The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re National Economic and Social Forum and National Centre for Partnership and Performance, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2010 — Committee Stage (resumed), to resume at the conclusion of No. 1 and adjourn at 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, statements on job creation, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders or spokespersons; No. 4, Prohibition of Depleted Uranium Weapons Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
On a point of order, has the House decided to change the time for Private Members' business from 5 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.? It was always held at 5 p.m. but for the past two weeks has been held at 5.30 p.m.
On a point of information, last week's arrangement was agreed by the leaders because the Minister would not be available until 5.30 p.m. and we wanted to give him two hours in the House. Apart from that, it is always from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.
Is Private Members' business between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m today?
Yes, it will be between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., as stated clearly.
With due respect, the Leader's comments are incorrect. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges has decided that on weeks when the House does not sit on a Tuesday, Private Members' business will begin at 5.30 p.m. The reason is that if it were to start earlier, with the long Order of Business, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and other Members would not get to contribute to the debate. On weeks when the House sits on Tuesday, it will begin at 5 p.m. Last week, owing to a problem with a Minister, there was an agreement with the Whips that on that occasion it could begin at 5.30 p.m. as a one-off.
The business of government is being disrupted again by talk of jobs for the Green Party.
More like jobs for the boys.
Perhaps Senator Boyle will comment on this, if he is in the House later.
A question for the Leader, please, not for any other Member.
This is serious, given that we have such critical issues that must be dealt with. Yesterday we discussed the banks, job creation and the critical decisions that need to be taken to ensure credit starts flowing. This morning Fine Gael placed a copy of the report, TF — A Case Review 1983 to 2002, on the Order Paper. I want the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, with special responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, to attend the House today to explain why this report was not published by the Government. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business that time be allocated today for a debate on the matter. This case review, published by Fine Gael today and laid before both Houses, concerns a young woman who died in care. She had come to the attention of the child protection services at eight months of age. We have heard much about children who die in care, of which there have been 20. We have heard about the Murphy and Ryan reports on historical child abuse. This report effectively documents what is happening in our child protection services today. It is most serious that the Minister has not published this report and it is appalling it has taken eight years from the death of this young woman to have the report made public. It is appalling the Government has not published it but sought to keep this report secret, even though the Minister of State with responsibility for children has said it is in the public interest that reports such as this are published. It is equally disturbing that in this report there are 48 recommendations about child protection. Have these 48 recommendations been implemented and, if not, why not? If it is in the public interest for the author of the report to make these recommendations, surely it is in the public interest to ensure they are published. It is important that Senators and Deputies get an opportunity to debate these recommendations. We have spent much time in this House talking about historical child abuse; this report is about modern child protection and how it is run in this country.
It is a sad reflection on the Taoiseach and the Government that this report has not been published and that it is eight years since the child died after an appallingly sad and difficult life. I move an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister comes to the House to discuss this.
The Broadcasting Act was passed last year and one aspect of it concerns paying for the regulation of local and national radio through a levy imposed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. That is not unusual — it is regular and correct that those being regulated should pay for regulation. However, following the most challenging year in the history of broadcasting, with a reduction in the budget of RTE amounting to €80 million, staff cutbacks and cutbacks in costs, where measures had to be taken to remain in business, it is beyond nature, beggars belief and is completely unfair and inexplicable that the authority has issued a levy to increase costs for local and other radio stations. This order was issued in the last week of January and either of the Houses of the Oireachtas have 21 days to annul it. I ask the support of the Leader and his party in recognising that it if this goes through it will lead to more job losses and cutbacks at local level for local radio and national radio. This is inexplicable, unfair and unacceptable and we should take a stand to recognise what is happening on the ground. I ask for the views of the Leader on this. The Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is discussing it and it is the view of most committee members, including Government members, that this should be put on hold. The only way this can be done is by annulling the proposal. I will be proposing a discussion on this issue on the Order of Business next week.
We should have a debate on the first item on today's Order of Business, although I do not object to it. This is reducing three quangos and nobody objects to that. The House should know that the functions of these quangos must be done somewhere else and this must be explained. The public is under the misconception that one can cut back on quangos and everything will continue. This is like not answering phones or not doing something else. Someone is not receiving a service if everything that was done is not being done now. I do not object to what is being proposed and I will support it eventually but there is the issue of having it explained to the House. We are now dissolving the National Economic and Social Forum and the National Centre for Partnership & Performance in the dissolution order. I do not object to this. The functions will be taken over by the National Economic and Social Council and this must be explained and debated. I will go along with it but I would like time to debate the matter.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Fitzgerald calling for a debate on this most disturbing report, which is of deep concern to all of us. In 2010, with all the revelations and reports we have had, we are still seeing such immense failings in our child protection system.
