The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn at 2 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business.
I do not know if the work of the House can be done in a proper manner if the current crisis regarding politicians' expenses is not dealt with quickly. In eight weeks we will be presented with a budget which will probably be the worst in the history of the State. Eight weeks is very little time to discuss issues such as the McCarthy report, the report of the Commission on Taxation and the cutbacks and increased taxes Ministers are proposing. Until we have a clear and open discussion on expenses and deal with that issue the general public will not listen to what is debated in either House.
I ask the Leader to approach the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission with a view to putting Members' expenses on the Oireachtas website in order that there would be no need for freedom of information requests and so called exposures in the media. Let us make this information freely available to the public on the Oireachtas website and let them decide if our expenses are extravagant. There have been abuses of expenses at the top of the Government which are being drip-fed by the media, creating unbelievable anger. A tsunami of anger against the Government is percolating down to every politician and public representative. This is unfair on the majority of politicians who perform a public service, which we are proud to do. There must be a clear and open debate on the issue soon. If the media need more information, it should be put on the Oireachtas website in order that the people can decide. If other Ministers have been extravagant with taxpayers' money, let them do the honourable thing and resign. This issue is having a detrimental effect on public debate of important issues.
I agree with much of what the previous speaker said. We should have a debate on the question of Oireachtas expenses. We have asked for such a debate before. When I was a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission more than two years ago, I proposed that every application for expenses by a Member of either House should be published inIris Oifigiúil or on the Oireachtas website. I can see no objection to this. The people are getting incomplete information. There are issues which need to be put to the public. Travel and subsistence regulations are not understood. The travel and subsistence regime in both Houses was designed, not by parliamentarians but by the Department of Finance, to save the State money. However, it is being completely misrepresented. For instance, rural Deputies have an entitlement to claim for a number of trips to Leinster House in the course of a fortnight, while Dublin Deputies claim a number of daily allowances. It is not explained to the people that Members, whether based in Dublin or elsewhere, can claim no other travel expenses of any type during the course of a fortnight. They receive an allowance to cover certain constituency duties but there is no question of them going here and there and claiming payment. That has not been explained. If the public wants expenses to be published, that is what we have to do. It would not save money, but it would bring transparency. We need to look at the matter in that way. There is a public culture which believes the political system is corrupt and in a comfort culture and that everyone else is suffering. If that is the case, we must accept that we need to change things. We must begin by publishing every expenses claim, whether from Senator Joe O’Toole or anyone else. There should be a clear understanding of what expenses are for and where the money is going. It must be understood that Members of the Houses, apart from senior Ministers, have no say in choosing hotels or flights. They do not see that money. What I am saying may sound defensive but it is merely an explanation which needs to be given. There should be a clear understanding of every part of it.
There has been criticism of unvouched expenses. These were originally estimated to be 80% of what the commission considered vouched expenses would cost. The level was arrived at by Goodbody's which calculated that a Senator or Deputy would claim X amount in the course of a year. It was decided that 80% of that amount should be given in unvouched expenses but that expenses one penny above that amount must be backed up with a receipt. The idea was to save 20% of costs. Time has passed and that system does not work any more. We must now move to whatever system receives the greatest public reaction and ensures transparency. We should debate this matter, not in a defensive way but in order that it can be explained to the people. Our expenses should be published. If Members think that is unfair, we should benchmark our expenses against those in the private sector. However, no one in the private sector would be expected to live in Schull, be in Dublin three days a week and look after a constituency in Cork on the other days. There is no real reference point in the private sector. Nevertheless, there are issues at which we must look. We must use private sector benchmarks to determine our expenses and what we are entitled to receive.
I spoke yesterday about the need to reform the expenses system. As can be seen in the media today, this issue will not go away. We must deal with it. The reputation of Parliament is under scrutiny. The people do not believe the current system is transparent. I ask the Leader to impress upon the Minister the need to act on the matter now.
