The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on banking, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourn not later than 2 p.m., on which spokespersons may speak for ten minutes and all other Senators for eight minutes and Senators may share time, with the agreement of the House; No. 2, Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourn not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 38, Private Members' motion No. 15 regarding the lost at sea scheme, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Order of Business.
So much happened yesterday of such scale that, at times, it is quite difficult for us to comprehend the nature of what is happening to our country. Two points that stood out yesterday have to be emphasised on the Order of Business. The effect of the decisions the Government took yesterday will be to double the national debt. As a consequence of all the moves that are being taken, some €40 billion of taxpayers' money will be pumped into Anglo Irish Bank. That is significantly more than the amount of tax that is collected in this State in any given year. When the Government talks about issues like this, it is quite happy to quote what is being said about them in the international press and the financial media. It is important to look at this morning's editorial in theFinancial Times. In fairness, it says that some parts of the Government scheme have to be noted and recognised, but it goes on to say it should only be done if two criteria are met — “if the cost to taxpayers has been minimised” and it “draws a line under the bank’s losses”. The newspaper states “unfortunately .... neither of these conditions has clearly been met”. The section of the editorial relating to the exposure of taxpayers continues “unfortunately, the resulting losses will not be shared beyond the equity holders”. This brings us back to the losses faced by taxpayers as a result of events at Anglo Irish Bank. Why are the bank’s bondholders not being allowed to suffer the same losses as its shareholders?
Why are Anglo Irish Bank's bondholders not being allowed to suffer the same losses as the bondholders in Independent News and Media, for example, or the bondholders in Waterford Wedgwood?
The answer is quite clear. In the run up to yesterday's announcement, many of us suspected that the Government was being run for the benefit of insiders. We now know beyond any doubt that this is the case.
The welfare and benefit of our country is not being given the same priority as the welfare and benefit of professional investors. Their interests and their profitability is being put ahead of the interests and profitability of our country. Many commentators said yesterday that this whole affair is a tragedy. On my way to the House, I read a definition of "tragedy" in today'sFinancial Times. It suggested that tragedies take place in three phases. The first stage is hubris, or false pride, as exhibited by the Government over recent years. The second is folly, which we saw yesterday. The third stage, of course, is the fall. The actions and decisions taken by the Government yesterday, which will have such a bad effect on future generations, have brought its fall nearer and made it all the more certain.
It ill behoves anybody to cast aspersions on anybody in the middle of all this. I perfectly understand the views of the Opposition parties. I recognise the responsibility of Ministers and other politicians in this regard. I recall that we welcomed the appointment of the new Governor and expressed trust and confidence in him. I recall that we welcomed the appointment of the new Financial Regulator and expressed trust and confidence in him and in his background. I also recall that when we discussed NAMA, we emphasised the importance of the EU's response to it. These are important issues. I thought we had allowed the three authorities in question to run the rule over what we did. They have approved the progress of the Government and given it significant support. I recognise that the Government has spent 18 months developing this approach. While I support everything Senator Donohoe said about the impact of previous decisions on taxpayers — he is completely right — I have to look at the position of Anglo Irish Bank. In October of last year, Fine Gael quite correctly agreed with the decision to support that bank and its savers.
We are in favour of supporting savers.
I am not saying this in an oppositional way. Nobody can claim to be right on this issue. People have to indicate how they came to form a judgment on it. As I see it, the winding down of Anglo Irish Bank would cost as much as the recapitalisation of the bank. The difference with recapitalisation is that we still have a bank at the end of it.
We do not own a bank now.
People can argue all they want. It may be the case that other Senators are right and I am wrong. I do not think people on this side of the House are more honest than people on the other side of the House.
I do not believe that to be the case.
One cannot say that about Fine Gael.
People have to make the best judgment as they go along. The reality is that if we let the bank die, it will have an impact on funds and savings, on our international reputation and on the cost of future borrowing. These are real things. I may well be wrong about it, but I can understand the Government's position. I will support the Government's position, with extraordinary reluctance, for those reasons. That is not to say Senator Donohoe was not completely right in everything he said. I differ from him in the conclusion I have reached at the end of my deliberations on the matter. There are other options. It is not correct to say there are no alternatives. There are alternatives. There are none that are attractive at this stage. I completely support Senator Donohoe in the sense that I would love those who invested in Anglo Irish Bank to take a hit on this matter. However, I am not prepared to cut off my nose to spite my face. We need to deal with the bigger issue of the Irish economy and the Irish people.
I spoke yesterday about the question of Quinn Insurance, which has now been related to the collapse of PMPA 20 or 30 years ago. PMPA was a company in crisis at that time. It was not operating at a profit. The issues are completely different. I would like to make a point to parties on all sides of the House. I did not realise until this morning that we are still paying the 2% levy that was imposed on all insurance policy holders to pay for the PMPA black hole.
Yes, we are.
Before Senators get too enthusiastic, I remind them that all parties have been in government since then. Many of us, including the Leader, have worked to reduce the cost of insurance. Why has nobody stopped this 2% levy?
It was not paid in 1997.
The reality is the cost of the black hole caused by the collapse of PMPA has been well paid for. Questions have to be asked about why we are still paying the levy.
