The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Common Agricultural Policy post-2013, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, and with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes before the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from spokespersons and leaders, and No. 32, Private Members' motion No. 16 re code of conduct for civil servants in the acceptance of outside appointments, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 but not before 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
Newspaper reports today indicate that Ministers have been instructed to find €3 billion in cuts for the forthcoming budget. What criteria will be used in making these decisions? I raise this matter in light of the fact that front-line services are being affected. I refer Senators to the main letter in today's edition of The Irish Times, which was written by the mother of an autistic boy who attended Beaumont Hospital a few days ago. She states she is appalled that 52 beds are being closed in the hospital and describes as follows her experience of bringing her autistic son to its accident and emergency department:
My severely autistic son was brought in with a lump of chicken lodged in his gullet. He was labelled emergency. Having sat in a wheelchair from 9pm on Tuesday, May 4th until 11am on May 5th, he was finally ... taken to theatre for surgery to remove the blockage.
This is the recent experience of a woman whose son was in an emergency. It is critical, therefore, that the House discuss the approach that will be taken to the Government's planned cutbacks. Front-line services are under extreme attack and people are highly concerned.
Yesterday, the Ombudsman for Children published a report showing how services are continuing to fail children. On the Order of Business yesterday, Senators also discussed the church response to the protection of children. We must also examine the State's response to the protection of children. A number of reports have been laid before the Houses. We now have the report issued by the Ombudsman for Children and a further report on the Health Service Executive which Deputy Alan Shatter placed in the Oireachtas Library. I ask the Leader to ensure the House has a debate on these issues.
On a number of occasions, Senator White has raised the lack of discussion of and failure to implement the recommendations of the McCarthy report on quangos as well as the lack of structural reform. Where will the proposed cuts be made? Will the most vulnerable be affected? Can the House have some input into decision making on the budget and cuts amounting to €3 billion which are apparently being sought?
While I strongly support the approach taken by Senator Fitzgerald, we need to engage with the facts. To do so, the Minister for Finance should first have a conversation with the Seanad about exactly where we stand, the budgetary outlook, his requirements, revenue predictions, growth and the budgetary preconditions to be met before we enter the Estimates process. Rather than beginning with a row on the issues which Senator Fitzgerald correctly raised, let us get our hands dirty by engaging with the facts and identifying what must be done and what is our view of it can be achieved. We should not begin the process with an argument as we can argue later about who caused the current problems. Before the Estimates process and pre-budget presentations, discussions and arguments commence, we should offer our views on what needs to be done and how it can be achieved.
There is also good news, such as, for example, the decline in bond coupons for Government debt, an increase in retail sales figures and recent growth predictions. We must acknowledge where we are, what needs to be achieved and how it could be achieved. Rather than doing this through the front pages of the newspapers, it should be done through real engagement in the House. The Seanad could add something to this debate.
Time and again, Senator Bradford has raised the need for the House to engage with the views of people outside the political process — the social partners for want of a better description. The argument that social partnership removes the authority or input of Parliament is based on a premise that is nothing more than a bottle of smoke. The belief that were it not for social partnership, the Government would suddenly start to engage with Parliament is false. That has never been the case with regard to the relevant issues and will probably never be the case. We should begin a process of engagement.
I agree with the previous speakers. While I am an optimist by nature, for the past two or two and a half years many Senators have called for this type of a quality debate but no steps have been taken in that direction. I am afraid I am rapidly becoming a pessimist in relation to the attitude taken towards this Chamber by the Government. This is unfortunate because I would much prefer to remain an optimist. We should make suggestions and by all means subject the views of the Government parties and of the Opposition parties to real scrutiny, analysis and cross-examination. Let us have this type of exchange and debate, including engagement with outside groups and individuals in so far as that can be arranged under Standing Orders.
It appears, having viewed the approach taken by the Government parties to the possibilities that could be inherent in the contributions of Senators O'Toole and Fitzgerald, that a decision has been made not to introduce any kind of radical change to the manner in which this House does its business. Unfortunately, I believe this decision has been taken somewhere and we have to deal——
That is totally incorrect.
We will see if anything happens because nothing has happened.
That is completely untrue.
Please allow Senator White to continue without interruptions.
If there is to be a debate across the Chamber, will we be allowed to interrupt the Leader when he concludes the Order of Business? I never interrupt him. It is interesting to note the new approach he is taking but if that is what he wants, he can have it in spades. He is not interested in having a real debate.
The Senator can do whatever he likes. I have been getting this for two and a half years.
Senators who raise matters with the Leader on the Order of Business may not be interrupted by anyone.
In respect of something the House can do, I listened yesterday to many colleagues commenting on the statement made by the Archbishop of Dublin. While people have every right to comment on the issue, as to what the archbishop meant and so forth, I did not choose to engage on the matter because it is one for the archbishop and the church. I am interested, however, in what we, as parliamentarians, can do in a practical sense to change the system of child care, especially child protection. The House should definitely debate two recently published reports, namely, the report of the Ombudsman for Children published yesterday which makes real and practical suggestions as to how change could be brought about in child protection as opposed to merely talking about it, and a report issued two weeks ago by the Government's special rapporteur on child protection, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon.
