Statements on Europe Day and European Commission Work Programme

It is very important that we mark Europe Day on Saturday. The challenge for all of us will be whether we are willing to discuss Europe with those around us because we all have a responsibility and a role in that discussion. I thank the Leader, Senator Cummins, who has been very good at facilitating and encouraging us to get more involved and active on the issue of the EU and its importance in our lives and those of the people we represent. I thank him also for organising a recent briefing with the European Commission representation in Ireland, with Barbara Nolan and Jonathan Claridge. It was an excellent briefing and it is a pity more Senators did not turn up. I hope next time we can encourage more to come along.

It is good to see sentiment is rising, according to the latest Eurobarometer polls, in November 2014. Trust is rising, which is positive. The EU has taken some very positive measures to deal with youth unemployment. We have seen, across Europe but particularly in Ireland how young people are disproportionately impacted by a recession through losing jobs and having to emigrate. What statistics are available to demonstrate the success or failure of the youth employment initiative? We hail big flagship projects but how do we, as Senators and parliamentarians, demonstrate to the public that it is worth this investment, the initiatives are working and we are able to use the experience? I appreciate what the Commission Vice-President Timmermans is doing in trying to reduce the number of initiatives. It is very positive but part of me wonders what the Parliament will do with all the extra time it will have without the Commission producing initiatives. We may have to move to implementation. That will be very tough for member states because we will have to stop coming up with lots of new ideas and get down to the gritty work of implementing what is happening at an EU level.

In respect of the work that will happen to lighten the regulatory burden it is very important that we hear from small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs, and civil society organisations across the sector. We can all say how important it is to lighten the regulatory burden but how we do it is also important.

Ireland has to play a very active role in respect of the possible UK in-out referendum. I am very encouraged by the fact that the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all other players in the Government have taken on a role in that referendum. Ireland will not stay silent on an issue of such importance to the EU and to our closest neighbours, the UK. It most definitely will have ramifications for us, mostly negative.

The lack of an EU immigration policy is an issue. We can say what we want about the United States, US, but it has very clear immigration rules and one can apply to go there. The EU cannot get its head around it. In certain member states there is rising sentiment, stimulated by the lack of EU leadership on the issue. We think that if we just put up the borders people will not come. If I have a choice between certain death and probable death I will take probable death. That is why people are getting on boats. We have to wake up. Being part of the EU is part of our values. We sing about the respect for human dignity, liberty, equality or human rights but when it comes to people who are not EU citizens do we, all of a sudden, throw the values into the Mediterranean as well? Member states have to take this issue more seriously. We should not call them migrants, they are individuals just like any of us and if I was in their situation I would get on that boat. We all have to know we would do that if we were facing certain death in the situations they are fleeing. The EU has a responsibility and a role on the world stage.

The digital single market and the fact that we could create up to €340 billion of additional growth in Europe over the next ten years is very exciting. I hope Ireland will maximise its slice of that pie. It is well-placed in respect of that market. I am also very heartened to see that within the development of that policy the EU is considering child protection issues. An issue on which I wrote a report and had great support from Members on all sides of the House is child abuse material. I was heartened to read on the Commission’s website that it is considering having a system of filtering child abuse material in the absence of us not having an effective system to remove child abuse images. It will look at doing that at a European Union level. It is happening in the United Kingdom. In Ireland, UPC and the mobile phone operators have brought in such a system, but it is voluntary rather than us saying these images should be blocked. There are very good reasons we need to do that. Twenty-seven per cent of women in the EU, not in Africa or some other country, have experienced some form of physical violence before the age of 15. We must step up what we are doing on the issue of child protection and children’s rights.

We know that approximately 16% of the victims of trafficking registered by EU member states are children. We know that violence is still relatively hidden and under-reported, with 90% of all abuse undetected, according to the World Health Organisation. That ranges from issues such as child sexual abuse and exploitation to bullying and cyberbullying.

In terms of these statements, I know we look at the area from a business and jobs perspective but we must ensure that we also use the children’s rights lens when we are looking at those issues.

