The Order of Business is No. 1, motion to rescind referral motion of 24 March 2009 on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2009, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re 2009 allocation to the Horse and Greyhound Fund, referral to committee, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, statements on bowel cancer awareness, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3, to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m., spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes, all other Senators for eight minutes, Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons or leaders. Matters on the Adjournment will be taken at 5.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
This morning on "Morning Ireland", Orla Tinsley, who has fought so hard for services for cystic fibrosis, was asked if she believed and trusted the latest proposal from Government to provide a cystic fibrosis unit. She said "We have had promises made before, I am not sure that I can — but I hope that I can." She and cystic fibrosis sufferers have had many promises made to them that have not been fulfilled. The Minister has now suggested a scheme whereby some builder will lend money to fund that unit and be paid back by the Health Service Executive. That sounds vague and unreliable. It does not sound as if it will produce the unit that is needed.
People watching the budget today will be a little like Orla, they will be asking whether we can trust a Government that has let us down so often in recent years. Can we trust a Government that has wasted so much of our money? What is the Government going to do today? There is a lot of fear, anger and upset in people for themselves, their families and their future, especially among the tens of thousands of people who have lost their job in recent weeks and months with hundreds more losing them every day. Today, we in Fine Gael will be looking at the budget to see whether it will protect and hold the jobs we have, create jobs and deal with the competitiveness issues that are essential if we are to keep our jobs. We will also be looking for fairness. We will further be saying that the Taoiseach is codding the public if he thinks he can tax his way back to recovery. We will be looking for reform and savings. We want serious reform so the country will be competitive again and people can plan for their families and themselves with some hope for the future. We will have further debate on the budget tomorrow but, as I stated, we will be watching very carefully. We will be supportive where the budget deserves support but we will certainly be critical where it fails to meet criteria we have set, published and made very clear in recent weeks.
I very much agree with Senator Fitzgerald and applaud her judicious approach in stating this side of the House, including both the Opposition and Independents, will support the Government on necessary measures that are prudent and in the interest of the people.
Everybody's attention is focused on the economy. It did not give me any pleasure to hear an international correspondent on the radio this morning describe Ireland as one of the most troubled economies in Europe. However, it is a fact and we must find our way out. It is not just a question of economics and of impressing our European allies or those discredited agencies such Standard & Poor's, or of rescuing our own blackguardly banks. There must be a commitment to fairness. The Government has, above all else, a duty of care to its citizens and to provide and underpin health, welfare and safety. It has not done so satisfactorily to date. The abolition of agencies such the Equality Authority, and the Combat Poverty Agency in particular, was disastrous as we sail into this financial maelstrom.
Fairness is what we will be looking for in this budget, in addition to the protection of ordinary citizens. Senator Fitzgerald mentioned cystic fibrosis. I listened to the developments in this regard and am delighted. Ms Orla Tinsley, that courageous, wonderful young woman, said she was glad of the progress made but it is still pie in the sky. We want that pie landed for the people with cystic fibrosis. I find it difficult to believe at this critical time the talk of builders being in a position to build now and get paid later. Will the Leader ensure the Minister for Health and Children comes to the House to give us solid, cast-iron guarantees that can be cashed at the end of the day to ensure this gets done?
Social welfare is an important element. I sometimes wonder whether this House is listened to because it is three to five months since I raised the question of people who are not citizens of this country collecting social welfare. I asked the Minister whether such people were asked to provide identification. I was told people were having their welfare collected and sent back to eastern Europe for them. That is a scandal in these times when everybody who is deservedly on social welfare needs to be protected from cuts.
I was horrified when I heard this morning of the cuts of €30 million that are to affect Dublin City Council. Reference is being made to cutbacks that are to affect the fire brigade and overtime payments. Fires do not occur within office hours and we must ensure therefore the cutbacks do not expose people to danger.
With regard to road repairs, every aspect of transport must be examined in terms of infrastructure, even my own beloved metro. I believe the metro will withstand the test and I am glad the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, is holding out in this regard. On the question of cutting back on road repairs, has any Member of the House recently been on the campshires along Dublin's north quays? There is a catastrophic hole outside the main conference centre that would be break one's axle.
