The Order of Business is No. 1, Arbitration Bill 2008 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and resume at the conclusion of No. 38, if not previously concluded; No. 2, statements on the final report on the Twenty-eight Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2007, a proposal for a constitutional amendment to strengthen children's rights, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; and No. 38, Private Members' motion No. 17 on special needs assistants, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
Trust and confidence in politics are at a low ebb. Trust in the Government and between the partners in government is also low. It is important, therefore, that we in this House do what we can to restore trust in order that the people will have confidence in the work we do. Tonight we will debate a motion on special needs assistants. We have heard many comments from Ministers that there have not been cutbacks in front-line services but people are experiencing severe cutbacks in this area. We must discuss the issue.
In terms of being relevant, many of us spoke yesterday about the need to discuss the banking crisis and job creation. When will we have these debates?
In the last two weeks "Prime Time" has highlighted the plight of women who underwent an horrific procedure known as symphysiotomy in some of our maternity hospitals, in some cases as late as the 1980s. I welcome the decision of the Minister for Health and Children that the matter should be referred to an outside inquiry to be undertaken by the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. However, this may not be enough; an independent inquiry may be necessary. It is critical that we learn lessons about why these procedures were carried out and the principles that determined they be undertaken because, clearly, they were not medical. I ask the Leader to convey this view to the Minister for Health and Children.
I wish to raise two other issues, the first of which is the appalling situation regarding mental health and the lack of implementation of A Vision for Change. Will the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, come before the House to make a statement on inputs in the area of mental health?
He was in the House last week.
He was here yesterday.
He came before us when Senator Fitzgerald was not present.
I am referring to his coming before the House to make a statement on the new funding he insists will be invested in the context of implementation of A Vision for Change.
Where is the money?
The Minister of State has indicated he will be making an announcement on 1 March. I request that the said announcement be made in this House in order that we might engage in a proper debate on the matter.
The Minister of State referred to that matter when he came before the House last week.
It is clear that there is a smokescreen.
The Senator should have been here last week.
Senator Walsh should show us the money.
Questions are being put to the Leader and it is he who will reply to them.
The time for rhetoric is over. Senator Walsh's party has been in government for 12 years.
Senator Buttimer should not interrupt.
Senator Walsh is inviting comment.
It is clear that the money which we were promised would be ring-fenced for mental health services has disappeared into the HSE's budget.
That is not true.
It is true. The Minister for Health and Children said as much at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children.
That is not true.
It is true. Apparently, the Minister of State is to announce a new commitment in respect of mental health services.
Both the Minister and the Minister of State made the same commitment in respect of financing.
I request that the House engage in a debate on the Minister of State's new commitment in order that we might have an opportunity to discuss the relevant issues.
The final issue to which I wish to refer relates to women's representation in political life. It was stated that a debate on this matter would take place on 8 March, International Women's Day. I ask the Leader to reply on how he expects the House to meaningfully address the issues I have raised.
I support Senator Fitzgerald in congratulating the Minister for Health and Children on establishing a review of the carrying out of symphysiotomies. The television programme on this matter was the most nauseating I have watched for a long period. What happened to the women concerned was appalling. I would like to know what were the values held by and instincts of those who carried out these procedures which, in many cases, were completely unnecessary. I am sure there would be complete support on all sides of the House on the action to be taken by the Minister in this matter.
I have raised the issue of industrial relations on a number of occasions. Some Members became extremely excited a few weeks ago when air traffic controllers went on strike for a couple of hours and referred to the bad impression this would give of our country on the international stage. It is worth noting that British Airways is facing into a major strike, that air traffic controllers and Lufthansa staff in Germany engaged in a four-day strike last week and that French air traffic controllers are due to hold a four-day stoppage. In addition, there is complete chaos in many of the public services of other European states. That has not happened in Ireland. Instead of picking up on small things, people here should be taking action. The Government has an opportunity to deal with this matter before it explodes. What will happen is that someone is going to work to rule, someone else will get annoyed, someone else again will react to that annoyance and, as a result, someone will be sacked or suspended. The matter will become acause célèbre for those who want to create difficulties and it will escalate into a strike which will attract wider support and, completely unnecessarily, develop into a focal point.
Senator Healy Eames raised a particular issue on the Order of Business yesterday, the reaction to which of some Members was that those involved should either be sacked or dealt with. I wish to outline the position on this matter. Schools are extremely complex institutions. It is not like the old days. Middle management in schools is responsible for various matters. With regard to school rolls, for example, and in the context of a system that is as awkward as some of the accounting systems used by small businesses, a member of staff is obliged to check the attendance record of each child on a daily and weekly basis. The figures must then be reconciled on a monthly and yearly basis. This is a major job which in the past would have been done by school principals. It is now done by someone promoted to the relevant middle management post.
In the past schools were not obliged to have bullying or child protection policies. As matters stand, they must ensure such policies are implemented in a comprehensive manner by staff who are properly trained for that purpose. Also in the past schools were not required to deal with information technology, IT, issues. Again, as with a small business, someone must ensure the proper operation of a school's IT system. This is a complex business, particularly in view of the fact that the system must cover the entire school and its various classrooms and be updated on a regular basis. These are middle management tasks and people are promoted to particular posts in order that they might carry them out. There will be no one left to complete them. It is not a question of sacking people for not doing this work. If they do not do it, that is how the system will break down. Everybody will do his or her own jobs; he or she will not pull back from what he or she is paid to do.
This matter must be addressed. Ireland is the only country in Europe which is still in a position to deal with it. A solution must be found that will provide the Government with the savings it is seeking, that will bring about the transformation that is required and that will bring people onside.
