Order of Business.

Before starting the Order of Business, I wish to acknowledge the sad passing of former Seanad colleagues Willie Kenneally, Joe Doyle, Nuala Fennell and Dominic Murphy. I will be in contact with their families and group leaders in the House to allow tributes to be paid at the appropriate time to mark the sad passing of our dear colleagues.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re allocation of time, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and adjourned not later than 6 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 3, statements on the economy, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, to conclude not later than 8 p.m. if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes, on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon not later than 7.50 p.m., prior to the conclusion of the debate, for his concluding comments and to take questions from leaders and spokespersons.

Why have the writs not been moved for current vacancies in the Seanad? Is this yet another example of paralysis between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil in Government? Are we awaiting the outcome of negotiations on the programme for Government before this can be done? Will the Leader explain why Private Members' Business has been dropped from the Order of Business today? I do not know if that is for the same reason, because he is worried about support from the Green Party on a financial motion in Private Members' time. It is unusual for the Seanad not to have Private Members' time on the first sitting day after the recess.

This paralysis is typical of the Government's approach to decision making. Earlier today, we heard the Tánaiste raise doubts again about the McCarthy report, while the Taoiseach did so on the report of the Commission on Taxation. One must ask where the leadership on decision making in Government resides at this stage.

I indicate in particular the report last week from the Comptroller and Auditor General. The figures in it are quite astounding. When one thinks of the pressure individual families are under at the moment, with them facing negative equity and queuing outside social welfare offices to get small sums of money, while on the other hand we saw in the figures quoted in the report last week a total of €320 million not being recovered from patients using public hospitals, a contract initially valued at €2 million costing €97 million, and millions of euro were spent on electronic voting, it is no wonder people are disillusioned and are losing faith in politics and government. What assurances can the Leader give the House that lessons have been learned from these reports? What changes are taking place in government to ensure better economic management of taxpayers' money?

Doubts are increasing about NAMA and individuals are asking why more than €30 billion or 40% of the total NAMA bonds should be diverted to two broken financial institutions — Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society. How will these broken financial institutions provide credit in the future? What is it like for individuals who are told this enormous amount will go to these institutions while they struggle to access money for their businesses or to pay their mortgages?

I oppose the Order of Business because of the refusal to take Private Members' Business, which is an Opposition motion. I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to explain his comments earlier this year when he cut provision in schools for children with mild disabilities. He stated he would guarantee that where additional teachers were needed, they would be provided. Fine Gael found out today in a reply to a request under the Freedom of Information Act 1997 that 200 additional support teachers would be needed to meet the needs of these children in mainstream classes. This is completely contrary to the Minister's statement earlier this year. Many parents have found the supports are not available in their children's classrooms but we were told by the Minister that the decision would have no impact on children and their families. However, the Department says 200 additional support teachers are needed to support the children in mainstream classrooms. I would like the Minister to explain this to the House.

I am glad we have an opportunity to discuss the economy later. However, I would like to refer to the issue of public sector bashing, which is giving pleasure to some of the people who got us into this trouble. IBEC was first in the queue. Has the media forgotten that the six largest members of IBEC — our large banks and financial institutions — got us into this mess? IBEC and the media seem to have forgotten all about that. IBEC, sitting atop a €60 billion brass neck, is now talking down to the rest of us about how we should do our business and about how something in which they had no hand, act or part should be taken out on teachers, nurses, postmen, firefighters and civil servants. If health and education services could be supplied at a cheaper rate than is the case currently, Ryanair schools and clinics would pop up all over the country. We should realise that. The CPSU is the largest public sector union and the average pay of its members is €29,000 a year. I do not have a problem with the Government addressing the public sector but it better do so in a refined and understanding fashion, otherwise people will be unable to stand back and take it.

I generally support NAMA but it will lead to an extraordinary imbalance in the sense that it will not deal with mortgage holders and others. We cannot surely countenance a scenario long term where, on the one hand, most of us will have to work hard to keep the necessary banking arrangements going in the economy while, on the other, supporting those who will foreclose on decent people who through no fault of their own can no longer meet their mortgage repayments even though this was caused in the main by the same people who will take their property. That is unacceptable. The matter is dealt with in other countries. In France, for example, if the mortgagee is genuinely under too much pressure, the mortgage period is lengthened or other changes can be taken into consideration.

I have listened today to farmers and the problems of small businesses. It may well be that the Government will have to look again at the issue of price controls. Fair play to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, for what he said, but he has been saying it for six months. What is he doing about the matter? There is no point in saying what Tesco and others should be doing. If they are not doing it, we should be taking action to make sure they do.

In the meantime, I would like us to have a discussion on the public sector and what it is contributing to the economy in order that those working within it would see there is respect for them in some parts of public life.

During the summer the Leader of the House issued a statement on Seanad reform. Is he ready for it? We know about the University Senators and will go along with it. What about the next reform? There has been no word about it. The media hopped onto it and it is the one issue on which everyone is agreed. A House in respect of which every citizen of the State does not have a vote in its construction is no longer acceptable in a democracy. The McCarthy report is correct. The Seanad either needs to be reformed or abolished. That is the end of the matter.

I would like the House to note, with some sadness on these benches, that we have lost one of our illustrious Members who has moved slightly forward and to the right.

The Senator on the Order of Business please.

Senator Bacik has moved to the Labour Party benches.

Just as well she ran.

In so far as Senator O'Toole is allowed to express his sadness at the loss of Senator Bacik to the Labour Party benches, I note with great pleasure that she has joined us on them. I am sure she will impress and prosper as much as she did on the other benches which, I notice, have been augmented by another Senator. We were not informed about that before the House met.

Of course, we were informed.

I wish the Sinn Féin and Independent Senators well in the forthcoming session.

Before we went away for the summer we were told three major reports would be published during the holiday period to which we should all pay attention, which we should all read, understand and be ready to debate when we returned to the House. They were the report on the outline of the legislation on NAMA which has been published, the report of the McCarthy commission and the report of the Commission on Taxation. These three important documents which were flagged at the start of the summer were to form the basis of the debate we would have in the Houses and the broader community on the future of the economy and the country generally.

It has been made clear to the people in the NAMA report how serious, fundamental and historic the exposure of taxpayers will be to the wrongdoing of others. Every time an issue was raised in the Houses about taxation or taxation policy we were told by Senator Boyle and others that it was a matter for the Commission on Taxation. If I heard that once, I heard it 50 times in my two short years in the House. I will go further than Senator Fitzgerald and say it is not just that the Taoiseach appears to have sidelined the report, rather it has been abandoned. The report of the commission has been jettisoned by the Government and we are now asked to accept that it will play no part in forming policy, but that the Government will pick one good proposal from it, namely, the proposal on carbon tax, and abandon the rest. When we ask whether it is a good idea to have a debate on taxation and public services, Senator Boyle will not be able to say the answer will be found in the report of the commission or that the report will form the basis of our discussion because it has been jettisoned.

I will also go further than Senator Fitzgerald regarding the McCarthy report and what happened today. Two things were said by Ministers about the report. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said it would form a key part of budgetary strategy, while the Tánaiste said large parts of it did not make sense. Can anybody explain which of those two positions is the Government's? Does the report not make sense, as the Tánaiste has said? Should we take it seriously, as the Minister for Finance has suggested? At the start of the summer, the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said the Opposition would have nowhere to hide when the report was published. His own colleagues have spent the summer looking for somewhere to hide.

The Ministers, Deputies Ó Cuív and Cullen, do not like the report. The Tánaiste does not like it. When people come into the Gallery of this House, they wonder how Senators on the Government side very often make speeches that disagree with Government policy. I remind them that senior Ministers are making a laughing stock of their own Government. They are contributing further to what the Minister, Deputy Gormley, quite correctly described a couple of weeks ago when he bemoaned the complete breakdown in trust in this country's Government.

I am sure Senator Boyle will agree that it will be sorted out when the programme for Government is renegotiated.

He cannot comment. He is muzzled.

I ask Members not to make Second Stage speeches on the Order of Business, especially as 22 Senators have indicated they wish to contribute.

