The Order of Business is No. 1, Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on CAO applications and college places, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 but not before 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the end of the statements for concluding comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; and No. 37, Private Members' motion No. 21 on the rise in youth unemployment, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House will be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Order of Business.
Last night on "Prime Time" RTE broadcast a chilling documentary on the lives of Irish people in totally unsuitable psychiatric facilities which would have been unsuitable at any time but which are so inadequate in this day and age, yet more than 1,000 men and women live in them. As we saw last night, they are institutionalised in such horrible facilities. The Seanad could play a role in prioritising the issue of mental health and we can begin to do so on 1 March when the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, will make an announcement on the new funding to be made available for mental health facilities. We must make this issue a higher political priority and I want the Seanad to play a role in it. Yesterday, I received a commitment from the Minister of State that the practice of placing children in adult psychiatric facilities would end by the end of 2011. While this is welcome, it is unfortunate that a couple of hundred children with mental health difficulties will be put into adult facilities for treatment this year. I urge the Leader to ensure the Minister of State's announcement on the future of mental health in this country is made in the Seanad so that we can begin to prioritise this area. A number of Senators across the political divide, including Senators Corrigan and Mary White, have raised the issue and we must receive a response. We have an opportunity to make a difference in an area which has not been given the priority it deserves.
I wish to raise the 750 job losses in Bank of Scotland (Ireland) due to the closure of its Halifax branches here. This follows 1,500 job losses in our main banks in recent months, resulting in a total number of job losses of in excess of 2,000 in the banking sector. We need a job creation plan because it is clear we have not turned the corner and the banking sector is facing into serious flux and uncertainty. Will the third banking force be implemented and what are the Department of Finance's plans in this regard? I repeat the call I made yesterday for a debate which would allow every Member to express a view on these issues. I ask that the Minister for Finance attend the House to discuss the issues and, accordingly, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in order that we hold a debate on the banking sector today.
I note with interest that Greece has been closed down today by the first of a series of public sector strikes. People should keep that in mind when they study the Irish situation. The difference between the trade union movements in Ireland and Greece is that the former conceded immediately, or at least by last December, that the Government would have to save money the hard way and was prepared to find ways of achieving that goal. Eventually the Government disagreed, as it was entitled to do. However, nature abhors a vacuum. Nothing is happening except that ordinary people are seething with anger. Nobody is driving the process. This should not be allowed to continue because bushfires are breaking out in various public and private sector workplaces. We need to calm the situation by dealing with it now. The Government parties should be discussing how they can address the issues within their parliamentary party meetings. It is not a question of making concessions; it is about identifying ways of making progress.
I deliberately did not speak about George Lee on yesterday's Order of Business because I felt we had heard too much about it already. However, the related point raised by my colleague, Senator Harris, deserves close attention. People should look at what we do and how we do it. Let this be a lesson to those who called for Bill Cullen or Michael O'Leary to run the country. A particular skills set is required for political life and although we should not be completely cynical by saying we cannot have people coming in here, we need to consider how we can deal with this issue. The recent report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution offers one solution with its proposal that people would be appointed to Government through the Seanad. These would be carefully selected people who possess particular skills rather than celebrity candidates. However, we must recognise that skills such as persuasion, perseverance, obstinacy and leadership are required. One cannot run the country solely by having the skill to tell someone: "You're fired", or to demand that one check in on-line for a chair in the accident and emergency department. There are different ways of dealing with these issues.
The question of patriotism arises in respect of people coming forward for public service. Criticism is constantly aired in this House against the boss of the HSE but, to me, that man is a patriot in the real sense of the word. He put himself forward to run the HSE, yet he gets nothing but stick and criticism from all sides, including me on occasion. We should recognise that the service given by such people helps to make Irish life work.
The events of recent days give rise to very important issues which go beyond the personalities concerned. I agree with Senators O'Toole and Harris on the importance of having a debate on the nature and quality of representation and what we can expect from politicians and people in public life. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Constitution which is wrestling with issues pertaining to the electoral system and the nature and quality of representation that Deputies and public representatives are able to offer.
Leaving aside who he or she may be, the introduction of a directly elected mayor of Dublin has the potential to bring about positive and important change to our system in terms of representation and the quality of democracy in the city. I note in this morning's newspapers that the local government (office of the Dublin mayor and regional authority of Dublin) Bill was apparently discussed in Cabinet yesterday. Can the Leader ascertain whether it is possible to publish the scheme of the Bill now? If we have to await its publication next week or in the coming weeks, it will not be possible to have the quality of debate we need on such a profound change. I strongly support the proposal in principle and I want it to work.
I appeal to the Leader to ensure the Government does not bring before us a Bill in respect of which we have one week to debate Second Stage, followed by Committee and Report Stages a week later. That is not sufficient time for proper debate on the very real changes that could come about. We may need to amend a host of legislation if the proposal is to work. It is not possible to introduce a stand-alone Bill on a directly elected mayor of Dublin without amending local government legislation and, perhaps, the planning and development Acts. If I argue that we need more time when the Bill is published sometime in the next three or four weeks, I do not want to be accused of raising obstacles simply because I want to debate it properly. I ask for sufficient time to tease out the issues and if we have to amend other legislation to improve the quality of our democracy, let us do so.
