The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re custodial sentences, back from committee without debate, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Disease of Animals (Amendment) Act 2001, referral to committee without debate, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007 — Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time.
Order of Business.
Some weeks ago I raised the case of a young woman with curvature of the spine who needed immediate attention. The Leader took up this case as well and the National Treatment Purchase Fund changed some of its rules to accommodate this young woman and to ensure she received the necessary treatment. One must welcome that and I hope the outcome in that case will be good.
Today I want to raise another question on the public health service, namely a situation that has arisen in Beaumont Hospital. Some of the Senators will have read the lead letter in today's edition of The Irish Times where a local general practitioner writes that he is horrified that the staff at Beaumont Hospital must hold a fund-raising golf classic and write to local general practitioners asking for a contribution of €100 to buy a basic piece of ultrasound equipment costing €24,000. It is extraordinary when we hear about the money being pumped into the health service — we have had the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, in this House on a number of occasions speaking about it — that it does not seem to be reaching the right places. Why must the staff of Beaumont Hospital and the local general practitioners fund-raise to get a basic piece of equipment which they need for the accident and emergency department? Given the millions of euro being poured into the health service, it seems extraordinary. I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister, to ask for action on it and to see where is the barrier that has meant that Beaumont Hospital does not have the funding for this basic piece of necessary emergency equipment.
It seems that the bureaucracy is taking over. We have spoken at length about much of the money that has been invested in the health service being focused in the wrong place. It is disgraceful that patients coming into the accident and emergency department in Beaumont Hospital do not have access to this equipment and that the medics do not have access to it to use it for people who really need it. It is a sad indictment of the present state of the health service that such a situation has arisen.
I want to mention the U-turn by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, on the privatisation of bus services. We thought he had done all his U-turns for the year, but now there is another one. Many people in Dublin will attest to the fact that there are not enough buses, people are left waiting all the time and the service leaves much to be desired. One of the ways of dealing with this is to privatise certain routes and give the option to private operators to provide this service. That now seems to have been taken away by the Minister.
Perhaps the Leader could get the Minister to address this issue in the House. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, threatened to resign the last time this was on the agenda when it was stated that the Government was changing from this agreement. Perhaps the Leader would clarify if she intends to resign on this occasion because of this changed decision. As I stated, it is yet another U-turn and it is the commuters of Dublin who will suffer if we do not have better bus services.
With the permission of the Leader, I propose a minor amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 14, Credit Union Savings Protection Bill 2008 — First Stage and No. 15, Mental Capacity and Guardianship Bill 2008 — First Stage, which lapsed with the election, be taken today.
We will have a long debate on Thursday on the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. I have been a great critic of the Minister for Education and Science with regard to the lack of movement on that issue and the fact it has not been commenced and moneys have not been provided. I have also been a constant critic with regard to the lack of support for special education. However, I would like to clarify one thing. Fair is fair and of all the Ministers for Education and Science we have had over the past 20 years, no other Minister has put more into autism than the current Minister. It is not enough and I have disagreed with her, but in terms of the current row, she has done more than any Minister of the past 20 years on autism. I remember trying to convince Ministers 20 years ago that there was such a condition as autism. One might find that hard to believe, but there was a time when the Department would argue that it was a social and emotional need and not a specific condition.
In the past two months a number of people have raised the question of the Law Society and how it deals with its members. Since we last met, two further members of the Law Society have been dealt with, which amounts to six or eight in the last couple of months. I do not know what is going on in the Law Society, but it seems it only supervises, investigates, takes action or visits members when there is a complaint against them. If there is to be self regulation, it must be proactive. I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to explain to us what it means to be a member of the Law Society, what is required of the society and its membership and how it ensures its members are acting properly within its rules. Is the society proactive or reactive?
I remind the Leader that I raised a matter with him and received a positive response a month or so ago. Senators Paul Coghlan, Brian Ó Domhnaill and Pearse Doherty raised the same matter, namely, the question of Valentia and Malin coastguard stations. This is a serious local issue and we should have a discussion on it as soon as possible.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Cardinal Seán Brady on raising a very interesting and timely debate which ought to be held in this House and more widely about the balance that should be struck between what he described as individual wealth and adequate public provision of public services. He also pointed to the question of the primacy of the market and the fact that the market cannot, despite what some people think, solve all our problems. We should debate these interesting issues in this House.
