The Order of Business is No. 1, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages; No. 2, motion re credit institutions (eligible liabilities guarantee) scheme 2009; and No. 3, statements on the report by the Commission of Investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. It is proposed that No. 1 shall be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business. Spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators for five minutes each. Senators may share time, by agreement of the House. No. 2, motion re credit institutions (eligible liabilities guarantee) scheme 2009 shall be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 but not before 2 p.m. and shall conclude not later than 3 p.m. Spokespersons may speak for five minutes and Senators may share time. The Minister shall be called for concluding comments at2.50 p.m. No. 3, statements on the report by the Commission of Investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, shall be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m. There shall be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m and, if not concluded, No. 1 will be taken at the conclusion of No. 3.
Order of Business.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I call on the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to make a statement to the Seanad on the partnership talks and what is happening.
If the Minister is in a position to make a statement to the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party then he should be in a position to make a statement to Seanad Éireann as well. The Minister should be called to the House and there should be a full discussion on the matter. It has been announced there will be cuts to child benefit. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, announced there will be 6,000 fewer people working in the health services. The Tánaiste announced that she has agreed there will be more than 400,000 people on some form of unemployment benefit, out of a work force of 2 million. That is not 12%, it is 20% or one in five people who are guaranteed to be on some form of unemployment benefit next year. If there was a dumbstruck look on the faces of Mr. Jack O'Connor and Mr. David Begg when they came out of Government Buildings, it was equalled by the dumbstruck look on the vast number of people in the public and private sectors when they heard the outcome of those talks in Government Buildings.
We have always discussed the credibility of the Administration of this country but it was not helped with the fudge and with what took place yesterday. It is time the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, or the Taoiseach came to the House and made a clear statement on the exact nature of the agreement between the unions and the Government. Unbelievable harm has been done to our credibility. I am very keen to know what was said by some of the European finance Ministers to the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, when they read the outcome of the talks between the Government and the public sector unions on the wire. This is an issue of national importance and it is probably the most important issue on the minds of people. There was an acceptance by the vast majority of people within the public sector that a cut in public sector pay was coming, but the extent of that cut and how it would affect people was a matter for discussion among themselves. This fudge by the Government has thrown into disarray any possibility of sorting out the mess of the public finances. I seek a clear statement from the Minister on this issue as soon as possible.
It is interesting to note what has come to light in the past 24 hours. On top of everything we know, apparently developers are paying 20% tax on the vast gains and windfalls made through land speculation in the past seven, eight or nine years. Add to that the myriad tax breaks, capital gains tax write offs and other supports available and it is interesting to note what benchmarking was worth, that is, some 7.5%, to members of this House and various people throughout the public sector. This is small beer by comparison.
It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that no deal has been announced. Senator Twomey's remarks are quite right in the sense of the need to call for clarity but I do not understand why serious politicians are talking about a fudge. There has been no agreement and we are dealing with press leaks and no more than that. Deputy Richard Bruton was exactly right this morning when he said the deal must get the money for the Government. There is no point in working on press statements which state the deal is only worth €800 million or that it is not worth €1 billion. The talks must deliver the €1 billion plus savings they set out to achieve. That is the clear condition.
I wish people would take on board that the real prize is public sector reform. This deal must show the way, not only how to get from here to the end of next year, but how we introduce a transformation of the public sector. I appeal to the Taoiseach in this regard. I have no problem supporting what Fine Gael has called for and I believe it would be very helpful if the Minister would do what was asked. However, the Government must grasp the nettle. The transformation of the public sector will be more of a problem for Members of this House, Members of the other House and senior civil servants than for the trade unions. The trade unions will buy into it but I am unsure if there is the political courage to make it work.
I can provide chapter and verse on this matter. Year after year I negotiated a staffing schedule for primary schools but year after year I have listened to people on both sides of both Houses who have tried to break that and who have sought a special deal for their school. We have now decided there will be 15,000 fewer people in the public sector from here on. That process begins today and it means there will be a reduction in outputs and a reduction in the number of people working in the constituencies and towns of every Member. Transformation must be made to work through greater productivity, flexibility and all of that but it can be done.