The House will be aware that tourism, along with the agrifood sector, is the largest employer in the State. Will the Leader arrange a debate to coincide with a significant marketing campaign about to be launched by Tourism Ireland aimed at the Irish diaspora, not only in our nearest neighbour, which is our largest tourist market, but also around the world? It is significant that the work of Tourism Ireland has resulted not only in Fifth Avenue but also other major centres worldwide being painted green in March. This is probably one of the most significant marketing campaigns ever launched by a tourism body.
The House will be aware that Tourism Ireland is charged with attracting visitors to the island of Ireland, North and South. The tourism industry is significant in these difficult economic times, especially in my area of the Border counties which has the smallest number of visitors nationally. I understand the marketing campaign will cost in the region of €20 million. I congratulate the Government on the fact that, despite our straightened times, it has not reduced the international tourism marketing budget. I hope Tourism Ireland's campaign will result in an increase in the number of visitors to this country. An increase of 5% is projected this year compared with a decrease of 2% last year. This will clearly result not only in more visitors but in the protection of jobs, especially in the hotel industry, which is suffering grievously from the downturn. Because of the importance of the issue and as it is close to St. Patrick's Day I put it to the Leader that this month would be the time to focus the minds of people and this House on the importance of the tourism industry.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald. As she said, it is a sad day for the country, especially the workforce, given the increase in the number of people being thrown onto the dole. It is sad to see a further 750 bank staff facing that immediate prospect when we need consolidation in banking. That was promised by the Government but it has not been delivered.
Sadly, the Government has done nothing through the public interest directors or otherwise through the system to be more assertive in regard to the management of the banks and the proper controls that need to be in place. We know the State will be required to take an additional equity stake in the banks as part of the ongoing recapitalisation process. It was interesting to see that illustrious gentleman — the new bright light — the Governor of the Central Bank echo what we have been saying in this House, namely, that the banks have totally lost their edge in regard to small business lending. We have all been very concerned about that in this House. He has pointed out, as we on both sides of the House have done for a long time——
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Of course I have.
I would like to hear it.
This is where the banks need to improve for the sake of the economy and their own business performance. They will not have the scope to lend for property in the future. They have to get back to serving their loyal small business customers that they are starving of necessary working capital to keep their businesses going and their staff employed. Those are the people who need our support and help, who are there to protect jobs and who want to create new jobs. The Government is missing that point.
On the amendment to the Order of Business, because of our interest in this matter and given that our future depends on it, I suggest it would be useful for this House if the Leader would consider inviting in the Governor of the Central Bank. I am sure all would agree that it would be useful to have an exchange with him in this House. He is very enlightened in terms of how we should proceed. It would allow us to get to grips with where we are and where we need to go.
Will the Leader of the House invite the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to the House to discuss the transport situation, in particular the 30 km speed limit debacle in Dublin, which affects us all? On my way to the House yesterday I had to travel at 30 km with many cars behind me and a clear road in front of me. People have been getting penalty points for infringing the law in that regard. It is a proper mess. I understand the by-law cannot be changed until April of this year because it was only introduced in October 2009. I urge Fine Gael and Labour Party Members to urge their councillors to bring about a change immediately because it is causing chaos on the streets of Dublin.
Will the Leader also discuss the matter of taxis with the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey?
Senator Leyden is in reverse.
No interruptions please.
Senator Leyden should go into neutral. Was he caught himself?
No interruptions please. Questions to the Leader without interruption.
Ms Kathleen Doyle is the taxi regulator. There are approximately 14,000 taxis on the streets of Dublin. A total of 45 taxis were parked at Heuston Station yesterday morning at 11 a.m. I had to use a taxi recently to go to Herberton, Rialto. The driver was not from Ireland. He charged me €18.50 for a trip that was worth——
Where he was from is not relevant.
He had no idea where we were going. He had to get out twice to find out where he was. I had to ring someone to find out where I was going. He charged me €18.50 for a trip that was worth €10.50. I asked him where he was from.
Where was he from?
He told me he was from the Punjab.
It is a strange situation. There are 14,000 taxis in Dublin.
The matter is not relevant to the Order of Business. We have no control over taxis.
There are approximately 21,000 taxis in London.
Senator Leyden could be driving a taxi himself after the next election.
There is a need to review the situation. The Minister should come to the House to explain the disasters of the 30 km speed limit in Dublin city centre and the taxi situation. He should explain the standards required to be met in order for a person to get a licence.
That is a matter for Dublin City Council.
I am afraid it is not doing a great job. The Minister has overall responsibility.
Senator Leyden should go to Deputy Harney. The Progressive Democrats played a strong role in the taxi industry.
The council introduced the system and it is up to it to change it. I call Senator Harris.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his views. It is great to hear him expressing them in this regard.
I will not call Senator Leyden any more if he keeps that up. Senator Harris should be allowed to speak without interruption.
I wish to return indirectly again to the question of political life. I was perturbed last night to hear two political commentators say that the Lee issue illustrated the gap between the insiders in politics and the rest of the country on the outside. That is a very pernicious doctrine. I seek a proper debate in the House on political life.
