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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Jan 2009

Vol. 193 No. 7

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, an allocation of time motion, to be taken without debate, which sets out the arrangements for the debate on No. 2, which are that on Second Stage, spokespersons will have five minutes and all other Senators four, that Senators may share time, that Second Stage will conclude at 12.45 p.m. with the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 12.40 p.m., and that Committee and Remaining Stages will be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2009 — all Stages; No. 3, an earlier signature motion on the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2009, to be taken without debate; No. 4, Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and to adjourn not later than 4 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 5 the Industrial Development Bill 2008 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to commence at the conclusion of No. 4 and to resume at the conclusion of No. 28, motion 31, if not previously concluded, with spokespersons having ten minutes, all other Senators seven, and on which Senators may share time; and No. 28, motion 31, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House is to be interrupted for ten minutes at the conclusion of No. 3.

In the Dáil yesterday the Taoiseach said he would come back to the Lower House when he had a policy and agreements with the social partners. That approach is reflected in the Seanad, but it is a reversal of what any good business would do. Before deciding on how to manage a business in a difficult economic environment, involving cutbacks, managers would discuss the matter with their team, including staff and trade unions. They would have a plan in place, having discussed it beforehand. I was amazed to hear the Taoiseach say he would not put policies or proposals before the Dáil or Seanad. It is in sharp contrast to what we see in the British and French parliaments or the American Congress. It is not surprising that new research has shown that confidence in Irish businesses is dropping more rapidly than in other countries and the reason is that the business sector has not seen the Government's plan. Business leaders do not see the Taoiseach coming forward with detailed ideas, direction and decisions for discussion here. The Taoiseach is bypassing public representatives in his approach to the current economic environment, which is completely unacceptable, as Deputies and Senators are elected and in touch with public concerns. They know the issues of concern that are affecting people in their daily lives. They include a woman I met in Clondalkin the other day who had spent four and a half days on a trolley in Tallaght Hospital awaiting a bed. Others are concerned about whether they can pay their bills and keep their jobs. It is extraordinary that we are not having detailed discussions in the House but are having a debate on the economy in such a vacuum. Will the Leader bring forward the framework document to ensure a detailed discussion in the House as well as with the social partners? We want social solidarity at this difficult time but why are the Houses being bypassed in such an arrogant manner, given the role democracy is meant to play in this country? The Taoiseach's statement yesterday was extraordinary. I have never witnessed such a bypassing of the Dáil and the Seanad. That is having a negative impact because the decisions should be made and shared in these Houses.

I return to a topic I raised yesterday regarding Pamela Izevbekhai. An all-party motion should be moved in the House in the near future. Perhaps the Leader will indicate whether the Government will support such a motion.

I would appreciate the views of the Members on the issue of the discussions on the economy. The trade union movement, including public sector unions, have offered a €2 billion recovery bond to the Government, which they are prepared to champion, support and sell. There has not been an adequate response to that proposal. This money is on the table for the Government to use. Two actions are required. An adequate response should be provided because it will give focus and direction and bring people together. Second, the private sector should be prepared to consider a similar bond. The two ways to raise money are taxation and cutbacks and many approaches could be taken. However, this bond is novel. Michael Collins did something similar in 1922, about which we heard last week in the Mansion House. This should be examined and a response provided.

I refer to the involvement of the Taoiseach with the social partners. The view has always been that the four pillars involved — the trade union movement, employers and business, government and community and voluntary groups — should go to their bases and elect the people who enter the room for negotiations. Trade unions elect their leaders, as do business groups and employers and the Dáil. That is the basis on which representatives meet. The difference between the social partners and the Houses of the Oireachtas is when the social partners sign off on agreements, they sign in blood. They are stuck with the decision they make, like it or lump it. I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that it is wrong and unhelpful of the Taoiseach not to share the issues with the Dáil and Seanad. I said this when the economic recovery programme was launched in Dublin Castle. The programme should also have been launched in the House because political input is crucial, particularly that of the Opposition and Independents. However, that is a different process and both processes are hugely important. As I stated last night, the current process would be strengthened massively by the involvement of individuals such as Deputies Bruton and Burton and other commentators.