I join Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole in welcoming the inquiry into the barbaric practice of symphysiotomies. As a midwife and nurse, I am in a position to state such procedures should not have been carried out at the time at which they were. It is only correct that there should be a full scale inquiry into why such procedures were carried out.
It has been a tempestuous few weeks in the world of politics. We have seen conduct unbecoming of Ministers both inside and outside the Houses. There has also been bickering and squabbling among Deputies and Senators. Such behaviour does not lend itself to progress being made at a time when the country is going to rack and ruin. It was alarming to watch "The Frontline" with Pat Kenny on Monday night on which so many young people displayed such disaffection with the political process. I have no doubt that many in the audience were representative of their peers. There is not that much wrong with the political process, it is the way it is being operated that is the problem. There has been enough evidence of this since Christmas. It is, therefore, no wonder that so many young people have such little regard for politics.
At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children yesterday I saw another side to how young people approached politics. Representatives from Dáil na nÓg provided members of the committee with reasoned and articulate views on some of the issues they rightly believed politicians should be in a position to address. One of these issues is the subject of sex education which I have taught in many schools in the south-east region. One of the reasons for this is that teachers find it difficult to deal with the subject and then return to teaching their normal subjects. Those from Dáil na nÓg informed the committee that many pupils also had a difficulty with the subject. Furthermore, they stated there was unequal access to sex education and that there was no standardised approach to the teaching of the subject. In 2007 the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, launched a report on relationships and sexuality education, RSE, and stated that up to 60% of schools had no proper programme for the teaching of the subject. Following all the public debate on the issue which dates back decades, it is ridiculous that such a simple matter cannot be addressed. In such circumstances, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to come before the House in order that we might commence the process of dealing properly with this matter which is particularly important to young people.
That brings me back to where I started. One of the messages communicated on "The Frontline" is that people are frustrated by political inaction, especially in the context of particular issues and how they relate to them. This is a matter on which politicians must show that they can be positive and proactive. That might lead to young people having more faith in what we do.
The final matter to which I wish to refer relates to the recruitment embargo, bed closures and the curtailment of services. The embargo is rendering the health service incapable of meeting the needs of the general public and leading to massive overcrowding in accident and emergency departments and long waiting lists. A further 2,000 beds will be closed this year and some 1,600 more posts will be lost. The embargo is having a particularly detrimental effect on mental health services. Caroline McGrath, director of the Irish Mental Health Coalition, has serious reservations about a Government policy which is a crude and brutal instrument and crippling the Government's own reform programme, namely, A Vision for Change. According to figures released by the HSE, 719 posts have been lost in mental health services in the past 14 months. Any plan for reform must outline who is doing what, how they are doing it and when.
I wish to raise three issues. Is the Leader aware of any plans to amend existing legislation in order to assist subcontractors who cannot obtain payment for work done? I suggest the introduction of a benefit clause, in respect of circumstances where materials and labour are supplied but not paid for and where a third party derives a benefit from the provision of such materials and labour, be explored. Some element of responsibility for discharging a debt should rest with the benefiting party. In other words, the debt associated with the provision of materials and labour should travel with the end product while it is still in use until the debt is discharged.
I wish to raise the continued and ongoing anger of members of the public regarding the perceived attempts by the Catholic Church to manage and exert damage control on the situation regarding the recent reports on child abuse. That anger comes from a belief that the church and its hierarchy just do not get it. I was impressed by the observation by one bishop at the weekend that what happened and how incidents of abuse were managed reflected a deficit that was brought about by an insufficient role of lay people, especially women, in the church. I suggest this is only a partial insight and that it is not just about a lack of specific people, it is about a lack of humanity. I call on the bishops and the Pope to look into their hearts and remember what lies behind their vocation and what the real work of their church is. I call on them to state they are sorry they got it so wrong and that people were so hurt but that they need help in carrying out the work of their faith and that this can be done by everyone together. Let the Pope ask the victims themselves for their forgiveness and not discuss it with his bishops.
With regard to mental health and the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, it is very clear that we are in a landmark year for mental health. We have money that will be very clearly ring-fenced. He has given a commitment that A Vision for Change will be implemented within its stated period. Many times on the Order of Business we have been asked what has happened to the briefings that the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, promised us on electroconvulsive therapy and mental health.
One of those briefings was held yesterday. I appreciate that Members are very busy but there were not very many Members of the Oireachtas at the briefing which was attended by interested parties. A second briefing is scheduled for 9 March. I know how busy people are, but if it is possible to attend, I know it would be appreciated by those making the presentations.
As Senator O'Reilly did not have an opportunity to speak yesterday I call him first.
If there was a proper ordering of business and we had a reasonable amount of time for this part of the business, this would not happen. I am disgusted by it. I would not care if we had two hours on the Order of Business. It is the only part that is ever covered anywhere.
We ought to play to our strengths. This is a nonsense and is intolerable.
My hands are tied by the rules.
Senator Norris should speak to his leader.
You need to be spoken to and well spoken to.
Senator O'Reilly to continue, without interruption.
I call for a very urgent and necessary debate on the tourism industry. It has been accepted wisdom for a number of years that the one industry in Ireland that we could depend on to continue sustaining and increasing jobs was tourism. We have all the right ingredients for a tourism industry and I do not propose to go through them. The debate is particularly urgent in light of the fact that we had 1 million fewer visitors last year than previously. There are a number of obvious contributing factors to that but one that we cannot deny is the airport tax. It was a mistake to introduce the extra airport tax.
It is a tax on tourism and I call for its removal. Will the Leader bring forward a debate on tourism in order that we can discuss how we can highlight and heighten our tourism business and link with the Irish Diaspora abroad in the lead-in to St. Patrick's Day, thus building our tourism business on a number of fronts? We have the heritage, the physical features and the musical and cultural traditions to do so.
