The Order of Business is No. 1, Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Bill 2010 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Order of Business.
I ask for an urgent debate on the way we send people to prison. In 2008 one third of the prison population were non-nationals, the majority of whom were awaiting deportation. There was an 88% increase between 2007 and 2008 in the number imprisoned because they had not paid their fines. It was clearly stated in the House on a number of occasions that this was a daft policy to follow. The average stay in prison for the majority of prisoners is approximately four months. When one considers that it costs €100,000 a year to keep a person in prison, spending three or four months in prison has no effect on hardened criminals who see it as a holiday. However, for ordinary citizens who do not pay their fines, spending three or four months in prison is unnecessary and a waste of money. We need to find a new way of dealing with them, rather than sending them to prison.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, back to the House to explain a number of things he has said publicly. During the meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government yesterday it was revealed that the contracts for the new incinerator had been signed in September 2007 when he was the relevant Minister. It remains Government policy that there is no cap on the amount of waste which can be sent to an incinerator, regardless of what the Minister says on the national airwaves. There has been no change whatsoever in Government policy on incineration in the past two and a half years. Rather than making statements publicly which clearly are not in keeping with Government policy and that of his Department, I ask that the Minister come into the House to make a clear statement on what exactly is Government policy on the issue and not mislead the general public on what he thinks it is.
The House should acknowledge the progress made by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, on pharmaceutical products. It was a very important step. For many years both sides of the House raised the need to address the issue. However long it took her, despite the fact that it was a difficult group to deal with, the Minister achieved a result, although we are quick to criticise.
While I offer my congratulations to one Minister, I have to show my complete bemusement with another Minister. Last night I spoke on and listened to the debate on the water issue in the House, on which the Minster for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, spoke. I have great respect for him and his agenda but in the course of dealing with the Fine Gael motion which proposed the establishment of a national water authority — I am not raising this matter from a disinterested point of view; I want to get the record right — the Minister responded by saying he was totally bemused, that he could not see the sense in such a proposal and that he thought it would lead to privatisation. This seemed to be an over the top response. A few minutes later a number of Fine Gael Senators——
When I asked about the matter, Senator Maurice Cummins replied and said the answer was a definitive "No".
The issue was then raised by Senator Ciaran Cannon who produced a document in the House on developing the green economy which had been signed by two Ministers, namely, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. A recommendation that there be a national water authority was signed off on by two Ministers as being part of Government policy, with a commitment that they put it into operation quickly and efficiently. I do not care about the views of the Government on Fine Gael's position but I care strongly about the three points of view being expressed by the Government. One way or the other, the House has been misled. The two Ministers who signed off on the proposal two months ago did so without Government authority or else the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, spoke last night without Government authority.
Senator Cannon has raised an issue on which the rest of us, from a non-political party point of view, want an answer. It is not good enough. The issues which have arisen regarding waste in the past few days are ones to which we need to return. I am not saying the Leader has the answer but I would like the Minister to come back to the House to explain the dichotomy between the two Government positions articulated by three Ministers on two occasions in the past three months.
Permanent TSB has raised its interest rate by 0.5% and it is certain other lenders will follow in the coming days, weeks and months. The European Central Bank is meeting as we discuss the issue in the House. By lunchtime it is expected to report that it will permit the current ECB rate of 1% to remain unchanged.
Given the culture of home ownership in this country and that the ESRI has stated there are 196,000 homes in negative equity, and even though banks did not stress-test loans properly but lent money willy-nilly, none the less it seems they are now returning to a system of landlordism and evictions that would do justice to what happened in this country in the 19th century. On this occasion, however, the people who are evicting families are donning the Irish jersey. It is outrageous that in a country which has bailed out and recapitalised the banks to the tune of many billions of taxpayers' money, the very people who propped up and bailed out these banks are now being targeted because the banks are taking full advantage of the fact that Government policy is behind them. With all due respect, they are now screwing thousands of families to the wall by increasing their interest rates. There is no accountability and no transparency. I have made that point consistently in the House.
At least when we were dealing with NAMA we had an opportunity to oblige mortgage lenders by law to pass on reductions in interest rates. The environment of the time promoted that type of activity but now the tables have turned. The banks have been bailed out and recapitalised and are taking full advantage. This is outrageous. There are thousands of families in this country who are going through the emotional turmoil of trying to meet monthly household bills. An increase of 0.5% adds about €60 to a mortgage of €200,000, a sum that is beyond the means of many ordinary decent people. Where does the Government stand on this? The Green Party did a solo run with regard to setting up an expert committee to bail out people. One does not need an expert group because anybody can see that people are in grave difficulty trying to meet mortgage repayments. Any proposal that may come from the Government is to be welcomed. However, it must meet the needs of the mortgage holder, not those of the mortgage lender.
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, has written to 100 women aged in their 70s and 80s who are spouses of farmers. These are women who worked in the family farm for generations, reared families and carried out tasks on farms. They were secretaries and auditors and worked every bit as hard as the traditional man of the house while rearing a family at the same time. They never got any form of compensation from the State. In recent times the Minister wrote to these women and told them they might be entitled to a pension. They were granted the pension but now the Minister has written looking for that money to be repaid because the women did not have a year's continuous PRSI payment before the age of 66. We have a Minister for Social and Family Affairs who gave money to people in their 70s and 80s and is now taking it back. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House and make a statement on this matter? It is most insulting to generations of people in this country who worked on the family farm and it is disrespectful to the women in question that the Government is now attempting to bum money from them.