I refer to an excellent reflection paper the EU produced yesterday on the 9th European Forum on the Rights of the Child – co-ordination and co-operation in integrated child protection systems. I am disheartened to see that 25 EU member states are parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland are the only three countries in the EU that have not signed up to that convention. It is something we need to examine. I believe the capacity legislation may be the blocking mechanism for us. We always say that Ireland plays our role in that regard but when we look at the implementation issues, we are not as good. We need to focus on that issue and consider how we are implementing and upholding our responsibilities as EU citizens, whether here in Ireland, within the European borders or on the world stage.

SI 325 of 2012 – European Union (Quality and Safety of Human Organs Intended for Transplantation) Regulations 2012: Motion

Tuesday, 20th August 2013

I welcome the Minister of State. Today we are being asked to annul SI 325 of 2012 which gives effect to the European Union directive on standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation. We all know that Ireland was legally obliged to legislate under EU law to ensure a common set of standards throughout the European Union and that is something we can all agree on.

I signed the motion for recall last year but I did not sign it this year. I signed the motion last year because a statutory instrument was being brought in without consultation or debate. However, since last year I have participated into two Oireachtas debates on organ donation as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. We have had two hearings in preparation for the forthcoming legislation, the human tissue Bill, and we will be continuing our work in this area in the autumn. On 18 April we heard personal experiences relating to organ donations and we heard from advocacy groups representing those affected by organ donations. On 25 April we heard from medical professionals working at the coal-face of organ donation and from representatives of hospitals throughout the country as well as from the legal community. I would have thought that was the ideal opportunity for Senator Daly to raise the issues, or, in his words, flaws, that bring us here today. At the hearing on 18 April I raised the issue of the absence of primary legislation in Ireland and I noted that we only had the statutory instrument to introduce the European directive requirements. Anyway, I have argued inside and outside the Chamber that too often Ireland gold-plates EU directives when we should be dealing with issues in primary legislation instead.

The EU directive deals with standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation. There is nothing in the EU directive to preclude Ireland from dealing with the issues raised in the lead-up to today and the other issues which have not yet been aired when we deal with the human tissue Bill. I have listened with interest to debate on this issue in the lead-up to today’s discussion and I believe we are conflating and confusing the issues. One can almost feel the stampede to the high moral ground on this issue, but the reality is that everyone in the Chamber is keen to improve our resourcing and the operational issues in respect of organ donation.

I was struck by the submission we received from the Irish Donor Network in advance of the debate. The submission of the network concluded by stating that people are dying on the waiting lists for transplantation in Ireland, but not because of the EU directive or its transposition into Irish law. The network further stated that to confuse the issue of EU regulation versus the issue of necessary infrastructure and national policy to improve transplant rates is to confuse the debate. Surely the human tissue Bill is the appropriate place for us to deal with the consent arrangements for transplantation and research? We need to deal with the establishment of a single body responsible for co-ordinating the drive to increase transplantation in the country, put in place organ donation co-ordinators in every hospital and ensure we put in place an effective awareness-raising campaign. These are some of the priorities I would set down.

The proposal today is to annul the statutory instrument without anything tabled as an alternative at this juncture. Is the legacy of today’s recall to amount to the Seanad leaving a legal vacuum with respect to the quality and safety of the donor and recipient processes which the statutory attachment provides for? The elements purported by Senator Daly to render the statutory instrument flawed – a premise I do not support – should have been raised during the committee hearings on organ donation in April and can be dealt with in the development of the human tissue Bill.

Members might not be aware that a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children is scheduled for 19 September to consider submissions on the introduction of an opt-out system of consent for organ donations. That will provide an opportunity to discuss the issue in detail.

I signed the motion for recall last year but not on this occasion. I have clearly outlined my reasons for taking that position. It is almost as if Senator Daly is trying to invoke the memory of Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower and forgetting the past year had happened.

Adjournment Motion – Revised EU data protection Legislation and the rights of citizens

Tuesday, 9th July 2013

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

I am aware that an informal meeting of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs will be taking place at the end of next week in Vilnius and understand that the general data protection regulation is the agenda of that meeting.

