The Order of Business is No. 1, Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006[Dáil] — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time; No. 2, Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2007 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report Stage; and No. 17, Private Members’ motion No. 35 re education for persons with special educational needs, to be taken not earlier than 5 p.m. and to conclude at 7 p.m. Business will be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
On the day Fianna Fáil met to elect its new leader, I offer my congratulations to Deputy Brian Cowen. Many challenging tasks lie ahead and the country is in need of serious, consistent and focused leadership to deal with the serious problems with which we are confronted. It is, however, very disquieting that on the day of his election, the HSE is meeting to consider cutbacks to the health service. This week 30 beds were closed in Tallaght hospital and operations will be cancelled in the coming week. It is disquieting that is the scenario we face in our health service.
Many Senators will be aware of the serious limitations on stroke services throughout the country. A recent audit of hospitals dealing with stroke victims highlighted that only one hospital had a specialist unit to deal with stroke victims, despite a recommendation to the Government eight years ago in this regard. This raises questions again about the role of the HSE and the management of our health services. We have called for a debate on the role of the executive and the changes necessary for it to provide effective leadership. One cannot say there has been effective leadership in 11 years of Fianna Fáil Government in the health services if the HSE is meeting today to discuss cutbacks, close beds in a Dublin hospital and cancel surgery and it is absolutely failing to need to meet the needs of stroke victims throughout the State. Thousands of families are affected daily because they are not in receipt of adequate services. A total of 400 families lose a member every year because of the lack of a dedicated stroke unit in acute hospitals. The Opposition has called for a debate and I condemn the Government for its failure to deal effectively with the health crisis.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business because it is imperative that we have a discussion on the Fitzgerald, Doherty and O'Malley reports and on the serious inadequacies of the HSE. Senators on all sides have called for such a debate and it must be taken in the coming days.
I wish the new leader of Fianna Fáil well and I congratulate party members on making their decision so promptly. I hope it all works out well for them. I heard one cautionary tale about Deputy Cowen earlier, which would make me very afraid if I was facing him on the other side of the House. When he was a minor playing hurling for Clara in a match against Lusmagh, his team was behind and he went up the field and lost two teeth in achieving victory.
I know who refereed it.
I was right yesterday.
I recommend to people in Fianna Fáil and in the Opposition who never heard of Lusmagh that it is worth visiting and reading about the Lusmagh revolution and agrarian revolt and reform in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A lot would be understood about the nature of people from that part of world, including our Cathaoirleach.
Inné fuarthas an tuarascáil bhliantúil ón gCoimisinéir Teanga. Ba bhreá an rud é dá mbeadh díospóireacht sa Teach ar an méid atá ráite aige. Tá go leor molta agus ráite aige agus tá cur síos déanta aige ar na gearáin ar fad a fuair sé le linn na bliana. Bhí níos mó ná 600 gearán faighte aige. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeadh muidne sásta an tuarascáil a phlé. Deir an Coimisinéir nach bhfuil sé i bhfábhar éigeantais.
In other words, he is not in favour of returning to the days of compulsion in Irish in terms of appointing people agus rudaí mar sin. On the other side, ba mhaith an rud é go mbeadh traenáil ann do stát sheirbhísigh agus daoine eile. Déarfainn féin gur cheart traenáil a bheith ann do Bhaill na Dála agus an tSeanaid agus gur cóir go mbeadh seans acu freastal ar na Gaeltachtaí chun Gaeilge a fhoghlaim agus am a chaitheamh le muintir na Gaeltachtaí agus chun go mbeadh teangmháil acu le cultúr na Gaeltachta.
I would like a full debate on this. For years I have stated that Members of the Dáil and Seanad should have the opportunity to spend time in the Gaeltachtaí. In the 1920s when this country first introduced the Irish language to schools, the most effective thing done was to bring teachers to the Gaeltachtaí for three months at a time. It infused them with a love of Irish. Civil servants should also have the opportunity to spend time in the Gaeltachtaí. This was done 80 years ago. We could do it again and it would be sensible.
I will give a small example. Sampla amháin, i rith na bliana seo caite agus an bhliain roimhe sin, bhí a lán le rá agam mar gheall ar Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis agus ainm na háite sin. A fhad agus a bhí an méid sin á phlé againn, bhí an-argóint ar siúl mar gheall ar dearcadh i dtreo na teanga ag, mar shampla, muintir an Daingin. It is interesting to note that in a recent referendum on the teaching of Irish in their school, 90% of the people of Dingle, many of whom argued with me that they were anti-Irish, want education through Irish to be available. I defended these people during recent years. We have land here to be furrowed and we need to discuss it in a practical and real way.
