The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re agreement between the European Union and Japan on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; No. 2, motion re agreement between the European Union and the USA on the processing and transfer of financial messaging data; No. 3, motion re forensic service providers carrying out laboratory activities; No. 4, motion re preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims, all to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 5, Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil], to be taken at the conclusion of Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive; No. 6, earlier signature motion, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 5; No. 7, Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 6; and No. 8, motion re Council decision on the use of information technology for customs purposes, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 7 and conclude within 45 minutes, on which spokespersons and other Senators may speak for five minutes and Senators may share time, with the agreement of the House.
Order of Business.
I support those Senators who spoke last night on the recent flooding and believe we should deal with the issue as if it was a full national emergency. Flood waters are at record levels across the Shannon basin and it is only right the Government should declare a national emergency, put a Minister in charge to deal with the issue properly for people in the west and midlands who have been flooded. If the weather turns nasty again in the next few days, they will have a complete catastrophe on their hands. I, therefore, ask the Deputy Leader to call on the Taoiseach to declare this a national emergency and have a dedicated Minister responsible for dealing with the issue.
Another report from the Department of Health and Children shows that home care packages from the HSE are poor value for money. There is unbelievable inconsistency as regards home care packages for patients. One is six times more likely to be offered such a package in County Meath than in County Wicklow. This clearly indicates inconsistency within the HSE which was established to ensure there would not be such inequality in the delivery of health care services across the country. The fact that it is delivering poor value for money is not surprising, but it is unfortunate in the times in which we live.
Perhaps the Deputy Leader might arrange for an early debate on crime. It might not be possible do this before Christmas, but certainly such a debate should take place as soon as possible afterwards. There is far too much violent crime. Last night a shopkeeper in County Wicklow was murdered while defending his business. In my constituency, County Wexford, there have been two murders in the last two months which were totally unnecessary. There is a sense that crime is out of control. I am not asking the Minister to come to the Seanad, but we could have a debate among ourselves to determine whether crime is really out of control and how bad things are getting. There is certainly enormous fear among the general public that crime is out of control and that the Government has lost control in this regard.
I do not intend to refer to the economy, as I am sure we shall be debating the issue from next week onwards.
However, if Ministers are conducting a debate on the economy, they should provide Members with up to date information as to what the Government plans to do with the economy, rather than consistently asking the Opposition for its views to help out the Government. Perhaps Ministers should give their views on what they wish to achieve over the coming years.
Since the foundation of the State, the issue of Shannon flooding has been the plaything of different political parties. I recall that Éamon de Valera promised to drain the Shannon 70 or 80 years ago. I introduced a Bill in this House in 1998 with the support of Senators Madeleine Taylor-Quinn and Kathleen O'Meara that was rejected by the Fianna Fáil-led Government. It dealt with the entire issue of water management etc. In the previous year, the Bill had been introduced to the House and the Fine Gael-led Government had refused it. I nearly fell off my seat yesterday when I heard the Leader of the House mention the Doherty report. I have to hand the Doherty report and demand that Members discuss it next year. I thought that of all things, the Leader would not wish to have it discussed. This report deals with territory the Cathaoirleach and I know well, right up to the doorstep of the Cathaoirleach's own house. This report was published in 2000 by a sub-committee of the Oireachtas joint committee on enterprise and included proposals such as raising the storage level of Lough Ree and Lough Allen and to increase the channel capacity at Banagher to 255 cu. m per second. Had this been implemented, the Cathaoirleach might not have had the water on his doorstep this week. Other proposals included the removal of the Meelick weir, the diversion of the Suck, the raising of the sluice gates at Athlone and the road levels in Athlone, Clare and Galway, as well as to reduce river levels in October. I could go on and on.
This report dealt with all those issues. The Deputy Leader's then party leader, Deputy Sargent, also was on the sub-committee. I have tried to get the report discussed in this House and have raised it repeatedly. While I am partial to the River Shannon for reasons that will remain unstated, there is a solution. This is a national emergency but it has been so for many years. I refer to the floods of 1914, 1954, which damaged the Cathaoirleach's home town, and 1999. It is all there, including a proposal to the ESB that the water levels be reduced in Ardnacrusha and all those areas in mid-October every year prior to the floods. This report contains all this information, including accurate costs. I seek a debate on this issue because it is absolutely appalling and embarrassing for everyone.
Tá tuarascáil le bheith foilsithe inniu mar gheall ar an Ghaeltacht agus rudaí mar sin agus de réir dealramh tá sé mar mholadh sa tuarascáil sin go dtógfar ó Údarás na Gaeltachta an cúram agus an fhreagracht do fhostaíocht i nGaeltachtaí na tíre. Chomh maith leis sin, tá moladh ann go n-aistreofar cúram cúrsaí teanga ón Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta go dtí Údarás na Gaeltachta. This proposal is as daft as I have ever heard. It is to take away from Údarás na Gaeltachta its main role, which is to create jobs and develop industry in the Gaeltacht areas. This will be transferred from the Údarás to the IDA or some national group. At the same time, believe it or not, it is proposed to take from Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta the entire responsibility for the development and protection of the language, which will be moved to Údarás na Gaeltachta. I cannot imagine anything more daft then those two proposals. Tá sé thar am go mbeadh díospóireacht anseo sa Teach ar an ábhar seo. Tá seo thar a bheith tábhachtach agus caithfimid tuiscint a bheith againn ar an scéal. Ba chóir don Aire teacht isteach chugainn agus an scéal a mhíniú dúinn.