As I did not get an opportunity to do so yesterday, with the Cathaoirleach's permission I welcome Senator Dearey to the Seanad and I wish him well. His good wife Laura is a neighbour of mine from home and I know her family very well. In fact, her brother was in my class at school. That is bad news for my friend and colleague Senator Paul Coghlan.
We all heard the debate in recent weeks on the creation of jobs. Will the Leader arrange a debate on recent statements by the new US envoy, Mr. Kelly, with regard to promoting Northern Ireland only, rather than promoting the island as a whole? The Border areas should be as well treated as Northern Ireland in this case. I appeal for a debate on the progress of this.
This morning, we all received two e-mails about the George Mitchell scholarship fund which we debated yesterday. These contradictory e-mails were received from Niall O'Dowd and Ms Vargo. Will somebody examine this matter to establish which has the real story? This is not in the best interests of promoting the country. I hope that what is suggested in one of them with regard to the actions of the other is not true.
This House is being increasingly treated with contempt and a classic example was last night when I raised a very significant matter about the economy of the country and serious violations and infringements of liquidity regulations in a consistent, deliberate and repeated manner. The answer I received from the Minister of State was that there was no ministerial responsibility. If there is not, why did the Cathaoirleach allow it because that is the test it must pass? That was a lie. I impugned the reputation of the Office of the Financial Regulator and it was suggested to me that I should bring it up with the regulator. What kind of puerile nonsense is this? It is an insult to the House and I demand that this sort of behaviour should stop.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald about the symphysiotomy situation. It is appalling. It is a cruel, barbarous and inappropriate treatment. I was shocked to hear on both programmes that it was motivated by sectarian religious impulses and I would like to know a little more about that. If it is true, it needs to be explored further and exposed. I would like to know more about Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Every time there is a scandal or a risk to health it seems to be at the centre of it. Why? Let us have an inquiry into that.
I was not impressed by the representative of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Some years ago, it was asked by the same Minster for a report. It gave one page which was as contemptuous as the way in which this House was treated last night. It dismissed everything, and it was incorrect for it to do so. It was wrong about it. This operation has not been current in any other European country since 1944 and since the discovery of sulphonamide drugs. It is practised sometimes in sub-Saharan Africa in the bush because of difficulties such as a lack of medical supervision and so on. It is appalling to think that 1,500 operations were carried out. It is not a matter of one or two operations. It was a deliberate and consistent practice which was known and ignored by the professional body and now we are sending it back to them. They are not fit to be charged with this. It should be a fully independent inquiry. Every spokesperson on both programmes defended the practice in some——
Sorry, Cathaoirleach, but I will continue——
——and you can throw me out if you like——
Thank you very much, Senator.
——because I think this is a disgrace.
I call Senator Walsh. Senator Norris's time is up.
We are trying to decide serious issues——
——and we are not allowed to because of some puerile rule——
Your time is up.
——for which the Leader of the House is directly responsible and I know that.
I ask Senator Norris to resume his seat. His time is up. He has had his two minutes. I call Senator Walsh.
There is no democracy in this House——
There is democracy in this House.
——because every section of the House wants it and there is one person standing up against it and it is the Leader of the House, Senator Donie Cassidy. If we had two hours every day it would be absolutely appropriate and I want this matter taken up.
I suppose I can speak now. A report in a newspaper over the weekend dealt with the very important issue of health insurance. Many people here will recall the Minister's attempt to introduce equalisation into health insurance, which is essential for our growing elderly population. The Judiciary saw fit to rule it down. I will continue to be critical of the Judiciary getting involved in what should be a decision of the Executive. These Houses should determine policy and the law should be interpreted by the Judiciary. I welcome the fact that the Minister will reopen and re-examine this particular issue. It is essential in order that people can access affordable insurance. If we fail to do this, quite a significant proportion of the population will find themselves unable to secure that insurance. I would like to think the House will support the Minister in her efforts.
Normally, I find Senator Fitzgerald to be extremely fair in her comments but the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, since he assumed office and responsibility for mental health, has shown himself to be genuinely committed to tackling the unacceptable conditions of our mental health institutions. I heard him set out his plans in this area on three occasions last week — in response to a motion tabled before our parliamentary party by Senator Corrigan, in this House and on television. The proceeds from the disposal of certain properties have been made available to him to deal with this important issue. It is unfair to suggest we are not moving in a direction about which we can feel pleased, even if we were ashamed of our failure to tackle the issue in the past.
In response to senator Prendergast's comments, I would not take guidance from "The Frontline". The broadcaster involved rouses his audience and encourages its members to let their anger grow. On a recent programme one audience member accepted that invitation by attacking the broadcaster over his approach and salary. That does nothing for reasonable and constructive debate on important issues.
I did not have an opportunity to contribute on the Order of Business yesterday and I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to speak today. I join my colleagues in calling for a debate on banking. In this regard, Professor Honohan gave me some encouragement when he spoke about jailing the bankers involved in criminal activities. Today, however, I read that AIB which has been bailed out by the State to the tune of €3.5 billion is to discontinue switcher mortgages at a time when people are down on their luck and need to be able to avail of lower interest rates. It is an absolute outrage that it can suddenly decide to stop offering such mortgages merely to suit its coffers. In the future it will only take on new business. The director of the Irish Mortgage Corporation, Mr. Frank Conway, has said people need to be able to switch from one company to another. As a result, there will be a closed shop, with only two lending institutions continuing to offer switcher mortgages. The other banks will be able to increase their rates as they choose, regardless of what is happening elsewhere in Europe. It is an outrage that the bankers are laughing at us and making a fool of this country. It is time the Government stood up to them because the vulnerable people at risk of losing their homes need to be looked after. I, therefore, urge the Leader to set a date for a debate on banking.