I have been very slow to criticise Professor Drumm but his response to the Rebecca O'Malley report left me extremely sad. It was extremely flawed and he needs to do a great deal more in this area. The thought of people dying because of a lack of stroke support facilities is unacceptable. This is a real issue. It is not like building hospitals, it is a straight issue of treatment.
On behalf of the Labour Party in this House, I extend our congratulations to Deputy Brian Cowen on his elevation today to the leadership of the Fianna Fáil party. Without wishing to draw the Cathaoirleach into the fray, as he almost was yesterday, he is entitled to a certain amount of vicarious satisfaction from what happened this morning. We wish the Minister well in his new position. He will need more than the sporting prowess suggested by my colleagues with regard to the issues which face the country.
We have not yet begun to get our heads around what is happening in terms of the economic situation. Last week, the greatest increase in unemployment since records began was reported. We have a veritable collapse in the domestic property market in this city according to anecdotal evidence and what has been written. This morning, I saw a "sale agreed" sign on the south-side of Dublin. It was a bit like the first cuckoo of spring but I am not sure whether it will be followed by many more cuckoos. The construction industry will be seriously impacted by this.
According to comments made today by one commentator, David McWilliams, who is hardly a socialist firebrand, we have invested so much in property in recent years that we have exhausted the capital base in the country. We have a serious situation facing us. It is not an exaggeration to describe it as a crisis.
Again and again in this House I have heard the Leader and others reeling off the achievements of the Government. The Government has had achievements but if it is correct to state, as I anticipate the Leader and others might, that the economic downturn is largely the result of international forces, it is incorrect to state the Government was responsible for the boom. As I pointed out before, one cannot have it both ways. One cannot state the Government created the boom but has nothing to do with the issues we now face.
In a compelling piece, David McWilliams also points out that at the heart of the job over which the new Taoiseach must preside is the stunning accumulation of wealth at the top of society. He recalls last year's wealth of the nation report from Bank of Ireland. The top 1% in the country own 20% of the wealth. The top 5% own 40% of the wealth. Let us pause to consider the fact that 40% of the wealth of the country is owned by the top 5% of the population. This is one of the legacies of the boom and an issue with which we must wrestle as we consider future economic policy.
It is not enough to state we improved social welfare in line with or above inflation. We must consider the opportunities we will present, spread, foster and offer to the young people, whether in Limerick or elsewhere, caught up in social problems and crime. Will the weaker in society suffer with a downturn in the economy? This must not be the case. We must examine this splurge of wealth at the top, whether it is symbolised in the Galway tent or elsewhere. We need to turn this around and ensure economic policies develop the country——
Is the Senator calling for a debate?
Clearly, I want a debate. We should have a serious debate on the economic future of the country with the new Taoiseach or the new Minister for Finance. Let us have all issues open, including this extraordinary inequality, which is one of the unfortunate legacies of the boom.
While we were not on a time limit yesterday, we are today and many Senators wish to contribute. I ask Senators to be brief with their points to the Leader and it is hoped to get through them all.
In the week of the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, in recognising the DUP did not support it at the time but is now in Government, will the Leader examine the number of political celebrations and politically led commemorations which are taking place and rightly so? Will the Leader speak to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs about having a social event during the summer for the people of the island of Ireland to celebrate in a community sense the point we have achieved? Many people will state the political process has moved on and it is right to mark this. However, another side to this is that communities supported this. In the same way as we all voted on the same day for the Good Friday Agreement, we should have a commemoration at a community and social level for the people of Ireland to celebrate where we are and where we want to go.
I wish to add my voice to the issue of stroke care. Yesterday, I spoke about music therapy in the context of acquired brain injury. A part in regaining speech after a stroke is potentially played by music therapy. When we examine the development of stroke units, the holistic and multi-disciplinary approach of including all of the professions is extremely important.
I would also like to add my tuppence-worth on another matter and state there is an awfully warm glow around the two Houses today. I wish the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance well when he assumes the leadership of the country. We have had good experience with people leading in this House and I am sure it will be the same at political level in the other House.
