The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the fishing industry, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes, all other Senators seven minutes, on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; No. 2, statements on the Criminal Assets Bureau annual report 2007, to commence not earlier than 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes, all other Senators seven minutes, on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons or leaders; and No. 26, motion 24 re agricultural issues, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. if not previously concluded. The business of the House will be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Order of Business.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to explain to this House the reason the Irish media were silenced at a press conference given in the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday? Just because President Klaus does not agree with the views of Government is no reason the Irish media should have been gagged at that press conference. That action has made us look even more foolish in the eyes of Europe than what it set out to achieve. I ask the Leader to make inquiries whether there was some reason for the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Minister to gag the Irish media, and to report back to the House. It sounded very petty.
In the 12 years since Veronica Guerin was murdered, organised crime has become more organised, more powerful and more violent. We constantly call for debates in this House on the issue. We should have a debate on the solutions to the issue. We will have statements later today on the Criminal Assets Bureau. Organised crime is basically about business and money. We can debate all the different reasons for organised crime but I seek a debate on the solutions. Some people say the cause is deprivation in some parts of the country. Others advocate shooting all the individuals concerned. We should have a proper debate in the House purely on the solutions, whatever they are, not on the causes. We know what the causes are and we should debate the solutions.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance about a very specific issue that we should debate? It concerns the question of obtaining primary medical certificates for people with disabilities. A most unusual case I encountered this week concerns an individual who has no power in one hand due to a very traumatic road traffic accident but who was told he is not disabled enough to obtain a primary medical certificate in respect of driving. If he had lost his hand, if he had it amputated, he would have been considered for a certificate, but given that he has his hand, albeit with no power, he is not considered for the certificate. Many problems have arisen in respect of this issue in recent years and I would like the Leader to facilitate a debate thereon in the House.
I reiterate the point made yesterday on the lack of legislation in the House this week. If that is to continue, we should be allowed additional Private Members' time.
We can certainly raise issues for debate in the House. The acting leader of the Opposition stated we could be discussing today positive proposals on the legislative changes required to deal with the Limerick issue and others. We can certainly do that. If business is so light in the Seanad with no legislation coming through, we should look to this side of the House for matters for discussion and in those circumstances there should be an increase in Private Members' time.
The Leader promised me two and a half weeks ago that he would allow time for a debate on the education cuts but that debate has not yet taken place. It is interesting that the issue of radon gas has become more important than dealing with education, despite the fact that the Minister for Education has gone back on his tracks. After promising the world there would be only 200 job losses in education, we are now told there will be 1,000. How can we have confidence in somebody who does not know the difference between 200 and 1,000? Those cuts are just in respect of one area. We need to ask questions to the Minister and hear the answers. That is the only honest approach. The Minister is backing off and does not want to talk about these matters.
I thoroughly support the view that the Government should have more to do than protecting the President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, from the Irish media. The more we hear about him, the better it is for all of us. The Government was very light in its criticism to the effect that it was inappropriate of Mr. Klaus to act as he did. It is the essence of irony that a man who claims the European Union interferes too much with the work of national governments sees no problem in arriving in a state, as upcoming President of the Union, and interfering with its national policies and issues. Will the Government ask him how he manages to marry those two positions? We are aware of many of his other daft ideas. I do not deny him his entitlement to be against the Lisbon treaty, that is not the issue, but we have ways of doing business that should be respected.
One reason many of us supported the Lisbon treaty was to ensure our national sovereignty would be protected. Mr. Klaus takes the opposite view and does not recognise any contradiction in coming to Ireland to interfere in respect of a very sensitive issue that is being dealt with by the Irish people and the Government. The Government should take a much stronger line and indicate its absolute disapproval and rejection of the way he has behaved.
I disagree profoundly with the position of the President of the Czech Republic but an issue arises in respect of the maturity of the debate thereon. If the President of the Czech Republic states his position in Ireland, surely the way to counter that is through the strength of the arguments against what he is saying rather than suggesting he does not have the right to make his points. I realise Senator O'Toole did not quite say that Mr. Klaus does not have such a right, but it has been suggested that it is outrageous that a foreign leader should come to Ireland and make such points. It is not deemed outrageous, however, if foreign leaders who hold the opposite view come here and make those points. I disagree profoundly with the position taken by the President of the Czech Republic but we have more strength in us to deal with these arguments than to simply suggest that every time somebody such as he opens his mouth, it constitutes interference in our process. The lesson of the Lisbon treaty debate, be it in the media or the political fora, is that those in favour of the treaty missed the opportunity to demonstrate a much more robust and self-confident approach and instead relied excluding views with which they disagreed.