It brings in approximately €200 million a year.
While the point Senator O'Toole makes is well made, we must bear in mind that my party, like Fine Gael, has been in opposition since 1997. If we were on the other side of the House, the country might not be in the mess it is in.
Not only are we still paying the 2% PMPA levy, but there are people in this country who are paying a pension levy even though they will never see a pension. I refer to part-time firefighters in west Cork and cleaners in schools throughout the country, for example. It is a mystery that the PMPA levy still exists after 28 years, but it is also worth mentioning that legislation passed in this House and the other House means that people who will never get a pension have to pay the pension levy.
I hope somebody on the Government side can answer a question about an aspect of yesterday's announcement. What is the obsession with Anglo Irish Bank? Who influences Government policy in this area? We are giving €40 billion to the bank. I would like to return to a point made by Senator Norris in the context of the budget of 14 October 2008. He referred to comments made by the then chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, to the effect that the Government was right to withdraw medical cards from people over the age of 70, as an example of the type of mindset that existed in banking circles in this country. We also need to investigate the politics behind what has happened in this country.
The Government's policies on land speculation and tax incentivisation encouraged the behaviour that led to the development of the blackest hole there has ever been in the Irish economy. The bailout, if I can borrow the Minister for Finance's expression, is "truly horrifying". The Government does not have a policy on job creation and protection. I ask Senators to reflect on what €40 billion could do for job creation in this country. We are throwing money at the system. I sincerely hope it works as if it does not, the hole will get deeper, the mess will get murkier and we will saddle generations of Irish people with debt for years to come. Later this morning, the Taoiseach will be announcing the latest live register figures in the Dáil. Up until the end of February, they stood at 437,000. Many people on the live register are block layers, plasterers, carpenters, electricians and so on. These people depended on the construction economy, which was a bubble created by the Government. Those people will see no bailout. They are fighting to pay utility bills and to put food on their table, but there is no bailout for them. It is unconscionable that Anglo Irish Bank will get €40 billion given that it played Russian roulette with the economy and the people who ran the bank conducted themselves in a way that was ignored by those in the highest levels of the Government.
It is refreshing to hear Matthew Elderfield talk about the current financial situation in Ireland. He is somebody who will not take prisoners and who is not accustomed to the cronyism in this country. He comes with an objective eye and if he sees something that is wrong, he will attempt to correct it.
The taxpayer is being used and abused by this Government. It has let the banks off the hook and that simply is not good enough.
These are worrying times. The fishermen in the State must still go out and cast their nets. The farmer must tend his sheep and cattle this morning, irrespective of the financial disaster that has been outlined here today. Unfortunately, much of what has been outlined is true. I rise today in the midst of this crisis to speak about something close to my heart. I was promised a debate on the fishing industry this time last year, especially in view of the Common Fisheries Policy that is being renegotiated in Europe. I am delighted to hear a fresh voice from the new Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries, Deputy Sean Connick, who said that the Irish fishing industry is not up for sale. I wish him well in these negotiations that are so important for a small section of the community that sometimes suffers discrimination.
I know it is not possible this week, but I would like to have a debate on the fishing industry before the end of April. I am sure much of this morning's debate will go over the heads of fishermen, farmers and ordinary working people, but they must still earn a living. The Leader should give this debate priority status when we return in a few weeks.
I wish to seek a debate on accountability and responsibility. Yesterday, the taxpayer was once again asked to foot the bill for the failed policies of the Fianna Fáil Party in government. What was the Financial Regulator doing? What was his terms of reference? Was he doing his job? What were the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance doing?
I disagree with the point made by Senator O'Toole. The citizens have a millstone around their neck. Senator Boyle may well laugh and smirk, but what upsets me more than anything else——
You should not comment on people across the floor of the House.
——is that you came into the Government on a horse, promising openness and transparency, and you have sold your soul to Fianna Fáil to stay in power.
I will give my response in a minute.
Address your comments through the Chair.
The Senator's party has left the ordinary people down.
Questions to the Leader, please.
I have asked two questions already. The ordinary person has been let down. It is about time the likes of former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, as well as the current Taoiseach were held to account for their stewardship of this country. Unemployment is at 13% and we have a massive bill for the banking crisis, yet all we have to show for it is complete emptiness. There is no hope, no vision, no jobs policy and no leadership. The people are emigrating and the Green Party is happy to cosy up to Fianna Fáil in Government. If that is what its members want, then they should stay in power and wreck the country. I plead with them to get out of office and let those of us who have the interests of the people at heart to go in and govern so that there might be fairness and equality.
Every day in this House there is a debate on accountability and responsibility, and I am glad to have such debates at any time. When NAMA was agreed by this House and the other House last year, the debate was whether the haircut on the loans from the financial institutions would be sufficient. The legislation allowed for a haircut of 30%. At the time of the debate, I said that the haircut should be closer to 50%. The actual haircut is 47% and this shows that NAMA is working.
We are not criticising the Government here. We are criticising the decisions made by the Governor of the Central Bank and by the newly appointed Financial Regulator, Mr. Matthew Elderfield, who has been praised already by a Member of the House.