Yesterday, I received telephone calls as well, mostly from disappointed public sector workers who faced another cut in their wages. However, I also heard from people who explained that wards were shut in their hospital and that this had been done supposedly to save money but that there were consultants and others standing by who were getting paid but who had nothing to do. This is the nonsense with which we must deal.
It is crucial that we must put in place change. Part of the deal must involve the establishment of an outside group, whether a commission or whatever, which will put in place, drive and make public sector transformation work. This is the best chance we have ever had to do so. The ball is at our feet. The problem will not be on the trade union side. However, there will be a problem with Secretaries General protecting their fiefdoms throughout the country. The problem will be with politicians also who are yellow livered and react to every telephone call without making a stand.
This is something we can all do together but there is no easy way to do it.
The one thing to note is this cannot be done in two weeks and I stated as much on the Order of Business yesterday. It is crazy for the Government or anyone to believe this process of transformation can be carried out, negotiated and wrapped up in a period of ten days or two weeks of negotiations. That is nonsensical and it cannot be done. The reason that everything appears so shaky this morning and that the Government does not appear to be in control of the situation is, oddly enough, because it appeared to believe it could do this within a short period. As other speakers have noted, it cannot be done. This matter is manifestly urgent and it requires appropriate arrangements to be negotiated and agreed. I do not suggest that it should take months to do so. Yesterday, Senator Donohoe stated there had been an opportunity all year for these issues to be addressed but they were not. Now they are being addressed with a gun to the head one or two weeks before the budget. It is crazy to believe it can be done in this way.
There is a sense in which people question whether the Government is in control. Senator O'Toole referred to backbenchers jumping up and down in response to various pressures. There is a great job to be done and it simply cannot be done in a few days. I have stated previously that public service reform should take place. The matter should be put up to the trade unions, which should be brought into this process and they should be part of it and this nonsense of simply stating, "Take it or leave it" is no way to achieve that.
I am surprised there has been no opportunity to hold even a short debate in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change conference next week. The Leader might say he was not asked but it seems to be such an obvious issue. We should take the opportunity, even if it is only for one or one and a half hours next week, to have statements on this crucial issue. There is hardly a more serious challenge facing humanity than the issues to be debated, considered and, I hope, agreed in Denmark next week. It is a pity there is no climate change legislation before the Houses. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government referred to doing this in the spring. That legislation should have been prepared. Deputy Liz McManus and Senator Bacik have prepared a Bill in respect of this matter, in which the Labour Party is keenly interested. Would it be possible for the Leader to make time available next week for a debate on this extremely serious issue?
We know the people have lost confidence in the Government. However, it became crystal clear overnight and early this morning that the Government had lost confidence in itself. Everyone is aware that there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle the difficulties facing the country. However, the Government has blown it and shown itself it to be out of touch with mainstream thinking in Ireland. It has also demonstrated that it is completely out of touch with how others view the country and the challenges, economic and otherwise, it faces.
I re-emphasise the points I made yesterday. First, the Government and the Houses have been discussing these issues for almost a year. Why then is a gun suddenly being placed against people's heads? Why are we suddenly discovering that the Government does not have a budgetary strategy in place to tackle the crisis which has been ongoing for at least a year? Yesterday successive speakers on the Government side stated this would be a temporary or interim measure. They are not saying that this morning. I reiterate what I said yesterday, namely, that there will be nothing temporary about the cuts in jobseeker's benefit or child benefit being proposed by the Government. I, therefore, second Deputy Twomey's amendment to the Order of Business because not only do the people deserve an opportunity to understand what is happening, it is also vital for the future of the economy that the Minister clarify the position quickly and in this House.
I congratulate the three members of Fianna Fáil — Deputies Michael Mulcahy, Mattie McGrath and Chris Andrews — who stated on "Morning Ireland" that they were sick and tired of the trade unions dictating both how the country should be run and how the budget should be framed. There is a message in this for everyone. The House is once again in the dark about what is happening and what will be contained in the budget. Certain people have been invited to Government Buildings and the Taoiseach is of the view that it is more important to tell them what is happening than it is to keep Members of the Houses informed in that regard.