I support the calls for a debate on banking. On previous occasions I sought a structured debate on the financial and economic situation. As we proceed through 2010, there will be more difficulties for the banking industry. Halifax has already indicated it is pulling out of Ireland and others may follow. I, therefore, urge the Leader to facilitate a structured and meaningful debate on finance and the economy.
I also ask the Leader to clarify the position for those who have applied for medical or GP cards and have been waiting months to hear whether they have been approved. I understand anybody who does not hear from the HSE will continue to enjoy the benefits of their cards. There is significant anxiety among people waiting to learn whether they will continue to be covered.
I welcome the publication of legislation to create the office of mayor of Dublin. It is important we ensure the office will have the necessary powers to develop our capital city in terms of infrastructural requirements, job opportunities, security and protection of the environment, economic renewal and competition from other European capitals. Will the Leader indicate whether we will hold a debate on the powers of the new mayor?
I, too, would like to hear from the Leader on the banking crisis, an issue we raised so vociferously yesterday and today because the ongoing problems are appalling. Only this morning we learned about the allied issue of mortgage provisions. Some time ago I proposed that the Leader invite the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, to come before the House. I suggest we also invite a senior representative of the Irish Banking Federation, as serious issues arise for the economy. I apologise, a Chathaoirligh, I was distracted by friendly fire.
From the Senator's own side.
It is not easy to do so.
The country needs to hear from Brussels on NAMA and the plans of the two major banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, and how they intend to get out of this situation in the coming five years. These plans have been languishing in Brussels since November or December. If the Leader cannot give us the information we need, we would accept it from a Minister of State. We appreciate that the Minister for Finance was unable to meet us yesterday because he had to take Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2010 but it is within the Leader's power to facilitate the House on this extremely urgent matter.
I did not have an opportunity yesterday to welcome Senator Dearey to the House. As a former colleague of his on Louth County Council, I have always known him to be very articulate and motivated. He will be a good and able Member of the House. It is weird that, despite being two and a half months in the Seanad, I am the fourth newest Member. At this rate of turnover, there will be 40 new Senators in two years' time.
There could be 60 new Senators next month.
I offer a word of warning to Opposition Senators that eight Fine Gael and two Labour Party members of Louth County Council are coming to get them.
I ask the Leader to facilitate two debates, the first on the smart economy and research and development, an issue raised yesterday by Senator Mary White. On Monday the Louth economic forum announced its plans to create 10,000 new jobs in the county in the next ten years, focused on research and development, pharmaceuticals and internationally traded financial services. These jobs are essential for the entire country because, as we know, our recovery will have to be export and research and development-led if we are to be immune to future recessions.
The second issue on which I seek a debate is the announcement by Vodafone that it intends to hold onto unused credit in its customers' accounts. As was the case with dormant accounts in banks, there is an opportunity for a big company which has done very well in the Irish market to allocate the credit to charitable organisations. We should seriously consider this proposal, on which I urge the Leader to communicate directly with the Ministers for Finance and Social and Family Affairs and Vodafone.
I call for a debate on overseas development aid, as I fear the targets we set may be lost as we begin to become selfish about ourselves. In 2005, 15 European nations set a target for overseas development assistance of reaching a figure of 0.51% of GDP by 2010. At 0.52%, Ireland has surpassed that figure which a number of other countries have also reached. Among the countries which have not reached it are France and Germany, two countries in which, as Senator O'Toole said, there have been long strikes in recent times. Our ability to meet targets set in the future will depend on how we run the country and achieve what we set out to do. The Famine took place 160 years ago but it continues to occupy a place in our memories. Every night 1 billion children go to bed hungry. The Famine was very bad but what is happening now in the rest of the world requires that we maintain our aid levels. We must avoid the danger that we will tear ourselves apart, which is why I worry when I hear about the many clashes and people ask why the Government does not do something to solve this or that problem. We ourselves can handle a large number of the challenges we face. Let us not ask for someone else to solve those problems. Let us ensure we do it ourselves.
Another statistic I noted yesterday was that every minute a woman somewhere in the world dies giving birth. Problems such as 1 billion people going to bed hungry every night are solvable. We have the talent, ability and skills to do that. Let us not tear ourselves apart and damage the economy by infighting. Let us ensure we put that high on our agenda.
Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting members of the Irish Thalidomide Association who attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. Some of us remember first-hand the tragedy that struck those innocent victims within the womb when their mothers unwittingly took the drug, thalidomide, for morning sickness in the early 1960s. It was a drug that was wholly untested yet licensed for sale in this State. Many babies did not survive the pregnancy and many others died in infancy, leaving a legacy that spreads much further than the tiny number of 32 survivors. They are survivors in the true sense of the word. It is extraordinary how many of them have made such valiant efforts to lead normal lives.
I listened to the four representatives speak yesterday. Believe it or not, because some of the thalidomide children were not able to be catered for in their own homes or in schools, they were sent to industrial schools. Two of the thalidomide survivors who spoke to the committee yesterday were sent to industrial schools. Maggie Woods cried as she told us what she had to go through. This month, the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the North, Michael McGimpsey, gave a package of £1.1 million to the 18 survivors of thalidomide there.
The compensation at the time was very small because the State did not believe that the children would survive. The representatives of the thalidomide victims asked if they could come to the Seanad to speak. I explained that we do not have that facility but that I would speak on their behalf. I call on the Government to give a decent financial package to the survivors of thalidomide. Their bodies are ageing much faster than ours. They have exerted themselves so much physically and emotionally, they are getting diseases in their 50s that people would not normally get until their 70s. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, should come to the House. The members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children promised yesterday that we would do everything we could on behalf of the Irish thalidomide survivors.
