Order of Business.

As Leader, I welcome Senator James Carroll from Monasterboice, County Louth as a Member of this Seanad. He is the first Member of the Oireachtas elected who was born in the 1980s. We welcome this young man to the House today.

A UCD law graduate, James has worked in Leinster House with Deputy Margaret Conlon as her parliamentary assistant and has excelled in this area for the past two years. He is a former president of UCD Students Union and a former chairman of Fianna Fáil's largest cumann in the country, the Kevin Barry Cumann at UCD. He was elected at the last local elections with 1,495 votes on the first count at his first time running at any election for the Drogheda East area in Louth County Council elections.

A keen sportsman, James has played Gaelic with Naomh Mairtin in Monasterboice and has represented Ireland as an international pitch and putt player when he played against Holland in October 2008. I look forward to serving with him, him serving the people of his constituency and making contributions. James will be an excellent public representative.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, to adjourn not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, and to resume at the conclusion of No. 3; No. 2, the Private Members' Bill, Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken not earlier then 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m.; and No. 3, Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 but not earlier than 7 p.m.

It is proposed to make an amendment to the Order of Business as notified to Members to allow statements on the recent flooding to take place between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m., on which all Senators may speak for not more than five minutes and may share time, by agreement of the House. If need be, on every sitting day I intend to propose to allow one hour for statements, particularly for those colleagues from areas experiencing serious flooding. Right before our eyes, all over the west, in particular, in the south and now in Athlone this morning, there are devastating experiences because of the heavy rains, strong winds and flooding.

As it is a roll-over debate, is the Leader allowing time for the Minister to reply today to queries raised?

I would wish the Minister to make a statement for five minutes to allow colleagues time.

Is the Leader allowing time for the Minister to reply to Members?

The Minister is to be called on five minutes from the conclusion of statements.

I welcome the newest Member of this House, Senator James Carroll. This is a proud and memorable day for James, his family and his supporters as he is elected to the Seanad on the Administrative Panel. On behalf of all in the Fine Gael Seanad group, I extend to him our congratulations and best wishes and hope that he has a worthwhile time in this House in the future.

All three events yesterday raise questions about Government leadership, and this is a serious issue. The front pages of the newspapers illustrate in photographs the problem: people whose homes have been destroyed by floods, strikers outside our buildings and the queues going to Newry. There is a link between all three, and that link is about leadership. Let us take them one by one. Let us take the pre-emptive strike yesterday. We hear that the social partners are to have discussions today and I really hope they succeed. We also hear that there is another proposed strike next Thursday. This morning I spoke to a woman whose mother is due to have a serious operation next Thursday but she does not know whether it will go ahead. This is no way for us to be today. That woman should not have to worry about whether her mother will be operated on next Thursday, yet it is an example which shows that the workers who went out yesterday do not trust their interests will be looked after in this national emergency. They do not trust they will be more than a line in the budget. There is a crisis of leadership concerning public sector workers and how they feel about the Government. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Seanad discuss the talks and the financial emergency facing the country, as well as the flooding.

What do the traffic queues into Newry tell us? They tell us that the Minister for Finance made a mistake on the issue of VAT.

Senators

Hear, hear.

That is certainly one of the things the queues tell us. The Minister announced the VAT rate and has not changed it. We have repeatedly discussed such issues and the need for the economy to be more competitive. The queues are an example of the failure of the Government's financial and economic policy.

I am glad the Minister will attend the House to discuss the flooding, although I would like more time for questions. Many of my colleagues, including Senator Healy Eames from Galway and Senators Buttimer and Bradford from Cork, will speak about the impact of the floods, as well as the response required.

We can deal with that issue later.

I welcome the fact that we are having a debate, but I want more time for the Minister to answer the many questions that will arise. I hope the Leader can manage to arrange this. The floods show that people will pull together and that communities can work together. Irish people will respond when they are shown leadership, but we need to see leadership on this and the other issues I have raised.

I am at one with previous speakers in welcoming Senator James Carroll's election. However, we would have wished him to be elected through a reformed process, but this is not the time to discuss the issue.

What about the Trinity College by-election?

Senator O'Toole without interruption, please.

Senator Carroll's youth will do much to reduce the average age of Members of the House. To give him a kick-start, going back to his student background, I suggest he might like to raise on the Order of Business today the slowness of the Government in bringing forward the student support Bill which is of such interest to the people he left behind in UCD. I ask him to open with that issue. I wish him well and congratulate him on putting himself forward for public representation, not the most popular of choices at this time. My colleagues and I on this side of the House will be more than happy to provide him with any help we can give. He will receive all of the serious advice from here.

They are a very accommodating group.

Very accommodating.

Senator Fitzgerald's points are true; we are certainly living in difficult times. People hold different views on the strike, but they should listen closely to what is being said. We should welcome the courageous stance taken in statements by leaders of the public sector unions in recent days. However, it sticks in my throat to hear calls for social solidarity from certain people. Recently I heard the leader of the IBEC group on television. That is the person who represents the six main banks, the people who brought us to the financial crisis. She said we should look to them to lead us out of the crisis, but they are the people who brought us to it. Somebody should remind her that people in Cork who could not get drinking water for the last two weeks had to go to her members in order to be charged €5 or €6 for bottled water. If that is the social solidarity promised by IBEC, there is no future for this country. However, we can listen to what is being said by the trade union movement leaders. They have to be courageous in their stand, must ensure they make the hard choices in terms of fairness and recognise that a pragmatic approach is required. The Government needs to make savings of €4 billion, an issue which must be delivered; therefore, hard choices will have to be made.

