The Order of Business is No. 1, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for 20 minutes and all other Senators for 12, and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House; and No. 2, a Private Members' Bill, Appointments to Public Bodies Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, but not earlier than 5.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
This morning The Irish Times, reporting the Taoiseach’s approach to budgetary reform, stated the Taoiseach said he would go ahead with the €4 billion budget cuts with or without partners. Earlier in the week he spoke about reform. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, spoke about trying to save money through reform mechanisms. It is very clear there is uncertainty about the Government’s approach. Members of Government appear to be saying just enough to annoy every interest group, but there is not enough public discussion of the direction in which the budget is going. We should be discussing the McCarthy report and the Commission on Taxation in this House. I oppose the Order of Business on the grounds that we ought to be discussing these issues at this critical period.
The Taoiseach spoke about reform, but it is very clear that the Government's track record on reform is very poor. In areas such as the HSE and FÁS there is no evidence of reform, which is something this House should be discussing. For example, this week it was reported that €11 million was being spent by the HSE on sick leave. We cannot find €10 million for a life-saving cervical cancer vaccine for girls and yet €11 million is being spent on sick leave within the HSE with no proper explanation. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to explain why cardiac operations at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin are being cancelled on a daily basis. Many Senators will have received an e-mail in this regard during the week. I spoke to Gemma Lawlor, mother of Joy Lawlor Doyle, on Sunday about the distress she experienced on receiving a telephone call from Joy's crèche to tell her that her child was turning blue and that the staff could no longer look after her because they were so concerned about her cardiac condition. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline to the House what plans there are to deal with the cardiac waiting list at Crumlin Children's Hospital? There must be immediate investment in the hospital to tackle this problem. Children like Joy cannot wait until the paediatric hospital is built on the Mater Hospital site; they require intervention now.
I listened in recent days as the Minister for Education and Science turned statistics on their heads, getting away with murder in the process. It is important to set the record straight. This time last year there were no unemployed teachers in the State and the only way schools could secure substitute cover was by seeking the services of retired teachers in their areas. It was then that the Minister and his Government axed 1,000 teaching jobs in the primary sector and reduced the number of substitute days to be availed of by schools. As a result, hundreds of qualified teachers are unemployed and counting their shillings in an effort to survive.
This week the Minister, using last year's figures, claimed that retired teachers are blocking young teachers from securing positions in schools. That is utterly false, misleading and disingenuous. The Minister must be invited to the House to show how the figures he has provided stack up. The last time I challenged data provided by the Minister was this time last year when I questioned his projections regarding the number of teachers who would find themselves unemployed as a consequence of his decisions. He has had to change his mind about that and withdraw what he said. If he comes into this Chamber, he will be unable to face down the force of argument against what he said. It is unfair to crucify retired teachers, most of whom have no interest in engaging in substitute teaching. A principal teacher in a small school anywhere in the State who requires substitute cover at short notice generally has no choice but to seek assistance from a retired teacher. Qualified teachers who are unable to secure teaching positions are not sitting at home waiting for that type of telephone call; they are working on the checkouts in Lidl and Aldi to earn the shillings to keep them going. That is the reality and it is time the Minister came into this House to face the music.
I never received an answer to my question some weeks ago as to when and why the decision was made to move from a policy of securing savings of €4 billion in public spending through a combination of €2.5 billion in spending cuts and €1.5 billion in taxation measures to a position where the entire €4 billion is apparently to be achieved by way of cuts alone. Senator Fitzgerald referred to the reports in today's newspapers that the Taoiseach has put forward another version of his "my way or the highway" approach to the debate on the forthcoming budget with an indication that what he envisages will occur come hell or high water.
Will the Leader facilitate a debate on the fundamental issues associated with the desirability and advisability of instituting such radical spending cuts? The question is whether our economy will be able to withstand such deep cuts in public services and the associated impact for the entire economy. No other country in the OECD is engaging in these types of radical cuts as a matter of policy in the midst of a severe recession. The conventional wisdom has always been that governments should wait until the economy shows some signs of improvement before engaging in such draconian reductions in public spending. The Government apparently shared this view earlier in the year but it seems there has been a change of mind in the interim. No explanation has been given in this House or elsewhere as to whether such a decision was made and, if so, why or when it was taken. When I put this question to the Leader on a previous occasion he replied that we must wait to see what is done in the budget. I am also interested in the Deputy Leader's take on why and when this decision was made and by whom.
There must be a debate on how increases in taxation can contribute to making up the required saving of €4 billion in public expenditure. Why was the Commission on Taxation tasked with setting out the various options in this regard if its findings were to be jettisoned? I am not saying that anybody in the Labour Party or elsewhere would feel particularly comfortable standing up and advocating tax increases. Nobody likes to do that, but it is part of the picture and we have to deal with the balance between cuts and taxation measures. It is simply not good enough to spend money and effort on these reports during a serious recession and do nothing. There is a need for serious public debate in places like this House. I second the proposal on the Order of Business that we have a debate here in advance of the budget on what ought to occur.
I am not adverse to debates in this House on the report of the Commission on Taxation, or on the McCarthy report. Such debates will inform the debate that will eventually take place when a budget is formed on 9 December. I do not think anybody in this House should second guess what is likely to happen on 9 December. The Government is committed to a budget adjustment of €4 billion. The circumstances demand that such an adjustment be made. How that adjustment is made in terms of savings in public expenditure and in additional taxation measures has yet to be determined.
