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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Dec 2006

Vol. 185 No. 12

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No.1, Defamation Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage, if it concludes — we will have to wait to see how the debate transpires; No. 2, a motion that Seanad Éireann notes the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance, to be taken at 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed seven minutes; and No. 3, the Industrial Development Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to conclude not later than 9 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. There will be an extended sos from 1.30 p.m. until 5 p.m. to allow Senators to listen to the Budget Statement and to shout "Hurrah".

That is not until 3.45 p.m.

The Senator can have his lunch beforehand.

One group who will not be shouting "Hurrah" today are the 21 people jailed each day for non-payment of fines. Last Monday seven people were incarcerated because of their failure to pay fines. Over the past four years, according to figures released to a spokesperson colleague of mine, 7,500 were committed to prison for the non-payment of fines, an average of 21 people per day.

Will the Leader provide Government time for No. 13 on the Order Paper, the Enforcement of Court Orders (No. 2) Bill 2004, which is in my name? The Bill seeks to address the problem and provide for attachments to earnings. These are poor people who do not pay fines in most cases and are left in a situation where they end up in prison. This is a waste of Garda time and a waste of prison resources. The issue must be addressed. Will the Leader consult the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a view to providing time for this so that we may find a way forward rather than incarcerate people for the non-payment of small fines when we could set up an attachment to their social welfare or pension earnings to collect payment? It is ridiculous that 21 people a day are imprisoned for the non-payment of fines. The issue must be addressed.

During a discussion on a related matter here a few weeks ago Senator Brian Hayes raised the question of mandatory sentencing. I agree it would be helpful to have a debate on the area of sentences from the courts. People have all sorts of views on the matter. Some suggest locking people up and throwing away the key and others ask whether there is rehabilitation in prison. We need significant discussion on the issue. We have not had that discussion in my time in the House and it would be worth while to look at the issue from the perspective of the legislature. Obviously, the separation of powers remains.

I suggest it would be novel and creative for us to have our budget debate before the budget. We could have it at 1.30 p.m. and conclude at 3.45 p.m.

I did not hear what the Senator said.

I suggest we should be more creative and relaxed about our budget debate.

No, we could not have the debate before the budget.

Would the Leader accept an amendment to the Order of Business to have our budget debate at 1 p.m. with a proposal from the Government side congratulating it on reducing tax and on mortgage relief——

Let me make another suggestion, that we have an excellent budget since Senator O'Toole advocates prophecy.

Order please. Senator O'Toole, without interruption.

I am trying to be helpful. I recall a Minister of State once having to resign because somebody knew something about the budget in advance.

That does not happen with the current Government.

We could have the debate, the congratulations on the one side and an amendment from the other side with regard to the profligacy of the Government and the waste of money. Will the Cathaoirleach consider it?

We cannot do it.

The Leader will reply on the Order of Business.

We dealt with an issue yesterday and the comments on it by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley. Let us see what the budget does in that regard. We could still have a debate and focus on that issue after hearing what the Minister has to say about how he will spend his money. Other groups also have an interest as their budgets have been hit severely in recent times. I have been in contact with the Department on a number of occasions about the Irish Osteoporosis Society. Various other groups look forward to improvements also. If we cannot have the debate before the budget, we can discuss these issues afterwards. Does the Leader think there will be something new in the budget of which we have not yet heard?

I have some ideas all right.

This morning's reports on the study of recidivism, etc., confirms a view I have held since I came to the House, that apart from protecting us from dangerous people, prisons serve no purpose. They do not rehabilitate or deter people, but turn them into criminals. It is an interesting statistic that 85% of people who end up in prison for defaulting on a fine end up in prison again within four years.

Who are we kidding? Building more prisons and employing more prison officers is one of the growth industries here. In 50 or 100 years' time people will look back and wonder how society became so hysterical that it believed locking up more and more people would achieve anything more than locking up ever increasing numbers of people. There is not a scrap of evidence that prisons work or that they deter criminals——

Does the Senator suggest we release all the prisoners and lock them out?

Senator Daly is having fun and making silly remarks about locking prisoners out.

Senator Ryan is making stupid statements.

There are people who should be in prison, some of them close associates of Senator Daly and who never went to prison, and society would be a lot better off if they spent the rest of their lives there.

People in glass houses should not throw stones.

