The Order of Business is No. 1, Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn at 1 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 1a, statements on tourism, to be taken at 1 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.30 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.
Order of Business.
I ask again for a proper debate in this House on the banking crisis. The banking inquiries that are currently being carried out on behalf of the Government are taking place behind closed doors. The Government's terms of reference prohibit any investigation of the fateful night in September 2008 when the Taoiseach saddled future generations with massive debt. Last Friday, the Minister for Finance published his budget outlook for the next couple of years. He made no allowance for the recapitalisation of the Irish banks. We know that billions of euro will be spent on recapitalising the banks. When the Minister published his outlook for the next couple of years last Friday, one can imagine the howls of derision if he had neglected to include a figure for the Department of Education and Science. In this case, he has made no allowance for the fact that the taxpayers of this State will have to come up with billions of euro to recapitalise the banks. Therefore, I ask the Leader to arrange a proper rolling debate on the banking crisis so Senators and those we represent can be properly informed about what is going on. Too much is happening behind closed doors. Taxpayers are getting the rawest deal going for future generations.
I also ask for a debate on the pensions plan that was published by the Government yesterday. There is a need for a serious debate on this issue. I have been paying into a private pension plan for the last 15 years. That fund is now worth two thirds of the amount of money I have paid into it. There has been no growth or interest. The Government is saying it wants the same fund managers to manage the future pensions of low-paid workers in the same way. That is nonsensical.
Low-paid workers cannot afford to take such a hit. We need a proper debate on how these pension funds will be managed in the future.
Various groups within the community have suffered from the recession over the last couple of years. I suggest that those involved in various branches of the arts, such as sculptors, painters and writers, have probably suffered more than any other group. I appeal to my Fine Gael and Labour Party colleagues to reassess their position on the appointment of a part-time arts officer in the Central Bank. We are looking like philistines here. At a time when we are fighting our way out of recession, there is nothing more important than to give ourselves hope and optimism for the future. This industry depends on discretionary and marginal income. It requires people to spend money. We hear very little about this group. I would prefer if we halved the car scrappage scheme, which is creating jobs in Germany and France, and put the money into the arts in this country.
We should invest in artistic events in areas like theatre, sculpting and painting, which are part and parcel of Irish life. I really think we need to look at this. It is a sad day for Ireland when two political parties oppose the investment of a minor amount of money in the arts. I should also mention that a library in Sallynoggin, which is one of the most deprived working-class areas of Dublin, is to be closed. We need a debate on the importance of the arts in Ireland. We need to consider where we need to go and how we can support these people, who need support like every other worker in the Civil Service, the public service and the factory line. Artists are a hard-working part of our community. I doubt that any other group is as much at risk. Rather than criticising the investment of money in the arts, we should be directing more money into them. Having expressed my disagreement with Fine Gael and the Labour Party, I have to say I agree with Fine Gael's point about pensions. I have said for the last six years that I completely support the idea of compulsory pensions. When Séamus Brennan came in and made that suggestion about ten years ago, I think I was the only voice in favour of it.
I was in favour of it.
It has to be done. However, I do not agree with the idea of giving responsibility for this system to the private fund managers who have created havoc in our financial services industry. The Opposition parties are completely right to say that is not the way to go forward. The most effective fund managers in this country over the last ten years have been the officials in the NTMA. That is where the money should go. The State fund that has been operated has been more successful than the funds operated by other groups. We need to go in that direction.
It is important to have a full and frank debate on the national pensions framework, which was published yesterday and provides food for thought. It is vital to get all sectors of society to buy into Ireland's future pension commitments. Those of us who are realistic accept the need for an increase in the retirement age. At present, for every six workers there are two people on pensions, but that will change. In 40 years' time, there will be two workers for every person on a pension. It is absolutely wrong to defer the tough decisions that have to be made. I would welcome a debate on yesterday's publication of the framework document. On the security of pension systems, we have to learn lessons from the examples of Waterford Glass and SR Technics over the last number of months. We have to ensure the future pensions framework takes that into account.
As this will kick in in 2014, many people in their early 60s woke up this morning to discover they will not be able to retire for another year. We need to look at that again. It is already clear, from the debate in the media and in this House, that we will have a robust exchange of views on this issue. That is very welcome because it is vital that we get this right for all of our futures. Today is the 13th world book day. The main aim of the day is to encourage——
The closure of libraries.
