The Order of Business is No. 1, Passport Bill 2007 (Dáil) — Second Stage; No. 2, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2008 (Dáil) — Second Stage; and No. 17, Private Members' motion re the electoral commission. It is proposed that No. 1 be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2.00 p.m. if not previously concluded, spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes, and Senators may share time with the agreement of the House; No. 2 to be taken at 2.00 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 5.00 p.m. if not previously concluded, spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes, and Senators may share time with the agreement of the House; No. 17, motion 35 to be taken at 5.00 p.m., and No. 2 to resume at 7.00 p.m. if not previously concluded.
Order of Business.
Three reports into the misdiagnosis of breast cancer in the Midland Regional Hospital will be published today. I was concerned when I heard this morning that the patients involved had not yet been contacted to be told that the reports were being published. I hope that is rectified before the press conference today at which the results will be announced. However, even if they are contacted today, it is still too late. They should have been contacted before the story reached the media about the reports being published.
These reports must not sit on shelves, but must inform future practice. The confidence of women and their families in the breast cancer care services must be restored. The critical issue is how we move forward. There must also be accountability where we understand what went wrong and learn from it.
It was very disturbing to read this morning about the cutbacks in the HSE. We will need a discussion in this House about the hundreds of millions of euro in cutbacks which are apparently being planned. It was also disturbing to hear that every vacant post on 31 December 2007 is now deemed to be a post that no longer exists, no matter what the reason for the vacancy on 31 December. This has great implications for all kinds of services across the country. I would like to know the up-to-date position on those cutbacks and the implications for services. It is a cause of much concern to everyone in this House.
Many Senators have been saying in the last few weeks that we need to discuss topical issues as they arise, unlike the pharmacy debate yesterday, when we had a discussion after the key decision had been made. I request that the Leader make time available tomorrow for a debate on the reports to be published today, as this would give Senators an opportunity to read the documents. It would also require a change in the Order of Business to reflect a decision to discuss what is current and important. If it is not possible to make such a change, I ask that a debate be arranged for Tuesday next.
Yesterday, the Reverend Ian Paisley announced his intention to resign from office in May. While historians will judge Dr. Paisley's overall contribution, the issue that is uppermost in our minds today is that he said "Yes" rather than "No" in the past year. We have all been pleased to see work commence in the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland. Recently, the Heath, Social Services and Public Safety Committee became the first committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly to visit the Oireachtas. It had a successful meeting with the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which was wonderful. In that regard, this is an appropriate time to have the debate on Northern Ireland requested by Senators Cummins, Quinn and Doherty.
I concur with the points made concerning the reports due to be issued today on developments at Tullamore Hospital. During the course of the discussion of the issues that gave rise to the reports, there was a rush to judgment regarding the role of an individual who, it appears, has been found not to have been responsible. This serves as a good lesson about the ease with which a person's reputation can be publicly destroyed. While I speak without having the facts before me, it is a matter of concern that a person who appears to have taken a professional, responsible approach to her work has endured a difficult time during which she became the focus of blame. I will save further comment on the matter until a full debate takes place. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the reports for next week to ensure Senators have an opportunity to say what needs to said on the issue.
Last night's meeting between members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and the Minister for Education and Science has been widely reported. I hope it went well. Given the smiles on their faces this morning, Fianna Fáil Senators appear to have been reassured, bought in or whatever is the appropriate term. I ask that the House be given a report of the meeting outlining what new plans the Minister has in store.
The Leader will oblige Senator O'Toole.
What secrets on autism and other issues must be related at a private meeting and kept from the rest of us?
Are we no longer allowed to have meetings?
I do not have the slightest problem with Fianna Fáil Party members meeting Ministers. The issue is whether new information is available of which we all need to be made aware. I want to know what those attending the meeting were told about the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. Having discussed this issue several weeks ago, Senators are no wiser about when the legislation will be commenced.
On the current debate on autism and the ABA approach, while many parents believe ABA is a magic wand for addressing the requirements of their autistic children, this may not necessarily be the case. A full debate is needed on the issue.