So it is somebody else's responsibility.
The Senator can politick all he likes about the policies that led us here, but if he cares about this country, he must understand that the actions taken now are the most cost efficient decisions.
That is a bit rich.
They are being made on the basis that they have to be made for the future of this country. If we were to consider the options that were thrown off the top of the head by Members opposite over the past nine months, we would be paying multiples of the figures that have to be spent——
We did not take them off the top of our heads. The figures were examined and costed.
The fact that such figures——
No interruptions, please. I will adjourn the House if this continues.
——had cold water poured on them by leaders of Fine Gael would indicate to me that they were ill thought out. Over the past 15 months, we have gone through widespread consultation involving independent officers, we have appointed a Financial Regulator from outside the State who had no previous connection with Irish financial services, a Governor of the Central Bank who was not appointed under the previous system whereby the Secretary General of the Department of Finance was upgraded. There is now a new way doing things and of facing difficulties. If Members on that side of the House were a real Opposition and if they cared about the future of this country——
It is great to be passionate now.
——and were not as interested in throwing figures around——
The Green Party has been thrown an extra Ministry. Deputy Cuffe has a job.
If Members continue to interrupt, I will adjourn the House. The Senator had his opportunity to speak. Senator Boyle's time is just up.
It is well up.
If the Opposition is serious about the role it wants to play as an Opposition and alternative Government——
The Senator should not lecture us.
——it should be treating this debate with a degree of seriousness and a level of honesty that has been missing to date.
The Senator should get down off his high horse.
Senator Donohoe made a very reasoned and fine speech. Unfortunately, the debate has descended since then. This is regrettable because the matter is far too serious. We have to learn to listen to each other, whether or not we agree. It is up to us to take the temperature down a little bit and apply reason to these issues. I regret that there was a headline in a newspaper today which stated that various people should be shot. These people have done appalling things and have landed this country in misery, but how would that misery be alleviated if some lunatic took up this proposal and murdered one of them? This is the kind of thing done by Republican Party members in America. They call for President Obama to be put in the crosshairs. Too many people have been subjected to violence. They should be subject to intellectual scrutiny, held to account and possibly sent to jail, but I do not think this kind of overheated debate is a good idea.
Somebody said that nobody has been right on this. Senator Boyle has indicated that he was partially right, and so was I. The figures posted yesterday were similar to those I put on the record, but thanks to the media, nothing I said was ever reported because I was not looking for heads and buckets of blood. None the less, I am constantly criticised. I got an abusive letter today stating that I am part of the corruption because I tried to take a rational and dispassionate view of things.
Mr. Peter Mathews is somebody for whom I have great respect and whose figures I have sometimes quoted in the House. Everything that was said yesterday, horrible as it was, vindicated what he tried to communicate to Members of this House. Will the Leader seek to make an arrangement to afford Mr. Matthews, who is correct in his figures and has not been partisan, an opportunity to speak to some of the people who are now guiding our economy? While I know he has had a brief conversation with the Minister for Finance, I would like him to be able to talk to Mr. Alan Dukes to discuss these figures, not in an overheated fashion but to see if there is a way forward because there may be. The country has been through such situations before. Political events affect financial ones. When the Irish Parliament was collapsed and absorbed into the parliament at Westminster, it was seen as a catastrophic event by many and it had an effect. Belvedere House, at the top of North Great George's Street in Dublin, was sold to the Jesuits in the aftermath of that event for about one third of what it had cost to build 50 years previously. That is the kind of haircut that had to be taken before, yet things recovered. I hope that in five or ten years' time perhaps this ludicrous amount of money that is being filched from taxpayers by these dreadful, misguided people who so foolishly embarked on adventures will come back to the taxpayer if these matters are prudently managed. They need to be prudently managed, however, not made the subject of mud-slinging and an ignorant debate.
The two Independent Members of the House who have spoken, Senators O'Toole and Norris, have, in many ways, enhanced the image of Seanad Éireann. They have made a case for its continuation. I do not say that in a patronising way but genuinely. If we do not approach the momentous difficulties we face in a practical, realistic and honest way, we will not be serving the requirements and rights of individual citizens. It is obviously the Opposition's duty to engage in robust debate, particularly on such an issue and it has done it exceptionally well. It would be totally wrong if we were all yes men and women in such a debate, as it is vital to embrace all the expertise available on both sides of the House. I compliment the Deputy Leader for the manner in which he has researched the subject and expressed his particular views.
Last night I was listening to the editor of theIrish Independent on the television programme “Tonight with Vincent Browne”. He was so realistic and the manner in which he made the case for action surprised me; he put it in a global context. No one could say any newspaper, the Irish Independent included, was exactly pro-Government in the last couple of years. However, there was a definite sea change in the presentation made on the programme last night.
Even though there must be cut and thrust in our debates, there is still an opportunity for Members of this House and likewise in Dáil Éireann to work together to bring about the required solution. We are all waiting to see how yesterday's decisions concerning the banks will be viewed in the European Union and elsewhere. If we are talking about creating jobs and relieving the pressure on individual citizens, we will not do it in the manner in which such debates have unfolded in the past.