I also seek a debate on banking on a day when the front page of theIrish Independent states AIB will impose a 0.5% hike in mortgage rates, causing immense hardship to many consumers. The reason for this increase is that the bank has posted enormous losses of €2.3 billion for 2009. We know why this is so, the bank over-lent and gambled on risky developments. It holds assets of €21 billion linked to property and construction and is facing 1,000 job losses. The most bitter pill for the taxpayer to swallow is that the Department of Finance has stated the Minister for Finance cannot do anything about the mortgage rate hikes even though we know there will be a race to the top as other lenders raise mortgage rates. We need a debate on this. We have put billions of euro into these banks yet the Department says the Minister cannot stop them raising their interest rates, nor can he get the banks to increase credit and lend to small businesses in need of credit. We need an urgent debate on this. It is a very strong argument for the Labour Party’s policy of nationalisation of the banks. It is most disheartening to see the Green Party fiddling while the economy crashes and burns and to see the parliamentary party of the Green Party playing pass the parcel with ministerial offices and the spoils of office.
Senator Bacik would like that parcel.
Senator Bacik would like the hassle.
It is most unedifying. In the criminal system there is much criticism of the rotating door in the prison system. It would be more damaging to see a rotating door in the Cabinet as Green Party Ministers come and go out of office in order to give everyone a share of the spoils.
I also ask for a debate on third level education. As someone who has been involved in third level education for many years, I was very concerned at reports of concerns about grade inflation. We need to debate this as a matter of urgency to ensure there has not been unjustified inflation in grades. We must also take on board concerns of Google and other big employers, particularly on a day when we are debating job creation. There is a difference in grade structures across different disciplines and we must be mindful of this. Generally, grades in the sciences, mathematics and engineering tend to be higher because the scale used for marking is broader and goes up to 100, whereas in arts and humanities we do not tend to mark that high. There has been pressure on many universities to raise grades at the top end in the arts and humanities faculties because externs are telling us to do this. We must consider this in the context of international comparisons and the differences between the disciplines in third level.
I also ask for a debate on women's participation in politics. The Leader indicated he would provide an answer on today's Order of Business on whether we will have that debate next Tuesday.
Senator Bacik should not hold her breath.
Is it permissible under the rules of the Order of Business for leaders of the Opposition to raise matters of speculation about my political party?
Of course, the Green Party is in government.
Stability in government is the issue.
Senator Ó Brolcháin will be promoted tomorrow.
It is a matter of speculation and I can assure the House the Green Party will not be deflected from the business of government by idle speculation.
Senator Boyle tweeted on it — it must be important.
Senator Ó Brolcháin should read Twitter. Has he been refused a job?
Coming from the Labour Party, speculation on rotation is extraordinary in view of the previous policy of rotating taoisigh.
On a point of order, the Labour Party never played pass the parcel with ministerial office.
Is this not what the Senator objected to?
I will continue the rotation.
The Senator's time is almost up.
I am aware of that. The Opposition is a little unruly.
The Senator has 30 seconds.
I agree with the Senators who have said child protection is one of the most important issues facing the House. I support the calls for a debate in this regard.
Will the Senator vote with us?
He will change his mind again.
I support the call by Senators Bacik and Fitzgerald for the Minister of State to come to the House urgently to discuss the frightening case of the child who was moved between 20 bed and breakfast establishments. That is how the HSE looked after her before she eventually died. It is appalling, even though so much time has passed, that the Government has still not published the report. How will we ever learn if we do not debate and find ways to implement the report's recommendations? I urge the Leader to give this matter his utmost attention and find ways to ensure such a scenario never happens again. If a child is taken into care, the unfortunate mother who is unable to look after him or her puts her faith and trust in the State. In this case, we reneged and let her down. We left her in a situation where her child died. She is one of many. It is a terrible indictment of the State that we do not care for the most precious, our children. I urge the Leader to give the matter urgent attention.
I welcome the announcement last night by the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy John Curran, of the Government's intention to ban the sale of certain substances in head shops. This is a welcome development. I understand they will be banned under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. It could take up to three months to do this but I urge him to do it sooner than that, if possible, because vulnerable young people are being drawn to these shops every weekend. These substances cause horrific harm and damage to them. I compliment those who protested outside head shops and, in particular, pay tribute to Members who have been calling for the past two years for these shops to be closed and the substances they sell to be banned. I also thank those who contributed to the recent debate.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and-or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to debate the difficulties the new TETRA digital communications system which is routed through Garda station masts is causing for television reception? I raised the matter last week and ask the Leader to schedule a debate, if not before the break for St. Patrick's Day, as soon as possible afterwards, because this is causing a great deal of concern.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments about the BAI. It is extraordinary that it should bring forward a proposal for a 30% increase on its 2009 budget. Many small radio stations are on the margins and it is peculiar that the body charged with the guardianship of their interests should place them at risk. It is a little like upward only rent reviews.