I have been contacted by a number of people in the genealogical community who are concerned that the European Commission plans to unify data protection within the European Union with a single law, the general data protection regulation, which may have unintended consequences. I have specifically been contacted by Michael Merrigan, general secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland who, in turn, has been contacted by the Genealogical Society of Finland. I thank them for the information with which they have provided me.
I have a keen interest in researching my family history and have first-hand experience of accessing resources through my research. I realise the sensitivity of some data and so understand that we need to protect privacy. We have all welcomed the renewed focus on genealogy due to events surrounding The Gathering. In addition, the Government has proactively engaged in the provision of online access to genealogical resources through the national repositories and its genealogy web portal . I am also aware of the sheer dedication and work by genealogists such as Stuart Rosenblatt who has provided the State with an invaluable 16 volume archive spanning more than four centuries. He is a guiding example to us all.

The recent report published by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform with regard to its hearings in relation to the draft general scheme of the Freedom of Information Bill highlighted the need to seek the inclusion in the proposed legislation of the following as a guiding principle by which record holders, the State and State agencies, would give public access to records with a genealogical potential by the inclusion of a section that states that the legislation endorses and fully supports the principle of public ownership and right of access to our genealogical heritage. Doing it in this way will allow statutory instruments and departmental guidelines to take cognisance of the principle when assessing public accessibility to records with a genealogical potential.

I am cognisant that an EU regulation must be observed by all member states. The impact of the inclusion of civil registration records in the scope of the data protection directive, if that is what is proposed, would have a very detrimental impact on genealogical, biographical and historical research. While such a measure would have no impact on existing public access to genealogical resources held by the National Library and the National Archives, it could create an atmosphere of fear of litigation on the part of custodians of records of genealogical potential.

Can the Minister ensure that the revised EU data protection directive-regulation does not impair the right of the citizen to engage in bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research and that the principle of public ownership and right of access to our genealogical heritage will be enshrined as a guiding principle? I believe genealogy should be expressly mentioned in the regulation and hope that the Minister of State can give us assurances today.

On a specific point, Article 6, paragraph 2, of the regulation should be rewritten so that it makes an exception from the general principle for processing of personal data, namely, the data subject has given consent to the processing. As a result, it would not be necessary to request consent to processing of personal data when the purpose is historical research or genealogy.

I hope we can obtain assurances from the Minister of State that the access to genealogical, biographical or historical records will not be impaired and that we will be able to ensure public access for generations to come.

Minister John Perry:

I am here on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is unable to be present. I thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this important subject.

In the first instance, I will briefly set out the background to the European Commission’s proposals for reform of data protection law. The centrepiece of existing EU legislation on personal data protection is Directive 95/46/EC which seeks to reconcile the protection of personal data with the free flow of such data within the Internal Market and to countries outside the EU. It is widely recognised that the 1995 directive needs to be updated to take account of more recent developments such as increased use of the Internet, blogs and social networking sites and increasing globalisation of data transfers. In 2010, the Lisbon treaty introduced a new legal basis for strengthened data protection standards in the European Union, and Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU enshrines protection of personal data as a fundamental right.

In January 2012, following completion of an extensive consultation process, the European Commission tabled proposals for a radical shake-up of the current regulatory framework. These proposals are being discussed separately by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament at present. Adoption of the reform package is subject to co-decision between both institutions. Article 5 of the Commission proposal for a general data protection regulation, which sets out the principles relating to personal data processing, recognises that it may be necessary to retain personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes. Article 83 sets out specific provisions for the processing of personal data for historic, statistical and scientific research purposes. While the Minister has until now not been made aware of the specific concerns of the genealogical sector, he is aware that concerns have been raised that the provisions in the Commission proposal are not sufficient to accommodate the processing of personal data for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes. The Minister shares these concerns.

