The Order of Business is No. 1, expressions of sympathy on the death of the President of Poland, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude within 30 minutes; and No. 2, Fines Bill 2009 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and on which spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House.
Order of Business.
While we should all welcome the fact that Mr. Boucher has responded to public anger in regard to his pension by saying he will not now exercise the option of retiring at the age of 55 years, we should have in the House a serious debate on the issue, in respect of which the Government has fared very badly. It is clear that the Taoiseach said he could do nothing about the matter legally and that he has shown himself to be incredibly weak in taking on the banks and the current crisis in the public finances. We need to have a serious debate in the House on what is happening in the banks which are running riot. They, rather than the Government, are in control of the restructuring of the banking system. There is a need for the Taoiseach and at least the Minister for Finance to come to the House and show moral backbone in the taking on of senior officials in the banking sector.
The Leader of the House knows as well as I do that in the next budget the level of Government expenditure will be reduced by €1 billion. This means there will either be a pay cut for public sector workers or a cut in payments to social welfare recipients. If we allow the carry-on I described to continue in the meantime and if the people believe the banks are getting away with murder, there will be no public appetite for further cuts in Government spending. There is a need for serious debate on this issue and for the Minister for Finance to come to the House.
Another issue I would like to have debated in the House is completely unrelated to the news headlines at the moment. It is about the decoupling of agribusiness plcs from co-ops. Many of the plcs throughout the country involved in agribusiness are divesting themselves of the co-ops from which they first sprung. When one sees a sudden rise in value in those plcs that declare they are going to break away from their co-op roots, one has to ask whether this is a good idea. Co-ops are very important from a socioeconomic viewpoint to rural society as well as from a food security standpoint and they are crucial as economic entities. Both Houses of the Oireachtas need to have a serious debate as to what is happening in agribusiness at present because these enterprises are much bigger than anything we have talked about concerning rural Ireland over recent months. If anything were to go wrong in the future with co-ops because they were undercapitalised, had taken on too much debt or did not have proper business plans, the taxpayer could end up having to bail them out or else they would fail, which would be to the detriment of rural communities. I would like to have a serious debate on the changes that are occurring in agribusiness at this time.
I would like the Leader to update the House on where we stand on the Report Stage of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009. There was an understanding to the effect that it would come through the House some weeks back and an ugly rumour is circulating that some people on the Government side are somewhat reticent and hesitant to support Government policy on this issue.
I am sure it is not true, but I would like if the Leader would confirm that the Bill is going through the normal process.
Where is Dan?
There did not appear to be any great reason for it to be delayed after Committee Stage, and some Members would like to express their views further on this matter on Report Stage. I am sure Members in the Leader's party take the same view and I should like him to scotch that ugly rumour, if he would be so kind.
So that they will not be muzzled.
In recent times it is interesting to see how the different standards apply. We noted recently that Bishop Jim Moriarty's resignation was accepted by the Vatican on the basis that he felt he should have challenged the culture, and people accept that, rightly or wrongly. If we take a parallel situation within the banking industry, we are aware that there were at least 15 senior bankers who accepted an e-mail directing them to prevent information getting to the market and to consumers and investors and, effectively, they co-operated and colluded with this culture. Everybody seems to believe we should deal with the person who sent out the e-mail, and this is where the problem starts and continues. It is akin to Germany in the Second World War where people said they just did what they were told. There can be no excuses for people who voluntarily colluded in this wrong involving people losing money and which led to many of the current problems in the State. This is going on all over the place and I would like if we could get a clear indication that action will be taken in this regard. It is just not acceptable.
Some committees are dealing with the question whether the Houses of the Oireachtas should begin their business with a prayer and Atheist Ireland is getting very agitated on the issue. How do atheists feel about being subject to an act of God over the last week or so? Theists and atheists are all the one to me, so it is not an issue for me, but I just wonder about this. I put the question because I tend to agree with Michael O'Leary that it is grossly unfair that airline companies should be deemed to be responsible for six days' board and accommodation for people for something over which they had no control. We should talk to God or whomsoever we believe is responsible for this, but we should leave the airlines out of it.
The news that the Quinn Group is to be allowed to write new insurance in the UK is welcome for its employees. Senator O'Reilly and I attended a meeting in Navan last week with 200 Quinn Group employees. Navan, as the House will know, is suffering severe unemployment at the moment, so the last thing it needs is further job losses. The number one priority expressed to us by staff was a re-opening of the insurance company's ability to sell in the UK. I welcome this announcement and believe everyone present wishes the Quinn Group employees well in their endeavours to hold on to their jobs.
I listened this morning to Dublin Bus announcing plans to change completely its services in the Dublin area. This follows on from a comprehensive review of services and we all recognise the vast improvements in the network as a result of the quality bus corridors being finished. We see faster journey times and, as a result, more journeys may be made with fewer buses. That bodes well for the commuter area in general.
People in counties Meath and Kildare tell me quite often that they need to see better cross-Dublin services and improved orbital routes. Therefore Dublin Bus's announcement this morning to the effect that this is exactly what it is doing is good news. We need to see in-depth consultation with staff, however. They see what is happening at the coalface and their views need to be taken into account.
