The Order of Business is No. 1, Defamation Bill 2006 — Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn not later than 2 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 2, statements on the budget for 2008, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time. Business will be interrupted from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the Budget Statement.
Order of Business.
Will the Leader be moving the motion on Zimbabwe?
No, not this morning.
Senator Quinn yesterday sought a debate on Northern Ireland. Members who watched the news in recent days will have been struck and impressed by the visit of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to the USA, its success and the response to it. Senator Quinn's call for a debate is appropriate. In the course of that we should discuss the ongoing situation of the family of Paul Quinn and their call for support. A support group has been formed but there are disturbing reports in the media today about how Paul was singled out, attacked and died from his injuries. The Government should do what it can to support the family, given the awful events that befell Paul.
I also raise the disturbing problem of drug abuse, especially cocaine abuse, and the sadness caused to so many families recently. The Minister was in the House for a debate on the matter during this session but it would be appropriate to have another discussion, specifically on cocaine, given recent revelations and the glamorisation of the drug. We are witnessing the serious consequences of that. Perhaps the Leader would consider having such a debate at a later date.
There have been many emotional discussions and debates about the merits of centralisation and decentralisation. In light of the agreement of all parties on the merits of decentralisation, it is unacceptable that there is a proposal before the Government at present to close the marine rescue stations in Malin and Valentia. It is appalling that we should do this. It shows a lack of understanding of the needs of seafarers. It is a classic ignorant east coast approach to a western issue. Anyone who has come through Dursey Sound or the Blasket Sound knowing that the Valentia rescue centre is within sight will know what I mean. It is not just about technology or radar screens. It is about hundreds of years of lore. It is about people who know the size of the swell two days after the waves have gone, who know the sounds of Sceilig Mhichíl agus Sceilig Bheag and can tell one from the other.
This action is appalling. It takes away from these two places. I do not know whether people know Malin Head and Valentia Island, but there is not a lot of work around and not much happening. The idea of taking away employment in those areas is unacceptable.
This is an all-party issue. The Minister should be told it is just not on. It is wrong and flies in the face of all we need. It was ironic that this hit the news yesterday when Malin station had just co-ordinated the rescue attempt for the Kennedy family in Inver in Donegal. The House should take a clear line on this and indicate that the closure is unacceptable. I would like the Minister to come to the House and discuss this so that we may explain to him that this is about more than technology and data. There is also a cost issue. The buildings and personnel are in place and any upgrading required can be done while retaining both stations.
To go from the local to the global, I wish to mention the plight of Íngrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian citizen who has spent five and a half years being held under torture, manacled, fettered and tied down by FARC guerillas in Colombia, who put themselves forward as supporters of human and civil rights. They are holding this woman without access to books or hygiene facilities, keeping her tied up with a group of male captives and forcing her to sleep in a hammock in the open air. She is the leader of the Green Oxygen Party in Colombia and has never done anything to aggravate any side of the conflict. She has been imprisoned and held captive for one reason only: she has opposed violence and terrorism.
The House should take a clear line on this. I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs to recognise that Íngrid Betancourt is an EU citizen and therefore we should make every possible attempt to have her released. It is extraordinary and unfair. This is the type of thing that happened in the worst days of the gulags in Russia. We should put FARC in that context.
I raise once again the issue of immigration policy. The Minister of State with responsibility for integration, Deputy Conor Lenihan, indicated yesterday it may be necessary to introduce legislation annually to deal with the issues of immigration and integration. I remain to be convinced it would be necessary to introduce legislation every year in any area of public policy, notwithstanding that this is an area characterised by change and development. The House might need to be convinced that legislation is needed every year.
Could the Leader arrange for the Minister of State to come to the House to facilitate a debate on the issue of immigration policy? Perhaps the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform might indicate also to the House when it is intended to introduce the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2007 which was published earlier this year by the previous Government. It is important, as the Minister has acknowledged on more than one occasion, that this issue be debated fully in these Houses.