Among Senator Keaveney's many talents, it would seem she is also a latent poet. I join in the congratulations to the Tánaiste. We are all delighted that we will start to put socioeconomic issues and the real issues for the people at the top of the agenda once more.
There is no more pressing an issue impinging on this country than the World Trade Organisations talks which are going a bit unnoticed. Commissioner Mandelson has proposed to reduce tariffs on beef coming in from Brazil and elsewhere in South America by €3.70 per kilogramme. This will have a devastating effect on Ireland. I would like the Leader to arrange a special debate on this issue and to say to the Government that there needs to be a national diplomatic offensive. This threatens to remove 1 million suckler cows. There are also threatened losses of €2 billion in export earnings and €4 billion to the Exchequer. Some 50,000 agriculture related jobs will go and 100,000 farmers will go out of beef production. These figures have been verified by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and are not from a sectoral interest alone.
The implications are enormous, apart from European food security, safety, traceability and human health, which are serious issues. This threatens on-farm and off-farm jobs throughout this country and to eliminate in excess of 100,000 from the workforce.
This proposal will go through if we do not alert ourselves to it immediately. This House could perform a major role in this regard. This is a serious issue and I am grateful for the Cathaoirleach's indulgence. He also recognises the gravity of this issue which is the most serious one pending. I appeal to the Leader to treat it as such and to do something about it. It is our greatest responsibility at present and all issues should be put on ice until we deal with it.
I congratulate Deputy Brian Cowen on his election as leader designate of the Fianna Fáil Party and wish him luck in his new role. By taking up this new role, it will mean he will appoint a new Minister for Finance. When the new Minister for Finance is appointed, will the Leader invite that person to the House?
The Department of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, recently commissioned a report on climate change and trying to establish what public attitudes were towards various measures which have been taken to try to tackle climate change. It would appear there are very high levels of public support for fiscal measures which would begin to tackle climate change seriously and help individuals to move towards behaving more sustainably. Such measures include the changes to motor taxation and vehicle registration. The public indicated it would support strongly other measures in the interest of addressing climate change. Will the Leader invite the new Minister for Finance to the House to outline the fiscal reforms which will be undertaken to truly green the agenda and to address climate change seriously?
Will the Leader raise with the Minister for Health and Children the audit of stroke care services commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, the results of which have been published and reported on in this morning's newspapers? The findings are very worrying. There are between 350 and 500 deaths each year due to strokes. Some 10,000 people present in hospital with the primary diagnosis of stroke. However, there is a lack of a comprehensive system to manage strokes. There are huge deficits in the stroke care provided to people.
In the hours immediately after a stroke has occurred, it would appear brain scans, CAT scans and clot busting therapy, which are an essential part of stroke care, are not available in our hospitals. As another speaker mentioned, there is only one stroke unit in the Mater Hospital. There are only 12 protected beds for stroke patients.
Unfortunately, people are suffering from strokes at a younger age and it would appear the community and rehabilitation services are not available, especially for people under 65 years who suffer from strokes. Today's findings are salient to us all and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to address this issue and outline what her Department intends to do in response to the findings.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the number of universities we should have in this country? It obviously is our objective to take a leadership role in the knowledge society in the future. Until now the only voices we have heard in this regard have come from particular institutes of technology, which I am sure are very worthy. Waterford, Dublin and Cork institutes of technology are looking for recognition. I had not seen the other side of the argument expressed until yesterday. InThe Irish Times yesterday, Dr. Danny O’Hare, the former president of DCU, said he thought we had too many universities. I mention this issue because it is worthy of a debate in this House.
In the past I have called for a reduction in the amount of paper our offices receive. Senator O'Toole spoke earlier about An Coimisinéir Teanga and I was very impressed when I received a CD of his annual report in the post today. I know others do this as well but it is a reminder to us that we can avoid paper. I am still frustrated by the large amount of paper we receive on our desks every day. We can do something about it.
I refer to a topic which I believe Senator O'Toole raised yesterday. I am very fearful of calls for boycotts of any sort. Boycotting the Olympic Games because of what is happening in Tibet is the wrong way to go. If we are to achieve success in brining China along in terms of it taking steps with more caution, the way to do so is not by boycotting the games but by changing their hearts and minds no matter how serious the issues. Only a few weeks ago I raised this issue because of a debate about boycotting China because of Darfur. It is now Tibet but it will be somewhere else next month. No matter how serious the situation in Tibet and Darfur, the correct way to go is to change the hearts and minds of the Chinese Government rather than boycott the games.