I am sick and tired of people in this House paying tribute to the trade union movement, particularly at a time when the latter is bringing the country to the verge of bankruptcy. In view of the fact that next week's budget is vital, it is depressing to see the Government once again jumping to the tune called by the trade unions. Decisions relating to the budget should be made by those who are democratically elected; they should not be made by those outside the Houses who do not have a mandate in this regard. Such decisions should also not be made by those who are threatening to bring the country to its knees by calling a general public service strike. In recent days we were facing the possibility of such a strike happening.
In the face of what could well have been an empty threat on the part of the trade unions this week, the Government, in the words of Deputy Richard Bruton, bottled it. In the light of the number of leaks that have occurred, we are faced with a situation where we do not know what will be the cost of this phantom plan. It appears, however, that what is proposed will fall so far short of the €1.3 million required, the Government is rebriefing everyone and trying to get them to focus on the overall figure of €4 billion. This is because it has given up on achieving the €1.3 billion in savings to be obtained from a reduction in public service pay.
This is not an acceptable way to govern. It is time the Government listened to its backbenchers who spoke out with a certain amount of courage earlier this morning, rather than listening to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which does not have a mandate in the context of dictating what the budget should contain.
I strongly agree with Senator Twomey. I am sure almost every Member agrees with the sentiments he expressed. The Minister for Finance is a reasonable man who is always prepared to share his views with fellow politicians. If, as I understand to be the case, he is going to address members of the Fianna Fáil Party later today, I see no reason he should not address the Seanad. Even Fianna Fáil backbenchers perceive the proposal that unpaid leave among public sector workers is the answer to our woes to be complete pie in the sky. The proposal is completely unworkable and would lead to a shortfall of perhaps €600 million in the €1.3 billion savings required in the public sector pay bill. If progress is to be made in this area, there must be an element of pay cuts, in addition to the proposal relating to unpaid leave. As stated in recent days, in the overall context that figure of €1.3 billion is a mere stumble in the right direction. We have a long way to go in this regard. I hope the Leader will arrange for the Minister for Finance to come before the House in order that he might outline the position and indicate how it is intended to bridge the gap in the public finances.
The Minister for Finance is putting the final touches to the budget. One area in which we should stand firm is overseas aid. In the past year there has been a disproportionate cut of 22% in the overseas aid budget, which is having a real impact on people's lives. One thing of which we can be extremely proud is the amount of good work we do overseas in saving people's lives. The proposed cuts will have a real impact. Some of the Irish NGOs are pulling out of countries such as Angola as a result of the reductions that have been made. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, and I attended a presentation made by scout groups from east Meath and it is clear from what was said that there is a good deal of support for the concept that further cuts to the aid budget should not be made. I know many Fianna Fáil Senators share my views on this matter and, in the days before the Minister for Finance finalises the budget, I ask them to impress upon him the need to ensure no such cuts are made.
I compliment Senator Hannigan on the comments he made. It is important that we should always consider those who find themselves in even more difficult circumstances than the most vulnerable in this country. Even though it might not always be politically correct to do so, it is important that this matter should continue to be highlighted. I admire the Senator for putting himself forward in that regard.
On the negotiations taking place, there is always a danger that we will return to our bunkers and that the debate will become one of capitalism versus socialism. That is the very worst thing that could happen. On the Order of Business yesterday I praised the trade union movement and take the opportunity to do so again. In the main, it has always demonstrated maturity and responsibility. It is doing likewise during the current negotiations. One of the difficulties in the debate on this matter is that Members of these Houses and the public are not privy — nor can they be — to the sensitive negotiations taking place. We are, therefore, discussing certain matters without knowing whether they will come to pass. I hope general confrontation will be avoided. I do not regard the trade union movement's stance in this regard as threatening. Each group which has decided to organise itself and democratically select its own leaders is entitled to express its point of view. We will not find a solution to our problems if we decide to target a particular group and state what it is doing or has done is wrong. The position with regard to the Government is similar. It is endeavouring to do its best for all the people of the country. In that context, there are many competing elements which must be considered.
As I stated a number of weeks ago, each group will have to play its part. There must be partnership if we are to find a way forward. If the negotiations break down, everything will be put back into the melting pot. I would rather build on the confidence and optimism which is emerging than go back to a negative premise.
