The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn not later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business.
Members of Fine Gael and many Members of this House are delighted with the result of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty and the central role Ireland will continue to play within the European Union. In its campaign, led by Deputy Kenny, Fine Gael put the country first. It is important that the Government does not interpret the result of the vote as an endorsement of its work. If there was one emotion obvious on the campaign trail, it was people's fury at the excesses they had seen, be they in respect of FÁS, ministerial expenses and those of the Ceann Comhairle, waste in government or Departments. A comprehensive plan for governance in respect of these issues is not coming from the Government. I ask the Leader to respond by inviting some Ministers, if not the Taoiseach, to address the core issue of governance and standards.
The new Labour Services (Amendment) Bill purports to reform the board of FÁS. It does so to a degree, but this is not true reform. Fine Gael brought forward a public appointments transparency Bill to ensure greater transparency. Under that Bill, a committee of the Dáil would have had more of a role and there would have been greater scrutiny of those appointed. This is not allowed for in the Government Bill, which I regret. The people are asking how can the Government convince them that it is putting in place mechanisms to show that the culture of excess has changed. Negotiations are taking place this week between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil and many would like to be offered an election at the end of that process. People want a new team with different standards being applied. It is extraordinary how little emphasis there is in the programme discussions on job creation and helping employers. That element seems to be missing. From what we have heard so far, a plan for economic recovery does not appear to be part of the negotiations.
That is idle speculation. The Senator is not part of the negotiations.
People struggling with unemployment and trying to pay their mortgage and bills are certainly looking for solutions. They want to see more than what they have received so far. I would like the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, to come before the House to discuss employment and the provision of incentives to see how we can begin to tackle the long unemployment queues.
The big issue being discussed today in the newspapers and everywhere else is that of expenses, although the focus is on the other House. It must be acknowledged that the level of trust and confidence in politicians is at an all-time low. We must also acknowledge that we all share, to some extent, in that failure. Whether people were individually part of the excesses, there is a view abroad that as a political class we have let down the people we represent. We must move forward from that position and make whatever changes are required. The matter of politicians' expenses must be taken from our own hands. Perhaps we should take advice from outside the House — the private sector — in looking at the nature of the job Members do and outlining how expenses should be claimed. It would not save the State money but it is the approach we must take for the sake of transparency. It would require much work but it must be done. It should be recognised that it is very hard to compare the job done where somebody living on the west coast must be in Dublin three or four days a week and also travel around a constituency with any job in the private sector. Nevertheless, the approaches adopted in the private sector could be used in measuring and quantifying the work done and bringing forward a system in which the people could have trust and confidence. We should begin such a process but I despair about whether we will do so.
As Senator Fitzgerald correctly stated, the FÁS legislation which has emerged today is appalling. The social partners have been taken out. As I have a vested interest in it, I will say nothing about that matter. What is being put in its place is a system in which the Minister will look into his or her own heart, lift the telephone to speak to two other Ministers and, without consultation with anybody else, decide who will sit on the board. That is a step backwards. We are already in a position where at least half of the members of the broadcasting authority will come through a joint committee of the Houses. It is an appalling and unacceptably regressive measure that the new FÁS board will be put together without the involvement of anybody outside the Cabinet. I ask the Leader to recognise that an amendment will have to be made to the Bill to at least bring the decision before a joint committee of the Houses when Members would be able to show their expertise and knowledge in these areas and give trust and confidence to the people. This is a classic example where governance begins with legislation. We must insist on it happening in such a way.
In responding to the big issue of the day, from here on we must work like this every day. We must put up our hands and say what we have been doing so far is unacceptable to the people and that the excesses about which we have read are not acceptable. In looking to the future we must change the system.
There are no doubts about what Senator O'Toole said, that the level of trust and confidence in politicians is at an all-time low. That is absolutely true. Any Member who is in contact with people — I am sure that is the case with all of my colleagues — must know that there is an unprecedented level of anger and frustration evident across all levels of society. The question of expenses is but one flashpoint. It is, however, a serious flashpoint. This matter arose earlier in the year in Britain and a debate on the fundamental issues involved came about as a result. That debate went to the very heart of the constitution, no less, of that country.
There is a serious issue with which we must deal. Some of the proposals put forward by Senator O'Toole have merit but there is no substitute for people in public life exercising their own judgement in respect of both their actions and what they do with public money. I have no intention of referring to or making suggestions regarding any individual. However, if every single person in public life is not prepared to exercise judgment over what he or she is doing in respect of the use of public money, there is no hope with regard to the restoration of public trust and confidence in politics or the political system.
I wish to ask the Leader a question in respect of that matter. The question to which I refer relates to the trust and confidence of the public in the debate in which we will be obliged to engage in the coming months with regard to the overall budgetary situation and the serious difficulties we face. I wish to ask a single, tight question. One of the hazards of asking three or four questions, not only of the Leader but also of others, one tends to not necessarily receive a reply. Has a Government decision been made in respect of the figure of €4 billion required to be obtained in savings in December's budget? Has the Government decided to change the balance which it indicated would apply in respect of that €4 billion, namely, that there would be €2.5 billion in expenditure cuts and €1.5 billion in taxation measures? When was it decided that the entire €4 billion in savings would be obtained through public expenditure cuts? Was a decision made and when was it made?
