The Order of Business is No. 1, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, earlier signature motion on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2009, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3; and No. 5, earlier signature motion on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill 2009, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 4. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
I welcome the Bishop of Kerry dissociating himself from the remarks made by the parish priest. In view of the isolation felt by the victim of the sexual assault, I welcome that statement. I reiterate my call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to examine what happened in the courthouse and the recent report of the Rape Crisis Network on the isolation of victims in sexual assault cases. Lessons have still to be learned and work remains to be done in this area.
This is the last sitting of the House in 2009 and what a year it has been. The faith, trust and confidence of the people in key institutions — the banks, the church and the political system — have been shattered. The year began with the banks being bailed out at a cost of billions of euros and it is closing with the cruellest budget which will take money from the most vulnerable. Approximately €8 a week will be taken from carers and the blind, while child benefit will be slashed.
It has been a year of huge contrasts and in the year ahead people will look for reform of our institutions. They will want to be inspired this is happening because they have lost faith, particularly those on the dole who face a bleak new year. The challenge for us, as politicians, is to foster reform of our institutions in the year head in order that people will have faith in politics again. That means reform in how we do our business, how we deal with expenses, the number of sitting days and accountability. The Government parties must treat the Houses of the Oireachtas with respect and introduce appropriate legislation in a quick and timely manner. We must have discussion on the issues of the day in a timely manner. The cutting of allowances will be a bitter pill to swallow when the people see €6 billion or more going to Anglo Irish Bank, which is a reflection on the Government's policy.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his work this year. I also thank the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant and all the staff in the Seanad, the Captain of the Guard, the Superintendent and the ushers who facilitate us in doing our work. In particular, I thank Mr. Jimmy Walsh ofThe Irish Times who reports on the work of the House. I would also like to remember the families of the late Senators Tony Kett and Peter Callanan. I wish all Senators a happy Christmas and new year.
This is one of the few days in the year on which we do not call for an urgent debate on a particular topic. I remind Members, in the context of the criticism we have heard in the past year which may weaken our resolve, of what we can achieve in the House. We are listened to and have the power to influence issues. Yesterday a number of Members related a coherent expression of concern about the failure to open a road until after Christmas and the Minister listened. The road will open on Monday. During the year a number of Members expressed concern about the funding of Protestant schools. The Minister for Education and Science said yesterday he would reconsider the issue and thinks he will find a solution. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism addressed my concerns and those of Senator Ross about the number of restaurants that did not open on a Sunday because staff had to be paid double time. The Minister said yesterday that matter would have to be reconsidered. This is a reminder that we have power and can influence issues and that we do not only pass legislation. We can do things that are not always recognised. An issue was also raised yesterday about the leaving certificate applied and I hope the Minister for Education and Science will be influenced to do something about it shortly.
I was concerned about the comments of two union leaders in the past few weeks. One union leader said we should shut up, while another said yesterday it was the unions' policy to try to take out the Government. That is not democracy. Arthur Scargill made the same comments 20 years ago and decided to get involved in politics. However, he destroyed the coal industry.
In this season of goodwill, I express my appreciation to the Cathaoirleach, the staff of the House, the ushers, the Captain of the Guard and all those who supported us during the year and thank them for their support. This is the 100th day on which we have met this year. I am not sure if this figure has been achieved previously, but it is a reminder that we have responsibility. I thank those who have helped us in the past year.
We should use the next few weeks to revitalise ourselves to come back with enthusiasm and, more than anything else, confidence. If there is anything lacking in the country in the past year, it is confidence in ourselves. I am reminded of the quote: "Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can't, you're right". There is a danger that we are beginning to believe we cannot. Let us get back to saying, "Yes we can," like Barack Obama. Let us make sure the next 12 months can prove that we can.
I very much hope we can, but it is not clear that we can. The coming year will tell a story. We have come to the end of a long and difficult year for many, although it was not as difficult for those of us who are privileged to have jobs and an opportunity to express our views in this Chamber and have them reported. We should remind ourselves from time to time that we live in a cocoon in the context of the struggles faced by many coming up to Christmas and the new year. We must be realistic about what we do in the House because we are dealing with people's lives.
We have debated the budget in the past few weeks and the debate is over, apart from one measure to be taken this afternoon and the finance Bill in the new year. I concede that there was no choice but to take action. However, there were choices about what action could be taken and the wrong ones were made by the Government. GDP and GNP statistics were published earlier. There is minor hope in GDP increasing by 0.3%, but most accept GNP is the more reliable measure of our prosperity and, unfortunately, it has reduced by 1.4%. We are still in a serious and protracted recession. The Tánaiste and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment referred to the Government's strident economic and industrial policy. I cannot measure whether it is strident because I have difficulty identifying what is it. Perhaps in the new year we could usefully take the opportunity to dedicate ourselves to scrutinising in much more detail the policy proposals made. The Labour Party has brought forward policy proposals on jobs and economic recovery. I invite my colleagues to see if we can find a way of laying out those policies and having them scrutinised, examined and critiqued by colleagues on the opposite side of the House so that we can ensure job creation and the recovery of the economy are the central political preoccupations of the House in the new year.