The Minister of State has been hosting consultation sessions with various interested parties, which is also important. At this stage, six months on, however, he should be beginning to understand what the basic pillars of his policy are likely to be. Surely it is time for him to come to the House and explain what he has in mind so that we can debate these issues in the knowledge of their importance for our society and economy.
I support the call by Senator O'Toole for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to articulate to the House the Government position on the continuing illegal captivity of Íngrid Betancourt, the leader of the Colombian Green Oxygen Party and a former member of the Colombian national assembly. Her situation has some relevance to Ireland because the arguments she was making in Colombia related not only to the use of violence in the country's political system but also to the drug culture which causes subsistence farmers to resort to growing the coca plant, which is having an effect around the world and most perniciously in our country, as we have seen in recent weeks. These are added reasons to identify with her plight. As a country, we need to work towards attaining her freedom and ensuring the people in Colombia who are forced to engage in a drug trade that causes difficulty throughout the planet are given alternatives. We must move away from the United States-led war on drugs that has helped create this situation in countries such as Colombia in the first instance.
As Senator O'Toole said, the closure of the rescue stations at Valentia and Malin would be a retrograde step. I have referred to this. These are two long-established stations which have rendered sterling service to the State as marine rescue centres. They are fine buildings and the staff are in place. It would be easier to upgrade these than to build anything new on the east or west coast. This was recommended, apparently, in a consultants' report some time ago. I do not know why the Government has ignored this. I join Senator O'Toole in pleading with the Government to reconsider this and stop the madness.
In view of the slowdown in the economy and the stagnant state of the housing market, I hope the Minister for Finance will take the opportunity today to reform the current stamp duty regime. The 9% rate of stamp duty is penal. We all know from our contacts throughout the land what is happening. There is a pent-up demand in the housing market but it has become stagnant because of the stamp duty rules. I hope the Minister will act today to bring life and stability back to the market and restore some measure of confidence.
I support the call by Senators O'Toole and Boyle for action in the matter of the captivity of Íngrid Betancourt. The Minister for Foreign Affairs should come to the House to explain the circumstances of the case so that we can lend our voice in support of the release of the captive. This is related to what Senator Fitzgerald said about cocaine and the glamorisation of drugs in the media by certain journalists.
This leads me to my question to the Leader. What facilities do we have in the House to defend the integrity of Members from attacks in the media? This morning on "The Tubridy Show", for example, disparaging comments were made about the Leader by Eamon Dunphy and about Senator Harris by Nell McCafferty, who called the Seanad "a tainted——
We have no control over the content——
We have no control over the content of programmes.
I am sorry I missed that.
I will make my point. Will the Leader utilise the facilities of this House? The job of the public relations staff paid by the House should be to represent and defend the integrity of Members. I do not believe the title of Senator is a tainted title.
I do not believe we receive tainted money. Many fought hard to be elected to this House to represent the people. I resent the likes of Nell McCafferty or Eamon Dunphy disparaging this House in radio programmes. By the way, if anyone wishes to listen to the podcast of the programme, it has been censored as a result of what occurred this morning. The offending comments have been removed, as I found in the last half hour.
I have consulted my distinguished colleague, Senator O'Toole. If the Defamation Bill goes through, Members who feel aggrieved about the comments on this morning's radio programme can take a class action.
Under section 9.
Yes. However, I think it is unlikely. I heard the programme, but was not particularly offended by it. It was not of great significance.
The Senator is not easily offended.
One could not be if one was on this side and in this position at the back.
We are sensitive over here.
So are we.
The Senator was not insulted.
Senator Norris should confine himself to the Order of Business.
Given that No. 13, motion 2 in the names of the Independent Senators is concerned with the regrettable state of many hostels in terms of health and safety, could Seanad Éireann take note of the report on safety and fire issues that has been discussed widely this morning? Some hostels have no fire escapes. I have repeatedly stated it is a tragedy waiting to happen. I welcome that there was some action, but it is not enough.
