The Order of Business is No. 2, a motion re the Order of Business times, to be taken without date at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 3, a motion re the Joint Committee on European Affairs, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, statements on the Lisbon reform treaty, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., in which spokespersons and party leaders may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators eight minutes and in respect of which Members may, with the agreement of the House share time, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs to be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate to respond to comments and questions from spokespersons.
Order of Business.
It is often said that a week is a long time in politics. Last week certainly gave meaning to that phrase. It began with Deputy Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil and by Wednesday he had announced his resignation, effective from 6 May. By the end of the week Deputy Brian Cowen had become Leader-elect of his party. It is extraordinary how, in politics, events can gather momentum and pace. So much happened last week that it might serve as a warning to the Seanad that we cannot take breaks at all.
Party leaders in the Dáil paid tribute to Deputy Bertie Ahern last week for his hard work during his tenure as Taoiseach. I, too, wish the Taoiseach well as he departs office and thank him for his service and efforts. While we have many disagreements on policy, it must be recognised that for the Taoiseach, politics was his life. He brought great energy and dedication to the office of Taoiseach and played an enormously significant role in the Good Friday Agreement and in Ireland's successful European Presidency.
An issue that emerged in this House, just before the Easter break, concerned the position of the illegal Irish in the United States. The Taoiseach has yet to address the US Congress and I ask the Leader to raise this issue with him. We had a somewhat unsatisfactory discussion in the House in this regard before the break and we were working on an all-party motion. However, a number of reservations were expressed by Members as regards the approach the Taoiseach had taken. Perhaps this issue could be raised again when he addresses Congress.
While paying tribute to the Taoiseach and wishing him well, it is worth noting that the date of his departure was brought forward because to remain in office would have been a distraction, as he admitted, owing to the evidence before the Mahon tribunal and the unanswered questions. However, I welcome the fact that the focus has returned to the many issues of concern such as the economy, rising levels of unemployment and the health service — we have another disturbing study, the O'Malley report — and I hope we have the opportunity to discuss these matters in the Seanad.
I want to focus, however, on the very disturbing reports of crime in Limerick and around the country, as reported in today's newspapers. It must strike horror and a chill into all our hearts to see what is happening with regard to the murder of those three young men. We raised these concerns on this side of the House on a number of occasions, most recently in the aftermath of the killings of the two young Polish men. Senators on all sides called for an immediate debate on this matter. I shall move an amendment to today's Order of Business so that we may have a debate on law and order and the challenge which these gangs pose to the State, the Garda and increasingly, communities.
A local Limerick priest, Fr. Joe Young, referred yesterday to the fear among residents in the local community. I do not believe it is acceptable in a democracy that communities are frightened to give evidence, that they consider law and order to be out of hand and that illegal groups are running the streets — not the communities and not the Garda. I should like today to move an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the Seanad and address this issue. The issue has been raised not just on this side of the House but across the Seanad on a number of occasions in recent weeks.
I echo the points made by Senator Fitzgerald concerning the Taoiseach's announcement of his resignation. It would be very helpful in dealing with this in an efficient manner, if the Leader could find some reason for inviting the Taoiseach to the House. The best reason would be to get an update, as he sees it on leaving office, of the Northern situation, the Lisbon treaty and the possibilities of another national wage agreement. I should like the Taoiseach to address the Seanad in a businesslike manner.
I also acknowledge the work the Taoiseach has done for this country. There will be time to talk about other matters in due course. I believe that the balance sheet of his career will ultimately come out on the positive side. In any event, it would be important to have that debate with him here, and hear his views.
On a personal note, the Taoiseach is someone who has stuck by his word to me over the 35 years that I have been dealing with him. I can recall adverse public comment, including some within this House less than five years ago, when, having struck a deal with the Taoiseach on benchmarking, there were opposing voices on all sides of the Seanad, not least on my own benches. Two of my Trinity College colleagues were calling for benchmarking not to be paid, but the Taoiseach stood by his agreement with me. I can recall these matters and it will be time to talk about them again.
People will have noted developments since last week on an issue I have raised many times in the House, namely, the question of China. It is great and heartening to see that there is a demand around the world for recognition of human rights. The so-called Chinese torch is effectively a symbol of torture, oppression and suppression——
——-from a regime which has mobile execution chambers and kills people to sell their organs. China is opening coal stations at the rate of one a week, flooding people out of their homes in order to create electricity and engaged in numerous other activities. For polite people to be speaking to us as politicians and talking about the positive image of sport and not connecting it with politics conjures up a very clear message. The Olympic Games are putting a positive gloss on the most repressive, oppressive, unacceptable regime in the world. If leaders on the world stage stand beside the architects and leaders of China, then they are giving tacit international support to what it is doing — and they should not do this.
I am not asking athletes to get involved, but political leaders are a different matter. It is not right to say that politics and sport do not mix because it is far too late for that. The Olympic Games are in China for political reasons, and that is the reality. We are looking at an oppressive country, which tramples on human rights, suffocates free speech, denies freedom of religion and grabs countries such as Tibet and pulls them apart, as it has been doing since the Dalai Lama was kicked down the mountain in 1959. It is time we pointed out to China that as a member of the United Nations, it is required to subscribe to the UN programme on human rights. I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs to be invited to the House to indicate that no one representing the Irish Government will stand with the Chinese leaders or participate in the opening ceremony.
The Minister for Education and Science has had an instructive Easter travelling to the various teaching, education and management conferences and will no doubt have learned a lot. It would be very helpful if we could hear what she has learned over the past three weeks, especially the advances she has made on issues affecting primary education, such as class size, capital funding and special education.
As Senator Fitzgerald stated, it has been a busy time since we met last. Last week in particular was very eventful. When I entered the Chamber today, I was prompted to look across, with mounting concern, to ensure the Leader was still sitting in the place with which we associate him. I am glad he is still there today.
I am glad to see the Senator here also.
The Senator should speak on the Order of Business, please.
I noted the remarkable sense of relief that appeared on the Deputy Leader's face after the events of last week. No doubt the developments came as a great relief to him and his party, or so we are led to believe.
Senator O'Toole and others have made the point that it is a pity that the Taoiseach has not had the opportunity to speak in the Chamber during the term of this Seanad. Senator O'Toole's suggestion might be a way of addressing this.
The very significant achievements of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, must be acknowledged without question, especially in the context of the historic events in Northern Ireland. When the history of these events is written — some of it has been — many players will be regarded as having made a significant contribution. It probably can be said that few, if any, made a more significant contribution to promoting peace and ensuring a resolution to the Troubles than the Taoiseach. I have no difficulty whatsoever acknowledging that.
We should acknowledge also that, in general, the Taoiseach has been a very successful politician. Someone said to me that one of his characteristics is what is called the likeability factor. I agree with this but the Taoiseach has needed the likeability factor, particularly in the past year or two. Would he have survived as long as he did had he not had it? It is a pity the departure from public life and politics of someone who achieved so much is tainted. There is no question about this.