——children to enjoy books and to read more. Figures suggest that one in five students in this country leaves secondary school at the age of 15. One of the main reasons for that is the literacy problem. Approximately 500,000 Irish people have such problems. That is why it is important to support this endeavour. We have to recognise the good work that is done by libraries in Dublin and other counties. The people of County Meath are very proud of the excellent library service there. Children can go to libraries to borrow and read books, or to sit and study in quiet conditions. It is vital to give libraries the facilities they need to retain quality standards.
Yesterday saw the passing of a former leader of the UK Labour Party, Michael Foot. He had a very full and long life and he achieved a lot. He helped to establish the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He was an inspirational speaker. He had a long-time interest in Ireland. I heard him speak when I was in college in Dublin in the early 1980s. He was an outstanding politician and an example to us all. If the current generation of politicians can reach his age and be as well respected across the political spectrum, we will have achieved something. Michael Foot will be long remembered by the international labour movement.
I agree with the call for a debate on the national pensions framework, especially in the interests of those of us who will have to work for an extra three years when the time comes. It is important that this House should debate the shape of our future society. The call for a debate on the banking inquiry should wait until the terms of reference for the tribunal of inquiry are drawn up.
Those who attended a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service will have heard the Governor of the Central Bank saying he favours the model that is being adopted in the United States, which has some private elements but is largely public in its format. I am confident the tribunal of inquiry, when it is formed, will have large public elements. Can Opposition Senators square the Official Secrets Act 1963, which applies to people working in the Department of Finance, the Financial Regulator's office and the Central Bank, with a fully public inquiry? I would like to know how that circle can be squared.
The Senator can read it on Twitter later on.
I fully support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on investment in the arts in the context of economic and social improvement. Is important to focus on the decisions being made by local authorities on spending priorities. I refer particularly to the Fine Gael-led local authority in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which has made a decision on local library services. It has the right to make those decisions.
Who funds the local authorities?
Who is closing the local library services?
Who reduced the funding for councils?
Who has cut the funding to local authorities?
That gives an indication as to the priorities of those parties opposite if they were in government.
Despite the shouting we have heard, I would like to make a personal request for non-political debate——
——on the question of politics, the media and the coarsening of public debate.
Would the Senator give it up?
Last night when I left Leinster House, I was chased half way down Molesworth Street.
Senator Boyle never walked so fast in his life.
Regardless of the issue in question, I feel that type of behaviour and questioning is magnified elsewhere in public life.
This morning when I was coming down Thomas Street an admittedly very drunk man shouted at me for five minutes calling me a maggot. I believe he did so because he saw last night's scenes involving me on television.
Thank you, Senator Boyle.
The type of debate we have in this House where some Members mistake shouting, finger-pointing and exaggeration of rumour as fact does not help that process.
We need to have a debate in this House about the whole nature of public life and the media. We would benefit from such a debate.
I am not clear about whom Senator Boyle was speaking. Was it the media or Deputy Cuffe?
It is questions to the Leader and no interruptions.
Senator Boyle did not have any questions for the Leader.
I asked the Leader three questions.
It was disturbing this morning to hear a representative of the HSE state 20 reports on the protection and care of children had accumulated over the past several years in the health boards, and subsequently the HSE, but had not been published. Why were these 20 reports produced but not made available to anyone? There can be no legal excuse about confidentiality, or any other, that can justify not publishing these 20 reports. Will the Leader ensure the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, attends the House as soon as possible to explain why this has happened, when these reports will be published and when children can benefit from their recommendations, some of which concern the deaths of children in care?
I have every sympathy with Senator Twomey and others who have called for a debate on the proposed changes to pension structures. I too was that soldier whose private pension plans, taken out over the past 15 years, were whittled down well below a viable value. What annoyed me was that when it was plainly obvious in the past few years that the Irish banking sector was in a tailspin and its equities were going through the floor, many of the managed funds were still going into bank shares. I recall attempting to get these funds changed in 2007 and 2008 only to be told they could not.
Will the Leader consider a debate on Irish foreign policy within the European Union? Both sides of the House will be familiar with the implications and consequences of the Lisbon treaty about the expansion of foreign policy within Europe. Earlier this week, it was reported in the Irish media that Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union, is in the process of setting up external affairs representatives, or in other words, EU ambassadors. A turf war seems to be already developing between France and Germany as to who will get the top jobs.
I believe Ireland should be at the heart of this. Members on all sides have argued Ireland should be at the heart of Europe. I urge for a debate on what Ireland's role will be in these expanded EU foreign policy structures because I am concerned a French-German-British view of Europe would be presented to the world. Ireland does not do war. We do peace, humanitarian aid and all the positive elements which the European Union is well-known for across the world. I would hate to think that decisions taken and appointments made would not be in Ireland's best interest. While it may not seem important in the wider scheme of things, it would be for Ireland's role and image in the European Union and the wider world.
