Fáil Members on reneging on promises.
Senator Mark Daly:     The Labour Party and Fine Gael made promises to the people before the gneral election.
An Cathaoirleach:     Senator Daly, please.
Senator Mark Daly:     They made promises and have not fulfilled one of them.
An Cathaoirleach:     Can we, please, listen to Senator Bacik?
Senator Terry Leyden:     The Senator thinks she is lecturing in Trinity College at the moment.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     I am on unpaid leave from Trinity College.
Senator Terry Leyden:     I thought the Senator had been made a professor.
An Cathaoirleach:     There is no need for those remarks.
Senator Terry Leyden:     I am grateful to the Senator for clarification.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     I remind Senator Darragh O’Brien that it was a Fianna Fáil Government which——
An Cathaoirleach:     Please allow Senator Bacik to speak without interruption.
Senator Mark Daly:     She constantly goes on about the record of the previous Government.
Senator Darragh O’Brien:     Does she wish to talk about——
An Cathaoirleach:     Senator Bacik has three minutes to make her case. A number of other Senators have indicated they wish to speak. Those who interrupt are eating into their own speaking time.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     It was the failed policies of the previous Government which brought the country into receivership.
Senator Mark Daly:     The Senator cannot keep going on about the record.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     That was the point I wanted to make.
Senator Mark Daly:     We can all make similar points. The Government parties made promises to the electorate which they have not fulfilled.
An Cathaoirleach:     I ask Senator Daly not to interrupt.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     I wanted to respond to Senator Darragh O’Brien.
Senator Terry Leyden:     You are excited.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     I am never excited as——
An Cathaoirleach:     Senators must speak through the Chair.
Senator Terry Leyden:     I find it very hard to be excited having to listen——
Senator Ivana Bacik:     Senator Leyden is far too excitable.

And it continued later:


Meanwhile back at the Seanad… it’s the end of this session… buckets and spades all round! August 4, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics.
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Nothing particularly momentous, but then, who expected there to be? And no hint of the events that would dominate the media the following seven days or so. But there was a discussion about amending the words of the national anthem of this state, some SF baiting from the usual suspects and a lovely invitation to Killarney and…

Senator Feargal Quinn:
In the context of the horrific events in Norway, I remind colleagues that I have raised the question in this House of whether it is time to review our national anthem. I love the melody and the atmosphere of the composition, but it is perhaps time to reconsider the lyrics. It is a 32-county Ireland national anthem and I am not sure whether the lyrics, as we hear them in English, are suitable. No doubt some will point to the British or French national anthems, for example, as similarly bloodthirsty. However, at a time when we are concerned at the strong nationalist views expressed by people such as the individual in Norway, it may be time to set a standard by reviewing our anthem. It is a great tune but the lyrics date from the beginning of the last century and may need to be reconsidered.
Senator Mary M. White:     Some people have a difficulty with the phrase “Fianna Fáil”.
Senator Paul Bradford:     On Senator Feargal Quinn’s point regarding the national anthem, the formula we use in certain amendments —“that the words proposed to be deleted stand”— comes to mind.
An Cathaoirleach:     We are having a look at that formula.


Senator David Cullinane:     I want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the people of Norway, the victims and their families and the AUF party, which is aggrieved at what happened. We must be careful not to allow one extremist or crazed individual to set the agenda. That is why I oppose the view proposed by Senator Quinn, that we should change our national anthem on foot of events in Norway. Comments such as that play into the hands of extremists who want to set the agenda. It is most unwelcome.
I refer to the comments of Members on the renegotiated bailout. The language used so far is interesting. Fianna Fáil has described the deal as constructive and the Labour Party has hailed it as a major achievement. Senator MacSharry referred to Team Ireland but he is referring to a team of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The renegotiated deal is the same deal that the two parties in Government opposed when they were in opposition.
This week, I was reminded of how far the Labour Party has travelled when I heard Deputy Eamon Gilmore saying that people should put the green jersey on and get behind the Government effort in terms of the bailout. The person most vociferous in the Dáil before the last election, on his feet every day of the week, opposing the bailout and the fact that, as will occur this week, €18 billion of taxpayers money was transferred to banks, was Deputy Eamon Gilmore and this led him——
An Cathaoirleach:     He is the Tánaiste.
Senator David Cullinane:     ——to accuse a former Taoiseach of economic treason. All that has changed since that charge is that the Labour Party is in government and implementing the same policies.
Sinn Féin has consistently called for a proper debate about the terms of the bailout. It is clear there is a consensus among the main political parties, who are happy to sell this country and its taxpayers down the river——
Senator Ivana Bacik:     On a point of order, I have listened to Senator Cullinane but he has gone too far.
An Cathaoirleach:     That is not a point of order.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     He has gone too far.
An Cathaoirleach:     Senator Cullinane is over time.
Senator David Cullinane:     The people who have gone too far are those in the Labour Party and in other parties who are selling this country down the river and ensuring billions of euro of taxpayers’ money, which we had to borrow, is being put into banks.
An Cathaoirleach:     Does Senator Cullinane have a question for the Leader?
Senator David Cullinane:     On the question of waste in the system when we are putting money into the banks, a Minister from the Senator Bacik’s party spent €48,000 of taxpayers’ money——
An Cathaoirleach:     Does Senator Cullinane have a question for the Leader?
Senator David Cullinane:     ——in refurbishing his constituency office, with three plasma screen televisions and a sign that says “Minister’s toilet”. This is the same Minister——
An Cathaoirleach:     Does Senator Cullinane have a question for the Leader?
Senator David Cullinane:     ——responsible for making sure we curb spending.
An Cathaoirleach:     Does Senator Cullinane have a question for the Leader?
Senator David Cullinane:     That is what is happening in the country and I take exception to the comments of Senator Bacik. Sinn Féin will continue to stand up for the working people of this country.

At which point up popped a Labour Senator…

Senator Jimmy Harte:     Along with other Members, I extend my sympathies to the people of Norway and particularly the families touched by tragedy. It is a reminder of the last century when extreme nationalism led to economic nationalism and world war. We must be careful of what is happening.
Sinn Féin said that the Labour Party has travelled far but a party with the background of Sinn Féin has travelled a long way and still has a long way to travel.
An Cathaoirleach:     This is not relevant to the Order of Business. Debate on the Order of Business should concern the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Jimmy Harte:     The House indulged Sinn Féin for a few minutes so it can indulge another viewpoint. Sinn Féin accused the Minister of spending money on his office. Last week I read that Sinn Féin claimed over £400,000 in Westminster when most of its MPs did not attend.
An Cathaoirleach:     These points are not relevant to the Order of Business. Does Senator Harte have a question for the Leader?
Senator Thomas Byrne:     How can we justify spending €50 to spend a penny?
Senator Jimmy Harte:     I would have come to the question if I had not been interrupted by Members. The previous Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, spent €1 million on his office, so this spending pales in comparison.
An Cathaoirleach:     Does Senator Harte have a question for the Leader?

And here’s a character whose also appeared more than once across this first term of the Seanad…

Senator Jim D’Arcy:     With other Senators I wish to express to the Government of Norway my sympathy on the recent tragedy. I note the political parties there stated the answer is more openness. On this matter, I note what Senator Cullinane stated on the dangers of extremism. He is not here at present——
An Cathaoirleach:     Do not make reference to Senators who have left the House.
Senator Jim D’Arcy:     This was a bit like Hannibal Lecter extolling the virtues of vegetarianism.
An Cathaoirleach:     Senator D’Arcy, we do not refer to Senators who have left the House.
Senator Jim D’Arcy:     I am terribly sorry.
I agree with what one of the Senators stated on changing the words of our national anthem. Will the Leader suggest the lines changed from “laochra fáil” to “fianna fáil” be changed back to the original wording?
An Cathaoirleach:     Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Rónán Mullen:     Change it to “sinner fianna fáil”.

The next day it was almost all sweetness and light and long long Summer breaks…

Senator Darragh O’Brien:     I wish the Leader well over the summer. It is important people get a break as we have had a long year. However, when we come back in September, I would like to see an end to talk of the reform of this House and to start to do the work. We have had many discussions on reform. Those discussions are over; let us prove our worth[….] I hope Senators have a great break and a lovely summer and I look forward to coming back in September and working constructively with everyone.
Senator Ivana Bacik:     Usually the Senators who did not get in, speak after the leaders of the groups but I will leave that to the Leas-Chathaoirleach. On the last day of term, I join with Senator Darragh O’Brien in wishing everyone happy holidays. Although it feels a lot longer, I think we have only been sitting for ten weeks, just over two months. It has been such a busy and intense session that we all feel it has been a lot longer. In many of our cases, it was preceded by several elections.
In the period of time we have been sitting, we have already made progress on the reforms about which we have been speaking for so long. I agree with Senator Darragh O’Brien that it is time for action. We have commenced action on real and effective reform of the Seanad. We have already seen with the address of the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Jerzy Buzek, to the House and the debate on agriculture and fisheries with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Simon Coveney, new models of debating issues here which are more meaningful and will lead to better outcomes for everyone, both Opposition and Government.
The House has passed, and will continue to do so today, a great deal of legislation, so it has been a very busy term from a range of perspectives. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee and our new rules on inviting distinguished guests to speak will also help to ensure the Seanad is a more effective place to be and the flag will continue to fly over Leinster House even when the Dáil is not sitting and it is just ourselves.
I thank the other leaders and colleagues in the Seanad for a very productive and fruitful term. I wish everyone well for the holiday period. I also wish them well for the forthcoming autumn term. In view of today’s reports and dire warnings regarding the state of the US economy and in light of our own circumstances, I am of the view that in September we will be engaging in extensive debates on the economy, on pre-budget submissions and on the international economic context. Everyone will be pressing for such debates early in the new term.

Senator John Crown:     I want to wish all of my colleagues who do not have day jobs a very nice summer recess. I will have a little time off in the coming weeks but I suspect that my day job will take precedence. I would have thought that with the decamping of the “junior” House to Ballybrit, the temporary fatwa the press corps has imposed on the Seanad Éireann might have been lifted today. Judging by the absence of members of the press from the Gallery, it appears the fatwa remains in place. That is a shame. As a political neophyte – and as a partial insider and a partial outsider – in the few months I have been here I have noticed that there is a very anti-democratic tendency on the part of the press to ignore the debates which take place in one half of our constitutionally-mandated national Parliament. If I had one wish, it would be that this will change following the summer recess.

And perhaps this tour-de-force, or is it tour-de-Killarney will serve to complete our adventures in the Seanad until after the Summer…

Senator Paul Coghlan:     On this glorious day when thoughts are turning to buckets and spades, sun, sea and sand, as alluded to already, we should remember that in the south west, the Leas-Chathaoirleach’s own part of the country – Kerry, Cork and Clare – we have more blue flag beaches than any in many other parts of the country, which Senators are very welcome to visit. Further inland in that area is an iconic tourism project, Killarney House, about which there is heightened speculation that something very good is in the offing. I hope it is true and if it is, I would like to pay a brief tribute to the Minister and Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputies Leo Varadkar and Michael Ring, and to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, who, through all the interest groups including the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Office of Public Works, the local community and so on—–
Senator Thomas Byrne:     Where did all the other votes come from?
Senator Paul Coghlan:     He put the decentralised Department building in Killarney to great use, and he is in the office every Monday morning at 9 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. meeting all of the interest groups.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach:     Is that relevant to the Order of Business?
Senator Paul Coghlan:     I believe it is, with respect. I would like to pay tribute to them and to Fáilte Ireland because Killarney House and gardens is in immediate proximity in the town yet is within the confines of the national park. It is fronted by the golden gates the Leas-Chathaoirleach would be familiar with—–
Senator Terry Leyden:     The golden gates to heaven.
Senator Paul Coghlan:     —–and it could become the golden gateway to Killarney National Park, our foremost national park. It can be a beautiful civic space and amenity and can become the St. Stephen’s Green of Killarney. The restoration of that property, which sadly has been allowed to become something of a ruin, would be a fitting tribute to the former owners, John McShane and his family, the man who built Washington, renewed the White House in 1852 and built the Pentagon—–
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill:     He has a great memory.
Senator Paul Coghlan:     It would be a tribute to the Earls of Kenmare and the late great Lord Castlerosse, who lived there until his death in the 1950s.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach:     Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Paul Coghlan:     I would encourage the Leader, as was said earlier—–
Senator Paul Coghlan:     This is not the day to be overburdening the Leader but in fairness the Leader will be visiting it this coming Sunday. I do not know if he wanted me to say that but he will be there, please God.
Senator Terry Leyden:     Is the Senator a director of the project?
Senator Paul Coghlan:     I would encourage the Leader to spur on those relevant Ministers, who are doing such a good job, as is he and all of his colleagues with the consultation committee that is in the process of being set up. We had a wonderful debate with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, which I hope we will have more of in the autumn. We are going in the right direction. We should think positively, enjoy the beautiful day and wish the players in the Irish Open well. The flags of all the nations are flying well down there.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach:     I thank the Senator for his three minute advertisement on Killarney.