Like others, I welcome the decision by the chief executive of the Bank of Ireland to forgo his pension top-up. There has been some debate about the deal that was done. Mr. Boucher was doing precisely what anyone else would do, namely, seeking the best deal he could get for himself. The error in the deal rests with those on the opposite side of the table who should have been more aware of the potential consequences of such an agreement in the current economic climate, because this single deal had the potential to sway people away from the public sector pay deal. Mr. Boucher is correct in what he has done and is leading the way. He is an example to other industry leaders who have failed to do this and effectively given two fingers to the people. I urge such people to take a leaf out of Mr. Boucher's book.
On the recent aviation ban, like Senator O'Toole I am very concerned about the losses to passengers as a result of having to put themselves up in hotels and buy food, and the potential loss as a result of losing wages. I called yesterday for the Minister to make the airlines aware of their roles and responsibilities in this matter, but it is clear that this is a unique event. I am not sure whether it is fair to expect one particular group, either passengers or airlines, to cough up for the costs involved. I suggest the Minister asks the airlines to put together an estimate of the compensation claims involved. If the figure is excessive, I suggest the Minister seeks some sort of contribution from the European Union to help allay the costs.
I welcome Mr. Boucher's forgoing of his pension top-up and his decision to work beyond the age of 55. Senator Hannigan is right to recognise that it is an example of some leadership, albeit belated. At the same time, however, the door is still open in terms of how these types of bonuses may be given in the future. For that reason I reiterate Senator Boyle's call the other day to the effect that these pension pots be taxed. This is necessary and we need to build in some type of fiscal certitude in the future which will dissuade people from creating what is essentially a public scandal. This has been a scandal and people have been deeply angered. I described myself the other day as having been hit by an almost life-sapping experience when I heard the news last week. I believed this could not be happening at a worse time in terms of the public service pay deal and so on. I hope this change of heart will breathe some life into the prospect of that initiative getting over the line. I sincerely hope so for the sake of the country and for the restoration of good order in the public finances. I repeat that it is essential that pension pots should be taxed.
I assure Senator O'Toole that the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, that seeks to restore the good name of the sector which has suffered in the UK and international press because of the misdeeds of a few, is well on course to go through.
We understand the position of the Senator's party.
The Senator should put a question to the Leader.
The improved standards and regulations that will follow the passing of the Bill will benefit the entire sector.
Is Senator Boyle muzzled?
Will the Leader allocate time to discuss the issue of planning reform? There has been an extraordinary situation in Dundalk in the last few days. Hundreds of people have discovered they have made formal objections without their knowledge, with the accompanying €20 payment to the planning authority, to a very large leisure resort being built beside the dog racing stadium which many Members will probably be familiar with and will have visited. Hundreds of citizens who signed petitions expressing worry about various aspects of the procedure now find themselves in the position where they are formal observers of the planning application, without their knowledge but with the €20 having been paid by an as yet unknown individual. It is highly irregular.
The Senator is way over time.
That is a matter for the local authority.
We are talking about a sum of between €4,000 and €6,000 having been paid. It is important that we examine this issue in the context of a discussion on planning reform.
I welcome the decision by Mr. Richie Boucher not to take the hike in pension entitlements. As I said in the House recently, the messages we give and the language we use are very important, especially at this very sensitive time. To accept that massive hike would have been wrong and at least Mr. Boucher has seen the light. However, the Government must put mechanisms in place to ensure no further hikes in pension entitlements on such a massive scale are permissible. The Government must be strong on this matter.
With regard to the theme yesterday of emphasising the positive things happening in the country, will the Leader allocate time for a debate on manufacturing and the export potential the country is developing? Thousands of small businesses were in existence prior to the arrival of the multinationals and successfully creating employment and developing skills and trades in their communities. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of focus or lack of competitiveness many of these businesses have struggled, but they have survived and are still strong. I hope they will have a strong future. We should consider their potential, what small business and manufacturing mean to the country and how they can stimulate employment.
In response to Senator Dearey, perhaps the Fianna Fáil Senators are beginning to see the light on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill and the threat it poses to the greyhound industry and rural sports such as hunting. I urge the Leader to bring the Bill before the House and accept the amendments Fine Gael has proposed to protect the industry and rural areas. We would certainly welcome this. I also welcome the fact that the Leader is beginning to see the light.
Next Tuesday representatives of the survivors of thalidomide will meet the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I am optimistic that after 50 years of suffering by the survivors of thalidomide, the Government will provide adequate compensation in due time and a sincere apology on behalf of the State on foot of the negligence of the then Department of Health on the issue. Dr. John O'Connell, a former Minister for Health, published a book in 1989 entitled,Crusading Doctor and Politician. He devoted a chapter to the tragedy of thalidomide in which he outlined the negligence of the manufacturers. They gave a cursory notice of withdrawal of the drug in a circular and did not ensure it was withdrawn from pharmacies throughout the country. Dr. O’Connell stated that three years after the withdrawal of the thalidomide drug, he had been able to buy it across the counter in a pharmacy in Ireland without a prescription.
