The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re draft directive on the rights to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings (back from committee), to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2010 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and adjourn not later than 1 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, statements on the importance of competition in the insurance industry, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and conclude within 60 minutes, on which Senators may speak for five minutes.
Order of Business.
This Easter week the Irish Human Rights Commission launched its first report on the disability sector. That report revealed serious gaps in services for 77 profoundly disabled adults in the Pope John Paul II centre in Ballybane, Galway. It took a 2003 RTE report to show that most adults in the centre shared rooms fit for children and that they could not move. This report shows their human rights have been infringed. Why do we continue to treat our weakest so badly when we let the rich walk on water and when our Government decides on behalf of the taxpayer to bail out Anglo Irish Bank and to write off its directors' debts? There is something seriously immoral at the core of this value system.
One of the main recommendations in the Irish Human Rights Commission report was the need for increased speech and language therapy needed for eating, swallowing and to prevent choking to keep these profoundly disabled adults alive. They get speech and language therapy one day per week. The father of an autistic person in the centre told me at the weekend that he received more speech and language therapy in 1960s Ireland for his stammer.
As a nation, our value system is seriously screwed up. We have got it all wrong. Will the Leader arrange an urgent debate on this Irish Human Rights Commission report? Questions must be answered. Why did the HSE and the Brothers of Charity ignore the needs of these profoundly disabled adults and allow them to live in what their parents call haunting conditions? Why has it taken this report for the HSE to say it will co-operate? What does the word of the HSE mean anyway? It means very little. Last week it moved to cover up my revelation that UCHG did not have the €12 million for cancer drugs. Who is accountable when the Minister for Health and Children will not answer?
Meanwhile back at the bank, the boys continue to play with our nation, thanks to Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The news is that Anglo Irish Bank has posted the biggest losses in Irish corporate history of €12.7 billion. I have received telephone calls about this and I bet the Leader has too. The citizens want to know why Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are prepared to bring our nation to its knees to save a failed and fraudulent bank in which three investigations are taking place simultaneously into corporate irregularities and criminal activities.
Of equal concern is the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Citizen are owed €2.8 billion by the Quinn group. What is the Quinn group's obligations to the taxpayer?
There will be a debate on insurance later.
How will the Government recoup this €2.8 billion?
The Senator is a minute and a half over time.
Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to come into the House to lead a debate on morality and the guiding principles of government? Clearly, the Taoiseach had his eyes wide shut. It is time he opened his eyes and answered the people.
Does the Senator want to be ordered out of the House? It is not appropriate for the leader of a group to carry on like that, not obey the rules of the Chair and make a skit of this. I am disappointed with the leader of a group who does not obey the rules of the House.
I notice the media have jumped on the fact the public service pay deal is a bad one and will be rejected by the members. That is the news story of the day and the way it is being played. It is important to recognise that at a time when the economy is on its knees for whatever reason, and we have discussed this many times, and when there is pressure on every public service, there is no possibility of doing what might be described as a good deal. The idea that the unions and social partners could negotiate an increase in salaries at a time when we are cutting back on items such as those Senator Healy Eames mentioned is ludicrous.
As I said in the House, the public sector union leadership was prepared before Christmas to deal with cutbacks in salaries in certain areas and it was prepared to do so again last week. It will be a very difficult deal for public sector unions to sell to their members. I appeal to Members to recognise that this deal was the best that could be done at this time. It creates certainty and the hope is — I am an optimist — that it will bottom out the difficulties for public servants, lead to transformation and build on improved rewards from here on in. That is the basis on which it might or might not be accepted. Journalists have a responsibility to ask questions of all the people involved. For example, if this is rejected, what is the new strategy or where do we go from here? There are serious issues involved. It is a very difficult time to be a trade union leader in the public and private sectors. This is where the difficulty lies.
Yesterday the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs met a farmer's wife who has lost her contributory pension. There is a huge debate taking place on this matter. I have raised this issue up to six times in this House over the past ten years. People pay A rate PRSI and when they reach 65 years, 66 years or whatever the appropriate age, they are entitled to claim a contributory pension. That is the law of the land unless one happens to be working for one's spouse who happens to be an auctioneer, a doctor, an accountant or a farmer. For some reason, all we have said about equality legislation since 1973 has gone out the window. Even though one has paid one's contributions, the State has decided that one is not entitled to this contribution because one might not really be working for one's spouse. It is completely wrong. I have raised this issue before and asked people in the legal area to look at it in terms of equality. I would like to see a case taken to Europe because it is inequitable and old fashioned.
Will the Leader be able to assist in answering a question I and others have about Anglo Irish Bank which has arisen in recent days? One of the many justifications put forward for adopting the current strategy towards Anglo Irish Bank is that it is not like Lehman Brothers, the balance sheet of which was apparently worth only a small percentage of the full value of the US economy, in that its balance sheet constituted approximately half of the value of the Irish economy. That is one of the arguments being thrown out without much more discussion. That is an extraordinary statement.
