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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Nov 2009

Vol. 198 No. 5

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 — all Stages, with Second Stage to be taken at the conclusion of the Order ofBusiness, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at the conclusion of Second Stage and to resume at the conclusion of No. 38, if not previously concluded; No. 2, Foreshore and Dumping at Sea Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 but not earlier than 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House; and No. 38, Private Members' motion No. 26 re the introduction of a bio-fuel obligation scheme, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 but not earlier than 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

We are seeing a continuation of the confusion between the Government and the banks when it comes to exerting authority. This is serious. The Minister for Finance is struggling to exert his control. We discussed these very matters during our debate on the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009. There is confusion over the cap on salaries and it appears that AIB has ignored the Minister's request that banking chiefs should not be appointed from the existing pool of directors.

Serious questions arise regarding the Minister's authority and influence. Taxpayers are investing €54 billion in our banking system to make it function properly again. Last week, we discussed whether the guidelines had any statutory weight but it now appears they are voluntary. The small businesses and mortgage holders who followed the Cabinet's deliberations on whether money would be put aside for them must be concerned about the extent of the Minister's influence on AIB. What faith can they have that action will be taken on the flow of credit and helping mortgage holders with negative equity if there is doubt on these two issues of principle, namely, the cap on pay and insider appointments? I oppose the Order of Business and ask that the Minister come to the House today to discuss these critical issues.

I second the amendment proposed to the Order of Business on holding a discussion on the relationship between the State and AIB.

People are planning to go out on strike next Tuesday. This is another nail in that coffin because they are saying that the Government is prepared to pay any amount of money to bankers while crucifying public servants once again. The logic is irrelevant because that is how the matter is perceived.

In regard to how this information entered the public arena, I have always maintained that the juicier the leak, the higher the source. In my view this leak came from a very high political source. The media predictably, incorrectly and ridiculously focused on the quantum when that was a secondary issue to the appointment of an insider to the position. AIB can claim it is unable to find anybody else in the entire world to do the job and nobody can prove it wrong because there was no process for making the appointment. The bank will now concede publicly to the Government in respect of the €500,000 while offering its man a non-cash package to make up the difference. The bank will get its man, he will get his money and the Minister will be sidelined. Once again, the score will be banks one, people nil. The only language the banks understand is pain. If they are going to get what they seek, they must sign up to an agreement.

I am aware the current situation is equally unacceptable to Government Members. I ask my colleagues on the benches opposite to take a stand by accepting the proposed amendment to the Order of Business so Senators can go on the record and ordinary people can see how we feel about the issue. What harm can it do? It would be good for the Seanad and the Government. We should be at one in finding a resolution and showing ordinary people that somebody cares for them. The banks simply must be brought to heel on this matter.

I am happy to support the calls that have been made for a debate on the economy in advance of the Budget Statement. Yesterday the Leader indicated his intention to schedule a debate for 1 December but perhaps we should also hold discussions next week. My colleague, Senator Hanafin, was unhappy with my comment that I did not know whether to laugh or cry at his suggestion to trade ideas about what to cut. I am fortified in not taking his suggestion seriously by what happened yesterday in the other House. It is clear the Government, perhaps correctly, has not the slightest intention of providing specific details on where it intends to find €4 billion in savings. To suggest that the Opposition would be invited to set out its detailed list prior to the Government doing so is to live in fantasy land because it is not going to happen. On 9 December, the Minister for Finance will stand up in the Dáil to set out his budget and when he sits down the Opposition spokespersons will make their responses. If Opposition parties disagree with the Government regarding where the savings will be found, it is incumbent on them to explain what they would do instead. However, the notion that we would engage in a trading exercise in which the Opposition would jump first is fanciful. Let us be serious about the debate we want to hold, which should concern principles and vision. Leadership is not just an accountancy exercise; it involves giving the entire community a vision for the future.

The McCarthy report suggested the abolition of the Law Reform Commission, which has brought forward proposals on reforming medical negligence claims to allow for an apology or other restitution from doctors. I have direct professional experience of the effect that the incredible delays and enormous costs arising from medical litigation have had on the medical profession in terms of defensive medicine. The commission's proposals should be considered. The right to bring a case to court to seek compensation for injuries clearly should not be removed but the matter can also be addressed in other ways. We have deliberated on similar reforms in the area of defamation. The commission has performed an important public duty in this area of law reform and I agree with the Tánaiste that many of the proposals contained in the McCarthy report simply do not make sense. I suggest the abolition of the Law Reform Commission is one such proposal.

I ask the Leader to convey our best wishes to the Government's nominee to the European Commission, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, with whom I served in government. She was the first Minister since Countess Markievicz to be appointed by Charlie Haughey in 1979.