I echo the sentiments expressed my colleague Senator Donohoe on yesterday's announcements by the Minister for Finance on recapitalising the banks. I join Senator Buttimer who sought a specific debate in this regard. We all remember that two weeks before the guarantee was introduced, the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service had a meeting with the Financial Regulator and the Governor of the Central Bank who told us we had the best banks in Europe. That was two weeks before the Minister introduced the guarantee which was supported at the time by Fine Gael, as it secured the future of our entire banking sector. There needs to be a level of openness and honesty in this debate which has not been evident heretofore. Senator Boyle inferred that people who opposed the Government's position somehow did not know what they were on about, or were not being realistic or honest. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Minister's speech yesterday was distinctly lacking in an outline of alternative proposals the Government might have examined. The Minister came with his guarantee which received widespread support at the time. We were told it would achieve a certain objective for the banking sector, yet he has come back three or four times since. The figures are appalling. The Minister himself said they were horrifying and he is correct. The most significant thing we will ever do as Members of the Oireachtas is to discuss what the Minister put before the Dáil yesterday. We will have a debate on the matter later. I do not subscribe to the view, as espoused by Senator O'Toole, that the international markets are looking at Ireland and depending on the Government to pay for the misdemeanours of a private entity in the shape of Anglo Irish Bank, or that they see the Government as a bottomless pit to support the antics of Mr. FitzPatrick and his friends in development, politics and the Government, Fianna Fáil in particular. The international markets are mature enough to realise that Anglo Irish Bank is not of systemic importance to our banking structure and that it should be wound up in an orderly fashion. That is what the Opposition is proposing.
Senator O'Toole's initial comments were an honest appraisal of the apportioning of blame in this regard. Members on all sides of the House and people across the political spectrum generally have had a role to play in landing us where we find ourselves today.
No, we have not.
We left the economy in good shape.
No interruptions, please.
I will explain why in one second.
We are dealing with questions to the Leader on the Order of Business.
No one interrupted Senator Phelan.
There will be a debate on finance later.
Freedom of speech, please.
I will have a question for the Leader. It is a grim day, but I take exception to the notion that, with others, I am protecting insiders at the expense——
That is exactly what the Senator is doing.
It is not what we are doing.
It is exactly what they are doing. They got their deal on hunting and will now put the country in hock.
That is where the Senator is coming from. This is all about hunting. It has been a seriously difficult decision to arrive at and to receive any level of support for what is being proposed, but it is the most cost-effective option before us. I have yet to hear an option being given by Fine Gael that would be less costly, although I would look forward to hearing it.
I am seeking a debate on planning and how it fed the monster before us. If the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, had not withdrawn the development plan for County Monaghan — a plan on which the cheerleading was led by Fine Gael councillors — it would have gone through.
That is nonsense. With respect, it is a red herring.
It would have gone through.
The Green Party has no councillors and will have no Deputies next time either.
On behalf of the members of Monaghan County Council, I want that remark to be withdrawn. It is nonsense.
I will not withdraw it.
If political charges are being made, there is nothing I can do about it.
We cannot have a debate on the goings on at Monaghan County Council in this Chamber.
By way of example, if the plan had been allowed to go through, there would have been further lending of further bad development proposals and God knows how much extra NAMA and recapitalisation would be costing us now. There is a public dimension to this. There is culpability, perhaps not on the part of the Government but on the part of council members of all Opposition parties. I, for one, want to see the Opposition behaving in an responsible manner throughout the political system.
Yesterday one newspaper carried a report on the interests of Members of this House. I was rather embarrassed to discover that it said I was the only shareholder in Anglo Irish Bank, which is not correct. I was a shareholder in a property which had an address at Anglo Irish Bank. I want to correct that point because I was embarrassed by the report.
I was pleased to discover yesterday that we were to have a debate on banking today. Such a debate should not take place on the Order of Business.
I am disappointed that such a debate is taking place on the Order of Business. Since yesterday we have had clarity on the amounts of money involved. Is the cost of bailing out the banks lower than the cost of letting them go to the wall? That is the debate we need to have today. We have allocated three hours and I hope we will have that debate.
I would like to see a debate take place very soon on the insurance industry. If it has been arranged for tomorrow, I am pleased. Like Senator O'Toole, I was jolted by the discovery this morning that we were still paying levies introduced on the collapse of PMPA 28 years ago. While I look forward to the debate tomorrow, we should also be discussing in today's debate on banking the alternatives to what was proposed yesterday. This is an interesting debate and it is the right time to have it. Let us make sure we will have it during the time allocated rather than on the Order of Business.
It is with interest that I hear my colleagues talk about events in the financial and banking sector. I look forward to the debate in the House today, in which I hope to be able to participate. The rescue package announced yesterday by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, proves that we are facing up to the current difficulties in the banking sector, have acknowledged the large scale of our problems and are taking the necessary steps to resolve these issues. We will all have an opportunity to make our case later today.