How the balance sheet of any bank, even that particular bank, and we could say more about that, or even a respectable bank, in the circumstances of the time, when we hear so much about plurality and the necessity for plurality and competition in banking and financial services, could constitute half of the value of the economy is an extraordinary state of affairs. Couple that with the fact that Anglo Irish Bank poisoned the well of Irish banking a long time before it was apparently discovered on the night of 29 September 2008. It was manifestly happening for a considerable period of time before that date.
The Taoiseach is upset at being drawn into this in that he was Minister for Finance at the time when no real action appears to have been taken. The people are entitled to question what action was taken by politicians. It is central to this debate not only to talk about the Seanies and so on but to look at what action was taken by the Government to arrest this. We are entitled to ask about regulation and such issues. It is not right for politicians, in particular the people at the top, to seek to exclude themselves from the debate or from any kind of argument in regard to it by simply saying they acted on the best advice they had at the time. It is simply not good enough. The date of 30 March 2010 will be viewed as a momentous day on which momentous decisions were made. These decisions must, however, be considered in the context of the decisions that were made exactly 18 months previously on 30 September 2008. I will repeat a question that has been asked many times and to which an answer has not yet been forthcoming. When will we find out exactly what was said by the banks on that fateful night, exactly what they sought and exactly the response of the Government in terms of the argument, rationale and justification for holding on to what was clearly a poisonous bank?
I ask the Leader to continue to hold important and welcome debates on banking. I concur with Senator Healy Eames that children with special needs are a priority. As I have stated previously, I am the father of a child with special needs. The Seanad must push the issue of speech and language therapy as far as possible. While I agree with the Senator on the need to prioritise special needs, to suggest that changing policy on Anglo Irish Bank would enhance special needs provision is wrong. One cannot link the two issues.
We want the voices of children with special needs heard.
The two issues do not need to be brought together.
The issue is one of commitment to investment.
I ask the Senator to allow me to speak.
Members may not interrupt other speakers.
People talk about bondholders as if they are some mythical creatures in other countries. The reality is that some of the largest bondholders in Irish banks are local authorities, credit unions and so forth. Has the House debated who are the bondholders and who would be affected if the Irish banking system were brought down? Does the Fine Gael Party seek to do something completely different from the Government and, if so, what precisely are its plans?
Is the Senator not aware of our plans?
I have spoken to Fine Gael Party spokespersons on finance as well as some of the party's Senators and Deputies.
Does Senator Ó Brolcháin wish to join the party?
I would like to know what is different about the Fine Gael Party's plans for the banking system because I am not aware of the difference.
Our plans are set out in the national recovery plan.
Senators must not interrupt. Only questions to the Leader are permitted on the Order of Business.
We must have an honest debate on this issue. Senator O'Toole indicated that we are dealing with the least worst option. If the Fine Gael Party has a magic wand solution for the banking system, I would like to hear what it is because I have not heard it thus far.
I share Senator Ó Brolcháin's appreciation for the debates in the House on banking. Perhaps we are fortunate that the Government's plans for Anglo Irish Bank are with the European Commission. As Senator Alex White noted, Anglo Irish Bank poisoned the well a long time ago. The action being taken now is an example of closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted. This is the most serious matter the country has ever faced. No one in this or the Other House wants in any way to land the taxpayer with any future liability, notwithstanding promissory notes, measures to spread investment in the banks and so forth.
I have repeatedly spoken of the great credibility enjoyed by Deputy Richard Bruton. He is taken seriously by everybody, even those who hold differing views from him. We can argue about good and bad banks. The Government established the National Asset Management Agency and clearly believes in the good bank, bad bank model as it is being adopted for Anglo Irish Bank.
Perhaps the nation will be saved because the matter is before the Commission and we must await its ruling. I agree in large part with Senators' comments on Anglo Irish Bank. We must wait but we do not want to be patient because this is a very serious matter. I hope, therefore, that the Commission will quickly issue its ruling.
Senator O'Toole spoke wisely about the agreement reached between the Government and public service trade unions. We must be realistic as certainty is needed for the future of the economy. I hope people will proceed in a level-headed manner as there is no good in anyone getting carried away. I ask the Leader to comment.
I return to the issue of Israel's blockade of Gaza. It is evident that the blockade has produced an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, perhaps the worst since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. Israel is now in contravention of the Geneva Convention. As an occupying force, it is responsible for the welfare of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. Although it has indicated it has disengaged from Gaza, it remains in effective control of the area and is, under Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, still responsible for it.
Israel is also flying in the face of the agreement on movement and access signed in 2005. It is clearly not listening to world opinion, including the views of its close friend and supporter, the United States. If Israel does not respond to the humanitarian crisis, it should be brought before an international tribunal and held responsible for the suffering it is inflicting on women and children in Gaza. If the world does not speak out and demand such a tribunal we, too, will be found wanting at the bar of history when this matter is judged subsequently.