Following on what Senator Fitzgerald said, I remember doing a programme on mental health 30 years ago and the switchboard in RTE was blocked for three days because it was the first time the issue of mental health was raised in respect of Johnny McEvoy. Nothing changed for the better until politicians got to work. Ken Loach has admitted that the film "Cathy Come Home" did not get a house built in Britain. Publicity does not get things done until the political process goes to work. Someone has to mediate between the majority who would grab it all and the minorities whom Senator Fitzgerald spoke about, namely, the mentally ill, the Halifax workers, people with mortgage problems and the marginalised. That could be one of the great functions of the Seanad. Let us keep the pity for real pitiful cases.
The Halifax workers cannot walk out of their offices today back into State employment in the ESB, as a certain celebrity candidate could walk out of the free market situation — after all politicians are subject to the free market — and back into a safe, secure and pensionable job in RTE. No Halifax worker can do that, unless they can walk back into the ESB.
I speak as someone who is an appointed Senator. I worked in RTE and I was appointed to the Seanad so I did not have to submit myself to election, nor would I.
I could not take the gruelling nature of a Dáil election nor far more seriously a Seanad election. Given the short, cushy hours they work, George Lee and people like him have no understanding of the business of politics. I am better placed than anyone to see how hard politicians work.
Senator Harris is such an eloquent speaker and I agree with all he said.
Senator Keaveney should speak on the Order of Business.
This is the first day of the new European Commission. I welcome the appointment of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to the position of Commissioner. I was only in the Dáil two days after my election when I got a four page foolscap handwritten letter from her. I wish I had sent it on to George Lee when he got elected because it acknowledged that "the Dáil can be a lonely place unless one thinks about the following". It was a practical letter about what one needed to do, how one needed to engage and interact with one's colleagues or one could become isolated and lonely in the House. That was the calibre of the person who contacted me, whom we have now sent to Europe. I wish the new Commission well.
I agree that we must keep mental health central to the agenda. I have been trying to pursue the issue of music therapy and have sought professional recognition for it. On "Prime Time" last night one of the issues that arose was the importance of alternative ways of coping with mental health. Music therapy is recognised throughout the English speaking world as central to dealing with people with mental health and other issues. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues and mental health, Deputy John Moloney, is working diligently in that sphere. It would be useful for us to be a conduit to spread the information on what is going on, but also to focus on what gaps remain to be filled. We should have a regular debate twice or three times a year in the presence of the Minister with responsibility for mental heath so we could not only be enlightened but also help to progress the issue. We know drink and drugs are issues and that people who watch television are told what they should be doing and how they should be living. In reality, much of that message is not particularly positive but we also have the other side of television where one can be given information such as the "Prime Time" programme last night.
I refer to the Bank of Scotland (Ireland) redundancies and the decision of Lloyds Bank to close the retail network in Ireland. Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and the bank guarantee scheme was introduced in October 2008. Legislation was introduced which gives the Minster for Finance extraordinary powers to restructure Irish banks. No decision has been taken under the legislation and no indication from the Minister or the Government has been forthcoming in regard to the consolidation or restructuring of the banking sector. Yesterday's announcement highlights the vacuum in this area because quite some time has elapsed. During the debate in 2008 the Minister talked about a third banking force in which Bank of Scotland (Ireland) was to play a part. There is a gap in policy formulation and initiative on the part of the Government in this area. What are the Government's plans regarding the banking sector?
It will not tell us.
As with NAMA, the Government parties are waiting for the European Commission to make the decision for them but there is an onus on them to outline their plans for the banking sector to the House.
Yesterday's announcement also highlights the need for the two main banks — Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland — to divest themselves of their non-core assets in other jurisdictions such as Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom in order that they can refocus on lending and making credit available in the Irish market.
The decision of Lloyds Bank highlights the renationalisation of the banking sector in Europe and we must recognise that. The two main Irish banks must play an important role in the Irish market and economy.
Yesterday, Senator Mullen raised the issue of the intention of Raidió na Gaeltachta to cease broadcasting the weekly mass. At the end of the month, a delegation from the Oireachtas committee whose remit covers the Irish language will visit the Connemara Gaeltacht in connection with the draft 20-year strategy on the Irish language. Will the Leader ask the committee to meet Raidió an Gaeltachta representatives to discuss this matter with them? We all speak about the helpless and vulnerable in the House but there are none more vulnerable that those who are in hospital or who are ill and housebound. Each week, in most cases, they look forward to participating in and listening to mass on Raidió na Gaeltachta. I recall the debate about removing the "Angelus" from radio and television broadcasts. The main intervention at the time was made by a Church of Ireland representative who brought balance to the debate when he said in these hectic times it was admirable that a broadcasting service would signal a time for reflection. The same applies in this case.
Tá súil agam mar sin, go ndéanfaidh Raidió na Gaeltachta athmhacnamh ar an gcinneadh seo atá i gceist aige. Is traidisiún é leis an raidió céanna an t-aifreann a bheith á chraoladh go seachtainiúil agus go rialta. Táim lán cinnte nach gcabhróidh sé le stádas an stáisiúin má leanann sé ar aghaidh leis an gcinneadh seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an coiste sin ón Oireachtas sásta labhairt le Raidió na Gaeltachta agus, b'fhéidir, an tuairim a chur trasna chuige nár ceart dó é seo a dhéanamh anois.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's comments on mental health. It would be wrong of us not to have a debate. When will there be Government action on A Vision for Change and a commitment to funding? Mental health is not just a phrase we can throw about. Many people are under severe pressure. Mental health patients are being moved out into communities and being housed in Dickensian facilities but many other people are under severe pressure predominantly because of bank lending policies and procedures. Senators Feeney and Fitzgerald referred yesterday and today to the number of young and middle aged people on the edge. Many parents have offspring at home and they cannot cope. The Leader should meet the people who are under severe mental health stress and pressure. This was caused primarily by banking institutions and failed Government policy not only regarding the financial services industry but also in the lack of implementation of A Vision for Change, to which lip service has been paid. I applaud the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, for his interview with Marian Finucane. However, we need more thanrhetoric. We need implementation and firm financial commitment.