I join Senator O'Toole in particular in raising the issue of industrial relations. It is time that we engaged with the public sector unions in a meaningful way. Is it the Government's policy and intention to force the unions to take industrial action and to suspend and sack members who do not perform their duty? Does the Government want chaos, mass protests, lack of action, no work and a complete malaise in the public sector? Is that what we want? If it is not, then the Government is going about things in the wrong way. The Government is going to follow the Ronald Reagan model and that is a recipe for disaster. It is imperative that we have a debate on industrial relations in this House as a matter of urgency.
I also join Senator O'Reilly's call for a debate on tourism. A total of 6.9 million tourists came to this country last year, the lowest level since 2005. The Government has pursued a failed policy on the aviation travel tax. Senator Boyle will be aware that a number of airlines have reduced their services in Cork Airport, thereby affecting people in the south and south west, the tourism capital of Ireland. We need the tourism industry. Last year was a catastrophic year and so far we have seen no blueprint or plan from Government. I do not know where the Green Party stands on the aviation travel tax——
Questions to the Leader, please.
I am asking the question.
Senator Buttimer should not mind any other parties.
I hope the Leader of the House will convey to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the members of the Green Party in Cabinet that this tax is hurting employment and the regions and, more importantly, it is not flying the green flag of Ireland abroad. It is failing to attract visitors to this country and it must be reversed immediately.
The political turbulence of recent weeks is distracting from the main issues that affect people's daily lives. Thousands of people are still in danger of losing their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people have no jobs. There is much confusion and anger because the issues that concern people are disappearing from the radar. The Government has taken determined action where that was necessary. As a result, we still enjoy international confidence which is so vital to economic recovery.
It might be presumptuous of me to paraphrase what Senator Joe O'Toole said, but I understand him to have said that the time is now opportune to revisit social partnership. He made a strong point in that regard, namely, that we are in a far better industrial relations position than most other countries and that is why social partnership can still work.
We also have to admit that the trade union movement has demonstrated a degree of restraint, and that has to be recognised. My understanding is that certain talks are ongoing in the background. I agree that they are preliminary but I suggest that they should be expedited. I have no doubt that given the action the Government has taken, the restraint which the trade union movement has demonstrated and the acceptance of reality by the general community, now is the time for social partnership to give leadership. If decisions are taken, they will be accepted by all. We have to look to the future, not to the past.
As I was not present for the Order of Business yesterday I take the opportunity to congratulate Senator Dearey and wish him well in this House and in his future political career.
I am glad to see my colleague, Senator Coghlan, has returned to the Chamber. Seeing as the opening bid has come from County Cavan, I expect there will be an invitation to Killarney on the way to Senator Dearey in the very near future.
Take it as read.
Questions to the Leader.
I concur with the case made so sensitively by Senator Mary White. Her presentation to us proves the importance of liaising with all such groups that contact us, although we cannot always attend the presentations. I hope her suggestion will be taken on board.
I agree with the comments about social partnership and the need for dialogue. We have often debated the matter in the House previously. Everyone must work together to turn around the economic state of the country. The difficulty with the previous model of social partnership was that a very small number of people, excluding most elected politicians, negotiated the country's economic policy behind closed doors. It would be a positive first step, both from the perspective of social partnership but more importantly from the perspective of the perception of this House, if the Leader were to organise hearings in this House, as I have requested previously and which we could do with an appropriate amendment to Standing Orders, whereby we would listen to and debate with union leaders, employers, farmers and those representing the other pillars of social partnership. We need to listen to those people but they also need to listen to us——
We agreed that previously.
——because in our own way we speak for the public. Social partnership must be held in the open, not behind closed doors. This House could play a useful role. Will the Leader please consider the possibility of arranging those hearings, which we can do if we have the political will?
I thank Members on both sides of the House for their kind words about the resignation of my former party leader, Deputy Sargent, yesterday.
An honourable man.
It used to be said a week is a long time in politics but we can now say a day is a long time in politics, especially with the advent of new media and the pace of change.
A number of Senators referred to symphysiotomy. I have been a campaigner for natural birth for many years and I would like a debate on maternity services in Ireland. We have an outdated system. Many procedures, including symphysiotomy, Caesarian sections, episiotomies, etc., are still carried out in hospitals.
They are not carried out without research.
We need to examine the active management of labour and to have a proper debate on the issue.
I support the call by Senators Reilly and Buttimer for a debate on tourism. We could very much do with that. It is an important day in that the mayoralty of Dublin will be launched. I call for a debate on that as well. This is part of a political reform package that needs to be rolled out in other cities and towns, including Galway.
It was stated in the House yesterday: "Senator Regan is on the next assassination list." I wonder whether that is an implied admission that I am next on the list following the assassination of Deputy Sargent by Fianna Fáil.
A question to the Leader, please.
Perhaps Senator Leyden could clarify that remark.
No interruptions, please. It is not relevant to the Order of Business. A question to the Leader, please.
I raised a question on the Order of Business yesterday relating to the Taoiseach and his relationship with Sean Fitzpatrick of Anglo Irish Bank.
He cannot defend himself.
That should not be allowed.
I understand he took a cut at me earlier on "Morning Ireland".
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. I am looking for questions to the Leader.
I have a question for the Leader. The question I raised yesterday is legitimate. There is no reason for the Taoiseach to get thick with me. It would be much better if he addressed the question that was raised rather than attacking me personally. The reality is we have a series of events where the Taoiseach raised the borrowing limit that allowed the fiasco of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and its purchase of the Irish Glass Bottle site.
The second issue is the private dinners that were held at a critical time when he was Taoiseach in waiting and the veto——
That is out of order. There is no question in this.
No interruptions, please.
Where is this leading? The Senator is at this since 2007.
We have no role in private dinners.
Fianna Fáil is afraid of the question.
He is just rambling on. It is not allowed. We are not afraid of anything.