We should include in that debate consideration of whether there is a need to increase taxes in circumstances where we have a vision for adequate, better and first class public services. The notion of considering this should not be shunned. We should not avoid the necessity to debate the question of taxation and an equitable taxation system in circumstances where there are so many legitimate demands, whether with regard to autism, the education sector, child care or otherwise. We have had 20 years where it has been almost impossible for any voices to be raised on the question of the adequacy of our tax take.
I am a member of a party that, before the election with other parties, advocated tax cuts. However, the time has come for us to debate the question of whether we need to look at the fairness of the tax system. We also need to look at the level of the tax take in circumstances where we have a vision for a better society, public services and universal child care. Many of us believe we should look to a more universal system of child care. We had a debate on the subvention scheme in that regard some months ago. Subvention only patches up and deals with one element of what ought to be a first class child care system along the lines of what is available to parents in other European countries, countries that are described as our competitors.
I congratulate the Cardinal on raising these issues and invite the Leader to consider whether it would be possible for us to have a wide-ranging debate on this question in the House at a convenient time.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator White.
We should also take the opportunity to welcome the fact that the commission on taxation has now been established. It is the first such commission to be established for over two decades. As a House of the Oireachtas, we should, in general terms, allow it to get on with its work. It is due to report in September 2009. We will have peripheral debates on budgets, the Finance Bill, the Social Welfare Bill and so on, which will deal with exactly those issues Senator Alex White has raised. However, we should look forward to an overall review of the taxation system, its intent and effectiveness, once the commission issues its report. Following that, we can have such a debate in this House.
I ask the Leader to agree to a debate on the decision of RTE to discontinue its services on the medium wave band. I do not know about other Senators, but I have received a number of representations about the effect of that decision. Many Irish emigrants in the United Kingdom, for example, are now deprived of access to RTE services on medium wave and long wave. We must take into account that while radio stations are available on the Internet, a significant number of people do not have access to that technology. It would be a good use of our time to debate the decision by RTE and seek to influence it in some way.
I wish to draw the House's attention to the plight of the former employees of Gentex, a factory in Athlone which closed in the mid 1980s, causing severe financial hardship for a number of families. It appears that New Ireland Assurance was attempting to wrap up a pension plan when it discovered that all payments had not been made. New Ireland Assurance informed Mercer, which is the trustee of the Gentex pension plan, that the payments were outstanding. How, more than 20 years after the closure of Gentex, can payments be still outstanding to beneficiaries? Some of those beneficiaries have since passed away and it now falls to their families to try to sort out their entitlements. I understand 140 people could be affected by this situation.
I am aware that the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority have been contacted about this issue. It raises the question as to how many other pension plans have been left hanging in mid air. Who is the watchdog for this area? I ask the Leader to clarify this and explain how all of the beneficiaries will be contacted. I believe the trustees have a duty of care to these people and should place advertisements in national and local newspapers informing them of their entitlements.
I welcome the statement made at the weekend by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, indicating its overwhelming support for the Lisbon treaty. The IFA also declared its support for the treaty. Two major organisations, coming from different angles, have urged people to vote yes in the forthcoming referendum. This House should take a leadership role and have a debate on the referendum. We should discuss why people should vote yes and put forward the reasons, very cogently, from both an economic and consumer point of view. In 1996, for example, we exported €56 billion in goods and service to the other EU member states, compared to ten years previously, when the figure was only €36 billion.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate as soon as possible on the Lisbon treaty. We should take leadership on this issue and there is no better forum than Seanad Éireann to extol the virtues of a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum.
I have a track record in this House of raising the issue of workers' rights and do so again today. Last week I called on the Government to name and shame those who tried to pay people less than the minimum wage. Unfortunately today I must name and shame the Government itself, as Ireland is one of only four countries that is refusing to put in place the EU agency worker directive. I condemn this because we are at a stage where there are at least 520 agency organisations for a population of 4.2 million. In many cases, agency workers are being exploited because their pay, conditions, working terms, etc. are not the same as those of other workers. This situation is growing across sectors. Previously, it was in secretarial areas and is now in the construction sector and elsewhere. Many workers are being discriminated against and exploited. It is time the matter was investigated. As the four countries in question, of which Ireland is one, have a net migrant intake, there must be a common thread.