If the Senator wants to talk about who should be in prison, let him go and talk about it.

We will not go that far.

With regard to at least half, if not two thirds, of those in prison, we are not being protected from them because they are no threat to us. We are not rehabilitating them either, but only teaching them how to be professional criminals. We should be prepared to examine this report, which was produced by UCD with the co-operation of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Prison Service. We should discuss the issue. Let us get away from sloganeering and have a serious discussion on whether prisons work. We all believe they do, but they never do.

I was not here yesterday, but I wish to record my views on the issue of psychiatric services. Someone close to me is a psychiatrist. What was said about psychiatrists on "Prime Time" by the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, was grossly offensive to the people I know in that profession. His comments were thoughtless, irresponsible and grossly offensive and served no purpose other than to distract attention from appalling failure. I wish the minor party in Government would devote as much attention to lobbying for child psychiatry services as it has done to get a reduction in the top rate of income tax. That would have shown a greater level of social commitment rather than chasing after the illusory belief that the party can rescue itself from oblivion by cutting the top rate of income tax.

The Labour Party considers that ten and seven minute allocations for spokespersons on major legislation like the Defamation Bill is too short.

The allocation is for 15 minutes.

I apologise, I must have misread it. Unlike Fianna Fáil, when I am wrong, I am prepared to admit I am wrong.


I agree with Senator Brian Hayes and others on the need for a debate on the Prison Service, in particular with regard to imprisoning people for non-payment of fines. I have discussed this issue with solicitors and lawyers and attachment to earnings or social welfare payments is the route to take. We are not living in Charles Dickens' time or dealing with Mr. Micawber. In 2006, we should not send people to debtors' prisons for a fine that could be attached to earnings or social welfare payments. All this requires is a simple policy decision. I ask that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House to discuss the report. We should have the debate in January when we return after the Christmas recess.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to outline his policy on water charges, particularly as they affect farmers? Our 29 different councils act like 29 independent republics with semi-junior ministers, called county managers, running the show. There are different charges in each county. In Sligo farmers pay €5.14 per 1,000 gallons, in Roscommon they pay €3.54 per 1,000 gallons and in Leitrim they pay €3.36 per 1,000 gallons. This is a small country so why can the Minister not talk to the county managers and apply a single charge throughout the country? The charges are the delegated responsibility of the executives of the councils, but they are trying to blame the councillors in each area for them. That is the direction we are going at present. There is no point in people trying to walk away from this area. Meters are for businesses, such as hairdressers and publicans. Farmers are prepared to accept that, provided it is fair and equitable, and provided the private house on the farm can be detached. I understand from discussions today with Roscommon County Council——

Is the Senator not talking to the Minister?

I am talking to him.

The Senator has made his point.

This is the forum to raise issues.

That is good to hear.

Who is in charge?

We, on this side of the House, are not restricted. We are prepared to bell the cat. My party is not afraid to stand up on these issues.

Order, please. The Senator has made his point. I call Senator Finucane.

Given the day that is in it, much attention will naturally focus on the budget but I would like the House to also think of a group of more than 300 workers who recently lost their jobs at Castlemahon Food Products near Newcastle West. They received just two weeks' statutory redundancy payments from the company, which is based in the North of Ireland, and the State. One year ago, 150 workers with that employer were made redundant and received five weeks' redundancy. The current group of workers have been crusading for an improvement in the number of weeks but the company has been totally intransigent and has hidden behind the liquidator.

It is usual when there are closures that there would be an announcement that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, would do everything possible to assist. All I want him to do in this case is to talk to the Labour Relations Commission on an ad hoc basis, given that only the liquidator, the ex-employees and the company are involved, to find whether he could achieve a meeting of minds to improve the redundancy package for these workers, who face a bleak Christmas. They are forgotten and must resort to peaceful protest outside a leading company in this country to prove their point — they will possibly finish their protest outside the Dáil today.

This is what I ask from the Minister, Deputy Martin. We realise the jobs are gone and will not be replaced. Unfortunately, the food processing industry as we know it in west Limerick, particularly with regard to poultry processing, has gone in the past two years.

I wonder whether it would be possible to turn down the heating in the Chamber.

I do not find it too hot.

A Senator

It is all the hot air coming out.

