The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on women's participation in politics, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of 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; No. 2, statements on the Ombudsman's investigation report on the implementation of Children First, national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children, by the Health Service Executive, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, on which Senators may share time with the 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 leaders and spokespersons; and No. 3, Private Members' Bill, the Construction Contracts Bill 2010 – Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, but not before 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m. The business of the House shall be interrupted between 1.30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Order of Business.
Yesterday, Senator Ross raised the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions as regards the need for whistleblower legislation. On rereading the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it is clear he expects the Government to make the required changes to the criminal justice system if we are to implement a proper regulatory system. This raises the question of legislation. Will the Leader tell us whether legislation dealing with this issue will be brought before the House before the end of this term?
There has been much talk about political reform, but I am concerned that people's democratic rights are not being respected. There are three by-elections due to be held, in Dublin South, Donegal South West and Waterford. The Taoiseach rather glibly told people last week not to worry about them. However, not holding them takes away their democratic rights. At the same time, we are talking about holding a mayoral election in Dublin. Will the Leader, or perhaps Senator Boyle, tell us whether legislation establishing the position of lord mayor will be brought before the House before the end of this term? Serious questions arise about the role and functions of the lord mayor, given that there are already four mayors in the greater Dublin area. There are also significant questions about the budgetary control such a mayor would have. The issue requires detailed debate in the House. Given the lack of legislation before the House, is there an intention to introduce legislation to deal with these matters?
To hold a referendum on children's rights, legislation will also be required. The Labour Party has tabled a motion in the Dáil in this regard. Is it intended to introduce legislation before the end of this term?
I wish to return to the point I made yesterday about legislation. Looking at the Order Paper for today, one can see 12 Bills tabled by various Members on this side of the House that are yet to be dealt with: two from Senator Bacik, three from me, two from Senator Quinn and others from Senators Coghlan, Regan, Ryan, Alex White and Cummins. I note that yesterday in the other House there was a row and questions about why the Multi-Unit Development Bill 2009 was reposing in the Seanad. I do not blame Members of the other House for asking what we are doing with the Bill on Report Stage. We have business that could be done now. The Government should either move ahead with these Bills or produce its own, but we should be spending at least half our time dealing with legislation. I ask the Cathaoirleach to use his influence in this regard. To ensure the image of the House is projected properly, we need to do this work. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Government. If it cannot provide legislation, there are 12 Bills on the Order Paper produced by the Opposition at no cost to the Exchequer or the Civil Service, by employing our own draftsmen and so on, which could be dealt with. I ask the Leader to consider this seriously in order that we would be seen to be doing our work.
I previously raised the question of energy. Legislation introduced in the other House by Deputy Varadkar states the Government should make an attempt to reduce the cost of energy, communications, travel and so on by 10% where it has such influence. This is a reasonable point and has become relevant in view of the recent job losses in the pharmaceutical industry. One of the factors that must be considered is the cost of energy in this country which is greater than the cost of labour or anything else. We should have a full debate on the issue——
——in which we would also deal with the Front Line report on the Shell to Sea campaign. There are issues in that regard that need to be discussed. We must consider why the Government has not moved on the issue. If we are to achieve independence in energy production, gas from the Corrib field must be brought ashore. This should be an issue of urgency, although I agree that Shell must comply with every single law we put in front of it. One of the issues blocking progress is the Government's refusal to proceed with the offshore renewable energy development Bill which was put together by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security — the first committee ever to produce a Bill — with full support from all parties. However, the Department, for its own reasons, is not prepared to go ahead with it. I ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, to overrule his departmental advisers and proceed with the Bill which would allow offshore development to be carried out in an efficient and effective manner. I apologise for going over the allotted time.
I renew my call for a debate on the role of the church in education and the issue of school patronage, about which Deputy Quinn has been speaking for some time. He has called for the establishment of a national forum on patronage, which is a good idea. I called for such a debate yesterday in the context of the ongoing revelations about abuse within the church, the cover-up of abuse and Cardinal Brady's refusal to resign. I took exception to Senator Mullen's response to my comment in which he accused me of using the abuse issue as a cover for another agenda. In fact, his response is one of the reasons we need a debate because it shows that the Catholic Church and its spokespersons have not grasped that the two issues are not separate. The issue of abuse within the church and the culture of cover-up by the hierarchy which still persists and about which Archbishop Martin has spoken so bravely is one of the reasons we need to consider the ongoing control of the primary education system by the Catholic Church. At a time when 92% of State-funded national schools are under its control, we really need to have such a debate. To see the issue of abuse and a cover-up as separate from the issue of education is to miss the point entirely.
I also ask for a debate on white collar crime and the need for whistleblower protection. Deputy Rabbitte introduced a Bill in the other House, while in this House last year the Labour Party group called for whistleblower protection legislation as part of a debate on better governance. Until we have that legislation, as others have said, the Director of Public Prosecutions will not be able to mount successful prosecutions in tackling white collar crime. This should be a priority of the House.
As Senator O'Toole said, there is a great deal of urgent legislation brought forward by the Opposition with which we could be dealing, but the Government is not willing to put these Bills on the Order Paper. In that context, I ask the Leader for a debate on my own Climate Protection Bill which is long overdue. It has been before the House since October 2007. This week, starting on Friday, is biodiversity week, which would be a good time for us to debate climate protection legislation and the pressing need to introduce a binding obligation on this and future Governments to ensure cuts in carbon emissions. I ask the Leader to arrange these debates.