I condemn the absurd comments of Councillor Jimmy Mulroy in respect of migrant workers.
The Senator should not refer to a person who is not a Member of the House.
Not only will we be bringing workers into this country and, according to Fianna Fáil, asking them to accept different pay, they will get into their cars and be asked to pay different fines if they get caught for speeding or to drive at different speeds, according to the Leader. It is absurd.
Everyone in the House will respect an important issue, namely, the Rebecca O'Malley report has not been published and will be delayed for another month. We need the report to be published. Ms Rebecca O'Malley lives beside me in County Tipperary and I consider her a friend. She is concerned that there will be a further delay. People are entitled to their constitutional rights and there may be some legal issues, but there is a point at which the report must be published and its recommendations implemented lest other women suffer similarly, which is not right.
As a matter of urgency, could the Leader arrange for the appropriate Minister to attend the House for a debate on the image of Seanad Éireann, in particular on how to improve it? As I am sure we are all aware at this point, the image of Seanad Éireann is low in the minds of most people in terms of its usefulness and the role it plays. It is not an extreme statement to make that our public relations are abominable. We did not cover ourselves in glory in this regard in recent weeks. While many of us welcomed that some Members of the House might seek to go to the Phoenix Park to work, it would have been good manners and courtesy at least to consult the rest of us before being consigned to "Jurassic Park". A Minister of State announced that we would go there. Is it any wonder that the public's perception is what it is if, as Members of the Oireachtas and this House, we are treated with that level of disdain and contempt? As someone in his sixth year as a Member of this House, I have had enough of the perception through the media of the uselessness of the House. Were the public truly informed of the level of debate and scrutiny of legislation that occurs in the House, it would have much more confidence in the political system.
On a point of order, did the Cathaoirleach not ask us at the beginning to refrain from making comments on this matter because it would be dealt with in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges? Perhaps Senator MacSharry did not hear the request, but those were the initial remarks.
I asked all Members to co-operate in that regard. I would ask the Senator again.
To clarify my position, I was speaking on the Order of Business and asking for a debate on the image of Seanad Éireann as a matter of urgency. It was coincidental but opportune that the Cathaoirleach made his comments, which I welcome. We cannot criticise aimlessly the media coverage of the House and its workings. We must deal with the situation ourselves as a matter of urgency.
I wonder whether Senator MacSharry was a little harsh, but he may have been well intentioned. I agree with the Cathaoirleach's remarks and will abide by them.
I second Senator O'Toole's slight amendment to the Order of Business regarding the inclusion of Nos. 14 and 15.
I wish to mention the issue of Valentia Island and Malin Head. Valentia is the oldest Coast Guard station in the country and it has given a tremendous service to the State over the years. The highly skilled staff there has a great record in dealing with serious marine incidents and what is being mooted flies in the face of Government decentralisation policy. The suggested relocation is not needed; if anything is needed it is new equipment. There are no arguments relevant to this matter in respect of ESB supply, broadband or cost-effectiveness as Mr. Tadhg O'Donoghue, the former chairman of the ESB, demolished such arguments.
The former Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, received a report on this from Deloitte & Touche and sought an upgrade, a policy which I agreed. I wish to plead with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, through the Leader to get this issue right as the proposed changes are not necessary. There is a highly skilled workforce in place with the necessary infrastructure, there is a record of excellent service and the proposed changes are lunacy. I will not go as far as some of my colleagues in Kerry, who yesterday referred to the matter as bureaucratic thuggery, but this lunacy must cease. I plead with the Minister for Transport, through the Leader, to get this back on track.
I endorse and echo the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, and will say no more on the matter as I have raised it before in the House. It is ludicrous that the likes of Valentia and Malin Coast Guard stations will be closed purely for the purpose of centralisation. If it not broken, do not fix it. Having these stations where they are gives confidence to coastal communities and fishermen and moving them would be madness. I will not plough old ground because these points have been made cogently by Senators O'Toole and Coghlan.
I seek a debate on the area of fisheries. The talks on pay are approaching and for years farmers have had an input in such negotiations. This has worked well and I feel fishermen should also have a say, and I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister concerned. Fishermen have been neglected for too long and should be included in these talks. A recent programme on RTE related the tragic events on our coastline of just over a year ago that saw the loss of seven lives.