Supporting home industry and buying Irish-made goods will be an important part of the economic recovery. In recent times many people have been inquiring in shops about Irish-made goods in the belief that they are protecting and maintaining jobs at home. However, it has come to light that the branding on some imported goods is misleading and people are buying goods they believe incorrectly to have been made in Ireland. Some examples were brought to our attention in recent reports. For example, if one eats "Old Time Irish Marmalade" in the morning one will believe it is Irish made but it is sourced in Portugal. Likewise one would be certain, having bought Siúcra sugar to put in one's tea, that it was Irish sugar. It is sourced in Germany. One has to be particularly careful when buying salmon. There is smoked Irish salmon and Irish smoked salmon, but the latter might be imported and processed in Ireland.
These are only three examples but if this is comprehensive and there are many other such examples, we can see immediately that the economy is being undermined and that people who genuinely want to help home industry and buy Irish-made goods are being misled. There is nothing illegal in that type of branding but we must make consumers aware it is happening. There is little point in exhorting people to buy Irish-made goods if that danger exists. I gave only three examples but I am sure there are many more. Producers in Ireland who have learned of this practice must feel very angry at present. We must protect our own and be certain that any product that goes on the shelves as Irish is Irish made.
We had a very interesting debate yesterday on the fall-out from the recent extreme weather conditions which at its latter end developed into a debate about how we provide water in this country. This issue needs a debate on its own because it will not go away. Our national water supply system is creaking at the seams and this became obvious to us only when it met its first challenge in many years.
One might have some hope we could address this problem in a coherent manner if the Government were addressing it in a coherent way. Some of my colleagues suggested that rather than having 36 local authorities supplying water we need a degree of interconnectivity and a single authority that oversees the provision of water. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, seemed somewhat bemused at the proposal and said he could see no reason for the introduction of any new body. He was supported by Senator Ellis who described the suggestion as laughable and said the proposal was not a runner. We moved then to a point of considering the policy espoused by the Government's green energy enterprise programme, which was entirely contrary to this. It proposed setting up a single national water authority with overall responsibility for system planning, delivery and maintenance. That is what needs to be done. To clarify the Government's position we need a debate on the provision of a steady reliable water supply for all our people. I ask the Leader for such a debate in the near future so that the confusion may be cleared up.
I share the concerns of my friend and colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, regarding the branding of allegedly Irish-made goods. At a time when the economy is in such a tailspin and the focus is increasingly on the protection of jobs, this is a very serious issue. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment or a Minister of State from that Department to the House so that we might hear the Government's view on the issue.
I suggest the problem lies within Europe. It exists because of the very powerful food lobby that operates with international cartels whose budget and turnover would be in excess of even the turnover of an Irish Government. They have a very powerful lobbying impact in the European Union and have resisted having clear labelling in the entire food industry, to the current detriment of this economy. As Senator Ó Murchú pointed out, it is shameful that goods which are projected as Irish are being sourced outside the country. However, this should not deflect in any way from the need for Irish people to be aware when they go shopping and to question whether Irish goods are available.
Some of the multinationals are lax in this regard. The matter was raised in the House on previous occasions but now it is because of overall concern and the need to protect jobs and, one hopes, to expand them, especially in respect of Irish-made goods. I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue. I reiterate that the problem lies within the European Union, in its weakness and inability to take on the major food multinationals and increase and improve labelling for the benefit of the consumer.
I raise the treatment of issues such as the apparent fact that wives of certain Central Bank officials travelled with their husbands. I am bored to death by this unimaginative muckraking. It is about time a stop was put to it. I raised this issue over the years and was universally told that it was sour grapes on my part and that I was raising the matter because I did not have a wife and was never likely to have one. It was pointed out to me that this practice was part of the culture, that banks insisted on having a veto on a suitable or unsuitable wife, that its staff had to do this, that and the other, and join golf clubs. It was all part of the PR or expense account and these people were ambassadors for Ireland. This was a universal view. Now, however, some people who put forward that view are, in a hypocritical, pious and po-faced manner, raining down criticism on those who were part of the culture to which I refer.
As already stated, I raised this matter in the past and received no support in respect of the arguments I put forward. In such circumstances, I decided to move on. The attacks currently taking place are ahistorical and hysterical in nature. Let us identify the problem, rectify it and then move on. I have deeply committed friends who live on the clippings of tin in order that they might work for the human rights of people across the globe. The universal comment they make when they return here is that they cannot believe the viciousness, small-mindedness, muck-raking, envy and begrudgery in which people in this country engage. I am not stating that everyone engages in this type of behaviour.
A new approach must be taken. We must rectify this problem and then move on and do something positive. We should not be attempting to demoralise everyone with stories of this nature which are only used to sell newspapers, make columnists popular etc. Let us stop boring the knickers off the public. We must get a move on, get ahead and find a new story. I do not want to hear any more stories regarding people's wives accompanying them on trips. What we should do is rectify the situation.
I am scared to state that I will never have a wife either. Perhaps I should be politically correct and use the term "spouse" in that regard.
On a serious note, the negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice powers and the resolution of all other outstanding issues in Northern Ireland have entered their tenth day. The people of the island of Ireland want these negotiations to reach a satisfactory conclusion. There will be a historic occurrence in the Oireachtas later today when the Minister for Education and Science and the Northern Ireland Minister for Education appear before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to discuss particular issues.
