The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, with spokespersons having 15 minutes to speak, all other Senators ten minutes, and on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House.
Order of Business.
I want to raise two issues with the Leader, one of which concerns the debate we have had recently on education. It is critical to the future of this country that its reputation for education be maintained and strengthened at this difficult economic time. I am very concerned about the impact recent reports will have on our international reputation for education. It is critical that the Minister act very quickly to reassure people at home and abroad about the standards in Irish education. I ask for a debate on this critical topic as soon as possible. Many Senators will have a very keen interest in it and will have contributions to make on it. I am concerned that the comments by directors of Google and Intel have sparked this debate. If we have concerns, we should be highlighting them ourselves and dealing with them rather than relying on the comments of businesses in this country. It is not that I do not welcome their input but we should have sufficiently good internal monitoring systems to identify difficulties. If there are questions about the exaggeration of results or about their not being correct, the Minister should have been acting upon them. I ask him to come to the House and make a statement on this matter. Grade inflation, if it has been occurring, is serious and must be addressed.
The second issue I want to raise concerns the Government's banking strategy. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister to discuss it. Once again, we see the severe difficulties our banks are in. The question arises as to whether the approach the Government is taking is effective. Clearly, businesses are closing. We heard at the weekend of hundreds more job losses and an increasing number of businesses are talking about the pressures exerted by rent increases and upward-only rent reviews, which are crippling them, and the great difficulties they are experiencing in accessing credit. It is very clear there is a major gap in the Government's banking strategy. We have been warned of mortgage rate increases. Allied Irish Banks warned about them in its statements yesterday. The pre-tax losses it has recorded show what a very challenging time this is for banking. Clearly, the Government's banking strategy is in serious trouble in so far as aiding the recovery of the economy is concerned. It is appropriate that a Minister attend today to discuss this.
We must be very careful on the issue of educational qualifications at second and third level. One of the great problems in the last ten years was we confused education with qualifications. It is very easy to talk about those issues that are easily quantifiable but, given the state of the country, how do we ensure the education system will allow us to develop the next generation for every walk of Irish life? That is far more important than how many get first or second class honours and so forth. We need to know if our education system produces people who are tolerant and respectful with qualities of leadership or entrepreneurship and these are not easily measured. That is one of the big problems. Going down this channel of simply creating something that is easily measurable will devalue what third level institutions, in particular, are doing. While it is necessary to do what the Minister is doing — I applaud him for doing so — it must be done in the context I have just outlined. We must be very careful. The things that are most easily measurable are the ones that are also the easiest to teach. I worry about this in terms of how we will proceed.
A case that was going through the courts concluded yesterday. I do not wish to discuss it but its outcome. A young man described his extraordinarily torturous home life during which he was raped, assaulted, oppressed and humiliated daily. This happened between 2001 and 2004 when he was a child of 12 to 15 years of age. In 2001 the HSE was concerned about his welfare and that of his siblings and sought to protect them from the worst excesses of his family. At that stage there was an intervention by a right-wing, religious organisation which took court action and delayed the intervention of the HSE. Consequently, the children were not taken into care until 2004. The events during that period which had everybody sick and almost vomiting as they listened to reports in the last couple of days happened because a right-wing religious organisation interfered when the State saw the need for protection. We should consider inviting the Minister of State with responsibility for children to the House to debate not just the constitutional rights of children which we debated last week and should revisit, but also legislative protection and powers for the HSE and other State bodies to intervene when they believe children are at risk. As legislators, we are quick to point out when the HSE and othersare slow to intervene. This is an example of where its intervention was blocked by our legislation. As a consequence, children suffered rape, victimisation, humiliation and constant assault.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on banking and, with her permission, second her proposed amendment to the Order of Business. We are about to see the first big test for the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, in the next few weeks in the context of what we have been reading in recent days about the hotel industry. Many Members on the Government benches were concerned about the allegation that NAMA would constitute a bailout for developers; therefore, this will be the first big test as to whether that turns out to be the case in the hotel industry. A debate on the issue should be arranged as it is urgent.
Second, I again ask the Leader when it is proposed to have a debate on the proposal to introduce a directly elected mayor for Dublin. Since I last raised the issue on the Order of Business, we have seen the publication of what is not a Bill or even the heads of a Bill but a summary of what the Minister intends to do. I welcome the fact, however, that something has been published. As I indicated on the last occasion, I do not wish to be described as being opposed in principle to what is being suggested simply because I am raising issues and seeking further elaboration on the matter. On the contrary, it is a very good suggestion. The objective of increasing democracy in our city is laudable, but the problem is that the Bill or at least the outline of the legislation that has been summarised in the newspapers does not appear to do this. That is the question I am raising. Can we have a debate, which includes the Minister, on precisely what it is intended to change as a result of the Bill? For example, in regard to planning legislation which is currently before the Dáil, the Minister said the new mayor would have a role in the area of planning. The new mayor is not mentioned in the legislation. There is no reference to the mayor, nor could there be at this stage. It will interlock with a number of different areas of policy. It is not enough for the Minister to say the mayor will have the power to generate or suggest policy. If it will bring about real change, it needs to be embedded properly across the board, whether in planning, waste management, transport or policing. We should have a full and open debate in this House on the matter.
I welcome the decision of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, to review the possibility of grade inflation in universities. It concerns me because I noted the points raised by Senator O'Toole. There are fine graduates leaving universities but they lack social skills and the work experience ethic. They do not know how to mix. They have regurgitated facts and figures, and because they were bright they were able to put them down on paper which built up a points system. Another element that is missing in our education system at second and third level is work experience. It should be brought into any course in order that students will integrate into society long before they get their degrees.