Yesterday Fianna Fáil Deputies and Senators met four representatives of the survivors' organisation. It was clear at the meeting that my colleagues were emotionally engaged on a serious level and determined to resolve the issue. The State has been grudging in its compensation in the last 50 years and I am hoping it will now step up to the mark. One of the survivors we met is only 3' 8" tall. Her mother had only taken two thalidomide tablets. Mr. John Stack's deformity affects his hands. His mother obtained the drug after the drug had been withdrawn. This is a very serious issue for the State, but I am hopeful the suffering will come to an end.
Ten thousand children were victims of thalidomide. Many of them died young and no one thought they would live to more than 50 years of age. As they are spirited and steel willed, they have survived and been able to work and have children. However, they have exerted such pressure on them that their limbs have aged beyond their years and they are in constant pain. I was speaking to one of them this morning and she told me she was dosing herself with solpadeine owing to the pain she was suffering after yesterday's traumatic and emotional experience.
The philosopher Plato imagined the perfect republic. To ensure there was no back-sliding, he imagined a class of guardians. The Romans who were wiser people asked,quis custodiet ipsos custodes — who will guard the guardians? That question is apposite this morning in the context of two examples of failure on the part of our guardians. There has been much talk about the responsibility of politicians, Mr. Richie Boucher and other bankers. As Senator Hannigan said, Mr. Boucher did what anyone would do — try to improve his situation. The onus lay on the public interest directors to shout “No” when he tried to do this. Plato said a man’s character was determined by his ability to say “No”. The public interest directors who were sent there by us slept on duty. Senator Bradford spoke cogently yesterday about the absence of a standard or code of public morality in this country. Did anyone call in the two directors before they were sent to the bank, stare them in the eye and say, “You are being sent there by the Irish Republic to look after its interests, so do not sleep on duty”? Will the Minister now recall them, given that they have slept on duty? They have not done their duty by the State.
There is a second example. The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Hardiman, has cast a doubt in the strongest terms on the judgment of another public servant, Mr. Justice Flood, in the tribunal. This is no surprise to me. Any judge who could sit down with Mr. Frank Connolly and set up a centre of public inquiry to carry on the habit of abuse by aged loons such as Mr. James Gogarty and bring that carry-on into the public domain has been suspect in judgment for a long time. It is time the State told its public servants that they must do their duty by the Irish Republic.
With regard to the courts and the rates paid to legal representatives, they are not to be commented on in the House this morning. Those courts are still sitting and I do not want people to say we were trying to influence what was said in the courts. I appreciate the Senator's motivation.
I wish to raise a very serious issue. Yesterday in the United Kingdom there was a finding by a court in a case brought by a person currently on the sex offenders register. He claimed his civil and human rights were being violated by the fact that his name could never be removed from the register. The court found this to be the case and said the legislation would have to be examined to loosen the rules regarding the sex offenders register. This ruling will have implications for Ireland and will definitely have implications for Northern Ireland and, as a consequence, the north west. Will the Leader draw the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to this issue and seek an urgent response on whether we will follow what appears to be the direction in the United Kingdom in considering a relaxation of the rules pertaining to the sex offenders register? I am not sure there is a cure for sex offenders. I am on the Council of Europe and I understand the concept of human rights. However, this week a report on sexual assault treatment units was launched by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, which outlined serious facts about people who have been sexually abused and how difficult it is to get people to come forward. Their human and civil rights are also very important.
Last month, I raised this matter on the Adjournment and the issue of working in co-operation in the north west to maximise resources and to minimise the legislative changes on both sides of the Border so that people on the sex offenders' register cannot hide on the other side of the Border. There is no all-island sex offenders' register. The situation has changed and it is very important the Minister works in co-operation with any legislative change that may be deemed necessary in the UK. I ask that those changes be minimal and that they would be done with the benefit of absolute scientific and other research to underline any changes.
Yesterday on the Order of Business the Leader advised me to stop and to listen and I did.
No interruptions, please.
What I discovered was the Taoiseach saw nothing, heard nothing and did nothing. What happened in the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway races where we have discovered that among some of the recognisable revellers in the tent was Mr. Michael Fingleton of the Irish Nationwide Building Society?
Please, Senator Buttimer.
Was Mr. Fingleton like a guest at a banquet? Was he asked any questions about the role of Irish Nationwide? Senator Harris rightly speaks about people being asleep on duty.
The Leader will reply later.
How can the Government justify a man being paid €55,000 by four times in his last sequence of employment and yet he will not give back the money to the State? Were the public interest directors called in by the Minister for Finance, and if not, why not? They are there on our behalf. We and the ordinary people are bailing out the banks, yet we get spin from Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. What is happening? Which argument does the Leader follow? Does he follow the Seán Fleming argument or the Ned O'Keeffe argument regarding the Financial Regulator and Anglo Irish Bank? What is the real Fianna Fáil position?
My final question is about Report Stage of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. Has there been a muzzle put on Government? Has it been spancelled? When will we take Report Stage? Why has the Government group not accepted legitimate amendments from Fine Gael and others in this House?