Everyone has a view on the correct balance that should apply and we could engage in a debate on the matter. However, in the first instance I wish to know the answer to the question I have posed. As stated last week, during the summer the McCarthy report and the report of the Commission on Taxation were published. In my naivety, I had understood that these reports would form the basis for the debate in which we were going to engage this autumn. The McCarthy report contains much that I do not like but it sets out in stark terms where expenditure is being made and where there may be opportunities for savings. There is much with which I agree and much with which I disagree in the report. However, at least it is a written document. The Commission on Taxation's report sets out the basis on which we might reform the tax system in the future.
We were, therefore, presented with the McCarthy report on expenditure and the commission report on taxation. I accept that matters are not that simple but at least these reports could provide us with some assistance. However, we have been informed that the report of the Commission on Taxation has been abandoned. In addition, and if we are to believe the newspapers, it appears that rather than going through the detail of the McCarthy report and engaging in the requisite debate, the Government intends to have one or two major whacks, as it were. In other words, it will have a go at either public service pay or social welfare payments. That is just not good enough because it contributes to the lack of trust. If the Government wants the Opposition to put forward proposals for discussion, why then is it not possible to engage in a debate on these reports, which were commissioned in our name, rather than merely jettisoning them?
I congratulate the Government and the main Opposition parties on working so well together for the good of the country and on putting aside normal politics during the past couple of weeks to deliver a resoundingly successful result in the referendum. I wish to congratulate the Taoiseach in particular because the buck stopped with him. It was a major achievement for him to preside over this success.
Senator O'Toole referred to the attitude of the people to politicians' expenses. I agree with the Senator's assertion that there is a perception abroad which is not desirable from our point of view. We must put our hands up and state that mistakes were made. Those mistakes were not all made by one Government, nor were they made by one party. They certainly were not made by one individual. That individual has been extremely unfairly treated by the media in recent weeks. We must consider the role the media is playing in creating the perception to which Senator O'Toole referred and also people's distrust of politicians.
Some of the recent revelations would remind us of the worst excesses of the McCarthy era in the United States. I have been a Member for barely two years, during which time I have been subjected to seven freedom of information requests. I have no problem with them and I am happy to put on view my meagre expenses in the Oireachtas Library at any time. However, Members should consider the time and cost involved to the taxpayer. Staff in Leinster House have more to do than answer all journalists who, on lazy days when they can find nothing better to do, delve into the individual or collective expenses of Members. While some fee is payable for this service, it should be examined to ascertain whether value for money is being achieved in respect of the data being given out. If such information is so important, if the public wants it so much and if the media are so concerned about its relevance and importance, the latter should be prepared to pay for it.
On the filling of State boards, I wish to return to a point that several other Members and I have raised previously in the House, namely, the attitude displayed during the years towards city, county and town councillors. They were considered to be pariahs and people held their noses at the idea of sharing responsibility with them on boards. Many of those who held their noses are the type of people who have brought the entire body politic into disrepute.
The Senator's point is made.
Business people and the self-employed are not the sole repository of wisdom and prudence. County councillors are the salt of the earth; they are good and decent people who show good judgment.
The Senator's point is made. Elections are not due for a while.
They should be included in the new set-up.
Members should record the extraordinary success achieved in the Lisbon treaty referendum debate, as measured by a "Yes" vote of 67%. It is a "Yes" vote to a modern Ireland at the heart of the European Union. Everyone worked on the campaign closely and effectively and the message got through. In particular, I welcome the very high "Yes" vote of 81% in the constituency of Dún Laoghaire.
It was the second highest "Yes" vote.
After Dublin South. It is in the second league.
Senator Regan to continue without interruption, please.
After the first Lisbon treaty referendum, when the highest "Yes" vote nationwide at 63% was recorded in Dún Laoghaire, I predicted the rest of the country eventually would follow suit.
The Senator should put a question to the Leader.
The turnout in Dún Laoghaire was 74%.
This is a matter for the local or national newspapers.
From Sallynoggin to Killiney and from Monkstown Farm to Shankill——
There was a strong "Yes" vote in all those areas, which is to be welcomed.
Keep the home fires burning.
The Senator should ask a question of the Leader.
I appreciate that normal hostilities had been suspended while Members were pursuing the referendum campaign. However, an issue that came up at the doors while one was canvassing was that of the expenses and expenditure of none other than the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy O'Donoghue.
No, that matter is not relevant to this House; it is one for the other House.
Another issue was that of the additional €1 million in compensation for Mr. Rody Molloy. These issues——
Senator, please. I am tired of telling Members that I do not want anyone to be named.
——are tearing at the heart of politics. It is important to record that Members do not stand over such expenditure and that someone must be held to account. I do not know whether Members on the Government side of the House are happy with this abuse of office because that is what it is. While there will be further debate on the issue this week, I consider this expenditure to be unsustainable and indefensible.
Members are aware that there were scapegoats in the Hebrew tradition. Incidentally, they also had sacrificial bulls and lambs. If the Opposition and the fainthearted in Fianna Fáil seek a sacrificial bull and if the Ceann Comhairle did something wrong a few weeks ago——
I am not discussing him.