This is the time of year when one tends to review the performance of the tourism industry in the past year and the prospects for the year to come. I would like a debate on the industry, if not immediately, then when we resume. It is one of those sectors where many doomsayers claimed we were in danger of losing competitiveness and market share. In fact, we are forging ahead and the Government is getting real value for the money it has invested — there is a 17% increase in the marketing fund for next year.

There is also an all-Ireland dimension to the issue. Tourism Ireland is an all-Ireland body and the Northern Ireland Tourism Board is also benefiting. Northern Ireland has had as many visitors this year as the Twenty-Six Counties had in 1986.

Given the day that is in it, I compliment "Morning Ireland" for re-running a substantial excerpt from Mr. Ray McSharry's budget speech, which showed how difficult things were 20 years ago, but which also set us on the path to where we are today, with the help of his successors.

And Alan Dukes. He is conveniently forgotten. It is selective amnesia. What of the Tallaght strategy?

I add my voice to those who called for a debate on the report from UCD on our prison population. Perhaps we could combine that with a debate on the lack of access so many children have to psychologists at school, as Senator O'Toole mentioned, and the issue of access to child and adolescent psychiatrists. It is clear that poor educational attainment is a very important factor on the road to ending up in prison. The address of behavioural problems in children by such professionals might frequently have helped to keep people out of prison. I would like to have the two issues discussed in combination.

I support Senator Brian Hayes's call for the House to bring forward No. 13, the Enforcement of Court Orders (No. 2) Bill on the attachment of orders with regard to fines. The worst aspect of imprisoning people for fines offences is not that they go to prison but that they never serve the sentences. There is such pressure on places that they are in for perhaps three to five days — the most expensive days possible for taxpayers — and are then released, but they have no money to pay the next fine. It is utterly ridiculous. I do not know why this has continued for so long.

Will the Leader organise a debate when the House resumes on the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic crops? It is an important issue for this country to address, particularly in view of our island status.

The points I intended to make have been anticipated by other Senators and I will not waste the time of the House with them, but I support the request for a debate on prisons arising from the UCD report which is being published today. It is to be welcomed that the country is developing criminological research at this level.

We need to consider the whole question of prisons. There are too many people in prison. Some people need to be kept in prisons but we only blur the issue by imprisoning many other people who should not be there.

Hear, hear.

It costs €95,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison. We could send three of them to Eton for that amount, which would at least give us a better class of criminal by the time they came out. We should consider the balance between prison, probation, the number of prison officers and what they do, and rehabilitation. I am against the attachment of social welfare earnings because it would not help families.

Interesting things are being done in other countries with regard to restorative justice and making people face up to responsibility for their crimes and work in the community. There is much to be done. We could have a very useful debate in this regard.

Much has been said in recent times with regard to house prices and the ever-widening gap for young, hard-working people who cannot afford to buy their own homes. Much debate is centred around stamp duty, which was the issue floated recently by the Progressive Democrats. Today marks the fourth anniversary of the abolition of the first-time buyer's grant by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen. Will the Government re-introduce that grant? It would be one small step on the road to allowing younger people back into the housing market.

It is seldom we on this side of the House agree with Senator Mansergh but I agree it is quite hot in the Chamber today. I suggest the Senator joins backbench Fianna Fáil Members on the plinth for the rest of the day, where I am sure there will be plenty of hot air.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

The Senator is so funny.

I support Senator Leyden's call to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to the House for a discussion on the issue of water charges. I attended a meeting in Roscommon on Monday last at which 1,200 farmers were present. There is no doubt this is a serious issue. As Senator Leyden stated, County Sligo is one of the dearest counties at €5.14 per 1,000 gallons of water and €80 per metre. A fragmented holding could be assessed for four or five metres, which could cost €400 without the farmer using a drop of water. This compares to other counties which have one charge per metre and a cost of €2 less per 1,000 gallons.

The other issue in this regard is that county mangers state that funding is 100% recoupable from the customer. However, if there is a leak in the mains, somebody must pay for the water. It is farmers and small businesses throughout the country who must pay. This is wrong. The issue needs to be addressed.

I have previously raised the issue of care organisers. Patients are held in hospitals because care organisers who allocate hours to people who need home help are not doing so because of a dispute that has continued for the past six months. As a result, people in hospitals are unable to get home care when they go home. Similarly, people who live at home who need extra home help hours to keep them out of hospital are unable to avail of such services. It is time for this dispute, which has been going on for six months, to be dealt with.