Before the summer recess, I asked the Leader to arrange a debate on the report that was compiled by the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government following its visit to the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland to examine the manner in which the electoral register for that jurisdiction is compiled. I am sure we will hear the usual barrage of complaints about this country's register in the aftermath of the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the matter as soon as possible, so Senators on all sides can make positive and welcome suggestions about how our register of electors can be improved.

I would like to mention, in the context of the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon treaty, that a former Member of this House, Mr. Des Hanafin, has issued a statement on the position on abortion that is held by certain groups. The comments of the former Senator, who is a long-standing champion of the right to life of the unborn, should clarify in the minds of everyone that this referendum will not facilitate abortion. Just as there is none so blind as he who will not see, however, there is none so deaf as he who will not hear. It is important that the former Senator Hanafin has made his statement and that a Catholic bishop has made similar comments.

I would like to ask the Leader about the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) (Amendment) Bill 2009, which has been on the Order Paper since before the summer recess. We are well aware that this country's legislation on the investigation of corporate conduct is hopelessly inadequate. Disturbing revelations about the conduct of Irish Nationwide Building Society emerged over the summer. The Bill I have mentioned is needed because the Director of Corporate Enforcement has no role in such matters, as we know. I suggest that a full and complete investigation of corporate conduct at Irish Nationwide Building Society is required in the public interest. We are aware that the ongoing investigations into Anglo Irish Bank are covered by the existing legislation. The Credit Institutions (Financial Support) (Amendment) Bill 2009 has been prepared to address the fact that building societies are not covered. The acceptance of the Bill by the Government would represent a signal of its firm resolution and commitment to a new era of corporate governance in Ireland, which is urgently required in the public interest. I ask the Leader to comment on the legislation in question, which I would like to be accepted in Government time at the earliest opportunity.

I do not intend to discuss the other shenanigans at financial institutions. The institution I have mentioned should be a priority. I accept that representatives of the Government have spoken about the possibility of removing certain directors of banking institutions, some of whom are still serving, who steered the ship onto the rocks. I suggest it is more important for people at top management levels within this country's retail banks — those who made the front-line decisions — to be sidelined. Many good officials in banking institutions are ready and willing to serve. These people are having to suffer because of those who made the wrong decisions on retail banking in our recent past. I would like to hear the Leader's opinion on this issue.

I reiterate my request for a debate on the fishing industry. This is a particularly important issue given that we are renegotiating the Common Fisheries Policy. I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate in early October in view of these negotiations.

Despite the desperately bad deal that fishermen received when we joined the EEC in 1973, I acknowledge, as should this House, the magnanimous decision by the Federation of Irish Fishermen to support the Lisbon treaty. Unlike the farming community which benefited from Europe, fishermen and coastal communities were not allowed to fulfil the potential they offered in the 1960s and 1970s, with the result that they have suffered since.

This time last year, I introduced the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill 2008 to this House. The Minister for Health and Children accepted the point of the legislation but wanted to undertake discussions before acting on it. The Bill deals with presumed consent in regard to organ donation. However, I am bothered by the length of time taken by State organisations to get things done. Frank Deasy, who many people heard speak on "Liveline", died last week because he was unable to get an organ transplant on time. He fully supported the principle of presumed consent, that is, the assumption that unless one has opted out, one's organs can be used after death. The Minister has stated that she will introduce her own Bill on the same issue as soon as discussions are concluded. However, a full year has passed already and every week people are dying because they cannot get organ transplants. I urge her to make a decision to introduce a Bill and we can then tweak it to make it more acceptable.

I received documentation the other day, I believe in the post but I am not sure, which related to voting "No" in the Lisbon treaty referendum. To the best of my knowledge, this material was sponsored with money from outside the State. I understand that in the United States it is a criminal offence for an American to use funds from outside the state to influence political opinion. If it is the case that this money which was used to advocate a "No" vote, part of which I believe came from the United Kingdom Independence Party, came from outside the State, then those responsible for distributing it, and to the best of my knowledge it may be An Post, have committed a criminal offence. I am not sure if the Minister, the board of directors of An Post or individual postmen are responsible, although perhaps An Post is not even involved. If it is the case that a criminal offence has been committed because funds from outside the State were used to influence political decisions in this country, we should do something immediately before more damage is done.

Further to Senator Quinn's point, I resent the actions of the UK Independence Party and Mr. Nigel Farage in particular. The party's avowed aim is to withdraw from the European Union and basically to destroy it. It is making efforts to influence the electorate into voting "No" on 2 October which is against the best interests of the Irish people. These are the people who want to stop immigration and want a white Britain. They are interfering with our campaign and I fully agree with Senator Quinn that an immediate investigation is needed of their activities. If anyone needed a reason to vote "Yes", it is that the UK Independence Party wants us to vote "No". It is an anti-Irish and anti-Europe party composed of a discredited bunch of individuals. Liam Cosgrave, the former Taoiseach, would have something to say, and a famous speech he made in May 1977 could apply——

Margaret Cox stood over there.

——to some of the people who are coming over here to try to influence the Irish people in this regard.

Finally, this is the most defining moment in Irish politics. The point about the referendum is that it is everyone's individual right to vote on 2 October and each vote is equal, whether from the President, from every member of the Government or from every individual. That is a special role for all of us and I hope that in the next week we will get that message across. This House could play an important role by even discussing this matter today.

The interference of the United Kingdom Independence Party will swing the referendum very much for a "Yes" vote on 2 October because it is the most intolerant group within the European Union. If we do not get a "Yes" vote on 2 October, this is the last time we will have an opportunity for reform of the European Union if the British Conservative Party gets into office after the next general election because it is committed to holding a referendum. If, however, we sign up — the rest have signed up already — and 27 countries agree this, then there will be no going back in this regard. That is why it is so important on 2 October we all enthusiastically go out and do our utmost to get this.

I commend all the major parties which are working so hard to convince people to vote "Yes". They are putting it above party political issues. It is above party political issues because whoever runs this country in the future will rely on a "Yes" vote on 2 October.

I call for a full debate, separate to any debate about the economy, on the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. It really is 450 pages on eye-watering waste by the Government over the years and it warrants a separate debate on how this could have happened.

I also ask the Leader for a debate on the Lisbon treaty so that we can update this House on the campaign. On some of the comments that have already been made, it might be important to point out to the United Kingdom Independence Party that by passing the Lisbon treaty we give them a clear exit clause to get out of Europe with no hassle whatsoever, and of course that will be of assistance to the conservatives in the United Kingdom if they want to get out of Europe. We should raise with the conservatives the point that by passing the Lisbon treaty we give them an opportunity to get out of Europe without having to make matters too difficult for them.

I was also impressed overnight with how posters have sprung up in my county with pictures of the Union Jack and military tanks on them. I thought it was a recruitment poster for the British Army or for the United Kingdom Independence Party, and I was quite surprised to find it was from a political party in this country which neither encourages nor supports the British Army.

Nor the Irish Army.

Issues like that may be raised in the debate, both serious and light-hearted, on the campaign.

I ask the Leader to encourage the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come before the House and give an update on dissident activity in the Six Counties and in the entire Ulster region. I must commend those who found the 600 lb bomb and those who reacted to the pipe bombs in Donegal town recently. However, I ask that the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence be brought before the House to give us an assessment of the present position and to ask the Minister for Defence specifically to bring the bomb disposal unit back to Finner Camp because when the activity took place in Donegal town it took four hours for the unit to arrive from Athlone. We are facing a situation where even the mayor of Donegal has received death threats, as has his wife and his young baby. It is important that if these threats are serious — we must take them seriously — there is the power to react to them.

I also want an opportunity for us in this House to condemn again the move back towards military activity by whoever and we must use every opportunity to advocate a peaceful process of moving forward. In that context, I would outline that these are the years where the Council of Europe is looking at "The image of the Other", and I wrote a report on how to teach history in areas of recent conflict. I would ask that we meet with the Minister for culture to outline how we can encourage the generations coming through to be tolerant of the other because the reason the mayor in Donegal received a death threat is that he suggested a memorial to the Mountbatten murders, a significant anniversary of which is being commemorated this year. It is very important for us to be able to embrace difference if we want a 32-county Ireland of mutual understanding and respect or even a peaceful island where we co-exist as we do as present.