Still on the area of fisheries and community support, I got caught in the net of the Fisheries Bill 2006 and this caused me some damage. The Bill should be revisited because a commitment was given in the Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources that after a year or two matters would be re-examined, particularly the area of administrative fines. Irish fishermen are being treated with severe criminal sanctions and, in this regard, we are the exception in Europe. I fought this matter tooth and nail in the other House and feel it should be revisited given what is happening in the rest of Europe. Why should we, with a weakened, declining fishing community, be the exception?
The Leader of the Opposition raised the issue of the ultrasound machine in Beaumont Hospital and I see her point but I have a slightly different view. A few years ago I shaved my head and beard to raise €10,000 for a CT scanner for Bantry Hospital.
The Senator was very restrained to only shave his head and beard.
One might ask why such fundraising is necessary but it put a spotlight on a remote hospital that is hugely important to me. It forced the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Minister for Health and Children, who subsequently had to visit the hospital to launch the CT scanner, to examine the importance of such hospitals in Ireland, including areas like Letterkenny. Approximately €250,000 was raised for the machine in Bantry and the community got behind the drive for a CT scanner. The position was that the only dedicated ambulance in Bantry had to rush patients to Cork as many as ten times per week, often leaving west Cork without a dedicated ambulance for a full day. While in one sense I understand the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Senator Coghlan, this case highlights that community involvement can be good.
I had intended to second Senator O'Toole's amendments but a little outbreak of Kerry collegiality deprived me of the opportunity to do so. I appear also to be similarly silenced by the Cathaoirleach with regard to the proposals for the repair of this Chamber and its ultimate destination. The Cathaoirleach has no need to wave his glasses at me and the Clerk need not whisper either because I do not intend to break the Chair's ruling. I will observe it and he should restrain himself.
The Senator should speak on the Order of Business.
If we are to be spancelled, when will the House have an opportunity to discuss the matter? This is an important question, particularly for those of us who have been in receipt of communications from constituents. While some of those I have received have been balanced, others have been neurotic and abusive and assume that I am personally responsible for the desecration of the museum next door.
If Senator MacSharry is interested in Seanad reform, he should note that when, at the beginning of this session, I tabled a bundle of recommendations which emerged from a series of discussions, including the deliberations of a cross-party committee chaired by the then Leader, Senator O'Rourke, who is now a Member of the other House, the Government side voted against them. That shows how serious the Government is about Seanad reform. It has been indicated in the press that some reform may by introduced, led by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, which will be targeted, perhaps exclusively, at the university seats in order that we may be effectively neutered and the whole constituency opened up to political hackery. The Government will not get away with that.
The House can discuss that issue in due course.
I hope to speak on the very important issue of autism on Thursday when I will take a divergent view from that of the Minister for Education and Science. I deplore the fact that in the past week or so the Opposition in the other House twice targeted Ministers by suggesting they had deliberately absented themselves to travel abroad on frolics, whereas they were engaged in State business. This hockeying up of Ministers in their absence when they are engaged in valuable work does not do credit to politics. I point to the tradition in this House, from which the other House could learn, of not referring to the absence of Members.
As the Senator is aware, the proceedings of the other House are not a matter for this House.
As the Cathaoirleach is aware, I made my point before he ruled. I always observe his rulings.
I ask the Senator to speak on the Order of Business.
In 2003, the House passed important legislation implementing the partial incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into Irish law. This provided for a declaration of incompatibility as a result of court proceedings. The first such decision was handed down on 14 February in a very important and sensitive case taken by a brave citizen, Dr. Lydia Foy, who was the victim of gender identity disorder. It is important that we examine what was said in the ruling by Mr. Justice McKechnie who found against the State. There is a certain leeway because if the decision is not appealed, the Taoiseach must, within 21 days, place this information and the order declaring the incompatibility before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Mr. Justice McKechnie expressed disappointment at the failure of the Government to follow the important decision in the European Court of Human Rights in 2002 in the Goodwin v. the United Kingdom case and his warning in an earlier stage of the Dr. Lydia Foy case. It is a pity that once again in these sensitive areas Ireland is isolated in Europe and is in the company of only Andorra and Albania in not having recognised transgendered persons. Why not be adult and mature and take action before the courts force us, as a Legislature, to act?