The question of our post office network was raised a number of times in the Chamber in recent months. A very interesting development in the United Kingdom yesterday was that Lord Peter Mandelson stated the UK Government intends to support the development of its post office network. He stated: "We should examine the prospects for the Post Office becoming a much more significant player in financial services." Most of the debate in this Chamber concentrated on the social value of post offices. Developments in recent months, however, regarding trust in the major financial institutions should surely present an opportunity for us to determine whether there is a role for An Post, which has a national network, expertise and a background in retail associated with financial services and which does not have overpaid and over-rated people going around in suits in the back room pretending they are masters of the universe and geniuses in financial management. What is wrong with using and expanding the existing service of An Post and determining whether the organisation can fill the gap that arises from people no longer having trust in the major financial institutions, including the banks? Will the Leader arrange a debate to determine whether we can encourage the Government to expand the role of An Post, arrest its decline and the closure of post offices in rural areas and ascertain whether it can fill the gap that is opening up regarding trust in financial institutions?
Members who indicated yesterday that they wished to speak on the Order of Business failed to be afforded an opportunity to do so because time did not allow for it. I will call them first, beginning with Senator Callely.
I indicated I wished to speak yesterday with a view to joining others in expressing my condolences and sympathies to Mr. Shane Geoghegan's family, fiancée, friends, work and sports colleagues, including the Garryowen Football Club, and the people of Limerick on his awful and tragic murder. The crime was a step too far by gangland scum. Clearly, it is known who is responsible for the murder. We know the gang involved, which is one of two gangs in the area.
I support Senator Twomey's point on gangland activity in recent years. A quick reflection on gangland activity indicates a failure by the authorities to stop gangs' criminal ways. This murder should be the catalyst for change in the way we address criminality. I am happy to put on public record my support and that of the public to whom I spoke for any suitable mechanism that will remove these scumbags from our community. The public does not want them to be given any special considerations or rights to this or that, it simply wants them lifted and removed. It is important that I state that in the House because I am hearing it left, right and centre.
Will the Leader raise with the Minister for Foreign Affairs the severity of the sentences imposed on pro-democracy activists by a closed military court in Burma? I am appalled at the severity of the sentence of 65 years which was imposed in each case. However, I am not surprised given the brutal regime that exists in Burma. Some international action is now required against this brutal regime and we cannot allow the innocent activists to face the next 65 years in an inhumane Burmese prison system. I ask the Leader, therefore, to raise this matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I join my colleagues in sympathising with the family of Shane Geoghegan, members of the Garryowen rugby club and the people of Limerick. I feel most strongly about the 135 people who have lost their lives in recent years. I think of Baiba Saulite and of those poor children who were almost burnt alive in a car in Limerick. I wonder about leadership and whether this Government is providing it.
Yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, said that every resource would be provided. I am aware, however, that overtime has been cut and Garda radios are so antiquated they have RTE 2FM breaking through. The Garda does not have digital radios. Worst of all, in respect of the attacks on women in Athlone, we have no DNA database. I had a conversation with Kathleen O'Toole, chief inspector of the Garda Síochána inspectorate, who said that such a database was the single most important police tool when she was working in Boston. People's DNA could be taken and the police then had a bank of data which could be used to convict the thugs, as Senator Callely called them. I ask the Leader for a serious debate on methods that might be used to convict. It is an outrage that 12 years is the maximum sentence given to people who commit murder. They are back on the streets within 12 years and this is not long enough or good enough.
Veronica Guerin's death created such an outcry some years ago that we changed the laws to fight organised crime. We did something we had not been willing to do prior to that. I believe the death of Shane Geoghegan will achieve something similar.
Senators Twomey and O'Toole talked about positive proposals. I learned only yesterday about one such possibility. When suspects are being questioned by the Garda, they are told that anything they say may be taken down and used in evidence. That is traditional. Recently, the courts have taken the viewpoint that this warning must be written down in respect of each question and each answer. Therefore, when the Garda question a suspect, they must write down each question and answer before following with the next. This is the case although all interviews are recorded on video and sound. It seems outrageous that the momentum in the interrogation of a suspect is lost and I have difficulty in understanding why the courts have taken this viewpoint. I understand from the Garda that this is the only country that has taken this stance, namely, that because the words "will be taken down and used in evidence" are used, each step must be written down before the next question is asked. The Garda must be frustrated at their inability to question, query and interrogate very prime suspects and that is one simple situation the Minister should look at immediately and examine what action we must take.