Senator Fitzgerald is right to raise the issue of reforming how we do business in the House. We are blue in the face from raising it. This House has a very rigid set of procedures for debate. We do not really have open and free debate. Yesterday, we had Second Stage of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill. Much depends on when one gets to speak. If one speaks after someone one disagrees with, agrees with or wants to nuance, one has an opportunity to react to that person. The debate lasts two or three hours and it is very difficult to get to the heart of the issues in many debates.
Yesterday, the Taoiseach appeared not to know about any proposals on Seanad reform being brought forward. He indicated he would have to check it out. I thought the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was bringing a memo to Cabinet prior to Christmas. That is what he stated he would do. Will the Leader confirm whether this has occurred?
I join my colleagues in wishing a very happy Christmas to the Cathaoirleach, the Leader, my fellow party leaders and colleagues in the Seanad, the Clerk, the assistant clerks, the Captain and all of the staff who make our lives so much easier and the operation of our business more efficient. They are pleasant to deal with day to day. I also wish everybody an inspirational or an inspired new year.
On the final matter raised by Senator Alex White, the memo has not been brought to Cabinet yet. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government did not attend the most recent Cabinet meeting; he is otherwise engaged in Copenhagen. I will make him aware of the Senator's concerns.
The year 2009 has been very significant. As pointed out by previous speakers, the House sat more days and longer in those days and dealt with more legislation than it had previously. It is very important that during a time when our very purpose has been questioned by significant people in the political system we can say we have made achievements and that the House is a valuable part of our constitutional make-up. It is necessary, especially as we come to 2010 and the uncertainties that lie ahead of us, that we have that strength of purpose and confidence to which other speakers referred.
We are beginning to see chinks of light at the end of the economic tunnel we have been in. We do not know how long that tunnel is or when we will eventually reach that light but there are turning points and collective action in our political system will bring us to where we need to be. God knows we have had to make very difficult decisions and we are living with the political consequences of them, but as a Government representative I believe them to be the right decisions and we will see how effective they are in the long term.
I join in the wishes expressed by the Leader of the Opposition. I thank the Cathaoirleach, most of all for his forbearance. My contributions seem to be a magnet for some Members.
I think you enjoy it.
I thank the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant, all members of the Seanad Office, the Captain of the Guard and all Members for what has been a very interesting year which will set us up for a more fascinating 2010.
As Senator Quinn mentioned, yesterday we discussed the proposed delay in the opening of the new section of the M9 between Carlow and Kilcullen that will bypass Castledermot. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Transport has withdrawn his objections to it. He has decided not to interfere in the workings of the NRA and the road will open on Monday.
I hope in the new session we will have a general debate on justice matters. This side of the House has sought such a debate throughout this term but we have failed to get the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss the questions I and several other Members have asked to be discussed, such as conditions in prisons and overcrowding and that fear of the law and the Garda Síochána seems to be gone. There are quite a number of other pressing justice matters.
I join in wishing the Cathaoirleach, the staff, the Leader, the Fianna Fáil Whip and all Members of the House a very happy Christmas. I hope we come back renewed with plenty of spirit. Some of us do not need more spirit but we will do the best we can to keep the show on the road and keep the Government accountable, as is our job.
Like other Members, I wish the very best to the Cathaoirleach, the staff of the House, the Clerk, the Clerk's assistants, the ushers, the Captain and the Superintendent. Having got the niceties out of the way, one thing was made very clear yesterday. As Senator Quinn mentioned, it appears our economy may at last have bottomed out and started to improve. If that is the case, we will have to examine how our resources will be spent in continuing the upturn that we hope commenced yesterday. This House will have to keep an eye on such matters in the new year.
We have raised a number of issues in recent months that have not been dealt with. I know that in the new year the Leader will ensure we have a full debate on the flooding problems in which everybody will have time to make a contribution. Sometimes the seven or eight minute slots are too short for people to make their contribution. This can be worked out between the Whips and party leaders.
I particularly wish Senator Buttimer a happy Christmas. He has been very useful as an electrode for many of us. If we go off line he will throw in a barb that will bring us to real life. While he might not think it, we all appreciate it because it brings banter and good humour. I know the Cathaoirleach has problems with it at times but we have to accept it.
Do not encourage him.
I look forward to the Senator's vote at the next election.
Do not give anyone a swelled head.