As many Senators are offering, I ask them to be brief in order that everyone can be accommodated.

Many organisations are waiting patiently to see if the Minister for Finance will give them additional funding in today's budget. It is unfair to raise the profile of any single organisation. I would like to discuss the needs of people with cystic fibrosis, however, as they have not been mentioned in the House for a long time and have been neglected over the years. A review that was published last year highlighted some dangerous practices in respect of the treatment of cystic fibrosis sufferers. Approximately €5 million was allocated in last year's budget for improvements in the treatment centres which deal with such people, but that was a very small amount of money. Much more needs to be done to provide adequate staffing levels and better isolation facilities in the treatment units. If people with cystic fibrosis, who are really sick, cannot avail of the isolation units they need, they can easily pick up other illnesses such as MRSA, about which we have been hearing a great deal. I hope a significant budget will be allocated to the Minister for Health and Children to allow her to give cystic fibrosis sufferers the treatment and staffing levels they deserve.

Hear, hear.

I support the points which have been made about water charges. The proposal to install water meters is a good one because they can be used to measure the amount of water that is used and to deal with water leakage, which is a significant problem in many water schemes. I hope the Minister can examine the inconsistency that exists in this regard, which needs to be dealt with. I refer to the charge per 1,000 gallons, which seems to vary in every county.

The serious flooding that started in many parts of the country last weekend has continued in recent days. The media highlighted the problems in Crossmolina, County Mayo, over the weekend. Television reports yesterday from Kilconly, which is in north Galway, informed us that the local IFA saved five cattle there which had been stranded for a few days before being brought to safety. I do not accept the excuse that flooding is simply caused by rivers bursting their banks, which has happened in a number of counties. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, to come to the House to discuss this issue. Perhaps moneys will be made available in today's budget for flood relief, as has been done in previous budgets. It is important for the House to have a debate on the need to deal with this country's flooding blackspots.

I find myself in the embarrassing situation of agreeing with Senator Mansergh's comments about the rebroadcasting this morning of a budget speech given some years ago by the former Minister, Mr. Ray MacSharry. The speech, in which Mr. MacSharry referred to the difficult days we were experiencing at the time, was stark in the extreme. He said that while there had been decreases in production, productivity, exports, Exchequer income and employment, we should not lose courage because the foundations for future prosperity could be laid if we took some difficult steps. We have to give credit to people on all sides of the House who faced the realities of the time. Mr. MacSharry, among others, helped to lay the foundations for what we have today.


Hear, hear.

I hope the Minister for Finance decides to pay off some more of the national debt in today's budget. It would be wonderful if we could become debt-free in these times of prosperity.

I would like to speak about the extraordinary figures relating to the sentencing of prisoners which have been mentioned by other Senators. I gather the figures can be compared to the equivalent international figures. There is nothing unusual about our figures in that context. The rate of recidivism in Ireland is not greater than that in other countries — in fact, it is slightly less. It is interesting that just 25% of sexual offenders reoffend, as I would have thought the figure would be far higher. It appears the behaviour of such people in certain circumstances is less compulsive than the community believes. I do not agree with the idea of imprisoning people for not paying fines in respect of their television sets. Some of my colleagues have suggested taking some of the meagre social welfare income that such people receive. That is the most revolting suggestion I have heard in this House. I simply cannot believe it. I am sure it was just a slip of the tongue or a mistake.

It would just catapult them back in again. It would be a complete waste of time.

I have just learned to my sorrow that there is no such thing as an original idea. I had written down what I planned to say about the annual cost of €90,000 for the detention of people in ordinary prisons and of €250,000 for the fancy accommodation for the Shinners. One could certainly send people to good schools for that amount of money. I am really being serious when I ask why we should not provide for that. Given that we have provided for affordable housing, should we not require snotty boarding schools to take in a prisoner each?

Some of them are already full of prisoners.

It would do them good. It would certainly save the Exchequer money.