The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act must be commenced as soon as possible. Parents are involved immediately when a child's assessment takes place, the psychological report is drawn up and resources are planned. They know from the beginning what their child may need. Without being critical of parents, many of them have observed that ABA systems work perfectly for some children with autism. However, they may not work for all children with the condition and it is possible that people are being misled in this debate because it has focused on ABA rather than autism and the wider issue of the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. As I have stated previously, until this legislation is commenced, parents and professionals will not know what are the real needs of children with special needs. It is appalling that the legislation has not yet been implemented.
I concur with Senator O'Toole that if the Minister for Education and Science has something she wishes to say or concessions or variations in policy planned, she should make a public announcement in the House, rather than at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. I raised this issue a couple of weeks ago.
The chorus line on the Government benches has reduced this serious political and constitutional issue to one of jealousy. Government Senators should understand that our system does not have a parliament within a parliament but a single Parliament. They gave out on the previous occasion I raised this matter and asked whether Senators should be prevented from speaking to Ministers. I have no problem with the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party holding meetings with any Minister. The issue, however, is that on a matter of public concern, which has been debated in the House, including by Members opposite belonging to Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats, Senators have an equal right to participate in debate and be informed as to whether policy changes are likely. This should be done in public in Parliament rather than in some back room.
It was in the top room.
Senator Fitzgerald raised the retirement of the Reverend Ian Paisley, about much has been written and spoken in the past 12 hours or so. It is appropriate that the House should congratulate Dr. Paisley on his retirement and note the incredible achievements in the North for which he and others have been responsible in recent years. On a personal level, the House should wish him well in his retirement. However, as we reflect on the past 30 years, it is ironic that those who now rule the roost in the North fought the longest and hardest, were at many junctures least open to compromise and, in some cases on both sides, were responsible for visiting the worst miseries on the people of the North and the rest of the country. I am not complaining — history sometimes flows in this way — but we must understand the lesson of what has taken place here when we examine other conflicts around the world where the option of negotiating with those involved in different struggles is so quickly rejected. This lesson from the past 30 years could be brought to bear when we analyse developments in other parts of the world.
I support the call made by Senator Doherty yesterday for a debate on the North as we have not had such a debate since he and I were elected. A debate is important because the issue has moved on and the fault lines in the North and politics generally have changed. They are no longer about the old struggles but about social and economic issues, the development of the economy, North and South, the eradication of poverty, tackling disadvantage and taking action on taxation and public services. I and many other Senators would like an opportunity to have a cross-party debate on our vision for the future of the country, North and South. It would be the first such debate since the momentous changes in the North over the past year.
I welcome the proposed publication of the referendum Bill on the Lisbon treaty tomorrow. It is anticipated that the legislation will come before the House for adoption in the next two weeks. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to address the House while the debate on the Bill is taking place. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on a number of issues, for instance, the information that will be provided to households about the treaty. Several parties have pointed out that a copy of the treaty is not available to members of the public in an easily understandable and digestible format. This is a concern.
When the Taoiseach was questioned on the issue he noted that a very good annotated version of the treaty produced by the Institute of European Affairs is available. This is not sufficient. When the referendum commission is established it will have 90 days to perform its functions, one of which will be to provide information on the treaty. It is important the information provided to households can be absorbed and digested. The best information I have seen on the treaty in summary form is the booklet produced by the National Forum on Europe, which is neutral, comprehensive and easy to read. I hope the referendum commission will provide similar information. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs be invited to address the House when we are discussing the referendum Bill in order that we can seek clarification on these issues.
When will the House have a serious debate on the Lisbon treaty and matters arising therefrom? A report this morning indicates that the gas supply to the European Union is threatened again because Ukraine has informed the Union that it may have to interfere with the supplies of gas. The EU receives approximately 25% of its gas supplies from pipelines that come through Ukraine and because of the current debt dispute between Ukraine and Russia the EU's supplies may be interrupted. That points to the need for the European Union to become much more self-sufficient in the area of energy. The Lisbon treaty contains, for the first time, a measure to allow shared competence to exist between the EU and its member states in the area of energy. Those are the issues we should debate fully in the House and I ask the Leader to clarify the opportunities that will be provided to the House in the critical months leading up to the referendum to allow it debate such issues.