I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on social partnership. I am a firm advocate of the process and it has never been needed more in the history of the State. Government, Opposition parties, unions, employers and every other pillar should sit down collectively to protect, maintain and create jobs. If this is not done, we will be like Greece. The euro has declined in value and the financial industry across Europe is in turmoil. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment needs to come to the House to discuss social partnership, otherwise the bush fires will become an inferno and we will have to put up the "For Sale" sign.
I endorse the comments made on many issues raised. Yesterday I touched on the quality of democracy in this country on the Order of Business. Senators Harris and Alex White referred again to this issue earlier. As Senator Harris said, there is no doubt that there are insiders and outsiders and that is the perception, which is a shame. We need a debate on our democracy and on the nature and quality of representatives as a result of the fallout of the George Lee episode. It should also incorporate the stress and strain people are under and whether we are disconnected from them. That is the question but the cant is that politicians look after themselves. The quality of representation has deteriorated because of the media. We are not being given a chance.
This House presents an ideal opportunity to debate all these issues, including those raised by Senator Fitzgerald such as mental health, the disadvantaged and the marginalised. I hate to think that we neglected these people and, therefore, I call for a debate as soon as possible. It is all about how we represent the people. That is why I came into the House and that is what I want to do. I am not one of those who comes in and thinks I can work on my qualifications and that is it. I want to be a public servant and to do what I can for Ireland, which includes helping everybody I can. That is what this Chamber should be about and that is what I want a debate on.
Yesterday, I raised the issue of cosmetic clinics, which have mushroomed all over the Ireland, but the Leader did not respond. I am concerned about how they are operated because they are not covered by legislation or regulation. Will the Leader find time to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to outline her proposals to regulate these clinics because I fear for the future? People come to Ireland and perform operations before moving out again with no accountability. I would like the Leader to invite the Minister in to discuss this issue.
I thank Senator Ó Murchú for supporting my call yesterday for the continued broadcast of the weekly mass on Raidió na Gaeltachta. His comments on the"Angelus" are particularly apposite. Senator Harris just commented to me that had George Lee taken the opportunity to have a moment's reflection during the broadcast of the "Angelus", he might not have taken the rash step that he did. I would go so far as to say that the only bongs causing a problem in this country are the ones being sold in head shops.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I wish to make a serious point to the Leader with regard to the debate he promised some weeks ago about the media. I made the point yesterday, with regard to the broadcasting of mass on Raidió na Gaeltachta, that the argument about funding simply does not hold up. The weekly mass is not a Broadway production — it is not something that is very expensive to broadcast — and the same applies to services of other religious denominations, which should be provided for.
To pick up on what Senators O'Toole, Harris and others have said, there is a serious need for us to consider our political culture and here, the debate on the media is highly relevant. The media is helping to shape a completely unrealistic view of the political process among the public. We have been presented with a myth over the last few days that there is a group of insiders keeping out a talented person.
The truth about politics is that it is a mixture of plámás and policy and, unless one is willing to hustle for the ideas one believes in, and has the humility to take the time to persuade others——
——that one is worthy of high office——
——one has no right to expect preferment. I am asking the Leader to name a date for our discussion on the media.
I wish to mention a point made by Breda O'Brien inThe Irish Times last weekend which is also apposite. She asked, “Would people who support a derogation from teaching religion for atheistic teachers, also support the right of religious believers not to carry out a civil partnership ceremony for a gay or lesbian couple?” We will have a sensitive debate in the coming weeks and months about the civil partnership legislation.
I ask the Senator to conclude.
I will conclude on this, a Chathaoirligh, but I would appreciate your indulgence on this point.
Many people in this House will support in their minds and hearts the idea of a conscience clause that is respectful of what the law seeks to achieve but also of the genuine differences of opinion about this sensitive issue. However, most politicians will not express this because of the party whip system. The media, because it has a bias, generally speaking, against so-called traditional views, will not ask the hard questions, and thus will once again not serve the public. I am asking the Leader for a date for a debate about the media, at which we can ventilate these issues respectfully.
I rise to support Senator Buttimer — I see him smiling, because I do not often support him — in his call for the resumption of social partnership. None of us needs to look too deeply to see the social unrest out there at the moment as a result of the economic downturn. There is an onus on every one of us to encourage anyone we know on either side — whether the Government or political side, or the union side — back into talks. It is the only way forward and the only way in which things can be done.