She was the first woman Minister.

She acquitted herself extremely well. She is from the west. I am sure Senator Norris would agree that she was a very progressive Minister.

We know she introduced legislation.

Members should speak through the Chair to the Leader, not to other Members.

She also acquitted herself very well in the European Court of Auditors. However, The Irish Times is knocking her before she is even officially appointed. That newspaper’s articles are available on the Internet free of charge around the world. It is a shame that one of our own is being knocked. This is akin to knocking the Irish soccer team as it prepares to play in Paris tonight. Why are people knocking Ms Geoghegan-Quinn before she takes up her position? As Ireland’s nominee, she should be supported by Members, The Irish Times and all other newspapers.

We have a free press.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn will be a competent, able Commissioner. Having worked with her in the House, I know she will excel in her work and I am confident she will be successful. She was the most decisive Minister one could meet. She knew when to act and took difficult social decisions in all the Ministries she held. I extend my best wishes to her and her husband and look forward to her appearing in the House. I ask the Cathaoirleach and Leader to issue an invitation to her early next year to address the House on the important portfolio she will be given.

The matter I raise was discussed in the House yesterday. Following the comments made by Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole, it is more important than ever that the Minister for Finance clarify beyond doubt his position on all outstanding banking questions. I understand a salary limit was imposed on the banks as part of the banking guarantee scheme passed into law in the Houses. Is the limit being breached in the case of the insider appointed in the other major Irish bank?

The State owns 25% of Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland and is likely to own significantly more by the time recapitalisation is complete. As Senators noted yesterday, the Minister's authority is an extremely important aspect of interaction between the State and banks as we rebuild confidence in the banking system. Without such confidence, the economy will not function again properly.

Questions about corporate governance arise from the apparent agreement on a person assuming a dual role in AIB. One newspaper suggested this morning that this was a phoney war. That such a suggestion has been made on such a serious subject brings the matter into disrepute. It is crazy and the position must be clarified beyond doubt. The Minister must, if necessary, have more public interest directors on the boards of the banks. He must speak about the rationalisation and restructuring programme on which he has been silent recently. I support calls for a debate on this matter. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach will accede to our request and arrange for a debate to be held today.

On another matter, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 is languishing on the Order Paper. It is a long time since the Second Stage debate was held. When will Committee Stage be taken?

I did not intend to comment on the appointment of Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as Commissioner. However, as my friend and colleague, Senator Leyden, raised the issue and congratulated Ms Geoghegan-Quinn on her future appointment, as a close friend of Ms Geoghegan-Quinn who has been familiar with all aspects of her life, I, too, will comment. As a person of great ability, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn will make a superb appointment and will do her job extremely well. She has presence, superb academic ability and is in touch with all the leaders of the European Union member states. I have great confidence that she will represent Ireland with panache and ability and will not let us down. I hope and believe she will be given a good brief given her contacts with Commission President Barroso. I wish her the best of luck. I cannot allow Senator Leyden to assume the role of issuing an invitation to Ms Geoghegan-Quinn to visit the Seanad. As a close friend, I would like to invite her.

That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I asked the Leader to invite Ms Geoghegan-Quinn to the House.

I support Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole in calling for a debate on a live and topical issue which the House should discuss. I declare a personal interest inasmuch as I have been a customer of Allied Irish Banks for many years and know the people involved in this matter. I was impressed by Mr. Ed Walsh's comment the other day that the Seanad should be used to appoint successful business people to the Cabinet. This has been done in the past and should be considered an option for the future.

Is the Senator available?

In the United States few people would run for the position of Governor or Senator unless they had been successful in some other venture, probably in business. Worrying about where to get money to pay employees' wages at the end of the week is an important element of decision making. I am concerned about the lack of balance in this regard, both in the Opposition and Cabinet. Few members of the Opposition or Cabinet have ever had to worry about where they will get the money to pay wages at the end of the week. Decision making would be much helped by having people with this type of experience. As I stated, in the United States one usually requires experience or success before being appointed.

Given the importance of previous success, I am concerned when it proves impossible to attract someone to a job paying a set salary. We do not want the top jobs being taken by somebody or other; we want the best person. In the case of Allied Irish Banks, the nominee for the position has achieved success, as the figures published today show. I am concerned that this issue may be used as a political football. We want the banks to succeed to ensure they advance money to small and medium-sized enterprises. As taxpayers, we are owners of and investors in the banks and we want them to be profitable. We do not want to support banks by requiring them to act in a manner which causes them to fail to make a profit. I am worried that if we start to run banks in that manner, we will not act in the best interests of taxpayers.

