Seanad Éireann - Volume 186 - 27 April, 2007

Order of Business.

  Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business today is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1, Criminal Justice Bill 2007 — Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m.; Report and Final Stages to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8.15 p.m. No. 2 is a motion which relates to establishing a commission of investigation into matters arising from the death of Mr. Gary Douch. This item will be taken immediately on the conclusion of No. 1 and will conclude no later than 30 minutes after it commences. The contribution of each group will be five minutes. There will be a sos from 5.45 p.m. to 6.15 p.m.

  An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Coghlan. Are you the boss today?

  Mr. Coghlan: I do not know. We commented on that before, a Chathaoirligh; we will leave that one pass. I wish to mention the Irish Planning Institute’s comments on the figures for many small villages which show that they are at risk either from depopulation or over-growth. It appears many settlements are either losing population to such an extent that their future is at risk or they are being overwhelmed by population growth, which is resulting in the risk of them becoming commuter towns. Either scenario is undesirable. Better planning and policy must be put in place to avoid these problems and ensure more balanced development of settlements in both urban and rural areas.

  Mr. Dardis: City status for Killarney.

  Mr. Coghlan: Killarney is at a certain stage already, as we know. I will come to Kerry in a minute.

  An Cathaoirleach: Senator Coghlan, without interruption.

[2106]  Mr. Coghlan: I would like to hear the Leader on that issue because it is very important. On another issue——

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator agreeing to the Order of Business?

  Mr. Coghlan: I agree to the Order of Business. We agree to it.

  Mr. Norris: The leader of the Fine Gael group is not present today so Senator Coghlan is agreeing to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Coghlan: Absolutely. I thank Senator Norris.

  Mr. Norris: He is a very agreeable Senator.

  Mr. Coghlan: I want to touch on the issue of the substandard conditions prevailing in many of our primary schools, which have been highlighted in the latest batch of inspectors’ reports published either today or yesterday. The general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation was reported as having commented on this last night. He has drawn attention to the reports and how they demonstrated that teachers and children were being asked to work in areas such as converted cloakrooms.

In any event, the inspectors have highlighted glaring deficiencies and we would all agree that this is not the Ireland of today — the so-called “Celtic tiger”. It is more reminiscent of the Ireland of 30 or 50 years ago. I would like to hear the Leader’s views on this subject which urgently needs to be put right.

Finally——

  An Cathaoirleach: What is the Senator——

  Ms O’Rourke: Primary schools.

  Mr. Coghlan: I am referring to substandard conditions in so many classrooms in primary schools.

  An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator seeking a debate on this?

  Mr. Coghlan: I will accept a debate if I can get it. As a former Minister, the Leader has a certain standing in this regard. I accept that the Chair would not wish me to invite the Leader to put her views on the record. I could not possibly comment on what the Leader might say.

  An Cathaoirleach: She could not do it anyway.

  Mr. Coghlan: I again return with some reluctance to the total disregard of the democratic wishes of the people of Dingle by an uncaring Government, namely, the non-revocation of that [2107]order, which is nonsensical. I ask the Leader to appeal to the Minister finally to revoke this order. Nothing has happened and I wish to see it revoked.

Focal scoir. Will the Leader briefly tell the House the days on which it is intended to sit next week and the business she intends to schedule?

  Mr. O’Toole: The point made by Senator Coghlan is true. The House will recall that on the last day we met before Easter, we both raised the issue of coastal erosion in County Kerry and said that certain roads were falling into the sea. One week later, one half of a mile of road fell into the Atlantic Ocean, which had to be dealt with.

The issue of Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis has gone beyond a joke. I would like the Minister to come to the House and discuss it with us. The reality is that the people of Dingle spoke democratically through a plebiscite which was properly organised and counted by the county council. They expressed their wishes. Every single Minister in the Cabinet to whom I have spoken about this agrees with the views of the people of Dingle, bar one. The legal advice I received on this matter is that the Minister should not have exercised that order until such time as the Local Government Act had been commenced by his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

It is appalling and this is the reason people lose faith in democratic structures. People have done their best to articulate their view, like everyone else in the country, but are being ignored and are infuriated by it. The Minister should know that if somebody had decided to change the name of Dingle to Fungitown, it would have been exactly the same. It has nothing to do with Gaeilge agus Béarla. It is the fact of changing the name. Tá trí ainm ann — Dingle, Daingean Uí Chúis and An Daingean. We use and love all three names, so it is not a matter of choosing one.