Although I mentioned this yesterday, I will ask the Leader again about the debate on mental health. I will be as forceful as Senator Mullen and ask him to name a date. Everybody who saw the "Prime Time" programme last night was sickened to the core. One went to bed depressed one's self after seeing the old, antiquated and unusable hospitals in which those who find themselves with mental health problems are housed. I take my hat off to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, who is a very committed and hard-working man; that was acknowledged last night by the chairman of the College of Psychiatry of Ireland. He said last night on the programme that over the next three years we will see a phasing out of all the old units. I ask the Leader to give us a date for that urgent and much needed debate on mental health.
I join other Senators in calling for a debate on banking. The closure of one of the country's main banks, as announced yesterday, will cause significant hardship for many people in the north east — not just workers in the bank but also customers who are currently availing of the service. We have also seen recent increases in mortgage interest rates, particularly those of Permanent TSB, and the failure of many banks to put money back into the economy and get credit moving again. A debate on this issue would be timely and I urge the Leader to arrange one.
I welcome the commitment of the G7 countries to cancel the debt owed to them by Haiti. However, the debt cancelled by the G7 is only a fraction of what Haiti owes to organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF. One of the impacts of this is that it will be much more difficult to reconstruct the country after the recent earthquake. Electricity prices will be higher and food supplies will be put in danger. I would like to see further debt cancellation. I urge the Minister and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputies Martin and Power, to make representations at the highest level of the IMF and the World Bank in order to achieve this.
I support the calls by many Senators for a debate on mental health. It is important that we do not politicise the issue of mental health. We must all fight together on this issue. There has been much talk about institutions, but it is clear that the foundations of mental health are laid at a very young age — when children are born, in fact. It is a community-based issue and one we must stay on top of.
I support the comments of Senator Alex White about directly elected mayors. I would like to see this come before the House as soon as possible. As we have a potential date in June for the direct election of a mayor, it is important to move the process forward.
When will the Bill be introduced?
It is supposed to be September now.
We need a debate as soon as possible.
On the issue of directly elected mayors, there is a wider debate with regard to local government reform. It is important that we do not look upon the establishment of a directly elected Dublin mayor as an end in itself; we must also consider mayors for cities such as Galway, Cork, Waterford and Limerick, as well as greater regionalisation and local government reform.
Does the Senator want the job again?
Senator White may be looking for a job, but I am not seeking the job of Lord Mayor of Galway again.
Finally, I support Senator Paschal Mooney in his comments about the tourism industry. Going green is a great concept, but it is important on St. Patrick's Day that we focus on the tourism potential of this country rather than encouraging people to leave and go to other countries. It is important that we look after our own people and encourage people to visit this country.
I support my colleagues in their request for a debate on banking and the future of our economy, but I wish to relate it to what is happening in Greece at the moment. On a number of occasions over the last few weeks, I have pointed to the developments in Greece and the profound implications they have for our country. What we can see happening in another country is what should be apparent to us regarding where Ireland stands at the moment. In other words, the economic security of another country is under threat, but that is also the case in our country. If we consider what dominated politics over the last number of years, particularly before the Celtic tiger descended on us, we will realise it was the national question. The national question then was the future of the North, but the national question for us now is how a small, open economy that built its success upon integration with the world economy will survive when the tide of globalisation goes out. We saw the symbol of this yesterday when Halifax announced it was leaving Ireland.
The tide of globalisation upon which our country is floating is receding. International companies and banks are considering their national markets. The course of action that Senator Regan correctly outlined for Bank of Ireland and AIB is exactly what Lloyd is doing. Our challenge is charting the route to safety for our country and navigating our way there. I humbly suggest that we establish the value and validity of political life by answering that question and delivering action, rather than by debating it continually. That is the way in which we will establish the relevance of political life. We will rise above the personality-based rubbish of the last couple of days, establish the role of politics, and answer the new national question that our country must answer in order for its security to be protected.
I agree with my good friend, Senator Donohoe. I support the view that a discussion on banks, especially foreign banks operating in Ireland, and the financial institutions is necessary. Given the current market, it is likely that Halifax will not be the only foreign bank to pull out from Ireland. My concern rests with its workers. More importantly, it rests with the customers of Halifax and the other foreign banks likely to follow it in terms of how they will be treated by the banks or agencies of the banks. The larger issue is the banks'modus operandi in dealing with customers and their customers’ accounts and debts. I am deeply concerned by the manner in which customers would be treated in a flush of financial institutions.
A letter I have from Halifax to one of its customers asks the customer to contact the bank if he or she does not receive certain information.
No documents, please.
I do not know how a Halifax customer could contact the bank if he or she never received the information in the first place.
I do not want documents displayed in the House. The Senator can put it on the record in another way.
Some customers' accounts and debts may appear before the courts. It might be necessary for both Houses to examine the current legislation with a fresh pair of eyes to determine whether we must change it to meet the market. We should do so. Does the Leader know whether any regulation applies to debts with foreign-owned banks that are passed to debt management companies?
Three weeks ago, I raised the issue in the House of mental health based on the review of the mental health inspectorate. I referred to two wards in St. Loman's Hospital in Mullingar that have been deemed by the inspectorate as being unfit for human habitation. It described the wards as desolate and depressing, with paint peeling from the walls.
The House has discussed the matter of mental health over and back, up and down and the glossy A Vision for Change report was produced, but we are doing nothing for those who most need us to be their voice. Yesterday, visiting committees were discussed, but the comments were a load of balderdash. We do not need visiting committees. Rather, we need the money ring-fenced by the HSE from sales to provide people with proper human living conditions. They are vulnerable and need us to be their voice. I commend the all-party committee on mental health under Senator Fitzgerald and Deputy Chris Andrews. I also commend the service users who appeared before it. They were critical of the Government and of the fact that it was not re-investing money in mental health services.