One new taxation measure has already been adopted. I am confident that some of the recommendations of the commission, such as getting rid of tax reliefs for high earners, tails on already extinguished tax reliefs, changes in tax residency laws and so on, will have to be part of the budget on 9 December. Such is the scale of the measures that have to be taken, we can only take what can be seen as an egalitarian approach to what will be the most serious budgetary adjustment in the life of this or any Government over the last 30 years. That is the approach that my party intends to take and on 9 December we will see a budget that will be framed along those lines.
Given the ongoing debate about the purpose of this House, we could have a series of debates on things like today's report of the National Economic and Social Forum on home care packages. Senator Buttimer was on the steering committee of the forum and the chair of that committee, Professor Tony Fahey, stated that the changes of the agency could be made anywhere in public administration. The National Economic and Social Forum has been given a new focus to see how policy is being implemented. In this important area, there was a recognition that the policy is necessary and good, but that it is being badly implemented. There are variances across the country for means testing, care assessment and how different parts of the HSE are implementing the policy. We can see this in many of our public bodies and it would point the way towards some of the changes that need to be happening to achieve real public service reform. Not only should we have a debate on this report, but also on the report of the National Economic and Social Council, as well as reports of the Law Reform Commission. If the clár of this House was predicated on such debates on a weekly basis, we would be more than justifying our existence.
I wish to speak about the amount of people who are forced to go shopping in the North and the amount of revenue we are losing as a result. Senator Boyle has spoken about the budget on 9 December, and I call on the Leader to convey to the Minister for Finance that we must have decreases in VAT in order to encourage people to stay at home. There are 250,000 households who are shopping in the North of Ireland. Massive amounts of revenue are being lost to this State. I have raised this issue consistently in the past, and I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to reduce VAT so people can shop at home.
I also asked the Leader about the meeting between the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, and the Leader told me he would personally come back to me last week.
I will do so.
It is nice to see it is business as usual here today.
Questions to the Leader, please.
Back to basics. I ask the Leader to consider arranging a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I commend the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on the excellent success of the home energy scheme. Up to the end of June, approximately €16 million had been allocated under the scheme in respect of approximately 12,000 houses. I encourage people to avail of this wonderful scheme, which has a budget of €50 million. I suggest that we could discuss this self-financing Government initiative with the Minister. As many jobs have been created under the scheme, it can be said to be responsible for additional VAT and PRSI returns. It also leads to productive and worthwhile savings in oil. The Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, should examine whether the scheme can be extended to this country's primary and secondary schools. It is unacceptable, in light of the advent of solar panels and other means of heating water, that 80% of primary schools and 52% of secondary schools do not have hot water. It is vital that we have hot water in every school, especially in the context of the swine flu problem. That should be a pretty basic requirement in 2009. The Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has introduced a useful water harvesting scheme in our schools. His efforts should be combined with those of his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, so further initiatives can be introduced in these difficult times. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and come up with initiatives and ideas. I ask the Leader to organise a discussion on this matter with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, at an early stage. It would be worthwhile and would benefit our schools.
I ask the Leader again to arrange a rolling debate on the economy, particularly in light of the extraordinary collapse in the value of Irish banks today. I learned a few minutes ago that share prices had fallen by 33%, which is very worrying. It appears this has happened partly on foot of concerns about the inefficient scheduling of Government business in the other House. I refer specifically to delays in passing the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009, which are inhibiting the banks in the floating of a rights issue that would prop them up and allow them to repay badly needed moneys to the Exchequer. This is a very regrettable slur on the Houses of the Oireachtas. It feels as if we are living through the South Sea bubble all over again, which is uncomfortable and worrying. In the last few days, I heard for the first time about the existence of special purpose vehicles, or SPVs. I do not terribly like the sound of them, particularly having listened to last night's debate, in which Members of this House could not take part. I suggest that certain Senators could contribute valuably to such a discussion. I refer to Senator O'Toole, who has been heavily involved in the partnership process over the years; Senator Ross, who is an outstanding investigative journalist; and Senator Quinn, who is a major businessman. We should deal with this as much as we can.
I would also like to call for a debate on human rights. Today, at the United Nations, there will be a vote on the US-inspired blockade against the people of Cuba, which inhibits the importation of medical supplies, in particular. I salute Dr. David Hickey, who has brought this issue to the fore again. A debate on human rights would also allow us to speak about the executions of Tibetan Buddhists who protested against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Consideration could also be given to the role of the Irish Human Rights Commission. The chairman of the commission, Maurice Manning, a former Member of this House, told a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly that its budget was cut by 32% last year and if the cuts continue, it will be completely unable to function. I remind the House that the commission was established as an integral part of the Belfast Agreement. It is astonishing that the Government has been able to cut its budget without any protest or discussion in either House.
I congratulate all those who were involved in this week's massive seizure of illegal cigarettes in Greenore. I suggest that the House, which has examined the issue of drugs and contraband in the past, should recognise and celebrate massive successes of this nature. As a proportion of the overall activity of this nature that takes place, however, this week's seizure is a drop in the ocean. I commend those international authorities that were involved in this success. I ask the Leader to bring the thoughts of many people on this issue to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It was stated on "Prime Time Investigates" some months ago that the penalties and fines imposed by the courts on those who bring cigarettes into the country, and those who are legitimately in business but who sell illegal cigarettes, are insufficient. The programme showed cigarettes being smuggled through the airport. In congratulating those responsible for the tremendous work done to achieve what was achieved and in recognising the seizure is only a drop in the ocean, not only in terms of cigarettes but in terms of the overall drugs problem, it is important the Leader not only asks the Minister to be aware of the problem but also to respond to the House thereon.
Having raised the issue of alcohol labelling a number of times, I note the EU authorities have requested all member states to consider what legislation or regulation should be in place. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Áine Brady, for an update on the current position? It links into the whole debate on alcohol that is currently taking place. It is very important because, if we do not know how many calories are in a drink or whether "light" means light in calories or light in alcohol, we are not informed as to how much alcohol we have consumed when getting into a car.