I regret once again we are not breaking for lunch. I will not amend the Order of Business because of it but it is a pity. We are entitled, as human beings, to some kind of decent treatment. I have no difficulty whatever with our salaries being cut but I would appreciate if we had decent facilities in this House.
My secretary is in every morning at 7.30 a.m. She does not take lunch but has an apple. She often works until 6 p.m. and after but we have run out of the overtime allowance. I am here every day and I am delighted we are clocking in. At least people will know those of us who are here. It would be very refreshing if they could monitor the doings of the House to see who contributes and all the rest of it.
Since the development of electronic communication, there is a flood of communications every day.
Yes, every day.
In the recession, there are people whose homes are under threat, children are sick, have planning difficulties or are in debt which must be answered. I never get to bed until after midnight. Then I have to listen to cheap shots on the wireless claiming we were in the Seanad for a day and a quarter and get paid for doing nothing. I bitterly resent and reject it. I do not mind what we get paid but I want the facilities to do the job. At present, we are being asked to make bricks without straw.
I support Senator Frances Fitzgerald that it is horrifying there are 20 reports on children in care awaiting publication. I must signal the warning, however, that it is terribly important that in intervening in this area we make absolutely certain we do not prejudice the welfare and rights of the other family members concerned. I particularly think of two small children who will probably learn from their schoolmates today of the tragic circumstances of their mother's death. In these matters we need sensitivity.
I support Senators O'Toole and Boyle in their calls for continued support for the arts. It is important we do not make short-sighted decisions and undo some of the tremendous work achieved in the past ten years. I am proud Kerry County Council provided in its annual estimates funding for the Listowel Writers' Week, the national theatre in Tralee and other arts programmes.
I am calling for a debate on national gas supply, particularly in the mid-west region. This week Endesa announced it will proceed with a gas-powered generating station in Tarbert, County Kerry, creating 500 jobs which is to be tremendously welcomed. Bord Gáis Éireann has announced it will lay a pipeline connecting the power station to the national grid. At the same time, Shannon LNG has received permission to extend a gas pipeline on the same path. There is obviously a need for joined-up thinking.
If the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, attended the House, we could highlight the positive elements of these projects. I know the Minister is committed to the creation of an energy hub at the mouth of the Shannon Estuary. Such a debate would help and progress that idea.
I support the calls by Senators O'Toole, Boyle and O'Sullivan with regard to the arts. Last weekend I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Irish Museums Association annual conference in Killarney, County Kerry. Museums are a great store of knowledge and value to the State, doing wonderful work for cultural tourism, preserving those important traditions that are of value to us and helping to explain from where we came and who we are. The people concerned are greatly undervalued and under ferocious pressure.
I renew the call of Senator Twomey for a debate on banking and take on board the points made by Senator Boyle. There are so many stages in this process. The Commission in Brussels needs to get off its butt because it delayed the sanctioning of NAMA. The business plans of the institutions have been made, yet we are going nowhere until the Commission sanctions or amends the business plans of our two major banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland. Bank of Ireland had to give shares instead of cash, which it would have preferred, because of state aid rules. AIB will face this prospect on 13 May but I hope the Commission will have got off its butt by then and got this measure through in the interests of the State. If amendments must be made and assets must be sold, so be it.
Is Senator Coghlan looking for a debate on the issue?
I am, but I want to make a point.
There is no real need to do so.
The Leader understands recapitalisation cannot take place until the NAMA-bound portfolios are transferred. None of the transfers has yet taken place. There is a major delay. We deserve to have the Minister for Finance attend the House in order that we can hear more of the details. The availability of credit to worthy customers who are being choked is very important.
I ask the Senator to conclude.
We do not want the banks to have more bad debts.
Thank you very much, Senator.
I know the Cathaoirleach thanks me but the Leader has not given me an answer. That is what I want.
The Senator's time is up.
I ask the Leader for a debate on pensions, particularly in the light of the announcement made yesterday. I welcome that announcement, as hundreds of thousands will be allowed to qualify for a pension. It is difficult to say who will be the best people to manage the scheme. Those involved will receive an annual statement and be directly involved in the investment. There are only three possible investments, all made from equities, property or cash. There are no further variations. It is very easy for one company to state that if it had invested in cash, it would have done very well. That may be true over a period of one or two years but over a period of 30 years equity investments have always outperformed the others. The mandatory nature of the scheme will help people and is to be warmly welcomed.