Others who have been criminally responsible for the creation of humanitarian crises have been held accountable before tribunals. I call on Israel to take the action required. Failing that, the House should call on world opinion to ensure Israel is held responsible before a tribunal in the near future.
The Minister for Health and Children's statement that the Government's cardiovascular policy and implementation plan, which would transform stroke services, will go to Cabinet within a week has been welcomed by the Irish Heart Foundation, among others. Implementation can only be effective if funding is provided. It is said that the death rate from stroke would be reduced by 25% if patients had access to stroke units but only 11 acute hospitals have such units. Thrombolysis, a miraculous treatment which could help 20% of patients, was only provided to 178 acute stroke patients last year. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Health and Children at the earliest opportunity. Not only do we need a plan, we desperately need to have funding earmarked for its implementation.
Today, the Policing and Crime Act, which introduces measures aimed at tackling the heinous crime of sex trafficking, enters into force in the United Kingdom. The legislation shifts criminal liability from people who are exploited and does not allow a defence of not knowing that a person was controlled. This provision is much tighter than the provisions of our human trafficking legislation. There is, therefore, a danger that Ireland could become the red light district of western Europe, as people in the North, where the regime is tougher, move South. When Sweden introduced tough laws on trafficking that criminalised the purchasers of sexual services the measures drove trafficking of such persons to other Nordic countries. We need to tighten up our laws. We must decriminalise the sale of sexual services while targeting those who avail of them. The modern day slavery of sex trafficking must be urgently addressed.
The Constitution provides that the same Dáil shall not continue for a longer period than seven years from the date of its meeting. In light of economic circumstances and the unpopularity of politicians, we should seriously consider extending the lifetime of the current Dáil and Seanad to the full seven year term. In the day that is in it, I ask the Leader for a commitment to hold such a debate.
I listened with interest to the comments of Senators on Anglo Irish Bank, in particular those of my good friend and colleague, Senator Alex White. It is great to be able to pose retrospective questions as we know now where we are. I am curious to know whether the approach advocated by Senator White is Labour Party policy. Is he saying the State has the right to investigate and invade an operation that was solely private at the time?
We know it has since been nationalised by the State.
The answer is "Yes".
It would be welcome if the Senator could clarify whether the Labour Party has such policies on private industry.
Senator Callely should ask a question of the Leader rather than concerning himself with the Opposition parties.
I would be delighted to do so.
I do not know whether such policies are socialist, communist or otherwise.
I would relish the opportunity.
I am aware that the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach have said they are appalled by what they have found. They have made it clear that the regulatory system which was in place failed.
Eyes wide shut.
I would like to ask the Leader about the rescue package. I welcome that AIB and Bank of Ireland have earmarked €3 billion for small and medium sized enterprises. I want to lay down a marker to the Leader in this regard. I ask him to respond to me when he finds out what mechanism is in place to ensure the €3 billion is not used for what one might consider soft lending. I want to ensure we continue to fuel entrepreneurship, which involves people taking risks and going the extra step. I ask the Leader to ascertain what mechanism is in place for the allocation of that €3 billion. To conclude, can the Leader give me an update on cervical cancer vaccinations?
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on social partnership. Such a debate would be important in the aftermath of last night's decision by the TUI. I concur with Senator O'Toole that it is important for the unions, their members and, in particular, the media to listen to the social partners. They should reflect on and analyse what is at stake. They should give proper and fair commentary on what was agreed at the Croke Park talks last Monday. Everybody is under pressure, especially our workers and our citizens. That is why we need a debate on social partnership. I suggest that social partnership should be extended to include the Houses of the Oireachtas. We should have a meaningful and active engagement with the social partners. The debate I am calling for should be an honest one. I ask the media to be honest, rather than sensational, in its analysis and commentary.
I join Senator Healy Eames in asking for a debate on disability services. The disabled and their families are becoming the forgotten community in society. The promises that were made in 2007 and previously have been forgotten. These people have needs and rights. We have an obligation to look after them, but we are not doing so. As politicians, it behoves us to do so. I want this debate to take place as soon as possible after the Easter recess. If one speaks to representatives of Inclusion Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland or any of the other groups, one will be told that the gap is getting bigger. It is a chasm. The Government does not seem to be able to deal with the non-financial aspects of this matter. Senator Healy Eames referred to speech and language services. This debate is urgently needed because people are waiting for assessments and for respite beds.
While Senator Mullen's intervention may have been very appropriate on the day that is in it, I do not think it will become a reality. I appreciate that it would be attractive for everyone.
In light of the developments in the banks and in NAMA, can the Leader arrange a debate after Easter on the progress being made with the events taking place in the banks? People are angry about the payment of €1 million in bonuses to three directors of Anglo Irish Bank and the pay increases that were given to the staff of the bank recently. I compliment the incoming chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Mr. Alan Dukes. To my mind, this is Tallaght 2. I hope he will not be treated as he was treated when he agreed to Tallaght 1, in the national interest, some years ago. I compliment Mr. Dukes. Yesterday, Fine Gael members of a committee attempted to remove him from a list of contributors to a meeting in this House because of the commitment he has made to the people in the national interest. I commend him on that.