I call for a debate in the new year on issues arising from the Listowel rape case and I add my voice to those expressing criticism and disgust at the behaviour of those who lined up outside the courtroom to shake hands with the perpetrator of the rape. We must all condemn the parish priest concerned, Father Seán Sheehy, who provided a character reference in most inappropriate terms for the perpetrator. As Senator Fitzgerald stated, the case raises serious issues about the conduct of persons in the courtroom and the Courts Service has to respond. There is disagreement on who is responsible for a convicted offender who is in custody. Questions need to be answered on this.
Unfortunately, 2009 has been a year of horrendous revelations about the incidence of sex abuse in Ireland. In that context I welcome yesterday's resignation of Bishop Donal Murray. It was important that he resigned given the findings of the Murphy report that his behaviour was inexcusable. The further conviction of Father Naughton this week on sex abuse charges reminds us that the inaction of those in authority in the church enabled abusers to continue to abuse in many locations over many years. Further resignations are important to ensure accountability for the inaction of those in authority in the church. It appears the Catholic Church has learned very little in respect of siding with the powerful against the victims of sex abuse and rape. I again call for a debate on the wider issue of the position of the Catholic Church and other churches in Irish society, and the need to look at our education system and remove church control from our national schools in particular.
I would like a debate in the new year on an aspect of the budget that is causing immense concern in disadvantaged communities, which is the closure of the community development projects, 30 of which have been deemed non-viable. In the season of goodwill, we need to think about the effect those closures are likely to have on the most disadvantaged communities. Coming from an institution that has been declared as non-viable by certain people, we might have some sympathy for those community groups.
I echo Senator Bacik's comments on the rape issue. I sometimes wonder if it is just women who raise it. It is very important that men raise it as well. There has been much more male involvement in the Rape Crisis Network. Rape is a heinous crime and we must recognise that.
Senator Quinn made some valuable comments on leadership. I do not know if this is possible, but I suggest that the Taoiseach come before the House in the new year for a state of the nation debate, because it is very important that we start the new year in a very positive vein.
I compliment Members on both sides of the House during yesterday's debate on forestry. We outlined a new strategy which could lead to 10,000 new jobs and which represents a positive, indigenous way forward.
Senator White spoke about Seanad reform and it is crucial that we look at this in the new year. I strongly disagree with the leader of the Opposition in the Lower House in respect of the abolition of the Seanad. In my first week, I have seen amazing contributions from people. The standard of debate here is enormously high and I wonder if it would be appropriate to get the leader of the Opposition in here to outline his views in the new year. It is important that he justify his comments.
He will be in here soon as Taoiseach.
This House can play a very valuable role in the leadership required to bring this country out of recession. That is why I am here, and I am sure it is why every Senator is here. Every Senator from both sides of the House can play that role.
I thank the Leader of the House for his input in listening to Senators yesterday who called for the opening of the M9. I am glad that people are listening. The Minister for Transport obviously listened to the strong voices on that issue yesterday. The opening of the motorway is now going ahead on Monday. There has been confusion about the situation, which is a pity, but maybe we can learn lessons from it. It is opening for the overall good, and I urge the Leader and everybody here that we keep road safety at the top of our priorities in the Christmas period. It is something that we always need to talk about, and I welcome the opening of the M9 on Monday. It will contribute to road safety for those travelling from the south east to Dublin and back.
Christmas provides an opportunity for all of us to take stock, and 2009 has been a particularly difficult year. We need to take stock of leadership and review our personal, political and professional roles, and this time of year also provides an opportunity for the Government to review its role. The Minister for Finance recently said that we have turned the corner. I hope we have done so, but the evidence to date is that unfortunately, we have not turned the corner. I listened to what Senator Quinn said, and we do need to be hopeful and confident as we turn into 2010, because it is a very important year for us. I suggest that jobs and hope are the themes for January 2010. We should inject a bit of confidence in our debates and in the messages we are sending out to the wider community. There is a role for the Seanad and for the Leader in how he runs this House. He can make it more relevant and allow the views of Senators to be heard on the Executive policy the Government implements on behalf of the people.
Leadership extends beyond this. The unions need to take stock of what they have been saying quite recently. It is more important than ever that we have strong leadership, because we have been devoid of that over the past few years. When we look at the church, the banking sector and the Government, we find that leadership has been missing. My hope for the new year is that we see that leadership.
I take the opportunity, a Chathaoirligh, to wish you and your family well for Christmas, as well as the Clerk, staff and all Senators.
I take the opportunity, a Chathaoirligh, to wish you and your office a happy Christmas, as well as the secretariat, the staff of Leinster House and my colleagues. This is a time of hope and it regenerates us at a difficult time of the year when winter sets in and we think of things higher and greater than the cold and the dark nights.