I thank Senators Alex White and O'Toole for their kind words. Although I have made a small physical move forward and to the right, of course, I stay politically exactly where I was before, which is firmly on the left. I have the privilege of having been elected by the graduates of Dublin University to represent them in the Seanad and I will continue to work hard to do so.

I ask the Leader for a debate on NAMA. While I know we will debate the economy this evening, there is an enormous and growing public anger about the extent of the bailout to bankers that NAMA represents. Anyone who saw Fintan O'Toole on television on Monday night will have seen him memorably describe Anglo Irish Bank as a zombie bank. Many people are beginning to realise that NAMA will represent us breathing life with taxpayers' money into a zombie bank that does not deserve to be resuscitated. There will be immense anger when the scale of the money being put into Anglo Irish Bank, in particular, is realised. We need to debate the matter in the House.

In response to Senator Leyden's comments about the Lisbon treaty, many of us would sympathise with him about the fact that UKIP is advocating a "No" vote and it is yet another reason to vote "Yes". Of course there is a very positive reason to vote for the treaty apart from that which is that it will incorporate for the first time the Charter of Fundamental Rights into EU primary law. I, for one, am passionate about supporting the treaty for that reason alone. I urge colleagues on both sides of the House who are supportive of the treaty to look at the website of the charter group in which I am involved. It is a group of trade unionists and activists from the left who are urging a "Yes" vote because of the importance we attach to this charter, which will provide citizens here with another parallel system of human rights protections to add to our own Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. That is a significant positive reason to ask people to vote "Yes". On doorsteps that has been received very positively when I have been canvassing.

I support the calls for a debate on NAMA. Of course we can take great pride on this side of the House in the fact that the money we are getting from the ECB is at a rate of 1.5%.

That is only for now.

Senator Hanafin, without interruption, please.

Despite this, we have already given €7 billion to the Irish banks at8%. In other words we can more than finance all the toxic debt and other good assets, amounting to €37.2 billion——

Until interest rates go to 5%.

——from the 8% we are getting from the banks. That was a marvellous deal the Minister for Finance arranged for the State.

The Senator is dreaming. He is in Utopia and should go back to sleep or, even better again, wake up.

Please, Members, there should be no interruption.

In that debate we should focus on the fact that in any analysis of property prices from peak to trough, including that for the Great Depression, at no time have property prices not appreciated by 88% seven years after the trough. The Jonahs will not have their day on this issue.

The Minister for Finance has indicated that carbon tax will become a reality. We should have a debate in connection with the possible abuse by gangsters of the divergence of price between the North and the Republic. That would encourage criminals to become involved in transporting carbon fuels across the Border. They will take the opportunity to put a veneer of political aim on their activities and start supporting the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA as part of this cover. We should ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Finance to ensure carbon taxes are exactly the same in both jurisdictions.

I also support Senator Keaveney's request for a fitting memorial to the Mountbatten murders that took place just off the Irish coast. It is interesting to note that Mountbatten wrote that he wished to see a united Ireland. It is one of those strange anomalies that turns up in life. It is somewhat like the UK Independence Party and Sinn Féin supporting a "No" vote together.

Senator Quinn is promoting the notion of presumed consent for organ donation. We have been waiting a long time for such a system which works well in Spain because there is full support for families. With that in mind, given that there has been sufficient time and there are enough people within the health service, it would be worthwhile for the House to make contact with the Minister to ask where we are with it and whether we can proceed.

I would like to speak about the Lisbon treaty. Whatever about NAMA and the state of the economy, this is the issue we must prioritise as we head towards the referendum on 2 October. As mentioned, the UK Independence Party has entered the debate in Ireland, which is entirely inappropriate. However, it highlights the informal alliance between the ideas represented by UKIP and those on the far right and those of Sinn Féin on the far left. If anything, this curious alliance shows the absurdity of the position Sinn Féin has taken in the referendum campaign and why its arguments should be rejected. Sinn Féin's Alternative Guide to Lisbon 2 and the UKIP document on the treaty both contain the same untruths about what the treaty really means.

This alliance between two extreme points of view which are based on falsehoods and lies is the best message as to why people should vote "Yes" to the Lisbon treaty. It is important to get that message across. We have had an informed public debate on the treaty and have had the benefit of clarifications from the European heads of state and government, as well as legally binding guarantees, including on the retention of the Commissionership. Fine Gael has been calling for a "Yes" vote to ensure the country is put first. The effect of the campaign by these two organisations — Sinn Féin and UKIP — would be to create an impoverished, politically isolated Ireland on the periphery of Europe.

Senators

Hear, hear.

It may not be intended, but that would be the effect if people were to listen to these two organisations.

I support my colleagues who have referred to the Lisbon treaty. We look forward to the outcome on 2 October.

I indicate my solidarity with older people in our communities and convey our condolences to the Barry family in Waterford and other families who have experienced bereavement or loss. I call on the Leader of the House to seek a review of supports and services available to older people in the community to ensure there are adequate safeguards in place and a review of sentencing for any criminal action against older people. There are a host of services and supports, including home help, housing aid, meals on wheels, personal care packages——

——alarms for the elderly and various communication systems. However, due to the current financial difficulties, some of these services are being curtailed. It is, therefore, necessary for the Department of Health and Children, the HSE, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to work together to assess the current position. I ask the Leader to report back to the House in this regard.

I am sure colleagues will join me in expressing our sympathy to former MEP Kathy Sinnott and her family on the tragic death of her son, Kevin, in America. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Senators

Hear, hear.

We should have a debate soon on the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission on bioethics, specifically the issue of advanced care directives. There is much to welcome in the report of the commission. However, as with many such reports, it is important we do not see it as an automatic template that we follow slavishly in legislation, but that we have a full and searching debate on the recommendations made. I am particularly concerned about the need to revisit, in cultural and legal terms, the question of artificial feeding and hydration. It is important that would always be seen as basic ordinary care and not as artificial or extraordinary care. The Law Reform Commission seems to suggest that such artificial nutrition and hydration should be seen as treatment rather than as basic care. It seems to be of the view that the question of the person's likelihood of recovery should be the determining factor in deciding whether to give such care. It is good that the Law Reform Commission has indicated its proposals but we need to have a careful debate on this issue.

In that context, we should reflect on an excellent article by Breda O'Brien in last Saturday's edition ofThe Irish Times in which she described a situation of a man who was suffering from locked-in syndrome. When people finally managed to communicate with him, which was a tortuous process of asking him to respond to the question of whether he wanted to live, his response was gradually expressed that “I demand to live” and he added an expletive. When we are talking about advanced care directives, it may well be that a person, perhaps an elderly person who is worried about being a burden, will express one kind of wish when he or she is well but who when ill would not want his or her life curtailed. We need to focus clearly on the need to respect that life is always a good thing and even where there is suffering, there is massive human potential for hope and dignity.

In that context, we should also reflect on the so-called clarification of laws on assisted suicide published in England and Wales today. It is important to be careful that we would never undermine the essential point of our culture that life is always a good thing. The act of a person who assists somebody else to die should always be prosecutable. The particular circumstances can be taken into consideration in mitigation when it comes to sentencing, but by issuing clarifications suggesting in what circumstances the Director of Public Prosecutions might bring a prosecution and in what circumstances he or she might not, I would be concerned that it would involve giving a green light to people to make decisions that they should not take.

We are all in dialogue with people on different sides of the debate on the Lisbon treaty who are sincere and well-informed people. One point on which we would all agree is that people should be able to vote. I received correspondence on this matter, on which I also seek a debate, from Mr. Richard Pearse, a pilot, who indicated that the issue of the Lisbon treaty is now one of interest for him rather than one of action. He indicated that his job will have him out of the country on 2 October so he will be unable to exercise his vote. He indicated that we have an extremely absentee voting system here.

The Senator should not refer to an individual's name.

I will conclude that the Seanad election system is considerably more progressive.

I do not want the Senator to make a Second Stage speech. He should make the point and move on as many speakers wish to contribute.

In requesting such a debate, I am conscious that a time limit does not apply to business today.

That matter has already been raised.

That individual indicated that there is a certain irony in the EU providing the freedom to work and live in its different member states, yet Ireland will not grant the means to vote for those of us who may be out of the country on polling day. Can we have a debate on the need to change that position soon?