When Members ask themselves what service they can give to the people in the context of the flooding crisis, it pertains to what should be done in the future. In part, Members can give voice and have a role in giving voice to people who are faced with this situation on a daily basis. I refer to those whose homes and lives have been destroyed or almost destroyed in many cases. While this is important, others such as the media can do it as well and people can do it themselves. One can see and hear the frustration of people on radio and television. However, politicians operate in a completely different context. Most importantly, their role pertains to deciding what to do to ensure such things do not happen again.
Otherwise, they have no real role. Members have been debating the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill in this House in the past week or two. I consider it to be good legislation in the main and my party has made this clear in the course of the debate. If memory serves, it includes a reference in the context of development plans to the risk associated with flooding. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to re-examine this legislation in the context of returning to this House on Report Stage and subsequently to the Dáil, to ascertain whether it can be strengthened further. I wager that in practically every case in which houses and developments have been built on flood plains over the past ten to 15 years, some lone voice who stood up to argue against it was told he or she was anti-investment, anti-building, anti-progress or anti-something and was shot down over it. From my personal experience of being on a local authority in an urban area, I know this is what happens to people who raise genuine issues, including people in the Deputy Leader's party and my party——
And in this House.
——and in this House in respect of improper, ill-advised and inappropriate development and planning carried out in an improper and unsustainable way. This is the difficulty we face. It is not simply about the weather. Some people across this debate like to suggest this is about the weather and that the Government has no control over it and so they throw their heads back. However, John Gibbons published a good piece in today'sThe Irish Times, reminding his readers that this crisis does not follow from a particularly serious period of storms. It has to do with our woeful lack of preparedness in many parts of the country. The kind of debate Members must have as politicians is to ascertain what service they will provide to the people through the planning system and otherwise to ensure there is no repetition of what has happened in recent days, rather than simply giving voice to the genuine hurt that exists.
I note the Taoiseach is on tour today in counties Westmeath and Offaly and has been on tour in the other affected parts as well. I commend him on his immediate action to go on the ground and to see for himself exactly what is the position.
It is hardly immediate.
Members share their concerns with the people of Athlone at present. Ballinasloe also has suffered, as have south Galway, County Roscommon and everywhere else. It is clear that €10 million constitutes an initial amount for assistance. Again, while a €2 million fodder scheme will not be adequate, I presume the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, will top that up because quite a number of farmers have lost their fodder. I saw pictures on television last night of fodder that was floating.
Unquestionably, this is a national emergency and serious hardship cases have arisen. I again commend all involved and in particular I note we owe the Army a great debt of gratitude because its personnel are unselfish in their work. Instead of seeing the creation of regional or area funds, I recommend that the Irish Red Cross should open a national fund for those who have suffered hardship and that it should be matched euro for euro by the Government. This appeal should commence immediately this weekend and everyone should support it. A sum of €20 per person would yield a fund of €80 million, which multiplied by two would give €160 million.
I refer to the reality of life for small businesses and people who are really dejected. Even though some may have been covered by insurance, it will not cover the loss of jobs in the small industries that are affected. As there has been an enormous amount of television coverage by TV3 and RTE, the footage exists and consequently it will be easy to know exactly who has been affected. Most people or areas affected have been filmed.
No, they have not.
There also are aerial photographs and much material has been captured. My most extraordinary experience was when I visited Padraig Lyons's house in Milltown, Castleplunkett last Monday, which was on a dry location on his family farm. Moreover, as his grandparents had this farm, they were familiar with the location on which the house was built and there was no evidence of any possibility of flooding. Nevertheless, through a swallow hole of some sort, the house was flooded above its window level. Another extraordinary development was that the Office of Public works has agreed to the building of a decentralisation office in Roscommon town. Although it has expertise in this regard, the office was built on a flood plain. Moreover, by building there, it created further floods in the area. This matter can be solved. A fund is required for those in need.
I also wish to raise the issue of flooding. While I agree with much of what Senator Leyden said, I raise, in particular, the plight of farmers, many of whom have lost their winter fodder. Will it be possible to discuss agriculture next week and the impact of the flooding on that sector? Recent media reports suggest farm incomes will be 20% lower this year than last year. Many in our society have experienced dramatic decreases in their incomes but agriculture has taken the biggest hit of any sector. The Government has inflicted much of this by suspending the REPS and other schemes. I urge the Deputy Leader to arrange that discussion in the run-up to the budget in order that the Minister for Finance will look more favourably on the agriculture sector than he has in the past two budgets. There is no reason not to have it next Tuesday or Thursday afternoon.
I agree with all of the points raised about the flood catastrophe. We must now consider how we can prepare to ensure this never happens again. All county managers should be called in because they know the areas affected. They and the county engineers know what is possible. What are the plans for these areas? We need to keep this discussion on the agenda, receive updates on progress made and hear what decisions will be made in the next couple of months to prevent anything like this happening again.
The last report on the future skill needs of the food and beverages sector was issued in 2003. It would be useful to have a debate on this area and examine the education and training provided today for those employed in the industry. The food industry will be a key growth area. There may not be an opportunity to debate the matter before Christmas because there is so much on the agenda, but I would like to see it on it in the new year.