On the day of our debate on the issue of child protection, I congratulate Ms Siobhán Parkinson on her appointment as Laureate na nÓg, the first ever appointment of a laureate for children's literature. Having read some of her books, she is an excellent choice. This is a positive sign in terms of our regard for children's rights at a time when we are all too conscious of the flaws in our treatment of children and in our child protection laws. That is a positive note on which to begin the debate.
I agree there is a need for general and specific legislation on the issue of political reform. Now that the Cabinet has approved the idea of holding an election in 2010 to fill the position of lord mayor of Dublin, the legislation must be passed in both Houses before the end of this session.
The comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions — not only his recent comments about whistleblowers but his previous comments at the Burren Law School the week before about political donations — should make us all pause for thought. He stated the notion of political donations created a perception and allowed an opportunity for corruption to occur. When an important officer of the State makes such a statement, everyone involved in the political system has an obligation to respond. The Government has made a commitment to act on the issue of corporate donations, but I would like to hear the views of those on the other side of the House on their dependence on political donations.
Legislation is being prepared to tackle the issue of climate change. I ask Senator Bacik to contrast that with the Government's Bill as we try to put that legislation on the Statute Book.
On the issue of broadcasting which we debated yesterday, as part of the ongoing consultation process there may be a need to discuss not only the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland but the proposal on free-to-air television and the reactions that has provoked because there are different views on protecting professionalism as opposed to encouraging participation in sport that this House would be well served in debating.
Yesterday, we learned about the loss of 785 jobs in Pfizer and heard also that of all the locations throughout the world in which Pfizer operates, Ireland is its highest cost base. As I speak, every company in this country is facing the threat of remaining competitive. Why are we not playing to our strengths as a nation? Why are we not harnessing our natural resources? We have the second highest wind speeds in Europe after Scotland. We have wave power and it rains here almost every day. Why are we not a harvester of energy? As a nation that is the natural infrastructure in which we should invest. It is for that that we should borrow from the European Central Bank to ensure we can not only supply our own energy needs but also be a net exporter of energy to Europe. If we decided to be forward thinking we would see that we are sitting on a green energy goldmine. I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on energy to allow us examine our overall natural resources.
Last week The Irish Times did a wonderful feature on the Finnish education system. It outlined the main reason it excels in achievement and is the leader in education in the developed world is because of the quality, autonomy, status and qualification of its teachers. The teaching profession is under attack in this country and the education system is unravelling. I ask the Leader to arrange an open, all-party debate in this House on the type of education system we want for our country that will deliver a caring society and a thriving economy, because we need both. We must also have the debate on governance.
What is the maximum response time by which a fire service should be available to ensure there is a reasonable chance of lives being saved? In south Connemara currently, there are cases of people having to wait up to one and a half hours for a fire service. Is that legal? I would appreciate it if the Leader put that question to the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to the Chamber to discuss An Post, specifically the integrity and security of our postal service. More than 3 million items of post are handled by An Post every day and, in general, it does a first class job, but recent media reports suggest there are rising levels of theft in the system, both internal Irish mail and particularly Irish mail to the United Kingdom. We have no control over the Royal Mail service but many people in the business community and ordinary citizens are starting to lose confidence in the postal system. That is alarming. This kind of theft is insidious. I have been in touch with An Post's press office and it accepts there is a level of theft. That level has reached unacceptable heights which is why I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on that issue soon.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to come to the House as a matter of urgency? The House may not be aware of the fact that CIE is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Joint Committee on Transport. Yesterday, in a move which I believe is possibly unprecedented and is indefensible, the executive chairman of CIE wrote a letter stating that the non-executive directors have refused to appear before the committee to answer questions about the way CIE is governed. That is a matter of serious urgency. It is also a matter of CIE and its non-executive directors frustrating the wishes and the inquiries of the Oireachtas.
I would be particularly interested to hear what the Green Party Members have to say about this matter because they would normally support that sort of response and accountability from non-executive directors. If corporate governance of semi-State bodies is to be used just to appoint political hacks who refuse to be accountable to the Oireachtas, there is no point in having these joint committees and we can allow these semi-State bodies to run amok.
CIE is being investigated for good reasons. It found some corruption inside its organisation and because the board never saw the €500,000 report that was commissioned by certain executives in CIE. Board members did not even know about it, nor did the Minister. Now, the non-executive directors who are paid by State money and appointed by the Minister and former Ministers are giving the two fingers to us and telling us they will not appear before the committee to say what is happening or what they knew or did not know. This is a serious situation and it will make FÁS look like Scrooge if we do not get to the bottom of what is happening to the money in CIE. That organisation receives €300 million a year in a State subsidy and, when we ask it what is happening to that money, its board says we can go and jump in a lake.
The Minister must come to the House to tell Members if he will stand for the executive chairman doing that because many of these people are his appointments and those of his predecessors. Even having an executive chairman, Mr. John Lynch, is in itself a breach of corporate governance and should not be allowed.
I cannot understand how we have no political accountability——
The Senator has made his point.
——and a Government which is prepared to stand over this and not put pressure on this board to appear before the committee.