As we are having a debate on the subject, I ask for the roles of the State Examination Commission, the Irish Universities Quality Board and the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to be examined. All the organisations to which I refer have a large part to play regarding course content and they decide what constitutes first or second class honours. Today, masters degrees are two a penny, but ten years ago they were not. Something is not right and we need to ask why that is happening. Employers have asked why, if people have first and second class degrees, they are not fitting into employment. There is a problem. I welcome the Minister's decision to ask for a review but it would be worth our while to have a debate in this Chamber on many other issues regarding introducing a work experience element to any course.
I call for a debate on the banking crisis because the Government's current socialist solution to a free market problem is causing jitters, not just in Government circles but across the economy. What will happen as a result of the banking crisis will cause untold concerns for everybody and will be a huge burden on every man, woman and child in the country.
I wish to comment on some of the remarks made about university graduates. University graduates nowadays are as good as anything we produced in this country in the past 20 years. There has always been a conflict between arts and science students. When I started university 25 years ago there was a debate about whether we needed to have institutes of technology or universities. The same debate is taking place today but concerns have been raised, in particular by employers. We want young graduates to work; we do not want them to write theses all day. If there are concerns about how we integrate people into the workplace, and we need to change the system, we need to do so and stop writing reports about it.
I express our appreciation of the recent visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, to Gaza. It is to his credit and that of the country that he did not allow Israel to obstruct the visit. Israel would not grant permission for him to enter Gaza from Israeli territory, a policy which comes from a so-called friendly government. The Minister was outspoken regarding what he saw. The current conditions in Gaza are absolutely horrific. We should bear in mind that Israel adopted a scorched earth policy towards the people of Palestine through the use of weapons of mass destruction, devastating the whole area as a result. The international community has now made money available to reconstruct buildings in Gaza. This cannot be done because Israel will not allow building materials to be brought in because it claims it is a threat to security. What is happening at present is unreal and what surprises me is how quiet the rest of Europe is in this regard. The suffering of women and children in this way cries out to us all and Ireland has not been found wanting in this case. I hope the rest of Europe will take a lead from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Irish Government in this regard. Let us bear in mind that Israel still has not denied collusion in the false use of Irish passports in connection with the murder of the Hamas leader. There is something radically wrong at present that this is allowed to happen. I hope all of Europe will take a stand on this. Otherwise we will be condemned at the bar of history for allowing what is happening now in Gaza to happen. It is an utter shame. If we do not speak out now, what will happen in the future? We need never speak on human rights again. Well done to the Minister. Perhaps the Leader might invite him to the House to give Members an opportunity to hear his account of what he found when he visited that area.
I say in passing to Senator Ó Murchú that what is radically wrong is the obsession this Parliament has with one democratic state in the world to the exclusion of all the human abuse states in the world. However, that is not what I want to talk about. I ask the Leader for a debate on old age. I do not mean discussing old age in the sense of a whining response to the notion that we should work for longer periods but a positive debate on old age in all its aspects. I do not have to remind Members of this House from a rural background that retirement was almost unknown in rural Ireland. I remember seeing the Beara and Lees teams play in the 1950s when, because of emigration, the average age of the people on the pitch must have been 50 years of age.
It is very important that we stop treating old age as an illness or a disease or something at which the State must throw money. Barring their ill health, the huge contribution made by older people was something that Michael Collins, in particular, appreciated. He spent most of his time with older people. The huge advantage of old age noted by Simone de Beauvoir — there are many disadvantages — is the increased lack of judgmentalism. Old age is not frightened by events such as the recession. André Gide remarked that his 96 year old gardener, who had seen the Franco-Prussian war, had said that what he had learned from life was that anything could happen. One of the things that people of age learn is that anything can happen but they are neither fazed nor frightened by recessions, reverses or setbacks.
I concede there are disabilities in old age. Self-pity is one such, as are selfishness and a tendency to drive slowly past the old Wesley disco and discuss and give out about the lengths of skirt there and the sexual habits of people attending. That is the biggest disability of old age. Apart from that, there is much to commend a debate on old age that would focus on the positive aspects — the wisdom, experience and simple courage that old age can bring to our society.
I would say that Senator Harris would love to be aged 16 and going to Old Wesley, especially now.
Questions to the Leader, please.
I echo the voices of others who called for a debate on education, especially now, with regard to the issue of standards at second and third levels. Our reputation around the world, for education in particular, has always been extremely high. Even before our State was founded we had a very good reputation for having saints and scholars and suchlike. We always punched well above our weight when it came to sending our young graduates around the world. Our reputation is at stake now and I would like the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to talk on this.
I welcome the great announcement yesterday by the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy John Moloney, who said that in the next three years we will see the closure of many of our old and antiquated mental hospitals, as we have known them. I refer in particular to the hospital in Mullingar which was highlighted on a "Prime Time" programme recently. Perhaps now is the time for the Minister of State to come to the House so we could debate this and other issues of mental health, especially the stigma that surrounds it.
In a less serious tone, was it not good to see Ireland's great win at Twickenham on Saturday?
We will not get into that on the Order of Business.
This is a business issue. In today's edition of theIrish Independent I read about publicans venting their anger that the Magners league match between Munster and Leinster has been moved from Saturday, 3 April to Friday, 2 April, which, as we all know, is Good Friday. Does the Leader know anybody who could intervene? Business must be done and pubs should be open for business on such an occasion. It is all business at the end of the day.