Indeed. One feels that Senator Leyden may finally have a worthy competitor.

Can there be any of us who will not miss them over the next while and does not look forward to them reconvening in all of seven or so weeks?

Anyone? … Anyone..?

Meanwhile… back at the Seanad July 27, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics.

And so they went. And never did they become themselves so much as the manner of their parting… hold on a second.. no they haven’t gone. They’re there for at least another week, if only to prove their relevance. A funny old week though, praise for gay, lesbian and transgendered people from unexpected sources, a new arrival for a new arrival and matters various…including

Senator Ivana Bacik:    Like Senator O’Brien, I welcome the news of the agreement between France and Germany. We all wish the Government well in its negotiations at today’s EU meeting. It would be in all our interests to see, even at this stage, a reduction in the interest rate being charged to Ireland. I am sure Opposition Members would agree with me in respect of that matter.
I know others have already done so but I wish to request a debate on the Cloyne report. That debate should take place as soon as possible. In that context, I compliment the Taoiseach on his contribution on the motion on the Cloyne report in the Dáil yesterday. His speech rightly made headlines and is being discussed everywhere today. The Taoiseach’s contribution to the debate on this matter has been described as a landmark and as representing an unprecedented critique of the Vatican and of church structures in Ireland.
When one considers the findings in the Cloyne report, it is clear that the Taoiseach’s comments are entirely justified. The report has proved to be of a different order to the Murphy and Ryan reports, which, in their content, were also shocking. The Cloyne report is different because, as the Taoiseach stated, for the first time in this country “a report on child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago”. Across Ireland, there is immense anger and outrage that this has been the case.
As the Taoiseach stated, we are awaiting the considered response of the Vatican to the Cloyne report. However, he also stated that this is no longer “industrial school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane, smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish Catholic world”. He further pointed out that in this Republic of Ireland in 2011 “rights and responsibilities and proper civic order where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version of a particular kind of morality will no longer be tolerated or ignored”. The Taoiseach spoke with passion and I compliment him on that. As he stated, it was difficult for him, as a practising Catholic, to do so.
In light of what the Taoiseach said yesterday, there is a need to examine the structures of our State. We must consider putting the State in order and we must also ensure that the structures in the Oireachtas are appropriate to those of a modern republic. In that context, I intend to propose at today’s meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges that we end the practice of saying a Christian prayer at the commencement of proceedings each day in the Seanad. I will propose an amendment to Standing Order 18 to provide instead for a moment or a few minutes of silent reflection in order that each Senator, in accordance with his or her own conscience and preference—–
Senator Darragh O’Brien:    On a point of order, that is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It is not a matter for the Order of Business.
Senator Ivana Bacik:    I am raising this matter in the context of a debate on the church and the State. The saying of a prayer each day was also raised in the Dáil last week by Deputy Ó Riordáin of the Labour Party. He and I have both ensured that this matter is on the agendas of the Committees of Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil and the Seanad.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach:    I understand this matter is on the agenda of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges and that it will be dealt with by that committee.
Senator Ivana Bacik:    Yes, that is the position. However, it is a matter for the entire membership of the House to consider whether it is appropriate in a modern republic and whether it is respectful to those who are not of a Christian religion, to continue to say a Christian prayer at the commencement of proceedings each day in the House.
Senator David Norris:    Another Member referred to the issue of the prayer which is said at the commencement of business in this House. It is a very beautiful prayer and, as a believing Christian, I am of the view that it is appropriate to say such prayers before beginning one’s work. However, one must be mindful of the separation of church and State and of the view of many people like myself – I do not say this often in public – who are committed Christians but who nevertheless believe that the recitation of prayer should not be an automatic aspect of the business of Parliament. We live in a democracy where we have had agnostics, atheists, Muslims and Jews in the Oireachtas. As such, I am not sure it is appropriate to include a Christian prayer at the commencement of parliamentary business. This is an issue I have raised on previous occasions.
In regard to the daily broadcast of the Angelus by RTE, I would be very saddened to see it abolished. It has been part of our tradition for a long time and is something which allows people a moment for reflection. It is not sectarian in that it does not necessarily tie into any particular religion. Rather, it is an expression of part of what we are as Irish people.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach:    The recitation of the daily prayer is provided for under Standing Order 18. It is a matter for the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges to institute any change in that regard.
Senator David Norris:    I accept that. However, the Standing Orders of the Seanad do not apply to the broadcast of the Angelus. As a member of the Church of Ireland, I have consistently defended its broadcast. It would be unfortunate if the impression were to go out that the Church of Ireland objects to it. As I understand it, the church does not have an official position on the matter. As a weekly churchgoer, I would personally miss it. If people do not like it, they can choose to do something useful while they are waiting for the news to start such as putting on the kettle. I do not find it at all offensive. I have reservations regarding the daily recitation of a prayer at the commencement of parliamentary business, but those reservations arise not from a position of antagonism to religion but rather because I take religion very seriously.


Meanwhile… back at the Seanad July 21, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics.
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A curious mix this week. There is the issue of Roscommon, then there’s the issue of Roscommon and Sinn Féin, and some reasonable upset that the Cloynes Report wasn’t necessarily being received with the gravity it deserved.

There was also a visitor from Europe, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek
And calls for the suspension of Mick Wallace and Luke [Ming] Flanagan from Leinster House.

Senator Terry Leyden: I would welcome a debate on health issues with the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly. He owes it to us to come into this House and I will move non-Government motion No. 3 on today’s Order Paper if the opportunity arises. We should have an opportunity to discuss the serious decision to close the accident and emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital. Yesterday, 11 July 2011, was a black day for Roscommon. It has been proven that the Taoiseach made statements on radio to the effect that he would retain those services. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, sent the letter that I read on the floor of the House last week and the Tánaiste gave a commitment to Senator John Kelly that the Government would guarantee the future of the hospital and its accident and emergency department. The Tánaiste has also stated that he will protect the accident and emergency department in Loughlinstown, which is located close to St. Vincent’s hospital. The same cannot be said about Roscommon County Hospital, however. The Cathaoirleach’s hospital in Castlebar will benefit from the closure of the accident and emergency department in Roscommon.
It is a major blow to Roscommon and, as someone who has been involved in this issue for a long time and signed the contract for the new accident and emergency department in 2002, I find it most regrettable. The people of Roscommon feel deeply saddened by this decision and if the Taoiseach announced the closure of the department, I do not doubt Fine Gael would have won only one seat, if any, in the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency.
As Patsy McGarry noted in The Irish Times —–
An Cathaoirleach: Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden: I asked the question already but the people of Roscommon were sold a pig in a poke. Mr. McGarry made a relevant point when he wrote: “the 19th century English historian Lord Acton wrote: ‘All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.”
Senator Catherine Noone: That is rich from Fianna Fáil.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Fourteen years of absolute power.
An Cathaoirleach: Has Senator Leyden a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden: The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform —–
An Cathaoirleach: Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Fianna Fáil closed down Roscommon with its poor management of the economy.
Senator Terry Leyden: I am trying to support my argument for bringing the Minister to the House. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has allocated €30 million to an accident and emergency unit in Wexford General Hospital. Where the power rests in Government is where the decisions are made in favour of certain areas. I do not believe this Government will last a full term. I regret that to the extent that the Seanad will probably be abolished but —–
An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Clune.
Senator Terry Leyden: —– given the resignations in Roscommon by a Deputy and two councillors, with more to come, it is a serious situation for the Government and a black day for Roscommon.

Meanwhile, can you guess the connection between Roscommon and Sinn Féin. Go on, you know you can…Let’s start with a painfully balanced contribution from Senator John Crown who treats the topic with due seriousness…

Senator John Crown: I did not have an opportunity to consult HIQA on the mortality figures in local hospitals, but the closure of services in Roscommon is a critical issue. I am not an instinctive “save our hospital” type of person because calm, rational and systematic decisions need to be made about the configuration of hospital services. However, these decisions must keep in mind two key variables. The first is that larger centres with a higher throughput will generally have better outcomes than smaller centres dealing sporadically with the same health problems. The second is that local people will enjoy some improvements in the quality of their care if they have local access. A balance has to be struck between these variables. For that reason, I will not state whether services in Roscommon should be closed or remain open.
I have strong opinions about where cancer care services should be provided, but I am not as certain about the emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital. However, the decision-making process which apparently led to the precipitous decision to discontinue emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital leaves something to be desired. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to come to the House with the figures and, if necessary, a good old-fashioned US Congress-style board because I, for one, want to understand the numbers which led to the statement that the mortality rate in Galway was 5% compared to 20% in Roscommon. As a professional, there are not many areas of my speciality in which two treatments gives rise to a 200% difference in outcome. As I thought there was something odd in the figures, I sought information from the folks in Roscommon and the figures they supplied indicate that there were approximately 430 admissions to the coronary care and cardiac unit last year in Roscommon, with a mortality rate of approximately 5%. I have also seen the figures for the patients who died while in the care of Roscommon County Hospital in 2011 and believe most of those who died could not have been saved in Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital or anywhere else. They included patients who had had devastating strokes complicated by pneumonia and elderly people with multi-system complications and no chance of recovery.
When I heard the suggestion that matters were so bad in Roscommon that not only was it necessary to close the service but that it had to be done as an emergency, I was discomfited on behalf of my good colleagues working at the hospital who for many years had provided a service on a shoestring budget and, in some cases, built modern cardiac services with limited or no support from successive Governments. They have managed to achieve and deliver a reasonably good service for the people of County Roscommon. The argument may be made in favour of centralising cardiac and other emergency services in Galway and this should be part of the national debate. However, promising in advance of an election that —–
An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator John Crown: The three most senior people in government promised that the unit would be kept open and then abruptly changed their policy on the basis of data which I believe are not correct. Furthermore, it has just been reported on radio that Mr. Patrick McHugh stated HIQA had never visited or inspected this hospital. A representative from HIQA was put on the spot on the radio programme and it has said there has not been an inspection of Roscommon County Hospital. The Minister may have made the right or the wrong decision. I do not know, but we need him to come to the House to give us the figures and take us through the thought processes behind the decision. I am sorry for running over time.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: I, too, would welcome it if the Minister came to the House. He is very busy—-
An Cathaoirleach: Senator D’Arcy to continue, without interruption.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: The Senators can intimidate Deputy Frank Feighan all they like – they are the bully boys in Irish politics – but they will not intimidate me. I will not be shouted down.
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Jim D’Arcy: The Minister is very busy trying to fix a broken system. If there was a problem at a hospital, the first thing a solicitor would ask for was a HIQA report. The Minister must be mindful of this. The only political party to close a hospital in Ireland in the past ten years is Sinn Féin. Bairbre de Brún closed Omagh hospital.
Senator David Cullinane: The Senator has an obsession with Sinn Féin. It is a very unhealthy fetish.
An Cathaoirleach: Does Senator Jim D’Arcy have a question for the Leader?
Senator Jim D’Arcy: Yes.
Senator David Cullinane: The Senator spends all his time attacking Sinn Féin. He cannot make a meaningful contribution.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Jim D’Arcy to continue, without interruption.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: I am only making a point.
Senator David Cullinane: Sing a different tune.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Cullinane, can we, please, hear Senator Jim D’Arcy without interruption? You are eating into the time of other Senators.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: I will not mention Sinn Féin for a long time to come, if Senator David Cullinane so touchy about it.
Senator David Cullinane: I am not. I am concerned about—–
An Cathaoirleach: Senator D’Arcy, you are running out of time. Have you a question for the Leader?
Senator Jim D’Arcy: That was a comment I wanted to make.
As I would welcome a debate on Palestinian statehood, I would like the Leader to put the matter on the agenda of the House, in support of Senator Darragh O’Brien. I want a balanced debate, not a witch-hunt. For many years we have had pogroms in Limerick and the church praying for the conversion of the perfidious Jews who crucified the Saviour.
An Cathaoirleach: These points can be made during the debate.
Senator Jim D’Arcy: I would welcome such a debate on Palestinian statehood.

