The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the challenges and opportunities to the Irish labour market in a globalised economy, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m. if not previously concluded; business will be interrupted from 2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the Cawley report, to conclude not later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded, spokespersons to speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time by agreement of the House and the Minister to be called upon to respond for the final five minutes of each debate; No. 13, Private Members' motion 32, re the postal services, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2.
Order of Business.
I am taking the Order of Business on behalf of Senator Fitzgerald. There are no objections from this side of the House to the issues raised. No Member of this House should be lied to or misled by another Member or by anybody making a presentation or otherwise responsible to this House. The credibility of some people is open to question and the reputation of institutions is being badly damaged. A few weeks ago the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government seemed to indicate through the words of its Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, in this House that it was aware in October 2006 that housing starts were going to slow down. However the Department of Finance made a number of forecasts to all the political parties that indicated the economy would go well for at least the next three years. Six months after the last general election we are now told this is not the case and the situation has changed in the housing market.
It is clear to everybody that things are not going well. One of the most amazing comments I have heard in the past few days is that the Taoiseach is trying to say the downturn in the housing market had to happen. That is how he has dismissed the crisis in the economy. Some six or 12 months ago the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance said everything was well with the housing market but that is not the case. Many have been fooled into borrowing large amounts of money. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance should issue a statement on why their forecasts were so wrong, what the Department of Finance knew before the election, what it knows now and whether we were misled on economic forecasts before the general election.
Deputy Carey should send the Garda Síochána to Government Buildings, not to RTE as he announced, on that other issue on which people have been misled, namely whether a Minister took cocaine. It may not be true, however if we are to be serious about the cocaine epidemic in our society, let us debate in this House what we should do about it. Have we views on mandatory drug testing or could we use softer options to reduce the amount of cocaine consumed?
We should not go on a witch hunt after a journalist who may or may not have made up the story that a Minister took cocaine. Cocaine is a serious problem. Let us debate what we can do about it, whether they be hard or soft options.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been asked on numerous occasions to come to the House to discuss issues such as gangland killings. There is a need to show how accountable the Minister and Garda Commissioner are to this House. More than a year ago we were promised that the Leas Cross report would be sent to the Garda Commissioner to examine whether anybody should be prosecuted for the deaths of patients at Leas Cross. What happened there was a scandal and a disgrace to our health services. What was a greater scandal was how Ministers and senior officials in the Health Service Executive washed their hands of their responsibilities and described it as a system error. If the Leas Cross report was sent to the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should indicate whether any criminal prosecutions will follow or whether the Commissioner has quietly shelved the report. It is important that the House be informed of progress when it requests that something be done. This issue must be pursued. What are the views of the Garda Commissioner on the Leas Cross report?
Moving from the issue of misleading Members of the House, there is a report in today's newspapers which indicates that Professor Drumm might not have been totally clear when he addressed Members two weeks ago. It is unbelievable. If I remarked in the House that the health reforms had stalled and that the health service is dysfunctional and very expensive, Members on the Government side would accuse me of exaggerating and spreading rumours and would urge me to support the HSE and Professor Drumm. However, an internal memorandum from Professor Drumm to his managers clearly states that the health service reforms have stalled and that the health services are dysfunctional and very expensive. I am aware that they are expensive——
He is very accurate.
——but he should tell Members of the House what he means when describing them as dysfunctional. What does he mean by saying that the health service reforms have stalled? He has held his position for the last three years and the Minister, Deputy Harney, who has executive responsibility for health services, says the health reforms are proceeding as expected. There is due to be a meeting today with Professor Keane. He should be made aware of what exactly can be achieved with regard to reforming cancer services. I could speak further on that issue but there is no time.
How long will this last?
Professor Keane has his work cut out for him. The last issues I wish to raise are important so I will take this opportunity to do so.
The Senator should be brief.
Where is the Dublin transport authority and where is the legislation to deal with transport in the Dublin area?
The Senator is getting it all off his chest today.
One bite of the apple.
He is getting it all in.
I would appreciate an answer on all the issues I raised.
Bring back Senator Fitzgerald.
The matter I wish to raise was mentioned yesterday by Senator Fitzgerald. We should be given an indication of the Government's legislative programme. At present, six Seanad Bills are before the Dáil but no legislation is coming to the Seanad from the Dáil. Can we have clarification on what is happening in the Dáil? This reflects badly on the House. Our programme of work over recent weeks has been light in terms of legislation.