On a final point, I compliment and wish well my colleague, Senator Bacik. In moving to the Labour Party she has clearly wrestled with her conscience.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I am not sure if she has won or lost that wrestling match.

The leaders of the groups have spoken on that matter.

Neither Senator O'Toole nor myself——

The Senator is not the leader of his group.

——is sure whether there will be a by-election on the Trinity panel but we would like to wish her well in any case. I can assure her that physically at least I will be behind her all the way from now on.

Senator Mullen, please desist. I call Senator Walsh.

Senator Bacik should watch her back.

I call Senator Walsh to proceed without interruption.

I join Senator Mullen in extending sympathy to Kathy Sinnott and the wider Sinnott family on their tragic loss. The Sinnott family are from Wexford. It is a terrible tragedy to lose a son, especially in the circumstances.

I support the calls by Senator Fitzgerald and others for a debate on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. He gets a lot of credit for some of the reports his office publishes, but we are only touching the tip of the iceberg with regard to moneys that could be saved. Billions could be saved without impacting either on individuals working within the public service or on the services we are charged with delivering purely by being more efficient and cost effective. We should debate that issue. It is a retrograde step if the publication of such important reports are not debated in these Houses. I am aware the committees will debate them and I fully support that. The ESRI report, which is interesting in terms of wage levels in the public service, should also be debated in this House. These are important fundamental issues which go to the core of how we are to extricate ourselves from the fiscal and economic difficulties we are encountering.

I support Senators who stated that our priority this week and next week should be the Lisbon treaty. Whatever else we do, if we fail in having it passed, all efforts to bring about recovery of our economy will be in vain. I share the concerns expressed by a number of Senators in regard to the spurious and disingenuous arguments being made in this regard by various groups, many of whom purport to represent the fundamental side of the Catholic religion. Their impact and influence on many of those people who share their convictions and concerns is being weakened by the manner in which those spurious arguments, in particular in regard to abortion and other ethical issues, are being propagated. I agree with Senator Glynn's sentiments in this regard. I believe former Senator Des Hanafin's article is exceptionally good. He has great credibility in the area of pro-life protection.

I welcome the Taoiseach's article in today'sThe Irish Catholic which is unequivocal in terms of its commitment to ensuring that not alone abortion but other ethical issues ploughed by the liberal agenda within the European Union and elsewhere at Commission level and here within the public service establishment will be for the Irish people to decide, which is precisely as it should be. The impact of the arguments being made by some of these groups is having an effect. I have been out canvassing and have been confronted on these issues by people who are genuinely concerned. I do not mind anybody opposing on the basis of strong genuine arguments but latching on to untruths and promoting them in order to get a “No” vote to satisfy another agenda is wrong.

Three years ago, Fine Gael introduced a Home Defence Bill which was voted down by the Government. The Government acknowledged that legislation would have to be introduced to address some of the issues that arose in the Bill and stated it would introduce its own Bill at a later stage. Three years have passed and the Government continues to await the final report of the Law Reform Commission. I do not believe this is acceptable. Three years is too long to wait for necessary legislation in this regard.

Last week the home of a constituent of mine, Mr. Paddy Barry, was broken into. Sadly, Mr. Barry has since died. I knew Mr. Barry well. I am a friend of his son, Brendan Barry. Mr. Barry was a respected member of the community and the parish of Ballybricken where I come from. Breaking into the homes of elderly people is a despicable crime. In my opinion, the punishment in this regard does not in many instances fit the crime.

I am sure everybody in the House will join with me in sending our condolences to the Barry family. We need action of the type suggested in the Home Defence Bill, which could be amended to ensure this issue is properly dealt with. Waiting three years for legislation which the Government stated at the time was necessary is totally unacceptable.

I ask the Leader to allow a debate on the report published last week by the United Nations on the situation in Gaza. One of those involved in this investigation was Colonel Desmond Travers, a retired Army officer. The report concluded that the Israeli forces engaged in war crimes and human rights abuses in Gaza. The European Union has a preferential trade agreement with Israel, Article 2 of which specifies that the latter must observe human rights within its jurisdiction. Some 80% of Israel's trade is with the European Union. If the Union is not willing to uphold clauses within its own treaties, it cannot expect others to respect those provisions. The need to uphold such principles is especially acute where a body such as the United Nations, one of the most respected institutions in the world, has stated that human rights abuses took place. As such, the European Union should suspend all preferential trade with Israel.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the House to discuss the siting of mobile telephone masts? A clause in Kerry County Council's development plan, supported by all councillors, stipulates that masts should not be located close to schools or hospitals. However, notwithstanding the rejection by Kerry County Council of a planning application for the erection of a mast at Annascaul and the subsequent inspector's report upholding that refusal, permission was ultimately granted by An Bord Pleanála. This has led to a stand-off, including a boycott by all Kerry concrete suppliers in an effort to prevent the base being erected. We must have a national policy in regard to the siting of mobile telephone masts. The European Environment Agency has advocated caution given the growing evidence of mobile telephones and masts causing a potential threat to human health. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister which should include consideration of a nationwide provision similar to Kerry County Council's 1 km rule in respect of the siting of all masts but bearing in mind the need to provide broadband.

I am sure the Cathaoirleach is delighted that the Kerry football team was victorious in last weekend's All-Ireland final.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It does not make up for 1982 but it was a great night in Glenbeigh and Glencar. The team captain, Darren O'Sullivan, received a hero's welcome. This was Kerry's 33rd victory out of 53 All-Ireland final appearances.

Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir O'Toole ar maidin. There is often talk on the first day of a new term about Seanad reform. It seems significant additional work has recently been done in this area notwithstanding the 13 reports already published on Seanad reform, none of which has thus far been implemented. I and my party, along with other party leaders in the Seanad, made detailed submissions on the type of reform we envisage. I was pleased to hear Senator O'Toole make the case for genuine reform or, in the absence of such, the abolition of this House. This is a point I have made repeatedly. To clarify, my party does not favour the abolition of the Seanad but rather meaningful reform. However, if it is merely a case of tweaking around the edges, which seems to be what the Minister is proposing, then there can be no function for this forum in the manner in which it is currently constituted. The report by an bord snip nua got it right in this regard. While most of us are arguing against front-line cuts which affect the most vulnerable in society, we cannot ignore the fact that it costs €25 million per annum to run this establishment which, in many respects, merely duplicates the roles and functions of the Lower House. The function and administration of this House must be subject to the same serious examination as every other aspect of the running of the State. There must be genuine dialogue and, more important, effective action. The time for talking may well be over and it is time to take the bull by the horns.

Earlier this year I welcomed a debate which took place in this House prompted by a report I produced for the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on the difficulties faced by rural communities, particularly in the west. In recent months the McCarthy report and other reports have proposed changes in various aspects of policy which, if introduced, would have a serious impact on rural areas. Some have already been implemented, such as the withdrawal of the rural transport service at off-peak times, with proposals to end the scheme entirely. My report shows that more than half of Garda stations are manned by only one garda or are manned only on a part-time basis, and the McCarthy report proposes that a substantial number of these should be shut down. There are also proposals to shut down smaller schools. If implemented in full, the McCarthy report proposals could mean the closure or amalgamation of 115 out of 173 schools in my county. That is the degree of peril for rural Ireland. We are all aware of the impact of the reductions in home help hours and other supports for vulnerable members of society.

I heard the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, comment earlier today that there is much in the McCarthy report that makes no sense. It is important to recognise that the report is not merely the creation of Mr. Colm McCarthy and his team but was evaluated by senior civil servants in the Department of Finance. Their thinking absolutely bewilders me. One of the programmes they were asked to evaluate was CLÁR, a programme which offers support to communities in the most isolated rural areas in the State. Its expenditure is less than €20 million per year invested in locations throughout the State. The response from senior civil servants in the Department of Finance was that investing in areas with very low populations cannot be seen as a priority in the current economic climate. If that is the thinking of those currently devising the budget to be delivered in December, there must be serious concern for the future of rural Ireland. There must be a proper debate, stepping back from all the cuts, juggling and attempts to balance the books, to ascertain what we want to achieve and the type of Ireland we are shaping for the future.

