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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Jun 2009

Vol. 196 No. 6

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Financial Measures (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 — all Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, and on which Senators may share time; and No. 2, earlier signature motion, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.

In the light of what we read in the newspapers this morning, that the country faces the worst economic crisis seen anywhere in the last 60 years, according to the IMF, and the fact that it calls for cuts in public sector pay and numbers, increased taxes and an end to universal payments, we should have an early debate on the wider economy. After the Order of Business we will discuss legislation, but we should have an early debate on the economy in the light of the fact that it is expected to contract by 13.5% and that the level of unemployment is to exceed 15%. An early debate on the matter is very important, especially to give Senator Hanafin the opportunity to express his views on the economic prudence of the Government in the light of the figures about which we read this morning.

I also ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the health service and would like to move a motion that we have this debate after the Order of Business. Government policy on the health service seems to be in tatters. There is major concern about the corporate management of the HSE. I, therefore, ask the Deputy Leader to contact the board of the HSE to see if it still has confidence in its CEO and senior management. It is bad enough that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, seems to have lost touch completely with what is happening in the health service, but there is a concern and rumour that the board of the HSE has lost confidence in the CEO, Professor Drumm, and his senior management team and what is happening at corporate level in the HSE. The matter urgently needs to be clarified in the light of the major importance attached to the service the HSE provides for the people.

Yesterday we were given another commitment to have a debate on the economy. I support Senator Hanafin in what he has asked for in the last couple of weeks. It would be very helpful to have a debate here on the views of the different parties to drill down beyond what they are. I have previously said I believe that many people in all parties in both Houses do not quite understand their parties' policies and I would like to hear them outline them. It would be very helpful for people to drill down through the top level, second level and third level of what is being proposed by the different parties. Those of us who take a more disinterested line perhaps without taking a political view on it certainly would like to hear that and it would be very helpful.

Based on yesterday's report it is discouraging and dispiriting to discover that the Government would appear to be the author of its own misfortune. That is the view of an independent assessment by the IMF. On the other hand it is also heartening and encouraging to note that the independent international observers regard the Government's plan as a workable way out of our problems. That needs to be considered. Both issues are important and need to be dealt with clearly. We should recognise that this banking tsunami or earthquake has created a series of aftershocks in unemployment, small business, mortgages and, in particular, pensions. During the course of the discussion I would like to hear outlined the plans for each of those areas. While I accept the Government's point of view that banking needs to take priority at this stage, the Government needs to recognise that ordinary people do not fully understand this. There has not been a debate on it. They want to hear what we are doing about pensions and to support employment, small business and mortgage holders who are in the same position as banks in that they cannot afford to pay their debts. They also need support. Those issues need to be considered and addressed in a fair, open and honest way. I look forward to a debate on the matter and to the Deputy Leader's response to it.

If the Government wishes to take some crumbs of comfort from the IMF report regarding the perceived praise of the measures the Government is taking to address the economic crisis, it cannot in logic avoid dealing with the devastating critique of its actions and inactions during the period from 2002 to 2007 in particular. Senator Boyle's party can avoid that in logic and in fairness to it because it was not in government at the time. There are one or two members of the current Government who, as the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, took great care to point out, were not members of the Government during that period. However, 15 people were in that room between 2002 and 2007, including some of the people, such as the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and others, who are now attempting to avoid the devastating criticism of the actions of that Government during that period.

We talk about clearing away boards of banks and of institutions that have done wrong. How could any individual politician who was a member of that Government and sat in that room when the door closed for Cabinet meetings between 2002 and 2007 ever honestly hold up his or her head again and suggest to the people that he or she could continue to be a member of the Government of this country, given what has been said and seen in recent months in respect of its stewardship and failure to guide the economy properly and prudently during that period. None of those people who took us to where we are deserves to be a member of the Government in the future.

I agree with Senator Twomey on the need for a debate. Senator Hanafin and others have made a cry for a debate on what all the parties would do. He wants the Opposition to make proposals to deal with a shortfall of €20 billion whereas the Government is talking about dealing — not today or tomorrow, but sometime later in the autumn — with a shortfall of €4 billion. We have the extraordinary situation where the Labour Party and Fine Gael are being asked to make proposals to deal with a shortfall of €20 billion when the Government is talking about €4 billion and is not even making its own proposals until some time in the autumn. Let us have some reality about the nature and level of the debate that people want and expect from Opposition parties and the level of application, knowledge and information that people on the Government side expect from Opposition parties when the Government, itself, does not even have the proposals it deems necessary to deal with the €4 billion shortfall to which it points.

It would be useful to have a debate on the IMF report because at least people would then need to read that report. They would need to avoid the spin and deal with the facts. This is not spin; this is a fact. A clear disagreement is manifest in the IMF report regarding the Government's position on possible nationalisation of the banks. The Government needs to face up to that. I quote from the IMF report in considering what nationalisation might achieve.