To give an example of what I meant with regard to the relevance of the Seanad and the attitude taken towards it, on a recent radio programme my fellow contributors asked me if Mr. Shannon's report had been debated in either House of the Oireachtas. I was informed it had not been debated. It is extraordinary that individuals who have been appointed by the Government to important positions in the area of child protection have produced reports which the House does not even discuss. Let us make a start in rendering this House relevant by discussing the two reports in question. If necessary, let us have the authors before the House to take questions and debate with Senators who may be able to assist in bringing about real change on these issues.
While I agree that the House needs to hold regular debates on budgetary strategy and the state of the economy, I do not accept that this is a process that takes place in the dark. The Budget Statement made by the Minister for Finance in December set out clearly how the €3 billion adjustment would be addressed. The House should examine how this matter is being progressed on an ongoing basis. At least €1 billion of the adjustment will be achieved through reduced capital expenditure, with much of the remaining €2 billion will be considered in the context of taxation measures, possibly by extinguishing many of the reliefs that remain in the system. It is incorrect, therefore, to argue that cuts of €3 billion are on the agenda.
I also agree that we need to use the House as a forum to engage with the social partners. However, this may not be the best time to do so because we are in the middle of process arising from the Croke Park agreement. If that process proves successful, we should move towards having such an engagement because it would put to good use the functions and powers of the House.
We should have a debate on the report of the Ombudsman for Children. We had a discussion on the reappointment of Ms Emily Logan and there was universal acclaim for the work she had been doing and a belief she should continue in office. Part of the logic in having that debate was that we should reinforce that work and put in place further resources and better standards to ensure child protection.
We should note but not exaggerate the events that occurred outside Leinster House last night. The right to protest is paramount in a democracy, but we should always be wary and never encourage those who want to use violent means to express that right. If there are persons who engage in that practice regularly, we should put up a flag to say this does not constitute democracy in Ireland and that this is not how we should be developing our right to protest.
There are many mixed messages coming from the Government. It claims that we are on target and do not need an early budget, yet the Minister for Finance has given his Cabinet colleagues four weeks in which to find €3 billion in cuts. What is that, if not a budget? I am appalled. This week 1,000 parents of intellectually disabled young people in Galway received a letter from the Brothers of Charity, in which swingeing cuts of €2.5 million were outlined. This will result in the closure of two residential homes and the lumping together of people with disabilities, in spite of what was stated in a human rights report about abuses that had happened in such instances. Now charging people for day services is being looked at and notice has been given to families in Galway that there will be a cut of 45% in respite care next year. Such care provides a lifeline for the parents concerned. All of us in this House know young people with disabilities.
Does the Senator want a debate on the issue?
I have a request to make of the Leader. I am appalled that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, know about this. Will the Leader assist me and the families of people with disabilities in asking the Minister and the Minister of State to roll back on these indiscriminate cuts, pull back from the moratorium in place in the disability sector and protect front-line services for people with disabilities?
I would also like to comment on the courageous words of Archbishop Martin yesterday. He is finding strength to keep alive the debate on sin inside the church, an issue which could easily go underground again. The Pope made a grave admission yesterday, that the greatest threat to the church was posed by sin within it. The church has to face up to this, but there is also sin within the State. We need a debate on the report of the Ombudsman for Children on the need for the child protection guidelines to be placed on a statutory footing.
I have listened with interest to the comments of colleagues on front-line services, an issue I have raised time and again with the Leader. I call for a debate on the service provider, namely, the HSE. All political groups in the Houses signed up to the setting up of the HSE. I have expressed my reservations clearly. The Department of Health and Children allocates the budget and the HSE provides the service plan, but in recent weeks and months there has been a breakdown in communication between middle management and the executive of the HSE. We now learn that budgetary constraints are being introduced, as referred to by Senator Fitzgerald, in places such as Beaumont Hospital.
I congratulate the Irish Heart Foundation and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals for the terrific campaign they have led on strokes awareness, pat of which involves acting quickly, early intervention and rehabilitation. However, it will all fall flat if we do not have support services in place to follow up on the good work being done by the Irish Heart Foundation and others. We should have a debate in the Chamber with those charged with the responsibility of delivering health services in order that we can get a handle on what is required to implement the service plan for 2010. We should look at the feasibility of introducing appropriate regional structures to provide for a democratic local input.
I welcome the decision of the European Investment Bank to make a loan of €500 million available for the development of metro north. This is a very positive move which I think the House will welcome, especially since the idea was originally given legislative form in this Chamber. It is important that we do this now because the money will be comparatively cheap, labour will secured be at a reasonable cost and the project will provide desperately needed employment. I am very pleased that this is happening.