I suggest we have a debate on banking very shortly. I ask that consideration be given to bringing home from abroad some of the assets of the NTMA and putting them into the banks, with a specific reference that they be used for the purpose of providing credit. Over and above the funding the banks need, the money the NTMA has abroad should be brought home and invested in our banks with a specific reference to providing credit for businesses.
Last week when Senator Coffey called for a debate on how we could develop the green economy, he mentioned the excellent document, Developing the Green Economy in Ireland, which was produced by a high level study group and published last November. It contains many excellent suggestions, on which we need an urgent debate in order that Members opposite can familiarise themselves with the contents of report, on page 30 of which it is suggested, as Fine Gael has been suggesting for a number of months, that a single national water authority be set up. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, was bemused by this the last time the issue was mentioned in the House.
The document expresses a strong commitment to wind energy. I am working with a wind energy company based in Cork to help it to develop its business in the west. It tells me it has hit nothing but brick walls and that there is a lack of support from the Government in expanding the wind energy sector. One of the things to which it points is the major discrepancy between the way wind energy producers are treated here and across the Border in Northern Ireland. For example, in this country there is little or no guarantee about the price one will receive for the energy produced. In the United Kingdom, from 1 April, producers will be guaranteed 41p for every unit of energy produced, even if it is used in the producer's house or business. There is no such commitment in Ireland. A commitment given to offer a certain price was reneged on a few months later. In the United Kingdom one pays VAT at a rate of 5% on the purchase of a wind turbine, whereas in this country one pays at a rate of 21%. If the Government is serious about supporting alternative energy projects, it needs to take these issues on board. I look forward to a debate on the green economy very soon.
This morning we have had a number of pertinent contributions on the importance of the arts and artists in Ireland. It is through the arts that we demonstrate our distinctiveness as a nation. As a small nation, we are punching way above our weight in the artistic world and the envy of many countries. From the Book of Kells to Riverdance, it is clear that is exactly what gives us status in the world. The return on any investment in the arts is more than hundredfold. Various surveys of tourists to Ireland show that the arts figure among the first four or five requirements. Another element to consider is the great sense of pride the arts give us as a nation. This occurs at community, national and international levels. It would be a retrograde step, therefore, to consider cutting investment in the arts. It is one thing to take the success and potential of the arts for granted, it is another to believe that in a competitive world our current status will continue if we do not sustain it. I, therefore, ask the Leader to set time aside for a comprehensive debate on this issue.
The time has come to focus on policies, not personalities. In the media, this Chamber or anywhere else we are not helping the people we are supposed to represent. That negative and disruptive message extends way beyond the shores of Ireland. We should make a decision to deal with any policy we want to put to the people. The day of the cult of personality in politics and the manner in which it is handled in the media must come to an end or we will do much harm to the body politic and the confidence of people. This will haunt us in the future.
I support what colleagues have said about the arts. Senator O'Toole made the opening comments about the bread and roses perspective. His presentation is very fair. Notwithstanding the financial difficulties of local authorities, they should attempt to support and promote the arts. It is important we are having this mini-discussion at this point on the political spectrum because there is talk of a Cabinet reshuffle, not so much in terms of personnel but in terms of the reconfiguration of Departments. There was a recommendation that certain Departments be amalgamated or abolished. That is a judgment call the Taoiseach and his advisers must make. If we are concerned about the arts and culture and their development on the island, the message from this House to the Taoiseach should be that the reconfiguration of Departments should result in a strong role at Cabinet level and a portfolio for the arts and culture with whatever addendums are provided for. Members on the Government side of the House are saying there is an obligation on the Opposition to make demands of our local authority colleagues to fund the arts. There is a strong obligation on the Government, given the Taoiseach is about to put in place a new Cabinet, to ensure a new Department responsible for arts and culture is defended.
I support the request for a debate on pension provision. I have raised this matter previously because we have become fixated with the pensions industry. For the past 20 or 25 years, people who did not invest significant money in pension funds were looked on as second class citizens. There was an inevitability to the collapse of the pensions industry. Yesterday's document must be debated urgently. A great deal of good work has been done but we have a distance to travel. Pensions are vital for every citizen and the role of the State is central. It is time for action and I hope the Leader can arrange a debate as soon as possible.
I also support the call for a debate on the arts. I would hate to think there would be a reduction in investment in this area. Many Senators have touched on the subject. Throughout Ireland, even in the smallest villages, art is blossoming in every form, whether it be reading, protection of monuments, stimulating interest in young artists or art exhibitions. It is our natural flair to be involved in culture and arts and I would hate it if support was withdrawn. Local authorities have a significant role in promoting local artists and culture. Many aspects of the arts could be raised when the debate is put on the agenda. The arts generate comprehensive interest and we are only touching on it now. It is an important subject to be debated.
