The Order of Business is No. 1, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2009 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on the Joint Oireachtas Sub-Committee on the River Shannon Authority and the interim report on flooding on the River Shannon, November 2000, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude within three hours, on which spokespersons make speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators, for ten minutes, on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of statements for concluding comments and to take questions from spokespersons and leaders.
Order of Business.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health and Children come into the House today in order that we can discuss the serious issue of ambulances being turned away from the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. The hospital was taken off call yesterday owing to serious overcrowding in the accident and emergency department. At the time there were 23 people on trolleys awaiting treatment. I have held discussions with people working in the hospital, including senior consultants and clinicians, about the seriousness of the problem. Forty one acute beds have been taken out of the system and 35 nurses have not been replaced as a result of the recruitment embargo. I spoke to two consultants in the hospital this morning who have called for an emergency meeting with the HSE today to discuss the crisis. A representative of the INO spoke on radio about the potential risks to patients because of the serious overcrowding in the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, to where ambulances were being referred. It is also experiencing its own difficulties with the staff embargo. We are putting patients at risk. If the Government presses ahead with the misguided proposal to cut public sector pay costs through the 12 days unpaid leave, it will further put patients at risk. The INO was this morning very vocal about how worried it is with regard to how its staff will cope and care for patients under such trying conditions.
The Leader, like other Members, will have received a press release from the HSE yesterday. It was quite misleading that the HSE would claim the hospital consultants endorsed the recent addition of day beds and the reduction of acute beds, given that 13 new day beds are no substitute for acute hospital beds in Mullingar General Hospital. Some 61 operations were cancelled in the first half of this year, there is serious overcrowding due to people trying to get into accident and emergency departments and there is gridlock in the system because hundreds of patients are unable to access step-down beds.
I know the Leader shares my concern, and he and Senator Glynn recently put down a very supportive Adjournment matter concerning the serious crisis in Mullingar. The Leader should be honest and join me in offering collective political support for the people of Longford-Westmeath, so the Minister would really hear what we are saying, namely, that we cannot lose any more services in the hospital. It is the slippery slope towards the diminution of services in Mullingar.
The Senator's time is concluded.
We have already witnessed the debacle when a dermatologist was supposedly employed but was not. The sexual assault unit was transferred to Tullamore General Hospital——
We can deal with that during the debate, if it is agreed. Leaders have three minutes, so the Senator's time is up. I must apologise and move on to Senator O'Toole.
I ask the Leader to make time for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House to discuss the issue of the European Union's position in its free trade negotiations with Colombia. I have discussed this with the Minister, Deputy Martin, and believe he is concerned about it. It is heartening to know that all 12 Irish MEPs have signed a petition asking for the suspension of the free trade negotiations with Colombia. In the past two years, as has been confirmed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the number of non-judicial executions has doubled, the number of deaths attributed to the army has doubled and the number of people forcibly pushed off their lands has resulted in the highest number of refugeesper capita in the world.
While I will not go into further detail given the time constraints, I ask the Leader to consider taking a motion from the House to ask that the EU would suspend the free trade negotiations with Colombia until the UN is satisfied that proper steps are being taken to restore human rights. It is an issue the Green Party may also have raised at Government level recently.
I express to the Leader the concern of the Labour Party group at the way in which business in this House was ordered or, more accurately, disordered this week. We have had a difficult week in terms of the ordering of business. I am not suggesting all the responsibility for that lies with the Leader but there have been quite a number of piecemeal, last minute and unilateral changes to the Order of Business which have not been negotiated or agreed with the leaders of the other groups. There is, therefore, a kind of cavalier attitude to the ordering of business which does not make for good and orderly debate. This brings the House into disrepute and I ask the Leader that in future, certainly in the next two weeks and in the term following Christmas, we would have a more orderly decision-making process in regard to changing the times of business and debates. I know things happen at the last minute and, inevitably, there will be changes. However, yesterday, for example, quite a number of changes were made at the last minute to the Order of Business, which meant it was very difficult for us to ensure good debate took place on all the important matters we have to discuss. I ask for an answer on this issue.