We cannot tax ourselves out of recession. The Government is proposing to find €4 billion through cuts to help return the country to its former position and tougher decisions will be required next year. Let us not put these decisions on the long finger, procrastinate or delay. Let us take tough decisions now and solve this problem much more quickly than would otherwise be the case.

I concur with the comments of Senator Quinn and note the sensible observations he made on banking. There is no doubt about the deficit of business experience on all sides in the Oireachtas. This imbalance needs to be redressed and we must have an input from a sector which can play a constructive role in developing Government and public policy. The Minister has recognised this requirement by availing of the advice of individuals with business expertise.

We can get hung up on the issues which have arisen in the banking sector. The only essential requirement in all of this is that we have the best possible prudential management of our banks to ensure they extricate themselves from the severe difficulties being experienced by the banks and, as a consequence, the country. That is the priority and any action the Minister takes in this regard should be supported. We should not allow this matter to become a political football.

The Leader has promised an early debate on budgetary issues. I believe such a debate should be held next week rather than the week after next. Many Senators justifiably take satisfaction from the quality of debates in this House. Someone in the debates section who had observed All Stages of the debate on the National Asset Management Agency Bill in both Houses told me that the Second Stage debate in this House superseded anything that took place elsewhere. The House can repeat this in the debate on the budget.

I listened yesterday to the debate in the Dáil, especially the contributions from the Opposition. We have a responsibility because we are paid by the taxpayer to bring to bear whatever experience we have to influence the policies the Government takes on budgetary matters. That responsibility also applies to the Opposition and some of its contributors pretended they had ideas but hid behind not disclosing them in the interests of political partisanship. It is a foolish approach and will be recognised by people, and will bring no credit to the Houses or the parties involved.

I agree with Senator Quinn. Some very interesting and good Ministers could be appointed to the Cabinet if we took the opportunity to appoint people from outside or inside this House and elevated them to such roles. It is something which is done in the United States and the United Kingdom. Gordon Brown has elevated many people from the world of business to the House of Lords and then taken them into his Cabinet. There are many individuals such as Michael O'Leary and Ivan Yates whom it would be very interesting to see getting on in Cabinet with people like the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív and I am sure they would help to generate new ideas. I would hate to see Senator Quinn join them but as one of the most successful businessmen in the country, I am sure a space could be found for him at the Cabinet table and that he would perform very well. I ask the Leader to consider raising this matter with his Cabinet colleagues.

I also wish to raise the issue of our overseas development aid budget. An article in The Irish Times today noted that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, returned from a meeting yesterday and announced a commitment we entered into in 2005 as part of the European consensus on development pact means that we have to provide 0.51% of GDP for development aid next year. We are currently below that level but the Minister of State, Deputy Power, said our contribution needs to rise if we are to meet our commitment, a comment I am grateful to him for making. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, for his views on this commitment and whether he will meet the obligations we entered into and ensuring the aid budget reaches its target of 0.51% of GDP by next year and come back to the House as soon as possible with his answer?

I revert to the issue of a cap on the pay of banking executives. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan attempted to explain the sequence of events regarding the cap on the pay of the new chief executive or managing director of AIB. He said when he was informed of the matter he made no decision on it and, as any Minister for Finance would do in the circumstances, he brought it to the attention of his colleagues in Government yesterday morning. Why does the Minister need to bring a matter to Cabinet in regard to his guidelines, if there are guidelines in place and a cap on the executive pay of bank officials and senior executives? Is it not normal that a Minister, if he is going to take up the time of a Cabinet meeting, would come with a recommendation? It would seem the Minister went to the Cabinet yesterday with recommendations on the person to be appointed as managing director and the pay of €633,000. I find the explanation of the Minister for Finance on how this matter emerged yesterday entirely unconvincing.

I also wish to raise an issue concerning the Department of Transport and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, namely, a bus service between Dalkey and the airport. It is a matter which I raised previously in this House. The Patton Flyer is an excellent bus service which was set up in 2007. It applied for a bus licence to operate on the route under the Road Transport Act 1932 but no decision was made on the granting of a licence. We now have a situation whereby another operator has been granted a licence for the same route. Something is not right about this situation and there is skulduggery in the way the Patton Flyer is effectively being run off the road——

——by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey. I ask that the Minister come to the House and explain the situation. A new licence was granted in record time to another operator and a local businessman who took the initiative of setting up this excellent service has been done down by the Minister for Transport.

I reiterate my call for a rolling debate on the economy which would obviate the situation which happened here again today, namely, that the entire Order of Business is distorted by legitimate concerns about the economy. While I agree with much of what Senator O'Toole said, I do not agree that the matter of quantum may not be as relevant as it might appear to be. It is extremely relevant when a group of people inside the discredited banks believe that €500,000 is not enough income for a year in a period when we are cancelling the Christmas bonus, introducing prescription charges for people on medical cards and have a strike next Tuesday. It will not calm matters. The same bank announced it underestimated by €1 billion the write-off of its current bad loans. What does that say about the Government's figures for NAMA?