Having taken control of the bank, the shareholders would be fully diluted in the interest of protecting the taxpayer and thus preserving the political legitimacy of the initiative. The bad assets would still be carved out, but the thorny issue of purchase price would be less important, and the period of price discovery longer, since the transactions are between two government-owned entities. The management of the full range of bad assets would proceed under the NAMA structure.

This is precisely what we in the Labour Party have been saying about nationalisation. The report continues to state:

The authorities [meaning the Government] prefer that banks stay partly in private ownership to provide continued market pricing of their underlying assets. They disagreed [in other words the Government disagreed] with the staff's view that pricing of bad assets would be any easier under nationalization.

Given that the word "disagreed" is used, how could it not be a disagreement? That is a clear disagreement and cannot be spun in the way it is being spun to suggest there is not a disagreement.

Does the Senator support the amendment?

I support Senator O'Toole's proposal for an open debate on the economy and the IMF report and the OECD report. The Opposition should be very careful because it might actually achieve that for which it wishes.

We will have no interruptions.

It would not be in a position to be in government in the morning. The IMF report supports and endorses the steps taken by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. In an interview on "Morning Ireland" this morning the Minister indicated a very confident approach to both reports — the OECD and IMF reports.

Did the Senator hear what he said?

In recent days I was speaking to——

Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?

——the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. I pointed out to him that we have very steady Government here that will see us come through choppy waters.

The Senator is reverting to type.

I recall a period in 1981 to 1982 when the Opposition parties were in government. They lasted approximately nine months.

How long is Fianna Fáil in government?

Questions to the Deputy Leader.

Is the Senator going back to the time of Charles Haughey?

There was a large portrait of Deputy Gilmore outside the SIPTU headquarters recently. I can assure Senators that if the Opposition parties are in government and Deputy Gilmore is Tánaiste, I do not know where he will be hanging and whether it will be outside or inside SIPTU headquarters——

Let us not ruin questions on the Order of Business, please.

——because they would realise the situation was so grave and serious that the only Government that can work is the one with Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the former Members of the Progressive Democrats.

The people do not believe the Senator.

I appeal to the Opposition to refrain from undermining the Government and allow us——

——to get on with our job in a positive and constructive manner.

I call Senator Regan.

I can assure Senators that we will bring the country through this difficult period and back to prosperity again.

A Senator

Bring back Taca.

The Senator's time is up.

Did the Senator miss the results of the local elections?

I call Senator Regan.

How could The Worker's Party be in Government?

We have the green and the yellow; all we need is the white flag.

Senator Regan, without interruption.


Senators should maintain the dignity of the House and refrain from interrupting.

Smothering debate on the economy has cost the country dearly. Before the previous general election anyone who spoke about the economy was accused of talking it down. We all recognise we have a serious problem. Senator Leyden is suggesting that we do not talk about the economy again in case we interfere with the Government's actions in this area. The fact is that the Government is still in denial. The IMF report shows a much deeper cost of restoring the Irish banks — €34 billion is the figure now when it was €24 billion in April, which was the figure in the IMF report. The Taoiseach questioned the correctness of the report. Now the Minister for Finance says it is fair. It is for us to point out such inconsistencies in the Government's policy on the economy. It is important for the Government to stop the denials. For every report that comes out there is a soundbite which is either based on inaccurate figures or claimed as an endorsement of Government policy. It is quite the contrary, however. The IMF report clearly says that NAMA was "potentially" the right mechanism to separate good assets from bad ones. It is not an endorsement of the Government's approach. It provides for quite a number of measures that the Government must undertake to ensure NAMA will work. It may potentially be the right mechanism but I have no confidence in the Government being able to implement that strategy correctly.

The IMF report also underlines the Government's strategy on expenditure and tax cuts. Fine Gael has been to the front in pointing out the inconsistencies in these areas in recent budgets. The IMF endorses the Opposition's position on public finances, including expenditure. We should have a truthful debate on the economy without trying to smother discussion on the facts of the situation.

Yesterday I called for a debate on the economy, especially in the aftermath of the publication of the IMF and OECD reports. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Finance has embraced the IMF report's contents. It clearly signals that there are still huge risks involved in tackling this undertaking. The report recognises that the route being taken is necessary and in all probability is the right path. We should endeavour, however, to have an open and constructive debate.

I know it is difficult for Opposition parties who see political gain in adopting a contrary approach, but I am mindful of the comments by the former Swedish minister for finance who had to deal with that country's banking failure in the 1990s. While that was done against the background of a much more benign global economic situation, he identified that political consensus in Sweden was a significant factor in successfully tackling their problems, even though it took them a considerable time to overcome those difficulties. The IMF has also said it will take us a considerable length of time, but it behoves everyone to try to put the national interest first. I know, however, that it is difficult for people who have been out of Government for 20 years.

That is disgraceful.