Is there a sense of instability and uncertainty in the Government at present, especially in the Fianna Fáil Party with regard to the leadership of that party? It appears to be a constant theme. This is a serious point.
That was put to bed last night.
He is not serious.
Will the Leader clarify——
The Senator should speak to the Order of Business.
Perhaps the Taoiseach might be invited to the House to clarify his intentions. I listened to him last night——
He is staying on for five years. He made that very clear last night.
Senator O'Toole without interruptions.
I note the Taoiseach indicated last night that he would be around until 2011 at least. That, coincidentally, is the same year as the next presidential election. Is it the intention of the Fianna Fáil leader to do as Mr. de Valera did——
It is a possibility.
——and move from here to the Phoenix Park in one swift movement?
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It should be clarified. I am not being mischievous.
Senator O'Toole, it is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It is just that Senator Norris and I have been wondering whether we should gear up our campaign for the presidency.
Mine has begun already.
Senator Mark Daly brought to my attention the fact that the Dublin Institute of Technology, the largest third level college in the country, does not have access to the Irish Research Electronic Library initiative, while the seven universities do. That is disgraceful. There is no case for excluding the DIT. It smacks of an elite cabal of senior educationalists keeping the institute out. It means the institute cannot conduct its research and turns on its head all Government policy on developing research in the education and other areas. The Minister for Education and Science should explain to the House how this will be resolved.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the launch of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. On the same day we learned from a child safety expert, Dr. Alf Richardson of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, that the death rate of children in road crashes in Ireland is twice as high as in Sweden. Is it not time that more funds were allocated to road safety for children? The National Roads Authority in its pre-budget submission says that given the downturn in the housing construction industry, it is time to put more money into road improvements, and this will not increase inflation. Will the Leader impress on the Minister the need to put funds into road safety improvement measures, particularly outside schools, so we can improve our accident statistics involving children?
I note that the UK Government has managed to lose personal data on 25 million of its citizens. Last week, a survey in Ireland showed that half the computers that come onto the second-hand market in Ireland contain data such as names, addresses, PPS numbers and bank details. We must be vigilant in protecting identities and preventing identity theft, both in the case of individuals and organisations. Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to the House to explain what he intends to do to raise awareness of the issue of identity theft?
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to address the House on his Department's plans for the development of wind energy, especially offshore wind energy? The State is planning to spend at least €40 million next year on carbon credits which will allow it to exceed the greenhouse gas emissions limits agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. It is both costly and environmentally unsustainable to continue to buy our way out of the international agreements we have entered into on climate change.
The operators of Wind Energy Ireland, a consortium of business people and businesses who wish to establish offshore wind energy projects, are preparing at present to invest €4 billion in those projects but they need co-operation from the State. EirGrid, the State company responsible for managing the electricity grid, would have to upgrade and make significant changes to the grid to facilitate this expansion of offshore wind energy capacity. Perhaps the Minister would come to the House to clarify his Department's plans for upgrading the electricity grid. It is estimated that if this development took place, the savings to the State would amount to approximately €235 million per year and that the electricity produced would meet the electricity needs of approximately half of the State's households. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to address this important issue.
I congratulate Senator Twomey on a good chest clearing exercise. I hope the Leader will have enough time in this session to deal with all his questions. I thank the Leader and put on the record my appreciation of his swift organisation of a debate on the Cawley report. I will be reiterating these sentiments this afternoon.
What is the Government's policy on incineration? We have a Government Deputy in Cork South-Central who began his career in local government on the back of opposition to an incinerator there. We have heard various mutterings from the representatives in Dublin South-East. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is opposed to the building of an incinerator, yet An Bord Pleanála has given it the green light.
I ask the Leader to arrange an immediate debate on the dispute between the Health Service Executive and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union in the matter of drug distribution, particularly to medical card holders. Approximately 1.5 million people have medical cards and they are concerned that from 1 December their medicines will not be dispensed by their local pharmacies. This is a serious issue. In fairness to the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, it supports the appointment of an independent arbitrator to assist in reaching an agreement on the decision by the HSE. I cannot understand why the HSE has decided now to take on this section of the health services, putting in jeopardy the drug distribution system. Savings could be achieved in most cases if GPs prescribed generic drugs.
The Minister said "No" yesterday.
I ask that the Leader of this House, which is an independent part of the Oireachtas, arrange for a debate on this issue so that we can bring some rationality to the discussion.
She said "No" yesterday.