Yesterday I raised the issue of men's health and mental health and I revisit it again today in light of the case in which Judge David Anderson criticised the Health Service Executive. It is time we had a major debate on the functioning of the HSE. Yesterday, Judge Anderson criticised the dysfunctional HSE after it failed to have a representative at his court. We were promised action with A Vision for Change. Mental health is an issue that concerns every one of us and if it does not, it should. If the HSE can treat that young man, who is facing 27 charges and has no access to care or treatment, in that way, it will happen to other people in society. We were given a promise with A Vision for Change but there has not been any action.
I am led to believe there have been cutbacks regarding the implementation of A Vision for Change. I ask the Leader for a debate on mental health and on the HSE because there does not appear to be any accountability. On occasion the Cathaoirleach, as is his right, has ruled health matters out of order on the Adjournment because they are the responsibility of the HSE. Who is it accountable to ultimately and when can we get answers?
As someone who was born in Derry at the end of November 1968, the retirement of Dr. Paisley is a momentous occasion. The point was made earlier that the people who were the strongest in saying "No" have become the strongest in saying "Yes". At the recent Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis the wish was expressed by a number of delegates that Dr. Paisley would not retire in the near future, which is some change to have lived through.
As I am writing a report on the way history should be taught in areas of recent conflict I agree with Senator Alex White's sentiments that there is much to learn from what has happened. It is difficult to explain what happened but we should consider that countries like Bosnia have a minister for education for Serbs, a minister for education for Croats and a minister for education for Muslims. Imperfect as the situation may be in the Executive currently and challenging as it is to have one that crosses a number of divides, there are lessons that must be learned. Whether people are involved in the problem, the solution or both, we must recognise that the situation in the North has moved on significantly. I would like to think that the retirement of Dr. Paisley will not change that in any way. If the reason given on "Morning Ireland" this morning, that his wife did not want to see the grandchildren seeing what the children had gone through, was the only reason it happened, it is a good enough reason.
The second issue I want to raise is related to the autism debate. I fully endorse what Senator O'Toole said. It must go beyond ABA. There is ABA PECS, the TEACCH programme and many other aspects. In my own experience music therapy has brought speech to people with no speech and a reduction in repetitive behaviour in autistic children. It has a role and therefore the issue about special needs is a wider one.
I congratulate the Leader and the Minister who came to the House less than a fortnight ago to discuss this issue. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act was part of her contribution.
It has not come in yet.
It is not implemented.
It is very much part of the solution and must be dealt with. The implementation of the EPSEN Act was very much part of what she spoke about that day.
In that context, I congratulate the Cork Institute of Technology. Some of the money it is getting for research will go towards examining music as a therapy and teaching music as a subject as well as what other people would call the more important issues such as researching MRSA and technologies. Will the Leader indicate if it is possible, in the context of a substantial amount of money being allocated to institutes of technology throughout the country, including Letterkenny, to get an update from the Minister on the way that money is channelled and how it links in to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the needs of the businesses as well as the graduates on the research side? There is a great deal of work going on at third level and the co-ordination of all that is worthy of debate.
I join with others in congratulating Dr. Paisley on his retirement. He was a frightening ogre in my childhood and youth but however slowly it came about he should take a bow today because he negotiated in the end and that must be noted, unlike the entrenched position taken by the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, with pharmacists. Like me, many Members are concerned about the slow death we are now likely to see in rural Ireland——
We are on the Order of Business. I want to hear questions to the Leader.
If I may finish this point. I call it a slow death because we are not about to see the visible closures of pharmacies but we are now seeing——
We had that debate last night.
——protective notice placed on workers in pharmacies.
There was a debate——
I was here for the debate and I am very disappointed——
They cannot take the heat on the opposite side.
——with the outcome from the Minister, Deputy Harney. Today, 500 pharmacists will gather for an unprecedented meeting. They have been largely a peaceable people and they have put in place measures to ensure no patient is hurt today, unlike what was said in the House last night.
I support Senator O'Toole's call for the full and immediate implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. That will ensure there is an appeals process in place for parents of children with special educational needs and go towards helping them achieve their appropriate entitlement under our Constitution.