Okay. If anyone had done something wrong, his head should have been sought. However, as his head was not sought, therefore, he must not have done anything wrong. If he did, the matter should have been dealt with.
No one in this House should discuss the Ceann Comhairle.
Fair enough; I will move on. However, if one is afraid to take on a sacrificial bull, it is wrong to take on a sacrificial lamb. I refer to the person who has been targeted as an alleged political adviser. He is not a political adviser.
He is a cultural adviser who has never been a member of a political party. He has never engaged in political activities. He is a distinguished former RTE producer who has done great work in outreach programmes on this House. He was appointed by the commission to publicise the work of the Oireachtas. He has done so with great ability——
——and it is very wrong to target, for sacrificial purposes——
Not individuals, please.
I have never mentioned his name.
I know that. He is easily identifiable.
It is very rare that I defend public servants. I am defending a minor public servant who has been targeted when his employer is being let off the hook. That is very wrong.
I share with other Senators the relief that the country passed the Lisbon treaty referendum last weekend. As someone who was on the doorsteps, many people expressed concern about our defence and neutrality. I am somewhat concerned to read in Fionnan Sheahan's column in theSunday Independent about the Taoiseach’s support for a potential candidacy by Mr. Tony Blair. As someone who supported Mr. Tony Blair when he ran for leader of the Labour Party, I am aware of his many talents and appreciate the good work he did in the Northern Ireland peace process. However, the man brought his country to war on flawed evidence and without a UN mandate. I would like a debate about whether he is the type of person we want as president of the EU before the Taoiseach supports his candidacy.
Hear, hear. Put it down and I will sign it.
I want to raise an issue that a number of small business people raised with me. They received correspondence from various local authorities informing them that their rates will be increased. In one case, it amounts to a 35% increase. One man owns three restaurants and his rates are being increased. In some cases the business done by these enterprises has decreased by 50%. The person I was referring to employs 70 staff but he will have to close because one cannot give it out if one is not getting it in at the till. I made the necessary inquiries of the local authority, Fingal County Council, and the manager replied by saying that he agreed with me but that there was nothing he could do because it was the responsibility of the Valuation Office which was basing its increases on 2005 valuations. If these people must close their businesses, one of which employs 70 staff, because they are barely ticking over at the moment, the employees will have to receive unemployment assistance and this will cost the State €2.5 million. It does not make sense.
I suggest we bring in the relevant Minister, who I believe is the Minister for Finance, to make him aware of this situation and to ask what can be done about it. This must be stopped. We should examine giving small business people a break and reducing rates and rents in some cases. These are matters we should examine to help small businesses because they are the backbone of the economy. If we do not have small businesses, everything collapses. I ask the Leader to invite the relevant Minister to discuss this in the House.
On a point of order, I really want to protest at my treatment today. The Cathaoirleach was prompted by the Clerk to interfere with me but I never mentioned any names.
How dare anyone——
No, please, Senator.
The Cathaoirleach was prompted to interfere with me. I did not mention any names. I stood up and made a legitimate protection of a public servant——
——who is being targeted by the media as a political adviser when he is not a political adviser. The Cathaoirleach interrupted me.
I protest; the Cathaoirleach behaved disgracefully. The Cathaoirleach had no right to interfere with me.
It is quite easy to identify the person without naming them, and I do not want that.
I did not identify the person.
I ask Senator Harris to resume his seat.
What is really disgusting is that I spoke to the Cathaoirleach before this sitting and I told him that I was not going to mention names——
I appreciate that.
——but that I was going to defend Mr. Dan Collins. I am now going to mention his name. The Cathaoirleach agreed with me at that time——
——and now he has dodged it on prompting from the side. This is disgraceful treatment.
I appreciated Senator Harris not naming the person.
I did not name anyone.
I said that.
The Cathaoirleach was prompted and ran in to protect something that he was wrong about.
The Cathaoirleach should have the decency to give me a chance.
I never mentioned any names. I did not mention John O'Donoghue——
No, and I am after saying to you——
I did not mention Dan Collins. I said "Ceann Comhairle" and the Cathaoirleach had no right to stop me.
I have clearly stated——
I am getting out of here.
I have clearly stated the Senator did not mention any name but I do not want Members to continue to speak in such a way that a person can be identified by a statement made.
Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole raised a very important issue regarding the legislation which provides for the new board of FÁS. I am sure that, in common with most reasonable Members on all sides of the House, I regard this proposal as a totally retrograde step. It does not provide for any checks or balances. I am not opposed necessarily to political appointments; I recognise that people of talent may be members of a party. However, as parliamentarians we have a duty to ensure provision for the vetting of appointees; this safety measure should be provided for in the Bill. I strongly support those Senators who have raised the matter today. I suggest that, at a minimum, such appointees should appear before a joint committee of both Houses prior to appointment.