Will the Leader keep the House informed of developments in the investigation into possible Garda leaks relating to the forced resignation of Deputy Trevor Sargent? If, as the newspapers are reporting, the information was maliciously released by a source within the Garda, it should concern every decent and honourable parliamentarian. This would not be the first time for such an event to happen. During the 1997 presidential campaign a Garda file on the brother of one of the candidates, Mr. Dónal de Róiste, was released at a time when it was calculated to do damage. This is serious because cannot have the police force interfering in the political life of the country.
As we meet, Ezra Nawi is appearing in the High Court in Jerusalem for the hearing of an appeal against his conviction for an assault on two Israeli soldiers during an illegal demolition of Palestinian housing, despite the fact that the newsreel film showed him clearly taking stones from some of the Palestinian protestors while saying, "This is a peaceful protest". He disappeared inside the house being demolished; two soldiers went in after him and he emerged dishevelled saying, "Please, do not beat me," yet the judge, in a remarkable echo of the Denning judgment, preferred not to face the appalling vista that the police were lying, even though other policeman had previously lied in similar cases. This is a campaign, as described yesterday by a colleague, "to silence a democratic voice" in one of the only democracies in the Middle East.
I support Senator Wilson's comments regarding head shops and the fact that the Government has moved quickly in this regard, particularly the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. The Government made a decision yesterday and it is about time these shops were closed. The issue was highlighted on "The Frontline" on Monday night which gave some idea of the problem but the programme was not greatly balanced because no Government representative was in attendance to explain what we were doing in this regard.
Will the Leader arrange a monthly review in the House of State companies in order that we can discuss relevant issues? For instance, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, now known as the injuries board, was established by the Oireachtas in 2004 and is operating well. It was supposed to operate without a State subsidy but in 2008 the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment allocated €820,000 to it, while in 2007 the sum allocated was €438,000. These amounts were related to legal costs in the case of O'Brienv. Personal Injuries Assessment Board. These issues should be discussed in the House. The Leader was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business which was very much involved in the establishment of the board.
Regular reports should be made to the House by State bodies such as the Dublin Airport Authority, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and the National Roads Authority in order that we can discuss issues affecting them because there is a vast pool of talent in the House which should be exploited and utilised to a greater degree. We should discuss issues with the appropriate Minister and make suggestions for the development of these organisations, given that we have such an excess of talent in the House which is bursting at the seams——
Fine Gael does.
Senator Regan had to make his points known to the European Union.
I join Senator Fitzgerald and others in asking for the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs to come to the House as a matter of urgency. It is extraordinary, given that the Government is supposedly concerned and holding a referendum on children's rights, that we have had a failure to protect children amid secrecy. When will the Minister publish the report mentioned? If we are serious about protecting children, why has there not been proper accountability, transparency and communication by the Government? When will this happen? When will there be an end to cronyism by Fianna Fáil and its cohorts in the Green Party?
I am amused by Senator Ó Brolcháin. Government is not about the "Siege of Ennis" or "Lanigan's Ball"; it is about governing——
A question to the Leader, please.
I am asking questions. Government is not about jobs for the boys and stepping in and stepping out.
We do not need a lecture.
It is about showing leadership, creating jobs and having a vision to get Ireland back to work again. The only jobs in which Green Party Members are interested are their own jobs. When will we see the Government showing leadership regarding the job creation policy that has been lacking? I remind the Senators opposite——
The Senator should not mind the Senators opposite.
——that more than 400,000 of our fellow citizens are out of work and all we get from the Green Party and Fianna Fáil is jobs for the boys and the girls, and cronyism.
That needs to change.
Some weeks ago I raised the issue of the report of the Pensions Board on the difficulty in which we find ourselves regarding pensions. I note with interest that there are some undercurrents of trying to force the retirement age upwards. I understand the Government is today scheduled to publish proposals for future pension arrangements. In light of all that has happened and reflecting the marketplace, will the Leader arrange a debate on pensions at the earliest possible time? It strikes me as appropriate in light of the expected publication of the new proposals.
Will the Leader indicate when Report and Final Stages of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 will be taken?
It is being taken in Committee today.
I understand that Committee Stage is being taken today. I am talking about Report and Final Stages.
It is a matter for the House.
Can the Leader indicate whether Government amendments will be tabled? Having listened to the previous speaker talk about job creation, I concur with Senator Buttimer that it is very important and a debate will take place in the House today in that regard. Separately we need to look at an issue which is very wide ranging and needs to address many related issues, including the minimum wage and social welfare payment rates. I refer to the area of competitiveness. For us to create jobs, this country must become more competitive, but we are not at present. Therefore I ask for a debate on the issue of competitiveness.
I support the points made by Senators Norris and O'Toole on the levy proposed for independent broadcasters.
It is for all broadcasters.
The Minister should come to the House to explain why it is proposed. Yet again we see a regulator that is willing to impose costs on independent businesses as opposed to making hard decisions about itself.