I was very interested in the statements made last night on the flooding and also in what Senator Alex White said today when he almost repeated the words of the Deputy Leader last night that we brought this flooding on ourselves. We cannot blame nature. We have done things in the past few years that make us responsible. It reminds me of the position of the economy. When somebody asks us later what we did that brought the economy to its knees, we will say we stopped working for a day and threatened to stop again next week and that we crossed the Border to purchase goods because we had made ourselves uncompetitive. I came into the House in 1993 following a meeting with some Canadians when their Prime Minister was here. They said that in 1922, when we formed the State, the economies, populations and natural resources of Canada and Argentina were equal. Seventy years later Argentina was bankrupt and Canada was a G7 member. Nobody but the citizens of Argentina was to blame for the running of its economy in those years.
There was a military dictatorship in Argentina.
They allowed a military dictatorship to happen. They elected Peròn. They might have done other things also. Those of us fortunate to have responsibility in these Houses do not understand we have made ourselves so uncompetitive. I went to Dundalk a few months ago when a store was closing down and asked the people whether they would have to go to Newry to find work and they said no, because they would earn only one third of what they would earn in Dundalk. I was asked on Radio Ulster last night whether it was true that pay in the South was a multiple of that in the North. It is our responsibility to solve the problems in this economy. Let us not act like Nero who fiddled while Rome burned.
Will the Deputy Leader write to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ask that we join Cumbria in requesting funds from the European Social Fund, under the Lisbon treaty, to deal with a national disaster? My county colleague, Senator Prendergast, spoke well last night during the statements on the flooding. She had obviously been out in the flood waters and made the valid point that when matters go off the television screens or radio, they are forgotten. I cannot think of many things that would reward us better for early investment than dealing with floodwater.
We all have a responsibility to recognise that we need aerial photographs and ensure no planning permission is given where there is a new flood plain. We must ask the insurance companies to pay out early and put together a national plan to spend money to ensure people have flood barriers in their homes and that there are flood barriers in towns and cities to prevent a recurrence. We must take community steps that will make all the difference.
Last week we discussed the Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and paid tribute to the work of the Defence Forces on peacekeeping missions abroad. In the past week we have seen the Trojan efforts of the Army to help the victims of the flooding. The numbers in the Defence Forces are below 10,000, the lowest in over four decades. Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister for Defence to come into the House to explain whether he intends to increase numbers in the Defence Forces? Has he sought funding from the Minister for Finance for recruitment to the Defence Forces? This week he announced 50 long overdue promotions, but it is necessary to increase numbers in the Defence Forces.
In recent weeks we have asked for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come into the House to discuss not only murders and attacks on elderly people and the overcrowding in our prisons, but we have not seen him. Will the Deputy Leader arrange for him to come here to account for the deplorable efforts of his Department because the Government seems to be soft on crime and law and order?
At the beginning of this difficult economic period over a year ago I sounded a warning about the Government's sinister manoeuvrings in seeking to dismantle every single State agency, including the Combat Poverty Agency, the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission, which protected the vulnerable. It was done with little protest. Despite the fact that the issue was raised repeatedly in the House, there was no appetite to cover these issues in the media. A group called Equal Rights Alliance was established to fight for the retention of some support for the vulnerable. It recently held a conference and invited a distinguished legal person, Mr. Colm Ó Cinneide, a member of the European Committee of Social Rights, to address it. In his lecture he indicated there was a perception that Ireland which had been seen as a leading country when it came to social rights had fallen from grace. It is now being used as an example by countries such as Pakistan which recently cited our blasphemy law.
I want to give a specific local instance of what is happening without much being said in public about it, that is, the takeover by the Government of community development projects. This is nothing other than a smash and grab raid. So much for the Government's commitment to promote active citizenship, participatory democracy and local consultation. There have been no examinations, reviews or evaluations of these projects, some of which have been dismissed as non-viable. Those which are viable are told to dissolve and surrender their assets. In Ballybeg, County Waterford, the parish centre is legally an asset of the community's development project. It was given to the project by the Dominicans and later funds were raised by local people, with up to 20 women walking to Dublin, among other projects, to raise money to furnish and equip the centre and add an extension. The project has recently been told to surrender the centre to the Government. This is a smash and grab raid.
These matters must be consistently and continually raised in the House because the Government has disabled every voice for the people concerned. It is disgraceful in this circumstance that this is the way the Government is behaving.
I also want to raise the matter of farm incomes, as referred to by Senator John Paul Phelan. The Irish Farmers Association estimates farm incomes in 2009 will show a drop of 28% on top of a 13% drop in the previous year. Farmers particularly have been affected by the recent flooding, on top of such a devastating fall in income. There are also villages and towns which are badly affected. It is surprising, therefore, that the Government has not made an application to the European Commission for aid in this respect. The Lisbon treaty and previous treaties provide for solidarity among member states when there are natural disasters. I know the Taoiseach's response was, "We have been in touch with Brussels". However, we should go a little further and get the pencil out to make a formal application. The European Union has assisted us in a similar situation before.
With NAMA, we will also be looking to the European Union to come to our aid. We have evidence from the banks at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service that the NAMA bonds will not lead to an overall improvement in credit lending. The bonds which will be given to the banks in lieu of loans will assist them in restoring their balance sheets. Bank leaders say they would be in terrible trouble if they did not have NAMA but the bonds will not necessarily lead to the availability of greater credit in the economy. That was, however, the very purpose of the exercise. That is what is provided in the EU guidelines. There should be aquid pro quo and it should be monitored. We have one statement from the banks that NAMA will not lead to the availability of greater credit, but when justifying NAMA, the Minister for Finance says it will happen. Again, we will be relying on the European Union to ensure NAMA is reshaped and fit for purpose when it is formally notified by the Government. Will the House be kept informed of the notification of NAMA to the European Commission and what the Government puts into it?
Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate on the upcoming carbon tax and how it will affect those towns not on the natural gas grid? Industry in such towns will be put at a disadvantage if such a tax is introduced. There are pros and cons to the proposal, but it highlights the lack of joined-up thinking between Departments.
I note my colleagues raised the issue of domestic violence yesterday when I was, unfortunately, at a constituency meeting. A commitment was made to have a debate on the issue and I hope it can be held in the next 14 days, as it would tie in with the campaign of Women's Aid to have 16 days of action opposing violence against women.
I have requested a debate, as has Senator Bacik, on the participation of women in politics and the recent Oireachtas report on the topic. As of yet I have not heard when this debate will be scheduled.
I support the call from my colleagues for an urgent debate on the current crisis facing the agricultural community. As Senators John Paul Phelan and Regan stated, the income drop suffered by the farming sector in the past 12 months has been serious. When one adds the current flooding and fodder crisis to the equation, there is a bleak winter ahead for the farming community. Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate next week on this matter to allow us to go through the various issues of concern, highlight the problems that need attention from the Government and, I hope, seek some degree of relief?
I agree with Senator Twomey on his concerns about the Health Service Executive's home care package. In that sense, I am revisiting what I have raised in the House on a significant number of occasions, namely, our policy on the care of the elderly. There was a substantial debate on the new nursing homes scheme. Sometimes it is presented by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and her Department as a panacea and a one-size-fits-all solution. However, it is not. There is a great need and scope for an expansion of the home care package. That it works differently across the various Health Service Executive regions shows the lack of leadership and consistency in the executive's and the Department's policy. Good value for money can be obtained from home care packages where they are working. The Minister expects up to 10,000 persons to qualify for the package, which would allow many people to remain in their homes and communities with their families rather than being institutionalised in nursing homes. It is a philosophy we should support, not just in words but financial deeds. There should be a standard scheme and delivery across the country. Will the Deputy Leader bring some sense to the scheme which is working with varying levels of success? We need to have this matter on the agenda and ensure the scheme remains in place.
I support Senator Quinn's comments on finding a solution to the current economic crisis. He basically said we must come off the fence and stop the blame game. Instead, we must look to ourselves and see what we can do as people with experience. For some months the debate has not been helpful; it has been more like talk outside a public house. It is public sector versus private sector, unions versus employers, employees versus employers. It is going around in circles and achieving nothing. Senator Joe O'Reilly made a similar comment a few weeks ago in that regard, which I supported. I genuinely believe that even if the views put forward this morning by Senator Quinn are not currently common currency, as sure as night follows day they will be centre stage to any progress we will make in the future. This House should be providing leadership in this regard. If we were to hold a full debate on the issue, leaving aside all blame and setting out our personal experiences in terms of what we are hearing on the ground and what we have observed from positive forward-thinking people, I have no doubt we would begin to put together elements of a recovery package. I do not believe any one grand plan will solve the current economic crisis. It will take a number of small plans to do so.
The Celtic tiger evolution was not to all intents and purposes one single plan but many people bringing their talents, resources and vision to bear on the potential of the Irish people at the time. We will need more of this in the future if we are to recover. I agree with Senator Quinn that when we look back in years to come many of the answers now given by many of us will not be to our credit. Let us not waste this opportunity. I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange for a focused, responsive debate — I am not speaking in this regard of the pre-budget debate — based on our experiences, leaving aside the blame game while doing so.
Sadly, it never rains but it pours. We are hearing that the worst is yet to come in terms of flooding in the west. As a result of rising waters in the Shannon 50 more homes in Galway are this morning submerged in water. The council is unable to assist one woman who has been housebound for five days. I agree with much of what Senator Twomey said. It is time the Taoiseach declared this flooding a national emergency and fully mobilised the Army. The Army should be utilised to assist people. There can be no shortcuts in dealing with this crisis.
It is disgraceful that the Taoiseach has only at this stage committed €10 million to the clean-up.
Although we did not wish public sector employees to strike approximately €50 million has been saved as a result, the least amount that should be committed to the clean-up operation. We must be in the long term, as has been said by many Senators, prepared for future flooding. There is no doubt that poor planning decisions have been made, in particular in flood plains. As I discovered a year and a half ago following flooding in Oranmore, the clean up of drains and waterways requires the engagement of the council, the OPW and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We must ensure easier co-ordination if we are to get the job done.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke of the need for a national recovery plan. Education is part of that recovery plan. The Union of Students in Ireland, USI, has put forward the well proven case that only one third of the student registration fee of €1,500 per annum is invested in student services while two thirds of it is used to subsidise their fees.
The Senator can raise that issue another day.
I now hear that the Higher Education Authority has arranged an emergency meeting with the students union for next Monday.
The Senator's time has expired.
My question to the Deputy Leader——
The Senator's time has expired.
I will finish on this point. My question to the Deputy Leader is——
The Senator was allocated two minutes and her time has expired. The Senator can ask her question another day.
I appreciate that. May I ask the——
No, I am calling Senator Glynn.
——Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to confirm——
No. Members are running over time and this cannot continue.
——that there will be no increase in the student registration fee in the next budget?
Senator Healy Eames must resume her seat or leave the House.
I agree with all Members' comments in regard to the adverse weather conditions being experienced and how this is impacting in an adverse way on societies around the country. Today the Taoiseach is visiting County Westmeath, the south of which, in particular Athlone, did not escape the floods. I understand that the €10 million provided is to assist in the relief of hardship for flood victims. I welcome the Taoiseach's indication that this amount will be increased.