I would be delighted to debate the proposed pensions structure. Society has changed a great deal, as has the world of work, how people do their jobs and people's lifestyles and pensions will have to reflect that. That is a good topic and the report needs to be studied and debated. I ask the Leader to schedule debates on both these issues soon.
I am disappointed the Cathaoirleach turned down a matter I proposed to raise on the Adjournment because I referred it to a Department that claims not to have responsibility for it.
I have ruled on that.
The issue on which I sought a debate was the decision by the United States to insist that after a certain date, which has not yet been decided, all goods exported to the US will have to be scanned before they leave the country of origin. I assumed that would be huge interest to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
It should be.
It is essential that we overcome this because it will be costly to install the scanning system required to trace everything leaving Ireland in containers for the US. I will table the matter again next week. Bureaucracy and red tape is an issue. It does not make sense that the wrong Department could not transfer my request to the appropriate Department.
I would have thought the Civil Service had a better system than that. I will table the issue again next week on the basis that it has something to do with ports, but the Department for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources may well say this is not covered by its remit and it should be addressed somewhere else.
With regard to pensions, some years ago Senator O'Toole referred to the fact he was one of those who spoke about the need for universal pensions. I fully supported that then but let us not jump to the conclusion that this will be easily done for private pensions. Reference was made to what happened at Waterford Crystal. If the company had a pension system under which it would have had to increase its costs over the past 20 years, it would not have lasted as long as it did. It is not as simple as saying employers should pay pensions automatically. The issue is much more difficult than that but there is a need for private pension provision.
I attended an interesting conference yesterday morning entitled Turning Silver Into Gold. It was opened by the Taoiseach in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It was about making money in the future out of those of us with silver hair. It is fascinating that people who are a little older than retirement age have the ability to spend money and this presents an opportunity. What emerged from the conference, however, is that a large number of people do not want to have to retire and it was interesting that a number of company representatives pointed out they did not impose a retirement age and they encouraged people to continue working. That is why the criticism of us being told we have to work longer is dangerous. A large number of people around the world and in Ireland would welcome the opportunity. The word "retirement" should almost be banned. People who wish to continue to work and contribute to the nation's wealth should be allowed to do so.
I welcome Senator Coghlan's call to discuss NAMA and I hope the Leader will consider such a debate. The Senator should look to his own party as far as the delay is concerned in the approval by the——
The Senator should not mind anyone else's party. He should put questions to the Leader. It is not on to refer to other parties on the Order of Business.
Will the Leader examine why the delay occurred and who was responsible for it? A debate on this would be worthwhile.
Senators Fitzgerald and Norris referred to the report prematurely published by Deputy Shatter yesterday.
How many years did we wait?
It was not premature at all. The Minister was afraid.
The Minister was negligent.
A question to the Leader.
An important report will be presented to the Government on 12 March by Ms Norah Gibbons of Barnardos regarding the Roscommon case. Sentencing in the case takes place tomorrow. The report will be of significant importance to all concerned but it must be considered by the Attorney General. I urge that it be published as quickly as possible after that and that it not be delayed because it is vital that this report, particularly in regard to the house of horrors in Roscommon, be published and those who ignored what happened accept responsibility.
Does the Senator agree or disagree with Deputy Shatter? It sound like he is agreeing with him.
Today is world book day, which puts a welcome focus on the arts and literacy, which are linked. As many Senators said, the arts generate a good spirit in our communities and they are a source of cultural tourism and creative industries. They should be supported, as Senator Bradford said, at Government level in the upcoming reshuffle.
I would like an urgent debate on literacy, given 30% of children leave schools in disadvantaged areas without being able to read or write, according to the recent NESF report. Literacy is the passport to personal independence and it is also a matter of strategic national importance. That also puts the focus on the need for a debate on the quality of our education system. I was shocked on Monday when I heard the Minister for Education and Science say on radio that he was shocked when he heard we were only average in mathematics. He said he thought we were always above average. He clearly had not read the OECD's reports. He is an uninformed Minister.
Be careful. The Minister might sue the Senator.
It is incredible indictment of the Department of Education and Science that the Minister has not read the OECD's reports.
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
Then she should ask the Leader for that. She should not continue in this fashion.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his time. I am seeking a debate.
That is what we want to hear about.
I seek a debate on mathematics and on the quality of our education system.
A number of us are deeply concerned at the manner in which information has emerged over recent weeks about children in care.