I add my voice to those calling for the release of Íngrid Betancourt, a matter I raised previously. Such issues ebb and flow and I welcome the occasion to raise the matter. She is an innocent, decent and politically motivated woman. Apart from anything else, the Interparliamentary Union is committed to supporting parliamentarians in these types of difficult circumstances. We know that the people in question are moved around and sometimes tortured and killed. Íngrid Betancourt has been in captivity illegally for a long time.
I support Senator Alex White's call for a debate on immigration and integration. I feel offended when I hear the prayer everyday, as it is absurd of the House to invoke the name of Jesus Christ and state: "every word and work of ours may always begin from thee and by thee be happily ended through Christ". This is a farce. Did Jesus Christ instruct the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to issue orders for the deportation to Lagos of a 19 year old Nigerian girl without any means of support? Did Jesus Christ initiate and happily end the situation of the autistic boy who was similarly sent back to Nigeria? I voice my antagonism to the prayer, not because I object to proper religious ritual — I am a regular churchgoer — but the House's ritual is empty in the absence of real meaning.
We invoke the Christian notion in the Constitution, a legally valid concept. In a case I took, the Government argued successfully that I could not win because of the inclusion of the idea of Christianity in the Constitution. Where was that notion when the rights of those young people were being systematically violated? It is extraordinary. I approve strongly the idea of prayer but not when it is mere empty ritual and formula. If we believe these things, let us implement them properly.
The Senator's point is made.
I wish to take up Senator Fitzgerald's point on the abuse of drugs. There is no doubt about it being a malignancy, having reached serious proportions. Young lives are lost or harmed, in many instances beyond repair. It is important that the State focuses on this issue. When the State was under threat in previous years, the Government called in sections of the media, for example, and briefed them on the dangers.
Recently, I watched several television programmes. Seeing celebrities glamorising drug-taking in a flippant and subtle manner was disturbing.
It is a worrying situation for parents at home. They are at their wits' end and communities are under siege. The media must demonstrate responsibility. One of the reasons there is none is our lack of a focused approach. I request that there be discussions with the media at Government level to point out how vulnerable and easily influenced by celebrities young people are. If the celebrities ever listen, we should tell them that they have been particularly lucky in life, blessed with talents and given exceptional media exposure. They should demonstrate responsibility.
This matter can be pushed under the carpet no longer. It does not apply to a single section of society, as it occurs right across the board. We have all made calls, but they did not work. We need something more focused and fundamental.
Since I stood in the Chamber yesterday, the devastating news of 500 job losses at Abbott Galway has been confirmed. One of the factors involved is the axing of the Shannon-Heathrow route by the Government. I ask that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment intervene and work with IDA Ireland, Abbott Galway workers and Galway Chamber of Commerce to put a range of measures in place to address the job losses' serious impact.
This may just be the beginning of the result of the axing. Shannon Airport provided connectivity between the west and the rest of the world. The Government must be ready for such fallout and have a range of measures in place. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister intervene and meet the workers, IDA Ireland and the Galway Chamber of Commerce.
I support Senator Alex White's request for a debate on immigration with the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, as we would like to know the up-to-date position.
I agree with Senator Ó Murchú's comments on where society is going in terms of alcohol and drug abuse. The fundamental questions that must be asked are why has society deteriorated to this extent and why is it occurring. Celebrities are highlighted as examples for society, but fine people in our communities are trying to restore young people's quality of life. The Departments of Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform must play a role and, while I dislike the phrase, show joined up thinking. More than ever, we must consider in a global context how best to correct this drain on society.
We need the relevant Ministers to engage in a joint debate on this serious issue. There was an example of the problem in Waterford two weeks ago and another example this week, but every page of yesterday's newspapers highlighted the issue of drug abuse in society. More than ever, parents must play their role. Will the Leader open a full discussion on modern society and hold it for a full day with a questions and answers session? We could ask the media for their opinions regarding why society has deteriorated.
I agree with Senators O'Toole and Coghlan regarding Valentia Island and Malin Head. Anyone living on the south-west seaboard is well aware of the tradition and legacy of the marine rescue station. In economic terms, 17 jobs on Valentia Island will be as sorely felt there as the 500 job losses in Galway or any heavily urbanised centre.