Then there were the unfortunate comments of Deputy Wallace in the Dáil,

Senator Ivana Bacik: We would all be pleased to see the text of the motion on Palestine to which Senator O’Brien referred. I hope there can be cross-party support for such a motion. I agree with Senator O’Brien’s comments on the power of Moody’s. We all agree that the power of these ratings agencies should be curbed and that they have had an undue effect on exacerbating the financial crisis within the eurozone. We all condemn that.
I call for a renewed debate on women’s representation in politics. We have had the debate before in the Seanad. We held a historic debate in this House during the last session. It was the first ever debate on women’s representation in politics in the history of the State. However, the need for this debate is made more urgent in light of the reports of yesterday’s sexist comments made in the Dáil Chamber. I was greatly concerned to hear reports that comments were made in the Dáil Chamber which indicate that a culture of sexism is still prevalent in the Oireachtas.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: Hear, hear.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I heard an apology.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, as you well know, what happens in the other House is of no relevance to us.
Senator Ivana Bacik: It is simply the context.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Bacik, please.
Senator Ivana Bacik: It indicates a culture still exists in which women do not feel encouraged or confident to come forward to enter political life. Members will be aware that in 2009 I authored a report on women’s participation in politics for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women’s Rights. It received cross-party support in this House and at the joint committee and it recommended that action be taken to tackle the obstacles facing women on entry into political life. These obstacles were known in our report as the five Cs: lack of confidence, lack of child care, lack of cash, difficulties with candidate selection procedures and a sexist culture. This culture is the hardest to tackle. Clearly, it cannot be tackled through legislation but it can be tackled through all of us, men and women alike, standing up and condemning comments that indicate a sexist culture still exists. I am pleased that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has announced the introduction of legislation along the lines we recommended in our report in 2009. Such legislation will require political parties to select a minimum number of candidates of each gender at each election. Only through such positive action can we increase the woefully low numbers of people entering Irish political life. Certainly, the comments we heard yesterday do not help the matter.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Senator Bacik was correct to bring up the issue she raised this morning. Her concerns about women’s representation in politics are well known. I also share her concern about the representation of women in politics, which is a different but no less important matter. However, as for the issue that has arisen, the reason it is relevant is that it is not simply about an absence of gentlemanliness but is about how Members conduct themselves in these Houses that comprise the national Parliament. Yet again, a story has appeared in the media concerning frankly embarrassing behaviour on the part of Members of these Houses. In this context, I ask the Leader to get in touch with the Ceann Comhairle, who I believe to be the appropriate person, and ask him to write to the Members of the Oireachtas to remind them of their duties—–
An Cathaoirleach: That is not a matter for this House.
Senator Rónán Mullen: It certainly is appropriate for me to ask the Leader to write to the Ceann Comhairle, who I believe has a certain responsibility for both Houses in the context of the work of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and so on. While I am open to correction by the Cathaoirleach in this regard, what is relevant to the other House in this matter is also relevant here.
I speak as someone who is normally critical of the media. I am not enthusiastic about the media picking up things off-mic but I believe a bigger issue has arisen, namely, the issue of how Members treat one another and are perceived to treat one another. Moreover, in the background there are concerns that people and young women in particular have about body image, as well as a certain inequality in the manner in which women appear to be prone to be commented on in a way that men are not and so on. These are relevant issues and it is important that we politicians meet a higher standard in such matters. This is the reason it is important for the Leader to get in touch with the Ceann Comhairle and that Oireachtas Members are reminded of their duties in these Houses. In this context, it was made known to me that two female journalists were heard to comment on the issue and one expressed her reluctance to criticise any Member of the Technical Group because they are all such diamonds who are great for copy. Perhaps this illustrates the trivialisation that goes on about issues in these Houses and may be a reason that politicians do not meet high standards in the manner in which they address issues or speak of one another.

Senator Mary M. White: I urgently request the presence in the Seanad before the end of this session of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The state of the economy and the crisis in the number of unemployed people are most serious issues and I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has not yet appeared in this House. I plead with the Leader to make endeavours in this regard. While it was all very fine to have Mr. Buzek in the Chamber yesterday, I seek the attendance of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to spell out the position on the ground and what he is doing with regard to the numbers of unemployed people and to help get them back to work. The danger lies in the increasing numbers of people in long-term unemployment. As I have stated previously, the continued success of the multinational exporting industries and the indigenous exporting Irish companies was nurtured and grown under the watch of Fianna Fáil. Moreover, I read an article last week about the financial services sector and how successful it is, in which there was not a single mention of how Mr. Haughey had driven the development of the financial services centre.
Senator Terry Leyden: That is true.
Senator Mary M. White: We are a very forgetful people.
Senator Terry Leyden: On purpose.
Senator Mary M. White: Finally, Mick Wallace and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan—–
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, it is Deputy Flanagan.
Senator Mary M. White: —– should be suspended from Leinster House.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, that is not a matter for this House.
Senator Mary M. White: I accept what the Cathaoirleach is saying. I am ashamed of my life that men in the Oireachtas would speak like that about another lady.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Hear, hear.
Senator Mary M. White: While there are only two ladies in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party out of a total of 31 members, I must say they are all very gallant.
Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Mary M. White: However, the likes of Luke Flanagan has been rude to me about my company.
An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Mary M. White: He can say what he likes. I believe they both should be suspended.
An Cathaoirleach: That is not a matter for this House.
Senator Mary M. White: Excuse me. This gives a bad example to children in schools nationwide and for men to refer to a colleague with such a derogatory term constitutes a bad example.
Senators: Hear, hear.

And the Cloynes Report?

Senator Terry Leyden: I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate before the recess on the Cloyne report. It is very important that we have a full, measured and reasoned debate based on facts. The report was commissioned during the Fianna Fáil Administration which shows that we were open to it. The victims are suffering with the release of the report but at least there is some closure, as they said this morning.
The bishop concerned was involved in a major cover-up in 1978 in the Vatican when Pope John Paul I died tragically and, possibly, under very strange circumstances. There was a major cover-up at the time. He was then made Bishop of Cloyne.
An Cathaoirleach: These are points that can be made during the debate.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Leyden, without interruption. Those are points you can make during the debate.
Senator Terry Leyden: There have been cover-ups—–
Senator Martin Conway: On a point of order, it is quite inappropriate, given the sensitive nature of what we have been discussing this morning, that the Senator should go down this line of dialogue.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, that is not a point of order.
Senator Martin Conway: It most definitely is a point of order, given the sensitive nature of the Cloyne report.
An Cathaoirleach: It is not a point of order.
Senator Martin Conway: It is absolutely appalling to think that anybody would go down that line of comment.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Leyden, those are points you can make during the debate.
Senator Terry Leyden: Okay. The point I am making is that the fundamentals of the church are still right and people should not use the report to get at the church. The Sermon on the Mount is a fundamental principle of the church and has not changed. I am not making light of the situation.
The bishop was involved in a cover-up before. The report explains that he misled the former Minister of State with responsibility for children, Barry Andrews. There is nothing new in the report. What happened in Cloyne—–
An Cathaoirleach: They are points that can be made during the debate.
Senator Terry Leyden: —–has been exposed. I ask the Leader of the House to have a reasoned debate on it within two weeks.

Senator Mary M. White: I express my shock at some of the remarks made about the latest Cloyne report, that we should not speak about it in the House and that we should delay a debate on it in order to have time to read it. As the House will be sitting next Tuesday afternoon, I do not see why we cannot debate it then. This is an urgent national issue. Child abuse is a most cruel act that also affects the victims’ parents, families and friends. People’s lives are destroyed by it. The Catholic Church cannot be above the law and must be responsible to the State. We have let off bankers and are now letting off church people. They must stand before the law and be treated accordingly. As has been said many times in this Chamber, these matters will not be resolved until the people see wrongdoers behind bars for the financial trauma endured by our little country and until the Catholic Church is made accountable and people are sent to prison for what they have done to children. They must increasingly be seen to be brought in shackled. I was quite shocked when I heard it said this morning that we should wait a while before having a discussion on the report. Have we become so anaesthetised to what was eloquently presented to us, with empathy, by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and our former colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who is an outstanding Minister? We need an urgent debate on the report with one of the two Ministers in attendance. We are a shame to the world. I cannot resist saying the Catholic Church is male-dominated. How many young men were sent away to become brothers or priests before their sexuality developed? I know sexual abuse is not confined to religious orders, but we must examine the issue. They were sent away at 12 or 13 years of age.
An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator can make these points during the debate.
Senator Mary M. White: I am quite shocked that humour was brought into the discussion and also that it was suggested we should postpone a debate on the report. Everybody can read it tonight, as we all have received a copy, or have we become so anaesthetised? We have received four reports; are we no longer shocked by them?

That visitor from Europe… visited. President Buzek, had some intriguing statements about coalition.

It is a very risky profession being a politician, as Senators know very well. Without risk, however, we cannot achieve anything more than going from one election to another and trying to survive. That is not the main goal for politicians. I can understand and feel what Irish politicians are doing with their reforms and how important they are for its citizens. They sometimes feel differently but the responsibility politicians have is great. I congratulate them.
The position of the Opposition is very helpful for the Government, as far as I know. Of course, there is never full support from the Opposition for the coalition; it is quite obvious. Otherwise, it would not be a democracy. We know very well that in the most important issues for our future there could be from time to time a very broad and wide coalition. Such coalitions are sometimes necessary, maybe once for ten years or two decades.
The last time there was such a coalition in Ireland there was an excellent pact of solidarity. I visited Ireland just after the Good Friday Agreement on the invitation of the Taoiseach. I visited the country because I wanted to know something about its solidarity pact. Trade unions engaged in freezing salaries for some time. It is fantastic because thanks to that, Ireland had at least one decade of prosperity.


And finally, here’s an exchange that typifies the Chamber:

Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: I thank the Senator.
Senator David Norris: I raised it three years ago in this House.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: I have been here only a short while.
Senator David Norris: I know.

Meanwhile… back at the Seanad… July 15, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.

Surprisingly muted was the Second Chamber last week. But that didn’t mean the issues of the day weren’t covered. From Roscommon Hospital, calls for a boycott of the News of the World, Sinn Féin was attacked over bondholders … rem… yes, well, scroll down to read that. Yep, it was all here.
Let’s start with an angry Senator:

Senator Feargal Quinn: The principal purpose of this House is to legislate. That is what we did last evening when we debated Committee State of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011. We had a very interesting discussion during the Second Stage debate on the Bill, particularly in the context of bankruptcy. We were in the middle of the discussion on Committee Stage when the Minister was cut off in mid-sentence. This occurred because the Leader proposed, and the House agreed, that a guillotine would apply. In the 18 years that I have been a Member of the House, there have been very few guillotines. In recent weeks, however, they have suddenly reappeared. Those who are imposing them are the very individuals who objected on the few occasions when guillotines were applied in the past.
If our purpose is to legislate, then a guillotine should not have been applied last evening. I am incensed because some of the amendments tabled by Senators Zappone and Barrett — who did a great deal of work in respect of them — were not even reached. As Senator Zappone outlined earlier, Members will only be allowed to speak once on each amendment on Report Stage. If there is a danger to the existence of the House in the future, then it has been brought about by the actions of the House itself. We must be careful to avoid creating further threats in that regard.
I am a mild-mannered man and I do not become cross very often. However, I did so last evening. When we cut short the debate on the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 it was to take statements on food safety, something to which I was looking forward. However, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, came before the House and read into the record a document some 23 pages long. Only three of those pages related to food safety. The remainder referred to greyhound racing, betting legislation, forestry and everything else. If the House is going to be treated in that way by a Minister or Minister of State who comes here to debate food safety, then I do not know what will happen.
I am aware that Senator Reilly had prepared a great deal of material in respect of food safety and I was extremely impressed with what Senator O’Keeffe had to say. Last night we were supposed to discuss food safety but instead the Minister of State read out a 23-page script, only three pages of which dealt with the topic in question. I raise this matter because I am of the view that there is a danger that the current Administration is going to bring the House into disrepute.