Many people, including young children, go missing in Ireland and across the European Union. We are all conscious of the level of human trafficking and associated abuses. I draw the Leader's attention to the fact that, in 2007, the European Commission reserved the number 116000 as an EU hotline number for missing children. Can the Leader advise on the progress, if any, that has been made by the Minister and the Irish authorities to activate that missing persons hotline number, 116000, in Ireland?
I call on all mobile phone users to ensure they have an ICE, in case of emergency, number registered on their phone. That simply registers an "in case of emergency" telephone number of the person who should be contacted should it be required in the case of an emergency. The hotline number has been welcomed by the emergency services, and first responders in particular. This could be greatly encouraged by a simple message on work and social networking contacts. Will the Leader arrange for the House commission to show example by e-mailing all Members and staff highlighting the benefit of having such a number registered on our mobile phones.
I strongly support the point made by Senator Ross about CIE and Iarnród Éireann. The chairperson of that organisation was recently reappointed to his role. There was a vote of confidence in him from the Government in terms of the way he was organising that business, yet when the Oireachtas looks for action and answers from him, it is not given them.
Two weeks ago I raised the issue of the status of the Dublin interconnector or underground DART, but the week before last we found out there would be a delay of which the Minister for Transport was not informed. I thought that was an amazing saga, but then, to my astonishment, Iarnród Éireann announced on Monday that it would lodge the planning application anyway. Can someone tell us what is going on in that regard? This organisation receives a vast sum of money. It is clear the Minister for Transport is not being informed of what is going on.
When the Oireachtas makes an effort to understand what it is doing and how taxpayers' money is being spent, it is treated with derision. This is an organisation out of control. It rejects any attempt made by the Oireachtas to ensure oversight and proper governance.
Is it appropriate for the Seanad to offer its support to Derry in seeking to be designated the UK city of culture? Could we, particularly in the current climate, add our voices to the many that see value in driving this idea? I express my interest in the issue because anything that will place the focus on Derry will also place a focus on the north west. Therefore, those of us living in its hinterland should add our support. We should add our voices so as to promote the development of the north west that would be assisted by the designation of Derry as UK city of culture.
I empathise with Senator Ó Brolcháin, whose office was attacked recently. As someone whose family home was also attacked on a couple of occasions recently, such attacks are an indictment of the way people think on how they should approach and deal with those who have been democratically elected. We need to have a strong debate soon on what we see as the future of our democracy and the kind of republic we want for the future. As we move closer towards 2016 and a commemoration of the events of 1916, we must embrace all of the people on the island of Ireland. Therefore, we need to discuss our vision for this new republic and deal with what we consider to be unacceptable behaviour in a democracy. We do not want to witness more intimidation.
On Iarnród Éireann, a long time ago I raised the issue of the running of the Enterprise train service between Dublin and Belfast by Translink and Iarnród Éireann and their exploitation of those passengers who paid in euro. However, they continue to refuse to show the exchange rate between euro and sterling. In recent years they have exploited passengers by using an exchange rate of 69 cent. This is another example which shows what has gone wrong in the transport industry.
Senator David Norris: Following on what Senator Fitzgerald said about the need whistleblower protection, I propose a change to the Order of Business. I suggest that, immediately following the conclusion of the Order of Business, we take motion No. 17 on the Order Paper which was brought forward by me and a number of other colleagues. It addresses the remarks of the Director of Public Prosecutions and particularly the question of whistleblowers. I raised on the Adjournment the very serious matter of dishonesty on the part of one of the biggest banks in the IFSC, in the massaging and non-revelation of defects in liquidity ratios. It received very little publicity initially, but then a large article which did not refer to the debate in the Seanad was printed in The Irish Times, while on Sunday a very incisive article appeared in The Sunday Business Post. The story was also taken up in Süddeutsche Zeitung. The reason I raise the issue today is that the person who was my informant on that occasion effectively lost his job as a result. We have no whistleblower protection and should address the matter immediately. In the Dáil the Labour Party produced a Bill to tackle the issue. We could discuss that Bill this morning.
These days I rarely speak about the subject of homosexuality, either domestically or internationally. However, my attention has been drawn to a case in Malawi, a country to which we give large sums of money in aid. Two young men, Mr. Steven Monjeza and Mr. Tiwonge Chimbalanga, held a public ceremony of commitment in December. They were arrested at the end of that month and accused of gross indecency under the British statute that we have abolished in this country. There has been an attempt to subject them to forcible anal examination which has been described by Amnesty International as contravening the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. This is a very human story and they are extraordinarily courageous people, to whom I have sent a message of support. Tiwonge said: "I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless." His partner, Steven, said: "We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will never stop loving Tiwonge." They deserve our support. I ask the Leader to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs to ask it to intervene and express our strong condemnation of this violation of every human principle of decency through the torture and imprisonment of these young men who have so courageously stood up for the principle of human love.
The Senator has made his point.
It is possible we need in this Chamber a debate on the issue of education because many changes are taking place and there are issues we should discuss. However, it is neither fair nor tenable to base the request for such a debate on the issue of child sex abuse. In this regard, we must be fair to everybody. It is not right to indict the entire Catholic Church because of the actions of a small minority of clerics who have been responsible for engaging in child sex abuse. It is not right to suggest either that the church should not be involved in education. The logic of that argument is that the State, because of its responsibility for the non-cleric teachers in the education system who have been found guilty of engaging in child sex abuse, should also be excluded. Other members of society, too, should be excluded. We should remember the role the church has played during through the years in the most difficult of times in providing an education system which was provided for persons who did not have the means to pay for an education. I do not accept either that it is correct to casually drop the name of Cardinal Seán Brady into a debate in this context because the day this Chamber sets itself up as judge and jury in such cases is the day we will open the floodgates that could be disastrous for society as a whole.