With regard to the announcement of a strike next week, it is very important in such circumstances that everybody recognises choices, including the choices to strike, stay at work or agree to difficult decisions. One must agree on the options to make the choices. There is a deal that can be done. There is no doubt that if we proceed with fairness and pragmatism, we can certainly move forward.

The attitude of the Ministers over recent days to the choice to be made in these difficult times has been quite admirable. They showed an understanding of where people stood although they were opposed to the strike. I spoke to people from different unions and backgrounds who were picketing yesterday and discovered that they know where the world is at. There are ways to do business. The Government must reduce the cost and size of the public sector and do so in a creative, fair, pragmatic and courageous way. By doing so, we can make progress. Let us not listen to the Pharisees of IBEC who are trying to lead us down the road from which we came and who are looking back to the future. There is no salvation from those who created this difficulty.

I warmly welcome and congratulate Senator Carroll. I hope he will have a very long and successful career in politics and that he will find his time in this House as fulfilling and enjoyable as the rest of us do. I am sure his membership will go a long way towards ensuring the sanity of the Government Whip who has been trying his best to win votes over recent months. I wish Senator Carroll well and hope he will have a very fulfilling and rewarding experience in this House.

While I recognise that the Leader is making time available for a roll-over debate on flooding and is taking into consideration the views of many Senators, an hour is insufficient for the debate. If I had my way, I could speak for at least half an hour to reflect the experiences in west Cork over the past week. I propose that we make our Private Members' slot available to the Leader this evening to allow for a meaningful and lengthy debate on flooding and a ministerial reply.

Senators

Hear, hear.

I hope the Leader will accept my proposal in the spirit in which it is intended. I recognise the intervention of the Government and acknowledge the €10 million in relief aid that is being made available. However, it is not enough.

Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

Yes. With regard to the public sector strike, if we want lessons about social solidarity or pointers on how to get out of this economic crisis, we need not look to our colleagues in IBEC. Senator O'Toole stated correctly and consistently that the six largest members of IBEC brought us to the brink of economic collapse. It is a damned cheek for them to suggest people should lose medical cards and that the minimum wage is too high. IBEC represents the organisations that almost bankrupted this economy. It is not good enough for it to be lecturing at length to those on lower and middle incomes because these are the people who are suffering the most as the Government seeks to find solutions to the economic turmoil.

I hope the Leader will take my amendment in the spirit in which it is proposed.

On behalf of my party, I welcome Senator James Carroll as a new Member of the House and wish him well in all his deliberations.

With regard to the Order of Business and the various calls for debates, I very much welcome the proposal of the Labour Party to allow its Private Members' time for a debate on flooding. Allied to the hour already proposed for debate, this will give some of us an opportunity to——

Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

I would be quite happy to second the amendment. The hour proposed will give many Members an opportunity to respond in an immediate way to what we have witnessed in our local communities in the past week or so. The debate will allow us to talk about the changing weather patterns, how much they will be part of our immediate future and how we need to respond to the problem with co-ordinated policy. Many speakers will discuss the extent to which we need to provide adequate resources to ensure we deal with emergencies as and when they happen. I do not regard this as an immediate political problem. Many of the issues we will be addressing as a result of the flooding arise because of a combination of climate change and what we as a people have done with our planet. In a local context it is also a result of some appalling planning decisions in recent decades. I would like Members to address that when we have an opportunity to speak later in the debate.

On yesterday's national day of action, all of us accept the need for the trade union movement acting democratically to express the will of its members about ongoing concerns. Yesterday was such an exercise. Several hundred people were present in the immediate environs of Leinster House and Departments nearby and were not in Newry. I do not see any linkage between the floods, the national day of action and whatever shopping took place in Newry yesterday.

No preventative solutions.

The lack of a plan.

There should be no interruption from Members. If that behaviour continues in this House I will ask anyone who interrupts a speaker to quickly leave this Chamber. I will no longer put up with that.

Senators

Hear, hear.

I will make one important linkage. There is a variation between our VAT rates and our VAT rates are too high. We have too much dependence on spending taxes in this jurisdiction. However, the British tax rate in Northern Ireland will increase. We see the real variation when we consider the levels of pay that allow the cost of living in Northern Ireland in terms of the private sector, the public sector and social welfare rates. That is what we need to debate in this country, not only in terms of our ongoing debate but events that will be crystallised on 9 December.

I congratulate Senator Carroll on his election to this House. He will find it an extremely interesting and challenging place of political debate. I hope he enjoys his time here. No doubt he has plans to wander down other corridors in Leinster House but I hope he enjoys his time in the Seanad. I sincerely wish him the best.

I hope my history and geography are correct. I learned with interest that this new Senator is from Monasterboice. Another Member of the Leinster House establishment from my party was from that area. If Senator Carroll makes half the impact of that man he will be fondly and long remembered.

He may not want to.

It all happened in Mullingar.

It is important that we would have a much more lengthy debate on the flooding. There is a crisis across the State, but we will get to that later. I hope the Leader will reflect on the fact that one hour is inadequate.

I am disappointed with the Leader. We are two short weeks away from the most crucial budget in the history of the State and most of my colleagues and I have been asking him to arrange a thorough, sensible and full economic debate in this House for the past month or six weeks in which we could raise the issues, present our opinions and listen to alternatives and, I hope, contribute in some small fashion to the economic turnaround of this country. It is not good enough on the part of the Leader to say that we might have a chance of an hour's debate or even a half day's debate next week. If we want this Chamber of the Oireachtas to be real and relevant at this time when there is only one topic on the public mind, namely, the economy, it should be what we are talking about virtually every single day, not just in a talking shop fashion but listening to people, presenting ideas, challenging opinions and, I hope, putting forward solutions. I do not normally make political charges but I regret to say that the Leader is remiss in his duty in not having presented an opportunity for us to have such a debate to date. I would like time to be provided for such a debate with the utmost haste.