Senator Fitzgerald and myself do not agree on the Taoiseach's passion yesterday but it was good to see a little passion on the issue. There is no doubt the trade union movement will do a deal but there is doubt about whether the private sector will come up to the mark or whether groups such as IBEC, which is supported by the six large banks, will continue to evade the fact that its members created this mess and they are riding on the backs of the people in their sector who are losing jobs without any reference to those who are earning high incomes in the sector. A balance needs to be struck and once that is achieved, we will get an agreement. It is not that difficult.

I reiterate my call yesterday for the framework document to be tabled before both Houses. It is not sustainable for the Government to say these matters will come to the Houses next week because, as Senator O'Toole suggested, we will have then essentially a fait accompli. We will not have serious input into an agreement, which, as the Senator rightly said, which is the subject of agreement by the social partners. There is no question of this Government, given the way it treats the Houses, being prepared to countenance the unpicking of an agreement it reaches this week with the social partners. I agree the question of negotiating through the social partners is vital but there is no reason that should exclude a political input along the lines suggested. Will the Leader address this issue because he did not do so yesterday? He addressed many issues relating to the economy but he did not address the issue of what should be the proper role of these Houses in this crisis, nor did he address the issue I raised, which was supported by others, that whatever proposals are around should be shared with Members of the Oireachtas.

Will the Leader arrange for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to attend the House to address once and for all the extraordinary scenario regarding consumer prices? We heard reports again this morning that shoppers in the Republic of Ireland pay 51% more for non-grocery goods than their counterparts in the North. This extraordinary disparity has never been fully explained. A Forfás report published during the Christmas recess demonstrated that a cost differential must be borne by retailers. However, the additional cost amounts to between 5% and 6% of the price. The Director of Consumer Affairs said that even if that is increased to 10%, that still leaves an unexplained 40% differential in prices between Ireland and its nearest competitors.

This requires to be explained and I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to attend the House for a debate not only to cast the issue around in general but to explain why she is apparently doing no more than calling on retailers to do something about this. This debate has been alive for seven or eight months. The Minister says she would like to proceed by consensus but that has not worked on this issue. Politely requesting people to bring prices down will not achieve anything. Legislation along the lines the Minister apparently suggested might be necessary clearly is necessary. Will the Leader address the issue of the price differential in consumer goods? It is a huge issue for people because if they are being asked to forgo pay increases, price is a crucial factor in their consideration of what is proposed.

Yesterday, following the motion regarding the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, and we both agreed it would be important to have a debate in the House on the sexual abuse of children. The councillors of Galway and Roscommon who attended yesterday's meeting of the Health Service Executive regional forum expressed serious concern about the make up of the investigation team and asked why the HSE should be involved in an investigation of itself. Councillor Tony Ward asked how many more cases there are that we do not know about because the system is not working and mandatory reporting is not in place. Both sides of the House will agree a full discussion is needed. Senator Healy Eames also referred to this issue yesterday during the debate on the motion. We could come to a positive conclusion on this. How can we make the people in our system report suspicions about child sexual abuse? Unless children who are sexually abused receive first class counselling and treatment, they can suffer from post traumatic stress for the rest of their lives. They can become alcoholics, promiscuous or seriously depressed while never reaching their full potential because they were abused by monsters who are paedophiles.

Children are abused mainly by family members and people looking after them. However, I would like to put on the record the heroic efforts of Father Michael Mernagh who, aged 71, walked 300 km from Cobh Cathedral in County Cork to the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in atonement for the sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church. To me, Fr. Mernagh is a hero. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, to the House to speak about the issue of child abuse, as he did yesterday in the Dáil.

I wish to pick up on the remarks of Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole and Alex White. There is no doubt that the country is looking for leadership, which naturally must come from the Taoiseach and the Government. We are all stakeholders in this matter. As I said yesterday, we are all playing for the one team and wearing the jersey for Ireland. Senator O'Toole reminded us of the trade union movement's wonderful idea in being prepared to organise a recovery bond of €2 billion. I have no doubt the private sector would do likewise and we would all encourage it to do so. That is something very practical and wonderful to which people would love to subscribe in the national effort in which we are all engaged.

