The Order of Business today is No. 1, statements on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with spokespersons having ten minutes, all other Senators seven minutes, on which Senators may share time by leave of the House, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons; No. 2, Broadcasting Bill 2008 — Second Stage, to resume not earlier than 2.30 p.m. and adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 26, motion 40 re recovery plan for the Health Service Executive, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m. No. 2 shall resume at the conclusion of No. 26, motion 40 if not previously concluded. The business of the House will be interrupted from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
The first matter I want to raise this morning is the rail strike which has greatly inconvenienced thousands of passengers over recent days. The latest news is that it is still continuing. The scale of the effect on passengers seems to be completely out of proportion to the issues involved, although there is some fault on both sides. What is the point of social partnership if we cannot have a mechanism to resolve such a situation quickly? I note that Luas drivers, for example, have a no-strike clause in their contracts. It is time we considered essential public services. The other day we talked about the effect on consumers of the sterling differential not being reflected in prices in Ireland. The Government should get a grip on this. It is appalling that it is still continuing.
The new report by Davy stockbrokers makes for very disturbing reading. It has dramatically reassessed the economic situation and states that housing completions are expected to drop from 40,000 to 25,000. It is predicting a fall in house prices this year of 10.7% and one of 7.2% in 2009, along with an unemployment level of 7%. I raise these figures not to create a picture of doom and gloom — I do not think we should talk ourselves into a recession — but to draw attention to the fact that the economic picture has changed completely. I do not think it is good enough any more for the Government to talk about the programme for Government which is now out of touch with reality.
If we take the example of housing alone, the affordable homes sector is at crisis point. I heard an example the other day of a young couple who were offered an affordable home for €315,000 by a council although the property received a market valuation of €275,000. What is the future of the affordable homes schemes? How will the councils deal with this given that they have already paid amounts such as I quoted for the houses and apartments? A debate is necessary in order that the Government can tell the House how it plans to tackle these issues. The Minister for Finance must attend that discussion as soon as possible.
The Taoiseach's attitude to the Lisbon treaty referendum is not helping the debate. There must be co-operation and a change in attitude if the treaty is to be passed.
I beg the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach and the Leader. On today's Order Paper is an item to be taken tomorrow, namely, a motion re the new prison in north County Dublin. I would like some help. Paragraphs (i) and (ii) of subsection (e) refer to markings A and B on the map left by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Oireachtas Library. This sounds easy, but the map is in the middle of three large boxes of environmental impact assessments. I need to see it, but I cannot get my hands on it. No one is hiding it from me, but neither I nor the people in the library can find it. If we are to discuss a matter that affects people — I have a conflict of interest, which I will explain tomorrow morning — we must have access to the map. We have been trying to get it from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the past while, but have failed to do so.
Three or four of the matters seeking the Adjournment of the House relate to schools. Going from memory, at least two of them have been raised on the Adjournment previously and one may have been raised three times previously. This reflects a significant level of frustration. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Education and Science to attend the House to let people know what is occurring in their areas? We are tying up the time of the House with Adjournment matters simply to access information on behalf of ordinary people who are trying to build new schools or school extensions. They are not criminals or terrorists and are not trying to undermine the system. They are trying to get information. This situation applies to Senators on both sides of the House, as we are all trying to get information. Why can there not be transparency and access?
I wish to comment on an issue raised by my colleague, Senator Coghlan, yesterday. It was understandable that he asked about the strike in Cork and why union management could not show control. Senator Fitzgerald raised the same issue this morning. Their questions are reasonable. I have tried to get to the bottom of the issue. The problem has been created at Cork where there is a local interpretation by management and workers of a national agreement, which they have implemented in their own way without telling anyone else. However, given that there is a row, no one knows what is the agreement. If people must have their butts kicked, there are as many on the management side as there are on the union side involved. They are at ground level rather than on the union side.
I would be the first to state that this situation is unacceptable. National agreements are designed to provide good, top of the scale public services for the people. I would like to hear an answer as to which agreement was signed off on and who broke it, but it is because there will be no answer that the situation remains the same one week later. I guarantee the House that no Senator could tell me what is causing the dispute in Cork. When is the last time there was such a dispute? Since it is a cover-up between management and the people on the ground, we are not being given the full information.