I raise these matters in tandem because I wish to ask, in the context of marching and culture, if not understanding the perspective of those on the other side is a barrier to progress being made. Is that to which I refer preventing the people of Ulster, in particular, and the island of Ireland, in general, working in co-operation with each other? I ask that the report I compiled on the teaching of history in areas of recent conflict be the subject of a debate in the House. That report relates to trying to promote the image of the other and allowing people to consider situations from another perspective. The core value and focus of the Council of Europe at present is trying to encourage people to understand that there is another side to everything.
We must find a mechanism which will allow people to find what might be termed the Riverdance answer, as it were, in respect of matters of culture. I refer to a situation where it would be possible to watch individuals playing Lambeg drums and bodhráns on the same stage and where it might be possible for people of both traditions to overcome the historical differences that exist between them. I ask the Leader to make time available for the debate to which I refer.
I wish to draw attention to the fact that Peadar Heffron, the Gaelic-speaking, Gaelic football-playing PSNI officer, has emerged from the coma into which he fell following the bomb attack on his car. Constable Heffron is eating on his own, is undergoing physiotherapy and is making progress. That is the sort of successful outcome we wish to see. Members want to be able to engage in debates on real people with real lives, real futures and real potential. We should not be ten days into negotiations on when matters in the North will finally be resolved. I expect that those negotiations will reach a conclusion but I ask that the process be speeded up. There is a need for a long-term plan to allow people North and South to get to know each other.
Given that previous speakers began their contributions on a lighter note, I wish to inquire if Dr. Jekyll took his potion last night. If he did do so, how did he manage the actions of Mr. Hyde thereafter?
That is a Kerryman's joke, I suppose.
On a serious note, we were promised a White Paper on local government by December 2008. What has happened to that White Paper? We discovered yesterday that at the meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party held on the evening before last, which, I am sure, some of those opposite attended, it was decided to establish a four-man ministerial committee to formulate Fianna Fáil policy, or was it Government policy, in respect of this matter, particularly in the context of regional authorities. As I understand it, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Green Party believe in a top-down approach whereas Fianna Fáil believes in a bottom-up approach. Perhaps the Leader will enlighten us in that regard and indicate when progress in respect of the White Paper is expected to be made.
I also understand that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spent €7.5 million — a tidy sum — on the procurement process relating to the incinerator at Ringsend. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to return to the House at the earliest opportunity? It would be interesting to discover the latter's position, especially in the context of statements he has made and the cap that has been announced. As Senator Twomey indicated, contradictory signals are being sent out. I wish to ask what these signals indicate.
The Green Party is obtaining great publicity as a result of comments made by Members on the other side of the House this morning, which is something I welcome.
I acknowledge the points that have been made in respect of water. I ask the Leader to assist in facilitating a debate on the issue of water. I wish to put the record straight of a number of points. I support arguments relating to the interconnectivity of water services across local authority areas. In my opinion, work must be done in respect of that matter. Members on all sides need to take action in this regard.
The Senator should make that point to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The Minister is well aware of it.
He is not doing much about it.
He is more aware of it——
I welcome the new-found interest among Members on the opposite side in this matter.
That is a disparaging remark.
It is an incredibly new-found interest.
The Minister was bemused last night.
Let us put the record straight.
What is this about new-found interest?
The Fine Gael Party in government decided to abolish water charges in 1996.
In recent times, the Minister continually appears to be bemused.
I wish to know how the Members on the opposite side intend to fund all the wonderful things to which they refer. The leader of the Fine Gael party is absolutely unclear on that.
On a point of order——
The Government has put in place record numbers of——
Senator Twomey wishes to raise a point of order.
On a point of order, if the Senator can indicate what the Government is doing at present, we will outline what we intend to do in the future.
That is not a point of order.
Will Senator Twomey repeat his point of order?
It is not a point of order.
Perhaps he could repeat his alleged point of order then.
Senator Ó Brolcháin should address his remarks through the Chair.
I will repeat what I said. If the Senator can indicate what the Government is doing at present, we will outline what we intend to do in the future.
Senator Twomey should resume his seat.
This is an extremely important debate because water——
I do. I want time to be made available for a debate on this important matter.
I am delighted those opposite want to press ahead with local government reform.
The Senator should not be inviting comments from Members on the other side of the House. Does he have a question for the Leader?
What about the Government's policy?
The Government should decide on its own policy and we can then debate the matter.
This is a matter for Members on all sides.
The Government should decide on its own policy and we will then discuss the matter.
In the context of local government reform, later this year people in Dublin will be able to vote for a directly elected mayor.
Will that be the case?
Local government reform will occur under this Administration.
Clarification is required.
In view of the fact that the issue of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland and junkets has arisen, I wish to make a statement. I have a vested interest in that I was the author of the story that appeared in theSunday Independent. I should say that before saying anything else. The Central Bank of Ireland, perhaps above all institutions of the State, should be accountable for what it does with public money because it, above all institutions of the State, lectures us about what to do with public money. It lectures the Government and the people on a consistent — at least quarterly — basis. It makes a great virtue year after year of fiscal rectitude. That is its flag-waving slogan. For some reason which is difficult to understand, as Deputy Bruton said this morning on “Morning Ireland”, the Central Bank of Ireland is particularly well protected because it is not subject to freedom of information — I do not know why that is the case. The information about its waste of public money on spouses over two years would not have emerged had it not been for an accident, in effect. It was outed because another organ of the State made a report and it issued some information which came up because it felt it had to in that situation. Had that not happened we would not have known what was happening in the Central Bank of Ireland.
