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Monday, April 26, 2010

Order of Business - 30th March 2010

Order of Business - 30th March 2010
Senator David Norris: Senator Donohoe made a very reasoned and fine speech. Unfortunately, the debate has descended since then. This is regrettable because the matter is far too serious. We have to learn to listen to each other, whether or not we agree. It is up to us to take the temperature down a little bit and apply reason to these issues. I regret that there was a headline in a newspaper today which stated that various people should be shot. These people have done appalling things and have landed this country in misery, but how would that misery be alleviated if some lunatic took up this proposal and murdered one of them? This is the kind of thing done by Republican Party members in America. They call for President Obama to be put in the crosshairs. Too many people have been subjected to violence. They should be subject to intellectual scrutiny, held to account and possibly sent to jail, but I do not think this kind of overheated debate is a good idea.

Somebody said that nobody has been right on this. Senator Boyle has indicated that he was partially right, and so was I. The figures posted yesterday were similar to those I put on the record, but thanks to the media, nothing I said was ever reported because I was not looking for heads and buckets of blood. None the less, I am constantly criticised. I got an abusive letter today stating that I am part of the corruption because I tried to take a rational and dispassionate view of things.

Mr. Peter Mathews is somebody for whom I have great respect and whose figures I have sometimes quoted in the House. Everything that was said yesterday, horrible as it was, vindicated what he tried to communicate to Members of this House. Will the Leader seek to make an arrangement to afford Mr. Matthews, who is correct in his figures and has not been partisan, an opportunity to speak to some of the people who are now guiding our economy? While I know he has had a brief conversation with the Minister for Finance, I would like him to be able to talk to Mr. Alan Dukes to discuss these figures, not in an overheated fashion but to see if there is a way forward because there may be. The country has been through such situations before. Political events affect financial ones. When the Irish Parliament was collapsed and absorbed into the parliament at Westminster, it was seen as a catastrophic event by many and it had an effect. Belvedere House, at the top of North Great George’s Street in Dublin, was sold to the Jesuits in the aftermath of that event for about one third of what it had cost to build 50 years previously. That is the kind of haircut that had to be taken before, yet things recovered. I hope that in five or ten years’ time perhaps this ludicrous amount of money that is being filched from taxpayers by these dreadful, misguided people who so foolishly embarked on adventures will come back to the taxpayer if these matters are prudently managed. They need to be prudently managed, however, not made the subject of mud-slinging and an ignorant debate.

Statements on Banking - 31st March 2010

Statments on Banking - 31 March 2010

Senator David Norris: I welcome the Minister of State. Senator MacSharry referred to the words of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in the other House and I would like to do the same. The Minister said that “At every hand’s turn our worst fears have been surpassed”. That is a very stark statement. He went on to say “Some institutions were worst than others, but the fact is that our banking system to a greater or lesser extent engaged in reckless property development lending”. How true is that. A Member on this side of the House referred to a few bankers. It was not a few bankers who were responsible but the entire financial elite and not only in this country. This was a global infection. Although we are tinkering with the system, and with NAMA we are basically still only tinkering with it, it is tragic that we are not addressing the system completely. We are not addressing it radically or fundamentally.
Senator MacSharry spoke about international regulation, of which I am all in favour. There is another aspect I have raised repeatedly but I have not been listened to and that is partly due to the intellectual laziness of the media who will not take up challenging ideas no matter how often they are made in this House. Among the elements that I regard as criminally responsible is not only the regulatory system but the ratings system. How often have I had to say why does nobody challenge Standard & Poor’s, Fitch or Moody’s, the people who validated the toxic bundles, the mortgages in the United States, that proved to be fatal to the entire system and that brought down the banking system there? They were allowed to continue and to rate Iceland as a triple star country a week before it collapsed and we are still allowing them to rate us. Why does somebody not address that? Why do they not establish an international, properly remunerated system of rating, independent of its reliance on corrupt profit from the people they are validating?
I wish the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan well in every sense, both in his personal health and in the financial medicine he is dosing out to this country. He is a man of courage and integrity. He said:
The doubters had been provided wrong. NAMA has carried out its valuations in a hard-headed commercial manner.
It applied the valuations that certain Members of this House said it needed to apply. We were right and the record will show that.
However, I still believe it would have been possible to wind up Anglo Irish Bank. The Minister referred to the costs involved. The costs involved, as I understand them, would not have been in any sense substantially greater than the costs in which we are already involved and we would have had a greater yield and greater profit. One of the people who has advised me on this is not Professor Brian Lucey but Mr. Peter Matthews. He has been right time and again and every figure from him that I gave has been vindicated. This is a moment when we need to unite and avail of wisdom from wherever we can avail of it. I, therefore, appeal to the Minister, as I did to the Leader on the Order of Business today, to facilitate a meeting between Mr. Matthews and certain people leading our financial institutions. I very much welcome the fact that, imaginatively or perhaps in a Machiavellian sense, the Government installed as chairman of Anglo Irish Bank Mr. Alan Dukes who has a very clear financial record. A series of meetings should be facilitated between Mr. Matthews and the people mentioned. The Minister referred to our problems. I reject what he said. The problems we face are not of our creation. Again, they are due to this small elite.

