Roscommon report highlights urgency of children’s referendum

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

I welcome the publication today of the report into the Roscommon child care case.

I also welcome the unreserved and unequivocal apology issued by the HSE today, and hope that it may mark a new dawn in an organisation where heretofore the default response when it came to a crisis like this was to pull up the shutters, and distance themselves from any sense of responsibility.

The report is far-reaching and comprehensive, and Norah Gibbons and the team she led deserve full credit for the work they have done in this respect.

While the authors of the report did not regard recommendations on legislative change as within their remit, they do note that failure to consult with, and to hear the voice of the six children was an important factor in this case.

They also say that the proposed referendum on children’s rights, and the related legislation, would make provision for the voice of the child to be heard, and while they stop short of calling for the referendum to be brought forward, that is certainly the underlying sentiment.

The need for progress on this is one that I would regard as extremely urgent. I would call on the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, to publish wording for the constitutional amendment and to announce a timetable for the referendum. If he is not in a position to do this now he should indicate clearly what the obstacles are.

The all-party Oireachtas committee agreed a wording earlier this year. No-one will disagree with the need to get the wording right, but it’s a pity that the Minister and the government only identified certain ‘unintended consequences’ in recent weeks, and not during the committee deliberations.

The Labour Party will of course co-operate, as we have throughout, with all reasonable efforts to put in place a Constitutional amendment to enhance the rights of children. We will not, however, tolerate any move designed to delay or further postpone this urgent and essential measure.

People are entitled to lay the blame – White tells Seanad in banking debate

October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

The only way we can assess the success of the various measures the Government has taken in respect of the banking system is to apply the test it established at the outset in this regard. The Minister of State and his colleagues have outlined that test in this and the Lower House on many occasions. The is test is not designed to develop a banking system of which we can, in some symbolic way, be proud or which will satisfy international opinion. The real test the Government has set down – in my respectful opinion, it is the correct one – is that we should have a banking system which lends to the real, active and productive economy. This system must also be part, once again, of a vibrant and dynamic economy. That is the test the Government set in respect of the various measures it has introduced and it is the only one we can be realistically expected to apply.

I invite the Minister of State to outline the success achieved in the aftermath of the various measures brought forward by the Government. What have been the outcomes? We were promised that one of the outcomes would be that the banking system would be restored and begin to lend to a productive economy. On the evidence, this does not appear to have occurred. The Government owes the people an explanation in this regard.

Senator Dan Boyle always refers to honesty. It is ever so slightly irritating to hear him state that those on this side of the House are not being honest, and that all the honesty lies with those on the Government benches. He implies that on each occasion we say anything we are being dishonest. We can, as we are entitled to do, disagree with what has been and is being done, call the Government to account and take the debate in directions which the Senator or the Minister of State might not particularly wish it to go. If we do these things, however, it does not mean we are being dishonest. Perhaps the Minister of State will, in his usual honest fashion, address the matter of whether the banking system has even remotely begun to pass the test the Government set in respect of it.

The Minister of State touched on the subject of retribution and referred, rather amusingly, to the establishment of a star chamber. He has raised an important issue which deserves further ventilation. In that context, however, I am not interested in the erection of a guillotine on St. Stephen’s Green. Senator MacSharry has often stated the latter is precisely what the Opposition is seeking. That is not what we are seeking.

The Opposition is seeking the kind of scrutiny and examination necessary and, ultimately, wants those responsible for causing the difficulties that have arisen to be prosecuted. I use the term “prosecuted” in the broadest possible sense. I am not merely referring to criminal prosecution. As a society, we are entitled to apportion blame. People should not be apologetic and state we should not look backward or engage in a culture of blame but rather should look to the future. Certainly, I am principally interested in what happens in the future. But I would have thought that, of all people, the Minister of State would agree that it is not possible to do anything about the future if one does not have some understanding of what happened in the past. This applies equally to the banking system and the Government’s failure to regulate it. We are entitled to lay blame. « Read the rest of this entry »

Labour will not tolerate delay in holding of children’s referendum

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Responding to the announcement by Barry Andrews, Minister for Children, concerning the wording of the Constitutional referendum on children’s rights, Senator Alex White said:

“The Minister for Children was an active member of the Committee that agreed a wording for the Constitutional amendment. The Minister for Justice was also involved.

“No-one will disagree with the need to get the wording right, but it’s a pity that the Minister and the government couldn’t have identified the so-called ‘unintended consequences’ during the course of the complex, and relatively lengthy deliberations of the Committee.

“We will await the government’s approach to the opposition in order to see what precisely they have in mind when they refer to ‘unintended consequences’. This newly arrived-at view, and the reasoning behind it, must be communicated to the other parties forthwith.

“The Labour Party will of course co-operate, as we have throughout, with all reasonable efforts to put in place a Constitutional amendment to enhance the rights of children.

“We will not, however, tolerate any move designed to delay or long-finger this urgent and essential measure.”

Six months on from Croke Park Deal, when will implementation start?

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

There has never been a time, good or bad, when there has not been a debate about the need for reform in the public service. I cannot remember any such time. I make that point, not because I want to diminish in any way the importance of this debate and of achieving real reform in the public service. I do not doubt that for one second. However, it is interesting to note that it is a constant dynamic in public debate and discussion.

As we approach the weeks leading up the budget, people are free to say what they wish to but I hope they will not contribute unwittingly to the re-emergence of a period of paralysis such as we had last year concerning the public and private sectors. I refer not only to the Government side but across the board to commentators, Members of this House and others, to questions put about what the public sector is getting that the private sector is not, and all the other arguments that led to a toxic atmosphere, especially during the debates which took place at this time last year about what needed to be done.