This issue teaches us that there is a fortress on Dame Street which keeps secrets to itself and which is a model of hypocrisy in that it tells us how to behave and behaves in a totally different way itself. It is absolutely imperative that organisations of that sort are accountable and when they behave in a way that is hypocritical that they are exposed. That is important for the credibility of the Central Bank of Ireland. It is damaged——
Yes I have. It is damaged by the emergence of these issues, but it is rightly damaged. It is right that these things should emerge. In light of what has happened in recent days, I ask the Leader of the House for a debate, not only on the powers but also on the behaviour of the Central Bank of Ireland. These are the guys who were so close to the banks that they did not regulate them properly and yet they tell us how to behave ourselves. There is a serious issue here just as there was a serious issue with FÁS. One may say it is trivial because it is about flights and expenses that are small and it sells newspapers.
It is not trivial.
My final question for the Leader is as follows. In order to allow us to debate the matter perhaps we should even bring in and interview the new Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, who is so accessible, to ask him——
Please God, he will clean it up.
——what he intends to do about the blatant overspending in the Central Bank of Ireland.
I listened with interest to the previous speaker. I agree with the need to investigate anything that would strike one to be improper. Equally we should recognise that there is a new Governor in the Central Bank of Ireland. The previous Governor is gone. The previous Governor did very good work on the macro issue when he was there and I have no doubt this micro issue should be investigated. However, we should be careful, as one of the previous other speakers said, not to give oxygen to this issue when there is a far bigger picture to be addressed. Perhaps we should wait for the pure facts to emerge and then perhaps marry them into what happens in the workplace. I believe this will pale into insignificance. That is my view; Senator Ross is entitled to his view. We should not give oxygen to something unless we have the clear facts and they are compared with what happens in the real word, for want of a better description.
I have consistently raised in this House the need to have a structured monthly or bi-monthly debate on the economy. I ask the Leader to indicate what progress has been made on the issue. I ask the Leader to investigate an issue that has been brought to my attention this morning. People, who had been approved for and given a waiver from payment of waste charges when Fianna Fáil controlled Dublin City Council, have been informed this morning that the new council is imposing a €6 charge for their grey bin lift. We have this at a time when there is controversy between the Minister and the council over the expenditure of €125,000 on one report alone. I understand the council has sought hundreds of reports of this nature.
This is a very serious issue for an old-age pensioner on a restricted income. I ask the Leader to investigate whether the issue that has been brought to my attention is correct and what steps can be taken to ensure that people on a restricted income and who have heretofore been recognised as people requiring a waiver will continue to enjoy the benefit of that.
I mention an issue that has arisen in the Eamonn Lillis trial regarding the witness, Jean Treacy. The new Criminal Court complex facilitates the shielding of accused from the media, which is quite correct. For an accused it is prejudicial, humiliating and, as some judges in the Court of Criminal Appeal have indicated, can constitute contempt of court. For a condemned person it is a double penalty on top of imprisonment or other penalty he or she must serve. The issue that arises in this case is that of witnesses. It is normal for witnesses and the general public to enter the complex through the main entrance. In this case the witness was shielded from the media and there has been an outcry from the media. If a witness elects to be protected in this way one is entitled to such protection within the court complex. In this case Jean Treacy was a co-operative witness with the Garda. It is very important that anyone who elects to be shielded from the media in this way should be facilitated by the Garda in equal measure.
We do not want this to serve as some inducement to a witness to be co-operative with the Garda and the prosecution services. I ask the Leader to refer the matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in order that there would be a protocol — it should not bead hoc — adopted to reflect this policy. I wonder whether in present circumstances the Garda and the prosecution service would facilitate witnesses who, for example, prove to be hostile witnesses.
I refer to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the independent report of the ESRI. The Minister has had a position on the Poolbeg incinerator. He made promises to the electorate of Dublin South-East that he would change policy in this regard. We now have an independent report on waste policy which affirms the approach that——
It is coming.
The approach of the Minister is contradictory and will cost the taxpayer a considerable amount of money. We have commissioned an independent report and should respect its independence. What has emerged from the report is that there is no change in Government policy regarding waste disposal and the incinerator. Deputy Gormley is Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He cannot second guess what has been done by Dublin City Council if he does not change Government policy. Senator Ross spoke about hypocrisy. This is the height of hypocrisy. I do not believe anyone is being fooled, particularly——
——the residents of Dublin South-East.
Yes, I do. With water still being cut off in Dublin South-East——
Has the Senator a question for the Leader.
——the Minister, Deputy Gormley, would be well advised to address that matter rather than the incinerator. That is my question for the Leader. I should be obliged if he would refer that to the Minister.
We had an excellent debate yesterday on an all-party motion tabled by Senators O'Toole and Norris on head shops. I compliment and thank everyone who contributed to that debate, which is a roll-over initiative. Will the Leader say when it is intended to resume this important debate? Perhaps he might be able to tell the House at the end of the Order of Business.