All this reminds us that there is a symbolism to Christmas. This year, the European Court of Justice has taken a decision on the public display of religion. Whether it is a minaret in Switzerland or whatever, I have no objection. I cannot understand how people could object to a symbol of a God of love. We will have to debate this in the new year to let the European Court of Justice clearly see that the vast majority of the people in this country, as in Italy, would prefer to see the status quo where people are allowed to express themselves in whatever format they wish when expressing respect for a God of love.
In light of the fact that the banking crisis which could have brought down the economy was dealt with this year, and that the public finances have been put in an order that will see us through to 2015, the wisdom of this House should be used next year to look at the future. We should set aside time to see how jobs could be created. This has already started in the House with proposals brought forward on energy and export security. Other ideas might come from the House to ensure the final stage of our recovery, namely, job creation, begins in 2010.
In welcoming the comments of Senator Ellis, I ask the Leader to bring the Taoiseach before the House in the new year. As we adjourn today, I disagree fundamentally with Senator Quinn. People have no confidence. They have no hope. The one thing they are sure about is that they want a change of Government. That is on the way. Fianna Fáil had a great slogan in the 1980s which claimed "there is a better way". There is a better way and a fairer way. The Taoiseach should come before the House to explain his role in getting us to where we are today.
This Christmas is very similar to the one we had 2,000 years ago. People have no money, no jobs, and homes are being repossessed. That is the legacy for 2009 that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have left the people. They have left us impoverished and lacking hope. We have put forward different views on this side. I would love to have Deputy Kenny in here, because he would provide a breath of fresh air that we have not seen from the Cabinet in the last two years. Senator Ó Brolcháin might then come over here and join Senator Cannon, who had the vision to do that.
Questions to the Leader, please.
He is a very welcome addition to us. I ask the Leader to bring in the Taoiseach and to call him to account for the role he and his party played in getting the people into a situation where they have less money, fewer jobs and no hope.
Senator Quinn provided the quote: "Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can't, you're right". I believe that came from the Oval Office. Doom and gloom is a bit like a rocking chair. It keeps one going but gets one nowhere. We have to fight for success and the future is one of opportunity. Senator Quinn is right to say we have to go about that opportunity with a confidence about us. I hope all Senators will approach 2010 in that way.
When I raised the issue of homelessness previously, I indicated that I had received confirmation that there was a sufficient number of beds and that there was, therefore, no need for the homeless to sleep on the streets. I am pleased the national media in recent days have confirmed that is the position.
Another issue arises with regard to people having a home. There is a large vacuum and void for vulnerable single people. I ask the Leader to ensure the House will have a focused debate on the supports, systems and places available for vulnerable single people.
I congratulate my colleague, Senator Mary White, on the work she has done on the issue of suicide. We should have a debate on the alarming increase in the incidence of suicide. Will the Leader arrange a specific debate on the modus operandi of banks? I have heard of many individuals who took the tragic step of committing suicide as a result of the modus operandi of banks. In the good times the banks divvied up money and everyone was happy to become involved in partnership. They have now changed their position and want everything they provided returned in full. They are not prepared to consider the current circumstances. This matter must be examined properly.
My colleague, Senator MacSharry, has proposals we should consider. I will read a letter from a bank.
No, the Senator's time has concluded. My hands are tied.
It is highly amusing.
The Senator may read the letter on another day.
It reads: "Please contact us——
I ask the Senator to respect the Chair and resume his seat. He spoke for almost three minutes.
While it is a hopeful sign that GDP increased by 0.3% in the third quarter, the real measure of national wealth and our standard of living is GNP which has declined by 1.4%. There is no question that we are not yet out of the woods.
When we discuss the state of the public finances and the economy which is expected to contract by 7.5% this year, we must consider that throughout the year directors of companies involved in the various property disasters, bankers and bishops have been forced to resign. These individuals are taking responsibility for their actions or failure to act and otherwise. When will Ministers accept responsibility for the mess that has been created in the economy? When will we have resignations?
I raised an issue related to the National Asset Management Agency in yesterday's debate on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill. The Minister for Finance stated in November that protracted debate by the Opposition would delay the introduction of NAMA. His political jibe was an attempt to accuse the Opposition of causing a delay in the legislation. The establishment of the National Asset Management Agency was first mooted in April and there was no movement for some time afterwards. The legislation was passed in the House rapidly. Yesterday I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, when the scheme would be notified to the European Commission. As the Minister for Finance acknowledged last November, the Commission must approve the scheme. I received a vague answer from the Minister of State that there was no formal notification and that it would not correspond with the business plan. What is the reason for the delay in notifying the scheme to the European Commission?
I ask Senator Regan to conclude. Senators are not respecting the rules of the House.
On the Minister's admission, the scheme cannot take effect until it is approved. The delay is down to the Minister and the Government. I ask the Leader to explain.