I support what Senators Fitzgerald and McFadden said about the need for a debate on this report. For too long a vision of child care for children in need was the inside of a bed and breakfast, and we can see the tragic consequences. The report which Senator Fitzgerald mentioned needs to be debated urgently.
Last week I asked for a debate on restructuring ministerial portfolios. We have heard the view of the Green Party on the matter today and it needs to be clarified. Its Ministers are punching below their weight and earning more than they are worth. They should come to the House to explain why something like this is relevant and important when, as Senator Buttimer has said, more than 420,000 of our fellow citizens are without a job at all.
I support Senator Wilson's comments on the alacrity with which the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, has responded to the issue of head shops. Approximately ten days ago one of the national newspapers carried a report of a boy of about 12 or 13 whose mother had to come and collect him after he took one of these substances and he did not know where or who he was. That is an indication of what is taking place. In the previous Seanad, when I was Government spokesperson on health and children, a report was published by a sub-committee of which I was a member on the adverse side-effects of pharmaceuticals on society. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, to the House to discuss the issue of ordering drugs on-line? This is a very serious matter. While there are checks, a certain amount of illicit substances are getting through under the guise of being something else. We need to have a meaningful debate on how we can tackle what is literally the poisoning of our young people. Ultimately people depend on Members of these Houses to introduce legislation to put those cowboys and cowgirls out of business permanently.
Last week we had a very timely and lively debate in the House on special needs. At that time the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, in a scripted speech accused me of making a political football of children with special needs. Prior to that, last spring in Leinster House he said he would go public on me if I said that all children with special needs could not be mainstreamed. On 9 December he threatened to sue me personally if I continued to make remarks on special needs cuts. My question to the Leader is as follows.
That is what I want to hear.
Is this normal and appropriate behaviour from a senior Minister towards a Member of this House? I feel it is intimidation.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
I feel he is trying to silence me on the issue of special needs.
The Senator has asked a question of the Leader and she should wait to see if he will reply.
It is a question for the Leader and she has asked it very directly.
Why is the Minister trying to silence me on the issue of special needs?
Is the Senator looking for the Minister to come to the House for a debate?
I am raising this issue for legitimate reasons.
It is not appropriate on the Order of Business, end of story.
I am giving you notice, a Chathaoirligh, that I am lodging a formal complaint to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges——
The Senator is entitled to do that if she wishes.
——about the Minister's behaviour towards me on this most important issue where children's educational rights are being infringed by defective Government decisions and a policy that is to the detriment of children with special needs.
Does the Senator seek a debate on it?
I would like to see continued debate until we see the rights of children with special needs upheld and the concerns of their parents and teachers addressed.
I wish to raise the issue of the banks following yesterday's report by AIB. The very same bank told lies to an Oireachtas committee when it claimed it did not need our money and informed us it was able to handle its own affairs. Yesterday's report was honest in outlining a €2.5 billion loss. Its representatives could have told us that six months ago, but they preferred to bluff and tell lies to the committee.
Everyone knew that.
The Government was warned.
No interruptions. Members will speak through the Chair to the Leader.
I did not interrupt anybody on the other side of the House. Members on the other side of the House should listen to what I have to say. The very same banks are going to penalise businesses and individuals by increasing their interest rates, including mortgage rates. We should not allow that to happen as major shareholders in the bank. We should also direct AIB to sell off its assets abroad and put the money into the bank here just as the foreign banks operating here are doing. They are consolidating their positions. It is time for the Government to indicate that the bank must sell off its overseas assets and invest it in jobs here. We need to control the charges banks are imposing on businesses. If we do not, it will put them out of business. I call on the Minister to come to the House to discuss the situation as soon as possible.
I compliment the Government on moving with dispatch in identifying substances sold in head shops that are proposed to be banned. While complimenting it on its speed, I wonder whether it is going far enough. In that regard, I prefer what the Labour Party has suggested in its draft planning and development Bill, namely, that we would consider changing our planning laws to require a change of use for premises and that people would have to apply for planning permission to set up these head shops. The Labour Party made a similar proposal in the past in regard to sex shops and is proposing to take these two issues together. That is much more courageous but I wonder whether even that is going far enough. It is not beyond the limits of human ingenuity for us to devise some legislation that will allow us not just to prevent the establishment of these places in the future but to target the ones currently in existence. There seems to be a timidity at Government level about that. I do not believe it will work. If we identify a set of substances some other new set of substances will appear on the horizon and we will be eternally playing catch-up. I ask for further consideration of that and this forum might be a useful place to have the debate as to the precise mechanisms we should come up with to target not just the head shops but the people who offer home deliveries of these substances and so on.
