Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate
[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: ] I have been greatly alarmed by what the Taoiseach had to say in the Chamber today. Everyone understands the report must be studied carefully but let us not forget that a huge amount of historically verified information and testimony was already in the public domain prior to the establishment of the McAleese committee. In fact, the present Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, spoke in 2009 of the irrefutable evidence of State involvement in the running of these institutions. Consequently, the time for the apology is now and one should not try to put some kind of positive gloss on what happened. These people were not residents voluntarily offering their services and labour but were young, vulnerable women who were held in institutions - in their minds imprisoned- and exploited. This is what happened and the figures are stark. Moreover, the Taoiseach is aware that two of the laundries have been excluded from the calculation of the number the Taoiseach put forward in the Dáil today.
Members must reflect on the report and I welcome that there will be a Dáil debate but I am disappointed for the women, that is, for the survivors, that the Taoiseach cannot say the State was culpable and negligent, that the women told the truth and the Government believes their stories and for that, it collectively says "Sorry". The debate will be held in two weeks' time. When the apology and when then the issue of redress and compensation for these women?
Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Come on.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Get out of here.
The Taoiseach: What I refer to here is the truth and reality, which has now been uncovered and laid out for everyone to read and to understand, to discuss and debate arising from the McAleese report. It might interest the Deputy that just over 10% of those who attended Magdalen laundries were sent there by families, while 19% of those residents in the Magdalen laundries went in there themselves. As I pointed out to the Deputy, the admission figures of 14,000 include numbers of women who went back to the Magdalen laundries a number of times.
Deputy Joe Higgins: It was because they had no choice. Come on. Stop spinning it now.
The Taoiseach: As I pointed out to the Deputy-----
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: It was because they were poor.
The Taoiseach: As I pointed out to the Deputy-----
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: And they were slaves.
An Ceann Comhairle: Hold on now.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Taoiseach, I do not want glib remarks.
The Taoiseach: I do not suggest she made such a remark.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I refer to an apology from the Taoiseach-----
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Deputy has not read it.
An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, through the Chair please.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: -----as Taoiseach, to those women, which is long overdue.
The Taoiseach: I am not suggesting-----
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Moreover, when you were on these benches, you were very clear that an apology was needed.
The Taoiseach: What Deputy Shatter said when he was on the far side of the House in opposition has been proven to be true. There was State intervention in respect of numbers of these residents of the Magdalen laundries.
Deputy Mattie McGrath: The wise old man of the Government.
The Taoiseach: That is outlined in the details and statistics uncovered by Senator McAleese. However, Deputy McDonald should be aware it is not a single issue story. All 10,000 of the residents arrived in the Magdalen laundries through a variety of circumstances and for a variety of reasons-----
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I am aware of that.
The Taoiseach: -----not the least of which was destitution and poverty, as was outlined starkly in the report. Consequently, as I stated, I really am sorry that it has taken until July 2011 to trigger the initiative by the Government to have a report-----
Deputy John Halligan: Many were brought in forcibly by the State.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The Government was forced by the United Nations to do it.
Deputy Alan Shatter: It is in the programme for Government.
The Taoiseach: -----that the stigma attached to those residents in-----
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: This is disgraceful on the Taoiseach's part.
An Ceann Comhairle: Thank you.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I look forward to the Taoiseach's apology.
The Taoiseach: -----in the Dáil debate-----
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: More to the point, the women await the Taoiseach's apology.
An Ceann Comhairle: Please.
The Taoiseach: ---- in two weeks' time.
An Ceann Comhairle: Thank you. Deputy Boyd Barrett, without interruption.
Deputy Finian McGrath: More whitewash.
Deputy Joe Higgins: It is more like a blue wash and is disgraceful.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Higgins, would you show respect to your current leader?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I am sure the Taoiseach is acutely aware, and I suspect the Labour Party is even more acutely aware, that tens of thousands of workers and other citizens will be taking to the streets this weekend to oppose the crippling debt that has been imposed on their shoulders-----
Deputy Micheál Martin: They will shortly be followed by the Labour Party.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: -----the austerity the Government is meting out to them and to vent their fury at the broken promises of the Government and of the Labour Party in particular that it would all be different. I am sure the Taoiseach also is aware of the anger that now is building up among public sector front-line workers over the Government's plans to savage them even further in a so-called extension of the Croke Park deal. My question to the Taoiseach is to ask whether these circumstances and pressures explain the rather odd goings-on within the Government over the last few days. I refer to the way in which the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade travelled to Latin America and told European Union officials the Government is in jeopardy unless it gets a deal on the promissory notes issue and the way in which the Minister of State, Deputy White, stated on national television that there may be no Croke Park deal unless the Government gets a deal. Is this something of an elaborate charade on the part of the Government to create a bit of drama about whether we get a deal on the promissory notes issue to sweeten the bitter pill of the attacks the Government is planning on workers over the next number of months? Was the game not given away on this little charade by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, when he stated that regardless of whether we get a deal, it will make no difference to the level of cuts or austerity that will be imposed in future budgets? Is it not the truth that the Government - and the Labour Party in particular - are treating Members to an elaborate charade to deflect attention away from the cuts the Government now seeks to impose yet again on public sector workers-----
An Ceann Comhairle: Can we have your question? Thank you.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: -----by involving people in this drama of whether Ireland will get a deal on a promissory note when, as the Minister, Deputy Varadkar has indicated, deal or no deal, it makes no difference? Is it not the truth that the Government is not looking for a write-down of the debt, has agreed in principle to pay every cent and that whatever deal it gets will make no difference whatsoever to those who are being hammered and who the Government intends to hammer further with cuts and austerity?
Deputy Mattie McGrath: Will you go away out of that?
Deputy Micheál Martin: Does this mean a deal has been done? Will the Taoiseach provide details to the House?
Deputy Barry Cowen: It is a charade.
The Taoiseach: In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, it is important that we achieve agreement and a conclusion on a deal in respect of the promissory notes. I have answered that question in this Chamber 20 times. The Government expects that to be achieved before the end of March, which is the next payment date.
Deputy Joe Higgins: The Taoiseach will put it on his grandchildren and not just on his children.
The Taoiseach: That is an important element of easing Ireland's exit from the programme in which the country finds itself because of the situation that applied a number of years ago. It is equally important to understand that the public finances must be rectified. This is the reason the Government mandated the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to talk to the trade unions about achieving further savings of €1 billion by 2015, including €300 million in the course of this year. Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware that the public service pay and pension bill represents 35% of expenditure, which is an important element of rectifying Ireland's public finances over the period ahead. It is equally important to follow through on the discussions taking place at the ECOFIN group and the Eurogroup with regard to the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, and the consequences of the decision arising from the European Council's decision to break the link between sovereign and bank debt.
These are three important elements of what it is the Government is about in this regard. I remind the Deputy that the management - on behalf of the Government - and the trade unions entered into these talks freely. That is an important consideration in this regard and I am glad to note the comments from the representatives of ICTU about the position that now applies. While these talks are challenging, complex and difficult, Deputy Boyd Barrett should note that decisions must be made because the position will not be rectified by itself.
As for the Deputy's comments about the consequences of a deal on the promissory note having an impact on our public finances, as I have stated, that deal will ease the exit from the programme in which Ireland is engaged, because the interest rates applying would be lower and there would be access to finance for banks to lend and provide credit for business and therefore stimulate investment for employment and the creation of jobs.
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