In accordance with the Order of Business on the last day we were sitting——
I have had my three minutes.
——three minutes are allowed for main speakers.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for drawing my attention to that and I am happy to sit down. I look forward to the budget debate and I ask the Leader to ensure the Minister will be invited to the House to answer my question.
I am disappointed by the moratorium on recruitment in the Health Service Executive which was announced last week. It was decided without any consultation with the HSE or any of the unions and represents a fundamental breach of faith in terms of industrial relations and governance. A directive from the Department of Finance to the Department of Health and Children stated that, for the next 18 months, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will decide who is to be recruited to our health service and who is to be made redundant. That is extraordinarily arrogant. How can the Minister can make such decisions given he has difficulty running his own Department?
The decision to target fixed-term workers is overt discrimination against a category of employee. The Minister should have read the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act. His decision to implement this embargo without consultation is a blatant affront to social partnership and he should have read the industrial relations Acts. He thinks he might save money through these measures but he is wasting money because an understaffed service is an underperforming service.
One quarter of all departments and wards in Beaumont Hospital will have to close by the end of this year because of the embargo on recruitment. A total of 10% of its staff, 400 people, will lose their jobs and 90% of these are nurses, who are front-line staff. Yesterday morning, 140 people had their discharge from Beaumont Hospital delayed and last Friday, in the entire acute sector in all hospitals throughout the country, there were 880 delayed discharges. This means people fit for discharge could not be discharged and that places a huge additional burden in cost terms on the health services. In Drogheda there are 550 nurses, 180 of whom are on fixed-term contracts. These contracts will not be renewed. That means approximately one third of the staff at that hospital will be cast aside. The Department of Finance has stated that the loss of each 1,000 jobs costs the State €25 million through increased social welfare payments. That means €500 million in social welfare payments will have to be made up.
It is bitterly ironic that this directive was issued days before the Mental Health Commission reported that patients in south Tipperary did not receive the required treatment because of understaffing and underfunding. It is all the more ironic that sanction, which has been given to increase staff numbers in St. Luke's and St. Michael's, was not carried through. On that subject I wish to make a declaration of interest. I know many people who work at these facilities, one of whom is my husband. I called on the Minister for Health and Children to issue an apology to the patients and staff working in the hospital because they are encased in a Victorian asylum.
As far back as 2004, the authorities knew that serious issues surrounded these facilities.
The Senator's time has concluded.
I am getting to the point. A commitment was made to allocate money, but that was not spent. The Mental Health Commission found no misconduct among the staff of St. Luke's and St. Michael's hospitals. The Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, stated that the deficiencies in mental health services in south Tipperary will be addressed "without delay". Professor Brendan Drumm stated that a significant bank of land in the ownership of the HSE in south Tipperary would be used for mental health services and to implement the vision for change document in Clonmel in south Tipperary. I would like that commitment to be honoured.
On Senator Fitzgerald's comments on the budget, it would be advisable to await the details of the budget before commenting. Clear signals have been given that the budget will be very fair and I agree it is important it is fair and is seen to be so. I do not know about anybody else, but I have been encouraged by the number of Cabinet meetings that have taken place.
He is letting them in at last.
It shows that a degree of scrutiny is being put into the detail of the budget. While Senator Healy Eames might find it funny, many people hope——
If they got it right the first time there would have been no need for it.
——that this budget——
They are wearing L-plates.
There should be no interruptions, otherwise I will ask Senator Buttimer to leave the room.
——will lay a foundation on which the economy can recover. We live in unprecedented times and the challenges are extraordinary. We have a daily diet of negativity and doom and gloom which, in its own way, exacerbates the situation with regard to consumer and investor confidence. Without those recovering to some degree we will see a continuing decrease in the economic fortunes of the country. I welcome the fact that Fine Gael in particular of the Opposition parties has become much more constructive during the past month. While I do not agree with everything it brings forward, some of the detail is worthy of serious consideration and I am sure some of it will be reflected in the budget. Rather than try to appeal to the populace at large by making popular statements, it is up to all of us in the House, including the other Opposition parties, to be constructive in addressing what is the biggest challenge this country has faced since its foundation.