And he and others got an apology:

Senator Maurice Cummins:  Senators Zappone, Barrett and Mullen spoke about yesterday’s Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I have endeavoured since becoming Leader to have some certainty with regard to the business of the House and to ensure particular times are laid out in the schedule of business for dealing with specific matters such as Second and Committee Stages of Bills. I will put my hand up with regard to the Bill taken yesterday. I thought two hours would be more than sufficient to deal with Committee Stage and when the first 17 or 18 technical amendments were agreed within 40 minutes, I believed the two hours would be more than sufficient. However, when I returned to the House after attending another meeting, it was just before the guillotine was applied. If I had been aware when we set out the business yesterday morning that the Bill would require more than two hours, I would have allowed more time for it. I take the blame for that. It will not happen again with legislation like that we had yesterday, especially Seanad Bills. The Minister has undertaken that we will extend and have an open-ended discussion on Report Stage of the Bill. The Minister will be here for practically the whole evening tomorrow when we will deal with both the Defence (Amendment) Bill and the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. He is prepared to stay here for a considerable time to deal with those matters and deal with the points that Members raise. I will certainly put my hand up and say that we should have amended the order for the Committee Stage debate. I was a minute late, and was not in a position to amend the time so that we could continue with the Committee Stage debate. I will endeavour not to allow it to happen again, especially when Members are interested in discussing the Bills. I realise that it takes time to prepare amendments that Members table for discussion on legislation. Senator Barrett raised the question of legal costs and this is a matter that can be raised on Report Stage of the Bill.

Now here’s the issue of the week:

Senator Terry Leyden:  I second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business put forward by Senator Walsh. On the issue of the capital budget for the HSE, will the Leader set time aside for debate on that? The Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said on 3 June, when he announced a €20 million expenditure for a new accident and emergency and maternity unit at Wexford General Hospital that the people of Wexford want, demand and will get the highest standard of health care. We can compare that to the situation where we spent over €10 million on a new accident and emergency unit for Roscommon just over nine years ago, but that unit will be closed from next Monday. There seems to be one law for those who support the Labour Party and another for everybody else. Unfortunately, Senator John Kelly was not elected to the Dáil. If he had been, I am sure the specific commitments given by the Tánaiste on Roscommon hospital would have been honoured. The Fine Gael Party is not honouring those commitments.
I suggest to those coming from Roscommon to Dublin today to protest outside the Dáil that they consider taking a High Court injunction against the Minister and the HSE to ensure that the services will continue after Monday, with a full review of the situation to follow.
Senator John Kelly:  Stop codding yourself.

Senator Deirdre Clune:  What about the health and safety issues?

Senator Terry Leyden:  This is the only way out of the situation. We must resort to the courts to get ——

An Cathaoirleach:  Has the Senator a question for the leader?

Senator Terry Leyden:  The reason I raise this question is to have the HSE situation ——

Senator David Cullinane:  And the situation in Nenagh and Ennis.

Senator Terry Leyden:  We will have no choice but to go to court to have the issue resolved.

Senator Michael Mullins:  Is Senator Leyden offering to fund it?

An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Leyden, without interruption.

Senator Terry Leyden:  The Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition has decided to close the accident and emergency department of Roscommon hospital from next Monday. What other resort have the people of Roscommon? They will protest today but what other action, other than resort to court, can they take when there is a majority of 60 in the Lower House and a majority in the Seanad? There is little democracy currently.

Rónán Mullen makes an interesting couple of points:

Senator Rónán Mullen:  There are two useful statistics we should note from the 2010 report of the Refugee Applications Commissioner. The first is that the number of applicants granted refugee status has fallen to 1.1%, which equates to 24 persons granted refugee status. The second notable statistic is that approximately €1.2 million has been paid out in legal costs arising from judicial reviews of decisions that were settled or lost by the State. Clearly, this points to a problem in our system of adjudication of applications for immigration and asylum. The Irish Refugee Council has proposed that we establish a model immigration and protection tribunal, which would guarantee proper second scrutiny of applications not just for refugee status but also for visas, residency, citizenship and so forth. It is also clear that we need a more robust first decision making stage if those statistics are the consequence. If so few people are being granted refugee status, it raises a significant issue of concern, as does the amount of money being paid out in legal costs. It would be useful to have the Minister for Justice and Equality address the House on his intentions in this area, particularly in the context of the forthcoming Bill. It appears that structural renewal is needed in the adjudication of immigration matters.

And this is a good question too…

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: The social welfare budget represents over 40% of State funding this year. Currently, there are more than 33,000 appeals lodged with the social welfare appeals office, and many of these are taking between six and 12 months to determine. This is totally unacceptable. I am calling for an emergency debate on the operations of the social welfare appeals office. It is unacceptable that any member of the public would have to wait for up to a year for a genuine appeal to be heard. I have heard of a number of cases over the last 12 months in which applicants were refused supplementary welfare allowance while their cases were on appeal, yet when the appeal decision was made they were awarded social welfare entitlements.
There are problems, as I understand it, due to the moving of community welfare officers from the HSE to the Department of Social Protection. Less leniency is being shown by CWOs at a local level than when they were under the HSE. This is a serious issue that is affecting more than 33,000 of our citizens. I ask the Leader to convene a debate on the social welfare appeals office as quickly as possible.

The NOTW must have been worried when it heard the following… little wonder it shut at the weekend…

Senator Ivana Bacik:  I welcome the announcement that Jerzy Buzek, the President of the European Parliament, will address the Seanad next Tuesday. That will be an auspicious occasion. Group leaders will have a chance to ask Mr. Buzek questions and there will be an interaction with him on the floor of the House. That is an important announcement.
In the context of what Senator O’Brien said, I call for a debate on the redress scheme and, in particular, on the shortfall identified by the Minister for Education and Skills. He has pointed out that the religious congregations are more than €300 million short of paying their fair share of the enormous cost of the scheme to the victims and survivors of abuse in industrial schools and other institutions. The scheme has cost €1.36 billion to date but the religious congregations have paid only one quarter of what is due. There were serious concerns about the indemnity deal done in the dying days of the outgoing Government in 2002 but it is clear now that what has been offered by the religious orders falls far short of what is needed by the State.
We will debate the funding for the national children’s hospital. For example, the religious congregations could clearly offer money or land toward paying their share of the indemnity deal in the context of this hospital. That has been signalled by the Minister. A number of congregations made good money from the sale of property some years ago.
I seek a debate on the revelations that the tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, was in the business of hacking the telephones not only of celebrities but also of the teenage murder victim, Milly Dowler, and the families of the victims of the London bombings in July 2005. These are appalling and shocking revelations. I commend reports that Aer Lingus and other companies are pulling advertisements from the newspaper as a result. I call on those who read or buy the newspaper in Ireland to boycott it in light of these revelations.
Senator Denis O’Donovan:  I am boycotting it.

Senator Darragh O’Brien:  I have never bought it in my life.

Then there was the following:

Senator Tom Sheahan:  I beg the Cathaoirleach’s indulgence regarding bondholders. We have a pyromaniac in the Dáil who stands up every second day and calls on the Government to burn the bondholders, namely, Deputy Doherty of Sinn Féin.

An Cathaoirleach:  That is completely out of order.

Senator Tom Sheahan:  Not one bit. If the Cathaoirleach bears with me, I will explain. Every second day, we have to listen Deputy Doherty talking about burning the bondholders.

An Cathaoirleach: What happens in the other House is completely irrelevant.

Senator David Cullinane:  I am glad the Senator is listening; I hope he acts as well.

Senator Tom Sheahan:  Is Deputy Doherty aware of who are the bondholders?

Senator David Cullinane: He is.

Senator Tom Sheahan:  Yesterday, the Irish Life & Permanent ten-year bonds issued only to credit unions by Davy Stockbrokers in 2008 were bought back.

Senator David Cullinane:  The Senator knows they represent a small percentage of the bondholders.

An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Sheahan without interruption.

Senator David Cullinane:  He is out of order anyway. He should not be discuss another Deputy——

An Cathaoirleach:    Senator Sheahan without interruption.

Senator Tom Sheahan:  In September 2008, they were only sold to credit unions in lieu of perpetual bonds as part of a compensation deal by Davy stockbrokers and they were bought back yesterday. A process was set in train by the former Minister for Finance to tender for those bonds to be bought back with only 20% of their value to be paid. Of the 109 credit unions that have €54.6 million invested in these bonds, only 59 voted to accept the 20% buy back proposal.

An Cathaoirleach:  Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

Senator Tom Sheahan: A total of 43 credit unions, which had made a total investment of €23.179 million in the bonds, did not accept it. Under the proposal, they will now receive €1 for every €1,000. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House in order that he does not proceed with this because every credit union in the country will be brought to its knees? Perhaps Deputy Doherty should speak to the staff of the credit unions in Ballybofey, Bundoran and Donegal towns because he wants to bring those credit unison to their knees. Will the Minister for Finance pay 20% of the value of the bonds to the credit unions that voted against the proposal?

It’s interesting to me how pointed the attacks on SF are in the Seanad. It’s a distinct dynamic in the Chamber since the beginning of the term. Given the limited speaking rights of the three Senators as against their opponents one would wonder whether this is a form of catharsis for members of FGunused to the new dispensation or is it merely a displacement activity used to push the spotlight away from their own party now that it is in government… And of course where Senator Sheahan went, Senator Jim D’Arcy felt duty bound to follow:

Senator Jim D’Arcy: Following on from what Senator Tom Sheahan said, there was a postman in Haggardstown one Christmas who got fed up and burned his three sacks of mail. He thought that would solve his problems and he went to the pub, but it created more problems.
Senator Barrett indicated that the troika — the three wise men — are visiting us again. We must again address the bailout because leadership from Europe is required. The Government is providing leadership. We are meeting our targets and we are no longer the whipping boys of Europe. We are showing how it can be done. We are in a better negotiating position and what we need now is leadership from Europe based on the Lisbon treaty, not on what certain politician in Europe think. Those of us in the centre who voted for the Lisbon treaty mark II, including my colleagues across the floor, will feel betrayed if we do not get the leadership required. I cannot see how money costing 2.9% should cost us 5.9%. I ask the Leader to inform the Minister for Finance that we all support him in his negotiating position.

And what of this exchange?

Senator David Cullinane:  I join with previous speakers in welcoming the announcement that the President of the European Parliament will address this House next week. Senator Bacik mentioned that group leaders would be able to make statements on the day. I seek clarification on this. While Sinn Féin is not a formal group in this House, on an occasion as auspicious as this, the Sinn Féin Party should have an opportunity to make an address.

I welcome the fact that Senators Sheahan and D’Arcy are listening to Deputy Pearse Doherty and the call from my party to burn the bondholders. The burden on this State of billions of euro which is being borrowed from the IMF and the European Central Bank to pay back bondholders is a noose around the necks of taxpayers. In one of the exchanges yesterday of which Senator Sheahan spoke, the Minister for Finance admitted that the true cost of the bailout — the profit that will be made by our so-called friends in Europe — will be €10 billion over the lifetime of the loans. The Minister also acknowledged that there would be cuts in expenditure of up to €4 billion next year. We also had the announcement of the closure of the accident and emergency services in Roscommon. Money is being taken out of public services and from the pockets of low-paid families and workers, yet we are paying billions of euro in profit to our so-called European partners, who are our friends. I remind the Fine Gael Party that although it gave a clear pre-election pledge that it would work with its partners in the European People’s Party in the European Parliament to secure a renegotiation of the bailout deal, that has not happened. So much for having friends in high places in Europe. If that is how our friends treat us, how would our enemies treat us?
Senator Tom Sheahan:  Sinn Féin is burning its friends in the credit unions.