I wish to raise an issue which has a legal implication. Gift tokens are part of our currency and they serve an important purpose. They are usually purchased over a holiday period and I imagine it is a multi-million euro business. However, it has a downside and increasingly I hear concerns about it. These tokens have an expiry date and while this might be understandable in the long term, the length of validity is getting increasingly shorter. Often, when people cash in the token they are embarrassed and told it is worthless. We must bear in mind goods or services have not changed hands. The business that issued the token now has the benefit of the money. However, the person who bought it and the person who received it have lost.
Often, poor circumstances are involved and the person who received the token is deprived of his or her rights. A debate on this would be helpful because it seems to require regulation. I was not aware of the serious nature of this matter until the number of people bringing it to my notice increased. We must respond to this concern.
I seek an urgent debate on prisons in light of the report in The Irish Times yesterday which shows levels of drug use in prisons are high. Inmates tested positive for drug use approximately 40,000 times during the past three years. This is a damning indictment of Government policy since 2006. We have seen no reduction in drug consumption in prisons despite promises from successive Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of a zero tolerance approach.
We have no rehabilitative programmes for drug users in prisons. Today's newspapers carry reports that prison guards now claim they are powerless to arrest people smuggling drugs into prisons. If we are serious about tackling drug use, prison reform and having rehabilitative programmes in prisons we must address this as a matter of political priority. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House for a meaningful debate on this matter? It is disturbing that in some prisons detection of drug use was as high as 75%.
Like Senator Norris, I wish to assure the Cathaoirleach I do not intend to breach his recommendation not to discuss our move. However, Senator MacSharry is quite right to raise the matter of the image of the House and I wish to make a small comment on this.
Like any political institution, the greatest danger facing the Seanad is that of being too pompous about its image. The Seanad has been around for a long time and it is likely to be around for a long time more. If a few populists in the press like to sneer and have a few jokes let them at it. The great Earl of Clarendon stated the best way to deal with libels is to ignore them and by ignoring them appear not to deserve them. We are giving these people too much status. Vincent Browne may be looking for a column and he deserves it. He is a national institution like we are. I do not recommend that he be abolished or even reformed. He does his thing and we do ours.
We do not want to discuss Mr. Vincent Browne here.
I accept that. However it came about or however it may be reformed in the future, the Seanad is likely to be a permanent part of the institutions of the State, not least because it would require approximately 50 amendments of the Constitution to remove it. In the meantime, I suggest we go about our business. The populist sneer is that we are a talking shop. What else would we be in a democracy? We can hardly engage in armed struggle, can we? Our business is to be a talking shop and the talk here is good. I learn something every day in here, as does the public. Every discussion I have heard here, be it on the Constitution, health or road safety has illuminated Bills, cast light on dark corners and done good for the State. It is a talking shop and let us be proud of it.
I agree with my colleague Senator Buttimer on the question of drugs in prisons. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, gave an undertaking that we would have drug-free prisons by this year if his proposals and measures were put in place and implemented. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said he was disturbed at the figures for drug use in prisons. His predecessor stated it was a matter of urgency to deal with the matter. Will the Minister explain to the House the measures he intends to put in place to combat this urgent problem? With more than 40,000 positive cases of drug-taking in our prisons in the past three years, it is a disgrace. What does the Government intend doing about it?
Some time ago I received an e-mail from someone who was very pleased to inform me that I was the beneficiary of a will. I rang a telephone number provided but they would not give me an address.
It was a lot like Monopoly's community chest.
Yes. Of course, it was a scam. The headquarters of the bank mentioned in the e-mail was in the Netherlands. However, it would not give a name and an address when I telephoned them. It would be as well that everyone is aware of this scam.
I support Senator Harris's comments. Given the standard of journalism in some newspapers, it is not surprising I stopped buying The Beano and The Dandy many years ago when I was eight years of age.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate on local authority funding? In Athlone a few days ago, the Minister for Transport said local authorities should match euro for euro the funding provided by his Department for national and non-national roads. If this were to happen, it would put a major drain on the finances of local authorities. If funding were conditional on the local authorities matching euro for euro, the majority of them would not be able to match it. We should have a serious debate on local authority funding.
