The Leader to reply to the Order of Business with no interruptions.
Order of Business (Resumed).
I was stating that it is a fact that 53% of the population is in quite substantial debt. However, it is also true that 47% of the population does not owe anything. This is the area of growth——
They are the lads in China.
——we can look forward to and where the green shoots will appear. That is a statistical fact.
Where are those figures from?
The Leader without interruption.
Senators Leyden, Norris, Ó Murchú and Hannigan all expressed their abhorrence at what is happening in the Middle East and I will certainly endeavour to allocate a small portion of time prior to the recess to allow colleagues to make their views known and to support the Minister for Foreign Affairs who is doing an incredible job expressing the views of the Irish people and their abhorrence at what is happening in Gaza. I fully support the sentiments expressed this morning by Senators Leyden, Norris, Ó Murchú and Hannigan.
Senators Bradford and Keaveney welcomed the massive reduction in roaming charges for telephone calls and I also welcome it. It will help everyone.
Senator Walsh raised voluntary health insurance and gave an example with regard to seeking a reduction. Health legislation will be before the House next Tuesday and I strongly suggest that the quite correct views outlined to the House by the Senator can be taken at that time. With regard to legal fees, which I understand the Senator was discussing, I will consider it and come back to the House next week. Senator Prendergast raised and outlined to the House the cutting of services, particularly in Clonmel. The Senator can take this up with the Minister next Tuesday when the health legislation is before the House.
I fully support Senators' expressions of support for anything we can do for the tourism industry at this time. We all know and we can see that many people will holiday in Ireland this year and will not go abroad. This is to be welcomed in support of the home tourism industry. Please God we will have fine weather to let them enjoy their holiday in their home country and support those working in the tourism sector.
Senator Hannigan raised the matter of global funding for education and I will pass his views on to the Minister.
Senator Mary White called for a 24-hour service for child care and quoted the example of 414,000 calls to Childline with the highest percentage being received between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. I fully support Senators Mary White and Fitzgerald in their call for us to do everything we can to support children.
Senator Donohoe raised the matter of income decline. I suppose that is something that is happening all over the world but I notice that consumer confidence in our country has increased for the first time in many months.
It is not up; it is down.
This is statistical information that has been supplied to us all and we must accept it in good faith.
Senator Regan raised local government charges and the Bill will go ahead as outlined. Senators Coffey, Buttimer and Healy Eames raised the unemployment figures. As we often stated in the House the biggest challenge facing the country is jobs, and competitiveness is the root of the evil. If we look at the graphs for the past 20 years, the one failure, if we had a failure, was the high cost of labour.
Whether we like it or not, the high costs of labour and energy have taken away our competitiveness and we must seriously examine this through social partnership. I applauded the social partnership achievements since 1987 when the country was last in a massive downturn. All of us on all sides of the House face a serious challenge in this area; if we can get Ireland back to be competitive, jobs will be created, but if we do not jobs will be very difficult to recreate. We all know that and I do not care what part of the country one is from. I sympathise with our friends in Cork and Waterford and with anyone who is losing a job. It is a dreadful thing to happen, particularly when there is a downturn with no outlet to go to the United States, Australia or the UK as our friends did during the previous two occasions when there was a downturn.
There is nothing as good as being able to get out of bed in the morning and have a job to go to and to do some work during the day. The spirit of the person is being challenged and I agree with the sentiments expressed on all sides of the House. I know colleagues are genuinely concerned for friends and relations who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. I will discuss with the leaders of the groups having an all-day debate at the earliest possible time with not one but perhaps two or three Ministers present to see how to come up with some formula of proposals to assist the Government and the Minister who holds the portfolio.
Senator Boyle made quite correct remarks on the Broadcasting Bill. I compliment the Minister for accepting amendments and I compliment all colleagues for not dividing the House on the matters before them for their consideration yesterday.
Senator Healy Eames raised the matter of charging levies on parents with regard to school-going children. I certainly will make inquiries and come back to the Senator directly.