It is an extremely grave matter. I believe 1.5 million medical cardholders are very concerned about this. Irish pharmacies cannot survive if there is a reduction.
The Senator should listen to his Minister.
That was yesterday; this is today. It is a very serious issue.
The Senator's point is made.
It was debated last night at the most important meeting in the country, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. That is the most significant gathering in this country.
The Fianna Fáil Members are all very quiet at that. They will do as they are told.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
I thought a meeting of the Seanad was more important than the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, but perhaps I am wrong.
I concur with Senator de Búrca, who requested a debate on wind energy. I have been calling for a debate on this issue for years. Perhaps at the Green parliamentary party meeting they could have a discussion with the Minister in charge.
We talk of nothing else.
I ask that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come to the House to discuss this issue and particularly the problems of people who have already received permission to build wind farms and wind turbines throughout the country but are now having difficulties in accessing the national grid. Senator de Búrca mentioned that in her comments. There is a serious problem in this area.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Twomey, who suggested that Professor Drumm clarify the position on the memorandum he wrote to leading management staff in the HSE. What we were told in the House is very different to what is being reported in the media today. It does not inspire confidence in what is already a largely discredited organisation in my eyes and in the eyes of many members of the public to see such contradictory information emanating from different sources in the HSE.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the earliest possible opportunity to come to the House for a debate on food safety in particular, but also on animal health. I have been asking for this since the Seanad came back. This is especially relevant in light of the recent outbreaks of foot and mouth and bluetongue in the UK and the recent detection of the H5N1 influenza virus in birds in parts of the UK. I also wish to discuss the proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy that have been mentioned in the media over the last couple of days. We should have a debate on this at the earliest possible opportunity, as agriculture is still the bedrock of the rural community in many areas.
I ask the Leader, in co-operation with our spokesperson on agriculture and fisheries, Senator Carty, to request that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, to come to the House to address a matter which is pertinent to County Westmeath and perhaps also to other parts of the country. I raised this on two or three occasions in the previous Seanad. People are fishing with nets in our canals and rivers and taking everything out. Nothing is going back. This is a major problem. I am pleased to say that theWestmeath Topic has highlighted it at least twice. It must be dealt with because it is not going away. I ask the Leader and Senator Carty to arrange that this so that proposals can be put forward to address this problem.
Another matter I raised here some time ago is that of councillors obtaining independent legal advice on matters that affect their areas. Senator de Búrca isau fait with this issue as it is also relevant to her own county. It appears that local authority members are getting the short end of the stick. The council management can get all the advice it wants and this is paid for by the county council. However, if a councillor is not satisfied with the advice obtained by the county manager he or she must pay for alternative advice. This does a disservice to democracy.
I am glad the verbal expectorant is working here this morning in the case of Senator Twomey.
That was only a sneeze.
It is one way of getting things off one's chest. It is somewhat disingenuous of the Opposition to be slagging the Minister, Deputy Gormley, about the decision of An Bord Pleanála on the incinerator. It is an independent planning authority.
That is not slagging. It is a real issue.
I can see the headlines that would appear if the Minister did anything. They would probably read, "Minister undermines autonomy of An Bord Pleanála". One cannot have it both ways. There cannot be an each-way bet on this issue.
The Government did not have a policy in place.
What are the views of the Fianna Fáil Senators on this issue?
I cannot forbear from commenting on the previous contribution. Many of the decisions of An Bord Pleanála are bizarre and contradictory.
I do not disagree with that.
I look forward to the debate that was called for yesterday. I have plenty of things to say on this and can mention many cases of bad planning supported by Official Ireland here.
I wish to raise an educational matter. I am concerned at widespread reports that four so-called Protestant schools are engaged in legal action against the Department of Education and Science. I know we cannot trespass into an area that is being examined by the courts as it would be improper, but we should have a debate on this. It is apparently the result of the closure of four schools, including Greendale Community School, which is where Roddy Doyle taught. I met some of the teachers from Greendale at a conference some months ago and I would be delighted to be taught by them. They were splendid people. The difficulty arises because teachers are being forced into schools without interviews. I would have thought it was reasonable to want to interview somebody to find out whether he or she had the right qualifications and was the right person for the job in question rather than a square peg in a round hole.