I join Senators McCarthy, Ross and others in calling for a debate on our financial institutions, not on how we have got to where we are but about how we are dealing with where we are. I ask the Leader, specifically, for a debate on the way financial institutions are dealing with people such as those mentioned by Senator McCarthy who were given money without being stress tested. I am referring to financial institutions not covered by the Government's recapitalisation scheme which include companies which give people credit cards, car loans etc. They are now ringing people at home and at work, not on a daily but on an hourly basis and they are e-mailing and writing to people on a weekly basis.
Even worse, if they ring somebody at work, which they do up to seven times a day, they identify who they are when asking for the person concerned. This is unacceptable and it should be highlighted here on a daily basis. I ask the Leader for a debate specifically in relation to financial institutions and the manner in which they go about collecting arrears. These moneys are quite rightly due to them, but I should like a debate specifically to address the manner in which they try to recoup their loans from people who have fallen into arrears through no fault of their own.
I had not intended to contribute until I heard Senator Regan referring to the new court buildings where the witness is able to enter the court without being seen. My attention was drawn to a letter in the paper the other day, which referred to the family of the deceased having to battle their way through cameras every day to get into the courtroom. If we are going to protect those who attend courts, I should much prefer more attention be given to those who are going through a traumatic period, such as the family of a deceased person.
On another point, with all the talk about water meters, what about energy meters, so that people may keep track of the energy they use? We have electricity meters, of course, but a new smart meter has been introduced in Italy, not just for electricity but all energy usage. It was announced this week that Spain is going to install 13 million such meters. Apparently, the effect of having meters such as these is that the user can see what he or she is using or saving and can estimate consumption. There is a saving of the order of 5% in the amounts of various energy being used in each home, apparently. It would be worth the Leader's while to draw this to the attention of the Minister responsible, because it would be a worthwhile initiative.
I strongly agree with Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú's remarks on the need to buy Irish products. This has been discussed at length in a number of forums over the last few years and must be closely looked at again, with remedial action taken where required.
As regards the debate on head shops referred to by Senator Wilson, I congratulate everyone concerned as well as the Leader for facilitating a second day debate on the issue. This is an indication of the true seriousness in which the House takes the whole area of head shops and their activities. It is very important and I look forward to contributing to the next day's debate and like Senator Wilson, I should like to know when it will take place.
Again, following on from what Senator Wilson said regarding the financial institutions, I have a flood of people coming into my office in Mullingar. Only yesterday, my secretary informed me about a woman who had come in to say she and her husband had taken out a loan with a building society. These are people on relatively humble incomes and the building society, with indecent haste, is instigating legal proceedings to repossess their home.
On a number of occasions last year I asked the Leader for a debate on the compilation of the electoral register. The present situation is an absolute disaster. Under successive Governments the system as it obtains has not worked. The Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government went to Belfast where we had discussions with the electoral office for Northern Ireland.
I am asking when that debate will take place. Seemingly, what obtains there in relation to the methods employed to provide a register work far better than the system employed in this jurisdiction.
The first item concerns the Central Bank story. While this is topical, it is just another example of extravagance and hypocrisy linked to the legacy and the policies of the Bertie Ahern-led Fianna-Fáil era of the past 12 years, with no accountability, respect or transparency. When is this to stop and when will Fianna Fáil and its pals learn that the people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect?
I ask the Leader and the Deputy Leader in his absence what is Government policy. Do we now have a Government in absentia and one in situ and two different Government positions? Yesterday Senator Cannon correctly exposed the faultline in the Government as regards the creation of a single national water authority. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, sat there, bemused, like a headless chicken. The Senators opposite agreed with him, yet the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, had signed an agreement, not covertly but in full glee and excitement, and looked forward to committing to this. What is Government policy? It is no wonder the country is in rag order, because we have a Government that does not know its policy.
In the month that has just passed the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has had a different policy as regards incineration, there is a different policy as regards the water authority, the Green Party and Fianna Fáil differ as regards the banking inquiry and ——
Senator Buttimer, without interruption. Has he a question for the Leader?
——as regards the weather crisis, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, differed, and then we had the mayor of Dublin question. Deputies Dempsey, Gormley and the Taoiseach all have different opinions.
What is Government policy? How can the people have confidence in the Government when it does not know what it is doing?
I want to reiterate what Senator Keaveney had to say as regards the North. This is day ten of the negotiations and so many issues are being tied up in one. It seems the 13 members of the DUP are holding up the transfer of the policing and justice powers in a manner that could threaten the viability of the North's institutions and undermine all the good work achieved over so many years. It would be a terrible situation, in the event.
This ties in somewhat with the question of culture. I should mention the great exposure to Protestant culture I experienced when I went north of the Border during the summer in relation to a pipe band competition, attended by more than 10,000 people. I am from a rural Catholic background and it was unbelievable that I did not know such an event took place. It is the type of event that could be internationally marketed and branded as a cross-community institution. We should be making an effort advertise it to people from all cultures. As Senator Keaveney said, items such as a bodhrán and the Lambeg drum seem to separate people when they should be used to bring them together.
I second Senator Wilson's remarks about the financial institutions and what they are doing to people. I opened my constituency office this week in Drogheda and people have already called to it. They have made the point that people are being harassed and, as Senator Wilson said, it is not only weekly but daily and even hourly. People are getting calls in the morning and afternoon, with the reason for the call and who is calling being identified. There are huge issues in this regard. There are sad cases throughout the country of small business people being driven to suicide owing to the pressure being put on them. I urge the Leader to arrange for this debate as soon as it can be accommodated. The actions of these financial institutions, after getting assistance from the State, constitute a double whammy when they affect small business people and communities. It is an important issue.