I am happy to hear the congratulations and good wishes to my colleague, Deputy Brian Cowen, on his election as leader of Fianna Fáil. At this morning's meeting, Deputy Cowen spoke with great passion about the motivation of the founding fathers of Fianna Fáil to make Ireland a prosperous country and to respect and provide security for the elderly and opportunity for the young. His ability, intellect and vision will raise all horizons. It is not only a great day for Fianna Fáil but it will prove to be a great day for this country.
I support Senator Quinn's call to deal with the issue rather boycott the Olympic Games which should be enjoyed by those participating. I would like to pursue that line of thought to see what progress we can make in that regard.
I would like either Senator Alex White or myself to be corrected on the following issue. We know there is a world economic crisis and that the financial markets are experiencing the worst difficulties since the Second World War. We have heard about the building and construction difficulties. There were building and construction difficulties but I have spoken to solicitors, auctioneers and builders and have been led to believe that since the stamp duty alterations last December, there has been a move in house sales. It is not only in regard to sale agreed signs, which Senator Alex White mentioned. I believe the lower and medium end of the market is on the move again but that it remains stagnant at the higher end. It is important we acknowledge there is some movement in respect of house sales. Those involved in house sales, namely, auctioneers, builders and solicitors have acknowledged there is a move in this area.
The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, is determined to introduce a reform programme in the health service. I share the concerns of many people with regard to progress by the HSE in the development of particular services. Will the Leader obtain from the Minister a schedule of the reform programme and the outcome or progress made in that regard?
When chairman of a health board, the need for beds for patients who suffer a stroke was brought to my attention. We put in place 15 beds in respect of stroke rehabilitation at St. Joseph's Hospital in Raheny. It is important these beds are put in place. Senator O'Toole mentioned people are dying from strokes. It is appalling that the HSE is allowing this to happen. All that is required is a little effort to achieve progress in this area. I would welcome a progress report on this matter.
I wish the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen, well as future Taoiseach. I would like if he were to take immediate corrective action in respect of crime and the economy, two areas which have been in serious free-flow for some time.
Senator Joe O'Reilly referred to the importance of the WTO talks to our economy, farming and agriculture. What we need at this point is corrective action. In wishing Deputy Cowen well, I want also to ask him to grab the bull by the horns and to address the issues of crime and the economy in the short to medium term.
I second Senator Frances Fitzgerald's call for a debate in the next few days on the various reports on matters within the health service. We need accountability and to know what is working and where the mistakes are being made so we can all move ahead.
It is time we in this House debated third level education and its future in this country. Members will be aware there are currently seven universities and 14 institutes of technology in Ireland. This issue has been covered by every newspaper yet it has not been debated in this House. It is time we faced up to what are our national and regional needs, what are the needs of the knowledge society and whether our current third level model is meeting those needs. We must also consider the needs of artisans and apprenticeships and whether we are getting value for the €1 billion being spent on research at university level.
I would appreciate if the Leader should invite the Minister for Education and Science to this House for such a debate. Also, I second Senator Feargal Quinn's call for a debate on this issue.
I join with my colleagues in wishing the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen, well in his new position as leader of Fianna Fáil. I believe he will not only be good for the party but for Ireland and its people.
I wish to raise my concern in respect of the HSE's commitment to mental health. I do not believe this commitment exists at senior level. I have great regard for the staff who do their utmost to meet needs and I am clear on the Government's commitment to mental health as evidenced by the additional funding allocated to this area in 2006 and 2007. However, if the reply which I received to an Adjournment matter I raised yesterday is accurate it appears no additional services have been provided despite this additional funding.
The reason given by the HSE for not providing these services is that it is obliged to operate within its overall Vote and in this regard it took steps to ensure it met its objectives in 2007 by delaying some of its planning developments including developments in mental health. I do not believe this is acceptable. If the Houses of the Oireachtas approve funding for specific purposes, as indicated in approval of the budget, then that is where the money should be spent. If there is a reason to deviate from this, then, at a minimum, the Oireachtas is deserving of the courtesy of being informed by the HSE that it will not be able to meet its obligation in a particular year. We should not be getting the run-around we have been getting when seeking answers in this regard. While I have raised this matter a number of times including, prior to Christmas, I have not received the response I received last night. That is not acceptable.