I heard a commentator state yesterday that this is all connected with the national pay agreement and that this would far supersede any question of ethos. The reason I raise the question is that there has been no response whatever from the Government side to repeated calls from people such as myself and Senator O'Toole to re-examine the matter of ethos and the use of this troublesome word to exempt the churches from the basic legislation of the land, the equality legislation. Apparently the Government feels it is appropriate to stuff 30 teachers into Protestant schools without interview, although they may be very good teachers, because there is a question about the wage agreement, and yet we cannot be allowed to reopen the question of the appropriateness of the exemption for the churches in that legislation. Churches that have been involved in serious abuse of children have retained the right to fire people like me simply because of the nature of their sexual orientation. That is intolerable in this country.
I also support Senator O'Toole on the matter of the Dublin Institute of Technology. I also have the letter from Senator Daly about the Irish research electronic library initiative. It is extraordinary that our seven leading universities should have access to this and the DIT, an institution of which we should be very proud, is kept out of it for some reason. There would be a saving because if the DIT had direct electronic access to this material, it would not need to buy all the journals.
We will not have a debate on it now.
I support Senator O'Toole's reasoned appeal that the Minister should examine this and include the DIT.
All those who complain about the Irish illegals and who challenged the word "illegal" in this House last week should read the interesting and well-argued article by Ms Trina Vargo inThe Irish Times of 16 November last. She points out that, in fact, they are illegal and that, although there are difficult family circumstances with which one sympathises, we are now the third richest country in the world and anybody returning to Ireland would not come to a country where there were no jobs and would not be returned to a place where they might be tortured, interrogated or murdered. It would be a salutary exercise for those who squawked about the use of the word “illegal” to read that fine article.
I hope Members will bebriefer. I will have to curtail them. A large number of Members want to contribute on the Order of Business and it is not possible to include them in the time remaining.
I compliment the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on coming to the House yesterday and listening to a wide-ranging debate on the quality of the cancer programme. Unfortunately, I could not get in to praise her because of the number who wished to contribute. It is disappointing that Senator Twomey, who has a medical background, should ask the questions he asked this morning when he should have been here yesterday to field them. The Minister fielded those questions from all sides of the House admirably and yet he comes to the House this morning and again starts off in this negative approach.
Senator Ormonde did not speak either.
Senator Ormonde without interruption.
Would we for once in our lives try to put all our heads together because what we want is a quality cancer care programme for our patients?
They are not listening anyway.
As if they would do better if they were in there.
They are the only ones who can run the country.
Only Fianna Fáil can run the country.
I am delighted the Minister——
Senator Ormonde is losing touch.
Senators wanting to speak should do so through the Chair, not across the floor.
There is no better person than the Minister. One can put her on any programme and she will take them on. Let there be no doubt about that. She is very slick and she has her information and knowledge.
We will not take lectures from Senator Ormonde either.
The point is made.
She has a quality——
The point is made.
I support Senator O'Toole on the lack of research facilities at the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, will be in the House tomorrow for a wide-ranging debate on education during which there will ample opportunity for those points to be raised, and rightly so. I support the Senators on that issue. I will leave it there because the Cathaoirleach is pushing me. I have another issue but I will not raise it.
I compliment the leaders of the various parties who invited the Minister, Deputy Harney, yesterday and the methodology that was used whereby she took questions. As a new Member, I was disillusioned by the statements on crime or education whereby a Minister made a statement and then left without listening to people and without fielding their questions. If the methodology used yesterday could be taken up for the future, it would be most worthwhile because it gives some sense of accountability in the system.
I draw attention to the headline of the lead story today in theIrish Independent, “Fee-paying schools dominate race for university”. There is nothing new in this. This has been going on for years because there is a two-tier system in education at second level. Private schools can cherry-pick their students. They have an enrolment policy whereby they decide who they allow to enrol. They also have the advantage of taking fees. Grind schools and private schools will help the children who can access that system.
The fallout is that 20% of children are underperforming at second level across the system and 65% are underperforming——
Is Senator Healy Eames looking for a debate?
No, I am not looking for a debate.
If she is not——
I am making the point that there is need for a debate. Some 65% are underperforming in disadvantaged areas or falling out. My point is that if one comes from a disadvantaged background it should not mean one has a disadvantaged future. We need a debate in this House with the Minister about this very point. How can the second level system cherish all our students equally and give them all opportunities?
One has fewer points if one comes from a disadvantaged background.
I support Senator O'Toole on the issue of the teaching panel. I was a teacher who was redeployed through the panel and it is as awful for the teacher as it is for the school.