Is mian liom fáilte Uí Cheallaigh a chur roimh an Seanadóir nua. Táim cinnte go ndéanfaidh sé sár-jab san Oireachtas. Beidh áthas orainn go léir ar ndóigh cabhrú leis in aon tslí gur féidir linn.

As regards yesterday's events, a number of significant issues became evident. First, we saw how the dreadful flooding disaster in many parts of the country and the trauma of the people who were at the receiving end of those floods competed for headlines with the general strike. I was inspired by the victims of the floods, the manner in which they had responded and their resolve, not just to be negative in their reaction but to find a method of progressing a solution to the problem. In fairness, we must salute the Taoiseach and the Government also because they have responded quickly. It was evident that people were delighted to see the Taoiseach — indeed, all public representatives — as he went from one area to the next.

On the other hand, as regards the general strike, a number of aspects were evident to me. First, people on the picket line felt particularly uncomfortable being outside their workplace. They would have preferred to be at work. They are decent and honourable people who have given service to the country during the years and it is to their eternal credit that they made sure that in the midst of the flooding crisis they responded positively. It was clear that had been done, wherever their assistance was required.

There is only one way we can move forward in the current economic crisis and that is united. I do not accept any single partner should be kept outside the loop — the trade unions, employers and everybody who has an interest in the future of the country. I am delighted, therefore, that the unions are going back in to talk to the Government. I felt last night listening to the union leaders that it was their intention to make every effort to do a deal. If they do, they will be doing it not only for their members but for the future of the country.

I also welcome our new Member. There will be a further occasion to discuss the process of election and everything else but he is very welcome. It is good to have young people in the House.

With regard to the situation that confronts us nationally, these are apocalyptic times. We have an economic emergency and then are hit by the weather. As a trade unionist, I was extremely proud of the members of the front-line services who acted in a humanitarian response to the crisis. I commend them for this but wonder if the penny has dropped about the catastrophic seriousness of the financial position in which we find ourselves. I listened to people being interviewed and a number of them said they knew there would have to be cuts but they could not afford to them. They said they hoped their union or representative could find a way of doing it but that they did not know the solution. It reminded me of the late John Kelly who took James Joyce's comment about Ireland being the old sow that eats her farrow, turned it around and said the old sow was now in danger of being devoured by her cannibal piglets. If we consider what happened yesterday, I was proud of the trade unions in one sense but it is noticeable that there was a Gadarene rush to Newry which created a traffic jam two or six miles long. Where is the sense of patriotism? I call for it, just as I called for it from the other end of the social spectrum when bankers appeared to think €500,000 was not enough for them in an age when people were losing their jobs, homes and businesses. There is a need for a degree of patriotism. We have a situation that we confront daily in this House where, on the one hand, people want to get their elderly parents into hospitals and, on the other, younger people must be looked after, all at taxpayer's expense. We must come back to the State. When people talk about the State, they are actually talking about money taken in taxes from everybody, including old age pensioners. With the compensation culture, people do not realise that when they sue the State and look for compensation, it comes out of other people's pockets.

I raise a final point, which is a real scandal. I have raised in this House on a few occasions the case of the former head of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, ISME, who was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice. This was established in this House. In recent years no less than six senior gardaí at the rank of superintendent, chief inspector and so on have been appointed. Every one of them resigned within either weeks or a few months of being appointed and no inquiry has ever been conducted. This is a scandalous cover-up and an abrogation of the human and civil rights of the person concerned. I call on the Leader to investigate the matter.

I welcome Senator Carroll to the House. I read in the newspaper that he was elected last week. I thought it was a joke because I thought one would at least have to go through the ritual of arranging an election but I congratulate him on his appointment. He will never have it as easy from now on.

Says she who was appointed by the Taoiseach.

That is a good point. The Senator might be lucky, like I was; my history of hard work earned me that merit.

Senator O'Malley raised a point that I wish to clarify. The ruling on the nomination was held on Monday, 23 November and Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, President of the High Court, was in attendance. Section 68(2)(d) of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947, as amended, provides that, on completion of ruling upon nominations, if only one candidate stands validly nominated, the Seanad returning officer shall declare that person to be elected. James Carroll was the only candidate validly nominated and, in accordance with the said section 68, was declared to be elected by the returning officer.

On a point of order, as a sporting man, would the Cathaoirleach describe that as a one horse race?

I would always count it as a good result.

Now Senator Carroll knows how lucky he was officially.

I agree with those Members who have spoken about the strike yesterday and the positive and realistic attitude of one of the union leaders who has expressed himself keen to arrive at a solution. I look forward to this because, as Senator Ó Murchú said, this concerns the future of the country and its viability. It is in all of our interests to have the strike stopped and get everyone working together, recognising the need for the €4 billion cuts next year. We must also keep an eye on the €4 billion in cuts that will be necessary the following year. We cannot get carried away about this year because there will be difficult times and if we have learned one thing from the 1980s, it is that we must do this fast and furious.

My colleague Senator McDonald said she would persist with this issue, but at a briefing this morning by Women's Aid, we found out that today is the first of 16 days in highlighting the issue of domestic violence. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the topic. This is pertinent because the 16 days are not just a recognition of the problem in Ireland but globally. We could do our bit by showing solidarity with the rest of the world in highlighting the issue. I hope I have saved Senator McDonald raising the issue every day and that we will have a debate on it within the next 16 days.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Seanadóir nua, James Carroll, agus déanaim comhghairdeas leis. In welcoming Senator Carroll I am conscious that, like Senator O'Malley, he is joining a political party with an opinion poll rating that has fallen drastically — in Senator O'Malley's case, the party has disappeared.