I wish to raise the same point. I have no issue with Senator Bacik's request for a debate on the education system and its configuration. Such a debate should be ongoing. Senator Bacik, for whom I have good personal regard, will be aware that Bishop Leo O'Reilly and the bishops' conference have already suggested there will be a need for modification of our educational structures which will need to be altered to accommodate societal and demographic changes.
Archbishop Martin suggested that also.
That is the case. I am also concerned that a link might be made between the call for such a debate and the sex abuse scandal. There is no evidence to suggest there is a link or that Catholic schooling as currently constituted is in any way a contributory factor in or linked with child abuse. It is important this distinction is made and that it is clear we are not talking about the same thing. While we would welcome a discussion of the organisational structure, we cannot make that connection. It is vital that we point out that there is no connection between Catholic schooling and sex abuse. There have been isolated cases ——
That is not what I said.
No interruptions, please.
I accept that, but it is vital that we make the point. It is equally vital that we make the point that there is no link between a discussion of child abuse and the reorganisation of educational structures and that Cardinal Seán Brady's name should not be mentioned. That is not valid.
I return to a point raised by Senator O'Toole. He called on the Leader to arrange a debate on the legislation proposed in the Dáil by Deputy Varadkar to have Government charges reduced by 5%. I ask for that debate to take place. Government charges are a huge contributory factor to our lack of competitiveness, costs and inflation. They should be reduced in line with the need to reduce costs.
The Senator's time is up.
I support Senator Ross that it is reprehensible that directors in CIE who are paid with taxpayers' money are refusing to answer to the custodians of the people's welfare — their elected representatives. This is absolutely disgraceful and unsustainable.
Senator Ross wondered about the Green Party view on this matter. Any semi-State body in receipt of public funds must be amenable to examination, questioning and oversight by the committees of the Houses. That applies in this case also.
The issue of whistleblower protection warrants debate. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to debate it. I noted the Minister's comments on the protections various Acts afforded people trying to expose corruption or malpractice within the sectors in which they operated. While I accept there are protections in these Acts, that does not replace the clarity, rights and protections such a charter would convey. I am familiar with the case mentioned by Senator Norris; there is no doubt a charter would have been a huge advantage to the individual involved. This is something we must consider, notwithstanding the protections people already enjoy in this area as outlined by the Minister yesterday.
I wish the crew of the Rachel Corrie well. The ship is at sea off the coast of County Wicklow and sailing to the city of Gaza with a cargo of humanitarian aid. The cargo, which I have seen, consists of cement, wheelchairs and medical supplies. It is highly likely that in the next few weeks the Rachel Corrie will be 20 miles off the coast of Gaza city and that the crew will be involved in a dispute with the Israeli authorities. It behoves us to keep a watching brief on the fate of the Irish citizens concerned and what is undoubtedly a humanitarian mission.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to discuss the potential impact of the working time directive? This is a progressive directive from the European Union, but perhaps the Minister will discuss its impact on the ability of non-consultant hospital doctors to deliver services in local hospitals. I have in mind the very serious impact it will have in County Louth where Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and Louth County Hospital will be seriously affected in different ways as the directive begins to take effect.
I join Senator Norris in expressing dismay at the outcome of the recent court case in Malawi. I contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday to ask it to direct our ambassador, Mr. MacGabhann, to make representations at the highest level in Malawi. Will the Leader join me and ask his office to contact Mr. MacGabhann to impress on him the need to make a case to the Government of Malawi on the reasons the sentences should be at least commuted?
Will the Leader confirm that legislation on the Dublin mayoral election can be expected in the House before the end of this session? It is unusual for the Deputy Leader to announce legislation. Will the Leader confirm that the Deputy Leader is correct in this case?
Focus Ireland's report on homelessness was published this morning. It predicts that approximately 100,000 people will be on social housing lists throughout the country by the end of the year, while 250,000 houses are lying idle. In County Meath there are several thousand people on waiting lists. Like other Senators, I am contacted daily by people who are living in substandard conditions, while next to them houses are left empty because the developers cannot sell them. Will the Government take some action to tackle this issue? I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter.
There has been much talk in the last few days about the impact the Government can have on sports bodies. Yesterday we saw its impact on rugby. Will the Government intervene and seek a review of AIB's policy on sponsorship? The State owns 20% of the shares in AIB which sponsors a corporate box, to the tune of €100,000 a year, at a soccer ground in Islington in London. At the same time, League of Ireland clubs are desperate for cash, with some of them going out of business in the past year. My club, Drogheda United, is seriously strapped for cash. A review of AIB's policy on sponsorship would help, as it should put more money into the Irish game. I ask the Leader to convey that message.