The situation regarding the President of the Czech Republic has been raised today. I got to know Václav Klaus eight years ago, after he was Prime Minister and before he became President. He had very strong views then about the type of Europe he wanted to see and he disagreed with me. I remember the terms he used. He said to me: "I had 40 years of a big brother in Moscow and I do not want to substitute a big brother in Brussels for that big brother in Moscow." I can understand the viewpoint he had. However, when we invite the President of a country, in this case a non-executive President like our own, I am surprised we do not make it clear that if an invitee has views he or she intends to express strongly, accordingly we must take the opportunity to present a balance of views. The Government should have made this clear. I know the man reasonably well and even if that had been made clear to him I believe he would still have gone ahead and said what he did, involving the Lisbon treaty opposition to that extent. There was no balance in the viewpoint expressed. I can understand his views, the strength of them and the reason he makes them but we must get a balance here. There is a lot at stake and we cannot have a non-executive Head of State coming to this country and using such an opportunity without providing balance.
I can understand the President's views. Members may have read in the papers today that the European Commission has changed its view on vegetables. This is important because there was a lack of understanding of the marketplace. The views expressed before now and the regulations introduced prior to this ordained that all vegetables on sale in supermarkets, shops and markets had to be of a certain size, grading and standard. Clearly, the marketplace was not understood. If people want to buy a straight carrot or cucumber they can do so but they should also be able to take the wobbly or cranky one or the one with nodules on it at a different price. I am delighted that the Commissioner reduced, if not entirely abolished, those rules yesterday and stated the marketplace can make those decisions. Those are the kind of rules that cause people such as Václav Klaus and others to say that perhaps too much strength goes to a centralised Europe. Let us make sure we have logic, sense and balance in any regulations we introduce in the future.
I had the view when I came into this House almost 20 years ago in 1989 that Senator Norris was a very intelligent, witty, gregarious and broad-minded person. I take offence, however, at his condemnation yesterday of a debate the House is having today on the fishing industry. I have waited nine months for this debate and gave way on the matter last July. I appreciate and wish to thank the Leader for his generosity in allowing the debate on the fishing industry.
Later on today there will be a debate, which was rightly demanded by Members of the Opposition, on the motion on agriculture. This is important. Under the Constitution the Seanad includes an agricultural panel that elects 11 Members. Why should we not have a debate on agriculture? I compliment the Opposition on tabling this motion and I hope I will get the chance to speak on it. Why should we not debate the fishing industry?
Members of this House must think beyond Trinity College, Dublin 4 and the Pale. Rural Ireland does exist and there are issues that affect it, such as farming, fishing and tourism. I will represent the areas and the people I was elected to the House to represent. Furthermore, my learned friend, Senator Norris, yesterday pooh-poohed the Harbours (Amendment) Bill as a little Bill coming through. It is most important legislation and I have taken a very difficult stance with the Minister concerned, Deputy Brendan Smith, in respect of some of the issues. It affects harbours all over this country. A Member may criticise this as "pieces of legislation" but this House is bigger and broader than one that merely deals with bits of legislation. I stood last week for three hours on the Harbours (Amendment) Bill and for most of the time there was not even a quorum present.
If the Senator wants to raise the point of people not being present on a daily basis——
Senator O'Donovan, without interruption.
I respect and am delighted that these debates take place. Why not have a debate on fishing instead of one on extraordinary rendition? The fishermen are on their knees at present. I respect Members on the other side of the House who want debates on education, health or——
It is not a question of either-or. The Senator should not be so morally obtuse. It is not a matter of either-or.
Senator O'Donovan, without interruption.
Nobody objects to those debates.
With all due respect, these debates were belittled.
I never belittled them and have regularly taken part in debates on the fishing industry.
Senator Norris, please.
It is people on Senator O'Donovan's side of the House who spoke disparagingly——
I thank the Leader for his graciousness in allowing these debates. If we could have a debate on farming, fishing or other issues once or twice a year, I would welcome them, even if they occurred in lieu of legislation.
I do not wish to take from any of the issues that Senator O'Donovan has raised. However, Senator Twomey made a useful suggestion, as evidenced by the fact that many other Senators spoke on it. Unfortunately, there is no more important subject for the House to address than gangland crime. As an obliging man, I am sure the Leader will be prepared to accommodate a debate to allow Senators to propose positive solutions which could assist the Government and the Garda Síochána in this matter. Senator Quinn, for instance, made a useful suggestion off the top of his head. We all want to assist the civil power, so to speak, and regardless of whether sufficient resources are available, we want to put forward solutions to aid the Garda in dealing with this appalling and growing problem not only in Limerick but in other cities and towns. I support the proposal made by Senator Twomey and other speakers and look forward to the Leader's response.