A major property developer whom I will not name said at the launch of Fintan O'Toole's book yesterday that the Government's figures are off the wall. I put on the record the views of Mr. Peter Matthews. He has communicated with me since and believes he was seriously misrepresented by the Minister and, perhaps inadvertently, the House was misled. I have seen his figures, which seem to be perfectly clear, and state €77 billion is made up of €30.8 billion in performing loans and €46.2 billion in non-performing loans. If one gets every single penny of the €33.8 billion and 25% of the other figure, there will be an overshoot of some €11 billion, a bill with which the taxpayer will be hit. That is a generous series of figures and does not take into account the roll-up of bank interest or the fact that there are a large number of property loans under €5 million.

In those circumstances, I ask the Leader if he will invite Mr. Peter Matthews, who is a person of sufficient significance that the Minister for Finance had a lengthy meeting with him, into the House. As he feels he has been misrepresented in this House and the House has been misled, it is important to invite him into the House, which is provided for under Standing Orders, and allow Members to have a question and answer session so we can be fully informed as to the real situation.

Please, no interruptions. I call Senator Prendergast.

On a point of order, I received an answer from Senator Leyden who said, "No way". Does he have the authority to refuse this request?

That is not relevant to procedure.

It is a good observation.

Senator Prendergast, without interruption.

The Minister should come into the House and answer the question Mr. Matthews raised.

He betrayed the Minister's confidentiality.

No, the Minister betrayed his confidentiality in this House under privilege. That is the situation.

There is no need for this.

That is why he is not coming in.

I would like to ask the Leader——

On a point of order——

Senator Prendergast, without interruption.

On a point of order, the Minister for Finance acknowledged that he had met Mr. Peter Matthews; therefore, he did not betray confidentiality.

It is to do with procedure.

The Minister acknowledged he met Mr. Matthews and discussed his figures with him.

A point of order concerns procedure. That is not a point of order.

It is important that it is put on the record.

I wish to raise a point of order. It is a serious point. This man's reputation has been seriously impugned by Senator Leyden in a manner which is factually incorrect.

I ask the Cathaoirleach to make him withdraw that remark. It was the Minister who betrayed the confidentiality. I do not think he did it maliciously. It most certainly was not Mr. Peter Matthews.

I am tired——

I will read his book.

I am glad to learn the Senator can read. I know he can talk.

I am tired of telling Members not to mention peoples' names. If names are not mentioned, no one understands who they are. Senator Prendergast has indicated she wishes to speak and has never interrupted anyone. I ask Members to allow to her to speak.

Florence Nightingale herself.

Senator Leyden, I will ask you to leave the House if you interfere once more.

I wish to raise a very serious issue, namely, the fact there is an exclusion from the Health Research Board which is the database which covers research and disability services in Ireland. It is independent and there are details of 25,600 people on the national intellectual disability database and 29,500 people on the national physical and sensory disability database, which was established in 2002. People with autistic spectrum disorders are not included on the national physical and sensory disability database, however. A database of such information is needed. I suggest that a question should be included in the census so we can have an idea of exactly how many children in this country have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. That would help us to organise the provision of services. The manner in which we are dealing with children with autism seems to be sporadic, from both a diagnostic and a management point of view. It differs in all parts of the country. We need to compile a comprehensive plan setting out how we will deal with these children. We should know exactly how many of them there are. The paediatric and education services should work together to establish how many children we are dealing with and what kind of procedure we need to put in place for them.

The UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Mr. Ed Miliband, recently announced that ten new nuclear power facilities are to be developed in that country. Some of the proposed sites are on the west coast of England, which would pose dangers for the east coast of Ireland. Two of the ten new nuclear plants are in Cumbria, which is very close to this country. I have a difficulty with the UK Government's vague explanation of how it will deal with nuclear waste from these facilities. No provision for nuclear waste seems to have been outlined in Mr. Miliband's announcement. I am aware that new technology is evolving in the nuclear sphere. I agree with Mr. Tom McGurk, who said in a newspaper article last Sunday that we already have nuclear power in Ireland, in effect, because we are so close to some of the nuclear power stations in Britain. We have the same level of risk we would have if we had nuclear power in this country. We need to open a debate on nuclear power. I ask the Leader for a debate in this House on the siting of nuclear power plants in parts of the west coast of England that are close to Ireland. We should discuss the vagueness of the relevant authorities in providing for nuclear waste to be dealt with. The level of nuclear waste that is currently going into the Irish Sea will increase tenfold. We need to debate this serious situation, which has passed under the radar in this country. The Government has not been sufficiently strong in its dealings with the British Government in this regard. I would not oppose a debate on the possibility that we may be ready to embrace nuclear power very soon, as science evolves. As things stand, however, the serious matter of nuclear waste needs to be discussed. All views need to be brought to the table. If this House is to be relevant, it should deal with this issue soon.