I agree with Senator O'Toole regarding the dispute in Cork, in respect of which there is a lack of public clarity. A strike has been referred to, but it is my understanding that staff were recently asked to sign a pledge. I am not making excuses for anyone, but there must be clarity around this issue in the Houses and publicly. The loss of vital services to people in Cork and further afield is unacceptable.
With regard to the nonsesnsical sideshow skirmish that is the question of who is doing more in terms of the Lisbon treaty debate, I appeal to all sides of the House and elsewhere to move on from it.
No, it is great.
This is the first reference made by myself or my colleagues in the House and we make it in a positive sense, something with which colleagues on the other side of the House might not be familiar.
We do not need to be patronised.
It is familiar. We do not need the Senator to tell the House what——
Senator Alex White without interruption.
He should move on from this issue.
The Taoiseach made an ill-judged remark at the weekend and appears to want to move on. Yesterday, the Leader did not sound like he wanted to move on.
He might be fine today.
If the treaty is to be passed, as desired by most Senators, engaging in a sad, sorry skirmish as to who is doing more in the midlands or elsewhere will not get anyone anywhere.
On the Order of Business.
I ask for a debate in respect of today's publication of the 2008 report of Amnesty International. The other side of the House has become quieter. The report is fair and balanced and deserves a debate. It acknowledges many of this country's positive achievements, not least of which was the formation and operation of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, but it points out considerable deficiencies and difficulties in our human rights protection legislation and policy. It would benefit the House to have the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform appear before it. As other matters must be dealt with, a debate need not be arranged for the next week or two, but I appeal to the Leader to arrange for a calm and reasoned debate on this important report before the end of the session. The report deals with, for example, rendition, an issue raised by several Senators. This morning, the Secretary General of Amnesty International was reported as stating that the guarantees given to the Government by the US were not worth the paper on which they were written. This state of affairs is extraordinary. Other issues covered by this valuable report would benefit from a debate in the House, which I ask the Leader to facilitate.
I share the opinions of previous speakers and ask the Leader to consider an opportunity to discuss the Iarnród Éireann industrial dispute in Cork if it continues during the coming days. It is difficult to decipher the dispute's cause or to attribute blame. The net effect is that a service that has been highly resourced in recent years and has become the country's best and increasingly used rail service is in danger of losing much of the public good will it has acquired.
People have suffered in the short term. I have heard horror stories of people missing hospital appointments, university examinations and job interviews. While we discuss the warring factions in every industrial dispute, we forget the collateral damage among the ordinary people who depend on public services. If there is no sign of an imminent breakthrough during the coming days, the House should discuss the issue.
Regarding the points made about the Davy Stockbrokers report, the House should debate the economy before it rises for the summer recess. Senators should avoid the politics of the latest flurry of economic consultants' reports, which seem to state that economic activity will slow to a certain level and recover within a certain time and that we will retain our strong and resilient economy during the coming years. The only debate should be on how long the slowdown will last, how deep it will go and how long the economy will take to recover. The essential effects outlined in every consultant's report are the same.
I agree with Senator Alex White's request for a debate on the Amnesty International report. There were similar requests in respect of the recent and slightly controversial report of the EU's commissioner on human rights. A discussion on political rights, both here and abroad, would be a good use of the time of the House before rising this summer.
On a point of order, I inform the House that I have received information from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the issue I raised earlier. Therefore, I take back what I said about the Department.
Somebody in the Department must have been watching the proceedings on the television monitors.
Big Brother is watching.
I welcome the comments made by Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole and Boyle on the continuing rail strike in the south west. It is a frightful situation which is discommoding many people on a daily basis. Yesterday, I wished those participating in the talks well. Nobody understands why the situation was not resolved yesterday but I am glad the attempts to find a solution are ongoing. Senator O'Toole, as an acknowledged expert on these issues, got to the nub of the matter. The dispute is about a local interpretation and a local rule. Whatever about its rebel status, I am sure Cork does not want to be an independent republic.
We cannot have that debate on the Order of Business. Other Members wish to speak.
I wish those participating in the talks well. I hope it is resolved today in order that Members can travel home tomorrow when they finish their work.