An issue has been raised with me which touches on another issue, namely, school places in the Dublin area. I received a number of calls in recent times from people who are worried that the Catholic archdiocese is confining its selection of people to Catholics. I have some sympathy for the archdiocese in this regard, but this is not the constructive point I wish to make. The substantial point is that I was horrified to hear an aspirant to our Parliament express the view on “Morning Ireland” today that we should take the position that people would be selected for schools on the basis of their religion. The idea of lining up the innocent four and five year olds of Ireland and giving them access to education on the basis of their religion and the idea that only Catholics would get in is only a step a way from what we saw in Germany in 1940s and in Serbia in more recent times. It is appalling. I fully support the [2108]idea of Catholic parents having Catholic schools and these schools determining the balance of their enrolment on the basis of religion. I have no problem with that. That is not the point I am making. I question how a person who aspires to be a Member of Parliament can say we should do something, which for me is a perversion of the fundamental tenet of republicanism — of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter being together — and which makes a mockery of the aspirations of the signatories to the 1916 Rising who talked about cherishing all the children of the nation equally. Whatever way one looks at it, this is a total rejection of the founder of Christianity, who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me”. This is appalling. I hope no party would ever go along with this.

We should discuss this issue and know our position on it. It is right that we should have the kind of schools people want. It is fine if they want Catholic, Church of Ireland, mixed, multi-denominational or non-denominational schools. People should have whatever they want, but the idea that the State would take a position to select people for education on the basis of their religion would be appalling. If such a future were to arrive, we may close down this Parliament. We may turn out the lights on Irish democracy and weep for the future of this country. If we were to go in that direction we would never turn back from it. We need to call a halt before it even begins so that our views would be clearly known on it.

  Ms Ormonde: I listened to the programme referred to and I, too, was disgusted a public representative would come out so strongly on the side of discrimination regarding access for young children to a Catholic school, and state that only Catholics should be allowed into the school. I support all the points made by Senator O’Toole on this issue. I am sure the Minister also heard the programme but we should put on record how we in this House feel about such a statement. At no time should either of our Houses of Parliament, the Dáil or Seanad, be associated with any comments of a discriminatory nature. We should cherish all of our children equally. We are a republic and we should reflect that in every walk of life, including education, and in how we do our business.

  Mr. Cummins: The preliminary findings of the mental health attitudes and awareness of Ireland survey was published yesterday. It found that suicide is now regarded as the single most significant mental health-related problem in Ireland. The survey also found that one third of people reported they do not attend any social or leisure events. This finding of social isolation is evident throughout the country. The survey also concluded that it was clear from the preliminary find[2109]ings that significant levels of stigma still persist around mental health. This is a matter on which Senator Henry has spoken on a number of occasions in this House.

We also received yesterday the annual report of the Mental Health Commission for 2006. I call for a debate on mental health as soon as is possible.

  Mr. Glynn: I support the call for a debate on mental health, if time permits. The issue of suicide would invariably take a central part in that debate. It is interesting to note the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, of which I am a member, compiled a report on the high incidence of suicide. I was a member of the sub-committee that worked on the report. Some startling findings emerged from the report, among them, that young males are seven times more at risk of committing suicide and parasuicide than young females of the same age category. Alcohol has a pivotal role to play in suicide incidence.

Suicide is ravaging the country. My local parish, which is in a rural area, has been particularly badly hit. There are not many families in the country who have escaped being touched by the cold fingers of suicide. I would welcome such a debate.

  Mr. Norris: I rise on a solemn matter, to announce the date of the general election, which will be 24 May. I know this definitively because I heard Mr. Charlie Bird say it on the news.

  An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

  Mr. Norris: Nothing could be more relevant.

  Mr. Dardis: Is Senator Norris going to the Park?

  Mr. Norris: The Cathaoirleach should use his high office to communicate this news to the Taoiseach so that he can facilitate the process by dissolving the Dáil.