Senator David Cullinane:  We are absolutely not. I am asking for a debate——

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Cullinane without interruption.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Every credit union member in the country is suffering.

Senator David Cullinane:  I am proud of the fact that Sinn Féin is the only political party that is standing up for the taxpayers of this country, who are being asked unfairly to shoulder the burden——

Senator Tom Sheahan:  What about the credit unions?

An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Cullinane, do you have a question for the Leader?

Senator David Cullinane:  I have.

Senator Tom Sheahan: The Senator obviously does not know who these people are.

Senator David Cullinane:  My question to the Leader is this. We should have a debate about the terms of the bailout deal, and the Minister for Finance should come to the House to discuss not just the terms of the deal but also the commitments his party gave before the election, which have not been fulfilled.

Senator Tom Sheahan:  He obviously does not know who the bondholders are.

Senator David Cullinane:  I must raise the fact that the Fianna Fáil Party has tabled a motion before the House——

An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader? He is out of time. He cannot raise five or six questions on the Order of Business.

Senator David Cullinane:  A motion has been tabled by the Fianna Fáil Party about the closure of accident and emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital, despite the fact that that party closed accident and emergency services in other parts of this country.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator, do you have a question for the Leader?

Senator David Cullinane:  This is another example of populism by the Fianna Fáil Party.


Senator David Norris:
I was astonished to learn Senator Rónán Mullen is the trustee of 120 schools. I would be interested if he could give us further information on this. I have been a trustee for a small number of groups and charities but they never amounted to more than four at a time because of the question of proper guardianship. I am sure there is an explanation but to be trustee of 120 schools seems a little excessive.
Senator Rónán Mullen:    Senator Norris should not underestimate my capacity.

Roll on next week!

Meanwhile, back at the Seanad… July 7, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

The Sinn Féin baiting continues. There’s a proposal to ‘cement the Peace Process’ by…using the Seanad. There’s a range of testy exchanges, perhaps that Summer break should be sooner rather than later. And for a second week we are treated to Senator John Kelly of the Labour Party. I was going to say this time in populist mode, but in truth I’m beginning to suspect that the switch is always on that setting:

Senator John Kelly:  In recent weeks some of my Labour Party colleagues have asked that the Minister for Health come into the House to explain to Members the whole reconfiguration process of small hospitals. There are issues in regard to Roscommon hospital, the accident and emergency unit at Portlaoise hospital, and many other hospitals. The HSE’s policy seems to be to slash and burn and we are not aware of a plan B.
Senator Thomas Byrne: Enda Kenny announced it.
Senator John Kelly: Just to let Members know, last Friday evening I attended a meeting in the Department of Health with many other Oireachtas Members. The one issue on the table was the reduction in hours at the accident and emergency unit at Roscommon hospital, from 24-7 to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and closed at weekends. Although the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, said that if he was able to recruit junior doctors he would put them in place, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, rejected the idea and said it would still be an unsafe place in which to practise. During our discussions with the Department’s officials and HIQA, Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who arrived late, got into a rant in regard to the running of the health service and suggested to a senior official in the Department that he should——
An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Kelly, that is completely out of order on the Order of Business.
Senator John Kelly:  He said——
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business. Has the Senator got a question for the Leader?
Senator John Kelly:  I have to conclude. He called for the senior official to go and get a rope and commit suicide. I want——
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant. Does Senator Kelly have a question for the Leader?
Senator Thomas Byrne:  Call Deputy Flanagan into the House.
An Cathaoirleach: Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
Senator John Kelly: I am getting to it. I call on Deputy Flanagan to withdraw that remark.
An Cathaoirleach:  You cannot do that. That is completely out of order on the Order of Business. Have you a question for the Leader?
Senator John Kelly:  I think he should apologise to——
An Cathaoirleach:  Have you a question for the Leader?
Senator John Kelly:  I need to conclude.
An Cathaoirleach:  Have you a question for the Leader of the House?
Senator John Kelly:  I will park that, but I need to conclude.
An Cathaoirleach:  Have you a question?
Senator John Kelly:  After that, I have.
An Cathaoirleach:  Have you a question for the Leader of the House?
Senator John Kelly:  I have, but I need to explain the next part of this.
An Cathaoirleach:  Senator, what you are after saying is not relevant to the Order of Business at all.
Senator John Kelly: Okay.
An Cathaoirleach: It is completely out of order.
Senator John Kelly:  I need to conclude this. On Monday, a senior representative of the HSE came to Roscommon and not only said——
An Cathaoirleach:  Senator, have you a question for the Leader of the House?
Senator John Kelly:  I have. A senior man from HSE west came to Roscommon and said not alone are we losing our accident and emergency unit but we are also losing our coronary care and our acute surgery.
Senator David Norris: As the father of the House, I object strongly to this disorderly behaviour.
An Cathaoirleach: Does Senator Kelly have a question for the Leader of the House?
Senator David Norris:  I ask the Chair to constrain what is happening.
An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Kelly, please.
Senator David Norris:  We are under great difficulties in this House.
An Cathaoirleach:  Senator Norris, that is not——
Senator David Norris:  If this kind of behaviour continues, this place will be properly dissolved.
An Cathaoirleach:  ——a point of order.
Senator John Kelly:  I am calling on the Minister——
An Cathaoirleach:  Do you have a question for the Leader of the House?
Senator John Kelly: Will the Minister come in, explain the reconfiguration process to us and tell us if inappropriate remarks by people are going to affect the future of health services in Roscommon and many other places?

Hmmm… an exchange that didn’t go unnoticed by others in the house… from the calm and calming…

Senator Katherine Zappone: I am taking a deep breath.

To the more explicitly critical…

Senator David Norris:  I regret some of the earlier interchanges. I know it is early in the new Seanad. I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for sending material on the conduct and business of the House to all Members, new and old. We should all reflect on that. We should remember that we are on trial. Certain things are precluded under the Order of Business. The Cathaoirleach handles situations very well. I will always support him in that regard. We all need to refresh our minds about this.

Then again, Senator Kelly belongs to a party which would do away with the Second Chamber, and what better than by ensuring the level of discussion… well, need I go on?

Senator Rónán Mullen:  I have questions on several procedural matters. I have heard Senator John Kelly speak in the House on several occasions and he is always interesting and well informed. However, in this instance, given the scrutiny associated with the issue, I encourage the Cathaoirleach to exercise his right to stand up. It is not in his nature to be too hard on Members on any side of the House, but it important that we are seen to observe the appropriate protocols and Standing Orders relating to the work of the House.

But to be honest Senators Zappone, Norris and Mullen have an uphill battle… consider this contribution from Senator Terry Leyden…

Senator Terry Leyden: I wish to second the proposal by my colleagues, Senator John Kelly, Senator Jimmy Harte and others that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, should be asked to attend the House to give an outline of his health policies, particularly concerning the difficulties we are encountering in Roscommon. These concern the Government’s proposal to downgrade the accident and emergency unit at Roscommon hospital to an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. service from Monday to Thursday, and 8 a.m to 5 p.m. on Fridays.
As the only Fianna Fáil Oireachtas Member in County Roscommon, I was excluded from a meeting that took place on this issue last Friday, although I heard reports about the politically incorrect comments that were made there.
An Cathaoirleach: We cannot have a discussion on meetings that are taking place in Roscommon. We are on the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden:  The Leader should ask the Minister to attend the House to explain these matters. The Minister wrote a letter entitled: “Dear people of Roscommon, I’m going to lie to you now.”
Senator Terry Leyden: No, that is not what he said. He said I would like to confirm——
An Cathaoirleach:  Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden:  I would like to ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health how he could send a letter to the people of Roscommon saying that the accident and emergency unit would not be downgraded, and that if it closed, he would reopen it. Those are the lies. Let us be clear that the Labour Party is in government. Senator John Kelly said that the future of the hospital was very safe in Labour Party hands.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Leyden, that is a very serious charge to make against the Minister.
Senator Terry Leyden: Which one?
An Cathaoirleach:  The Senator used the word “lie”.
Senator Terry Leyden:  No. I want to make this quite clear, he did not say that. He said, “Dear people of Roscommon…”. At that stage, he did not say at that stage “we are going to lie to you”, but he has lied to them.
An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden: The Minister said that in the event of the accident and emergency unit being downgraded “we are committed to reinstating a 24/7 service”. If that is true——
An Cathaoirleach:  The Senator knows that he is not supposed to use the word “lie” in the House.
Senator Terry Leyden: But a lie is a lie.
An Cathaoirleach:  It is completely out of order.
Senator Terry Leyden:  I can prove it.
An Cathaoirleach:  Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden:  Last Friday, the Minister was asked a question by Senator John Kelly and others, and he said: “That was then, this is now. I’ll take the hit”.
An Cathaoirleach:  Does the Senator have a question?
Senator Terry Leyden:  The Minister is going to take the hit, yet he is not in the constituency at all. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said that from 11 July——
An Cathaoirleach:  Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden:  It would be appropriate for the Minister for Health to attend the House to make a statement concerning the letter he sent to the people of Roscommon before the election giving those commitments. The people have been misled. Labour share the responsibility for this and Michael D. Higgins will suffer a fate at the hands of the electorate in the presidential election. The people will respond to this.
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business. I call Senator Sheahan.
Senator Terry Leyden:  There is a serious situation in Roscommon. The people of Roscommon have been betrayed by the Labour Party and Fine Gael concerning the accident and emergency unit at Roscommon Hospital.
Senator Ivana Bacik:  On a point of order, I will not stand for Senator Leyden, whose Government brought this country into the hands of the IMF, accusing the Labour Party of this. It is an outrageous accusation.
An Cathaoirleach:  I call Senator Sheahan.
Senator Terry Leyden:  The Labour Party is in coalition now and if it cannot stand the heat, it should get out of the kitchen. They are all culpable.
An Cathaoirleach:  I ask Senator Leyden to respect the House, and call Senator Sheahan.
Senator Tom Sheahan:  From that, I take it Senator Leyden may be the Fianna Fáil candidate for the áras.
Senator Terry Leyden: I might be better than some of them that are going.

Then there’s culture… [and by the way an happy arrival for Senator Cullinane and his wife in the form of a son – though given said son is named Finn the wags were out in force as regards that rhyming with Sinn and how his middle name should be Séin. Ho, ho.].

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail: We pass on our congratulations and comhgairdeas le Seanadóir David Cullinane agus a bhean chéile agus a chlann. I will pick up a point raised by Senator O’Brien. As a new Senator I feel uncomfortable that we are being rushed into taking decisions. I am all on for working what hours God or the Cathaoirleach would give us but I am uncomfortable about the Order of Business. I abstained on yesterday’s vote on the Order of Business because I felt uneasy about the way this Bill is being dealt with. I am in favour of this historic Bill but we are being given very little time to contribute in the way we are honoured to.
The next item is not a plug but Brian Friel’s “Translations” is opening at our national theatre tonight and running to the middle of August.
Senator Darragh O’Brien:  It sounds like a plug.
Senator Rónán Mullen:  We will catch it some evening.
Senator Fiach Mac Conghail:  There are low price seats for the matinees. A quote from that very important play is that “to remember everything is a form of madness.” I had the privilege this weekend of hosting the first ever national citizens’ assembly, with more than 100 randomly selected citizens from the Twenty-Six Counties, from the age of 18 to 80, discussing political reform. It was a humbling experience for me to hear the voices and opinions of citizens on political reform. We brought in experts to discuss various issues on gender quotas, mandatory voting, the proportional representation system and Seanad reform. There was a detailed discussion.
One of the debates concerned the Seanad and we considered whether the Seanad should be abolished, reformed or be replaced by a citizens assembly. The reform issue was debated with the 2004 report instigated by Ms Mary O’Rourke. We used a proportional representation vote which eliminated the citizens assembly idea, leaving abolition and reform as two options, with reform winning out by 64% to 31%. In the discussion the citizens were unaware of the power, duty and possible reform of the Seanad.
A motion was passed by this House only two weeks ago about inviting citizens of repute to this floor to discuss issues and inform us. Has the Committee on Procedures and Privileges met since the motion was passed unanimously by the House and has it formulated a solution? I know my grouping has written to the committee with a suggestion for a name but we would like somebody before the House before we break on 27 July. Has the Leader an update on the issue?