I concur with Senator Ó Brolcháin that Members on both sides are talented and come to the House with their own expertise and professionalism. This has been obvious to me in my time in the House. My expertise and experience have been gained in the business sector. I started a company during the horrendous recession of the 1980s and was able to observe the physical, emotional and social transformation in the unemployed persons to whom I gave employment.
The economy will only recover if we focus on export oriented businesses which have the potential to generate revenue from abroad. I have raised this matter a number of times. Unless we sell goods and services to people from abroad who want to buy our products and unless tourists visit the country, we will not have revenue. I ask for a full blooded discussion with the Tánaiste who should spell out how she intends to develop and support the enterprise economy.
While Ireland's export figures appear to be good, most of the success is attributable to the multinational sector which exports worldwide. Indigenous companies mainly export to the United Kingdom and must, therefore, try to cope with the collapse in the value of sterling. The Government must support indigenous companies run by Irishmen and women who produce food and other goods and services in the fields of information technology, finance and so forth. These companies must be on the Government's radar and it must not do anything to impede their growth, as has frequently been the case. As Senator Hanafin stated, unless the economy is based on export driven businesses and tourism, we will not survive because it will be otherwise unsustainable. If anybody believes there is light at the end of the tunnel, he or she is dreaming. We must have evidence that the enterprise sector is being supported.
On the sexual assault case in my county which has featured prominently in news reports, I commend the Bishop of Kerry, Bill Murphy, on his fine statement and action. In fairness to him, he is not only a shepherd of his flock but a good servant of his people. It is fashionable to bash priests and bishops, but the Bishop of Kerry has been an outstanding servant to the people of the area. It should be noted that the priest who provided a character reference is not the parish priest of Castlegregory who is, unfortunately, ill but a retired priest who is relieving the parish priest.
I understand there is a difference of opinion between the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service. The latter is responsible for people in custody who are brought before the courts. Whatever took place in the courthouse in County Kerry this week, it clearly did not occur while the court was in session, as no judge would tolerate such behaviour in his or her court. The Irish Prison Service has stated a protocol is not in place or that it is not responsible for the protocols or conduct of people in a courthouse. The matter must be clarified.
On the issue of looking for heads and the fashion of bashing the church, we have come through a bad period and no one condones any of the wrongs done. It is at least equally important that we get the heads of some of the people in positions of major responsibility in our banks. They do not deserve to be there. I look forward to the debates that have been called for. I concur with, and wish to be associated with, the remarks directed to the Cathaoirleach, the staff and everyone who looks after us so well.
In many respects, 2009 can be considered anannus horribilis. I referred to the devastating floods and the report on child abuse. I support colleagues who condemned the rape of that lady in Kerry. It was an outrageous act. I thought I would never see the day when someone who has committed a crime of that nature is defended by a cleric. It is so wrong.
I commend the bishop on the stance he took, which showed badly needed leadership.
We have had a tough time in the economy in 2009 in many respects. I do not like a development I referred to on 9 December, namely, that some people are demonising the public service.
Senator Glynn's Minister, the Government and the Bill we are discussing today are doing that.
People will be heading home early if they keep this up.
Will the Cathaoirleach get building bricks for that gentleman? The best of people are in the public service——
——and what is being said by leaders in the private sector and some commentators in this House is not healthy for the economy.
Senator Glynn should vote against the Bill.
I ask Senator Buttimer to refrain from interrupting.
Senator Buttimer can have this envelope if it keeps him quiet. Senators have requested debates on many occasions and I would have been among those. I wish to add a request for a debate on the Irish language. It has been some time since we had one.
I am very unhappy at the manner in which the HSE treats the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar. It is outrageous and wrong. Yesterday I requested that the Minister for Health and Children and Professor Drumm come to Mullingar. Both have agreed to come early in the new year and it is time the Minister for Health and Children was made aware of what is not happening, that should be happening, in Mullingar. It is going to stop.
It is Senator Glynn's Government.
I extend my Christmas wishes to everyone in the House and to everyone who helps the House run so well. I agree with what Senator Mary White said. Before we get to a smart economy, we must have a cheap economy. We need relentless focus from the Government on making this happen. We have not seen this action to date and it will be desperately needed in the new year.
I add my voice to colleagues registering horror and disgust at the events that took place in the courthouse in Kerry and the subsequent statements made about the matter. I thought this year could not get any worse with regard to events of this kind but I was proven wrong.
Many colleagues referred to the role of the Seanad and the role of Parliament next year. We have two great opportunities next year. The passage of the Lisbon treaty confers new powers and capabilities on the Houses of the Oireachtas that they have not had up to this point. Powers have been extended to the Parliament as opposed to just the Government. We could well use time next year to understand what these powers are and how this House, in particular, can make use of them.