I refer to the comment of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, that any child who needs an SNA will have one. He stated this emphatically in the same week that I received representations from a headmistress and a parent whose child has unstable type 1 diabetes. The child had the services of an SNA for 32 hours a week but, in the wisdom of the Department of Health and Children officials who came to his school, this was reduced to 20 hours a week. The child has been attending a paediatrician, is known to the service and using the public health system. It is supported by his GP and the headmistress that his condition is unstable and requires frequent monitoring. His SNA has received specialist training in recognising hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemic attacks. What are the criteria in assessing whether there should be a reduction in the number of hours in a case such as this? If the child needs an SNA owing to a condition such as type 1 diabetes which is unstable, perhaps because he ate the wrong foods, is going through a growth spurt or took extra exercise such that the condition is difficult to manage, how can the system allow the number of hours to be reduced from 32 to 20? SNAs were never trained to be security guards. In this regard, the only point made was that the officials were not interested in the child's cognitive abilities, only in whether he could be of harm to himself or others. This is a specialist need. How can anyone decide what the number of hours should be, given that his condition is unstable?
I welcome the approval of the European Commission of the establishment of NAMA which is very much Government policy. Will the Leader arrange for the House to be regularly updated on the workings of NAMA?
We were promised that would happen.
I am particularly concerned about the correspondence from Senator Regan to the Commission on 15 December, his visit on 25 January and correspondence on 12 February——
Is the Senator calling for a debate?
I just want to explain that I would like to know——
No, the Senator is asking the Leader for a debate on the matter.
Yes, I am asking for a debate.
He will not allow us to debate the matter.
We do not want to get involved in what any Member of the House did or did not do.
I appreciate that. I wonder would it be national sabotage for Members of this House to try——
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. We are taking questions to the Leader. We are not commenting on the activities of any Member of the House.
Or the activities of Fine Gael in this regard. I hope I will have an opportunity to explain when the debate takes place.
I also ask the Leader to consider having an early debate on the protocols concerning RTE. I received a letter from Mr. Cathal Goan, director general of RTE, outlining its position. He said he was surprised that Mr. George Lee had left RTE and that he was equally surprised when he decided to go back to RTE.
It is not relevant to the Order of Business whether he did or did not leave RTE.
He has gone back on the same income.
The issue of George Lee leaving RTE is not relevant to the Order of Business.
Throw him out.
Is this private correspondence?
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the protocols——
I thought we had no responsibility for RTE.
I respect Senator Alex White who has made it quite clear that it is 17 years since he was there.
The Senator should not comment on other Members of the House.
I also respect other Members who are on contract, which is different from being full-time employees. I am grateful for Mr. Goan's letter. I think I will publish it today.
The Senator has made his point.
I question why we are being given the runaround with regard to a debate on the banks and NAMA. The only logical explanation is that the Government is all at sea on the banks and totally confused with the results from the banks such as those from AIB today. The implications for the Government of the corrections to the NAMA scheme in final approval being given by the Commission may not yet have been fully assessed. However, I do not consider it acceptable because last year the Leader promised we would be regularly updated on NAMA. For two weeks in succession he has promised the House a debate on the banks and NAMA. We are a year and a half into the banking crisis, credit is still not flowing, no one is responsible for what has happened and no one has been held responsible and it can be seen in the AIB results that between bond buy-backs, the selling of assets, the transferring of toxic loans to NAMA, the rights issue and the divesting of assets, it will be another 18 months before all of this is done and dusted and credit flows. It would, therefore, be very useful to have a debate on the banks and some clarity on the part of the Government as to where we go from here. At that point I will give Senator Leyden a comprehensive answer.
I have received it already.
No involvement across the floor, please.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the decision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to present a budget of €7.6 million for 2010. The authority intends to levy the broadcasting sector, radio and television stations, to raise the finance needed by it. The only way radio and television stations can raise income is by way of advertising which decreased by approximately 30% last year and is predicted to fall further this year. If radio stations have to pay a levy of approximately €90,000 a year to the authority, this could be financially crippling and result in some closing down or letting workers go. I have spoken on many occasions in the House on the subject of employment and job creation. I refer to section 37(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2009. It reads:
The chief executive, following the agreement of the Authority, shall not later than 30 September in each year, submit
estimates of income and expenditure to the Minister in respect of the subsequent three financial years, in such form as may be required by the Minister...
The Minister is not responsible for deciding the budget——
If the Leader decides to hold a debate on the matter, it can be discussed then.
I want to see transparency and scrutiny of this levy being imposed on radio and television stations.
I support the calls for a debate on banking which the Leader has promised several times but failed to arrange.
That is untrue.
It is true.
I do not intend to enter into a controversy with the Leader——
The Leader will reply on the matters raised on the Order of Business.
I am trying to allow him——
The Leader is cranky today.