To remain on the subject of financial matters, I asked the Leader previously for a debate on the aviation industry. What progress has he made, with the other party leaders, in that regard? We must consider the opportunities arising in the aviation sector and address some of the difficulties being experienced by our national airline, Aer Lingus. I note from reports in today's newspapers that the company's 2009 results show losses of €130 million, with an operating loss of €81 million, four times greater than in 2008. While there has been a change in the management structure, there is still much to be discussed. I would like to see such a debate take place as quickly as possible. As I said the last time I made a contribution on the issue, there are considerable opportunities for job creation around the north Dublin hub, particularly in the areas of aviation colleges, maintenance, leasing and so on. In this regard, we could consider the model of Parc Aviation.
The HSE is an important body. Will the Leader indicate how the position of chief executive will be filled, particularly in the light of the recent media coverage about Professor Keane?
I welcome the reversal of the decision to withdraw the air-sea rescue service from Waterford Airport during night-time hours. It was a ludicrous decision from the beginning and I am glad it has been reversed. I acknowledge the fact that the Government has recognised the error it made and that it has been rectified. Everyone in the south east welcomes this.
The United Kingdom has introduced a 14-year sentence for the importation or sale of mephedrone. When will this substance be banned in Ireland? There is a suggestion we are waiting for a uniform system for banning such products from the European Union. I suggest all products in head shops be licensed by the Irish Medicines Board and the Food Safety Authority. This would be the way to solve the problem and rid the country of this scourge in every town and county.
I ask our Green Party colleagues on the other side whether Fianna Fáil has had any representation on Monaghan County Council in the last 15 years. It is a question they should ask themselves.
I too welcome the decision to retain the 24-hour air-sea rescue service in the south east. The whole incident was a public relations disaster. I am not sure what decision, if any, was made initially but it has worked out to our benefit. We will now have a faster service in the south east and on the entire island owing to improved technology and the provision of more helicopters. It is to be hoped more lives will be saved. It is a good news story.
There has been much comment today, rightly so, about our realisation yesterday of the extent of the banking crisis, which is an appalling vista. I have the utmost trust in the sincerity of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who shows energy, enthusiasm and a commitment to get the country out of the crisis. Apart from the treatment of Anglo Irish Bank which does not sit comfortably with me, he is going about it in the right way.
The headline in theIrish Daily Star this morning was, “They deserve to be shot”. This resulted in an inundation of text messages to radio stations agreeing with the sentiment expressed. Even though it is a stark headline, it has tapped into the strong feelings of the public on social justice. The people are so angry they want to see heads roll. They want to see people being jailed, as Bernie Madoff was in the USA for 150 years. This symbolised that the federal government was on the side of the people and that the perpetrators were going to pay. Taxpayers are upset at having to pay for the crisis. As a parent, I do not want to see my children paying the price for today’s decisions in 25 or 30 years’ time — I am sure those other Senators who are parents feel the same — however, they will have to do so. If we were to see heads roll — if we were to see the people who got us into this mess being thrown into jail without mercy — people would start to believe at least that the law was on their side, but we are not seeing this. Personal debt collection is an absolute joke. People come to ask me what they can do about their debts, but they see builders going around in their SUVs and with their palatial homes and swimming pools and nothing can be done about it. That is the next move that must be made. It is not an issue for the Minister for Finance; it is more in the realm of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
I call for a debate on the reconfiguration of hospitals in the south east. I must be honest and admit I was appalled by the statement of the Minister for Health and Children on "The Frontline" the other night that the decision would not be political but would be made by clinicians. The Minister needs to realise that the issue of accident and emergency and maternity units in counties is very much political. We need a debate in the Seanad to get the message through that it must not be a clinical decision. Politicians obtain and retain services in their counties. That is what we are about and the Minister must be told this. We need a debate on the issue.
I also welcome the fact that we are having a debate on banking, given that there is only one issue in the public mind today, as evidenced by the headlines, that is, the enormous amount of money we are pouring away to keep the banks afloat, particularly the zombie bank known as Anglo Irish Bank. The same questions are being asked by everybody: why are we doing this and how much more do we intend to spend on this bank? Those on the other side have suggested it would cost more to wind it down, but the real worry is that we simply do not know how much it will cost to keep it afloat. We have already spent €4 billion; yesterday we pledged to spend another €8.3 billion and there is another €10 billion needed.
We will discuss that matter in the debate.
The real fear is that there will be even more required. If Anglo Irish Bank keeps demanding more money from us, it will turn out that an orderly wind-down would have been a far better and more cost-effective way of dealing with this zombie bank.
I agree with Senator McDonald that this is an issue of justice as much as of finance. People want to see accountability and feel, in particular, that those who ran the banks which now require the largest bail-out from the taxpayer should face justice.
I also request a debate on the prosecution of sex offences. We had a good debate yesterday on the issue of domestic violence and I see in today's newspapers a welcome announcement by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, that he is establishing a new central sexual crimes management unit to ensure there will be a better rate of prosecution of sex offences. It is a major concern to those working in this area that the rate of prosecution of reported sex offences is so low. There is a low rate of reporting of sex offences, but even of those that are actually reported, few are proceeded with. I am delighted the Garda is establishing this unit, but it is scandalous that it has taken it so long to do so. The Commissioner said the new unit was prompted by the Ryan and Murphy reports, but it should not have required that. There are still serious questions to be answered about the failure to investigate known convicted sex offenders, such as former priest Bill Carney who was profiled in a recent BBC "Newsnight" programme. I welcome the initiative, but it is overdue.