I am glad the Minister spoke about setting specific lending targets for AIB and Bank of Ireland and targeted lending of a sum of not less than €3 billion to industry. That is what I would concentrate on. I know it is wonderful that there are good articles in the Financial Times that the Celtic tiger is licking its wounded paws and so on and that confidence is important. However, we are always being preached to about market values but they do not seem to apply to the big boys. It is like that ghastly woman in America who said only the little people paid tax. Apparently, market values do not apply to the big boys. We must concentrate on the ordinary people who are a hell of a lot more important than the subordinated bondholders or senior creditors in the banks. I applaud this aspect which I hope is true.
As I said at the beginning, AIB will be nationalised. I suggested a national property management agency in January 2009, three months before the Government came up with NAMA. I said we needed a radical solution to take a clear, surgical approach and merge and nationalise the banks and operate them in the interests of the people. I still believe this and know it is radical. People speak about our reputation internationally but what reputation do we have? We have none. Therefore, we must look after the people.
As I mentioned yesterday, I am very interested in the way Bank of Ireland has been operating. It magically reduced its exposure from a sum of €16 billion to €12 billion. One must wonder why. I am certain it was to avoid nationalisation and a majority takeover. I do not believe it is honest and that it will be able to avoid it. It has told us it will be able to raise money in the international markets but let us wait and see. It told us this before but each time it lied. Why should we believe it is correct now, although perhaps it is? I am not that impressed by the fire brigade measures required of some of the banks, or that they are implementing themselves, including selling off profitable investments abroad. That gives one a boost or a once-off cash injection but then it is dead. Perhaps I am thick but would it not be a little more sensible to hold onto them, milk and maximise them in order that they would continue to yield profits? The reason the banks are doing this is that they want to avoid nationalisation.
I will support the Government in anything sensible it does. The record of the House will show that this morning I held myself aside from carping political comment because the situation was too serious. It is worse than in 1929. One of the real problems will emerge when the situation begins to spiral. If the entire mortgage market collapses and people are unable to repay their mortgages, that will kill off another source of income for the banks.
We must very careful and prudent and support the Government but I lend my greatest support to investment in productive industry, in which matter Seanad Éireann has played a role. We dealt with the Energy (Biofuel Obligations and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill a week or two ago and have potentially helped to create 1,000 jobs in Waterford. While we can do this, we need to be clear, rational and sensible and face up to the liars and crooks in the banking system.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Order of Business - 30th March 2020

Order of Business - 30th March 2010
Order of Business – 30th March 2010
Senator David Norris: We often talk about historic days. This is probably the most historic day I can remember in terms of the life and economic future of the country. I have just been looking at an article in The Irish Times of 19 March by Professor Brian Lucey in which he said the recently revealed figures could only have been written by Pollyanna. He said:
Despite admitting that it expects a 30-per-cent-plus discount on assets to be transferred to NAMA, AIB actually booked provisions less than half that. Expect much the same to come from the other banks.
That is what we have now. The Bank of Ireland has a cynical and dishonest policy of under declaring its liabilities and bank loans. It reduced its NAMA bad loans listing from €16 billion to €12 billion. Anybody looking at the situation would realise the liabilities are greater rather than less. Why did the bank do this? It did it because if the liability of €16 billion was accepted, it would wipe out the shareholder funds and it wants to avoid majority takeover by the State. However, what we are getting is nationalisation by dribs and drabs. That is the way we are going, but the bank continues to be acutely dishonest and not face reality. Some of the things the bank is doing, such as selling its profitable overseas investments, may appear to be a good idea in the short term, but doing this reduces the viability of the bank and leaves it to be carried exclusively by the taxpayer. I am very concerned. This is a historic day, but I hope it will not be a black day.
The final matter to which I wish to refer is the report of the Law Reform Commission. Its recommendations will have a number of important repercussions for the work of the House. My extremely hard working secretary who works a great deal of overtime for which she is never properly compensated by the State was recently called for jury service, which is inappropriate. In view of the inadequate nature of the backup services available to us, as parliamentarians, it is not appropriate to remove the very important support we receive from the secretarial and other staff of the Houses. I welcome the fact that the Law Reform Commission has recommended a series of new exemptions from jury service and that the staff of the Houses are covered thereunder. The level of support available to us is insufficient and it should not be further weakened as a result of people being called for jury duty, regardless of how essential and important the latter may be to the functioning of the justice system.