As the Senator may be aware, achieving progress on the European Commission’s proposals to update the Union’s data protection standards was a priority of the Irish Presidency and I am pleased to say that substantial progress was achieved on key aspects of the reform package. In June, the Minister submitted a progress report to the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which identified key aspects of Chapters I to IV of the draft regulation. In addition, a draft revised text of Chapters I to IV, which reflects the view of the Minister, as the then President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, of the state of play of negotiations at that stage, has been prepared. The Minister has arranged to have these documents laid before the Houses for the information of Deputies and Senators. The draft revised text includes a number of proposals, which have yet to be discussed in detail at expert level, to address concerns in respect of the implications of the draft regulation for the processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes. I understand it is intended to discuss this issue at expert level shortly. The detailed discussions relating to these proposals will provide an opportunity to consider whether proposals to deal with the processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific research purposes are sufficient to cover archival purposes as well as bona fide genealogical and biographical research or whether specific provisions in this regard will be necessary.

The Minister believes that the concerns relating to the implications of the draft regulation for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes, including for bona fide genealogical and biographical purposes, must be examined further at expert level by the Council working party on data protection and exchange of information, DAPIX, and addressed, where necessary, by means of appropriate amendments to the regulation.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I would appreciate it if copies of the Minister of State’s script could be made available. Traditionally, such scripts are provided to Members. It would be useful if we were able to examine its contents.
I thank the Minister of State for the assurances he provided. I reiterate the importance of including a specific reference to genealogy to ensure there will be public access to these records when such access is for bona fide purposes. I will correspond with the Minister for Justice and Equality on this issue because it is important that it be viewed in conjunction with the general data protection regulation.

Minister John Perry:

I will be happy to supply the Senator with a copy of my script. The European Commission tabled proposals for a radical shake-up of the existing data protection framework. Those proposals undoubtedly comprise one of the most important reform packages being discussed at EU level at present. Data protection affects all of us, whether in a private capacity as individuals, in a business or professional capacity or as users of personal data. It is for this reason that the Minister for Justice and Equality launched a public consultation process in March 2012 to seek the view and inputs of interested bodies and individuals in order to inform the negotiations on the proposal. The Minister continues to welcome such views and inputs on the implications of the draft regulation, particularly as discussions on this detailed and complex proposal are ongoing at European level. He would welcome the views and inputs of the Senator and others on the specific concerns which may exist in respect of the implications of the draft regulation for bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research.

As stated, the protection of personal data is a fundamental right. However, the right to this protection coexists with other rights and this is recognised in the draft regulation. For example, Article 83 of the draft regulation sets out specific provisions for the processing of personal data for historic, statistical and scientific research purposes. The Minister is of the view that the draft regulation must be examined further to assess the implications of the proposals relating to the processing of personal data for historical, statistical, scientific or archival purposes. He would, therefore, welcome any specific amendments to the draft regulation which are considered necessary to accommodate bona fide genealogical, biographical or historical research or which take account of the need to provide high levels of data protection to individuals.

On behalf of the Minister, I again thank Senator van Turnhout for raising this important issue.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I thank the Minister of State and I will communicate the information he has provided to the Genealogical Society of Ireland and the wider genealogical community.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Jim Higgins MEP

Thursday, 16th May 2013

I, too, join in welcoming Mr. Higgins to the House. He has history in this House and the Dáil. He recalled a fateful phone call, similar to one I received two years ago this Monday when I was in China. It was a great story. I will never forget the pride I felt when I got that phone call.

I acknowledge the roles which have not been highlighted and in which he played a significant part, namely, the EU suicide prevention and mental health treatment strategies, EU funding for the care of the elderly and the increased access to cross-border health care. He was also involved in children and youth issues, such as childhood obesity and child literacy. These issues are often not played out in Ireland, but are important in terms of the development of EU strategies which filter down to Ireland. His role as quaestor is also very important.

I note his role in introducing a cultural programme. I happened to be present in January when Mr. Higgins met Mr. John Banville. It was an excellent initiative.