I share the outrage of Senator Ross and other Members at the non-appearance of representatives of a semi-State body before an Oireachtas committee. Frankly, all of us share the blame for this, as there is no compellability. Members will recall that a legal challenge was mounted against two sitting committees in the early 1990s and both investigations collapsed because the committees' rights to investigate issues of the day had been challenged. A number of Members of both Houses have since appeared in the Four Courts to try to defend the right of the Oireachtas to investigate matters through the committee system. The issue has been left fallow for over a decade. There is, therefore, an urgent need for an examination of the entire structure of the committees of the Houses. Elected representatives in both Houses should be able, as happens in other jurisdictions, with the American model being perhaps the best example, not only to investigate current issues but also to compel witnesses to appear before committees. However, we have done nothing about the matter. The Leader can correct me if I am wrong, but I recollect that when the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, was given an expanded brief to include representing the Department of the Taoiseach, he also took on a role, whereby he might be able to investigate this deep flaw in the structures of the Houses. Ironically, the new Deputy Prime Minister in Great Britain, Mr. Nick Clegg, later today will announce sweeping reforms. This Parliament took all of its conventions and practices from the British Parliament, yet that parliament appears to have moved on in making itself more relevant, but we appear not to have followed it. I do not wish to labour the point, but there is an urgent need for a debate on the reform and improvement of the committee structure in the Houses to address the issue Senator Ross and others raised.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Norris. Senator Ross has yet again raised an important point and exposed the fault line in our democracy. CIE has deliberately frustrated the will of the members of a committee, the people who represent ordinary citizens. It is a disgrace and an abomination that CIE can tell a committee of the Houses that its representatives will not attend a committee meeting or co-operate with it. Does the Leader of the House agree with this? It is time we moved away from our current model. I agree with Senator Mooney that committees must be given the power to compel witnesses to attend, as happens in the American model, in order that they can be brought in and held to account. The example of CIE shows that the frustration felt is due to the political patronage Fianna Fáil has perpetuated in the past 13 years, with its appointment of pals and cronies and giving the people the two fingers. It is about time this was changed.
I agree with Senator O'Reilly that a debate is required on the issue of school patronage. As an educator and having spent five years in a seminary, it is important that we have a collective and holistic examination of education. However, one should not blame the Catholic Church for all the wrongs done by a minority. There are decent, ordinary teachers who are struggling. Patronage of our schools is a very important issue which we must examine. Let us bring about reform and meaningful change, but let us include everybody in that regard. Are we seriously suggesting Catholicism permeates mathematics or geography? We must also examine the funding of Protestant schools.
I join Senators Norris and Hannigan in asking that the ambassador to Malawi make very strong representations to the Malawian Government regarding the appalling case mentioned. It is a blight on that country that it would allow two people to be jailed for being in a relationship which would be considered acceptable in this society. It is wrong and we must send the message to the Minister and our ambassador that we cannot condone it.
On a number of occasions I have sought a debate on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the reform of the electoral system. It is a worthy report and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to come to the House to discuss it. When an election is held, there is a barrage of complaints about people being left off the register and others being on it five or six times. When the Leader can find time on the schedule of the Upper House, will he invite the Minister in?
I agree with the utterances of Senator Ó Murchú on education. There are two groups of victims in the issue of child abuse linked to education: those who were abused and the decent priests, brothers and nuns who did nothing wrong but are tarred with the same brush as those who perpetrated abuse on children. That is very wrong. The church has still a strong role to play in education. Even the church itself is saying there is nothing so perfect that it cannot be improved. It is time to have another look at it.
I sympathise with my colleague, Senator Ó Brolcháin, who has had his office vandalised. I can identify with that. Mine has been vandalised three times and another political office in Mullingar was vandalised as well by the same individual. It is not a new phenomenon.
Yesterday the Leader outlined in his reply on the Order of Business that we had quite a number of Bills to deal with in this term. Why are these Bills not being debated now to prevent a flood of Bills in the last few weeks of the term? This is an ongoing problem. I do not know whether the Leader is at fault or whether the various Departments are not bringing these Bills forward for the Leader to introduce. It is certainly a problem that must be addressed because it is happening on an ongoing basis. We all know that rushed legislation can be bad legislation.
Why will the Leader not allow a number of the Bills from the Opposition side that are on the Order Paper to be introduced in Government time? Bills are introduced by this side of the House in Private Members' time, the latest example being the Independent Members later today. Surely there should be a response from the Leader to allow some of these Bills to be addressed in Government time when there is not sufficient legislation coming to the House.
I agree with Senator Boyle that we should have a debate on the broadcasting regulations on sport and the free-to-air programmes. If the Minister, Deputy Ryan, persists with his proposals for rugby football, he will cut off the IRFU's funding stream totally and he will destroy rugby football in this country. It is about time we had a debate on this issue, as Senator Boyle requested previously.
On the remarks about CIE, we also found when we were looking at the Barron inquiry into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and held hearings on other such atrocities that the lack of powers of compellability, especially to get sworn evidence, is a serious shortcoming. I agree with everything Senator Buttimer said in this regard. I ask the Leader for a debate. We have debates on all sorts of matters. This matter is a priority from the point of view of the efficacy and the manner in which this House has the powers to conduct business that really impacts on people.
I listened to the broadcaster Pat Kenny who interviewed an author who had apparently studied and written extensively on the crime scene in Britain and, by extension, in Ireland, in particular on the drug trade. It was quite enlightening on the manner in which people graduate from juvenile crime beyond their teenage years simply because of the revenue that they are getting from the drugs trade and the hierarchy within that organised crime sector as well. It stuck me in listening to it that we have lost the battle in that regard, not only in Ireland but in all western democracies. We need to look at it with a different mindset rather than merely trying to deal with it purely as a policing issue. We are failing and it looks to me from what was said yesterday as if we will probably never succeed in that regard. We are turning a blind eye to everything that is going on.