Will the Leader arrange an early discussion about the current banking situation? My point does not arise out of the comments made by Senators Harris and Buttimer because I had decided to make this point anyway. It is inappropriate for a public interest director to become chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. Alan Dukes should decide to consider his position now. I will write to the Minister today to ask him to ask Mr. Dukes not to accept this position. He cannot be the poacher turned gamekeeper nor can he be neutral in a situation where——
The Senator should ask a question of the Leader.
Does the Leader consider it appropriate that Alan Dukes, former leader of Fine Gael, a public interest director, can be acting in the public interest when he goes native and justifies the existence of Anglo Irish Bank?
Please, Senator, the man is not present.
That bank has a very limited future.
Ask the Minister for Finance.
I am also saying——
If a person is not present in the Chamber, there is not much use in referring to anyone's character.
He was in the House long enough. He is a public service——
He is not present in this House now.
I do not wish to dispute the point.
The Leader will reply to the question raised by the Senator.
By the way, this House has to do the job of the public interest directors of the Bank of Ireland and Deputy Mary O'Rourke had to do their job and the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh.
The Senator was praising the Tallaght strategy last week.
The same goes for the public interest directors in Permanent TSB. Gillian Bowler should stand down as chairperson of the board. She stood over €7.4 billion going. At the annual general meeting on 14 May, I will ask her to stand down as the chairperson of Permanent TSB. She is doing no work. I have made my point.
No, Senator. It is wrong to introduce that into the House. It is wrong for the Senator or any other Member. We are not going down that road and I will not allow it. The Senator should withdraw such a remark and not make such statements.
I will not withdraw it.
He will not withdraw it because he has privilege. He is a mouse.
He is asking everyone to resign bar the Taoiseach.
Given the results achieved following the expression of outrage at what was attempted in the Bank of Ireland by way of the pension top-up, both Houses rightly expressed their outrage at what was proposed and the right result was achieved. This should never have happened as the top-up was ridiculous at this time and completely insensitive, given all the other matters in the State. I know about the fiduciary duties and corporate governance and company law and other banking requirements with regard to the public interest directors. We will not know what they have said within but one hopes these public interest directors are not simply nodders and yes men captured by some of the old boys already on the boards. Now that they are in there, they should be ensuring a proper clean-up of whatever remains that is wrong and of the people who may still be lingering on boards who do not deserve to be on them. I welcome the provision in the new Central Bank Reform Bill which will require tests in regard to interests, probity and competence. Other issues arise. As we said yesterday, not alone were the guidelines breached in one instance but perhaps there are instances of breaches in all five participating institutions in NAMA. In the case of the Irish Nationwide Building Society, not only were guidelines clearly breached, important matters that should have been reported in accordance with the law were not reported. These matters have to be cleaned up.
In regard to conflict of interest situations which exist in some of these institutions — I refer specifically to people at senior management — I hope the public interest directors will take an interest in that too. People who had an easy if not a cosy relationship with the people for whom they sanctioned these impaired loans are now, I understand, managing these impaired loan portfolios for NAMA on an agency basis. What kind of a ridiculous situation is that?
I join Senator Hannigan in welcoming the decision of the Financial Regulator to allow Quinn Insurance to recommence underwriting business in the United Kingdom. It is my understanding that this business equates to just over 10% of its existing business in the United Kingdom. It is worth bearing in mind that 55% of Quinn Insurance business was UK-based while 95% of the workforce is in this country. The workers are rightly worried about their future. I understand the joint administrators submitted proposals to the regulator to allow Quinn Insurance to start underwriting up to 90% of the existing business in the United Kingdom and this will ensure the safety of the jobs of more than 1,500 people depending on the UK business for their livelihoods. I urge the regulator to act with haste in allowing the joint administrators to recommence underwriting the UK insurance which is so vital to the livelihoods of so many people in this island.
I endorse what was said by Senators Harris, Buttimer and, to a certain extent, Leyden about public interest directors of banks. The evidence is fairly conclusive that they have gone native. They go into the banks and receive massive salaries. Now that they are all on the gravy train, let us see what happens.
Mr. Dukes, very surprisingly, supported wage increases for top people in Anglo Irish Bank. I do not think any public interest director should have supported such an initiative unless he or she had gone native. A similar situation obtains on the board of Bank of Ireland, to which a former Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh, has been appointed. What in the name of God has Mr. Walsh been doing in allowing these things to happen?
I am beginning to think, and I thank Senator Harris for raising the subject, that the Government regards the banks as quangos. It is appointing people who appear very similar to political nominees to other semi-State bodies. An interesting pattern is developing. Appointees include formidable and former senior officials of the Department of Finance. That Department has not covered itself with glory because it is also in the loop. We have to ask whether these public interest directors are doing their job or if they are getting too much money.
Is the Senator calling for a debate on banking?
I presume we will have such a debate. We were promised a debate and I endorse the requests made in this regard. I do not concur with the praise that has been heaped upon Mr. Boucher or even the welcome given to his decision. This is not what Senator Deary described as a man showing leadership. The concession was dragged and kicked out of him by the Government, public opinion and the trade unions. There is no way he had a sudden crisis of conscience and decided to save the nation.