That is outrageous.
I want to say, in relation to the investors in the——
Was the Senator at the meeting?
Senator Leyden should put questions to the Leader.
I would like the people who actually have their deposits in Anglo Irish Bank to come forward. Credit unions and charitable organisations have all their money in the bank. If Fine Gael and the Labour Party have their way, it will be abolished. There would be losses right throughout the country. I would like people to say they have invested their money in Anglo Irish Bank.
What about the nation?
The Government is protecting interests throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.
It is looking after its pals
Furthermore, I want NAMA to sell off the assets as quickly as possible.
It should place advertisements for the sale of apartments in Dublin that can be bought up at this stage. People are willing to buy those apartments.
Where will they get the money?
They should be put on the market as soon as possible so that people have an opportunity to buy back their own assets at this stage.
It is clear from what Senator Leyden has said that we are indeed celebrating 1 April here today.
Every day is 1 April for Senator Leyden.
Questions to the Leader.
I agree strongly with Senator Ó Murchú, who as usual spoke in a very clear, dignified and learned manner about the situation in the Middle East. He is quite right to say we need to have a debate on the situation in Gaza. Perhaps we could also consider the Goldstone report, which has been adopted by the United Nations. The report, which is being discussed by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, makes it clear that if people are not held to account for what has happened in Gaza, it will continue to be repeated in a vicious cycle. The recommendations made in the report should be placed before the international criminal tribunal.
I support Senator Mullen's call for a debate on the need for stroke services. I ask the Leader to get some information for me in this context. The HSE's strategic review of neurology and neurophysiology services was finalised in December 2007 before being sent for international peer review. That process was completed in March 2009. We have seen nothing of it. It was commissioned, completed and paid for before it was buried, in effect. We are entitled to have sight of that review. If we are to move forward, we need to know what its conclusions are. An astonishingly large number of the citizens of this country have some neurological condition. The figures quoted to me are so large that I am a little afraid to place them on the record of the House before I check them out completely. We are entitled to see that report so that we can be in a position to act on it.
I agree with the call for a debate on the Government's cardiovascular policy. We could do some good service in this area, for example by pointing out that more than 2,000 people die as a result of strokes in this country each year. Strokes are the biggest cause of acquired disability. We need a focused and cost-effective approach. The management of disability is very expensive. I look forward to the debate for which I am calling.
I support my colleagues who have called on Israel to adopt a humanitarian policy towards Gaza. There is no doubt that the current policy is affecting the relationship between Israel and people throughout the world who support Israel. It is particularly poignant that a country whose people have suffered so much is now, in effect, imprisoning 1.5 million people in a very confined space without access to adequate humanitarian aid.
I support my colleagues who have called for the debate on social partnership and, more importantly, the pay agreement to be conducted in a mature and sensible manner. We all recognise that the background to the discussions and the arrangements we hope will be put in place is that the country is financially broke — there is no money.
There is money for Anglo Irish Bank.
It is important for the facts of the matter to be put before this House and the community for consideration and reflection. We need industrial peace. It obviously just cannot be paid at any price, but what happened last weekend shows there is a recognition at the top of the trade union movement that progress must be made and that common sense must prevail. We have to recognise that at the bottom of the spectrum, those low paid workers who unfairly suffered an income cut in the last budget are looking to have their income restored. We in this House must lead and recognise that progress will unfortunately be slow.
I support Senator O'Toole's point on spouses' pensions for self-employed persons. The treatment of self-employed persons, be they working up front or in the home, is not sufficient. At a time when we are trying to generate economic activity and where we are trying to encourage some people to become self-employed, we have to look at how self-employed people are treated for social insurance purposes. We are not just talking about old age pensions and spouses' pensions here. If a self-employed person becomes ill, he or she does not qualify for any social welfare benefit under the contributory schemes. He or she does not qualify for disability benefit or invalidity benefit. If the business shuts down, the person does not qualify for unemployment benefit. We need to look at how social insurance schemes apply to the self-employed. It needs to be changed if we are to encourage more people to become self-employed.
Over the last week there has been much commentary in the media and elsewhere about the Cabinet reshuffle. There has been a very negative reaction in the media to the appointment of Deputy Hanafin to the important position of Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Will the Leader consider inviting in the new Minister at an appropriate time after she has read into her brief? What has annoyed a great deal of people involved in the tourism industry in the west is this suggestion from the Dublin based media that tourism has been dumbed down or that Deputy Hanafin has been demoted by her appointment to this Department. Tourism is the most important indigenous industry in this country outside of agriculture. Putting a young and dynamic person with great vision in charge of the Department is of great benefit to the tourism industry and to the wider economy. With the honourable exception of Fintan O'Toole inThe Irish Times, the media rushed over the cliff like lemmings, suggesting that because she had been appointed to a Department dealing with tourism, it was somehow a demotion. This was a grave insult to people along the western seaboard who rely to an extraordinary extent on the importance of tourism as a local industry.