I want to return to a matter we have discussed previously, namely, safety at the world heritage site of Sceilig Mhichíl where sadly, as Senators are aware, we had the death of a second elderly person. The steps are very steep; I know because I have been there. Going up is all right but if one has any deficiency in one's eyesight, coming down is tricky, not to say precarious. I do not see how a safety rope or rail would interfere. I am sure all reasonable people would agree that safety must be paramount. I urge the Leader to ensure the Minister accepts this point; it would not interfere one whit with the outstanding universal value of this ancient monastic site. It is vital that we do not lose further time in ensuring the provision of a safety measure.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come to the House to discuss an anomaly whereby the midlands fisheries group of the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board has imposed charges for coarse and pike fishing? Permits are required at a cost of €37 annually, €11 for one day, €19 for 21 days, €2 for juveniles, €19 for pensioners and €13 for juveniles annually. These charges only apply to the River Suck, River Inny, River Bronsa, Little Brosna river and River Camlin, some of which are in the Leader's area. It is grossly unfair that the charges apply in these areas but do not apply on the River Shannon which is only 10 km away. We are trying to attract tourists to our area where imposing and enforcing these charges is very damaging to tourism. We are trying to develop walkways in the Suck basin and encourage people to fish. Having to pay for a permit will detract and discourage them. It is not a level playing pitch. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister to come to the House to explain why of all the fisheries board, the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board is the only one to impose these permit and licence charges? This has been not a good year for tourism, particularly angling tourism.
Will the Leader also ask the Minister to outline the position on Lanesboro and Shannonbridge peat power stations which will require serious levels of maintenance in 2010? These flagship projects were well heralded in the area but it seems there are some deficiencies with the equipment and pipes which are causing erosion. I would like the Minister to come to the House to explain the situation, to state whether the companies which built these stations gave compensation for the damage they caused and to outline the position regarding the ESB and Bord na Móna workers. These are important issues and I hope the Leader will arrange for the Minister to attend the House to discuss them.
I very much regret the incident that took place with Senator Harris some moments ago. Whereas I am sometimes at the receiving end of your gavel, a Chathaoirligh, I believe you are entitled to have your response heard out.
There is no doubt that the one issue being discussed is that of the Ceann Comhairle's expenses. I would like a Seanad debate on the issue of our expenses as public representatives. I do not believe in hanging courts or media-led campaigns to punish people for not complying with standards that were not properly laid out in the past. I believe, however, in urgent and, if necessary, painful reform. It is clear to people that many in the political class have been profligate. It is fair to say we have scandalised the public. It is also fair to say that self-regulation is a thing of the past. It does not work. I do not believe in self-regulation of the media and we certainly cannot rely on bankers to engage in ethical conduct on their own without assistance for regulation. Civil servants do not appear to have been capable of reining in prolificacy. While I am convinced that the Oireachtas commission is made up of good and sincere people, the public will not have confidence in the deliberations of an organisation, membership of which itself attracts expenses.
We must face up to the fact that we need to seek the services of a trusted outside person. I am thinking of somebody above reproach such as Mr. Justice Peter Kelly, who is well regarded, or a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants who would take a root-and-branch look at the expenses of public representatives in the Legislature and also ministerial expenses. The person must, however, be able to understand the political system and know there are expenses with which politicians must deal. The person in question must take a realistic look at them and come up with a set of recommendations which we will all accept as fair but also adequate. The bottom line is that we will have to get used to dealing with less. That fact alone will bring us closer to the people we represent.
I was delighted with the significant "Yes" vote across the country but I must express my disappointment that it was not similar in Donegal. I also believe, just like after the first Lisbon treaty referendum, those people who voted "No" should be asked why. It may throw up some interesting answers as to the claims made by the "No" side. It is to be hoped such an exercise could allay those voters' fears.
I respect people's right to vote either way. Yesterday, I attended a Council of Europe meeting at which the response from other EU countries was unbelievably positive. The youth directorate made great play of ensuring we told the people back in Ireland that they thought we did the right thing. They were proud to see us back in the centre of the European Union.
Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform attend the House to discuss the current status of the devolving of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. Those of us in Donegal encounter an increased level of security when travelling in the North. I accept this is due to a real terrorist risk which I do not underestimate.
On the other side of security, I commend all involved in the recent police forces' GAA tournament in Belfast in which the Garda team beat the New York Police Department, the London Metropolitan Police and the PSNI to win the tournament. It was a queer change in times to have a GAA tournament of the security forces from four different backgrounds in Belfast and attended by the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland, MLA.
At this time of year we always talk about Hallowe'en and the danger of fireworks. This lunchtime I watched a report on UTV on the concerted effort that will be made through television and radio advertisements to achieve a two thirds reduction in injuries caused by fireworks in the North. I ask that Senators contact RTE and the broadcasting media to see if they will and can contribute to making this Hallowe'en a safer one for all who are going to enjoy themselves, legally or otherwise, with fireworks. Too often we commend the work of the fire brigade etc. after the events that occur during Hallowe'en rather than trying to pre-empt those events.
Every politician of whatever hue should be concerned about the major damage done to the body politic. Our democratic institutions are under attack, probably for very good reason. Many of us who were on doorsteps campaigning for the Lisbon treaty know that people gritted their teeth and voted "Yes" to give themselves and the country every opportunity to recover. The public's angry mood is caused by the culture of excessive spending in the past ten to 15 years in which money was thrown at problems without regard to the implications or consequences. Public finances have been wasted and we are hearing from the media and in this Chamber about excessive spending. We can see that there has been a lack of transparency and accountability at the top in State agencies such as FÁS which I am sure is only the tip of the iceberg. I reflect the view of ordinary people, colleagues, workers and families, who are seriously angry and losing faith and trust in the political democratic institutions of the State. That is good reason to be concerned.