I note Senator Bacik raised the issue of the need for a debate on education, which I raised yesterday along with others. I would be grateful for a debate on that issue. As somebody who teaches personal development in a third level college I recognise that when one is teaching self-esteem as part of the module one wonders if one fails one's students will one be contributing to lowering their self-esteem. A serious issue arises about how colleges go about——
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I am asking for the debate. I am concerned also about a dumbing down at second level which is putting third level institutions into a position where they must do a certain amount of remedial work at times. All of those issues must be considered.
They are important because as I said yesterday, we will pay the price in terms of our competitiveness if we do not get this right and when international and multinational companies start to sound warning notes, we must be worried. We must have a debate and I would be grateful if the Leader would arrange that.
I ask the Leader to allow a debate, as has been called for this morning, on the political format because there have been suggestions of cronyism, a lack of vision and jobs for the boys from the Opposition benches, in particular from Fine Gael. There are many new Members here. I ask if that is the same Fine Gael who, on leaving Government in 1997, filled every committee, sub-board and chair——
Same old story.
Questions to the Leader.
They filled every single board they could fill. They were ringing around the country looking for members——
Now, now. The Senator is talking about his own party.
——to see if they were interested in taking up the positions, leaving a scorched earth policy for the incoming Government.
The Senator should talk to the Leader.
The Senator is talking about his own party.
That is the reality of what happened.
We had 20 years of it from Senator Hanafin's party.
The question is if that is the same Workers Party which did a reverse take-over of the Labour Party. That was quite an achievement for a socialist party.
I do not want to get involved in other parties.
There are important matters to be debated, including banking, and an excellent suggestion was made earlier.
Rotation is an excellent suggestion.
I commend Senator Butler for putting forward the suggestion. Many foreign banks have pulled out of this country. We have banks that have large assets abroad. I share the view that those assets should be sold and that money brought back to Ireland. We should include in that the National Treasury Management Agency. Any funds we have abroad should be brought home to be invested in Ireland. We would be well served by a debate on that issue.
It is obvious we have touched a sore point, judging by the last outburst from Senator Hanafin. We have been concerned in the past week about a rift in Government between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil.
Questions to the Leader, Senator, please.
Do not worry about that, Eugene.
Senator Butler said he never interrupted anybody.
I very rarely do so.
It is slightly premature.
It is time to interrupt you, Eugene.
Now we appear to have a rift within the Green Party——
That is not a question. It is a speech.
——and the Leader might be able to throw some light on this——
There should be no speaking down to anyone any more.
——rotation of posts.
I would appreciate if the Senator put a question to the Leader.
We should understand that for what it is, however, because it is the worst form of cronyism. It is not about party or country. It is about individual jobs for the boys.
That is a speech.
We had the Green Party preach before the last election——
Senator Regan knows all about that — jobs for the boys.
Senator Butler is out of order again. We had the Green Party preach about cronyism. Since the last election we have had appointments of Green Party candidates to FÁS, the National Disability Authority, the Organic Food Agency——
Is this a question to the Leader?
It is a question to the Leader.
It is a Second Stage speech.
We have also had appointments to the Library Council, the Irish Film Classification Office and the Private Residential Tenancies Board. We also had the spectacle of a Senator who rejected the Green Party because she failed to get appointed to the cabinet of the European Commission——
That is not relevant to our Order of Business.
——an independent office. Does the Green Party not see what it is doing? This is damaging politics.
This is questions to the Leader.
It promised to clean up cronyism. It rejected its own Bill on cronyism in this House.
We are not concerned with or discussing any party.
It is indicted on this issue. This is a serious distraction from the problems of the country.
What about Senator Regan's own position taking his party to court?
Please, Senator Butler.
What about that, Eugene?
It is Senator Regan who is allowing himself to be distracted by the speculative news on the radio this morning.
Questions to the Leader, please.
If he is going to take his lead from the latest radio broadcast he is the one who is being distracted from what are the issues of the day, which are jobs for the country.
I thought we were listening to the chairman of the party.
It is about Twitter.
Questions to the Leader.
In regard to the issue of head shops, Senator Mullen asked if we are going far enough. He is right. We must address the cultural phenomenon these shops are creating. They are located on the main streets of our towns and are making drug taking, illicit or otherwise, seem like a mainstream activity. When it comes to enforcement the ban on substances is extremely welcome, and the Minister is to be commended for it, but we must consider enforcement in terms of sitting on this new cultural phenomenon, so to speak. It is a planning enforcement issue as well and there is a range of planning methods we must consider in regard to these shops including change of use, opening times and so on because they will morph from substance to substance. They will continue to peddle their wares in their shop windows and reinforce the sense that these substances are normal and mainstream. That is the wrong message and we ought to have the Minister come into the House to discuss the issue of head shops from a planning enforcement point of view.
I did not call Senator McCarthy on the previous occasion.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. Can I begin by welcoming Senator Dearey to the House? I wish him well in his role as a Senator. I pay tribute also to Déirdre de Búrca who is no longer a Member. She was a fine Senator and a very good colleague.