Statements on Domestic Violence - 30th March 2010

Statements on Domestic Violence – 30th March 2010
Senator David Norris: I also welcome the Minister of State. I was unusual in welcoming the Cabinet reshuffle and the general Government move. I specified this development. The separation of equality issues from the Department of Justice, Equality of Law Reform in a new arrangement between the current Minister and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, is welcome news and must be positive, although it is a pity the issue of domestic violence still appears to fall principally under the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Clear issues are to be addressed, one of which I read about this morning and has already been raised in the House, namely, a Down’s syndrome child who was raped and prevented from giving evidence by the judge because he believed that, under outdated legislation, she lacked the capacity. This matter must be re-examined, as it was a serious and horrifying case. Yesterday, I spent a very pleasant 20 minutes interviewing Mr. Frank Crummey, who was one of the founders of the Irish Family Planning Association. In the early 1960s when talking about violence against Children on “The Late Late Show”, he said, “As we sit here in this studio, children are being abused by the Christian Brothers.” I can put a variation on that statement. As we speak, domestic violence is being practised, predominantly by men against women. That should not obviate an interest in violence against men, either by other men or by women. The facts are quite clear. The issue is the violence and not the gender. However, the gender appears to be a determining factor in the majority of cases.
I regret that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is still so directly involved. The Minister of Statesaid the strategy oversight committee to implement the report by Cosc is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Seán Aylward, and will meet twice yearly and report progress to the group of Secretaries General and to the Government. I do not know Mr. Aylward and I have nothing against him. However, this is an internal group, which is exactly what the Equal Rights Alliance and many others warned against. It will tend not to be critical of Government policy. That is a serious flaw. The committee should report, not to Secretaries General and the Government, but directly to the Oireachtas so we can discuss these issues and make recommendations. I ask the Minister of State to give us an undertaking that the report will be made to the Oireachtas. Once again, the Oireachtas is being bypassed and that is not a good idea.
The Cosc report is a very odd sort of document. It is full of sentimental twaddle and waffle as well as some reasonably good and specific suggestions. It is an extraordinary mixture. The Cosc press release states, “We have a plan!” The report talks about “your wonderful help and advice” and goes on to bleat about thanking Cosc’s partners for the wonderful this, that and the other. It is not professional. There is a mixture of authorship, in my opinion. The report would be strengthened by being independent.
The national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence, which was published in February 2009 after a number of consultations, huddles, chats and so on, is supposed to be implemented by the Government. I hope the suggestions made in the strategy will be implemented.
I would embark on a slightly broader definition of domestic violence than some of the earlier speakers, one of whom suggested it was confined entirely to physical violence. Psychological violence can be equally damaging, particularly over a long period. Two definitions are useful. The first comes from the report of the task force on violence against women published by the Office of the Tánaiste in 1997, which states:
Domestic violence refers to the use of physical or emotional force or threat of physical force, including sexual violence, in close adult relationships. The term domestic violence goes beyond actual physical violence. It can also involve: emotional abuse; the destruction of property; isolation from friends, family and other sources of support; threats to others, including children; stalking; and control over access to money, personal items, food, transportation and the telephone.
That is a very useful definition. If one analyses it and applies it to the situation one finds that the policies of successive Governments, including the current one, have made the situation worse. I will give some instances of this. I do not attack any particular party or Government. I simply say this is the impact of the policies of successive Governments of various complexions.
The second definition is an international one from the World Health Organisation. It is cited by Ellsberg and Heise in their thesis of 2005:
Violence against women encompasses but is not limited to physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, and the sexual abuse of female children in the household.