The nation is indeed holding its breath to hear what is in the budget. I am glad there was a number of Cabinet meetings about it. Meanwhile, the banking problem has not gone away, it is still a monster. We learn today that there is €56 billion of toxic debt in the Irish banking system. We are not sure what the Minister is planning for it, perhaps some kind of asset management model, but that is not enough to ensure confidence. The general view of the public is that the banks will revert to their bad ways unless they are properly held in check. There is evidence of young people in my constituency getting phone calls from banks offering them up to €20,000 in personal loans, yet the banks will not lend to businesses in need of credit. What is going on? What type of behaviour is that by our banks?
It is time we had a banking big brother, by which I mean it is time we called for a European bank regulatory model to regulate our banks. We must have objectivity and independence. We are far too small and too cosy. The banks have cost us our international reputation. As Senator Norris said, we are now considered as one of the most troubled economies in Europe. The banking crisis has shown the need for us to have a very serious regulatory model. I call on the Leader to discuss this with the Minister for Finance and ask him to pursue a European regulatory model that would guarantee our independence. I also call on the European candidates to pursue this model.
The Senator's time is up.
An bhfuil tú cinnte?
Tá mé an-chinnte.
I welcome the news on cystic fibrosis and the innovative way the Government is proceeding by providing that beds will be available and payment will be made in 2011. I was contacted by a number of families over the weekend on this issue and I am glad the Minister will proceed on it. It would have been a travesty for her not to proceed with it because it is regrettable that the life expectancy of people with cystic fibrosis in Ireland is much shorter than in other European countries.
It is ten years less.
The provision of this unit will go a long way towards giving people who have cystic fibrosis a chance of a better quality of life and a longer life. The next step in this process is the provision of an improved organ donation system so that those patients can receive organs and can fulfil their great potential.
Fairness is certainly the word of the day. Our hope today is that the provisions of the budget will be fair and that the cuts and the increases in tax are made in such a way that those who can most afford it will pay. Tá géarghá go ndéanfaimid cinnte nach iad siúd is laige in ár sochaí a bheidh thíos leis an cháinfaisnéis inniu.
I agree with what Senator Daly said about cystic fibrosis and I am also glad of that development. It is a pity that people such as Orla Tinsely must go out and campaign to the extent that they do to get the priority they deserved all along.
I am glad, a Chaithaoirligh, that you have introduced a stop-watch principle. I am concerned that one Oireachtas committee seems to be in favour of getting rid of the stop-watch principle in the context of referendum coverage. The cure they propose could be much worse than the disease. I remember, during the divorce referendum, how scandalous was the one-sided coverage in the media. Some 50% of the country voted one way and barely had political representation in the Oireachtas.
However, we won. We won and the truth prevailed.
Sincere democrats wish to have issues fully debated. Sometimes there will be a referendum in which 99% are on the one side and it may seem odd that equal time should be given to the other, but the reason is that we are letting the people decide. Sincere democrats should not lose sight of this principle.
I welcome the opportunity we will have to debate the forthcoming budget. I am particularly conscious of the reality that the Cabinet has spent hours, days and weeks in an attempt to ensure fairness. At a time when the world markets appear to be making a resurgence, when the price of oil and money are low and when vast sums are being spent ensuring that economies are recapitalised, it would be good for the House to ensure that a positive note goes out at every opportunity, because there is a good deal more hope and opportunity than negative sentiment. This is the ideal time to present the start of the resurgence of Ireland.
I refer to the point made by Senator Mullen and he is correct. It is very important that despite the views of the vast majority, even, for example, on a revised Lisbon treaty with all the amendments and guarantees that would ensure it is passed, there should be equal time for those who do not agree. That opportunity proves that no matter what guarantees are given, they will not be satisfied no matter what they get. I believe in equal opportunity despite what the other person has to say.
I support the comments on this side of the House in respect of the budget and the banking system. The country has frequently faced its greatest challenges at Easter. We think of Easter 1916 and the achievements of the Good Friday agreement. What has marked the country out well at such times——
I am sorry Senator. I ask anyone who has a mobile phone or blackberry turned on to turn it off completely or leave it outside, please. It is interfering with proceedings. I do not refer to Senator Donohoe.