I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the buy Irish label mentioned by Senators Glynn, Ó Murchú and Mooney. It is a huge issue. Irish smoked salmon and smoked Irish salmon are two totally different products but people are not aware of this. There are two main beneficiaries of such labels. One is Irish jobs and countering misleading labelling for people who think they are buying Irish when they are not. The second reason is the health benefits it can bring to people. Members of the House have taken part in "Operation Transformation" and they are doing a great job. In the interests of the health and jobs aspects of this issue I urge the Leader to accommodate this debate.
I agree with the speakers who have addressed the banking crisis, be it from the perspective of the Central Bank and its entertainment policy or, more pertinently, the home owners and small borrowers who are now becoming victims of the collection culture. I appreciate that where money is due or a debt is legal the banks have an entitlement to seek collection, but there must be an urgent debate and protocol to deal with the type of issues raised by Senators Wilson and Carroll. From a national perspective it is to be hoped we have the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, solution to assist the banks, but we must put in place an equivalent type of NAMA structure for home owners.
Since the passage of the NAMA legislation and the budget and after getting over some difficult political hurdles, there appears to be a false sense of security on the Government side of the House that things are getting better. Sadly, that illusion will be swept away over the next few months when interest rates will rise and more people will be faced with court orders and judgments relating to mortgage arrears. There is a need not just for a debate on the issue in this House but also for the Government to put in place something much greater than what the Green Party suggested last week. We do not seek some type of weak protocol but a structure to give real assistance to people. The House must debate this matter urgently.
Second, I support the comments of Senators Keaveney and Carroll about the current talks in Northern Ireland and, more importantly, looking towards the type of structures and engagement that must be put in place in the future. I was struck by the comments of Senator Keaveney in particular, given the political place from which she and her family come. She and all of us have matured in our views——
——and recognise that in all conflicts there are at least two sides and that we must continue to reach out to each of them. My question to the Leader, to facilitate the Leas-Chathaoirleach——
Other Members wish to contribute.
The Leader should arrange a debate as soon as possible on Northern Ireland. There have been ten, 12 or 15 days of talks now, but I have no doubt that the problem will be resolved. Such progress has been made since 1994 that there is no going back. For the future, however, we must examine culture, emblems, flags and sectarianism anew and re-engage with our friends and neighbours on the other side of the Border and they with us. This House can play a leading role in that regard.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the current situation in the public sector as regards the go slow? I hope there will not be an escalation because, undoubtedly and to paraphrase Joyce, the good times are coming be they ever so far away. They might not be far away and, in the future, the unions will again sit down with the Government and say they participated fully in Ireland's recovery. It will be more difficult to say they participated fully if they resort to strikes. It is easy to make a decision when there is no choice and it was a necessity for the Government to take the action it took.
I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the EU direction that has correctly been given, and should have been given a long time ago, that the Central Bank take priority over the Financial Regulator. That this has not been done until now has led to many problems in our financial situation. It has finally been addressed and now the Central Bank, the paymaster, is really calling the tune. There should be one central body. This was a difficulty in the past because divided responsibility means that nobody takes responsibility.
Will the Leader arrange for an ongoing debate on jobs? Having dealt with the difficulties of regulating the banks, thus ensuring their stability, and regulating the economy and the public finances during the previous term, the House must now focus fully on jobs. In particular, I support the buy Irish campaign. We can do a great deal in this House, and we should be doing that work.
I refer to Senator Callely's request for a report from the Leader on the removal of the bin charge waiver in Dublin City Council this month. I might be able to assist the Leader. There might be no need for a report to be supplied to Senator Callely because I can explain why the waiver is being removed. The reason is that the city council does not have the money to maintain the current waiver system. It is facing the same crisis confronting every other local authority in the country, which is forcing councillors into making difficult decisions. The city council does not have the money for two reasons. The first is that it is forced to implement a waste management system by the Government, but the Government does not provide it with the money to cover the cost. The second reason is that the economy in Dublin has been ruined by this Government, to the extent that one in three young people in the area are unemployed — this is a point I mentioned in the House yesterday — and the rate base the local authority depends on is now nearly gone. It is owing to the Government's management of the economy and the way in which it manages local authorities that such decisions are being made and are having to be made. If Senator Callely or anybody else is wondering why the elderly are worried and fearful about what will happen to them in the future, they need not look to what is happening in local authorities for the cause of that fear but to the current Government.
I support Members in their call for a good debate on the banking situation. I will not talk now about the problems with which my constituents have approached me. I also seek a debate on the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, to come to the House within the next two weeks? This is an important issue facing the farming community and Ireland and it is time to have a debate on it. The Minister should be invited to the House within the next two weeks.
I want to clarify a statement I made on the Order of Business yesterday. The level of MMR vaccination among the population is insufficient. The impact is that there are children who will contract measles, mumps and rubella. We are in the midst of an outbreak of measles and the consequences can be devastating for some children. Some will die and others will acquire an intellectual disability. Death and intellectual disability as a result of mumps, measles or rubella are completely unacceptable in this day and age, as they are completely avoidable. I appreciate that families had concerns on foot of some published studies which have now been discredited and withdrawn. I urge the HSE to enhance its campaign to ensure Ireland will once again achieve the level of MMR vaccination it requires.
The Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children is completing its work. Will the Leader, when planning the schedule for this session, allow time for a debate on the committee's report which is due to be launched in the coming weeks?