That is not true.
Then why has the inspectorate, the watchdog, stated that the buildings are not fit for human habitation? That is the bottom line. Let us do something about it. Let the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, have a frank discussion with the House on where the money has gone.
I rise to support Senators Fitzgerald, Feeney, McFadden and others who have raised the issue of mental health and have again asked the Leader for a debate. I welcome his commitment to hold a debate before 1 March. This is important, as 1 March will clearly be the start of a landmark year.
Senator Harris hit the nail on the head when he remarked that there must be political will to bring about change. This is why politics is important and why good people must become and stay involved. There is political will to bring about real change within mental health services. This will be a landmark year for mental health services, but meaningful change must be achieved. The Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, has made it clear that he is on that road. The Seanad is also on that road. We have an amazing opportunity not only to ensure that all people with mental health challenges will have quality services, but to support and enhance the mental health and psychological well-being of everyone. We can make this our clear and achievable objective.
I entered the House with no intention of speaking, since I wanted to listen. This morning's Order of Business has been fascinating in terms of the words expressed on all sides. How valuable would it be for the rest of the nation to know what has been stated on this debate by Senators O'Toole, Harris and Mullen, who are my colleagues on this side, and Senators from all sides of the House? In particular, I listened to Senator Donohoe's comments regarding events in Greece and the danger of the same occurring in Ireland. We experienced considerable difficulties during the 1980s. Whatever we did, we managed to work together to make the nation something of which we were proud in the 1990s and during the past decade. We can do it again.
Senator Ó Brolcháin asked that we not politicise everything. While debates on mental health and banking are healthy, let us be sure to work together as well. In the difficult 1980s, the Leader of the Opposition told the Government that, if the latter took the tough decisions, the Opposition would support it. This is the type of attitude we need, particularly in respect of our social fabric. Various parts of the nation are not working together. We can learn to work together, but someone needs to say that the tough decisions will be taken and followed through.
We are no longer in control of many of the elements over which we used to have control, but the past 20 years saw us learning how to get from the bottom to the top. We can do it again, but it means working together, listening to others and supporting the tough actions required.
I am somewhat surprised by Senator McFadden. The Cathaoirleach is a former member of the midland health board. I will start with one of Senator McFadden's points, namely, that of visiting committees. A few years ago just before the introduction of the refund of nursing charges legislation, I told the House that people would come out of the woodwork who had never put one foot past the other to visit their relatives. This is still the case. At the time, I received a telephone call from a high-ranking health board official. The official told me that a woman went into a hospital in the mid-west to see her favourite aunt, her only relative. The woman wanted to ensure that she got her entitlement in 2005, but her aunt had died in 1989. As I would say in another forum, I rest my case.
As another member of the health board, Senator Cassidy will confirm that, in the main, psychiatric hospital residents' only contacts with the outside world were members of a visiting committee. Those elected and professional members reported to their boards, as the Cathaoirleach would be aware as a former board member and chairman, on the conditions in every psychiatric hospital, not just St. Loman's or St. Fintan's. The district, general and regional hospitals were all brought before the boards.
The Government closed them down.
I am sorry, but I listened to Senator McFadden.
No interruptions, please.
Has Senator McFadden ever visited that psychiatric hospital? Would she know where it is?
That comment should be withdrawn.
That is a disparaging comment.
No speaking across the floor.
On a point of order, that was a disparaging comment.
Through the Chair.
That comment should be withdrawn.
On a point of order, that was a most disparaging comment and it should be withdrawn.
If the cap fits, wear it.
He is at it again.
I do not want any comments across the floor.
On a point of order——
I do not want comments from one Member to another across the floor of the Chamber.
On a point of order, it is Senator Glynn who has politicised this issue, not us.
If the Senator wishes to speak, he must speak through the Chair to the Leader.
Up to now we had planned for the future of the psychiatric services in the document A Vision for Change. We had a vision but no change, but now we have money. I say fair play to the Government and to the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney; things will change.
There is no doubt about that.
The Senator has gone over time, the time for the Order of Business is almost concluded and other Members are offering.
Having been a former member of a health board, I would close every one of our psychiatric hospitals, but they must be replaced.
We have had a healthy debate on mental health this morning and I am delighted to speak on this subject. I want to refer to the person who has just spoken. In 1999 I worked in health promotion in the Midland Health Board.
I know that.
You were a member of the board at that time. A major conference on mental health was held in Tullamore on mental health at that time.
The Senator should address her questions to the Leader and not to any other member.
I am coming to a very important question.
I am taking questions to the Leader.
The recommendation that emerged from that conference was that there should be a move from institution to community care provision of mental health care under the direction of Dr. Pat Doorley.
Senator Nicky McFadden spoke today about the inspectorate condemning those decrepit institutions and how we have put down the citizens of our State. I am very concerned about Senator Glynn's comments because we are 11 years late——
We have two thirds——
——in the delivery of this care. All of us in this country are at risk of experiencing mental health problems.
What did the Senator's party do?
We have had the fallout from the banking sector.