I will seek a debate on an issue related to the Taoiseach's departure which Senator MacSharry raised before the break. It was a pity the Taoiseach spoiled the dignity of the occasion last week — he was backed up in doing so — by again refusing to pass up the opportunity to have a go at the tribunals.
I do not want any discussion on tribunals.
I do not know why he felt he had to launch what I can only describe as an unwarranted and despicable attack on people doing a professional job in a tribunal set up by the Oireachtas——
——in circumstances in which we need to purge all the anger felt, as expressed by Senator MacSharry on the previous occasion on which he raised this matter. Perhaps we still need to purge this anger because although the Taoiseach is going, the tribunals are not. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have a parade of people asking that matters be left to the tribunal while the Taoiseach and a queue of Ministers never miss the opportunity to attack it, especially on an occasion such as that last week.
The Senator has very little else to say——
Either one approach or the other should be adopted. Either the tribunals are to be maintained and supported by this House, which set them up through the motion proposed by Senator Cassidy ten years ago, or they are not. Remarks such as "low-life stuff" are not worthy of a Taoiseach, be it a departing Taoiseach or a sitting one.
I am allowing a certain amount of latitude but we cannot discuss the tribunals.
In such circumstances, I ask that we have the debate Senator MacSharry called for before Easter. I hope he has not withdrawn his call therefor. Perhaps we can have the debate in calmer circumstances given that Deputy Bertie Ahern is to some extent out of the equation, at least as Taoiseach. Let us determine how much the Members opposite really support a tribunal investigating the matters that occurred so recently in our public life.
The statement by the Taoiseach last week should remind Members that he will remain in office until the date on which he has decided to step down. It would be more appropriate to have a debate closer to that date rather than sooner, not so much to pass judgment but to acknowledge his contribution over his period in office. I acknowledge that the decision has been made and all of us in public life should be allowed to take cognisance of it and delve deeper into its significance as time passes. Part of the problem over recent months is the way in which knee-jerk reactions have informed public debate in a way that public debate should not otherwise be informed.
I agree with Senator O'Toole on the need for a debate on the Beijing Olympics, the manner in which the current relay of the Olympic torch is being used for political purposes and the impact of this on the continuing occupation of Tibet by the Chinese.
The House can have a valuable debate on this to support the cause.
The second debate I call for has more local significance, although it has national importance. A report has just been produced on the national aviation strategy, particularly on Cork Airport and its relationship with Dublin Airport. It was compiled by Mr. Peter Cassells on behalf of the Government. While it attempts to employ the wisdom of Solomon in dealing with the problem——
The Green Party in Lisbon——
——there are wider issues that need to be debated in this Chamber.
Is the Senator supporting the Government?
Senator Boyle without interruption.
Is the Senator supporting the Government?
I am surprised the Senator even needs to ask that question.
Is the Senator reneging on the people of Cork?
Am I not sitting on this side of the Chamber?
Is the Senator turning his back on the people of Cork?
Senator Boyle without interruption.
He is turning his back on the people of Cork.
Senator Buttimer should not be interrupting.
There is a certain Senator who sometimes believes a meeting in this Chamber is a meeting of the Cork GAA county board. There should be a better sense of decorum.
What is wrong with the GAA? The Senator was never involved so he would not know about it. The Senator should not be denigrating Cork. He is in enough trouble as it is.
Could someone tell me what is the GAA? Is it a political organisation?
The Senators should speak seriously on the Order of Business. I ask Senator Boyle to continue without interruption.
Along with Senator Fitzgerald, I refer to the ongoing events in Limerick on which I would like to have a wider debate. Obviously in terms of public safety no one accepts what is happening in Limerick but we all should work towards the success of the Limerick regeneration plan in particular. Everyone in public life should do so. We should debate the wider issue of trying to encourage greater public well-being in Limerick.
Before the Easter recess, I asked the Leader for a debate on the current economic conditions. Senator MacSharry and other Senators on the Government side also called for such a debate. It would be apt to invite the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to the Chamber as soon as possible to discuss this matter before he is elevated to another office. The discussion should focus on rising unemployment levels, the more modest projections for economic growth this year and the projected figures pertaining to tax revenue, which are much lower than those projected originally. It would be appropriate that the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, should come to the House to discuss how he sees matters developing from here and to get his views before he assumes another role.
I am not sure whether this is the correct forum to raise this. I had a number of Adjournment motions before the House before the Easter recess, the last two of which related to the area of education. There are at least three, if not four, Ministers in the Department of Education and Science and on each occasion no Minister relevant to the portfolio was able to be present. If one raises a specific issue, it is a poor show from any Department to be presented with an answer to an Adjournment debate which one knows is factually incorrect and not be able to question the Minister who arrives in the Chamber. On the last such occasion it was the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who answered as well as he could but could not deal with the specific questions I raised. I understand that at times Ministers may not always be able to be present. However, in a Department that has three, if not four, Ministers, surely one of them should be able to be present to take a debate relevant to that Department.
I echo Senator O'Toole's request for the Taoiseach to visit the House so that we have an opportunity to listen to his views as he retires and, as the Senator stated, to pay tribute to the service he has provided on behalf of the Irish people for such an extended period.
I also request a debate on the partnership talks. Often people criticise Parliament for not having a relevance. We might be provided with the opportunity to discuss our concerns here. I accept that when one is going into negotiations one often likes to keep one's cards close to one's chest but it would afford us the opportunity to express views, particularly to the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, as he prepares to go into the partnership talks.
I also request a debate on the question of prisons. As we seek to modernise our prisons system, a debate on the purpose of prisons and whether we are serving those needs is required. In my previous constituency an institution for young offenders was closed down. In that regard, we need to know there will be enough rehabilitation opportunities in places of incarceration and what is their purpose. That is why I request a debate on prisons.
I also echo the request from Senators Boyle and O'Toole for a debate on Tibet. As we prepare to go to the Olympic Games, it is appropriate that we in the Seanad should make known our views on the matter.
Last Wednesday when we got out of our beds and trudged to what we were going to do, the one significant event on the landscape from a political point of view was the HIQA report on the Ms Rebecca O'Malley case. Unfortunately, on the day concerned it was over shadowed by other events. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to the House to debate this and other reports but, in particular, the recommendations arising from this report. Dr. Tracey Cooper of HIQA needs to be commended on this report.
It was the first report of a new organisation and I was impressed by its recommendations, its tone and its language. Following Rebecca's ability to speak about it — I spoke to her at length on a number of occasions since — the way in which HIQA worked with her over the intervening months and handled the matter is commendable.
It was obvious from the report that there was a single point of failure. In future we must learn that single points of failure in the health service are simply not good enough. We need a triple lock, as is reported in the recommendations.
The recommendations include three important points and Ms O'Malley repeats these ad nauseam in the media. They relate to how the HSE communicates and how it is introducing a patient-centred approach to the entire implementation of recommendations in the future. It is important we all read these recommendations. It is important that we on all sides of the House ensure they all are put in place for future patients. Ms O’Malley will create a legacy from her work, namely, patient empowerment resulting in patients asking more questions and demanding more answers from a health service that in the future will not be allowed get away with some of the things we all regret happened in the past.
