The Order of Business is No. 1, the time limit for the Order of Business, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on the framework for the development of a diabetic retinopathy screening programme for Ireland, to be taken at the conclusion of No.1. On No. 2, spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes, all other Senators may speak for seven minutes and Senators may share time by agreement of the House.
Order of Business.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business to debate No. 37. It is important that we discuss this issue. Yesterday, we saw further evidence from the Taoiseach of botched political reform with his apparent failure to follow through on the reforms announced in the budget. It is now unclear what he intends to do in regard to ministerial pensions and long service increments. Fine Gael has published a Private Members' Bill which would give a statutory basis to a reduction in the number of Ministers of State to 12. The Taoiseach did not do this yesterday when he announced his new appointments. We should debate Fine Gael's motion today because people are concerned about the economy and the Government's proposals on banking. This topic should be a priority given that people are losing their jobs on a daily basis. Every Senator has encountered people who are in despair after becoming unemployed. It is clear that businesses are not moving in the right direction and we need to ensure we address the banking crisis and are given the details of the Government's intentions.
I refer to the editorial inThe Irish Times today regarding the slow implementation of A Vision for Change, which outlines how our mental health services ought to progress. An independent report which was commissioned by the Government and published last week highlighted the disgraceful situation in regard to the implementation of A Vision for Change. I know Senators on all sides of the House are concerned about our mental health services, but this independent report says no drive or leadership is being shown in implementing this document. There is appalling neglect of mental health throughout the country despite the Government’s claim that it is implementing A Vision for Change. There is a pressing need to publish a detailed plan with targets, a timeframe and resource commitments if there is to be any progress. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate as soon as possible on that independent report as well as on its implementation.
While we welcome the reorganisation of the HSE, we also need a debate on the impact on frontline services given some of the details that have been published, including the 1,000 jobs that are being cut.
I absolutely agree that we need a debate on the Fine Gael Private Members' motion. It is unfortunate that for obvious reasons we were unable to take it yesterday. I urge the Leader to take it either today or to take two Private Members' motions next week. I think we have time to deal with it today, however, and Members have things to say on that matter. We have been away for the last couple of weeks so I certainly support the view that we should debate it. There are many issues to discuss, even in light of yesterday's UK budget. There are positive things the Government side can take out of this. The UK budget deficit looks like it is higher than the Irish one. The Government side can make its case but we need engagement and should discuss this issue. We also need to hear the Government's considered response to the IMF figures that came out yesterday.
Before the Easter recess, I asked the Leader for a debate on energy. I would specifically like a debate on what is going on in north Mayo. I am no apologist for Shell and I have major reservations about the deal we have done concerning offshore exploration. However, we will be 95% dependent on imported foreign energy from next year, as soon as the Kinsale gasfield finishes, which it almost has. Shell does not own the infrastructure and it cannot distribute gas through Ireland without our say so. We own the infrastructure through An Bord Gáis and we need to get that gas ashore. I do not speak for Shell but we have established democratic structures. We have gone through the process and Shell has met all the demands required of it at this stage. That gas should be brought ashore for the Irish people, not for Shell.
The Leader might not be too happy when I say there is a lack of political leadership on this issue. People are afraid to take on protestors. I come from a left perspective on this issue. I do not agree with any kind of fascist action which undermines democracy and I will fight against it. I am also looking at two Government Ministers — the two Eamons — Deputy Eamon Ryan and Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, who are engaged in some kind of popularity contest in the west. They are competing against each other as to who can be the most amenable to everybody around them. There are issues at stake for the Irish people and the future of Irish energy independence, so we need stronger political leadership on the question of getting the gas onshore in Mayo. I am seeking a debate on that.
The kind of political reform we need goes a lot deeper than the suggestions that have been made. In the last few days, the Government's handling of the fiasco over long-service increments — I know some Members will have sensitivities about it — has exposed politicians and the political system yet again to the charge that we are living in a parallel universe. We are living in a different place compared to most people in this country at the moment. I met somebody yesterday who told me his entire family, including his sons, daughters and sons-in-law, have lost their jobs. There was not a single person in his extended family who currently has a job.
The issue is whether we are part of the solution or part of the problem. We are seen by increasing numbers of our fellow citizens as part of the problem, not the solution. I do not say this in any sense from a lack of respect for this House or the Lower House, but until we wake up to that fact we will be losing public respect because we are simply not relevant. Unfortunately, these Houses are proving themselves to be largely irrelevant to people's daily concerns. We have an economic system that is in crisis but we also have a political system in crisis because it is not responding. Professor Ray Kinsella made that point again this morning and he is absolutely right — the political system is broken. It is not enough for us to talk about longer sitting hours or all the various laudable suggestions that have been made on how we might reform our business, it goes much deeper than that. I agree with Professor Kinsella's point that the divisions between political parties are increasingly obsolete in terms of stepping up to the plate and presenting options to the public for solving our problems. One often hears the argument that political parties need to come together and there is a case for that on some issues. I heard Senator Boyle calling for that on the banking issue, but we also have a duty to present alternatives to the Irish people — genuinely different positions that we can argue about in these Houses. It is not a question of one side standing up and the other disagreeing for the sake of it, but of genuinely teasing out these issues. I regret to say, however, that is not happening in this Parliament. We should have a debate on the wider issue of political reform, so I ask the Leader to arrange that.
There was one chink of light in the budget concerning child care.
I would certainly give a cautious welcome for that. I say "cautious" because I am not clear on how precisely it will be funded or whether the places will be there.