I submitted an issue for discussion on the Adjournment today, which was not selected, relating to the cuts facing the Irish language community. A glance at what McCarthy proposes, which again comes from civil servants within the Department of Finance and from within other Departments, which information is on the Department of Finance website, shows a proposed reduction in funding for programmes under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs of 58%, while the average proposed reduction in other programmes is 10%. What type of Ireland will emerge from this recession? It will undoubtedly be centred on the hubs and major towns and there is a danger it will have no language and no heart.

Senator Doherty will have an opportunity to make these points during the debate on the economy.

The Senator is making a Second Stage speech.

We must have a meaningful debate on the direction in which we want to go.

I take issue with some of the comments made by Senators in regard to the Lisbon treaty. The forthcoming referendum represents the greatest challenge the State will face in the weeks, months and years ahead. I welcome the various farmers' groups, trade unions, women's groups and community organisations which are actively campaigning for a rejection of the treaty to ensure Ireland remains at the heart of Europe and gets a better deal.

There have been accusations that those on the No side, particularly my own party, have been peddling untruths. I refute that accusation. Those campaigning for the treaty during the previous referendum warned that its rejection would result in a withdrawal of foreign direct investment. That has proved to be incorrect. On the contrary, the IDA recently confirmed there has been a 14% increase in such investment in the period since the rejection of the treaty last year.

When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, says a second rejection of the treaty will be tantamount to our withdrawal from Europe, he is putting forward an absolute untruth.The Wall Street Journal, a prominent and influential publication, has described such comments by the Minister and his Government colleagues as “patent absurdities”.

The Senator cannot make Second Stage speeches on the Order of Business.

The newspaper claims the Government is peddling phantom terrors.

(Interruptions).

The Senator has made his point.

The Wall Street Journal has said the Government's chief strategy is to prey on people's fear, peddling phantom terrors to scare people into voting "Yes". That is what influential international economists are saying.

I join my Donegal colleague, Senator Keaveney, in calling for a debate on the North of Ireland. I have discussed with various groups and individuals in the North the issues that have emerged over the summer, namely, an underlying growth in dissident activity on all sides. None of us, from any party, is willing to accept that and it is important that we zone in on the causes of this problem. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House for a serious debate on the situation as soon as possible after the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. We must also liaise where necessary and possible with our colleagues north of the Border.

The other issue I wish to raise, and it has been mentioned earlier, is the banking sector in Ireland. Let us leave NAMA aside for the moment. It will take care of itself in the weeks to come and is currently being discussed in the Lower House. At issue is the report produced by the European Commission on the banking sector in the member states. That report has thrown up a number of matters in respect of the misleading information which the Irish retail banking sector has been promoting at consumer level. That is unacceptable and disgraceful. An example of some of its products is bogus non-resident accounts, whereby bank managers were aiding and abetting the establishment of non-resident accounts by facilitating addresses outside of the State for elderly individuals, including farmers and pensioners. If we are to proceed on the basis that NAMA will support our banking sector, and we need a strong and vibrant banking sector, some of the people who cultivated that environment over the years must be sacked and taken out of circulation in that sector so the public can have confidence that we will have a formidable banking sector in the future. I hope we will have the opportunity to discuss this during the debate on NAMA. However, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the banking sector as it exists at present before the NAMA legislation is brought before the House.

Given his contribution, I wonder if Senator Ó Domhnaill is for or against NAMA.

I am glad to hear it. Will the Leader arrange a debate on Ireland, as a matter of urgency? Since the Seanad last met, 174,000 more people have joined the dole queue and net emigration is once again exceeding immigration. That causes a brain drain and skills deficit. Perhaps the largest skills deficit we have is in the Government. In light of the Tánaiste's comments this morning in the Dáil, what will shape the Government's budgetary strategy in December? Will it be the McCarthy report or the report of the Commission on Taxation, or does the Government even know? I notice that the spokesman on hardship, the Deputy Leader of this House, is missing. We heard him throughout the summer speaking from the plinth and everywhere else, waxing lyrical about what he intended to do. However, he has not come here today to face the Members of this House. What is happening with the McCarthy report? The Government commissioned that report but we now hear from a combination of Ministers, backbenchers and Senators that it is all a bottle of smoke. Will the Leader explicitly state what will shape the Government's strategy in the December budget?

Second, in the context of the debate on the economy later, I join Senator Ó Domhnaill in calling for a debate on the banking sector before the House debates the NAMA legislation, assuming it passes all Stages in the other House. Is the Leader aware this issue does not just affect business? Ordinary citizens who bought houses at inflated prices are now unable to pay the mortgage because they have lost their jobs. The banks are threatening repossession. More importantly, people have committed suicide or are on the verge of doing so or have reached the end of their patience with life. It is an appalling vista. There has been nothing from the Government to help the ordinary person who is in trouble. I am not referring to the developers who can huff and puff in the Supreme Court but to the ordinary person who has a special needs child whose class size has been increased or who has had their social welfare payment or their rate of pay cut and who is struggling. We have heard nothing from the Government. Perhaps the Leader will respond on that point.

Finally, could the Leader arrange an urgent debate on sport in Irish society? I have made this request previously and repeat it now. We must have a debate on the role of sport. Senator Daly should be humble in victory. I know he cannot really be humble but he should try just once. I congratulate Kerry on its victory; the team deserved to win. However, the Senator should be a little gracious. Anybody can play with the big ball but it is the small ball that counts.

This is not at all relevant to the Order of Business.

(Interruptions).

No own goals, Senator.

I come from the county with the most All-Ireland titles in Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. There is a need for a debate on sport, given that the McCarthy report has called for the abolition of the relevant Department, there has been a cut in funding to various organisations and it is getting nearer to the London Olympics in 2012.

I support Senator Mullen's comments on the need for a debate on the recent Law Reform Commission report regarding advanced care orders. The concerns voiced by the Senator raise the inhumane prospect of a person being starved and parched to death rather than treatment being withheld. There is a difference between treatment and basic care. I am sure colleagues will recall the distressing situation that arose approximately 18 months ago when a decision was made to withhold nutrition and hydration from a young lady who had been in a coma. It is a terribly inhumane way to die. It is important that this House debates advanced care orders.

Second, will the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for children to the House to discuss the proposed bilateral agreement with Vietnam on adoption? Two reports were prepared over the summer, one by UNICEF and the other by the Vietnamese. Many parents are suffering dreadfully and are anxious to know the position with their proposed adoption of a Vietnamese child. I am aware from meeting and communicating with them that their only intent is to offer a loving and safe home. They do not wish to be part of anything wrong but they want to know where they stand so they can move on with their lives.

Finally, could the Leader invite the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, to the House? There have been anecdotal accounts, particularly in the last couple of months, of a dramatic rise in the number of suicides as a result of the economic situation. I congratulate the HSE on the supports and pamphlets it made available over the summer which give people practical advice on how to support their mental health and well-being. However, it is important to establish whether there has been an increase in the number of suicides and what role the Oireachtas can undertake to support people in these difficult times.

Sometimes I wonder why we are here. I do not know how many people watched the proceedings in the Dáil last week and heard the Ceann Comhairle read a list of Bills which he had received from the Seanad. What was notable was that every Bill was received without amendment. It stood out as an indication that we are not allowed to do serious work in this Chamber. What sort of work are we being asked or permitted to do or are we, as many who have mentioned Seanad reform have indicated, becoming a rubber stamp that badly needs reform?

This afternoon we are due to debate a broad issue, the economy. I hope to God the Minister for Finance is coming to the House for the debate and that the Leader will not wheel in another political eunuch to sit in the Chamber and take no notice of what anybody here has to say.

We will see who comes to the debate. I might be maligning the Leader but I will bet that the Minister for Finance will not be here this afternoon for any length of time, if at all. There is no point having people present who are just going through the motions and not listening to anything Members say. Perhaps the Leader will indicate which Minister will come before the House.

I endorse the comments of Senators Walsh and Twomey on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Why is the House not debating it? I do not know whether the Leader or his party are aware that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment received the report, the contents of which with regard to FÁS are dynamite, on 12 June. Ministers are required to release reports within 90 days of receiving them. The Tánaiste sat on the report for 90 days before releasing it, coincidentally, I suppose, on the same day the legislation on the National Asset Management Agency was introduced. As a result, the report did not receive the coverage it deserved.