I welcome the good and thorough debate yesterday on the report of the Murphy commission. However, there are other debates we need to have in this House flowing from the consequences of the Murphy report. One of the key issues is that we need to discuss the patronage of national schools, a matter a number of speakers raised yesterday during the debate on the Murphy commission. I mentioned in particular a speech by Bishop Donal Murray to a conference on catholic primary education in Ireland in Limerick on 22 May this year, where he acknowledged that catholic schools were simply not suitable for families that find the catholic ethos unacceptable, even though there would be areas in Ireland where families have no choice but to send their child to the local catholic school. He acknowledges a reality in that speech but it is unacceptable and unconstitutional that children are being forced to attend schools where they are receiving religious instruction in a faith against the wishes of their parent. That religious instruction is integrated throughout the school day in catholic schools.
Yesterday, Educate Together launched a manual in regard to patronage of multi-denominational schools. While many of the other patrons could learn from the very clear and transparent way in which it set out the responsibilities of patrons, we need an overall debate about patronage of schools, examining the way in which religious orders and institutions retain control, not only of schools but of hospitals. I know the Deputy Leader's colleague, Deputy Cuffe, raised a very particular point about the Archbishop of Dublin remaining as chair of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, which is a matter of real concern, as is the ongoing influence the Catholic Church has in the ethics committees of hospitals like the Mater Hospital.
Following on from the Murphy report, I welcome the news that the Minister, Deputy Martin, is to meet the papal nuncio. I hope he will express to him his great concern at the contempt with which the Vatican treated the Murphy commission. I hope he will say to him that it is simply not good enough for the Catholic Church to rely on mental reservations and diplomatic niceties to escape responsibility for the infliction of this most appalling abuse on so many of our children.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator McFadden. It is a very serious issue, as the Leader must be aware. I hope he shares Senator McFadden's concern and appreciates the desperate and deplorable situation which is crying out for urgent and immediate redress.
For the benefit of the House, will the Leader outline the remaining sitting days up to Christmas and the programme of work he envisages the House dealing with in that period?
On a local matter, I am very concerned with the changing practice of Iarnród Éireann. Greatly improved trains have been brought into service and the early morning train from Kerry is an excellent service. Unfortunately, those travelling on the service are denied access to the dining carriage unless they travel first class. This never happened before and is a most peculiar situation which I have challenged on several occasions. I appeal, through the Leader, to the Minister to issue a directive to Iarnród Éireann to right this situation. It is preventing people who have no desire to travel first class, as the carriages are quite good and there is no need to, from having a meal of any kind because they cannot enter that carriage unless they buy a first class ticket.
That is crazy.
It is wrong.
Yesterday, I raised an issue which will be dear to the Leader's heart, namely, the courage of the backbenchers in his party in raising the issues which were going on in the talks up the road. I would like his response to what I regard as a very serious remark by a leader of a public service trades union yesterday, when one of them — I believe I am not meant to mention his name — went on television and basically told Members of the Dáil and Seanad to shut up about matters of this sort.
That tells us a lot. It tells us what they think about democracy.
What he thinks about it.
If the Senator and the others want to dissociate themselves from him, let us hear them say so.
It tells us a lot because a public service trade unionist has told Members of the Oireachtas to shut up on issues of national importance and to leave it to him and the others. That is a serious matter. Yesterday Moody's carried out a new credit rating review of Ireland. It stated it was looking at the Irish budget next week with a view to downgrading our credit rating again. I hope to God it has not been watching the farce in Government Buildings. If it sees that the democratically elected politicians in this country do not matter and the Taoiseach capitulating to trade unionists' demands and these irresponsible statements, with democrats being told to keep their mouths shut on national issues, it will give the thumbs down to Ireland. It is vital the Taoiseach shows some bottle in the face of these threats and delivers the cuts that are necessary, regardless of the trade unionists. He must listen to his backbenchers instead.