I asked the Leader previously about the property services regulatory authority Bill but do not recall his response. Perhaps he inadvertently failed to respond.
That would never happen.
When are we likely to see that Bill? I do not recall the Leader indicating when it is intended to introduce it.
A considerable period has elapsed since the House debated the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, a Seanad Bill which is included on the Dáil Order Paper. Does the Government intend to make a major amendment to the legislation which has not yet been prepared or what is causing the delay?
I concur with Senator Twomey's comments on the primary medical certificate and the loss of limbs as it relates to VRT rebates. To illustrate the point he outlined, a member of a local authority in the midlands with whom I am familiar has one arm which is of no use to him and he has experienced the problem as outlined by Senator Twomey. We must revisit this issue.
I raise the issue of boy racers, having received a plethora of complaints about the activities of young people, especially young males, driving at very high speeds and doing handbrake turns. While I do not wish to be a killjoy, this activity has resulted in the pride and joy of some parents, including in some cases the young person behind the wheel, being taken from them. It behoves us as a House of the Oireachtas to invite the Minister to the House to have a debate on the issue.
Senator MacSharry raised the issue of nurse training. I ask the Leader and my party's spokesperson on health, Senator Feeney, to arrange a debate on the issue because certain nursing disciplines are not as well represented in terms of numbers as they could be. As a consequence of that, many hospitals are experiencing difficulty recruiting nurses from these disciplines.
On the lack of legislation coming before the House, I have asked for a debate on the issue of joyriding and boy racers. From time to time, Senators ask the Leader, Deputy Leader or Acting Leader to arrange debates on topics and it is important to facilitate those requests because it gives the House a relevance it would not otherwise enjoy. While we should, as a legislative assembly, deal with legislation, I do not dismiss the importance of having statements on a range of issues.
I am aware that there is an EU happiness index. Is there also an irony index because we need to examine the whole issue of irony? I ask this question seriously. The Leader indicated he had to deal with a backlog of issues raised by Senators on the Order of Business. Is the obvious course of action not to face the ironies implicit in that statement and expand the only part of business in which people are interested or which is covered, namely, the Order of Business? If we have nothing else to discuss, why are we restricting Senators' contributions and creating a backlog? That seems to be ironic.
I will not lose my wig because a Czech Alf Garnett shared his smoked salmon in the Shelbourne with an Irish Berlusconi from the English midlands, although I have to say——
The Senator should put questions to the Leader.
I am asking whether the Leader has seen the irony in this and in the fact that he can rabbit on over there. Government Members are making idiots of themselves if they give the Czech President the oxygen of publicity.
Maybe the Senator could change that.
At the same time, we had in this country, by invitation of the Government, a succession of European Prime Ministers who told the Irish electorate which way to vote. We even had one in this House, the President of the European Parliament, yet when the Czech President, with whom I disagree, is brought over here we do not allow him to say his piece. That, too, is ironic.
It is even more sinister that, despite the interference by the Government in the composition of people addressing this issue, no one representing the argument in favour of militarisation of the European Union, as envisaged by the Lisbon treaty, has spoken here. The militarisation of the EU is one of the reasons I became one of the first to speak against the treaty in the House.
While I am on the issue of irony, has anybody else noticed that in recent discussions on the family and civil partnership, it has been argued by conservative religious elements both inside and outside the House that the family can only be maintained by an architecture of inequality and discrimination against other citizens? I find this viewpoint astonishing. It is also astonishing that the newspapers today report a case concerning an unfortunate young woman who took a case on the validity of a provision concerning the right to redress before the Residential Institutions Redress Board for those aged 18 to 21 years. We will have another large bill presented to us, as is appropriate, owing to the negligence displayed by the Government in negotiating the deal with the church. As regards the irony of the church lecturing about the family, let us look at the record of the Ferns Report and all the other issues and let us be a little more tentative before we attack individual citizens.
What about the boys in the Kincora home? The Senator is being very lop-sided in his commentary.
I take all cases on board. The Senator will find that I take on board all of them——
No, you do not.
——but you, Sir, are a bigot and I know that very well.
I hope people will not judge any profession on the basis of a small number of people who have misbehaved.
Is the Senator referring to the Czech President?