That is because the Government has kept it all hidden.
A service provider indicated in a radio interview earlier that serious gaps remain for children in care. Could the Leader arrange appropriate briefings and reports? We could then consider whether it is necessary to have a debate in the House regarding the level of supports, the gaps, if any, and the variances in different areas of the country in services provided to children taken into care.
I welcome the fact that a number people are now joining me in asking for a debate on pensions. As Senators will know, I have been asking for this debate for a period of time. I hope the Leader will now be able to accommodate it, especially given that we have the new framework document. We have other reports available to us, including the recent report from the Pensions Board.
I have referred previously to the issue and importance of competitiveness. I am pleased to note the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has announced today that he is to establish a working group to review commercial rent reviews. He has already banned upward-only rent reviews and has now established this working group. Would it be possible to arrange a debate in this House as soon as this group's first report is available because it impinges on the issue of competitiveness?
I call for a debate on an issue that disturbs me greatly. Gillian Fallon's husband was deported back to Nigeria yesterday. They had been together as a family for three years and they got married on 5 May 2009. Fourteen days later gardaí arrived at their house — they are neighbours of my father's — at 7.30 a.m. They disturbed the family, including two little children and issued him with a deportation order. I was made aware that Gillian Fallon works full time and supports her partner who is not allowed to work even though he is a qualified electrician. This is inhumane and heart-rending treatment for this family. I fail to understand why I received no response to my representation made on 13 November. They want nothing from the State; he just wants to be allowed to stay here. They are in a loving relationship and he was a stepfather to her two children. I fail to understand why he was deported and treated so inhumanely.
He was placed in custody for three days before being deported.
The Senator has made her point.
I need an urgent debate and answers on the matter. We are creating false expectations for these people by allowing them to live and participate as citizens in our country only for us then to deport them. I want an urgent debate on this family.
I welcome the Government decision yesterday to ban a range of head shop products. From June head shops will be prevented from selling a range of products that would have been sold under the heading of legal highs until now. Head shops are a scourge on society. A number of them in my constituency are causing tremendous grief and pain to parents and to the local community. I welcome the Government's decision, which is a step in the right direction. Ultimately, while there may be a constitutional issue, I would like to see a total ban on head shops. I would also like to see the regulation of such shops under the planning guidelines. That might be considered in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, which is before the Dáil at present. Consumer law should be amended to take account of the dangers head shops pose to vulnerable people and young people.
I refer to the ongoing dissident activity north of the Border, which is extending to untreatable levels and causing great distress to many people living north of the Border. There are dissident groups on both sides that are scourging local communities. Evidence of that was the death of the young man in Derry approximately ten days ago. The man had connections with my area in Donegal. I know he was a very respectable young man who was killed brutally by a dissident republican group. However, those people are nothing more than murderers who deserve to lie in the gutter. Those people need to be brought to task. They are not republicans. They do not represent the values of the republican leaders who established this State.
The Senator has made his point.
We need an urgent debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Foreign Affairs present. We should liaise with the Garda Commissioner to ensure as much cross-Border co-operation as possible exists.
I thank the Senator.
I would like to acknowledge finally——
The Senator's time has concluded.
——the work of the Garda——
The Senator's point is well made.
——in tackling some of the issues in Border areas of Donegal at present.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to discuss a national plan for rare diseases. Some 140,000 of our fellow citizens suffer from rare diseases and it is important for us to have a coherent national plan. I ask for that debate to be facilitated as soon as possible.
In a rare moment of equality on this side of this House, I sympathise with Senator Boyle on his plight last night.
The Senator should be asking questions of the Leader.
I am. I am asking for a debate——
I know that Cork people are very loyal to one another.
The Senator could look into Facebook over it.
I am asking for a debate on the role of the media and the way in which they cover politics. While much of Senator Boyle's plight was because of Facebook and Twitter, what happened last night on television was a very poor day for journalism. Whatever else about us as politicians, we work hard and represent the people. While we might have a different viewpoint regarding policies and personalities, but we leave that behind us when we go outside the doors of these Houses and we work for the people collectively. What happened yesterday on television was poor. I say that as somebody who is very critical of Government policy. I suggest to Senator Ó Murchú that the Government's policy has failed with 340,000 people unemployed, our banks almost bankrupt and the country almost bankrupt. That is the fundamental problem. We need a debate on how we can get out of the situation we are in, why Government has created unemployment and why the country is almost bankrupt. Part of the blame lies with the policies pursued by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. As Senator Norris said, it is important for us to stand collectively together to defend ourselves.