I hope it will not detract from my two minutes, will it?
The Senator may proceed.
There have been occasions at Easter time when our country has shown its best side. Frequently at such times, we have dealt successfully with the events of the day, but also put in place a map to deal with future challenges.
What must be tackled in our economic system is the point touched on by Senator Healy Eames, that is, what is occurring with the magnitude and extent of bad debt in our banking system. While our movement into recession was very sharp, our exit from recession could be very prolonged and take a good deal of time to achieve, unless we tackle this issue. Banks will not be willing to lend and consumers will not be willing to spend. I hope in today's deliberations and the statements from the Minister for Finance that he finds time to address this point, because whatever achievements are made on the taxation and spending side of the balance sheet, we will not get the credit we need from them unless we deal with the same issues in our banking system.
People have phones turned on. I call on Senators to be fair to the people trying to record the business of the House and to leave them outside or turn them off, please. It is not fair on the people working and trying to record the proceedings to have phones buzzing.
I refer to financing of local authorities. I suggest to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I propose to the Leader that there should be a discussion following the budget on what I term, "the sale of the century", that is, the sale of all local authority houses to their tenants. It would be a very quick move to raise funds. In turn, these funds could be used to buy up the thousands of vacant houses at very reasonable prices throughout the countryside, which could house those on the waiting list. It would be a transfer of funds from those who have houses to those who have not. Now is the time to take such radical steps and it can be done. Some three-bed, semi-detached houses in a lovely and fully serviced location in Tulsk, County Roscommon, are being sold for €100,000.
After Easter, will the Leader arrange for a discussion on the structure of the HSEvis-à-vis the management of welfare homes, where an average of €100,000 per case has built up in clients’ funds? The money should be used to assist the HSE in providing better equipment for patients to make their lives comfortable. There should not be a massive fund with no facilities.
Another anomaly arises whereby a patient who is transferred from a long-stay welfare home to a hospital will have the two or three days spent in the hospital deducted from his or her allowance, which must then be refunded to him or her. It would be a useful exercise for the House to put all of its consideration into this matter to determine how to improve the lot of those in welfare homes and the conditions therein and how to use the patients' funds in their best interests, as opposed to in the interests of relations who might receive the money in a will.
Following yesterday's dreadful earthquake, our thoughts are with the people of Italy, particularly those who have died, those who are without their homes and those who are injured. I would not like today to pass without our reminding ourselves of it.
I was startled by the report that a scientist had drawn attention to the possibility of the earthquake occurring due to radon. I do not know enough about the subject, but the House held an interesting debate on radon last year. This is a reminder that one of the benefits of the House, which is sometimes criticised, is the possibility of raising a matter for discussion that would not otherwise be debated.
If it is true that the scientist was told not to cause panic or scares and to keep quiet about his or her concerns, it is horrific. The situation is a reminder of our benefits in the House and of democracy in this State, as we can raise issues of concern that might not sound urgent at the time.
I will add a point to Senator Daly's comments on cystic fibrosis. The relevant figures are high in the Republic of Ireland, which I queried last year when the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland visited the Oireachtas. I understand that those who survived the Famine of the 1840s had genes that made them more susceptible to cystic fibrosis. It did not occur to the same extent in the North. This is the reason for the South having a much higher rate of cystic fibrosis than anywhere else in Europe, including Northern Ireland. I mention this matter because it places cystic fibrosis at a high level of importance in this country that might not necessarily apply in other countries.
I wish the Government well in its endeavour to address the serious financial situation and in its economic recovery plan, which will be announced later today. I hope every Senator will show willingness to support the Government in this regard.
Will the Leader clarify what rules apply in respect of the elderly who require long-stay accommodation? Will he also indicate the position regarding the fair deal scheme and when it is likely to be tabled before the House?