The serious point for us as Members of this House is that an options document exists. It is wholly wrong that it is not available to us. Yesterday evening we had a debate on the economy in the absence of that document, which was very stupid and a little crazy. I presume the Dáil will go on to do the same today. We all welcome the engagement involving the social partners. No one is knocking that. In fact we are all positively in favour of it. There must be a variation of that document that could be made available to Parliament, because we are equally stakeholders with the entire community in what we need to work through to save our country. A Chathaoirligh——

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I want to hear the Leader speak on that because I believe he agrees with me privately. I am not so sure if he will go so far as to put it on the record. I believe he shares my view on this matter because we have spoken about it outside the House.

The Leader will be replying to the Senator's request later.

In these difficult times it is great to see a good news story. I am delighted to learn this morning that two of the Kingdom's finest have won world awards. I refer, of course, to Loch Lein Country House and the Killeen House Hotel. In these difficult times when some hotels are closing, these two absolute gems, if I may say so, are winning awards.

That is irrelevant. We are playing for Ireland and trying to do our best.

We are trying to tackle the Government.

I salute them and congratulate them on what they have done and what they have achieved for tourism.

We are not doing a promotional tour of Kerry.

I was not on a tour of Kerry. I am talking about Irish tourism on which I am spokesman.

I concur with Senator Coghlan. We are playing for the same team and we want to ensure we work our way out of the very tough situation in which we find ourselves. Many people here would not realise that back in the 1970s we had no partnership and had strikes daily. We had strikes in the docks and could not get anything in or out. We had bank strikes. I needed to go to people like Senator Quinn to get my cheque cashed and get my groceries from the very good man in Blackrock who kept us going as a family at that time. We have forgotten about those dark days which were much darker than they are now.

It is important not to rush what we are doing. We need to deal with this thing in a cautious, careful and measured way. We should work with the social partners to explain the difficulty in which we find ourselves. We cannot do this without involving the team, including every one of us in this House. The Taoiseach is correct. He has a measured approach to dealing with the issue. He has put a framework document together.

He is not in touch, though.

He has dealt with the banking situation very efficiently. No banks have gone to the wall. We ensured Anglo Irish Bank, which was one of our major six banks, survived. No one has thought of the consequences of allowing that bank to go to the wall. It would have been worse than Dell or anything we have seen before. We have dealt efficiently with the pork contamination problem we had and we are now seen as a country that will not allow anything but the best for sale on our shelves. It is very important to bear that in mind.

Our economy will pull out of this situation because we will work together and will find ways of doing things. Before Christmas we launched Building Ireland's Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal. I do not believe people took enough time to read that document which contains many new ideas for job creation. That is the sort of approach needed, especially from this House. We are the House that can give leadership and it is important we give it. The Taoiseach is giving it to us now.

Some people are looking for quick-fix solutions. They will not happen. It will take a year or two to work our way out of this situation.

Or to get a decision out of the Taoiseach.

Perhaps there could be better communication.

The Senator's point is made.

The Taoiseach should be given time to deal with the social partners and get the framework package together. We can then have a full discussion on how we can work ourselves out of this situation.

I express my appreciation to Senator Butler for his words of thanks for cashing his cheque back in the 1970s. I worried about it at the time, but——

Has it gone through yet?

I hope it did not bounce.

Thank you very much, Mr. Eastwood.

Senator Quinn, without interruption.

I am not quite so sure I support his belief that we should take our time in regard to the economy. I know we are not going back to talk about the economy now.

I used the word "cautious".

I am sure we should be cautious. However, there is a danger that we could, first, believe that it is not a big problem and, second, talk ourselves into a depression. There are success stories even in bad times just as there are failures during good times. Let us be sure we take this step cautiously — I like the word "cautiously" and ensure we concentrate on something Senator Alex White mentioned, namely, the danger of us becoming uncompetitive. We need to watch our costs and identify things we believed were good to do but are probably not as necessary in these times.

Let me outline one instance. I am an enthusiast for the Irish language — I would love to be better at it than I am. I was jolted to read in the newspaper that 52 new jobs have been created for Mr. Orban, who is Commissioner for Multilingualism in Brussels. What a smashing title. I did not know we had such a man. Some 52 jobs have been created to translate items in the European Parliament into Irish. Last year I spoke to someone in Malta who told me that country can no longer find any Maltese teachers because they have all gone to Brussels to translate everything into Maltese and there are very few Maltese speakers who do not speak English.