On a positive note, I am pleased the HSE has given a commitment that it will deliver in the course of 2008 the additional services it should have provided in 2006 and 2007. I note also that at long last, having published its implementation report, the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for this area has raised concern that the HSE has not set out any long term objectives in terms of mental health services. It is clear that Members of the Dáil and Seanad believe mental health issues are now a priority. I ask that the Leader, as a matter of urgency, invite the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to come before this House to discuss this matter.
I join with Fianna Fáil Senators in calling on the Government and, in particular, our Taoiseach designate, Deputy Brian Cowen, who comes from the midlands, to take the HSE by the scruff of the neck and to ensure it provides us with the services asked for in respect of mental health, as requested by Senator Corrigan——
——and in respect of services for patients who suffer a stroke, as requested by Senator Callely. Senator de Búrca also spoke about this issue.
I have been waiting since I became a Member of the Seanad for the Taoiseach to address this House. I am now hoping that our Taoiseach designate, Deputy Brian Cowen, will come to this House, take us seriously and listen to what we have to say.
Currently, there are few respiratory physicians and only six adolescent psychiatric beds in Ireland and there is no ophthalmologist in the midlands. Also, dental services are being cut and there have been several desperate sagas in respect of cancer services as pointed out by Senator Frances Fitzgerald. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, has graced the Seanad with her presence several times. However, we have not succeeded in having these matters progressed.
I ask that the Taoiseach designate, Deputy Brian Cowen, to take control of the HSE and ensure it is answerable to the Oireachtas, as requested by Senator Corrigan.
I agree with Senator Corrigan that it is high time we were listened to.
I endorse Senator Feargal Quinn's views on the proposed boycott of the Olympic Games. I made a point on this yesterday morning. I do not believe this is the road to go. Those of us with a knowledge of China know it has made a great effort in recent years to open up to the rest of the world. I fully understand people's concerns, some of which I share, in respect of the treatment of Tibet as shown on our television screens. However, I believe this is not the right road to take.
Ar maidin, labhair an Tánaiste faoi stádas na Gaeilge i saol an náisiúin. Ní an gnáth cúpla focal a bhí aige: labhair sé go h-ilghabhálach faoin cheist agus thug sé geallúint dúinn go mbeadh an cheist seo i dtús áite aige an fhad agus a bheidh sé mar cheannaire agus mar Thaoiseach. Chuir sé ionadh orm an méid ama a chaith sé ar an ábhar. Glacaim leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail maidir le tuarascáil an coimisinéara, agus ar an mbonn sin, b'fhéidir gur fiú cuireadh a thabhairt don Taoiseach nua teacht go dtí an Teach le labhairt linn ar an ábhar nuair a bheidh sé ina Thaoiseach.
I was exceptionally impressed by the amount of time the Tánaiste gave to the subject of the Irish language this morning. It was not the customary few words but a comprehensive overview on the importance of Irish in the life of the nation. It was one of the best overviews on it I have heard since I entered public life. He also gave a personal commitment that he would work towards the promotion, enhancement and expansion of the status of Irish. For that reason, the Leader might consider extending an invitation to the Tánaiste to come to the House to have a debate on the Irish language, given that he has put it on his priority list. That would be the right level at which we should start that debate because in this House there is unanimity on the importance of the Irish language. I have observed that in debates. The language does not belong to any political party but to the nation. We have seen that in the debates here. The Irish language has official working status in Europe, there is new legislation on equality for Irish and there are the gaelscoileanna, TG4 and Radió na Gaeltachta. All these developments are important. Would it not be wonderful for us to be led by the Taoiseach elect on this subject? The Leader might consider that request.
Like Senator Alex White, I am concerned about recent developments in the Irish economy. FÁS has indicated it expects unemployment to rise to 5.5% this year and 6.6% next year largely as a result of the slowdown in the construction industry. Business failures are up 60% since this time last year. The value of the pound sterling against the euro is at its lowest level ever. Coupled with that, consumer confidence in the UK is also at its lowest level ever. The double whammy impact of these developments in the UK is bad news for our exporters and will affect the profitability of Irish companies.