It crosses several Departments. The Minister for Transport now has a major say in local authority funding, as well as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. A debate is needed on this issue, particularly since responsibility for non-national and national secondary and county roads was taken away from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
At this time of year, many people are trying to give up smoking. I recently received a letter from ASH Ireland, as I am sure did others. It is campaigning for the Government to introduce a ban on smoking in cars in which children under 16 years of age are transported. Given the time of year and the important public health nature of the issue, it would be timely for the House to debate the issue. I am not a fan of excessive regulation but when it comes to protecting people's health, there are many dimensions to it. There is the stress on our health services and the responsibility of adults to people under age.
On the remarks by my esteemed colleague, Senator Norris, on the Dr. Lydia Foy case, we have not had a sufficient discussion on the importance of our Constitution. We debated it recently in the House but with the Lisbon treaty being debated soon, we need to move urgently to debating the fundamental question of who decides Irish law on fundamental matters. Even when aspects of our law may displease certain people, the fact is our Constitution allows us to determine fundamental issues for ourselves. I am concerned we will end up having a referendum on the Lisbon treaty which may be about all manner of issues but will fail to bring before the Irish people the essential question of whether it is they or someone else who decides our fundamental constitutional values touching on human rights and dignity.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole and O'Donovan expressed their serious concerns regarding public health services and, in particular, the purchase of an ultrasound unit by the staff of Beaumont Hospital. The example given by Senator O'Donovan can only reflect well on all those who participated. The strength of our community is always exemplified in fund-raising, no matter where it takes place. However, in view of the large amounts of funding being made available to the health services by the Government — more than €15 billion — the need to raise funds for a €24,000 purchase beggars belief, as the Senators correctly pointed out.
Senator Fitzgerald also mentioned bus services and asked for a debate on transport. I have agreed to have this debate and have been in touch with the Minister's office. I look forward to getting a favourable response for a date in the Minister's diary. I agree to the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senators O'Toole, Coghlan and Norris to allow the Credit Union Savings Protection Bill 2008 — First Stage and the Mental Capacity and Guardianship Bill 2008 — First Stage to be placed on the Order Paper and taken today. I seek the support of the House in this matter when I conclude my responding remarks.
Senator O'Toole expressed his views regarding the major extra funding that has been received by the Department of Education and Science under the leadership of the current Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin. As I informed the House on the Order of Business, the Minister will be in the House on Thursday.
Senator O'Toole also expressed serious concerns about the way in which the Law Society deals with its members. Most Senators would support these views and share these concerns. For generations, our families have placed their trust in the legal profession and their local solicitors in dealing with family matters such as wills. A considerable amount of trust has been put in the exemplary group of people that are our legal representatives. However, we have now seen too many times for our liking the various abuses that are taking place in that profession.
Senators O'Toole, Coghlan and O'Donovan also expressed serious concerns regarding the proposed removal of radio stations from Malin and Valentia. I have given my word in the House that we will have a debate on this at the earliest possible opportunity, hopefully the week after next. I fully agree with the vote of confidence in these stations. As Senators O'Donovan, Coghlan and O'Toole — eminent Senators from the kingdom of Kerry and the rebel county of Cork — have quite correctly pointed out, these two stations are of the utmost importance to their local communities in terms of job creation. I have no difficulty in asking the Minister to come to the House to listen to the serious concerns and views of Senators about this proposal.
Senator Alex White and the Deputy Leader, Senator Dan Boyle, called on the Minister for Finance to consider the comments by our new cardinal, Cardinal Seán Brady, on public services and individual wealth in Ireland and also the need for a new vision in terms of the demands on Government for extra funding, including the possibility of small, minute increases in taxation. If we could get all-party agreement for a motion on this issue I certainly could allow a debate during Fianna Fáil Private Members' time in this session, of which, as we all know, there are only four weeks left before the Easter break.
Senator Boyle also called for a debate before the end of this month on the proposed removal by RTE of its medium wave services which are of considerable importance to senior citizens throughout the country and to our emigrants, especially in the UK.
I will have time left aside for this and can bring forward the Green Party's Private Members' time next week if this is possible in order that the Senator might be able to avail of having this issue discussed in the House. We have a very busy schedule with legislation in the House next week.
Legislation? My goodness, what an innovation.