I am a little concerned about the question of fluoridation. I have been contacted by people who have far more information on the matter than I have. We have certain medical personnel of various kinds in this House. I have received a press release from the Irish Medical News, stating that parents in Ireland who make up formula with tap water give their children seven times the safe level of fluoride, as agreed by the British Medical Association. The Minister for Health and Children has told the Dáil that if fluoride is to have any ill-effects, a newborn baby weighing 3kg would have to ingest 15mg of fluoride, which would be 176 times more than the safe fluoride level agreed by the British Medical Association. I would like to know who is wrong. Are infants in this country in danger of being poisoned, or is the British Medical Association wrong? It would be useful for Senators to get advice on this matter from the Minister for Health and Children and some of our medical colleagues in this House.

I would also like to call for a debate on sentencing. I have listened to the points which have been made this morning. I agree with Senator Maurice Hayes that this is a societal matter. The issues which are at stake are more fundamental than the non-payment of small fines. Rehabilitation should focus on individuals and their families. We need to reflect on the future of the family in this country. Discipline is also important. We should examine how children are reared and how young people are brought up. This is a societal issue. It would be useful to have a debate on the wider issues in this regard. We called yesterday for a debate on the mental health of young adolescents. This is a similar problem. Many young people do not want to be in mainstream education. They do not want to obey any rules and regulations. We have a golden opportunity to examine the best way to rehabilitate such people. I welcome today's publication of the report on sentencing. It is a pity it was not published before the House debated and passed the Prisons Bill 2006 yesterday. Perhaps we would have had more to say about the Bill if we had seen the report in question. I support the call for a debate on sentencing.

We heard this morning the opinions of Government Senators about the effects on farmers of the proposed water charges in local authority areas throughout the country. Previous speakers failed to recognise that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has imposed cutbacks on local authorities, as can be clearly seen from the recent Estimates. As a result of those cutbacks, the only option open to county managers is to increase revenue locally. That can be done only by increasing rates or water charges. It is hypocritical of those who have spoken this morning to say county managers are responsible.

Hear, hear.

The Senators in question are behaving as if they were in opposition. In local authorities in which the Government parties are in the minority, their councillors are blaming the councillors who are in power. In local authorities in which the Government parties are in charge, their councillors are blaming the county managers. They cannot have it both ways.

The local authorities should ask the Minister, Deputy Roche, to compensate them for the shortfall in the Estimates——

Hear, hear.

—— and to provide for equality in respect of water charges. The probability is that water charges will increase further during the coming year if the Minister does not provide adequate resources to county councils.

Senator Leyden, Senator Scanlon and others cried crocodile tears for the people who met in Roscommon the other day——


—— and pretended they were on their side when in fact they sit behind the Minister who imposes these charges indirectly.

No, it was disparity.

Does Senator Ulick Burke wish to raise another issue?

On another issue, if we analyse the number of prisoners, especially those in the younger age groups, and we know the difficulties they face, it is clear that dropping out of school is the origin of many of their problems. They are then out of the school equation and nothing can be done for them. It is unbelievable that not just in County Galway but throughout the country the Minister for Education and Science is withdrawing home-school-community liaison co-ordinators from schools. They are the very people who help retain children in the school system and bring them to the point where they can get a job. The official line from the Minister is clear. She said when those children reach a certain retention, they will be allowed to go their own way and we will move on to the next area. She is withdrawing the service and punishing those who have done well.

I refer to a matter raised by Senator Finucane and wish to support my west Limerick colleague regarding the payment of redundancy payments to the Castlemahon workers and the request of the Minister, Deputy Martin. I acknowledge that the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, met the workers. That was one of the items discussed some weeks ago. Now that we are facing Christmas, I ask for an early agreement and solution to that problem.

It is right and proper at this time of year that issues which impact on disadvantage in our society should be highlighted because most people are focused on those issues which, sadly, we should be focused on throughout the year. While I do not suggest it is in the same category as what was discussed earlier, I want to make an appeal to parents, mainly because it happens at this time every year, to ensure that when their children ask them to purchase pets for Christmas, they would take a more responsible attitude than what appears to be happening.

On my way to the House today there was yet another poignant example of what is happening to what is seen as man and woman's best friend. Dogs are being let loose throughout the streets of Dublin. The number of strays picked up in the past week to ten days at the various pounds has dramatically increased and, in many cases, those dogs will be either put down or simply left in the pounds. Perhaps this issue is not the flavour of the month, but my understanding is that under statutory regulations, any stray dog picked up on the streets can be kept for only five days, after which it is put down. In fairness to one of the dog pounds, its representatives said they do not operate that inflexible law. There is no law to prevent people from purchasing animals, whether they are responsible or irresponsible.