And here’s a proposal to increase the relevance of the House and ‘cement the Peace Process’…

Senator Denis O’Donovan: I rise to send out an SOS — save our Seanad. I am encouraged that in the five or six weeks since we have come back, the Leader is making valiant efforts to change the way we do business in the House. I must acknowledge that. I am also encouraged by Senator Mac Conghail’s remarks, which indicate a lack of knowledge of what we do here, the importance of this House, etc. In an effort to improve the status of the House, I remarked on a number of occasions in the House, but particularly on the first day back when we elected the Cathaoirleach, on a hobbyhorse of mine but something I would like to see happen sooner rather than later. I would ask the Leader to arrange for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to be invited to this House separately as soon as possible. It would be a major step forward. It would cement the peace process, apart from adding to the status of this House which would be a side issue.I formally request that the Leader would advance in so far as he can that very worthwhile call that First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, come to this Chamber. We could have a debate on progress in Northern Ireland. Nerves were frayed recently when we heard of certain incidents in Belfast but we in this House have a major opportunity to grasp something that the previous Seanad failed to do. I formally request that the Leader arranges a debate on Northern Ireland but, at the same time, also invites the First Minister. I am sure it can be done logistically. I sincerely ask the Leader that this be done, if possible——

As do we all. As do we all. But the next day Senator Jim D’Arcy, former Fine Gael candidate in a certain constituency, was stirring it…

Senator Jim D’Arcy:  I want to move away from economic matters for a while. It is of deep concern to me that a large percentage of Sinn Féin supporters in Northern Ireland, and perhaps even the majority, do not now want a united Ireland. The recent Northern Ireland life survey, which has been published annually since 1998, found that 52% of Catholics in the North would prefer to remain in the United Kingdom. In 2006, only 22% expressed such a preference. In addition, 73% overall believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK, with only 16% preferring a united Ireland. The latter is the most significant figure as it takes all the people of Northern Ireland into account. Nevertheless, the high level of support among Sinn Féin supporters for remaining in the UK is significant. This is disturbing for those of us who aspire to a united Ireland, including Fine Gael, the united Ireland party,—–
An Cathaoirleach:  Is the Senator seeking a debate?
Senator Jim D’Arcy:  —–and who stand by Article 3.1 of the Constitution, as amended, which states that “It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people … of Ireland”.
I ask that this matter be brought urgently by the Leader to the attention of the appropriate body, such as the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, for immediate consideration. This cannot be swept under the carpet.

I wonder if when contrasted with the measured and serious approach of the SF Senators this is quite as effective a political approach as the new Senator [or his party] appears to think.

And finally…

Senator Rónán Mullen:  Today is a significant day because it would appear that we have found the answer to an age-old scriptural riddle concerning whether the sons will actually be made to pay for the sins of their fathers. It would appear that Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has given us the answer to that question: they will, indeed. Leaving aside the jocose aspect of this, the point needs to be reiterated that there are lessons here for all of us to learn. This has been another unhelpful blow to the reputation of politics and politicians in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical and frustrated public. Let us hope that we will have no more stories like this one in future.
It never ceases to amaze me how people in the media can miss the really obvious point. I know that Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell will be as concerned as I am to hear that the journalism MA students in DCU – and I am a graduate of that course in DCU – are to be—-
Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell: The Senator was not a student of mine.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I was never a student of hers.
Senator Terry Leyden:  That is very obvious.
Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell:  If he had been, he would have learned the art of brevity.
Senator Rónán Mullen:  I look forward to the good Senator leading by example in that regard. There are many fine journalists.

Senator Bacik on the first day as Deputy Leader didn’t let that pass…

I notice Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell hastily disowned Senator Mullen in terms of being a former student of hers—–
Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell: I would not call it “disowning”.
Senator Ivana Bacik: It was not quite disowning, perhaps.

Perhaps is precisely right.

Meanwhile, back at the Seanad…Social Welfare Special! June 30, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics, The Left.

Last week the Seanad discussed the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. Let us start with Senator John Kelly of our social democratic/democratic socialist party…

Senator John Kelly: I will focus on what has gone wrong and what changes need to be made. While I do not propose to reduce our generous social welfare rates, it is unfortunate that a series of other bonuses have been introduced for those in receipt of social welfare payments. Free travel and electricity, rent allowance, mortgage subsidies, medical cards and so forth make it difficult for recipients of social welfare to take up employment. They are one of the reasons for the large number of people who are in long-term unemployment. If new charges, for example, water rates or property taxes, are introduced, social welfare recipients should not be automatically exempted from paying them as to do so would make it even more difficult for people on social welfare to take up a job.
Everyone in receipt of social welfare costs the State €21,000 per annum. By giving employers €10,000 for taking one person off the dole queue, we would create 100,000 jobs in the retail and tourism sectors. It should be mandatory for anyone offered such a place to accept it. Those who refuse to participate should have their payment reduced by 5% per annum until such time as they find work. The creation of 100,000 jobs would save Ђ1.1 billion per annum.
Overpricing in the hotel sector, an issue I raised on the Order of Business last week, was referred to by two Senators this morning. I propose adopting the French model under which two star, three star, four star and five star hotels may only charge prices within a fixed price bracket. This would prevent hotels from charging ridiculous prices, such as the €499 per night charged by some establishments last weekend to coincide with a number of concerts in Dublin.
I also raised the issue of rates last week. I ask the Minister to outline the Government’s proposals in respect of the rates charged to small businesses. If a business goes under and only one person joins the dole queue, the cost to the taxpayer will be €21,000 per annum. This does not make sense of the company’s rates bill is €5,000 per annum. As I have noted previously, for every negative action there will be a reaction.
All of the issues I raise create costs for the Department of Social Protection. Only one small pot of money is available to this country. It is wrong to think of various Ministers having different budgets because we only have one budget. As such, we must formulate ways of ensuring we do not create costs for the taxpayer. Adopting my proposals would reduce the social welfare bill.

Now I know this will come as a shock to some of you, but on the odd occasion I’ve heard Labour Party members express unfraternal opinions about Sinn Féin. Very very unfraternal. And I’ve even – and I know this too will come as a shock to even more of you – heard LP members suggest that SF aren’t really left of centre.

So it’s remarkable to hear from Senator David Cullinane of Sinn Féin the following response that seems more than a little bit positioned in what I’d describe as traditional social democracy, or even – perish the thought – socialism. Or, if you prefer, stating the bleeding obvious.

Senator David Cullinane: The Government must avoid making the mistakes of the previous Government. One of its biggest mistakes was to believe that cuts provided the way out of recession, such as cutting people’s pay and welfare benefits. A previous speaker spoke about some of the secondary benefits people on social welfare receive. The reason they receive those benefits is because they need them. When the low income and middle income families see their wages cut, that has the opposite effect and we have seen that. We have had all these cuts over the last number of years, and we have seen a reduction in retail sales. The reason small businesses across the State are suffering is that footfall is down and people have less money to spend. They are fearful and are tightening up their spending. That is why I have called several times for a proper discussion on the future of the JLCs. It is very important to me because if we continue to cut the pay of low income families, which it seems the Minister is about to do, this means that the industries where those people work, such as the retail sector, hairdressing or whatever, will be punished again because people will have less money to spend in restaurants, grocery stores and so on. Every euro taken from the pocket of a low income family is taken from the tills of local retailers. That has happened over the last number of years and will happen again if this Government continues on its course.

So, let me see if I’ve got this right. It’s the Sinn Féin Senator who is defending people on social welfare, the Labour Party Senator who is seemingly arguing that various supports are little better than optional add-ons.

These things are clues.

As is the following. For the irrepressible Senator Kelly was opining on a different aspect of social welfare the next day:

Senator John Kelly:    I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to the House. It is great to see she is not afraid to address us and listen to our gripes. The Minister has the most important job of anyone in Cabinet in dealing with our social welfare crisis. She has the largest budget and, unfortunately, everything negative that happens in the economy lands on her lap. There is a case to be made for Ministers knocking heads together and realising that whatever is done wrong in one Department costs in another, and it always costs the Department of Social Protection. Many examples of this exist and I will give one. I have raised the issue of commercial rates with the Minister of State, Deputy Perry. They are crippling small businesses which might employ one or two people. They could be closed down because of an amount of €4,000 or €6,000 per year. However, it would cost the Minister for Social Protection €21,000 if one employee is made redundant and €42,000 if two employees lose their jobs. We must come together and formulate a policy whereby we seek common sense. As I stated to Deputy Perry, we are dealing with one pot of money. It does not matter what Department has €20 billion and what other Department has €5 billion; it is one pot of money. If we come together we will be able to work our way through it.

I have great respect for Senator Mooney and he asked where it will all end with regard to the social welfare budget. Only the Lord himself knows that but I know when it started, which was many general elections ago when a previous Taoiseach bought elections by promising to increase social welfare in all its guises—–
Senator Darragh O’Brien:    The Opposition stated it was not enough.
Senator John Kelly:    Promises were made to increase unemployment assistance to more than €200 per week, to increase the pension to €300 per week and to give medical cards to millionaires aged over 70. Unfortunately this must now be addressed.
Many things were done wrong in the past. People on social welfare benefit from free schemes attached to social welfare and do not have to make certain payments. We may have another impending crisis with regard to water rates and a property tax. An argument might be made that people on social welfare should not have to pay these. This will make it twice as difficult for a person on social welfare to be motivated to go to work. The same person on social welfare is probably better off than somebody on the minimum wage.
Fraud in social welfare is rife. Senator Moloney mentioned photo ID, which is a great idea but I do not know why we do not consider fingerprinting all of the citizens of the country. Any law-abiding citizen would be quite willing to be fingerprinted with regard to claiming social welfare. If a person is law-abiding there will be no issue with this. We should consider it.

Let me observe, and speaking only for myself, in my opinion he’s wrong on that score. Completely and utterly wrong. But then what of this:

Senator Moloney referred to the transfer of community welfare officers. The system is in crisis because the Department has asked community welfare officers, the most loyal and hardworking employees in the public service, to transfer to a Department about which they know very little. Moreover, they do not know what is in store for them in future. The Minister should meet a delegation of community welfare officers to discuss their future because they are not being kept informed by the Department.

And what, pray tell, was Senator Kelly’s career prior to joining the Second Chamber?

Ah. And what of that other issue of the Bill they’re discussing? Take it away again Senator Kelly…

I cannot understand the reason some people are making an issue of the decision to increase the age of retirement to 66, 67 and, ultimately, 68 years. My father and mother who are 82 and 83 years old, respectively, run a petrol station. They are well able to do so and do not want to be unemployed or redundant. Most people aged 66, 67 or 68 years want to continue working. When one is 20 years old one believes a 50 year old is elderly and when one is 66 years old one believes people in their 90s are old. Let us take a common sense approach to this issue. If someone is in poor health at the age of 65 or 66 years, he or she should be entitled to a pension.

But you think he’s alone in this new model Labour Party? You think wrong…what of Senator Hayden, also of the LP?

Cutting the 8.5% rate of employer’s PRSI is an exceptionally important measure as part of the jobs initiative. I am only too well aware of what happened in this country in the 1980s. At the time, I worked in Darndale, Killinarden and Ballymun and I saw those communities sink into the despair of unemployment, recession and the issues which came with that. We only have to look at our nearest neighbour, in communities such as south Wales, where a whole category of people are referred to as “NEETs”, which means “Not in employment, education or training”. There are three generations of families in this region who have never known a family member in employment. These are important measures that will prevent Ireland going back to where we were in the 1980s, or having the experiences of some of those communities.
In respect of the increase in the pension age, we need to ensure that there is no discrimination against older people in the workforce. I have spoken to the Minister on another occasion about this and I know she is committed to it. It is also very important that older people are not discriminated against when it comes to educational and training opportunities, and are given access to good quality employment. We need to work hard to ensure that happens.
I have had the pleasures of teaching and tutoring in UCD over the last few years, and I have met a significant number of young people going through that university. I am aware of the difference something like the internship programme can make to young people coming through the educational system today. There was a whole generation of young people in the 1980s who never got access to proper, decent job opportunities during that recession. The Minister has shown her commitment to the internship programme. When the last Government stepped down, there was not one single internship place in this country, and I know this Minister is committed to providing 10,000 internship places. If she has anything to do with it, that 10,000 will be 20,000. I commend the Bill to the House.