I welcome the decision of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to amend local government law to afford recognition to plebiscites where they are provided for and have taken place. In the case of Dingle Daingean Uí Chúis, this provision will supersede any place names order under the Official Languages Act. I hope this will offer a happy solution for all concerned.
I welcome the inclusion on the Order Paper of No. 22, a motion regarding a report published by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny last week on the enhanced role for national parliaments under the Lisbon treaty. In addition, No. 15 relates to the interim report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on the Lisbon treaty. Its final report will be issued tomorrow. Will the Leader provide time next week for a debate on these reports? There is no point in having that debate after 12 June.
We should designate next week for the discussion of all issues relating to the Lisbon treaty. If that is not possible, we should at least meet next Friday week to thrash out all the issues and to highlight the benefits accruing to the Oireachtas and the public from the provisions of the treaty. Under the enhanced role for national parliaments, it is recommended that this House meet on one day a month to deal specifically with EU business. This would represent a major reform of the way we conduct our business and would offer many benefits. We must discuss all these issues in advance of the referendum on 12 June. It would be a waste of time to do so afterwards.
I commend the "Prime Time" team on last night's informative programme. I refer not to the debate itself but to the presentation of the facts. Leaving aside individual interpretations of those facts, it is important that the national broadcaster should provide factual information on what is included in the Lisbon treaty. This morning's "Morning Ireland" programme, featuring a Danish MEP, was of no help to the campaign, even though Mr. Alan Dukes spoke very well. This person is a eurosceptic——
That is rubbish.
He is a eurosceptic.
He is not. He is an excellent speaker. At least he was able to put the case for the "No" side.
He is opposed to European integration.
He is not.
Senator Norris has made his point.
I ask the Leader to devote adequate time next week to this important debate.
I draw the Leader's attention to yesterday's proposal by the French President, Mr. Sarkozy, for a reduction in VAT on petrol. I understand he spoke with particular reference to the usage of petrol for the distribution of goods. Complaints about the cost of fuel have been heard throughout Europe. There are problems in Britain, for example, and ports are being blocked in France. The cost of distribution of food is giving rise to the complaints articulated by Senator Fitzgerald yesterday. This is influenced to a large extent by the VAT payable by those using the road distribution system. Mr. Sarkozy proposed an EU-wide reduction in VAT. This is not the way to go, however, because it would be most unwise to encourage increased usage of private transport. However, there is much to be said for a reduction in VAT in regard to the distribution of goods, particularly food.
I understand the Cabinet yesterday approved the new intoxicating liquor Bill. I must express an interest in this issue as someone who has been involved in the sale of alcohol most of my life. I am concerned that the legislation is being rushed through. I understand it may go to the Bills Office today and the intention is that it be passed quickly thereafter. We should be always slow to rush Bills through the Houses of the Oireachtas. In this case, the heads of the Bill were published only recently, there are questions and doubts about some of the terms used and no regulatory impact analysis has been done. That analysis should be undertaken at this early stage rather than trying to rush through the Bill. We should take our time in debating it, which is the latest incarnation of other similar Bills. We must not rush it through without giving it serious consideration and without a regulatory impact analysis.
I welcome the Government's acknowledgement that the current premises of the Central Mental Hospital are inadequate. I welcome its commitment to provide state-of-the-art premises that will reflect the state-of-the-art service that is already being provided.
It should not be provided on the same site as a prison.
I am aware of the concerns about the proposed location of the Central Mental Hospital. However, I am concerned that we might lose sight of the need that exists for the development of a national framework for forensic mental health services. Will the Leader agree, as a matter of urgency, to invite the Minister to the Chamber for a discussion on the State's forensic mental health needs and the development of an appropriate national framework to meet those needs, of which a new Central Mental Hospital facility would be just one component? This debate should include a consideration of the inappropriate imprisonment of people with mental health needs and intellectual disabilities and the development of a prison diversion measure in appropriate cases.
I refer to last night's Dáil debate on the 28 schools throughout the State which will lose a teacher for the school year beginning 1 September. This is a stupid and outdated rule. There is absolutely no need for these posts to be lost to the schools concerned. The Government should keep the promise it made in regard to class sizes. In some cases, schools are just one pupil short of the retention figures. The new Minister has an opportunity to fix this broken promise.
Is the Senator asking the Leader for a debate on this issue?
I am asking for movement by the Leader to copperfasten the request made in the Dáil last night.