Will the Leader make inquiries and tell us next week the date on which the capacity legislation will be before the House? We have spoken about standards and the inspectorate for people with intellectual disabilities but if we do not deal with the capacity legislation, we will be at nothing.
I support the comments made by Senator Wilson. I raised the subject in respect of the behaviour of banks when pursuing individuals for moneys that, as the Senator said, they are rightly owed. The words that come to mind are "bullying", "harassment" and "intimidation". We should not be behind the door in calling it for what it is.
Several months ago we completed Second Stage of the legislation on the regulation of management companies. The last time I asked the Leader about the delay in proceeding further, he informed me it was due to difficulties with the legislation and that it was being held up by the Office of the Attorney General. What is the current position? Is the Leader expecting the House to proceed to Committee Stage soon and will he make a statement on the matter?
To what Bill is the Senator referring?
I refer to the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 and the management companies Bill.
When is it proposed to have the Privacy Bill before the House? It was stuck in limbo following the passage of the Defamation Bill. There have been a number of high profile incidents recently that bring the question of entitlement to privacy into focus. At the very least, the Minister should be asked to attend the House.
I would like a ream of issues related to judges to be discussed. The Leas-Chathaoirleach obviously will not allow me time to discuss them today.
Not today, I am afraid.
I ask for a debate on the matter.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, McCarthy and Coghlan called for debates on various subjects. Senator Twomey called for a debate on the information he supplied to the House on prison sentencing. It is alarming, to say the least, that one third of prisoners are foreign nationals. I did not know this and will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on the issue in the presence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Senators Twomey, Coghlan and Regan called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to return to the House for a further debate on incineration. Senator O'Toole asked for a statement on Government policy, while Senator Coghlan referred to expenditure of €7.5 million on procurement. I will have no difficulty in allowing time for a debate on the matter in the House as soon as possible.
Senator O'Toole congratulated the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, on the major savings achieved in the purchase of drugs in 2010. I join the Senator and all my colleagues in the House in congratulating the Minister who has been one of the strongest supporters of coming to Seanad Éireann. She was here yesterday for the debate on head shops. I congratulate her on her full support and the huge savings she has made. She is deserving of our congratulations.
Senators O'Toole, Cannon, Ó Brolcháin, Quinn and Buttimer called for a further debate on the serious challenge of meeting the cost of water provision and waste management. They have referred to the serious challenge we all face in achieving efficiency. Senator Quinn referred to the energy metering system proposed in Spain. The debate being called for will possibly last half a day and I will have no difficulty in allowing time for it in the very near future. The challenge faced by local authorities will have to be grappled with. The funding required will possibly have to be allocated over a period of five to seven years because it is enormous.
Senator McCarthy called for a debate on bank charges and outlined his serious concerns about Permanent TSB increasing its interest rate by half a percentage point. This is a huge burden on mortgage holders at this very difficult time. The European Central Bank is reviewing its rate today and I hope it will leave it at 1%.
The cost of funds, the amount being paid for deposits and everything to do with finance can be discussed in two weeks when the Finance Bill is before the House. The serious requests being made and the nature of everyone's economic difficulties are such that I will be very forthcoming in supporting the requests of the leaders when we are agreeing on the allocation of time for the Finance Bill. Thus, everyone may have an opportunity to discuss the serious challenges associated with making mortgage repayments.
Senators Norris, Ross, Callely, Wilson, Buttimer, Bradford and Carty called for a debate on the issues highlighted in the House regarding the Central Bank. I take on board the point made that the problems should be rectified in order that we can move on, as Senator Norris said. This is Senator Ross's area of expertise and we must listen attentively to what he has to say thereon. The matter can be discussed during the debate on the Finance Bill or, if a special debate is requested, I can certainly allow time for it. However, as Senator Callely said, we should perhaps wait a little longer to learn all the facts about the issue.
Senator McCarthy called for a debate on social welfare entitlements, particularly those for farmers' wives. I listened attentively to what the Minister for Social and Family Affairs had to say yesterday in committee on this issue. With regard to certain areas, farmers' wives will certainly be able to obtain every entitlement available, but a small proportion are not covered and unable to avail of these entitlements. There could be fewer than 100 women affected. Perhaps we can examine this issue to determine what can be done. I will have no difficulty in having the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue in the near future.
Senators Ó Murchú, Mooney, Glynn and Carroll referred to the buying of Irish produce. Senator Ó Murchú correctly referred to the confusion caused in the three cases he outlined to the House. This was one of the issues raised in the report on the groceries order produced when, as a Deputy in the Dáil, I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. It concerns the "guaranteed Irish" logo on everything manufactured and put up for sale on the island of Ireland. I listened to what Senator Mooney had to say on EU directives in this regard. If what he says is correct, then let us bring this case to the European Parliament. Our colleagues there can then insist that the "Guaranteed Irish" sign be displayed on such products. I understand that Enterprise Ireland feels strongly about this matter also. We were conscious of other products that were brought before the committee's review of the groceries order at that particular time.
Senators Keaveney, Carroll and Bradford referred to this being the tenth day of negotiations in Northern Ireland. The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is meeting today and I take this opportunity as Leader of the House to wish everyone well in their determination to achieve a final resolution. I congratulate all party leaders, including the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, for their magnificent efforts towards reaching a successful conclusion. I join with Senator Keaveney in greeting the good news that PSNI officer, Peadar Heffron, is returning to good health. We all wish him and his family well and will remember him in our prayers. We were concerned because at one stage the man was fighting for his life.