I would like the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, to attend the House for a debate on how we will replace the crazy system we had for funding child care with a serious, comprehensive system of one year's free child care for all children. It appears that the Labour Party's position in the last general election will now be adopted by the Government. I genuinely welcome that if it occurs, but I want to see how it will be implemented and funded.
I call Senator Leyden.
Not just yet. I am waiting for something.
He is gathering his thoughts.
He is considering his pension.
I wish to second Senator Fitzgerald's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. It is the most important issue facing the country because without stability in the banking system our economic recovery will fail and we will not achieve the lift-off we all desire. The sooner this item at the top of the agenda is tackled the better. Although we do not have any details, there is talk that we will not have the necessary legislation before the autumn. Perhaps the Leader can clarify this. If that is so, it is wrong because it will do frightful damage to the economy. We cannot afford that delay, as damage is being done daily. Whatever else, the concept is agreed on this issue and I think there is scope for the Minister for Finance along with Deputy Richard Bruton and other party representatives to sit down together. This matter should be agreed in the national interest, but let us take the Fine Gael motion. We believe we can put forward an improved model. I ask the Leader to respond in detail.
I wish to raise another issue regarding legislation. We have had a hubbub in the past from the redoubtable father of the House and one or two others concerning the unregulated free-for-all in the auctioneering profession. If it were not for the two institutes there would not be a compensation fund to protect customers. Now, of course, some of these estate agencies are collapsing given the state of the market and nobody gives a fig about the situation. The National Property Services Regulatory Authority exists in shadow form and has glorious offices in Navan. It also has staff and a website.
Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?
I am asking specifically about the relevant legislation, an issue I have raised previously with the Leader. The body is in place and has everything except authority. It is not able to function because legislation is not in place. Where is the long-promised legislation? The Leader must tell the House. Although this is an urgent matter, it is not as urgent as the matter on which an amendment to the Order of Business has been proposed.
Since 2005, I have been lobbying, as a Fianna Fáil Senator, for free early childhood education for every three year old. It is a pleasure to note, therefore, that from next January onwards every child will be entitled to a free preschool place in a private or community crèche or Montessori school. The owners of such facilities, whether private or public, will receive €64.50 per week for every child who attends.
All available international evidence shows that after the first four years of life, it is no longer possible to achieve the same pace of emotional and intellectual development in children. The returns of early childhood education on human and personal development cannot be measured while the returns to the economy are gargantuan.
I have spoken previously in the House about the importance of early childhood education to each individual child. From an economic point of view, Ireland will not be able to compete if we do not educate our children from birth onwards. Education for children from the age of birth until three years will have to be addressed in future. We will not compete if our children's brains, emotions and physical development are not cherished from birth.
We frequently discuss competitiveness, research and development. Early childhood development is good for the economy, although I approach this issue primarily from the perspective of the potential development of each human being and that to which every child born in this country is entitled.
I join Senator Fitzgerald and others in calling for the debate on the establishment of a national assets management agency, which was scheduled for last night, to be taken today. I do so with some force because at the beginning of this parliamentary term, just after Christmas, I made an initial suggestion to establish what I described then, and the record will show this, as a national property management agency. I returned to the issue on three further occasions. My proposal was derided in the House and not reported elsewhere. I believe this is where the idea originated — I certainly referred to it in the House and gave some details. While the Government has started to act, it has done so backwards and incorrectly. I believe its approach could backfire. The House could add to the debate on the issue. Perhaps the Government would listen with greater attention to what is said and get the details right.
I also ask that Mr. Peter Bacon be called to the House to answer Senators' questions about the establishment of a new assets management agency. While I have great respect for Mr. Bacon, I was horrified last week to hear him on RTE radio say that as a result of his proposal, the responsibility would land back where it belonged, namely, with the shareholders of the banks. In what sense were the shareholders responsible or guilty? They acted perfectly legally in investing their hard-earned savings in a national institution. I see no criminality or blame in that respect and feel a great deal of compassion for hard-working people, young business people and elderly people who placed their savings in banks. They should not be held up to contempt and scorned by someone like Mr. Bacon.
I am interested in the commentary of the American analyst, Mr. Krugman, who has derided the Irish economy. We need people out batting for us because Mr. Krugman, for all his Nobel prize in economics and so forth, is playing a domestic economic game and using Ireland as a weapon in an argument taking place in the United States. We should resist that.
I ask for a debate on No. 27, motion 7 on the Order Paper which was tabled by Independent Senators and deals with water supply contamination. One area in which we seem to be better than Britain is in producing e.coli contamination, which is 30 times higher in our water supply than in that of the United Kingdom. In the past year, 120,000 people were told to boil their water from their domestic supply. According to an Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report published this morning, one third of water supply sources in this country are contaminated. It is time we woke up and smelt the water, if not the coffee. We need to do something on this issue, which is coming back home to roost in this House. Only a few Senators supported An Taisce when it pointed out that this would happen as a result of the unregulated development of one-off housing in the countryside. Practically all Senators, and certainly all those on the Government side, ridiculed, derided and lambasted An Taisce. Thank God for that organisation because at least it is awake.
Last Tuesday, I and a number of my colleagues from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, including Senator Paul Coghlan, visited the docklands development. We hear a great deal about how the money arising from the Celtic tiger era has been squandered. This is one project on which every cent was well spent. I have never been more impressed by a project. The extent of it is awesome, to say the least, and one of its most positive features is the involvement of local people in leadership roles. Our visit was one of the most energising experiences I have had since entering public life. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the development of the docklands because the issue merits such a debate?