Today, the House could give the report on wastage in FÁS due coverage and attention but it will not be allowed to do so. I am not blowing anyone's trumpet in pointing out that for years my requests for a debate on FÁS fell on deaf ears. While I do not understand the reason, it is suspicious that the House cannot debate this organisation which has a budget of €1 billion per annum, most of which is wasted, or have the Tánaiste come before us to illuminate us on developments because the subject is politically sensitive. Why are those who sat on the board of FÁS this time last year still on it and drawing fat salaries? Each time I ask this question in the House I do not receive an answer and we are prevented from holding a debate.

There is more than a suspicion that FÁS is a Fianna Fáil-protected, semi-State agency which has been politicised by the Fianna Fáil Party and the social partners, all of which have their snouts in the trough. The organisation spends €1 billion each year, of which a large amount is wasted, but the House which is supposed to be an accountable Chamber of Parliament is not allowed to debate the issue. Instead, it is proposed to debate the economy in a vacuum when no one will listen to a word we will say.

Senator O'Toole is correct but we should go further and ask whether we are being insulted by the agendas with which we are being presented in the House. Are we talking ourselves into irrelevance when the Seanad could be relevant? What is taking place is a disgrace and shame and the House does not emerge from it with credit. Let us discuss issues that matter rather than ones that do not. Let us not put window dressing on what we do. Let us be relevant rather than irrelevant.

During the summer months all Senators will have received a significant number of representations from various groups which fear they will be affected by the recommendations of the McCarthy report. I look forward to an early and substantial debate on the report to enable us to ascertain what precisely is the Government's position on it. The case made by two specific groups, the rural transport initiative and Family Support Agency, struck a strong chord with me. Senator Doherty and others referred to the role of the rural transport scheme. Under the scheme which costs approximately €11 million per annum, tens of thousands of people are facilitated, on a weekly basis, to see the outside world and engage with their friends, neighbours and local communities. The scheme must be retained.

It is safe to say the Family Support Agency does what it says on the tin, that is, it supports families through providing counselling, support and advice on matters such as housing and social welfare benefits. The agency does outstanding work in virtually every town and many villages and townlands with a budget of only €40 million. People are genuinely afraid that the possible reduction in its services will cause them grave difficulties.

I could list group after group which could be affected by the recommendations of the McCarthy report. Given the social capital benefits generated by the rural transport groups and Family Support Agency for relatively small sums, it is imperative that these organisations are supported.

While I do not expect the Leader to respond to the specific issues I raise, the House must urgently debate the McCarthy report, certainly in advance of the budget. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope the report will go away or argue, as the Tánaiste did this morning, that it basically does not matter. It has been published and much of it may be implemented. This must be done in a careful and planned fashion. For this reason, the House must debate it as soon as possible. Let us act like politicians rather than shouting from the sidelines. Let us go through the report line by line and page by page, express our views and, where we see fit, put forward alternative proposals and objections.

Yesterday, the Minister for Health and Children put the fear of God into people when she stated significant health cuts would be required. Having considered her comment in the context of my constituency, I note, for example, that on Wednesday of last week 12 people were waiting on trolleys in Portiuncula Hospital. I challenge the Minister's assurance, given to Senators on one of her previous appearances in the House, that cuts would not impact on the sick and most vulnerable in society. Bed closures have occurred. In Portiuncula Hospital, for example, 35 beds, including St. John's ward, have been closed. The hospice unit in Athlone is not open and many other facilities in Mullingar General Hospital will not proceed. I will not labour the point. Instead, I ask that the Minister come before the House to state categorically what cuts she intends to make.

I have other questions for the Minister. Will she explain what she means by the term "premium payments"? Will Professor Drumm who will retire this year be replaced? What is the function of the Department of Health and Children and how much does it cost? I do not believe it does much. What is the current position on the national children's hospital? I wish to raise a plethora of other issues with the Minister. She cannot pluck a figure of €3 billion in cuts from the air without informing us how these cuts will affect those who are sick. I ask the Leader to arrange to have the Minister come before the House at the earliest possible date — perhaps next week — to discuss the issue of health.

I support Senators' calls for a debate on the legislation on the National Asset Management Agency. I note, in particular, Senator Hanafin's remark that there has never been a property crash which did not result in property prices subsequently appreciating by 88%. Is the real Fianna Fáil-Green Party plan for the economy to sort out the banking crisis by making homes unaffordable again for ordinary families and workers? Senator Ross referred to the relevance of the House. If this House is to be relevant, issues of this nature must be discussed and clarified.

Senators referred to the role of the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, in the Lisbon treaty referendum. Given that the free movement of labour and capital are benefits of the European Union, I do not take issue with members of other political parties coming to this country. However, I have a problem when members of a party led by people who do not live here come to Ireland to warn us about immigration. The leaflets distributed by UKIP and the posters the party has erected show a degree of despicable hypocrisy that debars it from making a contribution to the debate.

I second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business asking the Minister for Education and Science to come before the House immediately to address the appalling disservice he has done to 500 children with mild learning disabilities. We have fought hard for these children to ensure their classes are maintained. Senators from all parties described the Minister's announcement on this issue as a bad move. Some of the children in question cannot speak or use the toilet alone. We now learn that 200 posts must be filled if they are to be given an appropriate education in mainstream classes. The policy of inclusion adopted in this country requires that appropriate resources be provided to enable these children to be educated in a mainstream classroom. When will those 200 posts be filled?

I was delighted with the global economic recovery debate that David McWilliams had at the weekend at Farmleigh House. I was particularly pleased by the emphasis on the importance of education on research and development to help us move forward and become strong again as a nation. It is time for the Minister for Education and Science to come clean with the people and tell us his plans for funding third-level education. Will he bring back fees? I am being lobbied, as I am sure others are, because there is great concern about whether parents will be able to afford third-level education for their children.

I wish to compliment Mr. Justice Frank Clarke on his work in clarifying facts concerning the Lisbon referendum, but he still has a lot more to do. He must find a way to counter false claims that are currently being made so that people will have the facts before 2 October. I refer in particular to worrying information on euthanasia, which is being placed in churches in novena-style leaflets. An old woman attended a public meeting and showed me such a leaflet, which incites fear.

Equally, there are false claims by Sinn Féin that a "Yes" vote will crush family farms. I happen to live on such a farm and but for Europe and the single farm premium we would not survive. Sinn Féin claims that a "Yes" vote will lower wages when in fact we are protected here by the minimum wage legislation. Many other scare-mongering techniques are being propagated at the moment. The Leader should ask Mr. Justice Clarke to examine the range of misleading claims that are appearing on "No" campaign posters with a view to correcting such misinformation.

The recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is an horrendous chronicle of wanton waste. It is an indictment of Government and the system of governance over the years in question, as well FÁS itself. In reading the report we are reminded of the biblical injunction to fill barns in the years of plenty. Rather than doing so, however, we emptied barns, sold the timber rafters and sold some of the stonework as well. As we approach the years of need we find that we have wilfully emptied barns in a wasteful manner.

While it is a disgraceful indictment, it is incumbent upon us not to correct that error on the backs of the weak and needy, or on specific schemes that were cost-effective — or can be made so, in so far as they are not — and can deliver an important service to ordinary people. No scheme stands out more in this context than the rural transport scheme. As someone representing a rural constituency, no scheme has brought more change to the lives of ordinary people in isolated situations. It has meant a lot to women in rural areas, the older generation, people in need and those with various levels of disability. The scheme allows those living alone to shop and have other social contact, thus affording them basic human dignity and a decent quality of life.

It is not an argument to say that because we have a large number of cars such people do not need the rural transport scheme. They need the scheme because many of them cannot drive and have no one to take them from isolated areas to the nearest town. Many such people have nobody to look after them. It is a fallacy to put forward this Darwinian theory — that because there are cars, which they cannot drive or access, then buses should be withdrawn from them. The rural transport scheme is cost effective and must be maintained. The Leader should give a commitment to ask the Government not to correct wanton waste on the backs of the needy and underprivileged, including those who for years built up this country. We should not correct the ills of our society on the backs of those using the rural transport scheme. They need a vision for change in terms of social services.