I support Senator O'Toole's call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House to talk about the state of relations with Colombia, including free trade agreements. I visited Colombia seven times on a human rights mission. The Red Cross has stated the system in Colombia borders on totalitarianism We must get our relationships in order. I am not impressed by the smirking of Senators on the other side of the House.
I would love to hear a definition of "human rights".
No interrruptions, please. Senator White has the floor.
It is disrespectful because anyone who engages in the pursuit of human rights always faces problems from those who hold a different view.
I call for a debate on the inquiry in the Dublin archdiocese. Last night the discussion was guillotined and I call for it to be urgently renewed, bearing in mind the words of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern. He has stated emotion and being upset and disturbed are not enough, that the evil men who raped and assaulted children in the State must face justice meted out by the State and its people, justice which is blind to position, power or clerical rank, which knows only innocence or guilt as defined by the people and as set down by the Oireachtas in the laws of Ireland, a republic.
I also call for the papal nuncio to attend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children at which we have had many discussions on children and child abuse. I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, on demanding the immediate attendance of the papal nuncio at the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is right that the Minister is not expected to go to the papal nuncio's home in the Phoenix Park.
In reference to Senator White, I make the comment——
I was not talking about Senator Buttimer.
I appreciate that but in terms of human rights, it behoves all of us to speak up but on the definition of "human rights" is where I differ from the Senator in the case she mentioned.
That is an outrageous statement. A person is presumed innocent until found guilty. How dare the Senator? We live in a republic, a free state, not a totalitarian state.
That is why freedom of speech is available to us all.
I call for questions to the Leader. There will not be any discussion across the floor between Members.
In reference to Senator Coghlan's comments, will the Leader outline the days on which the House will sit before Christmas and the business ordered to be taken? It is important, out of respect for the House, the staff and Members, that we know where we are going.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to come before the House on Tuesday to outline in advance of the budget what he is doing on social partnership? The comments attributed to the general secretary of the INO are unhelpful. While I understand his frustration about the talks, it behoves all of us to protect the most vulnerable in society. If we are serious about tackling the injustice inflicted by the Government on the ordinary citizen, decisions must be taken that are unpalatable.
This morning Fine Gael will unveil its pre-budget submission. We will not pull punches and will act in the interests of creating sustainable communities and looking after the most vulnerable in putting people first, not vested interests. That is where we disagree with Fianna Fáil. That is why I said yesterday on the Order of Business that the Taoiseach must address the nation to outline what he was trying to achieve and how we were going to do it. He must explain to the people in plain English the realities of life that we face. Until now, he has made a monumental cock up of it.
On the utterances of certain people about what we, in the Houses of the Oireachtas, should or should not say, I want to make my position clear: anything I consider worth saying relevant to any matter of common interest to me and those I represent, I will say it. If some people do not like that, hard cheese.
From time to time we call on the Leader for debates on this, that or other topic. It is not fair when Members accuse the Leader of including frivolous items. I called for a debate yesterday on drugs. Can anyone tell me that is not an important item? I have called for a debate on the report by an Oireachtas committee on the electoral register drawn up following a meeting with our counterparts in Belfast. Everyone comes into the House after an election and gives out about the local authorities which, despite their best efforts, are not getting it right. The reason they are not getting it right is the system is wrong. It does not work, has not worked and will not work. We must get real about debates in this House. We have debates but they take the form of statements.
I have in the past and will in the future articulate my views on the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. It has not been getting a fair crack of the whip, although it is one of the top performing hospitals in the country. In a hospital not far away, a less well performing hospital, there are 100 more whole-time equivalent nurses than in Mullingar.
We are coming close to the season of goodwill and it appears that every day we hear complaints in this House about one thing or another. I am as much to blame as anyone else but there were two items in the newspapers today that appealed to me. One of them involves good news, that Ireland was regarded, in the performance ratio of the Reputation Council, a body based in New York and Holland, as being ahead of Britain, the USA and France. We came 11th, which is not as good as we would like for our reputation. We did not do well in some areas. However, this is a reminder that we should not talk ourselves into believing everything is wrong all of the time. This is one piece of good news that deserves attention.