It would call into question the roles of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in promoting industry.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald in respect of the growing problem of the cocaine epidemic. It is becoming socially acceptable to admit to snorting cocaine, but it ruins communities. Its most recent victim passed away at 12.30 p.m. yesterday in Waterford Regional Hospital. One can only imagine the torment and agony suffered by members of the Doyle family when they switched off his life support machine. A young man in the spring of his years who had beaten cancer has been lost to that drug.
We must bear in mind that when it is being snorted in Ballsbridge, etc., one is fuelling drug lords, the scum of society who murder people to gain money and who do not care about the consequences. In the 1980s, politics was set aside to deal with subversives. Politics now needs to be set aside to deal with this problem. A cross-party and integrated approach is needed to deal with this growing epidemic in society. We must confront the drug barons and remove some of the agony from those families grieving loved ones today.
I support the calls on both sides for a debate on substance abuse and I look forward to participating in it.
In different capacities in the past, I have clashed with the National Roads Authority on its policy and strategy. I am happy that I won on two issues — central medians and petrol stations. However, the NRA has decided not to proceed with rest areas on motorways, an issue on which I thought I had won.
Last weekend, a vehicle which had pulled into the hard shoulder because of the lack of rest areas was hit by a van and an innocent infant in the vehicle was killed. There are many other instances where people are not driving at their best because there is no safe haven in which to pull over. Will the Leader find out the policy on rest areas, particularly on motorways, from the Department of Transport or the NRA?
Regarding No. 32 on the Order Paper, last night the other House passed a motion on the situation in Zimbabwe and the forthcoming EU-Africa summit in Lisbon. Many other democracies have passed similar motions. No. 32, a motion, will probably not be passed prior to the forthcoming EU-Africa Lisbon summit. Will the Leader consult with Opposition leaders to see if the motion can be passed without debate and then debated at a time when it can be fitted into the schedule?
I support calls by Senator O'Toole and other Members for the release of Íngrid Betancourt. I raised this as a matter on the Adjournment in this Seanad's first week. The last official statement of Government policy was the answer given to me then by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on Ireland's calls for the release of Ms Betancourt. There is a cross-party consensus for the Government to do more in supporting her release. A motion on this could be tabled which would have the support of all Members.
I attended an inspirational debate hosted by law students in Trinity College, Dublin, calling for prison abolition. A passionate speech was made by a leading British criminologist and former prison governor, Professor David Wilson. He made the case for decarceration and the closing down of prisons for all but the very hard-core and dangerous offenders in society.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a debate on prisons policy? It is generally overlooked as the cliche is that there are no votes in prisons.
People are locked up for long periods. Last night, three young mothers in Cork were locked up for long sentences. The question never asked is what purpose does this serve? While the Minister is proceeding on the prison building programme at Thornton Hall, left to him by his predecessor, it would be worthwhile for the House to have a debate on prisons policy and ask the Minister what purpose is served by building more prison places and detaining people for long periods. Real alternatives must be examined and locking up fine defaulters and those who are no harm to society must be stopped.
There are votes in prison.
Senator Leyden knows that very well.
I welcome that we pray every morning in the Chamber before conducting our business. It allows us to renew our efforts to do our best and invoke God to assist us in our efforts. I note societies that turned their back on God — fascist and communist — and relied solely on Man's logic, rose and fell quickly.
The Shannon Airport issue was raised earlier. It is incorrect to make any association with the closure of Abbott Laboratories and Shannon Airport. Much in all that I would like the Shannon-Heathrow route to remain open----
Has the Senator confirmation of that?
Senator Hanafin on the Order of Business.
The Shannon-Heathrow route cannot be blamed for everything.
The Shannon issue is the Government's fault.
It is blamed for everything, even down to the recent storm off the west coast.
Shannon is the Government's fault and it will have to take the fallout for it.
Senator Hanafin without interruption.
I welcome the calls for a debate on drugs and alcohol use which would be worthwhile. Sniffer dogs are used in prisons to combat drugs being brought into them. Since sniffer dogs were introduced in Wheatfield prison, there has been a 60% decrease in people visiting. There has to be a direct correlation in this. That same sniffer dog had to leave Limerick prison because there was a price on its head.