I have asked the Leader about No. 5, the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009, and No. 8, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009, twice in the recent past, but his answers on the two occasions conflicted somewhat. If the Leader is in a position to do so, will he state definitively whether it is suggested that these Bills will be amalgamated? How is it intended to proceed in respect of the two Bills?
The blockade at our national park, involving both the Muckross and Killarney jarveys, is receiving considerable publicity at present and is causing major disruption in the part of the world where I reside. Mediation is the only sensible route. Without discussing the rights or wrongs of the matter, if there is a request to the court, as there is, from the Killarney jarveys, not the Muckross jarveys——
Is that matter not before the courts at present?
It is not.
It is being reviewed.
It is not. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has asked for more time. Given that the honourable judge acceded to the request to grant it more time, I fail to understand why it then proceeded to lock people out. I ask that the blockade be lifted pending mediation or a court hearing.
Senator Coghlan would be a very good mediator. It would keep him busy.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach will allow me to raise this matter again on an Adjournment debate in early course.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to address the House on his proposal on lowering the blood alcohol limit from 80 mg per 100 ml to 50 mg per 100 ml? I raise this because I noticed in an article in The Irish Times today that more than 500 people were arrested for suspected drink driving offences over the bank holiday weekend. This was because the traffic corps had almost 2,000 checkpoints on arterial routes from Dublin and also in provincial towns around the country. It is worrying to believe that so many were arrested for suspected drink driving. In some cases, where it did not appear there was any alcohol in the suspects’ blood, they were tested for drugs.
This House should have a mature and sensible debate on the issue of drink driving. We should not tolerate any drink driving. Many Senators from rural constituencies will have the points of view of their constituents to put forward. Many people do not like the proposal to lower the blood alcohol limit but we need to consider the overall risk being posed to people's lives and the carnage on our roads. We need to recognise there is a problem on our roads and drink plays a part in that. We, in this House, need to have a sensible, mature and well-informed debate on the issue. I would appreciate if the Leader would ask the Minister to address the matter in the House.
I join Senator Fitzgerald who spoke about children such as Joy and the other 100 children that are waiting for vital heart surgery in Crumlin and elsewhere around the country. Priority should be given to freeing up beds to allow that vital surgery to take place. It is well recognised that surgery that is elective or planned has to happen at a certain point in a child's life to improve his or her quality of life without considerably worsening his or her life expectancy. That issue should be dealt with as a matter of extreme urgency because time is of the essence and that is the one thing those children do not have.
I attended the launch today of the report by the National Economic and Social Forum on the home care package scheme. I concur with the points made by Senator Boyle on the problems that have been identified in managing the scheme, which is riddled with inconsistencies. A number of home care package providers have noted that having different budget lines for home care packages and other types of community care doubles the level of administrative work. Double or triple assessments of the care needs of older people are being carried out.
One social worker said the current assessment process for application approval of a home care package does not always work efficiently in terms of meeting a patient's needs. In many areas the hospital social worker submits a home care package application and care plan, following which a case manager visits the patient while in hospital to carry out a needs assessment. The home care package application already includes a needs assessment which has been completed by the hospital multidisciplinary team. There is often duplication of assessments that have already taken place.
That is yet another example of how the HSE malfunctions and misappropriates funding that could be better spent on the delivery of the service on the ground to the people who need it. It is a ridiculous misuse of funding to have two or three professionals involved in assessing one person's needs. In regard to how €4 billion might be saved, this is one area where we should examine what has been realistically assessed and was found not to be working. We should try to implement policies that are positive.
We should have an ongoing debate on the economy, society and the enormous changes that have taken place in work. Will the work of the future be done on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. basis? We should consider the work ethic. All that is very important when we are facing cutbacks or tax increases. The discussion must centre on society in general. It would be a golden opportunity to have a debate on how people work today, what they think of work and whether it should be done on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. basis or from the home. Those are all areas that will have an influence on the budget cutbacks.
I commend the multi-agency group that worked towards the massive seizure of illegal cigarettes. It appears to be the biggest such haul in the history of the State. I congratulate everyone involved, in particular the Customs and Excise and the Garda backup. It is an example of the importance of working with international agencies. If ever there was a reason we needed to pass the Lisbon treaty, yesterday's seizure was an example of how we work together nationally and internationally. The job could not have been done otherwise. The criminals do not acknowledge national borders. We could not do the work alone. I compliment everyone involved in that massive haul. I hope it will lead to many more.
The main issue to which I referred is the economy and how best we can get the country back up and running. It is very important that we have such a debate in this House.
Senator Fitzgerald called for a debate on the waste of financial resources and the effect of such wastage on the funding of front-line services. I request the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport to come to this House to give an account of the different agencies and semi-State bodies under his control.
I attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport yesterday at which I heard a presentation on a report of an internal audit on the operation of Iarnród Éireann. The conclusions of the report and the manner in which it was presented were genuinely shocking in terms of how taxpayers' money is being spent. While considerable public debate on the company has focused on the fraud that happened within it, for which some people have been sacked, the point of more concern is that the report makes it clear there was virtually an absence of, or very weak, systems in place to monitor the spending of taxpayers' money. In quantifying the risk to the company from the manner in which it is spending taxpayers' money, the report states financial risk is almost certain in terms of the company, and in quantifying the effect on the company, the report states the effect would be super-critical. This organisation is spending our money at a time when we are trying to find money to maintain front-line services. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to come to the House to give an account of what the Government is doing to deal with this issue?