I raise the issue of Allied Irish Banks raising its interest rate by 0.5%, leaving the gates wide open to other lenders to do the same. I have raised this issue consistently in this House. There are thousands of families who have been thrown out on the side of the street by the vultures in our banking system. People who could not wait to make enough money during the economic boom are now inflicting the worst form of turmoil on any family in terms of their possessions, that is, throwing them out on the side of the street. It is not good enough that the taxpayer is bailing out that bank to the tune of €3.5 billion. It has reported record losses and it is now turning on the hard-pressed mortgage payer. I repeat a statistic I mentioned here about three weeks ago. An increase of 0.5%on a €200,000 mortgage is approximately €60 per month extra on a family. That is a good deal of money for some people to come by. It is vulgar, disgusting and abhorrent that this Government is allowing the banking system to get away with that type of vulgarity.
I listened to most of the Members this morning and everyone seems to be going around with two planks on their shoulders, which is not a great way of approaching matters. I notice that nobody came in here to praise the Government for the proposals that came out yesterday via the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the IDA on the potential for job creation here. Everybody seems to have forgotten that. That is something that is positive and it is being done to try to tackle the unemployment problem. I would appreciate it if the Leader would examine the possibility of us having a debate on the report which came out yesterday because pegging mud at each other across this Chamber or the Dáil will not do anything for those who are unemployed or seeking to address the economic position. Positive news should get the same amount of time in this House as the negatives.
Finally, I want to comment on head shops. If we do not do something about this issue and it is driven underground, we will have a real problem. We already have to deal with the problem of cannabis factories in private houses which are rented mainly by non-nationals and who then put the drugs on the market. I would be grateful if something could be done about this issue.
I agree with the many requests made by Senators to the Leader, including in particular the issue raised by Senator O'Toole regarding the 30% increase in the broadcasting regulatory imposition on local radio stations. As the Leader will be aware, I have a small interest in Radio Kerry. It is a serious imposition that will affect a lot of jobs. Some of the stations will be made marginal and in danger of going out of business. That would be bad for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. I strongly agree with Senator O'Toole that the order should be annulled.
Does the Leader accept that no individual is above policy and, if so, will that be a guiding principle behind in the delayed reshuffle or perhaps a reason for its postponement? Will it depend on a twit, a tweet or a twitter?
As somebody who represents County Louth, I warmly welcome the announcement by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, of a new cross-Border initiative to enforce parking fines and toll evasion penalties on motorists travelling between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The initial project will begin today and will run until the end of November. Data on vehicle ownership will be transferred between the two jurisdictions under a high level of security. The project shows how far we have come as a country and a nation because it would have been unthinkable ten or 15 years ago.
I welcome the news of a 40% increase in sales in February 2010 over the same month last year as result of the car scrappage scheme. Incentives can work in certain sectors and perhaps the scheme will act as a model for the future. Consumer confidence is key to restoring the economy. We have seen a boost in confidence in the motor industry and this can be repeated across many sectors in order that we would start to see the green shoots.
In view of what was said today in the House, perhaps we should hold a debate on cronyism. I do not mind which Minister attends because they are all at it. Perhaps it would be appropriate that the debate on State agencies and semi-State companies should highlight the extraordinary curse of cronyism in this country. What has been said by Senators on both sides is perfectly fair. Both of the main parties and the Labour Party have always regarded semi-State directorships as the spoils of war. They put their own people into positions of authority and influence when they entered office and as they departed. Instead of merely exchanging insults on the Order of Business, let us expose this terrible curse on our semi-State companies, some of which are doing a very good job but have been discredited by people who were appointed because of party political allegiances rather than merit. There is no point in accusing each other over the practice because everybody is at it.
I agree with Senator O'Toole that No. 1 appears to be the most important matter on the Order Paper. I do not know what its implications are but it may be the beginning of something significant. The motion provides for the abolition or merger of two of the partnership quangos. I would have thought such a development would have warranted discussion in this House. I would welcome a decision by the Government to dismantle the partnership industry and remove partnership junkies from positions of authority. It is time all the quangos that sprung up because of social partnership are dismantled as that structure vanishes. However, we should not let it be rammed through as if nothing is happening. This is a matter of great significance and it deserves to be discussed at length with a Minister who can tell us what is going on.
I support Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on the report that came to light this morning. This report was initially due to be published in September 2008 and even though the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children gave a commitment on 6 October 2009 to publish it last year, this was not done. I wish to highlight two comments from the report which set the context for understanding it. The first was from a social worker who wrote in May 1998 that the young girl concerned was extremely vulnerable and not receiving adequate care. The second was from a psychiatrist who conducted an assessment of the child in 2000 and described the provision of care for the girl since she left her grandmother's home in 1997 as nothing short of disastrous.