I second Senator Fitzgerald's amendment to the Order of Business. As someone who comes from an area suffering from flooding, where people are deprived of water and hundreds have been displaced, I am calling for more than an hour's debate. The Minister must also answer questions. I am not trying to score points but the people of Cork, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Athlone deserve and require answers. They require answers from the ESB about the release of water from Inniscarra and Ardnacrusha. They also require answers from the Government, particularly the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, as to why there was no early warning system. The events of the weekend demonstrate the need for a national independent investigation into what happened. The people of Cork require and deserve answers.

As someone immersed in the community, I recognise the patriotic reaction of the citizens of Cork, the Defence Forces, Civil Defence, the Garda and front-line staff of the public service. The HSE and Cork City Council deserve to be praised because they put people first. Senator Fitzgerald is right, however — the linkage between the Government and the failure in the last couple of weeks is the lack of leadership. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government announced a fund of €10 million, placing the onus on community welfare officers who are already inundated with claims.

How will they cope with the demands put on them? The Taoiseach swans around in his helicopter. The people want leadership. They have not been getting it. The Leader may nod his head but he knows full well this Government has let the people down.

Thank you, Senator Buttimer.

As Senator Norris said, we live in different apocalyptic times but the Leader's time is up.

Is mian liom an deis seo a ghlacadh chun comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Seanadóir nua-thofa, James Carroll, as Contae Lú. Cuirim fáílte mór roimh James, nó Séamus, go dtí an tSeanaid. I congratulate James and welcome him to the Seanad. It is great to see a new young Member in the Seanad and I know he will make a massive contribution and a big impact to the workings of Seanad Éireann in the years ahead. I wish him well in that.

I wish to touch on another issue raised by Senator Joe O'Toole in respect of the Student Support Bill. This year more than ever we recognise the need to move on this Bill, particularly in light of the fact that this year there are major difficulties across local authorities in processing third level maintenance grant applications. There are considerable delays and many students are forced to leave their courses of study because the grants are not being processed in time. I do not blame local authorities or the vocational education committees which do not have the staff to process the applications. The Student Support Bill proposes the centralising of those applications and we should fast-track it if at all possible. I hope the Leader can provide us with an update, perhaps not today but in coming days. The Union of Students in Ireland is to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science to make a presentation on this matter and we welcome its views.

The issue was raised of VAT rates with regard to cross-Border shopping and was also referred to in national media yesterday. A survey report by the chambers of commerce was published this morning regarding cross-Border shopping and the views of Border county business owners. Some 90% of business owners in the six Border counties said they would welcome a reduction in VAT. However, VAT is not the sole issue. We can say it is but it is not. There are three issues involved and Senator Dan Boyle touched on one. First, there is the sterling issue, over which we have no control. The British have printed additional sterling and reduced the value of their currency. We cannot deal with that but we can deal with the two other issues. Regarding VAT, this year we will have an advantage, or the Minister for Finance will have an advantage, because the Irish budget will come after the British budget. Last year it was the other way round. The Minister will use the forewarning of the British budget to deal with that issue.

Senator Boyle referred to the third issue, namely, the cost of doing business here as opposed to in the North. That relates to wages. If one considers individuals on social welfare, here they get about a quarter more than in the North. We must look at the global picture and deal with wages and the cost of living here versus in the North. There are many issues involved and we should have a debate before the budget if at all possible so that we may bring our own views to the Minister.

I, too, extend a céad míle fáilte to the Seanadóir nua, James Carroll. He is very welcome. I support my colleague, Senator McCarthy, in his proposal to give over our Private Members' time today to discuss the serious issue of flooding, including the Clonmel aspect and what is going on there with respect to the flood alleviation process and the impact it has had.

There have been some absolutely heroic actions by all members of the Defence Forces. On Monday I was in the Army barracks when the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, visited Clonmel. I was lucky enough to meet and be able to compliment Corporal David Aherne and Private Jason Daly who heroically waded into waist-high water to rescue two people who, I have no doubt, would have lost their lives had that action not been taken. There has been much activity such as this by young men in the Army, Civil Defence and all forces. I would be glad to have an opportunity to discuss it in a more formal debate later today if this is agreed by the House, as I am sure it will be.

I acknowledge the enormous contribution made yesterday by all staff working in the HSE, free of charge. They provided an absolutely excellent service.

Undoubtedly, the people with whom I walked yesterday outside the hospital in Clonmel would have much preferred to have been doing something positive, such as helping out people whose houses had flooded — they expressed that wish — rather than walking up and down outside a hospital. It certainly was not the action people wished to take. Those people are doing a fantastic job nationwide and should be commended because they continued to provide that service yesterday.

I join previous speakers in welcoming Senator James Carroll and in congratulating him on his election and elevation to Seanad Éireann. Young James was a wonderful choice for election to this House as is evident from his wonderful success story as recounted by the Leader. I refer in particular to his student union activities and his recent successful election to Louth County Council. He ran a wonderful campaign and is a good choice to represent County Louth in this House. Hopefully, he probably will be the replacement of the present Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seamus Kirk.

The Senator should propose him as Ceann Comhairle himself.

Senator Burke, no interruption.

I can state without fear of contradiction that he certainly is the youngest Member of this House. I wish him well in the future and he undoubtedly will be an excellent representative.