I also wish to comment on the release of the five yachtsmen by Iran. I saw them being interviewed on television this morning following their release and they expressed great appreciation of how they had been dealt with by the Iranians. We often hear nothing but bad news about Iran. However, on this occasion the five men said they had been treated very well. I have not seen the British newspapers in the past six days, but it appears they claimed Iran was likely to hold the men as bargaining tools in its negotiations with the rest of the world. We do not often have something good to say about Iran, but when we have the occasion to do so, we should say it. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs who was involved because one of the five yachtsmen had an Irish passport will convey our appreciation to the Iranian Government and Embassy here on their release.
One of them is from my own town.
In support of the calls made by other Senators, I ask the Leader to renew his efforts to arrange a special debate or series of debates on social partnership. This might require the assistance of the Cathaoirleach in his role as a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with regard to how the House might interact with representatives of the various social partnership bodies. It is clear social partnership has a useful function and that consensus has been useful in helping to shape the economy. However, it should never be taken as a decision making body. Decisions are the responsibility of the Government and it is the responsibility of this House and the Dáil to ensure its accountability. For those participating in the social partnership process to presume it is otherwise is a negation of democracy.
I find it somewhat ironic that we have been judged by an agency such as Moody's, the rating agency which has contributed to much of the international economic uncertainty in recent times. The ultimate irony is that if such a ratings agency was concerned about the lack of democracy in this country, it would change our ratings positively if we were to subsume our economic independence and have these decisions made by a body such as the International Monetary Fund. Therefore, that lack of philosophical consistency is not something to which we should pay too much attention. However, we certainly need to define our democratic ideals and it is important to ensure we follow through properly on them. It is time for the House to have a critical engagement with and examination of the social partnership process that would benefit both the House and the country, in general.
I support the request made by Senator Buttimer that the Minister for Finance come to the House to discuss the state of social partnership and the national finances, just as Senator Boyle suggested. We must look at what is happening in Greece in its economy and take note of the phenomenal difficulty it faced very quickly. We must realise that not only are we just a couple of steps away from finding ourselves in such a difficulty, we are also a couple of comments away from finding ourselves faced by it. It is very important that the trade union leader does not clarify the comments he made yesterday, but that he retracts them and apologises for making them. He has done huge damage to his colleagues and the objective they are trying to achieve. We must remember it is not €1.3 billion the Government is trying to find in savings but €4 billion. It needs to save €4 billion this year and next year and a similar amount the following year. We do not need clarification of his comments but a retraction in the national interest.
I support colleagues who have called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House. We should broaden that debate. Two weeks ago it was announced that Ireland would chair the OSCE, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. That is a major diplomatic coup for Ireland, but it has not received the comment it should have. We should have a debate on our reputation abroad and its status. It seems there was an assumption that if we voted "Yes" to the Lisbon treaty, we would automatically default to being good Europeans and that our reputation would default to what it was before the first Lisbon treaty referendum. That is not true. We should have a plan to rebuild our reputation abroad. It is happening, but the House could benefit from a discussion on the issue.
I raise an issue that is important in the context of the current economic situation and unemployment levels. A number of major contracts will reach a conclusion shortly. Many major road contracts will be completed by the end of this month. That means we will see unemployment in this sector of the construction industry. It is important, therefore, that the Minister for Finance considers new programmes. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government could play a major role in this regard. We should now concentrate on putting major infrastructure in place in flood prone areas. That would be a good project to consider.
We should also consider how work can be created on the introduction of the carbon tax. If some €300 million or €400 million is to be raised, we should put a programme together as soon as possible to identify black spots and create work in these areas. This would help to reduce unemployment by bringing the surplus of well-trained workers in the construction industry back to work. We cannot sustain a figure of 400,000 people on the dole in the long term. This is an opportunity the Government could take to reduce unemployment levels. I raised the issue at our parliamentary party meeting yesterday, but it is important to ensure there is work available in the construction sector which plays a major role in most projects undertaken. The state of the sector gives an indication of how the country is doing and of how it will get out of the current difficulties. I urge the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue. Some 150,000 people could join the dole queues, unless we do something about it.