As Mr. Higgins said, Ireland’s Presidency is very important and set a number of milestones. I would like to join the recognition of the roles played by Irish Ministers. We all have a sense of pride when we hear about the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the news, delivering a deal people said would not be possible within this Presidency. We should not underestimate the deal which has been struck, and the officials who support that work

I want to raise the role of citizens in Europe. I have a concern that Europe has steered off its path slightly. We should return to its original path, where all voices, no matter how small, were heard equally, and where the understanding and promotion of diversity of culture and ideas were to the fore. Last week I had the opportunity while in Vienna to speak in the Austrian Chancellery on the Future of Europe Group report on striking a balance between unity and diversity. It has not received much publicity in Ireland, but 11 foreign Ministers from EU member states, not including Ireland, came together and wrote a paper on what they believe is the future of Europe. My difficulty with the report is that it progresses a very top-down approach. If one really reads into the report, one will find it looks at the common security policy and similar areas on which we could co-operate, rather than issues which directly affect citizens.

We need to be careful with our engagement on EU issues. I would welcome a debate in the House on the future of Europe. The report to which I referred is interesting. It comprises only seven pages but there is a lot of content. It is very interesting that although the foreign Ministers have all put their names to it, it is on only one official website, that of the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Westerwelle, for debate.

There is often a perception that popular sentiment towards the EU has turned sour because power has moved to the centre of Europe between France and Germany. It should be noted that the European Movement Ireland committee commissioned a RedC poll earlier this year which found 85% of respondents believed that Ireland should remain part of the EU and 83% of Irish adults believe that, on balance, Ireland has benefited from its membership of the EU. We should not underestimate those figures. We can have a serious and engaging debate with the citizens of Ireland. They see the benefits of the EU and we should examine how we can develop that further.

I would be interested to hear the opinions of Mr. Higgins on how, post the Irish Presidency which will be over soon enough, we can ensure the EU agenda focuses on the issues that most affect our citizens and how we can best generate engagement with and support for the EU with people. I refer to the “critical friend” approach, whereby a really good friend will tell one what he or she likes or does not like.

I have concerns about the multiannual financial framework. It is close to completion. We have a deal which will have to be discussed and rebalanced every year because we will not grasp the nettle. We will propose a budget but each year the Parliament will have to grapple with it. I would welcome Mr. Higgins’s thoughts on that.

I echo his congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Coveney for his role in common fisheries and CAP. I am not from an agricultural background, although having spent 12 years on the economic and social committee with farmers’ representatives I learned more about farming than I ever needed or wanted to know. It is tremendous that Ireland has played a role in bringing people together.

Early Intervention and Economic Benefits: Statements

Wednesday, 6th March 2013

As always the Minister is more than welcome to the House and we are delighted that she is here. Her statement and speech to us today are seminal. It should be circulated generally. She was very fair in trying to give us a summary of what she has said to us today and it lays a strong foundation for a new home for children. I cannot commend enough what the Minister has said. More people should read her statement. We often focus on only one part of a child’s life but it is important to consider the child’s journey. I thank the Minister for providing that vision and starting this discussion with a very strong foundation. Everybody supports prevention and early intervention but it is music to our ears to hear a Minister promoting these strategies and putting them first and foremost. All too often people only talk about these theories in seminars and symposia while in the House we talk about firefighting and dealing with crises and do not give prevention and early intervention the thought and deliberation that they need.

I welcome the area-based approach to the child poverty initiative but have a difficulty with the selection criteria for the three new sites and the additional four that will come on stream. How do we ensure that the selection process is transparent, that the programmes are rooted in evidence and best practice? Programmes may look good but how do we ensure that they provide the outcomes for children and the delivery that we all want ? I want to see more details.

Often when we talk about early intervention we refer only to early years. That is why I welcome the Minister’s speech because she has looked at the child’s journey, the key transition points, the flash points in a child’s life that are all too often missed. This is true of disability services, where life chances are affected at an early age if we do not intervene when the child is very young. Mental health problems tend to become more apparent in early adolescence. The Minister mentioned the Heckmann curve. In 2010 Cunha and Heckmann wrote a working paper on investment in our young people. Their research showed that the effect of early intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children is reduced if it is not followed up by investment at later stages. We all talk about the importance of investment and what we reap from investing in early years but if we do not provide that continuum of support the investment is lost.