The Senator's time has concluded.
It is welcome that public opinion has forced him to act but one feels relief not gratitude when a foot is removed from one's throat. It does not change the person in any way. We should not be too quick to applaud this banker, who remainsin situ even though he should never have been appointed.
The Senator is way over time.
The people in charge of the banks at board and executive levels remain almost exactly the same.
My hands are tied in allocating time. I call Senator Mooney.
Senator Ross articulated the feelings of most rational people in regard to the banks. I agree with him that Mr. Boucher does not deserve any praise whatsoever. His concession was dragged out of him and it would never have happened if not for the formidable alliance of public opinion that formed against him. I hope this will go some way towards allowing a calm and rational debate among trade union members on the Croke Park deal. It would be wrong of me to interfere in the electoral process but those of us who have commented on this issue, from all sides of this House, would applaud Jack O'Connor, David Begg——
And Kieran Mulvey.
——and Kieran Mulvey for their leadership and the rational manner in which they pursued the negotiations. In the interest of the country, I hope there will be a positive outcome.
I ask the Leader to consider inviting the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to address the House in light of the report in today's newspapers on the dramatic increase in the mortgage subsidies administered by his Department from €6 million in 2005 to more than €70 million. The irony is the subsidy is being paid to the banks because it is intended to aid those who are suffering mortgage distress. It is inevitable that the increases in mortgage rates over the next six to 12 months will mean that more families will be affected by negative equity or unable to meet their mortgage obligations. In a restrictive budgetary context, this is a very serious matter and it would be helpful if the Minister could outline to the House how his Department intends to address this ticking timebomb for families and mortgage holders.
Prior to the Easter break we held a debate on the lost at sea scheme and the report and recommendation of the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly. As a result of that debate, the matter was examined by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, where I understand a useful discussion took place yesterday. However, I wish to refer to the debate we held in this Chamber and the intimidation by Deputy Fahey on that occasion. He sat in the Gallery while we held that debate——
Hold on, Senator. Any Oireachtas Member is entitled to sit in the Gallery and I cannot prevent him or her from doing so. That is the freedom of this House. I ask the Senator to withdraw his allegation of intimidation.
He is easily intimidated.
The Cathaoirleach did not allow me to finish. I am not remonstrating with Deputy Fahey for being in the Gallery.
Is the Senator withdrawing his allegation? The Chair asked you to withdraw it.
That was not my point. I made a statement on the lost at sea scheme and the report of the Ombudsman. As I left this Chamber, I was tackled by Deputy Fahey in regard to this statement. This seems to be par for the course for Members of this and the Lower House. It is entirely inappropriate——
Deputy Fahey is not here to reply to that claim.
——that the intimidating behaviour of Deputy Fahey in relation to this matter——
I have no control over what happens outside this Chamber but if the Senator has a complaint he should take it to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
A more fundamental issue arises. Why is Deputy Fahey going to such lengths to undo the report and recommendation of the Ombudsman? Why is he going to such lengths to deny the justice——
Deputy Fahey is not a Member of this House.
——that was recommended by the Ombudsman for the Byrne family? What has he to hide to make him so desperate in carrying out a lobbying exercise——
It is out of order to discuss a Member of the other House when he is not present.
I have one question for the Leader.
The Senator has gone over time.
Will this House uphold the standards of the Ombudsman——
I am not accepting it.
——or the standards of Deputy Fahey?
What about Goldman Sachs?
I concur with those who have raised the issue of conduct by public interest directors of our banks. This issue needs to be addressed. The Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has encountered an example wherein the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland adopted a budget which was 50% higher than the previous year's. It was only when the joint committee took the chief executive of the authority to task that the budget was reduced from €7.6 million to €5.6 million. This is an example of people who are put into positions of trust and given a fiduciary duty to the State which they are not pursuing in an appropriate manner. This is an issue which applies generally across public service bodies. We have an opportunity to drive change, however, and we will not have ethics and morality in corporate governance unless we do so.
I support everything that Senator Mary White has said in regard to the Irish Thalidomide Association. It is a shame that the concerns of these people have not been addressed. The issue has a 50 year history and many of the victims have died in the intervening period. I hope the Government will respond positively and fairly to the issue.
The Supreme Court yesterday decided unanimously in the issue before it that the tribunal had no power to find that two directors of JMSE were not entitled to their legal costs because they had hindered or obstructed the tribunals.
I would prefer not to get involved in what is happening in the tribunals.
I refer specifically to the Supreme Court, which has decided on a serious issue. We established the tribunals. What the Supreme Court has said is that the tribunals have actedultra vires. That is a very serious matter for us.
The Senator has made the point.
I want to finish on this——
The Senator's time is the same as everyone else's and my hands are tied on it.
Mr. Justice Adrian Hardiman stated that it is chilling to reflect that a poorer person, treated in the same fashion, could not have afforded to seek this vindication.
I call Senator Mullen.
I ask that we have a debate in this House on the tribunals within the next week.