Senator Boyle referred to the disturbances that took place outside Leinster House last night. There is much justifiable anger and pain among the public and among all sections and supporters of all parties which needs expression. It is regrettable, however, that a small number of people, some of whom, according to radio reports, were wearing balaclavas, tried to take control of the initiative. I was supposed to speak at the meeting. I spoke at the press conference and have no regrets for having done so. I attempted to get out but found that I was locked in. I asked the officials if it would be of any help if I went outside to say a few words to try to calm things down, but they said they did not think it would help——
I accepted their advice. I went back to my office and cleared my desk. My participation was not important but the event was. I listened this morning on radio to Vincent Browne who felt the response of the gardaí involved had been proportionate. A woman said she had attended many demonstrations and had always been impressed by the behaviour of gardaí. They had always been friendly, helpful and protective of the women and children involved. She had been horrified to see gardaí being attacked, beaten and punched and their hats thrown on the ground. It was not a very serious affray, but it was dangerous. A woman said she would have liked to have got in to pull the Minister, Deputy Harney's hair out or something like that. Such behaviour is not appropriate. I understand there will be further marches and hope I will have an opportunity to speak at them. I hope, however, that the organisers will provide for efficient marshalling because while there needs to be a public venting of anger, it should be done in an orderly way so as not to degrade democracy in this country.
I support the call for a debate on pre-budgetary issues. We should do this in advance of the summer recess. As we are still borrowing somewhere north of €22 billion to meet expenditure in the current year, there are serious issues involved. There is a growing trend in the black economy that people are happy to work for €5 or €6 an hour and still draw social welfare payments. That undermines legitimate employers who are trying to comply with the law. We need to look at over-regulation in matters such as the minimum wage. If it feeds into unemployment, we should examine the issue intelligently. I cannot see any valid economic reason we should pay far more than any other state in Europe.
That is not sustainable and ultimately it will retard any economic recovery we might have. The real conundrum in all this is that should the US economy decline next year we will all be affected by it. The global background will be a very significant issue as to our recovery. I agree with Senator O'Toole and others who have said that there are positive indicators that would lead to the hope — maybe more than a hope — that we are on the road to recovery, but we need to be very mindful of the risks and to manage it in a prudent way. The recent issue in Greece has illustrated very clearly for any naysayers the wisdom of the approach being taken by the Government and the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in particular. If other countries had followed that, perhaps the recent global difficulties would not have occurred.
The Senator is rewriting history in a very negative way.
I strongly agree with the remarks of Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole about the €3 billion we have read about this morning and about which the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has been in contact with his colleagues. If this is not a budget — perhaps it is not — what is it? We in this House, as do those in the other House, have a clear entitlement to understand and know about the process. The Minister has a duty to come in and update us on the budgetary situation, including the outlook as he sees it. This is vital in order to restore confidence in the economy, which we are all trying to help in our different ways.
As regards the social partners, I also strongly agree with Senator O'Toole's comments. This House could very suitably get engaged with hearing those outside voices and channelling all that thought in a structured way. Following on from that, we all want to see an improvement in credit flow for businesses. NAMA is now advancing finance for some necessary completions in various parts of the country to people with impaired portfolios. How will we ensure that the suppliers in those instances have a protection akin to that they would have if they were dealing with receivers and liquidators? That is very important because of the indebtedness of these people with impaired portfolios. There will need to be control over that because NAMA is advancing millions of euro in different cases for these necessary completions. I am sure that with his businesses background, the Leader will appreciate the importance of having something proper in place.
Today and yesterday have been very historic days. I ask the Leader of the House to send our best wishes to the new British Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Nick Clegg, MP, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, with which the Fianna Fáil Party is aligned in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. I happen to be vice president of the party in the Council of Europe.
The Senator's position is not relevant to the Order of Business.
However, the Senator does not agree with everything they say.
I wanted to put it on the record that we form a group. The Fine Gael Party——
The Senator should ask questions of the Leader.
It is appropriate that after 65 years there is a coalition Government in Britain. I thank Mr. Gordon Brown, MP, for his work for Ireland and I wish the new British Government well. Our Leader should convey that to the new British Government. I just wanted to point that we have a little link through the Fianna Fáil Party with the new Government in Britain.
That will doom it.
The weakest link.
No interruptions, please.
I support the Garda Síochána in its work last night. It is very unfair that certain elements incited people to try to storm the Bastille last night, which was unsuccessful, thanks to the diligence of the Garda Síochána, whose members are on the front line at every protest. I am delighted that Senator Norris did not get out, because it was bad enough before he got out and it would have been worse if he had got out.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. It is not appropriate to make comments across the floor about any other Member. I am not allowing that.
A certain correspondent in The Irish Times was certainly inciting the riot last night.
This is not comedy here. This is serious in this Chamber.
It is serious when people are rioting outside the House.
The Senator should not be commenting on anybody.