I welcome the Minister’s focus on how to provide services and the suggestion that we might take a step back and ask what is the purpose of child benefit and how do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes it should and that people want. The Minister mentioned the advisory report on which we had a good brief debate in the House with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, which we will continue. We were glad that she came in so soon after the report was published. There are different ways in which we can provide services and support to children. Should we consider the affordable, accessible and quality child care, or extending the scheme to a second year, or after-school care which is ad hoc and does not have a defined structure. Should we consider universal primary health care for all children or school book schemes?

The Minister mentioned the development in data which is very welcome. I welcome her approach to ensuring that we have an evidence base for moving forward and that we understand why we are doing something. Very often when I hear economists talk about demographics I shout at the radio “That is birth rate”. We have an increasing birth rate but economists do not want to talk about that. Too often children are forgotten in these issues.

The Minister mentioned Eurofound, the foundation based in Loughlinstown for the improvement of living and working conditions. I recently visited the foundation. It is doing some really interesting research on how parenting supports can best be delivered to children. Ireland has the fourth highest rate in the EU of young people who are not in education, employment or training, the NEET category. We do not want to be so high up on that list. Schoolteachers and youth workers can point to those young people much earlier in the cycle. That is where we should intervene. Eurofound did research on the loss to the economy that jobseekers represent. It calculated that they cost Ireland in the region of 2% of GDP which indicates that the cost of youth unemployment is €3.16 billion. Those are the figures but it has been proved that if a young person lives in poverty he or she is likely to continue to be unemployed. The pathway is laid. It is important to intervene early and help to change those young people’s lives. I welcome the fact that the Minister has asked the youth work sector to investigate how we could intervene and best ensure that we do so. We need to find the tipping point at which the young person ends up unemployed rather than going into education, training or employment and see how we can support those young people.

I know that next week the Minister is hosting the EU Youth Conference on social inclusion. It is significant that Ireland has chosen to host that conference under its Presidency and I was delighted to see that the Minister is doing so in co-operation with the European Commission, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The European Youth Forum was born during the fifth Irish Presidency. It held its inaugural meeting in Cork on 6 July 1996. I was there. I am a co-founder of the forum. I was a secretary general of one the three youth platforms. We came together to merge into one. Two of the three secretaries general were Irish. That is why I am so delighted to see them coming back to Dublin.

I welcome the development of the child and family support agency and look forward to seeing the Bill. I have made public my opinion of it to ensure that we debate this. The new agency will have a budget of approximately €545 million for 2013 and at hearings held by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last week we heard that approximately €100 million will go to NGOs and services. When my opinion of the new agency was published in The Irish Times I was surprised by the number of organisations which contacted me because they are afraid to speak publicly about this fearing that their funding will be cut. There is a chilling effect. We need to create an environment in which people can make constructive proposals to ensure that the agency works. I know that the Minister does not intend this chilling effect but I was surprised by the number and types of organisations that came to me about this matter.

I thank the Minister. The statement she made to us today should be circulated to all Deputies and Senators.

Order of Business, 13 November 2012

I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, his Department, the permanent missions of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva and New York, and everyone else involved in Ireland’s successful bid to secure a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It will be an interesting three years and I look forward to Ireland’s renewed focus on the implementation of the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review recommendations now that we have member status.

With very warm wishes I say “well done” to everyone involved in the successful passage of the referendum on children’s rights, especially to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. This is a gratifying time for me personally and professionally.

I have campaigned for many years for this referendum and I anticipated the margin to be much more narrow as this is a difficult issue involving profound social change. Much comparison has been taking place in the media with previous referendums and I note this referendum pertained to social change. As this was a major difference from previous referendums, it is difficult to make comparisons. I believe this referendum will be transformative and the full extent of its impact is not yet known. A case will appear before the Supreme Court in ten or 20 years’ time, after which people will know that on Saturday, 10 November 2012, they made a difference.

However, I also urge caution in dismissing the “No” vote. I spoke at many meetings throughout the country and some of that “No” vote reflected a real fear of the social services and this is something to which Members must listen. One cannot simply dismiss the “No” vote by suggesting they all were anti-government. People have had negative experiences, in the current period or previously as children or as family or friends. Consequently, the Leader should facilitate the appearance in the House of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs at the earliest opportunity to discuss in particular the report of the task force on the child and family support agency, which was published in July. I believe Members must play a role in shaping that new agency and they should address the fears people have raised.