I welcome the news that University College Dublin and Dublin University are ranked in the top 100 universities in the world and that other Irish universities are also improving their rankings. This is a tribute to the hard work of students and lecturers in both universities. However, we should not take their performance for granted. It is dependent on good primary and secondary education systems. I am concerned, therefore, to see reports that up to half the school building budget for this year has not been spent. This probably means that another 1,000 construction jobs could have been started in the country. We must ask why the budget has not been spent. My party has been pushing for this. We are in the middle of a baby boom. Ireland has the highest birth rate in Europe. It is twice as high as that in Germany and Austria. In 2008 there were 75,000 births in the country, an increase of 10,000 on the figure for the previous year. That means another 300 to 400 classrooms will be needed in 2011 and 2012. We need to start planning for this now. If we fail to spend the money which is approved for schools building projects, we will have problems in two years time. We need to know why this has happened. I have seen the lack of school places in County Meath. We must solve the problem now. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue of budgetary provision in the primary school system.
I support the call for an open and transparent debate on the issue of expenses. Senator Twomey is broadly correct in asking for such a debate. It might clear some of the fog and cloud which surround issues such as this. When I was a Deputy and ran a constituency office, my office running costs in 2003 were €23,500, which were vouched. I received an allowance of less than €9,000. My telephone expenses were three times the allowance. I would like to see transparency in this matter. Members of the public are angry. They do not understand the system; broad global figures are published which paint an untrue picture of the work Senators and Deputies do. We need transparency. The House should debate the matter.
For some time I have been asking for a debate on the fishing industry. The Leader promised to give it priority when we returned in the autumn. Without meaning to annoy him, will he arrange a debate on the Common Fisheries Policy which is being cobbled together? As it is of considerable interest to our coastal communities, we should have an input in it.
It is crazy that we must go to Brussels each year and negotiate the precise quota for each species. It is not known from one year to the next. Fishermen must plan ahead, but they are only told the herring, hake, mackerel or whitefish quota two or three days before Christmas. It is an uncertain situation and the annual talks frustrate fishermen. A debate on this topic is overdue.
I agree with Senator Twomey and compliment Senator Hannigan whom I heard on radio this morning. He fairly and accurately outlined the positionvis-à-vis the commission and the Department of Finance. There has been a delay and that logjam must be broken down and cleared. I agree with Senator O’Toole and others that no one would object to the figures being published monthly on the website or in Iris Oifigiúil. No one is trying to hide anything. When these figures appear in the press, they appear large because they cover a period of one or two years, as in the recent case. However, they represent a reimbursement for the expenses incurred by Members. As stated by Senator O’Donovan and others, we must clear the fog. I would welcome a debate in the House.
Once again, I will make a plea regarding Killarney House, a great and historic landmark building in the heart of our national park. It has been allowed to fall into rack and ruin. Upon recent examination, not a single cent of the basic moneys allegedly provided to secure the fabric of the house seems to have been expended. It is terrible to see the petty vandalism and so on that has befallen the vicinity. It does not speak well for us. The house is a beautiful building in a beautiful part of the world. Visitors like to stroll casually down the cherry orchard drive close by. I am making another plea. This situation is injuring our tourism. We are suffering as it is and we have not had a good season, as the Leader knows. Will he use his influence with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, as he did previously? The house is attached to the national parks and wildlife service, which falls within the heritage remit of the Minister's Department.
I do not wish to enter the debate on expenses. The country is facing so many situations that the debate is a distraction. I would have no difficulty in having the information published on the web whenever it suited the commission instead of seeing the different directions being taken in freedom of information requests. The nextSunday Independent and Sunday Tribune issues will show the travel arrangements of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, but none of the reasons for attending meetings abroad will be provided. The expenses date back to 2005, but the amounts will be combined to undermine us as much as possible. Whatever arrangement or regime is brought into place, it should not cost the Oireachtas more in terms of scrutinising expenses claims.
Three of the Senators present are on the Council of Europe, of which Ireland was a founder member 60 years ago. We sent representatives in 1949 and will send representatives this year to take our place in an important forum. This costs, but Members' airline tickets and accommodation expenses are not given to them. They will not sleep in doorways in Strasbourg, but they are not worried about their accommodation as long as it is reasonable. Ryanair has done a tremendous job in reducing the cost of flights for Members. Michael O'Leary deserves credit for his achievements in providing us with access to Europe. No explanation for the expenses is given, as the media is not interested in the Council of Europe's work, but it is vital that Ireland be represented in all international forums. We are an independent republic and we fought hard to be there. Surely we should also continue our membership of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU.