There are actions we can take as a nation. As the Minister, Deputy Martin, said last week, we need to grow our indigenous companies. One way we can do that is by rolling out broadband nationally. This Chamber also has a role to play. We heard this morning that the director general of the European Commission and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce warned against the impact of a "no" vote in the Lisbon reform treaty referendum. They are concerned that this will be perceived internationally as us changing our stance away from business. Therefore, we must ensure a "yes" vote in the referendum. I was in Laytown last night and the sheer scale of misinformation and lack of interest I observed there is worrying. Unless we campaign for this treaty and explain the benefits of it, we will lose the referendum. Does the Leader agree it is up to all of us to get out there and explain how this treaty will benefit the country?
Aontaím leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir O'Toole inniu mar gheall ar an Ghaeilge. Dúirt sé gur cheart dúinn go léir san Oireachtas feabhas a chur ar an Ghaeilge atá againn. B'fhéidir go mbeidh seans ag Baill ar suim leo an teanga dul go dtí an Ghaeltacht chun feabhais a chur ar a gcuid Gaeilge. Aontaím freisin leis an Seanadóir Ó Murchú. Chualamar go léir an geallúint a thug an Tánaiste ar maidin an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Cuirimid go léir fáilte roimh an méid a dúirt an Tánaiste mar gheall ar an bpolasaí a chuirfidh sé i bhfeidhm maidir leis an ábhar seo.
I wish to refer briefly to Senator Alex White's comments on the economy. Undoubtedly tremendous improvements have been made. Rather than denigrating the fact that we have some very wealthy people, that should be welcomed. The priorities of Government will be to ensure the wealth of the nation is spread as far as possible——
It has not done that.
——but it is imperative, as is the case in any economy in the world——
The position has become worse.
——that wealth will be held by a small percentage of those who are entrepreneurs——
So it is okay then.
——and who take risks. I understand that at present more than 33,000 people in this country are millionaires. That is to be welcomed and policy should be pursued to grow that phenomenon.
Senator Alex White was correct in some respects. I do not begrudge anybody who pursues wealth creation and job creation, particularly in the productive economy. The arguments made by Senator White would be correct regarding some of the non-productive sectors of the economy. Among those I include some of the professions, particularly the legal profession, the members of which have been creaming it off in the past decade and more.
Absolutely, among others.
This also applies, to a lesser extent, to the medical profession. Those sectors should be examined and fees should be curbed to ensure the ordinary person is not exorbitantly charged for services that often times leave much to be desired. Part of the argument made by Senator White is correct. However, we must reward risk-takers because, ultimately, they create the jobs and the economy to which we aspire.
I endorse the sensible comments made by Senator Feargal Quinn. I listened to the criticism about China on "Oireachtas Report" last night. Using the Olympics as a tool to force political change is not the way to go. Sport should be above politics.
It should be allowed function. I agree with what Senator Ó Murchú said. He has some knowledge of China, as I have. We have seen the tremendous progress that has been made there and that should be recognised. The political process and the interaction of nations is the way to achieve the globalised objectives to which we all aspire.
Other colleagues have called for a debate on the escalation of crime and the Garda response to it. I support those calls. The response we frequently hear from the Government is that the necessary funding is in place and the needs of the Garda are being met to enable it provide an adequate and sufficient response to deal with this issue. However, a report published today from a body set up to examine the level of funding for the Garda shows this is not the case. Two significant points are made in the report. The first is that by August of this year the Garda budget for funding overtime requests will be exhausted and the second is that the current capital funding is not in place to provide new stations and expand current facilities to cope with the increase in the number of gardaí that will graduate from Templemore. It is imperative that we debate this. The point is consistently made that the Garda have the necessary resources to cope with the issues we face, yet an outside body, led by non-Garda personnel, states this is not the case. Mountjoy Garda station in my constituency has been threatened with closure and I want to know why this is happening and if resources are a factor.
I reinforce other calls for a debate on our economy and add another facet to those requests. The one area of our economy that has been performing very well in the past year has been the services sector, which has held up the competitiveness of the country. The share of trade that sector has in the world began to decline in recent weeks. At a recent conference organised on the future of the docklands and the IFSC a large number of speakers from international companies pointed to the extraordinary success of our financial services sector but also to how easy it is for that template to be copied and how many other countries are engaged in doing that. I call for a debate with the new Minister for Finance on the future of the financial services sector and for the Government to recognise the scale of the problem we face. I am concerned it does not recognise that. It needs to ensure the necessary plans are put in place to deal with it.