I thank the Leader for arranging the debate on flooding. Lest any Member might think that County Monaghan was not affected, while I am unaware of houses being flooded, parts of Monaghan town were blocked off by flooding and were impassable. Moreover, other roads in the county were washed away by rivers bursting their banks and floods disrupted traffic. County Monaghan was affected, albeit not as badly as counties Cork, Tipperary or Galway or perhaps the midlands.

Or County Offaly.

However, it definitely was affected.

Finally, I support Senator Ó Domhnaill's call for the VAT rate to be considered in the forthcoming budget because this is a serious issue for the six Border counties——

Is Senator O'Brien not in government?

No interruption, please. The Senator has gone over time.

Moreover, it is not only people from the Border counties who are shopping across the Border. They are coming from far further afield——

Who else is going?

——to shop in the North.

I join in the welcome for Senator James Carroll to the House. However, I also welcome my colleagues from County Cork and other counties that have been cut adrift, such as my native county of Galway, which have suffered severely in recent days from flood devastation. While I am delighted the Leader has facilitated the appearance today in the House of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, he should come into the House with a plan. He should have a flood relief plan, a financial plan and above all, a national template for an emergency. Members are aware that rainfall is on the increase. For instance, it was necessary to evacuate a family in Oranmore a year and a half ago and for three successive Christmases. While this phenomenon is not new in some counties, there has been neither prevention nor leadership on this issue. The Leader should communicate to the Minister that he should have detailed information.

The Leader is aware that insurance companies now claim that floods are no longer unpredictable but are predictable and consequently are refusing to cover such homes in the future. For example, I refer to a home that had been given a quote of €3,000 previously for insurance but which was given a quote of €32,000 on foot of a previous flooding incident in Ardrahan, County Galway. As the householders could not afford to reinsure their home, they now have been wiped out. Consequently, action is required from the Government and it must find the requisite funding. I note it found funding for the banks and it should not come to pass that funding will not be found to save people's homes, properties and livelihoods.

Why was the fire service not fully engaged in Galway as it was in other counties in this emergency relief plan? For example, in Ennis the fire service made 130 calls but in Athenry it made only three. Serious questions arise and I would like an answer to them.

Ten Members have indicated that they wish to contribute but as there are only approximately 12 minutes remaining I ask them to be brief if there is to be any hope of even half that number getting a chance to speak.

I congratulate Senator Carroll on his election to the House. Some of us might have arrived here at a similar age and I hope he remains a Member of the House as long as us. That is my only wish for him today.

I compliment the staff who stayed at work yesterday, especially in my home county, Leitrim, where county council staff worked to alleviate the flooding problems in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim village and other areas.

There is a point that everyone here is missing in connection with this problem. The ESB controls several waterways, mainly the Shannon and the Iniscarra dam. It should have realised that it could have dropped the level of those dams months ago knowing that there would be sufficient water to refill them due to climate change and all the precedents but it has done nothing.

That is a question.

That is the question.

It is doing nothing now but releasing more water on top of communities along the Shannon. I appeal to the ESB to examine whether it can release some of the flood water it is holding with its various dams up and down the country in a controlled manner, not as it has done over the past week.

When we come to debate this we need to consider the wider problems being caused. The ESB is not the only cause.

I hope the Minister can explain it.

Local authorities have in many cases walked away from their responsibilities for maintaining drainage schemes. Some of their planning decisions forced people to build houses in hollows that are now flooded. What will happen if those people tackle the local authorities that forced them to build on unsuitable sites?

Ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas agus fáilte a ghabháil donSeanadór nua, Séamus Carroll.

The graphic images of the tailbacks into Newry and Enniskillen yesterday can leave us in no doubt that cross-Border shopping is a serious issue for retailers and those working in the retail trade along the Border. It is unfair to public service workers, and it is untrue, to say that they wenten masse to the North yesterday. I know from family members that all those who were on strike went on a rota of picket duty and provided emergency cover too. Families whose children were at home from school yesterday took the opportunity to go shopping as traditionally happened on 8 December.

The large numbers travelling North were instructive. Last year the Minister for Finance admitted that €500 million was lost to this economy through VAT increases. It was an own goal to increase VAT rates last year. This needs correction and adjustment. Of course the cost issue arises. Costs are too high in this country and we need to examine our cost structure as part of an ongoing economic adjustment. The VAT issue can be resolved in the forthcoming budget. Taking into consideration the loss of wages, the payments to jobseekers and the loss of revenue, lowering VAT would be cost neutral. I put it to the Leader that something must be done about this problem. It is a crisis for ordinary people who work as retail assistants across the country.

I congratulate Senator Carroll. I admire his decision to come into politics at a time when there is such distaste for politicians. He was qualified to take another career path, if he so desired. I wish him well. He has a hard road ahead, particularly at a time when we are all being ridiculed by the public at large. I wish him luck and we will support him having gone through the mill ourselves.

Many issues were raised today and there is one to which I wish to refer. I hope the Leader will incorporate a debate on cross-Border shopping and a reduction in VAT in the House's pre-budget statements. Yesterday was a sad day for Ireland. On the one hand there were the flood catastrophes with many people's homes destroyed and their morale ruined too. On the other hand, there were the strikes. Hopefully, it will be a day of reckoning. I believe there has been a mood change with the union leaders and they will sit around the table with the Government to reach some compromise so we will not have a repeat of yesterday next week. It is very serious for our country. We need to put our heads together on this. Will the Leader have the pre-budget statements so all views can be aired and trashed out? Hopefully, we might get some sort of brainstorming exercise on this.