I am trying to let him down gently. We are living in continuing uncertain times which are very difficult for everybody in the economy. NAMA has been sanctioned, subject to the restrictions and terms imposed by the European Commission, but there has not yet been sanction from the Commission for the banks' individual plans for the next five years which are vital. We do not want to see AIB having to follow in the footsteps of Bank of Ireland in handing over to the State a shareholding of that nature. It is to be hoped, in the case of AIB, that Brussels will sanction the necessary business plans which have been submitted since late last year. The Government needs to place a much firmer hand on the tiller and be much more assertive. We do not know what will happen following the transfer of the portfolios to NAMA. We learnt today that AIB will sell €23.2 billion of assets to NAMA, which represents a decrease of €1 billion on the amount that was planned. For the first time since 1966, when its three constituent banks came together, AIB has recorded a pre-tax loss of €3.3 billion. These are huge figures with enormous consequences. Like everyone else, I would like to know what shareholding the Government intends to take in the banks following the transfer of the NAMA-bound portfolios. We need to know that, in the public interest. The Government has set its face against nationalisation — properly, in my view — but we are now having creeping nationalisation. We urgently need a debate so we can get answers to all of these questions.
Iarraim díospóireacht ar an tseirbhís phoiblí ar an Cheannaire sar i bhfad. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the public service. It is appropriate that we would have such a debate at an early stage. The current industrial action has politicised the public service for the first time. It corrupts the delivery of the public service. The whole ethos of the public service, which is there to serve the public generally, is being set aside in pursuit of self-interest. It needs to be debated. Unfortunately, we have seen a huge increase in the cost of the public service. In 1998, the cost of the public service was between £7 billion and £8 billion, or approximately €9 billion. Last year, the cost of the public service was in excess of €20 billion. Some 220,000 people, including pensioners, were on the public service payroll in 1998. That figure is now 370,000. There is no way this country can continue to afford that cost. The whole system will collapse if strong action is not taken immediately. Intelligent people in the public service are well aware of this. The reduction in salary, which saved between €1.2 billion and €1.3 billion, was really only a small proportion — less than 25% — of what needs to be achieved in cost-effective measures. We need to look at it to see what we can do. Should parts of the public service be privatised? Should much of it be rationalised? Senator Mary White spoke about the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. We have had an enormous increase in the number of quangos, but very little rationalisation. I have no doubt that many of them were established with a motivation of jobs for the boys. It was not jobs for the boys politically.
Fianna Fáil did a good job in that regard for many years.
It was jobs for the boys in the public service.
To what quangos does the Senator refer?
It was jobs for the boys——
Senator Walsh is talking about his own Government.
——who were not able to access——
The Senator's colleagues did that enough times.
——and pursue a career path in the Departments .
Senator Walsh is talking about his own politicians.
There is some hypocrisy.
That is obviously how these jobs were generated.
Time, please, Senator.
There is some hypocrisy over there.
I am looking for a debate on the matter at an early stage.
A group of people, some of whom are hard of hearing, visited the Oireachtas a week ago. They contacted me afterwards to point out, quite reasonably, that churches, cinemas and theatres in this city have hearing loops to enable people with hearing difficulties to hear what is going on; therefore, it seems strange that such a facility is not available in this Parliament. I ask the Leader to check whether this matter can be raised at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
We have loopers all right, but no loops.
I support my colleagues on both sides of the House who have asked for a debate on banking. We need to monitor the NAMA situation. We need to counter the misinformation that is being put out. The EU has not sanctioned or given the green light to NAMA.
It just has not given it the red light. We need to look at this again. The US had a similar situation with TARP I. They voted it down and brought in TARP II. We know that the loan amounts are grossly inflated. We are putting in €77 billion. The value of the loans is less than €37 billion. We are told we need to spend a huge amount of taxpayers' money to provide a functioning bank service. The bank system is not functioning. Loans are not being provided for productive businesses. People who want to switch their mortgages are forbidden from doing so. We really need to examine taking a lower amount of €40 billion to write down the bondholders by €20 billion and put in a capital injection of €20 billion. Then one may find oneself in the same current NAMA position on which we are spending so much money. It is important to discuss these vital matters in the House.
Does Senator Norris understand the word "approve"?
If Senator Leyden is going to interrupt across the floor of the House, I will have to ask him to leave the Chamber.
It was for clarification.
I strongly agree with Senator O'Toole on yesterday's court case. It has sent depravity to a new depth. It goes to prove the family in question was let down by all and sundry – the social services, school authorities and their neighbours. It also proves that where the safety and welfare of children is concerned, everyone should be cast in the role of a nosey parker.
I would welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, being invited to debate A Vision for Change. Having worked for many years in St. Loman's Hospital in Mullingar, I want to see it closed as well as every other psychiatric hospital. It must be remembered, relevant to the report——
There is a Member close to Senator Glynn using his or her mobile phone which is causing interference to his microphone. It is not good enough.
There were several requests by hospital and nurse management for the upgrading of facilities at St. Loman's Hospital but the Health Service Executive did not carry out any improvements. It is easy for people to view a facility and claim it is not acceptable. The question that must be asked is why. Why were its patients for many years left unattended and uncared for? Nurses and assistant care staff are not plasterers, carpenters or painters; they are care professionals.
Having worked as a public servant for a long number of years, it is the first time the public service has been politicised. I regret this. I believe it is a backward step and very wrong.
The Senator must conclude.
I spoke to a high ranking official and negotiations are taking place. I will leave it at that as the industrial relations situation is bad enough and I do not want to aggravate it further.
I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, has finally listened to people on St. Loman's Hospital and issued a statement that it will close within three years. I support all Senators who called for a debate on A Vision for Change. This is an issue I have raised since elected to the Seanad. I fail to see why, after four years, we have not had a debate on A Vision for Change.
The Seanad has been sitting for only two and a half years.
The Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Moloney, recently attended the House but it was for criminal insanity legislation, a completely different issue.