I ask the Leader to request the incoming Minister for Finance to attend in the House to discuss the challenges facing the economy. I am not one of those who believes we take responsibility for aspects that are outside our control. We have managed this economy with a view to it being an open market economy in a world market. Advanced factories, taxation policies, the IFSC, the Shannon free zone and grants were put in place. Therefore we have built the economy to benefit from world trade. If, as has happened, there was international trading in securities which caused the credit crunch that will pass, it is not our responsibility. Accordingly, I believe we can take credit for the work we have done for the economy and we do not have to take the blame for something that was completely outside our control. Listening to some of the commentators, one might believe the sky is falling. That is not my view. I do not subscribe to the "chicken little" school of economics. This is a well-managed economy, as it will continue to be, under the stewardship of Fianna Fáil.
I join with other speakers in asking the Minister for Health and Children to attend this Chamber. I met a former colleague the other day who was talking about attending a meeting on a summer bed cutting programme — and she was not referring to gardening. Unfortunately, she was talking about the closure of gynaecological beds during the summer period, when people might plan to undergo elective surgery.
I have asked in the past for a debate on the non-availability of adolescent psychiatric beds. There is a desperate need for such a debate and it has to be soon. I have put down a parliamentary question on the availability of beds and the geographical spread and the answer has yet to emerge from the HSE, although it is some time since it was tabled. I urge the Leader to seek to arrange the meeting with the Minister soon.
I should like to place on record our best wishes to the outgoing leader of Fianna Fáil, An Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Last night, at the parliamentary party meeting, there were hours of tributes to him for his work and it was a wonderful occasion. This morning we appointed our new leader, Deputy Brian Cowen, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance. I know the Cathaoirleach is very happy over this great event. Deputy Cowen delivered a wonderful hand-written speech as Gaeilge and as Béarla this morning, and I hope it will be reproduced because it was very well structured and thought out.
Was it about dancing at the crossroads?
The Senator should take it easy. I am not going to take it.
I compliment the generosity of the Opposition parties in the House on conveying their best wishes to the new leader. He has enormous responsibility, but from my experience of being in the Seanad with his father, the late Ber Cowen——
The Senator's time is up.
I appreciate that, but Senator Eugene Regan will be out of business and needs a new portfolio——
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
I want to place on the record of the House——
What about Senator Norris?
What about Senator Harris?
The House will hear Senator Leyden, on the Order of Business.
I should be obliged if the Leader would arrange for a discussion here on the situation in Tibet. Many people have rediscovered Tibet because of China holding the Olympic Games this year. The way to resolve the problem is not by boycott but rather through dialogue and discussions. In fact, the Dalai Lama is very open. Discussion should take place between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama on the future of Tibet. A debate on this in the House would be worthwhile and I thank the Cathaoirleach for his forbearance.
My hands are tied in view of the 50 minutes allocated for the Order of Business. The time is up and I sincerely apologise to Members who have not had an opportunity to speak as I must call on the Leader. I may get tougher with Senators, who will have to show greater awareness when putting questions to the Leader in future. I shall ask the Whips of the various groups to talk to their Members on this. Unfortunately, people who might have been able to make important points are unable to contribute.
I appeal to Members of the House to support the Chair and its Leaders. We have done everything possible to ensure the House functions as efficiently as possible. The Whips will be in touch with Members. We on this side of the House are playing a very responsible role in terms of adhering to the Whips and the Chair. Naturally, there will always be Members who have more on their agenda than one or two issues.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Keaveney, O'Reilly, de Búrca, Callely, Healy-Eames, Corrigan, McFadden and Ó Murchú offered congratulations to the new leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Brian Cowen. I want to be associated with these sentiments. There will be another day on which to express our good wishes to the Taoiseach-elect and we all look forward to seeing him exercise his great vision and intellect as the country's leader. It is a proud day for his family and for Clara and Tullamore, County Offaly, the Cathaoirleach, indeed, and the entire midlands. It is a dream come true as those of us who have worked so closely with Deputy Cowen, on a day to day basis in the constituency, know. He has been our life's blood for the past ten years, as regards the economy and making things happen. Munster has its own identity, the east coast is so buoyant it is unreal, but the midlands has experienced a loss of identify and Deputy Brian Cowen is its shining light and bright hope. How proud we are today that this is happening to one of our own.
The Leader is safe enough now.