I join with colleagues in congratulating Senator James Carroll on his election. Although I did not know he was going to be unveiled today, I felt a bit funny this morning as he has taken my mantle as the youngest Member of the Seanad which I had for seven years. My first name is a giveaway when it comes to my age. I wish Senator Carroll well in his time in the House.

Will the Leader extend the time allowed for the debate on the recent flooding? County Kilkenny has had several serious days with flooding on the lower reaches of the River Nore. The investment by the Office of Public Works on the flood relief scheme in Kilkenny city has worked with no flooding there. However, it has led to an increased problem further down the river in Thomastown, Inistioge and New Ross.

Will the leader organise a debate on school transport, which I have raised eight times since the House returned in September? Some young children cannot get school bus tickets when their older siblings may be travelling to both primary and secondary schools on the same school bus network. This is a serious matter for the families concerned. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, has been examining the matter and I would like a discussion on it in the House as soon as possible.

I share the frustration of many low-paid public servants with the lack of leadership from the Government and respect their right to protest. I urge them, however, to reconsider next Thursday's protest because they have made their mark. I hope the Government will take on board their frustrations and concerns when drafting the budget. This is all the more reason why the Seanad should have a discussion on the budget in advance of 9 December which the Leader has promised for weeks. I urge the public sector committee of the ICTU to reconsider Thursday's proposed second day of unrest.

I welcome Senator James Carroll to the House. His election in the local elections was as outstanding a feat as Louth's victory in the 1957 All-Ireland football title. We welcome young Members to the House. I have sympathy with Senator John Paul Phelan on losing his title as youngest Member.

One serious issue of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 is how banks can take possession of houses with an occupancy clause and get them lifted while the mortgage holder trying to sell such a house cannot. There is not a level playing pitch between the banks and the person struggling to sell his or her house. It is timely to raise this issue now given the representatives of the banks will today appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. The question we must pose to the chief executive officers of the banks is why cannot they live on €500,000. The banks are repossessing houses throughout the country and selling them off at will to whomever they wish, yet mortgage holders are not being given time to sell their homes. I ask the Leader to take up this issue with the Minister. Surely people struggling to sell their houses should be permitted to do so under the same terms and conditions as the banks.

I congratulate Senator Carroll on his election to the Seanad and wish him well in what surely will be a long and productive career in what remains, despite the actions of a few, a noble profession.

Senators

Hear, hear.

I congratulate the Leader on having the foresight and common decency to arrange for a debate on flooding in this House this afternoon. I believe that decision may have been driven by his experience in his own locality over the weekend. I heard on radio that Senator McFadden and her sisters are currently travelling around Athlone distributing sandbags to their neighbours to help stop the encroaching floods.

This morning I left behind a county shrouded in devastation and despair, which are the only words I can find to describe the situation.

I have never witnessed anything like it. People in their 80s, some of whom are neighbours of mine, have never witnessed flooding of the like that has occurred during recent days. That despair was crystalised for me by a conversation I had with a businessman from Gort who telephoned me on Sunday night. He has been unable to secure insurance cover against flooding in recent years because the area in which he operates is constantly flooded and is now facing into Christmas with the possibility of no income for the next few weeks. The stock he had in for Christmas has been destroyed by the floods. He told me he finds it difficult to look across the breakfast table at his children because he is afraid they will see the fear and despair in his eyes. He does not know what to do and is turning to us, the Government and people who lead this country, for hope.

I despair, if all we can offer these people, of whom there are thousands throughout the country, is a paltry €10 million. How detached or devoid of empathy have we become if the people who lead this country can offer the people suffering such devastation the paltry sum of €10 million? This day, the coffers of the National Pensions Reserve Fund amount to €21 billion, of which €1.4 billion is cash. This year we deemed it acceptable, and debatably so, for us to hand over €7 billion of those funds to the banks. We also deemed it acceptable, and rightly so, to hand over €750 million from our national budget to overseas development aid. How come, when our own people cry out for hope at the end of a long and traumatic experience, the most we can commit to them is €10 million? I despair. I ask Members opposite, if they are having a parliamentary party meeting this week, to raise this issue with their colleagues in the Lower House.

I congratulate Senator James Carroll on his election to Seanad Éireann. His election was one of the handiest of all time. I thank the Fine Gael and Labour parties for not contesting the election. I presume they will not also be contesting the next two elections.

Wishful thinking.

Senator Leyden must put a question to the Leader.

My advice to Senator Carroll is to work hard to move to the Lower House because the future of this House does not look good if Fine Gael is ever to be returned to power in any shape or form.

That is a vote of confidence in Fine Gael.

(Interruptions).

Senator Leyden must put a question to the Leader.

Fianna Fáil needs a seat in Drogheda. I wish Senator Carroll well.

Today is international day for the elimination of violence against women, an issue on which the Council of Europe has been particularly active. Every day, not alone today, should be a day for the elimination of violence against women, whether verbal or physical. We should all strive to that cause.

I thank the Leader for arranging for a debate today on the issue of flooding. The town of Roscommon has been devastated, unfortunately, by unprecedented flooding of flood plains. The new government offices, in which the Office of Public Works was involved in terms of planning, were flooded by up to four feet of water. It is unprecedented. The €10 million being provided is only a start in this regard.

It is only a dribble.

It is to be hoped further moneys will be made available. I believe the Irish Red Cross should be called in to assist in this regard. It was involved in other emergencies. This flooding is unprecedented and everybody must show solidarity with those affected. I thank the county council workers in Roscommon who did not strike yesterday but remained at work to assist those in need.