I rose to ask the Leader a question. I commend everyone involved in winning last Friday's referendum. No single group or party was responsible for that success, since it was the choice of the people, in their wisdom, to vote "Yes" decisively. Arising from the referendum, will the Leader arrange an early debate? Poland will sign the treaty next Sunday and I am confident the Czech Republic will sign it shortly because they will not want to be isolated. The House should discuss the Lisbon treaty's implications for Members of the Oireachtas. There would be no better forum in which to discuss European legislation than Seanad Éireann. It comprises people of all qualifications and interests.
Senator, please. I call Senator Norris.
The House could play an important role in discussing European affairs every month.
Point well made.
I wanted to call for a debate on education in light of the unspent moneys at the Department of Education and Science and the wonderful news about Trinity College Dublin and UCD numbering among the world's first 50 and 100 universities, respectively, but I cannot.
I am furious, given the way in which the House and its politicians are being treated. I would be happy to sign up to making everything transparent. I would like the people to know how often and for how long I am here. I would like them to know that the ushers ask me at 10 p.m. when I will be leaving Leinster House.
With fury, I listened to an item on RTE radio this morning. It was headlined "Corruption", but it was about the expenses of Senators and Deputies. I feel sullied because we are all being tarred with the same brush. I damn anyone who impugns my integrity in the public arena by name, as he or she will wind up in the courts.
A couple of months ago, I was telephoned by a tabloid newspaper and asked how I could justify travelling expenses of €6,000 or so. I told the newspaper that I could not. When I was asked whether I had anything else to say, I stated that I had never claimed a single penny because I walked every day, as I walked today. I have never claimed travelling expenses. It was a daily allowance, but it appeared in a newspaper article under the headline "Politicians with snouts in their trough" alongside my photograph. The one thing that the newspaper did not mention was that my expenses were the second lowest in the entire House.
Let us have a bit of responsible journalism and an historical review. I would like the people to know our attendance levels because we all attend well. I would like them to know my voting record, my attendance at committee meetings, my contributions, the legislation that I have tabled and the hours that I have worked. Let them have the whole damn lot, but I will not have my honour and integrity impugned. If newspapers go on like this, they will drive all the decent people out of politics, leaving only the dross. It will be what they bloody well deserve.
That is right.
I am angry. Before the war, I visited Baghdad in an attempt to secure the human rights of the unfortunate people of Iraq. We got 43p per day because we were slavishly following the British instruction, but the British wanted to keep people like myself out of Iraq.
What can we do? We must be open. I believed that the item on corruption was going to be about Berlusconi. I remember the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. Although I was one of the most trenchant critics, I stood up every time and stated that, because there were decent people, we should not tar everyone with the same brush. Let us have the facts and examine the real situation. When I attended a meeting of the IPU in Australia, I was given a first class ticket but I traded it in and travelled third class, even to Beijing where, on my own initiative, I raised questions that led to a significant cultural exchange. I was telephoned about the trip beforehand and asked whether I would enjoy myself on the so-called junket. The tabloid wrote its article before the trip.
I had a stand-up row with Mr. Gareth Evans about the situation in what was then East Timor and raised the matter of AIDS. I had things forced through that were reported in the medical and British newspapers, but there was not a single bloody line in the Irish newspapers.
When I asked about this, I was told that politicians on a junket was a story but that politicians working was not. Let us have a bit of responsibility and let the House be reported properly. I want the people to know what work I do.
They would get good bang for their buck.
The Senator also raised the issues in Kenya.
