Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger raised the taking down of artist Maser’s Repeal the 8th mural from the Project Arts Centre yesterday.
It was removed after the Charities Regulator informed the centre the artwork is “political activity” and that, as a consequence, the centre is in breach of the Charities Act 2009.
Ms Coppinger, and fellow TD Paul Murphy, held up copies of the mural, as she said:
“I would just like to know what the Taoiseach and others think is so offensive about this – that it should be banned by a State body. And would you agree with me, that we should challenge that… and we should say ‘no, there’s nothing wrong with a heart that calls for repeal’ and there’s nothing… we should not allow political censorship.”
Before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar could respond, Tánaiste Simon Coveney could be heard saying across the chamber:
“Stupid stunts like that do nothing to inform…”
Varadkar says he has no doubt a pro-life or Vote No mural would also have been subject to the same decision, and suggests that another private building owner might commission it to appear there instead #Dail
Scenes from inside the Dáil chamber after Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave his resignation speech, followed by speeches about Kenny’s tenure from party leaders and party representatives.
Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger raised the case highlighted in yesterday’s Irish Times by Kitty Holland.
About how a young pregnant girl, who was at risk of suicide, was sectioned – after she sought an abortion.
Ruth Coppinger: “Taoiseach, honesty in politics is important so I’m not going to engage in fake, back-slapping. I will congratulate you on writing your own speech which I believe you did. I was a bit bemused at you mentioning Michael Davitt, a revolutionary and a socialist but we’ll leave that aside.
“In summing up your legacy, Taoiseach, I could focus on six years on unprecedented austerity, suffered by the many to bail out the few or the massive homeless and health crisis that you’re laving in your wake. Or indeed the crisis in the gardai and in the State.
“But, in the short time I have and the day that’s in it, I’ll pick one issue that sums up completely the type of Ireland that you and the establishment that you’ve so ably represented have bequeathed in the five decades you’ve been in the Dáil. And that is the incarceration, internment and imprisonment of a vulnerable, pregnant teenager, who asked for an abortion and who asked for help.
“And although we know little of the circumstances, we do know this: A pregnant child shouldn’t be forced to have a child. A pregnant child, in legal terms, is a raped child. The pregnant person best knows how they feel about being pregnant. And, Taoiseach, people around the country are comparing this outrage are comparing this to an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.
“Twenty-five years ago, this nation rose up at the incarceration of a teenage rape victim but it’s still happening under your watch because you did nothing to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
“The much heralded Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act that you and the Labour party boast about has proven impossible for any suicidal person to access an abortion because they’re put through an inquisition. Their feelings are ignored and their rights to bodily and mental autonomy are completely ignored. And this happened last year. We do not know what happened to this girl, whether she succeeded in getting an abortion or whether she was forced to remain pregnant.
“Now Taoiseach, we’ve a history in this country, it’s been mentioned today, of incarcerating pregnant women and girls and we thought that that era was over but many people have been outraged over what they’ve found out over the last 24 hours – that a psychiatrist would have the power, with their own views, to section a girl for the crime of wanting not to be pregnant.
“It seems it’s an illness warranting being locked up, to want an abortion. Not alone that, Taoiseach, but it appears a judge adjudicated and heard this case and awarded a guardian to the girl and, wait for it, her foetus. Now…”
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl: “I don’t want to interfere with any member’s contribution today. But I’m afraid you’re venturing into territory that is completely at odds with the business that’s before us today.”
Coppinger: “With the legacy of the Taoiseach?”
Ó Fearghaíl: “I, you’re talking about a specific case which none of us have full information.”
Coppinger: “Yeah. I, ok, thank you, Ceann Comhairle, I’ll bear that in mind. I’m going by the information that we do have and I’m just generalising now. So, not alone that Taoiseach, a judge adjudicated on the case, as I said. But Taoiseach, you’re going and what I hope is the reactionary policies are going with you. That the backwardness that was visited on young people in this country for so many decades will also go. You’ve had your time, hopefully we’ll have a different time.
“That the yearning there is for a different type of society among young people in particular, can be brought about. And, in finishing Taoiseach, I hope we see a movement now to bring about the separation of Church and Stateand the type of legislation that gives the person involved the right to make this decision for themsevels. And, hopefully, that movement won’t take very long.
“With your new incumbent, we’ll find out but I certainly would encourage people to actively ensure that it happens because we can’t trust the people in this Dail to ensure that these cases don’t happen again.”
From top: Irish Times Health Correspondent Paul Cullen; Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly and health correspondent at The Irish Times Paul Cullen
You may recall the publication last week of Judge Maureen Harding Clark’s report on the symphysiotomy redress scheme.
And some of the subsequent criticism of both and the report and the media coverage of the report.
Senior lecturer at Birmingham Law School, Mairéad Enright wrote:
[Judge Clark’s report] is not the independent report survivors of symphysiotomy are entitled to under human rights law. The media have read it as diminishing SOS’s claim that the non-emergency substitution of symphysiotomy for Caesarean section without consent, as practiced in Ireland, violated many women’s human rights. However, this coverage has been insufficiently critical of this report.
“…It is a mistake to think of the story of symphysiotomy as one about ‘bad doctors’. It is a story about bad systems of knowledge, and bad cultures, which corner women, induce compliance, deny their autonomy and thereby wound them. Those cases are extraordinarily difficult to litigate because the assumptions which drive the old system persist in judicial reasoning and are exacerbated by an adversarial framing.”