It is very serious when Fintan O'Toole is inciting them.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
I became a Member of this House in September 2007 and every week since then there has been an issue relating to the HSE. We have had debates and legislation. We have dealt with issues such as autism, accident and emergency departments, waiting lists and curtailment of services. Senator Healy Eames detailed this morning how the intellectually disabled sector was being disadvantaged in Galway. We have talked about reconfiguration processes, and children with special needs and children with different diseases who need help but are losing SNAs. We have talked about all the issues that show how the HSE is not functioning.
It has now been stated that because there is going to be a shortage of junior hospital doctors when the changeover occurs on 1 July, certain services will be cut again. This is reconfiguration by the change that has happened regarding how doctors register here and how visas are allocated. Already we know that a crisis has been identified. I want the Minister to come to the House to discuss what she is doing about that. What services will be affected and where? What has it to do with reconfiguration? How can the two be separated?
The report of the Ombudsman for Children has now been published. I scanned it this morning and it represents a golden opportunity for this Chamber to discuss the lack of auditing of child protection services. There is no connection between the various agencies. Local offices do not have proper procedures. There is lack of co-operation between the HSE and the Garda. There is no uniformity of services. We have a golden opportunity to debate this issue in all those areas. While I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, on having brought about ongoing reform, there is no uniformity. It seems to be doing extremely well in some pockets but not in others.
The Senator's party has been in government for 13 years.
That is the Government's responsibility.
No interruptions, please.
The report presents an opportunity to discuss the matter on all levels. This issue has come up several times in all its different forms. We should have ongoing debate and not just one next week in order to establish how the agencies are not working and how we can get the services. It is not an enormous task. The report should be implemented and the issues should be aired in this Chamber
I join Senator Fitzgerald in asking for a series of debates on the pre-budget submissions. Yesterday's edition of The New York Times had a very good piece opposite the editorial page which suggested that the tooth fairy is dead and we are now engaging in a period of root canal politics. It was a very good piece of journalism because many unpalatable choices are being faced and will not be easy for people to digest. Last night we had the manifestation of the public’s anger at the Government’s failed policy. While I do not support violence or thuggery, the people have a right to vent their frustration. Just because we live in a bubble inside Leinster House does not mean we should lose our sense of reality. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are struggling faoi bhrú under pressure every day, some of it made by themselves but the majority made by bad economic decisions taken by Government. It is important for the Members opposite to recognise that cutbacks hurt the old, the poor, the handicapped and the sick. Fianna Fáil used a similar slogan in 1987. In 2010 it is absolutely relevant to the ordinary people.
Does the Senator seek a debate?
I seek a debate. More importantly I am seeking the removal of the Government from office.
The Senator can dream on.
The Senator can have that debate if the Leader agrees.
The debate will be a help in highlighting the failed policies. Even in this House we cannot move mountains but we can help to shift policy.
We can help to shift people.
It is incumbent on the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, to go before the people in a state of the nation address, be honest and tell them the facts, not lies and hiding behind figures. He should tell the people the truth.
The one thing the Minister for Finance cannot be accused of is telling lies, either politically or personally. He has outlined the position in great detail and has been honest and straightforward with the people in regard to the Government's budgetary and economic policy.
I am sure all sides of the House wish to ask the Leader to convey the very best wishes of this House and of the Irish people, first, to Gordon Brown and his wife and children, wishing them well in the future and thanking them for the major contribution they made to British-Irish relations. It is not so long ago that the Prime Minister, Mr. Brown, and the Taoiseach spent long nights in Belfast to ensure the peace process continues. We should not lose sight of that.
In welcoming and wishing well to the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, it is instructive to remember the historical legacy shared by all sides of this House in that it was a Liberal Government under Gladstone that introduced the Home Rule Bill in the 1880s. A Liberal Government under Asquith in 1910 put forth the Home Rule Bill which sadly was scuppered, ironically, by the then Tory leader. It is instructive that we have strong historic links with the Liberal Party, now the Liberal Democrat Party.
I join those who asked for a debate before the summer on economic policy and I support much of what Senator Walsh said. Those of us who were present yesterday at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party——
We were not invited.
——heard the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, outline job strategy for the future. I understand——-
Is that about keeping your own jobs or about jobs for the people?
It was a response to the unfounded allegations that this Government does not have a jobs strategy.
It is a pity you do not have a plan for the rest of the nation.
In light of the demonstration last night, I, too, agree with what people on all sides of the House have said regarding the great anger that exists. Of course there is anger if one has lost one's job and has no reason for getting up in the morning. However, this Government is working positively on this——
I call Senator Quinn.
If one wishes to read the economic indicators and believe them——
——the economy has turned a corner. Confidence is returning, both generally and among consumers, manufacturing output has increased in the past 18 months——
What about unemployment?
Time, please, Senator.
The international bond markets are totally committed——
What about the unemployment figures?
——and have supported the economic and budgetary strategy of this country.
The Senator's time is up.
I do not see why the allegation should continue that the Government has no job strategy.
Those are the facts.