The hiatus in social partnership provides an opportunity for Parliament and Government to step in and deal with many of the issues it should have dealt with in the first place. At the beginning of this year we heard many calls for a national Government. I repeat that it is not national Government we need, it is rational Government. By strengthening the role of Parliament in some of the ways suggested, this House can make a major contribution to that.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Senators Boyle, Ó Brolcháin and Donohoe with regard to the Seanad. The Seanad has upped its game significantly in respect of the serious challenges the country faces. In general, the standard of debate, the quality of the suggestions and the constructiveness is quite good although there are exceptions. Given what we will face in 2010 it is important that we try to raise it by another notch or two.
I do not really wish to comment on the court case in Kerry because I do not know a lot about the ins and outs of it, not having heard the evidence. I read what was reported in the newspaper and I heard the brother of the accused on the radio, which put a different perspective on it.
There is a conviction; that is the only perspective on it.
I understand the case is under appeal. What has been underlined is a significant issue with regard to the rights of victims. I compliment the consistency of Senator Cummins in debates on justice legislation and statements on justice in this House. We could examine in the new year the need to rebalance the system so that the rights of victims are much more in focus than they are at present in the judicial system. That also means ensuring we avoid miscarriages of justice for those accused of certain crimes.
I join those who wish compliments of the season to the Cathaoirleach, the staff, other people working in the House and Members. Christmas is indeed a wonderful family time. Families throughout the country will celebrate the birth of Jesus with their children. This is an opportune day to call for a full and comprehensive debate on the right to life in the new year. We should deal with a number of recent Supreme Court cases regarding embryos. We may have different views on this but this is the House to debate it.
I wish my colleagues, both political and administrative, a very happy and peaceful Christmas. This country has a national attention deficit disorder in that we tend to flit from one issue to another depending on what is the news of the day. Once an issue disappears from the front pages of the broadsheet newspapers and the nine o'clock news, we tend to move onto the next big thing. This day week, as we sit down to Christmas lunch or dinner, depending on what part of the country one comes from, we should pause to reflect on the many families who will not be in their homes this Christmas because their homes are still flooded and uninhabitable. People will be staying in hotels or staying with friends and will try their best to celebrate what will be a traumatic Christmas.
Early in the new year we must focus on the issue of flooding, both in solving the problem and ensuring it will not happen again but also putting in place a comprehensive compensation scheme that is not yet available to the vast majority of people.
I refer in particular to home owners and business owners who been unable to secure flooding insurance because of past flooding incidents. That issue has not been addressed in the Government response. I spoke to a businessman last night, to whom I had spoken on numerous occasions over the previous weeks, who is extremely distraught at the fact that his business is on its last legs. He believes he and many others will go out of business in January and February. We must address this issue forcefully in the new year.
I support Senator Mary White in the majority of what she said. She has experience of beginning a successful business. Members tend to exist in a cocoon in the House and it is important that we maintain close contact with business people in small businesses throughout the country to gauge how well business is doing.
The Senator made a reference to tourism. The Government's only response to the tourism crisis in the past year has been to charge €10 extra to visit Ireland. It is an appalling and backwards move. Despite the advice of its own tourism review group, which reported a few weeks ago before the budget, and the Commission on Taxation, which also reported before the budget, to remove the tax, the Government decided to leave it in place. I ask Senator Mary White to approach her Ministers over Christmas to reconsider this issue. When airlines charge €5 or €10 per fare and one is sitting Charleroi, Beauvais or Amsterdam, a €10 tax is a major factor in deciding which European country to visit.
Senators Fitzgerald, Quinn, Alex White, Boyle, Cummins, Bacik, Ó Brolcháin, Coghlan, Glynn and Donohoe gave the House the benefit of their opinions regarding the Kerry court case. I agree with them concerning the rights and protection of victims and will pass on their strong opinions and requests to the Minister. It is a difficult time for everyone concerned. The law must be upheld.
Senators Quinn, Cummins and Coffey welcomed the Minister for Transport's announcement that the road to Castledermot, the N9, will open on Monday. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing, which is the case in this situation. I wish happy travels to everyone using the N9. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, will be proud this Christmas over the allocations he has received.
We will look after them.
All colleagues from the Waterford area are fortunate to have a Minister at the Cabinet table.
It was a handbrake turn. There was a real spin on it.
Is Senator Buttimer moving to Waterford?
He goes home that way from time to time.
It has been a real turn around.
Regarding the views of the Minister, Deputy Cullen, on double time in restaurants, we all know that 80% of restaurants are losing money. It is a terrible time for people in business. Small to medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, are going through a nightmare. Many of those currently in business do not want to wake up on 1 January and find that they are still in the same predicament. As Senator Mary White stated, the House has a duty to realise that most of the businesses in question would not exist if not for the fact that they are family businesses and a way of life.