I compliment Fianna Fáil backbenchers on calling it right on the ridiculous proposal of 12 days unpaid leave. It proves some people in Fianna Fáil are still in touch with reality because 12 days unpaid leave will not deliver public sector reform but will deliver chaos on the front line. The leaders of these unions and the Ministers dealing with them are not in touch with reality. The front line workers know they will have to pay the price. Parents will be knocking on doors looking for their child's teacher and people will be missing appointments. It will not work.
I fully support Senator Twomey's call for the Minister to come to the House to address this issue before we deliver real chaos on the front line. A pay cut would be far easier for our public service workers than this ridiculous proposal. How do the union leaders and the Ministers negotiating with them expect this to be delivered without negotiating with the workers who must deliver it, without negotiating with the principals in schools who will have to work out timetables with their teachers and without negotiating with the managers in hospitals? It is unworkable.
I support our backbenchers in regard to the proposal under negotiation with the unions. It is unacceptable for us to go down that route. It is a fudge and a fudge is a fudge no matter what one does.
The Senator has changed his tune since yesterday.
The unions which have——
The Senator should ask the Leader a question.
Senator Butler, without interruption. The Senator should ask the Leader a question.
The unions were totally irresponsible in calling a one day strike which cost this country hundreds of millions of euro.
What about tax breaks for builders and developers and capital write-offs?
Some 2,200 factory workers in the midlands——
Interruptions, without Senator Butler.
I will ask those interrupting to leave the Chamber.
Some 2,200 factory workers in the midlands were unable to work that day because inspectors could not inspect meat. We should put a cost on that. Some 45,000 people are now on hospital waiting lists because of that one day strike. We should put a price on that.
The backbenchers in Fianna Fáil rightly see there is a job to be done. It is now up to the leader of Fianna Fáil and he will show leadership in this regard. I call on him not to go down the proposed route and to produce a policy for the Civil Service and the public service. Now is the time to do that and not next year or the year after. A policy must be formulated and I support the backbenchers in this regard.
The Government's position on the public sector is very like that of these people in Knock who gaze at the sun and expect to see things happen. The Government, like previous Governments, has been blinded and hypnotised by the public sector. What has happened in the past few days is that the backbenchers have begun to give this Government a reality check on what the mass of our people think about the public sector.
There have been many bromides. I have read through the debates of the past few days. Bromides and tributes were paid to the public sector unions as if they were looking after the people. The public sector unions are a vested interest like bankers and employers.
There should have been no talks about this crisis. The Government should have imposed a pay cut without consultation with the unions. The time for this kind of social partnership is over. The public sector unions have dragged this out for weeks in the teeth of public opinion and have come up with this unpaid leave nonsense.
It is disgusting that the Government bottled it in the past few days. I know that now we are being accused of misreading it or being told the leaks should not be trusted but the Government allowed the perception to go out over the past few days that this unpaid leave was a runner. It is not a runner. The public is ready for pay cuts in the public sector. Pay cuts are needed in the public sector. Get on with it.
I call Senator John Paul Phelan.
It is difficult to——
The Senator should raise his voice a bit for a start.
Senator John Paul Phelan, without interruption.
I join previous speakers in raising the issue of public sector reform. I express the view enunciated by Senator Ross about the arrangements for negotiating these deals. Cosy behind the scenes deals are a large part of what got us in this difficulty. I support Senator Twomey's amendment to the Order of Business. It is only fitting that the Minister for Finance should come to the House today to debate what is being discussed between the Government and the public sector unions, in particular. We should have that opportunity at the earliest possible time.
I wish to ask the Leader about the ordering of business. There is a rumour that tomorrow's Order of Business will be at 10 a.m. Will the Leader confirm or deny same?
That is not correct.
I refer to the ordering of business yesterday. There was an allotted time for the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill 2009 which was put back by one hour and then by a half an hour. None of the spokespersons for the parties, including Senator Ryan, who raised this on behalf of the Labour Party, was informed of any of the changes to the Order of Business which were made on the hoof. It is completely unsatisfactory that the business of the House is ordered in such a fashion. I would like to see it improved and to hear the Leader's ideas on how that might happen.
There was a time when times were detailed when the schedule was announced on a Thursday evening. Members knew when debates would take place and when they were needed in the Chamber. Members are also members of joint committees and have other commitments as Members of the Oireachtas. It would be fitting if we could get a clear layout of the Order of Business from now on.