On the issue of social partnership and unpaid leave in lieu of pay deductions, the editorial inThe Irish Times today says it all — a Government out of touch. Having gone on for many months about the need to save €4 billion in the budget and having secured the support of the Opposition parties on the essential savings needed to bring the public finances under control, the Government has now entertained this proposal. This brings discredit, not only to the whole notion of social partnership but to the Government for its lack of leadership.
Senator O'Toole called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come into the House to speak on the issue of human rights in Colombia, the relationship between the European Union and Colombia and the new trade agreement. It would be useful if the Minister came into the House to speak about Irish foreign policy because there is an issue about human rights in Colombia and our relationship with that country.
There is also an issue about what has emerged from the Murphy report and the commission of investigation into child abuse in the context of the co-operation received from the Vatican. If there are to be further investigations in other dioceses, it is important the matter is resolved through diplomatic channels. The Minister has requested the papal nuncio to report on the matter. He should then report to the House on what happened at that meeting.
I wish to raise another human rights issue, namely, that the Minister has been refused permission to visit Gaza. This is an extraordinary affront to the Irish State. I would like to hear from the Minister for Foreign Affairs what will be his response to this insult. I know it is a sensitive subject, given the findings of the UN fact-finding mission led by Mr. Justice Richard Goldstone and his report on the Gaza conflict in which he said there was serious indications of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In that context it would be very useful if the Minister would come to the House and report in general on those matters.
I note with interest the call for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss social partnership. I do not agree with that proposal. The Minister for Finance has a lot more on his agenda that I would prefer him to concentrate on rather than coming to this House to talk about social partnership, an issue with its own momentum and which hopefully will have a successful outcome. At the appropriate time when one of the most important budgets that will ever be presented is completed, if the Minister has time to come to the House at that stage I would support such a call but not at this time.
I apply common-sense values to certain things. My concern today is the number of business houses in my constituency in the heart of the capital city and where I live which are facing severe trading difficulties. The commercial rate is causing a great problem. The setting of the rate is a reserved function of elected council members. I ask the Leader to obtain a breakdown of the politically controlled councils around the country to see how we could work with those councils to attempt to address the difficulties which some business houses are experiencing. We are all members of political bodies and if people affiliated to us are putting this pressure on business houses we might be able to use our energies to assist them in a practical way.
I refer to my good friend Senator Paschal Donohoe's comment about the OSCE. I agree with him that this is a great opportunity for Ireland to be the chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2012. Senator Donohoe said this was agreed two weeks' ago but this is not the case; it was agreed on Tuesday, 1 December in Athens. I attended that meeting along with a number of colleagues. I wish to pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The Senator's time has expired.
This is a very important appointment. Ireland has obtained the chair as a result of the esteem in which we are held in Europe.
I support the call from Senators Buttimer and Donohoe to have the Minister for Finance come to the House. I do not expect this to happen next Tuesday. I concur with Senator Boyle's comments about the need to use this House to have a debate not just on the social partnership model but also on dialogue with the social partners. I have asked for this debate over the past month or six weeks but it is now much too near next week's budget. Yesterday's comment by a union leader was particularly disappointing. I hope this was not a case of the mask slipping. If that is how some of the senior union people regard the role of politicians and the place of political decision-makers in the process of attempting to turn around the country's economic fortunes, it is exceptionally worrying. It would be very useful and the minimum we could expect is a fulsome apology by that union leader——
——today. I hope his colleagues do not think as little of democratically elected politicians, representatives of the people, as he appears to think. It is important that everybody works together. However, to have democratic views rubbished in such a demeaning fashion by somebody who, so far as I am concerned, is elected by nobody, is quite frightening indeed.
In the medium term, I formally request if the correct procedure is by means of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to put in place a mechanism for a genuine debate in this important House of the Oireachtas on economic matters, presumably post-budget, where we will be in a position to debate with employers, employees, trade union leaders, farming groups and other organisations. This House could have a very important role in that type of dialogue. Gone must be the days of decisions being taken by an elite group behind closed doors. This House is an open forum for debate and it should be used progressively in that regard.