We are concerned by the difficulties being experienced by family businesses. Hand on heart, I have discussed this matter on an hourly basis with many friends and family who have provided significant amounts of employment during my lifetime. Never before have they experienced these difficulties. The first debate in the House should be with the Tánaiste.
We should have an all-day debate on 20 January to determine what the Government will do in the Finance Bill to help SMEs. We have a duty to ensure that all SMEs and family businesses are supported to keep the sector's 880,000 people in work. I fear the number will drop by the end of March if the Government does nothing in the Finance Bill. I am speaking on behalf of people who are hanging on by their fingernails.
I call on the banks to introduce an initiative in the first week of January to allow SMEs to continue employing those 880,000 people.
If the banks decided in the morning to increase the trading figures on their interest accounts by even 1%, the businesses in question would need to close.
The banks, Government and everyone else have benefited from the endeavours of entrepreneurs and family businesses, which gave us parts one and two of the Celtic tiger. Whether one is a politician, banker or Minister, one has a duty to ensure entrepreneurs are supported. They do not believe that they are appreciated or that someone is speaking on their behalf. However, Seanad Éireann comprises captains of industry in Senators Quinn, Mary White and, to a lesser extent, myself. In the past tens of years, we have employed hundreds or, in Senator Quinn's case, thousands of people. We know what we are talking about, but none of us has seen anything like this previously.
Our debate will be held on 20 January, but I would have no difficulty in inviting the Taoiseach to the House to discuss the challenge facing the Government next year. It would be a timely invitation and I will endeavour to request the Taoiseach's attendance on behalf of Senator Ó Brolcháin, who called for the debate.
Senators Alex White, Boyle, Ó Brolcháin, Coffey, Hanafin, Mary White and Walsh referred to the challenge facing tourism. I have addressed the questions of jobs and competitiveness, but I have also given a commitment to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Burke, who has been calling for a debate on tourism for the past number of weeks. Given the amount of legislation that passed through the House in the past three or four weeks, however, holding the debate was impossible. It will be held during the early weeks of our return.
We have all made submissions regarding Seanad reform and are awaiting the Minister's consideration. He made a commitment to try to table the Bill for our consideration before Christmas, but events overtook the Government. During 2009, the Lisbon referendum took up much time, but was passed with the help of all colleagues. The NAMA challenge faced by the Government has passed. We will debate the up-to-date NAMA situation at the end of February. The budget was the greatest challenge faced by a Government in many years, perhaps since the 1984-87 Government. Today's business will finalise it.
This year also saw untimely floods. As the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours. In terms of ordering the business of the House, as Senators Cannon and Ellis requested, I will not let the challenge facing the Government in this regard fall off the agenda. We must determine how to meet the challenge and whether there is a long-term plan to address the difficulties being experienced by the people of Cork and the Shannon catchment area. The challenge is considerable and expensive. We should ensure the matter is raised at EU level at the earliest possible opportunity. The stewardship of the late Seán Doherty, a former Deputy and Cathaoirleach, encompassed three previous reports on this subject. I will allow time to debate the matter further during the early weeks of our return.
I agree with Senator Quinn on the issue of confidence. Confidence is a creature of those who have been entrepreneurs and those who work on the challenge of creating something, as they have always done throughout their lives. If credit is available, there will be confidence in abundance. It is the duty of the banks and the Government to ensure credit flows to SMEs, as it will result in a huge amount of confidence. Confidence is being knocked out of everyone, whether it be through the media or the functions of the Opposition, although it is its duty to try to tease out the issues involved. However, all of this is chipping away at the fibre of those who create — the 4% who are paying 50% of tax revenue. They are the champions who will get us out of this. If they are given the tools of their ware, they will get us out of the downturn in the economy. However, everyone has to play a part, whether it be the Government or the banks.
Senator Cummins called for a debate on justice matters, including the prisons and supporting gardaí. I will have no difficulty in providing time for such a debate.
Senators Bacik and Hanafin expressed their views on matters pertaining to the church and the huge contribution the Catholic Church has made in Ireland which the vast majority would like to see continue. I will provide time to allow this issue to be debated in the House.
Senator Callely called on the Government and the relevant agencies to look after the vulnerable in society, in particular vulnerable single people, particularly during this Christmas period. It is a difficult and challenging time for all those who are down on their luck, particularly single people, who are at high risk at this time of year. The Senator also called for a debate on the banks, particularly on the challenges faced by those unfortunate people who consider committing suicide at this time when the challenges are enormous. The Senator pointed to the problems encountered with mortgages.
Senator Regan referred to GDP, GNP and the challenges facing NAMA. We all know we are where we are today because of the global downturn. All fair-minded people would have to say that, until the United States economy begins to pick up——
The Government had a good hand in it.
——many of the western economies will not pick up.
It was caused by the banks and their greed.
Bring back Bertie. Is that it?