“Outside the courtroom, we can find the same problems. What is striking about this report is that it uses constructs from those systems and cultures – valorising reproduction however painful, stoking a suspicion of women who claim their human rights, privileging medical literature over first person testimony – to silence protest. It deserves closer, and more critical reading and discussion.”
Further to this.
Yesterday, Independent 4 Change TD Clare Daly and Anti Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger raised Judge Harding Clark’s report and the media coverage – with Ms Coppinger naming Irish Times journalist Paul Cullen.
Clare Daly: The Harding Clark report into the symphysiotomy redress scheme has been described as deeply skewed, profoundly unfair, subjective and selective, intellectually dishonest, morally bankrupt, replete with false allegations, omissions, distortions, misrepresentations and contradictions, and biased throughout. Those who said that are being soft on Judge Harding Clark whose report cannot go unchallenged or uncorrected. She goes way beyond the terms of reference of her assessor report to the Minister for Health when all she was asked to do was deal with the activities and expenditure of the scheme. Instead, she deviated into personal and unsubstantiated commentary, which is highly inappropriate in the context of outstanding litigation. Her report is riddled with false allegations, such as alleging that leading campaigners against symphysiotomy had alleged they had the procedure when they had not. That is completely and utterly untrue.”
“The only interpretation one can draw from this report is that it is a defence of the uniquely Irish practice of non-emergency symphysiotomy. It serves to diminish survivors’ claims and is a further violation of those women’s human rights. Symphysiotomy as practised in Ireland is a human rights abuse and that is the case regardless of this report. There can be no denying that the State has been culpable in this but rather than address these matters honestly, the report has served to diminish the suffering caused and undermined the experiences of the women. There is a continued suggestion that the women were lying. Nobody who met these women could ever believe that.”
“Of course, Judge Harding Clark met hardly any of them. It was a paper review with no right to appeal any of her decisions. It was her opinion and her opinion only. It is hugely traumatic for the women involved that this horrific report has been published. I believe the Minister needs to intervene to have it withdrawn. It is hostile in its tone and it smears and discredits survivors rather than dealing with a bad and deliberate policy and a poorly-administered scheme. It needs to be withdrawn and we need clarification on this matter.”
Ruth Coppinger: “I, too, have been absolutely appalled by the media coverage and the commentary of certain people in the media in the last week in response to this report. I agree that the methods of assessment were defective. I agree with Deputy Daly on the policy of Judge Harding Clark of taking oral evidence and meeting only a handful of the women involved. If she had met more, she would have seen for herself some of the injuries and limping, etc., that these women endure. Using contemporaneous radiology in one particular case, the judge stated that a 2004 X-ray did not show injuries to the women and that therefore the injury had happened afterwards. The judge went way beyond her brief, showed her own bias and showed contempt for these women. I believe it is absolutely vital that this Dáil and the Government agrees to set aside time to have a proper analysis of this report.”
“There are a couple of myths that the report tries to knock down. The first is that symphysiotomy was a normal procedure practised in many countries, as argued by Paul Cullen, for example, in The Irish Times. In 1944, there were four of these operations in the national maternity hospital. In 1948, there were 43. That was because of the arrival of Dr. Alex Spain, an arch-Catholic, as head of the hospital, who refused caesarean sections and said that their result would be contraception, the mutilating operating of sterilisation and marital difficulty. It is utterly wrong to say that. They also argue that symphysiotomy was not dangerous. Clearly, it was. It was not a benign procedure. It was not used in other countries as a first resort; it was used as a last resort. This is the third whitewash report there has been. It is a disgraceful indictment of the system that it does this to women who were brutalised in Catholic Ireland of the past.”
Daly: “I have to say that there has been a certain rewriting of history again. We know that the majority of survivors never accepted this redress scheme to begin with. The Minister of State is dodging the key elephant in the room, which is that this report goes one step even further from that. It is riddled with factual inaccuracies, unverifiable anecdotes and is severely damaging. It is well known that people experience trauma and upset as victims of abuse if their stories are not believed. The report is done in a manner which disbelieves the testimony of the women involved. It makes outrageous claims. We know that not one woman anywhere submitted that she had consented to or was aware of that procedure, yet the judge said that she found it very difficult to believe that is the case. There is no evidence to support her view in that situation. This is the same judge who, when awarding payments previously, told the women they were getting the money to redress their “unhappy experience”. This was deliberate butchery that was carried out on people for ideological reasons.”
“What the report shows is a deliberate undermining of the human rights campaigners and groups whose work actually led to the setting up of this scheme to begin with, bad and all as it is. I remind the Minister of State that it took a former Minister to go to court to get the Guerin report withdrawn. We know the McAleese report into the Magdalen laundries was hugely criticised and controversial. The point that is being made here is that this document cannot stand. In and of itself, it abuses the women involved. It has to be withdrawn and considered further by this House.”
Coppinger: “There has been an attempt by the Catholic right to seize on this highly flawed report to argue against the whole question of Catholic control of maternity hospitals. There is no question that this was done and motivated by a Catholic medical theology. It is also argued very patronisingly that these women did not know the difference between a caesarean section, a symphysiotomy or anything else that was happening to them.I know women were kept in ignorance but I think most women would know if they had their pelvic bones broken.”
“The scheme relied on written and radiological evidence which was extremely unfair because proving a symphysiotomy happened over 50 years ago is incredibly difficult if medical records do not exist. In that sense, the scheme militated against the older women and some younger women were able to pursue their claims successfully. The fact there were 185 unsuccessful applications does not mean that 185 symphysiotomies were not carried out. As I said, it was difficult to prove. People were also only given 20 days to apply to the scheme which is highly restrictive in the context of gathering up information.”