I do not know why it should be confined to female children. There are plenty of examples of violence against male children. Recently we heard of a case of both parents who were sexually molesting their children. I object in the strongest possible terms to newspapers such as The Irish Times referring to groups like the Iona Institute as pro-family. They stupidly let similar kinds of groups get away with the tag pro-life, which puts the rest of us into the pro-death camp. Whether the Iona Institute is pro-family, I most certainly am. I am a member of a family. I did not come down the hot tap in the bath; I am part of the family. These groups, which call themselves Christian, should read the Gospels where, for example, Jesus Christ was attacked by the Pharisees because he ground an ear of corn between His fingers and was told he was working on the Sabbath. He said that “Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We should beware of idolising institutions like marriage even when they operate against the interests of individuals, particularly the children contained in them. I am part of the family. I am very pro-family. I am also a bit picky about the families I support. I would not, particularly, support families in which incest was a natural part of the daily routine. I do not think they deserve my support.
One in five women in Ireland has experienced domestic violence by a partner or ex-partner. Some 162 women were murdered since 1996, some quite recently. That is an astonishing statistic. There have been 215,000 incidents of domestic violence reported to Women’s Aid. One in eight women surveyed in a Dublin maternity hospital had experienced domestic violence during pregnancy. One in four perpetrators against adult women are partners or ex-partners. There has been only one conviction for marital rape since the introduction of legislation 20 years ago. Marital rape is a comparatively frequent phenomenon but no one is held to account for it. The situation is roughly similar internationally.
I have mentioned the Equal Rights Alliance and I pay tribute to them. When the Government decided, in the teeth of an economic storm, systematically to dismantle every organisation that was speaking out for the vulnerable, including the poor, women, gay people and others, the Equal Rights Alliance held the fort. I also thank God for the Green Party.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: Good for Senator Norris.
Senator David Norris: The Green Party, the Minister of State and the other Green members of the Government made sure the damage was as limited as possible and they fought to reverse it. Part of that reversal has landed the Minister of State in the House tonight.
Women are in this wonderful situation where they are a minority although they are 51% of the population. I am not good at arithmetic but even I can see there is something a little suspicious about that. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, who has drawn these circumstances to our attention. Some 4% of Irish women have executive positions in Irish business and women earn 14% less than men. Women graduates, such as our voters, earn 11% less than men so they are 3% better off. Some 23% of women have incomes which put them in a poverty situation. I could go on. These statistics show there is a structural discrimination against women.
The question of legislation was not addressed in the Minister of State’s speech. Domestic violence is not named or statutorily defined as a crime in legislation. The Domestic Violence Act 1996 does not define or name domestic violence. It refers to assault. The Cosc report recommends that a definition of domestic violence be included in legislation and that it should incorporate both physical and psychological abuse because abuse other than physical can be more damaging. Let us have some action and accountability. If even this weak report recommends this measure I would like to see it done.
I read with immense interest a wonderful thesis by Ms Paula Fagan. I do not know who she is but she writes very incisively. Her research is on the provision of services to migrant women in Ireland. We have had a huge increase in the number of migrant women. For most of my lifetime Ireland was a totally homogenous society. That has changed and fractured and there has been a particular growth in female immigration. These women are particularly vulnerable because of their marginal status in society. Structural barriers for migrant women include immigration status, racism, lack of language and culturally inappropriate support. These can have a really serious effect. Ms Fagan’s thesis depends on information culled from a series of sources.
Senator David Norris: The Green Party, the Minister of State and the other Green members of the Government made sure the damage was as limited as possible and they fought to reverse it. Part of that reversal has landed the Minister of State in the House tonight.
Women are in this wonderful situation where they are a minority although they are 51% of the population. I am not good at arithmetic but even I can see there is something a little suspicious about that. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, who has drawn these circumstances to our attention. Some 4% of Irish women have executive positions in Irish business and women earn 14% less than men. Women graduates, such as our voters, earn 11% less than men so they are 3% better off. Some 23% of women have incomes which put them in a poverty situation. I could go on. These statistics show there is a structural discrimination against women.
The question of legislation was not addressed in the Minister of State’s speech. Domestic violence is not named or statutorily defined as a crime in legislation. The Domestic Violence Act 1996 does not define or name domestic violence. It refers to assault. The Cosc report recommends that a definition of domestic violence be included in legislation and that it should incorporate both physical and psychological abuse because abuse other than physical can be more damaging. Let us have some action and accountability. If even this weak report recommends this measure I would like to see it done.