I do not wish to diminish the necessity for reform in the public service because it clearly exists and has been demonstrated. The OECD report in 2008 gave us a lot to chew on regarding various steps that needed to be taken. There were a number of positive points in that report regarding the Irish public service. It pointed out the progress that had been made in areas that required reform, going back to the 1990s, if I am not mistaken. One of the report’s highlighted conclusions – I speak from memory – was that while many of the reforms were internal and process-led there was a need to look outwards and have a much more citizen or customer focused approach in the public service. I absolutely agree with that. Nobody could disagree with it. It is essential and will affect people. It may mean there will be fewer public servants; it will certainly require more flexibility and transferability across services. It may require or call for fewer agencies in order that core services can be reintegrated and provided within the public service. There are all kinds of changes that will impact on individual members of the public service. That is the case and it would be wrong for anybody in this House or anywhere else to think that public servants are not aware change is needed and is coming.

As a politician going about one’s daily work around the constituency and going to meetings, one meets many people from both sectors. The most discerning – I hesitate to say intelligent because that implies looking down on others – and thoughtful people in the public and private sectors can see the value of and necessity for both sectors. One talks to private sector workers who may be in business. They require services such as public transport and child care for their workers and health services as part of the make up of any modern economy. They recognise the importance of a vibrant and proper public service because they need it, as do their staff and their families. Equally, people in the public service will say, “We know we are nothing without the private sector. We can’t self-fund. If there isn’t a dynamic economy and private sector there is no money to fund the public service”. « Read the rest of this entry »

People accept decisions must be taken, but there is more than one solution

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the legacies of the period from which we have just emerged was the complete failure of many in government to distinguish between a so-called genuine business person and one who was less than genuine. Those who have turned out to be duds and less than genuine, if not worse, were feted and celebrated by many members of the Government during the recent period. Therefore, I would not rely too heavily on the ability of certain people in government to make the distinction between so-called genuine business people and those who are less so.

I do not subscribe to the view that there is no hope. I do not for one minute wish to be lined up in anybody’s mind or book with people who believe the country is sinking or does not have a future, that there is no future here for my children or theirs. I believe very strongly that there is a positive future for us as a community, society and economy. We must restructure and rebuild a genuine and real economy based on production and the efforts of our people, the provision of goods and services based on innovation and all the qualities about which all other colleagues spoke during the course of the debate. In that sense, I am an optimist, although today it is very difficult to be one. Leaving aside political partisanship, I want to be counted among those who see a very strong future for the country in the years ahead when we will address seriously the shocking and horrendous problems we can see.

Neither do I subscribe to the psychobabble we have heard, particularly in recent days, although it has been evident for a number of months. I do not think it gets us very far. I refer to those who give out about people talking down the economy, the endless negativity and so on. Essentially, it is propaganda. Those who devote most of their speeches and spend their time preoccupied with others who, in their view, talk down the economy are not addressing the real issues. In a sense they are blaming and attacking the messenger. People do not need to read the so-called negative pieces by journalists in the newspapers or listen to the economists who appear on “Prime Time”. They do not need to be told by such individuals that things are bad. They can turn off the television and the radio and need never buy a newspaper, but they will still know that things are shocking for them and their families. People who have lost their jobs or have had wage or welfare cuts do not need to be told by anybody, negative or otherwise, that life is difficult and things are tough for them. Let us stop blaming and trying to take refuge in the notion that there is an army of people talking down the economy. There is an element of psychobabble in the notion that if only we could get people to be more cheerful and have smiling economists and cheerful journalists writing nice happy-clappy articles in newspapers, everything would be fine.

Trust is the next issue to be considered with regard to the future and confidence. I had a very interesting experience earlier, although people might think it strange for me to relate it. I listened to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on “Morning Ireland” and said afterwards to a person that I thought he had done a good interview. That person said, “Yes, but do you believe him? I cannot believe him any more.” I asked what was meant by this. The reply was not necessarily a personal criticism of the Minister but one of the Government and its attitude. It has to do with trust. There was such a lengthy period during which the people were not told the full truth or given all the facts that now they are being given facts and the truth which we hope is the whole truth, they have lost faith in anything they are told. There should have been far more honesty much earlier in the process. We should not have had Members coming into the Dáil or the Seanad suggesting, for example, the bank guarantee would be cheap and that we would get out of the banking crisis relatively easily. I recall that at one stage a Minister came into this Chamber and more or less suggested to Members that we would make money out of the whole process, that NAMA essentially would be a money spinner. People simply did not believe it. « Read the rest of this entry »

Seanad Eireann: it’s quality that counts

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is embarrassing that the House failed to sit on Tuesday last. However, it is just as embarrassing when one considers not so much the quantity of Seanad sittings but their quality. I do not for one minute suggest debate in the House is not of high quality; when it happens, it is. However, the procedures must be loosened in order that Members can genuinely delve into and scrutinise subjects, particularly the four-year plan the Government is to bring forward.

Members cannot simply have a set piece debate, for which a Minister comes into the House to make a speech, followed by others by a series of Members. Instead, the quality of discussion must be examined, as well as the ability of Members to make a genuine contribution to the public debate that must happen. This is not taking place, although Members on all sides of the House have been calling for it for years.

This is not to point the finger at anyone, except to state Members have taken an overly conservative approach to how they organise their business. They could be doing a great deal more and make a much better contribution, even in respect of Opposition proposals. Members on the benches opposite like to have the odd cut at the Opposition that it lacks proposals. But surely the way to address this is to have discussion, debate and scrutiny on the floor of the House.

In that way, we could make a genuine contribution to the public debate that needs to happen. I ask the Leader once more to determine whether we can put our heads together in dealing with this urgent question in order that we can genuinely earn our keep in the Upper House, a real issue for the people. I refer not only to the number of times we sit but also to what we do when we sit.

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