This week I spoke to the chairman of a semi-State company, who said he needs to get his annual report translated into Irish. He reckons that no more than 50 people read it in English, apart altogether from Irish. Some years ago we introduced the legislation to ensure we translated everything into Irish to enable those who could only speak Irish to read such annual reports and other State documents. Perhaps this is something we should question. Is it wise? Can we afford to spend that amount of time, attention and money with the delays that take place in translating every document into Irish? I question it.

I support Senator Fitzgerald in her call for a debate on the discussions that are taking place with the social partners at the moment. I have three particular questions for the Leader. Why is the discussion looking for an agreement that will last for only year? We will ask everyone working in the economy to find €2 billion of tax increases or spending cuts. The figure for next year will be €4 billion, the figure after that is another €4 billion. One of the social partnership arrangements that was crucial to putting our country through — the Programme for National Recovery of 1987 — had a two-year tenure. Why are we looking for a one-year plan? One does not turn a business around in one year, nor a sporting club. Why do we think we will be able to turn our country around in fewer than 12 months? Why can we not be given the confidence of a multi-year plan?

Why are the banks not more prominently involved in these discussions? It is likely that we will pump billions of euro into the banks. As part of the discussion that is taking place, why are the banks not giving a deal to people who cannot pay their mortgages or are concerned about losing their homes? That is a vital element in a social solidarity pact that I hear discussed. That does not feature at all in the discussions taking place.

Why is the Taoiseach swanning off to the Davos forum in Switzerland later this week, at a time when the entire country is seeking leadership? It was the right thing for the Taoiseach to be in Japan a number of weeks ago. If this country is to recover, and it will, it will be done through exports. We must be competitive in Asia and we need to win there. Why does the Taoiseach need to swan off to a jamboree on the ski slopes of Switzerland, with luminaries such as Vladimir Putin and many of the banks responsible for the difficulties we are in as opposed to staying at home and providing the country with the leadership it requires?

Picking up on Senator Donohoe's point, I do not have a problem with the Taoiseach going to a Swiss sanatorium for a weekend. If he did not, there would be serious questions asked by the international community about why he did not show up.

I refer to a request made by the youth movement to extend the right to vote to 16 year olds in the forthcoming local elections. Unlike Dáil elections, where a referendum would be needed to do this, 16 year olds could be given the right to vote by passing legislation in this House. In Austria, 16 year olds have the right to vote in local elections. In many lånder in Germany and in a number of cantons in Switzerland they have the right to vote. The UK is examining this and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, should examine this. If we are to do this, now is the time to introduce the legislation. We are not suffering from too much legislation in this House. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to make a decision on the matter shortly.

I seek a debate on the green economy. We know the Americans have outlined this as an area for growth. Substantial funds will be dedicated to the green economy, in which case many new developments will take place in that area. This country is ideally placed as an island off the west coast of Europe with wonderful capacity for tidal or wind energy that we could transmit to the rest of Europe. Now is the time, when Europe is claiming competence in this area, to seek European Union funding on a major scale so that we can feed in as a back-up. How fortunate we would have been if we could have provided a back-up to the lack of gas supply to central and eastern Europe to supply heat to those homes in a perilous situation with temperatures of -20°C. This would be positive for Europe and the back-up is needed. There is a presentation on the green economy at 4 p.m. in audio-visual room. This would be well worth visiting.

There has been much talk in this House and in the Lower House by the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach about patriotism in respect of the economy, the bipartisan approach, the Tallaght strategy and reaching consensus. The outburst by the Taoiseach yesterday in the Lower House has put paid to that. It clearly demonstrates that he has his own view about how things should be done. He will do it his way and go it alone. I ask Senators on the other side to desist from silly talk of the Opposition doing the Government's work for it.

The Taoiseach has his own way of doing things, it appears. On 25 June, there was an editorial in The Irish Times entitled “Is Mr. Cowen up for it?”. It is still relevant in the light of what has happened on the first day of this Oireachtas session.

With the economy in recession and the Lisbon Treaty receiving intensive care, determined leadership is required to steady nerves and chart a way forward. Is Mr Cowen up for it?

This was written more than six months ago.

That shows how out of date it is.

