The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill 2009 — Second Stage; and No. 2, Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages. It is proposed that No. 1, shall be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business. Spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes. Senators may share time, by agreement of the House. The business of the House shall be interrupted for ten minutes at the conclusion of No. 1.
Order of Business.
A number of significant reports have been made recently. There is the IMF report and the report of the National Competitiveness Council and I believe the Minister for Finance will tonight receive the report of an bord snip nua, identifying where there has been waste and where savings of, it is reported, as much as €5 billion could be made.
Leaving aside the question of why the Government needs an outside body like an bord snip nua to examine these issues, is it intended that this report will be published? When we are talking about taxing or means-testing child benefit, a decision which would have a serious impact on many families, if not all, and when many children are in the front line of cutbacks, as we saw last week when we discussed the situation in Crumlin hospital, it is imperative that the Government should publish this report in the interests of accountability and transparency. When we are talking about reaching across the political divide and taking the best possible decisions for the economy, there is a moral imperative on the Government to publish it.
If the report shows there are €5 billion worth of savings to be made it is an indictment of policies and raises questions as to why these decisions have not already been taken by the Government in this crisis. In the proliferation of reports we see at present, it appears we are always one report away from a solution, whether it is in regard to making savings, competitiveness or saving small business.
The Government has set up yet another new body, an economic policy group. However, there are very few, if any, representatives of small business on that body. Senators in this House have said time and again that if the country is to survive, we must support indigenous medium and small businesses. Senator Mary White has spoken about this a great deal, and she is very experienced in this area. It is extraordinary that although there are people on this body who know about small business, there are no direct representatives of that sector on the body. Will the Leader take up these points and, perhaps, report to the House in the course of the week on the Government's intentions regarding this report? There is a need to discuss these reports in the House before the end of the session.
I raised previously the need for this House to discuss the Government's response to the Ryan report, which is not due to be published until the last week in July. I believe the House should reconvene to discuss that, if only to show to the victims our concern and where we stand on these issues.
A huge amount is taking place under the radar in this regard. Over the last week or so I have been dealing with a case that dates from 1955. Ireland was a depressed country at the time and the father in the case was working in England, trying to get money together. The mother became ill and their youngest child, an 11 month old baby, could not be looked after at home. It was suggested that she be looked after for a fortnight in Goldenbridge while her mother convalesced. A healthy child went into Goldenbridge but four days later the child was dead. A telegram was sent to the father in England telling him the child died of dysentery. He came home immediately and went to see his child in St. Ultan's Hospital in Palmerstown and, to his horror, discovered two identical holes on each of the child's knees. He realised there was some other cause of death. He went to the Garda station and reported that he believed his child had been killed or murdered. He demanded that it be investigated but was fobbed off.
Now, no record can be found of anything I have just outlined, except the child's death certificate which states she died of dysentery. This is the fall-out from the Ryan report. What does this family want? They think they have identified where the baby is buried and want to have her body exhumed to try to establish the cause of death, if that is possible. They certainly wish to establish her identity. This baby was under the care of the Sisters of Mercy who refused to discuss the case with the parents. There is much talk about people apologising, showing remorse and forgiveness. This family is worrying, crying and emotional about this to this day. The parents have gone to their graves.
That is the reason the House must reconvene to deal with these issues. We must examine cases such as baby Marion Howe. Having looked through the section on Goldenbridge in Volume III of the Ryan report there is no reference, good or bad, to any babies dying. One wonders how much more there is to hear about and discover. It is important that we revisit the matter.
I welcome this morning's report from the Competition Authority on the price of goods in the Republic. One of its findings is that food prices in the South are 30% higher than those in the North. Last month, Tesco made many cuts to food prices in its stores in Border areas and last week SuperValu made almost €100 million worth of cuts, a move it says will help to reduce food prices by 23%. That is all very welcome. Members of the House have been calling for such action for some time. However, I am concerned about the permanence of some of these cuts. This morning in Dublin Tesco announced further price cuts, using the phrase, "Change for good". I am not sure if that message is getting through to some of its stores in the Border region. The Irish Times carried out a survey yesterday in the Drogheda store, which had many of the price cuts announced last month, and found that prices of some goods have increased again. Tesco admits that prices of 200 different products have risen in the past month. I believe it is important that when people say “Change for good” they mean long-term reductions. We must keep pressure on these retailers to ensure these reductions are indeed long-term ones and not short-term publicity-seeking attempts.
I am very pleased to see the publication of legislation in respect of civil unions. The Civil Partnership Bill has many fine points such as issues relating to inheritance rights, power of attorney and next of kin. I note the Government has stated it will deal with other matters such as tax and social welfare issues in the Finance Bill in December. I accept the Government's commitment to do this and we will keep a very close eye on it to ensure it delivers on that commitment. However, I am disappointed the Bill does not address the issue of children, many of whom are affected in this country. This needs to be addressed and we must have a debate on the matter when the Bill comes before the House.