I welcome in advance the expected announcement of €400,000 of funding for university research. However, unless the interface between third level institutions and industry is improved, we will not see an adequate return for this investment. By "improvement" I mean new opportunities and new jobs. They were never more necessary than in a time of great economic challenge and restraint. In the past ten years almost €1 billion has been given to universities for research. How successful has this investment been? What targets have been achieved nationally and regionally?
The Senator has made her point to the Leader. Other Members wish to ask questions.
A Chathaoirligh, I beg your indulgence to finish my point.
The Senator has made her point.
I have previously sought a debate on this area of third level education. We need a cost benefit analysis of the return on the investment. The feedback I have received is that the relationship between institutes of technology, as opposed to universities, and industry is far more alive and vibrant, but that sector receives the least amount of money for research. We have a challenge before us. We are all seeking the best outcomes for this country. They might be coming from the universities but we must have a debate on the issue to discover the exact position.
Will the Leader arrange to provide an up-to-date report on the situation in Burma with regard to the aid agencies working there to combat the humanitarian crisis? The people of Burma have been suffering for approximately four weeks. Compare that with what was happening on the ground a month after the tsunami. I am somewhat concerned at the contradictory reports from Burma and would appreciate a clear report on what is happening. I also welcome the Amnesty International annual report and support the view that we should discuss it in the Seanad.
I share the concerns of other Senators about the serious issues affecting the economy. We all acknowledge that there has been a slow-down in growth. This has had an impact on the public finances, although I am led to believe they remain sound. We should be confident about our economy, and it is important that people acknowledge its positive aspects. If there is to be a debate on the economy and housing, I ask participants to think outside the box when putting forward their suggested proposals and solutions to deal with the serious issues that affect the Irish and international economies. I look forward to a meaningful debate.
Long-term care for older people is a major issue in terms of the availability and location of beds, the quality of care and, most importantly, the cost of care. Will the Leader indicate what application applies at present with regard to the asset value of the people seeking care? What is the position with regard to the Minister's proposed fair deal?
I wish to express my surprise at the Leader's outburst yesterday following an appeal from this side of the House that Members avoid criticising each other for what they are doing in the referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty. It was similar to the Taoiseach's response when Deputy Enda Kenny made a similar appeal. He remarked that Fine Gael and the Labour Party should crank up their campaigns, when they were the first to start work on the Lisbon campaign. It is not fully appreciated how divisive and profound an effect this has had among the electorate. The Taoiseach's remarks represent a defining moment in the campaign. Even if he did not correct the situation in the Dáil yesterday, I believe he must mend his hand. If this is turned into a partisan and divisive campaign, we will have a difficulty. When he was Minister for Foreign Affairs the Taoiseach was director of elections for the first referendum on the Nice Treaty and he is now responsible for the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. On present form, it is very likely that he will fluff both referenda. I ask the Leader to reflect on this and his outburst yesterday, and to convey our views in this regard to the Taoiseach. There is a national interest in ensuring the referendum succeeds.
Will the Leader allocate time for a debate on eating disorders among young people? The number of sufferers is increasing and a debate is necessary on this important issue. Each week we hear or read disturbing news on obesity and how it affects our young people. I ask the Leader to respond to this request with urgency and to invite the relevant Minister to the Seanad as soon as possible to debate the matter.
I welcome the fact that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are hacking lumps out of each other over the European treaty because it gives an opportunity for me, as practically the lone voice in this House trying to present a reasoned argument against the Lisbon treaty, to be heard. That is not particularly easy, especially sinceThe Irish Times has dropped its neutral stance and committed itself to campaigning for the treaty. It is not just Deputy Brian Cowen who has not read the treaty but also our European Commissioner, and he thinks anybody who tries to do so is an idiot. He said as much. People have tried to defend their positions by saying the treaty is like the Finance Bill, about which ordinary people do not know every detail because they have not read it. That is true but the person who presents the Finance Bill, the Minister for Finance, certainly ought to have read it given that he wrote it. The same applies to the Taoiseach and the European Commissioner. If they have not read the treaty, they are not in a position to recommend it.
Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
I am sorry, a Chathaoirligh, you have allowed every other person to speak, and Senator Regan is allowed to speak on this every damn day. I am virtually the only——
I ask the Senator to withdraw that. I give fair play to everybody. Senator Regan raised a matter regarding the leader of the Government and I considered what he raised important from that point of view.
In 40 seconds.
It is questions for the Leader.
I am not impugning you, a Chathaoirligh, but how many other people are allowed to put this argument? We had Mr. Pöttering from the European Parliament pottering about in here but there was an attack on Mr. Jens Peter Bonde, MEP, who was extremely good. Can he be invited to the House to present a balanced view, since Members have had their "Yes" person, Mr. Pöttering, in the House?
The Senator cannot make a Second Stage speech.
We have heard a great deal of rubbish about neutrality. Fianna Fáil's neutrality was pragmatic, adopted by Mr. de Valera during the Second World War. There were no principles whatever behind it. Fine Gael does not have a neutrality policy; it is against it. Fine Gael would like to walk us into NATO at the first possible opportunity, but the people of Ireland will not have it. That is the problem for the political parties.
Senator, please, you must put questions to the Leader.
What is the point, a Chathaoirligh? Last week, I asked the Leader a series of questions about the European Defence Agency, the coy new name for the European armaments group. The Leader promised to give the replies to the House or to me in writing. I have received neither.
The rainbow warrior.
Having jumped the gun in mentioning Mr. Pöttering, I wish to return to my request regarding the Dalai Lama. I ask the Leader for a response to my request. I have gone through the correct etiquette in asking that an invitation issue to the Dalai Lama; I have been doing it for six weeks. The foreign affairs committee has unanimously agreed it. I wrote to Senator O'Toole and he presented my request to Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The party leaders all agree with such a request, as far as I know, and the Department of Foreign Affairs has no difficulty with it, yet I still cannot get an answer, and the gun was jumped by one of my colleagues. What are we to do? Can I have an answer to my question about the Dalai Lama?
Finally, it might be an impertinence on my part but, as the Leader knows, I am an impertinent young pup, and I wish to acknowledge the presence of a distinguished colleague from the Argentinian senate in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. He made a major and important contribution to the debate held by parliamentarians in Buswells Hotel on the issue of landmines. The meeting was held under the auspices of the foreign affairs committee and involved representatives of the various parties. We made a number of recommendations. I hope that next week, after the passage of the treaty in Croke Park, we will have an opportunity to discuss its implications.
I have been more than fair to the Senator.
Yes, you have. I accept that.
If every Senator in the House spent as much time as you speaking on the Order of Business, it would take until lunch time. The Senator must appreciate that other Members want an opportunity to speak.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate including the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, on An Bord Pleanála, the composition of its board and some of its decisions. I heard yesterday from the Irish Rural Dwellers Association which made presentations, both an oral and written, which were worrying. An inspector, an employee of the board, is on record saying that as far as he is concerned there should be no rural houses at all. I would like to know on what planet that man lives. These comments are a disgrace given that we have a unique culture of rural living. When the foot and mouth disease epidemic was here every person, whether in city, town or village, made an effort to ensure that the land and our livestock were protected. That showed the love the Irish people have for the land and the countryside.
I support Senator Corrigan's remarks on psychiatry and the need for several special care units to be set up throughout the country on a regional basis. There are several people in our psychiatric hospitals who, because of their very challenging behaviour, need these special units. I ask that Senator Corrigan's request be facilitated as soon as possible. I will participate in this debate too and I ask that the Minister for Health and Children come to the House to address the concerns that Senator Corrigan and I have expressed.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on standards in the private rental accommodation sector. Some months ago we became rightly agitated about footage shown by the "Prime Time" programme about the state of accommodation in which many people in our cities live. We must recognise the scale of this issue throughout the country. There are too many tenants living in rental properties in conditions not fit for animals. There are too many residents who must put up with havoc on a daily basis. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on this issue.
There are several changes due in this area which have not happened yet. Statistics on the success of local authorities in taking action against sub-standard landlords were due to be published last year. The figures have still not been published. There are regulations due dealing with the private rental sector designed to ensure the quality of accommodation is increased. As we approach the end of this parliamentary session we still do not know the content of these regulations or when they will be published.