I ask the Leader to intervene with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on a special case with which the adoption board must engage immediately. A young Galway couple from Connemara have adopted a baby in the United States. They are living there currently but want to repatriate here and gain full citizenship rights for their adopted child, which is the right of any adopted child. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to reassure the couple that the Adoption Board will work to ensure the legal issues will be addressed and that it will be flexible in meeting that.
The Senator will get a better result on that matter if she raises it in an Adjournment Debate.
I support the views expressed by Senators O'Toole and Keaveney regarding autism. Discussions on autism and in particular education generally concern ABA. I support the view that we should be talking about child centred and demand led services. Will the Leader arrange for the schedule for the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act by the Minister for Education and Science to be provided, which would be helpful for Members of the House? I know with regard to autism many Members of the House will push other issues with other Ministers. It would be beneficial to have the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act.
I support what has been said about the pharmaceutical supply chain. It is regrettable that a number of community pharmacists, which do such good work, have closed and the services are not available.
Who closed them? It was your Minister.
Senator Callely without interruption. We had a discussion on pharmacists with the Minister last night.
It is not over. That is the point.
It finished in the House last night and I hope we will give other people an opportunity to raise other matters.
We all experience difficulties with regard to transportation in our areas, in particular around the capital city. Will the Leader arrange an overview from the various agencies involved in the delivery of Transport 21, including the Dublin Transportation Authority, the Rail Procurement Agency and the National Roads Authority, with regard to the required connectivity? We need to know where we are with public transport, the integration of public transport links and other issues such as the outer orbital route. This would be helpful.
I join my colleagues in seeking a debate on Northern Ireland. However, I will not join in the chorus of praise for Ian Paisley and the sentimentalising of him as this new figure, "Big Ian". He is big physically but he is morally a pygmy and remains so.
That is uncalled for. It is unparliamentary language.
I am sorry. I have the right to say it and I will say it and I insist on that right.
I will not be silenced. Too many people have been silenced.
Senator Norris is an experienced politician in this House.
The people who describe themselves as the chuckle brothers have erected themselves on a mound of 3,000 civilian deaths.
It is unparliamentary language. Senator Norris is an experienced Member of this House and I would hope he would not use unparliamentary language
It is not unparliamentary language.
It is in my opinion.
I defy the Cathaoirleach to show me that in a book. I will continue to state this because I believe in telling the truth. The Reverend Ian Paisley undermined by accusing of treason not only Captain Terence O'Neill for meeting Sean Lemass but also Brian Faulkner, James Chichester Clark and David Trimble. What motivated him was ambition. There was no repentance. At least the provos expressed regret. In my opinion he shamed his cloth by using the language of the Bible to divide and separate people and I am glad he is gone. I hope better will come. I have stated severe things about the provisional movement of the IRA but I believe fair is fair and I, at least, will tell the truth about this day. I am glad that for whatever reason he managed to be an instrument at the end towards some degree of reconciliation but I do not think it was his motive.
Will the Leader consider No. 17, motion 36 on the Order Paper with regard to the M3 motorway and Tara? This is in light of the fact that Dr. Jonathan Foyle, chairman of the World Monuments Fund, described driving the motorway through Tara as being comparable to the destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Our national poet, Séamus Heaney, stated the motorway "literally desecrates an area — I mean the word means to "desacralise" and, for centuries, the Tara landscape and the Tara sites have been regarded as part of the sacred ground". Will the Leader organise a debate on this before it is too late?
Some time ago, I raised the issue of catchment boundaries for school transport and I called for a debate on it. The present system is in existence since the 1960s. With the change in demographics we must have changes in how we respond to transport requirements to ferry our pupils to and from schools, especially in rural Ireland. We have had large hikes in the cost of school transport recently with increases of up to 40%. I do not know how many Senators are aware of this but any rural Senator certainly should be aware of it. For those in junior cycle the term charge has gone from €33 to €46 and for those in senior cycle it has increased from €51 to €71.