“There is no way that this Dáil could or should stand over this report. A debate must take place in this Chamber to question the rationale of Judge Harding Clark.”
A full transcript of AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger’s exchange in the Dáil concerning the holding of a referendum on the Eighth Amendment [banning abortion in Ireland] with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
A small tay.
Deputy Ruth Coppinger: “On Saturday the Taoiseach was 50 metres away from an historic demonstration – the 25,000 strong, predominantly youthful March for Choice which took place in Dublin and called for the holding of a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment abortion ban, something he has continually tried to avoid, despite all the polls which show a huge demand for it.
At the end of the protest the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs posited the idea that we might need something to replace the eighth amendment in the Constitution. Does the Taoiseach agree with her and, if so, why?
Why, following the tragedies and the folly of putting something in the Constitution equating a woman with a foetus, would he seriously contemplate putting something else in to police women’s bodies? There is nothing normal about putting anything about abortion or women’s health in a constitution. I am aware of only one other country that has done it. It was done in Chile under the murderous military dictator General Pinochet.
On behalf of women and young people in this country, I ask the Taoiseach not to go there. He has been a Member of the House for 41 years, since 1975.
During that time he has taken part in important decisions affecting women. A total of 165,000 women have had to travel outside the State for an abortion while he has been a Member of the Dáil. Did he give those women a second thought when he was debating these crucial decisions?
In what could be one of his final acts as Taoiseach, I ask him to break a pattern of more than four decades of him being on the more backward, conservative side of all these vital decisions in the Dáil.
He was in the House to vote in favour of the eighth amendment in 1983. Did he have any qualm at all having heard the reservations of the Attorney General at the time and many others? He was here to vote in favour of the “off you go” clauses in 1992 on travel and information and, crucially, was leader of the country when a pivotal event happened when a women needlessly died in a Galway hospital, having asked for and been refused an abortion.
He could have ensured that would never happen again in this country, but that is not the case now. He ignored the pleas of Savita’s parents, for example, to introduce a law to protect women’s health, but rather than repeal the eighth amendment, he chose to criminalise women for having abortions.
Will he, for the first time, listen to and trust women to make these decisions for themselves? Will he agree that it has been proved that the Constitution is not the place in which to decide on these issues and that, ultimately, the church and the State have to stay out of personal decisions?
We all know that there will be a referendum. Will he make sure that it will be to repeal, not amend, the eighth amendment?”
Enda Kenny: “I thank the Deputy. She described the insertion of the amendment in the Constitution as a “tragedy”. Unfortunately, the Constitution belongs to the people. I happened to be in the House to legislate for the first time in 30 years for what the Constitution meant, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. I have listened to the many tragic stories of women in recent times.
That is why it is entirely appropriate that 99 citizens, men and women of different age groups, are coming together from locations around the country to tease out the questions surrounding the eighth amendment, under the chairmanship of the Supreme Court judge, Ms Justice Laffoy, who I am sure will do a first-class job. It is in everybody’s interest that there be a sensitive, rational and comprehensive discussion about this and that is the purpose of the citizens’ assembly.
I am glad its first meeting will take place on 15 October and that everybody, on all sides of an argument that has divided Irish society very bitterly for 30 years or more, can make their contributions and have their say.
When the assembly provides its recommendations the issue will come back here to this House. Depending on the outcome of the recommendations, Members of the Oireachtas will vote according to their conscience on where we proceed from here.
We are having a citizens’ assembly to address the many sensitive issues that have arisen from the stories people are confronted with on a regular basis.
I spoke to some of the people on the march on Saturday and they made their views very clear but there are many divided opinions on this subject and I expect to hear them all over the coming months while the assembly goes about its business. In Ireland in 2016, it is very reasonable to allow people on all sides to make their contribution on an issue that is and always has been divisive.”
Ms Coppinger: “The Taoiseach said he set up the citizens’ assembly to hear stories but we have ample stories and he commented on none of the questions I put about his own role in this House over four decades on these issues. We heard the stories of two women who were travelling and I know they tweeted the Taoiseach, although I do not think he tweeted anything back.”
The Minister for Health offered them tea and sympathy while sending them out of the country and I know the Taoiseach has been tweeted on many issues related to women’s reproductive rights, on which he has refused to comment.
We can win a repeal of the eighth amendment without any further restriction, which is what I fear is being cooked up in the form of restrictive legislation being put into the Constitution or an amendment to the eighth amendment. The Taoiseach keeps denying the results of opinion polls but he has set up a 99-person opinion poll in the form of the citizens’ assembly. All the opinion polls show that 73% of people want a referendum held and 80% believe health is a key issue.
When people talk about “repeal” and wear T-shirts bearing the word, as they did on Saturday, they don’t mean “revoke” or “make null and void”. They do mean “replace” or “amend”. I say this lest there be any confusion on the part of the Taoiseach or among his Ministers. That is what people marched for and that is what they will get.”
Mr Kenny: “I fully respect the view of the Deputy but it is not a black and white situation. The T-shirts may be black and have white writing on them but this is about people and people have different views.
Some 20,000 or 30,000 may have marched at the weekend but we have the citizens’ assembly to allow people to have their say and all people are entitled to have their say. Everybody has a personal opinion about this but it was a Government decision, endorsed here by the Oireachtas, to set up the citizens’ assembly.
I admire the courage of the 99 who have stepped forward to participate in the discussion. It is not an easy thing for many of them to do, given the nature of the divisive response that can come from participating in something like this.