We all accept that today's budget must be comprehensive and credible, which implies fairness. I am glad to note the Government's signal that it will finally take the so-called bad bank route. However, a timetable in that regard is important. I understand that only an outline will be announced today, without details, to the effect that the Government intends to set up a State asset management company under the auspices of the National Treasury Management Agency. I hate to hear the phrase, "toxic debt" because while everyone accepts we have problematic property loans, unfortunately amounting to billions, in some of our major banks, thankfully we never went down the sub-prime route that has caused so much distress in the United States. Moreover, unlike a number of European banks, Irish banks never bought into that useless paper. I understand they did not become involved in that spread.
On foot of the delays experienced initially with the guarantee scheme and then with recapitalisation, which is in place for one major bank and hopefully it will be in place in respect of the other, we must speed up the bad bank or State asset management agency concept. There will be no stability within the banking system until that is in place, which will mean the requisite confidence in the economy will be lacking and without such indefinable confidence, we will not get the lift-off we seek.
Some time ago, a debate was held in this House on the Irish Constitution on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. It is worth noting the contributions people have made to that Constitution in the development of personal rights, which has given us a charter that is second to none in the world. I make this point because judges such as the former Supreme Court judge, Séamus Henchy, at critical times when politicians and the political system failed, delivered critical judgments such as in the McGee case regarding the right to bodily integrity and the right of married women to contraceptives. Mr. Justice Henchy also delivered a minority judgment in the Norris case on the criminalisation of homosexual acts. I also note his decision in respect of the Single European Act case, which required referenda because of a doubt as to the compatibility of that treaty with the Irish Constitution. Mr. Justice Henchy, who was a resident of Monkstown, passed away on Sunday and his funeral will take place tomorrow. His contribution to the Constitution we have today, a modern Constitution for a modern Ireland, was of great significance and I acknowledge it.
Successive Fianna Fáil Governments, including the present Government, have been elected on give-away budgets that have been unsustainable in the long term. It hope it does not expect to be congratulated when it claws it all back in the budget today and in succeeding budgets. It is very important to place responsibility on, and to acknowledge, those responsible for the difficulties we face. I note it is reported in today's newspapers that the Government intends to reduce the number of Ministers of State, even though it voted against a Fine Gael motion in that regard some weeks ago.
The Senator's time has expired.
I hope this is not an indication of the Government's failure to take the hard and tough decisions that are required.
I thank the Senator. His time is up.
However, we await the outcome.
I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, to the House for a comprehensive debate on unemployment. The Leader is working very hard to maintain the relevance of this House and its responsiveness to important daily issues and no issue is more important in this regard than that 327,000 fellow citizens have no work to which to go today. I suggest we have a full debate on unemployment that will focus on a couple of areas, such as the tourism sector, particularly cultural holidays. I refer to Ireland's heritage and a range of great literary and cultural figures, notably in my county and people such as Percy French in County Roscommon. There is major potential to do more, to create jobs and to attract tourists. With the Leader's professional background he appreciates what I am talking about and it is necessary.
We should examine a more radical school building programme. There is a generous sum in the budget for it but in the present context we should have a comprehensive school building programme where there is a school in need of refurbishment or a new school is needed. The proliferation of prefabs costs a fortune. Cheaper contracts can be agreed now; money would come back in taxation and jobseeker's allowance would be saved. This social reform has major social and economic potential in a cost neutral way.
I would like green energy to be incorporated into the debate on unemployment. The people will thank us for it and will see us responding to their needs. I refer to the co-operative wind farms as we developed the creameries of old. Farmers and other groups should develop small wind farms and hydro energy. I ask the Leader for a full debate on unemployment, a real response to people and then people will say the Seanad is doing what it should do.
I join colleagues who wished the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, every success in a difficult task. I say to Senator Regan that if anyone has indulged in auction politics in the recent past it is his party.
The measured party.
That obtained at the Ard-Fheis. I hope Fine Gael can stand over the promises it made.
I am glad Senator Glynn was watching.
I ask the Leader to invite to the House in the near future the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, who has taken great interest in psychiatric illness and services. I support what Senator Prendergast said. I worked in the psychiatric area for many years and we need to examine psychiatric services. For many years it was the Cinderella service. Many of the facilities available, such as shelters, are being used as treatment centres. They were never intended to be used for this and are not suitable. The visit of the Minister of State would be an ideal opportunity for the debate, which is long overdue.