Time is almost up and some Members who have been here from the start want to contribute.
There is a growing trend towards tabloid journalism which does not serve the people well.
Time is almost up. I want to call some Members who have been here from the start of business if I can.
Today is world book day. I welcome the fact that on "Morning Ireland" this morning, Maeve Binchy was heard to intervene on the closure of Sallynoggin library. While I know it is a specific issue, it is one that goes to the heart of how we design our policies. We have a national policy on social inclusion and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has a policy on social inclusion reflected in its development plans. When it comes to the reality, the words mean nothing when it comes to the closure of this library, which has 1,300 members and had 22,000 books lent in a single year. It is a disgrace. It defies logic that this library is to close.
Who made the decision?
I remind Senator Boyle that I am not finished.
I wrote to all the councillors last December appealing to them not to do this in January's budget discussion. I wrote to the county manager and have delivered 5,000 leaflets on the matter. This is bad policy.
It was done by members of the Senator's party.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
My question is as follows. I am asking the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, or whoever may become the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to intervene in the matter. When a council cuts across its own development plan and national policies on social inclusion——
Fine Gael controls the council.
The Senator should talk to his own people. Are they talking to him?
I will adjourn the House if Members continue to interrupt.
——it is required that the Minister would intervene in the matter. There is no disagreement in the House on this issue and I ask the Leader to address that question to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
It is a Labour and Fine Gael county council.
I ask the Leader to investigate claims made yesterday that, owing to the industrial action taking place in our public services, social welfare offices were closed to people wanting to collect social welfare benefits. I would like him to tell us the number of offices and the benefits that were affected by that industrial action. This is an important issue that the House should address. People are entitled and allowed to make their point, campaign and use the industrial relations tools at their disposal, but they should reflect on the fact that the consequence of such action is that people who do not have jobs suffer as a result of it. There is a choice facing our society between the protection of jobs and the protection of income but in the choices any of us make, we must keep in mind those people who have been unlucky to lose their jobs through no fault of their own. I ask the Leader to investigate the number of people affected by this industrial action. If it turns out to be the case that people were unable to claim their benefits, those responsible might reflect on the consequences of their actions on people who are much less fortunate than themselves.
I support Senator McFadden's call for a debate on her neighbour's asylum status and the deportation order that has caused such great distress in her case. The debate could be widened to include the general issue of the way we are dealing with the backlog of applications. I understand legislation is on the way. It will not bring good news for all who are on the list but at least it will bring quick news.
And it is rotten legislation too.
Please, no interruptions.
At the very least it will create some clarity. I attended a recent forum in Dundalk with Deputy Ciarán Cuffe where we met with approximately 70 or 80 members of the African community in town, most of whom are in limbo, so to speak. They are aware that not all of them will get good news but they want some clarity and dignity in the way their cases are being handled. That is in short supply in regard to those people.
Regarding Sallynoggin library, my understanding is that the decision was taken in the context of a new headquarters being opened in Dún Laoghaire which will be of enormous benefit to the wider community. It represents a significant investment by both the council and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is part of the development plan for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and is expressed as a strategic objective in that plan, for which I assume Senator Regan's councillor colleagues voted.
The point has been made.
We need the whole story in this case and not part of the story.
I have gone over time. I have to apologise to the other Members who wished to speak today. Five Members have missed out and I apologise to them.
That is a very good argument for extending the Order of Business.
My hands are tied.
I acknowledge former Senator and councillor, Farrell McElgunn, who is in the Visitors Gallery with a group of active age members and some friends of ours from Athlone, particularly the person from Castlepollard who I see in the Visitors Gallery.
That is not in order.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Hannigan, Coghlan, Hanafin, Leyden and Buttimer called for a debate on banking. As I said on the Order of Business during the week, the Finance Bill will be debated on 24, 25 and 26 March. We will have an all day and all night Second Stage debate and as I have already indicated, I will allow additional time to ensure everything pertaining to the finance portfolio can be debated on Wednesday, 24 March. I invite colleagues to take up their various concerns with the Minister for Finance who will be present in the House that day.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Hannigan, Boyle, Mooney, Hanafin, Bradford, Ormonde, Quinn and Callely called for a debate on the pensions report. That is timely and I have no difficulty in the House having a lengthy debate on that issue. It is a serious challenge facing the nation and everyone can learn from the sorry experiences they have had in terms of what has happened to pension funds, especially since 2007.