The hearings will be streamed live and I hope that everybody, at home and abroad, can listen to the conversations and have their views heard. I hope that, under the direction of Ms Justice Laffoy, the recommendations will come back here to the Oireachtas and we can move on from there.”
End of local authority housing as we know it, three quarters of council land to be privatised, no challenge to EU rules and rocketing rents to remain.
What’s not to love?
Ruth Coppinger writes:
The government’s Action Plan on Housing sadly repeats the failed focus on incentivising the market through increasing the profit of developers and landlords.
The market caused the crisis, now this neoliberal government turns to it to resolve it.
Given the scale of the housing emergency, the poverty of ambition is startling, considering also the much-lauded economic growth. The aim is to house only one-third of those on current lists by 2021.
Presumably the rest can just wait another 10! The figure of 47,000 ‘social houses’ is a mix of new-builds, refurbishments, acquisitions and leasing, the latter often impermanent. It falls short of even the Housing Committee target and adds on another year.
As I pointed out with the Housing Committee Report, funding and delivery is dependent on keeping within strict EU fiscal rules.
The Plan confesses that while the housing emergency has been raging, the Dept has scandalously spent two years trying to come up with a workable off-balance sheet model to do this.
If implemented, this will mark the end of local authority housing as we know it. Not alone will ‘additional social housing provision (be) a combination of building, acquiring and leasing’, but councils will not be directly funded and allowed to fully build on their own land.
They will be forced to hand over 75% of it to private developers. A new form of housing estate will be created on public lands: only 25% will be council housing and the rest private mortgages and affordable/’cost rental’ where tenants will pay up to 80% of the market rent, rather than a differential rent based on their income.
The key to resolving the housing emergency is to use council and Nama lands, for councils to directly employ labour and build on public lands on a large scale, cutting out the private developers cut (often 11-15% ) and keeping costs down.
The document is laced with stigmatising phrases about council housing, such as ghettoisation and not repeating ‘mistakes of past’.
But if social housing is limited to 25%, we would have to build 560,000 houses to clear the 140,000 on the council’s lists!
Local authority estates can be highly successful if well planned with facilities and open space. The income eligibility could be raised allowing more workers avail of affordable mortgages or council rents.
But there is never a concern for ‘tenure mix’ in Killiney or Malahide.
The real reason for the ‘tenure mix’ is to have a rental funding stream to achieve the neo-liberal ‘off balance sheet’ rule.
For the 6,000 people in emergency accommodation, there is little except more overpriced modular or transient housing. The emphasis is on forcing people onto HAP or private rental, potentially miles away from the family’s choice of area.
Despite the Private Rented Sector being the cause of homelessness, the government promotes it, extolling it’s virtue of supporting “a mobile labour market, as renting households may more easily pursue job opportunities.” It ignores the interests of workers and families who want to live in a fixed community.
Instead of rent controls to stop the huge hikes which are making people homeless, the Plan proposes no measures to curb profiteering on rents, it defends and promotes landlord interests by continuing the use of the private sector as a substitute for public housing, alongside introducing a new range of tax breaks to ‘incentivise’ landlords. No moratorium either on repossessions.
Rather than driving down the cost of housing to affordable levels, a ‘help to buy’ initiative for first time buyers would end up in the pockets of developers.
Michael Noonan told the Housing Committee ‘we do not have a shortage of money’. He is right. €5.4 billion is sitting in the Irish Strategic Investment Fund – the remnants of the pension reserve fund after it bailed out the banks.
But he admitted that EU fiscal rules prevent us actually spending it on public housing. It must be ‘off balance sheet ‘ and involve the private sector or be self financing. The same goes for the €2.4bn cash reserves Nama has left.
Neither do EU fiscal rules prevent taxation on wealth being used to finance housing. So, a millionaire’s tax could be introduced. The headline rate of corporation tax could be immediately imposed and increased to house our homeless.
The government could stop its opposition to Apple repaying €17 billion in back taxes to this country. There is vast untapped and untaxed wealth that could be used to fund affordable and secure home building.
Only a government that is willing to challenge and breach those rules can end our housing emergency.
That government is not this government.
Ruth Coppinger is a member of the Socialist Party and an Anti Austerity Alliance TD for Dublin West. She has occupied Nama housing with homeless families. Ruth is a member of the Housing Committee and has published her own housing Minority Report. Follow Ruth on Twitter: @ruthcoppingertd
From top: The 2015 launch of the Labour of Love campaign, an initiative of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and MRCI’s Domestic Workers Action Group calling for the protection of au pairs’ employment rights in Ireland’ Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte; Ruth Coppinger with her daughter Sarah at the Dublin West coun centre during the last General Election.
On Newstalk Breakfast, presenter Shane Coleman spoke to Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte and Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger – in light of Ms Rabbitte’s proposed bill concerning au pairs.
The proposed bill comes after the Workplace Relations Commission, in March of this year, awarded €9,229 to a Spanish woman who was paid €100 a week, plus board, for between 30 and 60 hours of work per week, during her employment with an Irish family between August 2014 and January 2015.
The woman claimed she had been exploited by the family.
The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland hailed the decision as a landmark ruling.
From their discussion…
Shane Coleman: “The legislation that is bring brought forward by Fianna Fáil, aiming to offer more protection to au pairs. It would see au pairs on cultural exchanges in Ireland, limited ot 30 hours of work a week. They’d get free lodging and pocket money. It’s being debated in the Dáil at the moment. We’re joined on the line by, or we’re join in the studio by Anne Rabbitte, Fianna Fáil TD for Galway East, spokesperson for children and youth affairs, and also on the line by Ruth Coppinger, TD for Dublin West, for the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Anne Rabbitte if I could just start with you first. What exactly are you proposing and how will it protect au pairs?”