The Senator is barking mad.
The dog probably votes Fianna Fáil as well.
Senator Hanafin, on the Order of Business.
The dog may not be aware of the price but the point is that positive action does work.
There is also the issue of alcohol abuse.
Will the Leader note the opening hours of off-licences? It is wrong that many open at 9 a.m. and one can purchase a pallet of drink from them. When positive action is taken it works and more of it should be done.
That is the Government's fault too.
What is the Government going to do about it?
Wait for it.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's comments on the murder of Paul Quinn. I have raised the matter on several occasions in the House. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs to meet the Quinn family? Intimidation continues, even for the McCartney family. The Irish and British Governments seem unwilling to accept the IRA, or its supporters, was involved in the brutal murder of Paul Quinn. It seems to be peace at any cost. We all want the Good Friday Agreement to prosper but not with peace at any cost, which seems to be policy. I ask that the Garda be given all possible resources to bring these brutal murderers to book as soon as possible.
The House recently had a debate on drug policy but I call for another one in view of the increasing problems with drug use, in particular cocaine. In my city, Waterford, we have recently seen the devastation caused by drugs. We must take whatever measures we can. As Senator McCarthy has stated, this problem must be treated in the same way as we dealt with criminality in 1997 when CAB was formed. This problem must be faced down and the strongest possible measures the State has must be used to tackle the problem.
I thank Senator Fitzgerald for responding to my request for a debate on Northern Ireland. Yesterday, I spoke on Northern Ireland on the Order of Business. I hope we do not regard it as a competitor for jobs because they are losing jobs in Derry as much as we are in Galway. We must support and regard Ireland as a united island and not regard Northern Ireland as a competitor.
The International Food Policy Research Institute has stated global agricultural production will be reduced by 16% in the next 12 years, which will make it harder for poorer people around the world to get enough food to eat. At the same time, Europe is encouraging land to be set aside and paying farmers not to grow food. In the future, people will look back at how we behaved in Europe at a time when there were food shortages and people starved. It might perhaps be due to global warming which we are taking steps against. However, we in Europe are taking steps to discourage the growing of food. Future generations will ask whether we were interested in the ability to feed the world's population if we in Europe refuse to sacrifice whatever benefits we get by discouraging the production of food to encourage set aside and to pay farmers not to grow crops.
It would be remiss of me not to speak about recent tragedies connected with drug-taking. In a previous life I was professionally involved with the kind of people who take drugs. People should remember that when they buy drugs they deal with death and when they take them they dabble with death. Everybody should open their ears to the plea from the family of the young man who died in Waterford. There is no such thing as a good drug. Every drug has a downside. The worrying aspect of the drugs scene is that new preparations are coming onto the "market" and we have no notion of their components, which makes it all the more worrying.
I would like our spokesperson on fisheries, Senator John Carty, to consult with the Leader and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have a debate on the manner in which the fish stocks in County Westmeath are being denuded. There have been articles on this subject in two or three issues of the Westmeath Topic. Local fishermen complain that the Royal Canal, the River Inny and several other small lakes and rivers have been completely denuded of fish stocks. Everything is being taken out, even the fingerlings and nothing is put back. Something must be done about this because it is an outrage and a scandal. Westmeath is known as the lake county and has always attracted its fair share of the angling fraternity, from home and abroad. That, regrettably, is no longer the case. I request a discussion on this matter in the House at the earliest possible opportunity.
I join those who have asked the Leader to facilitate a further debate on the drugs strategy. When he speaks to the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with responsibility for this area, he might ask the national forum on drugs to convene to gain the consensus on the issue which exists across the House.
There is a malaise in our society. More and more people are looking for a temporary high. We must get the message out to the drug barons and dealers who prey on the vulnerable that they have no place in our society. Those who glamorise drugs in the media miss the point that drug dealers do not care about anything as long as they get their money. Will the Leader give this urgent attention?