Talk of fairness in today's budget is premature when one considers the way the Government has dealt with the elderly, those with special needs and cystic fibrosis patients. Can we have a debate on unemployment? I call for a debate on social partnership. I welcome the return to talks by all involved in social partnership. It is time that elected Oireachtas representatives had a role in social partnership. I ask that the Leader convey to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the idea of a new Ireland economic forum, where we can involve everyone, not just those involved in social partnership. This could be similar to what was done with the new Ireland forum in the 1980s regarding the peace process in Northern Ireland. It is important that we involve both Houses in social partnership. I hope the budget will be fair, that we will see the reincarnation of a new Fianna Fáil-led Government and that the Green Party will finally find its wheels pumped up in a Government that lacked leadership and vision on behalf of the people who want leadership from the Government.
I join others in wishing the Government well on this important day as we plot our course. No matter how fair the measures introduced today, it will raise the frustrations and anger of many of us, including Members on this side of the House. Difficult decisions mean pain must be taken by all. They must be taken; we must get on with it and look to the future with determination and positivity.
At the earliest juncture I seek a debate on entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship does not refer to the individual but is an approach, a way of doing things. It refers to creativity and flexibility. If we can introduce this to our education system from the primary sector right up to third and fourth level, we can seek to replace our level of dependency on foreign direct investment and on the private sector and, in particular, the public sector to provide jobs. We can look to breed our own intellectual property and entrepreneurs in a way that will lay a foundation which will take this country far into the future in a very positive way.
Notwithstanding the debate today on bowel cancer awareness, I seek a debate on the national cancer control programme. It is being implemented by the Health Service Executive under the auspices of the professor whom I am specifically not allowed to name.
In any event I would like a debate on the progress of the implementation of that programme. As Members will be aware, while there is progress in some parts of the country, there are very serious problems in the north west and there is continuing neglect and discrimination proposed by the control programme there.
I congratulate the medical teams at Sligo General Hospital for standing shoulder square, as it were, in the defence of delivery of the best service to the patients of that area. The general practitioners there, together with the medical body of Sligo General Hospital, believe their services must continue and they must do what represents the best care for their patients. With that in mind, I ask for a debate at a convenient time in the near future.
I listened to a radio programme last week during which I heard vulnerable people with depression, bipolar disorder and other illnesses state they were using premium rate lines such as Irish Psychics Live and running up bills of hundreds of euro because of their vulnerability. Regtel has introduced guidelines indicating people should be cut off when the cost has reached €60 but this is not happening and people are being allowed run up bills of hundreds of euro. The owner of the company running these lines has stated there are only guidelines rather than legislation to compel the service to stop at €60. If this is the case, we should introduce legislation to cover such lines——
——and eliminate them if possible. I also understand that unsolicited texts are going to people, where they are being charged even if they do not answer the text. I found that difficult to believe but it is happening. We must protect consumers adequately with regard to these lines and introduce legislation where necessary. Will the Leader contact the relevant Minister to ensure we have legislation to cover this area?
The National Economic and Social Forum has brought out another document debating social inclusion and where we should go from here. It would be ideal to have an opportunity to discuss the way forward and how best we can help those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly or those caring for children, get back into employment.
There is a golden opportunity to discuss the issue because of the budget. I wish the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, every success this afternoon and I know it will be a fair budget. I hope we will have many constructive contributions from all sides of the House about the budget. This is the only way forward and we must think about it. Many issues will arise in today's budget which will give us an opportunity to use the Seanad as a way of expounding on such issues and how best to move forward with the social partners, the social inclusion forum and our policymakers in order that we can work together to make Ireland a better place for us all. I look forward to the debate resulting from this afternoon's budget. I ask that we all work together on this and make constructive contributions. That is all I want.
My late arrival, for which I apologise, was due to a discussion taking place on all the areas which will be affected by this afternoon's budget. Farming and the rural environment protection scheme funding may be ambushed by it.