Senator McFadden voiced her serious concerns about the former employees of Gentex in Athlone where up to 140 people could be affected. This is a very serious concern for those families and I will pass on the views of the Senator to the Minister following the Order of Business. Perhaps the Senator could raise this issue during Private Members' business or on the Adjournment to find out the exact position of the Department in respect of it. It will probably also speed things up. I have a very serious request in respect of the peace of mind one gets from having a little pension to assist in one's senior years for which one has worked and paid in very bad times. I want to see how we can bring the Minister to the House to be answerable and to see how we can progress the serious concerns of the Senator.
Senator Ormonde welcomed the decision by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the IFA to vote "Yes" in the forthcoming referendum. As we all know, the EU reform treaty is about making Europe more effective and this will help in the development of the Irish economy into the future. Ireland is a very respected member of the EU and I would go so far to say that we are role models in Europe. The Department of Foreign Affairs is providing information about the treaty. We all know that the Department has already published 150,000 leaflets explaining the treaty. However, when the Bill is published, the Government will set up a referendum commission which will be allocated almost €6 million to send out balanced information to citizens outlining the key issues in the treaty.
This treaty is a very good deal for Ireland and Europe. I agree with the Senator that Ireland's future economic interest will remain at heart of it. This is part of our selling message to the new investors and companies who are interested in coming here and anyone with which we are doing business around the world.
Senator Alan Kelly made his very strong views known to the House about workers' wages in Ireland. In comparison with the average wage in the UK, which is €26,000, the average wage in Ireland is €32,000. I believe it is the second highest in Europe. However, instances, such as those pointed out by the Senator today, arise and I take the points he has made. When the Senator's party was endorsed in 1982, 1,000 people were leaving our shores every week. What a wonderful change there has been since then.
Whose fault was that?
The charge Senator Kelly made——
The Senator's colleague, Mr. Haughey.
Mr. Haughey was the person who corrected this.
He also caused it.
Were it not for the vision of that great man and the national understanding and, speaking as an individual who creates a quite a number of jobs——
He caused it from 1977 to 1979 and from 1979 to 1981.
People in this House must speak from a position of strength and experience. As I have often said, those of us who kept the show on the road and kept people employed deserve credit. In some cases, they should receive a gold medal for the efforts that were made to keep Ireland plc moving at the time.
They nearly bankrupted the country.
Fianna Fáil won three general elections in a row because of its proud record of having created 600,000 jobs.
Time after time they have talked out of both sides of their mouths.
I outlined earlier what is being monitored in the House. The Senator should take that into account.
Senators Norris, MacSharry and Harris expressed serious concern about the image of Seanad Éireann. Senators on all sides of the House can agree that the Seanad does not get fair coverage of the excellent work it does, the excellent contributions made and the many good proposals that come before the House to amend and enhance legislation. I would like to think we could reach a consensus on that and meet with a view to determining how that can be changed. I wish the new Head of Communications, Mark Mulqueen, well. He comes from an eminent family in terms of media coverage and fairness in the media. I look forward to working with him and hope we can enhance the coverage of the proceedings of Seanad Éireann and return it to its rightful position in that regard.
Senator O'Donovan called for a debate on fisheries and asked that the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, would come to the House. I have no difficulty in having that debate take place.
Senator Norris raised the Dr. Foy case. I will pass on the Senator's strong views, and those of Senator Mullen, to the Minister on the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Senator Ó Murchú made his views known on abuses in the area of gift tokens. I will allow a debate take place on that.
Senators Buttimer and Cummins raised the serious findings regarding drugs in our prisons. The information that has come to our attention is appalling and I will ensure the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is present in the Chamber to discuss that serious problem.
Senator Burke called for a debate on local authority funding with the Minister for Transport.
And the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
I have no difficulty in having time put aside for that. The €618 million the Minister announced in Athlone last Friday is very welcome but to correct the record in regard to what he said on the day, the average contribution from local authorities is 30%. In case what he said was misconstrued, which can easily happen, the Minister pointed out that some counties only contribute 7%, 8% and 9% and he said he will bear that in mind in his allocation 12 months from now. The Minister was putting on notice all the local authorities that did not play their part in that regard. That was to be commended. I welcome the €618 million announced by the Minister. The €57 million allocation for County Westmeath was very much appreciated.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on Ash Ireland’s proposal to ban smoking in cars. I have no difficulty in having time put aside for that worthy proposal.
Senator O'Toole has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That Nos. 14 and 15 be taken before No. 1 today." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. I call Senator O'Toole to move the amendment.
That Nos. 14 and 15 be taken before No. 1 today.