We must give hope to the people of this country. This Government is providing that hope.
I urge the Leader that when we have that debate on finance and economic policy we do not spend our time looking back but instead look forward.
If this House is under threat, as it is, it is in our own hands to earn respect, regard and our future. That means we should talk about action, what we are going to do and what should take place rather than merely look to the past. I offer a particular case, one that Senator Walsh has brought up on several occasions. It jolted me when he drew our attention to the cost of the various tribunals and the length of time they are continuing. I have not spoken about this in the past because it seems to me that very often those who speak on it have some kind of vested interest, as can be understood. The Flood, now the Mahon, tribunal has lasted since 1997, some 13 years, as has the Moriarty tribunal. Before that there was a beef tribunal and a bar tribunal. There have been so very many.
One can look at how they handle these affairs in the United States. There is a very interesting book, Illinois Justice, about a tribunal presided over by a Judge Stevens to inquire into bribery allegations in banking some years ago. The judge said he would undertake this on condition that he could determine the final date to be six weeks hence and that he would not extend that date. He did it, starting in mid-June and finishing by the end of July with a conclusion.
There are other ways of doing this. There is the example of the Committee of Public Accounts some years ago which moved, got action and earned respect. If we are going to earn respect in this Chamber we must do something to ensure we deserve it.
There is anger outside and inside this House, rightly so in both cases and we must acknowledge that. I join Senators Boyle, White, Ormonde and others in calling for a series of debates and initiatives on child protection. As a group of people, the Seanad can make a serious contribution towards child protection. In the same way as the Seanad took the issue of head shops and ran with it in a significant way with success, I would like to see people from all parties working on the area of child protection. It is crucial and probably one of the most important aspects of our society.
The Green Party would like to see the children's referendum happening as soon as possible.
It is in the programme for Government and we all must push for it. The difficulties in bringing it forward must be resolved and that is up to all parties. It is important that we all get together to ensure the referendum takes place.
As other Senators have so done, I refer to the protests that occurred outside the Houses last night. The Leader of the House and I were in the lobby of Leinster House and saw what was going on. There were very few politicians in the House last night and I do not know what on earth the people would have done had they broken through. There was a very small number of them.
The anger is palpable but there is politics behind it, too. There are people who purport to be anti-war yet they use methods of violence to put forward their cause which I see as highly contradictory. We must be wary about this. We saw what happened in Greece where people were killed. We must keep an eye on this matter in this country. Violence can be used for political ends. It has been done in the past and this is not something we can tolerate.
I join in the call for a debate on the economy and the job creation strategy of the Government. We are coming out of a deep recession. We have problems in the public finances and an extraordinary level of unemployment. The situation is that the Government's policy to date has been, as the Taoiseach put it, to write any cheque that was necessary to save our banks. That policy has led us into a situation where there is an issue about the capacity of the State to borrow and to continue and sustain the public finances as they are.
Reality has bitten with the Greek and the more generalised bailouts. It is imperative that the Government should outline its clear budgetary strategy to get our public finances in order. We need the detail. There must be consistency in that policy. As I mentioned yesterday, there was an announcement in the budget on pension reform in regard to which there was a U-turn last Friday. These inconsistencies are what Europe will watch if it is to continue to support the funding of the public finances in this country.
There is an issue, too, about our enterprise and job creation policy. The budget of Enterprise Ireland has been cut by 40% this year. Grants for the maintenance of jobs in enterprises which are export oriented have been cut by 70%. I do not discern a clear economic strategy in the case of the public finances or in job creation. I urge the Leader that we debate this matter in order that the Minister can give clarity on these important issues.
I share in the calls for a debate on the resolution of our finances. I am clear, as is the Minister, that there will be cuts in spending followed by budgetary measures to raise money. That is clear and has been spelt out to the EU which insisted we get our finances in order. It has given us until 2014 to do so and we are very successfully on track to do that.
It is worth noting, and we should be thankful for it, that the cost of raising money abroad has fallen significantly. To put it in context, we are now paying 4% to 4.5% for moneys abroad but were paying 16% at a time when our debt was more than 100% of gross domestic product and when unemployment and inflation were both 18%. We have turned a corner, as has been recognised by the Opposition this morning. It is time for confidence to return and for us to speak confidently.
With that in mind, is it not time that we called a spade a spade and said that what happened last night was idiotic, an inane attempt to ape what is happening in Greece? We saw the logical conclusion of anarchy on the streets in Greece when three people were burnt alive in a bank. What happened last night was unacceptable but everybody and anybody who incited people in any way to do that bears a responsibility.
Many of us commented yesterday on what Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had to say but why is it that when the church fails people, it is people who are to blame, but when agencies of the State such as the HSE, the Garda or Departments fail people, it is the system that is to blame? Why is it that we reach different levels of outrage depending on which group is culpable?