Some 55% of funding for REPS emanates from Brussels and a huge number of farmers depend on these payments. Many part-time farmers would have been dependent on additional employment in the construction sector and now their only source of income is in the area of farming. Farmers have been affected by the deferral of payments under the 40:40:20 option relating to waste management, the abolition of the early retirement scheme and the removal of suckler cow grants.
I speak on behalf of these people by endorsing the importance of farming and agriculture to our country.
We will be obliged to become increasingly dependent on agriculture. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Sargent, displayed a degree of reticence when questioned about REPS.
He does not know what is involved in farming.
I am, therefore, concerned that farming will be severely affected by today's budget. While everyone recognises the importance of organic farming, REPS is the mainstay of agriculture at present and we must safeguard that.
Senators Fitzgerald, Norris, Prendergast, Walsh, Healy Eames, Daly, Mullen, Hanafin, Quinn, Callely, Coghlan, Regan, Glynn, Buttimer, MacSharry and Ormonde expressed their views on the budget and matters relating thereto. I wish the Government, particularly the Minister for Finance, which invested a great deal of time and effort in framing the budget, well. Let us hope the budget represents the commencement of the country's recovery. The Taoiseach indicated that it will be the beginning of a five-year process. Everyone is aware of the challenge facing the world. Ireland has always responded magnificently when placed under serious pressure.
People are very much looking forward to playing their part. I have never met so many individuals, regardless of the difficulties they face, who want to contribute. It must be remembered that almost 89% of the working population is in employment. That is almost 750,000 more people than were at work during the dark period from 1983 to 1987. The level of preparation for the budget has been exceptional and top quality expertise has been sought from every quarter. The Taoiseach and the Government have informed the people of the nature of the difficulties that exist and indicated the seriousness with which they treat the crisis. I look forward to the Seanad debate on the budget, which will commence at 10 a.m. on Thursday next.
I wish to comment on the plight of those with cystic fibrosis, which is a terrible disease and which was highlighted by Orla Tinsley, that brilliant young lady who appeared on "The Late Late Show" on Friday last and on "Morning Ireland" today. She is doing much to capture the imagination of Ireland. As Senator Quinn stated, the symptoms relating to this disease may date back to the Great Famine. The Minister will come before the House at 1.30 p.m. to discuss another matter and I do not doubt that leaders and spokespersons on health will avail of the ten minutes that have been set aside for questions and answers at the end of the debate to make their views known.
I congratulate the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, for whom I have always had the highest regard, who began her career in the Seanad——
At least she comes before the House.
——who became leader of her party and was the first female Tánaiste. She is an exceptional Minister and, in extremely difficult times, she is trying to change the health system. When one considers that 49,000 people are employed in administrative positions in the health service, one realises the challenge she faces in the context of reducing those costs. I do not refer here to nurses, consultants and others who are doing wonderful work. I am always delighted to refer to those who have responded magnificently to the challenge relating to standards in hospitals. I am proud that I come from Mullingar, particularly in light of the great work being done in the hospital there.
Senators Prendergast, Leyden and Glynn called for a debate on Health Service Executive matters including welfare homes in terms of better equipment, staffing levels and so on. The Minister will be in the House at 1.30 p.m. I have no difficulty in requesting the Minister to come back to the House following the Easter recess to have a broad discussion on the HSE.
Senator Leyden called for a debate on local authority housing and the sale of the century, which was so successful in 1989. Such a debate could be timely. Those of us who attended the convention in Castlebar last Sunday saw beautiful three bedroom houses for sale at a price of €99,000. One could not buy a site for that price two years ago. There is great value available in the market and the State should avail of that and make the money available. I have no doubt that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, a colleague of Senator Leyden's from the same constituency, will be in the House to hear the views of the Seanad, and particularly the wisdom of Senator Leyden, a former Minister, who can bring to the attention of the Minister of State the very good suggestion he has made.
We join Senator Quinn in sending our best wishes to those who have survived and our condolences to the families of those who have perished in the terrible tragedy that occurred in Italy during Holy Week. Yesterday morning we heard the number of fatalities was 15, which was very bad. It rose to 16 and continued to rise during the day and the night. We heard this morning that 100 lives were saved during the night. Thank God they were saved. This was a frightening experience and anyone who can assist should assist.