I also listened to the news interview with the Fianna Fáil backbenchers and I was struck, in particular, by something Deputy John McGuinness said. He used an interesting metaphor when he said it was time for the brain to be connected to the backbone. It is absolutely true and is particularly true in the case of the Taoiseach. This is a time for firm, clear and decisive action which we have not had so far from Government. It is not up to me to give any details, as I am not capable of it, but that kind of leadership is lacking and I hope the Taoiseach can provide it.
In the middle of all this economic chaos, I hope we do not lose sight of vulnerable people here and abroad. In Dublin the charity Trust, which provides support for the homeless, expressed considerable concern about the harvesting of personal data about the homeless by some of the city authorities and the way in which it is exchanged. The same thing happened last year and it referred this to the Data Commissioner who expressed concern at the way this was being done. Will the Leader take this up?
I express great concern about the situation in Uganda. There has been an invasion of American evangelicals, or so-called Christians. They have been using the AIDS epidemic — last Tuesday was World AIDS Day — and are lobbying for changes in the law to reintroduce misprison of felony under which people can be convicted for not reporting the existence of so-called homosexual offences. They want to reintroduce the death penalty. A Bill has been introduced in the Parliament in Uganda and, most shamefully, it has been supported by the Anglican church, the church to which I belong, in Uganda. I call on the Government to make the strongest possible protest against this blasphemous, inhumane and unchristian act. I also want to hear strong condemnation from the Church of Ireland primate of all Ireland and the Archbishop of Dublin.
Gardaí have made significant drug seizures recently, including a large cache in Moate which I understand was destined for sale in my home county of Westmeath. These seizures bring a sharp focus on the real dangers that arise from drugs. The town and county joint policing committees are fora in which information can be passed to gardaí. The Garda, the Judiciary or the Oireachtas cannot individually break the problem of drugs without the co-operation of society. I ask the Leader and our spokesperson, Senator Ó Murchú, to arrange for a debate on drugs in the new year. The issue is worthy of a day long debate because if the drugs problem was eliminated in the morning, we probably could close half the Garda stations in the country.
I ask the Leader to outline the broad principles of the Government's budget strategy. It is clear from recent days that the Government has no idea about where it is going. Unlike the Government, David Begg gave a good and sensible analysis on last night's "Tonight with Vincent Browne". It is time that the Taoiseach addressed the nation to explain in simple English where we are and what is happening. I suggest that he should ask RTE to give him ten minutes from next Friday's "Late Late Show" so that he can make his address.
As Senator Ross noted, we are on the edge but I disagree with his contention that the actions of ordinary people are the reason for this. The bottom line is that workers are being penalised for the tax breaks given to developers and banks. The public is being forced to pay for the bad policies and transgressions of the party to which the Leader belongs.
That party has been in government for the majority of the past generation and it cannot be absolved from the policies it pursued. Now it is pitting the public and private sectors, husbands and wives or brothers and sisters, against one another. Untold tension has been caused in households by the budgetary policies of the Fianna Fáil Party. We must see leadership if we are to make progress but, sadly, we have seen nothing from the Government but contempt for this House, the Opposition and, most important, the ordinary citizen.
It is easy to run a business in good times because one can sit down with unions to discuss how to share the profits. The bankers can be ignored because they are not needed. However, running a business in tough times is different because one has to tell the unions what is to be done while persuading the bankers to have confidence. I am concerned this Government is not running the country as it would run a business. It was easy in the good times but now we are in bad times we continue to play the same game of trying to reach a pleasant deal with the unions. That is unlikely to happen because we have to make the cuts somewhere.
Today'sFinancial Times carried an article about Greece on the top two thirds of a page and one about Ireland on the remaining third. Greece has not managed to honour its words to the bankers and is now in serious danger of losing their goodwill. The result may be that the IMF will come in, as it did in Latvia, Romania and Hungary, to dictate what has to be done. We have only a few days to reach an agreement with the unions and convince our bankers. If we fail, we will no longer be in control.
I listened with interest to Senator Quinn's contribution. I have great respect for the Taoiseach's knowledge and understanding of the economy. If anybody understands the difficulties we face, it is him. Certain people are playing games in the economy. I concur with Senator Quinn regarding the pressures on companies but let us not fool ourselves about the games being played by banks in advance of NAMA. They may be able to get a rent roll of a company if it is put into liquidation now rather than being absorbed by NAMA.