Senator O'Toole, who has been here for such a long time will appreciate the position. I know exactly what I am saying.
We thought the Leader was a shining light, too.
I would inform the House that the Senator has a few more continuous days of service to the Seanad than I, so I must recognise that this morning. Senator Ross is aware of it also.
Members have called on me to facilitate an urgent debate on all matters relating to the HSE. Since the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald raised this matter, my secretary has been in touch with the Minister's office on two occasions this morning. I am pleased to inform the House that the first available date for the Minister to attend the Seanad is Tuesday, 22 April, when we will have statements on the HSE and debate everything pertaining to the issues raised here this morning. These are urgent matters we all support. We all agree on the need for the HSE to give people the best possible service. Despite our stressing the urgency for such a debate, the Minister will not be available next week, unfortunately.
Senators O'Toole, Ó Murchú, Walsh, Prendergast and Keaveney called for an urgent debate, with the future Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen in attendance, on the total commitment given to the Irish language this morning at the special meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. How uplifting and refreshing to hear such a commitment from the future Taoiseach, particularly for a Member of the House such as Senator Ó Murchú. We shall wait for an available date in Deputy Cowen's diary and then we shall have the statements in the House on the Irish language — and all matters requested this morning for him to deal with.
Senators Alex White, O'Reilly, Healy-Eames, Hannigan, Walsh and Hanafin spoke about the economy and called for an urgent debate on all matters pertaining to it. They mentioned what was happening as to employment and the global downturn. As we all know, ten years ago the unemployment figure was 11%. Today it is almost 5%. That is some transformation for a country that has experienced such high unemployment over the decades. I recall the high unemployment and high emigration 20 years ago. One of the major achievements of this Government in the past ten years was the creation of some 800,000 jobs. One third of all income earners are outside the tax net, as compared to 25% ten years ago and the entry point to the tax system for a single PAYE earner has risen from €5,804 to €18,300, a 350% improvement. In the tax year 1997-98 some 380,000 were exempt from tax. Today the figure is 878,000, an increase of more than 50%. The figures speak for themselves. I wanted to put the record straight regarding queries made of me this morning and statements in that regard.
On the remarks of my near neighbour, Senator O'Reilly, we are all concerned about agriculture. As stated in the House yesterday, I have agreed to have an all-day debate on the subject, including the World Trade Organisation talks. Senator O'Reilly will note that we are fortunate to have a Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from Ulster, Deputy Mary Coughlan, who understands exactly what he is saying this morning. The Minister has supported all the expressions of the good Senator regarding the serious implications for the Irish economy of even considering the Mandelson proposals, let alone accepting them. The Minister is fully opposed to what Commissioner Mandelson has been continuing to state on various occasions. Those of us who attended the WTO conference in Hong Kong two years ago could certainly recognise the concern of the Department and others about Commissioner Mandelson's proposals.
Senator de Búrca called for a debate on climate change with the future Minister for Finance. I propose that we have this debate and I certainly have no difficulty allocating time for it.
Senator Quinn asked three questions and called for a debate on the number of universities. This debate is very timely and I can allow for it. He also referred to the amount of paper being used in transactions in our offices. I will pass on his view to the Minister.
Senators Quinn, Callely, Ó Murchú and Walsh all supported fully our participation in the Olympic Games and supported the Olympic call. The most uplifting event of the very bad and bleak days of the 1950s was in 1956 when the great Ronnie Delaney won a gold medal in the Olympic Games. It was uplifting for every young boy and girl involved in sport, including myself. It was a great motivating factor for such a small nation. I certainly support the views of the four Senators and their requests for a debate.
Senators Healy Eames and Donohoe called for a debate on Garda funding and crime. We made a commitment in this regard in the House yesterday and the position remains unchanged. Senator Healy Eames also called for a debate with the Minister for Education and Science on third level education. I hope we can have a debate on education right across the board as soon as I can identify a suitable date in the Minister's diary.
Senators Corrigan and McFadden stressed the urgent need for a debate on mental illness. I made a commitment to Senator Corrigan on this topic in recent days and will try to honour it at the earliest possible date.
Senator Hannigan called for a debate on the update of broadband. I fully agree with his sentiments and certainly will try to organise such a debate.
Senator Norris's motion will be discussed in the House tomorrow morning, as agreed on the Order of Business yesterday.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on a series of reports on the HSE in recent weeks be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?