Like other Members, I congratulate Máire Geoghegan-Quinn on her nomination as Ireland's EU Commissioner. I wish her well and hope she achieves her goals. She is a woman of very strong principles. Go n-éirí an bóthar léi.

I am quite upset about the manner in which student hardship has been trivialised in this Chamber over the last few days.

It is a serious issue. It is time the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government came to the House to discuss the delays in paying student grants. I have been in contact with a student in Cork who has been living in a car for nine weeks. I am aware of the case of a student in Galway who was allowed by the college to repeat his exams on medical grounds after he required surgery, but was not given a grant for this year. The colleges' welfare officers have given me information about these cases. I have heard about a student mother who is having to live off free food so that she does not starve. She is using her welfare payments to feed her children. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, must address the untold hardship that is being caused by the delay in paying grants. It seems that local authorities will not have the money to make grant payments until January. It is not fair on the students, it is leading to drop-outs and it is increasing poverty and stress levels.

Can the Leader clarify whether the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is proposing to withdraw child benefit from Irish children in the forthcoming budget, while continuing to pay child benefit to foreign children who do not reside in Ireland? I understand that back payments have been made in some cases, to cover each child's entitlement since the day his or her parents started to work in Ireland. It would be grossly unfair if the Minister were to take such action in the budget. Child benefit has been a poverty proofing measure. We know from this country's history that the wives and partners of certain high profile people with large incomes have had to depend on child benefit payments to feed their children. I would like the Leader to answer the question I have asked. I would have a huge issue with any proposal to make Irish children take second place behind children who live outside this State.

I would like to raise the issue of this country's national and non-national roads with the Leader. I wish to begin by offering my condolences to the families of four young women who were killed in an horrific car crash in County Galway last evening.

Local authorities are facing a serious set of circumstances. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to explain to the House how the maintenance of roads, drains, ditches and undergrowth will be funded in the months to come. We are now in November — one can imagine what the roads will be like in April or May, following a winter of rain, frost and snow. Councillors are struggling with local authority budgets. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, and his colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, are abdicating their responsibility to maintain our roads. This is a matter of extreme importance. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should come before the House to explain his position as a matter of extreme urgency.

I agree with Senator Healy Eames on the issue of student welfare. I hope she does not think I have trivialised the issue, as that is not the case. I asked the Leader yesterday when the Student Support Bill would be brought before the House. Many students and their families are living from hand to mouth on a daily basis because they have not received their grant payments and are therefore unable to pay their weekly rents. Some students are opting out of college for that reason. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as a matter of urgency.

I join other Senators in congratulating Máire Geoghegan-Quinn on her appointment as EU Commissioner. Members of the Opposition have been very kind this morning in recognising that Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn is a woman of great vision, integrity and high intelligence. Most importantly, she is a very hard worker. Over the years, she has proved that she has such good characteristics. I wish her well. I do not doubt that she will bring great esteem, respect and honour to our nation. I am sure she will be given a good and weighty portfolio.

When does the Leader intend to bring the Minister of State with special responsibility for mental health issues, Deputy Moloney, to the Chamber? The Joint Committee on Health and Children had an excellent engagement with the Minister of State at its meeting yesterday. Perhaps the Leader will try to ensure the Minister of State comes to the Chamber soon, if possible, to discuss mental health issues, including child and adolescent psychiatry and adult psychiatry.

I join others in welcoming the appointment, for the first time, of a woman Commissioner by the Taoiseach. As others have said, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is a person of immense ability and has a great track record. While I am delighted that a woman has been appointed, I have to say I am sorry it is a Fianna Fáil woman. I think she will do a very good job. I hope this House can have a more general debate on women's participation in politics. Perhaps the new Commissioner could be invited to address the House on that topic. I remind Senators that Máire Geoghegan-Quinn came to Leinster House last December, at my invitation, along with many of her former colleagues from both Houses who are women. Indeed, many current women Members of the Oireachtas were also in attendance. We had a great day during which we filled nearly half the Chamber with women representatives. I would like to see a debate in this House on women's participation — Senator McDonald called for it last week — particularly on foot of the report from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights that recently made an all-party recommendation for various changes to enable more women to be represented in politics. I ask the Leader for an early debate on the matter.