I support the remarks of Senator Fitzgerald on the industrial dispute in our rail services. While there may be a lack of clarity about who is causing the difficulty, there is clarity about the fact that it is the taxpayer who suffers. Iarnród Éireann, along with other companies, have received nearly €250 million in taxpayer's subvention over the past few years. We must ensure that, whatever is resolved, the efficient investment of taxpayer's money is protected.
I agree with Senator Boyle's call for a debate on the economy. He correctly pointed out there are human consequences resulting from events in Cork. We need to be mindful too of the human consequences of whether the economy grows at one rate or another and how quickly it will recover, if at all, and whether that recovery takes place this year or next year.
I join with Senators Donohoe and Boyle in their call for a debate on the economy. We have listened, in the past few weeks, to Members on the Government side of the House breathlessly defend the Government's economic policy over the past 11 years. It is fair to say that the boom and bloom is over and the champagne days have been wasted by the Government. The human consequences are clear. Senator Boyle will raise on the Adjournment the matter of the staff of the Freescale Semiconductors Ireland Ltd. in Cork. Quality graduate jobs will be lost, but may hopefully be saved. This is a visible human consequence when quality people are let go. This is the legacy of the mismanagement of the golden period of the Irish economy.
Yesterday, I raised the issue of the Irish rail dispute in counties Cork and Kerry. I am an advocate of trade unionism. However, there is an obligation on all sides to resolve the dispute, including the Minister for Transport, and especially on the board and management of Iarnród Éireann to manage its affairs properly. The end result is that the people of Cork have been discommoded. The economic outlook for the region is dependant on people being ferried in and out of Cork. It behoves the Government——
The point is made on this matter.
I ask the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss the issue.
I support the calls for a debate on the economy, but I would like it to have a particular focus. The advent of the Lisbon treaty indicates Europe will rightly take a leading role in energy matters. The EU already takes this role in such sectors as agriculture. I have mentioned previously, but it is worth repeating, that for the provision of clean, green energy there is no country in Europe better placed than Ireland. We could avail of EU funds to install, off the west coast, clean, green energy to supply Europe. This is a possibility at a time when we are all conscious of the price of energy and the carbon cost. There could be significant benefits in employment and cheap electricity for the country that provides such energy for the rest of Europe. I ask the leader for a debate on energy, including the cost and the possible benefits accruing to the nation from using the competence the EU will assume under the Lisbon treaty which, I trust, will be passed.
Senator Fitzgerald was correct to draw the attention of the House to the latest report and analysis from Davy Stockbrokers, a reputable organisation. The content is frightening and it is clear the economic storm-clouds are gathering and that we did not exercise adequate prudence in recent years. The level of inflation and the extent of price increases is serious. There is frightening anecdotal evidence — which Senator Wilson, my colleague on the Government side of the House, may corroborate — in Border areas of people crossing into the North to such places as Enniskillen and buying food and other groceries for 25% less than here. That is scary and raises the question of price control in the country. It is also worrying.
I ask the Leader for a debate on this matter. The euro is strong relative to sterling at present and imports from the UK worth billions of euro are not leading to price reductions for Irish consumers. Prices are not reducing to reflect the change in currency values. The issue of price control is critical and keeping inflation down should be a critical plank of economic policy.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the economy to discuss where cutbacks take place. There should be no cutbacks in frontline services, nor should they affect weaker people in such areas as home-help, class size and a range of other issues. We should make it an article of faith that the cutbacks are directed at the better off sectors of society and at tackling wastage in our economy. I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue.
I endorse the remarks of Senator O'Toole on transparency in the schools building programme. We are all frustrated with the system at present. There should be a clear system of readily accessible information. It would prevent a raft of public meetings and ridiculous activity throughout the country if people knew the position of their school.
I support Senator O'Reilly in his call for a debate on inflation. As he correctly pointed out, a significant disparity exists between the sterling and euro prices quoted in shops. Clearly, huge currency profits are being made, which should not be the case. I wonder whether these shops would accept sterling if people put them to the test. In the 1970s and 1980s, we had bodies which controlled prices during a period of economic stagnation and comparatively modest incomes. If competition is no longer effective at achieving the prices we should be getting, perhaps those arrangements should be revisited.