Senator Callely raised the issue of the fair deal scheme for the elderly. The Minister will be in the House at 1.30 p.m. and he might inquire about the matter at that time.
Senators Mullen and Donohoe referred to issues being fully debated in the Seanad, as they are always fully debated particularly legislation and equal opportunities issues. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the two Senators.
Senator Donohoe mentioned this historic week, Holy Week, the week the good Lord brought us all back to the possibility of another life. As Jim Reeves said, "This world is not my home; I'm just a-passing through". It is also the week when we commemorate our heroes of 1916. I look forward to attending at the GPO, along with Senator Healy Eames next Sunday morning.
The Senator should sing.
I earnestly request all Senators to attend to hear the beautiful tributes and the wonderful honour——
Please accept my apologies. I will be in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
——that takes place in the city centre of Dublin organised by our Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea. We are privileged to be Members of this House and it is a wonderful opportunity, as a Member of this House or the Dáil, to be invited and to participate in acknowledging and respecting the people who made the ultimate sacrifice to give us our freedom.
Not if one has not been invited.
We have not been invited.
Everyone is invited.
We need invitations.
One does not always need an invitation.
We could not just show up.
The Leader, without interruption.
This historic week also marks the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. We have achieved a great deal in early April over the years, and it is a week in which it is hoped the budget will play its part also.
Senator Regan raised the issue of the 75th anniversary of the Irish Constitution on which we had statements in the House with the Minster at the time, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I want to pass on our condolences to the Henchy family on the death of Mr. Justice Henchy, who made a remarkable contribution in his lifetime in terms of justice, human rights and equal rights for the people of our country under the Constitution.
Senator O'Reilly asked that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, come to the House to discuss matters relating to unemployment, particularly in terms of tourism. I support his call and will have such a debate take place.
The Senator raised also the question of the school building programme. A total of €641 million, which is a great deal of money, is being spent on the school capital programme this year. He also referred to a proposal on green energy, including wind farming and hydro energy, which is the way forward. The Senator is a candidate for Europe, along with our colleague, former Senator Paschal Mooney. If everyone supports the local candidates they should do well, and we wish them well in their plight in the European campaign. We look forward to Europe playing a role by increasing its funding for Ireland because of its geographical location on the periphery of Europe. We could be an exporter of energy in a few years if we have the right technology and the right policies.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on psychiatric services. There is no one more experienced on this topic in this House than he is and I have no problem in setting time aside for this in recognition of the many years work he has done in St. Loman's in Mullingar.
Senator Buttimer welcomed the restart of talks with the social partners and I join him in that. I will pass his views on about the establishment of a forum where both Houses of the Oireachtas can engage with the Government and the social partners to make a contribution.
Senator MacSharry asked for debate on issues relating to the north west, which I will arrange at the earliest opportunity, and for a further discussion of all matters pertaining to the HSE. He paid tribute to Sligo General Hospital and the great work it does.
I heard the broadcast referred to by Senator Cummins on Regtel and the need for legislation to prevent the abuse of consumers in this area. I will request information from the Minister to see if legislation will be forthcoming in the next six to nine months that could have an extra section inserted to cover this point.
Senator Ormonde called for a debate on the report of the National Economic and Social Forum and I have no difficulty with that.
Senator McFadden highlighted the plight of farmers and pointed out the importance of agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, is doing an excellent job. He comes from an agricultural background and is a neighbour of ours in County Cavan, where there were not many big ranchers. The poor people of Cavan often had to rear families on 25 to 30 acres, something I know from personal experience.
They did a good job.
Senator McFadden, like me, may not be known to have an agricultural background but we still support the farming community.
All my Mullingar relations are farmers.
The Mullingar end of the family.
It is never the wrong time to do the right thing and this is a good time to support farmers because they are the backbone of our economy, with 31% of our exports derived from agriculture. The Senator is pushing an open door and I propose that we have an all day debate on agriculture during the next session. We always had such a debate in the past and it is timely that it takes place again.
I thank Senators for their co-operation today in sitting at 12 p.m. to facilitate our presence in the Dáil to listen to the budget deliberations.