I seek that the Leader call the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, to the House to discuss the new report by the European Environment Agency on mobile telephone masts and mobile telephones and their possible effect on health. Its author, Dr. David Gee, reports to the European Commission and the European Parliament. The report cautions the Government that it must apply the precautionary principle on the possible health effects of mobile telephone masts and mobile telephones. It urges the Government to have the highest standards in terms of emissions for mobile telephone masts. At present, we have the highest emissions in the world from mobile telephone masts.
I sound a word of caution. It took 57 years to prove that tobacco causes lung cancer. We do not have 57 years to wait to prove that mobile telephone masts cause cancer. The Irish people expect us to act in their best interests and to act against any vested interests. The March 2007 report of the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has been superseded by other reports in Israel, Germany and beyond which state that there is now evidence that after ten years of mobile telephone usage there is a risk of cancer.
I must declare a personal interest in this. My uncle and aunt lived 100m from a mobile telephone mast in Kenmare and both died of cancer. I cannot say the mobile telephone mast was the cause of their deaths but if it was, I hope no one else suffers this loss. I urge the Government to apply the precautionary principle and to act in the best interests of the Irish people.
As a proud former member of the Cork County Board and as a proud Corkman——
At which position did the Senator play?
——-I ask the Leader to invite in the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to the House. The Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Cullen, have treated the people of Cork with contempt. I am a proud advocate of the people of Cork. We were promised a debt-free independent airport, as the Leader and Senator Boyle know well, and we have not got that. The Cassells report is a complete fudge. I ask the Leader as a matter of urgency to invite the Minister for Transport to the House so that we can have a debate on the issue of Cork airport which is of absolute importance, not just to Cork city but to the wider Cork and Munster region.
I agree with Senator O'Toole and others on the question of the Olympic Games in Beijing. I ask that we invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to the House as a matter of urgency. It is important that we and those involved in sport do not use sportspeople as an instrument of protestation but it is also important that we stand with the people who are being deprived and oppressed in a spirit of camaraderie and good will. Our athletes should not be used in this case and we need to send a strong message to the regime that its behaviour is intolerable.
I agree with Senator O'Toole's proposal to invite the Taoiseach to this House to discuss the Northern Ireland peace talks and the Lisbon reform treaty. As one who came into the Dáil on the same day as him in 1977, I would not ask him to inflict on himself the type of abusive remarks made by Senator Alex White.
It was not abuse. I object to that being described as abuse.
Stick to the Order of Business. Questions to the Leader.
I ask for that remark to be withdrawn.
The issues being dealt with in the tribunal are a matter for the tribunal, but I would just make that point.
Senator Leyden should tell the Taoiseach that.
I regard them as abusive remarks. I do not regard them as anything else. I do not see why I should withdraw a fair and reasonable comment.
I have been in the field for many years and I accept charges in the political sense.
I have been very restrained in the circumstances.
We know what we can say about Senator Leyden.
We are on the Order of Business.
We should place on the record our congratulations and best wishes to the incoming Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen. His brilliant response to Senator Quinn in this House was used on RTE. We should be very proud that his wonderful speech was given in this House. I know that he will come here as quickly as possible.
Our current Taoiseach will have many roles in the future.
Is Senator Leyden looking for the Taoiseach's job?
Senator Leyden, without interruption.
He would make a wonderful peace envoy for this country. He could play a very important role in respect of many issues relating to Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Tibet and Cyprus because he has retired prematurely. We will go into this again.
We are to discuss the Lisbon treaty today. I take issue with the comments made by Christine Lagarde, the Minister of Finance in France. Her proposal for discussions relating to corporate tax on the next Presidency of the European Union, which will be taken over by France in July 2008, is very unhelpful for the reform treaty. I welcome the clear statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that Ireland has a veto on tax. What the French say about it is irrelevant. Ireland's corporate tax regime is solely a matter for Ireland. If others wish to join us, we will welcome it.
We can deal with that in the debate this evening.
I want to put it on record on the Order of Business because it is very important. Ms Lagarde is being grossly unhelpful.
I also thank the Cathaoirleach for inviting my good friend, Mr. Hans-Gert Pöttering, here today. It showed very good judgment on the part of the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House. It was a wonderful speech today. Mr. Pöttering is a wonderful man who is giving great leadership in Europe.
The question of who we invite here is a decision of the House.
I agree with what Senator Leyden said in at least one respect, namely, his remark that the 12.5% tax rate is worthy of a debate in this House. The Cathaoirleach interrupted him to say that this could be raised in the debate on the Lisbon treaty. It has nothing to do with the treaty. I know it probably will be part of that debate but the danger is that it will become a red herring and a reason why people will vote "yes" or "no" when it is not relevant.
We should realise how vital this is. I ask the Leader to address this subject in his reply. I would have thought that if we were going to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs here, the first thing we might ask him to do is to call in the French ambassador and tell him that we will not have any truck with this sort of continuous threat from the French Government, be it the current French Minister of Finance or anyone else. There are three reasons why he should come to the House in the next few days. The French are constantly waging this kind of guerilla warfare against Ireland's tax rate and we want to make it absolutely plain that under no circumstances will we concede it and that they are wasting their time. It is obvious that there is an ongoing campaign and that the French will try in other ways to force us to concede this. It may be an attack on agriculture or somewhere else but as an economy, we cannot afford to give in on this issue. In the newspapers this morning, Ms Lagarde said that she had not met any Irish people who were afraid of anything in her plan. It would be quite useful to her if the message went out that at least this House is unanimously opposed to her plan.
I would guess that it would also be the same in the Dáil and among virtually every person in Ireland. Let us have no more truck with the French on this issue.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs should also come to the House to discuss the issue of Tibet, which was raised by Senator O'Toole, because it is a matter of immediate importance. Senator O'Toole has ploughed this furrow with a great deal of persistence for as long as I can remember and has championed the cause of human rights and debate for a long time. The Minister should come to the House to reassure it about this matter.
Ireland has a noble record in championing democracy and sending observers to democratic elections throughout the world. What is happening with the election in Zimbabwe, which has being debated in this House on many occasions, is a complete travesty of democracy. The Minister should come to the House and tell us what the Government is doing to try and ensure that democracy in Zimbabwe is enforced; whether he is making representations to the South African President, Mr. Mbeki and maybe Mr. Zuma to see that democracy is enforced in Zimbabwe; and what protests are being made about events which have happened in the past few days. These events include the delay in announcing the result, which stinks of an attempt to reverse it, and the treatment of members of the opposition who have tried to get to court and been forbidden from doing so, and journalists who have been arrested and harassed. The situation is very serious and is one in which this House has played a leading part. To his credit, the Minister has played a leading part in representing western and neutral interests in Zimbabwe. I hope that he can come to the House to tell us what he is doing about it again.