I also seek a debate on alternatives to imprisonment. I will facilitate an Irish Penal Reform Trust briefing today for all Members in Room A in Leinster House at 12 o'clock at which invited guests will examine the Fines Bill and discuss the need to ensure reform of our sentencing system.
I strongly support the call for the banning of methadrone. In the United Kingdom, no fewer than 26 people, mostly young, have lost their lives as a result of taking this substance. A Commons committee has recommended that it be made a class B drug, which is a step in the right direction. We are in a race against time and must act with great haste to ensure this substance is put where it belongs — out of the reach of both young and old.
Many of those who have contributed this morning seem to feel they were the first to highlight the current crisis. Unfortunately, that is not the case. When both I and Senator Boyle were Members of the Lower House, numerous debates were held during our five years there on the issue of where the country was going wrong. However, the Government chose to ignore the issue. Senator Boyle has now joined the Government and is apologetic on its behalf. Therefore, he should stop acting as if he was the guardian of the truth over the years.
I would like a debate in the House on the public sector deal proposed by Government and the public sector unions. Over the past number of years, many promises have been made with regard to reform of the public service under benchmarking reforms. There has been some successful reform in the sector, but there has also been botched reform, specifically within the health services. There are also areas where there has been no reform whatsoever. If the latest agreement with the public sector unions is to have any credibility, the issue must be discussed in both Houses of the Oireachtas in order that we can see what level of reform is planned.
Before we move on to the debate on the banking crisis, I would like to remind the Government parties, that the public is as mad as hell and no amount of mocking it or taking it for granted will save the sorry backsides of either Fianna Fáil or the Green Party this time around.
I will lift my sorry backside off the seat. I accept the public is reeling from hearing bad news after bad news.
The people are mad about the situation, and mocking them does not help.
I welcome the debate that is to take place later today on the banks. We should also have a debate on the issue of how the matter is being reported in the media. I see a difficult situation arising. In the past we had hyper positive reporting of just about everything to do with our economy and anybody who said anything negative was pilloried or heralded as a prophet of doom. Now, however, we seem to have gone to the opposite extreme and anybody who says anything positive about the economy is pilloried as an idiot. We have gone from one extreme to the other, but neither is entirely right. Both good and bad things are happening. People on both sides of the House appreciate that the key issue is that small and medium enterprises need to be able to rebuild the economy. It is not all about the banks, but about the fact that ordinary people need to be able to get back to work so we can build up the economy. The Minister announced yesterday that €3 billion was being set aside for small and medium enterprises, which I consider good news among the significant negative and bad news we heard. We should highlight this, but when I saw it in the newspapers, I found it buried on page 10 and hardly given a mention. We, on both sides of the House, need to keep our eyes on the ball. We need to ensure the economy can recover and should not focus on bad news all the time.
With regard to reporting of what is happening, I mentioned previously that the Romanian Senate debated this issue and unanimously passed a motion that there should be a quota of both good and bad news on such stories.
The Senator should pick another country.
We should discuss that. The stories about this country should not just be bad news stories.
It is very difficult to blame the media today for reporting the bad news when we see the billions that landed on the shoulders of taxpayers yesterday. There has been much talk about accountability and responsibility this morning. We on this side do not need any lectures on responsibility from a Government that, strikingly, refused to apologise yesterday for the situation we are landed in. While the banks clearly have responsibility, our political leaders should also accept responsibility. There are issues of accountability and responsibility for the Government, but it has neither accepted nor acknowledged these.
Senator Boyle spoke earlier about accountability and responsibility. I refer briefly to the Private Members' motion on the lost at sea scheme which is down for this evening and note that once again the Government does not accept responsibility or accountability. Members know full well that the joint committee has already refused to discuss the lost at sea scheme report and has refused to take on board a detailed discussion or investigation of what the report contains. The Green Party said this should happen, but its representative on the committee did not attend for the vote.
That debate is on later this evening. We do not want to pre-empt that discussion.
Where is the accountability and responsibility in that regard?
I thank the Leader for so speedily arranging the debate on the banking situation for today. It is interesting to note from the Opposition this morning that there was knowledge in the Lower House during the previous term of Government of the difficulties in the banking sector. There was awareness of how difficult the situation was and of the property bubble that would create difficulties. That being the case, why did the Fine Gael manifesto in 2007 propose a complete abolition of stamp duty? That demonstrates the hypocrisy of pointing the finger at us in a self-righteous manner when Fine Gael was going to throw petrol on the flames with its proposal to abolish stamp duty on property completely.
I support the call made for the banning of methadrone and suggest we have a debate on the issue. Perhaps we could focus on the need for each drug to be approved before it can be sold. We are aware that by the simple change of a compound, the methadrone could reappear in head shops and be legally sold. I suggest that before a drug could be sold, it should be approved, thereby putting headshops out of business.