Senator Walsh, please stop, you have sought that debate.
I am looking for it to happen and I will not allow it to be swept under the carpet.
It is a matter for the Leader to decide whether he will give the Senator that debate.
I just want to make that point particularly clear.
I ask Senator Walsh to resume his seat.
This House and the Dáil established those tribunals. We must now assess the serious fallout from them.
Respect the Chair.
Put him out.
I dtosach báire, tacaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Walsh chomh fada is a bhaineann sé leis na binsí fiosrúcháin. In the light of both what Senator Walsh has said and the decision of the Supreme Court, it would be timely for us to have a general reflection in this Chamber on how the tribunals of inquiry and commissions of inquiry have operated. We all have felt a great need in our country in recent years to have the truth told, especially about controversial matters. I note Senator Walsh has been critical of fees paid to barristers, and he may well make a valid point in that regard. I stress another issue, the time-long guarantees that the justice system has afforded to people — the presumption of innocence and the right to be able to test evidence fully. To some extent, we can state that the tribunals of inquiry, while being well intentioned, have certainly cut across what were always regarded as essential rights, namely a person's right to his or her good name until the contrary was fully and properly proved. In the light of the controversies now arising about the tribunals for various reasons, we should have a reflection in this Chamber on how our tribunals have worked and what has gone well and what has gone badly in terms of cost, the impact on persons' good names, the way that they functioned etc.
I take the opportunity to make a point congratulating the Labour Party on its initiative yesterday.
A question to the Leader.
It is simply this. Yesterday the Labour Party brought forward an excellent Bill in this Chamber to criminalise female genital mutilation. It deserves great credit for bringing forward this issue because it is about a terrible violation of human dignity that all should condemn.
I welcome very much the fact the Government undertook to bring forward its own legislation. Would it not be nice if our political system could mature to the point where if one had excellent legislation coming forward from Private Members'——
——instead of stating the Government will come back with something of its own in due course that there were other possibilities, for example, adjourning the Second Stage debate to give the Government a chance to address it properly? Then the Government could undertake, if it liked the Bill, that it would make further time available for the continuation of Second Stage and that the Bill would proceed as a Private Members' Bill.
Time. I call Senator Hanafin.
In other countries private members' legislation has been brought forward. It is very successful.
I called Senator Hanafin.
It reinforces public confidence in the democratic system——
Senator Mullen's time is up.
——and in the functioning of the Legislature.
It is not a morning for making speeches.
I ask the Leader to take that point on board.
There are too many Members making speeches on points they wish to raise with the Leader. I call Senator Hanafin.
I support the calls for a debate on the role of tribunals. There are times when tribunals are necessary. I am conscious that in the North a tribunal to find out what exactly happened on Bloody Sunday in Derry cost €100 million and a cost of €1 billion or more would have been correct to find out the truth in that case. However, there are tribunals in this country at present the public opinion on which is that the costs involved are a greater injustice than what the tribunals are trying to establish, and that must be changed.
I wish to make two brief points. It is apparent the banks have not yet learnt the lesson of what has happened. Everything has change as regards banking in this country and it is time we in our debate mentioned that fact. The old ways are gone. No longer can a banker look to get the salary of a huge payment, a huge pension, a huge bonus or huge share options. Those days must be gone. They must begin to realise that there should be regulation in that regard. There must come an end to greed. It was greed that got us into these difficulties.
I again call for a debate on the role of the Seanad. I note in the UK general election that the SDLP, as one if its main planks, has asked that the Seanad would be allowed to have Members elected through a full panel for the North of Ireland such as the Labour Panel. It is a laudable suggestion. There are many other reasons, including the needs of the extra work now involved following the Lisbon treaty, for the Seanad. This Seanad has played a wonderful role and that should be debated.
Senator Mary White made a strong case for the victims of thalidomide. Those of us who have met them know how strongly that case needs to be made. That applied to those thalidomide victims in Europe. An interesting point is that there was no thalidomide allowed into the United States. The reason it was not allowed into the United States was because of a strong woman who was in charge of the Food and Drugs Administration who stated she wanted scientific proof before she would allow this. She stood out against all the vested interests who stated that the United States should make thalidomide available as there was a great need for it. However, it was not made available in the United States. This is exactly the point Senator Harris is making. Here is the heroism of a public servant who stood out against the vested interests, who did not go native and who stated she would hold out against all the strong cases made until she got scientific evidence. It seems there are cases like this, one example of which was touched on by Senator Harris, of those who do not go native. One of the opportunities provided to us is in the Oireachtas committees. The Oireachtas committees are doing marvellous work which enables us to get behind the normal procedures that we have had in the past and to get something done rather than delaying these activities.