It is my question to the Leader.
This is personality politics.
Senator Regan, we do not have a role in regard to Taoisigh having dinners with anyone.
We have a role in the veto by the Taoiseach on Anglo Irish Bank being excluded from the bank guarantee scheme.
The Senator is continuing.
These are questions and I want answers. These are legitimate questions and perhaps the Leader will address them to the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach is not answerable to the Seanad.
The Senator should not be allowed to continue on this matter.
Why not? What has Senator Feeney got to hide?
Is Senator Feeney the Cathaoirleach?
Members should not interrupt. The questions have been put to the Leader and Senator Regan's time is up.
Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to address the question that has been asked and not the person who asked the question?
The roles of the Taoiseach and the Seanad are clearly defined in the Constitution and I do not think those questions are relevant.
The Cathaoirleach is wrong.
I support Senator Mary White's call for a debate on the thalidomide issue, which is a worthwhile proposal.
I refer to the resumption of the debate on head shops, which is on the Order Paper. I pay tribute to Deputy Sargent, who was a brilliant Minister of State with responsibility for food and horticulture affairs. He came to the House on many occasions and he was very forthright. The circumstances were unfortunate but it would not take Inspector Clouseau to find out who was the source of the leak. It was not——-
Name and shame them.
That has nothing to do with the Order of Business.
Come on, Clouseau, tell us.
It certainly was not——
Who leaked what has nothing to do with the Seanad.
Senator Leyden has Colombo and Kojak beside him as well.
It was not——
We are on the Order of Business.
Tell that to Senator Feeney.
On a point of clarification, I will be in touch with the Editor of Debates. In case Senator Regan——
On a point of information, will Senator Leyden name the person? He has privilege in the House and he can name the person. He should show us the colour of his money.
A point of information is not relevant.
Show us the colour of your money. You have privilege.
There is no such thing as a point of information.
The Senator has privilege. He is making allegations.
I will ask Senator Buttimer to leave the House if he keeps interrupting. Senator Leyden should resume his seat if he is not going to put questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.
I am seeking clarification regarding yesterday's debate.
The Senator has privilege.
I hope Senator Regan did not have a sleepless night last night.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. I have asked the Senator to resume his seat and I will call the next speaker. Who had sleep or who had not is not relevant.
I did not imply that Senator Regan was on an assassination list but he is a political assassin. That is the difference.
I asked the Senator to resume his seat.
He took out the former Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, the former Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. Who is next on his list?
I will ask the Senator to leave the Chamber if he does not resume his seat. What he is saying is not relevant to the Order of Business. The Senator should not make a skit of the Order of Business.
The gun is back in the holster.
He is firing blanks.
I am beginning to find "The Frontline" quite dull compared with some of the exchanges in the House. I am sure we cannot wait for live transmission of these proceedings.
I welcome Senator Dearey, as I was not present yesterday to do so. When thinking about Deputy Sargent's resignation, I recalled the words of Cecil Rhodes to Parnell during this controversy when he advised him to resign, marry and return. It would be a sign of maturity in our political process if when good people sometimes slip and make errors of judgment, the Deputy could return as a Minister at some point in the not too distant future.
As I said last week, the culture of looking for heads and taking people down not only is taking us nowhere but also is driving people down paths of dishonesty where they go into denial because of the sanction they know they will have to face if they are found out. Deputy Sargent did the honourable thing. He recognised the wrong in what had happened but far from making him a bad person, it affirms he is a human person prone to error like others.
A question to the Leader.
Given all the discussion about the lack of confidence in our political process, could we have a debate on building confidence in it? Such a debate could touch on issues such as these scandals, how they are investigated when allegations are made and what intermediate processes are in place whereby parties and Oireachtas committees can look into what happened. We could then arrive at a finding in a more sane way rather than engaging in the tribal politics that emerges the minute a person gets some dirt on somebody from the other side.
I support the calls for further inquires into the matter of symphysiotomy. I found the "Prime Time" documentary difficult to watch and it is odd that if there is to be an inquiry, it would be left to the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists alone. While the institute has good people, when the profession of good people is involved, they can be prone to be defensive. Given everything we have learned from various scandals, it would be good if there was something not too emotive where patients and their doctors are listened to respectfully and where we try in an honest way to come to a precise assessment of what happened and an understanding of the reasons behind what happened without undue recrimination.
Time is almost up and a number of Senators will be unable to get in on the Order of Business again today. I call Senator Feeney.
As I did not get the opportunity yesterday, I also welcome and congratulate our newest Member, Senator Mark Dearey, and wish him well in his time in the Seanad. As this is national eating disorder awareness week, I again ask the Leader whether he can organise a debate on the issue of eating disorders. I note a new clinic opened yesterday to treat young people who are suffering with anorexia. Second, I was thrilled to hear three male Members raise the issue of symphysiotomy and its terrible effects. I have met many of the women who have been scarred and marked by the practice by which their children were delivered and was sickened to the core when I watched "Prime Time" one week ago. I was even more sickened last night when watching "Prime Time", on hearing the former obstetrician gynaecologist, Mr. Neary, who now has been struck off the medical register, state the women concerned only pursued this matter in the interest of money. I concur with the comments of my colleague, Senator Mullen, that this matter cannot be left to the small cosy cartel that is the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists but must be opened up further. I agree with Senator Norris's comment that this was a barbaric religious practice. However, it was no such thing because when Mr. Neary performed Caesarean hysterectomies, he also attributed this to religious beliefs although it had nothing to do with the religious beliefs of the women he had butchered. I do not use the word "butchered" easily but he did butcher them. I know this because I sat listening to the medical inquiry into the matter for three years.