And Senator Moloney?

Senator Marie Moloney:  All Members are aware of the country’s financial state and how much we are tied up with the EU-IMF deal. Job creation and getting people back to work is paramount for the Government. Our esteemed colleagues on the Opposition benches agree with this and will support many of the initiatives that we will introduce which will bring about job creation.
Social welfare deals mainly with the unemployed, people with illnesses and disabilities and State pensions. While a large percentage of its budget goes on providing for these areas, part of it goes towards creating employment, getting people back into the working environment and towards the retention of existing jobs. I welcome the lower 8.5% rate of employer PRSI contribution being halved to 4.25% from 2 July 2011 which will continue to apply until the end of 2013. Many employers are struggling to keep afloat at this time and every business has been affected one way or the other by the recession, except maybe undertakers. I hope that by the end of 2013 the Minister will be in a position to revisit this with a view to extending the reduction for a further period, provided as Senator Healy Eames said earlier, that the benefits of the reduction are monitored.
We must make being in employment incentive-driven rather than having a situation where people are happy to remain unemployed. It should never be the case that people can be better off being unemployed. Unfortunately, this appears to be the mindset adopted by some individuals at present. Many state that they are better off on social welfare because they can avail of secondary benefits such as medical cards, rent or mortgage supplement, reduced local authority rent and the back to school allowance. A distinction must be made between people who genuinely cannot work and those who quite simply do not want to work.
It would be desirable if measures were introduced whereby those in receipt of long-term unemployment could perhaps give something back to the community. Many of those who are unemployed have various levels of skills and they would be more than willing to put those skills to good use. They could, for example, work in their local communities for one day per week or per fortnight. What a difference this would make for local communities, Tidy Towns associations and elderly people who might have some odd jobs which need to be done in their homes but who are not physically capable of doing them. Some people detest being regarded as a statistic on the live register. They would feel a sense of purpose and would, for as long as they are unemployed, have a reason to get up each morning if they were given the opportunity to put their skills to use in the way I have outlined. Many of those who are unemployed take pride in their communities and would have no difficulty “mucking in”.

Which is interesting… but consider the following from the same speaker;

I have no interest in engaging in the blame game. I refer to the tendency to blame the previous Government for everything that has happened. Everyone in the country knows what happened and the requisite punishment has been dished out. It is time to move on. However, there is one dastardly act for which I cannot forgive the previous Administration, namely, the reduction in the minimum wage. I accept that those involved will argue that this reduction was introduced to benefit employers and to assist job creation. However, did these individuals not stop to consider the effect what they were doing would have on the lives of people who are trying to survive on the minimum wage? I ask those opposite whose party was previously in power whether they could survive on €306 per week. Could they feed, clothe and educate their children, run a car and heat their homes on that amount? I would find it extremely difficult to do so. I commend the Minister on giving this matter priority and on restoring the minimum wage to its previous level. I thank Senator Mooney for agreeing that the previous Government made a mistake in respect of this matter. It is very honourable of him to admit that.
During the general election campaign I met large numbers of unemployed people, many of whom are graduates. These individuals often indicated that they would be willing to work for nothing. I refer to young solicitors who are willing to do anything, even work free of charge, in order to gain access to an internship.

And so the deserving and undeserving welfare recipients return to the discourse. Albeit in not quite such explicit terms.

Finally, what of this from the Minister herself?

People spoke about incentives to work. I do not think it is a secret that this is something that is lacking in the current social welfare system. The example was given earlier by Senator Healy Eames of a young man with a family who was reluctant to accept a job with a salary of €40,000. Let me try to do the maths. For an unemployed couple with three children, one benefit is the entitlement to a medical card if one or more of the children have an ongoing medical condition. If one is in low-paid employment and does not have a medical card or even a GP card, we all know how expensive it can be. For example, for a child who has a couple of bouts of asthma over one winter, the cost of visiting a GP can be €50 to €60, certainly on the northside of Dublin, and then there is the cost of prescriptions and inhalers. This problem is easily addressed by allowing people to retain their medical cards if they move into work, as in the back-to-work schemes that Senator Moloney spoke about. I was involved in setting these up many years ago when unemployment was high. We had an 18% rate of unemployment at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.
The other big differential between those who are working and those on social welfare is, of course, rent supplement. Let us be honest about this. For a family of five renting a three-bedroom house, particularly in Dublin, this can be worth as much as €1,000 per month, without any taxation considerations. A person who is the breadwinner for a family of five and earning €40,000 per year must pay PRSI, the universal social charge and a small amount of income tax, whereas a family on rent supplement could be receiving a housing benefit of €1,000 per month – which would not be untypical for such a family in the Dublin region – or, for a family outside Dublin, a couple of hundred euro less. We are talking about a differential of €10,000 to €12,000 per year, and that is what constitutes the difference to which people have referred in their examples.
Shortly after taking office, I asked my Department to carry out research on this, because employers do say they offered a job to somebody at €35,000 or €38,000 and he or she was not interested. I do not think those examples are in any way mythical, but they do relate to people with a number of children who are entitled to a medical card. The medical card issue is addressable by instituting a transition period, but the rent supplement issue can only be addressed by a concerted effort by the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Social Protection, working together to make arrangements such as the rental accommodation scheme, or the RAS, as people call it in Dublin. We must remember that in a family receiving rent supplement, only the person who receives the rent supplement is assessed for the contribution, whereas most differential rent schemes assess the social welfare income of all adults in the house.

Now maybe it’s me, but if I were standing in the Second Chamber discussing such matters I think I’d have chapter and verse on just why those examples stand up and more importantly again how many people do they impact upon.

It might also be useful in such a debate to have the figures for the levels both numerically and in percentage terms of welfare fraud. But here’s an helpful pointer from a year or two back. Why yes, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs [who by contrast with our much vaunted second chamber were able to discuss the matter in much less… heated… terms]. Now that took me all of 30 seconds to find and I don’t have all the wealth of resources that members of the Oireachtas can bring to bear on such matters.

Most pertinently, though, consider the first sentence in the first paragraph quoted above. ‘Incentives to work’. It surely isn’t the social welfare system, or recipients, that have seen the unemployment numbers rise and in the face of the worst recession in a generation it’s hard to understand why Labour Party Senators or Ministers would be articulating this line about ‘disincentives’ to work.

My parade June 26, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in back at the Seanad, Education, Gender Issues, Human Rights, Inequality, Ireland, Ministers.

[re-posted from the comments at Wordlbystorm’s suggestion]

I walked in the Dublin parade yesterday, walking for part of it with LGBT Pavee, and part of it with another group I am a member of.

Four unsettled issues I noticed at the parade.

(1) The Grand Marshal this year was Michael Barron, CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services. One of the key issues BeLonG To works on is homophobic bullying. It is six years after the first research report funded by the Department of Education showed there is a major problem in Irish second-level schools. [Quiz: what percentage of teachers reported they witnessed incidents of homophobic bullying in the term before the study occurred? Was it
(a) 79%
(b) 69%
(c) 59%]
And six years on, Minister Ruairí Quinn has announced he is considering (note: only ‘considering’) setting up a working group to come up with a road map. Not one school inspection has examined the issue in that six years.

(2) LGBT Noise and Marriage Equality were there, with a reminder from LGBT Noise that a less celebratory and more political march is to occur in August. (I love the line in one of their placards: “Jesus had 2 dads and he tuned out fine”.)
[I don’t know if it is the settings on my machine or a characteristic of WordPress, but the image below is cropped when I look at it. I have made a link to the source so you can see the full image.]

(3) The three teachers’ unions were there, and Maman Poulet points out that Ruairí Quinn took the opportunity to be photographed with them. She, in turn, uses that opportunity to ask him what he is doing about section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act, which allows lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers to be discriminated against by the overwhelming bulk of Irish schools.

(4) During the week, TENI, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, marked the first anniversary of the decision of the Government to withdraw its Supreme Court appeal in the case taken by Lydia Foy to have her true gender legally recognised. It has been eighteen years — longer than the Birmingham Six spent in jail — since she first asked for that right. Three days later, TENI got news that Minister Joan Burton has received the report of the Gender Recognition Advisory Group. There was some support for TENI. FLAC published a press release, and Katherine Zappone raised the issue and the delay in the Seanad.

Answer to the multiple choice quiz: (a).

Meanwhile, back at the Seanad… June 22, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Irish Politics.
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Hmmm… It’s getting harder to separate the wheat from the chaff down Seanad way. I’d love to be able to say that this was because the debates were getting more serious, but I’m not sure that’s it. More like it’s all a bit more dull than it used to be. Or perhaps the dimensions of the crisis are finally impacting on the second chamber. Though probably not.

So, what have we this week to deal with?

100 days of the new government, a proposed new name for Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport and a curiously ill tempered series of exchanges. All, perhaps more telling than one might expect… First up, Dublin Airport!

Senator David Norris: My colleagues raised the anniversary of the first 100 days of this Government, as is appropriate in this Parliament. However, that anniversary will come only once. I refer to another that always comes round, namely, Bloomsday. I say this in a serious way although with a good and happy heart.
Bloomsday has become a universal celebration of humane values which pleases me very much. Forty years ago, when I started off on the project I was a lonely figure on the streets of Dublin, performing in an almost magical way sections of that great novel in the very places in which they happened. I am very glad to report that early this morning, the Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, opened Bloomsday at the James Joyce Centre at 35 North Great Georges Street, a house that would not be there but for the genius of James Joyce because we were able to use it in that capacity.
I already complimented the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, on his choice of representatives to Seanad Éireann. He also made a good choice in the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, whom I know, not only as a sportsman but as a man who has celebrated forgotten playwrights such as George Fitzmaurice and great people such as John. B. Keane, the Listowel Writers Festival and all such other matters.
It is a matter of great pleasure to me that the Impac literary prize was given to a great Irish writer, Colum McCann, for his wonderful novel, Let the Great World Spin, which deals with a tightrope walker on a rope stretched between the twin towers in New York. It cements the great relationship between Ireland and the United States of America. I am very proud that the MEP, Mr. Gay Mitchell, when an elected representative in Dublin, invited me, Ms Deirdre Ellis-King and Mr. Seán Donlon, a former ambassador and member of the Department of Foreign Affairs, to design that prize. We started—–
Senator Mary M. White: He was Secretary General.
Senator David Norris: I thank Senator White and stand corrected. It was a very useful group of people. That is the single, greatest value, literary prize in the world for a single work of fiction.
There will be many Bloomsday celebrations, thanks to the work of people such as Mr. Ken Monaghan, Joyce’s nephew – sadly, this is the first year he will not be with us – Joyce’s grand-nephew, Mr. Robert Joyce, and the rest of our committee. Bloomsday now lasts a full week which brings in tourists. I am glad to tell the House they have supported us so well that we have bucked the trend. Our figures are up and we are in the black. The James Joyce Centre survives and is thriving. I am grateful for the support of various Governments.
There will be many readings. I will be doing some in St. Stephen’s Green and then moving to Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. Dublin has been recognised as a UNESCO city of literature, but what a boring name for a terminal at an airport: Terminal 2. Can we not do better? I ask for the support of this House, as I secured the support of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht this morning. I will be asking the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport later for his support for the renaming of Terminal 2 as James Joyce International Airport, Dublin.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I support Senator David Norris in his call for the renaming of Terminal 2 as James Joyce International Airport. It would be an appropriate recognition of Dublin’s status as a UNESCO city of literature.

And there’s more support too… sort of.

Senator Susan O’Keeffe: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, to demand that Ulysses be rewritten to ensure Leopold Bloom visits Dublin Airport on Bloomsday. I commend Senator Norris on his suggestion that Terminal 2 be renamed “James Joyce terminal”.
On a more serious note, I would like to express my disappointment at the constant absence of the mammogram service from Sligo General Hospital. I repeat my request for the Minister for Health to come to the Seanad to discuss the configuration of hospital services in the north east, with specific reference to Sligo General Hospital. I have raised this issue in the House previously. It appears that certain services are not being provided.
Senator Thomas Byrne: Promises have been broken.