Reference was made to the forecast of the ESRI in its medium-term review, which stripped away the possibility of prevarication. Six months later, nothing has changed. Clearly the Taoiseach is not listening to people in these Houses, nor to The Irish Times.

Second Stage speech.

There should be a question to the Leader.

Is the reason we have had no decision from the Taoiseach that he has become institutionalised, that he cannot think outside of the institutional box he has grown up with and he cannot think for himself and take decisions? The problem now is that Deputy Brian Cowen is Taoiseach. That is the problem in the economy and in the international reputation of the country. That is the problem we have in getting out of the economic recession.

I support the call for a debate on the framework document the social partners are working on and I have no doubt the Leader will agree to it. I look forward to participation in the debate over the next few days or weeks, whenever it can be fitted into our schedule.

I refer to a comment made by Senator Donohoe about the Taoiseach. He gave the impression that the Taoiseach would be on the ski slopes, having a nice weekend. It is a slightly unfair slant and, from the smirk on his face, he knows that.

He said "slopes", not "slants".

How slanted are the slopes?

My understanding is that the Taoiseach has been invited to participate with Heads of State from Europe and the world, along with industry. It would be remiss of the Taoiseach not to participate, especially given the difficulties this country faces.

Can the Leader find a mechanism to monitor closely the manner in which the banks operate and assist all customers, borrowers and small and medium enterprises? I have some personal experience and I say what I have said in light of the fact a large number of people have brought to my attention that the banks are changing the rules and the manner in which they carry out their business. The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, spoke in this House yesterday and indicated that part of the discussion with the banks on recapitalisation concerns how they deal with customers in a reputable and respectful way. My understanding is that the banks are looking for two things. Where there is overexposure in respect of loan to value, they want a capital injection to reduce the loan to value exposure. They are not prepared to accommodate the requirements of businesses, particularly in the current climate.

I therefore call on the Leader and other leaders in the House to discuss these issues and come up with an appropriate mechanism. Perhaps there could be a special focus on the banks to ensure they are meeting their obligations.

The notion that the global economic recession and financial crisis is directly caused by the existence of Mr. Brian Cowen as Taoiseach is slightly fatuous. In St Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday, the Old Testament lesson was from the third book of the prophet Jonah. He was sent by God to Nineveh to tell them that because of their greed, their selfishness and their gross indulgence, he was going to destroy the entire city within 40 days. They were so traumatised by this threat that they all, high and low, rich and poor, noble and common, got down and joined together in sackcloth and ashes. I think this country needs to adopt a kind of wartime footing. We all need to be together and we do not need to score party political points. We all have to accept that it is nonsensical to think of a pay increase when people are losing their jobs. There should be an end to posturing; we must all take the hit and join together in the interests of the country.

The Leader made a suggestion yesterday about the situation in Israel and the issue of human rights being discussed in Private Members' time. My Private Members' time will be next week and I had already decided to take the general human rights situation which will in certain elements be critical of the Government. However, the Leader will have noticed yesterday the general consensus on all sides of the House. All decent people in this House are appalled by what is happening and at the language of the Israeli leaders, the iron fist that will crush. This is the language of the Second World War. I refer to the use by Israel of Palestine as a laboratory for experimenting with new weapons and to Egypt which is stopping doctors going into Gaza and is gassing people to death in the pathetic little tunnels and is now preventing children going to Europe for treatment.

Along with Cyprus, Portugal and Sweden, Ireland nobly proposed and supported the establishment of an independent war crimes tribunal. Our Government, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the same thing and I honour him for it. I strongly urge the Leader to consider tabling a motion supporting our Government on which we can all agree, unlike perhaps what may happen next Wednesday night when I propose a different motion. An agreed motion would strengthen our Government's position.

I refer to the Bodies exhibition in the Ambassador cinema. I find it quite extraordinary that questions are not being asked. This is a for-profit exhibition with t-shirts and ashtrays and all the paraphernalia and products for sale, yet the organisers of this exhibition are unable to provide the provenance for these bodies. They came from China, from medical facilities about which significant questions arise. It is quite possible that these people were murdered because they were members of Falun Gong. I wonder if it is appropriate that they should be exhibited in Ireland for profit.

Surely, the least a human being should have is control over the dignity of his or her body after death.