Wards in St. Loman's Hospital are unfit for human habitation and it is difficult for staff to work in such conditions. However, it is home to the hospital's residents. It is not right that someone suffering from a mental illness must live in a room with peeling paint and water stains. How can one recover from a depressive or psychotic illness if one is living in such terrible conditions?
Tesco, in association with Bord Bia, has a promotional campaign to buy Irish. There are discrepancies, however, as to what actually constitutes an Irish product. Bord Bia is promoting produce from Northern Ireland. That, to me, is another country, the United Kingdom.
That is Fine Gael policy.
I call for an urgent debate on what constitutes Irish produce from the point of view of packaging. If food is brought in from the rest of Europe and packaged in Ireland, that does not necessarily mean it is an Irish product.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the current situation in the public service in which there is industrial action. Unfortunately, this week there seems to have been an escalation. Heretofore, there was a manageable and coherent strategy but this week there is a move towards party political bias in the public service. I ask the public service to seriously consider what it is trying to achieve, its history and excellent and impartial record, including in the 1930s. It has given non-political service since the foundation of the State but this could be broken by this industrial action which would be a serious and wrong development.
I support Senators who have spoken in favour of the rebuilding of Gaza. I am mindful, however, that those who have suffered the most in terms of racial injustice should be the ones to uphold human rights to the nth degree. I hope Gaza will be quickly rebuilt.
I ask for a debate on pensions. When pensions were first introduced by the German Government under Bismarck, people lived until their late 40s and early 50s. Pensions were introduced for those who lived until 65 years of age. Now, fortunately, people are living much longer and are more healthy and active. In the light of the presentation on pensions to be made tomorrow, it would be useful if we could debate developments in the coming week.
We are often criticised for concentrating on the here and now; therefore, I welcome the report published today by Engineers Ireland on how Ireland will change in the next 20 years. It considers population growth and predicts the island's population will double from 4 million to 8 million, 4 million of whom will be living along the east coast between Dublin and Belfast. It also considers what we will need to cater for a population of that size such as a new tidal barrier, extensions to the M1, the speeding up of services on the Dublin to Belfast rail line and water supplies. It is an excellent report which we could all do with reading. In the past 15 years of the Celtic tiger we wasted the boom years. We must learn the lessons, as we cannot repeat our mistakes. I, therefore, ask for a debate on the report as soon as possible.
We talked in the past few weeks about having a debate on the funding of Irish Diaspora groups in the United Kingdom and the United States. Bearing in mind that St. Patrick's Day is in the week after next, is it possible to have a debate on the issue next week?
It is extraordinary that I seem to follow Senator Hannigan whenever his final remarks relate to the Irish Diaspora, an issue the two of us raised in the context of the total spend. I welcome his request in the matter. There is a need for openness and transparency. If there is to be such a debate, the House would benefit from knowing where taxpayers' money was spent. Some €14 million is spent worldwide to support the Irish Diaspora which I am sure the Senator actively supports.
The serious challenges faced by the tourism industry were reflected starkly in the debate in Galway in the past two days at the conference of the Irish Hotels Federation. It is more pressing than normal that the Leader consider arranging a debate on tourism. In the light of the fact that we are approaching St Patrick's Day and there is only one sitting week remaining, is it possible for the House to debate the realities and challenges facing the industry, the decline in tourist numbers and the serious and proactive involvement of Fáilte Ireland in attempting to increase the domestic market and Tourism Ireland in attempting to increase visitor numbers to the country? They will be successful in increasing visitor numbers as a result of the wonderful marketing campaign on which they are embarking as we approach St. Patrick's Day. It is primarily focused on our near neighbour and major market, Great Britain.
I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment yesterday in Galway, following his presentation at the tourism conference there, to the effect that the Government will proceed with the provision of free rail travel for old age pensioners throughout Europe. In other words, it is to extend to the rest of the European Union the rights and benefits old age pensioners currently enjoy in this country. Why stop at rail travel? I hope there will be an extension to bus travel. Where I live, in the north west, which relies heavily on tourism, especially County Donegal, there is no rail service, and so tourism there will not benefit from this important initiative, which I welcome strongly. In the context of the debate I ask that this should be an opportunity to tease out this and other issues.
I formally second Senator Harris's proposal for a debate on older people. He is correct in saying we need to harness the wisdom and experience of older people, particularly in these recessionary times, in terms of how to cope with the recession as a reality and also in terms of strategies for dealing with it. There is immense wisdom there to be tapped into. We also need to address in that debate the quality of life of older people, their participation in society and the fullness of their lives, as well as welfare issues.
One such issue is criminally wrong. It is a disgrace that there are a couple of hundred farmers' wives staging a sit-in at the Department of Social and Family Affairs because of a promise that was reneged on. They were told last year they were getting pensions if they had paid one year's contributions. This year those pensions are wiped from under them and they are being told to pay them back. It is a disgrace, it is wrong and it amounts to the abuse of elderly women, farmers' wives who have been abused traditionally. I am calling on the Leader for an urgent debate, to invite the Minister to the House and express his revulsion in this regard. This revulsion should be shared by every Member of the House. It is wrong that those women are protesting and being denied their rightful pensions. It is wrong that their lives are being treated with such contempt at this stage. I appeal to the Leader that nothing should have more priority than this.
I support my colleague's call for a debate on A Vision for Change and congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, on the good work he is doing. Equally, while there is a great deal of talk about the closure of old draconian facilities, I make the point that there is a need for long-stay care for psychiatric patients, young and old. We should not lose sight of that. Prior to the closure of any facility, we should ensure there is a replacement available with the required number of beds for appropriate long-stay psychiatric care.