I agree with everything Senators Ó Murchú, O'Reilly and Buttimer said on education and the patronage of our educational system. There are elements who would seek to advance progressive secularism by exploiting the atrocious and appalling abuse that occurred within the church and in church institutions, but to name persons who are honourable, such as Cardinal Brady — I do not know the man but those who do regard him as a man of the highest integrity and probity — to advance a secular argument brings no credit to those who pursue that line.
I support the call by Senators Norris and Buttimer for a debate on whistleblowers. If this House is to be relevant and topical, we should be handling the items of the day rather than not discussing them. Senators Ross and Norris have made a strong case for that debate on whistleblowers to take place and I believe it should take place.
I also support entirely the call for a debate on education. This should be ongoing and wide-ranging. Senator Ó Murchú and others spoke about one aspect of it. I want to refer to another, wide-ranging one. For instance, we have not yet debated the intention to abolish the National University of Ireland.
Those of us who have a vested interest in this would like to have a say in it and we would like to be able to ensure it is debated.
The other issue that attracts me is the fact that we introduced the word "innovation" into a Department two weeks ago. There was an innovation task force whose report I re-examined recently to see what it discussed. In that report, Professor Patrick Cunningham, who was appointed chief scientific adviser to the Government, made strong cases which I had not quite understood previously. He stated that, as part of our gross domestic product, there is natural capital such as oil, produced capital such as buildings and railways, and all the rest is intellectual capital. In countries which have been successful, of which we are one, intellectual capital makes up 80% of GDP, yet that needs an investment in education and science. Other countries are doing this and we are in danger of being left behind. It is interesting to see what other countries have done. The United States is investing 3% of GDP in science, and President Sarkozy in France has set up a commission to measure the economic performance based on that as well. I urge the Leader to ensure we have a debate on education that covers all those areas of which we spoke and the necessary investment in science.
In light of the fact that the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 will soon be before the House, will the Leader allow for a debate on the need for a referendum on this issue? It is almost certain that, should the Bill be passed, it will be challenged in the courts. I want to take the opportunity now to show the Judiciary, who watch what we undertake here, that there was no stomach for a referendum because I believe it would not be passed in a referendum. That is why I would strongly call on the Leader and the members of the Green Party to hold this referendum.
How progressive of Senator Hanafin.
No interruptions, please.
It is the most democratic means of deciding this issue.
They cannot hold a by-election.
Senator Buttimer had his chance to speak.
Let us have the by-election before the referendum.
Senator Hanafin, without interruption, please.
Sometimes it is like "The Muppet Show" in this House. Will the Leader examine the situation of pubs in rural areas? I am particularly cognisant of the fact that we have passed legislation introducing the smoking ban and reducing the blood-alcohol limit for drivers, which we are to reduce further. Pubs encounter difficulties at 11 p.m. and 12 p.m. in clearing their houses because of a shortage of taxis. It is a simple issue. Having created the difficulty, it is time that we did something to assist these pubs. One cannot transport a few thousand people from the pubs in a district within a short space of time. The gardaí are calling to ask why the house is not cleared and the house is not cleared because it is not safe for people to travel. We need a regulation or a Bill to allow people extra time so they can get home safely.
Yesterday we heard the bad news of the loss of 785 jobs in Pfizer. We knew the merger of Pfizer and Wyeth in January last year would inevitably lead to some rationalisation and job losses but the extent of the losses came as a surprise. I am taken by the Tánaiste's statement yesterday when she said that Pfizer's decision had nothing to do with the Irish economy. She stated we are in fact much more competitive than we were. However, this is completely and flatly contradicted by the National Competitiveness Council in its report earlier this year when it stated that urgent action is required to support export growth and job creation to ensure a competitive operating environment for businesses to enable exporters to trade successfully in difficult international markets. Energy, wage costs, telecommunications and commercial rates are the issues that have to be tackled. The ESRI has made the same point. It is the extent of the losses which are influenced by the lack of competitiveness and the fall in Ireland's position in the league of competitiveness of export-orientated economies. The Tánaiste is way off the mark on this issue.
What about the CEO?
Surprisingly, Pfizer is to close a plant in Dún Laoghaire completely between now and 2014. IDA Ireland will be engaged to find a replacement plant and Pfizer will attempt to find a new operator to take over what is a very modern plant. I hope this plan succeeds.
On "Tonight with Vincent Browne" last night, Richard Boyd Barrett of the Socialist Workers Party, trading as People Before Profit, suggested that the plant be nationalised. This brings home to people what that party represents. It is a case of nationalising everything in this country. We have tried that policy before in the 1930s and we have been living with the legacy every since. There have been much more unfavourable examples in other jurisdictions such as Russia. That is what the People Before Profit, the Socialist Workers Party, represents. We should recognise this because people on those protests last night and last week are being misled and voters are being misled by People Before Profit. It is not as benign or as appealing as it sounds.
I endorse those comments of Senator Regan. I also refer to the comments of Senator Hanafin with regard to same-sex marriage. After the civil partnership Bill has gone through the Houses, it would be wholly appropriate to have a referendum on same-sex marriage.