I join Senator O'Toole in calling for a debate on energy supply, including nuclear energy. As the Senator noted, it is anticipated that 95% of Ireland's energy will come from abroad. A debate on this issue would be timely given that last week the British Government announced its plans for a new generation of nuclear power plants. We cannot avoid the elephant in the room in this regard. For this reason, we must consider the possibility of using nuclear power. Ireland has the disbenefit of being fewer than 100 miles from Sellafield, whichThe Observer newspaper describes as the most dangerous place in Europe. While it is necessary to debate the potentially negative impact of nuclear energy, we also need to be clear that we will potentially take energy from this source from the United Kingdom. We must examine, therefore, whether we are willing to build nuclear reactors here.
Will the Leader arrange an early debate on the role of the Garda Síochána, developments in the force and the challenges it faces? It would be worthwhile to have the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, outline his legislative proposals in this regard and discuss related issues.
Last Monday, the Irish Independent published an article by Michael Brennan, a political correspondent, on a scare story about the proposed closure of 236 rural Garda stations. This is an erroneous, inaccurate report without foundation in fact. On Tuesday night, I met the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in Dublin to discuss this issue. I was given a categorical assurance by both the Commissioner and Minister that there is no truth in the story, no such report exists and no proposals have been made to close Garda stations.
I cannot understand the reason a national newspaper should use scare tactics to worry and concern people. People have great time for rural gardaí and value their Garda stations, of which we have a fine network. The Commissioner assured me and encouraged me to make clear the position in this regard because the newspaper report has worried people in rural areas who are under attack. The Cathaoirleach will be familiar with this problem from his own constituency where a murder recently occurred in Daingean. I assure people in rural areas, including County Roscommon, that the report is inaccurate and has been refuted by the Commissioner and Minister.
I commend the Garda on its excellent work. As Senators will be aware, a hoard of gold was recently found as a result of an investigation into the robbery of a safe from Sheehan's pharmacy in Strokestown. I compliment the sergeant and gardaí who found the hoard in Dublin. It was a wonderful achievement.
I commend and congratulate our colleague Senator Ross on an excellent article in last week'sSunday Independent on our esteemed colleague, Mick Phelan, a senior usher of the Houses. It was a great tribute to a fine servant of the people of this House and was a very revealing article. I congratulate all our colleagues here for their recent excellent win.
I refer to the IMF report which indicated that the cost of the bail out of the Irish banks would be €24 billion or approximately 14% of GDP. The Government has suggested, in effect, that the bail out of the Irish banks is cost free. The Taoiseach has rubbished the IMF report, in terms of its calculations. It exposes the lie of the Government on the cost of the bail out of the banks.
The editorial in theFinancial Times today on the IMF estimates of the costs of bail outs of banks in the financial sector says the International Monetary Fund this week released its updated estimate of losses to the world’s financial sector and for more than a year, the IMF’s loss estimate has swollen with each update. The estimate for Ireland is conservative. The editorial goes on to say some governments may object to the IMF forecasts but at least the estimates leave no room for wishful thinking and force us to realise there is more pain to come.
I do not understand why the Government cannot be upfront and honest about the costs. The spin on the Irish economy and the public finances just does not work any more. The Government has been found out by the European Commission, with its addendum in January to the stability programme where its estimates for Government debt have already been changed. The Standard & Poor's downgrade of sovereign debt of Ireland and our banks was criticised by the Government and now every economist who ventures to suggest the Government may be going in the wrong direction in the form of the bail out, such as David McWilliams, are immediately taken on by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan.
David McWilliams indicated that NAMA was set up to aid developers. There is anecdotal evidence already that the banks are easing up on their demands of developers and other debtors because of the proposed establishment of NAMA. This is where the taxpayer, rather than the developer, will bear the brunt. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to clarify his genuine and latest estimate of the cost of the bail out of the Irish banks to this House. The Department of Finance has refuted the estimates. When have the Department's estimates of the public finances or growth rates in the Irish economy or otherwise last been accurate? I ask the Leader to address that question.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on communications. I am very conscious of the import Eircom has for the Irish economy. It is suggested that what can only be described as a vulture fund would take over Eircom, a strategic national asset, strip it of its assets, reduce the number of employees and prevent the necessary development that is ongoing and essential to our economy to benefit from the coming upswing in the world economy.
I contrast this with how much has been done in many areas. It is very easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and say everything was wrong for the last ten years. We have had some wonderful developments in our housing stock, motorways and infrastructure in general. Notwithstanding that, there are areas which still need to be developed, including communications, and there is much good and necessary work being done, which will create gainful employment for people which will benefit this economy and our competitiveness in the future.
It does not benefit anybody for the Opposition to talk down the economy. It seems that whatever is the choice of the day in the newspapers is the view we get on this economy, and it is always the worst possible. The reality is that world economies are expected to pick up and then, and only then, will we see how well prepared this economy and country is for the future.
When we travel abroad and go into an hotel we always find a candle beside the bed because they are so used to running out of electricity. We have not appreciated that for many years we have been used to the fact that every time we turn a switch the light comes on. Senators O'Toole and Hannigan have drawn our attention to the fact that we are in serious danger of running short of energy in the next few years. It is important we debate this. We should not just debate the issue of nuclear energy, which I want. I have looked for a debate on nuclear energy. I am not saying it is the answer but, as Senator Hannigan said today, the British are planning to build more nuclear sites and the Chinese announced last week that they will build five nuclear sites because of their dependence on fossil fuel, which they want to change.