I commend Senator Butler on his contribution this morning which was rock solid and free of histrionics. This should be the guiding light at present; we have to be very practical and co-operatively focused. I welcome some of the comments from the Opposition. I believe there is a desire on everyone's part to be involved as a team in solving the current economic challenges. The more we can expand on this desire and create a forum for it, the better.

I am also glad that the silly season is over, especially with regard to some sections of the media. It had descended into an absolute farce. People were discussing pin-up Taoisigh and talking about looks, clothes and deportment or the absence of deportment. We all know this is absolute and utter codology. It is important that we distance ourselves as public representatives from that type of approach. We are dealing with a crisis.

If one wishes to see what this crisis looks like, I suggest one speaks to a young couple who have both lost their jobs and are faced with trying to repay a mortgage and then one will know what trauma means. If such a couple are listening to our debates and reading some of the headlines in the newspapers, they will know it is not realistic and it is not about achieving results.

To some extent, Senator O'Toole may have touched on the point of the very difficult negotiations under way with the social partners. We all know, no matter what we say, that there is no progress in this issue without social partnership. We have learned this from the past. However, one cannot negotiate through megaphone diplomacy because it does not work like that. We all know one must consider what is on the table and be prepared to compromise and look at the bottom figure on a balance sheet. We can have posturing and cosmetics but the unfortunate people who are suffering in the present crisis will not thank us for that approach.

It was particularly interesting to note that four or five days ago it seemed as if the negotiations had broken down. Over the weekend it was quite clear that we were back on track. I have no doubt that we will have an agreement in some shape or form. Those of us in a position to do so should commit ourselves to taking the pain on behalf of vulnerable people. I include myself in that position and I know that each person here will do likewise. I do not mind because otherwise we will not be happy with ourselves as individuals and neither will we be happy as a society if we do not do what is expected of us.

If the Taoiseach was passionate yesterday, then thank God he was. I do not think he meant to insult anyone——

The Senator should get off.

——as that is the cut and thrust of a democratic concept no matter where one goes.

What happened in Lisbon?

If the Taoiseach does not have vigour when he speaks, he will be criticised and when he speaks vigorously he is also criticised. I suggest we should get away from the body language and the cosmetics and instead let us get down to a pragmatic effort to solve the problems which we all know can be solved. I can sense the unity of purpose under the surface in this Chamber and I suggest we plug into that unity and make progress.

Last evening the House was to discuss the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2009 but at the last minute the Bill was withdrawn. The Leader explained that there was a technical reason for its withdrawal and that he would inform the House this morning about the nature of the problem. I note the Minister appointed two Green Party councillors when he was precluded from doing so in the Bill. The Government does not seem to be able to read its own legislation. I would welcome the promised explanation from the Leader as to the progress of this Bill. I checked with the Bills Office and I note there are no amendments to the Bill. I wonder what was happening last night because this House was treated with disrespect.

People are very concerned about the stability of our economy. Those I spoke to in Galway last weekend asked a fundamental, serious question. They wondered whether if the State guarantee on deposits had to be called on, the State would be able to pay. This question arises because the Minister for Finance was not honest with the people during the course of the debate last week on Anglo Irish Bank. He did not give the facts to the people; he covered up and did not answer our questions. As a result, the people are wondering whether there are more shady deals going on. The Government is doing itself an injustice by not trusting Opposition spokespersons with the facts, in confidence if necessary, about the bad debts at Anglo Irish Bank.

Our good friends in the credit union movement are suffering because people are withdrawing their money. It is the considered opinion that two banks must stay, AIB and Bank of Ireland, but this is not fair to credit unions because they have been there for us all and they have helped young couples such as those Senator Ó Murchú spoke about. We need the credit unions.

The Senator must ask a question to the Leader as this is not the time for speeches.

I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to outline a roadmap on where we are going and to outline the multi-annual plan to which Senator Donohoe referred and to include the worst case scenarios. We need to know what the back-up plan is if things go wrong. The Irish people have a right to know the real story. We cannot fool the people any longer.