I also endorse the call for the Taoiseach to come to the House so that we can pay tribute to him for his high achievements over the past 11 years and not listen to a list of negatives from people who have achieved nothing politically so far. We have a golden opportunity to do this. I would love to have a full debate on and full praise for the Taoiseach for his work over the past 11 years.
I also endorse a call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House so that we can discuss the awful scenes now taking place with regard to the Olympic torch and how Tibet has been annihilated by the Chinese Government. We need to do this because fundamental human rights are being destroyed.
A seminar on the future of the workplace, its reconciliation with pregnancy, parenting and employment and how we can work towards a policy of flexible working time to improve people's quality of life was held in Trinity College some time ago. We have a golden opportunity to discuss this area in this Chamber. We can discuss where we are, what work is, how we analyse the future of work and how it fits into the economy of the future. I ask the Leader to arrange a full debate on this area some time in the near future when we are dealing with less pressing issues.
I second the amendment moved by Senator Fitzgerald, which asks the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address the House on organised crime. We moved a Private Members' motion late last year on the same subject. The Minister came to the House and essentially said that all is well and under control. As we stated on that occasion, these were polite meaningless words. He did not suggest any new measures, strategies or legislation. He did not believe that was required.
From what we have seen in the past number of months and recent days, the reality is that the Minister is not in control and has a negligible impact on this problem. The complacency is, at this stage, insufferable. We need an urgent debate on the matter.
In respect of what a number of Senators have referred to across the House, it was a sad day last week when the Taoiseach resigned. It is a sad day for this country when a Taoiseach resigns in disgrace and is forced to leave office. It has happened before with another Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. It has reflected on us——
That anyone was forced to leave any office is not relevant.
There will be nothing to talk about when the Taoiseach is gone.
The points have been made across the floor.
The fact is that there is unfinished business in this House in respect of the standards we set for ourselves. What are the standards by which politicians can receive money for personal use? We have never addressed that issue, which I raised on my first day in this House.
There is business to be finished in Dublin Castle. It has reflected very badly on this country as reported in the European and international press. We cannot airbrush it out of history one day later. We must face up to the situation that we are viewed as having a polity which is not beyond corruption. That reflects on business, foreign direct investment and the way we are perceived in this country. We will not airbrush it out of history. As the Taoiseach, Ministers and Members across this House continue to undermine the Mahon tribunal and its work, we on this side of the House will need to uphold a tribunal that was established by the Oireachtas. The Mahon tribunal will be an issue for as long as we attempt to suggest that nothing is wrong in Irish politics despite the forced resignation of a second Fianna Fáil Taoiseach.
For many years, along with Senator Jim Walsh and many other Senators, I have been calling for a debate on the tribunals. I still call for that debate and look forward to contributing to it in the fullest regard. My original request predates any calls from Senators Alex White, Regan and others from the other side who joined us quite recently. Regarding standards in public office, it was this party that led governments to ensure a number of measures were put in place by regulation leading to the documents all of us happily complete by way of declaration at the beginning of each year to ensure the highest standards of public office are upheld.
Tax clearance certificates.
I would welcome a debate on tribunals generally so that we can all participate. It is important that we would monitor the progress of all our tribunals to ensure they operate to the highest standards and to ensure they are working in a way that is consistent with the way that the Oireachtas established them in the first place in terms of achieving the expectations of the public and in terms of ensuring adherence to the standards set by Fianna Fáil in government by its, soon to be, seven leaders and the leadership they have shown over many decades. I proudly call on the Leader for that debate to take place as a matter of urgency.
I beg the Cathaoirleach's indulgence on two other issues. I join Senator O'Malley in calling for a debate on social partnership and the partnership talks which are to begin again in approximately one month's time. As finance spokesman on this side of the House I believe it would be appropriate to have such a debate. I ask the Leader to consider establishing an all-party committee to monitor the progress of those negotiations.
I have asked on many occasions recently for a debate on the HSE. I believe we would have all-party agreement on one of those taking place. The HSE is undertaking a national review of its funded adult day services. I recently received correspondence stating it is having a consultation process throughout the country. I call for a debate because the north west has been substantially ignored on a variety of issues, not least cancer care services. To be true to my name I must bring to the attention of the House the map that accompanied the invitation for consultation to this process. The four venues are all south of a line from Dublin to Galway, which is consistent with the cancer care services that are available. It is an endemic problem with the HSE that it refuses to acknowledge the existence of the 250,000 people who live in the north west region. I again ask for an urgent debate on the HSE to address some of these issues.
I echo the calls for a debate on crime, which should be extended to also deal with anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related crime. I say this at a time when access to alcohol has never been easier. Over the weekend we saw reports that an additional few hundred off-licences have been approved in the past year. I say that knowing the impact anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related crime are having on residents. Last night I attended a meeting in Ashbourne where residents must live with alcohol-related anti-social behaviour on a daily basis. I say this at a time when there has been complete inaction on the part of Government. In January the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said he expected the advisory group that he established to report by the end of March and that we could expect legislation before the summer recess. The latest legislative programme shows that this is way behind time. The Minister is now saying that we might see some legislation before the end of the year. I ask the Leader to pass on the comments from this Chamber that if we are to believe the Minister that action will be taken, it should be taken sooner rather than later.
I compliment the Tánaiste on what he said last week about the future of the Constituency Commission. Legislation is to come before us and there might be all-party agreement to amend it. In a previous debate on the electoral commission, Senators on the other side expressed the view that something should be done about the Constituency Commission's last report which did not take into consideration all the submissions made throughout the country. Given that the Labour Party also wishes it to be reviewed, it would now be an opportune time for a debate even before the Bill comes before the House. We had a debate on the electoral commission. We should have a debate on the changes proposed by the Constituency Commission.
I would also appreciate a debate on the WTO. From what I can see, Commissioner Mandelson is about to sell us out on a number of issues. It would be important for the House to express its opinions. This morning the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Pöttering, said that member states had the right to make their own submissions regarding any proposed decision of the Commission. It would be important to have this debate as soon as possible. If it means that the WTO talks are a failure in order for us to protect national interests, we have the right to do that.