Yesterday, I listened to a programme on which a number of people complained about the difficulties they are experiencing with marriage registrars. In Dublin especially, it apparently takes up to three months to get an appointment. That seems to be an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on people who have decided to get married. In some instances, people had already booked hotels and were concerned they would be at a financial loss. This issue should be investigated with a view either to increasing the number of marriage counsellors, if there is a shortage, or returning to the previous practice whereby couples made the necessary arrangements with their local priests. This is an example of the State getting involved in an area but not delivering on its commitment.
Before the Cathaoirleach calls the Leader, may I raise a point of order?
Senator Norris on a point of order.
My colleague, Senator O'Toole, has suggested to me that the Cathaoirleach may have felt I impugned his impartiality. The Senator also thought he heard the Cathaoirleach ask me to withdraw something. I did not hear that but I would be more than happy to withdraw whatever it was that was offensive and I take this opportunity to say that the Cathaoirleach always treats me with leniency, as he does all Members. He is totally scrupulous and fair, in the great tradition of Cathaoirligh of this House, and I would not like it to be understood that I intended anything else.
I thank the Senator.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Coghlan, Donohoe and Boyle spoke about the train drivers' strike and the difficulties being experienced by travellers in Cork and Kerry in particular. I wish all parties well in their negotiations, which lasted until 2 a.m. today and will resume at 12 noon, and I hope the difficulties can be resolved. At the end of the day, these issues have to be negotiated. This type of unexpected strike is unfair to the customer who ultimately determines whether a service is a success. Much good work has been done in Iarnród Éireann to provide this top class service so I look forward to a resolution.
Senators Fitzgerald, Boyle, Donohoe, Buttimer, Hanafin and Reilly called for a debate on the economy. Senator Fitzgerald referred in particular to the report produced by Davy stockbrokers on the difficulties being experienced due the high cost of energy. The difference in the price of groceries such as tea, butter, bread and sugar are causing difficulties, particularly for those who are on the margins.
I attended the start of this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment which heard a presentation by the National Consumer Agency on its pilot survey of a basket of goods bought from the main retailers. The survey revealed minimal price differences among the multiples but significant price differences between larger outfits and symbol group stores and within symbol groups themselves. The survey found minuscule differences among the branded goods sold by multiples. It compared own brand products from Aldi and Lidl against the mid-range own brand products of major multiples and found significant price differences between discount stores and the multiples. However, independent butchers and fruit and vegetable shops fared well against the multiples. The symbol group retailers were more expensive, as was expected given their role as convenience stores. There were, however, considerable price differences among the symbol groups. I am sure the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment will make a copy of that report available to any Senator who requests it.
I have no difficulty with allowing time for a wide-ranging debate on the economy. However, the new Minister for Finance has an extensive brief, so I want to allow him the time to get a handle on his portfolio. It is a considerable change to come from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the Department of Finance. I hope to arrange this debate before the summer recess, however.
I look forward to the participation of Senators from all sides of the House in the debate on the Lisbon treaty over this weekend. Let the facts speak for themselves. I will endeavour to have the reports requested by Senator Leyden brought before Senators for their consideration by next week. Senator Leyden correctly noted that time will have to be allocated by next week because it will be too late after that.
Senators O'Toole, Corrigan and Glynn raised their concerns about mental health, the Thornton site and the level of investment needed for this area. I listened attentively to those who have expertise in this field and I look forward to welcoming the new Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for equality and disability, Deputy John Moloney, to the House. The Minister of State has 20 years of experience as a member of the former Midlands Health Board and is totally committed to doing what he can to alleviate the plight of those who are unfortunate enough to be affected by mental health problems. I have no difficulty in arranging time for a debate on this issue.
Senator Healy Eames and others highlighted the pressures faced by boards of management, students, teachers and everyone else involved in running schools. I have no difficulty in arranging time for this matter but the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has only been in his new position for two weeks. I will endeavour to have him attend the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss the educational issues raised this morning.
Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White and Boyle called for a debate on the 2008 Amnesty International report and requested the attendance of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I will endeavour to arrange for the Minister to come before the House at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Quinn referred to the call made by President Sarkozy of France. I will see what can be done in respect of the Senator's request and I will communicate further with him on the matter, either later today or early tomorrow morning.