Anne Rabbitte: “Well the bill that I have brought before the Chamber is to bring about legal clarity because at this present moment in Ireland we don’t have a definition for au pairs and this all stems from the fact that the WRC [Workplace Relations Commission] ruling in March 2016 where an au pair payment was paid, where a case was brought before it where in actual fact an au pair said she had worked X number of hours and she needed, the WRC claimed that an au pair was actually classified as a worker. And, in actual fact, it has actually put 20,000 families at risk. So, this is where it all stems from.”
Coleman: “OK. So, you’re proposing a certain number of hours per week, a certain kind of time off, free lodging and a bit of pocket money?”
Rabbitte: “All right. Exactly the nature of the bill. One was to bring clarity in definition, secondly was to bring actually, it’s a cultural education exchange and in lieu of that then it was for a maximum 30 hours a week and it was also to help out with light chores and to help out with the children, that was it. It’s a traditional thing that has gone on here for a long number of years. In actual fact, this has been going on the last 40 years and has never been legislated for. And in actual fact it probably wouldn’t have been legislated for only for what has happened in March 2016.”
Coleman: “OK, let’s bring in Ruth Coppinger. Ruth, that sounds like a sensible measure or do you disagree?”
Ruth Coppinger: “The bill is totally regressive, would take away much fought for workers’ rights which is what it was attempting to do, which was to revert the ruling that au pairs, they’re not au pairs. Let’s dispense with this idea that au pairs exist in the traditional context. Most so-called au pairs are childcare workers, they’re women, over 30, many of them are mothers themselves, trying to, very well-educated and really don’t need the cultural or educational exchange. This bill is an attempt to give a cover to potential exploitation of these workers in people’s homes, giving a cover of cultural exchange. It was roundly rejected by every single party in the Dáil. And I’m really mystified as to how it even reached the Dáil floor. Because if 20,000 families are relying on so-called au pairs. Well then it actually just contradicts the claim that these people are there for cultural exchange. What these 20,000 families are relying on is childcare workers. And what it points up: is that we need proper subsidised, affordable childcare in this country.”
Coleman: “OK. All right.”
Coppinger: “We do not need to exploit people as the Migrant Rights Centre said…”
Coleman: “OK. I want to bring Anne Rabbitte back in there. Anne…”
Rabbitte: “Actually Ruth clearly does not understand where I’m coming from. In actual fact, where I’m coming from, is 20,000 families who in actual fact provide the opportunity for a cultural exchange. I am not looking at targeting or going against the migrants’ rights or I’m not going against anything that the 30s or 40s age bracket. What I’m looking at is people who want to come on a gap year, on a cultural educational exchange to Ireland, we have done it in Ireland for a long number of years. We actually send our children abroad doing it. So, in actual fact, it’s to facilitate this whereas families can embrace children, bring them in, give them protection. In actual fact, what this bill is about, is about protection. Protection for the au pair, protection for the host family and it’s improving going through targeted agencies. Because, at this moment in time, people are actually booking au pairs, so-called au pairs, off websites. What I want to do is regularise it completely so we are providing the cultural, educational exchange. ”
Coleman: “OK. Ruth Coppinger. If there’s credited agencies there dealing with this, well then you won’t have women over 30, who have children, coming here and getting paid peanuts.”
Coppinger: “But that’s not the reality. What she’s talking about is a fiction. The reality is this. First of all, in her bill, in her own bill, she talks about 30 hours work, which is practically a full-time job, for pocket money. The words ‘help’ are used. I find this incredibly sexist, that any labour that women provide is help and it’s devalued and shouldn’t be properly compensated, it should be. The idea of… it’s peddling a dangerous myth that au pairs are mainly students on a gap year, having a bit of craic, learning English from their host family. The evidence is otherwise. That picture is gone, it’s gone out the window with The Sound of Music or whatever else. The reality now is au pairs are not au pairs. They’re actually older women, most of them are from Brazil, 98% of them are over 30, and let’s stop insulting these workers, many of them are being exploited…”
Coleman: “Just before I bring Anne back in, just, my point to you, at the start of that question was, if you have a credited agency, doesn’t that get over that issue of people being brought in from, who are over 30, then would be actually students who are genuinely on a gap year.”
Coppinger: “No because those agencies have been shown to be largely bogus. What we would be overturning here, by the way with this bill, would be a practice that’s now being acknowledged by the Department of Labour or by the Department of Children, that these are workers and that they’re entitled to at least the minimum wage. And what I’d say is this: if there are families who really want to participate in this is pay the person at least the minimum wage. And, in fact, I think there should be paying them a lot more. I wouldn’t pay a babysitter to mind my child and pay them less than the minimum wage. So what’s the problem here? And I think what we’re seeing is, like Fianna Fáil, it’s a bit rich, they cut public sector pay, they’re telling us that …”
Coleman: “Just stick with the issue, just stick with the issue…”
Coppinger: “No, it’s extremely relevant because last…”
Coleman: “It’s not actually…”
Coppinger: “They were saying..it is. Because in the debate last night, which I participated in, another TD from Fianna Fáil said there was public sector workers who were reliant now on au pairs. The reason they’re reliant on au pairs is that they’ve had their pay cut and there’s no affordable childcare.”
Coleman: “Let Anne Rabbitte come back in..”