I support my colleagues. It is notable that the call came from across the House that we should have a debate on the Olympic Games and China. We have a comprehensive motion, No. 8, in the name of the Independent Senators about the position, for example, of the Tibetan people under the Dalai Lama. Driving the Olympic torch through Tibet is tantamount to driving a dagger through the heart of democracy. It is unconscionable humiliation of the oppressed people of Tibet. I agree with Senator O'Toole that of course politics and sport are mixed, as the Chinese Government knows perfectly well which is why it grabbed the Olympic Games and is trying to milk them for whatever it could get out of them. I am glad it has backfired. I would like the Minister to come to the House and explain why, despite the fact that no less than three Fianna Fáil former Ministers, the late Frank Aitken, Michael O'Kennedy and David Andrews, did not support the so-called integration of Tibet into China, the Chinese ambassador can use The Irish Times to inform the people that it is our policy. Is the Chinese ambassador now formulating and articulating foreign policy on our behalf? We should boycott the opening ceremony. The athletes should maintain a dignified absence. James Joyce said that on some occasions “absence is the highest form of presence”. By absenting themselves they would make a moral statement and it would allow them to continue to compete, which everybody would also like.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that we take No. 36, in the name of all the Independent Senators. It is of particular urgency as it refers to the case of Ingrid Betancourt. I know I am not the only person in the House — virtually everybody here feels very strongly about it. This is an extraordinary woman, whose father was Colombian ambassador to UNESCO, whose mother founded an institution for street children in Colombia, who, herself, was elected by the highest vote to the Colombian Senate, who opened discussions with FARC in an honourable manner and was then kidnapped by that group. She is now seriously ill with malaria and hepatitis B, and has a serious dermatological condition. She may die if she does not get a blood transfusion. In the interests of humanity, I ask that we should give even 20 minutes today to pass this resolution, which I am sure would be an all-party resolution.
In light of our experience of British airports, despite the fact that an Irishman is in charge of the latest fiasco, and in light of the recent article by Senator Feargal Quinn in The Irish Times about joining the Schengen Agreement, it should be noted that Irish citizens are routinely refused the use of flight transfer facilities in British airports. They are forced to land and then to re-apply to the airline. In recent days two people close to me have experienced great difficulties in Heathrow Airport. It is no coincidence that they are black haired, brown eyed and brown skinned. One of them, a close friend of mine, was detained and asked how somebody like him acquired an Irish passport. In response to that, I ask the Irish Government to arrange for some of the no doubt fully Aryan, blue eyed, fair haired, fair skinned staff of the British Embassy to be routinely detained at Collinstown Aerodrome in a special little room so they can experience the delights of racism, to which Irish citizens are routinely treated in Heathrow and other British airports.
I was particularly impressed by the gracious tributes paid by Senator O'Toole to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. I genuinely believe the Senator, as in most cases, has his finger on the pulse of public opinion in this regard. During the debates this House held on Northern Ireland four or five years ago I recall saying that Deputy Bertie Ahern would stand out as one of the great political figures in the history of Ireland. Senator O'Toole's tribute was particularly significant because he based most of his judgment on his personal working experience with the Taoiseach. He said the Taoiseach always kept his word. Tony Blair, David Trimble, the President of the United States and many others said the same. More importantly, the ordinary people——
Two of the four are liars though — Blair and Bush. They could not tell the truth if they were in thumbscrews.
Senator Ó Murchú without interruption. He did not interrupt other Senators; he should be allowed to speak.
More importantly, ordinary communities throughout the country could say the same. I believe they feel that Deputy Bertie Ahern is an ordinary man who gave extraordinary service to this nation. I have no doubt history will record that as well. I agree with Senator O'Toole that towards the end of his term of office he should be invited to the Seanad to discuss the major issues with which he was engaged and promoted and in which he believed. I cannot think of anybody who had greater vision or greater tenacity than the Taoiseach. He was particularly gracious when he was confronted by antagonism, and that was one of his great strengths.
I wish to comment briefly on the Olympic Games and the treatment of the Tibetans by China. We saw with horror the terrible brutality exercised against people who were peacefully protesting. However, I am not sure that boycott is the answer in a case such as this. It would be like retreating to our bunkers. This House held debates during the blackest days in the history of Northern Ireland and against a background of terrible atrocities. Even at that time we continued to promote the concept of dialogue. If we wish to make a statement, we should not do so from our bunkers. We should, as is expected of legislators and politicians, confront the issues when the opportunity arises and do so directly with the people whom we consider to be the perpetrators. People disagreed with me the last time I made these points in the House but we have made some progress at opening dialogue where China is concerned. If we retrace our steps at this stage, we will not help global peace and I doubt that we will help Tibet. Much can be learned from the Northern Ireland situation. We must be consistent and persistent at all times. If we believe in what we are saying, the place to do that is where it matters.
I compliment the House on the visit of President Pöttering. His presentation was very helpful and clear. He exemplified all that is good and important about a "Yes" vote for the Lisbon treaty.
In 2002, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, promised this country a world class health service. By no means do we have that. I take this opportunity to ask the Leader and the Cathaoirleach to convey to the Minister for Finance and Taoiseach-in-waiting, Deputy Brian Cowen, the need to have the courage to consider replacing the current Minister for Health and Children with somebody who is nationally committed and patient focused. I use the term "nationally committed" because in the past few days I learned that the Minister is ready to outsource all laboratory work in an EU tender. Cervical smears will no longer be analysed in this country. The Minister has not invested in the laboratories in this country and there are no accredited laboratories in any of our major teaching hospitals. That is a disgrace. The National Treatment Purchase Fund is another example. The Minister's actions are proof that she has no confidence in the HSE to deliver, while she fails to reform or manage it.
Last week the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, said there is not a "red cent" for a hospital in the north east. What does that say about the capital programme for health? Our health service is in serious trouble. The Cathaoirleach is very close to the new leader in waiting and I ask him to use this month to urge the replacement of the Minister for Health and Children. I do not ask this easily but I seek a patient focused Minister. This morning, University College Hospital in Galway had its highest number of people on trolleys, a total of 40. The Minister is currently outsourcing smear tests to US laboratories, which have 80% to 85% reliability for results whereas in Galway, for example, there is 95% reliability. That is the standard of care for which this Minister stands. I would like the Cathaoirleach to make an intervention on my behalf.
I must make it clear that, as Cathaoirleach, my role is totally impartial. I have had to drop my political role.
The main thing is that he gets the message.
I have no doubt the Cathaoirleach is a proud Offaly man, although I acknowledge his impartiality in these matters.
Where is Senator Harris?
I join other Senators in asking the Leader to invite the Taoiseach to the House. I pay tribute to him, particularly for the peace and prosperity he has brought to the country in the past ten years. All Senators on this side have the height of regard and respect for the Mahon tribunal. I listened with interest to Senator Alex White and Senator Regan when they used words such as "tinted", "tarnished" and "disgraced".
I stand corrected. In the Lower House before Easter the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, and Taoiseach-elect, happened to say to Deputy Kenny that the Deputy was neither capable of or qualified to judge Deputy Bertie Ahern.
We are on the Order of Business.
Neither was he.
Deputy Kenny was doing his job.
He was not before the tribunal.
May I just say——
The Tánaiste is not qualified either.
We are not discussing the qualities of the leader or the leader-in-waiting.
Deputy Kenny is not before a tribunal.
While we are waiting for the tribunal to finish its business, I would give the Senators the same treatment Deputy Cowen gave to their party leader. He put him in his box and pulled the rug from under him.
Senator Feeney is listening too often to Senator Harris.
It is insulting and ignorant.
Insulting and ignorant.
I support Senator MacSharry's request for a debate on the HSE. I would like to see that happen. My reason for rising today is to ask the Leader once again for a debate on eating disorders.
Was there a reason?