I welcome the appointment of Deputy Hanafin to her new post. She will bring an urgency to her position, especially in light of figures I received last week which indicate that the tourism industry is still flat. In spite of the great work done here by Fáilte Ireland and by Tourism Ireland abroad, we have not yet registered any potential benefits. I hope it will not be true, but it sadly seems that 2010 will be a bad year for tourism. A good way to respond to the challenges facing Irish tourism is to appoint a Minister of great vision who comes with an impressive track record into what is the most important portfolio for job creation after the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
I am not sure if Members of this House are average citizens, but if we are, then 12 of us will have a stroke during our lifetime. Senators Hanafin, Mullen and Norris mentioned the stroke and cardiovascular policy that was supposed to come before the Cabinet in May 2008. It is now due next week. I want to urge the Cabinet not just to adopt the policy, but also to provide funding for it. Ten thousand people will suffer a stroke in Ireland this year. This can be solved, but it takes money to do so. What concerns me is the length of time it has taken to bring this before the Cabinet.
This is organ donation week. The debate on the Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill adjourned in this House in October 2008. It was adjourned because the Minister said she wanted to consult the views of citizens. A large number of people are waiting for organ donations. This can be solved, as other countries have solved it, but it is a question of how we do it. Be it presumed consent, more organ donation cards or whatever system we have, we can do it. We adjourned that debate in October 2008 because we assumed consultation would take a few months, but it has now taken more than 18 months. Let us make sure that the Minister gives this priority, along with the stroke service, so we can save lives.
I must begin by expressing an interest in the cardiovascular area, because my uncle was a cardiovascular surgeon for many years and specialised in strokes. Not only can the stroke issue be solved, strokes can also be prevented. It is one of the most preventable conditions. I support the calls to drive it to the top of the health agenda.
The Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, was always very supportive of my campaigns for music therapy. This therapy has a capacity to bring back speech for some stroke victims, particularly if intervention occurs at an early stage. It is important the professionalisation of music therapy is recognised in Ireland, because we have the ability to qualify people in Limerick, but we are not giving them professional recognition. We need to promote that as part of the Vision for Change policy.
I support calls to bring the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism before the House. We should bring her in here on a separate day for a debate on culture. In the same week a cultural ambassador was appointed in America, we should be focused on the fact that the arts are fundamental to personal development and creative thinking. That is very useful for employers as it allows potential employees reach their potential. Culture and the arts are central to us as human beings and to our economy. Culture is as important as tourism, but I worry that if we brought the Minister before the House, we might just have an all-embracing debate. Her brief is too big for that, as there are three elements to it.
I join with colleagues who have called for a debate on funding for the John Paul II Centre in Galway. I fully endorse what Senator Ó Brolcháin has said. There should be all-party support for people with special needs. These people are voiceless, and that was the analogy made by Senator Healy Eames. We can bail out the developers, the bankers and Fianna Fáil, but we cannot provide money for speech and language. Dr. Maurice Manning launched the report and said that living conditions in the John Paul II Centre were having a detrimental effect on the dignity and the well-being of the people living there. That is an indictment on us as politicians.
I support Senator O'Toole's comments on farming women, who I met yesterday. We have ploughed billions of euro into the zombie Anglo Irish Bank, yet €570,000 would pay these 268 women. It would be a small amount to pay them what they are owed. They entered into a contract, but the Government reneged on it.
I support the call made by Senators Mullen and Hanafin for an urgent debate on the number of people who die as a result of suffering a stroke. Some 2,000 people die every year needlessly. There should be no discrimination based on the age of stroke victims who should be treated equally. Clinics should be established to treat TIAs, minor strokes that act as a warning sign of a potentially fatal stroke later. I am calling for an urgent debate on the issue.
I want to raise two issues. First, I welcome this morning the launch of the credit review process which has been initiated by the Government to review the credit lending facilities available from Bank of Ireland and AIB. Where individuals have been refused credit or it has been withdrawn from them, they will be allowed to make a submission as part of the credit review process in which the bank's lending criteria will be reviewed and a recommendation made as to whether it should provide credit. The bank will be obliged to accept the recommendation or explain the reasons behind the non-provision of credit. I, therefore, welcome the initiation of the credit review process which is a step in the right direction. The two banks have been refusing credit to SMEs, farmers and shop-owners. This has affected businesses and job growth in my constituency. I hope the new process will allow businesses to obtain the credit they require to survive.
Second, I support my colleagues in requesting the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Hanafin, to attend the Chamber. I congratulate the new Minister on her appointment. I share Senator Mooney's view that her transfer to the Department does not amount to a demotion. It is one of the Departments which can drive economic recovery, particularly in the tourism sector. Efforts must be made to attract more tourists which would boost spending.