Senator Alex White and his Labour Party colleagues have opposed everything the Government has done to address the horrendous banking crisis we have. In fact, however, the IMF report does not oppose the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. It said we may need to look at nationalisation but in doing so it would not be a substitution for NAMA. People need to get real and in particular the two main Opposition parties need to tell the public how they would resolve their significant policy differences which are diametrically opposed and would be ruinous if applied to resolving our current difficulties.

Our policies have been published.

Let us have some good news. I wish to be the first to congratulate our colleague, Senator Shane Ross, on being awarded the distinction of business journalist of the year. This is unique among colleagues in the House. He has shown the genius of a great general in picking his subordinates, including Nick Webb who also won an award.

On the third anniversary of the seizure and disappearance of Gilad Shalit, will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to use his skill in approaching leaders of the various Palestinian groups to see if his release can be secured?

With regard to the IMF and the economy, the record of the House will show that I suggested something very close to NAMA practically two months before the Government came up with it. I also suggested they would have to merge the banks and nationalise them. According to the IMF, I was right about NAMA, mergers and nationalisation. If the House wants a further prophesy, it is the system, stupid.

The Senator should put a question to the Deputy Leader.

It is the whole problem of capitalism, which is predicated on the idea of an infinitely expanding market. One cannot have that, however, because it will burst. This is one of a series of crashes that, given the historical context, will become more severe and will occur closer together. On the radio this morning the announcer said, "Now for some good news: the weather". Is that good news? It is not. We heard about what happened in Donegal.

A question, please.

Does the Deputy Leader agree with me that Senator O'Toole is wrong on this occasion? The economy is not a tsunami, it is a man-made event, but the tsunami is coming. If they cannot fix the economy, which is comparatively simple, let us sit back and watch them fix the weather, although I doubt it, honey. I am 65 and with any luck I may not be around when the bang happens.

Nostradamus himself.

I support the call for a weekly debate on the economy, which has been proposed here before. It is not sufficient to have a related debate every few weeks on a given issue. If we are to do justice to this House and also endeavour to contribute to solving the economic difficulties, it must be done methodically. It should be possible to reach cross-party agreement as to what that method should be. In dealing with such a complex issue one cannot expect to come up with a focused solution in two or three hours. It will not happen. It must be broken down into segments, but that will only be successful if we are sure that on the schedule every week a section of that debate will take place in the House. I do not mean for an hour; it must be for an extended period.

We did not need the IMF report to realise we had a serious situation. That is why we have so much agitation and a feeling of helplessness. We know how serious the situation is. Perhaps it took some time for it to sink in. For a number of months we just could not believe we were in a recession and were subject to global economic forces, but we know it now. People in the dole queues know it most of all because they cannot pay their mortgages. They have no hope and there is not even an escape route out of Ireland to get jobs abroad like there was in the past. We have a serious situation but nothing will be gained by either side of the House in making a political football out of this. The only hope we have is to recognise the potential of this Chamber, but we must do so in a manner that focuses on the issues involved. I agree with Senator Hanafin in this respect. I see nothing wrong with having the proposals of each group in this House on our desks. We would gain kudos from the public and it would help those who cannot help themselves.

There is a proposal to introduce legislation for a €200 property tax on holiday homes before the summer recess. The Deputy Leader's party leader, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, has said that this will collect approximately €40 million for city and county councils throughout the country. He said it represents a significant broadening of the revenue base for local authorities. Is the Minister extremely naive? Does he realise the difficulties city and county councils currently have in collecting rates, not to mind having to collect a new property tax? I see this as a cop-out by the Minister. It is naive and insulting that he does not realise how stretched councils are for funding. It is a means of giving less in the local government fund. The Minister should address these issues before he attends this House to present the legislation on the new holiday homes tax.

I am seeking an urgent debate on the car industry and how we can save it. Yesterday, we heard the news from Galway that 200 jobs have been lost at Tom Hogan Motors, which has dealerships nationwide. This industry has been hit hard by the recession with falling sales. It has also been hit by emission regulations, which the Minister, Deputy Gormley, introduced. In addition, it has been hit by requirements for investments in Euro glass palaces, as well as imports from the North and from Britain. We have sat idly by. What will the Minister do to save our indigenous car industry? I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to look at that.

The Senator's time is up.

I would like a debate on prison policy and its effectiveness for both the prisoners and the guards who work in prisons.

I call on Senator Mary White.

I was in Mountjoy Prison yesterday on business. One of the guards told me that she feared for her life every day.

The Senator's time is up. I call on Senator Mary White.

I draw the attention of Members to a most inspiring protest at the gates of Leinster House yesterday. Twenty children between the ages of four and 11 protested at the failure of the Government to provide them a new school. The existing school in Ballinkillen, County Carlow, is 200 years old next year. Just think about that. Children are being educated in a building that is 200 years old.

I was educated in a building that was 300 years old.

It is about 400 years old now.

The sight of the four year olds with their banner was inspiring, and it did not leave my thoughts.

They learned that Leinster House is a place where action takes place. People are cynical about politicians and about Leinster House, but these young people are learning a political lesson at four years of age. I was so impressed by that.