I join with the leader of Fine Gael in the House, Senator Fitzgerald, in opposing the Order of Business on the basis that no Private Members' time has been allotted this week. When Opposition Members raise issues the Leader frequently says they should be discussed in Private Members' time. In my seven years here I cannot remember a week when Private Members' time was not provided for. Given the fact that there are only three items on this week's schedule, I do not see why Private Members' time could not have been included.

As I asked in the last session, is it not possible that when the schedule is delivered by e-mail or otherwise to Members on Thursdays or Fridays, the times of debates could also be included? There was a time in the House when Senators did not have specific time slots to contribute and speaking time was not curtailed. In that context, it may have been more difficult to schedule the business of the House, but in my first five years as a Member of this House it was possible to indicate when debates would actually take place. I ask the Leader to examine doing that in future.

I also wish to mention NAMA briefly in passing, although I know we will be discussing that legislation at a later date. It is arguably the most important legislation the Houses of the Oireachtas will ever deal with. Senator Hanafin spoke about the Government borrowing from the Central Bank at 1.5% and lending at a higher rate. It is quite clear, however, that we will not be borrowing from the European Central Bank at 1.5% for much longer. In fact, interest rates could increase significantly over the next number of years. In all his calculations to do with NAMA, the Minister for Finance has refused to accept that that increase is inevitable, whenever it comes. It could be very substantial indeed, although it has not been sufficiently included in any of the Government's calculations so far.

I join with Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White and others who referred to the report of the Commission on Taxation. Every time a taxation issue was discussed in the previous session we were told to await the outcome of that report. Now, however, we are told by the Taoiseach that it is a long-term project, not a short or medium-term one. We should have a debate with the Minister for Finance, not one of the junior Ministers, in the House as soon possible.

I agree with previous speakers who referred to issues concerning rural areas. Senator O'Toole spoke about prices to suppliers and producers, and we should have a discussion on those.

For a long time, Senator Doherty has raised the removal of services to people in rural Ireland, such as the rural transport initiative. However, I disagree profoundly with Senator Doherty's views on the Lisbon treaty. In particular, he mentioned a line from theWall Street Journal referring to the Government — which I dislike as much as he does — preying on fears to get the Irish people to vote “Yes”.

It is a bit ironic to be lectured by a representative of a political party which represents a movement that used terror to prey on people on both sides of the Border and on the neighbouring island for 30 years to try to pursue a particular objective which all of us ultimately share, namely, that we would live to see a united Ireland. However, it is a bit rich from that source to be lectured that the Government is preying on people's fears to secure a "Yes" vote.

I support the earlier calls for a debate on the elderly and ask the Leader to accommodate it. Elderly people in urban and rural areas are concerned about proposed cuts and barriers to accessing basic services to which they are entitled. These people built our country and we should not forget them, even in recessionary times. It is a debate well worth having. I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate on services for the elderly.

I concur with the comments of my colleague, Senator Cummins, and I offer my condolences to the Barry family in Waterford on the sad passing of Paddy Barry. We all have to ask ourselves whether mandatory sentencing or another provision should be introduced to deal with criminals who break into the houses of vulnerable elderly people and what is the role of the Government, the Garda and society in supporting our elderly people. Every Member could make a proper contribution to such a debate.

I also support the call for an immediate debate on special needs education. A cull of special needs assistants, SNAs, has taken place over the past number of weeks. Most parents of children availing of special needs services were not aware that the cull had taken place until they presented with the children on the first morning of the new term. I spoke to two or three sets of parents over the past few weeks who are seriously traumatised by what has happened. Where along the way did we lose our perspective?

The Government's only consideration seems to be to savagely impose cuts across the board without considering the human cost. I acknowledge the State is losing €400 million a week and we need to take stock of where we are going as a nation but we have rightly always prided ourselves both nationally and internationally on how we care for the vulnerable. I was contacted by one parent whose eight year-old daughter has special needs. She was a social recluse on entering school in rural Galway but she was transformed into a happy pupil. She returned to school three weeks ago to find the SNA with whom she had built a close relationship was no longer employed because a special educational needs officer deemed the SNA was no longer necessary. The child is not attending school and her parents will find it difficult to get her back to school. This human cost of the Minister's decision is being replicated throughout the country. I urgently ask the Leader to examine the issue of special needs education. Surely we have some priorities left as a nation.

Before I respond to the Order of Business, on behalf of the House, I congratulate everybody concerned, including the Taoiseach, Ministers, Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and other organisations, on their achievements at the forum in Farmleigh House last weekend. I sincerely hope something good will come out of it in helping and assisting the Government in formulating the budget. It was of enormous help and benefit and I congratulate everyone on behalf of the Seanad for their hard work, foresight and endeavour, including those who came from the four corners of the world and who hold the diaspora close to their hearts and want to know what they can do for Ireland, the home of their father, mother, granddad or grandma. It was a shining example to all of us who were present.

Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Twomey and John Paul Phelan asked various questions about the Seanad vacancies. It is my understanding they will possibly be filled in the early part of this session and I assure Senator Fitzgerald we, on the Government side, are very much looking forward to it.

It was Fianna Fáil's Private Members' time tonight. Following discussions with the leader of the Independent group, with whom Senator Ross does not seem to have communicated, on two occasions, I decided to forfeit Fianna Fáil's time tonight to allow all Members to make statements on the economy and I understand this was welcome.

On a point of order, I am being misrepresented. On no occasion did I offer a view or was I in favour of getting rid of Private Members' time. Private Members' business should be taken this evening. I said that consistently to the Leader. I acknowledge I asked for a debate on the economy.

We have had an open ended Order of Business and it is now 4.15 p.m. The Minister will not introduce the Bill until 4.30 p.m. I wish to get Second Stage taken before midnight and I do not wish to have the staff present while Private Members' business is being discussed at 2 a.m. Staff have been co-operative with the House regarding the banking legislation and other important Bills. Legislation is the No. 1 priority on the Order of Business. Legislation will be taken later but to facilitate a debate on the economy, I forfeited Fianna Fáil's Private Members' time, which is a good idea.

On a point of order, I was told by the Leader that Fine Gael would be first to have Private Members' time this session. I do not know why he is saying it was Fianna Fáil's turn for Private Members' time this evening. I was told by him that Fine Gael would have the first Private Members' time, which I understood would happen the first week we returned, which is tonight.

I also understood that to be the case.

There is a complete misunderstanding. I indicated to the Fine Gael leader that on the recall of the first full session, I would give Fine Gael Private Members' time. The House sat an extra week in July and we have returned a week earlier in September and therefore, the first full sitting week of the session will be the week following the Lisbon treaty referendum. Fine Gael will have Private Members' time that week. I do not break my word for anybody and I make that commitment on behalf of the Government.

Is the Leader saying this week will not comprise the routine work of the Seanad and we are not putting on the Order Paper what we normally put on it for a working week?

Fianna Fáil was next in line for Private Members' time at the conclusion of the previous session. It was due to have that time tonight and we will start a new session with Fine Gael's time.

The Leader was not asked that question.

It is not usual to have to respond to 40 Senators on the Order of Business. The Minister is waiting to come into the House and I would appreciate it if I could continue.

The requests for a debate on education are timely and I will endeavour to have the Minister for Education and Science before the House to update us on, and to clarify, the many urgent issues highlighted by Senators Fitzgerald, Healy Eames and Cannon.

Senator O'Toole called for an urgent debate on the public service, value for money and the work done by hard-working, dedicated public servants. I can accede to that request.

Senators O'Toole, Buttimer and John Paul Phelan sought a debate on NAMA. The legislation is before the Dáil and I expect it to come to the House at the end of October or in early November. As I will not guillotine the Bill, I anticipate the House will sit for a good many days to tease out the pros and cons of the proposed legislation.