I have raised this time and again. As I said before, we have three ring-fenced beds and 12 beds in private hospitals. It is a potential killer. We debate the loss of life in this Chamber through drug abuse, road traffic accidents and even gang land killings, yet we do not recognise the seriousness of eating disorders and the terrible effects they have on our young people. Any time a debate is called for on eating disorders, it is sadly always raised by one of the female Senators. We should take it on. It is a potential killer; boys as young as seven suffer from it; it is on the increase; and its effects are carried through into adulthood. I thank Bodywhys for keeping all Members of this House informed on what is going on with this terrible issue.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an gCeannaire, cén uair a bheidh an díospóireacht againn ar chúrsaí na Gaeltachta agus cúrsaí Gaeilge sa tír seo? D'iarr mé go mbeadh an díospóireacht againn mar pháirt de Sheachtain na Gaeilge. Tá Seachtain na Gaeilge thart. I ask the Leader to facilitate that debate. When I contacted the Minister's office he was willing to come here during Seachtain na Gaeilge to discuss the Irish language and the Gaeltacht. It is a missed opportunity. I ask the Leader to deal with that as soon as possible, considering the statistics on the problems the Irish language faces, which I have gone over time and again in this Chamber.
I repeat a call I made before the recess about the pharmacy dispute and the need for the Minister for Health and Children to outline to this Chamber the contingency she will put in place as a result of the pharmacies withdrawing from the contracts with effect from 1 May. When the Minister was here before and in answering questions of Deputies and Senators she said only a handful of pharmacies will withdraw. We now know the reality. In Donegal 40 out of 51 will withdraw from the scheme from 1 May. The figures in Mayo are similar and I believe the trend will continue to emerge throughout the country in the time ahead. People and patients are concerned about where they will get their medicine on 1 and 2 May. We need the Minister to outline her plan and we need to tease that out.
We need a real debate on education and its funding. As other Senators have said, we have just come off the back of the education conference that took place over Easter week. The one clear message from that conference is that we cannot provide a world class education service on a shoestring. This Government is trying to do that and we see the evidence in overcrowded classrooms, the difficulty of fund-raising and funding for the running costs of schools and the issue of dilapidated buildings. We have a serious crisis in education if we want to achieve the type of education standard I would like to see. We need that debate.
I am conscious that I am the only Senator who will be publicly voting "No" to the Lisbon treaty.
We will not discuss the Lisbon treaty now. There is a debate on it later.
Senator Doherty was not here this morning.
I apologise for not being here this morning when the President of the European Parliament was present. My car was broken into last night and I had the Garda on the scene investigating that crime, so I am sure Senators will understand the difficulties. I do not accept what has been said in this Chamber, that the harmonising of corporation tax has nothing to do with the Lisbon treaty. Article 48 clearly shows it relates to the Lisbon treaty and it allows it to move from unanimity——
We will not deal with that now. The Senator can discuss it later this evening during the debate.
The European Parliament has endorsed corporation tax harmonisation and Labour and Fine Gael MEPs have supported those proposals in the European Parliament in the past. If we are to have a debate let us have a serious one.
I was delighted to hear much of the rubbish that has been talked outside the House put down by President Pöttering. I was glad to get many of the clarifications of what is and is not included in the reform treaty. President Pöttering spoke as a German and mentioned the Berlin wall coming down. Not long ago Senator Quinn and I were in a forum with another German who said his parents lived near the wall and were there when it was built, but when they experienced Northern Ireland they experienced more of a wall there than they did with a physical wall in Germany. In that context I add my voice to what I had presumed was on the cards, that the Taoiseach was to come here to talk about the situation in the North in the context of the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
While recognising the great strides that have taken place so far I ask the Taoiseach to come here before he steps down and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to do so on a separate day to talk about the matters that remain to be dealt with. Anybody who watches the documentaries or lives in or near the areas knows the bigotry, sectarianism and the 17 new walls or extensions of walls that exist in the North. They mean that while the political process has moved on, the community process remains to be dealt with. Now that the Taoiseach is freer of the shackles of responsibility, he might feel freer to say some things he wants to say about what needs to happen from now on.
I have previously raised the great work in producing music therapists in the University of Limerick and I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Devins, the report in the health supplement in The Irish Times today that music therapy is being used in rehabilitation of patients with acquired brain injury. We often talk here about road accidents. Half of the people who acquire brain injuries do so usually as a result of road accidents. I draw the attention of the Leader, the House and the Minister to the tremendous work University of Limerick is doing on the development of research and music therapists.
It is a scandal that we still do not professionally recognise music therapists. I understand the reasons why they are not recognised but I ask that the process be developed quickly. Music therapy is internationally recognised, even in the North of Ireland, but not here. We have talked much about autism. Music therapy has the capacity to bring speech to autistic children and reduce repetitive behaviour, but there is much new research emerging on music therapy and brain injury.
Recent Exchequer returns indicate a serious reduction in the tax take. It is undergoing radical decline in terms of budget projections and in absolute terms. This will result, and is resulting, in cutbacks and retrenchment, particularly in current expenditure. I am very concerned that these cutbacks are focused on front line services such as the reduction in home helps, the cancellation of the summer works programme and the proposed freezing of the reduction of school class sizes in primary schools. These are only some of the cuts. I put it to the Leader that we have a special debate on this. I second Senator Phelan's proposition that we have a debate on the economy, but I want a particular focus on this. Rather than reducing those front line services that are relevant to ordinary people, we should examine the quangos, the over-reliance on advisors and consultants and the marginalisation of the native civil service that parallels that. We should have an audit on this area, reduce that wastage and use the money saved for front line services. It is a horror that the focus is the other way. The old people who need home helps are the soft touch, the easy ones to target. It is difficult to tackle the quangos, administrative personnel, consultancies and the major financial interest groups involved. I put it to the Leader that we should have this debate to focus on these issues. We must engage in a retrenchment of the economy that is based on proper human considerations in terms of efficiencies and not on the backs of the weak in our society. I specifically want the issue of the reduction of class sizes at primary level put back on the rails by September. We must examine where cuts are possible. We can achieve much more by eliminating wastage and privilege in this country.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, to the House to debate the current situation regarding world food security. I make this call because I am very conscious of the positive steps being taken regarding bio-fuel. However, because a large percentage of world productive capacity is now moving towards the production of bio-fuel, there has been a drought in Australia and an increase in demand from China and India, there is now a developing food shortage and the commodity prices of items such as rice and wheat are increasing substantially. At the moment, the security level of the world food supply is quite low. There should be 90 days of reserves, but supplies are well below that level. I suggest that this is an opportunity for this country to ask the EU to examine this issue in the context of the possibility of increasing food production because we have the capacity here to increase such production significantly.
In view of the outburst by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, regarding the proposed location of a new north-eastern hospital at Navan that there was not a "red cent" available to build such a facility, it seems there is a shortage of money for capital projects within the Health Service Executive. In that context, it would be appropriate to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House at the earliest possible date to discuss the issue.