I agree with Senator Twomey's comments in regard to murders. There is a view obtaining among certain sections of society that one can pretty well do anything one wants and get away with it. I congratulate the Garda Síochána for its great successes in terms of drug seizures. However, I recently spoke with a high ranking member of the Garda who openly admitted to me that what they are achieving is only touching the tip of the iceberg, which is a sad admission.
The Joint Policing Committees, JPCs, are to be rolled-out. I believe that these fora have great potential to assist the Garda Síochána in its fight against the drug barons. However, the Garda Síochána will not on its own defeat those involved in the drug trade. This is a matter for society. It is only through society supporting the Garda and agencies involved that the drug barons will be defeated. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, an innovative young man in terms of his role in relation to drugs, to this House to debate this matter. While much has been achieved, we are not winning the battle.
I disagree fundamentally with Senators Ó Murchú and Quinn. It is political opportunism to say we should forget about the past when we know that past Government policies have brought us to where we are now. To learn from the past we must ensure we never again follow those policies. It was not the ordinary citizens but the high financiers in the banking profession, developers and Government policies pursued, in the main, by Fianna Fáil that brought us to where we are today. We should never forget that. To move forward, we must learn from the past. I do not blame public or private sector workers. I blame the Government and, in particular, Fianna Fáil which has been in power for the majority of the past 25 years.
The Senator must put a question to the Deputy Leader.
Yesterday, Oireachtas representatives from Cork met with the ESB to discuss the flooding in the city of Cork last weekend. I understand the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is frustrated at what has happened but it is wrong to blame councillors for this. The zoning of land does not automatically ensure planning permission. We all know that planning permission is the preserve not of the local council but of the planning authority. I call on the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to this House to discuss what he wants to see done in terms of the provision of relief to the people of Cork and throughout the country.
It is time — I hope the Deputy Leader agrees with me — an independent investigation into what happened in Cork was carried out, not to apportion blame but to ensure we learn from what happened and to assist us in alleviating the distress and hardship of the people of Cork and throughout Ireland. We must ensure we put in place an early flood warning system, proper communication and measures to ensure the Army, Civil Defence, the Garda Síochána and the fire service are on active duty sooner rather than later.
I support the call by Senator McDonald for a debate on the recently launched report on the participation of women in politics. It was said to me recently that if Lehman Bros had been Lehman Sisters we would not be in the mess we are in today.
The Senator must put a question to the Deputy Leader.
It is obvious this is a male dominated Chamber. I call on the Deputy Leader to set aside some time next week for a debate on the long awaited report on child abuse in the Dublin diocese which is being launched this afternoon. It is welcome and long overdue. It will bring closure for some people but for others it will be a re-opening of the raw pain they had to live through. Could a couple of hours be set aside for a debate on the report? There is no point doing it the week after next. It is too bad the report is being published today and the House is not sitting tomorrow. As we have always said in this Chamber, one must strike while the iron is hot and while the topic is to the fore. I also compliment and congratulate the HSE on its foresight in putting extra counselling support in place in preparation for the avalanche of calls it will receive as a result of the publication of this terrible report.
I welcome the comments of Senator Healy Eames about the misuse, effectively, of what is called the student services charge. I raised this matter on the Adjournment last night. Despite the fact that the Minister for Education and Science said recently that the student services charge is for the purposes of registration, examinations and facilities and services for students, the reality is that the block grant to colleges in respect of tuition fees for students has been cut back. It has been the policy going back to 2003, as instructed by the Higher Education Authority, that the cut in the block grant be compensated for by increasing the student services charge. It is completely bogus of the Government to claim that there is still a free fees system when the reality is that tuition fees have returned through the back door, and in the most dishonest fashion by being labelled a student services charge. It is no longer that, and there should be honesty about it.
It never was.
When I was in charge of student services in the then Dundalk Regional Technical College we had a hardship fund from which chaplains would disburse moneys to students who were hard up. We now find out that some students are still waiting to find out, at this late stage of the year with Christmas examinations approaching, whether they will receive a higher education grant. Some students are dropping out of college owing to financial hardship. This is an absolute disgrace.
On the subject of hardship funds, the allocation of €10 million to people affected by flooding, when more than 100 houses have been damaged and more than 12 businesses compromised in Ballinasloe alone, appears to be a hardship fund that will do no more than help people in the short term. It is nothing like the compensation package that is needed. I heard this morning that the European Commission would provide €23 million if we could show that the damage amounts to €1 billion. A serious challenge is facing us and I hope the Government is aware of this and will ratchet up the amount of money it will provide to help people in enormous distress.
I support the call by Senator O'Malley and Senator McDonald for a debate on domestic violence. A huge number of people in the State, many of whom are women, live every day of their lives in fear in a place that should be their refuge, their home. Holding a debate in this Chamber would be another step in raising awareness of this issue and sending a message to the people concerned, mainly women, that there is awareness of their plight and that help is available. Perhaps that debate, by showing solidarity and awareness and illustrating the help that is available, will help to build the victims' confidence so they might come forward, seek help and try to move on from their appalling situation. No one deserves to live like that.