Like Senator Feeney I ask for a debate on mental health. I saw the newspaper report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children which was advised by the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, that the Central Mental Hospital would be moving to a new site, the announcement of which would be made early in the new year, but that this new site would not be at Thornton Hall. On many previous occasions I have asked for a debate on prisons and particularly what would happen with Thornton Hall. I have been assured many times that every aspect of the Thornton Hall development would go ahead. I am delighted the Central Mental Hospital will not be moving to Thornton Hall. It was always regarded as inappropriate that a central mental hospital would be in a prison complex. However, we need to have a debate on what will happen with the Central Mental Hospital and with those in the prison population who have mental health issues. As colleagues know, Professor Harry Kennedy, the director of the Central Mental Hospital, will speak in the AV room at noon at my invitation facilitated by the Irish Penal Reform Trust to discuss mental health in prisons. It is a very important issue given the high level of mental illness among prisoners and given the question mark over the future of the Central Mental Hospital. I ask the Leader for a debate on the matter.

I join Senator O'Reilly in calling for a debate on the nuclear issue, a matter previously raised in the House by Senator Quinn. I ask the Leader for a general debate on the matter, which would be very useful given that we are in a nuclear area. There are new facilities for nuclear reactors to be much safer, where the irradiated material is held in steel spheres. It is even possible to shut down the cooling reactor and there is no meltdown. That being the case it is time for us to have that debate and keep it in the context of clean energy, nuclear energy and what the way forward is now.

I ask for clarification from the Leader about our role within Europe. We get many benefits from Europe. We also have responsibilities that are legally binding. One of the responsibilities includes allowing people from countries abroad to come here and get work. It is not good for any politician, particularly senior politicians, to be saying that they should be sent home after a few weeks if they do not have the means to support themselves. That is unacceptable today. Clearly people should be aware of the laws regarding the rights people have by virtue of our membership of the European Union and the rights to social welfare in other countries by virtue of ministerial orders that implement EU directives. It is as simple as that. We do not have discretion in this matter. However, we trade at a rate of €85 billion a year and our imports are in excess of €60 billion. We gain a huge advantage by trading with these countries. Naturally we would like to pick what is best for ourselves and not to have what does not suit us. However, we signed up for it and we must comply.

I join many colleagues in congratulating our new Commissioner on her nomination to her new role. I wish her the best of luck. The comments made here this morning and the commentary in the media about our new Commissioner tell a story about our relationship with Europe. When any European job is to be filled, there is considerable media and political interest in it. Today's newspapers are full of speculation about who might be doing what and so on. However, when those jobs are filled that interest in Europe recedes and the interest in what those people are doing and the jobs they are meant to be doing recedes, and an information gap develops.

I concur with colleagues on the Leader's side who suggested that our new Commissioner should come to this House to give an update on the work she is doing. In doing that we should bear in mind that her job is not to represent Ireland at the Commission table but to represent her portfolio and Europe. In so doing no doubt she will do very well for our country.

I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on banking here this afternoon. Senator O'Toole is correct in what he says. I am asking myself whether this entire thing is not a set-up. Is he not correct in saying that the contours of what will happen are already apparent? The bank will get who it wants at a lower salary. It will appear chaste and humbled in front of the nation, but it will have got what it wants. It will have got an insider appointment and the corporate governance principles it wants. This issue of how much the person is being paid is a smokescreen to that bigger agenda.

It is insider jobbing.

We are being set up by leaks from a bank. My colleagues are correct in calling for a debate on the matter this evening to expose what is happening.

I support the praise for Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. She is a trailblazer for women and was the first woman appointed to Cabinet since Countess Markievicz a long time earlier. Please God, she will get a tremendous brief. I would like to know what Senator Bacik meant when she said it is a pity it is a Fianna Fáil woman. I do not know what she meant by that.

She will go for the big job — the Senator need not worry.

I would like to know what she meant by that.


Please Members, no interruption.

The Fianna Fáil women are formidable women in the image of Gráinne Mhaol. I put myself in that league also.

Foinse againn in the Irish Independent, which is really exciting. It is important to speak Irish every day — beagáinín Gaeilge gach lá.

On a serious matter, we have had very robust debates on many different issues at Oireachtas committees in recent weeks. I feel we are lacking something in this Chamber. Other than on the Order of Business, when we come to discuss the serious issues in our society, the debates are somewhat flat and there is no dialogue or engagement with the Minister. All we can do is make a statement and there is no discussion between the Minister and Senators. To some extent the Oireachtas committees are getting better and we need to get our act together to be innovative and have proper dialogue on the social and economic issues in our country.