A plea that the bankers should be dealt with from…er… Fianna Fáil:

Senator Thomas Byrne: The 100 days concept is much used by the Taoiseach and we are marking it today as a result of the remarkable actions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of the Great Depression. After he assumed power, on the second day he closed the banks for four days and within 100 days he had passed 15 Bills through Congress, which is still a record. Comparing the last 100 days or even the three pages of promises the Taoiseach made to be delivered on in the first 100 days of his Government with the period of 100 days mentioned, they do not measure up well. The Finance (No. 2) Bill is important, as a focus on job creation is necessary, but the Bill will only be passed today if the Government does not continue to insist that approved retirement funds be excluded from the scope of the pension levy. The likes of the bankers who have brought the country to its knees are still excluded from harsh taxation measures that will affect ordinary people. I, therefore, propose an amendment that No. 8, Finance (No. 2) Bill, be deleted from the Order of Business today owing to the failure of the Minister for Finance to bring approved retirement funds within the scope of the pensions levy in the Bill. This is such a crucial issue that we must obtain the views of the House on the matter, but it is not possible for us to secure this by amendment.

Senator Cullinane of Sinn Féin continues his lonely quest to get proper speaking time for SF Senators.

Senator David Cullinane: Has the Committee on Procedure and Privileges met to discuss the proposals which my party put to the Leader and to the CPP recently on speaking rights? May I ask the Leader if a decision has been made and if he will inform the House of the outcome of the meeting?
An Cathaoirleach: For the information of the House, Senator Cullinane wrote to me and I replied to him.
Senator David Cullinane: I did not receive a reply.
An Cathaoirleach: It is in the post, as they say.
Senator David Cullinane: I will check the post. May I raise an issue that has been in the public domain for the past number of days—–
Senator Paul Coghlan: It will arrive, I am sure
Senator Colm Burke: It might not be good news, though.

Senator Burke is an FG Senator, so perhaps he might have a greater insight into such matters than most…
And perhaps for proof positive that little or nothing has really changed, step forward Senator Leyden of Fianna Fáil:

Senator Terry Leyden: I second Senator Byrne’s proposal on the Order of Business. I concur with the request made by the Leader of the Opposition in this House, Senator Darragh O’Brien, for a debate on health issues in the House next week. Will the Leader of the House consider the inclusion of such a debate on the agenda? The Minister for Health should come here to discuss developments in the health service. I refer in particular to proposals that have been made by the Health Information and Quality Authority and other bodies. It is hard to know exactly who is running the health service. Although the board of the HSE has been terminated in a dramatic way, the HSE itself is still in existence. Who is running the health service in this country? Different statements are being made at different times. It has been proposed that the 24 hours a day, seven days a week provision of accident and emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital should be discontinued. Nobody has confirmed that or decided to confirm it. If the hospital in Roscommon loses such services, it will be in grave danger. The existence of an accident and emergency unit provides a stream of work to a hospital. The unit is the hospital’s shop front, in a sense. People come through such units. If a hospital loses that service at the weekend, it will lose some patients.
An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden: I ask him sincerely to put this matter on the agenda. He should ensure that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, comes to the House to outline his exact policies in this regard.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: Hear, hear.
Senator Terry Leyden: I congratulate the new Government on surviving for 100 days. We will be in this House for another 1,725 days.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Wow.
Senator Terry Leyden: It is a question of “for whom the bell tolls”. This is significant. I look forward with great relish to the future of this House. It will last another 1,725 days, at least. I congratulate the Government on its first 100 days.
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
Senator Terry Leyden: It is significant. The next 1,725 days will be very significant.
An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden: I have. When will the Government pursue policies that are different from those outlined in the national recovery plan, which will run from 2010 to 2014? It is very hard to be in opposition at the moment.
Senator Catherine Noone: The Senator will get used to it.
Senator Terry Leyden: The Government has stolen all of our plans and policies. The worst thing is that all of the aspirations the Government parties put before the Irish people have been made null and void. I now have to look at the Government’s policies—–
An Cathaoirleach: How is this relevant?
Senator Terry Leyden: It is relevant.
Senator Ivana Bacik: The Senator is delusional.
Senator Terry Leyden: The people swallowed it hook, line and sinker when they voted for Fine Gael and the Labour Party in such abundance. They are being given the same policies that were pursued by the last Government.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Senator Leyden’s party wrecked the economy.
Senator Terry Leyden: It is a hoax. It is a fraud. It is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the Irish people.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: That is life through Fianna Fáil eyes.
Senator Terry Leyden: Delightfully so.

But perhaps this is merely indicative of a certain bad feeling that is entering into debates… Big government, small opposition and Fianna Fáíl coming to terms with not merely being out of office but being utterly marginalized. As the following exchanges perhaps demonstrate:

Senator Maurice Cummins: The Leader of the Opposition referred to the 100 day milestone, a matter mentioned and discussed by a number of Members today. I am glad that Senator Terry Leyden has noted that the first 100 days have passed and that he recognises the Government will go the full length without doubt.
Senator Mary M. White: Not if we have anything to do with it.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I am pleased to note his confidence in the Government.
Senator Terry Leyden: With a 60 seat majority, the Government parties could afford to lose half their number of seats.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I assure Senator Darragh O’Brien the Government is engaged in ongoing negotiations on the interest rate reductions which it will continue in a balanced way. Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the burning of the bondholders.
Senator Darragh O’Brien also referred to the Croke Park deal, on which significant progress has taken place, on which I compliment everyone concerned. As the Fianna Fáil slogan put it some years ago, there is a lot done and more to do.
Senator Terry Leyden: There is also a better way.
Senator Maurice Cummins: A lot more remains to be done in that regard.
Senator Thomas Byrne: Fine Gael has broken its contract this time.

Meanwhile back at the Seanad… June 15, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad.

Let’s start with a pertinent observation on the latest political entity to grace the Oireachtas.

Senator Darragh O’Brien: I welcome the formation of the second Independent group in the House.

You know, when he puts it like that…

But Senator Terry Leyden had a question earlier:

Senator Terry Leyden: On a technical point, if one is a card-carrying member of a political party, is one entitled to be part of an independent group?
Senator Ivana Bacik: One certainly is.
Senator David Norris: On a point of order, that matter can be raised on the Order of Business.
An Cathaoirleach: It is not relevant.
Senator Terry Leyden: Is the Cathaoirleach trying to silence me?
An Cathaoirleach: I have circulated to Members a memorandum on decorum in the House. I ask them to familiarise themselves with it.

And what of this…

Senator Ivana Bacik: I join other Senators in congratulating those Members who are in the new Independent group of Taoiseach’s nominees. Senator van Turnhout is the leader, if an independent group can have a leader. We are all glad to see a new group being formed, it will add to the quality of debate in this House. I can inform Senator Leyden that it is possible for a card carrying member of a political party to be a member of an independent group. I should know because I was previously a member of the Independent group despite having been a card carrying member of the Labour Party.
Senator David Norris: A valued member.
Senator Ivana Bacik: It is perfectly possible and we all welcome it. I also welcome the induction training in procedures for new Senators. It is important and we can all learn from it. I hope to attend because it is useful for all of us to get a reminder of procedures in the House.

Anyhow the new group was introduced as follows:

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: I formally announce the establishment of the Independent group. The group comprise me as leader, and Senators Eamon Coghlan, Fiach Mac Conghail, Martin McAleese, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Mary Ann O’Brien and Dr. Katherine Zappone.

Still, there’s no denying, it’s odd to have two formalised groups of Independents. This state is unusual as a polity in having larger numbers of Independents elected than most other places, but having multiple groups? That’s perhaps going a little further than expected.
Mind you, so is this:

Senator Paul Coghlan: I welcome the announcement regarding the new Independent group. Its establishment will be to the benefit of the House. It is being led by Senator van Turnhout and, while I do not know if it will have a Whip, I look forward to working with whoever is nominated for that position. The seven Senators make a formidable group, perhaps even the magnificent seven.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin is – with but three Senators – somewhat marginalised in the second chamber. But let’s not be too downhearted. The very idea that there would be even a single SF senator was, as recently as five or six years ago, near unthinkable.

Senator David Cullinane: Like previous speakers, I acknowledge the formation, formally and finally, of the second Independent group and wish its members the best of luck in their endeavours. However, I again refer the Leader and the Cathaoirleach to comments I made on the recognition of Sinn FОin as a group in this Chamber. There is a great deal of discussion about reform of the Seanad and making it more inclusive. My party does not have a representative on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, despite the fact that it has three representatives in the Chamber, and it is not given formal speaking time. For example, during last week’s debate on the important motion tabled by the Leader’s party on tourism, Sinn FОin was allocated two two-minute slots. I, therefore, ask that Standing Orders be amended to reflect the fact that Sinn FОin is a group for the purposes of speaking time without allowances. We are interested in being given speaking time, not allowances.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator should write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in that regard.
Senator David Cullinane: I have asked about this on many occasions and we have not received the response we want. If the Leader would sit down with us to have a discussion about these issues, it would be worthwhile and helpful. If we are not represented on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, our voices will not be heard. This is the only opportunity we have to raise the matter.

And what of this?

Senator Thomas Byrne: I second Senator Terry Leyden’s motion to amend the Order of Business. I do not wish to join the universal praise for the formation of another group of Independents in the Seanad. The Croke Park agreement was mentioned in the context of duplication in the public and Civil Service. This is more duplication. In the Lower House, Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Shane Ross are in the same grouping. I do not see why that cannot apply in the Seanad. I think the duplication is not appropriate and it is mind boggling that members of political parties can be members of an Independent grouping. I agree with Sinn FОin that it is totally wrong that it is excluded from the grouping. If it can be done, I would be more than happy to join an Opposition cross-party group to allow Sinn FОin to have speaking rights in the Chamber, when that party seems to be excluded.
Senator Ivana Bacik: The Senator should go ahead with that.
Senator Thomas Byrne: It does not seem to be allowed.
Senator Ivana Bacik: It is allowed.
Senator Thomas Byrne: It will further public scorn of the Seanad.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: The Senator should change the name of his party to the Fianna FЗil-Sinn FОin Party.
An Cathaoirleach: Let us proceed without further interruption.
Senator Thomas Byrne: It will further public scorn of the Seanad and I ask the Independents to consider bridging the gap of their differences and uniting in the interest of the efficiency of proceedings.

What’s interesting is that FG are quite comfortable with a rhetoric in the Seanad that is quite antagonistic to SF, we’ve already seen a couple of examples in the last few weeks. But getting the digs in at both FF and SF… ah bliss for them. And the leader of the house wasn’t averse to some intriguing misinterpretation of what had been said:

Senator Maurice Cummins: Senator David Cullinane asked why Sinn Féin could not be represented on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Sinn Féin has only three Senators and five are required to form a group for representation on the committee.
Senator David Cullinane: With respect, Standing Orders can be changed.
Senator Maurice Cummins: That is the reason Sinn FОin is not represented on the committee. If Senator Thomas Byrne wishes Fianna FЗil to give up one of its positions——
Senator Thomas Byrne: I did not say that.
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Senator suggested Fianna FЗil might form a group with Sinn FОin which would allow extra space.
Senator David Cullinane: That is a trivial response. With respect, the Leader of the House is not taking the issue of reform seriously. There is an issue with our speaking rights in the Chamber.

And reading this I can’t help but feel this is going to run and run…later in the week Senator Cullinane was making the same point:

Senator David Cullinane: I welcome the commitment to a debate on the economy. The exchange between the Government and the main Opposition party is part of a phoney war being fought between the two sides because the present Government is implementing the policies of its predecessor on the EU-IMF bailout.
I welcome the fact that there will be a debate and, I hope, Sinn FОin will have speaking time when it takes place.
This brings me to my second question, which I will continue to raise until we get a response. I was asked yesterday by the Leader to write to him and the Cathaoirleach in respect of the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. I did so and I raised a number of issues of concern that we have. I hope they were addressed but it would seem from this meeting that at least one of the issues has not been addressed. I ask the Leader to respond to the concerns——
An Cathaoirleach: The CPP meeting is this evening.
Senator David Cullinane: I apologise but I want an acknowledgement that the letter was received and that those issues will be raised.

Carthago delenda est…

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