  An Cathaoirleach: I have no function in the matter.

  Mr. Lydon: The election will be on 4 July.

  Mr. Norris: In regard to today’s business, one need only look about the Chamber. The attendance is pathetic, even for the Order of Business. There is practically nobody here.

  Mr. Lydon: They are all in their offices working.

  Mr. Norris: They also know when the election is.

[2110]  Mr. Dardis: Some of them had to attend a funeral this morning.

  Mr. Norris: I take part in most of the debates in this House and I took part in virtually everything that happened yesterday. However, I have no intention of wasting my time contributing to the debate on the remaining Stages of the Criminal Justice Bill 2007. It is merely a farce and an empty gesture. No amendments will be accepted. We are talking into thin air and I have more important things to do than waste my time in this fashion. I said yesterday when I spoke on Second Stage that I will not go through an empty ritual.

I agree with Senator O’Toole that it would be outrageous to allow a selection process on the basis of a sectarian head count by the authorities. I am not absolutely sure there is a need for all these different denominational schools. I never liked that system as it operated in Northern Ireland. It was one of the sources of the conflict there. Neither am I keen on it in this State. Senator O’Toole and I have tabled a motion relating to the situation whereby the various denominations, although it principally affects the Roman Catholic Church, have obtained an exemption from laws that govern the fundamental liberties of the citizens of this country. It is a disgrace that they are not covered by equality legislation. This exemption copperfastens bullying, especially bullying with a homophobic element.

This links in to what Senator Glynn said. There is a sevenfold multiplier in terms of suicide rates if they are broken down on a gender basis. I am sure Senator Glynn is aware, and I do not make reference to any particular case in making this point, that there is a further considerable multiplier when the question of sexual identity is taken into account. This is not being addressed as it should be.

  Ms O’Rourke: Senator Coghlan, acting Leader of the Opposition, made the point that some towns are not growing sufficiently and others are growing too much. It is not possible, however, to undertake planning on the basis of numbers of children and so on. That would require a detailed planned operation. I recognise, however, that there is a difficulty in regard to overpopulation and underpopulation. The reality is that people wish to move to certain places based on job locations and other factors.

Senator Coghlan also referred to the substandard conditions of many primary schools, as evidenced in the inspectors’ report, and asked that this be reviewed.

He also asked when the House would sit next week. I hope we will sit Tuesday and Wednesday. There are five Bills that originated in the Seanad and which have been amended by the Dáil. One [2111]of these is the Water Services Bill 2003. We must also deal with the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007.

Senator O’Toole referred to the confusion as to the correct name of Dingle. He argues the Minister is at fault by not taking into account the democratic wishes of the people.

Like other Senators, I heard the report on radio this morning of the education meeting in Castleknock. It was the most chilling report I ever heard. Fair dues to Deputy Joe Higgins for riding to the rescue. I do not know what would have happened if he had not done so.

  Mr. O’Toole: Dingle men are not afraid of unpopular causes.

  Ms O’Rourke: I suppose they are not.

The idea that someone who aims to be a national parliamentarian would express those views in such a determined and open manner was chilling. Senator Ormonde expressed the same opinion about the programme.

Senator Cummins spoke about the mental health survey on suicide, which is a serious matter, although we have enough of surveys for the moment. The Senator noted that one third of people do not partake in social activities. I thought that a despairing statistic because it means people are isolated within their communities. He also called for a debate on the report of the Mental Health Commission. Senator Glynn noted that young males are seven times more likely to commit suicide than young women in the same age bracket and that almost every family has been touched by suicide.

Senator Norris described as farce the Committee Stage of the Bill. If he is not going to contribute, that is his own business and we will be neither the richer nor the poorer for it. There are not many people on the opposite side of the House because we have just come from a very sad event in Celbridge, to which the Cathaoirleach lent his office and prestige. Even though it was a sad event, the music and hymns were bursting with cheerfulness, hope and optimism. However, it would have left many people in a sober frame of mind and perhaps that is the reason for the low attendance. We will miss Senator Norris and his ebullience this afternoon but I am sure many others will contribute to the debate.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 2.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.50 p.m.