I call again for a debate on the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse, as did my colleague on the Government side of the House. Yesterday, I did not hear the Leader say "Yes" to it but I did see the pain on his face when I spoke about the child abuse case I encountered as a teacher. I accept sensitivities arise with this issue but the child's welfare must be kept central at all times. Otherwise, the effects are grave. Recently the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre informed me that it had 18 cases of rape in the 15 to 18 years age group with 17 of those victims dropping out of school owing to trauma. Can one imagine the trauma and other effects? No longer can we pretend this is not happening or be afraid of the complexities of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. We must take it on and ask whether it will be good ultimately for the child. I look forward to hearing the Leader's response on this today.

Will the Leader provide for a debate on the programme for Government? I join Senator Donohoe in asking why the Taoiseach is attending the Davos summit this week. Why can he not send the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment instead? Senator Callely earlier spoke about the banks. It is the job of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to ensure the banks are properly monitored and regulated. Instead of going to the piste, perhaps the Taoiseach would stay at home to look after the banks and give more confidence to the people. The banks must be asked to pass on credit to allow small businesses to succeed rather than squeezing them.

While I respect Senator Ó Murchú, I am getting tired of listening to this clarion call for national unity and national government when the most partisan are the Government Members and Members of this House on the Government side. For 11 years, they listened to no one. They heard no one warn about benchmarking, the banking crisis or the property boom that would become an empty vessel. All of a sudden, when they are in crisis, they want help.

While we are talking about pin-up boys, it was Fianna Fáil's former party leader who had the huge make-up bill, not Fine Gael's or the Labour Party's.

This is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It is important to clarify the matter for the House.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It was the Fianna Fáil Party which played pin-up, as it were, with politics——

Fine Gael is a rudderless ship.

——and the legacy we have is the mess in which we now find ourselves. If Senator Butler is the clarion call for a beacon, then God help us. We might as well all give up.

Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Coghlan, Butler, Donohoe, Regan, Callely, Norris, Ó Murchú, Healy Eames and Buttimer expressed their views on the national pay talks. I think I can speak for everyone in the House when I send our best wishes to the ICTU this morning and hope it will be back in the talks this afternoon. Since 1987 social partnership has been the most successful vehicle in ensuring the national interest. How we negotiate, no matter how the difficult the times may be, has made us an example to Europe and the world. Social partnership has always been in the interests of the Irish people and businesses, especially small enterprises, family-run businesses, the employed and those trying to keep jobs going in difficult circumstances.

We had the opportunity to express our opinion on the framework document in the Chamber last night with the Minister of State. The Dáil has——

Excuse me, Leader. I spoke on this yesterday morning. I am not going to allow parallel conversations take place between Members while another Member is speaking in the House. If Members want to talk, there is plenty of room to do so outside of the Chamber. I ask Members to observe this in future.

The framework document gave us the opportunity to express our opinions in the Seanad last night. The Dáil has been given two——

On a point of order, that is completely inaccurate. There was no discussion on the framework document last night in the Seanad.

We were discussing the economy last night.

Exactly, but not the framework document.

We did not have the framework document.

A point of order must be on procedure.

My point is about accuracy.

On a point of information for Senator Alex White, he deserves to have it explained to him in minute detail and as slowly as I can possibly go.

And the truth. Tell the truth.

The Leader to reply without interruption.

I allocated time yesterday for a wide-ranging debate on the economy. Anyone would understand that yesterday Members had an opportunity to express their opinions on the document that was launched in Dublin Castle before the Christmas recess. I know some colleagues took that opportunity and I thank them for it. The Dáil has the same opportunity to do so today and tomorrow. The ICTU and the social partners participating were expressing their views this morning. The Government has a wide-ranging consultation process taking place on this.

What about the frameworks?

As Senator Alex White is a leader of his group, I would appreciate it if he did not interrupt me. I do not interrupt any leader when they are making a contribution.

Yes, but we do expect the truth and accuracy. It should have nothing to do with opinions but the truth.

Members, please.

If other colleagues in the House feel strongly enough about making a comment when I am speaking, I can understand it and be forgiving but not when it comes to a leader of a group. They should be leading by example.

As indeed should the Leader.

The Leader to reply without interruption.

I understand that elections may be coming up and some Members want to get a profile. Certain colleagues are very well established with the media and have been part of it at very high levels for a long number of years.

On a point of order, that is a personal attack which the Leader should withdraw.

The Leader should reply to the Order of Business.