The Olympic Games in London in 2012 present a great opportunity on our doorstep. I have already raised this matter in the House, but I am utterly disappointed by the attempts the Department has made heretofore to attract visiting teams to train here. We have a great opportunity in this respect. Some 210 countries will compete in the Olympic Games and hundreds of sportsmen and women could be attracted to come here to train prior to the games.
The Senator has made his point.
I asked the previous Minister to attend the House, but that did not happen. I am now asking the Leader to arrange for the new Minister to come as quickly as possible to outline the steps that could be taken to capitalise on that opportunity.
I support Senator Buttimer's call for a debate on social partnership. It is correct and appropriate that union members and their executive officers will have an opportunity to understand, speak about and vote on the arrangement as quickly as possible. A clear fault in previous arrangements was that no role for the Oireachtas was provided for. It is remiss that many of the votes will take place before the matter is discussed in the Oireachtas. We should fix this as soon as possible after the recess.
I also seek a debate on the role of the Oireachtas in European affairs. It is vital that we debate the issue. I want to clarify comments made by Senator Leyden because Mr. Alan Dukes will be invited to address a committee chaired by a Fine Gael colleague. A discussion took place in private session at the committee yesterday on the relevance of inviting witnesses. It is right for such a discussion to take place in private, a move which was supported by all colleagues. Senator Leyden is happy to come here and misconstrue and misrepresent my comments. The only generous interpretation I can offer for his behaviour is that he is aware, more than most, of the disgraceful plundering which will affect the future welfare of the country undertaken following his party's decision on Anglo Irish Bank.
In today'sFinancial Times Dr. Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank, commends the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan’s statement on the plan to restore Ireland’s banks to health. As everyone knows, the Financial Times is the most widely read newspaper in the world. The message Dr. Honohan’s article sends to the international community is that in Ireland the path to recovery is now clear and that this week’s package of banking policy measures represents an important milestone in our economic revival. As Senator Ó Domhnaill said, the credit review process is a critical part of this. Dr. Honohan says that while this package will increase the Government’s ownership stake in the banks, it brings certainty as to the level of support for them. The banks are to be managed with a view to ensuring commercial performance and to get the best value for the taxpayer. Dr. Honohan also states in the article: “Free of the most impaired part of their portfolio, and under new management, the Irish banks will have the ability and the incentive to refocus on providing financial services to support the recovery of the country’s economy”.
We can all read the article.
It is in the Irish Examiner also.
The Senator has made her point.
In the article Dr. Honohan acknowledges Irish workers and taxpayers. That pleases my heart because we all know that the people have been so patient and resilient. We have had a reaction to wage cuts which, in the case of lower paid workers, is easily understood. Sounding an optimistic note on the economy, Dr. Honohan states: "If the consensus view that Irish economic growth will resume in the second half of 2010 proves correct, it will not be before time for the Irish workers and taxpayers, who have faced up squarely to what is, remarkably, widely understood to be a necessary belt-tightening".
If we wait long enough, we will probably get a bedtime story.
I wish to raise a number of issues, including Anglo Irish Bank. Is the Leader aware that directors' loans will be pursued? Last night I saw RTE reporter, Charlie Bird, being hunted from the door of a $4.5 million pad in the United States by someone who is now wanted by the Garda concerning the shenanigans in Anglo Irish Bank. We should examine the recovery process for the economy, including the minor ways by which we can rebuild the rural economy. Yesterday on the Order of Business Senator O'Donovan requested a debate on the fishing industry and the marine sector generally. Senator Ó Domhnaill has rightly pointed out that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, DeputyHanafin's tourism brief has a serious economic aspect. We can use these Departments to reboot the rural economy. If we can find €40 billion for Anglo Irish Bank, surely we can find much smaller budgets to fund these Departments and give Ministers flexibility in promoting Ireland's indigenous activities.
I wish to comment on the reduction in the number of special needs assistants. There was no such thinking when the Act was brought forward in 2004. We are dealing with vulnerable children with disabilities and it is not good enough to take an accountant's or an economist's view of such resources and withdraw SNAs, particularly in the middle of a school year when trust and friendship have been built. We are dealing with children with disabilities who are the most vulnerable members of our society. I call on the Tánaiste and newly appointed Minister for Education and Science to reverse her predecessor's decision.
The time allowed for the Order of Business is almost up, but three Members still wish to contribute. I call Senator Carty.
I support Senator Mooney in his call that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Hanafin, be asked to attend the House. Tourism is of vital importance, as Senator Mooney rightly pointed out, particularly to my county of Mayo. I congratulate the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Hanafin, on her appointment. I also commend the director of the National Museum, Pat Wallace, and his staff for allowing the Cross of Cong to be exhibited in Turlough House for a year, because that too is of great benefit to my county. The cross is returning to its native place for the first time in more than 170 years.
It was made in Roscommon.
Mayo has the credit for it. I ask the Senator to appreciate that. It was not called after any place in Roscommon.