I also support the calls for a debate on banking and the current financial difficulties the country faces. I have asked for this over a considerable period of time, specifically a structured debate and agreement among all party leaders in the Seanad in arranging it. While we undoubtedly have a banking crisis along with a difficult financial situation, I differ with those who seem to be looking at a funnel that is only half empty. I congratulate the National Treasury Management Agency on the good work it has done. We have had an over-subscription to Government bonds. There has been a run on Irish bonds because Ireland is seen to be good and strong and to have taken the necessary corrective action. There is a need, however, to get credit flowing for the ordinary individual, the consumer and, most importantly, for small and medium enterprises. We need to have a debate on this.
I am very concerned, as I have mentioned previously, at the manner in which customers are being contacted by banks to inform them that some of their debts have been passed over to debt collection agencies which are unregulated.
In the Leader's area a judge referred to the appalling arrogance of senior bankers.
Time. The Senator can have that again.
This was in Mullingar District Court.
That was in the court.
The judge referred to the appalling arrogance of senior bankers.
I do not want to refer to any courts.
This is what is happening.
I understand, but the Senator's time is up and I must move on. Seven Members are seeking to speak on the Order of Business.
I am simply supporting the call——
I have only five minutes left. I call Senator Buttimer.
——for a wide-ranging debate.
If it has not been seconded, I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fitzgerald to have a debate on banking. I hear the cacophony of sound from Members opposite regarding the public sector, which is being demonised by Government and treated badly. We must respect and cherish our workers. It is about time that Government engaged meaningfully with social partners or they will have anarchy in the streets, which we must avoid. Why is the Government afraid to have a debate in this House on banking? Why is it afraid to come to the House and answer questions on why the banking model it proposed is not working and has failed so far?
Every small business owner and mortgage holder tells a story of credit not flowing. This morning's results from AIB underline the need for the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance to admit the truth and not to mislead the House about those results. Have we the full facts from the Government at all? I disagree with Senator Harris in that the Government is genuinely afraid. Never before have we seen sons, daughters and grandchildren coming home, taking their own lives, struggling and having their homes repossessed. That is the reality in the modern-day Cork in which I live. Elderly people, who are grandparents in the main, are absolutely under pressure. Tá siad go léir faoi bhrú. What do we get from Government? Silence. When will we have a debate on banking? The Leader should stand up like a man and tell the House it will be next week or this week or, we hope, today.
Senator Fitzgerald proposed an amendment to the Order of Business seeking a debate on banking today.
I seconded Senator Fitzgerald's proposal.
It has been seconded.
I apologise. I did not realise that.
I support calls by Senator Harris for a debate on older people. I notice that debates on older people, children and so on are lined up. The forgotten group is always us middle-aged people with our middle-aged spread and various other things we have, which I shall not mention in the House.
I call for a debate on information technology, the sector with which I would be most associated. It is an important debate. The face of our society is changing strongly. Many people are now able to watch this debate on the Internet. They can pick up records of what is said here every day. People can get every word we say sent to their e-mail accounts directly after a Seanad debate. It is extraordinary how the face of the world is changing, let alone Ireland. Senators have requested a debate on Gaza today. Immediately after this discussion I can find out on my computer about things that are happening today on the ground in Gaza. I can communicate with people directly via the Internet. It is an extraordinarily changing world. We should have a series of debates on how this is affecting Irish life. Many children spend a large amount of time on computers. While it is great to have information, there are negative sides to the information technology sector. It is important for us to have a debate and I call on the Leader to arrange that as urgently as possible.
I echo the concerns expressed by others about reports of grade inflation in our universities and third level colleges. I heard the very fluent analysis from Dr. Brendan Guilfoyle of the Institute of Technology Tralee. We need a debate on this issue as a matter of urgency. We need to get the issue right or we will face the consequences in terms of our competitiveness. It is important to stress some issues. It is undoubtedly the case that we continue to produce many very fine graduates and the fact there is an increased number of high grades does not automatically mean there is a lowering of standards but in some cases what was once considered a 2.2 degree is now more likely to be considered a 2.1. We must also ask whether there is grade inflation at post-graduate level and whether that could be tied in with universities' desire to raise money through fees. These are important issues we need to discuss and I hope there will be a debate. I recall the great Horace Rumpole, of "Rumpole of the Bailey" fame, only got an undistinguished third at college and went on to be an expert in blood stains and a defender of the downtrodden criminal classes. High grades, therefore, are not automatically a prerequisite for success.
I would love if we could have a divorce in this country between the phrases "right wing" and "Catholic". A major red herring has been created around the debate on the terrible abuse case in Roscommon. There may well have been individual busybodies who may have characterised themselves as Catholic——
The county was not named.
——intermeddling in this affair. I cannot say too much——
This is the first time the county has been named.
It has been in court.
I am also aware there may have been fairly committed Catholics involved in blowing the whistle in that case. I would like to see a focus on the issues because all of that is an irrelevance. What happened in that case is that the State failed to do its job. People got an injunction from the High Court and it took ages for people to convince the State authority——
The point has been made.
——to go back in and placate it. That is a core issue.
Time, Senator, please.
In that context, I ask for a renewed debate, as I did last week, on the children's rights referendum because there are many important issues——
Senator, respect the Chair.
——which we must continue to discuss.