This issue must be debated because the Minister has increased these school transport charges without any due cognisance of the service she is delivering, its quality or even the times at which students are being delivered to their schools. I am aware of some students in school an hour and a half before school starts and who are left there an hour and a half after it finishes. It is a terrible indictment of our school transport system to have children between the ages of 12 and 17 with long days and inadequate school transport. However, the Minister can hike up the price at the stroke of a pen. This is not acceptable and she should be brought before the House to debate this important issue.
With regard to rural services in general, and this is an extension of the school transport issue, a number of Senators called for a debate on balanced regional development. I support this call. It is in the programme for Government but I still have not seen any proposals come to this House for debate. We certainly have a need to debate it and many would agree.
Senator Callely mentioned the Dublin Transport Authority and connectivity in transport services. I would like to see how the Government proposes to promote the better integration of transport throughout the country and not only around the vortex of Dublin city and the east coast in general. We have a country with regions and the Government needs to realise this. It is important we debate it.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in welcoming the publication of the report into cancer care in the midlands, which is overdue. I thought we had learned our lessons with regard to timelines for publication and giving those affected adequate time to study these reports prior to publication. It is not right or proper that people are given hours to study them before they are published. I hope this will change but, unfortunately, it has not changed yet. People should be treated with dignity and given more time to study reports into issues which directly affect them.
I remind the House of the outstanding report into the Rebecca O'Malley case. She is very concerned about its publication. I understand the Health Information and Quality Authority has an issue from a legal perspective with regard to its publication. I raised the fact that legal necessities must be dealt with and the report must be published so lessons can be learned. I encourage that the fine line which exists in this regard be decided upon soon and that the report be published.
Genuine concerns about changes in the economy are raised given the February results, particularly with regard to tax receipts. We have known for a while that stamp duty receipts are down. I do not want to scaremonger but we need to have a debate on this with the Minister for Finance. A change has occurred in the economy with regard to corporation tax, VAT and capital gains tax receipts which have decreased considerably. We are talking in the region of €470 million. Capital gains tax receipts have decreased by 34%.
With the change in the economy we are seeing redundancies. This House has debated the issue of lifelong learning. We must examine the changing economic situation and how it will affect us socially. I hate the word "reskilling". It is not an appropriate one for people who are already skilled. We must examine how people's skills can be moved and diversified into new areas of industry so people are not left for long on dole queues. This would be a good debate. Comments such as those made by the Construction Industry Federation with regard to attacking employees' pay and conditions are not helpful. It is negative energy and we need to use positive energy to address this issue quickly.
Many calls were made last week for a debate on anti-social and criminal behaviour following the tragic deaths in Dublin. The vigil which took place over the weekend underscores the magnitude of the issue we face. It is incumbent on us as legislators to recognise what is happening in our society and seek to do more about it. I call for a debate on the related issue of school attendance rates. One child out of every 20 has serious difficulty in regularly attending school while one in every five portrays frequent difficulty. When I attend meetings on truancy with schools and gardaí in the Dublin Central constituency, this is noted as the cause of much difficulty in the community.
If young children, particularly young boys, drop out of school and facilities are not in place to get them back into the system, they are left open and prone to many outside and malign influences that lead to criminal difficulties later in life. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue? We must also discuss how the National Educational Welfare Board is tackling the issue and how it is short of resources to ensure young people are supported to attend school regularly and open to positive influences.
I also call for a debate on how images of explicit violence are being mainstreamed in society. A current movie centres around people who are captured for torture. Last week's review of the film in The Irish Times stated it was another film about torture.
An advertisement for this movie on Dublin's O'Connell Street has an image of a man, manacled, being tortured. I call for a debate on the imagery young people's minds are being exposed to, particularly when advertisements and images far too regularly show men and especially women either being tortured or infer it. When extreme violence is mainstreamed by our entertainment industry, unfortunately it creates an environment in which extreme torture and violence are seen as mainstream as opposed to things we should deplore. If the Leader organises a debate on that issue, we would be able to contribute to it in a positive way.
Senator Kelly said he did not like the term "reskilling". I am convinced reskilling should be the essence of our education. We talk about education as not being there to teach people things but to teach them how to learn. We need lifelong learning and to be able to learn many new skills during our lifetime. Leaving school, believing one does not have to learn again, belongs to the past. We must be enthusiastic about reskilling and lifelong learning.