Whatever about people being shot, heads must roll. With regard to the banking crisis, I have repeatedly said we need a wholesale replacement of the key executives and the boards. This has only happened in Anglo Irish Bank. It has not happened in AIB and Bank of Ireland. No disrespect to the Minister for Finance, but we need——
The debate on the banking situation will follow the Order of Business. We can have the discussion during the debate.
We need a steadier hand on the tiller. I welcome the provision in the Central Bank Reform Bill, as published yesterday, which requires and aims to ensure proper fitness and probity of nominees to key positions in banks. This is long overdue. Due to the fact taxpayers are putting so much extra equity shareholding into the two main banks with large branch networks, the Minister should insist on more public interest directors and ensure the people responsible for the appalling mess and disastrous decisions are removed forthwith. They should be long gone.
I agree with colleagues and welcome the Cabinet decision to do a U-turn on a search and rescue helicopter emergency service in the south east. That decision should never have been made and the reversal of it is a victory for people power and common sense. I am glad the decision was reversed.
Today, a burden of over €5,000 will be placed on every man, woman and child in the country as a result of the recapitalisation we heard about yesterday — the €22.5 billion that will be required to recapitalise the zombie Anglo Irish Bank. I agree with those who say the entire system must be purged of both banking and political leaders. Discussion of this crisis is very relevant. It was due mainly to the lack of oversight and regulation for many years. There must be accountability. Therefore, I support the calls for a debate on the matter.
I agree, to an extent, with Senator Ó Brolcháin's assertion that there is a need for good news stories. In recent days I attended a function at Kel-Tech Engineering in Waterford . Kel-Tech is a small manufacturing company which employs over 60 people and it received an international award from Caterpillar for the work it was doing. It must be acknowledged that small businesses remain successful and competitive and the public must be informed about good news stories such as that to which I refer. We cannot give up on high quality manufacturing and the message must be got across that a great deal of such activity continues to be engaged in.
Will the Leader make time available for a debate on dental health? The dental treatment services scheme has been cut to a large degree. If we fail to invest and make proper resources available in order that people might avail of proper dental services and practise good oral hygiene, we will be obliged to deal with the issue of tooth decay in the future. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this important matter at some future date.
I take issue with the remarks made by Senator Hanafin. It is outrageous that he should distort the record of the House and suggest that in the past Fine Gael did not vigorously oppose the policies that led to overheating in the economy and under which spending was mismanaged. In successive budget speeches Deputy Richard Bruton outlined the difficulties that would arise in this regard. In so doing he continued the tradition of economic prudence established under the Government led by Mr. John Bruton.
John Bruton was job-sharing.
Senator Hanafin's remarks are outrageous and need to be withdrawn.
In the light of the enormous public anger that is apparent this morning, I call on the Leader to ask the Government to provide a public apology. If it provided such an apology, it might prove to be the starting point in assuaging the public anger to which I refer. Is it not clear that a distinction should have been made in the Government's approach to subordinated bondholders? The people concerned speculate for speculation's sake——
——and obtain profits based on such speculation.
Those to whom I refer are aware they are taking risks and operate on that basis. Is it not the case that we should have adopted a different approach to these individuals? Was the Government hoodwinked and sold a pup in this matter? Will the Leader indicate that a mistake has been made and that the matter will be addressed? We are giving money to people whose business is gambling. These individuals make high profits one day which are balanced by losses the next. We are guaranteeing their activities. I accept that this is a small element of the problem but the money involved would be sufficient to allow us to build new hospitals and schools. What is happening is wrong.
Senators Donohoe, O'Toole, McCarthy, O'Donovan, Boyle, Norris, Ó Murchú, John Paul Phelan, Dearey, Quinn, McDonald, Bacik, Ó Brolcháin, Hanafin, Coghlan, Coffey and O'Reilly expressed their serious concerns about banking issues. As Members are aware, statements on banking are due to be made immediately after the Order of Business until 2 p.m. It is my intention that the debate will be rolled over and continued after the Easter recess in order that we might monitor progress.
The announcements made yesterday are extremely serious in nature. The country and the Government have been presented with a major challenge. I was a Member of the House when our colleagues on the benches opposite were in power and there was a great deal of activity. At the time a great deal was said about future generations. Ten to 12 years later, however, there was a budget surplus. It is swings and roundabouts with regard to matters such as those under discussion. The circle will be completed. Ultimately, best practice must be observed, which is what is happening in the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland and with the new Financial Regulator. People can feel more confident with regard to transparency and openness. We look forward to assisting the Minister for Finance and the Government in any way possible during this difficult period. I look forward to colleagues' contributions to the debate on banking due to take place following the Order of Business.
Senator Norris requested that Mr. Peter Matthews meet Mr. Alan Dukes. I will endeavour to ensure such a meeting takes place. The Senator's suggestion in this regard is worthwhile. I listened to Mr. Dukes, a former Minister for Finance, on the radio this morning and I am of the opinion that a great deal depends on his past experience. He is again doing the right thing to assist the country.