It is an April fool's joke.
I have asked the Leader a number of times for a debate on agriculture and specifically CAP after 2013. I know the Minister is anxious to come to the House and I hope the Leader will facilitate this debate in the new session.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence; I am conscious of the time. I wish to raise a serious issue which I have mentioned before and which has been raised by other speakers this morning, that is, the 268 farmers' wives whose pensions have been removed. They paid their PRSI and they had an expectation that they would receive their pensions. One can imagine the trauma and stress experienced by an 83 year old widow who receives a letter stating she is no longer to receive her pension. It is horrendous and unacceptable. I ask the Leader to intervene personally to have this sorted out and to make a statement to the House on the issue.
I join with other Senators in calling for a responsible reaction by the unions to the social partnership agreement. I hope the agreement is accepted in the interests of the country. However, the greatest obstacle to its acceptance, which must be admitted by the Government, is that a special deal was made for higher civil servants——
——and that fairness was not adhered to. If we could manifest fairness, all workers would be willing to join in the national effort.
That is what is at issue. It is wrong that those earning less than €30,000 have been treated in the way they have been. There needs to be a clear signal that as money becomes available their problems will be sorted out. I hope the model is accepted and we can return to industrial peace.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach allowing me to speak at this late stage. I echo the comments of Senator Ó Domhnaill and Senator White about the credit review process. A key element is that within six weeks AIB and Bank of Ireland must produce reviews of their lending plans for the SME sector, including farmers and small businesses, a number of which are under threat, as has been mentioned by the Leader several times in the House. In the upheaval of reconstruction that is taking place, it is important that we insist credit is given to businesses. I look forward to the publication of these plans in the next six weeks.
A small but worrying issue, which has thus far gone under the radar is the rise in the price of petrol and diesel across the country. In my area of County Louth and along the Border, the prices have been creeping up steadily. This must be addressed. I do not know who is the appropriate Minister to deal with this — perhaps the Minister for Transport — but I am sure the Leader will be able to guide me. It is essential that we have a proper debate on this issue, with full and frank statements. There are multinational companies that are taking advantage of the international situation. We must do something about this because it is pressing down hard on our small businesses. Many of these issues are tied in with each other. We must focus on energising our small and medium-sized businesses, whether through credit or the price of fuel. I look forward to the Leader addressing these issues.
Senators Healy Eames, O'Toole, Alex White, Ó Brolcháin, Buttimer, Hanafin, Quinn, McFadden, Coghlan, Callely, Leyden, Bradford, Donohoe, Mary White, McCarthy and O'Reilly expressed their serious concerns and called for an urgent debate with the Minister for Health and Children regarding special needs education. I have already made a commitment to the House that we will have a full and all-embracing debate on the portfolio of health, and the Minister has always been forthcoming and generous with her time in the House.
Issues highlighted in the House this morning include speech and language therapy and the challenge facing those who have had strokes. There is so much that can be done for these people. As has been outlined to the House, 10,000 people per annum suffer from strokes and 2,000 people lose their lives. These are serious numbers. I know the Minister has no difficulty in coming here to update the House on the future plans of the Department of Health and Children in this regard.
Yesterday's statements on banking will be rolled over and we will have further statements during the second week back after the Easter recess. It is my intention that we will review the situation facing the Department of Finance with regard to the banking sector on a week-to-week basis during the next session. As has been said here this morning, the subject must be kept under constant review.
Senator O'Toole and other colleagues mentioned the social partnership deal and the public sector unions. The whole country is watching to see whether the unions will sign up to the agreement made in Croke Park on Tuesday. As we know, the deal includes a review of certain low-paid sectors which will take place after a year. As Senator Bradford said, it is in the country's interest that we have peaceful industrial relations at this difficult time, and the media have a major responsibility in this regard. The editors and sub-editors should, in conjunction with their very professional journalists and radio and television presenters, forget about seeking market share of audience listenership. In the national interest, they have a duty, as we all have — the trade union movement, the social partners, Senators and Deputies — to lead Ireland out of the financial crisis. I call on them all, on this Holy Thursday, to put Ireland first.
That is what we want.
It is of major importance that this agreement is accepted. In this regard, there is no more experienced person in Ireland today than Senator Joe O'Toole, and when he speaks in this House people must listen. He asked the unions, at this difficult time in our country's history, to support the deal. We fully support the Senator in this.
Senators O'Toole, Bradford, McFadden, O'Reilly and other colleagues outlined their full support for the farmers' wives who, as we all know, are seeking their pension entitlements, having paid their contributions. We should do everything we possibly can to support this very small number of people.