I do not watch television very often but I did see the two recent programmes "Dirty Money". I was startled by what was happening with organised crime ten years ago. What jolted me was that we as a nation could not agree on how to deal with the problem until the murder of Veronica Guerin.
I believe we are in a similar crisis now. Do we have to wait for another crisis to occur involving organised crime? This is not just about organised crime. We must question what we must do to tackle such events, including the recent killings of two young Polish men in Drimnagh. I am sure all sides in society and both sides of the House are united on this issue. However, in 1997 we were only jolted into tackling this problem together when Veronica Guerin was killed. We must see this as a wake-up call so we do not wait until the crime situation gets even worse.
In today's edition of The Irish Times, Vincent Browne has an article titled “Gobbledegook and the case against Lisbon Treaty”. His argument is that the treaty is difficult to understand because the compendium version of the treaties, including the amendments, is not available. His argument is ill-informed and quite ridiculous. All the information is available.
We have had referenda on the Singe European Act, and the Amsterdam, Maastricht and Nice treaties. All have been amendments to previous treaties. The core of Vincent Browne's criticism is that we are only voting on the amendments and not a complete treaty. That, however, has been the position on all previous referenda on amendments of treaties.
Information on the Lisbon treaty is available in the Official Journal of the European Union and from the Institute of European Affairs. A track-changes version of the treaties has been produced to allow readers to identify the line version which gives the amendments.
I do not understand Vincent Browne's claim that the treaty is only understandable by lawyers as he is a lawyer himself. He is an influential commentator. To claim the treaty is incomprehensible when all information is available from the National Forum on Europe, the Institute of European Affairs or the Oireachtas is unacceptable and an absurd argument. It is a refrain from quite a number of people in the "No" camp and is ill-informed. It is important it is rebutted.
I wish to raise the matter of the recent discovery of high levels of radon gas in a home in County Tipperary. A sense of complacency may arise concerning radon gas levels due to the maps detailing projections of high radon gas levels. The maps may lead to a false sense of security for many who think they are safe because there is a low level in their area. Legislation governing the building industry requires that new homes built since 1998 must have a radon barrier, but this barrier is just a sheet of plastic. Before a sub-floor is laid, the sheet may have a hole punctured in it to drain off water that may have accrued on it. In this country, we are very likely to have water accruing.
The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, should be mandated and given funding to conduct studies on the effectiveness of radon barriers. Radon gas is a killer, with 200 deaths attributed to it every year. The Seanad must debate this issue as people's health is at risk. Radon barriers do not protect houses from rising levels of radon gas. In some states in America, dwellings several storeys high have been shown to have excessive radon levels while a dwelling next door had what are termed "effective levels".
It is time for a debate on this matter and for the RPII to assess the dangers of radon gas levels to people in both new and old houses across the country. We have much more knowledge on health needs and issues which must be examined.
In the last Seanad on numerous occasions I called for a debate on men's health. I support Senator Buttimer's call for such a debate. Unfortunately, like it or not, men are not as proactive in looking after their own health as they should be. When they do take action, it is often at the prompting of their wife, partner, sister, friend or aunt. In the main, they do not take action of their own volition.
It is important that we have an ongoing audit of practices among professionals in the health services. In light of the disturbing reports in the UK of a male nurse who murdered four elderly patients and attempted to murder a fifth, it is important that cross-checks are carried out on preparations when medicine is being administered to people in care. This is accepted practice, but often practices fall down for want of the required number of personnel.
It is disturbing to read about people who, over the last number of years, produced falsified qualification certificates and found themselves practising as surgeons and other medical professionals. Many of these have got away with it but, fortunately, some have been detected. This is something of which we must be particularly observant. In particular, those who are hiring such professionals must ensure they are what they say they are. That they are not always so is a proven fact.
I too call for a debate on the Lisbon treaty. It is important that we have a proper and timely debate on this issue. Many people are concerned with the implications of the treaty, whether it is further movement towards common defence, the fact that more taxpayers' money will be committed to the European Defence Agency and to increasing our military capabilities, or the undermining of workers' rights such as we saw in Irish Ferries. There are many other areas of concern, including the continued committal of taxpayers' money to nuclear energy. We need to have an informed debate on this. I ask that we set the date to allow an informed debate nationally.