I express my congratulations to my fellow Senator, Michael McCarthy, on the birth of his child last week and to Senator Lisa McDonald on the recent birth of her child.
Senator Fitzgerald raised the matter of an bord snip nua and the report by Mr. Colm McCarthy. First, the report should be considered by the Government before it is published but the Government should publish it subsequently before any decisions are made in order to allow people to absorb the seriousness of the situation. Senators could make observations in this House to the Government regarding the decisions that must be taken. A consensus must be reached regarding the proposals which I understand are proposed by an bord snip nua. If the Government does not release a report I am sure it will be released by Sunday week in the national newspapers. It is circulating so much through the system that someone will make the media aware of what it contains. I would like to have it up front and on the table so that people can see what is involved.
Questions to the Leader please.
It would be worthwhile to have a debate in this House, if possible, on the report by Mr. Colm McCarthy when it is published by the Government. We can discuss the steps to be taken.
Regarding the economic debate which has been discussed and promised, I am concerned about export credit insurance, which is extremely difficult for small businesses to obtain at present. There are some indications that there is an increase of up to 300% in the cost of getting export credit insurance. When I was in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, export credit insurance was vital. It was the engine of our success in increasing exports. We should bear in mind that we traded approximately €86 billion in 2008. In March there was a reduction of about 6% and it is now vital that the Government acts as other countries have done. Britain has brought in a scheme, as have Denmark and Luxembourg. We are competing with these countries and it is very important that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, should refer this to the committee which is advising the Government in this regard. Export credit insurance is absolutely vital if we want to maintain exports out of this country. Exports are vital for the survival of this country at this very competitive stage. I know from experience that export credit insurance is vital for small and large exporters. I ask the Leader that this subject might be incorporated into a debate on overall economic recovery and the economy.
I ask for a debate in the House on the role of civil and public servants within this State. They have always remained very impartial in the way they carry out their duties. It is very important that when senior civil and public servants make public comments they are seen to be impartial by those who listen to their remarks.
I express concern at some of the comments made by the Governor of the Central Bank on the day of the local elections. He made a statement that the economy was improving without backing it up by any means. Any report published up to that time and since would not have given the same positive account. We should debate the matter to ensure people are not being influenced and people do not express their opinions publicly when their role is clearly to serve the State and the people impartially.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on the report of an bord snip nua when it becomes available. During the last debate on the Lisbon treaty, it seemed that a new question was put whenever another question was answered. For instance, if the question of neutrality was answered, a question was asked about taxation. If that was answered, some hidden codicil meant that a referendum could never be held again. This only goes to prove that the Seanad would be well served were all parties to table their proposals on what they believe are necessary taxes and cuts. It is what an bord snip nua is doing. Instead of the Opposition stating that X, Y and Z person would be hurt by every cut, the people would be well served were those parties to table their proposals, which they have never done. In every radio and television interview, Opposition parties have always refused to answer the simple question of what they would cut and what taxes they would introduce.
Remember what the Government did in 1987-89.
No interruptions, please.
Senator Hanafin was not referring to the facts.
Senator Buttimer will have his opportunity to speak, if he wishes.
We are getting the same old spin from him every day.
I note with interest that the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 has been published. I cannot welcome it——
——but I understand that a considerable amount of work has gone into it. An historic opportunity has been missed through a lack of vision on the part of Government. What we have is the copperfastening of inequality and discrimination, but it is an advance. When will the Bill be presented to the House and will it be introduced in this Chamber, where such legislation was pioneered some five or six years ago?
The worst aspect of the Bill is that the position of children is completely ignored. This is not a matter of sex or religion. Rather, it is about the rights of children. During the commemorations of the 1919 sitting of the first Dáil, we heard much bleating about cherishing the children of the nation equally and children's rights, but it looks as if the Government has learned nothing. It does not give a fish's tit for the rights of children, going by the Bill.
I also wish to raise a subject to which my good friend and colleague on the other side of the House, Senator Harris, will want to contribute, namely, the Shell to Sea campaign. He and I asked for a debate. I suggest that Members might like to look at the picture in last weekend's Sunday Independent. It shows an enormous ship with its jaws open like a dragon to devour the mineral resources of this country. Another picture shows a vast ship dwarfing one of the Naval Service vessels. The pictures tell us who is in control. All of the oil companies have their tongues out a yard long for oil. Its price is increasing as its amount decreases. Now is the time to renegotiate on behalf of the people. Shell can take our gas through our land and expose people to danger, but we have the opportunity to bid for it on the open market. Well, gee, thanks, Shell.