When the Murphy and Ryan reports were published there was considerable hand wringing, headshaking and tut-tutting. We look back with some disdain at the society of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s which supposedly condoned this kind of carry on. We feel a certain sense of superiority, believing this could not possibly happen in the Ireland of the 21st century. The fact is, however, it is still happening every day. It is a pity Senator Ó Brolcháin is no longer in the Chamber because he assured us once again this morning that the rights of and care for children were at the centre of the Green Party's ethos even though, over the past two months, the Green Party has shown more interest in debating how we care for dogs in this country.
Childline has reported a 25% increase in its calls last year, including 11% increase in calls relating to abuse and welfare. This Government still deems it acceptable that 38% of these calls went unanswered. Children are crying out for help but nobody is available to answer them. That is the legacy and that is why I call for an urgent debate on this issue.
Given that we are debating job creation between 2.30 p.m. and 5 p.m., is it proposed that part of the debate will be given over to the Green Party's attempts to get a few jobs in Government, as was exposed in the national media? Is that party's policy on rotation to be adopted as Government policy for future job creation? Perhaps the Leader would enlighten me on that when he responds to the Order of Business.
When will we have our long sought debate on banking? Yesterday in the other House, the Taoiseach stated his belief that NAMA would free up credit to the economy. Numerous Government spokespersons, including in particular the Minister for Finance, have admitted that was never the intention for NAMA but the Taoiseach nevertheless made this claim once again yesterday. When will we have the debate on banking? We have sought it for three weeks and there is no indication of it taking place.
I join Senator Callely in seeking a debate on pensions. Yesterday I raised the issue of pensions for the spouses of self-employed people. The Government is in the midst of publishing proposals on completely reforming the pensions regime. We are led to believe that mandatory pensions will be introduced for all workers and that the pension age may be increased. We should have that discussion at the earliest opportunity. Finally, where does the Leader stand on the issue raised by Senators O'Toole, Coghlan, Norris and Donohoe, the fees and levies being imposed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on independent local and national radio stations? Last year, the average revenues of local radio stations decreased by over 30%, yet the authority is seeking a 27% increase in its budget this year. Most sectors of the economy are in decline and pressures on employment in broadcasting as well as in other sectors are very strong. Does the Leader consider it appropriate that the regulator of independent broadcasters should seek to increase its levy by 27%, thus putting more pressure on employment in the sector?
Today's announcement that the unemployment figures for February remained roughly the same as January's is cold comfort to the many people who have lost their jobs over the past year. If there is any doubt about how desperate people are to retain their jobs, one need look no further than Naas, County Kildare, where Green Isle Foods workers are on hunger strike in an effort to get their jobs back. The Labour Court has stated the jobs are rightfully theirs. Will the Leader use his good offices to try to ensure the situation in Naas, which is getting more desperate by the day, is rectified and to get all parties involved to talk together so everybody can emerge from this with their head held high? I am sure that is possible.
Will the Leader also give the House a progress update on the two Bills relating to management companies which are currently before the House? We have concluded Second Stage and are awaiting Committee Stage. When does he expect those Bills to come back from the Attorney General's office?
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Ó Brolcháin, McFadden, Buttimer, Donohoe, Regan, Dearey, Coghlan, Cannon and John Paul Phelan expressed shock and horror at the case highlighted in the House this morning, regarding which an amendment to the Order of Business has been proposed. That a young woman died in the care of the State is a shame and tragedy and should not have happened. Everything relating to what happens to people in care is a great concern for every Member of the Oireachtas, regardless of party. Although the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, was before the House last week, I have no difficulty with inviting him back on foot of the issue highlighted by the Senators and placed on the Order Paper by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Fitzgerald. I give the House my commitment that I will do everything I can to ensure this debate takes place at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Callely and Hannigan expressed their serious concerns about jobs. Our special debate on jobs will start at 2.30 p.m. With regard to Green Isle Foods and the unfortunate people who are on hunger strike, which was raised by Senator Hannigan, I sympathise with everybody concerned. I saw the television coverage last Sunday evening. I hope common sense can prevail and that everybody can get around the negotiating table so these people can get on with their lives.
Senators O'Toole, Norris, Donohoe and Coghlan spoke strongly in support of local broadcasting stations. I have received correspondence from Mr. Albert Fitzgerald, chief executive of Midlands Radio 3. It is not fair that the levy is being increased from €5 million to €7.6 million when trade is down approximately 30% across all sectors in Ireland, not just in local and national radio and television. This is an unfair request. I will contact the Minister's office to ascertain if it can be discussed in this House and to find out what the Government can do about it. Given the downturn in the economy, the alternative is that part of the licence fee be given to local radio to ensure it survives. Local radio is the foundation of local communities. It has been to the fore in highlighting volunteerism and everything that is good in local communities. All sides of the House fully support it.
Senator O'Toole and Senator Ross referred to No. 1 and called for a debate on semi-State bodies. This is a timely call and I will allocate time for that debate.