We need to debate the future of politics. That people are losing trust is a reality, not a perception, as Senator Keaveney calls it. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the future of politics and what politicians mean in this society because if we cannot lead from the front, I do not know what will happen to this society.
I share Senator Brady's concern about valuations. It is time to have a debate about how the public service reacts to various situations. The fact is a valuation made in 2005 affects a business in 2009 when the world economy has changed significantly and the retail and service sectors here are having an extremely difficult time. We need to make it clear to the public service that we would like a fast-track reaction in order that businesses can be saved and jobs will not be lost. The State ends up paying more than it loses in making sure business does not suffer excessive cost.
I also share the views of those who would like to have a debate about how the public regards politicians. Some members of the Opposition have misrepresented the situation in which the Government has found itself and its reasons for taking action. The Opposition has often suggested the banks were bailed out to save the developers but nothing could be further from the truth.
The Senator should try another one.
They lauded other countries for doing the same and making sure their economies were safe. When it happens here, they suggest it is done to save developers. The spreading of such obvious untruths is not worthy of certain members of the Opposition.
Senator Keaveney has asked that those who changed their minds on the Lisbon treaty be instructed to say why. I am one of those who did so. I was the first, or among the first, in this House to oppose, campaign and vote against the Lisbon treaty but I changed my mind because we had made substantial gains — we had retained the Commissioner and protected the tax regime. Most important, however, from my point of view approximately two weeks before the referendum was held I received a written undertaking from the Government, in the form of a letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, that Ireland would oppose any attempt to create a Europe-wide munitions industry for export and commit itself to continuing to highlight the human rights of civilians in areas of armed conflict. On balance, that was enough for me to change my mind and I make no apologies for campaigning against the first time and for this time.
The atmosphere outside the House today and on the airwaves is like that which preceded the French Revolution. We are regarded as self-centred, self-appointed aristocrats who are uncaring and disinterested. I fear the wheels of the tumbrils are beginning to turn. I am not going to open up the case of the Ceann Comhairle but I will offer this little piece of advice. There are a few elderly Senators such as I who remember when I made political charges against the then Cathaoirleach, charges which he was wise enough to know I could sustain. However, I was a little brat and people looked forward to the opportunity of putting me in my box. I was hauled before a very undemocratic committee of inquiry to which I said I would go but only if I were allowed to cross examine and introduce witnesses etc. The final point was that the Cathaoirleach could not be judge and jury. He could not sit in the chair during an investigation of his own conduct. I respectfully suggest to the Ceann Comhairle that he take the same decision because my view was sustained by the High Court. That was a legal precedent and the Ceann Comhairle would be most unwise to chair an inquiry into his own case.
On this matter, I disagree totally with Senator O'Sullivan about trying to charge large amounts of money to the press for freedom of information searches. These may be very uncomfortable for some of us — I am sure they are — and sometimes the facts are wildly misinterpreted by the journalists who seek them. However, they are perfectly entitled to make the searches and trying to charge them excessively for this is mean-spirited, against the freedom of the press and completely wrong.
I am very glad to see my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, in the House. I am torn because it grieves me that she is now on the Labour Party benches.
She will be greatly missed here.
This is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It is very relevant, if I may, with the greatest respect, contradict the Cathaoirleach.
The Senator has contradicted me enough already.
I hope Senator Bacik will take a seat in the Government to come and that she will be made Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the tradition of Nora Owen from Fine Gael and Máire Geoghegan Quinn from Fianna Fáil. I believe she will be outstanding in that role.
Senator Norris, your time is well up. I call on Senator MacSharry.
Senator MacSharry, without interruption, please.
I agree with others, especially Senators Mullen, Norris and O'Toole, that we should debate the issue of our expenses and remuneration. I have said many times, most recently on "Morning Ireland" some weeks ago, there should be a reform of the remuneration of the entire public sector including those elected to these Houses, along with the expenses that pertain to all such positions, not least in the Seanad and Dáil, but also at all levels within the Civil Service. That should be done independently as a matter of the utmost urgency because I agree that anger is understandably palpable throughout all sections of civil society. It is incumbent on all of us to deal with the issue decisively and very quickly.
Regarding what Senator O'Sullivan said, my perspective is that our expenses, and all public remuneration whether in RTE or in this House, whether as expenses or otherwise, should be a matter of public record. It should be the case that when expenses are drawn down they are then available on a website, on that day or at that time. Nobody has any issue they should wish to hide. I certainly do not and if it should be the case that it is assessed independently that such expenses should be much lower then so be it. I consider it a great honour to be in this House, and it is as a matter of public service that any of us should be here. I do not believe that any of my colleagues, on any side of the House, are here to make money. However, if an independent assessment finds that our expenses should be significantly less, then so be it. Let us do this as a matter of the utmost urgency. I was particularly taken by Senator O'Toole's suggestion that it should be benchmarked against the private sector.