One would get the sense from some contributions this morning that our flooding crisis is over and that we should be conducting a post mortem to establish how to prevent a recurrence. The flooding is far from over; in fact, it is only beginning. In Athlone this morning the water level of the River Shannon is 50 cm above the highest level every recorded. In south Galway ten more families were evacuated this morning while it appears that more water will be released downstream from Ardnacrusha. This is an ongoing national crisis and, as Senator Healy Eames said, it is a national emergency.
There is a huge human cost associated with this and, having heard the Deputy Leader speaking in the past, I believe he has a sense of what that human cost is. It is the despair people throughout the country are feeling. This was compounded by the paltry offering of €12 million a couple of days ago to address their concerns. That indicates that either the Government was not aware of the costs people are enduring or, more worryingly, if it was, it was not according them any serious commitment. The level of funding must be racked up immediately and it must be publicised by splashing the information across the front page of every national newspaper and across the screens of every national television station.
It is four weeks to Christmas Eve and thousands of families have given up hope that they will have any type of normal Christmas for themselves and their children. We must immediately tell these people that we are willing to write the same cheques we were willing to write six months ago for our banking system. They must be reassured that their Government is working in solidarity and community with them, something it has not been doing so far.
As I listened to the contributions from all sides of the House on the need for a debate on the floods and the crisis facing our country I was reminded of a remark I heard last night by one of our finest novelists, Joseph O'Connor. He said on RTE that hope was the habit we needed to acquire. This was brought home to me by the descriptions by my colleagues of the awful conditions so many families throughout the country are facing.
An essential element of hope is that when politicians or governments set out an expectation of something they will do, they are then willing to make public statements about whether they can deliver that expectation. I am seeking debates on three issues in that context. First, I support the comments made by Senator Regan about the banking executives who said yesterday, with regard to the effect of NAMA bonds being released into the system, that lending was one of the options being considered. We must have a discussion about that when NAMA is up and running. What are the other options being considered in light of the fact that €54 billion is being released to the banks?
My second point relates to what happened yesterday with Anglo Irish Bank. It made public its intent to pursue legal action against a former employee of the bank. How have we arrived at the point where that bank can initiate legal proceedings before any State agency can——
It is a civil action.
——given the number of debates we have had about State action taking place in this area as a result of the malpractice that took place in the banking sector?
Third, can the Deputy Leader guarantee that in the event of a social partnership arrangement being put in place between the Government and the different unions, the Government will immediately initiate a debate on the arrangement in the Houses of the Oireachtas?
I join Senators McDonald and Feeney in seeking a debate on women's participation in politics. The justice committee unanimously adopted, on a cross-party basis, the report on women's participation in politics and its recommendations. Indeed, the committee recommended that the report be debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas. Perhaps we might steal a march on the other House by having that debate first in the Seanad. I challenge my male colleagues in the Chamber who have not yet spoken in favour of this debate to jointheir male colleagues in the justice committee in supporting this report and calling for a debate on it.
I also ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on the report of the Dublin diocesan inquiry into child abuse and the response of church and State authorities to that abuse. That debate must be held urgently, preferably early next week. I believe the report, which is due to be published this afternoon, will contain shocking revelations about inadequacies in the response of church and State authorities to the horrific levels of abuse perpetrated on children in the Dublin diocese over several decades. We must have a debate about the findings and recommendations of the report and examine the shortcomings in the responses of church and State and how to ensure they do not fall short in future so children are adequately protected. I have also called for a debate on the procedures by which the inquiry was conducted and through which the Minister is entitled to go to the High Court to seek the deletion of aspects of the report for fear that they might compromise future prosecutions. We must debate the section in the legislation that facilitates the Minister in this regard to ensure further reports are not unnecessarily cut. I welcome this afternoon's publication of the report and hope that we can debate its findings soon.
Three Members have indicated that they wish to contribute, but time is practically up. If they are brief, I will call them.
Does the Deputy Leader have any information regarding the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009? It has been a considerable time since its Second Stage. When is it intended to have Committee Stage? The Bill's necessity has waned because of the state of the market and so on, but the regulatory body provided for under the Bill exists in shadow form in plush offices in Navan with nothing to do, which is wasteful. The situation needs to be clarified.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate on the progress of Dublin's integrated transport network, particularly about whether the metro is, if the House will excuse the pun, on line? The debate would refer to the integration of DART and bus services, any increased levels of subvention to CIE and Dublin Bus that may be required and competition.
Will the Deputy Leader clarify two policy issues regarding the Department of Health and Children? The first relates to care of the elderly at home and increased levels of support for same and the second relates to the use of generic drugs.
I might be the poacher turned gamekeeper in respect of the latter, as I started my career in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, but I commend the successful European campaign on stopping the unnecessary use of antibiotics. They are widely misused, as they are of no use against the common cold, a cough, the flu or swine flu. They are only effective against bacterial infections, a fact highlighted in the recent campaign.
Like other colleagues, I appeal to the Deputy Leader to allow time for a full debate on agriculture and the plight of farmers. The recent flooding has worsened the already dire situation of farmers. For several years, they have been hit by low product prices, below cost production and a range of grant and subsidy cutbacks. Their position is difficult. People I know are using family savings, cashing in insurance policies and running up bills in local hardware shops and fertiliser and meal companies. This merits a serious debate.
Through the Deputy Leader, could a message be passed to the Government? As we approach the Christmas season and in the midst of our adversity, could we hold on to the principles of Christian charity and values that we have held for generations? The budget should make no further cuts in the overseas aid package. Will the Deputy Leader make this request of the Government on our behalf? We should do what is right and support those who are in a worse position. We should not scapegoat overseas aid. Other solutions must be found.