On a point raised by Senator Mullen earlier, Private Members' Bills are seldom accepted. I do not know of many cases of such Bills being accepted, other than one Senator Leyden had accepted some time ago. I am thinking in particular of a Bill I introduced, namely the Human Body Organ and Human Tissue Bill 2008, where the Minister accepted the point made and stated the Government would have some consultation before introducing it. The Minister accepted the point that we needed to do something to enable those who are waiting for livers, hearts and kidneys to have the ability to receive them. My Bill was to do with presumed consent. The consultations, which started in October 2008, are ongoing. Yesterday we received the intention of Government on plans for the various Bills. One must go to the end of that document to find No. 65, the Human Tissue Bill, which is not the Bill of which the Minister spoke but a different Bill. It seems we take far too long to do things that will save lives. Let us ensure we move on these matters with much greater alacrity than we have in the past.
I ask the Leader if he would consider having another early debate on Irish tourism, perhaps during Private Members' time. Tourism is one of the big income earners for this country. In fact, it is vital to the economy. One of tourism's main attractions is that the dividend from it is not overly centralised and is distributed right throughout the country. One of the main planks of the Good Friday Agreement was that we were able to market the island of Ireland through Tourism Ireland. If we look back to the days of Bord Fáilte, no doubt it met significant challenges, particularly because of the Troubles in Northern Ireland which it endeavoured on each occasion to overcome. I would like to see an imaginative approach to helping tourism as the international market has become exceptionally competitive. Members of a certain age should cast their minds back to the An Tóstal festival in the 1950s which had a major impact in regenerating tourism as it brought all the different local and national organisations involved together. I want such a homecoming festival to be initiated again. Some discussions have taken place in this regard but I would like to see this Chamber participating in them too. I accept each day the Chamber must examine the current economic difficulties and irregularities, of which we should be rightly ashamed, but at the same time we must achieve a balance in our debates. Tourism is one area where the old concept of meitheal can be reintroduced. This Chamber must debate this in a positive context, particularly with having a homecoming festival initiated by 2012, if not by next year.
I call for a debate on the future of sheep farming because the sheep farmers in the west are under great threat. The cost of shearing a sheep is now dearer than the price fetched for a fleece. There is also a demographic issue with many of the younger generation not taking up sheep farming.
The carpet in Dáil Éireann was manufactured in Galway with wool from the west. Carpet manufacturing in the west does not happen anymore which is causing a deficit in the wool industry. We need to examine imaginative measures for wool use. For example, wool is suitable for home insulation. This would help provide a market for sheep farmers as it is already difficult to survive financially in many rural parts.
Various Senators, including Senator Coffey, believe rural Ireland will collapse as a result of the €6 one-off charge for puppy farming. There is little evidence of this, however.
What is the Senator on about? I never said anything about a €6 charge.
Dogs, including the famous one on "The Late Late Show" recently, can command stud fees of up to €1 million for their owners. Many of the greyhound industry dogs are sold for thousands of euro yet it is believed rural Ireland will collapse if a €6 one-off fee is imposed on breeders.
We can have that debate again when the Bill comes back into the House.
It is important to have a debate on this matter.
The Senator is incorrect about this €6 one-off fee.
This is a trumped-up claim. Fine Gael is missing the point about rural Ireland by focusing on the wrong debate.
The Senator's time is up.
The Greens are trying to include provisions that should not be in the Bill at all.
Fine Gael is protecting big farmers and the wealthy.
Bring the Bill to Report Stage and we can debate it then.
I stand to support my colleague Senator Walsh and ask the Leader to look, with a fresh pair of eyes, as to how this House might be able to have a fundamental role with regard to some of the quangos and regulatory bodies we have in place, including the tribunals of inquiry. It must be acknowledged there have been some welcome changes, particularly with the Financial Regulator and the Governor of the Central Bank.
There are, however, other bodies, still in their infancy, the efficacy and productiveness of which must be questioned. There are many such bodies but I will not go into naming them now. However, will the Leader obtain information about the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB? Maybe its terms of reference are incorrect or it does not have sufficient powers or staff, but many of the cases brought before the board are still ongoing and awards not paid. This is frustrating for those involved in the PRTB and those who have utilised its facilities. I support Senator Walsh's suggestion for the House to debate such issues and look forward to what the Leader will say about it.
The debate on women in politics will take place next Tuesday.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Hannigan, Dearey, Cummins, Buttimer, Leyden, Coghlan, Ross, Mooney and Hanafin expressed their strong views again about the banking sector. The debate on banking will follow the debate on women in politics next Tuesday.
Senator Twomey called for a debate on the decoupling of agribusiness plcs from co-ops. This would be worthwhile and I intend to allow a long time for it, perhaps even a full-day debate if possible. Decoupling would be a mammoth change in agriculture if it were to occur.
Senators O'Toole, Coffey and Ó Brolcháin raised the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009 which will be due back and concluded in the House during this session.
Senators Hannigan and Wilson welcomed the announcement by the Financial Regulator to allow Quinn Insurance to do some business in the UK. I know Senator Wilson has been a champion of the people of our area regarding the serious challenge facing their jobs in the company. Easter came this year but not many families in the north midlands and the three counties in which the Quinn Group employs a member of nearly every family enjoyed it. We will do anything we can do to support Séan Quinn, his family and his group. While Senator Wilson pointed out that only 10% of the business may be allowed to be underwritten in the UK, it is a start. Please God I hope a further announcement will be imminent from the Financial Regulator.