I support Senator's Alex White's call for a debate on the overall budgetary position. It must be borne in mind that the focus is on not only finding cuts of €4 billion this year, but also on the commitment given to finding cuts of €4 billion in the budget after the forthcoming one and the budget after that. Having regard to the changes we will face and the sacrifices and awful difficulties people are experiencing, the country will be asked to take cuts at least twice again.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the lack of the application of the Derelict Sites Act? Many, if not all, Members will be aware of the many eyesores strewn throughout our countryside and in our towns, villages and cities. Regrettably, in some cases the offending entity is the local authority which has boarded-up houses within its ownership. That is not acceptable given that many people are seeking houses. Bearing in mind that not everybody wants to live in a town, village or city, houses in rural areas that have been derelict for some time should be acquired by the local authority and converted into liveable accommodation for people who want to live in the country where I was bred, born and reared, as were many in this Chamber.
Last week I called on the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to discuss the position that obtains as to what defence one can use to protect oneself and one's property. I preface my further comments by saying the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is a very effective and caring Minister, but this issue is exercising the minds of many people. I received letters from three pensioners over the weekend asking me to raise this matter. I hardly need to remind the Cathaoirleach and the Members of the case of the 92 year old man who was found dead in suspicious circumstances in his cottage in County Limerick.
The rolling out of the joint policing committees can be of particular help in this regard. Local authority members, Oireachtas Members, gardaí and representatives of local organisations can come together and make definitive proposals that will assist in this matter. This battle has been ongoing for quite some time not only under this Administration but also under previous one. The old and vulnerable people of this country must be protected.
I was under the impression that the issue of derelict sites was being dealt with in the Lower House this week because NAMA is dealing with derelict sites, commercial and residential, throughout the country——
Has the Deputy a question for the Leader?
——which will cost the taxpayer €54 billion and the Government is setting up a special purpose vehicle this week to hide from the Irish taxpayer the burden of the debt we are carrying as a country.
There is also a derelict site in Senator Twomey's place.
We should have more than one debate.
There should not be a debate across the floor from one Member to another. I ask for questions to the Leader.
We should have debates in this House on a regular basis on the economy. The deficit is not €4 billion this year and it will not be €4 billion next year; it will be €25 billion every year, by the looks of things, for the foreseeable future. That is so big it could end up breaking this country. We all need to be realistic about what we say in debates on this issue. I ask that Ministers be brought in here every week — there are only six weeks to the most horrendous budget in the history of the State — to outline what they would like to see done in the next couple of years before we go completely down the Swanee.
The other big issue at present is we are faced with a potential — I say "potential" because I do not want to be seen to be scaremongering — pandemic in this country. If anyone did a little research behind the headings, he or she would realise that the HSE's campaign for the swine flu vaccination programme is an absolute shambles and is falling apart. There are not 1,800 doctors participating in this scheme. The HSE has been sending out the swine flu vaccines to general practitioner surgeries that never sent it any documentation whatsoever. There is a serious need for the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to state that she is responsible for something and to look into what is going on with this potential pandemic in the health care system. At present, my gut instinct is that it is a mess.
Since this is the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic by former Taoiseach John A. Costello, some time in the next six weeks, before we break for Christmas and this year is finally over, we might in some way acknowledge the sacrifices of all the men and women who contributed in the past centuries to bringing about a Republic of Ireland.
On reflection, listening to Senator Ormonde speak of looking at people's attitudes to work, it is not so long ago that people had a job for life in the Civil Service, the bank, Guinness or some institution, but society, industry and the economy no longer work like that. We are living in a globalised economy where industries move at a whim. It is important to put on record that from 1986 to 2000, Ireland's wage rates were competitive and that was one of the main reasons there was full employment. Subsequently, there was rampant wage growth but the sustainability of the economy was camouflaged by the revenue coming from stamp duty and from property. Since the international crisis arose in the financial sector, led by the drop in interest rates, we in Ireland cannot compete. Ireland is almost unique in the world as being totally dependent on overseas markets. Practically all our income is generated from the export of goods and services. We are not competitive at present. As the Leader will be aware, for a number of months I have asked that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, come into the House to present the plan for restoring Ireland as a competitive country so that we can get back to the position of full employment. At present, the unemployment rate is 12.5%. Unemployment is a frightening state for a person. It is the most debilitating position to be in. I also want a debate on entrepreneurship and its contribution to how we in this country react to the new global economy.
I agree with Senator O'Toole's comments. I would like to hear from the Minister for Education and Science in this House at the earliest opportunity concerning issues such as the funding of minority schools, Protestant schools in particular, to which I referred last week; the funding of chaplains, given that chaplains are not funded in our voluntary schools despite the very important work they do at a time when we are all concerned about mental health, particularly among young men; and in regard to issues such as supervision and substitution.
One of the issues I hear from teachers is their great regret at the loss of balance in staff rooms, for example, as younger teachers are lost because they have not served the full time. Without in any way being ageist about this, there is a recognition that the difference of ages in a staff room can contribute greatly to the life of the school. That is one issue. However, we should not scapegoat older teachers, particularly, as Senator O'Toole said, based on figures that have no real relevance because of the different economic climate that pertained and because they are the ones who are available to do the work. I would like to hear from the Minister in this regard.
Like Senator Norris, I do not know what to make of this new vehicle known as the special purpose vehicle, which sounds a not very environmentally friendly type of machine. The one issue that recurs in most people's minds in this regard is the importance of safeguarding the public interest. Given it was the failure to have regard to the public interest that largely lead us into the economic situation we are now in, people want to know that if there are profits to be made in the future, they will not be lost to the State.