Every teacher deserves an interview and every school deserves to interview those who it is taking on. While it is being seen as a means of ensuring permanent teachers remain employed, I have found it unsatisfactory. It is wise that we discuss it at this point. I look forward to seeing those matters being raised in the debate.
I support the calls made on yesterday's Order of Business and repeated today by Senator McCarthy that there should be a debate in this House on waste management in general and incineration in particular. Such a debate would be useful in a number of respects.
Until the decision of An Bord Pleanála to give planning permission for an incinerator at Poolbeg, some members of the Opposition claimed the Minister had already done a ready-up. If the Minister had directly intervened in the An Bord Pleanála process, I suspect he would have been criticised as well by Members of the Opposition.
I also would be interested to learn from such a debate what exactly is the Opposition parties' policy on incineration. Are they in favour of the technology or are they merely opposed to the particular locations in their own constituencies?
Senator Boyle is in Government.
Senator Boyle should show us his party's position first.
I would particularly like to know the answer to that question.
It is the same as his party's was six months ago.
It is still the same policy. I would especially like an answer to that question. Despite the efforts of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, in pointing out how the policy was shifting since he came into office, An Bord Pleanála referred to policy documents from 1998, a waste management policy which was informed by the Waste Management Act 1996. This legislation enshrined incineration as a technology and identified it as an energy recovery method. This Act was introduced by a Labour Party Minister for the Environment and supported by a Fine Gael-Labour Government.
Senator Boyle's point is made.
If their policy is against incineration, are they, as Opposition parties, willing to recant that policy? Are they willing to admit they made a mistake then?
Senator Boyle has made the point.
Are they willing to use the opportunity offered today to state their policy on incineration was wrong——
Senator Boyle should steady up.
——and they will support the policy of the Minister and of the Green Party in Government on incineration?
He is getting excited.
Remarks should be addressed through the Chair, not across the floor.
Their policy has gone up in smoke.
Remarks should be addressed through the Chair, not across the floor.
Senator Quinn without interruption.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla focail a rá as Gaeilge mar tá a lán grá agam don Ghaeilge agus is dócha go bhfuil a lán grá ag a lán daoine don Ghaeilge. Many of us, who are not very competent but who are anxious to see the Irish language succeed, would wish to see the money we invest in doing so being used efficiently. I have a concern that we have failed miserably with the money we have invested, but some of the decisions made have been wrong.
For 30 years, since we joined the European Union, we recognised that it would be wasteful to insist that every European Union document should be translated into Irish but three years ago when Malta decided that it wished to haveMaltese recognised as one of the languages, we changed attitude and stated that if little Malta, with a small population, was to insist that Maltese should be translated as one of the recognised languages, we should do the same. A great deal of money is being spent on translating almost all European documents into the Irish language. That is wasteful. In recent years we made decisions that all State documents and many others, including annual reports of semi-State bodies, should be produced as Gaeilge. Last year, the production of the road safety report was delayed for that reason. That money should be invested in an efficient manner that would result in a more realistic approach to encouraging the Irish language.
I spoke to a person from Malta the other day who told me they do not have any teachers of Maltese in Malta because the 30 teachers they had now work in Europe translating documents into Maltese. Rather than spending the money in that manner, they are calling for the money to be put into education, universities or the Maltese language in some form or other. That is a step we could take. Those of us who wish to see the Irish language become one that is loved by the citizens and is used should ensure we use that money much more efficiently than we have done in recent years.
To take up where Senator Quinn left off and as there are students in the Gallery, his message is important to send out, particularly the point about the 30 Maltese teachers who now work in translation in Europe. There was a question as to whether the Irish language was alive or dead but the fact that there are now job opportunities in translation services in the European Union should give the Department of Education and Science, the teaching services and students a new impetus to consider the potential job opportunities within the Irish language. I would support a proposal for a lá Gaeilge.
On a point of information for Senator Twomey, the Oireachtas report on the treatment of cocaine addiction, with particular reference to the Irish experience, is a recent publication. As chairman of the committee at the time, my by-line was that there was nothing romantic about doing a line. If the Senator wants some information on our findings at that time the report is on the Oireachtas website and is available in hard copy also.
I do not understand the reason we continue to talk about cannabis and cocaine abuse while avoiding the bigger drug problem we face, namely, alcohol. I ask the Leader again when we will have a debate on the alcohol abuse problem, which is the main drug of choice.
Hear, hear. Well said.
We can talk about cannabis and cocaine abuse, and I have reports on both if anyone wants to be informed on such abuse, but the main drug of choice is alcohol and the problem of alcohol abuse must be tackled in this House.