I sincerely thank Senator Norris for the comments he has just made. He is 100% correct. I am extremely annoyed about this entire situation and for the Members of this House. They are not getting a fair crack of the whip and have not for many years. A number of Senators in this House, the Cathaoirleach included when he was not in his current position, run offices but what do they get towards the running of that office? They get nothing. Those of us who run a full-time office, as I do, must go out and fund-raise. I do not get a cent. I am paid by the taxpayer and I believe I am entitled to give a service. I should not receive a salary and expenses and sit in the comfort of my own house or wherever and give nothing back to the people. That is wrong, but what are the Members of this House getting towards that? They get nothing. When we pick up our phone to call our constituents we are liable to ring every STD code in the country because that is the diversity of our electorate yet we receive approximately 25% less towards that than Members of the other House, and more luck to the Members of the other House. By all means let us have transparency and openness but we must see where the balance lies. The Members of this House have been short-changed for a very long time. I have no problem with whatever regime is put in place to verify my attendance. I am always here. I know many Members of both sides of the House who are always here. By all means let us have this exposé or whatever it is. I have no problem with it.
On another matter, I again ask the Leader to exhort the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House for a debate on insurance premia. Since I raised the matter previously I have been contacted by a number of people. The hikes in insurance premia in recent times are not sustainable and as a House of Parliament we cannot stand idly by, let it happen and do nothing about it. It is outrageous.
The motor trade is on its knees. A scrappage scheme for cars should be introduced. I will not determine the age of the cars that should be included because it depends on the way people look after their cars. I would welcome a debate on that issue too.
As I listened to some Senators on the opposite benches, and indeed on the Independent benches, defending the indefensible on expenses and allowances, it is as if we see it——
Excuse me, Senator Regan, if you are referring to me I would like you to withdraw that remark. I am an Independent Senator. I did not defend expenses. I asked for a proper clarification and an historical analysis of our record in committees and everything else.
Senator Regan, without interruption.
Let the people know. I defend my record.
We are talking here as if the barbarians are at the gate on this issue. The reality is that we have problems in these Houses with allowances and expenses. We must also acknowledge that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, in February of this year, put forward a proposal on the reform of allowances. Senators on the Fianna Fáil benches have explained what happens at parliamentary party meetings. Will the Leader explain what happened at Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings on the proposal from the Oireachtas commission? Were objections not raised to the Oireachtas commission's proposal on allowances? Is that not the reason the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has not acted on that proposal? The Minister, Deputy Lenihan, is being a Shylock on this issue because he is now suggesting that the Oireachtas commission's proposal does not go far enough when he has not responded in any shape or form to the initiative made by the Oireachtas commission. It may not be a perfect proposal but it is a start in reforming the allowances regime. Will the Leader clarify the reason there has been such an absence by the Minister? Perhaps the Minister could be invited to come into the House to explain himself because it is very easy now to say it does not go far enough in responding to the recent incidents regarding the Ceann Comhairle. The issue has lain with the Minister, he has not dealt with it and now he is changing his story in terms of the appropriate measures to be taken.
I raise the issue of education. There was an excellent wide-ranging conference at Farmleigh involving the diaspora and successful business entrepreneurs, both Irish and others with strong Irish connections. A heavy emphasis was laid on education and developing a new vision for education. Could we have a debate with the Minister present who might outline to us some of the ideas and suggestions put forward at the conference with a view to determining what might be worked on and put into effect, given the constraints on public finances?
With regard to the main topic this morning, the expenses issue, I am a member of the commission and also of the audit committee. I fully accept the right and justification ofThe Irish Times to make a freedom of information request and in particular to deal with the resignation of the chairman of the audit committee. His letter has been published in full in The Irish Times. I thought it was somewhat unbalanced that the reply to the chairman of the audit committee from the Secretary General, who has no axe to grind as he is an independent member and the chief executive of the Houses of the Oireachtas, which was also part of the documents released to The Irish Times, was not also published in full to allow people to read both Mr. Higgins’s point of view and the reply from the Secretary General. That would have brought more balance to it, which is important in this media pursuit of Members’ expenses. There is an entitlement for them to do that, and there should be probity in politics — most politicians I am aware of want that — but there is a need also to take a balanced view.
The audit committee and the Oireachtas commission would have fully accepted the recommendations in the Goodbody report, an independent body, which was done on the commission prior to my involvement in it. Senator O'Toole has outlined that. That report was independently done and it preferred a system of certain minimum allowances, which as the Senator said was pitched at about 80% of what they reckon might be the norm, and that anything in excess of that would be vouched. That was passed in March 2008 by both the committee, signed off by the chairman of the audit committee, and the Oireachtas commission and sent to the Minister. The Minister, in reviewing that, had some issues with regard to vouching which needed to be clarified and we were then overtaken by the economic downturn, which changed the remit of the expenses issue. To be fair to the Minister, since then expenses have been reduced. He has taken action in that area. Little merit has been given to anybody in that regard. We need a system that is fair and reasonable both to the Members and to the taxpayers.