Before calling Senator Carroll, I apologise to Senators Butler, Corrigan, Feeney, Glynn and O'Sullivan who indicated but were unable to raise their issues today.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí go léir as ucht na focail deasa a shín siad amach chugam. Tá mo chlann ar mo lámh dheis agus mo chairde ar mo lámh chlé. Is iad na daoine a chuir mé anseo i Seanad Éireann. Gabhaim buíochas leo.

I thank Senators for their kind words. This is my first day as a Member of Seanad Éireann and I hope all other days I spend here will be as easy as today. This is a huge honour for me and my family. I am a 26 year old from Monasterboice starting out in life in many respects. My mother, father and two sisters, Fiona and Briege, are present in the Visitors Gallery. But for them and their superb support of me through my life so far, I would not be here today. I hope to do them, and everyone else, proud.

I thank MS Ireland, the Central Remedial Clinic and the Irish Deaf Society, for their kind nomination, without which I would not have had an opportunity to contest the election. I was lucky given no other candidates put their names forward. I thank Deputy Margaret Conlon, my boss for the past two years. Working with her was a superb training ground. I wish Deputy Conlon, who is one of the most capable politicians I have ever met, all the best in the future. I hope she goes very far.

(Interruptions).

Senator Carroll had a good woman behind him.

One always needs a good woman behind one, a lesson I have learned. To the people of Drogheda east who elected me to the county council in June I wish to clarify that lest they think I will skive off to Dublin and forget them, I will continue to be their full-time public representative. I thank the people of Monasterboice, Togher, Clogherhead, Termonfeckin and Drogheda town who elected me to the council.

The Visitors Gallery is filled with people who assisted in getting me elected. When I started on this road 12 months ago I did not know how to go about getting elected. I am forever indebted to the people in the Gallery who assisted me in this regard. Without their hard work and faith and belief in me I would not be here.

My girlfriend, Alison, who is also in the Gallery has had to put up with for the past 12 months the worst boyfriend in history given the amount of canvassing and meetings involved in my getting elected. However, it is to be hoped things will improve now.

Senator Carroll has not yet seen the half of it.

Exactly. I thank the Leader of the House, Senator Cassidy, and all Members of the Fianna Fáil Seanad group for their superb advice during recent weeks. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind introduction and the Clerk to the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, for her assistance and guidance during the past two weeks. I hope to work closely with them in the future and to not cause any rows in the House. I know from watching the Seanad proceedings during the past two years that rows often erupt. I hope to remain on the right side of the Cathaoirleach at all times.

I welcome Senator Carroll and wish him well in the House. I know he will receive help and co-operation from Members on all sides of the House. That has been my experience of Members of all parties and none. People are only too willing to help a new Member of the House. The Senator will also receive outstanding help from his own party, particularly the Members on the Administrative Panel. They might get him elected to the Lower House, which they would consider very important. This is a great day for him, his family and the people of County Louth. I do not doubt that he will be a tremendous representative for them in the future. I wish to remember today the man the Senator replaces, the late Senator Tony Kett, who made an outstanding contribution to the Seanad. We should remember him in our prayers.

Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, McCarthy, Boyle, Ó Murchú, Norris, O'Malley, Buttimer, Ó Domhnaill, O'Brien, Healy Eames, Ellis, O'Reilly, Ormonde, Phelan, Daly, Cannon and Leyden expressed their serious concerns about the horrific weather we have been experiencing in the last few weeks. One's heart goes out to the families caught up in these dreadful events. I like to believe the amount of money announced yesterday is only the initial sum that will be made available. Unfortunately, the forecast for the remainder of the week shows no improvement. The River Shannon is backing up into the River Inny which flows flowing into Athlone and will probably reach Mullingar by tonight. The western side of the country from County Donegal to County Cork and the midlands, including the Cathaoirleach's area of Banagher, have experienced floods not seen in living memory, as we have been told by people much older than us.

We must support the people who are enduring such dreadful circumstances, particularly those whose homes, properties and businesses have been decimated. It is a seriously bad start to the winter, particularly when there is a downturn in the economy. I compliment the Taoiseach. Most Members had at least one day off over the weekend but the Taoiseach worked every day. In chairing the committee he has taken a personal interest in the issue. Apart from his national constituency of Ireland, his electoral constituency has been seriously affected. What we have seen on our television screens, particularly what is happening to the people of Cork, is absolutely horrific. I have never seen anything like it. Parishes throughout the country have been seriously affected. In fact, I attended a funeral in Ardrahan three weeks ago and saw the beautiful area of Kinvara. It is hard to believe what has happened.

I thank Senator McCarthy and the Labour Party for offering its Private Members' time for statements which will continue for three hours from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. We will meet the leaders after the Order of Business to organise the times for contributions and I will return to the House with an amendment to the Order of Business to seek its approval for the arrangements. It is my intention that there will be statements on the issue every day the House sits until this dreadful weather recedes, particularly from colleagues whose areas are affected. We must ensure those who are suffering know we care and are here to do everything we can to help them. I thank Senator Cannon for his comments in this regard. It is a terrible situation for families, neighbours and friends.

I wish those involved in the talks the very best of luck and, on behalf of all Members, hope the talks reach a successful conclusion. Everybody believes, regardless of who is in power, €4 billion is the figure that must be found in the budget. Let the experience around the negotiating table, the best in the country, decide and secure agreement. The last thing the country wants is another day of stoppages. One's heart goes out to the decent, hard-working people who built the Ireland of today and had to go out yesterday in inclement weather. They are the most decent of people and involved in every community and organisation in the country. They give of their time, mainly in a voluntary capacity, to church, State and sports organisations. They are the leaders in our communities. We all have a job to do; therefore, let us put what happened behind us and, from today, let us hope the negotiators find a successful formula, as Senator O'Toole said, that will secure agreement on how we can move forward with the budget.