Senator Alex White is absolutely right in that we ought to have a debate in this House on the report of the Ombudsman for Children and Geoffrey Shannon's report on child protection. If this House was operating in a functional — as distinct from dysfunctional — way we would have an announcement that these reports will be taken in two weeks, with Seanadóirí having the opportunity to do their research in order to come here with constructive responses on what those reports have to say about child protection among State agencies and church bodies. We would comment without fear or favour and contribute to the policy making process in this country. I ask the Leader for such a debate in a couple of weeks.
Another area in which we need a debate is on the report from the Forum on End of Life in Ireland. There is a great debt of gratitude owing to the Irish Hospice Foundation for the excellent work it does in hospice-friendly hospital care. I was honoured to be asked to take part in one of the sessions in the forum and the report has been published today. We should read this report and I intend to bring forward a Private Members' motion on the need to develop hospice-friendly hospital care.
We should consider the statistic that 76% of people die in emergency room settings but 5% of the cases are trauma-related. We are not getting it right if we are to consider people's aspirations in meeting their end. They want to be able to die at home with all that is necessary if possible. We are not reaching that standard in Ireland. The Irish Hospice Foundation is to be commended for driving us on and we should have a debate on its report.
I welcome the two-pronged approach being taken by the Government against head shops. Overnight and today the approach taken is being welcomed up and down the country in general, and certainly in my constituency, where we were not alien to the difficulties of head shops and the menace they pose to society. There was a recent case of a schoolchild being exposed to the dangers of those products. The authorities appear to be welcoming the steps, as I do, and I hope the enactment of the required legislation will occur as quickly as possible to combat these outlets.
I acknowledge what has been said by the Opposition and many Members on what is the current economic position of the country. Ireland is turning a corner and as a young person and public representative, I believe we have an obligation as legislators to lead by example and send out the clear message that we have hope in this country. We should send out a signal of confidence.
Consumer spending is increasing, according to figures, and Davy Stockbrokers has indicated that there was economic growth in this country in the first quarter. The ESRI is predicting almost 3% growth this year and that will develop to approximately 5% in 2012.
We have to take the austerity measures that have been outlined. The Greeks did not take those measures and as a result they are experiencing significant difficulties. If we had not taken the measures contained in the 2010 budget we would be in the same position.
Is the Opposition, and Senator Buttimer in particular, saying that the right approach would have been not to take such measures because they were unpopular? Governance is not about being popular but it is about delivering and turning the country around. That is what is happening and I fully support that approach.
At the outset I make the point that it is important for nobody in the House to make any reference to last night's events outside these gates in any ambivalent fashion or in such a way as to give substance or support for those actions. It was blatant thuggery, which is unacceptable, and the staff of the Houses and the Garda Síochána should be congratulated on their curtailment of it. No words spoken in the House by any Member should be slightly ambiguous about it. What happened was a disgrace.
Tell that to Senator Buttimer.
I am sure he is equally committed to the objection to it. The significant failure of budgetary and economic strategy to date in this country is the absolute failure to make any real attempt to create jobs. We are missing the big picture and with the finite nature of fossil fuels and the cost of oil, there must be an emphasis on job creation through green energy. There can be job creation through wind, tidal and hydro power. There are certain costs for these initiatives but the cost of oil is such that any money invested in green energy will get an economic return and create jobs.
We must have a full debate over a couple of days on the economy and specifically on job creation. It is a disgrace that so many people are without work and losing jobs by the day but we do not have incorporated into policy job creation strategies and initiatives. I welcome the opportunity to have the debate, in which I will put forward my party's plan to create 100,000 jobs over three years through the establishment of an economic recovery agency. We will never achieve economic recovery without jobs to generate wealth in the country.
The disturbance at the gates of Leinster House last night is a reminder of how much we owe the organised trade union movement in this country. The leadership — I salute the comments of Mr. Jack O'Connor in recent times — and the provision of a voice to people who are angry because they have lost jobs or are under very severe pressure has been the right way to approach the crisis we are experiencing. As we know, the disturbance last night will not provide a single job.
It is important for us with a platform on a daily basis in this Chamber to point out the positive actions of recent times. The stance of the trade union movement is important and the contribution made in particular by Fine Gael has been vital with regard to the Croke Park agreement. That should not be underestimated.
I listened to a radio programme this morning, most of which was given over to exhorting people to stay in Ireland and spend their holidays here. That is what we need currently. There has been a sea change in the media; looking back we will find a more responsible attitude at present. Any of us in the Chamber could read out at least four major statements coming from Europe indicating that Ireland is tackling the present economic crisis in the right way. One country in particular indicated it could learn from Ireland's actions.
Putting those positive elements together we can compare them to the position which existed at the beginning of the recession. There was doom and gloom at the start but we are turning the corner at this time. We should not overstate last night's disturbance, which was very regrettable; it is not right for gardaí to find themselves in that position. However, if we overstate it, we will only provide oxygen to those who prefer agitation to expression of discontent.