Rabbitte: “Well actually last night, in the Dáil, Bríd Smith, Maureen O’Sullivan, Fiona O’Loughlin, all had a fabulous experience, believe it or not, as being au pairs themselves…”
Coleman: “OK [to Coppinger], just let her [Rabbitte] answer the question, then you can come back in…”
Rabbitte: “In actual fact there was members right across the Dáil last night who actually understand the essence of my bill and exactly where I was coming from.”
Coleman: “Sorry, but doesn’t Ruth Coppinger make a good point? You pay your babysitter €8/€9/€10 an hour, roughly around the minimum wage…”
Coleman: “Shouldn’t it be the same for au pairs?”
Rabbitte: “Well, I think what we need to…as the debate unfolded last night, something became very clear from it and it was from Minister Breen. What in actual fact is board and lodgings is allowed for au pairs and, at this moment in time, it actually has a rating of only €54. And Deputy Butler said last night, she said in actual fact she’s after putting the kids through college and she certainly couldn’t put them through for €54, board and lodgings, for a week. So what Minister Breen said was, that needs to be looked at. The allowance for board and lodgings, if that was increased up, to the market rate. Drumcondra, at this moment in time, is €180 to stay for a week if you went into board and lodgings so if you were to do it, on that basis, absolutely, then we could regularise the au pair market and that actually would bring it inside then, you could actually have the pocket money, as I call it, because I was trying to keep within the labour terminology completely, to keep it in what it was. So in actual fact, you’d work out at the €10 an hour, for the 30 hours in the week.”
Coleman: “Ruth Coppinger, if it could be guaranteed that it was genuinely the case that it was students, people under the age of 23 or 24, who were coming here for a short fixed period of time, as part of a gap year, would you be amenable to that? Would you be happy with that?”
Coppinger: “The difficulty is that this is now being used it would seem by increasingly by people because they can’t actually access affordable childcare. But it’s also allowing people exploit. We need to recognise these people as workers. As I said, you wouldn’t hire a babysitter for €5…”
Coleman: “I know, you made that point but the question I asked you…”
Talk over each other
Coppinger: “But Anne is using the word ‘pocket money’. Anyone over 16, who goes out to work, is a worker. And it’s an employee-employer relationship. I don’t see what the problem is if people are paying their taxes and it’s all above board. I’ve no problem with any cultural exchanges, but let’s be honest about what’s going on here. There’s real expatiation, there were two so-called au pairs in the public gallery [of the Dáil] last night. One of them works 35 hours a week, she gets no food from the family at the weekend, and gets €110 [a week] and often you’re talking about bed and board there, there’s actually an invasion of a lot of these workers’ privacy. We’ve had, you know, people being admonished for talking on the phone in their room to their boyfriends and Skype. You know, there is a real dangerous situation here where you’re in somebody’s house and you’re open to being exploited.”
Coleman: “OK, Anne Rabbitte.”
Rabbitte: “My fear is that if this bill doesn’t go through or we don’t get support, or we don’t get it to a committee stage, then in actual fact, we’re going to drive it right into the black market. That’s…”
Coppinger: “Why do people say that?”
Rabbitte: “That’s what I’m seeing it going. Because there’s 20,000 families. In actual fact, are we saying the 20,000 families there, who use au pairs, should be criminalised? That’s what we’re actually saying?”
Coppinger: “No, we’re saying they should just pay the minimum wage, at least. But actually these women are doing…Let’s dispense with the light housework. Anyone who has ever minded a child, anyone who has ever done laundry or housework, it’s not, it’s heavy work. It’s physically exerting and it’s mentally…”
Rabbitte: “Well, Ruth, I should know all about it. I’m a mother myself.”
Coppinger: “Yeah, so am I, Anne…”
Rabbitte: “And in actual fact, that’s exactly where I’m coming from with this bill to be quite fair with myself Ruth. That in actual fact, I didn’t set out to have a go at the migrants’ rights. I didn’t have set out, in actual fact, to undo the work of the WRC. What I set out to do with this bill was, in actual fact, was to protect the 20,000 families who actually feel like criminals at this moment in time. Who are facing into September and, in actual fact, yes, they want to create a work-life balance, that’s where that bill comes from, Ruth.”
“Dublin West TD, Ruth Coppinger, along with three Anti-Austerity councillors are currently occupying a NAMA housing estate under construction at Diswellstown Manor site. She’s calling on NAMA to make the units social and affordable homes.”
“Deputy Coppinger said that she, along with 25 homeless families from the local area and some local people, have occupied one of the NAMA homes that have been built.”
“‘This housing estate has about 120 houses and it’s going to be sold on the open market for a very high price but yet we have 120 homeless families in Blanchardstown alone in emergency accommodation.'”
In the Dáil yesterday, during Leaders’ Questions, Independent TD Paul Murphy asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny how many Irish Water bills have been paid so far.
He suggested that the rate of non-payment was higher than the Government expected.
Mr Kenny told Mr Murphy to get the information from Irish Water.
He added he wasn’t going “to spoonfeed” Mr Murphy, before saying: “I advise [Mr Murphy] to toddle along to the audio-visual room at 4pm where Irish Water will give him the answers to any questions he wishes to ask.”
Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger asked: “What is the point of Leaders’ Questions then?”.
Mr Kenny replied, “To tell you where to go.”
Several deputies asked Mr Kenny to withdraw the comment.
He didn’t and the Dáil sitting was suspended.
Paul Murphy: “Irish Water has issued almost 1 million bills, 592,000 of which have passed their pay-by dates. How many water bills have been paid? What is the rate of payment and non-payment? I suspect there is much more non-payment than the Government hoped. Otherwise, the Taoiseach would be shouting from the roof-tops that people were accepting the charges and we would not be faced with the bogeyman of legislation that is always just around the corner but never arrives.