It is for that reason we should have the debate Senator O'Toole is looking for and have a debate on oil and Shell's efforts to bring gas to the people of Ireland, which is being restricted and restrained in a manner which I do not understand by what is apparently a small body of people. It is worthy of debate, and we should have it and include a debate on the environment as well.
Today, 23 April, is an interesting day as it is the day Brent geese leave in very large numbers for their home north of Canada. It is a very long flight. They leave on 23 April every year and come back on 23 October. If anybody wants to see them, they can go out and say goodbye to them in north county Dublin. It is part of the reason we should be debating the environment, not just for the reason Senator Norris spoke about.
I was shocked to discover the poor quality of water in Ireland, as published in the Environmental Protection Agency's report. We only learned this today. In France, every time one receives a water bill it is stated on it the most recent survey on the quality of the water. There is no reason why we could not have such information published every month in Ireland. We should not have to wait for the EPA to state what the water quality now is, how bad it is and the e.coli contamination. If we had a system such as that in France we could publish the information every month in the local newspaper and we would know exactly the quality of our water.
I would like a debate on energy which would include the north Mayo gas situation, nuclear energy, and the environment. The Green Party in Britain has changed its attitude to nuclear energy and has said it wishes to include nuclear energy as one method which is acceptable, whereas it opposed it in the past.
I agree with Senator Quinn that we should have a debate on our energy approach and how we will position ourselves in terms of the European grid. It is vitally important. A group of engineers and architects approached me recently about a study they have done regarding wind and water energy. They have done a detailed survey and found that wind energy is very good when the wind is blowing, but they designed a system whereby they would introduce a water system with the wind system which would create 24-7 support for wind energy. This would also involve the farming community, which would be welcome in terms of income from their point of view. It would create a situation where a lake form water system would be developed which would support the fishing industry. I am very enthused about that.
A study showed we have natural energy with a potential value of €68 billion per year — equivalent to that of Saudi Arabia — if we were to develop it and feed it into the EU grid. We could be net exporters of energy. This is the way we have to go. Ireland is far too small for nuclear energy. However, I agree we should have a debate on it. We should discuss how we can exploit our natural resources at sea. We are being hampered in this regard by a few people in County Mayo, which is disgraceful. Last night they broke into a compound and caused much damage, which is bad for our reputation worldwide. A multinational company comes here and creates 700 or 800 jobs in the construction of its facility, yet people are taking the law into their own hands. It sends out the wrong message.
Perhaps the Leader could arrange for a debate on this as soon as possible because it is an important issue. I want to bring in the group I mentioned and have an all-party meeting in this regard as soon as possible. The prospects are exciting and we should advance the development of such projects.
Many people who have lost their jobs and fallen behind in their mortgage repayments are being hounded by the banks. They are receiving letters saying their houses will be repossessed. In some cases these letters are being sent to people who are as little as €6,000 in arrears. Would it not be better for the banks to tackle their cronies, the large developers, who owe tens of millions of euro and continue to have a lavish lifestyle?
It would be better to tackle these than people who have fallen on hard times through becoming unemployed.
We on this side of the House asked for a moratorium on mortgage repayments for people who had become unemployed, and we were told it would be part of the recapitalisation negotiations with the banks. This does not seem to have happened. We need the Minister to come to the House as a matter of urgency to let us know what is being done to help people who are unemployed and cannot at the moment meet their mortgage repayments. It needs to be spelt out. We were given assurances it would happen with the recapitalisation of the banks, but it is not happening. Increasing numbers of people are receiving letters from banks threatening repossession, while people who owe tens of millions are not being tackled at all. There is a need for clarification in this regard. The Minister should come to the House and reassure the thousands of people who find themselves in difficulties in these times.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in asking the Leader for a debate, as a matter of urgency, on A Vision for Change and on our mental health system, which is in crisis. This is because there is no drive or leadership from the Government and increasing numbers of people are faoi bhrú, or under pressure. The cry of human despair from ordinary people is not being heeded by Government. I am asking the Leader for a debate on the independent report published last week, which Senator Fitzgerald rightly highlighted, and on A Vision for Change. People are looking for help in greater numbers every day. Just yesterday I spoke to a woman who was a carer and also the only person in a household of five who was working. That is demoralising. There is no leadership from Government in this regard. The report has long been due to be implemented, but it has now been scattered to the four winds.
Political reform was botched again in the budget. Deputy John McGuinness was right — the two Brians have made a bags of it — and he got no reward for it. When will the political class in Government realise that the number of their officials, advisers and so on is unacceptable? I will give one example on which I ask the Leader to comment in his reply. The Progressive Democrats Party, as far as I know, has gone out of existence, yet it has a press officer being paid a salary of more than €100,000. The Minister for Health and Children has a press adviser who is also being paid more than €100,000, a programme manager being paid €177,000, and a special adviser being paid €150,000. That is a total of four people working for the Minister. Why has the press officer of a party that has gone out of existence now been assigned to the Minister for Health and Children, who has a press officer already?
Does the Leader think it correct that the Government has three separate press officers? It has one for Fianna Fáil — and it needs one, God help us — one for the Progressive Democrats Party, which is now gone, and one for the Green Party, which this week has a problem with language.
It has a problem with phraseology. Can somebody on the Government side answer my specific question?
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It is relevant to the Order of Business. It is high time we exposed the fact that the Government——
Does the Senator want a debate on it?
No, I want answers. I do not want a debate.
That is a matter for the Leader.
I want those on the Government side to tell me how they can condone or justify the excesses of Government and the peddling of spin when it is costing more than €500,000 per annum for just three people. That is before all the other people involved in this area are taken into account. I would like a debate on how Government operates and the apparatus around it. It is high time we had this debate.