With regard to the comments made by Senators Keaveney and Glynn, I ask for a debate on levels of violence and intimidation within politics. This is not new in this country or in any country but I note increasing levels. Along with the Leader I saw the attempted break-in to Dáil Éireann last Tuesday. Missiles were thrown over the wall and the gardaí did very well to hold out the protesters on that occasion. We should have a debate because we have to stand up to intimidation. I have made the point before that it is totally incompatible to have an anti-war stance while at the same time using methods of violence and intimidation to get one's point across.
I agree completely with Senators Mooney, Dearey and others about the public transport issue and the issue of compellability of witnesses in committees. It is time to get a lot tougher with regard to committees. Senators should unite on this issue. We should be much stronger with regard to compellability of witnesses. I detect there is probably an all-party mood to achieve this and I call on the Cabinet to look carefully at the issue.
A number of Senators called for a debate on energy and I welcome such an important debate. Since this Government came to power, renewable energy has increased from 7% to 15% of electricity and significant progress is being made in that area. The 2020 vision is to have 40% renewable energy and the 2050 vision is to have 100% renewable energy. This Government is making great inroads. A continuing debate on energy is important because it is one of the key issues facing both our society and our economy.
Yesterday, Senator John Carty congratulated everyone associated with the Famine commemoration in Murrisk in County Mayo. I want to respond to the Senator today at the start of the Order of Business. More than 1,000 people——
I do not think this was raised on the Order of Business.
I want to respond to it today because I did not do so yesterday.
The Leader cannot respond to it if it was not raised. I was there.
More than 1,000 people and Senators attended a moving ceremony at Murrisk, County Mayo, to commemorate those who died during the Great Famine. The Famine Memorial Park is under the shadow of Croagh Patrick. I congratulate the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, for the dignified manner in which he represented the Government and addressed the gathering. The commemoration, which was a formal State recognition of what happened to our people during the Great Hunger, was attended by ambassadors representing 14 countries, including the United States of America, China and Australia——
And several Members of the Seanad were present.
I also wish to respond to the opening of the memorial garden for the 83 members of An Garda Síochána who were killed in the service of the State. Senator Carty brought this to my attention yesterday. The garden was opened at Dublin Castle at the weekend and attended by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Commissioner. The names of the 83 gardaí who were killed were inscribed in stone on a roll of honour and medals were presented to the representatives of the families of each garda on the roll of honour. I am aware that Senator Carty had a family member who was killed in the line of duty. It is important this House takes this moment to recognise the pain visited upon the loved ones of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in our name. Senator Carty asked that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges would consider the taking of a minute's silence in their honour and this will be discussed at the next meeting.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Bacik, Boyle, Norris, Cummins and Quinn expressed their strong concerns regarding the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions. As I said on the Order of Business yesterday, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 is due in the House at the end of June. This Bill will cover protection of persons reporting suspected corruption offences in good faith. I have no difficulty in allowing a debate at any time, if at all possible, on the matters which have been brought to my attention.
Senator Fitzgerald is very anxious about the dates for the three by-elections. As we all know, this is a decision for the Dáil. I remind the House that a by-election was held in Dublin South but the seat could not be held on to.
The Deputy Leader was correct in saying the Bill to provide for the election of lord mayor of Dublin will be before both Houses before the summer recess.
Senator O'Toole asked about legislation. I informed the House yesterday that 16 Bills are coming before the House, three of which have been published. A Private Members' Bill will be dealt with this evening. Tomorrow the House will deal with all Stages of a Bill and a motion for earlier signature. I have always given priority to any legislation that can be processed in this House and this has not changed.
Senators O'Toole and Healy Eames spoke about Ireland on the periphery of Europe exploiting the possibility of wind energy and every other type of energy. We have come from 2% to 12% in this area. We are making steady progress and I agree with all colleagues that there are opportunities.
Senators Bacik, Healy Eames, Ó Murchú, Buttimer, O'Reilly, Glynn, Walsh and Quinn expressed their strong views on the role of the Catholic Church in education and called for an all-party debate on the matter. The contribution the church has made in education has been enormous, not alone in Ireland but throughout the world. Our missionaries were the great unsung success of the Irish people across the world. Those of us who have been on trade missions realise only too well the terrific work done by our missionaries in bringing not alone the faith to different parts of the world but educating the poorest of the poor. I congratulate the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, in what they have done. However, as has been said here, there have been difficulties. Senator Ó Murchú typified what most Members would have liked to have said on the church's role and contribution. I have no difficulty in having a debate on the matter at the earliest possible time.
Senator Bacik and others inquired about climate protection legislation. I will look into it and come back to the House on the matter.
Senators Boyle, Hannigan and Cummins raised the issue of free-to-air broadcasting of sporting events. I welcome the Minister's recent announcement in this regard on behalf of the 1 million people who cannot afford to pay for sports pay channels on television. Under the Constitution, we must treat all of our people equally.
I congratulate all Ministers who have brought the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals and finals, the Grand National, soccer and rugby sporting events to television. We must encourage poor children and underprivileged families as they are the ones who need the most help.
I have no problem with the House having a debate on the matter with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. He has said he will allow a two-month consultation period. Why can the Seanad not have its consultation with the Minister present and make its views known to him? We must also congratulate everyone in the sport of rugby for what they have done for their sport. They are doing enormous good work across the country. We certainly support all sporting organisations. As we all know, the greatest gift one can give one's body is to have it fit.