In the context of a major bomb scare this week in CastleCourt, in Belfast, and the murders, attempted murders and bomb scares, the two sources of employment in the Six Counties are the Civil Service and retailing. A direct hit is being made in economic terms in the Six Counties in the run up to Christmas on the very employment source that is their greatest support. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come into the House before Christmas for a debate to allow us put on the record of this House our abhorrence for what is taking place and our disdain for this action by a minority. We must ensure that the existing employment and the feel-good factor coming up to Christmas is not ruined by a bomb going off. As a member of a family who experienced a bomb explosion in their own premises, I can speak of the reality of that and it is not a pleasant prospect coming up to Christmas.
In 2006, 67 housing mortgage suits came before the High Court and to date in 2007 there have been more than 80, with 200 cases listed. That is a stark warning that should be heeded by all Senators, Deputies and anyone interested in the way our people attempt to house themselves. Some weeks ago the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, said that those who raised this concern were prophets of doom. In recent years the Government encouraged an over-reliance on the housing sector and was happy to collect the many taxes generated through the housing sector but we must ensure the balance is addressed in this regard. I ask that either the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State with responsibility for housing come to the House to outline their plan B now that matters are taking a turn. We now see who the true prophets of doom are when the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Finance have to rearrange the books as we face into the next budget. As public representatives we are entitled to raise the genuine concerns among our constituents, and I ask that this issue be debated.
I was surprised to hear the Green Party's Senator de Búrca call for a debate on wind farm policy. We would welcome that debate. She said we are buying too many carbon credits in an attempt to buy our way out of our Kyoto protocol obligations but the Green Party is in Government. Why are its members calling for a debate on something over which they have control? They agreed the programme for Government with Fianna Fáil. They should make the necessary changes to ensure a better wind farm policy. Why must we have a further debate on it?
I support the comments made by Senator Healy-Eames with regard to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. As someone who has observed her tenure in the Department of Health and Children, I believe she was always impressive in terms of the grasp of her brief, her insightful knowledge and her drive and vision for reform of the health services. I am glad that was recognised on both sides of the House. She is somebody who instils confidence that she will make real and beneficial change to the health services.
On the report and internal memorandum to which Senator Twomey referred, I saw that also but unlike his negative approach to it I welcome the fact that the chief executive of a company is reminding his line managers of the need to drive the changes and improvements that are necessary within that organisation. He is doing that in the face of restrictive and outdated industrial relations practices within that organisation and every vested interest with their hands in the pot trying to ensure they gain from the billions of euro that have been trickling through that process which is not getting to the patients for whom it was intended.
For the second time this morning I agree with Senator Healy-Eames on equal opportunities within the education system, which is essential. In the past the religious made a tremendous contribution in ensuring that people living in poverty who would never have the opportunity of an education could secure it. They deserve our credit rather than being used as cheap political fodder.
I support Senator de Búrca's call for a debate on wind energy, which is a timely and necessary topic. I am not aware if other Members attended the Environmental Protection Agency conference held locally last night at which Dr. Manning presented an incisive paper on the scientific research being done by his group. It puts the need for this issue to be addressed at the top of the agenda. In that regard, when the Minister comes to the House to debate wind energy I ask that we include wave power in our discussions. There is tremendous potential for this island country to harness that energy but a great deal of technological investment is required to achieve it.
My question concerns the interdepartmental committee report which examined the funding of long-term residential care for older people; it relates to the fair deal scheme. Will it be a requirement for nursing homes to be approved by the Health Information and Quality Authority's independent nursing home inspectorate to come under the auspices of the fair deal scheme? I am concerned that if it is intended to put in place the charges by as early as next January, the nursing homes will not have been deemed fit to be passed because the inspection will not have taken place. We must learn lessons from Leas Cross because that situation should never recur. Nursing homes should be vetted before any charges are put in place. I would like clarification on the position in that regard.
I cannot take the five people who still wish to contribute. I ask the Leader to reply to the Order of Business.
Before I respond, I wish to inform the House that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who I met yesterday, has agreed to and is now in a position to proceed with Committee Stage of the Defamation Bill 2006. The Bill was restored to the Order Paper on 26 September 2007 and will recommence at the beginning of Committee Stage. The previous Committee Stage in February and March 2007 was not completed before the general election. The Bill provides for statutory recognition to be conferred on the independent press council subject to the approval of both Houses, having regard to the criteria set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill. It is proposed to take Committee Stage at 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 December 2007.