In response to the calls from Senators McCarthy, Boyle, Prendergast, O'Brien, Healy Eames and Bradford there will be a full day debate next Tuesday on the budget. I look forward to all colleagues making a contribution. I am disappointed Fine Gael has not brought forward its pre-budget proposals before that debate. I understand they will be released two days afterwards. If the House thinks we could be of assistance, perhaps on the Friday after it publishes its pre-budget submission——

There have been many recommendations which the Government has ignored.

The Government has many of our proposals.

The Government has no proposals.

There must be no interruption of the Leader of the House.

Our proposals are well known. Let us hear the Government's.

If the House wishes to comment on the Fine Gael proposals——

Let us hear the Government's proposals and the response to what we recommend.

——I have no difficulty with the House sitting on 4 December to consider them.

Ring the Drumcondra mafia to find out its plans.

I will convey Senator Norris's views on human rights.

Let us hear the Government's proposals.

Senators O'Malley and Leyden——

It has had 12 years to run the country.

I warned Members about interrupting. There are to be no interruptions of the Leader in replying on the Order of Business. Members have had an opportunity to speak. The Leader is replying.

I meant to mention earlier with regard to the floods that a considerable amount of work had been done on the Doherty report of 1995. I will ask the Oireachtas Library to circulate a copy of that report to all colleagues in the House in the next few days. We should ask the Government to seriously consider implementing its conclusions in the next two or three years.

Some 14 years later.

The Senator's party was in government at the time.

Is Senator Healy Eames going to continue interrupting? If there is one more interruption, I will ask the Senator concerned to leave.

I will ask the Oireachtas Library to circulate a copy of the Doherty report to show Members the conclusions it reached. We discussed the report in the House previously but nothing has happened with the silt at the bottom of the River Shannon. Some colleagues in the House probably know more about this problem than me but there is a report available for our consideration and I will ensure it is circulated to Members.

Senator Prendergast complimented the HSE on its work yesterday. I share her sentiments.

Senators O'Toole and Ó Domhnaill asked about the Student Support Bill and the timeframe for dealing with it. I will respond to their queries in the House tomorrow morning.

Senator John Paul Phelan called for a debate on school transport. I have already given a commitment to the House that the debate will take place and the Minister has agreed to attend. Legislation is given precedence in the House but we will certainly discuss school transport before Christmas, if possible.

Turning to the matter of cross-Border trading, Senator Ó Domhnaill outlined the challenges facing the retail sector in the northern part of our country thanks to sterling issue, over which we have no control. As he stated concerning VAT, our budget will come after the British budget, but this is a question of one word, that is, "competitiveness". This will be the greatest challenge to face the country in the coming years. We must be more competitive.

Change the Government.

The Leader obviously does not understand the word. That is why we are where we are.

People will be marched out of here soon. To show this type of example to a new Member is wrong.

(Interruptions).

Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on the partnership talks and the present financial emergency be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

I remind Members that any division will be a manual vote because the electronic system has not been sorted for our new Member.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 28.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • 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 Maurice Cummins and Fidelma Healy Eames; Níl, Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Camillus Glynn.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator McCarthy has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, that statements on the flooding be substituted for No. 2. Is the amendment being pressed?

It is not being pressed on the basis of a discussion I have had with the Leader that there will be statements on the flooding between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., with the Labour Party leading off, spokespersons having ten minutes and all other Members having eight minutes——

We do not want the detail. The Senators have agreed and the amendment is not being pressed.

We have agreed, but I always wanted to say: all other Members will have eight minutes, that they may share time with the agreement of the House——

It is not relevant. The amendment is not being pressed.

——and that the Minister will be called upon to reply 15 minutes before the end of the debate. The amendment is not being pressed.

On a point of information, will the Leader clarify——

This is important.

The Senator should speak to the Leader afterwards.

On a point of order, the Leader has amended the Order of Business for today and I am seeking clarification from him.

The Senator should speak to him afterwards.

This is a matter of importance to the people I represent and the people in general. I ask the Leader to explain to the House the exact format from 1.30 p.m.——

Sorry, a Chathaoirligh; I am not being political.

Please, Senator, look at the time.

This is a matter of extreme importance. On a point of order, I am seeking clarification about the Order of Business between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.

There has been a discussion with the leaders of the groups who know exactly what will happen.

This is the forum in which to discuss it.

What is the Order of Business?

What is the Order of Business between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.?

It was agreed.

The Leader is prepared to answer.

We are discussing what will happen between 1.30 p.m. and2.30 p.m.——

Sorry, there was an important delegation from Northern Ireland present which I wished to welcome to the House and it has now left simply because Members were interrupting.

On a point of order, what I am raising on behalf of the people of Cork is important——

That is not a point of order.

——and I will not take that remark, a Chathaoirligh. You are being unfair to me.

Was Senator Buttimer listening to the Leader?

I did not understand his remark. I asked him to reply.

The Leader has replied to the Order of Business.

He was unclear in what he was saying.

In fairness, there has been a change.

A Chathaoirligh, I resent the remark you made. I take my job seriously and contribute. I did not understand the Leader's remarks.

I may be forced to adjourn the House. I also take my job seriously. Statements were ordered for between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

I am seeking clarification.

Surely, the Senator does not need clarification in that regard.

Will the Leader explain the format between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.?

He did. He has outlined it clearly. I ask the Senator to look at the record.

Order of Business agreed to.