I thank Members for their contributions. Senator Twomey called for the ongoing flooding crisis to be designated as a national emergency. The Government is treating the situation with suitable seriousness and appropriate attention. Providing whatever designation and resources are required to meet it are the Government's responsibility and I am confident that such will be done. The initial allocation of funds is not meant to be taken as a remedy for the costs that are piling up. Further resources will be made available.
Other Senators referred to accessing the European solidarity fund. I am confident that it will be accessed. As Senator Mullen described, however, it will only partially meet the costs incurred in many communities. Insurance must be paid out quickly and appropriately. There is a role for various Government agencies to see this is done.
Senator O'Toole mentioned the mythical aspect of Shannon drainage and how it has been treated in our——
It was a political promise.
——political system. It has been more talked about than done. The Senator gave the concrete example of the prescient Doherty report, upon which State authorities can and should act. The proposal that it be debated in the House is a valuable one, as it will help in taking further action.
Senator Alex White discussed the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, which has completed Committee Stage and will be taken on Report Stage next week, and the inclusion of measures regarding the discouragement of developments on flood plains. He made the apposite point that if the Bill can be strengthened in this regard, it should be. The House should take the opportunity to do so when the Bill reverts to it.
Senator Leyden highlighted the seriousness of flooding in the Shannon region and proposed the use of a fund by the Irish Red Cross, the designated body, for the alleviation of hardship. His suggestion will be put to the appropriate people and taken on board.
Senator John Paul Phelan made the link with the consequences of flooding for agriculture where farm incomes have already been badly hit. In this, he was joined by Senators Regan, Bradford and O'Reilly. A special debate in this regard has been requested. If this can be acceded to, it should be. The difficulty with debates at the end of a parliamentary session, as all Senators are aware, is that we already have a considerable legislation programme. We will be sitting more days and for longer until the end of this session. If we have an opportunity to schedule such a debate, I will see that Senators' views are taken on board.
Senator Ormonde discussed using the wisdom and experience of county managers and engineers. I would add the phrase "where such wisdom and experience exists". While Senator Buttimer pointed out that councillors should not be blamed for zoning, other levels of local government have responsibility for allowing planning permissions in flood plains. As a Legislature, we should not be slow in saying this and in examining how responsibility should be accorded through legislation. Early in the new year via the new local government Bill, we will have an opportunity to determine how county managers should be made more responsible and should take accountability for poor decisions.
Senator Quinn used the flooding as an analogy for taking greater collective and personal responsibility for our economic situation. He was joined by Senator Ó Murchú. Senator Quinn used the example of the divergence of Canada and Argentina during the past century in terms of their economic well-being. When we achieved independence in the early 1920s, we were considered wealthier than many Scandinavian countries. By the advent of the Celtic tiger, though, we were lagging behind them. As we recover from the Celtic tiger, there are many divergences between us and comparable European countries that we need to correct, as well as deal with the impact of the economic recession, but the point has been well made. The need for a debate about the wider sense of how we, as a society, can deal with these changes, outside of the debate we will be having next week on pre-budget statements, is something that will be given consideration.
Senator Hanafin, on flooding, spoke of the need for a national recovery plan, and how we might work in concert with the Cumbrian region, which suffered devastating consequences owing to the same weather patterns, and how this might help in terms of a joint application to the European Union. That is a proposal that will be sent to the appropriate people.
Senator Cummins asked for a debate on the Defence Force numbers and for the Minister for Defence to come into the Chamber. That is certainly something that will be taken on board.
The Senator also agreed with Senator Twomey on the need for a debate on violent crime, instancing the horrible event yesterday in County Wicklow where a shopkeeper needlessly lost his life as a result of protecting an employee and his business. In that, he was joined by Senator Glynn. The House would welcome such a debate. It is a question of timing and I would ask the Opposition groups in the Seanad that of the remaining Private Members' time remaining in this session, some thought be given to have debates on issues like this. There are demands for a Private Members' Bill and other issues to be addressed as well, but it would certainly help in having these issues addressed.
Senator Norris raised the equality infrastructure in terms of State agencies. I have some sympathy for that. We no longer have the Combat Poverty Agency, but the proposals that were being made on the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority have been stymied, and both are still in place and being given additional resources.
Well done to Senator Boyle's party.
The Senator also pointed out the proposals on community development projects. It also is something for which I have sympathy. As someone with a community background, I believe that while there is scope for saving in these areas, the current proposals, which are being introduced over a period of one year to see how they might be refined and to allow an opportunity for debate on how the eventual decisions will pan out, look at the wrong end of the pipe. They look in the local communities themselves where the valuable work is being done by development projects and where there is a sense of enablement and empowerment. They do not look at the other end of the pipe where often there is an unnecessary and costly bureaucracy, which is being left in place and is not being tackled to achieve effective use of public money. A debate along those lines would be useful in this House.
Senator Regan also asked a question on NAMA and the role of the European Commission. This House will be kept fully informed of how the European Commission deals with the proposals. He also referred to yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, as did Senator Donohoe. I must admit that some of the comments of banking executives showed that lessons are being learned very slowly. This House can never lose sight of the fact that as the banks had to be rescued owing at the very least to incompetence, the people making these submissions to Oireachtas committees need to be a little more honest and forthcoming in how they deal with this ongoing crisis.
The Minister has all the power.
Senator McDonald, with Senators Corrigan and Bacik, raised the 16-day campaign against domestic violence organised by the Women's Aid organisation, on which a useful monitoring presentation was given yesterday. Obviously, the issues that organisation and the Members were highlighting deserve consideration in this House.