Senator Quinn also referred to the forthcoming intoxicating liquor Bill. I assure Members that this legislation will not be rushed through the House and that the time required for debating it will be allocated. It is fair to say that some of the legislation that has come before both Houses has not always been the best. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator. If the Bill is initiated in the House, we will devote to it the fullest amount of time possible in order that amendments can be prepared and not rushed. I will allow a full week between Second Stage and Committee Stage in order that amendments may be tabled and a further week before Report Stage in order that further amendments can be put forward.
The leaders of the various groups have been very accommodating with regard to the way the House deals with legislation and I thank them for that. The Upper House did not obtain its name on foot of a one-line cliché put forward by the media. It has worked hard to develop its reputation over many years. We will continue the good work of our predecessors by maintaining the reputation the House has built in the context of considering legislation on a line-by-line basis.
Senator Callely requested an update on Burma. I will contact the Minister in respect of this matter and communicate further with the Senator on it.
The Senator also referred to various issues relating to long-term care and older people. We owe so much to the generation that helped to put us in the position we currently occupy. The Senator might take up this point with the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who will be present in the House for Private Members' business later today.
Senator Carty requested a debate on eating disorders and on how these affect young people. This is a worthwhile request and I will ensure a debate on the matter takes place at the earliest possible opportunity.
On Senator Norris's request in respect of the Dalai Lama, matters are proceeding in accordance with Standing Orders at the CPP. I had understood the leader of the Independent group, Senator O'Toole, had been briefing the Senator on this matter. I will discuss the matter further with Senator O'Toole following the Order of Business and we will endeavour to continue to fully support Senator Norris's request. I will inform Senator Norris of the current position when I take up the matter with the secretariat. I look forward to the Senator's request being accepted and to the House being honoured by the presence of the Dalai Lama.
Senator Glynn called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to review the terms of reference of An Bord Pleanála, particularly in the context of a submission made yesterday by the Irish Rural Dwellers Association to the relevant committee. One of the points raised in the submission is that sons and daughters should not be prevented from building houses on their parents' farms or small holdings. As many people are aware, for many years my party has represented the interests of small businesses and small farmers and those who are obliged to make a go of things for themselves.
The position has changed. The Senator's party has recently represented the interests of big businesses.
The tent has been closed.
We have never forgotten from where we come. If one forgets one's origins, one will be directionless. We know from where the Senators opposite come.
There can be no interruptions. We are on the Order of Business.
We know the side of the House those who were reared with silver spoons in their mouths are to be found. I need not provide a lecture in that regard. If a person were born in a council cottage to which one acre of land is attached, he or she should be able to obtain planning permission to build a house on the site because most local authority development plans stipulate that the amount of land required for such permission to be granted is only 0.4 of an acre.
The Leader should talk to the Deputy Leader about that matter. Senator Boyle does not agree with him.
People should be able to care for their mothers and fathers in their golden years. Everyone grows old and needs to be looked after, and Members on all sides are aware of that.
We agree with the Leader.
The Leader must be allowed to reply to the Order of Business.
The people of Ireland have a proud tradition of upholding family values. That tradition should never be lost. I will allocate as much time as is necessary to allow all Members to make their views strongly known to the Minister with regard to what is acceptable to people in the context of upholding family values and catering for the needs of future generations.
I have no difficulty agreeing to Senator Donohoe's request. I know he has quite an amount of experience regarding matters, such as the requirements involved and the unfortunate conditions in which some people have been obliged to live up to now, relating to the private rented sector. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator and I have no difficulty in arranging for the Minister to come before the House to discuss his proposals.
Senator O'Reilly requested a debate on inflation and matters relating to it. He referred to those of us who live on the Border with Ulster. I previously served as Chairman of the then Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. In that context, I understand that the purchasing power of the multiples for the UK also covers Northern Ireland. The UK market, which encompasses 64 million or 65 million people, has much greater purchasing power than that which obtains in Ireland, to which the majority of products must be imported by air or sea and which has a population of only 4.5 million. This was outlined in some detail to the committee to which I refer when it carried out its review of the groceries order. Senator Coghlan was a member of that committee and made a great contribution to its work. The reason to which I refer may indicate why there is a small difference as regards prices.
There are too many stealth taxes.
There are good and valid reasons for the difference in prices.
Senator Walsh referred to marriage registrars. I have no difficulty in setting aside time for a debate on this matter.