One of the two issues I raise concerns the Czech President. I concur with Senator Alex White that we should fight the battle on issues rather than on personalities. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Defence to the House for a discussion on the Common Security and Defence Policy elements of the Lisbon treaty. The policy is one of common defence rather than common offence and has no connection with conscription or other matters used as sticks with which to beat advocates of the treaty. It is very important to have clarity on that issue and the House is a good place to achieve that. A debate on this issue would also provide Senators with an opportunity to discuss barracks closures and outline savings that may be achieved by leaving barracks, notably in County Donegal, unmanned in the future. I believe the Minister for Defence will be pleased to come before the House for a debate on these issues.
When people refer to the crime debate, they are really referring to the drug debate. It is very important in any debate on crime to focus not only on criminals but also on the most important issue, namely, the fact that there would be no supply without demand. All of us have a role to play in ensuring there is no demand for drugs. Drug use and thuggery is associated with that. The burial of Shane Geoghegan today is an appalling vista. Drug dealing is the third largest profit-making activity after the arms industry and the oil industry. We, must, therefore, focus on how to reduce the demand, about which we can take action, thereby ending the battle of supply. I again congratulate all those involved in the major haul this week. I suggest we increase the use of drug dogs within our communities. If potential users are aware they can be caught, that might be as much of a help in minimising the use of illicit drugs as anything else.
President Václav Klaus said: "Because of our communist past, we Czechs are extremely sensitive to the idea of freedom and democracy", and he draws certain conclusions from that. In his thinking Václav Klaus is caught in a time warp. We drew different lessons from our experience of, as Senator Quinn would say, a "Big Brother", and that has worked to our advantage. We joined a Community that is based on the rule of law, on democracy and express values, more expressly set in the Lisbon treaty than in any previous treaty. It is also enshrined in the treaties of the EU that there is a respect for diversity among peoples and member states. To make this comparison with the oppression of the former Soviet Union and the atrocities of that regime, including the suppression of peoples and countries that sought freedom within it, is simply perverse.
Václav Klaus is a great man. He played an important part in the fight for freedom in Czechoslovakia, but he has got it wrong. I do not believe anything he has said has any lessons for us in Ireland. It is not a question of breaching protocol or of intervening in a debate in Ireland. It certainly should not be a question of restricting access to the press. We should hear what he has to say and refute it, but the Government has not done that. It should say straight that we reject what he has to say, which has no lessons for us.
My view on some of the contradictions we have had this morning as regards freedom of expression is that freedom of expression is a great privilege, which is generally hard-won, more so by countries that have suffered oppression in the past, and Ireland is no exception in that regard. As legislators we enjoy a particular privilege. We can make statements in this House and enjoy privilege in many ways.
I do not like the manner in which Cardinal Brady has been criticised in the House. I respect the Senator's views because he is, generally, straightforward in making them known. My belief, however, is that the church is entitled, on behalf of its membership, to express a view. It would be wrong for legislators to suggest that constraints should be put on the cardinal, or indeed any spokesperson——
I never did that.
——from the church. Likewise, we have heard comments on the President of the Czech Republic and we need to be particularly cautious in this regard. During the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it was clear that many people had grave doubts about many issues involved. At times there was even a suggestion that the whole position was not put before the electorate. Therefore if we criticise the President of the Czech Republic for making his views known — I am in favour of the Lisbon treaty — we may be sending out the wrong message and we need to be careful in that regard.
Any statements we had in this House were not in intrinsically good debates. Each morning on the Order of Business we all request debates and there are fewer constraints on statements in particular. I would not suggest or agree that some of the excellent views, which are obviously difficult to get across on the Order of Business, should not be put on the record of the House because there is an interaction between Members of the House, where we are learning from each other. If one looks back at the statements this week, one could not genuinely point to any single one that might be regarded as a filler or superfluous in any way. There will be contradictions here on different views. We can argue one way when one issue comes up and another when that suit us.
I noticed criticisms recently of the Catholic newspaper, Alive, from people who supported the Lisbon treaty, of whom I am one. There was criticism simply because the newspaper took a different line on the Lisbon treaty. There were even suggestions that the cardinal should use his position to put an end to that publication. That is not right, it is completely wrong. An editorial decision was made on the part of that newspaper and we are sending out the wrong message, which could be interpreted as muzzling a counterview in this debate.
The three points I make, while they form a different viewpoint, are relevant to the debate on free speech, which should always be promoted, unless it interferes with law and order etc. Otherwise, we should be very careful in our restrictions.