The Senator has gone way over his time.
I concur with some of the other Members that this issue is having a corrosive effect on politics. The downside to it is that many able people from different walks of life, and particularly the business community, would not touch politics with a barge pole because of——
I call Senator Bacik.
——the denigration. I ask that we would have a debate to allow us make longer contributions on this matter.
It is clear we need a debate on expenses. This Order of Business has effectively turned into a debate on expenses and allowances and I echo the calls of others on both sides of the House to the Leader for that debate. I share the concern expressed by others at the way in which all Members have been tarred with the same brush as a result of the revelations inThe Sunday Tribune in particular but I urge caution about attacking the media. The Sunday Tribune and others have done a public service in doing their job as investigative journalists in seeking——
——information on abuse. We need to be clear about this. Of course, the majority are not abusing the system of expenses but, where there are unjustifiable claims, overspending and lavish travel, there is real and justified public anger. I disagree with Senator Leyden who said this was just a distraction. We must consider the matter in the context of the real world, in which people are losing jobs and facing pay cuts and house repossessions for defaulting on mortgage repayments. People are more angered in such circumstances than they would be at any other time by revelations of excessive spending in the Houses of the Oireachtas or Ministers' expenses. We should make it clear in a debate that a different regime applies to Ministers' expenses. They are not subject to the same scrutiny as those of Members of the Seanad.
I ask the Leader for a debate on education. I welcome, as others have done, the good news that both UCD and Trinity College are now ranked in the top 100 colleges in the world. Trinity College has moved up to 43rd place and is now ranked 13th in Europe. This is excellent news and tribute must be paid to all involved, both students and staff. This ranking is in the face of very severe cutbacks in the education sector.
I echo Senator Hannigan's call for a debate on overall funding, particularly in the light of the disturbing news that funds allocated for the schools building programme were not fully spent, despite the clear needs of so many primary schools nationally. We need to address severe deficiencies in funding at third level. Yesterday I attended a protest organised by the students' union of Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, at which protest the impact of cuts at the institute was very clearly outlined by the large numbers of students present. The DIT which has 22,000 students is the largest third level institute in Ireland. It makes a considerable commitment to facilitating disadvantaged and second-chance students. The cutbacks have had a severe impact and the hours worked by both full-time and part-time staff have been cut. The staff complement has decreased and laboratories and libraries have been closed. Even rubbish disposal has been affected; we have seen rubbish piling up in DIT campuses because of the absence of sufficient funding. We need to address this issue. The DIT is ranked only 326th in the world and needs to raise its status. However, it cannot do so in the present climate.
I agree with Senator Norris on an issue I raised yesterday. Bearing in mind the concept of natural justice, one should consider the need for fair and balanced reporting. Senator Bacik should note that Members of the Seanad are only looking for fair play on the part of the media. The media submit freedom of information requests to determine Members' expenses and the information is presented in a manner that outlines, step by step, what Members received money for. The information shows Senators do not receive an office allowance or many of the other allowances available. However, the reasons for the payment of expenses are not explained in the newspapers and only the overall sum of money is referred to.
Let us consider the announcement to be made this weekend and the circumstances that will obtain if Senator Leyden is correct. Let me outline exactly what I am asking for. I do not want a right of reply, nor do I want to be seen to be defending myself after the event. However, the information made available under the freedom of information request outlined where we had gone and what we had done. For five years I was Chairman of a very busy committee which produced 13 reports. Not one media representative arrived at the launch of most of those reports. I will probably have to explain myself after the event because I am assured, on the basis of performance, that the information sought in the second part of the freedom of information request will never be published in a newspaper at the same time as the part listing the overall sum of money. All I ask for is natural justice.