I support Senator Pearse Doherty regarding the pharmacy dispute. As he quite rightly said, 1 May is approaching quickly and on that date, pharmacies throughout the country will stop dispensing to medical card holders. That will be a very sad day for this country. This is one of the few services within the HSE that works well.
It will be a very sad day when the pharmacists stop dispensing to medical card holders. The HSE will not sit down with the Irish Pharmacy Union. I ask the Leader to put pressure on the Minister for Health and Children to ensure the HSE talks the issue through with the IPU and finds a resolution. If the executive will not listen to the union or sit down with its members, how can it resolve the dispute? This is an urgent issue. Does the HSE have a contingency plan in place in the event of pharmacists ceasing to dispense to medical card holders? What plans are in place to ensure the most vulnerable in society have their medical needs met? This is a crisis and I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Health and Children to the House at a very early date to discuss the matter.
I support the calls of my colleagues regarding inviting the Taoiseach to the Chamber. I also support the comments of Senator Shane Ross on Zimbabwe.
I raise the very disturbing reports that we are facing a measles epidemic as a direct result of a decrease in the rate of vaccinations. While I can understand the concerns and fears of parents regarding the consequences of the MMR vaccine, there is as of yet no credible scientific evidence to link vaccination with the incidence of autism. However, it is a clearly established fact that measles can have devastating consequences. It can leave in its wake children who had been experiencing normal development prior to infection but who, as a direct result of contracting measles, go on to acquire intellectual disabilities. We are now seeing, for the first time in a very long time, children presenting for assessment and diagnosis of an intellectual disability as a result of having acquired measles. This is completely preventable and avoidable. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Health and Children the necessity for an urgent campaign of public information on the facts of vaccination. This is also an opportune moment to ask those who have been urging parents not to have their children vaccinated to reflect on the consequences of such action.
I formally second the proposal by Senator Norris concerning No. 19, motion 36 on the Order Paper regarding the plight of Ms Ingrid Betancourt in Colombia.
When does the Leader expect that the electoral Bill, giving legislative effect to the changes proposed by the boundary commission, will be published and introduced in the House? Senator Ellis beat me to the punch in referring to the comments of the Tánaiste and Taoiseach-designate, Deputy Brian Cowen, who suggested that there might be a possible interim stage in future arrangements regarding the workings of the commission in that we may have a draft proposal or draft documents which could be discussed in both Houses. There may be some merit in that and the Tánaiste was careful to say he intended that such a process would not in any way detract from or diminish the independence of the commission, which would be vital. I look forward to hearing the Leader of the House, given he is a conduit between this House and the Government, on current Government thinking on this matter.
I agree with my colleagues regarding the long-running and ongoing pharmacy dispute. We all know that this cannot be settled without dialogue. There will be no resolution without dialogue. I plead with the Leader to use his good offices with the Government to ensure a structure for dialogue is put in place immediately. No one wants to see a situation where the weakest and hardest-pressed people in our society are unable to obtain their drugs and medicines from 1 May.
Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an tSeanadóir Ó Dochartaigh a iarr ar an Cheannaire díospóireacht nó ráitis mar gheall ar chúrsaí Gaeilge a eagrú. D'ardaigh na Seanadóirí Ó Domhnaill agus Ó Murchú an tábhar céanna le déanaí. I support the call by Senator Pearse Doherty for a debate on the Irish language. It was very heartening today to hear the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Pöttering, address us in his few words of Gaeilge and to refer to the fact that Irish is now an official language of the EU. That is a victory for many Members on all sides of this House who regularly championed the cause of the Irish language. I am delighted we are now in a position whereby Irish is an officially recognised language of the European Union, as acknowledged by Mr. Pöttering in his address earlier today.
Senator Feeney raised the very important matter of the treatment of anorexia nervosa. I have dealt with that issue in my profession on many occasions. There is a very strong argument to be made for a properly equipped unit to be located in the midlands. Such a unit would not require many beds but would provide a very important service. It is regrettable that the incidence of anorexia nervosa is on the increase and in that context, the argument for a dedicated unit is well made.
I have raised the matter of organ donation on previous occasions. It is a vexed question but one with which we must deal. In many cases, as I have said previously, we are burying life with death. The organs of people involved in serious accidents could be used to extend the lives of sufferers with various ailments. I ask again that this debate take place as a matter of urgency.
Perhaps my party spokesperson, Senator Feeney, and others will liaise with the Leader to organise a debate on the increasing incidence of diabetes. I argued for a debate on this issue for two years during the previous Seanad before it was granted. It was a short debate but this issue must be tackled. If diabetes were eradicated, many hospitals could close. There are many reasons the high incidence of diabetes should be centre stage.
I am delighted Senator Glynn is supporting Senator Feeney on the issue of eating disorders and it is no longer only female Members who are supporting this call.
I have a track record and the Senator is welcome to join my club as there is no admission charge.
At the risk of making another gendered call, I support Senator Corrigan's call for a debate on MMR because I share her concern about the low level of take-up of the vaccination. That is an important issue as we face into the disturbing prospect of a measles epidemic.
I also support Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business in order that we can briefly debate No. 19, motion 36. "Debate" is the wrong word because I was delighted with the move towards to an all-party agreement in No. 19, motion 32. It is similar to ours but longer and it calls for the release of Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages in Colombia. However, this week her detention has reached a crisis. Protests have taken place across Europe and in other countries and it is looking very bad for her. It would be important for the House to discuss an agreed motion or hold a short debate on the issue in order that we can add our voices to the pressure building for her release.
I support the call for a boycott of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in light of China's treatment of Tibetan protestors. A surprising source suggested on a radio programme earlier that sport and politics are entirely separate. I was reminded of the old feminist slogan, "The personal is political." Even a decision not to vaccinate one's child is a political decision and we cannot separate the two. It is important that this sensible call for a boycott in light of the status of Tibet should be supported by us and we should have a debate in the House.
Senator Coghlan mentioned the electoral boundary commission and need for an all-party view to be taken on its report. Although I do not have a direct interest in this, I and the other Independent Members are conscious of the need to ensure the voices of Independent Deputies should be heard on whatever decisions are taken on the redrawing of constituency boundaries.
It is not the appropriate day but Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, O'Malley, Leyden, Ormonde, Ó Murchú, Healy-Eames, Feeney, Keaveney and Corrigan expressed their views about the Taoiseach's retirement. I would like to join them in acknowledging his achievements. We all were surprised and those of us who have worked closely with him for a long time are aware of his achievements. Ireland is a better and more prosperous place and a safer island with almost 1 million more people at work. The Taoiseach has made an immeasurable contribution to the lifestyle of every family on the island of Ireland. There will be an appropriate time when all Members can acknowledge and recognise his achievements.