Senator Ó Murchú was correct to say we should not overstate yesterday's demonstration. It was valuable, in that it threw into sharp relief the behaviour of the mass of the Irish people. We should take more pride in the fact that what is probably one of the greatest structural crises we have ever had is being dealt with by the people. Apart from two sets of demonstration — one by the old age pensioners and another by public sector unions — Irish democracy proceeded with steadiness and a lack of hysteria and posturing. We are dealing with the crisis. CAB is about its work, as are the Government and the people.
We were not stampeded into posturing, which is what yesterday was about. Had that small minority of infantile disorders got into Leinster House, what did they propose they would do? Would they have beat up the catering staff or the ushers? What was it but, as Senator Hanafin acutely observed, posturing? This is not the business of serious socialists. Serious socialists have work to do. They must organise, campaign, write pamphlets, agitate, join the Labour Party or a radical party or whatever. They should not posture and mimic the activities of the French and the Greeks. It was going through the motions. If one wants to know the model of a serious socialist, one should study the life of Gordon Brown. He was a serious socialist.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Health and Children to attend the Chamber to discuss our childhood vaccination programme? I welcome the recent roll-out of the cervical cancer vaccine, but will the Minister discuss with the House the uptake of early childhood vaccinations and indicate to us the incidence of recent outbreaks? In the past number of months, there have been reports of measles and mumps outbreaks. Last year, there was an outbreak of whooping cough. Such outbreaks illustrate that we may no longer have herd immunity. This has considerable implications for us, in that we will unnecessarily face the threat of child deaths and acquired intellectual disabilities, all of which can be avoided. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister to appear in the House as a matter of urgency?
As to the issues raised regarding child protection, Senator Mullen referred to the need for a debate on the two reports. I am concerned by the constant call for debates. I would be happier were action taken. I understand the importance of learning from and considering reports, but we need to focus on action. The House could examine and insist on the practical steps that could be taken. For example, we could end the exemption from inspection of residential facilities for children with disabilities and non-national children. We could also ask Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to name the dark forces of which he spoke yesterday. We could take many actions that would have nothing to do with debates on the reports.
We all appreciate that, in the current economic climate, many people have needed to take a reduction in wages, including Members of the Houses, the public service in general and the private sector. However, strong evidence suggests that some employers have used the recession to reduce working hours and staff pay unfairly. I have been made aware of a particular instance in which not only have payments on certain days been cut, namely, bank holidays and Sundays, but the people concerned are earning less than €70 per day. This is outrageous. We all appreciate that pain must be taken and everyone within reason has taken his or her share, but some employers are stepping beyond the mark. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, to the House to debate the situation. I have information that I will pass to the Minister because this situation must be tackled. We all appreciate that we must tighten our belts. Tightening a belt is one thing, but asphyxiating employees is not right and must stop.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Alex White, Boyle, Healy Eames, Callely, Walsh, Coghlan, Prendergast, Buttimer, Mooney, Quinn, Ó Brolcháin, Regan, Hanafin, Ó Domhnaill, O'Reilly and Glynn outlined their serious concerns to the House regarding the various matters highlighted this morning. I remind colleagues that the Croke Park agreement will be before the House for our consideration all day tomorrow. I wish to inform the House of an all-day debate next Wednesday at which the Minister for Health and Children will be present and during which all matters relating to health policy and the operation of the HSE will be discussed. Colleagues will be pleased to hear this.
To my knowledge, whenever there have been calls for debates on published reports, I have always allowed for them. Arranging for debates in which colleagues could make their views known was a pleasure and a privilege. I would not like any Senator to believe that any serious report was not given enough time to be discussed. As to today's calls on me regarding certain reports, I will endeavour to have them considered in the House in the coming weeks.
Concerning the newspaper article in respect of the €3 billion in reductions next year, only four months of trading have passed in the current budget and a trend will emerge in the next four months. The projections are for a little growth this year and 3%, double the EU figure, next year. These are difficult times, as evidenced by what the airline industry is experiencing. I congratulate RTE and Ryan Tubridy on their efforts this morning to promote Irish tourist attractions. I hope Irish people will stay at home and, in the national interest, support an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people in the services sector.
The Bill relating to the changes in funding to Greece will be before the House on Thursday of next week, so colleagues will be able to make their views known to the Minister for Finance then.
Senators Alex White, Boyle, Healy Eames, Ormonde, Ó Brolcháin, Mullen and Corrigan referred to the report of the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan. Senator Ormonde discussed a lack of child protection. I will put the various concerns raised this morning in the diary for consideration during the coming weeks.
If a Senator feels strongly about any issue, Private Members' time is available. Those of us who are members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges know that we can propose changes at any time. I look forward to the Minister deliberating on and making his opinions known regarding party and group proposals on Seanad reform. As I informed the House last week, the draftsperson is busy working on a local government Bill. I ask colleagues and party leaders in particular to be patient. Work will progress. As Leader and under the Cathaoirleach's stewardship as Chairman of the committee, I will give my support to whatever is required to enhance the proceedings of Seanad Éireann. We must let the people know the positive work undertaken by the House daily.