Senators O'Toole, Boyle, O'Sullivan, Coghlan, Ó Murchú, Bradford, Ormonde, Healy Eames and Regan called on the Government to continue its great work on funding of the arts. It was this Government that appointed a Minister to be in charge of the arts. A great deal has been done, particularly in all the one-stop-shops throughout the country, whether in Castlepollard or Kilbeggan, where the libraries have increased to three times their size. We have a beautiful library in Castlepollard comprising 1,500 sq. ft. which has almost 1,700 members. There is a great deal of good work being done.
Regarding the experience in Farmleigh, the feedback we got from all the successful, Irish-born people from throughout the world was about the portfolio of arts. That is the area in which we have achieved the most, whether it be in regard to our entertainers, our musicals, our artists or anyone participating in the film world. What other country's music is a brand name? We are the envy of most countries in the world in terms of our success in the arts. I agree we should have an afternoon debate on arts and arts funding and we can also take up the issue with the Minister for Finance when he is in the House on 24 March.
Senator Hannigan referred to the sad passing of Michael Foot. I join the Senator in his comments on the contribution the late Mr. Foot made to public life in the United Kingdom.
Reference was made to today being national book day——
International book day.
——and the contribution made by our libraries. Senators Boyle, Norris and Buttimer called for a debate on the media in politics, the role of the media in public life and the downturn in the economy in terms of how they are not uplifting our people. It is a race to the bottom——
It is a fair point.
——with bad news coming out all the time. That is not being responsible and the leadership of the media have a responsibility in this regard. We had a responsible media here for decades but a new dimension is creeping in from the media outside the island of Ireland. That is from where competition is being perceived to be coming. I have no difficulty in having a debate on the role of the media and the role of the Press Council in this regard.
Will it be soon, Leader?
Yes, do I not always listen to the requests of colleagues?
It is very urgent.
No interruptions, please. The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
Legislation must take precedence and next week, as was the case this week, a number of Bills will come to the House.
Senators Fitzgerald, Leyden and Callely referred to the Health Service Executive reports that are pending. I listened to both sides attentively in that regard and look forward to their publication. The constitutionality concerns of the HSE must also be taken into account but I know many colleagues in the House wish to have this report brought to our attention and discussed in the House. As soon as the report is published, I hope to have it for their consideration in the House within a few short weeks.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of Irish foreign affairs policy and our role within the European Union and expressed his concerns in that regard. I have no difficulty in passing those on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs with a view to seeing how we can progress his proposal.
Senator Healy Eames called for a debate on literacy and quality in education. I have no difficulty in allocating time for that.
Senator O'Sullivan referred to the good news that 500 new jobs are to be created to work on the gas supply line at Tarbert. He called on the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to come to the House to discuss the energy hub at Shannon Estuary and everything pertaining to that part of the country. I will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on the matter in the very near future.
Senator Cannon called for a debate on the green economy. Such a debate would be timely on one of the central parts of the programme for Government. I will have no difficulty in arranging a debate on wind power, wave power and every related issue, apart from oil for which we have paid dearly for many years.
Senator Quinn outlined the high container charges and the fact that by 2011 all exports to the United States would have to be scanned. I will have no difficulty with the issue being discussed at a future date. The Senator also referred to the successful conference he attended yesterday in which the Taoiseach participated. Certainly, for most of the self-employed there is no such thing as a retirement age. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator. As 75% of all businesses in Ireland are family run, everyone will have to step into line for them to remain competitive.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the issue of competitiveness. This is the greatest challenge facing the country. If it is overcome, the country will be well placed to witness an uplift in the economy and a return to buoyancy which we all experienced in the past ten or 12 years.
Senators McFadden and Dearey mentioned the Gillian Fallon case. I share their sentiments and will consult the Minister's office after the Order of Business. I will come back to the two Senators on the case.
Senator Ó Domhnaill outlined his serious concern about head shops and complimented the Government on banning various substances. The debate on head shops which commenced in the House last week will be continued next week. For those colleagues who were disappointed not to have an opportunity to make their contribution the matter is to be discussed in the House again.
Senator Ó Domhnaill also mentioned the ongoing activities north of the Border and the young man who had lost his life in Derry. I will certainly convey his serious concerns to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Those of us who attended the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Cavan last week came away extremely confident, given the close working arrangements and co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána. Please God, such occurrences will be rare in the future, rather than being the order of the day, as they were in the past 30 years.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the national plan to deal with rare diseases. I will convey the Senator's strong views on the issue to the Minister for Health and Children. We can debate it in the House with the Minister present at a future date.
Senator Donohoe mentioned social welfare recipients, persons who were unemployed and unable to work. I will contact the Minister's office about the matter and get back to the Senator in the afternoon.