I read today that there is a proposal from IMPACT for a one-day strike on 24 November, which is to be discussed by the public sector unions. Anybody who is considering strike action needs to have their head examined. That is not the way to advance the interests of this country at a time of major crisis for us all. I hope people will be responsible in the leadership they give over the coming weeks so they do not drive themselves down alleys which will hurt us all.
I find myself in agreement with Senator Twomey that we should have a debate——
I must sit up for this one.
There should be no debate across the floor.
——which would be opportune given we are at the sixtieth anniversary of the declaration by the former Taoiseach, Mr. John A. Costello, of a Republic when he was in Canada. There seems to be something about Fine Gael leaders taking everybody by surprise on social occasions. I understand from the history books that it was a major surprise at that time.
It took you by surprise, anyway.
Order, please. There should be questions for the Leader, not debate across the floor.
You were there long enough to do it yourselves.
There should be no questions from the Opposition side.
I ask the Leader for a debate on this subject and on the broader issue referred to by the Senator concerning all of those who played their part, in their own way — many made the ultimate sacrifice — during the foundation of the State and in the creation of the democracy, freedom and independence which we enjoy.
Senator Donohoe and others referred to waste. I listened with interest to what was said with regard to Iarnród Éireann at the joint committee yesterday, and we have also had discussions in regard to FÁS in the not too distant past. I call for a debate in the House on the need for consideration of public sector reform. Whether one is in the private or public sector, elements of waste creep into the operations of business. In the private sector, they will tend to come under the microscope because of the pressures on margins, profits and the like, but this does not happen in the public sector and, as a consequence, the waste tends to become compounded rather than being eradicated. We should look to that issue.
People at middle and senior management level in the public sector are now very handsomely paid. The least the taxpayer who is funding this can expect is that performance is commensurate with the salaries such staff are enjoying. I ask that we have a debate where we hone in on this issue so that, where people are found not to be meeting their responsibilities, they would be held to account and, ultimately, their continuation in their jobs would be a consideration. Conservatively, I think somewhere in the region of €2 billion to €3 billion could be identified in savings. As Senator Twomey said, it would be a small percentage of the total required but, nonetheless, it is a start.
I refer the House to the CSO crime figures for the last quarter, which show the crimes of burglary, murder and robbery all increased. In particular, burglaries and aggravated burglaries increased by between 26% and 50%. This happens at a time when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has rejected Fine Gael's home defence Bill. The figures show the abject failure of the Minister in the war on crime.
The Minister may seek to take some comfort from the spectacular success of the enforcement agencies in arresting nine people in Greenore after the discovery of 120 million contraband cigarettes valued at €50 million. However, the spectacular success of Customs and Excise and the Naval Service in this regard only highlights the enormous problem of smuggled cigarettes which fuels organised crime and terrorism. There is speculation of a link with the Real IRA in this trade but the Minister has not made the issue a priority. The retail trade believes one in three packets of cigarettes are sold without excise duty being charged. The Revenue Commissioners estimate they lost €387 million in 2008 and will lose up to €1 billion in 2009 as a result. I have not heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speak about this issue or suggest it is a priority for him.
I refer to the debate on reducing the limit for drink driving. The former Taoiseach gave a commitment to introduce mandatory alcohol testing at road traffic accidents where injuries were sustained. Fine Gael tabled a Private Members' motion in the Dáil on 12 October 2007 calling for a Bill to introduce mandatory testing. This is the only way we can know the link between alcohol usage and accidents on our roads. Before that debate took place, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, announced that he would introduce legislation as appropriate. Will the Leader ask the Minister what has happened to his initiative and the Bill which he promised? Consistency on the Minister's part would be welcome.
I echo the calls for a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to discuss unemployment. Senator Mary White referred to an unemployment level of 12.5% but in my constituency, which is also that of the Tánaiste, it stands at 30% of the workforce. It would be apt to have a debate but whether she would have any suggestions is another question. The debate would give the different political parties the opportunity to discuss, in a structured way, their proposals for getting Ireland back to work.
Last year I tabled an amendment calling for the reduction in the rate of VAT when the Government was proposing to increase it by 0.5%. The Minister said we could not afford to reduce VAT because we would lose more than €200 million. InterTrade Ireland will attend a meeting with the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement tomorrow and will talk about the effect cross-Border shopping is having on the economy in this State. Up to €810 million will be lost so we need a stimulus package to inject confidence back into the retail sector, especially in the Border areas. If the Tánaiste can make her way to the Seanad Chamber I will ask her to address that matter.
I also call for a debate on Irish unity. During statements on the Good Friday Agreement I made the point that all parties refused even to murmur the words "Irish unity". If we are able to talk about what happened in Canada 60 years ago we should be able to discuss how this State lives up to the aspirations in the copy of the 1916 Proclamation which is hung in the front hall of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I say "copy" because the real proclamations are sold at the auctioneers across the road at Easter time. How do we live up to the ideals presented on the steps of the GPO so many years ago? Have we made a half-arsed job of living up to the dream of the republic which Pearse and Connolly had? How do our political parties aim to bring that about? That leads me to my final point. I am disgusted, sick, sore and tired of this public sector bashing, time and again, by the Fine Gael Party. We talk about waste in the public sector, but we are sitting in one of the biggest causes of waste in that sector, this Chamber and ourselves as Senators. We are failing to reform the Seanad.
The Senator's time is up.
We talk about attacks on teachers, but I have not heard a Fine Gael Senator or Deputy mention the fact that Deputy Enda Kenny should not have received payment for being a teacher when he was a TD, or Deputy Dinny McGinley and many others who continue to get a teacher's salary.
The Senator has gone over his time. I call Senator Cummins.