I ask the Leader for a debate on Ireland becoming chair of the OSCE in 2012 which is a particularly important appointment. I am aware the Russians have asked the EU for a security treaty to encompass the current situation in Europe. I suggest that Dublin would be the chosen location for signing the treaty.
Helsinki has achieved for Finland — another independent state — a fine status as the place and origin of the treaty which preceded the upcoming treaty. It is quite clear that Dublin would benefit by being the location of where the treaty was signed.
I ask for a debate on the role of the media. I am aware that in life if one thinks one can do something, one is probably right and if one thinks one cannot, then one is definitely right. The media in this country have been downplaying the State, the economy and many other aspects of our lives, to their own detriment. The media depend on advertising to sell cars, houses and jobs yet they constantly go on about how bad the economy is. People in America have told me that America will come out of the recession sooner, not because its economy is in a better state, as it is not, but because Americans believe they can do it. The media in this country has a major role to play and they are not playing their role.
Senators, McFadden, Bacik, Coghlan, Buttimer and Glynn called for a debate on the health services. I refer in particular to Senator McFadden's comments on ambulance services being withdrawn from the accident and emergency department of the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, yesterday evening. A difficult situation has emerged at the hospital which is rated as being the most efficient hospital in the country and is second place in the country for hospital hygiene. I raised this matter on the Adjournment of the House last week. The Minister for Health and Children in reply said she would reward those hospitals which came up to the mark on efficiency. I call on the Minister to urge the HSE, the management team and the relevant bodies to enter into talks with the physicians, nurses and administrative staff in the hospital and endeavour to reach an agreement on the allocation of acute beds at Mullingar hospital which would be safer, fairer and would satisfy the growing needs of the wider community and the catchment area of Longford-Westmeath. This facility is second to none and we are really proud of its efficiency and expertise. Everyone in the hospital is working together. It is a shining example to the HSE and to the Government of what can be done when everyone is doing the right thing and moving in the right direction. This is a very negative signal from the HSE. As a public representative I will do everything possible to have the Minister for Health and Children come to the House on Tuesday to discuss the example which the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, has shown the rest of the country and the Government in the matters of efficiency, the quality of the service and everything that has been asked of it as a hospital. I want the Minister to come here on Tuesday to respond. I ask Senator McFadden to withdraw the amendment to the Order of Business as I will give a solemn commitment to the House that I will endeavour to do all I can and I will allow time for this issue to be discussed, not because it concerns Mullingar hospital or because we are from the catchment area of the hospital. It is because this hospital has done everything that was asked of it in recent years and has performed according to all independent analysis. This is what the future of HSE value for money and patient care should be. This is more than just about the 35 nurses, who are very important, not being at the hospital. It is about where the HSE and the Government are going with medical care services for our people. I fully support the call by Senator McFadden this morning and by Senator Glynn, who has worked all his life for medical services in the Mullingar area.
Senators O'Toole, Mary White and Regan spoke about the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the fair trade agreement with Colombia. I put it to colleagues that I will meet party leaders after the Order of Business to try to agree an all-party motion on this issue. Everyone in the House fully supports what Senator O'Toole and other colleagues stated this morning and I could not agree more with them.
Senator Bacik spoke about the ordering of the business of the House. In an ideal world it would be very easy but we depend on legislation concluding in the Dáil, particularly at the end of sessions and this is the third last week of the session. I apologise for the inconvenience being caused to colleagues but legislation is of the utmost importance. It is ordered by the Government, and as Senators know I take my instructions from the Government every week after the Government meeting on Tuesdays. The Bill being taken yesterday did not conclude in the Dáil until 2.25 p.m. and we were due to take it at 2 p.m. I apologise for any inconvenience to anyone concerned caused by postponing it until 5.30 p.m. Senators Coghlan and Buttimer asked me for an update on sitting days prior to Christmas and next Tuesday I will inform the House on all the proposed sitting days for the two weeks prior to the Christmas recess. I thank all colleagues for their understanding and co-operation at this difficult time in which our country finds itself regarding many serious challenges.