I join my colleague, Senator Alex White, in calling on the Government to look again at the whole issue of post office closures. There was an excellent debate in the House yesterday with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, on the rural development programme. I made a point in that debate that in the past eight years we have seen the closure of 500 post offices in rural Ireland, leading to rural isolation and people being pushed out of rural communities and into urban areas. The Minister made a strange point in that he said he finds it very difficult to get potential operators of rural post offices. I can give one example in my area of Donore where there is an operator,. a community and a premises. We are ready to open a new post office there, but we cannot get the approval of An Post.
The scheme being approved by Lord Mandelson in England is something from which we could learn. We should consider not just a financial analysis in terms of post offices but a social cost-benefit analysis. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to look again at the question of support for post offices.
I support my fellow county man and Opposition Member, Senator Paul Coghlan, in his call for the introduction of what is commonly known as the auctioneers' Bill. In light of the fact that so many auctioneering firms are closing down in the present economic climate, it is incumbent on us to ensure that the deposits of house purchasers are protected. The current insurance requirements under legislation are far too inadequate to cover the eventualities in the event that an auctioneer goes out of business. I have no doubt that Senator Ross will support me in the call for the speedy introduction of the Bill.
I rise, primarily, to clarify something that arose on yesterday's Order of Business. I asked the Leader a specific question and I shall repeat it again for him this morning. Given that Fianna Fáil's partner in government, the Green Party, is targeting civil servants through its website, looking for financial contributions, even though civil servants above a particular grade are precluded from becoming members of political parties, will the Leader say whether a specific decision has been taken by Government to change the Ministers and Secretaries Act and whether he condones and supports what the Green Party is doing?
I join other speakers in asking the Leader for a debate on Europe in the aftermath of the Lisbon treaty referendum. Even though I do not agree with Mr. Klaus, he is entitled to his viewpoint. We are giving oxygen to the people on the "No" side of the campaign by the way we are behaving this morning. I remind Senators that 55% of the rural development programme announced by the Government is funded by Europe, without which there would be no such programme.
The budget has become a moveable document — it is not a feast but a litany of cutbacks. This morning we heard that the diabetic retinopathy screening programme, a sight test for diabetics, which was due to be rolled out this year, has been postponed until 2011. I ask the Leader to ensure that the Minister for Finance comes to the House. He has not been here since the budget, and the budget is now like an Enid Blyton novel, it is all fiction. There are no facts in it other than that we are experiencing cutbacks. That is the real fact of the budget. Today the Minister for Health and Children is refusing to change the decision on the cervical cancer vaccine despite the fact that pharmaceutical companies said they will waive the costs. It is important the Minister for Finance comes to the House because the budget is having an effect on families, young people and the elderly. We have not yet heard the Minister say that there will not be another budget in early 2009.
I agree with Senator Buttimer and ask the Leader for his view on the Green Party named targeting of civil servants in its recent fundraising announcement. I also ask him to arrange for a debate on the economy as soon as possible. A number of speakers on both sides have raised the obvious need for the Minister for Finance to come into the House to discuss future economic development.
I asked the Leader a couple of weeks ago where stands the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2006, which was passed by this House and has disappeared between here and the Dáil. He may not have had an opportunity to find out and I do not expect him to know that information off the cuff, but I want him to inform me when he believes this Bill will be taken in the other House. There is a considerable body of opinion in that aspect of the law that much conveyancing has taken place in the past ten years and it is a case of locking the door after the horse has bolted, but the Bill should be taken in the other House as soon as possible as it would bring some clarity to this area of the law.
I also put on the record my disgust at the shocking murder in Limerick of Mr. Shane Geoghegan. I listened to the debate yesterday and today, and we must keep this on the agenda. I do not know how we will go forward. I call for a root and branch review of the procedures for handling suspects. It is a society issue and we must keep it on the agenda. We all must work together. The gangland tribe is growing through our cities and I do not know how we will put it down. It is a major concern. I am out and about, and communities at large who talk to me about it are fearful about what will be done next. We should have a full debate on that with the Minister. It should be a brain-storming exercise because we do not know the answers but we need to discuss it in-depth and look at how the gardaí can handle it. I cannot make suggestions because I do not have enough knowledge. I am interested in seeking knowledge as to how best we can move forward. No one here has enough knowledge on how to proceed and we should have a full debate.