Senator Coghlan referred to the White Paper on electoral reform and asked about its publication date, which will be later this year.
Senators Callely and Donohoe sought a debate on the economy, as well as a waste charges waiver for senior citizens and medical card holders. Local authorities in Dublin are charging enough in business rates, which are at an all-time high. I do not know how they can justify it in these difficult times. If they are charging these high rates, surely old people with medical cards should be entitled to the waiver scheme for domestic waste collection. I will certainly make inquiries into this matter.
Senators Regan and Quinn mentioned the recent Lillis case and the protection of witnesses from the media, particularly those who are entitled to protection. As Senator Regan said, Ms Treacy was protected as a witness. As Senator Quinn remarked, the family of the deceased should also be protected. As regards the call for a protocol in this matter, I will pass on those strong views to the Minister.
Senators Wilson and Glynn referred to the continuing debate on head shops. I congratulate Senators on both sides of the House for their tremendous contribution to that debate yesterday.
We should not refer to witnesses in court cases. I ask the Senator to refrain from doing so.
I thought that myself when it was brought to my attention, but the Leas-Chathaoirleach did not make a ruling on it then. I fully accept his ruling in that regard, but I was responding to what was brought to my attention by Senator Regan. If I erred, I apologise.
As regards the head shops debate, I have no difficulty in arranging for it to continue within the next few weeks.
Senators Wilson, Glynn, Carroll, Bradford and Corrigan commented on the heavy-handed tactics that are now being brought to bear by financial institutions. If there is going to be a debate on the tactics being used at present by financial institutions, including putting people under pressure through harassment and bullying, perhaps it is time that we should name and shame these institutions, as well as the names of those who are carrying out their affairs in this way. They are ringing up employers indicating who they are and creating a huge amount of stress for people who are doing their level best. There is a time and a place for everything. We have all been to funerals of young people that we should not have had to attend. I would say that 98% of people, both here and abroad, did not see the recession coming. If debtors have a good track record, these matters should be taken into account. I hope, however, the days of the bully-boy are gone. Such tactics should cease. I call on all financial institutions which are using debt recovery agencies to desist from doing so in the interests of everyone on the island. Some 99% of those who borrow money are decent, hard-working people. They have a good track record and wish to repay their debts. The financial institutions will have to understand that this situation will not be accepted. I will allocate time in the next three to four weeks for such a debate so Members can avail of the opportunity to comment on these matters.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on compiling the electoral register. I have a date in mind for this matter and I will discuss its suitability with the Senator after the Order of Business.
Senator Buttimer referred to Government policy. The Finance Bill is being published today and no doubt the House will debate it in the next two to three weeks. I have no doubt the Senator will play a pivotal role on the Opposition benches, letting his views be known to the House and the general public. We are all waiting with bated breath.
Senator Carroll referred to the pipe bands competition attended by 10,000 in the North of Ireland, and support for culture across the island. As Senator O'Toole and others working in education know, there is a policy in the North of Ireland whereby every student is given an opportunity to play a musical instrument. We should also consider having such a policy down here.
Nero fiddles while Rome burns.
They are playing the flute now.
It is wonderful for community participation to have such an opportunity. Music is very uplifting and we go out in the evenings because we want to be entertained.
Do we want Foster and Allen?
One would think there was a more serious form of entertainment in this House.
There is, according toThe Irish Times today.
Be that as it may, it seems that only one or two individuals are masters at this class. I support Senator Carroll's innovative suggestion, which I will pass on to the Minister concerned.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on the public sector, which is timely. We should have such a debate in the next three to four weeks. As the Finance Bill will be before the House in the next few weeks, we can discuss all such matters, including EU directives. I will arrange for time to be made available for that debate and I thank Senator Hanafin for his worthwhile suggestion. He also sought a debate on jobs and I have already given a commitment that such a discussion will take place. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment attended the House two weeks ago for a debate which was well supported by Members. They will realise the serious challenges involved. I welcome the 70 new jobs the Tánaiste announced yesterday, which are a God-send at this difficult time.
Senator Carty sought a debate on the review of the Common Agricultural Policy. As he correctly pointed out, the CAP is the backbone of Irish agriculture. I will do everything I can to arrange for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to attend the House in the next few weeks for an all-afternoon debate on the CAP, including the challenges facing those engaged in agriculture. I thank the Senator for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.
Senator Corrigan again outlined her serious concerns regarding an outbreak of measles and the shortage of MMR vaccine supplies. Following the Order of Business, I will pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister for Health and Children. The Senator also inquired about the work of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and asked when this House would have a debate on the forthcoming referendum. I will discuss that with the Senator after the Order of Business. I hope to have that debate before the Easter recess.
Regarding legislation due to come before the House and back to the House, Members got a list of forthcoming legislation from the Minister of State, Deputy Carey. I did not read it out or put it on the Order Paper but the Privacy Bill, which was inquired of me by Senator Jim Walsh, will come before the House in this session. Senator Hannigan inquired about the Companies Bill. I will update the House on the progress of that Bill next Tuesday. I always give top priority to any Bills cleared by Government that are due to come before the Seanad, with the full co-operation of all leaders and everyone concerned in the House. That policy remains in place and has stood us in good stead over many years.