I can stand over the work I do. I am present in the House and busy. I work nationally, locally and internationally and I am proud of what I do. I am told at the Council of Europe that I am doing a good job but I would like that to be reflected here. When I was asked to explain my expenses recently on a local radio station, I said I had just had a report agreed by 47 states on teaching history in areas with a recent history of conflict. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Croatia and the Greek and Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of my report, which was unheard of. When I raised this issue, I was told it was not really of interest because the media in question receive press releases every day. I refer to local media, not national media. I ask for fair play.
I commend the Minister for Education and Science on the significant savings of up to 30% made in the schools building programme. I ask that more projects be front-loaded. The circumstances are the same as those that obtain in local development companies and local development partnerships. They are only allocating money for 2009, although they know their budgets for 2010 and 2011. It takes time to draw down the money. In so far as the Department can front-load to a greater degree, this must be done in respect of the local development companies and partnerships.
On Monday afternoon two truckloads of TB-infected cattle were stolen in Keady and on the Castleblayney Road, just a few hundred metres inside the Border in Northern Ireland. They were to be taken to a designated meat plant for destruction by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. I mention this because it reminds us of what occurred last year in the pig industry. This problem could devastate us. We have been fighting a great battle for many years to eradicate the blight of TB in cattle. Just when we hoped we were getting somewhere, we discovered the cattle stolen at two locations in Northern Ireland, in a very professional manner, were likely to end up on farms south of the Border. This warrants considerable publicity. It is not enough to notify the meat plants in order that they will be aware of the problem because the issue requires very heavy and strong publicity to ensure no farmer will be tempted to buy the cattle.
Yesterday I raised the question of life expectancy because I was stunned by the figures I had seen. I have since learned more. The figures suggest we in the West, in Ireland, for example, have a life expectancy far beyond that of people in Africa. Pneumococcal disease is preventable and money has been allocated for this purpose, yet two million children under the age of five years die each year from it in the developing world. There are vaccines available and they are being used in the western world. A startling figure which puts numbers into perspective is that for each child who dies from pneumonia in an industrialised country, more than 2,000 children die from it in developing countries. We have solved the problem in the western world but have not told the developing world what to do about it. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether Irish Aid is drawing attention to the fact that the disease can be prevented? It should be impressed upon him that Ireland should play its part — it is only a little part and does not require money. My attention has been drawn to the fact that €1.5 billion is required to develop a sustainable supply of the vaccines required. Of the 71 countries eligible to receive them, only 20 have applied to use them. It is a question of publicity; this is what the Minister could be doing through Irish Aid.
Economies around the world are slowly coming out of recession and it looks as if the long-term difficulty will be the long-term unemployed. Will the Leader consider arranging a debate in which Senators could make suggestions to the Government on FÁS-sponsored job creation and other employment techniques that could be used to get people back to work quickly? We could fast-track ideas that might help to stave of the loss of jobs. I refer, in particular, to the retail sector, in respect of which we could work hand in hand with Northern Ireland to establish a tax regime such that there would be no benefit associated with travelling across the Border. Criminal gangs exploit price differences on both sides of the Border, particularly with regard to fuels, and claim a political motive. The Seanad would serve its time well by addressing this issue.
With regard to the expenses controversy, will the Leader highlight the very real part of politics that the media refuse to consider? It has been most unusual for Senators to have five-year terms. In the early 1980s there were three elections one after another. Certain individuals were elected in the first two and lost the third. In today's terms, this cost a Member of the Dáil €100,000 in the year of an election and a Senator, €30,000. There is no security of employment. We are not employees but Members. We do not have the rights of an employee. The reality is that we are self-employed and have real costs because we are in the public eye. I heard one Member here say he gives up to a third of his salary in donations every year. We should have a full debate on the matter. The expenses regime exists to help with what was a very difficult position for politicians. The media would be the first to complain if politics became a rich man's preserve.
I ask the Leader for an urgently needed debate on education. There has been a revelation that the Department of Education and Science has yet to spend almost 50% of its 2009 budget, which is a national disgrace.
The Minister for Education and Science can cut classes and services but young children, like those in the Gallery behind us, in many schools across the country are being taught in dilapidated buildings with no gyms or libraries. They are being taught in prefabs and rat-infested classrooms. Is the Government going to preside over this? I want the Minister to come before the House to account for the fact that only €455 million from the €841 million budget has been spent this year. If the tenders are lower, why is that money not allocated to other projects?