Unions are also playing games. It is time we put our cards on the table. Many people are prepared to acknowledge our problems and to work towards a solution. I support the calls for a debate on this issue.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a briefing on the protection of trademarks and intellectual property for companies which run into difficulties. I understand Irish companies are not protected to the same extent as elsewhere.
Many Senators have given fine speeches on making this House more relevant and responding to people's concerns. Never was there a better moment than now for the Leader to take an initiative in making this House relevant by bringing the Minister for Finance before us to make a presentation and answer our questions on what is happening.
Irrespective of the merits of taking 12 days' unpaid leave, such a proposal cannot work in front-line services. Given these matters are being argued in the media, the question of our relevance arises.
The country is lost without clear leadership. This Government has had previous opportunities to address public service reform. That should be an ongoing process rather than shoehorned into a couple of days of high pressure negotiations. The Government should have built in reforms and flexibility over time. It is a failure of the Government that that did not happen. I call for a debate to deal with these issues. Senator Buttimer is correct when he says it is wrong for splits to develop in our society between the private and public sectors. We should hold that debate to get over this problem which has been caused by an absence of leadership. We should suspend normal business to hold the debate immediately after the Order of Business today.
On the Order of Business yesterday I asked the Leader when the Multi-Unit Developments Bill would be brought back to the House. He indicated that he would respond this morning. Will he give us an update on the matter?
We discussed the Mental Health (Involuntary Procedures) (Amendment) Bill yesterday evening. In his response the Minister of State indicated he would undertake and announce a mental health review in February or March. Our debate last night was confined to the amendment referring to ECT. Given that a mental health review will be much broader in scope, will the Leader arrange a wide-ranging debate on mental health issues, including implementation of A Vision for Change, before February to inform the Minister of State's view in order that he can take account of the expertise and suggestions offered by Members?
I was struck by comments made this morning about contempt for this House. Most contempt for the House was expressed when a party leader proposed that it be abolished.
Will the Leader hold a debate as soon as agreement is reached with the social partners? I am conscious that in the good times we unfortunately forget the bad times and that in the bad times we forget the good times. That is never more apparent than when we compare our current situation with that in April 2008.
We find ourselves in a much better position than we were in last year when we were on the precipice. The Government did everything it could and succeeded in bringing us back from the precipice and ensuring the stability of the banking system. That has preserved employment and the economy. If we are in a position to reach a deal with the social partners and if it offers a workable solution, as the Taoiseach says, we should welcome it. One pays a price for social harmony. In the good times we can all benefit again. In the past 20 years we have had many good times and have faced up to our difficulties with broad shoulders and done so correctly.
I draw the Leader's attention to the pressure on businesses. As we enter the middle of the Christmas retail season, it is very striking how many shop units in city centre areas are closed. One need only walk two streets from here, towards Grafton Street, to see the number of units that are closed or to let. This indicates that businesses are closing. I suspect many more are just holding on until the Christmas season is over. I call on the Leader to put as much pressure as possible on Government or ask it to at least review the VAT rates to assist retailers to get their businesses going again. They are hanging on, as is evident in Waterford, from where I come. I am sure the position is the same in Cork, Limerick and Galway. This is a very important matter. In the middle of the Christmas shopping season retail businesses are under great pressure. We have criticised people who might have gone shopping in the North in the past few weeks but we can do something about it by reviewing the VAT rates which would help retailers.
On No. 1, I propose that we take it as far as Committee Stage today. Some colleagues wish to take Report Stage next week. With agreement of the House, it is, therefore, proposed that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage shall be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, on which spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators for five minutes, and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with Committee Stage to be taken at the conclusion of Second Stage.
Is the Leader proposing to take Second and Committee Stages today?
Yes, we will go as far as Committee Stage today and take Report Stage next week, by agreement of the House.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Alex White, Donohoe, Ross, Coghlan, Ó Murchú, Healy Eames, Butler, Harris, John Paul Phelan, Norris, Buttimer, Quinn, Callely, Glynn, O'Reilly and Hanafin all gave the House the benefit of their views on the challenge facing the Government in the budget to be announced next Wednesday. This is the greatest single challenge facing the country and the Government. We are all hoping and praying it will be the start of the revival of the economy. It is extremely important that the Government makes the right decisions in the face of this challenge. That is the message I am getting from all sides of the House. I have every confidence that the difficulties being experienced and the negotiations with the social partners indicate that the people expect change in the public service and that public servants expect this very necessary change. Pay cuts are urgently needed. Like all my colleagues, I hope these take place in the budget next Wednesday.