We should have a post-Lisbon treaty debate. I agree with those who said it is time to start thinking about this matter again in light of the visit by the President of the Czech Republic. I have no difficulty with him meeting groups. I agree with Senator Ó Murchú that we should have freedom of expression. Let everyone come out and give their views so that the public is aware of the issues because the public did not have the information before. Let us get this issue moving and have a post-Lisbon treaty debate.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the conduct of business in the Seanad. Many of us on this side have been severely critical of the absence of legislation before the House, but that does not mean we are critical of debates and statements. We all accept there are some important debates that must be had and in the course of making statements on issues we can express ourselves fully. That is important, but there is a need for balance between legislation, which is our primary function, and statements on issues. Where we have statements on issues we participate fully. I take issue with those on the other side who suggest that, on the fishing issue, for example, we have not been fully participative. I participated in debates on fishing a number of times last year and got the Minister to do a U-turn on cockle dredging in Waterford Harbour. I am delighted that was as a result of debates on fishing, and such debates can have an important effect.
On what we can say in debates, we are entitled as legislators to criticise Cardinal Brady when he strays into criticising the Legislature or legislation that we may pass. It is also perfectly right that we criticise newspapers we see as representing the equivalent of the paramilitary wing of the Catholic church, which the Alive! newspaper represents. It is a newspaper that puts forward very extreme views with which many moderate Catholics disagree.
The point has been made.
I ask for a debate on the role of the Equality Authority in light of the swinging cuts that have been made. We need to have the Minister in the House to answer questions on why the authority has been singled out in this way, given the good work it has done.
I am grateful to Senator Quinn for pointing out a report on page two of The Irish Times on the EU management committee on fruit and vegetables, which is changing its views on the minimum rules and standards for the shape and size of vegetables. My colleagues may remember the big outcry when the EU declared that bananas had to be straight. I am afraid to say that among the long list of fruit and vegetables that will be covered by the new rule, bananas are not included, so straight bananas will continue to be an EU requirement.
I ask the Leader to examine, with the leaders of other parties in the House and particularly with Ministers and leaders of the Opposition in the other House, the possibilities that exist for the establishment of a commission or forum for a fairer Ireland, participants of which might include all the groups of the pillars of society and the social partners. Given the economic situation in recent years and the crisis in which the world finds itself, we will need such a forum to formulate a consensus of opinion on how to best meet the challenges of the future in terms of pay and efficiencies.
It would be better to establish such a forum in advance of the report by the task force on the public service, which is due at the end of the month, so we can include all the pillars of the community in teasing out the best way forward. While social partnership has served us exceptionally well and has been the leading player in our success in the past 20 years, a new set of challenges in the coming years requires a new set of plans and intentions to meet those challenges. This forum should be formed on the same basis as social partnership and should include all the social partnership and societal pillars. It should be set up because circumstances have changed substantially and will never return to the same form as in the past 20 years. A new and innovative approach is required and must be all-inclusive. If we could begin that process in this House, I would very much welcome it.
A report on the use of renewable energy and the creation of it in Ireland was released today, and I ask that when time is available we look at that report and discuss the issues that arise from it. While I acknowledge we have had some debates on climate change in recent times, we cannot have enough of them as we try to innovate and work to ensure the longevity of our planet and our environment.
There is anger, fear and concern among the public at the brutal murder of Shane Geoghegan. War is taking place on our streets, a war the State is losing. We need stronger deterrents, for example, a minimum of 25 years for murder. Electronic surveillance evidence should also be allowed in court. The anomalies mentioned by Senator Quinn must also be addressed. These are only some of the areas that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
Ministers talk about the heads of Bills taking 12 months, but we can introduce emergency legislation when we want. I agree we need to get the legislation right, but we introduced measures previously, after the death of Veronica Guerin, which have served the country well up to now. However, we need further measures to deal with the problem of the war on our streets. We must put policies and measures in place to address these savages. Greed, money and drugs are driving the problem and we must deal with the issues in the strongest possible manner. Putting off the introduction of measures for a year or more is inadequate and not what the public wants. We need a strong response now.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Alex White, Quinn, Norris, Keaveney, Regan, Ó Murchú, Buttimer and Cummins all expressed their shock and horror at the tragic death of Shane Geoghegan. I fully agree with all that has been said. Some very good suggestions have been put forward this morning, for example, the DNA database suggested by Senator McFadden and restoring fear of the law, as mentioned by Senator Cummins. It appears to be the case there is no longer any fear of the law and this is where the challenge lies for Government, the Minister, the Commissioner and everyone concerned. The 2007 report of the Criminal Assets Bureau will be discussed in the House today and perhaps colleagues may want to make these points on that report when the Minister is in the House.