It is about communication of change.
No interruptions please. The Leader is replying on the Order of Business.
Senators Bacik and Mary White raised the issue of the patronage of national schools and the Murphy report. I understand the Murphy report will come back to the House for further comment and statements. I thank all colleagues who have contributed to the debate on this and other colleagues who did not speak yesterday will do so next week.
We all support the call of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, for a very special meeting with the papal nuncio and we wish the deliberations in that meeting well. There is a challenge to be met and I know the papal nuncio and the Minister will not be found wanting in dealing with the serious issues on the agenda for that meeting.
Senator Coghlan spoke about Iarnród Éireann serving only first class passengers on the service from Kerry. This is totally unacceptable. This route is a commercial venture by Iarnród Éireann and we all know that 80% to 90% of passengers travel economy class.
It is blatant discrimination.
It is, and we call on the Minister for Transport to use his good offices to intervene here and see that the service is available to everyone travelling by train and to encourage people to travel by train, particularly from far destinations such as the kingdom of Kerry.
I thank the Leader.
Senators Ross, Buttimer, Boyle and Callely spoke about the utterances yesterday by one of the leaders of a public service union at which we were all surprised. We wish the talks well. I know everything that can be done is being done. However, only proposals are being discussed and they must go back to the Government and the public representatives who are answerable to the people. We are discussing the people's money and correction of the public finances. Anything that interferes with dealing with the challenge facing the Government and the people is not helpful, such as the utterances made. Every one of us has a circus moment once a month and yesterday was probably this gentleman's circus moment.
He should resign.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on drugs. Yesterday, I fully agreed with him and I gave a commitment that it would happen in the first two weeks of next year. With regard to electoral registers, I intend to use Fianna Fáil Private Members' time at the next available opportunity, which will be after the Christmas recess, to discuss Senator Glynn's proposal.
Senator Quinn raised the matter of Ireland's reputation and its coming eleventh in world opinion. I welcome this good news. As Senator Quinn stated, quite an amount of good news happens all the time. Senator John Hanafin put his finger on it this morning; the media are only interested in bad news.
No, they are not.
As I stated on many occasions, if one is interested in bad news and sells bad news then one finishes up bad news. Throughout the years, many publications were intent on doing down their customers.
The Irish Press.
I am educating Senator Buttimer. If there are no customers then there are no shops and commerce will come to a standstill. The truth of the news should be told.
That is what they are doing.
However, as I have often stated, there should be a half-hour on national radio or television for good news stories and we can all listen and look forward to it every day. That might be meaningful for Cathal Goan and his friends at the national broadcaster. We have achieved an enormous amount in recent years and many good things are happening. However, we must welcome good news in the same way as bad news is made available because God knows, that is the function of the Opposition.
It is not.
The Government has a serious job——
The job of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account.
——to ensure that good news gets out.
The Leader is misleading the House.
The Leader is replying to questions on the Order of Business.
If there was room on this side of the House Senator Buttimer would have been here with us long ago.
I would never join the Government.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of Iran and I fully agree with the sentiments he expressed. Senators Boyle, O'Donohoe, Callely, Buttimer, Hanafin and Bradford called for a debate on the social partners. We can examine these proposals in early January and if we think we can make a contribution, as colleagues have already discussed with me, I will discuss them with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. We will leave it to January for discussion because the budget is the pressing matter that is occupying everyone's thoughts and nothing is more urgent.
Senators Callely, Hanafin and O'Donohoe welcomed the international conference to be held here in 2012. This is a huge opportunity for Ireland plc and for the city of Dublin. I congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Callely and everyone on the delegation for succeeding in bringing it to Dublin in 2012.
Senator Nicky McFadden proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements taken today with the Minister for Health and Children present on the fact that ambulances are being turned away from the Midlands Regional Hospital."
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- Bradford, Paul.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coghlan, Paul.
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- de Búrca, Déirdre.
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- Hanafin, John.
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