I also echo, in the presence of the Leader, the statement I made yesterday in his absence concerning the need for a debate on the Six Counties as a matter of urgency. I mentioned yesterday that it was likely that Ian Paisley would leave office in the not-to-distant future. The announcement of this has now occurred. We now have a deadline within which the debate should be held. As part of the debate I have asked that all parties in the House support the call I have made to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to invite the Northern Ireland First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, to come to the Chamber and lead the debate to mark the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome the public support expressed yesterday by the leader of the Fine Gael Party, Senator Frances Fitzgerald, in this regard, but I ask other parties to provide their support also.
There has been a lot of talk about Ian Paisley's retirement in the Chamber today. I too wish him well and I am conscious of the role he has played in the last number of years in bringing Unionism to its current position in terms of power-sharing. However, I am also conscious that he has led a party that has denied civil rights to Nationalists and republicans in the Six Counties for many decades. He has been part of the problem. Many of those in his own party still remain opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. There was mention of saying "No." Sinn Féin is the largest party in support of the Good Friday Agreement and, while we say "No" to British occupation and the denial of civil rights, we support the full implementation of the Agreement.
I ask for a debate on the Irish language in our education system. There is a piece in today's Irish Independent concerning the number of students opting out of Irish as a leaving certificate subject because of learning difficulties. Of the 11,871 Irish-born pupils who received exemptions in 2006, 6,341 studied another modern European language. The TUI is suggesting that these are what is described as “designer difficulties” whereby parents are able to pay for psychological assessments for their children to allow them to opt out of Irish, although they can study Latin, French and German. There is a need for a full debate on the role of the Irish language within our education system and how best to teach it. The Union of Secondary Students of Ireland and Conradh na Gaeilge have an interesting policy proposal which suggests that the literature element should be removed from the Irish language leaving certificate course and made into an alternative subject. This should inform the debate. It is urgent that we discuss this given that there are close to 12,000 Irish pupils — as well as those from other countries, who have amounted to 10,000 over the last two years — who are opting out of taking our national language at leaving certificate level.
Although there are four people still offering to speak, the time is up. All I can do is to call these first tomorrow morning. I apologise to those Senators.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole and Kelly called for an open debate on the activities of the HSE and in particular the three reports to be published over the next 24 hours. I can agree to have this at an early date. I will endeavour to check the Minister's diary to see what can be done to achieve this.
Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White, Norris, Doherty and Keaveney expressed their views on Dr. Ian Paisley and his announcement of his retirement. I agree with the Taoiseach when he says, "I can say with certainty that the leadership he has shown in recent years means that future generations of Irish people, North and South, will live in a peace and prosperity that previous generations could only dream of". I wish him well in his retirement. At the position in Irish history at which we find ourselves we can look forward to living in prosperity and peace. This is what we have all hoped and worked hard for. I have already discussed with the Taoiseach the possibility of a debate on Northern Ireland and he has agreed to attend the House on or near the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. He too played a major part in achieving the Good Friday Agreement on behalf of the Irish people. The Taoiseach will be pleased to be here for a debate on Northern Ireland and in particular the tenth anniversary of the Agreement.
Senators O'Toole, Alex White, Healy Eames, Keaveney and Callely expressed their views on matters pertaining to the Minister for Education and Science, particularly with regard to the debate that took place here last night. They also mentioned autism and the challenges facing those families with children with special needs. I will pass on the views of Senators to the Minister. I have no difficulty with having a wide-ranging debate on this issue after the Easter recess when facilitated by the Minister's diary and the leaders of the parties in the House. I agree with the sentiments expressed. On my first or second day as Leader of the new Seanad I stated that autism was one of my priorities, an urgent issue on which I would like to make progress with the help and assistance of all parties and Senators. I said that we could make our mark with regard to input to the Minister and the Department.