In addition, Members also could discuss the fifth report of the special rapporteur on child protection and the Ryan report implementation plan, on which a three-year progress report was published earlier today. I also ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to introduce the adoption Bill to this House first. This issue is intricate and some of the relevant concerns were raised ensuring the debate. I believe this legislation will require timely and well thought-out debate.

Finally, I ask the Leader to schedule a debate in a timely manner after the Supreme Court judgment is given on 11 December. As the date on which the Supreme Court will give its detailed judgment is known, Members should have a timely debate to discuss the full implications.

Recent Developments in Eurozone and European Council – Statements

16th December 2011

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for her regular communications with us. She has been here before and, as a regular tweeter, her tweets have been keeping us informed, even during the European Council. She shows great initiative. I also wish to note the signing of the accession treaty with Croatia. It is a long time coming for the people of Croatia and is highly significant. I wish it had more coverage and debate. I also welcome the initiative on the blue flag for primary schools but I am sure we will hear more about that next year.

Looking at last week’s Council meeting, David Cameron told the British House of Commons he went to Brussels with only one intention, to defend British interests. That made me think about our common interests. Where were Europe’s interests and where were our European objectives, the drive to find solutions to overcome this crisis? Last week’s Council talks and decisions in the national debates that followed have revealed a number of fears that appear to be underpinning the approach of certain member states to EU governance. What are we actually afraid of losing by saving Europe?

The decision announced over the weekend did not represent any big surprise. Most of the measures were talked about or leaked or were consistent with events at European level, notably the so-called “European semester” based on enhanced Articles 121 and 148 of the treaty and many of the steps that have been implemented already, a number below the radar. It is very consistent with the German Government’s demands, expressed as early as May last year in a speech by Chancellor Merkel. The German Administration has kept its view consistently ever since, and the decision at the weekend is just the formalisation of this proposal. Some commentators call this deal a “super-Maastricht”. It is about monitoring countries more closely, enforcing fiscal consolidation more pre-emptively rather than waiting for a country to be in serious trouble before acting, and providing more credible enforcement mechanisms.

The idea of a “monetary Schengen” was actually proposed for the first time in 1995 by Stark, then Secretary of State, to complement the Maastricht treaty for the countries joining the euro. This is a provision of the Lisbon treaty, which took almost a decade to come about. It allows a group of countries to make advances on European integration. This is a provision that has provided the legal basis for the Schengen agreement, signed in 1985 between five of the ten members of the European Economic Community. The Schengen agreement now includes 25 countries and has been included in the European treaty. Another option would be to go for an intergovernmental agreement, a weak form of internal treaty. This would be another way to avoid the full change of the treaty that requires the approval of the 27 member states of the EU.

I welcome the news that the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, plans to hold a summit at the end of January, although he says it is to discuss the text of an intergovernmental treaty designed to boost economic growth in the eurozone. I note, however, the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic and Hungary said as soon as yesterday that they would not join any treaty that includes tax harmonisation, a stance we would endorse. The Prime Ministers of Denmark and Sweden have said they must consult with their national parliaments. We are still in a period of flux when we hoped to be settled. I will wait to see the wording of the compact before I make any decision about the need for referendum. This House will have a role in scrutinising the wording, because this House has a role in scrutiny.

I want to note during this debate that a huge challenge for the EU today is the lack of confidence felt by its citizens, not just the markets. Restored consumer and investor confidence are essential for private and public-sector demand. To promote growth, Europe must break free of the austerity-growth deadlock. Job creation policies, especially for young people, must be the top political priority. Growth will only return if competitiveness and innovation can improve. SMEs and entrepreneurship, as well as social entrepreneurship and social innovation, for me, are the key drivers for a sustainable Europe.