There was also a harmony between the Seanad's equivalent of the Lehman sisters——
I am flattered to be addressed as one of the Lehman sisters.
I hope they do not go bust.
——on the question of a debate on women in politics. The report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Right is a valuable one. There will be a related section in an ongoing report being undertaken at present by the Joint Committee on the Constitution, of which Senators Alex White, Regan and O'Donovan, and myself, are members, and I would suggest that maybe when the two reports are together would be the ideal time to have such a debate, which will be in the very near future.
We would prefer it sooner.
The Deputy Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
It is about results. Senator McDonald also brought up the question of the carbon tax and how it is applied. Many Members might not have been aware, but the library and research service organised an excellent presentation yesterday in the AV room by Professor John Fitzgerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute where he spoke of how a carbon tax can be applied and how many of the concerns of many can be addressed in the application of the tax. I think we will have a debate come budget day as to how this is panning out.
Senator Bradford also spoke of an issue raised initially by Senator Twomey, namely, the report by the National Economic and Social Forum on home care packages. Senator Buttimer might have been a member of the committee that produced that report. It is a useful report. It states that the policy is necessary and important, but also points out where inefficiencies exist, how there is a disparity between different parts of the country and how economies are not being achieved as a result. There have been calls for the report to be debated in this House, and if and when the time can be provided, that too would be a useful debate.
Senator Healy Eames raised the worsening and ongoing flooding situation, and greater use of the Army. While criticisms have been made by some Members of the timeliness of response by various emergency services, there is a recognition that as and when the Army, the Fire Service and the Garda could be used, they have been used and their members have made a big contribution towards the efforts to alleviate the devastation caused in recent days.
Senator Healy Eames, with Senator Mullen, brought up the question of the student services charge. I am not in a position to decide whether this is a charge that will be increased or not. That is a decision that will be made elsewhere but the comments of both Members will be noted.
Senator Glynn spoke of how the flooding is affecting the Westmeath area, and Athlone in particular, and stressed the Taoiseach's visit. In addressing the views of many Senators this morning, it should be noted that the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, have travelled widely, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Mansergh, has visited many of the areas, but at the end of the day it is delivering the services on the ground and dealing with the situation that really matters. This is something that is being kept under review.
Senator Buttimer asked for an investigation to be held into the role of ESB with the Inniscarra dam in the Cork flooding situation. I would support such an investigation being held. I do not believe that there would not have been flooding in Cork, but the purpose of an independent investigation could be to see whether the flooding was exacerbated by the actions taken or otherwise, or whether further flooding was stopped by taking appropriate action. It is important in terms of public confidence that such an investigation happens.
Senators Feeney and Bacik brought up the question of the report into abuse of children in the Dublin diocese being released today. This will be an important report. It is not being released in its ideal form, but it is anticipated it will contain many items of public concern. The review of the programme for Government contains an agreement to implement the findings of the recent Ryan report, which runs parallel to this. This will inform that process, but the need for an immediate debate is something this House can and should address. I will see whether that can be organised.
Senator Mullen raised the existence of hardship funds for people affected by the flooding. From his part of the world, he will have first-hand experience, as some of us from the southern region have, of the devastation of the flooding. We will see how that can pan out.
Senator Cannon, who is also from that part of the world, pointed out that the flooding crisis continues. As I said in yesterday's debate, there is a recurring threat. We need the means to ensure that we can deal not only with the current crisis, but also prepare for future flooding. That will require investment in and changes to our emergency services.
Senator Donohoe asked about the banking sector, which I referred to in terms of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service, concerning the role of Anglo Irish Bank. I will have to get information on that specific question. I am not too sure whether Anglo Irish Bank, which is now a State-owned bank, is seen as having any priority over any other State agency. If I can obtain that information I will be happy to pass it on to the Senator. Senator Donohoe also requested that if there is an agreement between the trade unions and the Government on public service costs, it should be discussed in this House. As someone who has spoken on the issue of social partnership in the past, I would be happy to have such a debate in the House.
Senator Coghlan asked about Committee Stage of the Property Services (Regulation) Bill. He is correct that the Bill has been discussed in the House on Second Stage and awaits discussion on Committee Stage. Its priority has been overtaken by recent events, but as soon as a window of opportunity becomes available, we can proceed with Committee Stage of that Bill.
Senator Callely asked about plans for integrated transport, but that is dependent on decisions to be made in the budget. Nonetheless, such a debate in this House would be useful. The Senator also referred to the excessive use of antibiotics. I am not particularly good at Greek but I believe that the word "antibiotic" means "against life". Such a debate on the use of pharmaceutical products is ongoing in society at large, so it should be discussed in this House also.
Senator Glynn wants the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to address the House on the drugs issue. A request will be made for such a debate because that is a matter of concern for Members of the House.
Senator Joe O'Reilly sought a debate on overseas development aid and I have a personal sympathy with that subject. There has been a decrease in the value of our gross domestic product and we have cut €220 million from the ODA budget in recent years. It is difficult politically to decide on such issues when we are making decisions about those in need in our own society. My own preference would be to seek to maintain ODA levels in percentage terms and indicate how we will meet the 2012 target.
I think I have covered all the points that were raised and I thank Members for their contributions.
On a point of order, will there be any extra sitting days to deal with all those issues?
It is not a point of order, but the Leader will be in touch with us at a later date concerning that matter.
On 25 December.