Is the Government going to build the school?

I join Senator Ó Murchú in expressing my belief that we need to become less partisan in our approach to politics. I would also like to pick up on something Senator Walsh said about the Swedish model. Let us not forget that in Sweden, the Government called in the opposition before it made any announcement, and a consensus was reached on both sides before anything was done. The IMF paper which we have been debating states that there have been numerous instances, such as Sweden, where a period of public ownership has been used to cleanse balance sheets and pave the way to sales back to the private sector. We have been saying this all along in a constructive manner. With respect to Senator Leyden, I do not think his comments this morning help to engender a spirit of constructiveness in these Chambers.

No, but they get a headline.

They might get headline——

I am just warning people.

There are many Members looking for headlines.

I have been a Member before the Senator and I know the story.

Questions to the Deputy Leader on the Order of Business.

I have a question on the Amnesty International report that was published today and given to us by a former colleague, Colm O'Gorman, who is now executive director in that organisation. Sandwiched between human rights abuses in Iraq and Israel is the section on Ireland, which is much shorter than either of those countries, Senators will be glad to hear. However, there are concerns on detention centres and how we treat our asylum seekers and children with mental health issues, who we put into adult facilities. There are also concerns about overcrowding in prisons, a subject raised by Senator Healy Eames. With the collapse of the proposal to build a new prison at Thornton Hall, we have a problem with how we deal with prison overcrowding. The Leader should bring the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to talk about conditions in prisons and other detention facilities.

I agree with many speakers that we should have a cross-party discussion on the financial situation. I do not want any more talking the talk. We have spoken every day for the past three weeks about the financial situation, and while it is a huge debate, we should be constructive about it and not bash one another as has been the case in the Chamber. I would welcome a cross-party constructive debate on the issue. As Senator Hanafin has said over recent days, everyone should put forward their best proposal and we can have a good debate on what is good and what is bad about the process.

We have also been speaking about reform of the prisons and how to rehabilitate young people. There must be another way than just sending young people to prison for minor faults, and this would be a welcome debate.

Protests outside Leinster House were referred to. While I welcome any protest which will speed up the construction of new schools, I am not so sure I agree that young children from the age of four should be taken out of their classrooms and disciplined and tutored by their parents or teachers that this is what they must do. I am not so sure that is the way to go forward in dealing with young children. I would like the adults to take control. If they must protest, they should do it in a constructive way, but young children should not be involved. It is not healthy that such a mind should be taken at such an early age. That is my own feeling. I agree that we can protest about the school.

I saw at first hand the effect that those young people had yesterday.

I second the amendment proposed by Senator Twomey to the Order of Business. Despite the dire straits in which we find ourselves and all the disagreements which have been mentioned, it is good to know that in the national interest, the IMF welcomes the concept and the model of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. As we all know, the orderly restructuring of the financial sector is essential to securing the long-term viability of our economy.

We are led to believe that the Cabinet has approved the draft outline of that legislation. Delay is the enemy here. I appeal to the acting Leader and the Government to keep us here and get this legislation through in July rather than waiting for September. God only knows what could happen in the meantime. There are signs of so-called claim jumping in the Commercial Court. We do not want that to develop in advance of the legislation being in place. The Government will secure a Supreme Court test on the passage of the legislation to ensure its constitutionality or to preclude the possibility of other challenges down the line. That is the wise thing to do. Can the Deputy Leader tell the House where precisely this legislation is at? The agenda may be changing a little from day to day, but it is essential and I plead that both Houses have the legislation passed before the end of July.

Every day in this Chamber and elsewhere, the word "recession" is at the tip of every tongue. I ask the Deputy Leader that he call on his colleague, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to come to the House to have a debate on planning enforcement. When we talk about planning, people think about developers straight away. I am supportive of developers, as they are people who provide a very important service. There are responsible developers, but there are also developers who left estates unfinished in my county in the good times. Unfinished estates were an issue at the 2002 general election, the 2004 local elections, the 2007 general election and the 2009 local and European elections. These people have to be brought to justice. They have trousered the money they received for the development of houses and the local people are left without essential services. What will happen down the road is that the local authority will be forced to take charge of those estates and Seán and Mary Citizen will have to pay for what is required.

The recession is being used by some employers to exact unfairly money from their employees and to indulge in practices that are less than acceptable. This must be stamped out. The word "recession" had even been formulated before they were at it. What is going on is grossly wrong and human rights issues are involved. Something must be done. Members in the Dáil have also raised this matter. I ask for debates on planning enforcement and on the practice of extorting money from employees unfairly, using the recession as an excuse.

We had an interesting debate on dairy farming last night. The Minister with responsibility for food and agriculture — I always place food before agriculture — made an interesting contribution to the debate. What concerned me was the belief that these problems can be solved by the Government. What also concerned me was the interesting view on the Common Agricultural Policy in the book issued by the Irish Farmers Association and the idea that production of food will be maintained irrespective of whether customers want it. The economist, Mr. Jim Power, attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and referred to 100,000 jobs in food production being lost in the next two years.