Has the Senator points for the Leader?
I am coming to the point.
The Senator should put her points to the Leader. I do not want her to make a speech.
Senator Glynn has provoked comment.
Senator Healy Eames cannot have a debate on this issue on the Order of Business, she is a seeking a debate on this issue and it is a matter for the Leader to agree to it.
I call on our good Leader to heed the cross-party call for a serious move to be taken in regard to mental health care. I have not spoken publicly on this issue previously. The pressures experienced today not only in our institutions but in society following the fallout from the banking sector, credit concerns and threats of home repossessions put all us at the risk of suffering mental ill health. We need to call the date in this respect and the Minister might give due honour to this House and announce that date here as Senator Fitzgerald proposed.
Three Members are offering and I ask them to be brief.
I request the Leader to arrange for a debate on banking, particularly in light of the fact that HBOS, Halifax Bank of Scotland, is to let 750 people go. Unfortunately, banks that set up in this State do business here in the good times and when the tide turns they walk away or do not act properly in their dealings with this State. I am thinking in particular of Ulster Bank which is not lending or not giving funds to the Irish banking sector. Now that HBOS is leaving or diminishing its interest in the Irish market, it should make a strong effort to cut its losses, which it would have in any event. It should consider its employees and ensure that the third banking force, which evidently will form, will have the benefit of its staff and customers and that it does not lose its customers in the three month window of opportunity we now have. We should avail of that time and opportunity and that requires not only Government effort but an effort on the part of Halifax Bank of Scotland.
The financial situation in Greece was mentioned and a parallel was drawn between it and the situation here, but the reality is that there are contrasts between Ireland and Greece. The EU has told Greece that it must improve its financial measures and it has commended Ireland on the financial measures we have taken.
I join others in seeking a debate on banking. The bankers in this country are getting away with blue murder. We have heard of 750 jobs losses this week; some 750 people will be cast on the dole queues. This has happened after we have recapitalised and bailed out the banks, but there has been no bailout for those who are struggling to meet their mortgage repayments. It is about time that Government brought in the bankers, laid down the law to them and made sure there is some element ofquid pro quo given that €54 billion of taxpayers’ money was forked out to bail out the bankers. The way they behaved was nothing short of criminality.
I wish to raise the matter of a debate on the media, particularly media coverage of the political system. I raised this on yesterday's Order of Business. Elements of the media are clearly anti-politics and an anti-politics agenda in the current climate is extremely dangerous and unhealthy.
I echo the calls of others for a debate on the state of our psychiatric institutions and the Government's mental health policy. Like others, I was utterly shocked at the "Prime Time" programme last night. I was not surprised by what it revealed because we know a good deal about this from previous reports of the inspector of mental health, but I was shocked that these conditions continue to prevail. Conditions in prisons are similar and also unjustifiable, but the people in psychiatric institutions are unwell and require treatment. It is appalling that they are still housed in these absolutely Dickensian conditions.
I also call for a debate on the treatment of victims and vulnerable witnesses in criminal trials. There has been some controversy around the treatment of a key prosecution witness in the Eamonn Lillis trial, namely Jean Treacy. I welcome the comments of the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, yesterday in defending the protection given to Ms Treacy. She was a key prosecution witness. It is a matter for the gardaí that where they believe that a witness is vulnerable they should be able to offer protection.
There is no right on the part of the tabloid press to take photographs of witnesses or anyone coming to the courts. It is rather hypocritical because the same tabloid newspapers that are shouting loudly for the right to plaster photographs of Jean Treacy all over their front pages condemn those who do not come forward to give evidence in so-called gangland cases. There is an issue about witness intimidation. Witnesses can be vulnerable for all sorts of reasons. One of the great advantages of the new courts complex in Parkgate Street is that it enables the gardaí to offer witnesses protection.
It should be remembered that Ms Treacy gave evidence in public in the court room in accordance with the constitutional imperative. We need a debate on this issue to ensure this is all highlighted.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Coghlan, Harris, Keaveney, Buttimer, Ormonde, Feeney, Ó Brolcháin, Donohoe, McFadden, Corrigan, Quinn, Glynn, Healy Eames and Bacik gave their views on last night's "Prime Time" programme and called for a further debate on mental health. As Members know we had at least three debates on this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney. Senator Corrigan has been a champion of this issue, as has Senator Feeney and Senator Glynn who spent a lifetime working in psychiatric services and who has a great deal of expertise in this area. I acknowledge the view of a person who comes from a background in this sector. I know from my experience that there has been a huge improvement in services compared with the services in place when we became members of a health board in 1985. Many patients are living in beautiful homes in the community and that represents a major improvement in this area.
I wish to inform the House that I have a note in my diary that the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, will be in attendance in the House on 3 May to discuss mental health issues. It will be an all afternoon session and longer if Members require it. I will discuss this with the leaders at our meeting next Tuesday.
In regard to the new European Commission, on behalf of the House I send our best wishes to our new European Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. Europe will be well served by this experienced person who is representing Ireland and the Commission.