One of the top issues, which I mentioned last year, is the interim report of the National Social and Economic Forum chaired by Dr. Maureen Gaffney on child literacy and social inclusion. The report highlighted that one in three children in disadvantaged areas has serious literacy problems. In the 21st century the importance of literacy cannot be overstated. It opens the door to education, economic and health benefits for the individual and for society as a whole. Not only does it affect the children who are illiterate, but also their children. I would like to have a proper discussion and dialogue between the Minister for Education and Science and ourselves here in the Seanad on this serious social issue. One in three children leaves national school with serious literacy problems.

Tá droch-scéal agus dea-scéal ón nGaillimh inniu dar ndóigh. Only yesterday we spoke about the good news about the decline in the number of road deaths and then overnight we received the sickening news of four young women on a road I know very well being struck down in the prime of their lives. At a time when they should be enjoying life and profiting from their studies, they are no more and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones this morning. We all need to refocus on the need to go easily and safely on the roads, particularly in the bad weather conditions we are experiencing at the moment and will have in coming months.

The happy news is Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's appointment. It is good to see bean mhaith, Gaelgóir, bean stuama appointed to the post of European Commissioner. I am not sure whether it does her any service for the Taoiseach to say that the gender balance requirement influenced the choice. I have significant concerns regarding those types of gender balance considerations. We should certainly encourage maximum participation by both genders in politics, but I wonder whether anybody's credibility is served where gender is a factor in his or her appointment. Ms Geoghegan-Quinn has talent aplenty to perform this role without reference to her gender.

I thank Senator Hannigan for raising the issue of overseas development aid. Last week the Taoiseach noted that Ireland has been commended by the United Nations on our commitment in this area. However, the reality is that our overseas development aid allocation as a percentage of GDP has been reduced through swingeing budget cuts. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, deserves credit for bringing forward an interim commitment to achieve a target of 0.51% by 2010, which will require an increase in our current percentage contribution. Not only should there be no further reductions in our overseas aid commitment but our allocation should be ramped up. Notwithstanding our domestic troubles, we must not forget the truly parlous circumstances in which many people throughout the world are living.

I join other speakers in congratulating Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn on her appointment as Commissioner. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil lei, lena fear chéile agus lena clann. There is no better person for the job and gender has nothing to do with it. There is no more able woman north, south, east or west.

Gender has got something to do with it. The Taoiseach acknowledged that.

Jealousy will get Members opposite nowhere.


Senator Glynn should be allowed to continue without interruption.

The heckler is at it again.

At yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, turf cutters from Westmeath, Roscommon, Galway, Mayo and elsewhere explained why they have such an axe to grind with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We had a meeting with representatives of that service some time ago and it seems clear that people who want to cut turf for their own use, and who are not exceeding the 10% threshold, are not getting a fair deal. Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House for a debate on this matter? What is happening is absolutely unjust and the lack of communication is entirely unsatisfactory. One particular councillor who was part of the delegation gave an example of an advertisement being placed in the Westmeath Examiner, which is not a newspaper that circulates to any great extent in the south of that county, which is where the turf cutters he represents are from. I ask the Leader to arrange that debate at the earliest opportunity.

I join other Members in offering my sympathies to the families of the six people who lost their lives in road accidents yesterday. Four of the victims were young women in their 20s who died in an accident on the N17 in County Galway. The reduction in road deaths was acknowledged in the House yesterday but this accident is a tragic reminder that we must continue to focus on the condition of our roads and road safety in general. I support Senator Buttimer's call regarding the resourcing of our national, regional and secondary roads and ask for a debate on this issue.

I share other speakers' concerns regarding developments at Allied Irish Banks in recent days. The appointment of senior managers from within the organisation, despite the concerns and wishes expressed by the Minister for Finance, smacks of arrogance. Today we are informed of the sudden increase in the bank's bad debts from a previous estimate of €4.3 billion to €5.3 billion. Where does this leave the Government's projections in respect of the National Asset Management Agency? It is strange that these appointments and announcements, which affect our economic reputation both at home and abroad, are made the week after the NAMA legislation was passed by the Oireachtas. The Government and the banks must be up-front with the public because the decisions they are making will have a knock-on effect on everybody's economic prospects.

I too congratulate Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and her husband, John, on her appointment as Commissioner. I have known Ms Geoghegan-Quinn since I worked with her in the by-election of 1975. I can still recall her cavalcade making its way from Rahoon to Salthill, with hundreds of cars following hers. There was great enthusiasm among her supporters for this girl with enormous ability. As other speakers observed, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn has been an outstanding public representative both at home and abroad. She is vastly capable and experienced, and was one of the best Ministers for Justice in the history of the State.