The family of the poor man who died in Waterford this morning asked people "young and old who may be tempted to dabble in potentially lethal substances to simply say No!" That is the most potent message we can send out.
The crisis caused by cocaine and substance abuse is extremely serious and pernicious, reaching into every community. We need to debate a strategy to deal with this. Young people need the confidence to say "No". There should be a drop-in centre for young people in every urban centre in the country, such as a café with discreet counselling services and an infrastructure for youth. The physical facilities exist and the service could be achieved with a low capital outlay. This should be done as quickly as possible.
There should be a holistic programme, dealing with substance abuse, inside and outside schools. There should be a junior Minister specifically responsible for substance abuse.
I concur with Senator Ó Murchú's remarks about celebrities and the media. This is a national crisis which requires all-party agreement, the relevant Minister to come to the House, harnessing all State agencies and taking a holistic approach. We must, however, create a society in which young people can have the confidence to say "No". That is the kernel of the solution.
I support Senator Glynn's call for a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with responsibility for fisheries, Deputy John Browne to come in to the House to discuss the inland fisheries. It is a problem in Westmeath and many other parts of the country. I will take this up with the Leader and the Minister of State.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House, or to introduce a scheme to ensure that primary schools are secure? In my county four primary schools have been vandalised by young thugs over the past 20 months. They burned one school to the ground, vandalised and stole from the others. This is an attack not only on the schools but on the community. We must consider tougher security measures such as CCTV cameras outside the primary schools. I am sure this problem is not confined to Donegal but is replicated across the 26 Counties.
I would like to have a debate on the electoral register. The closing date for submissions to the new 2008-09 register fell last week. When it is published on 15 February it will once again be inaccurate because we are not using enough resources to deal with the register in a proper, planned, systematic way. I would like the relevant Minister to come to the House to address these issues to ensure that everybody who is entitled to vote will be on the register in plenty of time to cast his or her vote in the next election.
Senator Fitzgerald and 14 others made a strong point about drug abuse. I take their common sense proposals for meeting the challenge seriously. The Government appointed Deputy Carey as Minister of State with special responsibility for this area. Drug abuse is increasing at an alarming rate. We send our condolences to the family of the young man who died in Waterford. Various tragedies that never before happened in our society are happening now.
Everyone drove under the influence of drink when the law did not inspire fear but random breath testing has changed that. The same must happen in respect of drug abuse. The law must inspire fear. There should be a mandatory prison sentence for someone caught with more drugs than allowed for personal use. That person should go to prison for as long as possible to deter others from such activities.
I listened to a broadcast on national radio this morning and heard the evidence of those who run establishments responsibly, some of whom I know. I also heard the stewards who look after the venues saying what they must do in respect of substances they find in the toilets and everywhere else in some establishments. It was an eye-opener. This is the most serious challenge facing our society. I am pleased to hear that all parties are in unison on this matter and the Minister will come to the House as early as possible to discuss the matter. Members know colleagues in parliaments across Europe and might be aware of ideas that were successful. We should see where these ideas succeeded and implement best practice where possible.
Senators Fitzgerald, Quinn and many others asked for a debate on Northern Ireland. I gave a commitment in the House yesterday to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, come to the Chamber in this regard and he has agreed. It is now a matter of finalising a date in his diary. I abhor the brutal murder of Paul Quinn. This type of activity cannot be condoned in a civilised society.
Senators O'Toole, Ó Murchú and Norris referred to decentralisation proposals concerning Malin Head and Valentia Island. I support the calls made in the House on the Order of Business as the proposals relating to these landmarks, given their strategic positions, defy logic. There should be all-party agreement in this House to oppose this strenuously and I will ensure the Minister comes to the House for a debate on the matter before the Christmas recess.
I thank the Leader.
Some Senators, led by Senator O'Toole, expressed strong views on the long detention of the Green Oxygen Party leader in Colombia and we join them in their call. I will not hesitate to seek agreement among the leaders on this matter to see how this worthwhile proposal can be progressed as an act of humanity is sought.
Senators Alex White, Norris and Ormonde called for a debate on immigration and integration. I can contact the office of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, after the Order of Business to see if this can take place.