Senator Hannigan proposed consultation with the staff of Dublin Bus on its proposals to cut employees and change routes. This is a common sense proposal and I hope it will occur with everyone involved. I understand in the past 12 months consideration has been given to ways of improving the availability of bus routes. We wish Dublin Bus well in its endeavours to give a better service.
Senator Hannigan also welcomed the opening of the skies again. Everyone in the aviation business has worked hard to ensure flights could resume. We wish the airlines well and those affected air travellers, many of whom were disappointed in the past few days. Hopefully, in the next few days flights will get back to normal and everyone will be able to get to their destinations.
Senator Dearey called for a debate on planning reform. I have no difficulty in allowing time for this to take place.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on the importance of small manufacturing and family-run businesses. As Members well know, 870,000 people are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises, of which 75% are owned and run by families. I will have a debate on this issue at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Mary White, Quinn and Walsh referred to the meeting between the Minister for Health and Children and the thalidomide victims. I saw them yesterday in the House before they went into the meeting. I congratulate Senator Mary White in all she has done to assist these poor unfortunate people. Their condition was through no fault of their own but an act of birth. I hope there will be recognition by the State which, as we all know, is long overdue and that they can be helped in every way possible, including financially.
Senator Keaveney called for a debate on the sex offenders register and the legislation in place affecting both sides of the Border. I will have no difficulty in having a debate in the House on the matter in the near future.
Senator Buttimer inquired about the marquee at the Galway Races. I was never in it and was totally opposed to it. I am delighted with the decision the Taoiseach took. I know that all of the political parties make use of the marquees at Punchestown or wherever they are located. Be that as it may, the impression was created that a good deal of business was conducted in Galway. I do not believe that but do not know for sure because I was never in it and can only hazard a guess.
Unlike members of the Opposition, I was never inside it.
Senators Leyden, Walsh and Ross raised the issue of public interest directors. The Government — in particular, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan — faces a serious and unprecedented challenge. The Minister is doing everything he possibly can do to address it. I listened to him for the entire hour he spoke on "The Marian Finucane Show" last weekend, during which he said his officials had told him that in the two years he had been Minister for Finance the amount of paperwork was the same as that involved in bringing forward ten budgets in a ten year period. He is doing an excellent job and we are very fortunate to have him available in the portfolio. I fully support all the appointments made by him in the interests of having the necessary expertise and experience available. As I said previously in the House, experience and expertise are what the country needs; personalities should not come into it.
Senator Mooney called for a debate on the issues facing the new Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, in terms of increases in mortgage subsidies. I will have no difficulty in arranging such a timely debate.
I take Senator Regan's point on the lost at sea scheme which was discussed in the House. Therefore, we have dispensed with it, as far as the House is concerned.
Senators Walsh, Mullen, Hanafin and Callely called for a debate on matters discussed before the Supreme Court yesterday and everything to do with the expenditure and running of tribunals. I informed the House yesterday that I was examining the issue and that I would come back to it next week. I am trying to see what we can do to meet the genuine requests of the Senators who made the call for a debate in the interests of the country.
Senators Mullen and Quinn raised the issue of Private Members' Bills. I welcome their introduction in the House for our consideration. Senator Leyden had a Bill accepted by the Government. On the Bill brought forward yesterday evening by Senator Bacik, the request made was for time to be allowed for consultation. In principle, the Minister is in favour of the Bill, which is to be welcomed. The Human Body Organs and Human Tissue Bill proposed by Senator Quinn is currently the subject of consultation. I will see where we stand in regard to the timeframe and come back to the Senator on it.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on the role of the Seanad, particularly on the SDLP's proposals. As we are all aware, the proposal made by Fianna Fáil which is being considered, with proposals from all parties and groups, is that ten Members of Seanad Éireann would have right of audience in the Assembly in the North and that some of its members would have the same right here. All of the proposals made are within the remit of the Minister and being considered. In due course we will hear the views of the Government on the matter.
Senator Quinn highlighted the success of the committee system which I believe marks the way forward in the teasing out of issues by Members using the experience gained in their professions before they entered the Houses. We need only look at the success of the Committee of Public Accounts under the stewardship of the late Deputy Jim Mitchell or the committee I chaired on the insurance industry to see the huge value of the system at a very small cost. That is the way we should be going, not down the road of having tribunals which, as Senator Walsh correctly said, are costing the State tens of millions of euro compared with the cost of the work done by a committee which in a year could amount to less than €500,000 or perhaps even €250,000. That is the comparative figure, with the same result.
Senator Ó Murchú made a very good proposal to have an urgent debate on the tourism industry which, as we are all aware, is a huge income earner for the country and a major employer. Currently, over 250,000 people are employed in the industry. The Senator referred to the success of the An Tóstal festival. I recall a former Member of the House who championed its cause, Joe Mooney, whose family continues to run An Tóstal in Drumshanbo.
I also refer to Senator Mooney in that regard. An Tóstal was the festival for those coming home to help Ireland and was a huge success. I will consider the proposal and seek to arrange a debate in the next week or two to allow colleagues to express their views and assist the Minister and his Department.