What measures are they taking?
I support the calls from Fine Gael for a debate on the national assets management agency, NAMA, and not necessarily just on that. I note Senator Regan's comment that a Government representative should come to the House and tell Members the cost of recapitalising the banks. I was shocked, as I am sure were most other Members of the House, to hear last week, which was a quiet week, that AIB had come forward to say it wanted another €1.5 billion, just like that. It had just got €3.5 billion.
It has not got it yet.
It will get it on 13 May.
Senator Ross without interruption.
The chief executive, Mr. Eugene Sheehy, said last year he would rather die than accept equity. He has now taken €3.5 billion in equity and faces the prospect of selling the Polish subsidiary or even the American shareholding.
He will not be able to sell them and he will be back to the taxpayer looking for €1.5 billion shortly. This is a matter of great urgency, and it indicates — I say this with no pleasure as I have an account with this bank — that AIB is under a great deal of pressure. This is very serious and the House is entitled to debate it.
We are living in a fool's paradise here. Those who resent the comments from abroad, particularly from the IMF, are wrong. What we are hearing from the IMF is the unpalatable truth, which is that our banks are in trouble, perhaps incurable trouble, and they will have to be nationalised. That is justification, if there ever was any, for a debate in the House. We should not run away from it. We have plenty of time today. The NAMA issue is not a simple one. It is complicated. Someone will lose and it is time the Government came clean and told us who. Will it be the bank shareholders, the banks, or the taxpayer? It will be one or the other, and the price of the loans will make all the difference.
We should also ask the Government to consider the position of the board and the chief executive of AIB. They are all stillin situ while they come to the Government, cap in hand, looking for €5 billion. This is a serious matter that should be debated in the House, and we should do so today.
One of the most frightening things in the discussions about the current economic difficulties has been the elevation of economists to the role of high priests. They are playing a prominent role in the discussion of what is happening to our economy and what needs to be done about it. That has led us to miss an important point, namely, that there must be a political as well as an economic response to the current crisis. I am struck by how the events of this week are undermining the ability of the Government to deliver the type of political response that is required. Yesterday, some 2,000 people queued a short distance from this Chamber to apply for 150 jobs. This is happening in the same week that demoted Ministers of State are given a payment of €50,000. It is happening at the same time that the issue of increments to politicians and pensions to Ministers has been handled in a way that will do terrible damage not only to the Government, which I care less and less about, but to the entire political system. People look to us to provide leadership. However, the actions being taken by the Government on a daily basis are chipping away at public confidence in our ability to do so.
There are three specific actions the Government must take. First, I agree with Senator Alex White that when there are genuine differences between political parties, they should be discussed. This is why Senator Fitzgerald's amendment is so important. My party has a different view on how the banking system should be handled. Let us thrash out these issues in the Chamber. We must examine the core issue of nationalisation of the banks. I cannot see how the national assets management agency can work without at least the partial nationalisation of the two largest banks. Twenty of the leading economists in the State are of the same view. Why can we not debate this issue in the House?
Second, where there are offers of co-operation across the political divide, let us accept those offers. My party has indicated its willingness to support an all-party Oireachtas committee on banking regulation. There is no better time to undertake that work. Third, we must have more aggression and pride in defending our country when it is under attack. Last week, an article inNewsweek described the Nobel prize-winning economist, Mr. Paul Krugman, as one of the prominent figures in American economic and political life. Last Monday, Mr. Krugman launched a very strong criticism of our economy. Where is the response to this? Why have the Government, the ambassador and the Minister for Finance not defended our State and put forth the facts about the current situation?
I conclude on a positive note by congratulating our colleague, Senator Norris, on the award he received last night from the Lord Mayor of Dublin. As a former member of Dublin City Council, I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of those events and decisions in the past. To be recognised in this way is a rare honour and a great achievement. It is wonderful that the council took the opportunity to recognise Senator Norris for the great contribution he has made to our city.
So say all of us.
I join Senator Donohoe in congratulating my colleague, Senator Norris. I support Senator Norris in his call for a debate on the quality of our water supply. The Senator has exhorted us to wake up and smell the water. This may be all we should do as it is apparently unsafe for drinking given the levels of e.coli and so on. It is important we debate this issue. I also support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the proposed national assets management agency. That debate is already taking place throughout the State and it should take place in this House today.
I ask the Leader for an early debate on crime, an issue of enormous concern to people in the wake of recent events, particularly the appalling murder of Roy Collins in Limerick. Not only was this a brutal and heinous crime against an individual, it was also a blow against the entire justice system. From what we have been told, it appears to represent a significant attempt to undermine the fundamental nature of the criminal justice system. That system relies on witnesses to come forward and to provide evidence in order to secure convictions. It is impossible for the Garda to do so without reliable evidence. Where witnesses are intimidated, there cannot be an operating justice system. That is why there has been such enormous concern in the wake of the sad death of Roy Collins.
In this context, I very much welcome the forthcoming Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009 and look forward to debating it in this House. It will provide an important additional resource for the Garda in terms of gathering evidence and will mean the force is not entirely reliant on the testimony of witnesses. However, I urge caution in regard to calls for non-jury trials and the increased use of the Special Criminal Court. There is no question that we must deal with the serious problem of witness intimidation. In this context, there have been legislative changes to allow witness statements to be relied on even where the witness has recanted. However, we have not had the same argument about juror intimidation. There are other ways of dealing with this. The principle of jury trial is an important one which we as democrats should defend in this House and elsewhere. I hope we will have a robust debate on crime without a descent into cheap attacks on basic tenets of the criminal justice system. That would be a disaster for us all.