I will give the House the benefit of my experience. I believe the western world was fortunate when Barack Obama became President of the United States of America. We are all expecting that he will bear fruit for all countries, but Ireland, in particular. I look forward to the day when he will be in County Offaly with the Taoiseach and the Cathaoirleach — three great Offaly men — which will happen during the lifetime of the Government.
Ring the bell again, Cathaoirleach. We have moved into fairyland.
I hope they will have their crock of gold.
There is no sign of it at the moment.
It was a proud day for this House when the Cathaoirleach represented it so ably and well in the White House on St. Patrick's Day.
Senator Glynn complimented members of the public service on all their hard work and endeavours. I certainly want to join him in that regard. There will be a debate on the Irish language. We normally have it in the week before Christmas, but with so much legislation to be taken this week, it just was not possible to arrange it. However, we will have it in the early weeks following our return.
I share the views of the Senator on the HSE and Mullingar hospital. It has a budget of €63 million for this year and employs 777 people, making it a huge employer in the town. It provides a wonderful service for the people of Longford and Westmeath. It is No. 1 in the country when it comes to performance and efficiency and No. 2 when it comes to hygiene. It is a shining example and a credit to the HSE. However, the HSE must live up to its obligations and we, as Oireachtas representatives, must ensure this takes place. I, therefore, fully support the Senator's call for a debate on the HSE.
The Government will not give the money for it.
The Leader will have to talk to Deputy Healy-Rae about the matter. He seems to make the decisions on health matters.
Jackie is not around there.
We have gone over time. There should be no interruptions.
I understand many colleagues in the House would love to have a hospital of its calibre in their areas. We are fortunate.
Senator Donohoe called for a debate on the benefits of passing the Lisbon treaty which confers new powers on both Houses. This call is timely and I will have no difficulty in allocating time for such a debate.
Senator Walsh called for a debate on the right to life. Particularly at Christmas time and in the light of the birth of our Saviour, this call is timely. I have already agreed with Senator Cannon that we will have a debate on tourism.
I wish the Cathaoirleach, his wife and family a happy and holy Christmas. I wish the same for the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke. I thank both of them for the way they have conducted the affairs of the House. Under their stewardship, we are certainly in safe hands.
I thank the Clerk, Ms Deirdre Lane, and the Clerk Assistant, Ms Jody Blake, for their kindness and courtesy. I also thank their staff for looking after us on an hour-to-hour and day-to-day basis. I offer my best wishes to the Captain of the Guard, Mr. John Flaherty, and the kind and friendly ushers who look after us so ably and well under his stewardship. I also offer my best wishes to the Superintendent, Mr. Paul Conway, and everyone else who looks after the security of the House; to the media and those in the communications centre who record the events of the House; to the stenographers who look after us and, of course, the sound engineers who always capably switch on the red lights when we speak; to Mr. Jimmy Walsh who relates our affairs inThe Irish Times; and to all our friends on “Oireachtas Report” at RTE who let the people know about the great work that takes place and the high standard of debate in the Oireachtas.
I thank the leaders of the groups for their kindness, courtesy, understanding and assistance in taking the very many difficult decisions we had to take. I also thank them for accommodating the long sittings in the House. I thank the Government Whip, Senator Wilson, and the Deputy Government Whip, Senator Glynn, for their efforts. I thank Senator Cummins of Fine Gael, Senator Quinn on behalf of the Independents and the Labour Party for all their assistance.
I personally thank the Deputy Leader who helped me so ably and well and is the backbone in all of the dealings in the House. He also takes the Order of Business from time to time.
He is turning green.
I congratulate him on achieving a figure of 84% in the renewal of the Government's policy for the next two and a half years.
It is taxing the people more.
I do not believe the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael could have achieved it, but the Green Party did. It is a remarkable achievement, to say the least.
Keep it close.
It shows the poverty of its ambition.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in remembering the families of the late Senators Tony Kett and Peter Callanan, two great colleagues who were with us this time 12 months ago and for many Christmases before that. We remember them in our prayers, particularly at this time.
I welcome two new colleagues, Senators Carroll and Ó Brolcháin. I wish all Members a happy and holy Christmas. I look forward to working with all of them in the new year.
As this is our last sitting day before Christmas, I take the opportunity to express my thanks to the staff of the Seanad Office, particularly Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Blake and, of course, Ms Aisling Hart who keeps me on the straight and narrow. I also offer thanks to the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard and to all the ushers, reporters and broadcasting staff for the long hours of dedication they have given, and to all staff who have ensured the smooth running of the House in the last year. I would also like to remember two former colleagues, Senators Tony Kett and Peter Callanan, at this time.
I wish all Members a very happy, holy and safe Christmas and a happy new year.
It was remiss of me not mention the staff in the Government Whip's office and the staff in my office. I wish them a happy Christmas.