It was suggested the Taoiseach should be invited to the House before 6 May and it is my intention to make this possible, especially in the context of upcoming debates on the Lisbon treaty and the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This week marks the historic anniversary of the achievements of those who participated in the negotiations and made the Agreement happen. The Taoiseach represented our part of the island with great distinction, determination and ability and he was successful in bringing the Agreement to fruition. The lives of all children aged 13 or 14 have changed immeasurably and, for example, many 20 year olds do not remember any Taoiseach other than Deputy Bertie Ahern. Many constituents are aware of the immeasurable contribution he has made and I will endeavour to have him present in the House to update the House on the future of the Agreement and the Lisbon treaty and to reflect on the achievements of the past. We can let our views be known to him on these issues.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, Senators and the staff of the House for making the historic visit of the President of the European Parliament to the House possible. It was an uplifting experience. He made a brilliant contribution which was one of the best I have ever heard in the House. I thank Senators, particularly those who had to travel more than 200 miles, for being present early this morning.
Senators Regan, Hannigan, O'Toole and Fitzgerald called for an urgent update and debate on crime and the difficulties being experienced, in particular, in the Limerick region. Deputy Boyle referred to the Limerick regeneration plan and we will give all the support we can to everyone concerned, including the Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. They are being confronted with issues on an hourly basis throughout the country. I have no difficulty scheduling a debate on this and I will make the request of the Minister later.
Senators O'Toole, Boyle, Fitzgerald, O'Malley, Buttimer, Ross, John Paul Phelan, Doherty, Norris and Bacik called for an urgent debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the upcoming Olympic Games in China and the difficulties being experienced in Zimbabwe. I have contacted the Minister to finalise a date for a debate and he has agreed to attend the House. It is only a matter of finding a date in his diary and I will try to arrange this as soon as possible.
Many Senators sought a debate on education and I have no difficulty inviting the Minister for Education and Science to the House to update us on her achievements over the past ten years and to outline what will happen over the next five to ten years.
Senators Boyle and Buttimer called for an urgent debate on the national aviation strategy and, in particular, Cork Airport. I have no difficulty inviting the Minister for Transport to the House for a debate.
Senators John Paul Phelan, Ross, MacSharry and O'Reilly requested a debate on the challenges facing the economy, especially in the context of the upcoming social partnership talks. It was reassuring to hear the comments of the President of the European Parliament on corporation tax. The Irish Times carried an article today on Ireland’s veto in this regard. I was pleased we were able to get clarification on this at first hand.
With regard to Senator O'Reilly's point on consultants, the use of consultants began when his former Leader was Taoiseach in the 1980s. Senator O'Malley called for a debate on prisons and I have no problem with allocating time for this.
Senator Kelly called for a debate on the report on Rebecca O'Malley. I assure the House I have no difficulty with this and will try to have it prioritised so it will happen as soon as possible.
Senator Daly called for an urgent debate on the report on mobile telephones and masts. He outlined to the House his very sad experience with regard to the fears of family members. The fear about this is enormous in certain areas. I have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate. Senator MacSharry called for a debate on tribunals. I will endeavour to have this take place.
Senators MacSharry and Burke called for an urgent debate on the Health Service Executive. In particular, Senator MacSharry outlined to the House that a major case can be made for north of the line from Dublin to Galway. I will have this debated in the House during the coming weeks.
Senators Ellis and Coghlan are concerned about the electoral boundary commission and want an urgent update. Naturally enough, this is of serious concern, especially where county boundaries have been breached. I have a vested interest, along with Senator Ellis in particular. I can safely state that if the county boundaries in our areas were not breached we would be Members of Dáil Éireann today.
What a loss that would be for the rest of us.
A terrible loss.
Be that as it may, the commission is an independent body and has done a good and thorough analysis of the situation. With regard to the people we represent, however, our case would be that the county boundaries should be maintained, even for the sake of two extra seats. Everyone deserves to have good representation. People from one area should not be put into another, leaving that area without representation, especially on the Government side. The loss of a Government TD is a serious one for an area. I speak with considerable experience.
That is ridiculous.
There are no Government TDs in the north west.
The Leader is advocating gerrymandering.
We are on the reply to the Order of Business.
Many Members of this House, particularly long-standing Members, do not have this experience. I am sharing it with colleagues in the House today.
Here we go again.
I will have to report back to Dino on Senator Buttimer's progress.
He will be very impressed.
Senator Ellis also called for a debate on matters pertaining to the World Trade Organisation, in particular to Commissioner Mandelson. I have agreed to have the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, present for a full all-day debate on agriculture and everything pertaining to the portfolio at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Norris, Bacik and Coghlan proposed an amendment to the Order of Business with regard to No. 19, motion 36. I will endeavour to allocate time for one hour on Thursday morning and I ask Senator Norris to consider this. I can speak with the Leaders of the various groups after the Order of Business to see whether this is possible. This side of the House fully supports Senator Norris. It is horrific. We had an all-party signature on this prior to the recess and the House fully supports the Senator's request.
Senators Feeney, Glynn and Bacik called for a special unit to be put in place for eating disorders. It is a serious challenge, especially for young people. I fully support the call made on me here today and I will agree to have a debate.
Senators Burke, Coghlan and Glynn called for a debate on the Irish language. Every year, we have one major debate on the Irish language and it is now due. We definitely will have it during this session.
Senator Glynn also called for a debate on diabetes. It is a serious disease and one of which everyone should be made fully aware. I have no difficulty in allocating time for a debate on this. I congratulate Senator Glynn on his steadfast determination to bring this disease to the forefront.
Senators Doherty, Burke, Coghlan and Glynn expressed concern regarding the difficulties between the pharmacists and the Health Service Executive and called for the Minister to update the House on the matter, in particular with regard to the 1 May deadline. This is another deadline the country faces and I will endeavour to have the Minister present to discuss this.
I will pass on to the Minister Senator Keaveney's strong views with regard to music therapy. We all know it is very uplifting. Those of us involved in the industry for most of our lives certainly can support her call.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on world productive capacity, in particular with regard to world food supplies. I can have a debate take place on this and I support the call made.
Senators Corrigan and Bacik raised the issue of vaccinations and the measles epidemic which could take place if people are not careful enough and do not treat vaccinations as a serious precaution. We must take the advice of Senator Corrigan in particular as she has a great deal of experience in this area. I will pass on her strong views to the Minister and if we need a debate on it, I will allow time for it to take place. Senator Glynn called for a debate on organ donations. This is another important call and I can have it take place.
The Leaders of the groups can assist me as Leader of the House by taking the matters raised during the Order of Business in Private Members' time. For example, I could suggest to my Fianna Fáil colleagues that we take the organ donations issue in Private Members' time. Today, 37 Senators contributed on the Order of Business. A great deal of business is being called on during this session. We have a long session on this occasion. However, in an effort to be helpful we should consider Private Members' time to discuss and debate some of the genuine calls being made on me today and to bring them to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
Two amendments are proposed to the Order of Business and I will take them in the order in which they were proposed. Senator Fitzgerald moved amendment No. 1: "That statements on the breakdown in law and order be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- de Búrca, Déirdre.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
Senator Norris has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 19, motion 36, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
In light of the Leader's very kind agreement to allocate an hour on Thursday, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.