I appeal to the Leader to initiate any steps that can be taken in this House to encourage social partnership to re-engage in a major way. It should not be for IBEC and employers on the one hand, or the unions on the other, to dictate terms in advance regarding what can or cannot be on the table for discussion. It is incumbent on them and all of us to encourage a process of social partnership. At no other time in the history of the State was it more important to have co-operation and agreement. People from all sides should be locked in a room until agreement is reached. It is in the interests of all of us and was never as important as it is today. I ask that we encourage the process to begin with the utmost urgency.
I request an urgent debate and that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, should come to the House to discuss and guide Irish families on the issue of foreign adoption.
Regarding Vietnamese adoptions, over 250 couples are stuck in limbo. They do not know where they are going and need direction and certainty. Equally, 29 couples are on a Russian blacklist because the Minister of State has not completed the post-placement reports. This is a very urgent matter.
I join others in expressing the public's genuine and palpable anger at the high levels of excess in the public service. I would like the Minister for Finance to come to the House to address this excess, especially at chief executive officer level. We have heard the outrage with regard to Mr. Rody Molloy, the €1.1 million add-on to his pension and the car. The Minister who approved this, whether it was the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, must be accountable for his or her actions. This is taxpayers' money which is needed to put toilet paper in schools, to offset education cuts and appease farmers who are at their wits' end and are finding it difficult to make a living. One cannot give away taxpayers' money without being accountable for it.
I agree with Deputy Enda Kenny. If there is excess by a Minister, a Ceann Comhairle or a public servant, that person must be made pay it back. If not, the Minister who approved the excess without bringing the matter before the Oireachtas for approval should pay it back. The same is true of excess by the chief executive officer of the ESB or by Dr. Brendan Drumm who presided over the greatest failed experiment in this State, namely, the HSE. This is wrong, obscene and immoral.
I appeal to the Leader to bring the Minister for Finance to the House to tell Members what he will do about excess at these levels of the public service. What are these people worth? We do not know their outputs.
I call Senator Feeney. Senator Healy Eames's time is up.
We know they are failing us in terms of the State monopolies of which I have spoken.
Senator, you have made your point.
I support colleagues who called for a debate on our expenses, on politicians in general and on our relationship with the public. I agree with everyone who spoke. There is palpable anger, frustration and annoyance among the public. I agree with Senator Coffey when he says we must lead from the front. If the public saw and heard us debating our expenses, they would be quite surprised to see there is nothing going on. None of us is in politics to do wrong or to make money from our expenses. None of us does. However, when something goes wrong we are all tarred with the one brush.
Some very reasonable and good suggestions have been made today. I smiled when I heard Senator Mullen suggest we bring in an independent person to look at our expenses. I thought that was done some months ago when A&L Goodbody examined our expenses and Members, including myself, were interviewed about many matters, including expenses. I smiled when I heard Senator Mullen suggest that a member of the Judiciary might be brought in. What would the public think with regard to tribunals and the millionaires we have made out of them?
Do we really need them?
When the Judiciary puts its own house in order with regard to the pension levy, its members might be considered.
Senator Hannigan did not agree with the Taoiseach's endorsement of Mr. Tony Blair. I commend the Taoiseach on supporting the candidature of Mr. Blair for president of Europe. Eaten bread is soon forgotten. Do we not recall Mr. Blair bringing peace to this small island?
We remember him bringing war to Iraq.
He brought peace to Senator Norris's island.
I call Senator Buttimer.
Will the Leader join me in congratulating Deputy Enda Kenny on his Trojan work in the Lisbon treaty referendum campaign and the Fine Gael voters who bailed the Government out yet again?
The Taoiseach has done so publicly. Senator Buttimer should take a bow.
Perhaps the Cathaoirleach may clarify something for me. It may be the Cork man in me, but I see nothing wrong in naming people in the House.
Two issues are dominating the homes, pubs and schoolyards of Ireland. The first is the excesses in FÁS and the hand-out to Mr. Molloy.
These authorities can be discussed without naming officials or people outside the House.
Did I say anything wrong in the last sentence?
I do not want anyone to be named.
Mr. Molloy was given a hand-out that the Cathaoirleach, members of the public or I would not have received.
Hand-outs may have been justified. I am not one to judge.
I will discuss the second largest issue being discussed today on "Liveline", although I am not a fan of Joe Duffy's radio show. If the Leader had canvassed with me last night, he would have seen that people were incensed by the excesses, not just of the Ceann Comhairle, but of the Government. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the cost of running the Government? It is absurd that a Minister who gets off a jet at an airport in any part of the country should have a State car waiting. It is wrong.
Senator O'Toole was right to mention governance by legislation, but governance begins with leadership. Sadly, the Government is bereft of leadership because it has been in power for too long. Government Members believe that €400 for dinner is the norm, but it is not. Thousands are struggling.
The role of politicians should be enhanced — many fine people are involved — but Senator Coffey's point was a good one; we need a debate on the future of politics. In approximately two months there will be anarchy on the streets. It is building up. Were Government Senators to canvass with us, they would see it.
They would be afraid to do so.
Ordinary people cannot pay their mortgage or meet child care costs and are sacrificing dinners, for example, to pay for medicines, uniforms or books for their children. That is the reality.