The Leader might feel it prudent that at some point the relevant Minister would introduce regulations. We might even have a debate on the way people could be more responsible. The plea is that parents would be more responsible when children ask them to purchase animals for Christmas.

I support the points raised by Senators Finucane and Brennan on the job losses in the manufacturing industry in particular. A total of 27 job losses were announced yesterday in a company in Kilrush. I would like to extend the discussion and invite the Minister to the House to indicate to Members the way he proposes to deal with the recent very large number of job losses in the manufacturing industry in particular.

I do not have a difficulty about a debate on prisons but we should not lose sight of the fact that many victims are concerned that the responsibility aspect appears to be more in favour of the prisoners than the victims. Victims have a very real grievance in many cases at the way in which they are dealt with and we should not lose sight of that in any debate on the issue.

While I appreciate that Senator Ryan tabled a Private Members' motion some time ago on the issue I raise, an additional debate on homelessness in our major cities and towns is required. As we heard from many speakers earlier who highlighted the 1987 budget speech, we appear to have come a great distance in terms of our economy, but if we can rightly offer refuge and housing to many foreign nationals from throughout the world in various locations, surely we can do that for the many homeless in Dublin. We will see many of them this evening in Molesworth Street. We must do more in this area given how far this country has come. Notwithstanding that Christmas is fast approaching, will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue soon?

I support Senator Scanlon on the issue of care organisers and the dispute taking place currently, especially in Sligo and Leitrim. This is a case of bureaucratic and administrative arrogance.


It is disgraceful that a small group of individuals are being allowed to affect the lives of the elderly, who are the most vulnerable in society. Will the Leader raise the issue with the Minister for Health and Children as a matter of urgency? This dispute has been going on for months and people will die as a result of it.

Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, made the point that prisons are filled with people who will not or cannot pay their fines. Senator Hayes's Enforcement of Court Orders (No. 2) Bill is on page 1331 of the Order Paper and provides for the making of attachment of earnings and attachment of welfare orders, something very much talked about by Senator Norris. I understand the fines Bill, which is sponsored by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is on the A list for publication. It provides for the updating and indexation of fines and related matters. Perhaps Senator Brian Hayes's Bill could be appended to that Bill because it relates to the same issue.

Senator O'Toole raised the matter we discussed at length yesterday, namely, the statement by the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley. If the mistaken way in which he pronounced himself and the debate we had yesterday in this House and in the Dáil results in a renewed focus on youth disorders, I say, "Well done". I do not mean in terms of what happened but if the ensuing uproar leads to that renewed focus, it would be welcome. We must wait and see what will come out of the budget on the disability area.

Senator Ryan raised the issue of prisons. I listened to the debate this morning on the UCD report and we are within the international norms in terms of the numbers of people who re-offend — 24% in one year and 40% in four years. We cannot do away with prisons. I gathered from much of the debate that there are to be no prisons but the Senators opposite——

Nobody said that.

—— would be the very people who would be howling if that were the case. I do not know about other Senators but I believe prisons are needed. I was nonplussed as the debate went on. I could not understand what we would do if there were no prisons. What would we do with murderers and all the people who commit dreadful crimes?

I think that is a misrepresentation of the debate.

Who said we should have no prisons?

There was a general debate——

Will the Leader name somebody who said we should have no prisons?

The Senator should let me continue.

The Leader said some people said there should be no prisons.

The Leader to continue without interruption.

Do us the honour of naming people.

I want to be clear about what I said, namely, that the idea has gradually developed that prisons are bad and that we should do away with them.

Who said that?

Nobody wants them but we must have them. That is my interpretation of what was said.

That is a distortion of what was said.

Order, please.

As Senator Daly said, victims deserve as much succour and debate as do those who commit crimes against society. I am not talking about young people whom, through no fault of their own, may be thrown into prison because no intervention was made earlier in their lives when they needed professional care, nor am I talking about people who do not pay fines. I agree the latter are clogging up prisons and there should be another way of dealing with them.

Lest the Christmas spirit overcomes us all——

There is no sign of that.