Many Senators expressed strong views with regard to the presence of the President of the Czech Republic in Ireland as our guest. I will pass those views on to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators Twomey and Glynn asked about the primary medical certificate needed by the disabled. Former Senator Willie Farrell had a similar experience and was not given due recognition for the loss of a limb. He brought that issue to the attention of the House on many occasions. We may seek to pursue this serious situation with the Minister for Health and Children. The two Senators who raised the issue have life-long experience in the medical area. I will take the issue on board and try to take their request further.
Senators O'Toole and Bacik spoke about the lack of legislation in the House. I explained the issue in the House yesterday. I noted those who contributed when the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, was here to discuss rural development yesterday. I look forward to full participation in today's debates, especially the debate on the fishing industry which has been requested for the past ten months.
Senator O'Toole also called for debate on education. I have given a commitment to this and have no difficulty with allocating time for it.
Senators Alex White and Hannigan called for a debate, in light of the announcement made by Lord Mandelson yesterday, on the future of post offices and the opportunities available to the post office industry. I am agreeable to anything we can do to enhance rural Ireland. Post offices have a central role to play in this regard and I have no difficulty in asking the Minister to consider the situation and how we can progress their role.
We have post offices in urban Ireland also.
The Leader, without interruption.
They are taken as a given in urban Ireland. The real decline is in rural Ireland. I have never heard of a post office closing in urban Ireland.
Many of them have closed.
I can name two of them.
I would like to hear of them, after the Order of Business, because to my knowledge it does not happen.
I will name two: Dennehy's Cross and Bishopstown.
It does not generally happen because the population is not declining ——
No interruptions, please.
The Leader asked a question.
Senator Buttimer is not allowed to respond.
That is Fianna Fáil. It wants no answers; it just likes to hear the sound of its own voice.
He indicated that the Senator should speak to him elsewhere. The Leader, without interruption.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his protection. Senator Callely spoke about the severity of sentencing in Burma, for example, sentences of 65 years. I will pass his strong views to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Senator O'Donovan expressed strong views with regard to the fishing industry and the debate that will take place later today. I am aware colleagues will fully support a Senator with such a wide knowledge of the challenges facing the fishing industry, as does Senator O'Donovan.
Senators Coghlan and Daly raised the matter of the property services Bill. I understand that will come to the House early next year. Senator John Paul Phelan asked about the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill. That Bill is to be introduced in the Dáil and is in the gift of the Chief Whip. I will make inquiries on these issues for the Senators.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on boy racers and joy-riding. I have no difficulty with allocating time for this very important request. Senator Keaveney called for the Minister for Defence to come to the House to debate common defence and defence policy. I have no difficulty in allocating time for this.
Senators Ó Murchú and Norris expressed strong views and gave the House the benefit of their experience with regard to the freedom of speech. Senator Ó Murchú said Cardinal Brady should be allowed make his views known, just like everyone else. The Senator made an excellent contribution with regard to freedom of speech. Thank God we are all allowed freedom of speech. I have no difficulty with having a debate, or statements, on this issue in the House.
Senator Buttimer mentioned the recruitment drive being conducted by the Green Party. The Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Dan Boyle from the Green Party, will take the Order of Business tomorrow and perhaps Senator Buttimer can raise the question with him, his Cork colleague, and he can clarify the matter in person.
I asked the Leader for his view.
Senator Buttimer also asked for a debate on the budget. We await publication of the Finance Bill on 3 December. The Fine Gael leader has agreed to this wait. I will have the debate as soon as the Bill is published.
Senator Ormonde called for us to debate the Lisbon question again. Her request is timely, but I do not envisage this debate until the report of the committee is available. Some of our Seanad colleagues are sitting three days a week on this urgent committee, discussing and deliberating the issue. When the report is available, I will arrange for us to discuss it in the House so we can give the Minister the benefit of our suggestions.
Senator Bacik called for an update on the Equality Authority and for debate on the issue. I agreed to that yesterday and will allocate time for it.
Senator MacSharry made some positive proposals to the House regarding the establishment of a forum in which all the social partners would participate and the new challenges that we will have to face. He advised us that we should put in place our master plan in time for the next upturn. I will pass to the Taoiseach after the Order of Business his suggestion on a new initiative. He also called for a debate on renewable energy, in respect of which I have no difficulty in arranging time.
I ask the Leader to clarify that the sos will be taken from 2.30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
It will be taken from 2.30 p.m. to 3 p.m.