The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is sitting on his hands while hundreds of families are distressed by the problems encountered in inter-country adoptions. The Tánaiste has not discussed in the House the matter of job creation, a debate I seek as a matter of urgency. It is the greatest issue facing us, but the Government has no plan to deal with it. The Duke of York, Senator Boyle, will roll down from the hilltop but, like Humpty Dumpty, the Government will not be able to put him or itself back together.
That is enough.
I join those who expressed satisfaction at the passing of the Lisbon treaty in the referendum. I warmly congratulate the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. I also acknowledge the involvement of parties on the other side of the House. The winning of the referendum was a victory for the people and common sense.
Will the Leader invite the appropriate person, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment — to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to debate the matter of insurance premia? Some time ago the House rightly rejoiced in the fact that insurance premia had fallen. However, the position has been reversed. Someone I know received a quote for house insurance which showed an increase of slightly in excess of 125%. Car insurance premia have increased in all cases. When the person in question approached the insurance company involved, it stated, "That is it." In other words, like it or lump it. It did not tell him to look elsewhere, but it might as well have done so. At a time when hotels and the retail trade are reducing their prices and every Member has taken a cut in salary and expenses, something which might have been missed by some sections of the media, one section of the community is levying extravagant and outrageous percentage increases on those who desire car, company or house insurance. Will this debate be held as soon as possible?
As time is almost up, I call Senator Quinn. The five Members who have missed out will be called first tomorrow.
I will be brief. Two weeks ago I raised the issue of the illegal importation of cigarettes. The figures involved are considerable, amounting to some €500 million to €750 million a year. What jolted me the most was the number of counterfeit cigarettes being imported into or produced in the country. All cigarettes are dangerous, but counterfeits are even more so.
My attention has since been drawn to the fact that counterfeit medicines, which are very dangerous, are also coming in. My attention was drawn also to the fact that in two countries in Europe — Italy and Belgium — they have found a solution they believe works, that is, a barcoding of medicines to enable pharmacists detect counterfeit medicines. I mention this because the figure I was given was 200,000 capsules or tablets coming into the country that are regarded as either illegal or counterfeit. It is possible to do something about it. They found a solution in Belgium and Italy. It is called track and trace. I ask the Leader to draw the Minister's attention to this as it is possible to use technology to solve these problems.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, O'Sullivan, Regan, Hannigan, Coghlan, Mullen, Coffey, Norris and Glynn congratulated everyone on the successful "Yes" vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum. I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Government and the leaders of all other parties that supported the "Yes" vote. I congratulate the people of Ireland, 58% of whom came out to vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum. I salute them for the serious approach they took to their vote. Taking account of the fact that non-nationals are not allowed vote in a local referendum it is possible that in excess of 70% of the population voted on that day while a further 10% may have been out of the country on holidays or for some other reason. Therefore, the turnout for the referendum last Friday was huge. It was uplifting for the people and the good example given by all political parties when they get together and show co-operation in the national interest shows how we can motivate our people to respond. I say that because never was it more necessary to get an all-party consensus in regard to the challenges that will face us in the next 12 months in particular. I say that also to those in the media who have a major responsibility to bring our people with us in these difficult times, particularly those in the media who earn very large salaries every week, month and year. They have a duty and a responsibility in this regard. The popularity of their radio and television shows can help to lead our people through these very difficult times.
On the Bill published by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill and the regulations regarding FÁS, the Minister will be in the House and we look forward to discussing the Bill during its passage. As Senator O'Sullivan said earlier, we saw the good work local authority members did as members of health boards. We saw the services our people got when local authority members were members of health boards at very little cost, although at huge cost in terms of time on the local authority member. Members of local authorities, as well as Members on all sides of this House, should be allowed to serve on those boards because they are the voice and the watchdog of the people. That is what is needed when we see what has emanated in the years during which local authority members have not been serving on various boards.
Regarding the banks issue highlighted, it is my intention that we will have a discussion on the banks in the House at least once a fortnight. I have given a commitment to the House in that regard. I will endeavour to ensure that takes place next week as every day this week legislation will be before the House for the consideration of Members.
Senators O'Toole, Alex White, O'Sullivan, Regan, Harris, Norris, MacSharry and Feeney expressed their concerns about issues in the public domain regarding Members' expenses. A root and branch review of Members' expenses by Goodbody Economic Consultants has taken place. The review is before the commission and it is up to the commission to make a decision regarding the proposals that have been placed before it by Goodbody's. We have all taken a 25% reduction in our travel expenses, as have the public service, and we also have taken a 10% reduction in overnight allowances and whatever else goes with that, bringing us back to 1993 levels. These are issues that should be brought to the attention of the people we in the Oireachtas are here to serve. As Senator MacSharry said, it is a privilege bestowed on very few in any nation and we appreciate the privilege and honour of serving here in the Upper House. We will not be found wanting in terms of anything that can be done to correct the current imbalance and tell the people the truth of the news.