Senators Bacik, Butler, Hanafin, Dearey, John Paul Phelan and others called for a debate on banking and the challenges it faces. I note the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said yesterday that Allied Irish Banks results were not a surprise given the crisis that has hit the banking sector over the last number of years. He said the results show the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, is "forcing the banks to finally face up to the reality of their bad loans". The banks engaged in excessive lending to speculative property developers and NAMA is making the banks take the losses on these property loans up front. This is borne out by the large losses AIB reported yesterday. The Minister continued:
Were it not for NAMA, the banks might still be nursing their loans in an attempt to spread their losses over a prolonged period. This might benefit their shareholders, but it would choke the prospects of economic recovery.
I agree with my colleagues that increasing interest rates to protect shareholders and placing mortgage holders under undue extra pressure is unacceptable and that we should do everything we can about this. The Government will be watching it very closely. On the one hand, the banks must be allowed to survive but, on the other, they must play fair with people during this massive downturn in the economy. Full nationalisation of two other institutions might not be right for the country. There are various examples of other institutions which perhaps the Government would prefer not to have. While the bank shares are trading on the Stock Exchange there is an opportunity for people to assist and participate. I have no difficulty with organising a debate on this very serious issue for everybody in this country.
Senators Bacik and Mullen asked for further debates on education. I have no difficulty with that proposal. Senator Ó Brolcháin quite correctly pointed out that the Labour Party supports rotation of Ministers.
Senators Wilson, Leyden, Glynn, Ellis and Mullen congratulated the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, on banning many of the items being sold in head shops. It will take three months for the ban to be put in place. It was also pointed out by Senators that the planning regulations should be examined as a matter of urgency. Members of local authorities can introduce by-laws relating to opening hours and the other issues which have been highlighted in the House in recent days. Opening a shop or keeping it open at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. when the discotheques are over or the restaurants and chip shops are closing, or standing outside such premises and offering these drugs is unacceptable. Local authority members have a duty to ensure this does not happen in their areas. They hold their annual conference this week and I exhort them to do everything they can to assist in dealing with this terrible plague and challenge for our young people.
Senator Wilson also spoke about the new digital antennae that have been placed on Garda stations in County Cavan which are interfering with television signals. I have already conveyed his strong views on this to the Minister. It will be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Senator Norris highlighted the allegations mentioned in the newspapers today. I will pass on his views to the Minister on the resignation of the former Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, who was very supportive when in office. He was very efficient and is a great loss to the Government. He will be back in government at another time to assist and display his talents, as he did in the past two and a half years. I wish him well. Senator Norris also expressed his strong views on the position in the Middle East, with which we all fully agree.
Senator Leyden asked for a monthly review of the performance of State boards. Senator Ross also called for a special debate on the matter. Such a debate would be timely. The Seanad can play a leading role in this regard. We will endeavour to ensure such a debate takes place.
Senators Callely and John Paul Phelan raised the issue of pensions. As we all know, a special press conference will be held this afternoon when the new pensions policy of the Government will be rolled out. We can debate the issue in the House in the very near future.
Senator Glynn called on the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, to examine the serious issue of the ordering of drugs on-line. It is one about which the Minister of State has to do something. I will pass on the views of the Senator to him after the Order of Business.
Senator Healy Eames called for another debate on children with special needs. A debate on the issue took place last week. She expressed her strong views on the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, whom I have known for a long time and who has been a distinguished Member of both Houses. He is a very good listener and doing everything he possibly can. On having a further debate, he has always been very forthcoming and supportive in coming to the House. I will have no difficulty in assisting colleagues seeking to help those with special needs.
Senator Ellis congratulated everyone involved on the proposals made by the Government and the IDA which were announced yesterday, as well as the report. It is something we should discuss. Senators will take it on board in their contributions to the debate on job creation this afternoon.
Senator Carroll outlined and welcomed the announcement made by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to deal with the cross-Border issue mentioned. The announcement is welcome and I thank the Senator for bringing it to the attention of the House. He also welcomed the 40% increase in the number of car sales, the success of the scrappage scheme and the boost given to consumer confidence, which is very uplifting. The first indicator of an upturn in the American economy will be in the motor industry, as has been the case, as the bankers will tell us, in the past 100 years. It is the one sector of manufacturing everyone watches. It is also the first to give an indication of a downturn.
Senator Ross also called for a debate on the performance of semi-State bodies. I have given a commitment in that regard.
On the two Bills to which Senator Hannigan referred, I will revert to the House tomorrow on the matter on which I received correspondence recently.
On a point of order, the Leader promised he would revert to me regarding a debate on the Sub-Committee on Women's Participation in Politics.
I cannot control the matters on which the Leader replies.
I will inform the House on the matter tomorrow.
I am obliged.
Senator Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the report, TF — A Case Review 1983 to 2002 be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- 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’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.