I support colleagues in calling for a debate on water quality. It is extraordinary, in the wake of the Celtic tiger, that our water supply infrastructure is so deplorable. The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that the only way to solve the problem is to install better treatment facilities and so on.
What the Government has done, however, is to abolish the fallen animal grant. The €28 million previously allocated for this purpose is a relatively small sum when one considers the damage that will be done to the water table when unfortunate farmers who have been so badly stricken by the current economic crisis have no option but to bury dead animals. There is a danger that some irresponsible people may even deposit carcasses in streams and rivers. The cost of bringing a fallen animal to a knackery is now €190, representing an extraordinary increase of 528%. The subsidy has been abolished since last April with the result that there are no incentives for farmers to deal with this extraordinary situation.
Under the water framework directive, we must comply by 2015 with defined water quality standards. How will we achieve this objective when no incentive is given to farmers to assist them in the disposal of fallen animals? I read with disdain that the Irish Farmers Association has asked that farmers be permitted to bury their animals. This is not the way forward. I call for an urgent debate on this issue in view of the difficult situation in which farmers find themselves. Measures must be put in place to replace the former successful scheme.
I add my voice to the calls for a debate on the national assets management agency. The need for such a debate is one of the reasons for my annoyance at yesterday's Adjournment of the House after 20 minutes. While I acknowledge that it is proper to pay respects on the death of a Member, the extent of the economic crisis is such that we should nevertheless have had a discussion on a proposal which could potentially——
Nobody opposed the Adjournment of the House on yesterday's Order of Business. It is standard practice when a current Member dies that the House will adjourn. There was a large attendance for yesterday's Order of Business but there was no objection to the Adjournment.
I am aware of that. My point is that I was dissatisfied at the Adjournment of the House in the midst of the current economic crisis when we should have been debating a policy that could potentially bankrupt the State.
Senator Doherty was not in the Chamber yesterday.
I add my voice to the calls for that debate to take place today.
Will the Leader allow a debate on third level fees? I understand the Minister will make an announcement on this issue shortly. There are differing views on this matter from the various political parties. Sinn Féin and the Labour Party share the view that third level education should be provided from direct taxation. Fianna Fáil is apparently preparing to reintroduce third level fees. Fine Gael's proposal for a graduate tax is completely unfair and unjust. For example, a graduate dentist earning a net income of €2,777 would have to pay €1,333 in additional tax every month for the next four years.
That is not correct.
The Minister indicated the changes will apply to students sitting the leaving certificate this coming June. The various proposals should be put to the House so Members can thrash them out and inform the Minister's decision. Perhaps the Leader would arrange such a debate.
There must be a discussion on the issue of Ministers of State and the golden handshake they have received. It is incredible the Government has learned no lesson from its mishandling of the economy and the anger of the public. While pensioners and social welfare clients have been denied a Christmas bonus, Ministers of State, some of whom have served less then two years, will receive a severance package of more than €500 for every week they held their positions while still in employment and earning a full Deputy's salary and expenses. It is no wonder there is such outrage. We should not have to have this debate because the issue should never have arisen, but something must be done. We need to discuss the important issues, such as the banking crisis and the national assets management agency, NAMA.
I am glad to hear other political parties coming to the view, which we have argued in this House and in the Dáil for many years, for a nationalised bank. I am not speaking of Anglo Irish Bank, which is the developers' bank, but a proper bank such as Bank of Ireland or AIB. This would meet the needs of customers and businesses. I am glad to hear that view emerging from some of the other political parties.
Several Members referred to economists as the new high priests. I am reminded of the observation that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion. Senator Ross referred to the €7.5 billion which we gave to the banks as a loan. We must remind the public that the banks are paying €500 million a year for the use of the money and that amount comes back to the taxpayer every year. Furthermore, if the Government subsequently sells a property for less than it paid a bank for it, the bank will be required to repay the difference. The taxpayer will not be at a loss. That is the aim of the budget. It is not correct to claim that the Government has bailed out the banks to the tune of €7.5 billion. The Government loaned the money to the banks and is getting €500 million a year for it.
That is Kerry mathematics.
The Senator was not interrupted when he spoke. Senator Daly, please.
What I said is a fact. High food and clothing prices in the Republic of Ireland are an important issue. The answer to the problem came yesterday in Tesco's annual report. Tesco accounts for 27.5% of the Irish market. This year the company's profit increased by 5.2% and its worldwide profit was £3.1 billion. Nevertheless, Irish suppliers of goods and services to Tesco are going out of business every day and do not seem to reflect the Tesco success. More than 2,000 jobs have been shed by Tesco suppliers in recent months. What is going on here? Tesco is employing playground bullying tactics.
That is a very serious allegation.
It is our job to police the playground. Irish brands and jobs are being destroyed by Tesco. While we welcomed the company to Ireland, we did so on the understanding that Irish customers would get better service and cheaper food. That has not happened. Dublin Meath Growers have been put out of business by the action of multiple retailers. Irish workers are being threatened because supermarket chains do not wish to source their goods in Ireland.
The Senator should be careful what he is saying. He is making very serious allegations.
These are facts.
No interruptions, please. Questions to the Leader.
When 2,000 jobs are lost because of the action of Tesco and other multiple retailers we have a duty to speak about it in this House.
Is the Senator sure of his facts?
No interruptions, please. Senator Daly is speaking and he should ask a question of the Leader.
We can speak in this House but suppliers cannot. They have appeared before a joint committee but they cannot speak out. They say they have been asked for promotion payments, or what used be known as "hello money". To speak out against a company which takes 25% of one's production would be commercial suicide.