I read with immense interest a wonderful thesis by Ms Paula Fagan. I do not know who she is but she writes very incisively. Her research is on the provision of services to migrant women in Ireland. We have had a huge increase in the number of migrant women in this country. For most of my lifetime Ireland was a totally homogenous society. That has changed and fractured and there has been a particular growth in female immigration. These women are particularly vulnerable because of their marginal status in society. Structural barriers for migrant women include immigration status, racism, lack of language and culturally inappropriate support. These can have a really serious effect. Ms Fagan’s thesis depends on information culled from a series of sources. There are six - Longford Women’s Link, Longford; Meath Women’s Refuge, Navan; Rathmines Refuge, Dublin, for which I remember performing a Joyce one-man show as a fundraiser about 25 years ago; WAVES, Sligo; Women’s Aid, Dublin and Women’s Aid, Dundalk. It is clear from all of this evidence that women are vulnerable within marriage and other domestic partnership arrangements.
On the barriers and difficulties faced by migrant women, the first is our immigration legislation. We are promised immigration and nationalisation legislation which I have read and it stinks. It one of the most corrupt pieces of legislation I have ever come across and it stinks on a constitutional and legal basis. I attended a series of briefings by senior legal people - solicitors and, in particular, barristers - and was so impressed by them that I brought them to the AV room to talk to my colleagues. I hope their concerns will be taken on board.
Immigration legislation impacts greatly on the lives and choices of migrant women, increasing their physical vulnerability and distress in situations of domestic violence and severely curtailing their options. That is a stark fact to face. Our legislation exposes them to physical danger. Individual women face the restriction on public funds through social welfare restrictions. Restriction of services as a result of underfunding limits women’s choices and curtails the development of appropriate responses. They often face both racism in wider society and cultural attitudes within their own community. There is an attitude, not only on the part of the Government in this respect - it is a broad phenomenon. A United Kingdom study states that with the focus on abuses by asylum seekers rather than abuses against them, successive governments have justified the introduction of measures to reduce the duties they have to immigrants and asylum seekers, reducing the amount of money and services, inlcuding housing, available to them. That is evident both here and in the United Kingdom.
There is the question of deportation. I spoke outside the House at lunchtime to a group, Residents against Racism, of which I know the Minister of State is aware. There have been many such cases, including the case of Pamela Izevbekhai and that of the five year old girl with sickle cell anaemia who had to have her spleen removed. Thank God for that wonderful Irish female consultant who stood up against the bureaucracy and insisted that the girl not be returned to Nigeria where she would have faced certain death. Having had her spleen removed and having sickle cell anaemia, if she had to move to live in a malarial area, undoubtedly she would have died, yet faceless bureaucrats were prepared to contemplate this possibility very easily and comfortably.
There is the question of social welfare restrictions. Migrant women are denied access to affordable housing, which is a real problem. In 1999 the then United Kingdom Government introduced the domestic violence concession, under which women who are subject to domestic violence are allowed to claim residence. Have we done this here? No, we have not. Has the COSC avoided the issue? Yes, it has. We should introduce such a measure.
There is the question of undocumented women, women who are trafficked in the country for sexual purposes and who are even more vulnerable. Our immigration policy has been focused primarily on economic interests. That is why we do not give the women involved a degree of permanency. We take from them any support that is available. For example, rent allowance has been taken from them, which is a disgrace. We must make sure we make such provision.
All of the groups have joined together to state these measures should be introduced. Measures should be put in place to ensure all migrant women, documented or undocumented, and children who experience domestic violence whose immigration status is dependent on their spouse should be given temporary leave to remain. All migrant women and children in this situation should be automatically deemed compliant with the habitual residency condition. They should be given the right to work and support should be provided in situations of domestic violence. This is an opportunity to make such provision because the Government’s policy leaves women exposed. They are often dependent on their husbands for financial support, which makes them vulnerable, unless the State moves in to assist them. We have a good and idealistic Minister of State and also a party in government which has some access to the decent elements in Fianna Fáil. We should use them and address these real issues, not just the blather contained in the COSC report.
Senator Ivana Bacik: Hear, hear.