Briefly, I agree with Senator Mary White's request to examine the case of a small group of sufferers who were the thalidomide babies and who now are in their late 40s or early 50s. The issue of symphysiotomy also pertains to a small group of women who have been badly affected by medical malpractice.
Regrettably, while I call Senator John Paul Phelan, I apologise to other Members.
I join other Members in welcoming Senator Dearey to the House. I hope he has a fruitful period in the Oireachtas and at the rate things are going, he may become a Minister within the next couple of weeks. I agree with and commend Senator Mary White on her comments with regard to the thalidomide survivors. The request of the Leader to have such a debate in the House, if possible, is a good idea. While I do not often echo the sentiments of Senator Feeney within the House, although I do so outside of it, she is absolutely correct, as are Members on this side of the House, to raise the issue of symphysiotomy. The "Prime Time" programme broadcast by RTE last week was fantastic. It was one of those programmes which appalled one while watching it and, having thought about it subsequently, was even more appalling. A full debate should be held in this House on this matter and a proper investigation should be carried out. It should not simply be carried out by the professions involved in this sector but should be a public inquiry. I also wish to record my disgust at the comments of Mr. Neary to the effect that those involved were in it for the money. These people were abused and deserve to have their rights vindicated, even at this late stage.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to have a debate on banking today on the conclusion of the scheduled business. This issue has been raised by a number of Members, including Senator Regan, who mentioned banking issues and Senator McFadden, who noted that AIB is pulling out of mortgage switching. The regulator should have a role in this regard. A number of years ago, Members were told that people could switch mortgages between financial institutions and I thought this would be a routine matter. Consequently, it is not good enough for AIB to make such a statement now. Moreover, Members are familiar with events over the weekend and last week in respect of Bank of Ireland, the State's investment therein and the €250 million rebate that should have been paid but which has not been received. This proposed debate on banking should be held before the adjournment of the House this evening.
I missed out on our newest Member, Senator Dearey, who indicated earlier. I apologise as I should have taken him earlier and will take him finally.
I formally second the amendment to the Order of Business.
I again thank Members for their kind remarks this morning. While I had expected all of that to finish yesterday, long may it continue.
I wish to address the issue of the Border economy. I call for a debate on an assessment of the impact the small reduction in VAT has had to date. I acknowledge that I might be slightly previous in this regard as the figures may not yet be available but it is an important issue to address. I am a great believer that if one creates the correct environment for business, businesses will get on with it. While one can create all sorts of mechanisms and incentives, it is all about creating a good and level playing surface between North and South, while recognising the exchange rate issue is ever present and can affect matters badly. There is a serious degree of asymmetry between the cost of doing business North and South. The issue pertaining to the VAT rate has been partially addressed and I wish to ascertain what impact this has had and whether such an assessment should encourage Members to consider lowering the VAT rate again to bring this jurisdiction more in line with the North. I believe everyone can win from this because anecdotally, although the haemorrhage has stopped, there still is a bleed northwards.
I believe this can be dealt with by dealing further with the existing asymmetries, which incidentally also include matters such as local government charges. The debate could be widened to include giving local authorities a more flexible hand when dealing with small businesses and the collection of rates. The local authorities are hidebound by the statutes governing the collection of rates. This means that frequently, in the case of willing retailers or small business people who wish to pay on a staggered basis or according to their present means, such an offer cannot be made because of the manner in which rates must be collected by the local authorities. In addition to the initial issue regarding VAT, I also seek a wider debate on creating a cost base that allows local and small businesses to get on with it.
Approximately 24 Members have contributed today, ten of whom went over the time allowed. Although I tried to stop them, I must tell Members who do not obey the rules that unless they do so, I will not call them. It is as simple as that.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Prendergast, Corrigan, Norris, McFadden, Callely, Carroll, Bradford, Ó Brolcháin, Mullen, Feeney and John Paul Phelan have expressed their views in respect of banking and the "Prime Time" programme. In respect of banking, the Finance Bill will be before the House by the second week of March. As I stated previously, additional time will be allowed for each Member to make his or her comments on Second Stage and I will discuss this matter with the leaders at our group meeting next Tuesday. What really is needed is a new friendly bank to replace the former ICC and ACC banks.
That is a Fine Gael proposal.
The Leader is in government.
As someone who has enormous experience in this area, I should outline that Members on this side of the House, through their membership of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, are doing everything within their power to enable this to take place.
They should have voted for the Fine Gael proposal during the passage of the NAMA legislation.
This will take place at the earliest possible time——
Fine Gael was talking about this issue six months ago.
Is the Leader announcing a new policy?
Those Members who come from a business background and who have created an enormous number of jobs in their time——
They have created an enormous mess.
—— know what they are speaking about in this regard.
How many people are unemployed now?
I compliment Senator Mary White on her major contributions in this regard. She has been a champion of job creation, as has Senator Quinn. One must listen to experts in their fields and the expertise gained before they entered the House to benefit the nation and educate Members in respect of matters that are of a serious nature and which pose a serious challenge at present.
At present, 437,000 people are unemployed.
The Leader has just announced a new Government policy.
As for the "Prime Time" programme, I also compliment the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on her inquiry and I fully agree with the sentiments that have been expressed this morning. To state that this constituted cruel treatment of women is an understatement.
I congratulate all colleagues on their serious views, concerns and utterances. I have no difficulty in requesting the Minister to attend the House to let her know the strong opinions outlined during the Order of Business. I congratulate "Prime Time" on its wonderful work in highlighting this dreadful situation.