That is correct.
It is our duty to continue to investigate why multiple retailers are treating Ireland as a suburb of Manchester rather than a separate country.
They are now trying to source UK international brands rather than Irish international brands and putting our workers out of business.
That is not correct, a Chathaoirligh. The Senator is making a very serious allegation about our economy and about a company which has done so much for this country. He is smearing a company. He should make those allegations outside the House.
We are dealing with questions to the Leader.
I ask the Leader to discuss this issue with the Minister and investigate it further. The Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment tried to do so and had to meetin camera to get to the bottom of the matter.
That is true.
If further investigation is required it should be carried out. I know the Minister has been investigating this matter and I urge her to continue to do so.
I suggest that Senator Daly make these allegations outside the House. What he said is very serious.
It is a matter for Members what they say in the House. It is their own responsibility.
Senators O'Toole, Alex White, Coghlan, Norris, Cummins, Buttimer, Ross, Donohoe, Bacik, Doherty and Daly all called for No. 27, motion 7 to be debated today. Owing to the untimely death of our colleague, Senator Tony Kett, this item was not debated during Fine Gael Private Members' time yesterday evening. I have already arranged with Senator Frances Fitzgerald, leader of the Fine Gael group in the House, that it will be debated during Fine Gael Private Members' time next Wednesday evening. If it is felt necessary to give three hours to this topic I am prepared to propose that on the Order of Business next Wednesday. Private Members' time can be extended to three hours to allow all Members to make their views known on this very important and urgent issue.
We will review weekly the difficulties being experienced in banking. No one in the world has an answer to these difficulties. Everyone is doing their level best to rejuvenate the world's economies. Yesterday, we saw the British Chancellor of the Exchequer bring in his budget and we have seen the huge efforts being made by the new President of the United States, Barack Obama, to rejuvenate the US economy. Because Ireland is a small open economy, we were hardest hit by the downturn. I hope we will be one of the first to recover when the upturn arrives. Within months of the American economy recovering we will return to economic growth.
Senator Fitzgerald called for a debate on A Vision for Change, the report of the expert group on mental health, and wider issues pertaining to the Health Service Executive, HSE. I have no difficulty in allocating time for this and I hope the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, will attend the House for that debate.
Senators O'Toole, Hannigan, Quinn and Butler called for a debate on energy, which is timely. I can accede to this request, especially as Senators have pointed out the importance of this topic. I listened attentively to Senator Larry Butler and other Senators speaking about the proposed Mulcahy report on wave power and the challenges facing Ireland in this area. These challenges could be turned into an opportunity and give Ireland an income for many years.
Senators Alex White and Mary White congratulated the Minister for Finance on the child care initiative announced in the budget. I join them in their congratulations.
I look forward to the new measure being put into effect on 1 January next. I especially congratulate Senator Alex White on showing leadership on the Opposition side. When something positive happens in Government he is intelligent and big enough to congratulate the Minister concerned.
We had to look forward.
The most positive news is the departure of the Brent geese over the Atlantic.
The Leader, without interruption, please.
I believe the new councillor in the Senator's area will deal in due time with him.
Senator Coghlan asked about the auctioneering Bill. The auctioneering Bill will be before the House this year. I agree with the Senator that it is urgent. I hope to be in a position to inform the House next Tuesday when that Bill will come before the House.
When will the legislation be published?
It is hoped — I stress "hoped" — it will be published this session. Members will recall that six unexpected Bills were published during the last session owing to the banking challenges. One cannot foresee what future difficulties might arise in this area. As pointed out by Senator Leyden, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is also facing many challenges. I will return to that issue shortly. In terms of dealing with these issues, unexpected drafting of new Bills and Bills which seek to amend existing legislation, both of which must be brought before both Houses for approval, takes time and requires us to take account of the availability of draftspersons. Members will be aware that expertise in these areas is of the utmost importance. Members of the House whose qualification is in the legal profession will know how tedious and lengthy a process is the drafting of legislation which must be brought before each House for scrutiny. While it is my intention that the auctioneering Bill will be dealt with in this House during this session, that may not happen until the next session should it be necessary to bring before this House the two or three Bills published yesterday. I will update the House on this next Tuesday.
Senators Norris, McFadden and Bacik called for a debate on water quality. I have no difficulty in allowing time for such a debate. As one who lives in the lake district of Ireland, a beautiful part of hidden Ireland in the midlands, I would welcome a debate on this important and topical issue.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on further developments in the docklands and on what has been achieved in terms of transformation of the area. I often take friends there to show them the achievements and advancements of our country during the past ten or 12 years. It has been mind boggling to witness the developments taking place there. It shows what can happen with progressive ideas. I have no difficulty in providing time for a debate on this issue.
I join with Senator Leyden in congratulating the Garda Síochána on the great work it is doing. The Senator also called for a debate on the role of the Garda Síochána, the challenges facing the force into the future and the proposals put forward in this regard. We are all aware of the ever-changing challenges facing the Garda. The force is to be congratulated on its work in the drugs area. I support the comments made by Senator Leyden in regard to the article on the closure of local Garda stations, which is unfounded and untrue. I am pleased to hear he has been reassured by the Minister and the Commissioner on this matter.
We will hold the Government to that.
I join Members in congratulating the ushers on their good fortune and send good wishes to Mr. Michael Phelan, whom I understand will retire shortly.