What about Gerry Adams getting his MP's salary, yet not going over to Westminster?
In addition to having ministerial jobs and pensions, they are denying new recruits the ability to enter into full-time teaching jobs.
Senator Doherty should resume his seat.
There is waste therefore, but it happens at the top level, not just at the bottom. Let us have an honest debate about it.
I will not call on the Senator any more if he does not observe the rules of the House.
This is a House of order, which explains the outburst.
I wish to speak on crime, something about which Sinn Féin has been well aware over the years.
They have a lot of experience.
For a number of weeks I have been asking for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend this House to discuss a number of items, including prison overcrowding, the amount of drugs in prisons and attacks on the elderly. We saw the statistics yesterday, which show that burglaries are up significantly. For the first time, the Garda Commissioner has said that something drastic will have to be done. The Government is perceived as being soft on crime. It is a far cry from the policy of zero tolerance that was advocated by the same party not so long ago. The Minister should attend the House to address these problems, which people want to see solved. He should not address them over the airwaves, he should be here to speak about the policies necessary to tackle law and order. People should fear the repercussions of breaking the law, but they do not at present.
Our time for the Order of Business is practically up. There are only a few minutes left. I call Senator Ellis.
On the last day the House sat, I sought a debate on the proposed carbon taxes. I note that since then IBEC and a number of other groups have said they would appreciate such a debate prior to the introduction of such taxes. Has the Leader made any progress with regard to arranging such a debate? While carbon taxes might be desirable in some ways, other aspects could be damaging to our economy. We should have such a debate, therefore, which would also give us an opportunity to go through the submissions we have received from various groups on the proposed carbon taxes. Perhaps the Leader will advise us of the position.
It is a pity that the Government is all over the place on what will happen in the budget. The Government is sending out conflicting signals to different interest groups and is partly responsible for the fall in bank shares today, together with the ordering of the NAMA legislation. It is a huge problem and for that reason I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the economy and the budget. In that debate, we must examine the call from the trade union movement that the top earners in society should pay proportionately in the forthcoming budget.
The wealth that accumulated in the Celtic tiger years has not evaporated and will have to be tackled as well. We should have a wide-ranging debate soon on the budget and fiscal policy. I would like to see a debate on three areas that are impacting on the entire Border region, including my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. First, 250,000 people are crossing the Border to shop in the North. We need adjustments in the VAT rate and price controls because the situation is decimating Border towns. It is understandable that people are doing that in the current circumstances, but we must address the matter.
Second, the fact that Protestant schools are being attacked and closed has huge implications in my area. Poorer Protestants from small farms etc. were boarding in Protestant boarding schools in the provincial towns and they were not privileged or elitist. They wanted, and have the right, given the nature of things, to have their ethos protected in schooling, and I want the Leader to address that.
Courts are being closed down in local towns in my constituency and being transferred to central towns. There is no saving from this because witnesses, as well as the free legal aid people, the gardaí etc., still have to be taken by taxis to the central court. In addition we are taking gardaí out of the local towns and causing a security issue during court sittings. This is a very serious matter and I ask the Leader to bring that to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Through the Cathaoirleach, I clarify for Senator Walsh that John A. Costello was never leader of Fine Gael, but he was an excellent Taoiseach. I clarify for Senator Doherty that the Fine Gael Party has always been pro-public servant and, in that regard, I ask for a debate on this matter. Unlike Senator Doherty's party, Sinn Féin, we do not claim both salaries.
Fine Gael leaders have claimed Dáil salaries and pensions as well as ministerial pensions etc. It is on the record.
Senator Buttimer must address questions to the Leader. I do not want arguing across the floor of the House.
I have not provoked any comment here this afternoon.
Yes, the Senator has.
I am defending the record of the Fine Gael Party regarding public service. The remarks this afternoon by Senators on the public service are indicative of the fact that we have, through this Government, divided public and private sector workers. Shame on the Leader's Government for doing that.
I ask the Leader for a debate on education. Single-handedly the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has created chaos, dismay and despair and he has axed 1,000 jobs. He has created the difficulties we have today, with young teachers finding it difficult to get jobs. I sympathise with school principals who have to make choices as regards getting replacement substitute cover. It is the Leader's Government that has done this.
I ask for a debate on the role of politics and politicians in Irish society. It is time for such a debate in the context of political reform and as regards the type of politics and governance we want to see. The people are crying out for change. They are unhappy with the regime that is in place and I would like that debate as a matter of urgency.
I join other Senators in asking the Leader to arrange a debate on the crime figures announced yesterday. There are significant increases under a number of headings and most notably in regions such as those I represent in a large rural constituency. Many elderly people, particular those living alone, are in a state of fear. The announcement in the McCarthy report that further rural Garda stations would be closed has added to this. I know the Minister has indicated he will not implement that recommendation, but we should have a pre-budget discussion in the House on the crime figures and their implication for policing at community level across the country in the light of the cutbacks we know are coming in the budget.
I have asked the Leader on a number of occasions to have a debate on school transport, but we have not had it. I am told the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Haughey, is doing something, but I would like to know what it is. Perhaps we could have a discussion in the House on the outdated catchment areas for primary and secondary schools across the country, which mean thousands of children cannot be transported to the schools nearest to where they live. The catchment area rules were drawn up in the 1960s.
I join Senators Fitzgerald and Prendergast who asked for urgent action to be taken on cardiac operations at Crumlin children's hospital. Baby Joy and her family, as well as hundreds of other families, find themselves in vulnerable positions. Surely to God, despite the country's economic circumstances, if we cannot ensure the health and well-being of the most vulnerable, sick children, we are at nothing and we should all give up.