Every week in this House and the other House Members seek Adjournment debates, Private Members' motions and parliamentary questions on school building programmes. It is time for transparency and accountability in the Department of Education and Science on schools building projects.
I join Senator Twomey in asking for details of our expenses to be put up on the Oireachtas website. There is no need to hide because of shame; I have no problem with the details of what I get being published. Will the Minister for Finance come before the House to explain what he will do with ministerial expenses? What is the cost of the staff and advisers used by Ministers, their departmental credit cards, the State cars and the Government jet?
We have spoken about transparency and the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has been on the radio today trying to earn kudos for himself. When his Government colleagues were asked if they would publish their expenses, they said the Minister for Finance is introducing a new expenses regime and Ministers will comply with it. If the Government is serious about reforming the Oireachtas expenses, let they who lead show the people and other Members what they cost the taxpayer. They should lead by example and publish their costs in full.
Our expenses have been published through freedom of information requests and I have no difficulty with that. Like Senator Norris, I am not afraid to be held accountable for what I do and spend in my life in politics. Ministers should act similarly.
We have all at some level or another been involved with the discussion on reforming the expenses system. It is my understanding that at the start of this year, a sensible proposal was put to the Minister for Finance by those on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. That proposal is still just lying there. In the interests of accountability, transparency and, most importantly, the body politic, it is most important that whatever scheme or reform is to take place is implemented immediately and everybody subscribes to it.
I will mention two anomalies. At the start of this year I and other people who served in this House over the last term and this term would have qualified for a long service increment. That was quite rightly stopped in July this year and we did not get it. The people who made the decision to stop it had already received a long service increment and did not forfeit it. It is a gross insult to those who have lost their jobs that serving Members of the Dáil and Seanad are in receipt of ministerial pensions.
We should bring everything to the discussion and we should all subscribe to the decision made, draw a line and move on in the interests of democracy and the body politic in particular. There is a strong anti-politics agenda being pursued by some elements of the media, and this should be avoided at all costs.
Yesterday Senator Coghlan asked for an update on the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009. Both the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 and the Multi-Unit Development Bill 2009 completed Second Stage in the Seanad before the summer holidays, during which there were discussions and many proposals and amendments were suggested for both Bills. Consultations with relevant stakeholders have taken place during the summer recess and discussions with the offices of the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Counsel are now taking place with a view to preparing and drafting Committee Stage amendments.
So the Private Residential Tenancies Board does not come into it at all.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Hannigan, O'Donovan, Coghlan, Leyden, Glynn, Regan, Walsh, Bacik, Keaveney, Hanafin and McCarthy gave the House their views and called for a debate on expenses. I have no difficulty in having this take place.
I seem to remember mentioning that subject.
Senator Norris, of course. How could we ever forget the eminent Senator Norris? As Senator Glynn has said, I congratulate him on his views this morning.
If I may speak, through the Chair, on a point of something or other, I mean no discourtesy to the House. I would like to listen to the reply but I will have to read it. I must be in another place to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, where we will discuss the report on Gaza, just in case anybody around here would think I am going on an expenses junket.
I have no difficulty in having time left aside for this to take place. Ministers have taken a 10% reduction in salary. There has been a 25%——
They have taken a pay cut. On a point of order——
The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
The Leader is spinning a yarn again.
He is replying to the Order of Business.
He is giving us the same line the whole time. The Government is not leading by example.
I am tired of this patronisation.
The Senator should resume his seat.
I am tired of it.
The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
I am tired of the Leader giving us this single transferable speech. He and the Government must lead by example.
The Senator should resume his seat.
Balance must be evident and the truth must be told. Ministers have taken a 10% reduction, and there has been a 25% reduction in travel expenses for all Members from 1 July.
That is not what I asked about.
That is a fact.
It is not what I asked about.
I am not speaking about the Senator's contribution in particular; I am responding to many other Senators as well. There has been a 10% reduction in all expenses other than travel available to Members of the Dáil and Seanad. That must be put into the public domain. As I have stated, there have been reductions in Minister's salaries, travel expenses and all other expenses. We are working on the issue and action has been taken.