There seems to be some belief among farmers and in the Government that these problems can be solved by Government. They can be solved only by customers and by people deciding what products they want and will buy. If we decide to buy imported products, jobs will be lost. If we decide to buy products that we want to keep on the shelves, they will remain on the shelves as long as we buy them. The answer is not in the Government's hands, it is in the hands of those who live in Ireland — the citizens. If we want to keep those goods on the shelves, we must buy them. We must refuse to buy substitute products from elsewhere. Customers have a choice of what supermarket to go to. If a supermarket has decided to remove Irish products from the shelves, customers should decide to shop elsewhere where these products can be found. The threat to which Mr. Power refers is if all supermarkets follow what one supermarket chain has done, we will lose 100,000 jobs in the next few years. The answer is in the hands of consumers and customers. We can solve this problem, not politicians.

I share the views of some previous speakers, in particular on supermarkets with a large and growing share of the market not stocking Irish and local products. I am thinking of the two German discounters who give very good value. As an ordinary consumer, I must leave the shop and go elsewhere to buy milk locally. I would like to buy milk from Thurles but it is not available there. Only one type of milk is available and it is not sourced in the Republic of Ireland. If the supermarket sources local products, even if it is more expensive, I will buy it there. I want to know what the supermarkets are doing to support essential local commodities. The dairy industry is going through a crisis and we must support local industry.

I refer to the IMF support for the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, model. Although the Opposition insists on taking the worst point of the recession, ground zero, and saying that this will not work, the IMF has now given its imprimatur to NAMA.

No interruptions, please. Allow Members the opportunity to speak.

The reality is that the Opposition will read it the way it wants to read it, as always.

Has Senator Hanafin read it? I can pass over a copy.

It is not yet operational.

No interruptions.

I would like to have that fine debate where the Opposition will outline how it will make cuts €20 billion, make savings and changes to taxation——

What about Private Members' business next week?

——and show independently audited statements on how the €20 billion deficit would be tackled.

The Government cannot even do that.

Senator Walsh told us not to be political and this is very relevant. If Fianna Fáil had put the national interest first in recent years, we would not be in this situation. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, was conciliatory and admitted the economy had been overheated from 2001 to 2003. He has always said that this was the case. He accepted what the International Monetary Fund has said. He is taking responsibility and I applaud him for the way he spoke this morning. Fine Gael has always supported the good ideas this Government developed. As spokesperson on social and family affairs, my concern is the 15.5% of people who will be unemployed and how we will support them. The IMF is saying we must reduce spending. If that is the case, how will we support those who are unemployed?

We must keep money in the economy and therefore the banks must lend to small businesses. That is the biggest issue. Banks are talking the talk but are not lending money to small businesses. Each job is worth €20,000 to the Exchequer. We must safeguard jobs and keep people employed. This House needs to hold good debates on how we will fix this country. It is not about sparring across the floor of this House. I agree with Senator Walsh but he should practise what he preaches.

Like my colleague Senator Hanafin, I welcome the IMF report, the encouraging aspects of it and that the views and comments of the Minister for Finance are in line with the IMF. The actions being taken by the Government in the marketplace seem to be correct, even though we are in uncharted waters. Many people are experiencing financial difficulties in this terrain. I have referred to the importance of making funds and credit available to small and medium-sized enterprises. I have made comments last week and this week and I will continue to do so until we make progress.

There is no structure similar to the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, which is another important area, for small and medium-sized enterprises. Can the Leader tell Members what support is in place for MABS? What type of waiting lists does it have? Is MABS satisfied that sufficient support exists to help it address the avalanche of cases before it? We understand that there has been an explosion of cases for MABS. It is important that we are satisfied that we are giving it sufficient support to respond to the need.

I support other colleagues, Senators Healy Eames, Hannigan and Ormonde, who called for a debate on prison policy, which I called for yesterday. It is especially urgent that we debate it given the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that plans for the prison at Thornton Hall will go ahead and that the new prison will be up and running in five years. Given the level of uncertainty about the proposed development at Thornton Hall, the announcement must be taken with a large pinch of salt.

One welcome point is that the number of places proposed to be built is to be reduced, from 2,200 to 2,080, but there must be a debate on why we need extra prison places when, as colleagues on all sides, including Senator Mary White, have said, there is a question of whether we are locking up too many people when there appears to be little prospect of rehabilitation of our prison inmates. I urge strongly the holding of a debate on prison policy with a view to considering decreasing our incarceration levels and achieving greater levels of rehabilitation through other, non-custodial sanctions. I would welcome such a debate.