Senators Healy Eames, Cummins and Bacik raised the issue of Ireland's economic competitiveness. As the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills said, in the past 12 months we have increased competitiveness by 6%. That is a terrific achievement in very difficult times.
Senator Callely raised the matter of young children going missing and the missing persons helpline. I will pass on his strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business. His proposal for the House commission to e-mail Members and staff on the ICE mobile telephone number is a very good suggestion which I will pass on to it.
Senator Healy Eames inquired as to the response time of fire services, a very important point. I will make inquiries of the Minister's office.
Senator O'Sullivan called for a debate on An Post, particularly his concerns regarding postal services. I have no difficulty with this matter being debated. I congratulate the postal services on their work. For the many of us who worked in the service down through the years, we were the family friend of everyone's door we called to. Sometimes in rural places the postperson would be the only person one of our senior citizens might see in not alone one or two days but even three days. I certainly have no difficulty in having time left aside for this.
Senators Ross, Donohoe, O'Reilly, Dearey, Mooney, Buttimer and Ó Brolcháin called for a debate with the Minister for Transport on CIE, particularly its executive chairman not appearing before Oireachtas committees. While there may possibly have been a good reason for this happening, this is a serious challenge to the Oireachtas committee system. As Senator Mooney said, we should urgently visit the position on compellability of appearing before committees. I will endeavour to find out and assist transport committee members and its chairman in having the CIE executive chairman appear before them at an early time.
Senator Keaveney wished the people of Derry every success in their application to become UK city of culture. We certainly support her in that regard.
Senators Keaveney, Glynn and Ó Brolcháin raised the matter of break-ins at various political offices. Senators and Deputies having their constituency offices vandalised at weekends is an exception rather than the norm. Senators Glynn and Ó Brolcháin pointed to their particular incidents. We hope it will not start to happen more frequently. In fairness, however, to the general public, it seldom happens.
Senator Keaveney spoke again about the difficulties she is experiencing with exchange rates, particularly in the transport area. We will pass these on to the Minister for Transport.
Senators Norris and Hannigan called on me to contact the Irish ambassador to Malawi, Liam MacGabhann, regarding the human rights of two persons detained there. I will certainly do this with the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs after the Order of Business.
Senator Dearey wished the crew of MV Rachel Corrie well in bringing its cargo to Gaza City. We commend everyone in this endeavour and their achievements in helping the poor people of Gaza City whom we have seen on our television screens. We wish them well and hope they have a safe voyage. He also raised the issue of non-consultant doctors. I will pass on his views to the Minister for Health and Children after the Order of Business.
Senator Glynn called for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on reform of the electoral register. I will include this in the next Fianna Fáil Private Members' time. Senator Glynn has been seeking a debate on this for some time and I will afford him it on Private Members' business.
Senator Walsh raised the serious challenge facing the world from the drug trade and what changes in policy might be brought about. It would be a timely debate.
Senator Quinn welcomed the appointment of Dr. Patrick Cunningham, whom I wish well, to the innovation taskforce. He cited the 3% of GDP devoted by the US Government to intellectual capital. It is an area we, as a Government, are taking very seriously as shown with the smart economy proposals. I agree with Senator Quinn on this matter.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, had a very good radio interview this morning on RTE. It was very uplifting for everyone in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. I hope his deliberations with the banks both yesterday and today will bear fruit for this sector because it certainly needs it.
I believe when an application is made for financial facilities from a bank, particularly by SMEs, it should be made in writing. Accordingly, we would have the documentary evidence to assist them if they were not successful.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation has agreed to come to the House for an all-day debate on his portfolio. I am endeavouring to have this date arranged with his diary.
Senators Hanafin and Ó Brolcháin called for a debate on the Civil Partnership Bill. I will pass on the views of the Senators to the Minister.
Senator Hanafin called for the consideration of a special arrangement for the pubs in rural Ireland given the difficulties in transportation. What he outlined to the House is quite correct and we are all aware it is taking place. Businesses family run for generations are struggling to survive and keep the doors open. Everything we can do should be done because they are also a major contributor to the Exchequer and certainly we will include this matter the next time we have a debate on the liquor licensing laws. Any other areas where we can help the pub trade should be considered because they could not have foreseen in their wildest dreams the changes they are experiencing at present.
There is an amendment to the Order of Business.
I wish to raise a point of order and to get a ruling from the Cathaoirleach on it. In his rambling and discursive contribution on the Order of Business, the Leader referred to matters not on today's Order Paper, they were not referred to today by Members and I am surprised the Cathaoirleach did not give a ruling on this, because I am aware that, very properly, he reproves Members if they refer to things outside the Order of Business.
I have no control——
This is not the Order of Business. Can I ask for a ruling on this? Was the Leader in order to indulge himself in this manner?
I have no control over the reply the Leader gives to the Order of Business. The Leader replied to the Order of Business. The Leader stated he omitted replying to two items raised yesterday by a Member. That was my understanding at the start and I thought he was in order to do that.
In that case, does that give us permission to refer to previous matters? I have certainly been called to order by the Cathaoirleach on this matter.
It is not the first time a Leader has replied to something he omitted to refer to on a previous day.
There is an amendment to the Order of Business in the name of Senator David Norris. He has moved that No. 32, motion 17, be taken before No. 1. Is the amendment being pressed?
Since the Leader did not refer to it or give me any answer, of course it is being pressed.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ross, Shane.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Malley, Fiona.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.