I join other Senators in asking for a debate before the budget on its formulation. Perhaps, as Senator Norris pointed out, there should be a rolling debate on that issue during which Ministers could come to the Seanad and discuss what is being talked about at Cabinet level and elsewhere. We might be able to have some useful input before the announcement is made on 9 December.
I ask for a debate on the issue of domestic violence. While we need to discuss yesterday's crime figures, I ask the Leader for a separate debate on the issue of domestic violence. I asked for this before and we have not had it yet. Given the media profile it is getting and the fact that crimes against women, in particular, are growing rapidly, we need to consider it. On clarification of the use of the swine flu vaccination for pregnant women, I too support calls for a debate. A woman contacted me this morning, who is living beside a case of swine flu in a housing estate. Her GP tells her he will not provide the vaccination. I do not know what is going on but we need clarification quickly because people are very worried. The woman I refer to is 32 weeks pregnant, and it is a disgrace that such women, who are in a vulnerable state, need to worry about this matter, which could be clarified without delay.
I support calls for the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott, who comes from the neighbouring parish to mine in County Wexford. He is a lovely man and his family are very worried. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú raised this already today and I wish to be associated with that.
I call on the Leader to reply and apologise to those Senators——
On a point of order, as I was speaking, the Leader interrupted me to say there was a reply in my pigeonhole relating to the bilateral agreement with Vietnam and the visiting Prime Minister last week. I had asked that the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, should meet the Prime Minister, but that did not happen. I wonder what the reply is since there is none from the Leader in my pigeonhole.
The Leader will reply——
The Cathaoirleach has indicated several times that he must close the debate. We have a ridiculous situation whereby people are dislodged and then others are taken in the middle of the Order of Business. I have pushed several times to have this extended. Obviously the Order of Business should be extended further. It is the only time this House is reported. It appears on "Oireachtas Report" and so on. Let us, for goodness sake, play to our strengths instead of diminishing them and closing us down.
We have extended the Order of Business. I am trying to abide by the rules and I have indicated to some Senators that they should finish but they are not doing so.
I am not referring to the Cathaoirleach. The system is idiotic. One person is standing in the way and he should be very careful about this.
I hope to take first tomorrow the three or four Members who have not got in today. I ask the Leader to reply to the Order of Business.
As regards getting in tomorrow, those of us who did not get a chance to contribute today were detained on committee business elsewhere.
That is the farce of the entire thing.
Please, I ask the Leader to reply, with no interruptions.
On a point of information, I have instructed my secretary to leave the responses for Senators Healy Eames and McFadden in their pigeonholes at the conclusion of the Order of Business, which I believe is very wise.
As the Cathaoirleach knows well, the Independent benches are very ably represented on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges by the long-standing Senator O'Toole. I strongly suggest that his colleagues on the Independent benches liaise with their leader in relation to such matters.
Senators Frances Fitzgerald, Joe O'Toole, Alex White, David Norris, Phil Prendergast, Ann Ormonde, Liam Twomey, Mary White, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Reilly and John Paul Phelan expressed strong views regarding many issues today, particularly budgetary matters. As we all know, we will have statements tomorrow on the NAMA business plan. My intention is to have at least two pre-budget debates, where colleagues may express their views. As the course of events changes by the month, it is still a long way to budget time and there is no difficulty in having time set aside for this to take place. Today's set of challenges could be even more serious in six weeks' time and that is the difficulty we find ourselves in as regards the global downturn.
On the remark made to the effect that the higher earners should pay more, we all agree with that. The facts and statistics show that 4% of people are paying 50% of income tax that is taken in at the present.
They should be paying 90% if fair was fair.
Senator Fitzgerald and others spoke of what is being experienced in Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. One's heart would go out to some of the parents and poor unfortunate children waiting for operations there. I will certainly endeavour to have the Minister come to the House as a matter of urgency to deal specifically with what has been taking place. I compliment TV3. One of the patients we saw on television two weeks ago has successfully undergone his operation and, please God, will return to full health.
Senators O'Toole, Mullen and Buttimer called for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House for a debate on everything to do with his portfolio and particularly regarding teacher substitution as outlined by Senator O'Toole. I welcome yesterday's announcement of six brand new schools. Senators Boyle and Buttimer will be delighted to see that two of them are in the rebel county of Cork.
It is the Minister's county.
There are 1,100 on the waiting list.
Please, Members, no interruptions.
It is something to give balance.
The Leader is replying on the Order of Business.
On a point of order——
The Leader is misleading the House.
The Leader is replying on the Order of Business.
The schools are public private partnerships. Private money is being put in.
That is not a point of order.
It is good news and should be divulged. It should not be kept secret.
There is no worry about that.
The Leader is replying to the queries raised on the Order of Business.
Is the Minister coming into the House?
Senators Alex White, Boyle and Donohoe spoke about the budget. I again confirm this debate can take place and also include the McCarthy report, the report of the Commission on Taxation and all these issues and challenges facing the Government at present.
Senators Boyle and Prendergast spoke about the report published today on the National Economic and Social Forum. I have no difficulty having time left aside to debate that matter. I have told Senator McFadden the good news of the report in her pigeonhole already.
Many Senators expressed their concerns about customers going north to shop in the North of Ireland. It is a commerce decision by most families at present. The pendulum swings. We were the beneficiaries for many years. The people in the North are the beneficiaries at present. It is certainly a challenge for the Government and I will pass on the strong views to the Minister.
Senator Leyden spoke about the success of the home energy scheme and offered his congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in this regard. He referred to the 27,240 homes and €32 million which has already been a huge success when one considers the huge savings on everything taking place in this area.
They have not been done yet.