On 3 February, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the legislation would be ready in the next couple of weeks. More than a couple of weeks later, on 25 March, he told the Dáil it would be introduced in a few weeks’ time. A few weeks have passed, and yesterday, he told the Dáil it would be enacted before the House rises in July. At this rate, Godot himself may ramble by before any legislation comes before the House. Is the delay deliberate? Is it part of a dishonest plan designed to scare people and cynically timed to happen at the same time as the bills are dropping into letter-boxes? Is it intended to created the impression that it will enable Irish Water to reach into people’s wages, benefits or pensions and deduct water charges, ably assisted by sections of the media?”
“The impression is untrue. It is clear the Irish Water cannot and will not be given any such power. According to the Law Reform Commission report, Irish Water is a company; it is not the Revenue Commissioners. It would have to go to court to seek attachment orders. We have been here before. In the 1990s, people were taken to court for non-payment of water charges and were threatened with disconnection. There were protests at the courts, which were clogged with non-payers. It proved seriously politically embarrassing for the then Government, which did not break mass non-payment, and the water charges were abolished. Court action cannot break mass non-payment now either. The Courts Service has said it would not be able to deal with the excessive burden. Perhaps this is the explanation for the haste with which Denis O’Brien got down to the courts before they clog up with water charges protesters. It would be political suicide to pursue court cases before a general election. The situation remains exactly as before, with no penalties for non-payment until July 2016, after the general election. Mass non-payment can sink the water charges. What are the figures? How many people have paid and how many have not? What are the rates?”
Enda Kenny: “The Deputy’s speech is no different from the ones he has made before. He knows as well as I do that if he wants this detailed information, Irish Water will supply it to him. The Deputy said that in the 1990s people were threatened with disconnection. The Government has listened very carefully to the genuine concerns of people all over the country and has legislated for the fact that there will be no cut-off of water supply. As I said the other day, the Government is moving to a much broader, more comprehensive and fairer system of dealing with civil debt, arising from the work done by the Law Reform Commission several years ago, in which people will not be sent to jail and the Victorian era will be said goodbye to in that regard. The charge is now €1.50 per week for a single person and €3 a week for a household of two or more persons.”
Peadar Tóibín: “For now. That is the introductory charge.”
Finian McGrath: “What about the property tax?”
Kenny: “Those who register will be entitled to a support of €100 assistance towards that from the Department of Social Protection. For this modest contribution, people will receive a high-quality water supply which one would expect in a country as developed and developing as ours in 2015. We cannot go on with a system where thousands of people have had boil water notices for years, a grossly inferior wastewater and sewage treatment systems in so many towns and where 50% of the water supply, for which people have contributed over the years, leaks away into the ground. That is why it is necessary Irish Water is a separate entity, to be able to borrow on the markets to invest to fix those leaks and to provide water and sewerage systems right across the country that will bring us to the point of competency in service and standard that we should have been at for so many years.”
“If one looks at the record, we have had an investment of €300 million over the years which is 50% of what we should have been able to invest. We cannot do that, given the scale of the finances of the country. That is why it is necessary that Irish water be established. It is also finding out through its metering programme the scale of loss of water over the past 50 years which was scandalous. The opportunity now presents itself to bring our country’s water and wastewater systems, as well as its sewage treatment plants to the highest international standards. I am sure Irish Water will be happy to supply the Deputy with the details of bills that have been issued and paid.”
Murphy: “I asked a very simple question.”
Simon Harris: “The Deputy asked the wrong question.”
Murphy: “It was about the rate of payment. The Taoiseach’s answer is to go and ask Irish Water as if it has nothing to do with the Government. The Taoiseach was not shy in boasting about puffed-up and bloated Irish Water registration figures where the same people were responsible for them.”
McGrath: “Remember that carefully.”
Murphy: “It is a bit like “Blue Peter”. Earlier, we prepared in advance and asked Irish Water what the levels of payment were. It said it would not give us those figures as it regards the levels of payment and the number of people who have paid now to be statistically insignificant. That means 500,000 bills and 500,000 people are somehow statistically insignificant. Opinion polls are done with a sample of only 1,000 people.”
McGrath: “More porkies.”
Murphy: “Does the Taoiseach not know what the rate of payments is? Has Irish Water not informed him? Will he find that information and give it to the House? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the legislation will require court cases? Will he allay the scaremongering in which he has been deliberately engaged, suggesting that Irish Water will be able to take them? We have had court cases before about disconnections. The Taoiseach was a Deputy then, supporting the Government parties when people were dragged to court. This was met with protests and the then Government could not break non-payment. The same will happen here. People will have enough reasons after seven years of non-payment.”
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett: “Has the Deputy got a question?”
Murphy: “Will the Taoiseach give us the figures? Will he confirm that he is talking about court cases rather than direct deductions, in other words, that Irish Water will not be able to directly deduct? Is he seriously considering any court cases in advance of the general election? If so, does he have clear prospects lined up?”
Harris: “Deputy Paul Murphy is obsessed by this.”
Kenny: “I know Deputy Paul Murphy is elected by the people and good luck to him. Sometimes, however, he feels he is Julius Caesar and that he can dictate whatever he wants to do himself. I am not going to spoonfeed Deputy Paul Murphy.”
Martin: “In fairness, Julius Caesar was a bit more sophisticated than that.”
Timmy Dooley: “Et tu, Blueshirt?”
Kenny: “I advise him to toddle along to the audio-visual room at 4pm today where Irish Water will give him the answers to any questions he wishes to ask.”