However, there is a bigger issue; that is, the self-employed people who played such an important role in the Celtic tiger, parts 1 and 2. They are now finding that they are not entitled to anything, even though they have paid millions or even billions of euro in PRSI, PAYE, VAT, income tax, capital gains tax, property taxes and stamp duty. They have made an enormous contribution and it is the private sector that will bring the economy back to buoyancy again. We should have an all-day debate in the House in this regard. No section of our community should be left out. They should be given an opportunity to pay their contributions and be included in future pension provisions. Some of them may not have been aware of the various challenges that were facing them, but they soon realised that not only were their businesses gone, but they were entitled to nothing from the State. Hardship is on their doorsteps and they realise their families must suffer for the bare essentials of tea, butter, bread and sugar.
Who is in Government?
It does not matter who is in Government.
Of course it does.
The Leader please, on the Order of Business.
It is Holy Thursday. I ask colleagues to let me respond and give my opinion, just as we have given them the opportunity to give the House their opinions.
Senators Ó Murchú, Norris and Hanafin spoke about the blockade of Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there. I congratulate Senator Ó Murchú on bringing this to the attention of the House. We fully support his call. The United Nations has a major responsibility in this area. As the Senator outlined to the House, Article 55 of the Geneva Convention is being seriously contravened and this is a major humanitarian crisis. We have been admired all over the world for our independence over the years and for our support for the underprivileged, whether that was by way of bringing education or religion to them or by way of support for various humanitarian causes and in times of disaster. I support Senator Ó Murchú's call for attention to be given to this issue. I also compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, on his outstanding efforts on behalf of the people in this regard.
Senators Mullen, Callely, Norris, Quinn, Hanafin, Keaveney and McFadden raised various health issues. As I have outlined previously, the Minister will take these issues on board after the Easter recess. Senator Mullen outlined the issue of human trafficking here and pointed out the danger that as a result of the new regulations being introduced in the United Kingdom, we could be targeted. I will pass his strong views on to the Minister. I do not remember agreeing at any time to have a debate on the extension of the Dáil and Seanad, but I am aware that he has brought this to our attention today, 1 April.
Senator Callely highlighted the importance of the announcement made by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, the day before yesterday, in which he announced a commitment of €3 billion from the AIB and Bank of Ireland for SMEs. A €12 billion investment over the next two years will help keep SMEs working and will ensure the Exchequer will in turn get from €3 billion to €4 billion of that back in taxes. We will keep this under review on a monthly basis here.
Senators Mooney, Keaveney, Ó Domhnaill, McCarthy and Carty all congratulated Deputy Mary Hanafin on her new portfolio. On the day of the reshuffle, I said she had probably got the appointment most of us would like to have got if we were in that position, because it is in an area where jobs can be created. Tourism is one of the three pillars on which we must rebuild the economy. There has never been greater value in our tourism market than there is currently. We in the hidden Ireland, particularly in the midlands area such as Athlone and Mullingar, have found that many Irish people now come to the area for weekends. Athlone, with four hotels, does great business every weekend. Last weekend, a big country music festival was held in Mullingar and the numbers that came to it from Scotland, Wales and England were almost unbelievable. There is similar interest in visiting Tullamore. People want to visit the hidden Ireland and they find they are getting value for money.
A recession is an opportune time for people to provide value for money and establish themselves. During a period like the era of the Celtic tiger, people might not have got so much business, but now in areas where value for money is being given, Tourism Ireland and all involved in tourism are experiencing an opportunity they may not have had previously. That said, the challenges facing our new Minister in this area are daunting. Many hotels will find it extremely difficult to remain open after this summer. It is crucial the banks play their part in ensuring overdraft facilities hotels traditionally had to keep going over the winter months are maintained. The most serious challenge facing the tourism industry now is the challenge for the banks to continue providing credit facilities to hotels to keep their doors open for the four tough months of the year from November to February, as has been the tradition. I do not suggest that credit should be extended to businesses that will not be viable, but to hotels in good tourism areas which employ 60 or 70 people. However, this is something we can discuss when the Minister comes to the House.
Senator Quinn reminded us this is organ donor awareness week and asked about the human organ donor Bill. I will look into that and come back to the Senator on it and let him know when it is proposed to deal with it in the House. Senators Ó Domhnaill, Mary White and Carroll welcomed the credit review process which is being launched today. I join them in that. We will review the progress on this on a monthly basis in the House. I also support Senator Ó Domhnaill's call with regard to the benefit the Olympics in London in 2012 offer us. I have no difficulty in including this in the planned debate with the Minister with responsibility for tourism, arts and sport when she comes to the House. Some part of that debate will be devoted to the opportunities that will present themselves with the Olympics taking place in London in 2012.
Senator Carty called for a debate on agriculture, particularly with regard to a long-term plan for it and he called for the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, to come to the House for that. We will have an all-day debate on this subject when we return after the Easter recess. Senator James Carroll called for a debate with the Minister with responsibility for enterprise, trade and employment on the pricing of diesel and petrol, which have increased substantially in recent months. This has special concern for people living along the Border and hard-pressed small and medium-sized family businesses. This is another increase in the cost of the day to day running of their businesses. I have no difficulty with arranging for a debate on this at the earliest possible time.