I join Senator Ó Brolcháin in the call for a debate on information technology. It is a good idea but it is easy knowing he lives in Galway city because if he lived in south Kilkenny or south Carlow he would not be able to communicate instantly with people in Gaza or even in Dublin because of the high-cost, low-speed connections——
Members, no interruptions, please.
——in our part of the world. It is his party's Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is responsible for the delivery of broadband and he has been singularly abysmal in his delivery for many rural areas.
I agree with Senator Norris in his call for a debate on facilities for deaf people. In the last Seanad we had a debate on the provision of facilities for deaf citizens and I would welcome such a debate if it could be arranged in the next few weeks.
Senator O'Reilly took the words out of my mouth because the issue I wanted to raise was pensions for spouses of the self-employed. Senator Harris said that when he was growing up in rural Cork retirement was something that did not exist. The reality is that because of the policies of this Government, retirement is not an option for people in many parts of rural Ireland. The Government has suspended the early retirement scheme for farmers and it has now done a U-turn on pensions for spouses of the self-employed, whether they are 65, 66, 68 or whatever age. That people who have paid their PRSI and contributed to the running of a business should be so treated by the Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and this Government is a shocking disgrace and we should debate it. When this issue first arose about a month ago I called for a debate on pensions for the spouses of the self-employed and I ask the Leader to arrange it.
I join previous speakers who asked for a debate on banking.
The Senator's time is up.
We asked for it last week. The announcement today about AIB's losses is unprecedented. It means the Government will either have to put in a huge extra cash injection to recapitalise our banks, including AIB, or consider nationalisation. It is clear the Government's position on banking in the past 12 months is now in tatters and we should have that debate as soon as possible.
I support the call for a debate on the banks. It appears we have been misled by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. We were promised that credit would flow and that there would be dividends from the banks as a result of the State's investment to keep the banking structures going. A rise in mortgage rates is now on the horizon. We see also that many businesses are going to the wall. To be frank about it, at this stage NAMA appears to be one of the biggest con acts of the century. People deserve to know exactly what is going on and who are the real benefactors of this restructuring of the banking sector because it does not appear to be the ordinary taxpayer. Banks have been running rings around the Government for the past while. They have been quiet for quite a while but they seem to be emerging again ready to put the boot into ordinary taxpayers when we see mortgage rates increasing. That will bring trouble to our economy but also to ordinary families. It is important that we regularly debate this issue and reflect our position with regard to banking and where it is leading the economy.
I will be brief. First, will the Leader confirm we will be having a debate on women's participation in politics next Tuesday? Second, I support calls for a debate on banking. We need to ask two key questions in this House. Why can Postbank be allowed go to the wall and yet Anglo Irish Bank is apparently of such systemic importance that it must be saved no matter what at enormous cost to the taxpayer? Why are the citizens of Iceland being asked their views on a bail-out for the banks and the citizens of Ireland are not?
I congratulate Corn Exchange Theatre Company and ask for a debate on theatre funding. Corn Exchange Theatre Company got two awards yesterday — I am a member of its board — yet its funding has been cut by the Arts Council. We need an urgent debate on Arts Council funding and on sufficient funding for the arts.
I have one question for the Leader. I repeat a call I made last week for a debate on emigration and the Tánaiste's views on that issue. Last Thursday night on an RTE programme the Tánaiste was asked to comment on the nature and extent of involuntary emigration in our country and she would not answer the question. She would not acknowledge its existence or the extent of it. As I said last week, the Tánaiste and her office do not understand the effect and scale of involuntary unemployment among our young people, which is leading to dereliction among them and will do unimaginable harm to the future of the economy and society. Some of our best, brightest and hard-working young people are having to go abroad yet the Tánaiste, who is charged with being responsible for getting jobs for them, will not acknowledge their plight or do anything about it.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Ormonde, Twomey, Feeney, Leyden, Regan, Coghlan, Walsh, Norris, Callely, Buttimer, Mullen, John Paul Phelan, Coffey and Bacik called for a debate on the credibility of education and the comments and concerns of the directors of Google and Intel regarding matters pertaining to their future employees and the question of grade inflation. I support the call to have the Minister come to the House. The Minister was in the House last week and I have no difficulty having him come to the House to discuss the future of education, his approach and the Government's future policy.
In regard to banking, I too welcome the European Commission's approval, under EU state aid rules, of the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, and the impaired assets relief scheme for financial institutions in Ireland. The Commission is satisfied that the scheme is in line with the guidelines on impaired asset relief for banks that allows state aid to remedy a serious disturbance in a member state's economy.
Subject to very strict conditions.
The scheme will help address the issue of asset quality in the Irish banking system and promote the return of a normally functioning financial market.
The Finance Bill will be before the House in two weeks. It will be debated on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and all matters pertaining to banking, and all the genuine concerns of every Member of this House on both sides, can be expressed. I have already said I will provide additional time on Second Stage to allow every Member tease out their points and make them known to the Minister present on the day in regard to the very serious challenge——
Playing for time again.
——facing the country. A real effort is being made by everyone, including the European Union, on this matter.
Senators O'Toole, Glynn and Mullen expressed their horror and shock at the reporting of a court case we have all heard in recent days involving the torture of a young man. I hope whatever can be done in future will be done and that we can learn from this very sad experience. The issues that have been highlighted are of enormous concern. I agree with Senator O'Toole. I will allow time for this debate after the St. Patrick's Day recess.