Senator Regan made known his views on the IMF report and the difficulties and challenges facing Government in terms of the economy and all pertaining to it. The Senator will have an opportunity to raise the issue by way of Private Members' business. As I stated, we will be reviewing week-on-week this matter during the current session.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on communications and expressed serious concerns in regard to the future of Eircom and the important role it can play in the development of our economy. I have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate and will endeavour to ensure it takes place during the coming weeks.
Senator Quinn expressed his support for the proposals outlined earlier and informed the House of the departure today of the Brent geese. As I understand it, they leave on 23 April and return on 23 October. One learns a little every day. I have learned a little today having heard Senator Quinn's contribution on the topic.
I join Senator Donohue in congratulating Senator Norris on the recognition given to him last evening by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. It was well deserved and we all congratulate him. An issue on which Senator Norris and I agree is the move of the Abbey Theatre to the GPO building for the 2016 commemoration celebrations. I look forward to debating that issue in the House a little later this session.
It would be a huge vote of confidence in O'Connell Street, the GPO and those who gave their lives for our country. I take this opportunity to inform the House that I intend to provide time for a debate on this topic in the near future.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on crime. I take this opportunity to inform the House that a number of urgent Bills will come before the House this session. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be in this House quite often. I support the Minister, the Commissioner, the Garda Síochána and the Government on their attempt to ensure fear of the law. It appears a small number of citizens no longer fear the law. It is our duty to ensure fear of the law. We must support the Minister of the day and Commissioner in terms of passing legislation required to meet the challenges in this area.
Senator Doherty called for a debate on education. He also proposed that third level fees should be taken from direct taxation. I have no difficulty providing time for a debate on that proposal and will endeavour to arrange time for a debate on education. Senator Daly outlined the difficulties being experienced by the north Dublin growers in terms of products sold by Tesco, a food-chain that has 27.5% of the market in Ireland. I chaired the committee set up to debate the groceries order. Senators Coghlan and Leyden were also members of that committee. We are now seeing the fruits of what was said at that time. As Senator Daly stated, we must back Irish growers in terms of saving jobs. I will provide time for an open ended debate on the challenges facing Irish branded products and what we, as members of this House, can do to ensure the undertaking given by Tesco to the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in respect of the groceries order, in terms of its requirement to retain a high percentage of Irish products for sale in its stores, is adhered to. Tesco provides 13,000 full-time jobs and 4,000 part-time jobs in Ireland, which is gainful employment. It also provides terrific opportunities for Irish growers.
There exists a list, I believe, of 14 or 15 items not being manufactured in the EU. Perhaps our institutes of technology or young entrepreneurs seeking new ideas could by way of attending the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment ascertain the items being sold in our multiples but not manufactured anywhere in the EU. We must keep an eye on this and ensure the multiples continue to sell a particular percentage of Irish products.
On a point of order, either skilfully or inadvertently, the Leader did not respond to the specific questions I raised.
I have no control over that.
I am looking for interpretation from the Chair.
I have no control over——
I have raised a specific matter with the Leader on the Order of Business——
I have no control over——
——regarding Government special advisers and press officers which he ignored.
It is not a point of order.
On a point of order——
That is not a point of order. The Senator asked the Leader a question.
I asked a specific question but he did not answer it.
I have no control over the Leader.
It is not the Chair's job to reply.
He ignored my specific request.
He may refer back to the Senator.
My question to the Cathaoirleach is——
On a point of clarification and to be helpful to the Senator, I included his name in the response. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to speak.
The Leader did but he did not refer to the remarks I made. I spoke on two issues on the Order of Business.
I have left all those urgent matters to Private Members' business.
This is urgent.
I have given an extra hour to elaborate.
I did not refer to Private Members' business. I spoke about A Vision for Change and Government advisers and press officers and I asked the Leader——
There is an amendment to the Order of Business.
This is a matter of extreme urgency.
With respect to the Chair, this is a matter of extreme urgency. I do not want to be disrespectful to the Chair but I asked a specific question.
The Senator is being disrespectful to the Chair. I will adjourn the House if the Senator persists.
I want the Leader to reply to my specific question.
I have no control whatever over the Leader
I want the Leader to reply to my specific question regarding paid advisers to Ministers and the Government. I want it answered.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
Can the Leader reply to me?
If a response is necessary, it actually——
The Leader knows a response is necessary.
All I can say from experience is that it happened between 1983 and 1987. It was the Senator's party that started it.
The Leader has replied.
The Progressive Democrats Party has expired. The party no longer exists. A member is being paid——
I ask Senator Buttimer——
The Leader has not answered my question.
I have no control over the Leader.
This is part of the lack of leadership from Government.
I have no control whatever over the Leader's replies.
There is an amendment——
Who has control?
The Leader replies.
When he ignores a request from a Member, what recourse does one have?
I cannot control what the Leader replies to.
I know the Cathaoirleach cannot control that and we appreciate that.
I am unable to control many Members.
What recourse do I have?
Senator Frances Fitzgerald has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 27, motion 37, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The result of the vote is Tá, 20; Níl, 20. There is an equality of votes. Therefore, pursuant to Article 15.11.2° of the Constitution, I have to exercise my casting vote. I will vote against the question in this case, in view of the commitment given by the Leader to debate this matter on Private Members' time next Wednesday. That is why I am voting "Níl". The amended result is Tá, 20; Níl, 21. The question is defeated.
Could I call for a walk-through vote? The Cathaoirleach's decision to use his casting vote in support of the Government means we will not have a debate on the economy today. I call for a walk-through, manual vote.
That is agreed.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Norris, David.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- de Búrca, Déirdre.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- O'Malley, Fiona.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.