Senators Fitzgerald and Corrigan referred to mental health issues and the €43 million in the budget of the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, during difficult financial times. All Senators agree on the wonderful work being done by him. He is highlighting and championing mental health issues and his attitude, background and expertise as a former member of a health board for many years cannot be beaten. I look forward to his return to the House. As Senator Corrigan stated, he needs our fullest support. When briefings are being given, colleagues should make themselves available. He is a Minister of State for change and we should give him our fullest support. We already do, but it is impossible to be everywhere. However, the next briefing will be on 9 March and we should all be there to help him in every way we can to ensure he receives the necessary €43 million in funding to which the Government committed in the budget.
Senators O'Toole, Buttimer, Ó Murchú and Bradford discussed the responsibilities of trade unions. We want to help our trade union colleagues with the responsible way in which they are acting and are trying to lead their members during these difficult times. Social partnership must return. It has been the cornerstone of our success since 1987. Fianna Fáil can be proud of being the party that initiated social partnership alongside trade union members.
Where is it now?
Charles Haughey and Michael Mullen took Ireland from the depths of recession in 1987. We must continue with it. If it is not broken, we should not try to mend it.
Who is the Leader codding?
This all happened before.
What about Senator Bradford's proposal to bring the question of social partnership before hearings of this House?
The Leader is replying. There should be no interruptions.
On that issue, colleagues must take matters to their group leaders, who will then take those matters to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Senator Bradford's suggestion was good. Perhaps more good suggestions made during parliamentary party meetings over the next week or two could be brought before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Its Chairman, the Cathaoirleach, will have them debated in a bid to determine how to take the Seanad forward. I have no particular objection to this morning's proposals, but a collective decision by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges is required.
Senator Prendergast referred to the Joint Committee on Health and Children and called for a debate on sex education. I support her call and will try to arrange for that debate.
Senator Corrigan called for a change in legislation on subcontractors. This matter should be raised during Second Stage of the Finance Bill in the second week of March. I support her opinions in this regard. She also referred to the reports on recent activity in the church, including the Holy Father's meeting with the Irish bishops in Rome. Certain attitudes must change and everything that is decent and honourable must be respected. I fully support the Senator's comments and, if necessary, we can have a further debate on the matter. I hope the Holy Father accepts the invitation to attend the Eucharistic congress in 2012 and to speak to the people. I look forward to his letter, which is due in the next few weeks.
Senators O'Reilly, Buttimer and Ó Brolcháin called for an urgent debate on tourism. It is one of the three cornerstones on which we will rebuild our economy. Tens of thousands of people are employed in the sector. Like everything else, it is experiencing a difficult time, but we are at our lowest point. The figures for March, May and June are pretty good and competitive rates are being offered by hotels across the country. On a Friday or Saturday night in Cavan, Athlone, Mullingar, elsewhere in the midlands or Tullamore in the Cathaoirleach's area, hotels are experiencing growth because they are now giving value for money. We need an all-afternoon debate on tourism, which I am endeavouring to hold during the next two weeks.
Senator Ellis mentioned Mr. Kelly's appointment as the representative of the US to Northern Ireland. I agree with the Senator concerning the Border areas, but why not apply the same to the BMW region? We are discussing the hidden Ireland and the Border areas. Whatever occurs in the North, we in the BMW region feel its effects.
Senator Walsh discussed health insurance and the executive's decision, particularly where affordable insurance for the elderly was concerned. We can take this matter up with the Minister for Health and Children when she is in the House. I fully support the Senator's call.
Senator Callely asked whether customers who do not hear from the HSE can assume that they are still covered by their medical cards. I will make inquiries and revert to the Senator this afternoon.
Senator Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on the new Dublin mayor. Given the proposals and Bill being laid before the House, I have no difficulty in setting aside time to discuss the matter.
Senator Callely also asked about the progress being made by NAMA. Senator Coghlan asked what progress Brussels has made in making a decision in this regard. One Member of the House might have highlighted the issues with the decision taking longer than expected, but it is hoped that there will be an official response from Brussels during the next two weeks.
Senator Carroll, a young Member, outlined the smart economy to the House and mentioned the 10,000 proposed jobs for his native County Louth. The latter is good news and I look forward to the younger Members of the House tabling innovative ideas. I will discuss the matter with the Senator after the Order of Business. I have no difficulty in this regard, but the issue could be discussed during the debate on the Finance Bill. I fully support him in his call.
Senator Quinn discussed world development aid and the Irish contribution, which is the sixth largest in the world per head of population. He also mentioned the €10 million collected during the past seven weeks for Haiti. The Irish have been generous for decades. Missionaries have given of their lives and every fibre of their bodies to assist the underprivileged, whether through education or religion. We are an exemplary nation and should congratulate ourselves on doing something well. It is something of which we can be proud. The Government's commitment, if financially possible, will be forthcoming to allow us to do everything possible to support the poor in the developing world
Senators Mary White, Bradford and Leyden raised the matter of the Irish Thalidomide Association, the 32 survivors and the £1.1 million in compensation for the 18 survivors in the North. I will call on the Government to do whatever it can to support the 32 survivors.
Senator Regan discussed the Dublin docklands report. As I stated yesterday, the report is with the Attorney General, so we must wait.
Senator Leyden called for a debate on head shops. We had a lengthy debate on the challenges facing the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, in this regard. I understand that he is at an advanced stage of having a debate take place. After the Order of Business, I will discuss with the Senator how to keep this issue to the fore. Whatever can be done, I will support fully.
Senator Feeney called for a national eating disorder week. I have no difficulty in arranging a debate in that regard. I also support everyone involved in the organisation, which is doing so much good in trying to help those who are badly affected by eating disorders.
Senator Dearey called for a debate on the Border economy. It is a worthwhile suggestion, given the cross-Border challenges faced by many counties North and South from time to time, the VAT implications and exchange rates. I fully support the call made by the newest Member of the House, Senator Dearey, and will arrange to have the debate take place at the earliest time.
Senator John Paul Phelan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That there be a debate on banking today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.