Senator Mooney called for a debate on tourism and referred to the serious challenges faced by the industry which Senator Mary White has outlined to the House on numerous occasions. We all heard the comments made at the Irish Hotels Federation conference in recent days. I have a vested interest in the matter, as every Senator knows. I take the challenges and difficulties being experienced very seriously. The tourism industry is a considerable employer and one of the three planks on which the recovery of the economy will depend. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business on Thursday to allow for a special debate on this subject, for the whole afternoon, if necessary. During the debate we can determine how we can really assist the Minister and Department in addressing the serious challenges facing the industry, particularly the hotels sector. Senator Mooney welcomed the Taoiseach's announcement, made in Galway yesterday, that he would give free rail travel to EU golden years customers. This could be extended to include bus travel, particularly in areas such as County Donegal which, as Senator Mooney outlined, has no rail facility.
Senator Alex White called for a debate on the proposed election of a new mayor of Dublin. I have committed to allowing time to discuss this issue in the House in the presence of the relevant Minister. It is opportune that the debate take place.
Senators Ó Murchú, Harris, Hanafin and O'Reilly congratulated the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his visit to Gaza and called for the provision of support for the poor people of Gaza, considering the appalling circumstances in which they must survive. The European Union and the civilised world must support Ireland in addressing the plight of those living in Gaza. I congratulate the Government, in particular the Minister and the Taoiseach, on its stance and efforts in Gaza.
Senators Harris, Feeney, Hanafin, O'Reilly, Ó Brolcháin and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on old age pensions and having a longer working life. I refer to those who have enormous work experience and appreciate the value of a job. Considering that so many are unemployed, I fully support Senator Harris's call for a debate and will allow time for it.
On the issue of pensions for farmers' wives, I strongly suggest it be raised on Second Stage of the Finance Bill in the presence of the Minister for Finance. I will allow a longer time for all colleagues to make their views known on Second Stage.
Senators Feeney, Glynn, McFadden and Callely congratulated the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, on his hard work and total commitment to A Vision for Change. I expect he will be in the House next week when we can discuss and tease out all the challenges facing the mental health sector and the measures he is trying to implement to help. I want to see what alternatives will be put in place at St. Loman's Hospital, Mullingar, which has a marvellous facility. It could be Mullingar's gain if an arm of a third level institute were to be located there with a view to helping the people of the area. St. Loman's Hospital has been a huge employer in the town for a long time.
Senator Feeney referred to sports events. I understand television plays a major role in the determination of when and where they are to take place. While we are all disappointed tonight's match between Ireland and Brazil will not be played in Croke Park, television rights must be considered. I understand a similar issue will arise on Good Friday. I will pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senator Prendergast referred to type 1 diabetes and outlined the reduction in the number of hours of service of an SNA from 32 to 20 for a particular patient. I will pass on her views to the Minister.
Senator Leyden asked for a special debate on the protocols for the national broadcaster, RTE. I will have no difficulty in allowing time for it to take place.
Senator Mary White outlined her strong and serious concerns regarding the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's levy increase from €5 million to €7.6 million. As all businesses are experiencing a downturn of 30%, an increase in any levy may be totally unacceptable, especially for local radio which is doing so much for communities and voluntarism and keeping local communities alive. We certainly want to debate the issue in the presence of the Minister to determine how we can fully support Senator White's call. If there is to be an increase, perhaps it can be deferred until the economy returns to buoyancy. It certainly should not be levied at this time, if at all possible.
Senators Coghlan, Walsh, Glynn and Hanafin called for an early debate on the public service. This is a matter of great concern. We all know about the great work that has been done for generations by all staff in the public service. We do not want to see any part of the service becoming political under any circumstances. Its credibility has always been above reproach. Every sector is under pressure but should desist from becoming political. Staff should offer a service to all political party members, be they in government or opposition.
Senator Norris referred to improving the sound system in the House. I will certainly bring this matter to the attention of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at its next meeting.
Senator McFadden referred to Bord Bia and food labelling and implied that Northern Ireland may not be classified as Ireland. On this side of the House, we have always classified it as Ireland.
I referred to food labelling.
There are to be no interruptions.
As one who lives in the last parish in Leinster, on the Border with Ulster, I know that in my part of County Westmeath, Northern Ireland is Ireland.
The money is going to the UK Exchequer; that is the point.
There are to be no interruptions.
Senators Hannigan and Mooney have called for a debate on where Ireland is going in the next ten or 20 years. Such a debate is timely. A debate was also called for on the Irish Diaspora. I have said we will have a debate on the Irish language in the House next week with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is timely, given that St. Patrick's Day is approaching.
Senators Ó Brolcháin and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on information technology. I am pleased to hear the proceedings of the House are being relayed live throughout the world using technology. I hope colleagues bear this in mind when making their contributions at certain times in the House. I will have no difficulty with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, coming to the House to debate the fact that every area should be given a fair chance, through broadband or any other available technology.
Senator Bacik asked when the debate on women in politics would take place. I will revert to her on the matter during the Order of Business tomorrow morning. The Senator also referred to funding for the Arts Council, a very important issue which can be brought to the attention of the Minister for Finance in two weeks when considering the Finance Bill.
Senator Donohoe called for a debate on emigration which presents a very serious challenge, given that 427,000 people are unemployed. I will discuss with the leaders at our meeting next Tuesday how we can have a long debate on the issue. I will have no difficulty in having the debate at the earliest possible time.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on banking be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Harris, Eoghan.
- 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.
- White, Alex.
- 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.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.