With regard to hard pressed mortgage holders and the limited credit being provided by the banks, this urgent matter must be addressed by every Oireachtas Member. We are being told by the banks that credit is available but we know from our constituencies that this is not the case. Many people are in extreme difficulty and it is up to us to ensure the Minister for Finance makes money available from the first tranche of NAMA funding to mortgage holders who are rearing families and trying to keep going day to day to ensure they are protected and their mortgages are extended if they must be because these are unprecedented times. I look forward to the debate on the economy and to Members outlining the difficulties they are hearing about in their constituencies from many of their friends and from those who for generations have been decent people and who have made their repayments and honoured their obligations to the financial institutions down through the years.

Senators O'Toole, Doherty and Ross all inquired about the up-to-date position on Seanad reform. Submissions have been received from the various parties and the Minister is very anxious to bring the Bill before the House. We look forward to debating it. For Senator Ross's information, in relation to amendments, I heard the Ceann Comhairle outline the Bills from the Seanad. As we all know, Bills came from the Dáil in the last week of the session. While it is true there were no amendments to the Bills concerned, I remind the Senator and the House that in 2008, 1,201 amendments to various Bills were made in this House and accepted by Ministers of the day, which speaks for itself. One of the longest serving Members of the House will appreciate this information which will give him heart regarding the long-standing future of the Seanad. We look forward to real reform when the Minister brings the Bill before the House for our consideration.

Senators Alex White, Walsh, Ross, Bradford and O'Reilly spoke about the three reports published. It is my intention that we will discuss each of them in the House. I will discuss how this can take place with the leaders on the next sitting day. I fully agree with the requests made to have the reports discussed and teased out at length.

Senators Glynn and Walsh called for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the issues Senator Glynn correctly raised regarding the registers. He also congratulated and welcomed the statement from former Senator Des Hanafin on abortion, on which we can all agree. I also note the Taoiseach's letter and statement inThe Irish Catholic this week, which demonstrates balance and common sense, unlike the other publication, Alive!, which we have to endure in our churches on a Sunday. One wonders if one is living in the same country when one sees such a publication which the church allows to be placed in front of one’s eyes when one is trying to have a word with the good Lord for an hour on a Sunday morning.

The Leader needs to say a lot of prayers.

He alone is the one we all eventually——

The Leader could go to the back of the porch.

Senator Coghlan, the respected representative from the south of the country, referred to item No. 14 on the Order Paper. I will make inquiries of the Minister and come back to the Senator in the next day or two.

Senator O'Donovan again called for a debate on the fishing industry, a request to which I acceded in the last session. I fully agree with his request and will endeavour to arrange for it to take place in early October.

Senators Quinn and Hanafin spoke on the issue of presumed consent for organ donations. I will again make this request to the Minister and ascertain when the legislation which is long overdue is due to be brought before us for consideration. We all fully support the request made by the Senators.

Senators Quinn, Leyden, Bacik, Regan and Healy Eames expressed serious concerns about the forthcoming elections. Senator Quinn asked if the Minister or the board of directors of An Post had responsibility for the distribution of material by UKIP. I will have inquiries made to see what the situation is. At this time in our history when we need to show how seriously we take our membership of the European Union, it has never been more important that we do the right thing. We all know in our hearts that the right thing to do is to protect every part of our society, as most of the good people on the "No" side, who are Irish, certainly know. It is one time in our history when we must say "Yes". It is up to every one of us to do whatever we possibly can to highlight the facts to those who may be hearing untruths and are confused. Quite a number of our citizens are confused as a result of the outlandish information given to them by the other side. It is up to every Member of both Houses, members of local authorities and public representatives in general to let the general public know what is before it for its consideration. If that happens, the result will be a "Yes" vote.

Senators Keaveney, Hanafin and Ó Domhnaill referred to the serious situation in which the people of County Donegal find themselves, in particular the mayor and his family, as a result of threats to their lives and the threat of bombings, events which we thought were long passed. I intend to have the Minister present in the House and allow colleagues to make their statements to ascertain the up-to-date position in his Department.

Senators Bacik, Hanafin and Donohoe referred to the debate on NAMA. It was very uplifting to see the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on the new Pat Kenny show on Monday night. I wish Mr. Kenny and all his staff well. It was a breath of fresh air——

When is the Leader appearing?

No interruptions, please.

——when the general public witnessed someone being asked a question and being allowed to respond without being interrupted. It was a new Pat Kenny. On the general line of information the Minister gave, the people were uplifted by the response——

We are not worried about Pat Kenny.

——because they want to hear something positive to lift them out of the depression and recession in which they currently find themselves.

Senator Hanafin referred to a carbon tax and having the same costs North and South. It is a very good suggestion which I will pass on to the Minister for Finance.

Senators Callely, Cummins and Coffey made their points. I offer our condolences on behalf of the House to the Barry family on the tragic death of Paddy Barry. I have been a personal friend of his son, Ken, as most Members of the House know, for a number of years. It is appalling that people, especially senior citizens, are not safe in their own homes. We will do whatever needs to be done. I understand the 1997 legislation covers this——

The Leader's party has been in government for 12 years.

I express this view on a non-political basis.

What about zero tolerance?

As Senators Cummins and Coffey know, coming from Waterford, it is unacceptable in this day and age that this could happen to any person in his or her home. I will have the Minister, Deputy Ahern, come here. I thank him because I have made many calls on this issue to him, whether in his constituency in Louth or in Brussels on Monday morning. We fully support the family and will see what we can do in the coming weeks as a matter of urgency. As Senator Cummins said, the Law Reform Commission is due to report. However, senior citizens want immediate action because it behoves us to protect them in their own homes. It is a right everyone should have. I, therefore, fully support the call made by all colleagues today. I have no problem with the report of the commission being discussed in the House. We also offer our condolences to Kathy Sinnott on what appears to be the sad loss of her son.

Senator Daly called for a debate on Gaza. I gave a commitment in the last session that a debate would take place.

I also want the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come before the House to clarify the position on mobile phone masts. He quite correctly outlined the position on the development plan of Kerry County Council and what had happened regarding An Bord Pleanála.

Senator Doherty outlined a number of issues. The proposal by an bord snip nua to close 50 Garda stations, which would save €1 million, does not represent common sense and will not happen. I remind Senators who spoke about rural transport that the proposed cutbacks in that sector would save just €11 million. Every Member of the House knows the value of rural transport. Under no circumstances will we stand by and allow rural transport services to be taken away for the sake of €11 million.

Is the Leader speaking for the Government when he says that?

Rural transport is a gift and a godsend that meets a huge social need in rural Ireland.

Is the Leader repeating Government policy?

We fully support what Mr. Jack Roche and his colleagues are trying to achieve.

Will the Leader vote in accordance with what he has said?

We fully support them.

Will he vote that way?

I might not have to. Read my lips.

I hope he will vote that way now.

Is the Senator not pleased with what I have said?

The Leader should stop talking out of both sides of his mouth.

I will ask Senator Buttimer to leave the House if he continues to interrupt.

I thank the Chair for his protection. Senator Ó Domhnaill called for a debate on the residential banking sector report. I can agree to such a debate, which would be very timely.

I am sure all Members will agree that it was very big of Senator Buttimer to offer his congratulations to the Kerry football team. He also called for a debate on Ireland. I would have no difficulty with such a debate, which would be timely as we approach the budget. He emphasised the importance of the retention of the sport portfolio within the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. We all know from last weekend that sport and tourism are worth €11.8 billion to the Irish economy each year. One of the uplifting features of the Farmleigh discussions was the importance placed on Irish culture. Successful Irish people throughout the world can be great ambassadors for our tourism industry and for every other facet of life in Ireland. I will arrange for a debate on the matter to take place.

Senator Corrigan called on the Minister of State with responsibility for children to come to the Seanad to update Members on the procedures that apply to the adoption of Vietnamese children. One of last weekend's newspapers drew my attention to a publication on this matter. The Senator also asked me to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, to inform the House of what is being done to address the ongoing serious challenge of suicide and to assist the unfortunate people who are affected by it.

Senator McFadden suggested that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, should be asked to address this House on the subject of the challenges being faced in this country's health sector. The Senator was also keen to get information on what will happen in the health portfolio in the lead-up to the budget. I will make a request so that such a debate can be facilitated.

Senator Fitzgerald has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the Minister for Education and Science's statement regarding the provision for children with mild disabilities be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 27.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 22.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Déirdre de Búrca; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Jerry Buttimer.
Question declared carried.