When I speak in this House, whatever I say in my opinion is the truth.


That is what the Taoiseach said last night as well.

I take exception to——

The Leader is the pope. He is infallible. He speaks ex cathedra.

I did not hear a squeak in a long time but I welcome the Senator back.


At least it is not just Senator Cassidy. I contribute a lot more than he does. One just has to check the record.

I have been most accommodating for any request made of me by any Member or group leaders. Yesterday, time was allocated to discuss the up-to-date position on the economy with the Minister of State present. That will continue because that is what this House is all about. I know everyone is proud to be a Member of the Upper House of Parliament in our country.

We want to wish well the deliberations of the Taoiseach and the Government. I have been a Member for a long time. Yesterday's contribution in the Lower House from the Taoiseach was outstanding, uplifting and magnificent, as Senator Ó Murchú said. The contribution was edited, however, which was shown on television last night. It used a minute 20 seconds to give the impression that this was not a caring or inclusive Taoiseach. This editing did not represent the Taoiseach that the people are honoured to have and we in the Fianna Fáil Party are proud to have leading us.

They need their own television channel.

Senator Alex White called for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to attend the House to debate the differential in prices North and South. She will be attending later for the Industrial Development Bill. This is a worthwhile request. As a former Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, I understand the difficulties being experienced by those in the retail trade in the South. They have to deal with two different territories. One is a market of 60 million in the UK from which retailers in the North can purchase goods at reduced prices. Senator Quinn will be well aware of this. The other problem in the South is the high energy costs compared with those elsewhere.

That is the regulator's fault.

I intend in this session to allow colleagues, on an all-party basis, to see what we can do to address the high prices charged by the ESB and Bord Gáis. They are unsustainable and unacceptable. The two providers are not playing their part in the national interest. I want this to go out loud and clear from Seanad Éireann today. I will allow whatever time is needed for this.

How was it allowed to happen?

I will allow whatever time is needed by colleagues to express their views to the Minister on the current position in the retail sector.

Senators Mary White and Healy Eames called for an urgent debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, on the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse of children. This is a serious request and I contacted the Minister of State's office at the conclusion of the Order of Business yesterday with a view to arranging a debate as a matter of urgency. I hope to revert to the House tomorrow morning with a time and date.

Senator Coghlan offered his congratulations and best wishes to his colleagues in County Kerry in the tourism industry. Theirs has been a remarkable achievement and I join the Senator in congratulating them.

Senator Quinn spoke about the issue of competitiveness. As Senators Butler and Ó Murchú noted, we have an ideal opportunity to review our position. Competitiveness presents the single biggest challenge facing businesses but the difficulties being experienced among the generation under the age of 35 years who have never witnessed a downturn will give them a greater appreciation of these matters. I will have no difficulty in including this issue in a debate in the near future.

Senator Hannigan called for a vote to be given in local elections to those over the age of 16 years. This could be difficult to provide for but perhaps the Senator can put his suggestion to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he attends the House tomorrow to take Second Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2008.

Senator John Hanafin called for a debate on the green economy, with a particular focus on tidal and wind energy. He also highlighted for the House the huge amount of money available from the European Union which we could use. At 4 p.m. the concept of the green economy will be promoted in the green room.

Senator Callely called on us to monitor the banks and the challenges facing everyone at present. We should take up his suggestion. I am aware that my colleagues will be exercising their minds in that regard. We will certainly be able to express our views on the matter in the context of our debates on the economy.

Senator Norris called for a debate on Gaza and events in the Middle East. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate. I strove to include the matter in next week's agenda and respectfully proposed that the Senator use Private Member's time for a debate. I will, however, endeavour to provide time for a discussion at the first available opportunity when legislation does not present, as it is an urgent matter. I also note the Senator's views on the exhibition on north O'Connell Street.

Senator Cummins asked about the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2009 which we were to take last night as emergency legislation. However, the Minister of State received a telephone call and the Bill was withdrawn.

I thank Senator Cummins, the party leaders, the Whips, the Cathaoirleach and the Clerk for their co-operation and understanding. The Bill is before the House this morning. I understand clarification was required on a technicality but the Bill is now proceeding as originally proposed. I note Senator Buttimer's comments and will certainly pass them on.

Order of Business agreed to.