Earlier this week the European Economic and Social Committee, of which I was a member for 12 years, held a conference on entrepreneurship. I was interested that in its findings; it called for the active support of the EU’s 20 million SMEs and for entrepreneurship in general. Its report said fewer than 10% of the 20 million businesses currently exploit the potential of the EU market. I wonder what the figure is for Ireland; we could perhaps exploit the market more. The president of the employer’s group in the European Economic and Social Committee, Mr. Henri Malosse, noted that with an extra 10% growth in the SME sector’s exploitation of this market, growth for the EU would increase by 1%.

I am disappointed there is not greater clarity. I will await the details of the compact but I am encouraged to see the active role Ireland is playing at an EU level. The Seanad has a role to play in scrutiny and in supporting Ireland’s role in the EU.

Order of Business, 8 December 2011

8 December 2011

After examination of the applications by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, three candidates were put forward by the Department, namely, Seán Aylward, Dr. Mary Rogan and Donncha O’Connell.

They are on the public record. The names have been reported in the news.

I will mention no more names. The nominations were considered by the Parliamentary Assembly but the Committee of Ministers, which comprises ambassadors from members states, did not choose the Assembly’s preferred candidate. This obsession with finding positions for former Secretaries General has to stop.

It went to four rounds of voting. Ireland’s reputation was deeply damaged.
I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to inform us of the instructions he gave to the Irish ambassador. Did Ireland disregard the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe? This is very unusual. I spoke to many people in the Council of Europe yesterday afternoon about this and was told that normally the first choice goes through on the nod, unless a member state in some way indicates that it wants to contradict that choice. A member state had to intervene. This is deeply distressing for Ireland.

Order of Business, 6 December 2011

6th December 2011

All of the talk of Ireland having experienced four years of hardship conjures up a notion that, before that, we had a shared prosperity. That simply is not true. Long before the economic downturn and subsequent slide into full-blown recession, tens of thousands of people lived in hardship, in poverty or at risk of poverty, struggled to raise families and care for elderly and disabled relatives, and hundreds slept rough on our city streets. Whatever way one looks at the measures put forward yesterday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, they will impact overwhelmingly and disproportionately on those who have always been vulnerable. Following the Minister’s delivery of the proposals in the Dáil yesterday, we were obliged to seek information from different Departments. That is not reform. Reform would involve all of the relevant information being made available at once.

I join Senator O’Brien in condemning the proposed change to the disability allowance. It is the provision which stood out most for me from yesterday’s announcement. What is the rationale behind this measure? We are talking about young people with profound and multiple disabilities. They are not going into training schemes or work placements. In regard to the lone parent allowance, I have gone through every line of every document that was provided yesterday, but I cannot find the figures to justify this decision. What arrangements will be put in place for the transitional phase in respect of those who are currently in receipt of the allowance? A huge number of concerned lone parents are wondering what will happen on 1 January. There are no figures in any document produced yesterday from any Department which provide the rationale for this decision. Surely any decision which has such a significant impact on such large numbers of people should at least be an informed decision.

I am equally concerned about what is happening at EU level in advance of Friday’s summit. Serious decisions lie ahead of us, decisions which may ultimately make today’s discussion irrelevant. We must have a debate on what is happening in Europe. We are part of the EU and we must inform that debate.

Address by President of the European Parliament

12th July 2011

I welcome President Buzek to Seanad Éireann. It is an honour for me to speak to somebody who is such a great defender of human rights and European values. I have heard him say that: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘you’. We can say loud and clear that. . . Europe belongs to us all”. In this time of recession, however, that feeling of “us” is fast diminishing. I am a committed European and believe we need more of Europe to get us out of this crisis. We need to get the Europe 2020 strategy back on track. However, President Buzek raised the multi-annual financial framework which includes a welcome proposal to set up an interparliamentary conference with national parliaments. That is of interest both to the European Parliament and to us in Seanad Éireann. President Buzek also said that Europe needs a strong and stable budget, but do we need to increase the European budget by 5% at this time? What message does that send to people? The multi-annual financial framework includes proposals to increase its own resources through revenue raising measures such as a financial transaction tax and a new VAT resource. In the current climate, is this really the best way to connect citizens and help engender that feeling of “us”?

I thank President Buzek for his solidarity.