Did the Leader explain how he told the House that it would be more sensible to recommence on Second Stage? The Leader is on the record as having said so.
The Leader without interruption.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, John Paul Phelan and Ormonde made important points. Anyone who knows anything about the housing market knows of the downturn in the US and the UK, our two largest markets. In contrast with stronger states, Ireland can be looked upon as an exemplary nation where 85% of the housing stock is owned by 85% of the population. Generation after generation, what we have done is to our credit.
There is a levelling off period. Everything comes down to the ability to make repayments. It is about time for a levelling off period. As someone who, like many others, knows the pressure of making repayments in the bad old days of the 1980s when they comprised 38% to 40% of our disposable incomes, it is a wonderful time to be doing business thanks to interest rates of 4.5% and 5%. Younger Senators in particular should examine the record of the House to see what the situation was like when all sides were in power, not just the Opposition, and the problems the then Taoiseach needed to address.
We were all nearly as poverty stricken as the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.
The Senator is around long enough to remember.
I certainly am. I remember paying 21%.
Those events were not of our doing. For example, the oil crisis was a considerable challenge. I ask Senators to be patient. When levelling off is necessary, Senators should be honourable and honest enough to acknowledge it as a good thing.
I respect Senator Twomey, who I have known for a long time. I am not being patronising. Yesterday, I pointed out that the House's membership includes eminent legal and medical professionals. Why do both professions not get together under the stewardship of the party leaders to develop a suitable motion on how to address the challenge of cocaine usage? I seek the assistance of those with the expertise to help the House to advance the debate and to help the Minister to address the challenge facing the Departments.
I congratulate the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on her contribution yesterday. I have been a Senator for almost 26 years. The Minister was well briefed and she gave that information to the House for three hours or longer in the questions and answers session. I thank party leaders for their co-operation and all Senators for how the debate was conducted. I hope Seanad Éireann's future lies in that direction. We can make a meaningful contribution to Parliament once this process is established. I thank the Minister for everything she is doing and for an uplifting session.
I wish Professor Keane well in his new position. He is briefing the Minister and the Taoiseach this morning. I am convinced the Minister is up to the challenge and will succeed. Having watched Ministers over many years, her contribution was enlightening and uplifting.
Senator Twomey referred to transport in Dublin. I can set aside time for a debate on that issue and the serious issue of the Leas Cross nursing home. I will try to get an update on the current situation from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and revert to the House tomorrow morning.
I do not know whether Senator O'Toole was being mischievous or whether he really——
I was seeking information.
——wanted to find out how his family tree in Fianna Fáil was being addressed. His concern for our welfare is heartening. I welcome the Taoiseach's clarification of the situation last night. He intends to lead another five-year Government for most of its duration. I do not know whether Senator O'Toole intends to try for the Presidency, but the Taoiseach would be a formidable opponent. The country would be best served by both men considering their positions in 2011.
What about me? Senator O'Toole nominated me also.
The leader of the Opposition party should confer with its ranks to make a nomination from its benches.
I will see what I can do about the serious matter of Dublin City University's lack of access, which is a disgraceful surprise.
I congratulate Senator Daly on bringing it to our attention. I will contact the office of the Minister for Education and Science today to determine why this is the case. Senators will bring the matter to her attention when she is present tomorrow. We will try to get clarification on the up-to-date situation.
Senator Hannigan mentioned the National Roads Authority, the Road Safety Authority and the road death rate. Thanks to the introduction of random breath testing on 21 July 2006 and putting a fear of the law into people, we are heading for 100 fewer road deaths and thousands fewer serious injuries this year. I agree with the Senator's sentiments on doing anything that can be done to create further investment in road safety. We support the Minister in that regard.
The Senator referred to the serious allegation of data not being removed from computers. I can set aside time for such a debate in the coming weeks.
Senators de Búrca, John Paul Phelan, Coffey and Walsh called for an urgent debate on wind energy. From 2002-07, the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business was successful in terms of tackling the challenge of high insurance costs.
Senator Leyden, a member of the committee, made a valuable contribution, as did other Members of the Dáil and Seanad. We brought about huge changes and saved the consumer in a very big way.