Senators de Búrca, Regan and Doherty called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House for a debate on the Lisbon treaty. As Senators know, the Bill relating to the treaty will be published tomorrow and the Minister will be attending the House in due course. After progression of the Bill through the Houses we can assess the possibility of a debate. As far as I am concerned we can have as many debates as Senators want. Information is what this entire referendum is about, and it would be a terrible tragedy for any difficulty to arise because of misinformation. I do not see any difficulty with discussing this on as many occasions as the House feels necessary.
Senators Buttimer and Glynn called for an urgent debate on mental health. Areas of concern included the document A Vision for Change, the attention paid to this by the HSE and funding to be allocated to this area. Senator Glynn mentioned an audit of care. I have no difficulty in having time left aside for a debate on this.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on major investment over the past ten years in the institutes of technology which have been the great success story of our country, and requested that the Minister of Education and Science is present. There is no difficulty in this taking place.
Senator Healy Eames expressed various concerns and I will pass these on to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. If the Senator wishes to have the matter as the subject of an Adjournment debate, the Cathaoirleach has indicated he will be very forthcoming in allowing time for this.
Senator Callely called for an update on Transport 21. I have no difficulty leaving time aside for this too. With regard to No. 17, motion 36 referred to by Senator Norris, I will examine this and come back to the Seanad tomorrow morning.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on the challenges facing school transport and asked for the Minister to be present. There is no problem having time left aside for this.
The request for a debate on balanced regional development could be taken with the debate called for by Senator Alan Kelly. He pointed out to the House that we should discuss the downturn in economy. The figures for the first two months of this year show a shortfall of €517 million in VAT, capital gains tax and other areas of revenue. We must face this challenge. It is a global issue. The people must see how best they can work together to get over this problem and assist each other. As I said previously on the Order of Business, the greatest challenge facing our country is competitiveness. I intend to allow an all-day debate after Easter and during the first two weeks of our return on this issue and all matters pertaining to the economy, including the challenges facing us in the future. I ask the spokespersons for finance of all parties in the House to note this. The debate on balanced regional development requested by Senators Kelly and Coffey can take place as part of the wider debate on the economy.
Senator Donohoe called for a debate on anti-social behaviour, highlighting the problems many school boards of management have with absenteeism. The Senator gave a figure of one in 20 students having difficulty attending school. I have no difficulty holding a debate on this issue.
I agree with the points the Senator made about mainstream violence and the possible effects of quad advertisements and other advertising for films in cinemas. The Senator referred to posters containing violent scenes. I do not think it healthy that this is happening in our country. The Irish Film Censor's Office has a duty in this regard. As someone very closely associated with the film industry in the early years of my career, this type of advertising did not exist years ago. We used to see the wonderful quad advertisements of "Gone with the Wind" and other such beautiful family posters.
Hear, hear. Bring back "Sissi: The Young Empress".
The Leader without interruption, please.
We could have a very intelligent debate and I ask all Senators to rise to the mark in that regard.
Senator Quinn referred to the television documentary by Paul Williams. Mr. Williams is to be congratulated. He is the most courageous person alive in Ireland today and I have no difficulty complimenting him. He is to be commended on the work he has done in recent years given the challenges he has faced to bring to the attention of the public what is happening in certain areas of our country.
What about Judge Mahon?
What about the victims, are they not courageous?
I listened to him with great interest last night on "The Joe Finnegan Show" on the local radio station, Northern Sound, discussing the challenges facing us. I compliment him on his wholesome praise of all political parties coming together and putting in place the corrective measures and agencies necessary to take on the challenge. It is not just a one-party achievement. He gave it as an all-party achievement. We can take some solace from what can be done when people focus on being positive——
When you cannot do it yourself we have to help.
——as legislators rather than wasting time on things that do not really matter on a day to day basis. I will set aside time for a debate on this matter and pass on the Senators' views to the Minister.
Senator Prendergast called for an urgent debate on radon gas levels. I know Tipperary has very high levels and some parts of my own area, Westmeath, have as well. This debate can take place and I have no problem with the Senator's call for an up to date survey on radon gas levels.
Senator Doherty called for a debate on the Irish language. I have already made a commitment to the House in this regard. Once a year in the Seanad we have a debate on updating matters and challenges pertaining to the Irish language. I have no difficulty with setting aside time for this also.