In response to Senator Alex White's call for an urgent debate on climate change, I will endeavour to hold it on Wednesday morning or late on Tuesday evening. I fully share the Senator's sentiments about the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government being given the opportunity to convey the views of this House at the conference in Copenhagen.
Senators Hannigan and Ó Murchú expressed their serious concern about the need for the Government to hold funding for overseas aid at its current level. I will pass on their strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
In response to Senator John Paul Phelan, we had to change the Order of Business yesterday, by agreement with party spokespersons who were in the House for the debate on the preceding Bill. I apologise to colleagues for the inconvenience this caused in respect of the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill. The Minister's office was contacted and the Minister was in agreement. I apologise to the spokespersons who were handling the Bill on behalf of various parties. I will endeavour to put a procedure in place to ensure this does not happen again. My secretariat will contact spokespersons' offices when we endeavour to continue a debate for an extra half an hour or so to conclude a Bill, as ordered and agreed in the House.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the protection of trademarks and tradenames and intellectual property. I will have no difficulty in agreeing to such a debate. I understand this is one of the countries which is most up to date in protecting intellectual property rights but something urgent needs to be done to protect trademarks and tradenames.
I will pass on Senator Norris's strong views and concerns about the invasion of Uganda to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Glynn called for an urgent debate on drug abuse and misuse and the drugs scourge, particularly in the town of Moate which we all know so well. We were all surprised that this was happening at such a level and by the news we received last week of its horrific outcome. I concur with the Senator on the good work being done by the joint policing committees.
Senator Corrigan asked about the Multi-Unit Development Bill 2009. This Bill completed Second Stage in the House before the summer recess. Since the Bill's publication, a considerable number of submissions have been received from stakeholders. Important issues were also raised during the Seanad debate such as the scope of the Bill and whether mixed use developments and traditional housing estates should be included in it, voting rights and dispute resolution mechanisms. Another major feature of the submission received is in the commitments made on the planning process and building control standards, which are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The completion of the developments in compliance with planning conditions and building control standards is a major issue.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has held consultations with the relevant stakeholders. Discussions with other Departments, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel are now taking place with a view to preparing and drafting the Committee Stage amendments. This is the up-to-date position on the Bill——
On a point of order, that is the same answer that was given to us over a month ago. We need to see action. People are paying excess fees as a result of unregulated management companies, and we need the Bill back in this House quickly.
That is the up-to-date position. It is a complex Bill, with which I am sure the Senator agrees.
Senator Corrigan also called for a debate on the document A Vision for Change on mental health at the earliest possible time after the Christmas recess. We can have that debate in the first two weeks after we return.
Senator Coffey outlined to the House the serious pressure that is on the retail trade. It is shocking to see the changes that have taken place in the last 12 months where some retail businesses are down trade by as much as 50%. I fully agree with the sentiments being expressed by the Senator. All councils in Ireland have a serious challenge on rates. There are serious costs to be borne in larger towns and cities, as these businesses are the only groups paying rates to keep the machines of local authorities moving. On the island of Ireland, we should shop local, buy local and support local, otherwise there could be a serious change in the retail sector after Christmas. We do not want to see that happening, especially with small family businesses that have been providing employment for generations. I call on the public to support everything local this Christmas more now than ever before, because they are really needed.
Will the Leader confirm that discussions on the Murphy report will continue on a further day if they are not completed within the allocated time?
We will have at least one more day of debate on the report, if that is possible.
Will the Leader clarify the speaking times for Second Stage of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2009?
Spokespersons may speak for seven minutes and all other Senators may speak for five minutes.
Senator Twomey has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements with the Minister for Finance on the partnership talks be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- 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.
- Harris, Eoghan.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- 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.
Will the Leader clarify the speaking times for No. 3?
There will be 15 minutes for spokespersons and ten minutes for all other Senators.