Senators Ó Brolcháin, Boyle, Norris, Hanafin, O'Reilly, Ó Murchú and Harris referred to what happened outside the gates of Leinster House last night. Another Member and I saw everything that took place. I hope these are once-off events. I was surprised by the reaction of one or two commentators in the media. I congratulate the ushers and the members of the Garda Síochána who were on duty for the absolutely professional and first-class way in which they dealt with the situation. Four separate attempts were made to gain access to the plinth but each was rebuffed. The Garda Commissioner, the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard in Leinster House can be proud of their staff in this regard. Footage of the incident is available to anyone who wishes to see it. Some 30 or 40 individuals who were coming up Molesworth Street with the main body in what seemed to be an organised demonstration — similar to those which one can see outside every day — turned left, came around through Setanta Place and proceeded up Kildare Street to the gates of Leinster House.
Senator Callely referred to front-line services, the delivery of general health services, budgets, etc. As stated, there will be an all-day debate on Wednesday next on matters relating to health and the HSE. I agree with the Senator in respect of the great work the Irish Heart Foundation has been doing for tens of years. I admire the wonderful people who have worked alongside the foundation in such a dedicated fashion. I also agree with the sentiments the Senator expressed in respect of stroke awareness. All of these matters can be discussed on Wednesday next.
I join Senator Norris in welcoming the €500 million, a huge amount of money, in EU funding that has been allocated for the metro north project. This is terrific news for people on the northside of Dublin and those who use the airport. Those who live on the city's north side have richly deserved a project of this nature for many years.
Senator Coghlan referred to the operations of NAMA. Members are aware that every person whose property portfolio has gone into NAMA will be given the opportunity to present the agency with a business plan within four to six weeks.
Senators Mooney and Leyden suggested we should send best wishes to Mr. Gordon Brown, MP, and his predecessor, Mr. Tony Blair, for all the work they did during the British Labour Party's 13 years in office. The island of Ireland has been transformed by the peace process that has been in train for those 13 years and in which Mr. Brown and Mr. Blair played a major part, for which we thank them.
I also send congratulations to Mr. David Cameron, MP, the new British Prime Minister, and his deputy, Mr. Nick Clegg, MP. I wish them well in the challenges they will face in the years ahead. They are taking over at a difficult time and will be obliged to take some hard decisions similar to those that have been taken here.
Senator Quinn stated that in any future debates on the economy we should look forward. He also referred to the tribunals. In that context, No. 32 on the Order Paper, Private Members' motion No. 4, in the name of Senator Walsh and others states:
That Seanad Éireann, in light of the exorbitant fees being charged by Senior and Junior Counsel, calls on the Government to introduce a Maximum Fees Order, of not more than €969 per diem for Senior Counsel, and, €646 per diem for Junior Counsel ...
I am endeavouring to reach agreement with the leaders of the various groups on an all-party motion to the effect that the Seanad should lead the way in respect of how tribunals should operate in the future. I will arrange a meeting, either tomorrow morning or later this afternoon, with the various leaders in order to discover whether it might be possible to agree an all-party motion on the serious challenge the State faces in respect of the cost of tribunals. Different tribunals have been in operation at various stages during the past 13 years. When they were established, we were informed that their work should be proceeded with was a matter of urgency. What is meant by the word "urgency" is stretched to the limits when one considers that one of the tribunals has been sitting for the entire period to which I refer. The leaders of the groups must come together, as they did in respect of head shops, in order to formulate a suitable motion. This will show that the Seanad can make a major difference. I will discuss the matter with the leaders and return to the House with news on it in the coming days. I understand the proposal made by Senator Walsh has the support of the vast majority of colleagues in the House.
Senator Mullen requested that time be made available for several debates. In addition, he offered his congratulations to the Irish Hospice Foundation, particularly in the context of the report on end-of-life care. I am a major supporter of the foundation's work. My wife, family and I have championed its cause in the north Westmeath area for many years. We did everything we could with a heart and a half. I will provide colleagues with ample time to make their views on the report known to the Minister.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Ó Domhnaill welcomed the closing of head shops throughout the country and congratulated the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who yesterday placed before Cabinet details of the forthcoming Bill on the matter. The legislation will be brought before the House prior to the end of the current session.
Senator O'Reilly requested a debate on the economy, job creation and green energy commitments. As he will be aware, I have already given a commitment in this regard.
Senator Corrigan requested a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on the childhood vaccination programme. The Senator who has major experience and expertise in this field made a number of strong suggestions which can also be discussed with the Minister during the debate on health next Wednesday.
Senator Glynn outlined his serious concerns regarding moves by certain employers to reducing the pay of their staff to a level that was almost on a par with the minimum wage. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation has agreed to come before the House at an early stage to discuss employment matters such as job creation, as well as the other policy areas relating to his portfolio. I will endeavour to arrange a debate on this issue in the coming weeks.