I would like to think that in the Seanad's five-year term we will take up the issue of energy supply. We will have a report and a review of the progress taking place in energy costs, whether it is electricity or gas, and the alternative energy supplies that this country so badly needs in facing the challenges ahead. I have no problem in allowing a day's debate to tackle the serious challenge of energy supply so the House can assist the Minister and the Department. I ask the spokespersons for the environment to be prepared for this debate as I will be extending the time, possibly to a half hour, for them to set out their proposals. We will take energy supply, energy costs and alternative energy as a challenge to this House for the next five years and make our membership a meaningful one for generations to come.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for clarifying the points on incineration made by Senator McCarthy, whom I have admired for a long time as a Member.
Senator Leyden called for the HSE and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union to negotiate a meaningful conclusion to the matter of drug distribution. There are up to 1,500 pharmacies, 400 of which could be on the breadline if what they are telling us is correct. An independent consultant or an arbitrator, whose decision would be binding on both sides, would be the way out of this difficulty. It is only ten days away from 1 December. The Minister and Ministers of State are meeting about this issue this morning. Hopefully, an announcement will be made on the matter later today.
Common sense must prevail in this case. The contribution of pharmacies over the generations to life in Ireland must be commended. They are the lifeblood of the country. If one did not have the money to go to a GP, there was a friendly ear at most family-run pharmacies. They were not always into money, as is claimed on many occasions. We do not want to see the multinationals take over the industry and eliminate the family pharmacy. We want to see value for money, competition and a fair deal as enjoyed by other pharmacies across Europe. The peace of mind most pharmacists have given down through the generations must be acknowledged. There are two pharmacies in north Westmeath, available seven days a week. If that service were to go, one could only get one's medicines up to 6 o'clock in the evening. As people can get sick between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m, common sense must prevail on this issue. I thank Senator Leyden for bringing it to the attention of the House.
Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on food safety and the Common Agricultural Policy. This is long overdue and I have no difficulty in having such a debate.
Senator Glynn brought to the attention of the House the very serious matter pertaining to fish stocks in our rivers and canals. I will accede to having a debate on this as a matter of urgency. The Senator also called for county councillors to be given access to legal advice on the same level as county managers. A county manager is an employee of a local authority member. A local authority member is answerable to the constituents that appoint him or her on a five-year basis. The same access to legal advice is a democratic right of a local authority member. I have no difficulty in asking the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to attend the House to answer this serious challenge and allegation.
Senator Glynn was nominated to the Seanad by local authorities. Were it not for the support for the local authority members many of us would not be Members. Most Members were local authority members. It was probably the highlight of our careers to be given the vote of confidence by our communities to represent them on a local authority or in Seanad Éireann or Dáil Éireann. It is a privilege. If legal advice is not available to local authority members, it is undemocratic and unconstitutional. I have no difficulty in asking the Minister to clarify this serious issue.
Senator Norris raised a serious issue concerning four Church of Ireland schools. The Minister for Education and Science will be attending the House tomorrow. Perhaps then the Senator will bring this issue to her attention. We in the north Westmeath area are building a new Church of Ireland school. That community has made a marvellous contribution over the past 100 years to the existing school in Castlepollard. I am supportive of minorities and majorities.
The shining example of what has happened in Ireland over the past 40 years has been the improvement in the education system. No one now needs to be the son or a daughter of a wealthy father or mother to get an education. It was the great transformation in my lifetime. The contribution teachers have made in creating the new Ireland has been immense. All Governments and Ministers for Education that made this possible should get a gold medal for their endeavours. I have no difficulty in bringing the matter raised by Senator Norris to the Minister's attention and we will get a response on this available for the Senator tomorrow.
Senators Quinn and Keaveney raised the importance of the Irish language. I support their sentiments. Last week I gave my commitment to a debate on the Irish language before Christmas, if possible. I will pass on the Senators' comments to the Minister.
Senator Keaveney called for an urgent debate on alcohol abuse. This is the scourge of people having more money in their pockets, more disposable income. I have no difficulty in having time set aside for this worthy request.
Senator Keaveney raised the recent bomb scare at the CastleCourt shopping centre. Yesterday evening I spoke to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who assured me he will be only too pleased to come to the House before Christmas on the many issues relating to foreign affairs raised in the House both yesterday and today.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on home ownership, housing stock and the downturn in the housing market. I have no difficulty in allowing time for a debate on the matter.
Senator Prendergast, an experienced Senator, raised the matter of funding for long-term residential and nursing home care. I have no difficulty with a debate on it. On the issue of the inspectorate, I will contact with the Minister's office this afternoon and will come back directly to the Senator on it.