—— we should take hold of ourselves. Senator Ryan said, inadvertently or otherwise, and perhaps he was driven to do so by Senator Daly's comment directed at him, that associates of the Senator should be in those places.

I condemn that comment.

Okay, please do.

Senator Leyden raised the issue of water charges and he was vocal at our parliamentary party meeting on the issue. He has not been hiding his light under a bushel. He said that there should be one uniform water charge for the country, which is a fair point. He said he was prepared to bell the cat, which he did.

Senator Finucane raised the case of the Castlemahon workers who will receive only two weeks' redundancy, which is a minimal amount. He asked if the Minister, Deputy Martin, would talk informally to the Labour Relations Commission to try to ensure that the workers receive a decent redundancy package. That should be done.

Senator Mansergh praised the tourism industry and visitor numbers. He pointed to the role played by former Ministers for Finance in that achievement. I agree with Senator Brian Hayes's inclusion of Mr. Alan Dukes in that respect. I never cease to marvel at Mr. Dukes's Tallaght Strategy and its impact at a pivotal time in Irish political life to enable stability to be restored to the fiscal scene.

Senator Henry raised the matter of the co-existence of genetically modified crops and organic crops and called for a debate on it. Senator Maurice Hayes called for a debate on the prisons system. It was revealed this morning that it costs €95,000 a year to keep a prisoner in a prison in Ireland, which is much higher than the cost internationally, although I do not know on what information that figure is based.

Senator McCarthy raised the matter of house prices and said today marked the fourth anniversary of the abolition of the first-time buyers' grant by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen. I do not believe he was ever in charge of the first-time buyer's grant.

He was when he was Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Order, please.

Okay. I should not look at the Member who spoke.

No, the Leader should look at me.

My experience of first-time buyers' grants is that the builder benefits from them. If we were to continue to increase the value of such grants, such increases would fall straight into the laps of the builders. What we may hear from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, today is a more imaginative way of helping new first-time house purchasers.

It that a statement of intent?

Senator Scanlon raised the issue of water charges. The issue is of acute concern and anyone who stood alongside the Senators Scanlon, Leyden and Feighan last Monday night would know well the ire of people concerning this issue. The Senator raised the issue of the disparity in water charges, unlike Senator Ulick Burke who has called for their abolition. Senator Scanlon raised the disparity in charges throughout counties.

I hope that does not turn out to be the case in the budget.

Senator Scanlon also raised the issue of care organisers and the difficulty concerning the delivery of service. Senator Terry raised the issue of the needs of people with cystic fibrosis and the need for the provision of special care for them in treatment units. Senator Kitt raised the issue of the inconsistency in water charges. He also raised the issue of the flooding that occurred in Kilconly in north Galway.

Senator Norris said that the Minister for Finance should continue to pay off the national debt in the budget, as was done by the former Minister, Ray MacSharry, in his day and many other Ministers for Finance. The Senator described as revolting the idea of deducting money from welfare payments in the case of individuals who do not pay a fine. People must pay fines.

They must.

If a person can hardly afford to live, what is the point? It is outrageous.

A person should pay it gradually.

Senator Norris also raised the question of water fluoridation and the way it is managed here.

Senator Ormonde said that the issue of the prison system is a societal matter and that the issue of having prisons should be examined. Senator Ulick Burke raised the issue of water charges and said that insufficient funds are allocated to local authorities, yet an increase in funding is given to local authorities every year. The Senator castigated Senators Leyden and Scanlon by name. However, the point is that they referred to the disparity in charges, they did not dispute the imposition of them — I listened carefully to what they said.

I agree with Senator Ulick Burke when he said that young prisoners tend to have dropped out of school. The Senator raised the issue of the home-school liaison co-ordinators and I would be sorry if they were withdrawn, as they fulfil a terrific function in the home-school life of young people.

We will test that commitment.

Senator Brennan raised the issue of the payment of redundancy to the Castlemahon workers and joined Senator Finucane is the need to address this matter. Senator Mooney made a plea for parents not to purchase pets for children except in cases where children are prepared to mind and care for them, which is a fair point.

Senator Daly raised the issue of job losses in Kilrush and the need to ensure that the workers involved receive decent redundancy payments. The Senator also said that prisoners are not the victims, who are the people on the other side of the equation. Senator MacSharry raised the issue of homelessness and the care organisers in the north west.

Order of Business agreed to.