I also call for debates arising from two committee meetings yesterday. The first was the initial public meeting of the sub-committee of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights dealing with the participation of women in politics. I am the rapporteur to that sub-committee and it was my initiative. It is chaired by Deputy Kenneally and our meeting yesterday had contributions from three women who are former Members of the Oireachtas and who had a ministerial capacity. It was very interesting to hear about their experience and the obstacles women face in politics. I have called for such a debate in this House. We will report from the sub-committee in the autumn and I hope we will have a debate on that report on women's participation at that point, given our very low levels of participation by women in parliamentary politics.

When will the climate change Bill be introduced in this House? There was a debate at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security yesterday where Mr. Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth in Britain made an address dealing with the experience of the British law on climate change. When will we see similar legislation in this country?

One of the main points of the IMF report is that unemployment will reach 15.5% by 2010. This morning, while we began speaking in the Chamber from 10.30 a.m., 178 workers in the ABB transformers plant in Waterford city were called into an emergency meeting to be told their jobs will be gone by this time next year. All Senators should reflect on this devastating news for workers and families; similar events are occurring in all our constituencies.

This morning as we speak — Senator Leyden was hyperventilating and Senators from all sides of the House were sparring, as some have said — jobs are being lost by the minute. Not only will 178 jobs go but there will be consequential losses due to the service subcontractors for this very important Waterford company.

Will the Deputy Leader provide for a question and answer session with the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment? We could have a frank question and answer session on how we can all contribute across parties to a recovery plan to protect existing jobs and create others. We must discuss how to introduce stimulus to our economy. The devastating news we hear every morning is killing our economy and our social fabric. Unless we halt that decline and come up with positive ideas in this Parliament, the matter will worsen on a daily basis.

I appeal to all sides to get constructive on this. This morning's news, which I am upset about, will cause problems for families. I know every Senator feels the same as I do but we must start giving people hope. I appeal to the Deputy Leader to provide for a question and answer session here so the Seanad can become relevant.

I agree with Senators Bacik, Mary White and others on the prisons issue. I have been saying for a long time that we must think smarter on how we operate our prison system and what our priorities should be. Unless we take seriously the need to rehabilitate offenders rather than punish or deter, we will store up problems for ourselves in future.

I agree with Senator Bacik about the need to promote alternatives to custodial sentences, in particular for non-violent offenders. We should have a debate on such matters here soon.

Does the Deputy Leader agree that we are very good in this country at being part of the herd mentality and going along with issues when we should object to them and when it is too late, some of us play the blame game? We have seen this with the economy. Despite Deputy Joan Burton's valiant efforts on "Morning Ireland" this morning, I could not avoid the conclusion that when the hard questions needed to be asked, nobody was questioning how the economy was being run. People were quite happy to go with the flow of things.

People were asking questions.

Deputy Richard Bruton was asking them.

People are now playing the blame game.

There should be no interruptions.

There were honourable exceptions.

The Senator should name them.

I am not satisfied that there was a clear distinction in what was being proposed among the different parties in the House. We have seen such behaviour with regard to the Ryan report as well because we only hear the voices of objection when it is too late. Senator Quinn spoke this morning about groceries and retailing; unless the entire community becomes more discerning, it will be too late to complain later.

Does the Deputy Leader agree there is a bare-faced cheek in the reaction of Independent News & Media to the award in the Monica Leech case? For it to say that this award, which comes on foot of its egregious behaviour, is another example of the pressing need for a fundamental review of our defamation laws is like——-

That case is still in the courts.

It is like somebody who has been convicted of a serious drink-driving offence saying——

I do not want any comment on a case.

Is it still before the courts?

——that we need to ease the penalties for drink driving.

We should acknowledge the comment as being outrageous.

Nobody should comment on a case still before the courts, whether the comments are good, bad or indifferent. I expressed this view to all Members in the past and they should not get involved in any case.

The case is over but there will probably be an appeal.

It is on appeal.

I join with other Senators in asking the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate on the IMF report, which is far from an endorsement of the Government. It states that the economy will contract by approximately 13.5% from 2008 until next year, with unemployment reaching 15.5% and bank losses having the potential to rise to €35 billion.

Senator Coffey is right and I ask the Deputy Leader to bring in the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Finance to have an all-day debate on unemployment. That is the single biggest challenge facing us and we are talking about the lives of ordinary people struggling and queuing for social welfare payments as they cannot repay mortgages or get credit from banks. The Government is in charge and dictates policy and if we lose sight of that, we may as well put up a "for sale" sign, lock the doors and go home. We should have that debate as early as possible.

Will the Deputy Leader facilitate a debate on sport in this country? The Olympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council are fighting and the Athletics Association of Ireland, which has a dispute with its chief executive, was before a committee yesterday. Sport is a major component of Irish social life and we should have a debate to examine it in root and branch detail and create better efficiencies in its administration. We must help our athletes and sporting personnel become better in their chosen field. I am worried that neither the Minister responsible nor the Government has the policies, initiative or interest to do this. We should not have these disputes in sport as it should be about the pursuit of excellence. I have asked for this debate on numerous occasions and we have not had it yet. I hope it can be facilitated.