Senators Fitzgerald, Coghlan, Regan, Hannigan, Donohoe, Callely, Quinn, Ó Brolcháin, Hanafin and McCarthy all expressed their disappointment about the 750 job losses at Bank of Scotland. The facts about the Bank of Scotland are that it is not covered under the guarantee scheme and it is retaining its commercial and business division, which is enormous and comprises 850 jobs. It is a huge lender in the commercial and business sector. We would not want to overlook the enormous contribution Bank of Scotland has played and is playing in meeting its day-to-day requirements to the small and medium-sized businesses which went to it and were able to secure loans at a reasonable interest rate. The tragedy from the mortgage holder's perspective — taking into account the more than 40 outlets it acquired, in the main from the ESB — is that the bank is a major player in the market. The consumer benefits when there are many major players looking for a share in the market. I acknowledge the continued presence of Bank of Scotland (Ireland) in the commercial and business sector and hope it will continue to prosper, grow and be a major player which will assist small, medium and family businesses which it has been connected with for a number of years.
Various views were expressed by Senators on equating us with Greece. As we all know, the Government has been a shining example for our fellow member states, Greece, Spain and Portugal, on what needs to be done to tackle difficult problems.
It has not.
Instead of criticising each other, we should take pride in the Government's decisions and what it has done in conjunction with the people and trade unions. They have been responsible in responding with corrective measures.
The Leader should be careful. He should not be in denial.
There should be no interruptions.
In 1987 we fought back by making hard and difficult decisions and we are here to do so again today. We are doing it.
The Leader's party never did it. It did not have the bottle to do so.
I understand the Senator was in short pants at the time. His party was on this side of the House too.
It never got it right and will not start now either.
Senators O'Toole, Buttimer and Feeney spoke about looking forward to a return to social partnership in industrial relations. I agree that the concept of social partnership has a significant role to play in the continuation of the progress of the nation. The quicker we get around the table to discuss next year's budget and subsequent ones the better. There will be three difficult budgets and as such social partnership has an important role to play in the process. What had to be done was done and we will have to move on. That is my humble advice to everyone concerned.
Senators O'Toole, Alex White, Harris and Ormonde gave the House the benefit of their experience on the skill set required for political life in bringing people together and membership of both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, as well as local authorities. Democratically elected men and women give of their time morning, noon and night in serving the people, whether it be in the Dáil, Seanad or local authorities. They are the representatives of the people, whom the media overlook all of the time. The people's representatives are demeaned by the media when they demean politicians. The example we have had in the past 48 hours is a good one for public service in bringing people like ourselves to represent others. It is an honour and privilege to do so, nothing more and nothing less. There will be no difficulty in having a debate on this issue and I will allow time for it. On a related matter, Senator Alex White asked about the possibility of discussing the heads of a Bill to be published which will provide for a directly elected mayor of Dublin. I will look into that matter later today and inform the House of my findings next Tuesday.
Senators Mooney and Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on tourism. Senator Mooney correctly highlighted the importance of the industry. There are over 300,000 employed in the services sector which is facing significant challenges. The hotels, restaurant and guest house sector is under the same intense pressure as every other sector. I am pleased to hear that €20 million is to be spent in March throughout the world in promoting Ireland which could lead to an increase of 5% in tourist numbers this year, as noted by Senator Mooney, compared to a decrease of 2% last year. I will have no difficulty in allowing a debate to take place prior to the St. Patrick's Day break. I commend Senators for calling for such a timely debate.
Senator Coghlan commented on the Governor of the Central Bank; he might like to discuss the topic with his leader. We can also discuss the issue at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Senator Leyden mentioned the speed limits in force in Dublin and, in particular, the 30 km/h limit which is not working. I suggested last week that a speed limit of 40 km/h could be considered. I understand the issue is to be the subject of public consultation. I commend all the councillors and local authority members of all political parties who have played their part. I heard the comments of the chairperson yesterday morning and anything that can be done to save lives must be commended. A speed limit of 30 km/h is too low, while 50 km/h is too high. Therefore, I would see a speed limit of 40 km/h as being very acceptable to everybody concerned.
Senator Leyden also mentioned the taxi regulator. I will pass on his strong views in that regard to the Minister. There are 14,000 taxi licences in Dublin, which seems high compared to the 21,000 in the city of London.
Senators Ó Murchú, Mullen and McCarthy called for a debate on the media. Senator Ó Murchú again outlined to the House the proposal of Raidió na Gaeltachta to cease broadcasting Sunday morning services. As I stated yesterday, it is important to have time for reflection; setting aside one hour each week is not too much to expect. Therefore, I hope the radio station will consider the matter again. As Senator Ó Murchú noted, perhaps when members of the committee visit the station in the very near future and discuss the issue with management, the decision might be changed.
Senator Ormonde called for a debate on cosmetic clinics. I will have no difficulty in allowing such a debate to take place. The Senator highlighted the urgent nature of the issue and I will see if we can debate it in the coming weeks.
Senator Bacik spoke about key prosecution witnesses in criminal trials. I fully agree with her views on the matter and the decisions of the Garda Síochána.
I thank the Leader.
Perhaps the matter might be dealt with in a privacy Bill to enable it to be considered further.
I congratulate the Taoiseach; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin; the British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown; the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson; the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, and all others involved, including the clergy and members of other organisations, in bringing the talks to a successful conclusion in Northern Ireland last weekend. It is a shining example of what we can achieve on the island of Ireland in pursuing peace. I compliment and congratulate everybody concerned.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on the banking sector be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Harris, Eoghan.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
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- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
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