The Senator also pointed out the challenges regarding 80% of the schools with no hot water. This is an alarming statistic and is something we can really do something about.
Is the Leader in Government or what?
I ask the Members to allow the Leader to speak without interruption.
I thank the Senator for bringing it to the attention of the House today.
Senator Norris spoke about human rights issues. We have always been very supportive of the Senator regarding anything he wishes to bring to the attention of the House and to support him with debates from time to time.
I seek clarification. Is that a yes or a no?
It is a maybe.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
Senators Keaveney, Ormonde and Regan offered their congratulations to the Garda, the Department and all the agencies following the major haul of cigarettes in Greenore yesterday, which we all witnessed on television last night. We certainly offer our congratulations to them.
Senator Keaveney spoke about the penalties. If the fines are as we hear they are, we should introduce emergency legislation next week to amend the fines. The Senator also spoke about alcohol labelling. I will pass on her strong views in that regard to the Minister.
There were calls for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, to come to the House to discuss the serious challenge mentioned by Senators Mary White, Doherty and others regarding competitiveness, innovation and job creation to get people back to work. This is the single biggest challenge we all face. I will ask the Tánaiste to come to the House to discuss this very urgent matter.
I say to Senator Coughlan that I gave a lengthy response in the House last week — I will pass it on to his office — regarding Nos. 5 and 9 on the Order Paper, about which he has quite correctly asked me many times. I got an up-to-date response on it last Thursday. I apologise if it has not reached his office by now.
The previous responses were contradictory.
I can assure the Senator it will be in his office. It is being proceeded with. It definitively outlines the status of both those Bills at present.
Senators de Búrca and Regan spoke about reducing the speed limits and alcohol testing. I understand that the Bill will provide for mandatory testing at the scene of all accidents, which we must all welcome. I congratulate the Garda Síochána over this weekend on having 2,000 checkpoints. I was stopped twice on Saturday night and was breathalysed on one of the occasions on Saturday night.
What a waste of time for a life-long pioneer.
I was slightly concerned, but I had no sherry trifle so it was a zero rating.
I want the Minister to come and address the issue before the House because I believe the debate is needed.
Allow the Leader to reply without interruption, please.
There seem to be mixed views within all political parties.
The point is made. The Leader is replying to matters raised on the Order of Business.
Senators Donohoe and Walsh called for the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss proceedings at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport yesterday. Some alarming statistics emerged from that meeting. I will allow all the time that is necessary to debate this report. I know it will return to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport again.
Senator Glynn called on me last week and I had already committed to have a debate on updating the register of electors. I am endeavouring to have this debate take place. He pointed out that under the Derelict Sites Act local authorities have a responsibility in this area, as do the citizens in general. I have no difficulty in having a debate on the matter take place.
Senators Glynn and Cummins also called for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to prioritise those vulnerable people who are living alone. Unfortunately, we see the tragedies that are taking place. It is a serious new challenge for the Minister and the Department. Some very close friends of the Senators have lost their lives. Senator Cummins spoke of people in the Waterford area. I am also good a friend of the Barry family. Senator Glynn spoke about the death of the 92 year old man, as reported on television yesterday. This is a serious challenge. We must welcome the fair deal nursing homes Bill that came into being yesterday. It might encourage people if they wish to be in their own area during the day and live in the residential long-stay homes at night time. We never thought we would see the day. I support all the calls to have the Minister update the House on what he will do regarding the challenges facing his Department.
Senators Twomey and McDonald called on the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House. I propose to invite her to do so next week to address the serious challenges arising from the swine flu pandemic, as outlined to the House by Senators Twomey and McDonald. When Senator Twomey addresses the House on this issue we should all take note of what he says because he is a professional in this field.
I welcome the worthwhile proposals by Senators Twomey, Walsh and Buttimer to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the declaration of the Irish republic. I will do all I can to ensure we celebrate this achievement by way of a meaningful debate that will remind people of what was done 60 years ago.
In regard to the calls by Senators Mary White and Doherty for a debate on employment, I have committed to inviting the Tánaiste to the House for that purpose. Senator Regan called on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to explain how he proposes to deal with the trade in contraband cigarettes — I made a commitment to facilitate that discussion. Senator Ellis's proposal for a debate on a proposed carbon tax can be accommodated within our pre-budget debates.
I have already referred to the issue of cross-Border shopping, as raised by Senator O'Reilly. The Senator also referred to the problems arising for Protestant schools in rural areas as a result of the proposed reduction in funding. I fully supported the points made by Senators in this regard last week. Senator Wilson and I are both aware of the issues confronted by Protestant schools in Border areas. Brisha and Finea in my constituency are on the Border and the Protestant schools there have made an immense contribution in our area over the years. Given the small amount of money involved, I hope this issue can be addressed, recognised and acknowledged. Wherever the difficulty arises, the contribution the Department has made in the past 40 years has been very much appreciated by the Protestant community. I hope it will continue.
Senator O'Reilly spoke about the closure of courthouses in small towns and their transfer to larger towns. I understand this is happening throughout the State, and Cavan is no different from Westmeath in this regard, where this change was introduced some time ago. Nevertheless, I fully acknowledge that revenue may potentially be lost to small rural towns as a result.
I support Senator John Paul Phelan's call for an updating of the catchment areas for the school transport service. Such an update is long overdue as the existing catchments were devised in 1963 or 1964, since when there have been great changes and shifts in population. The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Haughey, is currently addressing this issue.
I have no difficulty in agreeing to Senator McDonald's call for a debate on domestic violence. We all support the call for the safe return of Fr. Sinnott and sympathise with the plight of the Sinnott family at this difficult time.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- de Búrca, Déirdre.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.