Murphy: “When we asked Irish Water, it said it would not give us the information.”
Paul Kehoe: “He can have a protest outside the audio-visual room.”
Kenny: “That is open to every Deputy, including Deputy Paul Murphy. He can go and ask Irish Water instead of expecting me to spoonfeed him. With respect to the legislation, the Government expects to have legislated for this before the end of this session. The matter will be discussed here and in the committee rooms as one would expect. No doubt, Deputy Paul Murphy will be fully entitled to contribute with his constructive suggestions to that debate. I look forward to hearing him and his understanding of how important it is that we have a proper water supply for people and for business, as well as proper wastewater treatment plants across the country. He should go along at four o’clock and participate in the democratic presentation that will be there for him. When the Bill comes into the House, I look forward to his constructive suggestions.”
Ruth Coppinger: “What is the point of Leaders’ Question then?”
Kenny: “To tell you where to go.”
Róisín Shortall: “Will the Taoiseach repeat what he just said?”
A Deputy: “He should withdraw that.”
Shortall: “Will the Taoiseach repeat what he just said? A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order. The Taoiseach has brought the House into disrepute with that comment. I ask that he withdraw it.”
Kenny: “What comment?”
Shortall: “Every Member of this House has a mandate and a right to be treated with respect.”
Martin: “It is bringing the House into disrepute. The Taoiseach said the purpose of Leaders’ Questions was to tell the Deputy where to go. He should withdraw it.”
Kenny: “Yes, I said the Deputy can go to the audio-visual room at 4 o’clock to hear Irish Water.”
Shortall: “That is not what the Taoiseach said.”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Will you resume your seat Deputy? You are out of order.”
Martin: “Julius Caesar had many rights.”
Shortall: “A Cheann Comhairle, you have a responsibility to…”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Will you resume your seat Deputy? You are out of order. It was Deputy Paul Murphy’s question.”
Shortall: “…to protect the rights of Members of this House. The Taoiseach should not have made that comment to the Deputy.”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Will you resume your seat Deputy? You are heading for more trouble now. Are you looking to get thrown out again?”
Martin: “The Taoiseach should withdraw his comment.”
Coppinger: “A Cheann Comhairle, you have been quick enough in the past to berate us for making comments and asking us to withdraw them.”
An Ceann Comhairle: “Resume your seat.”
Coppinger: “Could the Taoiseach repeat the comment and withdraw it?”
Tanaiste Joan Burton and Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger in the Dail today
I don’t see any guys.
Siteserv DOMINATED dáil proceedings today.
Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald has announced an independent inquiry to be set up independently by, cough, Michael Noonan.
Meanwhile Ruth Coppinger pressed Joan Burton on her depth of knowledge about the Siteserv transaction. To wit:
Ruth Coppinger: “The secretive sale of this company Tanaiste has been raised in this house, by the way, for years – on numerous occasions. Deputy Catherine Murphy has done us all a huge service and I commend her aswell for her work, she raised it before. Other deputies raised it to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Finance. I raised it myself actually, in a Leaders’ Question, and had my mic switched off. Hope it won’t happen today.But, of course, Denis O’Brien is so well connected to Fine Gael, owns large swathes of the media, that it’s taken this long to get us this far. Now Tánaiste specifically, on the issue of Siteserv, and if your baying hounds could stop shouting over the deputies that are here. Can you please answer the following questions: Richard..”
Ceann Comhairle: “Sorry, order please”
Coppinger: “Richard Woodhouse, an alleged acquaintance of Denis O’Brien..”
Ceann Comhairle: “Sorry, deputy..”
Coppinger: “…who’s also..”
CC: “Sorry, deputy please, I, I, I just, I know…”
Coppinger: “Who’s also..”
CC: “Sorry, no, there are people’s names in the public, in the public arena but I don’t want people making accusations against people who aren’t [inaudible]…”
Coppinger: “These are facts, Cathaoirleach these are just facts. He was also the head of specialised asset recovery at IBRC and oversaw Denis O’Brien’s borrowings at IBRC. Brian Harvey, the CEO of Siteserv.”
[ At a press conference on Friday April 24 former IBRC chairman Alan Dukes said Mr Woodhouse was excluded from the Siteserv sale because he was “handling Mr O’Brien’s finances”]
Coppinger: “Received a personal lump sum of €800,000, as a result of the sale to Millington, €800,000. Siteserv’s chairman…”
CC: “Please respect the rule I’m asking you, that’s what I’m putting to you today. OK, continue.”
Coppinger: “Yeah these are facts Cathaoirleach. Siteserv’s chairman Hugh Cooney was also obviously involved in the NTMA, Enterprise Ireland and reportedly also was on an American trip that the Taoiseach attended with Denis O’Brien and we know lawyers Arthur Cox represented both O’Brien and IBRC.”
CC: “Question please?”
Coppinger:”`But why Tanaiste was there no independent representation for the Irish taxpayer. Why was there no legal representation for the Irish taxpayer? The sale was processed we know by people with many connections to people in Siteserv, Davy and KPMG and, of course, the big question, why were other bidders making much larger offers not even considered?
For example, Tanaiste, can you comment that the only tender, and this is very important, that included a payment to directors was the Millington tender. Now if that’s the case why would it not be in the interest of shareholders to take that bid. And if it is true then this was obviously the company that was being positioned to get the water meter contract that’s going to be a license to print money, if you can force through the water charges. What other sweetheart deals took place or are happening and have happened recently at Anglo? From Fine Gael’s bankers? We’ve already heard about Topaz and Beacon Hospital, etc…”