Senator Coghlan spoke of the slowdown in the economy but I understand it has grown at a rate of 4.75% this year, which puts it in the top five in the world. This rate is twice that of most European countries, so the Irish economy is still a great success story.
We just want to give a lift to the stagnant housing market.
It is the responsibility of positive thinking Senators such as Senator Coghlan, who have survived in this House for a long time, to see that good news comes first.
What about the budget deficit?
What about the people at Abbott in Galway?
Members can be assured that this afternoon the caring Minister for Finance will look after senior citizens, as Fianna Fáil always has done through the years.
What about cutbacks in community care packages?
We never took 20% or 25% from senior citizens on budget day as that would have been against all we stood for.
I will pass Senator Norris's views on fire safety on to the Minister. Senator Leyden mentioned this morning's "The Tubridy Show" and I take on board his views. It is an entertainment show and the two individuals involved are star performers. There is a major difference between a chat show and the serious business and responsibility of passing new legislation and amending legislation. Ireland plc has benefitted from the dedicated work of Dáil Deputies and Senators and no other country has experienced the success we have. All fair-minded people would agree they would love to be in the position we find ourselves today on budget day, 5 December 2007.
Senator Callely referred to the Road Safety Authority. I know he has a great deal of expertise in the area as a former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business and Minister of State. I agree with his sentiments and will pass on his views to the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Gay Byrne, after the Order of Business.
I will see how I can progress No. 13, motion 22 with the leaders as I understand there is now an amendment to it. Senator Bacik called for a debate on prison policy and I already have given a commitment in this regard, depending on the Minister's availability.
Senators Norris and Hanafin have personal views on the prayer that is said at the start of proceedings in the House. I believe the prayer is a good start to the day but I welcome any suggestions the Senators might have, which we could consider at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, on improving mindsets and having the Holy Spirit touch Senators in a stronger way than usual at certain times.
Oh come Holy Spirit.
In the words of the former Senator Paudge Brennan, it is never the wrong time to do or say the right thing, so I await Senators' proposals in that regard.
Senator Quinn referred to international food policy and expressed strong views on the EU's policy on set-aside schemes. The Minister can come to the House on this matter and I intend to propose to the CPP that we invite Commissioner Charlie McCreevy to come to the House in the next session. Senator Quinn's proposals may allow us make our presence felt in this area.
Senator Carty, and Senator Glynn especially, cited declining fish stocks in the lake county of Westmeath. This is part of Senator Carty's portfolio and I will contact the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy John Browne, to arrange this debate.
Senator Doherty called for a debate on education and expressed strong views on vandalism in schools in the Donegal area. The proposal regarding closed circuit television is worthy and, knowing the parish spirit in Ireland, could be adopted easily by a community. Linking it to a Garda station is the important part. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister.
The proposal made to the House on the electoral register is a serious one and I know many of us are anxious to see it adopted as accurately as possible. I will pass on the Senator's views but I am still of the opinion that postmen are the only people who can do this properly.
Regarding the need for incorporating postmen in this way, I spoke to a housing officer yesterday who told me a horrific story of a 62 year old man living in appalling conditions. No one knew of this case but the postman who mentioned it to the housing officer at a hurling match last weekend. When the matter was investigated, the officials could not believe the conditions in which the man was living in this day and age. Given the services provided by postmen and the postal service, they should be encouraged to work more closely with the agencies of local government. Involving postmen in creating the electoral register would be a great step forward in rural and urban areas.
I had a request regarding the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Micheál Martin, intervening on job losses at Abbott in Galway.
This matter is regrettable as Abbott has made an immeasurable contribution to Ireland. Thousands of people in this country are still employed by Abbott and will remain so as the company has been in this country for more than 60 years. Galway is a university city with its own airport and a substantial pool of expertise. This matter concerns Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and its chief executive, Sean Dorgan, and it is still before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I came directly from that committee to be in the House. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister. I welcome the announcement by Baxter in Mayo of the €75 million investment it will make in coming years in the western region.