I am sorry that INN will not continue as a broadcaster. It gave a terrific service, particularly to those in rural areas where we were able to have local radio served. I hope that some other format will be put in place because information about the truth of the news is the essence of democracy and I do not want democracy to be undermined in any shape or form, whether it is inside the country or outside it, by those who are paying tax here or those tax exiles who do not pay tax here. We must be honest and frank with everyone because we as parliamentarians have done our bit in terms of bringing Ireland to where it is today from the time of the men and women of 1916 and 1921. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We are proud of the good work done on all sides of the House by all political parties, taoisigh and leaders who had the great honour to represent our country. A serious imbalance is being created in the media morning, noon and night by people involved in the print media and those on the radio and television.
We will have a debate in this House on the role of the media and I invite submissions from anyone in the media who has something to say in that regard. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland should take on the issue immediately. Democracy must not be undermined by anybody, especially in our hour of need when there is a recession and a downturn in the economy worldwide.
Senator Alex White asked me about the €4 billion required to be obtained in savings in the budget. I understood that was part of €12 billion to €13 billion in savings that would be required in the coming years. It was around budget time that I realised that this €4 billion in savings would be required in the coming budget. I may be wrong about that. I will get the matter clarified for the Deputy and come back to the House in the morning and inform the Senator of the up to date position on the serious question he asked.
That was not the question I asked.
I compliment Senator O'Toole on a masterful performance last Sunday night on "The Week in Politics". He was around in 1987. He has the enormous experience of addressing the need of the nation previously and someone like him, who is a distinguished Member of this House, gives people hope when he appears on such a popular show as "The Week in Politics".
On the issue raised by Senators O'Sullivan, Harris and MacSharry, I have already addressed that in regard to the role of the media. I agree with the Senators' call this afternoon.
Senators Brady and Hanafin called for a debate with the Minister for Finance present on the increase in rates. Any local authority that quotes the valuations of 2005 is not living in the real world. I will arrange to have an urgent debate here next week on the banks and other Department of Finance issues. As Senator Buttimer said, the most important issue currently is the sustainability of jobs. We must do everything we can to help those who are in employment at the present time and quoting a 2005 valuation is not living in the real world when the valuations of today are at least one third less than what they were in 2005. I hope Senator Brady's request to have the Minister present to make the case that has been made here earlier will be granted next week.
I will pass Senator Coghlan's views on to the Minister regarding the world heritage site where, unfortunately, the person died. I realise there is an urgent need——
That is the second in a short space of time.
——for safety measures. I will pass on the Senator's request. I am aware the Senator will be speaking to his county manager who is working very closely with the OPW on this issue with a view to seeing if it can be addressed in the coming week.
Senator Leyden called for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to address in the House the issues he highlighted, namely, the imposition of fees and charges by the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, especially in respect of fishing on the rivers Suck and Inny, which is in my area in County Westmeath. I will certainly mention this to the Minister and ask him to come to the House to clarify this matter and the matter of Lanesborough and Shannonbridge power stations, which are being refurbished, and to clarify the position on the ESB and Bord na Móna workers.
Senator Keaveney called for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to be called to the House to update Members on the transfer of the justice portfolio from Britain to the North. I can certainly make inquiries into this. I commend all those involved in the GAA tournament. Who would have thought some years ago that this would occur? Senator Keaveney also pointed out the dangers of Hallowe'en fireworks and highlighted the need to make everywhere safe at Hallowe'en. I agree with her in this regard and will pass on her request to the Minister.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on the future of politics in this country. I have no difficulty in allowing time for this. The debate may be coupled with other debates.
Senator MacSharry referred to the need for a return to social partnership, which is of the utmost importance. We have always said the success of the country over the past 22 years was based on the great work done through social partnership. I agree with Senator MacSharry and will pass on his strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senator Healy Eames referred to foreign adoptions and the difficulties being experienced by many couples in Ireland in this regard. I certainly agree with her in respect of her concerns. As we all know, the Minister of State went to Vietnam to try to do whatever he could in this area. When I receive a further update on the matter, I will bring the information to the attention of the House. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister of State.
The Minister of State needs to come to the House.
The Leader without interruption.
With regard to Senator Buttimer's remarks, I have already responded on the call for a debate on the future of politics. I fully agree with the Senator's sentiments on job creation.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on insurance premia, including for public liability, employers' liability and commercial and private motor insurance. As the Senator stated, there has been a huge increase in the cost of insurance. As the person who chaired the insurance inquiry for four years, from 2003 to 2007, I certainly do not understand why the cost of insurance premia is now increasing. Our colleague, Deputy Willie Penrose, will be examining this matter as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
My advice to the public is to shop around for insurance. Given that I am still very closely involved with the insurance industry and that the committee I chaired worked for four years to lower the cost of insurance and save tens of millions of euro for the premium holders in 2007, I conclude that customers should go back to their brokers and determine whether they can get a better deal. I understand brokers are now doing very good work to lower premia for premium holders. If the premium holders do not know where to go and have no recourse, they should ask a different broker to obtain a quotation. Although circumstances may have been different in the past, my dealings with brokers have been pretty successful.
Senator Quinn referred to illegal cigarettes and the confiscation thereof by Customs and Excise and the Garda. I certainly agree with the Senator's sentiments, including on the need for bar codes on medicines and other products. This is certainly a very good idea and I fully support the call.