Senator Twomey, by placing an amendment to the Order of Business, asked for a debate on the health services and confidence in its chief executive and board. On a Thursday sitting in particular, it is virtually impossible to get someone from any Department to respond on such short notice. I will undertake to ensure such a debate is held at the earliest opportunity.

The main thrust of comments from Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Alex White, Leyden, Regan, Walsh, Norris, Ó Murchú, Hannigan, Ormonde, Coghlan, Quinn, Hanafin, McFadden, Callely, Coffey, Mullen and Buttimer related to requests for ongoing debates on the economy, particularly in light of the IMF report. We have regular debates on the economy in this House and there will be a debate on a financial Bill following the Order of Business today. The IMF report could provide good scope for debate and I will see if it can be put on the Order Paper as quickly as possible.

Private Members' time next week is allocated to the Green Party and we will strive to have a debate on the economic and social cost of unemployment. I hope all Members will enter into it in a suitable spirit and address the concerns expressed on the Order of Business today, particularly by Senators Coffey and McFadden.

It is possible to interpret the IMF report in many ways but I am struck by the comments of Senators O'Toole and Mullen about the need to have appropriate context in having the debate. In the general election in 2007, all political parties put forward manifestos which promised continued economic growth and much of the debate we are hearing now argues that apparently the economic collapse and international recession we are now experiencing was well known and signposted, with many in the political system warning about it. They were not warning about it in 2007. They were promising that whoever entered——

Fine Gael said it before the general election in 2007.

The Deputy Leader, without interruption.

In 2007, they were promising exactly the same in terms of their political programmes. They were promising economic growth of 4.5% per year, increased public expenditure——


——and continued decreases in taxation.


The Deputy Leader, without interruption.

Whatever about the flaws in policies, of which I have been an ardent critic, they were policies which were mirrored by Opposition parties.

On the question of where we go from here, which is the more important and essential one, I have regularly called for a common approach on these issues. However, for those who want to form an alternative Government, it is important they take a consistent approach on these matters. I would like to see the two main Opposition parties speaking with one voice on how they would deal with the banking situation——

On a point of information——

Those on the Government side do not even speak with one voice.

On a point of information——

——public expenditure, unemployment and the public service.

The Deputy Leader, without interruption.

Will the Deputy Leader take a point of information?

On all of these questions, there is a clear diversion and a clear dichotomy——

Of course, there is.

——and no consistency whatsoever.

Of course, there is.

In terms of a democratic alternative for the people and offering hope, there must be——

What about consistency with Fianna Fáil before the general election?

Senator Alex White——

Did the Green Party have differences with Fianna Fáil before the general election?

There must be some clarity of approach——

The Deputy Leader is replying.

——and consensus to reach a common approach.

Did the Green Party have differences with Fianna Fáil before the general election?

The Deputy Leader is replying to the Order of Business.

On a point of order, when the Deputy Leader responds to questions asked during the Order of Business, does he have free reign to attack Opposition parties or must he respond to the questions asked in a non-partisan way?

That is not a point of order.

Does he have free reign to say what he likes, do what he likes——

The content of his reply is a matter for the Deputy Leader. He is replying to the questions asked by Members.

I was just asking.

It is not a point of order.

There is no agreement between Fine Gael and the Labour Party. There is no Fine Gael-Labour Party position.

The Deputy Leader, without interruption.

These very important issues——

The Deputy Leader should write it down.


Respect the Deputy Leader's——

The Deputy Leader should write it down.

Respect the Deputy Leader's——

I would like to see——


The Deputy Leader should read——

The Deputy Leader should read the Government amendment to last night's Private Members' motion on the dairy industry.

I will adjourn the House. Members are totally out of order in interrupting the Deputy Leader when replying.

He is lecturing us.

Members had an opportunity to speak. I will ask Senator Healy Eames to leave the House if she keeps interrupting. It is not good enough. Over the years in this House, Members have respected the Leader and the Deputy Leader, although they might not agree with the reply.

On a point of order, I accept what the Cathaoirleach said about respecting the Leader and the Deputy Leader. However, if the Deputy Leader uses this opportunity to direct political charges across the Chamber which cannot be answered, it places Members of the Opposition in a very difficult situation. It is one thing to respond——

It is not——

This is an issue of order.

It is a procedural matter.

It is an issue of order. The point of order is that if the Deputy Leader, in response to the Order of Business, makes direct political charges across the floor, not even through the Cathaoirleach, it is unreasonable in any parliament that they cannot be answered.

All Members should speak through the Chair and not across the floor.


I ask the Deputy Leader to continue to reply to the Order of Business.

He should continue in his usual dignified manner. He is totally right in what he is saying, and I am on the other side of the House.

In essence, that is what is at the heart——

I am on the other side geographically.

Please allow the Deputy Leader to speak. I am surprised at Senator Norris because he is an intelligent man.