Senators O'Toole and Dearey referred to matters relating to the insurance industry, Quinn Insurance in particular. The House is due to hear statements tomorrow on the importance of competition in the insurance industry. I will be proposing that the debate also be rolled over until after Easter in order that progress, particularly in respect of the Quinn Group, can be monitored. The Quinn Group has done so much in the context of reform of the industry and assisting in lowering premiums — whether they relate to employer's liability, public liability or commercial, private, motor or health insurance — across the board. The company has been the main driver in making the insurance market in this country competitive. I served as Chairman of the Oireachtas committee which carried out a four and a half year inquiry into the matter and issued three interim reports, as well as a final report. I certainly want to see competition in the marketplace. That last thing we want is for the 5,500 employees of Quinn Insurance in this country and the 1,500 people it employs outside this jurisdiction to be placed under threat. The Quinn Group is a shining example of success. However, what is happening illustrates the depth of the downturn nationally and internationally. Members can take it that the Government will be doing everything possible to assist everyone employed by the Quinn Group. It will also ensure this competitive player remains in the market. I hope the matter will be brought to a successful conclusion.
Senator Dearey also requested a debate on planning. In the light of the forthcoming legislation on planning, such a debate would be extremely timely and I will have no difficulty in allocating time for it.
Senator O'Donovan requested a full debate with the new Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries, Deputy Connick. Again, I will have no difficulty in arranging such a debate, which is long overdue. I will make this a priority following the Easter recess.
Senators Buttimer, Boyle and John Paul Phelan requested a debate on accountability and transparency. I will make time available for such a debate.
Senator Callely called for a debate on the aviation industry and the jobs relating thereto. I have agreed to arrange such a debate which will be facilitated following the Easter recess. The Senator also requested a debate on the up-to-date position on health issues. I have already provided a commitment to the effect that such a debate will take place.
Senators Cummins, McDonald and Coffey all welcomed the reversal of the decision to withdraw the search and rescue service from the south east. Many colleagues, particularly, as Senator McDonald correctly stated, those on the Government side, were involved in ensuring this happened. I refer to Deputies Browne and Kenneally——
It was the people of the south east, not the Deputies who represent Fianna Fáil, who had the decision reversed.
——and the new Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Connick.
Those in government have changed their minds on the matter. They made the wrong decision in the first instance.
I did not interrupt the Senator.
The Leader should get his facts right.
The Senator should give me an opportunity to respond.
The Leader should be allowed to continue with his reply on the Order of Business.
The people of the south east got on the backs of those in government for making a crazy decision on the matter.
That is the reason we do not want a dictatorship in politics. It is also the reason Seanad Éireann should be retained.
The Leader has been party to such a dictatorship for a long period.
The people in my area got on the backs of those in government. It was the Government which made an incorrect decision in the first instance.
There should be no interruptions. The Leader is replying on the Order of Business.
We know all about Fine Gael's bully-boy tactics. However, the day for such tactics is gone.
The people of the south east have spoken.
We put paid to the tactics employed by Fine Gael generations ago when men were men.
Those were the days.
The Leader is replying on the Order of Business and there should be no interruptions.
I do not need to tell the Cathaoirleach what happened during Easter week——
On a point of order, will the Leader indicate who was responsible for abolishing the Seanad for the first time?
Why was it necessary to abolish it?
Who abolished it?
The representatives that were there at the time——
Who abolished it, the only time——
——in the bully boy fashion the same as Fine Gael is trying to do.
Senators please. The Leader is replying to the Order of Business.
Who abolished the Seanad the only time it was abolished in the history of Ireland?
Please. This is not relevant.
You know who abolished it and I know who abolished it.
You do not understand.
That is not relevant.
Yes he did. And why did he do it?
Was it to get rid of women?
To stop exactly what you are trying to do at the present time.
He rolled it back because he knew it was the wrong decision.
He knew without women it was no good.
Do not go down that road now.
Turkeys should not vote for Christmas.
Senators Cummins and Glynn called for a ban on head shop products. This morning, very worthwhile suggestions were made by Senators with much experience in the medical profession. I have no problem in allocating time for this.
Senator McDonald called for a debate on health issues, particularly with regard to the configuration of hospital services throughout the country. This is a very timely call and we can include it in the debate on health issues.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on sex offences and welcomed the Garda Commissioner's announcement on the establishment of a special unit. I join with her on this. Senator Bacik also called for a debate on reforming sentencing and prisons. I have already given a commitment that this will take place.
Senator Twomey called for reform in the public service. This is very timely and, as I stated yesterday, I strongly welcome the outcome of the discussions between the Government and the public sector unions. We know this is very good news for the economy and the country. I thank all those involved in the Croke Park talks for their positive and pro-active contributions, in particular the two facilitators, Kieran Mulvey and Kevin Foley. I wish all the union representatives well in their deliberations over the coming weeks. With regard to putting Ireland first in the national interest, I know the Irish economy, people, workers, union representatives and everyone involved hope it can be brought to a final successful conclusion.
Senator Ó Brolcháin called for the media to have a quota of positive as well as negative news. This is extremely important in the national interest. Ireland was a success story over the past 15 or 17 years. There is an obligation on editors, sub-editors and journalists to be able to give a balance so we can keep our people motivated and can lead them out of the serious world downturn that is taking place at present.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on dental issues and the challenges facing the sector. He highlighted a particular issue. I have no difficulty with this taking place.