I look forward to her contribution to the work of the new Commission, which includes the challenge of overseeing the implementation of the Lisbon treaty. When we heard the news yesterday evening we discussed the possibility of bringing it before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with a view to inviting the Commissioner to the House at the earliest opportunity.

In regard to the call for an amendment to the Order of Business, I have done my best to accede to Members' requests in this regard. I am informed that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is booked solid for all of this week and that the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, is out of the country. However, I will endeavour to facilitate a debate as soon as possible and certainly before 1 December.

The Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has excelled since taking over the finance portfolio at a very difficult time. He clarified his position in a straightforward fashion when he indicated on the late television news last night that nobody in the banking sector will be paid more than €500,000. Like Senator Quinn, I am a customer of Allied Irish Banks, as most of us in this House probably are.

Senator Quinn's contribution this morning was outstanding and deserves a wider audience. Those of us who run or have run our own businesses know only too well that there is no guaranteed income for the self-employed. I fully agree with Senator Quinn that the only consideration must be that the best person for the job is appointed. Taxpayers will benefit from having the most qualified people in those positions.

Senator Alex White spoke about medical claims and referred to the report by the Law Reform Commission. I was surprised to hear him call for the abolition of that body.


He did not.

I did the opposite.

Did the Senator call for its retention?

I have always held the commission in high regard. I apologise if I misunderstood the Senator, particularly the last part of his contribution. I have no difficulty in setting time aside to discuss the issues he has brought to the attention of the House.

I will get back to Senator Coghlan regarding the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009. As I said, Senator Quinn made an outstanding contribution on banking issues. Senators Hannigan and Mullen referred to the views expressed by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, regarding overseas aid. We have been international leaders in terms of our commitment to overseas aid. I am certain the Government will do all it can in the current very difficult circumstances to ensure the greatest possible allocation is made available to assist those most in need in developing countries.

Senators Regan, Buttimer, Mullen and Coffey called on the Minister for Transport to address the bus service between Dalkey and Dublin Airport. Senator Regan outlined his experiences and I will convey his views to the Minister later. On behalf of the House, I appeal to all motorists, given the inclement weather forecast for this week. Roads are badly flooded. As I drove to Leinster House earlier, the speed to which some motorists were pushing their cars was unbelievable. I call on everyone to reduce their speed to 100 km/h at least, particularly in this bad weather, to give themselves a chance and protect everyone else using the roads. It is a difficult time and, as many colleagues said, the weather forecast for this week is appalling. I experienced difficult conditions travelling to Dublin earlier; therefore, motorists should slow down. Taking five minutes extra would still get us all to our destinations on time.

Senator Prendergast referred to the database that excludes autism sufferers. I will convey her views to the Minister for Education and Science and will have no difficulty in scheduling a debate on the issue.

Senators O'Reilly and Hanafin raised concerns about the ten new nuclear sites proposed in the United Kingdom and called on the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House for a debate. This is a good idea and a timely call for a debate.

Senators Healy Eames and Buttimer called for student grants to be made available sooner. They asked for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to address the difficulties being experienced by students in these tough times and the delays in making grant payments. I will convey their views to the Minister.

Senator Healy Eames referred to child benefit payments and the budget. There will be a pre-budget debate in the House on 1 December, during which I ask the Senator to bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Finance. I will also convey her views following the Order of Business.

Senators Feeney and Bacik have called on the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, to update the House on the good work he is doing and the progress he is making on mental health issues and the issues they raised. I will have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate.

Senator Hanafin raised the issue of our role and rights within the European Union. He has stated that when we sign up, we must comply. That says it all in a nutshell. I will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on European affairs at a future date.

Senator Buttimer called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House for a debate on roads funding. That is a worthy call and I will ensure this happens at the earliest opportunity.

Senator Mary White has referred to the interesting debates that take place at select committee meetings. The toing and froing between Members and Ministers on Committee Stage at select committee meetings is the same as on Committee Stage in the House. I agree with her that this is the most interesting Stage in the passage of a Bill through both Houses.

Senator Glynn called for a debate on turf cutting and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. With only 10% of bogs used for turf cutting, this would be a timely debate. It is a major problem in the midlands and while turf can be cut anywhere with a sleán, other turf cutting methods, including sausage machines, are creating a difficulty. I will try to arrange a debate on the matter before Christmas, if possible.

May I kindly have a response to my suggestion about Mr. Peter Matthews?

That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which will meet at 12.15 p.m. Perhaps the Senator could speak to the leader of his group and ask him to raise it under "any other business".

The committee will meet tomorrow, not today.

The matter can be raised at the next meeting.

Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements with the Minister for Finance on the relationship between AIB and the Government be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 27.

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


  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • 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.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.