Although I take the Order of Business very infrequently, as I understand it, my purpose is to respond to the questions I have been asked. When those questions constitute a political charge, I know of no other way to respond.

Then the Deputy Leader should be accurate in what he says.

I ask the Deputy Leader to conclude.

To go back to the calls for a debate on the IMF report, which I have accepted should be debated, it is clear that those who have spoken from an independent perspective, and not from the perspective of the Government or the main Opposition parties, have said the report refers to flawed policies which occurred between 2002 and 2007, in particular, but that it also states that the decisions which have been made, and which will be made, while they are unpalatable and unpopular, are essentially the right decisions.

So everything is okay.

The debate needs to be conducted on those terms.

If the Government had listened to me, it would have taken those decisions earlier.

Senator Coghlan asked about the status of the National Asset Management Agency Bill. Much detailed work has gone into this Bill. I have been lead to believe that the heads of the Bill comprise 77 pages. It is expected that the Bill will be completed this month. A decision will have to be taken on when the House reconvenes to deal with it. However, I accept what Senator Coghlan said about the need to deal with it speedily because it is necessary that clear signals are sent in regard to the need to repair our financial services system. I also accept the point made by Senator O'Toole that we also need to address the other areas of economic concern, in particular unemployment. I hope Private Members' time next week will provide Members with an opportunity to debate that issue.

Senator Norris spoke about the need to congratulate our colleague, Senator Shane Ross, on his award of journalist of the year. I am happy to do so even if he does not always write pleasant things about me or my party.

He does not write about me at all.

That is the worst offence of all.

Members should not interrupt.

Senator Norris made a request in regard to the third anniversary of a Palestinian detainee which I will pass on to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

An Israeli detainee.

I apologise.

The Senator also spoke about what continues to be one of the major problems facing us which was alluded to by Senator Bacik in her call for a climate change Bill. What we are experiencing in the economy is unfortunately sidelining what is still the most important global issue about which not much is being done. It is still the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's intention to present a climate change Bill to coincide with the Copenhagen conference in December and that both Houses will have an opportunity to discuss it.

Senator Healy Eames criticised the second home levy. I am not sure what can be done in this regard. We need to expand the base of local government finance. I expect that when the Commission on Taxation speaks about broader reforms in terms of taxes on property that the Opposition will react in a similar knee-jerk fashion and what we need to do to broaden our tax base will become even harder as a result.

Senator Healy Eames's point about the car industry needs to be addressed in a wider debate. I am not too sure why she believes we have an indigenous car industry. We do not make cars but import them. It is a retail industry.

That is what I was talking about.


Does the Government want to get rid of that too?

In terms of how it affects our balance of payments——

It is a car industry.

We import cars. It does not help our economy in terms of our balance of payments. One needs to understand that.

So one can bring cars in from Northern Ireland.

It affects our economy in terms of the people employed in the industry.

Bringing cars in from other jurisdictions affects our economy.

Does the Deputy Leader agree there is a need for a debate?

Several Senators raised the issue of prison policy. Senators Healy Eames, Bacik, Ormonde, Hannigan and Mullen referred to the Amnesty report which could be a good basis for a debate. I agree with the views of Senators who spoke about the need to look at non-custodial sentences. I do not believe the value of a society can be measured by the number of people it locks up. It would be helpful to have such a debate.

In regard to decisions on Thornton Hall, the House should probably welcome the fact the Central Mental Hospital will not now be part of that development and there will no longer be a link between a mental health facility and a prison.

It is very welcome.

The need to build a new prison is as much about the need to replace unacceptable prison spaces and I hope that point will be made in any such debate.

Senator Glynn spoke about the need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to talk about planning enforcement and how unnecessary delays are having an impact on the local economy. That request will be made to the Minister. The House will soon have an opportunity to debate new planning legislation when many of these issues can be raised.

Senator Quinn, reiterating a point he made last night about the dairy industry, referred to recent comments by the economist Jim Power and the decision by the Tesco chain to source its food from outside the country which will have an impact on Irish jobs. I agree there is a need for a debate and direction on this matter which I will put to the Leader when future business is planned. Senator Hanafin also requested a debate on the matter.

Senator Callely requested detailed statistics concerning MABS which I do not have to hand, but I will make sure he gets them. He called for a debate in the light of the difficult financial situation in which people find themselves when they lose employment. Senator Coffey, in calling for a debate on employment, specifically referred to a local announcement in Waterford and the effect it would have.

I cannot speak on one point raised by Senator Mullen about an ongoing court case as the Cathaoirleach has ruled on the matter. Senator Buttimer called for a debate on sport which is necessary, would be timely and for which time should be made available.

Did the Deputy Leader say it would be virtually impossible to get a Minister on a Thursday afternoon to debate a crisis matter?

I said it would be difficult.

An amendment has been proposed to the Order of Business by Senator Twomey: "That a debate on the health service, including the board of the HSE, be taken before No. 1."

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 24.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.


  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Buttimer and Cummins; Níl, Senators de Búrca and Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.