There will be a level-headed debate in this House with participation from people who have invested all their lives in giving the best possible service as Members of the Oireachtas. I know many Senators are concerned about this. The current problems relating to transparency must be addressed but this process will save the taxpayer nothing; in my opinion it will cost the taxpayer much more. That is from somebody with much experience of serving with many Members in this House on various committees, including those dealing with Members' interests and the Committee on Procedures and Privilege, which deal with operations of the House. I will propose such a debate within the next two weeks.
Senators Hannigan, Norris, Twomey, Bacik, Keaveney, Buttimer and Walsh congratulated UCD and Trinity College on their world ranking.
With regard to expenditure in the Department of Education and Science, the value for money which is being found by the Department and the Minister in the schools building programme is second to none. There have been reductions of between 20% and 30% in the costs of the buildings, and the Minister is getting enormous value for money in this regard. We wish him well on that. Senator Walsh requested a debate on development in education with the Minister present in the House. I have no difficulty in leaving time aside for that to take place.
Senator O'Donovan again called for an urgent debate on the fishing industry. I indicated prior to the recess that such a debate would take place. I am pleased to inform the House that the debate will be held on Wednesday next. I look forward to the Minister coming before the House to discuss the serious challenges the fishing industry faces in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy, annual quotas etc.
I will communicate to the relevant Minister the views and concerns of Senator Coghlan in respect of issues relating to Killarney House, the national parks in Kerry and the town of Killarney.
Senator Leyden referred to the Council of Europe and the three Senators who represent the House so well on that body. I agree with everything the Senator stated. As an independent nation, Ireland should continue to be represented by the three Members to whom I refer. I congratulate all concerned. Senator Keaveney outlined what she has achieved at the Council, particularly with regard to the reports with which she has been associated and the support she has received worldwide in respect of those reports.
Senator Leyden also referred to the Lisbon treaty and the implications of last Friday's vote. I am pleased to inform the House that a debate on this matter will take place next week.
Senator Glynn requested that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come before the House for an urgent debate on recent staggering and unsustainable increases in insurance premiums. As stated yesterday, I will make time available for such a debate at the earliest possible opportunity. I will also communicate to the Minister for Finance the Senator's strong views regarding the introduction of a scrappage scheme for the motor trade, which is experiencing major difficulties at present.
Senator Quinn referred to the difficulties farmers in this jurisdiction might face if their herds were exposed to cattle from Northern Ireland infected with TB which are stolen and transported across the Border. The Senator highlighted the great battle that has been fought over many years to eradicate the blight of this disease. I will communicate his views in this regard to the Minister.
Senator Quinn also referred to the question of life expectancy and what Ireland can do to help the underprivileged nations of the world. In these countries, some 2 million children under the age of five lose their lives each year on foot of a lack of medicines and medical care. The Senator's request for a debate in this regard is worthwhile. Perhaps he might outline his views to the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he makes his regular monthly visit to the House to discuss Europe and Northern Ireland. Such an occasion would present the ideal opportunity to discuss the matter in order to discover what might be done.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on the world economy, long-term unemployment, the challenges faced by FÁS in the areas of upskilling and training and the action that might be taken to assist the retail sector, which is under siege at present.
I was asked to provide details of the Bills that are due to be published during the current session. There are 20 such Bills, namely: from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Foreshore (Amendment) Bill; from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Inland Fisheries Bill, the Minerals Development Bill, the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Biofuel Obligation Bill and the Petroleum Exploration and Extraction (Safety) Bill; from the Department of Education and Science, the Education (Patronage) Bill and the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act 1998 amendment Bill; from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill; from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Bill, the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Environmental Liability Bill and the Noise Nuisance Bill; from the Department of Finance, the Appropriation Bill and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill; from the Department of Health and Children, the Nurses and Midwives Bill; from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Criminal Justice (Forensic Sampling and Evidence) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Public Order)(Amendment) Bill and the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 amendment Bill; from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Social Welfare Bill; and from the Department of Transport, the Road Traffic Bill. It is hoped these Bills will be published during the current session and will come before the House for consideration either prior to Christmas or early in the next session.